Joseph Smith, Shrewd Plagiarist or Not?

Between 1827 and 1830, Joseph Smith, the charismatic creator of the Mormon Church, was very busy doing, either, one of two things in upstate New York and Pennsylvania. He Joseph Daher  was either genuinely translating golden plates inscribed with reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics into what he entitled the Book of Mormon, or he was busily contriving a purely fictional book from his own imagination, and from other various resources available to him. During this time period, a number of controversial things could have actually transpired, surrounding the publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830, which, for obvious reasons, were not made a part of the official Latter-day Saint history published by the LDS Church. You see, the golden plates, which Joseph Smith claimed that he unearthed from the ground, according to the promptings of an angel, were, supposedly, a historical and doctrinal record of the ancient inhabitants of North, Central, and South America, who, the Book of Mormon claims, were Hebrew in origin. These ancient people were called Nephites, and, according to Smith, wrote scriptures on golden plates, which had been formerly written during the 8th Century B.C. by the biblical Old Testament Prophet Isaiah. These scriptures had, supposedly, been handed down to them exactly as Isaiah had written them (two centuries earlier) before the Jews, who later became the Nephites, left the Holy Land in 600 B.C. The Book of Mormon also contains what are supposed to be the admonitions and teachings of Jesus Christ, which he allegedly made to the Nephites when he visited them on the American continent after his ascension into heaven, around 33 A.D.

An accurate history of Joseph Smith reveals that he was a bright, imaginative, cunning, and pragmatic individual who could read well and had access to Bibles, dictionaries, and other resources including books, written by current authors, about religion and history that were published and widely circulated in stores and libraries in Manchester and Palmyra, New York, and in, and around, Harmony, Pennsylvania. Most of the work Smith did on the Book of Mormon supposedly took place in Harmony, Pennsylvania. Yet, Smith, according to Mormon history, had the golden plates in his possession in 1827, which meant that he, either, had real “golden plates,” or that he was beginning, or continuing, his fictional writing of what would become the Book of Mormon. It is good to remember that, in less than one year during the 1930s, Edgar Rice Burroughs, the famed author of the “Tarzan” books, created from nothing a convoluted fictional African civilization and the character Tarzan, with the resources that were available at the New York City Library. And, like the Book of Mormon, his books eventually became best-sellers. Burroughs, like Joseph Smith, had an extremely vivid imagination.

Over the past 173 years, the Book of Mormon has been carefully analyzed and scrutinized by expert philologists and theologians for tale-tell evidences of that old fraudulent methodology employed by thoroughly pragmatic writers who find it difficult to produce, with their own minds, their own work. This is the crime of plagiarism. Within the pages of the Book of Mormon, extensive quotations from the writings of Isaiah, from the Old Testament, are found in 1 Nephi 20-21, 2 Nephi 7, 8, & 12-23. Hence, one, of two things, is certainly true about these passages from Isaiah, which Joseph Smith claims is a correct rendering of what was written in an unknown language on golden plates. Either the Book of Mormon is a true historical account of what real ancient Americans, called Nephites, wrote, as they quoted from the Book of Isaiah in the pure form that the ancient Hebrew Prophet dispensed to the Israelites four hundred years earlier. Or, conversely, Joseph Smith created the mythical Nephite characters from his own vivid imagination and directly plagiarized Isaiah from the only Bible that he had, the King James Version of the Bible.

A lot of things have happened since 1830 in the way of improved, more correct, translations of the Holy Bible, since many more accurate Hebrew, Greek, and Latin manuscripts have been discovered in the Holy Land and translated since the advent of the 20th Century. The King James Version of the Holy Bible was translated, beginning in 1604 and completed in 1611, by Elizabethan English translators using the flowery language of that particular period in 17th Century English history. The Revised Standard Version of the Bible was produced in the early 20th Century from the 1879 Revised Version of the Bible, which was the first, and remains the only, recognized and authorized revision of the King James Bible. And, again, the King James Bible was the only Bible Joseph Smith had in his possession during the time period 1827-1830.

Numerous word changes have been made in the improved translations from the King James Version to the New International Version (published in the 1970s and updated in 2011), which is now regarded by most theologians and Bible scholars as the most correct of all the translations. So, if Joseph Smith actually translated an ancient religious record, which was anciently inscribed on golden plates, the scripture written by Isaiah and inscribed on those plates by ancient American writers should conform to the most correct translation of the Old Testament since the 1611 King James Bible. Now the issue follows as to whether it would be necessary to examine every scripture of Isaiah found in the Book of Mormon to determine if Joseph Smith plagiarized from the King James Bible, while deliberately changing a few words here-and-there in the verses to make them appear somewhat different. Or would one substantial example of plagiarism be sufficient? I think it would be sufficient, for where there is one example of plagiarism, there are probably many, many others.

Leave a Comment