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VIDEO: The Spaulding Argument | Is it valid? — Solomon Spaulding and his manuscript


Episode 9: Is the Spaulding Argument Valid? – powered by Happy Scribe

Are you ready? Of course. And now with God who has created you on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that you have and are you getting this? Yes. Oliver? Yes. You need to write this exactly as I dictate. And now if God, who has created you on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask, that is right in faith believing ye shall receive.

Welcome to our series about the witnesses of The Book of Mormon. My name is Cameron Bagley Fox and we are joined today by Dr. Garrett Dirkmont.


Thanks for being here.

I’m glad to be here.

So people have a lot of different ideas about where The Book of Mormon could have come from. One of the popular ones seems to be Solomon Spaulding and his manuscript. Can you tell us about that?

One thing that becomes pretty apparent, studying Joseph Smith’s documents and studying Joseph’s writing, especially from this early time period from 1828 and 1829, is that the Book of Mormon is so far beyond his capabilities that if you’re someone looking for a way to describe where the text came from, it causes a problem because Joseph Smith just wrote it. Well, have you read literally anything else he wrote? Because he clearly didn’t. And it’s actually funny because critics of The Book of Mormon and Latterday Saints actually kind of agree on this point in the sense that this text is coming from somewhere else. Joseph was saying, yeah, the text came from God as a miraculous translation, so it wasn’t Joseph writing it. But of course, critics of the Church then and now that they don’t want to take that explanation of the origin of the text. And so they’ve tried various attempts to try to say, this is where it’s really coming from. And this story has its origin with a man by the name of Dr. Philastus Hurlbut, which is probably like the greatest name of all time. But before you asked me which university got his PhD at or if he’s a medical doctor, actually, his parents just named him Doctor.


So his first name is Doctor? Yeah. So his first name is Doctor. In fact, his friend said that he was full of gab and quite illiterate. So Doctor Hurlbut was an early elder in the Church from Ohio, and he gets sent on a mission to Western Pennsylvania, and he commits adultery, apparently several times while he’s there. And then, as now, when you commit adultery on your mission, it’s not a good way to stay on a mission or in the Church. And Hurl butt is cut off from the Church for this adultery, but begs to be let back in. He appeals his case. And the judgment that Joseph renders is that you needed to be cut off for what you did, but kind of showing the merciful side of Joseph. He so desperately wants to be back in, and so they allow him back in. Well, almost immediately thereafter, he begins bragging to people that why trick Joseph, I wasn’t really repentant. And then apparently, again, according to one source, attempts to commit yet another adultery. So he’s cut off again from the church. Well, this time, Hurlbutt does not go quietly into the night. He’s going to tell people the real truth of Mormonism.

Right. Oh, I know Joseph. I was an elder in the church. And one of the arguments that Hurlbud is going to make is that while he was on his mission in western Pennsylvania, he came across the actual origin of the Book of Mormon and that there was a former preacher living in western Pennsylvania by the name of Solomon Spaulding. Now. Solomon Spalding had died in 1816. So whenever you’re trying to come up with who did it, it’s always best to blame it on someone who’s dead. You can’t interview them at all. And Hurtlebut is going to claim that Spaulding wrote this novel deliberately with the King James biblical style of English. Right. That’s how he styled it. And it was all about people populating the Americas. He’s going to claim that that’s the actual source of the Book of Mormon text. Well, for the group in Kirtland who are opposed to the Church calling themselves the Anti Mormon Committee, this is a godsend to them. Here’s someone who used to be a member of the church and knows all their ins and outs, who actually saw where this book came from, and it actually becomes one of the featured arguments in the first anti Mormon book that’s published in 1834 by Eber, how it’s called Mormons Unveil from 1833 and really from 34, when that book is published.

Antagonists of the church think that they have the answer to the problem, because there’s two problems with the Book of Mormon. One, that it exists at all, because, again, we have Joseph’s miswritings, and this is far more expansive. But there’s also a second problem that it’s convincing people that it’s a record of Jesus. Anyone can write a book, but we have not just your average ordinary butcher baker and the candlestick baker that are believing this. You have learned preachers who love the Bible, who are reading it and saying, this is the word of God. So how do you get not just a book that’s written, but a book that apparently incorporates religious aspects to the point that people who should know better in quotes right, are believing this is the word of God? Solomon Spaulding, that theory helps fill both of those needs. Well, obviously he’s intelligent. He’s this pastor, he’s a writer. And because he’s a pastor, he’s able to weave these biblical religious elements into the text in a way that he never intended to have people think was really from God, but that these Mormons are now able to use to convince people of the real truth.

This is the primary dismissal of the Book of Mormon from antagonists of the Church for half a century later, antagonists would interview Solomon’s Balding’s family. Oh, yes, I remember my dad was talking about lehi and nephi all the time from when he was writing his book. And so it seemed to give credence to it.

So the theory that this manuscript was used to be the Book of Mormon, is that valid? What sources do we have on that?

It’s certainly not considered valid by academics looking at the text, because we now have Spaulding’s manuscript and it’s nothing similar to the Book of Mormon. So in the mid 1880s, the president of Oberlin College, his name is James Fairchild, he acquires and is able to look at some early documents from this Ohio period that were in the possession of the newspaper editors there. And what they find is this long lost manuscript from Solomon’s Balding, which people had for half a century said, this is the origin of the Book of Mormon. They compare it and what do they find? Not only is it not word for word, the Book of Mormon, james Fairchild even says that there doesn’t even seem to be a character or incident common between the two books. And even though all the detractors had said, oh yes, he wrote it like the Bible, that’s why it kind of sounds like the Bible. James Fairchild says the solemn Tyler and imitation of the King James Bible doesn’t appear in this book. And then concludes the only rational conclusion that a president of a university has to come to. And that is some other explanation of the Book of Mormon must be had if one’s needed at all.

The reality is most historians don’t look to this psalm and spolding manuscript explanation of the text of the Book of Mormon anymore. And so it’s interesting because that mid 19th century period for the Latterday Saints is really when Latterday Saints are the most hated, between 1840 and 1890. That 50 year period is when Mormonism is a hiss and a by word to the United States. During that entire period when Mormons are being discussed in the halls of Congress, they’re dismissed constantly as, well, it’s all just coming from that Solomon’s Balding manuscript, and they’re all wrong. In fact, the claims that were made over and over and over again by people like Velasses, Hurlbut and Ibrahow and these other people, they’re proven to be false, even though lots of people believe them.

That’s very interesting. I did not know all of that. Thank you.

It was probably not as maybe a little more detailed than you wanted.

No, great. Thank you.

Joseph was dead. The young church balanced on a razor’s edge for grieving Saints. There was no tested path, no definitive word on who should lead. But mere hours following Joseph’s death, some began to campaign, while others looked for revelation from God.

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