August 13, 2018

Foremost Scholar of the Book of Mormon Witnesses Passes Away

Post contributed by


Neal Rappleye

LDS historian and scholar Richard Lloyd Anderson (1926–2018) passed away late in the night on Sunday, August 12, 2018, at the age of 92. Anderson was among the foremost historians of the early Restoration throughout the later half of the 20th century.

Anderson’s work covered a broad range of topics, including the early family history of Joseph Smith, the reliability of the First Vision, Joseph Smith’s reputation in New York, the restoration of the priesthood, polygamy, and various studies related to the New York, Ohio, Missouri, and Nauvoo periods of Church history.1 Anderson also wrote important studies on the New Testament and early Christianity, with emphasis on the apostle Paul.2

Anderson used his unique background in both early Mormon and early Christian history to study the sacrament in the Book of Mormon, comparing it to the New Testament and early Christian understanding of the sacramental covenant, and critiquing attempts to see it as reflecting practices of Joseph Smith’s day.3 He also compared Christ’s ministry in the Book of Mormon to both ancient and modern “imitation gospels,” finding that 3 Nephi had all the hallmarks of an authentic ancient gospel account.4

Anderson also had training as an attorney, and used those skills in his work as a historian. For example, Anderson showed particular acumen in assessing the reliability and trustworthiness of sources and individuals in Church history. One important study, still cited today, evaluates the credibility of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and their claim to have translated the Book of Mormon together from a real ancient record.5 Anderson did other work on the visits of Moroni and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, as well.6

What Anderson will be best remembered for, however, is his landmark work on the Book of Mormon witnesses. His book Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Deseret Book, 1981) remains the foremost study of the witnesses today. Anderson also wrote a number of additional articles on the witnesses as a group, as well on as studies on some of the individual witnesses, especially Oliver Cowdery.7 Overall, Anderson’s work demonstrates that the witnesses were honest, trustworthy men whose testimony is reliable and compelling.

We are greatly indebted to the important work Anderson did to expand our knowledge of the Book of Mormon witnesses and his many other contributions to LDS history and scripture. He will be greatly missed.

Many of Anderson’s publications can be accessed through Book of Mormon Central Archive.

  • 1. For a bibliography of Richard Lloyd Anderson’s publications from between 1950–2000, see The Disciple as Witness: Essays on Latter-day Saint History and Doctrine in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson, ed. Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry, and Andrew H. Hedges (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2000), 539–576. On the Smith family history, see his Joseph Smith’s New England Heritage, rev. ed. (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and BYU Press, 2003); and “Heritage of a Prophet,” Ensign, February 1971, 15–19. On the reliability of the First Vision, see his “Circumstantial Confirmation of the First Vision Through Reminiscences,” in BYU Studies 9, no. 3 (1969): 373–404; and “Joseph Smith’s Accuracy on the First Vision Setting: The Pivotal 1818 Camp Meeting,” in Exploring the First Vision, ed. Samuel Alonzo Dodge and Steven C. Harper (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2012), 91–169. On Joseph Smith’s reputation, see his “Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reappraised,” BYU Studies 10, no. 3 (1970): 283–314; and his review of Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reexamined, by Roger I. Anderson, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 3 (1991): 52–80. On Joseph Smith’s polygamy, see Richard Lloyd Anderson and Scott H. Faulring, “The Prophet Joseph Smith and His Plural Wives,” FARMS Review of Books 10, no. 2 (1998): 67–104.
  • 2. See, for example, his Understanding Paul, rev. ed. (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2007).
  • 3. See Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Religious Validity: The Sacrament Covenant in Third Nephi,” in By Study and Also by Faith, 2 vols., ed. John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), 1–51; review of “A Rhetorical Approach to the Book of Mormon: Rediscovering Nephite Sacramental Language,” by Mark D. Thomas, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6, no. 1 (1994): 379–417. See also “The Restoration of the Sacrament, Part I: Loss and Christian Reformations,” Ensign, January 1992, 40–46; “The Restoration of the Sacrament, Part II: A New and Ancient Covenant,” Ensign, February 1992, 11–17.
  • 4. Richard L. Anderson, “Imitation Gospels and Christ’s Book of Mormon Ministry,” in Apocryphal Writings and the Latter-day Saints, ed. C. Wilfred Griggs (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1986), 53–107.
  • 5. Richard Lloyd Anderson, “The Credibility of the Book of Mormon Translators,” in Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1982), 213–37.
  • 6. Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Confirming Records of Moroni’s Coming,” Improvement Era, September 1970, 4–8; “Gold Plates and Printer’s Ink,” Ensign, 1976, 71–76;  “By the Gift and Power of God,” Ensign, September 1977, 78–85.
  • 7. Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Book of Mormon Witnesses,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York, NY: Macmillan, 1992), 1:214–216; “Personal Writings of the Book of Mormon Witnesses,” in Authorship of the Book of Mormon Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1997), 39–60; “Attempts to Redefine the Experience of the Eight Witnesses,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14, no. 1 (2005): 18–31, 125–127. On Oliver Cowdery specifically, see Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Reuban Miller: Recorder of Oliver Cowdery’s Reaffirmations,” BYU Studies 8, no. 3 (1968): 277–293; “Oliver Cowdery,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York, NY: Macmillan, 1992), 1:335–340; both reprinted in Oliver Cowdery: Scribe, Elder, Witness, ed. John W. Welch and Larry Morris (Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2006), 1–10, 401–419.
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