The Book of Mormon – A Forgery?
Note: The most important evidence for the Book of Mormon is the testimony of the Holy Ghost that it is a divine witness for Christ, a witness that comes after reading, pondering, and praying. A merely intellectual testimony of the Book may be gained in many other ways, but a purely intellectual recognition of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon or of the Bible does not bring a soul to Christ. However, the evidences for the Book of Mormon are fascinating and still worthy of consideration.
Below I present some of Professor Hugh Nibley’s observations which weigh heavily against the possibility that the Book of Mormon was simply a fraud. But READ the Book yourself and make your own prayerful judgment. And consider these questions: Could any man or woman have written this book? Could an unschooled farm boy in the 1830s? Is this book of God?
Excerpt from Hugh Nibley, The Prophetic Book of Mormon, Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol.8, Ch.3, Pg.62-64:
“It might be objected that there may be any number of forgeries so clever that they have entirely escaped detection and so are ignorantly accepted by us as genuine. This may be so–and we will never know the answer; but the fact that all known forgeries have turned out to be clumsy ones that succeeded only because their public wanted them to succeed makes the super-forgery hypothesis exceedingly improbable. The Book of Mormon cannot be attacked on that ground, since it was never, to say the least, a popular book, and thousands of cunning people would have given a great deal to be able to discredit it with unanswerable proofs; considering the circumstances of its production and publication it must be, if a fraud, one of the clumsiest and most obvious of frauds ever produced.
“But is forgery the proper word to use at all? Might not the author of the Book of Mormon have been weak and foolish rather than vicious; might he not have written a long book simply because he was too naive to know how dangerous that sort of thing was? Geniuses are often quite naive and combine immense ability with hopeless irresponsibility. After all, no one would accuse Chatterton of being depraved–yet he did fool people. To which the answer is that Chatterton’s forgeries were very obvious and fooled only romantic critics who were very ignorant of early English or determined to accept the wonderful new finds. The author of the Book of Mormon was not naive: he could not have written such a long book without having given it much thought, and that he dares then to put it into our hands shows that he is very sure of himself.
…[The] man who was clever enough to overcome the difficulties presented in writing the Book of Mormon was certainly capable of recognizing that those difficulties existed. He cannot have overcome them unconsciously without a slip in book after book, no matter how foolishly confident he may have been; there are some things which even irresponsible geniuses cannot do. The author of the Book of Mormon was neither shallow nor naive. But an intelligent forger is not going to risk a long forgery at all when a short one will do just as well, nor is he going to publish and circulate permanent evidence of his crime among the general public, who would be far more willing to accept him without it! A silly man could not have composed the Book of Mormon, and a clever man absolutely would not have!”
Joseph Smith was either telling the truth or he was a criminal–not just a fool–and no sentimental compromises will settle anything. It is base subterfuge to refuse to apply the fair tests which the Prophet himself freely invited and which will just as surely condemn him if he is lying as they will vindicate him if he is telling the truth.
Hugh Nibley, Since Cumorah, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1967, pp. 155-156.
There are three possible explanations for the origin of the Book of Mormon. One is that it is a product of spontaneous generation. Another is that it came into existence in the way Joseph Smith said it did, by special messengers and gifts from God. The third is the hypothesis that Joseph Smith or some other party or parties simply made it all up. No experiments have ever been carried out for testing any of these theories. The first has not even been considered, the second has been dismissed with a contemptuous wave of the hand, and the third has been accepted without question or hesitation.
And yet the third theory is quite as extravagant as the other two, demanding unlimited gullibility and the suspension of all critical judgment in any who would accept it. It is based on the simple proposition that since people have written books, somebody, namely Smith or a contemporary, wrote this one. But to make this thesis stick is to show not only that people have written big books, but that somebody has been able to produce a big book like this one. But no other such book exists. Where will you find another work remotely approaching the Book of Mormon in scope and daring? It appears suddenly out of nothing–not an accumulation of twenty-five years like the Koran, but a single staggering performance, bursting on a shocked and scandalized world like an explosion, the full-blown history of an ancient people, following them through all the trials, triumphs, and vicissitudes of a thousand years without a break, telling how a civilization originated, rose to momentary greatness, and passed away, giving due attention to every phase of civilized history in a densely compact and rapidly moving story that interweaves dozens of plots with an inexhaustible fertility of invention and an uncanny consistency that is never caught in a slip or contradiction. We respectfully solicit the name of any student or professor in the world who could come within ten thousand miles of such a performance. As a sheer tour-de-force there is nothing like it. The theory that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon simply will not stand examination.
Hugh Nibley’s Comments on the structure and complexity of the Book of Mormon
Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol.8, Ch.11, Pg.227
The book starts out with a colophon telling us whose hand wrote it, what his sources were, and what it is about; the author boasts of his pious parents and good education, explaining that his background was an equal mixture of Egyptian and Jewish, and then moves into this history establishing time, place, and background; the situation at Jerusalem and the reaction of Nephi’s father to it, his misgivings, his prayers, a manifestation that came to him in the desert as he traveled on business and sent him back post-haste “to his own house at Jerusalem,” where he has a great apocalyptic vision.
All this and more in the first seven verses of the Book of Mormon. The writer knows exactly what he is going to say and wastes no time in saying it…. We can imagine our young rustic getting off to this flying start, but can we imagine him keeping up the pace for ten pages? For 588 pages the story never drags, the author never hesitates or wanders, he is never at a loss. What is really amazing is that he never contradicts himself.
Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol.8, Ch.11, Pg.223 – Pg.226
First Nephi gives us first a clear and vivid look at the world of Lehi, a citizen of Jerusalem but much at home in the general world of the New East of 600 b.c. Then it takes us to the desert, where Lehi and his family wander for eight years, doing all the things that wandering families in the desert should do. The manner of their crossing the ocean is described, as is the first settlement and hard pioneer life in the New World dealt with….
The book of Mosiah describes a coronation rite in all its details and presents extensive religious and political histories mixed in with a complicated background of exploration and colonization. The book of Alma is marked by long eschatological discourses and a remarkably full and circumstantial military history. The main theme of the book of Helaman is the undermining of society by moral decay and criminal conspiracy; the powerful essay on crime is carried into the next book, where the ultimate dissolution of the Nephite government is described.
Then comes the account of the great storm and earthquakes, in which the writer, ignoring a splendid opportunity for exaggeration, has as accurately depicted the typical behavior of the elements on such occasions as if he were copying out of a modern textbook on seismology…. [Soon] after the catastrophe, Jesus Christ appeared to the most pious sectaries who had gathered at the temple.
…Can anyone now imagine the terrifying prospect of confronting the Christian world of 1830 with the very words of Christ? …
But the boldness of the thing is matched by the directness and nobility with which the preaching of the Savior and the organization of the church are described. After this comes a happy history and then the usual signs of decline and demoralization. The death-struggle of the Nephite civilization is described with due attention to all the complex factors that make up an exceedingly complicated but perfectly consistent picture of decline and fall. Only one who attempts to make a full outline of Book of Mormon history can begin to appreciate its immense complexity; and never once does the author get lost (as the student repeatedly does, picking his way out of one maze after another only with the greatest effort), and never once does he contradict himself. We should be glad to learn of any other like performance in the history of literature.