So as not to rehash old material, here are my reasons for supporting the Spalding/Rigdon Theory of Book of Mormon origins:
Thanks for being concise, as it will help us focus on some issues and undoubtedly will get the discussion going.
The internal consistency vs. what Smith taught. I think that, like it or not, the apologists have adequately demonstrated that the Book of Mormon has an internal consistency pointing strongly to a limited geography. In spite of this, Smith clearly taught a hemispheric geography. So Smith himself was NOT conversant with the material in his own book, an inconceivable concept if he had written it himself.
The geography is generally consistent with hemispheric geography, although it creates distance and population growth problems. The two issues are not connected. One must determine which geography fits the Book of Mormon best without considering the distance problems, because no one in Joseph Smith's day, including Joseph Smith, realized there were distance problems. (In fact, the average Mormon believes hemispheric geography without the slightest awareness of the unreality of it.) To include distance problems in determining the best fit is to beg the question. If Book of Mormon geography fits a limited geography better, then perhaps distances are less of a problem (but not entirely overcome). If Book of Mormon geography fits hemispheric geography better, then distances are a problem and evidence of the author's naïvété. So, here you argue that Joseph Smith was naïve, but dismiss hemispheric geography as naïve, which is begging the question. Now, if you assume Joseph Smith did understand his own book, that would change the way you interpret the passages.
I won't belabor the point now, we can go into detail on geography if you like. I have debated with the LGT advocates, including Keven Christensen, Sorenson, and Brant Gardner, and believe I can show the best fit is Panama as the neck of land. (If you want to discuss this aspect of the Spaulding theory, I would suggest starting another sticky thread and begin it by reproducing your argument and my response.)
(Note: while you argue for consistency in Book of Mormon geography, keep in mind that there are internal inconsistencies in doctrine and narrative.)
Here's a more specific pointer in that direction: Solomon Spalding's rough draft, the Oberlin Manuscript (not to beg the question, but just bear with me), clearly describes a rather limited North American geography. The Book of Mormon, for its part, mentions a narrow neck of land that was "a day's journey for a Nephite." The only isthmus in the Americas which is a day's journey for a Nephite is the Isthmus of Niagra--entirely removed from where Smith later became convinced the Book of Mormon lands were, i.e. Central America--but entirely consistent with Spalding's work.
Yes, Spaulding was obviously incorporating local legends about Mound Builders and had no global ambitions about explaining the history of the entire hemisphere, as well as the entire world, from Adam to the Second Coming of Christ. The Book of Mormon is vastly more global in its scope.
No, the Isthmus of Niagra is not the only place in the Americas narrow enough to qualify (that is, if one wants to avoid the apologetic contortions necessary to maintain Tehuantepec). Panama is about 60 miles and on the mountains water can be seen to the east and west. This was well known and mentioned in geography books in Joseph Smith's day.
I'm having difficulty understanding your position. In what way is the Isthmus on Niagra consistent with Spaulding's work? That its closer than Panama? You aren't suggesting that Spaulding mentioned this narrow neck. If he didn't, what relevance could it have? If you imagine the missing MS included more details like the Book of Mormon does, then you are begging the question again. You don't have any clue as to what the other MS said (if there was one). If you are using the Book of Mormon to speculate about its contents, then you are still begging the question. One could equally speculate that Spaulding changed his geography to hemispheric, and you would have the same amount of evidence to support it--nothing.
Not only that, but the "Isthmus of Niagra as 'Narrow Neck of Land'" model finally accounts for the severe directional skewing of the current limited geography theory. Rather than Southern Mexico/Land Northward being nearly west of Guatemala/Land Southward, Canada becomes the Land Northward, while the United States becomes the Land Southward. Let's face it, Canada is far easier to conceptualize as being "north" of the United States than is Southern Mexico being "north" of Guatemala.
Moving northward from South America into Panama one passes between water on the east and on the west. You are not only competing against the LGT of the apologists, but traditional Mormon geography that was later worked out in great detail by Orson Pratt and George Reynolds. So, you don't have a problem with directions, there are other considerations. Like, having temperate weather year around, for instance. What about a land southward nearly surrounded by water and a suitable place for Lehi's landing?
Finally, another bit of evidence that Smith was unfamiliar with his own book's contents is that he placed the Hill Cumorah virtually in his own backyard, when according to the book's internal geography it should've been in Canada, not the United States. (Of course, even the apologists locate the Hill Cumorah far, far away from Smith's home, but we're talking about Spalding geography, not Sorenson geography, and Smith's unfamiliarity with it.)
Again, begging the question because one has to assume your geography is correct, which if we did would make the Hill Cumorah location unnecessary. If we were to assume Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon, then his locating the Hill Cumorah in western New York disproves your theory--that's how begging the question works.
In sum, speculations about geography to support a speculation about Spaulding is hardly the way to go. It is called the fallacy of obscurum per obscurius
consists in attempting to explain the more certain with the less certain.
Speed of translation of Book of Mormon vs. Book of Abraham. It's hardly arguable that Smith produced the text of the Book of Abraham essentially by himself, much like the "Smith-as-sole-author" adherents believe he did with the Book of Mormon. Yet Smith had the Book of Abraham manuscripts in his possession since Kirtland, but never finished the translation (and didn't even start on the Book of Joseph). So Smith is a painstakingly slow translator. Yet years earlier, when Cowdery shows up on Smith's doorstep, voila! Smith finishes the bulk of the Book of Mormon in c. 60 days. Why so quickly in this case, if he didn't have a manuscript off which to read?
Again, you are taken in by the apologists' arguments, which are wrong. Joseph Smith's rate of dictation with Cowdery varied, but the average was about 6 (1st ed.) pages per day. Maybe a few hours at the most (but probably in spurts throughout the day, not necessarily all at once). That gave him plenty of time to think about what to dictate next. He dictated many of his revelations in the same manner. There was no MS to read from, according to all the witnesses.
Comparing his dictation of the Book of Mormon with the Book of Abraham is irrelevant for several reasons. First, Joseph Smith wasn't a "painstakingly slow translator"; he wasn't a translator at all. Second, we have no comparative descriptions of how the Book of Abraham was dictated, although Parley P. Pratt said it came from the stone. Aside from the working papers (Alphabet and Grammar of the Egyptian Language), the translation MSS are comparable to the original Book of Mormon MS, with no signs of hesitation a few revisions.
See-saw Smith/Rigdon power struggle. You mentioned that the Book of Mormon contains an overwhelming amount of correspondences to Smith's life and times. This means that, if the Spalding/Rigdon Theory is true, Smith inserted his own interpolations and perhaps story arcs into the Book. Now, chances are good that Smith would only do such a thing because he couldn't stand playing second fiddle to anyone else ("Why does Sidney think he's such a grand scriptorian? Watch me make this book even better!") Is there any evidence that Smith didn't like playing second fiddle? Yes, as evidenced by the near-constant power struggle, especially in the early years, between Smith and Rigdon.
With this concession, the Spaulding theory becomes the unnecessary hypothesis. The simplest explanation is that Joseph Smith wrote the entire book. If Joseph Smith has the ability to rewrite Spaulding and make the story his own, then obviously the Spaulding theory is no longer needed to explain how the ignorant farm boy came up with the Book of Mormon.
Joseph Smith had many power struggles, even before Rigdon showed up in New York. He had a dispute with Cowdery and the Whitmers over a passages in D&C 20 that seemed to give too much authority of church leaders. Cowdery even received a revelation challenging D&C 18 and the establishment of 12 apostles. Page challenged Joseph Smith with his revelations. In Ohio, Hubble and others received revelations and threatened Joseph Smith's leadership. In 1832, he had a jurisdictional dispute with Bishop Edward Partridge in Missouri--out of which grew the concept of a First Presidency. Don't forget about his struggle with James A. Bennett. So, any disputes with Rigdon should be seen in this context. Sure, Rigdon had an ego, but so did many other men around Joseph Smith. Remember McLellin's attempt to dictate a better-worded revelations than Joseph Smith's?
Now, I know what you're thinking: "What does a power struggle have to do with Spalding/Rigdon?" and "If Smith wrote it himself, why theorize about any 'second fiddle' business?" The reason is this: It provides a character motive for Smithisms in the Book of Mormon, even assuming Spalding/Rigdon. Also, the second fiddle/interpolations model accounts for the inability of Smith to recreate the missing 116 pages (since, if the Spalding/Rigdon Theory is true, Smith-as-sole-author adherents would wonder about the Small Plates bruhaha since Smith could just dictate from Rigdon's altered manuscript a second time).
I'm having difficulty following your argument here. Perhaps you need to elaborate. You seem to be arguing that Joseph Smith could not replace the lost 116 pages because he was adding his Smithisms and couldn't simply re-read the Spaulding-Rigdon MSS. But this would also be true if he was dictating his own words and not reading from a MS at all. Your assertion that Joseph Smith read the 116 pages from a MS is contradicted by all eye witnesses testimony. Whereas my assertions fits the evidence. Certainly, you believe the replacement text (i.e., 1 Nephi - Words of Mormon) is a complete Smithism? If he had the ability to dictate that on his own (which contains some of his best stuff), then the Spaulding-Rigdon theory becomes unnecessary. The replacement text was dictated in Fayette in June 1829 before many witnesses, who testify that Joseph Smith's face was in the hat. Apparently, the lost 116 pages was less religious and the replacement text filled with doctrine and prophecy, which is odd if Rigdon had authored the first version.
Plus, Rigdon's early assumption of equality with Smith would make sense if Rigdon was equally responsible for starting the whole thing vis-à-vis the creation of the Book of Mormon.
This assumption was held by many in the early church before the formation of the hierarchy. Rigdon did more than double church membership and undoubtedly expected certain privileges and respect. These are things that were inevitable for group making the transition from charismatic-based authority to a more stable institutional-based authority--all of which I covered years ago in Religious Seekers and the Advent of Mormonism.
(now available on the Signature site).
The curtain separating translator from scribe. I'm sure Smith trotted out the "Seer Stone in a Hat" trick when it was necessary to impress his financial backers such as the Whitmers. But why was it ever necessary to separate the scribe from the translator, if the plates were often hidden in a field? It sounds to me that Smith didn't want some or all of his scribes to catch him reading off a pre-existent manuscript.
The only evidence for a curtain separating Joseph Smith from the scribe is Anthon's report of what Harris told him. That was only during the initial stages of the dictation, probably when Joseph Smith copied the characters from the plates and the plates could not be seen. After that and from then on, all the testimony is uniform in stating that Joseph Smith was in the open with his head in the hat. That's why the Spaulding theory never made sense to those who knew the circumstances of dictation, and why the myth flourished among the less informed. With all the sources and information we have today, I'm at a loss to explain its appeal.
Emma to Joseph Smith III. Let's face it: During the Joseph Smith III/polygamy business, Emma made it obvious that she was more than willing and able to lie about historical facts when it suited the purposes of her or her family. So her adherence to the seer-stone-in-a-hat model may have been a bit too convenient in her case.
In a court of law, one can impeach testimony with an argument like that. But historians don't operate that way. They take each issue separately. Just because one lies, doesn't mean they always lie. If such a person is alone in their testimony, that might be cause for caution. But Emma is corroborated by many others. Moreover, in the case with polygamy, she had motivation to lie (or at least dissemble) about polygamy. In the case of Joseph Smith's translation method, one is hard pressed to discover a motivation. One can't simply accuse her of lying because it contradicts one's theory. That would lead to the unlikely assertion that all the witnesses were lying.
Cowdrey, Vanick et. al.'s fine book, Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon? The Spalding Enigma. This book goes far, far beyond the Conneaut Witnesses. The amount of new sources and statements they've located is breathtaking. I can't possibly do it justice here, but let's just say that the sheer weight of information in that book is another reason I adhere to the Spalding/Rigdon Theory.
JFK assassination theorists have lots of circumstantial arguments as well. And Creationist have mountains of evidence as well. I'm well aware of the tangled web of unsupported inferences Spaulding advocates have woven over the years, but to those who are knowledgeable about the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, and early Mormon sources, it doesn't fit. The best cure for the Spaulding theory is a better understanding of Mormon history and contents of the Book of Mormon. It's not as exciting and sensationalistic as conspiracy theories, but it interesting enough for me.