CES Reply: The Unbearable Lightness of “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.

8. There was a book published in 1823 Vermont entitled View of the Hebrews . 


Yes, I know. I had to read the whole thing in order to respond to your letter. No one should have to read View of the Hebrews, because it’s an extraordinarily boring and inaccurate book, and it bears only a superficial, cursory resemblance to the Book of Mormon. Anyone who thinks Joseph Smith plagiarized from it has clearly never bothered to read it.

That includes you, Jeremy.


A century after the fact, View of the Hebrews was republished by Brigham Young University, which suggests that the Church is not at all concerned if people read View of the Hebrews and compare it to the Book of Mormon. (They still have the entire V of the H text posted on the BYU website.) Incidentally, Joseph Smith was equally unconcerned, and he even cited View of the Hebrews in 1842 as evidence for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. It would be a very curious thing, indeed, for a plagiarist to call attention to his source material.

To read a single page of Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews is to instantly recognize that the Book of Mormon did not plagiarize from it. In fact, for the benefit of those reading this, let’s do precisely that. I’m going to pluck a paragraph at random and reproduce it here and let readers make a determination for themselves.

So here it is: the second paragraph from Chapter Three of View of the Hebrews, entitled “The Present State of Judah and Israel.” Enjoy:

The whole present population of the Jews has been calculated at five millions. But the probability is, (as has been thought by good judges,) that they are far more numerous. One noted character says, that in Poland and part of Turkey, there are at least three millions of this people; and that among them generally, there is an unusual spirit of enquiry relative to Christianity. Mr. Noah says, that in the States of Barbary, their number exceeds seven hundred thousand. Their population in Persia, China, India, and Tartary, is stated (in a report of the London Society for the conversion of the Jews,) to be more than three hundred thousand. In Western Asia the Jews are numerous; and they are found in almost every land.

In which part of the Book of Mormon can we expect to find Joseph’s bastardized version of this?

And lest you think I’m plucking out a section that is unrepresentative of the majority of the View of the Hebrews text, feel free to reproduce any other section from V of the H and look for where Joseph adapted it in to his own allegedly derivative work. In addition, View of the Hebrews is just over 47,000 words long, compared to over 265,000 words in the Book of Mormon. If Joseph was just ripping off V of the H, how is it that Joseph’s version is more than five times longer than his source material? True, Peter Jackson was able to pad out The Hobbit into a trilogy of three-hour movies, but this is even more ridiculous than that. (And The Hobbit movies were pretty darn ridiculous.)

It’s an apples-to-oranges comparison. View of the Hebrews is a polemical essay about Ethan Smith’s theory that the Indians are Israelites. It is not, like the Book of Mormon, a narrative history. It’s a recitation of historical facts and speculation; it has no story at all. In addition, the “evidences” that Ethan Smith provides to link the Indians to Israel are completely ignored in the Book of Mormon. You won’t find chiasmus or much in the way of King James-style English in V of the H. There are no Nephites, Lamanites, Jaredites, or Liahonas, or cureloms or cumoms, or any Book of Mormon proper names or places. Even Captain Kidd is nowhere to be seen.

Below is a chart comparing the View of the Hebrews to the Book of Mormon:

Okay, let’s take a look.


Online Source


Online Source 

Published 1823, first edition

1825, second edition

1830, first edition
Location Vermont

Poultney, Rutland County


Sharon, Windsor County

NOTE: Oliver Cowdery, one of the Book of Mormon witnesses, lived in Poultney when View of the Hebrews was published. NOTE : Windsor

County is adjacent to

Rutland County.

NOTE: You are incorrect. The Book of Mormon was first published in Palymyra, Wayne County, New York, not Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont.

Windsor is the county where Joseph Smith was born, 24 years prior to the Book of Mormon’s publication. The fact that Windsor County is adjacent to Rutland County is about as relevant as the fact that Keokuk, Iowa is where the Des Moines River meets the Mississippi.


Online Source


Online Source 

The destruction of Jerusalem
The scattering of Israel
The restoration of the Ten Tribes
Hebrews leave the Old World for the New World
Religion a motivating factor
Migrations a long journey
Encounter “seas” of “many waters”
The Americas an uninhabited land
Settlers journey northward
Encounter a valley of a great river
A unity of race (Hebrew) settle the land and are the ancestral origin of American Indians
Hebrew the origin of Indian language
Egyptian hieroglyphics
Lost Indian records

A set of “yellow leaves” buried in Indian hill. Elder B.H. Roberts noted the “leaves” may be gold.

Joseph Smith claimed the gold plates were buried in Hill Cumorah

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

Jesus, son of Ananus, stood on the wall saying “Wo, wo to this city, this

temple, and this people.”

– Came to preach for many days

– Went upon a wall

– Cried with a loud voice

– Preached of destruction of Jerusalem

– Had stones cast at him

(View of Hebrews, p.20) 

Samuel the

Lamanite stood on

the wall saying “Wo, wo to this city” or

“this people”.

– Came to preach for many days

– Went upon a wall

– Cried with a loud voice – Preached

of destruction of

Nephites – Had

stones cast at him

(Helaman 13-16) 

Prophets, spiritually gifted men transmit generational records
The Gospel preached in the Americas
Quotes whole chapters of Isaiah
Good and bad are a necessary opposition
Pride denounced
Polygamy denounced
Sacred towers and high places
Messiah visits the Americas

Quetzalcoatl, the white bearded “Mexican Messiah”

Idolatry and human sacrifice
Hebrews divide into two classes, civilized and barbarous
Civilized thrive in art, written language, metallurgy, navigation
Government changes from monarchy to republic
Civil and ecclesiastical power is united in the same person
Long wars break out between the civilized and barbarous
Extensive military fortifications, observations, “watch towers”
Barbarous exterminate the civilized
Discusses the United States

Elder B.H. Roberts noted: “Ethan is prominently connected with the recording of the matter in the one case, and Ether in the other.”

Source: B.H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, p.240-242,324-344

Poor B.H. Roberts. You have so woefully misrepresented his work on this subject that it’s almost criminal. We’ll get to that later.

My initial plan was to make another chart where I add a fourth column describing why these supposed parallels are largely insignificant and, in some cases, ridiculous, but each point requires more text than a small box can allow. So I guess we have to do this the old fashioned way.

A. Both books reference the destruction of Jerusalem

Well, sort of, and one much more than the other. Ethan Smith begins his essay with a discussion of the sacking of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD, and then proceeds to describe all that immediately followed, lamenting the evils of Thadeus, Felix, Nero, and other Roman notables and quoting all the scripture in which Jesus foretold Jerusalem’s sad fate. His entire first chapter is a historical recounting of the fate of Jerusalem after Christ, citing events and figures that play no role in the Book of Mormon whatsoever. More than 1/5th of its entire text is a synopsis and commentary on a slice of Palestinian history completely removed from anything in the Book of Mormon.

In contrast, the Book of Mormon recounts the family of Lehi escaping from the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem 670 years earlier and never mentions the Romans at all.

Furthermore, its narrative leaves Jerusalem behind entirely after the 14th of its 531 pages and never goes back. With the exception of Jerusalem and Jesus Himself, none of the people, places, or events referenced in V of H’s first 47 pages correlate in any way to the Book of Mormon. In content, length, and literary structure, the treatment of both books of two different historical accounts couldn’t be more different.

Again, let’s remember what View of the Hebrews is. As a treatise postulating an Israeli genealogy for Native Americans, it could not make its case without citing recorded historical events that overlap with events of concern to the Book of Mormon. How many other books have been written about these widely known and researched historical events? Should we assume that all of them have plagiarized each other?

B. Both books reference the Scattering of Israel

This should be considered a subsidiary of the first point, as Ethan Smith describes at great length Israel’s scattering in the context of the Roman sacking of Palestine. The Book of Mormon, however, contains no description of any actual scattering and only makes reference to it in passing and in a much different doctrinal context. Ethan Smith focuses exclusively on the Lost Ten Tribes, which get a few passing mentions but don’t really figure into the Book of Mormon narrative at all.

C. Both books reference the Restoration of the Ten Tribes
Well, yes, but with entirely different purposes and focus. In the Book of Mormon, the Ten Tribes are almost an afterthought – Lehi’s family descend from Joseph, not the Lost Tribes, which is in direct contrast to Ethan Smith’s theory that all Indians come from the Ten Tribes.

D. Both books reference Hebrews leaving the Old World for the New World
Yes, in very different contexts. Ethan Smith postulates that the Lost Tribes wandered into the Americas over the Bering Strait. Furthermore, he doesn’t tell us any specific expeditions thing about any specific people in their company- remember, V of H isn’t a story; it’s an essay. The Book of Mormon introduces us to a group of people with names who leave Jerusalem, wander in the wilderness, build a ship,  and arrive in America – never specifically identified as America in the text itself – by sea, not by land. The events are different, as is the literary approach. It’s the difference between reading an academic essay about boys in New England boarding schools and reading Catcher in the Rye.

E. Religion a motivating factor
Why, yes, it was. Why is this a separate category? When you’re talking about the scattering and gathering of Israel, isn’t religion going to be a motivating factor? All of these initial objections are essentially subsets of the main charge repeated with only slight variations.

F. Migrations a long journey
Again, a distinction without a difference, as it’s just another element of the original charge. Would it have made a difference here if the migration in one of the books had been a short journey? You could add a category that said “In both books, people ate food in the course of the referenced migrations” and it would be as noteworthy as saying, essentially, “it’s a long way from Israel to America,” which is all you’re saying here.

G. Encounter “seas” of “many waters”
The word “seas” appears in View of the Hebrews precisely three times.

“This writer says, “They entered into the Euphrates by the narrow passages of the river.” He must mean, they repassed this river in its upper regions, or small streams, away toward Georgia; and hence must have taken their course between the Black and Caspian seas.”  – p. 76

“We have a prediction relative to the ten tribes, which fully accords with the things exhibited of them, and of the natives of our land… They shall run to and fro, over all the vast regions, the dreary wilds, which lie between those extreme seas.” – footnote, p. 107

“Such texts have a special allusion to the lost tribes of the house of Israel. And their being called over mountains, and over seas, from the west, and from afar, receives an emphasis from the consideration of their being gathered from the vast wilds of America.” – p. 159

Nobody seems to be actually encountering seas in any of these quotes.

The phrase “many waters” does not appear in View of the Hebrews.

We’re going to be slogging through “View of the Hebrews” for several more posts.  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!