In this ‘letter’, I have tried to provide the reader with a detailed examination of what I see as the most troubling issues related to the Book of Mormon and the Joseph Smith story.
I have organized my concerns into two dozen interrogatories, which I then ask the reader to answer from the viewpoint of the proverbial, ‘reasonable man.’ What would a fair and open-minded person conclude based solely on the facts I present, as well as the alternative interpretations of those facts, provided by the Mormon church and her apologists?
As promised, I have given voice to the nameless apologists at FairMormon on each of my interrogatives. I have, however, been mostly disappointed in these ‘defenders of the faith.’ I believe anyone familiar with apologetics will agree that the current cadre of apologists at FairMormon are subpar. Not only do they confuse reasonable doubt with unreasonable certainty, but they also give little credence to Occam’s Razor.
I grew up in the church, attended services, went to seminary and mutual, was a Boy Scout in the church troop – in short, was a typical LDS boy. I read church-approved books written by general authorities throughout the years, listened to countless conference talks. I Married in the Salt Lake temple and served in several callings as a high priest. Like the vast majority of members, with the church’s demands, raising five children and making a comfortable living, I was too busy to do a deep dive into the factual history of the church and its founder Joseph Smith. Nevertheless, I was happy, ignorance really can be bliss, so I can understand and appreciate the emotional comfort such a life, devoid of any uncertainty can produce.
As I had stated at the very beginning, I genuinely wished for the true Gospel is just as the Mormon church teaches, for what an amazing and beautiful future it portends. To be forever together with loved ones, walking with the Savior, growing, and learning and progressing forever. But as Lev Grossman has observed, “If there’s a single lesson that life teaches us, it’s that wishing doesn’t make it so.”
The Book of Mormon
Perhaps sadly, I believe that a reasonable person, thoughtfully and objectively examining the Book of Mormon, must conclude that it is a work of 19th-century fiction. There are just too many things that are not right. No real-world evidence exists showing that the peoples and societies outlined in the Book of Mormon ever existed; indeed, there is considerable, compelling evidence to the contrary. The sad fact is that during the 2600 years that the Jaredites, Nephites, and Lamanites supposedly occupied the Americas, they somehow managed to do so without leaving any evidence whatever of their existence. This absence of evidence is indeed evidence of the absence of any veracity when it comes to the church’s claims.
The numerous anachronisms in the Book of Mormon further point to the Book of Mormon being written by an individual or individuals with minimal knowledge of pre-Columbian America.
The science of genetics has also provided overwhelming evidence that North, South and Central America’s indigenous peoples possess Asian DNA markers. Hebrew, Semitic, or Middle Eastern DNA that would support the Book of Mormon story are absent.
The Book of Mormon shows considerable evidence of widespread plagiarism from numerous 19th-century sources available to Joseph Smith, including the King James Version of the Bible. On average, one of every nine chapters in the Book of Mormon is copied directly from the Bible. Twenty-seven chapters in the KJV of the Bible are repeated almost verbatim. As well, the nature of the plagiarism is often anachronistic. The dominant narrative of the Book of Mormon with warring dark and light-skinned peoples eventually destroying one another is found in other books published before the BOM, most notably View of the Hebrews.
Unlike the Holy Bible, there is no mention of Passover, Ark of the Covenant, Circumcision, or the Day of Atonement in the Book of Mormon. The absence of these things, particularly the Passover, so central to the Jewish tradition points to an author ignorant of Judaism.
The church has had to admit that Joseph Smith never used the Gold Plates to translate the Book of Mormon; rather, he employed the same ‘magic’ rock found while digging a well; indeed, the same stone he used during his fraudulent and illegal treasure-hunting career, and which he later confessed he could see nothing in. This begs the question; why were the Gold Plates created and supposedly preserved for thousands of years if just to be used as a prop?
Also contrary to Joseph Smith’s declaration, the Book of Mormon is one of the most corrected books ever produced. Thousands of changes have been made to the Book of Mormon. Many of these changes are substantive – not simply spelling and grammatical corrections as Mormon apologists contend. The church continues to modify the text (e.g. white to pure), hoping that the book might be acceptable in the modern world.
The church likes to say that the three witnesses, to their dying day, never publicly denied their testimony, and I think that assertion is correct. However, it should be noted that there is evidence that each of the witnesses confessed that they never handled the plates but only saw them in their imaginations, or with their “spiritual eyes,” by “second sight, “or through the ‘eyes of their understanding.”
David Whitmer and Martin Harris make it quite clear that their experiences were much more subjective than the affidavit Smith prepared for their signature suggests. Whitmer told Zenas Gurley Jr. on January 14, 1885, when asked if the witnesses touched “the real metal,” replied, “We did not.” They handled “the plates” in vision only, according to Whitmer. In 1885, Whitmer also told James Henry Moyle, a young Mormon lawyer, who interviewed him shortly before his death, that he never handled the ‘Gold Plates.’ Moyle tells us he came away from his meeting with Whitmer, troubled by Whitmer’s account’s subjective nature.
Martin Harris testified publicly on March 25, 1838, that “none of the signatories to the Book of Mormon saw or handled the actual physical plates.”
The witnesses to the Book of Mormon were gullible and superstitious men. I don’t think that Harris and Whitmer were lying about their ‘visions,’ but they were simple and impressionable souls. The ‘repressed memories’ scandal of the 1990s taught us that suggestible individuals could be led to falsely but firmly believe that they were victims of horrific childhood sexual abuse resulting from dubious techniques employed by dominating therapists. Given this reality, it is hard to accept that someone as impressive, charismatic and powerful as Joseph Smith could not evoke the false memories to which the witnessed cringed?
Many of the witnesses were engaged in the disreputable practice of treasure digging. Many had a vested interest in the publication of the Book of Mormon. One has to wonder why Smith did not seek out honorable and respected members of his community or beyond to be his witnesses?
I have provided evidence in this work that Smith would guarantee eternal life to the young girls’ families he desired to marry. There are well-documented reports that he told more than one young woman that he would be slain by an angel with a ‘flaming sword,’ if she did not comply with his desires. Smith married and had sexual relations with three girls that were his foster children. Little girls who tell us that he would introduce them as his daughters. I think any reasonable person, any decent human being, would find his behavior and his use of undue influence and persuasion unconscionable. Further, Smith’s marriage to women already married to other men is vile and indefensible.
The church has acknowledged that Smith married‘ many teenage girls, some as young as 14 years of age. A 37-year-old man marrying and having sexual relations with 14-year-old children is predatory and was not, as some Mormon apologists claim, a common occurrence in Smith’s day.
We also know that Joseph Smith’ had sexual relations with Fanny Alger long before his alleged revelation on plural marriage, making this ‘”dirty, nasty, filthy affair,‘ as Oliver Cowdrey described it, just that – an extra-marital adulterous sexual encounter. and not an illegal marriage. Smith’s polygamy (and polyandry) are further unjustified because modern-day Mormon prophets such as Gordon B. Hinckley, have publicly stated that polygamy is not doctrinal.
I think any reasonable person must conclude that these facts, and Smith’s constant lying to his associates, his followers and even his legal wife Emma about his polygamy, speaks to the nature of his character.
The fact that neither Joseph Smith nor Oliver Cowdery mentioned the appearances of “John the Baptist” or “Peter, James, and John” in any publications until years after the event purportedly took place points to an expedient retroactive creation. Likewise, the documented proof showing that Smith and Cowdery changed earlier revelations when compiling the 1835 D&C, inserting the appearances of John the Baptist, Peter, James, and John leads to the same conclusion.
Concerning the Book of Abraham, it is well settled that the papyri Smith acquired along with the mummies purchased from a travelling salesman are standard funerary texts with no nexus to the prophet Abraham. While Mormon apologists reach for explanations – missing scrolls, catalyst theories, etc., these desperate attempts are destroyed by the facts. The simple truth is that Joseph, the ‘translator,’ got everything wrong.
Joseph Smith also mouthed plenteous false prophesies, including but not limited to:
The coming of the Lord within 56 years
The United States government being overthrown, and Congress broken up
The Saints finding treasure in Salem, Massachusetts
The copyright of the Book of Mormon being sold in Canada
The Saints enemies being destroyed
The Nauvoo House remaining in the Smith’s family forever
All nations bowing down to the Mormon gospel.
The Saints gathering in Independence and building a temple there
W.W. Phelps never to see death until the coming of the Lord
All nations being drawn into the American Civil War
The illegal Kirtland Anti-banking’ society swallowing up all other banks
These false prophecies run in the face of what the Holy Bible delimits as a true prophet of God.
The fact that no one, including Joseph Smith’s family or any of the Saints, heard so much as a whisper about the his alleged First Vision until twelve to twenty-two years after Joseph said it supposedly occurred, is incriminatory. Smith also tells nine different versions of his ‘first vision,’ each substantially different from the other. It is also telling that as Joseph’s beliefs about the Godhead changed, so did his ‘first vision’ tale.
One must also ask why, if Joseph really had a vision of God and/or Jesus in 1820, why would he then state in 1823 that he prayed to know whether God really existed?
The contention that the last, canonized version, penned a full twenty-two years after it supposedly occurred, is the correct one is illogical and runs in the face of what we know about human memory. As well, it has been shown that the ‘first vision’ story corresponds chronologically and very conveniently with the need to re-establish his authority.
In addition to the Book of Abraham and the Greek Psalter, the Kinderhook Plates hoax also speak to Smith’s failure as a translator or seer. Taken in by this acknowledged fraud, Smith stated, “I have translated a portion of them, and they contain the history of the person with whom they were found. He was a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the Ruler of heaven and earth…”
Smith’s litany of criminal charges, many resulting in conviction, has to cast considerable doubt on his honesty:
March 1826 Disorderly Person
June 1830, Glass-Looker and Disorderly Person
February 1837, Illegal Banking
June 1837, Conspiracy to Murder
January 1838, Banking Fraud
August 10, 1838, Threatening a Sitting Judge
November 12, 1838, Treason
August 1842, again Conspiracy to Murder
June 6, 1843, Treason once again.
May 1844 Perjury
May 1844, Fornication & Adultery
June 1844, Inciting a riot.
June 24, 1844, Treason once more.
There are so many inconsistencies between the actual historicity of the Mormon Church and the story its leaders still tell.
Joseph Smith was a charismatic and intellectually gifted individual; however, I believe his actions are also consistent with that of a profoundly immoral and narcissistic individual. Was he a charlatan or a pious fraud, or did he actually believe what he was preaching? That is for you, the reader, to decide, but I think it may well be that he move through all three during his short life.
Was Joseph Smith, an evil man?
Despite the term’s aura of religious finality, moral evil rarely demonstrates a horror movie’s grotesque intensity. Evil can be bureaucratic and evil can be charming. To be truly evil, one must do great harm by planning to commit some morally iniquitous action with no prompting from others. In analyzing their own motivations for seeking to commit some morally reprehensible action, a definitionally evil person is mindful that they are doing something very wrong but they are willing to accept the hurt and harm it causes others as it serves their agenda.
Is it possible in the face of all the above, that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God’s true church?
Yes, it is possible.
But it is not a question of possibility; few things are not possible. It is more a matter of probability. The question is, what are the probabilities that, despite overwhelming evidence that the church’s narrative does not correspond with reality, and that its founder was anything but the saint-like character the church has invented, that Mormonism is the “one true religion?”
To me it is like doing a jigsaw puzzle. Yes, there are still some pieces missing but there is more than enough there to make our the picture.
Is it wrong to ask the tough questions that I have?
Not according to the Mormon leaders that have given lip service to the diligent search for truth:
“If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.”
J. Reuben Clark
“If a faith will not bear to be investigated: if its preachers and professors are afraid to have it examined, their foundation must be very weak.”
George Albert Smith
“This book (“The Book of Mormon”) is entitled to the most thorough and impartial examination. Not only does it merit such consideration, it claims, it even demands the same.”
James E. Talmage
Is this what the leadership of the Mormon church really believes?
Ask Jeremy Runnells or John Dehlin or Sam Young or Fawn Brody or Kate Kelly or Michael Quinn or Simon Southerton or Paul Toscano how accepting the Mormon Church is to those who question.
Elder Hugo Montoya of the Seventy is more reflective of the Mormon mindset. Montoya says that doubt “can originate from “so-called friends” who are “asking hurtful questions.” It can be exacerbated by Internet information that is taken out of context. Most of all, though, it happens when we don’t close our ears sufficiently to the “father of lies” and “his sinister purpose…”
The best thing to do, he says, is simply to, “erase doubt from our minds.”
Hermano Montoya, Dáme un respiro!
If the church has nothing to fear, should not questioning, critical thinking, and yes, even doubt be tolerated, not discouraged or punished as it is now? The Mormon church has a long history of secrecy, deception and subterfuge. Its leaders have lied when expedient and continue to do so. The church continues to mold and modify its scriptures, hide its true history and gaslight its followers. It tells poor people in underdeveloped countries to pay their tithing before they feed their children while the old white men who run the church live a life of wealth and comfort funded by their sacrifice.
Our attitude toward the truth largely determines the outcome of our lives. It is more than difficult; it is heart-breaking to admit that we have been taken in, that we might have wasted much of our lives – our money, our time and our energy. But is it not better to face a cruel truth than to continue to live a comfortable delusion?
The truth is still out there – find it! Welcome it with am open heart; let the truth be your best friend.
“Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
May God bless you as you continue your search for knowledge and truth.