Chapter 1


Noel B. Reynolds

Noel B. Reynolds is professor of political science at Brigham Young
University and president of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon


For most Latter-day Saints, the question of Book of Mormon authorship
is noncontroversial. Within the devout LDS community , few doubts are raised about the truthfulness of accounts
given by Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon witnesses, and various family
members and scribes associated with the process by which the Book of Mormon
came forth . Gold plates containing a thousand-year record of the
ancient Nephites were delivered to Joseph by Moroni, the last custodian of that record and now an
angel of God. Joseph translated the record by supernatural means and
the aid of several scribes. For Latter-day Saints, the Book of Mormon is revealed
scripture, written by prophets and brought forth in our day by miraculous
means to provide the world with a touchstone by which they
might measure the truth of the restored gospel and its importance in their

Earlier in this century, skepticism about this account was widespread
within the LDS community, particularly among the more educated. It should
also be noted that understanding of the book itself was not then far advanced:
almost no serious studies of the book and its contents had been published,
and the book was not heavily used in worship service discourse or in gospel
instruction. The Latter-day Saints were not prepared for the skepticism of
scripture that had swept through liberal Protestantism and that dominated
the Christian schools of theology where LDS religious educators were studying
for advanced degrees.

Scholarly interest in the Book of Mormon developed in the early part of
the century among amateur and professional archaeologists. By midcentury,
Sidney B. Sperry, Hugh W. Nibley, John L. Sorenson, and a few others had launched serious scholarly
inquiries into the book itself. All of these began with the faithful assumption
of the book’s divine origins. In the mid-1970s the rate of publication on
Book of Mormon topics began to soar. The Church worked the Book of Mormon
into the regular cycle of the new correlated curriculum for adults, and Church
leaders began using the Book of Mormon more frequently and systematically
in speeches and instructional situations. As Latter-day Saints have more regularly
and systematically engaged themselves in the Book of Mormon in both personal
and scholarly study, its authenticity as an ancient scriptural record has
become more firmly and generally established. Vocal doubters are a small and
shrinking minority that finds itself much closer to anti-Mormons in its
interests and views than to the general LDS community.

The growth of scholarly studies on the Book of Mormon continues to produce
an accumulation of significant insights into the authorship of the book. In
1982 I edited a volume of these studies for BYU’s Religious Studies Center.
The Center gave the imprint to FARMS for the 1996 reprint edition. The present
volume addresses some issues treated in the 1982 volume and several others
that have surfaced in the last fifteen years to provide a broad look at the
authorship question as it stands at the end of the century. Updating and extending
this discussion seems appropriate given the large amount of new evidence of
the ancient origin of the Book of Mormon that has accumulated from scholarly
studies and the renewed efforts of the book’s detractors to refute the LDS

While most of the scholarly work Latter-day Saints have done on the Book
of Mormon is directed primarily at improving our understanding of its contents,
it inevitably has implications for the authorship question. Because of the
endless chorus of criticism from dissident Mormons and anti-Mormons , it may be useful to sum things up periodically and
to provide the LDS community with an organized presentation of the state of
knowledge on this subject. This book is intended to provide that kind of resource
for those interested in following these issues and for those who may desire
to help someone who is troubled by the anti-Mormon arguments against the divine
origin of the Book of Mormon.

The contributors to this volume are not trying to "prove" the
authenticity of the Book of Mormon. We understand from personal experience
that knowledge of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon is a spiritual and
personal matter. Our primary objective is to understand the book itself and
to share whatever understanding we might gain. But we also recognize that
it may be important for young people or others who wonder about these things
to know that the most serious scholarly students of the Book of Mormon are
led to conclusions exactly opposite those of the book’s critics. Faithful
scholars have turned up evidence that refutes most of the criticisms, and
they have found mountains of evidence for the book’s ancient origins—evidence
that is rarely confronted squarely by critics. Many of us expressed our personal
views on these questions in the 1996 FARMS/Deseret Book publication,
Expressions of Faith:
Testimonies of Latter-day Saint Scholars,
and in the current volume we share the results of a number of scholarly
inquiries conducted by us and others. We are all dependent on the works of
others in order to build our knowledge.

This volume is divided into four sections. Part 1 deals with various accounts
of how the Book of Mormon was actually produced in 1829 and 1830, emphasizing
the translation process and the witnesses who saw the plates. In part 2 we
look at the structure of the authorship debate and its arguments and review
the history of alternative theories and criticisms of the Book of Mormon.
Part 3 presents textual studies that demonstrate the plausibility of the Book
of Mormon as an ancient book, and part 4 updates the attempts to understand
the ancient geographical and cultural setting of the Book of Mormon in both
the Old and New Worlds.

In chapter 2, Richard L. Bushman recounts the events leading up to the March 1830
publication of the Book of Mormon with an illuminating commentary
on the contrasting tendencies of LDS and secular scholars to emphasize or de-emphasize different
parts of the historical record. This fresh look at a much analyzed history
transports us back in time and presents these events from the perspective
of the participants. Joseph’s 1832 account is quoted in full, helping us to appreciate
more than ever his ongoing effort to understand his own divine mission. The
involvement of other key players is also illuminated with contemporary personal
perspectives. The sixty-three-day time of translation that produced the final
book, together with the matter-of-fact moving on to other things at its completion,
help us understand both why this divinely revealed scripture was so crucial
as an evidence of God’s role in this restoration and why the church organized by Joseph Smith
did not intensively study its contents for another hundred and twenty years.
Though Bushman refers only briefly to anti-Mormon and secular
interpretations of the events surrounding the coming forth of the Book of
Mormon, his approach makes clear how difficult it is to match any
alternative account to the historical evidence. As students
of the Book of Mormon learn about the successive complexities and ancient elements in the book, they are
forcibly reminded that the manuscript was translated by Joseph with his scribes, grinding out seven to nine
pages a day, never reviewing even the previous sentence or page,
and using no notes. This process is well documented, but it is difficult to
imagine even the most educated genius writing such a complex book in this
manner. Those who have written complex histories or other kinds of books know
that this task is impossible, though others might be tempted to believe that
such writing is relatively easy. The most plausible explanation, unless one disallows
all reference to the divine, is the one given by Joseph and the other witnesses.
Joseph did not write the book; rather, he read it as
it was given to him through interpretive instruments, such as the seer stone, much like we today would read
material off a computer screen. The writing was the combined effort of dozens
of ancient authors who lived over a thousand-year period.

Richard L. Anderson’s ongoing studies on the Book of Mormon
witnesses are well-known and have posed some of the most
serious obstacles to secular and anti-Mormon interpretations of the Book of
Mormon and its origin. Eleven men were formally shown the plates. They hefted and handled the ancient writings
and satisfied themselves of their real existence in every way. Others had
less formal exposure to the plates, but they, too, left their testimonies.
As Anderson has demonstrated,1 these witnesses all consistently
maintained that their original account was true throughout their lives.
Their commitment to those original accounts was tested severely when several
of them fell into circumstances that would have rewarded them richly to expose
Joseph Smith had they any sense of having been duped by some fraud, but none did that, for they all knew there was
no fraud to expose. Because these accounts are so strong, critics and skeptics
often ignore them altogether. In chapter 3, Anderson sets forth the personal
writings of Joseph Smith and six of the eleven witnesses that explain
their experiences with the gold plates.

Royal Skousen’s exhaustive analysis of the manuscripts that
were produced in the translation process shows that new light can be shed
on these events when they are viewed from new scholarly perspectives. Skousen
has carefully analyzed all the manuscript variations, corrections, and physical
features, and he finds the eyewitness accounts of the translation process
to be wholly credible. Joseph dictated without reference to any notes, papers, or
even the plates themselves; he relied wholly upon the Urim and Thummim and
the seer stone. Joseph spelled out the strange new Book of Mormon names and
other unfamiliar words, and scribes read back to him their transcription to
allow him to check for accuracy. New sessions began without any review of
the last transcribed material. Skousen’s analysis of the translation process
leads him to conclude that the witnesses’ view that some level of control
was exerted over Joseph’s selection of words is supported by the manuscript
evidence. The people closest to the translation process had no doubts
that it was divinely directed; in fact, they could not imagine that Joseph
was capable of writing such a book on his own. The evidence in the manuscript
supports them consistently.

Louis C. Midgley leads out in the analysis of the authorship debate
in part 2 with a concise history of the alternative theories advanced by those
who reject Joseph Smith’s account of Book of Mormon origins. The Book of Mormon
presents a different problem for Joseph’s detractors than does his first vision. Visions have no secondary
witnesses, nor do they leave historical evidence, but the 1830 Book of Mormon
contained 590 pages of text, which is the most important kind of evidence
historians can find. The existence of the book must be explained—even
explained away—if Joseph’s prophetic powers are to be discounted. Thus
the critics have given a variety of alternative explanations, ably surveyed
by Midgley. The first critics agreed that Joseph was not the kind of man who
could have written such a book, so they looked for someone who could.
Sidney Rigdon and Solomon Spaulding were early candidates, but neither can be plausibly
defended as the book’s author. Later critics proposed epilepsy and other psychological
abnormalities to explain Joseph’s seemingly miraculous achievement, but they
failed to acknowledge that there is no evidence for such abnormalities in
Joseph’s life and that historically no such abnormalities have ever contributed
to the writing of such a complex book. Others assumed that Joseph was a conscious
fraud, but even this fails to reconcile this highly
complex work with the ignorance and inexperience of the
supposed author. In 1945, Fawn M. Brodie attempted a gentler explanation, arguing that
although Joseph’s religious career began fraudulently, he gradually came to
believe his own lies, but this solved no problems, and Hugh Nibley and others have since exposed the weaknesses in
her logic and evidence. More recently, Mormon historians who have trouble
accepting Joseph’s account have argued for some kind of middle ground that
would accept the religious value of the Book of Mormon but attribute its origins
to nineteenth-century frontier culture. Midgley chronicles, evaluates,
and criticizes all these approaches, documenting their meanderings, contradictions,
and other shortcomings. He notes the cycles in these explanations and their
failure to make any real progress, especially when compared with the booming
scholarship based on the assumption that Joseph’s account is true. Readers who have heard of these
various alternative theories but have been unable to sort out their mutual
connections will find this chapter especially valuable.

Daniel C. Peterson is a seasoned defender of the Book of Mormon
against its critics. He currently helps oversee the FARMS criticisms project
of collecting, documenting, and responding to all published criticisms according
to the present state of Book of Mormon scholarship. In chapter 6, Peterson
summarizes that situation and sets forth the current argument on some of the
best-known and most typical criticisms. He surveys critics’ allegations about
textual changes, anachronisms, historical and archaeological implausibilities, inconsistencies with
Mormon doctrinal beliefs and attempts to identify alternative authors. Peterson
shows convincingly that the best scholarship available does not support these
criticisms, and that, in fact, it converts most of them into powerful evidence
for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as an ancient text with Middle
Eastern origins.

Hugh Nibley developed and perfected the argument of the complexity
of the Book of Mormon as both an answer to many criticisms of the Book of
Mormon and as a basis for evidence that the book is an authentic ancient text.
Throughout his writings on this subject, Nibley identifies subtle and complex
interrelationships between linguistic, historical, cultural, and textual features
of the Book of Mormon that can only be appreciated in light of scholarship
that has been published since 1830. This argument points to Joseph Smith’s
lack of education and the book’s being dictated line by line without notes and without reviewing what
was said minutes, hours, days, or even months earlier. Yet despite these circumstances,
a large number of complex relationships are developed in the book and are
maintained consistently from beginning to end. Many of these relationships
have taken scholars longer to sort out than it took Joseph Smith to translate the entire book. The Book of Mormon has
at least three independent dating systems that are maintained accurately throughout.
It has a complex system of religious teachings that are enriched as new sermons
are added throughout the text but are never confused or contradicted.
The book’s authors refer to a huge and complex set of
sources, including official records, sermons, letters, monument inscriptions,
and church records, which always maintain a consistent relationship in the
final text. Subtle and complex political traditions evolve early in the text
and surface in a variety of forms in later sections, always plausibly and
consistently. The book describes various ebbs and flows of ethnic interaction
without once losing track of even the most minor groups. Hundreds of individual
characters are successfully introduced and coherently tracked. The geographical
data in the text is diverse and complex, yet when carefully analyzed makes
perfect sense and matches an identifiable portion of Mesoamerica quite well. This list of examples could go
on at great length.

In chapter 7, Melvin J. Thorne explicates Nibley’s argument from complexity,
reviewing a number of important examples, including some that are presented
in this volume. Thorne goes on to point out the mounting improbability of
the alternative theories as the number of elements establishing
Book of Mormon complexities increases. He draws on the simple rule that the
probability of two events occurring by chance at the same time is equal to
the product of their separate probabilities of occurring at all. In other
words, two events that are likely to occur half the time independently
are likely to occur jointly only one quarter of the time (.5 x .5  =
.25). From a probabilistic point of view, the large number of ancient elements
that exist in the Book of Mormon , which would be natural in an ancient book but not in
a nineteenth-century production, yields a joint probability that is astronomical
against its being a nineteenth-century composition that just by chance is
historically and culturally accurate.

The textual studies in part 3 begin with a review of
chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, one of the most intrinsically
interesting and convincing of the book’s ancient features . John W. Welch first discovered these chiastic features of the
text as a missionary in the 1960s, and in a series of publications he has
developed the study of this structural device in the Book of Mormon and other
ancient literature of Middle Eastern origin. In chapter 8, Welch examines
the last thirty years of study of this phenomenon, including criticisms and
uncritical excesses. In summarizing the evidentiary value of chiasmus today,
he finds it stands stronger than ever as clear evidence of a tradition of writers that understood
and valued this particular literary structure for its aesthetics and its power
to communicate at multiple levels simultaneously. No better explanation
exists for the prevalence of high-quality chiasms in the Book of Mormon than
its ancient biblical roots.

The 1982 authorship volume included a wordprinting study
of Wayne Larsen and Alvin Rencher that used statistical analyses of relative frequencies
of noncontextual terms to determine that neither Joseph Smith nor his close colleagues were authors of the Book of
Mormon and that over two dozen separable portions of the book were authored
by different people. In the 1980s John L. Hilton and five of his associates in the Bay Area (three non-LDS)
tested these results using a completely independent analysis. Borrowing the
tests of the Scottish forensics specialist A. Q. Morton and beginning with a large controlled author study
to establish statistical significance, Hilton’s group eventually confirmed
the view that different authors can be distinguished within the Book of Mormon,
and that none is Joseph Smith or any of the other nineteenth-century candidates
that have been proposed. In some methodological respects, the new study was
critical of the first, but the original findings were confirmed, planting
another enormous obstacle in the road of anyone wishing to assert that the
Book of Mormon was authored in the nineteenth century. Hilton’s statistical
techniques were critically reviewed and accepted by the University of Chicago
Press prior to its publication of a recent book that, using these same statistical
techniques, identified previously unrecognized writings of the seventeenth-century
English philosopher Thomas Hobbes.2  Hilton’s
1990 paper reporting his Book of Mormon findings is reprinted in chapter 9
with minor modification.

Most thoughtful readers of the Book of Mormon have probably wondered at
the large numbers of people that the text describes as having descended from
the two or three dozen original settlers in the Lehite colony. Anti-Mormon critics of the book have seized on this intuitively
obvious "flaw" as evidence for the book’s fraudulence. In chapter 10, James E. Smith, one of the chief architects of the Cambridge model
for estimating historical populations , which is used widely by professional demographers,
points out that population studies fail badly when they rely on intuition
or common sense. Trustworthy historical records support a much less intuitive
model of population growth and decline. Applying the Cambridge model to the
Book of Mormon accounts, Smith finds the numbers reported in the text to be
on the high end of what would be predicted scientifically but still plausible.
Relaxing any of his perhaps unduly conservative assumptions would move Book
of Mormon numbers closer to the middle of the expected range. Most important,
if the Nephites or Lamanites absorbed any other unmentioned populations,
the numbers cease to be at all problematic.

Several years ago, Donald W. Parry produced The Book of Mormon Text
Reformatted according to Parallelistic Patterns,
showing Book of Mormon readers how extensively
parallelisms are used in that text. Parry has identified
examples in the Book of Mormon of most biblical forms of parallelism. In chapter
11, he presents and examines three specific parallelistic patterns in their
Book of Mormon exemplifications—climactic forms, synonymous parallelisms,
and alternating parallel lines. He provides helpful explanations of these
poetic and rhetorical structures that are richly illustrated with clear examples
from the text of the Book of Mormon. Not only does the identification
of these structures enrich our reading of the Book of Mormon, it also constitutes
another impressive challenge to Book of Mormon critics: in addition to
explaining how Joseph Smith could have written the book, they now must explain
how he could have ignorantly introduced such beautiful examples of
Hebrew poetic structures.

In chapter 12, John A. Tvedtnes advances an original analysis of a beautiful Book of
Mormon complexity that has eluded earlier readers. Using Paul’s conversion story as related variously in several
texts, Tvedtnes focuses on Alma’s account of his somewhat similar
conversion experience and its retellings in different Book of Mormon
contexts. Through careful analysis of each of these passages,
Tvedtnes shows the rich emotional content of Alma’s memory as well as the
doctrinal implications Alma draws from the experience and how they occurred
to him and developed in each retelling. Tvedtnes builds on this analysis to show
that Mormon actually quotes each of these passages from the original record
rather than reporting them third person. Finally, Tvedtnes details how each
retelling is unique and supplements the others with additional information.
Taken as a whole, the retellings are consistent, different in detail, and
highly reinforcing. Given the translation process, this is again a seemingly
impossible achievement if Joseph, or anyone besides Alma himself, was making
up these widely scattered passages.

In chapter 13, John W. Welch compares the Book of Mormon with another ancient
text, in this case the Narrative of Zosimus, which circulated in early Christian circles
and appears to have Hebrew origins but was certainly unknown to Joseph Smith
and his contemporaries. Zosimus records a dream remarkably similar to
Lehi’s tree of life vision and a revelation about a group
much like Lehi’s colony that was led out of Jerusalem to an ideal land. Welch presents the
Zosimus text, translated from both Greek and Syriac versions, together with
verses from the Book of Mormon that contain parallel information. While Welch
readily acknowledges the impossibility of determining the connections between
these two amazingly similar accounts, the unquestionable antiquity of the
Zosimus text would seem to confirm the antiquity of the Book of Mormon and to indicate that the two texts
may share some common origins.

The final section of this volume addresses the geographical and archaeological speculations that have fascinated Book
of Mormon believers from the earliest years. If the book is a true ancient
record, the Nephites lived somewhere in real time in a real historical and
cultural context. The history of Book of Mormon studies has always featured
vigorous efforts to identify the geographical and cultural context of Nephite
times (600 b.c.— a.d. 421). Two distinct geographical contexts
are featured in the Book of Mormon: the journey from Jerusalem across the Arabian peninsula and the promised land itself where
Lehi’s descendants dwelled for a thousand years. The Jaredite record tells little about their journey and
provides no directions, but their history occurred in an area that overlapped
Nephite territory. The last two chapters of this volume articulate what is
known about this subject at the present time, which is much more than is commonly

In chapter 14, Noel B. Reynolds draws extensively on Warren P. and Michaela
Knoth Aston’s research on Lehi’s exodus from Jerusalem
.3 Relying on their earlier work and his own
subsequent research and field work with them, Reynolds summarizes what can
be said about this journey through the Arabian peninsula and the building
of the ship at Bountiful. The text provides remarkably helpful directions
and descriptions that have helped make it possible to identify plausible sites
for Nahom, where Ishmael was buried, and Bountiful, where the ship was built. As Eugene
England pointed out in the 1982 authorship volume, at
the time the Book of Mormon was written, no Americans or Europeans believed
that fertile coastal locations of the kind the Book of Mormon describes existed
in Arabia, yet at least one site has now been identified west of Salalah in
Oman that appears to meet every one of the specific features described in
the text. In 1830, including such a description in a fraudulent account presenting itself as truthful would
have been foolhardy. The ancient authorship and accuracy of the Book of Mormon
are strongly reinforced by these findings.

Most of the geographical speculation on the Book of Mormon has focused
on the effort to identify Book of Mormon lands in the New World, which would
also pinpoint a cultural group at that point in history. Mesoamerica has been the focus of almost all of that
research in recent years. Where else does a narrow neck of land exist between
two seas and a literate civilization build cities for hundreds of years b.c.? John L. Sorenson has done more than any other person to identify
the geographical issues in the Book of Mormon and to explore the possible
areas where these peoples could have lived. In chapter 15, Sorenson updates
his detailed comparison of the Book of Mormon itself and the lineage histories
written by Mesoamerican peoples in the post-Nephite period. The extensive
parallels between these different writings indicate strongly that the Book
of Mormon fits nicely into the cultural context of ancient Mesoamerican books. Because Joseph Smith knew nothing about ancient Mesoamerican
books, it is hard to see how he could have come up with such a match. Like
his associates in the early Church, Joseph assumed that the Book of Mormon
peoples had probably covered the entire Western Hemisphere and that all Indians were Lamanite descendants. Only in the last few decades has
it become clear that the Book of Mormon narrative describes Nephite and Lamanite homelands that were confined to a few hundred miles in diameter
during the entire thousand-year history. These and numerous other textual
details escaped both translators and readers of the Book of Mormon for a hundred
years. The book describes a cultural context not unlike that in ancient Mesoamerica
but which is quite different from what Joseph and his contemporaries understood
or expected. This clearly undercuts any theory that would attribute authorship
of the Book of Mormon to Joseph or his associates.

The concluding chapter is a reprint of William J. Hamblin’s summary of the important work scholars have
done on warfare in the Book of Mormon. Hamblin shows that in
dozens of dimensions, the assumptions and complex details of Book of Mormon
warfare are consistent with ancient as opposed to modern warfare, specifically
ancient Mesoamerican warfare.

The studies in this volume are offered to students of the scriptures in
the hope that they will help them think about the authorship issues raised
by critics of the Book of Mormon. While we can never scientifically prove
that the Book of Mormon was written by Nephite prophets, we can show through
scientific and other scholarly studies where the criticisms of the book fail.
Science and logic can prove negative, but not positive, claims.  Students
who desire a fully satisfying resolution of these questions will do best to
accept Moroni’s invitation to find their own spiritual witness of the book’s
truth through personal study and prayer.

We gratefully acknowledge the permission of BYU Studies to reprint John Hilton’s wordprint study and a revised
version of John W. Welch’s Zosimus paper. We also acknowledge the
Review of Books on the
Book of Mormon
for permission to
use a revised version of James Smith’s earlier treatment of the population
issue in its pages. FARMS and Deseret Book have allowed us to reprint William
Hamblin’s conclusions from Warfare in the Book of Mormon.

Theresa S. Brown and Thomas J. Lowery have been helpful in preparing these
materials for publication. Davis Bitton generously provided thoughtful criticisms
and suggested revisions for the entire text, and a special thanks is owed
to Jessica Taylor, Mary Mahan, and Melvin J. Thorne of the FARMS editorial
staff for their gentle but expert guidance in producing the final version
of this manuscript. Above all, I acknowledge the constant encouragement and
support of my wife Sydney. If this work meets her approval, I am happy enough.



Richard L. Anderson, Investigating the Book
of Mormon Witnesses
(Salt Lake City:
Deseret Book, 1981).

See Thomas Hobbes, Three Discourses: A Critical
Modern Edition of Newly Identified Work of the Young Hobbes,
edited with explanatory essays by Noel B. Reynolds and
Arlene W. Saxonhouse (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995).

See Warren P. Aston, In the Footsteps of Lehi:
New Evidence for Lehi’s Journey across Arabia to Bountiful
(Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1994)