First published in 1823, with a second edition in 1825, Ethan Smith's hugely popular book View of the Hebrews reflects the prevailing notions of the origin of the American Indians of the time. Ethan Smith, a pastor of a church in Poultney, Vermont, was by no means the first to advance the idea that the Indigenous Americans were descended from the Hebrews; such an idea was first advanced as early as 1815 and before, and had been the subject of much speculation in the intervening years. Ethan Smith's work intended to bring together the latest research on the subject, consisting largely of apocryphal stories gleaned from frontier missionaries.
As popular as the book was in it's day, scientific inquiry and archaeology eventually combined to defeat the notion of a Semitic origin for the First Americans, and the View of the Hebrews would have been consigned to the wastebasket of history, were it not for one singular event.
In 1830, a young New England farmer published a book which he claimed to have translated from some ancient plates under divine guidance. The Book of Mormon, as it was called, purported to tell the story of the First Americans by giving them a Hebrew ancestry. The book and the man, Joseph Smith, kindled a religion that today numbers over nine million members.
It was not long, however, before a number of people realised that the View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon had some rather startling similarities. Not only was there a familial link between the two (Poultney was but a few miles from the birthplace of Joseph Smith, and one of Smith's right-hand-men, Oliver Cowdery, attended Ethan Smith's church), but the subject matter of the two works had a number of points of contact.
It should be noted that these parallels by themseleves are not sufficient to establish that Joseph Smith knew and used the View of the Hebrews. Caution should be excercised before coming to such a conclusion. What these parallels do establish, however, is the fact that the idea of Indians-as-Hebrews was a very popular topic of discussion during Smith's era. Other writers, such as Josiah Priest and James Adair also published books in support of the theory, and the contemporary newspapers are filled with speculation on the subject. It should therefore come as no surprise that the young Smith also had his own ideas on the origin of the Indians.
Here, then, is the full text of the 1825 edition of View of the Hebrews.
View of the Hebrews - Contents