The two books, View of the Hebrews and The Book of Mormon have been undergoing comparisons for decades. When B. H. Roberts did his work on the two in 1922, interest in the parallels grew. In addition, Fawn Brodie's book, No Man Knows My History, and G. T. Harrison's fictitious book, Mormons are Peculiar People, raised public awareness about some similarities between the two books.
View of the Hebrews is one of perhaps half a dozen pre-1830 books supporting the thesis that the American Indians (or Native Americans) were of Hebrew origin. It was written by a minister who lived in Vermont, on the other end of the state from where Joseph Smith was born.
There is no evidence that Joseph Smith ever knew Ethan Smith or ever read View of the Hebrews prior to the publication of the Book of Mormon. Fawn Brodie admits such herself. However, after so stating, she continues to write as if Joseph Smith had access to the book as he was "writing" the Book of Mormon. View of the Hebrews is Ethan Smith's compilation of what writers, explorers, and some who were raised by Indians observed about Indian traditions and their own stories of their origins. Ethan Smith selected and arranged these quotes to Support his thesis that the Indians were descendants of the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel and that they came to the New World by crossing the Bering Strait.
B. H. Robert's conclusions were that if Joseph Smith had written the Book of Mormon himself, he certainly could have gotten some of his ideas from View of the Hebrews. The author agrees with that conclusion. However, B. H. Roberts had strong faith in the divine origin of the Book of Mormon, a fact to which he testified many times after he made his 1922 comparison of the two books.
The author personally doubts that even if Joseph Smith had a copy of View of the Hebrews prior to his translating the Book of Mormon, he would have ploughed through the first 150 pages of the book necessary to get to any of the parallels.
Let us now examine the books and note some of their parallels and some of their differences:
View of the Hebrews has ten tribes leaving Jerusalem around 763 BC and traveling across the Bering Strait with God drying out the earth so they could walk across it, a journey that took one-and-a-half years. The Book of Mormon shows the families of Lehi and Ishmael (members of two tribes) wandering in the wilderness for eight years before boarding a boat built by Nephi and crossing the Ocean.
Noticeably missing in View of the Hebrews, but very apparent in the Book of Mormon, is constant communication between God and his people through holy prophets. The ten tribes, according to the traditions recorded by Ethan Smith, had a holy book but it was taken from them before they arrived in the Americas from Jerusalem. The Book of Mormon people experienced just the opposite. They obtained a holy book just prior to leaving Jerusalem and brought it with them to the Americas.
View of the Hebrews develops a strong case for Hebrew traditions that were evident, according to those telling the story, among the Indians. These practices include circumcision, Indian imitation of the Ark of the Covenant made by carrying a small square box on their backs, the building of temples, a great high priest, life regulated by the number seven (moons, years, etc.), cities of refuge, years of Jubilee, not eating blood of their game and numerous other Hebrew traditions. Of the above-mentioned items, only the building of temples is mentioned in the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon, on the other hand, gives little detail about Mosaic rituals, yet details of Christian rituals such as baptism. It also describes the understanding of redemption and the plan of salvation held among those who lived before Christ.
Both books tell of a more civilized segment of the people who were, through a series of wars, almost killed off while their more savage brothers continued to dominate. View of the Hebrews people migrated South from the Bering Strait, while Book of Mormon people generally moved northward from their original land. View of the Hebrews people had neither books nor the ability to write, and they became savages; Book of Mormon people were great record keepers, had prophets, and enjoyed a highly developed civilization.
Found among both books were temples and frequent references to Isaiah. However, in the Book of Mormon, it is the prophets among the people who have a great love for Isaiah. In the View of the Hebrews, it is Ethan Smith who quotes freely from Isaiah, although generally from different chapters than those quoted in the Book of Mormon.
There are so many spiritually enlightening and motivating passages and details in the Book of Mormon about salvation, the atonement and Jesus Christ himself that it makes View of the Hebrews pale by comparison.
Before one seriously adopts the position that the Book of Mormon was hatched from View of the Hebrews one must carefully read both. The author believes one will find View of the Hebrews, as with many books about the origin of the Native Americans, to be supportive of the Book of Mormon.
If a book showing parallels between Hebrew and Native American cultures was written after the Book of Mormon, detractors pay no attention to it. If written before, many try to prove that Joseph Smith somehow had access to it and used it as a source document for the Book of Mormon.
Having carefully read both, the author clearly finds parallels between the two books to be the exception rather than the rule.