The Early Histories of Joseph Smith, Pt II: “Work to the Money…”

“The Palmyra Peeker” by grindael

by Johnny Stephenson

Pt I (Ghosts & Angels) may be found here.

Part II: “Work to the Money…”

His story about the discovery of the plates sounded like the German legends of the demons of the Harz Mountains, … Brigham Young [said] the people knew there was treasure in the Hill Cumorah. It seems that the time was one of great mental disturbance in that region. There was much religious excitement; chiefly among the Methodists. People felt free to do very queer things in the new country…~Elizabeth Kane

Introduction

“A new portrait of Joseph and his work…”

This series of articles was conceived (at first) as simply a couple of parts about the early histories of Joseph Smith, sort of a before (the events as they transpired) and an after (how they were reported by Cowdery and Smith).

But as I started studying all of the material that has been written about the early history of Joseph Smith since the mid 1980’s, I soon realized that I was going to have to expand my original idea. The reason for all the material (mostly from Mormon apologists) was because of the Mark Hofmann forgeries. When the “Salamander Letter” and other documents appeared, the Mormon community was rocked to its core. They scrambled to try and explain what others knew about for a long time but which the apologists and the church had been obfuscating and denying for years: the occult practices and money-digging obsession of the Smith family in Palmyra and Manchester New York that was going on when the young Joseph Smith, Jr., was supposedly seeing visions of Jesus and heavenly angels and learning how to run “God’s Kingdom”. (See an official church version of his history here and see if anything has really changed, pg. 37ff)

Mark Hofmann with Mormon First Presidency

In the wake of the Hofmann forgeries a few stepped up to try and come to grips with the letters. No one knew if they were real, but many were fooled though some were not. Ronald Walker explains how he and the church dealt with them:

At 9:00 A.M. on 18 January 1984, I arrived at the home of Leonard Arrington, director of the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute of Church History and, more to the point, my supervisor. He had telephoned the day before and asked that I come by. As I entered his living room, Leonard showed me rather matter-of-factly a copy of a recently found document, which I found unsettling. “At face value,” I wrote that evening in my journal “it is explosive. It is a letter from Martin Harris to W. W. Phelps [written in] 1830 describing the early origins of the Church in spiritualistic or cabalistic terms. It confirms several other documents that have been recently found, indicating the ‘treasure-hunting’ activity of Joseph Smith prior to the organization of the Church. These finds I wrote will require a re-examination and rewriting of our origins.

As the Tanners were to explain, those who knew and understood the early history of the Smith’s would be suspicious of what Hofmann produced (as they were). Here is the text of The Salamander Letter [by Mark Hofmann]:

Your letter of yesterday is received & I hasten to answer as fully as I can–Joseph Smith Jr first come to my notice in the year 1824 in the summer of that year I contracted with his father to build a fence on my property in the corse of that work I aproach Joseph & ask how it is in a half day you put up what requires your father & 2 brothers a full day working together he says I have not been with out assistance but can not say more only you better find out the next day I take the older Smith by the arm & he says Joseph can see any thing he wishes by looking at a stone Joseph often sees Spirits here with great kettles of coin money it was Spirits who brought up rock because Joseph made no attempt on their money I latter dream I converse with spirits which let me count their money when I awake I have in my hand a dollar coin which I take for a sign Joseph describes what I seen in every particular says he the spirits are grieved so I through back the dollar in the fall of the year 1827 I hear Joseph found a gold bible I take Joseph aside & he says it is true I found it 4 years ago with my stone but only just got it because of the enchantment the old spirit come to me 3 times in the same dream & says dig up the gold but when I take it up the next morning the spirit transfigured himself from a white salamander in the bottom of the hole & struck me 3 times & held the treasure & would not let me have it because I lay it down to cover over the hole when the spirit says do not lay it down Joseph says when can I have it the spirit says one year from to day if you obay me look to the stone after a few days he looks the spirit says bring your brother Alvin Joseph says he is dead shall I bring what remains but the spirit is gone Joseph goes to get the gold bible but the spirit says you did not bring your brother you can not have it look to the stone Joseph looks but can not see who to bring the spirit says I tricked you again look to the stone Joseph looks & sees his wife on the 22d day of Sept 1827 they get the gold bible–I give Joseph $50 to move him down to Pa Joseph says when you visit me I will give you a sign he gives me some hiroglyphics I take then to Utica Albany & New York in the last place Dr Mitchel gives me a introduction to Professor Anthon says he they are short hand Egyption the same what was used in ancent times bring me the old book & I will translate says I it is made of precious gold & is sealed from view says he I can not read a sealed book–Joseph found some giant silver specticles with the plates he puts them in a old hat & in the darkness reads the words & in this way it is all translated & written down–about the middle of June 1829 Joesph takes me together with Oliver Cowdery & David Whitmer to have a view of the plates our names are appended to the book of Mormon which I had printed with my own money–space and time both prevent me from writing more at presant if there is any thing further you wish to inquire I shall attend to it

Yours Respectfully
Martin Harris

The Tanners saw plagiarism in the letters. It’s not really hard to see if you know the material. For example, David Whitmer once claimed he got help plowing his fields from supernatural beings. Lucy Smith claimed that it was Whitmer given supernatural power to do so. Compare with Hofmann’s story above:

[David] …asked the Lord for a testimony of the fact if it was his will that he should go [help Joseph] he was told by the voice of the spirit to (sow) <(har) inn his wheat> his wheat and then go straightway to Penn In the morning he went to the field and found that he had 2 heavy days work before him He then asked the lord to enable him to do this work sooner than the same work had ever been done on the farm before and he would receive it as an evidence that it was the will of God for him to engage in forwarding the work which was begun by Joseph Smith. he then fastened his horses to the harrow and drove round the whole field he continued on till noon driving all the way round at every circuit but when it came to be time to eat dinner he discov ered to his surprize that he had harrowed in full half the wheat. after dinner he again went on as before and by evening he finnished the whole 2 days work (for both Whitmer and Lucy Smith’s accounts see here, note 284).

Also compare this account from Palmyra neighbor William Stafford in 1833:

I first became acquainted with Joseph, Sen., and his family in the year 1820. They lived, at that time, in Palmyra, about one mile and a half from my residence. A great part of their time was devoted to digging for money: especially in the night time, when they said the money could be most easily obtained. I have heard them tell marvellous tales, respecting the discoveries they had made in their peculiar occupation of money digging. They would say, for instance, that in such a place, in such a hill, on a certain man’s farm, there were deposited keys, barrels and hogsheads of coined silver and gold — bars of gold, golden images, brass kettles filled with gold and silver — gold candlesticks, swords, &c. &c. They would say, also, that nearly all the hills in this part of New York, were thrown up by human hands, and in them were large caves, which Joseph, Jr., could see, by placing a stone of singular appearance in his hat, in such a manner as to exclude all light; at which time they pretended he could see all things within and under the earth, — that he could see within the above mentioned caves, large gold bars and silver plates — that he could also discover the spirits in whose charge these treasures were, clothed in ancient dress. At certain times, these treasures could be obtained very easily; at others, the obtaining of them was difficult. The facility of approaching them, depended in a great measure on the state of the moon. New moon and good Friday, I believe, were regarded as the most favorable times for obtaining these treasures. (Mormonism Unvailed, 237-8)

Instead of an evil omen toad, (as reported by Willard Chase and another neighbor) Hofmann wrote that it was (according to Quinn) a more beneficial “white salamander”. Changing what Joseph saw in the stone box from a toad to a white salamander was an ingenious idea.

The point is, most of what Hofmann wrote in his forgeries was gleaned from already existing accounts, which Mormon apologists like Hugh Nibley and others refused to believe and claimed were simply made up by the Smith’s neighbors. The quandary faced by the apologists and their desperation to come up with some kind of explanation is what set this whole “folk magic was really lost Apostolic Christianity” farce in motion.

Ronald Walker continues:

During my interview [with Arrington], I learned that Steven F. Christensen, a Salt Lake City businessman, had quietly purchased the letter and was now asking for my help to prepare the document for publication. … I told him I would take part in the project. …Thus began my intellectual and spiritual journey with Joseph Smith, the Palmyra Seer. Of course, I had known him before. He had been woven in the warp and woof of my Cedar Rapids, Iowa, childhood, when Sunday School lessons and “testimonies” in our small branch declared his ministry. Later while serving a Southern States mission I had acquired my own fervor which my subsequent church service matured and increased. But never previously had I scrutinized the Prophet. I had never submitted him to that careful microscopic autopsy that historians must practice on their subjects.

Actually, it would only have taken picking up a few books, like Fawn Brodie’s biography of Joseph Smith, or Mormonism Unvailed, or something by Dale Morgan or Richard Van Wagoner, or Michael Marquardt or perhaps reading the original documents that were being churned out by Jerald and Sandra Tanner. It would also take an open mind and not giving undue credence to those like Hugh Nibley and others who were claiming that the money-digging accounts were all made up or coerced by Hurlbut and Howe. But the Church discouraged people from reading books like that (labeling them “anti-Mormon”, encouraging them to stay with those who wrote “faithful” histories. But I can’t fault Walker, when I was a member I stayed away from all those “evil anti-Mormons” too. It wasn’t anti-Mormons who opened my eyes to the real history of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, it was the Fundamental Mormons who lived in southern Utah. They gave me a list of material and I went right to B.Y.U and started looking things up. The way things were back then, you could “scrutinize’ the life of Joseph Smith and never know about the money-digging. Walker continues:

While first holding the Harris letter in my hands in Mr Christensen’s office I sensed such a detailed study would be required. If the letter were authentic I believed it would require all the old Joseph smith sources to be re-read. New sources I thought, should be searched for. Perhaps innovative methods of analysis would be required.

Except the apologists (and many other historians of Mormonism) believed at the time they were authentic letters and acted as if they were. What new sources could Walker be talking about? Simply reading the old ones, like the account of Joseph Knight, Sr., or Lucy Smith’s original manuscript (which he gets around to mentioning below) would certainly be in order. But here we have a key, that it would take “innovative methods of analysis” to try and explain what was there all along but only sensationalized by Hofmann’s putting the evidence in first person accounts. Walker then recalls the dilemma he found himself in:

My journey with Joseph has now taken two years. Perhaps it is time to pause and search for meanings and suggest possible new directions. Were my first excited feelings about historical revisionism justified? How do some of our recently found or refound sources fit into the larger body of evidence, and what are some of their implications? Needless to say answers to these ambitious questions will be partial and tentative and I offer nothing here but a private view. At the outset I admit our task has not been easy. At first there were angry and sometimes petulant letters and phone calls that severely reminded me of my human frailty. Well-meaning friends and relatives conveyed a similar message. …Through all this I confess to having deeply troubled feelings added to the tragic loss of a friend, there was the need to ask hard questions of my personal faith. The Martin Harris letter and its companion piece Joseph Smith’s 1825 letter to Josiah Stowell, speak of a strange world of guardian spirits, magical hazel rods, thrice occurring dreams, seer stones, and even a white salamander. This is not the stereotypical fare of an average Salt Lake City testimony meeting.

Thing is, it was by design that all the occult practices of the Smith family were not the “stereotypical fare” of the average Mormon meeting. The real story was seldom discussed, except perhaps by Quinn writing as Dr. Clandestine to attack the Tanners; or Nibley issuing reprints that scoffed at the 1833 affidavits in his arrogant and sarcastic manner; or an occasional mention in a church magazine. And after learning that Quinn authored the pamphlet about them, here is what the Tanners wrote:

Although Dr. Quinn has almost nothing good to say about us, we will not repay in kind. We feel that he is probably one of the best historians in the Mormon Church. His dissertation written for Yale University is a masterpiece. He has written excellent articles in BYU Studies, the Journal of Mormon History and the Utah Historical Quarterly. It is hard, however, to equate these works with the booklet Jerald and Sandra Tanner’s Distorted View of Mormonism.

And Leonard Arrington in his diary was so sure they were going to go all “ad hominem” and attack them personally over it. And this world was strange to the apologists, but not to those who knew about the contemporary news reports and the other accounts the apologists were finally claiming to take seriously. For example, here is Dale Morgan from the 1940’s:

“I do not see things in black and white; rather, I am sensitive to the shades of gray. I am not one of those who think that Joseph Smith must be accounted either the blackest villain or the purest-hearted saint who ever lived, depending on whether Mormonism was or was not an ‘imposture.’ I don’t think he was either. I think he was a man subjected to a singular environmental pressure, and that his behavior must be interpreted as the effect of this pressure upon distinctive psycho-physiological components of his character. It seems to me a fundamental weakness of most Mormon thinking, in any broad sense, that it tends to exhibit this either-or attitude, which really reflects a viewpoint of theoretical ethics, not of personal and social psychology.” —26 April 1943

“Mormonism proceeded out of American life, from millennialism to the evangelical communisms, with religious, political, social, and economic ideas indiscriminately sucked into the vortex to be digested or spewed out, with the central energies and structure of the church always different because of what it experienced or took to itself. I don’t say that Mormonism was at best an aberration of the principal energies involved; I do say that it is an interesting vehicle for some of the social energies of its time, and that something can be learned about the nature of American society from a critical scrutiny of the Mormon phenomenon.—2 January 1946

In 1943 Morgan wrote this to Juanita Brooks:

Yesterday at the Library of Congress I had a look at a new book by Paul Bailey called Sam Brannan and California Mormons. It gave me a more discouraged feeling about Mormon scholarship than I’ve had for a long time. For hell’s sake, Juanita, what is the matter with these young Mormon scholars? Are they all imbeciles, or just what is wrong? I made only an incidental investigation into Brannan’s life for my own book, but even so I learned enough to know that Bailey bowdlerized some original sources, misquoted others, badly misinterpreted others, didn’t even trouble himself about others, and emerged with a pseudo-documented rehash that was a disgrace even to the pages of the Improvement Era, where the piece seems to have been originally serialized. Books like this are assuming a regular pattern; there are a quantity of them being turned out, also, in the U of Chicago’s Divinity School, as masters’ theses. They have the forewords by [LDS apostle John A.] Widtsoe, who doesn’t know what he’s talking about but unfortunately thinks he does; they have the professional form; they deal in more or less unused materials. But third-rate merchandise is what is being produced. It would be in the interests of the Mormon Church to train a consultant who would bring to bear upon such manuscripts the most rigorous critical standards. The literature that would result would be less extensive in dimensions, and less eulogistic in purpose, and the church would not always appear as a shimmeringly holy thing; but it would be literature having a chance of enduring, and it would establish a confidence in the integrity and honesty of the church such as will never result from a thousand tons of this Bailey bilge.

This was a full forty years before the Hofmann affair, and church’s scramble to try and come to grips with Smith’s early history. But again, Morgan had no such problems:

 Lucy said of him [Joseph Smith Sr.] that “he would not subscribe to any particular system of faith, but contended for the ancient order, as established by our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ and his Apostles.”Joseph’s daily life was more vividly colored, however, by that common heritage of his society, the [p.221] tenuous but ineluctable realities of magic, witchcraft, and demonology the Mayflower and the Arbella had disgorged so long ago into the gray mists of Massachusetts shore. Good fortune or bad, as Joseph well understood, was not an affair of Providence only; man had to contend with the dark world of the supernatural, penetrable or governable only by the most potent of ritual and incantation. … 

In taking up the quest for buried treasure, which was to give him a first gratifying and then perilous celebrity, and bring him out [p.229] finally upon a high plateau of eminence as prophet, seer, and revelator to a new religion, Joseph Smith displayed not originality so much as a striking ability to compel belief. Desultory digging had been carried on in western New York for a half-generation or more, and the urge to dig in the earth in search of treasure was of greater antiquity still, as old and as widespread as the human race. The feverish digging that distinguished the early twenties in and around Palmyra was, moreover, only a local form taken by a contagion that broke out epidemically across hundreds of miles of country, from the valley of the Connecticut to that of the Susquehanna.

Though the evidence is too slender to justify a firm conclusion, Vermont appears to have been the place of prime infection, the lore of the money-digger and the rural diviner carried from its rocky hills west and south wherever emigrating Vermonters settled-in the Susquehanna Valley, about the Finger Lakes, in the Genesee country, in the Western Reserve of Ohio. The infertile mountain farms held insufficient of wealth to recompense the grueling labor they never ceased to demand. Not honest effort but miracle was the best hope of the farmer; and it is the authentic tones of the Vermonter one hears when the elder Joseph Smith pointed out to one of his neighbors at Palmyra the large stones embedded in the ground of his farm-rocks in appearance, but only in appearance; in reality nothing less than chests of money raised to the surface of the earth by the heat of the sun.

It may be that the elder Joseph had done some treasure-hunting before leaving Vermont; as to this, a Palmyra editor in 1831 was unable to say, but did print it as “a well authenticated fact that soon after his arrival here, he evinced a firm belief in the existence of hidden treasures, and that this section of the country abounded in them. He also revived, or in other words propagated the vulgar, yet popular belief that these treasures were held in charge by some evil spirit, which was supposed to be either the DEVIL himself, or some one of his most trusty favorites.” That the senior Joseph did much to launch his son upon his troubled career as a diviner and peepstone seer, that his unbounded extravagance of statement as to the wonders his son could see contributed largely to his celebrity, is clear from all accounts; the more fantastic stories of Joseph’s early powers and the marvels he discerned are to be traced back to the wagging tongue of his father.

All the influences that worked upon Joseph Smith to make him what he became are difficult now to separate out of the matrix of his history. The social environment was favorable, the whole climate of opinion and belief in which so much more was possible of growth than in another time and place. There was some compulsion working upon him from within the family, the rich lore they had carried with them out of Vermont, and the pressure of their continuing poverty, the more irksome because of their conviction that their rightful state in life was above the common level. Lacking in education and opportunity, which might have afforded him some conventional [p.230] outlet for the energies that drove him, Joseph was all the more reclined to reach out for the rewards that the career of the diviner promised him. (Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism)

You would think, from reading those like Walker, and Ashurst-McGee and Morris that there never was anyone like Dale Morgan or the Tanners or Brodie or the many others who had been writing about the early history of the Smith family for years and understood very well the occult context. The apologists will mention the famous Fawn Brodie, but wave her off as only a hack who caricatures Smith in the worst way. They are all mistaken. But vilifying Brodie and the Tanners has always been the goal of the Mormon apologist. Nibley’s “No Ma’am That’s Not History” is simply his own wishful thinking. I’ll defend Brodie in any debate with anyone, anywhere, and they can try and defend Nibley’s claim that the 1833 affidavits were all coerced. It’s obvious who has withstood the test of time and it is not Hugh Nibley. Here is more of what Walker wrote in 1986:

The letters [forgeries] have stirred excited comment. Some have asked if we have at last the key for understanding Joseph Smith. Will Christian magic and the occult unravel the man who has been described as an “enigma wrapped within an enigma” and who claimed shortly before his death that “no man knows my history”? Some privately have gone further they speak of the old intellectual moorings of Mormonism being adrift. Are not the new findings they ask, the opposite of our old way of understanding Mormon things?

See how it is “Christian magic”? As if there really is such a thing! People believe in Santa Claus and Leprechauns, Bigfoot, the abominable Yeti and in Alien abductions too. (More on that below) There is nothing Christian about money-digging, except some of the diggers who happened to be Christians. What happened to “money is the root of all evil”? Or how hard it is for the rich to get into heaven? It is simply ridiculous to make the claim for “holy treasure hunting”. About as ridiculous as the tales about the “Holy Grail”.

No one knows what every person who dug for treasure believed, if they were active Christians, lapsed Christians, or former Christians. Joseph Smith was not an “enigma”, though how he came up with the Book of Mormon is shrouded somewhat in mystery. But that was by design. We have the testimony of friend and foe, of believers and apostates; neighbors and journalists; speeches and diaries and court records. There is a very extensive record of the life of Joseph Smith. That is why those like the Tanner’s warned about Hofmann and that he might be perpetuating a hoax on everyone.

Here is the Stowell Letter [by Mark Hofmann]

Canandagua June 18th 1825

Dear Sir

My father has shown me your letter informing him and me of your Success in locating the mine as you Suppose but we are of the oppinion that since you cannot asertain any particulars you Should not dig more untill you first discover if any valluables remain you know the treasure must be guarded by some clever spirit and if such is discovered so also is the treasure so do this take a hasel stick one yard long being new Cut and cleave it Just in the middle and lay it asunder on the mine so that both inner parts of the stick may look one right against the other one inch distant and if there is treasure after a while you shall see them draw and Join together again of themselves let me know how it is Since you were here I have almost decided to accept your offer and if you can make it convenient to come this way I shall be ready to accompany you if nothing happens more than I know of I am very respectfully

Joseph Smith Jr

Again, it wasn’t a surprise that Joseph Smith was using dowsing rods to those like Dale Morgan and Fawn Brodie. Now read Walker’s rationalizations as he tries to find a way to save his version of Joseph:

While pursuing my study I have often reminded myself that religious truths do not change. Our interpretation of them may change or our understanding of how they have been wrought in [463] time and space may change. But truth is constant, and my faith is that Mormonism is its repository. However my caution regarding the documents springs from something more than personal belief in matters like this, there is always a second step. As quieter perspectives inevitably settle in the breathless antithesis gives way to a more sedate synthesis during this second phase what once seemed so revolutionary is reconciled and merged with the still valid legacies of the past. To illustrate our understanding of Joseph Smith’s encounters with Moroni will not be insightful if we focus narrowly on Martin Harris’s trickster spirit and forget the several contemporaneous statements including Harris’s own that speak of Cumorah’s angel. These apparent conflicts must be weighed, somehow harmonized and molded into a new, more complex understanding.

Except religious truths in Mormonism have changed constantly. Do I really need to go into that here? Mormonism went from monotheism to polytheism in a decade. There is no denying this. Concerning the Book of Mormon Greg Prince characterizes it this way:

I don’t see it [The Book of Mormon] as an ancient history. I just don’t see that it has a leg to stand on as being history.  I’ve heard of hybrid explanations. None of them carry any water with me.  I’m content to go with what Denise Hopkins the Professor of Hebrew Bible told me. It’s a book length midrash on the Bible.  And I’m fine with that.

It certainly would solve a lot of problems if all Mormons accepted the Book of Mormon for what it is, a midrash or pseudepigrapha. Prince accepts what it is and still has kept his faith in the church, and everyone should be able to make such an informed choice. It is important to realize that the so called servants of God that comprise the leadership of the church (past and present) lied on a regular basis about its history.

Prince is also truthful about the Mormon Priesthood and the development of its theology. He wrote a simply stellar article in 2015 published in the Journal of Mormon History on the First Vision, and chronicles the changes to Smith’s theology:

Smith’s earliest understanding of Deity is contained in the Book of Mormon. If one reads the 1830 edition of the book, instead of the current edition, several verses stand out as differing from current LDS orthodoxy:

    • “Behold, the virgin which thou seest, is the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh” (p. 25, line 3). Th e 1830 edition was not divided into verses at all, nor do the chapter divisions correspond completely to the current (2013) edition.
    • “And the Angel said unto me, behold the Lamb of God yea, even the Eternal Father!” (p. 25, line 10).
    • “Yea, the Everlasting God, was judged of the world” (p. 26, line 9).
    • “The Lamb of God is the Eternal Father and the Saviour of the world” (p. 32, line 9).

Such a view of Deity is termed modalism, or the belief that there is “one God, in one part or person at a time, performing various offices, but not simultaneously.” It is consistent with 1832, wherein only one personage was described. It is also consistent with a verse in the “Articles and Covenants” (the source of 1831): “ . . . which Father & Son & Holy Ghost is one God.” This wording was preserved in the first published version of the revelation in 1832 and in the 1833 Book of Commandments 24:18.

In 1835, however, a shift in theology occurred, moving the Church to binitarianism, which took the position of “one God only (the Father), with a god-like, literal Son created in premortal existence, and fully divine through that inheritance. Only the Son (as Jesus) had a physical body. The Holy Spirit was an influence rather than a being, operating from the Father through the Son.” That same year, the Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, was published, superseding the Book of Commandments. The Preface, signed by Joseph Smith Jr., Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams, was dated February 17, 1835. Its first part, “Theology,” consisted of what became known as the “Lectures on Faith,” and the second, titled “Covenants and Commandments,” consisted of a collection of revelations to Joseph Smith. The fifth lecture reflected the shift:

We shall, in this lecture speak of the Godhead: we mean the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing and supreme power over all things. . . . They are the Father and the Son: The Father being a personage of spirit, glory and power: possessing all perfection and fulness [sic]: The Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle, made, or fashioned like unto man . . . possessing the same mind with the Father, which mind is the Holy Spirit . . . How many personages are there in the Godhead? Two: the Father and the Son. (1835 D&C pp. 52–53, 55).

Several weeks after the publication of Doctrine and Covenants, Smith met with Robert Matthews and related the account of the First Vision contained in 1835a, an account that described the appearance of one personage, who did not speak, followed by the appearance of a second personage, who said, “Thy sins are forgiven thee”—in contrast to 1832, which described only one personage. The sequential, rather than simultaneous appearance of the two personages is consistent with their different natures—the Father being a personage of spirit, and the Son being a personage of tabernacle (flesh)—albeit not proof.

The shift to binitarian theology was further signaled when the second edition of the Book of Mormon was published in 1837. The four previously cited verses from the book of 1 Nephi, which had reflected a modalistic theology, were changed to reflect a binitarian understanding (changes in italics):

    • “Behold, the virgin whom thou seest, is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh” (p. 27).
    • “And the angel said unto me, behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!” (p. 27).
    • “Yea, the Son of the Everlasting God was judged of the world” (p. 29).
    • “Th e Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world” (p. 35).

Other verses in the 1837 Book of Mormon were not similarly revised, leaving the careful reader of the current edition with a confusing, patchwork theology of Deity that incorporates both modalism and binitarianism.

The final step in Smith’s evolving doctrine of Deity was tritheism, a belief in three separate personages comprising the Godhead. 1839 [History] describes two personages who appear simultaneously, both of whom speak to Smith. Since 1839 was not published for years thereafter and since there is no record that Smith spoke of it publicly, word of a shifting theology was slow to spread. In the first issue of the Gospel Reflector, the LDS newspaper published in Philadelphia beginning in 1841, Benjamin Winchester, “Presiding Elder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Philadelphia,” restated the binitarian doctrine from the “Lectures on Faith”:

As this is the first number of the Gospel Reflector, it will not be amiss to give a few outlines of some of the leading principles of our faith, which will all be treated upon in their proper time, and scripture and reason be adduced to authenticate them.

First, the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, believe that the scriptures contain the words of God, and that they are true and faithful.

Second, the Godhead, i.e., The Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father being a personage of spirit, glory and power; possessing all perfection and fullness; The Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, personage of tabernacle, made, or fashioned like unto man, or, rather, man was framed after his likeness, and in his image;—he also possesses all the fullness with the Father, possessing the same mind with the Father, which mind is the Holy Spirit, that bears record of the Father and the Son, these three are one, or in other words, these three constitute the godhead.

The following year, perhaps in response to diverse teachings on the subject, the Church newspaper in Nauvoo clarified that the Father and the Son are separate persons and also that both have physical bodies. This statement contradicts the 1835 “Lectures on Faith” that described the Father as having a spiritual, but not a physical, body. Although the author of this article is not identified, the fact that Smith is listed in the quoted issue of the newspaper as editor, printer, and publisher makes it likely that he wrote it. This theological statement declares defensively: “The idea that Joseph Smith adapts his conversation to the company, is an error. Joseph Smith opposes vice and error, and supports his positions from revelation: no odds whether there be two, three, or ‘Gods many.’ The Father, and the Son are persons of Tabernacle; and the Holy Ghost a spirit.”

A similar statement the following year (1843) became part of the Doctrine and Covenants, thus canonizing the LDS doctrine of Deity: “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man[’]s. The Son also, but the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit and a person cannot have the personage of the H G in his heart. He may receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. It may descend upon him but not to tarry with him.”

***References (all links current to the articles Gregory Prince references ~grindael) that are helpful in understanding the complex development of the contemporary LDS doctrine of Deity include Dan Vogel, “The Earliest Mormon Concept of God,” in Gary James Bergera, ed., Line upon Line: Essays on Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1989), 17–34; Melodie Moench Charles, “Book of Mormon Christology,” in Brent Lee Metcalf, ed., New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1993), 81–114; and Rick Grunder, “Statement on Deity,” in Grunder, Mormon Parallels, 1929–62.(Journal of Mormon History, Fall 2015, 89-91, See also, What Happened to the Trinity in Mormonism, by grindael)

We see that Smith’s theology contradicts itself many times over. Prince characterizes this as “line upon line” learning and teaching, but that doesn’t make much sense at all given that Smith claimed to have seen the Father and the Son in physical bodies long before he ever taught the concept of them having such bodies. I will address this in Part V.

Joseph was then lying in his 1839 History, because he never saw what he claimed to in 1820, and made this false statement in 1844:

“I have always declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods.” (Joseph Smith, June 16, 1844)

This is a knowing lie as Joseph prior to the late 1830’s simply had not conceived of God that way. This same concept (changing teachings about their nature) is true about angels, as I will explore below.

And remember, those who did take the obsession with money-digging and their practice of magic seriously, (like Brodie and Morgan), were rejected by the Church and derided for what they wrote because it seriously challenges the motives of Joseph Smith and his credibility. But the cat was now out of the bag, and the church was inviting the scrutiny it had feared for so long. Somehow, it all must be “harmonized and molded into a new, more complex understanding.” An “understanding” to reconcile the occult with Christianity or the invention of a new fairy tale. As Walker explains:

Because of new documents and similarly minded sources which our traditional histories have ignored we shall eventually draw a new portrait of Joseph and his work. Such a view will doubtless preserve the integrity of Mormonism. It will draw insights from both untraditional and traditional sources. And the result will be fresh.

But why would we need a “new portrait” of Smith, when he was (according to himself and others) a true blue prophet of God who gave us his history; which was canonized by those who claimed to have the Holy Spirit of God, making Smith’s 1839 History the actual Word of God! And yet, as we have seen it is full of falsehoods. Did God sanction these falsehoods as scripture? It appears in Mormonism that he did. It begs the question, What kind of integrity is that?

The approach of Dale Morgan was “fresh” when he started writing his history in the 1930’s. It was when Brodie published No Man Knows My History in 1945. Brodie’s history is not a caricature, it is an insightful and dynamic  magnum opus that has withstood the test of time, and would have been greater than it is, if the church had not rejected and closed its archives to her. And Walker wants to chide everyone it seems as he tries to come up with a suitable fairy tale:

Those who assert that we do not need to rethink some elements of our past are wrong. Equally true, those who claim that the new documents bring intellectual chaos and require radical changes are also certainly mistaken. We need to pursue the commonsense middle ground. While it is too early to suggest precisely what the new Joseph Smith synthesis will be, there are four dimensions or insights that now seem compelling. First Mormon scholarship will come to terms with the folk culture of the time. The question before scholars is no longer if Joseph and his family participated in the cunning arts but the degree and meaning of their activity.

Making a whole “new portrait” of Smith is not radical? And the “new documents” did bring “intellectual chaos and requir[ed] radical changes”, and it still took until 2013 to get anything close to an “official” acknowledgement about the extent  of Smith’s practice of  magic in Palmyra and Manchester.

And then it was the fairy tales thought up in the 1980’s that they put forth (anonymously) not the fresh work of Dale Morgan, H. Michael Marquardt, Dan Vogel, Richard Van Wagoner, Fawn Brodie and others far more credible (as I will show in this series). I’ll have more on the fairy tale that apologists (with the help of some really great non-Mormon historians) concocted in Pt. III.

Bushman to the Rescue?

Walker continues:

Richard Bushman’s fine new survey of the period Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism has already tacitly made this point but if the new documents prove to be authentic they will probably take us further than even Bushman’s study suggests. The Joseph Smith letter to Josiah Stowell places the Smith family in the money digging business and this in the words and handwriting of Joseph Smith himself. The Martin Harris letter in turn is as suggestive Harris places the founding events of Mormonism in a folk religious context and claims Joseph Smith as his source.

Did Bushman “come to grips” with the “folk culture” of the time in a reasonable and adequate way? That’s debatable. The 1825 money-digging agreement with Josiah Stowell placed the Smith’s firmly in that business, and it was signed by both father and son, who went on that wild goose-chase as their farm was foreclosed on. And looking back at what Bushman wrote in 1984 is as confused as he claimed Smith was:

[W]hen [Joseph] told his family and friends about Moroni and the gold plates [,] [t]he reaction was quite confused. The price Christianity had paid for assimilating the Enlightenment was to forgo belief in all supernatural happenings except the well-attested events of the Bible. Witchcraft, dreams, revelations, even healings were thrown indiscriminately on the scrapheap of superstition. While in 1692 Cotton Mather, the leading intellectual of his day, could discourse learnedly on the manifestation of witchcraft, no leading divine fifty years later would countenance such talk. The Enlightenment drained Christianity of its belief in the miraculous, except for Bible miracles. Everything else was attributed to ignorant credulity. Joseph Smith’s story when it became known was immediately identified as one more example.

A movement among the intellectual elite, of course, could not entirely suppress popular belief in divine and satanic forces affecting everyday life. Common people, surreptitiously to some extent, still entertained traditional beliefs in water-witching and in spells to locate hidden treasure. Many more yearned for a return of the miraculous powers of the original Christian church. A group of practitioners of traditional magic in Palmyra thus reacted quite differently from the newspaper editors to Joseph’s story of the golden plates and a protecting angel. They saw Joseph Smith as one of them, tried to absorb him into their company, and grew angry when he drew back.

Joseph was assaulted from two sides in the struggle between modern rationalism and traditional supernaturalism. He had to answer to demands for proof from the newspaper editors and ministers, on the one hand, and extricate himself from the schemes of the Palmyra magicians and money diggers, on the other. At times his closest followers and his own family were confused. One of Joseph Smith’s tasks in the years before 1830 was to define his calling and mission so as not to be misunderstood, and to set his own course, apart from rationalism or superstition.

The perspective of this work is that Joseph Smith is best understood as a person who outgrew his culture… (Joseph Smith and The Beginnings of Mormonism, 6-7)

He outgrew his culture? The phony one that Bushman makes up? Because Bushman is wrong that all sects completely discarded belief in all supernatural happenings. He tries to paint an either/or picture here, which was not the case. Jane Shaw has written a fascinating book called “Miracles in Enlightenment England”, and shows how ordinary Christians looked to the miraculous in their lives and attributed such miracles to God, not ghosts and goblins and treasure guardian spirits that take rods and stones to commune with. She writes:

First, it was a commonplace notion that miracles had ceased with biblical times. This was an idea inherited from sixteenth – and early seventeenth-century Protestants who, when confronted by Roman Catholic claims that their ongoing miracles were signs that they were still the true church, turned their back on miracles and came to regard scripture as the only trustworthy foundation for faith, all that was needed for belief in Jesus Christ. Those Protestant thinkers argued that God no longer needed to work miracles to convince people of the truth of the gospel. They did not question that God might be able to work miracles if he wished; nor did they question the validity of the biblical miracles as revelations that supported Christian doctrines, especially the incarnation and the resurrection of Christ. In that sense, they were not questioning the role of God as miracle-worker, as a God who could intervene – and had intervened – in human affairs, whether in the universe or the human body, to demonstrate his nature, power and existence. They simply suggested that there had been a limited age of miracles. However, they opened the way for more radical thinkers in the Enlightenment, most notably the deists, to ask questions about the very nature of God and whether God had indeed ever been a miracle-worker. (pg. 2)

These were the true elites, but they were not persuasive to most Christians. Shaw quotes John Wesley (fifty years after Cotton Mather):

And I acknowledge that I have seen with my eyes and hear with my ears several things, to the best of my judgment, cannot be accounted for by the ordinary sense of natural causes, and which I therefore believe ought to be ascribed to the extraordinary interposition of God. If any man choose to study these miracles, I reclaim not. I could not without doing violence to my own reason. Not to go far back, I am clearly persuaded, that the sudden deliverance of John Haydon was one instance of this kind; and my own recovery, on May 10th, another. I cannot account for either of these in a natural way. Therefore I believe they were both supernatural.  I must observe that the truth of these facts is supposed by the same kind of proof as that of all other facts is wont to be – namely, the testimony of competent witnesses; and that testimony here is n as high a degree as any reasonable man can desire. Those witnesses were many in number: they could not be deceived themselves; for the facts in question they saw with their own eyes and heard with their own ears, nor is it credible that so man of them would combine together with a view of deceiving others. (John Wesley, Letter to Thomas Church, 1746).

Jane adds:

Perhaps the main conclusion to be drawn from all this is not so much that there was a distinct elite–popular split, but rather that a range of views on and attitudes towards the miraculous – and all the related questions that had been thrown up by the debates about miracles — co-existed by the middle of the eighteenth century. Susan Juster in her work on prophets in the late eighteenth century has argued that the Age of Reason was oxymoronic; it was a time when prophets tried to make sense of religious beliefs and experiences in the light of rational philosophy. The same might well be said of miracles and those who tried to make sense of them. Through a wide range of religious practices and experiences, the responses to them, and the writings of philosophers and theologians, the Enlightenment opened up a series of questions about experience, reason, the miraculous and the nature of God, which were not resolved in the eighteenth century. Both intellectual debate and lived religion led to a questioning of the category of experience, for example – the French Prophets through their activities, the deists and Hume in their argument that experience and testimony were unreliable. Hume himself, by the very nature of his skeptical argument, suggested that these matters might not be resolved.

The Enlightenment can, then, be described as a watershed with regard to these questions. But the Enlightenment did not provide closure; it did not solve the problem of how the relationship between reason and revelation might be negotiated. It did, however, set the terms for how people thought about that problem in the future. This book has explored three steams of thought and practice within Protestantism, with regard to miracles, first, the doctrine of the cessation of miracles; secondly, the miracle claims that occurred within various Protestant groups and churches, and the responses to them; and thirdly, the attempt to negotiate a middle way between an excessive rationalism or a too-ready “enthusiasm’, by using the experimental method to investigate the evidence for contemporary miracle claims, and appealing to probability rather than certainty. While all three of these “streams” were attacked and challenged by the deists and sceptics in the philosophical debate of the first half of the eighteenth century, all three remained key ingredients in the lively debates about miracles which ensued in the nineteenth century, as theologians and philosophers returned to those seventeenth- and eighteenth-century themes and arguments and reworked them, and new generations of Christians claimed that they too had experienced miracles.(179-80)

It was not this false dilemma fallacy as Bushman and other apologists try to make it out to be; Protestant Christians still believed in miracles (as they called them – not magic) as coming from God, though there were many that did participate in many occult practices which were also attributed to God by many who identified as Christians. But as we see, Christians did not simply turn to the occult/magic because they could not get the satisfaction of the supernatural from their religious experience, or that it was the only option left for them. That is a gross oversimplification of the argument and disingenuous.

This was a complex time in America, and creating a false alternative as these apologists have done, does nothing but create a fairy-tale used for the purpose of trying to Christianize a practice that very few looked upon as legitimate or religious. (Money-digging, scrying with peepstones, juggling). Some even believed that they could use what they thought were God given powers for sinful purposes such as searching for (as Smith put it) “filthy lucre”. There is absolutely no evidence that money-diggers were some kind of lost souls searching for Christian fulfillment with shovel and peep-stone. I have heard some really wacky things from Mormon apologists but this one is right up there at the top. And some very good Mormon historians have fed into this fairy-tale.

Walker continues to elaborate about the Smith’s magical money-digging:

However the question of whether the Smith family participated in money digging and magic does not rely on the recently found letters. The weight of evidence with or without them falls on the affirmative side of the question. For instance we have the Hurlbut-Howe affidavits which since 1834 have asserted that the Smiths were involved with money digging. The same story also emerges from other eyewitnesses including the less negatively biased interviews gathered by RLDS churchman William H. Kelley. Nor are these collections our only affidavits. The anti-Mormon and non-Mormon witnesses represent too many viewpoints and their accounts were given in too many circumstances to be dismissed merely as trumped up misrepresentations designed to discredit Joseph Smith and Mormonism.

This was the big goodbye to Hugh Nibley and his “they made it all up”, shtick. (Good riddance, too). I do have to say, that I’m reminded of part of a speech I once read by Bushman about Nibley, given at the Maxwell Institute in 2010:

Nibley portrays Joseph as the simple innocent, assaulted by scornful, arrogant, and ultimately unknowing critics. Joseph Smith did not lay claim to high intellect or worldly might, Nibley reminds us. He simply reported what had happened to him. “He spoke only of what he had seen with his eyes, heard with his ears, and felt with his hands.” Nibley loved for the simple and plain to outfox the clever and wise. He spent his life showing how the ploughboy surpassed them all. He loved it too that the simple prophet was neither pompous or self-aggrandizing about his powers. As he said, “this is a man who was not going to get a big head.” The epitome of humility and plain living himself, Nibley celebrated Joseph’s openhandedness in granting his followers powers like his own. “The Prophet’s advantage over the world lay of course in revelation,” Nibley noted, “but in the Church, every follower has an equal right to revelation.” “Search the scriptures,” he quotes Joseph as saying, “and ask your Heavenly Father, in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, to manifest the truth unto you; . . . you will then know for yourselves and not for another. You will not then be dependent on man for the knowledge of God; nor will there be any room for speculation.” (Richard Bushman, “Hugh Nibley and Joseph Smith,”)

They could throw him and his “mythmakes” BS under the bus, but just couldn’t really let him go, even though his work on the Book of Mormon and Abraham are just as dismal. As the work of Dan Vogel, Mike Marquardt, Quinn and others have shown, Nibley was wrong about everything. Everyone had an equal right to revelation as long as you kept your own to yourself. We see what happened to Hiram Page and the Brewsters.

And what Bushman and Nibley are/were trying to sell (about the character of Smith), is simply another fantasy. This caused me to think about how I could convey what a fantasy it is with an example from Joseph Smith’s life. And I think I can. Bushman should be familiar with what I’m going to relate here, as it appears in the 1842 Journal of Joseph Smith called “The Book of the Law of the Lord,” since Bushman was co-general editor for the Joseph Smith Papers. Here is the entry from Thursday, May 19, 1842:

Thursday 19 [May, 1842] Rain. At home during A.M. 1 oclock P.M. City Council. The Mayor John C. Bennett having resigned his office. Joseph was Elected Mayor & Hyrum Smith Vice Mayor of Nauvoo. While the election was going forward in the council Joseph received and wrote the following Rev—& threw it across the room to Hiram Kimball one of the councillors.

“Verily thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph by the voice of my Spirit, Hiram Kimball has been insinuating evil & forming evil opinions against you with others & if he continue in them he & they shall be accursed for I am the Lord thy God & will stand by thee & bless thee, Amen.”

After the election Joseph spoke at some length concerning the evil reports which were abroad in the city concerning himself—& the necessity of counteracting the designs of our enemies establishing a night watch, &c. whereupon the Mayor was authorized to establish a night watch by city ordinance,

Dr. John C. Bennet, ExMayor was then called upon by the Mayor [Joseph Smith] to state if he knew ought against him.—When Dr. Bennet replied “I know what I am about & the heads of the church know what they are about, I expect. I have no difficulty with the heads of the church. I publicly avow that anyone who has said that I have stated that General Joseph Smith has given me authority to hold illicit intercourse with women is a liar in the face of God. Those who have said it are damned liars: they are infernal liars. He neither in public or private gave me any such authority or license, & any person who states it is a scoundrel & a liar. I have heard it said that I should become a second [Sampson] Avard by withdrawing from the church & that I was at variance with the heads & should act an influence against them because I resigned the office of Mayor. (The Book of the Law of the Lord, pgs. 122-123)

And what happened to provoke this? Hiram Kimball was a non-Mormon from Illinois and was a very rich merchant. He had married a Mormon girl, Sarah Granger, in 1840. Granger loved the Church, and her husband, and was influential in converting him about a year after this incident. Here is Granger in 1883:

Early in the year 1842, Joseph Smith taught me the principle of marriage for eternity, and the doctrine of plural marriage. He said that in teaching this he realized that he jeopardized his life; but God had revealed it to him many years before as a privilege with blessings, now God had revealed it again and instructed him to teach it with commandment, as the Church could travel (progress) no further without the introduction of this principle. I asked him to teach it to some one else. He looked at me reprovingly, and said “Will you tell me who to teach it to? God required me to teach it to you, and leave you with the responsibility of believing or disbelieving.” He said, “I will not cease to pray for you, and if you will seek unto God in prayer you will not be led into temptation. (Sarah Kimball, “Auto-Biography,” Woman’s Exponent 12, no. 7 (September 1, 1883): 51.

Joseph Smith wanted Sarah to become one of his Spiritual Wives. Of course, when Hiram Kimball found out, he was upset and began making inquiries that led to some hard truths about what Joseph was doing. Those were the “evil reports” going around about Smith, his Spiritual Wifeism and his affairs with other men’s wives.

Smith pens the threatening “revelation” in front of Kimball and throws it at him. I don’t find that a humble act at all. Yet, Joseph is, according to Nibley the “simple innocent, assaulted by scornful, arrogant, and ultimately unknowing critics.” This is Nibley’s “humble servant of God?” Humility wasn’t Smith’s strong suit.

Walker in 1986 is going on like this was some kind of new idea that had to be addressed, this money-digging obsession of the Smith family. Joseph Smith could have done so a hundred and fifty years earlier, but he didn’t.

Walker then brings up some of the evidence that others knew all about:

Certain pieces of evidence are especially telling there is for example “Uncle” Jesse Smith’s acrid-spirited 1829 letter to Hyrum Smith. The letter suggests that Joseph Sr., possessed a magical rod left the land of Vermont to pursue golden gods and most significantly practiced “necromancy.” Chapter VII of the book of commandments in turn promises Oliver Cowdery a revelatory rod of nature perhaps similar to the Vermont divining rods that once may have attracted his father William. Joseph Knight one of the Church’s first converts told a stylized story of Mormon origins similar in spirit and often similar in detail to Martin Harris’s [Salamander] letter. Finally there are the statements of the Smiths themselves. Lucy Mack Smith’s honest narrative insists that the family never halted their grinding labor simply to “win the faculty of Abrac,” draw “magic circles [or] pursue sooth saying.” Lucy claimed the Smiths “never during our lives suffered one important interest to swallow up every other obligation.” The father did more than hint about the family’s interest in the magical arts at young Joseph’s 1826 money-digging trial. Joseph Sr., insisted that both he and his son were mortified that this wonderful power which God had so miraculously given [Joseph Jr.] should be used only in search of filthy lucre, or its equivalent in earthly treasures.

Except the two Joseph’s did allow the pursuit of buried treasure get in the way of honest work that could have paid off their mortgage. Instead, they lost their house in the fall of 1826. Compare what Walker writes with Morris who wrote that Jesse’s objections had nothing to do with treasure seeking, he was angry because their claims were all religious! And there is no mention of any visit of an angel, or of God to the peep stone prophet in 1826. It’s like those things never happened, because God had yet to “illumine” the heart of the boy. And then, of course there is the usual dismissal of Brodie:

Of course, we will not learn too much about Joseph by merely documenting his money digging or by treating it as an epithet. That was the mistake of several post-World War II scholars. Fawn M. Brodie’s No Man Knows My History, for instance, produced a portrait of many hues, but her “Joseph Smith” was ultimately a caricature. One of Brodie’s troubles was that she did not try to understand the culture from which Joseph and the early Mormon converts came a failing, unhappily, that several of her Mormon detractors shared. As a result she saw the Smiths as a neighborhood peculiarity and transformed their religious fervor and folk customs into chicanery Joseph smith the Palmyra seer 465 and fraud in her interpretation Joseph became a skilled confidence man who stumbled onto religion.

Brodie absolutely understood the culture that Smith was raised in. The apologists just don’t like where that evidence leads, somewhere Brodie wasn’t afraid to go. In review after review it is claimed that Brodie’s work is shortsighted because she believed Smith was a fraud. This, to me, is the great strength of her work. The critics of her work are frustrated because No Man Knows My History is vouchsafed by its skilled and accurate use of primary sources and her stellar prose, not to mention her psycho-analysis of Smith. What Prince calls learning line upon line, Brodie calls invention. Smith fails as a prophet because he wasn’t a prophet, or a linguist/translator of ancient languages, his primary claim to fame. He was a fraud in every instance. And even when he does accomplish something marvelous, like writing the Book of Mormon (no matter what you think of the religious material in it) he mars it with his silly magic tricks and constant lies. What Brodie wrote about Joseph and his practice of Spiritual Wifeism wasn’t even close to how bad it actually was.

We live in the age of Donald Trump and seeing how his followers stick to him like glue  no matter what he does (committing adultery, paying off women, along with his racism and xenophobia, to name a few) should give us a clue about how Smith’s relationship to his “saints” worked in the same kind of way. Like Trump, Smith filled a perceived void in people’s lives and came along at just the right time to make the most of it. This is, after all, America.

And while the Mormon apologists were struggling to rewrite Mormon history, the Tanners, who actually knew it, were warning people about Mark Hofmann. Here is the late Jerald Tanner:

Our organization, Utah Lighthouse Ministry (ULM) has printed a great deal of material questioning both Hofmann’s documents and his honesty. Beginning as early as 1984, we suggested that the Salamander Letter might be “a forgery” and noted that if this were the case, “it needs to be exposed.” By August 1984, we had printed the first part of the booklet, The Money-Digging Letters, in which Hofmann’s major discoveries were questioned and his document dealings condemned. One of the editors of this paper, Sandra Tanner, distributed copies of this material at the Sunstone Theological Symposium. Hofmann attended this symposium and appeared upset to learn that his integrity was being questioned. The day following the publication of this material (August 23, 1984) Mark Hofmann came to our home and had a long talk with Sandra. He seemed very distressed and hurt that we, of all people, would question his discoveries. He had expected that opposition might come from those in the Mormon Church, but he was amazed that ULM had taken a position critical of him. Hofmann seemed to be almost at the point of tears as he pled his case as to why we should trust him.

We, of course, knew that it was risky business to publicly question any forger, but we had no idea he was capable of murder. In retrospect, we were very fortunate that Hofmann arrived at our house armed only with arguments as to why we should trust his documents rather than a pipe bomb surrounded with nails.

Both the Los Angeles Times and the Deseret News printed that we were questioning the Salamander Letter. Hofmann grew concerned about our investigation and told an associate he was planning another visit to our house to try to make us believe him. We wonder now if we would have been so bold as to call for the public to send any information to us that they had concerning Hofmann’s activities if we had known that he was willing to murder to protect his document-forging operation. When we located him at the August 1985 Sunstone Symposium and began to ask probing questions about the Salamander Letter, he wore a sad and fearful expression — as if he were trying to say, “Please believe what I am telling you.”

At first, the Mormon bishop Steven Christensen trusted Mark Hofmann, and he bought the Salamander Letter. When we published excerpts in the March 1984 issue of the Messenger and indicated the possibility of plagiarism, citing Mormonism Unveiled and Joseph Knight’s account of the discovery of the Book of Mormon plates, Hofmann rejected our suggestion. He even tried to testify in federal court that we had violated his manuscript rights by printing excerpts from the Letter. Although we were all in the courtroom waiting for Christensen to step to the witness stand, the judge made it clear that such testimony was irrelevant to the case at hand and Christensen was not allowed the opportunity of testifying against us.

Christensen continued to believe Mark Hofmann and his stories concerning the discovery of important Mormon documents for more than a year. Although he eventually came to the conclusion that Hofmann was a “crook,” it was too late. When Christensen threatened to expose him, Hofmann retaliated by killing him. It’s a strange twist of fate that the man who tried to defend the Salamander Letter and testify against us in court was the one who later tried to blow the whistle on Hofmann and ended up losing his life. It may very well be that the thing that saved our lives was simply that few people believed what we were publishing.

The folklore fairy tale would not be complete without the help of a non-Mormon folklorist, and the apologists had someone in mind, which I’ll discuss in Pt. III’s Introduction. For now, let’s get back to the Manchester ghosts and how the Smith’s would work to the money…

The Last Shall be First…

And why would the angel stories come first in 1828-9, and the stories about the ghost and Captain Kidd come later? This is simple, folks. Very simple. Because when Joseph began searching for a printer for his religious manuscript in 1829, people began asking him, and Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and others close to Joseph questions about it, and they began telling the story that supported the “religious” Golden Bible, the post 1827 story that Joseph had been developing for years.

As this story got out, others who remembered the events from 1823 and earlier began to speak out about them. And of course Martin Harris and Smith Sr. and Lucy Smith had trouble weeding out the original magical elements of the story that they knew. And Joseph, like his father would get intoxicated and so these earlier magical elements would creep into the narrative, even after the story’s focus became strictly religious.

Who was going to report to the papers the backyard digging escapades of the local money-diggers in Palmyra, New York, and who would publish such yarns? The only mention of such things was if something sensational happened like the murder of Oliver Harper. (See the Josiah Stowell “Agreement” in Pt. I, for more info see Walters & Marquardt here).

Asa Wild claimed in 1823 that he had a religious vision (much like Smith’s later claims) and he had it published in the Wayne Sentinel, and even though E. Grandin was skeptical about it, there is no evidence that the local clergy took notice and went out of their way to persecute him for it as they supposedly did with Smith. So why would Smith have been criticized in 1824? Perhaps for claiming that the ghostly ancestor of one of the native tribes had revealed to him the location of a great treasure which would reveal what happened to the “Lost Ten Tribes”?

Part Time Peeker?

And if Joseph was actually a real “seer” as he claimed to be, why, he would have been finding things for people all the time! A Peeker who actually can find lost items every time? That would have generated some interest in the press I’m sure. But like all the rest, Joseph complained about “slippery treasures” and circumstances that stopped him from being able to perform the tasks he was hired to do, like interrupting his spells with an untimely spoken word. Looking in his stone and then weeping in frustration because “the enchantment was too strong” for him to find what he was paid to find. In relation to money-digging Joseph was nothing special, he was a flamboyant con artist who was bilking people of their money just like one of his former compatriots, Luman Walters.

Josiah Stowell was simply another willing victim of a juggler. Because Stowell wanted Smith to look in his stone for treasures was not an excuse for Smith to break the law and do so. Stowell’s son Simpson lived near the Smith’s in Manchester, and I’m sure Joseph and his father arranged to speak with Simpson after hearing about the silver mine. Dan Vogel breaks it down:

That Smith was summoned by the Stowells to Simpson’s house or appeared there by prearrangement implies that his meeting was not entirely cold and that he had a prior acquaintance with Simpson. The younger Stowell may have, at some point, described his family’s comfortable home, barn, and other buildings to someone in Palmyra or Manchester. Maybe a friend accompanied him on a visit to South Bainbridge and then unwittingly passed on information to Smith. A conversation may have been overheard. One could position oneself outside a window and hear Josiah telling his son about various changes made to the farm. If Smith used a form of “hot reading” with Stowell, he would not be the first, nor would he be the last, psychic to do so. This technique was used by spirit mediums in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and continues to be employed today. Regardless of the mechanism, it impressed Stowell and he hired Joseph on the spot. (Joseph Smith: Making of a Prophet, 70)

In fact, Smith Sr. seemed to be an expert in the art of eavesdropping, as Lucy Smith recorded in her history:

Mr Smith went over a hill that <lay> east of <us> to see what he could discover among the neighbors there there at the first house he came to he found the conjuror [Luman Walters, and] Willard chase and the company all together this was the house of one Mr Laurence he made an errand and went in and sat down near the door leaving the door ajar for the men were so near that he could hear their conversation… (Lucy’s Book, 381)

(And it is worth noting that Joseph found nothing in Harmony, as usual). I mean, wouldn’t an honest religious Joseph, (since he had such a great ability to see hidden things), simply have told Stowell that there was no silver anywhere in the area? His peep-stone was an all seeing eye, was it not? So why did Smith continue with the obvious charade? To bilk Stowell out of his money? Was he even making any money if he wasn’t digging? Was that an honest use of the God given talent that young Joseph was supposedly given? Joseph not only searched for “filthy lucre”, he also never found any! If Joseph was some kind of prophet-in-training, then why was it so easy for the “spirits” to defeat his “all-seeing-eye” with their “enchantments”? If the Joseph’s were going out every day for Stowell, that would mean they (since Smith Sr. was an expert with the rod) tried over thirty times to find the lost silver mine and could not. Joseph Knight later wrote that,

joseph then went to mr stowels whare he had lived sometime before but mr stowel could not pay him money for his work very well and he came to me perhaps in November and worked for me until about the time that he was married which I think was in February and I paid him the money and I furnished him with a horse and cutter to go and see his girl down to mr hails and soon after this he was married and mr stowel moved him and his wife to his fathers in Palmyra Ontario County

It seems that Stowell wasn’t made of money, so it probably wasn’t Joseph who persuaded Stowell to quit looking for the mine, Joseph just couldn’t find it and he couldn’t pay them anymore so he went to work for Knight. And there is no indication that the Smith’s returned to Palmyra with any amount of money at all. After all, they could not pay off their mortgage and had to indenture Harrison to Lemuel Durfee as a condition to continue to live in the Manchester house. (More on this below)

I was amazed by this FAIRMORMON presentation from 2002 about Smith’s money-digging. Here is the apologist Russell Anderson with what he claims is evidence of how successful young Jo was at peeking:

But what if you weren’t pretending to discover lost goods. What if you actually had a gift where you “could discern things invisible to the natural eye” Could you then be judged guilty of this statute? …Martin Harris tells us, “I…was picking my teeth with a pin while sitting on the bars. The pin caught in my teeth and dropped from my fingers into shavings and straw… We could not find it. I then took Joseph on surprise, and said to him–I said, ‘Take your stone.’ … He took it and placed it in his hat–the old white hat–and place his face in his hat. I watched him closely to see that he did not look to one side; he reached out his hand beyond me on the right, and moved a little stick and there I saw the pin, which he picked up and gave to me. I know he did not look out of the hat until after he had picked up the pin.

Martin Harris also tells us that Joseph used the seer stone to find the gold plates. “In this stone he could see many things to my certain knowledge. It was by means of this stone he first discovered these plates.”

Henry Harris says, “He [Joseph Smith] said he had a revelation from God that told him they [the Book of Mormon plates] were hid in a certain hill and he looked in his stone and saw them in the place of deposit.”

A Mr. Wanderhoof reports that Joseph used his seer stone to find a stolen mare for his grandfather.

The “trial” also provides evidences of Joseph’s abilities. Purple tells us that, “Josiah Stowell provides several examples and has absolute faith in his ability.” Now Purple didn’t give us those examples, but he records that Josiah Stowell provided them. (Russell Anderson)

A “Mr. Wanderhoof”? Really? Is he kidding? Well, Perhaps not, he seems to have gotten that name from a paper by Ronald Walker found here, which has as a reference, E. W. Wanderhoof, Historical Sketches of Western New York, (Buffalo N.Y.: Matthews-Northrup Works 1907), 138-39. (The name should be “E. W. Vanderhoof”, so one wonders if Anderson ever saw the original source, but finding a stolen horse for a “Mr. WANDERhoof” – hilarious!). I would have proof read this account, (by his grandson) it is filled with many inaccuracies and obvious embellishments. And yeah, I have to go with Vanderhoof who said that Smith claimed it would be in this vague area to the north and of course it was found by Lake Erie, a natural barrier for all animals that would wander from home.

And as a bookend to this, here is what Mormon apologist Brant Gardner wants us to believe about those who claim to have these kinds of supernatural powers:

… it isn’t the effectiveness that is important—it is the nature of the consultation.

Really? The only accounts in which Smith appears to be accurate are those in which it is an obvious parlor trick, or from vague accounts handed down well after the fact. There is not one credible account of Smith ever finding anything like a silver mine, chest of money or coins, or anything of that nature. And the story of the gold plates is so fraught with contradiction that it is useless as evidence of anything, except that Smith had quite an imagination.

Like the dowsers that came before and after him, Smith’s successes fall into the law of averages, and a broken clock is right twice a day. It was worth it to them to often be wrong because if they could be right even once, it would bolster their reputation with the superstitious, and they would get them to come back for more. Even those that doubted Smith were sometimes desperate enough to consult him again.

Still, the apologists try and try to transform Joseph from a lawless juggler to a “village seer” or “cunning man” or some other obscure title that has nothing to do with what Smith was actually doing, first, being manipulated by his father to scry for imaginary treasure and then conning people of his own volition. Luman Walters was a true “village seer” in the sense that he lived in the same place for a long time and practiced a form of medicine and had clients and would consult or “divine” for them. (More on this in Pt. III)

So why would Joseph change his story that he found the plates using the peep-stone to being shown their location by the angel? These are all parlour tricks not worth bragging about. Smith knew this and knew what the eventual impact of such a story would be.

And at the 1826 Examination, Stowell did provide an example of finding a feather that was supposed to be buried with some lost money that Joseph scryed the location of, but he only found the feather, not the money. (Imagine that! I can picture the young Peeker with his mark, “You almost got the money Josiah! Next time you will, I’m sure of it!”)

And the Stowell boys who were not as credulous as their father, tested Joseph by asking him to find a lost bag of grain, and when Joseph could not find it (as usual) he tried to pay off one of the brothers (not knowing they were working together) to tell him where it was hidden so he could tell the other he found it with his peep-stone. (More on this later)

The Willard Chase peep-stone

This is all that FAIRMORMON can come up with and it’s pretty pathetic. Martin Harris also told a story that he replaced Smith’s stone with a fake and that he was so clever that Smith didn’t know the difference and even tried to “translate” with it. Joseph’s unique stone (with those exact markings and length and width and shape), was replaced by Harris with one he found by a lake? Like the Chase stone was that common? And Joseph would never know? Joseph surely turned that to his advantage when he supposedly tried to “translate” with the bogus stone and cried out “Martin, that did you do? All is dark as Egypt”. Oh that’s right, Smith the “prophet” knew it was Martin that did something, but didn’t know he had switched out the peep-stone. Magic! (Deseret News, 30 November 1881).

The Last Shall be First (Continued)

As Joseph’s neighbors learned that the Smith’s were now claiming that an angel appeared to young Joseph and that he was “translating” gold plates, they naturally inquired of the family what was going on. All they knew about was Joseph and his father’s treasure digging; and that some of the family were Presbyterians. Lucy Smith writes that in 1824 after Joseph prayed to know which church was right and told the story about the “treasure” in the hill, he cautioned them not to speak of it:

…by sunset [we] were ready to be seated and give our att undivided attention to Josephs recitals and this pre before he began to explain to us the instructions which he had received he told charged us to not to mention what he told us out of the family as the world was so wicked that if they when they did come to a knoweledge of these things they would try to take our lives and we must be careful not to proclaim these things… that when we get the plates they will want to kill us for the sake of the gold…(pg. 343)

By 1829 the public were getting the mixed responses of Smith Sr. and others, who were incorporating the new religious narrative into the earlier treasure digging stories. Neighbor Lorenzo Saunders answered some questions about the Smiths, and his recollection mixes the two narratives:

I saw them dig in a [Miner’s] hill, said to be for that purpose; that young Joe could look in his peep stone and see a man sitting in a gold chair. Old Joe said he was king i.e. the man in the chair; a king of one of the tribes who was shut in there in the time of one of their big battles. This digging was a mile from Smiths. Don’t know as there was ever anything in the cave. The cave was on our place. This was in 1826. The cave had a door to it. We tore it off and sunk it in a pit of water where they got dirt to cover a cole pit. …[Joseph Smith, Jr.,] made the statement and gave the account in my father’s house. He said he was in the woods at prayer and the angel touched him on the shoulders and he arose, and the angel told him where the plates were and he could take his oldest Brother with him in a year from that time and go and get them. But his oldest Brother died before the year was out. At the end of the time he went to the place to get the plates the angel asked where his Brother was. I told him he was dead. The angel told him there would be an other appointed. Joseph chose Samuel Lawrence. But he did not go. (William H. Kelley Interview, 17 September 1884)

At the time of them digging the cave on Miner’s hill they had procured the services of Luman Walters. And where did they get the idea that there was a king of one of the tribes buried under a hill by their home? From their son, of course. (Joseph would later tell the story of another king like person “Onandagus”, when he spoke of Zelph, years later)

Joseph didn’t give out the location of the buried plates, and he and his son were both engaged in trying to find any treasure that might have been buried with them. Smith even writes in his history that he was tempted to find more when he supposedly dug up the stone box.

Joseph Sr. must have been ecstatic that God had finally illumined the heart of his son Joseph Jr., and that he had actually found a golden treasure (as Smith Jr. claimed). The Sr. Smith was vindicated, there actually was treasure to be found in the place where they lived! He just had to write to his brother Jesse and tell him about how rich he was going to be!

And why would Joseph tell his family not to mention that there were gold plates buried under the Manchester Hill, and then afterwards tell a group of money-diggers all about it? And go out searching for treasure with his father over and over again? Joseph was, after all a part of their “company”.

It is likely that those like Joseph Knight, Sr. and others got information from both Joseph Jr. & Sr., as those stories incorporate elements of both. Both of the Joseph’s would drink… and talk about religion and how the hills surrounding Palmyra were filled with treasure. Oliver Cowdery, who spent many years as Joseph’s bosom companion, told others about a cavern under the hill in Manchester that opened up and was filled with treasure. In 1877, Edward Stevenson wrote:

It was likewise stated to me by David Whitmer in the year 1877 that Oliver Cowdery told him that the Prophet Joseph and himself had seen his room and that it was filled with treasure, and on a table therein were the breastplate and the sword of Laban, as well as the portion of gold plates not yet translated, and that these plates were bound by three small gold rings, and would also be translated, as was the first portion in the days of Joseph. When they are translated much useful information will be brought to light. But till that day arrives, no Rochester adventurers shall ever see them or the treasures, although science and mineral rods testify that they are there. (Edward Stevenson, Reminiscences of Joseph, the Prophet, and the Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon)

The Guardian of the Treasure Cave (1829)

This is simply an elaboration of the Miner’s Hill story told by Smith, Sr. Brigham Young related a variation of this same story, here. This brings to mind what Abigail Harris was told by Lucy Smith and other accounts (about many treasures under the Manchester hill) which will be explored below. Long after the younger Joseph changed the story, the older Joseph would still speak about digging for treasure and his exploits in the Manchester hills. This went on almost to the end of his life; as we have seen above he would later tell some of the “Saints” in Kirtland that he had been digging for over thirty years, and knew what he was doing. Perhaps he thought with the help of some temple consecrated items, he would do better than any Rochester adventurer, and could unearth what so many others had failed to. And we know how that turned out, don’t we?

It is also important to note that what Brewster wrote was never responded to by Joseph Smith or anyone else (that his father was involved in money-digging in Kirtland). Not one peep.

Post Master Rumors?

In March 1831, David Staats Burnet the editor of the Evangelical Enquirer of Dayton, Ohio (and Baptist Pastor) wrote an article on the new Mormonite Sect which had recently made its appearance in his state. Having learned that the founder of the new sect was from Palmyra, Burnet wrote to the “intelligent Post Master at Palmyra,” and received a letter from him.

According to Richard Troll, Samuel T. Lawrence was an “agent” who collected fees on subscriptions, and these agents were mostly postmasters. Troll writes, “Post master “M.[artin] W. Wilcox” [August 1829 – April 1839] was one agent for Palmyra, the other was “S. T. Lawrence.” It is therefore likely that Burnet received his information about the Smith’s in 1831 from Wilcox or Lawrence or both. Burnet initially hears a religious tale, but upon inquiry learns further details from the Palmyra Post Master:

For a long time in the vicinity of Palmyra, there has existed an impression, especially among certain loose classes of society, that treasures of great amount were concealed near the surface of the earth, probably by the Indians, whom they were taught to consider the descendants of the ten lost Israelitish tribes, by the celebrated Jew who a few years since promised to gather Abraham’s sons on Grand Island, thus to be made a Paradise. The ignorance and superstition of these fanatics soon conjured up a ghost, who they said was often seen and to whom was committed the care of the precious deposit. This tradition made money diggers of many who had neither intelligence nor industry sufficient to obtain a more reputable livelihood. But they did not succeed and as the money was not dug up, something must be dug up to make money. The plan was laid, doubtless, by some person behind the curtain, who selected suitable tools. One Joseph Smith, a perfect ignoramus, is to be a great prophet of the Lord, the fabled ghost the angel of his presence, a few of the accomplices the apostles or witnesses of the imposition, and, to fill up the measure of their wickedness and the absurdity of their proceedings, the hidden golden treasure, is to be a gold bible and a new revelation. This golden bible consisted of metallic plates six or seven inches square, of the thickness of tin and resembling gold, the surface of which was covered with hieroglyphic characters, unintelligible to Smith, the finder, who could not read English. However, the angel (ghost!) that discovered the plates to him, likewise informed him that he would be inspired to translate the inscriptions without looking at the plates, while an amanuensis would record his infallible reading; all which was accordingly done. But now the book must be published, the translation of the inscriptions which Smith was authorized to show to no man save a few accomplices, who subscribe a certificate of these pretended facts at the end of the volume. Truly a wise arrangement! Among the gang none had real estate save one, who mortgaged his property to secure the printer and binder in Palmyra, but who was so unfortunate as not to be able to convert his wife to the new faith, though he flogged her roundly for that purpose several times. The book, an octavo of from 500 to 1000 pages (for when I saw it I did not notice the number) did not meet ready sale and consequently about 500 copies were sent to the eastern part of this state, which was considered a better market. Though at home it had little success, the subjoined pieces will show that in the Western Reserve it found better. 

The Palmyra Reflector

The Post Master who wrote to Burnet was well aware that it was a treasure digging ghost who was later transformed into an angel. The pushback by the Mormon apologists is almost comical. For example, Mark Ashurst-McGee makes much ado about how Palmyra resident Abner Cole was only printing vague rumors in his paper (The Reflector) about the Smiths:

Did Joseph Smith’s successive narratives eventually transform a treasure guardian into an angel, or did his antagonists’ successive narratives eventually transform an angel into a treasure guardian? …According to the 1834–35 history, which Oliver Cowdery composed with Joseph Smith’s assistance, Moroni had given Joseph a warning: “When it is known that the Lord has shown you these things…they will circulate falsehoods to destroy your reputation.” … Some of these tales found their way to Abner Cole, the editor of the local tabloid. Cole explained his historical methodology on more than one occasion. Cole concluded the article with the offer, “Postmasters and others, who can furnish us with interesting notices on any of the above subjects, shall receive a copy of our paper gratis.” Later, Cole specified the origins of his description of Moroni as a treasure guardian: “This tale in substance, was told at the time the event was said to have happened by both father and son, and is well recollected by many of our citizens.” Tales told by local residents amount to no more than neighborhood gossip. … Philastus Hurlbut collected Willard Chase’s description of Moroni as a treasure guardian in 1833. However, at the same time, Hurlbut collected Abigail Harris’s statement describing Moroni as “the spirit of one of the Saints that was upon this continent” as well as Henry Harris’s statement identifying Moroni as an “angel.” Although the Chase account predates the official history of the Church, it does not predate Joseph Smith’s 1832 history, which describes Moroni as “an angel of the Lord.”  (pg. 51)

Cole’s newspaper was more than a tabloid, but his cryptic admission here about postmasters is most enlightening, if one knows that his brother-in-law Samuel T. Lawrence was an agent for the post office and was involved in going house to house to collect fees. This is the same Lawrence who was so intimate with Joseph Smith (who Smith chose to properly introduce him to Emma) and knew the real story about the “record” (having been considered to accompany Smith to retrieve it from the hill). Lawrence would have known who was involved in the Smith family treasure hunts, and would then relate the stories to Cole, who published them. I’ll have more on Abner Cole and Samuel T. Lawrence below but first, let’s talk about angels, spirits and ghosts.

Angels and Spirits of the Dead

Did Joseph Smith and others from his family consider dead people (ghosts or spirits) as angels in 1823? Unlikely for many reasons.

In 1823 Joseph was partial to the Methodist faith, and was a part time Exhorter. What did the Methodist’s (and the other churches of the day) teach about angels? Angels were considered to be God’s special messengers, winged creatures created by God, and though they were spiritual beings, they were not considered to be deceased, resurrected or “preexistant” humans.

In the Book of Mormon angels are mentioned 145 times, but not one of them is given a name and none of them are identified as dead or resurrected humans. In the Bible this too is the case for most of the appearances of angels, with only a few very important angels being named.

Angels were looked upon as a creation of God different from human beings:

“The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls ‘angels’ is a truth of faith.  The witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition” (#328).  Given that we do believe in angels, we define them as pure spirits and personal beings with intelligence and free will.  They are immortal beings.  As the Bible attests, they appear to humans as apparitions with a human form.

Angels then, would never identify themselves as a former inhabitant of this earth, even though they would appear in human form. In Psalms we read:

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. (Psalms 8:3-5)

This was quoted again in the Book of Hebrews. After quoting the Psalms the author then writes,

…we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2)

There were all kinds of angels in the Bible, angels with wings, angels that looked like men, destroying angels, flying angels, messenger angels, helpful angels, they were everywhere. But there is nothing which claimed that angels were men. John even mistook an angel for God:

 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!” (Revelation 22:8-9)

When Joseph Smith initially went through the New Testament and changed many verses, he passed by this one and left it as it reads in the King James Version. The Manuscript (New Testament Revision 2) has no change for this verse in the Book of Revelation. But he did change it (probably by 1835 or later) to read,

And I, John, saw these things and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which showed me these things. Then saith he unto me, See that thou do it not; for I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book. Worship God.

The angel does not claim that he is one of the former prophets of the Bible, as some have attested. The angel claimed that he was a “fellow servant” of God, along with those “brethren the prophets”. Other translations besides the KJV make this clear:

But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!” (NIV)

Matthew Gill writes that the angels were only brethren in a spiritual sense:

“…if this was one of the ministering spirits, he was a servant of the same Lord as John; and if he was a minister of the Gospel, he was still more literally a fellow servant of his, and of the apostles, and preachers of the Gospel; which is meant by the testimony of Jesus, that bearing testimony to the person, office, grace, obedience, sufferings, and death of Christ, and the glory following; and therefore being but a servant, and a servant in common with John and his brethren, was by no means to be worshipped; not the servant, but master; not the creature, but the Creator” (Commentary on Revelation 19:10)

Translated Men

It might be a good time to speak about Translated Men and how they fit into the early theology of Mormonism.

In the Book of Mormon there were three Nephites who were “translated”, as John the Disciple of Jesus would be. In the account given in 3rd Nephi it reads,

And behold, they were encircled about as if it were fire; and it came down from heaven, and the multitude did witness it, and do bear record; and angels did come down out of heaven, and did minister unto them. And it came to pass that while the angels were ministering unto the disciples, behold, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and ministered unto them. (pg. 493)

What is meant by “ministering”? In what way were they attended to? Were they all dancing in the fire? Why wasn’t the “multitude” encircled too? Anyway, three of these “disciples” choose to stay on earth. Jesus tells them:

...ye have desired the thing which John, my beloved, which was with me in my ministry, before that I was lifted up by the Jews, desired of me; therefore more blessed are ye, for ye shall never taste of death, but ye shall live to behold all the doings of the Father, unto the children of men, even until all things shall be fulfilled, according to the will of the Father, when I shall come in my glory, with the power of heaven; and ye shall never endure the pains of death; but when I shall come in my glory, ye shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye, from mortality to immortality… (1830 Book of Mormon, p. 509)

There was also another character from the Book of Mormon (Ether) who may have been “translated”,

Now the last words which are written by Ether, are these: Whether the Lord will that I be translated, or that I suffer the will of the Lord in the flesh: It mattereth not, if it so be that I am saved in the kingdom of God. Amen (p. 573).

These “translated beings” are not angels, but they are like angels, because, according to the Book of Mormon:

And behold, the heavens were opened, and they were caught up into heaven, and saw and heard unspeakable things. And it was forbidden them that they should utter…and whether they were in the body or out of the body, they could not tell: for it did seem unto them like a transfiguration of them, that they were changed from this body of flesh, into an immortal state, that they could behold the things of God. But it came to pass that they did again minister upon the face of the earth… And now whether they were mortal or immortal, from the day of their transfiguration, I know not; but… they did go forth upon the face of the land, and did minister unto all the people, uniting as many to the church as would believe in their preaching; baptizing them… and they were cast into prison… And the prisons could not hold them, for they were rent in twain, and they were cast down into the earth. But they did smite the earth with the word of God, insomuch that by his power they were delivered out of the depths of the earth; and therefore they could not dig pits sufficiently to hold them. And thrice they were cast into a furnace, and received no harm. And twice were they cast into a den of wild beasts; and behold they did play with the beasts, as a child with a suckling lamb, and received no harm. And it came to pass that thus they did go forth among all the people of Nephi, and did preach the gospel of Christ unto all people upon the face of the land… And now I, Mormon, make an end of speaking concerning these things, for a time. …But behold I have seen them, and they have ministered unto me; and behold they will be among the Gentiles, and the Gentiles knoweth them not. They will also be among the Jews, and the Jews shall know them not… they shall minister unto all the scattered tribes of Israel, and unto all nations, kindred, tongues and people, and shall bring out of them unto Jesus many souls, that their desire may be fulfilled, and also because of the convincing power of God which is in them; and they are as the angels of God and if they shall pray unto the Father in the name of Jesus they can shew themselves unto whatsoever man it seemeth them good; therefore great and marvellous works shall be wrought by them, before the great and coming day… (p. 509-511)

Here we see that translated beings (in 1829) were not angels, but like them, in that they could do things angels could do. There is no evidence that Moroni or Nephi were translated beings, but later (1835) Smith declared “Moroni” to be a resurrected man.

It appears that due to all these “translated” men, Oliver Cowdery had some question about John from the Bible, and Joseph settled it by looking in his seeing-stone. (He was “translated” and still alive like the “three Nephites”).

“The Spirit of the Lord & Satan”

In the Book of Mormon Smith also had many angels that he mentioned (none with names), and what he called “the Spirit of the Lord’ which could sometimes appear as a man. In the Book of Nephi it is written that:

I [Nephi] was caught away in the spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceeding high mountain … I said unto the spirit, I behold thou hast shewn unto me the tree which is precious above all. And he saith unto me, What desirest thou? And I said unto him, to know the interpretation thereof; for I spake unto him as a man speaketh; for I beheld that he was in the form of a man; yet, nevertheless, I knew that it was the spirit of the Lord; and he spake unto me as a man speaketh with another. (p. 23)

This “spirit of the Lord” was not an angel or a man, it was described as “the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, (p. 165) or “the spirit of the Lord, which is in me” (p. 151) “in our fathers”, (p. 35) and “the spirit of the Lord which was in him” (p. 65)

There is also “the spirit of the devil” which has “power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom.” (p. 64), makes people angry (p. 121), and it can “enter into them, and take possession of their house” (p. 333).

The “Devil and his angels” are evil spirits that shall “go away into everlasting fire”. (p. 79) They are never described as men or the spirit children of God.

“The Order”

When Smith was “translating” (a different kind) the Bible, he claims that Adam

“…heard a voice out of heaven, saying, thou art baptized with fire & with the Holy Ghost; this is the Record of the Father & the Son, from hence forth & forever; & thou art after the order of him who was without begining of days or end of years, from all eternity to all eternity. Behold, thou art one in me, a Son of God; & thus may <​all​> become my Sons: Amen.” (Genesis 6)

This “order” Smith associates with Enoch and Melchizedek in his “translation” of Genesis 14:

Now Melchizedeck was a man of faith, who wrought righteousness; & when a child he feared God, And stop[p]ed the Mouths of lyons, & quenched the violence of fire. And thus, having been approved of God, he was ordained a high Priest, after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch; it being after the order of the son of God; which order came, not by man, nor the will of man, Neither by Father nor mother; Neither by begining of days, or <​nor​> end of years; but of <​God.> And it was delivered unto men by the calling of his own voice, according to his own will; unto as many as believed on his name; for God having sworn unto Enoch, And unto his seed, with an oath, by himself; that every one being ordained after <​this​> order & calling, should have power, by faith, to break Mountains, to divide the Seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course, to put at defiance the armies of Nations, to divide the Earth, to break evry band, to stand in the presence of God; to do all things according to his will, according to his command; subdue principalities & powers, & this by the will of the Son of God, which <​was from before the foundation of the world.> And men having this faith, coming up unto this order of God, were translated; And taken up into Heaven.

After this, we then we run into the account in Genesis about Lot and his family. In the Bible it is two angels who appear to Lot, and they act and talk like men. So Smith changes the account to read:

And the Angels, which were holy men, & were sent forth after the order of God, turned their faces from thence & went toward Sodom. (Old Testament Revision 2, pg. 45)

Smith makes the angels into “holy men” (since they were seen as men in the KJV account), but according to Smith they were actually not angels, but translated “holy men” of the “order or God”. It would be anachronistic to claim that angels are “holy men” and use this as evidence, as they do at lds.org.

“Awman’s Anglo-men”

Another document which lends credence that angels were not men in early Mormonism was the “Pure Language Revelation” from March, 1832, which Orson Pratt copied and later spoke about:

Orson Pratt, notebook (circa 1834–36), penultimate leaf (verso), circa 1832–34, MS 4812, Church History Library. (I’m grateful to Brent Metcalfe for help with this, even though he feels this evidence is ambiguous)

The relevant passages read:

What are the Angels called?
Ans. Awman’s Anglo-men.
What are the meaning of these words?
Ans. Awman’s ministering servants sanctified who are sent from heaven to minister for or to Sons-Awmen the greatest parts of Awman save Sons-Awman, Son-Awman, Awman.

In 1855 Pratt explained the above “revelation”:

There is one revelation that this people are not generally acquainted with. I think it has never been published, but probably it will be in the Church History. It is given in questions and answers. The first question is, “What is the name of God in the pure language?” The answer says, “Ahman.” “What is the name of the Son of God?” Answer, “Son Ahman—the greatest of the parts of God excepting Ahman.” “What is the name of men?” “Sons Ahman,” is the answer. What is the name of angels in the pure language?” “Anglo-man.”

This revelation goes on to say that Sons Ahman are the greatest of all the parts of God excepting Son Ahman and Ahman, and that Anglo-man are the greatest of all the parts of God excepting Sons Ahman, Son Ahman, and Ahman, showing that the angels are a little lower than man. What is the conclusion to be drawn from this? It is, that these intelligent beings are all parts of God, and that those who have the most of the parts of God are the greatest, or next to God, and those who have the next greatest portions of the parts of God, are the next greatest, or nearest to the fulness of God; and so we might go on to trace the scale of intelligences from the highest to the lowest, tracing the parts and portions of God so far as we are made acquainted with them. Hence we see that wherever a great amount of this in(telligent Spirit exists, there is a great amount or proportion of God, which may grow and increase until there is a fulness of the Spirit, and then there is a fulness of God. Orson Pratt, who was there and made his own copy of the “revelation”. (Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 2:342-3).

We see that Pratt claims (per the “revelation”) that the angels are a little lower than man. Brent Metcalfe, who directed me to this version of the “revelation”, found it ambiguous evidence, but I think that taking it with the rest of what I present here, shows that at that time they were not conceived of angels as being men. Pratt mentions “intelligences” but those teachings came later and would not apply to an 1832 theological setting.

One has to wonder why Smith would not just have had one of the three Nephites deliver the plates, since those kind of “holy men” performed such tasks as they did with Lot’s family in Sodom. Perhaps because they were invented during the actual “translation”?

Thus when the Book of Mormon was first introduced to the public, it was a generic angel who appeared to Smith, “the spirit of the almighty”. Even in his 1832 History, Smith does not name the angel:

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 [the angel] called me by name

and he [the angel] said the Lord had forgiven me my sins

and he [the angel] 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 th[e] commandments of God and kept by the power thereof and that I should go and get them

and he [the angel] revealed unto me many things concerning the inhabitents of of the earth which since have been revealed in commandments & revelations and it was on the 22d day of Sept. AD 1822

and thus he [the angel] 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 dreem of Vision but when I considred 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 accquainted of with the power of the advisary therefore repent and call on the Lord thou shalt be forgiven and in his own due time thou shalt obtain them (pg. 4, paragraph breaks mine)

Smith speaks of “Maroni”, but only as one of many engravers of the plates. The angel is not identified as none of the angels in the Book of Mormon were. There is no teaching from Smith or anyone else at this time that angels were resurrected humans or pre-mortal spirit children of God. Those teachings came later,  most likely borrowed from those of Emanuel Swedenborg and others. (See, A Treatise Concerning Heaven and Hell, and of the Wonderful Things Therein, as Heard and Seen by the Honourable and Learned Emanuel Swedenborg (Baltimore: Miltenberger, 1812, 87-90), also, Benjamin E. Park, “A Uniformity So Complete”: Early Mormon Angelology, (Intermountain West Journal of Religious Studies, Vol. 2, No. 1, 2010, 1-37).

So when those like Abigail Harris speak about “the spirit of one of the Saints that was upon this continent”, she was describing a ghost, not an angel. Ashurst-McGee claims that she is describing an angel, but Harris goes on to describe the clothes the ghost was wearing: “Old Mrs. Smith observed that she thought he must be a Quaker, as he was dressed very plain.” They were describing what they thought was the ghost of a Quaker, not “the spirit of the Almighty” or an angel. Harris then reveals that Lucy told her that,

In the early part of the winter in 1828, I made a visit to Martin Harris and was joined in company by Jos. Smith, sen. and his wife. The Gold Bible business, so called, was the topic of conversation, to which I paid particular attention that I might learn the truth of the whole matter.–They told me that the report that Joseph, jun. had found golden plates, was true, and that he was in Harmony, Pa. translating them–that such plates were in existence, and that Joseph, jun. was to obtain them, was revealed to him by the spirit of one or the Saints that was on this continent, previous to its being discovered by Columbus. Old Mrs. Smith observed that she thought he must be a Quaker, as he was dressed very plain. They said that the plates he then had in possession were but an introduction to the Gold Bible–that all of them upon which the bible was written, were so heavy that it would take four stout men to load them into a cart–that Joseph had also discovered by looking through his stone, the vessel in which the gold was melted from which the plates were made, and also the machine with which they were rolled; he also discovered in the bottom of the vessel three balls of gold, each as large as his fist. The old lady said also, that after the book was translated, the plates were to be publicly exhibited–admittance 0-5 cents. She calculated it would bring in annually an enormous sum of money–that money would then be very plenty, and the book would also sell for a great price, as it was something entirely new–that they had been commanded to obtain all the money they could borrow for present necessity, and to repay with gold. The remainder was to be kept in store for the benefit of their family and children. This and the like conversation detained me until about 11 o’clock. Early the next morning, the mystery of the Spirit being like myself (one of the order called Friends) was revealed by the following circumstance: The old lady took me into another room, and after closing the door, she said, “have you four or five dollars in money that you can lend until our business is brought to a close? the spirit has said you shall receive four fold.” I told her that when I gave, I did it not expecting to receive again–as for money I had none to lend. I then asked her what her particular want of money was; to which she replied “Joseph wants to take the stage and come home from Pennsylvania to see what we are all about.” To which I replied, he might look in his stone and save his time and money. The old lady seemed confused, and left the room, and thus ended the visit. (November 28, 1833, Mormonism Unvailed, 253)

Yet Ashurst-McGee claims that Abigail Harris is calling this an angel!  Lucy Smith would ultimately carry out her money making plans by exhibiting not the “gold plates” but the “curiosities”, the mummies and papyri purchased in Kirtland a few years later…

And of course, the Book of Mormon tells us that some claimed that “… the Devil hath deceived me; for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel.” (p. 308)

“NONE doeth good…”

All this apologist blather about folk magic and how it was tied to Christianity is just a smoke screen. Why?

Because of what Joseph himself claimed when he wrote up his histories. In the first claimed vision, (written up in 1838) he stated that God told him that all the churches were wrong, all religion was wrong, and that he was not to “go after” any of it. Smith wrote in 1832:

…<​behold​> 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 <​my​> 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 thir ungodliness and to bring to pass that which <​hath​> been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and Ap[o]stles behold and lo I come quickly as it [is?] written of me in the cloud <​clothed​> in the glory of my Father (History, 1832)

There were none that did good. That includes the “folk” or “cunning men” or “cunning women”, or “village seers” that the Mormon Apologists are fixated on. In 1842 Joseph added this:

[God] 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 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. (Wentworth Letter)

So if we embrace the apologist argument about folk magic, (a Christian subgroup) whether it was the Methodists or Methodist “folk”, the Presbyterians or Presbyterian “folk”, the Universalists or Universalist “folk”, (those who may have believed in magic folklore, peepstones, necromancy or diving rods) – any and all of them were wrong and Joseph was commanded to go not after them. (Ya can’t have it both ways apologists even though you desperately want to!)

This was in 1820; then Joseph claims he strayed and repents and is put back on track by an angel in 1823. In 1845 Apostle John Taylor wrote this interesting bit for the Times and Seasons,

For once let us say, that Cain, who went to Nod and taught the doctrine of a “plurality of wives” and the giants who practiced the same iniquity; and Nimrod, who practiced the common stock system, and the Jews, who commenced crossing sea and land to make proselytes without revelation; and the christian sects, who have went all lengths in building up churches and multiplying systems without authority from God,-are all co-workers on the same plan:-when the reward for every man’s work is given-this will be the everlasting answer to all sects, sorts, and conditions, from Cain down to Christian Israelites, I NEVER KNEW YOU! (Times & Seasons, “Who are the Christian Israelites?,” May 1, 1845, 888).

The above could just as well be titled, “Who are the Cunning Men”? Or “Who are the Village Seers”? Or “Who are the Practitioners of Folk Magic”?

“What Manner His Kingdom was to be Conducted”

Yet, that’s not what happened. Joseph did “go after them”. In a big way. This is why the apologists are so flustered. Joseph borrows a peep-stone from Willard Chase in 1822 and returns it, (after previously going on a hunt for his own white stone) but goes back to the money-digging in 1825 for Josiah Stowell and others, using the “borrowed” (stolen now) peep stone to search for buried treasure and “lost items”, after he was told twice to stop: once by God himself and once by an angel. And then he refuses to return the stone. So he “translates” the entire Book of Mormon with a stolen peep-stone! (Chase had asked him to return it but he refused). What kind of prophet-in-training does that? How does that work, exactly? Why don’t we have any explanations about this from the apologists?

And what about his report to the angel in 1824, 25 & 26, since Joseph claimed that he met with the angel three more times on each successive September 22nd? What did he tell the angel? Joseph writes about those four years after the 1823 visit:

I found the same messenger there and received instruction and intelligence from him at each of our interviews respecting what the Lord was going to do, and how and in what manner his kingdom was to be conducted in the last days. . . . (Joseph Smith, History-1)

Joseph is meeting with the angel and talking about “what manner his kingdom was to be conducted” while at the same time dabbling with a peep stone to search for lost objects and find buried treasure and scry ghosts/treasure guardians? Why is there no mention by Joseph of his return to treasure hunting and his arrest for glass-looking!

Moses vs. Joseph?

In the Bible (since the apologists love to make Old Testament comparisons) there is the account of Moses being raised by Egyptians and being called the Pharaoh’s son. This is not hidden or downplayed. It even has an account of Moses murdering an Egyptian! Moses then contrasts his use of “magic” with that of the Pharaoh’s wizards by having his brother Aaron’s staff gobble up theirs. Moses also had the power to make his hand leprous, and call down all kinds of plagues on Egypt. All this is written in the Bible.

Yet, where is any of Joseph’s “restored” power that seriously compares to Moses? Before or after he started up his church. When Joseph had his chance during “Zion’s Camp”, he failed miserably. How would Joshua have fared with the Missourians? (Just sayin’)

And instead of being able to heal the cholera that was running rampant through the camp, Joseph himself contracted it! Joseph only has a couple of little peep-stones? He saw God and an angel and wasn’t given all the awesome tools that Moses got? Why not? He was doing the things that Moses did, right? Or are they only cherry picking the rod of Aaron? (Where is Cowdery’s budding rod of Aaron?)

Think of it, if someone tried to take away the plates from Joseph, he could just strike them down with leprosy! (That would teach them!) And Moses had thousands of grumbling Israelites, and he still parted the Red Sea, and fed them all with manna. Did their unbelief affect what Moses could do?Joseph had a few hundred Mormons who grumbled and he blamed his failure on them. It was their unbelief that ruined the “redemption of Zion”! Why didn’t God “restore” the power of Moses to Joseph? As Ashurst-McGee wrote,

Unlike Alexander Campbell and the other restorationists of his day, Joseph moved beyond the reestablishment of New Testament Christianity to “the restoration of all things”-including Old Testament elements of patriarchy, polygyny, the declaration of Israelite lineage, a divinely sanctioned kingdom, a temple with ancient ritual, and a prophet. (p. 340)

A prophet with no teeth, it seems. A big talking prophet to be sure, who Wilford Woodruff found practicing with a gun when he first met him and quipped that he wanted to be sure he could hit something when he went to Missouri. But that too, never happened. Why would a prophet would should be able to call down lightening from heaven like Elijah, even need a gun? It seemed to be all just “run away, run away!” with Smith.Again, where was that prophetic power of Enoch, Elijah, or Moses or even Nephi & Lehi for that matter? In for a penny, in for a pound? Not in this case. So why would Joseph then, feel the need to hide his own dabbling in the occult? He should have been bragging about it! Apologists are not shy about citing these fantastical Biblical stories about the use of  “occult” objects or idols (and how they were “restored”), but the Church either denies them, considers them archaic curiosities (like seeing stones), or is silent about them except as “Bible stories” from the distant past. (But they will brag about the second hand stories of Joseph’s day of healing in Commerce, or his being able to understand the Lamanite/Indians when a real translator was supposedly messing with him, or his 1842 prophecy of the Rocky Mountains that was cobbled together after his death.

What is the purpose of restoring something, if it is almost immediately cast aside? Just to claim that hey, I restored that? It is beyond silly. It seems that all of the things mentioned by Ashurst-McGee have pretty much gone by the wayside… polygamy, Israelite lineage (the lost ten tribes are meaningless now), a divinely sanctioned kingdom where the faithful would “gather”, temple rituals gutted and changed, and yes a token prophet who doesn’t prophesy or have any real power except that he’s rich and can buy a lot of stuff.

Larry Morris also brings up these Biblical stories and then tries to persuade us that because Joseph claimed to have gotten the plates on September 22, 1827 and that was the Jewish holiday of Rosh Shahanah, that this has some kind of significance. He writes,

Joseph obtained the plates on Rosh ha-Shanah, the Jewish New Year (which had begun at sundown on 21 September 1827). At Rosh ha-Shanah the faithful were commanded to set a day aside as “a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation” (Leviticus 23:24).

One would be hard pressed to not find some kind of holiday or celebration on any of the Equinox days. And if it was so important for the angel to appear on the Jewish New Year, why did he not do so for the first appearance, and every year — because he did not appear on the Jewish New Year in 1823 (September 6), 1824 (September 23), 1825 (September 13) or 1826 (October 2nd). September 22 is a lot closer to the fall equinox than the other dates are to the Jewish New Year. Still Morris claims,

“…the details of the plates’ disappearance and the shock, which Joseph acknowledges by describing three unsuccessful attempts to get the plates and the intense fright that followed, appear to have been part of a money-digging tale…”

Of course they were and Morris and Ashurst McGee can’t explain them. And,

As for “treasure-seeking” details, Joseph has surely de-emphasized these…

Of course he did. As he did the original treasure guardian who was a ghost, not an angel. And,

In producing the history of the church, Joseph was addressing a generation (and future generations) not well equipped to understand what a divining rod or a seer stone meant to people like the Smiths.

This is simply ad hoc presentism. How would they know this unless there were already problems mixing magic and religion? And aren’t they the ones claiming that religion and magic were so intertwined? If so, why would Smith have any difficulty explaining it? He could simply have used Moses as an example as Morris does! But Smith didn’t even try, not once, he simply denied it all and gave the story that he was a paid laborer. Morris and others try to tell us that we can understand it all, if we have all of this information about “religious treasure digging”. Then why was it so hard for the church to explain it for so many years? And when they try, they come up with this:

Some people have balked at this claim of physical instruments used in the divine translation process, but such aids to facilitate the communication of God’s power and inspiration are consistent with accounts in scripture. In addition to the Urim and Thummim, the Bible mentions other physical instruments used to access God’s power: the rod of Aaron, a brass serpent, holy anointing oils, the Ark of the Covenant, and even dirt from the ground mixed with saliva to heal the eyes of a blind man.

I’ve discussed most of the Old Testament examples, but what about the one from the New Testament, the spit and dirt that Jesus made and used when he healed a blind man. Actually the New Testament gives us the answer:

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind.  Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see. Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath. (John 9:13-16)

It was against the Law of Moses to make “clay” on the Sabbath and that is what the Pharisees accused Jesus of doing, breaking the Sabbath by mixing the spit with dirt to make “clay”. Jesus didn’t need to use spit and dirt, he did so to make a point to the Pharisees about what should be considered work. Let’s throw this apologist example in the trash bin with the others, where it belongs.

There is only a decade between when Joseph first started telling the story of the angel to the press, and his writing the history he published a few years later. Morris and the other apologists want to claim that this is so simple once we are educated about folk magic, but that it was so hard for Smith and those who were in his own generation to understand and explain it. It is obvious that those like Brigham Young, Artemisia Beaman and Porter Rockwell had no such problems, they knew all about Captain Kidd and Luman Walters and Samuel Lawrence and the Smith’s money-digging past. But they too, were reluctant to elaborate on such matters in publications although every now and then we find something in the discourses of Young. Which brings us back to Jesse Smith and why the Smith’s had such problems.

The Necromancy of Infidelity

Everything I’ve discussed so far begs the question, Why should we trust any of Smith’s accounts about what happened in relation to the gold plates? And how are we to believe Morris when he claims that

Almost two years after Jesse Smith wrote [his] letter, individuals such as David Burnett and James Gordon Bennett began to associate the plates with treasure seeking, a ghost, and a vanishing chest.

Morris claims that Jesse Smith was not associating the plates with treasure seeking, yet, this is what Jesse Smith wrote in 1829 (which Morris doesn’t mention but places in an appendix):

…if it be a gold book discovered by the necromancy of infidelity, & dug from the mines of atheism, … and then has the audacity to say they are; and the angel of the Lord (Devil it should be) has put me in possession of great wealth, gold & silver and precious stones so that I shall have the dominion in all the land of Palmyra. …he says your father has a wand or rod like Jannes & Jambres who withstood Moses in Egypt— that he can tell the distance from India to Ethiopia or another fool story, many other things alike ridiculous.

Walker, as we have seen, does mention this. Morris claims that, “Joseph Smith’s uncle Jesse Smith vehemently objected to Joseph’s claims, protesting precisely because they were so thoroughly religious,” but Jesse didn’t think their claims were religious at all! Think about this for a moment. He claims they were “dug from the mines of atheism” and uses the word “necromancy”, which is associated with money-digging and evil spirits. Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines necromancy thusly:

NECROMANCY, noun [Gr. Dead, and divination.]

1. The art of revealing future events by means of a pretended communication with the dead. This imposture is prohibited. Deuteronomy 18:1.

2. Enchantment; conjuration

Pretended communication. Pretended. With the dead. Bloody Ghosts. Jesse scoffs at the religiosity that he knows his brother and nephews are trying to cloak their necromancy and treasure digging yarn in. He could not be more clear here that he thinks they are lying, and trying to turn a money-digging yarn into a religious tale and that (to Jesse) would all have come from the Devil. Only an apologist would try to argue that when someone uses the word necromancy and atheism (in the same sentence!) they are describing something religious. It wasn’t religious to claim to get rich from money digging and divining rods. Not according to Jesse Smith and the majority of Americans from that period. It was simply wishful thinking.

Dan Vogel, in his landmark biography of Joseph Smith wrote that,

The earliest Smith family treasure quests probably occurred on their newly acquired Manchester land. In 1822 Joseph Sr. told Peter Ingersoll that he saw treasures in a hill behind his house. However, digging did not occur until Joseph Jr. could divine the locations. Despite Joseph Sr.’s invitation to join his money-digging company, Ingersoll resisted until Joseph Jr. became its leading seer. Ingersoll was only too happy to describe in detail his amusement and “disgust” when Joseph Sr. and Alvin demonstrated their scrying technique, but he was completely silent about Joseph Jr. This silence may be due to his belief in the scryer’s gift. According to Pomeroy Tucker, Ingersoll “had believingly taken part in Smith’s money-digging operations, and was at first inclined to put faith in his ‘Golden Bible’ pretension.” (pg. 39-40)

Dan then describes the Smith’s necromantic techniques when they persuaded William Stafford to join them in a midnight dig,

One night William Stafford, who lived about a mile south of the Smiths on Stafford Road, [and who rented part of their land to Porter Rockwell’s family] was visited by Joseph Sr., who invited him to participate in a treasure dig. He informed Stafford that Joseph Jr. had seen in his stone “two or three kegs of gold and silver” located “not many rods from [the Smiths’] house” and that he and Stafford were the only two men who could get the treasure. Making their way through the dark, they arrived at the place of deposit which, from the context of Stafford’s statement, was the same hill previously referred to by Ingersoll. Stafford probably held the lantern as Joseph Sr. drew a circle in the dirt “twelve or fourteen feet in diameter” and then explained that the treasure was located in the center. Joseph Sr. took some witch hazel stakes and drove them into the ground at regular intervals around the circle for “keeping off the evil spirits.” Within this barrier, he drew another inner circle “about eight or ten feet in diameter,” then “walked around three times on the periphery of this last circle, muttering to himself something which I could not understand,” Stafford recalled. Next, Joseph Sr. drove a steel rod into the center of the circles in order to prevent the treasure from moving. (On such occasions, if the rod hit something, usually a large stone, the seekers generally interpreted this to be the lid of a treasure chest or some other valuable object.) Smith ordered silence “lest we should arouse the evil spirit who had the charge of these treasures” and then the two men began digging. They continued until they “dug a trench about five feet in depth around the rod.” Believing they had isolated the treasure in a cone of earth, they tore into the mound hoping to be faster than the treasure guardian. But the treasure was gone. Puzzled, Joseph Sr. went to the house to ask young Joseph why they had failed. He soon returned, explaining that “Joseph had remained all this time in the house, looking in his stone and watching the motions of the evil spirit—that he saw the spirit come up to the ring and as soon as it beheld the cone which we had formed around the rod, it caused the money to sink.” When the two men returned to the house together, father Smith observed that “we had made a mistake in the commencement of the operation; if it had not been for that, said he, we should have got the money.” (pg. 40)

Joseph Smith Sr. claimed to be an expert at dowsing for treasure and claimed in the mid 1830’s that he had been so for thirty years. His brother Jesse was probably well aware of what Joseph Sr. was up to, and so scoffed at the religiosity their money digging yarn was cloaked in. Only four years earlier Smith Sr. was lamenting the fact that his son Joseph was using his “God given” gift of peeping only to search for “filthy lucre” but as we have seen, those brief regrets didn’t change much with the Smith family and their obsession with buried treasure.

“It was treasure…”

And how does Morris and the other apologists account for the same stories of treasure guardians and Captain Kidd being told by Brigham Young, Porter Rockwell and others? I can’t find anything about this from Morris or others, though Ashurst-Mcgee mentions the Harz Mountains, but only as a historical reference and Brigham Young’s account not at all. Elizabeth Kane, the wife of Thomas Kane visited Utah Territory in the 1870’s and had many conversations with Brigham Young and others which she recorded in her diary. One night, they were speaking of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and this is what she recorded:

Mrs. Artemisia [Beaman] Snow and I [Elizabeth Kane] were accompanied to the parlour by the gentlemen. The lamp on the mantlepiece shed but a faint light compared to the vivid changeful glow of the blazing pine logs on the hearth, and some allusion to the solidity with which the fireplace was built, led to the remark that it was under the hearth at the Beaman [Smith] farm [in New York State] that the [Golden] “Plates” of the Book of Mormon were hidden.

Mrs. Snow was a daughter of Mr. [Alva] Beaman, a wealthy farmer of Livingston Livonia County, New York. She was only a girl when the plates were brought there, but remembered perfectly the anxiety they all felt after the plates were buried, and a fire kindled on the hearth above them, round which the family sat as usual. I asked “Who were searching for the plates?”

She answered “The people of the neighborhood. They did not know what Joseph Smith had found, but that it was treasure, and they wanted to get it away. This was long before there was any dream of religious persecution.”

Mrs. Snow sat knitting a stocking as she talked, like any other homely elderly woman. She certainly seemed to think she had actually gone through the scene she narrated. I know so little of the history of the Mormons that the stories that now followed by the flickering firelight were full of interest to me. I shall write down as much as I can remember, though there must be gaps where allusions were made to things I had never heard of and did not understand enough to remember accurately. The most curious thing was the air of perfect sincerity of all the speakers. I cannot feel doubtful that they believed what they said. …

I forget what came next, but after Mrs. Snow had been mentioned as being Beaman’s daughter, I asked some question respecting the original discovery of the plates which was answered as nearly as I can remember.

A man named [Luman] Walters son of a rich man living on the Hudson South of Albany, received a scientific education, was even sent to Paris. After he came home he lived like a misanthrope, he had come back an infidel, believing neither in man nor God. He used to dress in a fine broadcloth overcoat, but no other coat nor vest, his trousers all slitted up and patched, and sunburnt boots–filthy! He was a sort of fortune teller, though he never stirred off the old place.

For instance, a man I knew rode up, and before he spoke, the fortune teller said, “You needn’t get off your horse, I know what you want. Your mare ain’t stolen.” Says the man “How do you know what I want? Says he, “I’ll give you a sign. You’ve got a respectable wife, and so many children. At this minute your wife has just drawn a bucket of water at the well to wash her dishes. Look at your watch and find out if it ain’t so when you get home. As to your mare, she’s not a dozen miles from home. She strayed into such neighborhood, and as they didn’t know whose she was they put her up till she should be claimed. My fee’s a dollar. Be off!”

This man was sent for three times to go to the hill Cumorah to dig for treasure. People knew there was treasure there. Beman was one of those who sent for him. He came. Each time he said there was treasure there, but that he couldn’t get it; though there was one that could. The last time he came he pointed out Joseph Smith, who was sitting quietly among a group of men in the tavern, and said There was the young man that could find it, and cursed and swore about him in a scientific manner: awful!

I asked where Cumorah was. “In Manchester Township Ontario County New York.” I think this is near Rochester.

I have heard Porter Rockwell, a bronzed seafaring looking man, with long hair tucked behind his ears, in which he wears little gold rings, tell of Joseph Smith’s failures and final success in finding the plates. Rockwell was a schoolmate and friend of Smith’s, and in spite of his intimate knowledge of the humble Yankee settler’s life, the log-house, lit up at night by pine chips because they were too poor to burn candles, the daily trudge to the rude schoolhouse and the association with him when they were “hired men” together, evidently believes in his Prophet and hero, falsifying the proverb about “No man being a hero to his valet de chambre.” His story about the discovery of the plates sounded like the German legends of the demons of the Harz Mountains, but his description of the life of his neighborhood made me understand what Brigham Young meant by saying the people knew there was treasure in the Hill Cumorah. It seems that the time was one of great mental disturbance in that region. There was much religious excitement; chiefly among the Methodists. People felt free to do very queer things in the new country, which the lapse of a single generation has made us consider Old New England…

Not only was there religious excitement, but the phantom treasures of Captain Kidd were sought for far and near, and even in places like Cumorah where the primeval forest still grew undisturbed the gold finders sought for treasure without any traditionary rumor even to guide them. Rockwell said his mother and Mrs. [Lucy] Smith used to spend their Saturday evenings together telling their dreams, and that he was always glad to spend his afternoon holiday gathering pine knots for the evening blaze on the chance that his mother would forget to send him to bed, and that he might listen unnoticed to their talk. The most sober settlers of the district he said were “gropers” though they were ashamed to own it; and stole out to dig of moonlight nights carefully effacing the traces of their ineffectual work before creeping home to bed. He often heard his mother and Mrs. Smith comparing notes, and telling how Such an one’s dream, and Such another’s pointed to the same lucky spot; how the spades often struck the iron sides of the treasure chest, and how it was charmed away, now six inches this side, now four feet deeper, and again completely out of reach. Joseph Smith was no gold seeker by trade; he only did openly what all were doing privately; but he was considered to be “lucky”. (A Gentile Account of Life in Utah’s Dixie, 1872–73: Elizabeth Kane’s St. George Journal, 69-74, For more on the Harz Mountains, go here).

Notice how many times the word “treasure” is linked to the word “Cumorah” above. Interesting that Kane likens the stories about Cumorah to the legends of the Harz Mountains in Germany which abound with tales of magic, demons, treasure, guardian spirits and other creatures. Porter Rockwell still remembers how the phantom treasures of Kidd were being sought for far and near in the area of Cumorah. No “traditionary rumors” to guide them, he claims, the Smith’s didn’t need them. And it wasn’t only Joseph Sr., but from Lucy also. Ashurst-McGee mentions Porter Rockwell and Lucy Smith a couple of times in relation to Catherine Kane, but doesn’t quote her much, only a few excerpts.

Larry Morris claimed in his article critical of Ron Huggins that he was neither a thorough or systematic investigator, but I can’t find this important account in Morris’ article or new book. He arbitrarily cuts off any accounts after 1850 for some unknown reason even though they are credible and relevant. What disturbs me is that Morris doesn’t seem to understand that Huggins focuses on Captain Kidd because of accounts which claim that Joseph did. And so he makes this bizarre statement in his FARMS review:

Focusing on Captain Kidd allows Huggins to ignore the larger context of American treasure seeking and to skew the entire debate. He does this by casting American folk beliefs in a negative light and then linking Joseph Smith to those beliefs. We see this when we contrast Walker’s approach with Huggins’s. For example, Walker points out that “the cutting ritual [of divining rods] was filled with religious imagery” and that a person as prominent as future Massachusetts chief justice Peter Oliver claimed the rod “‘exceeded what I had heard’” and could “locate a single Dollar under ground, at 60 or 70 feet Distance.” Huggins, on the other hand, characterizes the folk culture of the period by telling us of a spirit nicknamed “Mr. Splitfoot” that “began rapping out answers to questions on the farm of John and Margaret Fox in the little village of Hydesville, New York.” As it turned out, two of the Fox daughters admitted forty years later that “they had made the rappings themselves by cracking their toes” (p. 31). This story, of course, has nothing to do with Joseph Smith, but Huggins implies guilt by association by mentioning Joseph Smith in the same paragraph as the Fox daughters. (pg. 15-16)

I wonder about the comprehension skills of Morris, since what he claims, that Ron mentions Joseph Smith and the Fox daughters in the same paragraph is totally false. Fox appears four times in Huggins’ article, in this paragraph:

The conventional wisdom on ghosts is and has for a long time been that they became what they are by coming to a bad end, by being murdered, or by suffering some other sudden traumatic death. This very kind of story played into the founding of Spiritualism, a movement which, like Mormonism, came to birth in the “burned-over district” of western New York during the first half of the nineteenth century. On the evening of March 31, 1848, a spirit nicknamed “Mr. Splitfoot” began rapping out answers to questions on the farm of John and Margaret Fox in the little village of Hydesville, New York. Mr. Splitfoot revealed that he was the spirit of a man who had been murdered and buried in the Fox’s cellar before they had moved in. Mr. Splitfoot and other spirits like him would only rap, however, when two of the Fox’s daughters, Katie and Margaretta, were present. In 1888 the sisters admitted they had made the rappings themselves by cracking their toes. Nevertheless, the story of Mr. Splitfoot’s untimely end, born in Mrs. Fox’s imagination and confirmed by her children’s cracking toe joints, reflected perfectly conventional ideas about the origin of ghosts. We are all too familiar with this explanation of ghosthood even today.

Joseph Smith’s name is no where to be found. Did he mean Mormonism and the Fox sisters in the same paragraph? And why would Morris be perturbed by that association, if Ron Huggins had made it? It was all about restoring apostolic Christianity, wasn’t it? I’m sure if he tried real hard he could figure out a way that Mr. Splitfoot was some lost Apostle of Christianity. And here is Ronald Walker doing the same thing that Huggins did:

A fourth dimension of our study involves the historical setting of early Mormonism. During the first decades of the nineteenth century, upstate New York was to borrow Carl Carmer’s phrase, “a broad psychic highway, a thoroughfare of the occult.” Rachel Baker amazed neighbors by preaching in her sleep. Jemima Wilkinson announced herself as the reincarnated “Publick Universal Friend.” The rappings of the Fox sisters whose home was less than thirty miles from Palmyra provided the impetus for American spiritualism. The area was known for its “isms.” (pg. 469)

This is exactly the point that Ron Huggins was making! Where is Morris’ ire about that? Mormonism and the Fox sisters in the same paragraph, oh my! Even Porter Rockwell knew that they didn’t need that larger context; if folk magic wasn’t looked upon in a negative light why did Rockwell claim that Smith’s neighbors were trying to hide the fact that they too, had their nocturnal excursions but wouldn’t admit it? They were deflecting their own involvement from the minute they started reporting about the Smith family. It wasn’t religious, it was superstitious.

These superstitious “gropers” as Rockwell calls them, (focused on Captain Kidd!) were ashamed to own up to what they were doing, and yet, Morris and others would have us believe that all of this was looked at in a positive light by everyone. It’s simply more of Quinn’s revisionist history that ignores the evidence while cherry picking various authors to make it seem as if they know what they are talking about.

The Oliver Twist

Since Morris is asking what has one thing to do with the other, we can ask just what has Peter Oliver to do with Joseph Smith? Let’s investigate that because it may shed some light on how this is all just an apologist diversion and another claim of falsely trying to tie Christianity to the magic folklore culture in some kind of substantial way. The story of Peter Oliver comes to us by way of Benjamin Franklin, who wrote under the pen name “The Busy-body“. Franklin gets a letter from one “Titan Pleiades”, who writes about divining rods:

I have read over Scot, Albertus Magnus, and Cornelius Agrippa, above three hundred times; and was in hopes, by my knowledge and industry, to gain enough to have recompensed me for my money expended and time lost in the pursuit of this learning. …there are large sums of money hidden underground in divers places about this town, and in many parts of the country… I have used all the means laid down in the immortal authors before mentioned, and when they failed, the ingenious Mr. P-d-l, with his mercurial wand and magnet, I have still failed in my purpose. (The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Volume, II, pg. 40-41)

He then proposes an alliance with Franklin to find this treasure. In answering this letter, Franklin makes the observation that Pleiades wasn’t “the only man in the colonies who had faith in the virtues of the Divining Rod,” and gives us this letter from his friend Peter Oliver, for many years the Chief Justice of Massachusetts:

For the present I desist from experiments in natural philosophy and perhaps shall not displease you by relating an experiment in what I call Preternatural Philosophy. It is by what is called the Virgula Divinatoria, long since exploded. Two or three persons have lately been found in Middleborough, and, I suppose, may be found elsewhere, who, by holding a twig of a tree (with some prepared matters in it) in their hands, can find copper, silver, or gold, either in the mine or in substance. When I first heard the fact I disbelieved it … but at last I was induced to make the experiment critically, which exceeded what I had heard. The person holds the twig by its two branches in both hands, and grasps them close, with the upper part erect. If any metal or mine is nigh, its fibres, though never so fast held in the hand, will twist till it points to the object … I have seen it point to a single dollar under ground, at sixty or seventy feet distance; and to a quantity of silver at a mile distance; and, what is more remarkable, when it is in motion to its object, upon the person’s closing his eyes, it will make a full stop, but, if the eyes are turned from the twig and open, it will continue its motion. It is owning to what I call the idiosyncrasy of the person’s body, who holds the twig, for I believe there is not one in five hundred in whose hands it will move. I am apt to think it will occasion as much speculation as electricity, and I believe will tend to public benefit. ~Middleborough, March 31st, 1756. (pg 41-42).

Of course Oliver doesn’t ascribe anything here to God, but to the individual’s idiosyncratic movements of the body, and that not everyone could make it work. What this has to do with Joseph Smith or religion is baffling. Of course Oliver was duped, but then so is everyone who believes in such nonsense (as Franklin points out in his sarcastic reply as the Busy-body).

Ronald Walker makes the observation (pg. 443) that for all of Franklin’s poo-pooing of money-digging he still published a popular almanac for years (Poor Richards). But as Franklin explained in the first issue, it was all to make money, and he constantly poked fun at people, joked about things and once even predicted a man’s death to the day and hour, (in mockery of Astrologists), and when the man lived, refused to acknowledge he was still alive! Walker’s comment is strange, because Franklin took none of it seriously. And it made him a lot of money. He knew it was all a humbug but knew how to cash in on it.

A Common Spiritual Gift?

There have been a plethora of Mormon authors who, in the last decade or so have been publishing on “folk magic”, in an effort to reconcile the Smith family’s practice of “the Black Art” with more legitimate religious practices. Over and over I read their admonitions about how us moderns just don’t comprehend what it was like in nineteenth century America and how hard it is to understand the “folk” and their magical ways. In a desperate attempt to try and legitimize dowsing, Eric A Eliason writes:

The presumption that the difference between magic and proper belief is something intrinsic rather than relational to the definer is still very much alive. But on close analysis, complex definitions distinguishing “magical” from “modern” thinking rarely amount to more than “What you do is superstition, while what I do is science or true religion.” One of the biggest surprises rural students have in American university folklore courses, including at B.Y.U., is discovering their suburban peers need to be taught what divining rods are and how to use them. Today, regardless of class, race, education, wealth, region, or religion, rural students tend to know of holding a forked stick gently in one’s hand to feel for the downward tug that points to underground water and a good spot for a well. Dowsing seems not only understandable, but essential, in rural areas where families are on their own to secure water, and where hired well drillers make no guarantees and charge by the foot. City kids are shocked that their country classmates could be such shameless occult dabblers in a modern age where you don’t have to think about where water comes from. You just turn on the tap and out it comes–like magic. My rural LDS students don’t understand why their suburban counterparts have so little respect for or belief in a common spiritual gift often displayed by their educated and reasonable Bishops and Stake Presidents. It is simply wrong to assume that divining practices are some long-abandoned exotic aspect of America’s frontier past rather than a continuing worldwide phenomenon, used not only by rural Americans, but by soldiers in Vietnam to find enemy tunnels, by oil and precious metal prospecting companies, and even by contemporary salvage professionals to recover, yes, lost treasure. But none of this means that there are not bogus scams, such as the well-developed industry of luring American investors to fund “sure fire” efforts to recover caches of loot hidden by Japanese soldiers retreating from the Philippines at the end of World War II. These always seem to need a little more financing and never seem to produce for investors. (Seer Stones, Salamanders and Early Mormon “Folk Magic”. (BYU Studies Quarterly, 4-5-2016, pg. 82)

Everyone defends their own beliefs. Tell us something we don’t know. But dowsing a common spiritual gift? As proven by scientific experiments it is all bogus and subjective!  It is like believing in the power of prayer and trying to claim that it will work for everyone in the same way every time, because the dowsers claim if there is water they will find it and God promised that if you ask he will answer. But no matter what the promise is, subjective spiritual claims never live up to the hype. Would there be any difference in praying to Jesus or to Beelzebub? Only in the mind of the individual. Another person would never know to who or what anyone prays to if they didn’t tell them or pray out loud. I was truly amused by this effort from Ashurst-McGee to redefine terms in his Pathway to Prophethood thesis:

By the end of his life, Emanuel Swedenborg developed the ability to voluntarily enter and exit an ecstatic divinatory state whenever he wished to.  His visions stand as an example of divination initiated by the diviner, which I term “ascensional divination.” In contrast, while on the road to Damascus the Pharisee Saul was confronted by the risen Christ, commanded to cease his persecutions against the Christians, given an apostolic commission, and renamed Paul. This is an example of divination initiated by God, which I call “descensional divination” or “revelation.”

In other words he calls Swedenborg’s trances “ascensional divination” and when God appears to someone “descensional divination”. These are just gobbledygook words made up by Ashurst-McGee so he can repeat the word “divination” over and over again in some kind of way to try and associate it with Christianity.

First of all, he has no idea what was going on with Swedenborg, or Edgar Cayce (the “sleeping prophet”) or anyone else who went into trances to commune with superior beings or the supernatural. No one does. Brigham Young once taught (As did Swedenborg) that the “Spirit World” is right here with us so claiming that revelation comes from up or down is pretty much in the eye of the beholder and rather silly. And what is “divination”? What did it mean those who lived in the time of Joseph Smith? That’s the key here. The entry in the 1828 Webster’s gives us the meaning:

DIVINATIONnoun [Latin , to foretell. See Divine.]

1. The act of divining; a foretelling future events, or discovering things secret or obscure, by the aid of superior beings, or by other than human means. The ancient heathen philosophers divided divination into two kinds, natural and artificial. Natural divination was supposed to be effected by a kind of inspiration or divine afflatus; artificial divination was effected by certain rites, experiments or observations, as by sacrifices, cakes, flour, wine, observation of entrails, flight of birds, lots, verses, omens, position of the stars, etc.

This word was then associated with the occult and heathens, not the Christian God. If one then looks up “divine” in the 1828 Websters, we see these entries which correspond to the entry above:

DIVINE, verb transitive [Latin]
1. To foreknow; to foretell; to presage.
Darst thou divine his downfall?
2. To deify. [Not in use.]
DIVINE, verb intransitive
1. To use or practice divination.
2. To utter presages or prognostications.
The prophets thereof divine for money. Micah 3:6.
3. To have presages or forebodings.
Suggest but truth to my divining thoughts–
4. To guess or conjecture.

DIVINER, noun
1. One who professes divination; one who pretends to predict events, or to reveal occult things, by the aid of superior beings, or of supernatural means.
These nations hearkened to diviners. Deuteronomy 18:14.
2. One who guesses; a conjecturer.

The Micah 3 cross is very interesting. It is a rebuking of Israel’s prophets and leaders for divining for money:

And I said, Hear, I pray you, O heads of Jacob, and ye princes of the house of Israel; Is it not for you to know judgment? Who hate the good, and love the evil… Then shall they cry unto the Lord, but he will not hear them: he will even hide his face from them at that time, as they have behaved themselves ill in their doings. Thus saith the Lord concerning the prophets that make my people err, that bite with their teeth, and cry, Peace; and he that putteth not into their mouths, they even prepare war against him. Therefore night shall be unto you, that ye shall not have a vision; and it shall be dark unto you, that ye shall not divine; and the sun shall go down over the prophets, and the day shall be dark over them. Then shall the seers be ashamed, and the diviners confounded: yea, they shall all cover their lips; for there is no answer of God. But truly I am full of power by the spirit of the Lord, and of judgment, and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin. Hear this, I pray you, ye heads of the house of Jacob, and princes of the house of Israel, that abhor judgment, and pervert all equity. They build up Zion with blood, and Jerusalem with iniquity. The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet will they lean upon the Lord, and say, Is not the Lord among us? none evil can come upon us. Therefore shall Zion for your sake be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of the forest.

Prophets divining for money? Oh my! And Deuteronomy 18:14:

For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the Lord thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.

Joseph was condemning the clergy of his day of being corrupt, but his practice of divining for money was also corrupt and condemned by God according to the Old Testament that Mormon apologists love to quote. That is why this occult “prophet-in-training” shtick doesn’t make much sense.

And in analyzing the vision of Paul, it really wasn’t Paul trying to divine anything (let alone Jesus) as much as it was Jesus appearing to Paul and complaining because he (and his people) were being persecuted by the obsessive Pharisee. I suggest that a more correct term would be an “arbitrarial non-divination appearance” or better yet an “angry god manifestation”.

And Swedenborg? He didn’t begin with trances, he was sitting in a tavern in 1745 and he saw a personage sitting in the corner of the room who told him not to eat too much. Alarmed, he went home and the same personage again appeared to him and told him he was going to expound on the meaning of the Bible and other things. Swedenborg claimed that this was “the Lord”.

Since “the Lord” supposedly appeared to Swedenborg first, (in a tavern no less) was this an ascentional or a descentional? I’ll let the Mormon apologists sort that out. I’m going for arbitrarial non-divination appearance.

And of course there are those many Bible Dictionaries like this one from Charles Buck published in 1826 that give us a good idea of what people thought about divining and other magical practices at that time:

Is a conjecture or surmise formed concerning some future event from something which is supposed to be a presage of it; but between which there is no real connection, only what the imagination of the diviner is pleased to assign in order to deceive. Divination of all kinds being the offspring of credulity, nursed by imposture, and strengthened by superstition, was necessarily an occult science, retained in the hands of the priests and priestesses, the magi, the soothsayers, the augurs, the visionaries, the priests of the oracles, the false prophets, and other like professors, till the coming of Jesus Christ, when the light of the Gospel dissipated much of this darkness. The vogue for these pretended sciences and arts is nearly past, at least in the enlightened parts of the world. There are nine different kinds of divination mentioned in Scripture. These are,

1. Those whom Moses calls Meonen of Anan, a cloud, Deuteronomy 18:10 .
2. Those whom the prophet calls, in the same place, Menachesch, which the Vulgate and generality of interpreters render Augur.
3. Those who in the same place are called Mecasheph, which the Septuagint and Vulgate translate “a man given to ill practices.”
4. Those whom in the same chapter, ver.11. he calls Hhober.
5. Those who consult the spirits, called Python.
6. Witches, or magicians, called Judeoni.
7. Necromancers, who consult the dead.
8. Such as consult staves, Hosea 4:12 . called by some Rhabdomancy.
9. Hepatoscopy, or the consideration of the liver.

Different kinds of divination which have passed for sciences, we have had:

1. Aeromancy, divining by the air.
2. Astrology, by the heavens.
3. Augury, by the flight and singing of birds, &c.
4. Chiromancy by inspecting the hand.
5. Geomancy, by observing of cracks or clefts in the earth.
6. Haruspicy, by inspecting the bowels of animals.
7. Horoscopy, a branch of astrology, marking the position of the heavens when a man is born.
8. Hydromancy, by water.
9. Physiognomy, by the countenance. (This, however, is considered by some as of a different nature, and worthy of being rescued from the rubbish of superstition, and placed among the useful sciences. Lavater has written a celebrated treatise on it.).
10. Pyromancy, a divination made by fire. Thus we see what arts have been practised to deceive, and how designing men have made use of all the four elements to impose upon weak minds. (Charles Buck’s theological Dictionary (1826), Thanks to Ron Huggins for the reference).

I could not find any Mormon apologists who have cited this entry or any like it. Interesting that Physiognomy and Phrenology was all the rage with Smith and others in Nauvoo.

“A decisive failure”

Did dowsing work every time? We know it does not. No more than randomly pointing at the ground and saying “there be water here”. Again, a broken clock is right twice a day. And one other observation, why would dowsing work with a tree branch for some and metal rods for others? Why wouldn’t the metal rods be pulled down as the branch is? Why do they cross each other instead? Dowsers can’t tell you, or if they do, each one has his own explanation. Oliver had it right long ago that it is due to idiosyncratic movements of the body and nothing more. (Watch some youtube videos and you will see what I mean, especially James Randi’s).

And one more thing before moving on from modern dowsing. This quote (or words like it) is basically all over the internet, and of course it is used to sell Almanacs:

…one study, conducted by the German government in the 1990s, that perplexed the scientific community. During this study’s 10-year research period, researchers paired up experienced geologists and dowsers, sending them to dry regions like Sri Lanka, Kenya and Yemen. Scientists were surprised to find that many of the dowsers were spot-on. In Sri Lanka alone, drill teams drilled 691 wells under the supervision of dowsers and found water 96% of the time. (Farmers Almanac)

Basically, the scientist (Betz) who conducted the experiment referred to above, manipulated the data to favor dowsing as this analysis of the data proves. And his (Enright’s) conclusion?

The Munich dowsing experiments represent the most extensive test ever conducted of the hypothesis that a genuine mysterious ability permits dowsers to detect hidden water sources. The research was conducted in a sympathetic atmosphere, on a highly selected group of candidates, with careful control of many relevant variables. The researchers themselves concluded that the outcome unquestionably demonstrated successful dowsing abilities, but a thoughtful re-examination of the data indicates that such an interpretation can only be regarded as the result of wishful thinking. In fact, it is difficult to imagine a set of experimental results that would represent a more persuasive disproof of the ability of dowsers to do what they claim. The experiments thus can and should be considered a decisive failure by the dowsers.

Are today’s dowsers any different than the Peekers of the 19th century? I would argue they are not and that any religiosity associated with it differs with each person and is based on each person’s personal religious beliefs. But there were clergy who taught the tenets of their respective faiths, and Joseph Smith and his father rejected them all for a mixture of occult and unorthodox Christian beliefs.

In other words, God (or “revelation”) doesn’t make dowsing work any more than magnetic fields does or psychic ability does or the plethora of reasons given by those who advocate it — but if people want to pray to God and then claim that he had something to do with it and … if by the law of averages they find water, they have the law of averages to thank for their success. And just for fun google “Is water everywhere underground?” and you will get this answer:

In fact, there is a hundred times more water in the ground than is in all the world’s rivers and lakes. Some water underlies the Earth’s surface almost everywhere, beneath hills, mountains, plains, and deserts. … Groundwater is a part of the water cycle. 

This clock might be right more than two times a day! Because under the Earth’s surface it’s pretty much always water time. It’s really not too hard to stumble on to something that is pretty much literally everywhere, is it?

“Work to the Money”

And yet, here is how one of Smith’s neighbors (Peter Ingersol) described Joseph Sr.’s use of a divining rod:

The general employment of the family, was digging for money. I had frequent invitations to join the company, but always declined being one of their number. They used various arguments to induce me to accept of their invitations. I was once ploughing near the house of Joseph Smith, Sen. about noon, he requested me to walk with him a short distance from his house, for the purpose of seeing whether a mineral rod would work in my hand, saying at the same time he was confident it would. As my oxen were eating, and being myself at leisure, I accepted the invitation. — When we arrived near the place at which he thought there was money, he cut a small witch hazle bush and gave me direction how to hold it. He then went off some rods, and told me to say to the rod, “work to the money,” which I did, in an audible voice. He rebuked me severely for speaking it loud, and said it must be spoken in a whisper. This was rare sport for me. While the old man was standing off some rods, throwing himself into various shapes, I told him the rod did not work. He seemed much surprised at this, and said he thought he saw it move in my hand. It was now time for me to return to my labor. On my return, I picked up a small stone and was carelessly tossing it from one hand to the other. Said he, (looking very earnestly) what are you going to do with that stone? Throw it at the birds, I replied. No, said the old man, it is of great worth; and upon this I gave it to him. Now, says he, if you only knew the value there is back of my house (and pointing to a place near) — there, exclaimed he, is one chest of gold and another of silver. He then put the stone which I had given him, into his hat, and stooping forward, he bowed and made sundry maneuvers, quite similar to those of a stool pigeon. At length he took down his hat, and being very much exhausted, said, in a faint voice, “if you knew what I had seen, you would believe.” To see the old man thus try to impose upon me, I confess, rather had a tendency to excite contempt than pity. Yet I thought it best to conceal my feelings, preferring to appear the dupe of my credulity, than to expose myself to his resentment. His son Alvin then went through with the same performance, which was equally disgusting. Another time, the said Joseph, Sen. told me that the best time for digging money, was, in the heat of summer, when the heat of the sun caused the chests of money to rise near the top of the ground. You notice, said he, the large stones on the top of the ground — we call them rocks, and they truly appear so, but they are, in fact, most of them chests of money raised by the heat of the sun. (Mormonism Unvailed, 236).

I grew up in Oregon, and was around farmers all the time; I worked on farms in the summers, drove tractors and combines with my friends every summer, and never heard of one farmer who used divining rods for anything, though I’m sure there must have been some as it is still a part of our culture. This was in the 1970’s. Perhaps in rural Utah it is more prevalent.

It has to be remembered that the apologists are claiming that all these neighbors of the Smith’s are making things up. Ingersol’s account doesn’t sound like neighborhood gossip. And if Ingersol is lying, why would he? The Smith’s were long gone by 1833 and there wasn’t any point to lying or making things up about them. And what about the faithful Mormons that tell similar accounts? This is why many have changed their tune by changing the station from the Hugh Nibley channel.

This video is instructive, as Richard Dawkins invites some Dowsers to prove their ability, and it is amazing what he uncovers. Not that it doesn’t work, we all know it doesn’t, but that those who failed cannot believe it. One man even said that God (who he claims to get the power from) was pulling a joke on him by not allowing him to find the water. This kind of thing was way more prevalent in Colonial America, because people are superstitious and always will be. To me, it really illustrates what Peter Ingersol must have seen in Joseph Smith, Sr.:

Work To The Money (Modern Style)

Is there a modern day equivalent to the treasure hunting that went on in the 18th & 19th centuries? I had to think about that and yes, I think there is one and its called The Lottery. It has all the get rich quick aspects of treasure digging, and people even pray to God to bless them to “win”. At this website, are some of the prayers that they use. As the article explains,

Then there’s this message board poster, who said there’s a “special prayer” that “always works,” and it not only won him $31 million, it won somebody in New Jersey $300 million. But, sorry, nope, can’t share it, “because then you all will be millionaires.” As if that’s a bad thing? He signs off with two tips: “You, have to make sacrifices to the Lord. You must have Faith and have it in your heart. God Bless.”

Kind of like seeing in a peep-stone? It always worked, didn’t it? They just couldn’t get the treasure cause it slipped away. And why share the “special prayer” since everyone would win? Joseph wasn’t teaching people to use peep-stones. Should we now believe that playing the Lottery is a part of lost Apostolic Christianity because so many Christians believe in it? The true way to pay tithing perhaps? Have things really changed that much?

“That money ….is here, now, every dollar of it.”

It was all treasure to the Smith’s, it was all a money making venture. Lucy Smith claimed that she was handed a “breastplate” which was wrapped in cloth, and she later described the experience:

It was wrapped in a thin muslin handkerchief, so thin that I could see the glistening metal, and ascertain its proportions without any difficulty. It was concave on one side and convex on the other, and extended from the neck downwards, as far as the centre of the stomach of a man of extraordinary size. It had four straps of the same material, for the purpose of fastening it to the breast, two of which ran back to go over the shoulders, and the other two were designed to fasten to the hips. They were just the width of two of my fingers, (for I measured them,) and they had holes in the ends of them, to be convenient in fastening. The whole plate was worth at least five hundred dollars; after I had examined it, Joseph placed it in the chest with the Urim and Thummim (p. 390)

It seems that Lucy was thinking in terms of monetary gain from the artifacts that her son claimed to have discovered. She was to claim also that the “spectacles” included two “diamonds” that were wrapped in silver wire:

[I] … took the article in my hands and upon after examining it <found> * [* with no covering but a silk handkerchief] that it consisted of 2 smott<ooth> 3 cornered diamonds set in glass and the glass was set in silver bows stones conected with each other in the same way that old fashioned spectacles are made He took them again and left me but did not tell me anything of the record (p. 379)

It begs the question of why these artifacts had to be wrapped up at all. Because it was “instant death” to look at them? Really? What if someone happened to get a glimpse of on of them as Josiah Stowell claimed he did? (More on that below)

And yet there was this breastplate and the “spectacles” were supposed to be attached to it which would enable someone to read the engravings on the plates and “translate” them. But how could they do so if they needed to put the spectacles in a hat? It all makes little sense. Even inthe lost Book of Lehi, a part of which was related to Fayette Lapham by Joseph Smith Sr., it claimed that one must use an animal skin to use the “interpreters”:

After sailing a long time, they [Lehi & Co.] came to land, went on shore, and thence they traveled through boundless forests, until, at length, they came to a country where there were a great many lakes; which country had once been settled by a very large race of men, who were very rich, having a great deal of money. From some unknown cause, this nation had become extinct; “but that money,” said Smith, “is here, now, every dollar of it.” When they, the Jews, first beheld this country, they sent out spies to see what manner of country it was, who reported that the country appeared to have been settled by a very large race of men, and had been, to all appearances, a very rich agricultural and manufacturing nation. They also found something of which they did not know the use, but when they went into the tabernacle, a voice said, “What have you got in your hand, there?” They replied that they did not know, but had come to inquire; when the voice said, “Put it on your face, and put your face in a skin, and you will see what it is.” They did so, and could see everything of the past, present, and future; and it was the same spectacles that Joseph found with the gold plates.

The money was still buried in the Manchester hills, Smith Sr. was sure of it and he was going to get it. The “spectacles” just so happened to have directions for use on the gold plates and it was exactly the same way that Joseph used his peep-stone? Except that was not put back into the Book of Mormon. The account from the Book of Lehi about being able to “see everything of the past, present, and future” is interesting. I had always wondered about why Joseph had dictated the “revelation” on John early in his career as a “seer”, and what better way to show off the power of his stone and to calm those who might have associated it with magic:

A Revelation given to Joseph and Oliver [Cowdery], in Harmony, Pennsylvania, April, 1829, when they desired to know whether John, the beloved disciple, tarried on earth. Translated from parchment, written and hid up by himself.

Joseph could supposedly “see” into the past and view the parchment that John wrote on. What a neat trick. Notice that Joseph reveals nothing about when it was written or where John hid it.

“Smith’s 1838-39 manuscript history mentioned “two stones in silver bows and these put into a breast plate which constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim deposited with the plates … to prepare them for the purpose of translating the book.” (Marquardt, 2016)

We know that “the Urim and Thummim” is just something that was made up later to make Smith’s peep-stone sound more legitimate. The “ancients” never called such a thing a urim and thummim and the fact is that no one knows what the urim and thummim was. (More on his below) But this was really all about money…

“Addison Austin (1796-1872) testified that Joseph Smith told him he could not see with the stone. At a time when Josiah Stowell Sr. “was digging for money, he, Austin, was in company with said Smith alone, and asked him to tell him honestly whether he could see this money or not. Smith hesitated some time, but finally replied, ‘to be candid, between you and me, I cannot, any more than you or any body else; but any way to get a living.'” (Marquardt, 2016)

Fayette Lapham would later recall:

This Joseph Smith, Senior, we soon learned, from his own lips, was a firm believer in witchcraft and other supernatural things; and had brought up his family in the same belief. He also believed that there was a vast amount of money buried somewhere in the country; that it would some day be found; that he himself had spent both time and money searching for it, with divining rods, but had not succeeded in finding any, though sure that he eventually would. (pg. 306)

Lucy Harris left an affidavit which explained how her husband Martin joined the Smith “Gold Bible Company” to make money:

Whether the Mormon religion be true or false, I leave the world to judge, for its effects upon Martin Harris have been to make him more cross, turbulent and abusive to me. His whole object was to make money by it. I will give one circumstance in proof of it. One day, while at Peter Harris’ house, I told him he had better leave the company of the Smiths, as their religion was false; to which he replied, if you would let me alone, I could make money by it… (Lucy Harris, 29 November, 1833)

And by 1829 Joseph was penning “revelations” to pressure others into giving their money for his new venture:

And again: I command you, that thou shalt not covet thine own property, but impart it freely to the printing of the book of Mormon, which contains the truth and the word of God (“Revelation” to Martin Harris, 1829)

Martin Harris did just that, signed over his farm. But he would make no profit from book sales, as this agreement Joseph Smith signed in January, 1830 attests:

I hereby agree that Martin Harris shall have an equal privilege with me & my friends of selling the Book of Mormon of the Edition now printing by Egbert B Grandin until enough of them shall be sold to pay for the printing of the same or moruntil such times as the said Grandin shall be paid for the printing the aforesaid Books or copies ~Joseph Smith Jr., Witness: Oliver H.P. Cowdery

Dan Vogel:

If Harris had in fact held some kind of speculative expectation from the Book of Mormon, the 16 January agreement made it clear to him that he would not reap any profits from the sales; rather, he would only be repaid his $3,000. The profits would go to Joseph Sr. and “friends.” Moreover, the agreement outlined a method of payment requiring that the entire run of 5,000 copies would have to be sold before 25 February 1831 to prevent foreclosure on Harris’s farm.

There is no evidence that Harris ever recouped the money for the initial printing costs of the Book of Mormon.

“He will get the treasure”

Brigham Young would claim that the “treasure” located in the Hill Cumorah, was visible to Luman Walters, but he could not get it, only Joseph Smith could:

I well knew a man who, to get the plates, rode over sixty miles [it was 16 miles] three times the same season they were obtained by Joseph Smith. About the time of their being delivered to Joseph by the angel, the friends of this man sent for him, and informed him that they were going to lose that treasure, though they did not know what it was. The man I refer to was a fortune-teller, necromancer, an astrologer, a soothsayer and possessed as much talent as any man that walked on the American soil, and was one of the wickedest men I ever saw. The last time he went to obtain the treasure he knew sure where it was, but did not know its value. Allow me to tell you that a Baptist deacon and others of Joseph’s neighbors were the very men who sent for this necromancer the last time he went for the treasure. I never heard a man who could swear like that astrologer; he swore scientifically, by rule, by note. To those who love swearing, it was musical to hear him, but not so for me, for I would leave his presence. He would call Joseph everything that was bad and say “I believe he will get the treasure after all”. He did get it and the war commenced directly. When Joseph obtained the treasure, the priests the deacons and religionists of every grade, went hand in hand with the fortune-teller, and with every wicked person, to get it out of his hand, and to accomplish this, a part of them came out and persecuted him. (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 2, 180-1, 18 February, 1855).

How is it that Brigham Young recounts so vividly these stories about Luman Walters? Perhaps because of his close association with the Beamans and what they told him about those times? Young does not appear to doubt the stories about treasure digging at all.I also can’t find this account in either of Morris’ publications or in Ashurst-McGee’s thesis, he only mentions Walters a few times and dismisses his connection to the Smith’s as an invention of Abner Cole. I will have more on Luman Walters and Saumel T. Lawrence in the next installment.

“trying to win he faculty of Abrac … to the neglect of all other business”

Before I finish Part II, I would like to address the account of Lucy Smith taken from her Biographical Sketches manuscript. Here is what she wrote about the events leading up to Joseph claiming to see an angel in 1823/24:

We still continued felling timber and clearing land and about this time we began to make preparations for building a house—

In the spring after we moved onto the farm we commenced making Mapel sugar of which we averaged each season 1000 lbs per year

we then began to make preparations for building a house as the Land Agent of whom we [p.323] purchased our farm was dead and we could not make the last payment

we also planted a large orchard and made every possible preparation for ease as when advanced age should deprive us of the ability to make those physical exertions which we were then capable of

Now I shall change my theme for the present but let not my reader suppose that because I shall pursue another topic for a season that we stopt our labor [to build the house] and went <at> trying to win the faculty of Abrac drawing Magic circles or sooth saying ==>> to the neglect of all kinds of buisness <== we never during our lives suffered one important interest to swallow up every other obligation but whilst we worked with our hands we endeavored to remmember the service of & the welfare of our souls.

[Which would have been by trying to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing Magic circled and sooth saying, as they were not Presbyterians yet, and Joseph had had no visions of God or angels]

About this The 3 harvest time had now arrived [circa 1823] 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 more deeply than common persons of his age upon everything of a religious nature.

This After we ceased conversation he went to bed <and was pondering in his mind which of the churches were the true one> an but he had not laid there long till <he saw> a bright <light> entered the room where he lay he looked up and saw an angel of the Lord stood <standing> by him 

The angel spoke I perceive that you are enquiring in your mind which is the true church there is not a true church on Earth 

[anachronistic] No not one Nor <and> has not been since Peter took the Keys <of the Melchesidec priesthood after the order of God> into the Kingdom of Heaven The churches that are now upon the Earth are all man made churches

[There was no talk of “Melchizedek Priesthood” until the early 1830’s ]

Joseph there is a record for you and you must get it one day get it 

[anachroistic] There is a record for you and Joseph when you have learned to keep the commandments of God but you cannot get it untill you learn to keep the commandments of God <For it is not to get gain>

[If Joseph wasn’t keeping the commandments why did the angel tell him to go and get the record?]

But it is [p.336] to bring forth that light and intelligence which has been long lost in the Earth

[anachronistic] Now Joseph <or> beware <or> when you go to get the plates your mind will be filld with darkness and all maner of evil will rush into your mind To keep <prevent> you from keeping the commandments of God <that you may not succed in doing his work>

and you must tell your father of this for he will believe every word you say the record is on a side hill on the Hill of Cumorah 3 miles from this place remove the Grass and moss and you will find a large flat stone pry that up and you will find the record under it laying on 4 pillars—<of cement> then the angel left him

This is not the story Joseph originally told about finding the treasure hill, he claimed to find the hill with the Chase peep-stone]

The argument, originally made by William Hamblin goes like this (FAIRMORMON)

Critics generally neglect to provide the entire quote from Lucy. Dr. William J. Hamblin notes that there is “an ambiguously phrased statement of Lucy Mack Smith in which she denied that her family was involved in drawing “Magic circles.”

They then quote Hamblin:

Although the phrasing is a bit ambiguous, the matter can easily be resolved by reference to the rest of Lucy’s narrative. Contra Quinn, Lucy Smith’s text provides no other mention of the supposedly “important interest” of magical activities but does deal prominently with their religious and business concerns. If magic activities were such an important part of Joseph Smith’s life and Lucy was speaking of them in a positive sense as “important interests,” why did she not talk about them further in any unambiguous passage?

But she does! FAIRMORMON claims that,

Joseph’s mother also indicated that Joseph was sought out by some, including Josiah Stoal, to use the stone to find hidden valuables. He

came for Joseph on account of having heard that he possessed certain keys by which he could discern things invisible to the natural eye

This is obviously important magic activity that Joseph was involved with, (scrying) and she speaks of it in a positive sense. Joseph had not gotten the “spectacles” yet. The “key” would be his peep stone operated by the use of magic.

Joseph & Lucy Mack Smith (circa 1825)

Lucy is relating that the family was clearing timber and planting orchards, and beginning to make preparations to build a house. Then she claims that she was going to change the subject and speak about matters other than manual labor. She begins by asking the “reader” that because she is going to talk about “another topic for a season” that they stopped  with the manual labor and started doing other non manual/business things like “trying to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing magic circles or soothsaying” and therefore neglecting business. She assures her “reader” that the family never let one important interest (Abrac, magic circles, soothsaying) “swallow up every other obligation” but while they were performing the manual labors the family “endeavored to remember the service of and welfare of our souls.”

It appears that Lucy was setting the stage for what happened in 1826 with Josiah Stoal and the two Joseph’s, but obviously Lucy did not want to put that incident in her history, the Stoal insert that FAIRMORMON writes about above was a later emendation to the original manuscript. Why would Lucy want to claim that soothsaying and pursuing other occult activities did not stop them from taking care of business? Perhaps because that is what happened when the two Joseph’s went to Pennsylvania and did not return with the money to pay the mortgage and their land was taken from them. This was obviously a painful incident to Lucy, so she simply skipped over it. Why?

Leading up to this part of her history, Lucy tells a story about going to have tea with some neighbors who mentioned to her that she should have a nice house to live in. Lucy replied,

“I have never prayed for riches <​of this world​> as perhaps you have but I have always desired that God would enable me to use enough wisdom and forbearance in my family to set good precepts [p. [8], bk. 3] & examples before my children …”

She then adds,

“there is none present who have this kind of wea[l]th that have not lately met with a loss of chidren or othe[r] friends (which really was the case) and now as for Mr Mrs. the minister’s lady I ask you how many nights of the week you are kept awake with anxiety about your Sons who are in habitual attendance on the Grog Shop & gambling house— they all said with a melancholly look that showed conviction Mrs. S. you have established the fact <​>reader​> I merely relate this that you may draw a moral therefrom that may be useful to you…”

In leading up to the soothsaying comments, Lucy claims that she never wanted the “riches of this world”. But her husband did, and encouraged their fourth child to follow in his footsteps. Then she makes the comment that the family never let their occult practices get in the way of doing business. It wasn’t a denial, it was trying to downplay its importance in their lives, exactly as it is written by Lucy. She then leaves out the arrest of her son on charges of glass looking. Lucy had gone on and on about how her children were so righteous, so how would it look to be recounting that Joseph had gotten arrested for juggling? This was an aside by Lucy, to claim that the entire family wasn’t doing what the two Joseph’s were doing – not taking care of business. Lucy, who knew that Smith Sr., had accompanied his son to Pennsylvania to dig for treasure, wrote,

Having just made the acquaintance of a couple of gentlemen from Pensylvania who were desirous of purchasing a quantity of wheat which we had Sown on the place this We agreed with them that if they would furnish us with the sum of money requisite for the liquidation of this debt that the wheat should be carried to them the ensueing season in flour Mr <Smith> having made this arrangement sent Hyrum to the new Agent at Canandaguia to inform him that the money should be forthcoming as soon as the 25th of Septem Decber which the Agent said would answer every purpose and agreed to wi retain the land untill that time thus assured that all was safe we gave ourselves no <further> uneasiness about the matter

There was no Alvin to bail out his father with the mortgage as he had been. Smith Sr., had over a year to get up the required funds, yet failed to do so, instead going off on a lark and taking young Jo with him to go money-digging. There was no wheat deal. Lucy then writes,

When the time <had nearly> come that rendered it necessary for my Husband to set out for Pensylvania to get the money Joseph one day called Mr Smith and myself aside and told us that he had felt so lonely ever since Alvin’s death that he had come to the conclusion of getting married…

Except that Smith Sr., was already in Pennsylvania with young Jo! And while they were gone the house was sold to someone that wanted to evict the family out into the cold. (It was winter). If not for their kind Quaker neighbors and most likely the local Presbyterian church they would have had to go back to the small log cabin.

So what do we have here? Lucy having tea with the neighbor ladies and claiming that her children are better than theirs. And what happens? Alvin dies, and her husband continues to obsess over buried treasure and drags his son into it with him. Smith Sr., doesn’t come back with any money, as when Lemuel Durfee bought the farm and let the Smith’s stay they had nothing to pay him with and had to indenture their son Harrison for six months to the new landlord. Lucy chooses to exclude her husband from all his money-digging fanaticism, and downplay their involvement with the occult, claiming that it never got in the way of business when obviously it did.

This idea that Lucy is not saying what she is in reality saying has been making inroads in the Mormon apologist community. Apologist Samuel M. Brown writes,

Lucy sparred with the family’s critics in her brief aside about three “magical” practices. Though she was attempting to deny her family’s involvement in such activities, Lucy’s list of three sample practices provides useful insights into the nature of folk esotericism and its intersections with established religion. That hers was an attempted denial is clear from both close attention to the text and to the third of the practices she listed. The third activity to which Lucy alludes makes quite clear that she was disclaiming involvement in folk rites. “Soothsaying,” a pejorative term for predicting the future or certain forms of supernatural sight, is not a word that a Protestant (or sectarian ex-Protestant) would use to describe her own or her family’s activities. (Samuel M. Brown, Reconsidering Lucy Mack Smith’s Folk Magic Confession)

This is simply wishful thinking. It is easy to understand Lucy’s text and there are other reasons why she would have mentioned their involvement in the occult only briefly and in the way that she did, as I documented above. And the word “soothsayer” is pretty much synonymous with “astrologer”. In their book Archetypes and Motifs in Folklore, by Jane Garry and Hasan El-Shamy they write:

In sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe, soothsayers like astrologers and alchemists were considered scientists, relying on visions and movements of the stars to make their predictions. Paracelsus and his teacher Tritemius were examples of this type of soothsayer (D1712.01, “Astrologer-Magician”). Also at this time, chapbooks and almanacs provided popular prophecies and astrological readings. For example, the prophecies of Nostradamus remain widely known even today. … The so called Warlock of the Glen, for example, divined by peering through a hole in a round white stone (Motif D1712.1, “Soothsayer at work by various means of divination”). 

In 1840 Charles Pickering wrote that “It appears further, that the profession of “astrology and soothsaying” had likewise reached the Hawaiian Islands.” (United States Exploring Expedition During the Years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842, Volume 9, 93)

Brown’s argument is ludicrous. He writes,

In a Bible-drenched culture like that of early America, soothsaying recalled capital crimes within the Hebrew Bible. Soothsayers included the much-maligned Balaam (Josh. 13:22), so obtuse that he was outclassed (and reprimanded) by his famously garrulous ass; the Philistines (Isa. 2:6), whose mighty giant the mythically powerful first king of united Israel slew with a sling; the courtiers of the Babylonian king whom Daniel put to shame (Dan. 2:27; 4:7; 5:7; 11); or the corrupted state of Israel whom Micah (Micah 5:12) denounced. In the sole explicit New Testament reference, soothsaying was a lucrative sequela of demonic possession (Acts 16:16). Joseph Jr.’s scripture employed biblical citations to confirm the rejection of soothsaying (2 Ne. 12:6 and 3 Ne. 21:16). Simply put, soothsaying is not a category that exists other than as a denunciatory epithet. Even people who might accept “magic” as a self-reference would not accept “soothsaying.” (Brown, op. cited, )

Except, as I mentioned above, astrology and soothsaying went hand in hand and people had no problems buying almanacs and believing in astrological prognostications. And yet, the Book of Daniel condemns the Astrologers along with the Soothsayers as do other prophets in the Bible:

Daniel answered in the presence of the king, and said, The secret which the king hath demanded cannot the wise men, the astrologers, the magicians, the soothsayers, shew unto the king; But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latterdays. (Daniel 2:27-28)

Brown’s presentism here, (along with his anachronistic insertions) doesn’t serve him or his argument well. (The Book of Mormon didn’t come along until almost seven years after the period Lucy describes, and astrology is condemned far more often than the word “soothsayer” in the Bible. Keith A. Cerniglia documents that:

Ames’ almanac series, firmly rooted in judicial astrology, sold between 50,000 and 60,000 copies annually. A careful review of the sources indicates the scholars have been too hasty to write an obituary for the application of astrology, irrespective of its natural or judicial disposition. Late in the eighteenth century — during which the researchers have sounded the death knell for astrology — women, blacks and foreign-born printers had already made their incursions into the world of almanacs and astrology. This appears to reflect even further diversity in, at the very least, basic exposure of astrology. To use another example, Stephen Row Bradley’s Astronomical Diary of 1775 almost outsold (2,000 copies) the second-largest circulating colonial newspaper of 1770, William Goddard’s Pennsylvania Chronicle (which had 2,500 subscribers).(The American Almanac and the Astrology Factor)

Yes, the Christian churches were denouncing Astrology and Soothsaying, but that did not have as much of an impact as Brown would lead one to believe. The lower classes and superstitious and many of the upper echelon were interested in astrology and those who claimed to be able to foretell the future.

Like with many other things those who were practicing and believed in such things often denounced others who did. As we have learned so far, the folk magic culture was pervasive in 18th and 19th century America and wasn’t part of Christianity though there were many Christians who practiced some kind of folk magic.

End of Pt. 2

The Early Histories of Joseph Smith, Part I: Ghosts & Angels

“The Moneydiggers” by John Quidor

by Johnny Stephenson

PART I: Of Ghosts & Angels

“[A] gold book discovered by … necromancy … & dug from the mines of atheism” or “the angel of the Lord has revealed to him …divine revelation”? ~Jesse Smith

Introduction

When the “Gold Bible” stories began being noised about in August 1829, an interesting story was being relayed by the principle players in the drama which was then unfolding about a mysterious record that some Jo from Palmyra, New York had reportedly unearthed. One of the first accounts about what they were calling The Book of Mormon appeared in the Palmyra Freeman:

In the fall of 1827, a person by the name of Joseph Smith, of Manchester, Ontario county, reported that he had been visited in a dream by the spirit of the Almighty, and informed that in a certain hill in that town, was deposited this Golden Bible, containing an ancient record of a divine nature and origin. After having been thrice thus visited, as he states, he proceeded to the spot, and after having penetrating “mother earth” a short distance, the Bible was found, together with a huge pair of spectacles! He had directed, however, not to let any mortal being examine them, “under no less penalty” than instant death! They were therefore nicely wrapped up, and excluded from the vulgar gaze of poor wicked mortals!” It was said that the leaves of the Bible were plates, of gold about eight inches long, six wide, and one eighth of an inch thick, on which were engraved characters or hieroglyphics. By placing the spectacles in a hat, and looking into it, Smith could (he said so, at least) interpret these characters. (The Palmyra Freeman, August 11, 1829).

This was the story as told by Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery and others, throughout the early years of the new Mormonite religion (and they were totally serious about the “instant death” part). In November of 1830, the Ohio Observer & Telegraph published another detail that was also being told along with the story above:

These men [Oliver Cowdery & Co.] have brought with them copies of a Book, known in this region by the name of the “Golden Bible,” or, as it is learned on its title-page, “The Book of Mormon.” They solemnly affirm, that its contents were given by Divine inspiration; was written by prophets of the Most High from a period of 600 years before, to that of some hundred years after our blessed Saviour’s advent; was deposited by Divine command below the surface of the ground, in or near the township of Palmyra, Ontario Co., N. Y., that an Angel appeared to a certain Joseph Smith residing in that place, who, they say, was a poor, ignorant, illiterate man, and made no pretensions to religion of any kind; — … [section of text illegible] … of this sacred deposit, and directed him forthwith to dig up and bring to light this precious record and prophecy. They affirm that the said Smith obeyed the heavenly messenger, when lo! a new Revelation — the Golden Bible was discovered!

In this account we learn that before Joseph prayed and was answered by the angel, he “made no pretensions to religion of any kind.” This is a detail that the early missionaries were repeating, the same one that Lucy Smith, William Smith, Samuel H. Smith and others recalled: that Joseph was caught up in the religious excitement in Manchester/Palmyra in the fall of 1823 and prayed for an answer to the question of “which church is right” and was answered by an angel, who told him about a “record” -which Joseph failed to acquire because he had selfish thoughts. He then repents, and gets the record four years later, after reporting to the angel every year to receive instructions on how to “restore” God’s kingdom. In August, 1832 William McLellin wrote to relatives about the new religion:

Some time in July 1831, two men [Elders Samuel H. Smith and Reynolds Cahoon] … 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…. (William McLellin, Letter to Relatives, August 4, 1832, The Ensign of Liberty, of the Church of Christ . . . Kirtland, Lake County, Ohio 1 (January 1848):60-61)

Painting by Ramsey

Notice that McLellin refers to the unnamed angel as “it”, not “he”. William McLellin had met Joseph in October of 1831 and stayed with him for three weeks. His story didn’t change. If Joseph was telling a different story, McLellin surely would have known and informed his relatives. But this is the account they were giving then. Lyman E. Johnson and Orson Pratt told a similar story almost a year later:

In 1827 a young man called Joseph Smith of the state of New York, of no denomination, but under conviction, [guilt & sorrow leading to repentance] 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… (Catholic Telegraph 1 (April 14, 1832):204-205).

In 1830 Peter Bauder had visited with Joseph Smith for a whole day and left this account:

… 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. (Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 1, p. 16-18).

“A secret treasure” is what he called it, and Joseph’s religious questions were answered by an unnamed angel, not by Jesus. Smith’s followers and family were testifying that Joseph did not make pretensions to religion of any kind, before encountering this angel in the mid 1820’s.

And what about those other stories, the ones also being told by Joseph and his family between 1823-1827? Was the account that Joseph would give later in 1832, that there was a Christian framework (not magical) surrounding his claimed visions the true one? That the only involvement that he had with money-digging was being hired for wages to literally dig for a silver mine? That his involvement with money-digging was only for “nearly a month”?

Why then, did Joseph’s family, neighbors and yes, some early Mormon “saints” claim that he was heavily involved with treasure digging and magical practices for many years, and that the story of the angel and the plates being told in 1828-29 was closely intertwined with those earlier experiences? Why are the plates referred to by those closest to Joseph as “treasure” over and over again? Were the stories about a ghost and buried treasure in the “Mormon Hill” and the Smith’s pursuit of it simply lies made up after the fact by those like Abner Cole, Willard Chase, Peter Ingersol, Martin Harris and dozens of others as some apologists claim?

And then we have the Mormon apologists who argue that one must agree with their view that Christianity and folk magic were inseparable or one cannot grasp what the evidence means and how Smith’s story developed. This is ridiculous for a number of reasons, which I will explore below, along with their other wild speculations about Folk Magic. What was normal or not normal during the Great Awakenings, was subjective and constantly changing and so trying to broad brush the folk magic aspect for all Americans and make the claim that treasure digging was simply an effort to restore primitive Christianity is disingenuous.

When one takes the time to analyze the evidence surrounding the claims made by Joseph of having those two visions (in 1820 & 1823), many problems arise, especially concerning the claimed 1820 “first vision”. I will address those problems below and in a follow up article address the apologist arguments that attempt to explain the inconsistencies, contradictions and conundrums of his first two written histories (1832 & 1834/5); but first let’s address the historical evidence surrounding those early years (1820-1830) and the historical narrative that can be pieced together from the evidence.

Camp Meetings & Revivals

In Joseph’s later narrative, he claims to have been prompted to seek an answer because of a great revival which had swept through the place where he lived in the spring of 1820. It is therefore extremely important to note something here. In 1967 Wesley Walters wrote,

“… the contemporary records [show] that the revival which Smith claimed occurred in 1820 did not really take place until the fall of 1824.” (pg. 61)

Strangely, the anonymously authored essay from 2013 published by the church references a camp-meeting which took place in mid-July of 1820, and they also don’t inform their readers that it was more than 25 miles from Palmyra. They reference the diary of Benajah Williams but don’t quote it:

The journals of an itinerant Methodist preacher document much religious excitement in Joseph’s geographic area in 1819 and 1820. They report that Reverend George Lane, a revivalist Methodist minister, was in that region in both years, speaking “on Gods method in bringing about Reformations.” This historical evidence is consistent with Joseph’s description.

No, the evidence is not consistent. “The place where we lived” is certainly not 25 miles away. Williams wrote:

“Sat. 15th Had a two Days meeting at Sq Bakers in Richmond. Br. Wright being gone to campmeeting on Ridgeway circuit I expected to find Br. J. Hayes at the Meeting & calculated to get him to take the lead of the meeting but when on my way to meeting met him going to conference & tried to get him to return but he thout[sic] not best as his horse was young, he said he could not ride through by conference by the time it commenced Then I thout what shall I do I shall have to take the lead at the meeting & do the p- (preaching) but the Lord prepaired him self a preacher it rained powerfully until 11 o’clock so that I was verry wet I called with some of the Brtheren at Br. Eldredges and took dinner then rode to the place appointed for meeting. & found Br. Lane a Presiding Elder from Susquehanna District with five more preachers. Br. Warner p. on Sat. Br. Griffing exhorted. We had a good prayer meeting at six in the evening.”

“Sab. 16th Our Lovefeast began at 9 & the Lord was present to bless & we had a shout in the camp. Br E Bibbins p- at 11 from…the lord attended the word & the people were satisfied with the Sermons. Br. Lane exhorted and spoke on Gods method in bringing about Reffermations [sic] his word was with as from the authority of God. & not as the Areons. After him Br. Griffin with life & energy & Br. Vose closed the Meeting after with some of the Brethren dined with Br. W. E….” (Diary of Benajah Williams, 15-16 July, 1820).

The story that Joseph told had a revival taking place “in his fifteenth year” in “the place where we lived”, before his claimed vision in the “early spring” and that the whole district of the country was affected also. And the Methodists were not the only ones affected, but the Presbyterians and Baptists were also. The Williams Camp Meeting was a 9 hour walk from the Smith farm. It was not a revival and it doesn’t fit the evidence at all. Here is the footnote from the anonymous essay:

  1. Benajah Williams diary, July 15, 1820, copy in Church History Library, Salt Lake City; spelling regularized.

What they don’t mention in the body of the essay is that this camp meeting took place in the middle of July not the “early Spring”. Mike Quinn, in a bizarre effort to question the character of Wesley Walters, wrote a paper in 2006 titled, “Joseph Smith’s Experience of a Methodist ‘Camp Meeting’ in 1820”, and for all the attacks on Walters had to admit, according to Dan Vogel that “the First Vision story contains elements from the 1824–25 Palmyra revival,” and so Walter’s “observation about the text and its relationship to verifiable historical facts remains essentially legitimate.”

Quinn calls what he is doing in his paper “conservative revisionism”, and this includes throwing out what Smith himself wrote, that his vision took place in the early spring of 1820. Quinn claims that this is wrong, that it took place in the early summer because of a cold spring… that Joseph essentially mistook the month of July for the month of March. This kind of tortured ad hoc “revisionism” is simply baffling. Quinn also touts this newspaper article as strong evidence that Walter’s was wrong:

Effects of Drunkenness. — DIED at the house of Mr. Robert M’Collum, in this town, on the 26th inst., James Couser, aged about forty years. The deceased, we are informed, arrived at Mr. M’Collum’s house the evening preceding, from a camp-meeting which was held in this vicinity, in a state of intoxication. He, with his companion who was also in the same debasing condition, called for supper, which was granted. Both stayed all night — called for breakfast next morning — when notified that it was ready, the deceased was found wrestling with his companion, whom he flung down with the greatest ease, — he suddenly sunk down upon a bench, — was taken with an epileptic fit, and immediately expired. — It is supposed he obtained his liquor, which was no doubt the cause of his death, at the Camp-ground, where, it is a notorious fact, the intemperate, the lewd and dissolute part of the community too frequently resort for no better objewct, than to gratify their base propensities. The deceased, who was an Irishman, we understand has left a family, living at Catskill, this state. (Palmyra Register, June 28, 1820)

Again, a camp-meeting months after the claimed “early Spring” vision. So where is the reference to the claimed 1819 “revival”? The anonymous authors don’t provide any. But there is another Methodist preacher the Apologists mention, Aurora Seager, who was in the area in 1818 and this is from his diary:

I received, on the 18th of June, a letter from Brother Hibbard, informing me that I had been received by the New York Conference, and, at my request, had been transferred to the Genesee Conference. On the 19th I attended a camp-meeting at Palmyra. The arrival of Bishop Roberts, who seems to be a man of God, and is apostolic in his appearance, gave a deeper interest to the meeting until it closed. On Monday the sacrament was administered, about twenty were baptized; forty united with the Church, and the meeting closed. I accompanied the Bishop to Brother Hawks, at Phelps, and on the 14th of July I set out with Brother Paddock for the Genesee conference, which was to hold its session at Lansing, N.Y. (Diary of Aurora Seager, 1818, The Three Brothers: Sketches of the Lives of Rev. Aurora Seager, Rev. Micah Seager, Rev. Schuyler Seager, D. D. (New York, 1880), pgs 21-22).

Mormon Apologists love to tout this as evidence of “an unusual excitement .. among all the sects … [with] great multitudes”, but this was two years before the claimed 1820 vision and only speaks of Methodists. There is no mention of George Lane either (this is important). Here is the story the way Smith later crafted it:

Some time in the second year after our removal to Manchester, [1820 according to Smith] there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion. It commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country. Indeed, the whole district of country seemed affected by it, and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division amongst the people, some crying, a“Lo, here!” and others, “Lo, there!” Some were contending for the Methodist faith, some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptist. … I was at this time in my fifteenth year. My father’s family was proselyted to the Presbyterian faith, and four of them joined that church, namely, my mother, Lucy; my brothers Hyrum and Samuel Harrison; and my sister Sophronia. (Joseph Smith, History)

It commenced with the Methodists “in the place where we lived” then expanded (according to Smith) to “all the sects” in “that region of the country”. It wasn’t an isolated camp meeting 25 miles from the place where he lived (Palmyra). It wasn’t a camp meeting in the summer, or two years earlier, it was a great multitudes uniting themselves to the different religious parties, and this did not happen as Joseph describes until 1824. Walters was right, and still is.

The Manchester Mess

The Smith family’s Palmyra residences (approximate locations, top left, bottom left)

Joseph claimed the whole family moved to Manchester in 1820. But this isn’t true, they didn’t all move to Manchester until 1822 after they built a cabin which they completed before starting on a “frame house” the next year. The evidence for this is incontrovertible.

As Walters and Marquardt document in “Inventing Mormonism” the Smith’s moved to Palmyra in 1816-1817 and rented a house on West Main Street. (see map above top left) They lived there for about two years and then moved out to a small log cabin on some land that Samuel Jennings owned just at the southern edge of the Palmyra Township line. (see map above bottom left) This was not Manchester. Walters & Marquardt explain:

Joseph Sr. is first found in Palmyra on the road tax list for April 1817 as a resident on Main Street…. Joseph Sr.’s name occurs again at the same location in District 26 in 1818 and 1819. In April 1820 Alvin Smith’s name appears for the first time on the road tax list among the merchants on Main Street. Alvin had turned twenty-one in February 1819 and his absence from the 1819 road list may indicate he had been hired out. Residing on Main Street may represent the cake and beer shop the Smiths reportedly operated in town. However, Joseph Sr.’s name appears at the end of the list, showing he was now living outside the business district and near the Palmyra-Farmington town line, where the road district ended. The Smith family’s cabin would be mentioned two months later in the “Palmyra Town Book” as “Joseph Smiths dwelling house,” located about fifty feet north of the line dividing Palmyra from Farmington. It stood about two miles south of Main Street on property owned by Samuel Jennings, a merchant with whom the Smiths did business. When the road survey crew on 13 June 1820 laid out the extension of Stafford Road to join Main Street to the north, they used the cabin as a reference point. The survey reads: “Minutes of the survey of a public Highway beginning on the south line … in the town of Palmyra three rods fourteen links southeas[t] of Joseph Smiths dwelling house.” The Smith cabin location is further supported by Orsamus Turner, who in 1818 began work as a young apprentice printer at the office of the local Palmyra Register. He recalled that he first saw the Smith family in the winter of 1819-20 living “in a rude log house, with but a small spot underbrushed around it” near the town line. (pg. 3-4)

Location of Smith frame house & approximate location of log cabin

The fact that the Smith’s were still living in Palmyra in 1821 is supplemented by the birth of Lucy Smith in Palmyra: “Genealogy,” Manuscript History, A-1: 10 [separate section], reads, “Lucy Smith, born in Palmyra, Ontario Co. N.Y. July 18, 1821.” (Walters & Marquardt, pg. 12), and the road tax records.

The Smith’s did not article for the Manchester Farm until 1821, as Walters & Marquardt clearly show:

Lucy subsequently reported that the family contracted for 100 acres of “Everson” (Evertson) land held by the estate of Nicholas Evertson, an attorney in New York City who had acquired considerable land holdings in western New York before his death in 1807. It was June 1820 before Evertson’s executors conveyed to Caspar W. Eddy, a New York City physician, power of attorney to sell his holdings. Eddy traveled to Canandaigua, New York, the seat of Ontario County, and on 14 July 1820 transferred his power of attorney to his friend Zachariah Seymour. Seymour had long been a land agent in the area and was a close associate of Oliver Phelps, who with his partner Nathaniel Gorham had opened a land office in Canandaigua and had instituted the practice of “articling” for real estate. …Joseph Sr. and Alvin would have had to “article” for their land shortly after July 1820. Joseph Sr. is listed in the Farmington (Manchester) 1820 census (which was enrolled between 7 August 1820 and 5 February 1821), suggesting that the articling was completed no later than February 1821. The ages of the male family members were: under 10, 2 (William and Don Carlos); 16-26, 2 (Alvin and Hyrum); and over 45, 1 (Joseph Sr.). Female members were: under 10, 1 (Catherine); 16-26, 1 (Sophronia); and 26-45, 1 (Lucy Mack Smith). Both Joseph Jr. (age fourteen) and his younger brother Samuel Harrison (age twelve) were missing from the census. The new Smith farm encompassed approximately one hundred acres, one third of the original Lot No. 1 in that township. According to the assessment roll for 22 June 1820, the entire three hundred acres of Lot 1 were taxed to the heirs of Nicholas Evertson at that time. In the following year’s assessment (7 July 1821) only two hundred acres were taxed to the Evertson heirs, while the balance was assessed to Joseph Smith. …

Lucy mentions that “in one year’s time” after they contracted for the property, the land agent told them they should build a cabin on their land, which “we did.” However, it cannot be precisely determined from her account when this log house was built. That this refers to their Farmington farm and not the Palmyra property is clear from several key facts. First, the Smiths were living in the Palmyra cabin when the road supervisors mentioned it in June 1820 before the Smiths could have contracted for the Farmington land. In addition, William Smith, Joseph Jr.’s younger brother, declared concerning the Farmington/Manchester property, “The improvements made on this farm was first commenced by building a log house at no small expense, and at a later date a frame house at a cost of several hundred dollars.” William would hardly call a cabin built on Samuel Jennings’s land in Palmyra an improvement on their own farm across the line in Manchester. From the Palmyra road tax list it is clear that at least Joseph Sr. and Alvin were still living in Palmyra as late as April 1822. It is probable that the Smiths did not move to the Manchester farm until after the summer of 1822. It could not be earlier than July 1821 because Smith family genealogy mentions the birth of a daughter named Lucy, the youngest child of the family. The genealogy specifically states that Lucy was “born in Palmyra.” (pgs. 4-7)

There is even more evidence to show that the Smith’s did not move to Manchester until 1822, as Walters & Marquardt document:

When the one hundred acres first went on the assessment roll in July 1821, taxed to Joseph Sr., the parcel was valued at $700, $7 an acre. This was approximately what uncleared land in the area was selling for at the time. The remaining two hundred acres of Lot No. 1 were taxed to the Evertson heirs at a value of $1,400. The same value appeared in the 29 June 1822 assessment. However, by 24 July 1823 the value of the Smith property had jumped to $1,000. This is an increase of over 40 percent, yet the average property value for the whole township rose only 4 percent that year. This indicates that for the first time a cabin had been built and sufficient land had been cleared so that under New York law the assessed value had to be raised. (pg. 7)

So two years from the time they moved to Manchester would be 1824, when the great revival with George Lane took place. We know that Joseph Smith is conflating events, but is it due to memory problems as some suggest? That will be addressed in Pt. II.

Further evidence that Joseph’s timeline is wrong is that members of the Smith family did not join the Presbyterian Church until after the fall/winter of 1824 when George Lane was in the area:

With inexpressible gratitude to the great Head of the church, I am enabled to inform you that the work of the Lord is prospering gloriously on Ontario district…
From Catharine I went to Ontario circuit, where the Lord had already begun a gracious work in Palmyra. This is a pleasant village, situate on the great western canal, about twenty-two miles east of Rochester, and is now in a flourishing condition. In this place the work commenced in the spring, and progressed moderately until the time of the quarterly meeting, which was held on the 25th and 26th of September. About this time it appeared to break out afresh. Monday evening, after the quarterly meeting, there were four converted, and on the following evening, at a prayer meeting at Dr. [Clark] Chase’s, there were seven. Among these was a young woman by the name of Lucy Stoddard… [Was this the Smith’s also? They lived very close to the Chase family & Sophronia married Calvin Stoddard]
December 11th and 12th our quarterly meeting for Ontario circuit was held in Ontario. It was attended with showers of blessings, and we have reason to believe that much good was done. Here I found that the work, which had for some time been going on in Palmyra, had broken out from the village like a mighty flame, and was spreading in every direction. When I left the place, December 22d, there had, in the village and its vicinity, upward of one hundred and fifty joined the society, besides a number that had joined other churches, and many that had joined no church. (Letter of George Lane, The Methodist Magazine, “Revival of Religion on Ontario District”, pg 158-60).

The Smith family joined the Presbyterians during the tenure of Reverand Benjamin Stockton (who was the reason why Joseph Smith Sr. did not join, because of his comments about Alvin):

The installation of the Rev. BENJAMIN B. STOCKTON will take place this day at the Presbyterian Meeting-House in this village. — The exercises to commence at 11 o’clock A.M. (Wayne Sentinel, February 18, 1824).

The local papers proclaimed the revival and the large numbers of people who converted:

Religious.–An article in the Religious Advocate gives the pleasing fact that a revival of religion had taken place in the town of Palmyra, Macedon, Manchester, Phelps, Lyons and Ontario, and that more than 200 souls had become hopeful subjects of Divine Grace, &c. It may be added, that in Palmyra and Macedon, including Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist Churches, more than 400 have already testified that the Lord is good. The work is still progressing. In the neighboring towns, the number is great and fast increasing. Glory be to God on high; and on earth, peace and good will to all men. (Wayne Sentinel, 2 March, 1825)

The large numbers of people converting and joining to the various sects became so commonplace after this that the Sentinel stopped reporting about them.  D. Michael Quinn writes,

…even though New York’s Methodist Magazine reported that “not less than ten thousand people” attended the Sunday session (11 June 1826) of Palmyra’s several  day camp-meeting, the village newspaper ignored this revival in its limited reporting of local events. Titled the Wayne Sentinel at that time, the newspaper’s co-editors Pomeroy Tucker and John H. Gilbert obviously saw no point in telling residents…(pg. 31)

Then, on September 25, 1824 we have this peculiar notice in the Wayne Sentinel by Joseph Smith Sr. (a few days after the Autumn Equinox) and the date Joseph Jr. was supposed to bring his brother Alvin to the hill at the bequest of the Angel/Ghost:

WHEREAS, reports have been industriously put in circulation, that my son Alvin had been removed from the place of his interment and dissected, which reports, every person possessed of human sensibility must know, are peculiarly calculated to harrow up the mind of a parent and deeply wound the feelings of relations — therefore, for the purpose of ascertaining the truth of such reports, I, with some of my neighbors, this morning, repaired to the grave, and removing the earth, found the body which had not been disturbed.

This method is taken for the purpose of satisfying the minds of those who may have heard the report, and of informing those who have put it in circulation, that it is earnestly requested they would desist therefrom; and that it is believed by some, that they have been stimulated more by a desire to injure [the] reputation of certain persons than a philanthropy for the peace and welfare of myself and friends. JOSEPH SMITH. Palmyra, Sept. 25th, 1824. (Wayne Sentinel, September 29, 1824)

Whose “reputations” would this injure? Why did this happen to the Smith family? There is no evidence that this happened to any other families in Palmyra.

I’ll explore that below. Joseph was “glass looking” in 1826, and there were no revivals in the Palmyra area as described by him in 1820, (with “great multitudes” of many different sects) and the major players in the Smith family narrative like Benjamin Stockton and George Lane were there in 1824, not before the Spring of 1820. Those like Mike Quinn and others want to claim conflation of events (1824 with 1820) but this isn’t reasonable for a number of reasons which will be discussed in Pt. II. Using that excuse is pretty much having your cake and eating it too, as is portraying Joseph as a pious magic using, money-digging prophet-in-training.

Having It Both Ways?

Mormon Apologist Larry E. Morris, in a forthcoming book informs us:

There are no substitutes for the primary documents, but in the case of the Book of Mormon, the “earliest sources” are not nearly as early as one would hope. … a host of crucial Book of Mormon events took place between September of 1823 and the end of 1827, but not a single document–no letter, diary entry, legal record, newspaper article, or anything else–mentioning the Book of Mormon has survived. Even for the crucial year of 1828, only two documents, neither the original, are extant. It is not until 1829 that contemporaneous documents are plentiful, with the June 26 Wayne Sentinel article having the distinction of sending out the first public notice of the Book of Mormon. (pg. 3)

Morris is right above, and yet, he (as others have before him) tries to make the argument that “treasure seeking was part of an attempt to recapture the simplicity and magical power associated with apostolic Christianity.” (pg. 10) This is simply ridiculous, people were treasure seeking because they thought they could get rich quick by doing so.

Morris calls magic and Christianity “inseparable and natural allies.” Morris quotes Alan Taylor over and over again, who claims that “treasure seekers were neither fools nor deceivers”, as if every single treasure seeker was an upstanding Christian who had pure motives for going after the treasure. But those who hired themselves out as “Peekers”, they were the deceivers, and why there were laws passed to stop them from doing so. It is certainly debatable that Joseph Smith Sr. and his namesake was foolish and a deceiver.

Morris also quotes Ronald Walker but leaves out that even Walker knows that the Smith’s were after treasure for their own personal greed and that in 1826 the Sr. Smith called it “filthy lucre”, and hoped that someday God would “illumine” the heart of his son Joseph! This was long after he supposedly had his two religious visions.

It is more like this “attempt” to “recapture … apostolic Christianity” was just an excuse to justify what they were doing, which even Jesse Smith (Joseph Jr’s uncle) scoffed at. And those court documents which accused Joseph of being a “glass looker” in 1826, are the earliest records that have to do with Joseph Smith, Jr. and his treasure digging ever found. These records predate any that mention of the Book of Mormon by at least two years.

The “record” or “gold plates” was called a “treasure” by Lucy Mack and Joseph Smith, Sr., Joseph Knight Sr., Martin Harris, Porter Rockwell, Brigham Young, and others. David Whitmer later claimed that the angel was “the guardian of the plates”. Joseph Jr., was said to have found the plates by looking in a “seeing” or peep-stone. (See Martin Harris interview with Joel Tiffany – “In this stone he could see many things to my certain knowledge. It was by means of this stone he first discovered these plates.”)

The Stone or the Angel?

Joseph’s first written history (the religious story) claimed that it was an unnamed angel (not Moroni) who told him about the plates – and where they were:

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 [the angel] called me by name

and he [the angel] said the Lord had forgiven me my sins

and he [the angel] 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 th[e] commandments of God and kept by the power thereof and that I should go and get them

and he [the angel] revealed unto me many things concerning the inhabitents of of the earth which since have been revealed in commandments & revelations and it was on the 22d day of Sept. AD 1822

and thus he [the angel] 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 dreem of Vision but when I considred 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 accquainted of with the power of the advisary therefore repent and call on the Lord thou shalt be forgiven and in his own due time thou shalt obtain them (pg. 4, paragraph breaks mine)

One thing stands out in this 1832 History that bears mentioning. In the earlier vision that he claimed to have in his 16th year, Smith doesn’t mention any “adversary” or Satan’s power. It is probably because in the later vision that he claimed to have in his 17th year he is told by the anonymous angel that he couldn’t get the plates because he needed to “be made accquainted of with the power of the advisary”. Later, Smith reverses this and has Satan appear prior to the appearance of the deity in the earlier vision.

Lest there be any doubt, six years later Smith wrote this:

I … went to the place where the messenger had told me the plates were deposited, and owing to the distinctness of the vision which I had had concerning it, I knew the place the instant that I arrived there. (pg. 7)

And yet Martin Harris had certain knowledge that Joseph found the gold plates using his peep-stone before the mention of any angel. This was the man who was with Joseph from the beginning of the venture, who helped him with the “translation”, gave him money and sold his farm to pay for the printing of the Book of Mormon. It is doubtful that Harris would get this detail wrong. So Joseph is not being truthful in the later versions of his history. And since magical folklore was so Christian according to Morris and other apologists, why would Joseph want to change his story and claim that an angel told him where the plates were? Why would it matter? Henry Harris recorded what Joseph Smith told him about how he discovered the gold plates:

The character of Joseph Smith, Jr. for truth and veracity was such, that I would not believe him under oath. I was once on a jury before a Justice’s Court and the Jury could not, and did not, believe his testimony to be true. After he pretended to have found the gold plates, I had a conversation with him, and asked him where he found them and how he come to know where they were. He said he had a revelation from God that told him they were hid in a certain hill and he looked in his stone and saw them in the place of deposit; that an angel appeared, and told him he could not get the plates until he was married, and that when he saw the woman that was to he his wife, he should know her; and she would know him. He then went to Pennsylvania, got his wife, and they both went together and got the gold plates… (Henry Harris, Mormonism Unvailed, 1833, 252.)

Having a “revelation”, and then looking in a peep-stone is not the same as having an angel show you where they were. Astoundingly, FAIRMORMON calls this (angel vs. stone)  a “false dichotomy” because,

Moroni could easily have told Joseph about the plates and interpreters. The vision to Joseph may well have then come through the seer stone, as some of the sections of the Doctrine and Covenants (e.g., Section X) would later be revealed. One account from Henry Harris in Eber D. Howe’s anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unvailed matches this theory well:

I had a conversation with [Joseph], and asked him where he found them [the plates] and how he come to know where they were. he said he had a revelation from God that told him they were hid in a certain hill and he looked in his [seer] stone and saw them in the place of deposit.

But Joseph later says that the information came from the angel, (not a “revelation”) and never mentions finding them with a peep-stone. FAIRMORMON has it backwards, and so doesn’t quote the full Harris statement where the angel only appears after Joseph looks in his stone. Harris doesn’t claim that the angel told him about the plates at all; Joseph was claiming that his peep-stones were like the “all seeing eye” of God, cloaking his magical practices in religious terminology as so many others did.  What is rather hilarious is that Harris says that he would not believe Smith under oath! But this still doesn’t give them pause in using him to bolster their erroneous claim.

And yet, in 1832, Samuel H. Smith & Orson Hyde answered the question this way:

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. (Boston Investigator 2 (Aug. 10, 1832).

And in their 1834/35 History Cowdery & Smith wrote,

An Angel appeared before me; his hands and feet were, naked, pure and white; he stood betwen the floors of the room, clothed with purity inexpressible. He said unto me I am a Messenger sent from God, be faithful and keep his commandments in all things. He told me also of a sacred record which was written on plates of gold. I saw in the vision the place where they were deposited. He said to me the Indians were the literal decendants of Abraham.

And finally, in 1838 Joseph Smith himself answered this:

How, and where did you obtain the book of Mormon?…Moroni, the person who deposited the plates, from whence the book of Mormon was translated, in a hill in Manchester, Ontario County, New York, being dead, and raised again therefrom, appeared unto me and told me where they were and gave me directions how to obtain them. I obtained them and the Urim and Thummim with them, by the means of which I translated the plates and thus came the book of MormonJoseph Smith, Jr., Elders’ Journal 1:3 (July 1838): 42–43.)

It is perfectly clear that Smith was later claiming that the angel showed him “in the vision” where they were. Why? Because he was trying to hide the fact that he used a peep-stone and with it claimed to have found the plates and later used it to “translate” them.

So by 1832 Smith’s story had completely changed. This is important to note going forward: Smith’s constantly changing narrative to eliminate or downplay as many treasure-digging/folk magic elements from his later angel narrative as he could. Once again, it begs the question, Why? if folk magic and Christianity were so complimentary and intertwined as the apologists claim. Smith wasn’t “restoring” Christianity for who he deemed the corrupt elites, but for the “folk” who supposedly believed in all that magical stuff. So why would he run away from it? The apologist arguments can’t explain it.

It is also very important to note that Joseph locating the “gold plates” with his stone, is at its heart a treasure digging yarn, and those elements were still being related to Harris and others before he finally changed it to the wholly religious narrative we have today. (The angel told him – there was no peep-stone, only “interpreters’)

Having It Both Ways (Continued)

It seems that the apologists feel making the above argument (treasure seeking = Christianity) clears Joseph and his family of any shenanigans in relation to peep-stones, divining rods, money-digging, magic circles and parchments, incantations, rituals, necromancy and the like. It was all simply a part of their Christian folk lore beliefs and, of course, everybody else was doing it so how bad could it be? And way, way back in Old Testament days (thousands of years ago) they were using strange objects to do things with too! Problem solved!

They even claim that all these occult practices helped prepare the family to accept seeing angels sent from God, and accepting his message to young Joseph!

What it sounds like though, is simply whataboutism run amok: “What about this good Christian fellow/Preacher who used a divining rod” or “they prayed before they tried to contact the spirits of the dead”.. so all such practices were acceptable and promoted by Christians and hence were a normal part of apostolic Christianity! What about those ancient Old Testament Bible stories from thousands of years ago that mention divining cups and rods that turn into snakes, etc.? Problem solved! (They even had talking donkeys back then!)

In a paper Morris wrote, “I Should Have An Eye Single to the Glory of God”, which is critical of Ron Huggins’ Dialogue article, “From Captain Kidd’s Treasure Ghost to the Angel Moroni: Changing Dramatis Personae in Early Mormonism”, (which he expanded into his new book) Morris goes on and on about sources and then tells his audience that “…since we have no such sources, we have to do the best we can with what we have.” That’s exactly what Ron did. Still, Morris’s biggest criticism of Ron Huggins is that he did not answer point by point all the apologist offerings about folk magic. For example, Morris claims that,

Huggins should have drawn upon relevant scholarship, particularly Ronald W. Walker’s claim that “Mormonism was . . . born within an upstate New York matrix that combined New England folk culture with traditional religion.” And although Huggins is aware of this paper (pp. 27, 33), he fails to respond to Walker’s view that “magical treasure hunting was . . . part of the culture and religion of the folk . . . , a blend of humankind’s deep myths and Christian ideas.” Instead, Huggins narrows his discussion of treasure seeking to tales of Captain Kidd, introducing and concluding his article with mentions of the notorious pirate and his legendary plunder.

In other words, Ron should have presented all the Mormon apologist offerings in his paper, and downplayed any connection to Captain Kidd, the very subject that the paper was all about? Really? Write a Larry E. Morris approved article with sources he thinks are relevant? But hold on… Walker’s full quote reads:

Mormonism was also born within an Upstate New York matrix that combined New England folk culture with traditional religion. Joseph Smith’s family and many of his early New York converts were both treasure diggers and fervent religionists. But there is evidence that the Smiths were not always comfortable mixing the two. At young Joseph’s 1826 money digging trial his father was reported to have claimed that both he and his son “were mortified that this wonderful [seeric] power which God had so miraculously given to the boy should be used only in search of filthy lucre, or its equivalent in earthly treasures.” Joseph Smith Sr “trusted that the Son of Righteousness would some day illumine the heart of the boy and enable him to see his will concerning him.” (Page 450)

Notice that Walker separates the two, (treasure digging and religionists) and it is the Smith’s who combine them (as do others in that sub culture) and are conflicted about doing so! And if you read Morris’ quote, so full of ellipses, you would never know that Walker believes that even the Smith’s were not comfortable mixing them. So why would Ron Huggins even need to include any of Walker’s opinions in his paper? To support apologist speculations? Is that really relevant scholarship? Let’s see.

Walker quotes Joseph Smith, Sr. giving testimony at his sons 1826 Examination. This was six years after Joseph supposedly saw God and three years after he claimed the angel he later identified as Moroni/Nephi visited him. And then, of course there were the two visits in 1824 and 1825 at the Hill Cumorah. So when was the “Son of Righteousness” going to “illumine the heart of the boy”? And even after this, Joseph went back to looking for treasure! It was like those religious visions never really happened!

Morris wants to have it both ways as do all the apologists who try to justify the Smith’s practicing and believing in magic rituals and practices, the supernatural spirits that supposedly guarded buried treasure, and being able to locate such treasure using various instruments like dowsing rods and peep-stones as somehow being more than a subculture (even a widespread one at times) and therefore acceptable as legitimate Christian practices. (Christianity is not Old Testament Judaism). Didn’t Christ claim he had “fulfilled” the old laws and after the “gift of the Holy Spirit” none of that was necessary any more? That it would be a much simpler gospel, like love your neighbor as yourself?  But I digress. Another time perhaps.

Where is it listed in any of the many Church tenets of the Universalists, or Baptists, or Methodists, or Presbyterians, or other Christian churches of the day, the instructions about divining, or peeping with stones, or necromancy, or other “folk magic” practices?

Even though some individuals might practice such things, there is no evidence that any of the Christian Churches in America were promoting such things in a widespread manner as the apologists want you to believe. It was a subculture that was widespread among all Americans, both religious and non-religious, and as we shall see below, even the Mormons turned against it and claimed such things were ‘not of God’.

And if one wants to call “folk magic” a religion, well, there is the problem that God supposedly told Joseph in 1820 that all the different religions were false and to “go not after them”. And remember, after his claimed 1820 vision Joseph “…frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God.” He claims that stuff (the money-digging) was offensive in the sight of God. Ah, but having it both ways allows Joseph to do all this offensive stuff and still be a legitimate, bona fide occult dabbling prophet-in-training, right? Because he claimed to “repent” then continued to do it. And continued to do it. But now… the apologists are claiming there was nothing wrong with any of it because so many other Christians were doing their own dabbling.

In this tortured paragraph, Eric A. Eliason touts a folklorist to try and show how magic and religion are really just the same thing and that you can demystify it all by realizing that it’s all culture clashes:

Folklorist David Allred reminds scholars how folklorists helped de-exoticize the common magic/religion distinction by showing them to be functionally and structurally very similar concepts whose differences have more to do with culturally constructed notions emerging from relationships of group identity, prestige, and power than they do from any intrinsic qualities of magic or religion. (pg. 80)

But what was Joseph himself saying when he put these words in the mouth of God to him in 1820:

[God said] all their Creeds were an abomination in his sight, that those professors were all corrupt, that “they draw near to me to with their lips but their hearts are far from me, They teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of Godliness but they deny the power thereof.” He again forbade me to join with any of them and many other thing[s] did he say unto me which I cannot write at this time. (p. 2)

Since magic and religion are not different from one another (according to the apologists), Joseph then continued to ignore the heavenly visitors he claimed he was continually seeing right up until he came to possess the gold plates in 1827. Surely this instruction from God includes Professors of Methodist/magic folklore or Universalist/magic folklore or Presbyterian/magic folklore, etc. Surely it includes practitioners of folk magic who were not affiliated with any of the sects of the day and all the magical “creeds”. If one wants to claim that Smith was commanded to “go not after” only organized religions, what is the reason why God would leave out folk religion/magic? And that begs the question why would God use the abominable “Christian” folk magic to train his prophet? Was the angel directing the young prophet-in-training to go out and peep for treasure? Does that somehow make one more prolific at “translating” ancient languages? Joseph never finds anything with his occult peep-stone but when it becomes a religious “seeing stone” he can “translate” whole books of scripture! Just call it urim and thuimmim and it’s all good. Just picture the angel: Joseph you’re too greedy, go out and work on the treasure hunting some more so you can hone those peep-stone skills and “translate” these gold plates that you won’t really need to have to do the “translating”. Really?

In the claimed vision though, Joseph’s God makes no distinctions. All were wrong according to Joseph though he only mentions three of the most “popular” denominations in his account.

It is certainly of interest to mention that in 1830, when Oliver Cowdery and a few others went to Ohio, Abner Cole published these statements they made to those they were trying to proselyte to the new Mormonite faith:

Our Painesville correspondent informs us, that about the first of Nov. last, Oliver Cowdery, (we shall notice this character in the course of our labors,) and three others arrived at that village with the “New Bible,” on a mission to the notorious Sidney Rigdon, who resides in the adjoining town. Rigdon received them graciously — took the book under advisement, and in a few days declared it to be of “Heavenly origin.” Rigdon, with about 20 of his flock, were dipt immediately. They then proclaimed that there had been no religion in the world for 1500 years, — that no one had been authorised to preach &c. for that period, — that Joe Smith had now received a commission from God for that purpose, and that all such as did not submit to his authority would speedily be destroyed. The world (except the New Jerusalem) would come to an end in two or three years. The state of New York would (probably) be sunk. Smith (they affirmed) had seen God frequently and personally — Cowdery and his friends had frequent interviews with angels, and had been directed to locate the site for the New Jerusalem, which they should know, the moment they should “step their feet” upon it. They pretend to heal the sick and work miracles, and had made a number of unsuccessful attempts to do so. The Indians were the ten lost tribes — some of them had already been dipt. From 1 to 200 (whites) had already been in the water, and showed great zeal in this new religion — many were converted before they saw the book. Smith was continually receiving new revelations, and it would probably take him 1000 years to complete them — commissions and papers were exhibited, said to be signed by Christ himself!!! Cowdery authorised three persons to preach, &c.  and descended the Ohio River. The converts are forming “common stock” families, as most pleasing in the sight of God. They pretend to give the “Holy Spirit” and under its operations they fall upon the floor — see visions, &c. Indians followed Cowdery daily, and finally saw him enter the promised land, where he placed a pole in the ground, with a light on its top, to designate the site of the New Jerusalem. (The Palmyra Reflector, February 14, 1831, See also issues of the Painesville Telegraph for this period).

Notice they were preaching that there was no religion on the earth for 1500 years. As we know, Joseph was to later declare that without the proper “authority” anything done in God’s name was invalid and an affront to him. But the Apologists would have you believe that there was an exception for their “Christian” folk magic and the shenanigans of Palmyra’s prophet-in-training.

Magic or Religion?

Joseph’s “official” story about seeing God and then an angel in 1820 and 1823 isn’t based on some magic subculture, because Joseph later denied that he was involved in it; (he was only a paid laborer) but since he was involved (as the evidence shows) he literally was ignoring the commands of both God and the angel according to his own “official” narrative. Three years after he first claimed to see an angel of God, Joseph Jr. testified in a court of law that,

…he had a certain stone, which he had occasionally looked at to determine where hidden treasures in the bowels of the earth were; that he professed to tell in this manner where gold-mines were a distance under ground, and had looked for Mr. Stowel several times, and informed him where he could find those treasures, and Mr. Stowel had been engaged in digging for them; that at Palmyra he pretended to tell, by looking at this stone, where coined money was buried in Pennsylvania, and while at Palmyra he had frequently ascertained in that way where lost property was, of various kinds; that he had occasionally been in the habit of looking through this stone to find lost property for three years, but of late had pretty much given it up on account its injuring his health, especially his eyes – made them sore; that he did not solicit business of this kind, and had always rather declined having any thing to do with this business.

According to this, Joseph is simply a reluctant Peeker who began his peeking right about the time he claimed that an angel visited him! His mother bragging about how her son “was in possession of certain means, by which he could discern things that could not be seen by the natural eye” was in relation to his use of a peep stone and perhaps a divining rod.

Joseph would later spend many months using that “means”, (his dark stone), to “translate” the Book of Mormon and continued to use it to receive “revelations”, which he claimed came from God — without complaining about it hurting his eyes. Joseph also told this to others (that the stone hurt his eyes):

McMaster sworn: says he went with Arad Stowel, and likewise came away disgusted. Prisoner pretended to him that he could discover objects at a distance by holding this white stone to the sun or candle; that prisoner rather declined looking into a hat at his dark coloured stone, as he said that it hurt his eyes.

He “rather declined looking into a hat” but then “translates” the entire Book of Mormon that way. It doesn’t make much sense that God would use a training method that hurt his eyes and then require him to “translate” that way does it? And then have the young Peeker turned Prophet continue to have to use the stone to get more revelations? Why wouldn’t God just send an angel with the messages? After all, they are messengers and God had to have a lot of those on hand, right? In one of the many versions of his claimed 1820 vision, Smith related that he saw “many angels” at that time. But when he needs one to help him, or protect him they can’t seem to be found.

Joseph also claimed that the “spectacles” or as they are described in the Book of Mormon “interpreters” were even harder to use than his peep-stone! This also confirms Joseph had two stones that he used for such purposes. Yet as Mormonism teaches, the Bible condemns such practices.

“There is no light in them”

In Isaiah we read,

And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.

I bring this up because the Mormon Church today (and in Joseph Smith’s day), separates them and condemns such magical practices, and uses the same verses to justify their condemnation:

This is not a revival of the spirituality characteristic of the ancient patriarchs and prophets of Israel, but is a type of magic and spiritualistic wizardry that the true prophets vigorously opposed. …It is clearly seen from the foregoing passages [in Isaiah] that belief in astrology, spirit mediums, etc., did not constitute the true religion taught by the prophets and patriarchs, but was characteristic of the false religions practiced by the surrounding nations that had departed from the Lord.

The above Bible verses contrast seeking out God with those who entertain “familiar spirits” the Peekers who “peep” and “mutter”.  Is using the name of God (in folk magic spells and incantations, etc.) an affirmation that something is approved by God? Basically, “it is because we said so”? Even Christ spoke of the difference when he said:

Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly I never knew you… (Matthew 7:22-23)

How many times have you heard Mormons quoting that scripture in relation to “priesthood authority”? And the Mormons aren’t the only Christians who do so. One Bible scholar recommended by Mormon apologists (Cornelius Van Dam) claims that, “there is no convincing evidence that the Urim and Thummim were used after the time of David.” It seems that the prophets of ancient Israel had turned away from such objects and warning others that God no longer sanctioned those practices. (Some claim that it was in anticipation of the Messiah… those pesky other Christians, the “whore” and her “children”) I’ll have more of Van Dam and the “whore” below.

A Counterfeit Prophet?

As I mentioned, Joseph was told in 1820 and in 1823 to go not after them (any religion). Yet he continued to do so for years if, as the apologists inform us, folk magic is actually Christianity. And if it wasn’t, was that any better? As for Joseph’s use of “folk magic”, apostle/prophet Gordon B. Hinckley wrote,

I have no doubt there was folk magic practiced in those days. [of Joseph Smith] Without question there were superstitions and the superstitious. I suppose there was some of this in the days when the Savior walked the earth. There is even some in this age of so-called enlightenment. For instance, some hotels and business buildings skip the numbering of floor thirteen. Does this mean there is something wrong with the building? Of course not. Or with the builders? No.

Similarly, the fact that there were superstitions among the people in the days of Joseph Smith is no evidence whatever that the Church came of such superstition. (Gordon B. Hinckley, “Lord, Increase Our Faith,” Ensign, November 1987, 52-53).

Why do those who are said to have actual authority teach that such things were not of God, and that it is mistake to claim that they are? Apologists are actually going against what church “authorities” claim by promoting what they do about the Smith’s continued practice of magic. Here is how Richard Bushman describes how “magic” was instrumental in getting the Smith family to believe in the angel Moroni:

Traces of a treasure-seeking mentality still appeared in the family’s reactions to the angel. His parents admonished Joseph to be rigorously obedient to the messenger’s instructions, just as exact compliance with prescribed rituals was required for successful money-digging. …When he married Emma Hale in 1827, Joseph was on the eve of realizing himself as a prophet. He may still have been involved in magic, but he was sincere when he told Emma’s father that his treasure-seeking days were over.  Magic had served its purpose in his life. In a sense, it was a preparatory gospel … After 1828, Joseph could no longer see that magic might have prepared him to believe in a revelation of gold plates and translation with a stone. It did not occur to him that without magic his family might have scoffed at his story of Moroni, as did the minister who rejected the First Vision. Magic had played its part and now could be cast aside. Magic and religion melded in the Smith family culture. …It may have taken four years for Joseph to purge himself of his treasure-seeking greed. Joseph Jr. never repudiated the stones or denied their power to find treasure. Remnants of the magical culture stayed with him to the end. (Excerpts from Bushman, Richard L., Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005, 51, 53-54, 69,)

Now it seems, the narrative is that folk magic prepared Joseph to become a Christian prophet. And it is important to note that Joseph did not identify the angel who supposedly told him about the gold plates as Moroni until about 1835, so he will be referred to as “the angel” when discussing any earlier accounts.

Larry Morris claims that “Joseph … acknowledges that implements used for supposedly “magical” purposes can also be used for what we call religious purposes—or perhaps it is the other way around.” (pg. 36) Yet, Apostle Dallin Oaks has stated:

Those who define folk magic to include any use of tangible objects to aid in obtaining spiritual guidance confound the real with the counterfeit. They mislead themselves and their readers. (Dallin H. Oaks, “Recent Events Involving Church History and Forged Documents,” Ensign (October 1987), 63.)

These church members do not agree with either Bushman or Morris in claiming that the Smith’s use of magic was in any way sanctioned by God, or that Joseph would have used such practices to “prepare” himself for his encounters with God and reject the notion that “treasure seeking was part of an attempt to recapture the simplicity and magical power associated with apostolic Christianity.” Yet, it seems that the Church is kind of? sanctioning such use of magic by bringing it in the back door, with the series of Essays that were written to counter the claims of the CES Letter in 2013. The Anonymous Authors write that,

As a young man during the 1820s, Joseph Smith, like others in his day, used a seer stone to look for lost objects and buried treasure. As Joseph grew to understand his prophetic calling, he learned that he could use this stone for the higher purpose of translating scripture. In a footnote, it says,

According to Martin Harris, an angel commanded Joseph Smith to stop these activities, which he did by 1826.

No, he didn’t stop by then. They get this wrong. Joseph claimed to speak with the angel every year for four years every September. Joseph was arrested in March, 1826. So when did the angel tell him to stop, in September, 1826 after he was arrested? If so, then why did Joseph Smith tell Samuel Lawrence there was a silver mine in Pennsylvania and entice him to go after it in the late fall/winter of 1826? Joseph returned to Palmyra, but soon returned to Pennsylvania and stayed at the farm of Joseph Knight, Sr. Dan Vogel writes,

While on the Knight farm, [November/December 1826]  Joseph participated in at least one extended treasure hunt. Emily Colburn Austin, sister of Newel Knight’s wife, Sally, reported seeing “places where they had dug for money” on the Knight farm. Austin was told that a dog had been sacrificed in the hope of breaking the charm that held “pots of money.” Joel K. Noble, the Colesville justice before whom Smith appeared in July 1830, said that “Jo. and others were digging for a chest of money in [the] night [but] could not obtain it. They procured one thing and another, together with [a] black bitch. The bitch was offered a … sacrifice, [blo]od sprinkled, prayer made at the time. [But] (no money obtained). The above sworn to on trial.” (pg. 89)

No money obtained. You will find that this is always the result of the Smith treasure hunts, except of course for the gold plates that mysteriously disappeared into the hands of an angel. If it was that easy, why didn’t God just have an angel get them from Moroni and then give them to Smith? Really! When Smith lost the Harris transcript an angel appeared and took the plates and “interpreters” from Smith. He then supposedly gave them back and then Smith gave them to him again after that.

It appears that if the angel did tell Joseph to quit money-digging, he didn’t listen. Even after marrying Emma in January, 1827 Joseph continued with his money-digging. Here is Dan Vogel once again describing the events as they transpired the year Joseph claims to have been worthy enough to get the plates:

Within days, [Josiah] Stowell transported the newlyweds to Manchester to board with Joseph’s parents in their frame house. How well Lucy and Emma got along is unknown, but the two undoubtedly shared some of the same attitudes toward their husbands’ drinking and money digging, both of which would become more prominent attributes of the Smith men during Emma’s brief stay in Manchester.

Joseph worked on his father’s farm and hired out as a laborer on other farms during the ensuing year. While he was working for William Stafford, he got into another drunken fight. Barton Stafford, son of William, remembered that on one occasion while working in his father’s field, Joseph “got quite drunk on a composition of cider, molasses and water.” In fact, Stafford said, he was so intoxicated he could barely stand and found it necessary to hold on to a nearby fence. After a while, “he fell to scuffling with one of the workmen, who tore his shirt nearly off from him.” Emma, who was in the house visiting, came out and “appeared very much grieved at his conduct, and to protect his back from the rays of the sun, and conceal his nakedness, threw her shawl over his shoulders and in that plight escorted the Prophet home.”

Gordon T. Smith, Lemuel Durfee’s adopted son, related a story about Joseph’s drinking while the latter was working for the senior Durfee. Joseph’s presence at the Durfee farm on at least two unspecified occasions in August 1827 is confirmed in the employer’s account book. When Durfee’s wife discovered that Joseph had been sneaking drinks from the whiskey bottle in her pantry each morning before work, she switched the bottle for one containing pepper-sauce, which caused Joseph considerable discomfort.20

There was no shortage of alcoholic drink at the Smith home during Joseph’s and Emma’s tenancy. One of Lemuel Durfee’s account books records the purchase of large quantities of “liquor cider” by the family during the spring and summer of 1827.

Alcohol elicited more than Joseph’s anger, for Stafford reported that “when intoxicated, he frequently made his religion the topic of conversation.” When inebriated, anything Joseph had tried to repress seemed to bellow up like steam rising from a doused fire.

By the fall of 1827, the Smith men had resumed their treasure-seeking activities in Manchester in company with like-minded neighbors. While little is known about these activities, both Martin Harris and Lorenzo Saunders said that Joseph Jr. directed a treasure-digging company until he received custody of the gold plates Joseph Capron, who lived on the farm immediately south of the Smiths, reported that in 1827 Joseph put a stone in his hat and located “a chest of gold watches … north west of my house.” After performing various magical ceremonies, a company of money diggers, including Samuel Lawrence, attempted to unearth a treasure, but the “evil spirit” guarding the chest succeeded in carrying it off.

These treasure hunts may have been financially supported by Abraham Fish, a neighbor with whom the Smiths had other financial dealings. In a letter dated January 1832, six leading citizens of Canandaigua, some of whom were familiar with Martin Harris, reported having heard that Joseph’s money-digging company in Manchester was “for a time … supported by a Mr. Fish” and that when the gentleman “turned them off,” this was when Joseph turned his attention to finding “a box … containing some gold plates.

Amid her husband’s drinking, fighting, and money digging, Emma may have begun to have second thoughts about their marriage. Lorenzo Saunders, whose sister had become close friends with Emma, said that Emma was “disappointed and used to come down to our house and sit down and cry. Said she was deceived and got into a hard place.” Perhaps Emma was beginning to fear that her parents’ assessment of Joseph had been correct. She may not have been happy having to live with her in-laws and worried that Joseph was doing little to remedy the situation. (ibid, 90-91)

Are these the actions of a person who is supposedly meeting with an angel every year to discuss how to run the kingdom of God? That’s debatable. The Anonymous Church Essay authors also write:

Joseph did not hide his well-known early involvement in treasure seeking. In 1838, he published responses to questions frequently asked of him. “Was not Jo Smith a money digger,” one question read. “Yes,” Joseph answered, “but it was never a very profitable job to him, as he only got fourteen dollars a month for it.” (Selections from Elders’ Journal, July 1838, 43).

Of course he hid it. These anonymous authors can’t get anything right. Joseph claimed (over and over again) that he was only hired to dig, (as he does in his official History) he never mentions using a peep-stone, necromancy and other occult practices to locate the treasure and lost items in any history he was involved with. Smith never admitted any of this except at his Examination under oath and perhaps privately to those who knew about his past when he was drinking.

The Church Essay on “translating” the Book of Mormon is filled with apologist speculations, including footnotes and references to their speculative articles. Is “Gee, I got 14 bucks a month employed as a shovel technician for a silver mine, therefore I was labeled as a money-digger” a real answer? Not by a long shot.

This is how the church is “officially” dealing with this issue. Where is their official declaration or instructions in the priesthood manuals about the use of seeing stones and divining rods (No one would know by simply reading D&C 7 that it was originally about using one) and how to practice necromancy to contact the dead in search of lost treasure? Instructions on how to keep the treasure from slipping back in to the earth after you locate it and “bind” the spirit that is guarding it? How many times do we have to hear that it was OK for Joseph, but for no one else? And yet, this is how it was. And of course there are those who found veins of gold and sliver in Utah and attributed it all to the “priesthood” and to God.

Those who knew Joseph best made the most excuses for his behavior:

I saw Joseph the Prophet do, and heard him say, things which I never expected to see and hear in a Prophet of God, yet I was always able to throw a mantle of charity over improper things. (Lorenzo Snow, Statement, January 29, 1891, as cited in Dennis B. Horne, An Apostle’s Record: The Journals of Abraham H. Cannon (Clearfield, UT: Gnolaum Books, 2004), 175).

But some did not. Ezra Booth wrote to Edward Partridge in 1831:

Some suppose his [Joseph’s] weakness, nay, his wickedness, can form no reasonable objection to his revelations; and ‘were he to get another man’s wife, and seek to kill her husband, it could be no reason why we should not believe revelations through him, for David did the same.’ So Sidney asserted, and many others concurred with him in sentiment. (Letter of Ezra Booth to Edward Partridge, September 20, 1831).

When is the next Elder, or Seventy, or High Priest going to get up in Sacrament Meeting and explain how to use divining rods and seeing stones and how to contact the dead to find lost items and buried treasure and see who you are going to marry? It was all “Apostolic Christianity” right?

The First Cowdery Conundrum

Early on, Joseph attempted to legitimize the divining rod of Oliver Cowdery by including something in a “revelation”, but it seems that didn’t go over very well. In 1829 Joseph penned this to Cowdery:

A Revelation to Oliver [Cowdery] he being desirous to know whether the Lord would grant him the gift of Revelation & th …Translation given in Harmony Susquehannah Pennsylvania now …this is not all for thou hast another gift which is the gift of working with the sprout Behold it hath told you things Behold there is no other power save God that can cause this thing of Nature to work in your hands for it is the work of God & therefore whatsoever ye shall ask to tell you by that means that will he grant unto you that ye shall know remember that without faith ye can do nothing trifle not with these things do not ask for that which ye had not ought ask that ye may know the mysteries of God & that ye may Translate all those ancient Records which have been hid up which are Sacred & according to your faith shall it be done unto you Behold it is I that have spoken it & I am the same which spake unto you from the begining amen

The Folk Magic Red Herring

At the Joseph Smith papers, they write:

This affirmation of Cowdery’s use of a “rod” as a divine gift illustrates the compatibility some early Americans perceived between biblical religion and popular supernaturalism. “From the outset,” according to historian Robert Fuller, “Americans have had a persistent interest in religious ideas that fall well outside the parameters of Bible-centered theology. . . . In order to meet their spiritual needs . . . [they] switched back and forth between magical and Christian beliefs without any sense of guilt or intellectual inconsistency.” (Robert C. Fuller, Spiritual, but Not Religious, Oxford University Press, 2001,15).

C. George Fitzgerald of Stanford made these comments about Fuller’s work:

The combination of individualism and rationality leads to a third component which is a common factor in each of the spirituality movements: the recurring rejection of established religion for being too doctrinaire and restrictive. His survey is quite comprehensive and includes just about every movement and its seminal founders… My appreciation for this fascinating chronicle of the development of spirituality within the US soured somewhat in the final chapter… Within every category, however, organized religion receives a lower score than spirituality. It felt like, mirabile dictu—Fuller the engrossing historian, morphed into an evangelist for spirituality. Even so, it is one of the best evangelical pamphlets (200 pages) I have seen on spirituality. 

The Joseph Smith Papers editors pretty much cherry picked Fuller because he’s an advocate of “folk magic”, or Spiritualism. The very thing that made Spiritualism appealing to Colonial Americans was that they were not confined by “organized religion” and its rules, but this is where Smith went with his own religion.

Whenever anyone used a peep-stone on their own, (as Hiram Page did) it was from “Satan” and not from God. Only Smith could tap into the divine for the church, all others were pushed aside or failed because they just weren’t Joseph Smith. He did not want to share power with anyone. He would delegate, but always had the final word. He claimed in Nauvoo that Hyrum would be the new “prophet” of the Church, but there is no evidence that Hyrum ever was, or that Smith was going to turn things over to him or anyone else. (See Council of Fifty Minutes of April 1844 where Smith bragged he was a “Committee of Myself“). Here is what Smith said on April 5th 1844:

 I dont want to be ranked with that committee I am a committee of myself, and cannot mingle with any committee in such matters. The station which I hold is an independant one and ought not to be mingled with any thing else. Let the Committee get all the droppings they can from the presence of God and bring it to me, and if it needs correction or enlargement I am ready to give it. The principles by which the world can be governed is the principle of two or three being united. Faith cannot exist without a concentration of two or three. The sun, moon and planets roll on that principle. If God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost were to disagree, the worlds would clash together in an instant. He referred to brother Lot [Cornelius P. Lott] and his farming & said God would prosper him because he gets his mind right. When I get any thing from God I shall be alone. I understand the principles of liberty we want. I have had the instructions It is necessary that this council should abide by their instructions. From henceforth let it be understood that I shall not associate with any committee I want every man to get knowledge, search the laws of nations and get all the information they can. There can be no exceptions taken to any thing that any man can say in this council. I dont want any man ever to assent to any thing in this council and then find fault with it.

Fuller claims that, “most people saw magic and Christianity as distinct, but complimentary. Most were aware that Christian clergy urged them to stay clear of unbiblical beliefs about the supernatural. Yet in order to meet their spiritual needs the laity sometimes turned to magic and sometimes to Christian ritual.” (Why did the JSP edit this out of their quote?)

This was anathema in the church that Smith set up. And does this still go on even today? Sure, as we will explore below. But it is not as rampant as it was before the Second Great Awakening and the rise of the Age of Reason. (c. 1790) According to Fuller, this coincided with the decline of folk magic practices among the Christians. It is important to note that Smith hid and rejected his folk magic roots as he organized his church and developed his theology. The period of time between his two visions he characterized as a time of folly and mistakes, which he claimed to have repented of before the second vision of the angel.

And of course if you study what Fuller says, it is obvious that the Mormons are trying to create a red herring here. He writes:

Churched and unchurched religiosity have factored about equally in American’s understanding of the supernatural since the nation’s beginnings. The exact relationship between the two varied person by person. It seems that on the whole most people saw magic and Christianity as distinct, but complimentary.

This is footnoted by Fuller, and in the footnote he writes, “There is considerable scholarly debate about the exact relationship between the churched and unchurched elements of colonial religiosity.”

Of course there is considerable scholarly debate. So claiming that Ron Huggins didn’t use “relevant scholarship” was in the eye of the beholder, or simply Morris’ opinion and irrelevant to what Ron wrote. It would be including speculation that can never be tied to the Smith’s because no one knows exactly how Joseph himself viewed folk magic in relation to Christianity. But what we see in the evidence is that he continued to lie about his youthful involvement in it. And when he was a Methodist Exhorter, was he telling them all about his peep-stone, or when he tried to join the Methodists in Harmony, did he brag about his treasure digging past? – as it should not have been a problem according to Mormon apologists. According to the Lewis brothers, when confronted about his involvement in the occult, Smith walked away from the Methodists.

So really, what the Mormons need to say, (that they won’t say), is treasure digging was, perhaps, in the minds of some individuals (how many we will never know, but there is no evidence it was widespread) an effort to recapture the power of apostolic Christianity. And even this is debatable among historians. So is all this relevant to Smith’s treasure digging? No, because there is absolutely no evidence that the Smith’s connected the two in any meaningful way, and there is actual evidence that Smith rejected all religion (including folk magic) except what he would later “restore”. And precious little of what he was doing in the 1820’s became widespread approved practices in his church.

Treasure digging may have been a widespread subculture in early colonial America, but there is no way to know what the motivation of most individuals was except the obvious (to get rich), and there was so much fraud and conning going on in relation to it that laws were passed making what Smith was doing (“Juggling” or pretending to peep for treasure) illegal.

The Gift of What?

If there was any mixing of folk magic in Mormonism, it was systematically stamped out, changed and downplayed, like the “revelation” to Cowdery in 1829 who was initially told that:

“Shuredly as the Lord liveth which is your God & your Redeemer even so shure shall ye receive a knowledge of whatsoever things ye shall ask with an honest heart believeing that ye Shall receive, a knowledge concerning the engraveings of old Records which are ancient which contain those parts of my Scriptures of which hath been spoken by the manifestation of my Spirit yea Behold I will tell you in your mind & in your heart by the Holy Ghost which Shall come upon you & which shall dwell in your heart now Behold this is the spirit of Revelation … whatsoever ye shall ask to tell you by that means [the “sprout”] that will he grant unto you that ye shall know remember that without faith ye can do nothing…

Smith informs Cowdery that all he needs to do is ask with faith and God will “grant unto you”. Just ask, buddy. Just ask. Didn’t Jesus also say that? Smith divined to Cowdery that the “Holy Ghost” would come upon him and “dwell in his heart”. And yet, when Cowdery tried, he failed because he had “not understood”, he actually “supposed that I [God] would give it unto you, when you took no thought, save it was to ask me…”

And yet, that is what Joseph said God would do, he would give it to Cowdery if he simply asked in faith! This shell game by Smith was played with anyone who he deemed was a challenge to his authority or primacy. And we see here Joseph telling Cowdery that the Holy Ghost will come and “dwell in your heart”, but later, in Nauvoo, he contradicted this and said the opposite (correcting Orson Hyde) in 1843:

The Holy Ghost is a personage, and a person cannot have the personage of the Holy Ghost in his heart. A man receive the gifts of the H. G., and the H. G. may descend upon a man but not to tarry with him.

That is because Mormonism agreed with the doctrine of the Trinity in those early days. Today, the “revelation” to Cowdery reads like this:

Now this is not all thy gift for you have another gift, which is the gift of Aaron; behold, it has told you many things; Behold, there is no other power, save the power of God, that can cause this gift of Aaron to be with you. (Doctrine & Covenants, Section 8, 2013)

This is so obscured that no one would ever know what the original was all about. And when was this begun? First, in Missouri with the Book of Commandments:

Now this is not all, for you have another gift, which is the gift of working with the rod: behold it has told you things: behold there is no other power save God, that can cause this rod of nature, to work in your hands, for it is the work of God; and therefore whatsoever you shall ask me to tell you by that means, that will I grant unto you, that you shall know. (Book of Commandments, Chapter VII, 1833)

Then later, in Kirtland under Joseph Smith’s supervision it was radically changed:

Now this is not all thy gift; for you have another gift, which is the gift of Aaron: behold it has told you many things: behold there is no other power save the power of God that can cause this gift of Aaron to be with you; therefore, doubt not, for it is the gift of God, and you shall hold it in your hands, and do marvelous works; and no power shall be able to take it away out of your hands; for it is the work of God. And therefore, whatsoever you shall ask me to tell you by that means, that will I grant unto you and you shall have knowledge concerning it (1835 Doctrine and Covenants, Section XXXIV)

How does the “power of God” cause a sprout “to be with you”? Because that is not what it says in the original. (The “sprout” was already with him) It says that God was the only one who could make this “thing of Nature to work in your hands.” Calling it the “gift of Aaron” is ridiculous.

No one would have any idea what this “revelation” is now talking about. If they were so proud of folk magic and using the implements of it, why was this changed so soon after it was originally given? This is “restoring” Apostolic Christianity?

And today, they do not have the original “revelation” in the current Doctrine and Covenants, (only a note that Sidney Rigdon changed the word “sprout” to “rod”) but instead have a changed, obscure “revelation” in its place.

In no way do they give an adequate explanation for why this “revelation” was changed, (they tell you to go to Fuller’s Book and to Ashurst-Mcgee’s article!) and they have a link to an article that has some of the text of the original “revelation” and pretty much gives the same information that the JSP give (the changes to it, not the reason why it was changed).

The Stone or The Holy Ghost?

In June of 1829 Joseph was calling himself a prophet and giving revelations through his peep-stone. In a revelation given that month Smith wrote,

And I Jesus Christ, your Lord and your God, have spoken it. These words are not of men, nor of man, but of me: Wherefore you shall testify they are of me, and not of man; for it is my voice which speaketh them unto you: For they are given by my Spirit unto you: And by my power you can read them one to another; and save it were by my power, you could not have them: Wherefore you can testify that you have heard my voice, and know my words (Revelation, June 1829)

Remember though, that in April of 1829 Joseph wrote this revelation to Oliver Cowdery and received it through his stone:

Shuredly as the Lord liveth which is your God & your Redeemer even so shure shall ye receive a knowledge of whatsoever things ye shall ask with an honest heart believeing that ye Shall receive, a knowledge concerning the engraveings of old Records which are ancient which contain those parts of my Scriptures of which hath been spoken by the manifestation of my Spirit yea Behold I will tell you in your mind & in your heart by the Holy Ghost which Shall come upon you & which shall dwell in your heart now Behold this is the spirit of Revelation (Revelation Book 1, 11-12)

As David Whitmer explained,

The revelations in the Book of Commandments up to June, 1829, were given through the “stone,” through which the Book of Mormon was translated. …After the translation of the Book of Mormon was finished, early in the spring of 1830, before April 6th, Joseph gave the stone to Oliver Cowdery and told me as well as the rest that he was through with it, and he did not use the stone any more. (David Whitmer, Address, 32, 53).

This begs the question if Joseph/God was instructing others what the “spirit of Revelation” was, (which was being told “in your mind & in your heart by the Holy Ghost,”) then why was Joseph getting revelations by way of his seeing stone and why did he continue to do so and not follow his own instructions? It seems that as soon as someone else had “revelations” through a peep-stone that rivaled Smith’s, he decided that divining rods and peep-stones needn’t be the subject of any “revelations”.

Magic Is “Not of God”

That’s right, (according to Mormon “authorities”) and perhaps a few examples may be enlightening. First, here are Mormon apologists Terryl L. Givens & Phillip L. Barlow:

From a biblical perspective, determining whether Joseph Smith’s treasure seeking, seer-stone gazing, blessing of “magic” handkerchiefs and the like, were proper or not, should not be based on whether moderns see them as weird or similar to pagan practices, but whether or not Joseph Smith was an authorized prophet of God. Presumably, since Joseph Smith claimed to be God’s instrument for restoring biblical priesthood authority, he would have welcomed this basis for determination. …In … Mormondom, the seeming disappearance of “folk magic” either by abandonment or normalization into official practice is partly the result of Max Weber’s routinization of charisma process and partly the result of developing methods of exercising divine authority. What today might be regarded as mixing folk and official practices were seen in the past as an unproblematic unified whole. (The Oxford Handbook of Mormonism, by Terryl L. Givens & Phillip L. Barlow, p. 465)

In Mormonism folk magic and the priesthood was never “an umproblematic unified whole.” As for other so called Christians, I’ve seen those like Peter Popoff hawking his “Miracle Spring Water” which has the power to erase debt on television. So, I guess it doesn’t matter as long as Popoff is God’s spokesman, messenger, or prophet? Using objects to scam people is nothing new with Christians, it is still going on today, as John Oliver exposed a few years ago:

[John] Oliver and Last Week Tonight claimed to have corresponded with televangelist Robert Tilton’s Word of Faith Worldwide Church for seven months, first mailing him $20 in January along with a kindly-worded request to be added to his mailing list.“Within two weeks, he sent me a letter back thanking me for my donation, and claiming, ‘I believe that God has supernaturally brought us together.’” A couple of weeks after that, Oliver received an envelope with a $1 bill in it and a message that read, “Send it back to me with your best Prove God tithes or offering.”“That’s right,” Oliver said, “I had to send the $1 back with an additional recommended offering of $37, which I did. So at this point, we’re just two letters in and it’s like having a pen pal who’s in deep with some loan sharks.”Oliver claims that in March, he was sent three packets of colored oil that he was instructed to pour on letters and send back to Tilton by specific dates, accompanied with more money. He did it. Then in April, Oliver was sent a manila envelope with a check enclosed—only the check was for $5 from Oliver made out to Pastor Tilton’s church. Seven letters later, he received pieces of fabric and was told to mail them back to Tilton with more money, which he did. Oliver later received a letter with a single $1 bill inside, requesting that he place the bill in his Bible overnight, then send it back the next day with $49. In return, he’d receive a $1 bill that had been blessed. “That did not stop him,” Oliver said. “The letters kept coming. I received another oil packet, more prayer cloths, and even—and this is true—an outline of his foot which I was asked to trace my foot on and mail back to him with more money. So, as of tonight, I’ve sent him $319 and received 26 letters—that’s almost one a week. And again, this is all hilarious until you imagine these letters being sent to someone who cannot afford what he’s asking for.”

What was done about these occult practices in the Mormon church was all… arbitrary. If Joseph did it, it was all right. But let others practice “folk magic” and it was very problematic. We all know about Hiram Page, but what about the case of James Brewster, a young boy who claimed he was given a patriarchal blessing that he would be a “Seer, Revelator and Translator” by Joseph Smith, Sr., in the Kirtland Era?

He and his family were condemned by Joseph Smith for using a seeing stone and producing what Brewster called “An Abridgment of the Ninth Book of Esdras”, in the which he claims that the Church needed to remove to California to escape the judgments of God.

The Mormon side of the story was published in the Times and Seasons in December, 1842:

We have lately seen a pamphlet, written, and published by James C. Brewster; purporting to be one of the lost books of Esdras; and to be written by the gift and power of God. We consider it a perfect humbug, and should not have noticed it, had it not been assiduously circulated, in several branches of the church.

This said Brewster is a minor; but has professed for several years to have the gift of seeing and looking through or into a a stone; and has thought that he has discovered money hid in the ground in Kirtland, Ohio. His father and some of our weak brethren who perhaps have had some confidence in the ridiculous stories that are propagated concerning Joseph Smith, about money digging, have assisted him in his foolish plans, for which they were dealt with by the church. They were at that time suspended, and would have been cut off from the church if they had not promised to desist from their ridiculous and pernicious ways. Since which time the family removed to Springfield, in this state; and contrary to their engagement have been seeing, and writing, and prophecying, &c. for which they have been dealt with by the Springfield church. The father of the boy has very frequently requested an ordination; but has been as frequently denied the privilege, as not being considered a proper person to hold the priesthood.

We have written the above for the information of the brethren, and lest there should be any so weak minded as to believe in it, we insert the following from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants,

“But behold, verily, verily I say unto thee, no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church, excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jr. for he receiveth them even as Moses and thou shalt be obedient unto the things which I shall give unto him., even as Aaron, to declare faithfully the commandments and the revelations, with power and authority unto the church.”

“And again, thou shalt take thy brother Hiram Page between him and thee alone, and tell him that those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me, and that satan deceiveth him: for behold these things have not been appointed unto any of this church contrary to the church covenants, for all things must be done in order and by common consent in the church, by the prayer of faith.”  (Times & Seasons, Dec 1, 1842, 32)

According to the Times & Seasons notice, the moneydigging stories in relation to Joseph Smith and his family were classed as “ridiculous”, and what the Brewesters were doing was “pernicious”. This is integrating folk magic practices into the church? Hardly. And once again, condemnation of “seeing stones”. And we know that Joseph had a number of stones and that it was claimed that he used one to “translate” the Book of Abraham. Where is the “common consent” in accepting that as a “revelation” from God? When did the church members in Nauvoo ever vote on the Book of Abraham? Why didn’t Joseph present the Book of Esdras to the Church for a vote? Instead, it was immediately dismissed by the prophet and the article in the Times & Seasons ridicules it in the worst way as something beneath notice while the Book of Abraham was touted as a bona fide revelation and printed in the Times & Seasons.

On March 20,1843, James Brewster published a second pamphlet which answered the charges of him getting “revelations” from a seeing stone, and what he reveals about events in Kirtland certainly is very interesting:

As the writer of this notice did not favor the public directly with his name, I shall not pretend to say who it was, although I have good reason to believe it was written by Joseph Smith, or at least by his direction.

Firstly. The writer says he considers it a perfect humbug; but before the pamphlet was printed the manuscript was taken to Joseph Smith; he had it in his possession six days; and, at that time, he stated that he enquired of the Lord concerning it and could not obtain an answer. Since then, he told certain individuals that he did receive an answer that it was not of God.

Secondly. He says Brewster is a minor, but has professed for several years to have the gift of seeing and looking through or into a stone. Now, as for my “seeing and looking through or into a stone,” it is a perfect falsehood, and Joseph Smith and many of the first presidents of the church know it to be false, and at the same time knowing that they could not bring any thing against our moral character have endeavored to injure us by publishing these falsehoods.

Thirdly. And he has thought that he has discovered money hid in the ground in Kirtland, his father and some of our weak brethren who perhaps have had some confidence in the ridiculous stories that are propagated concerning Joseph Smith about money digging, have assisted him in his foolish plans. This is a little nearer the truth than the second statement. The fact IS that my father ever regarded money diggers with the utmost contempt, but believing in the Gospel as preached by the Mormons, and, becoming a member of that church, removed to Kirtland, Ohio, While residing at that place Joseph Smith Sen’ the Prophet’s father, with others of high standing in the church, came to see us, and stated that they knew there was money hid in the earth, that it was our duty to assist in obtaining it, and if we did not the curse of God would rest upon us. We were foolish enough to believe them, not knowing at that time the weakness and folly of those men.

They also told us concerning their digging for money in the state of N. Y., and that the places where the treasures were deposited were discovered by means of the mineral rods and a seeing stone; likewise to prevent the Devil deceiving them they anointed the mineral rods and seeing stones with consecrated oil, and prayed over them in the house of the Lord in Kirtland, and then sent a man into the state of N. Y. to obtain the money that was supposed the mineral rods pointed out, but they found no treasure and returned empty.

Soon after this interview, I and my father were requested by J. Smith, Sen’r and Eld. Beaman to come to the house of the Lord. We went in and the door was locked; — after some conversation with J. Smith Sen’r, Beaman and Holeman.  Eld. Beaman called upon the Lord — they then proceeded to lay their hands upon my head and pronounced a blessing upon me, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and sealed it up on me by the power of the Holy Priesthood, which they held, J. Smith Sen’r then acting as first President of the Church in Kirtland. The prophetic blessing was that I should be a Prophet, a Seer, a Revelator and Translator, and that I should have power given me of God to discover and obtain the treasures which are hid in the earth.

The men above mentioned, went with me and my father several times in pursuit of the money, but it was not obtained. Joseph Smith Sen’r and Beaman, being old and feeble, thought best to remain in the Temple, while the remainder of the party went to dig. John and Asel Smith joined with those who remained in the Temple to pray and continue their supplications until a very late hour; this was repeated several times, and at length afraid of being discovered in the Temple they retired to a barn in a remote part of the town, and continued there the most part of the night, still no treasure was obtained. By this time my father was convinced that we should not succeed, and then gave up the business entirely. All this was carried on privately, being understood only by those concerned. Soon after this my father and his family, Kid. Norris and his family, in company with several others, members of the church, who were knowing to what had transpired, were dealt with by the High Council and Church in Kirtland— Joseph Smith Sen’r then acting as First President of the Church, and his brother John Smith First President of the High Council in Kirtland.

The Brewsterites, as we were called by the Church, were all condemned, although many of the Counselors by whom they were condemned, had been engaged with us in the money digging business. The writer in the “Times and Seasons” now says that “my father was assisted” by some of ”our weak brethren.” This is true, but he must remember that the names of those weak brethren are as follows: — Joseph Smith sen’r, John and Asel Smith, Eldr Beaman, then President of the Elders’ Quorum, Joshua Holeman, and many others, of high standing in the Mormon Church whose names we can produce if occasion requires. He also says it was those who had “some confidence in the ridiculous stories that are propagated concerning Joseph Smith about money digging.” The following are the reasons we had for believing the stories. In Kirtland, Joseph Smith sen’r, the Prophet’s father, said in Council: I know more about money digging, than any man in this generation, for I have been in the business more than thirty years.” Father Smith, in private conversation with my father, told many particulars, which happened in N. Y. where the money digging business was carried on to a great extent by the Smith family. The writer of the article in the “Times and Seasons’- calls it a ridiculous and pernicious practice. I would ask him who was the author of this practice among the Mormons? If he has a good memory, he will remember the house that was Tented in the city of Boston, [Salem] with the expectation of find ing a ‘large sum of money buried in or near the cellar. If he has forgotten these things, I have not. And, if he is not satisfied with what I have written, he can have the remainder shortly.

Fourthly. The writer of the article says, that contrary to their engagements they have been seeing, writing, and prophecying, for which they have been dealt with by the Springfield  church. The father of the boy has frequently requested an ordination, but has as frequently been denied the privilege, as not being considered a proper person to hold the priest-hood. We were dealt with by the Springfield church. But the only thing found against us was that we had not joined that branch of the church, and supposed we had not acted wisely in all things. As for the ordination, my father has been ordained by the order of JOSEPH SMITH, without his requesting It, under the hands of J[ames]. Adams, High Priest and Patriarch; Elder Mariam, President — both of the Springfield church.

Fifthly. To close the notice the writer adds “we have written the above for the information of the brethren.'” I would only say that the information it contains is very incorrect, and I would advise the Editors of the “Times and Seasons” not to publish any more information concerning us except it is written by one who regards the truth.

I have written the above that the people may know who the ”weak brethren” are that assisted us in the money digging business. The Mormons may deny it, but every word it contains is true; and I might have written much more, but I think it unnecessary. But if the Mormons publish another line of falsehood concerning us, they shall have the history of the money diggers from the beginning.

Below will be found my father”s certificate, which goes to corroborate the statements I have given.

JAMES COLIN BREWSTER

T, Z. H. Brewster, do hereby certify, that the above account of the money digging business is true. In the year 1837, in the month of May or June, we commenced the money digging under the kind care and protection of Joseph Smith sen’r, then first President of the church of Latter Day Saints. and, according to my best recollection, the foregoing statements are strictly true. I also believe the Gospel that is attended with the power and gifts revealed in the New Testament, and Book of Mormon. I also believe that God works by whomsoever he will, and reveals himself to all who faithfully serve him. I have no reason to believe that Nauvoo is a place of safety, but have every reason to believe that California is. I also believe that the pure in heart, and those who are desirous to serve God, will soon leave Nauvoo, that God may destroy the wicked and ungodly inhabitants thereof. I believe that Joseph Smith was called and chosen of God to bring forth the Book of Mormon, and to establish the church of Latter Day Saints. But I do not believe that the spirit of God will remain with him since he has forsaken the ways of truth and righteousness, and is now preaching and practicing those things which he in the beginning taught to be the works and inventions and secret combinations of the Devil, (see Book of Mormon, 3rd Edition — pages 320 and 538.) I also believe that ail liars, adulterers, fornicators, and whore-mongers shall have their part in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the anger of the Lord.

Z. H. BREWSTER.

Now they are praying over the rods and stones and anointing them with oil and taking them to the temple to help make them work. This (of course) was common to many money-diggers: to claim that their “gifts” were sanctioned by God, and to use some kind of religious ritual or prayer in their incantations or peeping. I found it interesting that Joseph Smith (if he was the one that wrote about the Brewster’s in the Times & Seasons), assumes that James used a seeing stone to get “revelations” or locate treasure, but James denied that he did. It seems that Brewster got his “revelations” through the Holy Ghost.

A mark is a mark and there were many Christians who desired money or were in debt, as well as others. These kinds of “magical” and pseudo Christian practices are still going on even today. (See below about the lottery and the modern use of divining rods).

Treasure Obsession

In 1837, Joseph Smith Sr. gave Wilford Woodruff a patriarchal blessing which stated:

Thou shalt have access to the treasure hid in the sand to assist thy necessities. An angel of God shall show thee the treasures of the earth that thou mayest have riches to assist thee in gathering many orphan Children to Zion. Thou art one of the horns of Joseph to push the people together to the ends of the earth. No power shall stay thee. At thy word the winds shall be stayed. Thou shalt walk upon the waters. At thy command the waters shall be divided. Prisons, chains, and vaults shall not hold thee /for thou shalt rend them in twain. (Wilford Woodruff Journal, April 15, 1837)

It is obvious during the Kirtland Era that Smith Sr. was still thinking about treasures in the earth and even blessing people that they would have access to them! And in Nauvoo, Smith Jr. was urging the “saints” to scout out locations in the far west, (even California) to look for a new place to settle. (Just in case) Some of Smith Sr.’s blessings are quite fantastical, as was this promise of being able to teleport to William Harris in 1836:

…thou shalt have all power, even to translate thyself and change into a shadow; so that if any shall smite at thee they shall only hit thy shadow, and thou shalt be in another place (William Harris, 2 May 1836)

Sounds like an episode from the X-Files or Fringe. In a blessing given on December 9, 1834, Smith Sr. promised the recipient that they would be alive for the Second Coming of Jesus:

…thou shalt stand on Mount Zion when the tribes of Jacob come shouting from the north, and with thy brethren, the sons of Ephraim, crown them in the name of Jesus Christ: Thou shalt see thy Redeemer come in the clouds of heaven…

The “Saints” at the time were led to believe that these things would actually happen if they were “faithful” and that they were indeed within the realm of possibility. We all know that is was simply invention and false hope, as neither Smith Jr. nor Sr. were actual prophets, which is easily proven by their own pronouncements. (No one can turn into a shadow, or “translate” themselves to other planets and no Latter Day Saint who was promised they would live to see the Second Coming ever did. There are dozens of other examples of these failed prophecies and blessings.

There certainly is no crime in proclaiming to be a prophet or in spouting all the prophecies you can think up, nor in believing in those who claim to be.

A Farm for Revelations

But what about if you are commanded to give up your farm so that it can be given to the prophet’s father and his family? Lucy Smith writes that when they moved to Kirtland:

Mr. Morely gave me the use of a room which we occupied but 2 weeks when we moved onto a farm which was purchased by Joseph and the Church for the on this farm my family were all established…

 An unpublished “revelation” dated May 15, 1831 contains (according to Joseph Smith) Jesus instructions that the Smith family should take over the Williams farm:

let my Servent Joseph [Smith Sr.] & his family go into the House after thine advisary is gone & let my Servent Ezra board with him & let all the Brethren immediately assemble together & put up an house for my Servent Ezra & let my Servents Frederick [G. Williams]’s family remain & let the house be repaired & their wants be supplied & when my Servent Frederick returns from the west Behold he taketh his family to the west Let that which belongeth to my Servent Frederick be secured unto him by deed or bond & thus he willeth that the Brethren reap the good thereof let my Servent Joseph [Smith Sr.] govern the things of the farm & provide for the families & let him have help in as much as he standeth in need let my servent Ezra humble himself & at the conference meeting he shall be ordained unto power from on high & he shall go from thence (if he be obedient unto my commandments) & proclaim my Gospel unto the western regions with my Servents that must go forth even unto the borders of the Lamanit[e]s for Behold I have a great work for them to do & it shall be given unto you to know what ye shall do at the conferenc[e] meeting even so Amen——
What shall the Brethren do with their money——
Ye shall go forth & seek dilligently among the Brethren & obtain lands & save the money that it may be consecrated to purcchase lands in the west for an everlasting enheritance even So Amen

On September 11, 1831 Smith penned another “revelation” from Jesus:

…I say unto you that my servent Isaac [Morley] may not be tempted above that which he is able to bear & council wrongfully to your hurt I gave commandment that this farm should be sold I willeth not that my Servent Frederick should sell his farm for I the Lord willeth to retain a Strong hold in the Land of Kirtland for the space of five years in the which I will not overthrow the wicked that thereby I may save some & after that day I thee [the] Lord will not hold any Guilty that shall go with open hearts up to the Land of Zion for I the Lord requireth the hearts of the Children of men

This “revelation” commands Isaac Morley to sell his farm and turn over the money to the church. Joseph would set the date for the “Redemption of Zion” (according to the Spirit) as September 11, 1836 (after his “Saints” were driven out of Jackson County, Missouri), exactly five years after the 1831 “revelation” was given which claimed that was when time ran out for the “wicked”. Joseph would prophecy “by the authority of Jesus Christ” in 1833 that the only place that would be safe was Zion: which was in Jackson County, Missouri. He claimed that the letter was written by the commandment of God, and that “I declare unto you the warning which the lord has commanded me to declare unto this generation, rembring that the eyes of my maker are upon me and that to him I am accountabl for evry word I say …  imbrace the everlasting Covenant and flee to Zion before the overflowing scourge overtake you, For there are those now living upon the earth whose eyes shall not be closed in death until they see all these things which I have spoken fulfilled.”

What Smith prophesied was that in “not many years” the “United States shall present such a scene of bloodshed as has not a parallel in the hystory of our nation pestalence hail famine and earthquake will sweep the wicked of this generation from off the face of this Land to open and prepare the way for the return of the lost tribes of Israel from the north country—” Of course, this never happened in Smith’s generation nor any generation since then. Zion was never redeemed and the Mormons blamed the people of Missouri, and also the United States Government.

So when a group of immigrants (who were thought to be from Missouri) were making their was through Utah Territory to California were ambushed at Mountain Meadows by Mormons and Indians, they picked September 11, 1857 to murder them.

In that same year 1833, Jesus speaks again about the Williams farm:

Behold I Say unto you my Servent Frederick G. Williams, Listen to the word of Jesu Chrit your Lord and your Redeemer thou hast desired of me to know which would be the most worth unto you, behold blessed art tho[u] for this thing. now I say unto you, my Servant Joseph is called to do a great work and hath need that he may do the work of translation for the salvation of souls— Verily verily I say unto you thou art calld to be a Councillor & scribe unto my servant Joseph Let thy farm be consecrated fr bringing forth of the revelations and tho shalt be blessed and lifted up at the last day even so Amen

The 144 acre farm was deeded over to Joseph Smith in 1834. Most of the “revelations” and “commandments” above were never canonized like a lot of other instructions and mundane items from the same period.

Official Practice?

Joseph Smith Jr. condemns the use of a seeing stone, something he was doing himself and showing to others in private. One must ask, why all the secrecy surrounding the use of such magical practices since they were supposedly absorbed into “official practice”? Why didn’t Joseph publish how he “translated” the Book of Abraham in 1842, and that he used a seeing stone (Urim and Thummim) as Wilford Woodruff claimed?

Truly the Lord has raised up Joseph the Seer of the Seed of Abraham out of the loins of ancient Joseph, & is now clothing him with mighty power & wisdom & knowledge which is more clearly manifest & felt in the midst of his intimate friends than any other class of mankind. The Lord is Blessing Joseph with Power to reveal the mysteries of the kingdom of God; to translate through the Urim and Thummim Ancient Records & Hyeroglyphics as old as Abraham or Adam. which causes our hearts to burn within us while we behold their glorious truths opened unto us. Joseph the Seer has presented us some of the Book of Abraham which was written by his own hand but hid from the knowledge of man for the last four thousand years but has now come to light through the mercy of God. Joseph has had these records in his possession for several years but has never presented them before the world in the english language untill now. But he is now about to publish it to the world or parts of it by publishing it in the Times & Seasons, for Joseph the Seer is not the Editor of that paper & Elder Taylor assists him in writing while it has fallen to my lot to take charge of the Business part of the establishment. I have had the privilege this day of assisting in setting the TIPE for printing the first peace of the BOOK OF ABRAHAM that is to be presented to the inhabitants of the EARTH in the LAST DAYS … (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal 2:155-6, 19 February,1842)

The “official” Urim and Thummim (the spectacles)  were supposedly given back to the angel. There are no accounts of Joseph teaching others to use the Urim and Thummim (the “interpreters”) or that it was a sanctioned practice in the church. No one but Smith ever claimed to have used the “interpreters” for anything, and it seems that for all of God’s elaborate preparations, Smith really didn’t need them. It”s almost as if they never existed at all, though he did continue to dabble with peep-stones, but only Joseph could use them to get “revelations” as we shall see even though he said everyone should have one.

We don’t see such practices absorbed into the Mormon Church of Joseph’s day, and when others “peeped” in the Utah Territory, they too, were discouraged, or ostracized or condemned by the “Priesthood”.

The Treasure Hunting Revelation

What are we to make of Joseph’s own treasure hunting side trip to Salem a year before he fled Kirtland, where he believed there was treasure to be found in the basement of a house there? Ebenezer Robinson wrote:

A brother in the Church, by the name of Burgess, had come to Kirtland and stated that a large amount of money had been secreted in the cellar of a certain house in Salem, Massachusetts, which had belonged to a widow, and he thought he was the only person now living, who had knowledge of it, or to the location of the house. We saw the brother Burgess, but Don Carlos Smith told us with regard to the hidden treasure. His statement was credited by the brethren, and steps were taken to try and secure the treasure… (Robinson, The Return, pg 106)

Joseph Smith, along with his brother Hyrum, Sidney Rigdon and Oliver Cowdery left for Salem on July 25, 1836. Joseph’s Manuscript History reads:

From New York we continued our journey to Providence on board a Steamer, from thence to Boston by steam <​At Salem.​> cars, and arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, early in August, where we hired a house and occupied the same during the month, teaching the people from house to house, and preaching publicly as opportunity presented, visiting occasionally, sections of the surrounding cities and Country, which are rich in the history of the Pilgrim Fathers of New England, in Indian warfare, Religious Superstition, Bigotry, Persecution, and learned ignorance. The early settlers of Boston, who had fled from their mother Country to avoid persecution and death, soon became so lost to principles of justice and religious liberty as to whip & hang the Baptist and the Quaker, who, like themselves, had fled from tyranny to a land of freedom; and the Fathers of Salem, from 1691 to 1693, whipped, imprisoned, tortured and hung many of their citizens for supposed witchcraft. and quite recently, while boasting of her light and knowledge, of her laws and religion, as surpassed by none on earth, has New England been guilty of burning a Catholic Convent, in the vicinity of Charleston, and of scattering the inmates to the four winds. Yes, in sight of the very spot where the fire of the American Independence was first kindled, where a monument is now erecting in Memory of the Battle of Bunkers Hill, and the fate of the immortal Warren, who bled, who died on those sacred heights to purchase religious liberty for his country, in sight of this very spot, have the religionists of the 19th. century demolished a noble brick edifice, and hurling its inhabitants forth upon a cold unfeeling world for protection and subsistence. Well did the Savior say concerning such “by their fruits you shall know them,” and if the wicked mob who destroyed the Charleston Convent, and the cool calculating, religious, lookers on, who inspired their hearts with deeds of infamy do not arise, and redress the wrong, and restore the injured four fold, they in turn will receive of the measure they have meted out, till the just indignation of a righteous God is satisfied. When will <​August 6​> man cease to war with man, and <​wrest​> from him his sacred right, of worshipping his God according as his conscience dictates? Holy Father, hasten the day… (Manuscript History Book B-1, pg. 749)

In the midst of all their sightseeing, Joseph pens this “revelation” about the treasure to be found in Salem:

I the Lord your God am not displeased with your coming this Journey, notwithstandig your follies. I have much treasure in this city for you, for the benefit of Zion; and many people in this city whom I will gather out in due time for the benefit of Zion, through your instrumentality: Therefore it is expedient that you should form acquaintance with men in this city, as you shall be lead, and as it shall be be given you. And it shall come to pass, in due time, that I will give this city into your hands, that you shall have power over it, insomuch that they shall not discover your secret parts; and its wealth, pertaining to gold and silver, shall be yours. Concern not yourselves about your debts, for I will give you power to pay them. Concern not yourselves about Zion, for I will deal merciful with her. Tarry in this place and in the regions round about, and the place where it is my will that you should tarry, for the main, shall be signalized unto you by the peace and power of the my Spirit, that shall flow unto you. This place you may obtain by hire, &c . . . And inquire diligently concerning the more ancient inhabitants and founders of this city, for there are more treasures than one for you, in this city: Therefore be ye as wise as serpents and yet without sin, and I will order all things for your good as fast as ye are able to receive them. Amen. (Revelation, August 6, 1836)

This claims that they are to be given “much treasure” and that there was more treasure than the one they anticipated retrieving from the basement of the house they claimed to have found. God claimed he was going to give them the wealth of the city, all the gold and silver. Robinson continues his narrative:

We were informed that Brother Burgess met them in Salem, evidently according to appointment, but time had wrought such a change that he could not for a certainty point out the house, and soon left. They however, found a house which they felt was the right one, and hired it. It is needless to say they failed to find that treasure, or the other gold and silver spoken of in the revelation.

On August 19, Joseph wrote these words to Emma:

...with regard to the graat [great] object of our mishion you will be anxtiou [anxious] to know, we have found the house since Brother Burjece left us, very luckily and providentialy, as we had one spell been most discouraged, but the house is ocupied and it will require much care and patience to rent or b[u]y it, we think we shall be able to effect it if not now within the course of a few months, we think we shall be at home about the midle of septtember (Letter to Emma Smith, August 19, 1836)

Burgess could not tell them what house it was, but they still found it? How did Joseph find the house? An interesting question. Some have speculated he used his peep-stone, which is possible. And they did rent a house (as Robinson reported) but they never did have the city given into their hands, or it’s wealth of gold and silver. And out of all the things he could have said to Emma about Salem, Joseph mentions to her the “great object of our mission” which was finding buried treasure.  And even if they did not rent the house they thought the treasure was in as Robinson thought, they never went back for the treasure. I mean, God promised them this treasure so why not return in a few months and obtain it? It almost sounds like another peep-stone adventure, with the promised treasure slip, slip, slipping away.

An apt bookend to the Salem venture, is a “Prospectus” about the trip written and published by Oliver Cowdery just a few months later in the Latter Day Saints Messenger and Advocate. (Where they glean some of the information written in the Manuscript History).

Cowdery begins by telling his readers that, “the end draws near, and that the time is not far distant when a breaking up of corrupt systems will commence, and discordant factions [of religions], at present so mysteriously interwoven, will be severed, preparatory to the universal deluge of misery which must envelop the wicked.”

Cowdery then writes about their journey through New York City (where they absolutely do not consult about their debts in Kirtland) and on to Providence and then Boston and Salem. He then copies and pastes long sections of the Salem Witch Trial accounts and gushes about their sightseeing trip about the town. Cowdery seemed especially perturbed by the ruins of a burned down Catholic Convent, and he laments that,

…our country has come to this, that the weak must be trodden down by the strong, and disorder, confusion and terror, must distract our land and sow the discordant seeds of party strife and party animosity in the hearts of ignorant men, led on by infatuated priests, to overwhelm the continent with blood, and spread destruction and devastation throughout our happy asylum, and expose us to the fire, the sword, the rack and to death! I confess I retired from this scene of mobbery with a heavier heart than from the far-famed Bunker hill, rendered doubly so, by the patriotism, virtue, integrity, connected with the righteousness of the cause in which our fathers died! (pg. 392)

But later in the “Prospectus” Cowdery published this: 

This man turns away from the only church upon earth which was founded upon and is governed by revelation (the rock upon which Christ said he would found it) and says he has no need of it. But perhaps he means that the church which is not founded upon that rock has no need of it, in which I concur. For the Mother of harlots [The Catholic Church] with all her daughters of harlotry, [The Protestant Churches] will never obtain revelations, though they will obtain power of the Devil to work miracles. (p. 398)

Lest there be any doubt about what they were talking about, here is Apostle John Taylor in 1845:

The present Christian world exists and continues by division. The MYSTERY of Babylon the great, is mother of harlots and abominations of the earth, and it needs no prophetic vision, to unravel such mysteries. The old church [Catholic] is the mother, and the protestants are the lewd daughters. Alas! alas! what doctrine, what principle, or what scheme, in all. What prayers, what devotion, or what faith, `since the fathers have fallen asleep,’ has opened the heavens; has brought men into the presence of God; and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to an innumerable company of angels? The answer is, not any: `There is none in all christendom that doeth good; no, not one. (Times and Seasons, Vol.6, No.1, p.811)

“Party strife and party animosity” to be sure. I admit, the hypocrisy is truly stunning. And as for the great object of their mission to Salem that Smith spoke of to Emma? Cowdery doesn’t mention it at all. If this were all about other treasures besides gold and silver as the apologists claim, why not mention the “revelation”? And of course this important “revelation” about Salem and its treasures was never canonized.

Magic Is Still Not of God? Not Even A Little?

In 1859 Heber C. Kimball recounted a story about how when he returned from England in 1838 that Joseph and the presidency of the Seventies were fooling around with a seeing stone:

Following a meeting of the Quorum of the Twelve, at a quarter to 12 o’clock H. C. Kimball and D. H. Wells called. H. C. Kimball said this made me think of the time when I returned from England. [1838] Joseph was present and the presidency of the Seventies. They had met with a seer stone to see what they could see when I went in. Z. Pulsipher said, don’t be excited;  Brother Kimball is nothing but a man. They treated me very cooly and I went home and wept and the Twelve all rose up and shook hands with them and received them joyfully.

0. Hyde explained to Brother Kimball and Wells what we had done, and would like to hear from them. Brother Kimball said, I consider every ruling man in the Church that has the Holy Ghost as a prophet, seer and revelator, and he should have the spirit of that office.

February 23, 1859: Same meeting, Brother Kimball said Joseph nominated G. A. Smith to take the place of Thomas B. Marsh, and Lyman Sherman was appointed to take the place of Orson Hyde; but Brother Sherman was very sick and died shortly after. Brother G. A. Smith said when he heard of Brother Sherman’s death, he thought his time would soon come. Brother Kimball said it was not the will of God for a man to take Brother Hyde’s place. The Twelve can ordain men to the apostleship and give them all the power you have and you have all that we have got, but you cannot make a prophet only the natural way and a man cannot be a patriarch and not a prophet, for a man must have the spirit of a prophet before he can bless and prophesy. The gifts and callings of God are without repentance. There are thousands of prophets among the gentiles and spiritualists that have not repented or obeyed the gospel. There are natural gifts to man. If they would receive the gospel, their gifts would be made more manifest. G. A. Smith read some in the Doctrine and Covenants. H. C. Kimball said, “I always believed that Lyman Wight would be saved. I never had any but good feelings towards him.” (Wilford Woodruff Journal, February 23, 1859)

Of course they would believe that there were “natural” prophets, else how could Joseph Smith have found the treasure of Cumorah with his peep-stone? It appears that when they were trying to “see what they could see”, Kimball interrupted them and Zera Pulsipher had to proclaim that he was only a man, implying that they were trying to contact the dead through the stone. It appears that Kimball wasn’t too thrilled with this story as he told his audience that he considered “every ruling man in the Church that has the Holy Ghost a prophet, seer and revelator and he should have the spirit of that office.” Not a ringing endorsement of peep-stones and perhaps one reason why neither he nor Brigham Young used them.

A few years after the incident in Missouri, Woodruff writes that,

The Twelve or a part of them spent the day with Joseph the Seer and he unfolded unto them many glorious things of the kingdom of God, the privileges and blessings of the priesthood, etc. I had the privilege of seeing for the first time in my day the Urim and Thummim. (Wilford Woodruff Journal, Dec. 27, 1841)

This was nothing more than one of Joseph’s seeing stones, which he supposedly used to “translate” the Book of Abraham. Brigham Young described the above meeting in his Manuscript History:

I met with the Twelve at Brother Joseph’s. He conversed with us in a familiar manner on a variety of subjects, and explained to us the Urim and Thummim which he found with the plates, called in the Book of Mormon the Interpreters. He said that every man who lived on the earth was entitled to a seerstone, and should have one, but they are kept from them in consequence of their wickedness, and most of those who do find one make an evil use of it; he showed us his seerstone. (Brigham Young, Manuscript History of Brigham Young, 1801-1844, ed. Elden Jay Watson).

Yet, while Woodruff was in England, he called such practices “not of God”. This is from the journal of Alfred Rolland Cordon:

“Saturday Evening 27th Mar 1841 I attended A council Meeting Elders G. A. Smith and W. Woodruff and a good number of Officers. a charge was brought against bro W Mountford for using Magic, The case was as follows, This bro Mountford had in his posession several Glasses or Chrystals as he called them. they are about the size of a Gooses Egg made flat at each end. he also had a long list of prayers wrote down which he used. The prayer was unto certain Spirits which he said was in the Air which says he when I pray to them in the name of the Father, Son, Holy Ghost, any thing that I want will come into the Glass. for instance if A Young woman had a desire to know who she would have for an Husband, she came to him and made the case known, and he brought out his Chrystals and prayed unto a certain Spirit then she must peep into the Chrystal and in it she would see the Young man that would become her husband Elder Woodruff made some observations on the subject. when it was moved and Unanimously carried that no such Magic work be allowed in the Church.” (Journal of Alfred Rolland Cordon)

The next day,

Meeting was Opened by Prayer by the President. It was Unanimoulsy carried that no such thing as Magic, Fortunetelling, Witchcraft or any such devices should be allowed in the Church. And that fellowship would be withdrawn from any who used or caused to be used any of the aforesaid things. It was also moved and carried that a letter of recomendation be presented to Elders, W. Woodruff and G. A. Smith. (Sunday, March 28, 1841).

So, where are the guidelines in discerning which peep-stones are a “urim and thummim” and therefore sanctioned by God? Nowhere to be found. What Woodruff and the Council here condemned are the same practices of the Smith family in Palmyra, and which Joseph continued to use throughout his life. Woodruff wrote up the incident this way:

I walked with several Brethren to Hanley & Sat in Council with many of the Officers. Among other business that was brought up was the case of a Brother Mumford who was ingaged in the Magic or Blackart fortune telling &c which prevails to a great extent in this Country. [England] But as he persisted in his course after being laboured with the Council Withdrew fellowship from him. He was holding the office of a Priest & one thing is worthy of notice that while the Priesthood was upon him, he could not see his majic glasses as before untill after he ceased to fill the Priest office & rejected our council. (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, Vol. 2, 1841–1845, p.74)

The President then brought up the case of a Br Moumford, who was holding the office of a Priest, from whome fellowship had been withdrawn by the council of officers in consequence of his practizing fortune Telling, Magic, Black art &c & called upon Elders Woodruff & Cordon to express their feelings upon the subject when Elder Woodruff arose, & spoke Briefly upon the subject, & informed the assembly that we had no such custom or practice in the Church, & that we should not fellowship any individual who Practiced Magic fortune Telling, Black art &c for it was not of God. When It was moved & carried by the whole church that fellowship be withdrawn from Br Moumford. (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, Vol. 2, 1841–1845, p.75)

He calls what Monford did, “Black Art” which included fortune telling, finding lost things, treasure hunting, etc., He is basically saying that using the peepstone did not work when “the Priesthood was upon him.” Interesting he calls them “magic glasses”. Monford claimed that, “anything that I want will come into the glass.” 

Note that Joseph Smith had claimed, “…but he seamed to think more of the glasses or the urim a and thummem  then than he did of the plates for says he I CAN SEE ANYTHING they are Marvelus” (Joseph Knight Recollection)

What are we to make of this? Why is what Mountford did “the Black Art”? Is it the same as with “revelations’, they can only come through the leader of the church? Then why did Smith claim that everyone has a right to a seeing stone and to use one? Was Mountford claiming to speak for the church anywhere? I don’t see that.

So where are the church instructions on “seeing” or peep-stones? Nowhere to be found, although there is some mention of “white stones” that will be given to people after they are resurrected. (See D&C 130:10). But here on earth, the church made its position clear at a Conference in 1902, in an address by Apostle John W. Taylor:

I want to advise the young ladies, while upon this subject, not to follow after peep-stone women, fortune-tellers, or those claiming to have a familiar spirit, to get them to tell you the kind of a husband you will marry, or you young men the kind of a wife you will get. (Conference Report, Sunday, April 6, 1902).

Taylor continues by quoting the very passage in Isaiah that I quoted above, but adds a bit more:

“And they shall pass through it hardly bestead and hungry: and it shall come to pass, that, when they shall be hungry, they shall fret themselves and curse their king and their God, and look upward. And they shall look unto the earth; and behold trouble and darkness, dimness of anguish; and they shall be driven to darkness.” (Isaiah 8:21-22, KJV)

Practitioners of Folk Magic will be “driven to darkness”. Taylor then tells the “Saints”,

Now my brethren and sisters, this has been literally fulfilled upon the idolatrous nations of the earth. Let us not be deceived, my brethren and sisters, or lead astray by those who are muttering and seeking to give the people a little temporal satisfaction, for it will result in incurring the displeasure of God upon us. (ibid)

He calls it idolatry and claims that the “nations of the earth” were also “driven to darkness” by such occult practices. Taylor actually tells the “Saints” to go to their Patriarch to get such information, but when has a church patriarch ever told anyone which husband or wife they were going to marry? My own patriarchal blessing simply said that I would “leave seed in the earth”, but I never had any children, much to my relief. No wonder people sought out the Peekers. They probably made things much more interesting. But… here’s an interesting response from “Ask Gramps” about this very subject. As you might suspect, he’s not down with the idea that patriarchs do any such thing and advises the young woman who asked to “change your approach”.

And yet, the Apologists go on and on about how we modern folk are getting it all wrong by not accepting “the Black Art” (That evil fortune telling) as part of Christianity and perfectly fine with the “folk” of the 19th century. It seems that as soon as Joseph and his chosen apostles and others got a little power, they also threw magic under the bus. (Unless they were doing it themselves or trying to justify the Smith’s use of it). Their condemnations are as arbitrary as the Apologists wanting to lump it all as lost Christianity. More from the apologists:

Today’s notions of which practices seem magical and which don’t can confuse our understanding of the past more than clarify it. Nineteenth century American aspirants to socially respectable circles might have denigrated glass-looking for lost objects and treasure digging as uneducated superstition. But the same people might have regarded the medicinal balancing of the four humors through blood-letting or timing crop planting by auspicious astrological signs listed in a farmer’s almanac as commonsensical and scientific. Joseph himself, as he moved from being a canny country boy to a cultured urbanite, reported giving up treasure seeking as youthful folly unworthy of his religious calling. Indeed, in court in 1830 it was testified and judicially accepted that Joseph Smith “had not looked in the glass for two years to find money, &c. (Early Mormon Folk Magic, 81)

And did Joseph give up his treasure digging in New York because he felt it was more “cultured”, or because he kept getting hauled before courts of law for doing it? And notice that they also show that the Church Essay is wrong, he didn’t quit doing it in 1826, this has him quitting in 1828! But we know that he didn’t stop looking in his stone, (per multiple accounts) or looking for lost treasure ten years later as the Salem “revelation” shows.

Woodruff was all about using home remedies, which many were in his day, but he wasn’t down with peep-stones and fortune telling; (unless it was Joseph) and Mountford used Christian prayers in the name of the Christian God as he summoned the Spirits of the Almighty with his stones. This shows that the home remedies and other mundane practices some call folk magic were not considered so by Woodruff.

Still Woodruff claimed it was all “not of God”. I suppose poor Wilford was simply confused also and his authority as an Apostle meant nothing (even though he had the ultimate authority overseas). It’s kind of routine for Mormon Apologists to throw former authorities under the bus if they get in the way of their pet theories.

Ghosts and Angels (Continued)

Here is the story that Smith himself told to Nancy Towles in October, 1831 which she put to paper soon after:

A certain man by the name of Smith, trained in the state of New York; and now about twenty-eight years of age: — professes to have seen, and held communion with an Angel from God. That, about four years since, [1827] as he was lying upon his bed, — (having just been reclaimed from a backslidden state,) [after 1823 visit] the room, of a sudden became light as day. When a beautiful personage, was presented to his view, — who requested, That he (Smith) should go to such a place, — as he had something wonderful, he wished to reveal. He accordingly went; and was directed by the angel to a certain spot of ground, where was deposited a “Box:” — which box contained “Plates,” that resembled gold: also, a pair of “interpreters,” (as he called them,) that resembled spectacles: by looking into which, he could read a writing engraven upon the plates, though to himself, — in a tongue unknown. These were delivered to him, as he asserts, to publish to the world. And when the things were committed to paper, “The box, &c. were to be sealed up; and deposited in the earth, — from whence they were taken.”

Smith himself claims that he was visited by the angel and got the plates immediately afterwards in 1827. He was in a “backslidden state” until the visit of the angel in 1827 (four years prior to 1831). It seems that Joseph was condensing his story and obscuring the dual visits of the angel. It is even possible that Joseph was formulating the new story of seeing Jesus when he was sixteen.

Allusion or Confusion?

This accords with his account in the Articles & Covenants of the Church, where Smith claimed to have seen an angel, became “backslidden” and then, four years later receives “power” from the angel to “translate” the record. Notice the similarities:

After it was truly manifested unto this first elder that he had received a remission of his sins, [1823] he was entangled again in the vanities of the world; But after repenting, and humbling himself sincerely, through faith, God ministered unto him by an holy angel, [1827] whose countenance was as lightning, and whose garments were pure and white above all other whiteness; And gave unto him commandments which inspired him; And gave him power from on high, by the means which were before prepared, to translate the Book of Mormon…

This could not be an “allusion” to 1820 or be speaking of the angel’s visit in 1823, because in 1823 Joseph did not get the “power’ to “translate” the Book of Mormon (the interpreters): that happened in 1827, and at this time that was the focus of the story they were all telling, that an angel appeared to Joseph in 1827.

The early missionaries were teaching this same thing, that Smith had no religious experience prior to the first visit of the angel in 1823/24; and they were all conflating events that took place in 1827 with those of the earlier story of his asking for forgiveness in 1823/24. Here are Lyman E. Johnson and Orson Pratt:

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.

Joseph is “convicted” and prays and is answered by an angel. There is no mention of four years going by, but instead they claim that,

The plates were six or eight inches square, and as many of them as would make them six or eight inches thick, each as thick as a pane of glass. They were filled with characters which the learned of that state were not able to translate. A Mr. Anthony, a professor of one of the colleges, found them to contain something like the Cyrian Chaldena or Hebrew characters. However, Smith with divine aid, was able to translate the plates, and from them we have the Mormon bible, or as they stated it, another Revelation to part of the house of Joseph.

This is not how Smith describes the events in later accounts which we will discuss in Part II. (He adds another, earlier vision and the “backsliding” then takes place between that vision and the one with the angel which is then firmly dated to September 22, 1823). But notice that Smith has every opportunity to relate the story of the claimed 1820 vision to Nancy Towles, but does not. And yet, a few months later (Feb. 1832), Joseph and Sidney Rigdon have a vision in which they claim to see “the glory of the Son” on the “right hand” of the Father. This vision was spoken of openly and published in July of 1832. Joseph continued to change his story, and would continue to do so even after it was published in the Times and Seasons.

“The Glass Looker”

Money-digging, as it was called, or scrying for lost treasure or objects by way of “glass looking” was a crime in New York State in Joseph’s day:

…all persons who go about from door to door, or place themselves in the streets, highways or passages, to beg in the cities or towns where they respectively dwell, and all jugglers and all persons who pretend to have skill in physiognomy, palmistry, or like crafty science, or pretending to tell fortunes, or to discover where lost goods may be found… shall be deemed and adjudged to be disorderly persons…(pg. 114)

There was a good reason for this, as it was overwhelmingly used to con people out of their money. It’s like anything else, you can believe in dowsing rods and even use them to search for water, or treasure or whatever you like. But when you cross the line and use it to dupe other people, even though you and they might believe in it, is is breaking the law. But Joseph wasn’t doing this to help other people, he was doing it for monetary gain (according to Bushman it was greed) as these articles of agreement from 1825 show:

ARTICLES OF AGREEMENT.

We, the undersigned, do firmly agree, & by these presents bind ourselves, to fulfill and abide by the hereafter specified articles:

First—That if anything of value should be obtained at a certain place in Pennsylvania near a Wm. Hale’s, supposed to be a valuable mine of either Gold or Silver and also to contain coined money and bars or ingots of Gold or Silver, and at which several hands have been at work during a considerable part of the past summer, we do agree to have it divided in the following manner, viz.: Josiah Stowell, Calvin Stowell and Wm. Hale to take two-thirds, and Charles Newton, Wm. I. Wiley, and the Widow Harper to take the other third. And we further agree that Joseph Smith, Sen. and Joseph Smith Jr. shall be considered as having two shares, two elevenths of all the property that may be obtained, the shares to be taken equally from each third.
Second—And we further agree, that in consideration of the expense and labor to which the following named persons have been at (John F. Shephard, Elihu Stowell and John Grant) to consider them as equal sharers in the mine after all the coined money and bars or ingots are obtained by the undersigned, their shares to be taken out from each share; and we further agree to remunerate all the three above named persons in a handsome manner for all their time, expense and labor which they have been or may be at, until the mine is opened, if anything should be obtained; otherwise they are to lose their time, expense and labor.
Third—And we further agree that all the expense which has or may accrue until the mine is opened, shall be equally borne by the proprietors of each third and that after the mine is opened the expense shall be equally borne by each of the sharers.
Township of Harmony, Pa., Nov. 1, 1825.
In presence of
Isaac Hale, Chas. A. Newton,
David Hale, Jos. Smith, Sen.,
P. Newton. Isaiah [Josiah] Stowell,
Calvin Stowell, Jos. Smith, Jr.,
Wm. I. Wiley.

Joseph signed this document about a month after he supposedly met with the angel at the hill Cumorah for the third time. Joseph was being paid by Stowell and it was to be borne by him and others as an “expense”. And if a treasure happened to be found, the Smith’s would benefit from that, as well. And he was looking for the treasure by means of scrying, which was illegal. This wasn’t religious, this was searching for “filthy lucre” as Joseph Smith Sr. confessed to a judge at the 1826 Examination. Every time that Joseph used his supposed “seeric” power to search for buried treasure or lost objects, he was breaking the law, and the law uses such language as “pretending” for good reason. This means if you went around and claimed to be able to discern things that could not be seen by the natural eye, you were disorderly and breaking the law.

I’ve read so many Mormon apologists argue that well, Josiah Stowell believed that Smith could actually see things in the earth, kind of like Superman with his X-Ray Vision, except he needed the help of a peep-stone. And so Joseph did nothing wrong, it was all Josiah Stowell’s idea. But that’s not how the law works. Stowell’s belief did not give the Smith’s a free pass to break the law.

How much treasure did Joseph ever recover for anyone with his crafty science of peeping in stones? None. As for the articles that he supposedly found for people, we find a good example of what Smith would tell others concerning his lack of success according to Josiah Stowell (who believed Joseph could really see things in his peep-stone):

…that [Joseph Smith] had looked through said stone for Deacon Attelon, for a mine – did not exactly find it, but got a piece of ore, which resembled gold, he thinks; that prisoner had told by means of this stone where a Mr. Bacon had buried money; that he and prisoner had been in search of it; that prisoner said that it was in a certain root of a stump five feet from surface of the earth, and with it would be found a tail-feather; that said Stowel and prisoner thereupon commenced digging, found a tail-feather, but money was gone; that he supposed that money moved down

This is the prophet-in-training who was yearly meeting with an angel of God to learn how to run his kingdom? And this idea that it makes any kind of difference whether Joseph was found guilty in 1826. It doesn’t matter because we know he did what they claimed he did, he pretended to be able to find buried treasure, silver mines, etc. with a peep-stone and was getting paid for it. Smith was breaking the law. Juggling. Claiming that well, everybody else was doing it, matters not at all.

Slipping Away from Reality into the Absurd

Does buried treasure really move through the earth? Is that what apologists are claiming? That angels and demons and ghosts move buried treasure through the earth at their leisure? These stories are absurd, yet, many superstitious people believed them and Joseph reinforced that belief by including it in his Book of Mormon:

And behold, the time cometh that he curseth your riches, that they become slippery, that ye cannot hold them; and in the days of your poverty ye cannot retain them. And in the days of your poverty ye shall cry unto the Lord; and in vain shall ye cry, for your desolation is already come upon you, and your destruction is made sure; and then shall ye weep and howl in that day, saith the Lord of Hosts. And then shall ye lament, and say: O that I had repented, and had not killed the prophets, and stoned them, and cast them out. Yea, in that day ye shall say: O that we had remembered the Lord our God in the day that he gave us our riches, and then they would not have become slippery that we should lose them; for behold, our riches are gone from us. Behold, we lay a tool here and on the morrow it is gone; and behold, our swords are taken from us in the day we have sought them for battle. Yea, we have hid up our treasures and they have slipped away from us, because of the curse of the land. O that we had repented in the day that the word of the Lord came unto us; for behold the land is cursed, and all things are become slippery, and we cannot hold them. Behold, we are surrounded by demons, yea, we are encircled about by the angels of him who hath sought to destroy our souls. (Helaman  13:31-37)

Is this not a treasure digging yarn written right into the Book of Mormon? It has all those exciting demonic elements of a treasure digging yarn: the disappearing swords and tools, and the slippery treasures that are swallowed up in the ground because of the curse of the land as the demons and angels close in to destroy their souls.

Was Joseph really seeing treasure chests of money that moved every time they dug for them? What an interesting way to solve that problem, if Joseph was confronted later about his money-digging he could simply explain that God had cursed the land and that was why he always failed when he tried. It’s right there on the gold plates! It’s scripture. And where did he learn about this, why from his father:

Joseph, Sen. told me that the best time for digging money, was, in the heat of summer, when the heat of the sun caused the chests of money to rise near the top of the ground. You notice, said he, the large stones on the top of the ground — we call them rocks, and they truly appear so, but they are, in fact, most of them chests of money raised by the heat of the sun.(Peter Ingersoll, Palmyra, Wayne Co. N. Y. Dec. 2d, 1833. )

Was Joseph’s clear practice of necromancy (during the time he was supposedly being taught by an angel of God every year) a restoration of ancient Christian beliefs? Not according to Christians of the day. Ronald Walker writes:

Probably the quality which most distinguished American treasure digger was his acceptance of the old cultural system that rapidly was passing into obsolescence almost from the founding of America’s first settlements, many community leaders rejected money digging. Seventeenth century puritan clerics such as Cotton Mather and John Hale called the wise men “devils’ priests and prophets” and their practices “witchcraft” Following European practice, the clergy’s long-standing opposition was given the force of law. A New York statute, for example, enjoined “all jugglers, and all persons pretending to have skill in physiognomy palmistry or like crafty science or pretending to tell fortunes or to discover where lost goods may be found while observed lightly or more often in the breach (Joseph Smith was tried at least once for his money digging but was apparently neither fined nor imprisoned), such laws and the clerical animosity that lay behind them created in the minds of many educated men and women a dark and unsavory image of money-digging that often became caricature.

American literature reinforced this tendency. …Whether in the poetry of John G. C. Brainard, the humorous sketches of Washington Irving, or the satires of Franklin and Forrest, the result was uniformly the same. Though money-digging, like any human endeavor, offered much to scorn and even to pity, the belles-lettres of the period conveyed the prevailing values of the intellectual elite by treating the money-diggers in overblown and often unjustified images. (op.cited above, pgs. 451-2)

Was the treatment of money-diggers really unjustified? It was all a scam. Every time! And they had good reason to pass those laws because unless one was digging for money for one’s own benefit or amusement, those who went around promoting such nonsense were perpetuating a fraud on their neighbors. It is like the holy relics of the Middle Ages. People were persuaded to buy things like the “milk of the Virgin Mary, the teeth, hair, and blood of Christ, pieces of the Cross, and samples of the linen Christ was wrapped in as an infant.

No one ever found any buried treasure by way of peep-stones and divining rods and went around digging and peeping without wanting to be compensated for it. But there is coincidence and a broken clock is correct twice a day, especially when the Three Nephites are on the prowl.

Spiritualism is not Mormonism

Walker goes on to say that “money-digging may have influenced two of the nineteenth century’s major social and religious movements, Mormonism and Spiritualism. Its touch on American society was not light.” (ibid)

And yet, is Spiritualism a restoration of Apostolic Christianity? Apparently not, but there was a Mormon Spiritualist Church, founded by William S. Godbe. Ronald Walker writes,

There was also a spiritual, or spiritualist, dimension to their [The Godbeites] dissent. In October 1868 Godbe and Harrison traveled to New York City, ostensibly for business and recreation. They apparently used the occasion to seek direction from a spiritualist medium, Charles Foster. Fifty seances followed, confirming their religious doubts and mandating a radical restructuring of Mormonism. “The whole superstructure of a grand system of theology was unfolded to our minds,” Harrison later wrote. The system included a devaluation of the Book of Mormon  and Doctrine and Covenants, and the rejection of a personal deity, the literal resurrection, and the doctrine of the atonement.

Spiritualism was almost a perfect solution for the Godbeite doubters. Its parallels with Mormonism eased the pain involved in their transfer of commitment. Both movements affirmed the eternal nature of the individual and taught the validity of spiritual experience. Each had an upstate New York genesis. Moreover, their new spiritualistic view allowed Godbe and Morrison to validate their previous religious experiences. These now seemed mere preliminaries to their new, higher revelation. There also was an additional advantage: nineteenth-century spiritualism had a liberal, intellectual content that fit the Godbeite mood.

Yet the new movement was condemned by Brigham Young who published in the Deseret News that their ideas would “drive the holy priesthood from the earth.” George A. Smith claimed that “A blacker spirit never reigned in the heart of mortals than reigns in those two men.” (Harrison & Godbe). When Godbe asked Young if they were going to get the typical charges of immorality leveled at them as they were excommunicated, Young said that there were none that they knew of, but that “they must have committed some secret crime, or they would not now be found … opposing the policies of the servants of God.” (pgs. 70-71)

And haven’t we come full circle here? Young opposing the spiritualism that Mormonism supposedly sprang from! This is what the Christians of the day (who Walker calls “elites”) were doing with the magic practices embraced by many in New York, including Joseph’s neighbors.

They didn’t accept that magical treasure digging and necromancy was from God, it was all superstition – a counter culture movement that began to decline soon after it began to flourish in places like New York’s burned over district. Yet, they still participated in it, as many do today with the lottery, or by way of prosperity gospels.

The Spiritualism that grew out of such folk beliefs, was rife with fraud, as Ron Huggins points out in his excellent article. And yet, those like Brigham Young, believed that there were actual evil spirits performing such stunts at seances:

Is there any revelation in the world? Yes, plenty of it. We are accused of being nothing more nor less than a people possessing what they term the higher order of Spiritualism. Whenever I see this in print, or hear it spoken, “You are right,” say I. “Yes, we belong to that higher order of Spiritualism; our revelations are from above, yours from beneath. This is the difference. We receive revelation from Heaven, you receive your revelations from every foul spirit that has departed this life, and gone out of the bodies of mobbers, murderers, highwaymen, drunkards, thieves, liars, and every kind of debauched character, whose spirits are floating around here, and searching and seeking whom they can destroy; for they are the servants of the devil, and they are permitted to come now to reveal to the people.” It was not so once, anciently or formerly, when there was no Priesthood on the earth, no revelations from Heaven. Then the Lord Almighty shut up this evidence, and all intercourse between men on the earth and the foul spirits, so that the latter could not deceive and destroy the former with their revelations. But God has spoken now, and so has the devil; Jesus has revealed his Priesthood, so has the devil revealed his, and there is quite a difference between the two. One forms a perfect chain, the links of which cannot be separated; one has perfect order, laws, rules, regulations, organization; it forms, fashions, makes, creates, produces, protects and holds in existence the inhabitants of the earth in a pure and holy form of government, preparatory to their entering the kingdom of Heaven. The other is a rope of sand; it is disjointed, jargon, confusion, discord, everybody receiving revelation to suit himself. If I were disposed to go into their rings I could make every table, every dot, every particle of their revelations prove that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. I could lay my hands on the table with them, and if I would consent to have the spirits wrap, I would make them prove every time that Joseph Smith was a prophet; but let me go, and another man come along, a wicked man, and he would have all the evidence he desired that Joseph was not a prophet of God. I could make them say, every time, that this is the Church of Christ; while a wicked man might enter the circle and he would be told that this was not the Church of Christ; and this is their system—it is confusion and discord. It is like a rope of sand. There is no order, no organization; it cannot be reduced to a system, it is uncertainty. That is the difference between the two spiritual systems—yes, this is the higher order of spiritualism, to be led, governed and controlled by law, and that, too, the law of heaven that governs and controls the Gods and the angels. There is no being in heaven that could endure there, that could abide the heavens unless he is sanctified, purified and glorified by law, and lives by law. But take the other party, and it is without law. (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 13:281)

And it must be noted that Young’s point here, is that without the Mormon Priesthood, what was being practiced was counterfeit. Joseph supposedly did not receive the priesthood until 1829, and that is why God supposedly told Joseph to “go not after” them. And of course Young and Kimball had to invent the “natural prophet” who had power outside of the priesthood to account for what Smith was doing before he restored it.

And yet, those like Houdini proved it was all a hoax. Where was Young and others “gift of discernment’? What is very interesting is that when Houdini came up against the Medium Margery, who used all kinds of tricks to try and prove she was a real psychic, she failed when Houdini placed her in a fool proof box where she could not manipulate objects. But they found a way to sabotage Houdini’s precautions, and many people believed she was a true medium. If people want to believe, they will, even when they are proven frauds.

And why would Joseph doing those same things be any different? He didn’t have any priesthood in the 1820’s. He didn’t have any of those laws of God to guide him. And if he did, when he was supposedly talking to the angel every year for four years, he didn’t act like he did. Smith later claimed that the angel (later identified as Moroni) would reveal to him the priesthood, but all we see Smith doing during those four years is digging for buried treasure and getting arrested for doing it and then obfuscating these events in his later histories.

He was actually disobeying God, because he was going after things that he was told not to. Martin Harris later related that Joseph was told to “quit the company of the money-diggers”, but he just couldn’t seem to do so for a good seven years, even after a visit from God and an angel.

“the angels that tell where to find gold books…”

In fact, the very idea of associating buried treasure with angels of God was so repulsive to the Christian brother (Jesse) of Joseph Smith Sr., that he wrote to Hyrum on June 17, 1829:

Once as I thot my promising Nephew, You wrote to my Father long ago, that after struggling thro various scenes of adversity, you and your family, you had at last taught the very solutary lesson that the God that made the heavens and the earth w[o]uld at onc[e] give success to your endeavours, this if true, is very well, exactly as it should be—but alas what is man when left to his own way, he makes his own gods, if a golden calf, he falls down and worships before it, and says this is my god which brought me out of the land of Vermont—if it be a gold book discovered by the necromancy of infidelity, & dug from the mines of atheism, he writes that the angel of the Lord has revealed to him the hidden treasures of wisdom & knowledge, even divine revelation, which has lain in the bowels of the earth for thousands of years [and] is at last made known to him, he says he has eyes to see things that art not, and then has the audacity to say they are; and the angel of the Lord (Devil it should be) has put me in possession of great wealth, gold & silver and precious stones so that I shall have the dominion in all the land of Palmyra. 

He goes on to say that,

You say you have God for a witness— to prove the truth of what you write miserable creature, not to say perjured villain, how dare you thus trifle, in taking the name of God in vain, nay far worse than vain— that God with whom you thus trifle, is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity he cannot look on sin with any degree of approbation or complacency it is true he passeth by iniquity transgression and sin in his redeemed ones, he sees their shield, and for his sake recieves them to favour, but to such as make lead books, and declare to the world that they are of the most fine gold, calling on the great & dreadful name of the most High to witness the truth of their assertions, He says “depart from me ye that work iniquity,” and again “these shall go away into everlasting punishment, they shall be cast into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” these are the angels that tell where to find gold books.——

It is obvious that as a Christian, the idea of angels revealing where to find buried treasure or “gold books” was anathema to Jesse Smith, who concluded his letter with this warning:

Your father would not be implicated in this place, but for the message he sent by the hands of a fool to my brother Saml [Smith] this fellow says that you and your father are in this business very deep the fellow also believes all to be a fact, this to be sure, for no one unless predisposed to believe a lie would have heard a syllable from either of you on the subject, he says your father has a wand or rod like Jannes & Jambres who withstood Moses in Egypt— that he can tell the distance from India to Ethiopia or another fool story, many other things alike ridiculous. You state your Father cannot write by reason of a nervous affection this is a poor excuse, worse than none, he can dictate to others and they can write, he can If he knows not what to write, he can get your Brother’s spectacles he would then be as able to write dictate a letter, as Joe is to decypher hieroglyphics, if more should be wanting he can employ the same scoundrel of a scribe, and then not only the matter but manner and style would be correct… (Jesse Smith to Hyrum Smith, Dan Vogel, EMD 1: 551-52.)

Although there were many like Joseph Smith and members of his family who believed in the occult and that it was somehow sanctioned by God; there was a sharp divide among Christian believers and those that ascribed to folk magic practices – as the letter from Jesse Smith shows. There were also some Christians  who believed in such things as divining rods or treasure guardians, and sought to justify their use by claiming they were “of God”, but Jesse Smith wasn’t one of them. And you know what, people are still doing it today!

But … Everything’s Christian!

This idea that folk magic and Christianity were one and the same, and that Smith’s Latter Day Saints Church sprang out of his folk magic beliefs is an apologist fabrication. Christianity and the folk magic of the day were not the same. It would be like starting a church and claiming that the Christian God was really an alien, and later apologists could justify it because many Christians at the time believed in aliens. In other words Christianity and belief in aliens would basically be one unified whole, right? And isn’t it interesting that someone is teaching that very thing. Meet John Polk:

Hello, my name is Reverend John Polk. I am channeling “Yahweh”, the Judeo-Christian and Islamic creator-god-alien featured in the Bible, the Hebrew Bible and in the Quran. For thousands of years, up to this present day, he has been masquerading as the real God and is pulling a collective veil over the eyes of most of the world. Ancient alien astronaut theorists comprehend this reality, but most of humanity has no idea. Yahweh tells me the time draws near for full alien disclosure, so that we primitive Earthlings can be weaned off of the Mother Universe’s figurative bosom. He wants the world to know that he is an extraterrestrial, that he is not God and that all God-figures in all cultures are ET’s, not God. However, all creator-gods and Yahweh had wanted we humans to keep worshiping those creator-gods just like always. As collective humanity adapts to this knowledge, religion, culture and tradition need not change. For now, you may pray to the alien god you have worshiped all along but now, pray to the real God as well. The real God loves everyone regardless of their religion or belief system and therefore, he is the God for everyone.

Is this really any different than the apologists “folk magic restoration”? One could even say that this is the right time for Polk to come forth, because until the “Roswell Incident” people were just not attuned to aliens. The post Roswell Incident culture allowed more and more people to believe in aliens and for it to become more acceptable. This prepared the world for the prophet of the true God, Enlil, Reverend John Polk. At this website, they claim that,

…Reverend John Polk is a metaphysical minister who can communicate to angels, extraterrestrials, and even the alien-creator-God itself, Yahweh, who he refers to as Enlil (the Sumerian god of the air) and they form a pantheon of aliens, Annunaki, hybrids, and extradimensional entities than inhabit his multiverse. And according to the good Reverend, Jesus was an alien-human hybrid engineered by Yahweh. … And Reverend John Polk might be saying some unusual things, but if we’re going to take religious stories on faith – with burning bushes, water into wine, Joseph Smith’s golden plates, Mohammed and his flying horse, etc… well, then let’s listen to Polk’s message and see what he’s trying to communicate.

“He told so many stories…”

When Ron Huggins wrote his article on Joseph Smith and his fascination with Captain Kidd, he tried to produce a timeline, which is hard to do with Joseph Smith. Morris seizes on this and uses it to try and create a distraction about timelines. But the fact is, Joseph was simply telling different stories to different people. At times it was a religious yarn, and at times it involved a treasure ghost and magic. As Lorenzo Saunders remembered, “Jo. Smith told the story but he told so many stories, it was a hard thing to get the fact in any way or shape…” (Edmund L. Kelley interview with Lorenzo Saunders — read and signed by Lorenzo Saunders, 1884, EMD Vol. II, 159)  Yet Morris claims that,

The pattern is clear: the earliest witnesses emphasized the religious aspects of the story; accounts emphasizing “Captain Kidd” elements were later developments. This is the same pattern revealed with both newspapers and early letters and diaries. In every case, religious elements are included in the first accounts and are more common than the later magical elements. (pg. 33)

Actually, Morris doesn’t know what the “earliest witnesses emphasized”, because there are no extant accounts between 1823 and 1827 except the court documents that claimed Smith was a “glass looker”. So claiming that “the pattern is clear” that the earliest witnesses emphasized the religious aspects is disingenuous. Remember, Morris claims that what Ronald Walker wrote was extremely relevant:

At young Joseph’s 1826 money digging trial his father was reported to have claimed that both he and his son “were mortified that this wonderful [seeric] power which God had so miraculously given to the boy should be used only in search of filthy lucre, or its equivalent in earthly treasures.” Joseph Smith Sr “trusted that the Son of Righteousness would some day illumine the heart of the boy and enable him to see his will concerning him.”

The fact that there was a complaint made against Joseph in 1826 and he was “Examined” and found guilty of being a “glass looker” is significant. This is the only evidence from that period (1823-27), six years after he later claimed he saw God and three years after his religious angel story.

And yet a transcript that we have of the Examination, that Walker above quotes from, has Joseph’s father claiming that he hoped God would “some day illumine the heart of the boy and enable him to see his will.” But “the boy” later claimed to have seen God and later claimed he was seeing an angel every year at the hill by their home previous to this Examination. This indicates that the religious elements of the angel story weren’t really emphasized until 1827, and many later accounts bear this out. This evidence is the smoking gun that Joseph’s religious story was invented after 1826.

The corroborating evidence encompasses not only the Smith family neighbors, but close friends and future followers of Joseph’s “restored gospel”.

But what about Ron Huggins? He got things essentially right as we shall see. Morris claims that Huggins does not account for “the complex interweaving of faith and folk culture”, but that has little to do with what Huggins postulates because it is irrelevant. He claims that Huggins is the one “obscuring the timeline” and hiding “crucial details”.  No, this is what Joseph Smith did.

Morris wants to write Huggins paper for him, which I find amusing. He tells us what Huggins should have done, whose Mormon research he should have used. I’ve shown how Morris only quotes selected extracts of Walker’s research, doing the very thing he accuses Ronald Huggins of doing, hiding crucial details. He claims that Huggins focuses on Captiain Kidd and therefore skews the entire debate, but that is what Morris does by claiming that the first person accounts (the ones crafted by the Smith’s) take precedence over others. (I mean, look at the timeline in the beginning of his new book and you will see it is the “faithful history” timeline.) But here is what Morris writes and it’s important to note:

Since Huggins claims that Joseph’s account changed from one thing (a money-digger’s yarn) to another (the religious story of an angel), the best way to test his thesis is to discover when various people talked to Joseph and compare their reports.

And not only Joseph, but Lucy, William, Joseph Sr., etc. It is also important to note that it was Joseph and Oliver who were claiming it was always a religious story, that there were no magical elements to it. But we know this was a lie, hence the apologetic arguments that the “restoration” sprang out of both.

(To be Continued)

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:

INFLUENTIAL ANTI-MORMON CAUGHT SPREADING LIES ABOUT LDS CHURCH

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.

FIRST… PHELPS’ CONCLUSION

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

Pratt

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.

Pratt

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

Wentworth

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

Pratt

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

Wentworth

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.

Pratt

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

Wentworth

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:

Pratt

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

Wentworth

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

Pratt

“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

Wentworth

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

Pratt

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.

Wentworth

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.

SECOND: THE INTRODUCTION

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.

THIRD: THE SO-CALLED LIES?

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”.

CONCLUSION

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 Brian Hales being an amateur Historian into this bogus quote: “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 how Hales 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 from the Interpreter. 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 ultimately claimed that Matthew’s “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.

Mormon_reddit

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 nauseam? 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)

CONTENTS

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

 Introduction

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.