Source:Echoes:Ch10:1:Environmental theory of Book of Mormon authorship

Flaws in the "environmental" theory of the Book of Mormon

Flaws in the "environmental" theory of the Book of Mormon

Environmental explanations of the Book of Mormon have been popular among critics in the twentieth century as alternatives for Joseph Smith's explanation of the book's origins.1 The environmentalists attempt to explain the Book of Mormon as a product of the cultural milieu of early-nineteenth-century America, a backdrop that presumably explains all the features of the book. They assume that Joseph Smith wanted to write a history of the ancient inhabitants of America. Although many people, including Latter-day Saints, have imprecisely described the Book of Mormon as a record of "the ancient inhabitants of the Americas,"2 the book explains itself more narrowly—as "an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites" (Book of Mormon title page).

Even so, environmentalists choose to place the Book of Mormon in "the broad contours of public discussion about the ancient inhabitants of America which had taken place or was taking place by 1830 when the Book of Mormon first appeared."3 Presumably, for the environmentalists, the Book of Mormon was the sort of book that anyone in Joseph Smith's day could have or would have written as a history of the ancient inhabitants of the Americas. Unwittingly, these observers have provided good examples of exactly what the people of Joseph's day thought a "history" like the Book of Mormon should contain. Yet the book does not contain those things; it is simply not that sort of book. The environmentalists need to explain why, if the Book of Mormon is merely a typical product of Joseph Smith's environment, it differs so much—in subject matter, phraseology, and descriptions of particulars—from the kind of book that those who lived in Joseph's day expected.[1]


  1. John Gee, "The Wrong Type of Book," in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), Chapter 10, references silently removed—consult original for citations.