SIMILARITY #6: A SACRED BOOK LOST OR BURIED BY THE NATIVE AMERICANS
This similarity, like the others, fails to account for the complexity of the Book of Mormon and the contradictions between the two works. VOTH claims that the Native American tradition about a sacred book that was taken from them is similar to the Lost Tribes of Israel being exiled and fulfilling the prophecy of Amos 8:11-12. The BOM claims that the Nephites had brass plates that contained the writings of the prophets up until the reign of Zedekiah and were used to preserve the commandments of God and preserve the language of the people while in the Americas. I will now give a more in-depth analysis of the differences between the two works to show that Joseph Smith did not copy Ethan Smith’s work.
VOTH states:“Doctor Boudinot gives it as from good authority, that the Indians have a tradition ‘that the book which the white people have was once theirs. That while they had this book things went well with them; they prospered exceedingly; but that other people got it from them; that the Indians lost their credit; offended the Great Spirit, and suffered exceedingly from the neighboring nations; and that the Great Spirit then took pity on them, and directed them to this country” (Smith,1825, http://www.thechristianidentityforum.net/downloads/View-America.pdf, p. 47 [p. 115]). This tradition, according to VOTH, is no doubt proof that the Native Americans have a memory of their time in ancient Israel and their being exiled. Because of their wickedness, they lost the word of God and were attacked by the surrounding nations, but God had mercy on them and directed them to the Americas.
This quote comes as an isolated paragraph in a long list of “evidence” proving that Native American traditions have their origin in ancient Israel. He continues by stating that the Native Americans have traditions of the “longevity of the ancients” (p. 47) [p. 115] such as Adam and Methuselah, that there was a great flood and those who survived built “a great canoe” (p. 48) [p. 116], that they built a high place and “lost their language” (p. 48) [p. 116], that their ancestors “had a common father” with “twelve sons”, like the Biblical Jacob (p. 48) [p.116], that they had a “sanctified rod, which budded in one night’s time” like the rod of Moses (p. 48) [p. 116], they have feasts similar to pentecostal feasts (p. 48) [p.116-117], they never eat the “hollow of the thigh” of what they kill (p. 48) [p. 117], they give the first of their harvests to the Great Spirit (p. 49) [p. 119], they offer burnt sacrifices (p. 49) [p. 119-120], they have traditions of Abel being murdered by Cain (p. 49) [p. 120-121], they have a high priest who wears sacred ornaments and is anointed with bear’s oil (p. 49) [p. 121], the high priest makes a yearly atonement for sin (p. 50) [p. 121], they fast, abstain from sex and purify themselves before going to war (p. 50) [p. 122], they bury their dead with their fine belongings (p. 51) [p. 125], etc. Based on these descriptions from VOTH, it seems that Ethan Smith is using a shot-gun approach to find every single Native American tradition that bears any similarity to the traditions of ancient Israel. It is no wonder, then, that the Book of Mormon and VOTH would deal with such similar subject matter, even though they are completely separate and unique works.
Ethan Smith argues that the Native American traditions of a sacred book that was taken from them is in fulfillment of Amos 8:11 about the Lost Tribes of Israel having a famine of “hearing the words of the Lord.” He never argues that the Natives had the Old Testament with them in the Americas, but that these traditions refer to their time spent in ancient Israel (p. 47) [p. 115].
Ethan Smith gives more details about this Native American tradition:
“It has been stated that the Indians have a tradition that as they once, away in another country, had the old divine speech, the book of God; they shall at some time have it again, and shall then be happy” (p. 53) [p. 130]. Once again, VOTH argues that the Native Americans believed they had a sacred book in their homeland, and not in the Americas.
Not only does VOTH argue that the Natives are referring to the Bible that was taken away from the Ten Tribes of Israel when they became exiled, but he also argues that the Native Americans may have had Jewish Phylacteries that were worn on the forehead in ancient Israel. He states:
“An old Indian informed him that his fathers in this country had not long since had a book which they had for a long time preserved. But having lost the knowledge of reading it, they concluded it would be of no further use to them; and they buried it with an Indian chief” (p. 90) [p. 223]. Ethan Smith goes on to argue that this preserved book may have been Phylacteries, or pieces of parchment that were worn on the forehead which contained select verses from the books of Moses. Ethan Smith then goes on to argue that such a phylactery may have been found in his present day, but they somehow were misplaced by those who found it.
Ethan Smith describes the phylacteries further: “The writer conversed with Rev. Mr. Frey (the celebrated Jewish preacher in this country) upon this subject; who could give no account of the incident from any Jewish custom. He in formed that the Jew s have a custom of burying their leaves of phylacteries when worn out and illegible; as they had also any old leaf of a Hebrew bible. They would
roll it up in some paper, and put it under ground from respect. But these leaves were w hole and good, and w ere sewed up (as has been stated) in thick raw hide, and with the sinews of some animal; a thing which no Jew in Christendom would have done.” (p. 90) [p. 222]. The description bears no resemblance to the origin of the Book of Mormon or the Brass Plates, nor any of the other records mentioned in the Book of Mormon or LDS history.
“We conclude then the wearing of these phylacteries was a noted custom in Israel at the time of their final expulsion from Canaan. And it is natural to believe that Israel, being in exilement, would preserve these fragments of their better days with the utmost care. Wherever they went then, they would have these phylacteries with them. If they brought them to this country, they would keep them with diligence. They would most naturally become some of the most precious contents in their holy ark…old Indian in Stockbridge to Dr. West, that his fathers had buried, not long ago, a book which they could not read. And it may give a striking view of the vigilant care of the Watchman of Israel, who never slumbers…to bring to light that outcast people, who were to be exhibited to the world in the last days” (p. 90-91) [p. 223-225]. The fact that the Lost Tribes of Israel had the writings of Moses before being exiled, and that the Native Americans may have had Jewish Phylacteries shows that this similarity is nothing like the sacred records spoken of in the Book of Mormon.
The Brass Plates most resemble the supposed ancient Native American traditions, but the similarities are very broad and do not suggest that ideas had to have been stolen from VOTH in order to write the BOM. The Brass Plates found in the BOM are a complicated record different from anything described by VOTH. The two accounts of sacred books differ significantly in time, location, content, and purpose.
Lehi was commanded to get the Brass Plates from Jerusalem. “For behold, Laban hath the record of the Jews and also a genealogy of my forefathers, and they are engraven upon plates of brass.” (1 Nephi 3:3). This occurred around 600 B.C. which was after the expulsion of the Ten Tribes.
Plates of Brass contain (1 Nephi 5:10-16):
- The “five books of Moses,” gave an account of creation, Adam, and is a record of the Jews to the reign of Zedekiah
- The prophecies of Jeremiah
- A genealogy of Lehi’s and Laban’s fathers
- Lehi prophesies that the Brass Plates will go to all the nations of his seed: “These plates of brass should go forth unto all nations, kindred, tongues, and people who were of his seed. Wherefore, he said that these plates of brass should never perish; neither should they be dimmed any more by time…insomuch that we could preserve the commandments of the Lord unto our children.” (1 Nephi 5)
- The Brass Plates are similar to the Bible but the Brass Plates have more records. (1 Nephi 13:23) “The book that thou beholdest is a record of the Jews…and it is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass, save there are not so many”
- Nephi took the sacred records with him when his people fled from the Lamanites: (2 Nephi 5:12)= “And I, Nephi, had also brought the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass; and also the ball, or compass…”
- The Brass Plates were important in preserving the language of the people. (Omni 1:14)= “And they discovered a people, who were called the people of Zarahemla. Now, there was great rejoicing among the people of Zarahemla; and also Zarahemla did rejoice exceedingly, because the Lord had sent the people of Mosiah with the plates of brass which contained the record of the Jews.”
- They were written in the language of the Egyptians. (Mosiah 1:4)= “For he having been taught in the language of the Egyptians therefore he could read these engravings…”
The Brass Plates refers to many scriptures and prophets that are not found in Bible: (1 Nephi 19)
- Prophecies of Joseph: There will be a remnant of his seed that will be preserved. A seer will be raised with the same name.
- 3 Nephi 10:17= “Behold, our father Jacob also testified concerning a remnant of the seed of Joseph. And behold, are not we a remnant of the seed of Joseph? And these things which testify of us, are they not written upon the plates of brass which our father Lehi brought out of Jerusalem?”
- Prophecies of Jacob: Saw a ripped portion of Joseph’s coat, which had been preserved, and prophesied that a righteous branch would be preserved while the rest would be destroyed.
- Prophecies of Zenos: Christ will be buried in a sepulcher/three days of darkness which would be a sign of his death to those on the Isles of the sea. (Alma 33:13) “Ye must believe what Zenos said; for, behold he said: Thou has turned away they judgments because of they Son.”
- (Alma 33:3-11) Prophecies of Zenock: God will come to earth and will be killed by wicked and will be raised up/ (Alma 33:16) “For behold, he said: Thou art angry, O Lord, with this people, because they will not understand thy mercies which thou has bestowed upon them because of thy Son…and because the people would not understand his words they stoned him to death.
- Prophecies of Neum: Jesus will be crucified.
- Ezias: Prophesied of Christ, along with Zenos, Zenock, Isaiah, and Jeremiah.
VOTH lost book:
- Identified as possibly referring to the Phylacteries used by ancient Israelites.
- Identified as the Bible, but it was lost after the expulsion of the Ten Tribes from Canaan because of their wickedness.
- The ten tribes may have brought phylacteries to the new world.
- They forgot how to read them and then sealed them up in leather bags and buried them.
- They were written in Hebrew.
- They were most likely carried in small sacks, which is similar to the Ark of the Covenant.
- They were possibly written on old dark yellow parchment similar to Arab parchment (p. 91).
BOM Plates of Brass:
- 5 books of Moses
- Prophecies from Moses to Jeremiah and reign of King Zedekiah
- Genealogy of Lehi’s fathers
- Written on brass plates
- Written in Egyptian
- Additional prophecies from unknown prophets Zenos, Zenock, Neum, Ezias, and unknown prophecies from Joseph and Jacob.
- Prophets prophesied of Jesus Christ, his death, and his Resurrection.
- Brought from Jerusalem to the Americas.