Modern Origin Model
The modern origin model suggests that someone or some people composed the Book of Mormon by drawing upon or being influenced by the early 1800s cultural milieu. Two main theories have been argued for recently:
Oral composition by Joseph Smith
This model holds that Joseph Smith was primarily responsible for the creation of the text (explanation and sources). Most modern non-LDS historians seem to have adopted this basic model including Fawn Brodie, William Davis, Dan Vogel, Brent Metcalfe, and John Hamer.
Other small groups authored it
These models suggest that some other group of people were responsible:
- D. Pawl Trebas points to Lucy Mack, Joseph Smith Sr., and Hyrum Smith as primary authors.
- Craig Criddle and Robert Hancock point to Sidney Rigdon and to some lesser extent Oliver Cowdery and Joseph.
These theories are not advanced by prominent non-LDS historians that I am aware.
Ancient Origin Model
The ancient origin model (AKA divine intervention model) suggests that Joseph Smith was able to convey the meaning of an ancient American source into English. And, if ancient information were somehow being transmitted through Smith, then this strongly implies supernatural intervention since nobody knew ancient American languages at the time. Four main theories have been advanced for the translation:
- An ironclad translation would mean that Joseph transmitted precisely what was shown to him in the seer stone or Urim and Thummim and this then was a high-fidelity transfer of the meaning of the text on the golden plates into English. As Royal Skousen has observed, “A number of statements from the witnesses definitely show that virtually all of them believed in the iron-clad theory.” Still, enough data contradicts this model that few, if any, scholars support it today.
- A tight translation (or “tight-control”) is like an ironclad translation but leaves room for Joseph to impose some small variation on the outcome of the translation. The early work of Royal Skousen supports this model.
- A loose translation (or “loose-control”) leaves room for Joseph to impose greater variation on the outcome of the translation. Still, this model suggests that the essence of what was on the ancient plates is being transmitted.
- The expansionist (or “cultural”) model allows Joseph broad room to express ideas in whatever language he chooses and to interject or expand significantly on the ancient text being transmitted. Blake Ostler first outlined this model (2005 update)
A continuum of modern influence
The models may be arranged in order of increasing modern influence:
It is possible that parts of the text were produced in somewhat different ways.
For instance, Royal Skousen—the leading LDS expert on the textual evidence surrounding the translation of the Book of Mormon—has suggested some mixture of tight and loose control, and more recently for the expansionist/cultural model, at least in part.