Studies of the Book of Mormon

Studies of the Book of Mormon

Infobox Book
name = Studies of the Book of Mormon
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = Cover of recent edition
author = Brigham Henry Roberts
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = USA
genre = Religion
publisher = University of Illinois Press
pub_date = 1985
english_pub_date =
media_type =
pages =
isbn = 978-1560850274

"Studies of the Book of Mormon", Brigham D. Madsen, ed. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985) is a collection of previously unpublished manuscripts, written by LDS General Authority B.H. Roberts (1857-1933) at the beginning of the 20th century, which concern the validity of the Book of Mormon, a scripture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. [Paul M. Edwards, "Review of "Studies of the Book of Mormon"," "Christian Century" 103 (August 6, 1986), 684. "Studies of the Book of Mormon" consists of three essays, brief correspondence related to the writing of the essays, a biographical sketch by Sterling McCurrin, and an introduction by Brigham Madsen. The manuscripts are titled “Book of Mormon Difficulties: A Study,” “A Book of Mormon Study,” and “A Parallel.”]

Roberts "served in the innermost circles of Mormonism" and for decades "used his great oratorical and writing skills, as well as his scholarly and research abilities, to defend the Book of Mormon and give it intellectual respectability." [Paul M. Edwards, "Review of Studies of the Book of Mormon, "Christian Century" 103 (August 6, 1986), 684.] According to BYU scholar Marvin S. Hill, controversy over the book "has focused not upon the historical issues which Roberts raised but rather on whether or not he lost his testimony of the book and the church." [Marvin S. Hill, "Review," "Church History" 55 (December 1986), 547.]

Critics of Mormonism claim that Roberts lost his belief in the "Book of Mormon" after completing the study, even though he continued to publicly affirm the supernatural character of the book. According to religion writer Richard N. Ostling, LDS apologists were faced with one "of the most delicate situations" after publication of the book and "went into high gear" to make responses to it because "Roberts could not be dismissed as an outsider or an anti-Mormon." [Richard N. Ostling and Joan K. Ostling, "Mormon America: The Power and the Promise" (HarperSanFrancisco, 1999), 275-76.]

Roberts’ purpose and conclusion

In the early 1920s, Roberts was asked by the First Presidency of the LDS Church to develop an apolegetic to explain difficulties in the "Book of Mormon", such as the lack of Hebrew or Egyptian vestiges in the languages of the Native American peoples and such historical anachronisms in the "Book of Mormon" as mentions of horses, oxen, wheat, and steel swords in ancient America. [Ostling, 275.]

Roberts also compared the "Book of Mormon" with Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews (1823), published five years before the "Book of Mormon". Ethan Smith, a Vermont clergyman, drew on, what were at the time, commonplace ideas about the relationship of the Hebrews and the American Indians. Not only did Ethan Smith's work go through many early editions, but Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith's scribe and one of the Three Witnesses grew up in the Vermont town where Ethan Smith pastored the church and where Cowdery's mother and half-sisters were members. According to religion writer, Richard Ostling, "it is probably safe to assume that Joseph Smith was familiar" with Ethan Smith's book. [Ostling, 275.]

Roberts was "torn by an internal struggle between his faith and a desire to be honest with himself." [Robert Lindsey, "A Gathering of Saints: A True Story of Money, Murder and Deceit" (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), 187.] Roberts believed that Mormonism must "stand or fall" on the truth of Joseph Smith's claim that the "Book of Mormon" was the history of an ancient people inscribed on golden plates and revealed to him by an angel. Yet on page after page, Roberts cited examples "of what he considered discrepancies, implausibilities and contradictions in the "Book of Mormon". According to BYU professor Marvin S. Hill, Roberts "maintained that the Book of Mormon's claims that the Indians were derived solely from three migrations of Hebrews to the new world over a span of three thousand years was entirely untenable." [Marvin S. Hill, "Review," "Church History" 55 (December 1986), 547.] And Roberts concluded that the "evidence I sorrowfully submit" pointed to Joseph Smith as the Book's creator. [Robert Lindsey, "A Gathering of Saints: A True Story of Money, Murder and Deceit" (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), 187.]

Although Roberts' manuscripts were intended for perusal by the General Authorities, the Authorities proved uninterested in examining them. [Harvnb|Roberts|1983 Roberts wrote in a letter to Elizabeth Skolfield (14 March 1932): “I am forwarding you with this mail an introductory chapter to a work of mine which is in typewritten form under the title ‘Book of Mormon Study.’ It makes 435 pages of typewritten matter. It is from research work I did before going to take charge of the Eastern States Mission [in May 1922] . I had written it for presentation to the Twelve and the Presidency, not for publication, but I suspended the submission of it until I returned home, but I have not yet succeeded in making the presentation of it, although a letter of submission was made previous to leaving the E. S. M. [in 1927] . I have made one feeble effort to get it before them since returning home, but they are not in a studious mood.”] Roberts argued that his study was “of very great importance since it represents what may be used by some opponent in criticism of the Book of Mormon.” [Harvnb|Roberts|1985|p=58] He also warned that the problems described would haunt the Church "both now and also in the future" and, unless answered, they would undermine "the faith of the Youth of the Church." [Harvnb|Roberts|1985|p=47]


Roberts gave three conditions that would suggest that one book had been derived from another: that the derivative book had appeared after its model, that the author of the derivative book had access to the model, and that the derivative work be similar to the model. Roberts concluded that View of the Hebrews had been published first, that the possibility that Smith had access to it was "a very close certainty," and that there were many similarities between the works. [Harvnb|Roberts|1985|p=235 Smith himself indicated that he was aware of the book, having mentioned Ethan Smith and cited passages from "View of the Hebrews" in an article published in the "Times and Seasons" 3:15 (1 June 1842): 813–815.] The bulk of Roberts' manuscript considers the similarities between "View of the Hebrews" and the "Book of Mormon". [Harvnb|Roberts|1985|p=235]

Origin of New World peoples

Roberts states that both "View of the Hebrews" and the "Book of Mormon" claim that the Hebrews “occupied the whole extent of the American continents” and that this idea was “very generally obtained throughout New England.” [Harvnb|Roberts|1985|p=241, 323.] Modern LDS apologists argue a limited geography theory of the "Book of Mormon" civilization, which Roberts himself did not believe "the "Book of Mormon" would admit our assuming.” [Harvnb|Roberts|1985|p=93: “ [C] ould the people of Mulek and of Lehi...part of the time numbering and occupying the land at least from Yucatan to and move and have their being in the land of America and not come in contact with other races and tribes of men, if such existed in the New World within Book of Mormon times? To make this seem possible the area occupied by the Nephites and Lamanites would have to be extremely limited, much more limited, I fear, than the Book of Mormon would admit our assuming.”]


Both "View of the Hebrews" and the "Book of Mormon" refer to a migration of peoples to America. Roberts notes several parallels between the migration of the Jaredites and that of the Ten Lost Tribes in the Jewish apocalypse 2 Esdras (as interpreted by Ethan Smith). Both journeys are "religiously motivated, both groups enter valleys at the commencement of their journeys, both apparently travel north between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, both cross water barriers, both trips take years, and both groups travel to uninhabited lands." [Dan Vogel, "Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet" (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2004), 344; Harvnb|Roberts|1985|p=183-87.]

Destruction of Jerusalem

Roberts notes that the entire first chapter of ‘’View of the Hebrews’’ describes the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70. He compares this chapter to the first chapters of the "Book of Mormon", in which Lehi prophesies of the destruction of Jerusalem prior to his departure circa 600 B.C.E. [Harvnb|Roberts|1985|p=334] LDS apologists argue that "View of the Hebrews" does not refer to the earlier destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians circa 586 B.C.E. [Harvnb|Welch|1992]

Lost books

In "View of the Hebrews" "an old Indian” said that his ancestors “had a book which they had for a long time preserved,” but that "having lost the knowledge of reading it…they buried it with an Indian chief." [Harvnb|Smith|2002|p=167] "View of the Hebrews" mentions a Jewish phylactery dug from the ground which “contained four folded leaves" of "dark yellow" parchment. [Harvnb|Smith|2002|164-165] Roberts compares this story with Joseph Smith’s retrieval of the golden plates in a New York hillock, and adds the question, "Could all this have supplied structural work for the Book of Mormon?" [Harvnb|Roberts|1985|p=326]

Breastplate and the Urim and Thummin

"View of the Hebrews" describes a breastplate "in resemblance of the Urim and Thummin" made of a white conch shell with two holes to which are fastened white buckhorn buttons "as if in imitation of the precious stones of the Urim." [Harvnb|Smith|2002|p=108] Roberts compares this to the Urim and Thummim which Joseph Smith said that he was given for the purpose of translating the plates. [Harvnb|Roberts|1985|p=327-328]

"Egyptian" hieroglyphics

View of the Hebrews describes hieroglyphic paintings found in the American southwest. [Harvnb|Smith|2002|p=135-136] Roberts wrote "Was this sufficient to suggest the strange manner of writing the Book of Mormon…in an altered Egyptian?” [Harvnb|Roberts|1985|p=330]

Barbarous versus civilized New World people

"View of the Hebrews" argues that the Hebrews who arrived on the American continents divided into two classes, that "most of them fell into a wandering idle hunting life" but that "more sensible parts of this people associated together to improve their knowledge of the arts." [Harvnb|Smith|2002|p=126] The more civilized portion of this society separated from the more primitive group, who "lost the knowledge of their having descended from the same family." As a result of “tremendous wars,” the civilized group “became extinct.” [Harvnb|Smith|2002|p=126] In the "Book of Mormon", the Nephites and Lamanites also split into two groups and have frequent wars, which ultimately result in the destruction of the more civilized Nephites. [Harvnb|Roberts|1985|p=330-334.]


In both "View of the Hebrews" and the "Book of Mormon", part of the ancient inhabitants of America changed from monarchical governments to republican governments, and the civil and ecclesiastical power was united in the same person. [Harvnb|Roberts|1985|p=242.]

Prophecy about the scattering and gathering of Israel

Roberts notes that in both "View of the Hebrews" and the "Book of Mormon" there are extensive quotations from Isaiah regarding the scattering and future gathering of Israel. Roberts asks, "Did the Author of the Book of Mormon follow too closely the course of Ethan Smith in this use of Isaiah would be a legitimate query.” [Harvnb|Roberts|1985|p=335] LDS apologists reply that "View of the Hebrews" includes many other scriptural prophecies about the restoration of Israel, whereas the "Book of Mormon" quotes only from Isaiah 11. [Harvnb|Welch|1992 View of the Hebrews includes quotations from Deuteronomy 30; Isaiah 11, 18, 60, 65; Jeremiah 16, 23, 30-31, 35-37; Zephaniah 3; Amos 9; Hosea and Joel.]

White god in the New World

Ethan Smith discusses legends of the “bearded white god” Quetzalcoatl and proposes that this “lawgiver” or “Mexican messiah” might have been Moses. [Harvnb|Smith|2002|p=154: "Who could this be but Moses, the ancient legislator in Israel?"] Smith also suggests that this belief held by the people of Mexico at the time of Montezuma allowed the Spanish to easily conquer the country because “the Mexicans mistook the white bearded invaders from the east for the descendants of their long cherished culture-hero Quetzalcoatl.” [Harvnb|Roberts|1985|p=234] Roberts asks rhetorically if “this character spoken of in the "View of the Hebrews"," furnished the suggestion of Christ in the New World in the "Book of Mormon". [Harvnb|Roberts|1985|p=343-344]

Controversy about Roberts' parallels

Some Mormon apologists have argued that Roberts' parallels are unimportant both because many of them have been answered by Mormon apologists in the intervening years and because there are also many "unparallels" between "View of the Hebrews" and the Book of Mormon. [ [ Walsh-Lindsay response] ] Critics reply that Joseph Smith was not obligated to use everything he found in the "View of the Hebrews", that he might well have taken major ideas and discarded others according to his fancy, and that furthermore, the conceptual differences are minor and the similarities major. [David Persuitt, "Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon" (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1985), 111-12.]

Controversy about Roberts’ ultimate beliefs

Non-Mormons have argued that Roberts' belief in the Book of Mormon may have been shaken by his research. For instance, a reviewer of the book for "The Christian Century" wrote that not only did Roberts "have serious doubts" about the Book of Mormon but that his investigations raised "questions about his own beliefs." [Paul M. Edwards, "Review of Studies of the Book of Mormon, "Christian Century" 103 (August 6, 1986), 684. See also James R. Spencer, “The Disappointment of B. H. Roberts: Five Questions That Forced a Mormon General Authority to Abandon the Book of Mormon,” (1991) [ A Mormon General Authority's Doubts About the Authenticity of the Book of Mormon] Mormons in Transition, sponsored by the Institute for Religious Research.] Mormon apologists have replied that Roberts must have been playing devil's advocate because he continued to testify to the truth of the Book of Mormon until his death. As Marvin Hill has noted, however, "this contention seems strained considering his pleadings at the end of each section that church leaders must offer inspired help." [Marvin S. Hill, "Review," "Church History" 55 (December 1986), 548.] Mormon apologists have also argued that Sterling McMurrin and Brigham Madsen, who edited the volume, "misrepresented Roberts's final views about the historicity of Mormon scriptures." [Richard N. Ostling and Joan K. Ostling, "Mormon America: The Power and the Promise" (HarperSanFrancisco, 1999), 276. LDS apologists often refer to a letter that Roberts wrote to the General Authorities: "In writing out this my report to you of those studies, I have written it from the viewpoint of an open mind, investigating the facts of the Book of Mormon origin and authorship. Let me say once and for all, so as to avoid what might otherwise call for repeated explanation, that what is herein set forth does not represent any conclusions of mine. The report herewith submitted is what it purports to be, namely a 'study of Book of Mormon origins,' for the information of those who ought to know everything about it pro et con, as well as that which has been produced against it. I do not say my conclusions for they are undrawn. It may be of great importance since it represents what may be used by some opponent in criticism of the Book of Mormon. I am taking the position that our faith is not only unshaken but unshakable in the Book of Mormon, and therefore we can look without fear upon all that can be said against it."Harvnb|Roberts|1985|p=57-58 Critics reply that the letter was written before Roberts completed his "Book of Mormon Study" and "Parallels," and that because he wrote hoping to discuss the matter with church leaders, he was careful not to offend men who had the power to excommunicate or disfellowship him. Finally, Roberts never sent the letter. [ Critical response to the B. H. Roberts letter.] ]

Controversy within the LDS Church after the 1985 publication

The publication of Roberts's study "caused much protest in some circles in Utah." [Marvin S. Hill, "Review," "Church History" 55 (December 1986), 547.] Sterling McMurrin, a University of Utah philosophy professor, even "charged that there was an unsuccessful effort to have the University of Illinois suppress publication of the study." [Ostling, 276.] According to writer Robert Lindsay, "Church leaders struggled to hold back the tide of research and regain control over the past." In the summer of 1985, future President Gordon B. Hinckley attacked scholars who were "poking into all the crevices of our history, ferreting out little things of small import and magnifying them into great issues of public discussion." In August of the same year, Apostle Dallin H. Oaks told an assembly of religious instructors at Brigham Young University that "the fact that something is true is not always a justification for communicating it. By the same token, some things that are true are not edifying or appropriate to communicate." [Robert Lindsey, "A Gathering of Saints: A True Story of Money, Murder and Deceit"(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), 188.]

In 1996, many years after Roberts' study had been available through Jerald and Sandra Tanner, prominent critics of the Church, and more than a decade after the University of Illinois had published Roberts', "Study", BYU republished "View of the Hebrews". [Richard N. Ostling and Joan K. Ostling, "Mormon America: The Power and the Promise" (HarperSanFrancisco, 1999), 276.]



*Harvard reference
first=Andrew H
title=Review of ‘’View of the Hebrews’’ by Ethan Smith
publisher=Maxwell Institute
place=Provo, Utah
*Harvard reference
first=Truman G
authorlink=Truman G. Madsen
title= B. H. Roberts after Fifty Years: Still Witnessing for the Book of Mormon
date=December 1983
publisher=Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
place=Salt Lake City, Utah

*Harvard reference
first=L. Ara
title=Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon
journal=FARMS Review of Books
publisher=Maxwell Institute
place=Provo, Utah
*Harvard reference
first=Daniel C
authorlink=Daniel C. Peterson
title=Yet More Abuse of B. H. Roberts
journal=FARMS Review of Books
publisher=Maxwell Institute
place=Provo, Utah
*Harvard reference
first=Brigham H
authorlink=Brigham H. Roberts
title=New Witnesses for God (3 vols)
publisher=Deseret News
place=Salt Lake City
*Harvard reference
first=Brigham H
authorlink=Brigham H. Roberts
editor=Brigham D. Madsen
title=Studies of the Book of Mormon
publisher=University of Illinois Press
place=Urbana, Illinois
id=ISBN 0252010434
*Harvard reference
title= Unanswered Mormon Scholars
journal=FARMS Review of Books
publisher=Maxwell Institute
place=Provo, Utah
*Harvard reference
last =Smith
first =Ethan
authorlink=Ethan Smith
title =View of the Hebrews 1825
publisher =Hayriver Press
place=Colfax, Wisconsin
id =ISBN 1-930679-61-0
*Harvard reference
first=James R
title=The Disappointment of B. H. Roberts: Five Questions That Forced a Mormon General Authority to Abandon the Book of Mormon
*Harvard reference
authorlink=John W. Welch
title=View of the Hebrews: An Unparallel
journal=Reexploring the Book of Mormon
publisher=Deseret Book
place=Salt Lake City, UT

External links

* [ Online version of ‘’View of the Hebrews’’ 1825 edition] (Note that pagination of this online version differs from the print version used in this article)
* [ Online copy of ‘’View of the Hebrews’’ 1823 first edition]
* [ Accusatory Questions] Welch

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