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

“The Palmyra Peeker” by grindael

by Johnny Stephenson

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

Part II: “Work to the Money…”

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

Introduction

“A new portrait of Joseph and his work…”

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

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

Mark Hofmann with Mormon First Presidency

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

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

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

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

Yours Respectfully
Martin Harris

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ronald Walker continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 1943 Morgan wrote this to Juanita Brooks:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the Stowell Letter [by Mark Hofmann]

Canandagua June 18th 1825

Dear Sir

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

Joseph Smith Jr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bushman to the Rescue?

Walker continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jane adds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Last Shall be First…

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

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

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

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

Part Time Peeker?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Willard Chase peep-stone

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

The Last Shall be First (Continued)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Guardian of the Treasure Cave (1829)

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

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

Post Master Rumors?

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

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

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

The Palmyra Reflector

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

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

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

Angels and Spirits of the Dead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated Men

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Spirit of the Lord & Satan”

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

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

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

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

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

“The Order”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Awman’s Anglo-men”

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

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

The relevant passages read:

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

In 1855 Pratt explained the above “revelation”:

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

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

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

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

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

when I was seventeen years of age I called again upon the Lord and he shewed unto me a heavenly vision for behold

an angel of the Lord came and stood before me and it was by night

and he [the angel] called me by name

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

and he [the angel] revealed unto me that in the Town of Manchester Ontario County N.Y. there was plates of gold upon which there was engravings which was engraven by Maroni & his fathers the servants of the living God in ancient days and deposited by th[e] commandments of God and kept by the power thereof and that I should go and get them

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

and thus he [the angel] appeared unto me three times in one night and once on the next day and then I immediately went to the place and found where the plates was deposited as the angel of the Lord had commanded me and straightway made three attempts to get them and then being excedingly frightened I supposed it had been a dreem of Vision but when I considred I knew that it was not therefore I cried unto the Lord in the agony of my soul why can I not obtain them

behold the angel appeared unto me again and said unto me you have not kept the commandments of the Lord which I gave unto you therefore you cannot now obtain them for the time is not yet fulfilled therefore thou wast left unto temptation that thou mightest be made accquainted of with the power of the advisary therefore repent and call on the Lord thou shalt be forgiven and in his own due time thou shalt obtain them (pg. 4, paragraph breaks mine)

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

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

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

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

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

“NONE doeth good…”

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

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

…<​behold​> the world lieth in sin and at this time and none doeth good no not one they have turned asside from the gospel and keep not <​my​> commandments they draw near to me with their lips while their hearts are far from me and mine anger is kindling against the inhabitants of the earth to visit them acording to thir ungodliness and to bring to pass that which <​hath​> been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and Ap[o]stles behold and lo I come quickly as it [is?] written of me in the cloud <​clothed​> in the glory of my Father (History, 1832)

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

[God] told me that all religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines and that none of them was acknowledged of God as his church and kingdom. And I was expressly commanded to “go not after them,” at the same time receiving a promise that the fulness of the gospel should at some future time be made known unto me. (Wentworth Letter)

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

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

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

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

“What Manner His Kingdom was to be Conducted”

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

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

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

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

Moses vs. Joseph?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Necromancy of Infidelity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Enchantment; conjuration

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It was treasure…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Oliver Twist

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Common Spiritual Gift?

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

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

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

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

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

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

DIVINATIONnoun [Latin , to foretell. See Divine.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A decisive failure”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Work to the Money”

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

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

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

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

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

Work To The Money (Modern Style)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fayette Lapham would later recall:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dan Vogel:

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

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

“He will get the treasure”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About this The 3 harvest time had now arrived [circa 1823] since we opened our new farm and all the our sons were actively employed in assisting their Father to cut down the grain and storing it away in order, for winter 

One evening we were sitting till quite late conversing upon the subject of the diversity of churches that had risen up in the world and the many thousand opinions in existence as to the truths contained in scripture.

Joseph who never said many words upon any subject but always seemed to reflect more deeply than common persons of his age upon everything of a religious nature.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They then quote Hamblin:

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

But she does! FAIRMORMON claims that,

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

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

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

Joseph & Lucy Mack Smith (circa 1825)

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

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

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

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

She then adds,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brown’s argument is ludicrous. He writes,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End of Pt. 2

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

“The Moneydiggers” by John Quidor

by Johnny Stephenson

PART I: Of Ghosts & Angels

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

Some time in July 1831, two men [Elders Samuel H. Smith and Reynolds Cahoon] … said that in September 1827 an angel appeared to Joseph Smith (in Ontario Co., New York) and showed to him the confusion on the earth respecting true religion. It also told him to go a few miles distant to a certain hill and there he should find some plates with engravings, which (if he was faithful) he should be enabled to translate. He went as directed and found plates (which had the appearance of fine gold) about 8 inches long, 5 or 6 wide and altogether about 6 inches thick; each one about as thick as thin pasteboard, fastened together and opened in the form of a book containing engravings of reformed Egyptian hieroglyphical characters which he was inspired to translate and the record was published in 1830 and is called the Book of Mormon. It is a record which was kept on this continent by the ancient inhabitants. Those men had this book with them and they told us about it, and also of the rise of the church (which is now called Mormonites from their faith in this book etc…. (William McLellin, Letter to Relatives, August 4, 1832, The Ensign of Liberty, of the Church of Christ . . . Kirtland, Lake County, Ohio 1 (January 1848):60-61)

Painting by Ramsey

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

In 1827 a young man called Joseph Smith of the state of New York, of no denomination, but under conviction, [guilt & sorrow leading to repentance] inquired of the Lord what he should do to be saved-he went to bed without any reply, but in the night was awakened by an angel, whiter and shining in greater splendour than the sun at noonday, who gave information where the plates were deposited… (Catholic Telegraph 1 (April 14, 1832):204-205).

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

… I was favored with in an interview with Joseph Smith, Jr. at the house of Peter Whitmer, in the town of Fayette, Seneca County, state of New York, in October, 1830. I called at P[eter]. Whitmer’s house, for the purpose of seeing Smith, and searching into the mystery of his system of religion, and had the privilege of conversing with him alone, several hours, and of investigating his writings, church records, &c. I improved near four and twenty hours in close application with Smith and his followers: he could give me no christian experience, but told me that an angel told him he must go to a certain place in the town of Manchester, Ontario County, where was a secret treasure concealed, which he must reveal to the human family. He went, and after the third or fourth time, which was repeated once a year, he obtained a parcel of plate resembling gold, on which were engraved what he did not understand, only by the aid of a glass which he also obtained with the plate, by which means he was enabled to translate the characters on the plate into English. (Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 1, p. 16-18).

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

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

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

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

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

Camp Meetings & Revivals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Manchester Mess

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

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

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

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

Location of Smith frame house & approximate location of log cabin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Having It Both Ways?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Stone or the Angel?

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

when I was seventeen years of age I called again upon the Lord and he shewed unto me a heavenly vision for behold

an angel of the Lord came and stood before me and it was by night

and he [the angel] called me by name

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

and he [the angel] revealed unto me that in the Town of Manchester Ontario County N.Y. there was plates of gold upon which there was engravings which was engraven by Maroni & his fathers the servants of the living God in ancient days and deposited by th[e] commandments of God and kept by the power thereof and that I should go and get them

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

and thus he [the angel] appeared unto me three times in one night and once on the next day and then I immediately went to the place and found where the plates was deposited as the angel of the Lord had commanded me and straightway made three attempts to get them and then being excedingly frightened I supposed it had been a dreem of Vision but when I considred I knew that it was not therefore I cried unto the Lord in the agony of my soul why can I not obtain them

behold the angel appeared unto me again and said unto me you have not kept the commandments of the Lord which I gave unto you therefore you cannot now obtain them for the time is not yet fulfilled therefore thou wast left unto temptation that thou mightest be made accquainted of with the power of the advisary therefore repent and call on the Lord thou shalt be forgiven and in his own due time thou shalt obtain them (pg. 4, paragraph breaks mine)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q.-By what means did he discover the golden plates and who was with him when he made the discovery.
A.-The golden plates were discovered through the ministration of an angel of the Lord, by Joseph Smith-no one else was with him at the time of the discovery. (Boston Investigator 2 (Aug. 10, 1832).

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

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

And finally, in 1838 Joseph Smith himself answered this:

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

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

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

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

Having It Both Ways (Continued)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magic or Religion?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“There is no light in them”

In Isaiah we read,

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Counterfeit Prophet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First Cowdery Conundrum

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

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

The Folk Magic Red Herring

At the Joseph Smith papers, they write:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gift of What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Stone or The Holy Ghost?

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

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

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

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

As David Whitmer explained,

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

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

Magic Is “Not of God”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JAMES COLIN BREWSTER

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

Z. H. BREWSTER.

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

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

Treasure Obsession

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Farm for Revelations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Official Practice?

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

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

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

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

The Treasure Hunting Revelation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On August 19, Joseph wrote these words to Emma:

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

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

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

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

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

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

But later in the “Prospectus” Cowdery published this: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next day,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ghosts and Angels (Continued)

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

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

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

Allusion or Confusion?

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

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

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

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

Having repented of his sins, but not attached himself to any party of Christians, owing to the numerous divisions among them, and being in doubt what his duty was, he had recourse prayer. After retiring to bed one night, he was visited by an Angel and directed to proceed to a hill in the neighborhood where he would find a stone box containing a quantity of Gold plates.

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

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

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

“The Glass Looker”

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

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

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

ARTICLES OF AGREEMENT.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slipping Away from Reality into the Absurd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spiritualism is not Mormonism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He goes on to say that,

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

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

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

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

But … Everything’s Christian!

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

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

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

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

“He told so many stories…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(To be Continued)

DoubleThink: The Mopologist Paradigm

1984 Christensen LDSINC MORG

Contents

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.

united_states_500_bc

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:

14568

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:

1831

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

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

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

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

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

First, Remember folks, what Jeremy claimed was this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOLD BIBLE, NO. 4.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dale Broadhurst writes in his notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Telegraph (Dec 14, 1830) article claims:

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

Telegraph (Feb 14, 1831):

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

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

Reflector:

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.

Reflector:

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.

Reflector:

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?”

Reflector:

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

Telegraph:

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.

Reflector:

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.

Reflector:

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

Telegraph:

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.

Reflector:

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.

Reflector:

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)

THE  BOOK  OF  MORMON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XIII. Book of Mormon Vagaries 

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

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

And now it came to pass that Alma took Helam, he being one of the first, and went and stood forth in the water, and cried, saying, O Lord, pour out thy spirit upon thy servant, that he may do this work with holiness of heart. And when he had said these words, the spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he said, Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God, as a testimony that ye have entered into a covenant to serve him until you are dead, as to the mortal body; and may the spirit of the Lord be poured out upon you; and may he grant unto you eternal life, through the redemption of Christ, which he hath prepared from the foundation of the world. And after Alma had said these words, both Alma and Helam was [sic] buried in the water; and they arose and came forth out of the water rejoicing, being filled with the spirit. And again, Alma took another, and went forth a second time into the water, and baptized him according to the first, only he did not bury himself again in the water.

Of particular importance is the idea that before Alma baptized he received authorization simply from “the spirit of the Lord.” There is no mention of angelic appearance, laying on of hands, or ordained office. Alma baptized himself and Helam simultaneously.

Cowdery received the following communication from God at about this time:

Now therefore whosoever repenteth & humbleth himself before me & desireth to be baptized in my name shall ye baptize them. And after this manner did he [the Lord] command me that I should baptize them[.] Behold ye shall go down & stand in the water & in my name shall ye baptize them. And now behold these are the words which ye shall say calling them by name saying[,] Having authority given me of Jesus Christ I baptize you in the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Ghost Amen. And then shall ye immerse them in the water & come forth again out of the water & after this manner shall ye baptize in my name.

Smith’s and Cowdery’s baptisms in the Susquehanna River in May 1829 were thus divinely authorized, though not as a prerogative based on the duties of any office. Later accounts described additional elements such as authority from an angel conferred by the laying on of hands and tandem rather than simultaneous baptism, in contrast to the Book of Mormon model. (Gregory A. Prince, Power From On High, Ch.1, p.4 – p.5).

In other words, as Prince writes,

The status of Mormon authority in 1829 was as follows. Motivated by passages in the Book of Mormon, Smith and Cowdery had sought and received authorization to baptize. Later they encountered additional Book of Mormon passages describing a higher authority which was needed to confer the Holy Ghost and ordain to offices, which they subsequently received. Neither level of authority had yet been called “priesthood.” Prior to 1831 the only use of the term was in the Book of Mormon, where it was used synonymously with the office of high priest (BM, 1830, 258-60), an office which did not exist in Mormonism until late 1831. Prior to then men acted by virtue of the office to which they had been ordained, either elder, priest, or teacher. In performing ordinances they sometimes referred to their authority explicitly, as in the baptismal prayer, though without using the term “priesthood.” Authority was generally implied, as in the blessing of the bread and wine (BM, 1830, 575-76) and in the ordination of priests and teachers (BM, 1830, 575).30 It was not until several months after the June 1831 general conference, when the “high priesthood” was conferred, that the term “priesthood” entered Mormon usage at all.

I guess I’m not the only one whose “grasp of the textual data is lacking”. Gregory Prince makes the same observation about High Priests in the Book of Mormon.

Margaret Barker has her opinions. There are many other credible Biblical Historians who take a different view on the subject. To claim that I am simply “unaware” of her arguments, or about the role of High Priests in the Bible is disingenuous of Christensen.

Photos of David Whitmer by Jacob Hicks. Left Photo taken in 1867 when David was 62 years old, Right Photo taken in 1882 when David was 77 years old.

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.

Conclusion

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)

Mormon_Apologists_Truth

Kevin Christensen & Jeremy Runnells (Part I)

INTRODUCTION

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

And,

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.

PART I: DIVERTING THE REAL ISSUES INTO SOMETHING ELSE

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.

FAIRMORMON writes,

“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.

CONCLUSION

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.

Notes

[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]