Criticism of Mormonism/Books/No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith/Chapter 3

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Response to claims made in "Chapter 3: Red Sons of Israel"

A FairMormon Analysis of: No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, a work by author: Fawn Brodie
Claim Evaluation
No Man Knows My History
Chart.brodie.ch3.jpg

Response to claims made in No Man Knows My History, "Chapter 3: Red Sons of Israel"

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Response to claim: 35 - Joseph's mother reported that he was "spinning theories" about the mound builders before he was twenty years old

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

Joseph's mother reported that he was "spinning theories" about the mound builders before he was twenty years old

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

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's mother reported that Joseph was telling them stories about the ancient inhabitants of this continent based upon his interviews with the angel Moroni prior to retrieving the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated. The author has misrepresented what Joseph's mother said by calling it "spinning theories" about the mound builders.


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.[1]

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....[2]

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.[3] 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[4] and Oliver Cowdery made note of the same thing.[5] 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: 35 - Between 1820 and 1827 Joseph decided to write a history of the mound builders

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

Between 1820 and 1827 Joseph decided to write a history of the mound builders

Author's sources:
  1. Author's conjecture.

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 the author's speculation.


Question: Did Joseph Smith believe that the Book of Mormon explained local legends associated with the "Mound Builders" of the Eastern United States?

When the Book of Mormon appeared, it was a natural assumption by many that the book was the story of the mysterious "Mound Builders"

Joseph Smith himself initially believed that the presence of the mounds supported the story related in the Book of Mormon. In fact, as Zion's Camp passed through southern Illinois, Heber C. Kimball and several other participants claimed that Joseph identified a set of bones discovered in one of these mounds as "Zelph", a "white Lamanite." In a letter that Joseph wrote to Emma the day after this discovery, he stated:

The whole of our journey, in the midst of so large a company of social honest and sincere men, wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity, and gazing upon a country the fertility, the splendour and the goodness so indescribable, all serves to pass away time unnoticed.[6]

Statements made by Joseph Smith clearly indicate that his thinking regarding the actual location of Book of Mormon events evolved over time

Joseph felt that the presence of the mounds in North America and ruined cities in Central America supported the Book of Mormon. Since information about the ruined cities in Central America came to light after the publication of the Book of Mormon, it actually strengthens the theories and evidences which place the Book of Mormon in a Mesoamerican setting--Joseph was willing to consider a setting of which he apparently had no previous knowledge. The description of the ancestors of the American Indians as a highly civilized culture capable of building great cities was not a concept which would have been deduced from the contemporary beliefs regarding the Mound Builders.

The presence of numerous burial mounds in the eastern United States was the source of great speculation to those that settled there. The construction of such mounds was not considered to be within the ability of the Native Americans, who were considered to be savages. It was assumed that such sophisticated constructions constituted evidence of a long lost, highly civilized society which had long since vanished. Some even postulated the existence of separate civilized and a savage societies, with the highly civilized group eventually being destroyed by the savage one. After years of research, however, it was concluded that the mounds had indeed been constructed by the ancestors of the Indians that continued to live in the area.

Joseph clearly believed not only the region of the mounds to be part of Book of Mormon lands, but the entire continent, including Central America. The Book of Mormon itself, however, makes no mention of mounds.

In 1841, the Times and Seasons, of which Joseph was the editor at the time, commented on a popular book by John Lloyd Stephens called Incidents of travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan. This book described amazing ruined cities that had been found in Central America.

Joseph Smith himself, as editor of the Times and Seasons wrote and signed (as "ED[itor]") the following on July 15, 1842. Notice that he mentions both the mounds and the ruins in Guatemala as supporting the Book of Mormon:

If men, in their researches into the history of this country, in noticing the mounds, fortifications, statues, architecture, implements of war, of husbandry, and ornaments of silver, brass, &c.-were to examine the Book of Mormon, their conjectures would be removed, and their opinions altered; uncertainty and doubt would be changed into certainty and facts; and they would find that those things that they are anxiously prying into were matters of history, unfolded in that book. They would find their conjectures were more than realized-that a great and a mighty people had inhabited this continent-that the arts sciences and religion, had prevailed to a very great extent, and that there was as great and mighty cities on this continent as on the continent of Asia. Babylon, Ninevah, nor any of the ruins of the Levant could boast of more perfect sculpture, better architectural designs, and more imperishable ruins, than what are found on this continent. Stephens and Catherwood's researches in Central America abundantly testify of this thing. The stupendous ruins, the elegant sculpture, and the magnificence of the ruins of Guatamala [Guatemala], and other cities, corroborate this statement, and show that a great and mighty people-men of great minds, clear intellect, bright genius, and comprehensive designs inhabited this continent. Their ruins speak of their greatness; the Book of Mormen [Mormon} unfolds their history.-ED.[7]

A later Times and Seasons article, published on October 1, 1842 under Joseph's editorial supervision (though not signed by Joseph Smith as editor) stated:

It would not be a bad plan to compare Mr. Stephens' ruined cities with those in the Book of Mormon: Light cleaves to light and facts are supported by facts. The truth injures no one....[8]

If someone of that era were to attempt to write a book about a history of the North American Indians, they would not have written about advanced civilizations with advanced technology

One thing that critics do not consider is that if someone of that era were to attempt to write a book about a history of the North American Indians, he or she would not have written about advanced civilizations with advanced technology. The mysterious "Mound Builders" were not considered to be the ancestors of the current "savage" race that were inhabiting the land at that time.

Some of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon realized that there were going to be problems with this assumption after the publication of the Book of Mormon. In a interview, David Whitmer said:

When we [the Witnesses] were first told to publish our statement, we felt sure that the people would not believe it, for the Book told of a people who were refined and dwelt in large cities; but the Lord told us that He would make it known to the people, and people should discover evidence of the truth of what is written in the Book.[9]


Response to claim: 37 - Peter Ingersoll claimed that Joseph told him that no one could see the golden Bible and live

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

Peter Ingersoll claimed that Joseph told him that no one could see the golden Bible and live.

Author's sources:
  1. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834). (Affidavits examined)

FairMormon Response

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

Joseph said that he would be destroyed if he showed the plates to anyone, not that anyone else would be destroyed.

The Hurlbut affidavits—Peter Ingersoll

Summary: A list of Peter Ingersoll's accusations against Joseph Smith and responses to them.

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. [10]

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)[11]

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)[12]

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. [13]

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)[14]

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


Response to claim: 39 - The "magic" Urim and Thummim was found with the plates

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

The "magic" Urim and Thummim was found with the plates

Author's sources:
  1. Author's opinion.

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 added the word "magic:" Joseph never claimed that the Urim and Thummim had any "magical" qualities.


Response to claim: 40 - The four year period during which Joseph waited to get the plates corresponded with his most intensive money-digging activities

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

The four year period during which Joseph waited to get the plates corresponded with his most intensive money-digging activities

Author's sources:
  1. No source provided to support the author's allegation of "intensive" money-digging activity.

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 the author's speculation, without any supporting data.


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!" [15]

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)." [16]

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. [17]

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


W.I. Appleby (1843): "If Mr. Smith dug for money he considered it was a more honorable way of getting it than taking it from the widow and orphan"

W.I. Appleby:

If Mr. Smith dug for money he considered it was a more honorable way of getting it than taking it from the widow and orphan; but few lazy, hireling priests of this age, would dig either for money or potatoes.[18]


Joseph Smith (1838): "Was not Joseph Smith a money digger?"

Joseph's tongue-in-cheek response to one of a list of questions that were asked of him during a visit at Elder Cahoon's home:

Was not Joseph Smith a money digger? Yes, but it was never a very profitable job for him, as he only got fourteen dollars a month for it.[19]


Response to claim: 40 - Lucy Mack Smith, Martin Harris and David Whitmer gave differing descriptions of the Urim and Thummim

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:


  • Lucy Smith described the Urim and Thummim as "two smooth three-cornered diamonds set in glass and the glasses set in silver bows."
  • Martin Harris described the Urim and Thummim as "white, like polished marble, with a few grey streaks."
  • David Whitmer described the Urim and Thummim as "two small stones of a chocolate color, nearly egg shape, and perfectly smooth, but not transparent."

    Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

|authorsources=

  • Lucy Smith to Solomon Mack, 1831
  • Tiffany's Monthly, 1859, p. 166.
  • Kansas City Journal, June 5, 1881.

}}

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

That is because there were multiple objects that were later referred to as the "Urim and Thummim": the Nephite interpreters, and Joseph's seer stones.

Lucy, Martin and David were all describing different seer stones (in Lucy's case, the Nephite interpreters). All of these stones were later referred to, after 1833, as the "Urim and Thummim".

Gospel Topics: "Joseph Smith and his associates often used the term 'Urim and Thummim' to refer to the single stone as well as the interpreters"

"These two instruments—the interpreters and the seer stone—were apparently interchangeable"

Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

These two instruments—the interpreters and the seer stone—were apparently interchangeable and worked in much the same way such that, in the course of time, Joseph Smith and his associates often used the term “Urim and Thummim” to refer to the single stone as well as the interpreters. In ancient times, Israelite priests used the Urim and Thummim to assist in receiving divine communications. Although commentators differ on the nature of the instrument, several ancient sources state that the instrument involved stones that lit up or were divinely illumin[at]ed. Latter-day Saints later understood the term “Urim and Thummim” to refer exclusively to the interpreters. Joseph Smith and others, however, seem to have understood the term more as a descriptive category of instruments for obtaining divine revelations and less as the name of a specific instrument. [20]


Ensign (Jan. 2013): "He...referred to it using an Old Testament term, Urim and Thummim...He also sometimes applied the term to other stones he possessed"

Gerrit Dirkmaat (Church History Department - January 2013 Ensign):

Those who believed that Joseph Smith’s revelations contained the voice of the Lord speaking to them also accepted the miraculous ways in which the revelations were received. Some of the Prophet Joseph’s earliest revelations came through the same means by which he translated the Book of Mormon from the gold plates. In the stone box containing the gold plates, Joseph found what Book of Mormon prophets referred to as “interpreters,” or a “stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light” (Alma 37:23–24). He described the instrument as “spectacles” and referred to it using an Old Testament term, Urim and Thummim (see Exodus 28:30).2

He also sometimes applied the term to other stones he possessed, called “seer stones” because they aided him in receiving revelations as a seer. The Prophet received some early revelations through the use of these seer stones. For example, shortly after Oliver Cowdery came to serve as a scribe for Joseph Smith as he translated the plates, Oliver and Joseph debated the meaning of a biblical passage and sought an answer through revelation. Joseph explained: “A difference of opinion arising between us about the account of John the Apostle … whether he died, or whether he continued; we mutually agreed to settle it by the Urim and Thummim.”3 In response, Joseph Smith received the revelation now known as section 7 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which informed them that Jesus had told the Apostle John, “Thou shalt tarry until I come in my glory” (D&C 7:3).

Records indicate that soon after the founding of the Church in 1830, the Prophet stopped using the seer stones as a regular means of receiving revelations. Instead, he dictated the revelations after inquiring of the Lord without employing an external instrument. One of his scribes explained that process: “The scribe seats himself at a desk or table, with pen, ink, and paper. The subject of inquiry being understood, the Prophet and Revelator inquires of God. He spiritually sees, hears, and feels, and then speaks as he is moved upon by the Holy Ghost.”[21]


W.W. Phelps (1833): "through the aid of a pair of Interpreters, or spectacles—(known, perhaps, in ancient days as Teraphim, or Urim and Thummim)"

W.W. Phelps wrote the following in the January 1833 edition of The Evening and The Morning Star:

The book of Mormon, as a revelation from God, possesses some advantage over the old scripture: it has not been tinctured by the wisdom of man, with here and there an Italic word to supply deficiencies.-It was translated by the gift and power of God, by an unlearned man, through the aid of a pair of Interpreters, or spectacles-(known, perhaps, in ancient days as Teraphim, or Urim and Thummim) and while it unfolds the history of the first inhabitants that settled this continent, it, at the same time, brings a oneness to scripture, like the days of the apostles; and opens and explains the prophecies, that a child may understand the meaning of many of them; and shows how the Lord will gather his saints, even the children of Israel, that have been scattered over the face of the earth, more than two thousand years, in these last days, to the place of the name of the Lord of hosts, the mount Zion. [22]

It appears that the seer stone was also referred to as the "Urim and Thummim" after 1833, indicating that the name could be assigned to any device that was used for the purpose of translation.[23]


Response to claim: 41 - Joseph warned his family that it meant instant death to look at the plates

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

Joseph warned his family that it meant instant death to look at the plates.

Author's sources:
  1. No source provided.

FairMormon Response

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

Joseph said that he would be destroyed if he showed the plates to anyone, not that anyone else would be destroyed.


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. [24]

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)[25]

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)[26]

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. [27]

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)[28]

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


Response to claim: 43 - Joseph was able to translate the plates without unwrapping them by using his stone

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

Joseph was able to translate the plates without unwrapping them by using his stone

Author's sources:
  1. The author attributes this to Emma Smith, but does not specify the source. Likely source is the interview of Emma Smith by her son Joseph Smith III.

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.


Question: Why were the gold plates needed at all if they weren't used directly during the translation process?

Joseph did not need the plates physically present to translate, since the translation was done by revelation

Much is made of the fact that Joseph used a seer stone, which he placed in a hat, to dictate the text of the Book of Mormon without viewing the plates directly. [29]

Joseph Smith translates using the seer stone placed within his hat while the plates are wrapped in a cloth on the table while his wife Emma acts as scribe. Image Copyright (c) 2014 Anthony Sweat. This image appears in the Church publication From Darkness Unto Light: Joseph Smith's Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon, by Michael Hubbard Mackay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, Religious Studies Center, BYU, Deseret Book Company (May 11, 2015)

Some witness accounts suggest that Joseph was able to translate while the plates were covered, or when they were not even in the same room with him. [30] Therefore, if the plates themselves were not being used during the translation process, why was it necessary to have plates at all?

Joseph did not need the plates physically present to translate, since the translation was done by revelation. The existence of the plates was vital, however, to demonstrate that the story he was translating was literally true.

The existence of the physical plates attested to the reality of the Nephite record

If there had been no plates, and Joseph had simply received the entire Book of Mormon through revelation, there would have been no Anthon visit, nor would there have been any witnesses. The very fact that plates existed served a greater purpose, even if they were not directly viewed during all of the translation process.

The plates served a variety of purposes.

  1. They were viewed by witnesses as solid evidence that Joseph did indeed have an ancient record.
  2. Joseph's efforts to obtain them over a four year period taught him and matured him in preparation for performing the translation,
  3. Joseph's efforts to protect and preserve them helped build his character. If Joseph were perpetrating a fraud, it would have been much simpler to claim direct revelation from God and forgo the physical plates.
  4. Joseph copied characters off the plates to give to Martin Harris, which he subsequently showed to Charles Anthon. This was enough to convince Martin to assist with the production of the Book of Mormon.

The plates' existence as material artifacts eliminated the possibility that Joseph was simply honestly mistaken. Either Joseph was knowingly perpetuating a fraud, or he was a genuine prophet.

The existence of actual plates eliminates the idea that the Book of Mormon was "spiritually true," but fictional

Furthermore, the existence of actual plates eliminates the idea that the Book of Mormon was "spiritually true," but fictional. There is a great difference between an allegorical or moral fiction about Nephites, and real, literal Nephites who saw a literal Christ who was literally resurrected.


Question: How do Church members assume that Joseph would have "used the plates" during translation?

The typical scenario is that Joseph employed the Nephite interpreters, the "spectacles," as if they were a pair of glasses

Let's suppose that Joseph "used the plates." How, exactly, does one think that Joseph used the plates in the translation? He couldn't read the characters. The typical scenario that is used is that he employed the Nephite interpreters, the "spectacles," as if they were a pair of glasses, and used them to look at the text on the plates as he dictated. For example, Orsamus Turner assumed that Joseph used the "spectacles" as if they were a pair of glasses capable of converting the characters:

Harris assumed, that himself and Cowdery were the chosen amanuenses, and that the Prophet Joseph, curtained from the world and them, with his spectacles, read from the gold plates what they committed to paper. [31]

In 1836, non-Mormon Truman Coe promoted the idea that Joseph looked through the spectacles at the characters:

The manner of translation was as wonderful as the discovery. By putting his finger on one of the characters and imploring divine aid, then looking through the Urim and Thummim, he would see the import written in plain English on a screen placed before him.[32]

What are these "spectacles" supposed to be doing during this process? Are they somehow converting characters on the plates into English text? What is the difference between this and deducing the English text from a seer stone?

The "spectacles" were, in reality, two seer stones mounted in a frame

In reality, the "spectacles" consisted of two seer stones—they were not lenses. In addition, there are accounts indicating that Joseph actually placed the Nephite interpreters into his hat as well, to shield them from the ambient light. This is the way that several newspapers reported it:

The Gem: A Semi-Monthly Literary and Miscellaneous Journal, 5 September 1829:

By placing the spectacles in a hat and looking into it, Smith interprets the characters into the English language.[33]

Morning Star, March 7, 1833:

an angel gave him a pair of spectacles which he put in a hat and thus read and translated, while one of the witnesses wrote it down from his mouth.[34]

New York Weekly Messenger and Young Men’s Advocate, 29 April 1835:

Smith pretended that he had found some golden or brass plates, like the leaves of a book, hid in a box in the earth, to which he was directed by an Angel, in 1827,—that the writing on them was in the “Reformed Egyptian language,”—that he was inspired to interpret the writing, or engraving, by putting a plate in his hat, putting two smooth flat stones, which he found in the box, in the hat, and putting his face therein—that he could not write, but as he translated, one Oliver Cowdery wrote it down.[35]


Question: How did Joseph Smith actually use the gold plates?

Joseph copied characters from the plates for Martin Harris to carry back East for verification

Joseph initially did copy characters from the plates and then translated those characters using the Nephite Interpreters. It appears this was done more than once in the beginning. It also appears that Joseph quickly learned to translate without copying the characters and later without having the plates nearby. The translation process seems to have progressed through several stages with the Nephite interpreters until Joseph discovered his seer stone worked better for him than the Interpreters.

Remembering Nauvoo and Impressions of a Prophet, by John Luke. From the LDS Media Library.


Peterson (2005): The plates "are an indigestible lump in the throats of people...who contend that there were no Nephites but that Joseph Smith was nonetheless an inspired prophet"

Daniel C. Peterson said:

A knowledgeable academic friend who does not believe in the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon once asked me, since it seems that the plates were not actually necessary to the translation process and were sometimes not even present in the room, what purpose they served. I responded that I did not know, exactly, except for one thing: They are an indigestible lump in the throats of people like him who contend that there were no Nephites but that Joseph Smith was nonetheless an inspired prophet. If the plates really existed, somebody made them. And if no Nephites existed to make them, then either Joseph Smith, or God, or somebody else seems to have been engaged in simple fraud. The testimony of the witnesses exists, I think, to force a dichotomous choice: true or false? [36]


Response to claim: 43 - Emma said that Joseph used the Urim and Thummim for the first 116 pages and then the seer stone for the remainder of the translation

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

Emma said that Joseph used the Urim and Thummim for the first 116 pages and then the seer stone for the remainder of the translation

Author's sources:
  1. No source provided.

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.
  • The author attributes this to Emma Smith, but does not specify the source.

Question: Did Joseph Smith use the Nephite interpreters to translate? Or did he use his own seer stone?

Joseph Smith used both the Nephite interpreters and the seer stone, and both were called "Urim and Thummim"

Joseph Smith used both the Nephite Interpreters and his own seer stone during the translation process, yet we only hear of the "Urim and Thummim" being used for this purpose.

  1. He described the instrument as ‘spectacles’ and referred to it using an Old Testament term, Urim and Thummim.
  2. He also sometimes applied the term to other stones he possessed, called ‘seer stones’ because they aided him in receiving revelations as a seer. The Prophet received some early revelations through the use of these seer stones.
  3. Records indicate that soon after the founding of the Church in 1830, the Prophet stopped using the seer stones as a regular means of receiving revelations. Instead, he dictated the revelations after inquiring of the Lord without employing an external instrument.

Emma Smith confirmed that Joseph switched between the Nephite interpreters and his own seer stone during the translation

Emma Smith Bidamon described Joseph's use of several stones during translation to Emma Pilgrim on 27 March 1870 (original spelling retained):

Now the first that my <husband> translated, [the book] was translated by use of the Urim, and Thummim, and that was the part that Martin Harris lost, after that he used a small stone, not exactly, black, but was rather a dark color.”[37]

Joseph Smith's small, egg-shaped seer stone. Emma said that "he used a small stone, not exactly, black, but was rather a dark color." Photograph by Welden C. Andersen and Richard E. Turley Jr. Copyright © The Church Historian's Press.


Response to claim: 43 - God cursed the Lamanites and all their descendents with a "red skin"

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

God cursed the Lamanites and all their descendents with a "red skin."

Author's sources:
  1. No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

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


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.


Question: What was the Lamanite curse?

The Book of Mormon talks of a curse being placed upon the Lamanites

And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them. 2 Nephi 5:21

It is claimed by some that the Church believed that Lamanites who accepted the Gospel would become light-skinned, and that "Mormon folklore" claims that Native Americans and Polynesians carry a curse based upon "misdeeds on the part of their ancestors."

One critic asks, "According to the Book of Mormon a dark skin is a curse imposed by God on the unrighteous and their descendants as a punishment for sin. Do you agree with that doctrine? (Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 12:22-23, Alma 3:6, 2 Nephi 5:21-22, Jacob 3:8, 3 Nephi 2:15-16, Mormon 5:15; references to the "Lamanites" are taken to be referring to Native American "Indians".)" [38]

Although the curse of the Lamanites is often associated directly with their skin color, it may be that this was intended in a far more symbolic sense than modern American members traditionally assumed

The curse itself came upon them as a result of their rejection of the Gospel. It was possible to be subject to the curse, and to be given a mark, without it being associated with a change in skin color, as demonstrated in the case of the Amlicites. The curse is apparently a separation from the Lord. A close reading of the Book of Mormon text makes it untenable to consider that literal skin color was ever the "curse." At most, the skin color was seen as a mark, and it may well have been that these labels were far more symbolic and cultural than they were literal.


Response to claim: 43 - A neighbor, Lemuel Durfee. Signed an affidavit in 1833 charging Joseph with vicious habits and an immoral character

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

A neighbor, Lemuel Durfee. Signed an affidavit in 1833 charging Joseph with vicious habits and an immoral character.

Author's sources:
  1. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 261-2. (Affidavits examined)

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 affidavits acquired by Doctor Philastus Hurlbut - an enemy of the Church.


Question: What do the Hurlbut affidavits claim about the Smith family's character and reliability?

The affidavits claimed that the Smith family was "lazy" and "worthless" and "destitute of moral character"

A number of individuals signed the following statement, which claims that Joseph Smith's family was "destitute of moral character." This, of course, all occurred several years after the publication of the Book of Mormon. the statement appears in E.D. Howe's anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unvailed in 1834:

We, the undersigned, have been acquainted with the Smith family, for a number of years, while they resided near this place, and we have no hesitation in saying, that we consider them destitute of that moral character, which ought to entitle them to the confidence of any community. They were particularly famous for visionary projects, spent much of their time in digging for money which they pretended was hid in the earth; and to this day, large excavations may be seen in the earth, not far from their residence, where they used to spend their time in digging for hidden treasures. Joseph Smith, Senior, and his son Joseph, were in particular, considered entirely destitute of moral character, and addicted to vicious habits.

Martin Harris was a man who had acquired a handsome property, and in matters of business his word was considered good; but on moral and religious subjects, he was perfectly visionary -- sometimes advocating one sentiment, and sometimes another. And in reference to all with whom we were acquainted, that have embraced Mormonism from this neighborhood, we are compeled to say, were very visionary, and most of them destitute of moral character, and without influence in this community; and this may account why they were permitted to go on with their impositions undisturbed. It was not supposed that any of them were possessed of sufficient character or influence to make any one believe their book or their sentiments, and we know not of a single individual in this vicinity that puts the least confidence in their pretended revelations.[39]

Joseph Smith responded direct to the accusations against his character in December 1834

Joseph Smith published the following response in the Messenger and Advocate in December 1834:

During this time, as is common to most, or all youths, I fell into many vices and follies; but as my accusers are, and have been forward to accuse me of being guilty of gross and outrageous violations of the peace and good order of the community, I take the occasion to remark, that, though, as I have said above, "as is common to most, or all youths, I fell into many vices and follies," I have not, neither can it be sustained, in truth, been guilty of wronging or injuring any man or society of men; and those imperfections to which I allude, and for which I have often had occasion to lament, were a light, and too often, vain mind, exhibiting a foolish and trifling conversation.

This being all, and the worst, that my accusers can substantiate against my moral character, I wish to add, that it is not without a deep feeling of regret that I am thus called upon in answer to my own conscience, to fulfill a duty I owe to myself, as well as to the cause of truth, in making this public confession of my former uncircumspect walk, and unchaste conversation: and more particularly, as I often acted in violation of those holy precepts which I knew came from God. But as the "Articles and Covenants" of this church are plain upon this particular point, I do not deem it important to proceed further. I only add, that (I do not, nor never have, pretended to be any other than a man "subject to passion," and liable, without the assisting grace of the Savior, to deviate from that perfect path in which all men are commanded to walk!)[40]

If members of the Smith family had been liars, immoral, and "addicted to vicious habits," Lucy, Hyrum and Samuel would have been unable to retain their membership in the Western Presbyterian Church until 1830

Milton V. Backman wrote:

If the belittling statements by men who supposedly were acquainted with the Smith family were correct, and if members of the family had been liars, immoral, and "addicted to vicious habits," Lucy, Hyrum and Samuel would have been unable to retain their membership in the Western Presbyterian Church until 1830. In that era excommunications were frequent in most congregations, including the Presbyterian society of Palmyra. Individuals judged guilty of immorality, profanity, lying, drunkenness, gambling, and other such sins were excommunicated from this society. The reason members of the Smith family were dismissed from the Lord's Supper in the spring of 1830 was not because of any of the above charges but only because they desired to withdraw their membership and had neglected to attend church for a year and a half. [41]

Contrast the accusations against the achievements of the family during the few years of their residence in Palmyra

B.H. Roberts contrasts the achievements of the Smith family with the accusations made against them:

Against this large collection of evil report and false interpretation of the character of the Smiths while at Palmyra, prompted as it was by prejudice and collected by malice, the evidence of accomplished fact, and the subsequent lives of the family may be opposed. Take for example the achievements of the family during the few years of their residence in Palmyra. They arrived there penniless, as all admit, with nothing but their bare hands with which to help themselves. Yet in a few years they built two homes in the wilderness; they cleared sixty acres of heavy timber land, and converted it into a tillable farm. In addition to their farming and gardening, they had a sugar orchard of from twelve to fifteen hundred maple trees, from which they gathered the sap and converted it into syrup or sugar. To aid in making the annual payments upon their farm, as well as to help sustain the family until the farm could be made productive, they took an occasional day's work among the neighboring farmers or the Palmyra village folk, sometimes engaged to dig a well, or harvest a field of grain. It is conceded, in the main, that they did all this; and one marvels in the face of it that the charge of laziness and thriftlessness should be made. But the wonder grows when to all this is to be added the stories of the affidavits about the Smith's "money digging" enterprises. "They * * * spent much of their time in digging for money which they pretended was hid in the earth, and to this day large excavations may be seen in the earth not far from their residence, where they used to spend their time digging for hidden treasures." fn Truly if the half of what is told in the affidavits about these exploits, usually carried on at night, is to be believed, then it would be utterly impossible to believe the Smiths to be idle or habitually lazy. [42]


Response to claim: 44 - After each battle in the Book of Mormon, the dead were "heaped upon the face of the earth, and they were covered with a shallow covering" - a reference to the Indian mounds

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

After each battle in the Book of Mormon, the dead were "heaped upon the face of the earth, and they were covered with a shallow covering" - a reference to the Indian mounds

Author's sources:
  • Book of Mormon (1830), pp. 358, 363, 267.
  • O. Turner, Pioneer History of the Holland Purchase, p. 38.
  • Palmyra Register, January 28, 1818.

FairMormon Response

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

Note that the word "mound" never appears in the Book of Mormon.


Response to claim: 46 - Joseph's familiarity with the idea that the Indians descended from the Hebrews seems to have come primarily from Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

Joseph's familiarity with the idea that the Indians descended from the Hebrews seems to have come primarily from Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews

Author's sources:
  1. Ethan Smith, View of the Hebrews (1825), p. 184.

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 speculation on the part of the author.


Question: Could Joseph Smith have used Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews as a guideline for creating the Book of Mormon?

Criticisms related to View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon

  • It is claimed that a 19th century work by Ethan Smith, View of the Hebrews, provided source material for Joseph Smith's construction of the Book of Mormon.
  • Some also postulate a link between Ethan Smith and Oliver Cowdery, since both men lived in Poultney, Vermont while Smith served as the pastor of the church that Oliver Cowdery's family attended at the time that View of the Hebrews was being written.

Many of the criticisms proposed are based upon B. H. Roberts' list of parallels, which only had validity if one applied a hemispheric geography model to the Book of Mormon

The View of the Hebrews theory is yet another attempt to fit a secular origin to the Book of Mormon. Many of the criticisms proposed are based upon B. H. Roberts' list of parallels, which only had validity if one applied a hemispheric geography model to the Book of Mormon. There are a significant number of differences between the two books, which are easily discovered upon reading Ethan Smith's work. Many points that Ethan Smith thought were important are not mentioned at all in the Book of Mormon, and many of the "parallels" are no longer valid based upon current scholarship.[43]

Advocates of the Ethan Smith theory must also explain why Joseph, the ostensible forger, had the chutzpah to point out the source of his forgery. They must also explain why, if Joseph found this evidence so compelling, he did not exploit it for use in the Book of Mormon text itself, since the Book of Mormon contains no reference to the many "unparallels" that Ethan assured his readers virtually guaranteed a Hebrew connection to the Amerindians.


Question: Was the View of the Hebrews theory of Book of Mormon origin advanced during the lifetime of Joseph Smith?

The theory the Joseph Smith plagiarized View of the Hebrews was never advanced during Joseph Smith's lifetime

The theory the Joseph Smith plagiarized View of the Hebrews was never advanced during his lifetime. The prevailing theory of the day was the Spalding Theory, which quickly lost credibility upon the discovery of an actual Spalding manuscript in 1884 which bore no resemblance to the Book of Mormon. There are no records which indicate that Joseph Smith came into contact with the View of the Hebrews during the period of time that he was translating the Book of Mormon. The View of the Hebrews theory was in fact first proposed by I. Woodbridge Riley in 1902, 58 years after the death of the prophet.[44]

Joseph Smith quoted View of the Hebrews as supporting the Book of Mormon

There was, however, a reference to View of the Hebrews within Joseph Smith's lifetime, but it came from the prophet himself. In an article published in the Times and Seasons on June 1, 1842, Joseph quoted View of the Hebrews in support of the Book of Mormon:

If such may have been the fact, that a part of the Ten Tribes came over to America, in the way we have supposed, leaving the cold regions of Assareth behind them in quest of a milder climate, it would be natural to look for tokens of the presence of Jews of some sort, along countries adjacent to the Atlantic. In order to this, we shall here make an extract from an able work: written exclusively on the subject of the Ten Tribes having come from Asia by the way of Bherings Strait, by the Rev. Ethan Smith, Pultney, Vt., who relates as follows: "Joseph Merrick, Esq., a highly respectable character in the church at Pittsfield, gave the following account: That in 1815, he was leveling some ground under and near an old wood shed, standing on a place of his, situated on (Indian Hill)... [Joseph then discusses the supposed phylacteries found among Amerindians, citing View of the Hebrews p. 220, 223.][45]

It strains credulity to claim that Joseph drew attention to the work from which he derived most of his ideas. Why would he call attention to the source of his forgery?


Response to claim: 49 - Joseph Smith took the whole Western Hemisphere as the setting for the Book of Mormon

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith took the whole Western Hemisphere as the setting for the Book of Mormon

Author's sources:
  1. Author's opinion. No source provided.

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.


Question: What is the Hemispheric Geography Theory regarding the location of Book of Mormon lands?

The Hemispheric Geography Theory is the traditional understanding of the Book of Mormon

The Hemispheric Geography Theory (or HGT) is the traditional understanding of the Book of Mormon. It postulates that the events in the book took place over North and South America, with the Isthmus of Panama as the narrow neck of land.

Orson Pratt was the best-known proponent of the hemispheric model

The earliest and best-known proponent of the hemispheric model was Orson Pratt, who espoused it as early as 1832[46] and continued to teach it for decades. Throughout the nineteenth century, many Latter-day Saint writers followed Pratt’s model, and eventually his geographical ideas were incorporated into the footnotes of the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon. The popularity of the hemispheric model notwithstanding, it simply is not clear whether it was the result of prophetic revelation or merely the outgrowth of the personal ideas and assumptions of the Prophet Joseph Smith and other brethren.[47]

Joseph Smith likely believed in a hemispheric Book of Mormon geography

Frederick G. Williams attributed this model to Joseph Smith,[48] but this was based on William's interpretation of an anonymous manuscript that did not appear in print until 1882.[49]

A more recent advocate of the HGT, Earl Wunderli[50] has been reviewed.[51] Wunderli believes that the Book of Mormon text is clearly hemispheric, though he seems to presume that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon as a nineteenth century work, and thus reflects Joseph's preoccupations.[52]

Advantages of the hemispheric model

  • it matches how the earliest members of the Church tended to read the Book of Mormon
  • many members of the Church continue to have this sort of 'image' in their mind as they read the Book of Mormon–it is familiar, and comfortable
  • it has sanction in the writings and talks of many Church leaders of the past, who gave their personal opinions about it. However, now the Church takes no position on it.

Disadvantages of the hemispheric model

  • distances in the Book of Mormon are extremely difficult to square with the HGT scale, which requires thousands of miles in a North-South direction
  • even if it were true that there was an exceedingly great distance between the core Nephite domain and the Cumorah where the Nephites and the Jaredites were destroyed, there is no justification from the text of also extending this exceeding distance throughout the whole western hemisphere.


Notes

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Times and Seasons 3 no. 9 (1 March 1842), 707. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  5. Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1 no. 7 (April 1835), 112.
  6. Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 324.
  7. Joseph Smith (editor), "AMERICAN ANTIQUITIES.," Times and Seasons 3 no. 18 (July 15, 1842), 860, (emphasis added). off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  8. [Editor], "ZARAHEMLA.," Times and Seasons 3 no. 23 (Oct. 1, 1842), 927. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  9. Interview with James H. Hart, Richmond, Mo., Aug. 21, 1883, as recorded in Hart's notebook; reprinted in Lyndon Cook (editor), David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness (Orem, Utah: Grandin Books, 1991), 76.
  10. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 272. (Affidavits examined)
  11. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 235-236. (Affidavits examined)
  12. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 269. (Affidavits examined)
  13. 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
  14. "Interview with Joseph Smith III", in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:542.
  15. Palmyra Herald (24 July 1822); cited in Russell Anderson, "The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith," (2002 FAIR Conference presentation.) FairMormon link
  16. "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.
  17. Richard L. Bushman, "Joseph Smith Miscellany," (Mesa, Arizona: FAIR, 2005 FAIR Conference) FairMormon link
  18. W.I. Appleby, Mormonism Consistent! Truth Vindicated, and Falsehood Exposed and Refuted: Being A Reply to A. H. Wickersham (Wilmington DE: Porter & Nafe, 1843), 1–24.
  19. Joseph Smith, Elders' Journal of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints [Kirtland, Ohio] 2 no. 3 (July 1838), 43. Also reproduced in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 120; History of the Church 3:29; Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 271.
  20. "Book of Mormon Translation," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013).
  21. Gerrit Dirkmaat (Church History Department), "Great and Marvelous Are the Revelations of God," Ensign, January 2013. (emphasis added) off-site
  22. W.W. Phelps, "The Book of Mormon," The Evening and The Morning Star 1:58 .
  23. Stephen D. Ricks, The Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon, Featured Papers, Maxwell Institute, Provo UT. off-site
  24. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 272. (Affidavits examined)
  25. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 235-236. (Affidavits examined)
  26. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 269. (Affidavits examined)
  27. 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
  28. "Interview with Joseph Smith III", in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:542.
  29. John Dehlin, "Questions and Answers," Mormon Stories Podcast (25 June 2014).
  30. Interview of Emma Smith by her son Joseph Smith III, "Interview with Joseph Smith III, 1879," in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:539.
  31. Orsamus Turner, History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham’s Purchase and Morris’ Reserve (1852) 215.
  32. “Truman Coe Account, 1836,” in Early Mormon Documents, 1:47. Originally printed in Ohio Observer (Hudson, Ohio), 11 August 1836.
  33. “Golden Bible,” The Gem: A Semi-Monthly Literary and Miscellaneous Journal (Rochester, New York: 5 September 1829), 70.
  34. Morning Star VII/45, March 7, 1833.
  35. “Mormonism,” New York Weekly Messenger and Young Men’s Advocate (29 April 1835). Reprinted from The Pioneer (Rock Springs, IL), March 1835.
  36. Daniel C. Peterson, "Editor's Introduction—Not So Easily Dismissed: Some Facts for Which Counterexplanations of the Book of Mormon Will Need to Account," FARMS Review 17/2 (2005): xi–lxix. off-site
  37. "Emma Smith Bidamon to Emma Pilgrim, 27 March 1870," Early Mormon Documents, 1:532.
  38. Richard Abanes, Becoming Gods: A Closer Look at 21st-Century Mormonism (Harvest House Publishers: 2005). 73, 367 n.138. ( Index of claims ); Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), 43. ( Index of claims );Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults (Revised) (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1997), 193, 235. ( Index of claims );Richard Packham, "Questions for Mitt Romney," 2008.;Simon Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2004) 40, 184. ( Index of claims )
  39. Mormonism Unvailed, 261-262.
  40. Joseph Smith, (December 1834) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1:40.
  41. Milton V. Backman, Jr., Joseph Smith's First Vision: Confirming Evidences and Contemporary Accounts, 2d ed. rev. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980): 120. Backman cites Session Records, Western Presbyterian Church, II, 11-13, 34, 36, 39, 42 and Appendix K.
  42. Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 1:40–41. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  43. John W. Welch, "View of the Hebrews: 'An Unparallel'," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, edited by John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1992), 83–87.
  44. I. Woodbridge Riley, The Founder of Mormonism (New York, 1902), 124–126.
  45. Joseph Smith, Jr., "From Priest's American Antiquities," (1 June 1842) Times and Seasons 3:813-815.
  46. A newspaper account of Mormon missionaries who preached in Pennsylvania in 1832 mentions Orson Pratt in connection with this teaching. See B. Stokely, “The Orators of Mormonism,” Catholic Telegraph (Cincinnati), 14 April 1832, a reprint from Mercer (PA) Free Press.
  47. "Statement on Book of Mormon Geography," FARMS (accessed 18 September 2006) off-site
  48. John W. Welch and John L. Sorenson, "Did Lehi Land in Chile? An Assessment of the Frederick G. Williams Statement," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, edited by John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1992), 57–61.
  49. William J. Hamblin, "Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/1 (1993): 161–197. wiki off-site GL direct link
  50. Earl M. Wunderli, "Critique of a Limited Geography for Book of Mormon Events," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 35 no. 3 (2002), 161–197.
  51. Brant Gardner, "An Exploration in Critical Methodology: Critiquing a Critique (Review of: “Critique of a Limited Geography for Book of Mormon Events,” Dialogue 35/3 (2002): 161–97)," FARMS Review 16/2 (2004): 173–224. off-site
  52. See Gardner, "Critiquing a critique," footnote 16 (referring to Wunderli, note 44.)