Among the many “proofs” Mormons like to use to authenticate the Book of Mormon is to point out that Joseph Smith was far too young to dream up the theme found in the Book of Mormon. They also point out that this book contains many unique words and that Joseph Smith could not have possibly have made this up. For many, this is clear evidence that adds to its claim of divine inspiration.
First of all, let’s consider his age. While Smith said he was only about 14 years old when he allegedly had his “First Vision,” he also said he did not receive the gold plates until Spring of 1827. That would make him a young man of around 23 – not at all too young for a person to write a 531-page novel.
Many of Smith’s “new” words seem to be nothing more than combinations of existing words. For example, Moses + Isaiah = Mosiah. Abinoam + Gadi = Abinadi. Even if Smith did not get the name of Nephi from the Apocrypha (2 Maccabees 1:36), he could easily have invented the word by combining Nehemiah with either Zephi (1 Chronicles 1:36), Shephi (1 Chronicles 1:40), or Shiphi (1 Chronicles 4:37). By combining celestial and terrestrial we get the word telestial, and Helaman can be wrought by combining Helam (2 Samuel 10:16) with words such as Naaman (Genesis 46:21) or even Haman (Esther 3:5). If Smith did not get the word Moroni from a city on the island of Comoros (Cumorah?), he may have combined the word Mordecai (Ezra 2:2; Esther 2:5) with names such as Gideoni (Numbers 1:11), Armoni (2 Samuel 21:8), or perhaps the title given in John 20:16, Rabboni.
If we are to assume that such accomplishments tend to authenticate Joseph Smith’s role as prophet, perhaps we should also consider J.R.R. Tolkien. This famous author from Oxford, England, probably known best for his books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, began writing his complex histories and mythologies at the age of 24, making Smith’s feat seem not all that significant. Consider also that at an early age Tolkien was very much interested in languages both ancient and modern. One of his hobbies was not just the invention of new words, but the invention of whole languages!
When it came to originality, Tolkien also outshines Smith. Is there really a comparison to the themes found in Tolkien’s writings when we examine the Book of Mormon? The idea of ancient immigrants coming to the American continent was hardly new in early nineteenth-century America. Ethan Smith’s (no relation) View of the Hebrews and Solomon Spaulding’s Manuscript Story also carried similar story lines.
I don’t think even Joseph Smith’s critics would deny that he was very clever and perhaps even a gifted person; however, just because he wrote a novel while still in his 20’s, or had the ability to invent new names, does not necessarily make one a prophet of God.