In October 1999, National Geographic unveiled the fossil of a new species of dinosaur. They called it Archaeoraptor liaoningensis, and trumpeted it as a new and exciting transitional fossil between dinosaurs and birds. The excitement proved to be short-lived, because the fossil was a fraud. It was made out of pieces of real creatures: the upper body of a bird called Yanornis, the tail of a dinosaur called Microraptor, and the legs of something else entirely; there might be up to 5 specimens represented in the stitched-up final product. The original finder of the fossil pieces knew that complete fossils fetch higher prices, so they cemented the parts together, hoping that the real pieces would create a convincing fake.
On October 15, 2012, smartphone enthusiasts were abuzz over rumors of a new offering from Sony: the Nexus X. Photos of this new model had mysteriously surfaced, and tech reporters and commentators happily picked them apart. But some suspected that the photos were fake, and soon their suspicions were confirmed: the creator of the photos came forward and revealed that it was a hoax. The clever faker, Ti Kawamoto, had taken photos of features of other Nexus phones, including the Xperia Ion and Xperia TL, created a 3D model, and simulated photos using the model. Kawamoto used the traits of existing phones to make his pictures of a nonexistent phone seem more credible.
I mention these two examples because they have a common trait which, I believe, is found in many fakes and frauds: the fake object is made out of pieces of real objects, so that the false whole may borrow authenticity from its true parts. This is often successful, but the sources of the pieces, and the gaps between them, eventually become apparent, revealing the hoax for what it is.
There are many examples of this. Piltdown Man, made out of a human cranium and an orangutan jawbone. The Solid Muldoon, sculpted out of mortar, rock dust, clay, plaster, ground bones, blood and meat. Nick Simmons’s Incarnate, with panels and character designs copied from Bleach, Hellsing, One Piece, Deadman Wonderland, and other manga, along with pieces from DeviantArt. The Feejee Mermaid, with a monkey’s body grafted onto a fish’s tail. Quentin Rowan’s Assassin of Secrets, which plagiarized Ian Fleming, John Gardner, Charles McCarry, Robert Ludlum, James Bamford, and more. Over and over again, fakers have created Frankenstein’s monsters to sell to the world, but keen-eyed skeptics keep seeing the stitches.
This brings me to something which I spent many years accepting as a genuine article, but which I now see as a stitched-up hoax: the Book of Mormon.
Let’s begin in the Book of Jacob, chapter 5, in which we find the prophecy of Zenos concerning the house of Israel. It begins with the narrator comparing Israel to an olive tree, with the master of the vineyard trying to save it. The master and his servants put a lot of work into the tree, grafting wild branches on, taking branches off and planting them elsewhere in the vineyard, seeking to gather fruit before the season is over and the vineyard gets burned. The whole chapter is a parable, describing the Lord’s effort to raise up righteous people before the end of the world.
Now notice the transition: the chapter began by comparing Israel to a single olive tree, but by the end, the narrator is talking about multiple trees, and discussing his plans for the vineyard as a whole. Why the change?
Like my previous examples, Jacob 5 is a composite, and the sources of its pieces are not too hard to find. The first part comes from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, chapter 11, where Paul compares Israel to an olive tree with branches grafted in. The second part comes from the Book of Isaiah, chapter 5, where Isaiah compares Israel to a vineyard that brings forth wild grapes. The rough transition between the two can be seen as Jacob 5 switches from comparing Israel to a tree (see verse 3) to comparing Israel to the whole vineyard (in verse 40, the tree is dying; in verse 41, the Lord weeps over the whole vineyard). They simply don’t mesh. Curt van den Heuvel provided an analysis where he finds more pieces copied from the Bible, such as Luke 13:6-9, where we find the Lord instructing his servants to dig about a tree, and dung it (compare Jacob 5:64). The pieces make up an interesting whole, but they do not truly belong together. The assembly is a fraud.
The rest of the Book of Mormon reveals itself to be full of stolen pieces. The WordTree Foundation did a thorough study that detected numerous quotations from The Late War between the United States and Great Britain, a popular educational text from 1816, within the Book. Stripling soldiers, bands of robbers, curious workmanship, pitching tents on the borders, freemen versus king’s men… Joseph’s first published work is peppered with snippets from the 1816 history book. Even the general style appears to be copied: The Late War was deliberately written “[i]n the Scriptural Style”, and the Book of Mormon has an obvious resemblance to scripture (meaning the Bible, of course). And speaking of the Bible: the Book of Mormon quotes the Bible many times, even when the alleged writer could not possibly have had access to the passage being quoted (or when the passage being quoted is actually a mistranslation). Then there are little pieces from other sources, such as a passage lifted from Josiah Priest and the famous vision of the Tree of Life being copied from a dream by Joseph Smith, Sr. I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. The pieces don’t truly fit where they’ve been placed, and their source is too obvious. The Book of Mormon is a fraud.
Other works by Joseph Smith reveal the same problems. The Book of Abraham, for instance, contains ideas and excerpts from The Philosophy of a Future State, a work first published in 1830. Researchers have found pieces from other sources as well, none of which would have been available at Abraham’s time. Then there are the names, which are Hebrew instead of Egyptian, and the flow of the text, which is just too similar to the King James Bible, much like the Book of Mormon. We might also consider the facsimiles. The copies in the official text have features which puzzled Egyptologists, until they recovered the original of Facsimile 1 and a faithful copy of Facsimile 2 and discovered that Joseph had filled in the gaps in the originals with parts that didn’t match the wholes. Like the Archaeoraptor fossil, there is an illusion of completeness, but the parts do not truly fit together into a coherent whole.
Even Joseph Smith’s revision of the Bible has some features of a patchwork fraud. We should first note that the Bible itself is partially fraudulent: the King James version (KJV) of the Bible has 48 scribal additions (unauthorized insertions by later authors into an original text). It is reasonable to expect that a true prophet of God would detect these rude additions and excise them, but, as this analysis shows, Joseph Smith removed only one of these additions! Then there are 350 more verses that include scribal alterations or mistranslations, and Joseph removed only 11 of them. Then there are Joseph’s translations of specific words: he defines “Golgotha” as “burial” instead of “skull” and “Cephas” as meaning “seer” in addition to meaning “stone” (wrong on both counts). He also introduced a new word “Rabcha”, which he defined as meaning the same thing as the Hebrew “Raca”, meaning “fool”. But “Rabcha” is not a Hebrew word at all; the only “Rabcha” I’ve been able to locate is this village in India. In short, Joseph failed to take out the false pieces in the Bible, and added a few clearly false pieces of his own. (Do read the analysis I mentioned for more explanation and even more errors, along with this compilation from MormonThink.)
As a field, archaeology survived the loss of Archaeoraptor, because there are other fossils that are internally consistent and that come from trustworthy sources; in fact there are thousands of fossils like that, giving us a wealth of reliable data to study the world with. But Mormonism cannot survive the loss of these three texts of Joseph Smith. Even the loss of one text is deadly to Mormonism, because we would not expect a true prophet to put forth any false scripture, so if one is definitely false, what about all the others? But when we have three frauds that Smith declared to be significant revelations, and that together constitute the bulk of Joseph’s canonized work, we can say beyond reasonable doubt that he was not a prophet of God. (Unless God is a liar, but I’d rather not consider that possibility.) It is no use trying to believe in Joseph’s claims anymore. Like the Nexus X, the true Church never really existed, and we must look for truth elsewhere.