Where Did Joseph Smith Get His Ideas
for the Book of Mormon?
for the Book of Mormon?
By Sandra Tanner
One of the claims often made by LDS people is that there was no information on the Indian ruins in Mexico and Guatemala available prior to 1830. Actually, numerous books recounting similar ideas as those in Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon had already been published.
Many of the books published on the American Indians claimed a possible tie to the lost tribes of Israel. The Book of Mormon follows this idea and claims that the main group in the story is Israelites from Jerusalem. Other ideas found in the Book of Mormon that are also found in books of Smith’s time include: two groups warring against each other, a white group destroyed by war, horses, use of the wheel, mammoth bones, Hebrew writings, Egyptian influence, the use of stone boxes, written records, temples, grand ruins, highways, fortifications, etc. These commonly held theories prepared the way for people to more readily believe the Book of Mormon.
However, current findings and non-LDS scholars now reject these ideas and see no relationship between the American Indians and Hebrews or the civilization depicted in the Book of Mormon.
Below is a partial list of books published prior to 1830 dealing with the Indians (condensed from Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon, Dan Vogel, Signature Books, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1986, pp. 105-132).
Adair, James, The History of the American Indians, London, 1775.
- Adair’s evidence for the Indian-Israelite theory consists of twenty-three parallels between Indian and Jewish customs. For example, he claims the Indians spoke a corrupt form of Hebrew, honored the Jewish Sabbath, performed circumcision, and offered animal sacrifice.
- He relies heavily on evidences compiled by James Adair. He also mentions the Indians’ lost book of God.
- Mentions the Mexican and Peruvian temples.
- Records Indian fables, which he believes, support the mound builder myth. One fable, for example, speaks of the descendants of two brothers continually at war with the other until one group is finally destroyed in North America.
- He mentions the idea that the Indians were Jewish but does not commit himself on the subject. He describes various burial mounds and fortifications of North America and mentions the discovery of mammoth bones and stone coffins.
- Compares American antiquities with those of Hindus, Egyptians, and Hebrews. He describes North American fortifications and Mexican temples, use of metals, including steel, copper and brass plates, describes stone boxes, possible use of the wheel and horse in ancient America, and concludes that the mound builders were a white people destroyed by the Indians.
- Describes Mexican fortifications and temples, use of metals.
- Discusses, among other things, the practice of the mound builders to bury their dead in stone boxes.
- Includes story of a remnant of the ten tribes of Israel being discovered in Peru.
- Claims Indians from the Old World, claims original inhabitants arrived in the New World shortly after the dispersion from the tower of Babel, describes Guatemalan fortifications, buildings, temples, and palaces, including the ruins of Palenque.
- He supports the ten tribe theory, mentions that the Spaniards dug up Indian tombstones covered with Hebrew characters, and compares Peruvian temples to Jewish synagogues.
- Discusses various theories explaining Indian origins, problems of transoceanic crossing, and discusses the theory that the mound builders were a white group more advanced than the Indians.
- Suggests that those in the Old World could have sailed to America.
- He believes that America was populated by two major migrations, one from the tower of Babel and the other, centuries later, from Asia or possibly Phoenicia. He also subscribes to the theory that ancient America was visited by Christ's apostles or perhaps by some of the seventy.
- Describes Mexican pyramids and compares them with those of Egypt.
- He describes his visits to ruined Peruvian cities with "large palaces" and "elegant buildings" and Incan highways running over a thousand miles.
- Describes palaces and temples in Peru.
- Parrish wrote his geography for use in New England schools. He describes mounds in North America and the Peruvian temple at Cusco. Includes a comparison of Indian and Israelite customs.
- Mentions the Mexican tradition of the Flood, notes their immense pyramids and long paved roads, and mentions their hieroglyphic drawings and knowledge of astronomy and metallurgy.
- A compilation of many previously published works, includes an extract from Francisco Clavigero's History of Mexico recounting the ancient Mexican traditions of idolatry and human sacrifice and a portion from Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews detailing evidence that Indians were of Hebrew origin.
- Rio describes various ruins at Palenque, includes plates of some of the structures, several Mayan codices. He suggests that the ancient Americans came by sea. He also mentions the tradition of an eclipse in AD 34 and speculates that the Mexican god Quetzalcoatl was St. Thomas preaching the gospel in ancient America.
- Suggests that the Indians are Israelites, that America might be the place of the New Jerusalem, and that the 'other sheep' mentioned in John 10:16 are the American Indians.
- Ethan Smith's is by far the most important and interesting work dealing with the origin of the American Indians and the mound builders. Suggests that the first settlers of the New World were the lost ten tribes of Israel. Includes extracts from von Humboldt's description of Mexican antiquities, Atwater's description of the mounds, and evidence from Adair and Boudinot to connect Indians with the lost ten tribes. He also mentions the Indian legend of the lost book of God, which would one day be returned.
- He maintains the Ohio fortifications were built by people from Mexico and Peru because North American Indians did not possess the knowledge to construct them.
- He mentions the notion that the gospel was anciently preached in America. Emphasized the millennialistic nature of his Indian-Israelite identification and the importance of the Indians' conversion to Christianity.
- Mentions the Indian belief in the Creation and Flood and includes a description of Mexican architecture and metalwork.
- He believes that Indian language is a form of Hebrew and that their customs resemble those of the Jews. Although he is tolerant of the Indians, Williams believes their religion is devil inspired.
- Discusses various theories of Indian origins. Mentions the discovery of mammoth bones in North America.
- Relies heavily on Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews. Believes mound builders had been destroyed by the Indians, mentions the discovery of large stone crosses in Central America and records the Indian tradition of a lost book of God.
- They describe mounds and fortifications in their state and neighboring states, as well as the ruins of an ancient city near Palenque. According to them, these mounds, part of a great chain running down through Mexico and into South America, were built by a separate race of white-skinned people who were destroyed by the Indians. They mention the discovery of hieroglyphic writing and mammoth bones, and include reports that Indians in certain locales possessed the signs and tokens of Freemasonry.
The claims of Israelite origins, Hebrew and Egyptian writing, knowledge of the wheel, use of the horse, Freemasonry, a white race destroyed by the Indians, etc., have been refuted by current scholars.
But the existence and popularity of so many books making these claims prior to the publishing of the Book of Mormon demonstrates that Smith could have gotten his ideas for the Book of Mormon from sources in his community.
History continues to be an intrepretation and religion often its misguided messenger...Trace