Spaulding Manuscript

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Critics of the Book of Mormon (a volume of scripture comparable to the Holy Bible, and thus Another Testament of Jesus Christ) are incessantly searching for any thread of evidence that might be used to discredit the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and its translator, Joseph Smith, the first Prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently referred to as the “Mormon” Church by the media and others).

Book of Mormon

One source that supposedly supports the arguments of critics that the Book of Mormon is not authentic is a 175-page manuscript known as the Manuscript Story (also entitled Manuscript Found in some editions) which was written by Solomon Spaulding (sometimes spelled Spalding) in the early 1800s. After Spaulding's death, a number of individuals advocated that his work, Manuscript Story, was identical or similar to portions of the Book of Mormon.

The only known copy of the manuscript was lost from 1839 until 1884, when it was discovered in Honolulu, Hawaii. The manuscript was published by both The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1886 and 1910) and the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1885) as a means of refuting “the theory of some critics that it had served as an original source document for the Book of Mormon, supposedly supplied to Joseph Smith by Sidney Rigdon.” [1]

The Story Behind the Author of Manuscript Found

Solomon Spaulding was born on 21 February 1761 in Ashford, Connecticut. During the Revolutionary War he served as a member of the Continental Army. He attended Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1782, and graduated in 1785. In October 1787 he was ordained a Congregationalist preacher in Windham, Connecticut. In due course he lost his faith in the Bible and left the ministry.

In 1795, Spaulding married Matilda Sabin and opened a store with his brother, Josiah, in Cherry Valley, New York. They moved the store to Richfield, New York in 1799. Not long after, he purchased a tract of land in Conneaut, Ohio, and settled there.

While he was in Conneaut, he began writing Manuscript Found, which he attempted to publish to satisfy some outstanding debts. Due to disruptions caused by the War of 1812, in 1812 he moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And in 1814, he moved to Amity, Washington County, Pennsylvania, where he died on 20 October 1816.

The Story of Manuscript Found

The Spaulding Manuscript, as it has come to be referred to, is a fictional account about a group of Romans who, while sailing to England early in the fourth century A.D., were blown off course and landed in eastern North America. One of the adventurers recorded his experiences among the lost civilization of eastern and Midwestern American Indian tribes known as “mound builders.” The 175-page manuscript was first published in 1885 as a 115-page monograph.

The Spaulding Manuscript and the Book of Mormon

In 1832, Samuel H. Smith and Orson Hyde, missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ, were in Conneaut, Ohio, where Spaulding began writing his manuscript. While there, they preached from the Book of Mormon. A resident of Conneaut, Nehemiah King, who personally knew Spaulding when he lived there, felt that the text of the Book of Mormon closely resembled Spaulding’s story. In 1833, Spaulding’s brother, John, in conjunction with seven other residents of Conneaut, signed affidavits attesting that portions of the Book of Mormon were identical to the manuscript that Spaulding had written. Their statements were subsequently published in the 1834 book entitled Mormonism Unveiled by E.D. Howe, in which it was asserted that the Book of Mormon was indeed plagiarized from Spaulding’s Manuscript Found. Several years later, Spaulding’s widow and daughter, other residents of Conneaut, and residents of Amity, Pennsylvania, also signed affidavits attesting that Spaulding had written a manuscript, and that the Book of Mormon was a product of plagiarism.

The following evidence, presented by the defense in this case, emphatically refutes the statements signed by critics of the Book of Mormon, in so far as there exist vast differences in storyline and literary styles of writing, proving that there is no connection between Manuscript Found and the Book of Mormon.

There are similarities in the explanation for the origins of both Manuscript Found and the Book of Mormon. The introduction to the Spaulding work claims that its author was walking near Conneaut, Ohio (about 150 miles west of the place in New York where Joseph Smith obtained the gold plates), when he discovered an inscribed, flat stone. This he raised with a lever, uncovering a cave in which lay a stone box containing twenty-eight rolls of parchment. The writing was in Latin. The story is primarily a secular one, having virtually no religious content. A character in the novel possessed a seerstone, similar to objects used by Joseph Smith. However, none of the many names found in either volume matches any of those in the other, nor is there the remotest similarity in literary styles. [2]

Similarities between his manuscript and the Book of Mormon are general and superficial. Spaulding's fiction is about a group of Romans blown off course on a journey to Britain who arrive instead in America. One of the Romans narrates the adventures of the group and the history and culture of the people they find in America. A major portion of the manuscript describes two nations near the Ohio River. After a long era of peace between the two nations, a prince of one nation elopes with a princess of the other nation. Because of political intrigue, the elopement results in a great war between the two nations and the loss of much life but the ultimate vindication of the prince and his princess. [3]

The Book of Mormon, however, is very similar to the Bible, in that it is a collection of "books," divided into chapters and verses, written by prophets. Like the Old Testament, it combines both the political and religious history of the people, as it records the doctrinal teachings of these prophets, all of whom testify that Jesus is the Christ. The Book of Mormon begins with a prophet, Lehi, descended from Joseph of Egypt, who preached in Jerusalem as a contemporary of Jeremiah. His life threatened, he and his family were led into the wilderness by a loving God, who then helped them reach a "promised land" in the Americas. God's purpose was to raise up a protected branch of Israel descended from Joseph whose record would validated that of Judah — the Holy Bible. The pivotal recorded event in the Book of Mormon is the visit of the resurrected Jesus Christ, with chapters devoted to His healing, teaching, and organizing His Church in the New World. The Book of Mormon we have today is not a complete record, but was abridged by the warrior-prophet Mormon to contain the exact teaching and record we in modern times would most need. Thus, the Book of Mormon peoples speak to us, as it were, from the dust, to prepare us for the Second Coming of Christ.

Doctor Philastus Hurlbut Argues for the Prosecution

In June 1833, Doctor Philastus Hurlbut was excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In an effort to discredit the Church by refuting Joseph Smith’s claims for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, he became one of the first to contend that there was a direct correlation between Manuscript Found and the Book of Mormon. In an attempt to support his argument, he interviewed members of Spaulding’s family, who affirmed that there were definite similarities between Spaulding’s manuscript and the Book of Mormon. He was also able to locate the abandoned manuscript, but must have been disheartened to discover that it had no clear-cut link with the Book of Mormon.

In 1834, he became associated with Eber D. Howe in preparing a notable anti-Mormon publication entitled Mormonism Unveiled, the final chapter of which dealt with the Spaulding theory of the origin of the Book of Mormon.

Howe admitted in the book that the only document known to have been authored by Spaulding had been found, but he asserted that this was not Manuscript Found. The title penciled on the brown paper cover was Manuscript Story - Conneaut Creek. Howe speculated that Spaulding must have composed another manuscript that served as the source of the Book of Mormon, but no additional writings of Spaulding have ever surfaced. By the 1840s, the so-called Spaulding theory had become the main anti-Mormon explanation for the Book of Mormon. [4]

Howe concluded that Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon used the Spalding Manuscript to produce the Book of Mormon for the purpose of making money. However, Rigdon first met Joseph Smith in December 1830, after the Book of Mormon was published.

Manuscript Lost, Manuscript Found

In spite of the many claims and efforts to discredit the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, neither Doctor Philastus Hurlbut nor any of the other critics published the Spaulding Manuscript, even though they had it in their possession. The manuscript became lost and forgotten for forty-five years. Apparently it was among items that were shipped from the office of the Ohio Painesville Telegraph, owned by Eber D. Howe, but purchased by L.L. Rice in 1839. Rice eventually moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, and discovered the manuscript in 1884 while searching his collection for abolitionist materials for his friend James H. Fairchild, president of Oberlin College in Ohio. Rice and Fairchild examined the manuscript and both concluded that it could not have been the source of the Book of Mormon. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published Spaulding’s Manuscript in 1886 to prove to the world that it was not the origin of the Book of Mormon, and that the Book of Mormon was indeed translated from ancient records by the gift and power of God.

Eleven witnesses saw the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated. Though some of these people left the Church, they never denied their testimony that the Book of Mormon was the word of God. [5]

All are invited to gain a knowledge of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon through the witness and testimony of the Holy Spirit, which is promised to all who earnestly seek to obtain this knowledge:

When ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things (Moroni 10:4-5).

Since 1946, no serious student of Mormonism has given the Spaulding Manuscript theory credibility. In that year, Fawn Brodie published No Man Knows My History. This biography of Joseph Smith, hostile to his prophetic claims, dismissed the idea of any connection between Spaulding and Smith or their writings. [6]