One of the persistent theories for the origin of the Book of Mormon is "The Spalding Theory": that the Book of Mormon is derived from a document written by a Congregational preacher named Solomon Spalding. Spalding wrote what he termed a "romantic novel" about the ancient inhabitants of this continent. In Spaldings novel these inhabitants were descended from a band of Hebrews who migrated from Jerusalem in 600 B. C. Spalding finished his manuscript about 1812, nearly twenty years before Joseph Smith published the Book of Mormon.
Contemporaries of Spalding, who heard him read his manuscript before he tried to get it published, claimed it was unquestionably the source document for the Book of Mormon. They remember hearing Spalding reading the names, places, and events later published in the Book of Mormon names like Nephi, Lehi, Laban, and Moroni.
Spaldings story recounted the drama of the Jews sailing to the Western Hemisphere in barges, and then dividing into two antagonistic groups, one righteous and the other idolatrous. These two factions fought and warred until, in the end, the righteous Nephites were destroyed by the Lamanites. All the righteous were slain except one who kept and concealed the records of his group.
Immediately upon publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830, Spaldings relatives and friends came forward charging Joseph Smith with plagiarism and fraud.
Spaldings widow said her husband had written the novel as entertainment and to occupy his time while he lingered in ill health. Spalding, an ordained minister and a graduate of Dartmouth College, had suffered financial reverses. His problems, coupled with a growing interest in the manuscript among friends, prompted him to attempt to have it published. He took the book to a printer in Pittsburgh but unfortunately before publication, on October 20, 1816, Spalding died.
Spaldings widow, his brother, and numerous acquaintances claimed that the Book of Mormon, which appeared in 1830, was nothing more than a thinly disguised version of Manuscript Found. When a Mormon missionary came to New Salem, Ohio, in 1834 and began holding meetings, Solomons brother John attended. As the missionary began reading portions of the Book of Mormon, John immediately identified it as his brothers novel.
Numerous witnesses swore that the Book of Mormon was a plagiarism. E. D. Howe published, just four years after the publication of the Book of Mormon, a short history of the development of Mormonism, including statements from friends, relatives, and acquaintances of Solomon Spalding. All of the witnesses said the Book of Mormon was a plagiarism of Manuscript Found.
The following statement was made by Spaldings brother John, who, according to Spaldings widow, Matilda, was an "extremely pious man":
He [Spalding] then told me he was writing a book . It was an historical romance of the first settlers of America, endeavoring to show that the American Indians are the descendants of the Jews, or the lost tribes. It gave a detailed account of their journey from Jerusalem, by land and sea, till they arrived in America, under the command of Nephi and Lehi. They afterwards had quarrels and contentions and separated into two distinct nations, one of which he denominated Nephites, and the other Lamanites. Cruel and bloody wars ensued, in which great multitudes were slain. They buried their dead in large heaps, which caused the mounds so common in this country. Their arts, sciences and civilization were brought into view in order to account for all the curious antiquities found in various parts of North and South America. I have recently read the Book of Mormon and to my great surprise I find nearly the same historical matter, names, &c., as they were in my brothers writings. I well remember that he wrote in the old style, and commenced about every sentence with And it came to pass, or Now it came to pass, the same as the Book of Mormon, and according to the best of my recollections and belief, it is the same as my brother Solomon wrote, with the exception of the religious part. By what means it has fallen into the hands of Joseph Smith, Jr., I am unable to determine. (1)
Here is the statement of Spaldings wife, Matilda:
Mr. Spalding in order to beguile the hours of retirement and furnish employment for his lively imagination conceived the idea of giving an historical account of a long lost race . The sole object in writing this historical romance was to amuse himself and his neighbors. (2)
The statement of Spaldings sister-in-law Martha:
[Spalding had for many years contended that the aborigines of America were the descendants of some of the lost tribes of Israel and this idea he carried out in the book in question . The names of Nephi and Lehi are yet fresh in my memory, as being the principal heroes of his tale. (3)
The statement of Spaldings business partner, Henry Lake, who partnered with Spalding in an iron forge in Conneaut County, Ohio, during the time of the writing of the manuscript:
Some months ago, I borrowed the Golden Bible, put it into my pocket, carried it home, and thought no more of it. About a week after, my wife found the book in my coat pocket, as it hung up, and she commenced reading it aloud as I lay upon the bed. She had not read twenty minutes, till I was astonished to find the same passages in it that Spalding had read to me more than twenty years before, from his Manuscript Found. Since then, I have more fully examined the said Golden Bible, and have no hesitation in saying that the historical part of it is principally, if not wholly, taken from the Manuscript Found. I well recollect telling Mr. Spalding that the so frequent use of the words And it came to pass, and Now it came to pass, rendered it ridiculous. (4)
The statement of John N. Miller, one of Spaldings former employees, who thought the whole book was "humorous":
I have recently examined the Book of Mormon, and find in it the writings of Solomon Spalding, from beginning to end, but mixed up with Scripture and other religious matter, which I did not meet with in Manuscript Found. Many of the passages in the Mormon book are verbatim from Spalding, and other in part. The names of Nephi, Lehi, and Moroni, and in fact all the principal names are brought fresh to my recollection by the Golden Bible. When Spalding divested his history of its fabulous names, by a verbal explanation, he landed his people near the Straits of Darien, which I am very confident he called Zarahemla; they were marched about that country for a length of time, in which war and great bloodshed ensued; he brought them across North America in a northeast direction. (5)
The statement of one of Spaldings creditors, Artemas Cunningham:
His only hope of ever paying his debts appeared to be upon the sale of a book he had been writing . [he said] that it was a fabulous or romantic history . It purported to have been a record found buried in the earth . He had adopted the ancient or scripture style of writing . I well remember the name of Nephi, which appeared to be the principal hero of the story. The frequent repetition of the phrase, I Nephi, I recollect as distinctly as though it was but yesterday . The Mormon Bible I have partially examined, and am fully of the opinion that Solomon Spalding had written its outlines before he left Conneaut. (6)
The statement of Aaron Wright, Justice of the Peace in Conneaut, a man of droll humor, who when he heard the Book of Mormon read in a public meeting in Conneaut in 1832 remarked, "Old Come-to-pass has come to life again!":
The historical part of the Book of Mormon I know to be the same as I read and heard read from the writings of Spalding, more than twenty years ago; the names, more especially, are the same without any alteration . Spalding had many other manuscripts, which I expect to see when Smith translates his other plate . If it is not Spaldings writing, it is the same as he wrote; and if Smith was inspired, I think it was by the same spirit Spalding was, which confessed to be the love of money. (7)
The statement of Dr. Nahum Howard, town doctor of Conneaut:
I have lately read the Book of Mormon, and believe it to be the same as Spalding wrote, except for the religious part. (6)
The Lost Manuscript
Sidney Rigdon was born in Library, Pennsylvania, in 1793. In 1812, when he was nineteen, he moved to Pittsburgh to find work. There he befriended J. H. Lambdin who worked as a printer at R. and J. Pattersons Print Shop.
Coincidentally, Spalding moved to Pittsburgh and contacted this same Patterson to see if he would publish Manuscript Found. Patterson was interested, but he delayed the undertaking. Before Spalding died, in 1816, Patterson told him the manuscript had been lost.
But Spalding thought the manuscript had been stolen. He told Dr. Cephas Dodd, the physician who attended him during his final illness, that Sidney Rigdon had stolen it. He said the same thing to the Rev. Joseph Miller who made Spaldings coffin and superintended his burial. Both men have left signed statements to that effect. Fourteen years later, the Manuscript surfaced as the Book of Mormon.
Meanwhile, Rigdons religious career was taking off. In 1817 he joined the First Baptist Church near his hometown of Library. A year or so later he was called to preach and soon married. In 1822 he became minister at First Baptist Church in Pittsburgh, but he was excommunicated in 1823 for teaching "irregular doctrine."
While pastoring in Pittsburgh, he was friendly with a Dr. J. Winter who asserted that Rigdon had showed him the Spalding manuscript.
Rigdon later became a Campbellite preacher (Disciples of Christ). Before the Book of Mormon was published, Rigdon told his brother-in-law, Adamson Bently (also a Campbellite preacher), about gold plates found in New York, which would be the source for a new book. Bently believed that Rigdon and Smith cooked up Mormonism between them to "deceive the people and obtain their property."
Even Alexander Campbell, the founder of the Disciples of Christ, reports hearing Rigdon speak of the gold plates before the Book of Mormon was published.
Rigdon supposedly was converted to Mormonism in Ohio in 1830 when traveling Mormon missionaries baptized him in Kirtland. He immediately went to Joseph Smith in Fayett, New York, where they supposedly met for the first time. He returned to head up the Mormon Church in Kirtland. Soon the entire Mormon Church moved to Kirtland. Rigdon became a member of the First Presidency and continued in that position until he left the Mormon church after Smiths death in 1844.
Once again, however, things were not what they seemed, for several witnesses testify that Rigdon had visited the Smith farm many times before the Book of Mormon was published. Abel D. Chase leaves this testimony:
During some of my visits at the Smiths, I saw a stranger there who they said was Mr. Rigdon. He was at Smiths several times, and it was in the year 1827 [the Book of Mormon was published in 1830] when I first saw him there, as near as I can recollect. Some time after that tales were circulated that young Joe had found or dug from the earth a Book of Plates which the Smiths called the Golden Bible. I dont think Smith had any such plates. He was mysterious in his actions. The Peepstone, in which he was accustomed to look, he got off my elder brother Willard while at work for us digging a well. It was a singular looking stone and young Joe pretended he could discover hidden things in it. (9)
The Moving Finger Writes!
Historians have long hoped to find the original Spalding manuscript, in order to prove once and for all that it was the source for the Book of Mormon. Thus far, the manuscript appears to have been lost or destroyed.
In February 1976 an amazing thing happened. A Mormon researcher, Howard Davis, who had been working for years trying to locate Manuscript Found!, was home from work, ill. He was absently flipping through a Mormon research book when suddenly he spotted distinctive handwriting, which he recognized from earlier research. It was Solomon Spaldings writing! He was sure of it. "What is Spaldings handwriting doing here?" he asked himself. Davis was looking at a photocopy of a section of the original transcription of the Book of Mormon. The original document was housed in Salt Lake City in the vault of the history office of the Mormon Church.
The Book of Mormon had been dictated by Joseph Smith to various scribes. The scribes were separated from him by a curtain so they "could not see the gold plates." The original manuscript had been closely guarded by Smith until 1841, three years before his death, when he deposited it in the cornerstone of his Nauvoo, Illinois, mansion, Nauvoo House.
In 1882 workmen dismantled the house and found the manuscript in a chest in the cornerstone. The Mormon Church possesses 144 pages of the manuscript. It was a photocopy of some of these pages that Davis saw and immediately recognized as Spaldings handwriting.
Could it be that Joseph Smith had simply inserted a portion of the actual Spalding manuscript into the original Book of Mormon manuscript? It seems a little too daring, even for Smith, but we need to bear in mind that when the Book of Mormon was published in 1830, Spalding had been dead for 16 years. Rigdon and Smith, after such a long period of time, probably felt that no one would ever remember the obscure preacher or his romantic novel.
The Mormon Church had attempted, in 1970, to identify the various sections they possessed of the Book of Mormon manuscript. Several handwritings were identified in the manuscript. The portion Davis recognized was from twelve manuscript pages labeled by the Church as "the unidentified scribe section."
The Church was outraged that Davis would suggest that "the unidentified scribe section" was the handwriting of none other than Solomon Spalding.
Davis called in a respected handwriting expert, William Kayne, and had him compare Spaldings handwriting with "the unidentified scribe section." Kayne (although his findings were contested) said that Spalding was the "unidentified scribe."
The Mormon Church could clear up the issue easily. All they have to do is make the manuscript available for independent examination. A consensus could be reached immediately. But they refuse to let anyone examine the documents. They are buried in a vault in the Church Office Building.
In view of all the existing testimony and evidence, it seems that the Spalding Theory is still alive and offers one explanation for at least part of the manuscript that Joseph Smith published as the Book of Mormon. What Spalding began as an innocent "romantic novel" may have become the central source for one of the most notorious cults in the history of Christianity.
I suggest interested persons read Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon?, by Davis, Cowdrey, and Scales (Vision House, Santa Ana, California). One of these men is Wayne Cowdrey, a descendant of one of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon. Cowdrey, along with Dr. Howard Davis and Donald Scales, documented with relentless accuracy the saga of the Spalding Theory or what they prefer to term the Rigdon/Spalding Thesis.