A Critique of Chapter 1, "The Genesis"
According to the Lexicon of Law: "To gain credibility, we must be assured, first, that the witness has not been mistaken or deceived. To be assured as far as possible on this subject, it is proper to consider the nature and quality of the facts proved; the quality and person of the witness; the testimony in itself; and to compare it with the disposition of other witnesses on the subject, and with known facts."
With these things in mind, we are ready to proceed with the examination of the assertion and evidence proffered by the Spalding theorists that in the early 1800's (c. 1810 - 1816) Solomon Spalding, while living at Conneaut, Ohio, wrote a manuscript that is the same (if not exactly the same) as the historical parts of the Book of Mormon, which was later published in 1830 at Palmyra, New York, by Joseph Smith.
This assertion is vital to the Spalding theory because it provides the foundation upon which the core premise and conclusion of the theory rests--i.e. that the coconspirators (Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and Oliver Cowdery) plagiarized heavily from Spalding's manuscript while writing the Book of Mormon, and thus Spalding is the actual author of the Book of Mormon.
So, if it can be demonstrated that there is no credible evidence for the existence of a Spalding manuscript that is the "same as" the historical parts of the Book of Mormon, the foundational assertion collapses along with the Spalding theory's core premise and conclusion.
There are a number of issues that I intend to raise which both individually and collectively undermine the credibility of the Conneaut and other related evidence--some critically.
Index of Issue:
Article 1: | #1 Not "Same" | #2 No "Smoking Gun" | #3 Selective | #4 Tampering/Leading | #5 Prompted | #6 More Tampering|
Article 2: | #7 Conflicts/Irregularities | #8 Unlike BoM | #9 Absurdities | #10 Extrapolations | #11 Vague | Summary |
Also, here is a link to a
clickable index of the various statements given
by the manuscript witnesses.
Five decades following the first published statements from the Conneaut witnesses, and long after all hope had been lost for recovering the Spalding manuscript, it was serendipitously found in the possession of L. L. Rice, who had years earlier purchased the printing establishment (along with various papers--apparently including the Spalding manuscript) from E. D. Howe, one of the first anti-Mormons to publish material on the Spalding theory, and the last person known to have the Spalding manuscript in his possession. (See the preface to the "Manuscript Found" or "Manuscript Story")
Finally, it seemed that the long-standing and heated debate over the origins of the Book of Mormon (at least as far as the Spalding theory was concerned) could be settled once and for all through a direct comparison between the recovered manuscript and the Book of Mormon. Or, could it?
It has been the conveniently evolving contention of the Spalding theorists (both before and after the recovery of the manuscript) that: 1) Solomon Spalding had written several books and articles; 2) Certain of the manuscripts were presumed lost either prior to Philastus Hurlbut's (the first and primary investigator for the theorists) obtaining the contents of the Davison trunk (the property of Spalding's wife after his decease, which contained the recovered Spalding manuscript and papers) or prior to Hurlbut delivering the manuscripts and papers to E. D. Howe; and 3) the manuscript mentioned by the Conneaut and other witnesses was among those that were presumed lost. Hence, the recovery of the one Spalding manuscript does not to their minds resolve the issues related to another alleged manuscript.
To keep the two alleged manuscripts from being confused, the theorist have named the recovered manuscript "Roman Story" (also called the Manuscript Story, or the Oberlin Manuscript), and the lost manuscript they have named "Manuscript Found" (or the "Lost Ten Tribes").
The validity of these contentions (mentioned above) will be critically examined in my Article 4, and will be shown to be false. There will be demonstrated that the recovered manuscript is, in fact, the "Manuscript Found."
Furthermore, as will be demonstrated in my Article 5, the recovered manuscript is far from "the same as" the historical parts of the Book of Mormon.
And, because the recovered manuscript is the Manuscript Found; and because the recovered Manuscript Found is far from being the "same as" the historical parts of the Book of Mormon; and given that the pro-theory manuscript witnesses have testified that the Manuscript Found is the "same as" the historical parts of the Book of Mormon; the recollections of the pro-theory manuscript witnesses are either seriously mistaken or knowing and willful fabrications; therefore, the Spalding theory, which rests entirely on this collection of errors, fatally crumbles.
But, even assuming (for the sake of argument) the once existence of the other alleged manuscript, there is still the sticky matter of the so-called Manuscript Found having yet to be produced by the theorists. They have yet to establish empirically that the manuscript even existed, let alone what exactly the manuscript says. There is no autograph manuscript, no manuscript copy, nor a single printed copy of a Spalding manuscript matching the description given by the witnesses. There is no primary evidence (manuscript) in support of the assertion in question, nor with which to effectively run a comparative analysis to determine if the so-called Manuscript Found is the "same as" the historical parts of the Book of Mormon or not.
As such, the theorists have been left to rely on secondary evidence in the form of the very untimely recollections (see: table and discussion below) of a few people who allegedly read, heard read to them, and/or conversed with Spalding about portions of the alleged still lost Manuscript Found.
Spalding theorist E. D. Howe has been forced by reason to admit "that a train of circumstances [i.e. empirical data] may often lead the mind to a more satisfactory and unerring conclusion, than positive testimony, unsupported by circumstantial [i.e. empirical] evidence--for the plain reason, that the one species of testimony is more prone to falsehood than the other. But we proceed with our testimony [nevertheless]." (Howe, "Mormonism Unveiled," p.278)
Granted, eye/ear-witness accounts are admissible in the U.S. courts of law (as well as the court of public opinion), and there have been not a few convictions (certainly not all) made solely on the testimony of eye/ear-witnesses--though not always correctly. According to Amy Sinatra in a recent ABCNEWS.com article, "Experts say itís often mistaken eyewitness testimony that puts innocent people in prison ó and lets the real criminal roam free. Of the first 40 cases overturned by DNA evidence, 36 of them were defendants convicted on eyewitness testimony, explains Boston defense attorney James Doyle, who has written several articles and co-authored a book on eyewitness testimony...Eyewitness testimony is the worst evidence you could possibly have, but at trial itís the strongest evidence you could possibly present.".
However, with the case at hand we aren't dealing with the superficial recollections of a recent simple matter of little importance (like the contents of last-years birthday card), or even the general identification of a crime suspect, but rather the very distant though presumably very detailed recollections about an extensive and complex work which calls into serious question certain foundational truth-claims of the LDS faith.
To put this into perspective, suppose you, the reader, were to have written and published an extensive and complex history of your ancestors, marking their migration from their homeland as well as their lives eked out in a certain land over hundreds of years. Suppose that several years later you were accused of plagiarizing extensively and nearly verbatim from a history allegedly written by some relatively unknown author. How much validity would you think the charge should be given were your accusers unable to produce any autograph manuscript, or manuscript copy, or printed copy of the manuscript from the hand of the relatively unknown author (at least none that was at all close to being the "same as" your history), but their charge rested solely on the distant and generalized recollections of a few family members and friends of the relatively unknown author?
Can you even imagine a college professor rejecting a doctoral dissertation for plagiarism and expelling the student based solely on the uncorroborated claims of several other students that their friend had written the same thing some twenty-two years earlier?
The same principle, then, should hold true with the Book of Mormon and the manuscript witnesses. The nature of the charges demands more than just eye/ear-witness testimony. It demands primary evidence in the form of a valid manuscript. Absent any primary evidence, the issue should rightly be closed.
E. D. Howe, who first published the Spalding theory, has said: "Under all circumstances, in civil and ecclesiastical tribunals, witnesses may be impeached, and after a fair hearing, on both sides, the veracity and credibility may be adjudged." (Howe, "Mormonism Unveiled," p. 231--emphasis mine.)
With regards to the tribunal of public opinion, one may ask whether the Spalding theorists (including Howe) have remained true to this standard, and set forth a "fair hearing, on both sides?" Have they conducted a thorough and objective investigation of all the possible witnesses? Have they reported all the findings? Were they intent at getting at the truth instead of just trying to prove their point?
Sadly, were one to read through the shelves of material publish by the Spaldingists (including Howe's book) as I have, one will likely get the impression that all the statements that were ever made on the issue by Spalding's family and neighbors were in complete agreement and favorable to the Spalding theory.
Yet, as one may see from the list of statements, there are at least a few that counter the Spalding theory.
This begs the now unanswerable questions of how many other possible witnesses may have been out there for the finding whose statements were either taken and not reported, or avoided because of possible conflict (either in part or in whole)? Could there have been many other honest people like Josiah Spalding (the brother of Solomon Spalding) who may have indicated that they had only very vague recollections which they were not the least certain about (see: testimonies), but whose statements were not taken or discarded because they would stand in stark and rational contrast to those that eventually were reported?
Why can we not find any statements given by certain close relatives of Solomon Spalding reported by Hurlbut (the first proponent and principle investigator for the Spalding theory) as a result of his affidavit-harvesting tour of 1833, and following his visits to William Sabine (the brother of Spalding's wife, who had, for a time, stored at his house the trunk with the Spalding manuscript in it, which he had allegedly read--see Matilda McKinstry's comment) as well as Matilda Davison and Matilda McKinstry (the wife and daughter of Solomon Spalding, the one's closest to the man, and who would have been in the best position to know his work)? Could it be that, as Howe unwittingly discloses, that the two Matilda's had "no distinct knowledge" of the Manuscript Found (Howe, 'Mormonism Unveiled,' p.287), and obtaining affidavits to that effect would not have served Howe's and Hurlbut's purposes, and may even have undermined them?
According to Orson Hyde, an antagonist to the Spalding theory, "In the spring of 1832 I preached in New Salem, Ohio the place where Rev. Mr. Spaulding resided at the time he wrote his romance. I raised up a branch of the Church at that place, and baptized many of Mr. Spaulding's old neighbors, but they never intimated to me that there was any similarity between the Book of Mormon and Mr. Spaulding's romance; neither did I hear such an intimation from any quarter, until the immoral Hulbert, a long time after, in connection with some very pious ministers, such, perhaps, as Mr. Storrs and Mr. Austin, brought forth the idea. I then went to these neighbors of Mr. Spaulding, and enquired of them if they knew anything about his writing a romance; and if so, whether the romance was anything like the Book of Mormon. They said that Mr. Spaulding wrote a book, and that they frequently heard him read the manuscript; but that any one should say that it was like the Book of Mormon, was most surprising, and must be the last pitiful resort that the devil had."(John E. Page, "The Spalding Story", 1843, p.10)
Furthermore, it appears that as long as the few gathered statements supported what the Spaldingists were wishing to assert, they were gladly accepted and reported without doubt or question.
Unfortunately, there is much about them that not only cries out for clarification, but which demands a healthy dose of skepticism and challenge. Even with my meager investigative and legal skills, when I first read through the statements, there were numerous questions that immediately jumped to mind that I wish I could have addressed to the pro-theory witnesses by way of cross-examination--not the least of which is to ask them for more specific evidence of their "same as" recollections, though unassisted by any appeal to the Book of Mormon and statements of other witnesses (see below), or any prompting from sympathetic theorists (see below).
Richard L. Anderson, in his examination of the Hurlbut-Howe evidence (though, with more of his focus resting on the Palmyra-Manchester affidavits than those from Conneaut) makes this relevant remark: "Much non-Mormon opinion is obviously irrelevant to the writing of early Mormon history. Howe claimed to print only 'a few, among the many depositions which have been obtained from the neighborhood of the Smith family. . . .' Doubtless, his motivation was to prove the worst without much awareness of which signers were in the best position to speak. In the study of Joseph Smith's character, it is the distant non-observer of Palmyra-Manchester who tends to be hostile. The better informed the witness, the more affirmative his views. (Richard Lloyd Anderson, BYU Studies, Vol. 10, No. 3, p.311)
The highly selective (the fallacy of card stacking), uncritical, and self-serving investigations and reporting of the evidence by the Spaldingists may have lent itself to attempts at proving their points to the gullible and uniformed, but it hasn't served the purpose of getting at the truth--which, in and of itself is very telling. It also leaves us all well shy of the facts needed to make informed and correct determinations--which, if intended, is also very telling.
Granted, the demonstrable limits on time, resources, accessibility, interest, and investigative expertise of the Spaldingist "researchers" of that day, as well as their obviously myopic biases, may have factored substantially into the low-grade and nominal amounts of information which they eventually reported. In light of this, Howe makes this understatement in his and Hurlbut's defense: "For no person of common prudence and understanding, would ever undertake such a speculation on human credulity, without closing and well securing every door and avenue to a discovery, step by step, as he proceeded. Hence, our investigations on the subject have necessarily been more limited than was desirable." (ibid. p. 278)
And, were the members of the restored gospel of Christ at the time to have seized the day, so to speak, and to have conducted a more in-depth and critical examination (so lacking from the Spalding camp, and beyond what one may find from Orson Hyde, Benjamin Winchester, Jesse Haven, the Kelley brothers, etc.), then perhaps there would have been no need for those of us today to look back over a century and a half, and sift among the few dry and brittle testimonial bones to see what sort of animal can be made of them--though, in their defense it should be noted that for a long time the members did not take the Spalding claims seriously, thinking them so absurd and unbelievable as to warrant little or no need for response (as evidenced by the poor sales of Howe's book and the negligible impact which the theory had on the phenomenal growth of the church then). Parley Pratt noted at about that time: "But that ridiculous story, (concerning Solomon Spalding's Manuscript Found, being converted, by Sidney Rigdon, into the 'Book of Mormon') published at first as a probability, without a shadow of truth; a lie, which never had any credit among the honest and intelligent part of community in the West....The Spalding story never was dreamed of until several years afterwards, when it appeared in Mormonism Unveiled -- a base forgery, by D. P. Hulburt, and others of similar character, who had long strove to account for the Book of Mormon, in some other way beside the truth. In the west, whole neighbourhoods embraced Mormonism, after this fable of the Spalding story, had been circulated among them; indeed, we never conceived it worthy of an answer, until it was converted by the ignorant and impudent dupes or knaves, in this city, who stand at the head of certain religious papers, into something said to be positive, certain, and not to be disputed!" (Zion's Watchman Unmasked) Benjamin Winchester adds: "As respects 'Mormonism Unvailed,' published by E. D. Howe -- its circulation in the west was trifling. They knew too much about it; the persons by whom, and the way in which it was got up. Therefore it died a natural death, in a very little while; and instead of Mr. Howe making a fortune by it, as he expected, the edition became a burden to him. He offered them at less than half price, and could not get rid of them even then. Instead of doing harm to the church of Latter Day Saints, it did good, for as if a mountain were in labour, and when the delivery came, behold it was a mouse." (The Origins of the Spalding Story)
And, even were the members of the restored gospel of Christ to have taken it seriously, it is considerably harder, if not at times impossible, to prove a negative (i.e. that something didn't happen) than it is to prove a positive (i.e. that something did happen). Besides, as it is today and always, the burden of proof is on the theorists who have made the assertions, and not the LDS who seek merely to proclaim and defend their faith. Whether the Spaldingists have been persuasive with their highly selective reporting of the facts, or self-undermining to their theory and their own credibility, is for the reader to decide.
Witness Tampering: "The act or instance of obstructing justice [or thwarting the pursuit of truth] by intimidating, influencing, or harassing the witness[es]." (Black's Law Dictionary--emphasis mine)
Leading the Witness: "n. asking a question [or drafting statements] during a trial or deposition which puts words in the mouth of the witness or suggests the answer, which is improper questioning of a witness called by that attorney." (The Law Dictionary)
As will be pointed out in Article 5, there are patterns of speech and writings (idioms) that one should expect to find in common among people of the same language and culture. There are also matters of general perspective and history that one might expect would be viewed much the same within communities--particularly the small and relatively homogenous communities of early America, and about certain key characteristics of things (such as a novel which the people may have read), or meaningful experiences they may have shared.
So, to find some similarities among the pro-theory statements is to be expected. In fact, an absence of these similarities would be cause for great suspicion.
Support for this notion is found in the several similarities that are common to both those statements that are favorable to the Spalding theory and those that are unfavorable (such as certain historical events, approximate dates, Spalding as the author of a manuscript, the title of the manuscript, that it was an historical novel or romance, the mounds and forts that prompted the story, etc.--see: spreadsheet comparing the statements).
However, there are certain kinds and patterns of similarities the degree to which may put them well beyond coincidence and expectation, and raise reasonable doubts about authenticity and potential witness tampering or leading the witness, thus calling into serious question the credibility and accuracy of the statements.
To better understand this, consider for a moment your own experience. Those of us who have reviewed books as a school class or as a part of a book club would expect that each of the individual reviewers would understand the general plot of a given book pretty much the same. But, we may find it a little odd if, in our respective recountings, we all keyed in on the same few sub-plots (particularly were there numerous sub-plots of equal or greater significance in the book), and the same two or three characters in a book full of primary characters. And, the oddity would become quite pronounced and unpalatable if many of us were to have used the same exact phraseology in describing those few sub-plots and characters. And, the greater the frequency of these same phraseologies, and the smaller the size of the review (in terms of numbers of sentences, paragraphs, and pages), the greater the degree of oddity (with a multi-chapter review one would expect a reasonable number of idiomatic similarities, but in a few sentences or paragraphs?). Our suspicions would be seriously and justifiably aroused were those of us who frequently used the same exact phraseology in our brief statements to have been directly linked in some way--such as we (they) all used the same tutor, or we (they) all belonged to the same study group, or we (they) were all questioned by the same investigator, etc.
Lets us now take a look at the relatively short statements made by the pro-theory witnesses to see if there are any, or frequent, occurrences of these kinds of "oddities". We may do so by looking at what sub-plots and characters were described, the phraseology that was used in the description, and break this all down by those who elicited the statements. And, since Hurlbut and Deming are the only ones to have gathered enough statements to make a reasonable comparison, we will confine ourselves to comparing their collection of statements with the other pro-theory statements--beginning with Hurlbut. To view the comparison table of the Hurlbut's witnesses, please click here.
Even critics of the restored gospel of Christ have been troubled by the similarities. Fawn Brodie noted 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; four mentioned that the great wars caused the erection of the Indian mounds; and four noted the ancient scriptural style. The very tightness with which Hurlbut here was implementing his theory rouses an immediate suspicion that he did a little judicious prompting." (Brodie, "No Man Knows My History," pp. 446-47, as quoted by Richard L. Anderson, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon UT, 1991 III pp. 52-80)
Clearly, the nature and frequency of these "oddities" among the Hurlbut gathered affidavits raises some serious doubts about the purity and accuracy of the statements.
To me, the question is put beyond reasonable doubt by comparing what John Spalding said in his statement to Hurlbut with what he allegedly said in his statement published in the American Whig Review. Not only is the phraseology conspicuously different between the two statements, but the descriptions of the sub-plots and characters are very inconsistent (to be discussed further in Issue #7 below).
Also, a cursory look at the Artimus Cunningham statement, presumable taken by Howe rather than Hurlbut, shows it to fit less the pattern of "oddities" than the other Conneaut statements.
Furthermore, examination of the affidavites gathered by Hurlbut in Palmyra demonstrate a continuation of the same pattern of "oddities". Richard L. Anderson, in his 1970 BYU Studies article, "Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reappraised," indicated that, "Hurlbut heavily influenced the individual statements from Palmyra-Manchester, as can be shown by his phrases regularly appearing in affidavits of the Staffords, Chases, etc. His language evidently appears in two community affidavits." (Richard Lloyd Anderson, BYU Studies, Vol. 10, No. 3, p.286) Regarding these two affidavits, Anderson remarks, "Not only does identifiable phrasing appear, but similar structuring of the affidavits....significant word correlations are indicated, but the more significant point is the similarity of basic structure from two purportedly different authors....Both progress formally through a recital of knowledge of the Smiths, their disreputability in the community, money digging, and being 'addicted to' evil practices, closing with application of general character to religious claims and the assertion that no one in that area takes them seriously. (ibid., p.287) Anderson then goes on to show that the same holds true for the general affidavits.
Unfortunately, A. B. Deming's witnesses do not fare much better. While most of their relevant circumstances differed from those of the other pro-theory witnesses (instead of being friends or relations to Splading, they allegedly became acquainted with the Spalding manuscript through Hurlbut), thus making a comparison between the two groups somewhat inapplicable. However, the extent to which several of the Deming statements mirror each other is rather telling. To view the comparison table of the several Deming statements, please click here.
Again, the nature and frequency of the "oddities" is highly suspect of corrupting influences and the pro-theory statements are thus unreliable and unuseable.
In the next several sections there will be pointed out some of the ways in which Hurlbut, Deming, and others apparently caused the corrupting influence to occur (whether intended or not).
Confabulation: "a fantasy that has unconsciously replaced fact in memory. A confabulation may be based partly on fact or be a complete construction of the imagination." (The Skeptics Dictionary)
Without exception, each of the pro-theory witnesses had either declared or intimated that they had read the Book of Mormon prior to making their statements.
However, to this the Spaldingists may ask, "so what?" "How else would the witnesses be able to determine if the alleged Manuscript Found is the 'same as' the historical parts of the Book of Mormon without their having first read the Book of Mormon?"
These questions, while seemingly reasonable and expected, tend to confuse and mix what is "evidence" with those who are to be the judge and jury--a particularly critical distinction when attempting to evaluate accusations of plagiarism. Because the "recollections" of the witnesses are the only source of evidence for determining what was contained in the Spalding manuscript, it is critical for their statements to have been collected (as evidence and not judgements) in as pure a form as possible prior to using them in a comparative evaluation with the Book of Mormon. As will be demonstrated below, because the witnesses read the Book of Mormon prior to making their statement, their recollections were likely substantially influenced thereby, thus likely causing confabulations.
To understand how confabulations may have occurred there are these following remarks from several memory experts. In their article, "Magic of the Mind", psychologists E. Loftus and K. Ketcham noted: "We can actually come to believe in memories of events that never happened. . . .Truth and reality, when seen through the filter of our memories, are not objective facts but subjective, interpretive realities. We interpret the past, correcting ourselves, adding bits and pieces, deleting uncomplimentary or disturbing recollections, sweeping, dusting, tidying things up. Thus our representation of the past takes on a living, shifting reality; it is not fixed and immutable, not a place way back there that is preserved in stone, but a living thing that changes shape, expands, shrinks, and expands again, an amoebalike [sic] creature with powers to make us laugh, and cry, and clench our fists. Enormous powers--powers even to make us believe in something that never happened." (Witness For the Defense: The Accused, the Eyewitness, and the Expert Who Puts Memory On Trial, by Dr. Elizabeth Loftus and Katherine Ketcham, St. Martin's Press, 1991)
Even something as simple as a chance association or suggestion can engender false memories. There is the story of "the woman who accused memory expert Dr. Donald Thompson of having raped her. Thompson was doing a live interview for a television program just before the rape occurred. The woman had seen the program and 'apparently confused her memory of him from the television screen with her memory of the rapist.'" (Schacter, 1996, 114, as quoted in the Skeptics Dictionary).
There is also this experience of Jean Piaget: "the great child psychologist claimed that his earliest memory was of nearly being kidnapped at the age of two. He remembered details such as sitting in his baby carriage, watching the nurse defend herself against the kidnapper, scratches on the nurse's face, and a police officer with a short cloak and a white baton chasing the kidnapper away. The story was reinforced by the nurse and the family and others who had heard of the story. Piaget was convinced that he remembered the event. However, it never happened. Thirteen years after the alleged kidnapping attempt, Piaget's former nurse wrote to his parents to confess that she had made up the entire story. Piaget later wrote that 'I therefore must have heard, as a child, the account of this story...and projected it into the past in the form of a visual memory, which was a memory of a memory, but false.'" (Tavris).
More to the point, "A 1977 study conducted at the University of Nebraska shows the effect of photo bias on the memory of witnesses. Student 'witnesses' watched some 'criminals' committing a crime. An hour later they looked through mug shots that included some of the criminals they had seen. A week later lineups were staged, and the subject witnesses were asked to indicate those who had taken part in the original crime. Eight percent of the people in the lineups were identified as criminals, yet they had neither taken part in the "crime" nor were their pictures included in the mug shots. Twenty percent of the innocent people whose photographs were included among the mug shots were also falsely identified. None of these people had committed a crime, nor had they ever before been seen in person--and yet they were recognized from photographs and identified as criminals." (ibid.)
If twenty-eight percent of the eye-witnesses mentioned above could error in the simple identification of suspects after just one week (for the most part because their memories were influenced by the photos they had viewed earlier), thereby falsely accusing the innocent, then it would be reasonable to assume that a much greater percentage (if not 100%) could error in the comprehensive identification of a complex work (the Spalding manuscript) some twenty to seventy years after the fact, and undoubtedly influenced by the recent reading of the Book of Mormon, thereby falsely accusing the innocent.
B. H. Roberts expounds upon this point by saying: "But it will be said that this is not altogether a fair test [i.e. going into the Conneaut community prior to their hearing about the Book of Mormon] on which to build a contrast between what could be recalled without the aid of associated ideas and incidents, and what could be remembered when associated ideas and really similar or identical incidents, names, and phrases, though long forgotten, were repeated. One must necessarily concede something to such a contention. But on the other hand, let it be conceded what a fertilizing effect the recent reading of the Book of Mormon would have on the minds of these witnesses anxious to testify against it! What an awakening effect it would have on the minds of witnesses full of fanatical zeal against what they considered a religious innovation; on the minds of witnesses tempted by the prospect of being lifted from obscurity to a position of importance in their little world; on the minds of witnesses doubtless leagued with crafty conspirators full of bitterness, and confessedly determined 'to up-root this Mormon fraud.' With the Book of Mormon in their hands from which to refresh their minds as to names and incidents, of course they will 'remember' that Spaulding's colony came from Jerusalem; that he represented the American Indians as descendants of the lost tribes (ignorantly supposing that such was the representation of the Book of Mormon in the matter); that the names of the chief characters in the Spaulding story were 'Lehi and Nephi,' and one 'remembers' that the place where Spaulding landed his colony was near the straights of Darien, which he is 'confident' was called 'Zarahemla'; while another, that the colonists separated and became two nations and had many great and cruel wars; that the phrases 'I, Nephi' and, 'It came to pass,' were frequently used in the Spaulding story, just as they were used in the Book of Mormon! All this they 'very well remember'--after reading the Book of Mormon!" (B. H. Roberts, Defense of the Faith and the Saints, Vol.2, p.137)
Were Hurlbut and the other pro-theory investigators not to have had their witnesses read the Book of Mormon first before making their statements, but instead had them simply write down unprompted and at the earliest a week or two after their last casual hearing about the Book of Mormon everything which they could recollect of Spalding's manuscript, one would then have a much greater confidence in the relative purity of their recollections.
But, as it stands, this was not done, nor would it likely to have been done because the results would not have served the investigators' purposes. Take for instance what occurred with Josiah Spalding, the brother of Solomon Spalding. He was but one of only two of all the manuscript witnesses to indicate that he had not read the Book of Mormon (the other was Matilda McKinstry, daughter of Solomon, in a brief statement to Jesse Haven in 1843, in which she thought that only a few names were the same, but she wasn't certain), and his recollections of the manuscript stand in stark contrast with the pro-theory witnesses, bearing little or no resemblance to the contents of the Book of Mormon, and not surprisingly, are reasonably accurate (taking into account the lapse of over forty years) in describing the contents of the extant Spalding manuscript (The Roman Story).
The implication is obvious. The pro-theory witnesses were substantially influenced by the Book of Mormon, and their "recollections" were thus confabulations. Hence the pro-theory evidence was corrupted and thereby rendered unreliable and unusable.
Furthermore, in the words of not a few of the pro-theory witnesses taken years and decades later than the Conneaut witnesses, we find indication that, in addition to having read the Book of Mormon, they had also read statements made by other witnesses and/or printed material on the theory prior to making their own statements (see the applicable statements of eye-witnesses and hearsay witnesses). This may not only explain the uncommon clarity of aged memories, but also explain, in part, how there came to be so many unique similarities ("oddities") among the pro-theory statements (see above).
Ironically, in their errant attempts at charging Joseph Smith and others with plagiarism, certain witnesses seem to have had no qualms in "borrowing" (whether unwittingly or otherwise) from the statements of others in the construction of their own.
Needless to say, this too compromised the evidence, likely caused confabulations, thus rendering the whole unreliable and unusable.
Roberts, in his debate with Schoeder, not only turns Schroeder's argument (see below) against him, but reinforces several of the points made thus far, and expands upon the point I have just made, by using as an example the statement of Joseph Miller (with the understanding that the same principles in this instance may also apply to other pro-theory witnesses): "The Miller document quoted by Mr. Schroeder from Gregg's 'Prophet of Palmyra,' bears date of January 20, 1882; and as Miller was born in 1791 he was then ninety-one years of age. The very earliest statement of Miller's story is in the PITTSBURG TELEGRAPH, February 6, 1879, when Miller would be eighty-eight years old. How much reliance is to be placed upon the early recollections of such an aged person after all the talk had, and all the newspaper and magazine articles and discussions that have been published?" (B. H. Roberts, Defense of the Faith and the Saints, Vol.2, p.137)
Bruce Bower, in his article, "Remembrance of Things False," makes this relevant observation: "Repeated exposure to information that totally rewrites the past may foster memory blunders of a potentially more dangerous sort than hindsight bias, other scientists assert. Thinking over and over about childhood events that never happened proves a relatively easy way to create false memories, at least in some individuals, they argue....Several prior studies conducted by Hyman and others have found that about one volunteer in five develops illusory memories of childhood events suggested by friends, relatives, or experimenters....It is fairly easy to create false memories of familiar events." (sciencenews.org)
Without intending it, Rachael Derby and several other pro-theory witnesses have provided us with examples of faulty investigative techniques by the Spaldingists which couldn't help but have corrupted the evidence.
First, she tells us of "D.P. Hurlbut coming to our house about fifty years ago and his telling father [John Miller] that he was taking evidence to expose Mormonism." (see Rachael Derby) Matilda McKinstry and her mother, Matilda Davison, were approached in similar manner by Hurlbut: "I believe it was in 1834 that a man named Hurlburt came to my house at Monson to see my mother....He presented a letter to my mother from my uncle, William H. Sabine...in which he requested her to loan this manuscript to Hurlbut, as he (my uncle) was desirous 'to uproot' (as he expresses it) 'this Mormon fraud'....Hurlbut wished to expose its wickedness." (see Matilda McKinstry)
Given the harsh anti-Mormon tone and language prevalent throughout the pro-theory statements as well as the commentaries of those doing the investigating and reporting, it is likely that other witnesses were greeted with similar introductions.
While certainly understandable give the passionately negative motives of the investigators, such introductions were obviously prejudicial, and highly prone to biasing and corrupting the evidence. It is much like if I were to tell you, the reader, that I intend to prove that you are thinking of a pink unicorn, and then go on to ask, "were you thinking of a pink unicorn?" What I said would presumably force the intended result of your thinking of it. Therefore, if the corrupting influence of evidence can result from the mere mention of an innocuous fantasy animal, it is not hard to guess what significant impact religious fervor, resentment, and discrimination may have had when added to the mix. Roberts surmised regarding the untimely statements of the aged Joseph Miller (with the same applying to other pro-theory witnesses), that prejudicial promptings may lend themselves "to confusion in the minds of unliterary, uncritical, and often ignorant people, as to dates, the order of events, and mind impressions; and this confusion influenced by their religious zeal, not to say fanaticism; prejudices against supposed heresies; and resentment of religious innovation--what value, I say, is to be given to the recollections of a very aged person under these circumstances, must be finally determined by the reader. I only ask that the circumstances be known; that they be constantly held in mind and given their due weight, and I shall not fear the judgment." (B. H. Roberts, Defense of the Faith and the Saints, Vol.2, p.137)
And, though there is little if any record of the questions the pro-theory "investigators" asked, or the nature of the interactions between the investigators and those deposed (which would have been helpful to us today in determining the validity and reliability of the results); and, again given the harsh anti-Mormon tone and language manifest throughout the statements and commentaries; who could doubt that the whole investigative process was imbued with such "religious zeal," "fanaticism," "prejudice," and "resentment?"
In light of this, there is this warning by the Royal College of Psychiatrists: "The evidence shows that memories of events which did not in fact occur may develop and be held with total conviction. Such memories commonly develop under the influence of individuals or situations which encourage the development of strong beliefs....Forceful or persuasive interviewing techniques are not acceptable in psychiatric practice. Doctors should be aware that patients are susceptible to subtle suggestions and reinforcements whether these communications are intended or not....It is not known how to distinguish, with complete accuracy, memories based on true events from those derived from other sources....Memories can be significantly influenced by questioning, especially in young children. Memories also can be significantly influenced by a trusted person . . . . It has also been shown that repeated questioning may lead individuals to report "memories" of events that never occurred. " (Quotes about Memory)
While this holds true for the psychiatric profession, it is reasonable to assume that the same applies to all forms of investigation--including the aggressive affidavit harvesting by disgruntled former members of the LDS faith and/or pastors deeply troubled by the dwindling of their flocks to another faith.
It is also possible that money may have had a corrupting influence on the evidence. After five or so decades, and considerable time and energy expended in research with very little if anything to show in substantiation of their theory, at least one of the Spalding theorists (A. B. Deming) placed an advertisement in several papers in which he offered a cash reward for evidence. (get citation) Not surprisingly for those impoverished times, people started coming out of the woodwork claiming to have "recollections" on the matter--of which the untimeliness and uncharacteristic clarity thereof from elderly witnesses astonished even some of the theorist (Schoeder in particular--see below), though certainly not all.
How many of Deming's witnesses testified as a result of the cash incentive, and to what degree their "recollections" may have been prompted thereby, is uncertain. But, the presence of the cash incentive, and the unusual reaction thereto, raises concerns about the possible (if not probable) compromise to the credibility of the evidence.
Second, Rahael Derby tells us regarding Hurlbut's visit with her father, John Miller, in 1833: "he [Hurlbut] was taking evidence to expose Mormonism....I saw father sign a statement and give it to him." (see Rachael Derby) Inferred in what she said was that Hurlbut had been the one to write the statement, and not her father. Her father merely signed it.
Lyman Jackson was a little more clear about how Hurlbut went about obtaining his particular affidavit. Benjamin Winchester, who interviewed Jackson, said: "Mr Jackson...told Mr. H [Hurlbut] when he came to get his signature to a writing, testifying to the probability of Mr. S's [Spaldings] manuscript had been converted into the Book of Mormon; that there was no agreement between them....Mr. Jackson refused to lend his name to a lie, and expresses his indignation and contempt at the base and wicked project to deceive the public." (see Lyman Jackson--emphasis mine)
Since Jackson was presumably the first that Hurlbut approached for a signed statement (Hurlbut learned about the Spalding manuscript from Jackson, so it is reasonable to assume that he would start with him), and Miller was one of the last witnesses at Conneaut to sign Hurlbut's statement, one may be caused to wonder if Hurlbut wrote most if not all of the affidavits he collected at Conneaut?
Dale Broadhurst, a Spalding researcher, stated in his notes about the December 1833 statement from Aron Wright: "The handwriting on the letter has not been identified. However it bears a strong resemblance to that presumed to have come from D. P. Hurlbut (see his own 1833 note). The document may be a copy of an Aaron Wright letter made by Hurlbut while visiting Wright on or about Dec. 31, 1833." (Dale Broadhurst, Aron Wright affidavit, Note #1)
Richard L. Anderson, in his expose of the Hurlbut affidavits, asserts the following about the Palmyra statements (which, while not direct evidence for how the Conneaut statements were obtained, may be indicative of a consistent pattern with Hurlbut): "One must make a necessary assumption here. The signers of a petition or declaration are normally not authors, merely ratifiers. When Hurlbut appeared in the Manchester schoolhouse, he undoubtedly had penned the statement that eleven rather nonliterary farmers signed. One would envision the same procedure as inevitable for the fifty-one signers from Palmyra. Someone authored the general statements, and Hurlbut is the best candidate." (Richard Lloyd Anderson, BYU Studies, Vol. 10, No. 3, p.286)
So, while there may be insufficient evidence to prove undoubtedly that all the affidavits that had been gathered by Hurlbut were written by him, there is sufficient evidence to prove that some definitely were, and the rest probably were written by him, thus providing some explanation for the "oddities" mention above, and drawing into considerable question the authenticity and accuracy of the whole lot.
In response to this, Rodger I. Anderson, in his critique of Richard L. Anderson's article, argues:
"Even if Hurlbut did contribute to the style and structure of the affidavits, it does not necessarily follow that he "contaminated" them by interpolation. Similarities such as those noted by Anderson may only mean that Hurlbut submitted the same questions to some of the parties involved . . . Answers to questions such as these would explain all the similarities in structure and language noted by Anderson without making Hurlbut the author of the statements and only indirectly responsible for their sometimes similar phraseology. Even if Hurlbut had written out some of the statements after interviewing those concerned, the individuals either signed the statements, thus affirming their supposed accuracy, or swore to the statements before a magistrate . . .. . . Not all of Hurlbut's statements are in the form of affidavits, but all were signed by the respective parties as true reflections of their beliefs, and none of them ever corrected the statements or accused Hurlbut of misrepresentation....I can find no evidence that the primary source affidavits and other documents collected by Philastus Hurlbut, Eber D. Howe, and Arthur B. Deming are other than what they purport to be. The men and women whose names they bear either wrote them or authorized them to be written. Ghost-writing may have colored some of the testimony, but there is no evidence that the vast majority of testators did not write or dictate their own statements or share the attitudes attributed to them . . . " (Anderson, Rodger I. Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reexamined, UT 1990
However, ignoring for the moment Rodger Anderson's fallacious equivocations and argument from silence, he misses several critical problems concerning the "ghost-written" evidence. Even assuming a best-case scenario where all the deposed witnesses agreed to what was written by Hurlbut in their respective affidavits, not only are the affidavits not the witnesses own words and thoughts (which things are essential in determining internal and external consistencies, precision, confidence, credibility, meaning, etc.), and the most blatant examples of leading the witnesses (Hurlbut wasn't just prompting the witnesses what to say, he was actually saying for them what he wanted them to say), but they were also highly vulnerable to fabrication and corrupting manipulations (in ways perhaps completely oblivious to, or unobjectionable to, the deposed), not to mention a willful fraud (the affidavits were represented as legally binding statements made and signed by the deposed, when they were not--and this to the knowledge of both Hurlbut and the deposed). As Richard L. Anderson has said in response to Rodger Anderson, "But why talk of 'preference'? Without direct knowledge, responsible history disappears ....The question is credibility, not form....The problem, however, is not the signatures but the strange similarities and overdone content...". (Anderson, Richard L. , "Review of 'Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reexamined'" Review of Books on the Book of Mormon UT, 1991 III pp. 52-80)
Now, this is not to say that all of what was written in these affidavits was demonstrably false. But, since there is no way of knowing if what was written, either in part or whole, was real, imagined, or fabricated; and, since the credibility of the witnesses and investigator, particularly in light of the knowing fraud committed on each of their parts, is highly suspect; they must all be rejected as corrupted or unreliable--Rodger Anderson's sentiments to the contrary notwithstanding.
The question of "ghost-writing" goes even beyond the affidavits to the very book in which they were initially published. Charles Thompson informs us: "This book was first got up by one D.P. Hurlburt, (who was cut off from our society for adultery, and afterwards put under bonds for threatening the life of Brother Smith,) but he being so notorious a character, it was thought best, (even after he had advertised in the papers that he was about to publish 'Mormonism Unveiled,') to change authors & publish under the name of Howe, (a printer in Painesville, Ohio,) whose mind had become somewhat chafed because his own wife and sister belonged to the Church of the Latter day Saints. So Howe became the adopted father of 'Mormonism Unveiled.'...While all this was going on in Massachusetts, Hulburt is busily engaged carrying out his scheme in Ohio; and finally his character becoming so noted, it was thought best to change authors and publish, under the name of Howe; (Howe purchasing the documents Hulburt had made out, and agreeing to pay in Books, after they were printed and bound.) Thus this scheme of iniquity was carried on by wicked and designing men, for the sake of speculation, and to destroy the character of innocent men who never had done them any harm, and to blast the reputation of those that God has sent to preach the gospel of salvation." (Charles Thompson, "Mormonism Exposed,' 1838, p.168)
To make matters even worse, some of the affidavits were not even signed (see Cunningham, Aron Wright--Dec), or lacked source documentation (see John Spalding-1851, John McKinstry--1877), rendering them unverifiable and thus raising questions whether they may have been complete fabrications and more elaborate frauds than the other affidavits pretended to have been written by the witnesses. J. J. Strang has commented: "Unable to get certificates signed to his own satisfaction, Howe has added an unsigned certificate of one witness, Artemas Cunningham, (Howe's History of Mormonism, p. 286,) and numerous unsupported statements of his own, of what various other persons said and would have said if he could have found them, and asks the world on such exparte, unsworn, unsupported, contradictory, incredible and impertinent testimony and hearsay to believe the Book of Mormon was plagiarized from Spaulding's romance." (Strang, "Book of the Law of the Lord, "p.259)
And, going a step or two further in the wrong direction, at least one affidavit was presented as having been written and signed by the deposed, but it was neither. The following was published in the Quincy Whig:
"A cunning device detected. -- It will be recollected that a few months since an article appeared in several of the papers, purporting to give an account of the origin of the Book of Mormon. How far the writer of that piece has effected his purpose, or what his purposes were in pursuing the course he has, I shall not attempt to say at this time, but shall call upon every candid man to judge in this matter for himself and shall content myself by presenting before the public the other side of the question in the form of a letter as follows: --
Copy of a letter written by Mr. John Haven, of Holliston, Middlesex co. Massachusetts, to his daughter Elizabeth Haven, of Quincy, Adams co. Illinois.
Your Brother Jesse passed through Monson where he saw Mrs. Davidson and her daughter, Mrs. McKinstry, and also Dr. Ely, and spent several hours with them during which time he asked them the following questions, viz: -- Did you, Mrs. Davidson; write a letter to John Storrs giving an account of the origin of the Book of Mormon? Ans. I did not. Did you sign your name to it? Ans. I did not, neither did I ever see the letter until I saw it in the Boston Recorder, the letter was never brought to me to sign, Q. What agency had you in having this letter sent to Mr. Storrs? Ans. D.R. Austin came to my house and asked me some questions, took some minutes on paper, and from those minutes wrote that letter. Ques. Is what is written in the letter true? Ans. In the main it is. Ques. Have you read the Book of Mormon?...Question to Mrs. McKinstry....Ques. Was your name attached to that letter which was sent to Mr. John Storrs, by your order? Ans. No. I never meant that my name should be there." (Charles Thompson, "Mormonism Exposed,' 1838, p.174)
So, to the weighty charges of prejudiced and fraudulent evidence (potentially widespread) can now be added that of forgery, thus sounding the death knell to what little credibility the affidavits as a whole may have once had when viewed less critically. Is there a court in the land that would allow such prejudiced, "ghost-written", or forged affidavits to be admitted into evidence? In fact, wouldn't such affidavits, written as a pretence to legitimacy, constitute perjury? Would this kind of "evidence" pass muster in a scientific or historical peer review? Should it even see the light of day in the marketplace of ideas or the court of public opinion? I am confident in letting the reader decide. And, since these affidavits are the sole evidence proffered in support of the foundational assertion (that the historical parts of the Book of Mormon were the "same as" Spalding's Manuscript Found), it along with the key premise and conclusion of the Spalding theory must be laid to rest.
Last updated 9/22/01