THE SIXTH THEORY OF THE ORIGIN
OF THE BOOK OF MORMON
To be hanged for nonsense is the Devil
It is unlikely that many will be familiar with the sixth theory of origin of the Book of Mormon. Nevertheless it is worth the telling if only to demonstrate the similarities it contains to accusations levelled at Joseph Smith. This theory fell victim to its own extravagance. Taking into account the time and place of its production, nineteenth century frontier America, its dependence upon several bizarre elements tests credibility to the limit. In 1831 the Palmyra Reflector presented an article to its readership as the explanation the origin of the Book of Mormon. It is written in serious style entirely lacking in sarcasm in spite of its content
...Walters, who was sometimes called a conjuror...first suggested to Smith the idea of finding a book. Walters, the better to carry on his own deception [he was a money-digger] with those ignorant and deluded people who employed him, had procured an old copy of CICERO'S ORATIONS, in the Latin language, out of which he read long and loud to his credulous hearers, uttering at the same time [sic] an unintelligible jargon, which he would afterwards pretend to interpret, and explain, as the record of the former inhabitants of America, and a particular account of the numerous situations where they had deposited their treasures previous to their final extirpation. If the critical readers will examine the "Book of Mormon", he will directly perceive, that in many instances, the style of the bible, from which it is chiefly copied, has been entirely altered for the worse. In many instances it has been copied UPWARDS, without reference to chapter or verse.
This was not the only publicity the Walters Theory enjoyed. Three weeks after the Palmyra Reflector ran the article, the Painesville Telegraph carried a letter which contained a remarkably similar story. It was written from Palmyra and signed by ten "individuals of first respectability." The writers claim that the facts contained in the Reflector are true. There is no doubt that these gentlemen considered Walters to have been the author and originator of the Book of Mormon.
The "gold bible" question excites but little interest in this section of country, its followers being few and generally of the dregs of the community, and the most unlettered people that can be found anywhere, and besides there is much reason to doubt the sincerity of many of them.
The first idea of a "Book" was doubtless suggested to the Smiths by one Walters, a juggling fortune-teller, who made the ignorant believe that an old book in his possession, in the Latin language, contained an account of the ante-deluvians, &c. and the word was given out that the book Smith was about to find, was a history of hidden treasures.
Smith and his father belonged to a gang of money-diggers, who had followed that business for many years, Jo pretending he could see the gold and silver by the aid of what they called a "peep stone."
The book is chiefly garbled from the Old and New Testaments, the Apocraphy having contributed its share; names and phrases have been altered, and in many instances copied upwards. A quarto Bible now in this village was borrowed and nearly worn out and defaced by their dirty handling. Some seven or eight of them spent many months in copying, Cowdery being principal scribe...
The whole gang of these deluded mortals, except a few hypocrites, are profound believers in witchcraft. ghosts, goblins, &c.... Cowdery has been heard of far up the Missouri, pretending to have great success in his ministry; but as ignorant as too many of the people are it is hardly possible that so clumsy an imposition can spread to any considerable extent.
This remarkable article predates the Spaulding theory. It has Walters as the prime mover of a literary fraud, and Smith his minion, although his exact role is not defined. It is a literal restatement of an article ridiculing the Book of Mormon.
THE BOOK OF PUKEI, - CHAPTER I
1. And it came to pass in the latter days, that wickedness did much abound in the land, and the "idle and slothful said one to another, let us send for Walters the Magician, who has strange books, and deals with familiar spirits, peradventure he will inform us where the Nephites, hid their treasure, so be it, that we and our, vagabond van, do not perish for lack of sustenence.
2. Now Walters, the Magician, was a man unseemly to look upon, and to profound ignorance added the most consumate impudence,-he obeyed the summons of the idle and slothful, and produced an old book in an unknown tongue, (Cicero's Orations in Latin) from whence he read in the presence of the Idle and Slothful strange stories of hidden treasures and of the spirit who had the custody therof.
3. And the Idle and Slothful paid tribute unto the Magician, and be-sought him saying, Oh! thou who art wise above all men, and can interpret the book that no man understandeth, and can discover hidden things by the power of thy enchantments, lead us, we pray thee to the place where the Nephites buried their treasure, and give us power over "the spirit," and we will be thy servants forever.
4. And the Magician led the rabble into a dark grove, in a place called Manchester, where after drawing a Magic circle, with a rusty sword, and collecting a motley crew of latterdemallions, within the center, he sacrificed a cock (a bird to Minerva) for the purpose of propitiating the prince of spirits.
5. All things being ready, the Idle and Slothful fell to work with a zeal deserving a better cause, and many a livelong night was spent in digging for "the root of all evil."
6. Howbeit, owing to the wickedness and hardness of their hearts, these credulous and ignorant knaves, were always disappointed, till finally, their hopes, although frequently on the eve of consumation-like that of the hypocrite perished, and their hearts became faint within them.
7. And it came to pass, that when the Idle and Slothful became weary of their night labors, they said one to another, lo! this Imp of the Devil, hath deceived us, let us no more of him, or peradventure, ourselves, our wives, and our little ones, will become chargeable on the town.
8. Now when Walters the Magician heard these things, he was sorely grieved, and said unto himself, lo! mine occupation is gone, even these ignorant vagabonds, the idle and slothful detect mine impostures. I will away and hide myself, lest the strong arm of the law should bring me to justice.
9. And he took his book, his rusty sword, and his magic stone, and all his implements of witchcraft and returned to the mountains near Great Sodus Bay, where he holds communion with the Devil, even unto this day.
10. Now the rest of the acts of the magician, how his mantle fell upon the Prophet Jo. Smith Jun. and how Jo. made a league with the spirit, who afterwards turned out to be an angel, and how he obtained the "Gold Bible," Spectacles, and breastplate, will they not be recorded in the Book of Pukei?
The Reflector published another article on the origin of the Book of Mormon, from which the following is abstracted:
It is well known that Jo Smith never pretended to have any communion with angels, until long after the PRETENDED finding of his book, and that the juggling of himself or father, went no further than the pretended faculty of seeing wonders in a "peep stone," and the occasional interview with the spirit, supposed to have custody of hidden treasures; and it is also equally well known, that a vagabond fortune-teller by the name of Walters, who then resided in the town of Sodus, and was once committed to the jail of this country for juggling, was the constant companion and bosom friend of these money digging imposters.
There remains but little doubt in the minds of those at all acquainted with these transactions that Walters, who was sometimes called the conjuror, and was paid three dollars a day for his services by the money diggers in the neighbourhood, first suggested to Smith the idea of finding a book. Walters, the better to carry on his own deception with those ignorant and deluded people who employed him, had procured an old copy of Cicero's Orations, in the Latin language, out of which he read long and loud to his credulous hearers, uttering at the same time an unintelligible jargon, which he would afterwards pretend to interpret and explain, as a record of the former inhabitants of America, and a particular account of the numerous situations where they had deposited their treasures previous to their final extirpation.
So far did this imposter carry this diabolical farce, that not long previous to the pretended discovery of the "Book of Mormon," Walters assembled his nightly band in the town of Manchester, at a point designated in his magical book, and drawing a circle around the laborers, with the point of an old rusty sword, and using sundry other incantations, for the purpose of propitiating the spirit, absolutely sacrificed a fowl, "Rooster." in the presence of his awe-struck companions, to the foul spirit, whom ignorance had created, the guardian of hidden wealth; and after digging until daylight, his deluded employers retired to their several habitations, fatigued and disappointed.
If the critical reader will examine the "Book of Mormon," he will directly perceive, that in many instances, the style of the Bible, from which it is chiefly copied, has been entirely altered for the worse. In many instances it has been copied UPWARDS, without reference to chapter or verse, (taking Jeremiah for an example) and that the old and new Testament, having been promiscuously intermingled, with the simple alteration of names, &c, with some interpolations, which may be easily discovered, by the want of grammatical arrangement.
Unfortunately for posterity, the portions of the Book of Mormon and Bible referred to in this artcicle are not identified for comparison. However, the reader may experiment for him or herself and discover which parts of the Bible "copied upwards" form which parts of the Book of Mormon.
There are, however, significant statements in the article which move Joseph Smith aside so that he occupies nio more than the margins of the affair.
•It is Walters, not Smith, who pretends to knowledge of the ancient inhabitants of the Americas, and the whereabouts of buried treasure.
•It is Walters, not Smith, who is described as a money-digger.
•It is Walters, not Smith, who presents an unknown language which only he can translate.
•It is Walters, not Smith, who dupes others into digging for buried treasure.
•It is Walters, not Smith, who claims to be a translator of the history of the American aborigines.
•It is Walters, not Smith, who is the leader of the "latter¬demallions."
As the Walters theory failed to gain currency, its central accusations were transferred from Walters to Joseph Smith. The story of Walters as the founder of Mormonism and its new book passed into oblivion. The advent of the Spaulding theory probably caused the Walters theory to be set aside in favour of the confident Joseph Smith for his claim to be a prophet in receipt and divine revelations in addition to his unexpected success which forced a reappraisal and revision of earlier estimates of the Prophet of Palmyra.
Whatever caused the Walters Theory to be consigned to the dustbin of history, its content succeeded in discrediting Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.
The image the newspaper pieces convey is that of a master fraudster.
These images contain all the details of the alleged fraud, including a magic stone, a plagiarised document, a pretended translation, containing portions of a disguised but identifiable existing book, being verified as a history of the Native Americans. Al
though, according to the Palmyra worthies, Walters was assuredly the founder and promulgator of the whole imposition, it was merely another attempt to explain away the divine origin of the Book of Mormon. A tendency responsible for all alternative theories of the origin of the Book of Mormon.