The Origins of Mormonism

Did divine encounters and historical records really come to Joseph Smith, or did he copy and paste from other people?

Reference Links
The First Vision and Other People's Visions
The Golden Pot Story
View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon

Video Transcript

Where did Mormonism come from? Is it based on literal events, or did Joseph Smith draw inspiration from somewhere else?

Smith’s first vision was first recorded in 1832. But others in the area had published similar visions years before Smith did. They were

Stirred by a “passage of scripture” - Charles Finney 1821
Went into the woods - CF
….in the morning - Elias Smith 1816
Knelt to pray but couldn’t speak - CF
Felt that others were around - CF
Seized by a power, then despair, then weakness - CF
Felt near to death - Norris Stearns 1815
Saw some remarkable light - ES
like “above the brightness of the sun” - NS
Saw God and Jesus in bodily form with indescribable glory - NS
Told all churches were corrupt - Solomon Chamberlain 1816
More specifically, that their professors were corrupt - Asa Wild 1823
And there was more information that couldn’t be written - AW

Of these visionaries, one was a well known preacher who visited Smith’s community, one met with Smith’s family, and one had his vision published in the Smith’s local newspaper, all before Joseph recorded his vision.

Smith also claimed that he received the golden plates, a record of the ancient Nephite people, from the angel Moroni in 1827. That same year, an English translation of a story called the Golden Pot was published about a man who received a record of the ancient Atlantean people from the spirit Lindhorst. The author had even been promoted in Smith’s local newspaper. The stories’ similarities include:

- Both men are meditating when they see a great light, get shocked, and meet a messenger in a vision. Both have three visions in one evening.
- Both are called to transcribe records from an old civilization and are promised a seer device.
- Both messengers are the descendants and archivists of their civilizations, are called “Prince of the Spirits”, and can appear in the form of an amphibian.
- Going to retrieve the records, both men encounter an evil power, are chastised for not being serious enough, and told to wait one year to see if they will be allowed to receive them.
- Both visit vast chambers with treasures, breastplates, dazzling light from an unknown source, a library, and tripods with Egyptian artifacts.
- Both men are injured by evil spirits, pass their final test and get access to their records on the fall equinox.

The story content of the Book of Mormon, published in 1830, could easily have been inspired by a book called View of the Hebrews, first published in 1823 in Poultney, Vermont. Both books are about

- Hebrews leaving the Old World, sailing to the uninhabited Americas, and becoming the ancestors of the Native Americans.
- They split into two people groups, one barbarous and one civilized. There is a change from monarchy to republic.
- A messiah figure visits. The Christian gospel is preached in the Americas. Whole chapters of the book of Isaiah are quoted.
- After long wars the barbarous eventually destroy the civilized. But there is a lost book of God left buried in a hill.

Oliver Cowdery, a witness to the Book of Mormon, was from Poultney, VT, and met Joseph just after the second printing of View of the Hebrews. Later, Smith even quoted and cited the book in an article.

So all the necessary building blocks of Smith’s new religion were close at hand, and even though he supplied plenty of his own details, its fairly obvious that they’re hung on the framework of these sources. So is it more likely that Smith’s experiences were really genuine, or that they developed from his own absorbent imagination?