How the Book of Mormon Was Plagiarized

For years I have marveled at the numerous anti-Mormon attempts to find plagiarism in the Book of Mormon. From broad parallels to a few specific words or phrases, many dozens of books, articles, and sermons of others have been mined to “explain” the Book of Mormon as a fraudulent product rooted solely in the nineteenth century. But just pointing to dozens of books and occasional parallels doesn’t explain HOW the Book of Mormon was crafted. No one has been able to offer a plausible explanation of how Joseph could have tapped into these sources to craft the Book of Mormon – until now.

Rebuttals, anyone? Could this be the most plausible detailed non-miraculous explanation offered so far for the methods used to create the Book of Mormon?


Author: Jeff Lindsay

42 thoughts on “How the Book of Mormon Was Plagiarized

    1. The only reason the LDS Church ever became a viable sect is that the church retreated to the wilds of Utah, enabling it to raise several generations of Saints who never received any significant input regarding the Book of Mormon from any source not church-controlled.,

  1. I have had many spiritual experiences testifying of the Book of Mormon, but I can’t call it ‘true’, because to me true means perfect. I can’t accept that the Book of Mormon is exactly what happened:

    1) Nephi wrote most of his words 10-20 years after the fact.

    2) Mormon translated, condensed, copied the plates – was it a perfect copy?

    3) Mormon acknowledged difficulty in writing.

    4) Joseph Smith translated. Was this a perfect translation or good enough?

    5) Printer errors were introduced.

    I wish I could come up with a short word meaning ‘good enough for the Lord’s purposes’. I believe the BoM (and indeed the restored gospel and it’s current implementation and leaders) are ‘good enough’ for the Lord.

  2. Joseph called it “the most correct book”. He didn’t call it “perfect.”

    “True” doesn’t mean it has to be perfectly or completely described.

    It states flat out that it is an abridgement.

    When you write in your journal, do you include every detail of the day? If you don’t, does that mean your journal is not “true”?

    And if your journal is not “true”, then is it a lie?

  3. The Book of Mormon is the word of God. It is the most correct book upon the Earth, teaching the doctrine of Christ plainly. That is why I can testify that the Book of Mormon is true. It does not mean that is free from imperfections. Moroni acknowledged them. But he also stated that the doctrine of the Book was clear. There is a lot of editing and correcting, even in the text itself. Consider Alma 2:34 “And thus he cleared the ground, or rather the bank, which was on the west of the river Sidon…” (emphasis mine). Yes, there are errors, some of which were introduced at printing. But those errors have been, in great measure, being corrected. Should we judge the book of Mormon for the imperfections of men? No! The truthfulnes of it lies, in my opinion, not in the ‘perfectness’ but rather on the ‘correctness’ of the doctrines that are taught.
    The Lord gives us revelations and we understand them and communicate them in our imperfect language. I do not think that the Book of Mormon was meant to be ‘perfect’, just ‘correct’. In that sense, it is completely true, it IS the word of God. It IS another testament of the divinity of Jesus Christ.
    Most of the text of the Bible was written well after the events ocurred. Consider the New Testament. Is this record untrue? John stated that if all the things that Jesus did were to be written, the space of the Earth would not be enough, but what was written was so we could knew that Jesus is the Christ. The difference between the Bible and the Book of Mormon is that the the latter, prophets prepared and translated the records, which kept it fairly pure. In the former, a lot of corruption entered by carelesness or deliberate action. But, both records are what they claim, the word of God.

    In other thoughts, Jeff, your piece about the translation is hilarious! I could not stop laughing. It would make a niece sketch for a cultural evening, but you would have to say before hand, and in big red letters: WARNING: PARODY AHEAD. I wonder, have you had any contact of members, or investigators, saying that they are ‘troubled’ by this piece? It would like to know just how did Joseph Smith could cope with all the ‘influences’ and still managed to write a highly spiritual record. It wasn’t a case of copy paste, because it is quite articulate. Now, where did that come from?

  4. “And thus he cleared the ground, or rather the bank, which was on the west of the river Sidon” – one of several interesting examples of a textual correction using “or.” Today when we write and state something imperfectly, we just strike out the error or use white-out or hit the delete key. Several people have noted that the use of “or” in this manner in the Book of Mormon points to an editorial process that makes sense for someone engraving text on metal plates rather than writing something on paper. Engraved slips were harder to correct, but then the editor noticing a possible error or incomplete phrase could add a correction afterwards, preceded by “or.”

  5. “”True” doesn’t mean it has to be perfectly or completely described.”

    I’m not sure what, exactly, it does mean. I would normally never describe a non-fiction book or article as being “true,” even if I liked it very much.

    We also say the BOM is the “Word of God.” I’m not sure what, exactly, that means, either.

  6. I could never figure out how joseph smith could have purchased the paper and pens to write the book of mormon.

    The book itself is several hundred pages thick. A man would need at least a thousand pieces of paper to write such a book. Where could he have bought the paper? Plus he would have needed to carry the manuscript around with him for quite some time without detection. Plus such a writing project is not a part time project but a full time project. Where did he find the time?

    Does anyone know where he could have purchased the writing paper and writing utensils undectected from the careful eye of the shop owner? It seems obvious that purchasing such an extensive amount of paper would draw some attention.

    Perhaps I am missing something here or perhaps I am just an idiot but I cannot see how he could have purchased the paper, plus how not one piece of rough draft was ever discovered.

    I had someone suggest to me the Joseph burned all rough drafts after rewriting them into the manuscript. I just can’t figure this one out…I am sure that I am an idiot and one of you can have a possible explanation. But I have none.

    This is why I cannot deny the book of mormon. To write such a book with a feathered pen seems pretty near impossible when you consider joseph’s life in context.

  7. Ooh, I love those little “divine errors” like this one in Alma 24:19–“…and thus we see that buried their weapons of peace, or they buried the weapons of war, for peace.” I can just see Mormon, he’s almost etched to the end of the plate, really hard work, and oops, doesn’t want to have to melt it down and start all over. How to fix it??? Throw in an “or”.

  8. The paper argument is an interesting one, one that opens up an important theme in Mormon historical studies. To paraphrase Paine, small historical islands often (and unjustly) control large historical continents.

    I looked at the Knight article. Are you implying that Knight’s assistance in buying paper provides a plausibility for a Smithian authorship?

    I would hope not. Such a tidbit of information hardly rises above the level of Jeopardy trivia, a note no more significant than the purchaser of the shoes worn by Gen. Pickett at the Battle of Gettysburg. A small point, it’s true. But it is representative of many debunkers attempts at revising history.

    Think of it. If Joseph had such a reproachable reputation, how would he convince anyone to give him hospitality, 3,000 dollars, and ultimately their lives? Whatever one may think of Mormons’ historical claims, honesty forces him/her to recognize that SOMETHING happened during the “translation’ of the Book of Mormon, something anomalous to the everyday experience. While a believer myself, I do not need faith to recognize that Joseph could not have been your average “Joe”.

  9. To me, the paper issue has more symbolic in the historical debate than anything else. Sometimes in historical study, we allow one little anomaly/niche/tidbit to control our understanding of a historical event without understanding the broader trends behind it–ex. believing the B.O.M. because it has chiasmus, Alma, or Nahum. In my view, quantity of evidence holds more weight than quality in determining a text’s authorship.

    I’m certainly not suggesting that anonymous is guily of such things. He was answering a legitimate question w/a legitimate answer. I speak of resting on any ONE piece of evidence in support of/in critique of the Book of Mormon. I can twist/distort/misunderstand one two or even three pieces of evidence. However, when a body of literature (FARMS, like them or not) has grown to enormous proportions w/o a serious scholarly rebuttal, the scholar must raise his eyebrows as to whether the Mormons are on to something. Further still, what are we to say of the book’s ability to convert the masses to Mormonism and keep them? That’s not to mention the stories of the book helping folks stop smoking, bring happiness, etc. Such things are largely unquantifiable and beyond the eye of empirical scholarship.

    True, this was a longwinded response to a very short question. I apologize. It’s getting colder here in Provo, so I’m trying to heat up my room w/hot 🙂

  10. I read the story but there seems to be a misunderstanding of what I meant. The story says that Joseph met the Knights and told them about the gold plates. Fine. But Joseph would have already had the ‘manuscript’in his hands. Where did he get the paper before he met the Knight family?

    When I read the story linked it only told me (indirectly) that Joseph had already written the book and that he needed the Knights assistence in ‘translating’ it. It doesn’t had up. It takes years to write such a book with a feathered pen. Where could he have written it?

    It is not as if you go to the woods with feathered pen in hand and sit under a tree and begin to write. The cost of the paper, the pens etc would not be cheap. And all the rough drafts, ink spills on hands etc would quite nearly be impossible to hide. And how to keep track of all that paper? And the manuscript? It sounds impossible to me.

    I realize that this thread is about plagiary but I think that it is important to dumb down the all thing. Reading Joseph’s life from some sources, the paper and writing utensils are a non-issue.

    And as far as I understand it Joseph Smith’s family was as surprised as anyone of his story of the gold plates. Certainly, someone in his family would have said: ‘So that is what joe has been up to all these years…he was writing a darn book!’ But no…nothing of the sort happened.

    It was as if Joseph just showed up with ‘book’ in hand. It is amazing when you think of it. But I don’t understand just how he could have written such a book when his life is put in context. How can one be a money digger, a poor young man/farmer and a writer?

    Sorry if I sound stupid here and I am sure that someone will have a excellent source that will give answers to my dumbing down mode of thought but I just can’t figure out that angle from the anti-mormons about Joseph writing the book.

    Also to put the whole thing into context, Joseph would have had to have this diabolical plan of deceiving the world with a book of gold story and then plan on finding someone dumb enough to put the whole story into play—translating something that has already been written in English from behind a curtain etc.

    First he writes the book and then he has someone ‘transcribe’ what he has already wrote by convincing them that it is from an ancient language on gold plates.

    Quite a risky plan to understake with his wonderful manscript which has taken years to write.

    Sorry ladies and gentlemen for rambling but I just don’t get it. Am I alone on all this? Maybe I am still missing something.

  11. Why me, you’re right. However, as far as the Knight story goes, I believe that mentions that Knight bought paper on which Oliver wrote the trasncription. Yet the possibility that Joseph wrote the book on his own time and paper is highly implausible for the reasons you stated. Where was Lucy Mack Smith during all of it? Whittling decoys? Her record of Joseph’s “home evenings” where he recounted Nephite history in the early years of the Moroni visits confirms that something was going on in the MIND of Joseph, not his writing (I don’t have the quote handy; if you want it, I can get it).

    Providing such a mental explanation is quite a trick though. To believe that Joseph simply hodge-podged everything he heard in his frontier home into a coherent story is laughable. He would had to have mentally “written” it before hand, quite a feat for anyone who knows about writing.

  12. The paper argument is quite interesting. Joseph Smith had the patronage of several people, Martin Harris, the Knights in order to purchase the necessary materials and some potatoes for daily nourishment. But, he also had to work in the fields in order to provide for him and Emma. I suppose that, in the midst of having nothing, he told Emma: ‘We have nothing and need to labour for our sustaining, but I think that I will write a book”. Not likely. He and Oliver Cowdery were heavily involved in the translation. It is interesting to note how many people did help Joseph Smith and never denied their testimony. Yes, Martin Harris later left the Church, but never denied his testimony. He even came back (if Joseph Smith was a fraud, why would anyone, after leaving the organisation, come back to it?) I guess that he obtained the paper from outside sources, but I doubt that he could acquire it in such quantities to write versions of the manuscript, mainly because paper was actually quite expensive. No reams of paper were available as they are now. Consider that more than a century later, a young Gordon B. Hinckley had to struggle to get a ream of paper to start the Church’s communications. In that sense, the paper issue (Joseph Smith been able to purchase large quantities or possesing large quantities) lacks significance to criticise the Book of Mormon.

    As far as having several manuscripts before the publication, it strikes me odd that he would put several errors, such as several ‘or’ found in various verses (Alma 2:34, Alma 24:19 have been mentioned in this thread). The ‘divine errors’ as Sister in Indy calls them would not be part in a ‘revised’ manuscript, in my opinion.

    Several quotes from people around him, such as Emma Smith acknowledging that Joseph did not know that Jerusalem had walls around it, show that he was not into a lot of history. As several of the writings of Joseph Smith himself attest, his spelling was not very good, hence the need of a scribe. Did he deliberately use a scribe and later produced such letters? How could he produce such a book, in the space of time with the knowledge an clarity as it has?

    Did he do several manuscripts? Hard to believe. Was he studying the available information about Middle East and Mesoamerica (term that was coined in the mid 20th century?). This links to another of Jeff’s threads on the ‘bookworm Joseph Smith and the vast and comprehensive frontier library’. Had he poured out the knowledge of the early, the book would have disproved a long time ago. Consider the guerrilla tactics mentioned in the book of Alma. Did he plagiarised those from the von Clausewitz book on the Napoleonic wars?Sun -Tzu? Should we add those books to the vast frontier library? Plus, the idea of people going to war on the winter does not sound appealing to those that live in the upper Northern Hemisphere (certainly not New York).

    To me, the Book of Mormon is the word of God in as much as it contains the revealed word for man through prophets. That is why I consider it to be what is claims to be. Unless God himself writes, typsets and publishes a book, it is likely that human mistakes can be made. But, as I said earlier, those mistakes do not lessen the correctness of it neither its value. I guess that we say that is its true because it is correct, because the revelations are in their correct form, as they were received from the Lord, with the additions that He sees fit to place. The fact that it was compiled by a prophet and translated by another, adds another dimension of doctrinal purity. It is an inspired record.

    Anonymous, thank you for your compliments. You can use my post if it is OK with Jeff.

    (WARNING: satirical comment below. Kids, do not try this at home!!)

    Why me: Add to the diabolical plan the production of artifacts such as a sword, a compass in a ball with ancient writting (which probably he would have copied from several of the plates) And two seer stones (they were quite popular, you might say, but in a bow and a rim?). But hey, just gets better! Add three persons, with reputable lives to testify, until their dying day that that is true, even though they did separate with Joseph and called him a ‘fallen prophet’. Hmm, Joe Smith was REALLY cleaver, that little rascal.

    Seriously, if the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be, then the rest of it is true. Then we have a prophet on the Earth and the restored Church is upon the it, with all the saving ordinances needed. There is a God, then, that is mindful of us, in the midst of a massive Universe. If all of this is true, then we need to conform our lives to what God has intended of us to do. And there is a Church that is led by Him that has created the heavens and the Earth. But I perceive that the anti-Mormons just would not like to acknowledge such things.

  13. A little TOO satirical for my taste, but Jeff is the man. Jeff’s writings have saved me from anti-literature that was clouding my mind.

  14. I think that we get caught up in intellectual arguments and forget the simple parts of life—such as time, paper, ink etc. This is what I have found so strange about it all.

    To tell you all the truth, I am an inactive member for 30 years and my inactivity was not do to anti-mormon literature but because of my own mind. In fact I never knew that so much anti stuff was out there until a year ago when I contemplated going back to activity and searched the internet for some good info about Joseph Smith. I was quite surprised about what I found. I am still mentally inactive.

    But I never heard anyone address my paper and pen issue. And yet such simple logic is quite compelling.

    Try writing a book with a feathered pen and you will discover that you dunk in ink more than you write. And it can be quite sloppy.

    But I could never deny the Book of Mormon regardless of what has now been written about the book because of my ever so simple explanation of paper, ink and pen.

    Of course, maybe I am a simpleton!

    Thanks for all your comments. You made me feel so much better now!

    I was expecting some source to be thrown my way to debunk my simple understanding.

  15. “To write such a book with a feathered pen seems pretty near impossible when you consider joseph’s life in context.”

    For the record, I’ll point out that it is a cliché to say that it was impossible for this person or that person to write what they wrote (e.g. John Keats, Stephen Crane, William Shakespeare).

    There enormous difference between a work being inimitable and a work that couldn’t have been produced by the person who produced it.

  16. While satire is fun, I don’t see the point of your essay. It appears you are merely mocking people who have studied the issue and have come to the conclusion that the Book of Mormon isn’t an accurate translation of an authentic ancient-American document.

    Is that it, or are you attempting to demonstrate that it is wildly farfetched to believe that the Book of Mormon is nineteenth-century fiction?

  17. ok. for the record i am the one who commented w/ the link about the knight family. and for the record, i do NOT think that joseph smith wrote the book of mormon himself. i simply misread why me’s comment, not getting that it was a rhetorical question. i thought he really wanted to know “where did joseph get the paper he wrote on?” cuz obviously they did write on paper, even if they did not write on paper, if u get my meaning. i simply liked the story about the knights and believe it answered the question of where joseph got all the paper.

    (the main reason i found the knight article was because i was looking up “exorcism” in the gospel library; it was one of only two articles at that mentioned exorcisms =/)

  18. Before the original manuscript was sent to the printer… one presumes that it was Martin Harris who did the dipping of his pen into ink and scribbling it down… if that’s the true story (which is INCREDIBLY farfetched) — but either way… the paper and the ink had nothing to do with it… tomes had already been written that way… I don’t get why why me even brings it up.

    BTW why me — I’m glad you ran into some truth about the church before you decided to turn of your brain to go back to these stipid braying sheep. “I know this church is true” — I stormed out of my last testimony meeting screaming! What absolute frauds. What stupid morons. What sick twisted and disgusting excuses. What vermin. What smiling inveterate liars.

  19. I’m sorry you left a testimony meeting screaming. It sounds shocking, but this happens more often than you might think. In fact I wish it would happen EVEN MORE often – but sadly, some parents don’t seem to mind when their little ones are screaming. Storming out is exactly the thing to do sometimes. Storming is optional, as long as screamers are carried out. That’s true whether they are infants or highly vocal antis doing there “ministering to Mormons in love” stuff at the top of their lungs in a public meeting. Or I guess “storm first, then carry out” may be needed.

    But given your reference to “stipid braying sheep” (or was it striped praying sheep, or lipid fraying sheets?), perhaps we can infer that you left that testimony meeting not screaming, but beaming? That would be much more reasonable – or at least less stipid.

    But you’re too harsh, really. I would not go so far as to call anti-Mormon screamers “vermin” and “inveterate liars.” Plenty of them are perfectly veterate, at least some of the time.

  20. I think some of Cory’s associates came here saying “Let us show you how it’s done.” This was a much better example of stealth-mode anti-ism.

  21. Thanks Jeff for the ‘until now’ part of your original post. I enjoyed the story and the satire.

    But now I want to ask a question: From reading the knight story linked on this thread I understood that Joseph told one of the Knight family members that he had seen a vision and that he, Joseph, was told about gold plates. Is that correct?

    I only bring this up because my whole thing has been that Joseph Smith could not have written the book of mormon because he would have had difficulties in finding the time and place to write it…plus the hiding of the manuscript in preparation and the secretative nature of the enterprise itself seems quite impossible to do when Joseph’s life is put in context. I have read all sorts of things about Joseph’s imaginative abilities from anti’s etc more or less implying that he could have written it alone but I just cannot buy into that line.

    For one poster who listed the other writers that wrote books in feathered pen and paper…thanks for your comment but I don’t think that Joseph Smith was a professional writer nor do I believe that he had the contemplative space to write such a manuscript.

    Can we really compare Joseph Smith to those writers you listed?

    I am not being rhetorical here at all. I appreciate the comments that have been given to me so far.

  22. why me:

    What’s your point? Are you saying:

    “Joseph couldn’t have _written_ it, so he must have _translated_ it” ?

    or are you saying:

    “Joseph couldn’t have _written_ it, so he must have either plagiarized it, or someone else like Oliver must have really written it.” ?

    You’ve been unclear as to what you’re trying to get across.

    I agree with what I think you’ve said so far, that Joseph could not have prepared a draft manuscript prior to the arrival of Oliver.

  23. One thing the antis like to claim is that Joseph was a charismatic charlatan, able to convince thousands of people to follow him.

    Yet, while Joseph never went to England, there were over thousands of converts in England prior to the exodus to Salt Lake, and many, if not most, came to the United States, and followed the saints to the West. And even after the saints left Nauvoo for the West, the conversions still occurred in England, and many kept immigrating.

    The conversions of those converts in England, to the degree that they were willing to leave their homes, and not only settle in Nauvoo, but also be pioneers in the West, cannot be attributed to Joseph being a charismatic manipulator.

    Were the early missionaries to England (the 12 apostles), also to be considered expert at mass manipulation?

    Some of them were considered specifically not to be expert speakers, and not charismatic personalities, such as Wilford Woodruff. Yet his preaching literally brought thousands into the church.

    I believe that this is evidence of the truth and power of the message, and that God shed forth his Spirit upon the hearers. That it was not the power of persuasion excercised by powerful men. This was an example of God using the weak things of the world to confound the wise.

  24. Hi why me,

    You asked, “For one poster who listed the other writers that wrote books in feathered pen and paper…thanks for your comment but I don’t think that Joseph Smith was a professional writer nor do I believe that he had the contemplative space to write such a manuscript.

    “Can we really compare Joseph Smith to those writers you listed?”

    In once sense I’d say no, because the literary miracle that they pulled off far-exceeds the literary miracle that Joseph Smith pulled off; their backgrounds were generally similar to that of Joseph Smith, yet the works they produced are far superior.

    In antother sense, I’d say yes, they are comparable. Certain individuals have the genious necessary to produce specific miraculous works of literature. Probably the best literature in the English language is found within the dramas of Shakespeare. He wrote of kings, and queens in diverse times and places with inemitable flare. Are we to believe that an uneducated peasant was able to produce dozens of plays that have awed scholar and nobleman alike for 400 years?

    The vast majority of scholars say yes, it was a miracle that William Shakespeare pulled off; he was the genious born to create these works. A few find the miracle so incredible that they’ve decided that the plays must have been written by an Oxford-educated nobleman, not by Shakespeare.

    (You can read about this conspiracy theory here:

    Likewise, a miracle of sorts took place in upstate New York in the 1820’s. What was the miracle? Joseph Smith writing the Book of Mormon himself? An accurate translation of an ancient document? A conspiracy of somebody writing the book for Joseph?

    Personally, I find the first option much, much more plausible than the latter two; there are just way too many misses for the book to be historically plausible.

    That’s the way I see it, at least.

  25. I am saying that it seems highly unlikely that Joseph could have written it due to his life circumstances (as I have mentioned in my earlier posts)…and so he must have translated it.

    But my reasoning is very simple and very modest and it certainly isn’t very intellectual.

    I just don’t know how he could have pulled it all off if he did write it…it sounds impossible to me.

    And all the witnesses as far as I understand never retracted their testimonies…in truth I am inactive but I just cannot deny that book because of my simple logic.

    There has been a part of me that has wished that a rough draft would be discovered so we could all rest and relax with a cup of hot chocolate…but I don’t think that a rough draft of the bofm will ever be discovered because he did not write the book.

    It is all a matter of faith now.

  26. I agree in part with what you are saying, it [i]is[/i] highly unlikely that he wrote the book. However, that is much more likely than any other explanation that is out there; it couldn’t be a translation of ancient literature because in aggregate, it just doesn’t have the features of ancient literature.

    But in any event, I wish you well on your spiritual journey; always follow your heart.

  27. Maybe you need to go study Alma 36 before you make the statement that there are no ancient literary styles found in the BoM.

  28. Alma 36 is a great chapter of the Book of Mormon. Without regard to whether or not it qualifies as an example of ancient literary style, I said IN AGGREGATE the Book doesn’t have the fingerprint of ancient literature, not that there are no isolated examples of ancient style.

  29. Just a few thoughts…bear in mind that for people who wrote on paper with feathered pens most evey day, ink spills would probably be kept to a minimum; look at the Declaration of Independence for example. I mean obviously Jefferson was being careful (I am not even sure that Jefferson wrote the final copy) but there are no ink spills in the text or in the signatures that I can see. And of course Oliver Cowdery obviously had some experience with writing, more so than J.S. As an additional aside, Clausewitz’ On War wasn’t written until 1832 and then only in German. Don’t know when the English version came out.

  30. This is hilarious, but only because I’m familiar with Mormon apologetics. So I know that green places have been found on the east coast, etc.

  31. Anonymous: “I said . . . the Book doesn’t have the fingerprint of ancient literature.”

    Perhaps I’ve simply missed it, but I’m curious as to what your credentials might be for evaluating ancient literature.


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