Dustin Phelps & The House of Lies He Built For Jeremy Runnells

ANTI-MORMONISM (ad nauseam)

This article was written before Dustin Phelps changed his title and edited out some material. The original article may be found here.

There is an old adage that I’m sure all of you have heard at one time or another that goes, “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. “ No one wants to be fooled but really, it happens all the time especially when it comes to religious matters.  The historical record is replete with false prophets and teachers who have duped people into believing their claims of a special connection to God, who then gives them special “authority” that puts them in positions of power over others.  When men make religious claims though, they should have evidence to back up those claims. Let’s not fool ourselves that it isn’t all about the evidence. It is.

When it comes to Joseph Smith and his creation of Mormonism, there is an abundance of evidence that one can actually analyze to see if the claims that Joseph Smith made bear up under close examination. As Fawn Brodie astutely observed over 70 years ago,

In official Mormon biographies he [Joseph Smith] has been made a prophet of greater stature than Moses. Nineteenth-century preachers made him a lecherous rogue; and twentieth-century chroniclers have been bemused with what they diagnosed as paranoiac delusions. The reason for these disparate opinions is by no means lack of biographical data, for Joseph Smith dared to found a new religion in the age of printing. When he said “Thus saith the Lord!” the words were copied down by secretaries and congealed forever into print. (Brodie, Fawn M.. No Man Knows My History (Illustrated): The Life of Joseph Smith , )

The continuing scrutiny of the Mormon “prophet” and his Latter-day Kingdom of God is nothing new. It has been going on for almost two hundred years now.  The word “anti-Mormon” is nothing new either; it has been wielded like a cudgel against anyone critical of Joseph Smith from the time that Eber D. Howe published Mormonism Unvailed in 1834 to the present. Even Joseph Smith made the term his own.  For example, he used it when speaking of his plans for Texas if he were to win the 1844 Presidential nomination. His diary entry for March 7th reads:

On the annexation of Texas, some object. The anti-Mormons are good fellows. I say it in anticipation they will repent. Object to Texas [being admitted into the Union] on account of slavery. [Texas was pro slavery] Tis the very reason why she should be received.

“[Sam] Houston says, ‘Gentleman, if you refuse to receive us we must go to the British’ [who objected to slavery] and the first thing they will do will be to set the negroes and indians [against us] and they will use us up. British officers running all over Texas to pick a quarrel with us[. It would be] more honorable for us [as a nation] to receive them and set the negroes free and use the negro and indians against our foes.

“Don’t let Texas go lest our Mother and the daughters of the land will laugh us in the teeth. If these things are not so God never spoke by any prophet since the world began. I have been [two blank lines] south hold the balance of power &c. by annexing Texas –  I can do away [with] this evil [and] liberate 2 or 3 states and if that was not sufficient, call in Canida – –

Send the negroes to Texas from Texas to Mexico where all colors are alike. Notice was given for the Relief Society to meet Saturday 2 P.M. to adopt “the voice of Innocence from Nauvoo” (Scott H. Faulring, An American Prophet’s Record, p.456-7).

Even then, if others (even politically) didn’t agree with Joseph’s views, they were “anti-Mormons”.  Smith thought that Houston would run to the British and that they would create problems for the United States (as he did in his Civil War “prophecy”), but it was the Mexicans who went to war with the U. S. over the annexation of Texas. Joseph simply wanted to free the slaves to use as cannon fodder for the U.S. in his imagined war with the British, and then instead of accepting them as citizens, send them to Mexico where he claimed “all colors are alike”.  At least Joseph could joke about anti-Mormons being “good fellows” and call them that in the hope that they would repent; but he also said that about his enemies— that he was reluctant to ask God to kill them (because God told him he could have anything he asked for) perchance they did repent.

A month after calling his perceived political enemies anti-Mormons; William Law and other church members were unlawfully excommunicated for objecting to Joseph’s practice of polygamy and other doctrines that they would later publish in the Nauvoo Expositor. Joseph spoke about their activities and his scribe Willard Richards recorded that,

There was a meeting at Gen[eral] W[illia]m and Wilson Law’s near the saw mill of those who had been cut off from the Church and their dupes. Several affidavits were taken and read against Joseph and others. W[illia]m Law, Wilson Law, Austin D. Cowles, John Scott Sen[ior]., Francis M. Higbee, R[obert] D. Foster, and Robert Pierce were appointed a committee to visit the different families of the city and see who would join the new Church (IE) it was decided that Joseph was [a] fallen prophet &c. and W[illia]m Law was appointed in his place. Austin Cowles and Wilson Law Councillors. R[obert] D. Foster and F[rancis] M. Higbee to the 12 Apostles &c. as report says. El[der] James Blakely preached up Joseph in the A.M. and [in the] P.M. joined the anties . (Scott H. Faulring, An American Prophet’s Record, p.475, April 28, 1844).

Of course believing Smith to be a “fallen prophet” is being “anti-Mormon” according to Smith, even though they were endeavoring to start a church based on Joseph’s early teachings.

And of course, my good friend Jeremy Runnells is characterized the same way in a huge banner by the fledgling Mormon Apologist Dustin Phelps who appears to be terrified of using Jeremy’s name:


Dustin and his sidekick Brittney claim they are only helping people by making such provocative claims. In their “About” section found on their website, (inexplicably called “Happiness Seekers”???) they claim they are providing “resources” to help Mormons “navigate the unique challenges of our times.” They then claim that, “Those challenges include: anxiety and depression, defining equality, pornography, same-sex attraction, faith and doubt, and religious liberty.”

This begs the question: In the long run, is being such meretricious apologists really helping anyone but themselves? Apparently they think so, and take their cue from the FAIRMORMON playbook (something Jeremy calls FAIRMORMON Repackaged, as they blatantly mischaracterize and lie about Jeremy.

George Bush doing his own “Repackaging”…

I really have to hand it to them. They certainly have a flair for the dramatic. Oh my God, Jeremy Runnells the “influential anti-Mormon” has been “caught” spreading lies about the Mormon Church! Stop the presses! Don’t they know (since they regurgitate their material constantly) that FAIRMORMON has been screaming this for years? In their blog article attacking Jeremy, the word “anti-Mormon” appears 19 times, and the word is prominently displayed in the Banner. They definitely get the knee-jerk award for predictability.

In the Encyclopedia of Mormonism they explain anti-Mormonism as,

 …any hostile or polemic opposition to Mormonism or to the Latter-day Saints, such as maligning the founding prophet, his successors, or the doctrines or practices of the Church. Though sometimes well intended, anti-Mormon publications have often taken the form of invective, falsehood, demeaning caricature, prejudice, and legal harassment, leading to both verbal and physical assault. From its beginnings, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members have been targets of anti-Mormon publications. Apart from collecting them for historical purposes and in response to divine direction, the Church has largely ignored these materials, for they strike most members as irresponsible misrepresentations.

Few other religious groups in the United States have been subjected to such sustained, vitriolic criticism and hostility. From the organization of the Church in 1830 to 1989, at least 1,931 anti-Mormon books, novels, pamphlets, tracts, and flyers have been published in English. Numerous other newsletters, articles, and letters have been circulated. Since 1960 these publications have increased dramatically.

Wow. Few other religious groups in the U.S. have been subjected to such sustained, vitriolic criticism and hostility? How about the Catholics, the Jehovah Witnesses, the Seventh Day Adventists, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism? And let’s not forget Scientology.  All religions get attacked and criticized.  There have been so many anti-Catholic books written that they are virtually uncountable. Recently, the anti-Catholic book (as many Catholics claim) “The Da Vinci Code” and its two sequels, “Angels and Demons” and “Inferno”, were made into  blockbuster movies.  And two elections cycles back, there was a Mormon candidate for President, and his faith wasn’t really a major issue in his campaign. Would that be the case if there was a Muslim candidate for President? With the advent of the internet, all kinds of media have “increased dramatically”.

But even books with legitimate criticisms have been labeled as anti-Mormon.  This characterization of making anti-Mormons out of anyone who asks any questions or disbelieves claims made by Joseph Smith and others is best showcased by Jeff Lindsay and his “My Turn: Questions for Anti-Mormons”.  Among them are,

What other church better follows the Biblical model of emphasizing the bilateral covenant nature of the Gospel?

If there was no apostasy in the Church of Jesus Christ, then what happened to prophets?

What other Church better follows the Biblical organization given for the Church?

If Joseph Smith just made up the idea of vicarious baptism for the dead, why do numerous ancient documents validate the LDS claim that this was an authentic early Christian practice?

At a time when all Christian churches taught that temples were no longer needed, how did Joseph so effectively restore the ancient temple concept on his own?

What other church better corresponds with early Christianity in terms of teaching the true relationship between faith, grace, and works?

Why do the earliest Christian writings sound much closer to LDS theology than they to modern “mainstream” Christianity?

If the modern concept of the Trinity is true, then why does the different LDS view on the oneness of God find such strong support in the writings of the earliest Christians?

If it’s unchristian, unbiblical, and evil to believe that humans have divine potential, why do many Biblical and early Christian sources speak of the humans becoming “gods”?

If the Bible is infallible, by whose authority were the various books of the Bible selected in an infallible manner? By whose authority were the infallible translations made and approved?

Who authorized the changes in the ritual of baptism that occurred since the New Testament Church? And who in your church has true authority from God to perform baptisms?

If the Book of Abraham is a fraud, then how do you account for the details in the text that would later be given extensive support by numerous ancient documents that were not available to Joseph Smith?

These are all claims that Mormon apologists have been griping about for the last two centuries, because when critics bring them up, they are waved off as having been addressed already. But here is Lindsay taking his turn. Yawn. But what is Lindsay’s underlying purpose here? Lindsay writes under the title of “My Turn: Questions for Anti-Mormons”:

In my suite of “Frequently Asked Questions about Latter-day Saint Beliefs,” I’ve attempted to answer some of the endless questions that our critics throw out. Now it’s my turn to ask a few. I do this not to argue with them, but to point out to others that we don’t need to be on the defensive all the time. There are some meaningful issues that need to be considered beyond just the attacks of critics.

Again,  these are all questions that critics themselves have brought up. See how he adroitly connects the word “critics” with “anti-Mormons? And yet Lindsay attacks the belief in the Trinity, when he and other apologists claim they never attack other’s beliefs. He characterizes the Catholic Priesthood as “a committee of philosophers” and “contentious committees steeped in Hellenistic thought”.  This is how he describes the Bishops of the Catholic Church that met in Nicaea in that first ecumenical council that drafted the Nicene Creed.  At least that is what I think he is doing, because he quotes the Athanasian Creed, and there was no “heated debate” over its use that I am aware of.  The Catholics themselves admit that they are unsure of the origin of the creed, but that is of “secondary consideration” because it has been “approved by the Church as expressing its mind on the fundamental truths with which it deals.” There is nothing wrong with being a critic of any religion. Being a critic of anything is baked into our American culture. But there is definitely something wrong with villainizing critics when you are doing the same thing.

What I find interesting about Lindsay’s gaffe with the Athanasian Creed is that the Catholics claim that they don’t really know it’s origin yet it was approved and used by the Church as one of their creeds. Reminds me of the Mormon racist Priesthood Ban, which they claim they don’t know where it really came from, but it was Church doctrine for over a hundred years. They didn’t have any kind of “committee” debating the Priesthood Ban before they implemented it and they sure won’t acknowledge today that it came from God as Brigham Young did.

What is even more baffling is that because there are objections to the use of the term anti-Mormon as an epithet, FAIRMORMON claims that it is all the critics fault because some in the 19th century called themselves anti-Mormons!

They also claim that because the Tanners use the term in “The Changing World of Mormonism”, that makes it ok to call anyone who criticizes the church an anti-Mormon and characterized their arguments as attacks on the faith.  You might hear a black person use the N-word, but go ahead and justify using it yourself on that basis and see where it gets you. This is not about using the word, but the repeated vitriolic use of the word by Mormon apologists, and Dustin and Brittney are prime examples. FAIRMORMON makes this claim:

FairMormon does not believe or argue that everyone who disagrees with the LDS Church is “anti-Mormon.” As one prominent scholar of anti-Mormonism put it:

The hallmark of anti-Mormonism is an agenda, whether covert or openly expressed, of combating the faith of the Latter-day Saints and opposing their church.

Yet that is what is being done. Here is Daniel C. Peterson (a FAIRMORMON Board Member and the “prominent scholar of anti-Mormonism” they quote above) speaking of George D. Smith, Dan Vogel and Signature books,

We have seen that George D. Smith and Signature Books reject the title ‘anti-Mormons’ … Are ‘anti-Mormons’ mere mythical beasts, the stuff of persecution-fixated Latter-day Saint imaginations? If not, how would we recognize an ‘anti-Mormon’ if we saw one?

Nobody would suggest for a moment that George D. Smith and Dan Vogel fit the traditional ‘anti-Mormon’ mold in all respects. There are a number of differences between them and the late ‘Dr.’ Walter Martin, and between them and the Tanners.

In the past, anti-Mormon attacks almost invariably came from outside the Church; for the most part, they still do. For the first time since the Godbeite movement, however, we may today be dealing with a more-or-less organized ‘anti-Mormon’ movement within the Church. With ‘anti-Mormon Mormons,’ as Robert McKay puts it.

Should we be concerned about the possibility of unwholesome opinions, even enemies, within the Church? Jesus certainly seemed to think that internal enemies were a possibility. ‘Beware of false prophets,’ he said, ‘which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves’ (Matthew 7:15)…. So the possibility of enemies among the membership of the Church seems established. (FARMS, Review of Books, vol. 4, pp. liv-lv, see Veneer Magazine’s article “Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing” found here).

Peterson is calling members who have different views anti-Mormons and “enemies”! And since when are historians “false prophets”? This is simply silly bullshit. No one can be a legitimate critic to these bigots. Louis Midgley called Brent Metcalfe and the authors contributing to “New Approaches to the Book of Mormon”, anti-Mormons:

The most imposing attack on the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon has been assembled by Brent Lee Metcalfe… the publication of New Approaches is an important event. It marks the most sophisticated attack on the truth of the Book of Mormon currently available either from standard sectarian or more secularized anti-Mormon sources, or from the fringes of Mormon culture and intellectual life. (Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1994, pages 211- 214).

Stephen E. Robinson, chairman of the Department of Ancient Scripture at BYU was livid over Dan Vogel’s “Word of God: Essays on Mormon Scripture” and called him “Korihor”, a villain from the Book of Mormon:

Korihor’s back, and this time he’s got a printing press. Korihor, the infamous “alternate voice” in the Book of Mormon, insisted that “no man can know of anything which is to come”…In its continuing assault upon traditional Mormonism, Signature Books promotes with its recent and dubiously titled work The Word of God precisely these same naturalistic assumptions of the Korihor agenda in dealing with current Latter-day Saint beliefs….this is a propaganda piece.

For years anti-Mormons have hammered the Church from the outside, insisting that Joseph Smith and the Latter-day Saints’ scriptures he produced were not what they claimed to be. Whether Signature Books and its authors will convince the Saints of the same hostile propositions by attacking from the inside remains to be seen….What the anti-Mormons couldn’t do with a frontal assault of contradiction, Signature and Vogel would now accomplish with a flanking maneuver of redefinition.

I suppose by now it is clear that I did not like this book….Give me a Walter Martin anytime, a good stout wolf with his own fur on, instead of those more timid or sly parading around in their ridiculous fleeces with their teeth and tails hanging out. Give me ‘Ex-Mormons for Jesus’ or the Moody Bible Tract Society, who are at least honest about their anti-Mormon agenda, instead of Signature Books camouflaged as a ‘Latter-day Saint’ press. I prefer my anti-Mormons straight up. (Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, vol. 3, pp. 312).

Brian Hales, another FAIRMORMON contributor, called John Dehlin an anti-Mormon and a “wolf” for allowing a historian to express his views on Joseph Smith’s polygamy and not rebutting him with material that Hales had provided to him. He’s been at the forefront of the attacks on Jeremy Runnells and works hand in hand with FAIRMORMON.  Dustin and Brittney’s go to destination for propaganda to rebut critics is FAIRMORMON.

What Dustin and Brittney have concocted is nothing new. There is a long history of Mormon apologists vilifying any critic (even members of the church) as anti-Mormons. This is the fruit of FAIRMORMON. A whole new generation of bigots.  If one goes to Happiness Seekers, they have (as of this writing) seventeen articles posted and three of them have the word “anti-Mormon” in the title.

The message here is clear, any critic of the church is an anti-Mormon and a villain, complete with an “agenda” to rip people from their faith, and their publications should be avoided at all costs. Jeremy himself has likened it to being identified as Voldemort, (the villain whose name was not to be mentioned in the Harry Potter novels) because Dustin never uses Jeremy’s name, but makes it obvious who he is talking about.

At least Jeremy is in good company considering that Signature Books and all of its authors (whether members of the church or not) are considered by members and contributors to FAIRMORMON as being anti-Mormon “false prophets”.  Will they now raise Jeremy’s status to a false prophet? Nothing would surprise me at this point.

One observation about making it your mission to flush out and “expose” those horrible Anti-Mormons. Ever hear of S.P.A.M.? The Society for the Prevention of Anti Mormonism? Probably not. But they were a thing about ten years ago. Here is what the founder said when he closed shop:

This is the end of the line. I have decided to shut down the FRAM Report. I’ve been running it since 2009 with a few breaks in between. Two or three times, I’ve set it aside and moved on to other things, only to have some new development pull me back in. Thus, I’ve learned never to say never, but it’s time to give it a rest.

We started out just tracking numbers of anti-Mormon posts and we embarrassed Jim Robinson. We watched as he banned the Mormon Caucus and purged Mormons from the site. We identified the haters and published their pseudonyms. We made our point numerically: Free Republic was being used as a platform by anti-Mormons to bash the Church and its members with the support of its owner, Jim Robinson. The last few months have seen our posts degenerate into a tit-for-tat response to the seemingly endless attacks of their one primary, one-topic poster: Colofornian. We have demonstrated how obsessive, hateful, dishonest, and uninformed she actually is. There is no more doubt and there is nothing more to say on the matter.

The number one attribute of anti-Mormons is obsessiveness. They can’t not be anti=Mormon. They’re so full of hate that they can’t let it go. That’s not the case here. As my Internet pal Timothy Berman used the phrase in a different context recently, it’s time to stop “feeding the weeds.” Life is full of too many wonderful blessings to continually focus on anti-Mormonism.

Wow, what a list of accomplishments. This is what obsessing about “Anti-Mormons” under every rock and hiding behind every bush gets you. Nowhere.


I would like to start with their conclusion, where the word anti-Mormon appears three times in four paragraphs,

The critics ask why we call it “anti-Mormon information”. They say it’s just the plain facts. They argue that Latter-day Saints are afraid of the truth and that we are just brainwashed.

Who is “they”? Not Jeremy Runnells. But by all means carry on:

We call it anti-Mormon information because it consists of twisting “the facts”, fabricating “the facts”, and decontextualizing “the facts”.

We’re not afraid of the truth, but we are cautious about the way that anti-Mormons have shamelessly misrepresented the truth since day 1 of the Restoration.

What we know is that “…calumny may defame, mobs may assemble, and persecutions may rage. But the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.”

Where has Jeremy ever claimed that Mormons are “brainwashed”? You will search in vain for any such statement. Though some critics might make that claim, he’s not one of them and really, this is just the transparent tactic of broad brushing anything they don’t like into one convenient phrase, “Anti-Mormon information” that the mysterious “they” are in charge of distributing to the world.

And of course we have these typical derogatory words used to describe the “information”, like “twisting”, “fabricating” and “decontextualizing”, or taking “the facts” (what’s with the quotes anyway) out of context.  And speaking of brainwashing, one of the techniques used is repeating things over and over again. Perhaps if they don’t want people to think they have been subjected to such a technique, they should tone down the misguided and vitriolic rhetoric.

And if we are talking FACTS or ACCURACY here, the quote that Dustin uses isn’t what Joseph Smith actually wrote. The quote by Joseph Smith to John Wentworth reads,

Our missionaries are going forth to different nations, and in Germany, Palestine, New Holland, the East Indies, and other places, the standard of truth has been erected: no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing, persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished and the great Jehovah shall say the work is done.

I’m not sure where Dustin Phelps got his garbled quote from, but it isn’t from any original source. If you are going to put something in quotes, perhaps you should make sure that what you are quoting is accurate. Do you really have confidence that these fledgling apologists are qualified to judge what is accurate, or twisted, fabricated or decontextualized if they can’t even quote Joseph Smith correctly or blindly repeat and repackage everything they read from FAIRMORMON?

And though Joseph took credit for writing this letter to John Wentworth (also known as “Church History”), he actually plagiarized material from Orson Pratt and others. (At least that is what the Joseph Smith Papers indicates though they characterize it as a group effort that Joseph simply took credit for).  But using someone else’s work and claiming it as your own is still plagiarism. For example, here are the two accounts of Joseph’s claimed “first vision”, one by Orson Pratt in 1840 and the one that Smith claimed to write in 1842 in the Wentworth letter:

Pratt (Remarkable Visions 1840)

When somewhere about fourteen or fifteen years old, he began seriously to reflect upon the necessity of being prepared for a future state of existence

Wentworth Letter  (Joseph Smith? 1842)

When about fourteen years of age I began to reflect upon the importance of being prepared for a future state


If he went to the religious denominations to seek information, each one pointed to its particular tenets, saying—“This is the way, walk ye in it;”  while, at the same time, the doctrines of each were, in many respects, in direct opposition to one another.

Wentworth Letter

if I went to one society they referred me to one plan, and another to another; each one pointing to his own particular creed as the summum bonum of perfection: considering that all could not be right, and that God could not be the author of so much confusion I determined to investigate the subject more fully, believing that if God had a church it would not be split up into factions, and that if he taught one society to worship one way, and administer in one set of ordinances, he would not teach another principles which were diametrically opposed.


he was enwrapped in a heavenly vision, and saw two glorious personages, who exactly resembled each other in their features or likeness.


I was enwrapped in a heavenly vision and saw two glorious personages who exactly resembled each other in features, and likeness


He was also informed upon the subjects, which had for some time previously agitated his mind, viz.—that all the religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines; and, consequently, that none of them was acknowledged of God, as his church and kingdom


They told me that all religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines, and that none of them was acknowledged of God as his church and kingdom.


And he was expressly commanded, to go not after them; and he received a promise that the true doctrine—the fulness of the gospel, should, at some future time, be made known to him


And I was expressly commanded to “go not after them,”  at the same time receiving a promise that the fulness of the gospel should at some future time be made known unto me.

Joseph writes a letter about his own claimed “vision” and has to plagiarize material from someone else to describe it? But perhaps I’m only taking things out of context?  Joseph also plagiarizes material for his claimed 1823 visit of the angel “Moroni” from Pratt’s published work:


And it pleased God, on the evening of the 21st of September, a.d. 1823, to again hear his prayers. For he had retired to rest, as usual, only that his mind was drawn out, in fervent prayer, and his soul was filled with the most earnest desire, “to commune with some kind messenger, who could communicate to him the desired information of his acceptance with God,” and also unfold the principles of the doctrine of Christ, according to the promise which he had received in the former vision. While he thus continued to pour out his desires before the Father of all good; endeavouring to exercise faith in his precious promises


On the evening of the 21st of September, A. D. 1823, while I was praying unto God, and endeavoring to exercise faith in the precious promises of scripture


“on a sudden, a light like that of day, only of a purer and far more glorious appearance and brightness, burst into the room. Indeed, the first sight was as though the house was filled with consuming fire. This sudden appearance of a light so bright, as must naturally be expected, occasioned a shock or sensation visible to the extremities of the body.  It was, however, followed with a calmness and serenity of mind, and an overwhelming rapture of joy, that surpassed understanding, and, in a moment, a personage stood before him.” Notwithstanding the brightness of the light which previously illuminated the room, “yet there seemed to be an additional glory surrounding or accompanying this personage, which shone with an increased degree of brilliancy, of which he was in the midst


in a moment a personage stood before me surrounded with a glory yet greater than that with which I was already surrounded


This glorious being declared himself to be an Angel of God,  sent forth, by commandment, to communicate to him that his sins were forgiven, and that his prayers were heard; and also, to bring the joyful tidings, that the covenant which God made with ancient Israel, concerning their [p. 6] posterity, was at hand to be fulfilled; that the great preparatory work for the second coming of the Messiah, was speedily to commence; that the time was at hand for the gospel, in its fulness, to be preached in power unto all nations; that a people might be prepared with faith and righteousness, for the Millennial reign of universal peace and joy.

He was informed, that he was called and chosen to be an instrument in the hands of God, to bring about some of his marvellous purposes in this glorious dispensation.


This messenger proclaimed himself to be an angel of God sent to bring the joyful tidings, that the covenant which God made with ancient Israel was at hand to be fulfilled, that the preparatory work for the second coming of the Messiah was speedily to commence; that the time was at hand for the gospel, in all its fulness to be preached in power, unto all nations that a people might be prepared for the millennial reign.

I was informed that I was chosen to be an instrument in the hands of God to bring about some of his purposes in this glorious dispensation.

And at the end of the Wentworth letter appears what were later called “The Articles of Faith” which were later canonized by the Church and Joseph plagiarized much of those too, from Orson Pratt and others.

So why mention all this about the Wentworth letter? Well, I was curious about it after I saw that Dustin Phelps had garbled up what Joseph wrote. And being curious, I took a little time to research it. Of course, this is known to many historians, and they have their point of view about it. At the Joseph Smith papers, they write,

No manuscript copy [of the Wentworth letter] has been located, and it is not known how much of the history was originally written or dictated by JS. “Church History” echoes some wording from Orson Pratt’s A[n] Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, and of the Late Discovery of Ancient American Records. Pratt’s summary of church beliefs, upon which JS drew for the list of thirteen church beliefs in “Church History,” was in turn based on a theological summary written by Parley P. Pratt. Other individuals may have been involved in compiling the essay, including Willard Richards, who wrote extensively as JS’s scribe during this period. Because William W. Phelps revised and expanded the text of “Church History” a year later in answer to a request from editor Israel Daniel Rupp, it is possible that Phelps helped compose the original essay. However, Phelps’s active role as scribe and composer for JS apparently did not commence until late 1842.

And so the reader will have to make up their own mind. Was this plagiarism? Joseph Smith took a published work, copied from it, and published it under his own name without giving any credit to the original author. The “Articles of Faith”, from the Wentworth letter have been canonized, Joseph Smith’s name at the end of them as sole author, and that is how they appear today in Mormon scripture. This “Church History” that Smith claimed to write, doesn’t just “echo” some wording from Orson Pratt’s published work, it lifts whole passages from it. What that is, is plagiarism.

What are the ethical ramifications of this? Again, you readers must decide for yourself.


And what brought all this on concerning Jeremy? It took four years to finally catch Jeremy Runnells “lying” about the Mormon Church? They claim their involvement was spurred on from “a heart-felt letter from a mother”.  They write,

She [the anonymous mother] helped me realize that by taking the most popular piece of anti-Mormon literature (which summarizes just about all the claims against the Church) and exposing several blatant lies, I could prove an important point:

“If there’s far more to the story in regards to these major claims, how do you know that the same isn’t true of other criticisms made against the Church?”

What “major” claims is Phelps speaking of here? He gives five examples, 1) “there were major [changes to the Book of Mormon that] reflect Joseph’s evolved view of the Godhead.” 2) “Many Book of Mormon names and places are strikingly similar to local names and places of the region [where] Joseph Smith lived.” 3) Joseph Smith’s Polygamy is “Warren Jeffs territory” 4) Joseph wrote four contradicting versions of the First Vision 5) There are striking parallels between the Book of Mormon and several other books

I have to ask… why is his “point” (If there’s far more to the story…) in quotes? Is he quoting himself? And he is going to PROVE this point by using five examples? Tell us the “far more to the story” in a short blog article? Well, I can’t wait.  But before I get into that, let’s go over the introduction. They claim,

For many generations, Latter-day Saints have insisted that anti-Mormon literature isn’t worth reading. This attitude appears to be validated by on-going discoveries that the most influential anti-Mormon of recent years has been caught spreading blatant falsehoods and misinformation about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

If you know someone who has struggled with doubt, chances are that they happened upon this man’s work. His infamous 80-page document has been downloaded nearly 1 million times—primarily, it would appear, by Latter-day Saints and former members.

Many ex-Mormons use this document, as a “missionary tool” in the hopes that it will lead their friends and family members away from the LDS Church.

The author’s success has a lot to do with the way he constructed the document.

He frames himself as a well-intentioned Latter-day Saint who merely has a few innocent questions about the Church—questions that he genuinely wants answers to. He puts LDS readers at ease by beginning with a quote from President J. Reuben Clark who said, “If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.”

By using this seemingly innocent narrative the author has successfully persuaded countless members to trust the information he provides. As a result, many unsuspecting Latter-day Saints have found his claims to be so damaging that they either find themselves stuck in a crisis of faith or they abandon their faith altogether.

But it’s time for this house of cards to come tumbling down.

There’s a lot to unpack here.  First they claim that Mormons “for generations” have insisted that anti-Mormon literature isn’t worth reading.  True, some have. But other Mormons have told us things like this,

“The truth will cut its own way.” (Joseph Smith Jr.)

“To Latter-day Saints there can be no objection to the careful and critical study of the scriptures, ancient or modern, provided only that it be an honest study – a search for truth.” (John A. Widtsoe)

“This book [“The Book of Mormon”] is entitled to the most thorough and impartial examination. Not only does [“The Book of Mormon”] merit such consideration, it claims, even demands the same.” (James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith)

“The man who cannot listen to an argument which opposes his views either has a weak position…” – James E. Talmage

“If we have the truth, [it] cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.” (J. Reuben Clark, counselor in the First Presidency)

“If a faith will not bear to be investigated: if its preachers and professors are afraid to have it examined, their foundation must be very weak.” (George Albert Smith, Journal Of Discourses, v 14, page 216, thanks to MormonThink for these quotes)

But of course, any critic is labeled an “anti-Mormon” and their honesty is then questioned. See the circle jerk they perform here? Instead of just presenting Jeremy’s claims, they go to lengths to defame him and call him a liar before they present any of their so called evidence.  This is a dishonest tactic and a favorite of Mormon Apologists. The CES letter is “infamous”.  Dustin then gives us this confusing mess:

This attitude appears to be validated by on-going discoveries that the most influential anti-Mormon of recent years has been caught spreading blatant falsehoods and misinformation about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The attitude (of ignoring what they deem as “anti-Mormon literature’) appears to be validated by not ignoring what “the most influential anti-Mormon of recent years” wrote? How do you validate not reading something by reading it? So I guess those that ignore it actually aren’t ignoring it? Dustin claims,

I normally don’t bother responding to individual claims by anti-Mormons—because for every claim you debunk, another will be invented or repackaged.

Of course he doesn’t, because if what he wrote about Jeremy Runnells is any indication, he is too ignorant to make a coherent response. He would rather point the finger at those dreadful “anti-Mormons” and make false claims, and provide links to FAIRMORMON. And of course since this is all (as Dustin puts it) just “invented” or “repackaged” claims, why bother? And then there’s the irony of Dustin’s own repackaging of FAIRMORMON’s apologetic bullshit.

Dustin also gripes about how many times the CES Letter has been downloaded and that it is some kind of “tool” of ex-Mormons, and claim that its success is simply how the letter is constructed. Gee, If only everyone could construct a letter like that. We’d all get millions of views! Perhaps Jeremy should be out giving lectures on how to construct letters since this one has been so successful. Of course it has nothing to do with the content. It was just ingeniously constructed.

And Jeremy just appears to be trustworthy.  So of course Dustin has to attack Jeremy’s honesty, and his real story, that he had a legitimate crisis about his faith (being a returned missionary, etc), and make it into a plot by Jeremy to dupe unsuspecting Mormons.

Dustin also totally mischaracterized what Jeremy claimed about the CES Letter. Jeremy never said they were “a few innocent questions” about the Church. Jeremy was totally upfront in the CES Letter and said he already had a crisis of faith BEFORE he wrote it. So all of this by Dustin is a blatant falsehood. Jeremy never duped anyone.  In his INTRODUCTION, Jeremy wrote,

I’m just going to be straightforward and blunt in sharing my concerns. Obviously I’m a disaffected member who lost his testimony so it’s no secret which side I’m on at the moment. All this information is a result of over a year of intense research and an absolute rabid obsession with Joseph Smith and Church history. With this said, I’d be pretty arrogant and ignorant to say that I have all the information and that you don’t have answers. Like you, I put my pants on one leg at a time and I see through a glass darkly. You may have new information and/or a new perspective that I may not have heard or considered before. This is why I’m genuinely interested in what your answers and thoughts are to these troubling problems.

So who is being dishonest here? Dustin Phelps. He just can’t seem to admit to himself that people are reading the letter knowing that Jeremy wrote it when he was already disaffected and was honest and upfront about it. I mean, it must be troubling to Dustin’s apologetic mind that people are still reading the actual evidence for its own sake and not because of Jeremy Runnell’s ingeniously constructed letter.  I doubt Dustin ever even read the CES letter. What he appears to have done is regurgitated material from FAIRMORMON. Took a few claims and made up his whopper about Jeremy being dishonest and a liar.


I’ve been friends with Jeremy for about five years now, and I can tell you he’s a passionate guy. That much is obvious if one reads his rebuttal to Dustin Phelps. I really can’t blame him for being pissed off. He’s been attacked by Mormon Apologists over and over again and it must get rather old after a while. I just turned sixty, and I was a lot like Jeremy when I was younger and if you follow this blog, you know that I can be sarcastic and sharp in my responses to Mormon Apologists. So bear in mind all that Jeremy has been through as you read his response to Phelps.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s explore Dustin’s claims about what Jeremy wrote in the CES Letter and see if it is all “lies about the church”.  And remember, Dustin claims that these are “major claims” against the church. Now, I am not going to do any kind of in-depth rebuttal here, Jeremy has done a great job with his response. I just want to make a few observations and analyze some of Dustin Phelps’ claims against Jeremy. And if these are not in order… you guessed it, Phelps changed the order when he repackaged his own blog entry.

Dustin Phelps original text (18 July 2017):

False Claim #3) Joseph Smith’s Polygamy is “Warren Jeffs territory”

Let’s cut right to the chase on this one. Polygamy is not what really bothers anyone. What bothers people is the possibility that Joseph introduced polygamy—not because of revelation but out of a desire to satisfy lustful feelings. They worry that maybe Joseph practiced polygamy in the same way that Warren Jeffs did: with unrestrained lust and insatiable sexual appetite.

This insinuation is common in anti-Mormon literature. And the particular document that we are discussing explicitly claims that Joseph Smith’s history is “Warren Jeffs territory.”

But is that claim at all true?

Dustin Phelps changed text:

False Claim #1) Joseph Smith’s Polygamy is “Warren Jeffs territory”

Look. Polygamy is a difficult subject for many of us—even if the Prophets of old practiced it too.

But what makes it difficult to move forward with faith is the possibility that Joseph introduced polygamy—not because of revelation but out of a desire to satisfy lustful feelings. Some people worry that maybe Joseph practiced polygamy in the same way that Warren Jeffs did: with unrestrained lust and insatiable sexual appetite.

This insinuation is common in anti-Mormon literature. And the particular document that we are discussing openly claims that Joseph Smith’s history is “Warren Jeffs territory.”

But is that claim at all true?

But what did Jeremy actually write? On page 31 of the CES Letter, we find,

One of the things that really disturbed me in my research was discovering the real origins of polygamy and how Joseph Smith really practiced it.

 Joseph Smith was married to at least 34 women.

 Polyandry: Of those 34 women, 11 of them were married women of other living men. Among them being Apostle Orson Hyde who was sent on his mission to dedicate Israel when Joseph secretly married his wife, Marinda Hyde. Church historian Elder Marlin K. Jensen and unofficial apologists like FairMormon do not dispute the polyandry. The Church now admits the polyandry in its October 2014 Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo essay.

 Out of the 34 women, 7 of them were teenage girls as young as 14-years-old. Joseph was 37-years-old when he married 14-year-old Helen Mar Kimball, twenty-three years his junior. Even by 19th century standards, this was shocking. The Church now admits that Joseph Smith married Helen Mar Kimball “several months before her 15th birthday” in its October 2014 Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo essay.

 Among the women was a mother-daughter set and three sister sets. Several of these women included Joseph’s own foster daughters. Some of the marriages to these women included promises by Joseph of eternal life to the girls and their families, threats of loss of salvation, and threats that he (Joseph) was going to be slain by an angel with a drawn sword if the girls didn’t marry him.

Every bit of this is true. So really, what Dustin Phelps has a problem with is Jeremy characterizing what Joseph Smith did as “Warren Jeffs territory”.  This is something the individual must decide. But is this a false claim? No. It’s an opinion.  The Rolling Stone wrote this about Jeffs:

The ambitious, twisted son of the previous FLDS prophet, Jeffs took control and became obsessed with the idea of “perfect obedience.” He started kicking people out of Short Creek that he deemed sinners: young men who came to be known as Lost Boys, teenage girls he considered too rebellious and men no longer “worthy of priesthood,” reassigning their wives and children to loyalists he felt he could trust.

Beginning in 2002, he came under investigation for child rape in Utah. He then began evading authorities while marrying off teenage girls to the sect’s leadership. He also ordered the construction of a new FLDS compound, the Yearning for Zion ranch, in the West Texas desert. In May 2006, he landed on the FBI’s 10 most-wanted list for multiple counts of sexually assaulting minors, and went on the run with his favorite wife, Naomi (code name: 91). With the help of Jessop, who ran the church’s security force – called the God Squad by detractors – Jeffs communicated through coded letters and burner phones and shuttled between the church’s “houses of hiding” scattered throughout the West (in particular, he often visited his favored brides at the compound in Texas). In August 2006, he was arrested during a routine traffic stop on the outskirts of Las Vegas, carrying 16 cellphones, three wigs and $56,000 in cash in the lining of a suitcase.

Joseph Smith declared and had himself ordained a king in Nauvoo. He “married” multiple teenaged girls, some as young as fourteen. He discarded women when being “married” to them was no longer in his best interest after having sex with them. As for “perfect obedience”, this is what Joseph Smith was reported to have said in Kirtland in 1836, that,

After that dedication [of the Kirtland Temple] the Mormons organized what they termed “the school of prophets.” A revelation prior to that time had given Oliver Cowdery the privilege of nominating the twelve apostles of the Church. About the time of this organization there was a good deal of scandal prevalent among a number of the Saints concerning Joseph’s licentious conduct, this more especially among the women. Joseph’s name was then connected with scandalous relations with two or three families.  Apparently to counteract this he came out and made a statement in the Temple, before a general congregation that he was authorized by God Almighty to establish His Kingdom — that he was God’s prophet and God’s agent, and that he could do whatever he should choose to do, therefore the Church had NO  RIGHT  TO  CALL  INTO  QUESTION Anything he did, or to censure him, for the reason that he was responsible to God Almighty only. This promulgation created a great sensation — a schism occurred and a large portion of the first membership, including the best talent of the Church, at once withdrew from it. This was during the summer of 1836. (Benjamin Winchester, Primitive Mormonism, The Salt Lake City Daily Tribune, September 22, 1889).

What Phelps does here can be characterized as the classic “bait and switch”.  He claims that this is all about Joseph having “unrestrained lust and insatiable sexual appetite”. Yet, this is not what Jeremy claims at all. The fact is, we do not know how often Joseph had sex with his plural wives. If the testimony of Emily Partridge and Malissa Lott count for anything to Phelps, they claimed that they had sex with Smith on multiple occasions. Malissa Lott testified,

Q. I asked you how many times you had roomed there in that house with Joseph Smith? I do not expect you to answer positively the exact number of times, but I would like to have you tell us the number of times as nearly as you can remember it?

A. Well I can’t tell you. I think I have acted the part of a lady in answering your questions as well as I have, and I don’t think you are acting the part of a gentleman in asking me these questions.

Q. Well I will ask you the questions over again in this form,—was it more than twice?

A. Yes sir.

R. C. Evans, who was in the Presidency of the Reorganized Church interviewed the brother of Joseph F. Smith, (Patriarch John Smith) a nephew of Joseph Smith and while there his wife Helen told him that “Malissa Lott … said Joseph … desired her to have a child by him.”

Lott herself, when questioned about her lack of a pregnancy by Joseph answered it was,

Through no fault of either of us, lack of proper conditions on my part probably, or it might be in the wisdom of the Almighty that we should have none. The Prophet was martyred nine months after our marriage.

Emily Partridge testified,

Q. Did you ever have carnal intercourse with Joseph Smith? A. Yes sir.

Q. How many nights? A. I could not tell you.

Q. Do you make the declaration that you ever slept with him but one night? A. Yes sir.

Q.  And that was the only time and place that you ever were in bed with him? A. No sir.

This is only two of Joseph Smith’s wives.  Even they were baffled as to why they never got pregnant. To claim that Joseph just never had sex with his wives, or that he chose to “limit such relations” is ridiculous and ignores the actual evidence.  According to Emily Partridge, she did not know why she got pregnant by Brigham Young and not by Joseph Smith: 

Q. You were married to Brigham Young by the law of proxy?     A. Yes sir.

Q.  And while married to Brigham Young by the law of proxy you had children?  A.  Yes sir.

Q. You had children by Brigham Young?  A. Yes sir.

Q. Then the law of proxy, -marriage by the law of proxy will raise children, while marriage by the law of the church will not?  Is that it?  A.  I don’t understand your question?

Q.  My question is this, -that when you were married by the law of proxy you had children?  A. Yes sir.

Q. And when married under the law of the church you did not raise children?  A. I did not have any, but I don’t know that that had any thing to do with it, for I might have had children married that way as well as under any other marriage relation.

Q. But you did not have any when you were married to Joseph Smith A. No sir.

Q. You did by Brigham Young though when you were married to him by proxy?  A. Yes sir, but that did not have any thing to do with it. (395-402)’

Phelps makes the claim that “whatever intimate relations may have occurred—they were pretty close to non-existent,” but has absolutely no evidence to back up that assertion.  He links to an article by Brian Hales that is full of his own speculations and apologetic mumbo jumbo.  But one thing that is certain and Brian Hales admits this himself in the very article that Phelps links to:

It is impossible to accurately determine how often Joseph Smith spent time with his plural wives, either in conjugal visits or otherwise.

I can go one step further and with absolute confidence say that it is impossible to determine AT ALL, how often Smith spent time with his spiritual wives or had sex with them.  Speculating about it is simply ridiculous, but this is what Hales, FAIRMORMON and Dustin Phelps do, because they will not admit that there was no teaching or evidence that anyone who was in a polygamous relationship could not have sex with the woman he was married to. So calling them “non-sexual eternity only sealings” is simply Brian Hales wishful thinking, extremely irresponsible and has no evidentary basis at all, except from late anonymous recollections and notes by Andrew Jenson who lied in his publication The Historical Record when it suited him.

What really surprised me though, was Phelps original statement:

Polygamy is not what really bothers anyone.

Huh? Polygamy doesn’t bother anyone? I beg to differ and most likely, Phelps got some blowback on this because he then changed his blog entry to read:

Look. Polygamy is a difficult subject for many of us—even if the Prophets of old practiced it too.

So which is it? It doesn’t bother anyone including Dustin Phelps? Or it is a difficult subject for many of us (including Phelps). Do you get the feeling that Phelps will just say anything to defend the church? Why then would he flip flop on this? Or is he mentally challenged and can’t make up his mind what he believes? Is this anyone you want helping you in times of crisis? Does he really have any answers and is he qualified to give you the historical truth? He doesn’t seem to know what it is. Do we really need more FAIRMORMON Repackaged? If you are having a crisis of faith, do you really need FAIRMORMON Repackaged? Wouldn’t you rather speak to qualified historians, or your Bishop, or research things for yourself and then make up your mind what to do? This was in fact what Jeremy Runnells was originally trying to do.

Another example that Phelps gives of Jeremy’s “lying” is the following:

3) “there were major [changes to the Book of Mormon that] reflect Joseph’s evolved view of the Godhead.”

Jeremy actually wrote,

The Book of Mormon taught and still teaches a Trinitarian view of the Godhead. Joseph Smith’s early theology also held this view. As part of the over 100,000 changes to the Book of Mormon, there were major changes made to reflect Joseph’s evolved view of the Godhead.  (CES, 17)

Talk about context. He doesn’t once cite where he is getting his quotes from in the CES Letter.  I find that odd.  So how is Jeremy Runnells lying here? This is Dustin Phelps tortured logic:

As part of these changes, Joseph prepared an 1837 edition of the Book of Mormon that fixed some typos and included a few clarifications.

Ok, but they are still CHANGES. So all his blathering about punctuation is just a red herring. But here is what he says about what Jeremy calls “major changes”:

One of those minor adjustments has really excited anti-Mormons over the years. Why? Because if you remove the relevant context and place it in just the right light, it appears much more controversial than it really is.

So, here’s the change: There are four places where Joseph Smith added “Son of” to the 1837 edition of the Book of Mormon. These are places where Jesus Christ was initially referred to as “God” or “the Eternal Father” but were adjusted to read “Son of God” and “Son of the Eternal Father.”

Dustin blathers on about verses that do nothing to prove his point and this has been addressed in Jeremy Runnells response to Dustin, found here.

As far as the Trinity in Mormonism, there is some simple evidence to prove that this was taught in the early church.  In the same year that Joseph penned his first account of his claimed First Vision (1832), we find this amazing commentary written in the Evening And Morning Star, under the title of ‘The Excellence of Scripture’:

“Through Christ we understand the terms on which God will show favour and grace to the world, and by him we have ground of a PARRESIA access with freedom and boldness unto God. On his account we may hope not only for grace to subdue our sins, resist temptations, conquer the devil and the world; but having ’fought this good fight, and finished our course by patient continuance in well doing, we may justly look for glory, honor, and immortality,’ and that ‘crown of righteousness which is laid up for those who wait in faith,’ holiness, and humility, for the appearance of Christ from heaven. Now what things can there be of greater moment and importance for men to know, or God to reveal, than the nature of God and ourselves the state and condition of our souls, the only way to avoid eternal misery and enjoy everlasting bliss!

“The Scriptures discover not only matters of importance, but of the greatest depth and mysteriousness. There are many wonderful things in the law of God, things we may admire, but are never able to comprehend. Such are the eternal purposes and decrees of God, THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY, the incarnation of the Son of God, and the manner of the operation of the Spirit of God upon the souls of men, which are all things of great weight and moment for us to understand and believe that they are, and yet may be unsearchable to our reason, as to the particular manner of them.” (The Evening And Morning Star, Vol. I, INDEPENDENCE, MO. JULY, 1832. No. 2. page 12, emphasis mine)

When one considers the Book of Mormon teaching, and looks at the Lectures on Faith, which were published in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants and voted on as binding doctrine by the Church, one can see the striking similarities and his change from Monotheism to Modalism. Take this verse from 1st Nephi:

“And he said unto me, Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh.”

Now compare this to Lecture Fifth, from the Lectures on Faith:

“There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing and supreme power overall things…They are the Father and the Son: The Father being a personage of spirit, glory and power: possessing all perfection and fulness: The Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle, made, or fashioned like unto man, or being in the form and likeness of man, or, rather, man was formed after his likeness, and in his image;–he is also the express image and likeness of the personage of the Father: possessing all the fulness of the Father, or, the same fulness with the Father; being begotten of him, and was ordained from before the foundation of the world to be a propitiation for the sins of all those who should believe on his name, and is called the Son because of the flesh.” (Lectures on Faith, 5:2, emphasis mine)

In the questions and answers, at the end of each lecture, we find clarification:

What is the Father?
He is a personage of glory and of power. (5:2.)
What is the Son?
First, he is a personage of tabernacle. (5:2.)…
Why was he called the Son?
Because of the flesh.
Do the Father and the Son possess the same mind?
They do.
What is this mind?
The Holy Spirit.

Thomas G. Alexander, writing for Sunstone in July of 1980 explained that,

“The Lectures on Faith differentiated between the Father and Son somewhat more explicitly, but even they did not define a materialistic, tritheistic Godhead.  In announcing the publication of the Doctrine and Covenants which included the Lectures on Faith, the Messenger and Advocate commented editorially that it trusted the volume would give ‘the churches abroad…a perfect understanding of the doctrine believed by this society.’ The Lectures declared that ‘there are two personages who constitute the great matchless, governing and supreme power over all things–by whom all things were created and made.’ They are ‘the Father being a personage of spirit,’ and ‘the Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle, made, or fashioned like unto man, or being in the form and likeness of man, or, rather, man was formed after his likeness, and in his image.’ The ‘Articles and Covenants’ called the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost ‘one God’ rather than the Godhead, a term which Mormons generally use today to separate themselves from trinitarians.” (Sunstone 5:4/26 (Jul 80), emphasis mine)

In his “translation” of the Bible, sometimes called The Inspired Version (completed in 1833), Joseph Smith changed some verses in the New Testament to reflect his early Monotheistic teachings:

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

For a time, it seems, Joseph Smith was a Monotheist, and Mormons agreed with the Christian Trinity doctrine.  Monotheism, (identified as the doctrine of the Trinity in light of New Testament revelation) is what is taught in the Bible, the most clearly in Isaiah 44:6-8:

“Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer, the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.”

For more on Smith’s early teachings on the Godhead, See Ronald V. Huggins article, Joseph Smith’s Modalism: Sabellian Sequentialism or Swedenborgian Expansionism?

Dustin Phelps also claims that Jeremy is “lying” about this:

2) “Many Book of Mormon names and places are strikingly similar to local names and places of the region [where] Joseph Smith lived.”

Dustin claims:

The author of this infamous anti-Mormon document provides a map of the cities and towns where Joseph grew up and then compares them to a proposed map of Book of Mormon geography.

He also compares these place names in a table.

He argues that the similarities are too powerful to ascribe to mere coincidence. And it’s not just that he’s telling people to think that. The way he constructs the comparisons makes it seem as though that is the natural conclusion.

But here’s what countless misled readers do not know:

Several of the towns on this author’s list were not even in existence at the printing of the Book of Mormon. Other locations were remote villages hundreds of miles away in places like Canada—hardly the land of Joseph’s youth.[9]

Plus, almost half of the names or locations are also found in the Bible—including Biblical names that few are aware of such as Lehi, Boaz, Ramah, and Sidon.

But you know what? As ridiculous as this claim may seem, it is also one of the most emotionally impactful parts of the whole document. Why? Because it starts to paint a picture in your mind of how Joseph Smith might have invented the Book of Mormon.

The author is trying to achieve the impossible: make a Book of Mormon fraud seem believable.

All of Dustin’s links go to FAIRMORMON. This section is no different. He offers the link as proof for his statement that “several of the towns … were not even in existence at the printing of the Book of Mormon.

At FAIRMORMON, they quibble about where these locations are in the Book of Mormon. Was one north of the other or south of the other, etc. This is irrelevant. What about the names? Let’s take just one example. They write,

Holley points out that the present day city of Angola, New York is a possible match for a Book of Mormon location. He notes the location of the city on “modern maps”. Holley states,

The present day city of Angola, New York, is located west of the Genesee (Sidon?) River and south [“in the borders”] of the proposed land of Zarahemla. This is another example of the many actual locations in the Great Lakes area that can be located on modern maps by following geographical information in the Book of Mormon. [4]

However, when one looks up the Wikipedia entry for Angola, New York, it becomes evident that the name “Angola” was not established until approximately 1854, twenty-four years after the Book of Mormon was published. Wikipedia notes,

The community was previously called “Evans Station.” In 1854 or 1855, a post office was established there, bearing the name Angola. [5]

Actually, FAIRMORMON is wrong. I happen to live in Upstate New York, and I know a little bit more about the history of this area. The Post Office in Angola was there before 1830:

The first town meeting for the town of Collins was held on June 9, 1821, a few weeks after the formation of the county. There was then no post-office in the town, but in 1822 one was established at Taylor’s Hollow, and a mail route opened through Eden to that point. THE OFFICE WAS NAMED ANGOLA and Jacob Taylor was appointed postmaster, a position which he held as late as 1840. This office was subsequently abandoned and the name given to one in the town of Evans.  (Our County and It’s People: A Descriptive Wo.rk on Erie County, New York, Volume 1, 348, emphasis mine).

I’ve been to Taylor’s Hollow and Eden many times. Unless one knows the local history, they would not be aware that the Angola Post Office was there in 1822.

What is the Etymology for the word “Angola”?

The name Angola comes from the Portuguese colonial name Reino de Angola (Kingdom of Angola), appearing as early as Dias de Novais’s 1571 charter. The toponym was derived by the Portuguese from the title ngola held by the kings of Ndongo.

How in the world did this word get on to the gold plates in 400 A.D.? It didn’t. It was a Post Office a hundred miles from Smith’s house. And according to the 1826 examination minutes, Joseph Smith claimed to have gone to that area of New York:

Mr. [Joseph] Smith [Jr.] was fully examined by the Court. It elicited little but a history of his life from early boyhood, but this is so unique in character, and so much of a key-note to his subsequent career in the world, I am tempted to give it somewhat in extenso. He said when he was a lad, he heard of a neighboring girl some three miles from him, who could look into a glass and see anything however hidden from others; that he was seized with a strong desire to see her and her glass; that after much effort he induced his parents to let him visit her. He did so, and was permitted to look in the glass, which was placed in a hat to exclude the light. He was greatly surprised to see but one thing, which was a small stone, a great way off. It soon became luminous, and dazzled his eyes, and after a short time it became as intense as the mid-day sun. He said that the stone was under the roots of a tree or shrub as large as his arm, situated about a mile up a small stream that puts in on the South side of Lake Erie, not far from the Now York and Pennsylvania line. He often had an opportunity to look in the glass, and with the same result. The luminous stone alone attracted his attention. This singular circumstance occupied his mind for some years, when he left his father’s house, and with his youthful zeal traveled west in search of this luminous stone.

He took a few shillings in money and some provisions with him. He stopped on the road with a farmer, and worked three days, and replenished his means of support. After traveling some one hundred and fifty miles he found himself at the mouth of the creek. He did not have the glass with him, but he knew its exact location. He borrowed an old ax and a hoe, and repaired to the tree. With some labor and exertion he found the stone, carried it to the creek, washed and wiped it dry, sat down on the bank, placed it in his hat, and discovered that time, place and distance were annihilated; that all intervening obstacles were removed, and that he possessed one of the attributes of Deity, an All-Seeing-Eye. He arose with a thankful heart, carried his tools to their owner, turned his feet towards the rising sun, and sought with weary limbs his long deserted home.

On the request of the Court, he exhibited the stone. It was about the size of a small hen’s egg, in the shape of a high-instepped shoe. It was composed of layers of different colors passing diagonally through it. It was very hard and smooth, perhaps by being carried in the pocket.” http://richkelsey.org/1826_trial_testimonies.htm

So, what are we to make of this? Did Vernal Holley have a point to make about the Book of Mormon names? Absolutely. But since he is dead, we cannot know where he got his research from, so it is up to others to dig into this and find out, as I did with Angola. Knowing this, is it really so impossible that the Book of Mormon is a fraud? I’ll let you decide, readers.

Dustin then tries to tackle the claimed “First Vision” problems and writes,

False Claim #4: Joseph wrote four contradicting versions of the First Vision

This claim is very misleading.

Here are the facts:

First, as we would expect, Joseph told the story of the 1st vision on multiple occasions. Second, because each account is conveyed to a different audience and for a different purpose, Joseph focuses on different details of the experience in each account.

What would really be weird is if he robotically gave the exact same, seemingly rehearsed account, every time he was asked. Instead, every time he tells of the First Vision experience, it is from a new angle, revealing an experience that is panoramic and authentic.

Contrary to the author’s assertion, the accounts do not contradict each other—they enrich one another. And they are on display in the Church’s history museum and were published by the Church over 50 years ago (shortly after the History Department discovered them). Click here to study each account for yourself on the Church’s website.

And consider the following:

Paul and Alma the Younger also retell their transformative spiritual experiences on multiple occasions—to different audiences and with different purposes. Each of their accounts differ on what they emphasize and include new details, but ultimately they in no way contradict each other. Just like with Joseph’s First Vision accounts, each perspective adds rich depth and power to their experiences.

And let’s not forget that overtime we all tend to reinterpret and recontextualize our past experiences which may lead us to focus on different themes of the same experience at different times.

This is simply apologetic mumbo-jumbo and does not address the real problems that Jeremy brings up in the CES Letter. I have addressed many of these myself here, in answer to Kevin Christensen’s (another FAIRMORMON apologist) rants against Jeremy.

The other claims that I haven’t addressed here Jeremy has answered well, and I doubt there will be any kind of reasoned, logical response from “Happiness Seekers”.


I’ll simply quote what Jeremy wrote to Dustin which seems an apt conclusion to his bizarre rant against “he who must not be named”:

In case you haven’t noticed by now, Dustin skips a lot of things. Dustin ignores a lot of details. Dustin ignores a lot of contradictions.

Dustin wants you to look at this tree over there while keeping your eyes and attention away from the forest of problems. Mormon apologists do not want you to see the forest. This is why they hate the CES Letter and me so much. This is why I am now the Mormon “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” with a “You-Know-What-Letter”. I show you the entire forest with just 2-hours of reading (what used to take people in the past, weeks and months to accomplish the same thing on their own). Instead of 1-5 problems that they can contain for a member awakening to the LDS Church’s truth crisis, they have to address 80-pages worth of problems they wish you didn’t know about. They want you to stay lost in the trees focusing on one tree at a time within the unreliable and unsupportable lens of “faith.”

Phoney Maroney & FairMormon’s New Scapegoat

Stephen Smoot 2

Phoney maroney,
Pony before the cart. …

Gentlemen mark your opponents
Fire into your own ranks.
Pick the weakest as strategic
Move. Square off. To
Meet your enemy.
For each and every gathering
A scapegoat falls to climb. ~R.E.M.

This guy:

Stephen O. Smoot is an undergraduate student at Brigham Young University pursuing bachelor’s degrees in Ancient Near Eastern Studies and German Studies. He is a writer for the Student Review, an independent BYU student newspaper, a volunteer with FairMormon, and an Editorial Consultant for Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture. He blogs at the FairMormon Blog and Ploni Almoni: Mr. So-and-So’s Mormon Blog.

Is one of many from FAIRMORMON’s ranks who are obsessed with attacking and scapegoating Jeremy Runnells. They have even devoted a whole website to doing so. (Yes Mormons, that is what your donations to FAIRMORMON are being used for). Even Daniel C. Peterson and Michael Ash have jumped on this bandwagon. This has troubled other Mormons, like David Bokovoy who wrote:

But what about attacking people directly like Jeremy Runnells and John Dehlin? Does this strengthen faith? It may, but I’m not convinced. I don’t like it, and it feels wrong to me. More importantly, that type of apologetic seems inappropriate from my perspective for a serious academic venue, especially one sponsored by the LDS Church.

I’m not going to cite the emails because they’re personal exchanges, and to do so would be highly inappropriate. But I will give a personal example. In the not-too-distant past, my name was attached to an apologetic email list that was discussing how the group should respond to an article that appeared in the news. Several of the emails discussed openly the type of “digging” that could be done into this person’s past in an effort to provide an effective apologetic response. It made me feel very, very uncomfortable.

I responded, asking the group to please reconsider their approach, stating, “placing the blame on [name omitted] for his struggles is not an effective apologetic and I personally don’t think it will help [your] cause.”

And this is what this entire unfortunate public confrontation comes down to: What is the most effective type of apologetics, and what style of academics should an LDS sponsored institution engage in? I don’t believe in aggressive attack style apologetics. Some people do. I believe in critical thinking, listening to alternative views, and open friendly exchanges.

Smoot has had Jeremy in his sights ever since the wildly popular CES Letter was made public by Jeremy in 2013. In one of his blog articles written in June of this year, Smoot advised his fellow Mormons about the dangers of the Internet:

…Church leaders … have urged the importance of using the Internet to both stem the tide of misinformation and deception about the Church found online as well as preach the gospel. But they are not alone. Elder Quinten L. Cook lamented in the October 2012 General Conference, “Some have immersed themselves in Internet materials that magnify, exaggerate, and, in some cases, invent shortcomings of early Church leaders. Then they draw incorrect conclusions that can affect testimony.” President Dieter F. Uchtdorf likewise reminded us of the following in 2013:

For those who already embrace the truth, [Satan’s] primary strategy is to spread the seeds of doubt. For example, he has caused many members of the Church to stumble when they discover information about the Church that seems to contradict what they had learned previously.

If you experience such a moment, remember that in this age of information there are many who create doubt about anything and everything, at any time and every place.

You will find even those who still claim that they have evidence that the earth is flat, that the moon is a hologram, and that certain movie stars are really aliens from another planet. And it is always good to keep in mind, just because something is printed on paper, appears on the Internet, is frequently repeated, or has a powerful group of followers doesn’t make it true.

Elder Steven E. Snow, Church Historian and Recorder, gave this counsel in the June 2013 issue of the New Era (which was subsequently reposted on the Church’s website for youth).

Certainly, the world has changed in the last generation or two. The Internet has put all kinds of information at our fingertips—good, bad, truthful, untruthful—including information on Church history. You can read a great deal about our history, but it’s important to read about it and understand it in context. The difficulty with some information online is that it’s out of context and you don’t really see the whole picture.

Information that tries to embarrass the Church is generally very subjective and unfair. We should seek sources that more objectively describe our beliefs and our history. Some websites are very mean-spirited and can be sensational in how they present the information. Look for sources by recognized and respected historians, whether they’re members of the Church or not.

Instead of leaving it at that, Smoot adds:

The tantrums of Jeremy Runnells notwithstanding, what these brethren have taught is absolutely true. It’s college-level critical thinking 101. Don’t default to Wikipedia or reddit for your information. Don’t default to meme-think. Don’t default to snarky YouTube videos. Steven C. Harper said it best, “Googling is not a synonym for seeking.” Take the time and make the honest effort to acquaint yourself with “the best books” (D&C 88:118) you can find on Mormon history, scripture, and doctrine. (For our purposes here, “the best books” include academic journal articles, academic and popular press publications, Internet websites, multimedia, etc.) It will ultimately be much better for you intellectually and spiritually.

The only one that seems to be throwing tantrums is Stephen Smoot. In this piece Smoot sets up a strawman by turning Jeremy’s comment about Hales being an amateur Historian into his claiming that he triumphantly announced “that one cannot possibly maintain faith in Joseph Smith after learning the “real” history of plural marriage.”

Of course Jeremy said no such thing and you can search in vain for that quote.  Smoot goes on and on about Hales how is not an amateur historian, but Hales himself claimed that he was:

“Runnells is correct that I am an amateur historian…” (Brian Hales,  Facebook, Mormon Historians, July 17, 2014, 3:38pm).

I actually took part in that conversation, and can verify that it is an accurate quote and that Brian was not being sarcastic. So if Hales is calling himself an amateur; then why is Stephen Smoot even bringing this up? To scapegoat Jeremy Runnells, of course.

So what is wrong with Wikipedia or reddit? Wikipedia is a free encyclopedia using wiki software. The entries are compiled by anonymous editors who have to footnote their entries.  Anyone can edit entries and it is basically self policed.  One Mormon apologist, Roger Nicholson lamented about Wikipedia in The Mormon Interpreter:

According to Wikipedia,

The Wikipedia model allows anyone to edit, and relies on a large number of well-intentioned editors to overcome issues raised by a smaller number of problematic editors. It is inherent in Wikipedia’s editing model that misleading information can be added, but over time quality is anticipated to improve in a form of group learning as editors reach consensus, so that substandard edits will very rapidly be removed.

In general, this philosophy tends to be effective as regards many Wikipedia articles. Errors that bring an article out of balance tend to be corrected given sufficient time, and the article progresses toward a stable and “neutral” state. However, articles dealing with highly controversial subjects, such as Joseph Smith’s first vision or polygamy, do not tend to stabilize themselves over time. These types of articles become magnets for editors who have an agenda to push. Wikipedia becomes an attractive way for such editors to “publish” their opinions with immediate worldwide visibility and considerable credibility.

He then writes,

Wikipedia articles are required to rely “mainly on reliable, published secondary sources and, to a lesser extent, on tertiary sources. All interpretive claims, analyses, or synthetic claims about primary sources must be referenced to a secondary source, rather than original analysis of the primary source material by Wikipedia editors.”  Wikipedia is intended to summarize the work of others rather than act as a forum for creating original work. In the case of contentious articles such as “First Vision” or “Golden Plates,” it is extremely tempting to take advantage of the “immediate publication” of material in order to create new interpretive material. The “no original research” rule is often ignored. This can lead to situations in which the wiki editor’s own thinking is reflected in the article. Consider this example, which appears in the wiki article “First Vision” as of 18 October 2011: “However, when in October 1830 the author Peter Bauder interviewed Smith for a religious book he was writing, he said Smith was unable to recount a ‘Christian experience.’ ”

There are several issues with the above statement. It does correctly represent the source, which was an interview between Peter Bauder and Joseph Smith. Bauder was attempting to expose false religions, and he notes that “among these imposters there has one arisen by the name of Joseph Smith, Jr.”  The wiki editor introduces the quotation with the word however, thus implying that this statement is a possible disqualifier for the validity of the first vision. Nowhere in the wiki article is it noted that Bauder was a strong critic of Joseph Smith and that Joseph may not have desired to share the experience of his vision with such an interviewer. The earliest known extant attempt by Joseph to put the vision in writing occurred two years later. In 2009, however, the LDS wiki editor added his own interpretation of this interview by drawing the conclusion that “either Smith did not view this early remission of sins or vision as a ‘Christian experience,’ he forgot about the experience when asked by Bauder, or Smith and Bauder somehow miscommunicated.”?

Not only did this blatantly violate Wikipedia’s “no original research” rule, it was also an absurd interpretation. How would Joseph not view a remission of his sins as a “Christian experience”? Would he truly have “forgotten” about his theophany? The simplest and most obvious explanation was completely ignored: Joseph may have simply chosen not to share the experience of his vision with an obvious enemy of the church. The wiki editor eventually recognized that the original research could not remain and removed the paragraph. The unqualified statement about Joseph not recounting a “Christian experience,” however, remains in the wiki article as of September 2011.

There are several things wrong with this analysis. First, the Peter Bauder interview with Joseph Smith was published in 1834, not 1830, so we do not know the exact circumstances that led Bauder to Joseph Smith, other than what Bauder wrote later. Bauder wrote,

However … we find him [anti-Christ] in various other places. For instance, view him in the Mahometan system, and a variety of other imposters, who have drawn disciples after them, who had no Theological Seminaries among them; but if you will observe their manner of increasing their numbers, you will find it is done without a reformation wrought in the hearts of their members, by a godly sorrow for sin, and a compunction of soul, and pungent conviction, which precedes a joy which is unspeakable and full of glory, 1 Peter, 1, 8—because the love of God is shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto them according to Romans, 5, 5.

Among these imposters there has one arisen by the name of Joseph Smith, Jr. who commenced his system of church government in this state, (New York) in the year 1830. His followers are commonly called Mormonites, sometimes New Jerusalemites, or Golden Bible society; they call themselves the true followers of Christ. I conceive it my duty to expose this diabolical system for two special reasons—first, because I have had an opportunity with Smith, in his first setting out, to discover his plan; secondly, because I learn since they were broke up in New York State, they have gone to the western States, and are deceiving themselves and the people, and are increasing very fast.

The Kingdom and Gospel of Jesus Christ (Canajoharie, New York: A. H. Calhoun, 1834.

The Kingdom and Gospel of Jesus Christ (Canajoharie, New York: A. H. Calhoun, 1834, 36-37.

I will name some of the particular discoveries which through Divine Providence I was favored with in an interview with Joseph Smith, Jr. at the house of Peter Whitmer, in the town of Fayette, Seneca County, state of New York, in October, 1830. I called at P[eter]. Whitmer’s house, for the purpose of seeing Smith, and searching into the mystery of his system of religion, and had the privilege of conversing with him alone, several hours, and of investigating his writings, church records, &c. I improved near four and twenty hours in close application with Smith and his followers: he could give me no christian experience, but told me that an angel told him he must go to a certain place in the town of Manchester, Ontario County, where was a secret treasure concealed, which he must reveal to the human family. He went, and after the third or fourth time, which was repeated once a year, he obtained a parcel of plate resembling gold, on which were engraved what he did not understand, only by the aid of a glass which he also obtained with the plate, by which means he was enabled to translate the characters on the plate into English. He says he was not allowed to let the plate be seen only by a few individuals named by the angel, and after he had a part translated, the angel conmanded him to carry the plate into a certain piece of woods, which he did:—the angel took them and carried them to parts unknown to him. The part translated he had published, and it is before the public, entitled the Book of Mormon: a horrid blasphemy, but not so wicked as another manuscript which he was then preparing for publication, which I also saw. He told me no man had ever seen it except a few of his apostles: the publication intended was to be the Bible!!! The manner in which it was written is as follows:—he commenced at the first chapter of Genesis, he wrote a few verses of scripture, then added delusion, which he added every [p.18] few verses of scripture, and so making a compound of scripture and delusion. On my interrogating him on the subject, he professed to be inspired by the Holy Ghost to write it. I will now give the public my fears on this subject, (unless God prevents) when he gets his work ready for the press. He will pretend that the angel has brought the plate, and his new Bible will be a translation of the remaining plate, which were not put into the Book of Mormon, and the public will have this diabolical invention imposed on them. (See also, Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, p. 16-18).

It is obvious that this is written from an 1834 perspective. We do not know how Bauder felt in 1830 when he visited Smith. He may not have been antagonistic at all. Nicholson assumes this of Bauder, and then concludes that “Joseph may have simply chosen not to share the experience of his vision with an obvious enemy of the church.” Yet, Joseph shared his claimed 1820 vision with Robert Matthews in 1835, who Smith speculated was a murderer and claimed his “God was the devil”.  In the light of Smith sharing his supposed vision with one such as Matthews, Nicolson’s argument doesn’t make much sense.

What is interesting is that Bauder got all of the details right about Smith’s claimed visit with Moroni. He also got the details right about Smith’s “translation” of the Bible, although his later speculation that Smith might claim it came from the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon never came to pass. If Bauder was simply making it up about Smith’s lack of Christian experience in 1830, why did he correctly claim that Smith told him he was later translating the Bible with the inspiration of the Holy Ghost? This is not about Joseph joining any church; Bauder describes what “Christian experience” is, in an earlier paragraph:

“…a reformation wrought in the hearts of their members, by a godly sorrow for sin, and a compunction of soul, and pungent conviction, which precedes a joy which is unspeakable and full of glory…because the love of God is shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto them…”

That is not about joining a church. The fact that Bauder claims that Joseph did not speak of any Christian experience before his supposed encounter with the angel Moroni in 1830, is borne out by what Mormon Missionaries were teaching in 1832; and what Smith and Cowdery wrote themselves in 1834. Smith made an attempt to rewrite his history in 1832, but left it unfinished and abandoned it in the back of a letterbook and did not include his supposed vision of Christ in the 1834 history. In that version of his history they claim that Joseph prayed in 1823 to see “if a Supreme Being did exist” and was answered by an angel who told him about some gold plates.

The wiki article today (2015) reads:

In June 1830, Smith provided the first clear record of a significant personal religious experience prior to the visit of the angel Moroni.[73] At that time, Smith and his associate Oliver Cowdery were establishing the Church of Christ, the first Latter Day Saint church. In the “Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ,” Smith recounted his early history, noting

“For, after that it truly was manifested unto [Smith] that he had received remission of his sins, he was entangled again in the vanities of the world, but after truly repenting, God visited him by an holy angel … and gave unto him power, by the means which was before prepared that he should translate a book.”[74]

No further explanation of this “manifestation” is provided. Although the reference was later linked to the First Vision,[75] its original hearers could have understood the manifestation as simply another of many revival experiences in which the subject testified that his sins had been forgiven.[76] On the other hand, when in October 1830, non-Mormon critic and author Peter Bauder interviewed Smith for a book, Bauder was writing about false religions, Smith apparently declined to share his experience. Bauder thus stated that Smith was unable to recount a “Christian experience.”[77]

So it appears that Nicholson’s objections of a few years ago are groundless, since Bauder is described as a “non-Mormon Critic” in the current wiki article.  Now, these changes may have come about with the persistence of Mormon editors, but that is the way it is supposed to work, right?. It appears that this wiki article has “stabilized itself over time,” at least in this instance.

So why the current objections to wiki? Because FAIRMORMON can’t totally control the flow of information there as they can at their own site. But what is almost comical is that FAIRMORMON has its own version of wiki. And what do they have on their own wiki page? This:

In October 1830 Peter Bauder (a non-Mormon minister) spoke directly to the Prophet. Bauder commented: “he could give me no Christian experience,” meaning that he did not belong to any church before his experience with the angel and plates in September 1823.

Notice there is little difference from the current “First Vision” Wikipedia page. FAIRMORMON uses this quote to try and prove that Joseph Smith didn’t join any Churches. On another page, they write the same thing:

In October 1830 Peter Bauder (a non-Mormon minister) spoke directly to the Prophet. Bauder commented: “he could give me no Christian experience,” meaning that he did not belong to any church before his experience with the angel and plates in September 1823.

Bauder absolutely did not mean that, as he himself explains above. The Wikipedia article is still wrong though, because Bauder did not say that Smith declined to share his experience, Smith could not give him one, as defined by Bauder. And Bauder did not just spend an hour or two with Smith, he claimed that he spent “near four and twenty hours in close application with Smith and his followers,” and spoke to Smith alone for “several hours”, so neither Smith nor any who followed him could give Bauder a “Christian experience” for Joseph Smith in his youth.


Reddit is simply a discussion forum. So why doesn’t Smoot want Mormons to visit these places on the internet? Does Smoot think Mormons will go to reddit specifically to find out about Mormon History? I’ll leave that up to you, readers, to figure out.

Smoot also talks about memes. Yet, FAIRMORMON takes the memes from Jeremy’s CES Letter and employs them to foist their own agenda on the public! Here is a screenshot of one of the pages on their new website devoted to demonizing Jeremy and his work:

Hales CES 36

Notice their own “selected details” and the claim that Hales makes about Ruth Vose Sayers which I’ve shown to be riddled with problems here. Jeremy is simply boiled down to a thrower of tantrums by Smoot.  And of course, “Satan” is behind it all! Now here we are four months later and Smoot is at it again here.

So why is Smoot bringing this up again and again ad nauseum? It seems that Brian Hales has a few pages of contribution included in a new book published by the John Whitmer Historical Association in addition to his other many books and articles on the subject. Well, we all know that Hales has published a lot on polygamy. We know that he considers himself an amateur historian. So what is Smoot’s point here? Simply to use any excuse to scapegoat Jeremy:

Readers of my blog will recall that some time ago Jeremy Runnells amusingly accused Brian C. Hales (undoubtedly one of the finest living authorities on the topic of the history of Mormon plural marriage) of being a “Mormon amateur apologist.” At the time I responded by mentioning the number of respected academic peer reviewed venues Brian’s work had appeared in… I’m sure that if Jeremy ever decides to take a sabbatical from teaching at the prestigious University of Reddit (I hear UoR is almost as high as the University of Phoenix in Princeton’s ranking) and venture forth into academia he can be invited by Brian to present his work at next year’s JWHA conference. ~Stephen Smoot

Again, all of the publications listed by Smoot don’t change that fact that Brian Hales himself admitted to being an amateur historian.  What is interesting is Smoot’s defense of Hales in the comments to this article:

Finally, is Brian an apologist as well? Sure he is, in that he is defending a specific interpretation of the historical data. Scholars do this all the time, and the rhetorical tricks of Runnells and his followers notwithstanding, there’s nothing inherently shameful in being an “apologist” for a position or idea if you’re being such in good faith.

Now we are getting to it.  I think Jeremy could have chosen his words more wisely in giving Hales amateur status, (even though Hales calls himself one) but Jeremy has a point about Hales being an “expert”, because some of the claims that Hales does make are amateurish. He jumps to conclusions, makes outlandish assumptions, and presents the evidence in a one sided way. This is not good apologia, nor good scholarship.  Here are some of the many problems that Mike Quinn detailed about Hales’ methods:

Quinn accuses Hales of “citing an easily refutable claim” (pg. 6), quotes secondary sources over primary sources (page 6), Quinn also writes that “The best evidence is the original record of sealing, not someone’s century later commentary about it” which Hales quoted instead of the original record. He states that Hales “brushes off the significance of some of the evidence he has cited,” (page 11), makes contradictory assertions (page 11), conveniently shifts his standards of evidentiary analysis in his own direction (page 18), that Hales “apologetical observations contradict evidence (page 23), uses a red herring, (page 25), makes claims that have no basis whatever (page 27), strains credulity (page 27), uses “presentist bias” (page 33), of “misrepresentation” (page 64), of not consulting original sources (page 66), that Hales had an “academic obligation” to reveal certain information which he did not (page 66), of using a “vacuous red-herring when Hales does not quote a single exception from the “original records” about which he writes” (page 69), that Hales would not acknowledge crucial evidence that undermined his narrative (page 70 n. 46), which was that Joseph Smith forbid the practice of polygamy in Oct. 1843, (ibid), citing a source critical to his argument without a page number (page 72), uses flawed methodology and closed system of logic (page 73), worse (Quinn’s word) he has failed to acknowledge several of the contrary evidences in publications he has cited, (ibid), he makes “perplexing gaffes” in his use of evidence (page 73-74), he repeatedly questions the memory/accuracy of faithful Mormon witnesses that Hales disagrees with (page 74), does not use equal standards for evidence (page 74), of making “apologetical claims” knowing they were “improbable” (page 75), that he did not acknowledge critical evidence until forced to by Quinn (page 78), gave “anachronistic assessment”, and “a fallacy of irrelevant proof”, and “chronologically false” assessments (page 80), he overstates problem in proving a negative, (Hales – “You can’t prove a negative”) to which Quinn writes, “for example it is possible to prove that someone didn’t die on a particular date” (page 82), falsely accusing Quinn of stealing documents (84), another red herring (87), absurdity (87), claimed that Quinn said something he did not say (90), of another fallacy of irrelevant proof (page 90), that Hales wrongly corrected an accurate page citation by Quinn (page 91), of knowing of evidence but ignoring it to support his conclusions (page 94), claimed no documentation existed when it did (page 95), of not acknowledging evidence (page 98)making claims that were wrong (page 98), raising an apologetical smoke-screen by questioning well known facts (page 101), making ridiculous assertions about conspiracies (page 101), of fallacy of irrelevant proof (page 102), that Hales is an unreasonable researcher (page 102), of using “multiple fallacies” (page 104), the purposeful absence of references (page 105), purposeful non-inclusion of first-person sources that contradict his argument (page 108), using “imprecise and less detailed” evidence to support his argument (page 108), exclusion of evidence (page 108), claims there is no “specific documentation” when Quinn provided it (page 110), wrongly stated something Quinn did not say (page 113) which was a “Stunning gaffe”, again a red herring (page 113), another red herring (page 115), irrelevant statements (page 115) “frequent use of polemical red-herrings to undermine historical evidence he dislikes” (page 115), On page 118 Quinn writes, “NOTHING (Caps in original) can satisfy Brian Hales’ calculatedly stringent requirements that are impossible to achieve, unless he finds a Victorian American woman who said, wrote, or testified that she (as a devout Mormon) alternated sexual intercourse with two husbands during a period of time” [This speaks for itself], Also includes Hales in using the “double standard of LDS apologists who narrowly define acceptable evidence for unpleasant realities” (page 118), of denying and ignoring evidence (pg. 123), using a closed system of logic (God knew Smith would be obedient so he was), On page 124, Quinn compares Hales to Joseph Smith III, who refused to believe evidence he did not like, (page 124), accuses Hales of playing “a skillful shell game in which premises for judgment are conveniently shifted so that the conclusion is always the same” (page 125), ignores contradictions and other problems in evidence (page 126), omits significant facts (page 127), another wrong claim (page 127), does not cite sources he knows of (page 128), makes unqualified conclusions (page 128). (“Evidence for the Sexual Side of Joseph Smith’s Polygamy”, D. Michael Quinn, (expanded-finalized, 31 December 2012; circulated in mid-2013), pages cited in text).

Hales responded to those who would quote Mike Quinn in the comments of his hit piece on Jeremy by stating,

I appreciate the references to Mike Quinn’s work. Most historians at some time have benefited from his research and footnotes. However, I would feel much better about your criticism if you instead were not quoting Quinn, but quoting some Nauvoo polygamist or other historical figure who was there. Quoting secondary sources may create the illusion that some scholarly opinion is documented history. (This applies to me as well as Mike.) (Comment made on July 15, 2014).

The person that made the comment to Hales (UtahHiker801) simply stated that others (like Mike Quinn and Richard Bushman) disagreed with Hales’ conclusions. He did not “quote” anyone. Quinn’s (and Richard Bushman’s) conclusions are based on the evidence that they quote in their various books and articles. This seems lost on Hales who doesn’t seem to understand the difference between a quotation and a general statement. Hales also does not keep his own advice about “secondary sources” as Mike Quinn documents above.

I would say that I’m pretty much as familiar with all of the documents that Hales is, and I’m an amateur historian at this point, because I’m still learning the trade of being a historian even though I’ve been at it non stop for about 8 years and have been on research trips with Historians like Mike Marquardt.

One Mormon  (an Oxford grad) called me a “Hobbyist” historian in an effort to denigrate me, and I don’t take exception to him doing so. You have to learn, don’t you? Why be embarrassed about that? I’m not and neither is Jeremy Runnells. A better question might be why do those who call others these names do so, and can they back up their claims with evidence? Is this just a diversion from the real issues? Why are all the “experts” and “scholars” at FAIRMORMON so concerned about the hobbyist Jeremy Runnells? Why would Brian Hales claim that Jeremy indicated in some way that he was an “expert” on Mormon Polyamy, when he knew that Jeremy made no such claim?

We all learn and make mistakes. I know, Jeremy and I spent a year together on Joseph Smith’s polygamy and traded literally thousands of emails discussing it and we have an Essay finished about it. In Jeremy’s case his claim was in response to Hales’ false assertion that Jeremy claimed he was an expert. Funny thing is, it was Hales that started all this, not Jeremy. How would you react to being called a sock puppet of Satan and a liar who claims expertise when you absolutely didn’t do so? Jeremy is none of these things and didn’t claim to be an expert, but Stephen Smoot doesn’t address those issues, only Jeremy’s angry retort at Hales which was factually correct. Even Hales admitted it was and that:

I am an apologist at heart, but had hoped to be more of an “objective researcher” in my writings. While I’m not big on labels, “believer” could be applied so perhaps “apologist” is unavoidable.

As we have seen from Mike Quinn’s critique of Hales work above, he has failed miserably at being an “objective researcher”.

I don’t mind being called a “Hobbyist”, but you had better be prepared to back up your assertions (if you think that it matters) with evidence when it comes to the topics at hand or you could look pretty stupid being debunked by those you are calling amateurs or hobbyists. Jeremy presented evidence, good evidence that he can now back up with Hales’ own research, as can I.  Notice that Stephen Smoot doesn’t address any of that, he simply plays his one string banjo over and over again. Banjo_Cartoon

Does it take a degree to make one a professional Historian? Perhaps, (to be factually correct) but there are those like Mike Marquardt and Dan Vogel who I would call professionals who don’t have degrees in Historical studies. Mike and Dan (same as Hales) have been writing books about Mormon History for decades. But that is about all they do. Brian doesn’t do this full time, he is a dentist. Therefore, the moniker hobbyist could apply to him as well. In the case of Dan and Mike, would the validation of a degree make a bit of difference? No. They are masters at their trade here. A piece of paper isn’t going to add much to that. They have done the research, put in the time, and have a body of work to rival any thesis that would give them a doctorate. So why all the fuss and bother about Hales? Because Mormon apologists don’t like the fact that Jeremy deigned to criticize Hales with his own words. Get over it.

The difference between Mike M., Dan Vogel and Hales though, is that Mike and Dan don’t have an agenda either way concerning Joseph Smith while Hales does, and Hales lets that agenda dictate his conclusions. Their conclusions challenge the “faithful Mormon” historical narrative that Hales embraces and often invents. Mike M. is on the editorial board of the Journal of Mormon History where Hales has published and even helped Hales with his Fanny Alger article. Even Mike Quinn said that Hales used questionable methods though he strangely called Hales an “honest” historian. I can show that he is not when it comes to the way he uses polygamy sources.

What really matters, is what you produce and can it stand up to scrutiny. I recently wrote an article on Sylvia Lyon and the 1869 Utah Affidavits where I go through many of Hales’ foundational claims in relation to sexual polyandry and some of his methods in arriving at the conclusions he does.

See for example the problem that Hales had with the evidence that Hales claims is about Ruth Vose Sayers that Don Bradley gave him, that Hales never presented to the public in his books, his articles, or on his website (He only presented small out of context snippets from the document, never displayed the document, and never fully explained it even when Don (he told me so) gave him a copy of the document and Mike Quinn (in 2012) gave him the info about it): (Note 14)

I even do a handwriting analysis that shows that Mike’s initial conclusion that it is not “sayers” but “sagers” was correct. Hales also manipulates evidence in the case of Eliza Snow and her letter to Daniel Munns which I discuss here.

Hales manipulation of the evidence here is astounding. He also looks quite foolish when he questions Alex Beam’s use of a “cast of characters” in the beginning of his book. Hales claimed that ,

The book begins with a “Cast of Characters” similar to what you would find in a play, which is a departure from what you would typically find in a scholarly work of historical nonfiction. In fact, listing a “Cast of Characters” may intuitively call the nonfiction element of the book into question simply because nonfiction is about real people and real events not characters.

Yet I show that one of the most famous historical non fiction books of all time, “All The President’s Men” used the same literary device at the beginning of that book and Woodward and Bernstein were lauded for doing so. Did it call any of the nonfiction element of their book into question? I think history has answered that. Is that an amateurish claim? Would a professional make that claim? And why could a mere “hobbyist” quickly find a case where other authors did so successfully and Hales could not? So what the hell is an “expert”? This is a silly argument started by Hales himself when he sarcastically called Jeremy the “new expert on Joseph Smith’s Polygamy”.

Remember too, that Stephen Smoot is a FAIRMORMON employee/volunteer? and they have a vested interest in propping up Hales and his point of view. The recent website they created to attack Jeremy and try to rebut the CES Letter is just another example of the shoddy scholarship they employ. See my thread here for examples.

Addendum: Smoot explains his modus operandi:

Stephen Smoot Comments Oct. 2015

Show each other respect and courtesy? Who attacked who first, Jeremy or Smoot? Did Jeremy ever attack Smoot, or simply defend himself against FAIRMORMON attacks?

He shows us his true colors with this line,

“It’s a troll or be trolled world out there…”

Very Christlike, indeed. Justification of his trolling people. Nice. And for all his disparagement of Reddit, seems like Smoot can’t get enough of it. This stuff is just hilarious. If he wasn’t so vindictive, I might just feel sorry for him.

Does being called an “expert” or having familiarity with documents or published material about polygamy make one a good historian or one of the “finest living authorities on the topic of the history of Mormon plural marriage” when presenting on the subject? Time will tell in relation to Brian Hales, and the clock is ticking.

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” lds.org, 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, lds.org 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 lds.org 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.

The Sky Is Falling (Part I)


Kevin Christensen & Jeremy Runnells (Part I)


Kevin Christensen (FAIRMORMON) 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. Even the title is long and rambling:

Eye of the Beholder, Law of the Harvest: Observations on the Inevitable Consequences of the Different Investigative Approaches of Jeremy Runnells and Jeff Lindsay

It’s not that I have a problem with lots of information. I don’t. But Christensen offers little of value here, except a critique of Jeremy that is basically a set of elaborate straw man arguments, arrogant assumptions and the usual dodgy Mormon apologetic responses to critics.

In his introduction Christensen calls Runnells “obsessive” and contrasts that with Lindsay’s “boundless enthusiasm”. It is obvious where this is going right from the start.

Christensen then compares Jeremy Runnells two years of research (on broad topics of Mormonism) with Lindsay’s twenty as an apologist. (and he calls Jeremy obsessive?) He writes about Lindsay:

His website contains an extensive LDS FAQ (for Frequently Asked Questions) which deals with all of the issues that Runnells raises and more. But Lindsay does so both at greater length, over a much broader span of time, consulting a wider range of sources, providing far more documentation, and including far more original research than Runnells.

Yes, one would think that someone who has been a Mormon Apologist since 1994 and has had a website for that long would have more documentation and research. This is common sense folks. Yet it doesn’t stop Christensen from using this against Jeremy. Recently, Jeremy and I completed a 458 page response to Brian Hales’ attacks on him and others. One hopes that this might be enough to satisfy those like Christensen, but he will probably complain that it is too long.

Christensen claims in his essay that people are human and they evolve. But he won’t give that to Jeremy in this instance. He is “brittle” (5 times) and “bitter” because he does not accept Mormon apologist spin. For this to be a really accurate comparison, he needs to give Jeremy another 18 or so years to catch up. But since when has FAIRMORMON ever been fair?

Christensen then sets up his first strawman by likening Jeremy and Jeff Lindsay’s approaches to two equations:

Runnells (or anyone) + Questions + Facts = Inevitable Final Negative Conclusion


Investigator [+ |-] Preconceptions/(Adaptive or Brittle interpretive framework) x (Questions generated + Available facts/Selectivity + Contextualization + Subjective weighting for significance/Breadth of relevant knowledge) * Time = Tentative Conclusion

First, to really be accurate here… The second equation should say “Apologist”, not investigator, since Christensen is not speaking about Investigators, but,

…people like Jeff Lindsay, Mike Ash, hundreds of volunteers at FairMormon, Interpreter, FARMS and the current Maxwell Institute, and for that matter, yours truly…

These are all Mormon Apologists and Apologetic organizations who have a vested interest in coming not to a “tentative conclusion” but to a conclusion that Joseph Smith is all that “the faithful” claim him to be. The supposed flexibility comes in accepting the apologist spin. This whole exercise by Christensen is disingenuous. I would suggest two different equations that would be closer to the truth:

Jeremy Runnells (or anyone) + Questions + Facts (not Apologist spin) = Conclusion that Joseph Smith and the Church are not what they claim to be based on evaluating the evidence.

Mormon Apologists + Faithful Version of Church + facts doctored by apologetic spin + cognitive dissonance + testimony (vested interest, monetary compensation, lifestyle choice, family, church activity/religious gratification etc.) = Conclusion that The Church is true and critics are wrong.

Christensen’s equation claims that those like Lindsay and other apologists have only come to a “Tentative Conclusion”, but on Lindsay’s website he writes, “…the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. I know it’s true, even though there’s a lot I still don’t know.” (Not believe it’s true, but know it’s true).

So does the evidence really matter to Lindsay? He knows it is true even though there is a lot he doesn’t know. Kevin Christensen also has not come to a “tentative” conclusion. In a podcast presented by FAIRMORMON he claims,

I got a testimony in my third reading of the Book of Mormon just before my mission, actually I was reading Ether 12:39 when he says that then shall ye know that I have seen Jesus face to face and he spoke to me in plain humility as one man speaketh to his friend. You know that just really powerfully hit me, I felt like that really happened. That meant Jesus was real, he’d been resurrected and that Moroni was a real person. 

There is no “tentative” in these statements. Would I use the word tentative in describing the reality of my wife?  No, I say I know she is a real person There is no “tentative” needed. So Christensen has already made up his mind that Moroni is a real person and therefore shapes the narrative to support that claim. He even claims that there is an “improper” way to ask questions! Improper to whom?

If Moroni is real to him, how can he have any real doubts about the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith? He won’t allow himself to, as his article shows. It would be like me saying that I tentatively conclude my wife lives in the same house as I do. In this, my “vision” is clear.

So where is the “tentative conclusion” based on evidence? It’s not really necessary for Christensen or Lindsay because they claim to know. For some, a feeling like something really happened doesn’t make Moroni real and a basis to accept everything without credible evidence or push it aside because you “felt” Moroni is real to you. See the strawman folks?

In his comments, Christensen tries to distance himself from this argument. He claims that the questions he addressed in his essay “were not spiritual, nor resolved spiritually, but were only concerned ways of approaching and defining problems of understanding and expectations and the means at hand for seeking solutions“.

Christensen seems to forget that he is an apologist for a Church which claims that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by “the gift and power of God” with a peepstone that he put in a hat so he could see the shiny letters that somehow appeared on the stone. This same Church that wants you to read the Book of Mormon and make a decision on its truthfulness based on some kind of a spiritual experience, the same way that Christensen claimed to know that Moroni was real.

Christensen then (in his folksy way) throws out another strawman. He claims that conclusions are totally based on how evidence gets processed, and if you don’t process it using his guidelines, you are inflexible and brittle. The evidence does not “speak for itself,” but must be “interpreted”. That his way of interpretation is better because he was flexible and is still a believing Mormon. This kind of arrogance never ceases to amaze me.

He then uses the story of Chicken Little to illustrate the point, you know,  where an acorn falling on his head causes him to think that the sky is falling, but it really isn’t. But one has to ask, how smart was Chicken Little? Not very smart. Perhaps the acorn rattled his brain.

This, it seems, is what Christensen is trying to convey about Mormon critics. Jeremy thinks the sky is falling while the Mormon Apologists know better because they know it is just an acorn but Runnells does not because he didn’t evaluate the evidence correctly; the way that Mormon Apologists do. Christensen’s diatribe is full of these trite, vapid illustrations and analogies.

Christensen claims that Jeremy Runnells evaluation of the evidence caused him to “shatter like glass”, and that questions of faith should be tempered with the realization that you must have some kind of beam in your eye because you can’t see as clearly as the apologists do.

The essay is also full of examples where Christensen claims he was so much more informed that Jeremy Runnells and it was all Jeremy’s fault. Is it so hard to understand that everyone’s experience is different? Or that even if Jeremy had read the same apologetic material (like Hugh Nibley) that Christensen read, he would have come to the same conculsions? I sure did. By the time I was 18 I had over a thousand books in my library. I met Hugh Nibley and went to BYU and went on a mission. All of that made little difference when I discovered evidence that I was able to evaluate without all the apologetic spin. What Chistensen seems unable to answer is why there are so many others like Jeremy with the same problems.

Christensen’s Essay is full of judgement towards Jeremy. He brags that his faith “expands” while Jeremy’s “shatters”. Faith in what? Joseph Smith? The Book of Mormon? He claims again and again that it is only because Jeremy was brittle and unbending.

Well, I wish he would make that argument with me and see where it gets him. He doesn’t know Jeremy. He says nothing good about him. He doesn’t empathize with him at all. Jeremy is just a bitter, brittle man who didn’t investigate according to the rules of Mormon apologetics or asked improper questions.  Flexibility doesn’t change FACTS. But cognitive dissonance can allow you to live with and ignore them.

He then concludes with,

As Hugh Nibley observes, Things that appear unlikely, impossible, or paradoxical from one point of view often make perfectly good sense from another.

So point of view determines truth? What does that have to do with it? For years, Joseph Fielding Smith denied that Joseph Smith used his peepstone to translate the Book of Mormon. He also called black people “an inferior race.” Did his evaluation of the evidence and point of view make these things true? Or Fielding Smith a true prophet? This is a shallow analogy to apply to the Church’s truth claims and seems to be one that is made in desperation because there is so much evidence to support many of Jeremy’s conclusions that this is all Mormon Apologists can come up with. You’ll see what I mean when we evaluate the evidence below.


After the introduction above, Christensen finally gets to what’s really bugging him about Jeremy Runnells. He has divided this into sections:

On Prophets and Translations
Texts and Contexts
Information, Focus, Perception, and Neglect
Absolutes and Sliding Scales
Archeological [sic] Expectations and the Direction of Subsequent Investigation
Science Concerns and Questions
Approaches to Parallels: The Late War and Others
The Book of Abraham as Smoking Gun
Free Service or Personal Search?
Victims and Survivors
What a Church Has and What a Church Is 

I would like to start with his section titled “Absolutes and Sliding Scales”, which is about Joseph’s claimed 1820 vision and the supposed Priesthood restoration. Christensen begins by claiming:

Look at his [Jeremy Runnells] complaints about the various First Vision Accounts and the priesthood restoration. On page 22 of his Letter, Runnells claims that “there is absolutely no record of a First Vision prior to 1832.”44 The FairMormon website response points out an article in the Palmyra Reflector from 1831 that indicates discussion of Joseph’s vision as early as November 1830. They also point to the allusion in D&C 20, which dates to April 1830.

This is the real issue. Is there any evidence of discussion about the claimed 1820 vision before 1832 when Smith first penned it? The answer is no. The FAIRMORMON article that Christensen quotes is wrong. Why? Because the two Missionaries that the Newspaper article describes are referring not to any claimed 1820 vision, but the visit of Moroni three years later.

Christensen links to a FAIRMORMON article that is not only incorrect, but deceptive. One observation though. I noticed that Christensen has provided links to various places in his notes, like to FAIRMORMON and to Runnells works. The ones to FAIRMORMON are all active, while the ones to Runnells works are all inactive. (That means you have to copy the address and put it into your browser if you want to go to it). I find this kind of thing very petty. Anything to make it harder to get information they don’t like. What kind of equation could we write for that kind of mentality I wonder?Runells_Christensen_FairMormon

Christensen links (Note #45) to a FAIRMORMON response to his supposed evidence, but they only quote Christensen’s article! How silly is this? But luckily I’m familiar with their response which can be found here.  FAIRMORMON WRITES,

“History, circa Summer 1832 – Historical Introduction,” The Joseph Smith Papers:

In the early 1830s, when this history was written, it appears that JS had not broadcast the details of his first vision of Deity. The history of the church, as it was then generally understood, began with the gold plates. John Whitmer mentioned in his history “the commencement of the church history commencing at the time of the finding of the plates,” suggesting that Whitmer was either unaware of JS’s earlier vision or did not conceive of it as foundational.5 Records predating 1832 only hint at JS’s earliest manifestation. The historical preamble to the 1830 “articles and covenants,” for example, appears to reference JS’s vision in speaking of a moment when “it truly was manifested unto this first elder, that he had received a remission of his sins.”6 Initially, JS may have considered this vision to be a personal experience tied to his own religious explorations. He was not accustomed to recording personal events, and he did not initially record the vision as he later did the sacred texts at the center of his attention. Only when JS expanded his focus to include historical records did he write down a detailed account of the theophany he experienced as a youth. The result was a simple, unpolished account of his first “marvilous experience,” written largely in his own hand. The account was not published or widely circulated at the time, though in later years he told the story more frequently.

Joseph Smith wrote in his 1838 History that God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him in a grove of trees near his home in Palmyra, New York in the “early spring” of 1820[1] Unfortunately, no contemporary evidence has come to light to support this claim; and Joseph Smith himself did not document this supposed event until more than 12 years later, and this history (which was written in 1832 and relegated to the back of a letterbook) has serious contradictions with Smith’s official history written seven years later.[2] To try and bolster the historicity of this claimed vision, Mormon apologists postulate that the 1830 Articles and Covenants of the Church[3] contain a cryptic reference to Smith’s claimed 1820 vision.


“Several LDS commentators – including one member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles – agree that D&C 20:5 (part of the Articles and Covenants of the Church) is the earliest published reference to the First Vision story.” [4]

The verses in question read,

6.For, after that it truly was manifested unto the first elder [Joseph Smith] that he had received remission of his sins, he was entangled again in the vanities of the world, 7. but after truly repenting, God visited him by an holy angel, whose countenance was as lightning, and whose garments were pure and white above all whiteness, and gave unto him commandments which inspired him from on high, and gave unto him power, by the means which was before prepared that he should translate a book; [5]

This appears on the surface to be a good argument; except that both Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery’s own words refute this interpretation.[6]The Articles and Covenants say that “after it was truly manifested that he [Joseph] had received a remission of his sins”, [in 1823] then he “was entangled again in the vanities of the world,” then “after truly repenting” [in 1827]  an angel visited him who gave him commandments and “power” to translate a book “by the means which was before prepared.”

What does this mean? Mormon Apologists would have you believe that Joseph is referring to a vision that he claimed he had when he was fourteen years old, in the spring of 1820,and that after this vision (between 1820 and 1823) Joseph was “entangled again in the vanities of the world” and that he repented and then God sent Joseph an angel who gave him the means to translate a set of gold plates that this angel had buried when he was a mortal man.

There are many problems with this explanation for the verses in D&C Section 20. For example, in their 1834-5 History of the Church published in The Latter-Day Saints’ Messenger And Advocate , Cowdery writes that Joseph was 17[7] when he experienced the religious excitement that led him to first “call upon the Lord in secret for a full manifestation of divine approbation, and for, to him, the all important information, if a Supreme being did exist, to have an assurance that he was accepted of him.” [8]

Cowdery then relates that in answer to this prayer by Joseph, who was a “penitent sinner”, an angel appeared to Joseph and told him that he was “sent by commandment of the Lord, to deliver a special message, and to witness to him that his sins were forgiven, and that his prayers were heard.”[9]

 This then, would be the first instance of Joseph receiving any kind of heavenly manifestation,  and also having it confirmed that his sins were forgiven.  At this time (1823) Joseph did not get any “power”, nor the “means which was before prepared” to translate the gold plates.[10] In fact, in 1832 the Fredonia Censor published that two Mormon missionaries, Lyman E. Johnson and Orson Pratt were teaching that,

Joseph Smith, then an inhabitant of the state of New-York, county of Ontario, and town of Manchester. Having repented of his sins, but not attached himself to any party of Christians, owing to the numerous divisions among them, and being in doubt what his duty was, he had recourse prayer. After retiring to bed one night, he was visited by an Angel and directed to proceed to a hill in the neighborhood where he would find a stone box containing a quantity of Gold plates.[11] 

This is exactly what Joseph and Oliver describe happened in their 1834-35 History.  Mormon apologists have also tried to make this article out to be some kind of “cryptic allusion”. FAIR writes,

On 7 March 1832 (just a few months before Joseph Smith penned his 1832 First Vision account) some Mormon missionaries in Pennsylvania were saying that during Joseph’s youth he had repented of his sins but was “not attached himself to any party of Christians, owing to the numerous divisions among them,” and so he resorted to prayer.[12]

What FAIR fails to do, is give the entire context of the statement by Pratt and Johnson. That they are not speaking of any claimed 1820 vision of Jesus is evident from another newspaper article that quoted the same two missionaries just a few months later,

In 1827 a young man called Joseph Smith of the state of New York, of no denomination, but under conviction, inquired of the Lord what he should do to be saved-he went to bed without any reply, but in the night was awakened by an angel, whiter and shining in greater splendour than the sun at noonday, who gave information where the plates were deposited:-Smith awoke, and after due preparation and agreeably to the information given by the angel, he went into the township of Manchester, and there, on the side of a hill, found in a stone box, or a separate space enclosed by stone on every side, the plates on which the revelation was inscribed.[13] 

The Articles and Covenants verses describe the period between 1823 and 1827, when Joseph became involved with a band of money diggers which included his own father, that ultimately led to his arrest for “glass looking” in 1826.[14] The reason that it could not be describing the period from 1820 to 1823 is simply because Joseph supposedly did not receive any “power” from the angel until the fall of 1827, after he had “truly” repented. According to the history published by Joseph Smith himself in 1834-5, his “recourse prayer” took place in 1823. Joseph’s mother Lucy, describes the events leading up to the claimed visit of the messenger in 1823:

The 3[rd] harvest time had now arrived since we opened our new farm and all the our sons were actively employed in assisting their Father to cut down the grain and storing it away in order, for winter One evening we were sitting till quite late conversing upon the subject of the diversity of churches that had risen up in the world and the many thousand opinions in existence as to the truths contained in scripture[.] Joseph who never said many words upon any subject but always seemed to reflect mor[e] deeply than common persons of his age upon everything of a religious nature[15] 

“The 3rd harvest time… since we opened our new farm” would be in 1823, and Lucy Smith does not describe any intense interest of her son Joseph concerning  which Church he should join before this time. She also does not mention any claimed vision at all by her son prior to 1823. Instead, she writes,

I now come to the history of Joseph. By reference to the table (chap. ix.), you will find the date and place of his birth; besides which, except what has already been said, I shall say nothing respecting him until he arrived at the age of fourteen. However, in this I am aware that some of my readers will be disappointed, for I suppose, from questions which are frequently asked me, that1 it is thought by some that I shall be likely to tell many very remarkable incidents which attended his childhood; but, as nothing occurred during his early life, except those trivial circumstances which are common to that state of human existence, I pass them in silence.

At the age of fourteen, an incident occurred which alarmed us much, as we knew not the cause of it. Joseph being a remarkably quiet, well disposed child, we did not suspect that any one had aught against him. He was out one evening on an errand, and, on returning home, as he was passing through the door yard a gun was fired across his pathway, with the evident intention of shooting him. He sprang to the door much frightened. We immediately went in search of the assassin, but could find no trace of him that evening. The next morning we found his tracks under a waggon, where he lay when he fired; and the following day we found the balls which were discharged from the gun, lodged in the head and neck of a cow that was standing opposite the waggon, in a dark corner. We have not as yet discovered the man who made this attempt at murder, neither can we discover the cause thereof.[16]

Lucy wrote of Joseph’s leg operation, and an incident that took place when he was 14 years old where someone apparently took a shot at him.  What Lucy doesn’t mention is any reference to a vision had by Joseph before the supposed visit of an angel in 1823. Even William Earl McLellin, when he recounted his experience in a letter to his relatives in August, 1832 gives a similar account about what the Mormon missionaries were teaching:

Some time in July 1831, two men [Elders Samuel H. Smith and Reynolds Cahoon] came to Paris and held an evening meeting, only a few attended, but among the others, I was there. They delivered some ideas which appeared very strange to me at that time. They said that in September 1827 an angel appeared to Joseph Smith (in Ontario Co., New York) and showed to him the confusion on the earth respecting true religion. It also told him to go a few miles distant to a certain hill and there he should find some plates with engravings, which (if he was faithful) he should be enabled to translate. He went as directed and found plates (which had the appearance of fine gold) about 8 inches long, 5 or 6 wide and altogether about 6 inches thick; each one about as thick as thin pasteboard, fastened together and opened in the form of a book containing engravings of reformed Egyptian hieroglyphical characters which he was inspired to translate and the record was published in 1830 and is called the Book of Mormon. It is a record which was kept on this continent by the ancient inhabitants. Those men had this book with them and they told us about it, and also of the rise of the church (which is now called Mormonites from their faith in this book etc.).[17]

This shows that elements of the claimed 1820 vision were actually from the 1823-27 story (Joseph’s actual “first vision”) of the angelic messenger and Joseph conflated them into what would become an earlier vision for his 1832 History.  This means that Joseph took elements from the later (and actual) “first vision” from 1823, and incorporated them into the claimed 1820-21 vision which he wrote in 1832.

So much for cryptic allusions. Then Christensen employs his strawman:

Notice that in his response to FairMormon, Runnells shifts the argument regarding the First Vision from “absolutely no record” to “this actually confirms the point I’m making in that the first vision was unknown to the Saints and the world before 1832. In fact, most of the Saints were unaware of a first vision until it was published in 1842.” But of course, that was not the point he was making. “Absolutely no record” is the point he was making. His response swaps in a very different claim, one much easier to defend.

No, Jeremy didn’t back down from his claim. He claims that it was reinforced by the evidence. He just didn’t bother to rebut FAIRMORMON’s disingenuous claims that the newspaper articles they cite are about the claimed 1820 vision.

As we see from above, the evidence that Christensen cites has been manipulated by FAIRMORMON and we see that there is no “allusion” to a claimed 1820 vision in D&C 20. Christensen then gives us this confusing scenario:

In his online response Runnells even brings in several accounts of visions reported by contemporaries of Joseph Smith, as though such accounts somehow negate his. Yet according to D&C 1, such things are to be expected. Where D&C 1:17 describes the call of Joseph Smith, the very next verse matter-of-factly asserts that the Lord “also gave commandments” to unspecified “others that they should proclaim these things to the world.” Far from claiming exclusive truth and revelation for the LDS, D&C 1:34 declares that “I the Lord am willing to make these things known unto all flesh.”

Christensen is once again wrong here. First, in the Doctrine and Covenants Section 7:20 (1835) we read that in December of 1832 Joseph wrote:

20. Behold, I will hasten my work in its time; and I give unto you who are the first laborers in this last kingdom, a commandment, that you assemble yourselves together, and organize yourselves, and prepare yourselves; and sanctify yourselves; yea, purify your hearts, and cleanse your hands and your feet before me, that I may make you clean; that I may testify unto your Father, and your God, and my God, that you are clean from the blood of this wicked generation: that I may fulfil this promise, this great and last promise which I have made unto you, when I will.

How can God have given commandments to others when he claims that Joseph Smith and his followers were “the first laborers in this last kingdom”?

Secondly,The modern Doctrine and covenants is not in chronological order. The “revelation” that Christensen quotes from was given in November of 1831, three years after Smith started writing down his “revelations”. Of course it says that God “also gave commandments to others, that they (Joseph’s followers) should proclaim these things”, he had been doing so for two years! And how was God going to “make these things known unto all flesh”? Christensen takes it out of context. The text in context reads,

29 And after having received the record of the Nephites, yea, even my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., might have power to translate through the mercy of God, by the power of God, the Book of Mormon.

30 And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually–

31 For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance;

32 Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven;

33 And he that repents not, from him shall be taken even the light which he has received; for my Spirit shall not always strive with man, saith the Lord of Hosts.

34 And again, verily I say unto you, O inhabitants of the earth: I the Lord am willing to make these things known unto all flesh;[18]

That was why God supposedly laid the foundation of “this church”, so that they could proclaim “these things”, the Book of Mormon, etc. “unto all flesh”.  Once again, Christensen blunders with a faulty interpretation based on out of context quoting. He then claims that,

Runnells, like Grant Palmer before him, refers to Joseph Smith’s 1832 history to complain about the First Vision, and like Palmer, he ignores the first paragraph in making claims about a late appearance of the priesthood restoration stories. I have bolded a key passage:

A History of the life of Joseph Smith jr. an account of his marvilous experience and of all the mighty acts which he doeth in the name of Jesus Ch[r]ist 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 firstly he receiving the testamony from on high seccondly the ministering of Aangels thirdly the reception of the holy Priesthood by the ministring of Aangels to adminster the letter of the Gospel the Law and commandments as they were given unto him and the ordinenc[e]s, fo[u]rthly a confirmation and reception of the high Priesthood after the holy order of the son of the living God power and ordinence from on high to preach the Gospel in the administration and demonstration of the spirit the Kees of the Kingdom of god confered upon him and the continuation of the blessings of God to him &c

In his original Letter, Runnells says, “Although the priesthood is now taught to have been restored in 1829, Joseph and Oliver made no such claim until 1834.” He uncritically repeats Palmer’s claims about an 1834 date and leaves this crucially important information from 1832 off the table. When FairMormon points out the 1832 account, he labors to devalue the significance of this passage, and of other earlier sources that FairMormon mentions: “FAIR’s above answer actually confirms my point that the general Church membership was unfamiliar with the now official story of the Priesthood restoration until 1834. The best FAIR can do after scouring through everything for their rebuttal is this?”

Christensen makes much ado about what Jeremy says here, but it seems that he has problems comprehending it so he turns it into a strawman. Who wrote the 1832 history? Joseph Smith and Frederick Williams. Not Oliver Cowdery. Therefore, Jeremy’s argument that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery made no such claim until 1834 is exactly correct. That is when they both jointly published Joseph’s history in a series of letters for the Messenger and Advocate. Writing a partial history in secret and abandoning it in the back of a letterbook is not making any “claim”. There is absolutely no evidence that Cowdery knew anything about the claimed 1820 vision. Christensen then blunders on,

Notice again the shift from an original argument against the priesthood restoration based on “no such claim until 1834” to a much softer complaint about the general membership being “unfamiliar with the now official story.” Since the official story comes from the 1838 account, the fact that the general membership may not have been familiar with all details should only demonstrate the obvious.

Both are true. Jeremy didn’t change anything. He elaborated when confronted with their “rebuttal”. Christensen doesn’t answer the original claims, (he defers to a disingenuous FAIRMORMON response) he is simply trying to divert the issue with Jeremy’s further elaborations that he tries to nitpick. Christensen then injects his own speculations into the argument, like they have any relevance:

On the other hand, it may be that the people who were familiar with the now official story simply did not write it down.

Like who? Like Lucy and William Smith who penned Joseph’s history but never mentioned any claimed 1820 vision? Not likely. But this is all he has folks. Speculation. He then shifts the argument to the Book of Mormon:

It should also be obvious that the Book of Mormon is very clear about the need for priesthood authority, and that provides important context for the other earlier priesthood restoration documents, as well as consistency with what became the official accounts. Runnells also overlooks the important essays in the 2005 volume, Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820–1844, which includes “Seventy Contemporaneous Priesthood Restoration Documents.” Several of these accounts also predate Palmer’s claim about an 1834 invention.

This doesn’t address anything either, it simply diverts the reader to a book. Does Christensen think anyone will be impressed by the title without him providing any evidence? He doesn’t even give any examples from the book. If this is such great evidence, why doesn’t he mention any of it? Why criticize what he claims are changing arguments instead of just rebutting Jeremy’s evidence? As for the Book of Mormon, it states in Alma,

10 Now, as I said concerning the holy order, or this high priesthood, there were many who were ordained and became high priests of God; and it was on account of their exceeding faith and repentance, and their righteousness before God, they choosing to repent and work righteousness rather than to perish;

11 Therefore they were called after this holy order, and were sanctified, and their garments were washed white through the blood of the Lamb.

12 Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God.

13 And now, my brethren, I would that ye should humble yourselves before God, and bring forth fruit meet for repentance, that ye may also enter into that rest.

14 Yea, humble yourselves even as the people in the days of Melchizedek, who was also a high priest after this same order which I have spoken, who also took upon him the high priesthood forever.

15 And it was this same Melchizedek to whom Abraham paid tithes; yea, even our father Abraham paid tithes of one-tenth part of all he possessed.

16 Now these ordinances were given after this manner, that thereby the people might look forward on the Son of God, it being a type of his order, or it being his order, and this that they might look forward to him for a remission of their sins, that they might enter into the rest of the Lord.[19]

Notice that it says “these ordinances were given after this manner, that thereby the people might look forward on the Son of God, it being a type of his order, or it being his order, and this that they might look forward to him for a remission of their sins.

This “order” was to be fulfilled in Christ, according to the Book of Mormon. That is why there was no priesthood ordinations when the Church was first organized and why David Whitmer later complained that,

High Priests were only in the church before Christ; and to have this office in the “Church of Christ” is not according to the teachings of Christ in either of the sacred books: Christ himself is our great and last High Priest. Brethren — I will tell you one thing which alone should settle this matter in your minds; it is this: you cannot find in the New Testament part of the Bible or Book of Mormon where one single high priest was ever in the Church of Christ. The office of an Elder is spoken of in many many places, but not one word about a High Priest being in the church. This alone should convince any one, and will convince any one who is without prejudice, that the office of High Priests was established in the church almost two years after its beginning by men who had drifted into error. You must admit that the church which was to be established in this dispensation, must be “like unto the church which was taught by Christ’s disciples of old.” Then the Church of Latter Day Saints is unlike the Church of Christ of old, because you have the office of High Priests in the church. The office of a High Priest as you have it, is of more importance than the office of an Elder; then why is not something said about this high office being in the Church which Christ came on earth to establish at Jerusalem and upon this land? Why is there not something said about this important office, and so much said about an Elder?[20]

Even David Whitmer understood that there were no High Priests in the  Church of Christ in the Book of Mormon. Those that are mentioned in 3rd Nephi are all wicked and not followers of Christ. Christensen then wraps up with this observation:

We also have the unaddressed issue of precedent in the way God would or would not do things: “And as they came down from the mountain [of Transfiguration] Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead” (Matthew 18:9). History tells us that very often, people who have profound religious experiences do not immediately report them or even write them down. At least, history tells those who investigate.

Why did Smith then immediately report his religious experience with the angel Moroni? (The only one we have evidence of him reporting). Was Joseph Smith commanded by God not to mention his claimed 1820 vision as Jesus’ apostles were? This is simply a false analogy. And why would Christensen even make this argument when Smith himself said that he proclaimed it to the clergy of the day? What, he all of a sudden just shut up about it to his friends, family and followers? That makes no sense when he was immediately forthcoming with just about every other vision he had.


As we can see, the points made by Christensen in relation to Jeremy Runnells are full of problems. His approach to the evidence doesn’t seem to have helped him much in the way of accuracy or believability. Truth is not determined by the Eye of the Beholder, but is inviolable and incontrovertible. When one seeks to express who can better perceive the truth about something, they would best be served by presenting the evidence in an open and forthright manner, in context. Sadly, the Mormon Church has a history of obfuscation and deception when it comes to the evidence, and its apologists only present the pieces they think support their own invented narrative.


[1] Joseph Smith—History 1:14.

[2] Dan Vogel writes,

This is the earliest known attempt by Joseph Smith to record a history of his life. It was written by Frederick G. Williams and Smith in Kirtland, Ohio, between 20 July and 27 November 1832 on the first three leaves of what became Smith’s letterbook. The leaves were subsequently cut from the volume (Jessee 1984, 639-40). For unknown reasons the project was abandoned incomplete and never published during Smith’s life.

The History was begun in the midst of challenges to Smith’s authority, primarily initiated by Bishop Edward Partridge in Missouri, which evoked Smith’s introduction of the office of president of the high priesthood (Vogel 1988, 113-16). (Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 26)

Vogel’s reference here is to his work “Religious Seekers And The Advent of Mormonism”, (p. 113-16) and is important enough to quote here:

In 1832 Smith began emphasizing the lineal and legal aspects of priesthood restoration. That year he visited church members in [p.113]Missouri for the second time and encountered disputations centering on authority and priority of leadership. Smith later noted that the distance between the two church centers in 1831 created a “critical moment” in the history of the movement.66 Chief among Smith’s concerns was Edward Partridge, who had been appointed Bishop of the church in February 1831 and was presiding over the church in Missouri. According to Ezra Booth, Partridge was concerned that not all of Smith’s revelations seemed to have been divinely inspired.

Soon after arriving in Missouri during his first visit in the summer of 1831, Smith heard colleague Sidney Rigdon at a conference in Kaw Township exhort Bishop Edward Partridge to be obedient to “the requisition of Heaven.” Rigdon felt that Partridge was overstepping the limits of his authority. After Smith’s departure, the Missouri church held a conference on 10 March 1832 and heard charges against Partridge, including his “having insulted the Lord’s prophet in particular & assumed authority over him in open violation of the Laws of God.” The office of bishop was new, and perhaps Partridge, like Bishop Newel K. Whitney in Ohio, “thought like the Catholics and Episcopalians [that] a Bishop was the highest office in the church”—or at least the church in Missouri. Thus Smith and Partridge may have engaged in a dispute over jurisdiction. At this time, however, Partridge humbled himself and asked for forgiveness.

After returning to Ohio, Smith received a revelation which declared that Partridge “hath sinned, and Satan seeketh to destroy his soul” (D&C 64:17). Smith also dictated a revelation in November 1831 which more clearly defined the relationship between his new role as “President of the High Priesthood” and “the office of bishop.” The revelation, addressed “to the church of Christ in the land of Zion,” explained:

It must needs be that one be appointed of the High Priesthood to preside over the priesthood, and he shall be called President of the High Priesthood of the Church; or, in other words, the Presiding High Priest over the High Priesthood of the Church. From the same comes the administering of ordinances and blessings upon the church, by the laying on of the hands. Wherefore, the office of a bishop is not equal unto it; for the office of a bishop is in administering all temporal things; nevertheless a bishop must be chosen from the High Priesthood. . . . Wherefore, now let every man learn [p.114]his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence (D&C 107:59, 65-69).

In April 1832, Smith again visited the Saints in Missouri, otherwise, God told him, “Satan seeketh to turn their hearts away” (D&C 78:9-10). The possible apostasy of the Missouri church and loss of the designated land of Zion was a disturbing thought to church leaders in Ohio. The record of the meeting in Missouri reports that “Joseph Smith Jr. [was] acknowledged by the High Priests in the land of Zion to be President of the High Priesthood, according to the commandment and ordination in Ohio, at the Conference held in Amherst January 25[,] 1832. And the right hand of fellowship [was] given him by the Bishop Edward Partridge in the land of Zion in the name of the Church. . . . All differences [were] settled & the hearts of all run together in love.”

But by the time Smith had returned to Ohio in July 1832, the Missouri church was again in discord. A letter from William W. Phelps describing these problems was awaiting Smith when he arrived in Ohio. On 31 July 1832, Smith wrote to Phelps to “tell Bro[ther] Edward [Partridge] it is very dangerous for men who have received the light he has received to be a seeking after a sign, for there shall no sign be given for a sign except as it was in the days of Lot. God sent angels to gather him & his family out of Sodom while the wicked were destroyed by a devouring fire behold this is an exsample [sic].” Apparently, Partridge had renewed his challenge to Smith’s authority.

The leaders of the church in Kirtland continued to receive letters from the Missouri church containing “low, dark, and blind insinuations.” In response, Orson Hyde and Hyrum Smith—representing a conference of twelve high priests in Kirtland—wrote to their Missouri brethren on 14 January 1833:

At the time Joseph [Smith], Sidney [Rigdon], and Newel [Whitney] left Zion, all matters of hardness and misunderstanding were settled and buried (as they supposed), and you gave them the hand of fellowship; but, afterwards, you brought up all these things again, in a censorious spirit, accusing Brother Joseph in rather an indirect way of seeking after monarchial power and authority. This came to us in Brother Corrill’s letter of June 2nd. We are sensible that this is not the thing Brother Joseph is seeking after, but to magnify the high office and calling whereunto he has been called and appointed by the command of God, and the united voice of this Church.

In the midst of these challenges (sometime between 20 July and 27 November 1832), Smith began preparing an account of his early history and the rise of the church. In the preamble to this 1832 history, Smith wrote for the first time of angelic ministration—an account which certainly impressed Partridge and other former Seekers:

A History of the life of Joseph Smith Jr. An account of his marvilous experience and of all the mighty acts which he doeth in the name of Jesus Ch[r]ist the son of the Living God of whom he beareth record. 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. Firstly, he receiving the testamony from on high. Secondly, the ministering of Angels. Thirdly, the reception of the Holy Priesthood by the ministring of Angels to admin[i]ster the letter of the Gospel[,] the Law and commandments as they were given unto him[,] and the ordinenc[e]s. Fo[u]rthly, a confirmation and reception of the High Priesthood after the Holy Order of the Son of the Living God [with] power and ordinence[s] from on high to preach the Gospel in the administration and demonstration of the spirit, the Kees of the Kingdom of God confered upon him and the continuation of the blessings of God to him &c.

Though this account adds the detail about “the ministring of Angels,” it is otherwise congruent with the notion of two priesthoods introduced in June 1831. The first priesthood is called “the Holy Priesthood” and is said to have come “by the ministring of Angels.” Nothing is said about the identity of the angels nor the date of the event. This first priesthood gave Smith power to “admin[i]ster the letter of the Gospel”—”the Law and commandments as they were given unto him”—and also to administer “the ordinanc[e]s.” The reception of the second priesthood is described as a “confirmation”—no angels are mentioned. This priesthood gave Smith authority “to preach the Gospel in the administration and demonstration of the spirit.” This apparently refers to the reception of the “high Priesthood” at the June 1831 conference. This first attempt by Smith to write his history remained unfinished and unpublished.

Vogel continues in Early Mormon Documents,

It is therefore not simply an autobiographical sketch, but an apology setting forth Smith’s credentials as leader of the church. The History therefore contains the earliest account of what is known as his “first vision” and earliest mention of angelic priesthood ordinations. (Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 26)

It also may be noted that Dan Vogel believes that Smith did not invent the vision in the 1830’s, and writes,

Based on passages from the Book of Mormon which appear to contain fragments of Joseph’s first vision experience, I suspect that the vision, or at least the claim to a vision, may be traced to 1820-21. I therefore reject the suggestion that Smith invented the vision in the 1830’s. However, his subsequent alterations reflect an evolving theology – particularly the addition of the personage of the Father in his 1838 account – and cautions against an uncritical acceptance of even the 1832 account. In fact, one should be cautious, if for no other reason, because Smith himself freely modified his original account. One might suggest that this narrative should be viewed through the lens of early American visionary culture which expressed, in the same terms, visions, dreams, mental impressions, and imagination. It is clear that Joseph distinguished among these various kinds of experiences while at the same time he confounded their distinctions. One example is the declaration in the Book of Mormon: “Behold, I have dreamed a dream; or, in other words, I have seen a vision” (1 Ne. 8:2)” (Dan Vogel, Joseph Smith, The Making Of A Prophet, Signature Books, Salt Lake City, 2004, 30-31, see also, Vogel, 1988, pages 43-44).

Here is the entire text of the 1832 History written by Joseph Smith and Frederick G. Williams:

A History of the life of Joseph Smith Jr. an account of his marvilous experience and of all the mighty acts which he doeth in the name of Jesus Ch[r]ist 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 brough forth and established by his hand he receiving the testamony from on high[.] seccondly the min=istering of Angels thirdly the reception of the holy Priesthood by the ministring of Aangels to adminster the letter of the Gospel—<—the Law and commandments as they were given unto him—> and the ordinences, forthly a confirmation and reception of the high Priesthood after the holy order of the son of the living God pow=er and ordinence from on high to preach the Gospel in the administration and demonstra=tion of the spirit/ the Kees of the Kingdom of God confered upon him and the continuation of the blessings of God to him &c—I was born in the town of Charon in the of Vermont[,] North America on the twenty third day of December AD 1805 of goodly Parents who spared no pains to instructing me in christian religion[.] at the age of about ten years my Father Joseph Smith Siegnior moved to Palmyra[,] Ontario County in the State of New York and being in indigent circumstances were obliged to labour hard for the support of a large Family having nine children and as it require=d the exertions of all that were able to render any assistance for the support of the Family therefore we were deprived of the bennifit of an education Suffice it to Say I was mearly instructid in reading and writing and the ground of Arithmatic which constuted [constituted] my whole lite=rary acquirements. At about the age of twelve years my mind become Seriously imprest [p. 1] with regard to the all importent concerns for the well=fare of nay immortal Soul which led me to Search=ing the Scriptures believeing as I was taught, that they contained the word of God thus applying myself to them and my intimate acquaintance with those of differant denominations led me to marvel excedingly for I discovered that instead of adorning their profession by a holy walk and God=ly conversation agreeable to what I found contain=ed in that sacred depository this was a grief to my Soul thus from the age of twelve years to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart concerning the sittuation of the world of mankind the contentions and divi[si]ons the wicke[d]ness and abominations and the darkness which pervaded the of the minds of mankind my mind become excedingly distressed for I become convicted of my Sins and by Searching the Scriptures I found that mand did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatised from the true and liveing faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the new testament and I felt to mourn for my own Sins and for the Sins of the world for I learned in the Scriptures that God was the Same yesterday to day and forever that he was no respecter to persons [Heb. 13:8; Acts 10:34-35] for he was God for I looked upon the Sun the glorious luminary of the earth and also the moon rolling in their magesty through the heavens and also the stars shining in their courses and the earth also upon which I stood and the beast of the field and the fowls of heaven and the fish of the waters and also man walking forth upon the face of the earth in magesty and in the strength of beauty whose power and intiligence in governing the things which are so exceding great and [p. 2] marvilous even in the likeness of him who created him and when I considered upon these things my heart exclai=med well hath the wise man said the fool saith in his heart there is no God my heart exclaimed all all these bear testimony and bespeak an omnipotant and omnipreasant power a being who makith Laws and decreeeth and bindeth all things in their bounds who filleth Eternity who was and is and will be from all Eternity to Eternity and when I considered all these things and that being seeketh such to worship him as wors=hip him in spirit and in truth therefore I cried unto the Lord for mercy for there was none else to whom I could go and to obtain mercy and the Lord heard my cry in the wilderne=ss and while in attitude of calling upon the Lord a piller of fire light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the spirit of God and the opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord and he spake unto me saying Joseph thy Sins are forgiven thee. go thy walk in my statutes and keep my commandments behold I am the Lord of glory I was crucifyed for the world that all those who believe on my name may have Eternal life the world lieth in sin and at this time and none doeth good no not one they have turned asside from the Gospel and keep not commandments they draw near to me with their lips while their hearts are far from me and mine anger is kindling against the inhabitants of the earth to visit them acording to th[e]ir ungodliness and to bring to pass that which been spoken by the mouth of the prophe=ts and Ap[o]stles behold and lo I come quickly as it [is] wr=itten of me in the cloud in the glory of my Father and my soul was filled with love and for many days I could rejoice with great Joy and the Lord was with me but [I] could find none that would believe the hevnly vision nevertheless I pondered these things in my heart about that time my mother and but after many days [p. 3]/ I fell into transgression and sinned in many things which brought a wound upon my soul and there were many things which transpired that cannot be writen and my Fathers family have suffered many persicutions and afflictions and it came to pass when I was seventeen years of Age I called again upon the Lord and he shewed unto me a heavenly vision for behold an angel of the Lord came and stood before me and it was by night and he called me by name and he said the Lord had forgiven me my sins and he revealed unto me that in the Town of Manchester[,] Ontario County[,] N.Y. there was plates of gold upon which there was engravings which was engraven by Maroni & his fathers the servants of the living God in ancient days and deposited by the commandments of God and kept by the power thereof and that I should go and get them and he revealed unto me many things concerning the inhabitants of of the earth which since have been revealed in com=mandments & revelations and it was on the 22d day of Sept[ember]. AD 1827 and thus he appeared unto me three times in one night and once on the next day and then I immediately went to the place and found where the plates was deposited as the angel of the Lord had commanded me and straightway made three attempts to get them and then being excedingly frightened I supposed it had been a dream of Vision but when I considered I knew that it was not therefore I cried unto the Lord in the agony of my soul why can I not obtain them behold the angel appeared unto me again and said unto me you have not kept the commandments of the Lord which I gave unto you therefore you cannot now obtain them for the time is not yet fulfilled therefore thou wast left unto temptation that thou mightest be made acquainted with the power of the advisary therefore repent and call on the Lord thou shalt be foregiven and in his own due time thou shalt obtain them [p. 4] for now I [p.30] had been tempted of the advisary and saught the Plates to obtain riches and kept not the commandment that I should have an eye single to the glory of God therefore I was chastened and saught diligently to obtain the plates and obtained them not untill I was twenty one years of age and in this year I was married to Emma Hale Daughter of Isaach Hale who lived in Harmony[,] Susquehana County[,] Pensylvania on the 18th [of] January AD. 1827, on the 22d day of Sept[ember] of this same year 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 nay expences and because of his faith and this righteous deed the Lord appeared unto him in a vision and shewed unto him his marvilous work which he was about to do/ and imediately came to Su[s]quehannah and said the Lord had shown him that he must go to new York City with some of the caracters so we proceeded to coppy some of them and he took his Journy to the Eastern Cittys and to the Learned read this I pray thee and the learned said I cannot but if he wo=uld bring the blates [plates] they would read it but the Lord had fobid it and he returned to me and gave them 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 char=acters and thus the Prop[h]icy of Isah was fulfilled which is writen in the 29 chapter concerning the book [Isa. 29:11-12] and it came to pass that after we had translated 116 pages that he desired to carry them to read to his friends that peradventure he might convince them of the truth therefore I inquired of the Lord and the Lord said unto me that he must not take them and I spoke unto him (Martin) the word of the Lord [p. 5] and he said inquire again and I inquired again and also the third time and the Lord said unto me let him go with them only he shall covenant with me that he will not shew them to only but four persons and he covenented withe [with the] Lord that he would do according to the word of the Lord therefore he took them and took his journey unto his friends to Palmira[,] Wayne County & State of N[ew] York and he brake the covenent which he made before the Lord and the Lord suffered the writings to fall in to the hands of wicked men and Martin was chastened for his transgression [D&C 3 and 10] and I also was chastened also for my transgression for asking the Lord the third time wherefore the Plates was taken from me by the power of God and I was not able to obtain them for a season and it came to pass after much humility and affliction of Soul I obtained them again when [the] Lord appeared unto a Young man by the name of Oliver Cowdry and shewed unto him the plates in a vision and also the truth of the work and what the Lord was about to do through me his unworthy servant therefore he was desirous to come and write for me to translate now my wife had writen some for me to [w.o. and] translate and also my Brother Samuel H Smith14 but we had be come reduced in property and my wives father was about to turn me out of doores & I had not where to go and I cried unto the Lord that he would provide for me to accom=plish the work whereunto he had comman=ded me [rest of line and several lines blank] (Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 1, 26-32)

[3] Two of the most glaring contradictions are Joseph’s age, (15) and that he only claimed to see one personage in 1832. These contradictions; along with other compelling evidence, is proof to this author that Joseph invented the claimed 1820 vision in 1832. There is an argument that Mormon Apologists are now using in relation to Joseph’s age as recorded by Frederick G. Williams. The argument is simply that it is an insertion in the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams. I have a few thoughts about that which are compelling. FAIRMORMON writes,

The ages are not, as one critic states, “all over the place.” The only account produced by Joseph Smith that indicated a different age was the 1832 account (age 15 rather than 14, based upon a text insertion above the line by Frederick G. Williams after Joseph had already written his account).

So what is the point of mentioning Frederick G. Williams here? Dean Jessee makes it clear,

In 1969 I had not spent enough time with the manuscript of Joseph Smith’s 1832 History to see all that was there—for example, the handwriting changes between Frederick G. Williams and Joseph Smith and the fact that Joseph actually wrote part of it himself. Also, there is an insertion in the part of the text written by Joseph Smith stating that the vision occurred in his sixteenth year. Upon closer inspection it is evident that the insertion was written by Frederick G. Williams, a fact that may help explain the discrepancy between this account and others in dating the vision. (Dean C. Jessee, “The Earliest Documented Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” in Exploring the First Vision, ed. Samuel Alonzo Dodge and Steven C. Harper (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, 2012), 1–40).

But there is evidence that Joseph was aware that the age would need to be inserted at a later time. If one observes the handwriting in question (Joseph’s) one notices that the caret symbol (^) that follows the word “Lord” is the same shade of ink indicating that it was written by Joseph as he composed that line. He therefore knew that the age would be inserted there at a later time. To try and blame Williams for the age discrepancies in the various accounts is a rather weak argument. I find it very odd that Joseph would have to place a caret where his age was to be inserted. It gives the impression that he wasn’t sure how old he was when the claimed vision took place. 1832_age_insertion

In this example (below) one can see that the word “State” was inserted at the time of the writing, while the other two examples “ing” and “the” were done later. Notice that the caret below the word “the” is the same ink color indicating a mistake corrected at a later time. This is not the case with the age insertion. 1832_insertions_1

[3] The Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ (Book of Commandments XXIV, hereafter BOC, Doctrine & Covenants Section 20, hereafter D&C) was the first “revelation” of Joseph Smith canonized by the Church. This “revelation” has been described by some commentators as “a constitution for the restored church.” (See, An Examination of the 1829 “Articles of the Church of Christ” in Relation to
Section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants, by Scott H. Faulring found here. Faulring writes,

Although Latter-day Saints typically associate the Articles and Covenants with the organization of the Church on April 6, 1830, this regulatory document had roots in earlier events: in the earliest latter-day revelations, in statements on Church ordinances and organization from the Book of Mormon, and in the preliminary set of Articles written by Oliver Cowdery in the last half of 1829. (Faulring, op. cited above)

The earliest known text of the Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ was published by Eber D. Howe in the Painesville Telegraph, April 19, 1831. (found here) As the introductory paragraph indicates, it was taken from a copy in Martin Harris’ possession. J. J. Moss, who married Eber’s niece on November 23, 1831, wrote:

None, however, but their members, were allowed to see their revelations. At one time a large company gathered at a public house to converse with Martin Harris, who had returned from New York with certain revelations. His hat sat upon the table in the room where we were gathered and in it I discovered a copy of the revelations. I quietly abstracted them and, whispering to Brother Jones and wife who were present, I took Brother Tanuer with me and left the house. We went directly to the home of Brother Jones and copied them entire. We then returned and I deposited the original revelations in Harris’ hat without his having missed them. Soon there were copies of these revelations circulating among the people. It was always a great mystery to the Mormons how these revelations became known, and they could get no revelations to solve the mystery. I don’t believe they have solved the problem to this day. (The Christian Standard, January 28, 1936)

The genesis for the idea of the Articles and Covenants obviously came from Oliver Cowdery who wrote in his 1829 “revelaton” that it was “A commandment from God unto Oliver how he should build up his church and the manner thereof”. In this document Cowdery never mentions any angelic ordinations, but closes with,

“Behold I am Oliver I am an Apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ Behold I have written the things which he hath commanded me for behold his word was unto me as a burning fire shut up in my bones and I was weary with forbearing and I could forbear no longer.” (Unpublished Revelations of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Volume 1, Compiled by Fred C. Collier, Collier’s Publishing Company, 1979, 159, emphasis mine).

Faulring writes,

As for baptism, Cowdery writes that “ Now therefore whosoever repenteth and humbleth himself before me and desireth to be baptized in my name shall ye baptize them,” and gives the formula found in the Book of Mormon (Printer’s Manuscript, 2:813; 1830 Book of Mormon, [3rd] Nephi, chapter 5 (p. 478) and only states that it is to be done by those “Having authority given to me of Jesus Christ”. The wording was modified by the Prophet Joseph Smith when the Articles and Covenants was published in the 1835 D&C (2:22) and reads “Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ.” The wording in the current D&C 20:73 is the same as in the 1835 D&C. (Faulring, op. cited)

After Smith had received his own “revelation” of the Articles and Covenants, and Oliver read the printed “revelation” in either July or August, he discovered that Smith had changed the wording in the baptismal prayer from what was written in the Book of Mormon (the same source for Cowdery’s baptismal instructions in his 1829 Articles and Covenants). Smith wrote of the incident in his 1839 Manuscript History, and what we have is only what Smith remembered of this incident, since the original letter from Cowdery apparently did not survive,

Shortly after we had received the above revelations, Oliver Cowdery returned to Mr Whitmers, and I began to arrange and copy the revelations which we had received from time to time; in which I was assisted by John Whitmer, who now resided with me. Whilst thus (and otherwise at intervals) employed in the work appointed me, by my Heavenly Father; I received a letter from Oliver Cowdery— the contents of which, gave me both sorrow and uneasiness. Not having that letter in my possession, I cannot, of course give it here in full, but merely an extract of the most prominent parts, which I can yet, and expect long to remember. He wrote to inform me, that he had discovered an error in one of the commandments, Book of “Doctrine and Covenants” Sect, 2nd Par. 7th “and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins” The above quotation he said was erroneous, and added; “I command you in the name of God to erase those words, that no priestcraft be amongst us.” I immediately wrote to him in reply, in which I asked him, by what authority he took upon him to command me to alter, or erase, to add or diminish to or from a revelation or commandment from Almighty God. In a few days afterwards I visited him and Mr Whitmer’s family, when I found the family in general of his opinion concerning the words above quoted; and it was not without both labor and perseverance that I could prevail with any of them to reason calmly on the subject; however Christian Whitmer, at length got convinced that it was reasonable and according to scripture, and finally, with his assistance I succeeded of bringing not only the Whitmer family, but also Oliver Cowdery also to acknowledge that they had been in error, and that the sentence in dispute was in accordance of the rest of the commandment. (Dean C. Jesse, ed., The Papers of Joseph Smith, 2 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989–1992), 1:319–20.)

Scott Faulring writes,

It is possible that Oliver associated the requirement of “manifest by their works” as being too closely akin to the requirement that a believer must prove before the congregation that he or she has received God’s grace before being admitted into full fellowship, but the basis of his objection remains unstated and obscure. Oliver simply demanded “in the name of God” that Joseph make the deletion so that, as he warned, “no priestcraft be amongst us.”

The evidence indicates that after all they had been through—their shared revelatory experiences in the restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthood and the inspired translation of the Book of Mormon—Cowdery evidently viewed himself as Joseph Smith’s coequal—a position that was not his to claim. When the Church met for the second quarterly conference on September 26, 1830, at Fayette, conference attendees appointed the Prophet to preside. The minutes show that the first item of business voted upon was the appointment of Joseph Smith as the one “to receive and write Revelations & Commandments for this Church.” (Faulring, op. cited)

The “revelation” given in September came after Hiram Page started giving his own revelations on the location of Zion. Oliver Cowdery accepted Smith’s claim to Church leadership and was later rewarded when Smith made him Assistant President of the Church. Cowdery would then become a willing partner in changing past “revelations” to accord with new theological concepts, until he finally broke with Smith during the 1838 Missouri crisis and Joseph’s extramarital affair with Fanny Alger.

[4] FAIRMORMON, Online here.  This “cryptic allusion” theory is nothing new. In the April 1970 Issue of the Era, James B. Allen wrote “As early as June 1830, a revelation alluded to something like the First Vision” and references the Book of Commandments XV:6-7.

[5] Book of Commandments, XV:6-7.

[6] Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith wrote in 1835:

On the evening of the 21st of September, 1823, previous to retiring to rest, our brother’s mind was unusually wrought up on the subject which had so long agitated his mind-his heart was drawn out in fervent prayer, and his whole soul was so lost to every thing of a temporal nature, that earth, to him, had lost its claims, and all he desired was to be prepared in heart to commune with some kind messenger who could communicate to him the desired information of his acceptance with God.
At length the family retired, and he, as usual, bent his way, though in silence, where others might have rested their weary frames “locked fast in sleep’s embrace;” but repose had fled, (page 78) and accustomed slumber had spread her refreshing hand over others beside him- he continued still to pray-his heart, though once hard and obdurate, was softened, and that mind which had often fitted [flitted?], like the “wild bird of passage,” had settled upon a determined basis not to be decoyed or driven from its purpose.
In this situation hours passed unnumbered-how many or how few I know not, neither is he able to inform me; but supposes it must have been eleven or twelve, and perhaps later, as the noise and bustle of the family, in retiring, had long since ceased.-While continuing in prayer for a manifestation in some way that his sins were forgiven; endeavoring to exercise faith in the scriptures, on a sudden a light like that of day, only of a purer and far more glorious appearance and brightness, burst into the room.-Indeed, to use his own description, the first sight was as though the house was filled with consuming and unquenchable fire. This sudden appearance of a light so bright, as must naturally be expected, occasioned a shock or sensation, visible to the extremities of the body. It was, however, followed with a calmness and serenity of mind, and an overwhelming rapture of joy that surpassed nnderstanding [understanding], and in a moment a personage stood before him.
Notwithstanding the room was previously filled with light above the brightness of the sun, as I have before described, yet there seemed to be an additional glory surrounding or accompanying this personage, which shone with an increased degree of briliancy [brilliancy], of which he was in the midst; and though his countenanc [countenance] was as lightening, yet it was of a pleasing, innocent and glorious appearance, so much so, that every fear was banished from the heart, and nothing but calmness pervaded the soul.
It is no easy task to describe the appearance of a messenger from the skies- indeed, I doubt there being an individual clothed with perishable clay, who is capable to do this work. To be sure, the Lord appeared to his apostles after his resurrection, and we do not learn as they were in the least difficultied to look upon him; but from John’s description upon Patmos, we learn that he is there represented as most glorious in appearance; and from other items in the sacred scriptures we have the fact recorded where angels appeared and conversed with men, and there was no difficulty on the part of the individuals, to endure their presence; and others where their glory was so conspicuous that they could not endure. The last description or appearance is the one to which I refer, when I say that it is no easy task to describe their glory.
But it may be well to relate the particulars as far as given-The stature of this personage was a little above the common size of men in this age; his garment was perfectly white, and had the appearance of being without seam.
Though fear was banished form his heart, yet his surprise was no less when he heard him declare himself to be a messenger sent by commandment of the Lord, to deliver a special message, and to witness to him that his sins were forgiven, and that his prayers were heard; and that the scriptures might be fulfilled, which say -“God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things wich [which] are despised, has God chosen; yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things which are, that no flesh should glory in his presence. Therefore, says the Lord, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder; the wisdom, of their wise shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent shall be hid; for according to his covenant which he made with his ancient saints, his people, the house of Israel, must come to a knowledge of the gospel, and own that Messiah whom their fathers rejected, and with them the fulness [fullness] of the Gentiles be gathered in, to rejoice in one fold under one Shepherd.” (Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Vol. I. No. 5, Kirtland, Ohio, February, 1835, 78-79).

Here we see that Joseph Smith had recourse prayer to know if his sins were forgiven and they were by the Angel Moroni. Smith then again “fell into transgression”, (moneydigging, etc.) and had to come to the hill three more times before he was given “power, by the means which was before prepared”. (The interpreters and the plates). This is attested to in the Book of Commandments,

Behold I am God and have spoken it: these commandments are of me, and 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: and inasmuch as they sought wisdom, they might be instructed; and inasmuch as they sinned, they might be chastened, that they might repent; and inasmuch as they were humble, they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time: after they, having received the record of the Nephites; yea, even my servant Joseph might have power to translate through the mercy of God, by the power of [G]od, the book of Mormon: And also, those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity, and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I the Lord am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually, for I the Lord can not look upon sin with the least degree of allowance: Nevertheless, he that repenteth and doeth the commandments of the Lord, shall be forgiven, and he that repenteth not from him shall be taken even the light which he hath received, for my Spirit shall not always strive with man, saith the Lord of hosts. (A Book of Commandments, 1:6, April 6, 1830, emphasis mine).

Joseph was not given this “power” until November 23, 1827, therefore D&C 20 is not alluding to the claimed 1820 vision, but the vision of Moroni that Smith claimed to have on November 23, 1823.

[7] Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Vol. I. No. 5, Kirtland, Ohio, February, 1835. 77-78.

[8] ibid.

[9] ibid., 78-79.

[10]This did not come until 1827, four years later.

[11] “Mormonism,” Fredonia Censor, March 7, 1832. Courtesy of H. Michael Marquardt.

[12] FAIRMORMON, Online here.

[13] Catholic Telegraph 1 (April 14, 1832):204-205, Cincinnati, Ohio. Reprinted from The Western Press, Mercer, Pennsylvania. Courtesy of H. Michael Marquardt.

[14] Oliver Cowdery affirms this in his letter published in the October 1835 issue of the Messenger and Advocate. Cowdery states that,

You will remember that I said, two invisible powers were operating upon the mind of our brother while going to Cumorah. In this, then, I discover wisdom in the dealings of the Lord: it was impossible for any man to translate the book of Mormon by the gift of God, and endure the afflictions, and temptations, and devices of satan, without being overthrown, unless he had been previously benefitted [benefited] with a certain round of experience: and had our brother obtained the record the first time, not knowing how to detect the works of darkness, he might have been deprived of the blessing of sending forth the word of truth to this generation. Therefore, God knowing that satan would thus lead his mind astray, began at that early hour, that when the full time should arrive, he might have a servant prepared to fulfil [fulfill] his purpose. So, however afflicting to his feelings this repulse might have been, he had reason to rejoice before the Lord and be thankful for the favors and mercies shown; that whatever other instruction was necessary to the accomplishing this great work, he had learned, by experience, how to discern between the spirit of Christ and the spirit of the devil. From this time to September, 1827, few occurrences worthy of note, transpired.

At Joseph’s 1826 trial his father claimed,

…that both he and his son were mortified that this wonderful power which God had so miraculously given him should be used only in search of filthy lucre, or its equivalent in earthly treasures and with a long-faced, “sanctimonious seeming,” he said his constant prayer to his Heavenly Father was to manifest His will concerning this marvelous power. He trusted that the Son of Righteousness would some day illumine the heart of the boy, andenable him to see His will concerning Him. These words have ever had a strong impression on my mind. They seemed to contain a prophetic vision of the future history of that mighty delusion of the present century, Mormonism. The “old man eloquent” with his lank and haggard visage–his form very poorly clad–indicating a wandering vagabond rather than an oracle of future events, has, in view of those events, excited my wonder, if not my admiration. (Norwich, N.Y. Thursday, May 3, 1877, Joseph Smith, The Originator of Mormonism: Historical Reminiscences of the Town of Afton, by W. D. Purple).

[15] Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 289.

[16] Lucy’s Book, A Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith’s Family Memoir Edited by Lavina Fielding Anderson, Signature Books, 329.

[17] William E. McLellin to Relatives, Jackson County, Missouri. Independence. 4th August 1832, The Ensign of Liberty, of the Church of Christ, Kirtland, Lake County, Ohio 1 (January 1848):60-61

[18] D&C Section 1:29-34.

[19] Alma 13:10-16.

[20] David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, 62, Online here.