DoubleThink: The Mopologist Paradigm

1984 Christensen LDSINC MORG


I. Introduction: That Big Brother Mentality
II. First Vision Vagaries
III. Paradigm Precedent?
IV. Back to Legitimacy
V. The Matthew Brown Comparison
VI. The Presbyterian Problem
VII. Apologist Blather
VIII. The Authentic Documents
IX. The William Smith Problem
X. More Apologetic Vagaries
XI. More Blathering
XII. The David Whitmer Problem
XIII. Book of Mormon Vagaries
XIV: Conclusion

“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” …To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.― George Orwell, 1984

I. Introduction: That Big Brother Mentality

Mopology (or DoubleThink) is a fine art to those who practice it. Unlike the laissez-faire attitude of those who would never contemplate embracing it, those who clasp DoubleThink to their bosoms as a modus operandi do so with the best of intentions, because they simply cannot help themselves. Perhaps it is the ingrained Corporate mentality. Then again, it may be attributed to the feelings of brotherhood that arise through their apologia and Corporate Membership. They claim, then disclaim, then disclaim some more. They affirm authority, then deny it in subtle ways. They defend policy, then question it as they follow the whims of Corporate Leadership. They obfuscate, then explicate, full of certitudes but at the same time advocating uncertainty. They accuse others of what they practice as they exculpate themselves from all responsibility. They believe the lie, as all lies lead to “the truth”, which is itself a lie. This is Mopology, a vibrant part of the Mormon community: the defenders of the Corporate Priesthood.

The saga continues…

Earlier this year I posted two articles that deal with Kevin Christensen’s attacks on Jeremy Runnells and his CES letter. You may find them here, and here. Christensen has answered my first article with his typical distorted logic in a 50 page response published in The Apologetic Mormon Interpreter.

Christensen starts out with pointing out one of my mistakes, (my inadvertent miscount of his use of the word “brittle” in his essay).

But then Christensen astoundingly  tries to deflect this by claiming  that “in context [the word is] not always directed at Runnells in particular.” Really? The whole Essay is directed at Jeremy Runnells in particular. Here are the instances where Christensen employs the use of the word “brittle” and “brittleness”:

RUNNELLS presents his information as though making an equation:

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

Comparison with the different conclusions provided by people like Jeff Lindsay, Mike Ash, hundreds of volunteers at FairMormon, Interpreter, FARMS and the current Maxwell Institute, and for that matter, yours truly, well acquainted with the same issues should make it obvious that something other than simple addition of facts is involved.

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

Of course, as Jeremy does not follow Christensen’s formula, he is using (or stuck in) the “brittle” framework. He therefore has to reach a negative conclusion. And then this:

So why does my faith [Christensen’s] expand, when RUNNELLS’S faith shatters? BRITTLE things are far more prone to shattering than flexible things.

Yes, Christensen is “Mr. Fantastic,” so, so flexible. And then this:

RUNNELLS misrepresents both the hypotheses and the observations made in theMr. Fantastic essay, overlooking a clear description of real possibilities in favor of an inaccurate and BRITTLE declaration of unacceptable and unreasonable identity. He filters the flexibility and the reason out of the essay when making his own summary. The same mental inflexibility colors every phrase in the paragraph, every page of the letter, and, consequently, RUNNELLS tends to misrepresent every apologetic argument and supporting observation that he complains about. The end result is obvious BRITTLENESS.

^^^^COMPARE Alma 32:18, and Alma’s contrast between people who want to “know” with absolute finality, and those who settle for open-ended “cause to believe.” Closed BRITTLE thinking, contrasted with open-ended, tentative thinking. In describing how faith works, Alma describes how the planting and nurturing of a seed initiates a process in which change in the original seed is a sign of success  Swelling, sprouting, till, “your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.” RUNNELLS appears to want an experience in which he plants a seed, comes back to wash off the mud and dirt to find that it remains the same as it ever was. No swelling, no unexpected sprouts, roots, leaves, branches, growth, and certainly no unexpected fruit. To him, nothing that looks or acts differently than the original seed can be good. Expansion, change, growth can only shatter him, like gentle grass bursting through asphalt.

Notice that Jeremy’s name comes up in every instance.  He is compared to the Book of Mormon people’s “closed brittle thinking”. He contrasts Jeremy with a “brittle interpretive framework”. He claims that Runnells is a “brittle thing”. That Jeremy favors “an inaccurate and brittle declaration”, etc. And of course he always reaches that “inevitable final negative conclusion.”

So how are these instances not directed at Jeremy Runnells?  What is far more important though is how disingenuous Christensen is; not my mistaken wordcount.  The rest of Christensen’s rant about Jeremy is the same tired old apologist line that their way, the “offer of more durable and appropriate new wine bottles” is better than anyone else’s, interspersed with his ramblin’ prose. (“Why you ramble, no one knows”). All of this manna from heaven is “provided by people like Jeff Lindsay, Mike Ash, hundreds of volunteers at FairMormon, Interpreter, FARMS and the current Maxwell Institute, and for that matter…” Kevin Christensen.

wine-serverHe claims that Jeremy wants to put new wine in old bottles; but Christensen wants to put bad wine in his shiny new apologist  bottles. This is just more hot air and ramblin’ prose by another Mormon Apologist.

Christensen then claims that I’m not being fair because I called FAIRMORMON unfair.  Here is how he puts it:

Stephenson complains again of my reference to Lindsay’s twenty-plus years of substance and original research, complaining that “For this to be a really accurate comparison, he needs to give Jeremy another 18 or so years to catch up. But since when has FairMormon and its apologists ever been fair?”

Lovely rhetorical question, don’t you think? Blanket insinuation and condemnation about FairMormon without any need to consider specific individuals or address specific arguments. Is the issue acquiring more truth (that is, gaining better knowledge of things as they are, were, and are to come) or fairness? Should we never have to deal with people who know more and have more experience in some area than we do? Should we outlaw parents or teachers or scholars or doctors or plumbers, for example, on the grounds that their experience, effort, training and tools provide an unfair competitive advantage over their children, pupils, readers, patients, or customers?

More lovely red herrings, don’t you think?  Of course their name is FAIRMORMON. It is obvious why they crafted that specific anagram for their name. And notice how Christensen favors his friend Lindsay,

Stephenson claims that I favor Lindsay’s approach because of the conclusions he reached. In truth, I favor Lindsay’s approach and example because I see his arguments and evidence as superior. I explicitly cite and mention Lindsay’s “LDS FAQ (for Frequently Asked Questions) which deals with all of the issues that Runnells raised and more. But Lindsay does so both at greater length, over a much broader span of time, consulting a wider range of sources, providing far more documentation, and including far more original research than Runnells.”

Of course Lindsay’s arguments are greater in length and over a much broader span of time! Lindsay has been at it for 18 years! Talk about totally missing my point. And then he misunderstands my comments:

Of my summary of what Lindsay has accomplished since 1994 as compared to what Runnells offered after one year (two at this writing), Stephenson says, “Yes, one would think that someone who has been a Mormon apologist since 1994 and has had a website for that long would have more documentation and research. This is common sense. Yet it doesn’t stop Christensen from using this against Jeremy.” Heaven forbid that anyone would ever use common sense and superior documentation against any arguments that Runnells offers!

Notice the condescension in “superior documentation in any arguments that Runnells offers.” Christensen is so dense here that he misconstrues my use of the phrase “common sense”. I was applying it to the fact that Lindsay’s arguments were longer and had more substance because he had almost TWO DECADES to produce and refine them. Notice he turns my words “more documentation” into “superior documentation”. Such wishful thinking. Perhaps DoubleThink has addled his brain?

Christensen then blunderingly applies that misrepresentation to the logic of Lindsay’s arguments which I did not ascribe the phrase to. (I ascribed it to the number of them, refined over time with more documentation).  Notice how Christensen deftly does not address the amount of time that Lindsay has had to prepare his apologetic arguments compared to Jeremy.  But is it good documentation and research? Not from what I have seen. And since Christensen’s arguments are cut from the same cloth as Lindsay’s; we will see how that turns out when I address his supposed evidentiary claims below.

FAIR WEBSITE 2004FAIRMORMON had described themselves this way:

FAIRMORMON is a non-profit corporation that is dedicated to helping people deal with issues related to anti-Mormonism

And I did address specific arguments. I’ve done it numerous times on this blog. Why didn’t Christensen notice this? Christensen claims that what they do is give “more truth”, but FAIRMORMON claims that:

…the members of FairMormon are all committed to defending the Church and helping people to maintain their testimonies.

Their default position is “faithful” history. They admit it.  As with the Reflector Article that Christensen whines about, (addressed at length below) we see that FAIRMORMON doesn’t give “more truth” but less. They quote only the parts that seemingly support their own interpretations that promote “defending the Church” and “maintaining testimonies”.

Christensen also turns my comment into something it is not. He Erroneously claims that I must be advocating outlawing parents, teachers, scholars, doctors, plumbers, ad nauseum, on the grounds that they would “provide an unfair competitive advantage”. Frankly, I don’t know on what basis he gets this rant from, (other than to produce a slur) but I implied nothing of the kind. Christensen is just throwing down more red herrings with these kinds of wacky comments.

I only commented (rather tongue in cheek) that what FAIRMORMON publishes is not FAIR, because they only want to publish “faith promoting” material and manipulate the evidence to get that outcome. I have lots of examples right here on my blog.   Here is one example, called…  “Playing Fair”.

Perhaps they should then change their name to TRUTHMORMON. (As if that would help). I also find it kind of ironic that Christensen acts so vexed about this. After all, he is the one who claimed that point of view determines what the truth really is. He has the truth because he has the Mormon Apologist point of view (as does FAIRMORMON). Simply change your point of view and everything is all right. Facts will magically disappear because you won’t be able to really see them anymore. In other words, DoubleThink it. For example, in his original Essay Christensen claims that,

Runnells claims that “many verses still in the Book of Mormon … hold a Trinitarian view of the Godhead.” Please keep in mind that for Runnells’s complaints to make sense, we have to assume that he is talking about a conventional creedal metaphysical Trinity which postdates the New Testament. But it helps to remember that a social Trinity is still a Trinity, since the word merely means three. The issue is whether a close contextual reading of the Book of Mormon leads to a metaphysical Trinity, or to a social Trinity. I have found that contextualizing is a much better approach than reading passages of ancient scripture in isolation, and interpreting them against what usually turns out to be anachronistic assumptions.

All well and good, except the God that Joseph Smith was teaching to his followers (found in the Book of Mormon, the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible and Church publications) was referred to in an early article by W. W. Phelps. He wrote,

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

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

What Phelps was speaking of here, was a widely held belief at the time of the nature of God. (One God, three personages, one substance) This, Phelps claims, was incomprehensible, but was a “wonderful thing.” This was not some “social trinity”, but an incomprehensible “metaphysical” Trinity. Joseph Smith much later in his career disparaged the Trinity Doctrine thusly:

Many men say there is one God; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are only one God. I say that is a strange God anyhow — three in one, and one in three! It is a curious organization… All are to be crammed into one God, according to sectarianism. It would make the biggest God in all the world. He would be a wonderfully big God — he would be a giant or a monster. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 372)

Jeremy did not make an anachronistic assumption, but based his observations on contemporary evidence. Christensen’s “point of view” doesn’t change what they were referring to in 1832, (found in the Book of Mormon and Church publications) which was definitely not a “social trinity”. (See also The Lectures on Faith, Lecture V). And yes, Joseph authorized Phelps to set forth doctrine in Church publications:

…we wish you to render the [Evening and Morning] Star as interesting as possable by setting forth the rise progress and faith of the church, as well as the doctrine for if you do not render it more interesting than at present it will fall, and the church suffer a great Loss thereby (Joseph Smith, letter to W. W. Phelps, January 11, 1833).

Christensen, in his typical narcissistic fashion, claims that because he and his cohorts (Jeff Lindsay, Mike Ash, Neal Rappleye, Daniel Peterson, and many others, including himself) still have faith in Mormonism, that somehow those who do not, (like Jeremy Runnells) are brittle. They didn’t water the seed. It’s not a hard concept to understand. But that doesn’t stop Christensen from whining about it.seed-sower-jeremy-sams

Christensen laments that I “nowhere report” that the parable of the sower is foundational to his approach. But it isn’t hard for anyone to miss since that is in the title of his article! So, Christensen and Runnells plant the same seed and get different harvests. That was the whole point wasn’t it? He claims that somehow because he and his fellow apologists still have faith in Joseph Smith and discount/dismiss all the critical evidence about him that somehow (someway) this means that his/their methods are superior. Yeah, I get it.

But if that is so, then why is there still a large group of people following Warren Jeffs? Why did the followers of David Koresh choose to burn with him? Many of those had the evidence right in front of them too, didn’t they?

I’ve never claimed that Christensen and his cohorts don’t study the evidence or are familiar with it. They do and are. What I do claim is that they present evidence in disingenuous ways (withholding information, partial and out of context quoting, etc.), which they substitute for actual evidence to suit their own agenda: to stay faithful. (Embracing DoubleThink) We will once again see how Christensen blatantly does this below with David Whitmer and the claimed 1820 vision accounts.

Christensen then puts words into my mouth claiming that my “portrait” of LDS Apologists is that they are “money-seeking spin doctors.” Though I have claimed that they are spin doctors (that much is obvious), I’ve never claimed they were “money-seeking”.  (Is there some psychological issue embedded in his subconscious?) And he complains about my rhetoric! And what does Lindsay’s job have to do with this?  He works at a Paper Company in Shanghai. According to him, his areas of expertise are,

Open innovation, intellectual property strategy, new business development, biomaterials, bioproducts, external business development, alliances and licensing, innovation systems, technology scouting, private brand development, value network analysis, university-industry relationships, public speaking, amateur magic, and photography. Technical experience includes cellulose chemistry (a subject of several of my chemical patents), consumer products manufacturing, fluid flow in fibrous media, recycling and deinking, multiphase flow and heat transfer, predictive test methods and test method development, fiber-water interactions in paper and cellulosic materials, etc. I am also a registered patent agent before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and have a strong interest in patents and patent law.

Wonderful achievements, to be sure. He’s certainly a smart guy. Does this make him less susceptible to spinning the evidence in favor of his faith claims? I don’t see him listed as any kind of Mormon “Authority”.  Why would Lindsay’s résumé be troubling for me?  I’m not criticizing his work on Paper Products or cellulose chemistry. (That would be a rather foolish endeavor, to be sure). But leave it to Christensen to claim that this somehow has relevance. How about the actual issues of Mormonism that Jeremy cites? Let’s see if their arguments stand up in that area.

Christensen writes,

Nowhere have I argued that because I had a spiritual experience when I was 19, Runnells must be wrong, so I don’t have to reply to his arguments.

I didn’t claim that he did. I claimed that his paradigm was misapplied because he claimed to know and this disqualifies him from his own equation. (tentative conclusion) Remember Christensen’s equation:

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

But Christensen claimed a sure knowledge that Moroni was real. Is this a panacea against future problems? No. (As Christensen notes). Many people that claimed the same apostatized. But it excludes him from his equation now and makes it far more difficult to evaluate critical new evidence that might change his mind. Can Christensen claim this about critics? Oh, absolutely. But he goes off the rails in claiming that we are not open to new evidence. I sure am, as is Jeremy. But none of it that I’ve analyzed in depth has been enough to persuade me that Joseph Smith really was a “prophet, seer & revelator” for God. Christensen argues the opposite. Fair enough. It is not this that I have a problem with, but his analysis of the evidence and his penchant for narcissistic formulas that he claims lead to believing his “superior” interpretations of the evidence.

Joseph & Moroni, photo by grindael

Joseph & Moroni, Hill Cumorah, photo by grindael

And I don’t just point to critics arguments, and neither does Jeremy. We quote Apologist arguments. We analyze them. We advocate openness and fairness in quoting all sides. We provide live links to critics arguments. See my analysis below where I actually quote Matthew Brown and contrast his conjectures with the evidence, something that Christensen doesn’t do and never has done with Jeremy’s arguments. (The few that he addresses).

He simply references whole books and chapters of the Bible, or quotes selected passages that seem to favor their interpretation, or references FAIRMORMON, or Apologist articles. He also condemns Jeremy for not doing so in the CES letter which was never an Essay (as Christensen constantly calls it) but a letter highlighting things Jeremy found questionable about Mormonism.

His knowing always trumps the evidence even though he says it does not. Why then, write a formula for keeping the “faith” and claim that it works and give yourself as an example? (Over and over and over again). Does Christensen know the future? Does he know that he won’t encounter evidence that will cause him to apostatize? So he seems to be claiming. Did that save former apologists like Kevin Graham, Kerry Shirts, myself, or a host of others? I guess that all of us were simply “brittle”. What I object to is Christensen’s simplistic logic that all of this is easily solved by his pseudo scientific equations and the rather trite use of Jesus parables. (Like no one has ever encountered the Parable of the Sower before).

Apologists like Kerry Shirts and Kevin Graham were committed Mormon Apologists that studied all the same information that Christensen claims that he did. How does Christensen’s magic formula apply there? Again, Christensen takes the simplistic CES Letter and thinks that is the sum of all Jeremy’s knowledge and condemns him for not quoting Mormon Apologists in it.

Christensen has got “flexible” faith while Jeremy is “brittle” and unbending. Sure thing. “Spiritual experiences” and “faith beliefs” are not scientifically quantifiable. To try to apply Kuhn or Barbour to faith claims is ultimately a misuse of their formulas, as others have stated elsewhere. Christensen’s ramblings are simply esoteric jargon that he has cobbled together by misapplying Kuhn and others, something that “Big Brother” would be proud of.

Christensen goes on about how what we seek is what we find and how we process information “all matters to both the course their journey takes and where they end up.”

Well duh. That is not what I’m arguing against. (Though I’m not convinced that we always find what we seek). I definitely was not seeking to find Brigham Young’s teachings on Adam, nor was I seeking to lose my testimony. Christensen claims that his and Lindsay’s way is better because they have retained their “faith”, and that you can apply misconstrued scientific formula to faith claims. But Christensen can’t explain how, (not in any coherent manner)  other than he never lost his “testimony” (because of “superior” research by his Mormon Apologist buddies).  He wants you to discount real evidence that is critical to Mormonism by using his pseudo scientific formula which favors getting information from Mormon Apologists. If you don’t, you are “brittle” and your faith will “shatter”. Look at Christensen, still strong in the faith because he uses his presto chango, super duper scientific formula while poor Jeremy did not.

Yes, just use Christensen’s magic formula and you will retain your faith. It is therefore better than Jeremy’s reasoned decision because Christensen has retained his faith. How, because he used his magic formula. This is simply circular reasoning gone wild.

Again, the followers of Warren Jeffs can claim the same thing as can those who follow any faith. (We kept ours but you didn’t, nah, nah, nah…) Why many choose to accept and others reject is because of their own evaluation of the evidence and how it impacts them. The truth really is the truth. There are problems quantifying any faith claims. There is no formula that can predict what people will do in relation to those faith claims. But Christensen won’t accept that, all can “retain the faith” by using his formula, and there must be something wrong with people who do not.

My gripe is that Christensen vilifies Jeremy for not doing things his way, and that Christensen’s way somehow validates his version of historical events. He talks like he is all cool with Jeremy and that,

I don’t think that he is being intentionally deceptive, or betraying my trust.

What trust? Yet his rhetoric tells a different story:

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

Jeremy is a real person, not Christensen’s caricature. Was Jeremy looking for imperfection? Not according to his story that Christensen never tells. And again,

Runnells looks only for imperfection in Mormonism.

Did he do so when he served his 2+ year mission and when he was a faithful Mormon for years? To Christensen, Jeremy’s analysis of the evidence is looking for imperfection.

But it is Christensen that misrepresents Jeremy by claiming he “ignores all LDS scholarship” and “misrepresents every apologetic argument”. He calls Jeremy a hypocrite with this jab:

Notice too that the closest Runnells comes to actually defining translate is when he complains that according to unnamed “unofficial apologists” the word “translate doesn’t really mean translate.” This would be a good place to explain what the word means in the context of what Joseph Smith actually did. We need to do a bit of eye checking here.

Notice that Christensen uses variations of the word “complain” 22 times in his initial essay about Jeremy. Christensen of course, is referring to what Jesus said,

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5, italics mine)

He is calling Jeremy a hypocrite, yet he is not doing so intentionally? Right. Christensen claims,

Runnells sets out his own expectations of what he expects to find…

How does Christensen know what Jeremy “expects/expected to find”? That is not how Jeremy characterized himself at all. This is simply an ad hoc assumption of Christensen’s and it makes Jeremy seem as if he had an agenda from the beginning. This is simply dishonest of Christensen. Christensen “finds” what he wants to find, by a “closer reading” of the Book of Mormon (that conflicts with Mormon “Authorities” statements) yet Jeremy is the one who set his own expectations?

Rather, it was Mormon “Authorities” that set his expectations, but Christensen discounts their authoritative declarations, and assumes that Jeremy should have too. The Book of Mormon does not describe any “pre-existing populations” but claims that they land was empty, a promised land for only the righteous that God led them to. (Ether 2:10,  2 Nephi, 1:5-11). But Christesnsen’s alternative/unofficial reading of the Book of Mormon based on a Mormon Apologetic agenda finds something totally different, so he is right and Jeremy and the Mormon “Authorities” are wrong. (DoubleThink again).

Mormon Apostle J. Reuben Clark taught:

“The Lord took every precaution to see that nothing might interfere with this posterity of Joseph in working out their God-given destiny and the destiny of America. He provided, and so told Lehi at the very beginning of his settlement, that: . . it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations ; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance. (2 Nephi 1:8.) The Lord so kept the land for a thousand years after Lehi landed. He so kept it in His wisdom for another thousand years after the Nephites were destroyed, perhaps to give the Lamanitish branch another chance.” (“Prophecies, Penalties, and Blessings,” Improvement Era, 1940, v. xliii., July 1940. no. 7).

And Spencer W. Kimball, the “Prophet” stated authoritatively:

“About twenty-five centuries ago, a hardy group left the comforts of a great city, crossed a desert, braved an ocean, and came to the shores of this, their promised land. There were two large families, those of Lehi and Ishmael, who in not many centuries numbered hundreds of millions of people on these two American continents.” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 601, thanks, MormonThink).

B.H. Roberts (Mormon “Authority”),

Lehi’s colony, it must be remembered, came to an empty America, so far as human inhabitants were concerned—according to the Book of Mormon accounting of things.  (B.H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, p.252).

Yet, these authoritative statements (which of course are not to the DoubleThinking Christensen) are to be replaced by Mormon Apologists’ disclaimed opinions. (The “real” authorities). Anything to retain the “faith”. To Christensen, this is just Clarke’s opinion and his calling as a prophet and apostle means nothing in relation to teaching correct doctrine. (See his amazing comments about Fielding Smith below).

And of course, B.H. Roberts didn’t read the Book of Mormon correctly, right? He needed to read it like Modern Mormon Apologists do, and then he would have arrived at a totally different rendering of what it said. The correct rendering. I guess all of those Mormon “Authorities” were incapable of closely reading the Book of Mormon. To quote Chris Carter, “Apology is Policy.” DoubleThink is their paradigm. Only sustain Mormon “Authorities” when it is convenient.

Apology is Policy

I was reading a blog article the other day and came across this comment by a believing Mormon who wanted to make a point about the creation of the world and quoted Brigham Young to support it:

Mark: Your list of claims made by the LDS Church is merely a really bad straw man. A global flood — even Brigham Young argued against it. Only 7,000 years old? it is easy to find numerous statements by GAs contrary to this claim.

This comment was made in response to someone posting the current stated doctrine about the creation:

The LDS church is making claims that are testable. The BOM is historical. The earth is 7000 years old. There was a global flood. Etc.

The above comment was supported with this quote, from the Ensign:

“There is a third group of people—those who accept the literal message of the Bible regarding Noah, the ark, and the Deluge. Latter-day Saints belong to this group. In spite of the world’s arguments against the historicity of the Flood, and despite the supposed lack of geologic evidence, we Latter-day Saints believe that Noah was an actual man, a prophet of God, who preached repentance and raised a voice of warning, built an ark, gathered his family and a host of animals onto the ark, and floated safely away as waters covered the entire earth. We are assured that these events actually occurred by the multiple testimonies of God’s prophets.”

Then the author of the blog article wrote,

Why is it that only the sources you choose matter? Shouldn’t a good interpretation of LDS positions on something like the flood take into account as many authoritative statements as possible?

Yet, when someone cites Joseph Smith on the contradictory nature of God described in the Lectures on Faith, Blake writes,

Joseph Smith had the same problem when members became attached to one expression of the gospel and then, when further revelation came along, complained that they had been taught something different. One of the hallmarks of the Church is continuing revelation. Our understanding changes due to further revelations — especially in the case of Joseph Smith. Later changes often come from continuing reflection on the revelations received and coming to different (sometimes even better) grasp of what was said. Take for instance the Fifth Lecture on Faith that teaches that the Father is “a personage of Spirit.” It seems to me it is quite easily explained by the fact that it had not yet been revealed to Joseph Smith that the Father had once had a mortal experience and had a resurrected body. It reflects an exegesis of Mosiah 15-16 and D&C 93 primarily and looks to the scriptures and revelations to understand God. The Nephites did not have a complete revelation and Joseph Smith still had further revelations to receive on the issue.

How come the Ensign article (current source of official doctrine) does not trump Brigham Young? Because when apologists want to use Mormon “authorities” to confirm their pet arguments, they do. When something questionable by a Mormon “authority” is quoted by a critic they then claim there needed to be “further revelation” etc., and make up anything to explain away what they don’t ascribe to. Mormon “Authorities” are only cited (or “authoritative”) when it is convenient to prop up apologetic arguments.

There are many other examples I could cite of Chrisensen’s subtle way of denigrating Jeremy. His claim that he doesn’t think that Jeremy is being intentionally deceptive, is just empty rhetoric. Christensen’s original rant about Jeremy is condescending and arrogant and that is the reason for my harsh criticisms of Christensen. We see the falsehood in his words above.

This is the context of Christensen’s use of Jeremy’s quote that he was obsessed with Church History after he discovered many things that troubled him. Christensen paints him as an obsessive moron (remember, he stupidly trusted his leaders had answers and that was all Jeremy’s fault) that never read anything published by Mormon Apologists and therefore didn’t have all the evidence to save his shaken faith, which couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Because I didn’t expressly state that Jeremy used the word obsessive in relation to his research, Christensen tries to score points off of it:

Stephenson says, “In his introduction, Christensen calls Runnells ‘obsessive’ and contrasts that [Page 102]with Lindsay’s ‘boundless enthusiasm.’ It is obvious where this is going right from the start.” My obviousness seems to be a quality that goes against the grain of a claim that I am disingenuous.

Point of fact: Runnells describes his CES letter as the result of “an absolute rabid obsession with Joseph Smith and Church history.” I would have thought that my repeating and quoting his self-description was not an academic crime. I was not attempting any shade of ad hominem, just being a reporter. Oddly enough, Stephenson does not mention my quotation of Runnells’s self-description. Dare I call this a spin of omission?

Here is Christensen’s original quote,

Jeremy T. Runnells is a “disaffected Mormon” who describes the grounds of his loss of faith in a website/pdf document published in 2013 called Letter to a CES Director: Why I Lost My Testimony. He had been an active LDS until 2012, when he read an account of a news article called “Mormonism Besieged by the Modern Age,” which claimed that Mormons were leaving the church in droves. Disturbed, he reports in his 83-page letter that, “All this information is a result of over a year of intense research and an absolute rabid obsession with Joseph Smith and Church history.”

Jeff Lindsay, on the other hand, describes himself as an active, believing Latter-day Saint and also an apologist who has been blogging since 1994.

Christensen knows very well that using that particular quote in that particular way mischaracterizes Jeremy. He then states,

That such different responses to the same information can even exist should demonstrate that neither the issues that Runnells raises nor the information he provides is the real cause of his disillusion.

Now Christensen is a mind reader. What Christensen really is saying in his original Essay about Jeremy was that the issues that Jeremy listed in the CES Letter were not the cause of his disillusion. In other words, Jeremy was lying or simply so stupid that he didn’t know himself. But was he? Here is Jeremy’s quote, in context:

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

Christensen goes on and on about how Jeremy is brittle and that is because he limited his perspective. But here we see that Jeremy understood that there were other perspectives and invited someone with authority (or access to those who had it) to share them. So what is Christensen’s point? That Jeremy is either lying to himself, or (as Christensen states), he was purposefully looking for “imperfections”. In other words, this was all Jeremy’s fault and Christensen is so much better because he didn’t fall for it.

The way that Christensen presented Jeremy’s quote (in the context of his later statements), made it seem like he just read an article and then began obsessing on Joseph Smith and Church history to look for “imperfections”. Christensen then leaves it there, without showing that Jeremy was still open to answers.  After he saw the article that Christensen mentions, Jeremy wrote,

I started doing research and reading books like LDS historian and scholar Richard Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling and many others to try to better understand what was happening.

But Christensen doesn’t mention any of this. Talk about spins of omission! But Jeremy is “brittle” and unbending, his faith “shattered” by what? Not by what Jeremy discovered, according to Christensen. So what was the “real cause of his disillusion”? That he didn’t buy into Lindsay’s/whoever’s apologetics or their disclaimed opinions and perspectives? Of course. Christensen condemns Jeremy for,

His preference for “official” thought rather than “the best books” is telling (D&C 88:118).

This makes my point, even though Christensen goes to the extreme here. Yet in the Ensign (an official organ of the Church) we read,

Of course, not all knowledge is of equal value. “… There is a great fund of knowledge in the possession of men,” counseled Joseph Fielding Smith, “that will not save them in the kingdom of God. What they have got to learn are the fundamental things of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” (Doctrines of Salvation (Bookcraft, 1954), 1:291.)

And where do they learn that from? The Church today claims that one can only rely on “official” declarations, etc. for sound doctrine, not on the “opinions” generated without the official stamp of approval by the Prophet and Q12.  But what did Jeremy claim? He said,

One of my goals in writing Letter to a CES Director was to get a response as close to official answers that I could get. I had spent the entire previous year researching the works of LDS scholars Richard Bushman, Hugh B. Nibley, Terryl Givens, Leonard Arrington and a few others as well as the not-so-respected works of the likes of unofficial apologists such as the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research (FairMormon) and others regarding the serious problems of Mormonism.

Christensen acts like Jeremy never made any statements like this. He claims that because Jeremy didn’t interweave all of the apologetic arguments into his CES Letter, that he must be lying. Still, this was Jeremy’s obsession that he spoke of. To find out all he could so he could better understand the issues and find answers that addressed his concerns. But the Apologist answers that Christensen touts weren’t persuasive to Jeremy.

And where would Jeremy have learned about all those other issues in the CES Letter (after trying to research his initial concerns with “the best books”). FAIRMORMON!

But Christensen continually characterizes Jeremy as having an obsessive agenda to “look for imperfection.” He wasn’t searching for answers or he would have found them in the Mormon Apologists’ explanations. So to Christensen, Jeremy never read them. He lied. Christensen writes,

Runnells, on the other hand, frequently and characteristically offers complaints without acknowledging the existence of well-known responses to issues he raises by the most important and conspicuous LDS authors. Frankly, I don’t see evidence that he has done his homework properly. … I couldn’t give Runnells credit even if I wanted to do so.

Because he didn’t see “evidence” of apologetic arguments in the CES Letter. Christensen’s whole argument is his own fabrication! Again, the Ensign:

As you know by now there is no scarcity of good books to read, study, and ponder. But there is a possibility that you can be so busy pursuing an education and striving to be well-rounded in thought that you neglect the pursuit of those things that matter most in an eternal perspective of life. If you are not careful, you can be so busy reading and studying from good books that you have little time, if any, to pursue a knowledge of the saving principles of the gospel. (Seek Ye Out Of The Best Books, Ensign, August, 1974).

Jeremy is condemned by Christensen for doing what he was counselled to do. Christensen wants to have his cake and eat it too. He criticizes Jeremy for following the instructions of Mormon “authorities” and relying on them for official doctrine and spiritual guidance. To Christensen, Lindsay’s Apologist arguments are better, because to him they are superior. Yet, they are still only LINDSAY’S OPINIONS. Lindsay even has this disclaimer:

The Church has not endorsed my writings (though one early essay on DNA is on the LDS newsroom site for informational purposes). While I strive to be accurate, my writings reflect my personal understanding and are subject to human error and bias.

Can any of those that Christensen cites, (Hugh Nibley, et. al) claim otherwise? (Yes, I know Nibley is dead). Yeah, get your answers from the likes of Neal Rappleye or Mike Ash who has just published a book titled “Bamboozled by the CES Letter”. This is one of the “best books” that Jeremy (or others) should get their answers from? Really?

Ash’s answer for why no remains of horses have been found? Gee wilikers, the jungle ate them. Some day we might find them. Why then, haven’t there been any discoveries in the desert areas of America (for the right time period)? Did the jungle eat them too? Notice how Ash wants to limit where the Book of Mormon people supposedly lived to Central America. And of course, horses were probably only to be found there, too. He can then conveniently claim that the bones disappeared because the jungle ate them, and it’s just too hard to find anything there. This contradicts what Mormon “Authorities” have said, but of course in Christensen’s world “Bamboozled” takes precedence over them.


I’m sure Bamboozled is chock full of other lovely opinions. So who is bamboozling who here?

Time after time Christensen answers Jeremy with the opinions of Mormon Apologists. How is this “superior” to the doctrinal teachings of Mormon “Authorities” when they disclaim their answers as opinions that carry no weight? He then lambastes Jeremy for expecting Mormon “Authorities” to provide him with official answers.  (This is the current trend of Mormon Apologists). For Christensen, Mormon Apologist’s best guesses are “superior”. He also turns Jeremy’s reliance on Mormon “Authorites” for official answers into an expectation for everyone in the Church to have every answer to every question. This stuff is beyond silly.

Notice how Christensen will denigrate what he hasn’t even seen,

He [Stephenson] continues: “Recently, Jeremy and I completed a 458-page response to Brian Hales’ attacks on him and others. One hopes that this might be enough to satisfy those like Christensen, but he will probably complain that it is too long.”

It really depends on the quality of the content, doesn’t it? I have, as it happens, read many lengthy books. Some of them I like a great deal and I have even re-read them. Length and persuasiveness are not the same thing. Nor are scandalous topics and foundational topics necessarily the same thing, nor, in my view, deserving of the same effort.

So polygamy is a “scandalous topic”? I guess Brian Hales really flubbed up when he wrote, what is it… four books on the subject?  Funny how much effort Christensen has put in to decrying the CES Letter. Was he too bamboozled? He worked on his rebuttal to me for months:

I’m currently working on a response to Jeremy Runnells’ friend Johnny Stephenson, who claims that all we have to offer is spin. (Kevin Christensen, Mormon Dialogue & Discussions, May 19, 2015).

Christensen then makes much ado about my comment that his tactic of making critics links dead is Orwellian and shady. Notice that Christensen never addresses why he uses that tactic. He just piles on the hyperbole by claiming that somehow I’m condemning the Joseph Smith Papers. Last I checked, the JSP wasn’t responding to their critics arguments. Their agenda is to release documents. They have been exemplary in doing so. They give readers the chance to evaluate those documents on their own, without presenting them in bits and pieces interspersed with “faithful” commentary as FAIRMORMON does. (They use a series of footnotes for further explanations, and even those are very unapologetic and reasoned).

They are not FAIRMORMON or the INTERPRETER. But how do we get to the Orwellian world of 1984? A little bit at a time and a lot of DoubleThink. Making it less convenient to access information you don’t want people to see. Of course, Christensen has to contrast this with all the other far worse things that Big Brother did. But how did Big Brother get to be Big Brother? A little bit at a time. Try being an active member and criticizing a Mormon “Authority” in public or publishing something. See what happened to Rock Waterman, here. This is not Big Brother watching?

This point seems lost on Christensen but I’m not surprised. And who STILL has the dead links even in their current article?

Christensen claims:

The whole concept of paradigm debate and the influence of theory on experiment design, testing, and interpretation has also been a prominent theme in my LDS writings since my first publication in 1990. And Stephenson’s conspicuous failure to address that basic underlying premise means that the beam in his own eye remains in place to obscure his vision. Everything that follows in his essay suffers thereby.

Well, now I’m a hypocrite. See PART II of my response where I do just that. I guess he didn’t bother to read that. He can find it here. Christensen talks about personal responsibility to be informed, (which should be a must before making accusations of hypocrisy) but he doesn’t even think to check if there was a response somewhere other than Jeremy’s CES site. He had at least five months to find it.  He then writes,

Likewise, Stephenson seems to forget that he is an apologist for Jeremy Runnells and their mutual unfaith, which claims that Joseph Smith fabricated the Book of Mormon. Their conclusions are at as much risk of bias and distortion as mine are — but Stephenson apparently cannot see this. He is objective and rational; all who disagree are merely schizophrenic apologists.

No, not nearly as much as we will see below. Christensen just admitted to bias and distortion. What is my bias? Why would I distort? Can he answer those questions? Has he? No. Don Bradley disagrees with me quite often. I don’t consider him schizophrenic. But then, he doesn’t call me and my friends hypocrites and question their honesty and motives. (Not even subtlety). And I don’t question his. He’s not an Apologist like Christensen.

Notice that Christensen claims that we have mutual “unfaith”. This is an interesting way to describe us but totally wrong. I still have faith, but don’t believe Joseph Smith was a prophet. Is Christensen somehow better than I am because he still has “faith” in Joseph Smith’s claims? Seems so.  He has read and believes the “superior” research. Got it.

And I have no problems with being called an apologist for Jeremy as I was defending him. FAIRMORMON has an army of people arrayed against Jeremy, including Christensen. But I’m just not invested in Jeremy as Christensen is in Mormonism, therefore who has more to lose here? Jeremy is just my friend. I have no reason not to present the evidence in a balanced way the best I can.  I had nothing to do with Mormonism for 25 years after I left the church. I just find Mormon History fascinating. (I always did, even when I was a member of the Church). But I guess that is something that Christensen can’t fathom. I have an “agenda”. No, I just dislike the dishonesty of those Mormon Apologists.

I, in fact, disagree that some of Jeremy’s evidence in the CES Letter should be there. One example is the Vernal Holley maps. We discussed it. Jeremy even sent me the letter and asked me to evaluate some of the claims it makes and provide more source material. Jeremy is open to valid criticisms. He is just not open to being called names by Christensen, however subtle and folksy sounding. He is far from “brittle” and unbending. This is simply an ad hoc assumption concocted by Christensen.

Jeremy can also speak for himself and I’m not going to spend my life defending him as Christensen and Lindsay are obviously spending theirs defending Mormonism.  We will see who is distorting what below when we get into the specific claims, which is what I really want to address instead of Christensen’s 30+ pages of esoteric bullshit and whining.

Ah, and the good old “rhetorical effects.” Well, where was I not accurate? Christensen just doesn’t like the word peepstone it seems, even though Mormon Authorities have done the reverse, calling what anyone besides a Mormon “prophet” used, that very thing. Here is Marion G. Romney from 1956:

Now, the Prophet gave other tests applicable to special claims and doctrines, of which the following two are typical.

(1) He made it clear that there is never more than one man on the earth at a time authorized to receive revelations for the Church. This principle answered the claims of the purported peepstone revelations. (Conference Report, April 1956, p.73).

Is this just for rhetorical effects? Here is Marvin S. Hill doing the same thing,

Opposition to Joseph came from the followers of Hyrum Page, who had a peepstone and had received a handful of revelations of his own. About this time, Smith had ceased to rely heavily upon his own seerstone for inspiration, and the change was disturbing to Cowdery and the Whitmers. (Marvin S. Hill, Quest for Refuge, p.28).

Why did Romney not use “seer stone” in relation to those revelations he did not deem as “authentic” to the truth claims of Mormonism? In all actuality, they were called both peepstones/peekstones and seerstones. I’ve made it clear that I disbelieve that Joseph Smith was a “seer”, so why should I pander to Christensen’s obvious bias? And I suppose that Dale Morgan should be accused of the same thing:

That the senior Joseph did much to launch his son upon his troubled career as a diviner and peepstone seer, that his unbounded extravagance of statement as to the wonders his son could see contributed largely to his celebrity, is clear from all accounts; the more fantastic stories of Joseph’s early powers and the marvels he discerned are to be traced back to the wagging tongue of his father.(John Phillip Walker, Dale Morgan, p.229).

Mike Quinn writes,

The excavation of the Logan (Utah) temple site during the 1880s unearthed a stone which a local woman (“Peepstone Lady”) used to locate lost animals and the body of a missing person. (D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, p.203)

Joseph.Smith.Whitmer.Farm.Winter_1830.Just this year, Mike Quinn wrote,

The second object of divine revelation that LDS headquarters has recently publicized is the brown-colored seer stone that Joseph Smith used to translate the Book of Mormon in 1829. In 2015, the Church officially clarified a century of misconceptions about how the translation occurred. I must admit that the official photographs of his artifact are stunning, and I can see why Joseph Smith refused to give it [back] to Willard Chase after the farmboy found  while digging a well on Chase’s property. Like the common seer stones or “peek stones” in early America, Mormonism’s founding prophet dictated the translation while looking at the brown stone in a hat held close to his face for about six weeks during 1829. (D. Michael Quinn, Using Material Objects to “Receive” Revelations, Sunstone Symposium, 18 October, 2015, 5)

Jan Shipps called it a peepstone in The Prophet Puzzle. Is she guilty too, of  simple “rhetorical effects?” Of having an agenda and distortion? Does Christensen want to criticize her for that? Good luck with that.

So are we to call what Joseph used a “peepstone” when he looked for buried treasure and then a “seerstone” when he used it for “revelations”? In the new Ensign article they don’t want to make this distinction, they stick to the “faithful” name calling.

Why be so concerned with this distinction? The fact that this bothers Christensen is rather telling, is it not? It shows that he is viewing things through a “faithful” lens, and so his claims to a better methodology are suspect and his admitted bias is right there to see.

Here is something interesting that Alma Jensen recently said, (Mormon (LDS) Institute Director from the University of Utah Institute of Religion) reportedly by someone who was there,

“Yes, Joseph used the seer stone to search for treasure. Just because he misused the stone, does that mean he’s not a prophet?”

Why is it called a seer stone when Smith misuses it, but a peepstone when Hiram Page does? Is there any kind of good explanation for this? That is why I call them peepstones. It is not just a matter of rhetoric, what Smith did was called “peeping” or “peeking” in his day. (Even when he “translated” the Book of Mormon). See this interesting article about Mary Jane Thompson (Joseph F. Smith’s cousin) and her “peeping” in 1856 Utah:

On July 18, 1856, she [Martha Ann Smith] wrote, [to Joseph F. Smith] “Ma[r]y Jane has been looking is [sic] the peap stone for you and she seen you[.]” …Referring to the same event Martha Ann wrote of, Jane wrote:  “Mary Jane saw you only last Friday, Martha will tell you how” (Jane Fisher to JFS, Great Salt Lake City, July 20, 1856). Jane again wrote to Joseph F. Smith, again mentioning the peepstone, on May 11, 1857: “I think you have stayed long enough, away, and if you do not come home soon, more than mary, Jane, will take a look in the peepstone. I should like to see you, in little grass House.”

So in the days before webcams, there were other media for communication–something faster than mail, and even more virtual than photography: a peep stone.

So what makes this a peepstone and Joseph’s a “seerstone”? Modern Mormon preference. Was Mary Jane “misusing” the stone? Was Joseph? Interesting questions.

Christensen whines that I didn’t disclose his entire history when I mentioned his experience about “knowing” Moroni was a prophet. Yet, he didn’t do that with Jeremy as I pointed out in my rebuttal to him. I guess he really ought to have read that second part. The thing is, my point didn’t need the bio. It spoke for itself and Christensen loves to talk about himself.

And did I not share a LIVE link to the podcast where Christensen makes his comments on my blog? Anyone could go and listen to it for themselves in one click. This is something that FAIRMORMON and Christensen do not do. The link in his CURRENT article is still dead to the CES letter and to Jeremy’s posting of Part I of The Sky Is Falling. And where is a specific link to Jeremy’s podcast where he explains his background and reasons for leaving the Church? I can’t find one.

Christensen then creates a straw man by claiming that I stated that “cognitive dissonance provides the means by which apologists like me ignore “facts”.  Nope, I never said that. Christensen even quotes me. I said,

 “Christensen appears to be unable to grasp that flexibility does not change facts while cognitive dissonance can allow you to live with and ignore them.”

Notice my wording: can allow you to live with them and ignore them. I argued that the part that applies to Christensen is his dissonance allows him to live with those facts. (not ignore them). Since he loves to talk about himself, he has made it clear that he is well read, and so is not ignoring the facts. This is very simple. Christensen mentions Edward Ashment’s excellent article, Reducing Dissonance: The Book of Abraham as a Case Study, and I highly recommend it. Of course, everything he doesn’t like is a “rhetorical tool” to Christensen. His rebuttal to this was a quote by Wendy Ulrich:

People who put cognitive dissonance forward as the explanation for the high level of commitment and sacrifice among some Mormons ignore that by the time the prophecy of the world ending in Festinger’s study had failed three times virtually everyone left the group, cognitive dissonance theory or no. People may rationalize their behavior and beliefs for a time, but they will not continue to do so indefinitely unless their beliefs are producing the expected payback–as long as they have reasonable choices about what to believe.

This misapplies my argument. It is not about those who have a high level of commitment and sacrifice among some Mormons, it is about those who engage in disingenuous apologetics. Again, what about the failings of Warren Jeffs who also predicted the end of the world and it never came to pass? His movement is still going strong and has been for many decades. I strongly suggest he watch the movie Prophet’s Prey. And perhaps Christensen ought to think about why he is even challenging Jeremy Runnells.

Is it because many Mormon are feeling uncomfortable about much of what he published, so much so that the Church authored their anonymous Essays soon after the CES Letter was published?  Is Christensen uncomfortable with what Jeremy published? If not, why spend so much time writing long Essays about him, and spending months to answer me? If this is all so frivolous, (the claims by Jeremy) why bother? Jeremy published the CES Letter in April of 2013 and the first anonymous Essays appeared seven months later.

But Christensen claims he has no dissonance and that I don’t understand the term and am misapplying it. Perhaps then, his problem is just DoubleThink. As George Orwell explains,

To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, … to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself – that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.  (Orwell, George (1949). Nineteen Eighty-Four. Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd, London, part 1, chapter 3, pp 32).

This is why to Christensen, the truth is “in the eye of the beholder”. In his world, I suppose it is.

And claiming that I (or Jeremy) didn’t address “Old World evidences for the Book of Mormon”? I do, in Part II of “The Sky is Falling” which has been published since April. Jeremy does so, here.   What I find astoundingly hypocritical of Christensen is that he (in many instances) acts like Jeremy has published nothing but the original CES Letter even though he will reference Jeremy’s other writings when it is convenient for him.

Nothing about the so called “Old World evidences for the Book of Mormon” makes me uncomfortable. (Nice try with endeavoring to put his own dissonance–or whatever it is since I am so wrong–on me). As for Thomas Kuhn, I addressed some of my concerns in Part II of The Sky is falling, and others have challenged Christensen here. Christensen did not really address those challenges, but simply left a short comment.  As Runtu wrote,

In essence, Kevin is turning Kuhn on his head, as Kuhn’s notion of a crisis of faith is a point at which one clings stubbornly to the “rules,” despite the presence of anomaly. It’s not about “values” but about accepting the prevailing paradigm as a boundary of inquiry. The paradigm shifts (and only just enough) to accommodate anomaly when the rules can’t explain them anymore. “Conclusions among individuals will differ” seems completely unrelated to a discussion of paradigm and shift.

He then takes a jab at me for calling Joseph Fielding Smith a prophet before he was the Church President. But doesn’t he realize that Smith was ordained a “prophet, seer, and revelator” when he became an apostle? This kind of silly posturing is all Christensen has to offer.  His apathy towards Joseph Fielding Smith’s racism when he was an apostle (prophet, seer & revelator) and Church President is appalling. Dissonance anyone? It wasn’t Smith who lifted the Priesthood Ban when he was the PRESIDENT (The chief Apostle), now, was it?

Most the the FAIRMORMON Apologists that I’ve crossed paths with have disappointed me with their deceptive tactics and justifications for Mormon Leadership’s racism.  Christensen is no different.  He writes,

Stephenson cannot help but demonstrate how a hidden ideology lurks behind his arguments.

So, point of view determines truth? What does point of view have to do with it?

For years, Joseph Fielding Smith denied that Joseph Smith used his peepstone to translate the Book of Mormon. He also called black people “an inferior race.” Did his evaluation of the evidence and point of view make these things true? Or make Joseph Fielding Smith a true prophet?

What does Joseph Fielding Smith’s denial regarding the historical use of a peepstone (seer stone, if labels applied by the people involved matter) have to do with his being a true prophet? What do his views of race have to do with his being a true prophet? Should I assume that the answers are self-evident, or should I actually ask the question and consider that such a question is most appropriate only from January 23, 1970 to July 2, 1972, when the office of prophet was actually his? I’ll hazard the risk of making my own ideology explicit so you can see what happens when I do it.

So exactly what, is my “hidden ideology”? Christensen is strangely silent about this. He speaks of his own ideologies. All this is, is Christensen bragging about how much humbler he is than anyone else. He writes,

He argues based on a premise that a prophet wouldn’t make or perpetuate a mistake in history. And a prophet wouldn’t reflect any of the now embarrassing prejudices of his time and culture.

I get this all the time from Mormon Apologists. You see, this is the only way they can make their prophets blatant racism work. And see how he turns it into I advocate that their prophets can’t make a mistake “in history”. (Whatever that is). And I am well aware that men are human, and a prophet is a man. Joseph Smith said,

I never told you I was perfect but there are no errors in the revelations I have taught.

Mormon “authorities” still claim there are no errors in the “revelations”. Joseph Fielding Smith’s racism was institutional. He believed that God instigated the racism in Mormonism. (Of course it wasn’t racism to them). He taught that blacks were an “inferior race”. That God had revealed it so through his “prophets”.  I have a real problem with this. But Christensen doesn’t get it. I simply have an agenda. Yeah, right.

I addressed peepstones above, but here is Joseph Fielding Smith in Doctrines of Salvation, Volume III:


Joseph Fielding Smith

EARLY SPECULATION AS TO SITE OF NEW JERUSALEM. When it was made known that the New Jerusalem was to be built in America, the saints began to wonder where the city would be. Hiram Page, one of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, secured a “peep stone” by means of which he claimed to receive revelation for the Church. Among the things he attempted to make known was where this city was to be built, Considerable commotion naturally prevailed, and even Oliver Cowdery was deceived into accepting what Hiram Page had given. The Prophet Joseph Smith had some difficulty in correcting this evil and composing the minds of the members of the Church. (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. III, 500).

So why can’t I apply that criteria to Joseph Smith since I do not believe that his “revelations” were authentic? Should I be dishonest and apply what I think is a Mormon prop? This is simply Christensen’s double standard, folks. Was this simply rhetoric on the part of Fielding Smith? Will Christensen admit he also had an “agenda”? No, he instead claims, “He actually comes out looking very good…”

How does the above show a “hidden agenda” on my part? First, all Mormon Apostles are ordained prophets, seers, and revelators, and Christensen ought to know this and so, is being dishonest here.  Claiming that such a question is “most appropriate only from January 23, 1970 to July 2, 1972” when JSF became the President of the Church is simply disingenuous.  Smith was actually ordained an Apostle, (thus a prophet, seer, & revelator) on April 7, 1910.  As Jeffrey R. Holland explained,

Against such times as come in our modern day, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve are commissioned by God and sustained by you as prophets, seers, and revelators, with the President of the Church sustained as the prophet, seer, and revelator, the senior Apostle, and as such the only man authorized to exercise all of the revelatory and administrative keys for the Church. … Are the heavens open? Does God reveal His will to prophets and apostles as in days of old? That they are and that He does is the unflinching declaration of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to all the world. (“Prophets, Seers, and Revelators”, Jeffrey R. Holland, Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, General Conference, October 2004).

So how is Joseph Fielding Smith a true prophet when he teaches and condones racism? Dallin Oaks makes my point when he claimed:

Stand fast with the leadership of the church. I heard President Hinckley in describing a revelation he had received concerning the building of small temples form which he will soon benefit in this part of the world that he did not claim perfection that there was only one perfect person who had ever lived upon this earth and even the prophets of God were not perfect. But, as the Prophet Joseph Smith said, on a great occasion, ‘there is no error in the teachings. ’Spoken under the influence of the spirit of the Lord, witnessed to be true in the hearts and minds of those who have the gift of the Holy Ghost, those teachings are the Lord’s will to his people. And I testify to you that these teachings are true and that if we hold with and follow the current leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, we will stay on the path toward eternal life. (Dallin Oaks, “Boise Rescue Transcript”, 117, On tape, 1:12:38)

“There is no error in the teachings.” The problem with Christensen’s version of what a constitutes a prophet, is that it is not what Mormon prophets themselves declare they are. Their teachings (the ones that don’t fit the Apologist’s personal criteria) are error filled opinions that aren’t much good for anything. This is Christensen’s version of Mormonism, nothing more. His agenda is promoting his own opinion and condemning those who don’t jump on board his Apologist band wagon. He wants us to give Joseph Fielding Smith a pass on his blatant racism simply because he was not the “head prophet” at the time. Yet these “apostles” are all  ordained and sustained as prophets when they become apostles. What a silly and disingenuous argument.

As Brigham Young taught,

An Apostle is the highest office in the Church & kingdom of God. Joseph Smith was a Prophet Seer & Revelator before he was baptized or ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood or had any Authority to administer one of the ordinances of the house of the Lord. He was afterwards ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood then to the Melchizedek Priesthood & Apostleship which is the highest office in the Church & kingdom of God on Earth. When a man is ordained to the Apostleship & keys thereof if he dies in faith He will hold those keys to all Eternity. All the Prophets Patriarchs & Apostles who ever did or ever will hold the keys of the Apostleship if faithful unto death will hold them forever.

Brigham Young also taught,

Many may say, “br. Brigham, perhaps you are mistaken; you are liable to err, and if the mob should not come, after all, and we should burn up our houses and learn that the Government had actually countermanded their orders and that no armies are coming to Utah, it would be a needless destruction. We have all the time felt that there was no need of leaving our houses. How easy it is for men to be mistaken, and we think a Prophet may be mistaken once in a while.” I am just as willing as the Lord, if he is disposed to make me make mistakes, and it is none of the business of any other person. If a people do the best they know, they have the power to ask and receive, and no power can prevent it.

And if the Lord wants me to make a mistake, I would as soon be mistaken as anything else, if that will save the lives of the people and give us the victory. If you get such feelings in your hearts, think of what my conclusion on the subject is, and do not come to my office to ask me whether I am mistaken, for I want to tell you now perhaps I am.

Do I want to save you? Ask that question. But John, what are you doing? Are you not an Elder in Israel? “Yes, I am a High Priest.” What is the office of an High Priest? John replies, “I do not know, without it is to whip my wife, knock down my children and make everybody obey me; and I believe a High Priest presides over an Elder.” You will find some Elders just about that ignorant. Let me tell you what the office of a High Priest and an Elder is. It holds the keys of the revelation of Jesus Christ; it unlocks the gates of heaven. It opens the broad windows of revelation from eternity. John, what are you about, imagining that I may be mistaken? or that br. Heber may be mistaken? Why do you not open the windows of heaven and get revelation for yourself? and not go whining around and saying, “do you not think that you may be mistaken? Can a Prophet or an Apostle be mistaken?” Do not ask me any such question, for I will acknowledge that all the time, but I do not acknowledge that I designedly lead this people astray one hair’s breadth from the truth, and I do not knowingly do a wrong, though I may commit many wrongs, and so may you. But I overlook your weaknesses, and I know by experience that the Saints lift their hearts to God that I may be led right. If I am thus borne off by your prayers and faith, with my own, and suffered to lead you wrong, it proves that your faith is vain. Do not worry. (Brigham Young, sermon given on 21 March 1858, Salt Lake Tabernacle, transcribed by George D. Watt, Richard S. Van Wagoner, The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young, Vol. 3, pp. 1417-1418)

Notice how it would be “the Lord” making Young make a mistake. And again on the same day in the afternoon session Young clarified what he was talking about:

I have told you what causes apostacy. It arises from neglect of prayers and duties, and the Spirit of the Lord leaves those who are thus negligent and they begin to think that the authorities of the church are wrong. In the days of Joseph the first thing manifested in the case of apostacy was the idea that Joseph was liable to be mistaken, and when a man admits that in his feelings and sets it down as a fact, it is a step towards apostacy, and he only needs to make one step more and he is cut off from the church. That is the case in any man. When several of the Twelve were cut off, the first step was that Joseph was a prophet, but he had fallen from his office and the Lord would suffer him to lead the people wrong. When persons get that idea in their minds, they are taking the first step to apostacy. If the Lord has designed that I should lead you wrong, then let us all go to hell together and, as Joseph used to say, we will take hell by force, turn the devils out and make a heaven of it. (ibid., 1420)

Christensen claims,

None of the biblical keys condemn Joseph Fielding Smith as a potential prophet. He actually comes out looking very good by these measures. His racial views and mistakes on points of history, his behavior before he became the prophet, and his age and behavior when he was the prophet, all have a historical context and biblical precedent.

By Christensen’s personal “measures” . Except he wasn’t a “potential prophet”, he was a prophet when he was ordained an apostle, therefore all of Christensen’s criteria to Presidents of the Church (the chief apostle) apply. Christensen simply is advocating his own brand of Mormonism, not what is taught by Mormon authorities. There is no Biblical precedent for a “revelation” that excludes anyone from all the blessings that others enjoyed under the New Covenant. The “Curse of Ham” was an invention of racist men and adopted by a misguided Mormon Hierarchy who claimed it for themselves as a revelation from God.

But of course to Christensen, racism is irrelevant. And then here we go with the red herring soup:

“By their fruits shall ye know them” refers to the recognition of a characteristic fruit as the key to identification. So if you happen to spot unripe, fallen, bruised, or wormy fruit, if you know the fruit’s identifying characteristics, even they will do. A grape with a blemish is not a thorn, nor is even a perfect thorn any kind of fruit. A fig that has been pecked by a bird is still a fig, and a flawless or fashionably popular thistle is still a just a thistle (see Matthew 7:16–17).

If Stephenson wants to dismiss or reject these biblical criteria, his alternative ideology resorts to a subjective appeal to emotional hot-button issues argued on the unacknowledged basis that Smith represents behavior and attitudes that are “not the way I would arrange it if I were God.” Such an argument suffers from the inescapable limitation that Stephenson is not God. Notice that if Stephenson had openly stated that his use of these criteria depends on the reasoning that the situation is “not the way I would arrange it if I were God,” that opens his reasoning to critical examination in the same way my listing of biblical tests opens them to critical examination. Rather than be swept up by the emotional wave of impassioned disapproval of Joseph Fielding Smith as a person — which flatter the reader as enlightened and demand no mental or emotional effort — such as offered by Stephenson as an apparently objective and decisive set of self-evident facts, he’d have to admit that they are grounded on the claim that if he were God he wouldn’t permit such behavior in a true prophet. The effectiveness of the argument therefore depends on concealing these assumptions and forestalling any undesirable critical consideration from his audience about who is clearly not God.

So racism is not bad fruit? Ok. Where does this guy get this shit from? Did I claim that I was God? Nope. But Christensen must be claiming that, according to his own words, because his “ideology” is right and Fielding Smith comes out just fine by his criteria.

And what were the “fruits” of Mormonism’s institutional racism? Oh yeah, that is irrelevant! And what Biblical criteria does Christensen give? None. He mentions a couple of Chapters in Acts and a couple of books and an article by a Mormon Apologist. Could he be more vague? How does he apply such references? Where is his reasoned argument using the evidence? Nowhere to be found, though we have lots and lots of copy detailing Christensen’s own personal ideology.

So what Christensen classes as “emotional hot button issues” are off the table? Sounds like the National Rifle Association’s shtick when anyone wants to discuss gun regulatons after a mass shooting.  Except there was no mass shooting here (this is an old issue but still very relevant) and of course the Church itself published on the issue just a few years ago in one of their anonymous Essays. So no one can have a reasoned argument about Mormon revelation without first declaring “If I were God” first? Hogwash. As one of the Mormon “Apostles” stated:

False prophets and false teachers are those who arrogantly attempt to fashion new interpretations of the scriptures to demonstrate that these sacred texts should not be read as God’s words to His children but merely as the utterances of uninspired men, limited by their own prejudices and cultural biases. They argue, therefore, that the scriptures require new interpretation and that they are uniquely qualified to offer that interpretation. …However, in the Lord’s Church there is no such thing as a “loyal opposition.” One is either for the kingdom of God and stands in defense of God’s prophets and apostles, or one stands opposed. (M. Russell Ballard, 1999)

This is the very thing that Christensen is doing with Fielding Smith, claiming that the Mormon apostles words “should not be read as God’s words to His children, but merely as the utterances of uninspired men, limited by their own prejudices and cultural biases.” He and his FAIRMORMON friends have the “right” interpretation. All that Mormon “Authorities” teach is opinion, based on their faulty reading of the scriptures unless they are the President of the Church and make an “official” declaration. The Holy Ghost does not operate in this brand of Mormonism except when Mormon Apologists say so. It is irrelevant unless an official vote is taken. But according to Ballard, Christensen is the false teacher here if he contradicts the “Authorities” of the Church. Remember, he claimed that Jeremy was wrong in favoring official doctrine over “the best books” when it came to answering his questions about his eternal welfare:

His preference for “official” thought rather than “the best books” is telling (D&C 88:118).

Notice though, what D&C 88 states in context,

118 And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.

This is directed to  “those who have not faith”. Jeremy did have faith. He was simply troubled by things he had learned. He then went to what Christensen describes as “the best books,” but that made it worse. But Jeremy is wrong simply because Christensen has a personal preference for Apologist answers, which to him are always “superior”.

The only one playing God here appears to be Christensen by deigning to judge his methods of research as “superior” to Jeremy’s. This is simply Big Brother mentality. FAIRMORMON’s ways are what one must follow to keep the “faith”. Otherwise, you will turn bitter and brittle and you will “shatter”. Don’t follow your heart, follow our formula.

Our leaders are to be revered, but we will question their relevance when it suits our purpose.  You must read the Book of Mormon our way, to have the correct interpretation of what it states. Those “Authorities” that came before, didn’t know what they were talking about because our interpretation is “superior”.

The only one that seems to be getting swept up in an “emotional wave” is Christensen. He is the one who is bothered by anyone speaking about Mormon racism. And he condemns my rhetoric?

The rest of Christensen’s rant is just more same ol’ same ol’, which I may come back and address at a later time. But I want to get to the claimed 1820 vision and the supposed priesthood restoration.

It’s not surprising to learn that Christensen has been carrying on with his pseudo historical apologist blather for years. For a good example of how “Christensen travels [the] well-worn path of the pseudo-scientist, pseudo-historian, and New Age religionists,” see Dan Vogel’s 2002 critique here. To quote Vogel:

Christensen misapplies Kuhn’s work to Book of Mormon studies in several ways….Christensen questions the “adequacy” of my approach, by which he means that I paid little attention to the works of Book of Mormon apologists, particularly those at FARMS, that support Book of Mormon antiquity. (Emphasis mine).

Sound familiar folks?

II. First Vision Vagaries

I was intrigued by Christensen’s mention of the late Matthew Brown’s book, and so I bought the Kindle Version (they didn’t have it at Gospelink) and read it. (It took me a couple of hours). This will actually help me with an Essay I’ve been writing on the claimed 1820 Vision, because Brown makes some interesting (but mistaken) conclusions.

Christensen writes,

Stephenson’s most focused and substantial challenge applies to a specific argument regarding the First Vision. He quotes this passage from me:

Look at his [Jeremy Runnells] complaints about the various First Vision Accounts and the priesthood restoration. On page 22 of his Letter, Runnells claims that “there is absolutely no record of a First Vision prior to 1832.” The FairMormon website response points out an article in the Palmyra Reflector from 1831 that indicates discussion of Joseph’s vision as early as November 1830. They also point to the allusion in D&C 20, which dates to April 1830.67

In response Stephenson has this:

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

Christensen links to a FairMormon article that is not only incorrect but completely deceptive as well.

One check on whether the FairMormon article is correct or deceptive is to read the newspaper article cited. Matt Roper has reproduced the Reflector February 14, 1831 for the archive of “19th-Century Publications about the Book of Mormon”:

Our Painesville correspondent informs us, that about the first of Nov. last, Oliver Cowdery, (we shall notice this character in the course of our labors,) and three others arrived at that village with the “New Bible,” on a mission to the notorious Sidney Rigdon, who resides in the adjoining town. Rigdon received them graciously — took the book under advisement, and in a few days declared it to be of “Heavenly origin.” Rigdon, with about 20 of his flock, were dipt immediately. They then proclaimed that there had been no religion in the world for 1500 years, — that no one had been authorised to preach &c. for that periodthat Joe Smith had now received a commission from God for that purpose, and that all such as did not submit to his authority would speedily be destroyed. The world (except the New Jerusalem) would come to an end in two or three years. The state of New-York would (probably) be sunk. Smith (they affirmed) had seen God frequently and personally — Cowdery and his friends had frequent interviews with angels, and had been directed to locate the site for the New Jerusalem, which they should know, the moment they should “step their feet” upon it.

Notice that the newspaper describes four missionaries, not two. Matthew Brown identifies them as “Oliver Cowdery, Parley P. Pratt, Peter Whitmer Jr., and Richard Ziba Peterson.” Why does Stephenson miss this?

Did Joseph receive a commission from God to preach in 1820? He did not get that until after the “translation” of the Book of Mormon. Did I miss something? No, I didn’t. I was pointing out how the FAIRMORMON article was deceptive. Notice my language:

The FairMormon article that Christensen quotes is wrong. Why?

I didn’t say they had misquoted the Reflector article which Christensen implies. (Though they did manipulate it) That is another strawman of Christensen’s.That particular FAIRMORMON article dealt with a lot of material. I was focusing on the 1832 accounts of Missionaries that Christensen later tries to dismiss to show exactly what was being taught after Joseph write the 1832 History. There is a reason for this. What I was claiming is that FAIRMORMON was being deceptive about them in attributing them to a claimed earlier vision. That much is obvious from my later comments and quotes. Christensen knew this, and so wrote,

Well, for one thing, in his essay he doesn’t deal directly with that specific issue of the Reflector. [Bingo!] Part of his approach is to look at other newspaper accounts reporting on different LDS missionaries that did not mention theophanies, but rather focused on the more sensational story of the angel and the book. And he compares those accounts with Cowdery’s 1834 history, Lucy’s later history, and a letter from William McLellan, none of which mention theophany, but focus on the angel and the book. That is, he looks to them as paradigmatic, rather than the one with the clear evidence that contradicts Runnells’s original claim of “absolutely no evidence” before 1832.

So, seeing an angel was more “sensational” than claiming to see God? Really? No, my point was that FAIRMORMON was claiming that those 1832 accounts were about Smith’s theophany, and that was deceptive. None of the 1831/1832 sources mention specific theophanies, that is the point. They don’t “focus” on the angel story, it was all they knew about. Therefore, the account by McLellin is extrememly relevant because it was given just a few months after the Reflector article, from a known source who gave accurate information about what Mormon Missionaries (one of them Joseph’s brother) were teaching. This is much more “credible evidence” as we shall see. This was a direct answer to the problem with the Reflector article. There are many more, as we shall see.

III. Paradigm Precedent?

The claims made in the 1831 Reflector account are actually so ludicrous that I didn’t think I needed to respond to them, but obviously I do. It only makes it worse for Christensen (as does his really deceptive comments about David Whitmer).  And is the FAIRMORMON Article deceptive here also? Why, yes it is. Here is what they quote:


LDS missionaries were teaching that Joseph Smith “had seen God frequently and personally” and received a commission from Him to teach true religion. (The Reflector, vol. 2, no. 13, 14 February 1831).

First, this is not an actual quote. (Notice what is actually in quotes) It is parts of Cole’s synopsis cobbled together. They do not explain that they did this. And where is FAIRMORMON’s anaylsis of this comment? Where is the full quote? The article doesn’t mention “true religion”, it says Mormons were teaching that there was “no religion” on the earth for 1500 years and that Joseph claimed that he got a commission from God “for that purpose”, or, to preach with authority. But this did not happen in 1820.

Christensen actually does me a favor by quoting the entire portion of the “Painsville Correspondent’s” section in the Reflector issue from Febuary 14. (Something you seldom see from FairMormon Apologists). Now everyone that reads his article can see it, and how ridiculous some of the claims it makes are. (They sure can’t find the whole quote in the FAIRMORMON article). You can now see how FAIRMORMON manipulated it to look like Smith talked to God and got “a commission from Him”, as if it was all one event.

Before I get into that, here is what Christensen says about me:

… he looks to them [the 1831/1832 articles] as paradigmatic, rather than the one with the clear evidence that contradicts Runnells’s original claim of “absolutely no evidence” before 1832.

First, Remember folks, what Jeremy claimed was this:

The first and earliest written account of the First Vision in Joseph Smith’s journal was written 12 years after the spring of 1820. There is absolutely no record of a First Vision prior to 1832.

Secondly, what the Missionaries taught in 1832 is absolutely paradigmatic. Does the article written by Abner Cole that FAIRMORMON/Christensen is quoting, which generalizes what four missionaries were allegedly teaching constitute “clear evidence” of the specific claim that Joseph Smith saw God in 1820 (who at that time told him all of the churches were an “abomination”) and received a “commission” from him and then spoke about it? Not even close. Does it even give us good evidence that Joseph was claiming to have “seen God frequently”? before he organized his church in 1830? Not at all. This was obviously about Joseph and Oliver receiving signed “revelations” from God (Jesus). How, exactly,  does this verify a supposed vision in 1820? It doesn’t. We will see below what was actually meant by this.

I have a good friend (Matthew Bowman) who has written about this here. He rightly points out that this article is nothing but unsubstantiated rumors:

First, as it stands the information is little more than rumor. An unnamed “correspondent” reported to the author of the Reflector article (Abner Cole) the claims made by Oliver Cowdery and his three associates concerning what Joseph Smith had seen. We therefore have the following chain of sources:

Joseph Smith → Oliver Cowdery and friends → unnamed correspondent → Abner Cole

The opportunities for garbled communication through this many stages of transmission are obvious. Information obtained third- or fourth-hand is not exactly reliable.

This is the same Abner Cole who wrote “The Book of Pukei”, a spoof on the Book of Mormon and had a penchant for exaggerating. And Christensen doesn’t quote the entire article from the Reflector. Let’s do that, shall we? It reads,


Since we have any knowledge of the habits or propensities of the human species, we find that man has been prone to absurdities; and it too often happens that while we carefully attempt to detect them in others, we fondly cherish some gross inconsistencies within our own bosoms. The lust of power, doubtless stimulates the few, while ignorance binds the many, like passive slaves to the car of superstition.

It is passing strange, that in all ages of the world, gross stupidity in an impostor should be considered among the vulgar, irrefragible proof of his divine mission, and the most bungling piece of legerdemain, will receive from them all the credit of a well attested miracle.

Joanna Southcote published a book in the city of London, in 1804, in which her first prophecies were detailed. — She declares that she did not understand the communications given her by the spirit, till they were afterwards explained to her. The spirit informed her how she could fortel the weather and other events. She declares that the death of Bishop Buller, was foretold her in a dream. One night she heard an iron ball roll three steps down stairs, which the spirit told her was a sign of three great evils, about to fall upon the land — the sword, the plague, and famine. She relates that she foretold the extraordinary harvest, which happened in 1800. She was often ordered to read the bible, when the spirit would interpret its meaning. She informs her readers that Jacob’s warning to his sons, is applicable to our times — mentions frequent contests with various preachers, and talks much about the marriage of the Lamb.

The following is from one of her communications. “As wrong as they are in saying thou hast children bro’t up by the parish, and that thou art Bonaparte’s brother, and that thou hast been in prison; so false is their sayings, thy writings come from the devil, or any spirit but the spirit of the LIVING GOD; and that every soul in this nation shall know before the FIVE YEARS I mentioned to the people in 1800 are expired, and then I will return as a DIADEM of beauty to the residence of my people, and they shall praise the GOD OF THEIR SALVATION.”

In 1805 Joanna published a pamphlet, attempting to confute the “five charges” which had been made against her and published in the newspapers. First, sealing her disciples. Second, on the invasion. Third, on famine. Fourth, her mission, and fifth, her death. Sealing is an important point among these people. — Joanna gives those who profess a belief in her mission, and will subscribe to the things revealed in her “WARNING,” a sealed paper with her signature, by which they are led to think, that they are sealed against the day of redemption, and that all those who possess these seals, would be signally honored by the Messiah when he should come in the spring (of 1807.) Her followers believed her to be the bride, the Lamb’s wife, and that as man fell by a woman, he will be restored by a woman. Many of her followers pretended to have visions and revelations. At present it would appear that both warning, and sealing have subsided; and they are waiting in awful suspense for the commencement of the thousand years reign on earth, when peace will universally prevail. They now pretend that Christ will not come in person, but in spirit, and all the dead who have been sealed, will be raised from their graves to partake of this happy state.

If an imposture, like the one we have so briefly noticed, could spring up in the great metropolis of England, and spread over a considerable portion of that kingdom, it is not surprising that one equally absurd, should have its origin in this neighborhood, where its dupes are not, or ever will be numerous.

In the commencement, the imposture of the “book of Mormon,” had no regular plan or features. At a time when the money digging ardor was somewhat abated, the elder Smith declared that his son Jo had seen the spirit, (which he then described as a little old man with a long beard,) and was informed that he (Jo) under certain circumstances, eventually should obtain great treasures, and that in due time he (the spirit) would furnish him (Jo) with a book, which would give an account of the Ancient inhabitants (antideluvians) of this country, and where they had deposited their substance, consisting of costly furniture, &c. at the approach of the great deluge, which had ever since that time remained secure in his (the spirits) charge, in large and spacious chambers, in sundry places in this vicinity, and these tidings corresponded precisely with revelations made to, and predictions made by the elder Smith a number of years before.

The time at length arrived, when young Jo was to receive the book from the hand of the spirit, and he repaired accordingly, alone, and in the night time, to the woods in the rear of his father’s house (in the town of Manchester  about two miles south of this village) and met the spirit as had been appointed. This rogue of a spirit who had baffled all the united efforts of the money diggers, (although they had tried many devices to gain his favor, and at one time sacrificed a barn yard fowl,) intended it would seem to play our prophet a similar trick on this occasion; for no sooner had he delivered the book according to promise, than he made a most desperate attempt to regain its possession. Our prophet however, like a lad of true metal, stuck to his prize, and attempted to gain his father’s dwelling, which it appears, was near at hand. The father being alarmed at the long absence of his son, and probably fearing some trick of the spirit, having known him for many years; sallied forth in quest of the youthful adventurer. He had not however, proceeded far before he fell in with the object of his kind solicitude who appeared to be in the greatest peril. The spirit had become exasperated at the stubborn conduct of the young prophet, in wishing to keep possession of the book, and out of sheer spite, raised a whirlwind, which at that particular juncture, throwing trunks and limbs of trees about their ears, besides the “elfish sprite” had belabored Jo soundly with blows, — had felled him once to the ground, and bruised him severely in the side. The rescue however, was timely, Jo retained his treasure, and returned to the house with his father, much fatigued and injured. This tale in substance, was told at the time the event was said to have happened by both father and son, and is well recollected by many of our citizens. It will be borne in mind that no divine interposition had been dreamed of at the period.

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

Dale Broadhurst writes in his notes:

Mormon Historians makes this observation on the claim of the men having seen God frequently:

The above, third-hand report, of Joseph Smith, Jr. having “seen God frequently and personally,” is an interesting historical item. It is strange that the old report comes from Ohio and not from Smith’s home region around Palmyra, New York. Nevertheless, it appears to be the first published allegation that the young seer had gazed upon the afwul countenance of God the Father — an occurrence which biblical scriptures pronounce impossible for a living being to endure. It seems likely, that even as early as 1831, the first Mormons believed they were living in the “final dispensation of the gospel” and were no longer subject to certain divine restrictions which had limited the efforts of their predecessors, the “former day saints.” While there is no documentation of Smith himself claiming to have seen God, so early as 1831, he seems to have been content to allow his followers to spread such stories, if they wished to be so believing.

My friend Dale is being very generous here. Cole is claiming to be quoting a “Painesville Correspondent”. Actually, it appears that Cole was just reading the Painesville Telegraph’s back issues and supplemented them with a letter received from an anonymous “correspondent”. If one looks at the Issues from December 1830 to February 1831, we see much of what Cole attributes to his anonymous “correspondent”.

But before I get into that, lets take a look at what Cole wrote in the Reflector. He first writes under the title of “Gold Bible, No. 4”. He mentions Joanna Southcote, [sic] and how,

If an imposture, like the one we have so briefly noticed, could spring up in the great metropolis of England, and spread over a considerable portion of that kingdom, it is not surprising that one equally absurd, should have its origin in this neighborhood, where its dupes are not, or ever will be numerous.

This echos the words of Thomas Campbell, from the Telegraph article, who mentions the French Prophets, the first Quakers, the Shakers and Jemima Wilkenson and then observes:

Mormonite prophets & teachers can show no better authority for their pretended mission and revelations than these impostors have done, we have no better authority to believe them than we have to believe their predecessors in imposition. But the dilemma is, we can’t believe all, for each was exclusively right in his day, and those of them that remain are still exclusively right to this day; and if the Shakers be right, the whole world, the Mormonites themselves not excepted, are in the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity — quite as far from salvation as you yourself have pronounced all the sectarians on earth to be, namely, in a state of absolute damnation.

Cole then writes about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and how it was all tied into Joseph’s monyedigging. He mentions Joseph Smith’s history with the angel or spirit, and does not mention anything about any claimed vision of God. He then speaks of his “Painesville correspondent.”

Here is what Cole in the Reflector claims that the unnamed correspondent related to him, contrasted with Telegraph articles:

Our Painesville correspondent informs us, that about the first of Nov. last, Oliver Cowdery, (we shall notice this character in the course of our labors,) and three others arrived at that village with the “New Bible,” on a mission to the notorious Sidney Rigdon, who resides in the adjoining town. Rigdon received them graciously — took the book under advisement, and in a few days declared it to be of “Heavenly origin.

Telegraph (Dec 14, 1830) article claims:

Four men are traveling westward, who say they are commanded by their Heavenly Father, to go and collect the scattered tribes of Israel, which they say a new Gospel or Prophecy informs them are the different tribes of Indians.

Telegraph (Feb 14, 1831):

About the last of October, 1830, four men, claiming to be divinely inspired, came from Manchester and Palmyra, Ontario county, N.Y., bringing a pretended revelation, entitled the “Book of Mormon.” They came to the brethern of the reformation in Mentor, saluted them as brethern, and professed to rejoice at finding a people walking according to the scriptures of truth, and acknowledging no other guide. They professed to have no commands for them, nevertheless, they called upon them to receive their mission and book as from Heaven, which they said chiefly concerned the western Indians, as being an account of their origin, and a prophecy of their final conversion to christianity, and make them a white and delightsome people, and be reinstated in the possession of their lands of which they have been despoiled by the whites. — When called upon for testimony, they appealed (like Mahomet) to the internal evidences of their book. The book was read and pronounced a silly fabrication. When farther pressed upon the subject, they required the brethern to humble themselves before God, and pray for a sign from heaven.  They took up their abode with the pastor of the congregation, (Sidney Rigdon,) who read their book and partly condemned it — but, two days afterwards, was heard to confess his conviction of its truth.

Notice that Cole writes “the last of October 1830” and the Telegraph claims “the first of November last”.  We have the four missionaries and that Sidney Rigdon was converted. The Telegraph claims that Sidney first condemned it, Cole in the Reflector glosses over this.


Rigdon, with about 20 of his flock, were dipt immediately.

Telegraph (Feb. 14):

Immediately the subtlety and duplicity of these men were manifest — as soon as they saw a number disposed to give heed to them, then it was they bethought themselves of making a party — then it was they declared that their book contained a new covenant, to come under which the disciple must be re-immersed. When called upon to answer concerning their pretended covenant, whether it was distinct from that mentioned in Hebrews VIII, 10-13, they would equivocate, and would say, (to use their own words) “on the large scale, the covenant is the same, but in some things it is different.” Immediately they made a party — seventeen persons were immersed by them in one night. At this Mr. Rigdon seemed much displeased, and when they came next day to his house, he withstood them to the face — showed them that what they had done was entirely without precedent in the holy scriptures — for they had immersed those persons that they might work miracles as well as come under the said covenant — showed them that the apostles baptized for the remission of sins — but miraculous gifts were conferred by the imposition of hands. But when pressed upon the point, they justified themselves by saying, it was on their part merely a compliance with the solicitations of those persons.


They then proclaimed that there had been no religion in the world for 1500 years, — that no one had been authorised to preach &c. for that period, — that Joe Smith had now received a commission from God for that purpose, and that all such as did not submit to his authority would speedily be destroyed. The world (except the New Jerusalem) would come to an end in two or three years. The state of New York would (probably) be sunk.

Telegraph (Nov 16, 1830):

He proclaims destruction upon the world within a few years, — holds forth that the ordinances of the gospel, have not been regularly administered since the days of the Apostles, till the said Smith and himself commenced the work

Telegraph (Feb 1, 1831):

[Sidney Rigdon] After denouncing dreadful vengeance on the whole state of New York, and this village in particular, and recommending to all such as wished to flee from “the wrath to come,” to follow him beyond the ‘western waters,’ he took his leave.

Telegraph (Feb 14, 1831):

We shall next proceed to expose the anti-scriptural assertion, that there has been none duly authorized to administer baptism, for the space of fourteen hundred years up to the present time, by showing that the church or the kingdom of Christ, must have been totally extinct during that period, provided its visible administration had actually ceased during that time, is an express contradiction of the testimony of Jesus, Matt. xvi. 18.

They declared that all the great things they spoke would be manifest over the whole earth within the term of three years.


Smith (they affirmed) had seen God frequently and personallyCowdery and his friends had frequent interviews with angels, and had been directed to locate the site for the New Jerusalem, which they should know, the moment they should “step their feet” upon it.

Telegraph (Nov. 16, 1830)

About two weeks since some persons came along here with the book, one of whom pretends to have seen Angels, and assisted in translating the plates.

Telegraph (Dec 7, 1830)

Those who are the friends and advocates of this wonderful book, state that Mr. Oliver Cowdry has his commission directly from the God of Heaven, and that he has credentials, written and signed by the hand of Jesus Christ, with whom he has personally conversed, and as such, said Cowdry claims that he and his associates are the only persons on earth who are qualified to administer in his name.

Telegraph (Jan 18, 1831)

But the more important part of the mission was to inform the brethren that the boundaries of the promised land, or the New Jerusalem, had just been made known to Smith from God

Telegraph (Feb 14, 1831):

They said, they saw the heavens open, the angels, paradise, and hell.

Mr. Rigdon again called upon them for proof of the truth of their book and mission: they then related the manner in which they obtained faith, which was by praying for a sign, and an angel was shown unto them.…but said Cowdrey, “Do you think if I should go to my Heavenly Father with all sincerity, and pray to him in the name of Jesus Christ, that he would not show me an angel — that he would suffer Satan to deceive me?”


They pretend to heal the sick and work miracles, and had made a number of unsuccessful attempts to do so.


They say much about working miracles, and pretend to have that power. Cowdery and his fellows, essayed to work several while they tarried in Kirtland, one in particular, the circumstances of which I had from the Mormonites themselves. It was a young female who had been confined to her bed for two years — they prayed over her, laying on hands, and commanded her in the name of Jesus Christ to rise up and walk; however, no effect appeared until the next day, when she was persuaded to leave her couch and attempt to walk. She arose, walked three or four steps, (which they told as a miracle) she then almost fainted, and was assisted back to her bed from which she’s not since arisen. But as all their miracles have proved to be a mere sham, to speak vulgarly, the Mormonites have endeavored to save the credit of their prophets, by declaring that they never pronounced these people whole but only prayed for them — but when confronted by one of the disciples in Kirtland upon the instance just mentioned, as it was so public they could not deny it, one of them said that he did not know but Cowdery did command her to arise, but if he did it was in a laughing, jesting way!!! –

Another of the Mormonites said Cowdery did not command her to arise, but merely asked her why she did not arise. Another instance of a man in Painesville, who was in the last stage of consumption, was attempted to be healed by Cowdery. A few days afterwards Mr. Rigdon was heard to say “that he would get well, if there was a God in Heaven!” He has since deceased. But these prophets had the policy to cover their retreat in these things, by saying that they would not recover immediately; the Lord would take his own time; and one of these people a few days ago, when put to the worst upon the subject, said that he did not think Cowdery would have attempted to do any miracles, had he have known how things would turn out.


Smith was continually receiving new revelations, and it would probably take him 1000 years to complete them — commissions and papers were exhibited, said to be signed by Christ himself!!!

Telegraph (Dec 7, 1830)

Those who are the friends and advocates of this wonderful book, state that Mr. Oliver Cowdry has his commission directly from the God of Heaven, and that he has credentials, written and signed by the hand of Jesus Christ, with whom he has personally conversed, and as such, said Cowdry claims that he and his associates are the only persons on earth who are qualified to administer in his name.

You can’t get revelation signed by Jesus Christ unless he is there to sign it. This is why it was claimed that Smith saw God “frequently”. Substitute Smith for Cowdery and there you have it.

Telegraph (Feb 1, 1831)

Elder S. Rigdon left this village on Monday last in the stage, for the “Holy Land,” where all the “Gold Bible” converts have recently received a written command from God, through Jo. Smith, Junior, to repair with all convenient speed, selling off the property.


Cowdery authorised three persons to preach, &c.  and descended the Ohio River.


About three weeks after Mr. R. was baptized by Oliver Cowdery, he went to the state of New York, to see Joseph Smith, jr. while Cowdrey, with his three companions, proceeded on to the western Indians.


The converts are forming “common stock” families, as most pleasing in the sight of God.

Telegraph (Feb 14, 1831):

We are prepared to show that the pretended duty of common property among Christians is anti-scriptural, being subversive of the law of Christ, and inimical to the just rights of society.


They pretend to give the “Holy Spirit” and under its operations they fall upon the floorsee visions, &c.

Telegraph (Feb 14, 1831):

Immediately after Mr. R. and the four pretended prophets left Kirtland, a scene of the wildest enthusiasm was exhibited, chiefly, however, among the young people; they would fall, as without strength, roll upon the floor, and, so mad were they that even the females were seen on a cold winter day, lying under the bare canopy of heaven, with no couch or pillow but the fleecy snow. At other times they exhibited all the apish actions imaginable, making grimaces both horrid and ridiculous, creeping upon their hands and feet, &c. Sometimes, in these exercises the young men would rise and play before the people, going through all the Indian maneuvers of knocking down, scalping, ripping open, and taking out the bowels. At other times, they would start and run several furlongs, then get upon stumps and preach to imagined congregations, baptize ghosts, &c. At other times, they are taken with a fit of jabbering after which they neither understood themselves nor anybody else, and this they call speaking foreign languages by divine inspiration. Again the young men are seen running over the hills in pursuit, they say, of balls of fire which they see flying through the air.

But there is one piece of evidence that apparently all the Mormon experts have missed. In the February 1, 1831 edition of the Palmyra Reflector, (The issue preceding the Feb. 14 issue), Abner Cole published this blurb:

We have received a long letter from a gentleman of respectability from Painesville, Ohio, respecting the conduct of the “Mormonites” in that state. We shall publish a synopsis of it in our next We have an article in type, copied from the Painesville Telegraph, which from want of room has been excluded from this day’s paper detailing some account of the Mormonites in the state of Ohio, it will appear in our next.

Cole himself admits that he was only going to publish a “synopsis” of the letter. This is the material that he attributes to the “Painesville Correspondent”.

It is obvious from the above, that Abner Cole had simply taken the accounts from several of the back issues of the Telegraph, and supplemented them with material from some letter he had received which turned into the Painesville “correspondent” material. It might have even been the same person who submitted material to the Telegraph. Certainly there are too many similarities to assume all of those claims came from one letter. (Though it might be possible) It seems more likely that Cole was simply taking a little artistic license here.

This begs the question though, if we are to accept the anonymous claim that Smith had seen and spoken to God frequently as “clear evidence”; does this contradict the claim that Jeremy made which was: “There is absolutely no record of a First Vision prior to 1832?” It is ludicrous to even suggest that it does. We have no idea what was actually written in the letter that Cole received.

What Cole did was common practice in Nineteenth Century America:

News gathering procedures grew from four practices that were routine by 1800: taking items from other papers, culling excerpts from letters, assembling word of mouth reports and taking notes on congressional sessions. … Despite increased pursuit of news, a great amount of newspaper content still came from other newspapers—through the system of editors’ exchanges—until the Civil War brought the first organized, systematic news gathering in the field. (Hazel Dicken-Garcia, Reporters and Reporting in the Nineteenth Century, History of Mass Media in the United States, Margaret A. Blanchard, ed., 1998, p. 585, 586)

Cole did not publish excerpts though, but a synopsis, or brief summary of the letter he put into his own words. That means what we see in print was authored by Cole, who was not in Ohio, but in New York. We have no way at all of determining what was in the original letter. What is interesting is that in all of the comparisons above from the Telegraph, we see none that claim that Smith had actually seen God (Jesus) frequently or at all, for that matter. The Telegraph articles claimed this of Oliver Cowdery, not Joseph Smith.

This claim (about Smith seeing God frequently) only appears in Cole’s synopsis. We can confirm the information about Cowdery, but not Smith in the Telegraph articles. In other words we have no idea what additions or elaborations Cole may have made since it was not a verbatim quote of the letter. One also has to ask, if Cole actually had a long letter, why not publish at least parts of it verbatim? He certainly printed up a lot of other material on the Mormons (and Joanna Southcott) in that issue.

Christensen also astoundingly characterizes the above synopsis by Abner Cole as a “discussion of Joseph’s vision as early as November 1830″. Who is he trying to kid here? A discussion of Joseph’s claimed 1820 vision? Really? What was being discussed, apparently, were the “revelations” that Joseph had received signed by Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon, and the New Jerusalem, along with the authority to preach.

This is his clear evidence for the claimed 1820 vision? And what about the rest of the claims that were made by Abner Cole? Is Christensen ready to admit that they too, are clear evidence of the doctrines being taught at that time? For example, that the Mormons were receiving signed “revelations” by Jesus? What is deceptive about FAIRMORMON is that they do not quote the entire article (or explain it) and let people judge for themselves if this is an actual quote, or the generalizations of an Editor.

Christensen writes,

What he does not do is cancel out or explain the reason for the existence of the distinctive themes in the February 1831 Reflector. He writes as though reticence and variations in personal knowledge in other reports about such experiences could never be a factor in who said, or reported, what when.

Distinctive “themes”? Gleaned from the synopsis of an anonymous letter? How can we take anything that Christensen says seriously? And it was one anonymous report, not “other reports” that Christensen was whining about. Perhaps we should understand this statement from the Palmyra Reflector made a week later as having distinctive themes also, that should be taken as seriously as the February 14th synopsis:

It is well known that Jo Smith never pretended to have any communion with angels, until a long period after the pretended finding of his book, and that the juggling of himself or father, went no further than the pretended faculty of seeing wonders in a “peep stone,” and the occasional interview with the spirit, supposed to have the custody of hidden treasures; and it is also equally well known, that a vagabond fortune-teller by the name of Walters, who then resided in the town of Sodus, and was once committed to the jail of this country for juggling, was the constant companion and bosom friend of these money digging impostors. (Palmyra Reflector, February 28, 1831).

IV. Back to Legitimacy

Christensen dismisses the crucial accounts that I produced in Part I of The Sky is Falling. Regardless of what Christensen claims, these accounts are important, because they are close or contemporary to the time period and are first hand. For example, this account by Peter Bauder, who writes in 1834 (then from a critical perspective):

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

Among these imposters there has one arisen by the name of Joseph Smith, Jr. who commenced his system of church government in this state, (New York) in the year 1830. His followers are commonly called Mormonites, sometimes New Jerusalemites, or Golden Bible society1; they call themselves the true followers of Christ.2 I conceive it my duty to expose this diabolical system for two special reasons—first, because I have had an opportunity with Smith, in his first setting out, to discover his plan; secondly, because I learn since they were broke up in New York State, they have gone to the western States, and are deceiving themselves and the people, and are increasing very fast.

I will name some of the particular discoveries which through Divine Providence I was favored with in an interview with Joseph Smith, Jr. [p.17] at the house of Peter Whitmer, in the town of Fayette, Seneca County, state of New York, in October, 1830. I called at P[eter]. Whitmer’s house, for the purpose of seeing Smith, and searching into the mystery of his system of religion, and had the privilege of conversing with him alone, several hours, and of investigating his writings, church records, &c. I improved near four and twenty hours in close application with Smith and his followers: he could give me no christian experience, but told me that an angel told him he must go to a certain place in the town of Manchester, Ontario County, where was a secret treasure concealed, which he must reveal to the human family. He went, and after the third or fourth time, which was repeated [p. 36] once a year, he obtained a parcel of plate resembling gold, on which were engraved what he did not understand, only by the aid of a glass which he also obtained with the plate, by which means he was enabled to translate the characters on the plate into English. He says he was not allowed to let the plate be seen only by a few individuals named by the angel, and after he had a part translated, the angel conmanded him to carry the plate into a certain piece of woods, which he did:—the angel took them and carried them to parts unknown to him. The part translated he had published, and it is before the public, entitled the Book of Mormon: a horrid blasphemy, but not so wicked as another manuscript which he was then preparing for publication, which I also saw. He told me no man had ever seen it except a few of his apostles: the publication intended was to be the Bible!!! The manner in which it was written is as follows:—he commenced at the first chapter of Genesis, he wrote a few verses of scripture, then added delusion, which he added every [p.18] few verses of scripture, and so making a compound of scripture and delusion. On my interrogating him on the subject, he professed to be inspired by the Holy Ghost to write it. (Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, p. 16-18. I have included a previous paragrpah that does not appear in EMD and explains what Bauder meant by “Christian Experience”)

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

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

Unlike the Cole synopsis, this account gives accurate information about Joseph’s “translation” of the Bible, the story of the angel, and how Smith “translated” the plates. Bauder spent a whole day with Joseph Smith and his followers. For more on this, see my article here.

The William McLellin Letter is important because it is contemporary to the year, and shows us what Mormon Missionaries (one of them the brother of Joseph Smith) were teaching from a first hand source (uncritical of Joseph) in 1831 (only a few months after the Reflector synopsis was published):

Some time in July 1831, two men [Elders Samuel H. Smith and Reynolds Cahoon] came to Paris and held an evening meeting, only a few attended, but among the others, I was there. They delivered some ideas which appeared very strange to me at that time. They said that in September 1827 an angel appeared to Joseph Smith (in Ontario Co., New York) and showed to him the confusion on the earth respecting true religion. It also told him to go a few miles distant to a certain hill and there he should find some plates with engravings, which (if he was faithful) he should be enabled to translate…

This was the paradigm. Christensen’s synopsis by Abner Cole cannot overturn this other, far more credible evidence, bolstered by the later,1832 reports. Christensen continues,

Stephenson says:

Who wrote the 1832 history? Joseph Smith and Frederick Williams. Not Oliver Cowdery. Therefore, Jeremy’s argument that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery made no such claim until 1834 is exactly correct. That is when they both jointly published Joseph’s history in a series of letters for the Messenger and Advocate. Writing a partial history in secret and abandoning it in the back of a letterbook is not making any “claim”. There is absolutely no evidence that Cowdery knew anything about the claimed 1820 vision.

Notice Runnells’s argument of “no such claim” regarding the vision, and the use of Boolean logic by Stephenson here to define the problem in terms of a specific combination of people, rather than the most important question, which is, “Did Joseph have a vision in 1820?”

Boolean logic? Really? Was the 1832 account made public? Why did Joseph never once refer to it after it was relegated to the back of a letterbook? Why didn’t he copy it into the large journal as he did with the 1834 History? And most importantly, did Oliver Cowdery take part in crafting it? Again, the claim that Jeremy made was absolutely true, but that is not good enough for Christensen.

Actually, I do address the question of Smith claiming to have a vision in 1820. Christensen just isn’t paying attention. I wasn’t writing a book, but giving limited examples, just as he did. But this is how Mormon Apologists roll.  If all else fails, invent a strawman.

I also note his appeal to secrecy regarding the 1832 history and a declaration of “absolutely no evidence” of Cowdery’s knowledge. This last runs directly into Matthew Brown’s 2009 book, A Pillar of Light: The History and Message of the First Vision, which continues a line of thought dating at least to Richard L. Anderson in BYU Studies in 1969.

Which is full of problems. Nowhere is there any proof that Cowdery had knowledge of the 1832 History. His own History proves this. I will elaborate below. Christensen continues:

Brown quotes Cowdery’s declaration that in producing his 1834–1835 histories, he would draw on assistance from Joseph Smith, and use “authentic documents now in our possession.” Brown then offers a careful comparison of what Cowdery produced in 1834 with what Joseph Smith and Frederick Williams had created in 1832 and shows that Cowdery actually used the 1832 account. This means, contra Stephenson, there is good evidence that Cowdery knew about Joseph’s 1820 vision, which also means, there is good evidence that the statement in the Reflector has an authentic source behind it. That source is most likely Cowdery, and therefore the report in the Reflector has a reason for existing.

This is just… wrong. Obviously Christensen hasn’t really studied this issue or he wouldn’t be appealing to the late Mormon Apologist Matthew Brown and the completely flawed arguments of Richard Anderson or the source of the Reflector article (Abner Cole). But I guess facts are just stubborn things. A lot of the material that Christensen would cite from Brown has actually been compiled in Exploring the First Vision which gives (in my opinion the best compiled Mormon perspectives on the subject to date).

I was skeptical about any claims by Brown (after reading his dismal 2010 FAIRMORMON presentation on Adam God), but I get really tired of people quoting whole books as Christensen does time after time and I want to show why he does it, so as I mentioned above, I bought Brown’s book.

In actually seeing the material it is obvious that it would not have been difficult for Christensen to do what I’m going to do, Quote Brown’s “careful” comparison.  (But Christensen would rather spend lots of time blathering about Kuhn and his own invented formulas and pointing out mistakes in word counts than actually presenting and analyzing evidence). Here is Brown’s comparison of the 1832 and the 1834 Histories. It’s not very complex, long, or detailed.

V. The Matthew Brown Comparison

Cowdery 1834: “our brother’s mind became awakened”
Smith 1832: “my mind became seriously imprest with regard to the all importent concerns for the wellfare of my immortal Soul”

Cowdery 1834: “the word of God”
Smith 1832: “the word of God”

Cowdery 1834: “the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches”
Smith 1832: “those of different denominations”

Cowdery 1834: “godliness”
Smith 1832: “adorning their profession by a holy walk and Godly conversation”

Cowdery 1834: “the fifteenth year of his life”
Smith 1832: “the age of . . . fifteen”

Cowdery 1834: “this general strife . . . gave opportunity for further reflection. . . . [H]is mind was led to more seriously contemplate”
Smith 1832: “I pondered many things in my heart concerning the situation of the world of mankind the contentions and divisions”

Cowdery 1834: “his spirit was not at rest day nor night”
Smith 1832: “my mind became exceedingly distressed”

Cowdery 1834: “arouse the sinner to look about him for safety”
Smith 1832: “I became convicted of my sins”

Cowdery 1834: “a society professing to be built upon the only sure foundation”
Smith 1832: “there was no society or denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ”

Cowdery 1834: “All professed to be the true church”
Smith 1832: “worship Him . . . in truth”

Cowdery 1834: “In this situation where could he go?”
Smith 1832: “there was none else to whom I could go”

Cowdery 1834: “the pardoning influence and condescension of the Savior”
Smith 1832: “Joseph my son thy sins are forgiven thee. . . . I am the Lord of glory I was crucified for the world”

Cowdery 1834: “life eternal”
Smith 1832: “eternal life”

Cowdery 1834: “they were certainly hypocritical”
Smith 1832: “they draw near to me with their lips while their hearts are far from me”

Cowdery 1834: “his mother, one sister, and two of his natural brothers, were persuaded to unite with the Presbyterians”
Smith 1832: “about that time my mother and”

Cowdery 1835: “he continued to call upon the Lord in secret”
Smith 1832: “the Lord heard my cry in the wilderness”

Cowdery 1835: “filled with a joy unspeakable”
Smith 1832: “I could rejoice with great joy”

Cowdery 1835: “pure and holy religion”
Smith 1832: “the true and living faith”

Cowdery 1835: “The Lord . . . said [in the scriptures]. . . . whosoever would, might. . . . to the remotest ages of times”
Smith 1832: “I learned in the scriptures that God was the same yesterday to day and forever that he was no respecter to persons”

Cowdery 1835: “the creation of the world”
Smith 1832: “the earth . . . created”

Cowdery 1835: “if a Supreme being did exist”
Smith 1832: “it is a fool that saith in his heart there is no God”

Cowdery 1835: “he . . . call[ed] upon the Lord . . . to have an assurance that he was accepted of Him. . . . a humble penitent sinner”
Smith 1832: “I cried unto the Lord for mercy”

Cowdery 1835: “He [i.e., God] . . . passing it as a firm decree”
Smith 1832: “a Being who . . . decreeth”

Cowdery 1835: “the world . . . its inhabitants”
Smith 1832: “the inhabitants of the earth”

Cowdery 1835: “bring [the] inhabitants [of the world] to judgment”
Smith 1832: “visit [the inhabitants of the earth] according to their ungodliness”

Cowdery 1835: “soul”
Smith 1832: “soul”

(Brown, Matthew B., A Pillar of Light: The History and Message of the First Vision, Deseret Book Company, Kindle Locations 3516-3558).

There is so much that Cowdery didn’t include from Smith’s 1832 account (and so many differences between the two) that it defies logic that he had it as a basis for the later History.  Brown also desperately includes the word “soul” which appears in both accounts (numerous times in 1834/1835 in different contexts).  One thing I noticed, many of these comparisons are very general and out of context. It would have been just as easy for Cowdery to glean the information from Joseph orally, or from his own History that he probably had written prior to this one. (Discussed below)

And there is that really persuasive argument that if Cowdery had the 1832 account, why did Joseph find it necessary to provide Cowdery with another document which gave him the same information about his birth date and birthplace? And why did Cowdery call this information provided by Joseph “indispensable”?

And those word combinations. Here are some actual word combinations between “ A Manuscript Story” and The Book of Mormon by Vernal Holley. (Some of Holley’s best work). Notice how many words are alike (compared to Brown’s). Using Brown’s methodology here, is Christensen and other Mormon Apologists going to admit that Joseph got the Book of Mormon from Solomon Spaulding?

The problem is that Joseph was telling a story that at first didn’t include a claimed 1820 vision, the same story that Mormon Missionaries were obviously telling since the founding of the Church in 1830. Of course some elements are going to be the same and Cowdery has to describe them. What I found hard to believe were many of Brown’s supposed matches. Here is one,

Cowdery 1835: “if a Supreme being did exist”
Smith 1832: “it is a fool that saith in his heart there is no God”

In Smith’s 1832 account, he uses the quote above in this context:

thus applying myself to them and my intimate acquaintance with those of differant denominations led me to marvel excedingly for I discovered that <they did not adorn> instead of adorning their profession by a holy walk and Godly conversation agreeable to what I found contained in that sacred depository this was a grief to my Soul thus from the age of twelve years to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart concerning the sittuation of the world of mankind the contentions and divi[si]ons the wicke[d]ness and abominations and the darkness which pervaded the of the minds of mankind my mind become excedingly distressed  for I become convicted of my Sins and by Searching the Scriptures I found that mand <mankind> did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatised from the true and liveing faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the new testament and I felt to mourn for my own Sins and for the Sins of the world for I learned in the Scriptures that God was the Same yesterday to day and forever that he was no respecter to persons [Heb. 13:8; Acts 10:34-35] for he was God for I looked upon the Sun the glorious luminary of the earth and also the moon rolling in their magesty through the heavens and also the stars shining in their courses and the earth also upon which I stood and the beast of the field and the fowls of heaven and the fish of the waters and also man walking forth upon the face of the earth in magesty and in the strength of beauty whose power and intiligence in governing the things which are so exceding great and [p. 2] marvilous even in the likeness of him who created him <them> and when I considered upon these things my heart exclaimed well hath the wise man said the <it is a> fool <that> saith in his heart there is no God my heart exclaimed all all these bear testimony and bespeak an omnipotant and omnipreasant power a being who makith Laws and decreeeth and bindeth all things in their bounds who filleth Eternity who was and is and will be from all Eternity to Eternity (Joseph Smith History, circa 1832,  JS Letterbook 1, JS Collection, CHL, 2).

In the 1832 account, Joseph Smith already believed there was a God. Because of that, he became “convicted of my sins”. He wrote why he believed in God:

“the Sun the glorious luminary of the earth and also the moon rolling in their magesty through the heavens and also the stars shining in their courses and the earth also upon which I stood and the beast of the field and the fowls of heaven and the fish of the waters and also man walking forth upon the face of the earth in magesty and in the strength of beauty whose power and intiligence in governing the things which are so exceding great and [p. 2] marvilous even in the likeness of him who created him <them> (ibid).

This is why Joseph used the Bible quote that only a fool would believe that there is no God.

In Cowdery’s account Joseph’s “mind became awakened”. There is nothing about him reading the scriptures, being convicted of his sins, nor looking around himself and becoming convinced by nature that there actually was a God. This dovetails perfectly with what Joseph told Peter Bauder in 1830. He had “no Christian experience”. He didn’t know if a “Supreme Being” did exist. This is the opposite of what Joseph writes in the 1832 History. In Cowdery’s account, this is all different. Cowdery writes,

To profess godliness [as the Ministers of the day were doing and Joseph was supposed to do] without its benign influence upon the heart, was a thing so foreign from his feelings, that his spirit was not at rest day nor night. (Oliver Cowery, History, 1834-36,  JS History, 1838–1856, vol. A-1, CHL, 63).

Joseph was not “convicted of my sins”.  He didn’t even believe that there was a God as Cowdery relates it! He did not have the “benign influence” of godliness upon his heart. The whole purpose of him praying in 1823 was to find out “if a Supreme Being did exist”. In his 1832 account he already believed this. Matthew Brown simply claims that “critics” are misinterpreting Cowdery because he must have had the 1832 History. (More on this below). It is simply circular logic.

Cowdery writes,

In this situation where could he go? If he went to one he was told they were right, and all others were wrong-If to another, the same was heard from those: All professed to be the true church; the idle wind or the spider’s web. But if others were not benefited, our brother was urged forward and strengthened in the determination to know for himself of the certainty and reality of pure and holy religion.-And it is only necessary for me to say, that while this excitement continued, he continued to call upon the Lord in secret for a full manifestation of divine approbation, and for, to him, the all important information, if a Supreme being did exist, to have an assurance that he was accepted of him. This, most assuredly, was correct-it was right. The Lord has said, long since, and his word remains steadfast, that for him who knocks it shall be opened, & whosoever will, may come and partake of the waters of life freely. (ibid, 61).

Joseph’s 1832 account shows a young man who had read the Bible in his youth (from 12 yrs. to 15 yrs.) and looked around and saw the wonder of creation and this impressed him that,

<it is a> fool <that> saith in his heart there is no God my heart exclaimed all all these bear testimony and bespeak an omnipotant and omnipreasant power a being who makith Laws and decreeeth and bindeth all things in their bounds who filleth Eternity who was and is and will be from all Eternity to Eternity

Then in his 16th year, he prays, which would be four years after he encountered the religious strife. This is the opposite of what Cowdery writes. Look at the contrast in the Cowdery account:

In this general strife for followers, his mother, one sister, and two of his natural brothers, were persuaded to unite with the Presbyterians. This gave opportunity for further reflection; and as will be seen in the sequel, laid a foundation, or was one means of laying a foundation for the attestation of the truths, or professions of truth, contained in that record called the word of God.

After strong solicitations to unite with one of those different societies, and seeing the apparent proselyting [proselytizing] disposition manifested with equal warmth from each, his mind was led to more seriously contemplate the importance of a move of this kind. To profess godliness without its benign influence upon the heart, was thing so foreign from his feelings, that his spirit was not at rest day nor night. To unite with a society professing to be built upon the only sure foundation, and that profession be a vain one, was calculated, in its very nature, the more it was contemplated, the more to arouse the mind to the serious consequences of moving hastily, in a course fraught with eternal realities. To say he was right, and still be wrong, could not profit; and amid so many, some must be built upon the sand. In this situation where could he go? If he went to one he was told they were right, and all others were wrong-If to another, the same was heard from those: All professed to be the true church; and if not they were certainly hypocritical, because, if I am presented with a system of religion, and enquire [inquire] of my teacher whether it is correct, and he informs me that he is not certain, he acknowledges at once that he is teaching without authority, and acting without a commission!

If one professed a degree of authority or preference in consequence of age or right, and that superiority was without evidence, it was insufficient to convince a mind once aroused to that degree of determination which at that time operated upon him. And upon farther reflecting, that the Savior had said that the gate was straight and the way narrow that lead to life eternal, and that few entered there; and that the way was broad, and the gate wide which lead to destruction, and that many crowded its current, a proof from some source was wanting to settle the mind and give peace to the agitated bosom. It is not frequent that the minds of men are exercised with proper determination relative to obtaining a certainty of the things of God.-They are too apt to rest short of that assurance which the Lord Jesus has so freely offered in his word to man, and which so beautifully characterizes his whole plan of salvation, as revealed to us.

I do not deem it to be necessary to write further on the subject of this excitement. It is doubted by many whether any real or essential good ever resulted from such excitements, while others advocate their propriety with warmth. The mind is easily called up to reflection upon a matter of such deep importance, and it is just that it should be; but there is a regret occupying the heart when we consider the deep anxiety of thousands, who are lead away with a vain imagination, or a groundless hope, no better than the idle wind or the spider’s web.

But if others were not benefited, our brother was urged forward and strengthened in the determination to know for himself of the certainty and reality of pure and holy religion.-And it is only necessary for me to say, that while this excitement continued, he continued to call upon the Lord in secret for a full manifestation of divine approbation, and for, to him, the all important information, if a Supreme being did exist, to have an assurance that he was accepted of him. This, most assuredly, was correct-it was right. The Lord has said, long since, and his word remains steadfast, that for him who knocks it shall be opened, & whosoever will, may come and partake of the waters of life freely.

To deny a humble penitent sinner a refreshing draught from this most pure of all fountains, and most desirable of all refreshments, to a thirsty soul, is a matter for the full performance of which the sacred record stands pledged. The Lord never said-“Come unto me, all ye that labor, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” to turn a deaf ear to those who were weary, when they call upon him. He never said, by the mouth of the prophet-“Ho, every one that thirsts, come ye to the waters,” without passing it as a firm decree, at the same time, that he that should after come, should be filled with a joy unspeakable.

Neither did he manifest by the Spirit to John upon the isle-“Let him that is athirst, come,” and command him to send the same abroad, under any other consideration, than that “whosoever would, might take the water of life freely,” to the remotest ages of time, or while there was a sinner upon his footstool.

These sacred and important promises are looked upon in our day as being given, either to another people, or in a figuratively form, and consequently require spiritualizing, notwithstanding they are as conspicuously plain, and are meant to be understood according to their literal reading, as those passages which teach us of the creation of the world, and of the decree of its Maker to bring its inhabitants to judgment. But to proceed with my narrative.- (Oliver Cowdery, 1834-1836 History, 59-60).

Notice Cowdery’s language that mirrors the claims made in the Telegraph from 1831, about getting a “commission”. Cowdery explains that Joseph’s commission comes from God through the angel. Nowhere do we see a Joseph who has studied the Bible and was unsure if there even was a God. Joseph had read the Bible, looked around and believed it to be God’s handiwork, believed there was a God, and then had felt Godly sorrow and was “convicted of my sins.” Cowdery’s account doesn’t describe the 1832’s wonder of Joseph’s observation of the world, but only that this was to be understood literally in the Bible as a promise which was being professed by the ministers of the day.  That God was not speaking “figuratively” when he gave his promise of answers. Joseph was “urged forward” by the preaching of George Lane and the strife he saw, and then his family joining the Presbyterians. In the 1832 History, it led him to a period of study that took years. (12 to 15) He had his theophany, the visit from the angel, and then he begins to mention his family joining the Presbyterians but crosses it out and never finishes it.

Joseph is convinced in the 1832 account that all the sects were wrong. He doesn’t need the remonstrations of George Lane to feel compelled to action. Cowdery even claims that  “It is doubted by many whether any real or essential good ever resulted from such excitements, while others advocate their propriety with warmth.” And that “ there is a regret occupying the heart when we consider the deep anxiety of thousands, who are lead away with a vain imagination, or a groundless hope, no better than the idle wind or the spider’s web.”

Joseph goes to God to “see if a Supreme Being did exist,” in Cowdery’s version because he was troubled by the message of George Lane and the strife he saw among the religious sects of the day. This indeed is part of the 1832 History (the strife he saw) but that led him to an intense study of the scriptures that lasted for years, all of which Cowdery is strangely silent about.

VI. The Presbyterian Problem

Brown writes,

NOTE (1) If all of these phrases are highlighted in a side-by-side comparison of documents, it will be seen that even though Oliver Cowdery utilized the majority of the 1832 First Vision text in creating his own historical report, he went right around the theophany material in the Prophet’s recital. (Brown, Matthew B., A Pillar of Light: The History and Message of the First Vision, Deseret Book Company, Kindle Locations 3558-3561).

Oliver used a “majority” of the 1832 History? Far from it. I have done a comparison, here. It doesn’t help, it indicates nothing of the kind. What it does show, is that Cowdery relates the elements of an earlier (oral or written) version of a history that Joseph had been conveying to people since he had first spoken of the angel and the plates in 1827. The same story that his mother wrote in her preliminary draft. The same story that William McLellin was told. The same story that was preached by the Mormon Missionaries in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. The same story told by William Smith long before the 1880’s: That when Joseph first prayed, he was answered by the angel Moroni. 

If the 1834 History was based on the 1832 History, then why is it missing so many elements of that History? Why doesn’t it speak of Joseph’s early concerns for his “immortal welfare”? Joseph wrote,

At about the age of twelve years my mind become Seriously imprest  with regard to the all importent concerns for the wellfare of nay immortal Soul which led me to Searching the Scriptures believeing as I was taught, that they contained the word of God to whom I could go and to obtain mercy (Joseph Smith, 1832 History, 2)

Cowdery claims that this occurred after Joseph was in his 17th year. (Or 15th, if you disbelieve what Cowdery said, that  15th year was a typo). Joseph claimed that it was in his 12th year. Smith was very specific in the 1832 History.  If Cowdery was simply instructed to just leave out the theophany, then why did he not include the named age of Smith in the 1832 History when he began his quest for answers? Why skip over that, and write about George Lane? Because Cowdery was probably drawing from a previous History, one that he learned and wrote down himself. (I’m getting to that).

Joseph also claims in the 1832 History that the “war of words” led him, when he turned twelve, to begin reading the Bible and searching the scriptures. In Cowdery’s History, it leads him to ask God for an answer, not knowing if there even was a God. How could Cowdery get this so wrong if he had the 1832 History to draw from?

Here, Brown highlights the phrase “word of God”.  He then links it to Cowdery’s use of the word:

In this general strife for followers, his mother, one sister, and two of his natural brothers, were persuaded to unite with the Presbyterians. This gave opportunity for further reflection; and as will be seen in the sequel, laid a foundation, or was one means of laying a foundation for the attestation of the truths, or professions of truth, contained in that record called the word of God. (Cowdery, 1834-1836 History, link provided above).

It seems that these two align, but they do not. Cowdery uses the phrase “word of God” as describing “attestations of truth”, and that the Bible was self explanatory in that sense. Joseph uses it in an entirely different way, what he believed already:  that the scriptures actually contained the word of God and he knew it. Brown also claims that these two phrases show that Cowdery took his information from the 1832 account:

Cowdery 1834: “his mother, one sister, and two of his natural brothers, were persuaded to unite with the Presbyterians”
Smith 1832: “about that time my mother and

Except that in Joseph’s 1832 account the crossed out phrase, “about that time my mother and” appears after the theophany, not before it. Joseph would later claim that his mother and siblings had joined with the Presbyterians before his claimed 1820  vision:

I was at this time in my fifteenth year. My father’s family was proselyted to the Presbyterian faith, and four of them joined that church, namely, my mother, Lucy; my brothers Hyrum and Samuel Harrison; and my sister Sophronia.

This is a crucial point, because if his mother and siblings joined the Presbyterian Church after the theophany, it creates doubt that Joseph had ever told anyone about his claimed vision. Joseph knew this and changed the timeline in his 1838 version. Cowdery’s version changes the 1832 timeline of events (which would have been correct if Joseph actually had a claimed 1820 vision), because that would have occurred before members of his family joined with the Presbyterians and there were no declarations from God that all of the churches were wrong and an “abomination” to him.

We have documented evidence that members of the Smith family had joined the Presbyterian Church after the death of Alvin. Lucy Smith’s timeline in her biography of Joseph attests this, as do the records of the Presbyterian Church itself.

Matthew Brown writes,

There is one piece of evidence from Lucy Mack Smith’s autobiography that is consistently ignored by the critics, possibly because it effectively nullifies the theory that she became a Presbyterian during Palmyra’s undisputed late 1824 and early 1825 revival. She stated quite clearly that she formally attached herself to a church after her son Alvin “attained his 22nd year”—which took place on 11 February 1820. Alvin died on 19 November 1823, when he was twenty-five years and nine months old. If Mother Smith had really joined the Presbyterians near the recognizable start of the 1824 Palmyra revival—ca. December—then Alvin would have been dead for a little more than a year and her autobiographical statement about formally joining a church would make no sense. (Brown, Matthew B., A Pillar of Light: The History and Message of the First Vision, Deseret Book Company, Kindle Locations 2655-2660).

Brown is simply mistaken here.  This has been addressed by many historians. Dr. Richard Lloyd Anderson, in his contribution to the anthology Exploring the First Vision,  “Joseph Smith’s Accuracy on the First Vision Setting: The Pivotal 1818 Palmyra Camp Meeting”, makes the same argument and tries to give Lucy’s joining the Presbyterian Church an 1820 date:

Early in her marriage, Lucy had received believer’s baptism without commitment to a specific church, later commenting that she retained this status “until my oldest son attained his 22nd year.” She refers to the oldest living son, Alvin, who died of a doctor’s folk remedy in late 1823 but had started his twenty-second year on February 11, 1820. Here she agrees with Joseph’s 1838 history that she made a Presbyterian commitment by early 1820. (Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Joseph Smith’s Accuracy on the First Vision Setting: The Pivotal 1818 Palmyra Camp Meeting,” in Exploring the First Vision, ed. Samuel Alonzo Dodge and Steven C. Harper (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, 2012), 91–169.)

It is hard to believe that Anderson isn’t aware that Lucy in her preliminary manuscript misdated the year of Alvin’s birth to 1799, so this makes Anderson’s claim untenable. Dan Vogel explains that,

Alvin became twenty-two on 11 February 1820. However, Lucy mis-dates Alvin’s birth to 1799, rather than 1798, and his death to 1824, instead of 1823 (L. Smith 1853, 40). Later she states that she joined the Presbyterian church after Alvin’s death. This is complicated by the Presbyterian committee’s mention in March 1830 that she had been a member for one year (see MS:49-50, 110). Richard L. Anderson has suggested that “[t]here may be various degrees of ‘joining’ a church” (R. L. Anderson 1969a, 391, n. 55). (Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, p. 243, note 33).

Since Lucy recalled Alvin’s birth in the year 1799 that would make Alvin 22 in 1821 (a year after the claimed 1820 vision) and so using this argument is disingenuous. Even in Joseph Smith’s own history written in 1838 he wrote that Alvin died in 1824, and this date was published in Mormon scriptures until 1981. In 1970, Russell Rich wrote,

Lucy Mack Smith lists the date [of Alvin’s birth] as February 11, 1799, in her first edition of her history of the Prophet. There has been much more controversy over Alvin’s death than over his birth. A footnote in the DHC 1:16 includes a genealogy of the Prophet’s family, giving the date of Alvin’s death as November 19, 1825. On the same page (and also on page 2) in the body of the text the Prophet is quoted as specifying the date as 1824. In Mother Smith’s original edition she also gave 1824 as the year of Alvin’s death. In Joseph Smith 2:4-6, in the Pearl of Great Price, the present edition also gives 1824 as the year of Alvin’s death.  (BYU Studies, Vol. 10, No. 3, p.255).

Anderson surely should have known this since an article of his own on the first vision appears in the same issue as that of Russell Rich. Marvin Hill, as far back as 1982 understood that Lucy joined the Presbyterians after Alvin’s death:

Indicating that the angel had told Joseph of the plates prior to the revival, Lucy added that for a long time after Alvin’s death the family could not bear any talk about the golden plates, for the subject had been one of great interest to him and any reference to the plates stirred sorrowful memories. She said she attended the revival with hope of gaining solace for Alvin’s loss. That kind of detail is just the sort that gives validity to Lucy’s chronology. She would not have been likely to make up such a reaction for herself or the family nor mistake the time when it happened.  I am persuaded that it was 1824 when Lucy joined the Presbyterians. (Dialogue, Vol.15, No.2, p.39 – p.40).

Anderson continues to misconstrue the facts by claiming that,

Joseph recalled at Nauvoo that he came from the 1820 vision in the grove and told Mother Lucy that he had learned for himself that “Presbyterianism is not true” (v. 20). Thus the older Smiths were investigating Palmyra churches on a parallel track to Joseph prior to the First Vision. The Neibaur journal, discussed above, has Joseph recalling a Methodist “Revival meeting,” likely the June 1818 camp meeting in the Seagar journal, where “his mother & Br & Sist got religion.” As Joseph says in the 1838 history, he was fourteen at the end of 1819, the period when his mother and three siblings chose Presbyterianism, and afterward Alvin received a Presbyterian funeral in 1823.

Why is Anderson misconstruing the facts? Because he is linking an event that took place in 1823/1824 with one that took place in 1818. Much has been made lately of Aurora Seagar and another Methodist, Benajah Williams by the Mormon experts since these accounts were resurrected by D. Michael Quinn in 2006 who tries to push the date of Joseph’s claimed 1820 vision to early summer of that year, but they are easy to explain. See Dan Vogel’s response, here.

Joseph himself stated that this happened before the claimed 1820 vision:

My Fathers family w<ere> proselyted to the Presbyterian faith and four of them joined that Church, Namely, My Mother Lucy, My Brothers Hyrum, Samuel Harrison, and my Sister Soph[r]onia. (Joseph Smith, History)

This is an important distinction from just being converted, or uniting with that faith. Anderson himself defines this distinction,

On which level were Lucy and three children Presbyterians? This could be Presbyterian attendance, attendance on formal probation, or full membership, with right of the Lord’s Supper. Yet historians following Walters have tried to merge revivals dated around 1820 with those after Alvin’s death by claiming (without direct evidence) that Lucy became a Presbyterian member in her grief about 1824. Mother Smith does describe a Palmyra awakening then, when her hopes were raised by a minister who sought cooperation from local denominations, though she could not influence her husband or son Joseph to attend these meetings. However, Lucy’s history does not say she joined a church in the surge of religion at Palmyra after Alvin’s late 1823 death. A later religious conflict throws light on the intervening years. In March 1830, Lucy and sons Hyrum and Samuel were served notice of a church hearing for nonattendance and were then visited by officials of the Palmyra Presbyterian Church. Lucy’s history gives her version of the conversation with visiting Presbyterian elders, when the Smiths defended the Book of Mormon vigorously, which was significant, since the Smith men were two of the Eight Witnesses, who had seen and handled the plates. The hearing minutes still exist, indicating that the Smiths “did not wish to unite with us anymore.” The defendants avoided the hearing, which charged them with “neglect of public worship and the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper for the last eighteen months.” Instead of being cut off, the three were disfellowshipped, “suspended from the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.” (Anderson, op. cited above).

The answer is right in front of Anderson, but he refuses to see it. He writes, “full membership with right of the Lord’s Supper.”  And Lucy does say that she joined the Presbyterians after Alvin’s death for she writes,

My husband also declined attending the meetings after the first but did not object to myself and such of the children as chose to go or to become <going or becoming> church members <if we wished> (Vogel, Early Mormon Documents p. 307).

Lucy writes that this took place after the death of Alvin. Joseph wrote that they joined that church. The Smiths in question were members of the Presbyterian Church because they were charged in 1830 with “neglect of public worship and the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper for the last eighteen months.” That would take them back to 1828, so they were members for four years previous to this because they joined that church shortly after Alvin’s death in 1823. Their break came a few months after Joseph began his “translation” of  the Book of Mormon. Stanley Kimball relates the sequence of events:

On March 3, 1830 the session “met pursuant to notice,” and, among other things, “Resolved that the Reverend A. E. Campbell and H. Jessup be a committee to visit Hiram Smith, Lucy Smith, and Samuel Harrison Smith and report at the next meeting of session.”

[March 10] “The committee appointed to visit Hiram Smith, Lucy Smith, and Samuel Harrison Smith reported that they had visited them and received no satisfaction. They acknowledged that they had entirely neglected the ordinances of the church for the last eighteenth months and that they did not wish to unite with us anymore. Whereupon Resolved that they be cited to appear before the session on the 24th day of March inst., at 2 o’clock P.M. at this Meeting House to answer to the following charge to wit:

Neglect of public worship and the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper for the last eighteen months.”

This action was taken by the Rev. Alfred E. Campbell and Elders George Beckwith, Henry Jessup, Pelatiah West, and Newton Foster and witnessed by Harvey Shet, Levi Dagget, James Robinson, Robert W. Smith, and Frederick Sheffield.

[March 24] “Hiram Smith, Lucy Smith, and Samuel Harrison Smith not appearing pursuant to the citation served upon them by P. West–Resolved that they be again cited to appear before his session on Monday the 29th inst. At this place at 2 o’clock P.M.– and that P. West serve said citation.” On March 29, 1830 “The persons before cited to wit–Hiram Smith, Lucy Smith, and Samuel Harrison Smith not appearing and the session having satisfactory evidence that the citation was duly served. Resolved that they be censured for their contumacy. Resolved that George Beckwith manage their defense. The charge in the above case being fully sustained by the testimony of Henry Jessup, Harvey Shet, Robert W. Smith, and Frederick U. Sheffield. (In minutes of . . . [?] on file with the clerk.) The session after duly considering the matter were unanimously of opinion Hiram Smith, Lucy Smith, and Samuel Harrison Smith ought to be suspended– Resolved that Hiram Smith, Lucy Smith, and Samuel Harrison Smith be and they hereby are suspended from the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.”

Such was the ecclesiastical trial of members of the Prophet’s family. From this we can conclude, in addition to the fact that Lucy, Hiram, and Samuel Harrison were indeed members of the Palmyra congregation, that sometime during the translation of the Book of Mormon they had become inactive and that by early March of 1830 they were being charged with “Neglect of public worship and the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper….” We also know that they ignored two personally served citations and that on March 29 they were “suspended from the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.”

Lucy, Hiram, and Samuel’s inactivity in the Presbyterian Church was no doubt directly related to Joseph’s opinions. When they were contemplating joining with the Presbyterians, Joseph told his mother that “it would do us no injury to join them, that if we did, we should not continue with them long, for we were mistaken in them, and did not know the wickedness of their hearts.” (Dialogue, Vol.5, No.4, p.122-123).

If Lucy was already a member of the Presbyterian Church before 1823, then why is it she expressly states that her husband and her son Joseph did not object to them joining after Alvin’s death? Anderson adds, (inexplicably) that “the charge of church inactivity probably indicates that the Presbyterian Smiths had fairly regularly attended preaching and communion meetings during the early 1820s, or the nonattendance charge would have been filed earlier.” This makes no sense and is simply wishful thinking. It would only have been filed earlier if the Smith’s had actually been members of that Church in 1820 as Joseph said they were. The evidence shows that Joseph was wrong as well as Anderson. The charge was filed in 1830. Why would they wait 10 years to file their charge and then claim that they had been inactive for only eighteen months?

Brown’s curious claim that no “critics” have addressed this is bizarre.  We see that Lucy Smith places her joining the Presbyterian Church after the death of Alvin.  To show that Lucy was off in her dates by a year, she wrote,

“We were still making arrangements for building[.] my oldest son took principle management Charge of this and when the month of November 1822 arrived the House was raised…” (Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, p. 299).

The Smith frame home was raised in November of 1823, a year later. Lucy Smith also claimed that she had been “partial to the Presbyterians” and so Brown’s claim that this discredits the arguments above is disingenuous.

VII. Apologist Blather

If Joseph’s purpose was to simply have Cowdery leave out the theophany, why are there all of these discrepancies in the timeline? Why omit information that leads up to the theophany and relate a whole different story (about George Lane)  that Joseph later discards?  Where did Cowdery get his information about George Lane? Surely this had to come from Joseph himself, who had at some time related it to Cowdery, thus strengthening the evidence that he had gotten his information from oral statements made by Joseph. The best answer is that Joseph was telling the story about George Lane and some were familiar with it, including Oliver Cowdery.  Cowdery writes,

While continuing in prayer for a manifestation in some way that his sins were forgiven; endeavoring to exercise faith in the scriptures (Cowdery, op. cited above)

Yet in the 1832 History, Joseph claims that

“my mind become Seriously imprest  with regard to the all importent concerns for the wellfare of my immortal Soul which led me to Searching the Scriptures believeing as I was taught, that they contained the word of God to whom I could go and to obtain mercy” (Smith, 1832 History, op. cited above).

Joseph did have “faith in the scriptures”. This is obvious from reading the 1832 History. So how does Cowdery miss this and the many other details that are crucial to the 1832 History? The answer is obvious. He did not know about that History and did not use it to craft his History for the Messenger and Advocate.

Still, Christensen blathers on:

These conclusions raise the question of why Cowdery did not expand on the vision in the 1834-35 articles. Opinions differ on this of course, but Brown and Anderson, among others, have proposed sensible solutions. Any argument that Cowdery knew nothing does not account for the content of Reflector’s report from the Painesville correspondent. Nor does it explain Cowdery’s consistent testimony even while out of the church. If a contradiction in Joseph’s accounts is so clear-cut to Runnells and Stephenson at two centuries’ removed, would it not have been even more clear to Oliver Cowdery? Why, then, did Oliver not expose the hoax once he was disaffected from the Church and Joseph?

I do not see any “sensible solutions” by Brown and Anderson, only apologist spin. Do you see Christensen’s pattern here? Make a statement with a footnote, and then link it to a Mormon Apologists book. He presents none of the real evidence himself. Anyone who doesn’t have Brown’s book, can’t verify what he is referencing without buying the book. He doesn’t even bother to quote Brown, which is easy to do.  I will now address Brown’s arguments. He writes,

Some critics have focused their attention on a Church history document that was produced by Oliver Cowdery in 1835, claiming that it says Joseph Smith did not know if God existed when the angel Moroni appeared to him in 1823. Moreover, critics point out that Oliver’s history was published in the Church’s official newspaper and that the Prophet had helped to create the text (though they fail to demonstrate or explain exactly how much involvement the Prophet had in the project). (Brown, Matthew B., op. cited above, Kindle Locations 2224-2227).

In fact we do know how much involvement that Joseph had in the project. Cowdery writes,

Clerks of Council.

-> The following communication was designed to have been published in the last No. of the Star; but owing to a press of other matter it was laid over for this No. of the Messenger and Advocate. Since it was written, upon further reflection, we have thought that a full history of the rise of the church of the Latter Day Saints, and the most interesting parts of its progress, to the present time, would be worthy the perusal of the Saints.-If circumstances admit, an article on this subject will appear in each subsequent No. of the Messenger and Advocate, until the time when the church was driven from Jackson Co. Mo. by a lawless banditti; & such other remarks as may be thought appropriate and interesting.

That our narrative may be correct, and particularly the introduction, it is proper to inform our patrons, that our brother J. SMITH jr. has offered to assist us. Indeed, there are many items connected with the fore part of this subject that render his labor indispensable. With his labor and with authentic documents now in our possession, we hope to render this a pleasing and agreeable narrative, well worth the examination and perusal of the Saints.-To do justice to this subject will require time and space: we therefore ask the forbearance of our readers, assuring them that it shall be founded upon facts. ~Norton, Medina co. Ohio, Sabbath evening, September 7, 1834.

Here we see that Joseph’s participation (his labor) was “indispensable”. This indicates a high degree of involvement with the project.

VIII. The Authentic Documents

Mormon Apologists like Matthew Brown claim that the authentic documents that Cowdery alluded to was the 1832 History. But there is another explanation for these “authentic documents”.  John Whitmer wrote in his History that,

Oliver Cowdery has written the commencement of the Church history, commencing at the time of the finding of the plates, up to June 12th, 1831. From this date I have written the things that I have written, and they are a mere sketch of the things that have transpired, they are however all that seemed to me wisdom to write many things happened that are to be lamented, because of the weakness and instability of man. (“The Book of John Whitmer Kept by Commandment,” Chapter 6, Community of Christ Archives.)

Whitmer began his history on June 12, 1831 picking up (as he says) where Cowdery left off. As they write at the Joseph Smith Papers,

Between his arrival in Harmony, Pennsylvania, to assist JS with the Book of Mormon translation on 5 April 1829 and his departure from New York on a mission to the Indians in October 1830, Cowdery kept several non-narrative records, such as meeting minutes and revelations. He later wrote a series of letters about JS’s early history that were published in 1834–1835 in the LDS Messenger and Advocate. None of these records, however, matches the date range given here. If Whitmer was referring to some other narrative history kept by Cowdery, this is the only known contemporary indication of such a narrative.

 Whitmer claimed that Cowdery had written a History that included far more material than the 1834/35  History published in the Messenger and Advocate.

When Oliver Cowdery died in 1850, he was survived by his wife, Elizabeth Ann Whitmer Cowdery, and a daughter, Maria Louise Cowdery, who eventually married but had no children. Oliver’s widow and daughter both died in Southwest City in 1892, leaving Oliver without descendants. Extant correspondence of Maria Louise indicated that the family burned Oliver’s old papers, finding them too cumbersome to carry on their many moves. (Ensign, December 1986)

If Cowdery had written an early history of Joseph Smith prior to 1834, it is possible that it was destroyed by his family after his death. Why would Cowdery need the 1832 History, when he already had one of his own, that he had written prior to 1831?

Therefore, Cowdery could easily have drawn on his own history for the material that led up to Joseph finding the plates, (like the account of George Lane) and then he needed Joseph to fill in his early years, which Joseph did with his letter to Cowdery. This is why none of the material (mentioned above) from the 1832 History appears in Cowdery’s history.

What is interesting is that Brown writes in his book,

There are several things that need to be taken into consideration when dealing with the narrative composed by the second elder of the Church. Oliver Cowdery announced in an article published at the outset of his 1834–35 history project that not only would he be assisted by the Prophet in this endeavor, but he also had authoritative documents from which to extract correct information. His statement reads, That our narrative may be correct, and particularly the introduction, it is proper to inform our patrons, that our brother J[oseph] Smith [J]r. has offered to assist us. Indeed, there are many items connected with the fore part of this subject that render his labor indispensable. With his labor and with authentic documents now in our possession, we hope to render this a pleasing and agreeable narrative. . . . [I]t shall be founded upon facts.” Since Oliver had both of these valuable resources at his disposal, it is only natural for modern readers to expect that his recital of the founding events of the Church would be both accurate and complete. And since the story of Deity’s visitation to the grove is missing from this literary venture, some readers assume that Oliver was not yet aware of the story when he wrote this statement (and, by extension, neither was the general Church populace). The main problem with this argument lies in the fact that when a comparison is carried out between Oliver’s text and the Prophet’s unpublished 1832 history it becomes clear that the “authentic documents” Oliver had in his possession were the six pages of the Prophet’s 1832 account18—and the Prophet’s 1832 account does, in fact, rehearse the Lord’s visitation to the grove. (Brown, Matthew B., op. cited above, Kindle Locations 1725-1737).

The only evidence that Brown can produce for this is a comparison of words, which I’ve shown is inadequate to the task. Notice also, that Brown substitutes the word “authoritative” for “authentic”.  Cowdery also claims that Joseph’s assistance was “indispensable”, or absolutely necessary. We know he was involved, but Brown still has to claim that critics can’t specify how much involvement Joseph had, even though the word “indispensable” is self explanatory.

Cowdery then stresses that he needed the help of Joseph “particularly with the introduction”. This makes perfect sense given that John Whitmer claimed that Cowdery’s History began with the appearance of the angel to Joseph. The “authentic documents now in our possession” was the letter that Joseph had just written to Oliver and his own history that he would have gotten from Joseph himself.

Brown continues,

The passage in question reads as follows: This would bring the date down to the year 1823. . . . [Joseph] continued to call upon the Lord in secret for a full manifestation of divine approbation, and for, to him, the all important information, if a Supreme Being did exist, to have an assurance that he was accepted of Him.

There are at least four problems with the interpretation of this text as proposed by nonbelievers. Firstly, the most glaring difficulty with this point of view is that Oliver Cowdery had the Prophet’s unpublished 1832 history in his personal possession and was utilizing it to write his new historical narrative. In this document the Prophet not only plainly stated that he had seen the Lord before he was visited by the angel but also said that before he saw the Lord he believed that “it is a fool that [says] in his heart there is no God.”  (Brown, Matthew B., op. cited above, Kindle Locations 2227-2234).

It was also written in the 1832 that Joseph was in his 16th year, not his 15th. So why would Cowdery write the “15th year of our brother J. Smith Jr’s, age”, unless it really was a typo? Notice the 1832 History claims that Joseph was “in the 16th year of my age”. 1832 History I saw the Lord

Brown writes,

Secondly, it is important to remember that Oliver edited his text after he had told the preliminary portion of the First Vision story with the correct year appended to it. Brother Cowdery had received a letter from William W. Phelps after the first article of his historical series had been printed, and in that letter Brother Phelps mentioned that he wanted to learn certain information about the Book of Mormon. Oliver obliged by changing the date of focus to 1823, saying that he did not think it was necessary to talk about the revival associated with the First Vision any longer and then proceeding to tell the story of the angel Moroni and the golden plates. This is the context in which the above quotation was made—during a transition in storylines.(ibid., Kindle Locations 2234-2239).

Yet Cowdery’s History didn’t have the correct year according to the 1832 History. His argument about Phelps is a red herring. Cowdery’s earlier History started with the vision of the angel, and he told it as he knew it. (With the story of George Lane). That is why he needed the letter from Smith about his birth date and whatever Smith gave him about his childhood. (Which was very little). If Cowdery was using the 1832 History, he would not have needed this. Yet to Oliver, this was “indispensable.” Oliver Cowdery wrote,

But such facts as are within my knowledge, will be given without any reference to inconsistencies, in the minds of others, or impossibilities, in the feelings of such as do not give credence to the system of salvation and redemption so clearly set forth and so plainly written over the face of the sacred scriptures… (Cowdery, Letter III, op. cited above).

Here, Cowdery states that the facts that are “within my knowledge, will be given.” This dovetails perfectly with what he wrote about the information Joseph gave him:

You will recollect that I informed you, in my letter published in the first No. of the Messenger and Advocate, that this history would necessarily embrace the life and character of our esteemed friend and brother, J. Smith JR. one of the presidents of this church, and for information on that part of the subject, I refer you to his communication of the same, published in this paper. I shall, therefore, pass over that, till I come to the 15th year of his life. (ibid.)

Obviously Cowdery did not have access to the 1832 history or it would have been within the realm of his knowledge and it would have been given. He then skips to 1823 because he had previously (according to John Whitmer) started Joseph’s history at that time.

That is all the information that Cowdery had access to in relation to Joseph’s youth. That is why he states at the end of letter III, “I shall, therefore, pass over that, till I come to the 15th [17th] year of his life.” He didn’t just refocus because Phelps wanted more information on Moroni, he gave what he had, by publishing the letter that Smith wrote. If he already had the information contained in that letter, why have Smith write him a letter with that same information? I have never seen a Mormon Apologist address this point.   Cowdery then begins Letter IV by claiming that the age of 15 was a typo. Cowdery writes,

You will recollect that I mentioned the time of a religious excitement, in Palmyra and vicinity to have been in the 15th year of our brother J. Smith Jr’s, age-that was an error in the type-it should have been in the 17th.-You will please remember this correction, as it will be necessary for the full understanding of what will follow in time. This would bring the date down to the year 1823. (Cowdery, Letter IV, op. cited above).

This is exactly what it was. A typo. Brown writes,

Thirdly, a non-LDS newspaper reported that around the first of November 1830 Oliver Cowdery was part of a small group of missionaries who were teaching that Joseph Smith had seen God “personally.” This printed statement by the missionaries predates Oliver’s above-mentioned historical narrative by approximately four years and nine months. (Brown, Matthew B. op. cited, Kindle Locations 2240-2242).

I have addressed this above. Brown again,

Fourthly, a close look at the paragraph where the phrase “if a Supreme Being did exist” occurs reveals that its context is “while this excitement [i.e., revival activity] continued.” These two pieces of information do indeed belong to the First Vision storyline. But in this paragraph, and in the paragraphs surrounding it, Oliver was making a transition to a completely different storyline, and in the process he erroneously mixed the two of them together. With all of the preceding evidence at hand, it is not reasonable to believe that in 1823 Joseph Smith did not know whether God existed. Oliver Cowdery’s statement is simply being misinterpreted by the critics. (Brown, Matthew B, op. cited, Kindle Locations 2224-2247).

He erroneously mixed the two together? This is a “sensible solution”? Speculation? If Cowdery knew about the 1832 History, and that Joseph had actually seen God in 1820 then why is he even writing that Joseph went to pray “to see if a Supreme Being” actually existed when Joseph already believed that he did exist? This makes no sense at all. If all Cowdery was doing was omitting the theophany, why is this phrase even in his History? What we have to believe, (per Mormon Apologists) is that Cowdery was crafting a History, put all kinds of elements of the 1832 History in it, but was ordered by Smith to leave out the most crucial detail of that History, became confused and then wrote all kinds of insensible things. Cowdery does so, and just leaves it at that? He throws his promise of giving actual facts out the window and instead makes up that Joseph didn’t know God existed prior to the 1823 vision? These kinds of ad hoc arguments are all that can be produced by Christensen and Brown. These are reasonable explanations? To who? Only Mormon Apologists. How is anyone misinterpreting the statement that Joseph did not know that God existed in 1823? Why would Cowdery write it at all? It makes no sense whatsoever, unless Cowdery knew the story to be (as he was told, as was being related by everyone) that Joseph first prayed in 1823 and had no Christen experience.

Then, Christensen gets desperate:

Stephenson cites accounts by Cowdery, Lucy Smith, and others that did not mention the theophany in the grove, but none of them ever contradicted Joseph’s vision accounts when they had opportunity to do so, even those who separated from the church. Why did the charge that Joseph was late in inventing a theophany not appear until decades after his death? It seems that a certain historical distance was required before such a claim could be at all plausible, since Joseph’s contemporaries had heard the story from very early on.

This is a silly argument. Why didn’t David Whitmer deny his testimony of the Book of Mormon when he called Joseph Smith a fallen prophet? Why did he make his demarcation line at the Book of Mormon? Each had his own personal reasons for how they acted. Perhaps Cowdery was worried about his reputation. How would it look if he claimed he made it all up? That it didn’t happen? Why would Joseph’s own mother want to contradict her son? What good would that do? She believed he was a prophet. Again, these are silly questions that can only be answered by speculation.

There are lots of reasons one could give, but they would all be speculation, as would be any for why he kept silent. Why did many keep silent when Joseph changed “revelations”? They had faith in him as a prophet and it did not bother them. As for those who separated from the church, there is a big difference in publishing and speaking about it privately.

Let’s take David Whitmer for example. How can anyone determine what was important to Whitmer and what was not? Very few knew about the 1832 History. How can they claim discrepancies  when they didn’t know about it? We have the documents to compare today. They did not in the 19th century. This answer will not satisfy the Mormon Apologists, but it is what it is. The fact is, we have the documentation to show that Joseph’s followers were teaching that he first went to God in 1823, not 1820. All they have to back up Joseph’s later, changed version are an anonymous “synopsis”, vague interpretations of D&C 20, and ad hoc speculations about the 1834-1835 History.

IX. The William Smith Problem

Next Christensen brings up William Smith:

Stephenson cites the report of William Smith, who appears to mix elements from 1820 and 1824 in an 1883 article. But in the same article, William twice referred to Joseph’s own history: “a more elaborate and accurate description of his vision, however, will be found in his own history,” and “a particular account of his visions and life during this period will be found in his biography, and therefore I will omit it here.” Notice that William Smith gives a logical reason for omitting information.

But if William Smith was familiar with that history, why did he write the vision completely differently than it appeared there? Because that is how he remembered it. Christensen is also not taking into account the earlier accounts of William Smith (like from 1843) where he relates the same story of only the angel. By 1883 the story of the claimed 1820 vision was widely known and William finally referred to it (in an aside). Let’s investigate some of those, shall we?

In an interview given to James Murdock in 1842 William Smith recalled that,

“About the year 1823, there was a revival of religion in that region, and Joseph was one of several hopeful converts. The others were joining, some [to]one church, and some [to]another in that vicinity, but Joseph hesitated between the different denominations. While his mind was perplexed with this subject, he prayed for divine direction; and afterwards was awaked one night by an extraordinary vision. The glory of the Lord filled the chamber with a dazzling light, and a glorious angel appeared to him, conversed with him, and told him that he was a chosen vessel unto the Lord to make known true religion.The next day he went into the field, but he was unable to work, his mind being oppressed by the remembrance of the vision. He returned to the house, and soon after sent for his father and brothers from the field; and then, in the presence of the family–my informant one of them–he related all that had occurred. They were astounded, but not altogether incredulous. ” (Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, pages 478-479).

Lest it be thought that this may be some kind of mix up with Joseph’s claimed 1820 vision, William affirms that this “glorious angel” that appeared to him, was the angel that also told him of the gold plates. This is the same exact story that Oliver Cowdery writes in 1834.

This was not William Smith’s only retelling of this event. He was interviewed in 1875 and affirmed that “It is to be remembered that Joseph Smith was only 17 years of age when he first began his profesional career in the Minestrey.” geography with other studies in the Common Schools of his day he was no novis and for writing he wrote a plain intelegable hand[.] William Smith, “Notes Written on ‘Chambers’ Life of Joseph Smith,'” circa 1875, page  26, quoted in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, p. 486. When William Smith recalled the beginning of his brother’s religious experience in 1883 he said,

Joseph became concerned on the subject of religion. My mother and brother Hyrum and a sister were members of the Presbyterian Church. We knew that Joseph’s mind was engrossed on religious subjects for some time, and we compared his condition to one who felt himself a stranger in a strange land, a desert land, without any one to guide him, or to afford him the needed relief. Yet seeming to know there must be some circumstances to arise that would afford succor, and desiring to know where to find help. This was Joseph’s condition. The idea was then, as it is now, that there was another world where the soul must live forever, and some means in existence whereby man might be prepared for it. “Was there a revealed plan by which man could find out that way?” My brother told me there was a lack of wisdom; he did not know which way to go. He retired to the woods to ask the Lord for guidance. While praying he saw a bright light, like the brightness of the sun. In that light he saw a personage3; and that being pointed him out as the messenger to go forth and declare his truth to the world; for “They had all gone astray;” “Every man was going his own way.” If we understand the order of God we learn that he is a God of order and hence could not be the author of all this confusion. After he had received this vision, he called his father’s family together and told them what he had seen. If a youth, not more than [p.491] seventeen, could concoct the message that he brought forth and then delivered to his family, it is strange indeed. He told of the “golden plates” which contained the history of the ancient inhabitants of this continent. [..]”William B. Smith. Experience and Testimony,” in “Sketches of Conference Sermons,” reported by Charles Derry, Saints’ Herald 30 (16 June 1883): 388, as quoted in Vogel, EMD pages 490-491.

William B. Smith

William B. Smith

These are the same elements of Joseph’s claimed 1820 vision story, but William consistently recalled that this took place in 1823 and that he saw an angel, not Jesus or his Father.  William would then write a book in 1883 titled William Smith on Mormonism (with a string of subtitles),

“This book contains a true account of the Origin of the Book of Mormon. A sketch of the History, Experience, and Ministry of Elder William Smith. The Story of the Golden Plates from which the Book of Mormon Was Translated. An Account of the Angel’s Visit to Joseph Smith, by which Means the Ancient Nephite Records Were Found and by Him Translated. An Account of a Most Extraordinary Miracle, Wrought by the Laying on of the Hands of the Elders of the Church, and a Statement of the Principles and Doctrines, As Believed and Taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, with Other Matters of Great Interest to All Believers in Christianity.” (Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, p. 493). and in the Preface he expresses his “wish to correct the errors instilled into the minds of the people—by the many falsehoods and misrepresentations that book writers have set afloat concerning the character of Joseph Smith and the origin of the Book of Mormon regardless of the facts” (p. 3).

On page 5-12, he again gives an account of his brother’s first religious manifestation:

In 1822 and 1823, the people in our neighborhood were very much stirred up with regard to religious matters by the preaching of a Mr. Lane, an Elder of the Methodist Church, and celebrated throughout the country as a “great revival preacher.”

My mother, who was a very pious woman and much interested in the welfare of her children, both here and hereafter, made use of every means which her parental love could suggest, to get us engaged in seeking for our souls’ salvation, or (as the term then was) “in getting religion.” She prevailed on us to attend the meetings, and almost the whole family became interested in the matter, and seekers after truth. I attended the meetings with the rest, but being quite young and inconsiderate, did not take so much interest in the matter as the older ones did. This extraordinary excitement prevailed not only in our neighborhood but throughout the whole country. Great numbers were converted. It extended from the Methodists [p. 6] to the Baptists, from them to the Presbyterians; and so on until finally, almost all the sects became engaged in it; and it became quite the fashion to “get religion.” My mother continued her importunities and exertions to interest us in the importance of seeking for the salvation of our immortal souls, until almost all of the family became either converted or seriously inclined.

After the excitement had subsided, in a measure, each sect began to beat up for volunteers; each one saying, “We are right,” “Come and join us,” “Walk with us and we will do you good,” etc. The consequence was that my mother, my brothers Hyrum and Samuel, older than I, joined the Presbyterian Church. Joseph, then about seventeen years of age,7 had become seriously inclined, though not “brought out,” as the phrase was, began to reflect and inquire, which of all these sects was right. Each one said that it was right; which he knew could not be the case; and the question then was which one of the whole taught the true gospel of Jesus Christ, and made known the plan of salvation. If he went to one he was told they were right, and all others were wrong. If to another, the same was heard from them. Each [p. 7] professed to be the true church. This did not satisfy him, as he was aware that there would be but one way of entering into the Kingdom of Heaven, and that there was but one “straight and narrow path,” etc. All this however was beneficial to him, as it urged him forward, and strengthened him in the determination to know for himself of the certainty and reality of pure and holy religion. He continued in secret to call upon the Lord for a full manifestation of his will, the assurance that he was accepted of him, and that he might have an understanding of the path of obedience.

At length he determined to call upon the Lord until he should get a manifestation from him. He accordingly went out into the woods and falling upon his knees called for a long time upon the Lord for wisdom and knowledge. While engaged in prayer a light appeared in the heavens, and descended until it rested upon the trees where he was. It appeared like fire. But to his great astonishment, did not burn the trees. An angel then appeared to him and conversed with him upon many things. He told him that none of the sects were right; but that if he was faithful in keeping the commandments he should receive, the [p. 8] true way should be made known to him; that his sins were forgiven, etc. A more elaborate and accurate description of his vision, however, will be found in his own history.

The next day I was at work in the field together with Joseph and my eldest brother Alvin. Joseph looked pale and unwell, so that Alvin told him if he was sick he need not work; he then went and sat down by the fence, when the angel again appeared to him, and told him to call his father’s house together and communicate to them the visions he had received, which he had not yet told to any one; and promised him that if he would do so, they would believe it. He accordingly asked us to come to the house, as he had something to tell us. After we were all gathered, he arose and told us how the angel appeared to him; what he had told him as written above; and that the angel had also given him a short account of the inhabitants who formerly resided upon this continent, a full history of whom he said was engraved on some plates which were hidden, and which the angel promised to show him. (William Smith, op. cited above).

Once again, William Smith is true to his timeline that his brother did not receive any vision until he was 17 – in 1823. Even though he refers the reader to Joseph’s own history, William still recounts the details of the story he was familiar with his whole life, that Joseph’s prayer in 1823 was answered by an angel.  In 1884 he preaches a sermon that is virtually the same as the 1883 account in his book, conflating elements of his brother’s story of the claimed 1820 vision, but once again, staying true to his timeline that this event took place in 1823. It is my guess that someone pointed out to William the 1838 account written by his brother or that he was doing some research about it for his 1883 book, and that he picked up elements of the story about the claimed 1820 vision and tried to make them fit in the timeline that he had always recounted since the 1840’s. He didn’t do a very good job. But the fact that both his brother William and his mother Lucy (who were both first hand witnesses to the early years of Joseph) put the event in 1823, along with Oliver Cowdery (helped by Joseph himself in 1834-35) throws tremendous doubt upon Joseph’s private 1832 account as do the following accounts:

From the Hampton Whig, written by a Mormon in October, 1831:

Canandaigua, Oct. 9, 1831.

We live in this place, and have ever since the 8th of October last. My mind and time have mostly been taken up in the labor of the new covenant, and I cannot say much which would be interesting either to you or to me, unless I write upon this interesting subject. You must suppose I have had a good opportunity of witnessing much of the proceedings of those who believe in the book of Mormon. The book causes great excitement in these parts, and many [lisp] and foam out their shame, and some believe and become meek and lowly in this region.

There are about one hundred souls who have humbled themselves and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and desired baptism at the hand of Joseph Smith, or some other elder, — for you must know that there are, in this church, elders, priests, teachers and deacons, each ordained according to the gift and calling of God. Upon him, many have been ordained, and some preach. Four of these only have gone to the Samanites [sic – Lamanites?] (or Indians) to preach the gospel unto them. They passed through Ohio, and preached, and three hundred have come forth; many, on coming, brought all their possessions and gave to the church. One of the first was an old miser, who set the example by throwing in all his property — eight hundred acres of land under good cultivation. Thus we see, that when the people become right, this will follow, as in the Apostles’ days.

There are about four hundred souls, and yet no one has aught he calls his own. This we have not preached; but it is the natural consequence of embracing the Apostolic doctrine, which we have done; for He has visited his people, by the ministration of angels, and by raising up a new seer and revelator, that He may communicate unto us such things as are necessary for our preservation and instruction.

You recollect we were talking of the hill which contained all the sacred engravings; we thought it must be far South. But we were both mistaken; for since I saw you, I have seen the spot, and been all over the hill. The time is short, and this generation will not pass before there will be great and marvellous things take place to the confounding of all false, vain, and pernicious doctrines, and to the bringing to nought the wisdom of the world; for Israel shall be saved with an everlasting salvation, and the day is soon at hand when the wicked shall be cut off and the meek shall inherit the earth, and the Lord God will turn to the people a pure language; this is the first language, and it is still preserved on the plates of Jared, and will be the last language that will be.

From the Fredonia Censor, (March, 1832)

[From the Franklin (Pa.) Democrat.]

We of this place were visited on Saturday last by a couple of young men [Lyman E. Johnson and Orson Pratt] styling themselves Mormonites. They explained their doctrine to a large part of the citizens in the court house that evening. They commenced by reading the first chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians: also by giving an account of their founder, Joseph Smith, then an inhabitant of the state of New-York, county of Ontario, and town of Manchester. Having repented of his sins, but not attached himself to any party of Christians, owing to the numerous divisions among them, and being in doubt what his duty was, he had recourse prayer. After retiring to bed one night, he was visited by an Angel and directed to proceed to a hill in the neighborhood where he would find a stone box containing a quantity of Gold plates. The plates were six or eight inches square, and as many of them as would make them six or eight inches thick, each as thick as a pane of glass. They were filled with characters which the learned of that state were not able to translate. A Mr. Anthony [sic], a professor of one of the colleges, found them to contain something like the Cyrian, Chaldean, or Hebrew characters. However, Smith with divine aid, was able to translate the plates, and from them we have the Mormon bible, or as they stated it, another Revelation to part of the house of Joseph.

From the Catholic Telegraph 1 (April 14, 1832):

[Reprinted from The Western Press, Mercer, Pennsylvania.]

On Wednesday, the 8th of this month, two strangers [Lyman E. Johnson and Orson Pratt] called at my house and stated that they were sent by God to preach the gospel to every creature and said if a number should be convened they would deliver a discourse. On the question, what is your profession? they answered, the world call us Mormonites: this excited my curiosity, and at early candle light they commenced an address to the people convened. The substance for which I took down while they were speaking, and afterwards in conversation.

“We are commanded by the Lord to declare his will to effect his intended purpose.-In 1827 a young man called Joseph Smith of the state of New York, of no denomination, but under conviction, inquired of the Lord what he should do to be saved-he went to bed without any reply, but in the night was awakened by an angel, whiter and shining in greater splendour than the sun at noonday, who gave information where the plates were deposited:-Smith awoke, and after due preparation and agreeably to the information given by the angel, he went into the township of Manchester, and there, on the side of a hill, found in a stone box, or a separate space enclosed by stone on every side, the plates on which the revelation was inscribed. The box in thickness was about 6 inches, and about 7 by 5 otherwise; the plates themselves were about as thick as window glass, or common tin, pure gold, and well secured by silver rings or loops in the box as an effectual defence against all w eather. Smith, being entirely ignorant of any language but the English, and knowing that itself in a very imperfect manner was unable to read or decypher a single word-he therefore sent the plates to the city of New York to be translated by Professor Anthony, who could make nothing of them;-here seemed to be an insurmountable difficulty. ~Benjamin Stokely

To simply try and explain this away as Christensen does by William referring to Joseph’s 1838 History (which he does in 1883 – forty years later) is disingenuous.

X. More Apologetic Vagaries

Christensen then writes,

Ronald Barney spoke at the FAIR Conference in 2013 on Joseph Smith’s unfolding approaches to sharing his visions: So what I am asserting is that: initially, Joseph had personal instincts that precluded him from publicly sharing his experiences

Not really. He shared a lot of things publicly. He shared his story of the angel right away, even when he told his mother that they must keep it a secret. In fact, he was supposedly told not to publish his “revelations” by God himself and then went ahead and did it anyway in 1833 in the midst of intense persecution in Missouri. This was a bone of contention with David Whitmer. Joseph even told his “first vision” story to someone that he considered a murderer in 1835.

despite this instinct, in his youth he apparently shared the vision with people he thought would sympathize with his circumstances

Notice “apparently”. There is no evidence that he did. Even his own mother omitted it in her history. She recalled at age 14 that someone had apparently taken a shot at her son, but not the claimed 1820 vision.

being subject to rejection and disdain from these confidences he learned his lesson thereafter and protected his experiences

Again, not borne out in the historical record.

eventually he sensed the need of informing his intimates of what had happened to him …later his audience broadened to others outside his immediate circle…he made an early attempt to establish his story in writing in 1832 but the project stalled for reasons about which we can only speculate

Which is all he can do with this issue, and his speculations make no sense.

finally, recognizing the necessity of publishing his story as a counter to his contemporary critics to advance the cause of the Church, he had prepared what we now know as the History of the Church.

Which he began, then abandoned. He also had Cowdery and John Whitmer and John Corrill keep histories. He then had Cowdery publish his early history, and helped him with it. He chose not to disclose the rough 1832 History at this time but instead stuck with the narrative that his missionaries had been propagating since the Church was organized. We will never know why. But the evidence is incontrovertible that there was no mention of any claimed 1820 vision until 1832, exactly as Jeremy Runnells claims.

I do though, have a theory about one reason why Joseph abandoned the 1832 History and that is because Joseph hadn’t contemplated fully the complexity of the timeline he was reinventing. As I noted above, some words in the 1832 History were crossed out. They read,

about that time my mother and

The note to this at the JSP reads,

This canceled fragment may refer to the Presbyterian affiliation of JS’s mother and three of his siblings. In 1838, JS recounted that they “were proselyted to the Presbyterian faith” in connection with the revivalism preceding his vision.

Joseph places this event after his claimed 1820 vision. As they note above, Joseph in 1838 placed this event to before the claimed vision. If Joseph tried to include the narrative about George Lane here, it wouldn’t fit this timeline, he therefore decided to abandon this attempt. There are also other reasons why Joseph abandoned this History, which I will discuss at a later time.

In 2003, Mark Ashurst-McGee in The FARMS Review also discussed Smith and Cowdery’s motives for both reticence and publication:

Similarly, Smith and Cowdery may have begun providing the details of priesthood restoration in response to the bad publicity caused by the publication of Howe’s Mormonism Unvailed. It may be that Palmer [another critic] has made a historical contribution not in identifying the cause for inventing the priesthood stories, but in identifying a reason for Smith and Cowdery making them public. They had initially kept them confidential in order to avoid persecution, but after the publication of Mormonism Unvailed they may have found that false reports “put in circulation by evil disposed and designing persons” were a form of persecution that outweighed the persecution they would receive from publicizing the details of priesthood restoration. The reason for keeping the story to themselves became the reason for sharing it.

This makes no sense in the light of Smith publishing his other revelations and experiences in the Book of Mormon and then the Book of Commandments. What could they persecute him for if he published the additional details of the supposed priesthood restoration and his claimed 1820 theophany that they weren’t persecuting him for already? What makes more sense is what Dan Vogel postulated:

The History was begun in the midst of challenges to Smith’s authority, primarily initiated by Bishop Edward Partridge in Missouri, which evoked Smith’s introduction of the office of president of the high priesthood (Vogel 1988, 113-16). It is therefore not simply an autobiographical sketch, but an apology setting forth Smith’s credentials as leader of the church. The History therefore contains the earliest account of what is known as his “first vision” and earliest mention of angelic priesthood ordinations. (Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, p. 26).

Joseph wanted to recraft his history, the same as he had recrafted the “revelations” in the Book of Commandments. The finished version was published in 1842 in the Times and Seasons.

XI. More Blathering

Christensen writes,

Regarding the 1820 First Vision, Stephenson comments: “Unfortunately, no contemporary evidence has come to light to support this claim; and Joseph Smith himself did not document this supposed event until more than 12 years later.”

Notice the important qualification of “no contemporary evidence.” Contemporary evidence (that is Spring of 1820) is not the only kind of evidence.

Bravo. Tell us more Professor Christensen.

What contemporary evidence do we have for the Big Bang or the Creation of Life or for Shakespeare’s authorship of his plays or for my Dad’s participation in the battle at Hill 609 in Tunisia or of my childhood success at playing Risk with my brothers in the basement of our home?)

This is disingenuous, but really, can you expect anything more from Christensen? The Big Bang is a theory. (Not proven). Is Christensen claiming that Smith’s claimed 1820 vision is a theory? He is not. He is claiming that Joseph’s story is absolutely true. No one is claiming that the Big Bang is absolutely true. (No one knows). That is why it is called the Big Bang Theory.

As for his Dad’s participation in some battle, are there papers of his being assigned there? Is there testimony of others who served with him? I don’t know these things so can’t answer it, something that Christensen knows very well. This is a silly example. And then another red herring, playing childhood games. Really? Shakespeare? Really? Others have answered this very well.shake-face

If the question is “Did Joseph Smith have a vision in 1820 that affected the course of his life?” rather than “What contemporary evidence is there that Joseph Smith had a vision in 1820?” the methods, problem fields, and standards of solution change radically.

This is Christensen’s red herring. That is not the question. That is not Jeremy’s contention. Anyone can claim anything later. Therefore the burden of proof is on those who say the claims of Joseph Smith are based on real events, not on later stories. Even Christensen’s personal claims.

Stephenson might claim that “if Joseph Smith did have a vision, we would have abundant contemporary evidence,” but that claim itself is open to investigation.

I might do a lot of things, but I didn’t claim that. This doesn’t answer anything. I never claimed that we would or should “have abundant contemporary evidence”. I claimed (as Jeremy does) that there isn’t any at all. And my definition of contemporary is far more generous that Christensen makes it out to be; I’m claiming contemporary as anything before 1832, not just the year 1820. He knows this, but would rather invent red herrings than answer the charge. That is why we are arguing about the 1831 Reflector Article.

Christensen then regales us with this bit of strangery:

It is not a fact, but a premise that we can test only indirectly. Notice that Stephenson is perfectly willing to accept my oral report of an experience I had when I was 19 years old, a short time before my mission, of a vivid spiritual impression while reading Ether 12:39. What is his evidence that the event happened? Well, he listened to a FAIR Podcast that I recorded. It happens that the podcast happened over forty years after the event. I didn’t write the experience down at the time. I don’t remember telling anyone about it until much later. My parents were in a different part of the U.S. I don’t even remember who my Bishop was, and have no memory of telling any leaders. I don’t even remember when I began to tell the story. I have written it up on occasion, posting on internet message boards, and relating it in testimony meetings and a podcast or two. Have I told the story differently at different times? Perhaps I have. I doubt if I can narrow the day of the experience down to more than July to September 15th 1973. Does Stephenson worry at all about this lack of contemporary external confirmation or supportive witnesses or imprecision in the exact day? Remember, he also says that I’m dishonest. Why then does he take my report of a forty-year-old personal experience at face value? He doesn’t agree with the validity of my experience, but he bases a whole line of argument on the fact of such an experience. Obviously he accepts the existence of my personal account is a kind of evidence that he accepts as persuasive enough to use, even by itself. Among other things, my report makes sense within the LDS culture and if I did have an experience, it helps him explain important aspects of my behavior.

In fact, I don’t take anything that Christensen says at face value. I only said that he CLAIMED to know. Here is my quote,

In a podcast presented by FAIRMORMON he CLAIMS,

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

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

This was all about what Christensen claimed. If he wants to raise doubts about his own subjective experiences, more power to him. Some might think that only further strengthens the case that he is dishonest or just psychotic. Remember, Christensen made the claim, not me. If he wants to try and disqualify my line of reasoning by throwing doubt on his own claims, who am I to argue with that? All of this though, is just silly posturing by Christensen that does nothing to prove that Joseph had a claimed 1820 vision. Instead of focusing on the evidence (or in this case lack of it) he plays semantic games to divert the issue. It reeks of desperation. I expect no less of Mormon Apologists based on their long track record of doing just this.

As for the rest of Christensen’s offering on the First Vision, he brings up Don Bradley’s recent contribution at the FAIRMORMON Conference of 2015. I’ve read it. I see problems with Don’s analysis though. What he, and Christensen fail to consider is that the claims that are made about context, (angelic visitations, and divine commissions, and the need for authority), are all answered in Joseph’s original narrative, which started with the visit of the Angel Moroni and the “translation” of the Book of Mormon.

Don wants to place the religious excitement and Lucy Smith’s joining of the Presbyterians before 1820, which is untenable, given the evidence. The narrative being preached by Mormon Missionaries after the Church was organized was of Moroni,  not a narrative based on a claimed 1820 theophany.  Therefore, the claim made by Dan Vogel fits perfectly within this historically correct narrative. Even Don himself claimed his premise is based on, “If Latter-day Saint belief about the First Vision is correct…” One can just as easily say, Joseph entered his bedroom in 1823 a boy and left it a prophet and seer. All of the family criteria still apply. Once again, the evidence determines what follows. Is the evidence stronger that the revivals spoken of were in 1823/4, or 1818/19? Lucy’s own words tell us. They were after the death of her son Alvin. Dan Vogel, Mike Marquardt, and others attest to this with far more credible evidence. That is why Don gives a friendly poke at Dan in his presentation. He disagrees, but sees the weight of Dan’s evidence.

Joseph didn’t just craft the claimed 1820 vision out of thin air in the 1830’s as Don wants us to believe. It was crafted from an already existing narrative about the Angel Moroni. Therefore significant details of his early life were already in place. He just shifted the dates and inserted a theophany, and the problems with him doing this are in the historical accounts by others who lived with him at the time, or reported on what Smith claimed in the 1820’s and 1830’s.

Christensen writes,

The Reflector is evidence that someone quite early on, almost two years before the 1832 account was written, knew something about theophanies, The silences that Stephenson discusses in the sources he quotes amount to his display of dissonance management relative to the Reflector. Silences elsewhere don’t explain how such ideas got into the Reflector. He fails to even mention the existence of reminiscent accounts such as those reported by Tim Barker. They are evidence to appreciate, deprecate, or ignore, depending on the direction of one’s cognitive efforts or dissonance management relative to that sort of evidence. Note too how my paradigm can account for all the evidence (including “negative” evidence, such as a lack of contemporary accusations that Joseph fabricated the First Vision later), while Runnells’s cannot.

No, they didn’t know anything about theophanies. It was Abner Cole’s synopsis, most likely based on contemporary accounts of the time. We have no letter to compare it with. And as you can see, I’m far from dissonant about the Reflector article. I understand more about it than Christensen does. I see it for what it is, not for what someone wants it to be. He keeps harping on my failure to mention evidences that he keeps pulling out of his Mormon Apologist hat. Christensen’s paradigm is based on anonymous sources, and cryptic allusions. That is all he has. It doesn’t account for anything.

I can list dozens of things Christensen did not mention, but I’m not playing that game. We both only touched on evidences (or the lack of) of the claimed 1820 and nowhere did either of us claim that we were giving definitive arguments. He seems to think that a two part blog article is a book about Smith’s claimed 1820 vision. (Christensen can’t even present limited arguments in a very coherent manner). To make the claim above that I was being purposefully silent about evidence (or avoiding apologist arguments) is all kinds of disingenuous, but again, I’m not surprised.

XII. The David Whitmer Problem

Christensen writes,

And there is evidence from Whitmer on the priesthood from earlier accounts that Stephenson did not report. Kenneth Godfrey has shown that “David Whitmer himself was not free from inconsistency when recounting his views on the priesthood. For example, David H. Cannon reported that in 1861 when he visited Whitmer, the two men with others stood beside the grave of Oliver Cowdery. Whitmer declared that he had heard Oliver say, ‘I know the Gospel to be true and upon this head has Peter, James and John laid their hands and conferred the Holy Melchizedek Priesthood.’ Whitmer also displayed for the group how this was done.

Again, here we go with these evidences out of the hat. It was actually evidence that Christensen didn’t specify (he referenced a whole book!). Was I supposed to address the whole book in a blog article? Now, (finally) I have something definite to check on. How can I report on something if I don’t know that Christensen is referring to? Christensen’s reference for this is:

Kenneth W. Godfrey, “David Whitmer and the Shaping of Latter-day Saint History,” in Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry, and Andrew H. Hedges, eds.,The Disciple as Witness: Essays on Latter-Day Saint History and Doctrine in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson (Provo: Foundation of Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2000), 241-242.

It is obvious that Christensen is reading second hand sources without knowing what he is referencing. Here is the actual full quote that Christensen claims is indicative of Whitmer’s “true” feelings about High Priests and the Priesthood “restoration”:

The thing which impressed me most of all was as we stood beside the grave of Oliver Cowdery the other witness who had come back into the church before his death and in describing Olivers action when bearing his testimony said to the people in his room placing his hands like this upon his head saying “I know the gospel to be true and upon this head has Peter James and John laid their hands and conf centered ered the Holy Melchesdic Priestood,” the manner in which this tall grey headed man went through the exhibition of what Oliver had done was prophetic I shall never forget the impression that the testimony of David Whitmer made upon me. (David H. Cannon, Autobiography, March 13, 1917, 5).

This is a recollection written by David H. Cannon (who worked in the St. George Temple for years), and was made 56 years later. Nowhere does Christensen mention this. Whitmer supposedly said this in 1861. If he felt this way, why did he write what he did about High Priests in his “Address to all Believers in Christ” in 1887? (26 years later) Fact is, this is obviously an apologetic “recollection” by Cannon made years later. Whitmer always felt that the Priesthood restoration was bogus. This is easy to prove.

David Whitmer, Kirtland Ohio, 1832

David Whitmer, Kirtland Ohio, 1832

In 1847 he got together with William McLellin and they were trying to start a church. McLellin had a “revelation” in Feb. 1847 relative to the rebaptism and the reordination of all adherents their new The Church of Christ. (Jan Shipps, McLellin, Man of Diversity, 343)

Whitmer was ordained a “prophet” which included “all the gifts and callings to which he had been appointed through Joseph Smith in the general assembly of the inhabitants of Zion, in 1834.” (ibid) Whitmer chose for his counselors Oliver Cowdery and his brother John Whitmer. Cowdery had written to Whitmer,

So far as I understand his labor, it has simply been directed to one great object—to wit: in preparing, or endeavoring to prepare the way for the old ship to unhitch her cables and again sail forth. . . . We may not live to see the day, but we have the authority, and do hold the keys. It is important should we not be permitted to act in that authority, that we confer them upon some man or men, whom God may appoint, that this priesthood be not taken again from the earth till the earth be sanctified. I want to see you much on this great matter. That our brother william has been directed and influenced in what he has been doing by the Holy Spirit, I need not say to you I fully believe. I do not say that every thing he has done has been done by inspiration—it would be strange if it were so. But that God has touched his heart, that he might begin to prepare the way, I have no doubt. In this doing he has done well, and he will in no wise lose his reward. . . . You will talk this matter all over, and make all the necessary enquiry, and I will only say that when the time comes, I am ready! But I am not persuaded that it has yet fully come. (Ensign of Liberty 1 (December 1847): 35).

David Whitmer received a “revelation” that McLellin was to build up the church in the land of Kirtland. But the voice to the others specified, “A commandment I give unto you my servant David, and also my servants John, and Hiram, and Jacob, that you must remain until I command you, and then you shall only be permitted to visit the faithful in my kingdom. For now ye do hold the right of this, the consecrated land of Zion.” John Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery were appointed counselors to David Whitmer in the presidency.

David appointed McLellin “president to stand in relation to me as [Oliver] stood to Joseph,” with responsibilities “to build up the church of Christ in Kirtland.” Jacob Whitmer and Hiram Page were ordained high priests. (Shipps, ibid). McLellin had accepted the office of High Priests (and the angelic restorations) even though he never heard of it until 1834, as he later recalled.

But there was a problem. It came from David Whitmer:

On behalf of David Whitmer, Hiram Page prepared a lengthy and carefully worded letter “to all the saints scattered abroad,” in which a number of key elements of “brother William’s” organization and doctrine were soundly denounced. The letter, dated from Richmond, Missouri, June 24, 1849, declared:

In 1847 brother William commenced vindicating our characters as honest men; in that he done well. In September 1848, he made us a visit and professed to have been moved upon by the same spirit of God that led him to do us justice by vindicating our characters, moved upon him to come here and have us organize ourselves in a church capacity; but it must come through him, which would give a sanction to all that he had done, which would give a more speedy rise to the cause than anything else could. . . . But we had not as yet come to an understanding, but consented to the organization after three days of successive entreaties. Now we acknowledge that the organization was not in accordance with the order of the Gospel Church. As we observed that we had not come to an understanding, it infers that we now have, or we think we have come to understanding, and the understanding which we have received is as follows…

Hiram Page then enumerated the criteria by which the church should be governed, among which were:

1. That the office of High Priest does not belong to the church of Christ under the gospel dispensation, and that all offices filled exclusively by High Priests are null and void.

2. The office of a Seer is not, nor never has been the means by which the Lord intended his church should be governed. . . .

3. That the gathering dispensation has not come, and every effort of men to bring about the gathering of the saints into bodies, is only sowing the seeds of discord, and is heaping upon the innocent many calamities which might be avoided.

At the conclusion of his declaration, Hiram Page observed, “It is evident that the way is not opened for us to organize as we should; but when the way is opened, we shall organize according to the Apostolic order. (Shipps, McLellin, Man of Diversity 345).

This incarnation of “The Church of Christ” quickly fell apart, and Cowdery began writing letters to Phineas Young and got rebaptized into the Utah branch of the Church right before his death in 1849. Whitmer was strongly opposed to the ordination of High Priests in 1847/1848, and affirmed that forty years later in 1887. He organized his own Church of Christ in the 1870’s without High Priests. In 1885, Whitmer answered some questions by Zenos Gurley and three dealt with the priesthood:

12Q Do you repudiate the High Priests quorum or that order, and can you give its origin and occasion of it in the church?
12A Yes I do – as not an order in Christ. It originated in the church because of desire to obtain greater power than what had been given – over anxiety with the leaders, leading to it.
13Q Were you present when Joseph Smith received the revelation commanding him and Oliver Cowdery to ordain each other to the Melchisedek Priesthood, if so, where was it and how?
13A No I was not – neither did I ever hear of such a thing as an angel ordaining them until I got into Ohio about the year 1834 – or later.
14Q Can you tell why that Joseph and Oliver were ordained to the lesser Priesthood by the hand of an Angel but in receiving the Higher they ordained each other?
14A I moved Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to my fathers house in Fayette Seneca County New York, from Harmony, Penn. in the year 1829, on our way I conversed freely with them upon this great work they were bringing about, and Oliver stated to me in Joseph’s presence that they had baptized each other seeking by that to fulfill the command – And after our arrival at fathers sometime in June 1829, Joseph ordained Oliver Cowdery to be an Elder, and Oliver ordained Joseph to be an Elder in the church of Christ and during that year Joseph both baptized and ordained me an elder in the church of Christ. Also, during this year the translation of the Book of Mormon was finished, and we preached preached, baptized and ordained some as Elders, And upon the Sixth day of April 1830, six Elders together with some fifty or sixty (as near as I recollect) of the members met together to effect an organization.
I never heard that an Angel had ordained Joseph and Oliver to the Aaronic priesthood until the year 1834, 5, or 6 – in Ohio. My information from Joseph and Oliver upon this matter being as I have stated, and that they were commanded so to do by revealment through Joseph. I do not believe that John the Baptist ever ordained Joseph and Oliver as stated and believed by some, I regard that as an error, a misconception. (Zenas H. Gurley Interview, 14 January 1885, Richmond, Missouri)

For anyone to claim that Whitmer all of a sudden reversed himself in 1861 on the basis of ONE 50+ year recollection is simply desperate or uninformed about David Whitmer. For being so well read, it is obvious Christensen knows little about David Whitmer or he would not have presented this “evidence”.  But because I didn’t mention this unreliable apologetic recollection buried in an apologist book, I’m the one who is incorrect.

As Gregory Prince writes, (again the Book of Mormon angel paradigm):

Visions surrounding the gold plates of the Book of Mormon provided the earliest confirmation of Joseph Smith’s divine calling. Within weeks of Smith’s obtaining the plates in September 1827, neighbor Martin Harris “became convinced of the visions and gave [Smith] fifty Dollars to bare my expences and because of his faith and the righteous deed the Lord appeared unto him in a vision and showed unto him his marvilous work which he was about to do.” A similar manifestation in 1829 converted a man whose role in Latter-day Saint priesthood would be second only to Smith’s: “[The] Lord appeared unto a young man by the name of Oliver Cowdry and shewed unto him the plates in a vision and also the truth of the work and what the Lord was about to do through me his unworthy servant therefore he was desirous to come and write for me to translate.”

While it was apparent that Smith had a calling, the basis of his authority was implicit in his work, not the result of any “hands-on” ordination. Prior to 1829 neither Smith nor his followers claimed to have received the type of divine authorization which ultimately would become known as “priesthood.”

Smith’s primary concerns during this time were his own status with God and the translation of the gold plates. He expressed no intent to organize a church or to confer authority or ordinances on others. Three revelations date from this period, none of which addressed these issues. In the first, from July 1828, Smith was chastised for having lost part of the Book of Mormon manuscript and was told that he would be allowed to resume translating, but no authority was mentioned. In the second, dated February 1829, a ministry extending beyond publication of the Book of Mormon was implied. The qualifications for that ministry were listed: “Faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of God” (BC III:1). Formal authority evidently was not required. The third revelation, given to Joseph Smith one month later in behalf of Harris, described for the first time the establishment of a church, “like unto the church which was taught by my disciples in the days of old” (BC IV:5), but stipulated not prerequisites (Gregory A. Prince, Power From On High, Ch.1, p.3)

Christensen gets his basis of “facts” from an original compilation of quotes by Brian Q. Cannon (strangely called “Priesthood Restoration Documents”) the majority of these quotes made long after 1834, and that for the most part have nothing to do with priesthood “restoration” and only mention angels – which seems to be the only criteria for including them. For example, here is one:

The Painesville Telegraph (December 7, 1830)


Those who are the friends and advocates of this wonderful book, state that Mr. Oliver Cowdry has his commission directly from the God of Heaven, and that he has credentials, written and signed by the hand of Jesus Christ, with whom he has personally conversed, and as such, said Cowdry claims that he and his associates are the only persons on earth who are qualified to administer in his name. By this authority, they proclaim to the world, that all who do not believe their testimony, and be baptized by them for the remission of sins, and come under the imposition of their hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, and stand in readiness to go to some unknown region, where God will provide a place of refuge for his people, called the “New Jerusalem,” must be forever miserable, let their life have been what it may. If these things are true, God has certainly changed his order of commission. When Jesus sent his disciples to preach, he gave them power against all unclean spirits, to cast them out, to heal all manner of diseases, and to raise the dead. But these newly commissioned disciples have totally failed thus far in their attempts to heal, and as far as can be ascertained, their prophecies have also failed. Jesus Christ has forewarned us not to believe them: “There shall arise false Christs and false Prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch if it were possible they shall deceive the very elect behold — I have told you before, we give too much credit to these men.” — Let us follow the example of the church at Ephesus: “Thou hast tried them which say they are Apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars.” We ought to believe God, though it should prove all men to be liars.

No mention of angels at all. In 1830 they were claiming that the authority to baptize came from Jesus Christ, not angelic ordinations or some priesthood,

26 . . . behold, there are others who are called to declare my gospel, both unto Gentile and unto Jew; 27 Yea, even twelve; and the Twelve shall be my disciples, and they shall take upon them my name; and the Twelve are they who shall desire to take upon them my name with full purpose of heart. 28 And if they desire to take upon them my name with full purpose of heart, they are called to go into all the world to preach my gospel unto every creature. 29 And they are they who are ordained of me to baptize in my name, according to that which is written . . .31 And now I speak unto you, the Twelve—Behold, my grace is sufficient for you; you must walk uprightly before me and sin not. 32 And, behold, you are they who are ordained of me to ordain priests and teachers; to declare my gospel, according to the power of the Holy Ghost which is in you, and according to the callings and gifts of God unto men; 33 And I, Jesus Christ, your Lord and your God, have spoken it . . .37 And now, behold, I give unto you, Oliver Cowdery, and also unto David Whitmer, that you shall search out the Twelve, who shall have the desires of which I have spoken; 38 And by their desires and their works you shall know them. 39 And when you have found them you shall show these things unto them. (Revelation, Book of Commandments, 1833

This is the commission the Telegraph report is speaking about. There is nothing here about angelic visitations, only about authority to preach. The book also quotes the Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ, written originally by Oliver Cowdery in 1829:

A commandment from God unto Oliver [Cowdery] how he should build up his Church & the manner thereof——Saying Oliver listen to the voice of Christ your Lord & your God & your  Redeemer & write the words which I shall command you concerning my Church my Gospel my Rock & my Salvation. Behold the world is ripening in in iquity & it must needs be that the children of men are stirred up unto repentance both the Gentiles & also the House of Israel for behold I command all men everywhere to repent & I speak unto you even as unto Paul mine apostle for ye are called even with that same calling with which he was called Now therefore whoso ever repenteth & humbleth himself before me & desireth to be baptized in my name shall ye baptize them And after this manner did he command me that  I should baptize them Behold ye shall go down & stand in the water & in my  name shall ye baptize them And now behold these are the words which ye shall say calling them by name saying Having authority given me of Jesus Christ I baptize you in the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Ghost Amen  And then shall ye immerse them in the water & come forth again out of the water  & after this manner shall ye baptize in my name For behold verily I say unto you  that the Father & the Son & the Holy Ghost are one & I am in the Father & the Father in me & the Father & I are one

There is nothing here that mentions angelic ordinations. Joseph later rewrote those articles,

The articles and covenants of the Church of Christ agreeable to the will and commandments of God. The rise of the Church of Christ in these last days, being one 1830 years since the coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, in the flesh, it being regularly organized and established agreeable to the laws of our country, by the will and commandments of God in the 4th month, and on the 6th day of the same, which commandments were given to Joseph Smith, jun. who was called of God and ordained an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of the church, and also to Oliver, who was called of God an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of the church, and ordained under his hand, and this according to the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be all glory both now and ever — amen.

For, after that it truly was manifested unto the first elder that he had received remission of his sins, he was entangled again in the vanities of the world, but after truly repenting, God visited him by an holy angel, whose countenance was as lightning, and whose garments were pure and white above all whiteness, and gave unto him commandments which inspired him from on high, and gave unto him power, by the means which was before prepared that he should translate a book; which book contains a record of a fallen people, and also the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and also to the Jews, proving unto them that the holy scriptures be true, and also that God doth inspire men and call them to his holy work in these last days as well as in days of old, that he might be the same God forever — amen.

This is supposedly where there is some “cryptic allusion” to a claimed 1820 vision. Notice that Christensen does not address the problems that I mentioned about this, in his article. He only claims that I “wrestled” with it. Why doesn’t he address those specific problems I mentioned? Because he ignores the obvious paradigm in favor of one supported by only an anonymous synopsis and the faulty comparisons of a Mormon Apologist.

XIII. Book of Mormon Vagaries 

As Gregory Prince (who is also a scientist with a P.H.D.) writes,

In April 1829 itinerant schoolteacher Oliver Cowdery arrived in Harmony, Pennsylvania, to serve as Joseph Smith’s new scribe. Within days their work on the Book of Mormon produced passages dealing with baptism. The first of these was from “The Book of Mosiah”:

And now it came to pass that Alma took Helam, he being one of the first, and went and stood forth in the water, and cried, saying, O Lord, pour out thy spirit upon thy servant, that he may do this work with holiness of heart. And when he had said these words, the spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he said, Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God, as a testimony that ye have entered into a covenant to serve him until you are dead, as to the mortal body; and may the spirit of the Lord be poured out upon you; and may he grant unto you eternal life, through the redemption of Christ, which he hath prepared from the foundation of the world. And after Alma had said these words, both Alma and Helam was [sic] buried in the water; and they arose and came forth out of the water rejoicing, being filled with the spirit. And again, Alma took another, and went forth a second time into the water, and baptized him according to the first, only he did not bury himself again in the water.

Of particular importance is the idea that before Alma baptized he received authorization simply from “the spirit of the Lord.” There is no mention of angelic appearance, laying on of hands, or ordained office. Alma baptized himself and Helam simultaneously.

Cowdery received the following communication from God at about this time:

Now therefore whosoever repenteth & humbleth himself before me & desireth to be baptized in my name shall ye baptize them. And after this manner did he [the Lord] command me that I should baptize them[.] Behold ye shall go down & stand in the water & in my name shall ye baptize them. And now behold these are the words which ye shall say calling them by name saying[,] Having authority given me of Jesus Christ I baptize you in the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Ghost Amen. And then shall ye immerse them in the water & come forth again out of the water & after this manner shall ye baptize in my name.

Smith’s and Cowdery’s baptisms in the Susquehanna River in May 1829 were thus divinely authorized, though not as a prerogative based on the duties of any office. Later accounts described additional elements such as authority from an angel conferred by the laying on of hands and tandem rather than simultaneous baptism, in contrast to the Book of Mormon model. (Gregory A. Prince, Power From On High, Ch.1, p.4 – p.5).

In other words, as Prince writes,

The status of Mormon authority in 1829 was as follows. Motivated by passages in the Book of Mormon, Smith and Cowdery had sought and received authorization to baptize. Later they encountered additional Book of Mormon passages describing a higher authority which was needed to confer the Holy Ghost and ordain to offices, which they subsequently received. Neither level of authority had yet been called “priesthood.” Prior to 1831 the only use of the term was in the Book of Mormon, where it was used synonymously with the office of high priest (BM, 1830, 258-60), an office which did not exist in Mormonism until late 1831. Prior to then men acted by virtue of the office to which they had been ordained, either elder, priest, or teacher. In performing ordinances they sometimes referred to their authority explicitly, as in the baptismal prayer, though without using the term “priesthood.” Authority was generally implied, as in the blessing of the bread and wine (BM, 1830, 575-76) and in the ordination of priests and teachers (BM, 1830, 575).30 It was not until several months after the June 1831 general conference, when the “high priesthood” was conferred, that the term “priesthood” entered Mormon usage at all.

I guess I’m not the only one whose “grasp of the textual data is lacking”. Gregory Prince makes the same observation about High Priests in the Book of Mormon.

Margaret Barker has her opinions. There are many other credible Biblical Historians who take a different view on the subject. To claim that I am simply “unaware” of her arguments, or about the role of High Priests in the Bible is disingenuous of Christensen.

Photos of David Whitmer by Jacob Hicks. Left Photo taken in 1867 when David was 62 years old, Right Photo taken in 1882 when David was 77 years old.

Photos of David Whitmer by Jacob Hicks. Left Photo taken in 1867 when David was 62 years old, Right Photo taken in 1882 when David was 77 years old.

David Whitmer’s views on High Priests were more Protestant, (a Priesthood of all believers) which are not the views that Barker holds. She is also quoting late accounts claiming that James and John were ordained High Priests. There is no evidence in the Bible that this ever happened, only later writings that mention that James went into the holy of holies. Tenuous evidence, at best.  Paul writes,

11 If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come—one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? 12 For when there is A CHANGE OF THE PRIESTHOOD, there must also BE A CHANGE OF THE LAW. 13He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 15 And what we have said is even more clear if another priest LIKE MELCHISEDEK appears, 16 one WHO HAS BECOME A PRIEST not on the basis OF A REGULATION as to his ancestry BUT ON THE BASIS OF THE POWER OF AN INDESTRUCTIBLE LIFE. 

17 For it is declared: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” 18 The former regulation [LAW OR PRIESTHOOD] is set aside because it was weak and useless 19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God. 20 And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, 21 but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever.’ 22 Because of this oath, JESUS has become the GUARANTEE OF A BETTER COVENANT. (Hebrews 7:17-22)

Jesus became a ‘priest’ on the basis of his indestructible life, not on a regulation or an ordination. Paul says we draw near to God because of an Oath which God made ‘that you are a priest forever’ and because of this Jesus became the guarantor of a better covenant. How did he do that? Not by ancestry, or regulation, but by the power of his indestructible life. In Romans, the writer makes this observation:

13 It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, BUT THROUGH THE RIGHTEOUSNESS THAT COMES BY FAITH. 14 For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, 15 because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression. (Romans 4:13-15)

Abraham needed no law, (or Priesthood) because he had faith, as explained in Romans:

21 But now a righteousness from God, APART FROM LAW, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST to ALL who BELIEVE. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are JUSTIFIED FREELY BY HIS GRACE through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a SACRIFICE OF ATONEMENT through faith IN HIS BLOOD. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice AT THE PRESENT TIME, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26)

Righteousness from God comes from Faith in Jesus Christ to ALL who BELIEVE, and this cannot be conferred by ordinance.  That is why Paul says in Hebrews:

7 During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, ONCE MADE PERFECT, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10 and was DESIGNATED BY GOD to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:7-10)

Jesus was designated by God, once he was made perfect to be a High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. Jesus indestructible life “is the basis of Jesus Priesthood, the only one that could officiate in that position over the entire world, once for all mankind, affirmed by God by His Oath. Again:

17 Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18 God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary beyond the curtain, 20 where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:17-20)

Who would go ‘into the sanctuary? One High Priest. He did this for all Israel. In similitude, Jesus did this in heaven as High Priest for the entire world, on mankind’s behalf, because he was the only one who could.

We are justified by faith apart from law, as quoted above. But the Mormon Priesthood is a set of laws, as Brigham Young explained:

“When we talk of the celestial law which is revealed from heaven, that is, the priesthood, we are talking about the principle of salvation, a perfect system of government, of laws and ordinances, by which we can be prepared to pass from one gate to another, and from one sentinel to another, until we go into the presence of our Father and God.” (DBY,130)

But Peter says:

4 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— 5you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

This is how Christians carry on the work without the High Priests. They take upon them the name of Christ and become living stones and offer “spiritual sacrifices”. A priesthood of all believers, as David Whitmer explained:

Some of the brethren have misunderstood the Old Testament part of the Book of Mormon concerning High Priests, and refer to Alma 9-6: Alma says, “This high priesthood being after the order of his Son, which order was from the foundation of the world: or in other words, being without beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to all eternity, according to his foreknowledge of all things.” Here it is speaking of the order of the High Priests before Christ: their order being after the order of the Son of God, and this order being without beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to all eternity. This being Christ’s order, He being from eternity to all eternity, has held this holy order of priesthood from eternity and will hold it to all eternity. Those High Priests before Christ came into the world, held this holy order of priesthood as a type of Christ‘s order; but when Christ came into the world, he then claimed his own holy order of priesthood and power on earth, doing away with all types and shadows under the old law, himself alone being our great and last High Priest unto whom we can go to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Brethren, I am constrained to say as Alma says at his conclusion of this matter: He ends his writing in the tenth chapter, 2d paragraph, by these words: “Now I need not rehearse the matter; what I have said, may suffice. Behold, the scriptures are before you; if ye will wrest them it shall be to your own destruction.” (An Address to All Believers In Christ, 66-67)

Christensen can claim that Whitmer is wrong, or that I am for relating what he said and believed, but quoting Margaret Barker doesn’t prove there were High Priests in the Book of Mormon after Jesus visited them, (not any good ones, only leftovers of the Mosaic Law) nor how early Mormons interpreted it. Her later interpretations of the Bible are not contemporary with Joseph Smith’s time (the 1830’s). I consider Gregory Prince far more informed than Margaret Barker when it comes to the Mormon Priesthood. And Christensen’s interpretation of “beyond the mark” is beyond the pale. Here is a Mormon Apostle who explains it:

This Athenian response to Paul was not unlike that of the people described by the prophet Jacob during an even earlier period: “But behold, the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came bylooking beyond the mark, they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that they may stumble” (Jacob 4:14; emphasis added).

Today there is a tendency among some of us to “look beyond the mark” rather than to maintain a testimony of gospel basics. We do this when we substitute the philosophies of men for gospel truths, engage in gospel extremism, seek heroic gestures at the expense of daily consecration, or elevate rules over doctrine. Avoiding these behaviors will help us avoid the theological blindness and stumbling that Jacob described. (Elder Quentin L. Cook, Ensign, March, 2003)

Even Mormon scholars claim that this is the correct interpretation of the phrase,

To summarize the literary context, the phrase “which blindness came by looking beyond the mark” comes in the middle of a declaration that the Jews had largely rejected the testimonies of the prophets concerning their Lord and their God and would therefore reject Him again at His coming. Specifically, verse 14 explains that the Jews of Jacob’s day wanted things they could not understand and that God had granted them their unwise wish, thereby leading them to reject Christ as their sure foundation. (Paul Y. Hoskisson, “Looking Beyond the Mark,” in A Witness for the Restoration: Essays in Honor of Robert J. Matthews, ed. Kent P. Jackson and Andrew C. Skinner (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2007), 149–64).

Christensen can read anything he wants into the Book of Mormon and claim parallels and ties to obscure literature all he wants. This doesn’t change that fact that this is his own interpretation of the Book of Mormon and is only his opinion. Therefore, claiming that he is correct and David Whitmer is wrong is simply humorous.  He doesn’t use any contemporary witnesses or evidence to bolster his argument, (he simply makes connections to anything that catches his fancy about High Priests that seems to support his apologetic interpretations).  Christensen writes,

When he was anointed, the high priest was marked with the sign of the Name, described by the rabbis as a chi (b. Hirayoth 12a), but in the time of Ezekiel described as a tau (Ezek. 9.4) in each case, a diagonal cross. [Compare Jacob 4:14 on “the mark” and remember that Jacob is a consecrated temple priest contemporary with Ezekiel.]

Except Jacob was not a high priest like Alma, he was a simple priest. In the Book of Mormon it says,

And it came to pass that Alma, [the one High Priest] having authority from God, ordained priests; even one priest to every fifty of their number did he ordain to preach unto them, and to teach them concerning the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. (The Book of Mormon, 1830, p.193-p.194).

And it came to pass that king Mosiah granted unto Alma, that he might establish Churches throughout all the land of Zarahemla; and gave him power to ordain priests and teachers over every Church. Now this was done because there was so many people that they could not all be governed by one teacher; neither could they all hear the word of God in one assembly; therefore they did assemble themselves together in different bodies, being called Churches; every Church having their priests and their teachers, and every priest preaching the word according as it was delivered to him by the mouth of Alma: and thus, notwithstanding there being many Churches, they were all one Church; yea, even the Church of God: for there was nothing preached in all the Churches except it were repentance and faith in God. (The Book of Mormon, 1830, p.209).

RameumptomIt was Nephi who “consecrated Jacob and Joseph as “priests”:

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did consecrate Jacob and Joseph, that they should be priests and teachers over the land of my people. And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness. And thirty years had passed away from the time we left Jerusalem. And I, Nephi, had kept the record upon my plates, which I had made of my people thus far. (The Book of Mormon, 1830, p.73)

Jacob claims that he is still a “priest and teacher” after Nephi dies:

For I, Jacob, and my brother Joseph, had been consecrated priests, and teachers of this people, by the hand of Nephi. (The Book of Mormon, 1830, p.124)

As David Whitmer later explained,

When Christ came into the world upon this land, Nephi was a great High Priest who had done many mighty works. Now Nephi had to lay down his robe of a High Priest just outside the door and come into the Church of Christ by baptism, to the office of an Elder, and not once after that is Nephi called a High Priest. At this time the Church of Christ was established upon this land. Christ comes into the world and preaches to them as he had to those at Jerusalem, giving them instructions concerning his Church and the New Covenant which he made with them, as he had with those on the eastern continent, telling them they were no longer under the old law of Moses, but from that time were under him. He chooses twelve disciples who were called Elders, [Moroni III, p. 575] to minister unto that people, and after giving them full instructions concerning the establishing of his church, he ascends into heaven. Elders, Priests and Teachers were ordained in his church, [p. 575] and full instructions given concerning their duties. Christ told his disciples to write his teachings, for they were to be hid up to come down to us as his teachings to us. Now this being the case, why are not some instructions given in the new covenant of that book concerning the office of High Priests? Of course there was no such an office in the Church of Christ upon this land, nor in the Church of Christ upon the eastern continent, nor should there be such an office in the Church to-day. It is a grievous sin to have such an office in the church. As well might you add to the teachings of Christ–circumcision–offering up the sacrifice of animals–or break the ordinances of Christ in any other way by going back to the old law of Moses. (An Address, 63).

So how is Jacob one of Margaret Barker’s “high priest[s] marked with the sign of the Name”? Only in Christensen’s imagination. There is nothing in the Book of Mormon to support these speculations by Christensen. I suppose if one read it like Mormon Apologists, this all would become clear and apparent, but it is not clear and apparent to Mormon “Authorities” who have a completely different interpretation.

As Gregory Prince writes about the office of High Priest in the Church,

The office of high priest is unique, for it is the only office mentioned in the Book of Mormon not incorporated in the church at its inception. Within the “pre-Christian” portion of the Book of Mormon high priest was an important and benevolent figure: “And now, Alma was their high priest, he being the founder of their church. And it came to pass that none received authority to preach or to teach except it were by him, from God. Therefore he consecrated all their priests and all their teachers; and none were consecrated except they were just men” (BM, LDS, Mosiah 23:16-17).

In the Christian portion of the Book of Mormon, the office of high priest had degenerated to the point where its holders became antagonists of those who spoke of Christ: “Now there were many of the people who were exceeding angry because of those who testified of these things; and those who were angry were chiefly the chief judges, and they who had been high priests and lawyers” (BM, LDS, 3 Ne. 6:21).

Whether Joseph Smith’s initial failure to ordain high priests was due to this passage, or to a desire to emulate the organization described in the Christian portion of the book, is not clear. What is clear, however, is that one of Smith’s closest associates credited Sidney Rigdon with successfully proposing to Smith that high priests be added in 1831:

As you know, the teachings of Christ are the same at Jerusalem and upon this land; but on account of the plain and precious things being taken from the Bible, there is room therein for disputation on some points; but the teachings of Christ in the Book of Mormon are pure, plain, simple, and full. Christ chose “twelve” and called them disciples, or Elders,–not apostles, and the “twelve” ordained elders, priests, and teachers. These are all the spiritual offices in the Church of Christ, and their duties are plainly given. . . .

But they did not rely upon the Book of Mormon in building up the church; but Joseph “went on in the persuasion of men,” as he did while translating, and heeded Rigdon who expounded the old scriptures to him and showed him that high priests and other offices should be added to “elders, priests and teachers.”

While Smith’s and Rigdon’s silence on the subject disallows verification of David Whitmer’s assertions, they are consistent with the historical record, for there was no known mention of high priests prior to Rigdon’s arrival in New York, and the first Restoration document mentioning the office was Smith’s revision of Genesis written late in the winter of 1830-31, for which Rigdon served as scribe. (Gregory A. Prince, Power From On High, Ch.2, p.70-71)

Christensen’s defense of the supposed angelic “restoration” of the Priesthood is woefully inadequate, disingenuous and typical of a FAIRMORMON Apologist who constantly misconstrue evidence, omit crucial details, and offer up their own interpretations that are not borne out by the evidence.


Christensen’s conclusion is a wonderful example of the tactic of Mormon Apologists to denigrate all Ex-Mormons as disillusioned hypocrites who feel betrayed — who only have “scripts to learn, and roles to play.” He then claims that “a different approach to the same discoveries can lead to a sense of enlightenment and faith. The narrative in which the information is placed decisively colors how it is experienced…” And of course, Christensen’s way is better, because he has “superior” information at his disposal with Mormon Apologetic offerings.

So really, all Ex-Mormons are simply complainers (one of Christensen’s favorite words) who calculatingly script their exit stories to fit into whatever community they wish to belong to. And the information they share is, of course based on the premise that “everything my teachers and formal leaders say is absolutely correct and unchanging and all I have to do is sit and listen to approved thoughts.”

This absolutely misconstrues Jeremy’s argument. Neither he, nor I have ever claimed this. It is simply a caricature of the Tanners concerns, and of Jeremy’s. This is how Christensen interprets Rosemary Avance’s FAIRMORMON presentation that he references. I didn’t get that out of it at all. It was all about taking seriously those who interpret Mormonism differently, so Mormon Apologists could improve their approaches to their arguments. Christensen even admits (as I quoted above) that he will not, could not do that with Jeremy Runnells. He credits him nothing. He didn’t do his “homework”.

It is obvious from the above, that Christensen does not understand Ex-Mormons at all, he simply wants to denigrate them to promote himself and his formulas for staying “faithful”. This is made abundantly clear with how he portrays me, as the “man behind the curtain”. I’m simply a hypocrite who only “creates” images “in my own mind” based on “partial knowledge”. Time after time I have shortcomings because I don’t reference various and sundry Apologist arguments that Christensen pulls out of his apologetic hat and doesn’t quote at all. I’m fully expected to address all of this in a blog article and therefore I’m a hypocrite because I do not.

doublethinkBut who has presented only partial knowledge here, that deals with David Whitmer, the Priesthood Restoration and the claimed 1820 vision? Christensen and FAIRMORMON Apologists. Christensen only disclosed a full account of the evidence (the Correspondent section of the Reflector article – the only time Christensen does so) because he wanted to score rhetorical points instead of presenting that evidence in full in the first place. Time after time he writes his own opinion and footnotes it with whole books, articles and chapters of the Bible or Book of Mormon. The only evidence he really consistently cites are quotes to back up his esoteric nonsense in an attempt to psychoanalyze and denigrate Jeremy Runnells. And he is still denigrating Jeremy. He writes in the comment section of the Essay:

Actually, I don’t think that the questions that Runnells asks are difficult to answer. It’s a simple matter of seeking, where the effort expended and the sources used also turn out to be a good measure of desire and intent on the part of the seeker.

Again, his “desire” and “intent” makes it easy for Christensen, implying that Jeremy had neither. This kind of arrogance is astounding. Christensen’s approach is more reminiscent of the practices of Big Brother with his DoubleThink, than a real effort to understand Jeremy and why he wrote the CES Letter in the first place. Perhaps some desire and intent on his part to really do so might change his perspective, but I doubt it.

The Sky Is Falling (Part I)


Kevin Christensen & Jeremy Runnells (Part I)


Kevin Christensen (FAIRMORMON) has written a long rambling folksy sounding diatribe about how Jeff Lindsay’s “investigative approach” is far superior to that of my friend Jeremy Runnells, because Lindsay did not come to a negative conclusion about Mormonism. Even the title is long and rambling:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He then concludes with,

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The verses in question read,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


[1] Joseph Smith—History 1:14.

[2] Dan Vogel writes,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vogel continues in Early Mormon Documents,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faulring writes,

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

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

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

Scott Faulring writes,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[8] ibid.

[9] ibid., 78-79.

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

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

[12] FAIRMORMON, Online here.

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

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

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

At Joseph’s 1826 trial his father claimed,

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

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

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

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

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

[19] Alma 13:10-16.

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

Tracing the Various “Caractors” Documents

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

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

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

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

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

Joseph’s answer was no.  He then explained,

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

Joseph Smith & Oliver Cowdery

Joseph Smith & Oliver Cowdery

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Whitmer

John Whitmer

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

In July, 1830 Joseph wrote these instructions to Whitmer:

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

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

Revelation Book 1, Page 1 Handwriting of John Whitmer

Revelation Book 1, Page 1 Handwriting of John Whitmer

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

About his method of translation Richard P. Howard writes,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various "New Translation" Covers

Various “New Translation” Covers

As Kent Jackson and Scott Faulring explain,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyrus #7

Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyrus #7

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

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

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

Frederick G. Williams Document - front

Frederick G. Williams Document – front

Frederick G. Williams Document - back

Frederick G. Williams Document – back

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

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

Transliterations from English into Book of Mormon Hebrew

Questions asked in English & answered in Hebrew

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

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

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

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

Oliver Cowdery document - Book of Mormon Characters

Oliver Cowdery Book of Mormon characters

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

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

Rev. George W. Moore

Rev. George W. Moore

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

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

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

The New York Herald, May 30, 1843.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1844 Broadside of Book of Mormon Characters

1844 Broadside of Book of Mormon Characters

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

Samuel Houston Brannan

Samuel Houston Brannan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marching to Zion, 1834

Marching to Zion, 1834

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

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

John Whitmer would later write that,

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

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

Joseph Smith & Sidney Rigdon Flee Kirtland, 1838

Joseph Smith & Sidney Rigdon Flee Kirtland, 1838

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

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

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

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

William Wines Phelps

William Wines Phelps

John Whitmer would write in his history that,

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

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

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

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

Joseph Smith III, Israel L. Rogers & Ebeneezer Robinson

Joseph Smith III, Israel L. Rogers & Ebeneezer Robinson

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

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

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

David Whitmer 1867 by Jacob Hicks

“Handsome” David Whitmer 1867 by Jacob Hicks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joseph F. Smith c. 1875

Joseph F. Smith c. 1875

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smith also wrote in his entry for that day that,

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

Richmond Cyclone 1878

Richmond Cyclone 1878

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

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

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

Dan Vogel writes:

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

John Whitmer

John Whitmer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

J. W. — We have got no papers here.

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

In 1881 the Richmond Conservator reported that,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George Q. Cannon

George Q. Cannon

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

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

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

Omaha Herald 17 Oct 1886

Omaha Herald 17 Oct 1886-Image courtesy of Dan Vogel

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

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

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

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

George Schweich

George Schweich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course many published accounts are now to be found.

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

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

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

Go to Part IV.


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

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

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

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

[146] JSPW, op. cited, here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[154]  ibid.

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

[156] Jackson, 2005.

[157]  ibid.

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

[159] ibid, page 114.

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

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

Dear Brother Smith:

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

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

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

Williams also included this post-script:

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

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

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

 Nancy A. C. Williams

Anthon H. Lund then wrote to Joseph Fielding Smith,

January 10, 1950
Dear Brother Smith:

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

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

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

Anthon Lund

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you kindly-
Pres. Smith

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

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

"Written and kept for learning & profit"

“Written and kept for profit & learning Oliver”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[169] Kirtland Revelation Book, page 146.

[170] History of the Church, 1:266.

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

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

[172] ibid, p.103

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

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

The article reads (in part):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

W. R. Hine would later recount that,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barkdull writes,

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

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

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

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

The account penned by Parley Pratt reads,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[174] ibid, p. 125.

[175] ibid, p. 132..

[176]  ibid.

[177] ibid, p. 195.

[178]  ibid, p. 175.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warren Parrish wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 1903, Harriet E. Shay wrote,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to Historian D. Michael Quinn:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smith reverses this, and claims in this sermon that

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

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

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

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

On September 24th 1835 Joseph recorded in his diary,

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

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

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

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

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

In early March, Joseph wrote in his diary,

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

Later that month he wrote,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 4, 1836, Clay County, Missouri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E.C. Brand-18Feb1875

E.C. Brand-18Feb1875

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

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

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

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

[187] Chicago Times, 7 August 1875.

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

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

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

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

[192] ibid, pages 240-241.

[193] Deseret News, August 14, 1878.

[194] Smith, op. cited, page 247.

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

[196] Smith, page 245.

[197] ibid, pages 246-7.

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

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

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

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

[202] See note #195.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[205] Deseret News, December 4, 1878.

[206] Richmond Conservator, March 25, 1881.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R. B. Van Cleave

R. B. Van Cleave

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

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

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

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

[215] ibid, pp. 58-59.

[216] ibid, page 58.

The “Caractors” Go To New York

Anthon & Harris 1828 Columbia UniversityPart II of “19th Century Photo of Joseph Smith’s ‘Caractors’ Found”

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

There are several different accounts, and opposing claims, relating to Martin Harris’ attempts to get Professor Charles Anthon to verify the authenticity of the “caractors” used to translate the Book of Mormon. This part of the article surveys the available historic accounts relating to what has become known as “The Anthon Affair”…

In 1887 David Whitmer wrote what is probably one of the quintessential examples of what has become known as the “Anthon Affair”:

David Whitmer by Jacob Hicks

David Whitmer by Jacob Hicks

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

“Martin Harris called upon Prof. Anthon, of New York, with a transcript on paper which Smith had given him of the characters on one of the golden plates. `This paper,’ Prof. Anthon said, in a letter dated New York, Feb. 17, 1834, `was in fact a singular scroll. It consisted of all kinds of crooked characters, disposed in columns, and had evidently been prepared by some person who had before him at the time a book containing various alphabets. Greek and Hebrew letters, crosses and flourishes, Roman letters, inverted or placed sideways, were arranged and placed in perpendicular columns,” etc. The “learned” could not read it, and the book was delivered to him that is not learned. I will quote two verses from the twenty-ninth chapter of Isaiah, which is the prophecy regarding this matter.

“And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot, for it is sealed: and the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned.” (Verses 11 and 12.)

No man could read it, but God gave to an unlearned boy the gift to translate it.[89]

The late Mormon Apologist Robert Cloward wrote about the importance of Isaiah 29 as it relates to the Book of Mormon,

Even among Latter-day Saints for whom most of Isaiah’s writings remain obscure, phrases from chapter 29 are familiar. This is the chapter of “a marvellous work and a wonder” (verse 14); “a book that is sealed,” delivered to “one that is learned” (verse 11); and a voice “out of the dust” (verse 4). It speaks of people who “draw near [to the Lord] with their mouth … but have removed their heart far from [him]” (verse 13); and of those who “seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord”; or who “make a man an offender for a word” (verse 21). In the doctrinal and devotional writings of this dispensation, no chapter of Isaiah is more often cited. The words of Isaiah 29 speak truths about the marvelous work of God, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and the foreknowledge by ancient prophets of the transcendent role of the Prophet Joseph Smith.[90]

As far back as 1834, Eber D. Howe wrote in Mormonism Unvalied  “that the story about Mr. Anthon’s declarations, was one upon which they [The Mormons] placed great reliance.”[91]

The reason for Howe’s observation was a letter he had received from W. W. Phelps in 1831 who wrote that,

When the plates were said to have been found, a copy of one or two lines of the characters, were taken by Mr. Harris to Utica, Albany and New York; at New York, they were shown to Dr. Mitchell, and he referred to professor Anthon who translated and declared them to be the ancient shorthand Egyptian. So much is true.[92]

Unfortunately, what Phelps wrote to Howe in 1831 could not be true, because Charles Anthon could not have translated the characters; and no one else has been able to do so in over 180 years. “It is asserted in the Mormon Bible,” wrote Howe,

“that the engravings upon the plates, were in the “Reformed Egyptian.” In conformity to this, the Mormonite preachers, and others of the sect, have frequently declared that the engravings upon the plates were, by some of our learned men, who had a specimen shown them, pronounced to be “reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics,” or “ancient short hand Egyptian.” — Among others, Professor Anthon, of New York, was frequently mentioned as giving such an opinion.”[93]

Howe subsequently wrote to Charles Anthon and received from him this account of the events that transpired during the visit of Martin Harris:

New York, Feb. 17, 1834.   

Dear Sir — I received this morning your favor of the 9th instant, and lose no time in making a reply. The whole story about my having pronouncd the Mormonite inscription to be “reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics” is perfectly false. Some years ago, a plain, and apparently simple-hearted farmer, called upon me with a note from Dr. Mitchell of our city, now deceased, requesting me to decypher, if possible, a paper, which the farmer would hand me, and which Dr. M. confessed he had been unable to understand. Upon examining the paper in question, I soon came to the conclusion that it was all a trick, perhaps a hoax.

When I asked the person, who brought it, how he obtained the writing, he gave me, as far as I can now recollect, the following account: A “gold book,” consisting of a number of plates of gold, fastened together in the shape of a book by wires of the same metal, had been dug up in the northern part of the state of New York, and along with the book an enormous pair of “gold spectacles”! These spectacles were so large, that, if a person attempted to look through them, his two eyes would have to be turned towards one of the glasses merely, the spectacles in question being altogether too large for the breadth of the human face.  Whoever examined the plates through the spectacles, was enabled not only to read them, but fully to understand their meaning. All this knowledge, however, was confined at that time to a young man, who had the trunk containing the book and spectacles in his sole possession. This young man was placed behind a curtain, in the garret of a farm house, and, being thus concealed from view, put on the spectacles occasionally, or rather, looked through one of the glasses, decyphered the characters in the book, and, having committed some of them to paper, handed copies from behind the curtain, to those who stood on the outside. Not a word, however, was said about the plates having been decyphered “by the gift of God.” Everything, in this way, was effected by the large pair of spectacles. The farmer added, that he had been requested to contribute a sum of money towards the publication of the “golden book,” the contents of which would, as he had been assured, produce an entire change in the world and save it from ruin.  So urgent had been these solicitations, that he intended selling his farm and handing over the amount received to those who wished to publish the plates. As a last precautionary step, however, he had resolved to come to New York, and obtain the opinion of the learned about the meaning of the paper which he brought with him, and which had been given him as a part of the contents of the book, although no translation had been furnished at the time by the young man with the spectacles.

Professor Charles Anthon

Professor Charles Anthon

On hearing this odd story, I changed my opinion about the paper, and, instead of viewing it any longer as a hoax upon the learned, I began to regard it as part of a scheme to cheat the farmer of his money, and I communicated my suspicions to him, warning him to beware of rogues. He requested an opinion from me in writing, which of course I declined giving, and he then took his leave carrying the paper with him. This paper was in fact a singular scrawl. It consisted of all kinds of crooked characters disposed in columns, and had evidently been prepared by some person who had before him at the time a book containing various alphabets. Greek and Hebrew letters, crosses and flourishes, Roman letters inverted or placed sideways, were arranged in perpendicular columns, and the whole ended in a rude delineation of a circle divided into various compartments, decked with various strange marks, and evidently copied after the Mexican Calender given by Humboldt, but copied in such a way as not to betray the source whence it was derived. I am thus particular as to the contents of the paper, inasmuch as I have frequently conversed with my friends on the subject, since the Mormonite excitement began, and well remember that the paper contained any thing else but “Egyptian Hieroglyphics.”  Some time after, the same farmer paid me a second visit. He brought with him the golden book in print, and offered it to me for sale. I declined purchasing. He then asked permission to leave the book with me for examination. I declined receiving it, although his manner was strangely urgent. I adverted once more to the roguery which had been in my opinion practised upon him, and asked him what had become of the gold plates. He informed me that they were in a trunk with the large pair of spectacles. I advised him to go to a magistrate and have the trunk examined. He said the “curse of God” would come upon him should he do this. On my pressing him, however, to pursue the course which I had recommended, he told me that he would open the trunk, if I would take the “curse of God” upon myself. I replied that I would do so with the greatest willingness, and would incur every risk of that nature, provided I could only extricate him from the grasp of rogues. He then left me.

I have thus given you a full statement of all that I know respecting the origin of Mormonism, and must beg you, as a personal favor, to publish this letter immediately, should you find my name mentioned again by these wretched fanatics.

Yours respectfully,


Anthon’s version of events clearly has him declaring that the characters supposedly taken from Smith’s gold plates were, in his opinion “any thing else but “Egyptian Hieroglyphics.”  Anthon was also adamant that he could not decipher the “singular scrawl” that Harris handed to him. In addition he claimed that Harris carried with him a note by one Dr. Mitchell[95] who had sent Harris to Anthon with a request to “decypher, if possible, a paper, which the farmer would hand me, and which Dr. M. confessed he had been unable to understand.” Harris also told Anton that he had received urgent solicitations for money  to have the contents of the gold plates (when they were translated) printed, which would “produce an entire change in the world and save it from ruin.”

There was, declared Anthon, no translation furnished by Harris of the strange characters; still the latter informed the Professor that the person who had the plates in his possession also had discovered with them “an enormous pair of gold spectacles,” so large that when one tried to look through them their eyes were drawn to only one of the lenses. With these spectacles Harris informed Anthon, the person who had the gold plates “was enabled not only to read them, but fully to understand their meaning.” The incredulous Anthon then asked Harris how the spectacles worked, and was told “by the gift of God.”

What Anthon initially thought was a “hoax upon the learned,” now became to him a “scheme to cheat the farmer of his money,” and so the Professor advised Harris to have the gold plates and the spectacles (which he was told were locked in a trunk) examined by a magistrate. Harris refused, claiming that the “curse of God’ would come down upon him if he did so; but Anthon pressed him about pursuing this course of action to which Harris agreed to comply with if the Professor took upon himself this “curse” that so frightened the superstitious Harris. Anthon agreed to do so, and Harris left him.

In 1842 the Times and Seasons published the following version of events taken from the 1839 History that Joseph Smith was still in the process of completing:

Mr. Harris was a resident of Palmyra Township Wayne county, in the State of New York, and a farmer of respectability; by this timely aid was I enabled to reach the place of my destination in Pennsylvania, and immediately after my arrival there I commenced copying the characters of the plates. I copied a considerable number of them, and by means of the Urim and Thummim I translated some of them, which I did between the time I arrived at the house of my wife’s father in the month of December, and the February following. Some time in this month of February the aforementioned, Mr. Martin Harris came to our place, got the characters which I had drawn off the plates and started with them to the city of New York. For what took place relative to him and the characters, I refer to his own account of the circumstances as he related them to me after his return which was as follows. “I went to the city of New York and presented the characters which had been translated, with the translation thereof to Professor Anthony, a gentleman celebrated for his literary attainments; Professor Anthony stated that the translation was correct, more so than any he had before seen translated from the Egyptian. I then showed him those which were not yet translated, and he said that they were Egyptian, Chaldeac, Assyriac, and Arabac, and he said that they were true characters. He gave me a certificate certifying to the people of Palmyra that they were true characters, and that the translation of such of them as had been translated was also correct. I took the certificate and put it into my pocket, and was just leaving when Mr. Anthony called me back, and asked me how the young man found out that there were gold plates in the place where he found them. I answered that an angel of God had revealed it unto him.

He then said to me, let me see that certificate, I accordingly took it out of my pocket and gave it to him, when he took it and tore it to pieces, saying that there was no such thing now as ministering of angels, and that if I would bring the plates to him, he would translate them. I informed him that a part of the plates were sealed, and that I was forbidden to bring them, he replied, `I cannot read a sealed book.’ I left him and went to Dr. Mitchel who sanctioned what Professor Anthony had said respecting both the characters and the translation.”[96]

Samuel H. Smith by grindael

Samuel H. Smith by grindael

Notice that in this account the person that Martin Harris visited in New York is called Professor Anthony, just as Orson Hyde and Samuel H. Smith named him in Boston in August, 1832.[97]

Months before this, Orson Pratt and Lyman E. Johnson, on a mission in Pennsylvania had repeated this error:

On Wednesday, the 8th of this month, two strangers called at my house and stated that they were sent by God to preach the gospel to every creature and said if a number should be convened they would deliver a discourse. On the question, what is your profession? they answered, the world call us Mormonites: this excited my curiosity, and at early candle light they commenced an address to the people convened. The substance for which I took down while they were speaking, and afterwards in conversation.

“We are commanded by the Lord to declare his will to effect his intended purpose. — In 1827 a young man called Joseph Smith of the state of New York, of no denomination, but under conviction, inquired of the Lord what he should do to be saved — he went to bed without any reply, but in the night was awakened by an angel, whiter and shining in greater splendour than the sun at noonday, who gave information where the plates were deposited: – Smith awoke, and after due preparation and agreeably to the information given by the angel, he went into the township of Manchester, and there, on the side of a hill, found in a stone box, or a separate space enclosed by stone on every side, the plates on which the revelation was inscribed. The box in thickness was about 6 inches, and about 7 by 5 otherwise; the plates themselves were about as thick as window glass, or common tin, pure gold, and well secured by silver rings or loops in the box as an effectual defence against all weather. Smith, being entirely ignorant of any language but the English, and knowing that itself in a very imperfect manner was unable to read or decypher a single word — he therefore sent the plates to the city of New York to be translated by Professor Anthony, who could make nothing of them; — here seemed to be an insurmountable difficulty.

It was supposed that the language of the plates was Arabic, Chaldean, and Egyptian; but God by his goodness inspired Smith himself to translate the whole. — Smith, however, not being qualified to write, employed an amanuensis, who wrote for him…[98]

The earliest newspaper account found thus far of the trip by Martin Harris to New York City, was published in the Palmyra Freeman on August 11, 1829, which claimed that,

Orson Pratt by grindael

Orson Pratt by grindael

So blindly enthusiastic was Harris, that he took some of the characters interpreted by Smith, and went in search of some one, besides the interpreter, who was learned enough to English them; but all to whom he applied (among the number was Professor Mitchell, of New York,) happened not to be possessed of sufficient knowledge to give satisfaction! Harris returned, and set Smith to work at interpreting the Bible.[99]

Both of the accounts above  have the respective men of learning not able to translate the characters. There is no mention of Professor Anthon (or Anthony) in the earlier account from the Palmyra Freeman, which only mentions Professor Mitchell [Mitchill] by name, though the article does say that he visited others besides Samuel L. Mitchill. William W. Phelps recalled that Harris went to New York City by way of Albany, the state capital. Pomeroy Tucker mentioned that “he sought . . . the interpretation and bibliological scrutiny of such scholars as Hon. Luther Bradish,[100] Dr. Mitchell, Professor Anthon, and others.”

In the very next issue of the Times and Seasons mentioned above there was published a letter written by G. Walker[101] from Manchester England, who happens to mention the Anthon incident:

After this another minister sent a lengthy article extracted from an American paper, purporting to be the production of a Mr. Anthony, with a request that I would “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the same.” I replied to the statements of Mr. A. and after disposing of them paragraph for paragraph, I told him that I was obliged by his favoring me with it, inasmuch as it satisfied my mind, and was confirmatory of the prediction of Isaiah being fulfilled, seeing that Mr. A. admitted that “the words of the book were delivered to the learned &c. I then proceeded to contrast the Church of England with the churches established by the Apostles; but he has not acknowledged the receipt of my letter as yet.[102]

It is interesting that this scenario happens to appear in a letter sent from England (dated January 26, 1842) at the same time that the events involving Charles Anthon are printed in the Times and Seasons , and it appears in the next issue after that installment, and claims to dispose of Anthon’s arguments “paragraph by paragraph”.  “G. Walker” also happens to misspell Anthon’s name in the exact same way that Joseph does in his History, which was edited by Joseph, as was that issue of the Times and Seasons.[103]

A few things struck me as odd in this account. First, that G. Walker claimed that he had been sent Anthon’s letter to the Reverend T. W. Coit by someone who had clipped it out of an American newspaper. As far as I am aware, this letter never appeared in any newspaper articles from the period, as B.H. Roberts attested to in 1909:

I copy the [1841] letter from “Gleanings by the Way,” by Rev. John A. Clark, D. D., where Anthon’s letter is published in full. It is frequently quoted, or at least parts of it are, in various anti-Mormon works, but nowhere in full, so far as I am aware, except in Gleanings by the Way, never in full and in connection with Prof. Anthon’s letter to Mr. E. D. Howe. This doubtless, for the reason that this second letter of Profosser Anthon’s contradicts several statements that he makes in his letter to E. D. Howe.[104]

The letter from Anthon did however appear in two periodicals, one called The Church Record (Vol. I, no. 22), and the other was the Times and Seasons,  (Vol. 2, No. 22, September 15, 1841) which published only an excerpt from the letter. It also was published in 1842 in John A. Clark’s book Gleanings by the Way as mentioned by B. H. Roberts above. In all of these instances Anthon’s name is spelled correctly. The relevant portion from the Times and Seasons article published in 1841 reads:

The Episcopal D. D. at this place had the curiosity to write to Proff. C. Anthon of New York to know if our statement concerning the “words of the book” were correct: Proff. Anthon answered him by letter with permission to publish it, which he did. You will find it in a periodical entitled “The Church Record,” Vol; 1, No. 22. Although it was written with the avowed purpose of stoping [stopping] the progress of this gospel, yet I consider it to be a great acquisition to us in proving the Book of Mormon to be a genuine record, by comparing it with the researches of Humboldt, Raffinesque, Stephens and others. The following is a short extract from Proff. Anthon’s letter:

“Many years ago, the precise date I do not now recollect, a plain looking countryman called upon me with a letter from Dr. Samuel L. Mitchel, requesting me to examine, and give my opinion upon a certain paper, marked with various characters, which the Doctor confessed he could not decipher, and which the bearer of the note was very anxious to have explained. A very brief examination of the paper convinced me that it was a mere hoax, and a very clumsy one too. The characters were arranged in columns like the Chinese mode of writing, and presented the most singular medley that I ever beheld. Greek, Hebrew, and all sort of letters, more or less distorted, either through unskilfullness or from actual designs, were intermingled with sundry delineations of half moons, stars, and other natural objects, and the whole ended in a rude representation of the Mexican Zodiac.”

American Antiquities (1835)   p. 122

American Antiquities (1835) p. 122

I suppose that Proff. Anthon considered that this would be an incontrovertable argument against the Book of Mormon; but let us see: The celebrated antiquarian Proff. Rafinesque says, in speaking of the writing found on the ruins of the stone city found in Mexico, “The glyphs of Otolum are written from top to bottom like the Chinese, or from side to side, indifferntly [indifferently] like the Egyptian and the Demotic Libian.-Although the most common way of writing the groubs [groups] is in rows and each groub [group] seperated [separated], yet we find some framed, as it were in oblong squares, or tablets like those of Egypt.” American Antiquities page 127. Also on page 122 of the same work, is a fac simile of American hieroglyphics found in Mexico.-They are arranged in columns, the 1st column consists of four “Delineations of half moons,” the 2nd of three suns, the 3rd of the letter I and the human scabula, the 4th of one R and two O’s, the 5th column consists of 2 hands, the 6th of a triangle and two squares, the 7th of 2 fishes, the 8th of an S and a quill, the 9th consists of the letter N and blaze of fire, &c., &c.

Now let us look for a few moments at facts as they are. A plain looking man came to Proff. Anthon with a paper containing various delineations of half moons, and other natural objects, interspersed with various sorts of letters, and these characters of letters were inscribed on the paper by a young man who was without means of information, with regard to the researches of antiquarians; and this was done sometime previous to the year 1831. And in the year 1838 (the date of the book of Antiquities in my possession,) a book is published containing a fac simile of American glyphs which consists of “visions, delineations of half moons, and other natural objects interspersed with various sorts of letters.”-I leave your readers to draw their own conclusion.[105]

Why would G. Walker spell Anthon’s name with the same spelling that appears in the 1839 History? Why would Anthon’s name be misspelled at all in that History, since the correct spelling had appeared in the Times and Seasons just a year earlier? Did that spelling come from Martin Harris, since Joseph claimed to be quoting him directly in that History? There is evidence that it probably did not. For example, in his 1831 Diary James Gordon Bennett  writes:

C[harles]. Butler saw [Martin]Harris — they wanted to borrow money to print the Book — he told him he carried the engravings from the plates to New York–showed them to Professor Anthon who said that he did not know what language they were — told him to carry them to Dr. Mitchell — Doctor Mitchell examined them — and compared them with other hieroglyphics — thought them very curious — and they were the characters of a nation now extinct which he named — Harris returned to Anthon who put some questions to him and got angry with Harris [106]

Charles Butler, Courtesy of The New York Historical Society

Charles Butler, Courtesy of The New York Historical Society

Harris gives Butler the name Anthon in 1831, not Anthony, so “Anthony” likely did not come from Harris; but perhaps from Joseph himself, which reference was picked up by missionaries and repeated in the early 1830’s. Harris tells Butler that Anthon stated “he did not know what language they were,” which contradicts Joseph’s version, and  later versions of Harris himself,[107] which state that Anthon claimed the translation was “correct” and that the characters were “genuine”.

It is likely then,  that Joseph was not using an account written by Martin Harris for his 1839 Official History, and either relied upon his memory or purposefully changed Harris’ original account.

Butler also claimed that Martin Harris told him that he returned to Anthon a second time after being directed to visit Dr. Samuel L. Mitchill, and this might account for the contradictions in Anthon’s second account of these events, which was written in 1842:

Rev. and Dear Sir,-I have often heard that the Mormons claimed me for an auxiliary, but, as no one, until the present time, has ever requested from me any statement in writing, I have not deemed it worth while to say anything publicly on the subject. What I do know of the sect, relates to some of their early movements; and as the facts may amuse you, while they will furnish a satisfactory answer to the charge of my being a Mormon proselyte, I proceed to lay them before you in detail.

Many years ago, the precise date I do not now recollect, a plain looking countryman called upon me with a letter from Dr. Samuel L. Mitchell, requesting me to examine, and give my opinion upon, a certain paper, marked with various characters which the Doctor confessed he could not decypher, and which the bearer of the note was very anxious to have explained. A very brief examination of the paper convinced me that it was a mere hoax, and a very clumsy one too. The characters were arranged in columns, like the Chinese mode of writing, and presented the most singular medley that I had ever beheld. Greek, Hebrew, and all sorts of letters, more or less distorted, either through unskilfulness or from actual design, were intermingled with sundry delineations of half moons, stars, and other natural objects, and the whole ended in a rude representation of the Mexican zodiac. The conclusion was irresistible, that some cunning fellow had prepared the paper in question, for the purpose of imposing upon the countryman who brought it, and I told the man so without any hesitation. He then proceeded to give me the history of the whole affair, which convinced me that he had fallen into the hands of some sharper, while it left me in great astonishment at his own simplicity.

Samuel Latham Mitchill

Samuel L. Mitchill

The countryman told me, that a gold book had recently been dug up in the western of [or] northern part (I forget which,) of our State, and he described this book as consisting of many gold plates, like leaves, secured by a gold wire passing through the edge of each, just as the leaves of a book are sewed together, and presenting in this way the appearance of a volume. Each plate, according to him, was inscribed with unknown characters, and the paper which he had handed me, was, as he assured me, a transcript of one of these pages. On my asking him by whom the copy was made, he gravely stated, that along with the golden book there had been dug up a very large pair of spectacles! so large in fact, that if a man were to hold them in front of his face, his two eyes would merely look through one of the glasses, and the remaining part of the spectacles would project a considerable distance sideways! These spectacles possessed, it seems, the very valuable property, of enabling any one who looked through them, (or rather through one of the lenses,) not only to decypher the characters on the plates, but also to comprehend their exact meaning, and to be able to translate them! My informant assured me, that this curious property of the spectacles had been placed in the garret of a farm-house, with a curtain before him, and, having fastened the spectacles to his head, had read several pages in the golden book, and communicated their contents in writing to certain persons stationed on the outside of the curtain. He had also copied off one page of the book in the original character, which he had in like manner handed over to those who were separated from him by the curtain, and this copy was the paper which the countryman had brought with him. As the golden book was said to contain very great truths, and most important revelations of religious nature, a strong desire had been expressed by several persons in the countryman’s neighbourhood, to have the whole work translated and published. A proposition had accordingly been made to my informant, to sell his farm and apply the proceeds to the printing of the golden book, and the golden plates were to be left with him as security until he should be reimbursed by the sale of the work. To convince him the more clearly that there was no risk, whatever in the matter, and that the work was actually what it claimed to be, he was told to take the paper, which purported to be a copy of one of the pages of the book, to the city of New York, and submit it to the learned in that quarter, who would soon dispel all his doubts, and satisfy him as to the perfect safety of the investment. As Dr. Samuel L. Mitchell was our “Magnus Apollo” in those days, the man called first upon him; but the Doctor, evidently suspecting some trick, declined giving any opinion about the matter, and sent the coutnryman down to the college, to see, in all probability, what the “learned pundits” in that place would make of the affair. On my telling the bearer of the paper that an attempt had been made to impose upon him, and defraud him of his property, he requested me to give him my opinion in writing about the paper which he had shown to me. I did so without any hesitation, partly for the man’s sake, and partly to let the individual “behind the curtain” see that his trick was discovered. The import of what I wrote was, as far as I can now recollect, simply this, that the marks in the paper appeared to be merely an imitation of various alphabetic characters, and had in my opinion no meaning at all connected with them. The coutnryman then took his leave, with many thanks, and with the express declaration that he would in no shape part with his farm or embark in the speculation of printing the golden book.

The matter rested here for a considerable time, until one day, when I had ceased entirely to think of the countryman and his paper, this same individual, to my great surprise, paid me a second visit. He now brought with him a duodecimo volume, which he said was a translation into English of the “Golden Bible.” He also stated, that, notwithstanding his original determination, he had been induced eventually to sell his farm, and apply the money to the publication of the book, and had received the golden plates as a security for repayment. He begged my acceptance of the volume, assuring me that it would be found extremely interesting, and that it was already “making a great noise” in the upper part of the State. Suspecting, now, that some serious trick was on foot, and that my plain-looking visitor might be in fact a very cunning fellow, I declined his present, and merely contented myself with a slight examination of the volume which he stood by. The more I declined receiving it, however, the more urgent the man became in offering the book, until at last I told him plainly, that if he left the volume, as he said he intended to do, I should most assuredly throw it after him as he departed. I then asked him how he could be so foolish as to sell his farm and engage in this affair; and requested him to tell me if the plates were really of gold. In answer to this latter enquiry, he said, that he had never seen the plates themselves, which were carefully locked up in a trunk, but that he had the trunk in his possession. I advised him by all means to open the trunk and examine its contents, and if the plates proved to be of gold, which I did not believe at all, to sell them immediately. His reply was, that if he opened the trunk the “curse of Heaven would descened upon him and his children.” “However,” added he, “I will agree to open it, provided you will take the ‘curse of Heaven’ upon yourself, for having advised me to the step.” I told him I was perfectly willing to do so, and begged him to hasten home and examine the trunk, for he would find he had been cheated. He promised to do as I recommended, and left me taking his book with him. I have never seen him since.

Such is a plain statement of all that I know respecting the Mormons. My impression now is, that the plain-looking countryman was none other than the prophet Smith himself, who assumed an appearance of greater simplicity in order to entrap me, if possible, into some recommendation of his book. That the prophet aided me, by his inspiration, in interpreting the volume, is only one of the many amusing falsehoods which the Mormonites utter relative to my participation in their doctrines. Of these doctrines I know nothing whatever, nor have I ever heard a single discourse from any one of their preachers, although I have often felt a strong curiosity to become an auditor, since my friends tell me that they frequently name me in their sermons, and even go so far as to say that I am alluded to in the prophecies of Scripture!

If what I have here written shall prove of any service in opening the eyes of some of their deluded followers to the real designs of those who profess to be apostles of Mormonism, it will afford me a satisfaction equalled, I have no doubt, only by that which you yourself will fell on this subject.

I remain very respectfully and truly,

Your friend,


Concerning the two letters by Anthon and their supposed contradictions, Mormon Historian Stanley B. Kimball writes,

Much has been made of the fact, however, that these two letters, which are very critical of the Mormons, insist that “the paper contained anything else but Egyptian Hieroglyphics,” and they are widely quoted by anti-Mormon writers.  Why should Harris’ story be accepted above that of the professor?  One good reason is that the two letters contain glaring inconsistencies.[109]

One of those “glaring inconsistencies” is that in the second letter to Reverend  Coit, Professor Anthon claims that Martin Harris “requested me to give him my opinion in writing” which Anthon did “without hesitation”; while in the first letter to Eber D. Howe he wrote that he refused to give Harris his opinion in writing.

I believe that Harris spoke to Anthon not two but three times and became confused about what happened during each visit when he recounted them seven and thirteen years later.  Charles Butler reported to James Gordon Bennett in 1831 that Harris came to him because “they wanted to borrow money to print the Book”.[110]

Butler then told Bennett that Harris had told him (this was before the Book of Mormon was printed) that “he carried the engravings from the plates to New York” and “showed them to Professor Anthon” who told Harris that “he did not know what language they were”.  Anthon then tells Harris “to carry them to Dr. Mitchell” who “examined them and compared them with other hieroglyphics”, and then told Harris he “thought them very curious” and that “they were the characters of a nation now extinct which he named.” After his visit with Mitchill according to what Harris told Butler, “he returned to Anthon who put some questions to him and got angry”.

James Gordon Bennett

James Gordon Bennett

I believe that Anthon’s two accounts can be reconciled with this information. Harris first goes to see Anthon, who writes him an opinion and letter of introduction to Mitchill. Harris then visits Mitchill, who could not answer his questions satisfactorily and returns to Anthon, perhaps for a more favorable opinion, bolstered by what Mitchill told him. James Gordon Bennett’s expanded account reads,

They attempted to get the Book printed, but could not raise the means till Harris stept forward, and raised money on his farm for that purpose. Harris with several manuscripts in his pocket, went to the city of New York, and called upon one of the Professors of Columbia College for the purpose of shewing them to him. Harris says that the Professor thought them very curious, but admitted that he could not decypher them. Said he to Harris, “Mr. Harris you had better go to the celebrated Doct. Mitchell and shew them to him. He is very learned in these ancient languages, and I have no doubt will be able to give you some satisfaction.” “Where does he live,” asked Harris. He was told, and off he posted with the engravings from the Golden Plates to submit to Doc. Mitchell—Harris says that the Doctor received him very “purlitely,” looked at his engravings—made a learned dissertation on them—compared them with the hieroglyphics discovered by Champollion in Egypt—and set them down as the language of a people formerly in existence in the East, but now no more.[111]

Richard E. Bennett writes,

Four elements in Bennett’s account demand serious study. First, written in 1831, it is the earliest known record of Harris’ visit to New York City. Second, Bennett states that Anthon “did not know what language they were.” This we now understand is correct, since Anthon was a grammarian, a promising but youthful scholar who knew virtually nothing about Egyptian, reformed Egyptian, or whatever kind of writings or characters were on the “Anthon Transcript.” Third, the statement that Mitchill “compared” the transcript that Harris brought him with “other hieroglyphics” conforms to what we now know of Mitchill. He not only had many such writings on hand in his cabinets of antiquities, but he had also translated ancient writings for others. Whether he tried to translate Harris’ characters on the spot is not known, but he certainly seems to have studied them carefully enough to deliver a “learned dissertation” on them and to identify them as those of “a nation now extinct which he named.” Finally, and almost certainly, he saw in these characters additional evidence for his own richly developed theories on the extinct “delicate” Australasian race that had been destroyed by the more ferocious Tartars somewhere in upstate New York not far from where Harris lived in Palmyra.[112]

It may be that Anthon tore up not his own opinion, but that of Mitchill, because it would have perhaps lent weight to what he clearly thought was a hoax. Anthon may have then wrote Harris an opinion, which Harris didn’t keep for obvious reasons.  Richard E. Bennett also writes that

“The discrepancies in his two accounts may be best explained, however, by a faulty memory.[113]

Joseph Smith 1839 History with Professor "Anthony"

Joseph Smith 1839 History with Professor “Anthony”

Of course, this scenario would only work if Martin Harris’ account to Charles Butler was an accurate rendering of events.  If Dr. Mitchill was so positive in his views about the characters, why is there virtually nothing said about him by Martin Harris? Perhaps because Joseph had sent Martin Harris to New York with the expectation that the scholars would fail? In the first account written by Charles Anthon in 1834, he mentions that Harris told him that Joseph “was enabled not only to read them, but fully to understand their meaning.”  By all accounts it is clear that Harris had convinced himself of Joseph’s spiritual bone fides, but still had lingering doubts about whether or not he could “make money” from the venture, and that it was not the former’s idea to seek out the learned, but Joseph’s.[114]

According to Robert N. Hullinger,

An important clue as to who was controlling events might be seen in Harris’s mood on his return. His enthusiasm to publish the book seems strange in view of what he had learned, that the scholars could not translate the transcript characters. In fact, Harris was even more convinced of Smith’s divine commission after his visit with the eastern sages. John Clark reported that Harris was willing to “take of the spoiling of his goods … though it consumed all his worldly substance” to help Smith publish the book, because Harris thought it was “the work of the Lord.”

If Harris had gone expecting the scholars to confirm the authenticity of the transcript, if his only model had been the one often replayed in contemporary newspapers—taking a new find to scholars for explanation and clarification—then he would have returned disappointed. Luther Bradish told Harris that there was not enough “to make anything out.” Anthon told him that the transcript was a “trick, perhaps a hoax,” that it was “part of a scheme to cheat the farmer of his money” that “some cunning fellow had prepared the paper in question, for the purpose of imposing” upon him. When Harris returned to Palmyra he told Clark that Anthon could not pinpoint the language of the characters.

But these results did not discourage Martin Harris. On the contrary, according to Clark, “Martin had now become a perfect believer. He said he had no more doubt of Smith’s commission, than of the divine commission of the apostles. The very fact that Smith was an obscure and illiterate man, showed that he must be acting under divine impulses. It was in vain I endeavoured to expostulate. I was an unbeliever, and could not see afar off.” Clark added, “My intimations … in reference to the possible imposition that was being practiced upon him … were indignantly repelled.”

Given Harris’s joy at scholarly ignorance and disregard of their warnings, one can only conjecture that Harris had been prepared for such reactions. Smith must have forewarned Harris that the scholars’ failure would be a sign that Smith’s story was true. Harris said that he did not know that he was fulfilling Isaiah 29 until he returned from the consultation. Anthony Metcalf asked him in 1873 if he had known about the passage, and Harris replied that “Joseph Smith had shown that chapter to him after his return.” Smith apparently had told him—and he believed—”that Smith was to prepare the way for the conversion of the world to a new system of faith, by transcribing the characters from the plates and giving translations of the same.”  But after the fact Harris explained the scholars’ failure to translate the characters with a paradox: since the scholars failed, Smith must be right.[115]

Times & Seasons History of Joseph Smith with Professor  "Anthony"

Times & Seasons History of Joseph Smith with Professor “Anthony”

Harris seems to have been sent on an errand whose outcome made little difference to him. And why would it really matter, when Harris himself stated that he had already received a witness from the “still small voice” that Joseph was acting on orders from above?

As Palmyra native Pomeroy Tucker noted in his book on Mormonism,

Harris, nevertheless, stood firm in his position, regarding these untoward results merely as “proving the lack of wisdom” on the part of the rejecters, and also as illustrating the truth of his favorite quotation, that “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.” This was always his self-convincing argument in reply to similar adversity…[116]  

In his evaluation of the evidence about the Harris visit to New York in 1969, Stanley Kimball asked these questions that still seem to have no real answer:

What was the meaning and significance of the event?  Would the Restoration have been significantly altered in any way if the Harris-Anthon incident had never taken place? [117]

Yet Kimball still made an effort to do so:

The standard answer regarding the why and purpose of the Harris-Anthon incident is that it was necessary to fulfill the prophecies of Isaiah and Nephi.  Such an answer, however, is really begging the question, for then one must ask why the prophecies were made in the first place.  It could be argued that the prophecies represent nothing more than the fact that God rewarded two faithful servants with a glimpse of the future, and that these two men dared not leave unrecorded such a vision. [118]

It could also be argued (as Robert Hullinger did) that,

Smith fleshed out Isaiah 29:11-12 with his interpretation of the Harris-Anthon consultation. The biblical scenario dictated that Smith (“him that is not learned”) would read what Anthon (“one that is learned”) could not—namely, the transcribed characters (“the words of a book that is sealed ). The issue of time was important: the “sealed” book could not be translated before it was presented to the “learned.” Smith had been talking about these conditions since his marriage to Emma in January 1827. In his 1832 draft Smith told of the consultation, the scholars’ failure, Harris’s return and request that Smith translate the characters, and his reply to Harris: “I cannot for I am not learned.” Smith went on to tell of translating the characters with the aid of the glasses and then commented: “and thus the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled which is written in the 29 chapter concerning the book.” This evidence that Smith was fulfilling prophecy is strengthened by the Cowdery account three years later, where emphasis is placed on appropriate procedure: first the scholars had to see the characters and then the translating could begin.

Soon after the translation work, the identity of what Charles Anthon could not read was changed in the Book of Mormon account; instead of the transcript characters he held during the consultation with Harris, the Book of Mormon account identifies the plates as that which he was not allowed to see. After that, changes in the story Joseph Smith first told in 1828 about the Anthon  consultation can be seen to fall into several stages. Originally (1) Harris visited the scholars, found that they could not translate the characters, and went home. Later, possibly as early as the summer of 1829, (2) Harris visited the scholars and found they could authenticate but not translate the characters. Then, in late 1830 or early 1831, (3) Harris visited the scholars and found that they could identify and translate the characters. Finally, in 1838 the story had evolved to the point that (4) Harris visited the scholars, found that they could authenticate the characters, identify the language, and verify Smith’s sample translation. Harris received Anthon’s certificate to the Palmyrans and then saw Anthon tear it up. Also, the account expanded talk about reformed Egyptian characters to a discussion of the Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac, and Arabic alphabets. [119]

It appears that it was Smith rewarding himself with a glimpse of a future already seen which he then retrofitted into the Book of Mormon (and his forthcoming New Translation of the Bible), taking advantage of the loss of the Book of Lehi to do so. [120]  

Robert J. Matthews writes that when Joseph later reedited the Bible,

Joseph himself called his work a “translation.” This is apparently the sense in which he understood the work he was doing with the Bible. Since in part he was effecting a restoration of lost meaning and material, and since the Bible did not originate in English, his work to some degree would amount to an inspired, or revelatory, “translation” into English of that which the ancient prophets and apostles had written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and/or Greek.[121]

Times & Seasons, Letter from G. Walker

Times & Seasons, Letter from G. Walker

In a rather novel approach to the problem of Joseph’s retrofit of the reworked Isaiah 29 prophecy in the Book of Mormon and Joseph’s “New Translation”, Robert Cloward writes:

Isaiah foresaw both the fate and the future restoration of Jerusalem and her people. Nephi … likened Isaiah’s words to his people in a new prophecy, showing how Nephite writings would advance the Lord’s work in the latter days. Book of Mormon prophets perpetuated Nephi’s likening among their people until the time of Moroni.  Then, the Savior and the resurrected Moroni taught the significance of Nephi’s likening for this dispensation to the Prophet Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith, in turn, replaced Isaiah’s words in his inspired translation of the Bible with his new understanding of how they had been likened to him and to the Lord’s latter-day work.

In this process, Isaiah’s sealed book was reinterpreted as Nephi’s gold plates and as Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon. Isaiah’s dust of death was reinterpreted as Nephi’s source of renewed life and as Joseph Smith’s Cumorah. Isaiah’s “learned” and “not learned” both denied access to spiritual vision, became Nephi’s future translator, Joseph the seer, and his foil, Professor Charles Anthon. This is the process of likening. Prophets do it readily. Students of the scriptures are urged to liken as well. When readers in any era are moved upon by the Holy Ghost, there is no impropriety in their giving old scripture new meaning for their lives. As readers do this, the Lord can reveal new truths to them and enlarge their understanding.[122]

Cloward would have us believe that when Joseph restored Isaiah 29, he simply “likened” it to “our dispensation” instead of what W. W. Phelps (a close friend and confidant of Joseph’s who was authorized by him to set forth doctrine)[123] described in 1832:

As to the errors in the bible, any man possessed of common understanding, knows, that both the old and new testaments are filled with errors, obscurities, italics and contradictions, which must be the work of men. As the church of Christ will soon have the scriptures, in their original purity it may not be amiss for us to show a few of the gross errors, or, as they might be termed, contradictions.[124]

Isaiah 29 in its “original purity” would not necessarily be a “likened” or reworked Isaiah 29, according to what Robert J. Matthews writes,

Opinions vary among those who have considered the nature of the New Translation. Some feel that it is a restoration of material lost from the Bible as a result of transmission through the centuries. This position requires a belief that direct revelation and inspiration played major roles in the Prophet’s work of Bible translation. In connection therewith is a concept that during the translation process the Prophet himself received a knowledge of what should be written in the text.

 Others regard the New Translation primarily as an effort by the Prophet to render the biblical text more acceptable to his particular theology. This premise generally minimizes the need for direct and immediate revelation and carries the thought that changes were more or less incorporated into the biblical text so as to produce the desired effect. This position presupposes that the Prophet had determined beforehand what changes needed to be made. Associated with this view is a tendency to regard the changes more as commentary material than as actual restorations. This position naturally has difficulty accommodating an idea that the work should be called a translation.[125]

Yet Cloward insists that,

The replacement of Isaiah 29:8-24 with 2 Nephi 27:3b-35 in the JST could fit the third of the four categories Robert J Matthews proposes for types of changes in the JST. He describes the third category as follows:

“Portions may consist of inspired commentary by the Prophet Joseph Smith, enlarged, elaborated, and even adapted to a latter day situation. This may be similar to what Nephi meant by ‘likening’ the scriptures to himself and his people in their particular circumstance” (Matthews, “A Plainer Translation,” 253). In the case of the JST Isaiah 29, the replacement process itself, in addition to the chapter content, was commentary.[126]

The full Matthews quote reads,

“To regard the New Translation [JST] as a product of divine inspiration given to Joseph Smith does not necessarily assume that it be a restoration of the original Bible text. It seems probable that the New Translation could be many things. For example, the nature of the work may fall into at least four categories:

1. Portions may amount to restorations of content material once written by the biblical authors but since deleted from the Bible.

2. Portions may consist of a record of actual historical events that were not recorded, or were recorded but never included in the biblical collection.

3. Portions may consist of inspired commentary by the Prophet Joseph Smith, enlarged, elaborated, and even adapted to a latter-day situation. This may be similar to what Nephi meant by ‘likening’ the scriptures to himself and his people in their particular circumstance. (See 1 Nephi 19:23-24; 2 Nephi 11:8)

4. Some items may be a harmonization of doctrinal concepts that were revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith independent of his translation of the Bible, but by means of which he was able to discover that a biblical passage was inaccurate.

The most fundamental question seems to be whether or not one is disposed to accept the New Translation as a divinely inspired document. Once this has been decided upon, it seems unlikely that any of us could determine with unerring accuracy which parts were of a particular category. Unless one has the same spiritual insight that Joseph Smith possessed, it would be futile to attempt such a categorization. The Prophet said he was inspired of God to do this work. Just what type of material that inspiration caused Joseph Smith to produce is not entirely clear. As outlined above, there are evidences in the style and content of several different types of material, but at the present time we just do not have the information or the requisite tools (ancient manuscripts, specific revelation, and the like) to obtain the information needed to establish empirically what parts are restoration, what parts commentary, and what parts simply the result of good judgment. In the absence of these things it would be premature to attempt to list specific items in particular categories. There is, however, sufficient evidence to show that Joseph Smith declared himself to be divinely inspired to make the translation and that he expected those who believed in his mission so to accept the work.[127]

Even Matthews, with his decades of study devoted to the JST, could not make the determination that Cloward makes so assuredly. It may be worth noting that the Official Church Manuel Gospel Principles states that,

Through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord has expanded our understanding of some passages in the Bible. The Lord inspired the Prophet Joseph to restore truths to the Bible text that had been lost or changed since the original words were written. These inspired corrections are called the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. In the Latter-day Saint edition of the King James Version of the Bible, selected passages from the Joseph Smith Translation are found on pages 797–813 and in many footnotes.[128]

Further evidence that the New Translation was a restoration of lost or changed text is given by Matthews:

While doing the work of translation, the Prophet said he was given a particular wording of John 5:29. The wording, which “was given by the Spirit” (D&C 76:18), differs from that of the King James Version. Being given words by the Spirit meant that something extraordinary was associated with this translation, which supplied variant wordings independent of a supplementary manuscript. Since this was done with one passage, it is possible that it could have been done with many.

Another passage of scripture which bears upon this subject is the writing known as Doctrine and Covenants, section 7. This revelation, in English, is said to be “the translated version of a record made on parchment by John, and hidden up by himself” (D&C 7, prefatory note). John would have written in Aramaic, or perhaps in Greek. At that time in Joseph Smith’s life (1829), he could not read either of these languages. It might be asked whether the Prophet actually had the parchment that was written and hidden up by John, or even a copy of it. If so, how did he obtain it and what became of it? Currently we have no information with which to answer these questions. However, it would not be necessary for the Prophet to have or to see John’s parchment, or a copy of it, in order to get the information it contained. It was the content, more than the document, that was important. An even more significant question is, If he had the document, how could he read it? Had he been given the parchment, neither the Prophet nor his scribe, Oliver Cowdery, could have read it except through revelation. Would it not be possible for the Lord to reveal the contents to the Prophet as it would be to give him the parchment and then inspire him to be able to read it? Either case would be miraculous, and both would have the same end result: either could qualify (in substance) as a translation and as a restoration.

Another incident may shed further light upon the subject. In June 1830 the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith the “Visions of Moses,” a record of a manifestation once given to Moses. (See Moses 1:1, 42.) In this vision Moses was informed that designing men would take many things out of the book he (Moses) would write, but through another prophet the information would “be had again among the children of men,” at least “among as many as believe” (Moses 1:40-41). Today Moses’ writings are in the Old Testament, but we are thus warned that some of what he wrote is missing from present Bible versions. However, the new translation of Genesis appears to be a restoration of some of Moses’ writings-a restoration brought about through the use of the King James Version plus divine revelation, but without an ancient manuscript. If the Prophet could have recorded Moses’ writing and thus fulfilled the prophecy without actual possession of an ancient manuscript, he could have done the same with the records of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and with other books of the Bible. The necessary ingredient for a prophet is not a manuscript, but a revelation.[129]

Matthews also observes that,

it is significant that the changes made by the Prophet Joseph in the New Translation contain numerous and lengthy additions. He made very few deletions. A restoration would be expected to follow the same pattern-that is, have more additions than deletions. While the foregoing items are not proof that the New Translation is a restoration of the original text, they are factors that must be considered in making a judgment in the matter.[130]

Given the evidence above, it is clear that Joseph Smith meant to restore the scriptures “in their original purity”,  as Ronald V. Huggins also concludes:

That Joseph Smith felt the KJV contained many errors and corruptions is well known. The kinds of modifications he made in Romans 7 lead us further to conclude that he understood such corruptions to consist primarily of things removed or left out. This observation confirms certain of Smith’s own statements from around the same time. In Joseph Smith’s History of the Church, prefacing a “revelation” dated 16 February 1832 (now D&C 76; 1835 ed., XCI), Smith reports: “Upon my return from the Amherst conference, I resumed the translation of the Scriptures. From sundry revelations which had been received, it was apparent that many important points touching the salvation of man had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled” (italics added).

This remark provides insight into Smith’s approach to the Bible within at most only a few months of his “translation” of Romans 7.8 A similar statement occurs in a “revelation” dated June 1830 in which God tells Moses of a time when: “[T]he children of men shall esteem my words as nought, and take many of them from the book which thou shall write, behold, I will raise up another like unto thee [i.e., Joseph Smith], and they shall be had again among the children of men . . .” (italics added; HC 1:245-52; Pearl of Great Price, Moses 1:41 [1851 ed., 10]). The conservatism in handling the SCB [the Joseph Smith-Oliver Cowdery Bible] for Romans 7, then, in light of these statements, suggests that Joseph Smith did intend to restore the ancient text of the New Testament. He apparently felt this could be best accomplished by rearranging the words of the SCB, leaving out as little as possible, and then adding whatever seemed to be lacking.[131]

This conclusion presents problems for Mormon Apologists, since the Isaiah 29 passages quoted in The Book of Mormon differ from those “restored” in the New Translation of the Bible. This is why Cloward has gone at lengths to proclaim the changes in the New Translation as “commentary.”[132] These inexplicable contradictions by Joseph Smith in his “translations” and in his retelling of events were not limited to Smith alone. For instance, Martin Harris gave this scenario of events to Anthony Metcalf in 1873 concerning his visit to Charles Anthon:

Harris told me about his trip to New York and what Prof. Anthon told him. He (Anthon) said the characters were translated correctly. After Harris had told the professor how the plates had been found, the professor said that it was his opinion that he (Harris) was being duped by sharpers, and advised Harris to take care of himself. I asked him if he knew what the prophet Isaiah had said about that event. He said, “No,” but that Joseph Smith had shown that chapter to him after his return.[133]

In 1871 Harris wrote a letter to H. B. Emerson and stated that “the translation that I carried to Professor Anthon was copied from these same [gold] plates; also, that the professor did testify to it being a correct translation…[134]

In 1875, Simon Smith spoke with Martin Harris and wrote that the latter “by command, took part of the manuscript with the translation thereof to one Professor Anthon … to get his opinion in regard to the language and translation.”[135]

This directly contradicts what Harris told Charles Butler in 1830, for Harris told Butler that Anthon was unable to translate the characters.  Harris also contradicts Joseph, who originally wrote in 1832 that “the Lord” appeared to Martin “in a vision” and told him to take the characters to “the learned”. The whole “Anthon Affair” then, was a story that was reworked and refined to fit the needs of Joseph’s “restoration”:

Soon after the translation work, the identity of what Charles Anthon could not read was changed in the Book of Mormon account; instead of the transcript characters he held during the consultation with Harris, the Book of Mormon account identifies the plates as that which he was not allowed to see. After that, changes in the story Joseph Smith first told in 1828 about the Anthon [p.91] consultation can be seen to fall into several stages. Originally (1) Harris visited the scholars, found that they could not translate the characters, and went home. Later, possibly as early as the summer of 1829, (2) Harris visited the scholars and found they could authenticate but not translate the characters. Then, in late 1830 or early 1831, (3) Harris visited the scholars and found that they could identify and translate the characters. Finally, in 1838 the story had evolved to the point that (4) Harris visited the scholars, found that they could authenticate the characters, identify the language, and verify Smith’s sample translation. Harris received Anthon’s certificate to the Palmyrans and then saw Anthon tear it up. Also, the account expanded talk about reformed Egyptian characters to a discussion of the Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac, and Arabic alphabets.

In 1838 Smith stayed for a time with George and Lucinda Morgan Harris. Lucinda was the widow of William Morgan, whose 1826 disappearance was the immediate cause of the anti-Masonic excitement in New York. (Smith would later marry Lucinda polygamously.) William Morgan had received only the Royal Arch degree of Masonry, and in 1829 David Bernard had added the Royal Arch to his reprint of Morgan’s exposé of Masonry’s first three degrees, including the Royal Arch word for God, said to have been known to ancient Hebrews, lost during the Babylonian exile, and restored when the temple was rebuilt in Jerusalem. The holy word, JAH-BUH-LUN, was compounded from “three different languages, (i.e. Hebrew, Chaldaic, and Syriac.)” Bernard had also added a secret alphabetical code, some letters of which correspond to characters on the Anthon Transcript.84 Bernard’s enormously popular book found its way into many Palmyra homes. By further identifying the characters as he did in 1838, Smith appealed to those with Masonic backgrounds.[136]

Martin Harris circa 1875

Martin Harris circa 1875

So what does this say about Martin Harris? Contemporary accounts give us some idea of the impact that Harris’ actions in regard to the gold plates had on his community. When it came to business matters, Harris was looked upon with favor as being trustworthy and honest; but when it came to religious matters, it was said that Harris was prone to exaggerate and change his story frequently. In 1831 E. B. Grandin wrote that ,

“Mr. Harris was among the early settlers of this town, and has ever borne the character of an honorable and upright man, and an obliging and benevolent neighbor. He had secured to himself by honest industry a respectable fortune–and he has left a large circle of acquaintances and friends to pity his delusion.”[137]

Stephen S. Harding, once Governor of Utah Territory was a native of Palmyra and later wrote an account of a visit that he made to the town in 1830 during which he visited with the Smith family, Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris. About Martin Harris he wrote:

 The fact that such a man as Martin Harris should mortgage his farm for a large sum, to secure the publisher for printing the book, should abandon the cultivation of one of the best farms in the neighborhood, and change all his habits of life from industry to indolence and general shiftlessness, was truly phenomenal. He, at the same time, was the only man among all the primitive Mormons who was responsible in a pecuniary sense for a single dollar. Nevertheless, he had become absolutely infatuated, and believed that an immense fortune could be made out of the enterprise. The misfortune that attended Harris from that day did not consist in the loss of money merely, and the general breaking up of his business as a farmer; but the blight and ruin fell upon all his domestic relations — causing his separation from his wife and family forever. In early life he had been brought up a Quaker, then took to Methodism as more congenial to his nature. He was noted as one who could quote more Scripture than any man in the neighborhood; and as a general thing could give the chapter and verse where some important passage could be found. If one passage more than another seemed to be in his mind, it was this: ‘God has chosen the weak things of this world to confound the wise,’ His eccentricities and idiosyncrasies had been charitably passed over by all who knew him, until his separation from his wife and family, when he was looked upon as utterly infatuated and crazy. I had been acquainted with this man when a little boy, until my father emigrated from that neighborhood in 1820. He was intimately acquainted with my father’s family, and on several occasions had visited our house, in company with Mrs. Harris. None in all that neighborhood were more promising in their future prospects than they.[138]

About two weeks after speaking with what he called “a most remarkable quartette of persons”, (Joseph Smith Jr. & Sr., Oliver Cowdery & Martin Harris), at E. B. Grandin’s Printing Office, Harding again visited with Harris.

First Title Page of the Book of Mormon given to Stephen S. Harding by Orasmus Turner.

–Title Page of the Book of Mormon given to Stephen S. Harding by Pomeroy Tucker.

Previous to this visit Harding had been invited to the Smith cabin for dinner and a reading from the Manuscript of the Book of Mormon, where he spent the night.  Before retiring for the evening, Lucy Smith remarked to Harding that,

‘You’ll have visions and dreams, mebby, to-night; but don’t git skeered; the angel of the Lord will protect you.’[139]

Harding then recounts that the next day,

“After breakfast, in the morning, Mother Smith followed me as I arose from the table, and plied me with questions as to whether I had had dreams, and whether I had seen a vision that ‘skeered’ me. I told her I had a dream, but so strange that I could not tell it to her or any one else. The fact was communicated to Harris and the rest. All saw that I looked sober, and I determined to leave them in doubt and wonder.

“We started back to Palmyra, Cowdery bearing in his hand the sacred scroll [The Book of Mormon Manuscript]. Martin was exceedingly anxious that I should give him at least some glimpse of the strange things I had seen in my dream. I told him that was impossible, and I began to doubt whether I ought to tell it to any human being. They all became interested in my reply; and the prophet himself forgetting his taciturnity, said: ‘I can tell you what it was. I have felt just as you do. Wait, and the angel of the Lord will open your eyes.’ Here we parted, and I returned to the home of my brother.”[140]

When Harding saw Harris again (two weeks later) he related that,

He [Harris] was glad to see me; inquired how I felt since my dream. He told me that since he saw me at Mr. Smith’s, he had seen fearful signs in the heavens. That he was standing alone one night, and saw a fiery sword let down out of heaven, and pointing to the east, west, north, and south, then to the hill of Cumorah, where the plates of Nephi were found. At another time, he said, as he was passing with his wagon and horses from town, his horses suddenly stopped and would not budge an inch. When he plied them with his whip, they commenced snorting and pawing the earth as they had never done before. He then commenced smelling brimstone, and knew the Devil was in the road, and saw him plainly as he walked up the hill and disappeared. I said, ‘What did he look like?’

“He replied: ‘Stephen, I will give you the best description that I can. Imagine a greyhound as big as a horse, without any tail, walking upright on his hind legs.’

“I looked at him with perfect astonishment. ‘Now, Stephen,’ continued he, ‘do tell me your dream.’ I dropped my head and answered: ‘I am almost afraid to undertake it.’ He encouraged me, and said it was revealed to him that another vessel was to be chosen, and that Joseph had the gift of interpreting dreams the same as Daniel, who was cast into the lion’s den. I said, ‘Mr. Harris, after considering the matter, I conclude that I ought not to repeat my dreams to you, only on one condition: that you will pledge your honor not to tell it to any one.’ ‘Oh, do let me tell it to Joseph. He can tell all about what it means,’ ‘Well,’ said I, ‘What I mean is, you may tell it to whom you please, only you shall not connect my name with it,; ‘I’ll do it! I’ll do it!’ said he, hastily. ‘Joseph will be able to tell who it was, the same as if I told the name.'”

(Here the narrator proceeded to relate a wonderful dream that never was dreamed, during the course of which, he took occasion to describe some characters that had appeared to him on a scroll — presenting some of them with a pencil, a picture of stenographic characters and the Greek alphabet, rudely imitated. These were handed to Mr. Harris.)

“Speechless with amazement, he looked at them for a moment, and then springing to his feet, and turning his eyes toward heaven, with uplifted hands, cried out:

“‘O Lord, God! the very characters that are upon the plates of Nephi!’

“He looked again at the characters, and then at me, with perfect astonishment. His excitement was such that I became positively alarmed, for it seemed to me that he was going crazy. I began to have some compunctions of conscience for the fraud that I had practiced upon him; for I might as well say just here, as well as anywhere, that the dream had been improvised for the occasion. He suggested that we go to the house of old Man Smith and there relate my dream. I told him that I would never repeat it again to anybody. He bade me good-bye, saying: ‘You are a chosen vessel of the Lord.’

“There is but one excuse for my conduct on this occasion; that was, to fathom the depth of his credulity.[141]

As to the authenticity of the “Caracters”, Historian Dale Morgan wrote,

Accepting the authenticity of the “Anthon transcript,” a young Mormon attorney, Ariel L. Crowley, in four articles published in the Improvement Era, January to March 1942, and September 1944, attempted to establish by visual demonstration that the characters on the transcript not only derive from demotic Egyptian but that they make “connected thought.” Crowley’s researches having been received by the Saints as “evidence of the truth of the Book of Mormon,” I have referred them to an Egyptian scholar, Carleton T. Hodge. Under date of April 21, 1949, Hodge wrote me:

I do not believe the transcript to be a copy, even a very rough copy, of a demotic manuscript. If  a demotic text was before Joseph Smith at the time the transcript was made, only random characters were copied (and that rather badly), with no continuity and interspersed with signs totally unrelated to demotic. My reasons for this are as follows:

The characters used in demotic are not readily isolated. A “word” or other unit of writing was a fairly closely knit group of signs, with many ligatures. The original hieroglyphs from which demotic writing developed appear in radically different forms according to their position in such a unit. So in order to have a demotic document or even a rough facsimile, a sequence of signs is necessary—a group forming a complete “word.” The “Anthon transcript” is almost totally devoid of any sequences which could be so interpreted and has no sequences whatsoever which could form a brief utterance or statement in demotic. The signs which are similar to demotic forms are isolated and hence without any significance. The similarities given in detail in the photographic reproductions [of actual demotic characters compared with characters from the “transcript”] are often forced and just as often parallels could be found in any number of scripts. (Compare David Diringer, The Alphabet [New York, 1948], passim.) Mr. Crowley himself points out some of the coincidental parallels with completely irrelevant scripts. Any parallels from Assyrian, Sabean, Arabic (Improvement Era, Feb. 1942, Figs. 110, 120, 132, etc., March, 1942, passim) are not only irrelevant but detrimental to the argument. Egyptian was at no time influenced by any of these scripts (with the possible exception of the so-called “syllabic orthography,” which has no bearing on the case). None of the similarities have any meaning without being in a meaningful sequence.

Gardiner’s Egyptian Grammar, frequently quoted by Mr. Crowley, has an excellent specimen of demotic with a hieroglyphic transcription. This gives one a good idea of how an actual text looks, and an attempt to connect similar hieroglyphs in the transcription with any particular sign in the demotic will readily show my point about the relation of signs in groups. Mr. Crowley himself admits defeat on the translation of the transcript and on the identification of many signs. Had there been any basis to the contention that this was a demotic document, I am sure his industry would have been rewarded.

Improvement Era February 1942, pages 78-79

Crowley’s comparisons in the Improvement Era

The Mormon appeal from this verdict would take the ground that the “Anthon Transcript” is a transcript from “reformed” rather than demotic Egyptian, and therefore not amenable to demotic criticism. This, however, returns the argument to where it was before—a private language interposed between Joseph Smith and the world of scholarship.[142]

The problem with Crowley’s comparisons is that they come from scripts spanning over a thousand years, some of them well after the period from which “reformed Egyptian” is supposed to date. There is, of course much more to be said about the possible origins of the Book of Mormon characters, but that is beyond the scope of this article. I will have more on this at a future time.

Today, the “Anthon Incident” is an integral part of Mormon doctrine which is still used to tout the supposed fulfillment of an Isaiah prophecy that in reality has nothing to do with the Book of Mormon. Exactly when Joseph came up with the idea to use Isaiah as a selling point for his new scripture is unclear; but from the accounts presented above it is clear that Smith himself could not reproduce the details of events about the “Anthon Incident” with any prolonged coherence without embellishing them and contradicting his own–and others–version of events.

Still, a prediction of the Book of Mormon contained in the Bible had a powerful impact upon Martin Harris and the other chosen witnesses, and helped cement their belief that Joseph had brought forth “by the gift and power of God” a new revelation that in their minds would change the world.

Part III: Tracing the Various “Caractor” Documents, here.


[89] David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, pp.11-12.

[90] Robert A. Cloward, “Isaiah 29 and the Book of Mormon” in Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, ed. Donald W. Parry and John W. Welch [Provo, UT: FARMS, 1998], p. 191.  Online here (PDF), accessed, July 5, 2013.As far as the Book of Mormon is concerned, Cloward writes that it is not what Isaiah prophesied about in chapter 29:

“Isaiah lamented in Isaiah 29:11 that the vision of Jerusalem’s people had become as the words of a sealed book. No specific book is mentioned. Isaiah’s concern was the lost vision of his people, not books. His expression is symbolic—a simile, one of many similes and metaphors in Isaiah 29. Isaiah’s symbolic book is still sealed today. Jerusalem’s vision has not yet been opened. Her people that erred in spirit have not yet come to understanding, and they that murmured have not yet learned doctrine (see verse 24).

It was Nephi [Joseph Smith] who made Isaiah’s symbolic book into a literal book. Nephi likened the symbolic book in Isaiah’s simile to a literal, specific record the Lord had commanded him to write on gold plates. Nephi also foretold the  latter-day role of his record in restoring vision, understanding, and doctrine to the house of Israel.  (Cloward, pp. 200-201)

The Church still teaches that Isaiah 29 directly speaks of the Book of Mormon:

Sometimes people who are familiar with the Bible and are not members of the Church will ask us something like “If the Book of Mormon is such an important part of the work of God, why is it not mentioned in the Bible?” There are several answers to that question, and one of them is “It is!” Isaiah 29 is one place in the Bible where the Book of Mormon is referred to, even though it is not mentioned by name. As you read this chapter, look for prophecies of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and the impact this book will have on the world. (Online here, at, accessed July 5, 2013.)

[91] Mormonism Unvailed, p. 273. When this work is cited, I often see the appellation [sic], or spelling incorrect after it. I’m pretty sure the Eber D. Howe did not misspell the word. It is simply an archaic rendering of the word, as in this example,

2 Corinthians 3:18 and we all, with unvailed face, the glory of the Lord beholding in a mirror, to the same image are being transformed, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (YLT)

Or the title of this book from the 18th Century: The Mystery of Magistracy Unvailed: Or, God’s Ordinance of Magistracy Unvailed,  By Robert Franklin, Edinburgh, England, 1708.

One archaic work cited by Howe was from Junius Juvenal’s Satire XV, as translated by John Dryden and Nahum Tate:

How Egypt, mad with Superstition grown,
Makes Gods of Monsters, but too well is known:
One Sect, Devotion to Nile’s Serpent pays;
Where, Thebes, thy Hundred Gates lie unrepair’d,
And where maim’d Memnon’s Magick Harp is heard,
Where These are Mouldring left, the Sots combine
With Pious Care a Monkey to Enshrine!
Fish-Gods you’ll meet with Fins and Scales o’re grown;
Diana’s Dogs ador’d in ev’ry Town,
Her Dogs have Temples, but the Goddess none!
‘Tis Mortal Sin an Onion to devour,
Each Clove of Garlick, is a Sacred Pow’r.
Religious Nations sure and Blest Abodes,
Where ev’ry Orchard is o’re-run with Gods.
To Kill, is Murder, Sacrilege to Eat
A Kid or Lamb,–Man’s Flesh is lawful Meat!Mormonism Unvailed Title Page

I rather like the spelling. It is unique among modern works, which I’m sure Eber D. Howe had in mind when he spelled it that way.

[92] Mormonism Unvailed, page 273.

[93] ibid, p. 269.

[94] ibid, pp. 270-273.

[95] For a well researched article about Luther Bradish, Samuel Latham Mitchill and Charles Anthon, see Richard E. Bennett’s “Read This I Pray Thee”: Martin Harris and the Three Wise Men of the East”, found in Journal of Mormon History 36, no. 1 (winter 2010): 178–216. Online here, accessed July 25, 2013.

[96] Times and Seasons, Vol.3, No.13, p.773, 2 May 1842. Wilford Woodruff speaks of a George Walker from Manchester England in his Journal from 1840:

July 8: Moved & Carried that Elders Thomas Kington, Alfred Cordon, & Thomas Smith be ordained High Priest And John Albiston, John Blezard, William Berry, John Sanders, John Parkinson, James Worsley, & John Allen be ordained Elders & Joseph Slinger George Walker John Smith Robert Williams, William Black John Melling & John Swindlehurst be ordained Priest. (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, Vol. 1, 1833–1840, p.481).

On October 6, 1840 Woodruff writes that

“Elder George Walker was Chosen Clerk” of the General Conference. (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, Vol. 1, 1833–1840, p.526).

[97] Boston Investigator, op. cited.

[98] Catholic Telegraph 1 (April 14, 1832):204-205, Cincinnati, Ohio. Reprinted from The Western Press, Mercer, Pennsylvania. I am again indebted to H. Michael Marquardt for these references, who writes:

Lyman and Orson started their mission on 3 February 1832 and traveled to Mercer County, Pennsylvania on 8 February and stopped at the home of Benjamin Stokely in Cool Spring Township. The missionaries then preached at the courthouse in Franklin, Venango County, northeast of Mercer County, on Saturday, 11 February.

The discovery of the article below sheds some light on another find of Marquardt’s in 2000, the above article mentioned by him in the Fredonia Censor, which reported on the preaching that took place on February 11. It reads:

We of this place were visited on Saturday last by a couple of young men styling themselves Mormonites. They explained their doctrine to a large part of the citizens in the court house that evening. They commenced by reading the first chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians: also by giving an account of their founder, Joseph Smith, then an inhabitant of the state of New-York, county of Ontario, and town of Manchester. Having repented of his sins, but not attached himself to any party of Christians, owing to the numerous divisions among them, and being in doubt what his duty was, he had recourse prayer. After retiring to bed one night, he was visited by an Angel and directed to proceed to a hill in the neighborhood where he would find a stone box containing a quantity of Gold plates. The plates were six or eight inches square, and as many of them as would make them six or eight inches thick, each as thick as a pane of glass. They were filled with characters which the learned of that state were not able to translate. A Mr. Anthony, 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. The Revelation commenced about 600 years before Christ, with a prophet of the name of Lehi, of the tribe of Joseph, and a contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah, who had also warned the inhabitants of Jerusalem of their idolatry, & becoming unsafe in the city, was ordered by God to leave Jerusalem and journey toward the Red Sea. He with another family who accompanied him, built themselves a ship and landed on the coast of South America, where they increased very fast, and the Lord raised up a great many prophets among them. They built cities, and encouraged the arts and sciences.– Their prophecies foretold the appearance of the Messiah on the other continent, and gave as a sign that they should have two days without a night–also of his death, which was the cause of the terrible earthquakes, which rent all the rocks in our hills into the different shapes they now are. After our Savior’s ascension to heaven, that he came down to this continent and appointed twelve disciples, and that Christianity flourished for three or four generations.– After that the inhabitants divided and wars ensued, in which the pagans prevailed.– The first battle was fought nigh to the straits of Darien, and the last at a hill called Comoro, when all the Christians were hewn down but one prophet. * He was directed to hide the plates in the earth, and it was intimated to him that they would be found by a gentile people. The last entry on the plates is 420 years after the commencement of the Christian era. The whole history contains their account of 1020 years. The balance of their discourse was on repentance, and quotations from our prophets to prove their doctrine, and the return of the Jews to Palestine, which was to be done by the gentile nations, accompanied with power from above, far superior to that which brought their fathers out of Egypt. They insisted that our Savior would shortly appear, and that there were some present who would see him on the earth–that they knew it–that they were not deceiving their hearers; that it was all true. They had one of their bibles with them, which was seen by some of our citizens who visited them.

Mr. Editor — I have compiled the foregoing from memory. If you think it worth publishing, it will probably give some outline of the doctrine of this new sect.


* This prophet they say was Mormon. (The Fredonia Censor 11 (March 7, 1832):[4], Fredonia, New York. Reprinted from the Franklin Venango Democrat).

Taken together, these two articles give context to what the writer meant by “recourse prayer”.  As the article from April recounts, the Missionaries state that,

In 1827 a young man called Joseph Smith of the state of New York, of no denomination, but under conviction, inquired of the Lord what he should do to be saved — he went to bed without any reply, but in the night was awakened by an angel, whiter and shining in greater splendour than the sun at noonday, who gave information where the plates were deposited…

This of course, is recounting the events that supposedly took place in 1823, not in 1821 or 1822, as Joseph recounted in his Summer 1832 History, and is not as some suppose, a reference to that claimed 1820-22 vision.

Also, in this sermon they refer to Charles Anthon as “Professor Anthony” and add that he (in addition to Arabic, Chaldean and Egyptian) identified Hebrew Characters in the document that Martin Harris presented to him.

[98] Catholic Telegraph 1 (April 14, 1832):204-205, Cincinnati, Ohio. Reprinted from The Western Press, Mercer, Pennsylvania.

[99] The Palymra Freeman, August 11, 1829.   Online here, accessed July 25, 2013.

[100] See note #95.

[101] See note #96.

[102]Times and Seasons, Vol.3, No.14, p. 787.

[103] On February 19, 1842, Wilford Woodruff recorded,

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 & 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 now 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 esstablishment.

I have had the privilege this day of assisting in setting the TIPE for printing the first peace of the B00K OF ABRAHAM that is to be presented to the inhabitants of the EARTH in the LAST DAYS.

My Soul has been much edifyed of late from time to time in hearing Joseph the Seer convers about the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. Truly GOD is with him & is making him mighty in wisdom & knowledge & I am convinced for myself that none of the Prophets Seers or Revelators of the Earth have ever accomplished a greater work than will be accomplished in the Last days through the mercy of God By JOSEPH THE SEER. (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal,  Vol. 2, 1841–1845, p.155, Capital Words in the original, bold emphasis mine).

[104] B.H. Roberts, “History of the Mormon Church”, Americana, (American Historical Magazine), Vol. IV,  January, 1909—December, 1909, page 786 (Note 7).

[105] Letter from Cha[rle]s. W. Wandel , Times and Seasons, Vol. 2, No. 22, September 15, 1841, pp. 544-545).

[106] James Gordon Bennett Diary, August 7, 1831.

[107] For an excellent treatment of Martin Harris see H. Michael Marquardt’s “Martin Harris The Kirtland Years, 1831-1870”, found in Dialogue, A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 35, No. 3, pp. 9-49. Online here, accessed July 25, 2013.

[108] Dan Vogel,  Early Mormon Documents Vol. 4, pp. 382-83.

[109] Stanley B. Kimball, The Anthon Transcript: People, Primary Sources, and Problems, BYU Studies 10 (Spring 1970): pp. 338-339. PDF Online here, accessed July 25, 2013.

[110] J.G. Bennett, diary, August 7, 1831.

[111] Morning Courier and New-York Enquirer, Thursday, September 1, 1831, Vol. VII, No. 563. Online here, accessed July 25, 2013.

[112] Richard E. Bennett, “Read This I Pray Thee”: Martin Harris and the Three Wise Men of the East”, Journal of Mormon History 36, no. 1, Winter 2010, pp. 215-216. Online here, accessed July 25, 2013.

[113] ibid, p. 194.

[114] As to whose idea it was to seek out the learned, see Part I of this article. About making money off of the Book of Mormon, Lucy Harris wrote:

Palmyra, Nov. 29, 1833.

Being called upon to give a statement to the world of what I know respecting the Gold Bible speculation, and also of the conduct of Martin Harris, my husband, who is a leading character among the Mormons, I do it free from prejudice, realizing that I must give an account at the bar of God for what I say. Martin Harris was once industrious attentive to his domestic concerns, and thought to be worth about ten thousand dollars. He is naturally quick in his temper and his mad-fits frequently abuses all who may dare to oppose him in his wishes. However strange it may seem, I have been a great sufferer by his unreasonable conduct. At different times while I lived with him, he has whipped, kicked, and turned me out of the house. About a year previous to the report being raised that Smith had found gold plates, he became very intimate with the Smith family, and said he believed Joseph could see in his stone any thing he wished.  After this he apparently became very sanguine in his belief, and frequently said he would have no one in his house that did not believe in Mormonism; and because I would not give credit to the report he made about the gold plates, he became more austere towards me. In one of his fits of rage he struck me with the but end of a whip, which I think had been used for driving oxen, and was about the size of my thumb, and three or four feet long. He beat me on the head four or five times, and the next day turned me out of doors twice, and beat me in a shameful manner. – The next day I went to the town of Marion, and while there my flesh was black and blue in many places. His main complaint against me was, that I was always trying to hinder his making money. When he found out that I was going to Mr. Putnam’s, in Marion, he said he was going too, but they had sent for him to pay them a visit. On arriving at Mr. Putnam’s, I asked them if they had sent for Mr. Harris; they replied, they knew nothing about it; he, however, came in the evening. Mrs. Putnam told him never to strike or abuse me any more; he then denied ever striking me; she was however convinced that he lied, as the marks of his beating me were plain to be seen, and remained more than two weeks. 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.

It is in vain for the Mormons to deny these facts; for they are all well known to most of his former neighbors. The man has now become rather an object of pity; he has spent most of his property, and lost the confidence of his former friends. If he had labored as hard on his farm as he has to make Mormons, he might now be one of the wealthiest farmers in the country. He now spends his time in travelling through the country spreading the delusion of Mormonism, and has no regard whatever for his family.

With regard to Mr. Harris’ being intimate with Mrs. Haggard, as has been reported, it is but justice to myself to state what facts have come within my own observation, to show whether I had any grounds for jealousy or not. Mr. Harris was very intimate with this family, for some time previous to their going to Ohio. They lived a while in a house which he had built for their accommodation, and here he spent the most of his leisure hours; and made her presents of articles from the store and house.  He carried these presents in a private manner, and frequently when he went there, he would pretend to be going to some of the neighbors, on an errand, or to be going into the fields. — After getting out of sight of the house, he would steer a straight course for Haggard’s house, especially if Haggard was from home. At times when Haggard was from home, he would go there in the manner above described, and stay till twelve or one o’clock at night, and sometimes until day light.

If his intentions were evil, the Lord will judge him accordingly, but if good, he did not mean to let his left hand know what his right hand did. The above statement of facts, I affirm to be true. (Mormonism Unvailed, pp. 254-257).

[115] Robert N. Hullinger, Joseph Smith’s Response to Skepticism, pp. 88-89.

[116] Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism, NYC: D. Appleton & Co., 1867, p. 42.

[117] Kimball, op. cited, page 340.

[118] ibid.

[119] Hullinger, op. cited, p.91.

[120] See, “The Priority of Mosiah: A Prelude to Book of Mormon Exegesis”, by Brent Lee Metcalfe, in New Approaches to the Book of Mormon, online here, accessed July 25, 2013.

Brent Lee Metcalfe writes,

Smith’s loss of the 116 pages is Book of Mormon interpreters’ gain. The misplacement, theft, or destruction of the Book of Lehi, eventually leading the despondent prophet to dictate 1 Nephi-Words of Mormon last, unveils an unprecedented glimpse into the formation of a sacred text. Intrinsically woven into the Book of Mormon’s fabric are not only remnants of the peculiar dictation sequence but threads of authorship. The composite of those elements explored in this essay point to Smith as the narrative’s chief designer. (page 433)

When Martin Harris lost the first 116 pages of the newly dictated Book of Mormon, many have theorized that he continued on in the saga, right from where he left off, in the Book of Mosiah. Metcalfe asks,

Did he recommence where the Book of Lehi had left off—at Mosiah—then dictate 1 Nephi through Words of Mormon last—which replaced the Book of Lehi? Did he begin with Words of Mormon? Or did he start with 1 Nephi, dictating the document in the same order as in current printed editions of the Book of Mormon? Interpretation of key Book of Mormon passages depends on which view one subscribes to (cf. Welch and Rathbone 1986, 1). It also affects one’s understanding of the dictation history and sheds light on Smith’s role in the volume’s production. Consequently, resolving the order of dictation is an important prelude to any critical Book of Mormon exegesis. (page 397)

With the loss of the Book of Lehi, Smith was then free to rewrite the beginning of the Book of Mormon,  which contains the bulk of the Isaiah material, and the reworked Chapter 29.

Here is Isaiah “mapped” to the Book of Mormon:

Isaiah 2–14 2 Nephi 12–24
Isaiah 29 2 Nephi 27
Isaiah 48-49 1 Nephi 20–21
Isaiah 50–51 2 Nephi 7–8
Isaiah 52 3 Nephi 20
Isaiah 53 Mosiah 14
Isaiah 54 3 Nephi 22
Isaiah 5:26* 2 Nephi 29:2
Isaiah 9:12-13 2 Nephi 28:32
Isaiah 11:4 2 Nephi 30:9
Isaiah 11:5-9 2 Nephi 30:11-15
Isaiah 11:11a* 2 Nephi 25:17a; 29:1b; compare 25:11
Isaiah 22:13* 2 Nephi 28:7-8
Isaiah 25:12* 2 Nephi 26:15
Isaiah 28:10, 13* 2 Nephi 28:30
Isaiah 29:3-4* 2 Nephi 26:15-16
Isaiah 29:5* 2 Nephi 26:18
Isaiah 29:6 2 Nephi 6:15
Isaiah 29:6-10 2 Nephi 27:2-5
Isaiah 29:13 2 Nephi 28:9
Isaiah 29:14a* 1 Nephi 14:7a; 22:8a; 2 Nephi 25:17b; 29:1a
Isaiah 29:15a* 2 Nephi 28:9a
Isaiah 29:21b* 2 Nephi 28:16a
Isaiah 40:3* 1 Nephi 10:8
Isaiah 45:18* 1 Nephi 17:36
Isaiah 45:23* Mosiah 27:31
Isaiah 49:22 1 Nephi 22:6
Isaiah 49:22* 1 Nephi 22:8; 2 Nephi 6:6
Isaiah 49:23a* 1 Nephi 22:8b; 2 Nephi 10:9a
Isaiah 49:23 2 Nephi 6:7
Isaiah 49:24-26 2 Nephi 6:16-18
Isaiah 52:1a* Moroni 10:31a
Isaiah 52:1-2 2 Nephi 8:24-25
Isaiah 52:7* 1 Nephi 13:37; Mosiah 15:14-18; 27:37
Isaiah 52:7-10 Mosiah 12:21-24
Isaiah 52:8-10 Mosiah 15:29-31; 3 Nephi 16:18-20; 20:32-35
Isaiah 52:10* 1 Nephi 22:10-11
Isaiah 52:12* 3 Nephi 21:29
Isaiah 52:13-15* 3 Nephi 21:8 -10
Isaiah 53:8, 10* Mosiah 15:10-11
Isaiah 54:2b* Moroni 10:31a
Isaiah 55:1* 2 Nephi 26:25
Isaiah 55:1-2 2 Nephi 9:50 -51

Source: Book of Mormon Reference Companion, Dennis Largey, Editor, Deseret Book, 2003.

[121] Robert J. Matthews, “A Plainer Translation”: Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible, A History and Commentary (BYU Press, 1985), pp. xxvii-xxx.

[122] Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1998, pages 233-234.

[123] In 1833, Joseph wrote to Phelps,

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 (Letter, 11 January, 1833).

After Phelps apostatized over the Missouri problems in 1838, he wrote to Joseph to ask for his forgiveness and to rejoin the Church.  Smith recalls their once close friendship in his reply to Phelps:

It is true, that we have suffered much in consequence  of your behavior— the cup of gall already full enough for  mortals to drink, was indeed filled to overflowing when you  turned against us: One with whom we had oft taken sweet council together, and enjoyed many refreshing seasons  from the Lord “Had it been an enemy we could have borne it”  In the day that thou stoodest on the other side, in the day when  Strangers carried away captive his forces, and foreigners entered  into his gates and cast lots upon Far West even thou wast as one of them. But thou shouldst not have looked on the day of thy brother, in the day that he became a stranger neither shouldst thou have spoken proudly in the day of distress” (Letter,  Joseph Smith to William Wines Phelps, July 22, 1840).

[124] The Evening and the Morning Star, Vol.2, No.14, p.106, emphasis mine.

[125] Matthews, pp. 234-5.

[126] Cloward, p. 247, n. 82.

[127] Matthews, p. 253.

[128] Gospel Principles, p. 45.

[129] Matthews, pp. 235-236.

[130] ibid, p. 237.

[131] Ronald V. Huggins, “Joseph Smith’s “Inspired Translation” of Romans 7″, Dialogue, Vol.26, No.4, p.163.

[132] Cloward, op. cited.

[133] Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years before the Mast (Malad, Idaho: by the author, 1888), 71.

[134] Letter, Martin Harris to H. B. Emerson, November 23, 1871, cit. The True Latter-day Saints’ Herald 22 (15 Oct 1875):630.

[135] Simon Smith to Joseph Smith III, 30 Dec. 1880, Saints Herald, 1 Feb. 1881 p.  43, cit. Hullinger, p. 90.

[136] Hullinger, pp. 90-91. For more on this see Hullinger, Chapter 8: “Masonic Ritual and Lore”.

[137] Wayne Sentinel, May 27, 1831

[138] The Prophet of Palmyra, by Thomas Gregg, NYC: J. B. Alden, 1890, pp. 136-137. A brief bio of Harding may be found here, accessed July 25, 2013.

As noted above, Harding had quite a sense of humor, and used it on Calvin Stoddard while he was visiting Palmyra. Pomeroy Tucker,  writes,

Stoddard was an early believer in Mormonism, and was quite as eccentric a character as Harris. He was slightly impressed that he had a call to preach the new gospel, but his mind was beclouded with perplexing doubts upon the question. One dark night, about ten o’clock, Stephen S. Harding, then a stalwart, fun-loving, dare-devil genius of eighteen years, late Territorial Governor of Utah (not a Mormon), who well knew Stoddard’s peculiarities, and being bent on making a sensation, repaired with his genial friend,  Abner Tucker, to the residence of the enthusiast; and awakening him from sleep by three signals upon the door with a huge stone, deliberately proclaimed, in a loud, sonorous voice, with solemn intonations — “C-a-l-v-i-n  S-t-o-d-d-a-r-d!  t-h-e  a-n-g-e-l  o-f  t-h-e  L-o-r-d  c-o-m-m-a-n-d-s  t-h-a-t  b-e-f-o-r-e  a-n-o-t-h-e-r  g-o-i-n-g  d-o-w-n  o-f  t-h-e  s-u-n  t-h-o-u  s-h-a-l-t  g-o  f-o-r-t-h  a-m-o-n-g  t-h-e  p-e-o-p-l-e  a-n-d  p-r-e-a-c-h  t-h-e  g-o-s-p-e-l  o-f  N-e-p-h-i,  o-r  t-h-y  w-i-f-e  s-h-a-l-l  b-e  a  w-i-d-o-w,  t-h-y  c-h-i-l-d-r-e-n  o-r-p-h-a-n-s,  a-n-d  t-h-y  a-s-h-e-s  s-c-a-t-t-e-r-e-d  t-o  t-h-e  f-o-u-r  w-i-n-d-s  o-f  h-e-a-v-e-n!”
The experiment was a complete success. Stoddard’s former convictions were now confirmed. Such a convincing “revelation” was final, and not to be disregarded. Early the next morning the subject of this

special call” was seen upon his rounds among his neighbors, as a Mormon missionary, earnestly telling them of the “command” he had received to preach. Luminous arguments and evidences were adduced by him to sustain the foundation of his belief in this his revealed sphere of duty! (Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress: Of Mormonism: Biography of its Founders and History of its Church, New York, D. Appleton & Co., 1867, pp. 80-81)

Apparently this incident made it into the local newspaper, the Palmyra Reflector which reported,

==> Some few evenings since, a man in the town of Mendon, had a loud call to go and preach the doctrines contained in the Gold Bible, under heavy denunciations. (The Palmyra Reflector, September 23, 1829).

Dale Morgan writes of the incident,

Typesetting on the book began in August 1829 and the slow labor of printing on the primitive hand press on which the Wayne Sentinel itself was issued was not finished until March 1830. The intervening months, however, were by no means without event. According to David Whitmer, the elders of the incipient church as early as August 1829 began to preach the gospel. “The Book of Mormon was still m the hands of the printer, but my brother, Christian Whitmer, had copied from the manuscript the teachings and doctrine of Christ, being the things which we were commanded to  preach.” For eight months before the church was formally organized, they preached, baptized, and confirmed, and this was a phenomenon to excite both the wonder and the risibility of the citizens of Palmyra. Pranksters were not lacking, and Joseph’s own brother in law, Calvin Stoddard, who lived a few miles away in Macedon, was set to frantic preaching of the new faith by an Angel of the Lord who came knocking on his door one dark night with a thunderous command to preach “the gospel of Nephi” next day under penalty of having his ashes scattered to the four winds of heaven. “The experiment,” Pomeroy Tucker recalls, “was a complete success…Early the next morning the subject of this ‘special call’ was seen upon his rounds among his neighbors, as a Mormon missionary, earnestly telling them of the ‘command’, he had received to preach. Luminous arguments and evidences were adduced by him to sustain the foundation of his belief in this his revealed sphere of duty!” (John Phillip Walker, Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism: Correspondence and a New History,p.306).

[139] ibid, p. 43.

[140] ibid.

[141] ibid, pp. 45-47.

[142]  Walker, Dale Morgan, Endnotes, Footnote 17 in Chapter Five, page 415.

The “Caractors” From The Gold Plates

Characters On Desk

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

Farmer Martin Harris

Farmer Martin Harris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letterbook 1

Letterbook 1

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

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

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

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

Norton Jacob

Norton Jacob

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harris then recounts that he,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lucy Mack Smith

Lucy Mack Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oliver Cowdery

Oliver Cowdery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orson Pratt

Orson Pratt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John H. Gilbert

John H. Gilbert

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

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

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

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

William Wines Phelps

William Wines Phelps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joseph Knight, Sr.

Joseph Knight, Sr.

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

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

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

Joseph Smith's Chocolate Peep Stone

Artist Rendering of Joseph’s Brown Stone

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

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


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

[8] ibid, page 11.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Jessee also writes that,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historian Scott Faulring explains that Joseph’s large journal,

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

Dean Jessee writes,

In October 1834 Oliver Cowdery, the editor of the Messenger and Advocate, introduced the first published history of the Church. This work was presented in the form of correspondence between Cowdery and William W. Phelps, and was anticipated as a “full history of the rise of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, and the most interesting parts of its progress, to the present time.” It was further announced by the editor that “our brother J. Smith Jr. has offered to assist us. Indeed, there are many items connected with the fore part of this subject that render his labor indispensible. With his labor and with authentic documents now in our possession, we hope to render this a pleasing and agreeable narrative.”

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

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

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

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

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

If, as Mr. Slone contends, the 1832 History is the right interpretation of events, then why did Joseph abruptly discontinue it and leave it uncopied in the back of a letterbook? Why didn’t Joseph have it copied into the large journal in 1835? Even if he was not satisfied with the account of the claimed 1820 vision, why did he not have the portion that had to do with the visit of the messenger copied? It is obvious that Joseph did not want the events as written in 1832 to become part of his Official History.  At the Joseph Smith Papers website they write that,

J[oseph] S[mith] dictated or supplied information for much of A-1, and he personally corrected the first forty-two pages before his death.  (See also, History of the Church, vol. 7, p. 387).

There may be another reason that Joseph did not feel the 1832 History was important; in his 1839 History he changed the name of the messenger from Moroni to Nephi. As you can see in the photo, the name Nephi is not only written, but emphasized. The insertion of the name Moroni into the text above was done much later, by Brigham H. Roberts. When this History was published by Joseph in 1842 in the Times and Seasons, Joseph (who was the Editor at that time) kept the name Nephi.  It was also published as Nephi in the Millennial Star and in the first edition of the Pearl of Great Price. Since Joseph corrected the first 42 pages of this manuscript and did not change the name to Moroni, ascribing the name of Nephi to a clerical error is disingenuous. It is worth noting here that Joseph did not name the messenger who gave him the plates in his 1832 History, though he does reference “Maroni” as one of those who had “engraven” the plates. (Letterbook 1, page 4). As for the messenger, Joseph simply calls him “an angel of the Lord” who “came and stood before me and it was by night and he called me by name…” (ibid). Why Joseph would change the name of this messenger to Nephi is something of a mystery since he had referred to the angel who delivered the plates as Moroni in a prior “revelation” (Doctrine and Covenants, 1835 edition, L:2) and in the 1838 publication, The Elder’s Journal (Elders Journal, 1, pp. 42-3, July 1838).

[14] “Letter Book A,” JS Letterbook 1page 11.

[15] Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 1,  p. 223.

[16] ibid.

[17] Joel Tiffany, Interview with Martin Harris, Tiffany’s Monthly, August, 1859, p.167.

[18] ibid, page 168.

[19] ibid, page 169.

[20] ibid, page 167.

[21] ibid, page 169.

[22] ibid, page 170.

[23] Letterbook 1, page 10. The text reads,

in December following we mooved to Susquehana by the assistence of a man by the name of Martin Har[r]is who became convinced of th[e] vision and gave me fifty Dollars to bare my expences  and because of his faith and this rightheous deed the Lord appeared unto him in a vision and shewed unto  him his marvilous work which he was about to do and <h[e]> imediately came to Suquehannah and said the Lord  had shown him that he must go to new York City <with> some of the characters so we proceeded to coppy some of them and he took his Journy to the Eastern Cittys and to the Learned <saying> read this I pray thee and the learned said I cannot but if he would bring the blates[plates] they would read it but the Lord had forbid it and he returned to me and gave them to <me> <to> translate and I said I said cannot for I am not learned but the Lord had prepared spectacles for to read the Book therefore I commenced translating the characters

[24] Early Mormon Documents Vol. 1, page 343-44, See also, JSP, Accessed, June 4, 2013.

[25] ibid, page 344. JSP, Accessed, June 4,

[26] ibid.

[27] ibid, page 348, See also, JSP, Accessed, June 4, 2013. Lucy Smith wrote,

She went to bed  and in the morning told us a very remarkable dream She said that a personage had appeared to her the night before and said to her that inasmuch as she had disputed  the servant of the Lord and said that his word was not  to be believed and asked him many improper questions that she had done that which was not right in the sight of God Now said behold here are the plates look upon them and believe she then described the record minutely and again said that She had made up her mind as to what she would do that She had in her possession 28 dollars that her mother gave her just before she died when She was on her death bed  Joseph should take that and if he would he might give his note but he should certainly accept of it on sone terms this last proposition he acceeded to in order get rid of her importunities

[28] ibid.

[29] The Historical Magazine, page 307, Online here. Accessed June 4, 2013.

[30] Vogel, Early Mormon Documents Vol. 1, page 344.

[31] ibid.

[32] ibid, p. 328. JSP, Accessed June 4., 2013.

[33] Sloan, op. cited. In trying to prove that Joseph could not translate at all until after Martin Harris returned from New York, Mr. Sloan writes,

According to Richard L. Bushman, “Lucy implied that once Joseph had a translation of all the basic characters, he could carry on by himself—thus the need to copy a great number of characters.” Lucy’s statements indicate that her son could not translate and for that reason sought out the assistance of learned men. Accordingly, Bushman writes that “The scripture [Isaiah 29] must have struck Joseph with all the more power if at first he did not know how to translate, as his mother said. The protest “I am not learned’ would then have expressed Joseph’s situation in 1827 exactly. Joseph Knight thought the circumstances fit the scripture.” (ibid.)

This is totally misreading what Lucy reports. Before Joseph told his mother that he was “instructed” to copy the characters to “send them to all the learned men that he could find and ask them for a translation,” he knew that he would be able to translate the plates.  When Joseph returned from the hill with Emma on the night of September 27, 1827 Lucy wrote that,

I trembled so much with fear lest all might be lost agin by some small failure in keeping the commandments that I was under the necessity of l[e]aving the room to conceal my feelings[.] Joseph saw this and followed me[.] Mother[,] said he[,] do not be uneasy all is right here said he I have got the key[.]

I knew not what he meant but took the article in my hands and upon examining it (with no covering but a silk handkerchief)[,] found that it consisted of 2 sm<ooth> ❤ cornered diamonds set in glass and the glass was set in silver bows> stones connected with each other in the same way that old fashioned spectacles are made[.] (Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 1, p. 329, See also, JSP, Accessed, June 4, 2013.

That key, according to Joseph Knight was the “spectacles” through which Joseph could see anything, and to which Lucy later adds,

The thing which [I] spoke of that Joseph termed a Key was indeed nothing more nor less than the urim and Thummim by which the angel manifested those things to <him> that were shown him in vision by which also he could at any time ascertain the approach of danger either to himself or the record and for this cause he kept these thing<s> constantly about his person[.] (ibid, page 339, JSP, Accessed June 4, 2013)

It is unlikely that Joseph kept the over large spectacles about his person at all times, so Lucy must have been referring to Joseph’s peep stone. If Joseph could “see anything”, even the “past, present, and future” then surely he knew that he would be able to translate the record with his “key”. What need then, to study it out in his mind? He could see anything! This may be the reason why Joseph abandoned his earlier History and wrote that after he was

“enabled to reach the place of my destination in Pensylvania, and immediately after my arrival there I commenced copying the characters of all the plates. I copyed a considerable number of them and by means of the Urim and Thummin I translated some of them which I did between the time I arrived at the house of my wife’s father in the month of December [1827], and the February following. Sometime in this month of February the aforementioned Mr Martin Harris came to our place, got the characters which I had drawn off of the plates and started with them to the City of New York. (Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Volume I, p. 70).

Joseph’s “revelation” to Oliver Cowdery about studying it out in his mind first, makes little sense. How do you study out in your mind and come to a translation, of which you then must ask God “is this translation I came up with right or wrong”; when you cannot read the hieroglyphics in front of you? How would you make any kind of translation? Isn’t the whole idea of the “interpreters” to translate the language into another language you can understand by God’s power? Don Bradley writes,

The most specific  translation accounts states that Smith would see, on “something like parchment,” a “Reformed Egyptian” character from the plates and below it the English rendering. A single character would render sometimes just a word or two in English and sometimes several words, with Joseph apparently dictating on average about twenty to thirty words at a time. (“Written by the Finger of God?: Claims and Controversies of Book of Mormon Translation”, Sunstone, online here).

He also writes,

When using the seer stone, Smith did not directly consult the plates, which sometimes lay nearby concealed in a cloth and at other times were hidden in a remote location, such as the woods. (ibid).

How could Joseph study out in his mind the characters on the plates when the plates were not even in front of him? If he only needed the stone, why not leave the plates in the ground? He could have then, later, taken the witnesses to see them. Why go through all the trouble if he really didn’t need them? So the question then becomes, what was there to study out in your mind?  Don Bradley tried to tackle this problem in his article quoted above and wrote,

The revelation [D&C 9] prescribes a process of “studying out” the scriptural text in one’s mind and confirming it through a “burning in the bosom” or disconfirming it through “a stupor of thought” (D&C 9:8–9). A potential objection to the argument from D&C 9 is that the revelation prescribes this process for one translating by “the spirit of revelation,” like Oliver, not for one translating by the gift of seeing, like Joseph (D&C 8:1–4). Thus, on the logic of this objection, because Oliver was not a seer and therefore unable to translate by the seer’s gift, his mode of translation would be nonvisual. But the revelation does not necessarily indicate that Joseph Smith would have translated in this same manner. Instead, D&C 9 can be understood as suggesting that the method of translation was tailored to the gifts of the translator, a concept consistent with Book of Mormon teaching on spiritual gifts (such as Moroni 10:8: “there are different ways that these gifts are administered”). By this logic, Joseph’s translation of the Book of Mormon, made in his capacity as a seer employing the spectacles or seer stone, would have capitalized on his gift of second sight. (option cited above)

There are all kinds of problems with this logic. If it were true that each person would have a different method of translating, then why prepare spectacles to translate the plates in the first place? And if “seeing” is a spiritual gift, then what is the problem? Why then, would Oliver have failed if it was just a matter of nonvisual “revelation”?  Are the current apostles of the church screened in their use of seer stones before they are set apart as “prophets, seers and revelators” for the church? Why then, would Joseph let Oliver try and translate in the first place and then have a “revelation” that it was because he didn’t study it out in his mind that he couldn’t perform? Why not just tell him that he wasn’t a “seer” and that was why he failed? The problem is that to translate something from what you don’t know to something you know has no criteria which one can apply to the “study it out in your mind” method. Even in the revelation itself it states that God wanted Oliver to know that, “other records have I, that I will give unto you power that you may assist to translate.” (verse 2) It also says that God “took this privilege away” from Cowdery. (verse 5) So he must have been able to translate. He was also told that if he only “knew” that he should have studied it out in his mind, that all would have been just fine. (verse 10)  Then the “revelation” blames it on Cowdery’s “fear”. (verse 11). This “revelation” raises far more questions than it answers.

[34] Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 1, page 344.

[35] Fayette Lapham Interview, The Historical Magazine, page 308. Online here, accessed June 4, 2013.

[36] Letterbook 1, page, 11. Joseph wrote:

in December following we mooved to Susquehana by the assistence of a man by the name of Martin Har[r]is who became convinced of th[e] vision and gave me fifty Dollars to bare my expences  and because of his faith and this rightheous deed the Lord appeared unto him in a vision and shewed unto  him his marvilous work which he was about to do and <h[e]> imediately came to Suquehannah and said the Lord had shown him that he must go to new York City  <with> some of the characters so we proceeded to coppy some of them

[37] The Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Vol. 1, No. 5, February, 1835, pages 79-80, (Hereafter LDSM&A). Online here, accessed June 4, 2013. Oliver Cowdery wrote to W. W. Phelps,

“Yet,” said he, [the messenger from the skies] “the scripture must be fulfilled before it is translated, which says that the words of a book, which were sealed, were presented to the learned; for thus has God determined to leave men without excuse, and show to the meek that his arm is not shortened that it cannot save.”

There is one late remembrance that mentions the Isaiah prophecy being spoken about before the plates were translated, and that is by Emily (Colburn) Austin, a younger sister of Sally (Colburn) Knight, the wife of Newel Knight.  In her autobiography from 1882 she writes,

Old Uncle Joe [Joseph] Knight, as we called him, was a wool carder, and a farmer; yet he abandoned all business, and joined with a number of others to dig for money on his premises. While I was visiting my sister, we have walked out to see the places where they had dug for money, and laughed to think of the absurdity of any people having common intellect to indulge in such a thought or action. However, all of those things had long since become oblivious; for in the time of their digging for money and not finding it attainable, Joe Smith told them there was a charm on the pots of money, and if some animal was killed and the blood sprinkled around the place, then they could get it. So they killed a dog, and tried this method of obtaining the precious metal; but again money was scarce in those diggings. Still, they dug and dug, but never came to the precious treasure. Alas! how vivid was the expectation when the blood of poor Tray was used to take off the charm, and after all to find their mistake, that it did not speak better of things than that of Abel. And now they were obliged to give up in despair, and Joseph went home again to his father’s, in Palmyra.

Some months after this fruitless enterprise he was married to Miss Emma Hale, a school teacher, a fine girl, of good repute and respectable, though poor parentage. It was at this time, which I have mentioned previously, that the rumor was in circulation concerning the strange doctrine which he was setting forth; and which, indeed, was creating quite a stir among the people, and it surprised us to hear of his return to Colesville with his wife, to meet again with his old money diggers. But now he had entered upon a new project. He declared an angel had appeared to him and told him of golden plates, which were hidden up to come forth on a certain day; and also that the plates were sacred, containing a history of a people who inhabited this continent in ancient days; also it was that which Isaiah the prophet had spoken of; a vision which should become as the words of a book that is sealed; which was delivered to one that was learned, saying “Read this, I pray thee;” and he said, “I cannot, for it is sealed;” and the book is delivered to one that is unlearned, saying: “Read this, I pray thee;” and he said, “I cannot, for I am unlearned; moreover, inasmuch as this people draw near me, with their mouths and with their lips do honor me, therefore I will proceed to do a marvelous work and a wonder; for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.”

This is what was circulated throughout the country, and this is the rumor which was now afloat. Smith brought up many prophecies to show that the Lord was about to do a marvelous work in the last days. He also affirmed that he had seen the angel, and had talked with him face to face; and the angel told him at a certain time he would conduct him to the place where the plates could be obtained; also that he was a chosen vessel in the hands of God, to translate them, and bring them to the world. All this was heard and believed by a large number of persons in Colesville, among whom was my own dear sister and her husband.  (Life Among the Mormons, by Emily M. Austin, M. J. Cantwell, Book and Job Printer, King Street, Madison Wisconsin, 1882, pages 32-35)

Unfortunately there are no contemporary accounts that agree with Emily’s statement that the Isaiah passage was being “circulated about the country” before Joseph produced the manuscript to the Book of Mormon. It is interesting to note that in 1830, after the Book of Mormon was translated, Lucy Smith was visited by three men from the local Presbyterian Church that some members of the Smith family had joined after Alvin’s death.  It seems that they had not been attending the church for the past 18 months, and they had come to enquire why they had not. Lucy gives this account of the interview,

On the fourth day the 3 men  <delegated> <by> the council came to perform the work assigned them they  began[:] Mrs [Lucy Mack] Smith we hear you have a gold bible and we came to see you <if> be so kind as to show it to us

No gentlemen said I[,]  we have <got><no> gold bible but we  have a translation of some gold plates which was sent to the world to bring the plainess of the Gospel to the children of men and to give a history of the people that used to inhabit this country and I then proceeded to give them the substance of what is contained in the book  of Mormon as also particularly the principles of religion  which it contains. But added I the Universalists come here  wonderfullly affraid that their religion will suffer loss— The  Presbyterians are frightened least their salary will come down The Methodist’s come and they rage for they worship a God  without body or parts and the doctrine we advocate comes  in contact with their views

Well said the foremost gentleman with whom I was acquainted can we see the manuscript,

No sir you cannot see it we have done exhibiting the manuscript altogether I have told you what was in it and that must  <suffice> He did not reply to this but said Mrs Smith you & Hyrum [Smith]  and sophronia [Smith Stoddard] and samuel [Smith] have belonged to our church  a whole year and we respect you very you say a great deal <about the book which your son has found> and believe much of what he tells you  but we cannot beare thoughts of loosing  you and they do wish— I wish that if you do believe those  things that never would say  anything about it I do wish you would not— Deacon  Beckwith said even you should stick my body full of faggots and burn me at the stake I would decla re that Jose[p]h has that record and that I know it to be  true as long as God gave me breath— he then turned  to his companions and said you see it is no use  to say anything more to her— we cannont chan[g]e he[r] mind &  then addressing me Mrs Smith I see that it is not poss ible to persuade you out of your belief and I do not  know that it is worth while to say any more about  the matter— No sir said I it is <of> no use you cannot  effect any thing by all that you can say— he then bid  me farewell and went out to see Hyrum & they asked  him if he really did believe that his brother had got the record  which he pretended to have— Hyrum <testified boldly to the truth and> told him that if he would take  the book of mormon when it was finished and read it asking God  for a witness to the truth of [it] he would receive what he desired  and now said he Deacon Beckwith just try it and see if I do  <not tell you truth.— They went to Samuel who quoted Isa[ia]h.>

Saumel Harrison did not quote Isaiah Chapter 29, he quoted Isaiah 56:9-11,  which reads,

All ye beasts of the field, come to devour, yea, all ye beasts in the forest. His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber. Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter. Come ye, say they, I will fetch wine, and we will fill ourselves with strong drink; and to morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant.

[38] John A. Clark, Gleanings By The Way, W.J. & J.K. Simon, Philadelphia, 1842, page 224. Online Version, accessed, June 4, 2013.

[39] ibid.

[40] ibid.

[41]ibid, page 228.


[43]Dean C. Jessee, Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History, BYU Studies 17, no. 1 (1976): 29–39. Online Version,  Accessed, June 4, 2013.

[44]Gleanings, page 224. Clark wrote,

That this mysterious book, which no human eye of the present generation had yet seen, was in the possession of Joseph Smith, jr., ordinarily known in the neighborhood under the more familiar designation of Jo Smith; that there had been a revelation made to him by which he had discovered this sacred deposit, and two transparent stone, through which, as a sort of spectacles, he could read the Bible, although the box or ark that contained it, had not yet been opened; and that by looking through those mysterious stones, he had transcribed from one of the leaves of this book, the characters which Harris had so carefully wrapped in the package which he was drawing from his pocket.

Later, when Joseph actually claimed to be translating from the plates, his father-in-law Isaac Hale observed that,

The manner in which he pretended to read and interpret, was the same as when he looked for  [treasure for] the money-diggers, with the stone in his hat, and his hat over his face, while the Book of Plates were at the same time in the woods! (Affidavit of Isaac Hale, “Mormonism,” Susquehanna Register, and Northern Pennsylvanian, May 1, 1834, 9:1). Online here: Accessed June 4, 2013.

[45] ibid, page 242. See also, this article Part II.

[46] Gleanings, page, 231. Joseph seems to have only used the blanket with Martin Harris. In later accounts, Joseph never had the plates with him; he would “translate” by placing his peep stone into his hat, and then reading off what he claimed appeared on the stone. Dan Vogel writes that,

… Joseph Jr. had earned a reputation as a seer who could, by looking into a special stone, find lost articles, foretell the future, and locate buried treasure. In late 1825 he belonged to a treasure-seeking company which traveled the countryside in search of Spanish and Indian treasure in Palmyra, Manchester, Colesville, South Bainbridge, Harmony, and other places in New York and Pennsylvania. Martin Harris, a prominent member of the community and later financial backer of the Book of Mormon, remembered that the Palmyra-Manchester treasure seekers “were digging for money supposed to have been hidden by the ancients” and that “it was reported by these money diggers, that they had found boxes, but before they could secure them, they would sink into the earth.” (Dan Vogel, Religious Seekers and the Advent of Mormonism, Ch.2, p.32 – p.33).

About the spectacles that Joseph claimed to have found with the gold plates Harris wrote,

“The stones were white, like polished marble, with a few gray streaks. I never dared to look into them by placing them in the hat, because Moses said that ‘no man could see God and live,’ and we could see anything we wished by looking into them; and I could not keep the desire to see God out of my mind. And beside, we had a command to let no man look into them, except by the command of God, lest he should ‘look aught and perish.’

It is doubtful that Harris ever saw the spectacles, or for that matter anyone else. Joseph himself, in a letter to John Wentworth in 1842 described the spectacles. He wrote,

With the records was found a curious instrument, which the ancients called “Urim and Thummim,” which consisted of two transparent stones set in the rims of a bow fastened to a breastplate. Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift and power of God.  (History of the Church, 4:535–41).

Joseph claimed the stones were transparent, Harris said they were opaque white with gray streaks. Emma Smith never mentioned her husband using spectacles,

“In writing for your father I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.” (History of the RLDS Church, 8 vols. Herald House, 1951, Volume 3, page 356).

Edward Traughber interviewed David Whitmer in 1879 and wrote,

With the sanction of David Whitmer, and by his authority, I now state that he does not say that Joseph Smith ever translated in his presence by aid of Urim and Thummim; but by means of one dark colored, opaque stone, called a ‘Seer Stone,’ which was placed in the crown of a hat, into which Joseph put his face, so as to exclude the external light. Then, a spiritual light would shine forth, and parchment would appear before Joseph, upon which was a line of characters from the plates, and under it, the translation in English; at least, so Joseph said. (Saints’ Herald 26 (15 Nov. 1879): 341).

Michael Morse who was the husband of Emma’s sister Trial Hale, gave an interview to W. W. Blair of the RLDS First Presidency and said,

The mode of procedure consisted in Joseph’s placing the Seer Stone in the crown of a hat, then putting his face into the hat, so as to entirely cover his face, resting his elbows upon his knees, and then dictating word after word, while the scribes—Emma, John Whitmer, O. Cowdery, or some other wrote it down. Saints’ Herald 26 (15 June 1879): 190-91

Historian D. Michael Quinn wrote,

Before organizing the church in April 1830, Joseph Smith evidently ceased using the brown seer stone he had employed to translate the Book of Mormon and gave it to his scribe Oliver Cowdery Until his death in 1850, Cowdery kept this brown stone as a sacred relic of the Book of Mormon translation. Brigham Young’s brother Phineas, who was Cowdery’s brother-in-law, obtained the stone from Cowdery’s widow in 1850 and made a gift of it to Brigham Young. Three years later, one of Young’s counselors in the First Presidency confirmed to a Salt lake City congregation that Young had “the Urim and Thummim”.

Following Young’s death in 1877, his widow Zina D.H. Young obtained this seer stone at an estate auction of her husband’s personal effects, and she and her daughter Zina Y. Card eventually gave it to his successor John Taylor . In 1882 Apostle Franklin D. Richards examined “the Seer Stone that Oliver Cowdery gave Phineas Young,” observing that “the pouch containing it [was] made [p.196] by Emma [Smith]” . One of John Taylor’s body guards recorded in 1887, “On Sunday last I saw and handled the seer stone that the Prophet Joseph Smith had. It was a dark color, not round on one side. It was shaped like the top of a baby’s shoe, one end like the toe of the shoe, and the other round” (Bateman 1887). At the dedication of the Manti Temple the following year, Wilford Woodruff, who had recently succeeded Taylor as president, wrote, “Before leaving I Consecrated upon the Altar the seers Stone that Joseph Smith found by Revelation some 30 feet under the Earth [and] Carried By him through life”. After Woodruffs death in 1898, his successor Lorenzo Snow displayed the brown, Book of Mormon seer stone to a local bishop of the church. Frederick Kesler wrote in his diary that Snow “showed me the Seerers [sic] Stone that the Prophet Joseph Smith had by which he done some of the Translating of the Book of Mormon with. I handeled [sic] it with my own hands. I felt as though I see & was handling a very Sacred thing. I trust & feel that it will work in his hands as it did in the Prophet Joseph Smiths hands,” and added that this stone’s “color was mahoganey”. This seer stone is now kept in the First Presidency’s private vault. Recently, one of Zina Card’s descendants was allowed to see the stone in the First Presidency’s office. She afterwards stated,

The stone was not chocolate brown but rather the color of brown sugar. It was 3-4 inches long, 2 inches wide, and had a hump in the middle which made it perhaps 2 inches thick at the thickest point. It was fiat on the bottom and had three black, concentric circles on the top 1/2 inch. Below the circles were many small black circles. The stone was not transparent.” The First Presidency’s secretary told her that the presidency’s vault contained two additional seer stones. (D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, p.195-6).

Even Martin Harris recalled that Joseph used his peep stone to translate the gold plates,

By aid of the seer stone, sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written by Martin, and when finished he would say, “Written,” and if correctly written, that sentence would disappear and another appear in its place, but if not written correctly it remained until corrected, so that the translation was just as it was engraven on the plates, precisely in the language then used. Martin said, after continued translation they would become weary, and would go down to the river and exercise by throwing stones out on the river, etc. While so doing on one occasion, Martin found a stone very much resembling the one used for translating, and on resuming their labor of translation, Martin put in place the stone that he had found. He said that the Prophet remained silent, unusually and intently gazing in darkness, no traces of the usual sentences appearing. Much surprised, Joseph exclaimed, “Martin! What is the matter? All is as dark as Egypt!” Martin’s countenance betrayed him, and the Prophet asked Martin why he had done so. Martin said, to stop the mouths of fools, who had told him that the Prophet had learned those sentences and was merely repeating them, etc. (Edward Stevenson, “One of the Three Witnesses: Incidents in the Life of Martin Harris”, Millennial Star 44 (6 February 1882): 86-87).

The swapping stones incident that Martin Harris speaks of appears to be an embellishment, perhaps to impress his new Mormon brethren.  As noted above, Joseph’s brown stone that he used to translate the Book of Mormon was unique. So much so that it is hard to believe that Harris could find a stone so similar that Joseph could not tell right away that it was not his stone. Are we really to believe that Harris found a mahogany colored stone that was flat on the bottom and shaped like a baby shoe, and that it also had three circles on the top and many other circles in addition to them?

[47] Gleanings, pages 230-231.

[48] Hiel Lewis Statement, September 29, 1879. Hiel Lewis was a cousin of Emma Hale Smith. Lewis wrote,

 It is true that Alva Hale went with his team to Palmyra, N. Y., one hundred miles or more, and moved Smith and wife to Harmony. It was stated by Alva Hale, at the time, that the “Gold Bible” was in a barrel of beans in his wagon, and that he (Hale) slept in his wagon to guard that barrel of beams and its treasure. I remember hearing my older brother Joseph tell Alva that if he, Joeph Lewis, had been in your place (Alva Hale’s) he would have known whether that barrel of beans contained any golden Bible or not, perfectly regardless of Smith’s statement that it would be certain death for any one to see the plates. The Hales seemed, for a time, to be kept in awe by Smith’s statements, but that awe did not last long. Alva Hale is over eighty and his memory has failed much in a few years past. Some things he remembers distinctly, and some things I have been able to help him recall; for example, I asked him if he remembered the letter he wrote to Smith and Emma when they eloped. He said, no, and had no recollection of writing a letter to them. When told the contents of the letter; which was as follows — “My Creed! I believe in love-powder, in gun-powder and hell fire,” he replied, I recollect it as plain as if but yesterday. I asked Alva, on one of our late visits, if he remembered weighing the gold Bible; but he did not. My brother tried to refresh his memory, but in vain. Joseph remembers hearing it stated by Alva that he (Hale) was permitted to weigh the gold Bible in a pillow case, and, according to our memory, it weighed thirteen pounds! There were many persons in Harmony who had from Joe Smith positive promises that they should see the plates and the spectacles, but all say that they never saw them. Alva Hale says he never saw them. I presume he saw that old glass-box that Isaac Hale spoke of, said to contain the plates. Smith’s excuse for using his peepstone and hat to translate with, instead of those spectacles, was that he must keep the spectacles concealed; but any and all persons were permitted to inspect the peep-stone; and that he could translate just as well with the stone.

[49] Mormonism,” Susquehanna Register, and Northern Pennsylvanian 9 (1 May 1834):1

[50]  Isaac Hale Statement, Susquehanna Register, Thursday, May 1, 1834.

[51] Dean C. Jessee, Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History, Maxwell Institute,

[52] EMD Vol 1, pages 343-44..

[53] Blackman, History of Susquehanna County, page 104

[54] “David Whitmer Talks,” Omaha Herald, October 10, 1886, see also The Salt Lake Daily Tribune, Salt Lake City, Utah, Sunday, October 17, 1886. Whitmer always affirmed that it was Joseph who copied the characters that were given to Harris, and that the “Caractors” document in his possession was the original. This recollection of Whitmer’s may still be credible, if one ascribes it to the actual document that Harris took to Anthon, not the one that Whitmer inherited later, which has many erasures and looks to have been drawn much more hastily.

[55] LDSM&A,  Vol I. No. 1, October, 1834, page 16.  Online here, accessed June 5, 2013.

[56] LDSM&A,  Vol. 1, No. 5, February, 1835, page 80. Onl