THE THIRD THEORY OF ORIGIN OF THE BOOK OF MORMON
Every decent man is concerned if an innocent
person is condemned
Jean de la Bruyere
Three years after the Book of Mormon was published and the Church established, predictions that both would soon be gone and forgotten remained unfulfilled. It was a puzzling problem for those who, at the expense of the Prophet Joseph Smith, had themselves presumed to prophecy. The presumption was that a book produced by such an "ignoramus as Jo Smith" could have nothing of worth within its pages, and that this would be detected by those who had been duped. It was said that when the true origin was revealed, both it and the Church would fail. Since they patently had not failed it was necessary to take a closer look at the book.
Joseph Smith was a young man aged 24 when the Book of Mormon was published. Books reveal a lot about their writers since they are usually rooted within the writers experience and personality. Considerable inquiry has been made into the background and character of Joseph Smith to discover whether the Book of Mormon owes anything to his background, character, experience, or education. It was also necessary to account for the bewildering success of the church he had founded. By 1833 it had several thousand adherents gathered into a community of believers. The spectacular success of the Book of Mormon and the Church coupled with the popular estimation of Joseph Smith, made another theory of origin necessary.
The third theory displaced Joseph from the central role of author of the "blasphemy," into the role of mere puppet. The questions was, who had the necessary learning and ability to produce the Book of Mormon? The church attracted some extremely talented men so it was not difficult to find someone to point the finger at. It had to be someone of monumental capability who was possessed of prodigious talent. The finger pointed at Sidney Rigdon who was the most remarkable celebrity in the early church. Rigdon had converted to Mormonism with his wife. They were baptized on the 14th of November 1830. He first heard of the Book of Mormon when two missionaries visited his home, one of whom was Parley Parker Pratt.
It is understandable that Rigdon should be a suspect in the fabrication of the Book of Mormon. He had enjoyed a distinguished career as a Baptist minister. During that career he attached himself to the Disciples, a group of Christians seeking to identify and practise what they considered to be the Biblical form of Christianity. The movement was also known as "Campbellites" after Alexander Campbell, a fellow minister of Rigdon's. Rigdon was a popular and gifted orator who enriched his sermons with illustrations from classical literature and ancient history. It was believed that he had the necessary credentials for producing the Book of Mormon.
It was concluded that Smith had conspired with Rigdon in a convoluted fraud. It was held that Rigdon's hand was in the Book of Mormon on the grounds that he could have produced it. No evidence has been produced to lend substance to this theory even by those who say they have conducted careful investigations. Brinkerhoff, whose theories are discussed later, claims that there is "irrefutable" "circumstantial evidence." Circumstantial evidence is never irrefutable. Like others who make extravagant claims to knowledge about the origin of the Book of Mormon, he fails to produce any evidence and introduces no argument that has not been previously refuted.
If this theory was to survive it was had to be shown that Smith and Rigdon met well before winter of 1830 when Rigdon visited Smith's home to meet the Prophet "for the first time." The theory falls victim to facts which prove that Smith and Rigdon did not meet until several months after the publication of the Book of Mormon. Notwithstanding the weight of primary evidence against this theory it continues to have currency among anti-Mormons. Eryl Davies, who finds it hard to see any good in a religious system other than his own, writes:
The whole story [giving a divine origin for the Book of Mormon] was a great fraud. A Presbyterian preacher, Solomon Spaulding, wrote an imaginary history of the primitive Americans called The Manuscript Found. No one wanted to publish it, so it was left at a printer's shop in Pittsburgh. The printer, by the name of Patterson, died within two years and a man called Rigdon, who was a frequent caller at the shop, found the manuscript and used it as a basis for writing The Book of Mormon with the help of Smith and Porley [sic] Pratt.
Davies indolently reiterates the suppositions of other writers who say that Rigdon is implicated in the fraudulent production of the Book of Mormon.
The true story is as follows: A Presbyterian preacher, Solomon Spaulding by name, wrote an imaginary history of the people who inhabited America in the early days, entitled The Manuscript Found. His efforts not being accepted for publication, he left it with a printer at Pittsburgh, Patterson by name, and died two years later. The aforementioned Rigdon, who frequented Patterson's shop, came on the old manuscript, in which he saw a short-cut to fame. With this as a basis he compiled the Book of Mormon.
Hoekema, on the other hand, is not so easily convinced. He accepts that Rigdon's association with Joseph Smith commenced in Kirtland late in 1830.
Sidney Rigdon, who had become a member of the church in Kirtland, Ohio, and had worked in close association with Joseph Smith since that time.
Burrell is also apparently rejects Rigdon's involvement in the Spaulding conspiracy by accepting that Rigdon's association with the Church was not established until 1830.
The publication of the Book of Mormon and the subsequent missionary activities of the first Mormons [in 1830], soon resulted in a number of conversions, two of the most prominent converts being Parley Pratt and Sidney Rigdon.
Then, surprisingly, he moves directly against the spirit of this passage to find that
"the evidence for Smith's dependence upon a Spaulding manuscript cannot be lightly set aside".
Writers with less respect for historicity maintain their belief in Rigdon's involvement with Smith in producing the Book of Mormon.
Sidney Rigdon, a Campbellite preacher, had links with the publishers who were to publish Spaulding's novel. He was purported to preach Mormon ideals before his baptism into the movement and before the publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830. Rigdon stole Spaulding's novel, and with Joseph Smith re-modelled it, by adding the religious portion
Critics of Mormonism continue to argue amongst themselves regarding Rigdon's involvement in the production of the Book of Mormon. But there remain those who continue to allege that Rigdon used Spaulding’s story 'Manuscript Found' as its basis which introduces the fourth theory of origin.