The Sky Is Falling (Part II)

The Sky is Falling (Part II)

Kevin Christensen & Jeremy Runnells (Part II)


Part II: The “Perfect” Strawman
Part III: Lowered Expectations


Kevin Christensen (FAIRMORMON Apologist) has written a long rambling folksy sounding diatribe about how Jeff Lindsay’s “investigative approach” is far superior to that of my friend Jeremy Runnells, because Lindsay did not come to a negative conclusion about Mormonism. He compares the two men to two “seeds” who have produced different “harvests”. Of course he implies that Lindsay is the good seed, and Jeremy is the bad.

Part II: The “Perfect” Strawman

In this part I will focus on two more sections of Christensen’s article. The first he names,

Starting Position and What It Tells

Christensen writes,

So what does Runnells’s Letter to a CES Director disclose about his conceptual framework and his method? Start with the very first issue that Runnells raises in his letter, regarding the Book of Mormon translation and ”1769 King James edition errors. An ancient text? Errors which are unique to the 1769 edition that Joseph Smith owned?” He returns to this point in his website response to FairMormon:

The presence of 17th century kjv italics and 1769 kjv errors—word for word—in the Book of Mormon is its own damning evidence. These errors totally undermine the claim that Joseph “translated” the Book of Mormon and the claim that the Book of Mormon is the most correct book on earth.

According to Thomas Kuhn, ”Anomaly (Abnormality) appears only against the background provided by the paradigm (pattern). The more precise and far-reaching that paradigm (pattern) is, the more sensitive an indicator it provides of anomaly, and hence of an occasion for paradigm (pattern) change.”

According to Christensen this issue is just a small anomaly in his Book of Mormon “paradigm”, and therefore Jeremy should basically ignore it, because it is so trivial that it is just a silly anomaly. But what if it isn’t? As Edmund O. Acevedo writes, Kuhn also defines an anomaly as “nature’s failure to conform entirely to expectation”, which is what Christensen is trying to apply to Jeremy Runnells via the Book of Mormon. But Acevedo also writes,

Clearly not all anomalies result in progress. The vast majority are ignored. When an anomaly persists over an extended period of time, the most common effect is that scientists will attempt to alter their instrumentation in a way that makes the anomaly disappear or they will try to make the anomaly fit within the paradigm (i.e. modify the expectation and thus make the former anomaly seem expected).

This seems to be exactly what Christensen is doing and wants Jeremy to do. He is ignoring what he calls an anomaly and trying to make it fit into his Book of Mormon paradigm. But it doesn’t fit. This is when an anomaly becomes a “crisis”. As Acevedo writes,

The forces that can convert an anomaly to a crisis are many, and usually several of them must co-occur. For example, a persistent anomaly may call into question some of the most fundamental tenets of the paradigm. In other cases, the paradigm predicts that an application should be ineffective when long practice has clearly established its utility (or conversely, the paradigm predicts that an application should be effective when practice reliably demonstrates its failure). As a result of such discrepancies, the anomaly becomes more widely recognized (e.g., replicated and confirmed by a broader circle of scientists) and even catches the attention of prominent figures in the field. The anomaly then becomes “the new fixation point of scientific scrutiny” (Kuhn, 1962/1996, p. 83) and its resolution becomes a shared goal. One of the defining features of a field in crisis is the emergence of multiple divergent attempts to resolve the anomaly. As these attempts multiply, they also become more diversified. Although early attempts may follow the rules of the paradigm closely, the persistence of the anomaly begs “ad hoc adjustments” (p. 83) of the paradigm that are increasingly bold and unruly. Thus “the rules of normal science become increasingly blurred. Though there still is a paradigm, few practitioners prove to be entirely agreed about what it is. Even formerly standard solutions of solved problems are called into question.(p. 83). (Edmund O. Acevedo, The Oxford Handbook of Exercise Psychology, 297).

According to many, there are numerous anomalies in Christensen’s Book of Mormon paradigm. These anomalies are widely recognized, even by the faithful like B. H. Roberts, who Jeremy discusses in his work. Roberts called one of these anomalies “a menace to the Book of Mormon”. (Studies of the Book of Mormon, 240, CES Letter, 11).

David P. Wright, associate professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near East, (Brandeis University) claims that Grant Palmer:

…is on absolutely firm ground for his conclusion that the Book of Mormon is not an ancient work and, with this, according to his last two main chapters, that Smith’s visionary experiences were more subjective than tradition claims. (Dialogue, Vol. 38, No. 1, 172-173).

As Jeremy himself wrote,

Here are the facts:

  1. There are 17th century KJV additions (denoted by italics in the KJV) in the Book of Mormon.
  2. There are 1769 KJV Bible edition errors unique to only that edition present in the Book of Mormon.
  3. FairMormon concedes below that while there are no reports from witnesses that Joseph used an open Bible, “it is entirely possible that Joseph had access to a Bible during the period of translation.”
  4. FairMormon awkwardly points to the Mormon god Himself as a possible source for putting unique 1769 KJV edition errors and 17th century italics in the “most correct book on earth” Book of Mormon: “…we do not claim to know why the Lord chose to reveal the Biblical passages in that manner.” (Debunking FAIRMORMON, Online here, Accessed April 1, 2015).

So this is just an “anomaly” to Christensen? It appears so. But there are many who think that this anomaly is one of many, a crisis point in the Book of Mormon. So, what does Christensen really focus on in this section?  Continue on, dear reader:

For Runnells the appearance of any imperfection in the Book of Mormon translation seems scandalous to the point of being overwhelming. Betty Edwards explains how our preconceptions inevitably influence our subjective perception of significance:

Most of us tend to see parts of a form hierarchically. The parts that are important (that is, provide a lot of information), or the parts that we decide are larger, [Page 180]or the parts we think should be larger, we see as larger than they actually are. Conversely, parts that are unimportant, or that we decide are smaller, or that we think should be smaller, we see as being smaller than they actually are.

If the question is the perfection of the Book of Mormon text, and if we can safely

Mormon Apologist Kevin Christensen

Mormon Apologist Kevin Christensen

assume that the beholder is infallibly capable of detecting it, imperfection is the only decisive information—indeed, it is the only information that answers the question. Therefore imperfection has crucial importance relative to the question and is actually perceived in our minds as being large and scandalously important. Even the appearance of imperfection will loom large in our consciousness. No matter how much information might exist to support the notion of a real translation by Joseph Smith, it does not and cannot answer the question of perfection, and therefore, relative to that question, it appears less important. That is why no favorable information regarding the Book of Mormon appears in the Letter to a CES Director. Evidence in favor of the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith’s inspiration does not answer the question of perfection, so in setting the table with what counts most to Runnells, none of that kind of information appears.

This straw man (in bold above) is rather silly. The Book of Mormon text can’t be perfect so it doesn’t matter? Jeremy Runnells nowhere claims that the Book of Mormon text should be “perfect”. How does one who was a longstanding member of the Church and believed the truth claims about the Book of Mormon for many years have the “preconceptions” that Christensen speaks of?

It is not Jeremy Runnells but rather Mormon “authorities” that make the claim of perfection in relation to the Book of Mormon. Christensen just makes this up out of thin air about Jeremy. His expectations were created by their declarations about it. Of course, Mormon Apologists have been spinning those for years.

The current thing in Mormon Apologetics now is for them to claim that because critics don’t list and rebut every single Mormon Apologist argument (which they call “evidence”) then they are somehow at fault for not giving credibility to what they deem crucial evidence. And so, because they do not, they simply have preconceptions, are brittle and unyielding and are condemned for concerns about what these apologists call trivia. They want critics to waste their time listing and deconstructing all of their apologist spin or they claim that they are not balanced and only focus on the negative.  Christensen will employ a series of strawman arguments (including his accusation that Runnells is claiming that the BOM text should be “perfect”) throughout his long diatribe.  He then writes,

This also means that if we changed our question from the perfection of the Book of Mormon translation to the reality of the translation, then supposed imperfections would not be as crucially decisive, and would therefore have a smaller significance.

Whose question? Christensen’s? Why would he change his own question–because it certainly in no way, shape or form was Jeremy’s.  Jeremy does speak about the reality of the translation. That is what he addresses in the CES letter (see pages 13-14). The reality is that Joseph Smith “translated” the Book of Mormon by putting a rock in a hat and claiming that the text that he then dictated was given to him by the “gift and power of God”. The imperfections/anamolies  in the Book of Mormon are massive. Please see this article on MormonThink for a list of them.

Also, the reality of what translation? We have nothing to compare it to, so how do we know it is even a translation from an actual language? We don’t. This always has been the real issue. Christensen then claims:

The reality of Joseph Smith’s inspiration is a different question than the perfection of his inspiration and leads the inquirer to different information. That is why reading books by Hugh Nibley or John Sorenson or Richard L. Anderson or Richard Bushman, John Tvedtnes, John Welch, or Terryl Givens makes for a very different experience than does reading Runnells’s Letter. They ask different questions, work with different soil, nurture the seed in a different manner, and produce vastly different harvests.

Unfortunately one cannot separate the reality of Smith’s inspiration from it’s supposed perfection because of the claims that Smith himself made. Reading those claims (by Smith and other Mormon “Authorities”) is all the information one needs. And please excuse us if we don’t want to give credence to the spin of Mormon apologists like Nibley, Givens, Anderson, Tvedtnes, or Welch, when it was hard enough to read their claims. We would rather quote Joseph Smith who said,

I never told you I was perfect, but there are NO ERRORS in the REVELATIONS that I have taught.  (The Words of Joseph Smith, ed. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook [1980], 369).

Seems like it is Joseph Smith who is claiming perfection in revelation here, which Christensen strangely doesn’t address (and neither does FAIRMORMON).  But even Hugh Nibley said,

We can never prove absolutely that the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be; but any serious proven fault in the work would at once condemn it. If I assume the Book of Mormon to be fraudulent, then whatever is correct in it is merely a lucky coincidence, devoid of any real significance. But if I assume that it is true, then any suspicious passage is highly significant and casts suspicion on the whole thing, no matter how much of it is right. (1953, 831; all but the first clause has been deleted in Nibley 1989, 56). (Stan Larson quoted in Brent Metcalfe, New Approaches to the Book of Mormon, 238, added emphasis. See also the Improvement Era, LVI [Nov. 1953]:831, Online here, Accessed April 1, 2015).

Nibley’s quote here destroys Christensen’s argument. He claims that any suspicious passage in the Book of Momron is highly significant and casts suspicion on the whole thing. So why fault Jeremy for feeling the same way? This is one of Christensen’s chosen apologists, folks. The 1828 dictionary defines perfection as,

PERFEC’TION, n. [L. perfectio.] The state of being perfect or complete, so that nothing requisite is wanting; as perfection in an art or science; perfection in a system of morals.

As Orson Pratt explains,

It is to be expected that when the angel restores the gospel it will be restored in fullness and in the most perfect simplicity and plainness so that every point of the doctrine of Christ shall be clearly revealed and expressed in such language that no two persons could understand it differently. Many things, connected with the doctrine of Christ, are not clearly revealed and dressed in the English translation of the Bible: this is owing, as we have already shown in number three to the loss of many of the inspired writings, and to the rejection of many sacred books by the third council of Carthage, together with those which have since been rejected by the Protestants: and also, as we have before proved, another great source of error is, that the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts from which the Bible was translated, had become so awfully corrupted in almost every text, that the translators were utterly at a loss to know which reading was correct. All these things, combined with the unavoidable errors of an uninspired translation have rendered the English Bible extremely uncertain and ambiguous. This uncertainty and ambiguity have been the principal cause of all the divisions of modern Christendom. The only way to remedy this great evil is to obtain another revelation of the gospel, free from all the corruptions and uncertainty which characterizes the English Bible. Nothing short of such a revelation can ever redeem mankind from their errors of doctrine; nothing else can be an infallible standard of the Christian religion; nothing else can reclaim them from divisions and strifes; nothing else will give certainty and stability so necessary to the happiness and salvation of man; and nothing else could be expected in the revelation of the gospel an angel. Such a revelation is the Book of Mormon; the most infallible certainty characterizes every ordinance and every doctrinal point revealed in that book. In it there is no ambiguity–no room for controversy–no doctrine so imperfectly expressed that two persons would draw two different conclusions there from. Such a revelation was greatly needed and such a revelation the angel has revealed.  (Orson Pratt, Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon, 83, added emphasis).

Pratt defines the Book of Mormon as infallible, perfect in it’s doctrines. He claims that there is no doctrine “imperfectly expressed”. Jeremy quotes Joseph Smith in his CES letter, who said:

I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book. (History of the Church, 4:461, added emphasis.)

The 1828 definition of the word correct is:

CORRECT, adjective [Latin , to set right; right, straight. See Right.] Literally, set right, or made straight. Hence, right; conformable to truth, rectitude or propriety, or conformable to a just standard; not faulty; free from error

It seems that Christensen may want to rethink his approach to those anomalies he claims are of no concern and put the claim of perfection where it rightly belongs. 

Fortunately at the “official”, they do address the issue of “translation” in one of the new essays. They write,

According to these accounts, Joseph placed either the interpreters or the seer stone in a hat, pressed his face into the hat to block out extraneous light, and read aloud the English words that appeared on the instrument. The process as described brings to mind a passage from the Book of Mormon that speaks of God preparing “a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light.”Joseph Smith The Whitmer Farm Winter 1830small

The scribes who assisted with the translation unquestionably believed that Joseph translated by divine power. Joseph’s wife Emma explained that she “frequently wrote day after day” at a small table in their house in Harmony, Pennsylvania. She described Joseph “sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.” According to Emma, the plates “often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen table cloth.” When asked if Joseph had dictated from the Bible or from a manuscript he had prepared earlier, Emma flatly denied those possibilities: “He had neither manuscript nor book to read from.” Emma told her son Joseph Smith III, “The Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity—I have not the slightest doubt of it. I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when acting as his scribe, your father would dictate to me for hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him.” (emphasis added)

As Russell M. Nelson stated in the July 1993 Ensign:

The details of this miraculous method of translation are still not fully known. Yet we do have a few precious insights. David Whitmer wrote:

“Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.” (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, Richmond, Mo.: n.p., 1887, p. 12, added emphasis).

Joseph Knight wrote,

Now the way he translated was he put the Urim and Thummim into his hat and darkened his eyes, then he would take a sentence and it would appear in bright Roman letters, then he would tell the writer and he would write it. Then that would go away, the next sentence would come, and so on. But if it was not spelled right it would not go away till it was right, so we see it was marvelous. Thus was the whole translated. (added emphasis)

In January of 1833, W. W. Phelps wrote (per Joseph’s instructions) in The Evening and Morning Star:

The word of the Lord carries its own evidence with it. In vain have men attempted to counterfeit it. They may compass the earth with their knowledge, and look through the regions of space by their inventions, but death teaches them their frailty, and time covers their glory. The book of Mormon, as a revelation from God, possesses some advantage over the old scripture: it has not been tinctured by the wisdom of man, with here and there an Italic word to supply deficiencies.-It was translated by the gift and power of God, by an unlearned man, through the aid of a pair of Interpreters, or spectacles-(known, perhaps, in ancient days as Teraphim, or Urim and Thummim)… (The Evening and Morning Star, Vol. 1, No 8, January 1833, 58).

Here we see that the claim that Jeremy makes was addressed by Joseph Smith and that those italic words should not be in the Book of Mormon! If this is such a “minor issue”, then why did they feel it so important to address in 1833? Also, Joseph Smith himself was so confident in W. W. Phelps that he wrote to him in the same month and advised him that,

… we wish you to render the 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——(JS, Letter, Kirtland, OH to William W. Phelps, Jackson County, MO, 11 Jan. 1833; in JS Letterbook 1, pp. 18–20; handwriting of Frederick G. Williams; CHL).

Apparently God displayed on the stones all of the KJV errors that Smith then dictated to his scribes. He had no book or manuscript, and that would include the Bible. The English words simply “appeared on the instrument”.  Smith himself claimed that there were “no errors” in the revelations that he taught, and this would include the Book of Mormon as he also claimed that it was the “most correct book” and therefore free from errors. He had published in the Star, that the Book of Mormon was never “tinctured by the wisdom of man, with here and there an italic word to supply the deficiencies” but we know that Smith copied them right into the Book of Mormon text! The reality of their claims is far from what the truth of the matter is. And this claim (of the Book being error free or perfect) is made because it was claimed that it was translated by “the gift and power of God”.

This is not a claim by Jeremy Runnells, but one made by Joseph Smith himself and others associated with him. Not perfection in spelling, etc., but no errors in the “revelations”. Why then, are all the KJV errors found in the Book of Mormon? Why were they not corrected in subsequent editions like many other transcribing errors were? This folks, is not an “anomaly” or a minor issue because it was important enough for the early Mormons to address in an effort to establish Smith’s credibility as a prophet and seer.

God supposedly gave Smith lots of new text that wasn’t in the Bible. So why would he need to project on Smith’s stone the exact wording of the KJV with all the errors? This is an argument borne out of desperation, which no quaint anecdote can remedy.

Mormon “prophets” have always claimed to be doctrinally infallible. Conflating this with what they describe as character or personality flaws is where apologists like Christensen go off the deep end. He then waxes philosophical with another irrelevant anecdote:

Consider the difference between perfection and reality through one of the tales of Lancelot, Chrétien de Troyes’s The Knight and the Cart. The story involves Lancelot going on an elaborate adventure to rescue a captive Queen Guinevere. When, after overcoming many trials, dangers, and obstacles, he finally finds and frees her, she rejects him. Much later, after both the Queen and Lancelot endure more suffering and trauma due to that rejection, she finally refers to a moment, when, in order to obtain crucial information, he needed to travel via a prison cart, and thereby endure public shame. And he did so, after only a moment’s hesitation. The Queen’s only reaction was, “Why did you hesitate?” as though to her, only that imperfection mattered. And oddly enough, he agrees with her about the devastating significance of that single momentary lapse, based on the peculiar ideals he brings to the issue. A concern about the reality of Lancelot’s effort, or even just the success of his effort, rather than perfection relative to the unrealistic ideals of courtly love, would grant weight and significance to all of his actions during his adventure, including a recognition that he overcame his own hesitation in dealing with his pride versus the need to ride the cart. So questions regarding what is real, as opposed to what appears to be perfect and or ideal, raise different issues, and call for a different kind of processing, and consideration of a much wider set of information.

This is simply pseudo intellectual jargon that has nothing to do with the Mormon concept of revelation except in Christensen’s fertile imagination. These long-winded takeaways from the issues may appear to him to be charming, but they are simply tedious and ineffectual. This is what happens folks, when an author is trying to prop up their own red herring.

Still, what does this have to do with Jeremy Runnells’ criticisms of the Book of Mormon? Absolutely nothing. It is simply a diversion by Christensen to promote his own strawman argument, nothing more. He then writes,

In approaching the Book of Mormon, we could do what Runnells does; look for imperfection, and then display indignation and shock.

Again, this is a strawman of Christensen’s making. Jeremy never claimed that the Book of Mormon had to be perfect, so he’s not looking for imperfection, he is being critical of its historical authenticity and translation method (by the “gift and power of God”) based on what the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith actually say. It is Joseph Smith and his followers that have made the argument for perfection that Christensen puts on Jeremy. They sowed the seeds of that expectation which believing Mormons embrace and so is it any wonder that one might be indignant and shocked when this claim is proven false?

Christensen’s purpose here, is to try and make those criticisms trivial; and turn Jeremy into a villain for even bringing them up. Remember, Jeremy believed in the Book of Mormon for years before he began discovering the problems associated with the narrative that Joseph Smith authored. Indignation and shock are a natural reaction in someone who feels they have been duped for years. Christensen then asks a series of carefully worded questions that deal with Mormon apologetic claims:

Or we could ask, how does the Book of Mormon translation and treatment of internal scriptural quotation compare with scriptural quotation within the Bible [Page 182]and compared to the evidence of biblical transmission and translation? Does the Book of Mormon contain information consistent with eyewitness accounts of the times and settings that it claims for itself? Does it accurately describe conditions in Jerusalem, 600 bc? Does it accurately describe cultural and physical conditions in the Arabian desert? Does it accurately describe a Bountiful area at a coastal location east of Nahom? How does the Book of Mormon describe its New World setting? Are there indications of others? What cultures does it describe and what physical settings? Does the description of Cumorah in the Book of Mormon fit the New York hill “of considerable size,” or, traditional identifications notwithstanding, should we look elsewhere? What forms of government, politics, religion, and trade does it describe? What are the patterns of warfare, including seasonality, tactics, and weapons? Do the 28 verses describing the Sidon contain enough information to narrow the range of candidate rivers for an external correlation? Can we assume homogeneity and accuracy in all cultural descriptions, that is, can we assume that what Enos says about Lamanite culture from the outside also applies to what we see later when the sons of Mosiah actually travel and live among the Lamanites? What are the best sources of information against which to test its claims? If during the course of my investigation, I run across something that I did not expect, what happens if I then pause to reflect and ask, “What should I expect?” But just as Guinevere only asks about an imperfection in the Lancelot quest, Runnells looks only for imperfection in Mormonism. The eye of the beholder crucially influences the harvest.

This last claim by Christensen is simply not based in reality. Like me, Jeremy was a member of the Church for decades. His family are members. Does Christensen think that we are not familiar with such issues? That we haven’t asked such questions? Either he is extremely naive, or he is simply posturing for his audience. Did Christensen even listen to Jeremy’s podcast where he describes his life in the Church and his extended Missionary work? Does he even care what Jeremy knew before he began investigating deeper issues in the Book of Mormon?  Here is where Christensen fails, because he is basically saying that he knows what issues that Jeremy has studied and that in his eyes Jeremy doesn’t find impressive the apologist answers to the questions that Christensen raises all of which have been answered by them with only speculation.  I guess I’ll play the analogy game here.

You are a Doctor and a patient has died on your table from massive wounds that no one could have survived. The monitors have been flat-lined for many minutes and everyone in the E.R. tells you that your patient has died–but you can’t bring yourself to accept it. You had invested so much time and used all your skill to save the patient. In frustration at the announcement of your patient’s death you grab the defibrillator paddles and you use them on the patient. No response as the body jerks and twitches on the table. You do this over and over again, each time with absolute certainty that the patient’s heart will kick start and they will live. But this doesn’t revive them and still you can’t accept it. You check the vitals again, you perform CPR, you pound their chest and grab at the paddles again but someone pulls you away. You then are forced to realize that yes, the patient is really dead as they pull you back and take the defibrillators out of your hands. But deep down you still can’t believe it and look around with accusatory eyes for someone else to blame it on. You convince yourself that it wasn’t your fault, it was someone else’s. If only they would have believed things might have turned out different. They just didn’t look at things from the right perspective, from your perspective. Their preconceived notions (that when the heart has flat-lined for that long the patient is dead) led them down the wrong path and did not allow you to prove they were wrong and you could have saved the patient with more jolts of electricity.defib-dr.

What Christensen wants critics to do is keep defibrillating someone after they are long dead and can’t understand when someone is convinced by a reality they will not perceive.

Christensen wants critics to accept another Cumorah than the one Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery identified; to desperately cling to the notion that the Book of Mormon documents an historical reality; or that we can find some river or lake or portion of coastline that matches what is vaguely described there. One must also overturn every rock and hiding place and crazy theory that might somehow, someway verify that the Book of Mormon is something more than 19th century fiction before we can declare it to be a product of the 19th century and not a translation.

He acts like no critic has ever studied these issues before. He wants us to accept Nibley’s wacky parallelomania and false dichotomies, and take Warren Aston (the UFO “expert”) seriously. But when critics don’t, they are not as bending as Christensen is, they are brittle and shatter with the slightest breeze.  They didn’t study enough, they didn’t look at it with the right perspective. Christensen claims that Jeremy has not really studied the issues. But he has read and quoted FAIRMORMON and other Mormon apologists extensively and that still doesn’t seem to be enough for Christensen.   I too have studied all of these issues and find all of that “evidence” is simply made up apologist spin.

For example, let’s take Nahom and Warren P. Aston. Just google his name and you come up with articles like this one:  “UFO researcher hunting for truth,” which talks about how Aston believes the story of a man who claimed that aliens showed him the future which included the home computer and the rise of Nazi Germany.  This UFO “expert” also owns a travel agency called “Bountiful Tours”. We find on their webpage (from 2011),

“Bountiful Tours conducts unique tours of Lehi & Sariah’s path from Jerusalem to Bountiful. It also operates custom-made tours overland into the historical Hadramaut Valley and coast of Yemen, air-tours to the mystical island of Socotrain the Indian Ocean and tours of the ancient Frankincense Trail in Saudi Arabia.”

Here is the price info on the ‘tour’ from 2011:

The 2011 tour will be led throughout by Warren Aston. The tour itself commences on Sunday October 9th in Jerusalem and ends in Muscat, Oman on Friday October 21st.

Tour cost is $US 2835 per person, share-twin, Single Supplement is $560. The tour price includes all sightseeing, tours and entrances, all land and water transportation, first class hotels with breakfasts daily throughout, luggage handling, return domestic airfares within Oman, most dinners and a picnic lunch. All airport transfers are included for those traveling on the group flights.

Not included are visa fees and taxes, other meals, drinks and gratuities. Airfare – for those departing from the US, a special group airfare from New York City JFK – Saturday evening October 8th – and arriving back at JFK on the afternoon of Friday October 21st is available for $US 970, plus taxes and fuel surcharges (currently $352).

For 2015 it states that,

Price: tour cost is $3990 pp twin share. Single supplement is $755.

I find it disconcerting that the guy who is promoting evidence which “constitute[s] the first actual archaeological evidence for the historicity of the Book of Mormon,” is also trying to make a buck off of it. He is also selling a book and documentary to go along with it. Also, the man who claims to have found ‘proof’ for the Book of Mormon also believes there are extraterrestrials living among us. Here is a sample of Aston’s ‘proofs’ for their being “already among us”:

“Some of the physical differences between extraterrestrials and ourselves have been recorded by a noted medical doctor, Dr. Leopoldo Diaz, head of surgery at a major hospital in Guadalajara, who had occasion to examine a man in his office in 1976. Requesting a medical examination because he traveled much, the man was examined by Dr.  Diaz who quickly realized that he was not human. At this point his patient disclosed the real reason for his visit. He had seemingly chosen a well-respected and influential figure to pass on the information that “many” people from his planet were here living undetected among us, trying to help us avert catastrophe. In a long conversation he taught the doctor a great deal about religion, life after death and earth’s future before leaving and disappearing outside the building.” (See Photo for a picture of the Article, which can be read here.)Aston Mufon Article

Now I love the X-Files, it’s one of my favorite TV Shows. But if I want to be taken seriously, I do not go around telling folks that I actually believe in aliens living among us and that they are taking people for rides on spaceships and revealing the future to them. I also wouldn’t be trying to make a buck off of a discovery that I’m promoting as ‘proof’ for my religion. But that’s just me. This is all kinds of tacky, and questions the very motives for the whole thing. Ok, I think this is enough background on Aston. Now let’s take a look at his claims about NHM.

Here is Aston’s story as he describes it:

warren aston

Ashton promotes his UFO books along with his Book “In the Footsteps of Lehi”.

“In the Fall of 2000 I was one of three people leading a group of nearly 40 Latter-day Saints along the Lehi trail. We began in Jerusalem, then descended into the Arabah wilderness, traveling south until we reached the Red Sea. We next flew south to Yemen to pick up the trail. After visiting the Nahom tribal area we drove in convoy to the ancient ruins of Marib, the legendary city of the Queen of Sheba thousands of years ago. And there, in the midst of the desert, an unexpected and most extraordinary event took place.

Some time earlier, a series of museums in Europe began exhibiting a collection of treasures from Yemen’s past. One of the items in the catalog reported an inscription on an altar that had been excavated at the Barán temple in Marib. I had been to the site years earlier. There was little to be seen then other than five and a half very tall pillars standing above the sand on which local boys would pose for pictures. It was a desolate place. A German team had unearthed the entire temple complex including the altar, dated to around 600-700 BC. What was significant was that the altar inscription named a donor who was the grandson of a man from the Nihm tribe.

We already knew that the Semitic consonants NHM referred to a tribal area that seemed likely to be the place called Nahom, where Nephi’s father-in-law, Ishmael, was buried (1 Nephi 16:34). I had spent years documenting the name on old maps and writings back to within a few hundred years of Nephi’s day. Always the name was in the same location.

September 12, 2000.

Not long after arriving in Marib our group began visiting the spectacular remains of the past, beginning with the famous Great Dam. From there we went to the nearby temple of Barán where the altar had been recovered. For me, it was hard to reconcile the carefully excavated and restored complex with what I remembered. It was only a few minutes later that we realized that a stone altar stood a short distance away, one that looked the same as the altar in the catalog. Excitedly, several of us began to examine it. Around 26 inches high, a 3 inch high band of South Arabian script encircled it. To see an almost identical altar was something that exceeded our expectations, but the best was still to come.

We had hours of desert driving ahead of us to our overnight stop, so time was short. We hurriedly took some photographs and as we sent for a tape measure I asked our Yemeni guide if he could search the inscription for any mention of NiHM. Unbelievably, he quickly picked out the characters for the name, which I copied down. Stunned, we had our photographs taken with the altar and then it was time to leave. On board the bus we announced to the entire group what had happened and told them that they had probably just been a part of a significant event.

Such it proved to be. I returned to Yemen a few weeks later and secured permission to fully document the altar and the other structures. I found that around 20 altars had been recovered at the site and amazingly, amidst a cluster of damaged altars hidden behind a wall, sat a third identical altar. The donor of 3 altars with the same text was surely wealthy. Over following months one of the world’s leading authorities on early Arabia, Professor Kenneth Kitchen in England, provided us a more accurate translation of the inscription. Other scholars helped refine the dating and understand the context.”

His conclusion:

“For the first time, a unique Book of Mormon location had been plausibly located in the right location and period.”

 In an article called ‘Newly found Altars from Nahom’, Mr. Aston makes this comment:

“In a single verse, 1 Nephi 16:34, Nephi tells us all that he wished us to know about the place called Nahom: “And it came to pass that Ishmael died, and was buried in the place which was called Nahom.”

Mr. Aston makes these assumptions about the verse:

“From this and one other terse statement in the Book of Mormon we learn several facts about the location:

  1. The wording makes it clear that Nahom was not named by Lehi’s party but was already known by that name to local people. Thus other people were already settled in proximity to the Lehite encampment.
  2. Nephi’s Bountiful lay “nearly eastward” from Nahom (1 Nephi 17:1).
  3. Nahom was, or at least included, a place of burial. Note that Nephi does not state that Ishmael died there, only that he was buried there, implying that it included an established burial place.”

To answer Aston’s claims, here is the late Ted Chandler, courtesy of MormonThink:

In “Lehi’s Arabian Journey Updated” (Reynolds 1997), Noel Reynolds asserts that Mormon scholars now know the location of sites corresponding to the account of Lehi’s journey through the wilderness, after leaving Jerusalem. This is based on the work of Warren and Michaela Aston. The Astons identify Book of Mormon Nahom, where Ishmael died, with Nehem, located northeast of Sana’a in Yemen, while Bountiful, located near the Irreantum Sea, corresponds with Khor Kharfot, situated east of Nehem near Oman’s Dhofar coast. Reynolds thinks that Nephi’s account of Nahom and Bountiful correspond so well with the sites located by the Astons that it “could only have been written by one who had personally traveled the area” (Reynolds 1997, 382). Reynolds asks:

How did he [Joseph Smith] know that a group traveling due east from NHM [Nehem] would meet the sea at a uniquely fertile and hospitable spot that was suitable for building and launching a ship? How did he know that Oman had ample resources for ship building and sailing, and that there were mountains and cliffs on the sea shore itself?

These important details run directly counter to all knowledge of Arabia in Joseph Smith’s day and to most popular belief about Arabia even today. The simplest and most reasonable explanation is that Joseph Smith and his contemporaries did not know these things . . . . (Reynolds 1997, 388)

Actually, people in Joseph Smith’s day knew more about Arabia than Reynolds supposes, as is attested by the following passages from Voltaire’s “The Philosoophy of History”:

. . . but Arabia Felix deserved that name, as being surrounded with thick woods and a tempestuous sea, it was sheltered from the rapacity of robbers . . . . This advantage is far above its aromatics, its incense, its cinnamon (which is of inferior quality) or even its coffee, which now creates its riches. . . .

As to that extensive part called Happy, half of it consists also in deserts; but upon advancing some miles into the interior parts, either to the east of Mocha, or to the east of Mecca, there is found the most pleasant country in the world. The air is continually perfumed, during a perpetual summer, by the odor of the aromatic plants which nature spontaneously produces. Thousands of streams flow from the mountains, and preserve an incessant coolness, which moderates the heat of the sun beneath the evergreen shades. It was particularly in this country, that the words garden and paradise implied celestial favor.

The gardens of Saana, towards Aden, were more famous among the Arabians, than were those of Alcinous among the Greeks. And this Aden or Eden was called the place of delights. . . .

This vast country of Yemen is so fine, its ports are so happily situated upon the Indian ocean, that it is said Alexander was desirous of conquering Yemen, in order to make it the seat of his empire, and the emporium of trade for the whole world. (Voltaire 1927, 400-401)

Edward Gibbon also gives this description of southern Arabia:

The high lands that border on the Indian Ocean are distinguished by their superior plenty of wood and water: the air is more temperate, the fruits are more delicious, the animals and the human race more numerous: the fertility of the soil invites and rewards the toil of the husbandman; and the peculiar gifts of frankincense and coffee have attracted in different ages the merchants of the world. If it be compared with the rest of the peninsula, this sequestered region may truly deserve the appellation of the happy . . . . (Gibbon n.d., 3:58)

As sources for his information on Arabia, Gibbon lists not only ancient writers like Pliny and Strabo, but also the works of Pocock, who published extracts and notes on Arabian antiquities in his Specimen Historiae Arabum. Gibbon also refers a number of times to books by Carsten Niebuhr and Jean Bourguignon D’Anville, who published maps of Arabia. Nephi’s account does not require any more knowledge of Arabia than was available in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

The Astons claim that Lehi’s group travelled in the same direction as an ancient trade route along the east shore of the Red Sea. However, there was another main trade route, in use at least as early as 336 B.C., which ran across central Arabia to Gerrha on the Persian Gulf. Gibbon refers to these two routes:

The treasures of Africa were conveyed over the peninsula to Gerrha or Katif, in the province of Bahrein, a city built, as it is said, of rock-salt, by the Chaldaean exiles; and from thence, with the native pearls of the Persian Gulf, they were floated on rafts to the mouth of the Euphrates. Mecca is placed almost at an equal distance, a month’s journey, between Yemen on the right and Syria on the left hand. The former was the winter, the latter the summer, station of her caravans; and their seasonable arrival relieved the ships of India from the tedious and troublesome navigation of the Red Sea. In the markets of Saana and Merab, in the harbours of Oman and Aden, the camels of the Koreishites were laden with a precious cargo of aromatics; a supply of corn and manufactures was purchased in the fairs of Bostra and Damascus . . . . (Gibbon n.d., 3:62)

Concerning Nahom, the Astons present two kinds of evidence: (1) the meaning of “Nehem,” and (2) a place in South Arabia named Nehem. Let’s consider each of these.

(1) The Astons state that there are two Semitic roots for Nehem. One means “to comfort, console, to be sorry,” while the other means “to roar, complain, or be hungry.” The Astons think that “both these roots relate in significant and very specific ways to the experiences of Lehi’s group while at Nahom. . . . It is hard to imagine any place-name that would be more appropriate in view of what Nephi tells us happened there. Not only do the two roots of Nahom refer unquestionably to both mourning and consoling (and perhaps also to fasting) in connection with Ishmael’s death and burial, but they seem to go still further and echo the complaining and the rebellion that followed his burial” (Aston 1994, 12-13). However, this is all quite irrelevant. Why? Because the text states and the Astons acknowledge that Nahom was already named before Lehi’s group arrived there (1 Nephi 16:34; Aston 1994, 10). The fact that Ishmael died at Nahom is purely coincidental and is not connected in any way with the meaning of Nehem/Nahom. This does not constitute evidence verifying Nephi’s account. Furthermore, the name Nahom is not remarkable, considering that the Bible contains the names Naham, Nahum, and Nehum. In addition, NHM is not the same word in South Arabian as it is in Hebrew and is not pronounced the same. In Hebrew, NHM is a verb, but in South Arabian, it is a noun meaning “pecked masonry,” referring to a technique of roughening the finish of the stone using chisels. Why would Lehi’s group insult the Arab inhabitants of the area by giving the place a Hebrew name with a different meaning?

(2) The Book of Mormon refers to a place called Nahom, and there was actually a place named Nehem in South Arabia along an ancient incense trade route. Nothing could be simpler. But is it really that simple? Actually, according to the Astons, the trade route passed through the Jawf valley. Nehem was not the name of a city in the valley, but was a remote burial place in the mountains south of the Jawf valley. The Astons state that Lehi’s group “could only have known about Nahom from someone outside the group,” and “Likely the Lehite encampment was in the Jawf valley and Ishmael was carried up into the hills for burial” (Aston 1994, 10, 13). But this is not all. The Astons also say that there was another larger burial place east of the Jawf valley in the mountains near Ruwaik. They then conclude that either Nehem or Ruwaik “may well have been the place to which local people led Lehi’s mourning party to bury Ishmael” (Aston 1994, 20). It seems then that it would have been quite possible for Lehi’s group to travel through the Jawf valley without ever being aware of Nehem and that in any case Ishmael may not have even been buried there.

The Book of Mormon says that Lehi’s group journeyed “many days” from Shazer to Nahom, and then after turning east from Nahom, they reached Bountiful, after spending eight years in the wilderness. However, according to the Astons’ interpretation, the group would have already traveled a large part of their journey upon reaching Nahom. In fact Reynolds says that the Astons have “persuasively” argued that the course followed by Lehi’s group to Nahom took “years to traverse what could have been covered in months” (Reynolds 1997, 381).

Reynolds says that one of the criteria used by the Astons in searching for the site of Bountiful is that “there must be a dangerous cliff where Nephi’s brothers could attempt to kill him by throwing him into the sea” (Reynolds 1997, 383). However, the text does not in fact refer to any cliff or state that Nephi’s brothers made an actual attempt to kill him; it merely states that Nephi’s brothers “were desirous to throw me into the depths of the sea” (1 Nephi 17:48). But when this occurred, Nephi had already made tools out of ore and was preparing to start building their ship. Nephi’s brothers “were desirous that they might not labor” (1 Nephi 17:18). It is hardly possible that Nephi planned to build the ship on a cliff above the sea. If the Astons are permitted to speculate, we could conjecture as well that “depths of the sea” implies open ocean, and that Nephi’s brothers planned to use a canoe or raft to take Nephi out to sea and throw him overboard. There may very well have been a cliff, but speculation should not be raised to the level of necessary criterion.

Neither Reynolds nor the Astons suggest an explanation for the strange name which the Book of Mormon confers upon the sea. Nephi states that upon reaching Bountiful, they beheld the sea, “which we called Irreantum, which, being interpreted, is many waters” (1 Nephi 17:5). Irreantum appears to be a name invented in imitation of the fact that at one time the Indian Ocean was called the Erythraean Sea. Greek “erythros” means “red,” so the Indian Ocean was actually called the Red Sea. The Book of Mormon merely applies a different name to the sea, with a different meaning.

The Astons’ interpretation fails to deal with certain peculiarities of the Book of Mormon account. I have argued that the Book of Mormon uses “Red Sea” with a special meaning, referring to what is now called the Dead Sea. The Book of Deuteronomy provides further evidence for this interpretation:

These be the words which Moses spake unto all Israel on this side Jordan in the wilderness, in the plain over against the Red sea, between Paran and Tophel, and Laban, and Hazeroth, and Dizahab. (There are eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir unto Kadesh-barnea.) . . . On this side Jordan, in the land of Moab, began Moses to declare this law . . . . (Deut. 1:1-2, 5)

The text here refers to the plain on the east side of the Jordan “over against” the Red sea, which suggests that it is referring to the Dead Sea, which was perhaps thought to be connected with the Red Sea through the Gulf of Aqaba. Two other passages in the Bible refer to the Red sea, when the Israelites were travelling through the northern Sinai and Edom: “And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way” (Numbers 21:4); “Then we turned, and took our journey into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea, as the LORD spake unto me: and we compassed mount Seir many days” (Deut. 2:1). Nephi says that the river Laman “emptied into the Red Sea; and the valley was in the borders near the mouth thereof. And when my father saw that the waters of the river emptied into the fountain of the Red Sea, he spake unto Laman, saying: O that thou mightest be like unto this river continually running into the fountain of all righteousness!” (1 Nephi 2:8-9). Nephi also says that when they left the valley of Lemuel, “we did take seed of every kind that we might carry into the wilderness” (1 Nephi 16:11). Josephus describes a deep body of water in a cave beneath a large mountain: “Now the fountains of Jordan rise at the roots of this cavity outwardly; and, as some think, this is the utmost origin of Jordan . . . .” Later he also describes “a fountain by Jericho.” Originally, this fountain of water had “a sickly and corruptive nature,” causing harm to vegetation and new-born children. Elisha prayed over the fountain and made it “wholesome and fruitful.” Josephus says that the ground watered by the fountain grew “most excellent gardens that are thick set with trees,” and that the area produced honey and balsam. In another work, Josephus says that after Samson repented of his pride, God “raised him up a plentiful fountain of sweet water at a certain rock; whence it was that Samson called the place the Jaw-bone, and so it is called to this day.” As William Whiston, the translator, pointed out, the Hebrew word for “jaw-bone” is Lehi: “This fountain, called Lehi, or the jaw-bone, is still in being . . . .” (See Josephus 1984, 1:77, 329; 2:334-35) I have argued that the use of “down” and “up” in the Book of Mormon indicates that Lehi’s camp in the wilderness was north of Jerusalem, and that parallels with the stories of Moses and Joshua reveal that Lehi’s group traveled a course opposite to that of the Israelites, when they crossed the Jordan and entered Canaan. Lehi may have camped near the “fountain by Jericho,” and his river Laman, which emptied into the fountain of the Red Sea, would have joined with the Jordan, which Lehi may have considered to be this fountain of the Red Sea. When the Book of Mormon says that Lehi’s group traveled in a south-southeast direction, “keeping in the most fertile parts of the wilderness, which were in the borders near the Red Sea” (1 Nephi 16:14), it appears to be referring to areas east of the Dead Sea, not the long stretch of Arabia which borders the Red Sea. I have also suggested that Nahom, where Ishmael died, is a point east of Mount Hor, where Aaron died, and that after Lehi’s group turned eastward from Nahom, they reached a point near the mouth of the Euphrates River on the Persian Gulf. The name Bountiful may be connected with the meaning of “Euphrates,” which is “that which makes fruitful.”

And finally we can suggest a simple explanation for the name Nahom, which does not require a knowledge of Semitic roots or the geography and place-names of South Arabia. The author of Nephi’s record paralleled accounts of Moses, Joshua, and the Israelites, when they journeyed along the border of the Dead Sea and crossed the Jordan to Jericho (even the Astons acknowledge these parallels). But when he wanted Lehi’s group to turn eastward, he started thinking of the trek of Abraham and his family from Ur to Haran. Abraham’s brother was named Nahor, and it requires only the subsititution of one letter to change the name to Nahom. This I believe, is the real meaning and significance of Nahom, and it indicates that Lehi’s group did not travel to South Arabia.

Lacking any archeological evidence which definitely links Lehi’s group with specific sites, any suggested route of travel must remain speculative, and therefore it is difficult to take seriously Reynolds’ claim that Nephi’s account “must be seen as a powerful witness of the Book of Mormon’s divine origins and ancient authorship” (Reynolds 1997, 388).

As we see above, the Nahom claims are easy to dismantle, because they are all based on implausible speculation. As for names, this was posted by David Wright, Professor of Bible and Ancient Near East at Brandeis University, on ZLMB in 2002:

“A large number of BOM names and words have the suffixed element -om (Abinadom, Antiomno, Corom, Cumom, Curelom, Ezrom, Jacom, Jarom, Shiblom, Shilom [not necessarily Hebrew sh-l-m!; see the caution below], Sidom, Zeezrom). Those ending in -um may represent the same suffix: Antionum, Jeneum, Helorum, Mocum, which could include also the -antum and -ancum names: Antum, Coriantum, Irreantum, Moriancum, Moriantum, Ripliancum, Seantum, Teancum. (It is less clear that -em names/words Ethem, Gazelem, Sherem, Shelem, [+ ? Zara-HEM-la/nah?] and -am names/words Luram, Zeram, Seezoram, Zoram should be included.)

The large number of names or words with -om (-um) indicate that this element may not be part of the word stem or root in many cases, but a suffix separate or distinct from the root. Thus is it difficult to argue decisively, even from a traditionalist perspective, that Nahom derives from a Semitic root n-h-m (as in the Arabic place name Nehhem) or the root n-kh-m (connected with mourning). Just because there are Semitic roots with a final -m which can be correlated with Nahom does not mean that they are in fact to be correlated. The word stem or root may be Nah- with an -om suffix.”

“One could argue that -om names, which are found throughout the BOM (early Nephite, late Nephite, Jaredite), are an indication that a single mind conceived them all. Recall too that -e/antum (and related -ianton) type names appear in all three literary-cultural periods: Irreantum (early Nephite); Coriantum, Coriantumr, Coriantor (Jaredite); Corianton, Moriantum, Seantum (late Nephite). This is not what one expects from an ancient document which reflects discrete cultural-historical periods, but is explainable if Joseph Smith invented the names and wrote the BOM.”

1811 Map of Arabia Nehem

1811 Map of Arabia

Also, Nahom, (and it’s variation Nehem)  was on many maps that were circulating about since the mid-1700’s, right up to the time Smith wrote the Book of Mormon. Could one of those have fallen in the hands of Smith? Mormon apologists flatly deny it, but it cannot be ruled out completely. What we have here, is all speculation, with no basis of fact to tie anything to the Book of Mormon. What should concern Mormons is the fact that not one shred of evidence has been found in the New World to support the historicity of the Book of Mormon: that there was a massive population of Jewish-Christian peoples that inhabited the Americas, who left no evidence of their existence at all.

Here is Aston on You Tube, at a UFO Symposium

Christensen then informs us that,

A narrow test for perfection brings an ever-present danger that even the appearance of imperfection seems decisive. We risk coming to a false conclusion based on a misperception.

Is he still burning this strawman? Seems so. Who exactly is testing perfection? Not Jeremy Runnells. He is testing Joseph Smith’s claims to an error free Book of Mormon that doesn’t need italicized words. This (again) has all been invented in Christensen’s mind.  What misperception? Oh wait, here comes another–this time tragic–anecdote, this time dealing with William Shakespeare’s Othello…

This is the theme of Shakespeare’s tragedy, Othello. Because of the manipulations of Iago, the innocent Desdemona appears to be [Page 183]guilty of betraying Othello’s trust. Doubtless the mental pain, anguish, and feeling of betrayal that Othello suffers are real (at least within the world of the play). But while Othello is busy suffering angst and murdering his innocent wife, the last thing he needs is to be surrounded by understanding and sympathetic Iagos who only want to validate his pain, perhaps suggesting that if he suffocates her sooner and faster, he’ll suffer less in the long run. The tragedy of Othello is not that Iago is around to practice deception and manipulation, but that Othello’s faith in Desdemona’s fidelity is so fragile. He proclaims his love but makes far too little effort to come to her defense, shows no patience or tolerance or capacity for forgiveness or even simple faith, hope, and charity. He never thinks to say, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” and never stops to consider that the problem might be in his own misperception, at least, not until it is too late for Desdemona and for himself. It is also clear that after he has killed his wife, the last thing that he wants to discover is her innocence.

Wow, Christensen has read some Shakespeare. Too bad this is tragically irrelevant and diversionary, created only to feed Christensen’s own strawman. Moving on…

All of this calls for a careful examination of our own assumptions and background expectations, doing a little bit of checking our own eyes for beams before attempting mote removal on another person.

Christensen is assuming a lot here. If he has these problems, he should work on them. But don’t put them on others when you don’t know them at all. This is simply arrogance folks. Insinuating that Jeremy is a hypocrite because he doesn’t believe Mormon Apologist arguments with no proof?

Remember that Runnells’s very first point depends on the un-argued and unexamined assumption that any human error in the Book of Mormon translation is “damning,” and by itself sufficient to “totally undermine” Joseph’s claim to be a translator.

How could we forget when Christensen keep repeating this over and over again?  Here is what Jeremy actually wrote:

The presence of 17th century KJV italics and 1769 KJV errors – word for word – in the Book of Mormon is its own damning evidence. These errors totally undermine the claim that Joseph “translated” the Book of Mormon and the claim that the Book of Mormon is the most correct book on earth.

Remember, claims that Joseph got the words on the stone directly from God, so how could there be human error involved? As we have seen from the evidence above, that is exactly what Smith taught. In the Book of Mormon preface written by Joseph Smith he claims that,

Wherefore, it is an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites—Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile—Written by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation—Written and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed—To come forth by the gift and power of God unto the interpretation thereof—Sealed by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by way of the Gentile—The interpretation thereof by the gift of God.

He then claims,

And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ.

What is this directed at? We have no idea. He claims that the Book was written “by the spirit of prophecy and revelation”, and later claimed that the Book of Mormon was the most correct book on earth (no errors) and that there were “no errors in the revelations I have taught.” So what errors does he speak of? Most likely printing errors. As John S. Dinger writes,

In 1837, LDS Church members Parley P. Pratt (1807-57) and John Goodson (1814?-74?) republished the Book of Mormon in Kirtland, Ohio. Though it took seven years for a second printing, Church leaders had discussed republication as early as 1833. On June 25, 1833, the First Presidency (composed of Smith and two counselors) wrote a letter to Church printer W. W. Phelps in Missouri regarding the reprinting of the Book of Mormon, and stated: “As soon as we can get time, we will review the manuscripts of the Book of Mormon, after which they will be forwarded to you.”9 Other printing-related projects and the subsequent destruction of the LDS Church-owned printing press in Independence, Missouri, by angry non-Mormons delayed the printing of a second edition of the Book of Mormon.

The second edition was financed by Pratt and Goodson, who were given permission to publish up to 5,000 copies; however, it is likely that only 3,000 were actually printed.10 Though published in the United States, many copies of the 1837 edition were taken to England, where they were distributed or sold by LDS proselyzting missionaries. This printing filled a need on both continents.

With this second edition, like virtually every edition that followed, changes were made to the text of the volume. As indicated by the letter to Phelps, Smith, and others–mostly Cowdery–worked to make the second edition of the Book of Mormon more closely follow the original manuscripts.11 Smith and Cowdery checked the 1830 edition against the Printer’s Manuscript in the winter of 1836 and into early 1837, marking up the Printer’s Manuscript in the process. As a result, Smith authorized more than 2,000 changes, mostly grammatical, to the text. The preface to the 1837 edition states: “Individuals  acquainted with book printings, are aware of the numerous typographical errors which always occur in manuscript editions. It is only necessary to say, that the whole has been carefully re-examined and compared with the original manuscript” (p. v).

These are the errors that Smith speaks of, not the revelatory part of the Book of Mormon, which Smith claimed was given by God and contained no errors. Significantly, he did not change the Isaiah plagiarisms found in the first edition.

Christensen continues:

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.”

Who is complaining? Again, Runnells is making observations. The only one whining here is Christensen, about the fact that Jeremy is not impressed with apologetic spin and pseudo intellectual word games. Are any Mormon apologists “official’? Not according to them. So what is Christensen objecting to here? We can’t figure that out. Perhaps this quote by FAIRMORMON might help”

Modern readers are accustomed to thinking of a ‘translation’ as only the conversion of text in one language to another. But, Joseph used the term in a broader and more inclusive sense, which included explanation, commentary, and harmonization. The JST is probably best understood in this light.

So here we see that translate doesn’t always mean translate in the dictionary sense of the word, exactly what Jeremy was getting at. Christensen then states:

This would be a good place to explain what the word means in the context of what Joseph Smith actually did.

We have done that above. Let’s see what Christensen’s take is:

We need to do a bit of eye checking here. What does it mean to translate? Runnells implies a circular definition in which translate should mean “translate,” which, if you actually stop to think about it, does not help much. Nor does it demonstrate any degree of introspection, self-reflection, or even inquiry.

What point is Christensen trying to make here? He wants to give the parameters of what he thinks translation meant to Joseph Smith.  To do this, he quotes Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:

TRANSLATE, verb transitive [Latin translatus, from transfero; trans, over, and fero, to bear.]

  1. To bear, carry or remove from one place to another. It is applied to the removal of a bishop from one see to another.

The bishop of Rochester, when the king would have translated him to a better bishoprick, refused.

  1. To remove or convey to heaven, as a human being, without death.

By faith Enoch was translated, that he should not see death. Hebrews 11:15.

  1. To transfer; to convey from one to another. 2 Samuel 3:10.
  2. To cause to remove from one part of the body to another; as, to translate a disease.
  3. To change.

Happy is your grace,

That can translate the stubbornness of fortune

Into so quiet and so sweet a style.

[Page 185]6. To interpret; to render into another language; to express the sense of one language in the words of another.

The Old Testament was translated into the Greek language more than two hundred years before Christ. The Scriptures are now translated into most of the languages of Europe and Asia.

  1. To explain.

Here, a single word—translate—has several definitions. I notice that the word perfect does not appear anywhere in this definition of translate.

Once again Christensen applies his “perfect” strawman to Jeremy without any citation or proof whatsoever that Jeremy even thinks this. Christensen folks, is basically arguing with himself here. Now this exercise (in giving definitions for the word translate) shows us that this is simply grandstanding. In the case of Joseph Smith does translate mean to carry? To remove to heaven? To convey from one to another? To transmit a disease? To change? Finally, we get to it at number 6. Of course it is pretty basic knowledge that words can mean different things. Still, Christensen presses his strawman:

Nor does even the sixth definition of translate say that expressing “the sense of one language in the words of another” requires that existing successful translations, with or without italicized explanatory words, should or must be completely ignored. To succeed in its purpose, a translation need not be completely original or unique or flawless.

Ok, that’s common sense. So? This is not the point that Jeremy was making.That definition nowhere includes the translation being done “by the gift and power of God”, now, does it? This is why Christensen’s whole argument is fallacious. Here is what Jeremy said,

When King James translators were translating the KJV bible between 1604 and1611, they would occasionally put in their own words into the text to make the English more readable. We know exactly what these words are because they’re italicized in the KJV bible. What are these 17th century italicized words doing in the Book of Mormon? Word for word? What does this say about the Book of Mormon being an ancient record?

The issue is that Joseph Smith carried over all the King James additions to the text that was given to him by God. This has nothing to do with claiming perfection of Smith, but why God would include the KJV errors with the text he placed on Joseph’s stone. What purpose did that serve when it was claimed by witnesses that Smith never used any manuscript or book in his “translation”?

Let’s try and use some common sense to answer this translation issue in relation to the Book of Mormon. What did Joseph claim to do? He claimed to translate the “Reformed Egyptian” characters from the gold plates into English. How did he do this? By putting a stone in a hat and having God make the translation of each character appear on his stone. Therefore Smith could then claim that he “translated” the Book of Mormon “by the gift and power of God.” So in reality who really made the translation? God, not Joseph Smith.

In Kirtland, Joseph “translated” some of the Book of Abraham for Michael Chandler:

The morning Mr. Chandler first presented his papyrus to bro.—Smith, he was shown, by the latter, a number of characters like those upon the writings of Mr. C. which were previously copied from the plates, containing the history of the Nephites, or book of Mormon. Being solicited by Mr. Chandler to give an opinion concerning his antiquities, or translation of some of the characters, bro. S. gave him the interpretation of some few for his satisfaction.

Here Joseph claimed that some of the characters on the papyrus were like those which were copied from the plates and so Smith was able to translate them and give the interpretation. Thus, Smith translated characters from another language into English. There isn’t any broader meaning here. This is what Smith claimed to do with the Book of Mormon characters, except in that case he claimed that God gave him the translation on his stone.  On August 10, 1832 Samuel H. Smith and Orson Hyde answered some questions to the people of Boston:

           Q.-By what means did he discover the golden plates and who was with him when he made the discovery.
A.-The golden plates were discovered through the ministration of an angel of the Lord, by Joseph Smith-no one else was with him at the time of the discovery.
Q.-By whom was a fac simile of some part of the language and characters taken, and on what material.
A.-It was taken by Joseph Smith on paper from the original plates themselves.
Q.-By whom was this presented to Dr. Mitchell, and at what period?
A.-By Martin Harris, one of the witnesses who had seen the plates-do not exactly know at what time.
Q.-Is that fac simile, now in being, and if so where is it?
A.-It is, or it was in being-I have seen it.
Q.-In what manner was the interpretation, or translation made known, and by whom was it written?
A.-It was made known by the spirit of the Lord through the medium of the Urim and Thummim; and was written partly by Oliver Cowdery, and partly by Martin Harris.
Q.-What do you mean by Urim and Thummim?
A.-The same as were used by the prophets of old, which were two crystal stones, placed in bows something in the form of spectacles, which were found with the plates.

Here we see that Joseph translated “by the spirit of the Lord” through the stones. The same story that Smith told to everyone else.

The problem is with real documents that are translated from one real language to another, we have the documents that are/were translated. Do we have the Book of Mormon plates? No. So any argument that Christensen makes along these lines is pointless.  But here is his rant:

Does Runnells provide any real-world examples or evidence of inspired translations, or transmitted scripture that demonstrates the validity of his opening complaint about what I see as a minor, cosmetic aspect of the Book of Mormon translation? Are any of his complaints about Joseph Smith accompanied by any demonstration of how actual prophets have behaved or should behave? Does he have evidence that translation from ancient languages to a modern high language is more successful when it completely ignores existing translations of the same or related material? Does the New Testament demonstrate utter perfection in quoting the Old Testament or does it contain Septuagint errors? Does the King James Translation utterly ignore the earlier Tyndale translation? Would there be any advantage in ignoring existing translations of the same material? Would a use of a well-known, existing translation impede readers in the task of coming to recognize [Page 186]and comprehend what they encounter? Do the practical issues in the translation and transmission of writing from one culture to another through any human-involved means suggest that perfect translation is even possible? Does the Bible display this theoretical perfection either in its internal quotations, different accounts of the same events, or in the manuscript history or in the different translations? And, if Joseph was perpetuating a fraud, does it make sense that he would plagiarize the one source his readers were sure to recognize and regard with some heightened value?

We don’t know where Joseph got his translation from. We don’t know anything about it other than it was called “reformed Egyptian”.  With the Bible, we can see the Septuagint, compare it and know that it had errors because we can compare it to other translations. We know nothing about the Book of Mormon. These kinds of speculations are non productive and rather silly. All of the Bible translations are based on older documents or documents from other languages. Real documents that can be checked. This is not the case with the Book of Mormon so Christensen’s rant above is totally irrelevant to any discussion about translation. Christensen then asks:

For all these questions, the answer is no. But Runnells neither asks nor answers them. Does this save trouble, or cause it?

How can Christensen know what Joseph would or would not do? Why did he make John C. Bennett his Counselor in the First Presidency when he supposedly knew he was a scoundrel? That was pretty stupid. Why did he translate the Book of Mormon with the same peepstone he used to hunt buried treasure when he knew what people would think about that? Why do you think they renamed it the “urim and thummim” and Joseph invented the “interpreters”? Why did he give Martin Harris the 116 pages when God supposedly told him no three times?

Joseph Smith claimed that the Book of Mormon was translated by the “gift and power of God”. Here is how the Joseph Smith Papers define the word “translate” in relation to what Joseph Smith supposedly did:

To produce a new text through a revelatory, rather than scholarly, process, by the “gift and power of God.” In the Book of Mormon, the ancient prophet Mosiah translated records into his own language using “interpreters,” or “two stones which was fastened into the two rims of a bow.” According to the account, the possessor of the instrument was called a seer. On 6 April 1830, a revelation stated that JS would be known not only as a revelator, but also as a seer and a translator. JS stated that he was directed to translate the Book of Mormon from gold plates buried in a hill near his home. Buried with the plates were “two stones in silver bows,” which fastened to a breastplate and were later referred to by the biblical term Urim and Thummim. JS was instructed to use these stones “for the purpose of translating the book.” As he translated, JS dictated to scribes.Emma Smith recalled that JS used the Urim and Thummim for the first part of the translation and another seer stone for the remaining portion. Other accounts reported that JS translated by looking at the stone or stones, which he placed in a hat to reduce exterior light. JS worked on the translation of the gold plates until summer 1829. From June 1830 to July 1833, he worked on a revision or translation of the Bible, using the King James Bible rather than ancient writings as his original text. His work included both revisions and, especially within the book of Genesis, lengthy expansions. There are no reports that JS used a stone in his translation of the Bible. In July 1835, after members of the church purchased several ancient Egyptian papyrus scrolls, JS commenced translating some of the characters and stated that one of the scrolls contained the writings of the biblical prophet Abraham. JS worked intermittently on translating some of the papyri for the remainder of the year, though his exact process of translating is unclear.Portions of this translation were first published in March 1842. JS and other church members, as encouraged by an 1833 revelation, also sought to gain more conventional translation skills through the academic study of other languages, including Greek, Hebrew, and German.

Nothing about how ancient prophets behaved. This only claims that Mosiah translated records into his own language using stone spectacles. Of course we don’t have any of the original documents to compare Smith’s translation to. Notice that they say that Smith translated through a “revelatory, rather than scholarly process”.  So why is what Christensen claiming relevant at all? It isn’t. He is describing a scholarly process and trying to apply that to a “revelatory process”. This is disingenuous and simply a diversion from the real issue. That is why he wanted to separate the two at the beginning of his essay.

Smith “translates” the King James Bible into what? Based on what? The JSP claim that “his work included both revisions” and “lengthy expansions. So how is this translating  in any sense of the word? Again, the 1828 definition states that translate means,

To interpret; to render into another language; to express the sense of one language in the words of another.

How does one “translate” an English Bible into English? This is not translation, it is simply Smith adding his own words to the Bible, or in some cases subtracting what he didn’t like. He even wrote a whole chapter in Genesis about himself. This is not any kind of translation.

Part III: Lowered Expectations

On Prophets and Translations

Christensen starts off this section with,

Runnells complains about Joseph Smith as a prophet, but he never bothers to define what a prophet In should be, and therefore, he does not inquire into what we should expect from one. Based on the arguments he offers his implicit definition is that prophets ought to be perfect, God’s sock-puppets, and never ought to do or say or permit anything that violate Runnell’s own unexamined expectations from what he learned by attending Sacrament Meetings.

Wow. Where is he getting this stuff from? This is simply another one of Christensen’s many strawman arguments. In Debunking Fair, the word perfect isn’t used by Jeremy about the Book of Mormon translation, it is used by FAIRMORMON! Jeremy wrote,

FairMormon says…

If Joseph copied Biblical passages during the Book of Mormon translation to represent ideas expresses by Isaiah (as suggested in the September 1977 Ensign), then it is understandable that he changed or corrected some of these instances during his work on the “Joseph Smith Translation” of the Bible. Joseph did not claim to be mechanically preserving some hypothetically ‘perfect’ Biblical text. Rather, Joseph used the extant King James text as a basis for commentary, expansion, and clarification based upon revelation, with particular attention to issues of doctrinal importance for the modern reader. Modern readers are accustomed to thinking of a ‘translation’ as only the conversion of text in one language to another. But, Joseph used the term in a broader and more inclusive sense, which included explanation, commentary, and harmonization. The JST is probably best understood in this light.

Jeremy has never claimed that Smith restored a “perfect” Biblical text when he corrected the KJV of the Bible. Jeremy’s reply was,

Contrary to FairMormon’s assertion above that God himself revealed the 1769 KJV errors to Joseph, FairMormon is conceding here that Joseph copied KJV text over to the Book of Mormon.

According to the above-referenced September 1977 Ensign, Joseph Smith was sitting there translating the Book of Nephi when he recognized the text as Isaiah, stopped the translation, put down his hat and magical rock, picked up his 1769 KJV Bible, and copied over the Isaiah verses including its unique 1769 KJV errors and italics into the “most correct book” Book of Mormon.

Am I really supposed to take this seriously?

Why would Joseph need to do this? How does it make any sense that Joseph stops translation coming direct from God to grab errors and italics from a book that has been corrupted over the centuries through numerous translations? A Bible that Joseph later pointed to as needing correction and which he “corrected” in his “inspired” translation of the Bible?

In any event, this scenario is contradicted by eyewitness accounts of the translation process, as well as the process described by the Church’s December 2013 Gospel Topics article.

“Modern readers are accustomed to thinking of a ‘translation’ as only the conversion of text in one language to another.”

This make sense, given the multitude of sources (including the Church-sanctioned Gospel Topics article) supporting a “tight” translation method, including the following account from David Whitmer:

“Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear.”

– Quoted in Elder Russell M. Nelson’s “A Treasured Testament”

If the Bible verses were good enough for the “most correct book,” there is no reason to change them in the JST of the Bible (other than to obfuscate the plagiarism). If Joseph was trying to make the Bible more correct, he would not change something that was correct according to Isaiah.

As I have stated in the CES Letter:

Joseph Smith corrected the Bible. In doing so, he also corrected the same identical passage in the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is “the most correct book” and was translated a mere decade before the JST. The Book of Mormon was not corrupted over time and did not need correcting. How is it that the Book of Mormon still has the incorrect passage and does not match the JST in the first place?

Does Christensen deal with these issues? No. He goes off on a tangent of trying to define what he thinks a prophet should be. He then expounds on his own expectations:

For my part, I did spend considerable time figuring out what I should expect, and in the process I discovered twenty-eight Biblical tests for discerning true and false prophets. I find that they set my expectations in a very different way. For example:

We are men of like passions with you. (Acts 14:15)

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8)

Here is still another of Christensen’s straw men. It seems he doesn’t know the difference between personal infallibility and doctrinal infallibility when men speak by the “power of the Holy Ghost”, which is what Jeremy was getting at.

What does having sin have to do with translating something? What does having passions have to do with translating something? Remember, Smith said I never told you I was perfect (a man of passions, etc) but there are NO ERRORS in the revelations I have taught. Mormon apologists can’t seem to grasp that this is broken up into two parts: personal faults, and what they teach. Smith claims faults but does not extend that to his “revelations”.

At we read,

It is the making known of divine truth by communication with the heavens and consists not only of revelation of the plan of salvation to the Lord’s prophets but also a confirmation in the hearts of the believers that the revelation to the prophets is true. It also consists of individual guidance for every person who seeks for it and follows the prescribed course of faith, repentance, and obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. “The Holy Ghost is a revelator,” said Joseph Smith, and “no man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations” (HC 6:58). Without revelation, all would be guesswork, darkness, and confusion. 

Here we see that the Mormon Church proclaims that what their “prophets” reveal is the opposite of any guesswork, darkness or confusion, and that “the revelation to the prophets is true.” It does not mention anything about men’s “passions” interfering with that revelation. In the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants we read,

Because of the weakness and imperfections of human nature, and the great frailties of man; for such is the weakness of man, and such his frailties, that he is liable to sin continually, and if God were not long suffering, and full of compassion, gracious and merciful and of a forgiving disposition, man would be cut off from before him in consequence of which, he would be in continual doubt and could not exercise faith: for where doubt is, there faith has no power, but by man’s believing that God is full of compassion and forgiveness, long suffering and slow to anger, he can exercise faith in him and overcome doubt, so as to be exceedingly strong. (1835 Doctrine and Covenants, page 43)

Christensen then asks,

How does Joseph Smith himself set our expectations both for himself and for his translation?

I told them I was but a man, and they must not expect me to be perfect; if they expected perfection from me, I should expect it from them; but if they would bear with my infirmities and the infirmities of the brethren, I would likewise bear with their infirmities.

But Joseph Smith also said, “I never told you I was perfect but there are NO ERRORS in the revelations that I have taught.” (I will keep repeating this until it sinks in). It is obvious that Smith separated his personal weaknesses from his “revelations”, something that Christensen is unwilling or unable to comprehend. He then tries to shift this to Smith’s ability to translate:

In discussing a passage in Malachi, Joseph Smith comments that ”I might have rendered a plainer translation to this, but it is sufficiently plain to suit my purposes as it stands.” (D&C 128:18).

So? What was Smith “translating”? He writes,

And again, in connection with this quotation I will give you a quotation from one of the prophets, who had his eye fixed on the restoration of the priesthood, the glories to be revealed in the last days, and in an especial manner this most glorious of all subjects belonging to the everlasting gospel, namely, the baptism for the dead; for Malachi says, last chapter, verses 5th and 6th: Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

The place  to make this change would have been Smith’s Inspired Version of the Bible, but it reads:

1 For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.

2 But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.

3 And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts.

4 Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.

5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord;

6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

If there was a “plainer translation”, why didn’t Smith include it there? Because he hadn’t thought of Baptism for the dead at that time. Smith’s “plainer translation” didn’t come until 1838 when he began rewriting his history.  He has Moroni quoting this passage of scripture:

“And he shall plant in the hearts of the Children the promises made to the fathers, and the  hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers, if it were not so the whole earth would be  utterly wasted at his coming.”

Christensen throws things out there, but it is obvious that he is not familiar with the very argument he is trying to make here. (Which isn’t Jeremy’s argument, but I am responding to it anyway).

This is Smith’s “plainer translation” that he didn’t quote in 1842. But as you can see, it wasn’t in Smith’s “inspired version”. Christensen continues,

In D&C 1 as part of a formal statement of “the authority of my servants” (v. 6) God declares that the revelations “were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding. And inasmuch as they erred, it might be made known.” (D&C 1:24–25). Notice that this formal statement of the “authority of my servants” describes the Church as in process, not as a stasis.

These passages introduce a different expectation, one that actually gives evidence of Joseph’s robust, tolerant, and open-ended attitude about himself and his own translations and revelations, which he felt free to edit. If a prophet can accomplish what is “expedient,” a word that appears many times in the Doctrine and Covenants, he can serve God’s purposes, which according to Isaiah 55:8–11, are concerned with long-term processes. If a translation is good enough, sufficient, it does not have to be perfect. If a translation is imperfect, then there is nothing wrong with improving it later.

Who is Christensen trying to kid here? All one has to do is read until the end of the “revelation” to see that Christensen is simply wrong. It states in Verse 37:

37 Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled.

 38 What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.

39 For behold, and lo, the Lord is God, and the Spirit beareth record, and the record is true, and the truth abideth forever and ever. Amen.

So is Christensen saying that God (who gave the translation to Smith) is not perfect and that the record is kinda true? Smith here states that “the record is true,” and that what the Lord has spoken through his servants is the same as Him speaking. Of course God is going to speak “in the manner of their language”. Is he going to speak to them in Arabic? Chineese? French? The “revelation” states that the commandments were given to His servants “in their weakness”. Compared to God, men are weak. So? Does that mean they were transcribed wrongly? Verses 37-39 dispel that notion. Christensen simply wants to have it both ways:

If we consider Joseph Smith’s productions against the real-world examples of purportedly scriptural texts, we have the advantage of building our expectations upon a solid foundation, rather than airy supposition. John Welch in Illuminating the Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount discusses several related translation issues.

Interesting that Christensen would relegate statements by Mormon “authorities” to “airy supposition”, because that it what he is ultimately doing. But what was Smith “translating” from? God did not give Smith his “revelations” in Hebrew and then have him translate them (actual translating) into English. Christensen’s whole argument here is ridiculous. We don’t have the Book of Mormon plates, nor do we have any discoveries of the language they were supposedly translated into, to make any kind of comparison as we do with the Biblical texts. He continues:

Hugh Nibley has suggested several other reasons that made the use of King James style important, if not necessary. One reason was Joseph’s audience: “When Jesus and the Apostles and, for that matter, the Angel Gabriel quote the [Hebrew] scriptures in the New Testament, do they recite from some mysterious Urtext? Do they quote the prophets of old in the ultimate original? … No, they do not. They quote the Septuagint, a Greek version of the Old Testament prepared in the third century B.C. Why so? Because that happened to be the received standard version of the Bible accepted by the readers of the Greek New Testament.”

So? It is what it is. Joseph claimed to have the actual record, but never produces it. God supposedly preserved it, but only for him alone to see? Why then, isn’t this a precedent for all of God’s scriptures? This was Joseph’s argument for the Book of Abraham, that God had preserved (miraculously) the very papyri that Abraham wrote on. We now know that Joseph simply made that up. When we have records of Smith’s “translations”, he fails miserably as a translator. They only reason why Christensen and other apologists can even make an argument with the Book of Mormon is that we do not have the original record, and there is no discovery anywhere that can confirm the “caractors” that Smith claimed came from the plates. Also, the argument isn’t about the style of the KJV. It is about why the errors were included in the Book of Mormon translation which Christensen still has not answered with any compelling argument. He then speculates:

Another reason for the use of the style of the King James Version was the nature of the record: “The scriptures were probably in old-fashioned language the day they were written down.”

How can he even postulate this when he has no way of knowing? This is simply speculation and his whole argument is based on it.

Furthermore, “by frankly using that idiom, the Book of Mormon avoids the necessity of having to be redone into ’modern English’ every thirty or forty years.”

This is simply irrelevant. The Book of Mormon has to be translated into dozens of other languages, doesn’t it? This is a very weak argument.

To such points, other explanations may be added, but the foregoing seem sufficient.

Hardly. But this seems to be all he’s got. We then have Christensen trying to prop up Smith’s “New Translation” of the Bible or the “Inspired Version”. He begins by stating:

The King James idiom yields a good translation of both the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon at the Temple. In fact, a study of the Greek vocabulary used in Matthew 5–7 will show that in most cases, the traditional English translation is rather straightforward. The syntax of most of the sentences is relatively simple, the expressions are direct, and most of the words and phrases have obvious and adequate primary choices in English as their translation [Page 189](although their meaning and implications still remain profound).

Again, irrelevant. If Christensen can show that this is why Joseph chose that style, then fine but there is no evidence that he wrote that way for those reasons. It is far more convincing that he simply copied passages out of the KJV and used that style to make the BOM appear more “scriptural”. We know this because Joseph Smith at that time was not familiar with Greek or Hebrew, so how could he make that determination? As Kevin L. Barney wrote,

Holding to the more traditional Mormon view that the JST provides a restoration of ancient text presents important difficulties. First, the restorationist view assumes that ancient texts can be restored by inspiration. Considering this claim is beyond the scope of this essay. A second problem is not so easily set aside. The restorationist view assumes that at some point the original text was substantially corrupted. Some LDS exegetes have hypothesized deliberate and widespread textual corruptions early enough to be incorporated into the earliest biblical manuscripts that have survived.5 Since the original autographs are irrecoverable, this assertion cannot be completely disproved, but it has been weakened by the discovery of Hebrew texts dating from the second century B.C., which support the basic integrity of the later Old Testament manuscripts. Some New Testament manuscripts date to the fourth, third, and even second centuries A.D. This means the window of time in which the textual corruptions could have occurred is increasingly narrow and the likelihood that the JST represents restorations of the original text extremely slim. (The Word of God, p. 145).

Still, Christensen claims:

If I approach Joseph’s translations with a view to finding evidence of real inspiration, rather than perfection, my attention will move in different directions. I might end up noticing and valuing this discussion by Welch in his next chapter.

Again, the “perfection” strawman.

In one important passage, manuscript evidence favors the Sermon at the Temple, and it deserves recognition. The kjv of Matthew 5:22 reads, “Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause [eikei] shall be in danger of the judgment” (italics added). The Sermon at the Temple drops the phrase without a cause (3 Nephi 12:22). So do many of the better early manuscripts.

This favorable evidence for the Sermon at the Temple has the support of reliable sources.

Should we start listing from the Inspired Version all of the instances where Smith got it wrong? I can think of a dozen of them off hand. This shows that there was no consistency here with Smith and so this is simply an instance of where Joseph dropped a phrase that was not in the original manuscripts. He went over the whole Bible. There were bound to be some of these. Remember what Hugh Nibley said above?

While lacking unanimous consensus in the early manuscripts of the Sermon on the Mount (which is not unusual), the [Page 190]absence of the phrase “without a cause” is evidenced by the following manuscripts: p64, p67, Sinaiticus (original hand), Vaticanus, some minuscules, the Latin Vulgate (Jerome mentions that it was not found in the oldest manuscripts known to him), the Ethiopic texts, the Gospel of the Nazarenes, Justin, Tertullian, Origen, and others. One may count as compelling all readings that are supported by “the best Greek MSS—by the 200 ce p64 (where it is extant) and by at least the two oldest uncials, as well as some minuscules, [especially if] it also has some Latin, Syriac, Coptic, and early patristic support.” A survey of the list of manuscripts supporting the Sermon at the Temple and the original absence of the phrase without a cause in Matthew 5:22 shows that this shorter reading meets these criteria.

Moreover, this textual difference in the Greek manuscripts of the Sermon on the Mount is the only variant that has a significant impact on meaning. It is much more severe to say, “Whoever is angry is in danger of the judgment,” than to say, “Whoever is angry without a cause is in danger of the judgment.” The first discourages all anger against a brother; the second permits brotherly anger as long as it is justifiable. The former is more like the demanding sayings of Jesus regarding committing adultery in one’s heart (see Matthew 5:28) and loving one’s enemies (see Matthew 5:44), neither of which offers the disciple a convenient loophole of self-justification or rationalization. Indeed, as Wernberg-Møller points out, the word eikei in Matthew 5:22 may reflect a Semitic idiom that does not invite allowance for “’just’ anger in certain circumstances” at all, but “is original and echoes some Aramaic phrase, condemning anger as sinful in any case” and “as alluding to … the harboring of angry feelings for any length of time.” In light of Wernberg-Møller’s interpretation of the underlying idiom, the original sense of Matthew 5:22 is accurately reflected in the Sermon at the Temple whether eikei is included in the Greek saying or not.

Stan Larsen has adequately rebutted these claims by Welch in his article, from New Approaches to the Book of Mormon:

Welch argues that this passage fulfills my criteria and should be included with the eight examples: “While lacking unanimous consensus in the early manuscripts (which is not unusual), the absence of the phrase ‘without a cause’ from the Sermon on the Mount is evidenced by manuscripts p64, p67, Sinaiticus (original hand), Vaticanus, some minuscules, the Latin Vulgate (Jerome mentions that it was not found in the oldest manuscripts known to him), Justin, Tertullian, Origen, and others.… A check of the list of manuscripts supporting the Sermon at the Temple [Book of Mormon] and the original absence of the phrase ‘without a cause’ in Matthew 5:22 shows that this shorter reading meets Larson’s criteria” (1990, 162).

On the contrary, this passage does not meet the criteria which were used to select my eight examples: Augustinus Merk prints eike ‘without a cause’ with brackets in his text, and there is absolutely no support from family 1, the Syriac, and the Coptic. Welch is mistaken in citing [p.128] both p64 and p67 as different documents, since the “two” papyri are simply two numbers for different parts of the same papyrus (Roca-Puig 1962, 63-64). Thus Matthew 5:22 was eliminated from consideration with the eight secure examples. However, since it is the one Book of Mormon example which has been used as strong evidence for the Book of Mormon’s antiquity, it will perhaps be useful to examine it in detail (Welch 1977, 47; cf. Matthews 1975, 251).

The absence or presence of eike at Matthew 5:22 is a genuinely ambiguous case, with significant evidence on both sides of the question. Welch has already given the evidence for its omission. Its presence is supported by the remainder of the uncials and minuscules, most of the Old Latin manuscripts (including the important Codex Bobiensis), three manuscripts of the Vulgate, all the Syriac versions (including the important Sinaitic Syriac), both the Sahidic and the Bohairic versions, Irenaeus, part of Origen, and Cyprian (Black 1988, 5-6). Also, the presence of homoeoarchton, which is an accidental error caused by the eye skipping from the beginning of one word to the same beginning in another word, favors the original presence of eike. The skip would have been from the epsilon at the beginning of eike to the epsilon at the beginning of the next word, that is, from eike to enochos.

Due to this uncertainty, a decision concerning the reading remains tentative. Accordingly, Merk shows due caution in bracketing eike because there is not a clear-cut case concerning “without a cause” at Matthew 5:22. In view of the equivocal nature of the textual evidence the editors of the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament in their four-level system of grading the relative degree of certainty concerning the originality of a reading ranked the absence of eike as a C-rating. Consequently, though the case is not clear-cut and there is evidence that it may be an accidental omission in the Greek, on balance I would lean to the opinion that eike “without a cause” was not originally at Matthew 5:22.

The absence of eike was known before 1830 when the Book of Mormon appeared, since it was discussed by Desiderius Erasmus, John Mill, Johann Wettstein, Johann Gilesbach, and Andreas Birch in reference to the Greek text, not translated in William Tyndale’s New Testament from 1526 to 1535, and popularized by various English writers. For example, the Methodist writer, Adam Clarke, whose multi-volume biblical commentary was first published in London in 1810 with at least ten American printings and editions in New York from 1811 to 1829, suggested that it was a marginal gloss which later entered into the text (Clarke 1825). It is interesting that Clarke favors the omission of eike at Matthew 5:22 and the retention of the doxology at Matthew 6:13 and that the Book of Mormon follows Clarke’s decision in these two passages. However, not too much significance [p.129] should be attached to this agreement since Clarke appears to favor the omission of tois archaiois at Matthew 5:27 and the omission of en to phanero at Matthew 6:18, and the Book of Mormon does not have these omissions. However, the Book of Mormon omission of “without a cause” need not depend on any of these sources, since the phrase could have been deleted simply because it detracted from the strength of Jesus’ command against anger. It has been suggested that the ancient support which this Book of Mormon deletion received could be due to “a coincidence caused by a problem with the wording of the KJV” (Barney 1986, 89). Since there could be coincidental agreement, the same omission in two separate texts is not significant in establishing a connection between them. What is important in textual criticism is the same distinctive addition, peculiar error, or the same alternate reading.

It is significant to note that among the thirty-eight known variants and sub-variants of these eight secure examples, the Book of Mormon always aligns itself with the derivative text found in the Textus Receptus which was printed by Stephanus in 1550 and never agrees with either the original text or any of the other known variant readings. If the Book of Mormon were a genuinely ancient text, it would not always be expected to side with what modern scholarship concludes is the original text, but certainly there ought to be some agreement. Just as a careful comparison of Gabriel Sionita’s 1633 Harclean Syriac Apocalypse discloses his conjectural emendations, which were based on late Erasmian Greek and Clementine Vulgate texts, so an exhaustive examination reveals that this Book of Mormon sermon depends on the 1550 Textus Receptus, as relied on by the English text of the KJV. (Brent Metcalfe, New Approaches to the Book of Mormon, p. 127-129)

Another example of Smith’s changes to the New Testament is Luke 10:22:

KJV: All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.(Luke 10:22)

JST: All things are delivered to me of my Father; and no man knoweth that the Son is the Father, and the Father is the Son, but him to whom the Son will reveal it.(Luke 10:22, Joseph Smith Translation, emphasis mine)

Not one ancient manuscript agrees with this change. It radically changes the verse into something that it was never intended to say.  See Joel Groat’s analysis of the JST and the many errors that Joseph Smith made here.

In my estimation, this textual variant in favor of the Sermon at the Temple is very meaningful. The removal of without a cause has important moral, behavioral, psychological, and religious ramifications, as it is the [Page 191]main place where a significant textual change from the kjv was in fact needed and delivered.

Again, how many were not as Larsen states above? This is simply hit and miss with Joseph Smith and so cannot be taken seriously. As Stan Larson wrote in New Approaches to the Book of Mormon,

The comparison is complicated by the Book of Mormon’s connection to the King James Version of the Bible (KJV). Since about the turn of the twentieth century, Mormon writers have suggested that Smith quoted directly from the KJV of Matthew when dictating the Book of Mormon account of Jesus’ sermon. B. H. Roberts of the First Council of Seventy said that Smith “adopted our English translation” (B. Roberts 1904, 184; cf. Ostler 1987, 78). Sidney B. Sperry, Brigham Young University professor of religion, suggested that Smith used the KJV word for word “as long as the Sermon in the familiar rendering of Matthew 5-7 agreed substantially with the Nephite version” (1947, 190; 1967, 112). Hugh Nibley concurred that as long as the KJV “is correct there is every reason why it should be followed” (1961, 10; 1989, 215).

Such views imply that where the KJV has an incorrect text, it should not have been followed in the Book of Mormon. Thus Sperry maintained that in such cases Smith would have corrected the wording of the KJV “to conform with the text before him on the metal plates” (Sperry 1947, 190; 1967, 112). Roberts similarly affirmed that Smith first compared the KJV to the Book of Mormon records, and “when he found the sense of the passage on the Nephite plates superior to that in the English version he made such changes as would give the superior sense and clearness” (B. Roberts 1904, 191).

Sperry went on to argue that if the Book of Mormon should fail to make such corrections and instead copy corruptions or errors which accumulated over the centuries, then it “should be thrown out of court” because this “would be plain evidence that Joseph Smith did not translate from a really ancient text.” In this context Sperry asserted that textual criticism could cast considerable light on “the asserted antiquity” of the Book of Mormon, since “critical tests can be most subtle and powerful in probing for slips on the part of unlearned impostors who offer amended biblical texts for the examination of the public” (1947, 171; 1967, 91). Nibley concurred that “one of the best established disciplines in the world is the critical examination of written texts to detect what in them is spurious and what is genuine” (1953, 830; 1989, 55). This is [p.117] because the most significant indication used by textual critics in tracing relationships between documents is errors, since coincidental agreement is ruled out when two documents have the same telltale mistakes.

It is possible to identify places where errors, revisions, and additions have crept into the KJV. Published in 1611, the KJV relies on the Greek text of the New Testament available in the late sixteenth century. In the 381 years since then, hundreds of better and more ancient Greek, Latin, Syriac, and Coptic manuscripts have been discovered and brought us closer to the original Matthean text. This means that it is possible—given the opportunity of comparing the versions of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and 3 Nephi—to make tentative judgments about whether the Book of Mormon stands up to the tests of historicity Roberts, Sperry, and Nibley proposed. If the Book of Mormon varies from both the KJV and the earliest texts, one cannot pronounce judgment on the Book of Mormon version, since the Book of Mormon variation could be specific to its audience and setting in the New World. However, if the Book of Mormon text departs from the errors of the KJV and agrees with the most original Matthean texts, it supports the claim that the Book of Mormon is a genuine translation of an ancient document. On the other hand, if the Book of Mormon text sides with the later Greek text as seen in the KJV, this dependence would be strong evidence against its historicity. The reason for this is that the Book of Mormon on the American continent should know nothing of changes and additions to the Sermon on the Mount made in the Old World centuries after the original sermon, but should be a direct link to the real words of Jesus. (Brent Metcalfe, New Approaches to the Book of Mormon, p.116)

Stan Larsen concludes,

We need not agree that Book of Mormon dependence on errors in the KJV Sermon on the Mount “casts suspicion on the whole” text of the Book of Mormon. My conclusions are confined to 3 Nephi 12-14. On purely text-critical grounds, the historicity of 3 Nephi 12-14 is suspect. Nowhere in the Book of Mormon version of Jesus’ sermon is there any indisputable evidence of its being a translation from an ancient document (Ashment 1980). One can never prove that something did not happen. All that can be said is that there is no evidence to substantiate the view that the Book of Mormon records a real visit by the resurrected Jesus to the place called Bountiful in the Book of Mormon. 56). (Brent Metcalfe, New Approaches to the Book of Mormon, p.133),

Here is one scholar that has read Nibley and other Mormon apologists and comes to the same conclusion as Jeremy Runnells about 3 Nephi. Is Larsen also to be considered a “brittle Anti-Mormon”? Christensen writes,

Welch discusses some King James errors repeated in 3 Nephi but does so without scandal because, quite frankly, none of them change the meaning significantly. And the larger context of 3 Nephi 8-29 demonstrates remarkable inspiration in disclosing the temple background of the Sermon on the Mount. Welch’s approach was impressive enough that a non-LDS press published his work as applied to the Sermon in Matthew.17 Welch does not ignore the errors, but he doesn’t grant them the decisive status or sole focus that Runnells does. Plus Welch makes several observations that support the Joseph Smith claims of having provided an inspired translation, which need not be a perfect translation, nor oblige the reader to bring infallible perception and comprehension to their reading.

Several LDS writers have closely examined Joseph Smith’s translations, including John Tvedtnes, Royal Skousen, John Welch, Ben McGuire, and Brant Gardner. They have highlighted important information worth careful consideration. Runnells does not so much as mention the existence of their findings. It is not ad hominem to observe that Runnells treats a few King James errors as “damning” and “totally undermining” Joseph’s claims regarding a translation. He has decided that such apparent imperfections as he presents are, by themselves, decisively important. He completely ignores all LDS scholarship that gives any evidence suggesting authentic translation.

We have seen that Welch’s argument is not significant. How can one know if a text is “authentic” without the original document or no other writings to confirm that there was a language called “reformed Egyptian”?. We have the example of Larsen above. The best one can do is speculate. Apologists can speculate as to why Joseph copied whole sections of the Bible into the Book of Mormon, but that is all they can do. Though the “evidence” spoken of by Christensen produced by other Apologists may be interesting to some, it is ultimately just exercises in futility and a prop for the faithful. For example, there were many Bible critics that claimed that Isaiah was a conflated document even at the time of Christ. But with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls  we know that this isn’t the case. But that only advances our knowledge back to the time of Christ. But other historical events are verified in Isaiah, while there are none at all for the Book of Mormon, except where Smith copied or took information from the Bible. Again, Christensen:

Think about why. Where is there any manuscript evidence that demonstrates in practice, and not just in theory, that when God is involved to some degree in the transmission and translation of a sacred text, we can know this because all [Page 192]known manuscripts and transmissions are completely perfect, error free, never dependent on any previous translations, and are always mutually consistent without any variation or editing whatsoever? Does Runnells provide any hard evidence to back up the theory?

This is still Christensen’s strawman. Jeremy does not make this assertion. It is ridiculous at its core and is simply a caricature of what Jeremy states in his works. The Book of Mormon can’t be classed with those translations because it was claimed to have been given to Joseph Smith by “the gift and power of God” word for word.

But Christensen can’t shut up about it. He continues to hammer this point, this deceptive point throughout his long diatribe:

For that matter, is there any such evidence that he could have offered if he tried? Anywhere? It also turns out that had he paused long enough to clearly state that his argument depends entirely on these unstated conditions that he would also open them to critical examination. And that would not do. Who wants to publish a web document declaring that “Joseph Smith and various unofficial apologists have failed to live up to my completely unrealistic expectations.”

Let’s be clear here, these are actually Christensen’s and Joseph Smith’s unrealistic expectations that he puts on Jeremy. This may be his opinion of what Jeremy published, but that is not what he actually published. What Jeremy “expects” is really irrelevant. It is the substance of his concerns that warrants answers. Notice how Christensen keeps weaving in the stawmen arguments as he goes along.

The New Testament itself provides examples of how Jesus and his apostles and the occasional angel all quote the commonly used Septuagint, variants, errors, and all. As Nibley and Welch and others have pointed out, Joseph Smith’s modes and means of translation have ample biblical precedent.

Not really. Smith is actually quoting himself, a work that he produced, and for which there is no proof that it is genuine. Jesus was primarily a teacher, and expounded on the existing scripture of the day. Smith introduced new scripture that he wrote himself using a peepstone. Did Jesus and his apostles do this? No, they wrote letters and preached and quoted the Law and the prophets.

The Greek Septuagint was a translation from the Hebrew texts (Masoretic), and the Dead Sea Scrolls and fragments are closer to the MT than to any other texts that have survived. We have something to compare the Septuagint against. Joseph Smith’s was a translation from what? Mysterious gold plates that he claimed to discover by way of a peepstone that no one else ever saw (as is still being debated). What do we have to compare Smith’s translation with? Nothing.

As Thomas Kuhn says, ”In short, consciously or not, the decision to employ a particular piece of apparatus and to use it in a particular way carries an assumption that only certain sorts of circumstances will arise.” What if the circumstances you are testing for are completely unfounded? What if, as Jesus says, the problem is the beam in your own eye? What if the experiment is poorly designed, due to unrealistic expectations? What if the focus on flaws-as-decisive has the effect of distracting a person from far more fruitful investigations and evidence?

Kuhn’s observation is one way to look at it but can be turned on Christensen and Mormon apologists as well. . But that was not Jeremys purpose. His purpose was to get answers to troubling questions about issues that concerned him. He was a believing Mormon that understood the “faithful” evidence”, because he had been a member for years and kept mostly to the correlated/approved material he was given. He was a returned missionary who served in New York during the 911 attacks, and 6th generation Mormon. He went to B.Y.U. Since he could get no answers to his questions from Mormon “authorities”, he went elsewhere to find them.  He sent a letter to a CES Director who promised to get back to him with answers, but never did.  Perhaps if Christensen wants to better understand Jeremy he should listen to his Mormon Stories interview with John Dehlin, where Jeremy explains how great his experience was in the Church and how he stayed faithful and believing even after being blessed by a Mormon General Authority that his hearing would be restored and it was not. This is not a person who is brittle and their faith shatters easily. Christensen would have you believe this, but it is not true.

Christensen’s invented narrative, that Jeremy is a brittle person who never really bothered to investigate the issues is patently false.

Tracing the Various “Caractors” Documents

4 CaractorsPart III of 19th Century Photo of Joseph Smith’s “Caractors” Discovered

If you missed the Introduction or Part I or Part II of this Article, just click on the respective link.

After finishing his translation of the Book of Mormon Joseph Smith spoke little about the events surrounding its origins, the original manuscripts or the copies he made of the characters he claimed were taken from the gold plates.

A little more than a year after the Book of Mormon was published, at an 1831 Church conference in Orange, Ohio, Joseph’s older brother Hyrum,

said that he thought best that the information of the coming forth of the book of Mormon be related by Joseph himself to the Elders present that all might know for themselves.

Joseph’s answer was no.  He then explained,

that it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the book of Mormon, & also said that it was not expedient for him to relate these things &c. . . .[143]

Joseph Smith & Oliver Cowdery

Joseph Smith & Oliver Cowdery

Less than a year later (in the summer of 1832) Joseph would privately attempt to write up those “particulars”, but abandoned that history after only six pages.  In the intervening years up to his death Joseph would show the Book of Mormon characters to certain individuals, but he seldom elaborated about them in public or in private (that we have record of); and gave conflicting details about when he copied and translated them in his 1838 official history. On the introductory page of the Joseph Smith Papers website they write that,

Smith understood early on that he must keep an account, even though his training did not qualify him to write such a record himself. He had only a modest education and no literary aspirations. He keenly felt the limitations of writing.[144]

In a letter to W.W. Phelps written after his first attempt at penning his history, Joseph lamented:

“Oh Lord God deliver us in thy due time from the little narrow prison almost as it were totel darkness of paper pen and ink and a crooked broken scattered and imperfect language.”[145]

This frustration that Smith felt may have been one reason for abandoning the 1832 history.  On April 6, 1830, Oliver Cowdery was assigned to keep the records of the newly organized Church, and thus began his own history, helped along by Joseph. Joseph had relied on Oliver as his chief scribe for the Book of Mormon manuscript and to help him with literary projects, and later on others:

Only gradually did Smith establish a pattern of assigning scribes to work on histories, journals, letters, minutes, and other documents. Spotty at first, his record keeping eventually settled into more consistent patterns. By the early 1840s, he and his clerks were composing a comprehensive history, keeping a continuous diary, accumulating minutes from meetings and councils, preserving correspondence, and taking notes of many of his numerous discourses.[146]

John Whitmer

John Whitmer

One of Joseph’s early scribes was John Whitmer. John was the third son of Peter and Mary Whitmer. He was born August 27, 1802, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. As a young boy he moved with his family to New York in 1809, and they settled amongst some other German families near Fayette. It was there that he learned from Oliver Cowdery and his younger brother David about Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon. With the removal of Joseph Smith from Harmony to the Whitmer home in June of 1830, John became more interested in Joseph and his translation. John was baptized that same month and would help Joseph with the translation. Smith’s official history notes that John Whitmer “assisted us very much in writing during the remainder of the work”[147]

In July, 1830 Joseph wrote these instructions to Whitmer:

Behold, I say unto you, that you shall let your time be devoted to the studying of the scriptures, and to preaching, and to confirming the church at Colesville; and to performing your labors on the land, such as is required, until after you shall go to the west, to hold the next conference; and then it shall be made known what you shall do.[148]

In July of 1830, Joseph Smith and John Whitmer “began to arrange & copy the revelations and commandments which we had received from time to time.”[149]

Revelation Book 1, Page 1 Handwriting of John Whitmer

Revelation Book 1, Page 1 Handwriting of John Whitmer

A few weeks earlier, Joseph Smith had begun to dictate what would be called his New Translation of the Bible, which was actually a revision of the King James Version of the Bible which Joseph felt had been corrupted by “ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests …”[150]

About his method of translation Richard P. Howard writes,

For Smith, translation was something very different. Through what he perceived as the power of the Holy Spirit, his mind and heart intuited language symbols and a flow of ideational content which was specified as the stories of Book of Mormon migrations, wars, and civilizations, propositional information about John the beloved, propositional truth about forms and functions of ministry and mission in the church of Jesus Christ, and divine laws and procedures by which the economic life of the community is to be governed, and on and on.

Employing his notion of translation, Smith began a task of Bible revision which was to engage his mind and energies from 1830 until his death in 1844. Of significance is the fact that his early work (summer 1830 through 7 March 1831) in Genesis was almost entirely devoted to “receiving revelations” for the benefit of the church. This carried him through Genesis 19:35. Then on 8 March he began working on the New Testament with Sidney Rigdon. At the top of the very first page of manuscript was inscribed “A Translation of the New Testament translated by the Power of God.”[151]

John Whitmer along with Sidney Rigdon and a few others, would be crucial in helping Joseph with this project.  It took three years for Joseph to complete his New Translation which totaled over four hundred pages.   According to Kent P. Jackson and Scott Faulring, John Whitmer took dictation for the following portions of the New Translation:

Genesis 4:18–5:11; Moses 5:43–6:18 21 October 1830; 30 November 1830

Moses 6:52–7:1 Between 1 December and 10 December 1830

Matthew 26:1–Mark 9:1 26 September 1831 to before 20 November 183[152]

Old Testament Manuscript 1, page 1, Handwriting of Oliver Cowdery

Old Testament Manuscript 1, page 1, Handwriting of Oliver Cowdery

The “New Translation” was written on foolscap paper, a common stock used in Europe and the British Commonwealth and in turn America in Joseph Smith’s day. A full foolscap paper sheet was actually 17 x 13 ½ in (432 x 343 mm) in size, and this was folded or cut in half to get the traditional folio size of 8 1/2 × 13 1/2 in. Joseph Smith’s Genesis revision is on a manuscript designated Old Testament Manuscript 1 (OTman1), and the part of the translation called The Book of Moses is on the first twenty-one pages, written in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery, John Whitmer, Emma Smith and Sidney Rigdon.[153]

After OTman1 was completed, a copy was made which was completed by April 5, 1831 which is now designated OTman2.[154] Whitmer had been set apart as a historian for the church on March 8, 1831 by Joseph Smith who dictated that,

John should write and keep a regular history, and assist you, my servant Joseph, in transcribing all things which shall be given you, until he is called to further duties. Again, verily I say unto you, that he can also lift up his voice in meetings, whenever it shall be expedient.[155]

Various "New Translation" Covers

Various “New Translation” Covers

As Kent Jackson and Scott Faulring explain,

That same month, [March 1831] Joseph Smith interrupted his Old Testament translation at Genesis 24 to work on the New Testament as he had been instructed in a revelation (see D&C 45:60–61). When the New Testament was finished in July 1832, he returned to finish the Old Testament. But when he did, he used OT2 rather than OT1 as the working document. It was on OT2 that he continued his translation to the end of Malachi, which he finished in July 1833. And it was on OT2 that he made additional revisions to the work in Genesis that he had already translated. When it was completed, OT2 was 119 pages long.

Unlike OT1, which was an original dictation and contains very few later changes, OT2 shows signs of subsequent correcting, editing, and emending. In the Book of Moses section (pages 1–27), some editing was done to correct copying errors or errors made when the Prophet was dictating from his Bible and his eyes skipped from one line to the next, resulting in omitted material. The manuscript shows that John Whitmer made corrections to his own copying, and Sidney Rigdon made corrections when he compared the transcription to corresponding Bible passages. OT2 contains verse divisions and verse numbers that were inserted by Joseph Smith’s clerks, as well as punctuation and capitalization changes that were made by unknown hands. [156]

Old Testament Manuscript 1, page 14, Handwriting of Emma Smith (first 3 words) and John Whitmer (rest of page)

Old Testament Manuscript 1, page 14, Handwriting of Emma Smith (first 3 words) and John Whitmer (rest of page)

These two manuscripts, according to Jackson and Faulring were kept by Joseph and in his possession throughout his life, and were among his private property when he died. [157] In January 1831 John Whitmer (who was still in New York) started a third manuscript copy of the New Translation which is now designated as OTman3, which was actually completed before OTman2. This manuscript is sixteen pages long and is also written on foolscap paper.  It covers Genesis 1:1–5:32 (Moses 1:1–8:12), which is the entire book of Moses except for the last eighteen verses.[158] According to Jackson and Faulring,

OT3 probably was created for Church purposes originally, but eventually it became Whitmer’s private copy, and it remained with him throughout his life. It was not as conscientiously transcribed as were the manuscripts he prepared after his revealed call, and it never became part of the documents that led to later publications.[159]

Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyrus #7

Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyrus #7

In the summer of 1830 when John Whitmer was assisting Joseph Smith “to arrange & copy the revelations and commandments which we had received”; no mention is made of the facsimile of the characters that Joseph said that he copied from the gold plates. Like the New Translation Manuscripts, we know by several accounts that Joseph had access to a copy of the characters that he would show people from time to time.  The first mention of the characters being shown by Joseph was in 1835, when he showed them to Michael Chandler who had in his possession some Egyptian mummies and papyrus scrolls that Joseph was interested in purchasing:

The morning Mr. Chandler first presented his papyrus to bro.-Smith, he was shown, by the latter, a number of characters like those upon the writings of Mr. C. which were previously copied from the plates, containing the history of the Nephites, or book of Mormon.[160]

Not long after Joseph Smith showed the Book of Mormon characters to Michael Chandler both Oliver Cowdery and Frederick G. Williams produced translation documents that supposedly utilized characters from the gold plates. These documents date to about December, 1835 according to Edward H. Ashment:

Frederick G. Williams Document - front

Frederick G. Williams Document – front

Frederick G. Williams Document - back

Frederick G. Williams Document – back

Both Cowdery and Williams served as scribes to Smith from 1832 to 1835. Cowdery’s tenure effectively ceased in late October 1835, while Williams’s ended in January 1836. The previous summer Smith had purchased some Egyptian papyri and had been trying to decipher one of the scrolls as well as develop an Egyptian alphabet and grammar. Both Williams and Cowdery were connected with the Egyptian papyrus project. It is certainly conceivable that there would be heightened interest in the language of the Book of Mormon at this time, with its peculiar mix of Egyptian and Hebrew, just as Smith and his close associates were beginning to study Hebrew in earnest.

As they were studying Hebrew with the prophet in December 1835 they must have asked him a question about the language of the Book of Mormon, requesting a back-transliteration, according to Williams: “Question asked in English & answered in Hebrew.” Then they asked Smith to decipher four Book of Mormon Egyptian signs. Each man recorded the results for his own “profit and learning,” in the words of Cowdery.

Transliterations from English into Book of Mormon Hebrew

Questions asked in English & answered in Hebrew

English For it grieveth me that I should lose this tree & the fruit thereof
Hebrew Ans. ofin Zimim ezmon E, Zu onis i f s veris etzer ensvonis vineris
[Modern transliteration: ki car li ki yo’bad li ha’ec hazzeh upiryo]
English Brethren I bid you adieu
Hebrew Ans. i f s E Zamtri
[Modern transliteration: ‘aHay ‘omar lakem shalom]

The textual selections in the documents are from Jacob 5:13 and 7:27. Fresh out of Palestine, the Hebrew known to Jacob should have been biblical Hebrew. But as Figure 1 illustrates, it [The highlighted translation by Joseph] bears no resemblance to Hebrew at all.

Lack of any resemblance between Book of Mormon “Hebrew” and actual Hebrew from material on the small plates (written only fifty years after Lehi left Jerusalem) further confirms that the Cowdery and Williams documents date prior to January 1836, when Smith began his formal study of Hebrew. After that time all of Smith’s Hebrew transliterations are recognizable as such.[161]

This entire document had long been unreleased by the Mormon Church, but was recently released through the Joseph Smith Papers.[162]

Oliver Cowdery document - Book of Mormon Characters

Oliver Cowdery Book of Mormon characters

One of these characters (from the Cowdery and Williams documents) bears a striking resemblance to one of the glyphs from the bogus Kinderhook plates, and with that in mind it may be one reason that Joseph Smith was interested enough in those plates to make a partial translation of one of them. [163]Kinderhook Cowdery Comparison

The next instance of Joseph showing the Book of Mormon characters took place seven years later in Nauvoo, when Joseph showed them to the Reverend George Moore of Quincy Illinois in December of 1842. Moore wrote in his diary,

Rev. George W. Moore

Rev. George W. Moore

Called on the “Prophet Jo Smith.” His carriage was at the door and he was about going away, but he received me very kindly, asked me into his house. I remained about 10 minutes. He was very communicative. We conversed about the golden plates, which he professes to have dug up and translated into the Book of Mormon. “Those plates are not now in this country,” he said–“they were exhibited to a few at first for the sake of obtaining their testimony–no others have ever seen them–and they will never again be exhibited.” He showed me some specimens of the hieroglyphics, such as, he says, were on the gold plates.  . . . He expressed a desire to have a long conversation with me, but he had an engagement, and I was soon going away, so that we could not have much conversation. Our interview was short, but pleasant.[164]

A few months later on May 7, 1843 Joseph once again displayed a copy  of the Book of Mormon characters, this time to an anonymous person who called himself  “A Gentile”, who described the encounter in a letter published in the New York Herald on May 30:

Another set of plates have been found in Pike county, in this State; they were dug out of a large mound, fifteen feet from the summit, by a company of persons, fifteen in number, who all affirm to the fact of their situation when found. There were six in number, about three inches in length, and two and a half broad at one end, and one inch broad at the other, being something of the form of a bell, about the sixteenth of an inch thick, with a hole in the small end of each, fastened together with a ring, apparantly of iron or steel, but which was so oxidised as to crumble to pieces when handled. The plates are evidently brass, and are covered on both sides with hyerogliphics.  They were brought up and shown to Joseph Smith. He compared them in my presence with his Egyptian alphabet, which he took from the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated, and they are evidently the same characters. He therefore will be able to decipher them. There can be no doubt but they are a record of some kind, buried with an individual, centuries ago; a skeleton was found with them – some of the bones in such a state of preservation as to show the size of the individual, whose height must have been eight and a half feet. You may expect something very remarkably pretty soon.[165]

The New York Herald, May 30, 1843.

The New York Herald, May 30, 1843 with Letter from “A Gentile” in Nauvoo.

After the death of Joseph Smith the Book of Mormon characters were finally printed for the public on a limited placard or broadside of which only a few have survived.  In an article that appeared in 1980 which discussed the then recent discovery of what some thought was the original “Anthon Transcript” (but was proved to be a forgery by Mark Hofmann) that Martin Harris had in his possession in 1828, Danel Bachman included this about the 1844 publication of the characters,

Book of Mormon Characters as Published in "The Prophet", December 1844

Book of Mormon Characters as Published in “The Prophet”, December 1844

The two published versions of portions of the document Martin Harris took to New York both appeared in 1844. The first version is a broadside or placard printed in gold on black stock exhibiting three lines of characters. Among the few known copies of this version are two copies in the LDS Church Archives and a copy in special collections Harold B Lee library Brigham Young University. A statement in the hand of Thomas Bullock written on the back of the broadside in the Church Archives reads, “1844 placard Stick of Joseph. This was formerly owned by Hyrum Smith and sent to the Historians Office March 22, 1860, by his son, Joseph Fielding Smith.”  What appears to be the pencil signature of Mary Fielding Smith, who died in 1852, is also on the back. The title of the broadside reads:

“The Stick of Joseph taken from the hand of Ephraim. A correct copy of the characters taken from the plates of the BOOK OF MORMON!! Was translated from–the same that was taken to professor Anthon of New York, by Martin Harris, in the year 1827 in fulfillment of Isaiah 29:11, 12.” This placard contains characters which are on the Hofmann document but not on the Whitmer text.

The broadside most likely was published in early December 1844 by Samuel Brannan, editor of The Prophet, a Church-owned newspaper in New York City. The following announcement appeared in The Prophet on 14 December 1844:

“We have published a very neat specimen of the original characters on hieroglyphics that were copied from the plates which the book of Mormon was translated from, and were presented by Martin Harris to professor Anthon for translation. –We have been to some trouble in having it en graved by Mr. Strong: one of the most skillful engravers in the city of New York; those who wish to obtain a copy to preserve as a memorial, can procure them by applying to the Prophet Office New York .”

The second version was published on 21 December 1844 by Brannan in The Prophet. It duplicates the same three lines of characters as the placard, but the last half of the third line is inverted, or upside down and backwards. The text printed with the characters on the broadside was also printed in this second version.” [166]

1844 Broadside of Book of Mormon Characters

1844 Broadside of Book of Mormon Characters

What happened to the copy of the Book of Mormon characters that Joseph had in his possession is something of a mystery. Could it have been the same document that Martin Harris once possessed? Was it given to “Mr. Strong” so he could copy the characters for the 1844 broadside? If so, was it taken to New York and then lost; or did Samuel Brannan take it with him to California? It is hard to imagine that if it was still in Nauvoo at the death of Joseph Smith that it would not have been conveyed by the Church to Utah; or kept by the Smith family along with the New Translation manuscripts.

Samuel Houston Brannan

Samuel Houston Brannan

Here the story of the characters might have ended, but another copy was to turn up, this time in the hands of Book of Mormon witness David Whitmer, who would claim that he had the same copy of the characters that Martin Harris took to New York in 1828. With information gleaned from the discovery of Jacob Hicks photograph, it is possible now to trace the history of the Whitmer character document.

In the fall of 1831 Church leaders decided that some of the revelations written by Joseph should be prepared for publication as a Book of Commandments.[167] Joseph was appointed to prepare the revelations for publication and Oliver Cowdery was chosen to carry them to Independence, Missouri, where the church printing press was located.  Joseph then wrote another revelation which designated himself, Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, John Whitmer, Sidney Rigdon, and W. W. Phelps as “stewards over the revelations and commandments.”[168]

This group was called the “Literary Firm,” and was created in part to give additional personal income for the temporal salvation of church leaders who had the promise that “the things of this world shall be added unto him even an hundred fold.”[169]

Oliver and John left for Missouri in November 1831, followed by Joseph and Sidney in April 1832.[170] When Oliver Cowdery left for Independence in the fall of 1831, John Whitmer went with him, taking OTman3, which had now become his own personal copy. John Whitmer wrote,

About this time it was in contemplation for Oliver Cowdery to go to Zion and carry with him the revelations and commandments; and I also received a revelation to go with him. We left Ohio on the 20th of November, 1831, and arrived in Zion, Missouri, January 5, 1832.[171]

John Whitmer settled with the rest of the body of the Church in Jackson County, Missouri, purchased lands and wrote that by December 1, 1832 there were “five hundred and thirty-eight individuals in this land belonging to the Church.”[172]  

Less than a year later, Whitmer wrote that “the Church was driven by the mob of Jackson County on the 4th of November, 1833.”[173] Whitmer then took refuge with the rest of the church in Clay County Missouri, and wrote that ,

We had hard struggling to obtain a living, as may well be understood, being driven, having no money or means to subsist upon, and being among strangers in a strange place; being despised, mocked at, and laughed to scorn by some, and pitied by others; thus we lived from November, 1833, till May 1834, and but little prospect yet to return to our homes in Jackson County in safety–the mob rages and the people’s hearts are hardened, and the Saints are few in number, and poor, afflicted, cast out, and smitten by their enemies.

I will further state, because of the scattered situation and the many perplexities, I am not in possession of all the letters and information that I wish I was, and some that are in my possession are not arranged according to date because of the situation I am in, being poor, and write as I can obtain intelligence, and find time between sun and sun to write.[174]

Having failed to persuade the State of Missouri to have their lands in Jackson County returned to them by the spring of 1834, Joseph Smith left Kirtland, Ohio with an armed body of men for Missouri to “reedeem Zion”. Whitmer wrote that,

The Saints here are preparing with all possible speed to arm themselves and otherwise prepare to go to Jackson County, when the camp arrives; for we have had some hints from Joseph the Seer, that this will be our privilege; so we were in hopes that the long wished-for day will soon arrive, and Zion be redeemed to the joy and satisfaction of the poor suffering Saints.[175]

Marching to Zion, 1834

Marching to Zion, 1834

Upon arriving in Missouri Joseph’s camp was stricken by cholera, and disbanded. According to Whitmer,

The camp immediately scattered in the counties of Ray and Clay. Some returned immediately while others tarried. Received a revelation that it was not wisdom to go to Jackson County at this time, and that the armies of Israel should become very great and terrible first, and the servants of the Lord (shall have) been endowed with power from on high previous to the redemption of Zion. Thus our fond hopes of being redeemed at this time were blasted at least for a season.[176]

John Whitmer would later write that,

After the camp dispersed at Fishing River, Smith and F. G. Williams came to Clay County together with many others who scattered in Clay County and elsewhere, Smith called a conference at the house of Lyman Wight, three miles west of Liberty, in which conference the most of the official members belonging to Zion were present, where Smith organized the high council of Zion, as I said in a former chapter, in which David Whitmer was ordained president of Zion, and John Whitmer and W. W. Phelps his counselors. Here at the same time, he ordained David Whitmer prophet, seer and revelator and translator.[177]

Whitmer was called back to Kirtland, Ohio by Joseph Smith and left Missouri in April of 1835, and began editing the Church publication, The Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate.  A year later, Whitmer would be back in Missouri writing that, “Edward Partridge, I[saac] Morley, John Corrill, and W. W. Phelps were appointed wise men and were sent to Missouri with some money to purchase land for the Saints, to seek a place for them &c.”[178]

Joseph Smith & Sidney Rigdon Flee Kirtland, 1838

Joseph Smith & Sidney Rigdon Flee Kirtland, 1838

Two years later Joseph would flee Kirtland for good, leaving it in the hands of those who were called “the dissenters”, which included Book of Mormon witness Martin Harris. If Harris still had any of the original character documents in his possession, they have never come to light. The difficulties dividing the Church at that time arose from the demise of the Kirtland Safety Society and land purchases in made in Kirtland and by the Presidency in Missouri.[179] Reed Peck, an early convert of the Church from New York wrote that in Kirtland,

A bitter quarrel originated in these transactions between the Smith’s and S. Rigdon on one part and Cowdery[,] [Lyman]Johnson[,] and David Whitmer on the other[,]and each party having their particular friends the church in Kirtland became partially divided and their animosities carried many of them to great extremes, producing confusion and cruel oppression when either party could wield the balance of power[.] Very many credible persons in the Society have assented that while the “mon[e]y fever raged in Kirtland the leaders of the church and others were, more or less, engaged in purchasing and circulating Bogus money or counterfeit corn and a good evidence that the report is not without foundation is that, each of these contending parties accuses the other of this crime[.] In the latter part of March 1838[,] the Smith families[,] S. Rigdon and many of their favorites arrived in Far West[,] one of the “Stakes of Zion” and found the church in prosperous circumstances—O. Cowdery[,] D Whitmer[,] an[d] Lyman Johnson had preceded them which placed in Caldwell County all the materials for an explosion.[180]

The explosion came, and resulted in many of the “dissenters” being expelled from the church:

In order to pay the debts in New York, and elsewhere, many of the Church in Kirtland turned out their farms and stripped themselves of property, took orders on the bishop in Far West, and in their poverty followed [Joseph] Smith and [Sidney] Rigden [Rigdon] to Far West as soon as practicable. Some of the dissenters came also, and notwithstanding, they affected a sort of reconciliation of their difficulties, yet it was plain that hard feelings existed. W.[William] W. Phelps and John Whitmer had served as presidents of the Church, in the upper country, from the time they came from Kirtland, but some time in the winter of 1836-7, a difficulty arose between them and the Church, on account of their having entered the town plot and some other lands in their own names, but on an investigation of the matter they gave the town plot and some other lands into the hands of the bishop, as the property of the Church. However, a perfect reconciliation of feelings was not restored; but in the fall of 1837, Smith and Rigden [Rigdon] and others came to Far West on a visit. A general meeting was called for the Church to choose whether they would have the old Presidency rule any longer over them or not. Their old difficulties were talked over, and so far reconciled, that they still choose to have Phelps and Whitmer their presidents; but in the winter following, the old difficulty broke out again, and the excitement rose so high that they turned them out of their presidential office, and T.[Thomas] B. Marsh and two others served as presidents , pro tempore, until Smith and Rigden [Rigdon] arrived…[181]

William Wines Phelps

William Wines Phelps

John Whitmer would write in his history that,

The situation of the Church both here and in Kirtland is in an unpleasant situation in consequence of the reorganization of its authorities, which was not satisfactory to all concerned. And has terminated in the expulsion of some members, as also some temporal movements, have not proved satisfactory to all parties has also terminated in the expulsion of many members among whom is W. W. Phelps and myself.[182]

Following the expulsion of John Whitmer and W. W. Phelps came the excommunication of Book of Mormon witnesses David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery a month later, in April, 1838. When Cowdery left the church, he took the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon with him.  After the church was driven from Missouri, Joseph would settle in Illinois with the Saints; Cowdery would move back to Ohio; and the Whitmers would remain in Missouri, David in Richmond and John in Far West, who purchased large amounts of land there including the temple site.

John Whitmer kept possession of his copy of the Genesis manuscript, along with the history he had written “by commandment”, later called the Book of John Whitmer. After the death of Oliver Cowdery in 1850 at the home of David Whitmer, the printers manuscript to the Book of Mormon was kept by his brother-in-law David Whitmer.  Along with his Genesis Manuscript (OTman3) John Whitmer also had in his possession a copy of the Book of Mormon characters.  This interview by RLDS church member E.C. Brand,places the character document in the hands of John, not David Whitmer in 1875:

“I visited Mr. John Whitmer at his residence at Far West, Caldwell Co., Mo., on the 18th of February, 1875. He also bore his testimony to me concerning the truth, and declared that his testimony, as found in the testimony of “Eight Witnesses,” in the Book of Mormon, is strictly true. He showed me a facsimile of plates, copied from the plates in the handwriting of Joseph Smith. Both of these men (David and John) are respectable, and looked up to as truthful, honorable men, in the vicinity where they live. The above is a brief and correct statement of my interview with them. . . .”[183]

Joseph Smith III, Israel L. Rogers & Ebeneezer Robinson

Joseph Smith III, Israel L. Rogers & Ebeneezer Robinson

The manuscripts, at Cowdery’s death, in 1844, were left in the hands of his widow, where they remained until the spring of 1866, when they were delivered to Wm. Marks, I. L. Rogers, and Wm. W. Blair, a committee appointed by the Annual Conference, of April, 1866, to procure them for publication; and were, by them, delivered to the Committee of Publication consisting of Joseph Smith, Israel L. Rogers, and Ebenezer Robinson.[184]

During the 1850’s and 60’s John and David Whitmer gave few interviews that were recorded, and none of them (that I am aware of) mention the Book of Mormon Characters.   After settling in Richmond,  Whitmer ran a successful Livery Stable and in 1867, David was elected  the Mayor of Richmond . That same year Whitmer sat for a portrait by a photographer named Jacob Hicks. The Richmond Conservator ran this article about the sitting,

Handsome. –The poet has well said “a thing of beauty is a joy forever,” and glancing at some porcelan pictures taken by our friend Jake Hicks, we were struck with the application of the thought.  What is more pleasing than to have a fac simile of one’s self, or some loved one taken by an artist in a style that must evoke praise from all, and such are the pictures now before us, perfect likenesses of Mayor Whitmer, and D. J. Whitmer. They are taken in Hicks happiest manner, and reflect great credit upon him as an artist.[185]

David Whitmer 1867 by Jacob Hicks

“Handsome” David Whitmer 1867 by Jacob Hicks

At about this time, Joseph Smith III decided to publish the New Translation that his father [Joseph Smith, Jr.]had worked on and completed on July 2, 1833. In a letter to her son in 1867, Emma wrote,

My own dear Joseph . . . Now as it regards the M of the new translation if you wish to keep them you may do so, but if not I would like to have them. I have often thought the reason why our house did not burn down when it has been so often on fire was because of them, and I still feel there is a sacredness attached to them.[186]

It was after his stint as a Mayor that Whitmer began giving more interviews and speaking about the Book of Mormon manuscript he had acquired from his brother-in-law Oliver Cowdery. In 1875, David Whitmer claimed to a reporter for the Chicago Times that,

he had in his possession the original records, and was conversant with the history of the Church of Christ from the beginning, but was under obligation to hold both history and records sacred until such time as the interests of truth and true religion might demand their aid to combat error. [187]

Whitmer did not speak of the Book of Mormon characters in that interview. A little over a year later, David Whitmer organized what he called the Church of Christ, as explained by the Editor of The Return in 1892:

For about forty years, during which time the original manuscript and historical records came into his possession, he [David Whitmer] made a “morale” for the Book of Mormon, and placed it before the world as one of the books that has come to stay. In September, 1875, John C. Whitmer, becoming convinced that he should be baptized, asked the same of David Whitmer, which was accomplished, and your correspondent was a witness to his ordination, January 28, 1876. Like a tree growing in its proper season arose the necessity to perpetuate the Church of Christ. Since this time membership has been slowly advancing, and here and there are small congregations.[188]

In 1875 Martin Harris died in Utah, leaving David Whitmer the last of the three witnesses, and consequently he was interviewed far more often at this time than at any other in his life.[189]

In addition to giving interviews, David would sometimes display what he called “the original manuscript” of the Book of Mormon. David would also sometimes display for visitors what he called “the original characters presented to Professor Anthon of New York by Martin Harris”, but there are no accounts that have been discovered of him displaying the characters before 1878.

Whitmer kept these documents at his house in Richmond, and had the same attitude about them that Emma Smith had about the New Translation Manuscripts, that they were sacred and those who possessed them would be protected with them. This was affirmed in the mind of David Whitmer and others when in May of 1878 a cyclone (tornado) ravaged the city of Richmond.[190]

In the summer of 1878 Joseph F. Smith and Orson Pratt were sent on a mission to the east “in the interest of the history of the Church.”[191] In the fall of that year they visited Richmond and Joseph F. Smith wrote in his diary of the cyclone’s devastation:

Joseph F. Smith c. 1875

Joseph F. Smith c. 1875

After breakfast Brother Pratt and I took a walk several blocks around the ruined district of the town. We were satisfied that the reports of the cyclone were not at all exaggerated if sufficiently drawn. Although rapid improvements have been made, the whole breadth of the town visited by the tempest presents a wrecked, desolate and ruined aspect. The debris of wrecked houses, fences, sidewalks and trees bitterly strewing the face of the ground. Scarcely a tree was standing in the wake of the tornado, much less a house, shed or fence. The very bark stripped from the trunks and stumps of many of the trees which were left standing. Many houses have been rebuilt on the sites of those blown down, and the work of clearing up debris, rebuilding houses, fences, board sidewalks, etc., still goes on.[192]

It appears that David Whitmer was injured when the cyclone struck Richmond. Sarah Whitmer (the daughter of John Whitmer) wrote to P. W. Poulson that,

“I visited Richmond directly after the storm and it was a sad looking-sight to behold. Uncle David has about recovered from his injuries and is out once more on the street.”[193]

Smith reported that “a large mechanic’s shop” behind the Whitmer property “with all its contents was literally demolished by the cyclone. I saw the remains of a carriage just finished for Whitmer and Co.’s livery service, but not delivered when the cyclone passed over. It was absolutely smashed, twisted and riven to atoms. Such a wreck I could not have conceived, even the tires were twisted into inconceivable shapes and not a spoke, felloe, or scarcely a bolt left in its place. Some of the spokes being taken clean out of the hubs, where they had just been compressed by powerful machinery with a pressure of 20 tons. One man from this shop was blown a great distance right through a house.”[194]

Later that year an account of their visit appeared in the Millennial Star where it was reported that David Whitmer told them that,

While camping around here in a tent, all my effects exposed to the weather, everything in the trunk where the MSS. [manuscripts] were kept became mouldy, etc., but they were preserved, not even being discolored (we supposed his camping in a tent, etc., had reference to his circumstances after the cyclone, in June last). As he and others affirm, the room in which the MSS. were kept was the only part of the house which was not demolished, and even the ceiling of that room was but little impaired. “Do you think,” said Philander Page, a son of Hiram Page, one of the Eight Witnesses, “that the Almighty cannot take care of his own?”[195]

In a second meeting the next day with Whitmer, Joseph F. Smith recorded in his diary that,

After the usual ceremony of introduction, David Whitmer brought out and showed us the manuscript of the Book of Mormon, mostly in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery, some of the writings was thought to be in the handwriting of John and Christian Whitmer, but only comparatively a few pages.[196]

Smith also wrote in his entry for that day that,

Brother Pratt felt closely after the subject of procuring the Ms., but we found that this was impossible to all human appearances. The whole Whitmer family are deeply impressed with the sacredness of this relic, and are actually so imbued with the idea and faith that it is under the immediate protection of the Almighty, that not only the Ms. itself is safe from all possible contingencies, but that it is a souvenir of protection to the place, or house, in which it might be kept, to the possessor. I do not therefore believe they could be induced to part with it for love or money, nor fear or favor.[197]

Richmond Cyclone 1878

Richmond Cyclone 1878

What is interesting about this visit of Smith and Pratt is that there is no mention of the Book of Mormon characters.  Where was the document that John Whitmer showed to E.C. Brand in 1875? An answer may lie in two interviews given by P. Wilhelm Poulson,  who Dan Vogel describes as “an eccentric Mormon with serious involvement with psychic and spiritualistic phenomena.”[198]

Poulson claimed that he interviewed John Whitmer in April of 1878, a few months before his death on July 11, 1878. In this interview it is reported by Poulson that,

John Whitmer was in possession of copies from the plates with the translation below and showed that to me and also of other valuable records. I shall correspond with Sarah Whitmer, and hope she will be willing, with the permission of David Whitmer, to restore those documents to the Church.[199]

Dan Vogel writes:

Unfortunately, John Whitmer was dead when Poulson’s account was published and could not challenge the accuracy of the reported interview. However, Poulson’s subsequent publication of his interview with David Whitmer was challenged by the interviewee as containing invented conversation. In a letter to S. T. Mouch, 18 November 1882, David Whitmer complained about Poulson’s account of the interview: “As to what you Say about the correspondence published by P Wilhelm Poulson M D Aug[ust] 20th 1878. I surely did not make the Statement which you Say he reports me to have made, for it is not according to the facts. And I have always in the fear of God, tried to give a true statement to the best of my recollection in regard to all matters which I have attempted to Explain. And I do not now remember of talking to Mr Poulson on the subject referred to.” Unfortunately, we do not know what portion of the interview Whitmer referred to since we do not have Mouch’s letter of inquiry. That there was an inaccuracy suggests that Poulson probably did not keep careful notes during his interviews. At the end of the present account, Poulson states that his conversation “was mostly written down word for word half an hour after the interview.” “Mostly” suggests that in some instances it may have gone beyond his notes and drew from memory about four months later.[200]

John Whitmer

John Whitmer

If this part of Poulson’s account can be trusted, John Whitmer may have had the “Caractor” document in his possession until his death in 1878.  Poulson also may have seen the entire document, and thought that the words “The Book of the Generation of Adam” may have been part of a translation.

Poulson also interviewed David Whitmer in April of 1878, and asked him about the engravings on the gold plates.  According to Poulson, Whitmer replied that,

They were characters. We copied some, and if you visit my brother John, one of the eight witnesses, who wrote for Joseph, John can show you some of the old manuscript which he borrowed from me. I must have it returned to me again, as it belongs to the Church, in connection with other records.[201]

If this part of the interview is accurate[202] then David did not have a copy of the characters in his possession at this time and referred Poulson to his brother John if he wanted to see them. David also states that “we copied some of them”, which doesn’t agree with what Whitmer always said about the “Caractor” document –  that it was the original document that Martin Harris took to Charles Anthon in 1828.

Could Poulson have heard this (“we copied some”) from John Whitmer since he interviewed both of the brothers during the same month in 1878? It is also possible that David knew the actual history of John’s document, and that it was a copy of the original transcript, and then changed his story later. It is hard to know for sure until further information comes to light.[203]

Also, what “old manuscript” was David Whitmer talking about? OTman3? Possibly. So, if David had a copy of the characters in 1878 why aren’t they mentioned by Joseph F. Smith and Orson Pratt?  It is hard to imagine that they were simply left out of the account written by Smith, so they must not have been shown to the Utah Mormons.

Joseph F. Smith may give us a reason why they were not shown to them in his diary account. After leaving David Whitmer in Richmond, Smith and Pratt took the short journey to Far West where they visited with Jacob D. Whitmer, the son of John Whitmer, who Smith reported was “insolently gruff and abrupt.”[204]

After asking if he could show them around Far West (to which Jacob refused), the conversation turned to the matter of John Whitmer’s papers:

O[rson] P[ratt]. — Your father was once the historian of the Church, and I am the present historian; we are anxious to preserve all the items of history we can, we would therefore like to see the MS. your father kept, and if possible, to make satisfactory arrangements with you, to purchase the same, provided there is anything in the MS. which we have not already published. I suppose you are aware that the history of the Church has already been published.

J[acob] W. — We’ve got no history here, all father’s papers have gone to Richmond long ago.

O. P. — We had a very pleasant interview with your uncle David, at Richmond. We arrived there last Friday, and remained two days, he showed us the MS. of the Book of Mormon, but said nothing about having any other papers.

J. W. — We have got no papers here.

Convinced that there was no use of making any further efforts where the spirit of bigotry and opposition was so intense, we turned away… [205]

In 1881 the Richmond Conservator reported that,

There is no doubt that Mr. Whitmer, who was one of the Three Witnesses of the authenticity of the gold plates, from which he asserts that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon (a fac simile of the characters he now has in his possession with the original records), is firmly convinced of its divine origin, and while he makes no effort to obtrude his views or beliefs, he simply wants the world to know that so far as he is concerned there is no “variableness or shadow of turning.” [206]

At this time Whitmer began to claim that the copy of the Book of Mormon characters in his possession was the original document taken by Martin Harris to Charles Anthon.  Jesse R. Badham wrote,

He, Whitmore [Whitmer], has in his possession the original manuscript—and the original characters presented to Professor Anthony [Anthon] of New York by Martin Harris both of which I saw and handled. Also heard a blessing read pronounced for him by Joseph the Prophet which he holds very sacred.[207] 

Whitmer also had published in 1881 a “Proclamation” in which he stated that,

I have in my possession the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon, in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery and others, also the original paper containing some of the characters transcribed from one of the golden plates, which paper Martin Harris took to Professor Anthon, of New York, for him to read “the  words of a book that is sealed:” but the learned professor, although a great linguist could not read the  language of the Nephites.[208]

Des Moines Daily News 16 Oct 1886, with facsimile of the torn "Caractors" Document.

Des Moines Daily News 16 Oct 1886, with facsimile of the torn “Caractors” Document.-Image courtesy of Dan Vogel

In 1884 James H. Hart included a description of the document that David Whitmer had in his possession:

I was shown the reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics, that were copied from the plates by the Prophet Joseph, and taken by Martin Harris to Profesors Anthon and Mitchell, of New York City, in Febuary, 1828. They are written on unruled paper, about three and a half inches by seven, and fill up seven lines, making about thirty-five inches of writing. They remind me very much of some Egyptian hieroglyphics I have seen in the British Museum, London, and in other collections. [209]

Hart also gave an account to the Bear Lake Democrat a few days later which reads,

I was shown, moreover, the Egyptian characters copied by the Prophet Joseph Smith and taken by Martin Harris to Profs. Anthon and Mitchell of this city, in February 1828. They are written on unruled paper, about three and a half inches deep, by seven inches wide. The writing is in seven lines, making about 34 inches; and reminds me very much of some hieroglyphics I have seen in the British Museum, London, and other collections.[210]

During that same year, George Q. Cannon paid a visit to David Whitmer at his home in Richmond, who showed him the Book of Mormon manuscript he had in his possession.  But Cannon seemed far more interested in

George Q. Cannon

George Q. Cannon

a paper with this, which, if anything, was still more interesting than the manuscript. It was the characters drawn by Joseph [Smith, Jr.] himself from the plates for Martin Harris to take to show the learned professors, so wonderfully predicted in the 29th chapter of Isaiah. There were seven lines of these characters, the first four being about twice as large in size as the last three. In English Joseph had written over the lines the word “characters.” He had spelled this word, “caractors.” Though these characters had evidently been written for a long time, they were as clear and distinct as though just penned. Here was the very paper which Isaiah saw in vision about 2,600 years before, and which he called “the words of a book.”[211]

In 1886 Whitmer was still affirming that he had a copy of the characters taken by Martin Harris, but in this interview added some new details:

At this particular state of the recital, an inspection of a copy of the hieroglyphics made from the first of the gold plates by Joseph Smith and preserved with the same solicitude that is thrown around the original manuscript, becomes of curious interest. The accompanying cut is a perfect fac-simile of the little sheet which took Joseph Smith a whole week to copy, so particular was he that the characters should be perfectly reproduced, and that the “reformed Egyptian” language should be shown up in all its native simplicity, for, it must not be forgotten, there was a singular significance in errand which this scrap of paper was destined to perform.[212]

Omaha Herald 17 Oct 1886

Omaha Herald 17 Oct 1886-Image courtesy of Dan Vogel

The year before he died, Whitmer published a rambling, 75 page pamphlet which he titled An Address To All Believers In Christ, that condemned the Utah branch of the Mormon Church, called Joseph Smith a fallen prophet, and admonished all men to believe in the Book of Mormon. Endeavoring to correct those that claimed he had denied his testimony; Whitmer also reprinted his “Proclamation” from 1881 which stated that,

I have in my possession the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon, in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery and others, also the original paper containing some of the characters transcribed from one of the golden plates…[213]

Thus David Whitmer would affirm until his death that he had possession of the original Book of Mormon Manuscript and the copy of the characters that Martin Harris took to New York City in 1828.

After David Whitmer’s death, these items were passed to his son, David J. Whitmer, along with John Whitmer’s Church History and OTMan 3.  This collection of documents were eventually given into the care of George Schweich, a nephew of David J. Whitmer, who subsequently sold them to the RLDS Church for $2450 in 1903.[214]

George Schweich

George Schweich

Interest in the “Charactors” document has only increased over the years, but little could be determined about it because it was obviously torn from a larger document. In 1942 Ariel Crowley published an in-depth study of the document in the Improvement Era, and analyzed all of the conclusions about it that had been written up to that time.  Crowley writes that the document was in the hands of the Whitmer family,

in early 1903 at the time of the preparation of Chapter V in volume 2 of B. H. Roberts’ New Witnesses for God.” In April, 1903, the Whitmer heirs transferred the transcript to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, where it now remains. This is confirmed by a recent letter from President Frederick M. Smith of the Reorganized Church.[215]

The letter to John A. Widtsoe from Frederick Smith was written on May 9, 1941, and Smith wrote:

“Without reasonable doubt we have the original paper taken by Martin Harris to Professor Anthon. In 1884, a committee of the Reorganized Church had a conference with David Whitmer. From July 8 to August 17 of that year this committee worked with Father Whitmer in comparing published Books of Mormon with the manuscript then in his possession. At this time this paper was with the manuscript, and it was exhibited by him to the committee and he stated it was the original taken to Professor Anthon.

In 1890 a “cut” was made which was published in a book written by William H. Kelley called Presidency and Priesthood: and in 1896 it was reproduced in our Church History, Vol. 1, p. 22.

When the Book of Mormon manuscript was delivered to my father [Joseph Smith, III] in April, 1903, this fragment was tied up with it and has remained in our possession.

Our historical department states that “possibly the first published reference to such a document was a letter of Professor Anthon dated February 17, 1834, published by E. D. Howe in his book that year.”

In the Times and Seasons, Vol. 3, p. 773, appears the statement of Martin Harris doubtless made some time before.

Of course many published accounts are now to be found.

Mr. S. A. Burgess comments:  “In addition to the history of the fragment, the word ‘caractors,’ their uneven size and growing smaller with each line, all indicate an unskilled copyist. Also, the paper itself is old, and of the same quality and appearance of the paper of the manuscript and of early revelations, manuscripts undoubtedly made before 1833.”

The appearance of the fragment, eight inches by three and one-fourth inches, evidences its antiquity, and since 1924 we have kept it under glass.[216]

There the matter has stood since 1924. But with my discovery of the photo taken by Jacob Hicks sometime around 1867, perhaps a little bit more can be added about the origin of this mysterious fragment that has had so much written about it over the years.

Go to Part IV.


Dan Vogel was instrumental in helping me with research on this part of the article.

[143] “Minutes of a General Conference held at the dwelling of br. Serenes Burnet in the Town of Orange, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, October 25, 1831,” Far West Record, p. 13.

[144]  The Joseph Smith Papers website, online here, accessed, August 5, 2013. (Hereafter, JSPW). 

[145] JS, Kirtland, OH, to William W. Phelps, [Independence, MO], 27 Nov. 1832, in JS Letterbook 1, p. 4. Online here, accessed August 5, 2011.

[146] JSPW, op. cited, here.

[147] Times and Seasons, Vol.3, No.20, p.885.

[148] Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints: Carefully Selected From the Revelations of God, F. G. Williams & Co.,1835,),  Section 50:1.

[149] Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 1,p. 128.

[150] Documentary History of the Church, (D.H.C.), Vol. 4, p. 57.

[151] Dan Vogel, The Word of God, p.12.

[152] “Old Testament Manuscript 3: An Early Transcript of the Book of Moses”, Kent P. Jackson and Scott H. Faulring, Mormon Historical Studies No. 8, Fall 2004, pages 113-114. Online here, accessed August 5, 2013. (Hereafter, Jackson & Faulring, 2004).

[153] Kent P. Jackson, The Book of Moses and the Joseph Smith Translation Manuscripts (Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2005), p. 1–52. Online here, accessed August 5, 2013.(Hereafter, Jackson, 2005).

[154]  ibid.

[155] Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints: Carefully Selected From the Revelations of God, F. G. Williams & Co.,1835, Section 63:2. See also, Times and Seasons, Vol.5, No.2, p.401.

[156] Jackson, 2005.

[157]  ibid.

[158] Jackson & Faulring, 2004, pages 114-115.

[159] ibid, page 114.

[160] Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Vol. 2,  No. 3, December 1835, page 235.

[161]  Edward R. Ashment, “A Record in the Language of My Father”, New Approaches to the Book of Mormon, ed. Brent Metcalfe, pp..334-335, online here, accessed August 5, 2013. These are curious documents to be sure, because they contain more than just a showcase of Joseph Smith’s translation abilities. The History of the Williams document is fascinating, and there is some interesting background about it as some letters (found here in the online Church History Library) that passed between Nancy A. C. Williams, George Albert Smith and Joseph Fielding Smith attest. The letter from Nancy A. C. Williams (Mrs. Frederick G. Williams, II) and addressed to George Albert Smith is dated November 28, 1949. She writes,

Dear Brother Smith:

I have in my possession an acknowledgement signed by Joseph Fielding Smith, dated August 4, 1934, wherein he had received from me eighteen (18) miscellaneous letters and papers of Frederick G. Williams filed in big green safe. Brother Alvin Smith carefully covered them with Scotch paper. On different occasions I have looked them over. Then they were reported lost. Now they seem to be mutilated and some are gone, one which read, “turn deed to Joseph Smith, Jr. May 5, 1834”. These were numbered, with a typewritten account of  contents of each to compare with the originals. …

The idea is this. Inasmuch as all proof concerning his life and labors were in the historian’s office and no one used them but me, I desire to withdraw and preserve with is left of them. …

I am asking if you would write an order to release all my notes and papers, and, if the Lord wills to spare my life, I will preserve all in book form. … (williams to Smith, page 1)

Williams also included this post-script:

The following is an appendage taken from my book, Chapter Six:

 A number of years ago the author, in comparing he writing of Dr. William’ notes with that in the Historian’s Office, was shown the original paper written in pencil, bearing the revelation given in the Kirtland Temple concerning Lehi’s travels. Recently, February 25, 1949, she was shown the ink transcript which the Doctor made on his return home, which she had never seen before and with which she received a wonderful manifestation that it was indeed a revelation given to Frederick G. Williams for him and his family.” The pencil original cannot be found at this time.

 The following is recorded in Dr. Frederick G. Williams ledger, page 321, claiming that at the time of receiving the revelation an angel appeared to him and sat between him and Joseph Smith, Sr. Frederick G. Williams then transcribed the message on paper, which he kept during his life time and Mrs. Williams kept it sacred until her demise. It then came into possession of Dr. Ezra G. Williams, who loaned it to Apostle George A. Smith. Mr. and Mrs. Williams tried several times to secure the manuscript again but were unsuccessful. This revelation later appeared in print in the Compendium, page 289, and was accredited to Joseph Smith, the Prophet. From an interview with Mrs. Henrietta E. Williams, wife of Ezra G. Williams at Ogden, Utah. Signed – Merlin J. Stone.

 Nancy A. C. Williams

Anthon H. Lund then wrote to Joseph Fielding Smith,

January 10, 1950
Dear Brother Smith:

Sometime ago the First Presidency sent you a letter, signed only in typewriting, from Nancy A. C. Williams. I have tried to locate all of the letters, notes, journals, etc. that she mentions in her letter and attached to this letter is a list of these articles mentioned as far as I can locate them.

Also her letter needs some answering as her statements are not altogether correct. I am trying to five you an account of just what has been said to her in regard to these matters.

I have taken each paragraph in her letter and given my answers in the spirit of trying to defend our Office and not to harm Sister Williams. (Lund to Smith, page 1)

Anthon Lund

In his answers addressing Williams letter, Lund comments about the “Lehi’s Travels” portion of the Williams Document:

On page 2 of the Postscript – Paragraph One In all of the years I have been with the Historian’s Office, I have never seen any other account of “Lehi’s Travels” than the one we have locked in the Small Safe. I gave Sister Williams a photographic copy of this information which I thought was much better than a typed copy. (see note at bottom of page)

The material mentioned in this paragraph Sister Williams claims was written by pencil on paper that Brother Frederick G. Williams had in his pocket while at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple and later copied by ink on the paper which is filed in our Library. She also claims that this paper upon which Frederick G. Williams transcribed his revelation was in the possession of Mrs. Williams, then came to Dr. Ezra G. Williams and then loaned to Apostle George Albert Smith. On the paper which is in our possession there is the following written upon it in the handwriting of Ezra G. Williams: “G.S.L. City, April 11, 1864. This paper is in the handwriting of my father, Frederick G. Williams. The characters there on I believe to be a representation of those shown to him at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. Ezra G. Williams.”

Brother Ezra G. Williams does not say anything about the revelation (Doc. & Cov. Sec. 7) at the top of one of the pages, nor the answers to questions asked in English and answered in Hebrew, nor the characters from the Book of Mormon in the center of the page, nor the course of Lehi and his family being revealed to his father, but only that they were in the handwriting of his father.

The statement of Sister Williams that “The following is recorded in Dr. Frederick G. Williams ledger” might lead one to believe that he wrote that which is written there. However, that which is written on page 321 of that ledger is a statement made by the wife of Ezra G. Williams to Merlin J. Stone on January 24, 1913.

The words of the course of Lehi and his family as written in the ledger are word for word as written in the Compendium 1882 edition page 289. However, these words are not exactly the same as on the paper claimed to be the paper upon which Frederick G. Williams transcribed his pencil notes. On the paper it reads: “The course that Lehi traveled from the city of Jerusalem to the place where he and his family took ship” and from the Compendium: The course Lehi and his company traveled from Jerusalem to the place of their destination.”

I am inclined to believe Dr. Frederick G. Williams may only have copied all that is on this one side of the page for the following reasons:

Section 7 of the Doctrine and Covenants was given in 1829 and published in the Book of Commandments in 1833.

The center could be copied from writings of Oliver Cowdery, which we have, and by inference the course of Lehi could have been copied also.(Lund to Smith, pp. 2-3)

Joseph Fielding Smith wrote a postscript at the bottom of the last page of the Williams letter which reads,

P.S. The family is very desirous to have possession of the “Revelation” [which?] he wrote in his own hand, as loaned to Uncle Geo A. Smith & which [no] one has ever believed he received but his family who knows. (Williams Letter, page 2)

Thank you kindly-
Pres. Smith

Joseph Fielding’s comment is interesting in that he seems to perceive that Lehi’s Travels portion of the document as a “revelation”, but not to Williams, but probably to Joseph Smith. It is also obvious that they were familiar with the Cowdery copy (pictured beolw). I’m sure there must have been follow up letters, but they are not posted at this time.

[162] The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Vol. 1: July 1828 – June 1831, by  Michael Hubbard MacKay, Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, Grant Underwood, Robert J. Woodford, William J. Hartley, Appendix 2: Copies of Book of Mormon Characters, p. 362. The document is small, and I don’t have a hi-res photo of it yet, but this will give you an idea of what it looks like. The first three sections are the English/Hebrew “translations” given by Joseph Smith, then the Book of Mormon  and the Interpreter of languages section. The last line says “Written and kept for profit & learning by Oliver.”

"Written and kept for learning & profit"

“Written and kept for profit & learning Oliver”

[163] As much as I would like to write about the Kinderhook Plates here, I’ll have to save it for another time. There are, however some serious studies in progress concerning them being undertaken by Don Bradley (a good overview which may be found here) and Brent and Erin Metcalfe. I will have to disagree however, that Don had “solved” the “mystery” of the Kinderhook Plates. But his 2011 FAIR presentation is insightful and informative. My own study will be published next year. I will mention that there are dozens of striking matches between the Kinderhook Plates glyphs and the “caractors” from the Book of Mormon which more than outweigh Don’s tentative “match” with a G.A.E.L. character and make his scenario much less likely to have occurred.

[164] Diary of George Moore, Tuesday, December 20,1842, pp. 105-106, cit. Donald Q. Cannon, “Reverend George Moore Comments on Nauvoo, the Mormons, and Joseph Smith,” Western Illinois Regional Studies 5 (Spring 1982):6-16.

[165] The New York Herald, May 30, 1843. I believe that “a Gentile” was an “undercover” member of the Church who knew that James Gordon Bennett was friendly to the Mormons and wrote to the paper for that reason.

Many thanks to Erin Metcalfe for finding this article. It is important not only in the study of Joseph’s “caractors”, but also crucial in helping to understand how Joseph Smith viewed the Kinderhook Plates, which was as a Jaredite record, or as one of the editors of the Times and Seasons put it, “A sequel to the Book of Mormon.”

I am writing a lengthy article (“Is there Wisdom in Zion?”) on this fascinating chapter of Mormon History which will be published here in 2014.

[166] “Sealed in a Book: Preliminary Observations on the Newly Found “Anthon Transcript”” by Danel W. Bachman,  B.Y.U. Studies, Vol. 20 No. 4, 1980, pages 324-325. This article focuses on the transcript forged by Mark Hoffmann, but has valuable analysis about the Book of Mormon characters. Online here, accessed August 5, 2013.

Whoever “Mr. Strong” was, he did a poor job of copying the characters. Because of this, it is difficult to determine if there are different characters on the 1844 placard when compared to the Whitmer “caractors” document. I will be addressing this and other concerns in my article “Is there Wisdom In Zion?”.

[167] History of the Church, Vol. 1, pp. 221-22.

[168] Doctrine and Covenants, Section 70, v. 3.

[169] Kirtland Revelation Book, page 146.

[170] History of the Church, 1:266.

[171] Bruce N. Westergren, From Historian to Dissident: The Book of John Whitmer, p.108. The Book of John Whitmer can also be read online here, accessed August 5, 2013. The “revelation” spoken of by John Whitmer was dictated by Joseph on 11 November, 1831 and says,

Hearken unto me saith the Lord for verily I say unto  you for my Servent Olivers [Oliver Cowdery’s] sake it is not wisdom  in me that he should be intrusted with the commandments  & moneys which he shall carry unto the Land of Zion  except one go with him who will be true & faithfull  wherefore I the Lord willeth that my Servent John (Whitmer)  shall go with my servent Oliver & also that he observe to  continue in writing & makeing a history of all the  important things which he shall observe & know concerning  my Church & also that he receive council & assistance  from my Servent Oliver & others3 & also that my Saints  which are abroad in the Earth should send forth their accounts  to the Land of Zion for the Land of Zion shall be a seat  & a place to receive & do all these things nevertheless  let my Servnt John travel many times from place  to place & from Church to Church that he may the more  easily obtain knowledge Preaching & expounding writing  cop[y]ing & selecting & obtain[in]g all things which shall be  for the good of the Church & for the rising generations  which shall grow up on the Land of Zion to possess  it from generations to generations forever & ever Amen (The Joseph Smith Papers Website, Online here, accessed August 5, 2013).

[172] ibid, p.103

[173] ibid. Even this disheartening event was followed by Whitmer adding that “on the 13th of the same month the stars fell” and was written about almost immediately afterward in The Evening and Morning Star, edited by W. W. Phelps who wrote,

“We have received a communication on the subject of the Millennium, which we insert in this number of the Star,” and adds that “we presume we shall be favored with more from the same pen…” (The Evening and Morning Star, Vol. II, No. 15, December, 1833, p.116).

The article reads (in part):

On the morning of the 13th of November last, about 3 or 4 o’clock, was seen a singular appearance in the heavens, which seemed to produce no small excitement in the minds of those who were up in season to gaze upon the sublime, yet strange phenomenon. We were roused from our slumber by the voice of one of our neighbors, “Rise and see the signs in the heavens!” Immediately we were on our feet, and on looking out at the window, beheld a scenery as sublime, apparently, as though the Great Majesty of heaven was riding forth through the firmament upon a cloud that was passing slowly towards the east, from whose presence worlds seemed to be moving with mighty rapidity, whose flaming orbits lighted down through the dark weather and shown upon this earth! But on walking out it was plain to be seen that it was not merely one place in the heavens thus illuminated, but the whole heavens were lit up with the same appearance, except here and there a small cloud as they were moved to the east by a gentle wind.

This scenery continued visible till near sunrise, when it fled by the rising splendor of the “King of day.” While we were gazing upon this new wonder with surprise and admiration, we remembered the exhortation of the Lord to Israel, [Isa. XL. 26.] Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names, by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth. This saying seems to be peculiarly well adapted to an occurrence of this kind: for notwithstanding the great commotion in the heavenly bodies, yet, the same power that brought them into existence and regulated their various circumvolutions, was still sufficient to retain them in their proper position by his immutable decree, till the judgement [judgment] of the great day; or until the time of the fulfillment of certain prophecies contained in the holy scriptures. We were also reminded of that remarkable saying of the Savior, [Matt. XXV. 6.] while speaking of his kingdom in the last days, at the time of his second coming, when the cry is to be heard at midnight, Behold, the bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet him.(ibid)

In January 1833 Joseph had written a letter to to N. O. Saxton, editor of the American Revivalist and Rochester Observer in which he declared that,

I am prepared to say by the authority  of Jesus Christ, that not many years shall pass  away before the United States shall present such a scene of bloodshed as has not a parallel in the hystory  of our nation pestalence hail famine and earthquake will  sweep the wicked off this generation from off the face of  this Land to open and prepare the way for the  return of the lost tribes of Israel from the north  country— The people of the Lord, those who have  complied with the requsitions of the new covenant  have already commenced gathering togethe[r] to Zion  which is in the State of Missouri. Therefore I decl are unto you the warning which the lord  has commanded me to declare unto this  generation, rembring [remembering] that the eyes of my maker  are upon me and that to him I am accountabl  for evry word I say wishing nothing worse to  my fellow men then their eternal salvation  therefore fear God, and give glory to him for  the hour of his Judgment is come, <Repent  ye> Repent, ye and imbrace the everlasting  Covenant and flee to Zion before the over flowing scourge overtake you, For there are  those now living upon the earth whose eyes  shall not be closed in death until they see  all these things which I have spoken fulfilled (The Joseph Smith Papers Website, Online here, accessed August 5, 2013). 

When this letter was not published in its entirety by the newspaper, Smith wrote a follow up letter and admonished them to do so stating that,

I was somewhat disappointed on receiv ing my paper with only a part of my  letter inserted in that it. The letter which I  wrote you for publication I wrote by the commandment of God, and I am quite anxious  to have it all laid before the public for it is  of importance to them…” (ibid, online here, accessed August 5, 2013).

Smith’s plea was apparently ignored, but this did not deter him from believing that the night of the falling stars was a fulfillment of prophecy:

In the morning at 4 o’clock i was awoke by Brother Davis knocking at my door saying: Brother Joseph come get up and see the signs in the heavens, and I arose and beheld to my great joy the stars fall from heaven; yea, they fell like hail stones, a literal fulfillment of the word of God as recorded in the holy scriptures and a sure sign that the coming of Christ is close at hand. O how marvellous are thy works O Lord and I thank thee for thy mercy unto me thy servant. O Lord save me in thy kingdom for Christ sake. Amen.

The appearance of these signs varied in different sections of the country: in Zion, all heaven seemed enwrapped in splendid fireworks, as if every star in the broad expanse, had been suddenly hurled from its course, and sent lawless through the wilds of ether: some at times, appeared like bright shooting meteors with long trains of light following in their course, and in numbers resembled large drops of rain in sunshine. Some of the long trains of light following the meteoric stars, were visible for some seconds; those streaks would cut and twist up like serpents writhing. The appearance was beautiful, grand and sublime beyond description; as though all the artillery and fire works of eternity were set in motion to enchant and entertain the saints, and terrify and awe the sinners on the earth. Beautiful and terrific as was the scenery, which might be compared to the falling figs or fruit when the tree is shaken by a mighty wind; yet, it will not fully compare with the time when the sun shall become black like sack cloth of hair, the moon like blood; Rev. 6:13; and the stars fall to the earth — as these appeared to vanish when they fell behind the trees, or came near the ground. (“History of Joseph Smith,” Times and Seasons, Vol.6, No.1, p.898, See also, Scott H. Faulring, An American Prophet’s Record, p.14)

David Whitmer would reminisce about this event years later, with a claim that it had been prophesied about just days before,

When Brother Joseph was humble he had the Spirit of God with him; but when he was not humble he did not have the Spirit. Brother Joseph gave many true prophesies when he was humble before God: but this is no more than many of the other brethren did. Brother Joseph’s true prophesies were almost all published, but those of the other brethren were not. I could give you the names of many who gave great prophesies which came to pass. I will name a few: Brothers Ziba Peterson, Hiram Page, Oliver Cowdery, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, Peter Whitmer, Christian Whitmer, John Whitmer, myself and many others had the gift of prophesy. Hiram Page prophesied a few days before the stars fell in November, 1833, that the stars would fall from heaven and frighten many people. This prophesy was given in my presence. I could give you many instances of true prophesies which came through the above named brethren, but I desire to be brief. I could also tell you of some false prophesies which some of them gave, when they were not living humble. ( David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, p.32)

In a footnote to this event in the History of the Church edited by B. H. Roberts, he writes,

 Speaking of this event as it appeared to the exiled Saints bivouacked on the Missouri bottoms, Elder Parley P. Pratt in his Autobiography, (page 110) says: “About 2 o’clock the next morning [November 13th], we were called up by the cry of signs in the heavens. We arose, and to our great astonishment all the firmament seemed involved in splendid fireworks, as if every star in the broad expanse had been hurled from its course, and sent lawless through the wilds of ether. Thousands of bright meteors were shooting through space in every direction, with long trains of light following in their course. This lasted for several hours, and was only closed by the dawn of the rising sun. Every heart was filled with joy at this majestic display of signs and wonders, showing the near approach of the coming of the Son of God.” Stephens in his History of the United States (page 455), thus speaks of the same event: “During the fall of 1833 occurred a natural phenomenon of a most wonderful character. This was on the night of the 13th of November. It was what is known as the ‘meteoric shower,’ or the ‘falling of the stars.’ It was witnessed with amazement and astonishment throughout the entire limits of the United States.” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 1, p.439, Note 13)

W. R. Hine would later recount that,

The night the meteors fell in 1833, the Mormons sent men on horseback for miles about Kirtland to arouse the people. They got me up at three o’clock A.M., they claimed it was the fore-runner of some wonderful event, and it was said and believed. Prophet Jo said there would be no more stars seen in the heavens. (Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reexamined, by Rodger I. Anderson, Signature Books, 1990, p. 160)

Others like Philo Dibble would recount that it was Joseph Smith, not Hiram Page that prophesied about the meteor shower. Dibble, whose late reminiscences are full of errors and exaggerations wrote,

On one occasion Joseph was preaching in Kirtland sometime in the fall of 1833. Quite a number of persons were present who did not belong to the Church, and one man, more bitter and skeptical than others, made note with pencil and paper of a prophecy uttered on that occasion, wherein Joseph said that “Forty days shall not pass, and the stars shall fall from heaven.”

Such an event would certainly be very unusual and improbable to the natural man, and the skeptic wrote the words as a sure evidence to prove Joseph to be a false Prophet.

On the thirty-ninth day after the utterance of that prophecy a man and brother in the Church, by the name of Joseph Hancock, who is yet living, in Payson, Utah, and another brother were out hunting game and got lost. They wandered about until night, when they found themselves at the house of this unbeliever, who exultingly produced this note of Joseph Smith’s prophecy, and asked Brother Hancock what he thought of his Prophet now, that thirty-nine days had passed and the prophecy was not fulfilled.

Brother Hancock was unmoved and quietly remarked, “There is one night left of the time, and if Joseph said so, the stars will certainly fall tonight. This prophecy will all be fulfilled.”

The matter weighed upon the mind of Brother Hancock, who watched that night, and it proved to be the historical one, known in all the world as “the night of the falling of the stars.”

He stayed that night at the house of the skeptical unbeliever, as it was too far from home to return by night, and in the midst of the falling of the stars he went to the door of his host and called him out to witness what he had thought impossible and the most improbable thing that could happen, especially as that was the last night in which Joseph Smith could be saved from the condemnation of “a false prophet.”

The whole heavens were lit up with the falling meteors, and the countenance of the new spectator was plainly seen and closely watched by Brother Hancock, who said that he turned pale as death, and spoke not a word.

After that event the unbeliever sought the company of any Latter-day Saint. He even enticed Mormon children to keep him company at his house. Not long afterwards, too, he sent for Joseph and Hyrum to come to his house, which they did, but with no noticeable results, for I believe he never received the gospel. (The Juvenile Instructor, No. 27, p. 23, 1892. For more on Philo Dibble, See my articles, “Playing F.A.I.R” and “Joseph Smith’s Moonmen”)

To see the transformation of this collection of folklore into actual history, see, “How a Meteor Shower Inspired a Favorite Hymn”, in Meridian Magazine, May 30, 2013, where Larry Barkdull claims that the event that took place in November 1833 inspired a poem (which became a Hymn) written by W. W. Phelps almost a year before the event took place.  (Phelps’ Poem, “Now Let Us Rejoice In The Day Of Our Salvation”, first appeared in The Evening and Morning Star, Vol. 1, No. 10, March 1833, p. 80, well before (8 months) the Meteor Shower that took place on the night of November 13, 1833).

Barkdull writes,

On the night of November 12, the mob assembled for a slaughter. Defenseless and with no place to retreat, the Mormons would be easy prey – shooting fish in a barrel. Jackson County was about to see mass murder on an unprecedented scale, and all that the defenseless, starving, shivering Saints could do was huddle in the mud and wait for their demise.

It was in that moment of hopelessness and defeat that the Lord sent a miracle.”

Barkdull then quotes from the Parley P. Pratt account cited by Roberts in The History of the Church (cited above) and claims that the Meteor Shower was a “miracle” sent by God to protect the “Saints” from the evil Missouri mob:

The fiery display in the heavens continued all through the night, striking the mob with such awe that they halted their advance on the Saints to watch the magnificent celestial display. In the morning, they simply turned around and went home, and immediately thereafter, the Saints safely escaped to Clay County. (Meridian Magazine, May 30, 2013, online here, accessed August 5, 2013.)

The account penned by Parley Pratt reads,

Thursday, November 7. The shore began to be lined on both sides of the ferry with men, women and children; goods, wagons, boxes, provisions, etc., while the ferry was constantly employed; and when night again closed upon us the cottonwood bottom had much the appearance of a camp meeting. Hundreds of people were seen in every direction, some in tents and some in the open air around their fires, while the rain descended in torrents. Husbands were inquiring for their wives, wives for their husbands; parents for children, and children for parents. Some had the good fortune to escape with their families, household goods, and some provisions; while others knew not the fate of their friends, and had lost all their goods. The scene was indescribable, and, I am sure, would have melted the hearts of any people on the earth, except our blind oppressors, and a blind and ignorant community.

Next day our company still increased, and we were principally en gaged in felling cottonwood trees and erecting them into small cabins. The next night being clear, we began to enjoy some degree of comfort.

About two o’clock the next morning we were called up by the cry of signs in the heavens. We arose, and to our great astonishment all the firmament seemed enveloped in splendid fireworks, as if every star in the broad expanse had been hurled from its course, and sent lawless through the wilds of ether. Thousands of bright meteors were shooting through space in every direction, with long trains of light following in their course. This lasted for several hours, and was only closed by the dawn of the rising sun. Every heart was filled with joy at this majestic display of signs and wonders, showing the near approach of the coming of the Son of God. (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, pp.. 109-110, online here, accessed August 5, 2013)

Pratt records no miracle, just makes an observation that was being made by many of the same time period. Abraham Lincoln had a much more pragmatic view of this event, as retold by him years later to Walt Whitman:

“When I was a young man in Illinois,” said he, “I boarded for a time with a Deacon of the Presbyterian church. One night I was roused from my sleep by a rap at the door, & I heard the Deacon’s voice exclaiming ‘Arise, Abraham, the day of judgment has come!’ I sprang from my bed & rushed to the window, and saw the stars falling in great showers! But looking back of them in the heavens I saw all the grand old constellations with which I was so well acquainted, fixed and true in their places. Gentlemen, the world did not come to an end then, nor will the Union now.” (Walt Whitman, “A Lincoln Reminiscence”, Specimen Days & Collect (1882) as quoted in Sky & Telescope, November 1999, pp. 34-35, online here, accessed August 5, 2013)

For more on how this event influenced others besides the Mormons, see “Apocalypse Now? Part I – The Great Disappointment”, online here, accessed August 5, 2013.

Joseph Smith would later denounce William Miller (cited in the article above) as a false prophet, declaring that his date of 1843 for the return of Christ was in error, and give his own which was 1891.

The situation was dire for those forced from Jackson County in the winter of 1833, as Whitmer records in Chapter 11 of his History:

The situation of our brethren after leaving their homes in Jackson in the most distressing circumstances, in the cold month of November, found it difficult to preserve life in many instances. Some fled with but few clothes, leaving their beds and bedding; others taking with them what they could carry and running for their lives; women losing some of their children while fleeing for their lives; and thus you may judge how the poor Saints have suffered, after having given only a few hints of the distress.

Whitmer does not mention anything about a mob pursuing them in an effort to pick them off “like fish in a barrel”.

Year later, Brigham Young would speak of the events in Missouri and use the metaphor of falling stars to describe those like John Whitmer who left the faith:

Are the Latter-day Saints ready to receive Zion from above? Have they wisdom and knowledge to receive and conduct themselves properly in the society of angels? I think not. While I was in Far West, and the mob began to gather there, determined to kill Joseph, he preached to the people and said, “If you had faith and would live your religion, you would prove the revelation to be true where the Lord says, ‘I will fight your battles, and, if necessary, send down angels to save you from the wicked grasp of your enemies.'” There was an armed mob of some 3,500 arrayed against some 300 of us. They sent in a deputation, saying they wanted about three persons out of the town, for they were calculating to destroy the people and the place. Some of those self-glorious stars of “Mormonism”—stars that fell in that crisis, looked round for the angels. They did not see them, and straightway turned their backs upon their God and their religion, and joined the enemy. ( Journal of Discouses, Vol. 7, p.143, May 22, 1859)

[174] ibid, p. 125.

[175] ibid, p. 132..

[176]  ibid.

[177] ibid, p. 195.

[178]  ibid, p. 175.

[179] There are many studies that have been done of the Kirtland Safety Society and Joseph’s involvement in land speculation.  Mormon Apologist Marvin S. Hill, with C. Kieth Rooker and Larry T. Wimmer published this one in B.Y.U. Studies: “The Kirtland Economy Revisited: A Market Critique of Sectarian Economics,” which can be read online here. Also see, “Joseph Smith’s Kirtland Bank Failure”, by Jerald & Sandra Tanner, found online here.

Even though Hill, Rooker and Wimmer have presented an impressive amount of data about the Kirtland economy between 1830 and 1840, they still leave many questions unanswered, or ambiguous.

Yet, they still conclude that “Joseph smith was eventually unable to meet all his financial obligations and in that sense he was obviously responsible for an excessive amount of debt,” (p. 403) and then try to mitigate this by claiming that $102,000 of debt is somehow not as bad as the $150,000 that Fawn Brodie estimated in No Man Knows My History.

“An intriguing question, they ask, “is why Joseph Smith sought to undertake and thereafter continued to support a venture with such high risk as the Safety Society Bank.” (p. 432) To which they answer, “we have suggested perhaps the principal advantage [was] to Joseph Smith himself.”  (p. 432)They add that the failure of Joseph’s “anti-Bank” was primarily due to “its lack of a corporate charter,” (p. 435) which was denied by the State of Ohio.

Why would Joseph still push ahead with the Safety Society when (as Hill, et. all, claim) “it was poorly capitalized”, “the lack of a charter created enormous handicaps, bad publicity and great personal risks”? (p. 436)

They give several answers, among them that Joseph’s credibility as a Church leader would come into question (it did).

This was because Joseph’s bank venture was directly tied to his prophetic claims, for Joseph had not only promised that the Bank would succeed, but that God had promised that it would.  Wilford Woodruff wrote in his Journal that he,

herd President Joseph Smith jr. declare in the presence of F Williams, D. Whitmer, S. Smith, W. Parrish, & others in the Deposit Office that he had receieved that morning the Word of the Lord upon the Subject of the Kirtland Safety Society. He was alone in a room by himself & he had not ownly the voice of the Spirit upon the Subject but even an audable voice. He did not tell us at that time what the LORD said upon the subject but remarked that if we would give heed to the Commandments the Lord had given this morning all would be well.

May the Lord bless Brother Joseph with all the Saints & support the above named institution & Protect it so that every weapen formed against it may be broaken & come to nought while the Kirtland Safety Society shall become the greatest of all institutions on EARTH. (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, Vol. 1, 1833–1840, p.120)

Warren Parrish wrote:

“I have listened to him [Joseph Smith] with feelings of no ordinary kind, when he declared that the audible voice of God, instructed him to establish a banking—anti banking institution, who like Aaron’s rod shall swallow up all other banks (the Bank of Monroe excepted,) and grow and flourish and spread from the rivers to the ends of the earth, and survive when all others should be laid in ruins.” (Painesville Republican, February 22, 1838)

At the April 1837 Conference of the Church, Joseph Smith spoke about the “temporal affairs of the church in this place,” and that “large contracts have been entered into for land on all sides”, and that “our brethren abroad have only to come with their money, take these contracts, and relieve their brethren of the pecuniary embarrassments under which they now labor…” Smith then,

closed at about 4 P. M. by uttering a prophesy saying this place must be built up, and would be built up, and that every brother that would take hold and help secure and discharge those contracts that had been made, should be rich. (Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Vol. 3, No. 7, April 1837, pp. 487-88).

Why would Joseph then, need a bank to relieve him of his debt, especially when they claim that Joseph “owned land equal in value to at least $88,000”? (p. 426) And why would Joseph give heed to (as Hill, et all claim), “some Democratic newspapers and political groups”(page 456) about continuing on without a charter, when God had apparently told him that all that was needed was the brethren to come with their money and take over his land contracts?

Ronald E. Ronig and Michael S. Riggs tie the problems with Joseph’s finances in Kirtland directly with his obsession to “redeem Zion”:

A look at Joseph Smith’s indebtedness through the lens of Marvin Hill, C. Keith Rooker, and Larry T. Wimmer, The Kirtland Economy Revisited: A Market Place Critique of Sectarian Economics (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1977), suggests the LDS president was probably not overleveraged. However, sources cited in this study suggest that at least one significant aspect of Smith’s debt problem was not considered for the purposes of their book. Contemporary sources strongly suggest Joseph Smith’s multilayered plan for the redemption of Zion seriously overextended the resources of the young movement. Smith, try though he did, could not extract enough funds from his followers to accomplish his entire prophetic agenda. Something had to be sacrificed and the only priority that did not require immediate attention (would not result in a lawsuit) was his plan for a military operation to retake Jackson County.  (“Reassessing Joseph Smith’s “Appointed Time for the Redemption of Zion”, The Missouri Mormon Experience, edited by Thomas M. Spencer, University of Missouri Press, 2010, page 49).

For more on the Bank of Monroe and Oliver Cowdery’s tenure as Vice President, see Mark L. Staker, “Raising Money in Righteousness: Oliver Cowdery as Banker”, in Days Never to Be Forgotten: Oliver Cowdery, ed. Alexander L. Baugh (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2009), 143–254, online here, accessed August 5, 2013.

[180] Reed Peck Manuscript, 1839, pages 17-20. Reed Peck was the son of Hezekiah Peck and Martha Long, and was born in Afton, New York in 1814. Previous to the division of the town of Bainbridge, the village and post-office at Afton were known as South Bainbridge.  This is where Joseph Smith married Emma Hale in 1827. Reed Peck married Clarissa M. and they were the parents of four sons:

Presson R, Frank F., Charles D., George W, and a daughter Kate.  Hezekiah Peck was baptized on 28 June, 1830, and most likely Reed was baptized during the same month or shortly thereafter.

The first postmaster [of South Bainbridge] was probably Albert Neely or Joseph P. Chamberlin, at least fifty years ago. Josiah Wright succeeded Chamberlain about 1830. Next was Zaccheus Smith, who came here from Delaware county and kept hotel in the Sullivan House. He held the office till about 1840 and was succeeded by Murlin Jackson. Cornelius Atherton was appointed about 1855 or ‘6, and was followed in 1861 by Lewis Post, who held it till his death February 12, 1863, aged 54 when Daniel A. Carpenter was appointed. Carpenter was succeeded in a short time by E[li]. M. Shay, who held the office till June 12, 1877, when Theodore L. Willey, the present incumbent, was appointed. (“History of Chenango County”, rootsweb @, online here, accessed August 5, 2013).

In 1903, Harriet E. Shay wrote,

I knew Reed Peck, son of Hezekiah, well after he deserted the Mormon sat Kirtland, Ohio, or Nauvoo. He came back to Afton and spent his days above the village on east side of the river. His place is known as Pecks Mills. He died about three years ago. He was a man highly respected. Mrs. Harriet E. Shay being duly sworn deposes and says, that the above statement is true to the best of her knowledge and belief. (Larry C. Porter, “Colesville, B.Y.U. Studies, 1970, p

The Pecks migrated to Jackson County Missouri in the summer of 1831 and had relocated to Clay County by the fall of 1835. They subsequently moved to Far West in Caldwell County by 1837, where Reed Peck was an eyewitness to the events that led up to the “Mormon War” of 1838. Along with John Corrill and John Whitmer, Reed Peck also wrote a history of those events, which was critical of Joseph Smith and the Kirtland Hierarchy of the Church. Peck called himself an “antiDanite” and helped to broker a deal for the surrender of the Mormon Hierarchy to Generals Atchinson and Doniphan of which John Corrill wrote,

On Sunday, the fourth of November [1838], we heard that Generals Atchinson and Doniphan, with an army, were encamped on Crooked River.

On Sunday evening Smith came to me to have me accompany Reed Peck the next day to meet their army with a white flag, in order to open a correspondence, if possible, and agree upon some terms of peace. We went in company with Colonel Hinkle and about one hundred and sixty horsemen. When we got near Crooked River we learned that the army had moved on to Log Creek, and were making their way to Far West. We thought proper to return, and it was with difficulty that we got back, for the militia had come between us and town. When we arrived, we saw a line of battle drawn up by the militia, and the Mormons also arrayed to meet them, but the militia, for some cause, withdrew to their camp on Goose Creek. About dark, Reed Peck took a white flag, and went into their camp. He saw General Doniphan and others. General Lucas, with his troops from Jackson County, had joined the army, and they were about thirteen hundred strong. When Peck returned he said that General Doniphan had appointed the next morning at eight o’clock to meet a committee of Mormons and make proposals of peace. He promised that no harm should befall us that night; he stated that their object was to bring the guilty to punishment, but the innocent should have an opportunity to escape before they would attack the place.

That night, the Mormons built a sort of breast-work of rails, house- logs, boards, etc., on that side of town next to the army, but it was about as good a defence as a common fence would be. Much has been said abroad about the Mormons building forts, entrenchments, etc., but this breast-work spoken of above is all that they ever had. In the night both armies were alarmed more or less, each being afraid of an attack from the other.

Next morning, at the time appointed, Reed Peck, Colonel Hinkle, and myself, went with the white flag, and met Generals Lucas, Doniphan, and some other officers, who informed us that they were waiting for General Clark, whom they expected soon with the Governor’s order; that they were not prepared to make proposals of peace until it arrived, for they knew not what it would require of them or us. They agreed to let us know as soon as they received it. At the same time, General Doniphan informed us that General Lucas had the chief command. Smith appeared to be much alarmed, and told me to beg like a dog for peace, and afterwards said he would rather go to States- prison for twenty years, or would rather die himself than have the people exterminated. About three o’clock in the evening we received word that the Governor’s order had arrived, so we went again to meet them, and see what it was. Colonel Hinkle, W. W. Phelps, Captain Morrison, Reed Peck, and myself went, and General Lucas read the order to us.

Smith had previously requested that after receiving the order, or finding out what the Governor required, we should see him before we agreed to any proposals. We did so, and although the Mormons have accused us of giving up their leaders by intrigue, yet Smith himself was the first man that agreed to the proposals. (John Corrill, A Brief History of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, pp. 40-41)

For those (called dissenters) who had objected to Joseph Smith’s policies in Missouri, and most especially his involvement with the Danites, the Mormon leader wrote an epistle to the church from Liberty Jail on December 16, 1838, which included this bitter and vindictive rant against them:

Look at the dissenters. Again, “If you were of the world the world would love its own.” Look at Mr. Hinkle—a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Look at his brother John Corrill. Look at the beloved brother Reed Peck, who aided him in leading us, as the Savior was led, into the camp of His enemies, as a lamb prepared for the slaughter, as a sheep dumb before his shearers; so we opened not our mouths.

And now, brethren, we say unto you—what more can we enumerate? Is not all manner of evil of every description spoken of us falsely, yea, we say unto you falsely. We have been misrepresented and misunderstood, and belied, and the purity and integrity and uprightness of our hearts have not been known—and it is through ignorance—yea, the very depths of ignorance is the cause of it; and not only ignorance, but on the part of some, gross wickedness and hypocrisy also; for some, by a long face and sanctimonious prayers, and very pious sermons, had power to lead the minds of the ignorant and unwary, and thereby obtain such influence that when we approached their iniquities the devil gained great advantage—would bring great trouble and sorrow upon our heads; and, in fine, we have waded through an ocean of tribulation and mean abuse, practiced upon us by the ill bred and the ignorant, such as Hinkle, Corrill, Phelps, Avard, Reed Peck, Cleminson, and various others, who are so very ignorant that they cannot appear respectable in any decent and civilized society, and whose eyes are full of adultery, and cannot cease from sin. Such characters as McLellin, John Whitmer, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris, are too mean to mention; and we had liked to have forgotten them. Marsh and “another,” whose hearts are full of corruption. whose cloak of hypocrisy was not sufficient to shield them or to hold them up in the hour of trouble, who after having escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, became again entangled and overcome—their latter end is worse than the first. But it has happened unto them according to the word of the Scripture: “The dog has returned to his vomit, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.”

After the conference had fully expressed their feelings upon the subject it was unanimously voted that the following persons be excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, viz.: George M. Hinkle, Sampson Avard, John Corrill, Reed Peck, William W. Phelps, Frederick G. Williams, Thomas B. Marsh, Burr Riggs, and several others. After which the conference closed by prayer. (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 3, p.231)

History is an apt judge of the character of those like Reed Peck and John Corrill, who after writing their frank and forthright histories, lived their lives as upstanding members of their respective communities; while it could easily be said of Joseph Smith that his eyes were “full of adultery,” and “cannot cease from sin”.

In fact, Smith would go so far as to say in 1841 that “charity coverd a multitude of Sins & what many people called sin was not sin” to try and justify his Nauvoo adulteries. (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal,  Vol. 2, 1841–1845, p.136, November 7, 1841).

Just 6 months earlier, Joseph had proposed to Zina Huntington that she be his “spiritual wife,” but she had refused and married Henry Jacobs. This did not deter Smith, who then, according to Huntington,

sent word to me by my brother, saying, ‘Tell Zina, I put it off and put it off till an angel with a drawn sword stood by me and told me if I did not establish that principle upon the earth I would lose my position and my life’”. (Brain Stuy, Collected Discourses Vol. 5, p.31)

Joseph had made Zina his spiritual wife a little less than two weeks before telling his apostles that “some sin is not sin”.

In the case of Reed Peck, he returned to Afton, New York, where he labored as a millwright, and served as a Justice of the Peace.  Larry C. Porter writes of the “highly respected” Reed Peck that he,

“turned antagonistic towards Mormonism during the “Missouri Period” and witnessed against the Saints at a trial in Richmond, Missouri in November 1838. He was subsequently excommunicated from the Church at a conference in Quincy, Illinois, March 17, 1839. Peck prepared a strong anti-Mormon treatise containing his observations of the Mormon conflict in Missouri, which manuscript was extensively quoted by Lu B. Cake in his examination of the rudiments of Mormonism.” (Larry C. Porter, “Colesville, B.Y.U. Studies, 1970, pp. 9-10).

To say that Peck was simply “antagonistic towards Mormonism” and therefore wrote an “anti-Mormon treatise”, does an injustice to the man and what he wrote.  Reed Peck was not antagonistic towards  Mormonism, rather, he had a problem with Joseph Smith’s leadership of the church. He writes,

In the course of the fall of 1836 and succeeding winter nearly all all the Mormons in the state had collected in Caldwell county) and by persevering industry <soon> opened extensive farms and it seemed by magic that the wild prairies over a large tract were converted into cultivated fields Persons visiting the county remarked , “that no other people of the same number could build a town like Far West and accomplish as much in the agricultural line in five years as the Mormons had in one” Confidence was established (to a certain degree) among all parties. Merchants did not hesitate to furnish individuals of the society with large stock of goods on credit so that in 1837 there were six Mormon stores in Far West and all doing very good business–The good conduct of the Mormons under the auspices of W. W. Phelps John Whitmer Edward Partridge and John Corrill as leaders had gained them an honorable character among their immediate neighbors, which with their industry and economy bade fair to make caldwell one of the most respectable & thriving counties in Upper Misso[uri.] Land was entered at One dollar and twenty five cents per acre and nearly every family was in possession of a farm & the Summer of 1837 found them actively engaged in cultivating the same… (Reed Peck Manuscript, pp. 11-13).

It was only after Joseph Smith fled Kirtland (because of his massive debts and the failure of the Safety Society and the lawsuits that followed) and arrived in Missouri to “set the church in order” that the problems with Peck and the other “dissenters” began.  He elaborates,

The people of the surrounding country were still friendly & harmony prevailed among the Mormons till the middle of June when the enmity of the two parties from Kirtland manifested itself to an alarming degree At this period measures were concerted no doubt by instigation of the presidency to free the community of the cowderies, Whitmers, Lyman Johnson and some others, to effect which a secret meeting was called at Far West, by Jared Carter and Dimick B. Huntington two of Smiths greatest courtiers where a proposition was made and supported by some as being the best policy to Kill these men that they would not be capable of injuring the church. All their measures were strenuously opposed by John Corrill and T. B. March one of the twelve apostles of the church and in consequense nothing could be effected until the matter was taken up publicly by the presidency the Sunday following (June 17th) in the presense of a large congregation. S. Rigdon took his text from the fifth chapter of Mathew “Ye are the Salt of the Earth but if the salt have lost his savour wherewith shall it be salted, it is henceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and be trodden underfoot of men” From this Scripture he undertook to prove that when men embrace the gospel and afterwards lose their faith it is the duty of the Saints to trample them under their feet He informed the people that they had a set of men among them that had dissented from the church and were doing all in their power to destroy the presidency, laying plans to take their lives &c., accused them of counterfeiting lying cheating and numerous other crimes and called on the people to rise en masse and rid the county of Such a nuisance He said it is the duty of this people to trample them into the earth, and if the county cannot be freed from them any other way I will assit to trample them down or to erect a gallows on the Square of Far West and hang them up as they did the gamblers at Vicksburgh and it would be an act at which the angels would smile with approbation

Joseph Smith in a Short speech Sanctioned what had been Said by Rigdon though said he I don’t want the brethren to act unlawfully but will tell them one thing Judas was a traitor and instead of hanging himself was hung by Peter, and with this hint the subject was dropped for the day having created a great excitement and prepared the people to execute anything that should be proposed. (ibid, pp. 21-26)

Having been run out of Kirtland because of his illegal banking practices and the “dissenters” there, Smith was determined not to let this happen to him in Missouri:

On the next Tuesday [June 19, 1838] these dissenters as they were termed were informed that preparations were being made to hang them up and if they did not escape their lives would be taken before night, and perceiving the rage of their enemies they fled to Ray County leaving their families and property in the hands of the Mormons The wrath of the presidency and the threats of haning &c. were undoubtedly a farce acted to frighten these men from the county that they could not be spies upon their conduct or that they might deprive them of their property and indeed the proceedings of the presidency and others engaged in this affair fully justify the latter conclusion, for knowing the probable result, Geo W. Robinson Son in law of S. Rigdon had prior to their flight sworn out writs of attachment against these men by which he took possession of all their personal property, clothing & furniture, much of which was valuable and no doubt very desirable leaving their families to follow to Ray County almost destitute–That the claims by which this property was taken from these men were unjust and perhaps without foundation cannot be doubted by any unprejudiced person acquainted with all parties and circumstances and no testimony has ever been adduced to show that the men were ever guilty of a crime in Caldwell County

These unlawful and tyrannical measures met with the censure of John Corrill W. W. Phelps, John Clemenson myself and a few others but we were soon made sensible that we had excited suspicion, and perhaps endangered ourselves by venturing to speak unfavourably of these transactions

We found that the events of a few days had placed Caldwell County under a despotic government where even liberty of speech was denied to those not willing to unite in support of the new order confidential subjects were appointed to converse with all suspected members and by pretending to be displeased with the antirepublican measures enforced against the dissenters were able to learn the feelings of many, and by reporting to the presidency drew down thundering anathemas from the pulpit upon those so unwary as to speak their sentiments where long tried friendship was swallowed up in bigotry and fanaticism

A friend of long standing asked me if I did not think the dissenters were dealt harshly by and that the presidency did wrong in exciting the people against them[?]

Saying at the same time that he “blamed Joseph &c” I answered that the dissenters deserved punishment if they were guilty as represented. Thinking from my answer that I had become satisfied with what had been done, he acknowledged that he was only endeavouring to learn the true state of my feelings, and then to give me an idea of his attaachment to the cause, said that if Josep Smith Should tell him to cut my throat he would do it without hesitation I hear expressions of this nature from several and shuddered at the thought of living in a community where the nod of one man if displeased would deprive an individual of every privilege and even life if the consequence had not been feared more by him than his following On the Sunday succeeding the flight of the dissenters, S. Rigdon in a public discourse explained satis factorily no doubt to the people the principles of republicanism (After informing them as an introduction that “some certain characters in the place had been crying you have broken the law–you have acted contrary to the principles of republicanism” he said that “when a country, or body of people have individuals among them with whom they do not wish to associate and a public expression is taken against their remaining among them and such individuals do not remove it is the principle of republicanism itself that gives that community a right to expel them forcibly and no law will prevent it” He also said that it was not against the principles of republicanism for the people to hang the gamblers in Vick’sburgh as it was a matter in which they unanimously acted”

Soon after the delivery of this speech he informed the church in an address, that they would soon be called upon to consecrate their property and those who would not comply with the law of consecration should be delivered over to the brother of Gideon, whom he represented as being a terrible fellow. We are[,] said he[,] Soon to commence building the ‘Lords House’in Far West which will enhance the value of property ten fold in its vicinity and such and such proprietors as will not consecrate the whole amount of that increase of value for the building of the house and [p. 35] other church uses should be delivered over to the brother of Gideon and be sent bounding over the Prairies as the dissenters were a few days ago

In short we found that all matters comprising anything not completely subject to the will of the presidency were to be managed by the terrible brother of Gideon. All the requirements of the presidency must be complied with, peacably if you will forcibly if we must always making the brother of Gideon the terror of all that would not heartily join in the Support of their government and views

A few individuals of us were ever after this opposed to the rule of the presidency perceiving that all spiritual and temporal affairs were under their control and no monarch on earth ever had supreme power over his subjects more than they over the inhabitants of Caldwell County only they durst not exercise it to so great a degree Their word was law in religious civil and military matters, but the secret springs of their power and influence we did not yet understand

In the latter part of June a young man from Ohio having reported something about J Smith & S Rigdon, was taken by constable D. B. Huntington Geo W Robinson and a few others compelled <to sign a libel &> to Kneel before S. Rigdon and ask pardon as the only alternative to escape a caining from the constable who held his staff over him in an attitude for striking until be bent the knee

For these offences application was made for writs VS J Smith S. Rigdon D. B. Huntington Sampson Avard and others but they would not permit the clerk of the court to issue them declaring that they would never suffer vexatious lawsuits to be instituted against them in Caldwell county-

Some time previous to this Secret meetings had been held in F West that excited much curiousity among those that had not been permitted to attend as it was easily discovered that something more than ordinary was in progress among the male members of the church Ignorant of the nature of these meetings I attend one about the last of June, and heared a full disclosure of its object=Jared Carter Geo W. Robinson, and Sampson Avard, under the instructions of their presidency, had formed a secret military Society, called the “daughter of Zion” and were holding meetings to initiate members The principles taught by Sampson Aard as spokesman, were that “as the Lord had raised up a prophet in these last days like unto Moses it Shall be the duty of this band to obey him in all things, and whatever he requires you shall perform being ready to give up life and property for the advancement of the Cause When any thing is to be performed no member Shall have the privilege of judging whether it would be right or wrong but Shall engage in its accomplishment and trust God for the result It is not our business or place to know what is required by God, but he will inform us by means of the prophet and we must perform If any one of you see a member of the band in difficulty in the surrounding country contending for instance with an enemy, you shall extricate him even if in the wrong if you have to do with his adversary as Moses did with the Egyptian put him under the Sand and both pack off to Far West and we will take care of the matter ourselves. No person shall be suffered to speak evil or disrespectfully of the presidency The secret signs and purposes of this society are not to be revealed on pain of death” &c &c About 50 persons were initiated into the Society at the time I was introduced and to sam time the oath was administered to all the novices at once of which I took advantage by remaining silent and accordingly avoided taking it (ibid, pp. 26-41)

These “Danites” as they were also called, were affirmed by Joseph Smith in his own diary on July 27, 1838:

Thus far, according to the order /revelation/ of the Danites. We have a company of Danites in these times, to put to right physically that which is not right, and to clense the Church of very  great evil[s?] which has hitherto existed among us inasmuch as they cannot be put to right by teachings and persuasyons. This company or a part of them exhibited on the fourth day of July [ – ] They come up to consecrate, by companies of tens, commanded by their captain over ten (The Joseph Smith Papers website, online here, accessed August 5, 2013.)

Just a few days before his July 27 diary entry Joseph penned this “revelation” for Thomas Marsh and his “apostles”, which promised that,

 vengeance cometh speedily upon the inhabitants  of the earth. A day of wrath! A day of burning! A day of des olation! Of weeping! Of mourning and of lamentation! And as  a whirlwind it shall come upon all the face of the earth saith the Lord.  And upon my house shall it begin and from my house shall it go forth  saith the Lord. First among those among you saith the Lord; who  have professed to know my name and have not known me and  have blasphemed against me in the midst of my house saith the Lord (Revelation, July 23, 1837, JSPW, online here, accessed August 5, 2013.)

According to Historian D. Michael Quinn:

… it is anachronistic to apply Smith’s later rejection of Avard to the Danite general’s actions four months earlier. In the early summer of 1838, Avard was the stalking-horse for the First Presidency. The Danite constitution specified: “All officers shall be subject to the commands of the Captain General, given through the Secretary of War.” Joseph Smith had held the latter position “by revelation” in the church’s “war department” for three years,  [footnote 87 Document Containing the Correspondence, Orders, &c In Relation to the Disturbances With the Mormons, 102; Jessee, The Papers of Joseph Smith, 2:42n2.] and had been commander-in-chief of the Armies of Israel for four years. What the Danites did militarily during the summer and fall of 1838 was by the general oversight and command of Joseph Smith.

In the skirmishes that both sides called “battles,” Mormons used deadly force without reluctance. Benjamin F. Johnson wrote that Danite leader (and future apostle) Lyman Wight told his men to pray concerning their Missouri enemies: “That God would Damn them & give us pow[e]r to Kill them.”

Likewise, at the beginning of the Battle of Crooked River on 25 October 1838, Apostle David W. Patten (a Danite captain with the code-name “Fear Not”) told his men: “Go ahead, boys; rake them down.”  [footnote:  Dean R. Zimmerman, ed., I Knew the Prophets: An Analysis of the Letter of Benjamin F. Johnson to George F. [S.] Gibbs, Reporting Doctrinal Views of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (Bountiful, UT: Horizon Publishers, 1976), 27; Nathan Tanner reminiscence, in George S. Tanner, John Tanner and His Family (Salt Lake City: John Tanner Family Association/Publishers Press, 1974), 386. At the time of this 1903 letter, Johnson was a patriarch and George S. Gibbs was an assistant in the LDS Church Historian’s Office. His name has often been misread as George F. Gibbs, his father who was secretary to the First Presidency at the same time. The back cover of this publication described editor Zimmerman as “Supervisor of Academic Research for LDS Department of Seminaries and Institutes.”]

The highest ranking Mormon charged with murder for obeying this order was Apostle Parley P. Pratt who allegedly took the careful aim of a sniper in killing one Missourian and then severely wounding militiaman Samuel Tarwater. This was after Apostle Patten received a fatal stomach wound. [footnote:  Indictment of Parley P. Pratt for murder of Moses Rowland, filed 2 Apr. 1839, Boone County Circuit Court Records, Case 1379, fd 17, Western Historical Manuscripts Collection, University of Missouri; John D. Lee autobiography in Mormonism Unveiled: or the Life and Confessions of the Mormon Bishop, John D. Lee (St. Louis: Bryan, Brand & Co., 1877), 73, with similar description in Reed Peck manuscript, 99-100 of the unnamed Parley P. Pratt, a “cold hearted villain (I know him well).” Neither History of the Church, 3:170-71, nor The Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt, ed. Parley P. Pratt, Jr. (New York: Russell Brothers, 1874), 195-97, explains the reason for Pratt’s murder indictment or imprisonment.] In their fury at the sight of their fallen leader, some of the Danites mutilated the unconscious Tarwater “with their swords, striking him lengthwise in the mouth, cutting off his under teeth, and breaking his lower jaw; cutting off his cheeks…and leaving him [for] dead.” He survived to press charges against Pratt for attempted murder.  [footnote:  James H. Hunt, Mormonism…Their Troubles In Missouri and Final Expulsion From the State (St. Louis: Ustick & Davies, 1844), 190-91. Although he did not acknowledge that Tarwater sustained these injuries after he was shot and lying unconscious on the ground, an assistant LDS church historian gave a more gruesome description of his injuries, including “a terrible gash in the skull, through which his brain was plainly visible.” See Andrew Jenson, “Caldwell County, Missouri,” The Historical Record 8 (Jan. 1888): 702.] (D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, p.485)

On July 19, 1840 Joseph Smith would give a discourse (recorded by Martha Jane Knowlton) that was full of prophetic rhetoric decrying the United States Government, which had refused to interfere in Smith’s Missouri problems.  In this discourse Smith resurrects some of Sidney Rigdon’s Salt Sermon rhetoric, and mentions Reed Peck. Smith declares in this sermon that, “the Land of Zion consists of all N. & S America” instead of just the State of Missouri as recorded in previous “revelations”, and that “the twelve olive trees” or stakes (mentioned in D&C 101) “which are yet to be built” are “not the Temple in Jackson as some suppose”, which directly contradicts his “revelation” (mentioned above) which states that,

there is none other place appointed than that which I have appointed; neither shall there be any other place appointed than that which I have appointed, for the work of the gathering of my saints—

Until the day cometh when there is found no more room for them; and then I have other places which I will appoint unto them, and they shall be called stakes, for the curtains or the strength of Zion. (verses 20-21)

Smith reverses this, and claims in this sermon that

“the redemption of Zion is the redemption of all N & S America and those 12 stake must be built up before the redemption of Zion can take place and those who refuse to gather and build when they are commanded to do so cease to be Saviours of men and are thence forth good for nothing but shall be cast out and trodden underfeet of men for their transgression as Reed Peck was when he aplied in the name of an apostate for business in a store in Quincy. They told him that they wanted no apostates round them and showed him the door.”

Smith also claims that they will build Zion “in peace”,  until they begin to lay the foundation of “a great and high watch Tower”, and “they” will begin to say amongst themselves what need have we for this watchtower “seeing this is a time of peace”.  “Then the Enemy shall come,” says Smith, “as a thief in the night and scatter the servants abroad” and when the seed of these 12 stakes are scattered they will “wake up the Nations of the whole Earth,” and that “this Nation will be on the very verge of crumbling to pieces” and “when the constitution is upon the brink of ruin this people will be the Staff up[on] which the Nation shall lean and they shall bear the constitution away from the very verge of destruction.”

Unfortunately, Smith had already set the date for the Redemption of Zion as September 11, 1836, and that date had come and gone.  On August 16, 1834 he wrote from Kirtland “to the brethren in Zion”,

use every effort  to prevail on the churches to gather to those regions  and situate themselves to be in readiness to move  into Jackson Co. in two years from the Eleventh of  September next which is the appointed time for the  redemption of Zion (Letter to Lyman Wight, Edward Partridge, John Corrill, Isaac Morley, and others, Clay County, MO, 16 Aug. 1834; handwriting of Frederick G. Williams; in JS Letterbook 1, pp. 84–87; JS Collection, CHL, online here, accessed August 5, 2013.)

On September 24th 1835 Joseph recorded in his diary,

September 24th 1835 This day the High Council met at my house to take into consid[e]ration the redeem[p]tion of Zion. It was the voice of the spirit of the Lord that we petition to the Governer [of Missouri]. That is those who have been driven out /should/ to do so to be set back on their Lands next spring. We [should] go next season to live or dy [die] to this end so the dy is cast in Jackson County.

We truly had a good time and Covena[n]ted to strug[g]le for this thing u[n]till death shall desolve [dissolve] this union. And if one falls that the rest be not discouraged but pe[r]sue this object untill it is ac[c]omplished. Which may God grant u[n]to us in the name of Christ our Lord.

September 24th 1835 This day drew up an Arti/c/le of [p.35] inrollment for the redem[p]tion of Zion that we may obtain volunteers to go next spring /to M[iss]o[uri]/. I ask God in the name of Jesus that we may obtain Eight hundred men /or one thousand/ well armed [men] and that they may ac[c]omplish this great work. Even so. Amen. {page 2} (Scott H. Faulring, An American Prophet’s Record, p.34)

On January 21, 1836 Joseph records in his journal that he had a vision where he “beheld the Celestial Kingdom of God” and “the blasing throne of God” upon which was “Seated the Father and the Son”. He also saw “Father Adam, Abraham and Michael” along with his “father and mother,” and “my brother Alvin”.  “I also” wrote Joseph “beheld the redemption of Zion” (Scott H. Faulring, An American Prophet’s Record, p.119).

On the 29th of January 1836 Joseph had recorded in his diary some of his father’s patriarchal blessings upon various individuals which promised that they would “stand on earth till [thy] Redeamer corn[es]” and “shall be filled with light [and shall] not sleep in the dust. [Thou shalt] see thy Redeamer come in the clouds of heaven and be caught up to meet him and be ever with him” and “live to see the winding up of this generation.” (Scott H. Faulring, An American Prophet’s Record, pp.125-6)

In early March, Joseph wrote in his diary,

Sunday the 13th of March 1836 Met with the Presidency and some of the 12 [Apostles] and counseled with them upon the subject of removing to Zion this Spring. We conversed freely upon the importance of her redemption and the necessity of the Presidency removing to that place, that their influence might be more effectually used in gathering the Saints to that country. We finally come to the resolution to emigrate on or before the 15th of [p.141] May next if kind providence Smiles upon us and opens the way before us.

Later that month he wrote,

The Seventies are at liberty to go to Zion if they please or go wheresoever they will and preach the gospel and let the redem[p]tion of Zion be our object, and strive to affect it by sending up all the strength of the Lord’s House wherever we find them. I want to enter into the following covenant, that if any more of our brethren are slain or driven from their lands in Missouri by the mob that we will give ourselves no rest until we are avenged of our enimies to the uttermost. This covenant was sealed unaminously [unanimously] by a hosanna and Amen. (Scott H. Faulring, An American Prophet’s Record, p.155, March 30, 1836)

A few days later on April 2, Joseph writes that he,

Transacted business (although of a temporal nature) in company with S[idney] Rigdon, O[liver] Cowdery, J[ohn] Whitmer, F[rederick] G. Williams, D[avid] Whitmer, and W[illiam] W. Phelps which was to have a bearing upon the redemption of Zion. The positive manner in which he [Joseph Smith] expressed himself on this, /his/ favorite theme, was directly calculated to produce conviction in the minds of those who heard him, that his whole soul was engaged in it, notwithstanding on a superficial view of the same subject they might differ from him in judgement.

It was determined in council, after mature deliberation, that he and O[liver] Cowdery should act in concert in raising funds for the accomplishment of the aforesaid object. As soon as the above plan was settled, he and O[liver] Cowdery set out together, and their success was such in one half day as to give them [p.157] pleasing anticipations assuring them that they were doing the will of God and that his work prospered in their hands. (Scott H. Faulring, An American Prophet’s Record, p.156)

In July 1836 this article appeared in a Rochester New York newspaper, The World As It Is, and General Advertiser, as reprinted from the Missouri paper, The Far West,

ANOTHER WAR BREWING. — The Far West, published at Independence, Missouri, says information has been received from Kirkland, [sic] Ohio, through various channels of another movement among the Mormons to obtain possession of the “promised land,” and to establish their Zion in Jackson county’ the scene of their former disastrous defeat. They are said to be armed to the number of 1500 or 2000, and to be making way in [detached] parties to the “debatable ground.” The Far West also states that the people of Jackson and their friends in the surrounding counties are taking affective measure for resistance. (The World As It Is, and General Advertiser, July 16, 1836).

Rumors of the pending Mormon reinvasion of Jackson County were prevalent in the spring of 1836. One settler, Louis Cortambert would write that the old settlers were still very much alarmed about the threat of a Mormon incursion because “they had not renounced New Jerusalem”. (Cortambert, “Journey to the Land of the Osages,” p. 208).

Smith’s obsession with the redemption of Zion and his sending “the strength of the Lord’s house” to Missouri began to affect relations between the Mormons in Clay County, and the settlers there.  Anderson Wilson documented his unease at this large influx of “saints”:

July 4, 1836, Clay County, Missouri

…They have been flocking in here faster than ever and making great talk of what they would do. A letter from Ohio shows plainly that they intend to Emigrate here till they outnumber us. Then they would rul the Contry at pleasure. Another letter shows that they are Borrowing all the money that [they] can to procure land here & they Buy all on a credit that they Can get. … They have entered 1600 acres in Clinton Co. in the last few days Besides what they have entered in Clay & Ray co. They settle in towns as we Call them, one of which Contained 250 in our township, Besides another in Washington township nearly as large. … They are living on Rochhoalts panama, in the woods, in wagons in tents in Bark Houses in Cabins etc. This town is 4 miles long & so think that you will not be out of Sight of a den the Whole route. … [They] will elect all their own officers from among the Brethren & even remove the postmaster by petition. … On 24 June we worked the road and nothing else was talked of They passed us in ever way and in Considerable numbers & we got very hot before night to think that we had to work a road for the invaders of our Cuntry to travel. (Ronald E. Ronig and Michael S. Riggs, “Reassessing Joseph Smith’s “Appointed Time for the Redemption of Zion”, The Missouri Mormon Experience, edited by Thomas M. Spencer, University of Missouri Press, 2010, p. 37)

On June 29, 1836 the citizens of Clay County publicly asked the Mormons to leave the county.  Edward Partridge wrote in his diary that “we wanted peace and were willing to make sacrifices, to keep it. … to save the Co. from a civil war.” (ibid, page 38)

The next month, Alexander Doniphan and the church’s lawyers realized that the claims made for the saints’ property in Jackson County would never be realized and relinquished all claims to the land. With no monetary recompense for those lands, “The Mormons began to physically and spiritually disengage from current homes in Clay County and their hoped-for return to Jackson County.” (ibid).

Ronald E. Ronig and Michael S. Riggs write that,

By June 1836, Smith had surreptitiously assembled the bulk of his immigrant army in upper Missouri. But the prophet’s extensive plan had not succeeded in several critical respects. Designated leaders of the Army of Israel were still mostly in Ohio. Also, public sentiment rapidly turned against the saints. And despite apocalyptic posturing, rank-and-file Missouri Mormons appeared willing to avoid further violence.

Smith had intended to come to Missouri to preside over the triumphant return to Jackson County. However, by the 1836 Kirtland Temple dedication, he had apparently realized his September 11, 1836, deadline was not likely to be achieved. By sending the “wise men” to buy land elsewhere [Ray County], it freed Smith to focus on Kirtland issues, such asa managing the debt accrued by temple construction. Smith’s anticipated May 15, 1836, deadline for moving himself and family to Missouri quietly passed. A massive infusion of cash might have resolved both church debt and funding the final stages of the church’s Jackson County return. Smith’s unsuccessful excursion to Salem, Massachusetts, in April 1836 to obtain secreted treasure was largely an effort to raise the capital necessary for the redemption of Zion. In the end, time ran out before Jospeh Smith could muster either the required number of soldiers or finances.

That the Mormons were experiencing a severe cash flow problem was made clear at a council meeting of June 16, 1836, when President F. G. Williams said, “The Case before us in an important one. The Church [is] poor, Zion [is] to be bulit and we have not the means to do it unless the rich assist & because the rich had not assisted, the heads of the Church have to suffer and are now suffering under severe embarrassments and are much in debt.  …

The severity of the LDS church’s financial needs from March through July 1836 impelled the adoption of an interim course correction that redirectd the Missouri Mormons to northern Ray territory. The decisions to buy land as a temporary gathering for saints from the East and to continue planning to redeem Zion by purchase remained as logical possiblilites within Smith’s readjusted longer-term goals. The move to the north kept alive the possibility in the minds of LDS members that Jackson County could yet serve as their ecclesial seat of government

In the wake of the September 11, 1836 prophesy’s failure to materialize, the Mormons began to redefine the boundaries of Zion and the meaning of its redemption. Before the fall of 1836, the term “Zion,” in Mormon theology, was reserved exclusively for Jackson County, Missouri. As the LDS church was reestablished in Ray County following the removal from Clay County, however, being “in” Zion gradually became less geographically tied to Jackson County.(“Reassessing Joseph Smith’s “Appointed Time for the Redemption of Zion”, The Missouri Mormon Experience, edited by Thomas M. Spencer, University of Missouri Press, 2010, page 40).

For more on John Corrill, see note #178 below.

[181] John Corrill, A Brief History of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, St. Louis, Missouri, by the author, 1839, pp. 26-27, Online here, accessed August 5, 2013.

John Corill was born on September 17, 1794, near Barre in Worchester County, Massachusetts and was married to Margaret with whom he had at least five children. He was an architect by trade, and also a carriage builder and a surveyor.  Corrill was converted in Harpersville, Ohio after learning that Sidney Rigdon, whom he admired, had joined with the new sect, and after initially rejecting the Book of Mormon as a scheme to make money, upon a reinvestigation of the church was baptized on January 10, 1831. Joseph Smith subsequently directed Corrill to relocate to Zion, where he played a central role in establishing the church there.

On September 24, 1835 a small group of church leaders met to discuss the means of retaking Zion. Spirits ran high. They agreed they would petition Missouri governor Dunklin again for help, but, in Joseph Smith’s words, they determined to “go next season, to live or die on our own lands” and covenanted to struggle with their enemies to the death if need be.40 According to John Whitmer, the meeting produced more than covenants. By revelation the prophet created a “war department” with the prophet at its head and David Whitmer as “captain of the Lord’s Host.” Officers were Frederick G. Williams, Sidney Rigdon, W. W. Phelps, John Whitmer, John Corrill, Hyrum Smith, and Oliver Cowdery.41 Curiously, while this event has the flavor of a turn toward the militarism that overtook the Saints a few years later, it is worth noting that six of the men listed became dissenters against the later militaristic policies. (Launius and Thatcher, Differing Visions, p.56)

Corrill was called back to Kirtland a year later to help complete work on the Temple. After this, on March 11, 1836,

 a church council formally appointed Bishop Edward Partridge, John Corrill, Isaac Morley, and W. W. Phelps as the “wise men of Missouri” and gave them money to help buy land to provide for immigrating Saints. A month later, accompanied a short distance by the prophet and other friends, the wise men finally began their journey back home [to Missouri]. (Launius and Thatcher, Differing Visions, p.57).

Through the turmoil of the next two years between the old settlers and the Mormon immigrants, John Corrill was respected by both sides and he would later write that friendship began to be restored between the two parties.

As the relative peace of 1837 drifted into 1838, submerged tension appeared within the Missouri church. They were immeasurably exacerbated when Joseph Smith, in flight from angry apostates and creditors, arrived in the spring. Amid great chaos, the Kirtland settlement had broken up in the wake of economic collapse, most symbolically represented by the failure of an unchartered Mormon bank, whose success, dissenters charged, had been guaranteed by revelation. At the same time, a small but influential group, of whom David Whitmer was the most prominent, had fallen into disaffection over changes in the church. Most appalling in their view was the proliferation of church offices, which they believed took the church away from its primitivist origins. (Launius and Thatcher, Differing Visions, p.58).

The arrival of Smith and Rigdon in Missouri in the spring of 1838 brought with them drastic changes and the ouster of the Missouri Presidency and any that supported them on what many thought were trumped up charges.  With growing concern Corrill watched the Presidency under Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon grow more and more militant, until violence became their only recourse to every problem, spurred on by the Danites that had been organized to cleanse the church of what the Presidency  perceived to be very great evils that could not be dealt with by vocal persuasion.

This was the beginning of the end for John Corrill, who wrote later that he had highly disapproved of their course for many months, and that it was of no use to say anything more, and whose only recourse was to look out for his own safety.

On August 6, 1838 Corrill was elected at Caldwell County’s representative to the Missouri legislature and within weeks of this election was “irretrievably alienated from the church.” (ibid, p.63).

By August’s end the church leadership had had enough. As Smith’s scribe George Robinson wrote at the time, “Br[other] Corril[l]’s conduct for some time past has been very unbecoming indeed, especially a man in whom so much confidence has been placed.” When on August 31 Smith and Rigdon learned that Corrill had told some recently arrived converts “that he had no confidence in the revelation” on communitarianism, they were livid and sought him out publicly. The prophet, beating his fists together, angrily told Corrill, “if you tell about the streets again that you do not believe this or that revelation[,] I will  walk on your neck Sir.” Smith warned Corrill that Peter himself had told him that he had hung Judas for betraying Christ, implying the same sort of fate might await Corrill. Corrill’s behavior, he continued, endangered the dissenter’s salvation. If he did not change his ways, the prophet declared, he would keep him out of Heaven, even if doing so meant Smith meeting Corrill at its entrance with his fists.

Corrill responded to this attack with warmth of his own and, quite bravely, under the circumstances, told Smith he might reach Heaven’s gate first, suggesting that it might be he who kept the prophet out. According to George Robinson, Corrill proceeded to tell Smith that he would “not yeald his Judgement to any thing proposed by the church, or any individuals of the church, or even the voice of the great I Am given through the appointed organ as revelation, but will always act upon his Judgement. Let him believe in whatever religion he may. He says he will always say what he pleases. For he says he is a Republican and as such, he will do, say, act, and believe what he pleases.” Robinson, for his part, was astounded by Corrill’s effrontery. “Mark such Republicanism as this,” he wrote, “that a man should…[pit] his own Judgement…[against] the Judgement of God.” (Launius and Thatcher, Differing Visions, pp. 64-65).

Corrill and others would watch helplessly as Joseph Smith confidently asserted that once the Missourians discovered that the Mormons were willing to fight, they would simply give up and that if they did not, that he would yet tread down his enemies, and walk over their dead bodies; and if he was not let alone, he would be a second Mohammed to this generation, and that he would make it one gore of blood from the Rocky mountains to the Atlantic ocean; that like Mohammed, whose motto in treating for peace was, ‘the Alcoran or the Sword.’ So should it be eventually with us, ‘Joseph Smith or the Sword.’ (History of the Church 3:167).

On October 15, Joseph Smith proposed sending Mormon troops into Daviess County. He asked and received approval from the citizens of Far West that any church member who refused to participate in these operations have their property confiscated for the use of those who did. Even more ominous were the so-called bayonet resolutions whereby dissenters could be forced at bayonet point to lead the Saints into battle. Reed Peck wryly noted that Corrill, W. W. Phelps, John Cleminson, and several others, “had the honor of being enrolled in one of these [military] companies and under the bayonet resolutions and marched into Daviess County.” These resolutions notwithstanding, Corrill did not lead anyone into battle. On October 18, Mormon troops plundered and burned parts of Gallatin, Millport, and a number of other nonchurch settlements. Laid up in camp with a bad leg (or so he claimed), Corrill watched with horror as triumphant Mormon soldiers spoke of vanquishing mob after mob until they reached St. Louis. “Many,” he lamented, “had the weakness to believe that God would enable them to do it.”

Instead, the so-called Mormon War was almost at an end. On October 25, 1838, in an attempt to rescue two of their spies, forces clashed with what they thought was part of the anti-Mormon mob. What they had done instead was attack a duly authorized state militia. Although the militiamen were anti-Mormon in sentiment, the battle changed the whole nature of the conflict. Acting on orders from the governor, troops from all over northwestern Missouri poured into Caldwell County and after the massacre at Haun’s Mill forced most Mormons to retreat to Far West. Joseph Smith had realized by this time that the Saints could not win and asked Corrill and a handful of well-known dissenters with contacts among the non-Mormons to help arrange for a surrender. He told Corrill and Reed Peck “to beg like a dog for peace.” (Launius and Thatcher, Differing Visions, p.66)

Corrill helped broker a deal with the Missouri militia which included the surrender of Joseph Smith and other Mormon leaders and the promise that the saints would leave Missouri.  Smith agreed to these terms but would later blame those like John Corrill and Reed Peck for his incarceration.

In November, Corrill testified at a court of inquiry concerning Danite activities, and church military raids into Daviess County. If Corrill, however, had abandoned his belief in Mormonism, he did not abandon the Mormon people. Although he could have easily left church members to their fate, Corrill not only spoke on their behalf to the authorities but also gave his money to the church’s poor—all he had. By selling his property he was able to distribute about $2,100 to nearly 160 needy families.79 Corrill typically gave each recipient about $3 dollars, although there was a wide difference in contributions based on need. For instance, he gave 18 cents to Sherman Brown but $44.60 to Titus Billings. Although some of the money ended up in the hands of old friends like Edward Partridge ($15.04), the jailed Alexander McRae, a fanatical Danite of whom Corrill disapproved, received $2.88, which Corrill undoubtedly gave to McRae’s wife.  Two of Joseph Smith’s brothers benefited from Corrill’s largesse as well: Samuel ($9.62) and William (75 cents). ((75 cents). (Launius and Thatcher, Differing Visions, p.67).

It must have seemed particularly cruel to John Corrill to have Joseph Smith threaten to walk on his neck and then label him as one whose “eyes were full of adultery” and who “cannot appear respectable in any decent and civilized society”; considering the fact that he worked tirelessly in the Missouri Legislature to gain the Mormons recompense for their lands.

John Corrill would not seek another term in the Missouri legislature, after failing to persuade them to recompense the Mormons. Bereft of his lands in Missouri, Corrill with his family moved to Springfield and later to Quincy Illinois, where he died in early 1843, his good name and finances virtually non-existent.

[182]  Westergren, From Historian to Dissident, p.180.  Whitmer later drew a line through this text which appears in the manuscript,

 among whom is W. W. Phelps and myself. Therefore I close this history of the church of Latter Day Saints, Hoping that I may be for given of my faults, and my sins be bloted out and in the last day be saved in the kingdom of God notwithstanding my present situation, which I hope will soon be bettered and I find favor in the eyes of God and <All men> his saints Farewell March. 1848.

[183] E. C. Brand Interview of John Whitmer, Community of Christ Library—Archives; also in Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 5, p. 250.  If Brand’s interview is accurate, then John Whitmer was also making claims about the document in his possession that were not factual.

This interview by Brand has been (in some cases) been given the date of 1845. Here,and here

I emailed Brent Metcalfe who has a copy of the original diary entry, and he was kind enough to send me a photo of the date from Brand’s diary (reproduced below) which shows that Brand’s “7” can easily be mistaken for a “4” because of a crease in the page.

E.C. Brand-18Feb1875

E.C. Brand-18Feb1875

[184] The Holy Scriptures: Translated and Corrected by the Spirit of Revelation, Published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1867, Preface, pg. 3, online here, accessed August 5, 2013.As Richard P. Howard writes,

The RLDS publication committee claimed that Joseph’s purpose in doing this work was to restore biblical texts lost through ancient miscopying or deliberate, evil design. It is in this arena where Joseph’s enormous charisma, mesmerizing his followers and nurturing their sense of deep involvement in the establishment of the imminent kingdom of God, comes sharply into focus. My previous reference to the publication of Genesis 7 from the JSBR manuscripts in W. W. Phelps’s paper in Missouri in 1832 claims more attention. Joseph expands the KJV’s cryptic references to Enoch and his city. By revelation, however, Joseph closes the cosmic chasm between Enoch’s visions and his city and its glory, and Joseph’s own work—to build up the kingdom of God, the New Jerusalem, in Missouri, in the last days of human history. The dream would become flesh-and blood achievement, culminating in the Second Coming of Christ. Fruition of this mission is Joseph’s obsession and dream, and by extension, his community’s passion and reason for being. They hoped one day to embrace Enoch and his people in a grand celebration of the invincible love and power and justice of community. In a sense, Joseph’s narrative in Genesis 7 infused his own dream into the life of an angel ruling an ancient city. In the same instant Joseph collapsed Enoch’s embellished glory into early Mormonism’s quest for Zion. (Joseph Smith’s Bible Revision: Sources, Claims, and Present Role, 1830-2009, Restoration Studies, Volume XI, pp. 144-145).

[185] Richmond Conservator, December 20, 1867. I am indebted to Erin Metcalfe for this discovery.

[186] Emma Smith Bidamon, letter to Joseph Smith III, Nauvoo, Illinois, December 2, 1867, Emma Smith Papers, P4, f39, Community of Christ Archives.

[187] Chicago Times, 7 August 1875.

[188] The Return, Vol. 3. No. 3, Richmond,  Missouri,  October, 1892.

[189]  Many of these interviews may be found in Lyndon W. Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness. Orem: Grandin, 1991. xxvi + 276 pp.

[190] For more on the cyclone of 1878, see The History of Ray County, Mo., Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis, Missouri, 1881, pp. 389-398, online here, accessed, August 5, 2013.

[191] Joseph Fielding Smith, The Life of Joseph F. Smith, Deseret Book Company, 1838,, pages 236-7.

[192] ibid, pages 240-241.

[193] Deseret News, August 14, 1878.

[194] Smith, op. cited, page 247.

[195] “Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith, Millennial Star 40 (9 Dec 1878):771-74.

[196] Smith, page 245.

[197] ibid, pages 246-7.

[198] Book of Mormon Witnesses Revisited, A Response to Richard L. Anderson, Stephen C. Harper, Daniel C. Peterson, Richard L. Bushman, and Alan Goff, by Dan Vogel, online here, accessed, July 20, 2013.

[199] The Deseret News, August 14, 1878. Translation below? Book of the Generations of Adam?

[200] Book of Mormon Witnesses Revisited, op. cited above

[201] Deseret Evening News, August 16, 1878.

[202] See note #195.

[203] There are three recent studies about the newly found Hicks photo in addition to this one, that I am aware of, one called “The ‘Caractors’ Document: New Light on an Early Transcription of the Book of Mormon Charactors” by Michael Hubbard MacKay, Gerrit J. Dirkmann, and Robin Scott Jensen, published in Mormon Historical Studies, Vol. 14, No. 1, Spring 2013, pp. 131-152. Another is found in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Vol. 1: July 1828 – June 1831, by  Michael Hubbard MacKay, Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, Grant Underwood, Robert J. Woodford, William J. Hartley, Appendix 2: Copies of Book of Mormon Characters, pp. 353-367.

The third study has been done by Brent and Erin Metcalfe, and is called “Who Wrote the Book of Mormon ‘Caractors’?”and was presented at the John Whitmer Historical Association 41st Annual Meeting, on September 27, 2013.

All of these studies have come to different conclusions about who wrote the document; which I will explore in the last chapter of this article. The first two articles above give no further insights about the possession of the document by the Whitmers while they were in Missouri.

[204] Joseph F. Smith was particularly incensed with Jacob over his referral of Joseph Smith as “Joe Smith” and later wrote,

“I pleasantly remarked, “Have you not enough respect for Joseph Smith to call him by his proper name,” to which Jacob Whitmer replied, “I have no particular respect or disrespect for him; Joe Smith is the name he goes by here.” Smith then replied, “I retorted, I generally respect all men enough, to call them by their proper names.”

Whitmer’s curt answers that “he had no papers here”, and his calling Smith’s uncle “Joe”, was sufficient, it seems, for him to label Jacob Whitmer a bigot.

[205] Deseret News, December 4, 1878.

[206] Richmond Conservator, March 25, 1881.

[207] Jesse R. Badham’s Account of an Interview with David Whitmer, March 1881 Source: Diary of Jesse R. Badham, Whitmer Papers, RLDS Archives.

[208] Richmond Conservator, March 24, 1881. See also An Address to All Believers In Christ, page 10, where Whitmer has the 1881 “Proclamation” and “Explanation”, (which contains the statement about the manuscript and the “caractors”) reprinted, online here, accessed August 5, 2013.

[209] James H. Hart, Deseret News, March 25, 1884.

[210] Bear Lake Democrat, March 28, 1884.

[211] Juvenile Instructor, Vol. 19, p. 107,  (1884).

[212] “David Whitmer Talks,” The Salt Lake Daily Tribune, Salt Lake City, Utah, Sunday, October 17, 1886, see also Omaha Herald, October 10, 1886.

[213] An Address To All Believers In Christ, by the author, 1887, page 11.

[214] Improvement Era, January 1942, p. 58. Ronald Romig writes,

At some point, some of John Whitmer’s papers apparently passed into the possession of James R. B. Van Cleave, a Chicago newspaper reporter and Illinois politician.

R. B. Van Cleave

R. B. Van Cleave

In March 1881, Van Cleave conducted a significant interview with David Whitmer that subsequently appeared in the October 17, 1881, Chicago Times. Then Van Cleave successfully courted  and married David Whitmer’s granddaughter, Josephine Helen Schweich. Van Cleave planned to write a history of Mormonism from the Whitmers’ perspective. In preparation, he “obtained consent of John Whitmer’s daughters to remove the papers he had selected . . . and brought them to Richmond, Mo.”

John Whitmer’s papers were deposited in a Richmond, Missouri, bank vault. But Van Cleave was ultimately unable to compile his book, and Whitmer’s papers next passed to George Schweich (fig. 4)—Van Cleave’s brotherin-law and David Whitmer’s grandson. In 1903, when Schweich sold the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon and “Caractors” document, four leaves of BCR materials also passed to the RLDS Church.( Ronald E. Romig, “Response to the Book of Commandments and Revelations Presentations”, B.Y.U. Studies, Vol. 48, No. 3, 2009, pp. 87-88, online here, accessed August 6, 2011).

What is interesting is that the biography of David J. Whitmer published on the findagrave website, claims David J’s father (David Whitmer),

was the custodian, as he claimed, by Divine command of the original manuscript of the Record of the Nephites, (or what is commonly known as the Book of Morman [sic]).

[215] ibid, pp. 58-59.

[216] ibid, page 58.

The “Caractors” From The Gold Plates

Characters On Desk

Part I of “19th Century Photo of Joseph Smith’s ‘Caractors’ Found”

Farmer Martin Harris

Farmer Martin Harris

If you missed the Introduction to this article, click on the link.

There are many differing accounts that have been given about the history of the characters that Joseph Smith supposedly copied from the gold plates he claimed a “messenger from the skies” informed him of in the fall of 1823.

At the center of these accounts is a prosperous farmer named Martin Harris, who came to believe the story Joseph told him about a messenger who revealed to him that there was a record of the former inhabitants of this continent [7] written on gold plates which had been buried on a hill about five miles from the Harris farm. Joseph, who was apparently told by the messenger that he would be able to translate the plates by means of “spectacles”[8] that were buried with them, left conflicting accounts about the characters.

There are also many accounts that do not agree with the details that Smith wrote in 1832, 1834 and 1839 concerning the “caractors” he claimed were copied from the plates.

These conflicting details have raised questions by many who have studied the various accounts about the characters related by Joseph Smith, Martin Harris and others. For instance,

Why did Joseph state in his 1832 History that “the Lord had shown him [Martin Harris] “in a vision” that he must go to New York City with some of the characters”?

Why did Joseph’s mother Lucy and others state that Joseph Jr. copied the characters before his move to Pennsylvania?

Why did Joseph state in his 1839 History that it was only after his arrival in Pennsylvania that he began to copy and translate some of the characters with the aid of the urim and thummim?

Why would Joseph do so if he was told by the messenger to wait until they were taken to the “learned” to fulfill scripture?

In an article which tries to explain some of the above questions, Mormon apologist David E. Sloan writes that “it is a mistake to allow a limited historical perspective to control the interpretation of an inspired prophecy.”[9]

But it is a historical fact that Joseph “translated”  the contents of the Book of Mormon after the events that it purported to prophecy about.[10] Mr. Sloan continues,

This is especially so [the limited historical perspective] considering that the relevant portion of the 1839 history was written approximately ten years after the actual event, by a clerk under the Prophet’s direction, and without explicit reference to the prophecy. In contrast, the first historical account of this event, discussed below, was personally written by Joseph only four years later, specifically refers to the prophecy, and is consistent with the interpretation of the prophecy given above. According to Elder Neal A. Maxwell, most “great spiritual events went unseen by eyes spiritually untrained. . . . One day, the historical record will be complete; but, meanwhile, the scriptures will be our guide concerning those transcending spiritual events in human history which are saturated with significance.” [11]

Letterbook 1

Letterbook 1

The historical account that Mr. Sloan refers to was written by Joseph in 1832 but was subsequently abandoned by him and left in the back of a Letterbook.[12] This account was not used by Joseph and Oliver in their 1834-5 History, nor was it referenced by Joseph in his 1839 History. Joseph did have the 1834 History copied into his large journal in 1835-36, but not the abandoned 1832 history.[13] Still, the 1832 History is the closest contemporary account written by Joseph dealing with the characters he supposedly copied off of the gold plates.  Joseph wrote,

“on the 22d day of Sept of this same year [1827] I obtained the plates and the in December following we mooved to Susquehana by the assistence of a man by the name of Martin Haris who became convinced of the visions and gave me fifty Dollars to bare my expences and because of his faith and this rightheous deed the Lord appeared unto him in a vision and shewed unto him his marvilous work which he was about to do and he imediately came to Su[s]quehanna and said the Lord had shown him that he must go to new York City with some of the characters so we proceeded to coppy some of them”[14]

According to this account it was Martin’s idea (supposedly inspired by a vision) to have some of the characters copied so he could go to New York City with them. This version of events is remembered differently by Lucy Smith who spoke to the assembled Church in 1845 as recorded by William Clayton:

[I] Want to speak about the dead. 18 years ago last September that J[oseph] took the plates out of the earth. 18 years last Monday since J[oseph]. S[mith]. the prophet of the Lord got the plates from the earth.  J[oseph]. came to me and told me he had taken those plates out of the ground. Tell all three of them (Harris[es]) that I have got them I want Martin to assist me and take some of the characters off to send them to N.Y.” [15]

Norton Jacob

Norton Jacob

Norton Jacob also wrote an account of Lucy Smith’s speech and verified what Clayton wrote,

Br Brigham [Young] commenced in the morning.… after he got through Mother Smith, Joseph’s mother addressed the congregation abou<t> an hour concerning of the history of herself & family in bringing forth the Book of Mormon[.] she said it was eighteen years ago last monday since she commenced preaching the gospel being cal[l]ed upon by Joseph Smith to go & tell Mar=tin Harris & family that he had got the Plates & he wanted him to take an alphabet of the characters & carry them to the learned men to decypher.…” [16]

An account given by Martin Harris himself in 1859 also does not agree with Joseph’s 1832 history. In this account by Harris he states that “I had a revelation the summer before, [1827 ] that God had a work for me to do.” It is notable that Harris does not say that God revealed anything specific to him. Harris then affirms that,

The first time I heard of the matter, [the gold plates] my brother Presarved Harris, who had been in the village of Palmyra, asked me if [I] had heard about Joseph Smith, jr., having a golden bible. My thoughts were that the money-diggers had probably dug up an old brass kettle, or something of the kind. I thought no more of it. This was about the first of October, 1827.[17]

Harris then states that he first visited Lucy Smith who told him the story of the gold plates and then “a day or so” later he went and visited Joseph.[18]  Martin stated that Joseph told him that, “An angel had appeared to him, and told him it was God’s work,” and that “he found them [the plates] by looking in the stone found in the well of Mason Chase. [19] The family had likewise told me the same thing,” wrote Harris.[20] Harris then stated that,

“Joseph said the angel told him he must quit the company of the money-diggers. That there were wicked men among them. He must have no more to do with them. He must not lie, nor swear, nor steal. He told him to go and look in the spectacles, and he would show him the man that would assist him. That he did so, and he saw myself, Martin Harris, standing before him. That struck me with surprise. I told him I wished him to be very careful about these things. ‘Well,’ said he, ‘I saw you standing before me as plainly as I do now.’ I said, if it is the devil’s work I will have nothing to do with it; but if it is the Lord’s, you can have all the money necessary to bring it before the world. He said the angel told him, that the plates must be translated, printed and sent before the world. I said, Joseph, you know the doctrine, that cursed is every one that putteth his trust in man, and maketh flesh his arm; and we know that the devil is to have great power in the latter days to deceive if possible the very elect; and I don’t know that you are one of the elect. Now you must not blame me for not taking your word. If the Lord will show me that it is his work, you can have all the money you want. [21]

Harris then recounts that he,

retired to my bedroom and prayed God to show me concerning these things, and I covenanted that if it was his work and he would show me so, I would put forth my best ability to bring it before the world. He then showed me that It was his work, and that it was designed to bring in the fullness of his gospel to the gentiles to fulfill his word, that the first shall be last and the last first. He showed this to me by the still small voice spoken in the soul. Then I was satisfied that it was the Lord’s work, and I was under a covenant to bring it forth. [22]

Martin does not claim that he had a vision about the plates. If Harris had already become “convinced of the visions” (as Joseph recounts), then it seems rather strange that he would ask God to acknowledge if “it was his work”, and then pester Joseph to have the characters verified by “the learned”. In this account Martin does not even mention his errand to New York City. Copying the BOM CharactersJoseph states in his 1832 History that it was after his move to Harmony that he transcribed some of the characters from off of the gold plates, [23] but Lucy Smith writes that it was before he moved that this happened:

It soon became necessary to take some measure to accomplish the translation of the record into English but he was instructed to take off a facsimile of the  characters <composing the alphabet which were called reformed egyptian>  Alphabetically and send them to all the learned men that he could find and ask them for the translation of the same. [24]

It was then, after Joseph had copied some of the characters; that Lucy mentions Martin Harris who she said was a “confidential friend to whom Mr. Smith [Joseph Smith, Sr.] mentioned the existence of the record 2 or 3 years before it came forth.” [25] Lucy then states that ,

To him [Harris] Joseph desired me to go and one afternoon as he wished to see him[.] But this was an errand that I somewhat disliked for his wife [Lucy Harris] was a peculiar sort of a woman one that was habitually of an a very jealous temperment and being hard of hearing she was always suspicious of some secret being in agitation that was designedly kept from her hearing[.] on this account I would rather not go unless I could approach her upon the subject before I spoke to him about it[.] Joseph consented to this and I went away according to his request. [26]

This account agrees with the Harris account in 1859 which states that Lucy came to visit Martin, and here we see that it was at the instigation of Joseph, not the other way around, although Harris did say that he had already intended to see Smith.

Lucy Mack Smith

Lucy Mack Smith

In Lucy Smith’s account it is Lucy Harris that first gives Joseph money to help translate the plates, because she supposedly sees the plates in a dream.[27]  Lucy writes that it was after this, “in Palmira at a public house”  that Martin shows up with a bag of silver totaling $50 and gives it to Smith for his expenses.[28] Also, Martin Harris states in 1859 that he first learned of the record from his Brother Preserved in 1827, not from Joseph Smith Sr. “2 or 3 years before it came forth.” In 1870 Fayette Lapham gave an account of an interview with Joseph Smith Sr. that probably took place in 1829 for the Historical Magazine and recalled that,

Under the first plate, or lid, [of the gold plates] he found a pair of spectacles, about one and a half inches longer than those used at the present day, the eyes not of glass, but of diamond. On the next page were representations of all the masonic implements, as used by masons at the present day. The remaining pages were closely written over in characters of some unknown tongue, the last containing the alphabet of this unknown language. Joseph, not being able to read the characters, made a copy of some of them, which he showed to some of the most learned men of the vicinity. [29]

Lapham relates that there was an “alphabet” of the unknown language written on the last page of the plates, and that Joseph “made a copy of some of them.” Lapham also states in his account that it was Joseph himself who took copies of the characters to “learned men of the vicinity” and that it was after this that he chose Martin Harris to be his scribe.  It should be noted that Dan Vogel writes that “some of Lapham’s statements are inaccurate” though “many of the details are supported by contemporary sources” unpublished in 1870.[30] Lapham also said that Joseph “one day tried the spectacles, and found that, by looking through them, he could see everything—past, present, and future—and could also read and understand the characters written on the plates.”[31] Lucy Smith’s account agrees with Lapham’s about an Alphabet, and that the stones in the “spectacles” were made of diamonds. [32] David Sloan, in trying to prove that Joseph could not translate the characters on the plates until Martin Harris came back from his trip to New York (thereby fulfilling Joseph’s reworked Isaiah prophecy found in 2 Nephi Chapter 27) states:

Joseph’s parents also believed that their son could not at first translate the characters and understood that one reason for sending Martin Harris to New York City was to obtain help with the translation. In 1830, Joseph Smith Sr. was reported as saying that “his son, “not being able to read the characters, made a copy of some of them, which he showed to some of the most learned men of the vicinity.” The Prophet’s mother also recorded that during this time, “Joseph was very solicitous about the work but as yet no means had come into his hands of accomplishing it”—this despite the fact that he possessed the Urim and Thummim. [33]

Joseph apparently did not tell his mother the reason why the characters needed to be sent out to be deciphered; only that he was “instructed” to do so.[34] Joseph Smith Sr. gives the reason why Lucy states that Joseph did not have the “means” to accomplish this task:

Joseph was directed not to make the translation where there was so much opposition; hence, after procuring the necessary materials, he and Martin went to Harmony, in Pennsylvania, where they would be less persecuted, and where Joseph, with spectacles on, translated the characters on the gold plates, and Harris recorded the result. [35]

This had nothing to do with Joseph’s ability to translate by means of the spectacles; he just didn’t have the means to move to Harmony Pennsylvania where he could translate without “so much opposition”.  It certainly does not mean that Joseph couldn’t translate, or that he didn’t translate a few of the characters to show to others. Also, if Joseph couldn’t read the characters, then how did he know that the last page of the book was an alphabet? What were the necessary materials? According to Lucy and Joseph Smith, Sr., certainly not Joseph having Martin Harris take a copy of the characters to the “learned” of the day. Mr. Sloan states that the purpose of his article “is not to challenge the 1839 history,” but that is exactly what he does whether intentionally or not. What Joseph and Oliver wrote in 1832 and again in 1834-5 does indeed claim that Joseph was told not to translate until Harris returned from New York, but by 1839 Joseph had changed his account, possibly to match up with the historical facts that had been slowly coming forth. There are simply no published accounts (except for Joseph’s in 1834-5) that support the story of a messenger telling him that prophecy must be fulfilled before he could translate. In 1832 Joseph wrote that it was the Lord telling Martin Harris to go to New York, and in 1834-5[36] it was “the messenger from the skies” telling Joseph.[37] Golden_Plates_with_Urim_and_ThummimJohn A. Clark, a resident of Palmyra who spoke to Harris in the fall  of 1827, included recollections of this interview in his book Gleanings by the Way in 1842, and recalled that when Harris showed up at his house he drew “a package out of his pocket with great and manifest caution,”[38] and told Clark that contained in the package were characters that Joseph “had transcribed from one of the leaves” of a “mysterious book, which no human eye of the present generation had yet seen” but “was in the possession of Joseph Smith, jr.”[39] Harris also told Clark that there “had been a revelation made to him [Joseph Smith] by which he had discovered this sacred deposit, and two transparent stones, through which, as a sort of spectacles, he could read the Bible [gold plates], although a box or ark that contained it had not yet been opened, and that by looking through those mysterious stones” Joseph had written down some of the characters for Martin Harris. [40] “How he” [Joseph], writes Clark, “obtained these spectacles without opening the chest, Harris could not tell.”[41] Clark writes that when Harris carefully unfolded the slip of paper he saw that it,

“contained three or four lines of characters, as unlike letters or hieroglyphics of any sort, as well could be produced were one to shut up his eyes and play off the most antic movements with his pen upon paper. The only thing that bore the slightest resemblance to the letter of any language that I had ever seen, was two upright marks joined by a horizontal line, that might have been taken for the Hebrew character Clark Hebrew Character[42]

If Joseph did give Harris “three or four lines of characters” before he obtained the “spectacles”, could Joseph have seen the characters on the plates without them? Joseph Knight wrote that Smith said that “he seamed to think more of the glasses or the urim and thummem then:[than] he Did of the Plates, for, says he, “I can see any thing; they are Marvelus.”[43] Joseph Translating with SpectaclesClark writes that Joseph obtained the spectacles without opening the box.[44] Since Joseph also used a peep stone (also called a seer stone) which was also called the urim and thummim,[45] it may be possible that Joseph saw some of the characters that were on the plates before he had them in his possession, by way of his peep stone. [46] When Joseph first began translating and copying the characters (according to John Clark’s interviews with Harris) he hung up a curtain or blanket:

“The way that Smith made his transcripts and translations for Harris was the following: Although in the same room, a thick curtain or blanket was suspended between them, and Smith concealed behind the blanket, pretended to look through his spectacles, or transparent stones, and would then write down or repeat what he saw, which, when repeated aloud, was written down by Harris, who sat on the other side of the suspended blanket. Harris was told that it would arouse the most terrible divine displeasure, if he should attempt to draw near the sacred chest, or look at Smith while engaged in the work of decyphering the mysterious characters. This was Harris’s own account of the matter to me.” [47]

What is clear from Clark’s account is that when Harris visited him in the fall of 1827 he had a slip of paper with lines of characters written on it. Others report that after Joseph moved to Harmony he prepared more documents for Martin’s trip to the east. It was in December of 1827 that Joseph finally got the means to make the move to Harmony Pennsylvania, aided by a monetary gift from Martin Harris and the help of Emma’s brother Alva Hale.[48] Martin Harris later related that this move was prompted by the repeated insistence of those in Joseph’s “company of money diggers” to see the plates.  Initially, Joseph and Emma stayed at the home of her father Isaac Hale, who later wrote,

After they had arrived at Palmyra [Manchester] N.Y., Emma wrote to me inquiring whether she could have her property, consisting of clothing, furniture, cows, &c. I replied that her property was safe, and at her disposal. In short time they returned, bringing with them a Peter Ingersol[l], and subsequently came to the conclusion that they would move out, and resided upon a place near my residence.

Smith stated to me, that he had given up what he called “glass-looking,” and that he expected to work hard for a living, and was willing to do so. He also made arrangements with my son Alva Hale, to go to Palmyra, and move his (Smith’s) furniture &c. to this place. He then returned to Palmyra, and soon after, Alva, agreeable to the arrangement, went up and returned with Smith and his family.

Soon after this, I was informed they had brought a wonderful book of Plates down with them. I was shown a box in which it is said they were contained, which had, to all appearances, been used as a glass box of the common sized window-glass. I was allowed to feel the weight of the box, and they gave me to understand, that the book of plates was then in the box – into which, however, I was not allowed to look.

I inquired of Joseph Smith Jr., who was to be the first who would be allowed to see the Book of Plates? He said it was a young child. After this, I became dissatisfied, and informed him that if there was any thing in my house of that description, which I could not be allowed to see, he must take it away; if he did not, I was determined to see it. After that, the Plates were said to be hid in the woods. [49]

Joseph purchased a home built by Emma’s older brother Jesse Hale along with thirteen acres of farmland acquired from her father Isaac. [50] Joseph Knight wrote that,

[Sometime in November 1827] He [Joseph Smith, Jr.] obtaind fifty Dollars in moneySmith-home1 and hired a man to move him and his wife to Pensylvany to hir Fathers, his wife Being onwell and wanted to go to her Fathers. He Bout [bought] a piece of Land of hir Father with a house and Barn on it. Here the People Began to tease him to see the Book and to offer him money and property and they Crouded so harde that he had to hide it in the Mountin. He now Began to be anxious to git them translated. He therefore with his wife Drew of[f] the Caricters exactley like the ancient and sent Martin Harris to see if he Could git them Translated. [51]

Knight claims that Joseph “drew off the caricters exactly like the ancient” and doesn’t mention that they were copied “alphabetically”, as Lucy Smith’s account does. Knight also states that he copied the characters after his move to Pennsylvania, which also differs from Lucy’s account.[52] In 1873 Emily C. Blackman wrote in her History of Susquehanna County that Isaac Hale’s son Reuben, “assisted Joe Smith to fix up some characters such as Smith pretended were engraven on his book of plates.” [53] In an interview given in 1886, David Whitmer stated that it “took Joseph Smith a whole week to copy, [the characters] so particular was he that the characters should be perfectly reproduced, and that the “reformed Egyptian” language should be shown up in all its native simplicity, for, it must not be forgotten, there was a singular significance in errand which this scrap of paper was destined to perform. [54]

Oliver Cowdery

Oliver Cowdery

In 1834-5 Oliver Cowdery (aided by Joseph Smith) wrote what Oliver described as “a full history of the rise of the church of the Latter Day Saints” which was published in the Messenger and Advocate. [55] Cowdery relates that when the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph in 1823 he was told that,

it was our brother’s privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain, and translate the same [record of the Nephites] by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose with the record. “Yet,” said he, “the scripture must be fulfilled before it is translated, which says that the words of a book, which were sealed, were presented to the learned; for thus has God determined to leave men without excuse, and show to the meek that his arm is not shortened that it cannot save.” A part of the book was sealed, and was not to be opened yet. The sealed part, said he, contains the same revelation which was given to John upon the isle of Patmos, and when the people of the Lord are prepared, and found worthy, then it will be unfolded unto them. [56]

This is the first mention of a requirement to fulfill scripture before the translation could begin. Joseph’s 1832 history does not mention this requirement by Moroni, only that Martin,

took his Journ[e]y to the Eastern Cittys and to the Learned saying read this I pray thee and the learned said I cannot but if he would bring the plates they would read it but the Lord had forbid it and he returned to me and gave them to me to translate and I said I said [I] cannot for I am not learned but the Lord had prepared spectticke spectacles for to read the Book therefore I commenced translating the characters and thus the Prop[h]icy of Isiaah was fulfilled which is writen in the 29 chapter concerning the book  [57]

Joseph only adds the fulfillment of scripture as an afterthought in this account. In the first known published account about the Book of Mormon six months later, we also find no mention of the fulfillment of prophecy, only that,

A few however, believed the “golden” [Bible] story, among whom was Martin Harris, an honest and industrious farmer of this town. So blindly enthusiastic was Harris, that he took some of the characters interpreted by Smith, and went in search of some one, besides the interpreter, who was learned enough to English them; but all to whom he applied (among the number was Professor Mitchell, of New York,) happened not to be possessed of sufficient knowledge to give satisfaction! Harris returned, and set Smith to work at interpreting the Bible. [58] 

This account does not portray a doubting Harris, or that he was commanded to go by God, only that he was “enthusiastic”. The account also states that Joseph had already translated some of the characters, and the enthused Harris went to New York to confirm the translation. A month later the Rochester Gem published an article about Martin Harris’ visit to the village, and again there is no mention of fulfilling prophecy in relation to his journey to New York City:

A man by the name of Martin Harris was in this village a few days since endeavouring to make a contract for printing a large quantity of a work called the Golden Bible. He gave something like the following account of it. “In the autumn of 1827 a man named Joseph Smith of Manchester, in Ontario County, said that he had been visited by the spirit of the Almighty in a dream, and informed that in a certain hill in that town was deposited a Golden Bible, containing an ancient record of divine origin. He states that after a third visit from the same spirit in a dream, he proceeded to the spot, removed earth, and there found the bible, together with a large pair of spectacles. He had also been directed to let no mortal see them under the penalty of immediate death, which injunction he steadfastly adheres to. The treasure consisted of a number of gold plates, about 8 inches long, 6 wide, and one eighth of an inch thick, on which were engraved hieroglyphics. By placing the spectacles in a hat and looking into it, Smith interprets the characters into the English language.

Harris states that he went in search of some one to interpret the hieroglyphics, but found that no one was intended to perform that all important task but Smith himself. Smith has interpreted the whole, and it is now in press in Palmyra, Wayne Co. The subject attracts a good deal of notice among a certain class, and as it will be ere long before the public, we shall endeavor to meet it with the comment it may deserve.–Ed Gem. [59]

Here again we see no explanation why Harris needed to find someone to “interpret” the characters. We also see that Joseph was using the same translation method with the “spectacles” as he did with his peep stone: placing them into a hat. John A. Clark writes that the “earnest” Martin Harris takes “some of the manuscripts that Smith furnished him” to New York; but there is again no mention of the fulfillment of any prophecy or angelic command to do so:

“He [Martin Harris) was so much in earnest on this subject, that he immediately started off with some of the manuscripts that Smith furnished him on a journey to New York and Washington to consult some learned men to ascertain the nature of the language in which this record was engraven. After his return he came to see me again, and told me that, among others, he had consulted Professor Anthon, who thought the characters in which the book was written very remarkable, but he could not decide exactly what language they belonged to. Martin had now become a perfect believer. He said he had no more doubt of Smith’s commission, than of the divine commission of the apostles.  The very fact that Smith was an obscure and illiterate man, showed that he must be acting under divine impulses:– “God had chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the weak things to confound the mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised — yea, and things that are not to bring to nought—things that are—that no flesh should glory in his presence:” that he was willing to “take of the spoiling of his goods” to sustain Smith in carrying on this work of the Lord; and that he was determined that the book should be published, though it consumed all his worldly substance.” [60]

Harris does link his journey to scripture, but uses Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, not Isaiah.  According to Lucy Smith,

Joseph started [in]Dec[ember] for Penn[sylvania] and[a few lines blank] it was agreed that Martin Harris should follow him as soon as he <Joseph> should have sufficient time to transcribe the Egyptian alphabet which Mr. Harris was to take to the east and through the country in every direction to all who were professed linguists to give them an opertunity of showing their talents—as soon as Mrs H[arris] Heard this she declared her intention of accompanying her husband but he concluded that it would be better to go without her and left sudenly not giving her any intimation of his intention[.] Hyrum went with him. [61]

The “Egyptian Alphabet” that Lucy and Joseph Sr. speak of may have been the document that Harris ultimately showed to the “professed linguists”, which was apparently more than the “three or four lines of characters” described by John Clark and W. W. Phelps, and which David Whitmer described as taking a week to complete. It may have been that Harris coaxed out of Joseph some of the characters, (the seven lines that ultimately was passed on to David Whitmer) and that after Joseph was settled in Harmony and had more time he transcribed the “Alphabet” that Harris took to New York, along with a translation of some of the characters. [62] Orson Pratt wrote in 1840 that,

Orson Pratt

Orson Pratt

Having provided himself with a home, he [Joseph] commenced translating the record, by the gift and power of God, through the means of the Urim and Thummim; and being a poor writer he was under the necessity of employing a scribe, to write the translation as it came from his mouth.  In the mean time, a few of the original characters were accurately transcribed and translated by Mr Smith, which, with the translation, were taken by a gentleman by the name of Martin Harris, to the city of New York, where they were presented to a learned gentleman by the name of Anthon, who professed to be extensively acquainted with many languages, both ancient and modern. He examined them; but was unable to decipher them correctly; but he presumed, that if the original records could be brought, he could assist in translating them. [63]

It was about this time according to Lucy Smith that Martin’s wife Lucy came into possession of a copy of the characters:

A young man had been paying his addresses to Lucy Har[r]is[,]Martins oldes<t> daughter[,] of Mrs by the name of Dikes[.] <of> this young gentleman[,] the Father of <the> girl was very fond and the young Lady was not at all averse to him[,] but of course Mrs. Harris was decidedly upon the negative. But just at this juncture a scheme enter=ed her brain that changed her deportment to Mr Dikes very materially—She told Mr Dikes that if he would contrive to get the egyptian characters out of Martins possesion and hire a room in Palmira & take transcribe them accurately and bring her the tra=nscript that she would give him her daughter Lucy to wife Mr Dikes readily agreed to this and sufice it to say he succeeded to the [p.353] woman’s satisfaction and received the promised reward.

When Mr. Haris began again to prepare to set out for Penn[sylvania] again in order to set himself about the writing of the translation of the plates His <wife> told <him>that she fully decreed in her heart to go also[.] He proposed to her that she should go with him and stay a week or two on a visit and then he would take her home and go again to do the work of writing the Book[.]

She acceeded to this very cheerfully—But her husband did [not] suspect what he was to encounter[.] The first time he exhibited the egyptian characters she took out of her pocket an exact copy of them and informed those present that Joe smith was not the only one that was in possesion of this great curiosity that she herself had as the same characters and they were quite as gen=uine as those displayed <to> them by Mr H[arris][.] she pur=sued this course wherever she went untill she reached My sons house. when [they] arrived there she said she had come to see the plates and would never leave untill she attained her objec<t>

The next day Joseph was comp[e]lled to take them out of the house and bury both the breast plate & the record for she began by [w.o. to] ransack<ing> every nook & [p.354] corner of the house[,]chest[,] cupboard[,] trunk &c[.] the day after she went out and hunted the ground over ajacent to the house[.] she kept up the search till 2 oclock in <the> afternoon when she came in very ill natured and after warming herself a little enqired of Emma if they had snakes there in the Winter time[.][64]

It is not known what happened to the copy of the characters that Lucy Harris had in her possession, but all of her mechanizations (which included a lawsuit) to embarrass Joseph and stop Martin from helping him failed.

John H. Gilbert

John H. Gilbert

John H. Gilbert, the typesetter for the Book of Mormon would later recall that,

sometime in 1828, Martin Harris, who had been furnished by someone with what he said was a fac-simile of the hyroglyphics of one of the plates, started for New York.” Before getting there, Gilbert relates that Harris “stopped at Albany and called on Lt. Gov. Bradish,—with what success I do not know.”  After this, Harris “proceeded to New York, and called on Prof. C. Anthon, made known his business and presented his hyroglyphics.”  “Martin”, observed Gilbert, “returned from his trip east satisfied that “Joseph” was a “little smarter than Prof. Anthon.”[65]

In 1831 William W. Phelps responded to a letter written by Eber D. Howe and spoke about Harris’ trip to New York City, but again, did not mention any fulfillment of prophecy in relation to it:

Joseph Smith is a person of very limited abilities in common learning — but his

William Wines Phelps

William Wines Phelps

knowledge of divine things, since the appearance of his book, has astonished many. Mr. Harris, whose name is in the book, is a wealthy farmer, but of small literary acquirements; he is honest, and sincerely declares upon his soul’s salvation that the book is true, and was interpreted by Joseph Smith, through a pair of silver spectacles, found with the plates.  The places where they dug for the plates, in Manchester, are to be seen. When the plates were said to have been found, a copy of one or two lines of the characters, were taken by Mr. Harris to Utica, Albany and New York; at New York, they were shown to Dr. Mitchell, and he referred to professor Anthon who translated and declared them to be the ancient shorthand Egyptian. So much is true. The family of Smiths is poor, and generally ignorant in common learning. [66]

Though Phelps does not mention any fulfillment of scripture in this reply to Eber D. Howe, a few months later he would write in the Ontario Phoenix:

We live in an eventful day. According to the Psalmist, truth springs out of the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven, and as twin-angels they will sweep through the world like a mighty torrent, till mankind, untrammelled by secret bondage, sing as the sons of glory, ‘we are one — peace on earth — virtue endures forever!” [67]

In August 1832 two Mormon missionaries were asked some questions about events surrounding the finding of the Gold Plates. The two missionaries were Samuel H. Smith and Orson Hyde. In early August the Boston Investigator contained the following notice:

NOTICE-It is expected that a meeting will be held at the Julien [Julian] Hall, next Sunday, to commence at 10 o’clock, A. M. by one or two of the Elders of the Church of Christ, from Ohio, who have received a commandment of God to go forth and preach Repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, declaring to the people that the earth is about to be visited with heavy judgments for the wickedness of its inhabitants. The above meeting will be held gratis. We cheerfully insert the above notice; but lest it should not be fully understood, we observe, the “Elders” above named are professed believers in the “Golden Bible” said to have been found pursuant to revelation by, Joseph Smith.-EDITOR.[68]

The following was recorded in Orson Hyde’s Journal for August 5, 1832:

5 preached at Julian Hall an infidel establishment and the infidels came out generally a number of hundred and paid good attention told them about the coming forth of the Book &c and also that they must repent or they would perish afternoon met with the Brethren and Sisters at Sister Brewers broke bread &c had a good time Evening went to the infidel meeting upon their invitation, and then spoke had written down I should think about a dozen or more Questions, and he called me to him and asked me to read the questions, I read them he then asked me if I was willing to answer them before the congregation I told him I was, and I did so, he then took up the subject and commenced arguing against it and we prayd that he might be confounded, and really he did not make out much or raise any insurmountable objections he gave us liberty to speak after he got through & we took away his objections and showed the people that he had contradicted his own statement &c came away.[69]

Samuel H. Smith, the missionary companion of Orson Hyde and one of the eight witnesses of the Book of Mormon, wrote this entry in his journal for that date:

5th Sunday held a meeting in Julian hall where Infidels hold a meetings this was in the forenoon & we declared these things faithfully a large congregation of People & a great Part Infidels & in the afternoon had a meeting at Fan[n]y Brewers with Brother & Sisters & Partook of the Sacrement & in the Evening Brother orson & I went to the inifidel hall & a man by the name of kneelan asked us Some questions concerning this work the way & manner the reccord was found & translated & we answered them before the Publick congregation & then kneelon Preached against the work & he made Some [w]rong Statements or difrent from what we had it said was about the record & the testimony after he had got through he gave us liberty to Speak & remove his objections & then Brother orson Spake a few minutes & Showed the incorrectness of his Statements & then told them to repent & we left them[70]

Mormon Missionaries 1832In this 1832 article from the Boston Investigator, which appeared a week after the Notice above,  Smith & Hyde answer questions about the characters and use the term “Urim and Thummim”, (possibly one the first times publicly) in connection with the method of Joseph’s translation of the plates:

Question — Where is Joseph Smith now or where is he supposed to be? Answer — In the state of Ohio — town and county stated, but not taken down.

Q. — By what means did he discover the golden plates and who was with him when he made the discovery? A. — The golden plates were discovered through the ministration of an angel of the Lord, by Joseph Smith — no one else was with him at the time of the discovery.

Q. — By whom was a fac simile of some part of the language and characters taken, and on what material. A. — It was taken by Joseph Smith on paper from the original plates themselves.

Q. — By whom was this presented to Dr. Mitchell, and at what period? A. — By Martin Harris, one of the witnesses who had seen the plates — do not exactly know at what time.

Q. — Is that fac simile, now in being, and if so where is it? A. — It is, or it was in being — I have seen it.

Q. — In what manner was the interpretation, or translation made known, and by whom was it written? A. — It was made known by the spirit of the Lord through the medium of the Urim and Thummim; and was written partly by Oliver Cowdery, and partly by Martin Harris.

Q. — What do you mean by Urim and Thummim? A. — The same as were used by the prophets of old, which were two crystal stones, placed in bows, something in the form of spectacles, which were found with the plates.

Q. — What became of the plates after the translation was made? A. — They were delivered into the hands of the angel of the Lord by whom they were afterwards shown to the three witnesses, who have testified to that effect.

Q. — At what place was the translation made? A. — Partly at Manchester, Ontario county, N. Y. where the plates were found, and partly on the banks of the Susquehannah river in Pennsylvania.

Q. — How many were present at the time and who? A. — Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris — and several others at least part of the time whose names were mentioned but not taken down.

Q. — When were the plates seen by the eight who saw them, and who have testified to that fact; before they were translated, or since? A. — They were seen at different times while they were in the hands of Joseph Smith and during the time of their translation.

Q. — Did they see the fac simile also, and if so, did they compare the fac simile with the plates to see if they agreed? A. — They saw the fac simile also, but did not compare it with the plates to see whether it agreed or not.

Q. — Who is Mr. Anthony [sic] who saw the fac simile? is he still living, or not? A. — He was a professor of languages in the city of New-York, but we do not know whether he is now living or not.

Q. — By what means was the spot made known to the men who travelled for the purpose, where the city is to be built? A. — It was made known by the spirit of the Lord.

Q. — In what way? A. — In answer to their prayers.

Q. — This is all poetry to me — was there any visible token that unbelievers could have either seen or heard? A. — I do not know that there was — there probably was not.[71]

It appears from the above article that the story of the characters being sent to New York City was being told by Mormon Missionaries, and that Dr. Mitchell and Professor Anthon were mentioned in connection to that story.  There is no mention of the fulfillment of prophecy in connection with the Harris-Anthon-Mitchill encounter, so perhaps it may not have been widely told at this time even though it would have been a good proselytizing tool. Samuel Smith and Orson Hyde do affirm though, that the plates were translated “partly at Manchester”, and that even though the witnesses to the gold plates “saw the fac simile [of the characters] also”, they did not compare them with the characters written on the plates, and that the plates were seen by the eight witnesses “at different times while they were in the hands of Joseph Smith” during the translation. It is of interest to note that when Joseph wrote his 1832 History a few months later, he did not use the words “urim and thummim”, he used the word “spectacles.” [72] In 1838 Joseph began another official history of his life which was written to “put all enquirers after truth into possession of the facts as they have transpired in relation both to myself and the Church as far as I have such facts in possession.” [73] The first part of this history was lost during the conflict in Missouri [74] and was re-transcribed in the spring of 1839 by one of Joseph’s clerks, James Mulholland.[75]  Joseph writes,

The persecution however became so intolerable that I was under the necessity of leaving Manchester and going with my wife <to> Susquahanah County in the State of Pensyllvania. While preparing to start (being very poor and the persecution so heavy upon us that there was no probability that we would ever be otherwise) in the midst of our afflictions we found a friend in a Gentleman by <the> name of Martin Harris, who came to us and gave me fifty dollars to assist us in our affliction, Mr Harris was a resident of Palmyra township Wayne County in the State of  New York and a farmer of respectability. By this timely aid was I enabled to reach the place of my destination in Pensylvania, and immediately after my arrival there I commenced copying the characters of all the plates. I copyed a considerable number of them and by means of the Urim and Thummin I translated some of them which I did between the time I arrived at the house of my wife’s father in the month of December [1827], and the February following. Sometime in this month of February the aforementioned Mr Martin Harris came to our place, got the characters which I had drawn off of the plates and started with them to the City of New York.  [76]

Unlike the 1834-5 History which Joseph wrote with Oliver Cowdery, this account does not mention the messenger’s admonition not to translate any of the characters until they were taken to the “learned” to fulfill prophecy.  In this version of events Joseph “immediately after” his arrival in Pennsylvania “commenced copying the characters of all the plates,” and then after copying “a considerable number of them” he “translated some of them” between December 1827 and February 1828 “by means of the Urim and Thummim.” Thus, according to Joseph’s account in 1839 he copied “a considerable number” of the characters and “translated” some of them for Harris to take to the “learned men” in New York City and according to Orson Pratt, Harris took copies of the characters and the translation of them with him. In 1831 James Gordon Bennett wrote an article called The Mormonites and stated that Harris had “several manuscripts” in his pocket that he took with him. [77] Rev Diedrich WillersDiedrich Willers, a Reverend in the Reformed Church wrote a letter in June of 1830 which included the most credible reports [78] about Joseph Smith and the history and origin of the Book of Mormon. [79] Willers was acquainted with the Whitmer family [80] and wrote that he spoke to Peter Whitmer, Sr. [81] who Willers said was “silent about Smith’s pretension.”[82] Willers then related what information he could gather about the new sect from those “credible reports”:

In the month of July [in 1829], Joseph Smith made his appearance in Seneca County, in the neighborhood of Waterloo, about six miles from my hometown. There a certain David Whitmer claimed to have seen an angel of the Lord, so Smith proceeded to his house, in order to complete the translation of the above work himself. According to the reports, only there could he work–where men who have had association with the other world also reside. This is the eleventh place where he had worked on the translation of his work and where men saw angels.

He asserted that the angel of the Lord appeared to him and made it known that in the neighborhood of Palmyra there were golden plates in the earth, upon which was described the doings of a Jewish prophet’s family, associated with many not yet fulfilled prophecies. The angel indicated that the Lord destined him to translate these things into English from the ancient language, that under these plates were hidden spectacles, without which he could not translate these plates, that by using these spectacles, he (Smith) would be in a position to read these ancient languages, which he had never studied, and that the Holy Ghost would reveal to him the translation in the English language. Therefore, he (Smith) proceeded to Manchester township, Ontario County, and found everything as described, the plates buried next to the spectacles in the earth, and soon he completed the translation of this work.[83]

Willers does not mention anything about a “urim and thummim”, or any fulfillment of prophecy concerning the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.  He does relate that he heard that Smith was told by the angel that he would be able to translate the plates with the aid of the spectacles that were found with the plates by the one who had supposedly buried them. To try and reconcile Joseph’s conflicting accounts, David Sloan writes that,

Although the 1839 history clearly records that Joseph Smith translated a number of characters off the plates before the Harris-Anthon encounter, Nephi’s prophetic account and a number of historical accounts indicate that Joseph Smith was initially unable to translate the Book of Mormon and sought the assistance of learned men to help with the translation. Evidence also exists that Joseph referred to experimental and preliminary attempts as [at] translating, regardless of the outcome. For this reason, Joseph could consistently refer to translated characters even at a time when he had been completely unsuccessful in his efforts. This is exactly the process of human effort and study that one would expect from reading Doctrine and Covenants 9. [84]

Sloan also theorizes that Joseph discarded the original characters document because it may have contained his own failed translation attempt. But in 1840 Orson Pratt, who knew Joseph well and was one of the first members of the church affirmed that,

a few of the original characters were accurately transcribed and translated by Mr Smith, which, with the translation, were taken by a gentleman by the name of Martin Harris, to the city of New York, where they were presented to a learned gentleman by the name of Anthon, who professed to be extensively acquainted with many languages, both ancient and modern. He examined them; but was unable to decipher them correctly; but he presumed, that if the original records could be brought, he could assist in translating them.[85]

Also, Joseph supposedly possessed the spectacles which according to Joseph Knight,

he seamed to think more of the glasses or the urim and thummem then he Did of the Plates, for, says he, “I can see any thing; they are Marvelus. Now they are writen in Caracters and I want them translated.[86]

Joseph Knight, Sr.

Joseph Knight, Sr.

Knight does not mention any failed attempts at translation by Joseph, but has Joseph seemingly ignoring what the messenger told him, that “the Lord had prepared spectacles for to read the Book.” There is not one contemporary account that mentions Joseph failing to translate any of the Book of Mormon characters correctly.[87]

Joseph declaring in his 1832 history that he did not begin translating the characters because Martin Harris “said the Lord had shown him that he must go to new York City with some of the characters” is simply not corroborated in any account by Harris. We do know that Joseph did not discard at least one copy (which might have been the original) of the characters, because a different copy other than the one possessed by John and David Whitmer was used in 1844 to create the Stick of Joseph Broadside, and that Joseph showed the Book of Mormon characters to at least two people in Nauvoo.[88]

It is also significant that Joseph did not portray events in his 1839 History in the same way as they were portrayed in earlier accounts but instead wrote that he “copied and translated” a considerable number of the characters before Martin Harris left for New York, and left out that the trip was a fulfillment of an Isaiah prophecy.

Joseph Smith's Chocolate Peep Stone

Artist Rendering of Joseph’s Brown Stone

In bringing forth the Book of Mormon (a religious work) Joseph Smith had transitioned himself from a treasure seeker into a religious seeker.  Naturally, there would be those who doubted Joseph’s motives or credentials to do such a thing.  He needed credibility.  The tale that Martin Harris told of his trip to New York, which Joseph transformed into a fulfilled prophecy of Isaiah which he reworked and added to the Book of Mormon, gave Joseph this much needed credibility and selling point for the newly printed Book.

Go to Part II: The “Caractors” Go To New York.


[7] Joseph Smith’s first handwritten account of the appearance of Moroni can be found at the Joseph Smith Papers website in Letterbook 1, page 10, found here, accessed June 4, 2013.

[8] ibid, page 11.

[9] David E. Sloan, The Anthon Transcripts and the Translation of the Book of Mormon: Studying It Out in the Mind of Joseph Smith, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: Volume – 5, Issue – 2, Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 1996, Pages: 57–81. Accessed, June 4, 2013. Sloan’s reasoning is non sequitur:

It might be argued that the meaning of the 1839 history is clear and that the words of the history should be understood according to their plain meaning. However, the words of Nephi’s prophetic account are also plainly written and suggest a different interpretation of the events. Furthermore, Nephi’s words of introduction to his account are compelling: “But behold, I prophesy unto you concerning the last days; concerning the days when the Lord God shall bring these things forth unto the children of men” (2 Nephi 26:14). This prophecy was given to Nephi by the Spirit, which “speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be” (Jacob 4:13).

He states that Smith’s version is clear and plain and so is Nephi’s from the Book of Mormon. So, which are we to believe? Mr. Sloan says that the 1839 History should not be used to “define” Nephi’s prophecy.  If not Joseph Smith’s own official History (not some abandoned draft) which are the events it speaks of, then what?

[10] Joseph began working on the translation of the Book of Mormon soon after Matrin Harris returned from his trip to the east.  Joseph did not translate the portion of the plates that contained the reworked Isaiah prophecy (2 Nephi 27 & Ether 5:2—4) until approximately June of 1829, more than a year later. The same chapter also speaks of three witnesses, who would view the plates. After writing the verses about the three witnesses to the plates, Joseph Smith later recounted that ,

“Almost immediately after we had made this discovery; it occurred to Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and the aforementioned Martin Harris (who had came to enquire after our progress in the work) that they would have me enquire of the Lord, to know if they might not obtain of him to be these three special witnesses; and finally they became so very solicitous, and teased me so much, that at length I complied, and through the Urim and Thummim, I obtained of the Lord for them the following revelation. (History of the Church, Volume 1:52-53).

The “revelation” that he speaks of would later be categorized as Doctrine and Covenants Section 17, and was given by Joseph in June, 1829. In November, 1829 Oliver Cowdery wrote a letter to Cornelius C. Blatchly, and quoted from the 27th Chapter of 2 Nephi:

“This record which gives an account of the first inhabitants of this continent, is engraved  on plates, which have the appearance of gold; and they are of very curious workmanship.” “The reason stated in a prophecy written before the coming of Christ in the flesh, why the record should not be shown to all the world, at the time of its coming forth to the children of men is that the book should be sealed, by the power of God.” “The prophecy also states there shall also be a revelation sealed in the book, which will reveal all things from the foundation of the world to the end thereof.” And because of the iniquity of the world, at the time of its coming forth; it shall be hid from the eyes of the world; that the eyes of none shall behold it, (save it be that three witnesses shall behold it by the power of God) besides him, to whom the book should be delivered. And none other should see it, only a few,—if it should be wisdom in God.”“And after that which was not sealed, was translated, the book should again be hid-up, unto the Lord, that it might not be destroyed; and come forth again, in the own due time of him, who knows all things unto the children of men.” (Gospel Luminary, Vol. II, No. 49, Thursday, December 10, 1829, page 194, New York City).

This is quite possibly the first public mention of the reworked Isaiah prophecy, but unfortunately, Cowdery does not include the Anthon visit.

[11] Sloan, op. cited, note 7. Sloan continues in the same vein here, trying to confuse the issue with a quote by Neal Maxwell that has nothing to do with why Joseph Smith did not recount his 1839 History in the same way he did in 1832. Was Joseph able to grasp this “great spiritual event” in 1832, but not seven years later? This makes little sense, since it was Joseph himself who failed to complete the historical record if the reworked Nephi prophecy was that important to him (as it seemed to be only seven years earlier). It is obvious that there was some other reasons that Joseph left the reworked Isaiah prophecy out of his later account, some of which are discussed in this article. Also, it is hard to believe that Mr. Sloan does not know that Joseph Smith corrected the first 42 pages of his 1839 History, according to Brigham Young and the Joseph Smith Papers website.  See Note #13.

[12] Sometime in 1832 between the months of July and September Joseph Smith and Frederick G. Williams began what they called,

“A History of the Life Of Joseph Smith Jr an account of his marvilous experience and all the mighty acts which he doeth in the name of Jesus Christ the son of the living God of whom he beareth record and also an account of the rise of the Church of Christ in the eve of time according as the Lord brought forth and established by his hand…” (Dean C. Jessee, “Early Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision”, BYU Studies 9. No. 3, 1969, page 3).

According to Dr. Jessee  it was “abruptly discontinued”.  Dr. Jessee  claims that it was because new plans were made to write Joseph’s History, but this is much too simplistic an answer. (See Note 13). This History was written in a “medium sized, commercially produced blank book.” According to the Joseph Smith Papers website,

The first three leaves of the volume contain JS’s earliest extant attempt to write a history of his life. Later, the book was turned over so the back cover became the front and the last page became the first. One or more texts were inscribed in this side (the back) of the book on the eight leaves that were later cut out, as is evident from inscriptions visible on the remaining stubs of the excised leaves.

The volume was also repurposed as a letterbook. The letterbook begins on the recto of the fourth leaf in the front of the book (immediately following the history). The letters occupy ninety-three pages. The book’s pagination also began anew with the copied letters. The first page of letters bore the inscription “1a”, which is only partially extant on the now-trimmed page but is complete in photocopy and microfilm copies at the Church History Library. Page 78 is blank. The front flyleaf is now missing—possibly because it bore a title related to the history and was removed when the volume was converted to a letterbook. The letters were copied with quill pens in ink that is now brown. The pagination appears to have been added at different times and possibly in different hands. There are 101 blank pages between the end of the letter transcripts and the excised pages in the back of the book. There is illegible ink transfer on page [130] from a loose leaf document that was placed between pages [130] and [131] before its ink had dried. There are also smudges of ink on some of the succeeding pages.

At some point, Frederick G. Williams began an index or table of contents that identifies the letters copied into pages 1–25 of the letterbook. This incomplete index is inscribed on paper that does not match the original ledger paper. It was apparently a loose leaf inserted in the volume—as is Williams’s index to the contents of Revelation Book 2—although it is currently bound in the front of the volume as a result of the late twentieth-century conservation. The index is horizontally ruled with forty-three manually inscribed graphite lines.

Dr. Jessee also writes that,

although they were later cut from the volume, the three leaves containing the History match the cut edges still protruding from the binding of the ledger book. The terminal letters of words that were severed when the pages were removed also match. The cut page stubs immediately precede the November 27, 1832, letter entry, the first item in the letterbook. Second, the page numbering indicates this arrangement. The pages of the History were numbered 1 through 6, and the November 27 letter begins on page 1a. Both the last page of the History and the pages of the letter were written by Frederick Williams. He would not have started numbering the pages containing the letter with “1a” had there not been a preceding page 1. (Dean C. Jessee, “The Early Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision”, BYU Studies, Volume 9:3 (Spring 1969), page 277).

 [13] I find it very troubling that Joseph did not have the 1832 History copied into his Large Journal (A-1), when he went to the trouble of doing so with the History that he helped Oliver Cowdery write in 1834-5. Instead, he left it alone in the back of a letterbook which had the title page removed to possibly obscure its existence in that collection.  On October 29, 1835 Joseph had one of his scribes write in his diary,

Thursday, 29th Br[other] W[arren] Par[r]ish commenced writing for me. Father and Mother Smith visit[ed] us. While we set writing Bishop Partri[d]ge passed our window. [He has] just returned from the East.

Br[other] Par[r]ish commenced writing for me at $15.00 per month. I paid him $16.00 in advance out of the committee Store. Br[other] Parrish agrees to board himself, for which I agree to /allow him/ four Dollars more p[e]r month making $19.00.

I was then called to appear before the High Council which was {page 10} setting to give my testimony in an action brought against Br[other] David El[l]iot for whip[p]ing his Daughter unreasonably. My testimony was in his favour.

[p.42] Returned to our writing room. [We] went to Dr. [Frederick G.] William’s after my large Journal [and I] made some observations to my Scribe Concerning the plan of the City which is to be built up hereafter on this ground consecrated for a Stake of Zion.

While at the Doct[or’s], Bishop E[dward] Partri[d]ge came in in company with President Phelps. I was much rejoiced to see him. We examined the mum[m]ies, returned home, and my scribe commenced writing in /my/ Journal a history of my life, concluding President [Oliver] Cowdery[‘s] 2d letter to W[illiam] W. Phelps, which President Williams had begun. (Scott H. Faulring, An American Prophet’s Record, p.41-42).

Historian Scott Faulring explains that Joseph’s large journal,

is Book A-1 of the “Manuscript History of the Church,” which contains some of Joseph Smith’s and his scribes’ earliest attempts to write a detailed history of the church and which was later used to prepare the published History of Joseph Smith. (ibid, note 5)

Dean Jessee writes,

In October 1834 Oliver Cowdery, the editor of the Messenger and Advocate, introduced the first published history of the Church. This work was presented in the form of correspondence between Cowdery and William W. Phelps, and was anticipated as 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.” It was further announced by the editor 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 indispensible. With his labor and with authentic documents now in our possession, we hope to render this a pleasing and agreeable narrative.”

In a series of eight letters that followed, Cowdery presented random historical events, beginning in the October 1834 issue of the paper with an account of the priesthood restoration, and terminating in the October 1835 issue with the visit of Moroni to Joseph Smith. A copy of the eight letters was transcribed into the Prophet’s journal in1835. On October 29 Joseph recorded that he went with his newly appointed scribe, Warren Parrish, to obtain his “large journal” from Frederick G. Williams. Later that same day Parrish began writing “a history” of Joseph’s life by concluding “President Cowdery’s second letter to W. W. Phelps, which President Williams had begun.” A check of the handwriting in the journal reveals the point at which Parrish commenced copying the second Cowdery letter to Phelps. It also shows that Parrish continued writing to the end of the eighth letter. At this point, however, unlike the published account, the journal narrative does not end, but continues in a different style. The transition is marked by a change in handwriting from Warren Parrish to that of Warren A. Cowdery and is prefaced with the following introduction: “Here the reader will observe that the narrative assumes a different form. The subject of it becoming daily more and more noted, the writer deemed it proper to give a plain, simple and faithful narrative of every important item in his every day occurrences…. (Jessee, op. cited, 1969, pages 4-5).

As Scott Faulring explained above, the “large journal” that Joseph Smith had his scribes copy the 1834 History into is what has become known as Manuscript A-1. This journal originally had over 100 pages of material,

“covering the period from 1834 to early 1836, was a composite chronicle consisting of genealogical tables, dated entries adapted from JS’s journal, and transcripts of newspaper articles. Reasons for its discontinuance are unknown.”

When Joseph Smith began his fourth attempt at a History in 1839, his scribes simply flipped over this Manuscript Book and began again. If you go to the Joseph Smith Papers website, and view this manuscript, you will see that they end it at page 575, but at the bottom of the page in the right hand corner you will see the page number 192, which is upside down.

The material recorded in the back part of the Manuscript Book is not to be found on the website at this time. *Correction, this part of the “large journal” has recently been added to the website and may be found here. (Updated and accessed on November 11, 2013).

If, as Mr. Slone contends, the 1832 History is the right interpretation of events, then why did Joseph abruptly discontinue it and leave it uncopied in the back of a letterbook? Why didn’t Joseph have it copied into the large journal in 1835? Even if he was not satisfied with the account of the claimed 1820 vision, why did he not have the portion that had to do with the visit of the messenger copied? It is obvious that Joseph did not want the events as written in 1832 to become part of his Official History.  At the Joseph Smith Papers website they write that,

J[oseph] S[mith] dictated or supplied information for much of A-1, and he personally corrected the first forty-two pages before his death.  (See also, History of the Church, vol. 7, p. 387).

There may be another reason that Joseph did not feel the 1832 History was important; in his 1839 History he changed the name of the messenger from Moroni to Nephi. As you can see in the photo, the name Nephi is not only written, but emphasized. The insertion of the name Moroni into the text above was done much later, by Brigham H. Roberts. When this History was published by Joseph in 1842 in the Times and Seasons, Joseph (who was the Editor at that time) kept the name Nephi.  It was also published as Nephi in the Millennial Star and in the first edition of the Pearl of Great Price. Since Joseph corrected the first 42 pages of this manuscript and did not change the name to Moroni, ascribing the name of Nephi to a clerical error is disingenuous. It is worth noting here that Joseph did not name the messenger who gave him the plates in his 1832 History, though he does reference “Maroni” as one of those who had “engraven” the plates. (Letterbook 1, page 4). As for the messenger, Joseph simply calls him “an angel of the Lord” who “came and stood before me and it was by night and he called me by name…” (ibid). Why Joseph would change the name of this messenger to Nephi is something of a mystery since he had referred to the angel who delivered the plates as Moroni in a prior “revelation” (Doctrine and Covenants, 1835 edition, L:2) and in the 1838 publication, The Elder’s Journal (Elders Journal, 1, pp. 42-3, July 1838).

[14] “Letter Book A,” JS Letterbook 1page 11.

[15] Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 1,  p. 223.

[16] ibid.

[17] Joel Tiffany, Interview with Martin Harris, Tiffany’s Monthly, August, 1859, p.167.

[18] ibid, page 168.

[19] ibid, page 169.

[20] ibid, page 167.

[21] ibid, page 169.

[22] ibid, page 170.

[23] Letterbook 1, page 10. The text reads,

in December following we mooved to Susquehana by the assistence of a man by the name of Martin Har[r]is who became convinced of th[e] vision and gave me fifty Dollars to bare my expences  and because of his faith and this rightheous deed the Lord appeared unto him in a vision and shewed unto  him his marvilous work which he was about to do and <h[e]> imediately came to Suquehannah and said the Lord  had shown him that he must go to new York City <with> some of the characters so we proceeded to coppy some of them and he took his Journy to the Eastern Cittys and to the Learned <saying> read this I pray thee and the learned said I cannot but if he would bring the blates[plates] they would read it but the Lord had forbid it and he returned to me and gave them to <me> <to> translate and I said I said cannot for I am not learned but the Lord had prepared spectacles for to read the Book therefore I commenced translating the characters

[24] Early Mormon Documents Vol. 1, page 343-44, See also, JSP, Accessed, June 4, 2013.

[25] ibid, page 344. JSP, Accessed, June 4,

[26] ibid.

[27] ibid, page 348, See also, JSP, Accessed, June 4, 2013. Lucy Smith wrote,

She went to bed  and in the morning told us a very remarkable dream She said that a personage had appeared to her the night before and said to her that inasmuch as she had disputed  the servant of the Lord and said that his word was not  to be believed and asked him many improper questions that she had done that which was not right in the sight of God Now said behold here are the plates look upon them and believe she then described the record minutely and again said that She had made up her mind as to what she would do that She had in her possession 28 dollars that her mother gave her just before she died when She was on her death bed  Joseph should take that and if he would he might give his note but he should certainly accept of it on sone terms this last proposition he acceeded to in order get rid of her importunities

[28] ibid.

[29] The Historical Magazine, page 307, Online here. Accessed June 4, 2013.

[30] Vogel, Early Mormon Documents Vol. 1, page 344.

[31] ibid.

[32] ibid, p. 328. JSP, Accessed June 4., 2013.

[33] Sloan, op. cited. In trying to prove that Joseph could not translate at all until after Martin Harris returned from New York, Mr. Sloan writes,

According to Richard L. Bushman, “Lucy implied that once Joseph had a translation of all the basic characters, he could carry on by himself—thus the need to copy a great number of characters.” Lucy’s statements indicate that her son could not translate and for that reason sought out the assistance of learned men. Accordingly, Bushman writes that “The scripture [Isaiah 29] must have struck Joseph with all the more power if at first he did not know how to translate, as his mother said. The protest “I am not learned’ would then have expressed Joseph’s situation in 1827 exactly. Joseph Knight thought the circumstances fit the scripture.” (ibid.)

This is totally misreading what Lucy reports. Before Joseph told his mother that he was “instructed” to copy the characters to “send them to all the learned men that he could find and ask them for a translation,” he knew that he would be able to translate the plates.  When Joseph returned from the hill with Emma on the night of September 27, 1827 Lucy wrote that,

I trembled so much with fear lest all might be lost agin by some small failure in keeping the commandments that I was under the necessity of l[e]aving the room to conceal my feelings[.] Joseph saw this and followed me[.] Mother[,] said he[,] do not be uneasy all is right here said he I have got the key[.]

I knew not what he meant but took the article in my hands and upon examining it (with no covering but a silk handkerchief)[,] found that it consisted of 2 sm<ooth> ❤ cornered diamonds set in glass and the glass was set in silver bows> stones connected with each other in the same way that old fashioned spectacles are made[.] (Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 1, p. 329, See also, JSP, Accessed, June 4, 2013.

That key, according to Joseph Knight was the “spectacles” through which Joseph could see anything, and to which Lucy later adds,

The thing which [I] spoke of that Joseph termed a Key was indeed nothing more nor less than the urim and Thummim by which the angel manifested those things to <him> that were shown him in vision by which also he could at any time ascertain the approach of danger either to himself or the record and for this cause he kept these thing<s> constantly about his person[.] (ibid, page 339, JSP, Accessed June 4, 2013)

It is unlikely that Joseph kept the over large spectacles about his person at all times, so Lucy must have been referring to Joseph’s peep stone. If Joseph could “see anything”, even the “past, present, and future” then surely he knew that he would be able to translate the record with his “key”. What need then, to study it out in his mind? He could see anything! This may be the reason why Joseph abandoned his earlier History and wrote that after he was

“enabled to reach the place of my destination in Pensylvania, and immediately after my arrival there I commenced copying the characters of all the plates. I copyed a considerable number of them and by means of the Urim and Thummin I translated some of them which I did between the time I arrived at the house of my wife’s father in the month of December [1827], and the February following. Sometime in this month of February the aforementioned Mr Martin Harris came to our place, got the characters which I had drawn off of the plates and started with them to the City of New York. (Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Volume I, p. 70).

Joseph’s “revelation” to Oliver Cowdery about studying it out in his mind first, makes little sense. How do you study out in your mind and come to a translation, of which you then must ask God “is this translation I came up with right or wrong”; when you cannot read the hieroglyphics in front of you? How would you make any kind of translation? Isn’t the whole idea of the “interpreters” to translate the language into another language you can understand by God’s power? Don Bradley writes,

The most specific  translation accounts states that Smith would see, on “something like parchment,” a “Reformed Egyptian” character from the plates and below it the English rendering. A single character would render sometimes just a word or two in English and sometimes several words, with Joseph apparently dictating on average about twenty to thirty words at a time. (“Written by the Finger of God?: Claims and Controversies of Book of Mormon Translation”, Sunstone, online here).

He also writes,

When using the seer stone, Smith did not directly consult the plates, which sometimes lay nearby concealed in a cloth and at other times were hidden in a remote location, such as the woods. (ibid).

How could Joseph study out in his mind the characters on the plates when the plates were not even in front of him? If he only needed the stone, why not leave the plates in the ground? He could have then, later, taken the witnesses to see them. Why go through all the trouble if he really didn’t need them? So the question then becomes, what was there to study out in your mind?  Don Bradley tried to tackle this problem in his article quoted above and wrote,

The revelation [D&C 9] prescribes a process of “studying out” the scriptural text in one’s mind and confirming it through a “burning in the bosom” or disconfirming it through “a stupor of thought” (D&C 9:8–9). A potential objection to the argument from D&C 9 is that the revelation prescribes this process for one translating by “the spirit of revelation,” like Oliver, not for one translating by the gift of seeing, like Joseph (D&C 8:1–4). Thus, on the logic of this objection, because Oliver was not a seer and therefore unable to translate by the seer’s gift, his mode of translation would be nonvisual. But the revelation does not necessarily indicate that Joseph Smith would have translated in this same manner. Instead, D&C 9 can be understood as suggesting that the method of translation was tailored to the gifts of the translator, a concept consistent with Book of Mormon teaching on spiritual gifts (such as Moroni 10:8: “there are different ways that these gifts are administered”). By this logic, Joseph’s translation of the Book of Mormon, made in his capacity as a seer employing the spectacles or seer stone, would have capitalized on his gift of second sight. (option cited above)

There are all kinds of problems with this logic. If it were true that each person would have a different method of translating, then why prepare spectacles to translate the plates in the first place? And if “seeing” is a spiritual gift, then what is the problem? Why then, would Oliver have failed if it was just a matter of nonvisual “revelation”?  Are the current apostles of the church screened in their use of seer stones before they are set apart as “prophets, seers and revelators” for the church? Why then, would Joseph let Oliver try and translate in the first place and then have a “revelation” that it was because he didn’t study it out in his mind that he couldn’t perform? Why not just tell him that he wasn’t a “seer” and that was why he failed? The problem is that to translate something from what you don’t know to something you know has no criteria which one can apply to the “study it out in your mind” method. Even in the revelation itself it states that God wanted Oliver to know that, “other records have I, that I will give unto you power that you may assist to translate.” (verse 2) It also says that God “took this privilege away” from Cowdery. (verse 5) So he must have been able to translate. He was also told that if he only “knew” that he should have studied it out in his mind, that all would have been just fine. (verse 10)  Then the “revelation” blames it on Cowdery’s “fear”. (verse 11). This “revelation” raises far more questions than it answers.

[34] Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 1, page 344.

[35] Fayette Lapham Interview, The Historical Magazine, page 308. Online here, accessed June 4, 2013.

[36] Letterbook 1, page, 11. Joseph wrote:

in December following we mooved to Susquehana by the assistence of a man by the name of Martin Har[r]is who became convinced of th[e] vision and gave me fifty Dollars to bare my expences  and because of his faith and this rightheous deed the Lord appeared unto him in a vision and shewed unto  him his marvilous work which he was about to do and <h[e]> imediately came to Suquehannah and said the Lord had shown him that he must go to new York City  <with> some of the characters so we proceeded to coppy some of them

[37] The Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Vol. 1, No. 5, February, 1835, pages 79-80, (Hereafter LDSM&A). Online here, accessed June 4, 2013. Oliver Cowdery wrote to W. W. Phelps,

“Yet,” said he, [the messenger from the skies] “the scripture must be fulfilled before it is translated, which says that the words of a book, which were sealed, were presented to the learned; for thus has God determined to leave men without excuse, and show to the meek that his arm is not shortened that it cannot save.”

There is one late remembrance that mentions the Isaiah prophecy being spoken about before the plates were translated, and that is by Emily (Colburn) Austin, a younger sister of Sally (Colburn) Knight, the wife of Newel Knight.  In her autobiography from 1882 she writes,

Old Uncle Joe [Joseph] Knight, as we called him, was a wool carder, and a farmer; yet he abandoned all business, and joined with a number of others to dig for money on his premises. While I was visiting my sister, we have walked out to see the places where they had dug for money, and laughed to think of the absurdity of any people having common intellect to indulge in such a thought or action. However, all of those things had long since become oblivious; for in the time of their digging for money and not finding it attainable, Joe Smith told them there was a charm on the pots of money, and if some animal was killed and the blood sprinkled around the place, then they could get it. So they killed a dog, and tried this method of obtaining the precious metal; but again money was scarce in those diggings. Still, they dug and dug, but never came to the precious treasure. Alas! how vivid was the expectation when the blood of poor Tray was used to take off the charm, and after all to find their mistake, that it did not speak better of things than that of Abel. And now they were obliged to give up in despair, and Joseph went home again to his father’s, in Palmyra.

Some months after this fruitless enterprise he was married to Miss Emma Hale, a school teacher, a fine girl, of good repute and respectable, though poor parentage. It was at this time, which I have mentioned previously, that the rumor was in circulation concerning the strange doctrine which he was setting forth; and which, indeed, was creating quite a stir among the people, and it surprised us to hear of his return to Colesville with his wife, to meet again with his old money diggers. But now he had entered upon a new project. He declared an angel had appeared to him and told him of golden plates, which were hidden up to come forth on a certain day; and also that the plates were sacred, containing a history of a people who inhabited this continent in ancient days; also it was that which Isaiah the prophet had spoken of; a vision which should become as the words of a book that is sealed; which was delivered to one that was learned, saying “Read this, I pray thee;” and he said, “I cannot, for it is sealed;” and the book is delivered to one that is unlearned, saying: “Read this, I pray thee;” and he said, “I cannot, for I am unlearned; moreover, inasmuch as this people draw near me, with their mouths and with their lips do honor me, therefore I will proceed to do a marvelous work and a wonder; for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.”

This is what was circulated throughout the country, and this is the rumor which was now afloat. Smith brought up many prophecies to show that the Lord was about to do a marvelous work in the last days. He also affirmed that he had seen the angel, and had talked with him face to face; and the angel told him at a certain time he would conduct him to the place where the plates could be obtained; also that he was a chosen vessel in the hands of God, to translate them, and bring them to the world. All this was heard and believed by a large number of persons in Colesville, among whom was my own dear sister and her husband.  (Life Among the Mormons, by Emily M. Austin, M. J. Cantwell, Book and Job Printer, King Street, Madison Wisconsin, 1882, pages 32-35)

Unfortunately there are no contemporary accounts that agree with Emily’s statement that the Isaiah passage was being “circulated about the country” before Joseph produced the manuscript to the Book of Mormon. It is interesting to note that in 1830, after the Book of Mormon was translated, Lucy Smith was visited by three men from the local Presbyterian Church that some members of the Smith family had joined after Alvin’s death.  It seems that they had not been attending the church for the past 18 months, and they had come to enquire why they had not. Lucy gives this account of the interview,

On the fourth day the 3 men  <delegated> <by> the council came to perform the work assigned them they  began[:] Mrs [Lucy Mack] Smith we hear you have a gold bible and we came to see you <if> be so kind as to show it to us

No gentlemen said I[,]  we have <got><no> gold bible but we  have a translation of some gold plates which was sent to the world to bring the plainess of the Gospel to the children of men and to give a history of the people that used to inhabit this country and I then proceeded to give them the substance of what is contained in the book  of Mormon as also particularly the principles of religion  which it contains. But added I the Universalists come here  wonderfullly affraid that their religion will suffer loss— The  Presbyterians are frightened least their salary will come down The Methodist’s come and they rage for they worship a God  without body or parts and the doctrine we advocate comes  in contact with their views

Well said the foremost gentleman with whom I was acquainted can we see the manuscript,

No sir you cannot see it we have done exhibiting the manuscript altogether I have told you what was in it and that must  <suffice> He did not reply to this but said Mrs Smith you & Hyrum [Smith]  and sophronia [Smith Stoddard] and samuel [Smith] have belonged to our church  a whole year and we respect you very you say a great deal <about the book which your son has found> and believe much of what he tells you  but we cannot beare thoughts of loosing  you and they do wish— I wish that if you do believe those  things that never would say  anything about it I do wish you would not— Deacon  Beckwith said even you should stick my body full of faggots and burn me at the stake I would decla re that Jose[p]h has that record and that I know it to be  true as long as God gave me breath— he then turned  to his companions and said you see it is no use  to say anything more to her— we cannont chan[g]e he[r] mind &  then addressing me Mrs Smith I see that it is not poss ible to persuade you out of your belief and I do not  know that it is worth while to say any more about  the matter— No sir said I it is <of> no use you cannot  effect any thing by all that you can say— he then bid  me farewell and went out to see Hyrum & they asked  him if he really did believe that his brother had got the record  which he pretended to have— Hyrum <testified boldly to the truth and> told him that if he would take  the book of mormon when it was finished and read it asking God  for a witness to the truth of [it] he would receive what he desired  and now said he Deacon Beckwith just try it and see if I do  <not tell you truth.— They went to Samuel who quoted Isa[ia]h.>

Saumel Harrison did not quote Isaiah Chapter 29, he quoted Isaiah 56:9-11,  which reads,

All ye beasts of the field, come to devour, yea, all ye beasts in the forest. His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber. Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter. Come ye, say they, I will fetch wine, and we will fill ourselves with strong drink; and to morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant.

[38] John A. Clark, Gleanings By The Way, W.J. & J.K. Simon, Philadelphia, 1842, page 224. Online Version, accessed, June 4, 2013.

[39] ibid.

[40] ibid.

[41]ibid, page 228.


[43]Dean C. Jessee, Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History, BYU Studies 17, no. 1 (1976): 29–39. Online Version,  Accessed, June 4, 2013.

[44]Gleanings, page 224. Clark wrote,

That this mysterious book, which no human eye of the present generation had yet seen, was in the possession of Joseph Smith, jr., ordinarily known in the neighborhood under the more familiar designation of Jo Smith; that there had been a revelation made to him by which he had discovered this sacred deposit, and two transparent stone, through which, as a sort of spectacles, he could read the Bible, although the box or ark that contained it, had not yet been opened; and that by looking through those mysterious stones, he had transcribed from one of the leaves of this book, the characters which Harris had so carefully wrapped in the package which he was drawing from his pocket.

Later, when Joseph actually claimed to be translating from the plates, his father-in-law Isaac Hale observed that,

The manner in which he pretended to read and interpret, was the same as when he looked for  [treasure for] the money-diggers, with the stone in his hat, and his hat over his face, while the Book of Plates were at the same time in the woods! (Affidavit of Isaac Hale, “Mormonism,” Susquehanna Register, and Northern Pennsylvanian, May 1, 1834, 9:1). Online here: Accessed June 4, 2013.

[45] ibid, page 242. See also, this article Part II.

[46] Gleanings, page, 231. Joseph seems to have only used the blanket with Martin Harris. In later accounts, Joseph never had the plates with him; he would “translate” by placing his peep stone into his hat, and then reading off what he claimed appeared on the stone. Dan Vogel writes that,

… Joseph Jr. had earned a reputation as a seer who could, by looking into a special stone, find lost articles, foretell the future, and locate buried treasure. In late 1825 he belonged to a treasure-seeking company which traveled the countryside in search of Spanish and Indian treasure in Palmyra, Manchester, Colesville, South Bainbridge, Harmony, and other places in New York and Pennsylvania. Martin Harris, a prominent member of the community and later financial backer of the Book of Mormon, remembered that the Palmyra-Manchester treasure seekers “were digging for money supposed to have been hidden by the ancients” and that “it was reported by these money diggers, that they had found boxes, but before they could secure them, they would sink into the earth.” (Dan Vogel, Religious Seekers and the Advent of Mormonism, Ch.2, p.32 – p.33).

About the spectacles that Joseph claimed to have found with the gold plates Harris wrote,

“The stones were white, like polished marble, with a few gray streaks. I never dared to look into them by placing them in the hat, because Moses said that ‘no man could see God and live,’ and we could see anything we wished by looking into them; and I could not keep the desire to see God out of my mind. And beside, we had a command to let no man look into them, except by the command of God, lest he should ‘look aught and perish.’

It is doubtful that Harris ever saw the spectacles, or for that matter anyone else. Joseph himself, in a letter to John Wentworth in 1842 described the spectacles. He wrote,

With the records was found a curious instrument, which the ancients called “Urim and Thummim,” which consisted of two transparent stones set in the rims of a bow fastened to a breastplate. Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift and power of God.  (History of the Church, 4:535–41).

Joseph claimed the stones were transparent, Harris said they were opaque white with gray streaks. Emma Smith never mentioned her husband using spectacles,

“In writing for your father I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.” (History of the RLDS Church, 8 vols. Herald House, 1951, Volume 3, page 356).

Edward Traughber interviewed David Whitmer in 1879 and wrote,

With the sanction of David Whitmer, and by his authority, I now state that he does not say that Joseph Smith ever translated in his presence by aid of Urim and Thummim; but by means of one dark colored, opaque stone, called a ‘Seer Stone,’ which was placed in the crown of a hat, into which Joseph put his face, so as to exclude the external light. Then, a spiritual light would shine forth, and parchment would appear before Joseph, upon which was a line of characters from the plates, and under it, the translation in English; at least, so Joseph said. (Saints’ Herald 26 (15 Nov. 1879): 341).

Michael Morse who was the husband of Emma’s sister Trial Hale, gave an interview to W. W. Blair of the RLDS First Presidency and said,

The mode of procedure consisted in Joseph’s placing the Seer Stone in the crown of a hat, then putting his face into the hat, so as to entirely cover his face, resting his elbows upon his knees, and then dictating word after word, while the scribes—Emma, John Whitmer, O. Cowdery, or some other wrote it down. Saints’ Herald 26 (15 June 1879): 190-91

Historian D. Michael Quinn wrote,

Before organizing the church in April 1830, Joseph Smith evidently ceased using the brown seer stone he had employed to translate the Book of Mormon and gave it to his scribe Oliver Cowdery Until his death in 1850, Cowdery kept this brown stone as a sacred relic of the Book of Mormon translation. Brigham Young’s brother Phineas, who was Cowdery’s brother-in-law, obtained the stone from Cowdery’s widow in 1850 and made a gift of it to Brigham Young. Three years later, one of Young’s counselors in the First Presidency confirmed to a Salt lake City congregation that Young had “the Urim and Thummim”.

Following Young’s death in 1877, his widow Zina D.H. Young obtained this seer stone at an estate auction of her husband’s personal effects, and she and her daughter Zina Y. Card eventually gave it to his successor John Taylor . In 1882 Apostle Franklin D. Richards examined “the Seer Stone that Oliver Cowdery gave Phineas Young,” observing that “the pouch containing it [was] made [p.196] by Emma [Smith]” . One of John Taylor’s body guards recorded in 1887, “On Sunday last I saw and handled the seer stone that the Prophet Joseph Smith had. It was a dark color, not round on one side. It was shaped like the top of a baby’s shoe, one end like the toe of the shoe, and the other round” (Bateman 1887). At the dedication of the Manti Temple the following year, Wilford Woodruff, who had recently succeeded Taylor as president, wrote, “Before leaving I Consecrated upon the Altar the seers Stone that Joseph Smith found by Revelation some 30 feet under the Earth [and] Carried By him through life”. After Woodruffs death in 1898, his successor Lorenzo Snow displayed the brown, Book of Mormon seer stone to a local bishop of the church. Frederick Kesler wrote in his diary that Snow “showed me the Seerers [sic] Stone that the Prophet Joseph Smith had by which he done some of the Translating of the Book of Mormon with. I handeled [sic] it with my own hands. I felt as though I see & was handling a very Sacred thing. I trust & feel that it will work in his hands as it did in the Prophet Joseph Smiths hands,” and added that this stone’s “color was mahoganey”. This seer stone is now kept in the First Presidency’s private vault. Recently, one of Zina Card’s descendants was allowed to see the stone in the First Presidency’s office. She afterwards stated,

The stone was not chocolate brown but rather the color of brown sugar. It was 3-4 inches long, 2 inches wide, and had a hump in the middle which made it perhaps 2 inches thick at the thickest point. It was fiat on the bottom and had three black, concentric circles on the top 1/2 inch. Below the circles were many small black circles. The stone was not transparent.” The First Presidency’s secretary told her that the presidency’s vault contained two additional seer stones. (D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, p.195-6).

Even Martin Harris recalled that Joseph used his peep stone to translate the gold plates,

By aid of the seer stone, sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written by Martin, and when finished he would say, “Written,” and if correctly written, that sentence would disappear and another appear in its place, but if not written correctly it remained until corrected, so that the translation was just as it was engraven on the plates, precisely in the language then used. Martin said, after continued translation they would become weary, and would go down to the river and exercise by throwing stones out on the river, etc. While so doing on one occasion, Martin found a stone very much resembling the one used for translating, and on resuming their labor of translation, Martin put in place the stone that he had found. He said that the Prophet remained silent, unusually and intently gazing in darkness, no traces of the usual sentences appearing. Much surprised, Joseph exclaimed, “Martin! What is the matter? All is as dark as Egypt!” Martin’s countenance betrayed him, and the Prophet asked Martin why he had done so. Martin said, to stop the mouths of fools, who had told him that the Prophet had learned those sentences and was merely repeating them, etc. (Edward Stevenson, “One of the Three Witnesses: Incidents in the Life of Martin Harris”, Millennial Star 44 (6 February 1882): 86-87).

The swapping stones incident that Martin Harris speaks of appears to be an embellishment, perhaps to impress his new Mormon brethren.  As noted above, Joseph’s brown stone that he used to translate the Book of Mormon was unique. So much so that it is hard to believe that Harris could find a stone so similar that Joseph could not tell right away that it was not his stone. Are we really to believe that Harris found a mahogany colored stone that was flat on the bottom and shaped like a baby shoe, and that it also had three circles on the top and many other circles in addition to them?

[47] Gleanings, pages 230-231.

[48] Hiel Lewis Statement, September 29, 1879. Hiel Lewis was a cousin of Emma Hale Smith. Lewis wrote,

 It is true that Alva Hale went with his team to Palmyra, N. Y., one hundred miles or more, and moved Smith and wife to Harmony. It was stated by Alva Hale, at the time, that the “Gold Bible” was in a barrel of beans in his wagon, and that he (Hale) slept in his wagon to guard that barrel of beams and its treasure. I remember hearing my older brother Joseph tell Alva that if he, Joeph Lewis, had been in your place (Alva Hale’s) he would have known whether that barrel of beans contained any golden Bible or not, perfectly regardless of Smith’s statement that it would be certain death for any one to see the plates. The Hales seemed, for a time, to be kept in awe by Smith’s statements, but that awe did not last long. Alva Hale is over eighty and his memory has failed much in a few years past. Some things he remembers distinctly, and some things I have been able to help him recall; for example, I asked him if he remembered the letter he wrote to Smith and Emma when they eloped. He said, no, and had no recollection of writing a letter to them. When told the contents of the letter; which was as follows — “My Creed! I believe in love-powder, in gun-powder and hell fire,” he replied, I recollect it as plain as if but yesterday. I asked Alva, on one of our late visits, if he remembered weighing the gold Bible; but he did not. My brother tried to refresh his memory, but in vain. Joseph remembers hearing it stated by Alva that he (Hale) was permitted to weigh the gold Bible in a pillow case, and, according to our memory, it weighed thirteen pounds! There were many persons in Harmony who had from Joe Smith positive promises that they should see the plates and the spectacles, but all say that they never saw them. Alva Hale says he never saw them. I presume he saw that old glass-box that Isaac Hale spoke of, said to contain the plates. Smith’s excuse for using his peepstone and hat to translate with, instead of those spectacles, was that he must keep the spectacles concealed; but any and all persons were permitted to inspect the peep-stone; and that he could translate just as well with the stone.

[49] Mormonism,” Susquehanna Register, and Northern Pennsylvanian 9 (1 May 1834):1

[50]  Isaac Hale Statement, Susquehanna Register, Thursday, May 1, 1834.

[51] Dean C. Jessee, Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History, Maxwell Institute,

[52] EMD Vol 1, pages 343-44..

[53] Blackman, History of Susquehanna County, page 104

[54] “David Whitmer Talks,” Omaha Herald, October 10, 1886, see also The Salt Lake Daily Tribune, Salt Lake City, Utah, Sunday, October 17, 1886. Whitmer always affirmed that it was Joseph who copied the characters that were given to Harris, and that the “Caractors” document in his possession was the original. This recollection of Whitmer’s may still be credible, if one ascribes it to the actual document that Harris took to Anthon, not the one that Whitmer inherited later, which has many erasures and looks to have been drawn much more hastily.

[55] LDSM&A,  Vol I. No. 1, October, 1834, page 16.  Online here, accessed June 5, 2013.

[56] LDSM&A,  Vol. 1, No. 5, February, 1835, page 80. Online here, accessed June 5, 2013.

[57] Letterbook 1, page 11.

[58] Palmyra Freeman August 11, 1829. Online here, accessed June 5, 2013.

[59] “Golden Bible,” Rochester Gem 1 [September 5, 1829]:70, Rochester, New York. Online here, accessed June 5, 2013.

[60] Clark, opt. cited, page 230.

[61] Vogel, EMD Vol. I pages 350-351.

[62]  1839 History, Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, p. 70.

[63] Orson Pratt, An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions and of the Late Discovery of Ancient American Records (New York City, 1840), p. 14. Online here, accessed June 5, 2013.

[64] Vogel, EMD Vol. 1, pages 352-353.

[65] Memorandum, made by John H. Gilbert, Esq., Sept. 8th, 1892, Palmyra, N.Y. Online here, accessed June 5, 2013.

[66]  (W. W. Phelps to “Dear Sir” [E. D. Howe], Jan. 15, 1831 as quoted in Mormonism Unvailed, 273, online here, accessed June 5, 2013.).

[67] Ontario Pheonix, Vol. IV, No. 4, May 25, 1831. The scripture that Phelps quoted is Psalm 85:11, accessed June 5, 2013.

[68] Boston Investigator 2 [August 3, 1832]:3, Boston, Massachusetts. I would like to thank H. Michael Marquardt for his help (through Dan Vogel) with this article, and also thank him for this find, which (from what I have observed) is not well known among Mormon Historians, Critics and Apologists. Mr. Marquardt’s website is invaluable (as is his research and writing), and I hope he continues to post items of interest and historical value there.

[69] Orson Hyde Journal, LDS Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[70] Samuel H. Smith Journal, LDS Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[71] “Questions proposed to the Mormonite Preachers and their answers obtained before the whole assembly at Julian Hall, Sunday Evening, August 5, 1832,” Boston Investigator 2, August 10, 1832.

[72] The first published use of the term Urim & Thummim was in July, 1832 by W. W. Phelps. I will be discussing this in Part II of this article.

[73] EMD Vol. I, page 56.

[74] EMD Vol. I, page 55.

[75] James Mulholland, Diary, 10 June 1839.

[76] EMD, Vol. 1, pages 69-70.

[77] Morning Courier and New York Enquirer, September 1, 1831. Bennett wrote, Harris with several manuscripts in his pocket, went to the city of New York, and called upon one of the Professors of Columbia College for the purpose of shewing them to him. Historian Leonard J. Arrington, in his article James Gordon Bennett’s 1831 Report on “The Mormonites”, reproduced the original entries from Bennett’s diary for the days that he was in the Palmyra area investigating the claims of Joseph Smith.  Arrington wrote,

The entries for August 7 and 8, 1831, were made at Geneva, a picturesque village situated about sixteen miles southeast of the Joseph Smith farmstead near Palmyra. Internal evidence suggests that Bennett discussed Mormonism with E. B. Grandin, whose firm had printed the Book of Mormon; Charles Butler, the lawyer-philanthropist from whom Martin Harris attempted to borrow money to pay for printing the Book of Mormon; and others. Here are those entries:

Geneva, August 7, 1831: Mormonism. Old Smith [Joseph Smith, Sr.] was a healer — a grand story teller — very glib — was a vender [?] — made gingerbread and buttermints &c&c — Young Smith [Joseph Smith, Jr.] was careless, idle, indolent fellow — 22 years old — brought up to live by his wits–which means a broker of small wants — Harris [Martin] was a hardy industrious farmer of Palmyra — with some money — could speak off the Bible by heart — Henry [Sidney] Rigdon — a parson in general — smart fellow — he is the author of the Bible — they dig first for money — a great many hills–the Golden Bible Hill [Cumorah] where there is a hole 30 or forty feet into the side — 6 feet diameter dug among and the chest fled his approach — turned into a religious plot and gave out the golden plates — the Hill a long narrow hill which spreads out broad to the South — covered with Beech, Maple, Basswood and White Wood–the north end quite naked — the trees cut off in the road from Canandaigua to Palmyra between Manchester & Palmyra — several fine orchards on the east — and fine farms on the west — here the ground is hilly — but small hills — very uneven — the [Lake Canandaigua] outlet runs past part of it — Mormonites went to Ohio because the people here would not pay any attention to them — Smith’s wife [Emma] looked into a hole and the chest fled into a trunk and he lost several of them — [William W.] Phelps of the Phoenix was converted to Mormonism and is now a teacher or elder —

August 8, 1831: Mormonism — C[harles]. Butler saw Harris they wanted to borrow money to print the Book — he told him he carried the engravings from the plates to New York–showed them to Professor Anthon who said that he did not know what language they were — told him to carry them to Dr. Mitchell — Doctor Mitchell examined them — and compared them with other hieroglyphics — thought them very curious — and they were the characters of a nation now extinct which he named — Harris returned to Anthon who put some questions to him and got angry with Harris

Note 3 reads,

Professor Richard L. Anderson of Brigham Young University states that among the Charles Butler Papers in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress is a folder containing correspondence for 1842. One four-page statement dictated by Mr. Butler relates to the Butler-Bennett interview. Butler stated that sometime after Harris’ application for a loan, “as he was walking in the street at Geneva he [Butler] was accosted by a young man who shewed him a letter asking if he knew where he cd find the person to whom it was addressed. The letter was to Mr. B [Butler] from Jas Watson Webb then editor of the N Y Inquirer introducing the bearer James Gordon Bennett who was sent to get information about the discovery of the Mormon Bible.” See also Francis H. Stoddard, The Life and Letters of Charles Butler (New York, 1903), pp. 125-128. (BYU Studies, Number 3, Spring 1970, James Gordon Bennett’s 1831 Report on “The Mormonites”, by Leonard J. Arrington).

What is interesting about these entries is that these are the same kind of comments that were made by the residents of Palmyra to D. P. Hurlbut just three years later, which appear in Eber D. Howe’s book, Mormonism Unvailed.  Dale Broadhurst made some good observations in his notes on the Bennett articles,

Bennett’s report on the recently departed Mormons of Wayne and Ontario counties was a potentially important piece of historical documentation — however, the writer’s imprecise quotation of unsure sources diminished the articles’ future usefulness. For example, Bennett conveys the impression that Martin Harris first took the alleged Nephite writing samples to Charles Anthon, “of Columbia College,” and from there went to visit Dr. Samuel Mitchill, to get his advice regarding the same text — this account reverses the order in which Harris approached the two Gotham savants. Probably there is a good deal of factual information embedded in Bennett’s reporting, but his account contains little information of unique significance that can be independently verified today. A new discovery of some near contemporary, confirming source might render Bennett’s interesting story of Sidney Rigdon’s earliest involvement with the New York Mormons more useful and valuable to historians, however.

[78] Diedrich Willers, The First Months of Mormonism: A Contemporary View by Rev. Diedrich WIllers, Edited and translated by D. Michael Quinn, New York History 54, July, 1873, p. 326. Online, here, accessed June 5, 2013.

[79] ibid.

[80] ibid, page 333.

[81] ibid, page 327.

[82] ibid.

[83] ibid, page 326.

[84] Sloan, op. cited.

[85] Pratt, op. cited.

[86] Jessee, opt. cited.

[87] The only account of someone failing to translate, was that of Oliver Cowdery, which can be found in Doctrine and Covenants, Section 9.

[88] Joseph showed the Book of Mormon Characters to to an anonymous letter writer to the New York Herald on May 7, 1843 who called himself “A Gentile”, and to the Reverend George Moore of Quincy Illinois on December 20, 1842, and  I will discuss these accounts in Part III. There may be some evidence that Joseph kept the original copy of the Book of Mormon Characters. There are two documents in existence, one written by Frederick G. Williams, and one by Oliver Cowdery that have Book of Mormon characters on them with an accompanying “translation”. These characters are not found on the document in the Hicks Photo, and the translation of them reads “The Book of Mormon”. This exact phrase appears in the Title Page, which Joseph affirmed is a “literal translation”. I will have more on this in Part II.

Lamanites & Indians & A Strange Encounter

WHITE and delightsome!” I exclaimed. “Are you sure you didn’t mean PURE and delightsome?” I asked, not quite hiding the slight hesitation in my voice.

“No,” he replied a bit gruffly, “it was definitely white.” He lowered his eyebrows and frowned, and for a moment I was afraid, but I saw his mouth twitch a bit just before he turned away and began to walk up the hill, relief washing over me. I followed him for he signaled me to do so, and in between gulps of air I managed to stammer out,

“Have you ever been back to this place, since…um, you know.”

He shook his head without breaking his stride. He was tall and muscular, and with those long legs soon outdistanced me, though I tried hard to keep up. “Nice suit…but it’s a little out of fashion!” I called to his receding silhouette, but he did not slow down.

I squinted at his retreating form as I searched my pockets for my glasses, which to my surprise were empty. This caused me to pause in my climb as I tried again to remember how I got here. All I could remember was finding myself at the bottom of this hill, face to face with … him. Glancing ahead once more, I caught his blurry form just as he disappeared over the crest of the hill, and it was many minutes before I finally reached the top and saw them all a short distance away.

He was standing there among them with his arms crossed and I marveled at how different he looked in person. He gave me a sympathetic look as I slowly approached. “Sorry” I mumbled, ”my knee is acting up today.”

“It’s all right” he said giving me a smile, “I had my own leg problem once. They told me they haven’t been waiting long,” he added, nodding at his companions. I watched him slowly take in the view of the surrounding lands below us and while he did so I sized up the three men he had led me here to meet. I stuck my hand out and they all took it, one by one. There were no introductions. I knew who they were, and they most certainly knew who I was. They were not quite what I expected, they were so … ordinary.

“Tell them what you told me,” he said, “when I first met you at the bottom of the hill.” I nodded at him and turned back to them as he gazed about at the lands below.

“It all started right after the 1978 Revelation,” I said as all three of them nodded. “Then they changed that word in the book, you know to pure. For the second time. I thought that might be the end of it, but then the DNA evidence came out. After that it was obvious what was happening.”

“Give us an example,” said the one on the left.

“Ok,” I said. “It seems that the DNA evidence shows that the indigenous peoples of the Americas have no connection at all to the ancient Hebrews. It got people everywhere asking the Church all kinds of questions about whether the Church has some kind of doctrine that states the Jaradites and Nephites were really the first inhabitants of this continent like the book says, and if the indigenous tribes of the Americas really are their descendants.”

“And how did they respond?” asked the one on the right.

“Well in 1997 Church Spokesman Stuart Reid said the Church ‘has no position on that’.”

“Are you telling me they said they don’t know?” asked the one in the middle.

“That’s what he appeared to be saying,” I replied. “Then Mr. Reid added that we also ‘don’t have any official doctrine about who the descendants of the Nephites and the Jaredites are.’”

I heard a sigh (at least I thought it was) from behind me, and I saw my tall acquaintance digging his foot in the dirt as he stood there clenching his fists and looking intently to the west. I wondered if he knew that the log cabin was still there. He cleared his throat. “Has anyone asked the prophet about this?” he finally asked.

“Well we would, but it’s not like you can just go up to him and ask him questions,” I replied. “I mean, with the bodyguards and all” I added, glancing up to meet his pale blue eyes. My tall guide grimaced and shook his head in disgust.

“Why don’t they just quote them 2 Nephi 1, verses 5-9,” asked the middle one of the three. “It does say that God covenanted with Lehi to give him a land for the inheritance of his seed. It also reveals that there “shall none come into this land save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord” and 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.’ Lehi even says his seed would ‘be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves,’ that there would be none to molest them or take it away from them. Isn’t scripture official doctrine of the Church anymore?” He looked at me and scratched his head. “I think that passage makes it perfectly clear.”

The other two nodded agreement. The one on the left then said, “if this scripture is not enough to declare a doctrine, and if the prophet at the head of the Church now will not inquire of God, then there is one other place that may tell us the answer to these questions.”

The one on the right spoke then and said, “The answer will be in the statements of those who have been given the authority to answer such questions, the apostles and prophets of the Church.” The other two nodded in agreement.

“There was a Proclamation made in 1845 by the Quorum of the Twelve at that time” said my guide, coming suddenly to life. “It was sent out to all the world and answers these questions. “Let me think a moment… yes, it said the Proclamation was ‘doctrine’ and that the ‘Indians (so called) of North and South America are a remnant of the tribes of Israel, as is now made manifest by the discovery and revelation of their ancient oracles and records.’ It also calls upon ‘the government of the United States to also continue to gather together, and to colonize the tribes and remnants of Israel (the Indians), and also to feed, clothe, succour, and protect them, and endeavour to civilize and unite; and also to bring them to the knowledge of their Israelitish origin, and of the fulness of the gospel which was revealed to, and written by their forefathers on this land, the record of which has now come to light. They would then begin to know and understand what was to be done with these remnants,’ and that ‘He has revealed the origin and the records of the aboriginal tribes of America, and their future destiny.”

“This all seems very clear,” said the middle one. Why is this not proclaimed as doctrine by the Church today? Didn’t any of the many Church Prophets or Apostles speak on this?”

“Yes,” I replied. “Many of them. For instance, Apostle N. Eldon Tanner told the Church in a General Conference Address in 1976 that ‘we have the Book of Mormon record which tells of the Jaredites who were the first to come to America. They came at the time of the confusion of languages during the building of the tower of Babel’. You can see he makes this quite clear. A more recent Apostle, Boyd Packer said, “In contrast to the relatively few in North America who could claim Lamanite lineage (1.3 million), he then pointed to the many millions in Mexico, Yucatan, Guatemala, and throughout South America and said” ‘In all . .. . there are seventy-five million six hundred thousand who share in your [Native American Lamanite] birthright, of whom thirty-one million nine hundred ninety thousand arepure Indians.'”

“So, the problem here is with the DNA?” asked the one on the left. “If that is the case, how is this being addressed? Has the prophet given any statements on the DNA issue?”

“Not that I know of,” I replied. “He probably just doesn’t think it important enough to bother the Lord about. After all, the Church has Moroni’s promise to fall back on, and that should be enough, shouldn’t it?”

“I should say so,” added my tall guide. “But the prophet still should not be shy about clarifying issues or going to the Lord about them for the uplifting of the Saints. After all, that is what being a prophet is all about. Are these men just afraid to go to the Lord with these issues? Don’t they realize that He is the one with all the answers, and they have the keys to ask for the answers to all questions of faith? What have they done to answer these questions?”

They all looked at me and I was almost afraid to answer. Then I remembered. “Dallin Oaks referenced this problem in a speech he gave in 1993. He said, the book ‘only purports to be an account of a few peoples who inhabited a portion of the Americas during a few millennia in the past.”

They all looked shocked. “Only a few peoples?” The right one of the three stammered, with a note of incredulity in his voice.

“Well,” I said, they call this ‘limited geography theory’, and it claims that there weren’t many Nephites at all, and that they mixed in with large groups of people already in America.”

“Didn’t they read 2 Nephi?” asked the middle one of the three. ‘It specifically states that this land was kept hidden from all nations for an inheritance to Lehi’s descendants. Are these people Lehi’s descendants?” Isn’t that what being a Nephite is? Why, the book says there were millions of Nephites! In fact, it says they covered the whole face of the land and ran out of timber! Why, one Apostle has said that a ‘vast number of millions that must have swarmed over this great western hemisphere in times of old, building large cities, towns and villages, and spreading themselves forth from shore to shore from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the frozen regions of the north to the uttermost extremity of South America!’ Don’t they believe the words of their prophets and apostles any more?”

I glanced over at my tall guide and he looked troubled. “What of Zelph,” he murmured. “Don’t they remember it was said he was a converted Lamanite who became white and became a great warrior of the Nephite armies “from the eastern sea to the Rocky Mountains?”

I nodded at his logic as I blurted out, “It seems that while there was no scientific evidence against the book, the Church believed it’s leaders about all the Indians being descendants of the Lamanites, and that the Nephites covered the whole face of the North and South American continents. They even think that you were ‘speculating’ about Zelph, and didn’t have a vision at all. And now, in the light of new discoveries in genetics and the many expeditions to the ruins they once said were built by the Nephites that have shown otherwise they are saying all those statements, even the “official” ones are only speculation. Why, they even changed the Preface to the book! What are we to make of this? Isn’t there something you can do? Like tell us where the Nephite ruins are? After all it was you who….

The tall man and his three companions disappeared as I found myself looking up at the ceiling of my bedroom. I sat up and rubbed my eyes. A dream! It was all a dream! Imagine that, meeting Jo Smith and the Three Nephites at the Hill Cumorah! Too bad I had woke up before my tall guide had answered my question. Well, perhaps one of the Mormon prophets will wake up and ask one of their gods for the answers. Isn’t that what Joseph Smith would have done?