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Did Joseph Smith Use the Bible For the Book of Mormon?
Research by Kerry A. Shirts
Matthew Roper has already shown conclusively that the issue is not such a simple one as saying Smith stole from the Bible. I believe it is time to come up to terms with the real historical situation.
Matthew Roper, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, p.162
One of the glaring inconsistencies in the Tanners work is that while they accept the testimonies of those who witnessed Joseph Smith dictate the Book of Mormon, such as David Whitmer and Emma Smith (p. 160), they still argue that Joseph deliberately pilfered from a Bible. As I have argued previously, none of those who witnessed Joseph Smith dictate the Book of Mormon mention his use of a Bible, and its apparent absence during the translation of the Book of Mormon poses serious problems for the Tanners theory of deliberate biblical plagiarism. The Tanners go to great lengths to show that some LDS writers, such as B. H. Roberts and Sidney B. Sperry, have suggested that, when the Prophet came across passages which paralleled the King James translation, he may have taken out a Bible and simply followed the KJV insofar as it agreed with the ancient text. The point is quite irrelevant, since the argument for Bible use, whether made by Latter-day Saints or the Tanners, contradicts the testimony of those who watched the Prophet work.
The Tanners cite David Whitmers description of the Prophet placing the seer stone in his hat, and, putting his face into the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light and then dictating what he read from off the stone. Yet while the Tanners clearly accept David Whitmers testimony and that of other early witnesses who describe the Prophets use of the seer stone, their rebuttal reveals a failure to come to grips with some of the implications of that testimony. For example, in responding to my earlier point regarding the lack of a curtain to conceal the translator, the Tanners said, "we do not believe that it would have been necessary for Joseph Smith to use a curtain. He may have had a Bible open on the table before him or on his lap. If he felt that he had to conceal its presence, he could have had loose pages from a Bible hidden in the bottom of the hat he used when translating the book." Then, after referring to the testimonies of Whitmer, Emma Smith, and the others, they make the incredible statement that "it would have been easy to read anything in the bottom of the hat by simply letting some light shine in. For that matter, by this same method he could have had notes or even pages of material which he had previously written to read to his scribe" (p. 160). The testimonies of those who witnessed the translation of the Book of Mormon do not allow for the Tanners interpretation.
Father Whitmer, who was present very frequently during the writing of this manuscript affirms that Joseph Smith had no book or manuscript, before him from which he could have read as is asserted by some that he did, he (Whitmer) having every opportunity to know.
Emma Smith also testified to the same thing.
In writing for your father I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he . . . dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.
Q. Had he not a book or manuscript from which he read or dictated to you?
A. He had neither manuscript or book to read from.
Q. Could he not have had, and you not know it?
A. If he had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me. . . .
Q. Could not father have dictated the Book of Mormon to you, Oliver Cowdery and the others who wrote for him, after having first written it, or having first read it out of some book?
A. Joseph Smith . . . could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well worded letter; let alone dictating a book like the book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, it is marvelous to me, a marvel and a wonder, as much so as to any one else."
The witnesses describe the extreme poverty of Joseph Smith and his family, making it unlikely that they even owned a Bible. They testify that the relatively unlearned Joseph Smith dictated hour after hour, day after day, correcting mistakes without seeing them, without the use of Bible, manuscript, or notes of any kind. Those who were there, whose firsthand testimony regarding the dictation of the Book of Mormon text the authors appear to accept, adamantly affirmed that he had none, that he could not have had books or manuscripts without their knowing. "Joseph Smith dictated the Book of Mormon, without apparent hesitation, as fast as a scribe could write it in long hand. There is no chance for error on this point." Moreover, "The dictation from start to finish proceeded while the Prophets eyes were thus hidden from seeing anything by the natural light . . . he did not stop to hunt up the passages which resemble, or are identical with, passages in the King James Version of the Bible. Such an interruption could not have escaped detection, and would surely have been noted in the accounts of the listeners. The quotations, therefore, whether direct or indirect, must be regarded as having come precisely like the rest of the matter, and probably . . . without the conscious knowledge of the translator." That is one of the reasons these early witnesses considered the event a miracle.
John Gee notes more interesting information and takes Brent Metcalfe, and others to task for their ignoring obvious difficulties in their presentation in Metcalfe's book New Approachs to the Book of Mormon.
The hypothesis which Ashment (pp. 36672), Metcalfe (pp. 421), Larson (pp. 11556), and Wright build up is that Joseph Smith dictated the Book of Mormon contemporaneously with his regular Bible reading. This hypothesis has its problems. the erratic reading orderIsaiah, Hebrews, Matthew, John, Habakkuk, Micah, Isaiah, Malachi, 1 Corinthians, Revelation, Isaiah, Romansneeds an explanation. The hypothesis ignores the accounts of the scribes, which claim that Joseph "had neither manuscript nor book to read from. . . . If he had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me." As far as his contemporaries were concerned, "Smith was ignorant of the Bible." His mother, Lucy Mack Smith, described him as "a boy, eighteen years of age, who had never read the Bible through in his life: he seemed much less inclined to the perusal of books than any of the rest of our children, but far more given to meditation and deep study." Even if we assume that "Josephs knowledge of the Bible, including the Old Testament, was already formidable by the time he began translating the Book of Mormon," at age twenty-four, his knowledge was either recently acquired or not acquired by reading. How do we know Joseph Smith even owned a Bible when he translated the Book of Mormon? The arguments of Wright and Larson explicitly require that "Joseph Smith decided simply to copy from the KJV, to which he had immediate access". Granted that Josephs parents owned a Bible when he was growing up, why would the family Bible go with Joseph when he left home to set up his own household in Harmony, Pennsylvania? The translation period was one of marked poverty when Joseph sometimes could not even afford paper or food. Josephs own Bible was purchased from Egbert B. Grandin on 8 October 1829, thus after the translation of the Book of Mormon and during its printing. If Metcalfe is correct in arguing that the portion of the Book of Mormon from Mosiah to Ether was all translated in Harmony (p. 413), then Wright and Larson should explain where the Bible comes from that they assume Joseph used but which Emma explicitly denies he used. Even after Joseph Smith moved to Fayette, David Whitmer testified that "Smith was ignorant of the Bible[;] that when translating he first came to where Jerusalem was spoken of as a Walled City he stopped until they got a Bible & showed him where the fact was recorded." Metcalfe cites this account (pp. 400401) but overlooks the obvious implications: If they had to go get a Bible, they did not have one at hand when they were doing the translation, even in Fayette, New York. A well-attested aspect of the translation of the Book of Mormon is that when Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, he "would hold the interpreters to his eyes and cover his face with a hat, excluding all light." While to a believer this aspect is not problematic, one must wonder how those who favor naturalistic explanations would explain how Joseph Smith can read a Bible with his face buried in a hat excluding all light? This is completely overlooked in New Approaches to the Book of Mormon.