Criticism of Mormonism/Books/American Massacre/Chapter 1

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Response to claims made in "Chapter 1: Palmyra, 1823"

A FairMormon Analysis of: American Massacre: The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows, a work by author: Sally Denton
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Response to claims made in American Massacre: The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows, "Chapter 1: Palmyra, 1823"

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Response to claim: 3 - Joseph Smith is claimed to have been visited by a "spirit" named Moroni

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith is claimed to have been visited by a "spirit" named Moroni.

Author's sources:
  1. No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Moroni was an angel in the earliest sources, not a "spirit."


Question: Did the story of Moroni's visit to Joseph Smith evolve from that of a magical spiritual treasure guardian to an "angel"?

The earliest letter and newspaper accounts describe Joseph's claims in religious terms

Some are anxious to paint Joseph's early experiences as linked to "magick" or treasure seeking. They thus argue that Joseph Smith described his first angelic visitor as "a dream" in which "a spirit" visited him three times in one night.

However, the earliest letters and newspapers accounts describe Joseph's claims in religious terms. Gradually, over time, hostile versions of Joseph's claims appear, which introduce "magic" or treasure-seeking elements to the tale.[1] Modern critics have simply followed where Joseph's early critics led them—while ignoring the earliest documents and witness of both friendly and hostile sources.

Newspapers were hostile sources, and tended to focus on polemics and sensationalism

Critics generally gloss over the fact that these newspapers were unremittingly hostile to Joseph and his claims. They were not disinterested, neutral reporters of "both sides of the story." They tended to polemics and sensationalism. Thus, the Palmyra Freeman would write a few weeks earlier that the Book of Mormon was "the greatest piece of superstition that has ever come within our knowledge," and "It is certainly a "new thing" in the history of superstition, bigotry, inconsistency, and foolishness. -- It should, and it doubtless will, be treated with the neglect it merits."[2] It was, continued the Freeman (reprinted in the Rochester Advertiser and Telegraph) "almost invariably treated as it should have been—with contempt".[3]

Other papers followed in this vein, describing the Book of Mormon as "an evidence of fraud, blasphemy and credulity," cooked up by Joseph Smith, "who, by some hocus pocus, acquired such an influence over a wealthy farmer of Wayne county, that the latter mortgaged his farm for $3000, which he paid for printing and binding 5000 copies of the blasphemous work."[4]

Critics wish to invoke the term "spirit" to associate the Book of Mormon predominantly with treasure magic

Critics wish to invoke the term "spirit" to associate the Book of Mormon predominantly with treasure magic. However, a consideration of the complete statements makes it clear that the evidence does not support this interpretation—the religious elements predominate.

For example, a second-hand account from Martin Harris reads, in part:

In the autumn of 1827...Joseph Smith...said that he had been visited by the spirit of the Almighty in a dream...[regarding a hill] containing an ancient record of divine origin....He states that after a third visit from the same spirit in a dream, he proceeded to the spot, removed earth, and there found the bible, together with a large pair of spectacles....[5]

The author obviously does not believe Joseph's story, and so characterizes his experience as "a dream," rather than a vision. But, we note that even at this very early date (1827, reported in 1829), the visit is divine: "the spirit of the Almighty," and Joseph is directed to a "bible" that is "of divine origin."

Other early accounts[6]

The Palmyra (NY) Wayne Sentinel (26 June 1829):

...much speculation has existed, concerning a pretended discovery, through superhuman means, of an ancient record, of a religious and a divine nature and origin, written in ancient characters, impossible to be interpreted by any to whom the special gift has not been imparted by inspiration. It is generally known and spoken of as the "Golden Bible."(emphasis added)

Here again, the religious character of the Book of Mormon is emphasized (even labeled a Bible), with the need for divine inspiration.

A letter from a skeptical member of Joseph's extended family shows a similar pattern—Jesse Smith to Hyrum Smith, 17 June 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.(emphasis added)

Here, Jesse Smith is obviously scornful of the claims being made by Joseph. But, he clearly sees the Book of Mormon in making religious claims: even in hostility, it sees it springing from atheism and infidelity. Treasures are mentioned, but they are "hidden treasures of wisdom & knowledge." Moroni is clearly seen as an "angel of the Lord," and that the finding of the plates was "revealed" by "divine revelation."


Response to claim: 4 - Joseph made "excited proclamations to the public" regarding his First Vision

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

Joseph made "excited proclamations to the public" regarding his First Vision.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Joseph said that he told at least one minister about his vision, and that he was persecuted for it. There is absolutely no evidence that he made any "excited proclamations to the public" about the First Vision.


Response to claim: 4 - The author claims that Joseph experienced "hundreds of mythical persecutions" throughout his life

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that Joseph experienced "hundreds of mythical persecutions" throughout his life.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

The author does not make clear which of Joseph's persecutions she considers "mythical." Perhaps the time that he was tarred and feathered? Perhaps the time that he was shot and killed by a mob?
  •  Internal contradiction: Author later describes some actual persecutions.


Response to claim: 4 - Joseph is claimed to have spent his leisure time leading a band of treasure diggers=

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

Joseph is claimed to have spent his leisure time leading a band of treasure diggers.

Author's sources:
  1. Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), 16. ( Index of claims )

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author simply repeats Fawn Brodie's assertion.


Question: Was Joseph Smith's participation in "money digging" as a youth a blot on his character?

Money digging was a popular, common and accepted practice in their frontier culture

Joseph Smith and some members of his family participated in "money digging" or looking for buried treasure as a youth. This was a common and accepted practice in their frontier culture, though the Smiths do not seem to have been involved to the extent claimed by some of the exaggerated attacks upon them by former neighbors.

In the young Joseph Smith's time and place, "money digging" was a popular, and sometimes respected activity. When Joseph was 16, the Palmyra Herald printed such remarks.

The local newspapers reported on "money digging" activities

  • "digging for money hid in the earth is a very common thing and in this state it is even considered as honorable and profitable employment"
  • "One gentleman...digging...ten to twelve years, found a sufficient quantity of money to build him a commodious house.
  • "another...dug up...fifty thousand dollars!" [7]

And, in 1825 the Wayne Sentinel in Palmyra reported that buried treasure had been found "by the help of a mineral stone, (which becomes transparent when placed in a hat and the light excluded by the face of him who looks into it)." [8]

The Smith's attitude toward treasure digging was similar to a modern attitudes toward gambling, or buying a lottery ticket

Given the financial difficulties under which the Smith family labored, it would hardly be surprising that they might hope for such a reversal in their fortunes. Richard Bushman has compared the Smith's attitude toward treasure digging with a modern attitudes toward gambling, or buying a lottery ticket. Bushman points out that looking for treasure had little stigma attached to it among all classes in the 17th century, and continued to be respectable among the lower classes into the 18th and 19th. [9]

Despite the claims of critics, it is not clear that Joseph and his family saw their activities as "magical."

For a detailed response, see: Joseph Smith/Occultism and magic


Response to claim: 4 - Joseph is claimed to have been "apprenticed" with a man who was described as "a peripatetic magician, conjurer and fortuneteller"

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

Joseph is claimed to have been "apprenticed" with a man who was described as "a peripatetic magician, conjurer and fortuneteller."

Author's sources:
  1. Carl Carmer, The Farm Boy and the Angel (1970), p. 53.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

There is no evidence to support this claim.


Question: Was a "vagabond fortune-teller" named Walters Joseph Smith's "mentor"?

The idea that Walter's "mantle" fell upon Joseph is the creation of an enemy of Joseph Smith, Abner Cole

It is claimed by some that a "vagabond fortune-teller" named Walters became popular in the Palmyra area, and that when Walters left the area, "his mantle fell upon" Joseph Smith. However, the idea that "Walters the Magician" was a mentor to Joseph Smith and that his "mantle" fell upon Joseph once Walters left the area originated with Abner Cole. Cole published a mockery of the Book of Mormon called the "Book of Pukei."

Matthew Brown discusses the "Book of Pukei":,

Cole claims in the "Book of Pukei" that the Book of Mormon really came into existence in the following manner:

  • Walters the Magician was involved in witchcraft and money-digging.
  • Walters was summoned to Manchester, New York by a group of wicked, idle, and slothful individuals—one of which was Joseph Smith.
  • Walters took the slothful individuals of Manchester out into the woods on numerous nighttime money-digging excursions. They drew a magic circle, sacrificed a rooster, and dug into the ground but never actually found anything.
  • The slothful group of Manchesterites then decided that Walters was a fraud. Walters himself admitted that he was an imposter and decided to skip town before the strong arm of the law caught up with him.
  • At this point, the mantle of Walters the Magician fell upon Joseph Smith and the rest of the Manchester rabble rallied around him.
  • The "spirit of the money-diggers" (who is identified implicitly with Satan in the text) appeared to Joseph Smith and revealed the Golden Bible to him.[10]


Response to claim: 5 - The "autumnal equinox and a new moon" were considered to be "an excellent time to commence new projects"

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

The "autumnal equinox and a new moon" were considered to be "an excellent time to commence new projects."

Author's sources:
  1. D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1998), 167 ( Index of claims )

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author simply repeats D. Michael Quinn's claim.


Question: Was the fact that the recovery of the Book of Mormon plates occurred on the autumnal equinox somehow significant?

There are many religious traditions (including Judaism) that use the equinoxes as part of their religious calendar

Joseph's meetings with Moroni and the recovery of the Book of Mormon occurred on the autumnal equinox, a date with astrological and magical significance. Some have speculated that this is evidence of Joseph Smith's preoccupation with "magick." However, there are many religious traditions (including Judaism) that use the equinoxes as part of their religious calendar. Thus, the presence of a significant "astrological" date may be coincidental or present for religious, not "magical" reasons. This again highlights the problems with "magic" as a category.

In this instance, critics presume that their claims about Joseph's preoccupation with magic is an accurate description of his attempt to recover the plates (see circular reasoning). If, however, there are other explanations for receiving the plates on the evening of 21-22 September 1827, then this cannot be used as evidence for pre-occupation with a "magic world view."

The recovery of the Book of Mormon plates occurred on a vital date in the Jewish calendar: Rosh ha-Shanah, the Jewish New Year

The Book of Mormon claims to be a religious text, with a world-view sharing close affinities with Judaism. Interestingly, the plates' recovery occurred on a vital date in the Jewish calendar:

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).[11]

Rosh ha-Shanah also begins the Asseret Yemei Teshuva (The Ten Days of Repentance) which precede the holiest day of the Jewish year: Yom Kippur, the day of the atonement. Likewise, the Book of Mormon claimed to come forth to preach repentance, and prepare the way for Christ's second coming.

Rosh ha-Shanah is celebrated by the blowing of the ram's horn (shofar), just as Jesus' apocalyptic teachings foretold that the elect would be gathered by angels "with a great sound of a trumpet" (Matthew 24:31). The Revelation of St. John features angels with trumpets as part of the preparation or heralding of Christ's second coming (e.g., Revelation 8:2,6; compare DC 77:12). The Book of Mormon portrays itself squarely within this tradition, heralding and preparing the way for the gathering of the elect and the return of Christ (1 Nephi 13:34-42).

In the Jerusalem temple, "at the autumnal equinox the rays of the sun could enter the [holy of holies] because the whole of the edifice faced east."[12] Thus, on a date in which the idea of divine illumination, light, and knowledge streaming into God's earthly temple was so prominent, a new divine revelation of scripture fits at least as well as Quinn's claim that this date has astrological significance for "the introduction of 'broad cultural movements and religious ideas'."[13]


Response to claim: 5 - Joseph's family is claimed to have had a "nonconforming contempt for organized religion"

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

Joseph's family is claimed to have had a "nonconforming contempt for organized religion."

Author's sources:
  1. No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Joseph's mother and three siblings joined local churches; this can hardly been seen as "contempt" (see JS-H 1:7). Joseph's father, on the other hand, did harbor some disdain for the religions of the time.


Response to claim: 6 - Lucy Smith is claimed to have "abandoned traditional Protestantism" in favor of "mysticism and miracles"

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

Lucy Smith is claimed to have "abandoned traditional Protestantism" in favor of "mysticism and miracles."

Author's sources:
  1. No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Lucy joined the Presbyterian Church (JS-H 1:7). Many Christians of the day believed in miracles, and saw a decline of miracles as evidence that Christinaity needed to be revitalized, reformed, or restored.


Question: When was Lucy Mack Smith baptized?

Richard Bushman: "In recounting her baptism around 1803, Lucy Smith by implication suggested a date for her membership in the Presbyterian church in Palmyra"

Lucy Mack Smith recorded in her history that she sought out baptism sometime around 1803, without formally joining any Church at that time. The Reverend Wesley Walters attempts to place Lucy's association with the Presbyterians at 1824, to coincide with the formal 1824 revival. In 1987, Richard Bushman summarized the debates about Lucy's Presbyterianism to that point:

In recounting her baptism around 1803, Lucy Smith by implication suggested a date for her membership in the Presbyterian church in Palmyra. She had searched for a minister who would baptize her without the requirement of commitment to one church. She found such a man, who left her "free in regard to joining any religious denomination." After this, she says, "I stepped forward and yielded obedience to this ordinance; after which I continued to read the Bible as formerly until my eldest son had attained his twenty-second year." Biographical Sketches, pp. 48-49. Alvin was twenty-two in 1820. Unfortunately, the Presbyterian records that could confirm this date are lost. In an 1893 interview William Smith said that Hyrum, Samuel, and Catherine were Presbyterians, but since Catherine was only eight in 1820, and Sophronia, whom Joseph named, was seventeen, Sophronia was more likely to be the sister who joined....All the circumstantial evidence notwithstanding, the date of Lucy Smith's engagement to Presbyterianism remains a matter of debate. It is possible to argue plausibly that she did not join until later Palmyra revivals in 1824. [14]

Thus, a definitive answer to the question will probably elude us, though Bushman clearly favored the early date.

Critics act as if the matter has been settled the way the Reverend Wesley Walters hoped it would be--insisting that the 1824 date was the only viable one. This is false, and the weight of evidence is probably on the side of the "traditional" understanding of Lucy and at least some children as Presbyterians prior to an 1820 First Vision.


Response to claim: 7 - Joseph is claimed to have "detested the plow as only a farmer's son can"

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

Joseph is claimed to have "detested the plow as only a farmer's son can."

Author's sources:
  1. Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), 18. ( Index of claims )

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author repeats a very recognizable quote from Fawn Brodie. This is Brodie's opinion—there is no primary source to back up this claim.


Response to claim: 7 - Joseph is claimed to have told stories about the Mound Builders

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

Joseph is claimed to have told stories about the Mound Builders, who, according to the author, were a "thousand-year-old lost race fabled to have been slaughtered and buried on the outskirts of Palmyra."

Author's sources:
  1. No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

We are unsure how the author determined that the Mound Builders were slaughtered and buried on the outskirts of Palmyra. The author shows that she knows very little about the Mound Builders. In reality, the mounds were quite numerous and were located in many different parts of the country.


Response to claim: 7 - Joseph entertained his family with tales of the ancient inhabitants of the area

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

Joseph entertained his family with tales of the ancient inhabitants of the area.

Author's sources:
  1. Lucy Smith, Biographical Sketches, p. 85.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Joseph told his family stories about the people described in the Book of Mormon, as described to him by the angel Moroni.


Question: Was the young Joseph Smith a teller of "tall tales"?

The Prophet's mother's account of her son telling "amusing recitals" about the ancient inhabitants of the American continent occurred during the years that Joseph was being prepared to receive the plates

Lucy's 1853 autobiography, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for many Generations was considered inaccurate by Brigham Young and was ordered to be rewritten. The reasons for this had nothing to do with Lucy's account of her son Joseph's "amusing recitals." The 1853 autobiography and the 1845 manuscript upon which it was based still exist, and both confirm that the "amusing recitals" mentioned by Lucy were done during the period during which Joseph was being instructed by the angel as he waited to retrieve the gold plates. Lucy Mack Smith said the following in her 1853 autobiography:

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 travelings, and the 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 among them.[15]

The quote from Lucy Mack Smith is used by critics of the Church to show how Joseph Smith told "yarns" about Native Americans "long before any golden plates had been found." The chronology found in Lucy Mack Smith's history, however, tells just the opposite story, and puts this quotation in its proper context. Lucy says that the angel Moroni told her son (during his first appearance) about the existence of the plates and informed him where they were buried (see Lavina F. Anderson, ed., Lucy's Book: A Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith's Family Memoir [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2001], 335-36). Lucy then states that Joseph (the evening after he had seen the Nephite record in their place of deposit) told his family all about "the plates" (ibid., 343).

Lucy Mack Smith: "From this time forth Joseph continued to receive instructions from time to time and every evening we gathered our children"

Lucy Mack Smith's account of her son telling "amusing recitals" about the ancient inhabitants of the American continent occurred during the years that Joseph was being prepared to receive the plates. The stories that he was telling related to information that he was receiving from the angel Moroni: These were not "tall tales" that he fabricated for his family's amusement.

From Lucy's 1845 manuscript, we read:

Now said he[,] Father and Mother the angel of the Lord says that we must be careful not to proclaim these things or to mention them abroad For we do not any of us know the wickedness of the world which is so sinful that when we get the plates they will want to kill us for the sake of the gold if they know we had <have> them...by sunset [we] were ready to be seated and give our atten undivided attention to Josephs recitals...From this time forth Joseph continued to receive instructions from time to time and every evening we gathered our children togather [together]...In the course of our evening conversations Joseph would give us some of the most ammusing [amusing] recitals which could be immagined [imagined]. he would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent their dress their man[n]er of traveling the animals which they rode The cities that were built by them the structure of their buildings with every particular of their mode of warfare their religious worship as particularly as though he had spent his life with them...The angel informed him at one time that he might make an effort to obtain the plates <on> the <22nd of the> ensueing september....[16]

Clearly, Joseph Smith told his stories after he learned about, and saw, the golden plates. Indeed, it is known that Moroni showed Joseph visions and gave him information regarding the people whose stories were found on the Nephite record (see Times and Seasons, vol. 3, no. 9, 1 March 1842, 707-708), so the young man undoubtedly had quite a few stories to tell. Lucy Mack Smith simply said in her autobiography that her son told the family about information connected with the angel and the Book of Mormon plates.[17] Lucy told the same information to Wandle Mace about seven years prior to producing her 1845 autobiography and clarified that this information was connected with the Book of Mormon "Nephites" and was shown to her son by vision.

In Joseph Smith's own official history he confirmed that he learned this information through the power of visions[18] and Oliver Cowdery made note of the same thing.[19] Thus, the origin of the stories mentioned by Joseph's mother in her autobiography was a heavenly one—she was not even remotely implying that her son was a teller of tall tales.


Response to claim: 8 - The author claims that Emma was warned not to touch the plates because she would suffer "instant death if her eyes fell upon them"

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that Emma was warned not to touch the plates because she would suffer "instant death if her eyes fell upon them."

Author's sources:
  • No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Joseph's wife Emma did not recall any specific threat of destruction associated with the unauthorized viewing of the plates.


Question: Did Joseph Smith say that viewing the gold plates would result in death?

The only first-person account—that made by Joseph Smith himself—says that it was Joseph who would be destroyed if he showed the plates to any other person unless commanded to do so by the Lord

It is claimed that Joseph Smith said that the penalty for viewing the gold plates was death, and that this was just a way for Joseph to hide the fact that the plates really didn't exist. However, the only first-person account—that made by Joseph Smith himself—says that it was Joseph who would be destroyed if he showed the plates to any other person unless commanded to do so by the Lord. Many accounts attributed to Joseph in which he is supposed to have claimed that anyone else who viewed the plates would die originated with people who were hostile to Joseph and the Church. Significantly, Emma's statement makes no mention of the alleged penalty associated with the unauthorized viewing of the plates.

Primary source: Joseph Smith's own words

Joseph Smith-History 1:42 describes the conditions under which Joseph was to handle the plates:

Again, he told me, that when I got those plates of which he had spoken—for the time that they should be obtained was not yet fulfilled—I should not show them to any person; neither the breastplate with the Urim and Thummim; only to those to whom I should be commanded to show them; if I did I should be destroyed. While he was conversing with me about the plates, the vision was opened to my mind that I could see the place where the plates were deposited, and that so clearly and distinctly that I knew the place again when I visited it. (emphasis added)

According to this, it was Joseph who risked destruction if he showed the plates to anyone unless explicitly commanded to do so by the Lord, not the person to whom he showed them.

Of course, we also have the testimony of the Three and Eight witnesses, who all viewed the plates without any threat of destruction.

The idea that God would "strike down" anyone who viewed the plates came from a hostile secondary source

Fawn Brodie claimed that Joseph told Martin Harris that God's wrath would strike him down if he examined the plates or looked at him while he was translating. This is supported by a second-hand source: Charles Anthon's statement regarding the visit of Martin Harris in Eber D. Howe's anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unvailed. Anthon stated:

I adverted once more to the roguery which had been in my opinion practised upon [Harris], 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. [20]

In the critical bookMormonism Unvailed, Peter Ingersoll and Sophia Lewis claimed that Joseph told them that anyone who viewed the plates would perish.

Peter Ingersoll was a hostile source. Here is what he claims that Joseph said to him:

...On my entering the house, I found the family at the table eating dinner. They were all anxious to know the contents of my frock. At that moment, I happened to think of what I had heard about a history found in Canada, called the golden Bible; so I very gravely told them it was the golden Bible. To my surprise, they were credulous enough to believe what I said. Accordingly I told them that I had received a commandment to let no one see it, for, says I, no man can see it with the naked eye and live. However, I offered to take out the book and show it to them, but they refuse to see it, and left the room." Now, said Jo, "I have got the damned fools fixed, and will carry out the fun." Notwithstanding, he told me he had no such book, and believed there never was any such book....(emphasis added)[21]

Here we have a statement alleged to have been made by Joseph Smith that "no man can see it with the naked eye and live." However, we also see that, according to Peter Ingersoll, Joseph came up with the entire idea of the "golden bible" on the spur of the moment as a way to have "fun." Then he claims that Joseph confided to him that the plates didn't actually exist at all. There are so many inconsistencies between this story and the statements of numerous other witnesses that one wonders if Peter Ingersoll was the one who was having some "fun" with his audience. Ingersoll can also be discredited on his claim that Joseph made the story up on the spot, because Joseph was telling various people about his Moroni visits well before recovering the plates (see for example various Knight family recollections).

Examining the testimony of Sophia Lewis we find:

SOPHIA LEWIS, certifies that she "heard a conversation between Joseph Smith, Jr., and the Rev. James B. Roach, in which Smith called Mr. R. a d-----d fool. Smith also said in the same conversation that he (Smith) was as good as Jesus Christ;" and that she "has frequently heard Smith use profane language. She states that she heard Smith say "the Book of Plates could not be opened under penalty of death by any other person but his (Smith's) first-born, which was to be a male." She says she "was present at the birth of this child, and that it was still-born and very much deformed."(emphasis added)[22]

Here we find that not only could the plates not be viewed by another person, but that the only person who could "open" them would be Joseph's first-born child. Sophia Lewis's testimony is suspicious however. Hezekiah M'Kune, Levi Lewis and Sophia Lewis went together to make their depositions before the justice. Their testimonies bear a remarkable similarity and contain the unique claim that Joseph claimed to be "as good as Jesus Christ." This claim is not related by any other individuals who knew the Prophet, suggesting that these three individuals planned and coordinated their story before giving their depositions. [23]

Joseph's wife Emma did not recall any specific threat of destruction associated with the unauthorized viewing of the plates

It is interesting to note that Emma Smith, admittedly much closer to her husband Joseph than the hostile sources previously quoted, never mentioned a penalty for viewing the plates. In fact, in an interview with her son Joseph Smith III in 1879, the following conversation was recorded:

[Joseph Smith III} Q: I should suppose that you would have uncovered the plates and examined them?

[Emma Smith Bidamon] A. I did not attempt to handle the plates, other than I have told you, nor uncover them to look at them. I was satisfied that it was the work of God, and therefore did not feel it to be necessary to do so.

Major Bidamon here suggested: Did Mr. Smith forbid your examining the plates?

[Emma] A. I do not think he did. I knew that he had them, and was not specially curious about them. I moved them from place to place on the table, as it was necessary in doing my work.

[JS III] Q. Mother, what is your belief about the authenticity, or origin, of the Book of Mormon?

[Emma] A. My belief is that the Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity - I have not the slightest doubt of it. I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when acting as his scribe, your father would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he could at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and, for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.(emphasis added)[24]

Emma, therefore, did not recall any specific threat of destruction associated with the unauthorized viewing of the plates.


Response to claim: 8 - Laman and Lemuel, were evil sinners, causing God to curse them and all of their descendants with a red skin

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: Nephi's two older brothers, Laman and Lemuel, were evil sinners, causing God to curse them and all of their descendants with a red skin.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

There is no mention of "red skin" in the Book of Mormon. The claim that the Lamanites were cursed with a "red skin" originated in Fawn Brodie's book No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith. This indicates that author's shallow research by repeating Brodie's idea without attribution, and without determining that it is unsupported by any source even in Brodie's book.


Question: Does the Book of Mormon describe the Lamanites as being "cursed" with a "red skin"?

There is no mention of "red skin" in the Book of Mormon

Main article: Lamanite curse

Fawn Brodie originated this claim, but does so without attribution or evidence. There is no mention of "red skin" in the Book of Mormon. Other authors who make this claim are clearly parroting Brodie, often without attribution. For example, Sally Denton makes this claim in a chapter which she liberally quotes Brodie's book No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, yet Denton does not attribute this particular claim to Brodie. The result is that we have one critical author citing another critical author's erroneous, unsupported assertion as fact.

This criticism does raise an interesting problem, however, for the critics—if Joseph Smith was (as they claim) writing a "history of the Indians," why did he never refer to their red skins? This was the common way in which they were described by 19th-century Americans. Yet, that characterization is completely absent from the Book of Mormon.


Response to claim: 9 - The author claims that the Book of Mormon was rooted in "the conviction that all believers were on the road to Godhood"

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that the Book of Mormon was rooted in "the conviction that all believers were on the road to Godhood, that a heaven existed where all men could be saved and then go on to create their own worlds."

Author's sources:
  1. No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

Theosis is not a preoccupation of the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon likewise says nothing about the saved creating their own worlds.


Response to claim: 9 - The author claims that Joseph Smith's "evangelical socialism" was a precursor to "Marxian communism"

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that Joseph Smith's "evangelical socialism" was a precursor to "Marxian communism."

Author's sources:
  1. No source provided, but compare to the almost identical treatment in Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism (Moody Press, 1979), 59.( Index of claims ).

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The differences between the United Order and Marxism are numerous.


Question: Was the United Order simply a form of communism?

The starting point of modern socialism was well after Joseph Smith's implementation of the United Order

Some have asserted that the United Order was simply a form of "communism." Marion G. Romney notes that, "The 'Communist Manifesto' drafted by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels for the Communist League in 1848 is generally regarded as the starting point of modern socialism." [25] However, Joseph Smith's implementation of the United Order predated Marx and Engels, so it would be impossible for him to have drawn upon their ideas.

There are some similarities, but also some important differences between the United Order and Marxist Communism

Similarities between communism and the United Order:

  • Both the United Order and communism deal with production and distribution of goods.
  • Both the United Order and communism aim to promote the well-being of men by eliminating their economic inequalities.
  • Both the United Order and communism envision the elimination of the selfish motives in our private capitalistic industrial system.

Differences between the United Order and Marxist Communism include:

  • The United Order is based upon "belief in God and acceptance of him as Lord of the earth and the author of the United Order," while socialism is wholly materialistic, and "is founded in the wisdom of men and not of God." [25]
  • The United Order is "implemented by the voluntary free-will actions of men, evidenced by a consecration of all their property to the Church of God," while "socialism is implemented by external force, the power of the state." [25]
  • The United Order is based upon the principle that "that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property" (D&C 134:2), while communism requires that the government control all property.

Elder Marion G. Romney summarized this as: "Socialism takes: United Order gives. That is the spirit of socialism: We're going to take. The spirit of the United Order is: We're going to give." [25]

What happened if one did not choose to participate in the United Order?

Elder Marion G. Romney notes,

One time the Prophet Joseph Smith asked a question by the brethren about the inventories they were taking. His answer was to the effect, "You don't need to be concerned about the inventories. Unless a man is willing to consecrate everything he has, he doesn't come into the United Order." (Documentary History of the Church, Vol. 7, pp. 412-13.) [25]


Response to claim: 10 - The author describes the LDS view of God as "a corporeal being residing on a planet orbiting a star called Kolob and sexually active with a Heavenly Mother and other wives"

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

The author describes the LDS view of God as "a corporeal being residing on a planet orbiting a star called Kolob and sexually active with a Heavenly Mother and other wives."

Author's sources:
  1. No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

This is nonsense.


Question: Do Latter-day Saints believe in a practice called "celestial sex," and that this is the manner in which "spirit children" are formed?

It is the critics of the Church that invented and use the offensive term "celestial sex"

This is not a term used by Latter-day Saints. It has, in fact, never been used by Latter-day Saints. The use of the term "celestial sex" by critics is intended to be demeaning and shocking to Latter-day Saints or interested readers. The use of such tactics may say much about the mainstream culture's preoccupation with sexual behavior. However, it says nothing about the actual beliefs of Church members.

Critics of the Church twist LDS beliefs into a form that makes them look ridiculous. Quotes made by early LDS leaders are often used to support the claim that Latter-day Saints believe in “Celestial sex.” It should be noted, however, that LDS leaders have never used the term "Celestial sex." This phrase was coined by critics of the Church, likely for its “shock value” in portraying the following concepts in LDS belief:

  1. The belief that God the Father has a physical body.
  2. The belief that there exists a Heavenly Mother who also possesses a physical body.
  3. The belief that our Heavenly Father and Mother together are capable of creating “spirit children.”

Critics take these ideas and combine them, leading to a declaration that Latter-day Saints therefore believe in “Celestial sex.” Various anti-Mormon works then use this idea to mock LDS beliefs or shock their readers—though this claim does not describe LDS beliefs, but the critics' caricature of them.

One of the earliest uses of the term "celestial sex" was in the anti-Mormon film The God Makers

For example, the 1982 anti-Mormon film The God Makers makes reference to “engaging in celestial sex with their goddess wives." One woman in the film, who is claimed to have once been a Latter-day Saint, expresses the idea that the primary goal of women in the Church is to "become a goddess in heaven" in order to "multiply an earth" and be "eternally pregnant." The claim that Latter-day Saints expect to have "endless Celestial sex" in order to populate their own planet is very popular among critics of the Church, though members themselves would not explain their beliefs in that way.

The critics' assumptions simply take what we know about our physical world and naively apply it to the afterlife. When one examines the critics’ point further, a key question ought to be raised: How does the union of two immortal beings in a physical manner produce spirit offspring? Latter-day Saint belief is that “spirit children” only receive a physical body upon being born on earth.

This question, of course, cannot be answered. It is pointless to speculate on the exact manner in which “spirit children” are produced, and to assume that this occurs through “Celestial sex” and being "eternally pregnant" is to apply a worldly mindset to a spiritual process. The bottom line: Latter-day Saints do not know the mechanism by which “spirit children” are produced, and no LDS doctrine claims that "celestial sex" and being "eternally pregnant" are the means.


Notes

  1. For an analysis of all these early accounts in tabular form, see Larry E. Morris, "'I Should Have an Eye Single to the Glory of God’: Joseph Smith’s Account of the Angel and the Plates (Review of: "From Captain Kidd’s Treasure Ghost to the Angel Moroni: Changing Dramatis Personae in Early Mormonism")," FARMS Review 17/1 (2005): 11–82. off-site . See also Mark Ashurst-McGee, "Moroni as Angel and as Treasure Guardian," FARMS Review 18/1 (2006): 34–100. [{{{url}}} off-site] wiki
  2. [J. A. Hadley], Palmyra Freeman (11August 1829); cited in part on p. 6 of John S. Welch, "Straight (Not Strait) and Narrow," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 16/1 (2007): 18–25. off-site wiki
  3. “Golden Bible,” Rochester Advertiser and Daily Telegraph (New York) (31 August 1829). Reprinted from Palmyra Freeman, 11 August 1829. off-site
  4. “Blasphemy–‘Book of Mormon,’ alias The Golden Bible,” Rochester Daily Advertiser (New York) (2 April 1830). off-site
  5. "Golden Bible," Rochester (NY) Gem 1 (5 September 1829): 70; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:272.
  6. From Appendix A and B of Larry E. Morris, "'I Should Have an Eye Single to the Glory of God’: Joseph Smith’s Account of the Angel and the Plates (Review of: "From Captain Kidd’s Treasure Ghost to the Angel Moroni: Changing Dramatis Personae in Early Mormonism")," FARMS Review 17/1 (2005): 11–82. off-site
  7. Palmyra Herald (24 July 1822); cited in Russell Anderson, "The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith," (2002 FAIR Conference presentation.) FairMormon link
  8. "Wonderful Discovery," Wayne Sentinel [Palmyra, New York] (27 December 1825), page 2, col. 4. Reprinted from the Orleans Advocate of Orleans, New York; cited by Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 170–171.
  9. Richard L. Bushman, "Joseph Smith Miscellany," (Mesa, Arizona: FAIR, 2005 FAIR Conference) FairMormon link
  10. Matthew Brown, "Revised or Unaltered? Joseph Smith's Foundational Stories.", 2006 FAIR Conference.
  11. Larry E. Morris, "'I Should Have an Eye Single to the Glory of God’: Joseph Smith’s Account of the Angel and the Plates (Review of: "From Captain Kidd’s Treasure Ghost to the Angel Moroni: Changing Dramatis Personae in Early Mormonism")," FARMS Review 17/1 (2005): 11–82. off-site
  12. Bruce Chilton, "Jesus’ Dispute in the Temple and the Origin of the Eucharist," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 29 no. 4, 22–23.
  13. D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1998), 121 ( Index of claims )
  14. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana and Chicago, Illinois: University of Illinois Press; Reprint edition, 1987), 53n32. ISBN 0252060121.
  15. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:296. citing Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853), 36-173.
  16. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:294–296. citing the 1845 manuscript of Lucy Mack Smith's autobiography.
  17. Lucy Smith, Lucy's Book: Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith's Family Memoir, edited by Lavina Fielding Anderson and Irene M. Bates, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 2001), 346. ISBN 1560851376.
  18. Times and Seasons 3 no. 9 (1 March 1842), 707. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  19. Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1 no. 7 (April 1835), 112.
  20. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 272. (Affidavits examined)
  21. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 235-236. (Affidavits examined)
  22. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 269. (Affidavits examined)
  23. Hugh W. Nibley, Tinkling Cymbals and Sounding Brass: The Art of Telling Tales About Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (Vol. 11 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by David J. Whittaker, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991), 128. ISBN 0875795161. GL direct link
  24. "Interview with Joseph Smith III", in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:542.
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 25.3 25.4 Marion G. Romney, "Socialism and the United Order Compared," Conference Report, April 1966. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "mgromney" defined multiple times with different content