CES Reply: Slogging through “View of the Hebrews”

This is a serialization of “A Faithful Reply to the CES Letter from a Former CES Employee.”  You can download the whole PDF here, and you can also participate in the Latter-day Saint Survey Project by joining or creating one of the Canonizer camps in the links at the bottom of this post.

This is a line-by-line response to Jeremy Runnells’s October 2017 iteration of the CES Letter. Jeremy’s original text appears in green, the color of life. My response text appears in black, the color of darkness.

We continue to slog through “View of the Hebrews” and its supposed “parallels” to the Book of Mormon.

H. The Americas an uninhabited land

Contrary to Ethan Smith, the Book of Mormon makes no claim that America was uninhabited when Lehi arrived. In fact, the text argues precisely the opposite conclusion, as they were preceded by the Jaredites and encounter Coriantumr, who clearly got there before they did. (Perhaps it was uninhabited when the Jaredites got there; I can’t find a definitive statement on that subject one way or the other, but I may have missed it.) But if we’re arguing for parallels, we probably ought to focus on the proposed Israelite ancestry of the Indians, which has no bearing on the Jaredites, who were not of the House of Israel.

I. Settlers journey northward

Yes, some settlers do tend to do that. How Joseph Smith would have imagined settlers going north without View of the Hebrews, I’ll never know.

The word “northward” appears only once in View of the Hebrews on page 51: “Thence northward, on the shore of the said sea, as far as the point due west of Mount Lebanon.” He’s talking about the boundaries of Abraham’s territory with no mention of settlers.

The word “north” appears 68 times, mostly in reference to the Lost Tribes who, according to the Bible, will come forth “out of the land of the North,” which would suggest their journey was or will be in a direction other than north. If there’s a direct mention of a specific northward trek by any settlers in View of the Hebrews, I couldn’t find it. And in the Book of Mormon, settlers travel in every direction. I don’t see how this is a parallel of any significance, even if it were accurate, which it doesn’t seem to be.

And why does this matter, exactly? Would it help if all settlers referenced in the Book of Mormon only went south?

J. Encounter a valley of a great river

This seems to be the only reference in View of the Hebrews that might apply.

“Other tribes assure us that their remote fathers, on their way to this country, ‘came to a great river which they could not pass; when God dried up the river that they might pass over.’  – page 106

No valleys are mentioned in connection with any rivers, great or otherwise.

Ethan Smith uses the tradition referenced on page 106 to describe his speculation that God must have allowed the Indians to cross the “Beering’s Straits” by drying up rivers all over the place. This is markedly different from the Book of Mormon’s River of Laman and Valley of Lemuel, as the river was both crossable and un-dried up.

K. A unity of race (Hebrew) settle the land and are the ancestral origin of American Indians

View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon differ dramatically on this point. Ethan Smith can’t stop yapping about the Ten Tribes, and how they came out of the north countries across the Bering Strait to escape Roman oppression. The Book of Mormon ignores the Ten Tribes as possible ancestors of the Indians, instead focusing on the non-lost tribes of Joseph and Judah in describing the Lehites and the Mulekites, respectively. Then, for good measure, it adds a group – the Jaredites – that are utterly un-Hebrew and dominate the land well before the House of Israel even comes along.

So much of View of the Hebrews is devoted to tying the fate of the Lost Tribes to the history of the Indians that Joseph Smith would have had to discard just about everything Ethan Smith wrote when producing the Book of Mormon, including all of the supposed evidences of Hebraism among the Indians that Ethan Smith cites, not a single one of which makes its way into the Book of Mormon. Why plagiarize a text when you ignore its central premise and all supporting evidences?  In fact, how can that be said to be plagiarism at all?

L. Hebrew the origin of Indian language

Sort of. The Jaredites didn’t speak Hebrew, and the Mulekites had all but forgotten it, and the Nephites kept records in Reformed Egyptian. Again, since Ethan Smith’s theories tied the Indians to Israel, this, too, is just another subset of the original charge.

M. Egyptian hieroglyphics

What about them? The word “hieroglyphics” does not appear in either View of the Hebrews or the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon claims that the Lehites wrote in “Reformed Egyptian,” which are presumed to be hieroglyphics, but View of the Hebrews has nothing approaching a comparable reference. It makes no claims that the Indians wrote anything in Egyptian. It does claim, without any supporting material, that there appears to be some Egyptian influence in ancient American art. The Book of Mormon doesn’t mention art at all.

N. Lost Indian records

You expand that to say that this has reference to “yellow leaves” buried in a hill that B.H. Roberts supposedly speculated might be made of gold. Yet the phrase “yellow leaves” does not appear in View of the Hebrews.

You’re likely referencing the four folded pieces of parchment, yellowed with age, dug out of an Indian grave that supposedly had a handful of Bible verses on them written in Hebrew, as mentioned on page 220 of View of the Hebrews. No reference to “Lost Indian records” on this parchment, unless you consider Deuteronomy to be a “lost Indian record.”

If B.H. Roberts or anyone else believes this old paper, which is described as being wrinkled and getting torn in half, might be made out of gold, that would be truly bizarre, as would presuming that this served as any kind of inspiration for the golden plates. Not only are they wholly dissimilar in form, they are also wholly dissimilar in function. Ethan Smith posits that the scraps of paper were discarded because the Indians could no longer read them and considered them worthless, while the golden plates recorded an intergenerational history and were buried specifically to preserve the history for future generations.

O. Breastplate, Urim & Thummim

Behold the sum total of references to the Breastplate, Urim and Thummim in View of the Hebrews:

“Before the Indian Archimagus officiates in making the supposed holy fire for the yearly atonement for sin, the sagan (waiter of the high priest) clothes him with a white ephod, which is a waist coat without sleeves. In resemblance of the Urim and Thum-inim, the American Archimagus wears a breast plate made of a white conch-shell with two holes bored in the middle of it, through which he puts the ends of an otter skin strap, and fastens a buck horn white button to the outside of each, as if in imitation of the precious stones of the Urim.” – page 173

None of this bears any resemblance to how the Urim and Thummim are referenced in the Book of Mormon itself or in its translation process, although I’m betting Joseph Smith could really have used some of those otter skin straps.

P. A man standing on a wall warning the people saying, “Wo, wo to this city…to this people” while subsequently being attacked.

The implication is that this was where Joseph lifted dialogue for Samuel the Lamanite, who never said the words you quote. The closest I can find is “Yea, wo unto this people who are called the people of Nephi except they shall repent” in Helaman 15:3. It’s got “wo,” “people” and some familiar prepositions in it, but it’s not close enough to constitute plagiarism, especially since its part of a much larger speech that has no antecedent in View of the Hebrews. And it’s obvious that 99.9999% of the dialogue in the Book of Mormon didn’t come from View of the Hebrews if this is the best example of supposedly plagiarized dialogue you can find.

The two men crying “wo” are quite different figures, too. Samuel was a prophet in the New World under attack on a wall and miraculously protected, while the View of the Hebrews guy was an old, frail dude who wandered the streets of Jerusalem and stayed off the walls for seven years while repeating the quote you provide ad nauseum – unlike in the case of Samuel, this single phrase constituted the entirety of his comments, which is probably why he was largely dismissed as a harmless quack. Yet when Jerusalem was under siege in 70 AD, “he ascended the walls, and in a voice still more tremendous than ever, he exclaimed, ‘Wo, wo to this city, this temple, and this people!’ And he then added, (for the first time for the seven years,) ‘Wo, wo to myself!’ The words were no sooner uttered, than a stone from a Roman machine without the walls, struck him dead on the spot!”

Looks more like an accident than an attack.

The slog through “View of the Hebrews” will continue tomorrow.  In the meantime, take a look at the Canonizer camps below. If you think I’m completely wrong, you can join a camp that says so – or create one of your own!