My award-winning treatise, “Was the Book of Mormon Plagiarized from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass?,” has just been utterly decimated by a young scholar at a major university. Frankly, I have to admit he is right on many of his points, but I hope is wrong about his final conclusions. To come clean, I will share the full message he sent me, and then I’ll consider what next steps I may need to take.
I am a graduate student preparing my masters thesis on the origins of the mormon movement based on 19th century reformative doctrines. I am trying to link the doctrines of Josoph Smith to the major social and religious movements of his day. I have just finished reading your piece on the origins of the book of mormon and found it terribly biased and not one bit true or plausable. I doubt you will stop circulation of your paper on my account, but you seem to be deliberately misleading your reader in the hopes of catching someone ignorant unawares. I am not a mormon, and have no interest in the LDS church except as a 19th century religious movement and its evolution into the new millineum, but I am offended as a scholar to see writing so weak and desperate to support a perspective that it sacrifices integrity and empirical probability to give an illusion of possibility.
According to all historical records I have read (except for the mormons, who maintain that it was “translated” in about two months in 1829), the Book of Mormon was written between 1826-1829, and published in 1830. Whitman would have been 7-10 years old at the time. His early education was in type setting (1832), and later as a teacher (1834), his first publication was in the Democratic Review at 20 (1839). It is unlikely that a large portion of his life’s masterpiece was completed and ready for plagarization by the time he was 10. Further, Whitman lived in Brooklyn, and Smith lived in upstate NY, and much of the Book of Mormon was written in Pennsylvania as well. In 1830, the white population of New York was 1,873,663 according to the US census. Whitman and Smith lived on opposite ends of the state, both were insignificant boys (smith would have been in his early twenties). It is far less likely that Smith or Cowdery met Whitman than your paper would indicate. Further, the analogies that you show between BofM and LofG are weak and superficial, Whitman clearly wrote about wars and fortifications at the Alamo AFTER the 1936 defense of the San Antonio mission, not as an eight year old living in Brooklyn as your paper suggests. I’m not going to waste more time on you except to say you should be ashamed of yourself. You’re not ignorant, which tells me you have deliberately lied and manipulated the ideas of great men to make a weak and futile point. If you are a christian you are going to Hell. If you are a scholar, you are simply unethical.
Ouch. “If you’re a Christian, you’re going to hell” – maybe this is a good time for those anti-Mormons to be right about us not being Christian. In any case, this is obviously a very painful day for me, coming to the sudden realization that my scholarly work on Whitman and the Book of Mormon was, after all the impressive evidence, completely misguided.
Update: Yes, this is a genuine email, reproduced verbatim. I showed it to my family moments after reading it, and one son said, “Dad, I would have thought you made this up if I hadn’t seen the email myself.” But really, I’ve had this kind of reaction several times to pieces that were meant to be satirical.
Now in fairness to the non-LDS student, he was taking on what he thought was a ridiculous and dishonest anti-Mormon Web page. Obviously, he didn’t read the whole page or pay attention to some of the details. Missing the (many) hints that it was satirical, his reaction makes sense. In fact, I owe him a double thanks: (1) Thanks for the effort to speak out, and (2) thanks for making me chuckle. The error is understandable, though it is best to read a little more carefully before launching such a heated attack, especially when it involves consigning someone to hell.