Mormonism and history/Censorship and revision/Hiding the facts

Table of Contents

Hiding the facts of Church history in plain sight using Church publications


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.

Folk Magic

Joseph and "folk magic"

The fact: Some have seen "folk magic" elements in early Church history
Where it can be found: General Conference, the Ensign

The Ensign

  • From the day that Joseph Smith walked out of the grove in the year 1820, critics and enemies—generation after generation of them—have worked and reworked the same old materials. They have minutely explored the environment in which Joseph Smith lived in an effort to rationalize—some on the basis of folk magic and the occult—the remarkable things which he did. Early in this fishing expedition, one of them gathered affidavits from neighbors and associates in an effort to undermine the character of Joseph Smith. This old bale of straw has been dished up again and again as if it were something new. They have raked over every available word that he spoke or wrote, and they then in turn have written long tomes and delivered long lectures trying to explain the mystery of his character and his work....
As I have already mentioned, from the beginning of this work there has been opposition. There have been apostates. There have been scholars, some with balance and others with an axe to grind, who have raked over every bit of evidence available concerning Joseph Smith, the prophet of this dispensation. I plead with you, do not let yourselves be numbered among the critics, among the dissidents, among the apostates. That does not mean that you cannot read widely. As a Church, we encourage gospel scholarship and the search to understand all truth. Fundamental to our theology is belief in individual freedom of inquiry, thought, and expression. Constructive discussion is a privilege of every Latter-day Saint....
Of course, there are items in our history which, when pulled out of context and highlighted, separated from the time and the circumstances in which the events took place, may raise some questions. Remember, however, that no Church leader of whom I am aware, past or present, has ever claimed perfection. They have been and are human, including those who have served as Presidents of the Church. The Lord has always used those he has found most suitable for His purposes. Notwithstanding some human weaknesses, they have accomplished great and remarkable things, and this even while enemies have been snapping at their heels. The work has moved steadily and consistently forward, and the only losers have been those who, in a spirit of criticism, which usually has begun in a very mild and innocuous way, have in some instances literally read, talked, and written themselves out of the Church because they looked only for the negative, read only the negative, and discussed only the negative.
To all Latter-day Saints, I say, keep the faith. When you study, do so with balance.
—Gordon B. Hinckley, "First Presidency Message: Keep the Faith [from Young Adult Fireside 23 June 1985]," Ensign (Sep 1985), 3, italics added. off-site
  • As most of you know, in the last four or five years we have passed through an interesting episode in the history of the Church. There came into our hands two letters that were seized upon by the media when we announced them. They were trumpeted across much of the world as documents that would challenge the authenticity of the Church. In announcing them we stated that they really had nothing to do with the essentials of our history. But some few of little faith, who seemingly are always quick to believe the negative, accepted as fact the pronouncements and predictions of the media. I recall a letter from an individual who asked that his name be taken from the records of the Church because he could no longer believe in a church that had to do with an experience with a salamander.
Now, as you know, these letters, together with other documents, have been acknowledged by their forger to be total frauds and part of an evil and devious design which culminated in the murder of two individuals.
I have wondered what those whose faith was shaken have thought since the forger confessed to his evil work....
Out of this earlier episode has now arisen another phenomenon. It is described as the writing of a “new history” of the Church as distinguished from the “old history.” It represents, among other things, an effort to ferret out every element of folk magic and the occult in the environment in which Joseph Smith lived to explain what he did and why.
I have no doubt there was folk magic practiced in those days. Without question there were superstitions and the superstitious. I suppose there was some of this in the days when the Savior walked the earth. There is even some in this age of so-called enlightenment. For instance, some hotels and business buildings skip the numbering of floor thirteen. Does this mean there is something wrong with the building? Of course not. Or with the builders? No.
Similarly, the fact that there were superstitions among the people in the days of Joseph Smith is no evidence whatever that the Church came of such superstition.
—Gordon B. Hinckley, "‘Lord, Increase Our Faith’ [General conference address]," Ensign (Nov 1987), 51, emphasis added. off-site

Treasure seeking and seer stones

Joseph the "money digger"

The fact: Joseph was involved with "money digging"
Where it can be found: History of the Church, the Ensign

Far from being hidden from general Church membership and the world at large, the Church, the prophet, and his associates have taken many occassions to acknowledge and explain Joseph Smith's early connection to digging crews.


  • An enterprising farmer by the name of Josiah Stowell came 30 miles from his farm in Bainbridge Township, Chenango County, New York, carrying a purported treasure map and accompanied by a digging crew. The company took their room and board with the Hale family. On the crew were Joseph Smith Jr. and his father. Lucy Mack Smith records that Josiah “came for Joseph on account of having heard that he possessed certain keys, by which he could discern things invisible to the natural eye.” The Smiths had initially refused Josiah’s invitation in October 1825. However, the reality of the family’s difficulty in meeting the $100 annual mortgage payment on their farm and Stowell’s promise of “high wages to those who would dig for him” finally persuaded them both to join in the venture.
— Larry C. Porter, "Joseph Smith’s Susquehanna Years," Ensign (Feb 2001), 42. off-site
[Note that this article cites such anti-Mormon or hostile sources as
  • Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress: of Mormonism.... (New York: D. Appleton, 1867), 41-42. (describes Martin Harris' trip to Charles Anthon)
  • Baptist Register, Utica, New York, 13 June 1834, 68. (reprint of Susquehanna Register material, below)
  • Susquehanna Register, Montrose, Pennsylvania, 1 May 1834. (the Hurlbut-Howe affidavits, with focus on money-digging)]


  • Treasure-seeking was a cultural phenomenon of that day. It was indulged in by upright and religious men such as Josiah Stowel. Young Joseph Smith accepted employment with Stowel at fourteen dollars a month, in part because of the crushing poverty of the Smith family. Joseph and his older brothers had to scour the countryside for work in order to construct their home and make the annual payment on the farm, which they were in imminent danger of losing and finally lost for nonpayment shortly after this period.
—Dallin H. Oaks, "Recent Events Involving Church History and Forged Documents," Ensign (October 1987), 63. off-site
  • It is unfortunate that the writers who did the earliest work of gathering information about the Smith family were more concerned with blackening their reputation than with finding the facts. Interviewers not only ignored the positive things about the Smiths, but distorted many answers to mean what the interviewer wanted them to mean. For instance, Mormon apostate Philastus Hurlburt collected affidavits in 1833 that contain repetitious variations on the theme that “digging for money was their principal employment.” Though evidence involves the Smiths and their neighbors in treasure searching—a common practice in many American communities at the time—this was not their main occupation. Their true “principal employment” was conversion of one hundred acres of timbered wilderness into a cleared farm with dwellings, fences, and wheat and maple-sugar production....
Alvin is notably absent in most of these reports, except when listed as a member of the family or mentioned as in demand as a hard worker. He made no lasting impact on community memory as a religious leader, though he was included in one detailed money-digging tale evidently intended to suggest that magical activities were involved somehow in finding the Book of Mormon.
—Richard Lloyd Anderson, "The Alvin Smith Story: Fact and Fiction," Ensign (Aug 1987), 58. off-site


History of the Church
  • "Was not Joseph Smith a money digger?" Yes, but it was never a very profitable job for him, as he only got fourteen dollars a month for it.
    —Joseph Smith's own answer to the question, History of the Church Volume 3, p. 29


Millennial Star

Editorial [editor was George Q. Cannon], “The Truth Vindicated by the Conduct of its Enemies” “The most serious charge that was brought against the Prophet Joseph, by the enemies of the Church in its early days, was that he had been a ‘money digger’—had been engaged with some person or persons in searching in the earth for the precious metals. This was considered by them so disreputable an avocation, that the mere report that he had been engaged in it was deemed sufficient to forever debar him from the society of those who prided themselves upon their respectability and social standing. The idea that the Lord would communicate his will to, or in any way have anything to do with, a ‘money digger,’ was deemed preposterous and blasphemous” (264)
Millennial Star 26 (1864): 264-6.


Journal of Discourses
  • I can sum up all the arguments used against Joseph Smith and "Mormonism” in a very few words, the merits of which will be found in OLD JOE SMITH. IMPOSTOR, MONEY DIGGER. OLD JOE SMITH. SPIRITUAL WIFE DOCTRINE. IMPOSTURE. THE DOCTRINE IS FALSE. MONEY DIGGER. FALSE PROPHET. DELUSION. SPIRITUAL WIFE DOCTRINE. Oh, my dear brethren and sisters, keep away from them, for the sake of your never dying souls. FALSE PROPHETS THAT SHOULD COME IN THE LAST DAYS. OLD JOE SMITH. ANTI-CHRIST. MONEY DIGGER, MONEY DIGGER, MONEY DIGGER. And the whole is wound up with an appeal, not to the good sense of the people, but to their unnatural feelings, in a canting, hypocritical tone, and there it ends.
    —Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 1:109-110.


Millennial Star

Religious Impostors.

In the second volume of a neat, cheap but, flimsy and ephemeral compilation or periodical, published among the hundreds of similar and better works by W. and R. Chambers of Edinburgh,…. this "Miscellany" of the Messrs. Chambers, Edinburgh…. in this they quote only from the "Rise, Progress and Causes of Mormonism, by Professor J. B. Turner, New York, 1844," and “little work” by a Rev. Mr. Caswall, A.M., Professor of Divinity, Kemper College, Missouri, &c., &c., who visited the city of the Mormons -- Nauvoo -- in the year 1842. …. Again, the article before us reads -- "Joseph Smith, the youthful imposter! followed the profession of a money digger," which being corrected should be read as follows: -- "He was for a time a farmer's assistant; his employer requested him on some occasions to dig in certain portions of his estate where money was supposed to have been concealed" -- and while he thus did what his master required, he followed the profession of a money digger! That money has been concealed in this continent, before and during the times of the late wars in America, as well as aforetime by the ancient inhabitants, is generally believed, and I doubt not this is the fact; and were I an owner of the soil, to get good crops and perhaps money, I might probably induce my posterity to believe I had hid some in my fields; thus would I secure for them, ample irrigation and an abundant reward to satisfy their money digging propensities. Oh! covetous generation, how will ye escape if you dig for silver ore, iron, lead, or copper; or cull and dig for such miserable scraps of falsehood which ye publish for money. Know ye not that thus ye are sealing you own condemnation?
Millennial Star 9.6 (March 15, 1847): 85-89


Millennial Star


From the Weekly Bostonian, July 2.

Mr. Editor,—In the haste of my remarks last week. I briefly referred to the proceedings of the first three evenings of the discussion, but necessarily omitted several interesting features which I wish now to notice. The last paragraph of my communication which was inserted as the paper was going to press, stated, that the discussion closed on Friday night; but for want of time and room in your columns, my sketches of the last two evenings were reserved till this week. Dr. West spent much of the second and third evenings in reading from a Mormon pamphlet, containing a history of the rise of their church....Dr. West's chief effort the first part of the evening, was to impeach the character of Smith and the Mormon witnesses; for this purpose, he read from an old pamphlet what appeared to be a certificate from some twenty or thirty citizens of the state of New York, representing Harris and Smith's family as being money diggers, superstitious and visionary, and that they had no confidence in their pretended discoveries. ....In the reply, Mr. Adams said, the certificate from the citizens of New York ..... If Mr. Smith dug for money, he considered it was a more honourable way of getting it than taking it from the widow and the orphan; but a few lazy hireling priests of this age, would dig either for money or potatoes.
Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star, 3.5 (September, 1842): 87-92

Joseph, seer stone, and treasure

The fact: Joseph used a seer stone to try to find treasure
Where it can be found: the Ensign


  • Some sources close to Joseph Smith claim that in his youth, during his spiritual immaturity prior to his being entrusted with the Book of Mormon plates, he sometimes used a stone in seeking for treasure. Whether this is so or not, we need to remember that no prophet is free from human frailties, especially before he is called to devote his life to the Lord’s work. Line upon line, young Joseph Smith expanded his faith and understanding and his spiritual gifts matured until he stood with power and stature as the Prophet of the Restoration.
—Dallin H. Oaks, "Recent Events Involving Church History and Forged Documents," Ensign (October 1987), 63. off-site

Joseph's 1826 Bainbridge trial

The fact: In 1826, Joseph was brought up on charges of being a "disorderly person" for using a stone to "see things"
Where it can be found: The Ensign



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.
—Anonymous, "Highlights in the Prophet’s Life," Ensign (Jun 1994), 24. off-site

Book of Mormon

The stone and the hat

The fact: Joseph generally utilized a stone placed in his hat to translate
Where it can be found: The Friend, The Ensign,, and a book by Apostle Neal A. Maxwell

Joseph actually used a stone which he placed in a hat to translate a portion of the Book of Mormon in addition to or instead of the "Urim and Thummim." This fact was found hidden in the official Church magazines the Ensign and the Friend on the official Church website See if you can determine when this fact became "hidden," and why it appeared in the children's magazine.



"Martin Harris related of the seer stone: 'Sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written by Martin'"
—Neal A. Maxwell, “‘By the Gift and Power of God’,” Ensign, Jan 1997, 36 (emphasis added) off-site



"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.'"
—Russell M. Nelson, “A Treasured Testament,” Ensign, Jul 1993, 61. (emphasis added) off-site


Not My Will, But Thine

"Jacob censured the "stiffnecked" Jews for "looking beyond the mark" (Jacob 4:14). We are looking beyond the mark today, for example, if we are more interested in the physical dimensions of the cross than in what Jesus achieved thereon; or when we neglect Alma's words on faith because we are too fascinated by the light-shielding hat reportedly used by Joseph Smith during some of the translating of the Book of Mormon. To neglect substance while focusing on process is another form of unsubmissively looking beyond the mark."
—Neal A. Maxwell, Not My Will, But Thine (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1988), 26.


The scriptures indicate that translation involved sight, power, transcription of the characters, the Urim and Thummim or a seerstone, study, and prayer.
After returning from a trip to Palmyra to settle his affairs, Martin began to transcribe. From April 12 to June 14, Joseph translated while Martin wrote, with only a curtain between them. On occasion they took breaks from the arduous task, sometimes going to the river and throwing stones. Once Martin found a rock closely resembling the seerstone Joseph sometimes used in place of the interpreters and substituted it without the Prophet’s knowledge. When the translation resumed, Joseph paused for a long time and then exclaimed, “Martin, what is the matter, all is as dark as Egypt.” Martin then confessed that he wished to “stop the mouths of fools” who told him that the Prophet memorized sentences and merely repeated them."

Kenneth W. Godfrey, “A New Prophet and a New Scripture: The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon,” Ensign, Jan 1988, 6-13.(both quotations on page 11)



"There he gave his most detailed view of 'the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated': “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."
—Richard Lloyd Anderson, "‘By the Gift and Power of God’," Ensign (Sep 1977), 79, emphasis added. off-site



"To help him with the translation, Joseph found with the gold plates “a curious instrument which the ancients called Urim and Thummim, which consisted of two transparent stones set in a rim of a bow fastened to a breastplate.” Joseph also used an egg-shaped, brown rock for translating called a seer stone."
—“A Peaceful Heart,” Friend, Sep 1974, 7 off-site

The stone and Nephite interpreters

The fact: Joseph used a seer stone and the Nephite interpreters to translate the Book of Mormon.
Where it can be found: The Ensign



"...the Prophet possessed a seer stone, by which he was enabled to translate as well as from the Urim and Thummim, and for convenience he then used the seer stone."
—Richard Lloyd Anderson, "‘By the Gift and Power of God’," Ensign (Sep 1977), 79, emphasis added. off-site

Book of Mormon authorship theories

The fact: The Church doesn't mention secular Book of Mormon authorship theories which involve workes such as Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews or the Spalding manuscript
Where it can be found: General Conference, Ensign

October 2009 General Conference

For 179 years this book has been examined, and attacked. Denied and deconstructed. Targeted and torn apart, like perhaps no other book in modern religious history. Perhaps like no other book in any religious history, and still, it stands. Failed theories about its origins have been born, parroted and died. From Ethan Smith to Solomon Spalding, to deranged paranoid, to cunning genius. None of these frankly pathetic answers for this book has ever withstood examination, because there is no other answer than the one Joseph gave as its young, unlearned translator.
—Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, General Conference talk, Oct. 4, 2009



He also bore his testimony in these words: “Friends and brethren my name is Cowdery, Oliver Cowdery. In the early history of this church I stood identified with [you]. … I … handled with my hands the gold plates from which [the Book of Mormon] was translated. I also beheld the interpreters. That book is true. Sidney Rigdon did not write it. Mr. Spaulding did not write it. I wrote it myself as it fell from the lips of the prophet.” 8 Even though Oliver came back, he lost his exalted place in the Church.
—James E. Faust, “‘Some Great Thing’,” Liahona, Jan 2002, 53–56 off-site



It is strange to me that unbelieving critics must still go back to the old allegations that Joseph Smith wrote the book out of ideas gained from Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews and Solomon Spaulding’s manuscript. To compare the Book of Mormon with these is like comparing a man to a horse. It is true they both walk, but beyond this there is little similarity.
— Gordon B. Hinckley, “My Testimony,” Ensign, Nov 1993, 51 off-site



At one time, it was popular among critics to contend that a literary work of Joseph Smith’s day, a manuscript authored by the Reverend Solomon Spalding (also spelled Spaulding), influenced the plot of the Book of Mormon. Spalding died in 1816, but his manuscript survived and was used by Eber D. Howe to advance a “Spalding theory” in the first anti-Mormon work of note, Mormonism Unvailed, (Painesville: E. D. Howe, 1834; original spelling preserved.) Howe held that Sidney Rigdon had been responsible for taking Spalding’s manuscript from a printing establishment in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and later making it available for publication through Joseph Smith.
—Larry C. Porter, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, June 1992, 27–29 off-site



Enemies threatened to knock down the walls of the temple. Philastus Hurlburt was excommunicated and in bitterness set in motion the Spaulding manuscript story of the origin of the Book of Mormon with all of the mischief that for years followed that concoction.
—Gordon B. Hinckley, “Go Forward with Faith,” Ensign, Aug 1986, 3 off-site

These restored truths came fully formed. Joseph Smith did not receive them through Solomon Spaulding, Ethan Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery, or any others to be advanced by those desperate for any explanation other than the correct one.
—Neal A. Maxwell, “‘A Choice Seer’,” Ensign, Aug 1986, 6 off-site



This interpretation initially appeared in the first anti-Mormon book, Mormonism Unvailed, a work published by Eber D. Howe and, most believe, authored by Philastus Hurlburt, an apostate. This hypothesis for the formulation of the Book of Mormon can best be summed up thus: “The Book of Mormon is the joint production of Solomon Spaulding and some other designing knave.” They conjectured this “knave” to be Sidney Rigdon.
—Keith W. Perkins, “Francis W. Kirkham: A ‘New Witness’ for the Book of Mormon,” Ensign, Jul 1984, 53 off-site



Every few years the opponents of the Church dust off one of the timeworn theories about how the Book of Mormon “really” was written. One of the dustiest is the theory that the Book of Mormon is based on a stolen manuscript written by Solomon Spaulding, a would-be novelist who died in 1816.
—Orson Scott Card, “Spaulding Again? ,” Ensign, Sept. 1977, 94–95 off-site

So it was that they sought to take the divine stamp away from his translation of the Book of Mormon. They determined to “humanize” his work by saying that he himself had composed the volume, or that he stole it from Spaulding, or that Sidney Rigdon wrote it, although it was published well before Joseph ever heard of Sidney Rigdon.
—Mark E. Petersen, “It Was a Miracle!,” Ensign, Nov 1977, 11 off-site



Would you respond to the theories that the Book of Mormon is based on the Spaulding manuscript or on Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews?
—Bruce D. Blumell, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, Sept. 1976, 84–87 off-site

B.H. Roberts and the Book of Mormon

The fact: It is claimed that B.H. Roberts lost his testimony of the Book of Mormon
Where it can be found: The Ensign



"The claim is made (in some anti-Mormon tabloids) that toward the end of his life, B. H. Roberts found insuperable difficulties with the Book of Mormon and even that he lost faith in it."
—Truman G. Madsen, "B. H. Roberts after Fifty Years: Still Witnessing for the Book of Mormon," Ensign (Dec 1983), 11. off-site

Book of Mormon geography

The fact: The Church only recently created the "limited geography theory" of the Book of Mormon to counter DNA claims
Where it can be found: Two issues of the Ensign published in 1984



John L. Sorenson discussed a limited geographical model for the Book of Mormon in 1984:

  • John L. Sorenson, "Digging into the Book of Mormon: Our Changing Understanding of Ancient America and Its Scripture, Part 1," Ensign (September 1984). off-site
  • John L. Sorenson, "Digging into the Book of Mormon: Our Changing Understanding of Ancient America and Its Scripture, Part 2," Ensign (October 1984). off-site


The practice of plural marriage during Joseph's lifetime

The fact: Plural marriage was instituted during Joseph Smith's lifetime
Where it can be found: Priesthood/Relief Society lesson manual, the Ensign


Lesson manual: Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith

This book deals with teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith that have application to our day....This book also does not discuss plural marriage. The doctrines and principles relating to plural marriage were revealed to Joseph Smith as early as 1831. The Prophet taught the doctrine of plural marriage, and a number of such marriages were performed during his lifetime.
—The 2008-2009 lesson manual Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (2007), pages vii–xiii (emphasis added)



Her great trial came when the prophet revealed to Emma that they would be required to live the ancient law of Abraham—plural marriage. Emma suffered deeply hurt feelings because of it. While she agreed with this doctrine at times, at other times she opposed it. Years later, Emma is purported to have denied that any such doctrine was ever introduced by her husband.
—Gracia N. Jones, “My Great-Great-Grandmother, Emma Hale Smith,” Ensign, Aug 1992, 30 off-site (emphasis added)



The Prophet introduced several doctrines relating to the temple including the temple ceremonies and plural marriage, which some could not accept....
—William G. Hartley, “The Knight Family: Ever Faithful to the Prophet,” Ensign, Jan 1989, 43 off-site (emphasis added)



How a family accepts members who join it by marriage is, in some ways, analogous to how a Church accepts members who join it by baptism. The experiences of plural marriage make the analogy even closer....the Prophet Joseph Smith recorded a revelation to the Whitneys on plural marriage....The Whitneys gave their daughter into the system of plural marriage and received into their family other plural wives.
—D. Michael Quinn, “The Newel K. Whitney Family,” Ensign, Dec 1978, 42 off-site (emphasis added)



Starting during Joseph Smith’s own lifetime but limited to a few dozen families until its official announcement in 1852, plural marriage brought a powerful new challenge to the equanimity of Latter-day Saint family life...
—Davis Bitton, “Great-Grandfather’s Family,” Ensign, Feb 1977, 48 off-site (emphasis added)


New Era

The great prophet Elias, whom Joseph Fielding Smith says is Noah..., appeared and bestowed upon their heads the keys of the dispensation of Abraham, or in other words, as Elder Bruce R. McConkie says in Mormon Doctrine...the keys of celestial and plural marriage.
—Jerry C. Roundy, “The Greatness of Joseph Smith and His Remarkable Visions,” New Era, Dec 1973, 7 off-site (emphasis added)

Joseph's marriages to young women

The Ensign

The fact: Some of Joseph Smith's marriages were to young women
Where it can be found: The Ensign

  • June 1979 Ensign: Although little Don Carlos Smith died a short time later, Emily and Eliza continued to live in the Smith home, where, in the summer of 1842, both girls “were married to Bro. Joseph about the same time, but neither of us knew about the other at the time; everything was so secret” (Emily, “Incidents,” p. 186).
    —Dean Jessee, "‘Steadfastness and Patient Endurance’: The Legacy of Edward Partridge," Ensign (Jun 1979), 41. off-site (emphasis added)
  • December 1978 Ensign: How a family accepts members who join it by marriage is, in some ways, analogous to how a Church accepts members who join it by baptism. The experiences of plural marriage make the analogy even closer....the Prophet Joseph Smith recorded a revelation to the Whitneys on plural marriage....The Whitneys gave their daughter into the system of plural marriage and received into their family other plural wives.
    —D. Michael Quinn, “The Newel K. Whitney Family,” Ensign, Dec 1978, 42 off-site (emphasis added)

Brigham Young's practice of polygamy

The fact: Brigham Young practiced polygamy
Where it can be found:, the Ensign

Church web site

  • Polygamy — or more correctly polygyny, the marriage of more than one woman to the same man — was an important part of the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for a half-century. The practice began during the lifetime of Joseph Smith but became publicly and widely known during the time of Brigham Young.
    —LDS Newsroom, off-site

The Ensign

  • July 1980 Ensign: In Sunday School someone mentioned Brigham Young and polygamy...
    —Meryl C. Liptrott, “Waking from the Nightmare,” Ensign, July 1980, 54–55 off-site
  • February 1976 Ensign: Brigham Young, born on June 1, 1801, at Whittingham, Vermont, was 43 years old when he was called to the leadership of the Church. For over 33 years he lead the Saints, guiding them through some of their heaviest persecution—the exodus from Nauvoo, the crossing of the plains, the colonizing of the desert, the polygamy trials—until his death on August 29, 1877.
    —“Brigham Young,” Ensign, Feb 1976, 80 off-site

Doctrine and Covenants

Changes to D&C revelations

The fact: The revelations contained in the Doctrine and Covenants were edited and modified from their original form
Where it can be found: The Ensign

The Ensign

  • July 2009 Ensign: In some instances, when a new revelation changed or updated what had previously been received, the Prophet edited the earlier written revelation to reflect the new understanding. Thus, as his doctrinal knowledge clarified and expanded, so did the recorded revelations. They were characterized by the changing nature of his understanding of the sacred subject matter. The Prophet did not believe that revelations, once recorded, could not be changed by further revelation.
    —Marlin K. Jensen, "The Joseph Smith Papers: The Manuscript Revelation Books," Ensign (July 2009), 46–51.(emphasis added) off-site
  • February 1985 Ensign: Many of the editing changes occurred after the revelations were printed in the Book of Commandments.
    —Melvin J. Petersen, "Preparing Early Revelations for Publication," Ensign (February 1985), 14. off-site
  • January 1985 Ensign: However, a correct understanding of the nature of the revelations the Prophet Joseph Smith received and how he updated them in light of continued revelation explains why many changes occurred. Indeed, each of the sections has been edited to some degree, demonstrating that Joseph Smith did not receive all these revelations as word-for-word dictations from the Lord (although he may have received some this way). Rather, he received inspiration and wrote the revelations using his own words, often couched in Victorian English.
    —Robert J. Woodford, "How the Revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants Were Received and Compiled," Ensign (January 1985), 27. (emphasis added) off-site
  • December 1984 Ensign: This was the beginning of controversies and charges made by persons who do not know or understand that the text of recorded revelation can be edited and “changed.” First, we must recognize that Joseph Smith’s purposeful changes are in a different category from copying errors.
    —Robert J. Woodford, "The Story of the Doctrine and Covenants," Ensign (December 1984), 32. (emphasis added) off-site
  • May 1974 Ensign: 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.
    —Boyd K. Packer, "We Believe All That God Has Revealed," Ensign (May 1974), 93. (emphasis added) off-site; also in Boyd K. Packer, "We Believe All That God Has Revealed," in Conference Report (April 1974), 137.

First Vision

Multiple accounts

The fact: Joseph recorded multiple accounts of the First Vision, and some of the details of these accounts differ from one another
Where it can be found: The Ensign, CES Student Manual

Critics charge that the existence of multiple accounts of the First Vision has been hidden. A review of just some of the sources demonstrates that this is simply false:

The Ensign

  • January 1985 Ensign: 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. It is not surprising, therefore, that each of them emphasizes different aspects of his experience.
    —Milton V. Backman, Jr., "Joseph Smith's Recitals of the First Vision," Ensign (January 1985), 8. off-site
  • January 1996 Ensign:: I am glad, for example, that we have several accounts of the First Vision, the ministry of Christ, the Atonement, the plan of salvation, the signs of the last days, and the conditions during the millennium. None of the various accounts exhaust the subject; each contributes to its advancement line upon line, even though important elements may be repeated. We need not regard them as competing or as being at odds with each other, but rather, as enhancing our understanding of the whole.
    Keith Meservy, "Four Accounts of the Creation," Ensign (January 1986), ?. off-site
  • April 1996 Ensign: How many First Vision reports were made while the Prophet was alive? It is better to ask how many independent accounts came from contact with the Prophet. Some vision narratives were republished and are really copies of an original record.

    We now know of nine contemporary reports from the Prophet himself or from those who personally heard him relate his first vision: (1) the Prophet’s handwritten description in 1832, an attempt to start a manuscript history of the Church; (2) a Church secretary’s brief 1835 journal entry of Joseph talking with a visitor who called himself Joshua, the Jewish minister; (3) the 1838 history discussed above, published in 1842 and now in the Pearl of Great Price; (4) Orson Pratt’s publication, the first publicly disseminated, of the Prophet’s vision in his Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, issued in 1840 in Edinburgh, Scotland; (5) Orson Hyde’s revision of Orson Pratt’s pamphlet, published in 1842 for German readers and adding some insights that may have come from his contact with Joseph Smith; (6) the Wentworth Letter, created in response to editor John Wentworth’s inquiry and published by Joseph Smith in 1842 in Times and Seasons; this account adapted parts of Orson Pratt’s pamphlet; (7) Levi Richards’s diary about Joseph Smith preaching in the summer of 1843 and repeating the Lord’s first message to him that no church was His; (8) a newspaper interview in the fall of 1843; (9) Alexander Neibaur’s 1844 journal entry of a conversation at the Prophet’s house.
    Richard L. Anderson, "Joseph Smith’s Testimony of the First Vision," Ensign (April 1996). off-site
  • January 2005 Ensign: During the lifetime of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the story of his First Vision was told in print several times, by him (in 1832, 1835, 1838–39, and 1842), or by others who had heard his account and retold it (in 1840, 1842, 1843, and 1844).
    —Ronald O. Barney, "The First Vision: Searching for the Truth," Ensign (January 2005), 14–19. off-site

CES manuals

  • CES Manual 2003: Church Educational System, “Additional Details from Joseph Smith’s 1832 Account of the First Vision,” in Presidents of the Church: Student Manual (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2003), 5–6. off-site
  • CES Manual 2003: Church Educational System, “The First Vision,” in Church History in the Fullness of Times: Student Manual (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2003), 29–36. off-site


  • 2009: Matthew B. Brown, A Pillar of Light: The History and Message of the First Vision (American Fork, UT: Covenant, 2009).
  • 2005: James B. Allen and John W. Welch, "The Appearance of the Father and the Son to Joseph Smith in 1820," in Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations 1820–1844 (Documents in Latter-day Saint History), edited by John W. Welch with Erick B. Carlson, (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press / Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 2005), 35–75. ISBN 0842526072. This book has recently been reprinted, in paperback. BYU Studies and Deseret Book (July 13, 2011) See also BYU Studies version: PDF link
  • 2002: Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, [original edition] (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1984), 5–6, 75–76, 199–200, 213. ISBN 0877479747. GL direct link
  • 2002: Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 9–20.
  • 1989: 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), 6–7, 127, 272–73, 429–30, 444, and 448–49.. ISBN 0875791999
  • 1985: Dean C. Jessee, “The Early Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” in Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson, eds., Studies in Scripture, Volume 2: The Pearl of Great Price (Salt Lake City: Randall Book, 1985), 303–314.
  • 1984: Dean C. Jessee, The Early Accounts of Joseph Smith's First Vision (Mormon Miscellaneous reprint series) (Mormon Miscellaneous, 1984).
  • 1980: Milton V. Backman Jr., Joseph Smith’s First Vision: Confirming Evidences and Contemporary Accounts, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980).
  • 1981: Adele Brannon McCollum, “The First Vision: Re-Visioning Historical Experience,” in Neal E. Lambert, ed., Literature of Belief: Sacred Scripture and Religious Experience (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1981), 177–96.
  • 1971: Milton V. Backman, Joseph Smith’s First Vision: The first vision in its historical context (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1971).
  • 1970: James B. Allen, "Eight Contemporary Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision–What Do We Learn from Them?," Improvement Era (April 1970), 4–13.

Kinderhook plates

Joseph and the Church thought the Kinderhook plates were authentic for many years

The fact: Many in the Church believed that the Kinderhook plates were authentic for many years until they were shown to be forgeries. Joseph was offered the chance to translate them, but did not.
Where it can be found: The Ensign

The Ensign

  • August 1981 Ensign: "A recent electronic and chemical analysis of a metal plate (one of six original plates) brought in 1843 to the Prophet Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, Illinois, appears to solve a previously unanswered question in Church history, helping to further evidence that the plate is what its producers later said it was—a nineteenth-century attempt to lure Joseph Smith into making a translation of ancient-looking characters that had been etched into the plates. Joseph Smith did not make the hoped-for translation. In fact, no evidence exists that he manifested any further interest in the plates after early examination of them, although some members of the Church hoped that they would prove to be significant. But the plates never did."
    —Stanley B. Kimball, "Kinderhook Plates Brought to Joseph Smith Appear to Be a Nineteenth-Century Hoax," Ensign (Aug 1981), 66. off-site

Kirtland Safety Society

Bank was unchartered

The fact: The Kirtland Safety Society was unchartered, failed, and Joseph Smith was legally charged because of this.
Where it can be found: The Ensign

  • Milton V. Backman Jr., "A Warning from Kirtland," Ensign (Apr 1989), 26. off-site
  • Milton V. Backman Jr., "Kirtland: The Crucial Years," Ensign (Jan 1979), 24. off-site
  • Ronald K. Esplin, "Hyrum Smith: The Mildness of a Lamb, the Integrity of Job," Ensign (Feb 2000), 30. off-site
  • Glen M. Leonard, “Triumph and Tragedy,” Tambuli (Mar 1979): 34. off-site
  • Larry C. Porter, "Christmas with the Prophet Joseph," Ensign (Dec 1978), 9. off-site
  • Russell R. Rich, "Nineteenth-Century Break-offs," Ensign (Sep 1979), 68. off-site

Bank was held to be illegal

The fact: Kirtland Safety Society was judged illegal.
Where it can be found: BYU Studies

  • Dale W. Adams, "Chartering the Kirtland Bank," Brigham Young University Studies 23 no. 4 (Fall 1983), 467–482. PDF link
  • Marvin S. Hill, Keith C. Rooker and Larry T. Wimmer, "The Kirtland Economy Revisited: A Market Critique of Sectarian Economics," Brigham Young University Studies 17 no. 4 (Summer 1977), 389–471. PDF link
  • Paul Sampson and Larry T. Wimmer, "The Kirtland Safety Society: The Stock Ledger Book and the Bank Failure," Brigham Young University Studies 12 no. 4 (Summer 1972), 427–436. off-site
  • Scott H. Partridge, "The Failure of the Kirtland Safety Society," Brigham Young University Studies 12 no. 4 (Summer 1972), 437–454. PDF link


Joseph fired a gun at Carthage Jail

The fact: Joseph Smith was smuggled a gun while in Carthage Jail, and fired it at his attackers
Where it can be found: Joseph's gun displayed in the Museum of Church History and Art, History of the Church, The Ensign, Primary lessons 32 and 37

Museum of Church History and Art

  • Joseph's pistol is displayed in the Museum of Church History and Art in Salt Lake City, Utah, and labeled as such. An image of the pepperbox pistol may be viewed here]]

The Ensign

  • June 1994 Ensign: The Prophet dropped to his brother. “Oh! My poor, dear brother Hyrum,” he groaned. The deep look of sympathy on Joseph’s face fastened itself to Elder Taylor’s mind. The Prophet then stood, and with a firm step he went to the door, pulled the pepperbox from his pocket, and, reaching around the door casing, fired blindly into the hallway. He snapped all six shots. Half discharged, striking three men.
    —Reed Blake, "Martyrdom at Carthage," Ensign (June 1994), 30. (emphasis added) off-site
  • April 1984 Ensign: ...the Mormons on the inside of the jail, including the Smiths, presented pistols through the windows and doors of the jail, and fired upon the guard"
    —Larry C. Porter, "I Have A Question: "How did the U.S. press react when Joseph and Hyrum were murdered?," Ensign (April 1984), 22–23. off-site (emphasis added) A photo of the pistol is in January 1984 edition of the Ensign.

Church lesson manuals

  • Primary manual, 1997: The brethren tried to bar the door shut and use their few weapons to drive off the mob. Joseph Smith fired a pistol and John Taylor used his heavy cane to try to knock down the guns of the mob as they were pushed into the room through the door, but there were too many people in the mob for the brethren to defend themselves.
    —“Lesson 37: Joseph and Hyrum Smith Are Martyred,” Primary 5: Doctrine and Covenants: Church History (1997), 210. off-site (emphasis added) Note that the pistol is here described even in a children's lesson manual!
  • Gospel Doctrine manual, Lesson 32: Joseph continued snapping his revolver round the casing of the door into the space as before.
    —“To Seal the Testimony”, Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, 183. (emphasis added) off-site

The History of the Church

  • History of the Church tells about the pistol x 2.

There are many more references to the pistol in Church publications.

Word of Wisdom

Joseph drank wine

The fact: Joseph drank wine while at Carthage Jail
Where it can be found: History of the Church

Joseph and others drank wine at Carthage. This fact is presented without apology in 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), 6:616. Volume 6 link:

Before the jailor came in, his boy brought in some water, and said the guard wanted some wine. Joseph gave Dr. Richards two dollars to give the guard; but the guard said one was enough, and would take no more.

The guard immediately sent for a bottle of wine, pipes, and two small papers of tobacco; and one of the guards brought them into the jail soon after the jailor went out. Dr. Richards uncorked the bottle, and presented a glass to Joseph, who tasted, as also Brother Taylor and the doctor, and the bottle was then given to the guard, who turned to go out. When at the top of the stairs some one below called him two or three times, and he went down. (emphasis added)

Joseph and politics

Joseph's campaign for President

The fact: Joseph campaigned for President of the United States
Where it can be found: The Ensign

  • February 2009, Ensign: It was unanimously decided that Joseph Smith would run for president of the United States on an independent platform. Thus began one of the most fascinating third-party presidential campaigns in American history.
    —Arnold K. Garr, “Joseph Smith: Campaign for President of the United States,” Ensign, Feb 2009, 48–52 off-site (emphasis added)

The Book of Abraham

The papyri and the Book of the Dead

The fact: The text of the Joseph Smith papyri does not match the text of the Book of Abraham
Where it can be found: The Improvement Era , the Ensign

  • August 1968 Improvement Era: The largest part of the papyri in the possession of the Church consists of fragments from the Egyptian Book of the Dead.
    —Hugh Nibley, "A New Look at the Pearl of Great Price," Improvement Era (August 1968), 56–57. This issue contains color photographs of the papyri. A scan of the page from the article can be viewed here.
  • March 1976 Ensign: A Book of Breathings text that closely matches the Joseph Smith version (and there are precious few of them) is the so-called Kerasher Book of Breathings. It too has a frontispiece, only in this case it is the same as our Facsimile No. 3, showing that it too is closely associated with our text."
    —Hugh Nibley, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, Mar. 1976, 34–36 off-site
  • July 1988 Ensign: Why doesn’t the translation of the Egyptian papyri found in 1967 match the text of the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price?
    —Michael D. Rhodes, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, July 1988, 51–53 off-site

Violence and conflict

The Danites

The fact: A group Church members called the Danites attacked non-Mormons
Where it can be found: The Friend, the New Era, the Ensign

The Friend

  • July 1993 Friend: One Mormon, Sampson Avard, formed a group, called the Danites, to seek revenge on the Missourians. But when the Danites attacked the nonmembers, it only gave them more reason to distrust the Saints.
    —Sherrie Johnson, “Persecutions in Missouri,” Friend, Jul 1993, 47 off-site

The New Era

  • March 1972 New Era: Zane Grey, Robert Louis Stevenson, Joaquin Miller, and a host of lesser-known writers have used the Danites, but perhaps the most well-known treatment is that of A. Conan Doyle in A Study of Scarlet...
    —Neal E. Lambert and Richard H. Cracroft, “Through Gentile Eyes: A Hundred Years of the Mormon in Fiction,” New Era, Mar 1972, 14 off-site

The Ensign

  • April 1979 Ensign: Sampson Avard, an elder in Far West, may have taken license from the address to organize a covert society called the Danites which engaged in activities that did much damage to the Church’s reputation.
    —Max H Parkin, “Missouri’s Impact on the Church,” Ensign, Apr 1979, 57 off-site

Other Church magazines

  • March 1979 Tambuli: Exaggerated reports of this confrontation reached Governor Boggs. He was told that the Saints were burning towns, driving established settlers from their homes and undermining civil authority through the activities of a group known as the “Danites”—a band of avengers. Joseph Smith was charged with being the prime instigator but had nothing to do with it and exposed the participants when he became aware of it.
    —Glen M. Leonard, “Triumph and Tragedy,” Tambuli, Mar 1979, 34 off-site

Mountain Meadows Massacre

The fact: Members of the Church perpetrated the massacre of a wagon train in 1857
Where it can be found: The Ensign

The Ensign

  • September 2007 Ensign: For a century and a half the Mountain Meadows Massacre has shocked and distressed those who have learned of it. The tragedy has deeply grieved the victims’ relatives, burdened the perpetrators’ descendants and Church members generally with sorrow and feelings of collective guilt, unleashed criticism on the Church, and raised painful, difficult questions. How could this have happened? How could members of the Church have participated in such a crime?
    —Richard E. Turley Jr., “The Mountain Meadows Massacre,” Ensign, Sep 2007, 14–21 off-site


  1. [note]  John L. Sorenson, "Digging into the Book of Mormon: Our Changing Understanding of Ancient America and Its Scripture, Part 1," Ensign (September 1984). off-site
  2. [note]  John L. Sorenson, "Digging into the Book of Mormon: Our Changing Understanding of Ancient America and Its Scripture, Part 2," Ensign (October 1984). off-site
  3. [note]  Cited in Larry E. Morris, "Joseph Smith and "Interpretive Biography", review of Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet by Dan Vogel," FARMS Review 18/1 (2006): 321–374. [{{{url}}} off-site] wiki