B.H. Roberts Studies the Book of Mormon

Brigham H. Roberts was President of The Seventy in the 1920s. Prompted by a letter Apostle James Talmage had received from William Riter, the First Presidency asked Roberts to develop a response to various difficulties and anachronisms within the Book of Mormon narrative.

After vigorous investigation and introspection, he concluded that the discrepancies and writing style could not be adequately reconciled, further suggesting that the most plausible explanation was that Smith wrote the Book of Mormon. Unable to obtain additional light after three days of discussion with Roberts, the brethren kept his troubling findings to themselves, never publishing his work. Rather, his findings were published in 1985 by Gerald and Sandra Tanner.


  1. How could the great diversity in primitive Indian languages have occurred in such a short period after 400 A.D., while the Nephite’s Hebrew language was so highly developed and disappeared?
  2. The Book of Mormon claims that Lehi found horses upon his arrival in America, which were not in existence until Spaniards brought them.
  3. The Jews had no knowledge of steel in 600 B.C., yet Nephi reported a bow of fine steel after leaving Jerusalem.
  4. Book of Mormon speaks of “swords and scimeters“, yet the word “scimeter” does not appear in early literature before the rise of Mohammedanism, after Lehi departed Jerusalem.
  5. The Nephites knew of and used silk, yet that was unknown in America.


  • From Apostle Talmage’s journal entry after Roberts  presented his findings – “I know the Book of Mormon to be a true record…. The Book of Mormon states that Lehi and his colony found horses upon this continent when they arrived; therefore horses were here at the time.”
  • Richard Lyman asked – “Are they things that would help our prestige?” Roberts replied no, prompting Lyman to suggest, “Then why discuss them?”
  • When Roberts reiterated that he remained stumped, the leaders all stood one by one and bore testimony to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. [1]
  • Roberts wrote to President Grant after the meeting. “I was greatly disappointed over the net results of the discussion. There was so much said that was utterly irrelevant, and so little said, if anything at all, that was helpful in the matters at issue that I came away from the conference quite disappointed. …nothing was said that could result to our advantage at all or stand the analysis of enlightened criticism. …hoping for the development of new knowledge, and for new light to fall upon what has already been learned… I cannot be other than painfully conscious of the fact that our means of defense, should we be vigorously attacked, are very inadequate.” [2]
  • A committee formed to finalize a response. Roberts reported that he had a response which was “an answer that would satisfy people that didn’t think, but a very inadequate answer to a thinking man.”
  • B.H. went on to independently prepare a 400 page study, shifting his position from the Book of Mormon being one of strongest evidences supporting Mormonism, to the one in need of the most bolstering.


  • It is not necessary for me to suggest that maintenance of the truth of the Book of Mormon is absolutely essential to the integrity of the whole Mormon movement, for it is inconceivable that the Book of Mormon should be untrue in its origin or character and the church be true.” [3]
  • “And we place our revealed truths in the Book of Mormon against the alleged facts resulting from the investigations of Ethnologists and Philologists and the deductions of their science, and calmly await the vindication we feel sure that time will bring to the Book of Mormon.” “It certainly would have no effect upon the educated class throughout the world.” “What would be the effect of such an answer upon the minds of our youth? Our youth, already so willing to follow in so many other branches of learning the deductions of the sciences in their high school and college courses.”
  • “Is silence the best answer? Is silence possible in such a questioning age as ours – such an age of free inquiry? May the questions propounded to us be ignored? Would not silence be looked upon as a confession of inability to make an effective answer? Would not silence be a confession of defeat?”
  • “…I shall hold that what is here presented illustrates sufficiently the matter taken in hand…namely that they are all of one breed and brand; so nearly alike that one mind is the author of them, and that a young and undeveloped, but piously inclined mind. The evidence I sorrowfully submit points to Joseph Smith as their creator. It is difficult to believe that they are the product of history, that they come upon the scene separated by long periods of time, and among a race which was the ancestral race of the red man of America.” [4]
  • “The allusions here to absurdities of expressions and incidents in the Book of Mormon are not made for the purpose of ridiculing the book, or casting undue aspersions upon it; but they are made to indicate what may be fairly regarded as just objects of criticism under the assumption that the Book of Mormon is of human origin, and that Joseph Smith is the author. For these absurdities in expression; these miraculous incidents in warfare, those almost mock…are certainly just such absurdities and lapses as would be looked for if a person of such limitations as bounded Joseph Smith undertook to put forth a book dealing with the history and civilization of ancient peoples.” [5]



[1] Studies of the Book of Mormon, 20-24.
Studies of the Book of Mormon, 48-50.
Studies of the Book of Mormon, 58.
Studies of the Book of Mormon, 271.
Studies of the Book of Mormon, 277.