Chapter 4:
Kangaroo Court

It is the inalienable right of every questioned document, as of every accused person, to be represented by competent counsel, heard by an impartial jury, and sentenced by a qualified judge, being convicted or acquitted only on solid evidence and not on hearsay. To expect such extravagant justice for the Book of Mormon is to ask for the moon. Counsel for the defense often does the client more harm than good and is automatically branded as prejudiced merely by taking the job; and where will one find an impartial jury, a disinterested judge, or a willingness to test the Book of Mormon on its merits and not on the authority of wild and conflicting rumors about the manner of its origin? Still, however faint the chances of a fair trial may be, even that book has a right to its day in court, if only on the hazard that it may be genuine after all.

Has the Book of Mormon ever been given a fair hearing? From the statements of policy which we are about to quote it will be quite apparent that it most definitely has not. For such a procedure would require a perfectly straight-faced examination of its claims as if they were valid! Let us suppose, for the sake of argument and legal theory, that the accused is innocent, that the Book of Mormon is not a fraud but a genuine text as it purports to be. By what divination would its latest critics, Mrs. Brodie and Doctors O’Dea and Cross (representatives of the English, sociology, and history departments, respectively) be able to detect its authenticity? What do they pretend to know about ancient texts? The one man best qualified to make the tests indicated, though he was interested enough in the Mormons to write a whole book about them, frankly confessed that he had never read the Book of Mormon.1 That was the celebrated Eduard Meyer, who wrote with complete finality: “There can be no doubt at all that the golden plates, though described by his mother and others as reposing in a box in Smith’s house, never existed in the real world.”2 For him that settled the matter: He can speak with absolute assurance, not because he has examined the Book of Mormon—he didn’t need to!—but because he knows perfectly well that there are no such things as angels and gold plates.

Justified or not, this has been the standard and accepted position taken by Book of Mormon critics from the beginning, and it should be obvious to any reader that such an attitude, however sincere, effectively closes the door on any serious investigation of the book on its own merits. The dice are always loaded before the game begins: It is not the Book of Mormon, but the Angel Moroni who is on trial. Let us glance at a few frank confessions by the leading critics of the Book of Mormon in the past, to see whether they ever intended to give it a fair trial.

The first non-Mormon to report on the book was David Marks, who, after hearing the story of the angel and the plates from the Whitmer family, approached his task with a settled conviction that the thing was a fraud: “I wished to read it, but could not, in good conscience, purchase a copy, lest I should support a deception”3—a fine, open-minded approach which ran small risk of disillusionment. Before he was halfway through, Marks gave up the job, finding “the style is so insipid, and the work so filled with manifest imposture, that I could feel no interest in a further perusal.” Yet generations of Book of Mormon critics were to quote Marks’s final verdict on the book as the ultimate in scholarly objectivity.4

Within a year of the publication of the Book of Mormon, Alexander Campbell delivered a blast against it which was hailed at the time as demolishing once and for all its claims to divine revelation. By the author’s confession, it was a superficial study, his intention being “not to honor him [Smith] by a too minute examination and exposition. . . . If this prophet and his three prophetic witnesses had aught of speciosity [that is, any attractive or challenging quality] about them or their book,”5 Campbell explains, he “would have examined it and exposed it in a different manner.”6 As it is, he begs his readers’ pardon for even looking at the thing: “For noticing of which I would have asked forgiveness from all my readers, had not several hundred persons of different denominations believed in it. On this account alone has it become necessary to notice it.”7

Campbell’s last remark is significant: an urgent sense of public duty has animated the Book of Mormon critics from the first, and rightly so. Unless the Book of Mormon is what it pretends to be, it is a regrettable imposture. If scholarship has any obligations to society to protect the layman from predatory quacks and impostors, no more urgent occasion or perfect opportunity for the exercise of true learning can be imagined than that offered by the bold, uncompromising challenge of the Book of Mormon. If it is weak, it should have been knocked over long ago; if it can’t be knocked over, the public should be told as much. As long as it stands, it is a standing rebuke to scholarship.

The call to duty was heard from the first. Even a month before Campbell’s attack, a newspaper editorial voiced dissatisfaction with the delinquency of the learned:

     We have long been waiting, with considerable anxiety, to see some of our contemporaries attempt to explain the immediate causes, which produced that anomaly [sic] in religion and literature, . . . the Book of Mormon, or the Gold Bible. The few notices heretofore given in the public prints, are quite vague and uncertain, and throw but a faint light on the subject.8

Thus from the very beginning the challenge was thrown out to the world to explain the Book of Mormon if it could, and a flood of conflicting stories and theories soon followed—but no one ever put the Book of Mormon to a real test.

The first full-time scholar to comment on the Book of Mormon was Professor Rafinesque of Philadelphia. His views were reported by Josiah Priest, who in 1832 observed, “This work is ridiculous enough, it is true; as the whole Book of Mormon bears the stamp of folly, and is a poor attempt at an imitation of the Old Testament Scriptures, and is without connection, object, or aim, . . . and how can it be otherwise as it was written in Ontario County, New York.”9 We are grateful to no end for this staunch confession of faith, that a religious book produced in Ontario County could not possibly be anything but a fraud (“can there any good come out of Nazareth?”); for while he has done the Book of Mormon no damage, he leaves the world no doubt that he has firmly closed his mind against any serious investigation of it.

What was intended to be a thorough and conclusive examination of the whole Mormon position, Mormonism Exposed, Internally and Externally, by Origen Bacheler in 1838, was prefaced by the enlightening admission that “to make an earnest attack on Mormonism as if it had any plausible pretentions to credibility, would argue great want of discernment and good sense on the part of the one who might thus assail it.” Even to raise the hypothetical question “Could this be true?” is to brand oneself an idiot; yet only by that approach can the Book of Mormon or any suspected text be examined. After promising to demolish the Book of Mormon once for all, Mr. Bacheler lamely decided to limit his examination to an absolute minimum, “briefly to expose some of the defects and absurdities of the book.”10 Thus, following a common practice of Book of Mormon critics, he attempts to disarm his jilted public by begging their pardon not for having delivered so little after promising so much, but for having written anything at all on such an offensive theme. Only a sense of obligation toward his “fellow citizens,” he protests, can “justify the course I pursue, in stooping to notice an affair so intrinsically worthless and contemptible as the Mormon imposture.”11

In the same year in which Bacheler’s work appeared, the Scotchman, H. Stevenson, was fighting the fires of fanaticism in the Old World with a widely acclaimed lecture against the Book of Mormon, in which he stood foursquare on the proposition “that a Church which pretends to work miracles in these latter ages, proves itself to be an apostate Church.”12 How refreshingly direct! Even to propose testing the Book of Mormon as one does the Bible is for Stevenson a proposition outrageous “for its foolishness and its wickedness!” Nay, true or false, the Book of Mormon simply cannot be tested: “As the Book of Mormon has a suspicious aspect, on account of there being no history to contradict it, so, likewise, it has the disadvantage of no history to confirm it.”13 It is beyond examination.

E. D. Howe, in the 1840 edition of his anti-Mormon classic, which first appeared in 1834, recognizes in the usual terms both the necessity and the futility of attacking the Book of Mormon. “The task has been a laborious one, and we acknowledge but little has been effected,” he confesses. “We should have abandoned the task, were it not that so many of our worthy fellow citizens have been seduced by the witcheries and mysterious necromances of Smith and his colleagues, from the paths of wisdom and truth, into folly and madness.”14 “The task,” he announces in his introduction, “however loathsome, shall be honestly pursued.” He admits he is helpless against those who are foolish enough to read the Book of Mormon: “In our review, we are left without weapons to combat the credulous Mormon believer,” his only hope being to reach “any man . . . who has not inhaled of the malaria of the impostor.”15 With all his talk of base passions, witcheries, spells, and loathsome tasks, no one is going to accuse Mr. Howe of a cool and unemotional approach to the Book of Mormon, however much he may protest that his appeal is all to the wisdom and sanity of an enlightened age.

In 1841 William Harris repeated the now familiar formula: Public duty requires an investigation of the Book of Mormon, but no serious approach is required by the subject itself. The only apology which he offers, this author says of himself, “for having treated that which is in itself so contemptibly ridiculous, with so much gravity, is, that well meaning, though weak minded persons, are daily imposed upon by the plausible statements of Mormon teachers.”16

Three famous anti-Mormon books appeared in 1842, each one containing plain statements of its author’s conviction that study of the Book of Mormon is a sheer waste of time. For the Reverend Clark, “deceit and imposture are enstamped upon every feature of this monster, evoked by a money digger and juggler from the shades of darkness.”17 “That its claims to divine origin are wholly unfounded,” he has his star witness say, “needs no proof to a mind unperverted by the grossest delusions.”18 As for himself, “This we consider one of the most pernicious features of this historical romance,—that it claims for itself an entire equality in point of divine authority with the sacred canon.”19 This was Mr. Stevenson’s objection, it will be recalled: The question is not whether the claim is true or not but simply whether the claim is made. Any book that claims to be as holy as the Bible is proved by that very claim to be a monstrous deception—there is no need at all to search the book to see what it says.

Mr. Kidder is quite blunt: “Our own humble opinion is, that just as much correct knowledge and real information may be drawn from the above nondescript and heterogeneous medley of contents, as from a perusal of the entire volume of 570 pages.”20 The “medley of contents” referred to is a very brief outline of the Book of Mormon; the author admits freely that it isn’t even a good outline, a “nondescript and heterogeneous” thing, and yet he solemnly assures the student that he can learn just as much from that garbled table of contents about the Book of Mormon as he can from reading the whole book. What a program for the serious scholar! Of course Kidder assures us that the only reason he would touch the thing at all is that duty calls him: “American Christians have . . . been criminally indifferent to their duty both of informing themselves and the world of its true character. . . . The leaven of corruption has begun to work far and near.”21 If it is criminal indifference to neglect the Book of Mormon under such dire circumstances, what shall we say of this scholar who, having taken up the challenge with a yell of defiance, tells us that he can go no farther than to give us a little outline of the Book of Mormon, and lets it go at that?

In a letter addressed to Joseph Smith, Professor Turner minces no words in the matter of public duty. “It is my right, it is the right of every American citizen, of every Christian, of every honest man, to arraign and resent the perfidy of your career,” he writes, protesting that only that sense of obligation can induce him to “submit to the ungrateful task” of dealing with a book and an author which “might well be left to putrefy, amid the moral pestilence which you have produced.” Under such circumstances, impartiality in our scholar would be a positive vice: “To treat you with even ordinary respect, is to treat them [‘your . . . awfully deluded people’] with the most wanton and unfeeling cruelty.”22 Obviously these were the days when professors read their Cicero. What blows the top from this particular vessel of high-pressure academic righteousness is not the specific message of Joseph Smith and his book, but the idea of the thing: “It is not your peculiar opinions, as you well know, but your impious pretentions, which honest and Christian men reject, with loathing and abhorrence.”23 Again, it is not on the basis of its particular contents but solely on its claims to revelation that the Book of Mormon is to be judged.

This point is well illustrated in Mr. Kidder’s review of Professor Turner’s book. If Turner is all twisted up about the authorship of the Book of Mormon, as Kidder claims he is, who cares? The question at issue here is one of comparative unimportance. Turner’s reasoning may be weak and his evidence shaky, but that is all one as long as we agree that the Book of Mormon is a vicious fraud: “We hail his work as one of . . . an eminently practical bearing.”24

These three masterpieces usually keep company with the latter work of Thomas Gregg, which contains the usual declarations of contempt for the Book of Mormon and alarm at its effectiveness: “That such a book, . . . below the dignity of criticism, should find tens of thousands of persons of ordinary intelligence throughout Christendom, who have accepted it as a Revelation from God to man, is indeed a moral phenomenon unparalleled in the nineteenth century. . . . Many pages might be written, filled with instances of the senseless, ridiculous, incongruous, and blasphemous character of the work,” to accept which “is to eschew holiness and goodness, and to dethrone the Almighty.” 25 To save the world from such devastation, one might suppose that no number of pages would be too great to dedicate to the cause—as many as “might be written.” Still our investigator limits himself to a few brief notices because after all, the book, he says, is “below the dignity of criticism.”

J. H. Hunt, a relatively conscientious critic, was frank enough to entitle a chapter of his on the Book of Mormon (1844), “A Brief Notice of Several Books, Deemed Unworthy of Serious Attention.”26 So deemed by whom? The critic who deems a book unworthy of his attention should leave the criticizing of it to others who are willing to give it serious thought.

Here we have a paradox. Having announced that nothing is so urgently needed as a thorough study of the Book of Mormon, one crusader after another stops dead in his tracks with the lame excuse that the thing is not worth bothering about. And while we are told again and again that no human being in possession of his faculties would give a second thought to the book, we are also told that it is making terrible inroads among an enlightened citizenry. “No argument, or mode of reasoning, could induce anyone to believe that in the nineteenth century, in the United States, and in the blaze of science, literature, and civilization, a sect of religionists could arise on delusion and imposition.” So one intellectual wrote in 1855, and adds the bemused confession: “But such are the facts, and we are forced to believe them.”27 This might be taken as an interesting commentary on the Book of Mormon: An intelligent man is confronted by a situation which, he tells us in the strongest language, nothing on earth could induce him to accept as possible—but there it is! Though they are contrary to everything we can or will believe, “such are the facts, and we are forced to believe them.” Had he examined the Book of Mormon itself more closely, Mr. Reynolds might have been forced to believe many things which his training and vanity had told him were impossible.

“The reader will not be long,” Mr. Taylder promises in the introduction to The Mormon’s Own Book, “in judging whether his [Joseph Smith’s] statements are the transcript of an enthusiast who unconsciously invested facts with the colouring of his imagination, or the cunningly-concocted after-thoughts of a knave.”28 Here the reader is given two damning alternatives in advance and told which one he is going to choose. With such helpful prompting he need not be long in reaching his conclusion, and the irksome obligations of serious research are gracefully sidestepped. With the same considerate forethought, Mr. Bays sent copies of the Anthon Transcript to a number of scholars, asking for their opinion of it—but not for their impartial opinion! With the transcript went a lurid covering letter, making it perfectly clear just what infamous claims were made for the document, and leaving the recipients in no doubt as to what effect a word in its favor might have on their reputations. The answer of the most eminent of the professors consulted gives the whole thing away. “The document which you enclose,” the reply begins, “raises a moral rather than an linguistic problem.” And as a moral problem the professor treats it.29 Any chance of an impartial linguistic test was out of the question under such circumstances, yet this was one of the few attempts made to judge the Book of Mormon by severely objective standards.

The first volume of the eminent American Anthropologist includes a study of some length with the promising title, “The Origin of the Book of Mormon.” Instead of displaying the deep scientific penetration and archaeological acumen we have a right to expect from such a source, the author confines his entire study to the grammatical mistakes in the book, resting his case principally on the antiquated use of “which” for “who,” apparently unaware of the same usage in the Bible. He dismisses the book itself as “only grotesque.” Yet for all that, it is a “portentous danger sign, . . . [a] monstrosity, born of deceit and bred in falsehood, . . . a monster of iniquity and deceit.” And what is it in the book that makes this expert so forget his cool scientific detachment? It is not anything the Book of Mormon actually says that upsets him: its “teachings and precepts are not in themselves immoral. For, the Book of Mormon is not in itself immoral. There is no polygamy in it; . . . there is nothing immoral in the book.” No, what alarms and enrages him is not what the Book of Mormon says, but what it pretends to be: “Its adherents have discovered a most dangerous weapon against the moral world in this doctrine of ‘a continuing revelation.’ ” That is the cloven hoof. As usual, it is not the Book of Mormon, but the Angel Moroni that is being put on trial: “To accept . . . any dispensation formulated in the terms of ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ is a portentous danger-sign to enlightened civilization.”30 Note that since this gentleman is not willing to accept any claim to revelation, the problem of testing such a claim never arises. In the same spirit, Professor Beardsley founds his Book of Mormon criticism on the unshakable rock that the modern mind rejects everything supernatural.31 Granted that premise, of course the Book of Mormon is a fraud. But the challenge of the Prophet is to test the possibility of revelation by using the book as evidence, in which case we cannot start out by rejecting the book out of hand because we know that revelation is impossible. That is exactly what we do not know.

The work of Linn, often hailed as the first really scientific study of Mormonism, is a good example of the backward approach. “The Mormon Bible,” he announces, “both in a literary and theological sense, is just such a production as would be expected to result from handing over to Smith and his fellow-‘translators’ a mass of Spaulding’s material and new doctrinal matter for collation and copying.”32 Notice that he begins with definite expectations and finds in the Book of Mormon exactly what he expects. He advises the student to do the same: “An examination of its contents is useful, therefore, rather as a means of proving the fraudulent character of its pretention to divine revelation than as a means of ascertaining what the members of the Mormon church are taught.”33 Here the student is actually warned against reading the book to learn whether it is true or not, but is instructed to approach it with just one object in mind, “as a means of proving the fraudulent character of its pretention to divine revelation.” And what rules does Mr. Linn have for telling when a writing is or is not the product of divine revelation? The usual rule, of course: There is no such thing!

Shortly after Linn’s book appeared, the Fallows published their widely circulated Mormon Menace. “What sane person,” they ask at the outset, “can believe that this man really believed that a glorious angel came from God and revealed to him the hiding place of these golden plates?”34 The question is rhetorical; merely to state it is to have your answer. However effective polemically, it closes the door to any real investigation. If the whole thing is simply out of the question to any sane person, what sane person is even going to think about it?

One of the few critics ever to do a serious piece of work on the Book of Mormon was H. C. Sheldon. In coming to grips with the problem, he tells us exactly what his position is. “The primary question is: Are those claims credible, or do they bear unmistakably the stamp of falsehood and imposture?” A leading question, indeed, but at last we have someone who at least recognized the possibility of an alternative—Linn reads the book avowedly to prove it false, Taylder gives us our choice of whether Smith was one kind of liar or another, but Mr. Sheldon is actually willing to recognize an “either/or” situation. Only in the next sentence he takes it all back: “Many conditions, some of which are of compelling force, shut up the critical investigator to the second alternative.”35 What chicanery! Our guide tells us that the “primary question” for consideration is whether the Book of Mormon is true or false, and then calmly informs us that the first alternative is under no circumstances to be examined. The jury is instructed to choose between A and B, with the specification that A has been disqualified before the contest; with that understandable limitation the jury may favor whomever they will.

As early as 1835 one editor announced a policy that was to become standard procedure in dealing with the Book of Mormon, “an artifice so vile, shallow and contemptible, that it can never deceive one intelligent person; therefore we think it unworthy of so much as a contradiction!”36 This is exactly the position taken in what has been hailed as recently as 1950 as the most thorough and devastating attack ever made on the Book of Mormon, a study by W. F. Prince, published in the American Journal of Psychology in 1917.37 We shall deal with this study later, but first let Dr. Prince tell us how matters stand with science and the Book of Mormon: “Since the odd contents of the volume lamentably or ludicrously fall before every canon of historical criticism, scholars have not thought it worth while to discuss the notion of its ancient authorship, unless briefly for pragmatic reasons and missionary purposes.”38

Here we have it again: the only reason any scholar consults the Book of Mormon is to debunk it for polemical purposes—pragmatic and missionary. The historical question raised by the book is purely and simply that of its ancient authorship—a problem that scholars have never discussed, according to Prince. Why not? we ask. Because it cannot stand up to critical investigation—it falls before every canon of historical criticism. Has it been tested by any of those canons? Of course not, it isn’t worth the trouble!

This absurd position, that the Book of Mormon has failed to pass a test which has never been given it because of its failure to pass, etc., is neatly confirmed by the learned LaRue in 1919. “What of the book itself?” he asks, “No serious consideration has ever been given it by men of science. It is considered fabrication.”39 Since it is a fabrication, why should any man of science waste his time with it? The answer is, that only by spending a lot of time with it can any man of science prove that it is a fabrication in the first place. But such reasoning does not count: “How could three rational men address ‘all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people,’ ” LaRue asks, “and say that God had told them that these plates had been ‘translated by the gift and power of God’?”40 Another rhetorical question, and quite pointless besides, since the problem of how they could do so is overridden by the admitted fact that they did.

Writing in the following year, C. S. Jones, after an almost unbelievably confused and inaccurate account of the contents of the Book of Mormon, makes his point: “It would be easy, pitiably easy, if it were not supererogatory, to pulverize this claim, . . . but cui bono?”41 Cui bono being Latin for “what’s the use?” We now have the comforting assurance that if the scholars and scientists have neglected the Book of Mormon, it has not been because they were too busy with more important things—for anything “pitiably easy” as the debunking of the book, a crying need in our society, should not require more than a few easy hours of a good man’s time. Why don’t they get at it? “What’s the use?” asks Mr. Jones, a strange question from one who feels that the world is in desperate need of a book by him entitled The Truth about the Mormons.

No anti-Mormon book has been pushed more diligently in high places than Arbaugh’s University of Chicago thesis on Revelation in Mormonism. Arbaugh informs us that “apart from specialized treatises, there is only one scientific book on Mormonism,” and that is Linn’s work, “quite incomplete, out of date, and defective, presenting a maze of undigested facts.”42 In view of such a state of sorry neglect, one might expect Arbaugh himself to do some real digging on the Book of Mormon, especially since revelation is his story. But no: he disarmingly informs us that where the book is concerned, he is going to take his information from a single collection of third- and fourth-hand reports made by the Reverend Charles A. Shook in 1912.43 For Mr. Arbaugh, “the fact that Mormonism is fantastic, interesting, and available for study as no other religion is, makes its study a pleasant task.”44 It presents no real problem because it is simply fantastic—you don’t have to worry about proving or disproving fantastic things, do you?

As recently as 1957 the same Arbaugh has got out a pamphlet which he modestly describes as “an authoritative handbook on Mormonism—concise, . . . scholarly, . . .objective.” “This is not an exposure of Mormonism,” he cries with liberal magnanimity. “One complaint which can be urged against the exposures is that they sometimes confuse hearsay with fact.”45 But not Arbaugh; no prejudice for him! He will write no scandalized exposure, but give his little book the neutral and unemotional title of Gods, Sex, and Saints: The Mormon Story, and promises to tell us, without a spark of ill feeling, how “the integrative principle of sex” operates in this “polytheistic mystery cult.” Thus with a preliminary barrage of loaded words, Mr. Arbaugh prepares us for his exercise in semantics—for he admits that he has shifted his ground from the historical to the semantic approach—no need to bother about facts here!46

One of the “exposures” which Dr. Arbaugh condemns for confusing hearsay with fact is Mrs. Brodie’s much-heralded novel, recently hailed by a reviewer as the work of “primary scholarship” on the Mormons.47 “Scholars of American literary history have remained persistently uninterested in the Book of Mormon and other sacred books, like the Koran, and Science and Health, though all are . . . an obscure compound of folklore, moral platitude, mysticism, and millennialism.”48 That should be enough to show how deep Mrs. Brodie herself has gone in her “primary scholarship.” She is quite unaware of Eduard Meyer’s work, though she could not possibly have avoided him in any serious study of the Book of Mormon or the Koran, and she apparently thinks that people who study and compare ancient and modern religious texts are known as sociologists.49 But she is right about one thing—the Book of Mormon has been persistently neglected. A search in the latest encyclopedias, American and foreign, will disclose long articles on the Dead Sea Scrolls but never an article on the Book of Mormon.50

Mr. C. S. Braden, in a book devoted to the subject of modern scriptures, refuses to touch the Book of Mormon except to note: “Naturally it [the story of the Book of Mormon] has been doubted by those outside the faith and every effort has been made to find a more plausible explanation of the sources of this scripture. . . . In an age such as ours,” he writes, “critical of all claims that run counter to what may be scientifically proven, the Mormon has a heavy burden of proof upon him.”51 Here, surely, is a convenient concept of the function of a textual critic. Mr. Braden it is who challenges the book, and then Mr. Braden denies any responsibility for proving his case. He dares the Mormons to convince him and refuses to study their book.

A Catholic priest prefaces a recent discussion of the Book of Mormon with a helpful statement of policy: “I, of course, hold that Mormon beliefs, differing as they do from the beliefs of Christians during two thousand years, are irreconcilable with the Christian faith.”52 In view of that “of course,” one wonders why Father Rumble bothers even to pretend to be investigating the thing, but a reading of the pamphlet will readily show that he is innocent of any dangerous researches.

In an ambitious historical study of the Book of Mormon published in 1954, Professor Meinhold of Kiel wrote: “To presume to believe on the existence of the ‘golden plates,’ is in spite of the witnesses, unerhört [unheard of, unthinkable].”53 Unerhört is no argument and no proof; it is the evasion of a task which the world has a right to expect of an honest scholar, and, like Eduard Meyer before him, Meinhold sidesteps the responsibility with a shrug. Speaking of such responsibility, A. E. Housman wrote, years ago, that no scholar, no matter how learned, may be “allowed to fling his opinions in the reader’s face without being called to account and asked for his reasons.”54 One of the best commentaries on this text is one of the latest: Dr. O’Dea has observed, not without a touch of Irish wit, that “the Book of Mormon has not been universally considered by its critics as one of those books that must be read in order to have an opinion of it.”55 We have seen why.

From the brief survey of critical policy just presented, one fact stands out conspicuously—the fact that from first to last the foremost objection to the book, an objection that far outweighs all others both as to the frequency and feeling with which it is put forward, is that it is hopelessly out of place in our modern, scientific, enlightened society. What amazes the first commentator is that such a thing can exist “at this enlightened age of the world”; Campbell “sets the question . . . forever at rest, to every rational mind”; E. D. Howe is alarmed that “great numbers of people in our enlightened country” should fall for such a thing; the Reverend Clark is astonished that it should find followers “in enlightened New England”; Gregg finds it “simply astounding that any human being . . . can be found so credulous as to believe it”; and so on. This completely disqualifies the comfortable thesis that while the Book of Mormon may have impressed the rustic America of a century ago, “in an age such as ours” it simply won’t hold up. Forty years ago a critic wrote that if Joseph Smith had “lived at a later date, he would have been laughed to scorn at once.”56 The fact is that he was laughed to scorn at once: in 1830 his book was if anything even more obnoxious to enlightened liberalism and modern education than it is today. “We must not forget,” one investigator reminds us, that “Mormonism arose almost yesterday, amid universities and libraries,” and not in a primitive world.57 “The modern mind,” writes Beardsley, “will reject the Mormon version of the golden plates and Urim and Thummim, as either delusions or fraud.”58 But in that respect the mind of 1830 was quite as “modern” as the mind of 1930. When Mrs. Brodie announces that twentieth-century science has finally “disembowelled” the Book of Mormon, we wait for the lurid details—but we wait in vain. Not a single twentieth-century argument does she produce: hardly a single new argument against the Book of Mormon has come forth since the first decade of its appearance!


*   This article first appeared in two parts, published in the Improvement Era (March 1959 to April 1959). The article was part of a series of five articles, published in nine parts under the title “Mixed Voices’: A Study on Book of Mormon Criticism.”

1.   Eduard Meyer, Ursprung und Geschichte der Mormonen (Halle: Niemeyer, 1912), p. 5, n. 1; published also as Origin and History of the Mormons, tr. H. Rahde and E. Séaich (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1961).

2.   Ibid., 19.

3.   The Life of David Marks, To the 26th Year of His Age, Written by Himself (Limerick, ME: Office of the Morning Star, 1831), 341. This happened on March 29, 1830. Marks’ statement, p. 341, “From all the circumstances, I thought it probably had been written originally by an infidel, to see how much he could impose on the credulity of men” is quoted with slight alteration and no acknowledgment by E. D. Howe, and lifted from him by others in the same way.

4.   Ibid.

5.   Alexander Campbell’s study first appeared in the Millennial Harbinger 2 (February 7, 1831): 85—96; it is most readily available in Francis W. Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America, 2 vols. (Independence, MO: Zion’s, 1951), 2:101—9. Our quotations are from Kirkham, 106 (emphasis added).

6.   Ibid., 107.

7.   Ibid., 105.

8.   Editorial, Palmyra Reflector (6 January 1831); quoted by Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America, 2:65.

9.   Josiah Priest, American Antiquities, 5th ed. (Albany: Hoffman and White, 1835), 76. The first edition was in 1832. Constantine S. Rafinesque published his views in his Atlantic Journal and Friend of Knowledge, vol. 1, no. 3 (Autumn 1832; reprinted Cambridge: Murray, 1946): 98—99.

10.   Origen Bacheler, Mormonism Exposed, Internally and Externally (New York: 162 Nassau Street, February 1838), 1, quoted by Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America, 2:159.

11.   Ibid., 6.

12.   H. Stevenson, Lecture on Mormonism (Newcastle, England: Blackwell, 1839; reprinted New Haven, Conn.: Research Publications, 1967), 24.

13.   Ibid., 8—9.

14.   E. D. Howe, History of Mormonism: or a Faithful Account of that Singular Imposition and Delusion (Painesville: Printed by the Author, 1840), 93—94.

15.   Ibid., 74—75.

16.   William Harris, Mormonism Portrayed (Warsaw, Ill.: Sharp and Gamble, 1841), Introduction, cited in Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America, 2:166—67.

17.   John Alonzo Clark, Gleanings by the Way (Philadelphia: Simon, 1842), 259.

18.   Ibid., 250.

19.   Ibid., 282.

20.   Daniel P. Kidder, Mormonism and the Mormons (New York: Carlton and Porter, 1842), 60.

21.   Ibid., 8.

22.   J. B. Turner, Mormonism in All Ages (New York: Platt and Peters, 1842), 300; Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America, 2:190.

23.   Ibid., 302; Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America, 2:190—92.

24.   Kidder, Mormonism and the Mormons, 336—37, esp. 337.

25.   Thomas Gregg, The Prophet of Palmyra (New York: Alden, 1890), 35, 95, and 8, respectively. The first statement is quoted by Gregg from S. S. Harding.

26.   James H. Hunt, Mormonism (St. Louis: Ustick and Davies, 1844), ch. 4, p. 39.

27.   John Reynolds, My Own Times (Belleville, Ill.: Perryman and Davison, 1855), 563.

28.   T. W. P. Taylder, The Mormon’s Own Book (London: Partridge, Paternoster Row, 1857), xxiv.

29.   Davis H. Bays, The Doctrines and Dogmas of Mormonism (St. Louis: Christian, 1897), 263.

30.   Perry B. Pierce, “The Origin of the Book of Mormon,” American Anthropologist new series, 1 (1899): 694 (emphasis added).

31.   Harry M. Beardsley, Joseph Smith and His Mormon Empire (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1931), 79—80. Beardsley is ready to accept “The Mormon version” of the story of the Book of Mormon “if we relate it in modern terms . . . shorn of its supernatural aspect.” As if the wise men of 1830 objected to anything else than its supernatural aspects!

32.   William A. Linn, The Story of the Mormons (New York: Macmillan, 1923), 89.

33.   Ibid., 90.

34.   Samuel Fallows and Helen M. Fallows, The Mormon Menace (Chicago: Woman’s Temperance Association, 1903), 16.

35.   Henry C. Sheldon, A Fourfold Test of Mormonism (New York: Abingdon, 1914), 10 (emphasis added).

36.   A. H. M., “Ancient and Modern Mormonism,” Western Examiner, ed. J. Bobb (10 December 1835), col. 4.

37.   Prince’s study “proved beyond dispute thirty years ago” exactly when and where the Book of Mormon was conceived, according to Whitney R. Cross, The Burned-over District (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1950), 144.

38.   Walter F. Prince, “Psychological Tests for the Authorship of the Book of Mormon,” American Journal of Psychology 28 (1917): 373.

39.   William Earl LaRue, The Foundations of Mormonism (New York: Revell, 1919), 77 (emphasis added). “A higher critical appraisal of the Book of Mormon, which was the result of this creative effort of Joseph Smith, would be extremely interesting,” wrote Charles F. Potter, The Story of Religion as Told in the Lives of Its Leaders (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1929), 531, but such has never been undertaken.

40.   La Rue, The Foundations of Mormonism, 65.

41.   C. Sheridan Jones, The Truth about the Mormons (London: Rider, 1920), 4—5.

42.   George B. Arbaugh, Revelation in Mormonism (University of Chicago Thesis, 1932; reprinted 1950), v.

43.   Ibid., vii.

44.   Ibid., v.

45.   George B. Arbaugh, Gods, Sex, and Saints: The Mormon Story (Rock Island, IL: Augustana, 1957), 5. “There is need for clarity at the point of semantics rather than for stories about the latest polygamists,” ibid., 6.

46.   Ibid., 5.

47.   Dale L. Morgan, “The ‘Peculiar People,’ ” Saturday Review (28 December 1957), 9.

48.   Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History (New York: Knopf, 1946), 67. Meyer’s work (see note 1 above) contains not only the classic comparison of Joseph Smith with Mohammed but also a detailed comparison of their revelations and their books. The work is not mentioned by Mrs. Brodie.

49.   Ibid.

50.   All that the Encylopedia Americana (1957), s.v. “Mormon,” has to say about the Book of Mormon itself is that “many editions have been published, millions of copies have been distributed, and the work has been translated into many different languages.” The Britannica (1957) has not a word to say about the contents of the Book of Mormon. [This situation is, fortunately, no longer the case—ed.]

51.   Charles S. Braden, The Scriptures of Mankind, An Introduction (New York: Macmillan, 1952), 481—82.

52.   L. Rumble, Mormons or Latter-day Saints (St. Paul, 1950), Introduction; reprinted in Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America, 2:304.

53.   Peter Meinhold, “Die Anfänge des Amerikanischen Geschichtsbewusstseins,” Saeculum 5 (1954): 85—86.

54.   In Alfred E. Housman’s edition of Manilius, Astronomicon, 5:xxxiii.

55.   Thomas F. O’Dea, The Mormons (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 26.

56.   Stuart Martin, The Mystery of Mormonism (New York: Dutton, 1920), 16.

57.   George Seibel, The Mormon Saints (Pittsburgh: Lessing, 1919), 7.

58.   Beardsley, Joseph Smith and His Mormon Empire, 79—80.