I. Introduction: That Big Brother Mentality
II. First Vision Vagaries
III. Paradigm Precedent?
IV. Back to Legitimacy
V. The Matthew Brown Comparison
VI. The Presbyterian Problem
VII. Apologist Blather
VIII. The Authentic Documents
IX. The William Smith Problem
X. More Apologetic Vagaries
XI. More Blathering
XII. The David Whitmer Problem
XIII. Book of Mormon Vagaries
“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” …To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.― George Orwell, 1984
I. Introduction: That Big Brother Mentality
Mopology (or DoubleThink) is a fine art to those who practice it. Unlike the laissez-faire attitude of those who would never contemplate embracing it, those who clasp DoubleThink to their bosoms as a modus operandi do so with the best of intentions, because they simply cannot help themselves. Perhaps it is the ingrained Corporate mentality. Then again, it may be attributed to the feelings of brotherhood that arise through their apologia and Corporate Membership. They claim, then disclaim, then disclaim some more. They affirm authority, then deny it in subtle ways. They defend policy, then question it as they follow the whims of Corporate Leadership. They obfuscate, then explicate, full of certitudes but at the same time advocating uncertainty. They accuse others of what they practice as they exculpate themselves from all responsibility. They believe the lie, as all lies lead to “the truth”, which is itself a lie. This is Mopology, a vibrant part of the Mormon community: the defenders of the Corporate Priesthood.
The saga continues…
Earlier this year I posted two articles that deal with Kevin Christensen’s attacks on Jeremy Runnells and his CES letter. You may find them here, and here. Christensen has answered my first article with his typical distorted logic in a 50 page response published in The Apologetic Mormon Interpreter.
Christensen starts out with pointing out one of my mistakes, (my inadvertent miscount of his use of the word “brittle” in his essay).
But then Christensen astoundingly tries to deflect this by claiming that “in context [the word is] not always directed at Runnells in particular.” Really? The whole Essay is directed at Jeremy Runnells in particular. Here are the instances where Christensen employs the use of the word “brittle” and “brittleness”:
RUNNELLS presents his information as though making an equation:
RUNNELLS (or anyone) + Questions + Facts = Inevitable Final Negative Conclusion
Comparison with the different conclusions provided by people like Jeff Lindsay, Mike Ash, hundreds of volunteers at FairMormon, Interpreter, FARMS and the current Maxwell Institute, and for that matter, yours truly, well acquainted with the same issues should make it obvious that something other than simple addition of facts is involved.
Investigator [+ |-] Preconceptions/(Adaptive or BRITTLE interpretive framework) x (Questions generated + Available facts/Selectivity + Contextualization + Subjective weighting for significance/Breadth of relevant knowledge) * Time = Tentative Conclusion
Of course, as Jeremy does not follow Christensen’s formula, he is using (or stuck in) the “brittle” framework. He therefore has to reach a negative conclusion. And then this:
So why does my faith [Christensen’s] expand, when RUNNELLS’S faith shatters? BRITTLE things are far more prone to shattering than flexible things.
Yes, Christensen is “Mr. Fantastic,” so, so flexible. And then this:
RUNNELLS misrepresents both the hypotheses and the observations made in the essay, overlooking a clear description of real possibilities in favor of an inaccurate and BRITTLE declaration of unacceptable and unreasonable identity. He filters the flexibility and the reason out of the essay when making his own summary. The same mental inflexibility colors every phrase in the paragraph, every page of the letter, and, consequently, RUNNELLS tends to misrepresent every apologetic argument and supporting observation that he complains about. The end result is obvious BRITTLENESS.
^^^^COMPARE Alma 32:18, and Alma’s contrast between people who want to “know” with absolute finality, and those who settle for open-ended “cause to believe.” Closed BRITTLE thinking, contrasted with open-ended, tentative thinking. In describing how faith works, Alma describes how the planting and nurturing of a seed initiates a process in which change in the original seed is a sign of success Swelling, sprouting, till, “your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.” RUNNELLS appears to want an experience in which he plants a seed, comes back to wash off the mud and dirt to find that it remains the same as it ever was. No swelling, no unexpected sprouts, roots, leaves, branches, growth, and certainly no unexpected fruit. To him, nothing that looks or acts differently than the original seed can be good. Expansion, change, growth can only shatter him, like gentle grass bursting through asphalt.
Notice that Jeremy’s name comes up in every instance. He is compared to the Book of Mormon people’s “closed brittle thinking”. He contrasts Jeremy with a “brittle interpretive framework”. He claims that Runnells is a “brittle thing”. That Jeremy favors “an inaccurate and brittle declaration”, etc. And of course he always reaches that “inevitable final negative conclusion.”
So how are these instances not directed at Jeremy Runnells? What is far more important though is how disingenuous Christensen is; not my mistaken wordcount. The rest of Christensen’s rant about Jeremy is the same tired old apologist line that their way, the “offer of more durable and appropriate new wine bottles” is better than anyone else’s, interspersed with his ramblin’ prose. (“Why you ramble, no one knows”). All of this manna from heaven is “provided by people like Jeff Lindsay, Mike Ash, hundreds of volunteers at FairMormon, Interpreter, FARMS and the current Maxwell Institute, and for that matter…” Kevin Christensen.
He claims that Jeremy wants to put new wine in old bottles; but Christensen wants to put bad wine in his shiny new apologist bottles. This is just more hot air and ramblin’ prose by another Mormon Apologist.
Christensen then claims that I’m not being fair because I called FAIRMORMON unfair. Here is how he puts it:
Stephenson complains again of my reference to Lindsay’s twenty-plus years of substance and original research, complaining that “For this to be a really accurate comparison, he needs to give Jeremy another 18 or so years to catch up. But since when has FairMormon and its apologists ever been fair?”
Lovely rhetorical question, don’t you think? Blanket insinuation and condemnation about FairMormon without any need to consider specific individuals or address specific arguments. Is the issue acquiring more truth (that is, gaining better knowledge of things as they are, were, and are to come) or fairness? Should we never have to deal with people who know more and have more experience in some area than we do? Should we outlaw parents or teachers or scholars or doctors or plumbers, for example, on the grounds that their experience, effort, training and tools provide an unfair competitive advantage over their children, pupils, readers, patients, or customers?
More lovely red herrings, don’t you think? Of course their name is FAIRMORMON. It is obvious why they crafted that specific anagram for their name. And notice how Christensen favors his friend Lindsay,
Stephenson claims that I favor Lindsay’s approach because of the conclusions he reached. In truth, I favor Lindsay’s approach and example because I see his arguments and evidence as superior. I explicitly cite and mention Lindsay’s “LDS FAQ (for Frequently Asked Questions) which deals with all of the issues that Runnells raised and more. But Lindsay does so both at greater length, over a much broader span of time, consulting a wider range of sources, providing far more documentation, and including far more original research than Runnells.”
Of course Lindsay’s arguments are greater in length and over a much broader span of time! Lindsay has been at it for 18 years! Talk about totally missing my point. And then he misunderstands my comments:
Of my summary of what Lindsay has accomplished since 1994 as compared to what Runnells offered after one year (two at this writing), Stephenson says, “Yes, one would think that someone who has been a Mormon apologist since 1994 and has had a website for that long would have more documentation and research. This is common sense. Yet it doesn’t stop Christensen from using this against Jeremy.” Heaven forbid that anyone would ever use common sense and superior documentation against any arguments that Runnells offers!
Notice the condescension in “superior documentation in any arguments that Runnells offers.” Christensen is so dense here that he misconstrues my use of the phrase “common sense”. I was applying it to the fact that Lindsay’s arguments were longer and had more substance because he had almost TWO DECADES to produce and refine them. Notice he turns my words “more documentation” into “superior documentation”. Such wishful thinking. Perhaps DoubleThink has addled his brain?
Christensen then blunderingly applies that misrepresentation to the logic of Lindsay’s arguments which I did not ascribe the phrase to. (I ascribed it to the number of them, refined over time with more documentation). Notice how Christensen deftly does not address the amount of time that Lindsay has had to prepare his apologetic arguments compared to Jeremy. But is it good documentation and research? Not from what I have seen. And since Christensen’s arguments are cut from the same cloth as Lindsay’s; we will see how that turns out when I address his supposed evidentiary claims below.
FAIRMORMON had described themselves this way:
FAIRMORMON is a non-profit corporation that is dedicated to helping people deal with issues related to anti-Mormonism
And I did address specific arguments. I’ve done it numerous times on this blog. Why didn’t Christensen notice this? Christensen claims that what they do is give “more truth”, but FAIRMORMON claims that:
…the members of FairMormon are all committed to defending the Church and helping people to maintain their testimonies.
Their default position is “faithful” history. They admit it. As with the Reflector Article that Christensen whines about, (addressed at length below) we see that FAIRMORMON doesn’t give “more truth” but less. They quote only the parts that seemingly support their own interpretations that promote “defending the Church” and “maintaining testimonies”.
Christensen also turns my comment into something it is not. He Erroneously claims that I must be advocating outlawing parents, teachers, scholars, doctors, plumbers, ad nauseum, on the grounds that they would “provide an unfair competitive advantage”. Frankly, I don’t know on what basis he gets this rant from, (other than to produce a slur) but I implied nothing of the kind. Christensen is just throwing down more red herrings with these kinds of wacky comments.
I only commented (rather tongue in cheek) that what FAIRMORMON publishes is not FAIR, because they only want to publish “faith promoting” material and manipulate the evidence to get that outcome. I have lots of examples right here on my blog. Here is one example, called… “Playing Fair”.
Perhaps they should then change their name to TRUTHMORMON. (As if that would help). I also find it kind of ironic that Christensen acts so vexed about this. After all, he is the one who claimed that point of view determines what the truth really is. He has the truth because he has the Mormon Apologist point of view (as does FAIRMORMON). Simply change your point of view and everything is all right. Facts will magically disappear because you won’t be able to really see them anymore. In other words, DoubleThink it. For example, in his original Essay Christensen claims that,
Runnells claims that “many verses still in the Book of Mormon … hold a Trinitarian view of the Godhead.” Please keep in mind that for Runnells’s complaints to make sense, we have to assume that he is talking about a conventional creedal metaphysical Trinity which postdates the New Testament. But it helps to remember that a social Trinity is still a Trinity, since the word merely means three. The issue is whether a close contextual reading of the Book of Mormon leads to a metaphysical Trinity, or to a social Trinity. I have found that contextualizing is a much better approach than reading passages of ancient scripture in isolation, and interpreting them against what usually turns out to be anachronistic assumptions.
All well and good, except the God that Joseph Smith was teaching to his followers (found in the Book of Mormon, the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible and Church publications) was referred to in an early article by W. W. Phelps. He wrote,
“Through Christ we understand the terms on which God will show favour and grace to the world, and by him we have ground of a PARRESIA access with freedom and boldness unto God. On his account we may hope not only for grace to subdue our sins, resist temptations, conquer the devil and the world; but having ’fought this good fight, and finished our course by patient continuance in well doing, we may justly look for glory, honor, and immortality,’ and that ‘crown of righteousness which is laid up for those who wait in faith,’ holiness, and humility, for the appearance of Christ from heaven. Now what things can there be of greater moment and importance for men to know, or God to reveal, than the nature of God and ourselves the state and condition of our souls, the only way to avoid eternal misery and enjoy everlasting bliss!
“The Scriptures discover not only matters of importance, but of the greatest depth and mysteriousness. There are many wonderful things in the law of God, things we may admire, but are never able to comprehend. Such are the eternal purposes and decrees of God, the doctrine of the Trinity, the incarnation of the Son of God, and the manner of the operation of the Spirit of God upon the souls of men, which are all things of great weight and moment for us to understand and believe that they are, and yet may be unsearchable to our reason, as to the particular manner of them.” (The Evening And Morning Star, Vol. I, Independence, Mo. July, 1832. No. 2, 12).
What Phelps was speaking of here, was a widely held belief at the time of the nature of God. (One God, three personages, one substance) This, Phelps claims, was incomprehensible, but was a “wonderful thing.” This was not some “social trinity”, but an incomprehensible “metaphysical” Trinity. Joseph Smith much later in his career disparaged the Trinity Doctrine thusly:
Many men say there is one God; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are only one God. I say that is a strange God anyhow — three in one, and one in three! It is a curious organization… All are to be crammed into one God, according to sectarianism. It would make the biggest God in all the world. He would be a wonderfully big God — he would be a giant or a monster. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 372)
Jeremy did not make an anachronistic assumption, but based his observations on contemporary evidence. Christensen’s “point of view” doesn’t change what they were referring to in 1832, (found in the Book of Mormon and Church publications) which was definitely not a “social trinity”. (See also The Lectures on Faith, Lecture V). And yes, Joseph authorized Phelps to set forth doctrine in Church publications:
…we wish you to render the [Evening and Morning] Star as interesting as possable by setting forth the rise progress and faith of the church, as well as the doctrine for if you do not render it more interesting than at present it will fall, and the church suffer a great Loss thereby (Joseph Smith, letter to W. W. Phelps, January 11, 1833).
Christensen, in his typical narcissistic fashion, claims that because he and his cohorts (Jeff Lindsay, Mike Ash, Neal Rappleye, Daniel Peterson, and many others, including himself) still have faith in Mormonism, that somehow those who do not, (like Jeremy Runnells) are brittle. They didn’t water the seed. It’s not a hard concept to understand. But that doesn’t stop Christensen from whining about it.
Christensen laments that I “nowhere report” that the parable of the sower is foundational to his approach. But it isn’t hard for anyone to miss since that is in the title of his article! So, Christensen and Runnells plant the same seed and get different harvests. That was the whole point wasn’t it? He claims that somehow because he and his fellow apologists still have faith in Joseph Smith and discount/dismiss all the critical evidence about him that somehow (someway) this means that his/their methods are superior. Yeah, I get it.
But if that is so, then why is there still a large group of people following Warren Jeffs? Why did the followers of David Koresh choose to burn with him? Many of those had the evidence right in front of them too, didn’t they?
I’ve never claimed that Christensen and his cohorts don’t study the evidence or are familiar with it. They do and are. What I do claim is that they present evidence in disingenuous ways (withholding information, partial and out of context quoting, etc.), which they substitute for actual evidence to suit their own agenda: to stay faithful. (Embracing DoubleThink) We will once again see how Christensen blatantly does this below with David Whitmer and the claimed 1820 vision accounts.
Christensen then puts words into my mouth claiming that my “portrait” of LDS Apologists is that they are “money-seeking spin doctors.” Though I have claimed that they are spin doctors (that much is obvious), I’ve never claimed they were “money-seeking”. (Is there some psychological issue embedded in his subconscious?) And he complains about my rhetoric! And what does Lindsay’s job have to do with this? He works at a Paper Company in Shanghai. According to him, his areas of expertise are,
Open innovation, intellectual property strategy, new business development, biomaterials, bioproducts, external business development, alliances and licensing, innovation systems, technology scouting, private brand development, value network analysis, university-industry relationships, public speaking, amateur magic, and photography. Technical experience includes cellulose chemistry (a subject of several of my chemical patents), consumer products manufacturing, fluid flow in fibrous media, recycling and deinking, multiphase flow and heat transfer, predictive test methods and test method development, fiber-water interactions in paper and cellulosic materials, etc. I am also a registered patent agent before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and have a strong interest in patents and patent law.
Wonderful achievements, to be sure. He’s certainly a smart guy. Does this make him less susceptible to spinning the evidence in favor of his faith claims? I don’t see him listed as any kind of Mormon “Authority”. Why would Lindsay’s résumé be troubling for me? I’m not criticizing his work on Paper Products or cellulose chemistry. (That would be a rather foolish endeavor, to be sure). But leave it to Christensen to claim that this somehow has relevance. How about the actual issues of Mormonism that Jeremy cites? Let’s see if their arguments stand up in that area.
Nowhere have I argued that because I had a spiritual experience when I was 19, Runnells must be wrong, so I don’t have to reply to his arguments.
I didn’t claim that he did. I claimed that his paradigm was misapplied because he claimed to know and this disqualifies him from his own equation. (tentative conclusion) Remember Christensen’s equation:
Investigator [+ |-] Preconceptions/(Adaptive or brittle interpretive framework) x (Questions generated + Available facts/Selectivity + Contextualization + Subjective weighting for significance/Breadth of relevant knowledge) * Time = TENTATIVE CONCLUSION.
But Christensen claimed a sure knowledge that Moroni was real. Is this a panacea against future problems? No. (As Christensen notes). Many people that claimed the same apostatized. But it excludes him from his equation now and makes it far more difficult to evaluate critical new evidence that might change his mind. Can Christensen claim this about critics? Oh, absolutely. But he goes off the rails in claiming that we are not open to new evidence. I sure am, as is Jeremy. But none of it that I’ve analyzed in depth has been enough to persuade me that Joseph Smith really was a “prophet, seer & revelator” for God. Christensen argues the opposite. Fair enough. It is not this that I have a problem with, but his analysis of the evidence and his penchant for narcissistic formulas that he claims lead to believing his “superior” interpretations of the evidence.
Joseph & Moroni, Hill Cumorah, photo by grindael
And I don’t just point to critics arguments, and neither does Jeremy. We quote Apologist arguments. We analyze them. We advocate openness and fairness in quoting all sides. We provide live links to critics arguments. See my analysis below where I actually quote Matthew Brown and contrast his conjectures with the evidence, something that Christensen doesn’t do and never has done with Jeremy’s arguments. (The few that he addresses).
He simply references whole books and chapters of the Bible, or quotes selected passages that seem to favor their interpretation, or references FAIRMORMON, or Apologist articles. He also condemns Jeremy for not doing so in the CES letter which was never an Essay (as Christensen constantly calls it) but a letter highlighting things Jeremy found questionable about Mormonism.
His knowing always trumps the evidence even though he says it does not. Why then, write a formula for keeping the “faith” and claim that it works and give yourself as an example? (Over and over and over again). Does Christensen know the future? Does he know that he won’t encounter evidence that will cause him to apostatize? So he seems to be claiming. Did that save former apologists like Kevin Graham, Kerry Shirts, myself, or a host of others? I guess that all of us were simply “brittle”. What I object to is Christensen’s simplistic logic that all of this is easily solved by his pseudo scientific equations and the rather trite use of Jesus parables. (Like no one has ever encountered the Parable of the Sower before).
Apologists like Kerry Shirts and Kevin Graham were committed Mormon Apologists that studied all the same information that Christensen claims that he did. How does Christensen’s magic formula apply there? Again, Christensen takes the simplistic CES Letter and thinks that is the sum of all Jeremy’s knowledge and condemns him for not quoting Mormon Apologists in it.
Christensen has got “flexible” faith while Jeremy is “brittle” and unbending. Sure thing. “Spiritual experiences” and “faith beliefs” are not scientifically quantifiable. To try to apply Kuhn or Barbour to faith claims is ultimately a misuse of their formulas, as others have stated elsewhere. Christensen’s ramblings are simply esoteric jargon that he has cobbled together by misapplying Kuhn and others, something that “Big Brother” would be proud of.
Christensen goes on about how what we seek is what we find and how we process information “all matters to both the course their journey takes and where they end up.”
Well duh. That is not what I’m arguing against. (Though I’m not convinced that we always find what we seek). I definitely was not seeking to find Brigham Young’s teachings on Adam, nor was I seeking to lose my testimony. Christensen claims that his and Lindsay’s way is better because they have retained their “faith”, and that you can apply misconstrued scientific formula to faith claims. But Christensen can’t explain how, (not in any coherent manner) other than he never lost his “testimony” (because of “superior” research by his Mormon Apologist buddies). He wants you to discount real evidence that is critical to Mormonism by using his pseudo scientific formula which favors getting information from Mormon Apologists. If you don’t, you are “brittle” and your faith will “shatter”. Look at Christensen, still strong in the faith because he uses his presto chango, super duper scientific formula while poor Jeremy did not.
Yes, just use Christensen’s magic formula and you will retain your faith. It is therefore better than Jeremy’s reasoned decision because Christensen has retained his faith. How, because he used his magic formula. This is simply circular reasoning gone wild.
Again, the followers of Warren Jeffs can claim the same thing as can those who follow any faith. (We kept ours but you didn’t, nah, nah, nah…) Why many choose to accept and others reject is because of their own evaluation of the evidence and how it impacts them. The truth really is the truth. There are problems quantifying any faith claims. There is no formula that can predict what people will do in relation to those faith claims. But Christensen won’t accept that, all can “retain the faith” by using his formula, and there must be something wrong with people who do not.
My gripe is that Christensen vilifies Jeremy for not doing things his way, and that Christensen’s way somehow validates his version of historical events. He talks like he is all cool with Jeremy and that,
I don’t think that he is being intentionally deceptive, or betraying my trust.
What trust? Yet his rhetoric tells a different story:
In approaching the Book of Mormon, we could do what Runnells does; look for imperfection, and then display indignation and shock.
Jeremy is a real person, not Christensen’s caricature. Was Jeremy looking for imperfection? Not according to his story that Christensen never tells. And again,
Runnells looks only for imperfection in Mormonism.
Did he do so when he served his 2+ year mission and when he was a faithful Mormon for years? To Christensen, Jeremy’s analysis of the evidence is looking for imperfection.
But it is Christensen that misrepresents Jeremy by claiming he “ignores all LDS scholarship” and “misrepresents every apologetic argument”. He calls Jeremy a hypocrite with this jab:
Notice too that the closest Runnells comes to actually defining translate is when he complains that according to unnamed “unofficial apologists” the word “translate doesn’t really mean translate.” This would be a good place to explain what the word means in the context of what Joseph Smith actually did. We need to do a bit of eye checking here.
Notice that Christensen uses variations of the word “complain” 22 times in his initial essay about Jeremy. Christensen of course, is referring to what Jesus said,
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5, italics mine)
He is calling Jeremy a hypocrite, yet he is not doing so intentionally? Right. Christensen claims,
Runnells sets out his own expectations of what he expects to find…
How does Christensen know what Jeremy “expects/expected to find”? That is not how Jeremy characterized himself at all. This is simply an ad hoc assumption of Christensen’s and it makes Jeremy seem as if he had an agenda from the beginning. This is simply dishonest of Christensen. Christensen “finds” what he wants to find, by a “closer reading” of the Book of Mormon (that conflicts with Mormon “Authorities” statements) yet Jeremy is the one who set his own expectations?
Rather, it was Mormon “Authorities” that set his expectations, but Christensen discounts their authoritative declarations, and assumes that Jeremy should have too. The Book of Mormon does not describe any “pre-existing populations” but claims that they land was empty, a promised land for only the righteous that God led them to. (Ether 2:10, 2 Nephi, 1:5-11). But Christesnsen’s alternative/unofficial reading of the Book of Mormon based on a Mormon Apologetic agenda finds something totally different, so he is right and Jeremy and the Mormon “Authorities” are wrong. (DoubleThink again).
Mormon Apostle J. Reuben Clark taught:
“The Lord took every precaution to see that nothing might interfere with this posterity of Joseph in working out their God-given destiny and the destiny of America. He provided, and so told Lehi at the very beginning of his settlement, that: . . it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations ; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance. (2 Nephi 1:8.) The Lord so kept the land for a thousand years after Lehi landed. He so kept it in His wisdom for another thousand years after the Nephites were destroyed, perhaps to give the Lamanitish branch another chance.” (“Prophecies, Penalties, and Blessings,” Improvement Era, 1940, v. xliii., July 1940. no. 7).
And Spencer W. Kimball, the “Prophet” stated authoritatively:
“About twenty-five centuries ago, a hardy group left the comforts of a great city, crossed a desert, braved an ocean, and came to the shores of this, their promised land. There were two large families, those of Lehi and Ishmael, who in not many centuries numbered hundreds of millions of people on these two American continents.” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 601, thanks, MormonThink).
B.H. Roberts (Mormon “Authority”),
Lehi’s colony, it must be remembered, came to an empty America, so far as human inhabitants were concerned—according to the Book of Mormon accounting of things. (B.H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, p.252).
Yet, these authoritative statements (which of course are not to the DoubleThinking Christensen) are to be replaced by Mormon Apologists’ disclaimed opinions. (The “real” authorities). Anything to retain the “faith”. To Christensen, this is just Clarke’s opinion and his calling as a prophet and apostle means nothing in relation to teaching correct doctrine. (See his amazing comments about Fielding Smith below).
And of course, B.H. Roberts didn’t read the Book of Mormon correctly, right? He needed to read it like Modern Mormon Apologists do, and then he would have arrived at a totally different rendering of what it said. The correct rendering. I guess all of those Mormon “Authorities” were incapable of closely reading the Book of Mormon. To quote Chris Carter, “Apology is Policy.” DoubleThink is their paradigm. Only sustain Mormon “Authorities” when it is convenient.
I was reading a blog article the other day and came across this comment by a believing Mormon who wanted to make a point about the creation of the world and quoted Brigham Young to support it:
Mark: Your list of claims made by the LDS Church is merely a really bad straw man. A global flood — even Brigham Young argued against it. Only 7,000 years old? it is easy to find numerous statements by GAs contrary to this claim.
This comment was made in response to someone posting the current stated doctrine about the creation:
The LDS church is making claims that are testable. The BOM is historical. The earth is 7000 years old. There was a global flood. Etc.
The above comment was supported with this quote, from the Ensign:
“There is a third group of people—those who accept the literal message of the Bible regarding Noah, the ark, and the Deluge. Latter-day Saints belong to this group. In spite of the world’s arguments against the historicity of the Flood, and despite the supposed lack of geologic evidence, we Latter-day Saints believe that Noah was an actual man, a prophet of God, who preached repentance and raised a voice of warning, built an ark, gathered his family and a host of animals onto the ark, and floated safely away as waters covered the entire earth. We are assured that these events actually occurred by the multiple testimonies of God’s prophets.”
Then the author of the blog article wrote,
Why is it that only the sources you choose matter? Shouldn’t a good interpretation of LDS positions on something like the flood take into account as many authoritative statements as possible?
Yet, when someone cites Joseph Smith on the contradictory nature of God described in the Lectures on Faith, Blake writes,
Joseph Smith had the same problem when members became attached to one expression of the gospel and then, when further revelation came along, complained that they had been taught something different. One of the hallmarks of the Church is continuing revelation. Our understanding changes due to further revelations — especially in the case of Joseph Smith. Later changes often come from continuing reflection on the revelations received and coming to different (sometimes even better) grasp of what was said. Take for instance the Fifth Lecture on Faith that teaches that the Father is “a personage of Spirit.” It seems to me it is quite easily explained by the fact that it had not yet been revealed to Joseph Smith that the Father had once had a mortal experience and had a resurrected body. It reflects an exegesis of Mosiah 15-16 and D&C 93 primarily and looks to the scriptures and revelations to understand God. The Nephites did not have a complete revelation and Joseph Smith still had further revelations to receive on the issue.
How come the Ensign article (current source of official doctrine) does not trump Brigham Young? Because when apologists want to use Mormon “authorities” to confirm their pet arguments, they do. When something questionable by a Mormon “authority” is quoted by a critic they then claim there needed to be “further revelation” etc., and make up anything to explain away what they don’t ascribe to. Mormon “Authorities” are only cited (or “authoritative”) when it is convenient to prop up apologetic arguments.
There are many other examples I could cite of Chrisensen’s subtle way of denigrating Jeremy. His claim that he doesn’t think that Jeremy is being intentionally deceptive, is just empty rhetoric. Christensen’s original rant about Jeremy is condescending and arrogant and that is the reason for my harsh criticisms of Christensen. We see the falsehood in his words above.
This is the context of Christensen’s use of Jeremy’s quote that he was obsessed with Church History after he discovered many things that troubled him. Christensen paints him as an obsessive moron (remember, he stupidly trusted his leaders had answers and that was all Jeremy’s fault) that never read anything published by Mormon Apologists and therefore didn’t have all the evidence to save his shaken faith, which couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Because I didn’t expressly state that Jeremy used the word obsessive in relation to his research, Christensen tries to score points off of it:
Stephenson says, “In his introduction, Christensen calls Runnells ‘obsessive’ and contrasts that [Page 102]with Lindsay’s ‘boundless enthusiasm.’ It is obvious where this is going right from the start.” My obviousness seems to be a quality that goes against the grain of a claim that I am disingenuous.
Point of fact: Runnells describes his CES letter as the result of “an absolute rabid obsession with Joseph Smith and Church history.” I would have thought that my repeating and quoting his self-description was not an academic crime. I was not attempting any shade of ad hominem, just being a reporter. Oddly enough, Stephenson does not mention my quotation of Runnells’s self-description. Dare I call this a spin of omission?
Here is Christensen’s original quote,
Jeremy T. Runnells is a “disaffected Mormon” who describes the grounds of his loss of faith in a website/pdf document published in 2013 called Letter to a CES Director: Why I Lost My Testimony. He had been an active LDS until 2012, when he read an account of a news article called “Mormonism Besieged by the Modern Age,” which claimed that Mormons were leaving the church in droves. Disturbed, he reports in his 83-page letter that, “All this information is a result of over a year of intense research and an absolute rabid obsession with Joseph Smith and Church history.”
Jeff Lindsay, on the other hand, describes himself as an active, believing Latter-day Saint and also an apologist who has been blogging since 1994.
Christensen knows very well that using that particular quote in that particular way mischaracterizes Jeremy. He then states,
That such different responses to the same information can even exist should demonstrate that neither the issues that Runnells raises nor the information he provides is the real cause of his disillusion.
Now Christensen is a mind reader. What Christensen really is saying in his original Essay about Jeremy was that the issues that Jeremy listed in the CES Letter were not the cause of his disillusion. In other words, Jeremy was lying or simply so stupid that he didn’t know himself. But was he? Here is Jeremy’s quote, in context:
I’m just going to be straightforward and blunt in sharing my concerns. Obviously I’m a disaffected member who lost his testimony so it’s no secret which side I’m on at the moment. All this information [contained in the CES Letter] is a result of over a year of intense research and an absolute rabid obsession with Joseph Smith and Church history. With this said, I’d be pretty arrogant and ignorant to say that I have all the information and that you don’t have answers. Like you, I put my pants on one leg at a time and I see through a glass darkly. You may have new information and/or a new perspective that I may not have heard or considered before. This is why I’m genuinely interested in what your answers and thoughts are to these troubling problems.
Christensen goes on and on about how Jeremy is brittle and that is because he limited his perspective. But here we see that Jeremy understood that there were other perspectives and invited someone with authority (or access to those who had it) to share them. So what is Christensen’s point? That Jeremy is either lying to himself, or (as Christensen states), he was purposefully looking for “imperfections”. In other words, this was all Jeremy’s fault and Christensen is so much better because he didn’t fall for it.
The way that Christensen presented Jeremy’s quote (in the context of his later statements), made it seem like he just read an article and then began obsessing on Joseph Smith and Church history to look for “imperfections”. Christensen then leaves it there, without showing that Jeremy was still open to answers. After he saw the article that Christensen mentions, Jeremy wrote,
I started doing research and reading books like LDS historian and scholar Richard Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling and many others to try to better understand what was happening.
But Christensen doesn’t mention any of this. Talk about spins of omission! But Jeremy is “brittle” and unbending, his faith “shattered” by what? Not by what Jeremy discovered, according to Christensen. So what was the “real cause of his disillusion”? That he didn’t buy into Lindsay’s/whoever’s apologetics or their disclaimed opinions and perspectives? Of course. Christensen condemns Jeremy for,
His preference for “official” thought rather than “the best books” is telling (D&C 88:118).
This makes my point, even though Christensen goes to the extreme here. Yet in the Ensign (an official organ of the Church) we read,
Of course, not all knowledge is of equal value. “… There is a great fund of knowledge in the possession of men,” counseled Joseph Fielding Smith, “that will not save them in the kingdom of God. What they have got to learn are the fundamental things of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” (Doctrines of Salvation (Bookcraft, 1954), 1:291.)
And where do they learn that from? The Church today claims that one can only rely on “official” declarations, etc. for sound doctrine, not on the “opinions” generated without the official stamp of approval by the Prophet and Q12. But what did Jeremy claim? He said,
One of my goals in writing Letter to a CES Director was to get a response as close to official answers that I could get. I had spent the entire previous year researching the works of LDS scholars Richard Bushman, Hugh B. Nibley, Terryl Givens, Leonard Arrington and a few others as well as the not-so-respected works of the likes of unofficial apologists such as the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research (FairMormon) and others regarding the serious problems of Mormonism.
Christensen acts like Jeremy never made any statements like this. He claims that because Jeremy didn’t interweave all of the apologetic arguments into his CES Letter, that he must be lying. Still, this was Jeremy’s obsession that he spoke of. To find out all he could so he could better understand the issues and find answers that addressed his concerns. But the Apologist answers that Christensen touts weren’t persuasive to Jeremy.
And where would Jeremy have learned about all those other issues in the CES Letter (after trying to research his initial concerns with “the best books”). FAIRMORMON!
But Christensen continually characterizes Jeremy as having an obsessive agenda to “look for imperfection.” He wasn’t searching for answers or he would have found them in the Mormon Apologists’ explanations. So to Christensen, Jeremy never read them. He lied. Christensen writes,
Runnells, on the other hand, frequently and characteristically offers complaints without acknowledging the existence of well-known responses to issues he raises by the most important and conspicuous LDS authors. Frankly, I don’t see evidence that he has done his homework properly. … I couldn’t give Runnells credit even if I wanted to do so.
Because he didn’t see “evidence” of apologetic arguments in the CES Letter. Christensen’s whole argument is his own fabrication! Again, the Ensign:
As you know by now there is no scarcity of good books to read, study, and ponder. But there is a possibility that you can be so busy pursuing an education and striving to be well-rounded in thought that you neglect the pursuit of those things that matter most in an eternal perspective of life. If you are not careful, you can be so busy reading and studying from good books that you have little time, if any, to pursue a knowledge of the saving principles of the gospel. (Seek Ye Out Of The Best Books, Ensign, August, 1974).
Jeremy is condemned by Christensen for doing what he was counselled to do. Christensen wants to have his cake and eat it too. He criticizes Jeremy for following the instructions of Mormon “authorities” and relying on them for official doctrine and spiritual guidance. To Christensen, Lindsay’s Apologist arguments are better, because to him they are superior. Yet, they are still only LINDSAY’S OPINIONS. Lindsay even has this disclaimer:
The Church has not endorsed my writings (though one early essay on DNA is on the LDS newsroom site for informational purposes). While I strive to be accurate, my writings reflect my personal understanding and are subject to human error and bias.
Can any of those that Christensen cites, (Hugh Nibley, et. al) claim otherwise? (Yes, I know Nibley is dead). Yeah, get your answers from the likes of Neal Rappleye or Mike Ash who has just published a book titled “Bamboozled by the CES Letter”. This is one of the “best books” that Jeremy (or others) should get their answers from? Really?
Ash’s answer for why no remains of horses have been found? Gee wilikers, the jungle ate them. Some day we might find them. Why then, haven’t there been any discoveries in the desert areas of America (for the right time period)? Did the jungle eat them too? Notice how Ash wants to limit where the Book of Mormon people supposedly lived to Central America. And of course, horses were probably only to be found there, too. He can then conveniently claim that the bones disappeared because the jungle ate them, and it’s just too hard to find anything there. This contradicts what Mormon “Authorities” have said, but of course in Christensen’s world “Bamboozled” takes precedence over them.
I’m sure Bamboozled is chock full of other lovely opinions. So who is bamboozling who here?
Time after time Christensen answers Jeremy with the opinions of Mormon Apologists. How is this “superior” to the doctrinal teachings of Mormon “Authorities” when they disclaim their answers as opinions that carry no weight? He then lambastes Jeremy for expecting Mormon “Authorities” to provide him with official answers. (This is the current trend of Mormon Apologists). For Christensen, Mormon Apologist’s best guesses are “superior”. He also turns Jeremy’s reliance on Mormon “Authorites” for official answers into an expectation for everyone in the Church to have every answer to every question. This stuff is beyond silly.
Notice how Christensen will denigrate what he hasn’t even seen,
He [Stephenson] continues: “Recently, Jeremy and I completed a 458-page response to Brian Hales’ attacks on him and others. One hopes that this might be enough to satisfy those like Christensen, but he will probably complain that it is too long.”
It really depends on the quality of the content, doesn’t it? I have, as it happens, read many lengthy books. Some of them I like a great deal and I have even re-read them. Length and persuasiveness are not the same thing. Nor are scandalous topics and foundational topics necessarily the same thing, nor, in my view, deserving of the same effort.
So polygamy is a “scandalous topic”? I guess Brian Hales really flubbed up when he wrote, what is it… four books on the subject? Funny how much effort Christensen has put in to decrying the CES Letter. Was he too bamboozled? He worked on his rebuttal to me for months:
I’m currently working on a response to Jeremy Runnells’ friend Johnny Stephenson, who claims that all we have to offer is spin. (Kevin Christensen, Mormon Dialogue & Discussions, May 19, 2015).
Christensen then makes much ado about my comment that his tactic of making critics links dead is Orwellian and shady. Notice that Christensen never addresses why he uses that tactic. He just piles on the hyperbole by claiming that somehow I’m condemning the Joseph Smith Papers. Last I checked, the JSP wasn’t responding to their critics arguments. Their agenda is to release documents. They have been exemplary in doing so. They give readers the chance to evaluate those documents on their own, without presenting them in bits and pieces interspersed with “faithful” commentary as FAIRMORMON does. (They use a series of footnotes for further explanations, and even those are very unapologetic and reasoned).
They are not FAIRMORMON or the INTERPRETER. But how do we get to the Orwellian world of 1984? A little bit at a time and a lot of DoubleThink. Making it less convenient to access information you don’t want people to see. Of course, Christensen has to contrast this with all the other far worse things that Big Brother did. But how did Big Brother get to be Big Brother? A little bit at a time. Try being an active member and criticizing a Mormon “Authority” in public or publishing something. See what happened to Rock Waterman, here. This is not Big Brother watching?
This point seems lost on Christensen but I’m not surprised. And who STILL has the dead links even in their current article?
The whole concept of paradigm debate and the influence of theory on experiment design, testing, and interpretation has also been a prominent theme in my LDS writings since my first publication in 1990. And Stephenson’s conspicuous failure to address that basic underlying premise means that the beam in his own eye remains in place to obscure his vision. Everything that follows in his essay suffers thereby.
Well, now I’m a hypocrite. See PART II of my response where I do just that. I guess he didn’t bother to read that. He can find it here. Christensen talks about personal responsibility to be informed, (which should be a must before making accusations of hypocrisy) but he doesn’t even think to check if there was a response somewhere other than Jeremy’s CES site. He had at least five months to find it. He then writes,
Likewise, Stephenson seems to forget that he is an apologist for Jeremy Runnells and their mutual unfaith, which claims that Joseph Smith fabricated the Book of Mormon. Their conclusions are at as much risk of bias and distortion as mine are — but Stephenson apparently cannot see this. He is objective and rational; all who disagree are merely schizophrenic apologists.
No, not nearly as much as we will see below. Christensen just admitted to bias and distortion. What is my bias? Why would I distort? Can he answer those questions? Has he? No. Don Bradley disagrees with me quite often. I don’t consider him schizophrenic. But then, he doesn’t call me and my friends hypocrites and question their honesty and motives. (Not even subtlety). And I don’t question his. He’s not an Apologist like Christensen.
Notice that Christensen claims that we have mutual “unfaith”. This is an interesting way to describe us but totally wrong. I still have faith, but don’t believe Joseph Smith was a prophet. Is Christensen somehow better than I am because he still has “faith” in Joseph Smith’s claims? Seems so. He has read and believes the “superior” research. Got it.
And I have no problems with being called an apologist for Jeremy as I was defending him. FAIRMORMON has an army of people arrayed against Jeremy, including Christensen. But I’m just not invested in Jeremy as Christensen is in Mormonism, therefore who has more to lose here? Jeremy is just my friend. I have no reason not to present the evidence in a balanced way the best I can. I had nothing to do with Mormonism for 25 years after I left the church. I just find Mormon History fascinating. (I always did, even when I was a member of the Church). But I guess that is something that Christensen can’t fathom. I have an “agenda”. No, I just dislike the dishonesty of those Mormon Apologists.
I, in fact, disagree that some of Jeremy’s evidence in the CES Letter should be there. One example is the Vernal Holley maps. We discussed it. Jeremy even sent me the letter and asked me to evaluate some of the claims it makes and provide more source material. Jeremy is open to valid criticisms. He is just not open to being called names by Christensen, however subtle and folksy sounding. He is far from “brittle” and unbending. This is simply an ad hoc assumption concocted by Christensen.
Jeremy can also speak for himself and I’m not going to spend my life defending him as Christensen and Lindsay are obviously spending theirs defending Mormonism. We will see who is distorting what below when we get into the specific claims, which is what I really want to address instead of Christensen’s 30+ pages of esoteric bullshit and whining.
Ah, and the good old “rhetorical effects.” Well, where was I not accurate? Christensen just doesn’t like the word peepstone it seems, even though Mormon Authorities have done the reverse, calling what anyone besides a Mormon “prophet” used, that very thing. Here is Marion G. Romney from 1956:
Now, the Prophet gave other tests applicable to special claims and doctrines, of which the following two are typical.
(1) He made it clear that there is never more than one man on the earth at a time authorized to receive revelations for the Church. This principle answered the claims of the purported peepstone revelations. (Conference Report, April 1956, p.73).
Is this just for rhetorical effects? Here is Marvin S. Hill doing the same thing,
Opposition to Joseph came from the followers of Hyrum Page, who had a peepstone and had received a handful of revelations of his own. About this time, Smith had ceased to rely heavily upon his own seerstone for inspiration, and the change was disturbing to Cowdery and the Whitmers. (Marvin S. Hill, Quest for Refuge, p.28).
Why did Romney not use “seer stone” in relation to those revelations he did not deem as “authentic” to the truth claims of Mormonism? In all actuality, they were called both peepstones/peekstones and seerstones. I’ve made it clear that I disbelieve that Joseph Smith was a “seer”, so why should I pander to Christensen’s obvious bias? And I suppose that Dale Morgan should be accused of the same thing:
That the senior Joseph did much to launch his son upon his troubled career as a diviner and peepstone seer, that his unbounded extravagance of statement as to the wonders his son could see contributed largely to his celebrity, is clear from all accounts; the more fantastic stories of Joseph’s early powers and the marvels he discerned are to be traced back to the wagging tongue of his father.(John Phillip Walker, Dale Morgan, p.229).
Mike Quinn writes,
The excavation of the Logan (Utah) temple site during the 1880s unearthed a stone which a local woman (“Peepstone Lady”) used to locate lost animals and the body of a missing person. (D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, p.203)
Just this year, Mike Quinn wrote,
The second object of divine revelation that LDS headquarters has recently publicized is the brown-colored seer stone that Joseph Smith used to translate the Book of Mormon in 1829. In 2015, the Church officially clarified a century of misconceptions about how the translation occurred. I must admit that the official photographs of his artifact are stunning, and I can see why Joseph Smith refused to give it [back] to Willard Chase after the farmboy found while digging a well on Chase’s property. Like the common seer stones or “peek stones” in early America, Mormonism’s founding prophet dictated the translation while looking at the brown stone in a hat held close to his face for about six weeks during 1829. (D. Michael Quinn, Using Material Objects to “Receive” Revelations, Sunstone Symposium, 18 October, 2015, 5)
Jan Shipps called it a peepstone in The Prophet Puzzle. Is she guilty too, of simple “rhetorical effects?” Of having an agenda and distortion? Does Christensen want to criticize her for that? Good luck with that.
So are we to call what Joseph used a “peepstone” when he looked for buried treasure and then a “seerstone” when he used it for “revelations”? In the new Ensign article they don’t want to make this distinction, they stick to the “faithful” name calling.
Why be so concerned with this distinction? The fact that this bothers Christensen is rather telling, is it not? It shows that he is viewing things through a “faithful” lens, and so his claims to a better methodology are suspect and his admitted bias is right there to see.
Here is something interesting that Alma Jensen recently said, (Mormon (LDS) Institute Director from the University of Utah Institute of Religion) reportedly by someone who was there,
“Yes, Joseph used the seer stone to search for treasure. Just because he misused the stone, does that mean he’s not a prophet?”
Why is it called a seer stone when Smith misuses it, but a peepstone when Hiram Page does? Is there any kind of good explanation for this? That is why I call them peepstones. It is not just a matter of rhetoric, what Smith did was called “peeping” or “peeking” in his day. (Even when he “translated” the Book of Mormon). See this interesting article about Mary Jane Thompson (Joseph F. Smith’s cousin) and her “peeping” in 1856 Utah:
On July 18, 1856, she [Martha Ann Smith] wrote, [to Joseph F. Smith] “Ma[r]y Jane has been looking is [sic] the peap stone for you and she seen you[.]” …Referring to the same event Martha Ann wrote of, Jane wrote: “Mary Jane saw you only last Friday, Martha will tell you how” (Jane Fisher to JFS, Great Salt Lake City, July 20, 1856). Jane again wrote to Joseph F. Smith, again mentioning the peepstone, on May 11, 1857: “I think you have stayed long enough, away, and if you do not come home soon, more than mary, Jane, will take a look in the peepstone. I should like to see you, in little grass House.”
So in the days before webcams, there were other media for communication–something faster than mail, and even more virtual than photography: a peep stone.
So what makes this a peepstone and Joseph’s a “seerstone”? Modern Mormon preference. Was Mary Jane “misusing” the stone? Was Joseph? Interesting questions.
Christensen whines that I didn’t disclose his entire history when I mentioned his experience about “knowing” Moroni was a prophet. Yet, he didn’t do that with Jeremy as I pointed out in my rebuttal to him. I guess he really ought to have read that second part. The thing is, my point didn’t need the bio. It spoke for itself and Christensen loves to talk about himself.
And did I not share a LIVE link to the podcast where Christensen makes his comments on my blog? Anyone could go and listen to it for themselves in one click. This is something that FAIRMORMON and Christensen do not do. The link in his CURRENT article is still dead to the CES letter and to Jeremy’s posting of Part I of The Sky Is Falling. And where is a specific link to Jeremy’s podcast where he explains his background and reasons for leaving the Church? I can’t find one.
Christensen then creates a straw man by claiming that I stated that “cognitive dissonance provides the means by which apologists like me ignore “facts”. Nope, I never said that. Christensen even quotes me. I said,
“Christensen appears to be unable to grasp that flexibility does not change facts while cognitive dissonance can allow you to live with and ignore them.”
Notice my wording: can allow you to live with them and ignore them. I argued that the part that applies to Christensen is his dissonance allows him to live with those facts. (not ignore them). Since he loves to talk about himself, he has made it clear that he is well read, and so is not ignoring the facts. This is very simple. Christensen mentions Edward Ashment’s excellent article, Reducing Dissonance: The Book of Abraham as a Case Study, and I highly recommend it. Of course, everything he doesn’t like is a “rhetorical tool” to Christensen. His rebuttal to this was a quote by Wendy Ulrich:
People who put cognitive dissonance forward as the explanation for the high level of commitment and sacrifice among some Mormons ignore that by the time the prophecy of the world ending in Festinger’s study had failed three times virtually everyone left the group, cognitive dissonance theory or no. People may rationalize their behavior and beliefs for a time, but they will not continue to do so indefinitely unless their beliefs are producing the expected payback–as long as they have reasonable choices about what to believe.
This misapplies my argument. It is not about those who have a high level of commitment and sacrifice among some Mormons, it is about those who engage in disingenuous apologetics. Again, what about the failings of Warren Jeffs who also predicted the end of the world and it never came to pass? His movement is still going strong and has been for many decades. I strongly suggest he watch the movie Prophet’s Prey. And perhaps Christensen ought to think about why he is even challenging Jeremy Runnells.
Is it because many Mormon are feeling uncomfortable about much of what he published, so much so that the Church authored their anonymous Essays soon after the CES Letter was published? Is Christensen uncomfortable with what Jeremy published? If not, why spend so much time writing long Essays about him, and spending months to answer me? If this is all so frivolous, (the claims by Jeremy) why bother? Jeremy published the CES Letter in April of 2013 and the first anonymous Essays appeared seven months later.
But Christensen claims he has no dissonance and that I don’t understand the term and am misapplying it. Perhaps then, his problem is just DoubleThink. As George Orwell explains,
To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, … to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself – that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink. (Orwell, George (1949). Nineteen Eighty-Four. Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd, London, part 1, chapter 3, pp 32).
This is why to Christensen, the truth is “in the eye of the beholder”. In his world, I suppose it is.
And claiming that I (or Jeremy) didn’t address “Old World evidences for the Book of Mormon”? I do, in Part II of “The Sky is Falling” which has been published since April. Jeremy does so, here. What I find astoundingly hypocritical of Christensen is that he (in many instances) acts like Jeremy has published nothing but the original CES Letter even though he will reference Jeremy’s other writings when it is convenient for him.
Nothing about the so called “Old World evidences for the Book of Mormon” makes me uncomfortable. (Nice try with endeavoring to put his own dissonance–or whatever it is since I am so wrong–on me). As for Thomas Kuhn, I addressed some of my concerns in Part II of The Sky is falling, and others have challenged Christensen here. Christensen did not really address those challenges, but simply left a short comment. As Runtu wrote,
In essence, Kevin is turning Kuhn on his head, as Kuhn’s notion of a crisis of faith is a point at which one clings stubbornly to the “rules,” despite the presence of anomaly. It’s not about “values” but about accepting the prevailing paradigm as a boundary of inquiry. The paradigm shifts (and only just enough) to accommodate anomaly when the rules can’t explain them anymore. “Conclusions among individuals will differ” seems completely unrelated to a discussion of paradigm and shift.
He then takes a jab at me for calling Joseph Fielding Smith a prophet before he was the Church President. But doesn’t he realize that Smith was ordained a “prophet, seer, and revelator” when he became an apostle? This kind of silly posturing is all Christensen has to offer. His apathy towards Joseph Fielding Smith’s racism when he was an apostle (prophet, seer & revelator) and Church President is appalling. Dissonance anyone? It wasn’t Smith who lifted the Priesthood Ban when he was the PRESIDENT (The chief Apostle), now, was it?
Most the the FAIRMORMON Apologists that I’ve crossed paths with have disappointed me with their deceptive tactics and justifications for Mormon Leadership’s racism. Christensen is no different. He writes,
Stephenson cannot help but demonstrate how a hidden ideology lurks behind his arguments.
So, point of view determines truth? What does point of view have to do with it?
For years, Joseph Fielding Smith denied that Joseph Smith used his peepstone to translate the Book of Mormon. He also called black people “an inferior race.” Did his evaluation of the evidence and point of view make these things true? Or make Joseph Fielding Smith a true prophet?
What does Joseph Fielding Smith’s denial regarding the historical use of a peepstone (seer stone, if labels applied by the people involved matter) have to do with his being a true prophet? What do his views of race have to do with his being a true prophet? Should I assume that the answers are self-evident, or should I actually ask the question and consider that such a question is most appropriate only from January 23, 1970 to July 2, 1972, when the office of prophet was actually his? I’ll hazard the risk of making my own ideology explicit so you can see what happens when I do it.
So exactly what, is my “hidden ideology”? Christensen is strangely silent about this. He speaks of his own ideologies. All this is, is Christensen bragging about how much humbler he is than anyone else. He writes,
He argues based on a premise that a prophet wouldn’t make or perpetuate a mistake in history. And a prophet wouldn’t reflect any of the now embarrassing prejudices of his time and culture.
I get this all the time from Mormon Apologists. You see, this is the only way they can make their prophets blatant racism work. And see how he turns it into I advocate that their prophets can’t make a mistake “in history”. (Whatever that is). And I am well aware that men are human, and a prophet is a man. Joseph Smith said,
I never told you I was perfect but there are no errors in the revelations I have taught.
Mormon “authorities” still claim there are no errors in the “revelations”. Joseph Fielding Smith’s racism was institutional. He believed that God instigated the racism in Mormonism. (Of course it wasn’t racism to them). He taught that blacks were an “inferior race”. That God had revealed it so through his “prophets”. I have a real problem with this. But Christensen doesn’t get it. I simply have an agenda. Yeah, right.
I addressed peepstones above, but here is Joseph Fielding Smith in Doctrines of Salvation, Volume III:
Joseph Fielding Smith
EARLY SPECULATION AS TO SITE OF NEW JERUSALEM. When it was made known that the New Jerusalem was to be built in America, the saints began to wonder where the city would be. Hiram Page, one of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, secured a “peep stone” by means of which he claimed to receive revelation for the Church. Among the things he attempted to make known was where this city was to be built, Considerable commotion naturally prevailed, and even Oliver Cowdery was deceived into accepting what Hiram Page had given. The Prophet Joseph Smith had some difficulty in correcting this evil and composing the minds of the members of the Church. (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. III, 500).
So why can’t I apply that criteria to Joseph Smith since I do not believe that his “revelations” were authentic? Should I be dishonest and apply what I think is a Mormon prop? This is simply Christensen’s double standard, folks. Was this simply rhetoric on the part of Fielding Smith? Will Christensen admit he also had an “agenda”? No, he instead claims, “He actually comes out looking very good…”
How does the above show a “hidden agenda” on my part? First, all Mormon Apostles are ordained prophets, seers, and revelators, and Christensen ought to know this and so, is being dishonest here. Claiming that such a question is “most appropriate only from January 23, 1970 to July 2, 1972” when JSF became the President of the Church is simply disingenuous. Smith was actually ordained an Apostle, (thus a prophet, seer, & revelator) on April 7, 1910. As Jeffrey R. Holland explained,
Against such times as come in our modern day, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve are commissioned by God and sustained by you as prophets, seers, and revelators, with the President of the Church sustained as the prophet, seer, and revelator, the senior Apostle, and as such the only man authorized to exercise all of the revelatory and administrative keys for the Church. … Are the heavens open? Does God reveal His will to prophets and apostles as in days of old? That they are and that He does is the unflinching declaration of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to all the world. (“Prophets, Seers, and Revelators”, Jeffrey R. Holland, Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, General Conference, October 2004).
So how is Joseph Fielding Smith a true prophet when he teaches and condones racism? Dallin Oaks makes my point when he claimed:
Stand fast with the leadership of the church. I heard President Hinckley in describing a revelation he had received concerning the building of small temples form which he will soon benefit in this part of the world that he did not claim perfection that there was only one perfect person who had ever lived upon this earth and even the prophets of God were not perfect. But, as the Prophet Joseph Smith said, on a great occasion, ‘there is no error in the teachings. ’Spoken under the influence of the spirit of the Lord, witnessed to be true in the hearts and minds of those who have the gift of the Holy Ghost, those teachings are the Lord’s will to his people. And I testify to you that these teachings are true and that if we hold with and follow the current leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, we will stay on the path toward eternal life. (Dallin Oaks, “Boise Rescue Transcript”, 117, On tape, 1:12:38)
“There is no error in the teachings.” The problem with Christensen’s version of what a constitutes a prophet, is that it is not what Mormon prophets themselves declare they are. Their teachings (the ones that don’t fit the Apologist’s personal criteria) are error filled opinions that aren’t much good for anything. This is Christensen’s version of Mormonism, nothing more. His agenda is promoting his own opinion and condemning those who don’t jump on board his Apologist band wagon. He wants us to give Joseph Fielding Smith a pass on his blatant racism simply because he was not the “head prophet” at the time. Yet these “apostles” are all ordained and sustained as prophets when they become apostles. What a silly and disingenuous argument.
As Brigham Young taught,
An Apostle is the highest office in the Church & kingdom of God. Joseph Smith was a Prophet Seer & Revelator before he was baptized or ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood or had any Authority to administer one of the ordinances of the house of the Lord. He was afterwards ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood then to the Melchizedek Priesthood & Apostleship which is the highest office in the Church & kingdom of God on Earth. When a man is ordained to the Apostleship & keys thereof if he dies in faith He will hold those keys to all Eternity. All the Prophets Patriarchs & Apostles who ever did or ever will hold the keys of the Apostleship if faithful unto death will hold them forever.
Brigham Young also taught,
Many may say, “br. Brigham, perhaps you are mistaken; you are liable to err, and if the mob should not come, after all, and we should burn up our houses and learn that the Government had actually countermanded their orders and that no armies are coming to Utah, it would be a needless destruction. We have all the time felt that there was no need of leaving our houses. How easy it is for men to be mistaken, and we think a Prophet may be mistaken once in a while.” I am just as willing as the Lord, if he is disposed to make me make mistakes, and it is none of the business of any other person. If a people do the best they know, they have the power to ask and receive, and no power can prevent it.
And if the Lord wants me to make a mistake, I would as soon be mistaken as anything else, if that will save the lives of the people and give us the victory. If you get such feelings in your hearts, think of what my conclusion on the subject is, and do not come to my office to ask me whether I am mistaken, for I want to tell you now perhaps I am.
Do I want to save you? Ask that question. But John, what are you doing? Are you not an Elder in Israel? “Yes, I am a High Priest.” What is the office of an High Priest? John replies, “I do not know, without it is to whip my wife, knock down my children and make everybody obey me; and I believe a High Priest presides over an Elder.” You will find some Elders just about that ignorant. Let me tell you what the office of a High Priest and an Elder is. It holds the keys of the revelation of Jesus Christ; it unlocks the gates of heaven. It opens the broad windows of revelation from eternity. John, what are you about, imagining that I may be mistaken? or that br. Heber may be mistaken? Why do you not open the windows of heaven and get revelation for yourself? and not go whining around and saying, “do you not think that you may be mistaken? Can a Prophet or an Apostle be mistaken?” Do not ask me any such question, for I will acknowledge that all the time, but I do not acknowledge that I designedly lead this people astray one hair’s breadth from the truth, and I do not knowingly do a wrong, though I may commit many wrongs, and so may you. But I overlook your weaknesses, and I know by experience that the Saints lift their hearts to God that I may be led right. If I am thus borne off by your prayers and faith, with my own, and suffered to lead you wrong, it proves that your faith is vain. Do not worry. (Brigham Young, sermon given on 21 March 1858, Salt Lake Tabernacle, transcribed by George D. Watt, Richard S. Van Wagoner, The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young, Vol. 3, pp. 1417-1418)
Notice how it would be “the Lord” making Young make a mistake. And again on the same day in the afternoon session Young clarified what he was talking about:
I have told you what causes apostacy. It arises from neglect of prayers and duties, and the Spirit of the Lord leaves those who are thus negligent and they begin to think that the authorities of the church are wrong. In the days of Joseph the first thing manifested in the case of apostacy was the idea that Joseph was liable to be mistaken, and when a man admits that in his feelings and sets it down as a fact, it is a step towards apostacy, and he only needs to make one step more and he is cut off from the church. That is the case in any man. When several of the Twelve were cut off, the first step was that Joseph was a prophet, but he had fallen from his office and the Lord would suffer him to lead the people wrong. When persons get that idea in their minds, they are taking the first step to apostacy. If the Lord has designed that I should lead you wrong, then let us all go to hell together and, as Joseph used to say, we will take hell by force, turn the devils out and make a heaven of it. (ibid., 1420)
None of the biblical keys condemn Joseph Fielding Smith as a potential prophet. He actually comes out looking very good by these measures. His racial views and mistakes on points of history, his behavior before he became the prophet, and his age and behavior when he was the prophet, all have a historical context and biblical precedent.
By Christensen’s personal “measures” . Except he wasn’t a “potential prophet”, he was a prophet when he was ordained an apostle, therefore all of Christensen’s criteria to Presidents of the Church (the chief apostle) apply. Christensen simply is advocating his own brand of Mormonism, not what is taught by Mormon authorities. There is no Biblical precedent for a “revelation” that excludes anyone from all the blessings that others enjoyed under the New Covenant. The “Curse of Ham” was an invention of racist men and adopted by a misguided Mormon Hierarchy who claimed it for themselves as a revelation from God.
But of course to Christensen, racism is irrelevant. And then here we go with the red herring soup:
“By their fruits shall ye know them” refers to the recognition of a characteristic fruit as the key to identification. So if you happen to spot unripe, fallen, bruised, or wormy fruit, if you know the fruit’s identifying characteristics, even they will do. A grape with a blemish is not a thorn, nor is even a perfect thorn any kind of fruit. A fig that has been pecked by a bird is still a fig, and a flawless or fashionably popular thistle is still a just a thistle (see Matthew 7:16–17).
If Stephenson wants to dismiss or reject these biblical criteria, his alternative ideology resorts to a subjective appeal to emotional hot-button issues argued on the unacknowledged basis that Smith represents behavior and attitudes that are “not the way I would arrange it if I were God.” Such an argument suffers from the inescapable limitation that Stephenson is not God. Notice that if Stephenson had openly stated that his use of these criteria depends on the reasoning that the situation is “not the way I would arrange it if I were God,” that opens his reasoning to critical examination in the same way my listing of biblical tests opens them to critical examination. Rather than be swept up by the emotional wave of impassioned disapproval of Joseph Fielding Smith as a person — which flatter the reader as enlightened and demand no mental or emotional effort — such as offered by Stephenson as an apparently objective and decisive set of self-evident facts, he’d have to admit that they are grounded on the claim that if he were God he wouldn’t permit such behavior in a true prophet. The effectiveness of the argument therefore depends on concealing these assumptions and forestalling any undesirable critical consideration from his audience about who is clearly not God.
So racism is not bad fruit? Ok. Where does this guy get this shit from? Did I claim that I was God? Nope. But Christensen must be claiming that, according to his own words, because his “ideology” is right and Fielding Smith comes out just fine by his criteria.
And what were the “fruits” of Mormonism’s institutional racism? Oh yeah, that is irrelevant! And what Biblical criteria does Christensen give? None. He mentions a couple of Chapters in Acts and a couple of books and an article by a Mormon Apologist. Could he be more vague? How does he apply such references? Where is his reasoned argument using the evidence? Nowhere to be found, though we have lots and lots of copy detailing Christensen’s own personal ideology.
So what Christensen classes as “emotional hot button issues” are off the table? Sounds like the National Rifle Association’s shtick when anyone wants to discuss gun regulatons after a mass shooting. Except there was no mass shooting here (this is an old issue but still very relevant) and of course the Church itself published on the issue just a few years ago in one of their anonymous Essays. So no one can have a reasoned argument about Mormon revelation without first declaring “If I were God” first? Hogwash. As one of the Mormon “Apostles” stated:
False prophets and false teachers are those who arrogantly attempt to fashion new interpretations of the scriptures to demonstrate that these sacred texts should not be read as God’s words to His children but merely as the utterances of uninspired men, limited by their own prejudices and cultural biases. They argue, therefore, that the scriptures require new interpretation and that they are uniquely qualified to offer that interpretation. …However, in the Lord’s Church there is no such thing as a “loyal opposition.” One is either for the kingdom of God and stands in defense of God’s prophets and apostles, or one stands opposed. (M. Russell Ballard, 1999)
This is the very thing that Christensen is doing with Fielding Smith, claiming that the Mormon apostles words “should not be read as God’s words to His children, but merely as the utterances of uninspired men, limited by their own prejudices and cultural biases.” He and his FAIRMORMON friends have the “right” interpretation. All that Mormon “Authorities” teach is opinion, based on their faulty reading of the scriptures unless they are the President of the Church and make an “official” declaration. The Holy Ghost does not operate in this brand of Mormonism except when Mormon Apologists say so. It is irrelevant unless an official vote is taken. But according to Ballard, Christensen is the false teacher here if he contradicts the “Authorities” of the Church. Remember, he claimed that Jeremy was wrong in favoring official doctrine over “the best books” when it came to answering his questions about his eternal welfare:
His preference for “official” thought rather than “the best books” is telling (D&C 88:118).
Notice though, what D&C 88 states in context,
118 And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.
This is directed to “those who have not faith”. Jeremy did have faith. He was simply troubled by things he had learned. He then went to what Christensen describes as “the best books,” but that made it worse. But Jeremy is wrong simply because Christensen has a personal preference for Apologist answers, which to him are always “superior”.
The only one playing God here appears to be Christensen by deigning to judge his methods of research as “superior” to Jeremy’s. This is simply Big Brother mentality. FAIRMORMON’s ways are what one must follow to keep the “faith”. Otherwise, you will turn bitter and brittle and you will “shatter”. Don’t follow your heart, follow our formula.
Our leaders are to be revered, but we will question their relevance when it suits our purpose. You must read the Book of Mormon our way, to have the correct interpretation of what it states. Those “Authorities” that came before, didn’t know what they were talking about because our interpretation is “superior”.
The only one that seems to be getting swept up in an “emotional wave” is Christensen. He is the one who is bothered by anyone speaking about Mormon racism. And he condemns my rhetoric?
The rest of Christensen’s rant is just more same ol’ same ol’, which I may come back and address at a later time. But I want to get to the claimed 1820 vision and the supposed priesthood restoration.
It’s not surprising to learn that Christensen has been carrying on with his pseudo historical apologist blather for years. For a good example of how “Christensen travels [the] well-worn path of the pseudo-scientist, pseudo-historian, and New Age religionists,” see Dan Vogel’s 2002 critique here. To quote Vogel:
Christensen misapplies Kuhn’s work to Book of Mormon studies in several ways….Christensen questions the “adequacy” of my approach, by which he means that I paid little attention to the works of Book of Mormon apologists, particularly those at FARMS, that support Book of Mormon antiquity. (Emphasis mine).
Sound familiar folks?
II. First Vision Vagaries
I was intrigued by Christensen’s mention of the late Matthew Brown’s book, and so I bought the Kindle Version (they didn’t have it at Gospelink) and read it. (It took me a couple of hours). This will actually help me with an Essay I’ve been writing on the claimed 1820 Vision, because Brown makes some interesting (but mistaken) conclusions.
Stephenson’s most focused and substantial challenge applies to a specific argument regarding the First Vision. He quotes this passage from me:
Look at his [Jeremy Runnells] complaints about the various First Vision Accounts and the priesthood restoration. On page 22 of his Letter, Runnells claims that “there is absolutely no record of a First Vision prior to 1832.” The FairMormon website response points out an article in the Palmyra Reflector from 1831 that indicates discussion of Joseph’s vision as early as November 1830. They also point to the allusion in D&C 20, which dates to April 1830.67
In response Stephenson has this:
This is the real issue. Is there any evidence of discussion about the claimed 1820 vision before 1832 when Joseph first penned it? The answer is no. The FairMormon article that Christensen quotes is wrong. Why? Because the two missionaries that the newspaper article describes are referring not to any claimed 1820 vision but rather the visit of Moroni three years later.
Christensen links to a FairMormon article that is not only incorrect but completely deceptive as well.
One check on whether the FairMormon article is correct or deceptive is to read the newspaper article cited. Matt Roper has reproduced the Reflector February 14, 1831 for the archive of “19th-Century Publications about the Book of Mormon”:
Our Painesville correspondent informs us, that about the first of Nov. last, Oliver Cowdery, (we shall notice this character in the course of our labors,) and three others arrived at that village with the “New Bible,” on a mission to the notorious Sidney Rigdon, who resides in the adjoining town. Rigdon received them graciously — took the book under advisement, and in a few days declared it to be of “Heavenly origin.” Rigdon, with about 20 of his flock, were dipt immediately. They then proclaimed that there had been no religion in the world for 1500 years, — that no one had been authorised to preach &c. for that period — that Joe Smith had now received a commission from God for that purpose, and that all such as did not submit to his authority would speedily be destroyed. The world (except the New Jerusalem) would come to an end in two or three years. The state of New-York would (probably) be sunk. Smith (they affirmed) had seen God frequently and personally — Cowdery and his friends had frequent interviews with angels, and had been directed to locate the site for the New Jerusalem, which they should know, the moment they should “step their feet” upon it.
Notice that the newspaper describes four missionaries, not two. Matthew Brown identifies them as “Oliver Cowdery, Parley P. Pratt, Peter Whitmer Jr., and Richard Ziba Peterson.” Why does Stephenson miss this?
Did Joseph receive a commission from God to preach in 1820? He did not get that until after the “translation” of the Book of Mormon. Did I miss something? No, I didn’t. I was pointing out how the FAIRMORMON article was deceptive. Notice my language:
The FairMormon article that Christensen quotes is wrong. Why?
I didn’t say they had misquoted the Reflector article which Christensen implies. (Though they did manipulate it) That is another strawman of Christensen’s.That particular FAIRMORMON article dealt with a lot of material. I was focusing on the 1832 accounts of Missionaries that Christensen later tries to dismiss to show exactly what was being taught after Joseph write the 1832 History. There is a reason for this. What I was claiming is that FAIRMORMON was being deceptive about them in attributing them to a claimed earlier vision. That much is obvious from my later comments and quotes. Christensen knew this, and so wrote,
Well, for one thing, in his essay he doesn’t deal directly with that specific issue of the Reflector. [Bingo!] Part of his approach is to look at other newspaper accounts reporting on different LDS missionaries that did not mention theophanies, but rather focused on the more sensational story of the angel and the book. And he compares those accounts with Cowdery’s 1834 history, Lucy’s later history, and a letter from William McLellan, none of which mention theophany, but focus on the angel and the book. That is, he looks to them as paradigmatic, rather than the one with the clear evidence that contradicts Runnells’s original claim of “absolutely no evidence” before 1832.
So, seeing an angel was more “sensational” than claiming to see God? Really? No, my point was that FAIRMORMON was claiming that those 1832 accounts were about Smith’s theophany, and that was deceptive. None of the 1831/1832 sources mention specific theophanies, that is the point. They don’t “focus” on the angel story, it was all they knew about. Therefore, the account by McLellin is extrememly relevant because it was given just a few months after the Reflector article, from a known source who gave accurate information about what Mormon Missionaries (one of them Joseph’s brother) were teaching. This is much more “credible evidence” as we shall see. This was a direct answer to the problem with the Reflector article. There are many more, as we shall see.
III. Paradigm Precedent?
The claims made in the 1831 Reflector account are actually so ludicrous that I didn’t think I needed to respond to them, but obviously I do. It only makes it worse for Christensen (as does his really deceptive comments about David Whitmer). And is the FAIRMORMON Article deceptive here also? Why, yes it is. Here is what they quote:
LDS missionaries were teaching that Joseph Smith “had seen God frequently and personally” and received a commission from Him to teach true religion. (The Reflector, vol. 2, no. 13, 14 February 1831).
First, this is not an actual quote. (Notice what is actually in quotes) It is parts of Cole’s synopsis cobbled together. They do not explain that they did this. And where is FAIRMORMON’s anaylsis of this comment? Where is the full quote? The article doesn’t mention “true religion”, it says Mormons were teaching that there was “no religion” on the earth for 1500 years and that Joseph claimed that he got a commission from God “for that purpose”, or, to preach with authority. But this did not happen in 1820.
Christensen actually does me a favor by quoting the entire portion of the “Painsville Correspondent’s” section in the Reflector issue from Febuary 14. (Something you seldom see from FairMormon Apologists). Now everyone that reads his article can see it, and how ridiculous some of the claims it makes are. (They sure can’t find the whole quote in the FAIRMORMON article). You can now see how FAIRMORMON manipulated it to look like Smith talked to God and got “a commission from Him”, as if it was all one event.
Before I get into that, here is what Christensen says about me:
… he looks to them [the 1831/1832 articles] as paradigmatic, rather than the one with the clear evidence that contradicts Runnells’s original claim of “absolutely no evidence” before 1832.
First, Remember folks, what Jeremy claimed was this:
The first and earliest written account of the First Vision in Joseph Smith’s journal was written 12 years after the spring of 1820. There is absolutely no record of a First Vision prior to 1832.
Secondly, what the Missionaries taught in 1832 is absolutely paradigmatic. Does the article written by Abner Cole that FAIRMORMON/Christensen is quoting, which generalizes what four missionaries were allegedly teaching constitute “clear evidence” of the specific claim that Joseph Smith saw God in 1820 (who at that time told him all of the churches were an “abomination”) and received a “commission” from him and then spoke about it? Not even close. Does it even give us good evidence that Joseph was claiming to have “seen God frequently”? before he organized his church in 1830? Not at all. This was obviously about Joseph and Oliver receiving signed “revelations” from God (Jesus). How, exactly, does this verify a supposed vision in 1820? It doesn’t. We will see below what was actually meant by this.
I have a good friend (Matthew Bowman) who has written about this here. He rightly points out that this article is nothing but unsubstantiated rumors:
First, as it stands the information is little more than rumor. An unnamed “correspondent” reported to the author of the Reflector article (Abner Cole) the claims made by Oliver Cowdery and his three associates concerning what Joseph Smith had seen. We therefore have the following chain of sources:
Joseph Smith → Oliver Cowdery and friends → unnamed correspondent → Abner Cole
The opportunities for garbled communication through this many stages of transmission are obvious. Information obtained third- or fourth-hand is not exactly reliable.
This is the same Abner Cole who wrote “The Book of Pukei”, a spoof on the Book of Mormon and had a penchant for exaggerating. And Christensen doesn’t quote the entire article from the Reflector. Let’s do that, shall we? It reads,
GOLD BIBLE, NO. 4.
Since we have any knowledge of the habits or propensities of the human species, we find that man has been prone to absurdities; and it too often happens that while we carefully attempt to detect them in others, we fondly cherish some gross inconsistencies within our own bosoms. The lust of power, doubtless stimulates the few, while ignorance binds the many, like passive slaves to the car of superstition.
It is passing strange, that in all ages of the world, gross stupidity in an impostor should be considered among the vulgar, irrefragible proof of his divine mission, and the most bungling piece of legerdemain, will receive from them all the credit of a well attested miracle.
Joanna Southcote published a book in the city of London, in 1804, in which her first prophecies were detailed. — She declares that she did not understand the communications given her by the spirit, till they were afterwards explained to her. The spirit informed her how she could fortel the weather and other events. She declares that the death of Bishop Buller, was foretold her in a dream. One night she heard an iron ball roll three steps down stairs, which the spirit told her was a sign of three great evils, about to fall upon the land — the sword, the plague, and famine. She relates that she foretold the extraordinary harvest, which happened in 1800. She was often ordered to read the bible, when the spirit would interpret its meaning. She informs her readers that Jacob’s warning to his sons, is applicable to our times — mentions frequent contests with various preachers, and talks much about the marriage of the Lamb.
The following is from one of her communications. “As wrong as they are in saying thou hast children bro’t up by the parish, and that thou art Bonaparte’s brother, and that thou hast been in prison; so false is their sayings, thy writings come from the devil, or any spirit but the spirit of the LIVING GOD; and that every soul in this nation shall know before the FIVE YEARS I mentioned to the people in 1800 are expired, and then I will return as a DIADEM of beauty to the residence of my people, and they shall praise the GOD OF THEIR SALVATION.”
In 1805 Joanna published a pamphlet, attempting to confute the “five charges” which had been made against her and published in the newspapers. First, sealing her disciples. Second, on the invasion. Third, on famine. Fourth, her mission, and fifth, her death. Sealing is an important point among these people. — Joanna gives those who profess a belief in her mission, and will subscribe to the things revealed in her “WARNING,” a sealed paper with her signature, by which they are led to think, that they are sealed against the day of redemption, and that all those who possess these seals, would be signally honored by the Messiah when he should come in the spring (of 1807.) Her followers believed her to be the bride, the Lamb’s wife, and that as man fell by a woman, he will be restored by a woman. Many of her followers pretended to have visions and revelations. At present it would appear that both warning, and sealing have subsided; and they are waiting in awful suspense for the commencement of the thousand years reign on earth, when peace will universally prevail. They now pretend that Christ will not come in person, but in spirit, and all the dead who have been sealed, will be raised from their graves to partake of this happy state.
If an imposture, like the one we have so briefly noticed, could spring up in the great metropolis of England, and spread over a considerable portion of that kingdom, it is not surprising that one equally absurd, should have its origin in this neighborhood, where its dupes are not, or ever will be numerous.
In the commencement, the imposture of the “book of Mormon,” had no regular plan or features. At a time when the money digging ardor was somewhat abated, the elder Smith declared that his son Jo had seen the spirit, (which he then described as a little old man with a long beard,) and was informed that he (Jo) under certain circumstances, eventually should obtain great treasures, and that in due time he (the spirit) would furnish him (Jo) with a book, which would give an account of the Ancient inhabitants (antideluvians) of this country, and where they had deposited their substance, consisting of costly furniture, &c. at the approach of the great deluge, which had ever since that time remained secure in his (the spirits) charge, in large and spacious chambers, in sundry places in this vicinity, and these tidings corresponded precisely with revelations made to, and predictions made by the elder Smith a number of years before.
The time at length arrived, when young Jo was to receive the book from the hand of the spirit, and he repaired accordingly, alone, and in the night time, to the woods in the rear of his father’s house (in the town of Manchester about two miles south of this village) and met the spirit as had been appointed. This rogue of a spirit who had baffled all the united efforts of the money diggers, (although they had tried many devices to gain his favor, and at one time sacrificed a barn yard fowl,) intended it would seem to play our prophet a similar trick on this occasion; for no sooner had he delivered the book according to promise, than he made a most desperate attempt to regain its possession. Our prophet however, like a lad of true metal, stuck to his prize, and attempted to gain his father’s dwelling, which it appears, was near at hand. The father being alarmed at the long absence of his son, and probably fearing some trick of the spirit, having known him for many years; sallied forth in quest of the youthful adventurer. He had not however, proceeded far before he fell in with the object of his kind solicitude who appeared to be in the greatest peril. The spirit had become exasperated at the stubborn conduct of the young prophet, in wishing to keep possession of the book, and out of sheer spite, raised a whirlwind, which at that particular juncture, throwing trunks and limbs of trees about their ears, besides the “elfish sprite” had belabored Jo soundly with blows, — had felled him once to the ground, and bruised him severely in the side. The rescue however, was timely, Jo retained his treasure, and returned to the house with his father, much fatigued and injured. This tale in substance, was told at the time the event was said to have happened by both father and son, and is well recollected by many of our citizens. It will be borne in mind that no divine interposition had been dreamed of at the period.
BOOK OF MORMON. — Our Painesville correspondent informs us, that about the first of Nov. last, Oliver Cowdery, (we shall notice this character in the course of our labors,) and three others arrived at that village with the “New Bible,” on a mission to the notorious Sidney Rigdon, who resides in the adjoining town. Rigdon received them graciously — took the book under advisement, and in a few days declared it to be of “Heavenly origin.” Rigdon, with about 20 of his flock, were dipt immediately. They then proclaimed that there had been no religion in the world for 1500 years, — that no one had been authorised to preach &c. for that period, — that Joe Smith had now received a commission from God for that purpose, and that all such as did not submit to his authority would speedily be destroyed. The world (except the New Jerusalem) would come to an end in two or three years. The state of New York would (probably) be sunk. Smith (they affirmed) had seen God frequently and personally — Cowdery and his friends had frequent interviews with angels, and had been directed to locate the site for the New Jerusalem, which they should know, the moment they should “step their feet” upon it. They pretend to heal the sick and work miracles, and had made a number of unsuccessful attempts to do so. The Indians were the ten lost tribes — some of them had already been dipt. From 1 to 200 (whites) had already been in the water, and showed great zeal in this new religion — many were converted before they saw the book. Smith was continually receiving new revelations, and it would probably take him 1000 years to complete them — commissions and papers were exhibited, said to be signed by Christ himself!!! Cowdery authorised three persons to preach, &c. and descended the Ohio River. The converts are forming “common stock” families, as most pleasing in the sight of God. They pretend to give the “Holy Spirit” and under its operations they fall upon the floor — see visions, &c. Indians followed Cowdery daily, and finally saw him enter the promised land, where he placed a pole in the ground, with a light on its top, to designate the site of the New Jerusalem. (The Palmyra Reflector, February 14, 1831).
Dale Broadhurst writes in his notes:
Mormon Historians makes this observation on the claim of the men having seen God frequently:
The above, third-hand report, of Joseph Smith, Jr. having “seen God frequently and personally,” is an interesting historical item. It is strange that the old report comes from Ohio and not from Smith’s home region around Palmyra, New York. Nevertheless, it appears to be the first published allegation that the young seer had gazed upon the afwul countenance of God the Father — an occurrence which biblical scriptures pronounce impossible for a living being to endure. It seems likely, that even as early as 1831, the first Mormons believed they were living in the “final dispensation of the gospel” and were no longer subject to certain divine restrictions which had limited the efforts of their predecessors, the “former day saints.” While there is no documentation of Smith himself claiming to have seen God, so early as 1831, he seems to have been content to allow his followers to spread such stories, if they wished to be so believing.
My friend Dale is being very generous here. Cole is claiming to be quoting a “Painesville Correspondent”. Actually, it appears that Cole was just reading the Painesville Telegraph’s back issues and supplemented them with a letter received from an anonymous “correspondent”. If one looks at the Issues from December 1830 to February 1831, we see much of what Cole attributes to his anonymous “correspondent”.
But before I get into that, lets take a look at what Cole wrote in the Reflector. He first writes under the title of “Gold Bible, No. 4”. He mentions Joanna Southcote, [sic] and how,
If an imposture, like the one we have so briefly noticed, could spring up in the great metropolis of England, and spread over a considerable portion of that kingdom, it is not surprising that one equally absurd, should have its origin in this neighborhood, where its dupes are not, or ever will be numerous.
This echos the words of Thomas Campbell, from the Telegraph article, who mentions the French Prophets, the first Quakers, the Shakers and Jemima Wilkenson and then observes:
Mormonite prophets & teachers can show no better authority for their pretended mission and revelations than these impostors have done, we have no better authority to believe them than we have to believe their predecessors in imposition. But the dilemma is, we can’t believe all, for each was exclusively right in his day, and those of them that remain are still exclusively right to this day; and if the Shakers be right, the whole world, the Mormonites themselves not excepted, are in the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity — quite as far from salvation as you yourself have pronounced all the sectarians on earth to be, namely, in a state of absolute damnation.
Cole then writes about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and how it was all tied into Joseph’s monyedigging. He mentions Joseph Smith’s history with the angel or spirit, and does not mention anything about any claimed vision of God. He then speaks of his “Painesville correspondent.”
Here is what Cole in the Reflector claims that the unnamed correspondent related to him, contrasted with Telegraph articles:
Our Painesville correspondent informs us, that about the first of Nov. last, Oliver Cowdery, (we shall notice this character in the course of our labors,) and three others arrived at that village with the “New Bible,” on a mission to the notorious Sidney Rigdon, who resides in the adjoining town. Rigdon received them graciously — took the book under advisement, and in a few days declared it to be of “Heavenly origin.“
Telegraph (Dec 14, 1830) article claims:
Four men are traveling westward, who say they are commanded by their Heavenly Father, to go and collect the scattered tribes of Israel, which they say a new Gospel or Prophecy informs them are the different tribes of Indians.
Telegraph (Feb 14, 1831):
About the last of October, 1830, four men, claiming to be divinely inspired, came from Manchester and Palmyra, Ontario county, N.Y., bringing a pretended revelation, entitled the “Book of Mormon.” They came to the brethern of the reformation in Mentor, saluted them as brethern, and professed to rejoice at finding a people walking according to the scriptures of truth, and acknowledging no other guide. They professed to have no commands for them, nevertheless, they called upon them to receive their mission and book as from Heaven, which they said chiefly concerned the western Indians, as being an account of their origin, and a prophecy of their final conversion to christianity, and make them a white and delightsome people, and be reinstated in the possession of their lands of which they have been despoiled by the whites. — When called upon for testimony, they appealed (like Mahomet) to the internal evidences of their book. The book was read and pronounced a silly fabrication. When farther pressed upon the subject, they required the brethern to humble themselves before God, and pray for a sign from heaven. They took up their abode with the pastor of the congregation, (Sidney Rigdon,) who read their book and partly condemned it — but, two days afterwards, was heard to confess his conviction of its truth.
Notice that Cole writes “the last of October 1830” and the Telegraph claims “the first of November last”. We have the four missionaries and that Sidney Rigdon was converted. The Telegraph claims that Sidney first condemned it, Cole in the Reflector glosses over this.
Rigdon, with about 20 of his flock, were dipt immediately.
Telegraph (Feb. 14):
Immediately the subtlety and duplicity of these men were manifest — as soon as they saw a number disposed to give heed to them, then it was they bethought themselves of making a party — then it was they declared that their book contained a new covenant, to come under which the disciple must be re-immersed. When called upon to answer concerning their pretended covenant, whether it was distinct from that mentioned in Hebrews VIII, 10-13, they would equivocate, and would say, (to use their own words) “on the large scale, the covenant is the same, but in some things it is different.” Immediately they made a party — seventeen persons were immersed by them in one night. At this Mr. Rigdon seemed much displeased, and when they came next day to his house, he withstood them to the face — showed them that what they had done was entirely without precedent in the holy scriptures — for they had immersed those persons that they might work miracles as well as come under the said covenant — showed them that the apostles baptized for the remission of sins — but miraculous gifts were conferred by the imposition of hands. But when pressed upon the point, they justified themselves by saying, it was on their part merely a compliance with the solicitations of those persons.
They then proclaimed that there had been no religion in the world for 1500 years, — that no one had been authorised to preach &c. for that period, — that Joe Smith had now received a commission from God for that purpose, and that all such as did not submit to his authority would speedily be destroyed. The world (except the New Jerusalem) would come to an end in two or three years. The state of New York would (probably) be sunk.
Telegraph (Nov 16, 1830):
He proclaims destruction upon the world within a few years, — holds forth that the ordinances of the gospel, have not been regularly administered since the days of the Apostles, till the said Smith and himself commenced the work
Telegraph (Feb 1, 1831):
[Sidney Rigdon] After denouncing dreadful vengeance on the whole state of New York, and this village in particular, and recommending to all such as wished to flee from “the wrath to come,” to follow him beyond the ‘western waters,’ he took his leave.
Telegraph (Feb 14, 1831):
We shall next proceed to expose the anti-scriptural assertion, that there has been none duly authorized to administer baptism, for the space of fourteen hundred years up to the present time, by showing that the church or the kingdom of Christ, must have been totally extinct during that period, provided its visible administration had actually ceased during that time, is an express contradiction of the testimony of Jesus, Matt. xvi. 18.
They declared that all the great things they spoke would be manifest over the whole earth within the term of three years.
Smith (they affirmed) had seen God frequently and personally — Cowdery and his friends had frequent interviews with angels, and had been directed to locate the site for the New Jerusalem, which they should know, the moment they should “step their feet” upon it.
Telegraph (Nov. 16, 1830)
About two weeks since some persons came along here with the book, one of whom pretends to have seen Angels, and assisted in translating the plates.
Telegraph (Dec 7, 1830)
Those who are the friends and advocates of this wonderful book, state that Mr. Oliver Cowdry has his commission directly from the God of Heaven, and that he has credentials, written and signed by the hand of Jesus Christ, with whom he has personally conversed, and as such, said Cowdry claims that he and his associates are the only persons on earth who are qualified to administer in his name.
Telegraph (Jan 18, 1831)
But the more important part of the mission was to inform the brethren that the boundaries of the promised land, or the New Jerusalem, had just been made known to Smith from God
Telegraph (Feb 14, 1831):
They said, they saw the heavens open, the angels, paradise, and hell.
Mr. Rigdon again called upon them for proof of the truth of their book and mission: they then related the manner in which they obtained faith, which was by praying for a sign, and an angel was shown unto them.…but said Cowdrey, “Do you think if I should go to my Heavenly Father with all sincerity, and pray to him in the name of Jesus Christ, that he would not show me an angel — that he would suffer Satan to deceive me?”
They pretend to heal the sick and work miracles, and had made a number of unsuccessful attempts to do so.
They say much about working miracles, and pretend to have that power. Cowdery and his fellows, essayed to work several while they tarried in Kirtland, one in particular, the circumstances of which I had from the Mormonites themselves. It was a young female who had been confined to her bed for two years — they prayed over her, laying on hands, and commanded her in the name of Jesus Christ to rise up and walk; however, no effect appeared until the next day, when she was persuaded to leave her couch and attempt to walk. She arose, walked three or four steps, (which they told as a miracle) she then almost fainted, and was assisted back to her bed from which she’s not since arisen. But as all their miracles have proved to be a mere sham, to speak vulgarly, the Mormonites have endeavored to save the credit of their prophets, by declaring that they never pronounced these people whole but only prayed for them — but when confronted by one of the disciples in Kirtland upon the instance just mentioned, as it was so public they could not deny it, one of them said that he did not know but Cowdery did command her to arise, but if he did it was in a laughing, jesting way!!! –
Another of the Mormonites said Cowdery did not command her to arise, but merely asked her why she did not arise. Another instance of a man in Painesville, who was in the last stage of consumption, was attempted to be healed by Cowdery. A few days afterwards Mr. Rigdon was heard to say “that he would get well, if there was a God in Heaven!” He has since deceased. But these prophets had the policy to cover their retreat in these things, by saying that they would not recover immediately; the Lord would take his own time; and one of these people a few days ago, when put to the worst upon the subject, said that he did not think Cowdery would have attempted to do any miracles, had he have known how things would turn out.
Smith was continually receiving new revelations, and it would probably take him 1000 years to complete them — commissions and papers were exhibited, said to be signed by Christ himself!!!
Telegraph (Dec 7, 1830)
Those who are the friends and advocates of this wonderful book, state that Mr. Oliver Cowdry has his commission directly from the God of Heaven, and that he has credentials, written and signed by the hand of Jesus Christ, with whom he has personally conversed, and as such, said Cowdry claims that he and his associates are the only persons on earth who are qualified to administer in his name.
You can’t get revelation signed by Jesus Christ unless he is there to sign it. This is why it was claimed that Smith saw God “frequently”. Substitute Smith for Cowdery and there you have it.
Telegraph (Feb 1, 1831)
Elder S. Rigdon left this village on Monday last in the stage, for the “Holy Land,” where all the “Gold Bible” converts have recently received a written command from God, through Jo. Smith, Junior, to repair with all convenient speed, selling off the property.
Cowdery authorised three persons to preach, &c. and descended the Ohio River.
About three weeks after Mr. R. was baptized by Oliver Cowdery, he went to the state of New York, to see Joseph Smith, jr. while Cowdrey, with his three companions, proceeded on to the western Indians.
The converts are forming “common stock” families, as most pleasing in the sight of God.
Telegraph (Feb 14, 1831):
We are prepared to show that the pretended duty of common property among Christians is anti-scriptural, being subversive of the law of Christ, and inimical to the just rights of society.
They pretend to give the “Holy Spirit” and under its operations they fall upon the floor — see visions, &c.
Telegraph (Feb 14, 1831):
Immediately after Mr. R. and the four pretended prophets left Kirtland, a scene of the wildest enthusiasm was exhibited, chiefly, however, among the young people; they would fall, as without strength, roll upon the floor, and, so mad were they that even the females were seen on a cold winter day, lying under the bare canopy of heaven, with no couch or pillow but the fleecy snow. At other times they exhibited all the apish actions imaginable, making grimaces both horrid and ridiculous, creeping upon their hands and feet, &c. Sometimes, in these exercises the young men would rise and play before the people, going through all the Indian maneuvers of knocking down, scalping, ripping open, and taking out the bowels. At other times, they would start and run several furlongs, then get upon stumps and preach to imagined congregations, baptize ghosts, &c. At other times, they are taken with a fit of jabbering after which they neither understood themselves nor anybody else, and this they call speaking foreign languages by divine inspiration. Again the young men are seen running over the hills in pursuit, they say, of balls of fire which they see flying through the air.
But there is one piece of evidence that apparently all the Mormon experts have missed. In the February 1, 1831 edition of the Palmyra Reflector, (The issue preceding the Feb. 14 issue), Abner Cole published this blurb:
We have received a long letter from a gentleman of respectability from Painesville, Ohio, respecting the conduct of the “Mormonites” in that state. We shall publish a synopsis of it in our next… We have an article in type, copied from the Painesville Telegraph, which from want of room has been excluded from this day’s paper detailing some account of the Mormonites in the state of Ohio, it will appear in our next.
Cole himself admits that he was only going to publish a “synopsis” of the letter. This is the material that he attributes to the “Painesville Correspondent”.
It is obvious from the above, that Abner Cole had simply taken the accounts from several of the back issues of the Telegraph, and supplemented them with material from some letter he had received which turned into the Painesville “correspondent” material. It might have even been the same person who submitted material to the Telegraph. Certainly there are too many similarities to assume all of those claims came from one letter. (Though it might be possible) It seems more likely that Cole was simply taking a little artistic license here.
This begs the question though, if we are to accept the anonymous claim that Smith had seen and spoken to God frequently as “clear evidence”; does this contradict the claim that Jeremy made which was: “There is absolutely no record of a First Vision prior to 1832?” It is ludicrous to even suggest that it does. We have no idea what was actually written in the letter that Cole received.
What Cole did was common practice in Nineteenth Century America:
News gathering procedures grew from four practices that were routine by 1800: taking items from other papers, culling excerpts from letters, assembling word of mouth reports and taking notes on congressional sessions. … Despite increased pursuit of news, a great amount of newspaper content still came from other newspapers—through the system of editors’ exchanges—until the Civil War brought the first organized, systematic news gathering in the field. (Hazel Dicken-Garcia, Reporters and Reporting in the Nineteenth Century, History of Mass Media in the United States, Margaret A. Blanchard, ed., 1998, p. 585, 586)
Cole did not publish excerpts though, but a synopsis, or brief summary of the letter he put into his own words. That means what we see in print was authored by Cole, who was not in Ohio, but in New York. We have no way at all of determining what was in the original letter. What is interesting is that in all of the comparisons above from the Telegraph, we see none that claim that Smith had actually seen God (Jesus) frequently or at all, for that matter. The Telegraph articles claimed this of Oliver Cowdery, not Joseph Smith.
This claim (about Smith seeing God frequently) only appears in Cole’s synopsis. We can confirm the information about Cowdery, but not Smith in the Telegraph articles. In other words we have no idea what additions or elaborations Cole may have made since it was not a verbatim quote of the letter. One also has to ask, if Cole actually had a long letter, why not publish at least parts of it verbatim? He certainly printed up a lot of other material on the Mormons (and Joanna Southcott) in that issue.
Christensen also astoundingly characterizes the above synopsis by Abner Cole as a “discussion of Joseph’s vision as early as November 1830″. Who is he trying to kid here? A discussion of Joseph’s claimed 1820 vision? Really? What was being discussed, apparently, were the “revelations” that Joseph had received signed by Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon, and the New Jerusalem, along with the authority to preach.
This is his clear evidence for the claimed 1820 vision? And what about the rest of the claims that were made by Abner Cole? Is Christensen ready to admit that they too, are clear evidence of the doctrines being taught at that time? For example, that the Mormons were receiving signed “revelations” by Jesus? What is deceptive about FAIRMORMON is that they do not quote the entire article (or explain it) and let people judge for themselves if this is an actual quote, or the generalizations of an Editor.
What he does not do is cancel out or explain the reason for the existence of the distinctive themes in the February 1831 Reflector. He writes as though reticence and variations in personal knowledge in other reports about such experiences could never be a factor in who said, or reported, what when.
Distinctive “themes”? Gleaned from the synopsis of an anonymous letter? How can we take anything that Christensen says seriously? And it was one anonymous report, not “other reports” that Christensen was whining about. Perhaps we should understand this statement from the Palmyra Reflector made a week later as having distinctive themes also, that should be taken as seriously as the February 14th synopsis:
It is well known that Jo Smith never pretended to have any communion with angels, until a long period after the pretended finding of his book, and that the juggling of himself or father, went no further than the pretended faculty of seeing wonders in a “peep stone,” and the occasional interview with the spirit, supposed to have the custody of hidden treasures; and it is also equally well known, that a vagabond fortune-teller by the name of Walters, who then resided in the town of Sodus, and was once committed to the jail of this country for juggling, was the constant companion and bosom friend of these money digging impostors. (Palmyra Reflector, February 28, 1831).
IV. Back to Legitimacy
Christensen dismisses the crucial accounts that I produced in Part I of The Sky is Falling. Regardless of what Christensen claims, these accounts are important, because they are close or contemporary to the time period and are first hand. For example, this account by Peter Bauder, who writes in 1834 (then from a critical perspective):
However … we find him [anti-Christ] in various other places. For instance, view him in the Mahometan system, and a variety of other imposters, who have drawn disciples after them, who had no Theological Seminaries among them; but if you will observe their manner of increasing their numbers, you will find it is done without a reformation wrought in the hearts of their members, by a godly sorrow for sin, and a compunction of soul, and pungent conviction, which precedes a joy which is unspeakable and full of glory, 1 Peter, 1, 8—because the love of God is shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto them according to Romans, 5, 5.
Among these imposters there has one arisen by the name of Joseph Smith, Jr. who commenced his system of church government in this state, (New York) in the year 1830. His followers are commonly called Mormonites, sometimes New Jerusalemites, or Golden Bible society1; they call themselves the true followers of Christ.2 I conceive it my duty to expose this diabolical system for two special reasons—first, because I have had an opportunity with Smith, in his first setting out, to discover his plan; secondly, because I learn since they were broke up in New York State, they have gone to the western States, and are deceiving themselves and the people, and are increasing very fast.
I will name some of the particular discoveries which through Divine Providence I was favored with in an interview with Joseph Smith, Jr. [p.17] at the house of Peter Whitmer, in the town of Fayette, Seneca County, state of New York, in October, 1830. I called at P[eter]. Whitmer’s house, for the purpose of seeing Smith, and searching into the mystery of his system of religion, and had the privilege of conversing with him alone, several hours, and of investigating his writings, church records, &c. I improved near four and twenty hours in close application with Smith and his followers: he could give me no christian experience, but told me that an angel told him he must go to a certain place in the town of Manchester, Ontario County, where was a secret treasure concealed, which he must reveal to the human family. He went, and after the third or fourth time, which was repeated [p. 36] once a year, he obtained a parcel of plate resembling gold, on which were engraved what he did not understand, only by the aid of a glass which he also obtained with the plate, by which means he was enabled to translate the characters on the plate into English. He says he was not allowed to let the plate be seen only by a few individuals named by the angel, and after he had a part translated, the angel conmanded him to carry the plate into a certain piece of woods, which he did:—the angel took them and carried them to parts unknown to him. The part translated he had published, and it is before the public, entitled the Book of Mormon: a horrid blasphemy, but not so wicked as another manuscript which he was then preparing for publication, which I also saw. He told me no man had ever seen it except a few of his apostles: the publication intended was to be the Bible!!! The manner in which it was written is as follows:—he commenced at the first chapter of Genesis, he wrote a few verses of scripture, then added delusion, which he added every [p.18] few verses of scripture, and so making a compound of scripture and delusion. On my interrogating him on the subject, he professed to be inspired by the Holy Ghost to write it. (Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, p. 16-18. I have included a previous paragrpah that does not appear in EMD and explains what Bauder meant by “Christian Experience”)
Peter Bauder, The Kingdom and Gospel of Jesus Christ (Canajoharie, New York: A. H. Calhoun, 1834).
Unlike the Cole synopsis, this account gives accurate information about Joseph’s “translation” of the Bible, the story of the angel, and how Smith “translated” the plates. Bauder spent a whole day with Joseph Smith and his followers. For more on this, see my article here.
The William McLellin Letter is important because it is contemporary to the year, and shows us what Mormon Missionaries (one of them the brother of Joseph Smith) were teaching from a first hand source (uncritical of Joseph) in 1831 (only a few months after the Reflector synopsis was published):
Some time in July 1831, two men [Elders Samuel H. Smith and Reynolds Cahoon] came to Paris and held an evening meeting, only a few attended, but among the others, I was there. They delivered some ideas which appeared very strange to me at that time. They said that in September 1827 an angel appeared to Joseph Smith (in Ontario Co., New York) and showed to him the confusion on the earth respecting true religion. It also told him to go a few miles distant to a certain hill and there he should find some plates with engravings, which (if he was faithful) he should be enabled to translate…
This was the paradigm. Christensen’s synopsis by Abner Cole cannot overturn this other, far more credible evidence, bolstered by the later,1832 reports. Christensen continues,
Who wrote the 1832 history? Joseph Smith and Frederick Williams. Not Oliver Cowdery. Therefore, Jeremy’s argument that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery made no such claim until 1834 is exactly correct. That is when they both jointly published Joseph’s history in a series of letters for the Messenger and Advocate. Writing a partial history in secret and abandoning it in the back of a letterbook is not making any “claim”. There is absolutely no evidence that Cowdery knew anything about the claimed 1820 vision.
Notice Runnells’s argument of “no such claim” regarding the vision, and the use of Boolean logic by Stephenson here to define the problem in terms of a specific combination of people, rather than the most important question, which is, “Did Joseph have a vision in 1820?”
Boolean logic? Really? Was the 1832 account made public? Why did Joseph never once refer to it after it was relegated to the back of a letterbook? Why didn’t he copy it into the large journal as he did with the 1834 History? And most importantly, did Oliver Cowdery take part in crafting it? Again, the claim that Jeremy made was absolutely true, but that is not good enough for Christensen.
Actually, I do address the question of Smith claiming to have a vision in 1820. Christensen just isn’t paying attention. I wasn’t writing a book, but giving limited examples, just as he did. But this is how Mormon Apologists roll. If all else fails, invent a strawman.
I also note his appeal to secrecy regarding the 1832 history and a declaration of “absolutely no evidence” of Cowdery’s knowledge. This last runs directly into Matthew Brown’s 2009 book, A Pillar of Light: The History and Message of the First Vision, which continues a line of thought dating at least to Richard L. Anderson in BYU Studies in 1969.
Which is full of problems. Nowhere is there any proof that Cowdery had knowledge of the 1832 History. His own History proves this. I will elaborate below. Christensen continues:
Brown quotes Cowdery’s declaration that in producing his 1834–1835 histories, he would draw on assistance from Joseph Smith, and use “authentic documents now in our possession.” Brown then offers a careful comparison of what Cowdery produced in 1834 with what Joseph Smith and Frederick Williams had created in 1832 and shows that Cowdery actually used the 1832 account. This means, contra Stephenson, there is good evidence that Cowdery knew about Joseph’s 1820 vision, which also means, there is good evidence that the statement in the Reflector has an authentic source behind it. That source is most likely Cowdery, and therefore the report in the Reflector has a reason for existing.
This is just… wrong. Obviously Christensen hasn’t really studied this issue or he wouldn’t be appealing to the late Mormon Apologist Matthew Brown and the completely flawed arguments of Richard Anderson or the source of the Reflector article (Abner Cole). But I guess facts are just stubborn things. A lot of the material that Christensen would cite from Brown has actually been compiled in Exploring the First Vision which gives (in my opinion the best compiled Mormon perspectives on the subject to date).
I was skeptical about any claims by Brown (after reading his dismal 2010 FAIRMORMON presentation on Adam God), but I get really tired of people quoting whole books as Christensen does time after time and I want to show why he does it, so as I mentioned above, I bought Brown’s book.
In actually seeing the material it is obvious that it would not have been difficult for Christensen to do what I’m going to do, Quote Brown’s “careful” comparison. (But Christensen would rather spend lots of time blathering about Kuhn and his own invented formulas and pointing out mistakes in word counts than actually presenting and analyzing evidence). Here is Brown’s comparison of the 1832 and the 1834 Histories. It’s not very complex, long, or detailed.
V. The Matthew Brown Comparison
Cowdery 1834: “our brother’s mind became awakened”
Smith 1832: “my mind became seriously imprest with regard to the all importent concerns for the wellfare of my immortal Soul”
Cowdery 1834: “the word of God”
Smith 1832: “the word of God”
Cowdery 1834: “the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches”
Smith 1832: “those of different denominations”
Cowdery 1834: “godliness”
Smith 1832: “adorning their profession by a holy walk and Godly conversation”
Cowdery 1834: “the fifteenth year of his life”
Smith 1832: “the age of . . . fifteen”
Cowdery 1834: “this general strife . . . gave opportunity for further reflection. . . . [H]is mind was led to more seriously contemplate”
Smith 1832: “I pondered many things in my heart concerning the situation of the world of mankind the contentions and divisions”
Cowdery 1834: “his spirit was not at rest day nor night”
Smith 1832: “my mind became exceedingly distressed”
Cowdery 1834: “arouse the sinner to look about him for safety”
Smith 1832: “I became convicted of my sins”
Cowdery 1834: “a society professing to be built upon the only sure foundation”
Smith 1832: “there was no society or denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ”
Cowdery 1834: “All professed to be the true church”
Smith 1832: “worship Him . . . in truth”
Cowdery 1834: “In this situation where could he go?”
Smith 1832: “there was none else to whom I could go”
Cowdery 1834: “the pardoning influence and condescension of the Savior”
Smith 1832: “Joseph my son thy sins are forgiven thee. . . . I am the Lord of glory I was crucified for the world”
Cowdery 1834: “life eternal”
Smith 1832: “eternal life”
Cowdery 1834: “they were certainly hypocritical”
Smith 1832: “they draw near to me with their lips while their hearts are far from me”
Cowdery 1834: “his mother, one sister, and two of his natural brothers, were persuaded to unite with the Presbyterians”
Smith 1832: “about that time my mother and”
Cowdery 1835: “he continued to call upon the Lord in secret”
Smith 1832: “the Lord heard my cry in the wilderness”
Cowdery 1835: “filled with a joy unspeakable”
Smith 1832: “I could rejoice with great joy”
Cowdery 1835: “pure and holy religion”
Smith 1832: “the true and living faith”
Cowdery 1835: “The Lord . . . said [in the scriptures]. . . . whosoever would, might. . . . to the remotest ages of times”
Smith 1832: “I learned in the scriptures that God was the same yesterday to day and forever that he was no respecter to persons”
Cowdery 1835: “the creation of the world”
Smith 1832: “the earth . . . created”
Cowdery 1835: “if a Supreme being did exist”
Smith 1832: “it is a fool that saith in his heart there is no God”
Cowdery 1835: “he . . . call[ed] upon the Lord . . . to have an assurance that he was accepted of Him. . . . a humble penitent sinner”
Smith 1832: “I cried unto the Lord for mercy”
Cowdery 1835: “He [i.e., God] . . . passing it as a firm decree”
Smith 1832: “a Being who . . . decreeth”
Cowdery 1835: “the world . . . its inhabitants”
Smith 1832: “the inhabitants of the earth”
Cowdery 1835: “bring [the] inhabitants [of the world] to judgment”
Smith 1832: “visit [the inhabitants of the earth] according to their ungodliness”
Cowdery 1835: “soul”
Smith 1832: “soul”
(Brown, Matthew B., A Pillar of Light: The History and Message of the First Vision, Deseret Book Company, Kindle Locations 3516-3558).
There is so much that Cowdery didn’t include from Smith’s 1832 account (and so many differences between the two) that it defies logic that he had it as a basis for the later History. Brown also desperately includes the word “soul” which appears in both accounts (numerous times in 1834/1835 in different contexts). One thing I noticed, many of these comparisons are very general and out of context. It would have been just as easy for Cowdery to glean the information from Joseph orally, or from his own History that he probably had written prior to this one. (Discussed below)
And there is that really persuasive argument that if Cowdery had the 1832 account, why did Joseph find it necessary to provide Cowdery with another document which gave him the same information about his birth date and birthplace? And why did Cowdery call this information provided by Joseph “indispensable”?
And those word combinations. Here are some actual word combinations between “ A Manuscript Story” and The Book of Mormon by Vernal Holley. (Some of Holley’s best work). Notice how many words are alike (compared to Brown’s). Using Brown’s methodology here, is Christensen and other Mormon Apologists going to admit that Joseph got the Book of Mormon from Solomon Spaulding?
The problem is that Joseph was telling a story that at first didn’t include a claimed 1820 vision, the same story that Mormon Missionaries were obviously telling since the founding of the Church in 1830. Of course some elements are going to be the same and Cowdery has to describe them. What I found hard to believe were many of Brown’s supposed matches. Here is one,
Cowdery 1835: “if a Supreme being did exist”
Smith 1832: “it is a fool that saith in his heart there is no God”
In Smith’s 1832 account, he uses the quote above in this context:
thus applying myself to them and my intimate acquaintance with those of differant denominations led me to marvel excedingly for I discovered that <they did not adorn>
instead of adorning their profession by a holy walk and Godly conversation agreeable to what I found contained in that sacred depository this was a grief to my Soul thus from the age of twelve years to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart concerning the sittuation of the world of mankind the contentions and divi[si]ons the wicke[d]ness and abominations and the darkness which pervaded the of the minds of mankind my mind become excedingly distressed for I become convicted of my Sins and by Searching the Scriptures I found that mand <mankind> did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatised from the true and liveing faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the new testament and I felt to mourn for my own Sins and for the Sins of the world for I learned in the Scriptures that God was the Same yesterday to day and forever that he was no respecter to persons [Heb. 13:8; Acts 10:34-35] for he was God for I looked upon the Sun the glorious luminary of the earth and also the moon rolling in their magesty through the heavens and also the stars shining in their courses and the earth also upon which I stood and the beast of the field and the fowls of heaven and the fish of the waters and also man walking forth upon the face of the earth in magesty and in the strength of beauty whose power and intiligence in governing the things which are so exceding great and [p. 2] marvilous even in the likeness of him who created him <them> and when I considered upon these things my heart exclaimed well hath the wise man said the <it is a> fool <that> saith in his heart there is no God my heart exclaimed all all these bear testimony and bespeak an omnipotant and omnipreasant power a being who makith Laws and decreeeth and bindeth all things in their bounds who filleth Eternity who was and is and will be from all Eternity to Eternity (Joseph Smith History, circa 1832, JS Letterbook 1, JS Collection, CHL, 2).
In the 1832 account, Joseph Smith already believed there was a God. Because of that, he became “convicted of my sins”. He wrote why he believed in God:
“the Sun the glorious luminary of the earth and also the moon rolling in their magesty through the heavens and also the stars shining in their courses and the earth also upon which I stood and the beast of the field and the fowls of heaven and the fish of the waters and also man walking forth upon the face of the earth in magesty and in the strength of beauty whose power and intiligence in governing the things which are so exceding great and [p. 2] marvilous even in the likeness of him who created him <them> (ibid).
This is why Joseph used the Bible quote that only a fool would believe that there is no God.
In Cowdery’s account Joseph’s “mind became awakened”. There is nothing about him reading the scriptures, being convicted of his sins, nor looking around himself and becoming convinced by nature that there actually was a God. This dovetails perfectly with what Joseph told Peter Bauder in 1830. He had “no Christian experience”. He didn’t know if a “Supreme Being” did exist. This is the opposite of what Joseph writes in the 1832 History. In Cowdery’s account, this is all different. Cowdery writes,
To profess godliness [as the Ministers of the day were doing and Joseph was supposed to do] without its benign influence upon the heart, was a thing so foreign from his feelings, that his spirit was not at rest day nor night. (Oliver Cowery, History, 1834-36, JS History, 1838–1856, vol. A-1, CHL, 63).
Joseph was not “convicted of my sins”. He didn’t even believe that there was a God as Cowdery relates it! He did not have the “benign influence” of godliness upon his heart. The whole purpose of him praying in 1823 was to find out “if a Supreme Being did exist”. In his 1832 account he already believed this. Matthew Brown simply claims that “critics” are misinterpreting Cowdery because he must have had the 1832 History. (More on this below). It is simply circular logic.
In this situation where could he go? If he went to one he was told they were right, and all others were wrong-If to another, the same was heard from those: All professed to be the true church; the idle wind or the spider’s web. But if others were not benefited, our brother was urged forward and strengthened in the determination to know for himself of the certainty and reality of pure and holy religion.-And it is only necessary for me to say, that while this excitement continued, he continued to call upon the Lord in secret for a full manifestation of divine approbation, and for, to him, the all important information, if a Supreme being did exist, to have an assurance that he was accepted of him. This, most assuredly, was correct-it was right. The Lord has said, long since, and his word remains steadfast, that for him who knocks it shall be opened, & whosoever will, may come and partake of the waters of life freely. (ibid, 61).
Joseph’s 1832 account shows a young man who had read the Bible in his youth (from 12 yrs. to 15 yrs.) and looked around and saw the wonder of creation and this impressed him that,
“<it is a> fool <that> saith in his heart there is no God my heart exclaimed all all these bear testimony and bespeak an omnipotant and omnipreasant power a being who makith Laws and decreeeth and bindeth all things in their bounds who filleth Eternity who was and is and will be from all Eternity to Eternity
Then in his 16th year, he prays, which would be four years after he encountered the religious strife. This is the opposite of what Cowdery writes. Look at the contrast in the Cowdery account:
In this general strife for followers, his mother, one sister, and two of his natural brothers, were persuaded to unite with the Presbyterians. This gave opportunity for further reflection; and as will be seen in the sequel, laid a foundation, or was one means of laying a foundation for the attestation of the truths, or professions of truth, contained in that record called the word of God.
After strong solicitations to unite with one of those different societies, and seeing the apparent proselyting [proselytizing] disposition manifested with equal warmth from each, his mind was led to more seriously contemplate the importance of a move of this kind. To profess godliness without its benign influence upon the heart, was thing so foreign from his feelings, that his spirit was not at rest day nor night. To unite with a society professing to be built upon the only sure foundation, and that profession be a vain one, was calculated, in its very nature, the more it was contemplated, the more to arouse the mind to the serious consequences of moving hastily, in a course fraught with eternal realities. To say he was right, and still be wrong, could not profit; and amid so many, some must be built upon the sand. In this situation where could he go? If he went to one he was told they were right, and all others were wrong-If to another, the same was heard from those: All professed to be the true church; and if not they were certainly hypocritical, because, if I am presented with a system of religion, and enquire [inquire] of my teacher whether it is correct, and he informs me that he is not certain, he acknowledges at once that he is teaching without authority, and acting without a commission!
If one professed a degree of authority or preference in consequence of age or right, and that superiority was without evidence, it was insufficient to convince a mind once aroused to that degree of determination which at that time operated upon him. And upon farther reflecting, that the Savior had said that the gate was straight and the way narrow that lead to life eternal, and that few entered there; and that the way was broad, and the gate wide which lead to destruction, and that many crowded its current, a proof from some source was wanting to settle the mind and give peace to the agitated bosom. It is not frequent that the minds of men are exercised with proper determination relative to obtaining a certainty of the things of God.-They are too apt to rest short of that assurance which the Lord Jesus has so freely offered in his word to man, and which so beautifully characterizes his whole plan of salvation, as revealed to us.
I do not deem it to be necessary to write further on the subject of this excitement. It is doubted by many whether any real or essential good ever resulted from such excitements, while others advocate their propriety with warmth. The mind is easily called up to reflection upon a matter of such deep importance, and it is just that it should be; but there is a regret occupying the heart when we consider the deep anxiety of thousands, who are lead away with a vain imagination, or a groundless hope, no better than the idle wind or the spider’s web.
But if others were not benefited, our brother was urged forward and strengthened in the determination to know for himself of the certainty and reality of pure and holy religion.-And it is only necessary for me to say, that while this excitement continued, he continued to call upon the Lord in secret for a full manifestation of divine approbation, and for, to him, the all important information, if a Supreme being did exist, to have an assurance that he was accepted of him. This, most assuredly, was correct-it was right. The Lord has said, long since, and his word remains steadfast, that for him who knocks it shall be opened, & whosoever will, may come and partake of the waters of life freely.
To deny a humble penitent sinner a refreshing draught from this most pure of all fountains, and most desirable of all refreshments, to a thirsty soul, is a matter for the full performance of which the sacred record stands pledged. The Lord never said-“Come unto me, all ye that labor, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” to turn a deaf ear to those who were weary, when they call upon him. He never said, by the mouth of the prophet-“Ho, every one that thirsts, come ye to the waters,” without passing it as a firm decree, at the same time, that he that should after come, should be filled with a joy unspeakable.
Neither did he manifest by the Spirit to John upon the isle-“Let him that is athirst, come,” and command him to send the same abroad, under any other consideration, than that “whosoever would, might take the water of life freely,” to the remotest ages of time, or while there was a sinner upon his footstool.
These sacred and important promises are looked upon in our day as being given, either to another people, or in a figuratively form, and consequently require spiritualizing, notwithstanding they are as conspicuously plain, and are meant to be understood according to their literal reading, as those passages which teach us of the creation of the world, and of the decree of its Maker to bring its inhabitants to judgment. But to proceed with my narrative.- (Oliver Cowdery, 1834-1836 History, 59-60).
Notice Cowdery’s language that mirrors the claims made in the Telegraph from 1831, about getting a “commission”. Cowdery explains that Joseph’s commission comes from God through the angel. Nowhere do we see a Joseph who has studied the Bible and was unsure if there even was a God. Joseph had read the Bible, looked around and believed it to be God’s handiwork, believed there was a God, and then had felt Godly sorrow and was “convicted of my sins.” Cowdery’s account doesn’t describe the 1832’s wonder of Joseph’s observation of the world, but only that this was to be understood literally in the Bible as a promise which was being professed by the ministers of the day. That God was not speaking “figuratively” when he gave his promise of answers. Joseph was “urged forward” by the preaching of George Lane and the strife he saw, and then his family joining the Presbyterians. In the 1832 History, it led him to a period of study that took years. (12 to 15) He had his theophany, the visit from the angel, and then he begins to mention his family joining the Presbyterians but crosses it out and never finishes it.
Joseph is convinced in the 1832 account that all the sects were wrong. He doesn’t need the remonstrations of George Lane to feel compelled to action. Cowdery even claims that “It is doubted by many whether any real or essential good ever resulted from such excitements, while others advocate their propriety with warmth.” And that “ there is a regret occupying the heart when we consider the deep anxiety of thousands, who are lead away with a vain imagination, or a groundless hope, no better than the idle wind or the spider’s web.”
Joseph goes to God to “see if a Supreme Being did exist,” in Cowdery’s version because he was troubled by the message of George Lane and the strife he saw among the religious sects of the day. This indeed is part of the 1832 History (the strife he saw) but that led him to an intense study of the scriptures that lasted for years, all of which Cowdery is strangely silent about.
VI. The Presbyterian Problem
NOTE (1) If all of these phrases are highlighted in a side-by-side comparison of documents, it will be seen that even though Oliver Cowdery utilized the majority of the 1832 First Vision text in creating his own historical report, he went right around the theophany material in the Prophet’s recital. (Brown, Matthew B., A Pillar of Light: The History and Message of the First Vision, Deseret Book Company, Kindle Locations 3558-3561).
Oliver used a “majority” of the 1832 History? Far from it. I have done a comparison, here. It doesn’t help, it indicates nothing of the kind. What it does show, is that Cowdery relates the elements of an earlier (oral or written) version of a history that Joseph had been conveying to people since he had first spoken of the angel and the plates in 1827. The same story that his mother wrote in her preliminary draft. The same story that William McLellin was told. The same story that was preached by the Mormon Missionaries in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. The same story told by William Smith long before the 1880’s: That when Joseph first prayed, he was answered by the angel Moroni.
If the 1834 History was based on the 1832 History, then why is it missing so many elements of that History? Why doesn’t it speak of Joseph’s early concerns for his “immortal welfare”? Joseph wrote,
At about the age of twelve years my mind become Seriously imprest with regard to the all importent concerns for the wellfare of nay immortal Soul which led me to Searching the Scriptures believeing as I was taught, that they contained the word of God to whom I could go and to obtain mercy (Joseph Smith, 1832 History, 2)
Cowdery claims that this occurred after Joseph was in his 17th year. (Or 15th, if you disbelieve what Cowdery said, that 15th year was a typo). Joseph claimed that it was in his 12th year. Smith was very specific in the 1832 History. If Cowdery was simply instructed to just leave out the theophany, then why did he not include the named age of Smith in the 1832 History when he began his quest for answers? Why skip over that, and write about George Lane? Because Cowdery was probably drawing from a previous History, one that he learned and wrote down himself. (I’m getting to that).
Joseph also claims in the 1832 History that the “war of words” led him, when he turned twelve, to begin reading the Bible and searching the scriptures. In Cowdery’s History, it leads him to ask God for an answer, not knowing if there even was a God. How could Cowdery get this so wrong if he had the 1832 History to draw from?
Here, Brown highlights the phrase “word of God”. He then links it to Cowdery’s use of the word:
In this general strife for followers, his mother, one sister, and two of his natural brothers, were persuaded to unite with the Presbyterians. This gave opportunity for further reflection; and as will be seen in the sequel, laid a foundation, or was one means of laying a foundation for the attestation of the truths, or professions of truth, contained in that record called the word of God. (Cowdery, 1834-1836 History, link provided above).
It seems that these two align, but they do not. Cowdery uses the phrase “word of God” as describing “attestations of truth”, and that the Bible was self explanatory in that sense. Joseph uses it in an entirely different way, what he believed already: that the scriptures actually contained the word of God and he knew it. Brown also claims that these two phrases show that Cowdery took his information from the 1832 account:
Cowdery 1834: “his mother, one sister, and two of his natural brothers, were persuaded to unite with the Presbyterians”
Smith 1832: “about that time my mother and”
Except that in Joseph’s 1832 account the crossed out phrase, “about that time my mother and” appears after the theophany, not before it. Joseph would later claim that his mother and siblings had joined with the Presbyterians before his claimed 1820 vision:
I was at this time in my fifteenth year. My father’s family was proselyted to the Presbyterian faith, and four of them joined that church, namely, my mother, Lucy; my brothers Hyrum and Samuel Harrison; and my sister Sophronia.
This is a crucial point, because if his mother and siblings joined the Presbyterian Church after the theophany, it creates doubt that Joseph had ever told anyone about his claimed vision. Joseph knew this and changed the timeline in his 1838 version. Cowdery’s version changes the 1832 timeline of events (which would have been correct if Joseph actually had a claimed 1820 vision), because that would have occurred before members of his family joined with the Presbyterians and there were no declarations from God that all of the churches were wrong and an “abomination” to him.
We have documented evidence that members of the Smith family had joined the Presbyterian Church after the death of Alvin. Lucy Smith’s timeline in her biography of Joseph attests this, as do the records of the Presbyterian Church itself.
Matthew Brown writes,
There is one piece of evidence from Lucy Mack Smith’s autobiography that is consistently ignored by the critics, possibly because it effectively nullifies the theory that she became a Presbyterian during Palmyra’s undisputed late 1824 and early 1825 revival. She stated quite clearly that she formally attached herself to a church after her son Alvin “attained his 22nd year”—which took place on 11 February 1820. Alvin died on 19 November 1823, when he was twenty-five years and nine months old. If Mother Smith had really joined the Presbyterians near the recognizable start of the 1824 Palmyra revival—ca. December—then Alvin would have been dead for a little more than a year and her autobiographical statement about formally joining a church would make no sense. (Brown, Matthew B., A Pillar of Light: The History and Message of the First Vision, Deseret Book Company, Kindle Locations 2655-2660).
Brown is simply mistaken here. This has been addressed by many historians. Dr. Richard Lloyd Anderson, in his contribution to the anthology Exploring the First Vision, “Joseph Smith’s Accuracy on the First Vision Setting: The Pivotal 1818 Palmyra Camp Meeting”, makes the same argument and tries to give Lucy’s joining the Presbyterian Church an 1820 date:
Early in her marriage, Lucy had received believer’s baptism without commitment to a specific church, later commenting that she retained this status “until my oldest son attained his 22nd year.” She refers to the oldest living son, Alvin, who died of a doctor’s folk remedy in late 1823 but had started his twenty-second year on February 11, 1820. Here she agrees with Joseph’s 1838 history that she made a Presbyterian commitment by early 1820. (Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Joseph Smith’s Accuracy on the First Vision Setting: The Pivotal 1818 Palmyra Camp Meeting,” in Exploring the First Vision, ed. Samuel Alonzo Dodge and Steven C. Harper (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, 2012), 91–169.)
It is hard to believe that Anderson isn’t aware that Lucy in her preliminary manuscript misdated the year of Alvin’s birth to 1799, so this makes Anderson’s claim untenable. Dan Vogel explains that,
Alvin became twenty-two on 11 February 1820. However, Lucy mis-dates Alvin’s birth to 1799, rather than 1798, and his death to 1824, instead of 1823 (L. Smith 1853, 40). Later she states that she joined the Presbyterian church after Alvin’s death. This is complicated by the Presbyterian committee’s mention in March 1830 that she had been a member for one year (see MS:49-50, 110). Richard L. Anderson has suggested that “[t]here may be various degrees of ‘joining’ a church” (R. L. Anderson 1969a, 391, n. 55). (Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, p. 243, note 33).
Since Lucy recalled Alvin’s birth in the year 1799 that would make Alvin 22 in 1821 (a year after the claimed 1820 vision) and so using this argument is disingenuous. Even in Joseph Smith’s own history written in 1838 he wrote that Alvin died in 1824, and this date was published in Mormon scriptures until 1981. In 1970, Russell Rich wrote,
Lucy Mack Smith lists the date [of Alvin’s birth] as February 11, 1799, in her first edition of her history of the Prophet. There has been much more controversy over Alvin’s death than over his birth. A footnote in the DHC 1:16 includes a genealogy of the Prophet’s family, giving the date of Alvin’s death as November 19, 1825. On the same page (and also on page 2) in the body of the text the Prophet is quoted as specifying the date as 1824. In Mother Smith’s original edition she also gave 1824 as the year of Alvin’s death. In Joseph Smith 2:4-6, in the Pearl of Great Price, the present edition also gives 1824 as the year of Alvin’s death. (BYU Studies, Vol. 10, No. 3, p.255).
Anderson surely should have known this since an article of his own on the first vision appears in the same issue as that of Russell Rich. Marvin Hill, as far back as 1982 understood that Lucy joined the Presbyterians after Alvin’s death:
Indicating that the angel had told Joseph of the plates prior to the revival, Lucy added that for a long time after Alvin’s death the family could not bear any talk about the golden plates, for the subject had been one of great interest to him and any reference to the plates stirred sorrowful memories. She said she attended the revival with hope of gaining solace for Alvin’s loss. That kind of detail is just the sort that gives validity to Lucy’s chronology. She would not have been likely to make up such a reaction for herself or the family nor mistake the time when it happened. I am persuaded that it was 1824 when Lucy joined the Presbyterians. (Dialogue, Vol.15, No.2, p.39 – p.40).
Anderson continues to misconstrue the facts by claiming that,
Joseph recalled at Nauvoo that he came from the 1820 vision in the grove and told Mother Lucy that he had learned for himself that “Presbyterianism is not true” (v. 20). Thus the older Smiths were investigating Palmyra churches on a parallel track to Joseph prior to the First Vision. The Neibaur journal, discussed above, has Joseph recalling a Methodist “Revival meeting,” likely the June 1818 camp meeting in the Seagar journal, where “his mother & Br & Sist got religion.” As Joseph says in the 1838 history, he was fourteen at the end of 1819, the period when his mother and three siblings chose Presbyterianism, and afterward Alvin received a Presbyterian funeral in 1823.
Why is Anderson misconstruing the facts? Because he is linking an event that took place in 1823/1824 with one that took place in 1818. Much has been made lately of Aurora Seagar and another Methodist, Benajah Williams by the Mormon experts since these accounts were resurrected by D. Michael Quinn in 2006 who tries to push the date of Joseph’s claimed 1820 vision to early summer of that year, but they are easy to explain. See Dan Vogel’s response, here.
Joseph himself stated that this happened before the claimed 1820 vision:
My Fathers family w<ere> proselyted to the Presbyterian faith and four of them joined that Church, Namely, My Mother Lucy, My Brothers Hyrum, Samuel Harrison, and my Sister Soph[r]onia. (Joseph Smith, History)
This is an important distinction from just being converted, or uniting with that faith. Anderson himself defines this distinction,
On which level were Lucy and three children Presbyterians? This could be Presbyterian attendance, attendance on formal probation, or full membership, with right of the Lord’s Supper. Yet historians following Walters have tried to merge revivals dated around 1820 with those after Alvin’s death by claiming (without direct evidence) that Lucy became a Presbyterian member in her grief about 1824. Mother Smith does describe a Palmyra awakening then, when her hopes were raised by a minister who sought cooperation from local denominations, though she could not influence her husband or son Joseph to attend these meetings. However, Lucy’s history does not say she joined a church in the surge of religion at Palmyra after Alvin’s late 1823 death. A later religious conflict throws light on the intervening years. In March 1830, Lucy and sons Hyrum and Samuel were served notice of a church hearing for nonattendance and were then visited by officials of the Palmyra Presbyterian Church. Lucy’s history gives her version of the conversation with visiting Presbyterian elders, when the Smiths defended the Book of Mormon vigorously, which was significant, since the Smith men were two of the Eight Witnesses, who had seen and handled the plates. The hearing minutes still exist, indicating that the Smiths “did not wish to unite with us anymore.” The defendants avoided the hearing, which charged them with “neglect of public worship and the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper for the last eighteen months.” Instead of being cut off, the three were disfellowshipped, “suspended from the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.” (Anderson, op. cited above).
The answer is right in front of Anderson, but he refuses to see it. He writes, “full membership with right of the Lord’s Supper.” And Lucy does say that she joined the Presbyterians after Alvin’s death for she writes,
My husband also declined attending the meetings after the first but did not object to myself and such of the children as chose to go or to become <going or becoming> church members <if we wished> (Vogel, Early Mormon Documents p. 307).
Lucy writes that this took place after the death of Alvin. Joseph wrote that they joined that church. The Smiths in question were members of the Presbyterian Church because they were charged in 1830 with “neglect of public worship and the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper for the last eighteen months.” That would take them back to 1828, so they were members for four years previous to this because they joined that church shortly after Alvin’s death in 1823. Their break came a few months after Joseph began his “translation” of the Book of Mormon. Stanley Kimball relates the sequence of events:
On March 3, 1830 the session “met pursuant to notice,” and, among other things, “Resolved that the Reverend A. E. Campbell and H. Jessup be a committee to visit Hiram Smith, Lucy Smith, and Samuel Harrison Smith and report at the next meeting of session.”
[March 10] “The committee appointed to visit Hiram Smith, Lucy Smith, and Samuel Harrison Smith reported that they had visited them and received no satisfaction. They acknowledged that they had entirely neglected the ordinances of the church for the last eighteenth months and that they did not wish to unite with us anymore. Whereupon Resolved that they be cited to appear before the session on the 24th day of March inst., at 2 o’clock P.M. at this Meeting House to answer to the following charge to wit:
Neglect of public worship and the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper for the last eighteen months.”
This action was taken by the Rev. Alfred E. Campbell and Elders George Beckwith, Henry Jessup, Pelatiah West, and Newton Foster and witnessed by Harvey Shet, Levi Dagget, James Robinson, Robert W. Smith, and Frederick Sheffield.
[March 24] “Hiram Smith, Lucy Smith, and Samuel Harrison Smith not appearing pursuant to the citation served upon them by P. West–Resolved that they be again cited to appear before his session on Monday the 29th inst. At this place at 2 o’clock P.M.– and that P. West serve said citation.” On March 29, 1830 “The persons before cited to wit–Hiram Smith, Lucy Smith, and Samuel Harrison Smith not appearing and the session having satisfactory evidence that the citation was duly served. Resolved that they be censured for their contumacy. Resolved that George Beckwith manage their defense. The charge in the above case being fully sustained by the testimony of Henry Jessup, Harvey Shet, Robert W. Smith, and Frederick U. Sheffield. (In minutes of . . . [?] on file with the clerk.) The session after duly considering the matter were unanimously of opinion Hiram Smith, Lucy Smith, and Samuel Harrison Smith ought to be suspended– Resolved that Hiram Smith, Lucy Smith, and Samuel Harrison Smith be and they hereby are suspended from the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.”
Such was the ecclesiastical trial of members of the Prophet’s family. From this we can conclude, in addition to the fact that Lucy, Hiram, and Samuel Harrison were indeed members of the Palmyra congregation, that sometime during the translation of the Book of Mormon they had become inactive and that by early March of 1830 they were being charged with “Neglect of public worship and the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper….” We also know that they ignored two personally served citations and that on March 29 they were “suspended from the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.”
Lucy, Hiram, and Samuel’s inactivity in the Presbyterian Church was no doubt directly related to Joseph’s opinions. When they were contemplating joining with the Presbyterians, Joseph told his mother that “it would do us no injury to join them, that if we did, we should not continue with them long, for we were mistaken in them, and did not know the wickedness of their hearts.” (Dialogue, Vol.5, No.4, p.122-123).
If Lucy was already a member of the Presbyterian Church before 1823, then why is it she expressly states that her husband and her son Joseph did not object to them joining after Alvin’s death? Anderson adds, (inexplicably) that “the charge of church inactivity probably indicates that the Presbyterian Smiths had fairly regularly attended preaching and communion meetings during the early 1820s, or the nonattendance charge would have been filed earlier.” This makes no sense and is simply wishful thinking. It would only have been filed earlier if the Smith’s had actually been members of that Church in 1820 as Joseph said they were. The evidence shows that Joseph was wrong as well as Anderson. The charge was filed in 1830. Why would they wait 10 years to file their charge and then claim that they had been inactive for only eighteen months?
Brown’s curious claim that no “critics” have addressed this is bizarre. We see that Lucy Smith places her joining the Presbyterian Church after the death of Alvin. To show that Lucy was off in her dates by a year, she wrote,
“We were still making arrangements for building[.] my oldest son took principle management Charge of this and when the month of November 1822 arrived the House was raised…” (Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, p. 299).
The Smith frame home was raised in November of 1823, a year later. Lucy Smith also claimed that she had been “partial to the Presbyterians” and so Brown’s claim that this discredits the arguments above is disingenuous.
VII. Apologist Blather
If Joseph’s purpose was to simply have Cowdery leave out the theophany, why are there all of these discrepancies in the timeline? Why omit information that leads up to the theophany and relate a whole different story (about George Lane) that Joseph later discards? Where did Cowdery get his information about George Lane? Surely this had to come from Joseph himself, who had at some time related it to Cowdery, thus strengthening the evidence that he had gotten his information from oral statements made by Joseph. The best answer is that Joseph was telling the story about George Lane and some were familiar with it, including Oliver Cowdery. Cowdery writes,
While continuing in prayer for a manifestation in some way that his sins were forgiven; endeavoring to exercise faith in the scriptures (Cowdery, op. cited above)
Yet in the 1832 History, Joseph claims that
“my mind become Seriously imprest with regard to the all importent concerns for the wellfare of my immortal Soul which led me to Searching the Scriptures believeing as I was taught, that they contained the word of God to whom I could go and to obtain mercy” (Smith, 1832 History, op. cited above).
Joseph did have “faith in the scriptures”. This is obvious from reading the 1832 History. So how does Cowdery miss this and the many other details that are crucial to the 1832 History? The answer is obvious. He did not know about that History and did not use it to craft his History for the Messenger and Advocate.
Still, Christensen blathers on:
These conclusions raise the question of why Cowdery did not expand on the vision in the 1834-35 articles. Opinions differ on this of course, but Brown and Anderson, among others, have proposed sensible solutions. Any argument that Cowdery knew nothing does not account for the content of Reflector’s report from the Painesville correspondent. Nor does it explain Cowdery’s consistent testimony even while out of the church. If a contradiction in Joseph’s accounts is so clear-cut to Runnells and Stephenson at two centuries’ removed, would it not have been even more clear to Oliver Cowdery? Why, then, did Oliver not expose the hoax once he was disaffected from the Church and Joseph?
I do not see any “sensible solutions” by Brown and Anderson, only apologist spin. Do you see Christensen’s pattern here? Make a statement with a footnote, and then link it to a Mormon Apologists book. He presents none of the real evidence himself. Anyone who doesn’t have Brown’s book, can’t verify what he is referencing without buying the book. He doesn’t even bother to quote Brown, which is easy to do. I will now address Brown’s arguments. He writes,
Some critics have focused their attention on a Church history document that was produced by Oliver Cowdery in 1835, claiming that it says Joseph Smith did not know if God existed when the angel Moroni appeared to him in 1823. Moreover, critics point out that Oliver’s history was published in the Church’s official newspaper and that the Prophet had helped to create the text (though they fail to demonstrate or explain exactly how much involvement the Prophet had in the project). (Brown, Matthew B., op. cited above, Kindle Locations 2224-2227).
In fact we do know how much involvement that Joseph had in the project. Cowdery writes,
Clerks of Council.
-> The following communication was designed to have been published in the last No. of the Star; but owing to a press of other matter it was laid over for this No. of the Messenger and Advocate. Since it was written, upon further reflection, we have thought that a full history of the rise of the church of the Latter Day Saints, and the most interesting parts of its progress, to the present time, would be worthy the perusal of the Saints.-If circumstances admit, an article on this subject will appear in each subsequent No. of the Messenger and Advocate, until the time when the church was driven from Jackson Co. Mo. by a lawless banditti; & such other remarks as may be thought appropriate and interesting.
That our narrative may be correct, and particularly the introduction, it is proper to inform our patrons, that our brother J. SMITH jr. has offered to assist us. Indeed, there are many items connected with the fore part of this subject that render his labor indispensable. With his labor and with authentic documents now in our possession, we hope to render this a pleasing and agreeable narrative, well worth the examination and perusal of the Saints.-To do justice to this subject will require time and space: we therefore ask the forbearance of our readers, assuring them that it shall be founded upon facts. ~Norton, Medina co. Ohio, Sabbath evening, September 7, 1834.
Here we see that Joseph’s participation (his labor) was “indispensable”. This indicates a high degree of involvement with the project.
VIII. The Authentic Documents
Mormon Apologists like Matthew Brown claim that the authentic documents that Cowdery alluded to was the 1832 History. But there is another explanation for these “authentic documents”. John Whitmer wrote in his History that,
Oliver Cowdery has written the commencement of the Church history, commencing at the time of the finding of the plates, up to June 12th, 1831. From this date I have written the things that I have written, and they are a mere sketch of the things that have transpired, they are however all that seemed to me wisdom to write many things happened that are to be lamented, because of the weakness and instability of man. (“The Book of John Whitmer Kept by Commandment,” Chapter 6, Community of Christ Archives.)
Whitmer began his history on June 12, 1831 picking up (as he says) where Cowdery left off. As they write at the Joseph Smith Papers,
Between his arrival in Harmony, Pennsylvania, to assist JS with the Book of Mormon translation on 5 April 1829 and his departure from New York on a mission to the Indians in October 1830, Cowdery kept several non-narrative records, such as meeting minutes and revelations. He later wrote a series of letters about JS’s early history that were published in 1834–1835 in the LDS Messenger and Advocate. None of these records, however, matches the date range given here. If Whitmer was referring to some other narrative history kept by Cowdery, this is the only known contemporary indication of such a narrative.
Whitmer claimed that Cowdery had written a History that included far more material than the 1834/35 History published in the Messenger and Advocate.
When Oliver Cowdery died in 1850, he was survived by his wife, Elizabeth Ann Whitmer Cowdery, and a daughter, Maria Louise Cowdery, who eventually married but had no children. Oliver’s widow and daughter both died in Southwest City in 1892, leaving Oliver without descendants. Extant correspondence of Maria Louise indicated that the family burned Oliver’s old papers, finding them too cumbersome to carry on their many moves. (Ensign, December 1986)
If Cowdery had written an early history of Joseph Smith prior to 1834, it is possible that it was destroyed by his family after his death. Why would Cowdery need the 1832 History, when he already had one of his own, that he had written prior to 1831?
Therefore, Cowdery could easily have drawn on his own history for the material that led up to Joseph finding the plates, (like the account of George Lane) and then he needed Joseph to fill in his early years, which Joseph did with his letter to Cowdery. This is why none of the material (mentioned above) from the 1832 History appears in Cowdery’s history.
What is interesting is that Brown writes in his book,
There are several things that need to be taken into consideration when dealing with the narrative composed by the second elder of the Church. Oliver Cowdery announced in an article published at the outset of his 1834–35 history project that not only would he be assisted by the Prophet in this endeavor, but he also had authoritative documents from which to extract correct information. His statement reads, That our narrative may be correct, and particularly the introduction, it is proper to inform our patrons, that our brother J[oseph] Smith [J]r. has offered to assist us. Indeed, there are many items connected with the fore part of this subject that render his labor indispensable. With his labor and with authentic documents now in our possession, we hope to render this a pleasing and agreeable narrative. . . . [I]t shall be founded upon facts.” Since Oliver had both of these valuable resources at his disposal, it is only natural for modern readers to expect that his recital of the founding events of the Church would be both accurate and complete. And since the story of Deity’s visitation to the grove is missing from this literary venture, some readers assume that Oliver was not yet aware of the story when he wrote this statement (and, by extension, neither was the general Church populace). The main problem with this argument lies in the fact that when a comparison is carried out between Oliver’s text and the Prophet’s unpublished 1832 history it becomes clear that the “authentic documents” Oliver had in his possession were the six pages of the Prophet’s 1832 account18—and the Prophet’s 1832 account does, in fact, rehearse the Lord’s visitation to the grove. (Brown, Matthew B., op. cited above, Kindle Locations 1725-1737).
The only evidence that Brown can produce for this is a comparison of words, which I’ve shown is inadequate to the task. Notice also, that Brown substitutes the word “authoritative” for “authentic”. Cowdery also claims that Joseph’s assistance was “indispensable”, or absolutely necessary. We know he was involved, but Brown still has to claim that critics can’t specify how much involvement Joseph had, even though the word “indispensable” is self explanatory.
Cowdery then stresses that he needed the help of Joseph “particularly with the introduction”. This makes perfect sense given that John Whitmer claimed that Cowdery’s History began with the appearance of the angel to Joseph. The “authentic documents now in our possession” was the letter that Joseph had just written to Oliver and his own history that he would have gotten from Joseph himself.
The passage in question reads as follows: This would bring the date down to the year 1823. . . . [Joseph] continued to call upon the Lord in secret for a full manifestation of divine approbation, and for, to him, the all important information, if a Supreme Being did exist, to have an assurance that he was accepted of Him.
There are at least four problems with the interpretation of this text as proposed by nonbelievers. Firstly, the most glaring difficulty with this point of view is that Oliver Cowdery had the Prophet’s unpublished 1832 history in his personal possession and was utilizing it to write his new historical narrative. In this document the Prophet not only plainly stated that he had seen the Lord before he was visited by the angel but also said that before he saw the Lord he believed that “it is a fool that [says] in his heart there is no God.” (Brown, Matthew B., op. cited above, Kindle Locations 2227-2234).
It was also written in the 1832 that Joseph was in his 16th year, not his 15th. So why would Cowdery write the “15th year of our brother J. Smith Jr’s, age”, unless it really was a typo? Notice the 1832 History claims that Joseph was “in the 16th year of my age”.
Secondly, it is important to remember that Oliver edited his text after he had told the preliminary portion of the First Vision story with the correct year appended to it. Brother Cowdery had received a letter from William W. Phelps after the first article of his historical series had been printed, and in that letter Brother Phelps mentioned that he wanted to learn certain information about the Book of Mormon. Oliver obliged by changing the date of focus to 1823, saying that he did not think it was necessary to talk about the revival associated with the First Vision any longer and then proceeding to tell the story of the angel Moroni and the golden plates. This is the context in which the above quotation was made—during a transition in storylines.(ibid., Kindle Locations 2234-2239).
Yet Cowdery’s History didn’t have the correct year according to the 1832 History. His argument about Phelps is a red herring. Cowdery’s earlier History started with the vision of the angel, and he told it as he knew it. (With the story of George Lane). That is why he needed the letter from Smith about his birth date and whatever Smith gave him about his childhood. (Which was very little). If Cowdery was using the 1832 History, he would not have needed this. Yet to Oliver, this was “indispensable.” Oliver Cowdery wrote,
But such facts as are within my knowledge, will be given without any reference to inconsistencies, in the minds of others, or impossibilities, in the feelings of such as do not give credence to the system of salvation and redemption so clearly set forth and so plainly written over the face of the sacred scriptures… (Cowdery, Letter III, op. cited above).
Here, Cowdery states that the facts that are “within my knowledge, will be given.” This dovetails perfectly with what he wrote about the information Joseph gave him:
You will recollect that I informed you, in my letter published in the first No. of the Messenger and Advocate, that this history would necessarily embrace the life and character of our esteemed friend and brother, J. Smith JR. one of the presidents of this church, and for information on that part of the subject, I refer you to his communication of the same, published in this paper. I shall, therefore, pass over that, till I come to the 15th year of his life. (ibid.)
Obviously Cowdery did not have access to the 1832 history or it would have been within the realm of his knowledge and it would have been given. He then skips to 1823 because he had previously (according to John Whitmer) started Joseph’s history at that time.
That is all the information that Cowdery had access to in relation to Joseph’s youth. That is why he states at the end of letter III, “I shall, therefore, pass over that, till I come to the
15th [17th] year of his life.” He didn’t just refocus because Phelps wanted more information on Moroni, he gave what he had, by publishing the letter that Smith wrote. If he already had the information contained in that letter, why have Smith write him a letter with that same information? I have never seen a Mormon Apologist address this point. Cowdery then begins Letter IV by claiming that the age of 15 was a typo. Cowdery writes,
You will recollect that I mentioned the time of a religious excitement, in Palmyra and vicinity to have been in the 15th year of our brother J. Smith Jr’s, age-that was an error in the type-it should have been in the 17th.-You will please remember this correction, as it will be necessary for the full understanding of what will follow in time. This would bring the date down to the year 1823. (Cowdery, Letter IV, op. cited above).
This is exactly what it was. A typo. Brown writes,
Thirdly, a non-LDS newspaper reported that around the first of November 1830 Oliver Cowdery was part of a small group of missionaries who were teaching that Joseph Smith had seen God “personally.” This printed statement by the missionaries predates Oliver’s above-mentioned historical narrative by approximately four years and nine months. (Brown, Matthew B. op. cited, Kindle Locations 2240-2242).
I have addressed this above. Brown again,
Fourthly, a close look at the paragraph where the phrase “if a Supreme Being did exist” occurs reveals that its context is “while this excitement [i.e., revival activity] continued.” These two pieces of information do indeed belong to the First Vision storyline. But in this paragraph, and in the paragraphs surrounding it, Oliver was making a transition to a completely different storyline, and in the process he erroneously mixed the two of them together. With all of the preceding evidence at hand, it is not reasonable to believe that in 1823 Joseph Smith did not know whether God existed. Oliver Cowdery’s statement is simply being misinterpreted by the critics. (Brown, Matthew B, op. cited, Kindle Locations 2224-2247).
He erroneously mixed the two together? This is a “sensible solution”? Speculation? If Cowdery knew about the 1832 History, and that Joseph had actually seen God in 1820 then why is he even writing that Joseph went to pray “to see if a Supreme Being” actually existed when Joseph already believed that he did exist? This makes no sense at all. If all Cowdery was doing was omitting the theophany, why is this phrase even in his History? What we have to believe, (per Mormon Apologists) is that Cowdery was crafting a History, put all kinds of elements of the 1832 History in it, but was ordered by Smith to leave out the most crucial detail of that History, became confused and then wrote all kinds of insensible things. Cowdery does so, and just leaves it at that? He throws his promise of giving actual facts out the window and instead makes up that Joseph didn’t know God existed prior to the 1823 vision? These kinds of ad hoc arguments are all that can be produced by Christensen and Brown. These are reasonable explanations? To who? Only Mormon Apologists. How is anyone misinterpreting the statement that Joseph did not know that God existed in 1823? Why would Cowdery write it at all? It makes no sense whatsoever, unless Cowdery knew the story to be (as he was told, as was being related by everyone) that Joseph first prayed in 1823 and had no Christen experience.
Then, Christensen gets desperate:
Stephenson cites accounts by Cowdery, Lucy Smith, and others that did not mention the theophany in the grove, but none of them ever contradicted Joseph’s vision accounts when they had opportunity to do so, even those who separated from the church. Why did the charge that Joseph was late in inventing a theophany not appear until decades after his death? It seems that a certain historical distance was required before such a claim could be at all plausible, since Joseph’s contemporaries had heard the story from very early on.
This is a silly argument. Why didn’t David Whitmer deny his testimony of the Book of Mormon when he called Joseph Smith a fallen prophet? Why did he make his demarcation line at the Book of Mormon? Each had his own personal reasons for how they acted. Perhaps Cowdery was worried about his reputation. How would it look if he claimed he made it all up? That it didn’t happen? Why would Joseph’s own mother want to contradict her son? What good would that do? She believed he was a prophet. Again, these are silly questions that can only be answered by speculation.
There are lots of reasons one could give, but they would all be speculation, as would be any for why he kept silent. Why did many keep silent when Joseph changed “revelations”? They had faith in him as a prophet and it did not bother them. As for those who separated from the church, there is a big difference in publishing and speaking about it privately.
Let’s take David Whitmer for example. How can anyone determine what was important to Whitmer and what was not? Very few knew about the 1832 History. How can they claim discrepancies when they didn’t know about it? We have the documents to compare today. They did not in the 19th century. This answer will not satisfy the Mormon Apologists, but it is what it is. The fact is, we have the documentation to show that Joseph’s followers were teaching that he first went to God in 1823, not 1820. All they have to back up Joseph’s later, changed version are an anonymous “synopsis”, vague interpretations of D&C 20, and ad hoc speculations about the 1834-1835 History.
IX. The William Smith Problem
Next Christensen brings up William Smith:
Stephenson cites the report of William Smith, who appears to mix elements from 1820 and 1824 in an 1883 article. But in the same article, William twice referred to Joseph’s own history: “a more elaborate and accurate description of his vision, however, will be found in his own history,” and “a particular account of his visions and life during this period will be found in his biography, and therefore I will omit it here.” Notice that William Smith gives a logical reason for omitting information.
But if William Smith was familiar with that history, why did he write the vision completely differently than it appeared there? Because that is how he remembered it. Christensen is also not taking into account the earlier accounts of William Smith (like from 1843) where he relates the same story of only the angel. By 1883 the story of the claimed 1820 vision was widely known and William finally referred to it (in an aside). Let’s investigate some of those, shall we?
In an interview given to James Murdock in 1842 William Smith recalled that,
“About the year 1823, there was a revival of religion in that region, and Joseph was one of several hopeful converts. The others were joining, some [to]one church, and some [to]another in that vicinity, but Joseph hesitated between the different denominations. While his mind was perplexed with this subject, he prayed for divine direction; and afterwards was awaked one night by an extraordinary vision. The glory of the Lord filled the chamber with a dazzling light, and a glorious angel appeared to him, conversed with him, and told him that he was a chosen vessel unto the Lord to make known true religion.The next day he went into the field, but he was unable to work, his mind being oppressed by the remembrance of the vision. He returned to the house, and soon after sent for his father and brothers from the field; and then, in the presence of the family–my informant one of them–he related all that had occurred. They were astounded, but not altogether incredulous. ” (Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, pages 478-479).
Lest it be thought that this may be some kind of mix up with Joseph’s claimed 1820 vision, William affirms that this “glorious angel” that appeared to him, was the angel that also told him of the gold plates. This is the same exact story that Oliver Cowdery writes in 1834.
This was not William Smith’s only retelling of this event. He was interviewed in 1875 and affirmed that “It is to be remembered that Joseph Smith was only 17 years of age when he first began his profesional career in the Minestrey.” geography with other studies in the Common Schools of his day he was no novis and for writing he wrote a plain intelegable hand[.] William Smith, “Notes Written on ‘Chambers’ Life of Joseph Smith,'” circa 1875, page 26, quoted in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, p. 486. When William Smith recalled the beginning of his brother’s religious experience in 1883 he said,
Joseph became concerned on the subject of religion. My mother and brother Hyrum and a sister were members of the Presbyterian Church. We knew that Joseph’s mind was engrossed on religious subjects for some time, and we compared his condition to one who felt himself a stranger in a strange land, a desert land, without any one to guide him, or to afford him the needed relief. Yet seeming to know there must be some circumstances to arise that would afford succor, and desiring to know where to find help. This was Joseph’s condition. The idea was then, as it is now, that there was another world where the soul must live forever, and some means in existence whereby man might be prepared for it. “Was there a revealed plan by which man could find out that way?” My brother told me there was a lack of wisdom; he did not know which way to go. He retired to the woods to ask the Lord for guidance. While praying he saw a bright light, like the brightness of the sun. In that light he saw a personage3; and that being pointed him out as the messenger to go forth and declare his truth to the world; for “They had all gone astray;” “Every man was going his own way.” If we understand the order of God we learn that he is a God of order and hence could not be the author of all this confusion. After he had received this vision, he called his father’s family together and told them what he had seen. If a youth, not more than [p.491] seventeen, could concoct the message that he brought forth and then delivered to his family, it is strange indeed. He told of the “golden plates” which contained the history of the ancient inhabitants of this continent. [..]”William B. Smith. Experience and Testimony,” in “Sketches of Conference Sermons,” reported by Charles Derry, Saints’ Herald 30 (16 June 1883): 388, as quoted in Vogel, EMD pages 490-491.
William B. Smith
These are the same elements of Joseph’s claimed 1820 vision story, but William consistently recalled that this took place in 1823 and that he saw an angel, not Jesus or his Father. William would then write a book in 1883 titled William Smith on Mormonism (with a string of subtitles),
“This book contains a true account of the Origin of the Book of Mormon. A sketch of the History, Experience, and Ministry of Elder William Smith. The Story of the Golden Plates from which the Book of Mormon Was Translated. An Account of the Angel’s Visit to Joseph Smith, by which Means the Ancient Nephite Records Were Found and by Him Translated. An Account of a Most Extraordinary Miracle, Wrought by the Laying on of the Hands of the Elders of the Church, and a Statement of the Principles and Doctrines, As Believed and Taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, with Other Matters of Great Interest to All Believers in Christianity.” (Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, p. 493). and in the Preface he expresses his “wish to correct the errors instilled into the minds of the people—by the many falsehoods and misrepresentations that book writers have set afloat concerning the character of Joseph Smith and the origin of the Book of Mormon regardless of the facts” (p. 3).
On page 5-12, he again gives an account of his brother’s first religious manifestation:
In 1822 and 1823, the people in our neighborhood were very much stirred up with regard to religious matters by the preaching of a Mr. Lane, an Elder of the Methodist Church, and celebrated throughout the country as a “great revival preacher.”
My mother, who was a very pious woman and much interested in the welfare of her children, both here and hereafter, made use of every means which her parental love could suggest, to get us engaged in seeking for our souls’ salvation, or (as the term then was) “in getting religion.” She prevailed on us to attend the meetings, and almost the whole family became interested in the matter, and seekers after truth. I attended the meetings with the rest, but being quite young and inconsiderate, did not take so much interest in the matter as the older ones did. This extraordinary excitement prevailed not only in our neighborhood but throughout the whole country. Great numbers were converted. It extended from the Methodists [p. 6] to the Baptists, from them to the Presbyterians; and so on until finally, almost all the sects became engaged in it; and it became quite the fashion to “get religion.” My mother continued her importunities and exertions to interest us in the importance of seeking for the salvation of our immortal souls, until almost all of the family became either converted or seriously inclined.
After the excitement had subsided, in a measure, each sect began to beat up for volunteers; each one saying, “We are right,” “Come and join us,” “Walk with us and we will do you good,” etc. The consequence was that my mother, my brothers Hyrum and Samuel, older than I, joined the Presbyterian Church. Joseph, then about seventeen years of age,7 had become seriously inclined, though not “brought out,” as the phrase was, began to reflect and inquire, which of all these sects was right. Each one said that it was right; which he knew could not be the case; and the question then was which one of the whole taught the true gospel of Jesus Christ, and made known the plan of salvation. If he went to one he was told they were right, and all others were wrong. If to another, the same was heard from them. Each [p. 7] professed to be the true church. This did not satisfy him, as he was aware that there would be but one way of entering into the Kingdom of Heaven, and that there was but one “straight and narrow path,” etc. All this however was beneficial to him, as it urged him forward, and strengthened him in the determination to know for himself of the certainty and reality of pure and holy religion. He continued in secret to call upon the Lord for a full manifestation of his will, the assurance that he was accepted of him, and that he might have an understanding of the path of obedience.
At length he determined to call upon the Lord until he should get a manifestation from him. He accordingly went out into the woods and falling upon his knees called for a long time upon the Lord for wisdom and knowledge. While engaged in prayer a light appeared in the heavens, and descended until it rested upon the trees where he was. It appeared like fire. But to his great astonishment, did not burn the trees. An angel then appeared to him and conversed with him upon many things. He told him that none of the sects were right; but that if he was faithful in keeping the commandments he should receive, the [p. 8] true way should be made known to him; that his sins were forgiven, etc. A more elaborate and accurate description of his vision, however, will be found in his own history.
The next day I was at work in the field together with Joseph and my eldest brother Alvin. Joseph looked pale and unwell, so that Alvin told him if he was sick he need not work; he then went and sat down by the fence, when the angel again appeared to him, and told him to call his father’s house together and communicate to them the visions he had received, which he had not yet told to any one; and promised him that if he would do so, they would believe it. He accordingly asked us to come to the house, as he had something to tell us. After we were all gathered, he arose and told us how the angel appeared to him; what he had told him as written above; and that the angel had also given him a short account of the inhabitants who formerly resided upon this continent, a full history of whom he said was engraved on some plates which were hidden, and which the angel promised to show him. (William Smith, op. cited above).
Once again, William Smith is true to his timeline that his brother did not receive any vision until he was 17 – in 1823. Even though he refers the reader to Joseph’s own history, William still recounts the details of the story he was familiar with his whole life, that Joseph’s prayer in 1823 was answered by an angel. In 1884 he preaches a sermon that is virtually the same as the 1883 account in his book, conflating elements of his brother’s story of the claimed 1820 vision, but once again, staying true to his timeline that this event took place in 1823. It is my guess that someone pointed out to William the 1838 account written by his brother or that he was doing some research about it for his 1883 book, and that he picked up elements of the story about the claimed 1820 vision and tried to make them fit in the timeline that he had always recounted since the 1840’s. He didn’t do a very good job. But the fact that both his brother William and his mother Lucy (who were both first hand witnesses to the early years of Joseph) put the event in 1823, along with Oliver Cowdery (helped by Joseph himself in 1834-35) throws tremendous doubt upon Joseph’s private 1832 account as do the following accounts:
From the Hampton Whig, written by a Mormon in October, 1831:
Canandaigua, Oct. 9, 1831.
We live in this place, and have ever since the 8th of October last. My mind and time have mostly been taken up in the labor of the new covenant, and I cannot say much which would be interesting either to you or to me, unless I write upon this interesting subject. You must suppose I have had a good opportunity of witnessing much of the proceedings of those who believe in the book of Mormon. The book causes great excitement in these parts, and many [lisp] and foam out their shame, and some believe and become meek and lowly in this region.
There are about one hundred souls who have humbled themselves and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and desired baptism at the hand of Joseph Smith, or some other elder, — for you must know that there are, in this church, elders, priests, teachers and deacons, each ordained according to the gift and calling of God. Upon him, many have been ordained, and some preach. Four of these only have gone to the Samanites [sic – Lamanites?] (or Indians) to preach the gospel unto them. They passed through Ohio, and preached, and three hundred have come forth; many, on coming, brought all their possessions and gave to the church. One of the first was an old miser, who set the example by throwing in all his property — eight hundred acres of land under good cultivation. Thus we see, that when the people become right, this will follow, as in the Apostles’ days.
There are about four hundred souls, and yet no one has aught he calls his own. This we have not preached; but it is the natural consequence of embracing the Apostolic doctrine, which we have done; for He has visited his people, by the ministration of angels, and by raising up a new seer and revelator, that He may communicate unto us such things as are necessary for our preservation and instruction.
You recollect we were talking of the hill which contained all the sacred engravings; we thought it must be far South. But we were both mistaken; for since I saw you, I have seen the spot, and been all over the hill. The time is short, and this generation will not pass before there will be great and marvellous things take place to the confounding of all false, vain, and pernicious doctrines, and to the bringing to nought the wisdom of the world; for Israel shall be saved with an everlasting salvation, and the day is soon at hand when the wicked shall be cut off and the meek shall inherit the earth, and the Lord God will turn to the people a pure language; this is the first language, and it is still preserved on the plates of Jared, and will be the last language that will be.
From the Fredonia Censor, (March, 1832)
[From the Franklin (Pa.) Democrat.]
We of this place were visited on Saturday last by a couple of young men [Lyman E. Johnson and Orson Pratt] styling themselves Mormonites. They explained their doctrine to a large part of the citizens in the court house that evening. They commenced by reading the first chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians: also by giving an account of their founder, Joseph Smith, then an inhabitant of the state of New-York, county of Ontario, and town of Manchester. Having repented of his sins, but not attached himself to any party of Christians, owing to the numerous divisions among them, and being in doubt what his duty was, he had recourse prayer. After retiring to bed one night, he was visited by an Angel and directed to proceed to a hill in the neighborhood where he would find a stone box containing a quantity of Gold plates. The plates were six or eight inches square, and as many of them as would make them six or eight inches thick, each as thick as a pane of glass. They were filled with characters which the learned of that state were not able to translate. A Mr. Anthony [sic], a professor of one of the colleges, found them to contain something like the Cyrian, Chaldean, or Hebrew characters. However, Smith with divine aid, was able to translate the plates, and from them we have the Mormon bible, or as they stated it, another Revelation to part of the house of Joseph.
From the Catholic Telegraph 1 (April 14, 1832):
[Reprinted from The Western Press, Mercer, Pennsylvania.]
On Wednesday, the 8th of this month, two strangers [Lyman E. Johnson and Orson Pratt] called at my house and stated that they were sent by God to preach the gospel to every creature and said if a number should be convened they would deliver a discourse. On the question, what is your profession? they answered, the world call us Mormonites: this excited my curiosity, and at early candle light they commenced an address to the people convened. The substance for which I took down while they were speaking, and afterwards in conversation.
“We are commanded by the Lord to declare his will to effect his intended purpose.-In 1827 a young man called Joseph Smith of the state of New York, of no denomination, but under conviction, inquired of the Lord what he should do to be saved-he went to bed without any reply, but in the night was awakened by an angel, whiter and shining in greater splendour than the sun at noonday, who gave information where the plates were deposited:-Smith awoke, and after due preparation and agreeably to the information given by the angel, he went into the township of Manchester, and there, on the side of a hill, found in a stone box, or a separate space enclosed by stone on every side, the plates on which the revelation was inscribed. The box in thickness was about 6 inches, and about 7 by 5 otherwise; the plates themselves were about as thick as window glass, or common tin, pure gold, and well secured by silver rings or loops in the box as an effectual defence against all w eather. Smith, being entirely ignorant of any language but the English, and knowing that itself in a very imperfect manner was unable to read or decypher a single word-he therefore sent the plates to the city of New York to be translated by Professor Anthony, who could make nothing of them;-here seemed to be an insurmountable difficulty. ~Benjamin Stokely
To simply try and explain this away as Christensen does by William referring to Joseph’s 1838 History (which he does in 1883 – forty years later) is disingenuous.
X. More Apologetic Vagaries
Christensen then writes,
Ronald Barney spoke at the FAIR Conference in 2013 on Joseph Smith’s unfolding approaches to sharing his visions: So what I am asserting is that: initially, Joseph had personal instincts that precluded him from publicly sharing his experiences
Not really. He shared a lot of things publicly. He shared his story of the angel right away, even when he told his mother that they must keep it a secret. In fact, he was supposedly told not to publish his “revelations” by God himself and then went ahead and did it anyway in 1833 in the midst of intense persecution in Missouri. This was a bone of contention with David Whitmer. Joseph even told his “first vision” story to someone that he considered a murderer in 1835.
despite this instinct, in his youth he apparently shared the vision with people he thought would sympathize with his circumstances
Notice “apparently”. There is no evidence that he did. Even his own mother omitted it in her history. She recalled at age 14 that someone had apparently taken a shot at her son, but not the claimed 1820 vision.
being subject to rejection and disdain from these confidences he learned his lesson thereafter and protected his experiences
Again, not borne out in the historical record.
eventually he sensed the need of informing his intimates of what had happened to him …later his audience broadened to others outside his immediate circle…he made an early attempt to establish his story in writing in 1832 but the project stalled for reasons about which we can only speculate
Which is all he can do with this issue, and his speculations make no sense.
finally, recognizing the necessity of publishing his story as a counter to his contemporary critics to advance the cause of the Church, he had prepared what we now know as the History of the Church.
Which he began, then abandoned. He also had Cowdery and John Whitmer and John Corrill keep histories. He then had Cowdery publish his early history, and helped him with it. He chose not to disclose the rough 1832 History at this time but instead stuck with the narrative that his missionaries had been propagating since the Church was organized. We will never know why. But the evidence is incontrovertible that there was no mention of any claimed 1820 vision until 1832, exactly as Jeremy Runnells claims.
I do though, have a theory about one reason why Joseph abandoned the 1832 History and that is because Joseph hadn’t contemplated fully the complexity of the timeline he was reinventing. As I noted above, some words in the 1832 History were crossed out. They read,
about that time my mother and
The note to this at the JSP reads,
This canceled fragment may refer to the Presbyterian affiliation of JS’s mother and three of his siblings. In 1838, JS recounted that they “were proselyted to the Presbyterian faith” in connection with the revivalism preceding his vision.
Joseph places this event after his claimed 1820 vision. As they note above, Joseph in 1838 placed this event to before the claimed vision. If Joseph tried to include the narrative about George Lane here, it wouldn’t fit this timeline, he therefore decided to abandon this attempt. There are also other reasons why Joseph abandoned this History, which I will discuss at a later time.
In 2003, Mark Ashurst-McGee in The FARMS Review also discussed Smith and Cowdery’s motives for both reticence and publication:
Similarly, Smith and Cowdery may have begun providing the details of priesthood restoration in response to the bad publicity caused by the publication of Howe’s Mormonism Unvailed. It may be that Palmer [another critic] has made a historical contribution not in identifying the cause for inventing the priesthood stories, but in identifying a reason for Smith and Cowdery making them public. They had initially kept them confidential in order to avoid persecution, but after the publication of Mormonism Unvailed they may have found that false reports “put in circulation by evil disposed and designing persons” were a form of persecution that outweighed the persecution they would receive from publicizing the details of priesthood restoration. The reason for keeping the story to themselves became the reason for sharing it.
This makes no sense in the light of Smith publishing his other revelations and experiences in the Book of Mormon and then the Book of Commandments. What could they persecute him for if he published the additional details of the supposed priesthood restoration and his claimed 1820 theophany that they weren’t persecuting him for already? What makes more sense is what Dan Vogel postulated:
The History was begun in the midst of challenges to Smith’s authority, primarily initiated by Bishop Edward Partridge in Missouri, which evoked Smith’s introduction of the office of president of the high priesthood (Vogel 1988, 113-16). It is therefore not simply an autobiographical sketch, but an apology setting forth Smith’s credentials as leader of the church. The History therefore contains the earliest account of what is known as his “first vision” and earliest mention of angelic priesthood ordinations. (Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, p. 26).
Joseph wanted to recraft his history, the same as he had recrafted the “revelations” in the Book of Commandments. The finished version was published in 1842 in the Times and Seasons.
XI. More Blathering
Regarding the 1820 First Vision, Stephenson comments: “Unfortunately, no contemporary evidence has come to light to support this claim; and Joseph Smith himself did not document this supposed event until more than 12 years later.”
Notice the important qualification of “no contemporary evidence.” Contemporary evidence (that is Spring of 1820) is not the only kind of evidence.
Bravo. Tell us more Professor Christensen.
What contemporary evidence do we have for the Big Bang or the Creation of Life or for Shakespeare’s authorship of his plays or for my Dad’s participation in the battle at Hill 609 in Tunisia or of my childhood success at playing Risk with my brothers in the basement of our home?)
This is disingenuous, but really, can you expect anything more from Christensen? The Big Bang is a theory. (Not proven). Is Christensen claiming that Smith’s claimed 1820 vision is a theory? He is not. He is claiming that Joseph’s story is absolutely true. No one is claiming that the Big Bang is absolutely true. (No one knows). That is why it is called the Big Bang Theory.
As for his Dad’s participation in some battle, are there papers of his being assigned there? Is there testimony of others who served with him? I don’t know these things so can’t answer it, something that Christensen knows very well. This is a silly example. And then another red herring, playing childhood games. Really? Shakespeare? Really? Others have answered this very well.
If the question is “Did Joseph Smith have a vision in 1820 that affected the course of his life?” rather than “What contemporary evidence is there that Joseph Smith had a vision in 1820?” the methods, problem fields, and standards of solution change radically.
This is Christensen’s red herring. That is not the question. That is not Jeremy’s contention. Anyone can claim anything later. Therefore the burden of proof is on those who say the claims of Joseph Smith are based on real events, not on later stories. Even Christensen’s personal claims.
Stephenson might claim that “if Joseph Smith did have a vision, we would have abundant contemporary evidence,” but that claim itself is open to investigation.
I might do a lot of things, but I didn’t claim that. This doesn’t answer anything. I never claimed that we would or should “have abundant contemporary evidence”. I claimed (as Jeremy does) that there isn’t any at all. And my definition of contemporary is far more generous that Christensen makes it out to be; I’m claiming contemporary as anything before 1832, not just the year 1820. He knows this, but would rather invent red herrings than answer the charge. That is why we are arguing about the 1831 Reflector Article.
Christensen then regales us with this bit of strangery:
It is not a fact, but a premise that we can test only indirectly. Notice that Stephenson is perfectly willing to accept my oral report of an experience I had when I was 19 years old, a short time before my mission, of a vivid spiritual impression while reading Ether 12:39. What is his evidence that the event happened? Well, he listened to a FAIR Podcast that I recorded. It happens that the podcast happened over forty years after the event. I didn’t write the experience down at the time. I don’t remember telling anyone about it until much later. My parents were in a different part of the U.S. I don’t even remember who my Bishop was, and have no memory of telling any leaders. I don’t even remember when I began to tell the story. I have written it up on occasion, posting on internet message boards, and relating it in testimony meetings and a podcast or two. Have I told the story differently at different times? Perhaps I have. I doubt if I can narrow the day of the experience down to more than July to September 15th 1973. Does Stephenson worry at all about this lack of contemporary external confirmation or supportive witnesses or imprecision in the exact day? Remember, he also says that I’m dishonest. Why then does he take my report of a forty-year-old personal experience at face value? He doesn’t agree with the validity of my experience, but he bases a whole line of argument on the fact of such an experience. Obviously he accepts the existence of my personal account is a kind of evidence that he accepts as persuasive enough to use, even by itself. Among other things, my report makes sense within the LDS culture and if I did have an experience, it helps him explain important aspects of my behavior.
In fact, I don’t take anything that Christensen says at face value. I only said that he CLAIMED to know. Here is my quote,
In a podcast presented by FAIRMORMON he CLAIMS,
I got a testimony in my third reading of the Book of Mormon just before my mission, actually I was reading Ether 12:39 when he says that then shall ye know that I have seen Jesus face to face and he spoke to me in plain humility as one man speaketh to his friend. You know that just really powerfully hit me, I felt like that really happened. That meant Jesus was real, he’d been resurrected and that Moroni was a real person.
There is no “tentative” in these statements. Would I use the word tentative in describing the reality of my wife? No, I say I know she is a real person There is no “tentative” needed. So Christensen has already made up his mind that Moroni is a real person and therefore shapes the narrative to support that claim. He even claims that there is an “improper” way to ask questions! Improper to whom?
This was all about what Christensen claimed. If he wants to raise doubts about his own subjective experiences, more power to him. Some might think that only further strengthens the case that he is dishonest or just psychotic. Remember, Christensen made the claim, not me. If he wants to try and disqualify my line of reasoning by throwing doubt on his own claims, who am I to argue with that? All of this though, is just silly posturing by Christensen that does nothing to prove that Joseph had a claimed 1820 vision. Instead of focusing on the evidence (or in this case lack of it) he plays semantic games to divert the issue. It reeks of desperation. I expect no less of Mormon Apologists based on their long track record of doing just this.
As for the rest of Christensen’s offering on the First Vision, he brings up Don Bradley’s recent contribution at the FAIRMORMON Conference of 2015. I’ve read it. I see problems with Don’s analysis though. What he, and Christensen fail to consider is that the claims that are made about context, (angelic visitations, and divine commissions, and the need for authority), are all answered in Joseph’s original narrative, which started with the visit of the Angel Moroni and the “translation” of the Book of Mormon.
Don wants to place the religious excitement and Lucy Smith’s joining of the Presbyterians before 1820, which is untenable, given the evidence. The narrative being preached by Mormon Missionaries after the Church was organized was of Moroni, not a narrative based on a claimed 1820 theophany. Therefore, the claim made by Dan Vogel fits perfectly within this historically correct narrative. Even Don himself claimed his premise is based on, “If Latter-day Saint belief about the First Vision is correct…” One can just as easily say, Joseph entered his bedroom in 1823 a boy and left it a prophet and seer. All of the family criteria still apply. Once again, the evidence determines what follows. Is the evidence stronger that the revivals spoken of were in 1823/4, or 1818/19? Lucy’s own words tell us. They were after the death of her son Alvin. Dan Vogel, Mike Marquardt, and others attest to this with far more credible evidence. That is why Don gives a friendly poke at Dan in his presentation. He disagrees, but sees the weight of Dan’s evidence.
Joseph didn’t just craft the claimed 1820 vision out of thin air in the 1830’s as Don wants us to believe. It was crafted from an already existing narrative about the Angel Moroni. Therefore significant details of his early life were already in place. He just shifted the dates and inserted a theophany, and the problems with him doing this are in the historical accounts by others who lived with him at the time, or reported on what Smith claimed in the 1820’s and 1830’s.
The Reflector is evidence that someone quite early on, almost two years before the 1832 account was written, knew something about theophanies, The silences that Stephenson discusses in the sources he quotes amount to his display of dissonance management relative to the Reflector. Silences elsewhere don’t explain how such ideas got into the Reflector. He fails to even mention the existence of reminiscent accounts such as those reported by Tim Barker. They are evidence to appreciate, deprecate, or ignore, depending on the direction of one’s cognitive efforts or dissonance management relative to that sort of evidence. Note too how my paradigm can account for all the evidence (including “negative” evidence, such as a lack of contemporary accusations that Joseph fabricated the First Vision later), while Runnells’s cannot.
No, they didn’t know anything about theophanies. It was Abner Cole’s synopsis, most likely based on contemporary accounts of the time. We have no letter to compare it with. And as you can see, I’m far from dissonant about the Reflector article. I understand more about it than Christensen does. I see it for what it is, not for what someone wants it to be. He keeps harping on my failure to mention evidences that he keeps pulling out of his Mormon Apologist hat. Christensen’s paradigm is based on anonymous sources, and cryptic allusions. That is all he has. It doesn’t account for anything.
I can list dozens of things Christensen did not mention, but I’m not playing that game. We both only touched on evidences (or the lack of) of the claimed 1820 and nowhere did either of us claim that we were giving definitive arguments. He seems to think that a two part blog article is a book about Smith’s claimed 1820 vision. (Christensen can’t even present limited arguments in a very coherent manner). To make the claim above that I was being purposefully silent about evidence (or avoiding apologist arguments) is all kinds of disingenuous, but again, I’m not surprised.
XII. The David Whitmer Problem
And there is evidence from Whitmer on the priesthood from earlier accounts that Stephenson did not report. Kenneth Godfrey has shown that “David Whitmer himself was not free from inconsistency when recounting his views on the priesthood. For example, David H. Cannon reported that in 1861 when he visited Whitmer, the two men with others stood beside the grave of Oliver Cowdery. Whitmer declared that he had heard Oliver say, ‘I know the Gospel to be true and upon this head has Peter, James and John laid their hands and conferred the Holy Melchizedek Priesthood.’ Whitmer also displayed for the group how this was done.
Again, here we go with these evidences out of the hat. It was actually evidence that Christensen didn’t specify (he referenced a whole book!). Was I supposed to address the whole book in a blog article? Now, (finally) I have something definite to check on. How can I report on something if I don’t know that Christensen is referring to? Christensen’s reference for this is:
Kenneth W. Godfrey, “David Whitmer and the Shaping of Latter-day Saint History,” in Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry, and Andrew H. Hedges, eds.,The Disciple as Witness: Essays on Latter-Day Saint History and Doctrine in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson (Provo: Foundation of Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2000), 241-242.
It is obvious that Christensen is reading second hand sources without knowing what he is referencing. Here is the actual full quote that Christensen claims is indicative of Whitmer’s “true” feelings about High Priests and the Priesthood “restoration”:
The thing which impressed me most of all was as we stood beside the grave of Oliver Cowdery the other witness who had come back into the church before his death and in describing Olivers action when bearing his testimony said to the people in his room placing his hands like this upon his head saying “I know the gospel to be true and upon this head has Peter James and John laid their hands and conf centered ered the Holy Melchesdic Priestood,” the manner in which this tall grey headed man went through the exhibition of what Oliver had done was prophetic I shall never forget the impression that the testimony of David Whitmer made upon me. (David H. Cannon, Autobiography, March 13, 1917, 5).
This is a recollection written by David H. Cannon (who worked in the St. George Temple for years), and was made 56 years later. Nowhere does Christensen mention this. Whitmer supposedly said this in 1861. If he felt this way, why did he write what he did about High Priests in his “Address to all Believers in Christ” in 1887? (26 years later) Fact is, this is obviously an apologetic “recollection” by Cannon made years later. Whitmer always felt that the Priesthood restoration was bogus. This is easy to prove.
David Whitmer, Kirtland Ohio, 1832
In 1847 he got together with William McLellin and they were trying to start a church. McLellin had a “revelation” in Feb. 1847 relative to the rebaptism and the reordination of all adherents their new The Church of Christ. (Jan Shipps, McLellin, Man of Diversity, 343)
Whitmer was ordained a “prophet” which included “all the gifts and callings to which he had been appointed through Joseph Smith in the general assembly of the inhabitants of Zion, in 1834.” (ibid) Whitmer chose for his counselors Oliver Cowdery and his brother John Whitmer. Cowdery had written to Whitmer,
So far as I understand his labor, it has simply been directed to one great object—to wit: in preparing, or endeavoring to prepare the way for the old ship to unhitch her cables and again sail forth. . . . We may not live to see the day, but we have the authority, and do hold the keys. It is important should we not be permitted to act in that authority, that we confer them upon some man or men, whom God may appoint, that this priesthood be not taken again from the earth till the earth be sanctified. I want to see you much on this great matter. That our brother william has been directed and influenced in what he has been doing by the Holy Spirit, I need not say to you I fully believe. I do not say that every thing he has done has been done by inspiration—it would be strange if it were so. But that God has touched his heart, that he might begin to prepare the way, I have no doubt. In this doing he has done well, and he will in no wise lose his reward. . . . You will talk this matter all over, and make all the necessary enquiry, and I will only say that when the time comes, I am ready! But I am not persuaded that it has yet fully come. (Ensign of Liberty 1 (December 1847): 35).
David Whitmer received a “revelation” that McLellin was to build up the church in the land of Kirtland. But the voice to the others specified, “A commandment I give unto you my servant David, and also my servants John, and Hiram, and Jacob, that you must remain until I command you, and then you shall only be permitted to visit the faithful in my kingdom. For now ye do hold the right of this, the consecrated land of Zion.” John Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery were appointed counselors to David Whitmer in the presidency.
David appointed McLellin “president to stand in relation to me as [Oliver] stood to Joseph,” with responsibilities “to build up the church of Christ in Kirtland.” Jacob Whitmer and Hiram Page were ordained high priests. (Shipps, ibid). McLellin had accepted the office of High Priests (and the angelic restorations) even though he never heard of it until 1834, as he later recalled.
But there was a problem. It came from David Whitmer:
On behalf of David Whitmer, Hiram Page prepared a lengthy and carefully worded letter “to all the saints scattered abroad,” in which a number of key elements of “brother William’s” organization and doctrine were soundly denounced. The letter, dated from Richmond, Missouri, June 24, 1849, declared:
In 1847 brother William commenced vindicating our characters as honest men; in that he done well. In September 1848, he made us a visit and professed to have been moved upon by the same spirit of God that led him to do us justice by vindicating our characters, moved upon him to come here and have us organize ourselves in a church capacity; but it must come through him, which would give a sanction to all that he had done, which would give a more speedy rise to the cause than anything else could. . . . But we had not as yet come to an understanding, but consented to the organization after three days of successive entreaties. Now we acknowledge that the organization was not in accordance with the order of the Gospel Church. As we observed that we had not come to an understanding, it infers that we now have, or we think we have come to understanding, and the understanding which we have received is as follows…
Hiram Page then enumerated the criteria by which the church should be governed, among which were:
1. That the office of High Priest does not belong to the church of Christ under the gospel dispensation, and that all offices filled exclusively by High Priests are null and void.
2. The office of a Seer is not, nor never has been the means by which the Lord intended his church should be governed. . . .
3. That the gathering dispensation has not come, and every effort of men to bring about the gathering of the saints into bodies, is only sowing the seeds of discord, and is heaping upon the innocent many calamities which might be avoided.
At the conclusion of his declaration, Hiram Page observed, “It is evident that the way is not opened for us to organize as we should; but when the way is opened, we shall organize according to the Apostolic order. (Shipps, McLellin, Man of Diversity 345).
This incarnation of “The Church of Christ” quickly fell apart, and Cowdery began writing letters to Phineas Young and got rebaptized into the Utah branch of the Church right before his death in 1849. Whitmer was strongly opposed to the ordination of High Priests in 1847/1848, and affirmed that forty years later in 1887. He organized his own Church of Christ in the 1870’s without High Priests. In 1885, Whitmer answered some questions by Zenos Gurley and three dealt with the priesthood:
12Q Do you repudiate the High Priests quorum or that order, and can you give its origin and occasion of it in the church?
12A Yes I do – as not an order in Christ. It originated in the church because of desire to obtain greater power than what had been given – over anxiety with the leaders, leading to it.
13Q Were you present when Joseph Smith received the revelation commanding him and Oliver Cowdery to ordain each other to the Melchisedek Priesthood, if so, where was it and how?
13A No I was not – neither did I ever hear of such a thing as an angel ordaining them until I got into Ohio about the year 1834 – or later.
14Q Can you tell why that Joseph and Oliver were ordained to the lesser Priesthood by the hand of an Angel but in receiving the Higher they ordained each other?
14A I moved Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to my fathers house in Fayette Seneca County New York, from Harmony, Penn. in the year 1829, on our way I conversed freely with them upon this great work they were bringing about, and Oliver stated to me in Joseph’s presence that they had baptized each other seeking by that to fulfill the command – And after our arrival at fathers sometime in June 1829, Joseph ordained Oliver Cowdery to be an Elder, and Oliver ordained Joseph to be an Elder in the church of Christ and during that year Joseph both baptized and ordained me an elder in the church of Christ. Also, during this year the translation of the Book of Mormon was finished, and we preached preached, baptized and ordained some as Elders, And upon the Sixth day of April 1830, six Elders together with some fifty or sixty (as near as I recollect) of the members met together to effect an organization.
I never heard that an Angel had ordained Joseph and Oliver to the Aaronic priesthood until the year 1834, 5, or 6 – in Ohio. My information from Joseph and Oliver upon this matter being as I have stated, and that they were commanded so to do by revealment through Joseph. I do not believe that John the Baptist ever ordained Joseph and Oliver as stated and believed by some, I regard that as an error, a misconception. (Zenas H. Gurley Interview, 14 January 1885, Richmond, Missouri)
For anyone to claim that Whitmer all of a sudden reversed himself in 1861 on the basis of ONE 50+ year recollection is simply desperate or uninformed about David Whitmer. For being so well read, it is obvious Christensen knows little about David Whitmer or he would not have presented this “evidence”. But because I didn’t mention this unreliable apologetic recollection buried in an apologist book, I’m the one who is incorrect.
As Gregory Prince writes, (again the Book of Mormon angel paradigm):
Visions surrounding the gold plates of the Book of Mormon provided the earliest confirmation of Joseph Smith’s divine calling. Within weeks of Smith’s obtaining the plates in September 1827, neighbor Martin Harris “became convinced of the visions and gave [Smith] fifty Dollars to bare my expences and because of his faith and the righteous deed the Lord appeared unto him in a vision and showed unto him his marvilous work which he was about to do.” A similar manifestation in 1829 converted a man whose role in Latter-day Saint priesthood would be second only to Smith’s: “[The] Lord appeared unto a young man by the name of Oliver Cowdry and shewed unto him the plates in a vision and also the truth of the work and what the Lord was about to do through me his unworthy servant therefore he was desirous to come and write for me to translate.”
While it was apparent that Smith had a calling, the basis of his authority was implicit in his work, not the result of any “hands-on” ordination. Prior to 1829 neither Smith nor his followers claimed to have received the type of divine authorization which ultimately would become known as “priesthood.”
Smith’s primary concerns during this time were his own status with God and the translation of the gold plates. He expressed no intent to organize a church or to confer authority or ordinances on others. Three revelations date from this period, none of which addressed these issues. In the first, from July 1828, Smith was chastised for having lost part of the Book of Mormon manuscript and was told that he would be allowed to resume translating, but no authority was mentioned. In the second, dated February 1829, a ministry extending beyond publication of the Book of Mormon was implied. The qualifications for that ministry were listed: “Faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of God” (BC III:1). Formal authority evidently was not required. The third revelation, given to Joseph Smith one month later in behalf of Harris, described for the first time the establishment of a church, “like unto the church which was taught by my disciples in the days of old” (BC IV:5), but stipulated not prerequisites (Gregory A. Prince, Power From On High, Ch.1, p.3)
Christensen gets his basis of “facts” from an original compilation of quotes by Brian Q. Cannon (strangely called “Priesthood Restoration Documents”) the majority of these quotes made long after 1834, and that for the most part have nothing to do with priesthood “restoration” and only mention angels – which seems to be the only criteria for including them. For example, here is one:
The Painesville Telegraph (December 7, 1830)
THE BOOK OF MORMON
Those who are the friends and advocates of this wonderful book, state that Mr. Oliver Cowdry has his commission directly from the God of Heaven, and that he has credentials, written and signed by the hand of Jesus Christ, with whom he has personally conversed, and as such, said Cowdry claims that he and his associates are the only persons on earth who are qualified to administer in his name. By this authority, they proclaim to the world, that all who do not believe their testimony, and be baptized by them for the remission of sins, and come under the imposition of their hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, and stand in readiness to go to some unknown region, where God will provide a place of refuge for his people, called the “New Jerusalem,” must be forever miserable, let their life have been what it may. If these things are true, God has certainly changed his order of commission. When Jesus sent his disciples to preach, he gave them power against all unclean spirits, to cast them out, to heal all manner of diseases, and to raise the dead. But these newly commissioned disciples have totally failed thus far in their attempts to heal, and as far as can be ascertained, their prophecies have also failed. Jesus Christ has forewarned us not to believe them: “There shall arise false Christs and false Prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch if it were possible they shall deceive the very elect behold — I have told you before, we give too much credit to these men.” — Let us follow the example of the church at Ephesus: “Thou hast tried them which say they are Apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars.” We ought to believe God, though it should prove all men to be liars.
No mention of angels at all. In 1830 they were claiming that the authority to baptize came from Jesus Christ, not angelic ordinations or some priesthood,
26 . . . behold, there are others who are called to declare my gospel, both unto Gentile and unto Jew; 27 Yea, even twelve; and the Twelve shall be my disciples, and they shall take upon them my name; and the Twelve are they who shall desire to take upon them my name with full purpose of heart. 28 And if they desire to take upon them my name with full purpose of heart, they are called to go into all the world to preach my gospel unto every creature. 29 And they are they who are ordained of me to baptize in my name, according to that which is written . . .31 And now I speak unto you, the Twelve—Behold, my grace is sufficient for you; you must walk uprightly before me and sin not. 32 And, behold, you are they who are ordained of me to ordain priests and teachers; to declare my gospel, according to the power of the Holy Ghost which is in you, and according to the callings and gifts of God unto men; 33 And I, Jesus Christ, your Lord and your God, have spoken it . . .37 And now, behold, I give unto you, Oliver Cowdery, and also unto David Whitmer, that you shall search out the Twelve, who shall have the desires of which I have spoken; 38 And by their desires and their works you shall know them. 39 And when you have found them you shall show these things unto them. (Revelation, Book of Commandments, 1833
This is the commission the Telegraph report is speaking about. There is nothing here about angelic visitations, only about authority to preach. The book also quotes the Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ, written originally by Oliver Cowdery in 1829:
A commandment from God unto Oliver [Cowdery] how he should build up his Church & the manner thereof——Saying Oliver listen to the voice of Christ your Lord & your God & your Redeemer & write the words which I shall command you concerning my Church my Gospel my Rock & my Salvation. Behold the world is ripening in in iquity & it must needs be that the children of men are stirred up unto repentance both the Gentiles & also the House of Israel for behold I command all men everywhere to repent & I speak unto you even as unto Paul mine apostle for ye are called even with that same calling with which he was called Now therefore whoso ever repenteth & humbleth himself before me & desireth to be baptized in my name shall ye baptize them And after this manner did he command me that I should baptize them Behold ye shall go down & stand in the water & in my name shall ye baptize them And now behold these are the words which ye shall say calling them by name saying Having authority given me of Jesus Christ I baptize you in the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Ghost Amen And then shall ye immerse them in the water & come forth again out of the water & after this manner shall ye baptize in my name For behold verily I say unto you that the Father & the Son & the Holy Ghost are one & I am in the Father & the Father in me & the Father & I are one
There is nothing here that mentions angelic ordinations. Joseph later rewrote those articles,
The articles and covenants of the Church of Christ agreeable to the will and commandments of God. The rise of the Church of Christ in these last days, being one 1830 years since the coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, in the flesh, it being regularly organized and established agreeable to the laws of our country, by the will and commandments of God in the 4th month, and on the 6th day of the same, which commandments were given to Joseph Smith, jun. who was called of God and ordained an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of the church, and also to Oliver, who was called of God an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of the church, and ordained under his hand, and this according to the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be all glory both now and ever — amen.
For, after that it truly was manifested unto the first elder that he had received remission of his sins, he was entangled again in the vanities of the world, but after truly repenting, God visited him by an holy angel, whose countenance was as lightning, and whose garments were pure and white above all whiteness, and gave unto him commandments which inspired him from on high, and gave unto him power, by the means which was before prepared that he should translate a book; which book contains a record of a fallen people, and also the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and also to the Jews, proving unto them that the holy scriptures be true, and also that God doth inspire men and call them to his holy work in these last days as well as in days of old, that he might be the same God forever — amen.
This is supposedly where there is some “cryptic allusion” to a claimed 1820 vision. Notice that Christensen does not address the problems that I mentioned about this, in his article. He only claims that I “wrestled” with it. Why doesn’t he address those specific problems I mentioned? Because he ignores the obvious paradigm in favor of one supported by only an anonymous synopsis and the faulty comparisons of a Mormon Apologist.
XIII. Book of Mormon Vagaries
As Gregory Prince (who is also a scientist with a P.H.D.) writes,
In April 1829 itinerant schoolteacher Oliver Cowdery arrived in Harmony, Pennsylvania, to serve as Joseph Smith’s new scribe. Within days their work on the Book of Mormon produced passages dealing with baptism. The first of these was from “The Book of Mosiah”:
And now it came to pass that Alma took Helam, he being one of the first, and went and stood forth in the water, and cried, saying, O Lord, pour out thy spirit upon thy servant, that he may do this work with holiness of heart. And when he had said these words, the spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he said, Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God, as a testimony that ye have entered into a covenant to serve him until you are dead, as to the mortal body; and may the spirit of the Lord be poured out upon you; and may he grant unto you eternal life, through the redemption of Christ, which he hath prepared from the foundation of the world. And after Alma had said these words, both Alma and Helam was [sic] buried in the water; and they arose and came forth out of the water rejoicing, being filled with the spirit. And again, Alma took another, and went forth a second time into the water, and baptized him according to the first, only he did not bury himself again in the water.
Of particular importance is the idea that before Alma baptized he received authorization simply from “the spirit of the Lord.” There is no mention of angelic appearance, laying on of hands, or ordained office. Alma baptized himself and Helam simultaneously.
Cowdery received the following communication from God at about this time:
Now therefore whosoever repenteth & humbleth himself before me & desireth to be baptized in my name shall ye baptize them. And after this manner did he [the Lord] command me that I should baptize them[.] Behold ye shall go down & stand in the water & in my name shall ye baptize them. And now behold these are the words which ye shall say calling them by name saying[,] Having authority given me of Jesus Christ I baptize you in the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Ghost Amen. And then shall ye immerse them in the water & come forth again out of the water & after this manner shall ye baptize in my name.
Smith’s and Cowdery’s baptisms in the Susquehanna River in May 1829 were thus divinely authorized, though not as a prerogative based on the duties of any office. Later accounts described additional elements such as authority from an angel conferred by the laying on of hands and tandem rather than simultaneous baptism, in contrast to the Book of Mormon model. (Gregory A. Prince, Power From On High, Ch.1, p.4 – p.5).
In other words, as Prince writes,
The status of Mormon authority in 1829 was as follows. Motivated by passages in the Book of Mormon, Smith and Cowdery had sought and received authorization to baptize. Later they encountered additional Book of Mormon passages describing a higher authority which was needed to confer the Holy Ghost and ordain to offices, which they subsequently received. Neither level of authority had yet been called “priesthood.” Prior to 1831 the only use of the term was in the Book of Mormon, where it was used synonymously with the office of high priest (BM, 1830, 258-60), an office which did not exist in Mormonism until late 1831. Prior to then men acted by virtue of the office to which they had been ordained, either elder, priest, or teacher. In performing ordinances they sometimes referred to their authority explicitly, as in the baptismal prayer, though without using the term “priesthood.” Authority was generally implied, as in the blessing of the bread and wine (BM, 1830, 575-76) and in the ordination of priests and teachers (BM, 1830, 575).30 It was not until several months after the June 1831 general conference, when the “high priesthood” was conferred, that the term “priesthood” entered Mormon usage at all.
I guess I’m not the only one whose “grasp of the textual data is lacking”. Gregory Prince makes the same observation about High Priests in the Book of Mormon.
Margaret Barker has her opinions. There are many other credible Biblical Historians who take a different view on the subject. To claim that I am simply “unaware” of her arguments, or about the role of High Priests in the Bible is disingenuous of Christensen.
Photos of David Whitmer by Jacob Hicks. Left Photo taken in 1867 when David was 62 years old, Right Photo taken in 1882 when David was 77 years old.
David Whitmer’s views on High Priests were more Protestant, (a Priesthood of all believers) which are not the views that Barker holds. She is also quoting late accounts claiming that James and John were ordained High Priests. There is no evidence in the Bible that this ever happened, only later writings that mention that James went into the holy of holies. Tenuous evidence, at best. Paul writes,
11 If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come—one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? 12 For when there is A CHANGE OF THE PRIESTHOOD, there must also BE A CHANGE OF THE LAW. 13He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 15 And what we have said is even more clear if another priest LIKE MELCHISEDEK appears, 16 one WHO HAS BECOME A PRIEST not on the basis OF A REGULATION as to his ancestry BUT ON THE BASIS OF THE POWER OF AN INDESTRUCTIBLE LIFE.
17 For it is declared: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” 18 The former regulation [LAW OR PRIESTHOOD] is set aside because it was weak and useless 19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God. 20 And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, 21 but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever.’ 22 Because of this oath, JESUS has become the GUARANTEE OF A BETTER COVENANT. (Hebrews 7:17-22)
Jesus became a ‘priest’ on the basis of his indestructible life, not on a regulation or an ordination. Paul says we draw near to God because of an Oath which God made ‘that you are a priest forever’ and because of this Jesus became the guarantor of a better covenant. How did he do that? Not by ancestry, or regulation, but by the power of his indestructible life. In Romans, the writer makes this observation:
13 It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, BUT THROUGH THE RIGHTEOUSNESS THAT COMES BY FAITH. 14 For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, 15 because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression. (Romans 4:13-15)
Abraham needed no law, (or Priesthood) because he had faith, as explained in Romans:
21 But now a righteousness from God, APART FROM LAW, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST to ALL who BELIEVE. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are JUSTIFIED FREELY BY HIS GRACE through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a SACRIFICE OF ATONEMENT through faith IN HIS BLOOD. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice AT THE PRESENT TIME, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26)
Righteousness from God comes from Faith in Jesus Christ to ALL who BELIEVE, and this cannot be conferred by ordinance. That is why Paul says in Hebrews:
7 During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, ONCE MADE PERFECT, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10 and was DESIGNATED BY GOD to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:7-10)
Jesus was designated by God, once he was made perfect to be a High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. Jesus indestructible life “is the basis of Jesus Priesthood, the only one that could officiate in that position over the entire world, once for all mankind, affirmed by God by His Oath. Again:
17 Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18 God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary beyond the curtain, 20 where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:17-20)
Who would go ‘into the sanctuary? One High Priest. He did this for all Israel. In similitude, Jesus did this in heaven as High Priest for the entire world, on mankind’s behalf, because he was the only one who could.
We are justified by faith apart from law, as quoted above. But the Mormon Priesthood is a set of laws, as Brigham Young explained:
“When we talk of the celestial law which is revealed from heaven, that is, the priesthood, we are talking about the principle of salvation, a perfect system of government, of laws and ordinances, by which we can be prepared to pass from one gate to another, and from one sentinel to another, until we go into the presence of our Father and God.” (DBY,130)
But Peter says:
4 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— 5you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
This is how Christians carry on the work without the High Priests. They take upon them the name of Christ and become living stones and offer “spiritual sacrifices”. A priesthood of all believers, as David Whitmer explained:
Some of the brethren have misunderstood the Old Testament part of the Book of Mormon concerning High Priests, and refer to Alma 9-6: Alma says, “This high priesthood being after the order of his Son, which order was from the foundation of the world: or in other words, being without beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to all eternity, according to his foreknowledge of all things.” Here it is speaking of the order of the High Priests before Christ: their order being after the order of the Son of God, and this order being without beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to all eternity. This being Christ’s order, He being from eternity to all eternity, has held this holy order of priesthood from eternity and will hold it to all eternity. Those High Priests before Christ came into the world, held this holy order of priesthood as a type of Christ‘s order; but when Christ came into the world, he then claimed his own holy order of priesthood and power on earth, doing away with all types and shadows under the old law, himself alone being our great and last High Priest unto whom we can go to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Brethren, I am constrained to say as Alma says at his conclusion of this matter: He ends his writing in the tenth chapter, 2d paragraph, by these words: “Now I need not rehearse the matter; what I have said, may suffice. Behold, the scriptures are before you; if ye will wrest them it shall be to your own destruction.” (An Address to All Believers In Christ, 66-67)
Christensen can claim that Whitmer is wrong, or that I am for relating what he said and believed, but quoting Margaret Barker doesn’t prove there were High Priests in the Book of Mormon after Jesus visited them, (not any good ones, only leftovers of the Mosaic Law) nor how early Mormons interpreted it. Her later interpretations of the Bible are not contemporary with Joseph Smith’s time (the 1830’s). I consider Gregory Prince far more informed than Margaret Barker when it comes to the Mormon Priesthood. And Christensen’s interpretation of “beyond the mark” is beyond the pale. Here is a Mormon Apostle who explains it:
This Athenian response to Paul was not unlike that of the people described by the prophet Jacob during an even earlier period: “But behold, the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came bylooking beyond the mark, they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that they may stumble” (Jacob 4:14; emphasis added).
Today there is a tendency among some of us to “look beyond the mark” rather than to maintain a testimony of gospel basics. We do this when we substitute the philosophies of men for gospel truths, engage in gospel extremism, seek heroic gestures at the expense of daily consecration, or elevate rules over doctrine. Avoiding these behaviors will help us avoid the theological blindness and stumbling that Jacob described. (Elder Quentin L. Cook, Ensign, March, 2003)
Even Mormon scholars claim that this is the correct interpretation of the phrase,
To summarize the literary context, the phrase “which blindness came by looking beyond the mark” comes in the middle of a declaration that the Jews had largely rejected the testimonies of the prophets concerning their Lord and their God and would therefore reject Him again at His coming. Specifically, verse 14 explains that the Jews of Jacob’s day wanted things they could not understand and that God had granted them their unwise wish, thereby leading them to reject Christ as their sure foundation. (Paul Y. Hoskisson, “Looking Beyond the Mark,” in A Witness for the Restoration: Essays in Honor of Robert J. Matthews, ed. Kent P. Jackson and Andrew C. Skinner (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2007), 149–64).
Christensen can read anything he wants into the Book of Mormon and claim parallels and ties to obscure literature all he wants. This doesn’t change that fact that this is his own interpretation of the Book of Mormon and is only his opinion. Therefore, claiming that he is correct and David Whitmer is wrong is simply humorous. He doesn’t use any contemporary witnesses or evidence to bolster his argument, (he simply makes connections to anything that catches his fancy about High Priests that seems to support his apologetic interpretations). Christensen writes,
When he was anointed, the high priest was marked with the sign of the Name, described by the rabbis as a chi (b. Hirayoth 12a), but in the time of Ezekiel described as a tau (Ezek. 9.4) in each case, a diagonal cross. [Compare Jacob 4:14 on “the mark” and remember that Jacob is a consecrated temple priest contemporary with Ezekiel.]
Except Jacob was not a high priest like Alma, he was a simple priest. In the Book of Mormon it says,
And it came to pass that Alma, [the one High Priest] having authority from God, ordained priests; even one priest to every fifty of their number did he ordain to preach unto them, and to teach them concerning the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. (The Book of Mormon, 1830, p.193-p.194).
And it came to pass that king Mosiah granted unto Alma, that he might establish Churches throughout all the land of Zarahemla; and gave him power to ordain priests and teachers over every Church. Now this was done because there was so many people that they could not all be governed by one teacher; neither could they all hear the word of God in one assembly; therefore they did assemble themselves together in different bodies, being called Churches; every Church having their priests and their teachers, and every priest preaching the word according as it was delivered to him by the mouth of Alma: and thus, notwithstanding there being many Churches, they were all one Church; yea, even the Church of God: for there was nothing preached in all the Churches except it were repentance and faith in God. (The Book of Mormon, 1830, p.209).
It was Nephi who “consecrated Jacob and Joseph as “priests”:
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did consecrate Jacob and Joseph, that they should be priests and teachers over the land of my people. And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness. And thirty years had passed away from the time we left Jerusalem. And I, Nephi, had kept the record upon my plates, which I had made of my people thus far. (The Book of Mormon, 1830, p.73)
Jacob claims that he is still a “priest and teacher” after Nephi dies:
For I, Jacob, and my brother Joseph, had been consecrated priests, and teachers of this people, by the hand of Nephi. (The Book of Mormon, 1830, p.124)
As David Whitmer later explained,
When Christ came into the world upon this land, Nephi was a great High Priest who had done many mighty works. Now Nephi had to lay down his robe of a High Priest just outside the door and come into the Church of Christ by baptism, to the office of an Elder, and not once after that is Nephi called a High Priest. At this time the Church of Christ was established upon this land. Christ comes into the world and preaches to them as he had to those at Jerusalem, giving them instructions concerning his Church and the New Covenant which he made with them, as he had with those on the eastern continent, telling them they were no longer under the old law of Moses, but from that time were under him. He chooses twelve disciples who were called Elders, [Moroni III, p. 575] to minister unto that people, and after giving them full instructions concerning the establishing of his church, he ascends into heaven. Elders, Priests and Teachers were ordained in his church, [p. 575] and full instructions given concerning their duties. Christ told his disciples to write his teachings, for they were to be hid up to come down to us as his teachings to us. Now this being the case, why are not some instructions given in the new covenant of that book concerning the office of High Priests? Of course there was no such an office in the Church of Christ upon this land, nor in the Church of Christ upon the eastern continent, nor should there be such an office in the Church to-day. It is a grievous sin to have such an office in the church. As well might you add to the teachings of Christ–circumcision–offering up the sacrifice of animals–or break the ordinances of Christ in any other way by going back to the old law of Moses. (An Address, 63).
So how is Jacob one of Margaret Barker’s “high priest[s] marked with the sign of the Name”? Only in Christensen’s imagination. There is nothing in the Book of Mormon to support these speculations by Christensen. I suppose if one read it like Mormon Apologists, this all would become clear and apparent, but it is not clear and apparent to Mormon “Authorities” who have a completely different interpretation.
As Gregory Prince writes about the office of High Priest in the Church,
The office of high priest is unique, for it is the only office mentioned in the Book of Mormon not incorporated in the church at its inception. Within the “pre-Christian” portion of the Book of Mormon high priest was an important and benevolent figure: “And now, Alma was their high priest, he being the founder of their church. And it came to pass that none received authority to preach or to teach except it were by him, from God. Therefore he consecrated all their priests and all their teachers; and none were consecrated except they were just men” (BM, LDS, Mosiah 23:16-17).
In the Christian portion of the Book of Mormon, the office of high priest had degenerated to the point where its holders became antagonists of those who spoke of Christ: “Now there were many of the people who were exceeding angry because of those who testified of these things; and those who were angry were chiefly the chief judges, and they who had been high priests and lawyers” (BM, LDS, 3 Ne. 6:21).
Whether Joseph Smith’s initial failure to ordain high priests was due to this passage, or to a desire to emulate the organization described in the Christian portion of the book, is not clear. What is clear, however, is that one of Smith’s closest associates credited Sidney Rigdon with successfully proposing to Smith that high priests be added in 1831:
As you know, the teachings of Christ are the same at Jerusalem and upon this land; but on account of the plain and precious things being taken from the Bible, there is room therein for disputation on some points; but the teachings of Christ in the Book of Mormon are pure, plain, simple, and full. Christ chose “twelve” and called them disciples, or Elders,–not apostles, and the “twelve” ordained elders, priests, and teachers. These are all the spiritual offices in the Church of Christ, and their duties are plainly given. . . .
But they did not rely upon the Book of Mormon in building up the church; but Joseph “went on in the persuasion of men,” as he did while translating, and heeded Rigdon who expounded the old scriptures to him and showed him that high priests and other offices should be added to “elders, priests and teachers.”
While Smith’s and Rigdon’s silence on the subject disallows verification of David Whitmer’s assertions, they are consistent with the historical record, for there was no known mention of high priests prior to Rigdon’s arrival in New York, and the first Restoration document mentioning the office was Smith’s revision of Genesis written late in the winter of 1830-31, for which Rigdon served as scribe. (Gregory A. Prince, Power From On High, Ch.2, p.70-71)
Christensen’s defense of the supposed angelic “restoration” of the Priesthood is woefully inadequate, disingenuous and typical of a FAIRMORMON Apologist who constantly misconstrue evidence, omit crucial details, and offer up their own interpretations that are not borne out by the evidence.
Christensen’s conclusion is a wonderful example of the tactic of Mormon Apologists to denigrate all Ex-Mormons as disillusioned hypocrites who feel betrayed — who only have “scripts to learn, and roles to play.” He then claims that “a different approach to the same discoveries can lead to a sense of enlightenment and faith. The narrative in which the information is placed decisively colors how it is experienced…” And of course, Christensen’s way is better, because he has “superior” information at his disposal with Mormon Apologetic offerings.
So really, all Ex-Mormons are simply complainers (one of Christensen’s favorite words) who calculatingly script their exit stories to fit into whatever community they wish to belong to. And the information they share is, of course based on the premise that “everything my teachers and formal leaders say is absolutely correct and unchanging and all I have to do is sit and listen to approved thoughts.”
This absolutely misconstrues Jeremy’s argument. Neither he, nor I have ever claimed this. It is simply a caricature of the Tanners concerns, and of Jeremy’s. This is how Christensen interprets Rosemary Avance’s FAIRMORMON presentation that he references. I didn’t get that out of it at all. It was all about taking seriously those who interpret Mormonism differently, so Mormon Apologists could improve their approaches to their arguments. Christensen even admits (as I quoted above) that he will not, could not do that with Jeremy Runnells. He credits him nothing. He didn’t do his “homework”.
It is obvious from the above, that Christensen does not understand Ex-Mormons at all, he simply wants to denigrate them to promote himself and his formulas for staying “faithful”. This is made abundantly clear with how he portrays me, as the “man behind the curtain”. I’m simply a hypocrite who only “creates” images “in my own mind” based on “partial knowledge”. Time after time I have shortcomings because I don’t reference various and sundry Apologist arguments that Christensen pulls out of his apologetic hat and doesn’t quote at all. I’m fully expected to address all of this in a blog article and therefore I’m a hypocrite because I do not.
But who has presented only partial knowledge here, that deals with David Whitmer, the Priesthood Restoration and the claimed 1820 vision? Christensen and FAIRMORMON Apologists. Christensen only disclosed a full account of the evidence (the Correspondent section of the Reflector article – the only time Christensen does so) because he wanted to score rhetorical points instead of presenting that evidence in full in the first place. Time after time he writes his own opinion and footnotes it with whole books, articles and chapters of the Bible or Book of Mormon. The only evidence he really consistently cites are quotes to back up his esoteric nonsense in an attempt to psychoanalyze and denigrate Jeremy Runnells. And he is still denigrating Jeremy. He writes in the comment section of the Essay:
Actually, I don’t think that the questions that Runnells asks are difficult to answer. It’s a simple matter of seeking, where the effort expended and the sources used also turn out to be a good measure of desire and intent on the part of the seeker.
Again, his “desire” and “intent” makes it easy for Christensen, implying that Jeremy had neither. This kind of arrogance is astounding. Christensen’s approach is more reminiscent of the practices of Big Brother with his DoubleThink, than a real effort to understand Jeremy and why he wrote the CES Letter in the first place. Perhaps some desire and intent on his part to really do so might change his perspective, but I doubt it.