The Herald November 23, 1912

 

The Origin of the "Book of Mormon."

 

The following extremely interesting narrative relating to the origin of the first "Book of Mormon" was related by Judge W. A. Way as a prelude to the lecture given on "The Modern Mormon Kingdom," by Hon. Frank J. Cannon, under the auspices of the Home and School Association on Thursday evening of last week. The authenticity of the narrative, the local coloring attached to it, and the nature of the occasion, made its rendition peculiarly appropriate, and we deem it a pleasure to be able to present it to our readers"

The subject of Mormonism has an especial interest for a Sewickley audience. Few, probably, of those here tonight know that the origin of the Mormon Bible, the "Book of Mormon," is intimately associated with the history of a family that has resided in this vicinity for two generations. Many of you remember well our former neighbor, Mr. Robert Patterson, one of the editors and proprietors of the "Presbyterian Banner," who for many years lived on the river bank near Glen Osborn station, and all of you know his son, Thomas Patterson, Esq., the lawyer. Now, Mr. Robert Patterson's father was a printer and a book publisher in the city of Pittsburgh. In 1812 he was visited by an ex-clergyman named Solomon Spaulding, who desired Mr. Patterson to publish a book. This book had been written by Mr. Spaulding as a religious novel and was based based on the idea that the North American Indians were the descendants of the lost Ten Tribes of Israel. It gave an imaginary detailed account of their journey from Jerusalem by land and sea until they arrived in America under command of "Nephi" and "Lehi," and made mention of a tribe of people called the "Lamanites." Two of the principal characters in the book were "Mormon" and his son, "Moroni," and the title of the book was "The Manuscript Found." As Mr. Spaulding was unable to make satisfactory financial arrangements for the publication of this work the manuscript remained in Mr. Patterson's printing office for several years and was finally, after Mr. Spaulding's death, returned to his widow. While the manuscript was in Mr. Patterson's office it came under the notice of a man by the name of Sidney Rigdon, who was employed there. Rigdon was also a preacher. He took a great interest in this manuscript, to which he had free access, and it is thought that he made a complete copy of it. In any event there is no question but that he became thoroughly familiar with it, and without doubt made extracts from it. He subsequently left Mr. Patterson's office and formed an acquaintance with Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, about a year before the appearance in print of the Mormon Bible. It is also noteworthy that after Mrs. Spaulding received the manuscript of her husband's novel she left it for several years at her brother's, who resided in New York State in Smith's vicinity.

What actually became of the manuscript nobody now knows and nobody knows whether Smith secured the original manuscript entire or gained a knowledge of its contents from Rigdon, but one thing is certain; and that is that when the Mormon Bible was published its narrative followed precisely the lones of Spaulding's novel. The plot was the same, the names of "Mormon," "Moroni," "Nephi." "Lehi," "the Lamanites" were the same, the exact language was, in many instances, accorsing to the recollection of those who read Spaulding's manuscript, the same, and the only noticeable change was the addition of scriptural passages and religious matter which did not appear in Spaulding's original work. This coincidence was so remarkable as to challenge the attention of all those who had seen the Spaulding story, and it appeares to leave no room for reasonable doubt that this "bible," the foundation stone of the now world-famous sect, was, in a large measure, copied from Solomon Spaulding's attempt at a religious novel.

It may not be out of place, in this connection, to recount the story given by Joseph Smith of the origin of the "Book of Mormon." It is in effect that he saw in a vision an angel named Moroni, who explained to him that the Indian tribes were a remnant of Israel and that a sacred history of their wanderings had been preserved and was desposited on a hill near Palmyra, N. Y.

After having repeated communications with the angel for several years Smith finally, in 1827, when he was about twenty-two years old, is said to have disinterred these "records," which were engraved on plates which had the appearance of gold. The plates were about as thick as ordinary tin and some eight inches long and seven inches broad. They were covered on both sides with engravings in Egyptian characters, and bound together at one edge by three rings running through the whole. The volume was something near six inches in thickness and was accompanied by an instrument consisting of two transparent stones set in the rims of a bow, like the glasses in a pair of spectacles. Although entirely uneducated Smith was enabled by use of these spectacles to translate the characters on the plates which he read aloud from a place of concealment behind a curtain, and what he read was taken down by amanuenses. What finally became of the plates and spectacles does not clearly appear -- certain it is that they are not now in existence. One account has it, I believe, that the angel reappeared and took them away.

No one seems to have seen them except some members of Smith's own and of a neighboring family, and the three original "witnesses" subsequently renounced Mormonism and avowed the falsity of their testimony.

This brief statement is given here in order that those of you who are unfamiliar with the Mormon account of the origin of their Bible may be in a position to form an intelligent opinion as to the probability of its truth and to judge whether this "bible" had a miraculous origin or was, in the main, a copy of Spaulding's novel. Those of you who knew Mr. Robert Patterson can vouch for his absolute fairness and accuracy. While the events I have recounted happened before he was born, the matters pertaining to the Spaulding manuscript and Sidney Rigdon were frequently discussed in the Patterson family, and Mr. Patterson was in a better position than probably any living man to determine accurately as to the identity of these documents. He gave this matter the most painstaking attention and exhaustive research, and always proclaimed it as his unhestitating conviction that Spaulding's story and the Mormon bible were practically one and the same.

 

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