The Titanic and the Book of Mormon: Implications for Spalding/Ethan Smith Conspiracy Theories

We all know about the never-tiring attempts by some critics to find parallels between The Book of Mormon and certain books which were published, and perhaps available, to Joseph Smith before the publication of the Book of Mormon. These especially include “View of the Hebrews” by Ethan Smith  and “Manuscript Found” by Solomon Spalding. (Click here for Elder Holland’s remarks on this topic.)

A friend recently brought to my attention the following video which features popular Christian scholar William Lane Craig discussing a novel written in 1898 about a giant ship called Titan that runs into an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sinks. What is interesting about this? This novel was written 14 years before the Titanic ran into an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank. There are many more similarities between the novel and the actual event than just that. You can read more about this novel at Wikipedia.

William Lane Craig doesn’t have Mormonism in mind, but someone apparently saw this video and recognized the relevance his comments have for Book of Mormon debates. The slides that appear at the beginning and end of the video are obviously independent of Craig’s comments. I don’t know who made this video, but kudos to them (update: I know who made the video, but I’m not sure they want their name here).

The argument this video is making is that just because a fictional story has many similarities to an actual event, even if that fictional story was written before the actual event took place (or was revealed by God), doesn’t invalidate the actual event.

Book of Mormon scholars in recent years have been discussing the dangers of “parallelomania”, which is the tendency we have to see parallels everywhere and to draw  inappropriate conclusions based on them. This phenomenon happens on both sides of the aisle (among critics and faithful). LDS researcher and writer Ben McGuire discusses this problem here. Brant Gardner also discusses this problem in an interview (here).

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11 comments on “The Titanic and the Book of Mormon: Implications for Spalding/Ethan Smith Conspiracy Theories

  1. Nathan000000 says:

    Fantastic comparison. Jeff Lindsay did something a little similar. He has searched Walt Whitman’s poetry collection Leaves of Grass for phrases that it has in common with the Book of Mormon. He has found dozens of two- and three-word parallel phrases they share, and in a few cases, six- and seven-word parallels. The obvious conclusion is that Joseph Smith plagiarized from Walt Whitman … except that Leaves of Grass was published in 1855, a full 25 years after the Book of Mormon.

  2. James says:

    Thanks Nathan. I recall Lindsay’s commentary on that now. Thanks for reminding me.

  3. mark says:

    There are many copied scriptures in the book of mormon from the new testament. How is that possible when it was done in old testament times.

    • Nathan000000 says:

      Great question, Mark. I’ve wondered the same thing. People have proposed various possible explanations:

      Random chance (although that seems very unlikely)
      Translator’s cultural influence (i.e., since Joseph was familiar with the language of the KJV, during the inspired translation process when ideas came into his head, he instinctively put them into phraseology he was familiar with)
      Accepted canonical language (i.e., since the phraseology of the KJV was the recognizable, formal language of religion and scripture in the broad culture, the Lord revealed the text using phrases from the already accepted scripture, the Bible)
      Repeated revelation (e.g., both Paul and Moroni wrote about “charity never faileth” because the Lord revealed those passages to both of them
      Shared extra-biblical sources (e.g., both Paul and Moroni are quoting without attribution an older source that was available to each of them)

      I think some combination of these can account for all the instances where the Book of Mormon uses passages that clearly parallel the New Testament (or post-captivity Old Testament). I think the last one may account for the similarity far more often than we might initially expect.

    • J says:

      I’ve been working on the conspiracy theory on the origin of the Book of Mormon for a possible project. According to what I’ve been reading through books and researching lately, Solomon Spalding was a very educated man, a preacher in a local church in Pittsburgh. Therefore, he knew a lot about the Bible. His main weakness was his poor health conditon that kept him away from preaching and at home all the time. First, he wrote “The Manuscript Story.” Then, he abandoned it because he decided to write a romantic novel, using the same language and style seen in the Bible. His main idea was to start with one of the biblical lost tribes that created a ship and landed in America that was called “The Lost Manuscript Found” in 1812. In 1816, he died and his manuscript remained at the printing shop and Sidney Rigdon basically stole it. Rigdon was always fascinated with world history and was also a religious man. After reading, the manuscript, he envisioned the manuscript not as romance but as “new revelation.” From 1827-30, he took the romance out of the story and inserted with biblical verses. Hence, the coincidence. However, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon were laypeople, almost illiterate. Therefore, from a few things that I read, I agreed that Oliver Cowdery revised the manuscript, but Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon approved it before the first publication. The rest is history.

      And that’s coming from a post-Mormon. Surprisingly enough, I never bothered to study the Mormon history while in the Church for almost 28 years. Only after I quit, I was able to open my eyes.

  4. Cordell Hull says:

    British Novel May Have Given Japan Pearl Harbor Idea

    The 1925 novel, “The Great Pacific War,” by Hector C. Bywater, begins with a surprise Japanese attack in 1931 that wipes out much of America’s Pacific Fleet.

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