View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon
The Book of Mormon, published in 1830, and Ethan Smith’s 1823 book View of the Hebrews parallel each other in some two dozen general themes. Joseph Smith therefore plagiarized Ethan Smith.
Parallels, in and of themselves, don’t necessarily point to plagiarism, which is only one of several possible explanations for parallels. If parallels must always be interpreted to be a plagiarism of some sort, then we run into trouble when we take the episode of Paul as he stood before the High Priest Ananias in Acts 23:1-5 and compare it with the confrontation of Jesus and Annas in John 18:19-22. In both stories, a preacher is arraigned before the grand council of the day; the presiding official is or was the Jewish high priest; both high priests have very similar names (Annas and Ananias); both of the accused men speak words in their own defense; both are rewarded with a slap to the face; and both blows are dealt by a servant of the high priest. Other Bible stories also parallel each other.[i] Yet most critics of the Book of Mormon believe in the Bible and would undoubtedly not charge its writers with plagiarism.
In every case where the Book of Mormon might have borrowed from View of the Hebrews, it might much more easily have borrowed from the Bible or prevailing popular beliefs. In the few cases where View of the Hebrews has something in common with the Book of Mormon regarding matters not treated in those other sources, the similarities are superficial only. In his 1986 FARMS paper, “An Unparallel,” John W. Welch listed some 84 differences between the two books. In 1996, View of the Hebrews was republished by the BYU Religious Studies Center, with Charles D. Tate Jr. as editor, making it available for detailed study.
For studies of this issue, see:
John W. Welch, “View of the Hebrews: ‘An Unparallel,'” in Welch, Reexploring the Book of Mormon (Provo: FARMS and Deseret, 1992), 83-87.
John W. Welch, “B. H. Roberts, Seeker after Truth,” Ensign, March 1986, reprinted as “What is B. H. Roberts’s ‘Study of the Book of Mormon’ and how have critics used it to discredit the Book of Mormon?” in A Sure Foundation: Answers to Difficult Gospel Questions (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1988; see pages 69-71 for the discussion of View of the Hebrews).
Spencer J. Palmer and William L. Knecht, “View of the Hebrews: Substitute for Inspiration?” BYU Studies 5/2 (1964): 105-13.
[i] Both Abraham (Genesis 20:1-12) and his son Isaac (Genesis 26:6-11) passed off their wives as sisters, whereupon Abimelech, the Philistine king of Gerar took them for himself, but returned them when he learned the truth. The story also parallels Abraham’s dealings with the king of Egypt (Genesis 12:11-20). Again, we find that both Abraham (Genesis 21:22-33) and Isaac (Genesis 26:17-33) disputed with Abimelech’s men (one being, in each case, his chief captain Phichol) concerning wells they had dug and ended the matter by a covenant; both stories are told to explain how Be’er-Sheba (“well of Sheba”) had been acquired by the patriarchs.