Criticism of Mormonism/Books/One Nation Under Gods/Chapter 2

Table of Contents

Response to claims made in "Chapter 2: Moroni, Magic, and Masonry"

A FairMormon Analysis of: One Nation Under Gods, a work by author: Richard Abanes
Claim Evaluation
One Nation Under Gods
Chart one nation under gods chapter 2.jpg

Response to claims made in One Nation Under Gods, "Chapter 2: Moroni, Magic, and Masonry"

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Response to claim: 23 (HB) - The author states that "LDS documents" are "strangely silent" about Joseph Smith's activities between 1820 and 1823

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

The author states that "LDS documents" are "strangely silent" about Joseph Smith's activities between 1820 and 1823.

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

Just how much documentation does the author think exists on the activities of a 14 to 17-year-old farm boy living on the frontier during this period? The Church didn't even exist during this time, therefore there would be no "LDS documents."

Absurd claims

Response to claim: 25 - The author states that Moroni claimed that the golden plates were "buried in the hill Cumorah, just outside the village of Manchester"

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

The author states that Moroni claimed that the golden plates were "buried in the hill Cumorah, just outside the village of Manchester."

Author's sources:
  1. No source provided.

FairMormon Response

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

The hill near Joseph's home was not called Cumorah by the angel Moroni, nor was it named Cumorah at the time that Joseph received the plates. The name Cumorah was applied later, as a result of Joseph finding the plates there.


Response to claim: 25 - The author states that the angel that appeared to Joseph was originally named "Nephi" instead of "Moroni"

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

The author states that the angel that appeared to Joseph was originally named "Nephi" instead of "Moroni"

Author's sources:
  1. Oliver Cowdery, Times and Seasons, April 15, 1842, vol. 3, no. 12, 753.
  • 1851 edition of the Pearl of Great Price, p. 41.
  • Joseph Smith 1832 History cited in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents vol. 1, 29-30.

FairMormon Response

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

This was a scribal error that was propagated into a number of other sources.

This claim is also made in Becoming Gods, p. 55

Question: Did Joseph Smith originally identify the angel that visited him as "Nephi" instead of "Moroni"?

The text in question

The text in question reads as follows:

While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in the room which continued to increase untill the room was lighter than at noonday and <when> immediately a personage <appeared> at my bedside standing in the air for his feet did not touch the floor. He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond any <thing> earthly I had ever seen, nor do I believe that any earthly thing could be made to appear so exceeding[g]ly white and brilliant, His hands were naked and his arms also a little above the wrists. So also were his feet naked as were his legs a little above the ankles. His head and neck were also bare. I could discover that he had no other clothing on but this robe, as it was open so that I could see into his bosom. Not only was his robe exceedingly white but his whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light, but not so very bright as immediately around his person. When I first looked upon him I was afraid, but the fear soon left me. He called me by name and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me and that his name was Nephi....(emphasis added)[1]

Orson Pratt would later observe:

The discrepency in the history … may have occurred through the ignorance or carelessness of the historian or transcriber. It is true, that the history reads as though the Prophet himself recorded [it, that he] was [doing the] writing: but … many events recorded were written by his scribes who undoubtedly trusted too much to their memories, and the items probably were not sufficiently scanned by Bro. Joseph, before they got into print.[2]

The identity of the angel that appeared to Joseph Smith in his room in 1823 was published as "Moroni" for many years prior to the erroneous identification of the angel as "Nephi"

The Church teaches that Moroni was the heavenly messenger which appeared to Joseph Smith and directed him to the gold plates. Yet, some Church sources give the identity of this messenger as Nephi. Some claim that this shows that Joseph was 'making it up as he went along.' One critic even claims that if the angel spoke about the plates being "engraven by Moroni," then he couldn't have been Moroni himself.

The identity of the angel that appeared to Joseph Smith in his room in 1823 and over the next four years was known and published as "Moroni" for many years prior to the publication of the first identification of the angel as "Nephi" in the Times and Seasons in 1842. Even an anti-Mormon publication, Mormonism Unvailed, identified the angel's name as "Moroni" in 1834—a full eight years earlier. All identifications of the angel as "Nephi" subsequent to the 1842 Times and Seasons article were using the T&S article as a source. These facts have not been hidden; they are readily acknowledged in the History of the Church:

In the original publication of the history in the Times and Seasons at Nauvoo, this name appears as "Nephi," and the Millennial Star perpetuated the error in its republication of the History. That it is an error is evident, and it is so noted in the manuscripts to which access has been had in the preparation of this work. [3]

Joseph F. Smith and Orson Pratt understood the problem more than a century ago, when they wrote in 1877 to John Taylor:

"The contradictions in regard to the name of the angelic messenger who appeared to Joseph Smith occurred probably through the mistakes of clerks in making or copying documents and we think should be corrected. . . . From careful research we are fully convinced that Moroni is the correct name. This also was the decision of the former historian, George A. Smith." [4]

The timeline of events related to the "Nephi/Moroni" error

The following time-line illustrates various sources that refer to the angel, and whether the name "Moroni" or "Nephi" was given to them.

As can be readily seen, the "Nephi" sources all derive from a single manuscript and subsequent copies. On the other hand, a variety of earlier sources (including one hostile source) use the name "Moroni," and these are from a variety of sources.

Details about each source are available below the graphic. Readers aware of other source(s) are encouraged to contact FairMormon so they can be included here.

Nephi or Moroni Timeline.PNG

This is not an example of Joseph Smith changing his story over time, but an example of a detail being improperly recorded by someone other than the Prophet, and then reprinted uncritically. Clear contemporary evidence from Joseph and his enemies—who would have seized upon any inconsistency had they known about it—shows that "Moroni" was the name of the heavenly messenger BEFORE the 1838 and 1839 histories were recorded.


Question: Which sources mention Nephi as the angelic visitor who told Joseph Smith about the gold plates?

There is actually only one source that claims the heavenly messenger was Nephi, which was an error

Critics cite a variety of sources that repeat the 'Nephi' identification. The key point to understand is that there is really only one source that claims the heavenly messenger was Nephi; the other sources which mention Nephi are merely citing this one source, thus perpetuating the error. The problematic document is the June 1839 Manuscript History of the Church Book A-1 (which was a copy of an April 1838 document -- James Mulholland copied George W. Robinson's earlier text. The 1838 document is no longer extant).

Subsequent documents copied the error from the original source

  • Later drafts of the Manuscript History of the Church reproduced the error (see discussion below).
  • The 1839 document was then published in the 1842 Times and Seasons as follows:
He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Nephi. That God had a work for me to do, and that my name should be had for good and evil, among all nations, kindreds, and tongues; or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people. He said there was a book deposited written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. [5]
  • In England, the Church's periodical called the Millennial Star reprinted the same article in August 1842, perpetuating the error:
He called me by name and said unto me, that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Nephi [6]
  • This idea was repeated again, in the same volume of the Millennial Star, in an editorial written on 1 August 1842 either by Parley P. Pratt or Thomas Ward:
Again, when we read the history of our beloved brother, Joseph Smith, and of the glorious ministry and message of the angel Nephi, which has finally opened a new dispensation to man, and commenced a revolution in the moral, civil, and religious government of the world... [7]
  • The Pearl of Great Price, published in England in 1851 (but not yet canonized), identified its source for the story as "Times & Seasons, vol. iii, p. 726, &c." On page 41 it is said,
He called me by name and said unto me, that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Nephi [8]
  • The Times and Seasons account was also inserted into the autobiography of the Prophet's mother (Lucy Mack Smith) by an editor in 1853. The Prophet's mother, therefore, did not make this statement (as some claim). The source is identified on page 81 as follows -- "Times and Seasons, vol. iii., p. 729. Supp. to Mil. Star, vol. xiv., p. 4." It reads:
He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Nephi [9]

However, on the bottom of page 79 of this autobiography (where the above quotation occurs) there is a note about the name "Nephi" and it says, "Moroni, see Doc & Cov. sec. L., par. 2; Elders' Journal, vol. i., pp. 28 and 129; History of Joseph Smith under year 1838; Deseret News, no. 10, vol. iii. O.P." The initials at the end probably stand for Orson Pratt -- who had the autobiography published in 1853.

A single error had a ripple effect through several published accounts of the vision

Thus, a single error in the Manuscript History had a ripple effect through several published accounts of the vision. These accounts are not independent 'proof' that Joseph was changing the story; they all depend upon a single initial error (which may have been caused by the 1838 or 1839 scribes). Most of these occurred in England. Click here to see a list of the later perpetuation of the same errors which refer to the works above. Later references to Moroni can be seen here.

History of the error in the Manuscript History

The Joseph Smith Papers project now allows us to examine the various drafts of the history. (In the transcriptions below, we have added bold type to help the reader pick out small differences between each version. It is clear, however, that the writer is simply copying from the previous manuscript(s)—these are not independently-dictated versions.

First Version [circa June 1839]

Note the footnote added by a later hand at "Nephi" to the circa June 1839 first version.
Some have attributed this footnote to B.H. Roberts. It reads: "Evidently a clerical error; see Book Doc & Cov., Sec 50, par 2; Sec 106, par 20; also Elder’s Journal Vol. 1, page 43. Should read Moroni."
His hands were naked and his arms also a little above the wrist[s added]. So also were his feet naked as were his legs a little above the ankles. His head and neck were also bare. I could discover that he had no other clothing on but this robe as it was open so that I could see into his bosom. Not only was his robe exceedingly white but his whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light, but not so very bright as immediately around his person. When I first looked upon him I was afraid, but the fear soon left me. He called me by name and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me and that his name was Nephi.[10]

There is a footnote made in a later hand calling attention to the error of Moroni (see graphics at right). This is a late addition, and not from Joseph Smith's era.

Draft #2 [circa June 1839]

His hands were naked and his arms also a little above the wrist. So also were his feet naked as were his legs a little above the ankles. His head and neck were also bare. I could discover that he had no other clothing on but this robe as it was open so that I could see into his bosom. Not only was his robe exceedingly white but his whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light, but not so very bright as immediately around his person. When I first looked upon him I was afraid, but the fear soon left me. He called me by name and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me and that his name was Nephi.[11]

The Joseph Smith Papers footnote reports:

A later redaction in an unidentified hand changed “Nephi” to “Moroni” and noted that the original attribution was a “clerical error.” Early sources often did not name the angelic visitor, but sources naming Moroni include Oliver Cowdery’s historical letter published in the April 1835 LDS Messenger and Advocate; an expanded version of a circa August 1830 revelation, as published in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants; and a JS editorial published in the Elders’ Journal in July 1838. The present history is the earliest extant source to name Nephi as the messenger, and subsequent publications based on this history perpetuated the attribution during JS’s lifetime.[12]

Draft #3 [circa 1841]

The Nephi error persists unchanged into the third draft.
His hands and arms were naked. alittle above the wrist. so also <were> his feet and legs alittle ab[o] ve the ancles; his head and neck were also bare. I could discover that he had no other clothing but the robe. as it was open so that I could see his bosom. Not only was his robe exceedingly white; but his whole per son was glorious beyond ◊discription. and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light but not so much so as immediately around his person When I first looked upon <him> it I was afraid; but the fear soon left me: calling me by name, <he> said. that he was a messenger. sent from the presence of God to me. and that his name was Nephi.[13]

The historical introduction notes that this and the following draft were prepared by Howard Corray:

In 1869 Coray signed a statement that was later attached to the paper wrapper that enclosed his two drafts: “These hundred pages of History were written by me, under Joseph the Prophet’s dictation. Dr Miller helped me a little in writing the same. (Historians office, 1869).”4 If by “dictation” Coray meant that he transcribed as JS spoke, it seems more likely to be a description of JS’s involvement in the history draft presented here than [an earlier, non-extant historical project]. In the latter project, according to Coray, JS only supplied materials and gave general instructions. If the statement was accurate in that sense, it suggests that JS read aloud from Draft 2 in the large manuscript volume, directing editorial changes as he read. Several passages of Draft 3 contain evidence of dictation, but the history itself includes no indication of who was dictating the text.

Thus, Joseph Smith may have read this text to Coray, and so some have suggested that Joseph should have corrected the error. However, given how nearly identical all versions of the history are in this section, and how closely they follow the previous drafts, it seems that Joseph did little, if any, editing on this aspect of the history. We do not not know if Joseph dictated this section to Coray, or if Coray simply copied it from the previous draft(s).

"Fair copy" draft [circa 1841]

His hands and arms were naked a little above the worist wrist, so also <were> his feet and leng legs were a little above the ancles. his head and neck were also bare. I could discover that he had no other clothing [on omitted]but the robe, as it was open— so that I could see his bosom. Not only was the robe exceedingly white, but his whole person was glorious beyond description; and his counte nance truly like lightning. The room was exee dingly light, but not so much so as immediately around his person. When I first looked upon him I was afraid, but the fear soon left me, <when>, calling me by name, he said, he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Nephi.[14]

(It is interesting that this copy restores some changes from draft #1 that were removed in drafts #2 and #3.)


Question: Are there sources which identify the angel that visited Joseph as "Moroni" that date prior to the "Nephi" error?

There are multiple independent sources which mention Moroni that pre-date the 1838/1839 error

In contrast to the single source error mentioned above, there are multiple independent sources (originating with Joseph Smith and both friendly and hostile individuals) which demonstrate that the identification of the angel as "Moroni" was well-known and pre-dated the 1838/39 error.

  • D&C 27:5 - 1830–1835
Behold this is wisdom in me: wherefore marvel not for the hour cometh that I will drink of the fruit of the vine with you on the earth, and with Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the book of Mormon, containing the fulness of my everlasting gospel [modern edition DC 27:5 [15]
  • Mormonism Unvailed - 1834, reprinted as History of Mormonism in 1840 [an anti-Mormon book]
After he had finished translating the Book of Mormon, he again buried up the plates in the side of a mountain, by command of the Lord; some time after this, he was going through a piece of woods, on a by-path, when he discovered an old man dressed in ordinary grey apparel...The Lord told him that the man he saw was MORONI, with the plates, and if he had given him the five coppers, he might have got his plates again. [16]
  • Messenger and Advocate - 1835
I have now given you a rehearsal of what was communicated to our brother, when he was directed to go and obtain the record of the Nephites…and I believe that the angel Moroni, whose words I have been rehearsing, who communicated the knowledge of the record of the Nephites, in this age, saw also, before he hid up the same unto the Lord, great and marvelous things, which were to transpire when the same should come forth. [17]
  • Elders' Journal - July 1838
For those holy men are angels now. And these are they, who make the fulness of times complete with us. And they who sin against this authority given to him ... sins not against him only, but against Moroni, who holds the keys of the stick of Ephraim. [18]
  • Elders' Journal - July 1838
How, and where did you obtain the book of Mormon?...Moroni, the person who deposited the plates, from whence the book of Mormon was translated, in a hill in Manchester, Ontario County, New York, being dead, and raised again therefrom, appeared unto me and told me where they were and gave me directions how to obtain them. I obtained them and the Urim and Thummim with them, by the means of which I translated the plates and thus came the book of Mormon. [19]
  • Joseph Smith public discourse - prior to 8 August 1839
...the angel flying through the midst of heaven Moroni delivered the Book of Mormon. [20]
  • Gospel Reflector - March 1841
The 1835 Oliver Cowdery letter identifying "the angel Moroni" as the revealer of the golden plates was reprinted.
[vol. 1, no. 6, March 1841, 161.]
  • Times and Seasons - April 1841
The 1835 Oliver Cowdery letter identifying "the angel Moroni" as the revealer of the golden plates was reprinted.
[vol. 2, no. 11, 1 April 1841, 363].
  • Times and Seasons - March 1843
“As the prophet observes, behold this is wisdom in me….‘Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the Book of Mormon….’ [TS 4/8 (1 Mar 1843): 122; also citing D&C 27:5 (50:2 in D&C 1835 edition).
  • Millennial Star -- July 1843
“As the prophet observes, behold this is wisdom in me….‘Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the Book of Mormon….’ [MS, "The Elias," 4/3 (July 1843): 43; reproduces TS 4/8 (1 Mar 1843): 122, which in turn cites D&C 50:2 (1835 edition), 27:5 (present edition): quotes 27:5-18]
  • Pamphlet - 1844
The 1835 Oliver Cowdery letter identifying "the angel Moroni" as the revealer of the golden plates was reprinted.
[Letters by Oliver Cowdery to W. W. Phelps on the Origin of the Book of Mormon (Liverpool: Thomas Ward and John Cairns, 1844), 31.]
  • D&C 128 (labeled 104 in 1844 edition) - 1844
And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed. (D&C 128:20).


Response to claim: 25, 492n17 (HB) 490n17 (PB) - "Obviously, if the angel in Smith's room spoke about Moroni, then he certainly could not have been Moroni"

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: Obviously, if the angel in Smith's room spoke about Moroni, then he certainly could not have been Moroni.

Author's sources:
  1. Jessee, vol. 1, 393.

FairMormon Response

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

The book is referring to Joseph's 1832 account, in which he states:

"an angel of the Lord came and stood before me and it was by night and he called me by name and he said the Lord had forgiven me my sins and he revealed unto me that in the Town of Manchester Ontario County N.Y. there was plates of gold upon which there was engravings which was engraven by Maroni & his fathers the servants of the living God in ancient days and deposited by the commandments of God and kept by the power thereof and that I should go and get them."

Note that Joseph is not citing Moroni's words—he is describing a summary of the event that happened. In other words, this passage does not indicate that Moroni referred to himself in the third person. The endnote states that Orson Pratt simply called Moroni "an Angel of God" in 1840, and that this somehow proves that the name "Moroni" was not known. However, the name "Moroni" was published in a number of sources prior to 1840, including the anti-Mormon work Mormonism Unvailed in 1834.


Response to claim: 26, 492n19-20 (HB) - Oliver Cowdery said that the First Vision took place in 1823 when Joseph was in his 17th year

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

Oliver Cowdery said that the First Vision took place in 1823 when Joseph was in his 17th year.

Author's sources:
  • Oliver Cowdery, "Letter III," Messenger and Advocate, December 1834, vol. 1, no. 3, 41-43.
  • Oliver Cowdery, "Letter IV," Messenger and Advocate, February 1835, vol. 1, no. 5, 77-80.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

This is nonsense. Oliver Cowdery's history of the Church began talking of the religious excitement leading up to the First Vision, but in the next installment, published two months later, Oliver advances Joseph's age from 14 to 17 and skips the First Vision. He instead describes the visit of the angel Moroni. Critics of the Church conflate the two installments to infer that the First Vision was of an angel.

This claim is also made in Becoming Gods, p. 34

Question: Did Oliver Cowdery state that Joseph did not know if a "supreme being" existed in 1823?

In the first installment of his history published in December 1834, Oliver established Joseph's age as 14 and very accurately described the religious excitement leading up to the First Vision

Oliver Cowdery began publishing a history of the Church in the Messenger and Advocate in December 1834 which is commonly misunderstood:

In 1834, Oliver Cowdery began publishing a history of the Church in installments in the pages of the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. The first installment talks of the religious excitement and events that ultimately led to Joseph Smith’s First Vision at age 14. However, in the subsequent installment published two months later, Oliver claims that he made a mistake, correcting Joseph’s age from 14 to 17 and failing to make any direct mention of the First Vision. Oliver instead tells the story of Moroni’s visit, thus making it appear that the religious excitement led to Moroni’s visit.

This curious account has been misunderstood by some to be evidence that the “first” vision that Joseph claimed was actually that of the angel Moroni and that Joseph invented the story of the First Vision of the Father and Son at a later time. However, Joseph wrote an account of his First Vision in 1832 in which he stated that he saw the Lord, and there is substantial evidence that Oliver had this document in his possession at the time that he wrote his history of the Church. This essay demonstrates the correlations between Joseph Smith’s 1832 First Vision account, Oliver’s 1834/1835 account, and Joseph’s 1835 journal entry on the same subject. It is clear that not only did Oliver have Joseph’s history in his possession but that he used Joseph’s 1832 account as a basis for his own account. This essay also shows that Oliver knew of the First Vision and attempted to obliquely refer to the event several times in his second installment before continuing with his narrative of Moroni’s visit.[21]

Two months later in the second installment published in February 1835, Oliver abruptly "corrects" Joseph's age from 14 to 17 years old, skips the First Vision and then proceeds instead to describe Moroni's visit

After spending the previous installment leading up to the First Vision, Oliver abruptly skips three years ahead and does not mention the vision directly. However, before describing Moroni's visit, Oliver even takes the time to minimize the importance of the religious excitement that he described in the previous installment, stating,

And it is only necessary for me to say, that while this excitement continued, he continued to call upon the Lord in secret for a full manifestation of divine approbation, and for, to him, the all important information, if a Supreme being did exist, to have an assurance that he was accepted of him.
Oliver Cowdery, Messenger and Advocate (February 1835)

The religious "excitement" that Oliver is describing is now portrayed as an event in the past, during which Joseph desired to know "if a Supreme being did exist"

Note carefully what Oliver is saying. The religious "excitement," and the event that Oliver described in the first installment when he said that Joseph was 14 years of age, was when Joseph was seeking a "full manifestation of divine approbation" with the desire to know "if a Supreme being did exist." Oliver then alludes to the First Vision in the past tense by saying,

This, most assuredly, was correct—it was right. The Lord has said, long since, and his word remains steadfast, that for him who knocks it shall be opened, & whosoever will, may come and partake of the waters of life freely.
Oliver Cowdery, Messenger and Advocate (February 1835)

Oliver is stating that something of significance happened in Joseph’s life prior to the events that Oliver would be describing next, and he assures the reader that “this, most assuredly, was correct.” Oliver then proceeds to describe Moroni's visit to Joseph at age 17.


Question: What criticisms are related to Oliver Cowdery's 1834-1835 history of the Church?

Critics of the Church conflate Oliver's first and second installments of his Church history in order to "prove" that Joseph was not aware that a "Supreme being" existed three years after he claimed to have had his first vision

When Oliver Cowdery published his version of the history of the Church in December 1834 and February 1835 he did not include a recital of the First Vision story - thus implying that it was not known among the Saints by that point in time. One critical website makes the following claim:

In the first history of Mormonism from 1835 written under Joseph Smith's direction, it says that the night of September 1823 Joseph Smith began praying in his bed to learn 'the all important information, if a Supreme being did exist, to have an assurance that he was accepted of him.' (LDS periodical Messenger and Advocate, Kirtland, Ohio, Feb. 1835). It makes no sense for him to ask if God existed, if Smith had already seen God face-to-face some three years earlier, and knew he existed.[22]

and

In Joseph Smith's 1835 published history of the church, he claimed that his first spiritual experience was in 1823 after a religious revival in Palmyra that same year. Smith testified that he prayed while in bed one night, to discover if God existed.

These claims, however, are false. Oliver's February 1835 installment did not describe Joseph's First Vision - it described Moroni's visit. It should also be noted that this was not "Joseph Smith's 1835 published history."

Only two years prior to Oliver's history, Joseph's 1832 account of the First Vision clearly establishes the date of both the first vision, and the vision of Moroni

Oliver Cowdery did, in fact, know about the First Vision when he recorded his version of the history of the Restoration—he had physical possession of the Prophet's 1832 history, which contains an account of the First Vision.

In October 1834 Cowdery announced in his newspaper that Joseph Smith would help with the history project but the Prophet himself noted that "no month ever found [him] more busily engaged than November." [23] In December 1834 President Smith was busy lecturing at the School of the Elders and acting as a trustee for the Kirtland High School and so during this month he sent Oliver a short letter to be included as part of the project, but also noted within it that he learned of his prominent role in the project, and its imminent appearance in the press, by reading Cowdery's periodical! [24]


Response to claim: 26, 492n21 (HB) - Joseph's brother William associated Moroni's visit with a revival

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

Joseph's brother William associated Moroni's visit with a revival

Author's sources:
  1. William Smith, William Smith on Mormonism cited in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, vol. 1, 494.

FairMormon Response

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

William Smith mixes up the events of the First Vision and Moroni's visit, well after Joseph had published his official account of these events. William even acknowledges that Joseph's published history is more accurate than his own recollection.

This claim is also made in Becoming Gods, p. 35

Question: Did William Smith claim that a religious revival led to the Joseph's "first vision" of an angel in 1823?

William Smith conflates Joseph's First Vision with Moroni's visit in his 1883 biography

William Smith does indeed say in his 1883 autobiography that during a period of religious revival (which he dates at 1822-1823) Joseph Smith prayed to the Lord to know "the path of obedience" and was in turn visited by an angel who told him that "none of the sects were right."[25]

William acknowledged that Joseph's own published history was more accurate than his own recollection

Critics of the Church who wish to use Williams statement to prove that the First Vision didn't happen in 1820 neglect to tell their audience members that directly after making this anomalous statement William adds that,

"A more elaborate and accurate description of [Joseph Smith's] vision, however, will be found in his own history"
(William B. Smith, William Smith on Mormonism [Lamoni, IA: Herald Steam Book and Job Office, 1883], 9).

This notation kicks the legs right out from underneath the stool that the critics are perched upon. William Smith identifies the Prophet's published history (the primary source of information) as being "more...accurate" than his own. This accurate version of events was canonized by the Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City three years before William Smith published his erroneous remarks.

William was drawing his own history from an inaccurate source: Oliver Cowdery's 1834 and 1835 history in the Messenger and Advocate

Why was William Smith's recital of historical events so far off the mark? The answer is simple. He was drawing information, at length, from an inaccurate secondary source. A comparison of texts reveals that William was just rephrasing the information found in Oliver Cowdery's deficient Church history articles which were printed in the Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate in 1834-35.[26] This is where William got the "1823" date from and the idea that an "angel" appeared during the Prophet's initial visitation.

During a speech that William gave in 1883, his memory of events was much more accurate

It should be noted that during the very same year that William published his autobiography (1883) he gave a speech wherein he discussed certain elements of Church history. This time he was not reworking published information for inclusion in another printed text - he was simply telling other people about incidents that he remembered. This time his recital was much closer to his brother's own account. William said on this occasion,

  • About 4 years after Joseph Smith Sr. went to Palmyra, New York (i.e., in 1820) Joseph Jr. became concerned about religion.
  • Joseph Jr. did not know which way to go; he desired guidance in this area.
  • Joseph Jr. wanted to be prepared for the next life; he wanted to know the "plan".
  • Joseph Jr. said that there was "a lack of wisdom".
  • At that time Mother Smith some of her children belonged to the Presbyterian church.
  • Joseph Jr. went into the "woods" to pray to the Lord for guidance.
  • A bright light appeared like the brightness of the sun.
  • Joseph Jr. received a "vision".
  • In the light Joseph Jr. saw "a personage".
  • "that [B]eing pointed him [i.e., Joseph] out as the messenger to go forth and declare [H]is truth to the world; for ‘They had all gone astray;’ ‘Every man was going his own way'".

(The Saints’ Herald, vol. 30, no. ----, 16 June 1883, 388).

When William Smith relied upon his own memory he got many aspects of the First Vision story correct. When he relied upon a faulty historical narrative he was dead wrong about the details. Critics should take William's advice and quit pointing to his statements as if they had some kind of important significance and turn instead to the Prophet's own published account because it is "more . . . accurate".


Response to claim: 27, 493n23 (HB) - George A. Smith merged the First Vision and Moroni's visit

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

George A. Smith merged the First Vision and Moroni's visit

Author's sources:
  1. George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses, vol. 12, 334. (November 15, 1863)

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 ignores clear evidence that George A. Smith was aware of the details of the First Vision, and the fact that the term "angel" could also be applied to Deity.

This claim is also made in Becoming Gods, p. 35

Question: Was George A. Smith unaware that the Father and Son appeared to Joseph Smith during the First Vision?

George A. Smith was aware that the Father and Son appeared prior to making his statements about an "angel" appearing

Apostle George A. Smith said on two separate occasions that Joseph Smith's First Vision was of an "angel"—not of the Father and the Son. However, the argument that George A. Smith was simply not aware of a Father-and-Son First Vision account when he made his "angel" statements is nonsense since it can be shown from a documentary standpoint that he did indeed have prior knowledge of such a thing. An argument of ignorance is also untenable in light of the fact that Brother Smith's close associates in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had published orthodox recitals of the First Vision on nine different occasions long BEFORE he made his verbal missteps at the pulpit: (Orson Pratt - 1840, 1850, 1851); (Orson Hyde - 1842); (John E. Page - 1844); (John Taylor - 1850); (Lorenzo Snow - 1850); (Franklin D. Richards - 1851, 1852).

Historic documents appear to verify the claim that on two different occasions George A. Smith spoke of an angel appearing during Joseph Smith's First Vision

This does not mean that Brother Smith was not aware of the Father and the Son appearing to the Prophet at the time that he made his anomalous remarks. The following timeline demonstrates that the Prophet's cousin was well aware of the official version of events. His out-of-place comments need to be evaluated from that perspective.

7 April 1854

Elder George A. Smith was appointed at General Conference to be the new Church Historian.

9 August 1855

Elder George A. Smith wrote to the editor of the Deseret News on 9 August 1855 and gave permission to publish a short Church history that was originally requested for inclusion in a non-Mormon publication, but which ultimately did not appear in print. When Elder Smith told the First Vision story in this history he said that Joseph Smith beheld "two glorious Beings" during the experience. The capitalization of the word "Beings" indicates that the two individuals were considered to be Deity. Elder Smith then went on to tell the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon which, he said, was instigated by an "angel" who was commissioned of God (Deseret News, vol. 5, no. 26, 5 September 1855, 2).

15 August 1855

The First Vision account as found in the Wentworth Letter (1 March 1842) was published in Salt Lake City in connection with the official History of the Church. This account speaks of "two glorious personages" and then later speaks of the single "angel" who was involved in revealing the existence of the Book of Mormon plates. Since Elder Smith was the Church Historian at this time he likely would have known about the content of this publication.[27]

6 August 1862

Elder George A. Smith's short Church history (see 9 August 1855 above) was reprinted on the pages of the Deseret News. In this First Vision account Elder Smith referred to "two glorious Beings" and then later spoke of the single "angel" who was involved in the coming forth of the Book of Mormon[28]

15 November 1864

In a discourse on historical matters, Elder George A. Smith quoted directly from the official First Vision account, which was first published in the Times and Seasons newspaper on 15 March 1842 and 1 April 1842. Elder Smith recited the line, “This is my Beloved Son, hear Him” – leaving no doubt that he knew the specific identities of the two "personages" who appeared to Joseph Smith during the First Vision event.[29]

15 November 1868

President George A. Smith (now a counselor in the First Presidency) accurately related many First Vision story elements - as published in the Church’s official history - but mistakenly mixed them together with several accurate angel Moroni story elements - as published in the Church’s official history. He said,

  • Joseph Smith was 14 or 15 years old
  • There was a revival involving Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists
  • There was a scramble after the revival to secure converts
  • Unpleasant feelings were the result
  • Joseph Smith had attended those meetings
  • Joseph Smith prayed because of James 1:5
  • The Lord sent an angel to Joseph Smith in answer to his prayer
  • Joseph Smith asked the angel which church was right and the angel said they were all wrong
  • The vision was repeated several times and Joseph Smith was commanded to tell his father about it
  • Joseph Smith’s father told him to observe the instructions that were given to him.[30]

20 June 1869

President George A. Smith mistakenly mixed together accurate First Vision story elements with accurate angel Moroni story elements. He said,

  • Some members of Joseph Smith’s family joined the Presbyterians
  • Joseph Smith reflected much on religion
  • Joseph Smith was astonished at the bad feelings manifested at the end of the reformation
  • Joseph Smith was led to pray because of James 1:5
  • Joseph Smith had a vision of a holy angel
  • Joseph Smith asked which of the denominations in the vicinity was right
  • Joseph Smith was told that they had all gone astray and wandered into darkness
  • Joseph Smith was instructed not to join any of them
  • Joseph Smith was told that God was about to restore the gospel in its simplicity and purity.[31]

1869

President George A. Smith published a small pamphlet which contained the Wentworth Letter account of the First Vision.[32]

20 November 1870

President George A. Smith accurately related several First Vision story elements at the pulpit. This time he did NOT mistakenly include any angel Moroni story elements in his narrative.

  • The Lord revealed Himself to Joseph Smith
  • Joseph Smith was puzzled by hearing learned men preach about different doctrines
  • Joseph Smith saw the learned men quarrel over converts
  • Joseph Smith prayed humbly, with faith, because of James 1:5
  • Joseph Smith asked the Lord which was the right way
  • The Lord showed Joseph Smith the right way.[33]

The timeline shows that George A. Smith was accurate in relating First Vision details when he had a physical text to read from

The pattern that can be seen in the timeline above is that George A. Smith was accurate in relating First Vision details when he had a physical text to read from or was formally writing down historical matters; he was accurate on many points when he was talking extemporaneously; he corrected himself after delivering erroneous verbal remarks.


Question: Is there anything wrong with early Church leaders using the term "angel" to refer to Jesus Christ?

The word translated "messenger" is the Hebrew mal'ak which can also be translated as "an angel"

What about the term "angel"? Is there anything wrong with Brigham Young or others using that term to refer to Jesus Christ? Malachi spoke of the Lord as the "messenger of the covenant whom ye delight in." (Mal.3:1) The word translated "messenger" is the Hebrew mal'ak which can also be translated as "an angel."[34] The Septugint of Isaiah 9:6, traditionally thought by Christians to refer to Christ speaks of the "messenger of great counsel." This term for Jesus was frequently used by early Christians. Eusebius stated that Christ "was the first and only begotten of God; the commander-in-chief of the spiritual and immortal host of heaven; the angel of mighty counsel; the agent of the ineffable purpose of the Father." [35] The Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah (an apocryphal work, thought to have been written before the fourth century states that when Christ descended to earth he "made himself like the angels of the air, that he was like one of them." [36] The Epistula Apostolorum (another important early Christian work, thought to have been written by 2nd Century Christians quotes the resurrected Jesus as saying,"I became like an angel to the angels...I myself was a servant for myself, and in the form of the image of an angel; so will I do after I have gone to my Father." [37] At least the use of the term "angel" in Christianity does not seem unknown.

Joseph Smith said that after his resurrection, Jesus Christ "appeared as an angel to His disciples."

How did Joseph Smith understand the term "angel"? One revelation calls Jesus Christ "the messenger of salvation" (D&C 93:8) Another states,"For in the Beginning was the Word, even the Son, who is made flesh, and sent unto us by the will of the Father." (JST John 1:16). The Father sends Jesus because he is the angel of salvation. Joseph Smith himself taught that angels of God are resurrected beings who have bodies of flesh and bone. [38] "Jesus Christ became a ministering spirit (while his body was lying in the supulchre) to the spirits in prison...After His resurrection He appeared as an angel to His disciples." [39] In Mormon theology the term "angel" has a unique doctrinal significance.

Since Joseph Smith frequently taught this doctrine, is it any wonder that those who knew him best (Brigham Young, Orson Pratt, Heber C. Kimball, George A. Smith, etc.), would frequently refer to the Lord's visit to Joseph Smith as the visit of an angel (i.e. a resurrected personage of flesh and bone)?


Response to claim: 27, 493n24 (HB) - Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph's mother, said that the First Vision was of the angel in 1823

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph's mother, said that the First Vision was of the angel in 1823.

Author's sources:
  1. Lucy Mack Smith, "Preliminary Manuscript" of Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for many Generations, cited in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, vol. 1, 289-291.

FairMormon Response

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

Lucy Mack Smith's 1831 letter does NOT say that her son's first heavenly visitation was from an angel: Her letter contains an easily recognizable First Vision storyline fragment.

Lucy and the angel This claim is also made in Becoming Gods, p. 35

Question: Did Joseph Smith's mother say that the First Vision was of an "angel"?

Lucy Mack Smith's 1831 letter does NOT say that her son's first heavenly visitation was from an angel: Her letter contains an easily recognizable First Vision storyline fragment

The Prophet's mother—Lucy Mack Smith—wrote a letter in 1831 which seems to indicate that her son's First Vision consisted of seeing an "angel" instead of Deity. Critics suggest that this demonstrates that the Prophet's story evolved over time and that his claim to have seen God was a relatively late addition to his story.

Lucy Mack Smith's 1831 letter does NOT say that her son's first heavenly visitation was from an angel. Her letter not only contains an easily recognizable First Vision storyline fragment, but also cites a text that refers directly to the First Vision experience. Lucy's intent was NOT to focus attention on the First Vision, but rather on the heavenly manifestation associated with the Book of Mormon. There is no evidence that the letter was hidden or "suppressed"—the first publications of it were all by LDS authors in works supportive of the Church.

The purpose of Lucy's letter is to introduce the Book of Mormon to her siblings

The full text of the letter in question (written on 6 January 1831 in Waterloo, New York to Lucy's siblings) can be found in Benjamin E. Rich, ed., Scrapbook of Mormon Literature (Chicago: Henry C. Etten and Co., 1913), 1:543–46.

Anyone who reads the full text of this letter will soon discover that its stated purpose is to introduce the Book of Mormon to Lucy's siblings, to prepare them to receive a copy of it when it was presented to them, to explain that the book represented the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, and to summarize how it came forth in their day. The letter says absolutely nothing about Joseph Smith's encounter with the Book of Mormon "angel" being his FIRST spiritual manifestation.

Lucy's letter closely paraphrases a section of the Articles and Covenants of the Church that is recognized by LDS scholars as the earliest published reference to the First Vision experience

Critics fail to mention that Lucy's 1831 letter not only contains a very distinct First Vision storyline theme ("the churches have all become corrupted...the Lord hath spoken it") but it also closely paraphrases a section of the Articles and Covenants of the Church that is recognized by LDS scholars as the earliest published reference to the First Vision experience. This material was recorded by April 1830 and is reproduced below:

  • D&C 20:5-8 (April 1830)
(verse 5) "After it was truly manifested unto this first elder [i.e., Joseph Smith] that he had received a remission of his sins, he was entangled again in the vanities of the world; (verse 6) But after repenting, and humbling himself sincerely, through faith, God ministered unto him by an holy angel, whose countenance was as lightning, and whose garments were pure and white above all other whiteness; (verse 7) And gave unto him commandments which inspired him; (verse 8) And gave him power from on high, by the means which were before prepared, to translate the Book of Mormon."(DC 20:5-8

Compare this with Mother Smith's letter:

  • LUCY'S LETTER (January 1831)

"Joseph, after repenting of his sins and humbling himself before God, was visited by an holy angel whose countenance was as lightning and whose garments were white above all whiteness, who gave unto him commandments which inspired him from on high; and who gave unto him, by the means of which was before prepared, that he should translate this book."

Compare both of the above sources with the Prophet's 1832 First Vision narrative:

  • FIRST VISION ACCOUNT (September-November 1832)

"I felt to mourn for my own sins....[The Lord said during the First Vision,] 'thy sins are forgiven thee'....after many days I fell into transgression and sinned in many things....I called again upon the Lord and he shewed unto me a heavenly vision for behold an angel of the Lord came and stood before me....the Lord had prepared spectacles for to read the Book therefore I commenced translating the characters."

Critics also fail to point out that almost exactly two months before Lucy Mack Smith wrote her letter, four LDS missionaries (Oliver Cowdery, Orson Pratt, Peter Whitmer Jr. and Ziba Peterson) were publicly teaching that Joseph Smith had seen God "personally" and had received a commission from Him to preach true religion.[40] It is specifically stated in the newspaper article that records this information that the missionaries made their comments about 1 November 1830 - shortly after the Church was formally organized. Some critics who do acknowledge this newspaper article attempt to dismiss it by calling it a "vague" reference, despite the clear wording that the missionaries taught that Joseph "had seen God frequently and personally."[41]

The Lucy Mack Smith letter was not even available for publication until just shortly before it appeared in print because it was in a descendant's possession

Although one critic of the Church indicates that the letter was “unpublished until 1906”,[42] he does not indicate where, or by whom. First published by Ben E. Rich, President of the Southern States Mission, the letter has been long available to interested students of LDS history.[43]

It should be noted that the Lucy Mack Smith letter was not even available for publication until just shortly before it appeared in print because it was in a descendant's possession. The introduction to the letter published in the Elders' Journal states: "The following very interesting and earnest gospel letter written by Lucy Mack Smith, mother of the Prophet Joseph, to her brother, Solomon Mack and his wife, was presented to President Joseph F. Smith a few weeks ago by Mrs. Candace Mack Barker, of Keene, N[ew] H[ampshire], a grand-daughter of Solomon Mack, to whom the letter is addressed. Mrs. Barker stated that it was her desire to place the letter in the hands of those who would appreciate its contents and preserve it as she felt it properly deserved."[44]


Response to claim: 27 (HB) - The author claims that Joseph engaged in "ritual magic and divination"

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that Joseph engaged in "ritual magic and divination."

Author's sources:
  1. No source provided.

FairMormon Response

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

The author is simply making this up.

Question: Were Joseph Smith's spiritual experiences originally products of magic and the occult?

Joseph's family believed in folk magic, and that Joseph himself used several different seer stones in order to locate lost objects

It is a known fact that Joseph's family believed in folk magic, and that Joseph himself used several different seer stones in order to locate lost objects.[45] Brant Gardner notes,

Young Joseph Smith was a member of a specialized sub-community with ties to these very old and very respected practices, though by the early 1800s they were respected only by a marginalized segment of society.

Joseph's family shared folk magic beliefs that were common to the day. Joseph's mother, Lucy, felt it important to note in her history that the family did not let these magical endeavors prevent the family from doing the necessary work to survive:

But let not my reader suppose that, because I shall pursue another topic for a season, that we stopped our labor and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing Magic circles or sooth saying to the neglect of all kinds of business. We never during our lives suffered one important interest to swallow up every other obligation. But, whilst we worked with our hands, we endeavored to remember the service of, and the welfare of our souls.[46]

Joseph's involvement with Josiah Stowell's attempt to locate a lost Spanish treasure is well documented in Church history

Stowell requested Joseph's assistance in a mining operation looking for old coins and precious metals. This effort, in fact, resulted in charges being brought against Joseph by Stowell's relatives for being a "glasslooker" in 1826. Joseph was ultimately charged with being a "disorderly person" and released. (For more detailed information, see: Joseph Smith's 1826 glasslooking trial)

Some, however, believe that all of Joseph's early spiritual experiences, particularly the First Vision and the visit of Moroni, were originally magical or occult experiences that were only later couched in spiritual terms. For example, the Hurlbut affidavits relate stories of Moroni's visit that cast the angel in the role of spiritual treasure guardian, with one (Willard Chase) even claiming that the angel appeared in the form of a toad.

D. Michael Quinn has been the most prolific author on the subject of "magic" influences on the origins of Mormonism. According to William Hamblin:

Quinn's overall thesis is that Joseph Smith and other early Latter-day Saint leaders were fundamentally influenced by occult and magical thought, books, and practices in the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is unmitigated nonsense. Yet the fact that Quinn could not discover a single primary source written by Latter-day Saints that makes any positive statement about magic is hardly dissuasive to a historian of Quinn's inventive capacity.[47]

Joseph Smith and his followers undoubtedly believed in supernatural power

Joseph Smith and his followers undoubtedly believed in supernatural power. And, they may have had some ideas about how to access that power that now strike us as inaccurate and even strange. This is not surprising, given the two centuries and massive scientific advances which separate our culture from theirs. However, there is no evidence that Joseph and others considered these things to be "magic," or the "occult," nor did they consider "magic" or the "occult" to be positive things.


Question: What is the distinction between belief in "folk magic" and a religious belief in the supernatural?

The use of the terms "magic" and "occult" are prejudicial, loaded terminology

When critics use the term "magic" or "occult," they are using prejudicial, loaded terminology. Used in a neutral sense, magic might mean only that a person believes in the supernatural, and believes that supernatural can be influenced for the believer's benefit.

However, critics are generally not clear about what definition of magic they are using, and how to distinguish a "magical" belief in the supernatural from a "religious" belief in the supernatural.[48] Scholars of magic and religion have, in fact, come to realize that defining "magic" is probably a hopeless task. John Gee noted:

Defining "magic" as "religious beliefs other than their own"

In 1990, Cambridge University published Stanley Tambiah's Magic, Science, Religion, and the Scope of Rationality, which showed that the definitions of many of the most important writers on "magic" were heavily influenced both by their backgrounds and their personal ideological agendas: they defined "magic" as religious beliefs other than their own. In 1992, the International Interdisciplinary Conference on Magic in the Ancient World failed to come to any agreement on what "magic" was. The plenary speaker, Jonathan Z. Smith, in particular voiced strong opinions:

I see little merit in continuing the use of the substantive term "magic" in second-order, theoretical, academic discourse. We have better and more precise scholarly taxa for each of the phenomena commonly denoted by "magic" which, among other benefits, create more useful categories for comparison. For any culture I am familiar with, we can trade places between the corpus of materials conventionally labeled "magical" and corpora designated by other generic terms (e.g., healing, divining, execrative) with no cognitive loss. Indeed, there would be a gain.[49]

The use of the term "magic" is a negative label for modern Christians

The use of the term "magic" imposes, especially for modern Christians, a negative label at the outset, which explains its popularity for critics. As Professor of Egyptology Robert K. Ritner explained:

Modern Western terms for 'magic' function primarily as designations for that which we as a society do not accept, and which has overtones of the supernatural or the demonic (but not of the divine). It is important to stress that this pejorative connotation has not been grafted onto the notion of magic as the result of any recent theoretical fancy but is inherent in Western terminology virtually from its beginning. It constitutes the essential core of the Western concept of magic.[50]

The Book of Mormon condemns "magic"

Moroni's visit was a turning point for Joseph, for it is important to note that the Book of Mormon itself condemns "magic" whenever it is mentioned:

And it came to pass that there were sorceries, and witchcrafts, and magics; and the power of the evil one was wrought upon all the face of the land, even unto the fulfilling of all the words of Abinadi, and also Samuel the Lamanite. Mormon 1:19

Regardless of Joseph's or his family's previous opinions regarding folk magic prior to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, they clearly always believed in and had faith in God. Joseph believed that instruments such as the Urim and Thummim and his seer stone were consecrated by God for their intended use.


Question: What were the attitudes of Joseph Smith and his contemporaries toward "magic"?

The attitudes of Joseph Smith and his contemporaries toward "magic" was always negative

In 1841, Wilford Woodruff recounted an episode of Church disciplinary action:

The President then brought up the case of a Br Moumford, who was holding the office of a Priest, from whome fellowship had been withdrawn by the council of officers in consequence of his practizing fortune Telling, Magic, Black art &c & called upon Elders Woodruff & Cordon to express their feelings upon the subject when Elder Woodruff arose, & spoke Briefly upon the subject, & informed the assembly that we had no such custom or practice in the Church, & that we should not fellowship any individual who Practiced Magic fortune Telling, Black art &c for it was not of God. When It was moved & carried by the whole church that fellowship be withdrawn from Br Moumford.[51]

And, most importantly, the Book of Mormon's treatment of "magic" or "sorcery" is always negative, which seems strange if (as we are asked to believe by the critics) Joseph Smith concocted it while at the same time embracing that same "magic."


Question: Did Joseph Smith and his contemporaries believe in supernatural entities with real power?

Every Christian, Jew, or Muslim who believes in God, angels, and divine power believes in supernatural entities with real power

So, did Joseph Smith and his contemporaries believe in supernatural entities with real power? Yes—and so does every Christian, Jew, or Muslim who believes in God, angels, and divine power to reveal, heal, etc. However, to label these beliefs as "magic" is to beg the question—to argue that Joseph believed in and sought help from powers besides God. Nobody disputes that Joseph and his family believed in the Bible, which condemns divination and witchcraft:

There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch. Deuteronomy 18:10

Joseph and his family viewed folk magic and the use of seer stones as not falling under Biblical condemnation

Therefore, Joseph and his family viewed folk magic and the use of seer stones as not falling under this Biblical condemnation. It is clear that Joseph and his contemporaries believed that one could gain knowledge from such activities as dowsing (using a rod to find water, ore, or buried treasure) and the use of the seer stones. This does not mean, however, that Joseph understood such activities to be a form of magic.

In Joseph's day, the power of (for example) dowsing was seen as a manifestation of "how the world worked." An article published in 1825 described how the downward bob of a divining rode "closely resembles the dip of the magnetic needle, when traversing a bed or ore."[52] A journal of science reported the idea that "the rod is influenced by ores."[53]

An early British dowser denounced the idea that dowsing for ore was based on magic. "it [the rod] guided mee to the Orifice of a lead mine. [The rod is] of kin to the Load-stone [magnet], drawing Iron to it by a secret vertue, inbred by nature, and not by any conjuration as some have fondly imagined."[54]

Using a divining rod was seen in these examples as a manifestation of natural law, and requiring the grace of God to operate

Thus, divining was seen in these examples as a manifestation of natural law. Just as one might use a compass or lode-stone to find true north, without understanding the principles or mathematics of magnetism which underlay it, so one could use dowsing as a tool, without understanding the principles by which it operated.

It is further clear that those who used divinization by rods, for example, believed that the rod's natural ability also required the grace of God to operate. Hence, practitioners would consecrate their rods, and pray to God to bless their efforts.[55] Of such matters, Oliver Cowdery was told in an early revelation, "without faith you can do nothing."[56] Like any natural ability, Joseph believed that the gift and tools of seership (in the broader sense) could be misused. As he told Brigham Young, "most...who do find [a seer stone] make an evil use of it."[57] And, Emma Smith's hostile brother Alvah would later remember that Joseph told him "that his gift in seeing with a [seer] stone and hat, was a gift from God."[58]


Response to claim: 28 (HB) - Joseph Smith was a "money digger"

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith was a "money digger"

Author's sources:
  1. No source provided.

FairMormon Response

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

Joseph may have continued to be involved in "money digging," however, the author wishes to emphasize this over any other labors that Joseph performed on the farm or for others.

Presentism This claim is also made in Becoming Gods, p. 24

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!" [59]

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)." [60]

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. [61]

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

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


Response to claim: 28 (HB) - Joseph used a "peep stone" to search for buried treasure

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

Joseph used a "peep stone" to search for buried treasure.

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

Joseph used several stones to locate lost objects, or search for treasure.


Question: How did Joseph Smith use his seer stones as a youth?

Joseph as the village seer: the use of the seer stone prior to the Restoration

Brant Gardner clarifies the role that Joseph and his stone played within the community of Palmyra,

Young Joseph Smith was a member of a specialized sub-community with ties to these very old and very respected practices, though by the early 1800s they were respected only by a marginalized segment of society. He exhibited a talent parallel to others in similar communities. Even in Palmyra he was not unique. In D. Michael Quinn's words: "Until the Book of Mormon thrust young Smith into prominence, Palmyra's most notable seer was Sally Chase, who used a greenish-colored stone. William Stafford also had a seer stone, and Joshua Stafford had a 'peepstone which looked like white marble and had a hole through the center.'" [9] Richard Bushman adds Chauncy Hart, and an unnamed man in Susquehanna County, both of whom had stones with which they found lost objects. [10] [62]

During his tenure as a "village seer," Joseph acquired several seer stones. Joseph first used a neighbor's seer stone (probably that belonging to Palmyra seer Sally Chase, on the balance of historical evidence, though there are other possibilities) to discover the location of a brown, baby's foot-shaped stone. The vision of this stone likely occurred in about 1819–1820, and he obtained his first seer stone in about 1821–1822.[63]

The second seer stone was reportedly found while digging a well on the property of William Chase in 1822

Joseph then used this first stone to find a second stone (a white one). The second seer stone was reportedly found on the property of William Chase in 1822 as Chase described it:

In the year 1822, I was engaged in digging a well. I employed Alvin and Joseph Smith to assist me.... After digging about twenty feet below the surface of the earth, we discovered a singularly appearing stone, which excited my curiosity. I brought it to the top of the well, and as we were examining it, Joseph put it into his hat, and then his face into the top of his hat.... The next morning he came to me, and wished to obtain the stone, alleging that he could see in it; but I told him I did not wish to part with it on account of its being a curiosity, but I would lend it.[64]

Joseph Smith locates a seer stone while digging a well. Image copyright (c) 2016 by Anthony Sweat.


Response to claim: 29, 494n30 (HB) - Joseph's father was a "firm believer" in witchcraft and the supernatural

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

Joseph's father was a "firm believer" in witchcraft and the supernatural.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

|authorsources=

  1. Fayette Lapham, "Interview with the Father of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, Forty Years Ago. His Account of the Finding of the Sacred Plates," Historical Magazine (May 1870) cited in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, vol. 1 458.

}}

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 claim is based upon a very questionable recollection of something that Fayette Lapham claimed in 1870 that he was told by Joseph Smith, Sr. forty years earlier.


Question: Was Joseph Smith, Sr. a believer in witchcraft and the supernatural?

This claim is based upon a very questionable recollection of something that Fayette Lapham claimed in 1870 that he was told by Joseph Smith, Sr. forty years earlier

Note that Lapham is describing a very distorted account of the visit of the Angel Moroni, and that he also erroneously states that Joseph Smith, Jr. joined the Baptist Church prior to the visit.

The following is from Fayette Lapham, "Interview with the Father of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, Forty Years Ago. His Account of the finding of the Sacred Plates," Historical Magazine, 7 May 1870: 305-309:

After this Joseph spent about two years looking into this stone, telling fortunes, where to find lost things, and where to dig for money and other hidden treasure. About this time he became concerned as to his future state of existence, and was baptized, becoming thus a member of the Baptist Church. Soon after joining the Church, he had a very singular dream; but he did not tell his father of his dream, until about a year afterwards. He then told his father that, in his dream, a very large and tall man appeared to him, dressed in an ancient suit of clothes, and the clothes were bloody. And the man said to him that there was a valuable treasure, buried many years since, and not far from that place, and that he had now arrived for it to be brought to light, for the benefit of the world at large...[65]


Response to claim: 29, 494-5n33-34 (HB) - Martin Harris said that Joseph was associated with a company of money diggers

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

Martin Harris said that Joseph was associated with a company of money diggers.

Author's sources:
  • Brooke, 362, endnote #2
  • Martin Harris, "Mormonism-No. II", Tiffany's Monthly, August 1859, vol. 5, 164.

FairMormon Response

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

Here's what Martin Harris said:

Joseph said the angel told him he must quit the company of the money-diggers. That there were wicked men among them. He must have no more to do with them. He must not lie, nor swear, nor steal. He told him to go and look in the spectacles, and he would show him the man that would assist him. That he did so, and he saw myself, Martin Harris, standing before him. That struck me with surprise. I told him I wished him to be very careful about these things. 'Well,' said he, 'I saw you standing before me as plainly as I do now.' I said, if it is the devil's work I will have nothing to do with it; but if it is the Lord's, you can have all the money necessary to bring it before the world. He said the angel told him, that the plates must be translated, printed and sent before the world. I said, Joseph, you know my doctrine, that cursed is every one that putteth his trust in man, and maketh flesh his arm; and we know that the devil is to have great power in the latter days to deceive if possible the very elect; and I don't know that you are one of the elect. Now you must not blame me for not taking your word. If the Lord will show me that it is his work, you can have all the money you want. "While at Mr. Smith's I hefted the plates, and I knew from the heft that they were lead or gold, and I knew that Joseph [ 169 ]had not credit enough to buy so much lead. I left Mr. Smith's about eleven o'clock and went home. I retired to my bedroom and prayed God to show me concerning these things, and I covenanted that if it was his work and he would show me so, I would put forth my best ability to bring it before the world. He then showed me that it was his work, and that it was designed to bring in the fullness of his gospel to the gentiles to fulfill his word, that the first shall be last and the last first. He showed this to me by the still small voice spoken in the soul. Then I was satisfied that it was the Lord's work, and I was under a covenant to bring it forth.[66]


Response to claim: 29, 495n36 (HB) - Joshua Stafford said that Joseph's family "told marvelous stories about ghosts, hob-goblins, caverns, and various other mysterious matters"

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

Joshua Stafford said that Joseph's family "told marvelous stories about ghosts, hob-goblins, caverns, and various other mysterious matters."

Author's sources:
  1. Joshua Stafford cited in Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 258. (Affidavits examined).

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

Joshua Stafford came up with these accusations several years after the Book of Mormon was published, and Joseph had publicly claimed to have seen an angel.


Question: What did Joshua Stafford claim about Joseph Smith in the Hurlbut affidavits?

Joshua Stafford claimed that the Smith family became "indolent" after "digging for hidden treasures"

  • Claimed that the Smith family became "indolent" after "digging for hidden treasures."
  • Claimed that the Smith family told stories of "ghosts, hob-goblins and caverns."

Response to claim: 30, 495n38 (HB) - William Stafford stated that Joseph used a seer stone to see "the spirits in whose charge these treasures were, clothed in ancient dress"

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

William Stafford stated that Joseph used a seer stone to see "the spirits in whose charge these treasures were, clothed in ancient dress"

Author's sources:
  1. William Stafford cited in Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 238. (Affidavits examined).

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

William Stafford came up with these accusations several years after the Book of Mormon was published, and Joseph had publicly claimed to have seen an angel.


Question: What did William Stafford claim about Joseph Smith in the Hurlbut affidavits?

William Stafford claimed that Joseph could see "spirits" guarding treasures

(uncle to C.R. Stafford)

  • Claimed that the family of Joseph Smith, Sr. devoted a "great part of their time" to "digging for money."
  • Claimed that he was told that Joseph Smith, Jr. could see "large caves" in "nearly all the hills in this part of New York."
  • Claimed that Joseph could see "spirits" guarding great treasures.
  • Claimed that Joseph Smith, Sr. told him that treasure could "sink" into the ground.
  • Claimed that Joseph Smith, Sr. took one of his sheep on the pretense of using it to search for money by cutting its throat.
  • Claimed that Joseph promised to show him the gold plates.

The claim that the Smiths were lazy is belied by objective financial data showing them to be more hard-working than most of their neighbors

The claim that the Smiths were lazy is belied by objective financial data showing them to be more hard-working than most of their neighbors. The attacks on their industry date from after they had become notorious for the Book of Mormon and the Church, and probably spring from religious hostility more than truth.

For a detailed response, see: Lazy Smiths?

William Stafford's story contradicts Peter Ingersoll's story

William Stafford's claim that Joseph promised to show him the gold plates directly contradicts Peter Ingersoll's claim that Joseph confided to him that there were no plates.

Stafford claimed that "The two Josephs and Hiram, promised to show me the plates, after the book of Mormon was translated. But, afterwards, they pretended to have received an express commandment, forbidding them to show the plates."[67]

Ingersol,on the other hand, said that Joseph confided to him that "he had no such book, and believed there never was any such book."[68]

Stafford's oldest son John: "I have heard that story [about the black sheep] but don't think my father was there at the time they say Smith got the sheep"

Stafford's oldest son John would later say "I have heard that story [about the black sheep] but don't think my father was there at the time they say Smith got the sheep. I don't know anything about it....They never stole one [a sheep], I am sure; they may have got one sometime....I don't think it [the story of the sheep] is true. I would have heard more about it, that is true." [69]


Response to claim: 30, 495n40 (HB) - Joseph Capron stated that Joseph encouraged others to participate in money digging in order to obtain wealth

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Capron stated that Joseph encouraged others to participate in money digging in order to obtain wealth.

Author's sources:
  1. Joseph Capron cited in Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 259. (Affidavits examined).

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 Capron came up with these accusations several years after the Book of Mormon was published, and Joseph had publicly claimed to have seen an angel.


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

Joseph Capron claimed that Joseph used his seer stone to locate "ghosts, infernal spirits, mountains of gold and silver, and many other invaluable treasures deposited in the earth"


Response to claim: 31, 495n42 (HB) - William Stafford stated that Joseph believed that the state of the moon determined the best time to obtain treasures

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

William Stafford stated that Joseph believed that the state of the moon determined the best time to obtain treasures.

Author's sources:
  1. William Stafford, cited in Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 238. (Affidavits examined).

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

Stafford's testimony was given on Dec. 8th, 1833—three years after the publication of the Book of Mormon.


Question: What did William Stafford claim about Joseph Smith in the Hurlbut affidavits?

William Stafford claimed that Joseph could see "spirits" guarding treasures

(uncle to C.R. Stafford)

  • Claimed that the family of Joseph Smith, Sr. devoted a "great part of their time" to "digging for money."
  • Claimed that he was told that Joseph Smith, Jr. could see "large caves" in "nearly all the hills in this part of New York."
  • Claimed that Joseph could see "spirits" guarding great treasures.
  • Claimed that Joseph Smith, Sr. told him that treasure could "sink" into the ground.
  • Claimed that Joseph Smith, Sr. took one of his sheep on the pretense of using it to search for money by cutting its throat.
  • Claimed that Joseph promised to show him the gold plates.

The claim that the Smiths were lazy is belied by objective financial data showing them to be more hard-working than most of their neighbors

The claim that the Smiths were lazy is belied by objective financial data showing them to be more hard-working than most of their neighbors. The attacks on their industry date from after they had become notorious for the Book of Mormon and the Church, and probably spring from religious hostility more than truth.

For a detailed response, see: Lazy Smiths?

William Stafford's story contradicts Peter Ingersoll's story

William Stafford's claim that Joseph promised to show him the gold plates directly contradicts Peter Ingersoll's claim that Joseph confided to him that there were no plates.

Stafford claimed that "The two Josephs and Hiram, promised to show me the plates, after the book of Mormon was translated. But, afterwards, they pretended to have received an express commandment, forbidding them to show the plates."[70]

Ingersol,on the other hand, said that Joseph confided to him that "he had no such book, and believed there never was any such book."[71]

Stafford's oldest son John: "I have heard that story [about the black sheep] but don't think my father was there at the time they say Smith got the sheep"

Stafford's oldest son John would later say "I have heard that story [about the black sheep] but don't think my father was there at the time they say Smith got the sheep. I don't know anything about it....They never stole one [a sheep], I am sure; they may have got one sometime....I don't think it [the story of the sheep] is true. I would have heard more about it, that is true." [72]


Response to claim: 33, 495n48 (HB) - Joshua Stafford said that Joseph showed him a piece of wood from a box of money that had "mysteriously moved back into the hill"

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

Joshua Stafford said that Joseph showed him a piece of wood from a box of money that had "mysteriously moved back into the hill."

Author's sources:
  1. Joshua Stafford, cited in Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 258. (Affidavits examined).

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

Stafford's testimony was given Nov. 15, 1833—three years after the publication of the Book of Mormon.


Question: What did Joshua Stafford claim about Joseph Smith in the Hurlbut affidavits?

Joshua Stafford claimed that the Smith family became "indolent" after "digging for hidden treasures"

  • Claimed that the Smith family became "indolent" after "digging for hidden treasures."
  • Claimed that the Smith family told stories of "ghosts, hob-goblins and caverns."

Response to claim: 36 (HB) - The author states that Joseph Smith adapted Masonic rituals for the temple endowment

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

The author states that Joseph Smith adapted Masonic rituals for the temple endowment.

Author's sources:
  1. No source provided.

FairMormon Response

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

If Joseph adapted Masonry for temple ritual, then why did he, as the author elsewhere claims, fill the Book of Mormon with anti-Masonic views? Are we to believe he was both pro- and -anti-Masonic?


Question: What criticisms are associated with the temple ritual and its relationship to Freemasonry?

Critics of the LDS Church often point to similarities between the rituals of Freemasonry and the LDS temple endowment

Critics of the LDS Church often point to similarities between the rituals of Freemasonry and the LDS temple endowment and claim that since Joseph Smith was initiated as a Freemason in Nauvoo, Illinois shortly before he introduced the full endowment to the Saints (as opposed to the partial endowment given in the Kirtland Temple), he must have incorporated elements of the Masonic rites into his own ceremony. Implicit in this charge is the idea that Joseph Smith's ritual was not revealed to him by God and thus not a legitimate restoration of ancient Israelite and early Christian ordinances.

It is worthwhile to note that these critics are also often critical of Freemasonry, and thus attempt guilt by association.

Some of the endowment was developed and introduced in the weeks following Joseph Smith's initiation as a Master Mason, but other elements were developed prior to his association with Freemasonry

While it is true that some of the endowment was developed and introduced in the weeks following Joseph Smith's initiation as a Master Mason. This oversimplifies the issue considerably. The endowment and other parts of LDS temple worship developed slowly over a period of years. It did not happen all at once. Joseph Smith's critics want to label him as an intellectual thief by claiming that he stole some of the ritual elements of Freemasonry in order to create the Nauvoo-era temple endowment ceremony. The greatest obstacles to this theory are the facts that

  1. Joseph Smith claimed direct revelation from God regarding the Nauvoo-era endowment,
  2. Joseph Smith knew a great deal about the Nauvoo-era endowment ceremony long before the Nauvoo period—and thus long before his entry into the Masonic fraternity, and
  3. the Nauvoo-era temple endowment ceremony has numerous exacting parallels to the initiation ceremonies of ancient Israelite and early Christian kings and priests—parallels which cannot be found among Freemasons.

Furthermore, Joseph's contemporaries saw the parallels to Masonry clearly, and yet no one charged him with pilfering.

In order to understand this issue, a few facts need to be understood:

  1. Joseph Smith, Jr. was initiated as a Freemason in Nauvoo, Illinois on the 15th and 16th of March 1842; his brother Hyrum and (possibly) his father Joseph Sr. were Masons before the Church's organization in April 1830.
  2. A few of the early leaders of the Church were Masons before the Church's organization while many others were initiated into the Masonic institution after the Prophet was in 1842.
  3. Masonry was a well-known social institution in mid-19th century America.
  4. There are similarities between the rituals of Freemasonry and those of the LDS Temple endowment. These similarities center around
  • the use of a ritual drama—the story of Hiram Abiff is used by the Masons, while the LDS endowment uses the story of Adam and Eve and the creation (the LDS versions have parallels to ancient Israelite temple worship).
  • some similar hand actions in the course of the rituals (the LDS versions having distinct parallels to ancient Israelite temple worship and early Christian usage).

Symbolist F. L. Brink suggested that Joseph Smith successfully provided an "innovative and intricate symbology" that suited well the psychic needs of his followers. [73]


Response to claim: 40 (HB) - Does the Book of Mormon denounce Freemasonry by condemning "secret combinations," "secret signs," and "secret oaths"?

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

Does the Book of Mormon denounce Freemasonry by condemning "secret combinations," "secret signs," and "secret oaths?"

Author's sources:
  1. Alma 37:30

FairMormon Response

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

If the Book of Mormon is so anti-Masonic, why did Joseph (as claimed above) then adapt Masonry for temple ritual? Are we to believe he was both pro- and -anti-Masonic?


Question: Are the Gadianton robbers in the Book of Mormon actually references to the anti-Masonic panic of Joseph Smith's era?

Joseph's contemporaries did not embrace the allegedly obvious link between the Book of Mormon and masonry

Some claim that the Gadianton robbers are thinly disguised references to the anti-Masonic panic of Joseph Smith's era. However, Joseph's contemporaries did not embrace the "obvious" link between the Book of Mormon and masonry. Proponents or opponents of Masonry simply tended to blame their opponents for Mormonism.

Given Joseph Smith's long family involvement with the institution of Freemasonry and the fact that he would, in 1842, become a Mason himself, it seems unlikely that anti-Masonry was the "environmental source" of the Gadianton robbers found in the Book of Mormon. The members of his day likewise had little enthusiasm for anti-Masonic sentiments.

Any similarities in language between some anti-Masonic agitators and the Book of Mormon are more plausibly explained by the fact that similar words can be—and were—used to describe a variety of different tactics and organizations.

The claim that "secret combinations" was always used to refer to Masons is clearly false.


Question: Does the Book of Mormon contain anti-Masonic language?

It would seem unlikely that Joseph would be using anti-Masonic language and terms, given his family's close connection and association with the institution of Freemasonry

Many have speculated that the supposed use of anti-Masonic language in the Book of Mormon is 'proof' of 19th century authorship. The authors of these speculations fail to take into account four critical issues which discredit the association between the Gadianton robbers of the Book of Mormon and the anti-Masonry of the opening decades of the 19th century [1826 through 1845].

Joseph Smith grew up with and was surrounded by Freemasons in his home. Both his father, Joseph Smith, Sr., and his elder brother Hyrum Smith were Masons in New York. It would seem unlikely that Joseph would be using anti-Masonic language and terms, given his family's close connection and association with the institution of Freemasonry.

Joseph Smith, Jr. became a Mason himself

In 1842, Joseph Smith, Jr., became a Mason. Had Joseph intended to tie the Gadianton robbers to the Freemasons, it seems most unlikely that only 12 years later he would then join the very group which the critics' theories require that he oppose so vehemently in the Book of Mormon.

To credit the critics' theories, wrote anti-Mormon Theodore Schroeder, we must accept that

when the Book of Mormon was finished, Smith's 'obsession' [with anti-Masonry] suddenly and permanently disappears without any other explanation, and Joseph Smith himself became a Mason, in spite of this anti-Masonic obsession.[74]

The Book of Mormon is a translation, and its phrasing may sometimes reflect the time and place in which it was translated

Any similarity between the language of the anti-Masonic movement and Joseph's translation can better be explained by Joseph using the language of his time and place rather than by a deliberate connection to anti-Masonry.[75]

The phrase "secret combination" was not used exclusively in a Masonic context in Joseph Smith's day

Some have claimed that the phrase "secret combination" was used exclusively in a Masonic context in Joseph Smith's day. This is simply not the case, however. In 1788, during the debates at New York's state convention to ratify the federal constitution, Alexander Hamilton stated:

In this, the few must yield to the many; or, in other words, the particular must be sacrificed to the general interest. If the members of Congress are too dependent on the state legislatures, they will be eternally forming secret combinations from local views.[76]

And, in 1826, Andrew Jackson complained about Henry Clay's "secrete [sic] combinations of base slander."[77] Jackson was a prominent and well-known Mason, and his presidency was rich fodder for those who feared a Masonic conspiracy. Yet, despite the critics' claims that "secret combination" must refer only to Masons, a prominent Mason here complains about an attack on him in exactly those terms.

Latter-day Saints saw the Book of Mormon's prophecies as fulfilled by the U.S. government

Furthermore, the Saints of the 19th century saw the Book of Mormon's prophecies of latter-day "secret combinations" fulfilled by the persecution which they received at the hands of American citizens and the U.S. government. They did not invoke the Masons, which suggests that those who knew Joseph Smith did not recognize anti-Masonic themes in the Book of Mormon.[78]

Notes

  1. JS, History, 1838–1856, vol. A-1, created 11 June 1839–24 Aug. 1843; handwriting of James Mulholland, Robert B. Thompson, William W. Phelps, and Willard Richards; 553 pages, plus 16 pages of addenda; CHL, p. 5; also reproduced in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:62.
  2. Orson Pratt to John Christensen, 11 March 1876, Orson Pratt Letterbook, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah; cited in Dean C. Jessee (editor), The Papers of Joseph Smith: Autobiographical and Historical Writings (Vol. 1 of 2) (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1989), 277n1. ISBN 0875791999 and Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:62n28.
  3. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 1:11–12, footnote 2. Volume 1 link
  4. Letter, Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith to John Taylor, 18 December 1877; cited in Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Papers of Joseph Smith: Autobiographical and Historical Writings (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), 1:277, nt. 1.
  5. Anon., "History of Joseph Smith (continued)," Times and Seasons 3 no. 12 (15 April 1842), 753. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.) [italics added]
  6. Anon., "History of Joseph Smith From the 'Times and Seasons'," Millennial Star 3 no. 4 (August 1842), 53. [italics added]
  7. Anon., ""The Millennial Star. August 1, 1842," Millennial Star 3 no. 4 (August 1842), 71. [italics added]
  8. Franklin D. Richards (publisher), The Pearl of Great Price, 1st edition (Liverpool: R. James, South Castle Street, 1851), 40–41. [italics added]
  9. Lucy [Mack] Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and his Progenitors for Many Generations, (London: Latter-Day Saints' Book Depot, 1853), 78–80. [italics added]
  10. JS, History, 1838–1856, vol. A-1, created 11 June 1839–24 Aug. 1843; handwriting of James Mulholland, Robert B. Thompson, William W. Phelps, and Willard Richards; 553 pages, plus 16 pages of addenda; CHL. See original here.
  11. JS, History, [ca. June 1839–ca. 1841]; handwriting of James Mulholland and Robert B. Thompson; sixty-one pages; in JS History, 1838–1856, vol. A-1, CHL. Includes redactions, use marks, and archival marking. See original here.
  12. JSP as above, footnote 18.
  13. JS, History, [ca. 1841], draft; handwriting of Howard Coray; 102 pages and one attached slip; CHL. See original here.
  14. JS, History, [ca. 1841], fair copy; handwriting of Howard Coray; 100 pages; CHL. See original here.
  15. Doctrine and Covenants 50:2 (1835 edition); received August 1830, written September 1830 (See History of the Church, 1:106, nt. 3).
  16. Eber Dudley Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, Ohio: Telegraph Press, 1834), 277. (emphasis in original)
  17. Oliver Cowdery, (April 1835) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1:112.
  18. David W. Patten, Elder's Journal 1:3 (July 1838):42 (see also Millennial Star 1:126). (italics added)
  19. Joseph Smith, Jr., Elders’ Journal 1:3 (July 1838): 42–43.
  20. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of Joseph Smith, 2nd Edition, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996), 13, cited in Willard Richards' Pocket Companion, prior to 8 August 1839.
  21. Roger Nicholson, "The Cowdery Conundrum: Oliver’s Aborted Attempt to Describe Joseph Smith’s First Vision in 1834 and 1835," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 8:27-44 (December 6, 2013).
  22. "The First Vision," mormonthink.com.
  23. 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), 2:170. Volume 2 link
  24. J. Christopher Conkling, A Joseph Smith Chronology (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1979), 68–69.
  25. William Smith, On Mormonism, 1883, Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:494–495.
  26. In the Messenger and Advocate, Oliver began describing the “excitement raised on the subject of religion” that occurred in Joseph Smith’s “15th year of his life.” (Oliver Cowdery, "LETTER III," Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1 no. 3 (Dec. 1834), 42.) In a subsequent issue however, Oliver declares his previous statement as having been “an error in the type—it should have been in the 17th,” and then proceeds to relate the story of Moroni’s visit in 1823. (Oliver Cowdery, "LETTER IV," Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1 no. 5 (Feb. 1835), 78.) It is apparent that Oliver was originally planning to describe the events of the First Vision, but then switched to a description of the visit of the angel Moroni instead.
  27. See Deseret News 5 no. 23 (15 August 1855), 1.
  28. Deseret News, vol. 12, no. 6, 6 August 1862, 2.
  29. George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses 11:2.
  30. George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses 12:334.
  31. George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses 13:77-78.
  32. George A. Smith, The Rise, Progress, and Travels of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Office, 1869), 37.
  33. George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses 13:293.
  34. James Strong, A Concise Dictionary of the Words In The Hebrew Bible With Their Renderings In the Authorized English Version (Nashville: Abingdon, 1890), 66.
  35. The History of the Church Book I:2 (3), in Eusebius: The History of the Church From Christ to Constantine, G.A. Williamson Translator (Penguine Books, 1986), 33-4.
  36. Martyrdom And Ascension of Isaiah 10:30-31, in James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha 2 Vols. (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1985), 2:174.
  37. Epistula Apostulorum 14, in Edgar Hennecke and Wilhelm Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha 2 Vols. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963), 1:199.
  38. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 162. "An angel has flesh and bones; we see not their glory." If Jesus comes as an angel he "will adapt himself to the language and capacity" of the individual.
  39. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 191. See also D&C 129.
  40. “Gold Bible, No. 4,” The Reflector (Palmyra, New York) 2, no. 13 (14 February 1831): {{{pages}}}. off-site
  41. For example, Richard Abanes, in his anti-Mormon work Becoming Gods, boldly declares in the main body of his text on page 34 that "[n]ot a single piece of published literature" mentions the First Vision, yet in an endnote at the back of the book on page 338 acknowledges this newspaper account. He attempts to dismiss this by claiming that the reference is "vague," yet acknowledges that "as early as 1831 Smith might have been starting to privately tell select persons that he had at some point seen God."
  42. Richard Abanes, Becoming Gods: A Closer Look at 21st-Century Mormonism (Harvest House Publishers: 2005). 32. ( Index of claims )
  43. Elders Journal 4 (1 November 1906): 60-62 [Southern States Mission, Chattanooga, Tenn.]. It was later published in Rich, Scrap Book of Mormon Literature, 2 volumes (Chicago: Henry C. Etten and Co., no date [Vogel suggests 1913]): 543-5; also by Francis Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America. The Book of Mormon, 2 Volumes, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Brigham Young University 1942; 1960), 1:66.
  44. Elders' Journal 4/3 (1 November 1906): 59
  45. Criticisms of Joseph's use of "folk magic" appear in the following publications: “The Book of Mormon and the Mormonites,” Athenaeum, Museum of Foreign Literature, Science and Art 42 (July 1841): 370–74. off-site; Henry Caswall, The Prophet of the Nineteenth Century, or, the Rise, Progress, and Present State of the Mormons, or Latter-Day Saints : To Which Is Appended an Analysis of the Book of Mormon (London: Printed for J. G. F. & J. Rivington, 1843), 28. off-site; John A. Clark, “Gleanings by the Way. No. VII,” Episcopal Recorder (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) 18, no. 25 (12 September 1840), ??. off-site; James H. Hunt, Mormonism: Embracing the Origin, Rise and Progress of the Sect (St. Louis: Ustick and Davies, 1844), n.p.. off-site; MormonThink.com website (as of 28 April 2012). Page: http://mormonthink.com/transbomweb.htm; La Roy Sunderland, “Mormonism,” Zion’s Watchman (New York) 3, no. 9 (3 March 1838): 34, citing Howe. off-site
  46. Luck Mack Smith, 1845 manuscript history transcribed without punctuation, in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:285.
  47. William J. Hamblin, "That Old Black Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 225–394. [{{{url}}} off-site]
  48. See discussions of this issue in: John Gee, "Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 185–224. [{{{url}}} off-site]; William J. Hamblin, "That Old Black Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 225–394. [{{{url}}} off-site]; William J. Hamblin, "That Old Black Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 225–394. [{{{url}}} off-site]
  49. John Gee, "Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 185–224. [{{{url}}} off-site]; citing Stanley J. Tambiah, Magic, Science, Religion, and the Scope of Rationality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) and Jonathan Z. Smith, "Trading Places," in Ancient Magic and Ritual Power, ed. Marvin Meyer and Paul Mirecki (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 16.
  50. Robert K. Ritner, "Egyptian Magic: Questions of Legitimacy, Religious Orthodoxy and Social Deviance," in Studies in Pharaonic Religion and Society in Honour of J. Gwyn Griffiths , ed. Alan B. Lloyd (London: Egypt Exploration Society, 1992), 190; cited in John Gee, "Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 185–224. [{{{url}}} off-site] (emphasis in original).
  51. Wilford Woodruff, Journal, 28 March 1841; also cited in Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 2:75. ISBN 0941214133.
  52. "The Divining Rod," The Worchester Magazine and Historical Journal (October 1825): 29; cited in 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), 66. Buy online
  53. "The Divining Rod," The American Journal of Science and Arts (October 1826): 204; cited in 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), 65–66.
  54. Gabriel Platts, A Discovery of Subterraneal Treasure (London: 1639), 11–13, emphasis added; cited in 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), 66. Buy online
  55. See discussion in 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), 140, 182–192.
  56. A Book of Commandments for the Government of the Church of Christ, Organized according to law, on the 6th of April, 1830 (Zion [Independence, Missouri]: W.W. Phelps and Co., 1833) 7:4.
  57. Joseph Smith, cited by Brigham Young, "History of Brigham Young," Millennial Star (20 February 1864), 118–119.; cited in 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), 184. Buy online
  58. "Mormonism," The Susquehanna Register, and Northern Pennsylvanian (Montrose, Pennsylvania) (1 May 1834): 1, column 4; cited in 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), 184. Buy online
  59. Palmyra Herald (24 July 1822); cited in Russell Anderson, "The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith," (2002 FAIR Conference presentation.) FairMormon link
  60. "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.
  61. Richard L. Bushman, "Joseph Smith Miscellany," (Mesa, Arizona: FAIR, 2005 FAIR Conference) FairMormon link
  62. Brant A. Gardner, Joseph the Seer—or Why Did He Translate With a Rock in His Hat?, 2009 FAIR Conference presentation. Gardner references [9] D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1987), 38. and [10] Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 70.
  63. 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), 200–215.
  64. Eber Dudley Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, Ohio: Telegraph Press, 1834), 241-242; cited in Richard Van Wagoner and Steven Walker, "Joseph Smith: 'The Gift of Seeing," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 no. 2 (Summer 1982), 48–68.
  65. Fayette Lapham, "Interview with the Father of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, Forty Years Ago. His Account of the finding of the Sacred Plates," Historical Magazine [second series] 7 May 1870: 305-309. Cited in "Joseph Smith, Sr., Interview with Fayette Lapham, 1830," Early Mormon Documents 1:458.
  66. "Mormonism—No. II," Tiffany's Monthly, 5(4), Joel Tiffany, ed., (August 1859) 163–170.
  67. "Testimony of William Stafford," Mormonism Unvailed, 240.
  68. "Testimony of William Stafford," Mormonism Unvailed, 236.
  69. William H. Kelly, "The Hill Cumorah, and the Book of Mormon," Saints' Herald 28 (1 June 1881): 167; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:121–122. The material removed by ellipses consists of questions being asked by the interviewer.
  70. "Testimony of William Stafford," Mormonism Unvailed, 240.
  71. "Testimony of William Stafford," Mormonism Unvailed, 236.
  72. William H. Kelly, "The Hill Cumorah, and the Book of Mormon," Saints' Herald 28 (1 June 1881): 167; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:121–122. The material removed by ellipses consists of questions being asked by the interviewer.
  73. T. L. Brink, "The Rise of Mormonism: A Case Study in the Symbology of Frontier America," International Journal of Symbology 6/3 (1975): 4; cited in Allen D. Roberts, "Where are the All-Seeing Eyes?," Sunstone 4 no. (Issue #15) (May 1979), 26. off-site off-site
  74. Theodore Schroeder, "Authorship of the Book of Mormon: Psychologic Tests of W. F. Prince Critically Reviewed," American Journal of Psychology 30 (January 1919): 70.
  75. Paul Mouritsen, "Secret Combinations and Flaxen Cords: Anti-Masonic Rhetoric and the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12/1 (2003): 64–77. off-site
  76. Jonathan Elliot, ed., The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, as Recommended by the General Convention at Philadelphia in 1787, Together with the Journal of the Federal Convention, Luther Martin's Letter, Yates's Minutes, Congressional Opinions, Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of '98-99 and other Illustrations of the Constitution, 2nd ed., vol. 2 (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1861), 318, emphasis added.
  77. Robert V. Remini, Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union (New York and London: Norton, 1991), 340; cited in Daniel C. Peterson, "Secret Combinations" Revisited," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1/1 (1992): 184–188.
  78. Daniel C. Peterson, "Notes on 'Gadianton Masonry'," in Ricks and Hamblin, eds., Warfare in the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990), 174–224.