Gimel. “Book of Mormon.” The Christian Watchman (Boston) 12, no. 40 (7 October 1831).
For the Watchman.
This is a volume of about six hundred pages in octavo, written by Josiah Smith, jun. Did not this book claim the honours of divine revelation, and had it not been received as a substitute for the Bible, by the followers of Smith, who call themselves Mormonites, a review would have been needless; the follies and extravagances of the work itself would have consigned it to the oblivion which it merits. It is, however, a melancholy fact, that a very considerable number of well-meaning people are imposed upon by it. It seems therefore proper, that some brief notice should be taken of it.
Smith pretends that he translated the work from inscriptions on certain metallic plates, found in the Township of Manchester, in the county of Ontario, New-York. Smith does not pretend that he was able, without a miracle, to decipher a single character inscribed on the plates; of course, the plates were not a revelation to him, and they can be none to us: we can trace this revelation no higher than to Josiah Smith, jr. and its credibility depends wholly upon the evidence we have that he was divinely inspired. The inscriptions on the plates are said to have been made by a succession of prophets: the first and most eminent of whom was Nephi, the son of Lehi. The account he gives of himself, is, that in the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah, his father, being warned of God, fled from Jerusalem, three day journey into the wilderness, and encamped, with his family and effects, in a valley by a river, near the border of the Red Sea. This, it must be confessed, was a most extraordinary journey; to go from Jerusalem to the Red Sea, with his wife, children, tents and baggage, in three days, was to travel with unparalleled celerity, page 7 and 8. The plates were inscribed in the language of the Egyptians, see page 5. As Nephi was a descendant from Joseph, probably Smith would have us understand, that the Egyptian language was retained in the family of Joseph; of this, however, we have no evidence.
After Lehi and his family had wandered in the wilderness, near the Red Sea, eight years, where they supported themselves by hunting, they came to a fertile country, which they call the land Bountiful. This country, according to the description Nephi has given of the course of his travels, must have been on the coast of the Sea of Arabia, or the Indian Ocean, which is a barren, sandy desert. Here Nephi built, rigged and victualled a ship to sail to the land of promise, p. 47.
The land of promise was, of course, North America. The historical part of the hook is, all of it, thus fabulous and extravagant. Arabia is represented as an uninhabited wilderness, where they could encamp on the most fertile spots, and support themselves by killing wild animals; whereas the truth is, that every habitable part of that country was at that time occupied by tribes, the most fierce, and the most jealous of the intrusion of strangers, of any people in the world. It is calculated that there are now, about 17 millions of inhabitants in Arabia; and six hundred years before Christ, when Lehi and his family are said to have passed through it, there were probably double that number. To believe the book of Mormon, we must suppose that these emigrants traversed almost the whole length of the Arabian Gulf, without finding any inhabitants, where any body else would have encountered a number of populous cities; and that they discovered a country almost equal to paradise, where no body else can find any thing but a sandy, barren desert.
After the arrival of Nephi and his friends in the land of promise, that is, America, they found plenty of oxen and cows and horses and all sorts of cattle, p. 49. Here they settled and flourished, and we have a history of kings, their wars, revolutions and successions for a number of hundreds of years. Christianity was planted amongst them, and, even, it is pretended that Jesus Christ came personally amongst them; and after all, the Nephites became corrupted, and for their apostacy were totally exterminated.
Of the truth of this history, we have no evidence only what is written on the plates, and that writing no man can read. Smith, we are told, was assisted by an angel to translate the plates.
This angel may, for ought we know, be thoroughly acquainted with the Egyptian language; but he is certainly a very poor English scholar; and if he is as defective in Egyptian grammar, as he is in English, we can place very little confidence in the integrity of the translation. The prophetic part of the book, so far as we can know any thing concerning it, relates to events already past.
The doctrine taught in it, is similar to that of the free-will Baptists. There are many important truths interspersed in the work, and, as a whole, it appears to have been the production of a strong uncultivated mind, aided by a very lively imagination. As a work of imagination, it might have passed as an ill-written romance, and we should have been at liberty to read it, or not, as we thought proper; but as it demands our faith as a divine revelation, it becomes our duty to examine it.
Nephi says, p. 114, “Wo be unto him that shall say, we have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough.” P. 116, Wherefore, because ye have Bible, “ye need not suppose that it contains all my words.”―“For behold I shall speak unto the Jews, and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the Nephites, and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the other tribes of the house of Israel, which I have led away, and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the nations of the earth, and they shall write it.” Nephi, however, was no prophet, was not under divine inspiration; for he says, p. 50, “Nevertheless, I do not write any thing upon plates, save it be that I think it to be sacred. And now if I do err, even did they err of old. Not that I would excuse myself because of other men, but because [column 2] of the weakness which is in me, according to the flesh, I would excuse myself.” No man who was writing under the influence of the infallible Spirit of divine inspiration, would suppose himself to be liable to err, neither would he have traduced the ancient prophets, by charging them with having erred. Nephi is a creature of fancy, generated in the brains of Josiah Smith, jr.; but he, as well as the succession of prophets which followed him, were kings, and the whole fabric is calculated to establish a religious despotism: and if Smith can gain followers, and they allow his claims of divine inspiration, he will, of course, become their absolute ruler.
In the close of the book is inserted the testimony of three witnesses, who say that an angel brought the plates from heaven, and laid them before them. But who knows whether the plates which the angel brought from heaven, are the same that Smith says he found in Manchester?―Another set of eight witnesses, testify, that Smith showed them the plates, and that the engraving on them appeared very ancient and curious.―This, however, does not prove that the engraving on the plates is the original of what is written in Smith’s book.