4.2.1. The subsequent schisms and the truth about the Book of Mormon
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… the prestige of the main Mormon church remained intact. In the 21st century the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of Brigham Young, the main body of Mormons, counts around 15 million members worldwide. The Golgothic beginnings and the rapid growth of the movement are aspects that apparently confirm the special destiny of Mormonism. But the truth is that the success of the spreading is not a sign of divine favors, as any member of a cult prefers to interpret it, but the manifestation of chance and a reflection of the low level of culture of the population. The Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses had a similar evolution, and they also claim that they have overcome the obstacles due to divine favors. Hundreds of sects and religious organizations came into being during the awakenings. If any of these had survived the trial of history, they would have pretended that they had a special destiny.
At the time of the Second Great Awakening the American nation was virtually a nation without history. And a nation without history is like a man without a soul or without an identity. So, Smith forged a history for the American continent, a history which conveniently conferred divine legitimacy to the new nation and his new cult. He linked and conditioned the eschatological destiny of the world to the eschatological destiny of America, promoting nationalism and American exceptionalism. He stated things that many Americans wanted to hear, even if they were contrary to the truth. In the 19th century the Book of Mormon could not be confuted because the history and the geography of the American continent were little known and the mass media was relying only on paper products: books and newspapers. But today, in the light of 21st-century knowledge, the Book of Mormon is nothing but a religious fiction, a fabricated history arrogantly presented by Smith as the Word of God.
The presumed authenticity of Smith’s sacred mission is supported by his image of unlearned – a traditional feature of prophets which proves that their teachings do not have human origin. Muhammad was an illiterate, and yet he was able to transmit the entire Quran. Similarly, Jesus was only the son of a carpenter. But illiteracy does not necessarily imply divine presence. Ellen White, contemporary with Smith and the prophet of the Seventh-day Adventism, was also an illiterate and she claimed similar revelations. Joanna Southcott was a completely uneducated maid, but she established a sect of over 100,000 members. And last but not least, the Drummer of Niklashausen was a mere shepherd, and yet his sermons attracted huge crowds.
The pièce de résistance of the Mormon faith consists in the infallibility of the Book of Mormon. The Mormons say it is the Word of God, the most accurate book that ever existed, surpassing in correctness even the Bible: “the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”1105 By contrast, the Bible is accepted as the Word of God as long as it is correctly translated.1106 Apparently, the Book of Mormon could not have been written in such a short time unless the author was divinely inspired. Smith, at the age of 20, could not invent an entire history of a continent:
Where will you find another work remotely approaching the Book of Mormon in scope and daring? It appears suddenly out of nothing – not an accumulation of twenty-five years like the Koran, but a single staggering performance, … an uncanny consistency that is never caught in a slip or contradiction. … As a sheer tour-de-force there is nothing like it. The theory that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon simply will not stand examination.1107
However, the current evidence show that the manuscript of the Book of Mormon suffered an evolution before it was published, being polished over a longer period of time.
Historical support is the backbone of any religion because the scenarios of the future become legit only if they rely on scenarios of the past. Christianity, for example, relies on the events described in the Bible, confirmed through geographical, historical, literary and archeological evidence. Palestine, the Roman Empire, the city of Jerusalem or the existence of Jesus Christ, among many other things, are proved historical facts. By contrast, Smith reinvented the past of the people of Israel and of the American continent to support the glorious future of Mormonism and of the American nation. The Book of Mormon depicts places and events that cannot be located in space and time. The few illustrated maps within the book do not correspond to any landform on the globe. There is no evidence to support the slightest thing from the Book of Mormon. While all the empires of the world left behind proofs of their existence through coins, inscriptions, jewelry, weapons or buildings, there is absolutely no material evidence to support the existence of the three great civilizations described in the Book of Mormon. On the contrary, all the archaeological evidence show the opposite. Likewise, there is not a single evidence that Jesus descended in America or that Christianity existed before the coming of Europeans (Book of Mormon, Mormon 9:32); there are no evidence about the “reformed Egyptian,” and there are no evidence about the extensive use of metals; in reality Native Americans mainly used stone and wood.
The Mormon Thomas Stuart Ferguson was a member of the department of anthropology at the Brigham Young University and a fierce defender of the Book of Mormon. He was one of the first who made excavations and conducted research in Central America, hoping to bring to surface tangible proofs regarding the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. In the middle of the 20th century, after he invested hundreds of thousands of dollars and 25 years of archaeological work, Ferguson finally came to admit that he wasted his talent for a lie.1108
The Book of Mormon contains even factual errors. It wrongly describes the presence in America of horses, goats, donkeys, elephants, cows, sheep, wheat or barley – elements that had been totally absent from the flora and fauna of the continent (Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 18:28; 2 Nephi 12:7; Mosiah 9:9). In contradiction to the Bible, the Book of Mormon says that Jesus was born in Jerusalem (Alma 7:10), and not Bethlehem. Also, Lehi built a temple in America as Solomon did in Jerusalem. But Judaism rejects this scenario because it is forbidden to build a temple in a different location than Mount Moriah.
The Book of Mormon even lacks originality. The main themes of the book – American exceptionalism, the Lost Tribes of Israel and Parousia – were major concepts of the Second Great Awakening. The Bible was a source of inspiration as well: Lehi is a copy of Adam and Eve, while Laman and Nephi are a repetition of Cain and Abel. Laman is the rebellious son as Cain, while Nephi is the obedient son similar to Abel. And, as Cain killed Abel, the Lamanites destroyed the Nephites. The Book of Mormon copied even the biblical language, using certain linguistic constructions, expressions, phrases or words meant to create the impression that it was divinely inspired. But John Turner, Southcott’s adept, also copied the biblical language in his prophetic works about Shiloh.
Not even the First Vision is unique; Smith barbarously copied themes from other contemporary accounts to forge his own version. Several dozen visionary stories published between 1783 and 1830 intersect more or less with Smith’s version. In all cases the First Vision came at a distance of a couple of years after the experience of the others. For example, a certain Norris Stearns had a vision in 1815 and described it in the work The religious experience, while Smith claimed he had it in 1842. They both say they were close to death, they both were interrupted by a light, they both saw God the Father and God the Son in human form, they both were incapable to describe what they had seen, they both used the word “pillar” in their descriptions. The cousin of Joseph Smith Jr., Elias Smith, published his visions in 1816. The comparison between the two reveals the same situation: they both entered a wood in the morning, they both saw a light, they both met with the divinity. A certain Solomon Chamberlain met with the Smith family in 1829 and confessed them his worries regarding the corruption of the existing cults, preceding the alleged concern of Smith. And last but not least, Charles Grandison Finney described his vision in 1821 and visited Smith’s community for the first time in 1831: they both entered alone in the woods to pray, they both struggled to pray, they were both overwhelmed by a mysterious power that surrounded them, they both fell into despair and they both felt weak. In many of these cases of comparison the similitude is not only ideological, but also textual.1109 These aspects lead to the conclusion that either God attempted to restore the true Christianity through a couple of dozens of American prophets or Smith’s statements are shameless plagiarisms. There is no reason to accept the First Vision as a veritable historical event; quite the opposite, there are lots of reasons to consider it fake. Smith altered it several times, there was no witness to confirm it, he reported it a decade after the moment he, allegedly, had experienced it and it fits the pattern of the inept American visionary experiences from the beginning of the 1800’s.
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