Criticism of Mormonism/Books/No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith/Chapter 10

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Response to claims made in "Chapter 10: The Army of the Lord"

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.ch10.jpg

Response to claims made in No Man Knows My History, "Chapter 10: The Army of the Lord"

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Response to claim: 143 - neighbors of Solomon Spalding recalled that the Spalding manuscript that matched "an astonishing number of details" from the Book of Mormon

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

Under Hurlbut's "excited prodding," neighbors of Solomon Spalding recalled that the Spalding manuscript that matched "an astonishing number of details" from the Book of Mormon twenty years after they had heard the manuscript read aloud.

(Author's sources: Author's opinion)

FairMormon Response

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

Brodie is being sarcastic here - she wasn't buying the Spalding theory of Book of Mormon origin.



Question: What do the Hurlbut affidavits say about the Spalding manuscript and the Book of Mormon?

Hurlbut's affidavits regarding the Spalding manuscript consist of interviews with family and associates of Solomon Spalding

Claimant Claims

Artemas Cunningham

  • Claimed to have "partially examined" the "Mormon Bible."
  • Claimed that Spalding's manuscript was called "Manuscript Found."
  • Claimed "to remember the name of Nephi" as the "principal hero."

Nahum Howard

  • Claimed to have "lately read the Book of Mormon."
  • Claimed that it was the same as Spalding wrote, "except the religious part."'

Henry Lake

  • Claimed to have recently "commenced reading [The Book of Mormon] aloud."
  • Claimed that Spalding's work frequently used the words "it came to pass."

John Miller

  • Claimed to have "recently examined the Book of Mormon."
  • Claimed that the Book of Mormon was "mixed up with scripture and other religious matter, which I did not meet with in the "Manuscript Found."
  • Claimed that "Nephi, Lehi, Moroni" were the "principal names" in Spalding's book.

Oliver Smith

  • Claimed that "Nephi and Lehi were by [Spalding] represented as leading characters."
  • Claimed that Spalding included "no religious matter" in his book.
  • Claimed that "I obtained the book [of Mormon], and on reading it, found much of it the same as Spalding had written."

John Spalding

(Brother of Solomon Spalding)

  • Claimed to have "recently read the Book of Mormon."
  • Claimed that Spalding's book was entitled The Manuscript Found.
  • Claimed that the book attempted to show that the American Indians are the descendents of the Jews.
  • Claimed that the leaders of the group were called "Nephi" and "Lehi."
  • Claimed that the book described two nations called the "Nephites" and the "Lamanites."
  • Claimed that the people described in Spalding's book buried their dead in large mounds.
  • Claimed that many sentences in Spalding's book began with "it came to pass."

Martha Spalding

(wife of Solomon Spalding)

  • Claimed that she had "read the Book of Mormon."
  • Claimed that the Book of Mormon was based upon Spalding's story.
  • Claimed that "the names of Nephi and Lehi are yet fresh in my memory, as being the principal heroes of his tale."
  • Claimed that Spalding's characters separated into two nations, "one of which was called Lamanites and the other Nephites."
  • Claimed that Spalding's tale told of the dead "being buried in large heaps was the cause of the numerous mounds in the country."
  • Claimed that Spalding's manuscript used the words "it came to pass."

Aaron Wright

  • Claimed that the Book of Mormon following the Spalding story, "excepting the religious matter."
  • Claimed that "the names more especially are the same without any alteration."

Commentary

Most of the Spalding-related affidavits make very similar claims, such as the repeated statements that "Nephi" and "Lehi" figured prominently in Spalding's story

Most of the Spalding-related affidavits make very similar claims, such as the repeated statements that "Nephi" and "Lehi" figured prominently in Spalding's story and that the person making the claim had "recently" read the Book of Mormon and recognized it as being similar to Spalding's work. The recovered Spalding manuscript, however, bears no resemblance to any of these claims. For this reason, critics who support the Spalding theory have assumed the existence of a second Spalding manuscript, despite absolutely no evidence to support this.

The Spalding theory requires that Sidney Rigdon secretly meet Joseph Smith before the organization of the Church

The Spalding theory requires that Sidney Rigdon secretly meet Joseph Smith before the organization of the Church, and provide him with the Book of Mormon manuscript. John Stafford, oldest son of William Stafford was asked about this:

Q — If young Joseph — Smith , Jr. — was as illiterate as you say, Doctor, how do you account for the Book of Mormon?
A — "Well, I can't; except that Sidney Rigdon was connected with them."
Q — Was Rigdon ever around there before the Book of Mormon was published?
A — "No; not as we could ever find out. Sidney Rigdon was never there, that Hurlbut, or Howe, or Tucker could find out."
Q — Well; you have been looking out for the facts a long time, have you not, Doctor?
A — "Yes; I have been thinking and hearing about it for the last fifty years, and lived right among all their old neighbors there more of the time."
Q — And no one has ever been able to trace the acquaintance of Rigdon and Smith, until after the Book of Mormon was published, and Rigdon proselyted by Parley P. — Pratt, in Ohio?
A — "Not that I know of.""
— John Stafford, cited in William H. Kelly, "The Hill Cumorah, and the Book of Mormon," Saints' Herald 28 (1 June 1881): 167.[1]

See also:

  • Matthew Roper, "The Mythical "Manuscript Found" (Review of: Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon? The Spalding Enigma)," FARMS Review 17/2 (2005): 7–140. off-site


Response to claim: 144 - The Spalding manuscript bore no resemblance to the Book of Mormon

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

The Spalding manuscript bore no resemblance to the Book of Mormon.

(Author's sources: Spalding manuscript published by the Reorganized Church in 1885 under the title The Manuscript Found, or the Manuscript Story of the late Rev. Solomon Spaulding.)

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 true. Brodie's rejection marked the end of the Spaulding theory that had dominated anti-Mormon efforts for most of the nineteenth and part of the twentieth century. Ironically, with the failure of the View of the Hebrews theory, the Spaulding theory is enjoying a resurgence, though with a postulated "second" manuscript.



Question: Is the Spalding theory of Book of Mormon authorship credible?

The theory requires a second manuscript that doesn't exist, with invented contents, and the invention of a means of getting the alleged manuscript to Joseph Smith via Sidney Rigdon

Modern supporters of the Spalding authorship theory simply ignore the inconvenient fact that the extant Spalding manuscript recovered in the late 19th century bears no resemblance to the Book of Mormon, that it was an unfinished draft, and that no postulated second manuscript has been discovered.

They also ignore the complete lack of any persuasive evidence for contact between Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith prior to the Book of Mormon's publication.

Until the purported second manuscript appears, all these critics have is a nonexistent document which they can claim says anything they want. This is doubtlessly the attraction of the "theory" and shows the lengths to which critics will go to disprove the Book of Mormon.

It is interesting to consider that the best explanation such critics can propose requires that they invent a document, then invent its contents, and then invent a means of getting the document to Joseph via Rigdon.

An alleged missing, second Spalding manuscript

The existing Spalding manuscript is obviously unrelated to the Book of Mormon. It is therefore postulated by some that there must exist a second manuscript, despite the fact that the existing manuscript was never completed.

The discovery and publishing of the manuscript put to rest the Spaulding theory for several decades. But in the early 20th century the theory surfaced again, only this time its advocates claimed there was a second Spaulding manuscript that was the real source for the Book of Mormon. However, supporters of the revised Spaulding theory have not produced this second purported manuscript. They do, however, rely upon early works such as a 1908 book written by William Heth Whitsitt called Sidney Rigdon, The Real Founder of Mormonism. The entire book is based upon Whitsitt's initial assumption that Rigdon and Spalding wrote the Book of Mormon. Whitsitt then proceeds to fit the known facts to match that assumption. One of the most amusing parts of the book is the attempt to explain the experience of the Three Witnesses. In Whitsitt's book, Sidney plays the Angel Moroni and the Spalding manuscript itself (the second, undiscovered one) actually plays the part of the gold plates! According to Whitsitt:

It is suspected that Mr. Rigdon was somewhere present in the undergrowth of the forest where the little company were assembled, and being in plain hearing of their devotions he could easily step forward at a signal from Joseph, and exhibit several of the most faded leaves of the manuscript, which from having been kept a series of years since the death of Spaulding would assume the yellow appearance that is well known in such circumstances. At a distance from the station which they occupied the writing on these yellow sheets of paper would also appear to their excited imagination in the light of engravings; Sidney was likewise very well equal to the task of uttering the assurances which Smith affirms the angel was kind enough to supply concerning the genuineness of the "plates" and the correctness of the translation.

See: Solomon Spaulding, Manuscript Found: The Complete Original "Spaulding Manuscript", edited by Kent P. Jackson, (Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1996). off-site


Response to claim: 144 - Martin Harris was brought to trial before the High Council because he claimed the Joseph Smith had "drunk too much liquor" while translating the Book of Mormon

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

Martin Harris was brought to trial before the High Council because he claimed the Joseph Smith had "drunk too much liquor" while translating the Book of Mormon.

(Author's sources: Times and Seasons, Vol. VI, p. 992.)

FairMormon Response

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

Martin claimed that he didn't say this. The cited Times and Seasons" entry "HISTORY OF JOSEPH SMITH" states:

"The council proceeded to investigate certain charges presented by Elder Rigdon against Martin Harris, one was, that he told A. C. Russell, Esq. that Joseph drank too much liquor when he was translating the Book of Mormon, and that he wrestled with many men and threw them, &c.; and that he (Harris) exalted himself above Joseph, in that he said, "Brother Joseph knew not the contents of the Book of Mormon, until it was translated, but that he, himself knew all about it before it was translated. Brother Harris said he did not tell Esq. Russell that Brother Joseph drank too much liquor while translating the Book of Mormon, but this thing occurred previous to the translating of the book; he confessed that his mind was darkened, and that he had said many things inadvertantly [inadvertently], calculated to wound the feelings of his brethren, and promised to do better. The council forgave him, with much good advice."





Response to claim: 145 - Hurlbut's affidavits were published by E.D. Howe in Mormonism Unvailed

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

Hurlbut's affidavits were published by E.D. Howe in Mormonism Unvailed.

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



Question: What are the Hurlbut affidavits?

The Hurlbut affidavits are a collection of affidavits from Joseph Smith’s neighbors which claim that the Smith family possessed a number of character flaws

Many critics cite a collection of affidavits from Joseph Smith’s neighbors which claim that the Smith family possessed a number of character flaws. These affidavits were collected by Doctor Philastus Hurlbut ("Doctor" was his first name, not a title). [2] Hurlbut had been excommunicated from the Church on charges of "unvirtuous conduct with a young lady," [3] and for threatening the life of the Prophet.

  1. There are many statements from Joseph's contemporaries attesting to his good character—These people did not sign sworn affidavits, but their accounts are recorded in their journals and histories.
  2. It is also important to note that none of these statements regarding Joseph Smith, Jr. was a firsthand account from the Prophet himself, but instead represent second or third-hand accounts. It is interesting that Fawn Brodie and other modern anti-Mormons readily dismiss the affidavits supporting the Spalding theory (which has since been discredited), suggesting the Hurlbut "prompted" those making statements, yet accepts without question the affidavits attesting to the bad character of Joseph Smith and his family.
  3. Finally, Hurlbut's motive in collecting the affidavits is a factor. The Hurlbut affidavits were collected by a man who not only had a grudge to settle with the Church, but who had actually been brought before a judge for issuing a death threat against Joseph Smith, Jr. His family had likewise lost a court case brought by the Smiths, and young Joseph's testimony played a significant role in their victory. (This occurred despite the Hurlbuts being more wealthy and prominent in the community than the poverty-stricken Smiths.)

Hurlbut had been hostile to the Smith family long before he collected his affidavits

Hurlbut's hostility to the Smiths may have been of long date. In 1819, the Smiths sued a local family of Hurlbuts over the sale of a pair of horses and some work they had done for him. (Aside from the name, it is not known if there was a family connection.) One author explains:

Joseph Smith's introduction to the legal system came at an early age. His father and oldest brother, Alvin, initiated a lawsuit in January 1819 against Jeremiah Hurlbut arising from his sale of a pair of horses to the Smiths for $65. The Smith boys had been working for Hurlbut to both pay down the $65 obligation and for other goods the previous summer. Twelve witnesses were called during the trial, including Hyrum and Joseph Smith Jr. Under New York law, being just thirteen, Joseph's testimony about the work he had performed was admissible only after the court found him competent. His testimony proved credible and the court record indicates that ever item that he testified about was included in the damages awarded to the Smiths. Although Hurlbut appealed the case, no records have survived noting the final disposition of that case; perhaps it was settled out of court. The significance of this case is not limited to the fact that a New York judge found the young Joseph, just a year prior to his First Vision, to be competent and credible as a witness. Also, the suit being brought against a prominent Palmyra family and involving two other prominent community leaders as sureties on appeal may have contributed to Joseph Smith Jr.'s memory of his family's estrangement from much of the Palmyra community....

Under applicable New York law, "qualified citizens" [for jury duty] were limited to male inhabitants of the county where the trial was being held between the ages of twenty-one and sixty; and who at the time had personal property in the amount of not less that $250 or real property in the county with a value of not less than $250. In the rural community of Palmyra this effectively meant that those qualified to be on the jury would be the more affluent and prominent men of the area. Ironically, none of the Smiths would have qualified to be a juror.

The trial was held on February 6, 1819. Twelve jurors were impaneled, all men and property owners. The Smiths called five witnesses, Hurlbut [the farmer they were suing] seven. Both Joseph Jr. and Hyrum were called to testify. This appears to be young Joseph's first direct interaction with the judicial [130] process. He had turned thirteen years old a month and a half previously. New York law and local practice permitted the use of child testimony, subject to the court's discretion to determine the witness' competency. The test for competency required a determination that the witness was of 'sound mind and memory.' A New York 1803 summary of the law for justices of the peace notes that 'all persons of sound mind and memory, and who have arrived at years of discretion, except such as are legally interested, or have been rendered infamous, may be improved as witnesses.' This determination of competency rested within the discretion of the judge....

From the record it appears that Judge Spear found Joseph Jr. competent, and he indeed did testify during the trial. This is evident in a review of the List of Services that was part of the court file. Joseph Jr.'s testimony would have been required to admit those services he personally performed....[4]

Hurlbut's collection of the statements was made at the request of an anti-Mormon committee in Kirtland, Ohio

At any rate, Hurlbut's later collection of statements was made at the request of an anti-Mormon committee in Kirtland, Ohio. [5] According to B.H. Roberts:

It was simply a matter of "muck raking" on Hurlbut's part. Every idle story, every dark insinuation which at that time could be thought of and unearthed was pressed into service to gratify this man's personal desire for revenge, and to aid the enemies of the Prophet in their attempt to destroy his influence and overthrow the institution then in process of such remarkable development. [6]

Hurlbut was unable to publish the affidavits himself after his trial for making death threats against Joseph Smith, so he sold them to E.D. Howe for publication in his book Mormonism Unvailed

Hurlbut was unable to publish the affidavits himself after his trial for making death threats against Joseph Smith, Jr. (And, it is possible that his family's animus dated back far longer.) He sold his material to Eber D. Howe, who published it in his anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unvailed in 1834. In addition to the affidavits attacking the character of the Smith family, Hurlbut gathered statements from the family and neighbors of Solomon Spalding in order to "prove" that Spalding's unpublished manuscript was the source for the Book of Mormon. Mormonism Unvailed contained the first presentation of the Spalding theory of Book of Mormon origin. Some critics, such as Fawn Brodie, are selective in their acceptance of Hurlbut's affidavits—They readily accept affidavits that attack the character of the Smith family, yet admit that some "judicious prompting" by Hurlbut may have been involved in those affidavits that were gathered to support the Spalding theory. [7]

E.D. Howe thought that Joseph was "lazy," "indolent" and "superstitious"

Howe's bias is evident throughout the book. He introduces the Smith family with the following:

All who became intimate with them during this period, unite in representing the general character of old Joseph and wife, the parents of the pretended Prophet, as lazy, indolent, ignorant and superstitious—having a firm belief in ghosts and witches; the telling of fortunes; pretending to believe that the earth was filled with hidden treasures, buried there by Kid or the Spaniards. [8]


Response to claim: 145 - Brigham Young stated, before he even met Joseph Smith, that he would follow Joseph even if he were to get "drunk every day of his life, sleep with his neighbor's wife every night"

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

Brigham Young stated, before he even met Joseph Smith, that he would follow Joseph even if he were to get "drunk every day of his life, sleep with his neighbor's wife every night," and run horses and gamble.

(Author's sources: Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 4:77-78.)

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

Brigham was saying that he believed in the doctrine rather than Joseph Smith, and he was simply illustrating a point. The author has extracted this phrase in order to make it mean something else. Brigham Young was making a distinction between believing in the doctrine versus believing in Joseph Smith:

I recollect a conversation I had with a priest who was an old friend of ours, before I was personally acquainted with the Prophet Joseph. I clipped every argument he advanced, until at last he came out and began to rail against "Joe Smith," saying, "that he was a mean man, a liar, moneydigger, gambler, and a whore-master;" and he charged him with everything bad, that he could find language to utter. I said, hold on, Brother Gillmore, here is the doctrine, here is the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the revelations that have come through Joseph Smith the Prophet. I have never seen him, and do not know his private character. The doctrine he teaches is all I know about the matter, bring anything against that if you can. As to anything else I do not care. If he acts like a devil, he has brought forth a doctrine that will save us, if we will abide it. He may get drunk every day of his life, sleep with his neighbor's wife every night, run horses and gamble, I do not care anything about that, for I never embrace any man in my faith. But the doctrine he has produced will save you and me, and the whole world; and if you can find fault with that, find it. [9]





Response to claim: 147-148 - suggestion to change the name of the Church from the Church of Christ to the Church of Latter-day Saints in order to avoid the names "Mormon" and "Mormonite"

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

It was Sidney Rigdon's suggestion to change the name of the Church from the Church of Christ to the Church of Latter-day Saints in order to avoid the names "Mormon" and "Mormonite".

(Author's sources: Source not 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 history of name changes of the Church?

The original name of the Church when it was organized in 1830 was the "Church of Christ"

The original name of the Church when it was organized in 1830 was the "Church of Christ." Mormonism to some extent originated in the historical context of the restorationist movement. This movement consisted of Christians who believed that the original Christianity needed to be restored, and it was a common belief among Christian restorationists that the name of a Christian church should properly be the "Church of Christ." Many new members of the Church brought such ideas with them when they became "Mormons."

This caused practical problems, however, since there were lots of restorationist groups who named their local churches the "Church of Christ," so there was tremendous confusion. (Indeed, one of the groups that descends from Alexander Campbell's Disciples of Christ continues to use the name "Church of Christ" to this day.)

The use of the term "Mormonite" prompted changes in order to distinguish the Church from other Christian churches

This, coupled with the use of the common antagonistic epithet "Mormonite" (soon simplified to "Mormon"), led to a desire for a more distinctive name that would distinguish our church from so many others that were using the same name.

So in April 1834, under the influence of Sidney Rigdon (according to David Whitmer),[10] who had been a reformed Baptist preacher with close ties to Alexander Campbell prior to joining the church, the official name of the church was changed to the "Church of Latter Day Saints."

There was no attempt to distance the Church from the name of Christ

This was no attempt to distance the Church from the name of Christ or its claims to be Christ's church. In 1835, the official Church paper referred to the:

"rise and progress of the church of Christ of Latter Day Saints" [11]

The final name of the Church came through revelation

The basis for the present name of the church came in DC 115:3, received on April 26, 1838: the "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints." Note how this name combines elements of the original name and the Rigdon-inspired name.

In 1851 when the church formally incorporated, the name included a corporate initial article "The" and a British hyphenization of "Latter-day," thus becoming the formal name we use to this day, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." Other groups that split off from the church, such as the Strangites and the Reorganization {RLDS, now Community of Christ}, kept the original unhyphenated "Latter Day" in their formal names.

The members of the Church have always seen themselves as Christians, and members of "the Church of Jesus Christ"

This chart demonstrates that the members of the Church have always seen themselves as Christians, and members of "the Church of Jesus Christ."

Journal or Series Church of Christ Church of Jesus Christ Church of Jesus Christ of LDS Latter-day Saints alone Mormon Church
Evening and Morning Star (1832-1834) 115 1 xx 0 0
Messenger and Advocate (1834-1837) 33 0 xx 0 1
Elders Journal (1837-1838) 10 2 1 4 0
Times and Seasons (1839-1846) 118 13 24 47 4
Journal of Discourses 26 vols. (1839-1886)

1438 sermons

167 59 308 3255 10
Collected Discourses 5 vols. (1886-1898)

432 sermons

149 15 139 1121 7
General Conference Reports, (1880, 1897-1970) 780 671 3180 6291 333 [12]
Millennial Star (incomplete study) - 84 - - -
The Seer 0 6 6 0 0

xx = no use of name "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" because that name was not yet in use during the journal's publication dates.

Source: Ted Jones, FairMormon researcher, private communication (7 April 2007); updated 1 April 2010.


Response to claim: 149 - Joseph found a skeleton of a Lamanite warrior named "Zelf"

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

Joseph found a skeleton of a Lamanite warrior named "Zelf"

(Author's sources:
  • History of the Church 2:79-80
  • "Elder Kimball's Journal," Times and Seasons, Vol. VI, p. 788.)

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 story of Zelph?

Joseph Smith reportedly found the bones of an individual named "Zelph," during the Zion's camp march

The most common version of this story is found in the History of the Church.[13] It should be noted, however, that the History of the Church version was created by amalgamating the journal entries of several people:

  • Wilford Woodruff (WW),
  • Heber C. Kimball (HCK),
  • George A. Smith (GAS),
  • Levi Hancock (LH),
  • Moses Martin (MM),
  • Reuben McBride (RM).[14]

All of the accounts were published after the death of Joseph Smith

The text has a convoluted history:

In 1842 Willard Richards, then church historian, was assigned the task of compiling a large number of documents and producing a history of the church from them. He worked on this material between 21 December 1842 and 27 March 1843. Richards, who had not joined the church until 1836, relied on the writings or recollections of Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff, and perhaps others for his information regarding the discovery of Zelph. Blending the sources available to him, and perhaps using oral accounts from some of the members of Zion's Camp, but writing as if he were Joseph Smith, historian Richards drafted the story of Zelph as it appears in the "Manuscript History of the Church, Book A-1." With respect to points relative to Book of Mormon geography, Richards wrote that "Zelph was a white Lamanite, a man of God who was a warrior and chieftain under the great prophet Onandagus who was known from the [hill Cumorah is crossed out in the manuscript] eastern Sea, to the Rocky Mountains. He was killed in battle, by the arrow found among his ribs, during a [last crossed out] great struggle with the Lamanites" [and Nephites crossed out].

Following the death of Joseph Smith, the Times and Seasons published serially the "History of Joseph Smith." When the story of finding Zelph appeared in the 1 January 1846 issue, most of the words crossed out in the Richards manuscript were, for some unknown reason, included, along with the point that the prophet's name was Omandagus. The reference to the hill Cumorah from the unemended Wilford Woodruff journal was still included in the narrative, as was the phrase "during the last great struggle of the Lamanites and Nephites."

The 1904 first edition of the seven-volume History of the Church, edited by B. H. Roberts, repeats the manuscript version of Richards's account. However, in 1948, after Joseph Fielding Smith had become church historian, explicit references to the hill Cumorah and the Nephites were reintroduced. That phrasing has continued to the present in all reprintings.[15]

A comparison of the various accounts is instructive:[16]

Aspect WW HCK GAS LH MM RM
Date May-June 1834 JS on 3 June 1834 Group on 2 June 1834 -- -- JS on 3 June 1834
Place Illinois River Illinois River -- Illinois River Pike County --
Description -300 ft above river
-Flung up by ancients
-Several 100 feet above
-3 altars on mound
300 ft above river Big mound -many mounds
-fortifications
--
Artifacts Body, arrow Human bones, a skeleton, arrow Human bones Human bones, arrow Human bones, arrow Skeleton of man, arrow
Person? Zalph, large thick-set man,
warrior, killed in battle
Zalph, warrior, killed in battle -- Zalph, warrior, white Lamanite Mighty prophet, killed in battle Zalph, warrior, white Lamanite,
man of God, killed in battle
Nephite/
Lamanite?
Nephite and Lamanite Lamanite -- Lamanite -- Lamanite
JS Vision? Vision: Onandangus, great prophet
Known Atlantic to Rockies
-- -- Onandangus -- Onandangus,
Known Atlantic to Rockies

William Hamblin described some of the difficulties in identifying the roots of this story:

many significant qualifiers were left out of the printed version [of this account]. Thus, whereas Wilford Woodruff's journal account mentions that the ruins and bones were "probably [related to] the Nephites and Lamanites," the printed version left out the "probably," and implied that it was a certainty. [There are] several similar shifts in meaning from the original manuscripts to the printed version. "The mere 'arrow' of the three earliest accounts became an 'Indian Arrow' (as in Kimball), and finally a 'Lamanitish Arrow.' The phrase 'known from the Atlantic to the Rocky Mountain,' as in the McBride diary, became 'known from the Hill Cumorah' (stricken out) or 'eastern sea to the Rocky Mountains.' " The point here is that there are many difficulties that make it nearly impossible for us to know exactly what Joseph Smith said in 1834 as he reflected on the ruins his group encountered in Illinois.[17]


Question: How reliable are the accounts of the discovery of Zelph?

LDS scholars have differed about the reliability of the accounts

LDS scholars have differed about the reliability of the accounts, and their relevance for Book of Mormon geography.[18] As Kenneth Godfrey observed:

If the history of the church were to be revised today using modern historical standards, readers would be informed that Joseph Smith wrote nothing about the discovery of Zelph, and that the account of uncovering the skeleton in Pike County is based on the diaries of seven members of Zion's Camp, some of which were written long after the event took place. We would be assured that the members of Zion's Camp dug up a skeleton near the Illinois River in early June 1834. Equally sure is that Joseph Smith made statements about the deceased person and his historical setting. We would learn that it is unclear which statements attributed to him derived from his vision, as opposed to being implied or surmised either by him or by others. Nothing in the diaries suggests that the mound itself was discovered by revelation.

Furthermore, readers would be told that most sources agree that Zelph was a white Lamanite who fought under a leader named Onandagus (variously spelled). Beyond that, what Joseph said to his men is not entirely clear, judging by the variations in the available sources. The date of the man Zelph, too, remains unclear. Expressions such as "great struggles among the Lamanites," if accurately reported, could refer to a period long after the close of the Book of Mormon narrative, as well as to the fourth century AD. None of the sources before the Willard Richards composition, however, actually say that Zelph died in battle with the Nephites, only that he died "in battle" when the otherwise unidentified people of Onandagus were engaged in great wars "among the Lamanites."

Zelph was identified as a "Lamanite," a label agreed on by all the accounts. This term might refer to the ethnic and cultural category spoken of in the Book of Mormon as actors in the destruction of the Nephites, or it might refer more generally to a descendant of the earlier Lamanites and could have been considered in 1834 as the equivalent of "Indian" (see, for example, D&C 3:18, 20; 10:48; 28:8; 32:2). Nothing in the accounts can settle the question of Zelph's specific ethnic identity.[19]

Since the accounts are second hand and differ from one another, it is unclear exactly what Joseph said

Thus, it is unclear exactly what Joseph said. Many of the accounts date from many years after the event, and may have been shaded by later ideas in the writers. Joseph never had a chance to correct that which was published about the event, since he was killed before it was made public. The "Lamanites" may refer to native Amerindians generally, or Book of Mormon peoples specifically. If the latter are referred to, the events may well apply to post-Book of Mormon events, in which case it can tell us little about the geographic scope of the Book of Mormon text. It is at least clear enough that Joseph Smith called the peoples of the area "Nephite" in the statement that he made in the letter to his wife, but those titles of political factions again don't do much for determining ethnicity.

As always, the Book of Mormon text itself must remain our primary guide for what it says. Joseph Smith does not seem to have later regarded his knowledge about Zelph as excluding other peoples or locations as being related to the Book of Mormon, or to have discouraged other Church leaders from similar theories.


Notes

  1. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:123–124.)
  2. "Doctor" was not a title—It was Hurlbut's actual given name.
  3. Benjamin Winchester, The origin of the Spalding story, concerning the Manuscript Found; with a short biography of Dr. P. Hulbert, the originator of the same; and some testimony adduced, showing it to be a sheer fabrication, so far as in connection with the Book of Mormon is concerned. (Philadelphia: Brown, Bicking & Guilbert, Printers, 1834), p. 5.
  4. Jeffrey N. Walker, "Joseph Smith's Introduction to the Law: The 1819 Hurlbut Case," Mormon Historical Studies 11/1 (Spring 2010): 129-130.
  5. Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 1:41. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  6. Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 1:41. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  7. Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), 446–447.
  8. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH: Telegraph Press, 1834), p. 11.
  9. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 4:77-78.
  10. David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).
  11. W. W. Phelps to Oliver Cowdery, June 1835, "Letter No. 8," Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1 no. 9 (June 1835), 129–31. off-site See also W. W. Phelps to Oliver Cowdery, "Letter No. 11," Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 2 no. 1 (October 1835), 193–95. off-site
  12. The vast majority of these were in describing what others said about the Church.
  13. 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), 2:79–80. Volume 2 linkGL direct link
  14. Kenneth W. Godfrey, "The Zelph Story," Brigham Young University Studies 29 no. 2 (1989), 31–56.
  15. Kenneth W. Godfrey, "What is the Significance of Zelph In The Study Of Book of Mormon Geography?," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/2 (1999): 70–79. off-site wiki
  16. Data as summarized by Donald Q. Cannon, "Zelph Revisited," in Regional Studies in the Latter-day Saint Church History: Illinois, edited by H. Dean Garret (Provo, Utah: Department of Church History and Doctrine, Brigham Young University, 1995), 57–109. GospeLink (requires subscrip.) Note that some things that seem similar (e.g., "arrow" had substantial differences in the account, as discussed by Hamblin, below).
  17. 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
  18. Kenneth Godfrey's articles have cast doubt on the reliability of many key elements of the story as we have them. Donald Q. Cannon has argued for the basic reliability of the accounts. See the articles by each author for both perspectives.
  19. Kenneth W. Godfrey, "What is the Significance of Zelph In The Study Of Book of Mormon Geography?," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/2 (1999): 70–79. off-site wiki