“If such may have been the fact, that a part of the Ten Tribes came over to America, in the way we have supposed, leaving the cold regions of Assareth behind them in quest of a milder climate, it would be natural to look for tokens of the presence of Jews of some sort, along countries adjacent to the Atlantic. In order to this, we shall here make an extract from an able work: written exclusively on the subject of the Ten Tribes having come from Asia by the way of Bherings Strait, by the Rev. Ethan Smith, Pultney, Vt., who relates as follows:…” – Times and Seasons, “Truth will prevail”, Vol. III. No. 15, CITY OF NAUVOO, ILL. JUNE 1, 1842, No. 51, Joseph Smith
The quote above comes from the Mormon periodical Times and Seasons which Joseph Smith used to post a quote from a book called ‘View of the Hebrews’, authored by the Minister Ethan Smith (no relation).
Ethan Smith was a minster at a church in a neighboring community in Vermont when Joseph Smith came up with the idea to write and publish the Book of Mormon. He used the minister’s book as ‘proof’ in 1842 to further his claim that the lost ten tribes of Israel had migrated over the Behring Strait to build a new life on the American continent.
Questions arise when we look at what was going on during this time frame so let’s have a quick look at events from the early nineteenth century. As you may already know, America was going through its Second Great Awakening during this time and along with that phenomena another interesting fact was sweeping the country.
It was all the rage to believe that American Indians had descended from the ‘Lost Ten Tribes of Israel’. Those tribes were supposedly the people that were scattered circa BC 700 when the Assyrians pummeled the Northern Kingdom of Israel where ten of the tribes of Israel resided. Early nineteenth century Americans believed the Israelites had traveled over the Behring Strait and scattered once again and over time became the various American Indian tribes that resided here on the North American continent. This is where Ethan Smith enters the picture with his book ‘View of the Hebrews’.
Ethan Smith pastored a church in Poultney, VT which was adjacent to the county where Joseph Smith lived in NY. Oliver Cowdery, one of the BoM Witnesses, just so happened to be a member of Ethan Smith’s church from1821-1825 or 1826 during which time Ethan Smith wrote and published his book.
Cowdery met Joseph Smith on or near April 5-7, 1829 and within days of meeting each other Cowdery becomes a scribe for Joseph Smith and his publication of the Book of Mormon. In the Pearl of Great Price 1:67 Joseph Smith writes; “Two days after the arrival of Mr. Cowdery (being the 7th of April) I commenced to translate the Book of Mormon, and he began to write for me.”
As luck would have it, the two works were so similar that it drew the immediate and undying attention of many from Smith’s time until today.
In 1927 the well respected LDS historian BH Roberts wrote a letter to LDS Apostle Richard R. Lyman with a laundry list of concerns he had with the Book of Mormon stating his conviction the prophet had ‘borrowed’ from Ethan Smith’s work, View of the Hebrews. As time went on people in and out of the Church heard about this comparison compiled by Roberts and was circulated amongst several groups.
You can find a scaled down version of his parallels in Roberts’ scholarly work, ‘Book of Mormon Studies’, pp 324-344. This is what we’ve used in our comparison chart today – if you’d like to read all of his comparisons his book is available on Amazon. I guarantee that if you’re a student of Mormon history, this is a must have for your library! You can read View of the Hebrews online at no charge at olivercowdery.com in addition to that there’s a lot of great information at the website mormonhandbook.com as well.
Studies of the Book of Mormon, p.240; “Did Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews furnish structural material for Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon? It has been pointed out in these pages that there are many things in the former book that might well have suggested many major things in the other. Not a few things merely, one or two, or half dozen, but many; and it is this fact of many things of similarity and the cumulative force of them that makes them so serious a menace to Joseph Smith’s story of the Book of Mormon’s origin.” – B.H. Roberts