Problems with the Book of Mormon
Interrogatory No. 1
Why is there a total absence of archaeological or anthropological evidence supporting the Book of Mormon?
To me, this is one of the most central and troubling issues, and for that reason, I have tried to come at it from every angle. For if the Book of Mormon is just a poorly written, 19th-century fiction, then how can we believe that Joseph Smith was anything more than a charlatan, a false prophet and a fraud?
My research leads me to assert that it is not an overstatement to say that every legitimate non-Mormon anthropologist and archaeologist and even the odd brave Mormon archaeologist have declared that there is nothing whatever to support the existence of the civilizations discussed in the Book of Mormon.
Is it conceivable that during the 2600 years that the Jaredites, Nephites, and Lamanites supposedly occupied the Americas, they were somehow able to do so without leaving so much as a helmet, an ancient tool, any weapons of war or skeletal remains, let alone even one Hebrew or ‘reformed Egyptian’ inscription,.
In Ether 15:2, we are told that two million men, women, and children died in battle. “He saw that there had been slain by the sword already nearly two millions of his people, and he began to sorrow in his heart; yea, there had been slain two millions of mighty men, and also their wives and their children.”
Just to put this hyperbolic number in some kind of perspective, during the entire Civil War 620,000 men were killed over four years. During ALL of the Second World War America suffered 418,500 civilian and military deaths.
On June 6, 1944, D-Day, the First U.S. Army, saw 1,465 killed, 1,928 missing, and 6,603 wounded, the U.S. VII Corps showed 22,119 casualties including 2,811 killed and 5,665 missing,
Canadian forces at Juno Beach sustained 946 casualties, of whom 335 were listed as killed. While no British figures were ever published, but estimates run to about 2,500 to 3,000 killed or wounded.
Each of the lives of these very real brave soldiers mattered, and God bless them for sacrificing so much for you and I.
It is also estimated as well President Uchtdorf, that 9,000 of your fellow Germans, died on that day
But D-day pales compared to the tail Joseph Smith weaves of two million perishing in one battle. That is twenty D-Days,’ and if it had really happened, it would have be the bloodiest battle in the history of the world.
If you spend a day beach-combing the shores of Normandy – Omaha, Utah or Juno beaches and their environs you will surely find a bullet casing, a chinstrap or something else.
In contrast, no swords, shields, armor, helmets, boots, chariots or other artifacts, vestiges or remains have ever been uncovered from this or any of the great Book of Mormon battles. More than three times as many people who perished in all of the Civil War in a much shorter time and within a much smaller geographical area and yet absolutely nothing. Zero, zilch, zip, nada!
The Book of Mormon talks about large cities and fortifications in ‘all quarters of the land,‘ many of these major cities encircled by moats or trenches.
Where can we find any evidence of these?
The Book of Mormon talks about a Nephi temple patterned after the great Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, a structure that took seven years and 180,000 men to build.
Where can we find evidence of this “exceedingly fine” structure?
The Book of Mormon talks about the cities of Jacobugath, Laman, Josh, Gad, Kiskumen, and Zarahemla. It talks about civilizations.
Where can we find evidence of any of these?
As I write this, it has been 187 years since Joseph Smith produced the Book of Mormon and 526 years since the discovery and European colonization of the Americas. The Mormon church has expended millions of dollars searching for something, anything to corroborate or affirm the Book of Mormon narrative but have come up empty-handed.
Even BYU professor and LDS apologist Dee Green had to confess, “No Book of Mormon location is known regarding modern topography.” He continues, “The first myth that we need to eliminate is that Book of Mormon archaeology exists. Titles on books full of archaeological half-truths, dilettante on the peripheries of American archaeology calling themselves Book of Mormon archaeologists regardless of their education, and a Department of Archaeology at BYU devoted to the production of Book of Mormon archaeologists do not insure that Book of Mormon archaeology really exists.”
Dr. Ray Metheny, another professor of anthropology at BYU, said in an address to the Sixth Annual Sunstone Theological Symposium, in August 1984, “It appears that the Book [of Mormon] had no place in the New World whatsoever … [It] just doesn’t seem to fit anything … in anthropology [or] history…”
These are individuals on the BYU payroll and ostensibly faithful members of the church to be still teaching there.
I recently spent a couple of months in the Middle East – Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian territory. In all of those lands when any archaeological leads are uncovered indicating the possibility of buried antiquities, excavation follows.
One must ask, why then has the church never attempted any excavation of the Hill Cumorah, clearly this is the site where Smith and his cohorts claim to have ‘seen’ caves full of artifacts?
Is it that the church fears what it might not unearth. Because once that bell has been rung it cannot be unrung.
“The Book of Mormon is a piece of 19th-century fiction,” says Thomas Murphy, an Archaeologist, and Mormon of record who calls himself a ‘Latter-day skeptic.’ “And that means that we have to acknowledge sometimes Joseph Smith lied.”
In contrast to the dearth of any archaeological findings supporting the Book of Mormon, more than 25,000 significant separate concrete, evidentiary indicators supporting the Holy Bible have been unearthed. These discoveries include biblical empires, cities, historical sites, artifacts, weapons, coins and much much more. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of lamps, coins and other everyday items, and accurately dated to Biblical times. So plentiful are they that I have several of these ancient items in my home.
Here are a few examples of the more significant finds:
The Existence of the Hittites. You will recall that Genesis 23 reports that Abraham buried Sarah in the Cave of Machpelah, which he purchased from Ephron the Hittite. The Moabite Stone. A three-foot stone slab referenced in Second Kings–Mesha, the King of Moab, rebelled against the King of Israel following the death of Ahab.
Shishak’s Invasion of Judah. Commemorated in hieroglyphic wall carvings on the Temple of Amon at Thebes spoken of in First Kings 14 and 2 Chronicles 12.
The Burial Plaque of King Uzziah. Discovered on the Mount of Olives, reading: “Here, the bones of Uzziah, King of Judah, were brought.” 2 Chronicles 26 records his ‘sin.’
The Sennacherib Prism. This cuneiform on a hexagonal, 15-inch baked clay prism found at the Assyrian capital of Nineveh describes Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah in 701 BC in which it claims that the Assyrian King shut Hezekiah inside Jerusalem “like a caged bird.” The prophet Isaiah told Hezekiah that God would protect Judah and Jerusalem against Sennacherib (2 Chron. 32; Isa. 36–37). Assyrian records confirm this as well.
There have also been many Biblical cities attested to archaeologically, including Jericho, Haran, Hazor, Dan, Megiddo, Shechem, Samaria, Shiloh, Gezer, Gibeah, Beth Shemesh, Beth Shean, Beersheba, Lachish, and many others have been excavated. I could go on and on, but I think the point has been made that there is considerable archaeological evidence supporting the Holy Bible.
In contrast, the Book of Mormon has nothing to support it. Not an inscription, not a temple, not a house, not a sword, not so much as one of the coins Smith alludes to in Alma 11 that Mormon apologists now say were not really coins, chapter heading describing them as such notwithstanding.
While a few early 20th century Mormon scholars have pointed to some archaeological findings consistent with the Book of Mormon story, relating to Mayan, Inca or Olmec ruins, every non-Mormon archaeologist that has examined these ‘discoveries’ has discounted their import.
The Mormon church can be accused of misleading people by reproducing pictures of Mayan temples and printing them in their manuals and periodicals, as if they had something to do with Book of Mormon peoples. However, it is a well settled fact among legitimate archeologists that the Mayans have absolutely no nexus with either Hebrew or Christian language, traditions, or beliefs.
The Mayans were not Nephites nor were they Lamanites!
More often than not, as the following references will attest, leading unbiased – that is, non-Mormon archaeologists and anthropologists and historians maintain that the Book of Mormon is a somewhat poorly written, highly plagiarized work of 19th-century fiction, and certainly not an actual history of real people having lived ‘somewhere’ in North, South or Central America.
They argue that millions of chariot-driving, Christ-worshipping, steel-smelting, horse-riding, wheel-using people occupying the Americas for more than two thousand years, could not possibly have done so without leaving some trace of their existence.
They contend that it is beyond absurd to believe that millions of people lived and died on this continent for over a millennia without leaving a single trace.
At the time the Domesday Book was written (1086 CE), England had a population of about 2 million people. Could these Brits and their descendants have occupied that land for almost a thousand years, less than half the time the Jaredites, Nephites and Lamanites occupied the Americas, without leaving a shred of evidence of their presence?
Can anyone with a head on their shoulders, no matter how strong their ‘testimony,’ believe that this is remotely possible?
Anyone who has visited, ‘this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.’ as the eternal bard had penned, has seen bountiful evidence of Britain’s medieval cities, her churches, the ruins of her castles, bridges, and fortifications. Her art, literature, and language. We have evidence of the Angles invasion, we know about the Black Death, the War of the Roses and The Peasants’ Revolt, we know who was on the throne, and we have uncovered copious evidence of their wars and battles.
No matter how comforting the assurances of one’s leaders, do we not have to use the gift of intelligence that the good Lord has given us to seek the truth?
Take courage, if you need it, from the few honest Mormon anthropologists who have dared to tell the truth:
“It appears that the Book of Mormon had no place in the New World whatsoever … [It] just doesn’t seem to fit anything … in anthropology [or] history… It seems misplaced.” 1
“What I would say to you is there is no archaeological proof of the Book of Mormon. You can look all you want. And there’s been a lot of speculation about it. There’ve been books written by Mormon scholars saying that “this event took place here” or “this event took place here.” But that’s entirely speculative. There is absolutely no archaeological evidence that you can tie directly to events that took place.”2
“Herewith is a copy of my recent (1975) paper on Book of Mormon geography [sic]. (My thesis is that Book of Mormon geography involves a lot more than playing with topography and terrain.) The real implication of the paper is that you can’t set Book of Mormon geography down anywhere – because it is fictional and will never meet the requirements of the dirt-archaeology, I should say – what is in the ground will never conform to what is in the book.”3
The above quote was from Thomas Stuart Ferguson, a faithful member of the church who, although not a professional archaeologist, as the church’s apologists are quick to assert, was nevertheless the recipient of a grant of more than $100,000 from the Mormon church to carry on the archaeological research.
Non-Mormon anthropologists, of course, go much further:
“So far as is known to the writer, no non-Mormon archaeologist at present is using the Book of Mormon as a guide in archaeological research. Nor [do] any non-Mormon archaeologists hold that the American Indians are descendants of the Jews, or that Christianity was known in America in the first century of our era…”4
“Let me now state uncategorically that as far as I know, there is not one professionally trained archaeologist, who is not a Mormon, who sees any scientific justification for believing the foregoing to be true,…nothing, absolutely nothing, has ever shown up in any New World excavation which would suggest to a dispassionate observer that the Book of Mormon is a historical document relating to the history of early migrants to our hemisphere.”5
I am old enough to remember back in the 1980s, hearing within church circles that the prestigious Smithsonian Institute was using the Book of Mormon as a guide in its leading archaeological research.
This ridiculous rumor was brought to the attention of Smithsonian directors who, in 1996, felt they had to send a formal letter to ‘inquiring minds’ stating that the Smithsonian certainly did not use the Book of Mormon to guide any research, and included a list of specific reasons why Smithsonian archaeologists considered the Book of Mormon itself nonsense:
“The Smithsonian Institution has never used the Book of Mormon in any way as a scientific guide. Smithsonian archaeologists see no direct connection between the archaeology of the New World and the subject matter of the book.”
Feeling they need to bring this rumor to rest more forcefully, they go on:
“The physical type of the American Indian is Mongoloid, being most closely related to that of the peoples of eastern. central, and northeastern Asia. Archaeological evidence indicates that the ancestors of the present Indians came into the New World – probably over a land bridge known to have existed in the Bering Strait region during the last Ice Age – in a continuing series of small migrations beginning from about 25,000 to 30,000 years ago.
Present evidence indicates that the first people to reach this continent from the East were the Norsemen who briefly visited the northeastern part of North America around A.D. 1000 and then settled in Greenland. There is nothing to show that they reached Mexico or Central America.
American Indians had no wheat, barley, oats, millet, rice, cattle, pigs, chickens, horses, donkeys, camels before 1492. (Camels and horses were in the Americas, along with the bison, mammoth, and mastodon, but all these animals became extinct around 10,000 B.C. at the time when the early big game hunters spread across the Americas.)
Iron, steel, glass, and silk were not used in the New World before 1492 (except for occasional use of unsmelted meteoric iron). Native copper was worked in various locations in pre-Columbian times, but true metallurgy was limited to southern Mexico and the Andean region, where its occurrence in late prehistoric times involved gold, silver, copper, and their alloys, but not iron.
No reputable Egyptologist or other expert on Old World archaeology, and no expert on New World prehistory has discovered or confirmed any relationship between archaeological remains in Mexico and archaeological remains in Egypt .” 6
Likewise, the National Geographic Society distanced itself from the Book of Mormon by responding to queries they received as they did in the letter below:
“January 11, 1990
Dear Mr. Larson:
Thank you for writing to the National Geographic Society.
The Society has never used the Book of Mormon to locate archaeological sites, and we do not believe that any of the places named in the Book of Mormon can be placed geographically by the evidence of archaeology. So far as we know, there is no archaeological evidence to verify the history of early peoples of the Western Hemisphere as presented in the Book of Mormon. I hope you will find this information useful.
The Following are Statements from leaders in the fields of pre-Columbian archaeology, pre-Columbian anthropology, and Egyptology:
“… I’m not familiar with the book of Mormon in detail, but from what you indicated about its contents it is totally made up (there is absolutely no evidence for any of this) not to mention implicitly racist because it seems to imply that Native Americans lacked the ability to build civilization without help from “Lamanites.
Professor Emeritus of Anthropology
… all historical and archaeological evidence contradicts the Book of Mormon’s stories of the peopling of the Americas and the early history of Native American societies. The Book of Mormon is a work of faith, and naturally has credibility to the faithful, but it has no historical basis, any more than the Book of Genesis is a historically or scientifically accurate version of the origin of the earth and human beings, however much it, or the Book of Mormon, may serve as a moral guide to believers. And I’m sure you can understand why people might be uncomfortable directly contradicting the teachings of what has become a very well-established religious movement.
The Americas were peopled by immigrants from Asia probably 15,000 years ago (give or take some thousands; archaeologists still haven’t quite figured this out). This is borne out by archaeology as well as genetic evidence (DNA, blood types, and other factors). Their descendants settled throughout the entire New World.
Complex, urban civilizations developed in Mexico and Central America in isolation from the rest of the world, out of the accumulated knowledge of people who lived there for thousands of years, domesticated corn, and other food crops, and learned very well how to live in those environments. Languages of the New World bear no relationship to Hebrew. Ever since Europeans became aware of Native Americans, there have been various attempts to identify them with the so-called “Ten Lost Tribes of Israel” mentioned in the Old Testament. So, we might say that Joseph Smith’s version was in some degree a variation on this old theme…”8
David Carrasco – Professor of the Study of Latin America
at Harvard Divinity School
“The Book of Mormon is a book of faith and storytelling and not history. Historically it is inaccurate. If we go on archaeological evidence, there is no basis for what the Book of Mormon teaches, as you summarize it below. There is no record of the arrival of anyone from Jerusalem.
Here’s another point. People of faith believe what they want to believe about the authenticity of their own religion. Some Catholics believed that St. Tomas, one of Jesus Christ’s disciples migrated to Mexico after the crucifixion and preached in Mexico. This is because they found some parallels between Aztec and Maya religion and the Bible. But there is not one single fact, datum, object, word that supports either the Mormon view or the Catholic view…”9
Professor in the Anthropology Department
at the University at Albany,
Brigham H. Roberts (March 13, 1857 – September 27, 1933) was a General Authority in the Mormon church, a historian, politician, and polygamist.
He published a six-volume history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and also wrote Studies of the Book of Mormon which was published posthumously, in which he concluded that there was no linguistic evidence found among the Native American peoples supporting the Book of Mormon narrative. Roberts showed that the different language stocks and dialects would not have had enough time to develop from a single language dating from just A.D. 400.
He notes: “The facts … developed up to this point seem to be that:
There is a large number of separate language stocks in America that show little relationship to each other.
It would take a long time—much longer than that recognized as “historic times”—to develop these dialects and stocks where the development is conceived of as arising from a common source of origin—some primitive language.
There is no connection between the American languages and the language of any people of the Old World.
New World languages appear to be indigenous to the New World.
The time limits named in the Book of Mormon—which represents the people of America as speaking and writing one language down to as late a period as 400 A.D.—is not sufficient to allow for these divergences into the American language stocks and their dialects.” 10
While Roberts, some will tell you, maintained his belief in the Mormon Church. In “Book of Mormon Difficulties: A Study,” written in response to a series of questions put to him by church president Heber J. Grant, he confessed that he had no answers for some of the difficulties.
Interestingly in his text entitled, “A Book of Mormon Study,” Roberts compared the Book of Mormon to the earlier-published, View of the Hebrews, written by Ethan Smith, and found significant similarities between them.
Roberts wrote “A Parallel,” a condensed version of his more extensive study, which demonstrated eighteen points of similarity between the two books, and in which he entertained the genuine possibility that the creative Joseph Smith might very well have written the Book of Mormon without any divine assistance.
His study, as one might imagine, did anything but endear him to church leaders and it has now been shown that Roberts withheld some of his evidence and discoveries from the general authorities of his day because of their resistance to hearing anything that did not support the church’s narrative.
As Richard and Joan Ostling have discovered, Roberts declared that the validity of the Mormon church must “stand or fall” on the truth of Joseph Smith’s claim that the Book of Mormon was the historical record of an ancient people inscribed on gold plates.
They also found that he predicted, somewhat prophetically, that if the church’s leadership does not address the problems with its origins and the many anachronisms found within the Book of Mormon, these difficulties would eventually undermine “the faith of the youth of the Church.”
It is interesting that as I write this, almost 100 years after Roberts did his analysis, the church has yet to address the many problems he outlined, and now in the age of the Internet, it is coming home to roost.
The Book of Mormon also claims that the ancient inhabitants of the Americas spoke and wrote in “Reformed Egyptian” and Hebrew. However, as the Smithsonian’s eighth statement regarding the Book of Mormon states, “Reports of findings of ancient Egyptian, Hebrew, and other Old World writings in the New World in pre-Columbian contexts have frequently appeared in newspapers, magazines, and sensational books. None of these claims has stood up to examination by reputable scholars. No inscriptions using Old World forms of writing have been shown to have occurred in any part of the Americas before 1492 except for a few Norse rune stones which have been found in Greenland.”
Absent any archaeological or anthropological evidence supporting the Book of Mormon the church’s apologists have made the following statement:
“The Book of Mormon mentions cities, trade, warfare, towers, and the use of armor– all of which did exist in the ancient Americas–yet their existence has not convinced critics that the Book of Mormon is an authentic ancient text.” 14
Hold on; ‘…all of which did exist in the ancient Americas,”
I am anxious to learn more about these discovered ‘cities’ that FairMormon mentions and view the evidence of the ‘warfare’, ‘towers’ and ‘armor.’
My professor and mentor as a graduate student and later and colleague when I taught at the University of Alberta, Dr. A.G. Peroni spent years researching the trade routes of the early Florentine merchants, so I am a somewhat familiar with ancient trade. There is no evidence of such trade in the Book of Mormon.
FairMormon is silent on the discovery of any skeletal remains, chariots or the ‘millions of soldiers’ who reportedly died in battle, let alone any Hebrew inscriptions.
Reading the remainder of this article, I discovered that FairMormon once again fails to provide any specifics or evidence.
They do a lot of dancing, around epigraphic and iconographic evidence, but they do not provide anything worthwhile, nor have they assailed in any way the myriad statements made by legitimate archaeologists that, “There is absolutely no archaeological evidence of the Book of Mormon.”
FairMormon makes statements such as “There is plenty of supporting evidence that anthropologically ties the Book of Mormon to ancient America,” but again nothing beyond this assertion.
This is one of their favorite dishonest apologetic techniques, the presupposition, and sadly many fall for it. The simply truth is, there is NO evidence – period!
I understand the church’s dilemma, but deception and sophistry doesn’t cut it. The assertion that there is, “plenty of supporting evidence,” is just not true and the only ‘archaeologists’ who might make such a claim are trying to weave straw into gold down at BYU!
If the evidence does exist, in the words of Eliza Doolittle in ‘My Fair Lady, “Don’t talk at all – show me!”
Joseph Fielding Smith hung an even more bizarre explanation out there. He suggested that the reason we can’t find any archaeological evidence of the Book of Mormon is that God is hiding it!
“It is the opinion of the writer that the Lord does not intend that the Book of Mormon, at least at present, shall be proved true by any archaeological findings. The day may come when such will be the case, but not now. The Book of Mormon is itself a witness of the truth, and the promise has been given most solemnly that any person who will read it with a prayerful heart may receive the abiding testimony of its truth.”15
I would contend that if the church had even one item – a chariot, a sword, a Hebrew inscription, they would be crowing about it – look at all the Nahom buzz I discuss below. The truth is, there is nothing.
Instead they produce pablum like this:
“Those who make claims that there is no archaeological evidence supporting the Book of Mormon are right in one respect–we don’t know where the cities mentioned in the Book of Mormon are located. Such information may yet be discovered, but not discovering it is just as likely given the lack of cultural continuity and toponyms, as well as the epigraphic and iconographic uncertainties. To dismiss the Book of Mormon on archaeological grounds is short-sighted, as continuing discoveries provide ever more evidence that is consistent with the book. Archaeology is not a dead science, and it continues to make new inroads that are applicable to Book of Mormon studies.”
I have highlighted three false and/or misleading statements in this one paragraph alone:
Continuing Discoveries – There have been NO discoveries continuing or otherwise.
Think not? Next time you visit the LDS Church History Museum in Salt Lake City, ask the lovely young woman behind the information desk on what floor are the Nephi artifacts located?
Ever more evidence that is consistent with the book – Again, forgive me, but I have to call bullshit here. Before you can say ‘ever more’ you must have ‘some.’ That’s the way things work in the real world.
Continue to make new inroads – An inroad is defined as an advance or penetration. What advances or permeations have Mormon archaeologists made?
This type of hit and run unsubstantiated evidentiary blether is meaningless, and solely intended to mislead the unschooled and should be recognized as such. Shame on them.
I believe any intelligent man or woman, let alone a critical thinker, can see the dishonesty of FairMormon’s apologetic techniques.
In the February 2001 edition of the Ensign magazine. A short article entitled, “Book of Mormon Linked to Site in Yemen” covers the story of a rock (alter?) found in Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula which the article states had the word ‘Nahom’ inscribed on it.
This was touted as a momentous discovery as the name is associated with Lehi’s journey as recorded in the Book of Mormon. (1 Nephi 16:34) which reads, “And it came to pass that Ishmael died, and was buried in the place which was called Nahom.”
Finally, a shred of evidence, well at least something although not found in the Americas which would be truly impressive.
The Ensign article goes on to say that professional archaeologists have dated it to at least 700 B.C., so the timing fits.
The author of the article was a little zealous however. The stone or alter did not have Nahom inscribed on it, but just the three consonants NHM.
Nevertheless, since vowels are not used in Hebrew writing, Nahom is a distinct possibility.
It is also important to note that Nihm is believed to be a tribal name, rather than a place name and that the three consonants could have a variety of spellings when vowels are inserted – NiHM, NaHaM, NaHM, NeHeM, etc., and certainly it is reasonable to surmise that the tribe gave its name to the region where they lived.
This discovery is interesting and may indeed be significant, although hardly a slam dunk.
John Hamer, who has written on several topics related to the LDS history, does not share the Ensign’s enthusiasm:
“Although some apologists have described the odds of this Nahom/Nihm/” NHM” correlation as “astronomical,” it hardly even rises to the level of notable coincidence. The Book of Mormon derives its names from a book that has Semitic sources, i.e., the King James Bible. Many of the names in the Book of Mormon are just plucked directly from the Bible, e.g., “Lehi” (Judges 25:9), Laban (Gen. 24-30), Lemuel (Prov. 31:1-9). Other names, however, use the Bible as their inspiration with alterations, e.g., “Jarom” (“Joram” 2 Sam. 8:10), “Omni” (“Omri” 1 Kings 16:16), “Nehor” (“Nahor” Gen. 11:22). “Nahom” easily fits into the latter category: “Nahum” is a book of the Old Testament…”
FairMormon contends that NHM in Yemen must be Nahom because other details fit. However, there are at least three cities, or streets with NHM name patterns in Israel and at least one in Iran. For that matter, Anaheim, California works!
I also find it curious that Lehi and the gang were erecting inscribed monuments while crossing Arabia but seem to have given up that practice entirely upon reaching America.
It would be much more impressive if we were to uncover a monument (or anything else) with a Hebrew inscription this side of the ocean.
The more we learn about the pre-Columbian Americas, the more ridiculous Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon tale becomes.
FairMormon’s Response to Interrogative No.1
FairMormon responded to my online comments on the dearth of any archaeological or anthropological evidence by accusing me of providing propaganda or spin. They state:
“Simply repeating assertions by ex-Mormons and critics of the Church that there is no evidence of the Book of Mormon does not make their assertions true. Those that look for such evidence can find it.”
I don’t see how questioning why, during the past six hundred years, we have not found any archaeological, anthropological or linguistic evidence to support the BOM narrative can be characterized as ‘propaganda or spin.’ Nor is it accurate to characterize non-Mormon archaeologists, anthropologists and historians who have no skin in the game as, “critics of the church.”
I presented comments from noted experts – Mormon and non-Mormon alike to substantiate my assertions.
FairMormon says, “Repeating the assertions that there is no evidence of the Book of Mormon does not make the assertion true.” I agree, but neither does it make it false. FairMormon may be tired of hearing it; nevertheless, it remains an important question needing to be addressed which, to date, it has not.
And here we go again, FairMormon says, “Those that look for such evidence can find it.”
I have been looking as have many others in and out of the church but can’t find it. Any specifics?
Please FairMormon, unless this is some ecclesiastical scavenger hunt, show us where we can find the ‘evidence’ of which you speak!’
I would submit that FairMormon’s or more to the point, the Mormon church’s failure to provide any affirmative evidence, must lead any reasonable person to conclude that they simply have none.
Rather than throwing out assertions like, “there is much evidence,” why not just present that evidence so we can test it.
FairMormon also goes on to suggest that it is the questioner’s lack of knowledge about a very specialized academic area that is the problem. They imply that if you are not an archaeologist, even one coming out of BYU, you are too ignorant to grasp the sublime subtleties of that science.
And finally, in a shocking display of their ignorance of logic and philosophy, FairMormon moves next to that old chestnut, “The absence of evidence does not equal evidence of absence.”.
I have heard many wide-eyed Latter-day Saint missionaries repeat this.
However, while cute, this silly little maxim negates the importance of evidence with a negative value. A null result is equivalent to evidence of absence and can be used to deduce or infer the non-existence or non-presence of something.
If, for example, a physician during exploratory surgery does not find a malignant tumor or any malignant cells within a patient, this represents a null result (finding nothing) and is evidence of the absence of cancer, even though the surgeon did not detect anything per se. Such inductive reasoning is essential in the world of science and to a thinking person’s understanding of reality.
Unsubstantiated claims and statements such as, “Newer archaeological finds are generally consistent with the Book of Mormon record even if we are unable (as yet) to know the exact location of Book of Mormon cities,” are meaningless absent examples of such.
Where are these, “Newer archaeological finds?” It is all a mist, a vapor. There is no substance to FairMormon’s statement.
Come on, FairMormon; I have shown you mine, now show me yours!
FairMormon next states:
“Why would a non-Mormon archaeologist, anthropologist or linguist have any interest in searching for any evidence proving the Book of Mormon? It should be obvious that any archaeologist, anthropologist or linguist interested in the subject would themselves be Mormon.”
I am sorry, but that is an incredibly stupid thing to say.
By FairMormon’s reasoning then ‘it should be obvious‘ that any historian interested in the Third Reich must be a Nazi or anyone studying serial killers would themselves be one. Which FairMormon scribbler penned that piece of brilliant apologetics? I’m sorry, I am trying not to be snarky, but I don’t suffer fools gladly and statements like this was made by a fool. No wonder FairMormon’s apologists never put their name on their writings.
Archaeologists, anthropologists or linguists need not be searching for evidence proving or disproving the Book of Mormon’s authenticity. The fact is that their extensive research has not discovered any evidence consistent with, or even in a tangential way supportive of, the Book of Mormon narrative.
Agreed, most non-Mormon archaeologists, anthropologists, and linguists likely haven’t given much thought to the Book of Mormon or its claims because it is irrelevant to their real and serious work. Nevertheless, as my research has shown, those who have been asked if they have come across anything even remotely supportive or consistent with it, have responded that they have not.
FairMormon apologists just don’t seem to get it. The scholars I reference have no skin in the game, unlike Mormon archeologists, they don’t have any theological axe to grind. Their agenda is neither to defend nor to attack the Book of Mormon. They are simply looking at data, and these data just do not fit with Smith’s Book of Mormon tale.
FairMormon also takes umbrage with my reference to the work of Thomas Stuart Ferguson, a faithful member of the Church who was honest enough to write, ‘you can’t set Book of Mormon geography down anywhere – because it is fictional.’
Their concern, it would seem, is that Ferguson never studied archaeology at a professional level. They quote John Sorenson, a BYU ‘archaeologist’ to make their point:
“As John Sorensen (sic), who worked with Ferguson, recalled: [Stan] Larson implies that Ferguson was one of the “scholars and intellectuals in the Church” and that “his study” was conducted along the lines of reliable scholarship in the “field of archaeology.” Those of us with personal experience with Ferguson and his thinking knew differently. He held an undergraduate law degree but never studied archaeology or related disciplines at a professional level…”
“Ferguson was never an expert on archaeology and the Book of Mormon (let alone on the book of Abraham, about which his knowledge was superficial). He was not one whose careful “study” led him to see greater[,] light, light that would free him from Latter-day Saint dogma, as Larson represents. Instead[,] he was just a layman, initially enthusiastic and hopeful but eventually trapped by his unjustified expectations, flawed logic, limited information, perhaps offended pride, and lack of faith in the tedious research that real scholarship requires. The negative arguments he used against the Latter-day Saint scriptures in his last years display all these weaknesses.”
There is no need to throw Brother Ferguson under the bus.
Firstly, I never said that he was an archaeologist, but rather just that ‘Thomas Stuart Ferguson, [was] a faithful member of the Church, who in 1952 single-handedly founded the New World Archaeological Foundation (NWAF).’
Secondly, the Church obviously saw some value in his work insofar as they funded it – twice. NWAF received $15,000 from the First Presidency in 1953, with the strict provision, that there was to be absolutely no publicity. In 1955 the First Presidency pledged another $200,000 to NWAF to sponsor four additional years of fieldwork.
$200K was a lot of tithing dollars in the 1950s.
If the point that FairMormon is trying to make is that because Thomas Ferguson, was not ‘a professional archaeologist’ his work lacks credibility, let me quote from an article written by LDS apologist Dan Peterson who confirms, that while Ferguson himself was not an archaeologist, NWAF was staffed by professional archaeologists:
“Several relevant facts stand out from this bare-bones recital of the earliest history of the New World Archaeological Foundation. First, non–Latter-day (sic) Saint archaeologists were prominent—in fact, dominant—from the beginning, not only in choosing central Chiapas as the geographical focus of its excavations…”
On the New World Archaeological Foundation
Daniel C. Peterson FARMS Review 16/1 (2004): 221–33. Second
Second, FairMormon’s choice of John Sorenson, as the ‘respected archaeologist’ to make their point is perhaps unwise.
In a blistering review of Sorenson’s lack of scholarship and questionable referencing, author and Mormon bishop Del Dowdell commented on the stuff Sorenson has published in several Mormon publications:
John L. Sorenson, in his book, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, writes (p278) says “The earliest piece so far probably dates to around the first century B.C. It is a bit of copper sheathing found on top of an altar at Cuicuilco in the Valley of Mexico.”
However, a search of his reference and allied articles turns up no such piece. “…there is a singular mention of copper, such as copper rattles found in Mexico dated to the Post-classic period, which is after 1000 A.D. “
Sorenson also wrote:
“There have proven to be several hundred such specimens dating from 400 B.C. to AD 900, 153 of which were excavated by professional archaeologists,” referencing, you guessed it, his own work.
John L. Sorenson, Metals and Metallurgy
Relating to the Book of Mormon Text, FARMS, Provo, 1992.
Sorenson’s most quoted reference is himself. Indeed, he is often the only referenced source regarding his theories on Book of Mormon metallurgy in Mesoamerica.
As an example, in an article: ‘Metals and Weapons in the Book of Mormon: Mormon Answers to Frequently Asked Questions’ Sorenson references himself 27 times as the source for information regarding metals in Mesoamerica.
Dowdell comments further:
“Since Sorenson is neither a metallurgist nor one who has searched ancient sites and digs looking for artifacts and evidence of metal in the ancient Americas, there is no possible way he should be the source material for “proof” that metallurgy existed in the ancient Americas. Such ludicrous sourcing and citing are neither scholarly nor helpful, and it certainly is not suggestive to critics of the Church and the Book of Mormon that any written material with such referencing is either accurate or honest.”
Del Dowdell, Who Really Settle Mesoamerica
I had expressed caution previously regarding the level and quality of scholarship at BYU, in the fields of archaeology, and anthropology.
Sorenson was professor of anthropology at Brigham Young University. For well over 50 years, he had immersed himself in Book of Mormon archaeology, yet searching the three big three, peer-reviewed, scholarly journals on anthropology or archaeology in the United States online, not one article by John L. Sorenson shows up. Not in the American Journal of Archaeology, the American Anthropological Association or the Archaeological Institute of America.
Let me repeat that, in 50 years as a professor of archaeology at BYU, not a single peer-reviewed article!
It is an understatement to say that BYU, is not the place to study archaeology if you ever hope to work anywhere other than Brigham Young University or some lessor Mormon college.
The BYU archaeology department has the unique and dubious distinction of having had its excavation license revoked by the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry for disseminating inaccurate findings.
The Egyptian Antiquities Ministry was outraged by BYU team leader Kerry Muhlstein’s, publication in the newspaper, speaking of mummies, that “We are fairly certain we have over a million burials within this cemetery. It’s large, and it’s dense,”
Not only did Muhlstein grossly exaggerate the numbers of what he thought were mummies, but the Ministry had to explain to this BYU archaeologist what a mummy is, as not one of the ‘millions’ Muhlstein claimed to have discovered was, in fact, a mummy!
Youssef Khalifa, the head of the Ancient Egypt Department, said: “What [BYU] published in the newspaper is not true, A mummy by definition to begin with means a complete mummified body and there is only one mummy found at the site of Fag el-Gamous in 1980, [and not by BYU] which is at the Egyptian Museum since then,” he added, describing the bodies at the site as “only poor skeletons and plenty of bones, some of which are wrapped in textiles.”
Generations of, ‘amateur Mormon archaeologists,’ have written books containing photographs of ancient ruins and artifacts advancing the claim that these things prove that the Book of Mormon is true. Their findings, however, can be summarized as – wrong time, wrong place, wrong people!
Sadly, the church has knowingly provided and possibly continues to supply its young missionaries with archaeological slides of Mayan temples and ruins, which can mislead investigators.
As I have said already, a Mayan temple has nothing more to do with the Book of Mormon story than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.
The ruins often depicted in Mormon sources were likely Classic or post-Classic Mayan, from between 250 C.E. and the Spanish conquest. Far too late to jive with the Book of Mormon narrative.
Also, the pre-classical Mayan culture predates the Nephites by a very long time – 2000 BCE. The Maya started building their cities ca. 750 BCE. Lehi & his family supposedly didn’t leave Jerusalem until 600 BCE. The Mayans had a fully developed society before the Nephites showed up and the Maya outlived the Nephites destruction by centuries.
If you are familiar with the Mormon church’s apologetic history, you will recognize that FairMormon’s arguments here are remarkably similar to, and I would suggest have been lifted directly from, a 1993 article which appeared on the now-defunct FARMS site written by William J. Hamblin. This piece, entitled: “Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon. ” is often quoted by Mormon apologists.
In it Hamlin writes:
“Most anti-Mormon attacks on the authenticity of the Book of Mormon suffer from several severe logical flaws. The authors are inadequately informed about Latter-day Saint history, doctrine, and scripture; they have not read the text of the Book of Mormon carefully; they distort both what the text of the Book of Mormon says and the variety of Latter-day Saint interpretations of the text; they attempt to make all Latter-day Saint scholars responsible for the private opinions of some Latter-day Saint authors or General Authorities; and they frequently argue solely from the authority of selected authors or scholars, rather than providing evidence, analysis, and argumentation to support their case. They seldom advance the discussion by dealing with current Latter-day Saint thinking on the matter, being content instead to rely on an ad nauseam repetition of anti-Mormon arguments, many of which have been around—and have had adequate Latter-day Saint responses—for over a century.”
I agree with Hamlin on a few of his observations. However, I think he is guilty of some of the same ‘anti-Mormon’ flaws he criticizes. However, because of the apologetic resilience of Hamlin’s arguments for why we have a total absence of archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon, I feel I must comment.
Hamlin never defines what an ‘anti-Mormon’ is, but by the context in which he uses the term I would suggest we could substitute the word ‘non-Mormon.’
He expresses the view that, “they (anti-Mormons) frequently argue solely from the authority of selected authors or scholars, rather than providing evidence, analysis, and argumentation to support their case.”
Critics must provide “evidence, analysis and argumentation” to support their case. In my experience most do.
Indeed, in this ‘A Letter to an Apostle,’ I have included the opinions of the most distinguished leaders in the field of archaeology and anthropology. As well I have presented the comments by several LDS scholars.
Hamlin, however, takes particular offense with those who compare ‘the present state of knowledge about ancient Nephite sites with the state of knowledge about biblical sites.’
This is a valid point and I will even stipulate to Hamlin’s report that, “Only 55 percent (sic) of the place names mentioned in the Bible have been identified” and that we have not yet identified the location of Mt. Sinai or as he says the precise, “route taken by the Israelites in the Exodus.”
Certainly. There is much that archaeology remains to discover about the historicity of the Bible.
But Mr. Hamlin ignores the fact that a great deal has been found.
As I have noted there are tens of thousands of archaeological finds that support the Bible including many biblical empires, cities, sites, artifacts, weapons, coins and much more.
Specifically, I mentioned the seven-foot black diorite stele, discovered at Susa containing the Code of Hammurabi, the Moabite Stone, the Burial Plaque of King Uzziah, and the Sennacherib Prism.
Archaeologists have also found The Cylinder of Cyrus the Great and the Hezekiah’s Siloam Tunnel Inscription.
King Hezekiah of Judah ruled from 721 to 686 BC. Fearing a siege by the Assyrian king, he preserved Jerusalem’s water supply by cutting a tunnel through 1,750 feet of solid rock from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam inside the city walls as mentioned in 2 Kings 20 and 2 Chron. 32. A Herculean feat.
I have spoken of the discovery of the cities of Haran, Hazor, Dan, Megiddo, Corinth, Capernaum, Shechem, Samaria, Shiloh, Gezer, Gibeah, Beth Shemesh, Beth Shean, Beersheba, Lachish, as well as proof of the Shishak invasion of Judah and the existence of the Hittites.
Coins mentioned in the Bible have been found in abundance such as the widow’s mite or denarius which I hold in my hand:
Perhaps the greatest single discovery confirming the Bible’s historicity was the Dead Sea Scrolls.
First discovered by Bedouins in the caves of Kiryit Qumran in 1947.
Excavations initially led by Roland de Vaux. discovered some 800 documents in tens of thousands of fragments. Written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.
They contain biblical, apocryphal works, prayers as well as legal texts and sectarian documents.
Biblical archaeologists have also unearthed a stratum of burnt material containing the remains of The Walls of Jericho, which were destroyed either by an earthquake or a siege.
Many fields of study span the Bible history; from archaeology and astronomy to linguistics and comparative literature.
Israel’s enemies have also been well documented and are solidly historical.
In short, the historicity of the Bible is absolutely beyond question.
The Holy Bible has been corroborated historically, geographically, archaeologically, and linguistically and both its translation and transmission have been verified by literally thousands of ancient manuscripts.
The fact that Jesus repeatedly quoted the Old Testament with confidence and without any suggestion that it was corrupt should be reason enough for us to accept it as the word of God. The New Testament has also been proven to be unchanged and undefiled.
Hamlin’s position might have more traction if he could also state that, “55 percent of the place names mentioned in the Book of Mormon have been identified,”or even 25%, how about any! Hamlin ignores this disparity between the Bible and the Book of Mormon altogether.
And as if the hole Hamlin is digging is not deep enough, he then quotes Yohanan Aharoni, a scholar of some note who says: “In the final analysis the most certain identifications [of biblical place names] are still those dependent upon preservation of the ancient name, albeit with careful examination of written sources and archaeological data. Out of the approximately 475 place names mentioned in the Bible, only about 262 have been identified with any degree of certainty…”
If 262 cities or places in the Book of Mormon had been ‘identified with any degree of certainty…’ we might witness Russell Nelson doing an Irish jig on the dome of the Tabernacle!
Hamlin then goes on to discuss how ‘Pre-Classic Mesoamerican inscriptions are relatively rare.’
To illustrate the complication of Mesoamerican toponyms being translated between languages rather than transliterated phonetically, he uses a chronologically irrelevant Aztec language illustration:
“Thus, “in Nahuatl [Aztec] . . . ‘Hill of the Bird’ is Tototepec (tototl = bird + tepetl = hill) and ‘Hill of the Jaguar’ is Ocelotepec (ocelotl + tepetl). . . . ‘Hill of the Bird’ in Mixtec would be Yucu Dzaa, from yucu (hill) + dzaa (bird); ‘Hill of the Jaguar’ in Zapotec would be Tani Guebeche, from tani (hill) + guebeche (fierce carnivore).”
Aztec culture was a Mesoamerican culture that flourished in central Mexico in the post-classic period from 1300 to 1521 A.D., far beyond Book of Mormon times. Therefore, irrelevant and immaterial.
Next, he tells us what we all already know that there is not an official Latter-day Saint position on the geography of the Book of Mormon.
Can you say, plausible deniability!
Hamlin also condemns ‘anti-Mormons’ (read as all who question), who claim that all Native Americans are genetically descended from the Lamanites. I think that he might want to cut people a little slack here as church leaders and the Book of Mormon itself sends mixed messages.
The fly page of the Book of Mormon (before it was quietly changed) speaks of ‘The principal ancestors of the American Indians’, and a little further in, it tells us:
“… and it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance.“
2 Nephi 1:8
Also, we have the words of those who one might think would know:
“We, therefore, cast a glance southward into old Mexico and through the great countries beyond — down through Central America and South America, where there are millions and millions of Lamanites, direct descendants of Father Lehi.”
Elder Andrew Jenson, Conference Report October 1921, p.120
“About twenty-five centuries ago, a hardy group left the comforts of a great city, crossed a desert, braved an ocean, and came to the shores of this, their promised land. There were two large families, those of Lehi and Ishmael, who in a couple of centuries numbered hundreds of millions of people on these two American continents.”
Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 601
Hamlin tackles the problem of anachronisms in the BOM by making the point that barley has been found in Arizona – not the domesticate European type, but barley none the less.
He is on shakier ground however when he states that Book of Mormon animals may have become extinct and that, ‘possible horse remains have been found in various locations in Mesoamerica,’using, as his source, who else, John L. Sorenson.
Hamlin then attacks the late Dr. Michael Coe, renowned non-Mormon scholar who has said:
“There is not one professionally trained archaeologist, who is not a Mormon, who sees any scientific justification for believing in the historicity of the Book of Mormon.”
Hamlin tells us what Dr. Coe was trying to say here, “that all of the archaeological evidence known to him can be adequately interpreted and accounted for based on the assumption that there were no Nephites.” Mr. Hamlin does not seem to understand that ‘learned’ scholars talk to one another and their published articles are open to peer review.
Also we don’t need to put words in Michael Coe’s mouth; he expresses himself very clearly. When Dr. Coe says, “there is not one professionally trained archaeologist,’ he is speaking as a knowledgeable insider. I think Hamlin’s discounting of Coe’s statement, by implying that, ‘well that’s just one man’s opinion,” is a slight to the scores of serious scientists dedicated to unearthing the truth.
Hamlin also suggests that Dr. Coe’s research findings would be different if he were to assume that Nephites did exist, runs in the face of the scientific method, something Hamlin seems unfamiliar with. The starting point is not assumptions and conclusions; those come later after the data has been studied and examined.
Hamlin finally ends with a question:”
“Why do non-Mormon scholars reject the Book of Mormon?” Which he then goes on to answer himself:
“Acceptance of the historicity of the Book of Mormon logically necessitates recognition of Joseph Smith’s prophetic claims. Thus, any scholar who eventually came to accept the historicity of the Book of Mormon would be logically compelled to become a Latter-day Saint.”
Is Hamlin suggesting that there is some unstated conspiracy among scholars to avoid the siren call of the Book of Mormon, for if they were to taste its sweet nectar of truth, they would all become Mormons?
Now that is pushing a cognitive dissident proposition to the limit, but he continues.
Next, he laments the fact that, “most non-Mormons do not take the Book of Mormon seriously enough even to read it, let alone give it the careful study required to make an informed judgment.”
FairMormon and F.A.R.M.s before it have stated that, “there is much archaeological proof to the Book of Mormon.” This is a falsehood.
Professor Paul E. Minnis, from the University of Oklahoma, Department of Anthropology reflects the learned belief of dispassionate experts in preColumbian America that, “It is safe to say that few, if any, professional archaeologists, except those who are practicing Mormons themselves, view the Book of Mormon as a document with any archaeological value.”
Again, one of the most respected archeologists is Yale University’s Dr. Michael Coe, who is an expert on Mesoamerica has said, “The bare facts of the matter are that nothing, absolutely nothing, has even shown up in any New World excavation which would suggest to a dispassionate observer that the Book of Mormon, as claimed by Joseph Smith, is a historical document relating to the history of early migrants to our hemisphere.” 22
I would suggest that a reasonable person would agree that FairMormon’s rebuttal to what I have written here earns them an ‘F.’
Therefore, President Uchtdorf I stand by my contention that there is no compelling evidence, that any legitimate non-Mormon archaeologist could point to that supports the validity of the Book of Mormon. None, die Nonen!
Can you help?
1 Dr. Ray Metheny, Professor of Anthropology, BYU, Address at the Sixth Annual Sunstone Theological Symposium, Salt Lake City, 8/25/84.
2 Dr. David Johnson, Professor of Anthropology, BYU.
3 Thomas Stuart Ferguson, in a letter to Mr. & Mrs. H. W. Lawrence, dated Feb. 1976.
4 Ulster Archaeological Society, Newsletter, No. 64, Jan 30, 1960, P.3
5 Michael Coe, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1973, pp. 42.
6 Department of Anthropology National Museum of Natural History Smithsonian Institution
Washington, DC 2056
7 Richard Blanton – Professor of Anthropology at Purdue University, Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Michigan
8 David Carrasco – Professor of the Study of Latin America at Harvard Divinity School,
9 Louise Burkhart – Professor in the Anthropology Department at the University at Albany,
10 Brigham D. Madsen, ed., B. H. Roberts: Studies of the Book of Mormon, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985.
11 Richard and Joan Ostling, Mormon America: The Power and Promise Harpers, 1999), 276.
12 Coe 2002, p. 13 An Outsider’s View of Mormon Archaeology May, Wayne N., This Land – One Cumorah, pp. 61–68
13 May, Wayne N., This Land – One Cumorah, pp. 61–68
14 https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/ Book_of_Mormon/Archaeology
15 Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 1998, v. 2, p. 196
16 John Clark, “Debating the Foundations of Mormonism: Archaeology and the Book of Mormon”,presentation at the 2005 FAIR Apologetics Conference (August 2005).
17 On the New World Archaeological Foundation Daniel C. Peterson FARMS Review 16/1 (2004): 221–33.
18 John L. Sorenson, Metals, and Metallurgy Relating to the book of Mormon Text, FARMS, Provo, 1992.
19 Del Dowdell Who Really Settled Mesoamerica.
20 B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Century 1, Brigham Young University Press, Vol. 1, 1965, pg. 75
21 B.H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, p.277
On the next page we will examine the problem of anachronisms in the Book of Mormon
22 Michael Coe, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1973, pp. 42, 46
Interrogatory No. 2
The Clock Struck Nine: Anachronisms in the Book of Mormon
Anachronism – [uh-nak-ruh-niz-uh m – noun]
Something or someone not in its correct historical or chronological time, especially a thing or person that belongs to an earlier or later time:
A practical approach to confirm the authenticity of ancient or historical writings is the identification of anachronisms found within them. Anachronisms are chronological errors, and they might include mention of events that could not have occurred during the period under discussion. These errors can also include names, locations, languages, tools, and so on that did not exist or were unknown at the time the historical document was written.
For example, in Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene 5, Shakespeare has Juliet utter, “The clock struck nine when I did send the nurse.”
Romeo and Juliet is, however, set in the 1300s, well before the invention of the first mechanical pendulum clock. This is an anachronism. It was an error, similar to one made in the motion picture Spartacus, where the film editor failed to notice some of the slaves were sporting wristwatches.
Now, ‘The Bard of Avon’ was not trying to fool anyone, and a slave wearing a wristwatch at a time of Christ is hilarious. However, when we put serious writing to the anachronism test, and it comes up short, it usually indicates fraud or deception. The Book of Mormon does not fare well when put to the anachronism test.
The Book of Mormon cites horses fourteen times. However, not only is there no evidence that horses existed in North, Central or South America during the time of the Book of Mormon’s supposed describes (2500 BC– 400 AD). Indeed there is considerable compelling scientific evidence that horses became extinct by the end of the Pleistocene era (2.5 million–12,000 years ago). Horses only reappear in the Americas when the Spaniards brought them from Europe in about 1519. Elephants are mentioned in (Ether 9:19) swinging their trunks for the Jaredites (2500 BC). But again, fossil records show that they became extinct at the end of the last Ice Age (10,000 years ago).
Chariots are mentioned numerous times in the Book of Mormon (Alma 18:9-10, 12, Alma 20:6, 3 Nephi 3:22), yet again, there is no archaeological evidence to support the use of wheeled vehicles in the pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. They would be of little use, considering there were no horses to pull them.
Ether 9:18 refers to cattle, but here again, there is no evidence that Old World domesticated cattle inhabited the New World before European contact. Likewise, iron and steel cited several times (1 Nephi 16:18, 2 Nephi 5:15, Jarom 1:8, Ether 7:9) is a problem as there is no evidence of hardened steel being present in pre-Columbian America. A sophisticated metallurgical society would leave considerable evidence.
The Book of Mormon also refers to “swords,” stating that “the blades thereof were cankered with rust” (Mosiah 8:11) relating to the Jaredites’ final battlefield where some 250,000 warriors perished. But again, no such battlefield, no such soldiers, and no such weapons have ever been found.
2 Nephi 5:14-15 reads: “And I, Nephi, did take the sword of Laban, and after the manner of it did make many swords… And I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance.”
And how is it possible that a small group of ‘immigrants,’ likely no more than 50 to 100 in number, managed to do all of the following in a short period of time:
Mine Iron Ore – and extract elemental iron from that iron ore.
Mine Coal – and refine it into coke as required in the production of iron.
Make Steel – a complicated process of mixing iron with carbon.
Mine Limestone – a necessary ingredient necessary for the production of steel.
Locate and Mine Copper.
Mine Tin and Zinc – for the production of “brass.”
Refine this Tin or Zinc, which does not appear in an elemental state.Develop expertise in prospecting – locating and identifying ores.Prospect for Gold.
Locate and Extract Silver.
Roast to eliminate sulfur as required in the production of both copper and silver.
Smelt and flux all of these metals.
Construct blast furnaces – to produce these metals.
Manufacture hardened mining tools.
What an incredible, intrepid and industrious little band!
Mining, smelting, refining, roasting, all leave indestructible and robust evidence, yet in all of the Americas let alone the Northeastern United State, there is no such evidence.
Also, the story of the construction of transoceanic vessel borders on the ridiculous. We learn in 1 Nephi that the Lord in directing the building of a sea-going craft tells Nephi where he can find iron ore to make his tools. The obvious question is how could Nephi et al extract the iron ore without already having tools?
As well, Nephi tells us that they had to molten the ore to make the tools, one must ask how did they build a blast furnace hot enough to produce molten iron – at least 1,500 degrees celsius.. Burning wood can only produce a temperature at tops 600 degrees and coal is anachronistic to the Sinai peninsula.
Charcoal can produce higher temperatures up to about 1,100 degrees using Nephi’s ‘bellows,’ but producing char is a complicated process requiring a great deal of hardwood (acres of forest) and a charcoal furnace yo first produce char. As well, reaching temperatures of 1,500 degrees using charcoal is a real stretch.
Good charcoal is mostly pure carbon, called char, which is made by cooking wood in a low oxygen environment, a process that can take days as it burns off volatile compounds such as water, methane, and hydrogen.
When ignited, the carbon in char combines with oxygen and forms carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, water, other gases, packing more potential energy per ounce than raw wood. Char burns steady and hot, but not 1,500 degrees hot.
A sea-going craft also requires metal strapping and a great many nails – perhaps as many as 10,000 – each hand made.
Joseph Smith was not just ignorant of what existed before the Spaniards appeared on this continent, but was also ignorant when it came to ship building. At best he was familiar with canoes and flat bottom boats that went up and down the Erie Canal.
A real sea-going ship however a keel. A keel is a flat blade sticking down into the water from a sailboat’s bottom. It performs two functions: it prevents the ship from being blown sideways by the wind, and holds the ballast that keeps the ship right-side up.
The lumber created to build a seagoing vessel also must be steamed to bring the bow to a point.
This is problematic in two ways. First, you have to laminate and steam wood to make the keel. Second, you need a dry dock to build it. Because of the keel, you can’t simply build your ship on skids and launch it into the sea.
Building a dry dock with a deep enough hole for a ship the size described in the Book of Mormon with water-tight gates as well as a steaming station is an enormous task certainly taking several years to construct.
Also, wood is porous and needs pitch or tar derived from oak to keep the boat from leaking. What about rope, or the wool needed to make the sails. It takes two sheep to produce one square meter of sail. You can only sheer a sheep once a year, therefore hundreds of sheep are required – where did these hundreds of needed sheep come from? Wild sheep? Feral sheep? How about the tall straight trees for the masts? How were they lifted in place? How did Nephi intend to steer the ship as the rudder (requiring ropes and pulleys) wasn’t invented until the 12th century?
Bountiful must also have been a fabulous place with surface iron ore, hundreds of acres of hardwood, and pasture land, as well as herds of feral sheep.
And perhaps most significantly we have the problem of water. How do you carry enough water for the people and animals on board to make the crossing.
Water is heavy, and since the barrel was also not yet invented, how did they carry enough water for the long crossing? Clay jars is not very smart on a ship being buffeted by waves. Maybe they tanned sheep bladders and made waterskins, but tanning requiring tannic acid again only found in oak and takes years to properly produce and you are going to need a lot of them.
The Book of Mormon is silent on how long the voyage lasted. Lehi’s voyage however would have taken them from the Saudi Arabian peninsula to the western shores of Mesoamerica. Oceanographic research has shown using ‘drifters’ (floating buoys that transmit their positions to satellites orbiting earth) that the route could have taken about 580 days.
Medical experts tell us that that an adequate daily fluid intake is about 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids for men and about 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women. If we assume a group of 45 people. John L. Sorenson concluded that between 40–50 people entered the boat that carried the group to the promised land (Sorenson, “The Composition of Lehi’s Family,” 195). That means not even considering the livestock onboard and assuming no-one ever bathed, they would have required 83,000 litres or 22,500 gallons of water on the ship to make the crossing. That amount of water would have weighed over 188,000 lbs. or 94 tons. If sheep waterskins were used to carry the water for the voyage over 30,000 sheep would have to have been slaughtered to harvest enough bladders.
Remember too that this monumental achievement was was effected by Lehi’s clan consisted of 25-30, including children. Is Smith’s yarn beginning to sound a little far fetched?
Six times silk is spoken of in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 13:7,8, Alma 1:29, Alma 4:6, Ether 9:17, Ether 10:24). Silk, of course, is a product of the Orient and unknown in the pre-Columbian Americas. The word, ‘compass’ (Alma 37:38), is dated at 73 B.C. in the Book of Mormon, even though, this instrument was not invented until the twelfth century.
Alma 11 is also problematic in that it mentions a monetary system based on the weights of precious metals and strongly implies the use of coins. However, recognizing the anachronistic problem of new world coins showing up before the time of Christ, the church made yet another change to the ‘most correct book in the world,’ removing the reference to ‘coinage’, from the introduction of Alma 11.
Before the change, the introduction read: “Judges and their compensation—Nephite coins and measures—Zeezrom confounded by Amulek…”
The introduction’s reference to “Nephite coins and measures,” was written by committee, although James Talmage is given special credit.
I guess we are now to believe that this was just sloppy work on his part even though Talmage’s biographer, James P. Harris, noted that Talmage “was customarily meticulous, making sure there were no errors or omissions.”
As well, regardless of the church’s willingness to throw Talmage under the bus, the introductions and footnotes were undoubtedly approved by the LDS First Presidency.
We have, of course, never found any evidence of the Alma 11 monetary system nor have any coins ever been unearthed – not a seon, shum, limnah, amnor, senums or ezrom. In fact, not a single onti!
The church’s position now is that the seon, shum, limnah, etc. were not coins even through their reference as ‘pieces of their gold,’ and pieces ‘of their silver,’ would suggest the opposite. LDS apologists now take the narrow view that these pieces of metal of particular weights and values are not coins because they were not minted or inscribed.
Their mention in the Book of Mormon indeed indicates; however, they were used as coins. ”
“And the judge received for his wages according to his time–a senine of gold for a day, or a senum of silver, which is equal to a senine of gold; and this is according to the law which was given. Now, these are the names of the different pieces of their gold, and of their silver, according to their value.”
(see Alma 11:1–19)
For many decades Alma 11 has been understood by members to speak of coins. B.H. Roberts, an LDS Seventy and Church historian, wrote, “In addition to these words we also have a number of names of Nephite coins and the names of fractional values of coins…” Brother Roberts continues his uses of the term ‘coins’ we have no means of obtaining specifically the value of these coins in modern terms,” and, “there is stated a system of relative values in these coins that bears evidence of its being genuine” (A New Witness for God, 3:145).
In the 1979 Book of Mormon Student Manual (Religion 121-122), it asks students, “how valuable were the Nephite pieces of money?” Showing that “pieces” meant “coins,” the manual presents a chart to show “the relative value of silver and gold coins under the system set up by Mosiah.”
The difficulty, of course, does not just lie in a lack of any Nephite coins being unearthed, It lies in Smith’s suggestion that such coins existed in the first place.
So, Alma 11 paints the church and her apologists into a corner. Either it presents more artifacts that have never been confirmed by archaeology or it is yet another of the many anachronisms found in Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon.
The word “Bible,” denotes a canon of scripture (2 Nephi 29:3, 4, 6, and 10) and is also problematic. he word ‘Bible’ is the Anglicization of the Greek word ‘Biblia,’ which means book. The problem here is that Greek wasn’t spoken in Israel until long after Lehi’s supposed emigration to the Americas in about 600 BC. 2 Nephi 31:13 references the “Holy Ghost,” but, the word “ghost” did not come into parlance until hundreds of years after it was inscribed in the Book of Mormon.
The name ‘Isabel’ (Alma 39:3) given to a harlot, first appeared in France and Italy in the middle ages. Again, wrong time, wrong place.
Six times, we find the abbreviation “&c” (and so forth), a convention peculiar to the nineteenth century in the Book of Mormon – never used before, never used after.
The words “alpha” and “omega” appear in 3 Nephi 9:18. These two words are, of course, the English spellings of the Greek words found in the Book of Revelations in the Bible.
As the Book of Mormon was not recorded in Greek, why do we find these words? The most obvious answer is that Smith simply copied them from the King James Version of the Bible.
There are numerous instances where Smith uses words that were not relevant to his time but peculiar to the English spoken in the early 1600s. “Prayest,” “durst,” “thou,” “thee,” “thy,” “thine,” “hast,” “doth,” “knoweth,” “hearest,” “cometh,” and “thirsteth.” Did God select these words for the Book of Mormon? No, it demonstrates the writer’s exposure to King James’ terminology.
One must ask, why would the Book of Mormon be translated into King James/Elizabethan English in the first place? This language was neither spoken in 1830 America nor in the day of Mormon, Moroni, et.al.?
Does God speak Elizabethan English, or was this a cunning ploy Smith used to give his writing greater gravitas and also make the numerous passages he plagiarized from the King James Version of the Bible fit in more seamlessly?
Scores of passages in the Book of Mormon, either in part or whole, verbatim or paraphrased, have been taken directly from the King James Version of the Bible.
Perhaps the most egregious error Smith made throughout the Book of Mormon was the use of the word “Christ.” He uses it as though it was the surname of the Lord Jesus. However, as any seminarian can tell you, the word “Christ” is the Anglicization of the Greek word ‘Christos,’ meaning the anointed or chosen one (the equivalent of the Hebrew word Mashiach, or Messiah.)
Much is made of the appearance of the word ‘adieu,’ (Jacob 7:27) because it is so obviously and ridiculously out of place.
And of course there is the, ‘Isaiah problem.‘ Nearly all bible scholars doubt that the Book of Isaiah was written by one person. They tend to date the last third of the Isaiah to the 6th century BCE some 200 years after Isaiah’s death and well after Lehi’s family left Jerusalem with the brass plates. If Chapters 40–66 were not written until after Lehi’s departure, then what are they doing in the Book of Mormon. For example, Isaiah 44:28 mentions Cyrus who we know lived 200 years after Isaiah and long after Lehi. Likewise, the threats against Babylon found in Isaiah 47:1 and 48:14), were well after Lehi’s voyage to the New World.
It is not then surprising that non-Mormon archaeologists and scholars have concluded that the Book of Mormon’s many anachronisms, let alone its subject matter, clearly reveals the 19th-century origin, leading to the inescapable and indisputable conclusion that it is a work of fiction composed during Joseph Smith’s time and nothing more.
FairMormon did produce the attractive chart below in which they attempt to show those anachronisms within the Book of Mormon that has now been ‘confirmed.’ Of course, no supporting evidence or references are provided.
The problem is the information it contains is bogus. For example, in the 2005 iteration, it lists the Hebrew language, brass plates, swords (steel and otherwise) as confirmed.
When and where were these things confirmed and by whom?
I am also curious as to why horses are listed as ‘indeterminate.’ Perhaps this refers to the tapir postulate!
Let me assure you that the Hebrew language, swords (steel and otherwise) have NEVER been discovered, FairMormon’s colorful chart notwithstanding.
If the LDS church has what this chart says they do, would they not be trumpeting all these ‘important discoveries’ across their media and beyond?
In addition to horses, it also lists as ‘indeterminate,’ goats, large armies and the language that no one has ever heard of – ‘Reformed Egyptian.’
I have traveled to Egypt and examined hieratic script with non-Mormon archaeologists from Cairo to Aswan and in the tombs and temples in between. I have never seen evidence of this peculiar language, nor do I know any Egyptian scholars who have ever heard of ‘Reformed Egyptian.’
Where is the evidence that backs any of these classifications?
Many professional linguists would love to know more about the discovery of the Hebrew language in the Americas that this chart confirms. Somehow every non-Mormon linguist seems to have missed this ground-breaking find that the nameless ‘scholars’ at FairMormon have discovered.!
The discovery of the Hebrew language in ancient America is not a subject for debate. It is well established that there have NEVER been any such discoveries.
Some Mormon apologists have also suggested that the horses spoken of in the Book of Mormon were really deer.
I have a spread on the North Saskatchewan river up in Alberta, Canada, on which roam the odd moose, bear, cougar and many many whitetail deer. Let me assure you having directly observed the temperament of this animal for decades; that it is beyond absurd to suggest that you could ride them!
Here again, FairMormon drags out their ‘go to’ archaeologist/scholar/apologist John L. Sorenson, to spin another tale, this time out of ‘silk:’
“Linen and silk are textiles mentioned in the Book of Mormon (Alma 4:6). Neither fabric as we now know them was found in Mesoamerica at the coming of the Spaniards. The problem might be no more than linguistic. The redoubtable Bernal Diaz, who served with Cortez in the initial wave of conquest, described native Mexican garments made of “henequen which is like linen.” The fiber of the maguey plant, from which henequen was manufactured, closely resembles the flax fiber used to make European linen. Several kinds of “silk,” too, were reported by the conquerors. One kind was of thread spun from the fine hair on the bellies of rabbits…”
OK, so according to Sorenson they didn’t exist, it was all just a big misunderstanding, a matter of labels – semantics. When the Book of Mormon says linen it means henequen, silk isn’t silk its hair from the bellies of rabbits; barley is hordeum, a species of grass native to the Americas. By horse, Mormon writers meant tapir, by cattle they meant buffalo, and when they use the word pig this is really code for the Chic, a ‘wonderfully active, small dog, with a snout like a sucking pig.’
FairMormon also states: “When they say “directly” support, they typically mean that they are looking for a direct corroboration, such as the presence of the name “Nephi” or “Zarahemla” in association with ancient American archaeological data.”
First, I am not sure who ‘they’ are but if ‘they’ are archaeologists I doubt they are looking for road signs when they speak of “direct corroboration.”
I would suggest that direct corroboration would be the discovery of evidence of the places – animals or technology that match the Book of Mormon claims. The skeletal remains of an elephant would be an example of direct corroboration, one piece of armor or a sword from the many battles involving millions of people would be direct corroboration.
None of these, of course, are indicated, rather FairMormon provides yet another quote by Sorenson, this time without any citation:
“Without even considering smelted iron, we find that peoples in Mesoamerica exploited iron minerals from early times. Lumps of hematite, magnetite, and ilmenite were brought into Valley of Oaxaca sites from some of the thirty-six ore exposures located near or in the valley. These were carried to a workshop section within the site of San Jose Mogote as early as 1200 B.C. There they were crafted into mirrors by sticking the fragments onto prepared mirror backs and polishing the surface highly. These objects, clearly of high value, were traded at considerable distances.”
I can understand why Sorenson starts with, ‘Without even considering smelted iron,’ as there is none to consider. Instead, he talks about lumps of meteoric minerals fashioned into primitive mirrors as being proof of iron or steel.
FairMormon again trumpets the discovery of wild barley in Arizona. While I would like to have seen peer-reviewed articles, this is something that the reader might want to investigate further as it indeed refutes the critics who say that barley did not exist in the Americas.
The December 1983 issue of the magazine Science 83 reported the discovery in Phoenix, Arizona, by professional archaeologists of what they supposed to be pre-Columbian barley. That same month, F.A.R.M.S. carried a preliminary notice of the discovery.
Mosiah 9:9 lists barley among several crops that were cultivated by the Nephites in the land of Nephi, and Alma 11:7 singles out barley as the primary grain into which silver and gold were converted in the Nephite system of weights and measures.1
In a blog article entitled, ‘Barley Found in the New World.’ by Raymond C. Treat he heralds this find, “This discovery constitutes one of the most important archaeological breakthroughs ever in support of the Book of Mormon. If this identification of barley is valid, and it appears to be, it will cause a major shift in the thinking of New World archaeologists, a shift which will be a giant step toward the ever-growing physical validation of Book of Mormon history.”
Mr. Treat may be a little too enthusiastic, keep in mind that a few grains of a wild barley in Arizona does not parallel the domesticated variety taken from the Holy Land to the Americas and used to feed millions of people.
The simple truth is the Mormon Church has nothing but again they will produce as evidence any nonsense that a halfwit would embrace.
For example, there is a pre-Columbian city located on the Yucatan Peninsula called Tulúm which is often included in LDS tour packages and identified as a ‘possible’ Book of Mormon site. The tour guides describe it as one place mentioned in the Book of Mormon and make a big fuss over the depiction of the “Descending God,” which the guides often tell their naive mormon tourists what they want to hear – that it is Christ.
The problem is that extensive archaeological research conducted at Tulúm has shown that the time is all wrong. All structural and ceramic evidence at Tulúm, and its corpus of murals and reliefs, date from the Middle and Late Postclassic (AD 1200-1520) period. The Ancient History Encyclopedia has this to say: “While it has long been held that Tulum is the only temple complex to depict the Descending God, his image has been found elsewhere. Attempts to link him to the figure of Jesus Christ have been dismissed by all reputable scholarly authorities.”
In addition, competent non-Mormon archaeologists believe that the Descending God, .…also known at Cobá and Sayil, are commonly thought, based on their apparent antennae and insect-like torsos, to represent the bee gods Ah Muzencab, known from the Madrid Codex.
2 “An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon,” 1984.
3 Robert Wane Hope, “Ten Years Of Middle American Archaeology.”
4 John L. Sorenson, Metals, and Metallurgy Relating to the book of Mormon Text, FARMS, Provo, 1992.
5 Del Dowdell Who Really Settled Mesoamerica.
Why do recent DNA studies conclusively show that Native Americans are of Siberian/Asiatic and not of Hebrew/Middle Eastern Origin?
As the following statements by leaders in the field indicate, based on DNA evidence alone there is no nexus between the Middle-Eastern peoples and the aboriginal peoples of the Americas.
As Michael Crawford 1 at the University of Kansas puts it, “I don’t think there is one iota of evidence that suggests a lost tribe from Israel made it all the way to the New World. It is a great story, slain by ugly fact.”
DNA comprises four pairs of “molecular bases”- adenine, cytosine, thymine, and guanine that form a ribbon-like chain in a molecule that is then twisted upon itself twice (a double helix.) You have likely seen the Watson-Click model somewhere in your educational experience.
Simon Southerton points out, “Each base is always opposite its complementary base, A with C, and G with T or vice versa. They can thus be understood as a coded sequence (which they are), and replication occurs because the complementary pairings always line up with stray molecules (called nucleotides) when reproduction takes place. A single change in the sequence represents a “mutation” that can be detected.
In human mitochondria (for simplicity think of this as a part of a cell), there are approximately 16,500 “letters,” and five sequences are found among Native American populations in what is identified as “haplogroups.” These five haplogroups also exist among the Siberian population of Eastern Asia in the same statistical proportions.
Significantly, these haplogroups are not found in Semitic populations, and additionally, there are other haplogroups found among the peoples of the Middle East that are not found in Native Americans.” 2
Got that, mutually exclusive.
Meldrum and Stephens two leaders in DNA analysis have found that “The data accumulated to date show that 99.6 percent of Native American genetic markers studied so far exhibit Siberian connections.” 3
“Genetic research, particularly that using mitochondrial and Y chromosome markers, provide quite an emphatic refutation of any such relationship between Jews and Native Americans.”5
Recent DNA testing conducted on 150 tribes located across the Americas have shown conclusively, that contrary to traditional Mormon claims, their ancestors migrated from Asia between 7,000 and 50,000 years ago.
Even Mormon anthropologist Thomas W. Murphy commented on these findings:
“Some Latter-day Saints have expressed optimism that DNA research would lead to a vindication of the Book of Mormon as a translation of a genuine ancient document… The results, though, have been disappointing… Genetic data repeatedly point to migrations from Asia between 7,000 and 50,000 years ago as the primary source of Native American origins. DNA research has substantiated the archaeological, cultural, linguistic, and biological evidence that also points overwhelmingly to an Asian origin for Native Americans.”
Investigation of mitochondrial DNA of over 5,500 living Native Americans reveals that 99.4% can be traced back to Asia… Only 0.6% came from Africa or Europe, most likely after 1492.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the church quietly made yet another change to the Book of Mormon, in 2006 shortly after the irrefutable DNA results were first published by the scientific community:
“…the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians.”
“…the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians.”
With the change of a few words, the Lamanites went from being the ancestors of every native American, as President Kimball had once declared, to merely living among these native populations.
Then following this striking display of core belief malleability, the ‘Brethren’ begin their gaslighting, claiming there is nothing new here, this was all common knowledge written about for years. It is not the church’s fault that members were too stupid or lazy to search these things out.
The Mormon Essay on DNA states the following:
“Basic principles of population genetics suggest the need for a more careful approach to the data. The conclusions of genetics, like those of any science, are tentative, and much work remains to be done to fully understand the origins of the native populations of the Americas. Nothing is known about the DNA of Book of Mormon peoples, and even if their genetic profile were known, there are sound scientific reasons that it might remain undetected. For these same reasons, arguments that some defenders of the Book of Mormon make based on DNA studies are also speculative. In short, DNA studies cannot be used decisively to either affirm or reject the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon.”6
I agree that there are explanations as to why it is possible that no Hebrew DNA has been discovered, but, there is wide disagreement as to how sound they are. As is usually the case, the Church, and her apologists are adrift in the defensive world of possibilities, not probabilities.
Genetic drift is such a theory.
Genetic drift is the gradual loss of genetic markers in small populations due to random events.
The church’s essay uses the illustration of colored marbles to make the case, a simple illustration of the concept of genetic drift:
“Fill a jar with 20 marbles—ten red, ten blue. The jar represents a population, and the marbles represent people with different genetic profiles. Draw a marble at random from this population, record its color, and place it back in the jar. Each drawing represents the birth of a child. Draw 20 times to simulate a new generation within the population. The second generation could have an equal number of each color, but more likely it will have an uneven number of the two colors. Before you draw the third generation, adjust the proportion of each color in the jar to reflect the new mix of genetic profiles in the gene pool. As you continue drawing, the now-uneven mix will lead to ever more frequent draws of the dominant color. Over several generations, this “drift” toward one color will almost certainly result in the disappearance of the other color.”
The marble metaphor seems to make sense with 20 marbles, and 20 draws although to complete the story, it would have been good to know how many ‘generations,’ and color adjustments and draws it would take to end up with all the same colored marbles.
The law of probabilities would predict we would get an equal number of red and blue marbles from the draws over time, but since the sample is so small, you might get 9 of one and 11 of the other one time or 8 and 12 another time and so on. That being the case and assuming that the draws are almost always one-sided (say blue marbles coming out on top – which is not likely) after about ten or eleven generations, all the marbles would be the same color.
The marble scenario totally falls apart when the numbers become greater, say 10,000 or 20,000 marbles, It is estimated that it would take 1,000 or 2,000 generations (25,000 – 50,000 years) to possibly see the same results.
Now let’s make that number 20 billion, the number geneticists say is more realistic. After 100,000 years, you would still find a lot of red marbles – that is, Semitic DNA! So the apologists marble analogy does not make it as even a high school math teacher can demonstrate.
In his review of William B. Provine’s “The ‘Random Genetic Drift Fallacy,” Christopher Jensen, Associate Professor, Pratt Institute indicates that the marble Metaphor’ is both simplistic and unlikely.
“Different alleles at a single locus are represented as marbles (or as beads, or as jelly beans for the most voracious students of evolution). The metaphor is compelling: if each marble in the jar represents an allele possessed by an individual, then the whole jar represents the “gene pool”. By randomly sampling from the jar as a way of representing alleles being passed on to the next generation of offspring, we can see that in small populations the probability of losing an allele to chance is far greater than in larger populations.
But are alleles well-represented as marbles in a jar? This question — as absurd as it may seem — is at the heart of The “Random Genetic Drift” Fallacy‘s argument. Provine emphatically says “no”, suggesting that what we call genetic drift is inbreeding, and inbreeding creates very different evolutionary outcomes than fixation of particular alleles at particular loci. There is no gene pool, and there is no drift at particular gene loci because genes are located on chromosomes and chromosomes are replicated via the process of meiosis. Meiosis was not well-understood until just after Fisher, Wright, and Haldane had formulated the foundational theory of population genetics; according to Provine, population genetics has been out of synch with reality ever since.” 8
Notwithstanding all the above, remember that the Book of Mormon proclaims that the Americas were reserved solely for the migrants from the Middle East.
“There shall none come into this land save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord.”
“Wherefore, this land is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring. . . . And behold, it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance.”
“Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves (2 Nephi 1:6-9).”
So which is it?
1 Michael Crawford, at the University of Kansas, as quoted in Thomas Murphy, Mormon anthropologist, American Apocrypha, p. 53.
2 Simon Southerton, “Losing a Lost Tribe,” Signature Books, 2004
3 Jeffrey Meldrum and Trent D. Stephens, “Who are the Children of Lehi,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, v. 12, no. 1, p. 41
4 Dr. David Glenn Smith, U.C.-Davis molecular anthropologist, 2002 Sunstone Symposium, Salt Lake City
5 From an essay entitled, “Lamanite Genesis, Genealogy, and Genetics.>.”
6 Book of Mormon and DNA Studies, An LDS Essay
7 “Debate Renewed with a Change in Book of Mormon Introduction,” Deseret News (8 Nov. 2007).
8 Review of William B. Provine’s “The ‘Random Genetic Drift’ Fallacy”
FairMormon’s Comments on my questions on DNA Issues
Comment No. 1
Response to my claim: “Why do all recent DNA studies conclusively and without exception indicate that Native Americans are of Siberian/Asiatic and not of Hebrew origin.
DNA evidence cannot be used to either prove or disprove the Book of Mormon.
I agree that DNA evidence in ITSELF cannot be used to either prove or disprove the Book of Mormon, but it is another arrow in the investigator’s quiver.
Here again, the Mormon church’s apologists are on the defensive because they have no affirmative arguments on their side.
Contrary to the apologists suggestions that the state of DNA research is speculative and incomplete, DNA is a very well understood and established science. The criminal justice system accepts it as reliable and its identification so accurate that people are often convicted of capital crimes on the basis of it. So when the best DNA researchers say that 99.4% of Native populations in North, South and Central America have Eastern Asian DNA, we need to sit-up and listen.
FairMormon, however, suggests that the accepted conclusion that the ancestors of the indigenous peoples of North and South America migrated from Asia is tentative.
If by tentative, FairMormon mean the absence of absolute certitude, then the accepted conclusion that DNA is our genetic building blocks can also be considered tentative.
The conclusion FairMormon calls tentative is based on considerable proof. Evidence that shows that there have been NO middle-Eastern markers found in the more than 12,000 samples taken from North and South American aboriginal populations.
Second, to say that nothing is known about the DNA of Book of Mormon people is disingenuous. We know, according to the story that Joseph Smith tells that they were Jews, from the Middle-East, of the ‘House of Israel.’ We know what Middle-Eastern Jewish DNA looks like. Geneticists have identified the unique markers. And none of those markers have been found in the Americas.
The simple fact is that DNA testing conducted on 150 tribes located across the Americas have shown, that their ancestors migrated from Asia some 7,000 and 50,000 years ago.
These populations got to North America across the 50-mile gap in the Bering Strait between the Chukotka Peninsula in Russia and the Seward Peninsula in the U.S. state of Alaska. This 50-mile aperture was almost certainly closed in the day. This makes sense to most people.
FairMormon Comment No. 2
“The church quietly made yet another change to the Book of Mormon, in 2006 shortly after the irrefutable DNA results were first published by the scientific community.”
FACT CHECKING RESULTS: THIS CLAIM CONTAINS PROPAGANDA AND/OR SPIN – THE AUTHOR, OR THE AUTHOR’S SOURCE, IS PROVIDING INFORMATION OR IDEAS IN A SLANTED WAY to INSTILL A PARTICULAR ATTITUDE OR RESPONSE IN THE READER
How can one claim that the church “quietly” changed the introduction to the Book of Mormon when they published news of the change in the church-owned newspaper, the Deseret News, 8 Nov. 2007.
FairMormon also takes umbrage with my statement that, “The church quietly made yet another change to the Book of Mormon in 2006 shortly after the irrefutable DNA results were first published by the scientific community.” They assert:
To refute my comment, FairMormon tells us that “they published news of the change in the Church-owned newspaper, the Deseret News in 2007.” referring to an article by Carrie Moore entitled, “DNA claims rebutted on Book of Mormon.”
Is the “they” referred to here the First Presidency of the Church?
Am I correct in assuming that this “one-word” change was not announced officially by the First Presidency other than in this Deseret News article that “they,” instructed (or directed or allowed) Ms. Moore, to write?
If I am mistaken, I would challenge FairMormon to share with me the official pronouncement.
‘Quietly’ is a relative term.
According to the LDS church’s statistical report tabled by F. Michael Wilson at the 2006 General Conference the membership of the church was 12,868,606 persons; grossly overstated nevertheless I will go with their numbers.
The circulation of the Deseret News as advertised in their ‘2015 Media Kit’ was 84,891 (In-State: 34,838 Out-of-State: 50,053). I do not have the circulation numbers for 2006, but it would be reasonable to assume it was probably less than in 2015.
Does the publication of an article in a periodical with a very limited circulation, (6/10 of 1% of the church’s claimed membership) represent a ‘quiet’ announcement, I will let the reader decide?
But, let me be generous and give FairMormon a ‘C’ here.
Interrogatory No. 4
How do you explain the large volume of material in the Book of Mormon lifted directly from the Bible, and the presence of numerous errors found in the Book of Mormon unique to the 1769 King James edition of the Bible, which we know Joseph had access to?
What is Plagiarism?
“No success in public life can compensate for failure in the home.”
– Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, 1804 – 1881
“No other success in life can compensate for failure in the home.“
– David O. McKay, President of the LDS Church, 1873 -1970
That is plagiarism!
How is it that some verbatim sections of the New Testament appear in the Book of Mormon at a date reported to be some eighty years before the birth of the Jesus?
On average one of every nine chapters in the Book of Mormon is copied from the Bible!
Another significant criticism of the Book of Mormon is that material was taken from other sources available to Joseph Smith. I will discuss the View of the Hebrews and the Late War Between the United States and Great Britain, the First Book of Napoleon and other sources later, but first, let’s examine the vast amount of text from the Old, and New Testaments found in the Book of Mormon.
Twenty-seven chapters in the KJV of the Bible are repeated almost verbatim in the 239 chapters of the Book of Mormon.
Twenty-seven out of 239 or 11.3% taken from the Bible.
Over 27,000 words – hundreds of verses are copied directly from the King James Version of the Bible. Let me repeat that, hundreds of verses copied verbatim.
Let me put that in a perspective that Utah Mormons can understand.
Danielle B. Wagner of The New York Times researched which television programs Mormon’s liked best. She found that overwhelmingly they liked fantasy and sci-fi programs, at least at a much higher level than the general American population.
Who’d have guessed it!
Their top eight favorites programs are:
• American’s Funniest Home Videos
• So, You Think You Can Dance
• Vampire Diaries
• Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factor
Her map below shows just how the popularity of these vapid programs is centered on Utah and Idaho.
So if you will allow me some good-natured ribbing, I’ll put the BOM’s plagiarizing of 11.3% of it’s content from the Bible in a form that those on the Wasatch Front might relate to.
It is like erasing 2 of the 13 episodes of your beloved Vampire Diaries!
The table below details the passages copied from the Bible:
Another damning criticism of the Book of Mormon is that many King James Bible translational errors are contained within it, specifically the 1769 version that Joseph Smith or his family owned.
For example, in 2 Nephi 15:25 (which is the same as Isaiah 5:25). The correct translation of the Hebrew “cuwchah” is “filth,” not “torn,” as found in the Book of Mormon. Also in 2 Nephi 14:5, which again is the same as Isaiah 4:5, the word “Chuppah” is translated as “defense,” not the correct translation from the Hebrew of “canopy.”
The Book of Mormon sounds Biblical not only because like the Late War Between the United States and Great Britain (a likely Smith reference) it was written in King James’ Elizabethan English. God knows why a 19th-century man would translate an ancient text written in ‘Reformed Egyptian’ into 17th-century English other than to facilitate his plagiarizing of the King James Bible.
There are cases where entire passages are lifted from the Bible. Sometimes the quotation is explicit, as in Second Nephi, which contains 18 chapters quoted from the Book of Isaiah, at other times it is a passage here and a passage there.
The bigger question is how could the Book of Mormon contain anything from the King James version of the Bible?
The story goes that Moroni buried the gold plates in 421 A.D. The King James Bible came out 1,190 years later. Ergo, the Book of Mormon could not be based on plates buried in 421 A.D. since it contains translation errors that didn’t occur until 1,190 years later; not to mention again that the language of the King James Bible was not the language of 421 A.D. or 1830 America.
Another significant concern is that italicized words from the King James Version of the Bible also appear in the Book of Mormon. The italicized words in the King James Version of the Holy Bible were not in the original Greek text but added by the translators to provide further clarity of thought as word meanings, and idioms change. This is necessary when translating from one language to another, Smith it would seem was ignorant of this.
The italicized words in the King James Bible are words added by the King James translators to help the reader, however, to make sure that everyone understood that these words were not in the available manuscripts they set them in italics.
A couple of examples:
Isaiah 9:1 (KJV) Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations.
2 Nephi 19:1 Nevertheless, the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at first, he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by way of the Red Sea beyond Jordan in Galilee of the nations.
Malachi 3:10 (KJV)… and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
3 Nephi 24:10. . . and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
Does this not show that Joseph Smith (or Oliver Cowdery) merely copied these passages from his Bible to the Book of Mormon?
The King James Version was completed in 1611 AD, and the Book of Mormon published in 1830.
I would ask anyone to explain to me how this alone is not indisputable proof that the Book of Mormon was written after 1611 and not twelve centuries before?
Curt van den Heuvel, contributed to this discussion by highlighting the large number of words that appear in the King James context alone, implying that these words are the result of biblical quotations, and are not a coincidental part of the author’s vocabulary.
A few examples – the word ‘manifestation’ (or its plural) is used in I Corinthians 12:7, in the phrase ‘…the manifestation of the Spirit…’. This verse (and some surrounding verses) is quoted in Moroni 10:8. This, in itself, is not an anachronistic quote, since Moroni lived long after the establishment of the New Testament canon (although it is a little unclear how this New Testament quotes managed to cross the continental divide.) However, we find that every time the word ‘manifestation’ is used in the Book of Mormon, regardless of context, author or time, it appears in the phrase ‘manifestation of the Spirit’. This can hardly be ascribed to coincidence.
As another example, the word ‘bitterness’ appears in Acts 8:23, in the phrase ‘…the gall of bitterness, and in the ‘bond of iniquity.’ We find that every time the word ‘bitterness’ is used in the Book of Mormon, it appears in t he phrase ‘gall of bitterness’, again regardless of context or author. (Even more significant, the word, in all but one instance, also occurs with the phrase ‘bonds of iniquity’.) A final example: every time the word ‘intents’ is used in the Book of Mormon, it appears in the phrase ‘thoughts and intents of the heart’, as in Hebrews 4:12.”
Listed below is a small sampling of the numerous times Smith (or Cowdery or Rigdon or ?) ‘copied’ from the King James Version of the Bible to the Book of Mormon, as shown in ‘The Skeptics Annotated Book of Mormon’ to show just how extensive the plagiarism is:
The mysteries of God –1 Corinthians 4:1 1:1, 2:16
Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God Almighty! -Revelation 15:3 1:14
Being grieved for the hardness of their hearts –Mark 3:5 2:18, 7:8, 15:4
To stir you up by putting you in remembrance –2 Peter 1:13 2:24
Behold, I dreamed a dream –Judges 7:13 3:2
Spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began — Acts 3:21 3:20
It is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. –John 11:50 4:13
Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath… –Acts 12:11 5:8
All nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues –Revelation 14:6 5:18, 11:36, 14:11, 19:17, 22:28
They are not of the world. –John 17:14 6:5
I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord. –John 1:23 10:8
There standeth one among you, whom ye know not … whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose. John 1:26-27 10:8
One mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose. –Luke 3:16 10:8
In Bethabara beyond Jordan –John 1:28 10:9
The entire list of 769 examples of unattributed copying from the Old and New Testaments can be found at The Skeptics Annotated Book of Mormon.3
Why does the Church not concede that Joseph or his scribes copied large amounts of material from the Bible? After all, this in itself is not terribly damaging. It is reasonable that when Joseph could see that the words of Isaiah were coming up passage after passage so he sped things along by just reading from his Bible to his scribe.
The apologists could even fall back on the excuse they are now using to defend Smith’s total ball up translation of the Book of Abraham, that it was not a translation but a revelation- Smith just didn’t know it.
I believe the reason this concession (reading from his bible to the scribes) is not forthcoming is that the church realizes that this admission opens the door to Joseph’s use of other resource materials – The Late War, View of the Hebrews, or crib notes. They can’t afford to go down that rabbit hole.
Coincidentally, new evidence shows that Smith was also guilty of plagiarism when he created his ‘Inspired Version of the Bible.’ A student and her professor at BYU, Haley Wilson, and Thomas Wayment in a paper produced in March of 2017 have, uncovered evidence that Smith used a readily available Bible commentary while compiling his ‘inspired’ Bible translation, or more properly his revision of the King James Bible. The commentary by Adam Clarke on the Old and New Testaments, was a mainstay for Methodist theologians and biblical scholars alike, and was one of the most widely available commentaries in the mid-1820s and 1830s in America.
Wilson and Wayment suggest that “the number of direct parallels between Smith’s translation and Adam Clarke’s biblical commentary are too numerous and explicit to be a result of happenstance or coincidental. The parallels between the two texts number into the hundreds.” They go on to say, “A few of them, however, show Smith’s open reliance upon Clarke and establish that he was inclined to lean on Clarke’s commentary for matters of history, textual questions, clarification of wording, and theological nuance.”
While admitting that their research is not intended to be exhaustive, they share the following:Among the more compelling examples are two that witness the omission of entire biblical verses or the rearrangement of parts of biblical verses. In Colossians 2:20–22, Smith rearranges the KJV order so that a portion of verse 22 (“which are after the doctrines and commandments of men”) is appended directly to the end of verse 20, a verse which ends with a comma in the KJV. This change appears to directly reflect Adam Clarke’s statement regarding it, “After the commandments and doctrines of men? These words should follow the 20th verse, of which they form a part; and it appears from them that the apostle is here speaking of the tradition of the elders.”4 The change does little to smooth out the flow of the English translation and does nothing to change the meaning, but it can be no mere coincidence that the two sources relocate a portion of the verse in precisely the same way by adding a part of one verse to another verse earlier in the same passage.
They conclude their short paper by stating,“One of the larger questions raised by this study is whether this new information would alter the reception of Smith’s translation as a canonical or nearly canonical text.”
Haley Wilson and Thomas Wayment,
A Recently Recovered Source:
Rethinking Joseph Smith’s Bible Translation,
BYU Journal of Undergraduate Research, March 16, 2017
There are many examples of ‘Literary Fatigue’ in the Book of Mormon, another indicator of plagiarism, witnessed when one author is heavily dependent on another. It is evidenced by small errors of detail and continuity, resulting from the plagiarizing author’s omission of structural details while modifying the source document.
Curt van den Heuvel gives us a few examples in the Bible where we can observe this phenomenon in practice: 6
The story of the healing of the paralytic in Luke 5. The gospel records that there were so many people in the house, that the friends of the patient were forced to let him down through the roof.
Luke 5:19 And when they could not find by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went upon the housetop, and let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus. The problem is that Luke has failed to mention that Jesus is in a house.
Luke 5:17 And it came to pass on a certain day, as he was teaching, that there were Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting by, which were come out of every town of Galilee, and Judaea, and Jerusalem: and the power of the Lord was present to heal them.
What has happened here is that the author of Luke, in using Mark 2 for his source, has forgotten that he did not set the story in a house, creating a minor aberration in the flow of the narrative when he finds that he has need of a housetop.
In the case of Luke, there was no attempt to mislead or deceive as we might attribute to Joseph Smith.
Alma 18 and 19 contains a story which is very similar to the resurrection of Lazarus as recorded in John 11. The most obvious difference is the fact that whereas Lazarus had died, and had been dead for some time, King Lamoni was in a deep sleep. Strangely enough, however, after informing his wife that the King is simply asleep, the prophet Ammon goes on to claim that he “…shall rise again”(19:8). This seems a rather curious phrase to use of someone who was merely asleep, especially when we consider that both times the phrase is used elsewhere in the Book of Mormon (Alma 33:22 and Helaman 14:20), it refers to a resurrection from the dead.
Could it be that in copying his source (the Gospel of John), Smith used a phrase that made sense in John’s narrative, “Thy brother shall rise again…” in John 11:23, but not in the Book of Mormon story?
A second example concerns the parable of the vineyard, as recorded in Jacob 5. This is a long parable which casts the nation Israel in the metaphorical role of an olive tree in a vineyard.
Jacob 5:3 “For behold, thus saith the Lord, I will liken thee, O house of Israel, like unto a tame olive-tree, which a man took and nourished in his vineyard; and it grew, and waxed old, and began to decay.”
The parable appears to be drawn from two biblical sources – the Song of the Vineyard in Isaiah 5, and Paul’s discussion of the relation of the Gentiles to the Jews in Romans 11. The problem for the author of the Book of Mormon is that Isaiah and Paul used slightly different metaphors – Isaiah that of a vineyard, and Paul an Olive tree. It is thus quite significant that halfway through the parable, Zenos appears to forget that he is using an Olive tree as his metaphor and begins to use the whole vineyard as his focus.
Jacob 5:41 “And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard wept and said unto the servant: What could I have done more for my vineyard?”
Significantly, the break appears at the same point that the Book of Mormon quotes a passage from Isaiah:
Isaiah 5:4I “What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?
From this point on, the prophet Zenos refers exclusively to the “fruit of the vineyard”, apparently forgetting that vineyards yield grapes, not olives.” 7
And then there is the Joseph Smith Translation (JST). If this ‘translation’ was inspired, it was inspired by Adam Clark Bible commentary as Smith essentially plagiarized from it with wild abandon. Haley Wilson-Lemmón while an undergraduate at BYU in association with her professor Thomas Wayment have shown conclusively the Smith copied several dozens of Adam Clark’s commentaries.
While I do not have the space here to detail every instance of Smith’s copying Adam Clark, I would commend Dr. John Dehlin interview with Ms. Wilson-Lemmon:
1 Source: Robert M. Bowman, Jr., The Book of Mormon and the Bible, March 2012
2 https://infidels.org/library/moder n/curt heuvel/bom_kjv.html
4 John W. Welch, “The Miraculous Translation of the Book of Mormon,” from Opening the Heavens, Accounts of Divine Manifestations 1820-1844, p.77-213, (2005), Brigham Young University.
5 Elden J. Watson, Approximate Book of Mormon Translation Timeline, April 1995
6 Curt van den Heuvel, The Bible in the Book of Mormon (1999) Introduction.
FairMormon’s Comment on the Issue of Plagiarism
FairMormon’s has proposed:
“Some of the Book of Mormon Isaiah passages match the version of Isaiah found in the Bible of the time. However, not all of them do.”
FairMormon also states:
“We do not know the specific mechanism by which the biblical passages were included in the translation. Therefore we cannot answer this question based upon (sic) current historical information. The only description of the translation process that Joseph Smith ever gave was that it was performed by the “gift and power of God,” and that the translation was performed using the “Urim and Thummim.”
I interpret FairMormon’s response here as saying; we don’t know why King James Bible Version errors would appear in the Book of Mormon because no one reports Joseph using it or source materials while he translated.
A feeble argument. I acknowledge all the quotes FairMormon includes from witnesses to the translation, showing that Joseph had his head in his hat and at times behind a curtain during the translation.
The apologists use the following statement by Emma Smith as ‘proof’ that her husband couldn’t have possibly copied from a Bible:
“I know Mormonism to be the truth, and believe the church to have been established by divine direction. I have complete faith in it. In writing for [Joseph] I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he is sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.”
Q: Had he not a book or manuscript from which he read, or dictated to you?
A: He had neither manuscript or book to read from.
Q: Could he not have had, and you not know it?
A: If he had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me.
Yes, Emma tells us she never saw her husband referencing anything, she also stated categorically after Smith’s death that he never practiced polygamy.
Let’s get serious. That Emma says she did not see Joseph referencing notes or the Bible doesn’t mean he didn’t use these aids.
If Joseph was wily enough to engage in dozens of sub-rosa sexual liaisons, ‘illegal marriages’ for goodness sake, without Emma having a clue, surely it makes his ability to hide his crib notes or the Bible and other materials seem like child’s play.
As well, we know that Emma did not act as scribe for most of the translation and certainly not when 2 Nephi, the portion containing many of the plagiarized chapters from Isaiah were being ‘translated.’ Emma’s involvement was limited. She and her brother Reuben Hale acted as scribes between December 1827 and February 1828. 4
Most of the plagiarism of Isaiah occurred in 2 Nephi:
BIBLE BOOK OF MORMON
Isaiah 2 2 Nephi 12
Isaiah 3 2 Nephi 13|
Isaiah 4 2 Nephi 14
Isaiah 5 2 Nephi 15
Isaiah 6 2 Nephi 1
Isaiah 7 2 Nephi 17
Isaiah 8 2 Nephi 18
Isaiah 9 2 Nephi 19
Isaiah 10 2 Nephi 20
Isaiah 11 2 Nephi 21
Isaiah 12 2 Nephi 22
Isaiah 13 2 Nephi 23
Isaiah 14 2 Nephi 24
Isaiah 48 1 Nephi 20
Isaiah 49 1 Nephi 21
Isaiah 50 2 Nephi 7
Isaiah 51 2 Nephi 8
Isaiah 52 3 Nephi 20
Isaiah 53 Mosiah 14
Isaiah 54 3 Nephi 22
We also know that 2 Nephi was written last – between June 12th and June 21st, 1829.
Elden J. Watson, Approximate Book of Mormon Translation Timeline, April 1995
Oliver Cowdery was the exclusive scribe during the plagiarism of all of the chapters of Isaiah. As this quote by Royal Skousen shows, Oliver was also the principal scribe for the production of the Printers Manuscript:
The printer’s manuscript, is virtually intact. Only three lines of its text, from the first leaf of the manuscript, have been worn away. This manuscript is owned by the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) and Oliver Cowdery is the main scribe. 5
Oliver Cowdery 84,6 percent
Scribe 2 of P. 14.9 percent
Hyrum Smith. 0.5 percent
We do not know which portion of the Book of Mormon was translated behind the curtain. It is far from inconceivable to believe Joseph may have secreted a copy of the Bible and other reference materials into his hat or to his side of the curtain which separates him from Cowdrey.
Also, if fraud was at play Oliver Cowdrey may have been in on the con.
We know from numerous sources that Joseph translated through a stone in his hat. We are also told that the Gold Plates were not used directly in the translation process and indeed were often not even present.
That said, why was a physical separation from the scribe necessary other than to provide an opportunity for Smith to refer to other materials.
FairMormon’s attempts to justify Smith’s extensive Bible plagiarism by stating that, “New Testament writers quoted hundreds of Old Testament scriptures including 76 verses from Isaiah.”
That is true, the Savior Himself often quoted the Old Testament Prophets, but I see this as somewhat different, the Lord let us know when he was quoting the Prophets and where it came from:
“And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?
“You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’
“For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.”
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, you shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
“… saying to them, “It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”
“And Jesus answered him, It is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and he only shall you serve.”
Can you see the difference?
In the case of the Book of Mormon, we have large tracts of material copied almost verbatim with no citations or attributions.
But again, I think this distracts us from the bigger question, which bears repeating; how could the Book of Mormon contain anything from the King James Version of the Holy Bible?
Moroni supposedly buried the gold plates in 421 A.D. The King James Bible came out 1,190 years later.
Regarding the King James Version errors appearing in the Book of Mormon, it seems there can only be two explanations:
Joseph Smith or someone else in 1829 took passages from the Bible, errors and all and copied them into the Book of Mormon, or;
God for reasons best known to Himself put the unique 1769 KJV edition errors as well as the translator’s italic clarifications into the ‘most correct book on earth.’
The second conclusion is absurd, but the first is not consistent with the story Smith told.
The method of translation, or more accurately transcription, according to Smith himself was he saw words or sentences appear on his magic rock which his scribe would then record.
The reader should also note that FairMormon fails to address the significant problem of the copying of the italicized words from the King James version of the Bible into the Book of Mormon. I think this is important and certainly worthy of comment.
With regard to FairMormon’s accusation that I have used the Texas Sharpshooter logical fallacy in discussing the similarities between the Late War Between Great Britain and the United States and the Book of Mormon, I would submit that their suggestion that there is no supporting connection is false. They state:
“The author located some pattern in the data that he or she believes was the cause of something else, despite the lack of any supporting connection, and asserted that this was, in fact, the actual cause.”
It is HE, and I did not detail the volume of disturbing similarities and identical words and phrases between the two, however if you wish detail, below is a list assembled Chris and Duane Johnson clearly showing the full extent of the similarities, that FairMormon would have one believe are ‘coincidental’ similarities:
|The Late War||Book of Mormon|
|4th of July …||26:1
||the fourth day of the seventh month, which is the birth day of Columbian Liberty and Independence,||the fourth day of this seventh month, which is in the tenth year of the reign of the judges.||Alma 10:6|
|Teancum …||27-28||… near Moravian Town… And it came to pass… the army … were under … a chief warrior, whom they called Tecumseh […] smote their chief warrior [Tecumseh], and slew him … he fell to the earth.||… people of Morianton … And it came to pass … the army … was led by a man whose name was Teancum[…] they did pursue Teancum, and slew him … he was dead, and had gone the way of all the earth.||Alma 50:33,35, Alma 62:36-37|
|Striplings …||35:5-6||two thousand hardy men, who … fought freely for their country… Now the men of war… were … men of dauntless courage.||two thousand of those young men … to defend their country. … they took their weapons of war, … were all young men, and they were exceeding valiant for courage, …||Alma 53:18-20|
|Americas …||20:11-16||… the land … most plentiful … yielding gold and silver, and … all manner ofcreatures which are used for food, And … the huge mammoth that once moved on the borders … It is morewonderful than the elephant;||… the land, … exceeding rich, … of gold, and of silver, and … all manner of… animals which were useful for the food of man. And … cureloms and cumoms; … and more especially the elephants …||Ether 9:17-19|
|Forts …||29:20-23||[men] were prepared … and they let loose their weapons of war … and smote … with great slaughter. And the deep ditch that surrounded the fort was strewed with their slain and their wounded.||[men] were prepared, with their swords and their slings, to smite… with an immense slaughter … ditches…filled up in a measure with their dead and wounded.||Alma 49:20-25|
|More Forts …||51||it came to pass … on the tenth day of theeighth month … the people began to fortify … and entrench the highplaces round about the city. And … build their strong holds …||it came to pass … on the tenth day of themonth … the Nephites had dug a ridge of earth … so high […] round about … the city … And … built a strong hold …||Alma 49,52|
|Casualties …||23:24||… fought … and there were many slain and wounded on both sides||… fought … and there were many slain on both sides||Alma 52:35|
|Standard …||6-7||sent forth a Proclamation, … abroad … And it came to pass, that a great multitudeflocked to the … standard of Columbia…they came in battle array against the…||sent a proclamationthroughout … the land; … And it came to pass that thousands didflock unto his standard [of liberty] … they … went down with their armies … against the …||Alma 61-62|
|Cataclysms …||19:37-44||…thunders: … as the mighty earthquake, which overturneth cities. And the whole face of the earth … overshadowed with black smoke; so that, for a time, one man saw not another: … sharp rocks had fallen upon them:||…thunder, … did shake the whole earth … cities were sunk, and … the face of the whole earth… could feel the vapor of darkness … so that … for the space of three days, that there was no light seen; … great destruction had come upon them.||3 Nephi 8|
|Liahona …||50:24||made partly of brass … with curious works, like unto a clock; and as it were a large ball.||a round ball of curious workmanship; and it was of fine brass. And within the ball were two spindles||1 Nephi 16:10|
|Weapons …||19:13||And … weapons of war were of curious workmanship||And … weapons of war … of exceedingly curious workmanship||Ether 10:27|
|51:3-10||it came to pass thatthe husbandmen … gathered together, and pitched their tents, [and] assembled together … And the people shouted with a loud voice, …||it came to pass that… the people gathered themselves together … And … pitched their tents … ye should assemble yourselves together… And they all cried with one voice, …||Mosiah 2-4|
|53:4||… it came to pass, that they gathered together theirarmy … their navy … on the borders of the … land ofColumbia …||… it came to passthat they gathered together all theirpeople … their flocks … near the borders of the … land ofZarahemla||Alma 27:13-15|
|13:20||Now when Carden heard these words, his heartleaped with joy;||Now when he had said these words, his heart was swollen … with joy;||Alma 17:29|
|35:34||And the chief warriorsgave up their instruments of destruction, and laid them at the feet of Jackson…||And … their chief captains, … threw down their weapons of war at the feet of Moroni…||Alma 52:38|
|3:29||… people to rise upone against another, and … their own children.||… people to rise up in rebellion against their brethren.||Helaman 1:7|
|44:21||… go with all our might against their chief city||… go forth with all our might against the Lamanites, who were in the city||Alma 58:13|
|34:10||it came to pass, in the same year, that the people of Columbiawere revenged of the evil:||it came to pass that in the same year that the people of Nephihad peace restored unto them,||Alma 50:37There are also so many things Smith just lifted from his own experiences and that of his family.|
There are also so many things Smith added from his own experiences and that of his family.
Rare 4gram Matches
Further as these two outstanding researchers demonstrate, there is a powerful connection between the two texts when subjected to the science of computer-aided rare 4-gram analysis.
If a four word phrase (4-gram) appears less than once per thousand books, it is considered a rare 4-gram, and very uncommon. After all biblical matches were removed from the comparison, this analysis found over 100 rare 4-grams shared by both the Book of Mormon and The Late War. The Johnsons’ put this into perspective, indicating that The Late War contained more rare 4-gram connections to the Book of Mormon than 99.999% of the other books published before 1830.
I would suggest that FairMormon’s claim that there is a lack of any supporting connection is simply not true and for them to suggest coincidence is nonsense.
Interrogatory No. 5
The Dearth of Jewish Customs in the Book of Mormon
Recognizing that we are talking about devout Jews coming to the Americas, would it not be reasonable to expect that these immigrants would continue to live according to their customs and traditions?
Yet the Book of Mormon gives only a few superficial mentions of the intricate and rich religious heritage enjoyed by the Jews since the days of Moses.
The most common biblical terms used to describe Jewish customs or laws, holy days, feasts, the concept of clean/unclean, observances, dietary restrictions, religious ceremonies as well as Old Testament priesthood are entirely missing from the Book of Mormon.
Here is a list of nine examples of important Jewish biblical terms with their relative frequencies, which never appeared even once in the Book of Mormon:
“Passover” (59 times in Bible)
“ark of the covenant” (48 times in Bible)
“mercy seat” (23 in Bible)
“burnt offerings” (39 times in Bible)
“circumcision” (96 times in Bible)
“incense” (121 times in Bible)
“alters” (17 times in Bible)
“sons of Aaron” (97 times in Bible)
“day of atonement” (21 times in Bible)
“feast of tabernacles” (17 times in Bible)
“house of the LORD” (627 in Bible)
The word Passover was used fifty-nine times in the Bible. In the Book of Mormon, however, not once. Is it not amazing that a book supposedly written by ancient Israelites would never refer to Passover the most important holy day in all Judaism?
While the Israelites were in bondage in Egypt, Moses told the people to wipe the blood of a lamb to their side posts and lintel, “For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the Lord will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you.”(Exodus 12:21-23)
The Egyptians did not do this, and consequently lost all their “firstborn.” This convinced Pharaoh that he should let God’s people go.
The significance of the Passover to the Jews cannot be overstated. Since the Nephites were supposed to have been Jews who possessed “the five books of Moses”(1 Nephi 5:11), they should have observed and celebrated Passover hundreds of times after they arrived in the Americas.
The Book of Mormon also makes scant mention of the “Sabbath day.” It is only mentioned five times as compared to the 171 times it is mentioned in the Bible.
How odd, how incredible that the Book of Mormon, supposedly written by Jewish people, would virtually ignore the day which was held so sacred by the Jews.
There is no mention of circumcision or any evidence it was ever practiced, except for one verse in Moroni 8, in which Jesus declares that “circumcision is done away in me.”
Christ tells the Nephites that their “sacrifices and burnt offerings shall be done away” in 3 Nephi, but ironically there is no mention of burnt offerings after they arrive in the Americas. The only exception is found in Mosiah 2:3. Here it is explained that “they also took of the firstlings of their flocks, that they might offer sacrifice and burnt offerings according to the law of Moses.”
Ceremonial Cleanliness and Unclean Foods
No mention other than one reference found in the largely plagiarized portion of Isaiah. Most significantly, there is no mention of Kosher eating.
Below are the counts of the times that some of the various feasts are explicitly mentioned:
Chronicles Book of Mormon
Passover 2 0
Tabernacles 1 0
Unleavened Bread 3 0
Likewise in the Book of Mormon, there is no explicit mention of any regular Jewish sacrifice or offering. Again, here are the counts of some regular Jewish sacrifices in both books:
Chronicles Book of Mormon
New Moon 3 0
Evening & Morning 4 0
Drink Offerings 1 0
As well, there is no mention of temple items in the Book of Mormon. The Jewish temple had several parts which were all important, such as the altar, incense, the shewbread the court and the Holy of Holies.
Nephi claims that his temple was built after the manner of Solomon’s temple (II Nephi 5:16), but none of these items are ever mentioned in the Book of Mormon,
Chronicles Book of Mormon
Temple Court 6 0
Temple Altar 20+ 1*
Holy Place 6 0
Shewbread 7 0
Incense 8 0
(* Alma 15:17. The context is unclear.)
Curt van den Heuvel also comments that the relationship between the priests and the temple is obscured. In the Old Testament, the priestly system and the temple could not be separated. Exodus 27:21 In contrast, The Book of Mormon records that the Nephites built a temple and had a priestly class, but the two are never associated with each other.
The above, as well as the absence of any mention of the scores of Jewish dietary laws, leads van den Heuvel to question if, “The Book of Mormon is not an ancient history but was rather made up by someone who had a good imagination, but very little understanding of ancient Jewish culture.”
FairMormon’s Comment on the Scant Mention of Jewish Customs and Laws
Response to claim: “the Book of Mormon claims to be the story of religious Jews, yet there is scant or no mention of Jewish customs or laws”
The portions of the Book of Mormon that describe Lehi’s family in the Old World do reflect Jewish customs or laws.
There is strong evidence of a year of Jubilee in the king Benjamin address.
There is the covenant emphasis from king Benjamin that is (sic) evidence of Hebrew influence.
The Book of Mormon was edited and compiled by people living post-Christ.
The Book of Mormon lists sins which are (sic) consistent with the Ten Commandments.
The above qualifies as scant, so let’s go with that!
The Book of Mormon gives a few superficial mentions of the intricate and rich religious heritage enjoyed by the Jewish people since the days of Moses.
I am not sure I understand what FairMormon is suggesting when they say, “The Book of Mormon was edited and compiled by people living post-Christ.” Are they suggesting the editors striped out Jewish references?
The most common biblical terms used to describe Jewish customs or laws, holy days, feasts, the concept of clean/unclean, observances, dietary restrictions, religious ceremonies as well as Old Testament priesthood are entirely missing from the Book of Mormon. I have listed nine examples of important Jewish biblical terms with their relative frequencies, which never appear once in the Book of Mormon as well as how often they appear in the Bible as well as a list of other significant Jewish features that one would expect to see in authentic Jewish history.
Smith’s writing shows an alarming ignorance of Judaism. It also wouldn’t do any harm if the Mormon apologist at FairMormon who wrote this critique visit Temple Har Shalom or another synagoge in Provo, and actually meet a Jew.
Interrogatory No. 6
We now know Joseph never used the Plates to translate the Book of Mormon. Instead he used a rock; he found while digging a well. That said what then was the point of the gold plates and the Urim and Thummim being preserved for 1,400 years, never to be used in translation?
When I was growing up in the Mormon church, it was my understanding and firm belief that the prophet Joseph Smith by earnestly examining each character on the gold plates, with the use of the Urim and Thummim, would, by the gift and power of God, be given its English word equivalent.
I don’t know why I held that view, but it was no doubt, something that I picked it up in Sunday school, mutual, or from the pictures in the Improvement Era or a priesthood manual that depicted it precisely that way. There are many things in the Mormon church that one seems to acquire through a kind of comprehensive osmosis. It is assumed that you must know and accept certain things, which rather than exposing your doctrinal ignorance by seeking clarification, one just accepts.
Like many members, it was much later that I learned the truth about the translation methodology, but not in church, the Era, or a priesthood manual.
As absurd as it sounds, it was while watching an episode of South Park a hilarious but irreverent TV cartoon program.
Not only did Joseph NOT use the Urim and Thummim for the vast majority of the translation, he never got them back after the 116 pages were lost.
I wonder if the prophets and other Book of Mormon characters would find the South Park episode quite so funny; after all the pains they supposedly went to in fashioning rare gold into plates, meticulously engraving ‘Reformed Egyptian’ characters on them one at a time, abridging them, preserving them and finally transporting and burying them in almost Joseph’s backyard?
The following testify to the actual method Joseph Smith used to translate the Book of Mormon:
“I will now give you a description 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; 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.
I, as well as all of my father’s family, Smith’s wife, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris, were present during the translation… He [Joseph Smith] did not use the plates in translation.” 1
“Sometime around 1822, before his first visit from the angel Moroni, Joseph was digging a well with Willard Chase, not far from the Smith home, and he discovered a smooth, dark-colored stone, about the size of an egg, that he called a seer stone. He later used it to help in the translation of the Book of Mormon and also in receiving certain revelations.” 2
“The process of translating the “reformed Egyptian” plates was simple though peculiar. It was all done with the Urim and Thummim spectacles, but it was instant death for anyone but Joe to use them. Even when he put them on, the light became so dazzling that he was obliged to look through his hat. Moreover, when so engaged, no profane eyes were allowed to see him or the hat. Alone, behind a blanket stretched across the room, Joe looked into his hat and read the mystic words.” 3
“The manner in which he pretended to read and interpret, was the same as when he looked for the money-diggers, with a stone in his hat, and his hat over his face, while the Book of Plates were at the same time hid in the woods.” 4
“A fellow by the name of Joseph Smith, who resides in the upper part of Susquehanna county, (sic) has been, for the last two years we are told, employed in dedicating as he says, by inspiration, a new bible. He pretended that he had been entrusted by God with a golden bible which had been always hidden from the world. Smith would put his face into a hat in which he had a white stone, and pretend to read from it, while his coadjutor transcribed.” 5
A neighbor of the Smith’s, Lorenzo Saunders provided a statement in 1885 in which he alleged a conspiracy between Cowdery, Rigdon and, Smith in the creation of the Book of Mormon.
His statement reads:
“As respecting Oliver Cowdery, he came from Kirtland in the summer of 1826 and was about there [i.e. the Smith’s farm] until fall and took a school in the district where the Smiths lived and the next summer he was missing and I didn’t see him until fall and he came back and took our school in the district where we lived and taught about a week and went to the schoolboard (sic) and wanted the board to let him off and they did and he went to Smith and went to writing the Book of Mormon and wrote all winter. The Mormons say it wasn’t wrote there but I say it was because I was there. I saw Sidney Rigdon in the spring of 1827, about the middle of March. I went to Smiths to eat maple sugar, and I saw five or six men standing in a group and there was one among them better dressed than the rest and I asked Harrison Smith who he was and he said his name was Sidney Rigdon, a friend of Joseph’s from Pennsylvania.
I saw him in the Fall of 1827 on the road between where I lived and Palmyra, with Joseph. I was with a man by the name of Ingersol. They talked together and when he went on I asked Ingersol who he was and he said it was Rigdon. Then in the summer of 1828 I saw him at Samuel Lawrence’s just before harvest. I was cutting corn for Lawrence and went to dinner and he took dinner with us and when dinner was over they went into another room and I didn’t see him again till he came to Palmyra to preach. You wanted to know how Smith acted about it. The next morning after he claimed to have got plates he came to our house and said he had got the plates and what a struggle he had in getting home with them. Two men tackled him and he fought and knocked them both down and made his escape and secured the plates and had them safe and secure. He showed his thumb where he bruised it in fighting those men.
After [he] went from the house, my mother says ‘What a liar Joseph Smith is; he lies every word he says; I know he lies because he looks so guilty; he can’t see out of his eyes; how dare [he] tell such a lie as that.’ The time he claimed to have taken the plates from the hill was on the 22 day of September, in 1827, and I went on the next Sunday following with five or six other ones and we hunted the side hill by course [i.e. “in a search pattern”] and could not find no place where the ground had been broke. There was a large hole where the money diggers had dug a year or two before, but no fresh dirt. There never was such a hole; there never was any plates taken out of that hill nor any other hill in country, was in Wayne county. It is all a lie. No, sir, I never saw the plates nor no one else. He had an old glass box [i.e. a box used for holding plates or panes of glass] with a tile in it, about 7×8 inches, and that was the gold plates[;] and Martin Harris didn’t know a gold plate from a brick at this time.
Smith and Rigdon had an intimacy but it was very secret and still and there was a mediator between them and that was Cowdery. The manuscript was stolen by Rigdon and modelled over by him and then handed over to Cowdery and he copied them and Smith sat behind the curtain and handed them out to Cowdery and as fast as Cowdery copied them, they was handed over to Martin Harris and he took them to Egbert Granden [sic], the one who printed them, and Gilbert set the type.”
Lorenzo Saunders, Letter to Thomas Gregg, 28 January 1885, in
Charles A. Shook, The True Origins of the Book of Mormon,
(Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Co., 1914, p. 132-33).
It should be noted that the term “Urim and Thummim” is not found in the Book of Mormon and was never used by Joseph Smith in the production the Book of Mormon until after 1833.
Are we to believe that ancient prophets went through all that effort – making, engraving, compiling, abridging, preserving, hiding, and transporting gold plates so that they would serve as a “maturing” and “build character” exercise for Joseph Smith.
FairMormon acknowledges and admits that the gold plates were not used for translating the Book of Mormon.
FairMormon’s Comments on the Method of Translation
Comment No. 1
Response to claim: Joseph Smith “used a rock; he found while digging a well” to translate the Book of Mormon
Question: Did Joseph Smith use his own seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon?
Many eyewitness accounts confirm that Joseph employed his seer stone during part of the translation process
Joseph was given a set of Nephite interpreters along with the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was produced. In addition, Joseph already possessed and utilized several seer stones. Although Joseph began translating the Book of Mormon using the Nephite interpreters, he later switched to using one of his seer stones to complete the translation. Critics (typically those who reject Mormonism but still believe in God) reject the idea that God would approve the use of an instrument for translation that had previously been used for “money digging.”
If one stops assuming that Joseph was a liar and deceiver, we can consider the matter from Joseph’s point of view:
He’s being called upon to reveal things that are hidden and to translate an ancient record.
Joseph is painfully aware that he cannot do these things.
How could Joseph know that he wasn’t going crazy or being delusional? Tying his early prophetic work to something with which he had already had objective success (the use of the seer stone) allowed Joseph to trust both God and himself.
The Lord seems to have used Joseph’s preexisting beliefs about how the world worked (The point is not necessarily that the stone had the same ability, but that it provided a means for Joseph to exercise his spiritual abilities.including seer stones to reveal hidden things) to help Joseph gain confidence in his own abilities.
With time, Joseph was able to translate with his “original” stone—thus, his own ability had increased, because he no longer needed the “stronger” Nephite stones.
Eventually, he did not require the “prop” or “crutch” of the stone at all—his faith and experience had grown.
FairMormon says, “If one stops assuming that Joseph was a liar and deceiver, we can consider the matter from Joseph’s point of view.”
That is a little silly if we are required just to accept Smith’s view of things in the face of evidence he seeks to mislead, this whole exercise becomes moot.
The ‘hermeneutics of suspicion‘ is an essential element of the search for truth. It is only by reading texts between the lines, cataloging their omissions and laying bare their contradictions, that we can discover what is true.
Is it not more reasonable to allow the reader to objectively look at the information I have provided and your comments on it and allow them to decide.
As well, your following statements seem to be saying that Joseph’s ‘treasure hunting rock’ is like a ‘security blanket?’
“He’s being called upon to reveal things that are hidden, and to translate an ancient record.”
“Joseph is painfully aware that he cannot do these things.”
“How could Joseph know that he wasn’t going crazy or being delusional? Tying his early prophetic work to something with which he had already had objective success (the use of the seer stone) allowed Joseph to trust both God and himself.”
“The Lord seems to have used Joseph’s preexisting beliefs about how the world worked (The point is not necessarily that the stone had the same ability, but that it provided a means for Joseph to exercise his spiritual abilities including seer stones to reveal hidden things) to help Joseph gain confidence in his own abilities.”
Ok, I now hear the apologists saying that, the seer stone wasn’t that important to the translation process, just like the ‘gold plates’ themselves were not essential, nor the Urim and Thummim.
FairMormon now accepts the reality of the ‘rock in the hat’ methodology and moves the discussion to whether Smith was provided with the exact wording of every sentence in the Book of Mormon or simply given impressions which he then dictated within the context of his understanding?
Then in a statement reminiscent of Hillary Clinton’s infamous, “What difference does it make!” response when pressed in the Benghazi hearing, those champions of truth at FairMormon reveal their frustration:
“Scholars have examined and debated the issue of a ‘tight’ versus ‘loose’ translation method for many years. Although it is an interesting intellectual exercise, the exact process by which words and sentences were formed has no bearing upon the fact that the book was dictated by the ‘gift and power of God.’ 6
I think that seeking to know what is true is more than just an interesting intellectual exercise. I think these things are important.
“The Lord provided a set of seer stones (which were formerly used by Nephite prophets) along with the plates. The term Nephite interpreters can alternatively refer to the stones themselves of the stones in conjunction with their associated paraphernalia (holding rim and breastplate). Sometime after the translation, early saints noticed similarities with the seer stones and related paraphernalia used by High Priests in the Old Testament and began to use the term Urim and Thummim interchangeably with the Nephite interpreter sand Joseph’s other seer stones as well. The now popular use of the term Urim and Thummim has unfortunately obscured the fact that all such devices belong in the same class of consecrated revelatory aids and that more than one were used in the translation.”
“The Nephite interpreters were intended to assist Joseph in the initial translation process, yet the manner in which they were employed was never explained in detail. The fact that the Nephite interpreters were set in rims resembling a pair of spectacles has led some to believe that they may have been worn like a pair of glasses, with Joseph viewing the characters on the plates through them. This, however, is merely speculation that doesn’t take into account that Joseph soon disassembled the fixture, the spacing between seer stones being too wide for his eyes. The accompanying breastplate also appeared to have been used by a larger man. Like its biblical counterpart (the High Priest’s breastplate contained 12 gems that symbolized him acting as a mediator between God and Israel), the Nephite breastplate was apparently non-essential to the revelatory process.”
Certainly, there was a change related to the use of the Urim and Thummim after the loss of the 116 pages, Joseph rarely used the Urim and Thummim, opting for his magic seer stone. It is worth noting that the term “Urim and Thummim” was a later term to be used. Even LDS apologist Stephen Ricks acknowledges that the term “Urim and Thummim” was not used by any Mormon until about 1833. But it had a biblical ring that Joseph liked and it replaced “interpreters” from then on.
Which begs the important question, that I don’t feel the apologists have dealt with; why was this wonderful apparatus preserved for 1,500 years to serve such a limited purpose?
Comment No. 2
The stone is mentioned occasionally in Church publications, but is rarely (if ever) discussed in the 21st century in venues such as Sunday School, nor is it portrayed in any Church-related artwork. This is the conflation of the Nephite interpreters and the seer stone under the name “Urim and Thummim.” In church, we discuss the Urim and Thummim with the assumption that it is always the instrument that Joseph recovered with the plates. Only those familiar with the sources will realize that there was more than one translation instrument.
That said, the Church has been very frank about the seer stone’s use, though the product of the translation of the Book of Mormon is usually given much more attention than the process. Note the mention of the stone in the official children’s magazine, The Friend (available online at lds.org):
OK, we need a reality check here. I am seventy-two years old, I grew up in the Church, and I believe that like many, perhaps most members I did not hear of the magic stone in the hat method of translation until quite recently, certainly within the last decade. And, I am not alone.
It is a little silly for FairMormon to explain this away by saying, “no look we donated a line to it in the Children’s Friend in 1974.”
It should also be noted that Joseph would often correct his own translation on the fly. For example, Mosiah 7:8.
“…they were again brought before the king.. and were permitted or rather commanded that they should answer the questions.”
Are we to believe that this error came across Joseph’s magic rock? Remember he tells us words or sentences would appear, he would speak them to the scribe (usually Oliver Cowdery) who would read it back and only when verified would it disappear and another word or line appears.
Another example is Alma 10:”
“Nevertheless, after all this, I never have known much of the ways of the Lord, and his mysteries and marvelous power. I said I never had known much of these things; but behold, I mistake, for I have seen much of his mysteries and his marvelous power; yea, even in the preservation of the lives of this people.”
Or, Alma 24:19
“And thus we see that, when these Lamanites were brought to believe and to know the truth, they were firm, and would suffer even unto death rather than commit sin; and thus we see that they buried their weapons of peace, or they buried the weapons of war, for peace.”
A suspicious person would say that Joseph was working from an outline behind the curtain and misspoke.
And there is the poor grammar and discombobulated sentences throughout supposedly coming from the Lord:
, “But the more part of them were desirous that they might destroy Alma and Amulek…”
“…for a more history part are written upon mine other plates.”
The story told by the witnesses to Smith’s ‘translating’ says that sentences would move across the magical rock or ‘seer stone’ like a stock ticker. If that is so, then the Mormon god must have a poor grasp of basic English grammar. Here are a few examples from the Book of Mormon manuscript that was brought to the printer:
- “Adam and Eve, which was our first parents” (1 Nephi 5:11)
- “And this he done that he might subject them to him” (Alma 2:10)
- “that they did not fight against God no more” (Alma 23:7)
- “thou remembereth the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (1 Nephi 12:9)
- “and I have not written but a small part of the things I saw” (1 Nephi 14:28)
- “therefore they did not look unto the Lord as they had ought” (1 Nephi 15:3)
- “and the words of Amulek which was declared unto the people” (Alma 9 (preface))
- “Now the object of these lawyers were to get gain” (Alma 10:32)
- “…he had somewhat of contentions among his own people.” (Words of Mormon 12)
- “But the more part of them were desirous that they might destroy Alma and Amulek…” (Alma 14:2)
- “…the more idle part of the Lamanites…” (Alma 22:28)
- “…sleep had overpowered them because of their much fatigue…” (Alma 51:33; )
- “…had been with Moroni in the more part of all his battles…” (Alma 53:2)
- “…and did do much slaughter among the people.” (3 N 1:27)
- “…whosoever will not believe in my words, who am Jesus Christ…” (3 Nephi 21:11)
- “…and did traffic in all manner of traffic.” (4 N 1:46)
- “…Gilead, also received great strength to his army…” (Ether 14:8)
Most but not all of the spelling and grammatical errors have been corrected by now. Some 100,000 changes have been made since 1830 to the ‘most correct book in the world.’
There is a clear pattern in the way the Church approaches embarrassing issues in their past. It is their modus operandi. The formula being:
- Deny that the controversial or unsavory thing ever happened or was ever said
- Acknowledge the thing, but deny that it is relevant or any kind of big deal
- Acknowledge its relevance, but say it’s just old news that’s been around forever
When rumors of Smith’s, ‘rock in the hat’ stories started to make the rounds we witness:
- The Denial
In 2000, Joseph Fielding McConkie (son of Bruce R. McConkie) and Craig J. Ostler, both employed by BYU wrote an essay titled, “The Process of Translating the Book of Mormon in which they wrote: “Thus, everything we have in the Book of Mormon, according to Mr. Whitmer, was translated by placing the chocolate-colored stone in a hat into which Joseph would bury his head so as to close out the light. While doing so he could see ‘an oblong piece of parchment, on which the hieroglyphics would appear,’ and below the ancient writing, the translation would be given in English. Joseph would then read this to Oliver Cowdery, who in turn would write it. If he did so correctly, the characters and the interpretation would disappear and be replaced by other characters with their interpretation.”…the testimony of David Whitmer simply does not accord with the divine pattern. If Joseph Smith translated everything that is now in the Book of Mormon without using the gold plates, we are left to wonder why the plates were necessary in the first place. It will be remembered that possession of the plates placed the Smith family in considerable danger, causing them a host of difficulties. If the plates were not part of the translation process, this would not have been the case. It also leaves us wondering why the Lord directed the writers of the Book of Mormon to take a duplicate record of the plates of Lehi. This provision which compensated for the loss of the 116 pages would have served no purpose either. Further, we would be left to wonder why Moroni needed to instruct Joseph each year for four years before he was entrusted with the plates. We would also wonder why it was so important for Moroni to show the plates to the three witnesses, including David Whitmer. And why did the Lord have the Prophet show the plates to the eight witnesses? Why all this flap and fuss if the Prophet didn’t have the plates and if they were not used in the process of translation? What David Whitmer is asking us to believe is that the Lord had Moroni seal up the plates and the means by which they were to be translated hundreds of years before they would come into Joseph Smith’s possession and then decided to have the Prophet use a seer stone found while digging a well so that none of these things would be necessary after all. Is this, we would ask, really a credible explanation of the way the heavens operate?”
- Acknowledge the thing, but deny that it is relevant or any kind of big deal
Once it was blatantly clear the ‘Rock in the Hat’ could no longer be denied, the next step was to discount its importance, as this statement by FairMormon illustrated: “The conclusion that Joseph used a “magical” or “occult” stone to assist in the translation of the Book of Mormon is entirely dependent upon one’s own preconception that the use of such an instrument would not be acceptable by God. Believers, on the other hand, ought not to take issue with a distinction between one set of seer stones versus another. As Brant Gardner notes: “Regardless of the perspective from which we tell the story, the essential fact of the translation is unchanged. How was the Book of Mormon translated? As Joseph continually insisted, the only real answer, from any perspective, is that it was translated by the gift and power of God.”And then the gaslighting.
- Acknowledge its relevance, but say it’s just old news that’s been around forever.
“The stone is mentioned occasionally in Church publications, but is rarely (if ever) discussed in the 21st century in venues such as Sunday School, nor is it portrayed in any Church-related artwork. This is the conflation of the Nephite interpreters and the seer stone under the name “Urim and Thummim.” In church, we discuss the Urim and Thummim with the assumption that it is always the instrument that Joseph recovered with the plates. Only those familiar with the sources will realize that there was more than one translation instrument. That said, the Church has been very frank about the seer stone’s use, though the product of the translation of the Book of Mormon is usually given much more attention than the process.” Again it was mentioned in the Children’s Friend.As critical thinkers will recognize this is the use of the “Kettles” logical fallacy.The Fault:
Making multiple, contradicting arguments, in an attempt to support a single point or idea. Each statement contradicts the one before. The original example of the fallacy was the responses of a man not returning a kettle, his various replies were:
That he returned the kettle undamaged;
That it was already damaged when he borrowed it;
That he had never borrowed it in the first place.
“I never said I was pro-choice, but my position was effectively pro-choice. I changed my position. And I get tired of people that are holier than thou because they’ve been pro-life longer than I have. But I’m proud of the fact.”
— Mitt Romney
It’s the classic legal defence:
- I did not kill the man, and never saw the victim, or
- The victim was already dead when I found him, or
- I was insane and not responsible when I killed him.
The ‘Kettle Fallacy’ is all about contradiction. It is about moving from one alternative to the next if or when it is clear the former alternative no longer works.
The history of Mormonism is ripe with examples of moving quickly from one doctrinal belief to the next or one explanation to the next when the evidence against the form becomes so convincing that none but the fully indoctrinated would buy it. A couple of examples are:
- The Lamanites went from being the principal ancestors of the American Indians to being among the ancestors of the American Indians
- The view of those with black skin from ‘… the seed of Cain and an inferior race’ to ‘All are equal in God’s eyes, he [Russell Nelson] declared. All have the same opportunities in the gospel.”
- The Book of Abraham went from, “A Translation of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt. The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt… written by his own hand, upon papyrus,”to the papyrus acted as a “catalyzed a process whereby God gave to Joseph Smith a revelation about the life of Abraham, even if that revelation did not directly correlate to the characters on the papyri.”
When someone employs the “Kettles” fallacy, it is a sure sign you are being lied to.
1 Martin Harris, “Address to All Believers in Christ”, Richmond, Missouri, 1887, p.12
2 James. B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints, 2nd ed., (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), 40.
3 John Quincy Adams, The Birth of Mormonism (Boston: Gorham Press, 1916), 36
4 Affidavit of Isaac Hale dated March 20, 1834, cited in Rodger I. Anderson, Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reexamined, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990), pp. 126-128.
5 Cincinnati Advertiser of June 2, 1830
FairMormon’s Comment on the Bogus Images
“Response to claim: “Why does the Church continue to print bogus pictures and hang misleading paintings in Church buildings showing Joseph running his fingers over “Reformed Egyptian” characters on gold plates?”
All art, including church art, simply reflects the views of the artist: It may not reflect reality.”
“Why, then, does the art not match details which have repeatedly been spelled out in LDS publications?
The simplest answer may be that artists simply don’t always get such matters right. The critics’ caricature to the contrary, not every aspect of such things is “correlated.” Robert J. Matthews of BYU was interviewed by the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, and described the difficulties in getting art “right”:
Even this does not tell the whole story. “Every artist,” said Henry Ward Beecher, “dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.” This is perhaps nowhere more true than in religious art…”
I am sorry, but I don’t buy that. Decision-making in the Mormon church is more centralized than it is in the Kremlin.
Also, you just said the, “A common complaint is that church materials usually show Joseph translating the Book of Mormon by looking at the golden plates…” If that is the case, and it has been the case for decades, then why doesn’t the church do something to correct it.
Interrogatory No. 7
Changes to the Book of Mormon. Why was it necessary to make so many changes to, “The most correct book in the world?”
There have been many thousands of changes made to the Book of Mormon since the original 1830 and other early editions. Granted many are minor – grammatical and spelling corrections but there have been numerous substantive changes and doctrinal revisions as made as well:
Consider 1 Nephi 13:40
“… These last records … shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father, and the Savior …”
“… These last records … shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father and the Savior …”
Or, 1 Nephi 11:18
“… These last records … shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father, and the Savior …”
“… These last records … shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father and the Savior …”
“… Behold, the virgin which thou seest, is the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh.”
“… Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.”
Mosiah 9, p. 200 … King Benjamin had a gift from God, whereby he could interpret such engravings …
Mosiah 21:28 … King Mosiah had a gift from God, whereby he could interpret such engravings …
1 Nephi 5, p. 52 … O house of Jacob, which are called out of the waters of Judah, which swear by the name of the Lord …
1 Nephi 20:1 … O house of Jacob, which are called out of the waters of Judah, or out of the waters of baptism, which swear by the name of the Lord …
2 Nephi 12, p. 117 … and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white and a delightsome people.
2 Nephi 30:6 (1840 edition) … and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white pure and a delightsome.
A significant change made to the Book of Mormon is the name of the angel who is claimed, to have appeared in Joseph Smith’s bedroom. An event incidentally that four of Joseph’s brothers slept through. In the Joseph Smith’s first history, we learn that the angel’s name was Nephi: “He called me by name and said … that his name was Nephi” (Times and Seasons, vol. 3, p. 753). But in modern printings of the History of the Church, the name has been changed to “Moroni” (History of the Church, vol. 1, p. 11).
“The original handwritten manuscript shows the name as “Nephi,” but after Joseph’s death, someone later wrote the word “Moroni” above the line.
It should be noted that Joseph Smith lived for two years after the name “Nephi” was printed in the church’s official publication Times and Seasons, and never published a retraction or correction.
As well, the August 1842 edition of the Millennial Star, also printed Joseph Smith’s story stating that the angel’s name was “Nephi”
Millennial Star, vol. 3, p. 53
The name was also published in the 1851 edition of the Pearl of Great Price as “Nephi.”
Many members are also familiar with the Rocky Mountain Prophecy, which predicted that Salt Lake would be the place the Saints would settle after leaving Nauvoo. Unhappily, it is not true even though the church presented it as true for more than a century.
The ‘Rocky Mountain Prophecy’ was added after the Mormons arrived in Utah.
The Changing World of Mormonism, p. 406
Some LDS scholars have lamented the suppression of the truthful Church history. Leonard Arrington, the official LDS Church Historian (1972‐1982) voiced his concern over the withholding of true Church history in favor of a faith-promoting version. Dr. Arrington wrote: “It is unfortunate for the cause of Mormon history that the Church Historian’s Library, which is in the possession of virtually all of the diaries of leading Mormons, has not seen fit to publish these diaries or to permit qualified historians to use them without restriction.”
Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Spring 1966, p. 26
Dr. Arrington’s refreshing honesty resulted in his demoted in 1982 and transferred from the church historian’s office to BYU.
Deseret News, Church Section, July 5, 1980
The above are not minor “typographical errors.” These are “errors” that make changes to characters names, completely alter the meaning and context of verses, and even modify the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Though defenders of the Book of Mormon often discount as minor or meaningless the tens of thousands of grammatical, syntactical and spelling errors that appear in the original edition, I think we need to seriously question this.
Apologists often claim that these changes were made to improve punctuation and fix a few, minor grammatical problems. This is a gross understatement.
The following are only a few of literally thousands of examples:
The original read, “… the cause of diseases which was subsequent to man, by the nature of the climate…” (page 353, 1830 Book of Mormon)
Today’s edition reads, “… the causes of diseases, to which men were subject, by the nature of the climate…”
“And when Moroni had said these words, he went forth among the people, waving the rent of his garment in the air, that all might see the writing which he had wrote upon the rent, and crying with a loud voice…” 1
Today it reads, “And when Moroni had said these words, he went forth among the people, waving the rent part of his garment in the air, that all might see the writing which he had written upon the rent part, crying with a loud voice…”
And, another example:
“… for behold, his army had been reduced by the Lamanites because of the numerority (sic) of their forces having slain a vast number of our men…” 2
The modern edition reads, “… for behold; his army had been reduced by the Lamanites because their forces had slain a vast number of our men…”
Commenting on the real significance of these numerous errors, B.H. Roberts, unquestionably one of the great historians in LDS church history, painfully admits that the errors in the original edition, were so numerous and such a part of the “web and woof of the style” of the text, that they could not be easily explained away:
“Are these flagrant errors in grammar chargeable to the Lord? To say so is to invite ridicule…the awkward, ungrammatical expression of the thoughts is, doubtless, the result of the translator’s imperfect knowledge of the English language … that old theory cannot be successfully maintained; that is, the Urim and Thummim did the translating, the Prophet, nothing beyond repeating what he saw reflected in that instrument; that God directly or indirectly is responsible for the verbal and grammatical errors of translation. To advance such a theory before intelligent and educated people is to unnecessarily invite ridicule, and make of those who advocate it candidates for contempt…” 3
Apologists often pooh-pooh any criticism here by talking about Joseph’s lack of education and his use of the frontier grammar of the day.
As well, numerous Mormon writers and apologists have tried to explain why these myriad mistakes exist in the first place, and why thousands of changes have been made in subsequent editions of the Book of Mormon.
Various suggestions have been made, including such things as Joseph Smith’s poor education, his lack of communication with those who later copied the text, and typesetting mistakes. These are all woefully inadequate.
Some have suggested that Smith was not given the actual words, but only the “idea” or “sense” of the things that were to be written – therefore, allowing for the possibility of all kinds of human error.
However, according to all reports; it was not Joseph Smith but his magic seer stone that did the translating, Smith just had to read and announced the words appearing on it.
This rendition, that ideas came to Joseph, not words, contradicts the many clear statements made by distinguished or at least well-known Mormon leaders who observed the process and had it explained to them by the man with his actual head in the hat.
David Whitmer, for example, said, “I will now give you a description 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; 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.”
Martin Harris, another of the ‘three witnesses’ reported:
“…sentences would appear and were read by the prophet, and if correctly written, that sentence would disappear, and another appear in its place, but if not written correctly it remained until corrected, so that the translation was just as it was engraven on the plates, precisely in the language then used.”
George Reynolds, the secretary to President John Taylor said, “There were no delays over obscure passages, no difficulties over the choice of words, no stoppages from the ignorance of the translator; no time was wasted in investigation or argument over the value, intent, or meaning of certain characters, and there was no reference to authorities… All was as simple as when a clerk writes from dictation. The translation of the characters appeared… Sentence by sentence, and as soon as one was correctly transcribed the next would appear.”
Joseph Knight described the translation process. This way,
“Darkened his Eyes he would take a sentence and it would appear in Brite (sic) Roman Letters. Then he would tell the writer and he would write it. Then that would go away the next sentence (sic) would come and so on. But if it was not Spelt (sic) rite (sic) it would not go away till it was rite (sic)…”
The above statements are significant, in that they explain the specific nature of the translating – the very words being given by God, spelled out, recorded properly, one character at a time, then repeated and corrected in the case of error. All directed by “the gift and power of God,”
Emma Smith, in an 1856 interview also described the process:
“When my husband was translating the Book of Mormon, I wrote a part of it, as he dictated each sentence, word for word, and when he came to proper names he could not pronounce, or long words, he spelled them out, and while I was writing them, if I made a mistake in spelling, he would stop me and correct my spelling, although it was impossible for him to see how I was writing them down at the time.”
The one thing that is consistent with all these descriptions is that they portray a visual “crawl” coming across something that looks like parchment. Obviously, the only way these witnesses would know of, and repeat almost verbatim; this account is that Joseph had told them that this was the method.
Ok, here is the rub. If we accept that Joseph Smith simply read words and sentences appearing on the seer stone, then we must assign responsibility for errors in language to a Divine instrumentality, that is God is not very skilled in the English language and a remarkably bad writer. This is ridiculous, even blasphemous. Or, if the contention is that the phraseology of the Book of Mormon, – letter for letter and word for word was given to the Smith by the direct inspiration of God, acting upon his mind, then again God is made accountable for the thousands and thousands of errors in the Book of Mormon – again, inconceivable.
There have been many LDS leaders and Mormon apologists that have claimed that the errors in the original 1830 Book of Mormon are simply typographical. This is really grasping at straws, and it is not true.
The venerated early Mormon historian, B.H. Roberts made it clear that he did not buy it:
“That errors of grammar and faults in dictation do exist in the Book of Mormon (and more especially and abundantly in the first edition) must be conceded; and what is more, while some of the errors may be referred to inefficient proof-reading, such as is to be expected in a country printing establishment, yet such is the nature of the errors in question, and so interwoven are they throughout the diction of the Book, that they may not be disposed of by saying they result from inefficient proof-reading or referring them to the mischievous disposition of the ‘typos’ or the unfriendliness of the publishing house. The errors are constitutional in their character; they are of the web and woof of the style, and not such errors as may be classed as typographical. Indeed, the first edition of the Book of Mormon is singularly free from typographical errors.” 4
How then could there be mistakes, English may not have been the Lord first language, but I would suggest He certainly has a perfect knowledge of it. Surely the Mormon apologists aren’t suggesting He only had a fundamental grasp of grammar, spelling, syntax and sentence structure.
Nor can these mistakes be blamed on typesetting errors. When we compare, the original handwritten manuscript allegedly dictated by Joseph Smith, and the corrected handwritten one from which the first printing was made, we discover copious changes—and this was before the typesetting was even done!
How then could the misspelled words below get into a translation supposedly overseen by the “power of God”?
“adhear” (for adhere; Alma 60:34)
“bablings” (for babblings; Alma 1:32)
“bellowses” (for bellows; 1 Nephi 17:11)
“feading” (for feeding; Enos 1:20)
“eigth” (for eighth; Alma 53:23)
“eatheth” (for eateth; 3 Nephi 20:8)
“journied” (for journeyed; 1 Nephi 4:38; 5:6; 7:6; 18:25
“phrensied” (for frenzied; Alma 30:16)
“rereward” (for rearward; 3 Nephi 20:42; 21:29)
“sayeth” (for saith; Mosiah 12:21)
“tempels” (for temples; Alma 16:13)
“yars” (for years; Alma 19:16)
Joseph’s grammar was even worse:
A few of the thousands of grammatical errors – incorrect adjectives and adverbs, double negatives, etc. are shown below:
- “And this he done” (Alma 2:10).
- “They did not fight against God no more” (Alma 23:7).
- “And now behold the Lamanites could not retreat neither way” (Helaman 1:31).
- “Yea, if my days could have been in them days” (Helaman 7:8).
- “And Mosiah, nor the people of Mosiah, could not understand them” (Omni 1:17).
- “And it came to pass that there was certain men passing by” (Helaman 7:11).
- “That all might see the writing which he had wrote” (Alma 46:19).
- “I have wrote to them” (3 Nephi 26:8).
- “I were about to write to them” (3 Nephi 26:11).
- “…which was wrote upon the plates…” (Alma 44:24).
- “…that there might not be no more sorrow” (Alma 29:2).
- “Adam and Eve, which was our first parents…,” (1 Nephi 5:11).
- “…the multitude had all eat” (3 Nephi 20:9).
- “I Moroni have written the words which was commanded” (Ether 5:1).
- “…the gates of hell is…” (3 Nephi 18:13).
Redundancy too is an issue; many words and phrases that are and repeated ad nauseam:
The phrase, “And it came to pass,” occurring over 1200 times. Mark Twain commented that “Whenever he found his speech growing too modern—which was about every sentence or two—he ladled in a few such Scriptural phrases as “exceeding sore,” “and it came to pass,” etc., and made things satisfactory again. “And it came to pass” was his pet. If he had left that out, his Bible would have been only a pamphlet.”
Also unlike the Bible, the Book of Mormon is much too wordy, another example of poor writing. Far too many words are used to express a simple thought or idea. For example, 4 Nephi 6:
“And thus did the thirty and eight years pass away, also the thirty and ninth, and forty and first, and the forty and second, yea even until forty and nine years had passed away, and also the fifty and second; yea, and even until fifty and nine years had passed away.
Why not just say, “59 years had passed!”
Why was it necessary to make thousands of changes to the Book of Mormon, ‘the most correct book in the world.’
Again, no comments on what I have written, just links to FairMormon website, however, I will add a few additional comments.
I would like to comment that contrary to Joseph Smith’s statement “I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors,” the Holy Bible was transmitted so inerrantly that even professor Richard L. Anderson, of the LDS’s own Brigham Young University, commented:
“For a book to undergo progressive uncovering of its manuscript history and come out with so little debatable in its text is a great tribute to its essential authenticity. First, no new manuscript discovery has produced serious differences in the essential story. This survey has disclosed the leading textual controversies, and together they would be well within one percent of the text. Stated differently, all manuscripts agree on the essential correctness of 99 percent of all the verses in the New Testament.”
The Church’s apologists seem to follow three tracks in trying to explain away these myriad spelling, grammatical and syntactical errors:
Blame the Printer: The man responsible for punctuating the first edition of the Book of Mormon was John Gilbert, who worked for E. B. Grandin, publisher of the first edition. According to Gilbert, it was Hyrum Smith who brought the first twenty-four pages of the handwritten printer’s manuscript to the publisher:
“He had it under his vest, and vest and coat closely buttoned over it. At night [Hyrum] came and got the manuscript, and with the same precaution carried it away. The next morning with the same watchfulness, he brought it again, and at night took it away. … On the second day – [Martin Harris] and [Hyrum] being in the office—I called their attention to a grammatical error, and asked whether I should correct it? Harris consulted with [Hyrum] a short time, and turned to me and said: ‘The Old Testament is ungrammatical, set it as it is written.’
“After working a few days, I said to [Hyrum] on his handing me the manuscript in the morning; ‘Mr. Smith, if you would leave this manuscript with me, I would take it home with me at night and read and punctuate it.’ His reply was, ‘We are commanded not to leave it.’ A few mornings after this, when [Hyrum] handed me the manuscript, he said to me: ‘if you will give your word that this manuscript shall be returned to us when you get through with it, I will leave it with you.’ … for two or three nights I took it home with me and read it, and punctuated it with a lead pencil.’”
Wilford C. Wood, Joseph Smith Begins His Work,
vol. 1, Salt Lake City: Wilford C. Wood, 1959.
Blame the Scribe: “Although Joseph Smith was the translator of the Book of Mormon, the spelling in the first edition was Oliver Cowdery’s…”
George Horton, “Understanding Textual
Changes in the Book of Mormon,” Ensign,
Blame the English language itself: “Before we can understand why many of these corrections have been necessary, we must know that American English spelling in 1829 was not yet standardized.”
“…Webster’s own American Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1828; and, if it was available to Oliver Cowdery, that would add one more to the other five. Small wonder, then, that Oliver’s spelling would seem creative to the modern reader.”
None of these are of course satisfactory.
Why would Joseph not be given grammatically correct sentences rather than the dog’s breakfast found in the first edition? And surely the words that appeared on the seer stone were not misspelled?
If they were spelled correctly, (or at least in concert with Webster’s 1828 dictionary which the Lord knew was then and in the future, would be the standard) why did Smith not spell the words as they appeared if unfamiliar with them?
When the word ‘temple’ would appear on the stone, the spelling which Smith and Cowdery knew as ‘tempels,’ or ‘eighth’ rather than ‘eigth’ or ‘journeyed’ instead of ‘journeyed’, or ‘years,’ not ‘yars’ would they not catch on after a few hundred words?
I have also discovered several contradictions within the Book of Mormon:
The Book of Mormon states that at the tower of Babel the Jaredites had their separate language (Esther 1:34-35). The Bible, however, tells us that “the whole earth was of one language” (Genesis 11:1).
The Bible says that Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1). The Book of Mormon reads: “And behold, he shall be born of Mary at Jerusalem” (Alma 7:10).
The Bible relates that at the crucifixion there were three hours of darkness (Luke 23:44). However, the Book of Mormon states there was darkness “for the space of three days” (Helaman 14:20,27).
The Book of Mormon teaches that black skin is a sign of God’s curse (2 Nephi 5:21). In contrast, the Bible teaches that God “made of one blood all nations of men” (Acts 17:26).
The Book of Mormon tells us that “Melchizedek…did reign under his father” (Alma 13:18). However, the Bible teaches that Melchizedek was a priest under no one. The Bible states that Melchizedek was “without father, without mother, without descent” in other words, he did not inherit his priesthood (Hebrews 7:3).
The people described in the Book of Mormon operated multiple temples (Alma 16:13; 23:2; 26:29). This violates the dictates of the Old Testament Scriptures – God commanded Israel to build only one temple to reflect the fact that there is only one true God (Deuteronomy 12:5,13-14; 16:5-6).
There are thousands of grammatical errors in the first edition of the Book of Mormon – double negatives, incorrect adjectives, adverbs and often wrong or changing tenses.
Smith also used colloquial terms common to his day. The frequent use of “a” with various participles is noticeable in such phrases as: “a journeying,” “a preaching,” “a marching,” “a coming,” and so on! Such lingo betrays the influence of the vernacular of the 1800s and is not the language one might expect to find in scripts from ancient times.
As well, the first edition of the Book of Mormon contains numerous instances of exceptionally poor sentence structure, which was, changed in later editions.
1 1830 Book of Mormon, P. 351.
2 1830 Book of Mormon, page 382
3 Defense of the Faith, by B. H. Roberts, Deseret News, 1907-1912, pp. 278 – 308.
4 Defense of the Faith, by B. H. Roberts, pp. 280-281; reprinted in A New Witness For Christ in America, by Francis W. Kirkham, Vol. 1, pp. 200-201
5 Wilford C. Wood, Joseph Smith Begins His Work, vol. 1, Salt Lake City: Wilford C. Wood, 1959.
6 George Horton, “Understanding Textual Changes in the Book of Mormon,” Ensign, December 1983
7 George Horton, “Understanding Textual Changes in the Book of Mormon,” Ensign, December 1983
Interrogatory No. 8
Is it not alarming that several witnesses to the Book of Mormon confessed that they did not see the plates with their natural eyes, but only in “visions of the mind?”
From my perspective, the strongest proof of the truthfulness of the foundational claims of the church is the testimony of the witnesses, particularly the three witnesses, Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris and, David Whitmer.
The following statements by the three I find powerful and convincing:
Martin Harris (1875):
“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.”
David Whitmer (1881):
“I have never at any time, denied that testimony or any part thereof, which has so long since been published with that book as one of the three witnesses. Those who know me best, well know that I have adhered to that testimony. And that no man may be misled or doubt my present views in regard to the same, I do now again affirm the truth of all my statement[s], as then made and published.”
Oliver Cowdery (1848):
“I wrote, with my own pen, the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet Joseph, as he translated it by the gift and power of God, by the means of the Urim and Thummim, or as it is called by the book, Holy Interpreters. I beheld with my eyes, and handled with my hands, the gold plates from which it was transcribed. I also saw with my eyes and handled with my hands the Holy Interpreters. That book is true.”
These are impressive testimonies.
I also admit there is no convincing evidence that these three individuals participated in a fraud, rather the evidence points to the fact that, at least at one time, they all honestly believed that Joseph was a true prophet and that the Book of Mormon is what it purports to be.
Nevertheless, there are problems.
We need to exercise some caution in judging the witnesses’ 1829 testimony by the rational worldview that most hold today. The three witnesses, like many, perhaps most people in the unsophisticated society of nineteenth-century rural America, viewed second sight, magic, spells, witches, and treasure digging as objective reality, and if anything, it drew them together as a society.
Where did the printed testimony of the ‘Three Witnesses’ Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer come from? Did they write their own personal witness statements?
It is believed that Joseph Smith composed the statement for them to sign. There is also evidence that none of the witnesses had ever seen the plates with their natural eyes, a fact every one of them admitted at one point. Joseph’s wording however deliberately gives the impression that they had.
Stretching or twisting the truth seems to be no problem for Joseph Smith when it suited his purposes. There is clear evidence he altered revelations and made numerous retroactive changes to the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. According to Apostle William E. McLellin, “the testimony of the Twelve Apostles contained in the Introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants was a ‘base forgery.’ David Whitmer himself, one of the Three Witnesses, alleged the same thing.”
Notwithstanding, their unsigned and undated witness statement, carefully crafted by Joseph Smith does say they saw the gold plates as well as an angel.
The problem is, there is also clear evidence that Cowdery, Harris, and Whitmer, made numerous contradictory statements and admissions, in which they also said that they saw these things only in a ‘visionary state,’ often after being prepared and possibly coached by Joseph Smith.
The issue becomes, given this incongruity, which is true?
There is so much damning evidence that the Book of Mormon is nothing more than a work of 19th-century fiction – the lack of archaeological support, the anachronisms, the contrary DNA evidence, the rampant plagiarism, and the almost laughable means of translation – A magical peep stone in a white top hat.
This coupled with Smith’s history of money digging, his many run-ins with the law. His false and failed prophesies, his inaccurate translations of the Egyptian Papyri, the Kinderhook Plates affair and most of all his dishonesty and immoral behavior – lying to Emma and the Saints about his polygamy and polyandry. Convincing teenage girls, some as young as 14, by the use of coercive psychological techniques to marry and have sex with him. This has to give anyone with an ounce of sense, pause.
Were it not for the testimony of these three men I think any reasonable person would be ready to proclaim that the LDS church is false, that Joseph Smith was a narcissistic con-man who used his superior intellect and charisma to acquire wealth, sex, and most of all power.
If the testimony of these supposed witnesses can be discounted, it must surely put the final nail in the Mormon coffin. But if David, Martin, and Oliver really did have an angel show them the plates, not in ‘vision’ but in reality, we have a problem.
Background and Life Experiences
Things were going well for Martin Harris by 1827. He had built a comfy life for himself and his wife Lucy in Palmyra, New York. By all accounts, he was a hard worker and the half section of land he had acquired and worked over the previous 14 years, had made him, by rural New York standards, very close to being a wealthy man.
At age 26, Martin married Lucy Harris, his first cousin, and the couple had five children, three of whom lived to be adults.
But now at age 45, he received a visit from Lucy Mack Smith, the mother of Joseph Smith, Jr., that led to a series of events that would rock his world.
Lucy Smith had come to tell Martin that her son Joseph had finally obtained golden plates from an angel, with a message inscribed in an ancient language that would change the world. Lucy Mack Smith asked Martin if he would visit Joseph. He agreed and thus began their relationship. Joseph Smith and Martin appeared to become friends, at least Martin saw Joseph as his friend hiring Joseph as a day laborer on his farm. Joseph may have viewed Martin as a tool (and I mean that in every sense of the word) as compared to Smith, he was wealthy but none too bright.
Martin likely harbored some doubts about Joseph’s story, undoubtedly stoked by his wife, Lucy. But Martin was also a religious man, as well as a very superstitious one. Indeed some labeled him a “visionary fanatic.” This perspective explains Martin’s willingness to, not just consider, but accept the supernatural, buying hook, line, and sinker Joseph’s claims of angels and ancient buried golden plates. Martin was acting as a scribe for a time and, of course, he also journeyed to New York City in Joseph’s behalf seeking a reassurance from Professor Anthon, a well-known scholar that the plates were authentic. But Martin’s greatest contribution to the work was as a benefactor.
It is interesting that regardless of Professor Anthon’s caution to Martin, he still proceeded with his, “investment.”
Dr. Anthon’s account of his meeting with Martin Harris is certainly disimilar to the Church’s version of what transpired.
Professor Anthon described Martin’s visit as follows:
New York, Feb. 17, 1834
Dear Sir –
I received this morning your favor of the 9th instant, and lose no time in making a reply. The whole story about my having pronounced the Mormonite inscription to be “reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics” is perfectly false. Some years ago, a plain, and apparently simple-hearted farmer, called upon me with a note from Dr. Mitchell of our city, now deceased, requesting me to decypher, if possible, a paper, which the farmer would hand me, and which Dr. M. confessed he had been unable to understand. Upon examining the paper in question, I soon came to the conclusion that it was all a trick, perhaps a hoax. When I asked the person, who brought it, how he obtained the writing, he gave me, as far as I can now recollect, the following account: A “gold book,” consisting of a number of plates of gold, fastened together in the shape of a book by wires of the same metal, had been dug up in the northern part of the state of New York, and along with the book an enormous pair of “gold spectacles”!.
The farmer added, that he had been requested to contribute a sum of money towards the publication of the “golden book,” the contents of which would, as he had been assured, produce an entire change in the world and save it from ruin. So urgent had been these solicitations, that he intended selling his farm and handing over the amount received to those who wished to publish the plates. As a last precautionary step, however, he had resolved to come to New York, and obtain the opinion of the learned about the meaning of the paper which he brought with him, and which had been given him as a part of the contents of the book, although no translation had been furnished at the time by the young man with the spectacles.
On hearing this odd story, I changed my opinion about the paper, and, instead of viewing it any longer as a hoax upon the learned, I began to regard it as part of a scheme to cheat the farmer of his money, and I communicated my suspicions to him, warning him to beware of rogues. He requested an opinion from me in writing, which of course I declined giving, and he then took his leave carrying the paper with him. This paper was in fact a singular scrawl. It consisted of all kinds of crooked characters disposed in columns, and had evidently been prepared by some person who had before him at the time a book containing various alphabets. Greek and Hebrew letters, crosses and flourishes, Roman letters inverted or placed sideways, were arranged in perpendicular columns, and the whole ended in a rude delineation of a circle divided into various compartments, decked with various strange marks, and evidently copied after the Mexican Calender given by Humboldt, but copied in such a way as not to betray the source whence it was derived. I am thus particular as to the contents of the paper, inasmuch as I have frequently conversed with my friends on the subject, since the Mormonite excitement began, and well remember that the paper contained any thing else but “Egyptian Hieroglyphics.”
Some time after, the same farmer paid me a second visit. He brought with him the golden book in print, and offered it to me for sale. I declined purchasing. He then asked permission to leave the book with me for examination. I declined receiving it, although his manner was strangely urgent. I adverted once more to the roguery which had been in my opinion practised upon him, and asked him what had become of the gold plates. He informed me that they were in a trunk with the large pair of spectacles. I advised him to go to a magistrate and have the trunk examined. He said the “curse of God” would come upon him should he do this. On my pressing him, however, to pursue the course which I had recommended, he told me that he would open the trunk, if I would take the “curse of God” upon myself. I replied that I would do so with the greatest willingness, and would incur every risk of that nature, provided I could only extricate him from the grasp of rogues. He then left me.
I have thus given you a full statement of all that I know respecting the origin of Mormonism, and must beg you, as a personal favor, to publish this letter immediately, should you find my name mentioned again by these wretched fanatics.
Yours respectfully, CHAS. ANTHON
Following a revelation from the Lord, given through Joseph Smith, Martin was commanded: “Thou shalt not covet thine own property, but impart it freely to the printing of the Book of Mormon.” Harris mortgaged his home and farm for $3,000, a generous loan in that era. By some estimates, comparing Martin’s wealth to the local economy at that time, his gift would be worth over a million dollars today.
Other Religious Affiliations
To say that Martin Harris was unstable religiously would be an understatement. He changed his religious affiliations 13 times. Even after his excommunication from the Mormon Church, he changed his religion beliefs eight more times.
Pick virtually any Protestant denomination, and Martin had at one time been an adherent!
Character, Gullibility and Mental Stability
His contemporaries found him to be somewhat odd, to say the least, “Once while reading scripture; he reportedly mistook a candle’s sputtering as a sign that the devil desired him to stop. Another time he excitedly awoke from his sleep believing that a creature as large as a dog had been upon his chest, though a nearby associate could find nothing to confirm his fears. Several hostile and perhaps unreliable accounts told of visionary experiences with Satan and Christ, Harris once reporting that Christ had been poised on a roof beam.” 1
Presbyterian minister Jesse Townsend of Palmyra called Harris a “visionary fanatic,” and Lorenzo Saunders said Harris was a “great man for seeing spooks.”
John A. Clark, reported that during the time the Book of Mormon was being translated, “on the way he met the Lord Jesus Christ, who walked along by the side of him in the shape of a deer for two or three miles, talking with him as familiarly as one man talks with another.”2
Martin Harris also later testified that his testimony for Shakerism was greater than it was for Mormonism. The Shaker’s “Sacred Roll and Book” was also delivered by an angel. 3
Regarding his honesty, after getting in Smith’s bad books, the official Mormon newspaper of the day included Martin Harris with a few other men, as having, “a lying deceptive spirit attend them…they are of their father, the devil…the very countenance of Harris will show to every spiritual-minded person who sees him, that the wrath of God is upon him.” 4
In the Elder’s Journal for August 1838, Joseph Smith himself denounced Martin Harris as “so far beneath contempt that to notice him would be too great a sacrifice for a gentleman to make. The Church exerted some restraint on him, but now he has given loose to all kinds of abominations.“
Surprisingly, the non-Mormon press was more generous toward Martin:
“Mr. Harris was among the early settlers of this town, and has ever borne the character of an honorable and upright man, and an obliging and benevolent neighbor. He had secured to himself by honest industry a respectable fortune—and he has left a large circle of acquaintances and friends to pity his delusion. 5
“We have ever regarded Mr. Harris as an honest man. We first became acquainted with him at Palmyra, in the spring of 1828, shortly after the plates from which the Book of Mormon is said to have been translated, were found.. . . Though illiterate and actually of a superstitious turn of mind, he had long sustained an irreproachable character for probity. . . . By his neighbors and townsmen with whom he earnestly and almost incessantly labored, he was regarded rather as being deluded himself, than as wishing to delude others knowingly; but still he was subjected to many scoffs and rebukes, all of which he endured with a meekness becoming a better cause.” 6
Historian Dan Vogel reports that a friend, who praised Harris as being “universally esteemed as an honest man,” also declared that Harris’s mind “was overbalanced by ‘marvellousness‘” (sic) and that his belief in earthly visitations of angels and ghosts gave him the local reputation of being crazy. 7
Education and Intelligence
Martin had what passed for a normal education for people who worked the land in rural upstate New York at that time, not unlike that which David Whitmer and Joseph Smith received. Oliver Cowdery’s formal education was a step above these three.
Motivations for His Involvement
Martin was deeply invested in the success of the Book of Mormon. He went as far as to mortgage his farm to make the publication of the Book of Mormon possible. If the book failed, Martin stood to lose the most.
We need to keep in mind that Martin’s motivation, as could be argued of Smith’s, was not altogether altruistic.
Abigail Harris, Martin’s sister-in-law, spoke to this important feature of his motivation:
“… Martin Harris and Lucy Harris, his wife, were at my house (1828).In conversation with the Mormonites, she [Lucy Harris] observed that she wished her husband would quit them, as she believed it all false and a delusion. To which I heard Mr. Harris reply: ‘What if it is a lie; if you will let me alone I will make money out of it!’ I was both an eye- and ear-witness of what has been above stated, which is now fresh in my memory, and I speak the truth and lie not, God being my witness.”
Nevertheless, one of the most powerful confirmations of Martin’s testimony was recorded by William Harrison Homer, which was replicated in the Improvement Era.
“Young man,” answered Martin Harris with impressiveness, “Do I believe it! Do you see the sun shining! Just as surely as the sun is shining on us and gives us light, and the [moon] and stars give us light by night, just as surely as the breath of life sustains us, so surely do I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, chosen of God to open the last dispensation of the fullness of times; so surely do I know that the Book of Mormon was divinely translated. I saw the plates; I saw the Angel; I heard the voice of God. I know that the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. I might as well doubt my own existence as to doubt the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon or the divine calling of Joseph Smith.” 8
In law, a ‘deathbed’ confession or statement is given great credence as it should. The following is what amounts to Martin’s deathbed testimony:
“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 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.” 9
However, Martin also said repeatedly that he, and the other witnesses, only saw the plates in vision.
“Martin Harris, one of the subscribing witnesses, has come out at last, and says he never saw the plates, from which the book purports to have been translated, except in vision and he further says that any man who says he has seen them in any other way is a liar, Joseph [Smith] not excepted.” 10
In 1838 when the Church was in crisis and experiencing massive apostasy. Martin’s statement about not really seeing the angel and plates, was the final straw that caused apostles Luke S. Johnson, Lyman E. Johnson, and John F. Boynton, high priest Stephen Burnett and seventy Warren Parrish to leave the Church, Burnett comments:
“I have reflected long and deliberately upon the history of this church & weighed the evidence for & against it, loth to give it up, but 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 foundations was (sic) sapped & the entire superstructure fell a heap of ruins,…I was followed by W. Parish[,] Luke Johnson & John Boynton[,] all of the[m] concurred with me. After we 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 handkerchief over them, but he never saw them only as he saw a city through 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 but should have let it passed as it was… “ 11
And a few more of many more statements by Martin:
“While praying I passed into a state of entrancement, and in that state, I saw the angel and the plates.” 12
“I never saw the gold plates, only in a visionary or entranced state.” 13
The foreman in the Palmyra printing office that produced the first Book of Mormon said that Harris “used to practice a good deal of his characteristic jargon and ‘seeing with the spiritual eye,’ and the like.” 1
Two other Palmyra residents said that Harris told them that he had seen the plates with “the eye of faith” or “spiritual eyes.” 16
John H. Gilbert, the typesetter for most of the Book of Mormon, said that he had asked Harris, “Martin, did you see those plates with your naked eyes?” According to Gilbert, Harris “looked down for an instant, raised his eyes up, and said, ‘No, I saw them with a spiritual eye.” 17
When Martin Harris was asked, “But did you see them [plates] with your natural, your bodily eyes, just as you see this pencil-case in my hand? Now say no or yes to this.” Martin answered, “I did not see them as I do that pencil-case, yet I saw them with the eye of faith; I saw them just as distinctly as I see anything around me, though at the time they were covered over with a cloth.” 18
“Martin Harris later testified that he did not see the plates literally with his fleshly eyes: He said he saw the plates with ‘the eyes of faith and not with the natural eyes’. This we believe is the truth but it should eliminate him automatically as a witness none the less. This, of course, proves Mormonism is a fraud and that the Nephi Plates never existed and no one actually saw them.” 19
While Martin was not perhaps the smartest of men, I think he was a decent man. I think a case can be made that he might have been used and by a guileful and manipulative Joseph Smith. I think the conflicting statements Martin made throughout his life, his superstition, his magical mindset, and his mental instability coupled with his conflict of interest assail his credibility and must be discounted.
Background and Life Experiences
David Whitmer was born near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the fourth of nine children of Peter Whitmer, Sr. and Mary Musselman both of German ancestry. By the 1820s, the Whitmer family had moved to a farm in Fayette, New York. Whitmer and his family were among the earliest adherents to the Latter-day Saint movement. Whitmer first heard of Joseph Smith and the golden plates in 1828 when he made a business trip to Palmyra, New York, and there talked with his friend Oliver Cowdery.
When the Church moved from New York to Ohio in 1831, the Whitmers went along as they did to Jackson County, Missouri the short-lived Zion or gathering place for the Saints. When the differences between the Latter-day Saints and their neighbors erupted again into open conflict. Driven from Jackson County, the Whitmers settled in adjacent Clay County, Missouri.
By 1838 things were going sideways quickly. David described the situation: “In the spring of 1838, the heads of the church and many of the members had gone deep into error and blindness. I had been striving with them for a long time to show them the errors into which they were drifting, and for my labors, I received only persecutions. In June 1838, a secret organization was formed, Doctor Avard being put in as the leader of the band; a certain oath was to be administered to all the brethren to bind them to support the heads of the church in everything they should teach. All who refused to take this oath were considered dissenters from the church, and certain things were to be done concerning these dissenters, by Dr. Avard’s secret band.”
In response to the Church’s threats against him as well as Oliver Cowdery, John Whitmer, William W. Phelps and Lyman Johnson, David left town and the Church.
This was Sidney Rigdon’s letter:
“To Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, John Whitmer, William W. Phelps, and Lyman E. Johnson, greeting: Out of the county you shall go, and no power shall save you. And you shall have three days after you receive this communication…for you to depart with your families peaceably;…and unless you heed us,…there shall be no escape; for there is but one decree for you, which is depart, depart, or a more fatal calamity shall befall you…we will put you from the county of Caldwell: so help us God.”
Whitmer went on to condemn Smith’s church and raise some question as to the validity of his Book of Mormon witness statement. “If you believe my testimony to the Book of Mormon,” wrote Whitmer, “if you believe that God spake to us three witnesses by his own voice, then I tell you that in June, 1838 God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens and told me to ‘separate myself from among the Latter Day Saints, for as they sought to do unto me, so it should be done unto them.”
After Joseph’s death in 1844, many of Rigdon’s followers became disillusioned, and by 1847, William E. McLellin and Benjamin Winchester, remembering Whitmer’s 1834 ordination to be Smith’s successor, urged Whitmer exercised his claim to be Smith’s successor and the Church of Christ (Whitmerite) was formed in Kirtland, Ohio. However, Whitmer never joined the body of the new church, and it dissolved relatively quickly.
David Whitmer belonged to at least three Mormon splinter groups at different times, but he died still rejecting the LDS church and its priesthood.
Like Martin Harris, David Whitmer later testified that he did not see the plates with his real eyes but, “by the eye of faith” handled by an angel. 20
During the summer of 1837, while in Kirtland, like Oliver and Martin, David pledged his loyalty and allegiance to a prophetess who used a black seer stone and danced herself into ‘trances.’ 21
Education and Intelligence
David also had what passed for a normal education for people who worked the land in rural upstate New York at that time. Somewhat like that which Martin Harris and Joseph Smith had received.
David Whitmer was excommunicated from the Church, and he never returned to it, nonetheless near the end of his life, he made the following statement in the Richmond, Missouri, Conservator on March 25, 1881:
“Unto all Nations, Kindreds, Tongues, and People, unto whom these presents shall come: . . . I wish now, standing as it were, in the very sunset of life, and in the fear of God, once [and] for all to make this public statement: That I have never at any time denied that testimony [of the Book of Mormon] or any part thereof, which has so long since been published with that book, as one of the Three Witnesses. Those who know me best well know that I have always adhered to that testimony. And that no man may be misled or doubt my present views in regard to the same, I do again affirm the truth of all my statements as then made and published. “He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear;” it was no delusion; what is written is written, and he that readeth let him understand. “And if any man doubt, should he not carefully and honestly read and understand the same before presuming to sit in judgment and condemning the light, which shineth in darkness, and showeth the way of eternal life as pointed out by the unerring hand of God?” In the Spirit of Christ, who hath said: “Follow thou me, for I am the life, the light and the way,” I submit this statement to the world; God in whom I trust being my judge as to the sincerity of my motives and the faith and hope that is in me of eternal life. My sincere desire is that the world may be benefited by this plain and simple statement of the truth. And all the honor to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen!”
However, again in the same document Whitmer testifies:
“If you believe my testimony to the Book of Mormon; if you believe that God spake to us three witnesses by his own voice, then I tell you that in June 1838, God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens and told me to ‘separate myself from among the Latter Day Saints, for as they sought to do unto me, so it should be done unto them.” In the spring of 1838, the heads of the church and many of the members had gone deep into error and blindness. I had been striving with them for a long time to show them the errors into which they were drifting, and for my labors I received only persecutions.” 22
Statements by Whitmer that He Saw the Gold Plates and the Angel in Vision
While more stable than Martin Harris, David also had a magical view of the world and spoke of seeing things with his “spiritual” eyes.
He was once asked to describe the angel who showed him the plates. He responded that the angel “had no appearance or shape.” When asked how he could then could bear testimony that he had seen and heard an angel, Whitmer replied, “Have you never had impressions?” To which the interviewer responded, “Then you had impressions as the Quaker when the spirit moves, or as a good Methodist in giving a happy experience, a feeling?” “Just so,” replied Whitmer. 23
James Henry Moyle, a Mormon lawyer, interviewed Whitmer in 1885 He asked him if there was any possibility that he had been deceived. “His answer was unequivocal…that he saw the plates and heard the angel with unmistakable clearness.” But Moyle went away “not fully satisfied…It was more spiritual than I anticipated.” 24
He also stated:
“While praying I passed into a state of entrancement, and in that state, I saw the angel and the plates.” 25
“I never saw the gold plates, only in a visionary or entranced state.” 26
“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 [the woods as] 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.” 27
David Whitmer changed his story about seeing the plates and later told of finding them lying in a field and later still told Orson Pratt that they were on a table with all sorts of brass plates, gold plates, the Sword of Laban, the ‘Director’ and the Urim and Thummim. 28
David Whitmer informed Zenas Gurley Jr. on January 14, 1885, when asked if the witnesses touched “the real metal,” “We did not.” The witnesses handled “the plates” in a vision only, according to Whitmer. 29
Also, the eight witnesses did not “imagine” seeing the plates or an angel at the same time as most members believe and as is popularized in church paintings. Rather the plates were imagined in two groups of four. 30
Marvin S. Hill, an LDS writer, remarked:
“. . . there is a possibility that the witnesses saw the plates in vision only. . . . There is testimony from several independent interviewers, all non-Mormon, that Martin Harris and David Whitmer said they saw the plates with their “spiritual eyes” only. . . . This is contradicted, however, by statements like that of David Whitmer in the Saints Herald in 1882, “these hands handled the plates, these eyes saw the angel.” But Z. H. Gurley elicited from Whitmer a not so positive response to the question,” did you touch them?” His answer was, “We did not touch nor handle the plates.” So far as the eight witnesses go, William Smith said his father never saw the plates except under a frock…” 31
Background and Life Experiences
Of the three witnesses, Oliver played the most significant role in the creation of the Church. He is also the most likely co-conspirator with Joseph Smith if the Mormon Church is a fraud.
He was the principal scribe, was a member of the Congregational church where Ethan Smith, the author of the View of the Hebrews preached and Oliver attended, and no doubt had a copy of it, as well, he was Joseph’s cousin.
There is evidence that Oliver knew Joseph before the time the Church claims. Lorenzo Saunders placed Oliver Cowdery on the Smith farm in Palmyra several years earlier in 1826:
“As respecting Oliver Cowdery, he came from Kirtland in the summer of 1826 and was about there [i.e., the Smith’s farm] until fall and took a school in the district where the Smiths lived and the next summer he was missing and I didn’t see him until fall and he came back and took our school in the district where we lived and taught about a week and went to the school board and wanted the board to let him off and they did and he went to Smith and went to writing the Book of Mormon and wrote all winter. The Mormons say it wasn’t wrote there but I say it was because I was there…” 32
Oliver also claimed, “second sight,” he reports seeing convoy after convoy of angels at a worship service in Ohio.
It is rarely mentioned in the discussion of the veracity of the witnesses but should be remembered that we do not have an actual document of actual signatures of the Book of Mormon witnesses. The closest we have is a document in Oliver’s handwriting, providing the names of the witnesses.
Without the original document, it is impossible to know with certainty whether the witnesses truly signed it.
As well, the church is not forthcoming about the statements by the witnesses, who claim to have seen Smith’s gold plates and handled them. The faith-promoting accounts do not tell us that their experience was one that took place in their imaginations, that they saw with their, “spiritual eyes,” “visions of the mind,” or through the “eyes of our understanding.”
David Whitmer informed Zenas Gurley Jr. on January 14, 1885, when asked if the witnesses touched “the real metal,” “We did not.” The witnesses handled “the plates” in a vision only, according to Whitmer. 3
Other Religious Experiences
There are often statements made within the Church to the effect that none of the three witnesses recanted their statements and I have no reason to believe that is not the case. However, there is some evidence that Oliver Cowdery came very close.
When Oliver joined the Methodist Church later in his life, he apparently offered to repudiate his witness to the Book of Mormon in writing but was not required to do so by the elders of the Methodist Church.
“We accordingly waited on Mr. Cowdery at his residence in Tiffin, and there learned his connection, from him, with that order, and his full and final renunciation thereof.
We then inquired of him if he had any objection to making a public recantation. He replied that he would if it were required of him. The following I from a sworn statement by G.J. Keen, one of the elders who interviewed Oliver.
“In a few years, Mr. Cowdery expressed a desire to associate, himself with a Methodist Protestant church of this city. Rev. John Souder and myself were appointed a committee to wait on Mr. Cowdery and confer with him respecting his connection with Mormonism and the Book of Mormon had objections; that, in the first place, it could do no good; that he had known several to do so and they always regretted it. And, in the second place, it would have a tendency to draw public attention, invite criticism, and bring him into contempt.
“But,” said he, “nevertheless, if the church requires it, I will submit to it, but I authorize and desire you and the church to publish and make known my recantation.”
We did not demand it but submitted his name to the church, and he was unanimously admitted a member thereof. At that time he arose and addressed the audience present, admitted his error and implored forgiveness, and said he was sorry and ashamed of his connection with Mormonism.
He continued his membership while he resided in Tiffin, and became superintendent of the Sabbath-school, and led an exemplary the while he resided with us. I have lived in this city upwards of fifty-three years, was auditor of this county, was elected to that office in 1840.
I am now in my eighty-third year, and well remember the facts above related.
(Signed) G. J. KEEN.”
Sworn to before me and subscribed in my presence, this 14th day of April 1885. FRANK L. EMICH, Notary
The Mormon Church claims Oliver came back to the Church, but if he did, he might have left shortly thereafter as he was buried by a Methodist minister in Richmond, Missouri. 34
Motivations for his Involvement
What was Oliver’s motivation?
He was in on many of the most important policies and revelations of the Church, including:
An Angelic Witness of the Plates
Translation of the Plates
Restoration of Aaronic Priesthood
Restoration of Melchizedek Priesthood
Restoration of sealing keys and return of Elijah
When anything important happens, Oliver is there. When Smith hit a roadblock with Emma and Martin acting as scribes, Oliver shows up and gets things moving – quickly. Suddenly, hundreds of pages are translated in just a few months.
There are some suspicious actions involving Oliver and Sidney Rigdon. Upon the event of his death, Rigdon commanded his wife to burn all his papers, which were many. A man of letters does not destroy the collection of a lifetime unless there is something damning within it. Why else would he have had them burnt? I don’t imagine we will ever know what was so incriminating. Was there a reworking of the View of the Hebrews, or the Late War or was it a rough draft of the framework of the Book of Mormon, entitled Manuscript Found at Conneaut Creek by a failed preacher named Solomon Spaulding?
Spaulding failed at most everything he put his hand to, one of those flops was writing and selling novels. He wrote a story called Manuscript Found at Conneaut Creek but failed to get it published, as the story goes, Spaulding reworked the book and renamed it Manuscript Found. He took the manuscript to a publisher in Pittsburgh who agreed to publish it if he could come up with the money, but Spaulding never did find a backer, so the manuscript sat in the publisher’s office gathering dust.
At it happens somewhere in the 1810s, a man named Sidney Rigdon was visiting that same publisher’s office, and he came across Manuscript Found. By then Spaulding had died, so Rigdon takes it. Now Rigdon was also an adherent of Campbellism, which sought to restore Christianity to its first-century form and Rigdon sees an opportunity, a promote Campbellism and unite the various Christian denominations as well as Native Americans. He hatches a plan, an idea incidentally that he shares with his closest friends in and around 1825 to 1827 Rigdon tells his closest friends that soon a new book of scripture that would unite Christian Americans, convert Native Americans, and explain where the people who built the thousands of mounds around the eastern U.S. came from.
During this same period, Oliver Cowdery who lived in Rigdon’s area gets wind of Rigdon’s idea. Cowdery used to live in New York and at one point went back to New York to visit with Joseph Smith, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Speculation, certainly but not wildly so. Several of Spaulding’s relatives familiar with Manuscript Found in the Wilds of Mormon swore affidavits that The Book of Mormon was a rip-off of Solomon’s second, missing manuscript. In fact, they claimed that “Nephites,” “Lamanites,” “Lehi,” “Mormon” and “Moroni” – these exact words were found in Solomon’s novel.
As we saw with the Hoffman affair, the church is quick to purchase and stick away in their vaults anything casting doubt on the official story.
I often wonder what we would find if Jeraldo got into that that safe!
Cowdery publicly confessed his sorrow and shame for his connection with Mormonism. But did not go so far as to expose it as a fraud? Why would he not admit that his witness statement was false?
Obviously, no one relishes the admission that they have been deceitful, or that they have perjured themselves and lied under oath. Oliver may have been a lot of things, but he was not a fool. He understood that if he came clean, he would put himself in a very bad position. People had invested their fortunes, their time, even sacrificed their children to the carnal desires of the polygamists. Any admission on his part would certainly put him in legal jeopardy.
Is it not just easier and less trouble to just to stick to the original story? There are literally millions of people on the Mormon rolls today that do not believe the church is true and want nothing whatever to do with it, but just move on without making a fuss like the one I am making here. Just look at the statistics I have presented in my letter. Oliver was interested in pursuing a political career, being associated with the Mormons was bad enough but admitting that he was involved in the creation of a fraud would be political suicide.
Education and Intelligence
The fact that Oliver accepted the position of teacher in a small rural school in Manchester Township in 1828 and 1829 speaks to the fact that he was the better educated of the witnesses. We also know that after his disaffection with the Mormon church he became an attorney. 35
Oliver Opens His Heart
Oliver Cowdery published the following, “Defense in a Rehearsal of My Grounds for Separating Myself from the Latter-Day Saints,”
“DEAR PEOPLE OF GOD: — I offer you a “Defense” which I am grieved to make, but my opposers have put me to the necessity, and so far as my memory serves, I pledge my veracity for the correctness of the account.
I deny that I have ever conspired with any, or ever exerted any influence to destroy the reputation of the First Elder [Joseph Smith], although evidence which is to be credited assures me that he has done everything he could to injure my standing, and his influence has been considerably exerted to destroy my reputation and, I fear, my life.
You will remember in the meantime, that those who seek to vilify my character have been constantly encouraged by him. There was a time when I thought myself able to prove to the satisfaction of every man that the translator of the Book of Mormon was worthy of the appellation of a Seer and a Prophet of the Lord, and in which he held over me a mysterious power which even now I fail to fathom; but I fear I may have been deceived, and especially so fear since knowing that Satan has led his mind astray.
When the Church of Christ was set up by revelation, he was called to be First Elder, and I was called to he Second Elder, and whatever he had of Priesthood (about which I am beginning to doubt).
But I certainly followed him too far when accepting and reiterating, that none had authority from God to administer the ordinances of the gospel, as I had then forgotten that John, the beloved disciple, was tarrying on earth and exempt from death.
I am well aware that a rehearsal of these things at this day will be unpleasant reading to the First Elder; yet so it is, and it is wisdom that it should be so. Without rehearsing too many things that have caused me, to lose my faith in Bro. Joseph’s seership. I regard his frequent predict devils nor the malice of men shall ever cause him to fall by the hand of his enemies until he has seen Christ in the flesh at his final coming, as little short of a piece of blasphemy; and it may be classed with that revelation that some among you will remember which sent Bro. Page and me so unwisely to (3) Toronto with a prediction from the Lord by Urim and Thummim that we would there find a man anxious to buy the First Elder’s copyright.
I well remember we did not find him, and had to return surprised and disappointed. But so great was my faith, that, in going to Toronto, nothing but calmness pervaded my soul, every doubt was banished, and I as much expected that Bro. Page and I would fulfill the revelation as that we should live. And you may believe without asking me to relate the particulars, that it would be no easy task to describe our desolation and grief.
Bro. Page and I did not think that God would have deceived us through “Urim and Thummim,” exactly as came the Book of Mormon; and I well remember how hard I strove to drive away the foreboding which seized me, that the First Elder had made fools of us, where we thought, in the simplicity of our hearts, that we were divinely commanded.
And what served to render the reflection past expression in its bitterness to me, was, that from his hand I received baptism, by the direction of the Angel of God, whose voice, as it has since struck me, did most mysteriously resemble the voice of Elder Sidney Rigdon, who, I am sure, had no part in the transactions of that day, as the Angel was John the Baptist, which I doubt not and deny not. When I afterward first heard Elder Rigdon, whose voice is so strikingly similar, I felt that this “dear” brother was to be in some sense, to me unknown, the herald of this church as the Great Baptist was of Christ.
I never dreamed, however, that he would influence the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator to the Church of Latter Day Saints, into the formation of a secret band at Far West, committed to depredations upon Gentiles and the actual assassination of apostates from the church, which was done in June last and was only one of many wrong steps.
These are facts which I am rehearsing, and if they shall be called into question, I am able to establish them by evidence which I can bring forward in abundance. Still, although favored of God as a chosen witness to bear testimony to the divine authority of the Book of Mormon, and honored of the Lord in being permitted, without money and without price, to serve as scribe during the translation of the Book of Mormon, I have sometimes had seasons of skepticism, in which I did seriously wonder whether the prophet and I were men in our sober senses when we would be translating from plates through “the Urim and Thummim” and the plates not be in sight at all.
But I believed both in the Seer and in the “Seer Stone,” and what the First Elder announced as revelation from God, I accepted as such, and committed to paper with a glad mind and happy heart and swift pen; for I believed him to be the soul of honor and truth, a young man who would die before he would lie.
Man may deceive his fellow man, deception may follow deception, and the children of the wicked one may seduce the unstable, untaught in the ways of righteousness and peace, for I felt a solemn awe about me, being deep in the faith, that the First Elder was a Seer and Prophet of God, giving the truth unsullied through “Urim and Thummim,” dictated by the will of the Lord, and that he was persecuted for the sake of the truth which he loved. Could I have been deceived in him?
I could rehearse a number of things to show either that I was then deceived, or that he has since fallen from the lofty place in which fond affection had deemed him secure.
I remember his experience as he had related it to me, and lacking wisdom, I went to God in prayer. I said: “O Lord, how dark everything is! Let thy glory lighten it, and make bright the path for me. Show me my duty. Let me be led of thy Spirit.”
Shall I relate what transpired? I had a message from the Most High, as from the midst of eternity; for the vail was parted and the Redeemer Himself, clothed in glory, stood before me. And He said:
“After reproving the Latter-Day Saints for their corruption and blindness in permitting their President, Joseph Smith, Jr., to lead them forth into errors, where I led him not, not commanded him, and saying unto them, Thus saith the Lord,’ when I said it not unto him, thou shalt withdraw thyself from among them.”
And I testify that Jesus, whose words I have been rehearsing, hath even so commanded me in an open vision.
The Lord revealed to me that the First Elder is leading the Saints astray, and ordered me to quit them after delivering the message which this “Defense” delivers. I shall ever remember this expression of the Saviour’s grace with thanksgiving and look upon his amazing goodness to me with wonder.
When I had sufficiently recovered my self-possession to ask in regard to the errors into which Joseph Smith, Jr., was taking the Saints, the Redeemer instructed me plainly: “He hath given revelations from his own heart and from a defiled conscience as coming from my mouth and hath corrupted the covenant and altered words which I had spoken. He hath brought in high priests, apostles and other officers, which in these days, when the written word sufficeth, are not in my church, and some of his deeds have brought shame to my heritage by the shedding of blood. He walketh in the vain imaginations of his heart, and my Spirit is holy and does not dwell in an unholy temple, nor are angels sent to reveal the great work of God to hypocrites.”
I bowed my face in shame and said: “Lord! I entreat thee, give me grace to hear thy message in print where I fear to take it by word of mouth.”
And he said, “The grace is given thee,” and he vanished out of my sight.
Prepare your hearts, O ye saints of the Most High, and come to understanding. The prophet hath erred and the people are gone astray through his error. God’s word is open. We may read it.
There is no “First Presidency” there, no “High Priesthood” save that of Christ himself, no Patriarch to the Church, and wonderful to tell, the “First Elder” hath departed from God in giving us these things, and in changing the name of the church.
Oh, the misery, distress and evil attendant upon giving heed unto the “doctrines of men”! The gospel has been perverted and the Saints are wandering in darkness, while a full cup of suffering is poured upon them. A society has been organized among them to inflict death upon those who are deemed apostates, with the knowledge and sanction of the First Elder.
This, I confess, is a dark picture to spread before those whom I am to warn, but they will pardon my plainness when I assure them of the truth of what I have written.
Bearing this message to them is the hardest work of my life, although many have been the privations and fatigues which have fallen to my lot to endure for the Gospel’s sake since April 5th, 1829.
It is disgraceful to be led by a man who does not scruple to follow his own vain imagination, announcing his own schemes as revelations from the Lord. And I fear he is led by a groundless hope, no better than the idle wind or the spider’s web. Having cleared my soul by delivering the message, I do not deem it necessary to write further on the subject now.
Jesus has saved men in all ages and saves them now, and not by our Priesthood either. The “First Elder” errs as to that. The Lord has said, long since, and his word remains steadfast as the eternal hills, that to him who knocks it shall be opened, and whosoever will, may come and partake of the waters of life freely; but a curse will surely fall upon those who draw near to God with their mouths, and honor him with their lips, while their hearts are far from him.
I no longer believe that all the other churches are wrong.
Get right, O ye people, get right with God, and may the Lord remove his judgments from you, preserve you in his kingdom from all evil, and crown you in Christ. Amen.
- COWDERY, March 3, 1839.” 35
In 1841 the Mormons published a poem that stated, “Or Book of Mormon not his word because denied by Oliver.”
A poem of the time declares that Cowdery denied his Mormon testimony:
“Amazed with wonder! I look round
To see most people of our day
Reject the glorious gospel sound
Because the simple turn away:
But does it prove there is no time,
Because some watches wilt not go?
“Or prove that Christ was not the Lord
Because that Peter cursed and swore,
OR BOOK OF MORMON NOT HIS WORD
BECAUSE DENIED BY OLIVER?
Or prove that Joseph Smith is false
Because apostates say ’tis so?” (emphasis added) 36
The Church and her apologists quote David Whitmer’s account of Oliver’s alleged death-bed revival. Whitmer is reported to have told Apostles Joseph F. Smith and Orson Pratt the following on September 8, 1878, regarding Cowdery’s death: “Oliver died the happiest man I ever saw. After shaking hands with the family and kissing his wife and daughter, he said, ‘Now I lay down for the last time; I am going to my Savior,’ and he died immediately with a smile on his face.’” Forgive me, but this has a Paul Dunn ring to it.
I think Oliver’s death bed confession would be more meaningful if it were not recorded by another witness under suspicion. Indeed why did the Lord not tell Joseph to choose as witnesses respected citizens – A doctor, judge, senator or professor Anthon for that matter.
Oliver Cowdrey is an enigma. He certainly gave testimony that he had seen an angel and the golden plates, yet he was excommunicated, fought with Joseph Smith accusing him of adultery with a teenage girl. After leaving the Church, he moved his devotion to a competing seeress, who like Joseph saw much in her ‘magic stone.’ He became a faithful member of the Methodist Church.
He stated publicly that he was ashamed of his association with the ‘Mormons’ and there is at least the suggestion that he admitted that it was all a fraud to his closest friend and law partner. Oliver was a political man, and one must wonder if his rejoining the LDS Church was to attempt to wrest control of it away from Brigham Young and take authority unto himself. On July 28, 1847, Cowdery wrote to David Whitmer that “we have the authority and do hold the keys. It is important, should we not be permitted to act in that authority…,”
Martin Harris stated in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination and that neither did Oliver or David seethem except in vision.
If the golden plates did exist and were real, why would the witnesses make the following kinds of statements:
“While praying I passed into a state of entrancement, and in that state, I saw the angel and the plates.” 37
“I never saw the gold plates, only in a visionary or entranced state.” 38
“He only saw the plates with a spiritual eye.” 39
“As shown in the vision.” 40
“Never saw the plates with his natural eyes but only in vision or imagination.” 41
“I did not see them uncovered, but I handled them and hefted them while wrapped in a tow frock.” 42
Several other things call the witnesses’ reliability and trustworthiness into question. We know that all the witnesses had close ties to Joseph and his family. Some like Martin Harris had a substantial financial investment in the success of the Book of Mormon.
“The witnesses” experiences may have only been visionary in nature. There are many statements given by the witnesses that indicate they only saw the angel and the plates in a visionary experience. Why would people need to see real, physical plates in a vision or a real angel that was physically on the earth? There are also several statements saying that the only time they saw the plates was when the plates were covered with a cloth or tow frock.
The three witnesses did not all see the plates or angel at the same time. Only David Whitmer and perhaps Oliver Cowdery saw the angel together. Martin Harris removed himself from the group and did not see the angel until perhaps three days later.” 43
FAIR says that this is well-documented in official Church sources but why then do the clear majority of members not know of this? Every painting and image of the three witnesses have them all together – does this constitute ‘well-documented.’
These men lived in the early 1800s and believed in magical things as many people did during that time period such as divining rods, second sight, magic, dreams, seer stones, etc. Some of the witnesses, especially Martin Harris, were easily swayed by tales of the supernatural, especially in a religious context.
Many of the witnesses ended up leaving the church and following other leaders and religions such as James Strang, the Shakers, Methodists, etc. By 1847 not a single one of the surviving eleven witnesses was part of the LDS Church.
“Of the witnesses that left the church, most believed that Joseph was at best a fallen prophet, the church changed its doctrines in error and changed revelations against God’s will.
The witnesses, who have been heralded as good, honest, Abe Lincoln-type of men were later called liars, counterfeiters, thieves, etc. by Joseph Smith himself.
The “testimony of the witnesses” is similar to testimonials which were commonly included in books etc. in those days to help spur sales. And of course, the BOM’s producers originally intended to sell copies for $1.75 each.
All three witnesses believed that God Himself had told them (through Joseph Smith) that they had been specially chosen to testify to the world that they had seen the angel and the plates –– if they had enough faith. Martin Harris was even told the exact words he must use: Joseph Smith said he had a revelation in which the Lord commanded Harris to say, “I have seen the things which the Lord hath shown unto Joseph Smith Jun., and I know of a surety that they are true, for I have seen them.” And just to clinch the command, God threatened Martin Harris, saying, “But if he deny this he will break the covenant which he has before covenanted with me, and behold, he is condemned.” A personal promise (and a threat of condemnation) coming directly from God is bound to have a powerful influence on a person’s thinking! 44
Fred Anson remarks that if Joseph Smith’s goal was to provide truly convincing witness statements, there were several things he SHOULD NOT have done:
- None of the witnesses should have been related to Joseph or each other. Most of the witnesses were either related or good friends. Having unrelated people as witnesses would be far more effective than using your brothers and father.
- The witnesses should not have already been eager believers.
There should have been some skeptics.
- There should have been no financial motive. Martin Harris mortgaged his farm and invested at least $3,000 of his own money into printing the Book of Mormon, so of course, he had incentives to ‘promote’ the book.
- Each of the witnesses should have written their own testimony instead of merely signing a prepared statement written by Joseph. If the prepared document wasn’t 100%, accurate many people would simply sign it anyway as it would be too much of a hassle to have it completely rewritten by hand – especially in the 1800s.
- The witnesses should have been much more detailed about this amazing event. What did the angel look like? What exactly did he say? How did he speak? There are almost no details provided which can be analyzed and compared. If each witness had simply written their own account and provided significant details, then their testimonies could corroborate each other.
- The witnesses should have been interviewed independently immediately after going public. They should have been interviewed the same way police do with witnesses to crimes or that investigators do with UFO cases. Ask questions to see if their stories match; How was the angel dressed? How tall was he? How did he speak?
- The witnesses should not have used subjective language and say strange things like comparing seeing the plates with seeing a city through a mountain or using spiritual eyes instead of their natural eyes to view physical plates.
- The witnesses should not have been gullible people that believed in things like ‘second sight,’ divining rods, finding treasure by placing a rock in a hat, etc. That the Three Witnesses were a gullible sort is illustrated by an incident in July 1837. Joseph had left on a five-week missionary tour to Canada, only to find on his return that all three of the Witnesses had joined a faction opposing him. This faction rallied around a young girl who claimed to be a seeress by virtue of a black stone in which she read the future. David Whitmer, Martin Harris, and Oliver Cowdery all pledged her their loyalty, and Frederick G. Williams, formerly Joseph’s First Counselor, became her scribe. The girl seeress would dance herself into a state of exhaustion, fall to the floor, and burst forth with revelations. See Lucy Smith: Biographical Sketches, pp. 211-213).
- All the witnesses should have been much more vocal and been interviewed much more often. There are very few interviews done with the witnesses that provide any additional information or corroboration of their statements. You would think that these people, after seeing such a magnificent sight, would spend their time testifying to the world about their experience instead of largely just signing a prepared statement and avoiding interviews by the media. Only three of the eight witnesses made separate statements that they had handled the plates. They were Joseph’s two brothers, Hyrum and Samuel, and John Whitmer.
- And of course, it would have helped had all the witnesses remained loyal to the Church for the rest of their lives instead of having most of them abandoning it. It doesn’t make much sense to leave the one, true Church of God if you have received an indisputable witness that it was true. Why would these people risk being cast in Outer Darkness for all eternity for denying what they KNEW to be true unless they maybe had some doubts? 45
And then there is the possibility of hypnotism
The 2014 American Psychological Association definition of hypnotic suggestibility;
“An individual’s ability to experience suggested alterations in physiology, sensations, emotions, thoughts, or behavior during hypnosis.” (APA, 2014)
A man they called Reveen, one of the world’s great concert hypnotists, put on a brilliant hypnotism show in the 1960s and 1970s. I attended more than a few of his performances and was greatly impressed by his ability to get regular people to do crazy things under a state of, “hypnosis.” He would have people shake hands and then tell them their hands were cemented together, and sure enough hard as they tried, they couldn’t separate them. I remember him telling a rather portly gentleman he was a famous ballerina after which he danced across the stage and doing pirouettes!
Incidentally, I was sitting in a typically dull sacrament meeting in Edmonton, Canada one Sunday when Raveen and his family walked in! Yes, he was (for a short time) a Mormon and while touring would attend church.
We have often heard Joseph Smith described as charismatic and captivating, having a ‘magnetic personality‘. Is it not possible that Joseph Smith understood the principles of hypnosis or mesmerism as it was called then? The English translation of Frans Anton Mesmer’s ground-breaking book, Mesmerism: The Discovery of Animal Magnetism (1779), was certainly known and available in the United States in Joseph’s day. No less than George Washington discussed Mesmer’s theories in a letter to the Marquis de Lafayette on November 25, 1784.
Put yourself in Martin’s place, you have a little formal education; you live in a place where news from the broader world is limited. Many, perhaps most of your friends and family see the world as almost a mystical place. You believe in God, but you also believe in evil spirits and demons and witches and buried treasures. You have been affiliated with many churches and denominations, but none have excited you as much as Joe’s religion. You have invested heavily in this divine work, your time, your treasure, even your relationship with your wife have been sacrificed to the cause. You know the work is true. You know Joseph talks with God.
It is a beautiful warm morning as you go to the woods with David and Oliver and the Prophet. You have all knelt in prayer asking that the Lord will show you the plates, but nothing is happening. It must be you. You know how weak you are, the sins you have committed dance in your head. You must lack the faith of the others. You need to leave; you are ruining the experience for Oliver and David. Your heart aches as you walk on alone to another opening in the woods, where you again prey to your God for faith and forgiveness. Then suddenly Joseph is with you, comforting you and together you again knell down in prayer, with the prophet at your side, with your eyes closed.
You desire with all your heart, more than anything to have ever wanted to have the sure witness promised by a man you ‘know’ to be a true prophet of God, if only you could have enough faith.
Joseph begins, slowly, in that monotone ‘conference-ease’ voice that all of today’s general authorities seek to emulate. Joseph prays, “Oh God, our heavenly Father, we come to you in fervent prayer and petition that you will show your dear and faithful servant, Martin the golden plates of which are spoken. Lord, I ask that you send an angel from your presence to show your loving servant Martin the same vision that your servants Joseph, David, and Oliver have been blessed with. That he may know the truth.”
“And Martin my brother, have faith in our Lord. Martin concentrate on the glory of God, forget all your daily cares, the Lord will take care of all your needs, put these foolish things out of your mind as you pray to our God to show unto you the golden plates, Martin with every breath you take feel the spirit fill you, Martin, the veil begins to lift, see the veil between this world and the heavens parting and behold…” and on and on and on.
Joseph goes on until he feels Martin is ready. Then Joseph declares, “Oh Martin can you see the angel, in that dazzling robe, so gloriously white? Martin can you see, look, he turns over the leaves one by one so that we can see, and discern the engravings thereon distinctly? He is talking to you, can you hear him, he says, ‘Martin, blessed is the Lord, and he that keeps His commandments;’ listen Martin, to that voice declaring, ‘These plates have been revealed by the power of God, and they have been translated by the power of God. The translation of them which you have seen is correct, and I command you to bear record of what you now see and hear.’ Oh Martin, blessed are you can you see, can you see?”
“Yes, Yes,” Martin cries in an ecstasy of joy, ’Tis enough; ’tis enough; mine eyes have beheld; mine eyes have beheld;’ and jumping up, you shout, ‘Hosanna,’ I bless God, I bless God.”
Was what Martin and the others saw a product of their own mind? Remember, by Harris’ own admission, everything he and the others saw came as a vision. Historical accounts reflect that the witnesses could very well have been induced to see the plates in a vision because of Smith’s mesmerizing methods.
Smith persistently badgered them that only the faithful could see them. A persuasive but illogical technique Mormon missionaries still use today when they direct prospects to Moroni’s promise at the end of the Book of Mormon, which says that if one, “asks God, in the name of Christ, with a sincere heart, the truth will be manifest by the Holy Ghost.”
One of the weakest arguments that members of the church too often make is that if a person sincerely prays to Heavenly Father, he will not be deceived, again the Holy Bible never gives that assurance. 2 Cor. 11:14 says that Satan often transforms himself into an angel of light, and 1 Timothy 4:1 warns of seducing spirits.
Did Smith use this same wily manipulative manner of intimidation? Did he pray upon these simple witnesses’ emotions, inducing them to conjure up a vision by telling them that God was not allowing them to see the plates because they were ‘not worthy’ and needed to ‘repent,‘ and have ‘greater faith?‘ Under this kind of pressure, is it possible that individuals will see exactly what they are expected to see?
We know that Joseph had from an early age what only the most gifted revivalist preacher could boast of, the talent for making men see visions.
An example of how Smith coerced the ‘Eight Witnesses‘ to see a vision was told to the Governor of Illinois, Thomas Ford, by more than one of Smith’s key men:
‘They [Smith’s men] told Ford that the witnesses were “set to continual prayer and other spiritual exercises.” Then, at last “he assembled them in a room and produced a box which he said contained the precious treasure. The lid was opened; the witnesses peeped into it, but making no discovery, for the box was empty, they said, “Brother Joseph, we do not see the plates.” The prophet answered them, “O ye of little faith! how long will God bear with this wicked and perverse generation? Down on your knees, brethren, every one of you, and pray God for the forgiveness of your sins, and for a holy and living faith which cometh down from heaven.” The disciples dropped to their knees and began to pray in the fervency of their spirit, supplicating God for more than two hours with fanatical earnestness; at the end of which time, looking again into the box, they were now persuaded that they saw the plates.”
That they saw the plates in vision, or with their ‘spiritual eyes,’ rather than their natural eyes, makes it more likely, as Fawn Brodie notes in her book, ‘No Man Knows My History,’ ‘that the men were not conspirators but victims of Joseph’s unconscious but positive talent at hypnosis.’
The Three Witnesses and Hypnotic Susceptibility
Hypnotic susceptibility is a personality trait that remains remarkably stable over time. Hypnotizability, if I can call it that, or suggestibility have certain predictors.
Predictors and Correlates of Hypnotic Susceptibility
Absorption: Absorption is a disposition or personality trait in which a person becomes absorbed in their mental imagery, particularly fantasy. This trait thus correlates highly with a fantasy-prone personality. The original research on absorption was done by American psychologist Auke Tellegen.
Fantasy Proneness: Fantasy Proneness: ‘Fantasy-prone personality’ (FPP) is an expression coined by psychologists Cheryl Wilson and Theodore Barber in a 1983 paper based on a small study on hypnotic susceptibility. Their work developed a theme put forth by Josephine R. Hilgard, a pioneer in the study of hypnosis. FPP is a personality peculiarity in which a person experiences a lifelong extensive and deep involvement in fantasy. This disposition is commonly described as having an “overactive imagination” or “living in a dream world.” An individual with this trait (termed a fantasizer) may have difficulty differentiating between fantasy and reality and may experience hallucinations, as well as self-suggested psychosomatic symptoms. This is closely related to the psychological constructs of absorption and eidetic memory.
Graham Wagstaff cautions against using the terms “suggestible” and “susceptible” interchangeably, about the extent to which one individual responds to incoming suggestions from another.
“The two terms are not synonymous, however, as the latter term carries inherent negative bias absent from the neutral psychological factor described by suggestibility.”
In scientific research and academic literature on hypnosis and hypnotherapy, the term “suggestibility” describes a neutral psychological and possibly physiological state or phenomena. This is distinct from the culturally biased common parlance of the term “suggestible”. Both terms are often bound with undeserved negative social connotations not inherent in the word meanings themselves.
To be suggestible is not to be gullible. The latter pertains to an empirical objective fact that can be shown accurate or inaccurate to any observer; the former term does not. To be open to suggestion has no bearing on the accuracy of any incoming suggestions, nor whether such an objective accuracy is possible (as is with metaphysical belief).” 46
Hypnotic State, Suggestion, and Hypnotic Suggestion
Matthew Whalley provides clarification between a hypnotic state, suggestion and hypnotic suggestion. He holds simply that a suggestion is hypnotic if it is delivered in the context of hypnosis. For example, if it is delivered after hypnotic induction. The same suggestions can also be delivered outside of hypnosis, to an unhypnotized individual. In this, the latter case, it is known as a non-hypnotic suggestion or an imaginative suggestion. There is considerable research showing that hypnotic suggestions are only marginally more effective than imaginative suggestions. A fact that may be significant as we evaluate the three witnesses’ susceptibility.
This brief discussion on hypnosis has shown that is not about a ‘battle of wills.’ People feel more comfortable when receiving positive suggestions in an understanding framework or context. People are less likely to resist the ideas for optimism or a positive perspective if they:
- Correspond with other ideas already held
- Contain positive rather than negative enforcement toward something good rather than away from something bad
- Flatter our self-identity to a level we accept.
All three of these features were present regarding the ‘Three Witnesses.’ In fact, in every way, the position of the ‘Three Witnesses’ was ideal for a hypnotically-induced illusion or “vision.”
Was Smith trained in hypnosis or mesmerism, of course not, but neither were the magicians, priests, sorcerers or other charismatic individuals in the past who discovered it by accident?
How could the witnesses all make statements that suggest that their experience with the gold plates and the angel were visionary and later vehemently state they were real as you and I understand that word?
Remember a hypnotically-induced hallucination is very real to the person having it. In fact, it is only identifiable as a hallucination by someone other than the person hallucinating. If the individual having the hallucination recognized it as a hallucination, it would not then be a hallucination. It is almost impossible to convince a hallucinator that his or her experience is not real.
It is not that difficult to understand. Think of someone who witnesses a heated argument after school. When later asked about the “huge fight” that occurred, they recall the memory, but unknowingly exaggerate or distort it, because they now think of the event as a “huge fight” instead of a simple argument and the further away they get in time from the original event, the greater the distortion. There was no conscious attempt to mislead; it is just a feature of memory and the human mind.
There are, of course, examples of where suggestibility can also be seen in extremes which result in negative consequences.
Witness testimony is altered because the police make ‘suggestions’ during an interview, which causes that individual’s already uncertain observations to become distorted memories.
Another example might be a young girl suffering from migraine headaches leading to sleep deprivation and depression. Her therapist, a specialist in child sexual abuse, repeatedly asked her whether her father had sexually abused her. This persistent suggestion causes the young girl to fabricate memories of her father’s molestation, which leads to her being placed in foster care and her father being tried on charges of abuse.
Were the ‘Three Witnesses’ targets of hypnosis or suggestion? We can only speculate, but one must consider the power Joseph Smith had over his followers and the differential in intellect and authority between these simple men and an ambitious, self-assured Svengali.
The subject’s attitude towards authority plays an important part as well. It has been long known that army officers are much more difficult to hypnotize than enlisted men and women. Why? Because enlisted men and women, through the process of indoctrination and training, are taught to obey and follow orders without thought or reason. The transference of authority by Smith was readily accomplished then as it is now through the authoritarian construction and structure of the church.
Apologists Responses to the Witnesses to the Book of Mormon
In what I assume was a presentation delivered at the FairMormon Conference in 2004, this apologist begins with the comment, “Columbus started on faith, Edison started on faith, and it’s that faith that is called a hypothesis in this scientific method. You have to conceive of something in terms of imagination and logical extension, extrapolation before you ever really verify something beyond your little reality and so we’re really dealing with that basic issue below.”
Well, where do I start? The writer does not understand the scientific method nor for that matter faith. Faith and a hypothesis are not the same thing. A hypothesis is where – after doing your research, you try to predict the answer to your problem. Another term for a hypothesis is an ‘educated guess.’
Merriam-Webster defines ‘Faith’ as “a firm belief in something for which there is no proof.”
Columbus was a self-taught man, but he was not an ignorant man, ‘after doing his research,’ he set out to find a western sea route to China, India, and the fabled gold and spice islands of Asia.
He was aware that Pythagoras in the sixth century B.C. proved the earth was round, and that Aristotle in the fourth century B.C. provided the physical evidence, such as the shadow of the Earth on the moon, and like all sailors, he witnessed the curvature of the Earth approaching land.
I would suggest to you that my approach to the ‘witnesses’ to the Book of Mormon is a true application of the scientific method. I didn’t start with ‘faith’ I started by doing my research. Then I formulated the hypotheses that the ‘witnesses’ did not see the plates, angels, et cetera, with their ‘real’ eyes and/or they, for reasons best known to themselves, were not truthful.
The author of this article I quoted above goes on to beg the question, “Why in their personal statements do the eight witnesses consistently use the formulaic language that they ‘saw’ and ‘hefted’ and ‘handled’ rather than using other language or giving greater detail? Doesn’t this suggest a conspiracy?” Which he then goes on to answer his own question, “I come back to this issue where John Whitmer said if you doubt what happened… if you want my testimony go read it. I don’t see ‘hefted’ as formulaic. I think that’s, as I said, a very specific term of the period meaning they tried to estimate their weight. And whether it’s William Smith estimating the weight when he got handed the plates in a sack or the tow frock in the house when Joseph brought them home; or Martin Harris estimating the weight as he held the plates in a box, 40 to 60 pounds is basically what anybody who lifted the plates say.” 47
All this is, of course, meaningless as Joseph Smith carefully crafted the witness affidavits, which the individual witnesses simply signed.
The witnesses are a hard call. They clearly state they saw the plates and the angel. But there are also many statements made by the witnesses themselves that their admissions were more visionary than real. The Witnesses,’ particularly Martin Harris’s, use of terms such as, ‘second sight,’ ‘with spiritual eyes,’ ‘visions of the mind,’ or through the “eyes of our understanding,” certainly give one pause.
I think to truly understand the Book of Mormon witnesses; one must appreciate the magical worldview people held in the early 19th Century in the backwoods of New England. Many folks believed in folk magic, visions, glass looking, divining rods, second sight, peep stones, treasure hunting and so on.
Additionally, several issues call into question the witnesses’ independence. All had close ties to Joseph and his family. Martin Harris had a substantial financial stake in the success of the Book of Mormon. And to be kind, the witnesses were not society’s ‘cream of the crop.’
As well they all left the Church at some point and most held Joseph Smith in very low esteem as he them. Joseph Smith said Dec 16, 1838, “Such characters as McLellin, John Whitmer, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris are too mean to mention; and we had liked to have forgotten them.” 48
David Whitmer—like the other witnesses—had been charged with being deluded into thinking he had seen an angel and the plates. Joseph Smith III remembered when David was such accused and said:
“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!’.
Martin Harris used the same qualifying statements to describe his experience in 1829:
“In introducing us, Mr. Godfrey said, ‘Brother Harris, I have brought these young men to hear your statement as to whether or not you believe the Book of Mormon to be true.’ His face was turned to the wall. He turned and faced us and said, ‘Now I don’t believe, but I know it to be true, for with these eyes I saw the angel and with these ears, I heard him say it was a true and correct record of an ancient people that dwelt upon this the American continent’. 49
As I had mentioned above, a hypnotically-induced hallucination is very real to the person having it. It is only identifiable as a hallucination by someone other than the person hallucinating. I have said it before, but it is worth repeating, if the individual having the hallucination recognized it as a hallucination, it would not then be a hallucination. It is almost impossible to convince a hallucinator that his or her experience was not real.
1 Ronald W. Walker, “Martin Harris:
2 John A. Clark letter, August 31, 1840, in EMD, 2: 271
3 Martin Harris-Witness & Benefactor, BYU 1955 Thesis, Wayne C. Gunnell, p.52.)
4 Latter-Day Saints, Millennial Star, Vol 8 pp124-128
5 Wayne Sentinel, May 27, 1831, as quoted in Richard Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, 1981
6 Rochester Daily Democrat, June 23, 1841, as quoted in Richard Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, 1981
7 Pomeroy Tucker reminiscence, 1858, in Vogel & 1996-2003, 3: 71 Education and Intelligence
8 “The Passing of Martin Harris,” in the Improvement Era Vol. 29, No. 5 (March 1926):
9 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 (Is that third hand?)
10 Warren Parris to E. Holmes, August 11, 1838.
11 Stephen Burnett, Early Mormon Documents, 2:288-93
12 Martin Harris, (Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast, n.d., microfilm copy, p. 70-71
13 Early Mormon Documents, 2:346-47
14 Letter from Stephen Burnett to “Br. Johnson,” April 15, 1838, in Joseph Smith Letter Book, p. 2
15 Mormonism: Its Origin, Rise, and Progress, p.71
16 Early Mormon Documents 2:270 and 3:22
17 Eric Nelson, Leaving the Church, Part 9 Oct. 24, 2015
18 History of the Mormonites, Kirtland, 1831. Josiah Jones, The Evangelist (1 June 1831) p.40
19 The Braden & Kelly Debate, p. 173
20 Palmyra Reflector, March 19, 1831
21 Biographical Sketches, Lucy Smith, pp. 211-213
22David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ
Statements by Whitmer that He Saw the Gold Plates and the Angel in Vision
23 Interview with John Murphy, June 1880, Early Mormon Documents 5:63
24 Moyle diary, June 28, 1885, in Early Mormon Documents, Dan Vogel, Signature Book, Salt Lake City, October 1996
25 Early Mormon Documents, Dan Vogel, Signature Book, Salt Lake City, October 1996, 2:346-47
26 Early Mormon Documents, Dan Vogel, Signature Book, Salt Lake City, October 1996, 2:346-47
27 David Whitmer, to Anthony Metcalf, 2 April 1887; printed in A[nthony] Metcalf, Ten Years before the Mast (Malad City, Idaho: n.p., 1888, 73-74
28 Millennial Star, vol. XL, pp. 771-77
29 Grant Palmer, An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, Chapter 6
30 Deseret Evening News, 6 Aug. 1878
31 Marvin S. Hill, “Brodie Revisited: A Reappraisal,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, (Winter, 1972): pp. 83-84
32 Early Mormon Documents, 3:177-79
33 Grant Palmer, An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins Chapter
34 The True Origin of The Book of Mormon, Charles Shook, 1914, pp. 58-59
35 Defense in a Rehearsal of My Grounds for Separating Myself from the Latter-Day Saints,” Presley Job Office, Norton, Ohio, 183
36 Seasons and Times, Vol 2, p. 482
37 Martin Harris, (Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast, n.d., microfilm copy, p. 70-71)
38 Early Mormon Documents, 2:346-47
39 “He only saw the plates with a spiritual eye
40 Joseph Smith Begins His Work, Vol. 1, 1958
41 Letter from Stephen Burnett to “Br. Johnson,” April 15, 1838, in Joseph Smith Letter Book, p. 2.
42 Early Mormon Documents 1:497
43 Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast, n.d., microfilm copy, p. 70
44 Facts on the Book of Mormon Witnesses, Jole B. Groat, July 8, 2011, Institute for Religious Research The Book of Mormon Witnesses, Recovery From Mormonism, http://exmormon.org/d6/drupal/file9
45 September 7, 2014, in Book of Mormon, Fred Anson, Mormon Studies
46 Wagstaff, Graham F. (1991). “Suggestibility: A social psychological approach.” Florence Kentucky: Taylor & Frances/Routledge. p. 141
47 Unnamed source, 2004 FairMormon Conference
48 History of the Church, Vol 3, p232
Several witnesses to the Book of Mormon confessed that they did not see the plates with their natural eyes, but with ‘visions of the mind.’
Again, FairMormon, as is their custom, talks about errors and suggests there is erroneous or incorrect information without providing any corroborating evidence or details.
Interrogatory No. 9
Why does the Book of Mormon incorrectly state that Jesus was born at Jerusalem?
We know, of course, that the Lord was born in Bethlehem. Bethlehem is located on the southern portion of the Judean Mountains. The city is situated 73 kilometers (about 44 mi) northeast of Gaza City and the Mediterranean Sea, 75 kilometers (46 mi) west of Amman, Jordan, 59 kilometers (37 mi) southeast of Tel Aviv, Israel and 10 kilometers (6.2 mi) south of Jerusalem.
I have driven from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and it takes almost an hour today on a modern freeway. Bethlehem is not a Jerusalem suburb.
‘The Land of Jerusalem’ is a Joseph Smith creation. Jesus was born from the tribe of Judah and Bethlehem is in the territory of Judah. Jerusalem is in the territory of the tribe of Benjamin, which would make Jesus having been born of the tribe of Benjamin.
Apologists claim that Bethlehem is essentially a suburb of Jerusalem. This is not correct. I have driven from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and it takes almost an hour on a modern freeway.
There is not a single non-LDS expert who will state that Bethlehem and Jerusalem are one and the same. A big issue, no, but it casts doubt on the veracity of the Book of Mormon. God is not in the habit of just being close.
FairMormon’s Comments on Jesus being born in Jerusalem?
The Book of Mormon does not claim that “Jesus was born in Jerusalem”. It claims that Jesus was born “at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers.” It is referring to the land of Jerusalem.
But to state that I have stated ‘erroneous or incorrect information’ by pointing out another mistake in, ‘the most correct book on earth.’ says something about FairMormon’s raison d’être.