Book of Mormon/Authorship theories/Spalding manuscript
This page is a summary or index. More detailed information on this topic is available on the sub-pages below.
"...Mormon archivists have assembled a large amount of evidence -- some of it impressive -- to rebut the Spalding theory. They scored a coup of sorts when they discovered that a manuscript page from another Mormon book, Doctrine and Covenants, is apparently in the same handwriting as that of the Unidentified Scribe in the Book of Mormon manuscript. It is dated June, 1831 -- fifteen years after Spalding's death.... The average layman can readily note the striking dissimilarities between Spalding's specimens and the others...."
— Edward E. Plowman, Christianity Today (21 October 1977): 38-39).
It is claimed by some that Joseph Smith either plagiarized or relied upon a manuscript by Solomon Spaulding to write the Book of Mormon. There is a small group who hold to the theory that the production of the Book of Mormon was a conspiracy involving Sidney Rigdon, Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery and others. These individuals search for links between Spalding and Rigdon. Joseph Smith is assumed to have been Rigdon's pawn.
To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints responds to these questions
"Spaulding Manuscript," Gospel Topics (lds.org)
Spaulding was born in 1761. He studied at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and was ordained a minister. Later, he left the ministry and lived in New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania until his death in 1816. In his later years, he wrote a novel, which he never published. Spaulding's manuscript is considerably shorter than the Book of Mormon.
Similarities between his manuscript and the Book of Mormon are general and superficial. Spaulding's fiction is about a group of Romans blown off course on a journey to Britain who arrive instead in America. One of the Romans narrates the adventures of the group and the history and culture of the people they find in America. A major portion of the manuscript describes two nations near the Ohio River. After a long era of peace between the two nations, a prince of one nation elopes with a princess of the other nation. Because of political intrigue, the elopement results in a great war between the two nations and the loss of much life but the ultimate vindication of the prince and his princess.
My father, after I had finished saying what I have repeated above, looked at me a moment, 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 [the Book of Mormon] is true. Your mother and sister, Mrs. Athalia Robinson, were present when that book was handed to me in Mentor, Ohio, and all I ever knew about the origin of [the Book of Mormon] was what Parley P. Pratt, Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith and the witnesses who claimed they saw the plates have told me, and in all of my intimacy with Joseph Smith he never told me but one story.
—Sidney Rigdon to his son John, just prior to Sidney's death. 
The theory requires a second manuscript that doesn't exist, with invented contents, and the invention of a means of getting the alleged manuscript to Joseph Smith via Sidney Rigdon
Modern supporters of the Spalding authorship theory simply ignore the inconvenient fact that the extant Spalding manuscript recovered in the late 19th century bears no resemblance to the Book of Mormon, that it was an unfinished draft, and that no postulated second manuscript has been discovered.
They also ignore the complete lack of any persuasive evidence for contact between Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith prior to the Book of Mormon's publication.
Until the purported second manuscript appears, all these critics have is a nonexistent document which they can claim says anything they want. This is doubtlessly the attraction of the "theory" and shows the lengths to which critics will go to disprove the Book of Mormon.
It is interesting to consider that the best explanation such critics can propose requires that they invent a document, then invent its contents, and then invent a means of getting the document to Joseph via Rigdon.
See: Solomon Spaulding, Manuscript Found: The Complete Original "Spaulding Manuscript", edited by Kent P. Jackson, (Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1996). off-site
- What is the Spalding Theory of Book of Mormon authorship?—
Brief Summary: One of the earliest secular theories of Book of Mormon authorship was that Joseph plagiarized the unpublished and unfinished manuscript of a novel written by the Reverend Solomon Spalding (1761–1816). Spalding was a lapsed Calvinist clergyman and author of an epic tale of the ancient Native American "Mound Builders." The theory postulates that Spalding wrote his manuscript in biblical phraseology and read it to many of his friends. He subsequently took the manuscript to Pittsburg, where it fell into the hands of a Mr. Patterson, in whose office Sidney Rigdon worked, and that through Sidney Rigdon it came into the possession of Joseph Smith and was made the basis of the Book of Mormon. (Click here for full article)
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- Is there a second Spalding manuscript?—
Brief Summary: Because of the obvious lack of relationship between the extant, unfinished Spalding manuscript titled Manuscript Story, it is postulated by critics that there is a second, yet-to-be-discovered Spalding manuscript called Manuscript Found. Critics anticipate that this alleged second manuscript will someday be located. Some claim that attempts to claim that Spalding only wrote one manuscript have failed, despite the fact that a second manuscript has never been located, and the first manuscript was never finished. (Click here for full article)
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- Sidney Rigdon as Book of Mormon author/co-conspirator—
Brief Summary: Some claim that Sidney Rigdon authored the Book of Mormon, and conspired with Joseph Smith well ahead of time to compose it and start a religion. (Click here for full article)
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- Critics found it difficult to explain Book of Mormon before Spalding theory—
Brief Summary: Initial critics of the Book of Mormon tended to take one of two stances—either: 1) The Book of Mormon was a clumsy, obvious forgery upon which no intelligent person would waste time; and/or 2) Joseph Smith was the Book of Mormon's obvious author. Ironically, with the appearance of the Spalding theory, critics quickly began to claim that Joseph Smith could not have written the Book of Mormon, and attributed the Book of Mormon's writing to Spalding and (usually) Sidney Rigdon. (Click here for full article)
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- Relationship between Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon—
Brief Summary: Despite clear evidence that Joseph met Sidney after the publication of the Book of Mormon, some claim that evidence will eventually appear which proves that Joseph and Sidney met prior to late 1830. It is claimed that attempts to argue that conspiracy between Joseph and Sidney is implausible have failed, and that attempts to paint Sidney Rigdon as a "saint" have failed. (Click here for full article)
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- Rejection of the Spalding theory by critics of the Book of Mormon—
Brief Summary: Many critics of the Book of Mormon reject the Spalding theory as unworkable. If Mormonism's most prominent critics find the Spalding theory unworkable, then what motivates those who tenuously hold to this theory and continue to pursue it? (Click here for full article)
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- Early reactions to the Book of Mormon—
Brief Summary: The Book of Mormon was met by a storm of criticism from early critics. This page archives examples of these early responses. (Click here for full article)
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- Joseph as author and proprietor—
Brief Summary: Critics charge that Joseph Smith slipped up by listing himself as the "author and proprietor" of the Book of Mormon on the title page of the first edition. (Click here for full article)
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- Parallels between the Spalding manuscript and the Book of Mormon—
Brief Summary: It is claimed that there are significant parallels between the extant, unfinished Spalding manuscript titled Manuscript Story and the Book of Mormon. (Click here for full article)
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- The Hurlbut Spalding affidavits—
Brief Summary: Joseph's neighbors claimed that Joseph had copied the Spalding manuscript (Click here for full article)
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- Vernal Holley map—Book of Mormon place names from North America?—
Brief Summary: Common place names in the region around New York used as Book of Mormon names? (Click here for full article)
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- Rex C. Reeve, Jr. "What is 'Manuscript Found'?" in Manuscript Found: The Complete Original "Spaulding" Manuscript, edited by Kent B. Jackson, Vol. 11 in the Specialized Monographs Series (Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1996), footnote 47.