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One Day in the Life of Joseph Smith,
Amazing "Translator" of the Book of Mormon

Satirical Skit by Jeff Lindsay, © Copyright 2003


The dramatic script below is my attempt to summarize the scholarly and historical investigations of many noteworthy critics of the Book of Mormon, who have identified numerous nineteenth-century sources that Joseph Smith allegedly could have used in crafting the Book of Mormon. Though certain poetic liberties have been taken for purposes of dramatic presentation, every effort has been made to accurately conform to the detailed historical analysis of Book of Mormon critics by showing--for the first time--just how Joseph may have constructed his fabrication with the help of his accomplices. This work is dedicated to the tireless and marvelously efforts of Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Grant Palmer, Fawn Brodie, and dozens of others critics whose fastidious efforts have uncovered so many possible sources for the Book of Mormon. This script is related to my essay, "Is the Book of Mormon Plagiarized From Modern Works?"

A Day in the Life of Joseph Smith, Translator Extraordinaire

Joseph translating. Stack of books Scene: The setting is the renowned though secretive west wing of the vast Joseph Smith Frontier Library, cleverly disguised as Joseph Smith's crude cabin in the frontier lands of New York. It is the summer of 1829. Joseph is writing madly on sheets of paper as Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, David Whitmer, Father Smith (Joseph Smith, Senior), Emma Smith, and Hyrum Smith search through large piles of books covering tables, filling bookshelves, and forming stacks all over the floor. Oliver and David are growing agitated.

Joseph: That nearly does it for chapter 13 of First Nephi. But I need another phrase for verse 40. I am writing about sacred books--what shall I call them?

Emma: I've got it! Here in the Apocrypha--

Joseph: The what?

Emma: The Apocrypha--books that weren't good enough for the Bible, but are there anyway. I have found in Second Maccabees, chapter two, verse one, a word that might help you: it is "records."

Joseph: Excellent! I must learn more about this Acropylha. Perhaps I shall fix it up a bit in the future to make it good enough for the Bible. Yes, I see it now--an "inspired translation." That should sell! But Emma, the lone word "records" is not much help. Cannot you give me an entire phrase to aid my work of plagiarism?

Emma: Of course, Joseph. I can offer you an entire phrase from that very verse: "in the records."

Joseph: Now that's more like it. Oh, I know it's risky, lifting three entire words in a row, but what literary detective would be so lucky as to stumble upon my source? "In the records" it shall be. Delicious! But you have only whetted my thirst for theft from this source. Pluck me another ripe phrase, if you will. I have a gap in my book of Fourth Nephi, verse 31, where I must somehow describe the Jews of old and relate them to their city of origin, Jerusalem. But how to make the connection? Emma, does you precious Agroplypha offer any guidance?

Emma: Indeed it does! Why, the very first verse of the same book, Second Maccabees, offers the phrase "the Jews at Jerusalem." Do you like it?

Joseph: A perfect fit, a gem indeed. Behold, I shall refer to the "the Jews at Jerusalem."

Emma: But does my husband grow too bold? Four entire words, in the very order, lifted directly from Second Maccabees? And that on the heels of another blatant theft of three entire words? Do you not risk exposure of our deception by such brash plagiarism?

Joseph: Brash indeed, but subtle, very subtle. What mind would be so clever to see the connection between the tens of thousands of words in my text and the many of words of your obscure Mancabees or Mabbakees or whatever it was, when I borrow so precious little? And why would minds of such stature spend their effort on such a base task as exposing me? No, I trust that we shall be secure, as long as we play our part well.

Martin: I hope you'll add a few realistic details when you mention Jerusalem. For example, from Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews, we read these details for our use:

Most of this city was surrounded with three walls. In some places, where it was deemed inaccessible, it had only one. The wall first built was adorned and strengthened with sixty towers. Fourteen towers rested on the middle wall. The outside one, (most remarkable for its workmanship) was secured with ninety towers.

Joseph: I didn't know that Jerusalem had walls. Is that true, Emma?

Emma: If dear Ethan Smith says so, you can count on it, Joseph.

Joseph: Well, I suppose I could mention walls, perhaps, but only briefly, when Nephi goes back to Jerusalem. But I will not risk offering any details.

Oliver: (Throwing down a book in disgust.) Joseph, this is unbearable! After two hours of our many efforts, you have only accepted two tiny phrases from the Apocrypha, and perhaps a reference to walls, while thousands of rich opportunities go missed. Why wouldn't you borrow a paragraph or even a single sentence from the sophisticated Sophocles? And from all of Rousseau, nothing but the word "adieu" when entire pages beg to be used? And why only the faintest hint of logic from Descartes, and only the tiniest trace of Franklin? Frankly, Joseph, I am beginning to doubt the value of our work. Here we have assembled the finest library the frontier has ever seen, but you exploit almost none of the prizes we have assembled. So many books, but so little progress. The three witnesses.

David: I agree! Here we have hundreds of the finest sources for our fiction, everything from Ovid and Homer to Gibbons, Washington, and Adam Smith, but we focus on none of them. And after we have searched America and Europe, at great expense, to gather writings from Swedenborg, Plato, Owens, from Old School Presbyterians, French Mystics, Methodists, Unitarians, Millerites, Baptists, Campbellites, Quakers, Catholics, Gnostics, Transcendentalists, Deists, and from authors such as Rabelais, Milton, Anselm, Joachim of Flores, Early Church Fathers, old Iranian sources, Brahmin mystics, Free Masons, and dozens more, you have only taken small fragments from each. Why must plagiarism be so hard and tedious? Joseph, I stand as a second witness to echo Oliver's sentiment: we must change our course.

Martin: You may add my name as a third witness on this point. We need a better vision for the path forward.

Joseph: Why, yes, three witnesses! A brilliant idea. I must add that to our little story. Now brethren, I understand your objection, but let your hearts be calm. Remember, these older books may be unreliable, and many are filed with mere opinion and speculation. If we are to impress the world, our book must concur with modern scientific knowledge to some degree.

Hyrum: Then why won't you use it when it's right beneath your nose? Look, here in View of the Hebrews is information that we can use to make the Book of Mormon fit the most modern state of knowledge from the learned Ethan Smith. Here's an example. I read from pages 155 through 159, where he speaks of a great being among the ancient Indians named Quetzalcoatl. He is known as the serpent of green feathers--a detail I would include if I were playing the role of prophet! Let me read directly as he quotes the scholars about that legendary figure:

"He was high priest of Tula, legislator, chief of a religious sect who inflicted on themselves the most cruel penance."

"He introduced the custom of piercing the lips and ears; and lacerating the rest of the body with prickles and thorns." "He appeased by his penance divine wrath." "A great famine prevailed in the province of Culan."

"The saint (this legislator) had chosen his place of retirement on the volcano Catcitepetl, or speaking mountain, where he walked barefoot on agave leaves armed with prickles."

"The reign of Quetzalcoatl was a golden age of the people of Anahuac. The earth brought forth without culture the most fruitful harvests. But this reign was not of long duration."

"The Great Spirit offered Quetzalcoatl beverage, which in rendering him immortal, inspired him with a taste for travelling, and with an irresistible desire of visiting a distant country called Tlapallan." . . .

"He preached peace to men, and would permit no other offerings to the Divinity than the first fruits of the harvests."

"He disappeared, after he had declared to the Cholulans that he would return and govern them again, and renew their happiness." . . .

Though their ancient "legislator" is called by a name importing the serpent of green feathers; yet he was an ancient man, a white man and bearded; called by Montezuma, a saint who led them to this country, and taught them many things. Who could this be but Moses, the ancient legislator in Israel?

Hyrum: And then Ethan explains how Moses is the only possibility. The volcano refers to the mountain with the burning bush, the piercing of the body refers to boring of the ear mentioned in the Bible--a practice we must include for authenticity, the golden age refers to the seven years of plenty under the rule of Joseph in Egypt, and so on. Joseph, if our book is to have any merit, we must equate Quetzalcoatl with Moses. Perhaps we can even have a miraculous visit from Moses himself, perhaps as an angel. But at a minimum, they must revere Moses as their great priest and peace bringer, we must include green feathers and piercing of the body and prickles and bare feet and--

Martin: But Hyrum, this being Quetzalcoatl was from Mexico, and the Book of Mormon is about the North American Indians, those in our region, if I understand correctly. What could possibly motivate us to consider Mexico at all? Rather, let us borrow from the legends and ways of the Iroquois, the Mohawks, the Oneidas, and other tribes whose ways are more readily known to us. Let us describe their long houses, their moccasins, their savage ways and language, a people without civilization, without idolatrous gods, without kings or city walls or--

Joseph: Not so fast, gentlemen. We must not commit to any one place or source, but plagiarize freely wherever possible, keeping our options open. And remember, as we cast more arrows in more directions, the more likely it is that we shall hit an occasional target. Now, I shall mention Moses, but will take none of Hyrum's other suggestions on this matter. If we have a golden time at all, it shall be after Christ visits the people. I may even so contrive my story that later generations will see in Quetzalcoatl the figure of Christ himself.

Hyrum: But that's not what Ethan Smith teaches. You stray from the most advanced knowledge if you introduce such fables.

Joseph: Fables sell, and that's what we're after, my dear fellows. I say that we have plagiarized enough from View of the Hebrews, and now it is time to draw from authors other than our dear Ethan Smith, in spite of the tempting gems he offers in his book.

Oliver: I am amazed, Joseph, over your refusal to draw upon Ethan's work. Martin may be partly right about Mexican legends, but Ethan covers much more than Mexico alone. He offers so many evidences from all over the continent that the Indians came from the 10 lost tribes, giving numerous details of their passage over the Bering Strait and their travels from Asia to North America and south. Why not include these grand themes?

Hyrum: Oliver is absolutely right. Ethan Smith proves that the Ten Tribes came to the Americas by the Bering Strait. To depart from that sure knowledge is delusion--but Joseph so far gives us only a few scattered people from tribes that were not lost, and has them go nowhere near the Bering Strait. Hear Ethan Smith's words from page 159:

And their coming from the north-west to Mexico, indicates to what region, and in what direction, they came; over Beering's straits into America, and southward through the continent. This accords with the testimonies of Robinson, Humbolt, and all the most intelligible writers of Indian tradition. All bring them from the north-west coasts of America.
Hyrum: Did you hear that? "Robinson, Humboldt, and all the most intelligible writers of Indian tradition" agree with Ethan Smith that the Indians came over the Bering Strait. But you propose that they came by boat and landed far south of our land, and that they spread to the north. You've got it completely backwards, Joseph! Why take such risks? Why not rely on Ethan Smith?

Joseph: Because it would all be too simple. We want something more challenging for our book, something new, something to increase sales. The Bering strait is yesterday's news, I'm afraid. Who would go for that?

David: But can't we at least add credibility to our tale by including a few of the numerous evidences that Ethan provides for the Hebrew origins of the Indians? Here, on pages 52 and 53, he states that the Indians called Great Spirit by the name "Ale, the old Hebrew name of God; and Yohewah, whereas the Hebrew name for Lord was Jehovah; also they call the Great First Cause, Yah; the Hebrew name being Jah," and that we can "find them, on certain occasions, singing in religious dance, 'Hallelujah,' or praise to Jah; also singing Yohewah, Shilu Yohewah, and making use of many names and phrases evidently Hebrew." He also speaks of their use of an ark and covenant and many other Hebrew customs, but there is not a word of this in your text so far. We must add these touches to Lamanite traditions in our book. You say you've plagiarized from Ethan Smith, and James Adair, and many others, but I just don't see it. What good is it to plagiarize if we leave our sources virtually untouched and have to make up almost everything from scratch? Can't you add a little more vigor to your theft?

Joseph: You miss the brilliance of my work, Brother David. If I steal a man's coat, he'll recognize it again and call me a thief. But if I only take a tiny thread here, a stitch there, borrowing minute and random strands from hundreds of coats--or books, in our case--and weave it together into a new cloth, who could be so wise, so clairvoyant, as to detect my fraud. It's the work of a genius, I tell you!

Father Smith: Joseph, you may be right, but I dare say that someday, men and women of such intellect and genius may be born who might see through our fraud and expose you as a plagiarizer. If they are able to trace the threads back to their myriad sources, your book will become worthless.

Joseph: Excuse me, but I'm the acting prophet here. Besides, even if you are right, there is no risk of being discovered in our lifetimes, I assure you. Now Martin, what have you found for me? I need details to help me write about the journey to the New World.

Martin: Well, Joseph, to provide an accurate description of a journey from Jerusalem to the New World, you've first got to get your family to the ocean. The only plausible path is to go due West to the Mediterranean. It's a short journey, and the region is well described in several of these books I've gathered for you, so can provide plausible details without having to guess what it was like. Plus, everyone knows of the great ocean-faring skills of the Phoenicians, who could then build a ship for Nephi and ensure that--

Joseph: No, no, no! We want this book to be filled with miracles and wild, exciting tales. Who is going to join our church and pay me tithing and sacrifice all they have for a pedestrian tale that anyone could fabricate? We need something much more exciting than that. No, going west will never do. How about south or east? That's it. Southeast! Or southeast first, then due east. Yes! That sounds good. Tell me, what lies southeast of Jerusalem?

Father Smith: Why, we have nothing but the vast deserts of Arabia, a place of endless sand.

Joseph: Does it have a coast?

Martin: Yes, the Indian ocean, but ...

Joseph: Perfect! Now dig me up some details about the place so I can have Lehi migrate to the ocean and build a miraculous ship. Oh, I can sense it, this is going to sell! But first, tell me what the scholars have to say about Arabia.

Martin: Well, I've got a precious find indeed. This book, hot off the presses of London and shipped here at great expense, is entitled Arabia by the noted scholar Josiah Conder, with a date of 1825, making it the most up-to-date work we could find. Here Conder describes the whole southern coastline as "a rocky wall . . . as dismal and barren as can be; not a blade of grass or a green thing." You see, Joseph, your father is right. We can't possibly have a family traipsing across a barren desert. They would die within a week.

Oliver: What, here's even more recent information that might help us. It is from Frederick Butler, Elements of Geography and History Combined, just printed last year in 1828, and printed right here in the United States, in Wethersfield, Connecticut, by the firm of Deming and Francis. This is one of the few books of interest that we could actually find in libraries in our vicinity. He offers information that we cannot neglect in our treatment of Arabia. He describes Arabia as "generally a barren uncultivated waste" on page 245. That should settle it.

David: Wait! Though the details are vague, Butler and many other gazettes speak of a pleasant place called "Arabia Felix" or "Happy Arabia" in the south of the peninsula, inland, away from the coast. For example, in this book by Karsten Niebuhr, published in English in 1792 (and one that was most difficult for me to acquire!), it is said to be in the southern part of Arabian, not the east coast. Perhaps if you can bring you family due south, they might--

Joseph: But it's the eastern coast I want. I'll move your green place there, and name it, name it . . .

David: But to go east is disaster! There is nothing there, I tell you, but rocks and hot sand that stretches out for miles, so bountiful and ...

Joseph: Bountiful! The perfect name. Thank you for that advice. Bountiful, on the east coast. A place with many trees, fine for building a ship.

Oliver: Trees? Bushes and shrubs, some basic vegetation perhaps, but certainly nothing worthy of making timber for a ship. None of all experts provide the slightest hint that such fine timber can be obtained anywhere in Arabia. In fact, Nathaniel Dwight's 1811 Short but Comprehensive System for the Geography of the World, which we just purchased for you last week, specifically states, "There is very little timber in Arabia of any kind."

David: For goodness sake, Joseph, at least have them reach pleasant greenery when they get to the southernmost part of their journey. That might offer some faint hope for plausibility.

Joseph: Not a chance, my man. I shall have that portion be the most difficult part of their journey. In fact, I shall have Ishmael be buried there, followed by much sorrow and hardship. No Happy Arabia for our voyagers--that would lack the adventure our readers demand.

Emma: But Joseph, the scholars seem to suggest that you have everything backwards, and that the journey as you propose is doomed to failure.

Joseph: Perfect! Then it will be a miraculous journey indeed, filled with adventure and hardships, enough to stir the heart of the most hardened, and make them want to read more. But we will reward our readers with a Garden of Eden at the end of their journey, a green and lovely place that no traveler has ever seen, for we must demand some faith from our believers, after all.

Martin: (shaking his head) Have it your way--but I still say that people will mock.

Joseph: Perhaps at first. But imagine our good fortunes if later explorers find out there are places such as our lovely green Bountiful on the east coast after all? They'll say I was a prophet!

(Everyone laughs.)

Joseph: Now seriously, my friends, we need more details for my stories. Names! Who has got a name I can plagiarize?

David: (reading a booklet) Here's a name you can use, Joseph. "Alma Mater"--a beautiful name for a woman. Perhaps Nephi's wife?

Joseph Smith Joseph: We're not doing many women's names in the Book of Mormon, David. Women readers are so hard to please when it comes to female names. I've tried plagiarizing dozens of names for Nephi's wife and Emma rejected all of them. Perfectly good names like Antoinette, Hayawatha, and Joan of Arc. But I like Alma--though I think I'll use it for a prophet's name. Yes, the prophet Alma. I like it so much I might even have TWO Almas. How about a father and son duo?

David: But Joseph, Alma is a female name. Everyone with any education ought to know that. Honestly, I would be more comfortable with this whole project if we had an author with a little more than a sixth-grade backwoods education. (Several of the men mumble and nod in agreement. Martin mutters that Joseph "didn't even know about the walls of Jerusalem.")

Hyrum: And please, Joseph, don't leave in that part about Christ being born in Jerusalem. It's Bethlehem--every child knows that.

Joseph: Silence, you fools, or I'll excommunicate you all. I speak of Jerusalem as the land, not the city. It's a stretch, but for all we know, such flaws may someday be proven correct--and then we'll look all the smarter.

Father Smith: Joseph, I've found something. On page 81 of Eighteen Sermons by the respected minister, George Whitefield, is a sentence that may serve you well. He says, "Wo, wo, wo to all those that will not submit to the righteousness of Jesus Christ." I think you should use that.

Joseph: Father, I trust you judgment entirely. I shall plagiarize "wo, wo, wo" and put it right here in 3 Nephi chapter 9.

Father Smith: But the whole sentence has such a nice ring to it, I though--

Joseph: I assure you, father, three entire words are risky enough in this case, though only a genius would recognize that Whitefield is their source!

(Sidney Rigdon walks in pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with books, manuscripts and maps. He is weary and drenched with sweat.)

Sidney: Here's another batch, fresh from the finest bookstores of Europe. Greek and Latin classics, many in English, and some great scientific discourses, plus a few preliminary manuscripts I've swiped from learned friends in the East--perfect for plagiarism! This has been no easy task, Joseph.

Joseph: Anything good?

Sidney: Yes, we've got a massive new text from the learned German scholar, Mr. Alexander von Humboldt . I present you with his Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of America, During the Years 1799-1804, in three volumes, now translated into English. It describes his passage from Europe to the Americas. And from what I can tell, it gives extensive details about plants, animals, and fishes in that region. Why, he writes about armadillos, coconuts, electric eels, jelly fish, boas, cactus, flamingos, tobacco, palm trees, howling monkeys, bananas (oh, you have never seen an author wax so eloquently or so long about bananas!), crocodiles, glow worms, jaguars, rattle snakes, and all manner of life that you can include to impress future generations. And these four additional volumes comprise his Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain, translated by John Black and printed in New York in 1811. Though hard to find, I managed to conjure up a set for your benefit, Joseph.

Joseph: Brilliant find, indeed! But we won't be using the material you suggest.

Sidney: No? Why not? I didn't do all this gathering for nought.

Joseph: Too complicated. We're selling to farmers, and they want to read about ordinary animals. Horses, cows, goats, cureloms and cumons, you know. Got to keep things simple. Besides, we've already got enough glimpses of von Humboldt through our friend, Ethan Smith.

Oliver: Mere glimpses, and even those have been ignored. How shall we take advantage of this treasure trove of authentic information from the Americas? My goodness, Joseph, Sidney is right! We can't let the opportunity slip. We feel like we're wasting our time digging through so many volumes for you, only to have a scattered word or concept borrowed from a fraction of our sources.

Joseph: We must not be greedy, Oliver.

Sidney: Very well, but surely we can at least make sure what we say is compatible with von Humboldt. He is, after all, one of the world's most erudite scientific minds with firsthand experience in the region we are writing about.

Joseph: Yes, but frankly, Sidney, he's a German, and I don't think his views will have much impact on the common minds in this part of the world.

Sidney: (triumphantly waving a stack of notes) Then I've got another treasure that will suit us grandly! I have met with the famous American scholar, Josiah Priest, and have learned of his views on the Americas, rooted in the most advanced scholarship. Many of these details will be published soon in a book on the American antiquities. And he focuses on eastern North America, the obvious setting for our book. Based on his vast scholarly knowledge, obtained by condensing all these and many more available volumes, he believes that the Indians came here from the Asiatic nations, as many scholars agree, but also that there were Polynesians, Malays, Australasians, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Israelites, Tartars, Scandinavians, Danes, Norwegians, Welch, and Scotch, all colonizing different parts of the continent. He has observed that all the principles of the stoic school of the Greeks are found in the practice of the American savages, a detail we must include. And as for Indians in Mexico, based on von Humboldt, he concludes that their Quetzalcoatl was a Buddhist or Brahman missionary from India, though he may also have come from the northeast of Asia. He also summarizes Clavigero, the learned Spaniard, noting that the Aztecs came from the China coast by sea travelling near the Bering Strait. He further observes that Christian symbolism arrived via Asiatic Nestorian Christians who crossed to America in Mongol ships. The ten tribes reached America by ships via Norway, having amalgamated with the Scythians (also called the Tartars), which explains the many "Jewish" parallels evident among the Indians that Mr. Adair and other have provided for us. I say, Joseph, you must adapt your story to follow Mr. Priest's findings, and I will gladly assist with the rewriting--asking only to be name co-translator and co-prophet with you.

Joseph: If that is the price, I'll have none of it. But I do like Mr. Morse's idea of many migrations. Thus, I shall add a couple more. Perhaps another from Israel, and one from some other place and time. I'll leave it vague so readers can use their imagination to make it conform with their favorite theories! Now that's subtle.

Sidney: But Joseph, there is so much in print that you can simply adapt, brush up, and use to add credibility to your work. Imagine the benefit of having a text that complies with Priest, Morse, von Humboldt, Adair, Ethan Smith, and many others. I know they contradict themselves a thousand times, but there is agreement on many key issues that you can use. At least, I beg you, use Priest's information about the Bering Strait!

Joseph: Tempting, I agree. But we have already crossed that bridge. The answer is no. (The group moans. Joseph is startled. He pauses, then nods and smiles.) My friends, I am not immune to your counsel. Very well, we shall take more advantage of these find books from Sidney. Let us turn to the vast works of von Humboldt, the German. Here is your assignment. Scan these hundreds of pages and tell me something basic about the civilization of the ancient Americas that we can include. Everyone take a volume and get to work. Meanwhile, I'll copy some more text from the King James Bible just to fool our critics. Now go to and find me something to plagiarize.

(Two hours later.)

Martin: Joseph, you are ruined if you say anything that could link the former civilization of Mexico with the peoples of the Book of Mormon. Mr. von Humboldt is very clear. Not only does he state that they came from Asia via the Bering Strait, but he also teaches that these civilizations rose from the seventh to twelfth centuries, long after our book is to end.

Father Smith: And, my son, your proposed visit of Christ to the Americas not only contradicts Ethan Smith, who says this was Moses, but also contradicts the testimony of von Humboldt regarding the Mexican Quetzalcoatl, as we learned from Sidney regarding Mr. Priest's reading of Humboldt. You see, Humboldt, in Chapter 23 of his Personal Narrative, calls Quetzalcoatl the "Mexican Buddha" who arose during the time of the Toltecs, which is hundreds of years after Christ. He also "founded the first religious associations, and established a government similar to that of Meroe and of Japan." If you describe organized religion and complex forms of government in our book, it will be our ruin.

Joseph: Dear Father, let your heart be at ease. So much remains unknown about the other lands of the Americas, that we can always say it could have happened somewhere else, far from Mexico.

David: I've got it! Here are dozens of pages in von Humboldt with detailed descriptions of volcanoes. You can describe their size, shape, smells, temperature, associated vegetation, for page after page--that will wow them!

Joseph: Excellent! I'll include a volcanic eruption, but I won't say so. I'll disguise it, just referring to some indirect side effects like three days of darkness, mists of darkness you can feel, and similar matters. Might take years for people to even think of volcanoes, but when they do, they'll be impressed.

David: But the description of tangible darkness is not in here. What if you get it wrong?

Joseph: Well, I won't call it a volcano, so there will be my loophole. Now what else have you got for me?

Sidney: Here is a place name repeated many times by von Humboldt: Cumana. Can you use that? Maybe Nephi has a brother named Cumana?

Joseph: Too easy. Let's take Cumana and hide our tracks with a deft change.... There! Cumorah! But it won't be a person, rather a place. I've got it! We'll tell people we got the book from the Hill Cumorah. This is easier than I thought!

Emma: Joseph, this is becoming too technical and far too dry for my tastes. If you want the book to have some appeal, you need some romantic stories to add interest and color. Forget all those stale texts--here's something much better. It is The Golden Pot by ETA Hoffmann. It was just published in English in 1827, and I dare say it has a lot of pleasant and inspiring ideas that you should use. It was so nice of Oliver to find a copy for us.

Joseph: You are brilliant, Emma. You see gentleman, what a great advantage it is to have an intelligent wife! One is hardly enough for such a project as this. Pray, read me a passage that we can plagiarize.

Emma: Here's one that will give every reader a warm feeling in her heart:

The Student Anselmus thought: "Well, it is only the evening wind, which tonight truly is whispering distinctly enough." But at that moment there sounded over his head, as it were, a triple harmony of clear crystal bells: he looked up, and perceived three little snakes, glittering with green and gold, twisted around the branches, and stretching out their heads to the evening sun. Then, again, began a whispering and twittering in the same words as before, and the little snakes went gliding and caressing up and down through the twigs; and while they moved so rapidly, it was as if the elder-bush were scattering a thousand glittering emeralds through the dark leaves.

"It is the evening sun sporting in the elder-bush," thought the Student Anselmus; but the bells sounded again; and Anselmus observed that one snake held out its little head to him. Through all his limbs there went a shock like electricity; he quivered in his inmost heart: he kept gazing up, and a pair of glorious dark-blue eyes were looking at him with unspeakable longing; and an unknown feeling of highest blessedness and deepest sorrow nearly rent his heart asunder. And as he looked, and still looked, full of warm desire, into those kind eyes, the crystal bells sounded louder in harmonious accord, and the glittering emeralds fell down and encircled him, flickering round him in a thousand sparkles and sporting in resplendent threads of gold. The elder-bush moved and spoke: "You lay in my shadow; my perfume flowed around you, but you understood it not. The perfume is my speech, when love kindles it." The evening wind came gliding past, and said: "I played round your temples, but you understood me not. That breath is my speech, when love kindles it." The sunbeam broke through the clouds, and the sheen of it burned, as in words: "I overflowed you, with glowing gold, but you understood me not. That glow is my speech, when love kindles it."

And, still deeper and deeper sank in the view of those glorious eyes, his longing grew keener, his desire more warm. And all rose and moved around him, as if awakening to glad life. Flowers and blossoms shed their odours round him, and their odour was like the lordly singing of a thousand softest voices, and what they sang was borne, like an echo, on the golden evening clouds, as they flitted away, into far-off lands. But as the last sunbeam abruptly sank behind the hills, and the twilight threw its veil over the scene, there came . . .

Joseph: Wonderful, Emma. Oh, how rich! Yes, I shall use that indeed. He mentions temples, and I shall plagiarize that. By George, I declare: the Nephites shall have temples! Oh, and winds, and gold, and love, and bells--no scratch the bells. Too romantic. But yes, Emma, Hoffmann shall indeed be one of my sources for a few touches in the Book of Mormon.

Martin: Brother Joseph, you are missing the point.

Emma: But Joseph, it's not much use to just take a word or two. Why not take this beautiful story and just change a few details, but keep all these lovely sentences.

Joseph: But then people would have a real case to call me a plagiarizer! I don't want to give them any real reason to dismiss my book, or it won't sell!

Emma: But can't you borrow something more from Hoffmann? Look, his story has all these lovely salamanders. They are mentioned dozens of times. Can't we please add salamanders to our story? Oh, indeed, salamanders that can live in flames!

Joseph: Hoffmann and flaming salamanders--something tells me that could be an explosive combination. We must take a different approach. There will be no salamander tales in our book. I will stick with plagiarizing only a few scattered elements to add delicate touches to my work.

Oliver: Joseph, listen! This book should be the source for much more than a few scatterd touches! It is loaded with esoteric elements that could serve as a foundation for everything you are trying to achieve. You could use this as the source for claims to angelic visitations, perhaps even the whole idea of mystic knowledge--or "all manner of secret sciences," as Hoffmann writes--being presented to you. This could be the inspiration for your First Vision story. Oh, and look at this! It speaks of "many curious books" and "manuscripts, partly Arabic, Coptic, and some of them in strange characters, which do not belong to any known tongue." Why, the whole thing about the gold plates could stem from this.

Joseph: You have a point, but I've been saying such things for years already, and this story wasn't published until 1827. Hoffman has come too late to help me with those tales. Oliver, frankly, this proposal is sorely lacking. I think you should consult with more experts before you--

Oliver: But that's exactly what I did. I consulted with some of the world's leading scholarly minds to learn how best to plagiarize Hoffman, and I had to share a wee bit of gold before they would share their craft.

Joseph: Are you saying you actually bribed somebody to get the idea of The Golden Pot as the source for the whole "Restoration of the Gospel"?

Oliver: Let's just say I had to grease a few palmers.

Emma: But Joseph, something is wrong here. The original German version came out in 1814. Perhaps if any of us knew German and had been to Germany, then we could benefit--I know, what about that dear Mr. Walters, the magician, who gave you those worthless peepstones? Hasn't he been to Germany?

Joseph: Perhaps he has. We must consider this possibility. And maybe I can get some improved relics from him to add more mystery to my holy work of translation. Perhaps the rod of Moses, or the Urim and--

Martin: I must say, Joseph, Hoffmann is a much better writer than you. He doesn't rely on all the "and it came to passes" that you do, and certainly has a pleasant and sophisticated tone to his writing. Why not borrow a little more of his style from him and less from the King James Version?

Emma: You must remember, dear sirs, that my Joseph has never been much of a student of books, and the King James Bible is about all he knows on his own, and even then I don't think he ever read much of that before he decided to take on the job of prophet. You can't expect him to fully exploit so many books unfamiliar to him!

Oliver: But to plagiarize entire chapters from the King James Bible when you won't borrow more than a phrase or two from equally rich sources--it makes no sense to me.

Joseph: Dear Oliver, you forget what plagiarism is. Plagiarism is about deception, about hiding your sources! Those chapters you refer to are identified and quoted for religious reasons. When Nephi says that he is going to quote from Isaiah, and then quotes from Isaiah, there is no deception there. It hardly counts as plagiarism, easy as it may be. It is called quoting, and it is a devious technique that will only add authenticity to my text. Bible writers of old did it all the time, though usually without the courtesy of citing the source. So we have writers citing others in the finest Biblical tradition, and we have Christ repeating his Sermon on the Mount--but modified to fit Nephite details--all in exactly the manner one would expect, showing reverence for the established Word. This is all part of my subtle plan to strengthen, not weaken, our fraud on the world.

Father Smith: But you plagiarize on a grand scale the style and language of the King James Bible. Why not use the modern vernacular, or, as Emma suggests, the lofty style of Mr. ETA Hoffmann?

Joseph: Remember, I am the purported "translator" of our text. If a real prophet were translating a real text of a Biblical nature, would he not be wise to adapt the common language of scripture, namely the language of the King James Bible, in order to preserve the flavor of scripture according to the conventions of the English language? More to the point, we will be selling this book as scripture, man, and so it better be written in the style of scripture for our customers. That is hardly plagiarism, but my choice of style--and a choice that I expect to be most profitable. Now give me something real to plagiarize. I need more text!

David: This hefty tome might help, Joseph. It is Josiah Priest's The Wonders of Nature and Providence Displayed, printed in 1825, very up to date, and filled with rich detail and inspiring words that can make your work much easier.

Joseph: There is so much to work with here! This is wonderful. I shall open the text randomly to this page, ah, page 429, point to a phrase, and behold: "...from whence no traveler returns." Why, that's a handsome phrase if ever there was one. I think I shall put it into the mouth of Zoram. No, not Zoram, but Father Lehi.

Hyrum: Joseph, that phrase sounds a lot like Shakespeare.

Joseph: Perfect! Then we'll plagiarize from two sources at once, greatly simplifying our work. Now should we risk taking anything else from those two sources? I say not.

Sidney: Joseph, may I suggest that we enrich our fraud with some clever ornamentation in style? We must include poetry after the manner of the ancient Hebrews. Among my recent acquisitions are some volumes to guide us: Robert Lowth has published these Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews, with American editions printed in Boston in 1815; John Jebb has written Sacred Literature, printed in London in 1820; Thomas Boys has graced us with Tactica Sacra from London, 1824 and Key to the Book of Psalms from London, 1825; and Thomas Horne has written a useful Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, published in 1825. Of these, Lowth is the best known and most influential, and I suggest that you should follow the many forms of poetical parallelism he discusses, for that would add a scholarly sense of authenticity to your text. And while Lowth is ignorant of it, some of the less known writers point to an unusual form called "epanados" or "chiasmus" or "introverted parallelism" that, with a little luck, may someday be recognized by many other scholars as an important part of Semitic poetry, though almost none in our day know of this little secret. I think you can increase your prophetic stature by building some of this poetry into your text. This poetical form is introduced to us by John Jebb, Bishop of Limerick, and you should follow his work to strengthen yours.

Joseph: It is not enough to plagiarize so many sources for content, but now I must also plagiarize for style? This water is becoming too deep for me! But I suppose I must try. Let's see what I can take from the old Bishop of Limerick. . . . Ah, here we go:

There once was a prophet named Nephi
Whose brothers him always did defy
Their book was gold-plated
Then Joseph translated
Now who's a true prophet here save I?
Hyrum: No, not that kind of poetry, you fool. You must follow Sidney and add Semitic poetry, but in English, of course.

Joseph: I see a prophet is without honor in his own house. Very well, I shall study the principles of Semitic poetry tonight and throw in some tidbits later on. But today, we work on content, not form. Gentlemen, how are we faring now?

David: This snail's pace is ridiculous. If we're going to reach our goal of 500 hundred pages in the few days of "translating" that we have before our publication date, we must accelerate. Look, here are some more passages from Shakespeare that we can use. They will add some flare. And I've got excerpts from speeches of George Washington to add political savvy, plus stories about the Freemasons that you can adapt for evil secret combinations among the Nephites. And you still haven't profited enough from the vast writings of George Whitefield or Jedidiah Morse, which I obtained at such expense. You must also borrow from Milton and Poe. Over on this table is a pile of sermons from modern ministers about baptism and faith and repentance that you can use. Included are notes from the many sermons of Reverend George Lane, who I think you should borrow from whenever possible. Also, I have compiled many further fragments from the Apocrypha to add flavor to our fraud. And here are the writings of Anselm, a Catholic theologian from the Middle Ages, that you would be wise to adapt in your description of the Atonement, along with the developments of his theories by Jonathan Edwards, Senior and Junior. He said the atonement was infinite, and I think our readers will like that.

Joseph: I shall soak up all this erudition like a sponge and squeeze it out again into my text, but in my own way. Thank you!

Oliver: On this table, we have books on occult mysteries, the Kabbala, the Zohar, Maimonides, secrets of Freemasonry, Greek mysteries, and summaries of European and American folk magic to guide you when it comes to mysterious elements. There is a veritable goldmine of information you can use. Oh, and here we have Josephus, and also the Koran, from the prophet Mohammed, both giving many clues about the ancient world.

Joseph: No, that must wait for my Book of Abraham project.

Hyrum: The Book of Abraham? What is that?

Joseph: Never mind--we'll have plenty of time for that later. But if you do chance to see anybody selling mummies, please put me down for three or four. With scrolls, if possible--and if they are fireproof, so much the better. Now, Martin, have you got anything for me?

Martin: Well, looking to the future, I suggest we must not forget the young but budding writer, Walt Whitman. His upcoming work, Leaves of Grass, will contain numerous names, phrases, stories, and other concepts that could very well be the richest and most valuable source for your Book of Mormon, far better than any of these other books!

Joseph: Fabulous. Let me take a look at it.

Oliver: Well, you must be patient, Joseph. It won't be published until 1855, but then ...

Joseph: There is no time to wait. I shall plagiarize it now.

Emma: And how will you do that?

Joseph: A prophet is only a prophet when acting as such, and it's high time I start acting! Ah, I sense a revelation coming now. . . .

(A loud knocking on the door is heard. Emma leaves and returns.)

Emma: Joseph, it's that gentleman again, Mr. Solomon Spaulding. He says he needs his manuscript back.

Joseph: Him again! Send him away. I've told him a dozen times, I'm sorry, but his manuscript is lost! Lost! What does he want me to, bring it back by revelation?

(Emma steps away as others continue poring through books. There is the muffled sound of a man yelling and the slamming of the door. Emma returns.)

Emma: He was quite unhappy when he left, Joseph. He said that if you don't cooperate, he'll never tell you the name of the brother of Jared.

Joseph: Ha! I can make one up myself. How about . . . or . . . no, but maybe . . . . Never mind! I'll worry about that later. And speaking of cooperation, the concept Mr. Spaulding has urged upon me, let me remind you all of your duty. Remember and remember well: you must never tell another soul a word of what we've done here. I've plagiarized relentlessly from dozens and dozens of books and sermons and gazettes and newspapers to craft a fraud that should bring us fortune and power. But so clever has been my approach, so heavily altered in every way, that nobody will ever recognize my plagiarism.

David: But Joseph, haven't you borrowed wholesale from Mr. Spaulding, incorporating his ideas into almost every page of your book? Isn't that why you deliberately hid his lost manuscript in that trunk we shipped to the remote island of Hawaii, where it will never be found again?

Joseph: I admit that the influence of Mr. Spaulding's manuscript is on nearly every page of our book, but that can be said of many other sources as well. So clever have been my subtle alterations, so minute and subtle my thefts, that even if his lost manuscript should one day be found, readers should hardly recognize my crime! In fact, if his manuscript someday should be uncovered, I dare say that our little Church could even dare to publish it to boldly show the world how faint the connections are. It will only strengthen our cause.

Emma: That's my Joseph. Isn't he a marvelous work and a wonder?

Martin: Uh, Joseph, speaking of lost manuscripts, well, do you remember the 116 pa-- oh never mind, we'll talk later.

Joseph: Now remember, brethren, this work of divine deception can only prevail as long as each of you maintains perfect silence about the true origins of this book. In fact, I will ask you to all swear that you have seen gold plates. Even better, you will swear that you have seen an angel and that he told you it is from God. Deal?

Oliver: Well, as long as you treat me right and give me a fair share of the profits, I suppose I can go along.

Joseph: Profits? My dear Oliver, don't be deluded. If your role in this fraud brought you any benefit, then people could question the sincerity of your testimony. My scheme requires that you sacrifice all and stand by this book, even if you should grow angry with me and even if I should chance to chastise you and expel you from the Church. I will demand great sacrifices of you and will expect you to remain true to this scheme to your dying day, no matter how much it costs you, no matter how upset you might become with me. Is it a deal?

Oliver: That's insane!

Joseph: And as for you, Mr. Harris, I will need your farm and a lot of your money. You may lose everything to keep my little scheme afloat, perhaps even your family will turn against you, but you'll stand by this book, will you not? Even if the trials I will put you through are so great that you, too, grow angry and turn against me? Are you prepared to stand by your witness of the book I concoct, that it comes from God, that it is a true and authentic ancient record, no matter what, to your dying day?

Martin: Are you mad? Why should I give such a witness for a single day, unless I am paid handsomely for it? I am well known for my integrity--why risk it for anything but great fortune? So tell me, what's in it for me?

Joseph: Why, a pile of trouble, you ingrate. Frankly, it looks like I may need to excommunicate you somewhat ahead of schedule. Now stop this whining and get out there and be witnesses for me. You "Three Witnesses" must say that you have seen an angel and the plates, while the rest of you have just seen the plates but still know that this is from God. Now get out there and testify--be witnesses for me until your dying day. And you three, it is especially important that you repeatedly and firmly and boldly declare that you saw an angel who showed you the plates and said they were divine. In fact, I shall write a testimony from you to that effect and put it at the front of every Book of Mormon. Emma, can you find me some lofty testimony language to plagiarize for such a statement?

Martin: An angel? Seriously, Joseph, how can people continue to respect all of us for our integrity and honesty if we say something so ridiculous? Can't we just say we had a dream or a warm feeling or felt like an angel was on our side? We'll be ruined if we tell stories of seeing real angels!

Joseph: People love angel stories, they're so dramatic! Nothing adds sizzle like an angel. A big angel. With wings. No, that's corny. Scrap the wings--but let's go with a glowing angel in a robe. A nice white robe, with embroidered sleeves of gold and a big pocket watch and--no, not too much detail. Just a white robe. But a real angel, a glowing angel, with a resonant voice. I know--an angel with a Book of Mormon name. A prophet's name--let's see, Oliver, look through those books again and find me a good name for a prophet who becomes an angel.

Oliver: Are you some kind of moron?

Joseph: That's it, thank you! Moroni! A perfect name to wrap up our little work of fiction. Remember, all three of you will be witnesses that you have seen the angel Moroni. And remember, no wings!


Narrator: And so we see how the clever and devious Book of Mormon was plagiarized. In just 65 days of such "translation," the massive text was completed and brought to press. Dozens of sources were tapped with the help of Joseph's co-conspirators, resulting in a mishmash of ideas in the book that somehow have remained intact after all these years, gaining millions of believers and many deluded souls who claim to find increasing evidences of authenticity. Over a dozen conspirators served as witnesses to the plates, including the "three witnesses" who repeatedly claimed that they had seen an angel show them the plates and that the Book of Mormon was an ancient record translated, not fabricated, by Joseph Smith. Why these witnesses remained true to their testimonies to their dying day, even after many of them became angry at Joseph or were excommunicated, remains something of a mystery.


Books listed by the Tanners as resources on the American Indians and the Americas:

History of Mexico by Clavigero (2 Vols.), lst English edition in 1787, 2nd in 1807; A Star in the West, by E. Boudinot, 1816; Spanish Colonies, by Walton, 1810; Researches in Mexico, by A. De Humboldt, translated into English by H. M. Williams, 1814; History of America, by Herrera, 1725; A View of S. America and Mexico, by Niles, 1826; Spanish America, by R. H. Bonnycastle, 1818; European Settlements in America, by Burks, 1808; Bullock's Mexico, 1824; Researches on America, by James H. McCullah, 1817; Archaeologia Americana, 1820; Notes on Mexico, by Poinsett, 1825; The American Geography, by Jedidiah Morse, 1789; History of the American Indians, by James Adair, 1775; The Hope of Israel, by Manasseh ben Israel 1649-1656; View of the Hebrews, by Ethan Smith, 2nd Ed., 825; The Wonders of Nature and Providence, by Josiah Priest, 1824.

Other resources to consider:

Project Gutenberg--a place to get free electronic texts for some relevant works, such as works by von Humboldt, John Burckhardt, and others.

Ethan Smith, View of the Hebrews

E.T.A. Hoffmann, The Golden Pot, available online at Google Books.

Gilbert Hunt, The late war, between the United States and Great Britain, from June 1812, to February 1815 : written in the ancient historical style - recently said by some to be the smoking gun for Book of Mormon plagiarism. There is certainly a lot of smoke involved that argument! And a few mirrors. See for yourself.

John Bunyan, Pilgrim's Progress. Another smoking gun for plagiarism. Pretty much like reading the Book of Mormon directly, right?

Primary Source Documents Pertaining to Early American History - a vast online collection of materials that influenced early American colonists. Also see the related resource, The Constitution Society: Primary Documents. Read through these yourself and see if anyone cold have fabricated the Book of Mormon with full access to such materials. For example, consider a Dutch minister's description of the Iroquois, printed by Ebenezer Hazard in Historical Collections (Philadelphia, 1792), and see how much of Book of Mormon and Mesoamerican civilization Joseph might have gleaned.

Eugene England, "Through the Arabian Desert to a Bountiful Land: Could Joseph Smith Have Known the Way?," in Book of Mormon Authorship: New Evidences of Ancient Origins, edited by Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1982), pp. 143-156.

Robert Paul, "Joseph Smith and the Manchester (New York) Library," BYU Studies, Vol. 22, No. 3, Summer 1982, pp. 333-356, which provides a list of the holdings of the Manchester library from 1812 to 1845.

Other Resources on the Web:

Was the Book of Mormon Plagiarized from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass?

The Arabian Bountiful Discovered? Evidence for Nephi's Bountiful by Warren P. Aston. This is related to chapter one of the remarkable book, In the Footsteps of Lehi by Warren P. Aston and Michael K. Aston (Deseret Book Comp., Salt Lake City, UT, 1994).

How Much Was Known about Chiasmus in 1829 When the Book of Mormon Was Translated? - an excellent article by John Welch in FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 15, No. 1, 2003.

Book of Mormon Witnesses by Richard L. Anderson. See also Matthew Roper's response to the Tanners concerning Book of Mormon witnesses.

Evidences of the Book of Mormon - a fascinating discussion by Daniel C. Peterson.

Evidences for the Book of Mormon

"Frequently Asked Questions About Latter-day Saint Beliefs". Book of Mormon topics include:

Book of Mormon Names Attested in Ancient Hebrew Inscriptions by John A. Tvedtnes, John Gee, and Matthew Roper.

My Turn: Tough Questions for Anti-Mormons--A few questions of my own for the critics. We Mormons don't have to merely be on the defensive all the time.

Mormanity - my new LDS (Mormon) blog.

Curator: Jeff Lindsay ,  Contact:
Created: Jan. 16, 2004
Updated: March 12, 2004
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