Criticism of Mormonism/Books/Mormon America: The Power and the Promise/Chapter 2

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Response to claims made in "Chapter 2: Beginnings: A Very American Gospel"

A FairMormon Analysis of: Mormon America: The Power and the Promise, a work by author: Richard N. Ostling and Joan K. Ostling

Response to claims made in Mormon America "Chapter 2: Beginnings: A Very American Gospel"

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Response to claim: 21 - Joseph Smith copied ideas from Swedenborgianism, with its concepts of eternal marriage and a three-tiered heaven

The author(s) of Mormon America make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith copied ideas from Swedenborgianism, with its concepts of eternal marriage and a three-tiered heaven.

Author's sources: Source not provided

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

Part of the basis for Doctrine and Covenants Section 76 is clearly rooted in the New Testament, and Swedenborg cannot be the source for the notion of three heavens because of this.

Question: Did Joseph Smith derive the idea of "three degrees of glory" from Emanuel Swedenborg's book, Heaven and its Wonders and Hell?

The charge that Swedenborg was Joseph's source is a late one, and was not even mentioned by those who disliked both Joseph and Swedenborg, and knew both works

It is claimed by critics of Mormonism that Joseph Smith derived the idea of "three degrees of glory" in the afterlife from Emanuel Swedenborg's book, Heaven and its Wonders and Hell From Things Heard and Seen (1758). [1] It is also claimed that Joseph Smith's practice of plural marriage was similar to Swedenborg's philosophy of "spiritual wifery."

Swedenborg said,

There are three heavens, entirely distinct from each other, an inmost or third, a middle or second, and an outmost or first. These have the same order and relation to each other as the highest part of man, or his head, the middle part, or body, and the lowest, or feet; or as the upper, the middle, and the lower stories of a house. In the same order is the Divine that goes forth and descends from the Lord; consequently heave, from the necessity of order, is threefold....The Divine that flows in from the Lord and is received in the third or inmost heaven is called celestial, and in consequence the angels there are called celestial angels; the Divine that flows in from the Lord and is received in the second or middle heaven is called spiritual, and in consequence the angels there are called spiritual angels; while the Divine that flows in from the Lord and is received in the outmost or first heaven is called natural; but as the natural of that heaven, unlike the natural of the world, has the spiritual and celestial within it, that heaven is called the spiritual- and the celestial-natural, and in consequence the angels there are called the spiritual-natural and celestial-natural. Those who receive influx from the middle or second heaven, which is the spiritual heaven, are called spiritual-natural; and those who receive influx from the third or inmost heaven, which is the celestial heaven, are called celestial-natural. The spiritual-natural angels and the celestial-natural angels are distinct from each other; nevertheless they constitute one heaven, because they are in the same degree.[2]

However, elements in Joseph's schema are present in the Bible, but not present in Swedenborg's model. The claim of "similarity" rests on a few superficial similarities between Joseph and Swedenborg and the Bible—and ignores the many marked differences between them.

Even if one is not inclined to grant Joseph Smith prophetic status, it seems far more plausible that his view of a three-tiered heaven derives from the New Testament, and not from Swedenborg.

Some believe that Joseph Smith borrowed the concept of three degrees of glory from Swedish philosopher and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). This portrait shows him at age 75. Original from en.wikipedia.org.

The concept of different degrees of heaven is not original to Swedenborg

1 Corinithians 15:41:

There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.

Swedenborg was hardly the first theologian or thinker to suggest that heavenly rewards were not all identical, but graduated into degrees of glory. The discussion and debate about the fate of the righteous in heaven goes back to the earliest Christian centuries. Non-LDS scholar Emma Disley indicates that the primary sources for the idea of different degrees of glory are Matthew 5:; John 14:2 ("in my Father's house are many mansions"); Matt 5; John 14.2 (‘many mansions’); 1 Corinithians 15:41 (stars differ in glory from one another); Matthew 20:1-4 (parable of the Vineyard).

Thus, the "raw material" for such ideas is Biblical, and noted long before Joseph or Swedenborg. Joseph received the vision of the three degrees of glory on 16 February 1832. Joseph had been involved in his translation/revision of the Bible, and indicates that this effort was what led to the reflections which preceded the vision. Joseph indicated that the vision came after reading John 5:29: "And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." [3]

Problems with the thesis that Joseph borrowed Swedenborg's ideas

The issues arguing against borrowing come in at least three different ways:

  1. a common source for both Swedenborg and Joseph
  2. no early charge that Joseph had borrowed from Swedenborg
  3. the "similarities" are superficial, while there are many deep differences.

Part of the basis for Doctrine and Covenants Section 76 is clearly rooted in the New Testament, and Swedenborg cannot be the source for the notion of three heavens because of this

First, as discussed above, there is the issue of other sources available to both Joseph and Swedenborg. 1 Corinthians 15: uses both the words celestial and terrestrial to name two of the three heavens. Joseph Smith in Section 76 uses both of these terms. Swedenborg only uses the word celestial. Whether or not Joseph borrowed from Swedenborg, part of the basis for Section 76 is clearly rooted in the New Testament. Swedenborg cannot be the source for the notion of three heavens because of this. At the most we could say that some of Swedenborg's expansions on the idea of heavenly glory have something in common with the revelations received by Joseph Smith.

The charge of Joseph "borrowing" idea from Swedenborg only occurs much later

Second, we don't really see any early charges that Joseph Smith borrowed from Swedenborg. That is, with the Book of Mormon, we have a nearly constant stream of claims that Joseph stole his ideas in the book from somewhere else—Spaulding's manuscript, Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews, and so on. But, we don't see anyone claiming that Joseph borrowed from Swedenborg—until D. Michael Quinn makes the claim late in the twentieth century.

Joseph's early critics and readers were quite familiar with Swedenborg—one early critique of Joseph compared him to Swedenborg since both were regarded as false prophets, but said nothing about Swedenborg as a source for Joseph's ideas. [4] A second critique complained about the lack of symbolism in Joseph's ideas. While regarding Swedenborg as a fraud and false prophet, this critic notes that while Swedenborg "was vailed in figures, tropes, and parabols: It: is not so with Joseph Smith: He speaks plainly. He lies openly; and hopes to succeed by inspiring falsehood with the fearlessness of truth...." [5] Thus, neither critic saw the parallels which modern critics are so keen to insist were there.

The lack of an early attack on Joseph on these grounds is thus problematic for a couple of reasons. First, while we know that Joseph probably had some contact with Swedenborg's writings by 1839, the same kinds of arguments made for early access to Swedenborg can also be made for those around Joseph. Swedenborg's work was, after all, in the public library of Joseph's home town, and it was widely published. The same kinds of individuals who would have talked to Joseph certainly could have talked to those around him—and yet we don't get the claims of his being influenced. And this means that it is quite likely that this discussion is purely of more recent manufacture.

The claim ignores the many differences between Joseph's concepts and Swedenborg's

Third, it is easy to claim that there is borrowing when you get to summarize everything. It's a lot harder when you get to read the texts. Here, for example, is the first part of the bit about three heavens from Swedenborg:

There Are Three Heavens

29. There are three heavens, entirely distinct from each other, an inmost or third, a middle or second, and an outmost or first. These have the same order and relation to each other as the highest part of man, or his head, the middle part, or body, and the lowest, or feet; or as the upper, the middle, and the lower stories of a house. In the same order is the Divine that goes forth and descends from the Lord; consequently heave, from the necessity of order, is threefold.

30. The interiors of man, which belong to his mind and disposition, are also in like order. He has an inmost, a middle, and an outmost part; for when man was created all things of Divine order were brought together in him, so that he became Divine order and form, and consequently a heaven in miniature. For this reason man, as regards his interiors, has communication with the heavens and comes after death among the angels, either among those of the inmost, or of the middle, or of the outmost heaven, in accordance with his reception of Divine good and truth from the Lord during his life in the world.

31. The Divine that flows in from the Lord and is received in the third or inmost heaven is called celestial, and in consequence the angels there are called celestial angels; the Divine that flows in from the Lord and is received in the second or middle heaven is called spiritual, and in consequence the angels there are called spiritual angels; while the Divine that flows in from the Lord and is received in the outmost or first heaven is called natural; but as the natural of that heaven, unlike the natural of the world, has the spiritual and celestial within it, that heaven is called the spiritual- and the celestial-natural, and in consequence the angels there are called the spiritual-natural and celestial-natural. Those who receive influx from the middle or second heaven, which is the spiritual heaven, are called spiritual-natural; and those who receive influx from the third or inmost heaven, which is the celestial heaven, are called celestial-natural. The spiritual-natural angels and the celestial-natural angels are distinct from each other; nevertheless they constitute one heaven, because they are in the same degree.

32. In each heaven there is an internal and an external; those in the internal are called internal angels, while those in the external are called external angels. The internal and the external in the heavens, or in each heaven, hold the same relation as the voluntary and intellectual in man - the internal corresponding to the voluntary, and the external to the intellectual. Every thing voluntary is intellectual; one cannot exist without the other. The voluntary may be compared to a flame and the intellectual to the light therefrom.

So, there are three heavens in Swedenborg. And there are three heavens in Joseph Smith, and there are three heavens in 1 Cor. 15. In the New Testament we have "bodies celestial" - from 1 Cor. 15:40

40 There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.

And in Section 76 we have celestial bodies (verse 78)

78 Wherefore, they are bodies terrestrial, and not bodies celestial, and differ in glory as the moon differs from the sun.

And in Swedenborg, we get External, Spiritual-Natural Angels.

The New Testament and the D&C both use a tiered system based on the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars—but Swedenborg's system is repeated brought back to a comparison with the body. When Swedenborg suggests that "... for when man was created all things of Divine order were brought together in him, so that he became Divine order and form, and consequently a heaven in miniature" and for Joseph Smith, man is created in God's image.

It is therefore very easy to portray similarities—but here we can read Swedenborg, and it sounds very little like Joseph Smith. Sure, we can point to some shared words—words like "degree"—but these are not unique to Joseph Smith or to Swedenborg, and so they aren't that useful in demonstrating a connection. On the surface it sounds nice, but once you spend the time to read both texts, it becomes hard to imagine one as the source for the other.


Response to claim: 23 - "Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals"

The author(s) of Mormon America: The Power and the Promise make(s) the following claim:

Lucy Mack Smith, "described Joseph Jr.’s youthful fascination with Indians in the years just prior to his translation of the Book of Mormon: ...Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals..."

Author's sources: Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches, 1853. p. 85.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The "amusing recitals" referred to were of Joseph relating his conversations with 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.[6]

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....[7]

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.[8] 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[9] and Oliver Cowdery made note of the same thing.[10] 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: 25 - Seer stones illegal – 1826 Smith “found guilty” of disorderly conduct for money-digging

The author(s) of Mormon America: The Power and the Promise make(s) the following claim:

Seer stones illegal – 1826 Smith “found guilty” of disorderly conduct for money-digging.

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

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

Joseph was released without being fined or otherwise punished - there was no verdict of "guilty" or "not guilty" because this was only a hearing rather than a trial.

Question: What is Joseph Smith's 1826 South Bainbridge "trial" for "glasslooking"?

Joseph Smith appeared at a pre-trial court hearing in 1826 for "glasslooking"

In 1825 Josiah Stowel sought out the young Joseph Smith, who had a reputation for being able to use his seer stone to locate lost objects, to help him to locate an ancient silver mine. After a few weeks of work, Joseph persuaded Stowel to give up the effort. In 1826, some of Stowel's relatives brought Joseph to court and accused him of "glasslooking" and being a "disorderly person." Several witnesses testified at the hearing.

Joseph was released without being fined or otherwise punished - there was no verdict of "guilty" or "not guilty" because this was only a hearing rather than a trial

Joseph was ultimately released without being fined and had no punishment imposed upon him. Years later, a bill from the judge was discovered which billed for court services.

Gordon Madsen summarized:

"The evidence thus far available about the 1826 trial before Justice Neely leads to the inescapable conclusion that Joseph Smith was acquitted." [11]

A review of all the relevant documents demonstrates that:

  1. The court hearing of 1826 was not a trial, it was an examination
  2. The hearing was likely initiated from religious concerns; i.e. people objected to Joseph's religious claims.
  3. There were seven witnesses.
  4. The witnesses' testimonies have not all been transmitted faithfully.
  5. Most witnesses testified that Joseph did possess a gift of sight

The court hearing was likely initiated by Stowel's relatives as a concern that he was having too much influence on Stowel

It was likely that the court hearing was initiated not so much from a concern about Joseph being a money digger, as concern that Joseph was having an influence on Josiah Stowel. Josiah Stowel was one of the first believers in Joseph Smith. His nephew was probably very concerned about that and was anxious to disrupt their relationship if possible. He did not succeed. The court hearing failed in its purpose, and was only resurrected decades later to accuse Joseph Smith of different crimes to a different people and culture.

Understanding the context of the case removes any threat it may have posed to Joseph's prophetic integrity.


Question: What events resulted in Joseph Smith's 1826 court appearance in South Bainbridge?

Josiah Stowell requested Joseph Smith's help in locating an ancient silver mine

In the spring of 1825 Josiah Stowell visited with Joseph Smith "on account of having heard that he possessed certain keys, by which he could discern things invisible to the natural eye." [12] Josiah Stowell wanted Joseph to help him in his quest to find treasure in an ancient silver mine. Joseph was reluctant, but Stowell persuaded Joseph to come by offering high wages. According to trial documents, Stowell says Joseph, using a seer stone, "Looked through stone and described Josiah Stowell's house and out houses, while at Palmyra at Sampson Stowell's correctly, that he had told about a painted tree with a man's hand painted upon it by means of said stone." [13]

Joseph ultimately persuaded Stowell to give up looking for the mine

Joseph and his father traveled to southern New York in November of 1825. This was after the crops were harvested and Joseph had finished his visit to the Hill Cumorah that year. They participated with Stowell and the company of workers in digging for the mine for less than a month. Finally Joseph persuaded him to stop. "After laboring for the old gentleman about a month, without success, Joseph prevailed upon him to cease his operations." [14]

Joseph continued to work in the area for Stowell and others. He boarded at the home of Isaac Hale and met Emma Hale, who was one "treasure" he got out of the enterprise.

The following year, Stowell's sons or nephew (depending on which account you follow) brought charges against Joseph and he was taken before Justice Neely

In March of the next year, Stowell's sons or nephew (depending on which account you follow) brought charges against Joseph and he was taken before Justice Neely. The supposed trial record came from Miss Pearsall. "The record of the examination was torn from Neely's docket book by his niece, Emily Persall, and taken to Utah when she went to serve as a missionary under Episcopalian bishop Daniel S. Tuttle." [15] This will be identified as the Pearsall account although Neely possessed it after her death. It is interesting that the first published version of this record didn't appear until after Miss Pearsall had died.

Stowell's relatives felt that Joseph was exercising "unlimited control" over their father or uncle

William D. Purple took notes at the trial and tells us, "In February, 1826, the sons of Mr. Stowell, ...were greatly incensed against Smith, ...saw that the youthful seer had unlimited control over the illusions of their sire... They caused the arrest of Smith as a vagrant, without visible means of livelihood." [16]

Whereas the Pearsall account says: "Warrant issued upon oath of Peter G. Bridgman, [Josiah Stowell's nephew] who informed that one Joseph Smith of Bainbridge was a disorderly person and an imposter...brought before court March 20, 1826" [17]

So, we have what has been called "The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith", even though the records show that this wasn't actually a trial. For many years LDS scholars Francis Kirkham, Hugh Nibley and others expressed serious doubts that such a trial had even taken place.


Question: Why was Joseph fined if he wasn't found guilty of anything?

Joseph was never fined - the bills from Judge Neely and Constable DeZeng were for court costs

The court did not assess a fine against Joseph. There were bills made out by Judge Neely and Constable DeZeng, but these were for costs. Those bills were directed to the County for payment of witnesses, etc., not to Joseph.


Ensign (June 1994): "Highlights in the Prophet’s Life 20 Mar. 1826: Tried and acquitted on fanciful charge of being a “disorderly person,” South Bainbridge, Chenango County, New York

Ensign (June 1994):

Highlights in the Prophet’s Life 20 Mar. 1826: Tried and acquitted on fanciful charge of being a “disorderly person,” South Bainbridge, Chenango County, New York. New York law defined a disorderly person as, among other things, a vagrant or a seeker of “lost goods.” The Prophet had been accused of both: the first charge was false and was made simply to cause trouble; Joseph’s use of a seer stone to see things that others could not see with the naked eye brought the second charge. Those who brought the charges were apparently concerned that Joseph might bilk his employer, Josiah Stowell, out of some money. Mr. Stowell’s testimony clearly said this was not so and that he trusted Joseph Smith. [18]


Response to claim: 25 - Isaac Hale objected to marriage of Emma to Joseph because of “disreputable occupation of looking for treasure with magic stones rather than working the land like a respectable farmer

The author(s) of Mormon America make(s) the following claim:

Isaac Hale objected to marriage of Emma to Joseph because of “disreputable occupation of looking for treasure with magic stones rather than working the land like a respectable farmer."

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

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

Emma's father Isaac did object to his daughter marrying Joseph because he thought that the plates from which the Book of Mormon would be translated were a "silly fabrication" and that Joseph should not be associated with "money diggers." Joseph and Emma ultimately eloped because they could not obtain her father's blessing for their marriage.



Question: What did Isaac Hale claim about Joseph Smith in the Hurlbut affidavits?

Isaac Hale claimed that the Book of Mormon was a "silly fabrication" because he wasn't allowed to see the plates

(Father-in-law of Joseph Smith, Jr.)

  • Claimed that Joseph Smith, Jr's occupation was "seeing" by means of a "stone placed in his hat."
  • Claimed that Joseph "pretended to discover minerals and treasure."
  • Claimed that he was not allowed to look into the box containing the gold plates.
  • Claimed that Joseph said that a "young child" would be the first to view the plates.
  • Claimed that he told Joseph to remove the plates from his house if he couldn't be allowed to view them.
  • Claimed that Joseph told Martin Harris to go into the woods to find the plates on his own.
  • Claimed that Joseph translated the plates by looking in his hat while the plates were in the woods.
  • Claimed that the Book of Mormon was a "silly fabrication."


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!" [19]

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)." [20]

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. [21]

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: 26 - During the translation, Joseph would work on one side of the blanket "with the Urim and Thummim as a kind of magic spectacles, his favorite seer stone, the golden plates, and the hat, while the scribe worked on the other"

The author(s) of Mormon America make(s) the following claim:

During the translation, Joseph would work on one side of the blanket "with the Urim and Thummim as a kind of magic spectacles, his favorite seer stone, the golden plates, and the hat, while the scribe worked on the other."

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

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

This is one of the ways that the translation was reported to have occurred. Another is the use of Joseph's seer stone in a hat with the plates covered on the table, as reported by his wife Emma.



Response to claim: 26 - Joseph would "bury his face with the seer stone in the hat and then dictate words to the scribe"

The author(s) of Mormon America make(s) the following claim:

Joseph would "bury his face with the seer stone in the hat and then dictate words to the scribe."

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

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

This is correct



Gospel Topics: "As Joseph grew to understand his prophetic calling, he learned that he could use this stone for the higher purpose of translating scripture"

"Book of Mormon Translation," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013):

Joseph Smith and his scribes wrote of two instruments used in translating the Book of Mormon. According to witnesses of the translation, when Joseph looked into the instruments, the words of scripture appeared in English. One instrument, called in the Book of Mormon the “interpreters,” is better known to Latter-day Saints today as the “Urim and Thummim.” ....

The other instrument, which Joseph Smith discovered in the ground years before he retrieved the gold plates, was a small oval stone, or “seer stone.” As a young man during the 1820s, Joseph Smith, like others in his day, used a seer stone to look for lost objects and buried treasure. As Joseph grew to understand his prophetic calling, he learned that he could use this stone for the higher purpose of translating scripture.[22]


Question: Why would Joseph Smith use the same stone for translating the Book of Mormon that he used for "money digging"?

Would God approve the use of a "magic peep stone" in translating a sacred record?

Joseph was given a set of Nephite interpreters along with the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was produced. In addition, Joseph already possessed and utilized several seer stones. Although Joseph began translating the Book of Mormon using the Nephite interpreters, he later switched to using one of his seer stones to complete the translation. Critics (typically those who reject Mormonism but still believe in God) reject the idea that God would approve the use of an instrument for translation that had previously been used for "money digging."

Regardless of the perspective (believing or non-believing) from which we tell the story of the translation, the essential fact of the translation is unchanged

The conclusion that Joseph used a "magical" or "occult" stone to assist in the translation of the Book of Mormon is entirely dependent upon one's own preconception that the use of such an instrument would not be acceptable by God. Believers, on the other hand, ought not to take issue with a distinction between one set of seer stones versus another. As Brant Gardner notes: "Regardless of the perspective from which we tell the story, the essential fact of the translation is unchanged. How was the Book of Mormon translated? As Joseph continually insisted, the only real answer, from any perspective, is that it was translated by the gift and power of God." [23]

  • The point is not necessarily that the stone had the same ability, but that it provided a means for Joseph to exercise his spiritual abilities.
  • If one stops assuming that Joseph was a liar and deceiver, we can consider the matter from Joseph's point of view:
    • He's being called upon to reveal things that are hidden, and to translate an ancient record.
    • Joseph is painfully aware that he cannot do these things.
    • How could Joseph know that he wasn't going crazy or being delusional? Tying his early prophetic work to something with which he had already had objective success (the use of the seer stone) allowed Joseph to trust both God and himself.
    • The Lord seems to have used Joseph's preexisting beliefs about how the world worked (including seer stones to reveal hidden things) to help Joseph gain confidence in his own abilities.
    • The Nephite interpreters had been blessed and dedicated for the purpose of translating the Book of Mormon—this would have increased Joseph's faith, and they did help him receive revelation more effectively, initially. This is what excited Joseph more than even the plates themselves—he was able to do more with the Nephite stones.
    • With time, Joseph was able to translate with his "original" stone—thus, his own ability had increased, because he no longer needed the "stronger" Nephite stones.
    • Eventually, he did not require the "prop" or "crutch" of the stone at all—his faith and experience had grown.
  • Critics of the Church often act as if the stone or Urim and Thummim were a type of "magic translator" that anyone could have looked through. They weren't. Joseph always insisted he was only able to do what he did "by the gift and power of God." It is probable that anyone else examining the stones would have found nothing unusual or different about them.
  • The power to translate or reveal hidden things came from God—as Joseph's experience and spiritual maturity increased, his reliance upon a physical instrument became less and less.


Response to claim: 29 - "View of the Hebrews...containing considerable material on the subject, as well as a description of ancient Central American Indian ruins"

The author(s) of Mormon America make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: View of the Hebrews...containing considerable material on the subject, as well as a description of ancient Central American Indian ruins.

Author's sources: *No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is a falsehood - The author has disseminated false information

The authors were not very careful in their research. Ethan Smith's book describes artifacts (not cities) found in North America, not Central America. Joseph first learned of Central American ruins in 1841 when John L. Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan was published, over 16 years after Ethan Smith's book was published.



Question: What are the similarities and differences between View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon?

Examples of parallels and differences

Some parallels do exist between the two books. For example, View of the Hebrews postulates the existence of a civilized and a barbarous nation who were constantly at war with one another, with the civilized society eventually being destroyed by their uncivilized brethren. This has obvious similarities to the story of the Nephites and the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon.

"Parallels" that actually aren't parallels

Many of the "parallels" that are discussed are not actually parallels at all once they are fully examined:

Both speak of... View of the Hebrews Book of Mormon
...the destruction of Jerusalem... ...by the Romans in A.D. 70. ...by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.
...Israelites coming to the American continent... ...via dry land across the Bering Strait. ...via the ocean on board a ship.
...colonists spread out to fill the entire land... ...from the North to the South. ...from the South to the North.
...a great lawgiver (whom some assume to be associated with the legend of Quetzalcoatl)... ...who is identified as Moses. ...who is identified as Jesus Christ.
...an ancient book that was preserved for a long time and then buried... ...because they had lost the knowledge of reading it and it would be of no further use to them. [24] ...in order to preserve the writings of prophets for future generations.
...a buried book taken from the earth... ...in the form of four, dark yellow, folded leaves of old parchment.[25] ...in the form of a set of gold metal plates.
...the Egyptian language, since ...an Egyptian influence is present in hieroglyphic paintings made by native Americans.[26] ...a reformed Egyptian was used to record a sacred history.

Parallels that are everywhere

Some "parallels" between the Book of Mormon and View of the Hebrews are actually parallels with the Bible as well:

The Book of Mormon View of the Hebrews The King James Bible
The Book of Mormon tells the story of inspired seers and prophets. View of the Hebrews talks of Indian traditions that state that their fathers were able to foretell the future and control nature. The Bible tells the story of inspired seers and prophets.
The Book of Mormon was translated by means of the Urim and Thummim, which consisted of two stones fastened to a breastplate. View of the Hebrews describes a breastplate with two white buttons fastened to it as resembling the Urim and Thummim. The Bible describes the Urim and Thummim as being fastened to a breastplate (Exodus 28:30).

This highlights the fact that general parallels are likely to be found between works that treat the same types of subjects, such as ancient history. In what ancient conflict did one side not see themselves as representing light and civilization against the dark barbarism of their enemies?

"Unparallels"

Critics generally ignore the presence of many "unparallels"—these are elements of Ethan Smith's book which would have provided a rich source of material for Joseph to use in order to persuade his contemporaries that the Book of Mormon was an ancient history of the American Indians, and that they were descended from Israel. Yet, the Book of Mormon consistently ignores such supposed "bulls-eyes," which is good news for proponents of the Book of Mormon's authenticity, since virtually all of Ethan's "evidences" have been judged to be false or misleading.

The lack of such "unparallels" is bad news, however, for anyone wanting to claim that Joseph got his inspiration or information from Ethan Smith.

Scripture use in View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon

If the View of the Hebrews served as the basis for the Book of Mormon, one would think that the Bible scriptures used by Ethan Smith would be mined by Joseph Smith for the Book of Mormon. Yet, this is not the case.

Why was this only discovered later?

No contemporary critic of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon pointed out the supposedly "obvious" connection to the View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon. It is only with the failure of the Spaulding theory that critics began seeking a new naturalistic explanation for Joseph's production of a 500+ book of scripture. As Stephen Ricks notes:

Beyond these "unparallels," there is a further question that must be answered by proponents of the View of the Hebrews hypothesis: why do none of the early critics of the Book of Mormon mention Ethan Smith in their attacks on it? If the parallels are so evident, why weren't they noticed by individuals who were not only acquainted with Ethan Smith's book, but were also existentially interested in its claims? Why wasn't it prominently mentioned as a source for the Book of Mormon until the beginning of the twentieth century, when the book itself had only an antiquarian interest and its contents were no longer so widely a part of popular discussion? My suspicion is that what appear today to be "distinctives" of View of the Hebrews, eschatological and otherwise, seemed less so in the early part of the nineteenth century, when these ideas flowed freely in published and unpublished forums.[27]


Response to claim: 31 - Book of Abraham used to justify policy toward blacks

The author(s) of Mormon America make(s) the following claim:

Book of Abraham used to justify policy toward blacks.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

Although the Book of Abraham was sometimes used to try and explain the policy, it was not the reason for it. In fact, it doesn't even provide the support that some thought that it did.



Question: Do the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence?

The Book of Mormon does not appear to have been used in a justification for the priesthood ban

It has been claimed that the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence. Those who claim that the Book of Mormon is racist often cite Book of Mormon passages like 2 Nephi 5:21-25 and Alma 3:6-10 while ignoring the more representative 2 Nephi 26:33.

The Book of Abraham says nothing about lineages set aside in the pre-existence

Some contend that even though the doctrinal impact of pre-1978 statements have been greatly diminished, the LDS scriptures still retain the passages which were used for proof-texts for the ban and hence cannot be easily dismissed. A parallel can be drawn between Protestant denominations that have historically reversed their scriptural interpretations supporting slavery and a modified LDS understanding of their own scriptures that relate to the priesthood ban. Through more careful scripture reading and attention to scientific studies, many Protestants have come to differ with previous interpretations of Bible passages. A similar rethinking of passages unique to the LDS scriptures, such as Abraham 1:26-27, can be made if one starts by discarding erroneous preconceptions. Sociologist Armand Mauss critiqued former interpretations in a recent address:

[W]e see that the Book of Abraham says nothing about lineages set aside in the pre-existence, but only about distinguished individuals. The Book of Abraham is the only place, furthermore, that any scriptures speak of the priesthood being withheld from any lineage, but even then it is only the specific lineage of the pharaohs of Egypt, and there is no explanation as to why that lineage could not have the priesthood, or whether the proscription was temporary or permanent, or which other lineages, if any, especially in the modern world, would be covered by that proscription. At the same time, the passages in Genesis and Moses, for their part, do not refer to any priesthood proscription, and no color change occurs in either Cain or Ham, or even in Ham's son Canaan, who, for some unexplained reason, was the one actually cursed! There is no description of the mark on Cain, except that the mark was supposed to protect him from vengeance. It's true that in the seventh chapter of Moses, we learn that descendants of Cain became black, but not until the time of Enoch, six generations after Cain, and even then only in a vision of Enoch about an unspecified future time. There is no explanation for this blackness; it is not even clear that we are to take it literally.[28]

Richard L. Bushman, LDS author of a biography of Joseph Smith, writes:

...[T]he fact that [the Lamanites] are Israel, the chosen of God, adds a level of complexity to the Book of Mormon that simple racism does not explain. Incongruously, the book champions the Indians' place in world history, assigning them to a more glorious future than modern American whites.... Lamanite degradation is not ingrained in their natures, ineluctably bonded to their dark skins. Their wickedness is wholly cultural and frequently reversed. During one period, "they began to be a very industrious people; yea, and they were friendly with the Nephites; therefore, they did open a correspondence with them, and the curse of God did no more follow them." (Alma 23:18) In the end, the Lamanites triumph. The white Nephites perish, and the dark Lamanites remain.[29]

One faithful black member, Marcus Martins—also chair of the department of religious education at BYU-Hawaii—has said:

The [priesthood] ban itself was not racist, but, unfortunately, it gave cover to people who were.[30]


Response to claim: 31 - Joseph Smith used seer stone in 1836 to try and find treasure under a house in Salem, Massachusetts

The author(s) of Mormon America make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith used seer stone in 1836 to try and find treasure under a house in Salem, Massachusetts.

Author's sources: *DC 111:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The statement is incorrect and pejorative. See Quote manipulation

Question: Was Joseph Smith commanded by the Lord to go to Salem, Massachusetts to hunt for treasure in the cellar of a house?

Joseph and several other leaders traveled to Salem hoping to find money that could be used to satisfy some of the Church's outstanding debt

The trip was apparently made on their own initiative, and was not commanded by the Lord. Joseph did not "prophesy" that they would find money in Salem, but instead made the trip because he became convinced that the story that the treasure existed might true. Upon failing to locate the money, they spent their time preaching to the people in Salem.

The trip to the East was an effort to find a means to relieve some of the outstanding debt that the Church

On July 25, 1836, Joseph, Hyrum, Sidney Rigdon and Oliver Cowdery began a journey from Kirtland to the East Coast for the purpose of seeking a means to relieve some of the outstanding debt that the Church had incurred. The men visited New York City in order to consult with their creditors regarding their debt.[31] Four days later, upon completing their business in New York, they then continued on to Salem, Massachusetts.

After visiting New York City, the men traveled to Salem upon hearing that a large amount of money would be available to them there

The trip to Salem is the subject of the revelation contained in D&C 111. The introduction states:

At this time the leaders of the Church were heavily in debt due to their labors in the ministry. Hearing that a large amount of money would be available to them in Salem, the Prophet, Sidney Rigdon, Hyrum Smith, and Oliver Cowdery traveled there from Kirtland, Ohio, to investigate this claim, along with preaching the gospel. The brethren transacted several items of church business and did some preaching. When it became apparent that no money was to be forthcoming, they returned to Kirtland.

This was a period in which great financial difficulties were being experienced by the Church in Kirtland—hence the motivation to search after the alleged treasure.

The revelation itself indicates that the Lord did not command the prophet to go to Salem to obtain money

I, the Lord your God, am not displeased with your coming this journey, notwithstanding your follies. (DC 111:1) (emphasis added)

B.H. Roberts provides additional information regarding the reason for the trip.

While the Prophet gives a somewhat circumstantial account of this journey to Salem and his return to Kirtland in September, he nowhere assigns an adequate cause for himself and company making it—the object of it is not stated. Ebenezer Robinson, for many years a faithful and prominent elder in the church, and at Nauvoo associated with Don Carlos Smith—brother of the Prophet—in editing and publishing the Times and Seasons, states that the journey to Salem arose from these circumstances. There came to Kirtland a brother by the name of Burgess who stated that he had knowledge of a large amount of money secreted in the cellar of a certain house in Salem, Massachusetts, which had belonged to a widow (then deceased), and thought he was the only person who had knowledge of it, or of the location of the house. The brethren accepting the representations of Burgess as true made the journey to Salem to secure, if possible, the treasure. Burgess, according to Robinson, met the brethren in Salem, but claimed that time had wrought such changes in the town that he could not for a certainty point out the house "and soon left."[32]

The trip to Salem was apparently a "venture of their own design"

The trip to Salem was apparently "a venture of their own design, not one of divine direction."[33] Two weeks after receiving the revelation recorded in D&C 111, Joseph wrote the following letter to his wife Emma from Salem.

Salem, Mass., August 19th, 1836.
My beloved Wife:—Bro. Hyrum is about to start for home before the rest of us, which seems wisdom in God, as our business here can not be determined as soon as we could wish to have it. I thought a line from me by him would be acceptable to you, even if it did not contain but little, that you may know that you and the children are much on my mind. With regard to the great object of our mission, you will be anxious to know. We have found the house since Bro. Burgess left us, very luckily and providentially, as we had one spell been most discouraged. The house is occupied, and it will require much care and patience to rent or buy it. We think we shall be able to effect it; if not now within the course of a few months. We think we shall be at home about the middle of September. I can think of many things concerning our business, but can only pray that you may have wisdom to manage the concerns that involve on you, and want you should believe me that I am your sincere friend and husband. In haste. Yours &c., Joseph Smith, Jr.[34]

The letter indicates that Joseph had not yet given up hope of locating the actual physical treasure for which they had originally come. The four men spent their time in Salem preaching and sightseeing.

Salem's "treasure"

The Lord indicates, however, that there is some benefit to be derived from their presence there. The "treasure" referred to has to do with planting seeds for the future preaching of the Gospel:

I have much treasure in this city for you, for the benefit of Zion, and many people in this city, whom I will gather out in due time for the benefit of Zion, through your instrumentality. Therefore, it is expedient that you should form acquaintance with men in this city, as you shall be led, and as it shall be given you...For there are more treasures than one for you in this city. (DC 111:2-3,DC 111:10)

Richard Lloyd Anderson notes that in D&C 111, "the definition of riches came in doublets, a scriptural pattern of restating one idea in two aspects."Richard L. Anderson, "The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Searching," Brigham Young University Studies 24 no. 4 (1984). PDF link
Caution: this article was published before Mark Hofmann's forgeries were discovered. It may treat fraudulent documents as genuine. Click for list of known forged documents.
Discusses money-digging; Salem treasure hunting episode; fraudulent 1838 Missouri treasure hunting revelation; Wood Scrape; “gift of Aaron”; “wand or rod”; Heber C. Kimball rod and prayer; magic; occult; divining lost objects; seerstone; parchments; talisman The following parallels are noted:

Phrase #1 Phrase #2
I have much treasure in this city for you, for the benefit of Zion (verse 2, part a) and many people in this city, whom I will gather out in due time for the benefit of Zion (verse 2, part b)
Concern not yourselves about your debts, for I will give you power to pay them. (verse 5) Concern not yourselves about Zion, for I will deal mercifully with her. (verse 6)
I have much treasure in this city for you, for the benefit of Zion, and many people in this city, whom I will gather out in due time for the benefit of Zion, through your instrumentality. (verse 2) And it shall come to pass in due time that I will give this city into your hands, that you shall have power over it, insomuch that they shall not discover your secret parts; and its wealth pertaining to gold and silver shall be yours. (verse 4)

Anderson suggests that "such similar phrasing suggests that paying debts and the welfare of Zion were but different forms of the same hope." The "gold and silver" mentioned in Verse 4 is equated with the "treasure" of "many people" in Verse 2, which suggests that "the gathering of the converts is at the same time a gathering of their resources."

Fulfillment of the revelation

It became evident to the leaders of the Church that the "treasure" referred to by the Lord was the conversion of people in Salem to the Gospel. In 1841, five years after the revelation was given, Erastus Snow and Benjamin Winchester were called to serve a mission in Salem. Cannon notes that the elders were sent explicitly for the purpose of fulfilling the revelation:

[Hyrum Smith and William Law] gave Erastus Snow a copy of the Salem Revelation and requested to fulfill it. Snow and Winchester arrived in Salem in September of 1841. They preached at public meetings, published a pamphlet addfressed to the citizens of Salem, and challenged the notorious Mormon apostate, John C. Bennett to debate. Their efforts bore fruit. By March of 1842 they had organized the Salem Branch with 53 members. By the end of that summer, the branch had 90 members.[35]

These conversions were sufficiently noticed to have been commented on by two of Salem's newspapers, the Salem Gazette on Dec. 7, 1841, and The Salem Register on June 2, 1842.


Response to claim: 34 - Danites were pledged to “plunder, lie, and even kill if deemed necessary"

The author(s) of Mormon America: The Power and the Promise make(s) the following claim:

Danites were pledged to “plunder, lie, and even kill if deemed necessary."

Author's sources: Source not specified.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - 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





Gospel Topics: "At the Latter-day Saint settlement of Far West, some leaders and members organized a paramilitary group known as the Danites"

"Peace and Violence among 19th-Century Latter-day Saints," Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

At the Latter-day Saint settlement of Far West, some leaders and members organized a paramilitary group known as the Danites, whose objective was to defend the community against dissident and excommunicated Latter-day Saints as well as other Missourians. Historians generally concur that Joseph Smith approved of the Danites but that he probably was not briefed on all their plans and likely did not sanction the full range of their activities. Danites intimidated Church dissenters and other Missourians; for instance, they warned some dissenters to leave Caldwell County. During the fall of 1838, as tensions escalated during what is now known as the Mormon Missouri War, the Danites were apparently absorbed into militias largely composed of Latter-day Saints. These militias clashed with their Missouri opponents, leading to a few fatalities on both sides. In addition, Mormon vigilantes, including many Danites, raided two towns believed to be centers of anti-Mormon activity, burning homes and stealing goods.22 Though the existence of the Danites was short-lived, it resulted in a longstanding and much-embellished myth about a secret society of Mormon vigilantes.[36]


Question: Did Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon support the formation of a vigilante band called the Danites?

The Danites are sometimes confused with the “Armies of Israel,” which was the official defensive organization that was tasked with defending the Saints

The Danites were a brotherhood of church members that formed in Far West, Missouri in mid-1838. By this point in time, the Saints had experienced serious persecution, having been driven out of Kirtland by apostates, and driven out of Jackson County by mobs. Sidney Rigdon was publicly preaching that the Saints would not tolerate any more persecution, and that both apostates and mobs would be put on notice. The Danite organization took root within this highly charged and defensive environment.

The Danites are sometimes confused with the “Armies of Israel,” which was the official defensive organization that was tasked with defending the Saints, and which was supported by Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon. This is complicated by the fact that members of the Danite organization also served in the “Armies of Israel.”

Although Joseph Smith was aware of the intent of the Danites to cleanse the Church of "evil," he rejected the illegal activities of the Danite band

Regardless of their original motives, the Danites ultimately were led astray by their leader, Sampson Avard. Avard attempted to blame Joseph Smith in order to save himself. Joseph, however, clearly repudiated both the organization and Avard.


Question: When was the Danite band formed and why?

Sidney Rigdon gave a speech against dissenters on 17 June 1838 in Far West known as the "Salt Sermon"

Rigdon's speech was directly targeted at dissenters within the Church, and strongly implied that they should leave.

Leland H. Gentry,

The first official encouragement given to removing these "dissenters" from Caldwell County came in the form of a speech given by Sidney Rigdon on Sunday, 17 June 1838. Familiarly known in church history annals as the "Salt Sermon," Rigdon's address remains one of the controversial events of the period.[37]

Gentry notes John Corrill's description of the sermon,

President Rigdon delivered from the pulpit what I call the "Salt Sermon;" 'If the salt hath lost its savour, it is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under the feet of men,' was his text; and although he did not call names in his sermon, yet it was plainly understood that he meant the dissenters or those who had denied the faith. He indirectly accused some of them with crime.[38]

The Danites appear to have been formally created about the time that Sidney Rigdon gave his “Salt Sermon” in Far West

The Danites were led by Dr. Sampson Avard, and the group appears to have been formally formed about the time that Sidney Rigdon gave his “Salt Sermon” in Far West, in which he gave apostates an ultimatum to get out or suffer consequences.[37] According to Avard, the original purpose of the band was to “drive from the county of Caldwell all that dissented from the Mormon church.”[39]:25 Once the dissenters had left the country, the Danites turned their attention to defending the Saints from mobs.


Question: Is it true that the Danites were pledged to “plunder, lie, and even kill if deemed necessary?"

Sampson Avard began retaliation against those who persecuted the Saints, including stealing and plundering

After the dissenters left Far West, Avard, took the idea of defending the Saints one step further by including retaliation against those who persecuted the Saints. Thus, the Danites began operating as a vigilante group outside the law. This, unfortunately, included stealing and plundering from those who stole and plundered from the Saints.[37]:4 The Danites believed that if they consecrated plundered goods to the Church, that they would be protected in battle.[37]:9 The group held secret meetings, with special signs used to identify themselves to one another.


Question: How were the activities of the Danite band exposed?

Sampson Avard was eventually brought to trial, and he blamed Joseph Smith for the Danite's activities

Much of the information that we have about the Danite organization comes from the document describing the criminal court of inquiry held against church leaders in Richmond, Missouri on November 12, 1838. When the group’s activities were exposed and church leaders brought to trial, Avard became a primary witness for the prosecution, and laid the blame for the Danites at the feet of Joseph Smith. Avard claimed that he had been acting under the direction of the First Presidency.[37]:7

Several witnesses indicated that Avard indicated that he would lie in order to incriminate the Church, and it is apparent that he testified in order to save himself.[39][40] Avard even produced a “Danite Constitution” for the court, despite the fact that nobody else in the organization had ever heard of it or seen it until that time.[37]:11-12

Joseph Smith rejected the Danite band and referred to them as a "secret combination"

Joseph Smith referred to the Danites as a “secret combination.”[41] Referring to Avard’s testimony before the judge, B.H. Roberts states,

This lecture of the doctor's revealed for the first time the true intent of his designs, and the brethren he had duped suddenly had their eyes opened, and they at once revolted and manfully rejected his teachings. Avard saw that he had played and lost, so he said they had better let the matter drop where it was. As soon as Avard's villainy was brought to the knowledge of the president of The Church he was promptly excommunicated, and was afterwards found making an effort to become friends with the mob, and conspiring against The Church. This is the history of the Danite band, "which", says the Prophet Joseph, "died almost before it had an existence."[42]

Sampson Avard had a reputation for not being trustworthy

There is clear consensus among both Mormon and non-Mormon early sources that Sampson Avard was not trustworthy.[37] Additionally, there is a well-documented case of Avard attempting to do what he was eventually accused of doing with the Danites: taking advantage of inefficient and ambiguous lines of communication and authority to establish his own command.

In his biography of John Taylor, B.H. Roberts recorded an incident wherein Avard tried take over the Church in Canada by feigning authority from Joseph Smith, when he in fact did not have any.[43] For many years this account was not supported by any first-hand accounts, but recently this incident has been confirmed by an account in the journal of Joseph Horne, a member of the Church who rode with Avard up to Canada and witnessed the attempt to take over the Church there.[44]


Question: Did the Danite band persist even after they were exposed?

Legends of “Danites” persisted for many years as the Saints moved to Nauvoo and later to Utah

Legends of “Danites” persisted for many years as the Saints moved to Nauvoo and later to Utah. The mysterious “Danites” have served as villains in fictional stories such as the first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet. Danites are sometimes associated with the Mountain Meadows Massacre, since one of the principal protagonists of that unfortunate event, John D. Lee, was himself once a member of the Danites in Missouri. With the help of imaginative writers, the mysterious “Danites” took on the status of an “urban legend” as a shadowy, mysterious vigilante group which enforced the will of church leaders by practicing blood atonement on those who opposed them. Brigham Young gave his opinion of such rumors during a conference talk on April 7, 1867 when he said:

Is there war in our religion? No; neither war nor bloodshed. Yet our enemies cry out "bloodshed," and "oh, what dreadful men these Mormons are, and those Danites! how they slay and kill!" Such is all nonsense and folly in the extreme. The wicked slay the wicked, and they will lay it on the Saints.[45]


Notes

  1. The Latin title of the original was De Caelo et Ejus Mirabilibus et de inferno, ex Auditis et Visis. An on-line version is available as translated by J.C. Ager, off-site
  2. Emanuel Swedenborg, Heaven and its Wonders and Hell
  3. See DC 76:76; see also Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 1:245–252. Volume 1 link
  4. John A. Clark, “Gleanings by the way. No. VI,” Episcopal Recorder (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) (5 September 1840): 94. off-site
  5. Walter Scott, “Mormon Bible–No. III,” The Evangelist (Carthage, Ohio) 9, no. 3 (1 March 1841): 42–45. off-site
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Times and Seasons 3 no. 9 (1 March 1842), 707. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  10. Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1 no. 7 (April 1835), 112.
  11. Gordon A. Madsen, "Joseph Smith's 1826 Trial: The Legal Setting," Brigham Young University Studies 30 no. 2 (1990), 106.
  12. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853), 103.
  13. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 4:252–253.
  14. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853), 103.
  15. H. Michael Marquardt and Wesley P. Walters, Inventing Mormonism: Tradition and the Historical Record (Salt Lake City, Utah: Smith Research Associates [distributed by Signature Books], 1994), 227.
  16. Francis Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America: The Book of Mormon, 2 vols., (Salt Lake City: Utah Printing, 1959[1942]), 1:479. ASIN B000HMY138.
  17. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 4:248–249..
  18. Anonymous, "Highlights in the Prophet’s Life," Ensign (Jun 1994), 24. off-site
  19. Palmyra Herald (24 July 1822); cited in Russell Anderson, "The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith," (2002 FAIR Conference presentation.) FairMormon link
  20. "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.
  21. Richard L. Bushman, "Joseph Smith Miscellany," (Mesa, Arizona: FAIR, 2005 FAIR Conference) FairMormon link
  22. "Book of Mormon Translation," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013)
  23. Brant A. Gardner, Why Did He Translate With a Rock in His Hat?, 2009 FAIR Conference presentation.
  24. View of the Hebrews: 1825 2nd Edition Complete Text by Ethan Smith, edited by Charles D. Tate Jr., (Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1996), 223. ISBN 1570082472. off-site wikisource
  25. Ethan Smith, 220.
  26. Ethan Smith, 184-185.
  27. Stephen D. Ricks, "Review of The Use of the Old Testament in the Book of Mormon by Wesley P. Walters," FARMS Review of Books 4/1 (1992): 235–250. off-site
  28. Armand L. Mauss, "The LDS Church and the Race Issue: A Study in Misplaced Apologetics", FAIR Conference 2003 FairMormon link, #2 FairMormon link
  29. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 99.
  30. Marcus Martins, "A Black Man in Zion: Reflections on Race in the Restored Gospel" (2006 FAIR Conference presentation).
  31. Donald Q. Cannon, "Joseph Smith in Salem, (D&C 111)" Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson (editors), Studies in Scripture, Vol. 1: The Doctrine and Covenants, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), pp. 433.
  32. Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 1:410–411. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  33. Joseph Fielding McConkie, Craig J. Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2000), p. 896.
  34. Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 350.
  35. Cannon, 436.
  36. "Peace and Violence among 19th-Century Latter-day Saints," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (May 2014)
  37. 37.0 37.1 37.2 37.3 37.4 37.5 37.6 Leland H. Gentry, ""The Danite Band of 1838"," Brigham Young University Studies 14 no. 4 (1974). 423. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "gentry" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "gentry" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "gentry" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "gentry" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "gentry" defined multiple times with different content
  38. John Corrill, A Brief History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Commonly Called Mormons) (1839), 31. Cited in Gentry, "The Danite Band", 423.
  39. 39.0 39.1 Document Containing the Correspondence, Orders &c. in Relation to the Disturbances with the Mormons; And the Evidence Given Before the Hon. Austin A. King, Judge of the Fifth Judicial Circuit of the State of Missouri, at the Court-House in Richmond, in a Criminal Court of Inquiry, Begun November 12, 1838, on the Trial of Joseph Smith, Jr., and Others, for High Treason and Other Crimes Against the State., (1841) U.S. Government Printing Office.
  40. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 3:209–210. Volume 3 link
  41. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 3:179. Volume 3 link
  42. B.H. Roberts, The Missouri Persecutions, 1900, p. 220
  43. B.H. Roberts, The Life of John Taylor (Salt Lake City, Bookcraft, 1963), 43-44.
  44. The Journal of Joseph Horne, Jr., 1858-1861: Including His Life Summary. LDS archives, 7. Horne’s account is also cited in Corwin L. Nimer, "Treachery and False Swearing in Missouri: The Rise and Fall of Sampson Avard," Mormon Historical Studies 5, no. 2 (Fall 2004): 37-60.
  45. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 12:30.