LDSOrigins      Exploring the origins of the LDS (or Mormon) church

Divine Claims in the Early Years

 



THE FIRST VISION

There are many versions of Joseph’s first vision story. For example, the first official version that Joseph Smith wrote was in 1832. It states that through his thorough study of the Bible between the ages of 12 to 15 he “found that [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.1 He goes on to say that in his 16th year he went to pray to the Lord for mercy and Jesus Christ appeared to him and told him his sins were forgiven. An 1835 account talks of him seeing many angels, but does not mention seeing God or Jesus Christ. The 1838 version is the one in the Pearl of Great Price in the LDS scriptures. In the 1838 account, Joseph’s story changed. He is no longer convinced by his Bible reading that not a single church is true. Instead he mentions attending many churches and wondering if one or any were true. It is for the purpose of getting an answer to know which church to join that Joseph says he went to pray. “My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those proffesors[sic] were all corrupt; that ‘they draw near to me 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.’2 I find it interesting that he says that “it had never entered into [his] heart” that all Christian sects “were wrong,” when that clearly contradicts his testimony in 1832 where the belief that no denomination “built upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ” is exactly what led him to pray in the first place. So, did he do a thorough study of the Bible between 12 and 15 years of age or not? There are many other versions of the first vision that are mostly a mish-mesh of these two accounts. I will let others seek them out if they wish to read them. They can be found online. Although all are very different, one can claim that most of the facts still fit if you consider that he may just be telling part of the story each time. Some parts are completely discrepant, but most can be argued around. However, I would like to point out that the accuracy of memory tends to get worse through the years. Joseph’s first vision story evolved. Which account is more likely to be closer to reality, the first telling or the telling 18 years after the claimed event? The 1832 account of the first vision is the first record we have that Joseph claimed to be visited by Jesus 12 years earlier. Prior to 1835, there isn't a single first vision account that mentions more than a single heavenly being. It isn't until the 1838 version of the first vision that Joseph explicitly implies that he was visited by God as well as Jesus. With our current resources, including the records of Joseph's family members, this claim had never before been stated in the 18 years since it was supposed to have happened. However, Joseph states that after telling people about his heavenly experience, “I soon found, however, that my telling the story had excited a great deal of prejudice against me among professors of religion, and was the cause of great persecution which continued to increase; and though I was an obscure boy, only between fourteen and fifteen years of age, and my circumstances in life such as to make a boy of no consequence in the world, yet men of high standing would take notice sufficient to excite the public mind against me, and create a bitter persecution; and this was common among all the sects—all united to persecute me.3

Contrary to Joseph’s statements, there is no record of anyone hearing about this vision or of any persecution that went on. Even LDS researchers concede this point: “There is little if any evidence, however, that by the early 1830s Joseph Smith was telling the story in public. At least if he were telling it, no one seemed to consider it important enough to have recorded it at the time, and no one was criticizing him for it. Not even in his own history did Joseph Smith mention being criticized in this period for telling the story of the First Vision.4 In fact, public opinion did not seem very strongly in favor or against him. Orasmus Turner who was in a debate club with Joseph remembers him as a “lounging idle,” but also containing “some very laudable aspirations.” He further states that Joseph, “after catching a spark of Methodism ... became a very passable exhorter in evening meetings.5 This means that despite Joseph’s claims that persecuting him “was common among all the sects,” all of them being united against him, the Methodists were at least not persecuting him. They were letting him preach! Another man that worked in a store in Joseph’s area recalls that, “Joe had a jovial, easy, don’t care way about him that made him a lot of warm friends. He was a good talker, and would have made a fine stump speaker if he had had the training. He was known among the young men that I associated with as a romancer of the first water.6 (“Stump speaker” = comedy act in a minstrel show. “Romancer of the first water” = sweet talker.) Both of these accounts are examples of a fairly friendly public attitude toward Joseph. It is also worth noting that his participation in debate clubs, his being a “passable exhorter” and a “good talker” that would have made a “fine stump speaker,” along with a multitude of other evidence shows that Emma Smith’s later statement that, “Joseph Smith . . . could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well worded letter; let alone dictating a book like the book of Mormon7 was not accurate. A boy like that could have very easily dictated a letter.



KNOWLEDGE OF ANCIENT AMERICA

The "View of the Hebrews” is a book that a man named Ethan Smith (no relation to Joseph) published in 1823. It tells of a group from the lost tribes of Israel that leave Israel, come to the Americas and begin to live.  The group splits up into two peoples. One of them is civilized, the other is savage.  The civilized portion builds large cities and fortifications and cultivates the land.  They also keep a written language and a record of their people on plates.  The savage portion turns to a life of hunting and ease.  These two groups, due to rage and jealousy, fight often and, after years of wars and contentions, the more savage group eventually destroys the more civilized group.  It is the savage group that remains when the Europeans arrive on this continent. He goes into much more detail about the culture, religion and their way of life in general, but I feel the outline is enough (more parallels can be found by searching online). Also, he states that a part of his record was obtained after digging up yellow parchments from a place called Indian Hill and then having them translated. As LDS general authority B. H. Roberts (President of the Seventy) admits in his own personal writings, which have since been published, “One acquainted with Book of Mormon historical events will recognize in all this an outline of the Book of Mormon ‘history,’ what else there is would be merely detail.”8 “View of the Hebrews” is published in the area around where Joseph Smith is living and the writer, Ethan Smith, is a pastor for the congregation that Oliver Cowdery (Joseph’s chief scribe for the Book of Mormon) attends.9 This story is not just found in the “View of the Hebrews,” but is a common belief of the time and is taught by the religious preachers. As another example of the common belief that the Native Americans were part of the lost tribes of Israel, a Jewish rabbi, M. M. Noah, in speaking about the Native Americans states in Joseph’s hometown newspaper, the Wayne Sentinel (which Joseph’s father subscribed to), on October 11, 1825 that, “If the tribes could be brought together, could be made sensible of their origin, could be civilized, and restored to their long lost brethren, what joy to our people!10 

Towards the end of the year that "View of the Hebrews" is first published, Joseph begins to tell stories of the ancient inhabitants of this continent at home. His mother records: "During our evening conversations, Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of travelling, and their animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life with them."11

 

SEER

Around this time, Joseph had found a stone that he would look into and see things.  He later called it his seer stone. To the general public, he became known as a glass looker.  One account says that he found the stone while digging a well.  Another account says that he was directed to his stone by borrowing the seer stone of a girl in his area, Sally Chase, who was also a glass looker. Because one is described as “whitish” and the other as brown, some believe that there were two stones.12  After finding his stone(s), Joseph begins to go out with his stone and take people to look for treasure. In 1826, he was brought up on charges of disorderly conduct. “According to the Laws of the State of New-York, a disorderly person includes, "All jugglersand 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 … shall be deemed and adjudged disorderly persons.13 (Apparently, such superstitions were common back then, and it was enough of a problem that it needed to be part of the law.) A number of witnesses came forward. Some of them hostile, because Joseph promised to lead them to treasure and no treasure was ever found. Other witnesses were friendly in the sense that they believed Joseph did have those abilities even though he never found them treasure. One man tells a tale of Joseph looking at his stone in a hat and leading them to a spot where he said to dig. The man says that they started digging and hit something that sounded like wood. Before continuing, Joseph said to wait because it was a treasure chest that two Indians buried and one had killed the other, so there was an enchantment/curse on it. They eventually began digging again, but the man says that the chest kept sinking out of site, so they could never retrieve it.14 As a side note, this is reminiscent of stories in the Book of Mormon of treasure that would disappear because the treasure and the land were cursed. (I go into more detail about the trial in my Secular History section)

 

THE BOOK OF MORMON

It is hard to know what happened between 1826 and 1829. A few accounts state that Sidney Rigdon came to town in 1827 and, shortly after that, talk of Joseph having found plates started spreading. If Sidney did show up during this period, most of their meetings would have been done in secret. This is significant, because many people believe that Sidney was the author, or at least main author, of the Book of Mormon (If the Book of Mormon was not really a translation of ancient text, I believe that Joseph would have had to have put some input into its writing since Lehi’s dream was virtually the very same dream Joseph’s father had when Joseph was 6 years old.). Some believe the manuscript for the Book of Mormon was given to Joseph in 1827 and that the translation process was really just Joseph reading a few pages of the written manuscript at a time. This ties into the “Spalding Manuscript” that some may have heard about. Like “View of the Hebrews,” it is also considered a possible inspiration for the Book of Mormon. Sidney shared a post office with Solomon Spalding, as well as frequented the same print shop. Spalding’s manuscript disappeared for a time and he is reported to have believed that Rigdon took it. Some believe the Spalding Manuscript may have been an inspiration for the general idea of the Book of Mormon, while the theology of the Book of Mormon is closely tied to the teachings and phraseology of Rigdon’s sermons. I think that the Spalding Manuscript link is an unnecessary one since Sidney, being a preacher, would have most certainly been familiar with the “View of the Hebrews” teachings and the Bible. A recent computer analysis printed in Literary and Linguistic Computing has also linked Rigdon’s writings to the Book of Mormon as well.15 (If someone wishes to research into the Rigdon authorship theory further, this seems like a very good place to start.)

 

The translation process is a fascinating one. Many people don’t know this, but Joseph did not look at the plates at all during the dictation process. They remained covered on the table in front of him in a box or were not even in the room while he put his previously mentioned seer stone into a hat and dictated the words.16 There is also a matter of putting up a blanket to cover the translation process, but it is not always clear where the blanket was and who could actually see Joseph during this process. Martin Harris was Joseph’s scribe before Oliver Cowdery. In an account told by an acquaintance of Martin Harris, it is stated that, “Although in the same room, a thick curtain or blanket was suspended between them, and Smith concealed behind the blanket” and that Joseph would “look through his spectacles, or transparent stones, and would then write down or repeat what he saw, which, when repeated aloud, was written down by Harris, who sat on the other side of the suspended blanket. Harris was told that it would arouse the most terrible divine displeasure, if he should attempt to draw near the sacred chest, or look at Smith while engaged in the work of decyphering the mysterious characters.” (The “sacred chest” was where the plates were kept.) Those who do not believe Joseph actually translated any plates believe that he was reading from pages already written, either hidden in the hat or under/behind the blanket (a few think he may have had a photographic memory, but that is a rare talent). Here are a few accounts of the dictation process:

Joseph Knight (autograph [between 1833 and 1847]): But if it was not Spelt rite it would not go away till it was rite, so we see it was marvelous.

Emma Smith (Edmund Briggs interview, 1856): When my husband was translating the Book of Mormon, I wrote a part of it, as he dictated each sentence, word for word, and when he came to proper names he could not pronounce, or long words, he spelled them out, and while I was writing them, if I made a mistake in spelling, he would stop me and correct my spelling, although it was impossible for him to see how I was writing them down at the time.

Martin Harris (Edward Stevenson's 1881 account): By aid of the seer stone, sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written by Martin, and when finished he would say, "Written," and if correctly written, that sentence would disappear and another appear in its place, but if not written correctly it remained until corrected, so that the translation was just as it was engraven on the plates, precisely in the language then used.

David Whitmer (Eri Mullin interview, 1874): . . . the words would appear, and if he failed to spell the word right, it would stay till it was spelled right, then pass away; another come, and so on.17

These testimonies are incredible indeed, but untrue. The original manuscript of the Book of Mormon contains thousands of spelling and grammar errors. The current edition of the Book of Mormon also includes the removal of some phrases that were written in the original manuscript and the addition of other words and phrases (some of the phrases didn’t make sense or were superfluous). Also, there was even a necessary name change when the book mentions a living King Mosiah when King Mosiah was already dead by that point. In two verses of the current Book of Mormon, the name King Mosiah has been changed to the still-alive King Benjamin.18 These can be checked yourself since an RLDS member has scanned the 1828 Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon and put it on the internet.19

 

SIDNEY RIGDON and ALTERED REVELATIONS

I wasn't going to discuss the Sidney Rigdon theory but decided to add a section about it because it was able to capture my attention. So, I mentioned that some believe that Sidney Rigdon wrote the Book of Mormon and Joseph then dictated it. Sidney was a Campbellite minister before joining the church. One of the thee witnesses of the Book of Mormon, David Whitmer, declares “Rigdon was a thorough Bible scholar, a man of fine education, and a powerful orator. He soon worked himself deep into Brother Joseph’s affections, and had more influence over him than any other man living.20Although not always mentioned a lot, Sidney was actually Joseph’s right hand man throughout most of the years, including helping with work on the Book of Abraham and the JST of the Bible, which includes the Book of Moses. One witness mentions that Sidney wanted Joseph to be the young prophet to bring forth the book while he controlled things behind the scenes. He was willing to be the mastermind behind the prophet. This concept is interesting to me right now because I just started reading the Book of Mormon again. First, I noticed that, if actually written in the 1820s, 11 of the 22 chapters in I Nephi are actually stories from history, the New Testament, or chapters out of Isaiah. Then I reached II Nephi 3. In reading it, I saw something that, if the book was actually written by Sidney, is very fascinating. It seems that Sidney is trying to tell Joseph his place. It is discussing a prophecy by Joseph who was sold into Egypt. Joseph in Egypt states that another Joseph [Smith] will be raised up and bring forth the Book of Mormon to the remnant of Lehi’s seed.

7 Yea, Joseph truly said: Thus saith the Lord unto me: A choice seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins; and he shall be esteemed highly among the fruit of thy loins. And unto him will I give commandment that he shall do a work for the fruit of thy loins, his brethren, which shall be of great worth unto them, even to the bringing of them to the knowledge of the covenants which I have made with thy fathers.

8And I will give unto him a commandment that he shall do none other work, save the work which I shall command him. And I will make him great in mine eyes; for he shall do my work.”21

Those verses seem to be telling Joseph to not overstep his bounds, but what are those bounds? Well, Lehi mentions that Joseph in Egypt prophesied of Moses and Aaron and compares Joseph Smith’s position to Moses’ and another person’s position to Aaron’s:

17. And the Lord hath said: I will raise up a Moses; and I will give power unto him in a rod; and I will give judgment unto him in writing. Yet I will not loose his tongue, that he shall speak much, for I will not make him mighty in speaking. But I will write unto him my law, by the finger of mine own hand; and I will make a spokesman for him.

18 And the Lord said unto me also: I will raise up unto the fruit of thy loins; and I will make for him a spokesman. And I, behold, I will give unto him that he shall write the writing of the fruit of thy loins, unto the fruit of thy loins; and the spokesman of thy loins shall declare it.”22

To me, it sounds like someone is telling Joseph where he stands. Joseph will bring forth the writings, but he “will not loose his tongue.” The Lord is telling Joseph that he will NOT be mighty in speaking, just like Moses wasn’t (see Exodus 4:10). Joseph was to bring forth the word of God, but he was then supposed to pass it on to a spokesman. It is for the spokesman to do the talking, not Joseph. When I read this, it blew me away. I felt like it was so clear what it meant. I felt like it was Sidney saying, “Look, Joseph, you will be the person set up as the boy prophet who translates God’s word, but after that, I will do the talking.” The only other time that I can think of where an idea struck me so powerfully was when I read the 6th Harry Potter book (Don’t laugh). When I read the 6th book, there was a conversation between Harry and Dumbledore where the idea just struck me that Snape was in love with Harry’s mother. When the idea struck me, I knew it had to be right, because it fit perfectly. I even wrote a blog about it before the 7th book came out, in order to prove that I had come up with it on my own. (Sorry if I spoiled the Harry Potter movies for anyone.) Anyway, when I read those verses, that is how I felt. I decided that I couldn’t have been the only one to make that connection, so I searched online and returned to the Sidney Rigdon site that I sited above. This passage had indeed been noticed by others and the connection had been explored further. So, this concept, written in the Book of Mormon, is repeated in an 1829 revelation published in the 1833 Book of Commandments (the precursor to the Doctrine and Covenants- a book containing modern LDS revelations):

I the lord am God, and I have given these things unto my servant Joseph, and I have commanded him that he should stand as a witness of these things, nevertheless I have caused him that he should enter into a covenant with me, that he should not show them except I command him, and he has no power over them except I grant it unto him; and he has a gift to translate the book, andI have commanded him that he shall pretend to no other gift, for I will grant him no other gift.”23

Again, if you pretend that Sidney is the one writing these things, then he is once again telling Joseph that his place is to translate and nothing more. Interestingly, both the prophecy by Joseph in Egypt and the words from the Lord turned out to be wrong in these verses, because Joseph Smith turned out to be a much more charismatic and dynamic individual than anticipated. Joseph was not content with a low profile position and he began to take on more authority himself. Due to this, it is interesting to note that the 1829 revelation from the Lord published in the Book of Commandments was altered when included in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants (D&C). By 1835, Joseph had clearly established himself as the figure head of the church and taken on many more roles than just translator. It is interesting to see how the wording was changed:

I the Lord am God, and have given these things unto you, my servant Joseph Smith, jr. and have commanded you that you shall stand as a witness of these things, and I have caused you that you should enter into a covenant with me that you should not show them except to those persons to whom I command you; and you have no power over them except I grant it unto you. And you have a gift to translate the plates; and this is the first gift that I bestowed upon you, and I have commanded that you should pretend to no other gift until my purpose is fulfilled in this; for I grant unto you no other gift until it is finished.”24

With those alterations, the meaning of the verse of scripture is changed completely. I thought that was fascinating and was completely convinced of the significance. I mentioned this idea to a few people, but they started to use my own arguments against me. I had told them that people see what they want to see, they find meaning when they are looking for it. I had said that if people were taught growing up that the play Hamlet or Macbeth was written by revelation, then each time they read it, they would find something new that God wanted them to know. It would be extra profound to them, not because of the godly nature of the book, but because of their own keenness of mind and desire to find a lesson they can learn. When I stated my Sidney theory to them, they argued that I was just seeing what I wanted to see. I knew they were wrong, but it was hard to argue around my own logic. I just knew that this case was different, because it fit the facts so perfectly. My theory of Sidney being the “spokesman” mentioned in II Nephi was ultimately vindicated when I found these verses in D&C 100:

9 And it is expedient in me that you, my servant Sidney, should be a spokesman unto this people; yea, verily, I will ordain you unto this calling, even to be a spokesman unto my servant Joseph.  10 And I will give unto him power to be mighty in testimony.  11 And I will give unto thee power to be mighty in expounding all scriptures, that thou mayest be a spokesman unto him, and he shall be a revelator unto thee, that thou mayest know the certainty of all things pertaining to the things of my kingdom on the earth.”25

I was really excited when I found that verse. I saw all of these scriptures as Sidney’s attempts at keeping Joseph in his place. He did not succeed. Joseph quickly became the premier leader and Sidney was forced to take a backseat. Twice through the years, Sidney attempted to take the main spot from Joseph, but failed. He also attempted to claim leadership after Joseph’s death, but once again failed. During those times, he twice threatened to “expose the secrets of the church.” In 1863, three Rigdonites wrote what is called “Rigdon’s Appeal” to the Latter-Day Saints. It clearly shows what the vision was that Rigdon had in mind for how the Kingdom of God was to be run:

The Lord had said, in the Book of Mormon, that he would raise up to Joseph Smith a spokesman; and the Spirit said, in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, that Sidney Rigdon was that spokesman. The case then stands thus: Joseph Smith was to translate the Book of Mormon, and Sidney Rigdon was to take it, and gather Israel. Here is the sum of the whole matter. The prophet Malachi had said that before Christ came, he would send his messenger, and he should prepare the way before him. Joseph Smith said that Sidney Rigdon was that messenger. The Spirit said that the Lord would raise up a spokesman to Joseph Smith, and Joseph Smith said that Sidney was that spokesman. The Lord said he would prepare a priesthood with which he would gather Israel. Joseph Smith said that Sidney Rigdon held that priesthood.”26

(On a quick note about priesthood, besides being referred to as Aaron and the messenger prophecied by Malachi, Sidney Rigdon is also referred to as John the Baptist in a few writings. Some believe that Sidney was the “John the Baptist” that baptized Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Susquehanna River. And in fact, the messenger prophecied by Malachi IS John the Baptist and was actually an already fulfilled prophecy as stated by Jesus in Matt. 11:10 and Mark 1:2)27 From the above passage, Sidney clearly felt that the original plan was not followed. Joseph was to bring forth the words and Sidney was supposed to step in and be the one to gather Israel. Although he was Joseph’s number two for some time, Sidney never quite reached the top spot. Poor Sidney’s vision for bringing forth the Kingdom of God on Earth was taken over by another. An acquaintance of Rigdon wrote, “I have no doubt Rigdon thought to make a tool of Smith but Smith was too sharp for him and turned the tables upon him and made a tool of him.28 In 1868, Sidney Rigdon wrote a letter to the First Presidency of the church and made one last attempt to bring forth more scripture. He claimed to know the contents of the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon. “Rigdon wrote that the sealed portion of The Book of Mormon contained an account of the history of Zion, including prophecies of the Old Testament prophets, and an account of Joseph in Egypt. He also described the remnant of Joseph account as a kind of on-going revelation, that was unfolding with the destruction of the Smith family.29

Before Sidney Rigdon died, he asked that all of his personal writings be burned. I think that a lot could have been learned from them. I would not be surprised if rough drafts of the Book of Mormon would have been there or at least Old and New Testament sermons that he had given prior to the Book of Mormon being printed that were then placed in the Book of Mormon.

One last quote that ties Sidney Rigdon to the writing of the revelations is found in the testimony of David Whitmer. In response to the changes made when transferring revelations from the Book of Commandments to the Doctrine and Covenants, Whitmer complains:

I was present when Brother Joseph gave nearly every revelation that is in the Book of Commandments, besides many other revelations that were never printed, and I knew everything that was in them, and when I tell you that I know they were changed and added to, I know what I am saying. One of the most important changes is in the very revelation that was given to myself and Brother Oliver, to search out the Twelve. This is the one about relying upon the Book of Mormon alone in building up the Church. Many, many times have I read and studied it, and I tell you I know that those seven words were added to it, reversing the meaning entirely. What Oliver Cowdery, F.G. Williams, and W.W. Phelps have written in theMessengerand Advocate, and other publications, does not conflict with my testimony that these revelations were changed. They admit in their quotations which you have published, that the revelations have been added to; that a few items have been added from other revelations, etc…The errors that these men refer to are "typographical and other errors." Now do you suppose that the type-setters in the printing office made the error, and added to that revelation concerning Brother Joseph's gift, adding twenty-two words to one paragraph, leaving room for Brother Joseph to take upon himself the gift of seer to the church when God commanded him to pretend to no other gift, for He would grant him no other gift, except to translate the Book of Mormon? And do you suppose those other changes are typographical errors? Of course you must know that the important changes and additions to these revelations did not happen by any errors or mistakes — typographical, transcribing manuscript, or any other kind of mistakes. How can you help but see and understand that these revelations were wilfully changed and added to? Those who are spiritually blinded enough to believe that God authorized those changes spoken of in my letter, may have the right to believe that God works in that manner, but I will not believe it, and thousands of others will never believe it. When God gave his word, saying he would grant Brother Joseph no other gift but to translate the Book, he meant what he said. Brother Joseph giving the revelations of 1829 through the same stone through which the Book was translated, was the same gift. He then gave up the stone forever, and told me and the rest of us that he was through what the Lord had given him the gift to do….These changes were made by the leaders of the church, who had drifted into error and spiritual blindness. Through the influence of Sydney Rigdon, Brother Joseph was led on and on into receiving revelations every year, to establish offices and doctrines which are not even mentioned in the teachings of Christ in the written word. In a few years they had gone away ahead of the written word, so that they had to change these revelations.”30

David Whitmer further wrote:

Is it possible that the minds of men can be so blinded as to believe that God would give these revelations – command them to print them in His Book of Commandments – and then afterwards command them to change and add to them some words which change the meaning entirely?  As if God had changed his mind entirely after giving his word?  Is it possible that man who pretends to any spirituality would believe that God would work in such a manner?31

Apostle William E. McLellin, who left the church in 1838 because he no longer had confidence in the presidency of the church wrote, “In 1835 in Kirtland another committee was appointed to fix up the revelations for print again... I was often in Joseph’s office, and know positively that some of the revelations were so altered, mutilated and changed that a good scholar would scarcely know them.  In one revelation I counted 20 alterations!  Hence, who can depend on them?  I cannot.  I will not.... All your trouble arises from your taking that mutilated and altered Doctrine and Covenants.32 McLellin left the church over this and over the Kirtland Bank failing after the Lord had said that the bank would be a resounding success that would grow to “swallow up all other banks”33 (see my Secular History for more details on the Kirtland Bank Collapse).

A close look shows that every section in the Book of Commandments had at least one deletion and one addition when transferred to the Doctrine and Covenants. Many of the changes were more extensive than a few words. Section 44 had 138 words removed from it while section 28 increased from 193 words to 649 words.

 

THE 3 WITNESSES

The witnesses of the Book of Mormon are an interesting aspect of the restoration. There are the 3 main witnesses and then an additional 8. The 8 witnesses claimed to have seen the plates and engravings. This is not controversial to me since Joseph may very well have had metal plates of some sort. The 3 witnesses, however, are a different story. Not only did they claim to have seen the plates, but they declared that an angel of God showed them the plates:

And we also testify that we have seeen [sic] the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shewn unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true.”34

In later years, others started claiming that the witnesses denied their testimony, but they refuted these accusations. The real question then is, did they really see those things or did they just believe to see them? Did Joseph paint such a vivid picture before them that they themselves started to see the same thing, or were perhaps later convinced that they had seen such things as the story was told and retold by Joseph? Who knows? Some of their accounts sound very convincing and others less. Before the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, the witness Martin Harris had a reputation for being “a visionary fanatic.” He was seen as an honest man, but “overbalanced by 'marvellousness.’”

Harris “seems to have repeatedly admitted the internal, subjective nature of his visionary experience.’ The foreman in the Palmyra printing office that produced the first Book of Mormon said that Harris “used to practice a good deal of his characteristic jargon and 'seeing with the spiritual eye,' and the like." John H. Gilbert, the typesetter for most of the book, said that he had asked Harris, "Martin, did you see those plates with your naked eyes?" According to Gilbert, Harris "looked down for an instant, raised his eyes up, and said, 'No, I saw them with a spiritual eye." Two other Palmyra residents said that Harris told them that he had seen the plates with "the eye of faith" or "spiritual eyes." In 1838, Harris is said to have told an Ohio congregation that "he never saw the plates with his natural eyes, only in vision or imagination." A neighbor of Harris in Kirtland, Ohio, said that Harris "never claimed to have seen [the plates] with his natural eyes, only spiritual vision."

In March 1838, disillusioned church members said that Harris had publicly denied that neither he nor the other Witnesses to the Book of Mormon had ever seen or handled the golden plates—although he had not been present when Whitmer and Cowdery first claimed to have viewed them—and they claimed that Harris's recantation, made during a period of crisis in early Mormonism, induced five influential members, including three Apostles, to leave the Church. Even at the end of his long life, Harris said that he had seen the plates in "a state of entrancement."35

Whether seen with his natural eyes or spiritual eyes, most of Harris’ testimonies seem to indicate that he believed he saw the angel and plates. Another witness, David Whitmer, was the most interviewed witness of the Book of Mormon.

His testimonies differed from one retelling to another. Recounting the vision to Orson Pratt in 1878, Whitmer claimed to have seen not only the Golden Plates but the "Brass Plates, the plates containing the record of the wickedness of the people of the world....the sword of Laban, the Directors (i.e. the ball which Lehi had) and the Interpreters. I saw them just as plain as I see this bed...." On other occasions, Whitmer's vision of the plates seemed far less corporeal. When asked in 1880 for a description of the angel who showed him the plates, Whitmer replied that the angel "had no appearance or shape." Asked by the interviewer how he then could bear testimony that he had seen and heard an angel, Whitmer replied, "Have you never had impressions?" To which the interviewer responded, "Then you had impressions as the Quaker when the spirit moves, or as a good Methodist in giving a happy experience, a feeling?" "Just so," replied Whitmer. A young Mormon lawyer, James Henry Moyle, who interviewed Whitmer in 1885, asked if there was any possibility that Whitmer had been deceived. "His answer was unequivocal....that he saw the plates and heard the angel with unmistakable clearness." But Moyle went away "not fully satisfied....It was more spiritual than I anticipated."36

Oliver Cowdery died in 1850, so there was little room for further clarifying his testimony.

On multiple occasions, throughout their years in the church, the 3 witnesses started following other members of the church that claimed to see things in stones or made other such fantastic claims. This includes a time when Hiram Page, one of the 8 witnesses, claimed to be receiving revelations through a seer stone. Joseph would have to show them a revelation saying that only he could receive revelations from God and pull these men back in. Perhaps my favorite story of Martin Harris is found in the History of the Church: “Martin Harris having boasted to the brethren that he could handle snakes with perfect safety, while fooling with a black snake with his bare feet, he received a bite on his left foot.37 Martin then had to be told not to “trifle with the promises of God.38 “Overbalanced by marvellousness” may be a fairly accurate description of these men.

 

THE LEARNED MAN

Another interesting account about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon is the account of Martin Harris writing about his visit to a Charles Anthon:

I went to the city of New York, and presented the characters which had been translated, with the translation thereof, to Professor Charles Anthon, a gentleman celebrated for his literary attainments. Professor Anthon stated that the translation was correct, more so than any he had before seen translated from the Egyptian. I then showed him those which were not yet translated, and he said that they were Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac, and Arabic; and he said they were true characters. He gave me a certificate, certifying to the people of Palmyra that they were true characters, and that the translation of such of them as had been translated was also correct. I took the certificate and put it into my pocket, and was just leaving the house, when Mr. Anthon called me back, and asked me how the young man found out that there were gold plates in the place where he found them. I answered that an angel of God had revealed it unto him. He then said to me, 'Let me see that certificate.' I accordingly took it out of my pocket and gave it to him, when he took it and tore it to pieces, saying that there was no such thing now as ministering of angels, and that if I would bring the plates to him he would translate them. I informed him that part of the plates were sealed, and that I was forbidden to bring them. He replied, 'I cannot read a sealed book.' I left him and went to Dr. Mitchell, who sanctioned what Professor Anthon had said respecting both the characters and the translation.”39

One comment I would like to make at this point is that Egyptian was a language that could not be read at this time. The Rosetta Stone had been found, but it had not yet been deciphered, meaning that no one on Earth could read Egyptian (unless, perhaps, directed by God). Martin Harris' account makes no sense. Charles Anthon was an expert in Greek and Latin. It seems almost absurd that he would state that the translation was correct and “more so than any he had before seen translated.” No one had seen ANY Egyptian translated. It was indecipherable! What does make some sense to me, however, is that a man that had agreed to mortgage his farm to pay for the printing of the Book of Mormon is trying desperately to add credence to the veracity of the book. The version of the story from Charles Anthon’s perspective is very different:

Some years ago, a plain, and apparently simple-hearted farmer, called upon me with a note from Dr. Mitchell of our city, now deceased, requesting me to decypher, if possible, a paper, which the farmer would hand me, and which Dr. M. confessed he had been unable to understand. Upon examining the paper in question, I soon came to the conclusion that it was all a trick, perhaps a hoax.  When I asked the person, who brought it, how he obtained the writing, he gave me, as far as I can now recollect, the following account: A "gold book," consisting of a number of plates of gold, fastened together in the shape of a book by wires of the same metal, had been dug up in the northern part of the state of New York, and along with the book an enormous pair of "gold spectacles"! These spectacles were so large, that, if a person attempted to look through them, his two eyes would have to be turned towards one of the glasses merely, the spectacles in question being altogether too large for the breadth of the human face.  Whoever examined the plates through the spectacles, was enabled not only to read them, but fully to understand their meaning. All this knowledge, however, was confined at that time to a young man, who had the trunk containing the book and spectacles in his sole possession. This young man was placed behind a curtain, in the garret of a farm house, and, being thus concealed from view, put on the spectacles occasionally, or rather, looked through one of the glasses, decyphered the characters in the book, and, having committed some of them to paper, handed copies from behind the curtain, to those who stood on the outside. Not a word, however, was said about the plates having been decyphered "by the gift of God." Everything, in this way, was effected by the large pair of spectacles. The farmer added, that he had been requested to contribute a sum of money towards the publication of the "golden book," the contents of which would, as he had been assured, produce an entire change in the world and save it from ruin.  So urgent had been these solicitations, that he intended selling his farm and handing over the amount received to those who wished to publish the plates. As a last precautionary step, however, he had resolved to come to New York, and obtain the opinion of the learned about the meaning of the paper which he brought with him, and which had been given him as a part of the contents of the book, although no translation had been furnished at the time by the young man with the spectacles.  On hearing this odd story, I changed my opinion about the paper, and, instead of viewing it any longer as a hoax upon the learned, I began to regard it as part of a scheme to cheat the farmer of his money, and I communicated my suspicions to him, warning him to beware of rogues. He requested an opinion from me in writing, which of course I declined giving, and he then took his leave carrying the paper with him. This paper was in fact a singular scrawl. It consisted of all kinds of crooked characters disposed in columns, and had evidently been prepared by some person who had before him at the time a book containing various alphabets. Greek and Hebrew letters, crosses and flourishes, Roman letters inverted or placed sideways, were arranged in perpendicular columns, and the whole ended in a rude delineation of a circle divided into various compartments, decked with various strange marks, and evidently copied after the Mexican Calender given by Humboldt, but copied in such a way as not to betray the source whence it was derived. I am thus particular as to the contents of the paper, inasmuch as I have frequently conversed with my friends on the subject, since the Mormonite excitement began, and well remember that the paper contained any thing else but "Egyptian Hieroglyphics."  Some time after, the same farmer paid me a second visit. He brought with him the golden book in print, and offered it to me for sale. I declined purchasing. He then asked permission to leave the book with me for examination. I declined receiving it, although his manner was strangely urgent. I adverted once more to the roguery which had been in my opinion practised upon him, and asked him what had become of the gold plates. He informed me that they were in a trunk with the large pair of spectacles. I advised him to go to a magistrate and have the trunk examined. He said the "curse of God" would come upon him should he do this. On my pressing him, however, to pursue the course which I had recommended, he told me that he would open the trunk, if I would take the "curse of God" upon myself. I replied that I would do so with the greatest willingness, and would incur every risk of that nature, provided I could only extricate him from the grasp of rogues. He then left me.40


PETER, WHO? and JOHN

At some point, Joseph begins to claim that one must have authority to act in the name of God; one cannot be self-appointed, but one must receive this authority from someone who already has the authority.  This authority was referred to as the priesthood or the priesthood keys.  In Doctrine and Covenants 27, it declares that he received this authority from Peter, James and John.

"And also with Peter, and James, and John, whom I have sent unto you, by whom I have ordained you and confirmed you to be apostles, and especial witnesses of my name, and bear the keys of your ministry and of the same things which I revealed unto them;"41

Interestingly, this is another example of a later addition to the text.  When this revelation was first recorded, it did not include this portion.  At some point between 1833 and 1835, these words were added and this part of the story began to be told.  It has since become a central tenet of the church.  However, even Joseph seemed to have a hard time keeping the revelations straight.  When the translators of the King James Version of the bible were creating the translation, they decided to add homage to their king in the translation.  What should have been rendered Peter, Jacob and John was written as Peter, James and John.  Joseph became aware of this discrepancy towards the end of his life.  In his famous speech given at the funeral of a man named King Follett (that's right, his first name was King), he points out the problem:

"Some learned doctors might take a notion to say the Scriptures say thus and so; and we might believe the Scriptures; they are not to be altered. But I am going to show you an error in them.  I have an old edition of the New Testament in the Latin, Hebrew, German and Greek languages. I have been reading the German, and find it to be the most [nearly] correct translation, and to correspond nearest to the revelations which God has given to me for the last fourteen years. It tells about Jacobus, the son of Zebedee. It means Jacob. In the English New Testament it is translated James. Now, if Jacob had the keys, you might talk about James through all eternity and never get the keys. In the 21st of the fourth chapter of Matthew, my old German edition gives the word Jacob instead of James...The Latin says Jacob and the German says Jacob; here we have the testimony of four against one."
42

While I applaud the fact that Joseph was able to figure out that James should not have been rendered James, one line stands out glaringly to me in this passage, "
Now, if Jacob had the keys, you might talk about James through all eternity and never get the keys."  Joseph had figured out that it should have never been James and that someone who claimed to have received the priesthood keys from James would have never actually received them.  Ummmm....but Joseph....you claimed to get the keys from James...

RELIGIOUS CLIMATE

Before I move on into the church years, I would like to discuss what seems to have been the religious climate at the time. Nowadays, religions seem much more formal and organized. In those days, people would go from one religion to the next without giving it much of a second thought. If they were tired of one religion, they would switch. They seemed to get very caught up in the excitement of new religions and new “kingdoms of God” being formed. Not only that, but it was very common for people to come forward claiming to have received prophecies and claiming to be guided by the spirit of God. The New Testament makes it clear that the gift of prophecy was for all to seek and a certain segment of the population really took that to heart. Taking that into perspective, Joseph’s claims of talking with heavenly messengers was actually not that uncommon and much of the population considered Joseph’s claims just as bogus as everyone else’s. Here are some examples of others that claimed the abilities to speak with the divine.

In 1831, just one year following the organization of Joseph Smith’s Church of Christ, the Mormon prophet was confronted with the conflicting claims of two rivals: Wycam Clark who formed his own Pure Church of Christ and the self-proclaimed prophet John Noah. Even prior to that, in late 1830, two early church members manifested unorthodox beliefs and practices at variance with the church’s emerging norms. The first, Black Pete—an African American convert—was active among Smith’s Kirtland followers as “a self-styled revelator” or “chief man” and “sometimes seized with strange vagaries and odd conceits.” The second, a woman, Laura Hubble “professed to be a prophetess of the Lord wanting to establish herself as a “teacher in the church.43

Feeling threatened by Laura Hubble, Joseph brought forth the revelation in D&C 43, which states that he was the only one that could receive commandments and revelations. Also, D&C 28 talks about Hiram Page, one of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, needing to stop writing revelations he was receiving through a seer stone that he had because they were of the Devil. As the section header of 28 indicates, “Hiram Page, a member of the Church, had a certain stone, and professed to be receiving revelations by its aid concerning the upbuilding of Zion and the order of the Church. Several members had been deceived by these claims, and even Oliver Cowdery was wrongly influenced thereby.” Joseph’s method of putting a stop to all the others out there also claiming inspiration from God was to write a revelation stating that their revelations were not from God. This method did not end his difficulties, however.

In 1832, a Mormon by the name of Hoton withdrew from the church, rejecting both Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, organizing his own Independent Church. Four years later James Colin Brewster, a precocious ten-year-old child, claimed direct communication with the Angel Moroni and proceeded to write his own works of scripture—all of which led to his disfellowship and ultimate excommunication. A more serious threat came in 1837 with the formation of the Church of Christ by Warren Parrish. A one-time traveling elder with a reputation as an “eloquent preacher,” Parrish brought into his organization a number of important dissidents, including three original members of Smith’s Council of the Twelve—specifically, brothers Luke S. and Lyman Johnson along with John F. Boynton. Members of Parrish’s Church of Christ believed that Smith and other leaders “had strayed from the gospel. Also joining Parrish’s organization following his break with Smith was Martin Harris—an important early convert and financial benefactor in the church, made famous as one of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon. In March 1842, Oliver H. Olney was disfellowshipped on charges of setting himself up “as a prophet.” Olney claimed to have been “set apart by the ‘ancient of days’” and “charged with setting up a new dispensation.” Also in 1842, Francis Gladden Bishop asserted his own claims as a prophet. Presenting himself as an “inspired man of God,” Bishop “received and taught revelations which resulted in the formation of his own group, the Kingdom of God.44

So, let’s just say that people were either all much closer to God than the people of today, or society was just wacky back then, and claiming to have a special connection with the divine was the cool thing to do.



THE ABILITY TO TRANSLATE

Joseph’s claims to being a prophet hinge greatly on his ability to translate ancient documents. If he can do that, then he probably translated the Book of Mormon through his seer stone. If he cannot, then he didn’t.

Retranslation of the Bible

Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon worked on the retranslation of the Bible together, most of it being in Sidney’s handwriting.

In chapter 13 of I Nephi, a history lesson is given. An angel is telling Nephi that after Christ dies, a church will start up that will have the Bible, but that church will end up killing a lot of good people. It will also become very wealthy. Then the angel says that gentiles (Protestants) will leave the captivity of that abominable church and come to America. Eventually, the gentiles will fight against their “mother gentiles” (Revolutionary War) and win their freedom. Nephi notices that the gentiles have a book and he asks what the book is. The angel tells him that it is the Bible. In verse 24, it says that “when it proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew it contained the fullness of the gospel of the Lord.” Verse 25 and 26 continue that “these things go forth from the Jews in purity unto the Gentiles, according to the truth which is in God. And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches, for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious…” Verse 28 and 29 say, “Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God. And after these plain and precious things were taken away it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles; and after it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles, yea, even across the many waters which thou hastseen with the Gentiles which have gone forth out of captivity, thou seest—because of the many plainandprecious things which have been taken out of the book, which were plain unto the understanding of the children of men, according to the plainness which is in the Lamb of God—because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceedingly great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them.” While the ideas that the Catholic Church became very rich and powerful and started killing people that disagreed with them are pretty well known, what about this claim that the Catholic Church changed the words in the Bible? Again, that was popular to believe at the time the Book of Mormon was transcribed, but is it true? No. Many versions of the Bible were made and translated through the years. Many of these were built on other works, which could leave room for manipulation between translations. However, as more and more ancient Hebrew and Greek texts are being found, these manuscripts that predate the Catholic church, show that current editions are remarkably free from errors. There are a few sections that appear to have been added that are not in the original sections , like the 'He who is without sin, cast the first stone' section, but overall the document is relatively sound. It appears that the angel in I Nephi was wrong. The changes that are claimed to have been made, just do not exist. The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible makes many changes to the Bible, but as more and more ancient manuscripts are found, none of them correspond to Joseph’s translation, but rather show that the Bible has remained very well preserved through the years. In fact, the Book of Mormon often copies whole chapters word for word from the King James Version of the Bible, chapters that Joseph Smith later made changes to in his version of the Bible. And yet, the Lord, sending Joseph the words of the Book of Mormon through the seer stone chooses not to make those changes at that time. Strange. (Yes, I know that some argue that Joseph stopped looking in the seer stone and started reading from the Bible when he got to those chapters. That, however, is a theory that disagrees with every account we have of the translation process.) What about the few sections that were later additions? Was Joseph inspired to remove those? He was not.

Also, Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible mostly consisted of additions to the Bible rather than changing words. One example where he did change a word is in Mark 15:22. The King James Version states, “And they bring him unto the place Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, The place of a skull.” In the Joseph Smith Translation, this verse is changed to say, “…Golgotha, which is, (being interpreted,) The place of a burial.45 This change is unnecessary and inaccurate. Golgotha or Gûlgaltâis an Aramaic word that means “place of the skull.”

The angel in I Nephi 13 continues on in verse 35 and 36 to say that the Book of Mormon will come forth because the “great and abominable church” had made those changes to the “plain and precious” things. The Book of Mormon will come forth and shall have the gospel of the Lamb. I am confused as to what plain and precious things the Book of Mormon contains that were supposed to have been removed from the Bible. If anything, it had just been added to.


Book of Abraham

I went to Egypt and Israel with my family last May. When I was in Egypt, I bought a piece of papyrus. After arriving home, I decided to decipher my papyrus the best I could. I started looking on Egyptian language and mythology sites. I wanted to see if I could recognize the gods in my papyrus by what they looked like and I also wanted to see if I could find their names in the hieroglyphs above them. After a couple of days of studying, I was able to do just that, plus I had a pretty good feel for some of the items, like the different crowns that the pharaohs and gods wore and some of their scepters. I was a rookie, but I was proud of how much I had learned. When I was winding down with the papyrus that I bought, I thought it would be fun to pull out the Book of Abraham and check out the facsimiles and see how much I could decipher from them. I turned directly to facsimile 3, because it has the figures that would be most recognizable. With just a quick glance, I could see that the person sitting on the throne was Osiris, god of the dead. I looked at Joseph Smith’s interpretation which stated, “Abraham sitting upon Pharaoh’s throne, by the politeness of the king, with a crown upon his head, representing the Priesthood, as emblematical of the grand Presidency in Heaven; with the scepter of justice and judgment in his hand.46 I was surprised at how specific he was and how wrong he was. I also noticed that the woman behind Osiris was Osiris’s wife, either Isis or Hathor-Isis, depending on what period of Egyptian history the facsimiles were made in. Joseph Smith said this woman was, “King Pharaoh, whose name is given in the characters above his head.47 He couldn’t even get the gender right! And the characters above HER head say “Isis.”

The papyri that Joseph Smith obtained were from a man traveling around the country with a few mummies. The man made his way to Kirtland, Ohio where Joseph bought them. Joseph began their translation. The History of the church quotes him as saying, “…with W.W. Phelps and Oliver Cowdery as scribes, I commenced the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt, etc. — a more full account of which will appear in its place, as I proceed to examine or unfold them. Truly we can say, the Lord is beginning to reveal the abundance of peace and truth.48 He later states, “The remainder of this month,I was continually engaged in translating an alphabet to the book of Abraham, and arranging a grammar of the Egyptian language as practiced by the ancients.49 The Book of Abraham papyri were lost after Joseph’s death, only to be rediscovered in a museum in 1966. LDS members were excited to have them translated and finally be vindicated about their belief system. Alas, it was found that the papyri fragments that we have from the Book of Abraham are common depictions and writings from what is called the Egyptian Book of the Dead. It is a kind of funeral rite that the Egyptians placed with mummies. There is nothing about Abraham.


 

FACSIMILE 3. JOSEPH SMITH EXPLANATION

Abraham is reasoning upon the principles of Astronomy, in the king’s court.

Fig. 1. Abraham sitting upon Pharaoh’s throne, by the politeness of the king, with a crown upon his head, representing the Priesthood, as emblematical of the grand Presidency in Heaven; with the scepter of justice and judgment in his hand.

Fig. 2. King Pharaoh, whose name is given in the characters above his head.

Fig. 3. Signifies Abraham in Egypt as given also in Figure 10 of Facsimile No. 1.

Fig. 4. Prince of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, as written above the hand.

Fig. 5. Shulem, one of the king’s principal waiters, as represented by the characters above his hand.

Fig. 6. Olimlah, a slave belonging to the prince. 50



Unlike Joseph’s description of Facsimile 3, the scene above shows a man named Hor or Horus (Fig. 5), being led into the presence of Osiris to be judged. The writing at the bottom of the facsimile is very specific. It tells us what is being viewed in the scene, “O gods of the necropolis, gods of the caverns, gods of the south, north, west, and east grant salvation to the Osiris Hor, the justified, born by Taikhibit...51 Hor was apparently a man that lived in Egypt and had passed away. His body was mummified and an Egyptian funeral rite scene showing him being introduced into Osiris’ presence was placed with his body. That is all. This information can be understood in just a few days of studying Egyptian online. You don’t even have to take the professional Egyptologists’ words on it. You can find out for yourself! Besides the facsimiles, we also have a section of text from the papyri. That text also talks about Hor. The text has a couple of sections. The first section says, “... the prophet of Amonrasonter, prophet [?] of Min Bull-of-his-Mother, prophet [?] of Khons the Governor... Hor, justified, son of the holder of the same titles, master of secrets, and purifier of the gods Osorwer, justified [?]... Tikhebyt, justified. May your ba live among them, and may you be buried in the West...May you give him a good, splendid burial on the West of Thebes just like…52 Tikhebyt (sometimes written Taikhibit or Taykhebyt, etc.) is Hor’s mother and the “ba” mentioned is Hor’s spirit. The second section displays, “this great pool of Khonsu [Osiris Hor, justified], born of Taykhebyt, a man likewise. After (his) two arms are [fast]ened to his breast, one wraps the Book of Breathings, which is with writing both inside and outside of it, with royal linen, it being placed (at) his left arm near his heart, this having been done at his wrapping and outside it. If this book (meaning the Egyptian Book of Breathings) be recited for him, then he will breathe like the soul[s of the gods] for ever and ever.53 None of the papyrus mentions anything about Abraham. Besides just the images in Facsimile 3, there is writing above and to the side of the figures as well. The writing that corresponds with the person Joseph called Abraham says, “Recitation by Osiris, Foremost of the Westerners, Lord of Abydos(?), the great god forever and ever(?).54 Just as it looks like Osiris, the writing SAYS that it is Osiris. The writing that corresponds with the person Joseph called Pharaoh says, “Isis the great, the god's mother.55 Just as it appears to be Isis, the writing SAYS that it is Isis. The writing that corresponds with the person Joseph referred to as the “Prince of pharaoh” says, “Maat, mistress of the gods.56 Again, Joseph got the sex wrong. The writing that corresponds with the person that Joseph called Shulem, the kings waiter, says, “The Osiris Hor, justified forever57 and is the man who had died. The writing that corresponds with the person that Joseph calls “Olimlah, a slave belonging to the prince” says, “Recitation by Anubis, who makes protection(?), foremost of the embalming booth,..58 Anubis was the son of Osiris, God of the dead. Anubis was the God that would protect the dead and bring them to the afterlife. This scene shows him bringing Hor, who had died, into Osiris’ presence.

Egypt has a fairly extensive and advanced written language that evolved over the years. It is interesting to note that the writing on the papyri is in a form of Egyptian that didn’t exist until 1500 years after Abraham lived, which means that it could not have been written by Abraham, although it is written in first person and Abraham even declares that he is doing the writing: “…and I shall endeavor to write some of these things upon this record, for the benefit of my posterity that shall come after me.59 Since the original accounts no longer make sense with what we know, the stories have had to change. Some LDS scholars have argued that perhaps Abraham wrote his story back in his day and then it was copied down in the other form of Egyptian centuries later and placed with the Book of the Dead of some random priest of pharaoh, that mummy was later found and sent across the ocean and ended up in Kirtland, Ohio for Joseph to translate the papyri that came with it. This argument is an interesting one, but ignores the fact that the papyri do not contain the story of Abraham at all. This concept is also refuted by the numerous accounts we have. Joseph Smith said, “…with W.W. Phelps and Oliver Cowdery as scribes,I commenced the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt, etc. — a more full account of which will appear in its place, as I proceed to examine or unfold them. Truly we can say, the Lord is beginning to reveal the abundance of peace and truth.60 As Joseph mentioned above, one of his scribes was W. W. Phelps. W. W. Phelps wrote that the record they were making was a “Translation of the Book of Abraham written by his own hand upon papyrus and found in the Catacombs of Egypt.61 One of Joseph’s personal secretaries, Willard Richards, wrote a description of the Book of Abraham which is still found in the current header, “A Translation of some ancient Records, that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt.—The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus.62 Wilford Woodruff recorded in his diary that, “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.63 Even outsiders were told the same story. When visitors came through Nauvoo, Joseph enjoyed showing off the mummies to them. Josiah Quincy visited Joseph in Nauvoo and reported the following: “ 'And now come with me,' said the prophet 'and I will show you the curiosities.'... There were some pine presses fixed against the wall of the room. These receptacles Smith opened, and disclosed four human bodies, shrunken and black with age. 'These are mummies,' said the exhibitor. 'I want you to look at that little runt of a fellow over there. He was a great man in his day. Why, that was Pharaoh Necho, King of Egypt!'Some parchments inscribed with hieroglyphics were then offered us.... 'That is the handwriting of Abraham, the Father of the Faithful,' said the prophet. 'This is the autograph of Moses,and these lines were written by his brother Aaron. Here we have the earliest account of the Creation, from which Moses composed the First Book of Genesis.'... We were further assured that the prophet was the only mortal who could translate these mysterious writings, and that his power was given by direct inspiration.'64

Despite eye witness accounts of many people as well as Joseph’s own claims of translating the papyri in his journal, and also the existence of a book of Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar that was made during the process that further indicates that a translation was being attempted, many LDS scholars are now suggesting that Joseph never really tried to translate the papyri at all. They say that Joseph saw the papyri and his mind was opened to a revelation of the story of Abraham. This is a nice bypass of a lot of the issues, but it ignores all the evidence. (Incidentally, the book of Alphabet and Grammar that was made during the translation process has a number of Egyptian symbols that are found at the beginning of the written portion of the papyri text that connects to facsimile 1 from the Book of Abraham. Next to each symbol is written the supposed meaning of each, which Egyptologists have also found to be incorrect.) Even Joseph’s mom got in on the fun of “translating” the papyri in yet another example stating that the papyri was written by Abraham. In an account from Charlotte Haven, a young woman who visited Nauvoo in 1843, we read, “From there we called on Joseph's mother, passing the site of the Nauvoo House, a spacious hotel, the first floor only laid. It is like the Temple in being erected on the tithe system, and when finished will surpass in splendor any hotel in the State. Here Joseph and his heirs for generations are to have apartments free of expense, and they think the crowned heads of Europe will rusticate beneath its roof. Madame Smith's residence is a log house very near her son's. She opened the door and received us cordially. She is a motherly kind of woman of about sixty years. She receives a little pittance (small wage) by exhibiting The Mummies to strangers. When we asked to see them, she lit a candle and conducted us up a short, narrow stairway to a low, dark room under the roof. On one side were standing half a dozen mummies, to whom she introduced us, King Onitus and his royal household, -- one she did not know. Then she took up what seemed to be a club wrapped in a dark cloth, and said "This is the leg of Pharaoh's daughter, the one that saved Moses. Repressing a smile, I looked from the mummies to the old lady. but could detect nothing but earnestness and sincerity on her countenance. Then she [Mother Smith] turned to a long table, set her candlestick down, and opened a long roll of manuscript (yes it was not a modern document - they didn't come in long rolls! Furthermore, old papyrus scrolls can be remarkably well preserved and "rollable"), saying it was "the writing of Abraham and Isaac, written in Hebrew and Sanscrit," and she read several minutes from it as if it were English. It sounded very much like passages from the Old Testament-and it might have been for anything we knew-but she said she read it through the inspiration of her son Joseph, in whom she seemed to have perfect confidence. Then in the same way she interpreted to us hieroglyphics from another roll. One was Mother Eve being tempted by the serpent, who-the serpent, I mean-was standing on the tip of his tail, which with his two legs formed a tripod, and had his head in Eve's ear.65

It is interesting that Lucy Mack could read the papyrus as if it were in English when it took her son seven years to complete the Book of Abraham translation. It seems she, like a lot of people at the time, wanted to show off her claim to revelation.

Respectable Egyptologists from the 1800s till now have been saying that the papyri have nothing in relation to the Book of Abraham. I, as an extremely novice Egyptologist, unequivocally state the same. Joseph Smith did not translate the papyri. I think that when the mummies came through Kirtland, he saw an opportunity to bring forth more scripture. Throughout his years in the church, many accused him of being a false and/or fallen prophet. It was an excellent opportunity for him to quell those accusations and build his reputation. Also, it was perfect that they were Egyptian papyri because just as the plates were said to be written in reformed Egyptian, no one could contradict his translation, since Egyptian couldn’t be read at that time. Unfortunately for him, a decade later, the Rosetta Stone was cracked and now we can read the papyri like reading French or Spanish. Of course, the church doesn’t bring this stuff up, so I had to find out for myself by buying a sheet of papyrus in Egypt and studying Egyptian for a couple of days.

 

There is more I could write on this, but I think I have written enough for now. If you would like to know more about the Book of Abraham, there is an excellent video called the “Lost Book of Abraham” that you can find on Youtube. It is an hour long, so it might take awhile to load, but it is very fascinating and very worth it. It seems obvious that the makers of the video do not believe the Book of Abraham is a true book of scripture, but if you can get past that, they are actually very fair in their presentation. They may leave out a few of the LDS arguments, but they include the main ones. Also, the Wikipedia page on the Book of Abraham gives you a nice comparison between Joseph Smith’s translation and the translation from Egyptologists.

Other good links on this subject:

http://www.neirr.org/bof.htm

http://mormonismi.info/jamesdavid/facsimil.htm



The Kinderhook Plates


Another example of Joseph’s translating ability is with a case called the Kinderhook Plates. I had never heard of it until I went exploring into church history. The Kinderhook plates were a set of 6 bell-shaped plates (the above image shows writing on the front and back of four of them). They were made of brass and said to be found buried by human bone remains. One account of the tale was printed in the Quincy Whig on May 3, 1843,

It appears that a young man by the name of Wiley, a resident in Kinderhook, dreamed three nights in succession, that in a certain mound in the vicinity, there was treasures concealed. Impressed with the strange occurrence of dreaming the same dream three nights in succession, he came to the conclusion, to satisfy his mind by digging into the mound. For fear of being laughed at, if he made others acquainted with his design, he went by himself, and labored diligently one day in pursuit of the supposed treasure, by sinking a hole in the centre of the mound. Finding it quite laborous, he invited others to assist him. Finally, a company of ten or twelve repaired to the mound, and assisted in digging out the shaft commenced by Wiley. After penetrating the mound about 11 feet, they came to a bed of limestone, that had apparently been subjected to the action of fire, they removed the stone, which were small and easy to handle, to the depth of two feet more, when they found SIX BRASS PLATES, secured and fastened together by two iron wires, but which were so decayed, that they readily crumbled to dust upon being handled...By whom these plates were deposited there, must ever remain a secret, unless some one skilled in deciphering hieroglyphics, may be found to unravel the mystery. Some pretend to say, that Smith the Mormon leader, has the ability to read them. If he has, he will confer a great favor on the public by removing the mystery which hangs over them. We learn there was a Mormon present when the plates were found, who it is said, leaped for joy at the discovery, and remarked that it would go to prove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon -- which it undoubtedly will…The plates above alluded to, were exhibited in this city last week, and are now, we understand, in Nauvoo, subject to the inspection of the Mormon Prophet. The public curiosity is greatly excited, and if Smith can decipher the hieroglyphics on the plates, he will do more towards throwing light on the early history of this continent, than any man now living.”

Charlotte Haven, the same young woman who was shown the mummies and papyri by Lucy Mack Smith was still in the Nauvoo area at the time the Kinderhook Plates came to town. She speaks of the excitement surrounding the Plates,

We hear very frequently from our Quincy friends through Mr. Joshua Moore, who passes through that place and this in our monthly zigzag tours through the State, traveling horseback. His last call on us was last Saturday and he brought with him half a dozen thin pieces of brass, apparently very old, in the form of a bell about five or six inches long. They had on them scratches that looked like writing, and strange figures like symbolic characters. They were recently found, he said, in a mound buried a few miles below quincy. When he showed them to Joseph, the latter said that the figures or writing on them was similar to that in which the Book of Mormon was written, and if Mr. Moore could leave them, he thought that by the help of revelation he would be able to translate them. So a sequel to that holy book may soon be expected.”66

Joseph Smith had scribes write his daily activities for him, rather than keep such an extensive journal himself. On the day that Joseph saw the Kinderhook plates, William Clayton records from Joseph’s perspective, “I have seen 6 brass plates...covered with ancient characters of language containing from 30 to 40 on each side of the plates. I have translated a portion of them, and find they contain the history of the person with whom they were found. He was a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the Ruler of heaven and earth.67

It is interesting to note that, once again, Joseph chose to tie this find into Egyptian descent. What a person of that lineage was supposed to be doing buried in a place like Kinderhook, Illinois is beyond me.

Just like the papyri from the Book of Abraham, the Kinderhook Plates disappeared for many years. Facsimiles of them were occasionally published in church publications, and used as an example of the prophet’s divine calling.

In 1879, W. Fugate, one of the men who was at the mound when the plates were said to have been discovered, went before Jay Brown, justice of the peace in Illinois, and in an affidavit stated that he, Robert Wiley and Bridge Whitton thought up the whole thing as a hoax to trick the Mormon prophet. He mentions that Bridge Whitton made the plates using his skills as a blacksmith and then Robert Wiley “…made the hieroglyphics by making impressions on beeswax and filling them with acid, old iron and lead, and bound them with a piece of hoop iron, covering them completely with the rust.68

In compiling the History of the Church, President of the Seventy B.H Roberts writes of the events surrounding the Kinderhook plates and of the testimony of W. Fugate. In reference to the affidavit, B. H. Roberts declares, “Of this presentation of the matter it is only necessary to say that it is a little singular that Mr. Fugate alone out of the three said to be in collusion in perpetrating the fraud should disclose it, and that he should wait from 1843 to 1879- a period of thirty-six years- before doing so when he and those said to be associated with him had such an excellent opportunity to expose the vain pretensions of the Prophet…For while the statement in the text of the Prophet’s journal to the effect that the find was genuine, and that he had translated some of the characters and learned certain historical facts concerning the person with whose remains the plates were found, may not have been known at the time to the alleged conspirators to deceive him still it is quite apparent that the editor of the Times and Seasons-John Taylor, the close personal friend of the Prophet- took the find seriously, and expressed implicit confidence in his editorial that the Prophet could give a translation of the plates...How easy to have covered Joseph Smith and his followers with ridicule by proclaiming the hoax as soon as they accepted the Kinderhook plates as genuine! Why was it not done? The fact that Fugate’s story was not told until thirty-six years after the event, and that he alone of all those who were connected with the event gives that version of it, is rather strong evidence that his story is the hoax, not the discovery of the plates, nor the engravings upon them.69

The Kinderhook Plates were eventually found and were put into the hands of the Chicago Historical Society. When they were found, testing was done on them to find out the composition of the metal and the way that the engravings on the plates had been made. As with the papyri, there was much anticipation about the findings of the proceedings. If Joseph was right about the origin of the plates, then he would be vindicated and Fugate’s affidavit would prove to be a lie. If Fugate’s testimony of the events proved to be accurate, then Joseph’s abilities as a prophet, seer, and revelator would be in question. Welby W. Ricks, president of the BYU Archeological Society jumped the gun when he stated,

"A recent rediscovery of one of the Kinderhook plates which was examined by Joseph Smith, Jun., reaffirms his prophetic calling and reveals the false statements made by one of the finders.... The plates are now back in their original category of genuine.... Joseph Smith, Jun., stands as a true prophet and translator of ancient records by divine means and all the world is invited to investigate the truth which has sprung out of the earth not only of the Kinderhook plates, but of the Book of Mormon as well."70

The results, however, did not turn out that way. It was found that the metal was an actual brass alloy consistent with the 1800’s, whereas the ‘brass’ of ancient times was actually bronze, not a true brass. Also, the engravings were not made by ancient means, but indeed etched with acid as Fugate testified. The church acknowledged these findings and that the plates were a hoax, but made no further comment. They tend to just not discuss these types of things. They have probably learned that if it is not discussed, most people will never hear about it. LDS scholars now argue that Joseph was never tricked by the Kinderhook plates hoax and that the account written by Joseph’s scribe, William Clayton, must have been written down wrong. I find this argument to be a bit weak since the words describing what Joseph said about the plates are very specific, “…they contain the history of the person with whom they were found. He was a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the Ruler of heaven and earth.

Those are some fairly specific details for Joseph’s scribe to get things THAT wrong. I also find that argument weak since Joseph apparently kept the plates and was working on a translation. The Mormon publication the Nauvoo Neighbor published the facsimiles of the plates and declared that the translation would be forthcoming, “The contents of the Plates, together with a Fac-Simile of the same, will be published in the 'Times and Seasons,' as soon as the translation is completed.71 On January 15, 1844, The Times and Seasons wrote, “Why does the circumstance of the plates recently found in a mound in Pike county, III., by Mr. Wiley, together with ethnology and a thousand other things, goto prove the Book of Mormon true? — Ans. Because it is true!72 This statement about the Kinderhook Plates, “ethnology and a thousand other things” have all proven to be false. The Kinderhook Plates were a hoax. Ethnology does NOT correlate and thousands of pieces of archeological evidence have been shown to prove the Book of Mormon is not true. LDS scholars do not have proof of the Book of Mormon. I have only found them to have justifications for why virtually all of the evidence is against them.

 

If Joseph had not been killed, he probably would have brought forth a translation of the Kinderhook Plates and, thus, another book of scriptures. The Kinderhook Plates, just like the Book of Abraham, in my opinion, prove almost incontrovertibly that Joseph did not have the abilities he claimed to have.

___________________________________________________________________________________

1 http://www.lds-mormon.com/fv.shtml

2JSH 1:18-19, Pearl of Great Price

3JSH 1:22, Pearl of Great Price

4 "The Significance of Joseph Smith's First Vision in Mormon Thought", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1966, p. 30

5 http://www.boap.org/LDS/History/HTMLHistory/v1c1history.html

6 Daniel Hendrix, young friend of Joseph. Found in “Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon,” a copy of which can be found scanned onto the internet on http://books.google.com.

7 History of the Church, Volume 3 pg. 357

8 B. H. Roberts, Book of Mormon Studies, Pt. I, VII, 2

9 Grant H. Palmer, “An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins,” 58-60.

10http://olivercowdery.com/texts/ethninfo.htm

11History of Joseph Smith by his Mother, 1954 edition, p. 83

12 Quinn, “Early Mormonism,” 38-41

13 Revised Laws of the State of New York, 1813. p. 114

14http://www.omninerd.com/articles/The_1826_Trial_of_Joseph_Smith_Jr Or http://www.utlm.org/newsletters/no68.htm

15 Reassuring Authorship of the Book of Mormon Using delta and nearest shrunken centroid classification, Literary and Linguistic Computing, Oxford Journals, Dec. 2008. see: http://llc.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/fqn040

16http://farms.byu.edu/publications/jbms/?vol=7&num=1&id=167

17 Ibid

18http://www.utlm.org/onlinebooks/3913intro.htm

19http://www.scribd.com/doc/2097751/1828-Printers-Manuscript-of-the-Book-of-Mormon

20 David Whitmer, “An Address to All Believers in Christ,” pg. 35, 1887

21 II Nephi 3:7-8

22 II Nephi 3:17-18

23 Book of Commandments, 1833, Section 4:2; see comparison on http://www.irr.org/mit/boc/

24 Doctrine and Covenants, 1835, Section 32:1; see comparison on http://www.irr.org/mit/boc/

25 Current Doctrine and Covenants, Section 100:9-11

26 An Appeal to the Latter-Day Saints, pg. 27, 1863; see http://sidneyrigdon.com/books/Appl1863.htm

27http://sidneyrigdon.com/criddle/rigdon1.htm

28 Jasper Jesse Moss Letter, 17 Dec 1878. Wisconsin State Historical Society Library. See transcript: http://www.solomonspalding.com/docs/Wil1878a.htm#Moss1

29 Ibid.

30David Whitmer, “An Address to All Believers in Christ,” pg. 2-3, 1887; see http://www.utlm.org/onlinebooks/addressbom.htm

31 David Whitmer, Saints' Herald, February 5, 1887

32Apostle William E. McLellin, Saint's Herald, v. 17, pp. 556-557

33 Warren Parrish, Painesville Republican, February 22, 1838

34 Introduction to the Book of Mormon

35Martin Harris page on Wikipedia. Check references at bottom of Wikipedia page for sources of information.

36David Whitmer page on Wikipedia. Check references at bottom of Wikipedia page for sources of information.

37 History of the Church Vol. 2, pg.95.

38 Ibid.

39Joseph Smith History 1:64-65

40 Letter by Charles Anthon to acquaintances; http://www.utlm.org/onlineresources/anthonletter.htm

41 Doctrine and Covenants 27:12

42 King Follett Discourse: http://mldb.byu.edu/follett.htm

43 “Scattering of the Saints: Schism within Mormonism,” Introduction; see http://www.johnwhitmerbooks.com/books/samplepages/Sample_SotS_text.pdf

44 Ibid.

45 Joseph Smith Inspired Version of the Bible, Mark 15: 25.

46 Book of Abraham, Pearl of Great Price, Facsimile 3.

47 Ibid.

48 History of the Church, Vol. 2, pg. 236.

49 History of the Church, Vol. 2, pg. 238.

50 Ibid.

51 University of Chicago Egyptologist, Robert K. Ritner, 2003.

52 Ibid.

53 Ibid.

54 Ibid.

55 Ibid.

56 Ibid.

57 Ibid.

58 Ibid.

59 Book of Abraham 1:31, Pearl of Great Price.

60 History of the Church, Vol. 2, pg. 236.

61H. Michael Marquardt, comp.,The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papers (Cullman, Alabama: Printing Service, 1981), 148; from Translation Manuscript No. 1 of the Book of Abraham, p. 1.

62 Header, Book of Abraham.

63 Diary of Wilford Woodruff, entry of 19 February 1842, LDS archives; also in Saga, 221

64 Josiah Quincy, “Figures of the Past,” 1958. See: http://www.utlm.org/onlineresources/kinderhookplates.htm

65 Charlotte Haven, Letter From Nauvoo, Jan 3, 1843. Printed in the Overland Monthly, Dec. 1890. see: http://olivercowdery.com/smithhome/1880s-1890s/havn1890.htm

66 Charlotte Haven, Letter From Nauvoo, May 2, 1843. see: http://olivercowdery.com/smithhome/1880s-1890s/havn1890.htm

67 History of the Church, V. 5, p. 372.

68 History of the Church, V. 5, p. 378.

69 History of the Church, V. 5, p. 379, footnote.

70 Welby W. Ricks, The Kinderhook Plates, 1962

71 Nauvoo Neighbor, June 1843.

72 Times and Seasons, V. 5, p. 406.

 
 
 
 
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