Criticism of Mormonism/Books/The Changing World of Mormonism/Chapter 13

Table of Contents

Response to claims made in "Chapter 13: Changes in Joseph Smith's History"

A FairMormon Analysis of: Criticism of Mormonism/Books, a work by author: Jerald and Sandra Tanner
Claim Evaluation
The Changing World of Mormonism
Chart.changing.13.jpg

Response to claims made in The Changing World of Mormonism, "Chapter 13: Changes in Joseph Smith's History"

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Response to claim: 398 - Mormon leaders claim that "Joseph Smith's" 'History of the Church' is the "most accurate history in all the world"

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Mormon leaders claim that "Joseph Smith's" 'History of the Church' is the "most accurate history in all the world."

(Author's sources: Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 2, p.199)

FairMormon Response

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

Note that it is "most accurate" not because it is without human error or imperfection, but because it contains so many of the revelations of God to his people.



Quote mining analysis

The quote and its use by the critic(s):

List Actual quote Critical use

*

The most important history in the world is the history of our Church, and it is the most accurate history in all the world. It must be so. It is the most important to us because that history contains the hand dealings of God direct to us through revelation as it has come in the Doctrine and Covenants, in the Book of Mormon, and in any revelation that comes to us through the servants of the Lord for our guidance....

Therefore we should make these records accurate; we should be sure of the steps we take....

There will be other records, of course, because if we happen to make mistakes, there will be the record in heaven which is a perfect record. In our history, if there are mistakes, we can say as did Moroni in the Book of Mormon, "They are the mistakes of men."

Mormon leaders claim that "Joseph Smith's" 'History of the Church' is the "most accurate history in all the world."

Analysis

  • Note that it is "most accurate" not because it is without human error or imperfection, but because it contains so many of the revelations of God to his people.


Response to claim: 400-401 - The History of the Church was not written by Joseph Smith himself

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

The History of the Church was not written by Joseph Smith himself. Many instances in original documents which referred to Joseph in the third person were changed to first person to make it appear as if Joseph wrote them.

FairMormon Response

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

This technique of historical writing was standard for the time period. There was no secret that this is how it was done. The Tanners count on their audience not knowing this, and do not disclose it even though they cite an article which discusses it in detail (see BYU Studies (1971) on p. 405 below.



Question: Why is History of the Church written in first-person, as if Joseph Smith himself wrote it?

The common nineteenth-century format of writing was chosen by Joseph Smith, who directed his clerks to write a first person

Jessee described the differences between historical writing as practiced by a modern writer, and those practices in place in Joseph Smith's day:

Since none of the manuscript of the history is in Joseph Smith’s handwriting, and apparently not much of the text was actually dictated by him, why did those employed on the work write in first person, as though the Prophet himself were writing? That common nineteenth-century format was chosen by Joseph Smith, who directed his clerks to write a first person, daily narrative based upon diaries kept by himself and his clerks. In addition, since Joseph Smith’s diary did not provide an unbroken narrative of his life, the compilers of the history were to bridge gaps by using other sources (diaries, Church periodicals, minute and record books of Church and civic organizations, letters and documents kept on file, and news of current world happenings), changing indirect discourse to direct as if Joseph Smith had done the writing himself. Not uncommon according to the editorial practices of the day, this method of supplying missing detail had the effect of providing a smooth-flowing, connected narrative of events.

Many examples from other works of the period show that this was the historical standard of the time. Nineteenth-century American methods of historical writing and editing were very different from those of today. In 1837, for example, Jared Sparks—regarded as “the first great compiler of national records”—edited in twelve volumes the Writings of George Washington. When his work was later compared with original manuscripts, it was found that he had rewritten portions of letters, deleted or altered offensive passages, and changed irregularities in style and awkward modes of expression.

In his review of historical editing in the United States, Lyman E. Butterfield has noted that changing text and creating text faithful to the ideas of the writer were not uncommon in early years, and that seldom were original texts left to speak for themselves. [1] The History of the Church was written in the general literary and historical climate of its time.

New Testament parallels

Dean Jessee noted that this 19th century approach to historiography matches more ancient practices, such as those used by some Biblical authors:

New Testament writers apparently used a similar method in writing the Gospels. One Bible commentary records that Matthew and Luke borrowed from Mark (Interpreter’s Bible, 7:235–36) and omitted or altered what seemed to be critical of the Apostles. For example, Mark records that James and John came to the Savior and asked that he give them whatsoever they desired; whereupon, the Savior heard their plea that each might sit by his side when he came in glory. (Mark 10:35–37.) When Matthew recorded the event, he said that it was the mother of James and John who desired this privilege for her sons (Matt. 20:20–21.) This difference in recording the circumstances, presumably to place the Apostles in a better light, does not destroy the credibility of the Savior’s mission, nor may we believe that there was dishonesty in making the change.

Challenges with direct citation

Jessee cautions:

One of the challenges facing those who compiled the history was that of presenting the Prophet’s sermons and teachings. Since none of Joseph’s clerks had mastered shorthand during his lifetime, reports of what he said were made longhand. Many of these were smooth-flowing, well-connected summaries and were copied into the history almost as recorded. In some instances, however, it was necessary to reconstruct an address from brief notes and disconnected ideas. George A. Smith’s editorial work was careful, and when he was finished, each discourse was read to members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, some of whom had also heard the original address. Their input proved invaluable. These measures no doubt guaranteed the doctrinal accuracy of such reporting of Joseph Smith’s discourses, but the result obviously would not reflect his personality and speaking style as accurately as a verbatim report would have done.

An analysis of the History reveals those portions obtained from material written personally by Joseph Smith. These clearly reflect his loving and warm spirit. For example, the following is an entry from the History stemming from a portion of Joseph Smith’s 1835 diary written by himself:

“September 23. I was at home writing blessings for my most beloved brethren, but was hindered by a multitude of visitors. The Lord has blessed our souls this day, and may God grant to continue His mercies unto my house this night, for Christ’s sake. This day my soul has desired the salvation of Brother Ezra Thayer. Also Brother Noah Packard came to my house and loaned the committee one thousand dollars to assist building the house of the Lord. Oh! may God bless him a hundred fold, even of the things of the earth, for this righteous act. My heart is full of desire today, to be blessed of the God of Abraham with prosperity, until I shall be able to pay all my debts, for it is the delight of my soul to be honest. O Lord, that thou knowest right well. Help me, and I will give to the poor.” [2]


Response to claim: 403-404 - Much of the History of the Church was completed after Joseph Smith's death. This means that Joseph Smith's history is not "authentic"

The author(s) make(s) the following claim:

Much of the History of the Church was completed after Joseph Smith's death. This means that Joseph Smith's history is not "authentic."

(Author's sources:
  • Brigham Young University Studies, Summer 1971, pp.466, 469, 470, 472
  • Letter from George A. Smith to Woodruff, April 21, 1856, as cited in Brigham Young University Studies, Summer 1971, pp.470-72")

FairMormon Response

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

This technique of historical writing was standard for the time period. There was no secret that this is how it was done. The Tanners count on their audience not knowing this, and do not disclose it even though they cite an article which discusses it in detail (see BYU Studies (1971) on p. 405 below.



Question: Is History of the Church not accurate because Joseph Smith did not write it himself?

The content of the History of the Church is likely largely accurate

Dean C. Jessee noted:

The History will continue to be the most important source of information on the life of the Prophet and early Latter-day Saint history. Since the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve—some of whom were participants in the historical events—reviewed the history, it is reliable. It should be known that the revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants are also recorded in the History of the Church and most assuredly are true and reliable.

It is important to realize that the content of the History of the Church is likely largely accurate, though it can of course be supplemented with other material to expand or correct it. Areas which may be less accurate are the precise wording attributed to Joseph Smith, or the 'personality' of some of the entries, especially the later ones written after his death. Though the History of the Church speaks in the first person as if Joseph were writing, these words are put in his mouth by admirers, often after his martyrdom. Thus, small details of Joseph's "personality" in the History are less likely to be accurate.


Response to claim: 405 - The "Rocky Mountain prophecy" was added to the history of the Church sometime after the original was written

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

The "Rocky Mountain prophecy" was added to the history of the Church sometime after the original was written.

(Author's sources:
  • History of the Church 5:85
  • Joseph Smith's Manuscript History, Book D-1, page 1362
  • Brigham Young University Studies, Summer 1971, p.469
  • Davis Bitton, Joseph Smith in the Mormon Folk Memory, The John Whitmer address, delivered at the Second Annual Meeting of the John Whitmer Historical Association, Lamoni, Iowa, September 28, 1974, unpublished manuscript, p.16" [This article is now available in "Joseph Smith in the Mormon Folk Memory," in Restoration Studies, ed. Maurice L. Draper, vol. 1, (Independence, Missouri, 1980).])

FairMormon Response

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

None of these sources support the argument.



Joseph Smith's Rocky Mountain prophecy

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Response to claim: 408 - The angel that gave Joseph Smith the plates was originally identified as "Nephi" rather than "Moroni." History of the Church changed it to "Moroni"

The author(s) make(s) the following claim:

The angel that gave Joseph Smith the plates was originally identified as "Nephi" rather than "Moroni." History of the Church changed it to "Moroni."

(Author's sources:
  • Times and Seasons, vol. 3, p.753
  • History of the Church, vol. 1, p.11
  • Millennial Star, vol. 3, p.53
  • 1851 edition of the Pearl of Great Price)

FairMormon Response

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

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



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)[3]

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.[4]

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. [5]

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." [6]

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. [7]
  • 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 [8]
  • 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... [9]
  • 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 [10]
  • 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 [11]

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.[12]

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.[13]

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.[14]

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.[15]

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.[16]

(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 [17]
  • 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. [18]
  • 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. [19]
  • 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. [20]
  • 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. [21]
  • Joseph Smith public discourse - prior to 8 August 1839
...the angel flying through the midst of heaven Moroni delivered the Book of Mormon. [22]
  • 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: 415 - Most of Joseph Smith's history was written by his scribes and modified to read as if it were written in the first person, therefore this history must be a forgery

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Most of Joseph Smith's history was written by his scribes and modified to read as if it were written in the first person, therefore this history must be a forgery.

(Author's sources:
  • Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Winter 1972, p.76
  • Paul R. Cheesman, An Analysis Of The Kinderhook Plates, March, 1970, Brigham Young University Library.)

FairMormon Response

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

This technique of historical writing was standard for the time period. There was no secret that this is how it was done. The Tanners count on their audience not knowing this, and do not disclose it even though they cite an article which discusses it in detail (BYU Studies (1971).  Misrepresentation of source: The Dialogue (1972) article is a critical review of Fawn Brodie by Davis Bitton. Davis nowhere says that the History must be a forgery. By contrast, he writes:
There are in the Church archives hundreds of manuscripts by or about Joseph Smith which Brodie did not see and which are now generally available to scholars. In none that I have examined is there a hint that Smith thought of himself in any other terms except those manifest in his published writings--that he was a man called of God to lead a movement and start a church. When one has read through and noted carefully this vast miscellany of material, it becomes impossible to believe Brodie's original thesis. Joseph Smith played out his role not only before his wife and all his friends every minute of every day, of which we have record, beginning in 1829, but also in the few personal diaries which he wrote himself....
One reason that Brodie concluded that Joseph had veiled his personality behind a "perpetual flow of words" in his history may be that she assumed he had actually dictated most of it. We now know that large portions of that history were not dictated but were written by scribes and later transferred into the first person to read as though the words were Joseph's. That fact makes what few things Joseph Smith wrote himself of great significance. These confirm that during his most intimate personal moments he thought about the same things he spoke of publicly--his relationship to God and his calling as the religious leader of his people.
  • It is also unlikely in the extreme that Cheesman, a practicing Latter-day Saint, would accuse the History of being a forgery.



Question: Why is History of the Church written in first-person, as if Joseph Smith himself wrote it?

The common nineteenth-century format of writing was chosen by Joseph Smith, who directed his clerks to write a first person

Jessee described the differences between historical writing as practiced by a modern writer, and those practices in place in Joseph Smith's day:

Since none of the manuscript of the history is in Joseph Smith’s handwriting, and apparently not much of the text was actually dictated by him, why did those employed on the work write in first person, as though the Prophet himself were writing? That common nineteenth-century format was chosen by Joseph Smith, who directed his clerks to write a first person, daily narrative based upon diaries kept by himself and his clerks. In addition, since Joseph Smith’s diary did not provide an unbroken narrative of his life, the compilers of the history were to bridge gaps by using other sources (diaries, Church periodicals, minute and record books of Church and civic organizations, letters and documents kept on file, and news of current world happenings), changing indirect discourse to direct as if Joseph Smith had done the writing himself. Not uncommon according to the editorial practices of the day, this method of supplying missing detail had the effect of providing a smooth-flowing, connected narrative of events.

Many examples from other works of the period show that this was the historical standard of the time. Nineteenth-century American methods of historical writing and editing were very different from those of today. In 1837, for example, Jared Sparks—regarded as “the first great compiler of national records”—edited in twelve volumes the Writings of George Washington. When his work was later compared with original manuscripts, it was found that he had rewritten portions of letters, deleted or altered offensive passages, and changed irregularities in style and awkward modes of expression.

In his review of historical editing in the United States, Lyman E. Butterfield has noted that changing text and creating text faithful to the ideas of the writer were not uncommon in early years, and that seldom were original texts left to speak for themselves. [23] The History of the Church was written in the general literary and historical climate of its time.

New Testament parallels

Dean Jessee noted that this 19th century approach to historiography matches more ancient practices, such as those used by some Biblical authors:

New Testament writers apparently used a similar method in writing the Gospels. One Bible commentary records that Matthew and Luke borrowed from Mark (Interpreter’s Bible, 7:235–36) and omitted or altered what seemed to be critical of the Apostles. For example, Mark records that James and John came to the Savior and asked that he give them whatsoever they desired; whereupon, the Savior heard their plea that each might sit by his side when he came in glory. (Mark 10:35–37.) When Matthew recorded the event, he said that it was the mother of James and John who desired this privilege for her sons (Matt. 20:20–21.) This difference in recording the circumstances, presumably to place the Apostles in a better light, does not destroy the credibility of the Savior’s mission, nor may we believe that there was dishonesty in making the change.

Challenges with direct citation

Jessee cautions:

One of the challenges facing those who compiled the history was that of presenting the Prophet’s sermons and teachings. Since none of Joseph’s clerks had mastered shorthand during his lifetime, reports of what he said were made longhand. Many of these were smooth-flowing, well-connected summaries and were copied into the history almost as recorded. In some instances, however, it was necessary to reconstruct an address from brief notes and disconnected ideas. George A. Smith’s editorial work was careful, and when he was finished, each discourse was read to members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, some of whom had also heard the original address. Their input proved invaluable. These measures no doubt guaranteed the doctrinal accuracy of such reporting of Joseph Smith’s discourses, but the result obviously would not reflect his personality and speaking style as accurately as a verbatim report would have done.

An analysis of the History reveals those portions obtained from material written personally by Joseph Smith. These clearly reflect his loving and warm spirit. For example, the following is an entry from the History stemming from a portion of Joseph Smith’s 1835 diary written by himself:

“September 23. I was at home writing blessings for my most beloved brethren, but was hindered by a multitude of visitors. The Lord has blessed our souls this day, and may God grant to continue His mercies unto my house this night, for Christ’s sake. This day my soul has desired the salvation of Brother Ezra Thayer. Also Brother Noah Packard came to my house and loaned the committee one thousand dollars to assist building the house of the Lord. Oh! may God bless him a hundred fold, even of the things of the earth, for this righteous act. My heart is full of desire today, to be blessed of the God of Abraham with prosperity, until I shall be able to pay all my debts, for it is the delight of my soul to be honest. O Lord, that thou knowest right well. Help me, and I will give to the poor.” [24]

Notes

  1. L. H. Butterfield and Julian Boyd, Historical Editing in the United States (Worcester, Mass.: American Antiquarian Society, 1963), 19, 24–25.
  2. History of the Church, 2:281. Volume 2 link
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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
  6. 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.
  7. Anon., "History of Joseph Smith (continued)," Times and Seasons 3 no. 12 (15 April 1842), 753. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.) [italics added]
  8. Anon., "History of Joseph Smith From the 'Times and Seasons'," Millennial Star 3 no. 4 (August 1842), 53. [italics added]
  9. Anon., ""The Millennial Star. August 1, 1842," Millennial Star 3 no. 4 (August 1842), 71. [italics added]
  10. Franklin D. Richards (publisher), The Pearl of Great Price, 1st edition (Liverpool: R. James, South Castle Street, 1851), 40–41. [italics added]
  11. 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]
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. JSP as above, footnote 18.
  15. JS, History, [ca. 1841], draft; handwriting of Howard Coray; 102 pages and one attached slip; CHL. See original here.
  16. JS, History, [ca. 1841], fair copy; handwriting of Howard Coray; 100 pages; CHL. See original here.
  17. Doctrine and Covenants 50:2 (1835 edition); received August 1830, written September 1830 (See History of the Church, 1:106, nt. 3).
  18. Eber Dudley Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, Ohio: Telegraph Press, 1834), 277. (emphasis in original)
  19. Oliver Cowdery, (April 1835) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1:112.
  20. David W. Patten, Elder's Journal 1:3 (July 1838):42 (see also Millennial Star 1:126). (italics added)
  21. Joseph Smith, Jr., Elders’ Journal 1:3 (July 1838): 42–43.
  22. 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.
  23. L. H. Butterfield and Julian Boyd, Historical Editing in the United States (Worcester, Mass.: American Antiquarian Society, 1963), 19, 24–25.
  24. History of the Church, 2:281. Volume 2 link