Imagine it is evening and you are standing on the bank of a wide river. Being familiar with the area, you know there is a large house located some distance away on the other side of the water, even though you cannot see it due to intervening foliage. When you look in the direction where you know that house is located, you see a bright glow on the horizon and a large pall of smoke rising. Even though you cannot get to the house because there is a river between you and it, you recognize there are two reasonable probabilities that would explain what you are seeing: either the house is on fire, or its owner is burning a large heap of trash in his yard. The probability that you are seeing a house on fire and not just a pile of burning trash increases with the brightness of the glow and the size of the plume of smoke.
The historical evidence we have presented in this volume might therefore be likened to the bright glow and the distant pall of smoke. Most readers will probably find it sufficient to warrant the explanation we have suggested, while others, unwilling to concede the destruction of a beautiful house without more convincing proof, will continue to believe (or hope) that the evidence of fire has been greatly exaggerated.
More than a dozen years have passed since the predecessor to this volume, Who Really Wrote The Book of Mormon? – The Spalding Enigma, was published in 2005. Afterwards, through on-going research, the authors continued to accumulate new material until, at last, it is possible to bring forth this fully revised, expanded, corrected, and updated edition that you are now reading. This is not merely an old work in new clothes; this is a new work clothed in old finery and settled comfortably in newly refurbished rooms.
As new information came to light over the years, it inevitably brought with it new insights and new perspectives. Naturally it goes without saying that some of these have necessitated the revisions of old hypotheses in order to avoid conflicts and promote consistency.
The issue here is not the writers, nor is it the many millions of good, industrious, and productive people for whom faith in Joseph Smith and his Church is an ongoing way of life. We are dealing with history here, not religion. Our concern is not dogma, but rather about stitching together past events, and in so doing, making a scholarly effort to place them into a reasonable perspective so they may be better understood by those of us whose lives are half-a-dozen or more generations removed from the events themselves. Under the best circumstances, reconstructing history is not easy. It becomes vastly more difficult when those who played key roles in important events have actively sought to conceal the truth from posterity.
Naturally, there will be some who claim that much of this work goes beyond the available documents — a fatal flaw in historical texts according to some writers, as exemplified by Barbara Tuchman in Practicing History, (NY: Knopf, 1981), 18. While such criticism is no doubt valid under ideal circumstances, there are certain occasions — the early life of Oliver Cowdery, for example — when the available documentation is so sparse that stitchometry and logical deduction are often the only recourse. Consider, for instance, the question of how and where Oliver obtained enough training to be considered a journeyman printer. Although everyone accepts the fact that he was well versed in the art by the time he arrived at the newly established Mormon colony at Kirtland, Ohio in 1831, not a single piece of documentation has yet been uncovered that unequivocally reveals the source of his proficiency. The logical conclusion voiced herein, that his cousin, Benjamin Franklin Cowdery, was most likely the one responsible, came only after a long and tedious process of collecting disparate pieces of information, then carefully eliminating possibilities. The same process eventually led to the determination that Solomon Spalding’s Manuscript Story – Conneaut Creek and his A Manuscript Found must have been two different compositions.
Certainly speculation and conjecture do not constitute history in and of themselves. Yet no one can doubt their effectiveness in stimulating the research necessary to transform today’s conjecture into tomorrow’s reality or, alternatively, to consign it to history’s dust bin. With the publication of this volume, much new ground has been broken. Although much work remains to be done, everything presented in this volume deserves to be carefully considered. In the words of Prof. Bart D. Ehrman of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “The past can never be empirically proved, it can only be reconstructed.”
To those who will acknowledge that we have presented much new information, but with a distinctly anti-Mormon tone, let it be said that we are not anti-anything — we are pro-history. Our purpose is to stimulate further inquiry into a subject that has long cried out for attention. As such, this work should be considered a beginning, not an end; and even devout Mormons in search of the truth should welcome it.