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Criticism of the Book of Mormon

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Criticism of the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon, published in 1830 by American religious leader Joseph Smith, has been the subject of criticism relating to its origin, text, and historical accuracy.

Ancient origin

The evidence indicates that the Book of Mormon is in fact an amalgamation of ideas that were inspired by Joseph's own environment (new) and themes from the Bible (old).

Critics reject Smith's explanation of the origin of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith said that the Book of Mormon was originally an ancient native-American record written on golden plates, and that God gave him the power to translate it into English.[2] Critics note that there is no physical proof of the existence of golden plates; Smith said that the angel Moroni reclaimed the plates once he had completed the translation. To provide support towards the existence of the plates, Smith included two statements in the Book of Mormon saying that the Book of Mormon witnesses had been shown the plates, and their testimony is typically published at the beginning of the Book of Mormon. While none of these men ever retracted their statement, critics nevertheless discount these testimonies for varying reasons, one of which is because most of these men were closely interrelated. In later years Martin Harris, one of the witnesses, confessed that none of the witnesses saw the plates with their natural eyes but only through a vision.[3][4]

Critics deny that the Book of Mormon is of ancient origin. In 1834 a publication by Eber D. Howe claimed that Smith had plagiarized an unpublished manuscript written by Solomon Spalding, a theory that has been generally rejected in the 20th century.[5][6][7] Critics today have varying theories about the true authorship of the Book of Mormon, but most conclude that Smith composed the book himself, possibly with the help of Oliver Cowdery, drawing from information and publications available in his time, including the King James Bible,[8][9] The Wonders of Nature,[10][11] and View of the Hebrews.[12][13][14]

Existence of golden plates

Two separate sets of witnesses, a set of three and a set of eight, testified as having seen the golden plates, the record from which the Book of Mormon was translated. Critics, including Jerald and Sandra Tanner, and the Institute for Religious Research note several pieces of evidence that they argue call into question the authenticity of the experience, including letters and affidavits in which Martin Harris stated that the Eight Witnesses never saw the plates, and that his own witness was more spiritual than physical. Additionally, each of the Three Witnesses (Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer) left the church during Joseph Smith's lifetime and considered Smith to have been a fallen prophet. Harris[15] and Cowdery[16] later returned to the church. However, the Institute for Religious Research disputes the sincerity of their conversion and return.[17]

Apologists note that the witnesses in most cases affirmed their witness until their death, and claim that the aforementioned affidavits and letters are either fraudulent, or otherwise not reliable. In 1881 Whitmer, the one witness who never returned to the church, issued an affidavit reaffirming his testimony of the experience.[18]

Editions of the Book of Mormon

There are approximately 21 editions of the Book of Mormon in existence, 12 unique to the LDS tradition, 5 unique to the RLDS tradition, and 3 shared editions.[19] Although there are numerous editions of the Book of Mormon, only the latest editions are held as authoritative by each tradition (1983 for LDS and 1953 for RLDS).

Critics challenge the changing nature of the text of the Book of Mormon.


Critics and supporters of the Book of Mormon disagree on how the Book of Mormon was translated. The only thing Joseph Smith ever said on the process was "through the medium of the urim and thummim I translated the record, by the gift and power of God."[20] Martin Harris, Joseph's second scribe, and David Whitmer, a witness of Joseph translating the plates to Oliver Cowdery, both describe the process as an exact word-for-word translation.[21]

Modern LDS scholars tend to fall into two schools: tight control and loose control. Those who believe in tight control interpretation believe Joseph had very little leeway in the words used in dictating the Book of Mormon (but without being restricted to exact word-for-word). Those who believed in loose control interpretation believe that "'ideas were revealed to Joseph Smith' and he put them 'into his own language.'"[22]

The significance of the translation process is how errors in the text are defended.

Text and language

Joseph Smith provided a sample of "reformed Egyptian" characters. Critics assert this language was merely Smith's invention.

Critics view the language patterns, phrases, and names in the Book of Mormon as evidence that it is not authentic.

Joseph Smith claimed to have translated the Book of Mormon from a language called Reformed Egyptian. It is said that archaeologists and Egyptologists have found no evidence that this language ever existed.[23] However, Hugh Nibley argues that Reformed Egyptian is actually Meroitic Egyptian.[24]

Furthermore, the Book of Mormon says that at least some ancestors of Native Americans came from the Jerusalem area; however, Native American linguistic specialists have not found, so far to date, any Native American language that appears to be related to languages of the ancient Near East.[25]

Supporters point out the interesting elements of the creation drama that turn up in temple, tomb, or coffin texts from ancient Egypt that is described in detail in the Book of Mormon as the coronation of King Mosiah long before these ancient texts were understood by Egyptologists.[26]

Supporters of the Book of Mormon claim it uses chiasmus—a figure of speech utilizing inverted parallelism—and claim it is evidence to support the book's ancient origin. Critics argue that while chiasmus appears in short form within ancient classical works of Rome, the complex stylization of these passages found in the Book of Mormon is more similar to that found in works of the Renaissance and into the 18th/19th centuries.

Critics claim that language patterns in the Book of Mormon indicate that it is merely a repetition of rhetorical patterns found in the Old Testament. They point out that the Book of Mormon contains many words and phrases that are not consistent with the time frame or location of the stories included in the book.

Some critics theorize that Smith derived the account of the golden plates from treasure-hunting stories of William Kidd. Critics base this theory on the similarity of the names from Smith's account—Moroni and Cumorah—to the location Moroni, Comoros, related to Kidd's hunt for treasure. Apologists argue that it was unlikely that Smith had access to this material since at the time of the writing and publishing of the Book of Mormon his family were living in backwoods America, were very poor and there was no public library available to read such a book.[27]

Biblical Language

The Book of Mormon claims to be the original writings of Nephite leaders in ancient America, but it contains extensive quotation of the 17th century edition of the King James Bible (KJV). Furthermore, the language of the Book of Mormon mimics the Elizabethan English used in the KJV, but it has 19th century English mixed into it.[28]

The Book of Mormon quotes 25,000 words from the KJV Old Testament and over 2,000 words from the KJV New Testament.[29]

Indeed, there are numerous cases where the Nephite writers plagiarize wording from the New Testament--a document they had no access to. Below are five examples out of a list of 400 examples[30]

Book of Mormon Text KJV Text
"the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world (2 Nephi 9:18) "the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34)
"he judgeth, and his judgment is just" (Mosiah 3:18) "I judge: and my judgment is just" (John 5:30)
"he who is filthy shall remain in his filthiness" (Alma 7:21) "he which is filthy, let him be filthy still" (Revelation 22:11)
"that one man should perish than that a nation should...perish in unbelief (1 Nephi 4:13) "that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not" (John 11:50)
"the dog to his vomit, or like the sow to her wallowing in the mire" (3 Nephi 7:8) "the dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire (2 Peter 2:22)


The names in the Book of Mormon can be interpreted as problamatic. Critics believe Joseph Smith came up with all the names, noting that Joseph owned a King James Bible with a table listing all the names used in the Bible.[31][32] Many Book of Mormon names are either biblical, formed from a rhyming pattern, changed by a prefix or suffix, or Greek in etymology. Furthermore, Jaredites and Nephites shared names despite the Jaradites being of a different time, place, and language than the Nephites. Lastly, some people would occasionally name their sons after their fathers, something not practiced in antiquity.[33]

Historical accuracy

Critics discredit the historical accuracy of the Book of Mormon. They note various issues, including anachronisms and lack of archaeological and genetic evidence.


Critics point out that the Book of Mormon contains references to various plants and animals (horses, swine, etc.) and technologies (chariots, steel, etc.) that did not exist in the Americas at the time of the story.

Apologists offer varying views on these anachronisms, typically countering them in one of two ways. One claim is that archaeological evidence may exist that has not yet been found. Another is that Joseph Smith used English words in a generic way, sometimes referring to an item other than that which the direct English word would imply.
Subject Reference Verse Problem Date
Cimeter (interpreted as Scimitar) Mosiah 9:16 And it came to pass that I did arm them with bows, and with arrows, with swords, and with cimeters, and with clubs, and with slings, and with all manner of weapons which we could invent, and I and my people did go forth against the Lamanites to battle. (See also Enos 1:20; Mosiah 10:8; Alma 2:12; 27:29; 43:18, 20, 37; 44:8; 60:2; Heaman 1:14) Scimitars (Curved Swords) didn't exist until the 500's.[34] 200-187 B.C.
Elephants Ether 9:19 And they also had horses, and asses, and there were elephants and cureloms and cumoms; all of which were useful unto man, and more especially the elephants and cureloms and cumoms. Elephants may not have been existent in America at the time of Ether.[35][36] Some evidence argues otherwise.[37] 2200 B.C. - 600 B.C.
Honey Bees Ether 2:3 And they did also carry with them deseret, which, by interpretation, is a honey bee; and thus they did carry with them swarms of bees, and all manner of that which was upon the face of the land, seeds of every kind. Honey Bees were introduced to America by the Spanish. 2200 B.C. - 600 B.C.
Horses 1 Nephi 18:25 And it came to pass that we did find upon the land of promise, as we journeyed in the wilderness, that there were beasts in the forests of every kind, both the cow and the ox, and the ass and the horse, and the goat and the wild goat, and all manner of wild animals, which were for the use of men. And we did find all manner of ore, both of gold, and of silver, and of copper. (Horses see 2 Nephi 12:7; 2 Nephi 15:28; Enos 1:21; Alma 18:9, 10,12; 20:6; 3 Nephi 3:22; 4:4; 6:1; 21:14; Ether 9:19; ) According to present data all horses on the American continent died out far before the times of the Book of Mormon and then weren't reintroduced until the 16th century.[38][39] 590-589 B.C
Steel 1 Nephi 4:9 And I beheld his sword, and I drew it forth from the sheath thereof; and the hilt thereof was of pure gold, and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine, and I saw that the blade thereof was of the most precious steel. (See also 1 Neph 16:18; 2 Nephi 5:15; Jarom 1:8; Ether 7:9) The Jews traditionally did not have had steel at the time of this event. Much evidence argues otherwise.[40][41][42] 600-592 B.C.
Silk Alma 4:6 And it came to pass in the eighth year of the reign of the judges, that the people of the church began to wax proud, because of their exceeding riches, and their fine silks, and their fine-twined linen, and because of their many flocks and herds, and their gold and their silver, and all manner of precious things, which they had obtained by their industry; and in all these things were they lifted up in the pride of their eyes, for they began to wear very costly apparel. The Jews didn't have silk at that time. Though the people of the Americas may have developed their own silk while in the Americas[43] 86-83 B.C.
Wheat & Barley Mosiah 9:9 And we began to till the ground, yea, even with all manner of seeds: with seeds of corn and of wheat and of barley.... Wheat and Barley were brought to America by Europeans. Some evidence argues otherwise.[44][45] About 200–187 B.C.
Sheep Ether 9:18 and also all manner of cattle, of oxen and cows, and of sheep and of swine and of goats.... Europeans brought Sheep to America. About 2200-600 B.C.
Goats 1 Ne. 18:25 both the cow and the ox and the ass and the horse and the goat and the wild goat.... Europeans introduced the first domesticated goats to America.
Cattle and Cows Ether 9:18 and also all manner of cattle, of oxen and cows, and of sheep and of swine and of goats.... There is no evidence that Old World cattle (members of the genus Bos) inhabited the New World prior to European contact in the 17th century AD.
Swine Ether 9:18 and also all manner of cattle, of oxen and cows, and of sheep and of swine and of goats.... Europeans historically brought the first swine to America.
Apparent Quoting of the New Testament 1 Nephi 22:17 shall be saved, even if it so be as by fire (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:15) Paul did not write this epistle for another 600 years after Nephi's death.


Map showing the possible lands and sites of the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica (speculative)

The Book of Mormon is held by Mormons to be a historical account of actual peoples living in the Americas. It follows to reason then that evidence of their inhabitance exists. To date, no such evidence has been found. There have been no artifacts of any kind found validating the Book of Mormon, nor any other archeological evidence.[46]

Critics point out that there are many inconsistencies and implausibilities in the story of the Israelites coming from the Mid-East to the Americas, and in the geographical descriptions of the lands in the Americas in which the stories take place. Scholars currently have no definitive location for the Book of Mormon setting, but many believe that Mesoamerica is the location.

Native Americans and genetics

The Book of Mormon suggests that the Native Americans are descended from people who came to the Americas by boat from the Middle East. However, scientists have used techniques involving genetic markers to conclude that Native American genes are East Asian and not Middle Eastern in origin.[47]

Apologists argue that 1) not all Native Americans are Lamanite and 2) the Middle Eastern genes in Native Americans who are Lamanite may have been diluted beyond what can now be detected or lost in time through genetic shifts such as founder effect, bottleneck effect, genetic drift, or admixture. This theory is untestable with current scientific methods.

To say that DNA from the Europe or other nearby regions being found in the Americas prior to Columbus is not plausible or is untestable is shown otherwise here. Strong evidence supports DNA relics in genes among Native Americans from areas of central North America originating from European ancestry as early as 15,000 years ago. [48]

Divine nature of the book

Egyptologists' translations of these fragments of the Joseph Smith Papyri do not coincide with Smith's translation.

Critics reject the belief that the Book of Mormon is of divine origin; they discredit the book's divine origin by discrediting Joseph Smith. Critics point out that Joseph Smith also translated the Book of Abraham. Unlike the Book of Mormon, fragments of the documents from which Smith translated the Book of Abraham are available for inspection; Egyptologists find no resemblance between the original text and Smith's translation,[49] casting doubt on Smith's claimed divine gift of translation.

Supporters point out that the Church has never claimed that the fragments of papyri which include facsimile 1, 2, and 3 are where Joseph Smith obtained his material for the Book of Abraham. These fragments are from the Egyptian Book of the Dead which was just one of the scrolls from Egypt that Joseph Smith had in his possession. When these fragments were discovered in the Metropolitan Museum many years ago, Hugh Nibley wrote a book called "The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, An Ancient Egyptian Endowment" showing how the fragments that had been discovered had nothing to do with the Book of Abraham but everything to do with Egyptian funeral texts from "The Book of the Dead".

Critics also challenge the divine origin of the Book of Mormon by noting the numerous revisions that have been made to the text.[12][13][50][51][52][53]

Though most changes are small spelling and grammar corrections,[54] critics claim that even these are significant in light of Smith's claims of divine inspiration.[55] Critics assert that some of these changes were systematic attempts to hide the book's flaws.[56][57]

See also


  1. ^ Palmer, Grant H. (2002). An insider's view of Mormon origins ([Nachdr.] ed.). Salt Lake City: Signature Books.  
  2. ^ "Gospel Topics", (LDS Church) 
  3. ^ Brodie, Fawn M. (1995). No man knows my history : the life of Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet (2. ed., rev.and enl., 1. Vintage books ed. ed.). New York: Vintage Books. p. 78.  
  4. ^ Wunderli, Earl M. (2013). An imperfect book : what the Book of Mormon tells us about itself. pp. 27–28.  
  5. ^  
  6. ^ Spaulding, Solomon (1996), Reeve, Rex C, ed., Manuscript Found: The Complete Original "Spaulding" Manuscript, Provo, Utah:  
  7. ^ Roper, Matthew (2005), """The Mythical "Manuscript Found,  
  8. ^ Abanes 2003, p. 72
  9. ^ Tanner 1987, pp. 73–80
  10. ^ Abanes 2003, p. 68
  11. ^ Tanner 1987, pp. 84–85
  12. ^ a b Brody, Fawn (1971), No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (2nd ed.), New York: Alfred A. Knopf, p.  
  13. ^ a b  
  14. ^  
  15. ^ Millennial Star, 6 Feb. 1882, p. 87
  16. ^ The Return of Oliver Cowdery - Maxwell Institute Papers
  17. ^ Facts on the Book of Mormon Witnesses - Part 1: credibility and relevancy of witnesses to the Book of Mormon
  18. ^ "An Address," 27, in EMD, 5: 194.
  19. ^ Skousen, edited by Royal (2009). The Book of Mormon : the earliest text. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 744.  
  20. ^ Wunderli, Earl M. (2013). An imperfect book : what the Book of Mormon tells us about itself. Signature Books. p. 23.  
  21. ^ Wunderli, Earl M. (2013). An imperfect book : what the Book of Mormon tells us about itself. pp. 34–35.  
  22. ^ Wunderli, Earl M. (2013). An imperfect book : what the Book of Mormon tells us about itself. p. 37.  
  23. ^ Standard language references such as Peter T. Daniels and William Bright, eds., The World's Writing Systems (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996) (990 pages); David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (Cambridge University Press, 1997); and Roger D. Woodard, ed., The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages (Cambridge University Press, 2004) (1162 pages) contain no reference to "reformed Egyptian." "Reformed Egyptian" is also ignored in Andrew Robinson, Lost Languages: The Enigma of the World's Undeciphered Scripts (New York: McGraw Hill, 2002), although it is mentioned in Stephen Williams, Fantastic Archaeology: The Wild Side of North American Prehistory (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991). On their website, Bad Archaeology, two British archaeologists, Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews and Dames Doeser, say "The only writing systems to have been recognised in the Americas are those used by the Maya and the Aztecs, neither of which resembles Egyptian hieroglyphs, although Joseph Smith, the founder of the religion, produced a scrap of papyrus containing hieroglyphs he claimed to be a Reformed Egyptian text written by the Patriarch Abraham." Bad Archaeology
  24. ^ Nibley, Hugh. Teachings of the Book of Mormon. p. 13.  
  25. ^ Roberts, Brigham H. (1992). Madsen, Brigham, ed. Studies of the Book of Mormon (2nd ed. ed.). Salt Lake City: Signature Books. p. 63-94.  
  26. ^  
  27. ^ Lowe, Bob (1998), "A Brief History of Palmyra", (Town & Village of Palmyra, NY), In 1899, the Palmyra King’s Daughters Free Library was begun as a reading room. Two years later (1901) the library was chartered as a lending library and has remained so until the present. 
  28. ^ Walters, Wesley (1990). The Use of the Old Testament in the Book of Mormon. Utah Lighthouse Ministry. 
  29. ^ Brodie, Fawn M. (1995). No man knows my history : the life of Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet (2. ed., rev.and enl., 1. Vintage books ed. ed.). New York: Vintage Books. p. 58.  
  30. ^ Tanner, Jerald; Tanner, Sandra. The Case Against Mormonism. Utah Lighthouse Ministry. p. 87-102. 
  31. ^ Tanner, Jerald and Sandra. Mormonism - Shadow or Reality?. Utah Lighthouse Ministry. p. 95. It is interesting to note that when Joseph Smith purchased a Bible in the late 1820's, he picked one that contained "An alphabetical table of all the names of the Old and New Testaments with their significations 
  32. ^ Walters, Wesley. The Use of the Old Testament in the Book of Mormon. Utah Lighthouse Ministry. p. 18. 
  33. ^ Wunderli, Earl M. (2013). An imperfect book : what the Book of Mormon tells us about itself. p. 158.  
  34. ^ B.H. Roberts noted: "The word [cimiter] is of oriental and uncertain origin and appears in various forms. How it came to be introduced into the speech and writings of the Nephites, and how not used in the other Hebrew literature at an earlier date, is so far as I know, unaccountable. The earliest use of the word I have found is in Gibbon, where referring to the alleged incident of finding the sword of Mars for Attila, he there calls that sword of Mars "cimiter"; but that was about 450 A.D." - from Roberts, B.H.; Studies of the Book of Mormon; Signature Books; Salt Lake City; Second Edition; 1992; page 112.
  35. ^ Diamond 1999
  36. ^ Sharon Levy, “Mammoth Mystery, Did Climate Changes Wipe Out North America’s Giant Mammals, Or Did Our Stone Age Ancestors Hunt Them To Extinction?, Onearth, winter 2006, pp15-19
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^ R. Dale Guthrie, New carbon dates link climatic change with human colonization and Pleistocene extinctions, Nature 441 (11 May 2006), 207-209.
  40. ^
  41. ^
  42. ^
  43. ^ "Silkworm of the Aztecs" by Richard S. Peigler, Ph.D., Curator of Entomology, in Museum Quarterly, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Spring, 1993): pp. 10-11 (published by the Denver Museum of Natural History)
  44. ^
  45. ^
  46. ^ Tanner, Jerald; Tanner, Sandra. Archaeology and the Book of Mormon. Utah Lighthouse Ministry. p. 64. Mormon archaeologists are still unable to furnish any real proof that the Nephites ever existed. 
  47. ^ Meldrum, D. Jeffrey; Stephens, Trent. Who are the children of Lehi? DNA and the Book of Mormon. Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books.  
  48. ^ See
  49. ^ Larson, Charles M. (1992). By his own hand upon papyrus : a new look at the joseph smith papyri. (Rev. ed., 2. print ed.). [S.l.]: Inst For Religious.  
  50. ^ Abanes 2003, p. 73
  51. ^ Beckwith, Francis (2002), The New Mormon Challenge, Zondervan, pp. 367–396,  
  52. ^ Cowan, Marvin (1997), Mormon Claims Answered, , p.  
  53. ^ There have been numerous changes to the text of the Book of Mormon between the 1830 edition and modern LDS editions, almost four thousand changes according to one count by Jerald and Sandra Tanner; see: Tanner 1996, Introduction.
  54. ^ The majority of these changes are spelling and grammar corrections; see: "All About Mormons", (Russell Anderson)  .
  55. ^ Critics claim that even changes in spelling and grammar are important when considering the claims concerning the translation which were made by Joseph Smith and the witnesses to the book. Smith claimed that the Book of Mormon was "the most correct of any book on earth," and Martin Harris said that the words which appeared on the seer stone would not disappear until they were correctly written; see: Tanner 1980, p. 132.
  56. ^ Some critics claim that some revisions are systematic attempts to remove evidence that Joseph Smith fabricated the Book of Mormon, and other revisions were made to hide embarrassing aspects of the church's past; see: Abanes 2003, pp. 59–80.
  57. ^ Tanner 1987, pp. 50–96


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