John A Widtsoe, “Did Joseph Smith Write the Book of Mormon” Excerpt from

John A. Widtsoe

To ask if Joseph Smith produced the Book of Mormon seems unnecessary. Of course, he was the translator unaided by mortal man. Yet, it may be worth while to examine into the widespread theory of anti-Mormon writers that Joseph wrote the book and that he stole his ideas from others.

When the Book of Mormon was first published, no question was raised about its authorship or authenticity. Over several years Joseph Smith had told the story of the visitation of Moroni, the promise of the golden plates, when he received them, and how he devoted time to their translation.

The earliest writers in opposition to the Church accepted Joseph Smith as the author of the book; for example, Alexander Campbell, the leader of the Church of Disciples, who had lost to Joseph Smith some capable followers, wrote in 1831 that Joseph Smith was the author and that the Book of Mormon contained only the gossip of the neighborhood, in which every religious problem of the day was discussed in crude language.

However, after people had had time to give the book more careful examination, and thousands had joined the Church, doubts began to arise in the minds of many as to whether Joseph Smith, the plowboy, was indeed the author of the book. Its language was found not to be crude but generally beautiful and inspiring. The book was found to present religious ideas in full harmony with the doctrine of the Lord Jesus Christ. Important religious problems were given a simple, understandable explanation. It was, in its own words, a witness for Christ. The book seemed to be beyond the power of Joseph Smith to produce.

So the theory was advanced that Joseph must have had help to produce the book. Some enemies went so far as to suggest that it was wholly written by someone else! This was just what the unbelievers wanted, apparently without recognizing that such a theory would, without supporting facts, be a powerful evidence of the truth of Joseph’s story. He acknowledged that he had received help from divine sources! Careless writers in their enmity of Joseph Smith have said for a century or more that Joseph Smith was helped in the writing of the book by mortal men.

From the book Mormonism Unvailed, published in 1834, nearly all anti-Mormon books have drawn their material. The theory was there advanced that Joseph Smith had had a silent partner in his work. It was implied that this person was Sidney Rigdon, a close friend of Alexander Campbell, and an associate founder and preacher of the Campbellite Church.

After a careful and searching inquiry into the truth of Mormonism, Rigdon joined the Church in November, 1831, more than a year after the Church was organized. He was an eloquent preacher of some learning and an outstanding man wherever he went.

It was suggested in the Howe book that Rigdon had written the theological or religious portions of the Book of Mormon, and that the historical setting of the book was also furnished by him by plagiarizing an unpublished novel written nearly twenty years earlier by one Solomon Spaulding, declared atheist, about the ancient peoples of America. Rigdon was supposed to, have purloined the manuscript from the printer with whom it had been deposited.

The Book of Mormon, according to this theory, was nothing more than this Spaulding story, ornamented with Rigdon’s religious emanations. This theory was as a raft at sea for the helpless enemies of Joseph Smith, and it has been peddled industriously by antiMormon writers for the delectation of unwary readers.

The Spaulding tale is a story of a party of Romans who came to America and an account of their life there. The story was read by Mr. Spaulding to his family and some friends. Several persons who had heard the story read fifteen or twenty years earlier were induced to sign a statement that the languages and the characters in the story fitted in with the contents of the Book of Mormon. This was enough to set up and circulate the theory that the Book of Mormon was based upon the manuscript story of Solomon Spaulding.

Unfortunately for the Rigdon-Spaulding theory, the manuscript of the Spaulding story was discovered in 1884 among the possessions of Mr. L. L. Rice of Honolulu, who had secured Spaulding’s literary remains,’ when he purchased the printing effects of E. D. Howe. The discovered Spaulding story has since been published in two editions. It bears no resemblance in language, style, names, or subject matter to the Book of Mormon.

In utter despair, the enemies of the Church fled for cover. A few proceeded to set up another theory, that Spaulding had written more than one story and that the one found was not the one that resembled the Book of Mormon.’

However, the discovered Spaulding manuscript was identified with the one set up in the book Mormonism Unvailed. The names of the people who thought that the Spaulding story as read by them many years before and the Book of Mormon story were similar, were found endorsed on the discovered manuscript as those who knew it in Spaulding’s day. This was destructive of the theory that the Howe book had used another manuscript than that found in Honolulu.

The Spaulding theory of the origin of the Book of Mormon has been thoroughly demolished. Anyone who teaches this theory today betrays deliberate dishonesty or pitiful lack of knowledge concerning the whole matter.

That Sidney Rigdon ever saw the Prophet Joseph Smith before the Book of Mormon was published has been disproved. His activities and whereabouts are pretty wellknown from November 2, 1826, to November 14, 1830 , the years during which the Book of Mormon was being translated and printed. 3 His first visit to Palmyra was nine months after the organization of the Church and after the Book of Mormon was given to the world. At that time he had his first meeting with the Prophet Joseph Smith. Printed nonMormon contemporaneous reports of Rigdon’s acceptance of the gospel do not mention or hint of any previous meeting of Joseph Smith and Rigdon. Historical evidence fails to prove any earlier connection between Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith.

Die-hard anti-Mormon writers have suggested that to help produce the Book of Mormon Sidney Rigdon traveled incognito over long distances and as a mysterious stranger unknown to the community met Joseph Smith. That theory is not only unlikely, and unproved, but absurd, lodged only in the minds of those who refuse any evidence that Joseph Smith told the truth.

Sidney Rigdon himself testified time and again that the first time he saw the Book of Mormon was in Mentor, Ohio, near Kirtland, after the Book of Mormon was published and the Church organized. Then, Parley P. Pratt, a former colleague in the Disciples Church gave him a copy. Elder Pratt was one of four Mormon elders traveling through the Kirtland territory to do missionary work among the Indians.

The missionaries stopped for some time in and near Kirtland to preach and to bear witness of the restored gospel. They held long conferences with Sidney Rigdon who declared this to be the first time that he had ever seen the Book of Mormon or known of its contents. His son, John W. Rigdon, who joined the Church long after Joseph’s death, testified that when his father, Sidney Rigdon, lay upon his deathbed, he, John W. Rigdon, put the question of the origin of the Book of Mormon to his father. The result is best told in his own words:

You have been charged with writing that Book of Mormon and giving it to Joseph Smith to introduce to the world. You have always told me one story, that you never saw the book until it was presented to you by Parley P. Pratt and Oliver Cowdery. That all you ever knew of the origin of that book was what they told you, and what Joseph Smith and the witnesses who have claimed to have seen the plates have told you.

Is this true? If so, all right. If it is not, you owe it to me and to your family to tell it. You are an old man, and you will soon pass away, and I wish to know if Joseph Smith in your intimacy with him for fourteen years has not said something to you that led you to believe he obtained that book in some other way than that which he has told you. Give me all you know about it that I may know the truth,

My father looked at me a moment and raised his hand above his head and slowly said with tears glistening in his eyes, “My son, I can swear before high heaven that what I have told you about the origin of that book is true. Your mother and sister, Mrs. Obega Robinson, were present when that book was handed to me in Mentor, Ohio, and all I ever knew about the origin of that book was what Parley P. Pratt, Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith, and the witnesses who claimed they saw the plates have told me.

And with all my intimacy with Joseph Smith he never told me but one story, and that was that he found it engraved on gold plates in a hill near Palmyra, New York, and that an angel had appeared to him and had directed him where to find it and I have never to you nor to anyone else told but the one story and that I now repeat to you.” I believe him and now believe he told me the truth. He also said to me after that, “Mormonism is true, that Joseph Smith was a Prophet, and this world would find it out some day.”!’

The Rigdon-Spaulding explanation of the Book of Mormon, now thoroughly disproved, has no historical foundation but was clearly manufactured by a dishonest writer in hate of Joseph Smith. It remains an evidence of the ugly dishonesty that may enter the mind of hate.’ In the face of intense, long continued research, the theory has been thoroughly discredited by competent historians. It is now used only by those who love their prejudices more than truth, but often enough to disturb the uninformed.

After a century of fruitless hunting, Sidney Rigdon is really the only person who has been charged with being a helper to Joseph Smith in the writing of the Book of Mormon. In view of the proof that Rigdon did not help him, Joseph Smith remains the sole producer of the book, unaided by any mortal person, except the scribes who wrote after his dictation.

Those who cannot or will not believe that Joseph Smith produced the Book of Mormon have then had only one other theory to fall back upon. 1. W. Riley in his book, The Founder of Mormonism, psychological” study of Joseph Smith, accepts the Book of Mormon as a product of Joseph Smith’s mind but believes that it was written by him while he was in an epileptic state.

If that be accepted, Joseph Smith must have been seized by such fits, regularly, forenoon and afternoon, possibly during meals, during the ninety days in which the Book of Mormon was translated and then was free from such fits the remainder of his life. That theory, smacking of Arabian Nights fables, is so strained as to be an insult to the credulity of intelligent people.

It is merely an admission that students of Joseph Smith stand helpless before the interpretation of the work he did, unless they accept the statements of Joseph Smith himself. His own frank admission is that the Book of Mormon was produced by the “gift and power of God.”

A variation of these theories has recently appeared. Gasping for breath, the opponents of Joseph Smith now assert that he possessed tremendous mental power which enabled him to write the Book of Mormon but also that he was so deficient in moral sense as to palm off his work as coming from God. That is old stuff! Joseph’s life of rectitude is a sufficient answer. The theory is probably the death rattle of the defeated critics of Joseph Smith.

That Joseph Smith had the Book of Mormon plates, and translated from them the Book of Mormon is confirmed by Oliver Cowdery, who acted as Josephs scribe while the Prophet dictated. At one time, after Cowdery had been severed from the Church, he was contemptuously charged by an attorney that he claimed to have seen the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated. Oliver Cowdery answered:

May it please the court and gentlemen of the jury: my brother attorney on the other side has charged me with connection with Joseph Smith and the golden Bible. The responsibility has been placed upon me, and I cannot escape reply.

Before God and man I dare not deny what I have said, and what my testimony contains as written and printed on the front page of the Book of Mormon. May it please your honor and gentlemen of the jury, this I say: I saw the angel and heard his voicehow can I deny it? It happened in the daytime when the sun was shining brightly in the firmament; not at night when I was asleep. The glorious messenger from heaven, dressed in white, standing above the ground, in a glory I have never seen anything to compare with-the sun insignificant in comparison-told us if we denied that testimony there is no forgiveness in this life or in the world to come.

Now how can I deny it-I dare not; I will not.

Later, when Oliver Cowdery asked to be rebaptized, he spoke to the people as follows:

I wrote with my own pen, the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet Joseph Smith, as he translated it by the gift and power of God, by the means of the Urim and Thummim, or, as it is called by that book, “Holy Interpreters.”

I beheld with my eyes and handled with my hands the gold plates from which it was translated. I also saw with my eyes and handled with my hands the “Holy Interpreters.”

That book is true! Sidney Rigdon did not write it; Mr. Spaulding did not write it; I wrote it myself as it fell from the lips of the Prophet. It contains the everlasting Gospel, and came forth to the children of men in fulfillment of the revelations of John, where he says he saw an angel come with the Everlasting Gospel to preach to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. It contains the principles of salvation; and if you, my hearers, will walk by its light and obey its precepts, you will be saved with an everlasting salvation in the kingdom of God on high.7

What more can honest men ask?

After examining the long shelves of books on Mormonism, a wearisome and thankless task, there is but one conclusion: Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon unaided by mortal man. That is also the verdict of history.




1 Francis W. Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America pp. 344-845.
2 Whales A. Shook, The True Origin of the Book of Mormon p. 71.
3 Fawn A Brodie, No Man Knows My History, pp. 413-432.
4 Mrs. John W. Rigdon, Life of Sidney Rigdon; History of the Church, vol. 1,123; Kirkham, op. cit., pp. 327-329
5 Daryl Chase, Sidney Rigdon, Early Mormon, unpublished thesis, University of Chicago.
6 Liahona vol. 8, p. 163.
7 Millenial Star, vol. 27, p. 57.