OK guys, so for the last … almost 200 years now, people have been trying to provide a naturalistic explanation for how Joseph Smith could have produced the scriptural masterpiece that is The Book of Mormon. And for almost 200 years now, critics of The Book of Mormon can’t agree on how Joseph did it. But in the beginning, there was one prevailing, popular theory: The Spaulding-Rigdon theory. Let’s dive in.
The first person to propose the Spalding-Rigdon theory was a guy named Philastus Hurlbut soon after he’d been excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In fact, he was excommunicated from three different churches that we know of, all for issues dealing with immorality. But anyway, after he was excommunicated from our faith, he dedicated himself to destroying Joseph Smith’s name and character.
In his travels, he obtains several affidavits smearing Joseph’s name. Some of them come from neighbors and family of a man named Solomon Spaulding, a former preacher and unpublished author who died in 1816. According to these affidavits, these people remember Solomon Spaulding reading part of a manuscript to them that contained names and details later found in The Book of Mormon. If you want to read the affidavits I’ll put a link to them in the description, but as a summary of them, here’s what the notorious anti-Latter-day Saint author, Fawn Brodie, said about them.
“It can clearly be seen that the affidavits were written by Hurlbut, since the style is the same throughout. It may be noted also that although five out of the eight had heard Spaulding’s story only once, there was a surprising uniformity in the details they remembered after twenty-two years. Six recalled the names Nephi, Lamanite, etc.; six held that the manuscript described the Indians as descendants of the lost ten tribes …. The very tightness with which Hurlbut here was implementing his theory rouses an immediate suspicion that he did a little judicious prompting.”
Interestingly enough, there’s also a statement from a neighbor who was not interviewed by Hurlbut that said Spalding had nothing to do with The Book of Mormon. Anyway, the affidavits are obviously suspicious and obtained by a guy Hell-bent on destroying Joseph Smith. But they’re there.
The next question is: Where, then, is this mysterious decades-old manuscript??? Hurlbut went searching. He spoke with Spaulding’s widow, who said she did recall a work called Manuscript Found that might be what he’s looking for. Hurlbut found an unfinished manuscript that was said to have been translated from 24 Latin scrolls found in a cave. It would make sense to call this, Manuscript Found. BUT it clearly had nothing to do with The Book of Mormon. Hurlbut showed it to those who signed the affidavits, who said ‘no, that’s not it. There must be another manuscript.’
Brodie said, “it seems more likely that these witnesses had so come to identify the Book of Mormon with the Spaulding manuscript that they could not concede having made an error without admitting to a case of memory substitution which they did not themselves recognize.”
So, Hurlbut continued his search for a mysterious second manuscript. Spaulding’s widow said Spaulding took Manuscript Found a couple of times to a publisher in Pittsburg—the office of Patterson and Lambdin. But, as it turns out, Patterson and Lambdin didn’t exist until two years after Spalding’s death. So, as you might guess, Hurlbut found no manuscript there and hit a dead end.
But the conspiracy only thickens! The manuscript, you see, was of course unpublished. Joseph Smith couldn’t just pick it up at the local library. So how do we place this mythical manuscript into Joseph’s hands? Well, Hurlbut reasoned, the Latter-day Saint leader Sidney Rigdon used to live in Pittsburg. He must have gotten ahold of the manuscript (that there’s no evidence of), from the publishing company (that didn’t yet exist), must have secretly taken it to Joseph Smith (some 300 miles away), and just like that—The Book of Mormon.
Also don’t forget, Sidney was a convert to the Church and didn’t even hear about Joseph Smith until late 1830, after The Book of Mormon was published sooo yeah…
Brodie said, “The tenuous chain of evidence accumulated to support the Spaulding-Rigdon theory breaks altogether when it tries to prove that Rigdon met Joseph Smith before 1830.”
Another antagonist of the Latter-day Saints named Davis Bays wrote that the Spaulding-Rigdon theory is “erroneous, and it will lead to almost certain defeat…. The facts are all opposed to this view, and the defenders of the Mormon dogma have the facts well in hand…. The Spaulding story is a failure. Do not attempt to rely upon it — it will let you down.”
And indeed, the theory is ridiculous. The only thing it has going for it are the affidavits, which are clearly problematic. Even career critics of our faith throw this theory in the trash, but if you want to dive deep, check out the links in the description. After the Spalding-Rigdon theory sort of tanked, people, of course, scrambled to find an alternate explanation for how The Book of Mormon exists. We’ll take a look at the Ethan Smith View of the Hebrews theory in our next episode. I’ll see you there. Have a great day!