Spalding–Rigdon Theory of Book of Mormon Authorship

Reprint from Wikipedia

The Spalding–Rigdon theory of Book of Mormon authorship is the theory that The Book of Mormon was plagiarized in part from an unpublished manuscript written by Solomon Spalding. This theory first appeared in print in the book Mormonism Unveiled, [1]published in 1834 by E.D. Howe. The theory claimed that the Spalding manuscript was at some point acquired by Sidney Rigdon, who used it in collusion with Joseph Smith, Jr. to produce the Book of Mormon. Although publicly stated that it was through reading the Book of Mormon that Rigdon joined the Latter Day Saint movement, the Spalding–Rigdon theory argues that the story was a later invention to cover the book’s allegedly true origins. Contemporary Mormon Apologetics state that the theory has been disproved and is discredited; but others still argue for it.

Spalding manuscript and the Book of Mormon

While living in Conneaut, Ohio, in the early nineteenth century, Solomon Spalding (1761–1816) began writing a work of fiction about the lost civilization of the mound builders of North America. Spalding shared his story, entitled Manuscript Found with members of his family and some of his associates in Conneaut, as well as his friends in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Amity, Washington County, Pennsylvania, where he lived prior to his death. However, Manuscript Found was never published.

In 1832, Latter Day Saint missionaries Samuel H. Smith and Orson Hyde visited Conneaut, Ohio, and preached from the Book of Mormon. Nehemiah King, a resident of Conneaut who knew Spalding when he lived there, felt that the Mormon text resembled the story written by Spalding years before. In 1833, at the urging of Doctor Philastus Hurlbut, King, Spalding’s widow, his brother John, and a number of other residents of Conneaut signed affidavits stating that Spalding had written a manuscript, portions of which were identical to the Book of Mormon.

One of the more confusing details to the story is that Spalding actually had written several manuscripts. One of them was called Manuscript Story which talks about Romans traveling to America and bears little if any resemblance to the Book of Mormon. This was apparently just a rough draft to what would later be completely rewritten and retitled Manuscript Found, and is the manuscript that witnesses attest to being near identical to the Book of Mormon. Manuscript Story has been located and published, and erroneously used as evidence that the Spalding/Rigdon theory is false. Manuscript Found has never been found, only sworn to exist by many friends and family of Spalding.

Origins of the theory

The theory that Sidney Rigdon was the true author of the Book of Mormon first appeared in print in an 1831 article by James Gordon Bennett, who had visited Palmyra/Manchester area and interviewed several residents.[2] The full theory involving the Spalding manuscript first appeared in Eber D. Howe’s 1834 book Mormonism Unveiled. Howe printed the collection of affidavits collected by Hurlbut. Hurlbut had heard of an unpublished romance novel by Solomon Spalding as he was touring Pennsylvania giving lectures against the Latter Day Saint church. Hurlbut concluded that the description of the story in the manuscript bore some resemblance to that of the Book of Mormon.[3] A contemporary of Hurlbut’s, Benjamin Winchester, states that Hurlbut “had learned that one Mr. Spaulding had written a romance, and the probability was, that it had, by some means, fallen into the hands of Sidney Rigdon, and that he had converted it into the Book of Mormon.” Upon learning this, Hurlbut determined to obtain the manuscript.[4] Hurlbut learned that Sidney Rigdon had once resided in Pittsburgh and that the manuscript had once been there, and subsequently “endeavoured to make the finding of the manuscript take place at Pittsburgh, and then infer, that S.R. [Sidney Rigdon] had copied it there.”[5]

Author Dan Vogel suggests that Hurlbut was not the originator of the Spalding-Rigdon theory, noting that Hurlbut pursued this in response to what he had heard about the manuscript and suggests that had Hurlbut been the inventor of the theory “he would not have made strenuous efforts to recover Spalding’s manuscript.”[6]

Statements from Spalding’s neighbors and relatives

Eight of the affidavits acquired by Hurlbut from Solomon Spalding’s family and associates stated that there were similarities between the story and the Book of Mormon.[7]

An example is the statement of Solomon Spalding’s brother John, which declared that Spalding’s manuscript “gave a detailed account of their journey from Jerusalem, by land and sea, till they arrived in America, under the command of NEPHI and LEHI. They afterwards had quarrels and contentions, and separated into two distinct nations, one of which he denominated Nephites and the other Lamanites.” Spalding’s widow told a similar story, and stated that “the names of Nephi and Lehi are yet fresh in my memory, as being the principal heroes of his tale.”[8]

Author Fawn Brodie, in her expose of Joseph Smith No Man Knows My History, expressed suspicion regarding these statements, claiming that the style of the statements was too similar and displayed too much uniformity. Brodie suggests that Hurlbut did a “little judicious prompting.”[9]

However, an article published in the Hudson Ohio “Observer”, (Masthead of Vlll:15 – June 12, 1834), tells a different story. In the article, the editor interviewed some of the Conneaut witnesses, who then told the editor the same thing that they told to Hurlbut, even though they had every opportunity to say anything they wished. The significance of the article is that it appeared shortly after Hurlbut’s trial in April 1834 and around six months before Howe’s book, Mormonism Unveiled, was published, thus refuting the claims that the witnesses had been coached by Hurlbut or that he had inaccurately reported their testimony.

Howe’s response to the Spalding manuscript

Hurlbut obtained a manuscript through Spalding’s widow, and showed it in public presentations in Kirtland, Ohio, in December 1833. Hurlbut then became embroiled in a legal dispute with Joseph Smith. Subsequently, Hurlbut delivered the documents he had collected to Howe. Howe was unable to find the alleged similarities with the Book of Mormon that were described in the statements and instead argued in Mormonism Unveiled (1834) that there must exist a second Spalding manuscript which was now lost. Howe concluded that Joseph Smith and Sidney Ridgon used the Spalding manuscript to produce the Book of Mormon for the purpose of making money.7

Nineteenth Century Responses to the Theory

In 1840, Benjamin Winchester, a Mormon defender who had been “deputed… to hunt up the Hurlbut case,”[10] published a book rejecting the Spalding theory as “a sheer fabrication.” Winchester attributed the creation of the entire story to Hurlbut.[11]

Regarding Sidney Rigdon’s alleged involvement, Rigdon’s son John recounted an interview with his father in 1865:

“My father, after I had finished saying what I have repeated above, looked at me a moment, raised his hand above his head and slowly said, with tears glistening in his eyes: ‘My son, I can swear before high heaven that what I have told you about the origin of [the Book of Mormon] is true. Your mother and sister, Mrs. Athalia Robinson, were present when that book was handed to me in Mentor, Ohio, and all I ever knew about the origin of [the Book of Mormon] was what Parley P. Pratt, Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith and the witnesses who claimed they saw the plates have told me, and in all of my intimacy with Joseph Smith he never told me but one story.’”[12]

In 1884, a Spalding manuscript known as Manuscript Story was discovered and published, and the manuscript now resides at Oberlin College in Ohio.[13] This manuscript appears to bear little resemblance to the Book of Mormon story, but some critics claim it contains parallels in theme and narrative. The second “lost” manuscript purported to exist by Howe has never been discovered.

Computer Analysis

A 2008 computer analysis of the text of the Book of Mormon compared to writings of possible authors of the text shows a high probability that the authors of the book were Spalding, Rigdon, and Oliver Cowdery; concluding that “our analysis supports the theory that the Book of Mormon was written by multiple, nineteenth-century authors, and more specifically, we find strong support for the Spalding-Rigdon theory of authorship. In all the data, we find Rigdon as a unifying force. His signal dominates the book, and where other candidates are more probable, Rigdon is often hiding in the shadows”.[14] This study did not include Joseph Smith as one of the possible authors, arguing that because of Smith’s use of scribes and co-authors, no texts can be presently identified with a surety as having been written by Smith.

The Stanford group (Jocker et al., 2008) found a strong Spalding signal in Mosiah, Alma, the first part of Helaman, and Ether. The Spalding signal was weak in those parts of the Book of Mormon likely produced after the lost pages incident (1 Nephi, 2 Nephi, some of the middle part of 3 Nephi, Moroni). They found the Rigdon signal distributed throughout the Book of Mormon (except for the known Isaiah chapters), and a weak Pratt signal in 1 Nephi. They also found a strong Cowdery signal in mid-Alma and weaker Cowdery signals in locations that contain content similar to Ethan Smith’s “View of the Hebrews”.

Previous word print or computer studies have come to different conclusions (for a history of such studies from the perspective of a LDS group, see A 1980 study done by John Hilton with non-LDS colleagues at Berkeley concluded that the probability of Spalding having been the (sole) author of book of Nephi was less than 7.29 x 10−28 and less than 3 x 10−11 for Alma.[15]

In the Stanford group (Jocker et al., 2008) peer-reviewed publication in the “Journal of Literary and Linguistic Computing”, they reviewed the (non-peer reviewed) Hilton study and pointed out numerous flaws in it.

They (Jocker et al., 2008) found that the Book of Alma is a mixture of Rigdon, Cowdery, and Spalding. The Hilton study does not indicate what text they used for Alma. If one lumps all the signals for Rigdon, Cowdery, and Spalding together, one is left with a corrupt signal that does not match Spalding. Another study was recently published in the same journal that critiqued the methodology used in the Jockers et al. 2008 study and, using Joseph Smith’s personal writings written in his own handwriting, concluded that stylometric evidence supports neither Joseph Smith nor Spalding-Rigdon authorship.[16]


[1] Sic.

[2] Bennett, James Gordon (31 Aug. 1831), “Mormonism—Religious Fanaticism—Church and State Party”, New York Courier and Enquirer 7 (562)  in Arrington, Leonard J. (1970), “James Gordon Bennett’s 1831 Report on ‘The Mormonites’”, BYU Studies 10 (3), .

[3] Spaulding 1996

[4] Winchester 1840, p. 9

[5] Winchester 1840, p. 11

[6] Vogel 1998, p. 15

[7] Roper 2005

[8] Howe 1834, p. 279

[9] Brodie 1971, pp. 446–4

[10] Testimony of Benjamin Winchester, Nov. 27, 1900; accessed at

[11] Winchester 1840, p. Title page

[12] Reeve 1996

[13] Reeve 1996

[14] Jockers et al., Reassessing authorship of the Book of Mormon using delta and nearest shrunken centroid classification, Literary and Linguistic Computing, December, 2008

[15] John L. Hilton, “On Verifying Wordprint Studies: Book of Mormon Authorship”, Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, edited by Noel B. Reynolds, (Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1997), Chapter 9.

[16] Schaalje, G. Bruce, Paul J. Fields, Matthew Roper, Gregory L. Snow. Extended nearest shrunken centroid classification: A new method for open-set authorship attribution of texts of varying sizes.Literary and Linguistic Computing,to appear,



  • Brodie, Fawn M (1971), No Man Knows My History, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN 0679730540 .
  • Cowdrey, Wayne (2005). Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon?. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House. ISBN 0758605277. .
  • Howe, Eber D (1834), Mormonism Unvailed, Painesville, Ohio: Telegraph Press, .
  • Roper, Matthew (2005), “The Mythical “Manuscript Found”", FARMS Review (Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute) 17 (2): 7–140,, retrieved 2007-01-31 .
  • Spaulding, Solomon (1996), Reeve, Rex C, ed., Manuscript Found: The Complete Original “Spaulding” Manuscript, Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, ISBN 1-57008-297-9,,13807 .
  • Winchester, Benjamin (1834), The origin of the Spalding story, concerning the Manuscript Found; with a short biography of Dr. P. Hulbert, the originator of the same; and some testimony adduced, showing it to be a sheer fabrication, so far as in connection with the Book of Mormon is concerned. By B. Winchester, minister of the gospel, Philadelphia: Brown, Bicking & Guilbert, Printers, .
  • Vogel, Dan (1998), Early Mormon Documents (Vol. 2), Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, ISBN 1560850930 .