Source:Echoes:Ch10:3:Book of Mormon versus 19th century expectations

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19th century expectations about the Book of Mormon content

19th century expectations about the Book of Mormon content

The Book of Pukei [a satirical newspaper series which parodied the Book of Mormon before it appeared in print] tells in a mocking fashion about the sort of things that Joseph's neighbors in Palmyra expected to find in the Book of Mormon. Thus, because Joseph had been hired to dig for treasure,10 almost all of Cole's account deals with digging for treasure.11 Cole talks about "where the Nephites hid their treasure,"12 which treasure included "a box of gold watches."13 Yet hiding treasures takes up no more than 20 out of 6,604 verses in a book of more than five hundred pages, yielding no more than 0.3 percent of the Book of Mormon (see Helaman 12:18–20; 13:17–23, 30–37; Mormon 1:18–19). Such sparse coverage about hiding treasures can hardly be called a major theme. Furthermore, most of the Book of Mormon references to hiding treasures are contained in prophecy, not historical accounts, the one historical account being a very generalized statement that "the inhabitants thereof began to hide up their treasures in the earth; and they became slippery" (Mormon 1:18). Digging for treasure is mentioned in only one verse of the Book of Mormon, and that type of digging was a regular mining operation "to get ore, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of copper" (Ether 10:23).

Reverend Spaulding's manuscript is mainly a romance, devoting more than a quarter of its pages to the themes of romance, courtship, and marriage.14 This is not surprising in a document written about the same time that Jane Austen's novels appeared. The subject matter of Spaulding's work, however, is foreign to the Book of Mormon. Courtship, of a sort, does show up in the Book of Mormon, but not in a recognizable form for the nineteenth or even the twentieth century. The courtship of Nephi and his brothers, who were sent to Ishmael by Lehi "that his sons should take daughters to wife" (1 Nephi 7:1), is described in the following way:

We went up unto the house of Ishmael, and we did gain favor in the sight of Ishmael, insomuch that we did speak unto him the words of the Lord.
And it came to pass that the Lord did soften the heart of Ishmael, and also his household, insomuch that they took their journey with us down into the wilderness to the tent of our father. (1 Nephi 7:4–5)

The marriages are recorded later in a matter-of-fact style:

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, took one of the daughters of Ishmael to wife; and also, my brethren took of the daughters of Ishmael to wife; and also Zoram took the eldest daughter of Ishmael to wife. (1 Nephi 16:7)

Thus the courtship of Lehi's sons is distinctly different from the courtship of Miles Standish. The courtship of the priests of Noah is even more abrupt and foreign to nineteenth-century-American tastes:

And having tarried in the wilderness, and having discovered the daughters of the Lamanites, they laid and watched them;
And when there were but few of them gathered together to dance, they came forth out of their secret places and took them and carried them into the wilderness. (Mosiah 20:4–5)

And what Jane Austen heroine, even the adulterous Lady Susan, would behave as did the daughter of Jared?

Now the daughter of Jared was exceedingly fair. And it came to pass that she did talk with her father, and said unto him: Whereby hath my father so much sorrow?. . .
. . . Let my father send for Akish, the son of Kimnor; and behold, I am fair, and I will dance before him, and I will please him, that he will desire me to wife; wherefore if he shall desire of thee that ye shall give unto him me to wife, then shall ye say: I will give her if ye will bring unto me the head of my father, the king. (Ether 8:9–10)

Nineteenth-century-American notions of romantic love are far removed from the patterns of Nephite and Jaredite courtships mentioned in the Book of Mormon, clearly separating the book in that regard from the cultural milieu of Joseph Smith's day.

Ethan Smith's work [a work claimed by some to have been relied upon by Joseph for the Book of Mormon's creation] attempts to prove "that the American Indians are the ten tribes of Israel"15 by various arguments and by citing several parallels between the ancient Israelites and the Native Americans. Rather than cite proofs or parallels, the Book of Mormon tells a long, involved story of Lehi's descendants. It asserts rather than argues the Israelite origin of some of the different peoples mentioned in the record. In opposition to the View of the Hebrews, it specifically claims that its peoples "are a remnant of the house of Joseph" (3 Nephi 15:12) and that "the other tribes of the house of Israel . . . are not of this land, neither of the land of Jerusalem, neither in any parts of that land round about" (3 Nephi 15:15–16:1).16 Jesus tells the Nephites that he must leave them and go "also to show myself unto the lost tribes of Israel" (3 Nephi 17:4), which clearly means that the Nephites were not among those tribes. If Ethan Smith's work is any indication of nineteenth-century expectations that Native Americans were the lost ten tribes, the Book of Mormon clearly contradicts that paradigm.[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.