Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Book Review

Who Really wrote the book of Mormon? The Spalding Enigma, by Wayne L Cowdery, howard A Davis, and Arthur Vanick. (Concordia Publishing House, Saint Louis, 2005)

This book sets out to show that Joseph Smith, far from translating the Book of Mormon from mysterious golden plates revealed to him by the angel Moroni, actually plagiarized the book from a stolen manuscript. This has been a suspicion surrounding the Book of Mormon for almost as long as the Book of Mormon has come off the press. Yet it has never been shown how it was possible for Joseph Smith would have had access to Solomon Spalding’s manuscript for “A Manuscript Found.” Though, it has generally been accepted that the writing of the Book of Mormon, would have been miraculous in itself if Joseph Smith, whose education level was lacking, were to have written it himself.
The theory that the book proposes is that Sidney Rigdon stole this manuscript from Patterson’s Printing Office in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, where Solomon Spalding had tried to have it published as “A Manuscript Found.” Later Sidney Rigdon gave the manuscript to Joseph Smith who plagiarized it, possibly changing some sections of it, and rewriting the first 116 pages of it after Mrs. Harris stole them after having devised a nice test to see if Joseph Smith really was translating golden plates. Her object was to have Joseph retranslate them, at which point she would compare the two copies. Joseph declined to retranslate, saying that God would not let him do it for anger that he had lost the original translation!
The book shows that there was indeed a manuscript by Spalding entitled “Manuscript Found”, whose story was well known to the inhabitants of Conneaut, and was remarkably similar to the story of the “Book of Mormon.” Solomon Spalding was an ex Congregationalist minister, who had attended Dartmouth College. In other words he was a well educated man capable of writing. Evidently he wrote a lot, but spent most of his life in poverty and was never able to get anything published. He lived for a while in Pittsburgh where he tried to get the book published but never succeeded. Patterson’s Printing Office in Pittsburgh, though, kept a copy of the manuscript awaiting a preface, and title page.
The book then shows that Sidney Rigdon, though he didn’t live in Pittsburgh at this time, often frequented the city to obtain books, and befriended a kid by the name of Lambdin that worked for Patterson’s Printing Office. Thereby, the book establishes the great possibility that Rigdon had opportunity to steal said manuscript from that office.
But if the theory is to hold water, Sidney Rigdon had to have known Joseph Smith prior to the publication of the Book of Mormon. The book shows by citing signed affidavits and letters from the people of Palmyra, that Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon did indeed know each other prior to the publication. They had become acquainted with each other during dubious treasure digging adventures years before, and were seen together at the Smith house in Palmyra by numerous people.
All said, the book makes the case. And when all said is done, it is easier to believe that Joseph Smith plagiarized the book from Solomon Spalding’s manuscript, than that he translated it from mysterious Golden Plates for which there is no evidence. The evidence for the “Spalding Enigma” far outweighs the evidence for golden plates. In fact the only “evidence” for the golden plates, is the dubious word of Joseph Smith, and some treasure digging friends with imaginations poised to con.
That said, though the book has done the world a favor in compiling the evidence, it may have done better using footnotes rather than end notes. The notes are almost a book in themselves and filled with much amusing and insightful material, however trying to find them in the back of the book and follow along required the use of two bookmarks. It was very tedious. It also had the effect of obscuring the outline of the book. This book would be made better if its outline was made more prominent at the beginning. Often the details and evidence presented would weigh so much on the mind that a person would forget or get confused as to the point that was trying to be made. A chapter summarizing the basic argument of the book, and a preface to each chapter of the book summarizing the particular point of that chapter, or the objection being answered would have been immensely helpful.

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