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CES Reply: View of the Hebrews – Part I

This is an excerpt from “A Reply from a Former CES Employee.” The entire document can be downloaded for free.

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This is a line-by-line response to Jeremy Runnells’ “Letter to a CES Director: Why I Lost My Testimony.” Jeremy’s words are in green, the color of life, while mine are in black, the color of darkness.


8. There was a book published in 1825 Vermont entitled View of the Hebrews.

There was, indeed. And, over a century later, it was republished by Brigham Young University, which suggests that the Church is not at all concerned if people read View of the Hebrews and compare it to the Book of Mormon. (They still have the entire V of the H text posted on the BYU website.) Incidentally, Joseph Smith was equally unconcerned, and he even cited View of the Hebrews in 1842 as evidence for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. It would be a very curious thing, indeed, for a plagiarist to call attention to his source material.

To read a single page of Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews is to instantly recognize that the Book of Mormon did not plagiarize from it. In fact, for the benefit of those reading this, let’s do precisely that. I’m going to pluck a paragraph at random and reproduce it here and let readers make a determination for themselves.

So here it is: the second paragraph from Chapter Three of View of the Hebrews, entitled “The Present State of Judah and Israel.” Enjoy:

The whole present population of the Jews has been calculated at five millions. But the probability is, (as has been thought by good judges,) that they are far more numerous.* One noted character says, that in Poland and part of Turkey, there are at least three millions of this people; and that among them generally, there is an unusual spirit of enquiry relative to Christianity. Mr. Noah says, that in the States of Barbary, their number exceeds seven hundred thousand. Their population in Persia, China, India, and Tartary, is stated (in a report of the London Society for the conversion of the Jews,) to be more than three hundred thousand. In Western Asia the Jews are numerous; and they are found in almost every land.

In which part of the Book of Mormon can we expect to find Joseph’s bastardized version of this?

And lest you think I’m plucking out a section that is unrepresentative of the majority of the View of the Hebrews text, feel free to reproduce any other section from V of the H and look for where Joseph adapted it in to his own allegedly derivative work. In addition, View of the Hebrews is just over 47,000 words long, compared to over 265,000 words in the Book of Mormon. If Joseph was just ripping off V of the H, how is it that Joseph’s version is more than five times longer than his source material? True, Peter Jackson was able to pad out The Hobbit into a trilogy of three-hour movies, but this is even more ridiculous than that. (And The Hobbit movies were pretty darn ridiculous.)

You’re making an apples-to-oranges comparison. View of the Hebrews is a polemical essay about Ethan Smith’s theory that the Indians are Israelites. It is not, like the Book of Mormon, a narrative history. It’s a recitation of historical facts and speculation; it has no story at all. In addition, the “evidences” that Ethan Smith provides to link the Indians to Israel are completely ignored in the Book of Mormon. You won’t find chiasmus or much in the way of King James-style English in V of the H. There are no Nephites, Lamanites, Jaredites, or Liahonas, or cureloms or cumoms, or any Book of Mormon proper names or places. Even Captain Kidd is nowhere to be seen.

This is like comparing Tolstoy’s War and Peace to an eBook titled “The Invasion of France 1814” by Captain Frederick William O. Maycock, D.S.O. Let’s even pretend Captain Maycock and Tolstoy wrote their books in the same language and at the same time. Both likely reference similar historical events, but Maycock’s work wouldn’t do anything to help Tolstoy write his masterpiece, even though they may share common opinions and similarly understand widely accepted historical facts.

Still, let’s take a look at your comparison.

View of the Hebrews compared to the Book of Mormon:


Source: B.H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, p.240-242,324-344

Poor B.H. Roberts. His work on this subject has been so woefully misrepresented that it’s almost criminal. We’ll get to that later. 

My initial plan was to make another chart where I add a fourth column describing why these supposed parallels are largely insignificant and, in some cases, ridiculous, but each point requires more text than a small box can allow. So I guess we have to do this the old fashioned way.

A. Both books reference the destruction of Jerusalem
Well, sort of, and one much more than the other. Ethan Smith begins his essay with a discussion of the sacking of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD, and then proceeds to describe all that immediately followed, lamenting the evils of Thadeus, Felix, Nero, and other Roman notables and quoting all the scripture in which Jesus foretold Jerusalem’s sad fate. His entire first chapter is a historical recounting of the fate of Jerusalem after Christ, citing events and figures that play no role in the Book of Mormon whatsoever. More than 1/5th of its entire text is a synopsis and commentary on a slice of Palestinian history completely removed from anything in the Book of Mormon.

In contrast, the Book of Mormon recounts the family of Lehi escaping from the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem 670 years earlier and never mentions the Romans at all. Furthermore, its narrative leaves Jerusalem behind entirely after the 14th of its 531 pages and never goes back. With the exception of Jerusalem and Jesus Himself, none of the people, places, or events referenced in V of H’s first 47 pages correlate in any way to the Book of Mormon. In content, length, and literary structure, the treatment of both books of two different historical accounts couldn’t be more different.

Again, let’s remember what View of the Hebrews is. As a treatise postulating an Israeli genealogy for Native Americans, it could not make its case without citing recorded historical events that overlap with events of concern to the Book of Mormon. How many other books have been written about these widely known and researched historical events? Should we assume that all of them have plagiarized each other?

B. Both books reference the Scattering of Israel
This should be considered a subsidiary of the first point, as Ethan Smith describes at great length Israel’s scattering in the context of the Roman sacking of Palestine. The Book of Mormon, however, contains no description of any actual scattering and only makes reference to it in passing and in a much different doctrinal context. Ethan Smith focuses exclusively on the Lost Ten Tribes, which get a few passing mentions but don’t really figure into the Book of Mormon narrative at all.

C. Both books reference the Restoration of the Ten Tribes
Well, yes, but with entirely different purposes and focus. In the Book of Mormon, the Ten Tribes are almost an afterthought – Lehi’s family descend from Joseph, not the Lost Tribes, which is in direct contrast to Ethan Smith’s theory that all Indians come from the Ten Tribes.

D. Both books reference Hebrews leaving the Old World for the New World
Yes, in very different contexts. Ethan Smith postulates that the Lost Tribes wandered into the Americas over the Bering Strait. Furthermore, he doesn’t tell us any specific expeditions thing about any specific people in their company- remember, V of H isn’t a story; it’s an essay. The Book of Mormon introduces us to a group of people with names who leave Jerusalem, wander in the wilderness, build a ship, and arrive in America – never specifically identified as America in the text itself – by sea, not by land. The events are different, as is the literary approach. It’s the difference between reading an academic essay about boys in New England boarding schools and reading Catcher in the Rye.

E. Religion a motivating factor
Why, yes, it was. Why is this a separate category? When you’re talking about the scattering and gathering of Israel, isn’t religion going to be a motivating factor? All of these initial objections are essentially subsets of the main charge repeated with only slight variations.

F. Migrations a long journey
Again, a distinction without a difference, as it’s just another element of the original charge. Would it have made a difference here if the migration in one of the books had been a short journey? You could add a category that said “In both books, people ate food in the course of the referenced migrations” and it would be as noteworthy as saying, essentially, “it’s a long way from Israel to America,” which is all you’re saying here.

G. Encounter “seas” of “many waters”
The word “seas” appears in View of the Hebrews precisely three times.

“This writer says, “They entered into the Euphrates by the narrow passages of the river.” He must mean, they repassed this river in its upper regions, or small streams, away toward Georgia; and hence must have taken their course between the Black and Caspian seas.”  – p. 76

“We have a prediction relative to the ten tribes, which fully accords with the things exhibited of them, and of the natives of our land… They shall run to and fro, over all the vast regions, the dreary wilds, which lie between those extreme seas.” – footnote, p. 107”

“Such texts have a special allusion to the lost tribes of the house of Israel. And their being called over mountains, and over seas, from the west, and from afar, receives an emphasis from the consideration of their being gathered from the vast wilds of America.” – p. 159

Nobody seems to be actually encountering seas in any of these quotes.

The phrase “many waters” does not appear in View of the Hebrews.

H. The Americas an uninhabited land
Contrary to Ethan Smith, the Book of Mormon makes no claim that America was uninhabited when Lehi arrived. In fact, the text argues precisely the opposite conclusion, as they were preceded by the Jaredites and encounter Coriantumr, who clearly got there before they did. (Perhaps it was uninhabited when the Jaredites got there; I can’t find a definitive statement on that subject one way or the other, but I may have missed it.) But if we’re arguing for parallels, we probably ought to focus on the proposed Israeli ancestry of the Indians, which has no bearing on the Jaredites, who were not of the House of Israel.

I. Settlers journey northward
Yes, some settlers do tend to do that. How Joseph Smith would have imagined settlers going north without View of the Hebrews, I’ll never know.

The word “northward” appears only once in View of the Hebrews on page 51: “Thence northward, on the shore of the said sea, as far as the point due west of Mount Lebanon.” He’s talking about the boundaries of Abraham’s territory with no mention of settlers.

The word “north” appears 68 times, mostly in reference to the Lost Tribes who, according to the Bible, will come forth “out of the land of the North,” which would suggest their journey was or will be in a direction other than north. If there’s a direct mention of a specific northward trek by any settlers in View of the Hebrews, I couldn’t find it. And in the Book of Mormon, settlers travel in every direction. I don’t see how this is a parallel of any significance, even if it were accurate, which it doesn’t seem to be.

And why does this matter, exactly? Would it help if all settlers referenced in the Book of Mormon only went south?

J. Encounter a valley of a great river
This seems to be the only reference in View of the Hebrews that might apply.

“Other tribes assure us that their remote fathers, on their way to this country, ‘came to a great river which they could not pass; when God dried up the river that they might pass over.’  – page 106

No valleys are mentioned in connection with any rivers, great or otherwise.

Ethan Smith uses the tradition referenced on page 106 to describe his speculation that God must have allowed the Indians to cross the “Beering’s Straits” by drying up rivers all over the place.

This is markedly different from the Book of Mormon’s River of Laman and Valley of Lemuel, as the river was both crossable and un-dried up.

K. A unity of race (Hebrew) settle the land and are the ancestral origin of American Indians
View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon differ dramatically on this point. Ethan Smith can’t stop yapping about the Ten Tribes, and how they came out of the north countries across the Bering Strait to escape Roman oppression. The Book of Mormon ignores the Ten Tribes as possible ancestors of the Indians, instead focusing on the non-lost tribes of Joseph and Judah in describing the Lehites and the Mulekites, respectively. Then, for good measure, it adds a group – the Jaredites – that are utterly un-Hebrew and dominate the land well before the House of Israel even comes along.

If you get one clear message out of Ethan Smith’s essay, it’s that the Indians are definitely the Lost Tribes. Yet this is a point that the Book of Mormon blithely ignores. So much of View of the Hebrews is devoted to tying the fate of the Lost Tribes to the history of the Indians that Joseph Smith would have had to discard just about everything Ethan Smith wrote when producing the Book of Mormon, including all of the supposed evidences of Hebraism among the Indians that Ethan Smith cites, not a single one of which makes its way into the Book of Mormon. Why plagiarize a text when you ignore its central premise and all supporting evidences?  In fact, how can that be said to be plagiarism at all?

L. Hebrew the origin of Indian language
Sort of. The Jaredites didn’t speak Hebrew, and the Mulekites had all but forgotten it, and the Nephites kept records in Reformed Egyptian. Again, since Ethan Smith’s theories tied the Indians to Israel, this, too, is just another subset of the original charge.

M. Egyptian hieroglyphics
What about them? The word “hieroglyphics” does not appear in either View of the Hebrews or the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon claims that the Lehites wrote in “Reformed Egyptian,” which are presumed to be hieroglyphics, but View of the Hebrews has nothing approaching a comparable reference. It makes no claims that the Indians wrote anything in Egyptian. It does claim, without any supporting material, that there appears to be some Egyptian influence in ancient American art. The Book of Mormon doesn’t mention art at all.

Tomorrow: View of the Hebrews – Part II!

CES Reply: Moroni, Cumorah, and Captain Kidd
CES Reply: View of the Hebrews - Part II

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