Criticism of Mormonism/Websites/MormonThink/Lying for the Lord

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Response to MormonThink page "Lying for the Lord"

A FairMormon Analysis of: MormonThink, a work by author: Anonymous
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Response to claims made on MormonThink page "Lying for the Lord"

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Response to claim: "The official version of the First Vision by Joseph Smith....evolved after years of creative editing"

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

The official version of the First Vision by Joseph Smith, fashioned in 1838, nearly 20 years after the event, was unknown to church members until published in 1842. It evolved after years of creative editing.

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

There was no "creative editing." The different accounts of the vision are actually very consistent, with some accounts containing additional interesting details.


Gordon B. Hinckley (1984): "I am not worried that the Prophet Joseph Smith gave a number of versions of the first vision"

Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign (October 1984):

I am not worried that the Prophet Joseph Smith gave a number of versions of the first vision anymore than I am worried that there are four different writers of the gospels in the New Testament, each with his own perceptions, each telling the events to meet his own purpose for writing at the time. I am more concerned with the fact that God has revealed in this dispensation a great and marvelous and beautiful plan that motivates men and women to love their Creator and their Redeemer, to appreciate and serve one another, to walk in faith on the road that leads to immortality and eternal life.[1]


Gospel Topics: "The various accounts of the First Vision tell a consistent story, though naturally they differ in emphasis and detail"

Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

The various accounts of the First Vision tell a consistent story, though naturally they differ in emphasis and detail. Historians expect that when an individual retells an experience in multiple settings to different audiences over many years, each account will emphasize various aspects of the experience and contain unique details. Indeed, differences similar to those in the First Vision accounts exist in the multiple scriptural accounts of Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus and the Apostles’ experience on the Mount of Transfiguration.3 Yet despite the differences, a basic consistency remains across all the accounts of the First Vision. Some have mistakenly argued that any variation in the retelling of the story is evidence of fabrication. To the contrary, the rich historical record enables us to learn more about this remarkable event than we could if it were less well documented. [2]—(Click here to continue)


Seminary Manual (2013): "Joseph Smith emphasized different aspects of his vision in his multiple accounts"

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual (2013), LESSON 6: Joseph Smith—History 1:1–20:

Just as Joseph Smith emphasized different aspects of his vision in his multiple accounts, the Apostle Paul emphasized different aspects of his vision of the Savior to different audiences (see Acts 9:1–9; Acts 22:5–11; Acts 26:12–20). Why do you think Joseph Smith and Paul emphasized different things each time they related the accounts of their visions? [3]


Backman (1985): "On at least four different occasions, Joseph Smith either wrote or dictated to scribes accounts of his sacred experience of 1820"

Milton V. Backman, Ensign (January 1985):

On at least four different occasions, Joseph Smith either wrote or dictated to scribes accounts of his sacred experience of 1820. Possibly he penned or dictated other histories of the First Vision; if so, they have not been located. The four surviving recitals of this theophany were prepared or rendered through different scribes, at different times, from a different perspective, for different purposes and to different audiences.1 It is not surprising, therefore, that each of them emphasizes different aspects of his experience.[4]


Allen (1970): "the Prophet described his experience to friends and acquaintances at least as early as 1831-32...he continued to do so in varying detail until the year of his death"

James B. Allen, Improvement Era (April 1970):

Nevertheless, it can now be demonstrated that the Prophet described his experience to friends and acquaintances at least as early as 1831-32, and that he continued to do so in varying detail until the year of his death, 1844. We presently know of at least eight contemporary documents that were written during his lifetime.[5]


Neuenschwander (2009): "Joseph's vision was at first an intensely personal experience...it became the founding revelation of the Restoration"

Dennis B. Neuenschwander, Ensign (January 2009):

Joseph's vision was at first an intensely personal experience—an answer to a specific question. Over time, however, illuminated by additional experience and instruction, it became the founding revelation of the Restoration. [6]


Prothero (2003): "in the 1832 version, Jesus appears to Smith alone, and does all the talking himself. Such complaints, however, are much ado about relatively nothing"

Stephen Prothero, American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon (2003):

Critics of Mormonism have delighted in the discrepancies between the canonical [1838 PGP] account and earlier renditions, especially one written in Smith's own hand in 1832. For example, in the 1832 version, Jesus appears to Smith alone, and does all the talking himself. Such complaints, however, are much ado about relatively nothing. Any good lawyer (or historian) would expect to find contradictions or competing narratives written down years apart and decades after the event. And despite the contradictions, key elements abide. In each case, Jesus appears to Smith in a vision. In each case, Smith is blessed with a revelation. In each case, God tells him to remain aloof from all Christian denominations, as something better is in store.[7]


Response to claim: "Moroni is pictured floating above Joseph or next to his bed, alone in his bedroom"

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

Moroni is pictured floating above Joseph or next to his bed, alone in his bedroom

FairMormon Response

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

Different artists have portray Moroni's visit in a variety of ways. Even South Park portrays Joseph alone in his bedroom during Moroni' visit.


Question: Why does Church artwork portray Joseph as being alone during Moroni's visit?

Some Church artwork does indeed portray Joseph as being alone, and some shows his siblings

Some Church artwork does indeed portray Joseph as being alone—this is simply an artistic interpretation. The August 2009 Ensign, page 54, however, shows a painting of Joseph sitting up in his bed looking at Moroni. Next to Joseph one can clearly see three of his siblings in the same bed...sound asleep. (May be viewed here: "He Called Me By Name," Artwork by Liz Lemon Swindle)

However, for those who criticize the Church for not showing Joseph's siblings in the room in every single painting of the event, we offer this: The television show South Park episode "All About Mormons" demonstrated Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon using a stone in a hat, yet even they didn't portray the detail of Joseph's siblings being in the room during Moroni's visit:

Image from the South Park episode "All About Mormons"


Question: Why didn't Joseph's siblings wake up during Moroni's visit?

God had the power to prevent Joseph's siblings from waking up during Moroni's visit

It is claimed that when Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith in his room on September 21, 1823, his siblings who were sleeping in the same room should have woken up. One critical website states,

"Now the big question is when Moroni came and spoke with Joseph in the night of September 21, 1823, why didn't this wake up Joseph's brothers who were sleeping in the very same room with him?"

Genesis tells us that God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam

Let's start with the basics. Genesis 2:21 tells us,

And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;

What if we were to state,

"Now the big question is that when the Lord God removed one of Adam's ribs, why didn't he wake up?"

It is perfectly reasonable to assume that God simply kept them asleep

For anyone who believes that for God nothing is impossible, the question is simple to answer. Why, then, must we insist that Joseph's brother's should have been awakened? Why is it unreasonable to assume that God simply kept them asleep? Recall that Joseph was useless the next day on the farm. He was exhausted and totally drained from the experience. The family was very very poor, and they could not afford to take a day off of work. Had the other boys woken up with Joseph every time, they too would have been useless, and the farm would have suffered as a result. The animals wouldn't be fed, the cows wouldn't be milked, the crops wouldn't have been tended too. That would have created some severe problems for an already poverty stricken family.

Van Wagoner and Walker argue that it is possible Joseph saw Moroni in vision through his seer stone. In response, Mark Ashurst-McGee noted:

"This argument falls short theoretically. For those who do not believe in Joseph's visions, there was nothing to wake anyone anyway. For those who do believe in Joseph's visions, the argument sounds theologically naive. Could not Moroni manifest himself to Joseph only? None of Paul's companions on the road to Damascus saw the resurrected Christ. A vision needs only to hold the attention of the visionary. Joseph's brothers can sleep in peace." [8]

The entire argument that Joseph's siblings should have awoken seems to strain to find fault, and it is clearly refuted by the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and artwork presented by the Church itself.


Mark Ashurst-McGee: "This argument falls short theoretically. For those who do not believe in Joseph's visions, there was nothing to wake anyone anyway"

Mark Ashurst-McGee:

This argument falls short theoretically. For those who do not believe in Joseph's visions, there was nothing to wake anyone anyway. For those who do believe in Joseph's visions, the argument sounds theologically naive. Could not Moroni manifest himself to Joseph only? None of Paul's companions on the road to Damascus saw the resurrected Christ. A vision needs only to hold the attention of the visionary. Joseph's brothers can sleep in peace.

—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), 293.


Question: Why didn't Joseph say that his family didn't wake up during Moroni's visit?

The fact that Joseph's siblings did not wake up wasn't important to Joseph's narrative.

One critical web site responds to the idea that God could keep Joseph's siblings from waking up by stating that "[t]here has never been anything recorded by Joseph Smith that the all-powerful creator used his powers to keep ten people from waking up during the night of September 21, 1823."[9]

Why should Joseph Smith have recorded this mundane fact? Even the writer of the paragraph acknowledges that most people don't even think about it. Why should Joseph Smith have thought to mention it? Joseph didn't mention if he had short or long hair in his account, but we do not assume his head was shaved bald.


Question: Has God used his power to enforce sleep on other occasions?

The scriptures record a number of instances in which God caused others not to perceive what was happening around them

One critical website claims that there "no precedent for our Heavenly Father using his divine powers to keep people from waking up during spectacular events."[10]

This is simply incorrect. Just a few examples from the Bible:

  • Jesus sleeping in the boat during a storm
  • Paul's companions not hearing or seeing Jesus appear to Paul
  • Stephen's vision while being stoned
  • The hosts of angels that Elijah couldn't see before him
  • The angel that freed the apostles in prison
  • Adam sleeping through his rib being removed
  • The Lord calling to Samuel and Eli sleeping through it

We also have this from the Book of Mormon (Mosiah 24:19),

And in the morning the Lord caused a deep sleep to come upon the Lamanites, yea, and all their task-masters were in a profound sleep.

The assertion that there is "no precedent" for using "divine power" to keep people from waking up is simply a bad argument.

God altering people's consciousness?

Now the critical website gets to the real point of this entire argument. The claim is presented that, "If God would actually use his powers to alter people's consciousness then how could anyone really ever trust their senses?" In other words, the entire argument is simply a setup to prove that you can't trust visions. Joseph's experience with Moroni is then characterized as "dream or a hallucination," or even a "inspired fantasy."

This entire hypothesis is based on their premature conclusion that there is no way Joseph's brothers could have slept through the experience.


Response to claim: "The LDS Church permits members and others to believe that the History of the Church was written by Joseph Smith"

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

The LDS Church permits members and others to believe that the History of the Church was written by Joseph Smith

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

Much of the History of the Church was written after Joseph's death in the first person, as if Joseph had written it. This was the accepted historical style of the time - there was no nefarious intent behind it.


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. [11] 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.” [12]


Question: Who is the author of History of the Church?

The History of the Church, though credited to Joseph Smith, was not actually authored by him

Dean C. Jessee wrote of this question [13]:

The History of the Church, which bears Joseph Smith’s name, was begun under his dictation and direction and completed after his death according to his instructions. The original sources used to compile the History were the Prophet’s own diaries, correspondence, and other documents. Those who may feel that the work is not a fundamental historical source because the Prophet did not personally write much of it are in error. The History, with its priceless collection of primary documents, remains the most important source of historical information on the life of Joseph Smith and early Latter-day Saint history.

The work presents the teachings and activities of the Prophet with a remarkable degree of accuracy. A look at how it was produced, and at the concepts that governed historical writing at that time, helps tell us the nature of the history.

Production of the history

Continued Jessee:

Among the difficulties encountered by Joseph Smith was his own lack of formal literary education. He wrote that it took the exertions of all his father’s family to sustain themselves, “therefore we were deprived of the benefit of an education. … I was merely instructed in reading, writing and the ground rules of arithmetic, which constituted my whole literary acquirements.” [14] Throughout his life the Prophet seemed to be concerned with his lack of literary training. In his extant correspondence he refers to his “lack of fluency in address,” his limited “ability in conveying my ideas in writing,” and “the imperfections of my writing.” [15]

The Prophet thus relied on others to write for him. More than two dozen clerks are known to have assisted him in a secretarial capacity. Of these, nine left the Church (typical of the challenges of those years), and four others died while engaged in important writing assignments.

A major inhibition of efforts to keep a record was the persecution the Prophet and the Church experienced. During the years in which the history was being written, the Latter-day Saints moved or were driven across two-thirds of the North American continent. Such unstable conditions resulted in the loss of some records and affected the accuracy of many of those that were preserved. In addition, the Prophet endured lawsuits and repeated arrests that took his attention from the history.

When Willard Richards took over the duties of Church historian in December 1842, a mere 157 pages of a work that eventually numbered 2,000 pages had been written.

On 1 March 1842, publication of the history in serial form commenced in the Nauvoo newspaper Times and Seasons. By 27 June 1844, the date of Joseph Smith’s death, the manuscript had been completed only to 5 August 1838 and published to December 1831. However, important source material had been preserved for completing the history. Shortly before his death, the Prophet wrote: “For the last three years I have a record of all my acts and proceedings, for I have kept several good, faithful, and efficient clerks in constant employ: they have accompanied me everywhere, and carefully kept my history, and they have written down what I have done, where I have been, and what I have said.” [16] Some have indicated that, prior to his death, the Prophet reviewed most of what his clerks had written.

While in Carthage Jail shortly before his death, Joseph Smith instructed the Church historian, Willard Richards, who was there with him, to continue the history. [17] This Elder Richards did, and for the next decade he was the custodian of the records and the architect of the history. After Joseph Smith’s death, work on the history continued, even as the Saints prepared to leave Nauvoo for the Rocky Mountains. With the addition of 674 pages to the manuscript, nearly as much work was done on the history in the period between the Prophet’s death and the departure of the Saints from Nauvoo as had been done in the preceding years.

At the time the records of the Church were packed at Nauvoo for the journey west in February 1846, Willard Richards had compiled the history to 1 March 1843. But in the disruptive years that followed, he was never able to complete that work. After Brother Richards’s death in 1854, George A. Smith and Wilford Woodruff continued work on the history. To assure accuracy, every effort was made to collect information. Late in 1845, for instance, an epistle to the Saints urged all who knew of “any fact, circumstance, incident, event, or transaction” that should be in the history to please report it. [18]

Finally, in August 1856, eighteen years after the history was begun, the work was completed to the death of Joseph Smith. The entire manuscript had been read in the hearing of the First Presidency and other witnesses for a general appraisal.


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: "The famous Rocky Mountain Prophecy....was a later addition to the official church history and not predicted by Joseph Smith"

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

The famous Rocky Mountain Prophecy (the prediction that Salt Lake would be the place the saints would settle after leaving Nauvoo, Illinois) was a later addition to the official church history and not predicted by Joseph Smith.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

This is incorrect.


Question: Did Joseph Smith make "forged predictions" and add them retroactively to the history of the Church that a "mighty people" that would dwell "in the midst of the Rocky Mountains"?

To accept a "forgery" theory, we must accept that all of the people listed who remembered Joseph speaking about the Rocky Mountains were lying or fabricating their experience

Furthermore, we must also accept that Joseph was sending explorers to the west with no real expectation of moving, and the discussion of heading west by both members and enemies was all idle talk.

Furthermore, the mention of moving to the west is often incidental—Church leaders mention the matter as if many of their hearers from Nauvoo would recall it. No great effort is made to establish the truth of the matter; it is presumed to be too obvious to require much demonstration.

The source of the prophecy account

The prophecy source is the biography of Anson Call, in August 1842. The relevant section reads as follows:

"A block schoolhouse had been prepared with shade in front, under which was a barrel of ice water. Judge Adams, the highest Masonic authority in the State of Illinois, had been sent there to organize this lodge. He, Hyrum Smith and J. C. Bennett, being high Masons, went into the house to perform some ceremonies which the others were not entitled to witness. These, including Joseph Smith, remained under the bowery. Joseph as he was tasting the cold water, warned the brethren not to be too free with it. With the tumbler still in his hand, he prophesied that the Saints would yet go to the Rocky Mountains, and said he, 'This water tastes much like that of the crystal streams that are running from the snow-capped mountains. I had before seen him in a vision, and now saw, while he was talking, his countenance change to white, not the deadly white of a bloodless face, but a living, brilliant white. He seemed absorbed in gazing upon something at a great distance and said, "I am gazing upon the valleys of those mountains."

I had before seen him [Joseph Smith] in a vision [i.e., while seeing or reporting a divine vision or revelation], and now saw while he was talking his countenance change to white; not the deadly white of a bloodless face, but a living brilliant white. He seemed absorbed in gazing at something at a great distance, and said: "I am gazing upon the valleys of those mountains." This was followed by a vivid description of the scenery of these mountains, as I have since become acquainted with it. Pointing to Shadrach Roundy and others, he said: "There are some men here who shall do a great work in that land." Pointing to me, he said, "There is Anson, he shall go and shall assist in building up cities from one end of the country to the other, and you, rather extending the idea to all those he had spoken of, shall perform as great a work as has been done by man, so that the nations of the earth shall be astonished, and many of them will be gathered in that land and assist in building cities and temples, and Israel shall be made to rejoice."

It is impossible to represent in words this scene which is still vivid in my mind, of the grandeur of Joseph's appearance, his beautiful descriptions of this land, and his wonderful prophetic utterances as they emanated from the glorious inspirations that overshadowed him. There was a force and power in his exclamations of which the following is but a faint echo: "Oh the beauty of those snow-capped mountains! The cool refreshing streams that are running down through those mountain gorges!" Then gazing in another direction, as if there was a change in locality: "Oh the scenes that this people will pass through! The dead that will lay between here and there." Then turning in another direction as if the scene had again changed: "Oh the apostasy that will take place before my brethren reach that land! But," he continued, "The priesthood shall prevail over its enemies, triumph over the devil and be established upon the earth, never more to be thrown down!" He then charged us with great force and power, to be faithful to those things that had been and should be committed to our charge, with the promise of all the blessings that the Priesthood could bestow. "Remember these things and treasure them up. Amen." [19]

Thus, the accusation must be not only that the Church decided to "forge" a prophecy by Joseph, but that Anson Call did as well. Can we assess how likely these claims are?

It could be, of course, that Anson Call forged his account, and all the Church leaders and members lied about remembering Joseph speak about the matter. But why then appeal to "many of you" remembering Joseph speaking about it? Why not claim it was a private, secret teaching given to the apostles—for, they certainly also reported these. If the claim was fraudulent, why risk exposure?

Or, the story could have started after the Saints reached the valley, and simply grown in the telling with members "remembering" the story as it was retold to them. But, the contemporary evidence would seem to argue against this, and witnesses often mentioned how struck they were by Joseph's remarks. They also described him discussing this idea in a variety of setting, which argues against an accumulated "folklore."

It is strange to see critics argue that Joseph would not prophesy about this—in their view, Joseph was always larding his ideas with prophetic pronouncement. And, is it any stretch to think that he would say that the people would grow "mighty" there. Would even a false prophet or charlatan tell his beleaguered followers that they were going into the wilderness to become weak and oppressed?

The simplest explanation seems to be that Joseph discussed moving to the west several times, and likely prophesied about it. Too many witnesses would have to collude or self-deceive for it to have no basis in fact. Whether the story grew in the telling, of course, is difficult to determine.

None of this, to be sure, proves that Joseph Smith was a true prophet. But, to claim that the account of him discussing and even prophesying a move to the west rests on nothing but "forgery" is to distort and ignore too many sources, from too broad a time period, over what is essentially a peripheral issue.

How have less friendly historians treated this prophecy?

We have seen that believing historians such as B. H. Roberts or Orson F. Whitney would be likely to accept this claim. How have less friendly historians treated it?

Hubert Howe Bancroft opined that "In 1842 an expedition had been planned to explore the country toward or beyond the Rocky Mountains; but when Joseph Smith put himself forward as a candidate for the presidency of the United States, all other matters were for the time forgotten." [20] Thus, Bancroft saw the move west as one long contemplated.

D. Michael Quinn, whose work has been repeatedly cited by the author of the critical work One Nation Under Gods, includes this in his Church timeline without comment or qualification, even using the date traditionally ascribed it in the History of the Church [21]:

6 Aug [1842]. While attending a Masonic ceremony Smith prophesies that Mormons would settle in the Rocky Mountains. [22]

Historian Dale Morgan, certainly not an LDS apologist or propagandist, wrote to a private correspondent who seemed to share the author's views of this account:

it is my understanding from reading controversial works involving the Reorganized Church that you have combatted the idea that Joseph Smith ever intended leading the Mormons out of the Mississippi Valley to the West, and that you tend to regard proofs advanced by the L.D.S. church as being revisions of original history to serve the propagandic purposes of this church. This is a matter to which I have given especial attention, and in the work on the Mormons that I have conceived, I believe I shall be able to demolish once and for all any argument that Joseph Smith did not entertain this purpose.

My materials have been drawn in some part, though by no means wholly, from the L.D.S. archives here, but I do not think historians of the Reorganized Church will seriously question my findings when I am enabled to publish them. I cannot speak so authoritatively about the authenticity of the Rocky Mountains prophecy, but I am by no means disposed to doubt it, in view of what I have learned about Smith's purposes in the winter of 1844. I cannot undertake to discuss the whole subject at length here, so for the present I must content myself with assuring you that the statements in the Utah Guide about the proposal to migrate to the Rocky Mountains have a firm factual foundation, and I will publish the proofs in due course. [23]

Thus, Morgan thought it clear that Joseph Smith had intended to go to the Rockies with the Saints, and felt it plausible that Joseph had made a prophecy to that effect. Thus, whatever the facts, it seems unlikely that a crude "forgery" is at work.

Many other Church members later wrote about Joseph's discussion of the Rocky Mountains area

Before the Nauvoo Expositor incident, Benjamin F. Johnson said,

...the Prophet had foreshadowed the close of his own earthly mission, and the near approach of the time when the Saints in tribulation would find a place of refuge in the far-off vales of the Rocky Mountains, which has already taken place; and also relating still to the future, when a path will be opened for the Saints through Mexico, South America, and to the center Stake of Zion.

These, and many more great things were given by him, some of which, as with the ancient disciples, we could not comprehend until fulfilled....It was now revealed to the Prophet that his only safety was in flight to the Rocky Mountains, and he crossed the river with a few faithful friends with a full purpose not to return. [24]

"These things did not come upon us unexpectedly," observed Wandle Mace,

--at least to those who were watching the signs of the times--the Prophet Joseph had told us that many of us would live to go the "Rocky Mountains', and there become a mighty people, therefore we were looking forward to this time. Some of us was afraid we would not have time to finish the [Nauvoo] temple before these things came upon us, they were coming so fast. [25]

Samuel W. Richards remembered being assigned by Joseph to "explore the Rocky Mountains with 23 other men to find a place where the Church could be established." [26]

In 1864, Brigham Young remembered:

In the days of Joseph we have sat many hours at a time conversing about this very country. Joseph has often said, "If I were only in the Rocky Mountains with a hundred faithful men, I would then be happy, and ask no odds of mobocrats." And neither do I. [27]

In 1880, Orson Pratt asked:

Was it upon our own natural judgment [that we came to the valley]? No; we founded our expectation upon that which God had spoken in the modern revelations which He had given to us as a people. He told us, by revelation, before our prophet was martyred, that we would have to leave the United States: go beyond the Rocky Mountains, and seek our home in the wilderness, and that we would have a great people gather with us. [28]

John Taylor spoke of Joseph's frequent mention of this idea:

Many a time have I listened to the voice of our beloved Prophet, while in council, dwell on this subject [the removal of the Saints to the Rocky Mountains] with delight; his eyes sparkling with animation, and his soul fired with the inspiration of the Spirit of the living God. It was a theme that caused the bosoms of all who were privileged to listen, to thrill with delight; intimately connected with this, were themes upon which prophets, patriarchs, priests and kings dwelt with pleasure and delight: of them they prophesied, sung, wrote, spoke and desired to see, but died without the sight. My spirit glows with sacred fire while I reflect upon these scenes, and I say, O Lord, hasten the day! [29]

As is often the case, Mosiah Hancock confirmed Joseph's Rocky Mountain destination in an off-hand manner:

Before the Prophet spoke from the frame [in his last speech before Carthage], he had started to go to the rocky mountains, and went as far a Montrose; but through the interference of some pretended friends, he returned. I was a witness to these things--and when the Prophet spoke from the frame, he spoke with power, and the people loved him. [30]

Some of these later witnesses discussed the matter under different circumstances, which strongly suggests that this was no "secret" teaching of the prophet's, but well noised about. For example, Bathsheba W. Smith remembered:

Joseph, the Prophet, said we would come to the Rocky Mountains, and he had a company of young men selected to hunt a location for a home for the Saints. Samuel Richards was one of that company. I heard of it when we were in Illinois, and I remember an old lady coming in and talking to mother about what Joseph, the Prophet, had said that we would be in the Rocky Mountains sometime. I said I would like the time to come soon, I would like to get away from our enemies. She gave me a right good scolding, saying it was terrible to think of going to the Rocky Mountains. [31]

Rachel Grant remembered that "It tried a great many people when the Prophet gave out the word that there was to be no more gathering at Nauvoo, as the people thought that was the place. He first told them to gather there, but later told them the Rocky Mountains would be the gathering place. It was his thought that they would come to the Rocky Mountains." [32]

Rudger Clawson's diary described a talk he heard:

Patriarch Jas. H. Leathead bore an interesting testimony. Said that he was a resident of [p.613] Nauvoo in the early days of the church and filled the position of drummer boy in the Nauvoo band. Said that he was present and heard the Prophet Joseph Smith predict that the saints would move to the Rocky Mountains. [33]

Wilford Woodruff reported the earliest account of Joseph's teaching on the west. He recorded one of his own addresses on 5 October 1884:

spok 10 M, & gave an Account of the first testimony of the Prophet Joseph in kirtland Aprail 1834 of filling the Rocky Mountains with the Saints of God. [34]

Woodruff would also copy Philo Dibble's record of Joseph's last address to the Nauvoo legion, noting that "Broth J Jaques this Book is W Woodruffs private Historical Book. I wish you to take special care of it yourself until I call for it. I wish you to copy last pages in red ink & file in the office as it is the Last Address of Joseph Smith before his death [from Philo Dibble] and I think we have no Copy of it in the office. The Book itself I wish locked up." [35]

Confirmatory witnesses

Other members also mentioned their own spiritual experiences about the west. Wilford Woodruff recalled that

When in the western country, many years ago, before we came to the Rocky Mountains, I had a dream. I dreamed of being in these mountains, and of seeing a large fine looking temple erected in one of these valleys which was built of cut granite stone, I saw that temple dedicated, and I attended the dedicatory services, and I saw a good many men that are living today in the midst of this people. [36]

The same or a similar account was also noted by L. John Nuttall on 7 October 1891 at a meeting

Over fifty years ago, while in Boston, he [Woodruff]...dreamed that the Saints migrated to the Rocky Mountains, built a Temple and dedicated it; that at the dedicatory services Elders were set apart to go among the Gentile nations to bind the law and seal the testimony. [37]

Other evidence from Joseph's lifetime

There is other evidence recorded during Joseph's lifetime that lends plausibility to the account given by Call and others.

For example, Elder Jonathan Dunham was sent to explore the western countries, and was "most probably prospecting a possible trail and locating resting places for the Saints when engaged in a great westward movement." [38] Why else would Joseph send Dunham—whom he later trusted to head the Nauvoo Legion during his final days before being taken to Carthage—on such a long and difficult journey, given all the pressing difficulties which remained in Nauvoo? As one author noted, "During the Council of Fifty's first meetings in March and April 1844, the Mormon prophet urged the exploration of the American West. In this region the Saints would make a settlement and raise "a standard and ensign of truth for the nations of the earth." [39]

Members of the Council of Fifty believed, in "a retrospective statement on Smith's purposes" according to William Clayton, that when Joseph

crossed the Mississippi River intending to go to the Rocky Mountains. Several hours before his departure, he asked his followers to make a sixteen-foot emblematic flag "for the nations," apparently hoping to take a Mormon, scripture-fulfilling banner with him on his journey. However after less than a day on the Iowa side of the river, he returned to Nauvoo and began his fateful journey to Carthage. The day prior to Smith's death, not fully understanding his danger, Nauvoo citizens responded to his earlier wish and began preparation of a flag of white cloth. The flag, said one of the Saints later, was not intended for Nauvoo. Smith undoubtedly meant the banner to be a tangible symbol of a restored latter-day Kingdom in the mountainous West. [40]

In a related vein, Lorenzo Snow later remembered that

On the 20th of February, 1844, the Prophet Joseph Smith instructed the Twelve Apostles to send a delegation and make explorations in Oregon and California, and seek a good location to which we can remove after the Temple is completed, and "where we can build a city in a day, and have a government of our own....Previous to this, the Prophet had remarked to me that he anticipated moving to the Rocky Mountains with all his family, where he could live in peace and worship God unmolested. But other scenes and prospects awaited us. [41]

There is also a Times and Seasons newspaper account of a conference held on November 1, 1842 in Kirtland, Ohio by LDS missionaries. Reporting on their success, one wrote:

One woman, who at the commencement of the conference declared herself good enough without re baptism, has now come forward before the close and says that she would go to the Rocky Mountains if Joseph said so.... [42]

This might be a mere figure of speech, i.e., such as "to the moon and back if Joseph said so." On the other hand, it may be that Joseph's thoughts about the west were beginning to percolate among the Saints and even their enemies, so it can hardly have been much of a secret. Oliver Olney, an apostate member who was supporting John C. Bennett, wrote a letter to Joseph Smith on the matter on 20 July 1842:

"They say with your numerous wifes and maidens you are about to start west as far as the Rocky Mountains where you will raise up a Righteous Branch without being molested by the Laws of the Land." Olney later noted that the Saints "are fast a fixing to go West where they can live in peace without being molested By the laws of the land. They say soon to start If what I hear is correct as far West as Origen Territory and establish a stake of Zion." [43]

As we have seen above, there are accounts of Joseph discussing the matter at least as early as 1834.


Response to claim: "In the history as it was first published by Joseph Smith, we learn that the angel's name was Nephi"

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

In the history as it was first published by Joseph Smith, we learn that the angel's name was Nephi

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.


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)[44]

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.[45]

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. [46]

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." [47]

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. [48]
  • 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 [49]
  • 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... [50]
  • 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 [51]
  • 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 [52]

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.[53]

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.[54]

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.[55]

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.[56]

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.[57]

(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 [58]
  • 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. [59]
  • 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. [60]
  • 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. [61]
  • 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. [62]
  • Joseph Smith public discourse - prior to 8 August 1839
...the angel flying through the midst of heaven Moroni delivered the Book of Mormon. [63]
  • 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).


Question: Did the prophet Nephi visit Joseph at some point in time?

Several of Joseph's associates believed that Joseph had visits from both Moroni and Nephi during the process of the Restoration

George Q. Cannon in 1869,

If you will read the history of the Church from the beginning, you will find that Joseph was visited by various angelic beings, but not one of them professed to give him the keys until John the Baptist came to him. Moroni, who held the keys of the record of the stick of Ephraim, visited Joseph; he had doubtless, also, visits from Nephi and it may be from Alma and others.” [64]

John Taylor notes in 1877,

Who was it that administered to Joseph Smith? Moroni and Nephi, men who had lived upon this continent. [65]

President Taylor repeats this assertion in 1879,

Afterwards the angel Moroni came to him and revealed to him the Book of Mormon, with the history of which you are generally familiar, and also with the statements that I am now making pertaining to these things. And then came Nephi, one of the ancient prophets, that had lived upon this continent, who had an interest in the welfare of the people that he had lived amongst in those days. [66]


D. Todd Christofferson: "The June 1839 Manuscript History of the Church says it was Nephi who appeared to Joseph Smith in 1823 rather than Moroni"

Elder D. Todd Christofferson:

Recording mistakes, for example, have sometimes been seized on as evidence of misrepresentations or bumbling by the Prophet. For example, the Book of Commandments initially referred to Joseph Smith as “an elder” and Oliver Cowdery the same, rather than “First Elder” and “Second Elder” as found in the text of Doctrine and Covenants Section 20. The 1833 Book of Commandments suggested that the Church was organized in Manchester rather than Fayette, New York. The June 1839 Manuscript History of the Church says it was Nephi who appeared to Joseph Smith in 1823 rather than Moroni. Now, however, with original manuscripts contained in the Book of Commandments and Revelations, published as part of the Joseph Smith Papers Project, and other early sources we can “peel back the onion” a little further. And we find that the supposed problems are nothing more sinister than clerical errors sometimes repeated by others.[67]


Improvement Era (1970): "This wording in the present Pearl of Great Price is modified from the first printing, in which the messenger was identified as 'Nephi'"

Richard Lloyd Anderson, Improvement Era (September 1970):

"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 Moroni." This wording in the present Pearl of Great Price is modified from the first printing, in which the messenger was identified as "Nephi," a fact that has generated its share of superficial comment. A textual critic or a court of law reserves the right to use common sense in the face of obvious documentary errors. The "Nephi" reading contradicts all that the Prophet published on the subject during his lifetime. In 1835 Joseph Smith identified the messenger in official scripture: "Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the Book of Mormon…. ([D&C 50.2 (1835 edition), D&C 27:5 (present edition)]. That year Oliver Cowdery also named this individual in the Messenger and Advocate: "the angel Moroni, whose words I have been rehearsing…. Communicated the knowledge of the record of the Nephites…." [Messenger and Advocate, 1:112 (April 1835).] Without exhausting the evidence, nothing could be clearer than Joseph Smith's statement printed in the same year that the History began to be dictated: "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" [Elder's Journal 1:42–43 (July 1838), cit. Joseph Smith, History of the Church 3:28]. [68]


Response to claim: "Official Mormon histories have omitted references to Joseph Smith's drinking and use of tobacco"

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

Official Mormon histories have omitted references to Joseph Smith's drinking and use of tobacco to create a more favorable impression of their prophet, who if living today (2007) would be unable to pass a worthiness interview and earn a temple recommend in the church he founded.

FairMormon Response

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

The author does not understand how the Word of Wisdom was initially regarded by Joseph Smith and other Latter-day Saints. It was much less strict at the time.


Question: In what way did Joseph Smith implement the Word of Wisdom during his lifetime?

Joseph Smith never interpreted the Word of Wisdom revelation as demanding total abstinence

The Word of Wisdom was enforced differently in the 19th century than today. Observance of the Word of Wisdom has changed over time, due to on-going revelation from modern-day prophets, who put greater emphasis on certain elements of the revelation originally given to Joseph Smith. Early Latter-day Saints were not under the same requirements as today's Saints are.

Latter-Day Saints believe that the Lord reveals his will to men "line upon line, precept upon precept," (Isaiah 28:10,13 and others) and that revelation continues as circumstances change.

As one historian noted:

it appears clear that Joseph Smith never interpreted the [Word of Wisdom] revelation as demanding total abstinence, but stressed moderation and self-control....He had no objections to using tobacco for medicinal purposes. With regard to wine and "strong drink" possibly the most accurate index to the Prophet's position was expressed by Benjamin F. Johnson, who personally knew Joseph: "As a companion, socailly, he was highly endowed; was kind, generous, mirth loving, and a times even convivial. He was partial to a well supplied table and he did not always refuse the wine that maketh the heart glad."[69]

Beer, unfermented or lightly fermented wine, and cider were considered "mild drinks" by some and therefore acceptable under at least some circumstances

The text of the Word of Wisdom forbids "strong drink" (D&C 89:5,7), which some (including Joseph) seem to have interpreted as distilled beverages (hard liquor). Beer, unfermented or lightly fermented wine, and cider were considered "mild drinks" by some (D&C 89:17) and therefore acceptable under at least some circumstances (note that verse 17 specifically permits "barley...for mild drinks"). One historian notes that the degree of rigor with which early Saints observed the Word of Wisdom varied:

[23] While the Saints opposed the common use of tea [24] and coffee, it would appear that they had little objection to its occasional use for medicinal purposes. In an age when these items were frequently used as a relief for a wide variety of ailments, it would have been imprudent to have entirely forbidden their use....

[25] The journal of Joseph Smith reveals many instances where Joseph and other Church leaders drank wine and a tolerant attitude towards the consumption of this beverage is particularly noticeable....

[26] Despite the injunction contained in the revelation discouraging the drinking of wine, (except for sacramental purposes) the casual nature of the allusions to this beverage suggest that many Church Authorities did not consider moderate wine drinking in the same category as the use of strong drinks....

Evidence suggests that the drinking of tea, coffee, and liquor was [in the 1830s] in general violation of the principle [of the Word of Wisdom], though exceptions can be found. All of these items were used by the Saints for medicinal purposes. Moderate wine-drinking was evidently acceptable to most Church leaders....[27] In short, it would seem that adherence to the revelation to at least 1839 required Church members to be moderately temperate but certainly [did] not [require] total abstinence....[70]


Revelations in Context: "it required time to wind down practices that were so deeply ingrained in family tradition and culture"

"The Word of Wisdom: D&C 89," Revelations in context on history.lds.org (11 June 2013):

Nevertheless, it required time to wind down practices that were so deeply ingrained in family tradition and culture, especially when fermented beverages of all kinds were frequently used for medicinal purposes. The term “strong drink” certainly included distilled spirits like whiskey, which hereafter the Latter-day Saints generally shunned. They took a more moderate approach to milder alcoholic beverages like beer and “pure wine of the grape of the vine of your own make” (see D&C 89:6). For the next two generations, Latter-day Saint leaders taught the Word of Wisdom as a command from God, but they tolerated a variety of viewpoints on how strictly the commandment should be observed. This incubation period gave the Saints time to develop their own tradition of abstinence from habit-forming substances. By the early twentieth century, when scientific medicines were more widely available and temple attendance had become a more regular feature of Latter-day Saint worship, the Church was ready to accept a more exacting standard of observance that would eliminate problems like alcoholism from among the obedient. In 1921, the Lord inspired Church president Heber J. Grant to call on all Saints to live the Word of Wisdom to the letter by completely abstaining from all alcohol, coffee, tea, and tobacco. Today Church members are expected to live this higher standard.[71]


Response to claim: "Truthful Mormon history is considered anti-Mormon"

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

Current LDS apostles are refreshingly honest about ordering church members to be dishonest. They have ordered those who [are] employed by the church to suppress the truth about Mormon history. Truthful Mormon history is considered anti-Mormon.

FairMormon Response

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

This is nonsense.


Question: Has the Church "whitewashed" some of the information about its origins to appear more palatable to members and investigators?

Church historians and church hierarchy are fully aware of its history, yet they maintain strong testimonies of the authenticity and authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Some feel that this is done intentionally to hide negative aspects of church history. Others feel that it is done to focus on the good, but that it causes problems for believing members when they encounter these issues outside of church curriculum.

Church historians and church hierarchy are fully aware of its history, yet they maintain strong testimonies of the authenticity and authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Problems arise when faithful members can't reconcile a perfect Savior and his church being led by imperfect people. Developing an understanding that all people, even prophets of the Lord make mistakes. Only Jesus Christ himself was perfect.

The reality is that there are very few new discoveries related to Church history

Many critics will present a faithful member with some fact of church history and would have them believe that this is a new discovery. The reality is that there are very few new discoveries related to Church history. In fact, most, if not all of these documents have been well known to church historians for many years. Occasionally, a new document will be discovered which sheds additional light on some aspect of Church history. One such example is the discovery of documents that clarify that the Church was actually organized in Fayette rather than Manchester, as some have claimed. Situations such as this are rare, however. When the critic presents a "new" historical fact, you can rest assured that this very same "fact" has been discussed by LDS scholars for many years. There is truly little new information for the critics to draw from.

The critic presents these historical facts in order to shake the member's testimony, hopefully to the point of leaving the church. They attempt to present contradictions, such as "Joseph Smith drank wine at Carthage Jail, and therefore violated the Word of Wisdom." They attempt to catch Church leaders in deceit or portray them as hypocrites. Yet, there are many LDS experts on Church history that remain fully aware, faithful, actively attending church members. There are no facts that unarguably disprove the authenticity of the church. As always it comes down to faith and a personal witness between an individual and the Lord.

Critics routinely accuse the Church of suppressing and hiding uncomfortable facts from its own history, yet they quote Church sources in order to provide proof of their claims

Critics routinely accuse the Church of suppressing and hiding uncomfortable facts from its own history. Yet, these very same critics quote Church sources in order to provide proof of their claims. This concern often rests on a misunderstanding. It is true that the Church's teachings are primarily doctrinal and devotional—Church lessons are neither apologetic nor historical in scope or intent.

It is remarkable, however, how many of the issues which critics charge the Church with "suppressing" are discussed in Church publications. Various issues are listed in the subarticle below, with references to Church sources which mention them. So, has the Church been suppressing the truth? You might be surprised to find out where some of these facts are actually hidden.


Question: What are the different levels of knowledge that members may have about Church history?

There are different levels of knowledge regarding Church history

LDS professor Daniel C. Peterson describes different "levels" of knowledge that members may have with respect to Church history.

Many years ago, while a graduate student in California, I heard the late Stanley B. Kimball (a Latter-day Saint scholar who taught at Southern Illinois University and published extensively on both European and Latter-day Saint historical subjects) speak to a small group about what he termed "the three levels of Mormon history."

He called the first of these "level A." This level, he said, is the Junior Sunday School version of church history, in which Mormons always wear the white hats, nobody disagrees, no leader ever makes a mistake, and all is unambiguously clear.

"Level B," he said, is the anti-Mormon version of church history—essentially a mirror image of level A or, alternatively, level A turned on its head. On level B, everything that you thought was good and true is actually false and bad. The Mormons (or, at least, their leaders) always or almost always wear black hats, and, to the extent that everything is unambiguously clear, Mormonism is unambiguously fraudulent, bogus, deceptive, and evil. Much in the level B version of Mormonism is simply false, of course; critics of the church have often failed to distinguish themselves for their honesty or for the care with which they've treated the issues they raise. But, in more than a few instances, level B approaches to Mormonism and its past are based on problems that are more or less real.

The church, Kimball reflected, tends to teach level A history. The trouble with this is that, like someone who has been kept in a germ-free environment and is then exposed to an infectious disease, a person on level A who is exposed to any of the issues that are the fodder for level B will have little resistance and will be likely to fall.

The only hope in such a case, he continued, is to press on to what he termed "level C," which is a version of church history that remains affirmative but which also takes into account any and all legitimate points stressed by level B. Those on level C are largely impervious to infection from level B. Level B formulations simply don't impress them....

Kimball said that he and his fellow historians operate on level C, and that, on the whole, that's where he (as a professional historian) would prefer members to be. He was deeply convinced, he said, that level C was essentially like level A, except that it is more nuanced and somewhat more ambiguous. (He emphatically denied that level A is "false," or that the church "lies" in teaching it.) He acknowledged, though, that, were he himself a high-ranking church leader, he would be hesitant to take the membership as a whole to level C by means of church curriculum and instruction for the obvious reason that moving people from level A to level C entails at least some exposure to some of the elements of level B, and that such exposure will unavoidably lead some to lose their testimonies. Still, he felt that those who make it through to level C are more stable and resilient in their faith than those who remain on level A. [72]


Response to claim: Joseph "published another version with original revelations revised"

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

Joseph Smith claimed that God revealed truth directly to him....He made arrangements to publish a collection of revealed truths in the Book of Commandments....Two years later he published another version with original revelations revised and more revelations added and called it the Doctrine and Covenants.

FairMormon Response

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

Revelation is added "line upon line." There was no problem with Joseph revising or adding to revelations as the needs of the Church changed. Nobody in the Church at that time saw any problem with it either.


Brigham Young (1855): "I do not even believe that there is a single revelation, among the many God has given to the Church, that is perfect in its fulness"

Brigham Young:

I do not even believe that there is a single revelation, among the many God has given to the Church, that is perfect in its fulness. The revelations of God contain correct doctrine and principle, so far as they go; but it is impossible for the poor, weak, low, grovelling, sinful inhabitants of the earth to receive a revelation from the Almighty in all its perfections. He has to speak to us in a manner to meet the extent of our capacities...[73]


Question: How do Mormons understand prophetic revelation?

Mormons do not believe in a doctrine of prophetic infallibility

It is important to realize that the LDS Church does not believe in a doctrine of prophetic inerrancy. Prophets are not fax machines; they do not simply "download" messages from God. Rather, God inspires prophets through a variety of means: the prophet may be given precise words to speak or simply receive information which he is to communicate in any way which suits his listeners. Many critics come from conservative Protestant backgrounds and religious traditions which endorse doctrines of Biblical inerrancy. (Some members of the Church may also have absorbed some 'fundamentalist' ideas about scripture and prophets.) Both groups of people will be troubled by this doctrine because it does not match their preconceptions, but Joseph Smith cannot be faulted for not following a prophetic model which he never endorsed and which the Church does not teach.

Furthermore, revelation is not always an instantaneous event—it may often be a process of studying a matter out, and applying reason and effort to achieve greater clarity and understanding. [74]

Revelation is delivered to a prophet "after the manner of their language"

The Doctrine and Covenants itself announces that:

Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.DC 1:24

Thus, the Doctrine and Covenants acknowledges the weakness of the prophets through which they came, and insists that the wording is in the manner of their language, not direct, word-for-word divine sound bites.

Brigham Young (who authored one of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants—DC 136: described the process in similar terms:

I do not even believe that there is a single revelation, among the many God has given to the Church, that is perfect in its fulness. The revelations of God contain correct doctrine and principle, so far as they go; but it is impossible for the poor, weak, low, grovelling, sinful inhabitants of the earth to receive a revelation from the Almighty in all its perfections. He has to speak to us in a manner to meet the extent of our capacities...

The laws that the Lord has given are not fully perfect, because the people could not receive them in their perfect fulness; but they can receive a little here and a little there, a little today and a little to-morrow, a little more next week, and a little more in advance of that next year, if they make a wise improvement upon every little they receive... [75]

And, there were even times when others besides Joseph were assigned to collaborate in writing the revelations—clear evidence that there was not "only one true" version of the revelation. (See DC 124:12-16.)


Question: Who made the changes to the Doctrine and Covenants?

The First Presidency of the Church made the changes to the Doctrine and Covenants

The Saints have never believed in inerrant prophets or inerrant scripture. The editing and modification of the revelations was never a secret; it was well known to the Church of Joseph's day, and it has been discussed repeatedly in modern Church publications, as well as extensive studies in Masters' and PhD theses at BYU.

If Joseph could receive the Doctrine and Covenants by revelation, then he could also receive revelation to improve, modify, revise, and expand his revelatory product. The question remains the same—was Joseph Smith a prophet? If he was, then his action is completely legitimate. If he was not, then it makes little difference whether his pretended revelations were altered or not.

Richard Lloyd Anderson wrote:

First Presidency members were assigned to compile "the items of the doctrine" of the Church from the standard works, including "the revelations which have been given to the Church up to this date or shall be, until such arrangement is made" (Kirtland High Council Minute Book, 24 September 1834; also cited in History of the Church, 2:165. Volume 2 link). This resolution might suggest the correction of former wording through revelation. [The revised D&C was] issued in August 1835 with a 17 February 1835 preface signed by the Prophet, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams, the revision committee. [76]

Thus, the First Presidency of the time supervised the revisions.


Question: What are the reasons for the changes to the Doctrine and Covenants?

The Doctrine and Covenants was changed in order to correct errors or mistakes due to the human process of writing down revelations, as well as integrate new revelatory material

Wrote Elder Marlin K. Jensen in 2009:

One of Joseph Smith’s tasks in reviewing the manuscripts prior to their publication was to “correct those errors or mistakes which he may discover by the Holy Spirit.” Joseph knew from experience that the human process of writing down revelations, copying them into manuscript books, and then passing them through various hands in preparation for publication inevitably introduced unintentional errors. Sometimes changes were required to clarify wording. Occasionally, later revelations would supersede or update previously received revelations, necessitating the editing of documents to alter previous versions. Various other changes were also made from time to time. Most of these, such as dividing the text into verses or clarifying meaning, did not involve substantive corrections.

Joseph seemed to regard the manuscript revelations as his best efforts to capture the voice of the Lord condescending to communicate in what Joseph called the “crooked, broken, scattered, and imperfect language” of men." The revealed preface to the published revelations also seems to express this principle: “I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language” (DC 1:24).

Joseph and his associates were appointed by the actions of Church conferences to prepare the revelations for publication by correcting the texts. Recent analysis of both manuscript revelation books reveals how and when many of the changes were made. For example, some changes were made before selected items were published in Missouri, while others were made in Ohio before the 1835 publication of the Doctrine and Covenants.

One common example involves changes made by Sidney Rigdon. He often changed the language in the revelations from the biblical “thee,” “thy,” and “thine” to the modern “you,” “your,” and “yours.” Many of these changes were later reversed. He also corrected grammar and changed some of the language to clarify and modify words and meaning.

In a few cases, more substantive changes were made as revelations were updated for the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. For example, section 20 was originally received in 1830, before much of the leadership structure of the Church as we know it today was revealed to Joseph Smith. By 1835 Joseph had organized many offices and quorums by revelation. To include this newly revealed ecclesiastical order, several text changes and additions were incorporated into section 20. Our current verses 65–67 on ordaining men to priesthood offices, for instance, had been revealed after the 1833 publication and were subsequently added to the 1835 publication.

Joseph Smith reviewed many of his associates’ editorial changes and made slight alterations in his own hand before A Book of Commandments was published in 1833. He made additional changes, including adding surnames to individuals mentioned in the revelations, just before the Doctrine and Covenants was published in 1835.

Sometime around 1834–35 in Kirtland, Ohio, Revelation Book 2 was used for the preparation of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, and all but eight items in the manuscript book were published in that 1835 volume. In contrast, just three of the revelations copied into the book were published in A Book of Commandments in 1833. Two of the manuscript book’s revelations were first published in the 1844 Doctrine and Covenants.

Subsequent editing changes through the 1981 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants involved occasional word changes, but the major substantive changes occurred under the Prophet Joseph’s guidance for the 1835 edition. [77]


Question: Were the changes to the revelations hidden from the Church members?

Oliver clearly understood that some changes were corrections, and some were additions given by revelation which were made prior to publication

One aspect of the prophet's mission includes the editing and modification of revelation prior to publication. There is plenty of evidence that the Church has done nothing to hide the fact that changes were made.

This information has been available since the first publication of the revelations which later became the Doctrine and Covenants. The Saints of Joseph Smith's day had read the revelations in their initial form, many having been published in Church newspapers. Oliver Cowdery wrote, upon the publication of the revised revelations:

On the revelations we merely say, that we were not a little surprised to find the previous print so different from the original. We had given them a careful comparison, assisted by individuals whose known integrity and ability is uncensurable. Thus saying we cast no reflections upon those who were entrusted with the responsibility of publishing them in Missouri, as our own labors were included in that important service to the church, and it was our unceasing endeavor to have them correspond with the copy furnished us. We believe they are now correct. If not in every word, at least in principle. For the special good of the church we have also added a few items from other revelations. [78]

Oliver clearly understood that some changes were corrections, and some were additions given by revelation which were made prior to publication.

Orson Pratt noted that "line was added upon line to several of the sections and paragraphs about to be published"

In 1854, Orson Pratt discussed changes:

We often had access to the manuscripts when boarding with the Prophet; and it was our delight to read them over and over again, before they were printed. And so highly were they esteemed by us, that we committed some to memory; and a few we copied for the purpose of reference in our absence on missions; and also to read them to the saints for their edification. These copies are still in our possession. When at length the time arrived to print the manuscripts, it was thought best not to publish them all, on account of our enemies, who were seeking every means to destroy the Prophet and the Church…. It was concluded, through the suggestions of the Spirit, that by altering the real names given in the manuscripts, and substituting fictitious ones in their stead, they might thus safely appear in print without endangering the welfare of the individuals whose real names were contained therein….

It may be asked, had the Prophet a right to alter names given by revelation and substitute fictitious ones in their stead? We reply, that it is only the printed edition that contains the substituted names, while the original manuscripts, that are safely preserved in the hands of the church, contain the names as they were originally given. Moreover, the substitution of fictitious names for persons and places does not alter or destroy the sense or ideas contained in the revelations. But what the Prophet did in relation to this thing, was not of himself; he was dictated by the Holy Ghost to make these substitutions…. And by revelation line was added upon line to several of the sections and paragraphs about to be published.

But some may inquire, are not the Almighty’s revelations perfect when they are first given? And if so, where was the propriety of the Lord’s adding any thing to them, when they were already perfect? We reply that every word of God is perfect; but He does not reveal all things at once, but adds ‘line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, and there a little,’ revealing as the people are able to bear, or as circumstances require…. The Lord, therefore, adds to His own revelations whenever he thinks proper.[79]

"The Prophet was inspired in several instances to write additional sentences and paragraphs to the earlier revelations"

In 1857, the Millennial Star noted:

Joseph, the Prophet, in selecting the revelations from the Manuscripts, and arranging them for publication, did not arrange them according to the order of the date in which they were given, neither did he think it necessary to publish them all in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, but left them to be published more fully in his History. Hence, paragraphs taken from revelations of a later date, are, in a few instances, incorporated with those of an earlier date. Indeed, at the time of compilation, the Prophet was inspired in several instances to write additional sentences and paragraphs to the earlier revelations. In this manner the Lord did truly give ‘line upon line, here a little and there a little,’ the same as He did to a revelation that Jeremiah received, which, after being burned by the wicked king of Israel, the Lord revealed over again with great numbers of additional words (See Jeremiah 36:32) [80]


Question: Have edits to the revelations been discussed in the present day?

The official Church magazine, the Ensign has published several discussions of the editing process

  • Robert J. Woodford, "The Story of the Doctrine and Covenants," Ensign (December 1984), 32. off-site
  • Robert J. Woodford, "How the Revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants Were Received and Compiled," Ensign (January 1985), 27. off-site
  • Melvin J. Petersen, "Preparing Early Revelations for Publication," Ensign (February 1985), 14. off-site
  • Gerrit Dirkmaat, "Great and Marvelous Are the Revelations of God," Ensign (January 2013). off-site

Elder Boyd K. Packer also discussed the changes to the revelations in general conference

Elder Boyd K. Packer also discussed the changes to the revelations in general conference:

Some have alleged that these books of revelation are false, and they place in evidence changes that have occurred in the texts of these scriptures since their original publication. They cite these changes, of which there are many examples, as though they themselves were announcing revelation. As though they were the only ones that knew of them.

Of course there have been changes and corrections. Anyone who has done even limited research knows that. When properly reviewed, such corrections become a testimony for, not against, the truth of the books.

The Prophet Joseph Smith was an unschooled farm boy. To read some of his early letters in the original shows him to be somewhat unpolished in spelling and grammar and in expression.

That the revelations came through him in any form of literary refinement is nothing short of a miracle. That some perfecting should continue strengthens my respect for them.

Now, I add with emphasis that such changes have been basically minor refinements in grammar, expression, punctuation, clarification. Nothing fundamental has been altered.

Why are they not spoken of over the pulpit? Simply because by comparison they are so insignificant, and unimportant as literally to be not worth talking about. After all, they have absolutely nothing to do with whether the books are true.

After compiling some of the revelations, the ancient prophet Moroni said, “… if there be faults they be the faults of a man. But behold, we know no fault; nevertheless God knoweth all things; therefore, he that condemneth, let him be aware lest he shall be in danger of hell fire.” (Mormon 8:17) “And whoso receiveth this record, and shall not condemn it because of the imperfections which are in it, the same shall know of greater things than these. …” (Mormon 8:12) [81]

It is difficult to understand how detailing changes and discussing them in general conference constitutes "hiding the truth." Church members pay comparatively little attention to such matters, however, because the mechanism by which revelations are produced are of far less importance than the content of the revelations, and whether the revelations are true.

B.H. Roberts discussed the changes in the revelations

And, B.H. Roberts also wrote of the publication of the revelations in 1833 that they

were revised by the Prophet himself in the way of correcting errors made by the scribes and publishers; and some additional clauses were inserted to throw increased light upon the subjects treated in the revelations, and paragraphs added, to make the principles for instructions apply to officers not in the Church at the time some of the earlier revelations were given. The addition of verses 65, 66, and 67 in sec. XX of the Doctrine and Covenants is an example. [82]

Marlin K. Jensen discussed the changes to the revelations

With the advent of the Joseph Smith papers project, Church Historian Elder Marlin K. Jensen wrote an extensive article about changes and their rationale:

  • Marlin K. Jensen, "The Joseph Smith Papers: The Manuscript Revelation Books," Ensign (July 2009), 46–51. off-site

The claim that the changes have been hidden simply cannot be sustained.


Question: What changes were made to the Doctrine and Covenants?

Changes made to the Doctrine and Covenants were 1) Grammar and spelling. 2) Added material or expansion. 3) Text removed or reworked. 4) Expressions altered

Grammar and spelling changes

Many changes involved matters of grammar, spelling, and the like. (These examples all taken from one article in the Ensign. Those interested in further examples can see the Further Reading section below. [83]

We have found the following errors in the commandments, as printed: fortieth chapter, tenth verse, third line, instead of ‘corruptible,’ put ‘corrupted.’ Fourteenth verse of the same chapter, fifth line, instead of ‘respector to persons,’ put ‘respector of persons.’ Twenty-first verse, second line of the same chapter, instead of ‘respector to,’ put ‘respector of.’ Fourty-four chapter, twelfth verse, last line, instead of ‘hands’ put ‘heads.’ [84]

Added material or expansions

Some other changes added material which had been gleaned from advancements in Church organization or later revelations, or expanded upon ideas within the original text:

Book of Commandments Doctrine and Covenants
3:2—Remember temperance, patience, humility, diligence, ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened unto you: Amen. D&C 4:6–7—Remember faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence. Ask and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Amen. (1835 edition, 31:2.)
4:2—...and he has a gift to translate the book, and I have commanded him that he shall pretend to no other gift, for I will grant him no other gift. D&C 5:4 And you have a gift to translate the plates; and this is the first gift that I bestowed upon you; and I have commanded that you should pretend to no other gift until my purpose is fulfilled in this; for I will grant unto you no other gift until it is finished. (1835 edition, 32:1)
4:4— … and to none else will I grant this power, to receive this same testimony among this generation. D&C 5:14—And to none else will I grant this power, to receive this same testimony among this generation, in this the beginning of the rising up and coming forth of my church out of the wilderness—clear as the moon, and fair as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners. (1835 edition, 32:3.)
6:1—And the Lord said unto me, John, my beloved, what desirest thou? D&C 7:1—And the Lord said unto me: John, my beloved, what desirest thou? For if you shall ask what you will, it shall be granted unto you. (1835 edition, 33:1.)
24:14—And that he gave unto the children of men commandments, that they should love and serve him the only being whom they should worship. D&C 20:19—And gave unto them commandments that they should love and serve him, the only living and true God, and that he should be the only being whom they should worship. (1835 edition, 2:4.)
24:32— … to administer the flesh and blood of Christ according to the scriptures. D&C 20:40–41—And to administer bread and wine—the emblems of the flesh and blood of Christ—

And to confirm those who are baptized into the Church, by the laying on of the hands for the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, according to the scriptures. (1835 edition, 2:8.)

24:35—The elders are to conduct the meetings as they are led by the Holy Ghost. D&C 20:45—The elders are to conduct the meetings as they are led by the Holy Ghost, according to the commandments and revelations of God. (1835 edition, 2:9.)
44:26— … and they shall be laid before the bishop of my church, and two of the elders, such as he shall appoint and set apart for that purpose. D&C 42:31— … and they shall be laid before the bishop of my church and his counselors, two of the elders, or high priests, such as he shall appoint or has appointed and set apart for that purpose. (1835 edition, 13:8.)
44:29—And the residue shall be kept in my storehouse to administer to the poor and needy, as shall be appointed by the elders of the church and the bishop. D&C 42:34—Therefore, the residue shall be kept in my storehouse, to administer to the poor and the needy, as shall be appointed by the high council of the church, and the bishop and his council. (1835 edition, 13:10.)
51:6— … as is appointed to him by the bishop and elders of the church, according to the laws and commandments. D&C 48:6— … as is appointed to him by the presidency and the bishop of the church, according to the laws and commandments. (1835 edition, 64:2.)
53:41—Wherefore I am in your midst; and I am the good Shepherd. D&C 50:44—Wherefore, I am in your midst, and I am the good shepherd, and the stone of Israel. He that buildeth upon this rock shall never fall. (1835 edition, 18:8.)
65:30—Behold now it is called today, and verily it is a day of sacrifice, and a day for the tithing of my people. D&C 64:23—Behold, now it is called today until the coming of the Son of Man, and verily it is a day of sacrifice, and a day for the tithing of my people. (1835 edition, 21:5.)

Text removed or reworked

A few revelations removed text, or altered the expression of an idea with a new phrasing or approach:

Book of Commandments Doctrine and Covenants
Chapter 4:5–6—And thus, if the people of this generation harden not their hearts, I will work a reformation among them, and I will put down all lyings, and deceivings, and priest-crafts, and envyings, and strifes, and idolatries, and sorceries, and all manner of iniquities, and I will establish my church, like unto the church which was taught by my disciples in the days of old. And now if this generation do harden their hearts against my word, behold I will deliver them up unto satan, for he reigneth and hath much power at this time, for he hath got great hold upon the hearts of the people of this generation: and not far from the iniquities of Sodom and Gomorrah, do they come at this time: and behold the sword of justice hangeth over their heads, and if they persist in the hardness of their hearts, the time cometh that it must fall upon them. D&C 5:19—For a desolating scourge shall go forth among the inhabitants of the earth, and shall continue to be poured out from time to time, if they repent not, until the earth is empty, and the inhabitants thereof are consumed away and utterly destroyed by the brightness of my coming. (1835 edition, 32:3.)
4:8— … but if he will go out and bow down before me …

D&C 5:24— … but if he will bow down before me … (1835 edition, 32:5.)

16:13—Wherefore, I command you by my name, and by my Almighty power, that you repent. D&C 19:15—Therefore I command you to repent. (1835 edition, 44:2.)
16:22—And I command you, that you preach nought but repentance; and show not these things, neither speak these things unto the world. D&C 19:21—And I command you that you preach naught but repentance, and show not these things unto the world until it is wisdom in me. (1835 edition, 44:2.)
24:11—Which book was given by inspiration and is called the book of Mormon, and is confirmed to others by the ministering of angels. D&C 20:10—which was given by inspiration, and is confirmed to others by the ministering of angels … (1835 edition, 2:2.)
44:55–57—Thou shalt contract no debts with the world, except thou art commanded. And again, the elders and bishop, shall counsel together, and they shall do by the direction of the Spirit as it must needs be necessary. There shall be as many appointed as must needs be necessary to assist the bishop in obtaining places for the brethren from New York, that they may be together as much as can be, and as they are directed by the Holy Spirit; and every family shall have a place, that they may live by themselves.—And every church shall be organized in as close bodies as they can be; and this for a wise purpose;—even so. Amen. These verses were omitted. (1835 edition, 13.)

Expression altered

Book of Commandments Doctrine and Covenants
Chapter 7:3—Now this is not all, for you have another gift, which is the gift of working with the rod: behold it has told you things: behold there is no other power save God, that can cause this rod of nature, to work in your hands, for it is the work of God. D&C 8:6–8—Now this is not all thy gift; for you have another gift, which is the gift of Aaron; behold, it has told you many things; Behold, there is no other power, save the power of God, that can cause this gift of Aaron to be with you. Therefore, doubt not, for it is the gift of God; and you shall hold it in your hands, and do marvelous works; and no power shall be able to take it away out of your hands, for it is the work of God. (1921 edition, 8:6–8.)


Response to claim: "Mormons' official publications remove critical references to Joseph Smith's activities as a con man"

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

Mormons' official publications remove critical references to Joseph Smith's activities as a con man. Documents discovered in 1971 by Dr. Wesley Walters in Norwich, New York, verify that Joseph Smith was a "glass looker" and that he was arrested, tried and found guilty by a justice of the peace in Bainbridge, New York, in 1826 for this criminal activity.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

Joseph was not a "con man" - this is wishful thinking on the part of the critics. The South Bainbridge hearing was not a trial, and there was no verdict issued. Joseph was simply released. He wasn't even fined. The judge issued a bill for court costs only. The Bainbridge "trial" is even mentioned in the official Church magazine, the Ensign. The critics get everything wrong in this claim.


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

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

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

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

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

Gordon Madsen summarized:

"The evidence thus far available about the 1826 trial before Justice Neely leads to the inescapable conclusion that Joseph Smith was acquitted." [85]

A review of all the relevant documents demonstrates that:

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

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

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

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


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

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

In the spring of 1825 Josiah Stowell visited with Joseph Smith "on account of having heard that he possessed certain keys, by which he could discern things invisible to the natural eye." [86] Josiah Stowell wanted Joseph to help him in his quest to find treasure in an ancient silver mine. Joseph was reluctant, but Stowell persuaded Joseph to come by offering high wages. According to trial documents, Stowell says Joseph, using a seer stone, "Looked through stone and described Josiah Stowell's house and out houses, while at Palmyra at Sampson Stowell's correctly, that he had told about a painted tree with a man's hand painted upon it by means of said stone." [87]

Joseph ultimately persuaded Stowell to give up looking for the mine

Joseph and his father traveled to southern New York in November of 1825. This was after the crops were harvested and Joseph had finished his visit to the Hill Cumorah that year. They participated with Stowell and the company of workers in digging for the mine for less than a month. Finally Joseph persuaded him to stop. "After laboring for the old gentleman about a month, without success, Joseph prevailed upon him to cease his operations." [88]

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

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

In March of the next year, Stowell's sons or nephew (depending on which account you follow) brought charges against Joseph and he was taken before Justice Neely. The supposed trial record came from Miss Pearsall. "The record of the examination was torn from Neely's docket book by his niece, Emily Persall, and taken to Utah when she went to serve as a missionary under Episcopalian bishop Daniel S. Tuttle." [89] This will be identified as the Pearsall account although Neely possessed it after her death. It is interesting that the first published version of this record didn't appear until after Miss Pearsall had died.

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

William D. Purple took notes at the trial and tells us, "In February, 1826, the sons of Mr. Stowell, ...were greatly incensed against Smith, ...saw that the youthful seer had unlimited control over the illusions of their sire... They caused the arrest of Smith as a vagrant, without visible means of livelihood." [90]

Whereas the Pearsall account says: "Warrant issued upon oath of Peter G. Bridgman, [Josiah Stowell's nephew] who informed that one Joseph Smith of Bainbridge was a disorderly person and an imposter...brought before court March 20, 1826" [91]

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


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

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

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


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

Ensign (June 1994):

Highlights in the Prophet’s Life 20 Mar. 1826: Tried and acquitted on fanciful charge of being a “disorderly person,” South Bainbridge, Chenango County, New York. New York law defined a disorderly person as, among other things, a vagrant or a seeker of “lost goods.” The Prophet had been accused of both: the first charge was false and was made simply to cause trouble; Joseph’s use of a seer stone to see things that others could not see with the naked eye brought the second charge. Those who brought the charges were apparently concerned that Joseph might bilk his employer, Josiah Stowell, out of some money. Mr. Stowell’s testimony clearly said this was not so and that he trusted Joseph Smith. [92]


Question: Didn't Hugh Nibley claim that a record of this trial would be "the most damning evidence in existence" against Joseph Smith?

Nibley felt that the "court record" didn't seem to be correct

Hugh Nibley had serious doubts as to whether or not Joseph Smith was actually brought to trial in 1826, and he felt that the only real trial was in 1830. For the most part, Nibley felt that the "court record" didn't seem to be correct. The following quote is taken from Nibley's book "The Myth Makers:"

"if this court record is authentic it is the most damning evidence in existence against Joseph Smith."

Why are the 1971 discoveries important?

It was easy to cast doubt on the reality of the 1826 hearing until the bills from Judge Albert Neely and Constable Philip De Zeng were found in 1971. These documents were removed from their purported site of discovery by Dr. Wesley Walters, a well-known anti-Mormon author.

Walters wrote, "Because the two 1826 bills had not only suffered from dampness, but had severe water damage as well, Mr. Poffarl hand-carried the documents to the Yale University's Beinecke Library, which has one of the best document preservation centers in the country." [93] The problem with this action is, once you have removed a document from a historical setting and then try to restore it to the same setting, you can't prove that you have not altered the document.

The actions of Walters and Poffarl compromised the documents. By having the documents removed and only returned under threat of a lawsuit by the County, it opened the possibility that they could be forged documents. They are generally considered to be authentic.

Nibley's real point at issue is not whether or not there was a trial, but whether or not a record existed proving Joseph guilty of deceit

Since Wesley Walters has found some bills related to the trial, the critics now claim that the case is proven and that Nibley has proven their case for them. Nothing is further from the truth. First of all you need to look at the whole quote. Nibley was chastising Tuttle for not actually using the trial record that he had. He was questioning why he would do that if it was so important.

"You knew its immense value as a weapon against Joseph Smith if its authenticity could be established. And the only way to establish authenticity was to get hold of the record book from which the pages had been purportedly torn. After all, you had only Miss Pearsall's word for it that the book ever existed. Why didn't you immediately send he back to find the book or make every effort to get hold of I? Why didn't you "unearth" it, as they later said you did? . . . The authenticity of the record still rests entirely on the confidential testimony of Miss Pearsall to the Bishop. And who was Miss Pearsall? A zealous old maid, apparently: "a woman helper in our mission," who lived right in the Tuttle home and would do anything to assist her superior. The picture I get is that of a gossipy old housekeeper. If this court record is authentic, it is the most damning evidence in existence against Joseph Smith. Why, then, [speaking to Tuttle] was it not republished in your article in the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge after 1891? . . . in 1906 Bishop Tuttle published his Reminiscences of a Missionary Bishop in which he blasts the Mormons as hotly as ever. . . yet in the final summary of his life's experiences he never mentions the story of the court record - his one claim to immortal fame and the gratitude of the human race if it were true!" (Nibley "The Myth Makers", 246)

The Pearsall account, which has never been produced, claims that the defendant was found guilty. The real point at issue is not whether or not there was a trial, but whether or not a record existed proving Joseph guilty of deceit. A document proving such guilt has not been found.


Question: What did critics of the Church during Joseph Smith's lifetime think of the 1826 court hearing?

Critics of Joseph Smith's time ignored the 1826 court hearing

Critics of Joseph Smith's time ignored the 1826 court hearing:

  1. They didn't bring it up in another trial in the same area in 1830.
  2. It was not mentioned in any of the affidavits collected by Hurlbut in 1833, even though he was diligently looking for every piece of dirt he could find.
  3. Although the trial was briefly mentioned in 1831, it was not mentioned again in a published record for 46 years.

The attraction of this event for a later generation of critics, however, lies in the fact that:

  • Society had changed
  • Seer Stones were no longer acceptable
  • Treasure digging was considered abnormal
  • Spiritual gifts were reinterpreted as manifestations of the occult

Many people of the 1800s did not see any differences between what later generations would label as "magic" and religiously-driven activities recorded in the Bible

Many people of the 1800s did not see any differences between what later generations would label as "magic" and religiously-driven activities recorded in the Bible—such as Joseph's silver cup (see Genesis 44:2,5) in which 'he divineth' (which was also practiced by the surrounding pagans and referred to as hydromancy),[94] or the rod of Aaron and its divinely-driven power (Exodus 7:9-12).

The Bible records that Jacob used rods to cause Laban's cattle to produce spotted, and speckled offspring (see Genesis 30:37-39) — one can only imagine what the critics would say should Joseph Smith have attempted such a thing!

In Joseph Smith's own day other Christian leaders were involved in practices which today's critics would call 'occultic'

In Joseph Smith's own day other Christian leaders were involved in practices which today's critics would call 'occultic.' Quinn, for instance, observes that in "1825, a Massachusetts magazine noted with approval that a local clergyman used a forked divining rod.... Similarly, a Methodist minister wrote twenty-three years later that a fellow clergymen in New Jersey had used a divining rod up to the 1830s to locate buried treasure and the 'spirits [that] keep guard over buried coin'...." [95]

Activities of the early 1800s or Biblical times which later generations would view skeptically were simply thought of as part of how the world worked

It is important to realize that every statement about "magic" or the "occult" by LDS authors is a negative one. Joseph and his contemporaries would likely have shocked and dismayed to be charged with practicing "magic." For them, such beliefs were simply how the world worked. Someone might make use of a compass without understanding the principles of magnetism. This mysterious, but apparently effective, device was useful even if its underlying mechanism was not understood. In a similar way, activities of the early 1800s or Biblical times which later generations would view skeptically were simply thought of as part of how the world worked.

But, it is a huge leap from this realization to charging that Joseph and his followers believed they were drawing power from anything but a divine or proper source.


Question: What are the details of Joseph Smith's 1826 "trial" for "glasslooking"?

What records of the court hearing exist?

We have five records of the 1826 hearing. These were published in eight documents.

1. Apr. 9, 1831 - A W. Benton in Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate
2.Oct. 1835 - Oliver Cowdery in Latter-day Saints Messenger and Advocate
3.1842 letter from Joel K. Noble (not published until 1977)
4.Record torn from Judge Neely docket book by Miss Emily Pearsall (niece)

  • Feb. 1873 - Charles Marshall publishes in Frazer's Magazine (London)
  • Apr. 1873 - Frazer's article reprinted in Eclectic Magazine (N.Y.)
  • 1883 - Tuttle article in New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge
  • Jan. 1886 - Christian Advocate vol. 2, no. 13 (Salt Lake City, UT)

5. May 3, 1877 - W. D. Purple Chenango Union

It may be that Purple saw the publication in the Eclectic Magazine and that is why he published his account a few years later. There are no complete overlaps in the accounts; we will look at the similarities and differences.

Finally, we have the bills by Judge Neely and Constable Da Zeng which provide some additional useful details.

Document provenance

We don't have the actual record that Miss Pearsall had, but the claimed trail of events leads as follows:

  1. Miss Pearsall tears the record from the docket book of her uncle Judge Neely
  2. She takes the record with her to Utah when she went to work with Bishop Tuttle.
  3. Miss Pearsall dies in 1872.
  4. Charles Marshall copies the record and has it published in Frazer's Magazine in 1873.
  5. Ownership falls to Tuttle after Miss Pearsall's death
  6. Tuttle published in 1883 Schaff-Herzog encyclopedia.
  7. Tuttle gave it to the Methodists who published it in 1886
  8. Then the record was lost.

It will be noticed with interest, that although Bishop Tuttle and others had access to the Pearsall account for several years it was not published until after her death. That combined with the fact that the torn leaves were never allowed to be examined, would cast some doubt on the completeness or accuracy of that which was published.

Do we have a court record?

We know that the supposed "court record" obtained by Miss Pearsall can't be a court record at all.

  1. Misdemeanor trials were not recorded, only felony trials.
  2. No witness signatures—they were required in an official record.
  3. It appears to be a pretrial hearing.
  4. Pretrial hearings cannot deliver guilty verdicts.

Why were the various records made?

This is the reason that the people stated for why they were putting forth this information.

  1. Benton: more complete history of their founder
  2. Cowdery: private character of our brother
  3. Noble: explain the character of the Mormons
  4. Marshal: preserve a piece of information about the prophet
  5. Purple: as a precursor of the advent of the wonder of the age, Mormonism
  6. Tuttle: [to show] In what light he appeared to others
  7. Judge Neely: to collect fees

Unsurprisingly, those who provided these accounts had an agenda. We are not looking at an event through the eyes of an unbiased observer, and most of that bias is directed against Joseph Smith.

Who brought the charges?

If we look at the individuals bringing the charges, we have the following: Benton (1831): The Public Cowdery (1835): very officious person Noble (1842): Civil authority Marshall (1873): Peter G. Bridgman Purple (1877): sons of Mr. Stowell Tuttle (1883): Peter G. Bridgman Judge Neely: The Public

Note that the agreement of Marshall and Tuttle is misleading because they are essentially quoting the same source.

Whether it was Josiah Stowell's sons or his nephew Peter G. Bridgman, it seems to be close family members. We don't know why Peter G. Bridgman brought the charges, but it could easily have been because he was worried that his uncle was accepting Joseph Smith in his religious claims. Josiah did join the church organized by Joseph Smith and stayed faithful his whole life. As for Peter Bridgman, "Within a month after the trial he was licensed as an exhorter by the Methodists and within three years had helped establish the West Bainbridge Methodist Church. Upon his death in 1872 his fellow ministers characterized him as 'an ardent Methodist and any attack upon either the doctrines or the polity of the Methodist Episcopal Church, within his field of labor, was sure to be repelled by him with a vigorous hand." [96]

Is it possible that the trial of Joseph Smith was just one of his first attempts to apply a "vigorous hand?"

What was the charge against Joseph Smith?

The charge is listed in the various accounts as:

  1. Benton (1831): a disorderly person
  2. Cowdery (1835): a disorderly person
  3. Noble (1842): under the Vagrant act
  4. Marshall (1873): a disorderly person and an imposter
  5. Purple (1877): a vagrant, without visible means of livelihood
  6. Tuttle (1882): a disorderly person and an imposter
  7. Judge Neely: a misdemeanor

Hugh Nibley indicated how it would be strange that he could be charged without visible means of livelihood, since he was being employed by Stowell and others.

The portion of the statute that would seem to apply was enacted by New York in 1813.

...all persons who not having wherewith to maintain themselves, live idle without employment, and also all persons who go about from door to door, or place themselves in the streets, highways or passages, to beg in the cities or towns where they respectively dwell, and all jugglers, and all persons pretending to have skill in physiognomy, palmistry, or like crafty science, or pretending to tell fortunes, or to discover where lost goods may be found; ... shall be deemed and adjudged disorderly persons.

What is a juggler? It used to be that a person skilled in sleight of hand was called a juggler, whereas today we would call them a "sleight of hand magician." Thus, a "juggler" was a con man; someone using his 'stage magic' talents to defraud. [97]

But what if you weren't pretending to discover lost goods? What if you actually had a gift where you "could discern things invisible to the natural eye" Could you then be judged guilty of this statute?

How many witnesses testified?

As far as the number of witnesses we have the following:

  1. Benton (1831): not mentioned
  2. Cowdery (1835): not mentioned
  3. Marshall (1873): Five quoted, charges for seven witnesses
  4. Tuttle (1882): Six
  5. Purple (1877): Four
  6. Constable Philip De Zeng: Twelve

What is particularly interesting here is that Tuttle and Marshall are supposedly quoting from the same document. Marshall only quotes 5 witnesses, but at the end, the charges are listed for seven witnesses. The fee was 12-1/2 cents per witness. Eighty-seven and ½ cents divided by twelve ½ cents per witness, gives us seven witnesses. By combining the Purple and Pearsall accounts we can arrive at seven witnesses, and also a motive for not including all the witnesses or letting the record be examined. It is unknown why the constable would have listed twelve witnesses, unless that is the number he summoned to the proceedings. Seven would seem to be the correct number of those that testified.

What witness is excluded from some accounts?

Purple does add a witness that hadn't been included by Marshall or Tuttle: Joseph Smith, Sr. Maybe they didn't want to include the testimony of Joseph's father because his testimony was more religious in nature. He spoke of Joseph's "wonderful triumphs as a seer", that "both he and his son were mortified that this wonderful power which God had so miraculously given him should be used only in search of filthy lucre," and "he trusted that the Son of Righteousness would some day illumine the heart of the boy, and enable him to see His will concerning him." It is easy to see why this testimony wouldn't be included in a record where you are trying to show that Joseph Smith was a person trying to acquire work as a money digger. Which might be the reason the Tuttle and Marshall omitted the Joseph Smith Sr. testimony.

What verdict was brought against Joseph?

  1. Benton: tried and condemned ... designedly allowed to escape
  2. Cowdery: honorably acquitted
  3. Noble: was condemned, took leg bail
  4. Marshall: guilty?
  5. Tuttle: guilty?
  6. Purple: discharged
  7. Constable De Zeng: not a trial

Noble's statement is hearsay, since there is no evidence that he actually attended this trial. Furthermore, his statement and Benton's statement can't be taken as an indication that Joseph was judged guilty. For example, in Joseph's 1830 trial he was acquitted. The court said that they "find nothing to condemn you, and therefore you are discharged." Then Mr Reid testifies, "They then proceeded to reprimand him severely, not because anything derogatory to his character in any shape had been proven against him by the host of witnesses that had testified during the trial." [98]

The verdict indicated by Marshall and Tuttle is questionable. It seems to be appended as an afterthought. Throughout the document Joseph is referred to as the "prisoner", then after the last testimony, we have one sentence in which he is named a defendant, "And thereupon the Court finds the defendant guilty." Here we have suddenly a declaratory statement that is completely out of character with the rest of the Pearsall document. Also, if this were actually a trial, Joseph wouldn't have testified against himself as the first witness.

The examination was not a trial

Wesley P. Walters has demonstrated that this is not a trial. The Constable's charges of "19 cents attached to the mittimus marks it as the pre-trial 'commitment for want of bail' ...and not the post-trial 'warrant of commitment, on conviction, twenty-five cents." [99]

In the Tanners' anti-Mormon Salt Lake City Messenger, they stated, "Wesley P. Walters had convincingly demonstrated to us that we were dealing with 'an examination.' In a New Conductor Generalis, 1819, page 142, we learn that in an 'examination' the accused is not put under oath but that the witnesses are'" [100]

In all cases but one the witnesses were "sworn", whereas Joseph was examined. Judge Neeley's charges actually uses that precise terminology, "in examination of above cause". Therefore, since this wasn't a trial, one cannot have a guilty verdict.

Summary of testimony

  • Joseph Smith, Jr.: In the Purple account he tells about finding his stone and he exhibits his stone. In the Pearsall record it talks about how Stowell came and got Joseph, "had been employed by said Stowel on his farm, and going to school;" He informed Stowell where to find treasures, and buried coins and that he did it for the previous three years. But Joseph did not solicit and declined having anything to do with the business.
  • Joseph Smith Sr.: This testimony is only in the Purple account. We discussed earlier how he felt this power showed that Joseph was a seer and that Joseph Sr. was mortified by the use of the sacred power and that he hoped that eventually it would get used correctly. Since this testimony puts Joseph in a positive light it is understandable why it wasn't included in the published versions of the Pearsall account.
  • Josiah Stowell: His employer's testimony in the Purple account has Josiah say that Joseph could see 50 feet below the surface, described many circumstances to confirm his words. He said, "do I believe it? No, it is not a matter of belief: I positively know it to be true."
We go to the Pearsall record, for a slightly different account of the Josiah Stowell testimony. It tells how Joseph "looked through stone, and described Josiah Stowel's house and out-houses while at Palmyra, at Simpson Stowel's, correctly; that he had told about a painted tree with a man's hand painted upon it, by means of said stone;" Josiah tells about Joseph's being employed part time. It also contains the part that "he positively knew that the prisoner could tell, and professed the art of seeing those valuable treasures through the medium of said stone." He talked about finding something for Deacon Attelon that looked like gold ore. Josiah talked about Mr. Bacon burying some money and that Joseph described how there was a feather buried with the money. They found the feather but the money was gone. Josiah said that he "had been in company with prisoner digging for gold, and had the most implicit faith in prisoner's skill."

Stowell joined the Church in 1830, and died in full fellowship, planning to join the Saints "in Zion."[101]


  • Horace Stowell: This testimony is only found in the Neely record. It is a short testimony that describes where a chest of dollars was buried in Winchester County and that Joseph marked the size of the chest with leaves on the ground.
  • Arad Stowell: This witness went to see Joseph and wanted Joseph to display his skill. He laid out a book on a cloth. While holding a white stone to a candle, he read the book. Arad said that he was disappointed and went away because to him it was obviously a deception, but he doesn't tell us why he thought it was a deception. It would have been nice if he had told us why he thought that. Was it just that he had his mind made up before he went to see Joseph?

There are only three testimonies that are duplicated in both the Purple and Pearsall accounts. They are Joseph Smith, Josiah Stowel and Jonathan Thompson. In the Purple account Thompson said that he could not remember finding anything of value. He stated that Joseph claimed there was a treasure protected by sacrifice and that they had to be armed by fasting and prayer. They struck the treasure with a shovel. One man placed his hand on the treasure, but it gradually sunk out of reach. Joseph believed there was a lack of faith or devotion that caused the failure. They talked about getting the blood from a lamb and sprinkling it around.

Interestingly, the same witness in the Pearsall record says that Joseph indicated where the treasure was. He looked in the hat and told them how it was situated. An Indian had been killed and buried with the treasure. So this detail matches with the Purple account. The treasure kept settling away. Then Joseph talked about salt that could be found in Bainbridge and described money that Thompson had lost 16 years ago. Joseph described the man that had taken it and what happened to the money. There is nothing mentioned about sacrificing sheep or not having sufficient faith and so forth. The Pearsall record is supposedly a more complete written record, but it doesn't have the bleeding sheep, or fasting and prayer that characterizes the Purple account.


Response to claim: "Some things that are true are not very useful"

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

"Apostle Boyd Packer declared, 'There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not.' 'Some things that are true are not very useful.'"

FairMormon Response

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

Elder Packer was not speaking to Mormon historians, he was speaking to members of the Church Educational System (CES)


Question: Why did Elder Boyd K. Packer state that "Some things that are true are not very useful"?

Elder Packer was giving an address to religious educators called "The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect"

Elder Packer gave an address to religious educators called "The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect."[102] The quote shown above has become a favorite of critics as a way to demonstrate that the Church suppresses truth or intellectual thought.

Critics state that Elder Packer was telling Mormon historians to document only faithful history

A common criticism of Elder Packer's remarks is represented by the following quote from D. Michael Quinn:

Elder Packer demands that Mormon historians demonstrate and affirm that "the hand of the Lord [has been] in every hour and every moment of the Church from its beginning till now."

— D. Michael Quinn, "On Being a Mormon Historian," 80.[103]

Elder Packer was not speaking to Mormon historians, he was speaking to members of the Church Educational System (CES)

This does not accurately reflect Elder Packer's remarks, however, since Elder Packer was not speaking to "Mormon historians"—he was, rather, speaking to members of CES, the Church Educational System. Elder Packer makes his intended audience clear:

You seminary teachers and some of you institute and BYU men will be teaching the history of the Church this school year. This is an unparalleled opportunity in the lives of your students to increase their faith and testimony of the divinity of this work. Your objective should be that they will see the hand of the Lord in every hour and every moment of the Church from its beginning till now.

CES consists of Church employees who have been hired by the Church to teach its doctrine and promote faith in its young people

CES consists of Church employees who have been hired by the Church to teach its doctrine and promote faith in its young people. Surely it is well within the Church's purview to insist that the perspective on Church history taught in its religion classes will be supportive of, and not destructive of, faith? Surely the CES's study of history is not merely an academic exercise, but also has a spiritual goal?


Response to claim: "Mormon histories are not forthcoming about the statements by the three and eight witnesses"

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

Official Mormon histories are not forthcoming about the statements by the three and eight witnesses respectively, who claim to have seen Smith's gold plates and handled them. The faith promoting histories do not inform investigators or members that their experience was one that took place in their imaginations or as they called it, "spiritual eyes," "eyes of our understanding," "a supernatural vision," or "visions of the mind."

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

Actually, critics of the Church are not forthcoming about the many clear statements made by the three and eight witnesses that indicate that they saw and handled the plates. Instead, they focus on a few second- and third-hand account in which scriptural language such as "spiritual eyes" was used in order to discredit the witnesses.


Question: Did the three witnesses's experience of seeing the plates and the angel take place only in their minds?

The Three Witnesses were very explicit that they had actually seen the angel and the plates

Some critics suggest that the witnesses’ encounter with the angel and the plates took place solely in their minds. They claim that witnesses saw the angel in a “vision” and equate “vision” with imagination. To bolster this claim they generally cite two supposed quotes from Martin Harris. Supposedly Harris was once asked if he saw the plates with his “naked eyes” to which he responded, “No, I saw them with a spiritual eye.”[104] In another interview Harris allegedly claimed that he only saw the plates in a “visionary or entranced state.”[105]

Oliver Cowdery wrote explicitly for himself and Martin Harris when he replied, in a November 1829 letter, to questions about whether "juggling" (i.e., trickery or conjuring) could have explained what they saw:

"It was a clear, open beautiful day, far from any inhabitants, in a remote field, at the time we saw the record, of which it has been spoken, brought and laid before us, by an angel, arrayed in glorious light, [who] ascend [descended I suppose] out of the midst of heaven. Now if this is human juggling—judge ye."[106]

Critics impose their own interpretation on phrases that do not match what the witnesses reported in many separate interviews. When challenged on the very point which the critics wish to read into their statements—their literal reality—both Harris and the other witnesses were adamant that their experience was literal, real, and undeniable. As early convert William E. McLellin reported:

"D[avid] Whitmer then arose and bore testimony to having seen an Holy Angel who had made known the truth of this record to him. [A]ll these strange things I pondered in my heart."[107]

David Whitmer's gravestone, upon which is engraved his testimony of the Book of Mormon: "The record of the Jews and the record of the Nephites are one."

Question: Does the belief that the experience had visionary qualities contradict the claim that the plates were real?

For Joseph, the Witnesses, and the Saints, "spiritual" does not imply something other or less than "material" or "literal"; it means something additional.

Does “visionary” mean “imaginary?” The critics who resort to this tactic to discredit the witnesses are often secularists—as such, they consider any talk of the spiritual as delusion or imagination. Yet, their understanding of such terms does not match how Martin and the other witnesses meant them.

Consider: on separate occasions Harris also claimed that prior to his witnessing the plates he held them (while covered) “on his knee for an hour and a half”[108] and that they weighed approximately fifty pounds.[109] It seems unlikely– from his physical descriptions as well as his other testimonies and the testimonies of the other two witnesses—that he meant to imply that the entire experience was merely in his mind.

A second account claims that the two witnesses' accounts differed, but makes it clear that both Harris and Whitmer had at some point physically handled and examined the plates:

Whitmar’s [sic] description of the Book of Mormon, differs entirely from that given by Harris; both of whom it would seem have been of late permitted, not only to see and handle it, but to examine its contents. Whitmar relates that he was led by Smith into an open field, on his father’s farm near Waterloo, when they found the book lying on the ground; Smith took it up and requested him to examine it, which he did for the space of half an hour or more, when he returned it to Smith, who placed it in its former position, alledging that the book was in the custody of another, intimating that some Divine agent would have it in safe keeping.[110]

Critics are again accustomed to seeing "spiritual" as either implying something totally "Other" from physical, tangible reality, or as something delusional. But, Joseph Smith and his contemporaries in the Church did not understand things in such a way. As Joseph was to later write:

There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; 8 We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.(DC 131:7-8.)


Question: Did Martin Harris claim that he only saw the gold plates as they were covered "as a city through a mountain"?

A letter from Stephen Burnett claims that Harris never saw the plates at all, and that he only saw them when they were covered with a cloth

The quote in question is from a letter from Stephen Burnett to "Br. Johnson" on 15 April 1838:

when I came to hear Martin Harris state in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver nor David & also that the eight witnesses never saw them & hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it, the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundation was sapped & the entire superstructure fell in heap of ruins, I therefore three week since in the Stone Chapel...renounced the Book of Mormon...after we were done speaking M Harris arose & said he was sorry for any man who rejected the Book of Mormon for he knew it was true, he said he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them, but he never saw them only as he saw a city throught [sic] a mountain. And said that he never should have told that the testimony of the eight was false, if it had not been picked out of—–—[him/me?] but should have let it passed as it was...[111]

When Harris said that "he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them," he was not referring to his experience as one of the Three Witnesses

The comment about hefting the plates repeatedly while they were covered by a cloth refers to the period of time when he was assisting Joseph Smith in the translation - a time during which Harris was not allowed to view the plates. What is missing from Burnett's account is any mention of Harris stating that he saw the plates as one of the Three Witnesses. For years after Harris is said to have made the comment related by Burnett, he used clear language to assert that he had actually seen the plates. For example, Martin Harris said in the presence of 12-year-old William Glenn:

Gentlemen, do you see that hand? Are you sure you see it? Are your eyes playing a trick or something? No. Well, as sure as you see my hand so sure did I see the angel and the plates.[112]

Harris told Robert Aveson,

It is not a mere belief, but is a matter of knowledge. I saw the plates and the inscriptions thereon. I saw the angel, and he showed them unto me.[113]

George Mantle recalls what Martin Harris said while he was in Birmingham on a mission for the Strangites. This was well after Martin had left the Church:

When we came out of the meeting Martin Harris was beset with a crowd in the street, expecting that he would furnish them with material to war against Mormonism; but when he was asked if Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, he answered yes; and when asked if the Book of Mormon was true, this was his answer: 'Do you know that is the sun shining on us? Because as sure as you know that, I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, and that he translated that book by the power of God.'[114]

These statements are much clearer regarding Martin's experience with the place than Burnett's account of him claiming to have seen the plates while they were covered as a "city through a mountain".


Martin Harris said that "He had seen and handled them all"

An early hostile account of Martin Harris' testimony in 1831 makes it clear that Harris' listeners got the message that the experience was literal, though done by God's power. The Painseville Telegraph published the following on 15 March 1831:

Martin Harris, another chief of Mormon imposters, arrived here last Saturday from the bible quarry in New-York. He immediately planted himself in the bar-room of the hotel, where he soon commenced reading and explaining the Mormon hoax, and all the dark passages from Genesis to Revelations. He told all about the gold plates, Angels, Spirits, and Jo Smith.—He had seen and handled them all, by the power of God![115]


David Whitmer (1887): "We were in the spirit when we had the view...but we were in the body also"

David Whitmer helps clear up the “spiritual” vs. “natural” viewing of the plates. Responding to the interviewer who questioned Harris. Anthony Metcalf wrote:

In March 1887, I wrote a letter to David Whitmer, requesting him to explain to me the condition he was in when he saw the angel and the plates, from which the Book of Mormon is supposed to have been translated. In April, 1887, I received a letter from David Whitmer, dated on the second of that month, replying to my communication, from which I copy, verbatim, as follows:

‘In regards to my testimony to the visitation of the angel, who declared to us three witnesses that the Book of Mormon is true, I have this to say: Of course we were in the spirit when we had the view, for no man can behold the face of an angel, except in a spiritual view, but we were in the body also, and everything was as natural to us, as it is at any time. Martin Harris, you say, called it ‘being in vision.’ We read in the Scriptures, Cornelius saw, in a vision, an angel of God, Daniel saw an angel in a vision, also in other places it states they saw an angel in the spirit. A bright light enveloped us where we were, that filled at noon day, and there in a vision, or in the spirit, we saw and heard just as it is stated in my testimony in the Book of Mormon. I am now passed eighty-two years old, and I have a brother, J. J. Snyder, to do my writing for me, at my dictation.[116]


Painesville Telegraph (1830): "The name of the person here, who pretends to have a divine mission, and to have seen and conversed with Angels, is Cowdray"

Painesville Telegraph, 16 November 1830:

About Two weeks since some persons came along here with the book, one of whom pretends to have seen Angels, and assisted in translating the plates. He proclaims the destruction upon the world within a few years,--holds forth that the ordinances of the gospel, have not been regularly administered since the days of the Apostles, till the said Smith and himself commenced the work . . . . The name of the person here, who pretends to have a divine mission, and to have seen and conversed with Angels, is Cowdray.”[117]


Martin Harris: "As sure as you see my hand so sure did I see the angel and the plates"

Martin Harris said in the presence of 12-year-old William Glenn:

Gentlemen, do you see that hand? Are you sure you see it? Are your eyes playing a trick or something? No. Well, as sure as you see my hand so sure did I see the angel and the plates.[118]


Edward Stevenson (1870): Martin Harris said "my belief is swallowed up in knowledge; for I want to say to you that as the Lord lives I do know that I stood with the Prophet Joseph Smith in the presence of the angel"

Elder Edward Stevenson reported in 1870:

On one occasion several of his old acquaintances made an effort to get him tipsy by treating him to some wine. When they thought he was in a good mood for talk they put the question very carefully to him, ‘Well, now, Martin, we want you to be frank and candid with us in regard to this story of your seeing an angel and the golden plates of the Book of Mormon that are so much talked about. We have always taken you to be an honest good farmer and neighbor of ours but could not believe that you did see an angel. Now, Martin, do you really believe that you did see an angel, when you were awake?’ ‘No,’ said Martin, ‘I do not believe it.’ The crowd were delighted, but soon a different feeling prevailed, as Martin true to his trust, said, ‘Gentlemen, what I have said is true, from the fact that my belief is swallowed up in knowledge; for I want to say to you that as the Lord lives I do know that I stood with the Prophet Joseph Smith in the presence of the angel, and it was the brightness of day.” [119]


Martin Harris: "The Book of Mormon is no fake. I know what I know. I have seen what I have seen and I have heard what I have heard"

George Godfrey, and Martin Harris's response to him, after Godfrey suggested that Harris had been deceived:

A few hours before his death and when he was so weak and enfeebled that he was unable to recognize me or anyone, and knew not to whom he was speaking, I asked him if he did not feel that there was an element at least, of fraudulence and deception in the things that were written and told of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and he replied as he had always done so many, many times in my hearing the same spirit he always manifested when enjoying health and vigor and said: ‘The Book of Mormon is no fake. I know what I know. I have seen what I have seen and I have heard what I have heard. I have seen the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon is written. An angel appeared to me and others and testified to the truthfulness of the record, and had I been willing to have perjured myself and sworn falsely to the testimony I now bear I could have been a rich man, but I could not have testified other than I have done and am now doing for these things are true.[120]


David Whitmer (1884): "I saw with these eyes and I heard with these ears"

David Whitmer's response when asked if he "had been mistaken and had simply been moved upon by some mental disturbance, or hallucination, which had deceived them into thinking he saw the Personage, the Angel, the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the sword of Laban."

Whitmer was interviewed by Joseph Smith III, in the presence of others, not all of whom were disposed to believe his account. Significantly, he listed several items that he had seen, besides the golden plates:

Rather suggestively [Colonel Giles] asked if it might not have been possible that he, Mr. Whitmer, had been mistaken and had simply been moved upon by some mental disturbance, or hallucination, which had deceived them into thinking he saw the Personage, the Angel, the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the sword of Laban. How well and distinctly I remember the manner in which Elder Whitmer arose and drew himself up to his full height—a little over six feet—and said, in solemn and impressive tones: "No, sir! I was not under any hallucination, nor was I deceived! I saw with these eyes and I heard with these ears! I know whereof I speak!"[121]


Response to claim: "The eight witnesses did not all imagine seeing the plates or angel at the same time as the church leads people to believe"

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

The eight witnesses did not all imagine seeing the plates or angel at the same time as the church leads people to believe. The plates were imagined in two groups of four, not all 8 together as popularized in church paintings. (Deseret Evening News, 6 Aug. 1878, Letter to the editor from P. Wilhelm Poulson, M.D., typed transcript, p. 2) Only David Whitmer and perhaps Oliver Cowdery imagined the angel together. Martin Harris removed himself from the group and did not imagine seeing the angel until some three days later. (Grant Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, Chapter 6. Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast, n.d., microfilm copy, pp. 70-71)

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 spin is strong with this one, as the author flatly states that everyone "imagined" seeing the plates at different times either alone, in groups of two or groups of four. Seriously?


Response to claim: "Joseph Smith never had gold plates in view when "translating"

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

Response to claim: "Joseph Smith never had gold plates in view when "translating".

FairMormon Response

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

It is important to remember that what we do know for certain is that the translation of the Book of Mormon was carried out "by the gift and power of God." These are the only words that Joseph Smith himself used to describe the translation process. We do not know the exact method of translation, other than Joseph employed instruments designated for that purpose: The Nephite interpreters and his own seer stone. Many have offered their own opinions about how these devices "functioned" in the process, but it should be kept in mind that these opinions are given by people who never performed the translation process itself: They can only report on what they observed the Prophet doing at the time.


Response to claim: "nor did he use an Old Testament instrument called the Urim and Thummim"

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

nor did he use an Old Testament instrument called the Urim and Thummim.

FairMormon Response

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

Historical sources also indicate that at some later point in time, both the Nephite interpreters and Joseph's seer stone were referred to using the term "Urim and Thummim." Whether Joseph used the "original" Urim and Thummim (i.e. Nephite interpreters or "spectacles") or his own seer stone to perform this sacred task is beside the point, and it does not diminish the power of the resulting work. However, at no time did anyone indicate that any of these instruments were the "Old Testament instrument" referred to by the same name.


Question: How exactly did Joseph Smith translate the gold plates?

Joseph Smith only stated that he translated the Book of Mormon by the "gift and power of God"

All that we know for certain is that Joseph translated the record "by the gift and power of God." (D&C 135:3) We are given some insight into the spiritual aspect of the translation process, when the Lord says to Oliver Cowdery:

"But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right." (D&C 9:8)

Beyond this, the Church does not take any sort of official stand on the exact method by which the Book of Mormon translation occurred. Joseph Smith himself never recorded the precise physical details of the method of translation:

"Brother Joseph Smith, Jun., said that it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon; and also said that it was not expedient for him to relate these things"[122]

It is important to remember that what we do know for certain is that the translation of the Book of Mormon was carried out "by the gift and power of God." These are the only words that Joseph Smith himself used to describe the translation process.


Gospel Topics: "According to these accounts, Joseph placed either the interpreters or the seer stone in a hat, pressed his face into the hat to block out extraneous light, and read aloud the English words"

Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

[T]he scribes and others who observed the translation left numerous accounts that give insight into the process. Some accounts indicate that Joseph studied the characters on the plates. Most of the accounts speak of Joseph’s use of the Urim and Thummim (either the interpreters or the seer stone), and many accounts refer to his use of a single stone. According to these accounts, Joseph placed either the interpreters or the seer stone in a hat, pressed his face into the hat to block out extraneous light, and read aloud the English words that appeared on the instrument. The process as described brings to mind a passage from the Book of Mormon that speaks of God preparing “a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light.”[123]


Russell M. Nelson: "The details of this miraculous method of translation are still not fully known. Yet we do have a few precious insights"

Russell M. Nelson:

The details of this miraculous method of translation are still not fully known. Yet we do have a few precious insights. David Whitmer wrote: “Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.” (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, Richmond, Mo.: n.p., 1887, p. 12.)[124]


Marcus B. Nash: "This was dictated, word by word, as he looked into instruments the Lord prepared for him, using a hat to shield his eyes from extraneous light"

Marcus B. Nash:

This was not a composition. This was dictated, word by word, as he looked into instruments the Lord prepared for him, using a hat to shield his eyes from extraneous light in order to plainly see the words as they appeared. Contrary to one who translates with the use of a dictionary, as it were, the translation was revelation flowing to him from heaven, and written by scribes (with the inevitable scrivener errors). [125]—(Click here to continue)


Nicholson: "This essay focuses primarily on the methods and instruments used in the translation process and how a faithful Latter-day Saint might view these as further evidence of truthfulness of the restored Gospel"

Roger Nicholson:

This essay seeks to examine the Book of Mormon translation method from the perspective of a regular, nonscholarly, believing member in the twenty-first century, by taking into account both what is learned in Church and what can be learned from historical records that are now easily available. What do we know? What should we know? How can a believing Latter-day Saint reconcile apparently conflicting accounts of the translation process? An examination of the historical sources is used to provide us with a fuller and more complete understanding of the complexity that exists in the early events of the Restoration. These accounts come from both believing and nonbelieving sources, and some skepticism ought to be employed in choosing to accept some of the interpretations offered by some of these sources as fact. However, an examination of these sources provides a larger picture, and the answers to these questions provide an enlightening look into Church history and the evolution of the translation story. This essay focuses primarily on the methods and instruments used in the translation process and how a faithful Latter-day Saint might view these as further evidence of truthfulness of the restored Gospel.[126]—(Click here to continue)


Gardner: "What we will be looking at is the idea that this whole concept of the seer stone working...it’s stone that becomes the trigger that allows the seer to do what the seer does"

Brant Gardner:

A seer stone is a rock. We have seer stones. The church still has them, I’ve seen them. At one point in time I remember going on the temple square and going through the museum there and I saw one and I looked at it and I saw a rock. I didn’t see the translation, I didn’t see anything else I saw a rock. I can pretty much guarantee you that the vast majority of us as we would look at that rock would see, a rock. That does not mean that something isn’t working because they were looking at the rock and that’s what we have to look at. What we will be looking at is the idea that this whole concept of the seer stone working “It’s the seer that’s working,” and it’s stone that becomes the trigger that allows the seer to do what the seer does. So that’s kind of step one and we will talk about how that happens.[127]—(Click here to continue)


Response to claim: "One of Joseph Smith's first experiments with adultery began with a teen-age girl named Fanny Ward Alger"

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

One of Joseph Smith's first experiments with adultery began with a teen-age girl named Fanny Ward Alger

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 Fanny Alger marriage illustrates many of the difficulties which the historian encounters in polygamy. There is little information available, much of it is second hand, and virtually all of it was recorded "after the fact." Even the dates are unclear, and subject to debate. It seems clear, however, that Joseph, Fanny's family, Levi Hancock, and even hostile witnesses saw their relationship as a marriage, albeit an unorthodox one. The witness of Chauncey Webb and Ann Eliza Webb Young make it untenable to claim that only a later Mormon whitewash turned an affair into a marriage.


Response to claim: "The LDS Church led by Joseph Smith, canonized monogamy as God's marriage arrangement"

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

The LDS Church led by Joseph Smith, canonized monogamy as God's marriage arrangement and then did an about-face, adopting polygamy as God's recommended mode of marriage (D&C 42:22-24 and 132)

FairMormon Response

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

The statement itself was not changed between the 1835 and 1844 editions of the D&C. In fact, the statement remained in the D&C until the 1876 edition, even though plural marriage had been taught since at least 1831, practiced in secret since 1836, and practiced openly since 1852. The matter of not removing it in 1852 was simply due to the fact that a new edition of the D&C was not published until 1876.


Question: Why did the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants include a statement of marriage that denied the practice of polygamy at a time when some were actually practicing it?

Polygamy was not being taught to the general Church membership at that time

The Article on Marriage was printed in the 1835 D&C as section 101 and in the 1844 D&C as section 109. The portion of the Article on Marriage relevant to polygamy states:

Inasmuch as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy: we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband, except in case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again. [128]

This was true—the Church membership generally was not being taught plural marriage, and were not living it at that time.

The statement itself was not changed between the 1835 and 1844 editions of the D&C

In fact, the statement remained in the D&C until the 1876 edition, even though plural marriage had been taught to specific individuals since at least 1831, practiced in secret since 1836, and practiced openly since 1852. The matter of not removing it in 1852 was simply due to the fact that a new edition of the D&C was not published until 1876.

The available evidence suggests that Joseph Smith supported its publication

While some have suggested that the article was published against Joseph's wishes or without his knowledge, the available evidence suggests that he supported its publication. It was likely included to counter the perception that the Mormon's practice of communal property (the "law of consecration") included a community of wives.

The statement was not a revelation given to Joseph Smith - it was written by Oliver Cowdery

This statement was not a revelation given to Joseph Smith—it was written by Oliver Cowdery and introduced to a conference of the priesthood at Kirtland on 17 August 1835. Cowdery also wrote a statement of belief on government that has been retained in our current edition of the D&C as section 134. Both were sustained at the conference and included in the 1835 D&C, which was already at the press and ready to be published. Joseph Smith was preaching in Michigan at the time Oliver and W.W. Phelps introduced these two articles to the conference; it is not known if he approved of their addition to the D&C at the time, although he did retain them in the 1844 Nauvoo edition, which argues that he was not opposed to them. (Phelps read the article on marriage, while Cowdery read the one on government.) [129]

Some have suggested that the manner in which the conference was called suggests that Joseph was not the instigator of it, since it seems to have been done quite quickly, with relatively few high church leaders in attendance:

The General Assembly, which may have been announced on only twenty-four hours' notice, was held Monday, August 17[, 1835]. Its spur-of-the-moment nature is demonstrated by observing that a puzzling majority of Church leaders were absent. Missing from the meeting were all of the Twelve Apostles, eight of the twelve Kirtland High Council members nine of the twelve Missouri High Council members, three of the seven Presidents of the Quorum of Seventy, Presiding Bishop Partridge, and...two of the three members of the First Presidency. [130]

However, there is also some evidence that an article on marriage was already anticipated, and cited four times in the new D&C's index, which was prepared under Joseph's direction and probably available prior to his departure. Thus, "if a disagreement existed, it was resolved before the Prophet left for Pontiac." [131]


Question: Was Oliver Cowdery aware that some in the Church were practicing polygamy in 1835 at the time he authored the "Article on Marriage"?

Oliver Cowdery, the author of the 1835 "Article on Marriage," was aware that some in the Church were practicing polygamy at the time that the statement was published

On July 7, 1878, Joseph F. Smith discussed Oliver's awareness of polygamy at the time of this publication:

To put this matter more correctly before you, I here declare that the principle of plural marriage was not first revealed on the 12th day of July, 1843. It was written for the first time on that date, but it had been revealed to the Prophet many years before that, perhaps as early as 1832. About this time, or subsequently, Joseph, the Prophet, intrusted this fact to Oliver Cowdery; he abused the confidence imposed in him, and brought reproach upon himself, and thereby upon the church by "running before he was sent," and "taking liberties without license," so to speak, hence the publication, by O. Cowdery, about this time, of an article on marriage, which was carefully worded, and afterwards found its way into the Doctrine and Covenants without authority. This article explains itself to those who understand the facts, and is an indisputable evidence of the early existence of the knowledge of the principle of patriarchal marriage by the Prophet Joseph, and also by Oliver Cowdery. [132]

However, there continues to be debate about whether Oliver Cowdery knew about--or prematurely practiced--plural marriage in the 1830s. [133] Oliver would learn about the Fanny Alger marriage, but his reaction at the time seems to have been wholly negative.

The original D&C 101 article outlined the general practice of performing a Latter-day Saint wedding, explained LDS beliefs about the marriage relationship, and denied that the Saints were practicing polygamy.


Question: Was the practice of polygamy general knowledge among Latter-day Saints in 1835 when the "Article on Marriage" was published?

Knowledge of the practice of polygamy among the Saints was limited prior to the 1840s

Some have argued that rumors of "polygamy" may already have been circulating as a result of the Prophet teaching the concept to some of his close associates. However, Brian Hales has argued that there are few if any extant attacks on Joseph or the Saints about polygamy prior to the 1840s:

...if the article was designed to neutralize reports about Joseph Smith and his alleged "crimes," polygamy would not have been included because that allegation was not made then nor at any other time during the Kirtland period according to any documentation currently available. In other words, assuming that the denial of polygamy in the "Marriage" article [of D&C 101] was specifically tied to rumors of Joseph Smith's behavior is problematic, unless other corroborating evidence can be located. [134]

Charges of polygamy or "free love" or having wives in common were often made against new or little-known religious or social groups

On the other hand, charges of polygamy or "free love" or having wives in common were often made against new or little-known religious or social groups. As Hales reports:

Some [nineteenth-century utopian societies] experimented with novel marital and sexual practices, which focused suspicion on all the groups....Accordingly, early Latter-day Saint efforts to live the law of consecration, even though it sustained traditional monogamy, were instantly misunderstood....

John L. Brooke...wrote: "Among the non-Mormons in Ohio there were suspicions that the community of property dictated in the 'Law of Consecration' included wives."...

It seems plausible, even likely, that beginning in 1831, some uninformed individuals assumed that the law of consecration included a community of wives as one of its tenets, even publishing such claims, although there is no indication that this is how the Mormons themselves interpreted the law of consecration. Understandably, Church leaders would actively seek to deny such untrue allegations in a document on marriage to be included in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. [135]

Gilbert Scharffs notes:

The original Section 101 (never claimed as a revelation but approved as a statement of belief) did state that monogamy was the practice of the Church at that time. The section was not written by Joseph Smith and was voted upon by members in his absence. Perhaps the section was intended to prevent members from getting involved with plural marriage until such a time as the practice would be authorized by the Lord Church-wide. When that became the fact, the current Section 132 replaced the old Section 101. [136]


Response to claim: Joseph said that "spiritual wifery" was "absolutely false and the doctrine an evil and unlawful thing"

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

It is claimed that Joseph lied when he stated the "spiritual wifery" was "absolutely false and the doctrine an evil and unlawful thing."

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 distinguished "spiritual wifery," a term used by John C. Bennett to justify adulter, from the doctrine of plural marriage.


Response to claim: "the first wife had to first give her consent in order for her husband to take another wife"

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

Contrary to the traditional LDS claim that the first wife had to first give her consent in order for her husband to take another wife, Emma Smith was unaware of nearly all of Joseph's "marriages" to other women.

FairMormon Response

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

Emma was aware of plural marriage; it is not clear at exactly what point she was made aware, partly due to there being relatively few early sources on the matter. Emma was generally opposed to the practice of plural marriage, and did much to try and thwart it. There were times, however, when Emma gave permission for Joseph's plural marriages, though she soon changed her mind. Emma was troubled by plural marriage, but her difficulties arose partly from her conviction that Joseph was a prophet.


Question: Was Emma aware of the possibility that Joseph could take additional wives even without her consent?

Emma was warned about the possibility that Joseph could take wives even without her consent

Emma was warned about the possibility that Joseph could take wives even without her consent. [137] The D&C 132 revelation was Joseph's written instructions on the matter, put into writing at the request of his brother Hyrum, who felt he could use it to persuade Emma that plural marriage was a true principle. [138] However, there's an important line in there that speaks to the circumstance in which Joseph found himself with regard to Emma:

Therefore, it shall be lawful in me, if she receive not this law, for him to receive all things whatsoever I, the Lord his God, will give unto him, because she did not believe and administer unto him according to my word; and she then becomes the transgressor; and he is exempt from the law of Sarah, who administered unto Abraham according to the law when I commanded Abraham to take Hagar to wife (DC 132:65).

The Law of Sarah: Wives were to be first taught the revelation to see if they would accept it

In short, the Lord brings up something called "the Law of Sarah"--this refers to Sarah, wife of Abraham, who in order to fulfill the covenants made to Abraham, was willing to seek out another wife (Hagar) for her husband. So, the principle seems to be that wives were to be first taught the revelation, and see if they would obey. The previous verse reads:

And again, verily, verily, I say unto you, if any man have a wife, who holds the keys of this power, and he teaches unto her the law of my priesthood, as pertaining to these things, then shall she believe and administer unto him, or she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord your God; for I will destroy her; for I will magnify my name upon all those who receive and abide in my law (DC 132:64

If Emma rejected the teaching, then Joseph was exempt from the Law of Sarah

Thus, Joseph (who held the keys--and the only one who did so at the time, see DC 132:7) was to teach Emma--which he did. But, ultimately, if she refused to accept the revelation, then "he is exempt from the law of Sarah"---i.e., he no longer requires her approval or acceptance.

This is a stern doctrine, and we can all probably sympathize with Emma's situation. But, it is not clear that the alternative is any better, if one believes Joseph was acting by revelation--ultimately, either a mortal's will has to trump, or God's does. So, Joseph was to teach Emma, but if she ultimately refused, then Joseph was to obey, even in the face of her disobedience. She could not choose for him.

It may be that this clause did not apply to any other situation--the scripture says that it applies to a "man...who holds the keys of this power," and only the President of the Church did or does. So, this was likely not much of a model for others; it was very much an issue just between Joseph and Emma. One can see that throughout--the whole revelation is really targeted at helping solve their problems. (Joseph F. Smith would later say that if the revelation had not been written in that context, it would have been different, and perhaps more useful in a sense.) [139]

We can and should have considerable sympathy for Emma, since she was in a very difficult situation

She may ultimately have taken a harder road (leaving the Church, marrying outside the Church, lying about Joseph's teaching of plural marriage, raising an illegitimate child of her second husband's as her own child, etc.) to learning the same sorts of things that plural marriage would have taught her. As Brian Hales has pointed out, she had the hardest job (in a way) because she was the only woman who was faced with a revelation from her husband commanding it:

Emma may have also confronted the fear that perhaps she was inadequate to bind Joseph's affections, leading him to desire other companions and thus introducing the possibility that he could have been deceived by those desires. None of the first wives of other polygamists would have experienced this trial, because none of the other first wives were married to the man who received the polygamy revelation. All other pluralists could hold the Prophet and his teachings responsible....unlike Emma, they could more easily dismiss the question of whether their husband's adoption of plurality was related to their own contributions to the marriage or that they were somehow deficient. [140]

Emma believed in Joseph as a prophet but could not bear plural marriage

On the other hand, though, we must remember that Emma had many experiences that others did not have. (When asked by some women in the midst of the plural marriage at Nauvoo if she still believed Joseph was a prophet, she replied, "Yes, but I wish to God I did not know it." [141]) She accompanied Joseph to retrieve the golden plates. She wrote for him during the initial translation of the Book of Mormon. She participated in sacred ordinances, and knew Joseph and his calling in an intimate way that few if any others did, and continued to insist to her death that he had been a prophet. [142] So, perhaps it is not surprising that she was tested in ways that few others were. And, Joseph may well have not handled it perfectly. He likely did did his best, but it was an agonizing situation without ideal options. As Richard Bushman noted:

I see their [Joseph and Emma's] relationship as tragic. She believed in him but could not bear plural marriage. He loved her but could not resist his own revelation. They were both heroic actors on a large stage trapped in terrible moral dilemmas. [143]


Response to claim: "Joseph Smith secretly married 17 year old Sarah Ann Whitney...He wrote to her parents who approved of the marriage, 'The only thing to be careful of is to find out when Emma comes, then you cannot be safe'"

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

Joseph Smith secretly married 17 year old Sarah Ann Whitney in August 1842 without Emma's knowledge or consent. He had no intention of confessing his conduct to Emma. He wrote to her parents who approved of the marriage, "The only thing to be careful of is to find out when Emma comes, then you cannot be safe, but when she is not here, there is the most perfect safety... Burn this letter as soon as you read it."

FairMormon Response

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

The critics are misinterpreting the intent of Joseph's letter, and they have no way of knowing that Joseph "had no intention of confessing his conduct to Emma."


Question: Did Joseph Smith write a "love letter" to his plural wife Sarah Ann Whitney to request a secret rendezvous?

On 18 August 1842, Joseph Smith wrote a letter to the parents of Sarah Ann Whitney, who had become his plural wife three weeks earlier, asking them to visit him while he was in hiding.

Critics of the Church would have us believe that this is a private, secret "love letter" from Joseph to Sarah Ann, however, Joseph wrote this letter to the Whitney's, addressing it to Sarah's parents. The "matter" to which he refers is likely the administration of ordinances rather than the arrangement of some sort of private tryst with one of his plural wives. Why would one invite your bride's parents to such an encounter? Joseph doesn't want Emma gone because he wants to be alone with Sarah Ann—a feat that would be difficult to accomplish with her parents there—he wants Emma gone either because she is opposed to plural marriage (the contention that would result from an encounter between Emma and the Whitney's just a few weeks after Joseph's sealing to Sarah Ann would hardly be conducive to having the spirit present in order to "git the fulness of my blessings sealed upon our heads"), or because she may have been followed or spied upon by Joseph's enemies, putting either Joseph or the Whitneys in danger.

The Prophet was in hiding as a result of the assassination attempt that had been made on Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs

On the 16th of August, 1842, while Joseph was in hiding at the Sayer's, Emma expressed concern for Joseph's safety. She sent a letter to Joseph in which she noted,

There are more ways than one to take care of you, and I believe that you can still direct in your business concerns if we are all of us prudent in the matter. If it was pleasant weather I should contrive to see you this evening, but I dare not run too much of a risk, on account of so many going to see you. (History of the Church, Vol.5, Ch.6, p.109)

It is evident that there was concern on Emma's part that Joseph's hiding place would be discovered because of all the people visiting Joseph, particularly if they were in the company of Emma

Joseph wrote the next day in his journal,

Several rumors were afloat in the city, intimating that my retreat had been discovered, and that it was no longer safe for me to remain at Brother Sayers'; consequently Emma came to see me at night, and informed me of the report. It was considered wisdom that I should remove immediately, and accordingly I departed in company with Emma and Brother Derby, and went to Carlos Granger's, who lived in the north-east part of the city. Here we were kindly received and well treated." (History of the Church, Vol.5, Ch.6, pp. 117-118)

The next day, while in hiding at the Granger's, Joseph wrote a letter to three members of the Whitney family inviting them to come visit him

The letter is addressed to "Brother and Sister Whitney, and &c." Scholars agree that the third person referred to was the Whitney's daughter Sarah Ann, to whom Joseph had been sealed in a plural marriage, without Emma's knowledge, three weeks prior. The full letter, with photographs of the original document, was published by Michael Marquardt in 1973, [144] and again in 1984 by Dean C. Jessee in The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith. [145] The complete text of the letter reads as follows (original spelling has been retained):

Nauvoo August 18th 1842

Dear, and Beloved, Brother and Sister, Whitney, and &c.—

I take this oppertunity to communi[c]ate, some of my feelings, privetely at this time, which I want you three Eternaly to keep in your own bosams; for my feelings are so strong for you since what has pased lately between us, that the time of my abscence from you seems so long, and dreary, that it seems, as if I could not live long in this way: and <if you> three would come and see me in this my lonely retreat, it would afford me great relief, of mind, if those with whom I am alied, do love me; now is the time to afford me succour, in the days of exile, for you know I foretold you of these things. I am now at Carlos Graingers, Just back of Brother Hyrams farm, it is only one mile from town, the nights are very pleasant indeed, all three of you come <can> come and See me in the fore part of the night, let Brother Whitney come a little a head, and nock at the south East corner of the house at <the> window; it is next to the cornfield, I have a room inti=rely by myself, the whole matter can be attended to with most perfect safty, I <know> it is the will of God that you should comfort <me> now in this time of affliction, or not at[ta]l now is the time or never, but I hav[e] no kneed of saying any such thing, to you, for I know the goodness of your hearts, and that you will do the will of the Lord, when it is made known to you; the only thing to be careful of; is to find out when Emma comes then you cannot be safe, but when she is not here, there is the most perfect safty: only be careful to escape observation, as much as possible, I know it is a heroick undertakeing; but so much the greater frendship, and the more Joy, when I see you I <will> tell you all my plans, I cannot write them on paper, burn this letter as soon as you read it; keep all locked up in your breasts, my life depends upon it. one thing I want to see you for is <to> git the fulness of my blessings sealed upon our heads, &c. you wi will pardon me for my earnest=ness on <this subject> when you consider how lonesome I must be, your good feelings know how to <make> every allowance for me, I close my letter, I think Emma wont come tonight if she dont dont fail to come to night. I subscribe myself your most obedient, <and> affectionate, companion, and friend.

Joseph Smith

Some critics point to this letter as evidence the Joseph wrote a private and secret “love letter” to Sarah Ann, requesting that she visit him while he was in seclusion. Others believe that the letter was a request to Sarah Ann's parents to bring their daughter to him so that he could obtain "comfort," with the implication that "comfort" involved intimate relations.


Question: How do critics of the Church portray Joseph Smith's letter to the Whitney family as a "love letter"?

Critical treatments of the letter: Was this a "love" letter to Sarah Ann?

Did Joseph Smith write a private and secret “love letter” to Sarah Ann Whitney? Was this letter a request to Sarah Ann's parents to bring her to Joseph? Was Joseph trying to keep Sarah Ann and Emma from encountering one another? Certain sentences extracted from the letter might lead one to believe one or all of these things. Critics use this to their advantage by extracting only the portions of the letter which support the conclusions above. We present here four examples of how the text of the letter has been employed by critics in order to support their position that Joseph was asking the Whitney's to bring Sarah Ann over for an intimate encounter. The text of the full letter is then examined again in light of these treatments.

Critical presentation #1

Consider the following excerpt from a website that is critical of the Church. Portions of the Whitney letter are extracted and presented in the following manner:

... the only thing to be careful of; is to find out when Emma comes then you cannot be safe, but when she is not here, there is the most perfect safty. ... Only be careful to escape observation, as much as possible, I know it is a heroick undertakeing; but so much the greater friendship, and the more Joy, when I see you I will tell you all my plans, I cannot write them on paper, burn this letter as soon as you read it; keep all locked up in your breasts, my life depends upon it. ... I close my letter, I think Emma wont come tonight if she dont, dont fail to come to night, I subscribe myself your most obedient, and affectionate, companion, and friend. Joseph Smith.
—’’Rethinking Mormonism’’, “Did Joseph Smith have sex with his wives?” (Web page)

This certainly has all of the elements of a secret “love letter:” The statement that it would not be safe if Emma were there, the request to “burn this letter as soon as you read it,” and the stealthy instructions for approaching the house. The question is, who was this letter addressed to? The critics on their web site clearly want you to believe that this was a private letter to Sarah Ann.

Critical presentation #2

Here is the way that Van Wagoner presents selected excerpts of the same letter. In this case, at least, he acknowledges that the letter was addressed to “the Whitney’s,” rather than Sarah, but adds his own opinion that it “detailed [Joseph’s] problems in getting to see Sarah Ann without Emma's knowledge:”

My feelings are so strong for you since what has pased lately between us ... if you three would come and see me in this my lonely retreat, it would afford me great relief, of mind, if those with whom I am alied, do love me, now is the time to Afford me succor ... the only thing to be careful is to find out when Emma comes then you cannot be safe, but when she is not here, there is the most perfect safety.
—Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History, 48.

Critical presentation #3

This version, presented by George D. Smith, presents excerpts from the letter which makes it sound like Joseph was absolutely lusting for the company of Sarah Ann. Smith even makes Napoleon Bonaparte a Joseph Smith doppelgänger by quoting a letter from the future Emperor to Josephine of their first night together:

"I have awakened full of you. The memory of last night has given my senses no rest. . . . What an effect you have on my heart! I send you thousands of kisses—but don’t kiss me. Your kisses sear my blood” (p. xi). George Smith then claims that a “young man of ambition and vision penned his own letter of affection to a young woman. It was the summer of 1842 when thirty-six-year-old Joseph Smith, hiding from the law down by the Mississippi River in Illinois, confessed:"

Smith then compares the excerpts from Napoleon's letter above to portions of the Whitney letter:

My feelings are so strong for you . . . come and see me in this my lonely retreat . . . now is the time to afford me succour . . . I have a room intirely by myself, the whole matter can be attended to with most perfect saf[e]ty, I know it is the will of God that you should comfort me.
—George D. Smith, “Nauvoo Polygamy: We Called It Celestial Marriage,” Free Inquiry [Council for Secular Humanism] 28/3 (April–May 2008): 44–46.

Critical presentation #4

Finally, we have a version which acknowledges the full contents of the letter...but only after presenting it in the manner described above numerous times. The author eventually provides the full text of this letter (150 pages after its comparison with Napoleon). Since there are no extant "love letters" from Joseph Smith to any of his plural wives, the mileage that the author of Nauvoo Polygamy..."but we called it celestial marriage" extracts from the single letter to the Whitney's is simply astounding:

  • "[i]t was eleven years after the Smiths roomed with the Whitneys that Joseph expressed a romantic interest in their daughter, as well." (p. 31)
  • "recommended his friend, whose seventeen-year-old daughter he had just married, should 'come a little a head, and nock…at the window.'" (p. 53)
  • "Emma Hale, Joseph's wife of fifteen years, had left his side just twenty-four hours earlier. Now Joseph declared that he was "lonesome," and he pleaded with Sarah Ann to visit him under cover of darkness. After all, they had been married just three weeks earlier. (p. 53)
  • "As will be seen, conjugal visits appear furtive and constantly shadowed by the threat of disclosure." (p. 63)
  • “when Joseph requested that Sarah Ann Whitney visit him and ‘nock at the window,’ he reassured his new young wife that Emma would not be there, telegraphing his fear of discovery if Emma happened upon his trysts.” (p. 65)
  • "Three weeks after the wedding, Joseph took steps to spend some time with his newest bride." (p. 138)
  • "It was the ninth night of Joseph's concealment, and Emma had visited him three times, written him several letters, and penned at least one letter on his behalf…For his part, Joseph's private note about his love for Emma was so endearing it found its way into the official church history. In it, he vowed to be hers 'forevermore.' Yet within this context of reassurance and intimacy, a few hours later the same day, even while Joseph was still in grave danger and when secrecy was of the utmost urgency, he made complicated arrangements for a visit from his fifteenth plural wife, Sarah Ann Whitney." (p. 142)
  • "Smith urged his seventeen-year-old bride to 'come to night' and 'comfort' him—but only if Emma had not returned….Joseph judiciously addressed the letter to 'Brother, and Sister, Whitney, and &c." (p. 142-143)
  • "Invites Whitneys to visit, Sarah Ann to 'comfort me' if Emma not there. Invitation accepted." (p.. 147)
  • "As if Sarah Ann Whitney's liaison were not enough…another marriage took place…." (p. 155)
  • "summer 1842 call for an intimate visit from Sarah Ann Whitney…substantiate[s] the intimate relationships he was involved in during those two years." (p. 185)
  • “his warning to Sarah Ann to proceed carefully in order to make sure Emma would not find them in their hiding place.” (p. 236)
  • "Just as Joseph sought comfort from Sarah Ann the day Emma departed from his hideout…." (p. 236)
  • "Elizabeth [Whitney] was arranging conjugal visits between her daughter, Sarah Ann, and [Joseph]…." (p. 366)

One must assume that this is the closest thing that the author could find to a love letter, because the "real" love letters from Joseph to his plural wives do not exist. The author had to make do with this one, despite the fact that it did not precisely fit the bill. With judicious pruning, however, it can be made to sound sufficiently salacious to suit the purpose at hand: to "prove" that Joseph lusted after women.

The full story

In contrast to the sources above, Compton actually provides the complete text of the letter up front, and concludes that "[t]he Mormon leader is putting the Whitney's in the difficult position of having to learn about Emma's movements, avoid her, then meet secretly with him" and that the "cloak-and-dagger atmosphere in this letter is typical of Nauvoo polygamy." [146]

What parts of the Whitney letter do the critics not mention?

As always, it is helpful to view the entire set of statements in content. Let's revisit the entire letter, this time with the selections extracted by the critics highlighted:

Nauvoo August 18th 1842

Dear, and Beloved, Brother and Sister, Whitney, and &c.—

I take this oppertunity to communi[c]ate, some of my feelings, privetely at this time, which I want you three Eternaly to keep in your own bosams; for my feelings are so strong for you since what has pased lately between us, that the time of my abscence from you seems so long, and dreary, that it seems, as if I could not live long in this way: and <if you> three would come and see me in this my lonely retreat, it would afford me great relief, of mind, if those with whom I am alied, do love me; now is the time to afford me succour, in the days of exile, for you know I foretold you of these things. I am now at Carlos Graingers, Just back of Brother Hyrams farm, it is only one mile from town, the nights are very pleasant indeed, all three of you come <can> come and See me in the fore part of the night, let Brother Whitney come a little a head, and nock at the south East corner of the house at <the> window; it is next to the cornfield, I have a room inti=rely by myself, the whole matter can be attended to with most perfect safty, I <know> it is the will of God that you should comfort <me> now in this time of affliction, or not at[ta]l now is the time or never, but I hav[e] no kneed of saying any such thing, to you, for I know the goodness of your hearts, and that you will do the will of the Lord, when it is made known to you; the only thing to be careful of; is to find out when Emma comes then you cannot be safe, but when she is not here, there is the most perfect safty: only be careful to escape observation, as much as possible, I know it is a heroick undertakeing; but so much the greater frendship, and the more Joy, when I see you I <will> tell you all my plans, I cannot write them on paper, burn this letter as soon as you read it; keep all locked up in your breasts, my life depends upon it. one thing I want to see you for is <to> git the fulness of my blessings sealed upon our heads, &c. you wi will pardon me for my earnest=ness on <this subject> when you consider how lonesome I must be, your good feelings know how to <make> every allowance for me, I close my letter, I think Emma wont come tonight if she dont dont fail to come to night. I subscribe myself your most obedient, <and> affectionate, companion, and friend.

Joseph Smith

So, let’s take a look at the portions of the letter that are not highlighted.

Dear, and Beloved, Brother and Sister, Whitney, and &c.—

The letter is addressed to “Brother and Sister Whitney.” Sarah Ann is not mentioned by name, but is included as “&c.,” which is the equivalent of saying “and so on,” or “etc.” This hardly implies that what follows is a private “love letter” to Sarah Ann herself.

Could this have been an appeal to Sarah's parents to bring her to Joseph? In Todd Compton's opinion, Joseph "cautiously avoids writing Sarah's name." [147] However, Joseph stated in the letter who he wanted to talk to:

I take this oppertunity to communi[c]ate, some of my feelings, privetely at this time, which I want you three Eternaly to keep in your own bosams;

Joseph wants to talk to “you three,” meaning Newel, Elizabeth and Sarah Ann.


Question: What was the real purpose of the letter written by Joseph Smith to the parents of Sarah Ann Whitney?

The one portion of the letter in which Joseph actually gives a reason for this meeting is often excluded by critics

Interestingly enough, the one portion of the letter in which Joseph actually gives a reason for this meeting is often excluded by critics:

..one thing I want to see you for is <to> git the fulness of my blessings sealed upon our heads, &c. you wi will pardon me for my earnest=ness on <this subject> when you consider how lonesome I must be, your good feelings know how to <make> every allowance for me...

According to Richard L. Bushman, this may have been "a reference perhaps to the sealing of Newel and Elizabeth in eternal marriage three days later." [148] Compton adds, "This was not just a meeting of husband and plural wife, it was a meeting with Sarah's family, with a religious aspect. [149]

Joseph needed to have the company of friends who supported him

In addition to the stated purpose of the meeting, Joseph "may have been a lonely man who needed people around him every moment." [150] Consider this phrase (included in Van Wagoner's treatment, but excluded by the others):

...it would afford me great relief, of mind, if those with whom I am al[l]ied, do love me, now is the time to afford me succour, in the days of exile. (emphasis added)

These are not the words of a man asking his secret lover to meet him for a private tryst—they are the words of a man who wants the company of friends.

"...when Emma comes then you cannot be safe"

So, what about Emma? The letter certainly contains dire warnings about having the Whitney's avoid an encounter with Emma. We examine several possible reasons for the warning about Emma. Keep in mind Emma's stated concern just two days prior,

If it was pleasant weather I should contrive to see you this evening, but I dare not run too much of a risk, on account of so many going to see you. (History of the Church, Vol.5, Ch.6, p.109)

Joseph wished to discuss and/or perform a sealing ordinance that Emma had not yet received

Joseph had been sealed to Sarah Ann three weeks before without Emma's knowledge.[151] Joseph may have wished to offer a sealing blessing to Newel and Elizabeth Whitney at this time. Given Joseph's indication to the Whitneys that he wished to "git the fulness of my blessings sealed upon our heads," and the fact that Emma herself was not sealed until she consented to the doctrine of plural marriage nine months later, Joseph may have felt that Emma’s presence would create an uncomfortable situation for all involved—particularly if she became aware of his sealing to Sarah Ann.

Joseph wished to avoid involving his friends in case he were found by those looking for him

If Joseph was in hiding, he had good reason to avoid being found (hence the request to burn the letter that disclosed his location). He would also not want his friends present in case he were to be found. Anyone that was searching for Joseph knew that Emma could lead them to him if they simply observed and followed her. If this were the case, the most dangerous time for the Whitney's to visit Joseph may have been when Emma was there—not necessarily because Emma would have been angered by finding Sarah Ann (after all, Emma did not know about the sealing, and she would have found all three Whitney's there—not just Sarah Ann), but because hostile men might have found the Whitney's with Joseph. Note that Joseph's letter states that "when Emma comes then you cannot be safe, but when she is not here, there is the most perfect safty: only be careful to escape observation, as much as possible." Joseph wanted the Whitneys to avoid observation by anyone, and not just by Emma.


Response to claim: Joseph "publicly denied that he practiced plural marriage"

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

Joseph's polygamous activities were unknown to the vast majority of the saints in Nauvoo because of his public and private prevarications. He publicly denied that he practiced plural marriage, showing the ability to consciously mislead his devoted followers without remorse.

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 secrecy of the practice wasn't because Joseph didn't try to teach the doctrine. It was because of the danger from others.


Question: Did Joseph Smith ever publicly attempt to teach the doctrine of plural marriage?

Joseph initiated the practice of polygamy and hid it from the general Church membership during his lifetime

It is true that Joseph did not always tell others about plural marriage. One critic of the Church claims, "Joseph Smith publicly lied about his practice of polygamy, and lied to his own wife (Emma) about the practice." [152]

Joseph made at least one attempt to teach the doctrine, but it was rejected

Joseph did, however, make an attempt to teach the doctrine to the Saints. When Joseph tried to teach the doctrine, it was rejected by many Saints, including Emma, his wife. Joseph then began to teach the doctrine privately to those who would obey. A contemporary journal describes the reaction to Joseph's attempt to teach this doctrine:

When the prophet “went to his dinner,” [Joseph Lee] Robinson wrote, “as it might be expected several of the first women of the church collected at the Prophet’s house with his wife [and] said thus to the prophet Joseph O mister Smith you have done it now it will never do it is all but Blassphemy you must take back what you have said to day is it is outrageous it would ruin us as a people.” So in the afternoon session Smith again took the stand, according to Robinson, and said “Brethren and Sisters I take back what we said this morning and leave it as though there had been nothing said.”[153]


Question: Why did Joseph keep the doctrine of plural marriage private?

The Saints would have suffered negative consequences

Keeping the doctrine private was also necessary because the enemies of the Church would have used it as another justification for their assault on the Saints. Orson Hyde looked back on the Nauvoo days and indicated what the consequences of disclosure would have been:

In olden times they might have passed through the same circumstances as some of the Latter-day Saints had to in Illinois. What would it have done for us, if they had known that many of us had more than one wife when we lived in Illinois? They would have broken us up, doubtless, worse than they did.[154]

It is thus important to realize that the public preaching of polygamy—or announcing it to the general Church membership, thereby informing the public by proxy—was simply not a feasible plan.


Question: Why did Joseph Smith say "I had not been married scarcely five minutes...before it was reported that I had seven wives"?

The Laws sought to have Joseph indicted for adultery and perjury

This statement refers to Joseph's well-known declaration on 26 May 1844 in his "Address of the Prophet—His Testimony Against the Dissenters at Nauvoo". Significantly, this address was given the day after the Laws sought to have Joseph indicted for adultery in the case of Maria Lawrence. (They also sought to indict him on a charge of perjury.)

Many have criticized or been concerned by the secrecy with which Joseph instituted plural marriage without appreciating the realities of the dangers involved. Illinois law only criminalized adultery or fornication if it was "open". Since Joseph was sealed to his plural wives for either eternity, or for time and eternity, he did not view these relationships as constituting adultery or fornication. Therefore, under Illinois law, as long as Joseph and his plural wives did not live in an "open," or "public," manner, they were not guilty of breaking any civil law then in force in Illinois. Furthermore, this reality explains some of Joseph's public denials, since he could be truthfully said to not be guilty of the charges leveled against him: he was not committing adultery or fornication.

Joseph was refuting the charge of adultery, not the fact that he had "seven wives"

History of The Church 6:410-411:

I had not been married scarcely five minutes, and made one proclamation of the Gospel, before it was reported that I had seven wives. I mean to live and proclaim the truth as long as I can.

This new holy prophet [William Law] has gone to Carthage and swore that I had told him that I was guilty of adultery. This spiritual wifeism! Why, a man dares not speak or wink, for fear of being accused of this.[155]....

A man asked me whether the commandment was given that a man may have seven wives; and now the new prophet has charged me with adultery. I never had any fuss with these men until that Female Relief Society brought out the paper against adulterers and adulteresses.

Dr. Goforth was invited into the Laws' clique, and Dr. Foster and the clique were dissatisfied with that document,[156] and they rush away and leave the Church, and conspire to take away my life; and because I will not countenance such wickedness,[157] they proclaim that I have been a true prophet, but that I am now a fallen prophet.

[Joseph H.] Jackson[158] has committed murder, robbery, and perjury; and I can prove it by half-a-dozen witnesses. Jackson got up and said—"By God, he is innocent," and now swears that I am guilty. He threatened my life.

There is another Law, not the prophet, who was cashiered for dishonesty and robbing the government. Wilson Law also swears that I told him I was guilty of adultery. Brother Jonathan Dunham can swear to the contrary. I have been chained. I have rattled chains before in a dungeon for the truth's sake. I am innocent of all these charges, and you can bear witness of my innocence, for you know me yourselves.

When I love the poor, I ask no favors of the rich. I can go to the cross—I can lay down my life; but don't forsake me. I want the friendship of my brethren.—Let us teach the things of Jesus Christ. Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a downfall.

Be meek and lowly, upright and pure; render good for evil. If you bring on yourselves your own destruction, I will complain. It is not right for a man to bare down his neck to the oppressor always. Be humble and patient in all circumstances of life; we shall then triumph more gloriously. What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one.

I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers. I labored with these apostates myself until I was out of all manner of patience; and then I sent my brother Hyrum, whom they virtually kicked out of doors.[159]

Note the rejection of the term "spiritual wifeism". Note that "spiritual wifeism" likely refers to John C. Bennett's pattern of seduction and sexual license, which the Saints were always at pains to deny.

Joseph was not merely bluffing, nor was he lying—he literally could prove that the Laws were perjuring themselves on this point

In light of the circumstances under which they were spoken, Joseph's words were carefully chosen. Joseph was not merely bluffing, nor was he lying—he literally could prove that the Laws were perjuring themselves on this point in the charges brought only the day before.

Bradshaw cites a portion of Joseph's above statement, and then concludes:

A review of Joseph's remarks in light of the circumstances under which they were spoken shows that Joseph's words were carefully chosen. In this speech, Joseph was specifically reacting to the indictments for perjury and adultery that were presented by the grand jury the day earlier. Thus, when Joseph affirmed during the same speech: "I am innocent of all these charges," he was in particular refuting a claim that he and Maria [Lawrence] had openly and notoriously cohabitated, thus committing the statutory offense of adultery. He was also refuting the perjury charge. While the overall tone of Joseph's remarks may seem misleading, it is understandable that Joseph would have taken pains to dodge the plural marriage issue. By keeping his plural marriages in Nauvoo secret, Joseph effectively kept them legal, at least under the Illinois adultery statute.[160]:413


Question: Was Joseph Smith ever charged with adultery under Illinois law?

William and Wilson Law charged Joseph with adultery in the case of Maria Lawrence

Joseph Smith was, in fact, once charged with adultery under Illinois Law. This occurred shortly before his death, when Robert Foster, William Law (Joseph's former counselor in the First Presidency) and Law's brother Wilson charged Joseph with adultery in the case of Maria Lawrence.[160]:403,414 Joseph took an aggressive stance in the defense of himself and Maria, which would be surprising if Illinois law was as detrimental to his case as many have assumed.

For example, as soon as Joseph was charged, two days later he and his supporters "rode to Carthage, intent on having" the charge "'investigated.'"[160]:404

Illinois law only criminalized adultery or fornication if it was "open"

It is vital to understand, however, that:

Joseph Smith could not have been properly convicted of adultery under the law of Illinois in 1844. Illinois law only criminalized adultery or fornication if it was "open". Had Joseph lived to face trial on this charge, he would have had good reason to expect acquittal because his relationships with his plural wives were not open, but were kept confidential and known by a relative few. Given a fair trial on this indictment, Joseph could have relied on several legal defenses.[160]:402

Joseph's relationships with his plural wives did not meet this definition

The same author emphasized:

The term "open" in [the Illinois Criminal Code of the day[161]] is a key element of this crime. The meaning of this term was then and still today is generally understood in law to cover conduct that is "notorious," "exposed to public view," or "visible," and which is "not clandestine." Joseph's relationships with his plural wives did not meet this definition.[160]:408


Question: Were there any similar cases under Illinois adultery statute which demonstrate that Joseph was not breaking the law?

Two cases decided after Joseph's death demonstrate that there was nothing which would have permitted conviction

Two cases decided after Joseph's death but under the same legal regime likewise demonstrate that there was nothing about Maria and Joseph's relationship (regardless of whether or not they had sexual relations) which would have permitted conviction under the Illinois adultery statute. Additionally, Stephen R. Douglas (the famed Illinois judge and later candidate for the presidency of the United States) and Thomas Ford (the governor of Illinois at the time of Joseph's murder) prosecuted adultery cases during their legal careers and both were definitive that an "open" and "notorious" aspect to the cohabitation had to be proven under the statute.[160]:408-411

If Joseph been charged by his wife Emma with adultery, this could have served as grounds for divorce under Illinois law

By contrast, had Joseph been charged by his wife Emma with adultery, this could have served as grounds for divorce, and did not require the stringent requirements of being "open" or "notorious."[162]

It was later realized that Illinois law would probably support the practice of Latter-day Saint plural marriage, so they changed the wording of the law

Even Joseph's near-contemporaries would later realize that Illinois law would probably support the practice of Latter-day Saint plural marriage, perhaps even if done so openly.

Recognizing the breadth of [the] state constitutional provision [for religious freedom] as it stood in 1844, Illinois adopted a new constitution in 1869 that introduced a number of changes in the clause governing religious liberty, including wording specifically intended to give the state authority to prohibit Mormon polygamy or other religiously-based practices that might be deemed offensive. Comments by certain delegates to the 1869 Illinois Constitutional Convention show taht there was a concern that the Mormon practice of plural marriage could be protected under the state constitution....

Several delegates expressed support for changes in the wording of the Illinois constitution in order to protect the state from what they viewed as extreme forms of worship, including Mormon polygamy. These delegates feared that the more liberal wording of the earlier constitution (in force in Joseph's day) might actually protected practices such as polygamy. One such delegate was Thomas J. Turner...[who] stated:"...Mormonism is a form of religion 'grant it, a false religion' nevertheless, it claims to be the true Christian religion...[d]o we desire that the Mormons shall return to our State, and bring with them polygamy?"[160]:416, 416n45


Response to claim: "Official Mormon histories deceive readers by failing to point out that Joseph exercised poor judgment"

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

Official Mormon histories deceive readers by failing to point out that Joseph exercised poor judgment, to say it most kindly, in choosing his friends and other church leaders

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

Church histories are full of examples of Joseph Smith exercising poor judgment and the consequences that resulted from it. Some examples include:
  • The Kirtland Safety Society—Consequence: apostasy of many Church leaders, including two of the three witnesses.
  • The destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor printing press—Consequence: the martyrdom of Joseph Smith.


Response to claim: "The Manifesto of 1890 prohibiting polygamy, was in fact another attempt to dupe the U.S. government and to some extent, ordinary church members"

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

The Manifesto of 1890 prohibiting polygamy, was in fact another attempt to dupe the U.S. government and to some extent, ordinary church members into believing that the LDS church intended to comply with the mandate of the government to abandon polygamy.

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 authors at MormonThink simply assume dishonest motives behind everything Church leaders did.


Gospel Topics: "The Second Manifesto. At first, the performance of new plural marriages after the Manifesto was largely unknown to people outside the Church"

"The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage," Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

At first, the performance of new plural marriages after the Manifesto was largely unknown to people outside the Church. When discovered, these marriages troubled many Americans, especially after President George Q. Cannon stated in an 1899 interview with the New York Herald that new plural marriages might be performed in Canada and Mexico.40 After the election of B. H. Roberts, a member of the First Council of the Seventy, to the U.S. Congress, it became known that Roberts had three wives, one of whom he married after the Manifesto. A petition of 7 million signatures demanded that Roberts not be seated. Congress complied, and Roberts was barred from his office.41

The exclusion of B. H. Roberts opened Mormon marital practices to renewed scrutiny. Church President Lorenzo Snow issued a statement clarifying that new plural marriages had ceased in the Church and that the Manifesto extended to all parts of the world, counsel he repeated in private. Even so, a small number of new plural marriages continued to be performed, probably without President Snow’s knowledge or approval. After Joseph F. Smith became Church President in 1901, a small number of new plural marriages were also performed during the early years of his administration.[163]—(Click here to continue)


Gospel Topics: "The Church’s role in these marriages became a subject of intense debate after Reed Smoot, an Apostle, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1903"

"The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage," Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

The Church’s role in these marriages became a subject of intense debate after Reed Smoot, an Apostle, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1903. Although Smoot was a monogamist, his apostleship put his loyalty to the country under scrutiny. How could Smoot both uphold the laws of the Church, some of whose officers had performed, consented to, or participated in new plural marriages, and uphold the laws of the land, which made plural marriage illegal? For four years legislators debated this question in lengthy public hearings.[164]—(Click here to continue)


Gospel Topics: "Church President Joseph F. Smith took the stand in the Senate chamber in March 1904. When asked, he defended his family relationships"

"The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage," Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

The Senate called on many witnesses to testify. Church President Joseph F. Smith took the stand in the Senate chamber in March 1904. When asked, he defended his family relationships, telling the committee that he had cohabited with his wives and fathered children with them since 1890. He said it would be dishonorable of him to break the sacred covenants he had made with his wives and with God. When questioned about new plural marriages performed since 1890, President Smith carefully distinguished between actions sanctioned by the Church and ratified in Church councils and conferences, and the actions undertaken by individual members of the Church. “There never has been a plural marriage by the consent or sanction or knowledge or approval of the church since the manifesto,” he testified.43

In this legal setting, President Smith sought to protect the Church while stating the truth. His testimony conveyed a distinction Church leaders had long understood: the Manifesto removed the divine command for the Church collectively to sustain and defend plural marriage; it had not, up to this time, prohibited individuals from continuing to practice or perform plural marriage as a matter of religious conscience.[165]—(Click here to continue)


Question: Why were some plural marriages performed after the Manifesto?

A limited number of plural marriages were solemnized after Wilford Woodruff's Manifesto of 1890 (Official Declaration 1)

Some of these marriages were apparently sanctioned by some in positions of Church leadership.

  • Does this demonstrate that the Manifesto was merely a political tactic, and that the "revelation" of the Manifesto was merely a cynical ploy?
  • Do Post-Manifesto marriages demonstrate the LDS Church's contempt for the civil law of the land?

Some Church members unfamiliar with the history behind the aggressive Federal anti-polygamy movement have been troubled by critics who try to portray Church members’ and leaders’ choices as dishonest and improper. It is important to realize that this is a point on which modern enemies of the Church would be impossible to satisfy. If the Church had acquiesced to government pressure and stopped polygamy completely in 1890, the Church would then be charged with having “revelations on demand,” or with abandoning something they claimed was divine under government pressure. In fact, prior to the Manifesto, the attorney prosecuting Elder Lorenzo Snow for polygamy “predicted that if Snow and others were found guilty and sent to prison church leaders would find it convenient to have a revelation setting aside the commandment on polygamy.”[166]

Church leaders were placed in a vicious double-bind: they were being ruthlessly persecuted by the legislature for following their faith

If they were to comply with the law, they would (in the eyes of some) be admitting that revelation came “on demand” and in response to secular pressure or “convenience.” Their enemies would “win” no matter what they did.

But, this did not happen—the leaders and members of the Church were literally willing to do anything they were commanded to do, in order to obey the Lord, until they were told otherwise. Impressively, the Church and its leaders took the only possible course which would preserve its revelatory integrity: only when they literally had no further choice besides dissolution was the plural marriage commandment completely rescinded.

It should be remembered, finally, that a key doctrine of the Church is that no one should have to take anyone else’s word for something—”that man should not council his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh—but that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the savior of the world.”(D&C 1:19-20.) This doesn’t apply to polygamy alone; every discussion of testimony includes it. Joseph Smith made numerous other claims that might make us skeptical: appearances of God and Jesus, angels, gold plates, and everything else. Said he:

Search the scriptures—search the revelations which we publish, and ask your Heavenly Father, in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, to manifest the truth unto you, and if you do it with an eye single to His glory nothing doubting, He will answer you by the power of His Holy Spirit. You will then know for yourselves and not for another. You will not then be dependent on man for the knowledge of God; nor will there be any room for speculation.[167]

As President Cannon explained, the leaders of the Church were not exempt from the rigors of receiving revelation:

Yet, though [Church doctrines] shocked the prejudices of mankind, and perhaps startled us as Latter-day Saints, when we sought God for a testimony concerning them, He never failed to give unto us His Holy Spirit, which witnessed unto our spirits that they were from God, and not of man. So it will be to the end. The Presidency of the Church have to walk just as you walk. They have to take steps just as you take steps. They have to depend upon the revelations of God as they come to them. They cannot see the end from the beginning, as the Lord does. They have their faith tested as you have your faith tested. So with the Twelve Apostles. All that we can do is to seek the mind and will of God, and when that comes to us, though it may come in contact [conflict?] with every feeling that we have previously entertained, we have no option but to take the step that God points out, and to trust to Him…[168]

The full implications of the Manifesto, however, were still the subject of discussion and debate

The Doctrine and Covenants clearly indicates that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve are of equal authority[169] and that every decision should be done in unanimity in order to make such decisions binding upon the Church[170]: to make them “official,” as it were. Clearly, President Woodruff did not follow this practice—which would be very strange if he expected the Manifesto to be read as a formal revelation insisting that all polygamous practices immediately cease: only three of the apostles even saw the Manifesto prior to its publication.[171] The leaders were agreed that President Woodruff had been right to issue it, and acknowledged his action of the Lord; the full implications of the Manifesto, however, were still the subject of discussion and debate.

President Woodruff did not frame the matter as a declaration from the First Presidency and the Twelve

President Woodruff did not frame the matter as a declaration from the First Presidency and the Twelve (which would be required for any official change in doctrine or practice). Rather, he spoke of the Manifesto as a “duty” on his part, which the Lord required. Even the wording of the Manifesto reflects this—it does not speak of “we the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve,” but simply of Wilford Woodruff in the first person singular. The wording is careful and precise: "I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise… And I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.”(OD-1) Thus, President Woodruff announces a personal course of action, but does not commit other general authorities or the Church—he even issues “advice,” rather than a “command” or “instruction.” No other signatures or authorities are given, other than his own.

A useful comparison can be made with Official Declaration 2, which follows the prescribed pattern for Church government:

…the First Presidency announced that a revelation had been received by President Spencer W. Kimball…[who] has asked that I advise the conference that after he had received this revelation…he presented it to his counselors, who accepted it and approved it. It was then presented to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who unanimously approved it, and was subsequently presented to all other General Authorities, who likewise approved it unanimously.(OD-2)

The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve voted on 2 October 1890 to sustain President Woodruff’s action

Even at this meeting their intent was clear, since they debated whether the Church as a whole should sustain the Manifesto, since “some felt that the assent of the Presidency and Twelve to the matter was sufficient without committing the people by their votes to a policy which they might in the future wish to discard.”[172]

It is evident that these united quorums did not consider the Manifesto to be a revelation forbidding all plural marriage in 1890: for, why would they then contemplate the Church wanting to “disregard” it? The leaders were doubtless still hoping that they might be able to gain some reprieve, and continue to practice their religion without civil or criminal penalty.

Perhaps most convincingly, an editorial in the Church’s Deseret News responded to the government’s Utah Commission, which had argued that President Woodruff needed to “have a revelation suspending polygamy.” The editorial advised that “[w]hen President Woodruff receives anything from a Divine source for the Church over which he presides he will be sure to deliver the message.”[173] This was written five days after the publication of the Manifesto. It seems clear that President Woodruff considered his action inspired and divinely directed; however, he and the Church did not believe that God had, by the Manifesto, told them to cease all plural marriage.

George Q. Cannon made it clear that the Church still felt somewhat trapped between duties to God and duties to political authority

George Q. Cannon said,

But the nation has interposed and said, "Stop," and we shall bow in submission, leaving the consequences with God. We shall do the best we can; but when it comes in contact with constituted authorities, and the highest tribunals in the land say "Stop," there is no other course for Latter-day Saints, in accordance with the revelations that God has given to us telling us to respect constituted authority, than to bow in submission thereto and leave the consequences with the Lord.[174]

The Manifesto thus strove to walk this difficult line–conceding sufficient to “constitutional authority” to prevent the Church’s destruction, maintaining the restrictions on plural marriage, and refraining from teaching the doctrine. Yet, significantly President Cannon says that the Saints “shall do the best we can” (emphasis added). That is, they will continue to practice their faith to the extent possible without threatening the Church’s existence. This would later include a limited continuation of plural marriage.

The Church leaders’ united understanding was that the Manifesto was a revelation. However, they did not understand it as universally forbidding all plural marriage at that time, though for the Church’s survival it was necessary that the government so interpret it.

The leaders and Saints would understand the meaning and application of the Manifesto differently in time. An altered understanding—via revelation—of a revelation is not unprecedented: Jesus commanded the apostles to “teach all nations,” but the apostles continued to interpret this command in a more limited way until later revelation expanded the Christian gospel beyond those who had first embraced the rites of Judaism. A modern example involves the Word of Wisdom, which was not declared to be universally binding for more than a century, though the revelation in section 89 did not “change.”[175]

It is estimated that fewer than two hundred plural marriages were sanctioned between 1890 and 1904

It is estimated that fewer than two hundred plural marriages were sanctioned between 1890 and 1904.[176] These were often performed in areas outside the reach of U.S. law, such as on the seas or in Mexico.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks spoke at BYU about the difficulties of this period:

Some have suggested that it is morally permissible to lie to promote a good cause. For example, some Mormons have taught or implied that lying is okay if you are lying for the Lord… As far as concerns our own church and culture, the most common allegations of lying for the Lord swirl around the initiation, practice, and discontinuance of polygamy. The whole experience with polygamy was a fertile field for deception. It is not difficult for historians to quote LDS leaders and members in statements justifying, denying, or deploring deception in furtherance of this religious practice.

Elder Oaks then reaches the key point—there will be times when moral imperatives clash:

My heart breaks when I read of circumstances in which wives and children were presented with the terrible choice of lying about the whereabouts or existence of a husband or father on the one hand or telling the truth and seeing him go to jail on the other. These were not academic dilemmas. A father in jail took food off the table and fuel from the hearth. Those hard choices involved collisions between such fundamental emotions and needs as a commitment to the truth versus the need for loving companionship and relief from cold and hunger.

My heart also goes out to the Church leaders who were squeezed between their devotion to the truth and their devotion to their wives and children and to one another. To tell the truth could mean to betray a confidence or a cause or to send a brother to prison. There is no academic exercise in that choice!

It is also clear that polygamy did not end suddenly with the 1890 Manifesto. Polygamous relationships sealed before that revelation was announced continued for a generation. The performance of polygamous marriages also continued for a time outside the United States, where the application of the Manifesto was uncertain for a season. It appears that polygamous marriages also continued for about a decade in some other areas among leaders and members who took license from the ambiguities and pressures created by this high-level collision between resented laws and reverenced doctrines.

I do not know what to think of all of this, except I am glad I was not faced with the pressures those good people faced. My heart goes out to them for their bravery and their sacrifices, of which I am a direct beneficiary. I will not judge them. That judgment belongs to the Lord, who knows all of the circumstances and the hearts of the actors, a level of comprehension and wisdom not approached by even the most knowledgeable historians.[177]

Note: This article was adapted from a longer paper which examines these historical matters in much more detail. Interested readers are strongly encouraged to consult it for a much more thorough analysis of the basic concepts sketched in this wiki article. FairMormon link PDF link


Notes

  1. Gordon B. Hinckley, “God Hath Not Given Us the Spirit of Fear,” Ensign, Oct 1984, 2.
  2. "First Vision Accounts," Gospel Topics on LDS.org
  3. "LESSON 6: Joseph Smith—History 1:1–20," Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual (2013) 20.
  4. Milton V. Backman, "Joseph Smith's Recitals of the First Vision," Ensign (January 1985).
  5. James B. Allen, "Eight Contemporary Accounts of Joseph Smith's First Vision - What Do We Learn from Them?," Improvement Era (April 1970) 4-13.
  6. Dennis B. Neuenschwander, "Joseph Smith: An Apostle of Jesus Christ," Ensign (January 2009) 16-22.
  7. Stephen Prothero, American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), 171.
  8. 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), 293.
  9. MormonThink.com.
  10. MormonThink.com
  11. L. H. Butterfield and Julian Boyd, Historical Editing in the United States (Worcester, Mass.: American Antiquarian Society, 1963), 19, 24–25.
  12. History of the Church, 2:281. Volume 2 link
  13. Text is from Dean C. Jessee, "I have heard that Joseph Smith didn't actually write his history—that it was prepared by clerks under his direction. If so, how reliable is it?," Ensign (July 1985), 15. off-site; headings and additional material have been added as noted.
  14. Joseph Smith (“Autobiography,” 1832), Kirtland Letter Book, p. 1, manuscript.
  15. Letters to Moses Nickerson, 19 November 1833; to Emma Smith, 6 June 1832, original in the Chicago Historical Society, Chicago, Ill.; and to Emma Smith, 21 March 1839.
  16. Joseph Smith address, 26 May 1844, reported by Thomas Bullock; published in Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 6:409. Volume 6 link
  17. George A. Smith to Wilford Woodruff, 21 April 1856.
  18. Manuscript History of the Church, 16 November 1845.
  19. Tullidge's Histories, Vol I. History of Northern Utah, and Southern Idaho.--Biographical Supplement, p. 271. See History of the Church, 5:85, note. note Volume 5 link; Orson F. Whitney, Conference Report (April 1916), 66-67.
  20. Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of Utah, 1540-1886, 198.
  21. The History of the Church note by B.H. Roberts says of this matter: "While in Tullidge's biography of Call the date is given as the 14th of July, 1843, evidently an error. There is no entry in the Prophet's journal for the 8th of August, 1842, and the entries for the 8th of August, 1843, and the 14th of July, 1843, relate to matters of quite a different character. Tullidge, in relating Anson Call's recollection of the incident also says that J. C. Bennett was present on the occasion, which must also be an error, as the rupture between Bennett and the Church and its authorities occurred and he had left Nauvoo previous to the 6th of August, 1842. In the Call statement as published by Tullidge, the name of Mr. Adams, the Deputy Grand Master Mason in charge of the ceremonies, is given as George, it should be James."
  22. D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Signature Books, 1994), 635.
  23. Dale Morgan to S.A. Burgess, "Dear Mr. Burgess" (1 July 1842); citing in John Phillip Walker, editor, Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism: Correspondence and a New History (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1986), 38. (emphasis added)
  24. Autobiography of Benjamin F. Johnson, from My Life's Review (Independence, MO: Zion's Printing and Publishing Co., 1947), 101.
  25. Autobiography of Wandle Mace, 188–189.
  26. Samuel W. Richards, cited in Autobiography and Diary Excerpts of Anthony W. Ivins (8 October 1905); compare similar story recorded by Diary Excerpts of Thomas A. Clawson, 1904-1906 Bk, p. 350 (Aug 6, 1906).
  27. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 11:16.
  28. Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 21:274.
  29. B.H. Roberts, The Life of John Taylor, 179–180.
  30. Autobiography of Mosiah Lyman Hancock, 28.
  31. Bathsheba W. Smith, Young Woman's Journal 16 (1905): 549-58
  32. Rachel Ridgeway Grant, Young Woman's Journal 16 (1905): 549-58
  33. Larson, Diaries of Rudger Clawson, 612–613.
  34. Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 8:279. ISBN 0941214133.
  35. Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 8:appendix (journal entry dated 24 November 1878). ISBN 0941214133.
  36. Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses 21:299.
  37. L. John Nuttall Papers, Letter Press Book #4, 285.
  38. History of the Church, 5:xxviii. Volume 5 link
  39. Ronald W. Walker, "'A Banner is Unfurled': Mormonism's Ensign Peak," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 26 no. 4, 72.
  40. Walker, 72-73; citing Council Meeting, 26 Feb. 1847, Thomas Bullock minutes, LDS Archives.
  41. Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow, 76.
  42. John P. Green, "Kirtland, October 28, 1842," Times and Seasons 4 no. 3 (15 December 1842), 39. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  43. Marvin S. Hill, Quest for Refuge, 120; citing Olney papers, #15 and #30.
  44. 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.
  45. 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.
  46. 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
  47. 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.
  48. Anon., "History of Joseph Smith (continued)," Times and Seasons 3 no. 12 (15 April 1842), 753. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.) [italics added]
  49. Anon., "History of Joseph Smith From the 'Times and Seasons'," Millennial Star 3 no. 4 (August 1842), 53. [italics added]
  50. Anon., ""The Millennial Star. August 1, 1842," Millennial Star 3 no. 4 (August 1842), 71. [italics added]
  51. Franklin D. Richards (publisher), The Pearl of Great Price, 1st edition (Liverpool: R. James, South Castle Street, 1851), 40–41. [italics added]
  52. 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]
  53. 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.
  54. 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.
  55. JSP as above, footnote 18.
  56. JS, History, [ca. 1841], draft; handwriting of Howard Coray; 102 pages and one attached slip; CHL. See original here.
  57. JS, History, [ca. 1841], fair copy; handwriting of Howard Coray; 100 pages; CHL. See original here.
  58. Doctrine and Covenants 50:2 (1835 edition); received August 1830, written September 1830 (See History of the Church, 1:106, nt. 3).
  59. Eber Dudley Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, Ohio: Telegraph Press, 1834), 277. (emphasis in original)
  60. Oliver Cowdery, (April 1835) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1:112.
  61. David W. Patten, Elder's Journal 1:3 (July 1838):42 (see also Millennial Star 1:126). (italics added)
  62. Joseph Smith, Jr., Elders’ Journal 1:3 (July 1838): 42–43.
  63. 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.
  64. George Q. Cannon, "THE RIGHT AND AUTHORITY OF THE PRESIDENT BRIGHAM YOUNG," (5 December 1869) Journal of Discourses 13:47.
  65. John Taylor, "OD'S PURPOSES UNCHANGEABLE—THE TWO POWERS—THE EVERLASTING PRIESTHOOD—ABRAHAM AND MELCHISEDECK—ORGANIZING STAKES OF ZION—TEMPLE BUILDING—THE LATTER-DAY SAINTS THE FRIENDS OF THE WORLD," (29 July 1877) Journal of Discourses 19:82.
  66. John Taylor, "HOW A KNOWLEDGE OF GOD IS OBTAINED—THE GOSPEL TO THE DEAD—VARIOUS DISPENSATIONS OF THE MOST HIGH TO MANKIND—POWER OF THE PRIESTHOOD—RESTORATION OF THE GOSPEL THROUGH JOSEPH SMITH—FAILINGS OF THE SAINTS—CORRUPTIONS OF THE WICKED," (7 December 1879) Journal of Discourses 21:161.
  67. Elder D. Todd Christofferson, "The Prophet Joseph Smith" (Footnote 14), Brigham Young University-Idaho Devotional (24 September 2013).
  68. Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Confirming Records of Moroni's Coming," The Improvement Era 73:9 (September 1970): 4-8.
  69. Paul H. Peterson, "An Historical Analysis of the Word of Wisdom," Master's thesis, Brigham Young University, 1972, 38. The cited material is [Letter from BF Johnson to George F. Gibbs, 1903.]
  70. Paul H. Peterson, "An Historical Analysis of the Word of Wisdom," Master's thesis, Brigham Young University, 1972. Page numbers cited within text.
  71. "The Word of Wisdom: D&C 89," Revelations in context on history.lds.org (11 June 2013)
  72. Daniel C. Peterson, "Editor's Introduction: Reflections on the Reactions to Rough Stone Rolling and Related Matters," FARMS Review 19/1 (2007): xi–liv. off-site wiki
  73. Brigham Young, "The Kingdom Of God," (8 July 1855) Journal of Discourses 2:314.
  74. See DC 8:1-3 and DC 9:7-10.
  75. Brigham Young, "The Kingdom Of God," (8 July 1855) Journal of Discourses 2:314.
  76. Richard L. Anderson, "The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Searching," Brigham Young University Studies 24 no. 4 (1984). PDF link
    Caution: this article was published before Mark Hofmann's forgeries were discovered. It may treat fraudulent documents as genuine. Click for list of known forged documents.
    Discusses money-digging; Salem treasure hunting episode; fraudulent 1838 Missouri treasure hunting revelation; Wood Scrape; “gift of Aaron”; “wand or rod”; Heber C. Kimball rod and prayer; magic; occult; divining lost objects; seerstone; parchments; talisman
  77. Marlin K. Jensen, "The Joseph Smith Papers: The Manuscript Revelation Books," Ensign (July 2009), 46–51. off-site
  78. History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day saints, 1805-1890, Volume 1, p. 580-81.
  79. Orson Pratt, “Explanation of Substituted Names in the Covenants,” The Seer 2.3 (March 1854): 227-9.
  80. ?, "Restoration of the Aaronic and Melchisedek Priesthoods," Millennial Star 19 no. 17 (25 April 1857), 260. (Scripture references modernized for wiki linkage.)
  81. Boyd K. Packer, "We Believe All That God Has Revealed," Ensign (May 1974), 93. off-site; also in Boyd K. Packer, "We Believe All That God Has Revealed," in Conference Report (April 1974), 137.
  82. 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), 1:173, note. note Volume 1 link
  83. All examples from Melvin J. Petersen, "Preparing Early Revelations for Publication," Ensign (February 1985), 14. off-site
  84. Joseph Smith, “Journal History 1830–1833,” Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City.
  85. Gordon A. Madsen, "Joseph Smith's 1826 Trial: The Legal Setting," Brigham Young University Studies 30 no. 2 (1990), 106.
  86. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853), 103.
  87. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 4:252–253.
  88. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853), 103.
  89. H. Michael Marquardt and Wesley P. Walters, Inventing Mormonism: Tradition and the Historical Record (Salt Lake City, Utah: Smith Research Associates [distributed by Signature Books], 1994), 227.
  90. Francis Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America: The Book of Mormon, 2 vols., (Salt Lake City: Utah Printing, 1959[1942]), 1:479. ASIN B000HMY138.
  91. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 4:248–249..
  92. Anonymous, "Highlights in the Prophet’s Life," Ensign (Jun 1994), 24. off-site
  93. Wesley P. Walters, "Joseph Smith's Bainbridge, N.Y. Court Trials," The Westminster Theological Journal 36:2 (1974), 153.
  94. D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1998), 30 ( Index of claims )
  95. Quinn, 5
  96. Wesley P. Walters, "Joseph Smith's Bainbridge, N.Y. Court Trials," The Westminster Theological Journal 36:2 (1974), 141–142.
  97. Note too D. Michael Quinn's efforts to distort the clear meaning of this statute as discussed 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]. See also FairMormon Answers link here.
  98. Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 1:211. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  99. Wesley P. Walters, "Joseph Smith's Bainbridge, N.Y. Court Trials," The Westminster Theological Journal 36:2 (1974), 140, note 36.
  100. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Salt Lake City Messenger 68 (July 1988): 9.
  101. Larry C. Porter, "Stowell, Josiah," in Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History, edited by Donald Q. Cannon, Richard O. Cowan, Arnold K. Garr (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Co., 2000).
  102. Boyd K. Packer, "The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect," Address to the Fifth Annual CES Religious Educators' Symposium, 1981; see also Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991), 101-122; see also Boyd K. Packer, "'The Mantle is Far, Far Greater than the Intellect.'," Brigham Young University Studies 21 no. 3 (Summer 1981), 259–278. PDF link Later references to this address refer to the BYU Studies reprint, since the PDF is available on-line. It starts on page 1.
  103. The essay from which the footnote comes is derived from Quinn's Fall 1981 lecture to the BYU Student History Association. The first publication was, unsurprisingly, by the Tanner's anti-Mormon press (without Quinn's permission: see p. 89 of his account): "On Being A Mormon Historian," Salt Lake City: Modern Microfilm Co., 1982. The source here cited was from the reprinted version (with some additions) in D. Michael Quinn, "On Being a Mormon Historian (and Its Aftermath)," in Faithful History: Essays on Writing Mormon History, edited by George D. Smith, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1992), 76 n. 22.
  104. Wilford C. Wood, Joseph Smith Begins His Work, Vol. 1, 1958, intro.
  105. Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast (Malad, Idaho: Research Publications, 1888), 70-71. Quoted in Dale Morgan, Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism: Correspondence and a New History, ed. John Phillip Walker (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986), xxx.
  106. Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris, in letter dated 29 November 1829, quoted in Corenlius C. Blatchly, "THE NEW BIBLE, written on plates of Gold or Brass," Gospel Luminary 2/49 (10 Dec. 1829): 194.
  107. William E. McLellin, journal, 18 July 1831, reproduced in The Journals of William E. McLellin, 1831–1836, edited by Jan Shipps and John W. Welch (Urbana: Brigham Young University Studies and University of Illinois Press, 1994), 29. ISBN 0842523162..
  108. Millennial Star (15 September 1853).; quoted in George Reynolds and Janne Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1959), 4:436. AISN B000ESAPTO. GL direct link
  109. Tiffany’s Monthly 5/2 (New York: Joel Tiffany, 1859), 166.
  110. “Gold Bible, No. 6,” The Reflector (Palmyra, New York) 2, no. 16 (19 March 1831), 126–27. off-site
  111. Letter from Stephen Burnett to “Br. Johnson,” April 15, 1838, in Joseph Smith Letter Book, p. 2
  112. Statement of William M. Glenn to O. E. Fischbacher, May 30, 1943, Cardston, Alberta, Canada, cited in Deseret News, Oct. 2, 1943. Cited in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 116. ISBN 0877478465.
  113. Robert Aveson, "Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon," Deseret News, Apr. 2, 1927. Cited in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 116. ISBN 0877478465.
  114. Letter of George Mantle to Marietta Walker, Dec. 26, 1888, Saint Catherine, Mo., cited in Autumn Leaves 2 (1889):141. Cited in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 112-113. ISBN 0877478465.
  115. Martin Harris . . .,” Painesville Telegraph (Painesville, Ohio) 2, no. 39 (15 March 1831).
  116. Letter of David Whitmer to Anthony Metcalf, March 1887. Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast (Malad, Indiana: 1888): 73-4; in David Whitmer Interviews. A Restoration Witness. Lyndon W. Cook, Editor (Grandin Books, Orem, Utah, 1991): 246-7 Quoted in Early Mormon Documents 5:193. Also quoted in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), p. 86.
  117. The Golden Bible,” Painesville Telegraph (Ohio) (16 November 1830).
  118. Statement of William M. Glenn to O. E. Fischbacher, May 30, 1943, Cardston, Alberta, Canada, cited in Deseret News, Oct. 2, 1943. Cited in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 116. ISBN 0877478465.
  119. Letter of Elder Edward Stevenson to the Millennial Star Vol. 48, 367-389. (1886) quoted in William Edwin Berrett, The Restored Church (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1974), 57–58.
  120. George Godfrey, “Testimony of Martin Harris,” from an unpublished manuscript copy in the possession of his daughter, Florence (Godfrey) Munson of Fielding, Utah; quoted in Eldin Ricks, The Case of the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1971), 65–66. Also cited in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 117. ISBN 0877478465.
  121. Interview with Joseph Smith III et al. (Richmond, Missouri, July 1884), originally published in The Saints' Herald (28 January 1936) and reprinted in Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews, 134—35, emphasis in the original. Cited in Daniel C. Peterson, "Not Joseph's, and Not Modern," in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), Chapter 2, references silently removed—consult original for citations. Also quoted in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), p. 88.
  122. History of the Church, 1:220. Volume 1 link
  123. "Book of Mormon Translation," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013).
  124. Russell M. Nelson, “A Treasured Testament,” Ensign (July 1993).
  125. Marcus B. Nash, "‘Out of Weakness He Shall Be Made Strong’", 70th Annual Joseph Smith Memorial Devotional (history.lds.org) (3 June 2013).
  126. Roger Nicholson, "The Spectacles, the Stone, the Hat, and the Book: A Twenty-first Century Believer’s View of the Book of Mormon Translation," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 5:121-190 (7 June 2013).
  127. Brant Gardner, "The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon," Proceedings of the 2011 FAIR Conference (August 2011).
  128. Doctrine and Covenants, 1835 edition, Section 101.
  129. History of the Church, 2:246–247. Volume 2 link
  130. Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Volume 1: History (Salt Lake City, Utah: Greg Kofford Books, 2013), 154.
  131. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 1, 173, see pp. 171–1731 for full details.
  132. Joseph F. Smith, Journal of Discourses 20:29.
  133. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 1, 156–158.
  134. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 1, 161–162.
  135. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 1, 166, 168.
  136. Gilbert Scharffs, "Marriage Is Ordained of God", The Truth About "The God Makers" off-site
  137. Danel W. Bachman, “A Study of the Mormon Practice of Polygamy Before the Death of Joseph Smith,” (1975) (unpublished M.A. thesis, Purdue University), 164–166.
  138. 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), 5:xxxiii. Volume 5 link
  139. Joseph F. Smith, Journal of Discourses 20:29-30.
  140. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 2, 136.
  141. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 251.
  142. Mary Audentia Smith Anderson (editor), "Memoirs of Joseph Smith III (1832–1914)," The Saints Herald (2 April 1935): 431–434.
  143. Richard L. Bushman, Interview with Millennial Star Blog, 14 November 2005; conveniently reprinted in Richard Lyman Bushman, On the Road With Joseph Smith: An Author's Diary (Salt Lake City, Utah: Greg Kofford Books, Ltd., 2007), 72.
  144. Michael Marquardt, 1973 pamphlet "The Strange Marriages of Sarah Ann Whitney to Joseph Smith the Mormon Prophet, Joseph C. Kingsbury, and Heber C. Kimball," George Albert Smith Family Papers, Manuscript 36, Box 1, Early Smith Documents, 1731-1849, Folder 18, in the Special Collections, Western Americana, Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah (source). The original is in the LDS Church Archives.
  145. Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, [original edition] (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1984), 539–540. ISBN 0877479747. GL direct link
  146. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 350. ( Index of claims )
  147. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 349. ( Index of claims )
  148. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 473.
  149. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 350. ( Index of claims )
  150. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 473.
  151. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 473.
  152. John Dehlin, "Questions and Answers," Mormon Stories Podcast (25 June 2014).
  153. Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986),48; citing Robinson, Journal, 23–24.
  154. Orson Hyde, "The Marriage Relations," (6 October 1854) Journal of Discourses 2:75-75.
  155. Note that "spiritual wifeism" likely refers to John C. Bennett's pattern of seduction and sexual license, which the Saints were always at pains to deny.
  156. That is, the Relief Society document condemning adultery, which Foster had engaged in under the tutelage of John C. Bennett.
  157. Again, Joseph is denying the spiritual wifeism of Bennett, which he calls "wickedness" and was quick to oppose via Church discipline.
  158. Jackson was another witness against Joseph Smith, and would go on to write an anti-Mormon tract: Joseph H. Jackson, The Adventures and Experiences of Joseph H. Jackson in Nauvoo, (Printed for the Publisher: Warsaw, Illinois, 1846).
  159. 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), 6:410-412. Volume 6 link
  160. 160.0 160.1 160.2 160.3 160.4 160.5 160.6 M. Scott Bradshaw, "Defining Adultery under Illinois and Nauvoo Law," in Sustaining the Law: Joseph Smith's Legal Encounters, edited by Gordon A. Madsen, Jeffrey N. Walker, and John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, 2014), 401–426.
  161. Bradshaw cites Criminal Code, section 123, Revised Laws of Illinois: "Any man or woman who shall live together in an open state of adultery or fornication, or adultery and fornication, every such man and woman shall be indicted...." (Bradshaw, 407, emphasis added).
  162. "Compare [the strict criteria for statutory adultery] to Illinois divorce law which allowed adultery as a grounds for divorce; however, the cases that involved divorce petitions on this basis do not seemed [sic] to have followed any clear standard defining what constituted adultery, focusing rather on proving individual acts of adultery. Divorce law did not require that the conduct be "open" or "notorious." - Bradshaw, "Defining Adultery," 407–408n21.
  163. "The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage," Gospel Topics on LDS.org
  164. "The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage," Gospel Topics on LDS.org
  165. "The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage," Gospel Topics on LDS.org
  166. B. Carmon Hardy, Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992), 50-51.
  167. Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 11–12. off-site
  168. George Q. Cannon, "Enduring to the End," in Brian H. Stuy (editor), Collected Discourses: Delivered by Wilford Woodruff, his two counselors, the twelve apostles, and others, 1868–1898, 5 vols., (Woodland Hills, Utah: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987–1989), 2:115–116. [Discourse given on 5 October 1890.]
  169. D&C 107:23-24
  170. DC 107:27
  171. See discussion in wiki article on Official Declaration 1
  172. Abraham H. Cannon, Diary, 2 October 1890; see also George Q. Cannon, Diary, 6 October 1890; Heber J. Grant, Journal, 2 October 1890, and copy in Conference Report 1:48.
  173. See discussion in B. Carmon Hardy, Solemn Covenant, 148; citing “A Utah Commissioner’s Perversions,” Deseret News, 1 October 1890.
  174. George Q. Cannon, "Enduring to the End," in Brian H. Stuy (editor), Collected Discourses: Delivered by Wilford Woodruff, his two counselors, the twelve apostles, and others, 1868–1898, 5 vols., (Woodland Hills, Utah: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987–1989), 2:119. [Discourse given on 5 October 1890.]
  175. See FairMormon Answers Wiki article on Word of Wisdom
  176. Telegram from President Joseph F. Smith to Reed Smoot, Apr. 1, 1911, Reed Smoot Correspondence.
  177. Dallin H. Oaks, “Gospel Teachings About Lying,” BYU Fireside Address, 12 September 1993, typescript, no page numbers.