To answer these questions, Reverend Spalding's biographer has left us with some informative history, including excerpts from letters written to family members, and other actions taken in relation to his approach on Mormonism. Effectively, his biographer noted that, "his usefulness depend[ed] upon his trying to see the best in the Mormons; [but] the East expects him to expose the worst."8 Franklin Spalding was in a bit of a difficult situation in Utah. Funding for his ministry was provided, in part, by the New York Missions House (of the Episcopalian Church). Where funds were lacking, he went from place to place trying to raise monies. Aside from salaries (his own as well as for his parish), Spalding had to raise funds for the debt encumbering St. Mark's Hospital, the need of new buildings for hospital and school, and churches and rectories.9 Failing to obtain the necessary funds back east, he wrote his mother a letter from the Northern Pacific, dated September 16, 1909, and stated, "Oh, if I can only persuade people to help Utah." Three days later, he writes her again, stating, "Though everybody is kind nobody has given me anything [monetarily] or even promised it."10 Sufficient funding was difficult to obtain, hence, it is understandable why eastern expectations set upon Spalding contributed to his difficulty in being effective as a missionary. In another letter to his mother he wanted her to understand "how hard it is for me to talk in the East about the Mormons, and then to come back to Utah and try to reach the Mormons."11 Back east, the verdict was out on Mormonism, and the only acceptable news was in relation to its anticipated demise.
As a missionary bishop in Utah, Reverend Spalding was expected to be an expert on Mormonism. He wrote, "I am now reading with great interest the Mormon articles of the Faith and Doctrine and Covenants and I think I shall be quite an authority after awhile."12 Previously, he had confessed his candid thoughts on the Book of Mormon. "I am patiently reading the book [sic] of Mormon. It is terrible rot, but I suppose I ought to know it if I am to represent the district adequately. I shall be expected to be an authority on Mormonism."13 Again, two months later, Bishop Spalding wrote, "I've been reading Mormonism until I'm sick."14 It is clear that he was not partial to the Mormon cause. His comments call into question his sincerity in suggesting that the Book of Mormon be taken seriously, and capture his personal assessment of LDS scriptures prior to his "investigation" of the Book of Abraham. It is also clear that he was diligent in meeting expectations as a missionary bishop. "He held that the missionary to the Mormons was under the same obligation to know their literature as was the missionary to the Chinese to know the writings of Confucius."15 While Spalding was no different from other critics in rejecting LDS scriptures, to his credit, he had at least read them.
Another point of difference between Bishop Spalding and most critics was his methodology in addressing Latter-day Saints. His missionary approach can be better appreciated when considering his thoughts on the other methods being entertained by Catholics and Protestants at that time:
Three methods of dealing with the Mormons were in vogue when Bishop Spalding went to Utah. One was that of some Protestant Churches which sought to batter down Mormonism with opprobrium. The second was that of the Roman Catholic Church, the plan of building a majestic cathedral on a commanding site in Salt Lake City, and leaving the front door open. The third, advocated by Bishop Tuttle and followed by Bishop Leonard, was to avoid politics and polemic, and preach positively the historic gospel. Bishop Spalding's study of the situation led him to believe that the Roman Church contributed nothing to the solution of the difficulty. The Protestants by their numbers, energy and financial strength accomplished much through their mission schools; but their militant and derisive attitude compromised their Christian influence. The Latter Day Saints did not get, as a rule, the sympathy extended to the Chinese, the Indian, or the African race. This treatment embittered the Mormons against them.16Spalding's goal was to avoid this "spirit of suspicion and hostility and to confine the efforts of the Church to positive and constructive service to Mormonism," as he understood it. According to his thinking, "sarcasm and ridicule were not only wanting in Christian courtesy but were stupid forms of argument."17 Therefore, Bishop Spalding avoided this approach because it created barriers to effective missionary efforts. His booklet carried a respectful tone that would appeal to his audience, but was carefully crafted in order to lead the reader to a specific conclusion. The perception of sincerity that comes across from a cursory reading of his booklet is impaired when considering his ulterior motives. Reverend Spalding had no intentions of considering the possibility of the Book of Mormon's truth, much less any prominence that it might deserve, yet he had written an appeal to the Latter-day Saints characterizing the Book of Mormon in just such a way. He would later state, "My object in writing the pamphlet was not to inform the world that Joseph Smith's translations were inaccurate, and that therefore his claim to be a Prophet of God was invalid, but try to convince the Mormons themselves of those facts. The rest of the world has long ago made up its mind."18 Bishop Spalding never intended to conduct an innocent investigation as to whether Joseph Smith could properly translate as he had long since concluded on the matter. Thus, his booklet was a carefully crafted assault that masked his true intentions for the sake of capturing Latter-day Saints' attention long enough to unload his secular bombshell.
James Edward Homans, an Episcopalian who would later write under the alias of Robert Charles Webb, was present at a meeting in New York City where Bishop Spalding announced to a body of Episcopalian ministers his plan of attack on Mormonism through the medium of the Book of Abraham. Sidney B. Sperry recalled this event as related to him by Elder James E. Talmage.19 "The Reverend Mr. Spaulding [sic] of Salt Lake was scheduled to give a talk before the Ministerial Association of New York City....Robert C. Webb [Homans] happened to be present at this meeting, and when Mr. Spaulding [sic] was introduced he (Spaulding [sic]) told the audience, composed mainly of ministers of course, that he was contemplating making an attack on the Mormon people through the medium of the Pearl of Great Price. Throughout his talk he emphasized this body blow to be made upon the book [sic] of Abraham."20 According to Sperry, President Joseph F. Smith and Elder Talmage had previously treated Homans respectfully when he came to Utah seeking to write an article on Mormonism. Remembering the courtesy he received from the church at that time, Homans wrote a letter to President Smith informing him of this impending attack.21
In the New York Times, on December 29, 1912, an article was published indicating that Bishop Spalding had spent some time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, researching data "as to the real significance of the papyrus obtained by the Mormons."22 The Times journalist reported that Spalding's efforts were intended to result in the "breaking up of Mormonism through the desertion of the intelligent part of its membership....It is for that reason that he prefers to address the Mormons as his friends rather than to attack them."23 In other words, they would be his friends if they measured up to his standard of intelligence by rejecting Mormonism. The LDS response was probably surprising to Bishop Spalding. Based on his comments to the New York Times, it seems that he fully anticipated a large division to occur within the church. Instead, what he received was a number of published responses from Latter-day Saints that pointed out flaws and weaknesses in his argument, as well as the contradictions among the expert Egyptologists. The Latter-day Saints also became suspicious of Bishop Spalding's sincerity. Elder B.H. Roberts posited, "I have a mild, but at the same time, I trust, only a respectful curiosity, to know what interest Bishop Spalding can have in the question of Joseph Smith's accuracy as a translator, or the historicity of the Book of Mormon, or of the Book of Abraham."24
Other responses were less discreet. Osborne J.P. Widtsoe had noted that while Spalding "tries to impress his reader with his openness, his frankness, his candor, his honesty, yet his every argument is based upon some unfair implication, some false premise....His fairness is but surface deep."25 "It is said," noted Janne Sjodahl, that the Bishop "gave a liberal portion of his time and thought for some years to this literary production, fully expecting that when it should appear in print, it would signal the end of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."26 Nibley pointed out that Spalding's time spent in the Metropolitan Museum, "suggests that the final scheme took shape only after a number of other approaches had proven ineffectual," and that "to complete the little book of but eight very brief letters would take no very great amount of time or effort--what was Dr. Spalding doing all those years? That his long and zealous labors should have brought forth so little is in itself a strong point in Joseph Smith's favor."27
Hugh Nibley also pointed out that while Bishop Spalding copied "in full the letters from the experts" exactly as he had obtained them, "with such meticulous and commendable care to see that the reader knows just what is going on, it is strange indeed that the most important letter of all is missing--namely, the cover letter that went with the request for an opinion from each of the authorities."28 Similarly, Elder John A. Widtsoe responded to Bishop Spalding's inquiry, "only Heaven knows, what questions you propounded."29 The Latter-day Saints were quick to point out that the experts contradicted each other, and if any assurance were to be placed upon their interpretations, "it will not be until there is more harmony among your Egyptologists."30
While Bishop Spalding had predicted the departure of "intelligent" Latter-day Saints, he was apparently unaware that the Lord had already begun providing other types of assurance regarding the historical authenticity of the Book of Abraham. The Saints had published a translation of The Apocalypse of Abraham over a decade earlier, and provided comparisons between this apocryphal work, which was discovered decades after Joseph Smith's martyrdom, with the Book of Abraham, noting a number of similarities. While such does not prove the truthfulness of the Book of Abraham, it gave Latter-day Saints an intelligent reason for believing its historical merits. Bishop Spalding may have been unaware of this, or may have simply ignored it. Regardless, his foolproof test had too many open ends in order to be convincing. Those outside of Mormonism considered his inquiry a raving success, but had it actually been effective, the results would have been far different within Mormonism than they turned out to be.
Two years later, and two weeks before Spalding passed away, he was riding with Professor Clay of Yale University, who had expressed interest in the Book of Abraham. According to Spalding, Professor Clay suggested that "we draw up a set of questions on the Mormon Literature and submit it to scholars of the world. He says he knows lots of them at home and abroad and that he will help. He thinks he can get seventy-five opinions himself." Apparently Professor Clay wanted a replay of Spalding's previous investigation on a much larger scale. Spalding was indecisive. Almost two years later and unsatisfactory results led him to believe that it may not be worthwhile. "I don't know whether it is a good plan or not. Would my mother believe that Moses didn't write the Pentateuch if seventy-five scholars said he didn't?"31 Whatever the reason for Spalding's change of heart, his life ended too abruptly to know for sure what he would have done. However, it seems clear from this statement that he understood that an appeal to authority was an insufficient means to convince others to abandon their faith.
In the April 1914 session of General Conference, Elder Seymour B. Young, Senior President of the First Seven Presidents of the Seventy, summarized the Latter-day Saint position regarding the discussion on Joseph Smith as a translator. "Without fear of contradiction, it may be truly said that the Prophet Joseph became a successful translator, being assisted in this work by the inspiration of the Spirit of the Lord, and, by earnest study and application on his part. He was not only enabled to translate the Book of Mormon, from the reformed Egyptian, but also to translate the Book of Abraham, as found in the Pearl of Great Price, a volume edited and compiled by Apostle F. D. Richards, which Pearl of Great Price has been and is accepted as one of the text books of the Church. The writings of Moses, another of the Books contained in this sacred volume, was "revealed to Joseph, the Seer, in December, 1830." The Book of Abraham was translated by Joseph Smith, the Seer, from ancient records that were found in the catacombs of Egypt entitled, "the writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt." This is a quotation from the record called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus. Although, recently, a minister of a Christian Church has presumed to criticize adversely, especially this Book of Abraham, his efforts have only induced a more careful, perusal and more thorough study of this valuable work, which has brought an increase of testimony of its divinity to the mind and heart of every true Latter-day Saint. Let me say here that the statements of the critics he selected, consisting of professed scientific Egyptologists, has done this minister no credit, as they have not agreed, but have rendered diverse and contradictory opinions as to the interpretation of the picture plates published in connection with the Book of Abraham, by the Prophet Joseph Smith."32
1 John Howard Melish, Franklin Spencer Spalding: Man and Bishop (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1917), frontispiece
2 Franklin S. Spalding, Joseph Smith, Jr., As a Translator (New York: The National Council, Protestant Episcopal Church, Church Missions House, 1912); Melish, Franklin Spencer Spalding, 173; Sidney B. Sperry, "The Story of Research on the Pearl of Great Price," in The Pearl of Great Price Conference, December 10, 1960, ed. James. R. Clark (Provo, UT: Department of Extension Publications, Adult Education and Extension Services, Brigham Young University, 1964), 1; Joseph F. Smith, "Joseph Smith, Jr., as a Translator," Improvement Era 16:378
3 Spalding, Joseph Smith, Jr., As A Translator, 2-4; for an analysis of the attention given to the Book of Mormon historically and presently, see Terryl L. Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).
4 Spalding, Joseph Smith, Jr., As A Translator, 4
5 Reverend Spalding was not really the first critic to introduce scholarly criticism against the Book of Abraham, since Jules Remy had previously published Theodule Deveria's translation of the Book of Abraham facsimiles in 1860 (Voyage Au Pays Des Mormons); however, this was given very little notice at that time or for many years to come (Louis Bertrand, Mission President of France, responded in 1862, in his Memoires D'un Mormon, and Elder George Reynolds responded in 1879 in his The Book of Abraham: Its Authenticity Established as a Divine and Ancient Record, but this wasn't until T.B.H. Stenhouse's infamous book The Rocky Mountain Saints, first published in 1873, reproduced Deveria's translation); whereas, Spalding's publication made front-page news in The New York Times (December 29, 1912), and even elicited a response from Church President, Joseph F. Smith (Improvement Era 16:378-380). As far as catching the Saints "off guard," see Frederick J. Pack, "The Spalding Argument," Improvement Era 16/4 (February 1913):333; and Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Abraham, ed. John Gee (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, 19 Vols.; Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Company and Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies [FARMS; Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship], Brigham Young University, 2009), 57
6 B.H. Roberts, "A Plea in Bar of Final Conclusions," Improvement Era, 16:309-310
9 Ibid, 178
10 Ibid, 190
11 Ibid, 205. John Howard Melish, Spalding's biographer, agreed that he was under pressure "to raise money in the East where interest in his work had to be aroused and sympathy created" (Ibid, 166-167). Bishop Spalding, for example, spoke in Cincinnati, Ohio, on October 14, 1910 at the Joint Session of the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church, on the subject of "Among the Mormons;" Journal of the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church (Printed for the Convention, Cincinnati, OH, 1910), 418
12 Melish, Franklin Spencer Spalding: Man and Bishop, 163
13 Ibid, 163
14 Ibid, 164
15 Ibid, 161
16 Ibid, 164-165
17 Ibid, 166. The approach taken by Spalding was later recognized for its effectiveness in comparison with standard criticisms. "[Spalding] has in fact been often criticised [sic] for his placable temper. But the bishop has proved in a highly interesting document that his scrupulous courtesy is capable of doing Mormonism more harm than many attacks of bitterness." This same article reports that "A keen Protestant layman long resident in Salt Lake City says he believes the Spalding pamphlet to be the most shaking blow which the faith of Mormons there has ever received" in The Continent , 44/7 (Feb. 13, 1913): 211
18 Edgar James Banks, "The Sacred Books of the Mormons," The Christian Herald (Jan. 29, 1913); as cited in William Earl La Rue, The Foundations of Mormonism (New York: Fleming H Revell Company, 1919), 121-122
19 According to Brother Sidney Sperry, "Dr. Talmage told me that in 1910, there came a gentleman to President Joseph F. Smith, representing himself as a writer who was going to write an article on the Mormons in one of the large magazines, and he wanted first-hand material about the Church. So President Smith turned the man over to Dr. Talmage, and he said, "Brother Talmage, take this gentleman and show him everything you can about the Church as you feel inspired"; Sperry, "The Story of Research on the Pearl of Great Price," 6. Elder Talmage's contact with Homans continued for several years, see for example, Talmage's diary entries for: November 23, 1911, December 5, 1912, January 18, 1913, May 28, 1913, August 14, 1913, April 22, 1915, and December 1, 1915. On one occasion, Talmage recorded that what had been written by Homans, presumably in relation to his book, The Case Against Mormonism, was noted by a committee which Talmage belonged to, as being "one of the strongest things ever written in favor of our people by an outsider..." (entry dated Dec 5, 1912).
20 Sperry, "The Story of Research on the Pearl of Great Price," 6
21 Ibid, 6
22 "Museum Walls Proclaim Fraud of Mormon Prophet," New York Times (Dec. 29, 1912), 1-2
23 "Museum Walls Proclaim Fraud of Mormon Prophet," 1-2
24 B.H. Roberts, "A Plea in Bar of Final Conclusions," Improvement Era 16/4 (Feb. 1913):323
25 Osborn J.P. Widtsoe, "The Unfair Fairness of Rev. Spalding," Improvement Era 16:603, 594-597; as cited in Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Abraham, 54
26 Janne M. Sjodahl, "A Final Word," Improvement Era 16:1100; as cited in Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Abraham, 55
27 Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Abraham, 55
28 Ibid, 61
29 John A. Widtsoe, "Dr. Widtsoe's Reply to Rev. Spalding," Improvement Era 16:617, as cited in Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Abraham, 61
30 Roberts, "A Plea in Bar of Final Conclusions," 321
31 Melish, Franklin Spencer Spalding: Man and Bishop, 291
32 Seymour B. Young, Conference Report (General Conference April 1914), 99