Criticism of Mormonism/Books/An Insider's View of Mormon Origins/Chapter 1

Contents

Response to claims made in "Chapter 1: Joseph Smith as Translator/Revelator"



A FAIR Analysis of: An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, a work by author: Grant Palmer
Chart.insiders.view.chapter 1 translator.png

Response to claims made in An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, "Chapter 1: Joseph Smith as Translator/Revelator"


Jump to details:

Response to claim: 1 - Illustrations show Joseph Smith translating the plates directly

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

Illustrations show Joseph Smith translating the plates directly.

Author's sources:
  1. Ensign, Dec. 1983, inside cover, 25; Jan. 1988, 4, 9; Nov. 1988, 35, 46; July 1993, 62; Jan. 1997, 38; Aug. 1997, 11; July 1999, 41.

FAIR's Response

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

The illustrations don't even show the Nephite interpreters.



Question: Why are people concerned about Church artwork?

As the critics point out, there are potential historical errors in some of these images

One of the strangest attacks on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is an assault on the Church's art. Now and again, one hears criticism about the representational images which the Church uses in lesson manuals and magazines to illustrate some of the foundational events of Church history.[1]

A common complaint is that Church materials usually show Joseph translating the Book of Mormon by looking at the golden plates, such as in the photo shown here.

Artist's rendition of Joseph and Oliver translating the Book of Mormon.[2]

Here critics charge a clear case of duplicity—Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith are shown translating the Book of Mormon.

But as the critics point out, there are potential historical errors in this image:

  1. Oliver Cowdery did not see the plates as Joseph worked with them.
  2. For much of the translation of the extant Book of Mormon text, Joseph did not have the plates in front of him—they were often hidden outside the home during the translation.
  3. Joseph used a seer stone to translate the plates; he usually did this by placing the stone in his hat to exclude light, and dictating to his scribe.

The reality is that the translation process, for the most part, is represented by this image:

Joseph Smith prepares to translate using the seer stone placed within his hat while Oliver Cowdery acts as scribe. Image Copyright (c) 2014 Anthony Sweat. This image appears in the Church publication From Darkness Unto Light: Joseph Smith's Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon, by Michael Hubbard Mackay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat. (11 May 2015)

Anthony Sweat explains more about the history of artistic depictions of the Book of Mormon translation in this presentation given at the 2020 FAIR Conference

Question: Does Church art always reflect reality?

All art, including Church art, simply reflects the views of the artist: It may not reflect reality

Samuel the Lamanite Prophecies from the City Wall by Arnold Friberg

It is claimed by some that the Church knowingly "lies" or distorts the historical record in its artwork in order to whitewash the past, or for propaganda purposes. [3] For example, some Church sanctioned artwork shows Joseph and Oliver sitting at a table while translating with the plate in the open between them. Daniel C. Peterson provides some examples of how Church art often does not reflect reality, and how this is not evidence of deliberate lying or distortion on the part of the Church:

Look at this famous picture....Now that’s Samuel the Lamanite on a Nephite wall. Are any walls like that described in the Book of Mormon? No. You have these simple things, and they’re considered quite a technical innovation at the time of Moroni, where he digs a trench, piles the mud up, puts a palisade of logs along the top. That’s it. They’re pretty low tech. There’s nothing like this. This is Cuzco or something. But this is hundreds of years after the Book of Mormon and probably nowhere near the Book of Mormon area, and, you know, and you’ve heard me say it before, after Samuel jumps off this Nephite wall you never hear about him again. The obvious reason is....he’s dead. He couldn’t survive that jump. But again, do you draw your understanding of the Book of Mormon from that image? Or, do you draw it from what the book actually says?[4]

Question: Is the Church trying to hide something through its use of artwork?

The manner of the translation is described repeatedly in Church publications, despite the inaccurate artwork

The implication is that the Church's artistic department and/or artists are merely tools in a propaganda campaign meant to subtly and quietly obscure Church history. The suggestion is that the Church trying to "hide" how Joseph really translated the plates.

On the contrary, the manner of the translation is described repeatedly, for example, in the Church's official magazine for English-speaking adults, the Ensign. Richard Lloyd Anderson discussed the "stone in the hat" matter in 1977,[5] and Elder Russell M. Nelson quoted David Whitmer's account to new mission presidents in 1992.[6]

The details of the translation are not certain, and the witnesses do not all agree in every particular. However, Joseph's seer stone in the hat was also discussed by, among others: B.H. Roberts in his New Witnesses for God (1895)[7] and returns somewhat to the matter in Comprehensive History of the Church (1912).[8] Other Church sources to discuss this include The Improvement Era (1939),[9] BYU Studies (1984, 1990)[10] the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies (1993),[11] and the FARMS Review (1994).[12] LDS authors Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig J. Ostler also mentioned the matter in 2000.[13]

Neal A. Maxwell: "To neglect substance while focusing on process is another form of unsubmissively looking beyond the mark"

Elder Neal A. Maxwell went so far as to use Joseph's hat as a parable; this is hardly the act of someone trying to "hide the truth":

Jacob censured the "stiffnecked" Jews for "looking beyond the mark" (Jacob 4꞉14). We are looking beyond the mark today, for example, if we are more interested in the physical dimensions of the cross than in what Jesus achieved thereon; or when we neglect Alma's words on faith because we are too fascinated by the light-shielding hat reportedly used by Joseph Smith during some of the translating of the Book of Mormon. To neglect substance while focusing on process is another form of unsubmissively looking beyond the mark.[14]

Those who criticize the Church based on its artwork should perhaps take Elder Maxwell's caution to heart.

Artists have been approached by the Church in the past to paint a more accurate scene, yet denied the request for artistic vision.

From Anthony Sweat’s essay “The Gift and Power of Art”:

When I asked Walter Rane about creating an image of the translation with Joseph looking into a hat, he surprised me by telling me that the Church had actually talked to him a few times in the past about producing an image like that but that the projects fell by the wayside as other matters became more pressing. Note how Walter refers to the language of art as to why he never created the image:
At least twice I have been approached by the Church to do that scene [Joseph translating using the hat]. I get into it. When I do the draw- ings I think, “This is going to look really strange to people.” Culturally from our vantage point 200 years later it just looks odd. It probably won’t communicate what the Church wants to communicate. Instead of a person being inspired to translate ancient records it will just be, “What’s going on there?” It will divert people’s attention. In both of those cases I remember being interested and intrigued when the commission was changed (often they [the Church] will just throw out ideas that disappear, not deliberately) but I thought just maybe I should still do it [the image of Joseph translating using the hat]. But some things just don’t work visually. It’s true of a lot of stories in the scriptures. That’s why we see some of the same things being done over and over and not others; some just don’t work visually.[15]

Anthony Sweat explains more about the history of artistic depictions of the Book of Mormon translation in this presentation given at the 2020 FAIR Conference

Question: Why doesn't the art match details which have been repeatedly spelled out in Church publications?

The simplest answer is that artists simply don't always get such matters right

Why, then, does the art not match details which have been repeatedly 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":

JBMS: Do you think there are things that artists could do in portraying the Book of Mormon?

RJM: Possibly. To me it would be particularly helpful if they could illustrate what scholars have done. When I was on the Correlation Committee [of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints], there were groups producing scripture films. They would send to us for approval the text of the words that were to be spoken. We would read the text and decide whether we liked it or not. They would never send us the artwork for clearance. But when you see the artwork, that makes all the difference in the world. It was always too late then. I decided at that point that it is so difficult to create a motion picture, or any illustration, and not convey more than should be conveyed. If you paint a man or woman, they have to have clothes on. And the minute you paint that clothing, you have said something either right or wrong. It would be a marvelous help if there were artists who could illustrate things that researchers and archaeologists had discovered…

I think people get the main thrust. But sometimes there are things that shouldn't be in pictures because we don't know how to accurately depict them…I think that unwittingly we might make mistakes if we illustrate children's materials based only on the text of the Book of Mormon.[16]

Modern audiences—especially those looking to find fault—have, in a sense, been spoiled by photography. We are accustomed to having images describe how things "really" were. We would be outraged if someone doctored a photo to change its content. This largely unconscious tendency may lead us to expect too much of artists, whose gifts and talents may lie in areas unrelated to textual criticism and the fine details of Church history.

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."[17] This is perhaps nowhere more true than in religious art, where the goal is not so much to convey facts or historical detail, as it is to convey a religious message and sentiment. A picture often is worth a thousand words, and artists often seek to have their audience identify personally with the subject. The goal of religious art is not to alienate the viewer, but to draw him or her in.

Question: How do non-Mormon artists treat the Nativity?

A look at how other religious artists portray the birth of Christ

The critics would benefit from even a cursory tour through religious art. Let us consider, for example, one of the most well-known stories in Christendom: the Nativity of Christ. How have religious artists portrayed this scene?

BRUEGEL Le dénombrement de Bethléem.png   A personal favorite of mine is Belgian painter Pierre Bruegel the Elder. In his Census of Bethlehem (1569, shown at left) he turns Bethlehem into a Renaissance Belgian village. The snow is the first tip-off that all is not historically accurate. But the skaters on the pond, the clothing, and the houses are also all wrong. However, it's unlikely that anyone would suggest Bruegel's tribute was an attempt to perpetuate a fraud.

An Italian work from the thirteenth century gives us The Nativity with Six Dominican Monks (1275, shown at right). There were surely no monks at the Nativity, and the Dominican order was not formed until the early thirteenth century. But any serious claim that this work is merely an attempt to "back date" the order's creation, giving them more prestige would certainly be dismissed by historians, Biblical scholars, and the artistic community.   Nativity with 6 Dominicans.png

Bellini Madonna 1.png  

Renaissance Italian Madonna

Even details of no religious consequence are fair game for artists to get "wrong." Giovanni Bellini's portrait of Mary might seem innocuous enough, until one spots the European castle on the portrait's right, and the thriving Renaissance town on the left.

Non-European cultures

Other cultures follow the same pattern. Korean and Indian artists portray the birth in Bethlehem in their own culture and dress. Certainly, no one would suspect that the artists (as with Bruegel the Elder) hope we will be tricked into believing that Jesus' birth took place in a snow-drenched Korean countryside, while shepherds in Indian costume greeted a sari-wearing Mary with no need for a stable at all under the warm Indian sky?
  Korean Nativity 1.png Indian Nativity 1.png

Jesus mafa 1.png  

African example

For a final example, consider an African rendition of the Nativity, which shows the figures in traditional African forms. If we were to turn the same critical eye on this work that has been turned on LDS art, we might be outraged and troubled by what we see here. But when we set aside that hyper-literal eye, the artistic license becomes acceptable. Clearly, there's a double standard at work when it comes to LDS art.

As the director of Catholic schools in Yaounde, Cameroon argues:

It is urgent and necessary for us to proclaim and to express the message, the life and the whole person of Jesus-Christ in an African artistic language…Many people of different cultures have done it before us and will do it in the future, without betraying the historical Christ, from whom all authentic Christianity arises. We must not restrict ourselves to the historical and cultural forms of a particular people or period.[18]

The goal of religious art is primarily to convey a message. It uses the historical reality of religious events as a means, not an end.

Religious art—in all traditions—is intended, above all, to draw the worshipper into a separate world, where mundane things and events become charged with eternal import. Some dictated words or a baby in a stable become more real, more vital when they are connected recognizably to one's own world, time, and place.

This cannot happen, however, if the image's novelty provides too much of a challenge to the viewer's culture or expectations. Thus, the presentation of a more accurate view of the translation using either the Nephite interpreters (sometimes referred to as "spectacles") or the stone and the hat, automatically raises feelings among people in 21st Century culture that the translation process was strange. This type of activity is viewed with much less approval in our modern culture.

Learn more about art and Church history
Key sources
  • Anthony Sweat, "History and Art: Mediating the Rocky Relationship," Proceedings of the 2020 FAIR Conference (August 2020). link
Wiki links
FAIR links
  • David Keller, "FAIR in Religious News Service," fairblog.org (15 Feb 2008). FAIR link
Navigators


Notes

  1. Note: Most of the images used in this paper are centuries old, and so are in the public domain. I have tried to indicate the creator each of these works of art. No challenge to copyright is intended by their inclusion here for scholarly purposes and illustration. Click each photo for title and author information.
  2. Del Parson, "Translating the Book of Mormon," © Intellectual Reserve, 1997. off-site
  3. Accusations of the Church lying because of inaccurate artwork are offered by the following critical sources: Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), Chapter 8. ( Index of claims ); MormonThink.com website (as of 8 May 2012). Page: http://mormonthink.com/moroniweb.htm; MormonThink.com website (as of 28 April 2012). Page: http://mormonthink.com/transbomweb.htm; Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002) 1. ( Index of claims )
  4. Daniel C. Peterson, "Some Reflections on That Letter to a CES Director," FairMormon Conference 2014
  5. Richard Lloyd Anderson, "By the Gift and Power of God," Ensign 7 (September 1977): 83.
  6. Russell M. Nelson, "A Treasured Testament," Ensign 23 (July 1993): 61.
  7. Brigham H. Roberts, "NAME," in New Witnesses for God, 3 Vols., (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1909[1895, 1903]), 1:131–136.
  8. Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 1:130–131. GospeLink
  9. Francis W. Kirkham, "The Manner of Translating The BOOK of MORMON," Improvement Era (1939), ?.
  10. Dean C. Jessee, "New Documents and Mormon Beginnings," BYU Studies 24 no. 4 (Fall 1984): 397–428.; Royal Skousen, "Towards a Critical Edition of the Book of Mormon," BYU Studies 30 no. 1 (Winter 1990): 51–52.;
  11. Stephen D. Ricks, "Translation of the Book of Mormon: Interpreting the Evidence," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/2 (1993). [201–206] link
  12. Matthew Roper, "A Black Hole That's Not So Black (Review of Answering Mormon Scholars: A Response to Criticism of the Book, vol. 1 by Jerald and Sandra Tanner)," FARMS Review of Books 6/2 (1994): 156–203. off-site
  13. Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig J. Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2000), commentary on D&C 9.
  14. Neal A. Maxwell, Not My Will, But Thine (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1988), 26.
  15. Anthony Sweat, “The Gift and Power of Art," in From Darkness Unto Light: Joseph Smith's Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon, eds. Michael Hubbard MacKay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat (Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2015), 236–37.
  16. Anonymous, "A Conversation with Robert J. Matthews," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12/2 (2003). [88–92] link
  17. Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit, 1887.
  18. P. Pondy, "Why an African Christ?" jesusmafa.com. off-site


Question: Why are people concerned about Church artwork?

As the critics point out, there are potential historical errors in some of these images

One of the strangest attacks on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is an assault on the Church's art. Now and again, one hears criticism about the representational images which the Church uses in lesson manuals and magazines to illustrate some of the foundational events of Church history.[1]

A common complaint is that Church materials usually show Joseph translating the Book of Mormon by looking at the golden plates, such as in the photo shown here.

Artist's rendition of Joseph and Oliver translating the Book of Mormon.[2]

Here critics charge a clear case of duplicity—Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith are shown translating the Book of Mormon.

But as the critics point out, there are potential historical errors in this image:

  1. Oliver Cowdery did not see the plates as Joseph worked with them.
  2. For much of the translation of the extant Book of Mormon text, Joseph did not have the plates in front of him—they were often hidden outside the home during the translation.
  3. Joseph used a seer stone to translate the plates; he usually did this by placing the stone in his hat to exclude light, and dictating to his scribe.

The reality is that the translation process, for the most part, is represented by this image:

Joseph Smith prepares to translate using the seer stone placed within his hat while Oliver Cowdery acts as scribe. Image Copyright (c) 2014 Anthony Sweat. This image appears in the Church publication From Darkness Unto Light: Joseph Smith's Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon, by Michael Hubbard Mackay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat. (11 May 2015)

Anthony Sweat explains more about the history of artistic depictions of the Book of Mormon translation in this presentation given at the 2020 FAIR Conference

Question: Does Church art always reflect reality?

All art, including Church art, simply reflects the views of the artist: It may not reflect reality

Samuel the Lamanite Prophecies from the City Wall by Arnold Friberg

It is claimed by some that the Church knowingly "lies" or distorts the historical record in its artwork in order to whitewash the past, or for propaganda purposes. [3] For example, some Church sanctioned artwork shows Joseph and Oliver sitting at a table while translating with the plate in the open between them. Daniel C. Peterson provides some examples of how Church art often does not reflect reality, and how this is not evidence of deliberate lying or distortion on the part of the Church:

Look at this famous picture....Now that’s Samuel the Lamanite on a Nephite wall. Are any walls like that described in the Book of Mormon? No. You have these simple things, and they’re considered quite a technical innovation at the time of Moroni, where he digs a trench, piles the mud up, puts a palisade of logs along the top. That’s it. They’re pretty low tech. There’s nothing like this. This is Cuzco or something. But this is hundreds of years after the Book of Mormon and probably nowhere near the Book of Mormon area, and, you know, and you’ve heard me say it before, after Samuel jumps off this Nephite wall you never hear about him again. The obvious reason is....he’s dead. He couldn’t survive that jump. But again, do you draw your understanding of the Book of Mormon from that image? Or, do you draw it from what the book actually says?[4]

Question: Is the Church trying to hide something through its use of artwork?

The manner of the translation is described repeatedly in Church publications, despite the inaccurate artwork

The implication is that the Church's artistic department and/or artists are merely tools in a propaganda campaign meant to subtly and quietly obscure Church history. The suggestion is that the Church trying to "hide" how Joseph really translated the plates.

On the contrary, the manner of the translation is described repeatedly, for example, in the Church's official magazine for English-speaking adults, the Ensign. Richard Lloyd Anderson discussed the "stone in the hat" matter in 1977,[5] and Elder Russell M. Nelson quoted David Whitmer's account to new mission presidents in 1992.[6]

The details of the translation are not certain, and the witnesses do not all agree in every particular. However, Joseph's seer stone in the hat was also discussed by, among others: B.H. Roberts in his New Witnesses for God (1895)[7] and returns somewhat to the matter in Comprehensive History of the Church (1912).[8] Other Church sources to discuss this include The Improvement Era (1939),[9] BYU Studies (1984, 1990)[10] the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies (1993),[11] and the FARMS Review (1994).[12] LDS authors Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig J. Ostler also mentioned the matter in 2000.[13]

Neal A. Maxwell: "To neglect substance while focusing on process is another form of unsubmissively looking beyond the mark"

Elder Neal A. Maxwell went so far as to use Joseph's hat as a parable; this is hardly the act of someone trying to "hide the truth":

Jacob censured the "stiffnecked" Jews for "looking beyond the mark" (Jacob 4꞉14). We are looking beyond the mark today, for example, if we are more interested in the physical dimensions of the cross than in what Jesus achieved thereon; or when we neglect Alma's words on faith because we are too fascinated by the light-shielding hat reportedly used by Joseph Smith during some of the translating of the Book of Mormon. To neglect substance while focusing on process is another form of unsubmissively looking beyond the mark.[14]

Those who criticize the Church based on its artwork should perhaps take Elder Maxwell's caution to heart.

Artists have been approached by the Church in the past to paint a more accurate scene, yet denied the request for artistic vision.

From Anthony Sweat’s essay “The Gift and Power of Art”:

When I asked Walter Rane about creating an image of the translation with Joseph looking into a hat, he surprised me by telling me that the Church had actually talked to him a few times in the past about producing an image like that but that the projects fell by the wayside as other matters became more pressing. Note how Walter refers to the language of art as to why he never created the image:
At least twice I have been approached by the Church to do that scene [Joseph translating using the hat]. I get into it. When I do the draw- ings I think, “This is going to look really strange to people.” Culturally from our vantage point 200 years later it just looks odd. It probably won’t communicate what the Church wants to communicate. Instead of a person being inspired to translate ancient records it will just be, “What’s going on there?” It will divert people’s attention. In both of those cases I remember being interested and intrigued when the commission was changed (often they [the Church] will just throw out ideas that disappear, not deliberately) but I thought just maybe I should still do it [the image of Joseph translating using the hat]. But some things just don’t work visually. It’s true of a lot of stories in the scriptures. That’s why we see some of the same things being done over and over and not others; some just don’t work visually.[15]

Anthony Sweat explains more about the history of artistic depictions of the Book of Mormon translation in this presentation given at the 2020 FAIR Conference

Question: Why doesn't the art match details which have been repeatedly spelled out in Church publications?

The simplest answer is that artists simply don't always get such matters right

Why, then, does the art not match details which have been repeatedly 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":

JBMS: Do you think there are things that artists could do in portraying the Book of Mormon?

RJM: Possibly. To me it would be particularly helpful if they could illustrate what scholars have done. When I was on the Correlation Committee [of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints], there were groups producing scripture films. They would send to us for approval the text of the words that were to be spoken. We would read the text and decide whether we liked it or not. They would never send us the artwork for clearance. But when you see the artwork, that makes all the difference in the world. It was always too late then. I decided at that point that it is so difficult to create a motion picture, or any illustration, and not convey more than should be conveyed. If you paint a man or woman, they have to have clothes on. And the minute you paint that clothing, you have said something either right or wrong. It would be a marvelous help if there were artists who could illustrate things that researchers and archaeologists had discovered…

I think people get the main thrust. But sometimes there are things that shouldn't be in pictures because we don't know how to accurately depict them…I think that unwittingly we might make mistakes if we illustrate children's materials based only on the text of the Book of Mormon.[16]

Modern audiences—especially those looking to find fault—have, in a sense, been spoiled by photography. We are accustomed to having images describe how things "really" were. We would be outraged if someone doctored a photo to change its content. This largely unconscious tendency may lead us to expect too much of artists, whose gifts and talents may lie in areas unrelated to textual criticism and the fine details of Church history.

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."[17] This is perhaps nowhere more true than in religious art, where the goal is not so much to convey facts or historical detail, as it is to convey a religious message and sentiment. A picture often is worth a thousand words, and artists often seek to have their audience identify personally with the subject. The goal of religious art is not to alienate the viewer, but to draw him or her in.

Question: How do non-Mormon artists treat the Nativity?

A look at how other religious artists portray the birth of Christ

The critics would benefit from even a cursory tour through religious art. Let us consider, for example, one of the most well-known stories in Christendom: the Nativity of Christ. How have religious artists portrayed this scene?

BRUEGEL Le dénombrement de Bethléem.png   A personal favorite of mine is Belgian painter Pierre Bruegel the Elder. In his Census of Bethlehem (1569, shown at left) he turns Bethlehem into a Renaissance Belgian village. The snow is the first tip-off that all is not historically accurate. But the skaters on the pond, the clothing, and the houses are also all wrong. However, it's unlikely that anyone would suggest Bruegel's tribute was an attempt to perpetuate a fraud.

An Italian work from the thirteenth century gives us The Nativity with Six Dominican Monks (1275, shown at right). There were surely no monks at the Nativity, and the Dominican order was not formed until the early thirteenth century. But any serious claim that this work is merely an attempt to "back date" the order's creation, giving them more prestige would certainly be dismissed by historians, Biblical scholars, and the artistic community.   Nativity with 6 Dominicans.png

Bellini Madonna 1.png  

Renaissance Italian Madonna

Even details of no religious consequence are fair game for artists to get "wrong." Giovanni Bellini's portrait of Mary might seem innocuous enough, until one spots the European castle on the portrait's right, and the thriving Renaissance town on the left.

Non-European cultures

Other cultures follow the same pattern. Korean and Indian artists portray the birth in Bethlehem in their own culture and dress. Certainly, no one would suspect that the artists (as with Bruegel the Elder) hope we will be tricked into believing that Jesus' birth took place in a snow-drenched Korean countryside, while shepherds in Indian costume greeted a sari-wearing Mary with no need for a stable at all under the warm Indian sky?
  Korean Nativity 1.png Indian Nativity 1.png

Jesus mafa 1.png  

African example

For a final example, consider an African rendition of the Nativity, which shows the figures in traditional African forms. If we were to turn the same critical eye on this work that has been turned on LDS art, we might be outraged and troubled by what we see here. But when we set aside that hyper-literal eye, the artistic license becomes acceptable. Clearly, there's a double standard at work when it comes to LDS art.

As the director of Catholic schools in Yaounde, Cameroon argues:

It is urgent and necessary for us to proclaim and to express the message, the life and the whole person of Jesus-Christ in an African artistic language…Many people of different cultures have done it before us and will do it in the future, without betraying the historical Christ, from whom all authentic Christianity arises. We must not restrict ourselves to the historical and cultural forms of a particular people or period.[18]

The goal of religious art is primarily to convey a message. It uses the historical reality of religious events as a means, not an end.

Religious art—in all traditions—is intended, above all, to draw the worshipper into a separate world, where mundane things and events become charged with eternal import. Some dictated words or a baby in a stable become more real, more vital when they are connected recognizably to one's own world, time, and place.

This cannot happen, however, if the image's novelty provides too much of a challenge to the viewer's culture or expectations. Thus, the presentation of a more accurate view of the translation using either the Nephite interpreters (sometimes referred to as "spectacles") or the stone and the hat, automatically raises feelings among people in 21st Century culture that the translation process was strange. This type of activity is viewed with much less approval in our modern culture.

Learn more about art and Church history
Key sources
  • Anthony Sweat, "History and Art: Mediating the Rocky Relationship," Proceedings of the 2020 FAIR Conference (August 2020). link
Wiki links
FAIR links
  • David Keller, "FAIR in Religious News Service," fairblog.org (15 Feb 2008). FAIR link
Navigators


Notes

  1. Note: Most of the images used in this paper are centuries old, and so are in the public domain. I have tried to indicate the creator each of these works of art. No challenge to copyright is intended by their inclusion here for scholarly purposes and illustration. Click each photo for title and author information.
  2. Del Parson, "Translating the Book of Mormon," © Intellectual Reserve, 1997. off-site
  3. Accusations of the Church lying because of inaccurate artwork are offered by the following critical sources: Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), Chapter 8. ( Index of claims ); MormonThink.com website (as of 8 May 2012). Page: http://mormonthink.com/moroniweb.htm; MormonThink.com website (as of 28 April 2012). Page: http://mormonthink.com/transbomweb.htm; Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002) 1. ( Index of claims )
  4. Daniel C. Peterson, "Some Reflections on That Letter to a CES Director," FairMormon Conference 2014
  5. Richard Lloyd Anderson, "By the Gift and Power of God," Ensign 7 (September 1977): 83.
  6. Russell M. Nelson, "A Treasured Testament," Ensign 23 (July 1993): 61.
  7. Brigham H. Roberts, "NAME," in New Witnesses for God, 3 Vols., (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1909[1895, 1903]), 1:131–136.
  8. Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 1:130–131. GospeLink
  9. Francis W. Kirkham, "The Manner of Translating The BOOK of MORMON," Improvement Era (1939), ?.
  10. Dean C. Jessee, "New Documents and Mormon Beginnings," BYU Studies 24 no. 4 (Fall 1984): 397–428.; Royal Skousen, "Towards a Critical Edition of the Book of Mormon," BYU Studies 30 no. 1 (Winter 1990): 51–52.;
  11. Stephen D. Ricks, "Translation of the Book of Mormon: Interpreting the Evidence," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/2 (1993). [201–206] link
  12. Matthew Roper, "A Black Hole That's Not So Black (Review of Answering Mormon Scholars: A Response to Criticism of the Book, vol. 1 by Jerald and Sandra Tanner)," FARMS Review of Books 6/2 (1994): 156–203. off-site
  13. Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig J. Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2000), commentary on D&C 9.
  14. Neal A. Maxwell, Not My Will, But Thine (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1988), 26.
  15. Anthony Sweat, “The Gift and Power of Art," in From Darkness Unto Light: Joseph Smith's Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon, eds. Michael Hubbard MacKay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat (Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2015), 236–37.
  16. Anonymous, "A Conversation with Robert J. Matthews," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12/2 (2003). [88–92] link
  17. Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit, 1887.
  18. P. Pondy, "Why an African Christ?" jesusmafa.com. off-site

Response to claim: 2 - Joseph Smith used a seer stone that he placed in his hat

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith used a seer stone that he placed in his hat.

Author's sources:
  1. Van Wagoner and Walker, "Joseph Smith: 'The Gift of Seeing,'" Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 (Summer 1982): 50-53.

FAIR's Response

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

This is correct, and is attested to in Church sources.


Articles about Joseph Smith

What is the distinction between belief in "folk magic" and a religious belief in the supernatural?

The use of the terms "magic" and "occult" are prejudicial, loaded terminology

When critics use the term "magic" or "occult," they are using prejudicial, loaded terminology. Used in a neutral sense, magic might mean only that a person believes in the supernatural, and believes that supernatural can be influenced for the believer's benefit.

However, critics are generally not clear about what definition of magic they are using, and how to distinguish a "magical" belief in the supernatural from a "religious" belief in the supernatural.[1] Scholars of magic and religion have, in fact, come to realize that defining "magic" is probably a hopeless task. John Gee noted:

Defining "magic" as "religious beliefs other than their own"

In 1990, Cambridge University published Stanley Tambiah's Magic, Science, Religion, and the Scope of Rationality, which showed that the definitions of many of the most important writers on "magic" were heavily influenced both by their backgrounds and their personal ideological agendas: they defined "magic" as religious beliefs other than their own. In 1992, the International Interdisciplinary Conference on Magic in the Ancient World failed to come to any agreement on what "magic" was. The plenary speaker, Jonathan Z. Smith, in particular voiced strong opinions:

I see little merit in continuing the use of the substantive term "magic" in second-order, theoretical, academic discourse. We have better and more precise scholarly taxa for each of the phenomena commonly denoted by "magic" which, among other benefits, create more useful categories for comparison. For any culture I am familiar with, we can trade places between the corpus of materials conventionally labeled "magical" and corpora designated by other generic terms (e.g., healing, divining, execrative) with no cognitive loss. Indeed, there would be a gain.[2]

The use of the term "magic" is a negative label for modern Christians

The use of the term "magic" imposes, especially for modern Christians, a negative label at the outset, which explains its popularity for critics. As Professor of Egyptology Robert K. Ritner explained:

Modern Western terms for 'magic' function primarily as designations for that which we as a society do not accept, and which has overtones of the supernatural or the demonic (but not of the divine). It is important to stress that this pejorative connotation has not been grafted onto the notion of magic as the result of any recent theoretical fancy but is inherent in Western terminology virtually from its beginning. It constitutes the essential core of the Western concept of magic.[3]

The Book of Mormon condemns "magic"

Moroni's visit was a turning point for Joseph, for it is important to note that the Book of Mormon itself condemns "magic" whenever it is mentioned:

And it came to pass that there were sorceries, and witchcrafts, and magics; and the power of the evil one was wrought upon all the face of the land, even unto the fulfilling of all the words of Abinadi, and also Samuel the Lamanite. Mormon 1꞉19

Regardless of Joseph's or his family's previous opinions regarding folk magic prior to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, they clearly always believed in and had faith in God. Joseph believed that instruments such as the Urim and Thummim and his seer stone were consecrated by God for their intended use.

Were Joseph Smith's spiritual experiences originally products of magic and the occult?

Joseph's family believed in folk magic, and that Joseph himself used several different seer stones in order to locate lost objects

It is a known fact that Joseph's family believed in folk magic, and that Joseph himself used several different seer stones in order to locate lost objects.[4] Brant Gardner notes,

Young Joseph Smith was a member of a specialized sub-community with ties to these very old and very respected practices, though by the early 1800s they were respected only by a marginalized segment of society.

Joseph's family shared folk magic beliefs that were common to the day. Joseph's mother, Lucy, felt it important to note in her history that the family did not let these magical endeavors prevent the family from doing the necessary work to survive:

But let not my reader suppose that, because I shall pursue another topic for a season, that we stopped our labor and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing Magic circles or sooth saying to the neglect of all kinds of business. We never during our lives suffered one important interest to swallow up every other obligation. But, whilst we worked with our hands, we endeavored to remember the service of, and the welfare of our souls.[5]

Joseph's involvement with Josiah Stowell's attempt to locate a lost Spanish treasure is well documented in Church history

Stowell requested Joseph's assistance in a mining operation looking for old coins and precious metals. This effort, in fact, resulted in charges being brought against Joseph by Stowell's relatives for being a "glasslooker" in 1826. Joseph was ultimately charged with being a "disorderly person" and released. (For more detailed information, see: Joseph Smith's 1826 glasslooking trial)

Some, however, believe that all of Joseph's early spiritual experiences, particularly the First Vision and the visit of Moroni, were originally magical or occult experiences that were only later couched in spiritual terms. For example, the Hurlbut affidavits relate stories of Moroni's visit that cast the angel in the role of spiritual treasure guardian, with one (Willard Chase) even claiming that the angel appeared in the form of a toad.

D. Michael Quinn has been the most prolific author on the subject of "magic" influences on the origins of Mormonism. According to William Hamblin:

Quinn's overall thesis is that Joseph Smith and other early Latter-day Saint leaders were fundamentally influenced by occult and magical thought, books, and practices in the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is unmitigated nonsense. Yet the fact that Quinn could not discover a single primary source written by Latter-day Saints that makes any positive statement about magic is hardly dissuasive to a historian of Quinn's inventive capacity.[6]

Joseph Smith and his followers undoubtedly believed in supernatural power

Joseph Smith and his followers undoubtedly believed in supernatural power. And, they may have had some ideas about how to access that power that now strike us as inaccurate and even strange. This is not surprising, given the two centuries and massive scientific advances which separate our culture from theirs. However, there is no evidence that Joseph and others considered these things to be "magic," or the "occult," nor did they consider "magic" or the "occult" to be positive things.

What were the attitudes of Joseph Smith and his contemporaries toward "magic"?

The attitudes of Joseph Smith and his contemporaries toward "magic" was always negative

In 1841, Wilford Woodruff recounted an episode of Church disciplinary action:

The President then brought up the case of a Br Moumford, who was holding the office of a Priest, from whome fellowship had been withdrawn by the council of officers in consequence of his practizing fortune Telling, Magic, Black art &c & called upon Elders Woodruff & Cordon to express their feelings upon the subject when Elder Woodruff arose, & spoke Briefly upon the subject, & informed the assembly that we had no such custom or practice in the Church, & that we should not fellowship any individual who Practiced Magic fortune Telling, Black art &c for it was not of God. When It was moved & carried by the whole church that fellowship be withdrawn from Br Moumford.[7]

And, most importantly, the Book of Mormon's treatment of "magic" or "sorcery" is always negative, which seems strange if (as we are asked to believe by the critics) Joseph Smith concocted it while at the same time embracing that same "magic."

Joseph Smith locates a seer stone while digging a well. Image copyright (c) 2016 by Anthony Sweat.

How did Joseph Smith use his seer stones as a youth?

Joseph as the village seer: the use of the seer stone prior to the Restoration

Brant Gardner clarifies the role that Joseph and his stone played within the community of Palmyra,

Young Joseph Smith was a member of a specialized sub-community with ties to these very old and very respected practices, though by the early 1800s they were respected only by a marginalized segment of society. He exhibited a talent parallel to others in similar communities. Even in Palmyra he was not unique. In D. Michael Quinn's words: "Until the Book of Mormon thrust young Smith into prominence, Palmyra's most notable seer was Sally Chase, who used a greenish-colored stone. William Stafford also had a seer stone, and Joshua Stafford had a 'peepstone which looked like white marble and had a hole through the center.'" Richard Bushman adds Chauncy Hart, and an unnamed man in Susquehanna County, both of whom had stones with which they found lost objects.[8]

During his tenure as a "village seer," Joseph acquired several seer stones. Joseph first used a neighbor's seer stone (probably that belonging to Palmyra seer Sally Chase, on the balance of historical evidence, though there are other possibilities) to discover the location of a brown, baby's foot-shaped stone. The vision of this stone likely occurred in about 1819–1820, and he obtained his first seer stone in about 1821–1822.[9]

The second seer stone was reportedly found while digging a well on the property of William Chase in 1822

Joseph then used this first stone to find a second stone (a white one). The second seer stone was reportedly found on the property of William Chase in 1822 as Chase described it:

In the year 1822, I was engaged in digging a well. I employed Alvin and Joseph Smith to assist me.... After digging about twenty feet below the surface of the earth, we discovered a singularly appearing stone, which excited my curiosity. I brought it to the top of the well, and as we were examining it, Joseph put it into his hat, and then his face into the top of his hat.... The next morning he came to me, and wished to obtain the stone, alleging that he could see in it; but I told him I did not wish to part with it on account of its being a curiosity, but I would lend it.[10]


Did Joseph Smith place his seer stone in his hat while looking for lost objects?

Martin Harris recounted that Joseph could find lost objects with one of his seer stones

Martin Harris recounted that Joseph could find lost objects with the second, white stone:

I was at the house of his father in Manchester, two miles south of Palmyra village, and was picking my teeth with a pin while sitting on the bars. The pin caught in my teeth and dropped from my fingers into shavings and straw. I jumped from the bars and looked for it. Joseph and Northrop Sweet also did the same. We could not find it. I then took Joseph on surprise, and said to him--I said, "Take your stone." I had never seen it, and did not know that he had it with him. He had it in his pocket. He took it and placed it in his hat--the old white hat--and placed his face in his hat. I watched him closely to see that he did not look to one side; he reached out his hand beyond me on the right, and moved a little stick and there I saw the pin, which he picked up and gave to me. I know he did not look out of the hat until after he had picked up the pin.[11]

Joseph's mother also indicated that Joseph was sought out by some, including Josiah Stoal, to use the stone to find hidden valuables. He

came for Joseph on account of having heard that he possessed certain keys by which he could discern things invisible to the natural eye.[12]

Joseph referred to this incident in JS-H 1:55-56.

Stoal eventually joined the Church; some of his family, however, charged Joseph in court for events related to this treasure seeking. Stoal testified in Joseph's defense.

Joseph Knight also said that, at the command of the angel Moroni, Joseph looked into his seer stone to learn who he should marry. He "looked in his glass and found it was Emma Hale."[13]

For a detailed response, see: Joseph's 1826 glasslooking trial

How many seer stones did Joseph Smith have in his possession?

Joseph had between two to four seer stones

Joseph first used a neighbor's seer stone (probably Sally Chase, on the balance of historical evidence, though there are other possibilities) to discover the location of a brown, baby's foot-shaped stone. The vision of this stone likely occurred in about 1819–1820, and he obtained his first seer stone in about 1821–1822.[14]

Joseph then used this first stone to find a second stone (a white one). The color and sequence of obtaining these stones has often been confused,[15] and readers interested in an in-depth treatment are referred to the endnotes.[16]

Joseph would later discover at least two more seers stones in Nauvoo, on the banks of the Mississippi. These stones seem to have been collected more for their appearance, and there is little evidence of Joseph using them at that late date in his prophetic career.[17]

What did Joseph Smith's seer stones look like?

Witnesses gave descriptions of the stones

One witness reported (of the first, brown stone), from 1826:

It was about the size of a small hen's egg, in the shape of a high-instepped shoe. It was composed of layers of different colors passing diagonally through it. It was very hard and smooth, perhaps by being carried in the pocket.[18]

The second stone:

[the] Seer Stone was the shape of an egg though not quite so large, of a gray cast something like granite but with white stripes running around it. It was transparent but had no holes, neither on the end or in the sides.[19]

How were Joseph Smith's seer stones involved in the translation of the Book of Mormon?

Joseph may have used his seer stone to view the location of the plates after Moroni told him where they were

There is considerable evidence that the location of the plates and Nephite interpreters (Urim and Thummim) were revealed to Joseph via his second, white seer stone. In 1859, Martin Harris recalled that "Joseph had a stone which was dug from the well of Mason Chase...It was by means of this stone he first discovered the plates."[20]

Some critics have sought to create a contradiction here, since Joseph's history reported that Moroni revealed the plates to him (JS-H 1꞉34-35,42). This is an example of a false dichotomy: Moroni could easily have told Joseph about the plates and interpreters. The vision to Joseph may well have then come through the seer stone, as some of the sections of the Doctrine and Covenants (e.g., Section X) would later be revealed. One account matches this theory well:

I had a conversation with [Joseph], and asked him where he found them [the plates] and how he come to know where they were. he said he had a revelation from God that told him they were hid in a certain hill and he looked in his [seer] stone and saw them in the place of deposit.[21]

Joseph was initially more excited about the Nephite interpreters than the gold plates

Joseph Knight recalled that Joseph was more excited about the Nephite interpreters than the gold plates:

After breakfast Joseph called me into the other room, set his foot on the bed, and leaned his head on his hand and said, "Well I am disappointed."

"Well, I said, "I am sorry."

"Well, he said, "I am greatly disappointed. It is ten times better than I expected."

Then he went on to tell the length and width and thickness of the plates and, said he, they appear to be gold. But, he seemed to think more of the glasses or the Urim and Thummim than he did of the plate for, said he, "I can see anything. They are marvelous."[22]

Martin Harris described the Nephite interpreters

Martin Harris later described the Nephite interpreters as "about two inches in diameter, perfectly round, and about five-eighths of an inch thick at the centre.... They were joined by a round bar of silver, about three-eights of an inch in diameter, and about four inches long, which with the two stones, would make eight inches."[23]

Joseph often used the seer stone to translate

Despite having the Nephite interpreters, Joseph Smith often used the seer stone to translate. This led to an episode in which Martin tested the veracity of Joseph's claim to use the second, white stone to translate:[24]

Once Martin found a rock closely resembling the seerstone Joseph sometimes used in place of the interpreters and substituted it without the Prophet’s knowledge. When the translation resumed, Joseph paused for a long time and then exclaimed, "Martin, what is the matter, all is as dark as Egypt." Martin then confessed that he wished to "stop the mouths of fools" who told him that the Prophet memorized sentences and merely repeated them.[25]

Joseph used his white seer stone sometimes "for convenience" during the translation of the 116 pages with Martin Harris; later witnesses reported him using his brown seer stone.

Joseph sometimes used the Nephite interpreters in the same manner as his seer stones, even when he was not translating

Mark-Ashurst McGee notes that Joseph used the Nephite interpreters in the same manner as his seer stone, even when he was not translating the plates, and may have removed them from the frame which held them:

On one occasion, while Joseph was digging a well for a woman in Macedon, his wife Emma felt that the plates were in danger and came to tell Joseph. Lucy wrote that Joseph, "having just looked into them before Emma go there[,] he perceived her coming and cmae up out of the well and met her..." [26] It seems doubtful that Joseph would have the eight-inch long pair of glasses with him while at work in the well. It seems that Joseph eventually detached the lenses from their frame and carried them in a pouch as he had his brown seer stone.[27]

For a detailed response, see: Why would Joseph use the "rock in the hat" for the Book of Mormon translation that he previously used for "money digging?"


Why did Joseph Smith eventually stop using the seer stones to receive revelation?

Joseph eventually learned, through divine tutoring, how to receive unmediated revelation

These "Urim and Thummim" were the means of receiving most of the formal revelations until June 1829. That was the time of completing the Book of Mormon, which was translated through the Nephite interpreters and also Joseph's other seer stone(s). After this, seer stones were generally not used while receiving revelation or translation. (The JST and the Book of Abraham translations both began with seer stone usage, but Joseph soon quit using them.[28]) Following his baptism, receipt of the Holy Ghost, and ordination to the Melchizedek priesthood, Joseph seems have felt far less need to resort to the stones.[29] He had learned, through divine tutoring, how to receive unmediated revelation—the Lord had taken him "line upon line" from where he was (surrounded with beliefs about seeing and divining) and brought him to further light, knowledge, and power.

This perspective was reinforced by Orson Pratt, who watched the New Testament revision (JST) and wondered why the use of seer stones/interpreters (as with the Book of Mormon) was not continued:

While this thought passed through the speaker's mind, Joseph, as if he read his thoughts, looked up and explained that the Lord gave him the Urim and Thummim when he was inexperienced in the Spirit of inspiration. But now he had advanced so far that he understood the operations of that Spirit and did not need the assistance of that instrument.[30]

Are there any Biblical parallels to Joseph Smith's understanding of the use of seer stones?

The idea of sacred stones acting as revelators to believers is present in the Bible

The idea of sacred stones acting as revelators to believers is present in the Bible, and Joseph Smith embraced a decidedly "non-magical" and "pro-religious" view of them:

In Revelation, John incorporates past religious symbols into his message. Thus the most internally consistent interpretation of the "white stone" combines with the book's assurance that the faithful will become "kings and priests" to the Most High (Rev. 1:6). These eternal priests will be in tune with God's will, like the High Priest with the breastplate of shining stones and the Urim. In Hebrew that term means "light," corresponding to the "white" stone of John's Revelation. This correlation should be obvious, but Joseph Smith is virtually alone in confidence that John sees the redeemed as full High Priests: "Then the white stone mentioned in Rev. 2:17 is the Urim and Thummim, whereby all things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms, even all kingdoms, will be made know." As for genuine religion, Joseph Smith perceived the stone of John's vision not as a stone of chance but as a conduit of enlightenment and a reward of worthiness of character.[31]

What happened to Joseph Smith's seer stones?

The Nephite interpreters were reclaimed by Moroni

As noted above, the Nephite interpreters were apparently reclaimed by Moroni following the loss of the 116 pages, and were only seen again by the Three Witnesses (Testimony of Three).

The seer stone was given to Oliver Cowdery

Van Wagoner and Walker write:

David Whitmer indicated that the seer stone was later given to Oliver Cowdery: "After the translation of the Book of Mormon was finished early in the spring of 1830 before April 6th, Joseph gave the Stone to Oliver Cowdery and told me as well as the rest that he was through with it, and he did not use the Stone anymore." Whitmer, who was Cowdery's brother-in-law, stated that on Oliver's death in 1848, another brother-in-law, "Phineas Young, a brother of Brigham Young, and an old-time and once intimate friend of the Cowdery family came out from Salt Lake City, and during his visit he contrived to get the stone from its hiding place, through a little deceptive sophistry, extended upon the grief-stricken widow. When he returned to Utah he carried it in triumph to the apostles of Brigham Young's 'lion house.'"...

[Van Wagoner and Walker here confuse the two seer stones, so this section is not included here, given that better information has since come to light.]

...Joseph Fielding Smith, as an apostle, made clear that "the Seer Stone which was in the possession of the Prophet Joseph Smith in early days . . . is now in the possession of the Church." Elder Joseph Anderson, Assistant to the Council of the Twelve and long-time secretary to the First Presidency, clarified in 1971 that the "Seer Stone that Joseph Smith used in the early days of the Church is in possession of the Church and is kept in a safe in Joseph Fielding Smith's office.... [The stone is] slightly smaller than a chicken egg, oval, chocolate in color."[32] (This would be Joseph's first, "shoe-shaped stone," which was given to Oliver Cowdery, and then to his brother-in-law Phineas Young, brother of Brigham Young.[33]

Joseph's second (white) stone is also in the possession of the LDS First Presidency.[34]

Gardner: "Joseph Smith, long before golden plates complicated his position as a local seer, appears to have functioned just as Sally Chase did"

Brant Gardner:

Joseph Smith, long before golden plates complicated his position as a local seer, appears to have functioned just as Sally Chase did. Quinn reports that: "E. W. Vanderhoof [writing in 1905] remembered that his Dutch grandfather once paid Smith seventy-five cents to look into his ‘whitish, glossy, and opaque’ stone to locate a stolen mare. The grandfather soon ‘recovered his beast, which Joe said was somewhere on the lake shore and [was] about to be run over to Canada.’ Vanderhoof groused that ‘anybody could have told him that, as it was invariably the way a horse thief would take to dispose of a stolen animal in those days.'"13 While Vanderhoof reported a positive result of the consultation, it is interesting that his statement includes a qualifier that has the same intent as those added by the Saunders’ brothers. By the end of the century, one wouldn’t want to actually credit a village seer when describing their activities. Nevertheless, it isn’t the effectiveness that is important—it is the nature of the consultation. Sally Chase’s clients consulted her to find things which were lost, and Joseph Smith had at least one client who did the same.[35] —(Click here to continue)

Godfrey: "Martin found a rock closely resembling the seerstone Joseph sometimes used in place of the interpreters and substituted it without the Prophet’s knowledge"

Martin was a shrewd farmer and businessman, and a man of some property. He often warred between belief and doubt. For example, Martin put Joseph to the test during the translation of the 116 pages with the seer stone. He repeatedly subjected Joseph's claims to empirical tests to detect deception or fraud. He came away from those experiences convinced that Joseph was truly able to translate the plates. He was so convinced, he was willing to suffer ridicule and committed significant financial resources to publishing the Book of Mormon.

Kenneth W. Godfrey, Ensign (January 1988):

After returning from a trip to Palmyra to settle his affairs, Martin began to transcribe. From April 12 to June 14, Joseph translated while Martin wrote, with only a curtain between them. On occasion they took breaks from the arduous task, sometimes going to the river and throwing stones. Once Martin found a rock closely resembling the seerstone Joseph sometimes used in place of the interpreters and substituted it without the Prophet’s knowledge. When the translation resumed, Joseph paused for a long time and then exclaimed, "Martin, what is the matter, all is as dark as Egypt." Martin then confessed that he wished to "stop the mouths of fools" who told him that the Prophet memorized sentences and merely repeated them.[36]

To learn more about: seer stones in Church publications
Online
  • Richard Lloyd Anderson, "‘By the Gift and Power of God’," Ensign (September 1977): 79.
  • Hyrum Andrus, Joseph Smith, the Man, the Seer (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1960), 102. GL direct link
  • William J. Hamblin, "An Apologist for the Critics: Brent Lee Metcalfe's Assumptions and Methodologies (Review of Apologetic and Critical Assumptions about Book of Mormon Historicity by Brent Lee Metcalfe)," FARMS Review of Books 6/1 (1994): 434–523. off-site
  • Marvin S. Hill, "Money-Digging Folklore and the Beginnings of Mormonism: An Interpretative Suggestion," Brigham Young University Studies 24 no. 4 (Fall 1984), ?–??.GospeLink
  • Francis W. Kirkham, "The Manner of Translating The BOOK of MORMON," Improvement Era (1939). GL direct link
  • Joseph Fielding McConkie, Craig J. Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration: A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants and Other Modern Revelations (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 2000), D&C 9. GL direct link
  • Stephen D. Ricks, "Translation of the Book of Mormon: Interpreting the Evidence," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/2 (1993). [201–206] link
  • Brigham H. Roberts, "A Brief Debate on the Book of Mormon," in Defense of the Faith and the Saints, 2 vols. (1907), 1:350. Vol 1 GL direct link Vol 2 GL direct linkGL direct link
  • Royal Skousen, "Towards a Critical Edition of the Book of Mormon," Brigham Young University Studies 30 no. 1 (Winter 1990), 52.GL direct link
Navigators


Was a "vagabond fortune-teller" named Walters Joseph Smith's "mentor"?

The idea that Walter's "mantle" fell upon Joseph is the creation of an enemy of Joseph Smith, Abner Cole

It is claimed by some that a "vagabond fortune-teller" named Walters became popular in the Palmyra area, and that when Walters left the area, "his mantle fell upon" Joseph Smith. However, the idea that "Walters the Magician" was a mentor to Joseph Smith and that his "mantle" fell upon Joseph once Walters left the area originated with Abner Cole. Cole published a mockery of the Book of Mormon called the "Book of Pukei."

Matthew Brown discusses the "Book of Pukei":,

Cole claims in the "Book of Pukei" that the Book of Mormon really came into existence in the following manner:

  • Walters the Magician was involved in witchcraft and money-digging.
  • Walters was summoned to Manchester, New York by a group of wicked, idle, and slothful individuals—one of which was Joseph Smith.
  • Walters took the slothful individuals of Manchester out into the woods on numerous nighttime money-digging excursions. They drew a magic circle, sacrificed a rooster, and dug into the ground but never actually found anything.
  • The slothful group of Manchesterites then decided that Walters was a fraud. Walters himself admitted that he was an imposter and decided to skip town before the strong arm of the law caught up with him.
  • At this point, the mantle of Walters the Magician fell upon Joseph Smith and the rest of the Manchester rabble rallied around him.
  • The "spirit of the money-diggers" (who is identified implicitly with Satan in the text) appeared to Joseph Smith and revealed the Golden Bible to him.[37]

Does Lucy Mack Smith's mention of the "faculty of Abrac" and "magic circles" evidence that "magick" played a strong role in the Smith family's early life?

Lucy Mack Smith denied that her family was involved in wasting time by drawing "magic circles"

Critics generally neglect to provide the entire quote from Lucy. Dr. William J. Hamblin notes that there is "an ambiguously phrased statement of Lucy Mack Smith in which she denied that her family was involved in drawing "Magic circles."

There is no evidence from any Latter-day Saint sources about how to make "magic circles"

William Hamblin notes,

Quinn provides only very limited evidence, from anti-Mormon sources, that the Smiths were involved in making magic circles. He provides no evidence from LDS sources discussing how to make magic circles, describing their use by early Mormons, or establishing Mormon belief in the efficacy of such things.

Quinn does claim to have found one LDS reference supporting the use of magic circles. This is an ambiguously phrased statement of Lucy Mack Smith in which she denied that her family was involved in drawing "Magic circles" (p. 68; cf. 47, 66). Quinn maintains, because of an ambiguity of phraseology, that Lucy Mack Smith is saying that her family drew magic circles. The issue revolves around how the grammar of the original text should be understood. Here is how I read the text (with my understanding of the punctuation and capitalization added).

Now I shall change my theme for the present. But let not my reader suppose that, because I shall pursue another topic for a season, that we stopped our labor and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing Magic circles or sooth saying to the neglect of all kinds of business. We never during our lives suffered one important interest to swallow up every other obligation. But, whilst we worked with our hands, we endeavored to remember the service of, and the welfare of our souls.125

When Lucy's statement is examined in context, it can be seen that she explicitly denies that the Smith's were involved in such things as "magic circles"

Hamblin continues,

Here is how I interpret the referents in the text.

Now I shall change my theme for the present [from a discussion of farming and building to an account of Joseph's vision of Moroni and the golden plates which immediately follows this paragraph]. But let not my reader suppose that, because I shall pursue another topic [Joseph's visions] for a season, that we stopped our labor [of farming and building] and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing Magic circles or sooth saying to the neglect of all kinds of business [farming and building, as the anti-Mormons asserted, claiming the Smiths were lazy]. We never in our lives suffered one important interest [farming and building] to swallow up every other obligation [religion]. But, whilst we worked with our hands [at farming and building] we endeavored to remember the service of, and the welfare of our souls [through religion].

Thus, as I understand the text, Lucy Smith declares she is changing her theme to the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. In the public mind, that story is associated with claims that the Smiths were lazy and involved in magical activities. By the time Lucy Smith wrote this text in 1845, anti-Mormons were alleging that Joseph had been seeking treasure by drawing magic circles. She explicitly denies that they were involved in such things. She also denies that the Smiths were lazy. She wants to emphasize that, although she is not going to mention farming and building activities for a while, these activities were still going on. Quinn wants to understand the antecedent of "one important interest" as "trying to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing Magic circles or sooth saying" (p. 68). I believe that the antecedent of "one important interest" is "all kinds of business," meaning farming and building. Quinn maintains the phrase to the neglect of means that they pursued magic to some degree, but not to the extent that they completely neglected their farming. I believe that the phrase to the neglect of means that they did not pursue magic at all, and therefore did not neglect their farming and building at all: they were not pursuing magic and thereby neglecting their business.

Lucy's narrative focuses on religious and business concerns, and does not discuss magic

Hamblin concludes,

Although the phrasing is a bit ambiguous, the matter can easily be resolved by reference to the rest of Lucy's narrative. Contra Quinn, Lucy Smith's text provides no other mention of the supposedly "important interest" of magical activities but does deal prominently with their religious and business concerns. If magic activities were such an important part of Joseph Smith's life and Lucy was speaking of them in a positive sense as "important interests," why did she not talk about them further in any unambiguous passage? My interpretation fits much better into the context of Lucy Smith's narrative as a whole, in which she amply discusses farming and family life, as well as religion and Joseph's revelations—the two important interests of the family—but makes no other mention of magic. As Richard Bushman notes, "Lucy Smith's main point was that the Smiths were not lazy as the [anti-Mormon] affidavits claimed—they had not stopped their labor to practice magic."126 Thus, ironically, Quinn is claiming that Lucy Smith's denial of the false claims that the Smith family was engaged in magical activities has magically become a confirmation of those very magical activities she is denying![38]

Did Joseph Smith, Sr. practice "divination"?

Peter Ingersoll, a former neighbor of the Smiths, claimed that Joseph Smith, Sr., practiced "divination"

It has been claimed that Joseph Smith, Sr., practiced "divination," and that this is evidence for the strong role which "magick" played in the Smith family's early life. This claim relies on one of the Hurlburt-Howe affidavits, given by Peter Ingersoll, a former neighbor of the Smiths.

Ingersoll's affidavit reads:

‘Was a neighbor of Smith from 1822 to 1830. The general employment of the family was digging for money. Smith senior once asked me to go with him to see whether a mineral rod would work in my hand, saying he was confident it would. As my oxen were eating, and being myself at leisure, I went with him. When he arrived near the place where he thought there was money, he cut a small witch-hazel, and gave me direction how to hold it. He then went off some rods, telling me to say to the rod, ‘Work to the money,’ which I did in an audible voice. He rebuked me for speaking it loud, saying it must be spoken in a whisper. While the old man was standing off some rods, throwing himself into various shapes, I told him the rod did not work. He seemed much surprised, and said he thought he saw it move. It was now time for me to return to my labor. On my return I picked up a small stone, and was carelessly tossing it from one hand to the other. Said he, (looking very earnestly,) ‘What are you going to do with that stone?’ ‘Throw it at the birds,’ I replied. ‘No,’ said the old man, ‘it is of great worth.’ I gave it to him. ‘Now,’ said he, ‘if you only knew the value there is back of my house!’ and pointing to a place near, ‘There,’ said he, ‘is one chest of gold and another of silver.’ He then put the stone which I had given him into his hat, and stooping forward, he bowed and made sundry maneuvers, quite similar to those of a stool-pigeon. At length he took down his hat, and, being very much exhausted, said, in a faint voice, ‘If you knew what I had seen, you would believe.’ His son, Alvin, went through the same performance, which was equally disgusting.

‘Another time the said Joseph senior told me that the best time for digging money was in the heat of summer, when the heat of the sun caused the chests of money to rise near the top of the ground. ‘You notice,’ said he, ‘the large stones on the top of the ground; we call them rocks, and they truly appear so, but they are in fact, most of them chests of money raised by the heat of the sun.’’....[39]

Some of Ingersoll's claims are clearly false, based on other, more reliable testimony

Some of Ingersoll's claims are clearly false, based on other, more reliable testimony. It is telling that the critics often wish to jettison Ingersoll's claims as those of a teller-of-tall-tales or a liar when it is clear that he cannot be trusted. Yet, when no evidence exists (pro- or con-) save Ingersoll's testimony, they then present his witness as a reliable data point for conclusions about the early years of Joseph Smith and his family. Of Ingersoll's claims, Richard L. Anderson noted:

Peter lived near Joseph Smith and was employed to go with him to Pennsylvania to move Emma's personal property to the Smith farm in the fall of 1827. Ingersoll claims that after this, Joseph told him he brought home white sand in his work frock and walked into the house to find "the family" (parents, Emma, brothers and sisters) eating. When they asked what he carried, he "very gravely" told them (for the first time) that he had a "golden Bible" and had received a revelation that no one could see it and live. At that point (according to Ingersoll), Joseph offered to let the family see, but they fearfully refused, and Ingersoll says that Joseph added, "Now, I have got the damned fools fixed, and will carry out the fun."

Rodger Anderson [author of the book under review by Anderson] agrees with me that this is just a tall tale. Why? Family sources prove they looked forward to getting the plates long before this late 1827 occurrence, and Joseph had far more respect for his family than the anecdote allows. So Rodger Anderson thinks that Ingersoll at first believed Joseph and then retaliated: "it seems likely that Ingersoll created the story as a way of striking back at Smith for his own gullibility in swallowing a story he later became convinced was a hoax" (p. 56). That may be, and there are perhaps others making affidavits with similar motives. But the more provable point is that good stories die hard. Facts were obviously bent to make Joseph Smith the butt of many a joke. So anecdotes could be yarns good for a guffaw around a pot-bellied stove.

Ingersoll has another story in this class. Joseph planned to move Emma and the plates to Pennsylvania at the end of 1827. Then Ingersoll has Joseph playing a religious mind game with Martin Harris: "I . . . told him that I had a command to ask the first honest man I met with, for fifty dollars in money, and he would let me have it. I saw at once, said Jo, that it took his notion, for he promptly give me the fifty." Willard Chase tells a similar story, not identifying his source. But in this case both Joseph Smith and Martin Harris gave their recollections. Both say that Martin was converted to Joseph Smith's revelations first and then offered the money out of conviction, not because of sudden street-side flattery. The best historical evidence is not something told by another party, especially one with hostility to the person he is reporting....

Rodger Anderson recoils at my suggestion that the affidavits were "contaminated by Hurlbut," but he has merely argued harder for one road to this same result. Rodger Anderson then contends that Hurlbut's influence does not matter, since many of the statements were signed under oath before a magistrate. This is one of scores of irrelevancies. The question is credibility, not form. As Jesus essentially said in the Sermon on the Mount, the honest person is regularly believable, not just under oath. Nor does the act of signing settle all, since it is hardly human nature to read the fine print of a contract or all details of prewritten petitions. Rodger Anderson finds Ingersoll's sand-for-plates story "the most dubious" (p. 56) and thus admits that Ingersoll is "the possible exception" in "knowingly swearing to a lie" (p. 114). But Ingersoll does not tell taller stories than many others glinting in the hostile statements reprinted by Rodger Anderson. Like the persecuting orthodox from the Pharisees to the Puritans, the New York community was performing an act of moral virtue to purge itself of the stigma of an offending new religion. Hurlbut contributed to the process of mutual contamination of similar stories and catch-words....

Rodger Anderson closes his survey with the appeal to accept "the Hurlbut-Deming affidavits" as significant "primary documents relating to Joseph Smith's early life and the origins of Mormonism" (p. 114). Some tell of "early life," but many only repeat tall tales or disclose the prejudice that Joseph Smith said faced him from the beginning. There are some authentic facts about the outward life of young Joseph, but his inner life makes him significant. It is this other half that the testimonials brashly claim to penetrate but cannot. To the extent that the Prophet's spiritual experiences are the primary issue, the Hurlbut-Deming statements are not primary documents.

Here I have discussed some aspects of their objective shortcomings, but I do not intend to take much time answering countercharges. Those who think like Rodger Anderson will continue to reason that the Hurlbut-Deming materials contain serious history because "many based their descriptions on close association with the Joseph Smith, Sr., family" (p. 114). That is too sloppy for my taste. Downgrading a reputation is serious business, and I want a reasonable burden of proof to be met on each major contention. Knowing the family is not enough—knowing specific incidents is required. The mathematics of true personal history is fairly simple: half-truths added to others still retain their category of half-truths; conclusions without personal knowledge have zero value; and any number multiplied by zero is still zero.

A final, highly personal reaction: I once discussed a negative biography with a friend, literature professor Neal Lambert. After pointing out shortcomings in method and evidence, I self-consciously added an intuitive judgment: "and I think there is a poor tone to the book." Instantly picking up my apologetic manner, Neal answered vigorously, "But tone is everything." In reality, attitude penetrates the judgments we make, whether in gathering the Hurlbut-Deming materials or in defending them. With few exceptions, the mind-set of these testimonials is skeptical, hypercritical, ridiculing. But history is a serious effort to understand, and tools with the above labels have limited value.[40]

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Peter Ingersoll: Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 232-237, 248-249. (Affidavits examined) Partially reproduced in "The Origin of Mormonism," Christian Enquirer (New York) 5/51 (25 September 1852): [1]. Also available in full in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:40-45.

Did early members of the "Mormon" Church believe in witchcraft?

While some members may have believed in witchcraft, all the scriptural and primary evidence portrays their opinion of such things as negative, not positive

[41] There are a number of texts and incidents which indicate a basically negative attitude towards the occult by most early Mormons. Brooke himself notices several incidents manifesting such an anti-occult strain in early LDS thought: George A. Smith, for instance, destroyed magic books brought to America by English converts (p. 239). Likewise, "organizations advocating the occult were suppressed" by Brigham Young in 1855 (p. 287), while, "in 1900 and 1901, church publications launched the first explicit attacks on folk magic" (p. 291). But the evidence of negative attitudes among Mormons to matters occult is much more widespread than Brooke indicates.

The Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants contain several explicit condemnations of sorcery, witchcraft, and magic. While admitting that there are only "rare references to magic or witchcraft in the Book of Mormon" (p. 176, 177), Brooke nonetheless insists that the "categories of treasure, magic, and sorcery . . . fascinated Joseph Smith" (p. 168). The Book of Mormon maintains that Christ will "cut off witchcrafts out of thy land" (3 Nephi 21꞉16), and sorcery, witchcraft, and "the magic art" are mentioned in lists of sins (Alma 1꞉32, Mormon 2꞉10). "Sorceries, and witchcrafts, and magics" are also attributed to "the power of the evil one" (Mormon 1꞉19). In the Doctrine and Covenants, sorcerers are among those who are "cast down to hell" (D&C 76꞉103,106), who "shall have their part in . . . the second death" (D&C 63꞉17). These are the only references to magical or occult powers in LDS scripture, and they are uniformly and emphatically negative. Brooke's key terms, such as "alchemy," "astrology," "hermeticism," "androgyny," and "cabala," are never mentioned in LDS scripture.

Several early LDS writers were unequivocal in their condemnation of magic and the occult. One brother was "disfellowshipped by the council of officers, for using magic, and telling fortunes &c." The ancient Egyptian use of "omens, charms, unlucky days and magic" is described as "grossly superstitious." Orson Pratt described alchemy as "the pursuit of that vain phantom." His brother Parley was even more forthright:

It is, then, a matter of certainty, according to the things revealed to the ancient Prophets, and renewed unto us, that all the animal magnetic phenomena, all the trances and visions of clairvoyant states, all the phenomena of spiritual knockings, writing mediums, &c., are from impure, unlawful, and unholy sources; and that those holy and chosen vessels which hold the keys of Priesthood in this world, in the spirit world, or in the world of resurrected beings, stand as far aloof from all these improper channels, or unholy mediums, of spiritual communication, as the heavens are higher than the earth, or as the mysteries of the third heaven, which are unlawful to utter, differ from the jargon of sectarian ignorance and folly, or the divinations of foul spirits, abandoned wizards, magic-mongers, jugglers, and fortune-tellers.

Based on this extensive (but admittedly incomplete) survey of early Mormon writings, we can arrive at three logical conclusions:

  1. the unique ideas that critics advocating the "magic" hypothesis claim were central to the origins of Mormonism do not occur in early LDS primary texts;
  2. early Mormons seldom concerned themselves with things occult; but
  3. on the infrequent occasions when they mention the occult, it is without exception viewed negatively.

Was the fact that the recovery of the Book of Mormon plates occurred on the autumnal equinox somehow significant?

Book of Mormon Central, KnoWhy #193: Why Did Moroni Deliver the Plates on September 22? (Video)

There are many religious traditions (including Judaism) that use the equinoxes as part of their religious calendar

Joseph's meetings with Moroni and the recovery of the Book of Mormon occurred on the autumnal equinox, a date with astrological and magical significance. Some have speculated that this is evidence of Joseph Smith's preoccupation with "magick." However, there are many religious traditions (including Judaism) that use the equinoxes as part of their religious calendar. Thus, the presence of a significant "astrological" date may be coincidental or present for religious, not "magical" reasons. This again highlights the problems with "magic" as a category.

In this instance, critics presume that their claims about Joseph's preoccupation with magic is an accurate description of his attempt to recover the plates (see circular reasoning). If, however, there are other explanations for receiving the plates on the evening of 21–22 September 1827, then this cannot be used as evidence for pre-occupation with a "magic world view."

The recovery of the Book of Mormon plates occurred on a vital date in the Jewish calendar: Rosh ha-Shanah, the Jewish New Year

The Book of Mormon claims to be a religious text, with a world-view sharing close affinities with Judaism. Interestingly, the plates' recovery occurred on a vital date in the Jewish calendar:

Rosh ha-Shanah, the Jewish New Year (which had begun at sundown on 21 September 1827). At Rosh ha-Shanah the faithful were commanded to set a day aside as "a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation" (Leviticus 23:24).[42]

Rosh ha-Shanah also begins the Asseret Yemei Teshuva (The Ten Days of Repentance) which precede the holiest day of the Jewish year: Yom Kippur, the day of the atonement. Likewise, the Book of Mormon claimed to come forth to preach repentance, and prepare the way for Christ's second coming.

Rosh ha-Shanah is celebrated by the blowing of the ram's horn (shofar), just as Jesus' apocalyptic teachings foretold that the elect would be gathered by angels "with a great sound of a trumpet" (Matthew 24:31). The Revelation of St. John features angels with trumpets as part of the preparation or heralding of Christ's second coming (e.g., Revelation 8:2,6; compare D&C 77꞉12). The Book of Mormon portrays itself squarely within this tradition, heralding and preparing the way for the gathering of the elect and the return of Christ (1 Nephi 13꞉34-42).

In the Jerusalem temple, "at the autumnal equinox the rays of the sun could enter the [holy of holies] because the whole of the edifice faced east."[43] Thus, on a date in which the idea of divine illumination, light, and knowledge streaming into God's earthly temple was so prominent, a new divine revelation of scripture fits at least as well as Quinn's claim that this date has astrological significance for "the introduction of 'broad cultural movements and religious ideas'."[44]

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Joseph Smith derive his religious ideas in part from a mysticism called Kabbalah?

There is little actual evidence to support this

It is claimed that Joseph Smith's religious ideas derived in part from Kabbalah, a type of (usually Jewish) mysticism. Critics and the unwary presume that because a few lengthy works have been written about Joseph Smith and kabbalistic ideas, this is sufficient grounds for presuming a connection. The evidence behind this connection, is, however, on shaky evidential ground.

Before swallowing the critics' explanation, one should study the extensive reviews which illustrate numerous problems with this approach thus far.

It is not the job of the Saints to prove that kaballah did not influence Joseph Smith. It is the job of his critics to prove that it did. And, thus far, that proof has not been forthcoming. Extensive reviews of the works which purport to find this strain in Joseph Smith's thought are available (see below).

It is difficult to prove a negative—how might we prove that Joseph's ideas were not from Kabbalah? Rather, we can consider a number of the problems with this intellectual construct, and then ask if there are not perhaps better ways to understand Joseph's thought.

Some authors merely describe LDS doctrine or practice in kabbalistic or "hermetical" terms

Some authors merely describe LDS doctrine or practice in kabbalistic or "hermetical" terms, and then presume that by doing so they have proved that these ideas were, in fact, drawn from kabbalah. This is circular reasoning.

For example, one review wrote that:

Throughout his book, Brooke's approach might be characterized as scholarship by adjective (see, e.g., pp. 240, 294). Time and again, he places the adjective "hermetic" or "alchemical" before a noun relating to Mormonism and then proceeds as if the mere act of juxtaposing the two terms—essentially without argument—had established that the ill-defined adjective really applies. He holds that "certainly Joseph Smith was predisposed to a hermetic interpretation of sacred history and processes from his boyhood" (p. 208). But what does this mean? What is a "hermetic interpretation" here? Although Brooke himself seems to have a predisposition to a "hermetic interpretation" of almost everything in sight, Joseph Smith and his followers undoubtedly did not have the remotest idea of what hermeticism was.

Simply labeling Mormon celestial marriage "hermetic" and "alchemical" (as on pp. 214, 257-58, 281) does not make it such. Frequently, in a kind of fallacy of misplaced concretion, Brooke is misled by his own metaphors to misread nineteenth-century realities (as in his use of the terms "alchemy" and "transmutation" in discussing the Kirtland Bank [pp. 222-23; cf. 227-28]), and even twentieth-century Utah (as when he describes modern financial scams in Utah as "alchemical" [p. 299]). On at least one occasion, Fawn Brodie's (twentieth-century) portrayal of Sidney Rigdon as engaged in a metaphorical "witchhunt" inspires Brooke—evidently by sheer word association—to claim that Joseph Smith (!) saw himself as literally surrounded by witches (p. 230).[45]

This is a common approach, with another author falling victim to the same tendency:

Owens's entire thesis also suffers repeatedly from semantic equivocation—using a term "in two or more senses within a single argument, so that a conclusion appears to follow when in fact it does not."61 Owens does not adequately recognize the fact that the semantic domain of words can vary radically from individual to individual, through translation, by shifts in meaning through time, or because of idiosyncratic use by different contemporary communities.62 For Owens it is often sufficient to assert that he feels that kabbalistic or hermetic ideas "resonate" with his understanding of Latter-day Saint thought (p. 132). Thus, in an attempt to demonstrate affiliations between the Latter-day Saint world view and that of esotericists, Owens presents a number of ideas that he claims represent parallels between his understanding of the kabbalistic and hermetic traditions and his view of Latter-day Saint theology, but that, upon closer inspection, turn out to be only vaguely similar, if at all....

Owens frequently implicitly redefines kabbalistic and hermetic terms in a way that would have been foreign to both the original esoteric believers and to early Latter-day Saints. In an effort to make ideas seem similar, he is forced to severely distort both what esotericists and Latter-day Saints believe.[46]

Some critics stretch LDS scripture to the breaking point in an effort to "prove" their argument

...when a Book of Mormon passage denounces "works of darkness" (Alma 37꞉23), Brooke asserts that "although he never mentions them by name, Smith had declared an occult war on the witchlike art of the counterfeiters" (p. 178). Really? Nothing in the passage calls for such an interpretation, any more than does the analogous phrase in Ephesians 5:11. There can be little doubt, of course, that the early Latter-day Saints, like most of their contemporaries on the American frontier, suffered from counterfeiters' schemes and regarded them as enemies.....But that scarcely justifies Professor Brooke's arbitrary allegorical speculations. Besides, as readers will notice, Brooke cannot really decide whether the Mormons opposed counterfeiting or favored it. Either option will suffice for him, since either will allow him to claim that they were fascinated by it and since, taken together, they constitute a historical hypothesis that is virtually impervious to historical proof or disproof.[45]

Some critics ignore the common biblical sources for ideas in LDS thought, and instead argue that these ideas came from much more obscure hermetic thought

It is universally acknowledged that biblical quotations, paraphrases, and imagery fill all early LDS scripture, writings, and sermons. Time and again early Latter-day Saints explicitly point to biblical precedents for their doctrines and practices. Joseph Smith and all the early Mormon elders taught and defended their doctrines from the Bible. Even in the great King Follett discourse—which Brooke sees as a cornucopia of "hermetic" doctrine—Joseph declared "I am going to prove it [the doctrine of multiple gods] to you by the Bible." The text is filled with biblical quotations and allusions. Never do the early Saints claim they are following hermetic or alchemical precedents. Brooke, however, generously sets out to correct this lapse for them....[45]

Although far less problematically or extensively than Brooke, Owens also ignores obvious biblical antecedents to Latter-day Saint thought in favor of alleged hermetic or alchemical antecedents. Owens informs us that "Paracelsus also prophesied of the coming of the prophet "Elias' as part of a universal restoration, another idea possibly affecting the work of Joseph Smith" (p. 163 n. 90). Quite true. But why does Owens fail to mention the strong biblical tradition of the return of Elijah/Elias, the clear source for this idea for both Paracelsus and Joseph Smith? [46]

Critics cannot produce primary sources from the early Saints expressing their interest in kabbalah or hermeticism

Furthermore, critics tend to ignore or downplay evidence of an opposition to "magic" or "the occult" among early Saints:

...there are a number of texts and incidents which indicate a basically negative attitude towards the occult by most early Mormons. Brooke himself notices several incidents manifesting such an anti-occult strain in early LDS thought: George A. Smith, for instance, destroyed magic books brought to America by English converts (p. 239). Likewise, "organizations advocating the occult were suppressed" by Brigham Young in 1855 (p. 287), while, "in 1900 and 1901, church publications launched the first explicit attacks on folk magic" (p. 291).36 But the evidence of negative attitudes among Mormons to matters occult is much more widespread than Brooke indicates.

The Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants contain several explicit condemnations of sorcery, witchcraft, and magic....The Book of Mormon maintains that Christ will "cut off witchcrafts out of thy land" (3 Nephi 21:16), and sorcery, witchcraft, and "the magic art" are mentioned in lists of sins (Alma 1:32, Mormon 2:10). "Sorceries, and witchcrafts, and magics" are also attributed to "the power of the evil one" (Mormon 1:19). In the Doctrine and Covenants, sorcerers are among those who are "cast down to hell" (D&C 76:103, 106), who "shall have their part in . . . the second death" (D&C 63:17).37 These are the only references to magical or occult powers in LDS scripture, and they are uniformly and emphatically negative. Brooke's key terms, such as "alchemy," "astrology," "hermeticism," "androgyny," and "cabala," are never mentioned in LDS scripture.[45]

In another case, critics present

background material [that is] is often dated or misrepresented. Owens's use of sources, both primary and secondary, is problematic at a number of levels. First, he ignores nearly all earlier writings by Latter-day Saint scholars on the significance of the possible parallels between Latter-day Saint ideas and the Western esoteric tradition. There is, in fact, a growing body of Latter-day Saint literature that has examined some of these alleged parallels, and presented possible interpretations of the relationship between the esoteric tradition and the gospel. Why is Nibley not even mentioned by Owens, despite the fact that he has been writing on this subject for four decades?9 Robert F. Smith's discussion of many of these issues is ignored....

Furthermore, for the most part, Owens's account of the Western esoteric tradition does not rely on primary sources, or even translations of primary sources, but on secondary summaries, which he often misunderstands or misrepresents. This unfamiliarity with both the primary and secondary sources may in part explain the numerous errors that occur throughout his article....[46]

Critics often fail to provide any specifics to link these ideas to the members of the Church—generally because there aren't any such sources.

This does not deter critics, however, from a chain of speculation, supposition, and probability that hides the fact that no evidence whatever has been presented:

Owens insists that "any backwoods rodsman divining for buried treasures in New York in 1820 may have known about the [esoteric] tradition" and that "there undoubtedly existed individuals [in the early nineteenth-century United States] who were deeply cognizant of Hermeticism, its lore, rituals, and aspirations. And this group probably included an occasional associate of treasure diggers" (p. 159). Elsewhere Owens asserts that "there must have been more than a few" people in frontier New York who had been influenced by the hermetic, kabbalistic, and alchemical traditions (p. 165, emphasis added to all these citations). Evidence, please! Who exactly were these individuals? What exactly did they know? How exactly did they gain their unusual knowledge? Exactly when and where did they live? With whom exactly did they associate? What exactly did they teach their associates? What evidence—any evidence at all—does Owens provide for any of his speculations? [46]

Reliance on late, anti-Mormon accounts

Given the lack of material to support this hypothesis in the words of Joseph Smith or his followers, critics turn to their enemies:

...in large part Brooke relies on late secondhand anti-Mormon accounts—taken at face value—while rejecting or ignoring eye-witness contemporary Mormon accounts of the same events or ideas....

In a book purportedly analyzing the thought of Joseph Smith, it is remarkable how infrequently Joseph himself is actually quoted. Instead we find what Joseph's enemies wanted others to believe he was saying and doing. Thus, while it may be true that some early non-Mormons or anti-Mormons occasionally described some activities of Joseph Smith and the Saints as somehow related to "magic," it is purely a derogatory outsider view. The Saints never describe their own beliefs and activities in those terms. Brooke has a disturbing tendency to cite standard LDS sources and histories on noncontroversial matters—thereby establishing an impression of impartiality—while, on disputed points, using anti-Mormon sources without explaining the Mormon perspective or interpretation.[47]

Sometimes, critics even give "magical" meaning to common words used by Joseph Smith in a completely different context

in a breathtaking case of academic legerdemain, he takes common terms that occur with specialized technical meanings in hermetic and alchemical thought—terms such as "furnace," "refine," "stone," "metal," etc.—and proposes the existence of such common terms in Mormon writings as a subtle but irrefutable indication that Mormons had hermetic and alchemical ideas in the backs of their minds all along. In fact, so subtle is the impact of hermetic and alchemical thought on Joseph that "the hermetic implications of his theology may not even have been clear to Smith himself" (p. 208)! This is truly an alchemical transmutation of baseless assertions into pure academic fool's gold.[45]

Or:

Owens ignores two other obvious explanations: that both esoteric and Latter-day Saint ideas derive from a similar source, e.g., the Bible, or that Joseph Smith received true revelation, as opposed to some ill-defined type of Jungian "personal cognition." [46]

Some critics' relative unfamiliarity with LDS history is made clear by repeated self-contradiction and historical blunders

Brooke's presentation of early Mormon history is likewise plagued by repeated blunders. His depiction of a Joseph Smith who is "bitter," "suspicious," and "anxious" (p. 135)—a description helpful to Brooke's environmentalist reading of the Book of Mormon—flies in the face of Brooke's own claim that "by all accounts he was a gregarious, playful character" (p. 180; cf. JS-H 1:28). It may also seem remarkable to some that Joseph believed that "the simultaneous emergence of counterfeiting and the spurious Masonry of the corrupt country Grand Lodge in the early 1820s was an affliction on the people, the consequence of their rejection of Joseph Smith as a preacher of the gospel" (p. 177), since Joseph had not yet restored the gospel or begun to preach in the early 1820s. Brooke has Joseph and Oliver being "baptized into the Priesthood of Aaron" (p. 156), even though their baptism and their ordination to the priesthood were clearly two separate events.66 Furthermore, he uses the alleged counterfeiting activities of Theodore Turley, Peter Hawes, Joseph H. Jackson, Marenus Eaton, and Edward Bonney to propose a continued Mormon fascination with counterfeiting, and thereby, with alchemy (pp. 269-70), despite the fact that Jackson, Eaton, and Bonney were not LDS! And Brooke seems unsure as to whether John Taylor's Mediation and Atonement "was of great significance doctrinally, because it marked the rejection of the Adam-God concept," (p. 289) or whether the "rejection of the Adam-God doctrine [was] something that John Taylor had not really attempted" (p. 291).[45]

Errors also extend beyond LDS matters into the history of "magick" thought itself:

Owens makes an unsupported claim that the alchemists' ""philosopher's stone' [was] the antecedent of Joseph Smith's "seer's stone'" (p. 136). In fact, the philosopher's stone (lapis philosophorum) was thought to have been composed of primordial matter, the quintessentia—the fifth element after air, water, fire, and earth. Unlike Joseph's seer stone, it was not really a literal "stone" at all, but primordial matter (materia prima)—"this stone therefore is no stone," as notes a famous alchemical text.26 Sometimes described as a powder the color of sulfur, the philosopher's stone was used for the transmutation of matter and had little or nothing to do with divination. Indeed, the use of stones and mirrors for divination antedates the origin of the idea of the philosopher's stone. There is no relationship beyond the fact that both happen to be called a stone....

Owens claims that the concept that "God was once as man now is . . . could, by various exegetical approaches, be found in the Hermetic-Kabbalistic tradition" (pp. 178-79). It is understandable that he provides neither primary nor secondary evidence for this assertion, since no hermetic or kabbalistic texts make such a claim. Unlike Latter-day Saint concepts of God and divinization, the metaphysical presuppositions of both hermeticism and kabbalism are fundamentally Neoplatonic.[46]

Even the complete absence of evidence is no bar to the critic:

Owens speculates at great length about possible Rosicrucian influences on Joseph Smith (pp. 138-54), asserting (with absolutely no evidence) that Luman Walter was influenced by Rosicrucian ideas (p. 162). Once again, however, Owens ignores the annoying fact that the Rosicrucian movement was effectively dead at the time of Joseph Smith. In England "the Gold and Rosy Cross appears to have had no English members and was virtually extinct by 1793."...

Thus Joseph Smith was alive precisely during the period of the least influence of Kabbalah, hermeticism, and Rosicrucianism, all of which had seriously declined by the late eighteenth century—before Joseph's birth—and would revive only in the late nineteenth century, after Joseph's death. Owens never recognizes these developments, but instead consistently quotes sources earlier and later than Joseph Smith as indicative of the ideas supposedly found in Joseph's day.[46]

Some critics do not seem to even understand modern LDS thought and history well

For example:

Professor Brooke's ignorance of contemporary Mormonism hurts him in amusing ways. Even the cold fusion claims made at the University of Utah a few years ago are pressed into service as illustrations of Mormon hermeticism: They are interesting, Brooke declares, "given Mormon doctrines on the nature of matter" (p. 299). He never troubles himself, though, to explain how the experiments of the two non-Mormon chemists Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischman are even remotely helpful as indicators of Latter-day Saint attitudes and beliefs.

It is probably significant that Brooke's mistakes are not random; rather, his presentation consistently misrepresents LDS scripture, doctrine, and history in ways that tend to support his thesis by making LDS ideas seem closer to his hermetic prototypes. These are not minor errors involving marginal characters or events in LDS scripture and history; nor are they mere matters of interpretation. Rather, for the most part, they are fundamental errors, clearly demonstrating Brooke's feeble grasp of the primary texts.[45]

Did Joseph Smith have a Jupiter talisman on his person at the time of his death?

The only source of evidence that claims Joseph Smith had the Jupiter Talisman on his person is Charles Bidamon, made long after the death of Joseph and Emma

Did Joseph have this Talisman on him when he was murdered? What would it mean if he did?

This well circulated claim finds its origins in a 1974 talk by Dr. Reed Durham. Durham said that Joseph "evidently [had a Talisman] on his person when he was martyred. The talisman, originally purchased from the Emma Smith Bidamon family, fully notarized by that family to be authentic and to have belonged to Joseph Smith, can now be identified as a Jupiter talisman."[48]

There is only one source of evidence that claims Joseph Smith had the Jupiter Talisman on his person, and that source is Charles Bidamon. Bidamon's statement was made long after the death of Joseph and Emma, relied on memories from his youth, and was undergirded by financial motives.

The idea that Joseph Smith might have had a Jupiter Talisman in his possession is used by critics of the Church as proof of his fascination with the occult. As one work put it: "The fact that Smith owned a Jupiter talisman shows that his fascination with the occult was not just a childish fad. At the time of his death, Smith had on his person this talisman....[49]

By contrast, contemporary evidence demonstrates that Joseph did not have such a Talisman in his possession at his death.

Durham, the source of the idea in modern discourse, would later say:

I now wish I had presented some of my material differently… For instance, at the present time, after rechecking my data, I find no primary evidence that Joseph Smith ever possessed a Jupiter talisman. The source for my comment was a second-hand, late source. It came from Wilford Wood, who was told it by Charlie Bidamon, who was told it by his father, Lewis Bidamon, who was Emma’s second husband and a non-Mormon not too friendly to the LDS Church. So, the idea that the Prophet had such a talisman is highly questionable!... [One author who was presented wrote:] "Dr. Durham also told me he was trying to play the "devil’s advocate" in his Nauvoo speech, which is what many there, including myself, sensed. Unfortunately others took the words to further their purposes."[50]

What is the source of the story about Joseph Smith possessing a Jupiter talisman?

The source of the Talisman story, upon which Dr. Durham based his remarks, was Wilford C. Wood, who was told it by Charles Bidamon, the son of Lewis Bidamon

Lewis was Emma Smith's non-Mormon second husband. Charles was born following an affair between Lewis Bidamon and Nancy Abercrombie, which occurred while Lewis was married to Emma. Charles was taken in by Emma when four years old, and raised by her until her death 11 years later.[51] (This action says much for Emma's charity.)

The talisman, or "silver pocket piece" as described in 1937, appeared on a list of items purportedly own by Joseph Smith which were to be sold by Charles Bidamon

Richard Lloyd Anderson wrote that the Talisman, or "silver pocket piece" as described in 1937, appeared on a list of items purportedly own by Joseph Smith which were to be sold by Charles Bidamon. One item listed was "a silver pocket piece which was in the Prophet's pocket at the time of his assassination."[52]:541 Wilford Wood, who collected Mormon memorabilia, purchased it in 1938 along with a document from Bidamon certifying that the Prophet possessed it when murdered. The affidavit sworn to by Charles Bidamon at the time of Wilford C. Wood's purchase was very specific:

This piece came to me through the relationship of my father, Major L. C. Bidamon, who married the Prophet Joseph Smith's widow, Emma Smith. I certify that I have many times heard her say, when being interviewed, and showing the piece, that it was in the Prophet's pocket when he was martyred at Carthage, Ill.[52]:558

Bidamon waited fifty-eight years after Emma’s death to make his certification, and notes that at the time of her death he was only fifteen years old

Anderson noted that Bidamon waited fifty-eight years after Emma’s death to make his certification, and notes that at the time of her death he was only fifteen years old.

Durham based his comments on Wood's description for the item which was: "This piece [the Talisman] was in Joseph Smith's pocket when he was martyred at Carthage Jail."[52]:558[53] However, a list of the items in Joseph's possession at the time of his death was provided to Emma following the martyrdom. On this list there was no mention made of any Talisman-like item. If there had been such an article, it ought to have been listed.

The list of items in Joseph's possession at the time of his death did not list the talisman among them

In 1984, Anderson located and published the itemized list of the contents of Joseph Smith's pockets at his death. The list was originally published in 1885 in Iowa by James W. Woods, Smith's lawyer, who collected the prophet's personal effects after the Martyrdom. The contents from the published 1885 printing are as follows:

Received, Nauvoo, Illinois, July 2, 1844, of James W. Woods, one hundred and thirty- five dollars and fifty cents in gold and silver and receipt for shroud, one gold finger ring, one gold pen and pencil case, one penknife, one pair of tweezers, one silk and one leather purse, one small pocket wallet containing a note of John P. Green for $50, and a receipt of Heber C. Kimball for a note of hand on Ellen M. Saunders for one thousand dollars, as the property of Joseph Smith. - Emma Smith.[52]:558[54]

No Talisman or item like it is listed. It could not be mistaken for a coin or even a "Masonic Jewel" as Durham first thought. Anderson described the Talisman as being "an inch-and-a-half in diameter and covered with symbols and a prayer on one side and square of sixteen Hebrew characters on the other."[52]:541 Significant is the fact that no associate of Joseph Smith has ever mentioned anything like this medallion. There are no interviews that ever record Emma mentioning any such item as attested to by Charles Bidamon, though he claimed she often spoke of it.

Stephen Robinson: "In the case of the Jupiter coin, this same extrapolation error is compounded with a very uncritical acceptance of the artifact in the first place"

Of the matter of the Jupiter talisman that is alleged to have been among Joseph Smith's possessions at the time of his death, Stephen Robinson wrote:

In the case of the Jupiter coin, this same extrapolation error is compounded with a very uncritical acceptance of the artifact in the first place. If the coin were Joseph's, that fact alone would tell us nothing about what it meant to him. But in fact there is insufficient evidence to prove that the artifact ever belonged to the Prophet. The coin was completely unknown until 1930 when an aging Charles Bidamon sold it to Wilford Wood. The only evidence that it was Joseph's is an affidavit of Bidamon, who stood to gain financially by so representing it. Quinn [and any other critic who embraces this theory] uncritically accepts Bidamon's affidavit as solid proof that the coin was Joseph's. Yet the coin was not mentioned in the 1844 list of Joseph's possessions returned to Emma. Quinn negotiates this difficulty by suggesting the coin must have been worn around Joseph's neck under his shirt. But in so doing Quinn impeaches his only witness for the coin's authenticity, for Bidamon's affidavit, the only evidence linking the coin to Joseph, specifically and solemnly swears that the coin was in Joseph's pocket at Carthage. The real empirical evidence here is just too weak to prove that the coin was really Joseph's, let alone to extrapolate a conclusion from mere possession of the artifact that Joseph must have believed in and practiced magic. The recent Hofmann affair should have taught us that an affidavit from the seller, especially a 1930 affidavit to third hand information contradicted by the 1844 evidence, just isn't enough 'proof' to hang your hat on.[55]

Could the list of items on Joseph's person at the time of his death have been incomplete?

Bidamon's certification clearly states that the Talisman was "in the Prophet’s pocket when he was martyred," yet it does not appear in the list of his possessions at the time of his death

More recent arguments contend that Wood’s list was exaggerated or was an all together different type of list. For example, some suggest that since neither Joseph's gun or hat were on the report, the list must not be complete. It should be obvious, however, that these items were not found on Joseph's person. The record clearly states that he dropped his gun and left it behind before being murdered. As for the hat, even if he had been wearing it indoors, it seems unlikely to have remained on his head after a gun-fight and fall from a second-story window.

Critics also argue that the Talisman was not accounted for was because it ought to have been worn around the neck, hidden from view and secret to all (including Emma no less). Thus, the argument runs, it was overlooked in the inventory. While it may be true that Talismans are worn around the neck, Bidamon's certification clearly states that the Talisman was "in the Prophet’s pocket when he was martyred." So which is it? In his pocket like a lucky charm or secretly worn around his neck as such an item should properly be used? In either case, the record is clear that he did not have a Talisman on his person at the time of his death. The rest is speculation.

The critics also resort to arguing that a prisoner could not possibly have had a penknife, so how accurate can the list of Joseph's possessions be? Obviously, the fact that he had a gun makes the possession of a knife a matter of no consequence.[56] Critics will dismiss contemporary evidence simply because it is inconvenient.

"at the present time, after checking my data, I find no primary evidence that Joseph Smith ever possessed a Jupiter Talisman"

As a final note to the saga, when Durham was later asked how he felt about his speech regarding the Talisman, he replied:

I now wish I had presented some of my material differently." "For instance, at the present time, after checking my data, I find no primary evidence that Joseph Smith ever possessed a Jupiter Talisman. The source for my comment was a second-hand, late source. It came from Wilford Wood, who was told it by Charlie Bidamon, who was told it by his father, Lewis Bidamon, who was Emma’s second husband and non-Mormon not too friendly to the LDS Church. So the idea that the Prophet had such a talisman is highly questionable.[57]

What is the probability that Joseph Smith possessed items related to "magic"?

Probability problems

This claim rests upon a lengthy chain of supposition:[58]

  1. Joseph himself owned the item (e.g., parchment, Mars dagger, or Jupiter talisman).
  2. His possession dates to his early days of "treasure seeking."
  3. He used them for magical purposes.
  4. He made them himself or commissioned them.
  5. He therefore must have used magic books to make them.
  6. He therefore must have had an occult mentor to help him with the difficult process of understanding the magical books and making these items.
  7. This occult mentor transmitted extensive arcane hermetic lore to Joseph beyond the knowledge necessary to make the artifacts.

Theses seven propositions are simply a tissue of assumptions, assertions, and speculations. There is no contemporary primary evidence that Joseph himself owned or used these items. We do not know when, how, or why these items became heirlooms of the Hyrum Smith family. Again, there is no contemporary primary evidence that mentions Joseph or anyone in his family using these artifacts—as Quinn himself noted, "possession alone may not be proof of use." There is no evidence that Joseph ever had any magic books. There is no evidence that Joseph ever had an occult mentor who helped him make or use these items.

Improbability

The methodology used by the critics is a classic example of what one could call the miracle of the addition of the probabilities. The case relies on a rickety tower of unproven propositions that do not provide certainty, rather a geometrically increasing improbability. Probabilities are multiplied, not added. Combining two propositions, each of which has a 50% probability, does not create a 100% probability, it creates a 25% probability that both are true together:

  • chance of proposition #1 being true = 50% = 0.5
  • chance of proposition #2 being true = 50% = 0.5
  • chance of BOTH being true = .5 x .5 = .25 = 25%

Allowing each of these seven propositions a 50% probability—a very generous allowance—creates a .0078% probability that the combination of all seven propositions is true. And this is only one element of a very complex and convoluted argument, with literally dozens of similar unverified assertions. The result is a monumentally high improbability that the overall thesis is correct.

A non-response to this argument

D. Michael Quinn, a major proponent of the "magick" argument, responded to the above by claiming that "Only when cumulative evidence runs contrary to the FARMS agenda, do polemicists like Hamblin want readers to view each piece of evidence as though it existed in isolation."[59]

Replied Hamblin:

Quinn misunderstands and misrepresents my position on what I have called the "miracle of the addition of the probabilities"....

[Quinn's rebuttal discusses] the process of the verification of historical evidence. The issue was unproven propositions, not parallel evidence.

Quinn...proposed that a series of "magic" artifacts provide evidence that Joseph Smith practiced magic. My position is that, in order for us to accept any particular artifact as a single piece of evidence, we must first accept several unproven propositions, each of which may be true or false, but none of which is proven. The more unproven propositions one must accept to validate a piece of evidence, the greater the probability that the evidence is not, in fact, authentic. Thus, two historiographical processes are under discussion. One is the authentication of a particular piece of evidence: did Joseph own a magical talisman and use it to perform magical rites? The second is the cumulative significance of previously authenticated evidence in proving a particular thesis: does the authentication of the use of the talisman demonstrate that Joseph was a magician who adhered to a magical worldview? Quinn apparently cannot distinguish between these two phases of the historical endeavor, which goes far to account for some of the numerous failings in his book....

Of course the probative value of evidence is cumulative. The more evidence you have, the greater the probability that your overall thesis is true. Thus, if Quinn can demonstrate that the talisman and the parchment and the dagger all belonged to the Smith family and were used for magical purposes, it would be more probable that his overall thesis is true than if he could establish only that the Smiths owned and used just one of those three items. But my argument is that the authenticity of each of these pieces of evidence rests on half a dozen unproven propositions and assumptions.[6]

Was a "magic dagger" once owned by Hyrum Smith?

Everyone in the nineteenth-century frontier had at least one dagger, and this one was not designed for ceremonial magic or treasure hunting

It is claimed that the Smith family owned a magic dagger that was among Hyrum Smith's heirlooms. They cite this as proof of the Smith family's deep involvement in ritual magick.

William Hamblin discusses a dagger that was discovered to be among the the Hyrum Smith family heirlooms. The dagger is claimed by historian D. Michael Quinn to be associated with the practice of magic:

The big problem for Quinn is that a dagger is usually just a dagger. Everyone in the nineteenth-century frontier had at least one, and most people had many. Some daggers were inscribed; others were not. Daggers were bought and sold just like any other tool and could easily pass from one owner to another. Given the data presented above, we do not know when, where, or how Hyrum obtained his dagger, or even if he really did. Since there is no documentation on the dagger until 1963, it could have been obtained by one of his descendants after his death and later accidentally confused with Hy rum's heirlooms. We do not know what it meant to Hyrum (assuming he owned it). Was it simply a dagger with some strange marks? Was it a gift to him from a Masonic friend? All of this is speculation—but it is no more speculative than Quinn's theories. Whatever the origin and purpose of the dagger, though, it is quite clear that, based on the evidence Quinn himself has presented, it does not match the magic daggers designed for making magic circles nor does it match the astrology of any of the Smiths.[6]

Hamblin concludes that,

[D. Michael] Quinn, and those who have followed him, have completely misunderstood or misrepresented the purpose of the dagger. The inclusion of the astrological sigil for Scorpio means the dagger was designed for someone born under the sign of Scorpio. None of the Smiths was. Therefore, it was not made for the Smiths. Quinn demonstrates no understanding of talismanic magic. The inclusion of the talismanic sigils for Mars means it was designed to grant victory in battle or litigation. It was not designed for ceremonial magic or treasure hunting, as Quinn claims. Quinn cites sources from after 1870 as evidence for what the Smiths supposedly believed, while completely misrepresenting those sources. The only possible conclusion to draw from all this is that the dagger was made for an unknown person, and, if it somehow came into the possession of Hyrum Smith, it was obtained secondhand with the engravings already made. This conforms with the late Smith family tradition that remembers the signs on the blade as "Masonic" rather than magical.[6]

Does the Book of Mormon’s reference to "slippery treasures" stem from Joseph Smith’s involvement in money digging and the occult?

Review of the Criticism

Some readers of the Book of Mormon and other critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have criticized the Book of Mormon’s reference to "slippery treasures".[60] This reference has been cited as evidence to them that the supposed "magic world view" of Joseph Smith and perhaps his associates influenced the composition of the Book of Mormon for those portions of the Book of Mormon that reference such "slippery treasures."

Book of Mormon Central: Why Did Samuel Say the Wealth of Some Nephites Would Become "Slippery"?

This charge/question has been examined in detail by Book of Mormon Central. Readers are invited to become acquainted with their material to address the question.

Book of Mormon Central:

Samuel the Lamanite’s famous prophetic warnings are found in Helaman 13–15. His pronouncement began with a massive rebuke of the pride, greed, iniquities, priestcrafts, ingratitude, and foolishness of wicked Nephites who were willing to embrace false prophets while utterly rejecting the righteous prophets (Helaman 13:25–29). Samuel pulled no punches. In this context, he used the word "slippery" three times, and the word "slipped" once (vv. 30–36).

Did Joseph Smith's family own "magic parchments" which suggest their involvement in the "occult"?

There is no evidence that Joseph knew of, possessed, or used magical parchments

It is claimed that the Smith family owned "magic parchments," suggesting their involvement in the "occult." However, there is no evidence that Joseph knew of, possessed, or used magical parchments. All we know is that some parchments were eventually "heirlooms" of the Hyrum Smith family, but their provenance is not clear.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Notes

  1. See discussions of this issue in: John Gee, "Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 185–224. [{{{url}}} off-site]; William J. Hamblin, "That Old Black Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 225–394. [{{{url}}} off-site]; William J. Hamblin, "That Old Black Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 225–394. [{{{url}}} off-site]
  2. John Gee, "Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 185–224. [{{{url}}} off-site]; citing Stanley J. Tambiah, Magic, Science, Religion, and the Scope of Rationality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) and Jonathan Z. Smith, "Trading Places," in Ancient Magic and Ritual Power, ed. Marvin Meyer and Paul Mirecki (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 16.
  3. Robert K. Ritner, "Egyptian Magic: Questions of Legitimacy, Religious Orthodoxy and Social Deviance," in Studies in Pharaonic Religion and Society in Honour of J. Gwyn Griffiths , ed. Alan B. Lloyd (London: Egypt Exploration Society, 1992), 190; cited in John Gee, "Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 185–224. [{{{url}}} off-site] (emphasis in original).
  4. Criticisms of Joseph's use of "folk magic" appear in the following publications: “The Book of Mormon and the Mormonites,” Athenaeum, Museum of Foreign Literature, Science and Art 42 (July 1841): 370–74. off-site; Henry Caswall, The Prophet of the Nineteenth Century, or, the Rise, Progress, and Present State of the Mormons, or Latter-Day Saints : To Which Is Appended an Analysis of the Book of Mormon (London: Printed for J. G. F. & J. Rivington, 1843), 28. off-site; John A. Clark, “Gleanings by the Way. No. VII,” Episcopal Recorder (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) 18, no. 25 (12 September 1840), ??. off-site; James H. Hunt, Mormonism: Embracing the Origin, Rise and Progress of the Sect (St. Louis: Ustick and Davies, 1844), n.p.. off-site; MormonThink.com website (as of 28 April 2012). Page: http://mormonthink.com/transbomweb.htm; La Roy Sunderland, “Mormonism,” Zion’s Watchman (New York) 3, no. 9 (3 March 1838): 34, citing Howe. off-site
  5. Luck Mack Smith, 1845 manuscript history transcribed without punctuation, in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:285.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 William J. Hamblin, "That Old Black Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 225–394. [{{{url}}} off-site]
  7. Wilford Woodruff, Journal, 28 March 1841; also cited in Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 2:75. ISBN 0941214133.
  8. Brant A. Gardner, Joseph the Seer—or Why Did He Translate With a Rock in His Hat?, FAIR Conference 2009. Gardner references D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1987), 38. and Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 70.
  9. Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 200–215.
  10. Eber Dudley Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, Ohio: Telegraph Press, 1834), 241-242; cited in Richard Van Wagoner and Steven Walker, "Joseph Smith: 'The Gift of Seeing," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 no. 2 (Summer 1982): 48–68.
  11. Joel Tiffany, Tiffany's Monthly (June 1859): 164;cited in Van Wagoner and Walker, 55.
  12. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853),91–92.
  13. Dean C. Jessee, "Joseph Knight's Recollection of Early Mormon History," Brigham Young University Studies 17 no. 1 (August 1976).; cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 281. Buy online
  14. Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 200–215.
  15. See, for example, Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 1:129. GospeLink; Roberts was followed by Richard S. Van Wagoner, Dan Vogel, Ogden Kraut, Jerald and Sandra Tanner, and D. Michael Quinn. See discussion in Ashurst-McGee, 247n317.
  16. Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 200–283.
  17. Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 200–201.
  18. W. D. Purple, The Chenango Union (3 May 1877); cited in Francis Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America: The Book of Mormon, 2 vols., (Salt Lake City: Utah Printing, 1959[1942]), 2:365. ASIN B000HMY138. (See Van Wagoner and Walker, 54.)
  19. Richard Marcellas Robinson, "The History of a Nephite Coin," manuscript, 20 December 1834, Church archives; cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 264. Buy online
  20. Mormonism—II," Tiffany's Monthly (June 1859): 163, see also 169; cited in Ashurst-McGee (2000), 286.
  21. Henry Harris, statement in E.D. Howe Mormonism Unvailed (1833), 252; cited in Ashurst-McGee (2000), 290.
  22. Joseph Knight, cited in Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton, Saints Without Halos: The Human Side of Mormon History (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1981), 6. Spelling and punctuation have been modernized. The original text reads: "After Brackfist Joseph Cald me in to the other Room and he sit his foot on the Bed and leaned his head on his hand and says, well I am Dissopented. Well, say I, I am sorrey. Well, says he, I am grateley Dissopnted. It is ten times Better then I expected. Then he went on to tell the length and width and thickness of the plates and, said he, they appear to be gold. But he seamed to think more of the glasses or the urim and thummim than he Did of the plates for says he, I can see anything. They are Marvelous."
  23. Joel Tiffany, "Mormonism—No. II," Tiffany's Monthly (June 1859): 165–166; cited in VanWagoner and Walker, footnote 27.
  24. Tiffany, 163.
  25. Told in Millennial Star 44:87; quotation from Kenneth W. Godfrey, "A New Prophet and a New Scripture: The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon," Ensign (January 1988): 6.
  26. Lucy Smith, "Preliminary Manuscript," 64, in Early Mormon Documents, 1:333-34. Cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 320–326.
  27. Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 320–326.
  28. Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 334–337.
  29. Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 332–333.
  30. Richard L. Anderson, "The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Searching," Brigham Young University Studies 24 no. 4 (1984). PDF link
    Caution: this article was published before Mark Hofmann's forgeries were discovered. It may treat fraudulent documents as genuine. Click for list of known forged documents.
    Discusses money-digging; Salem treasure hunting episode; fraudulent 1838 Missouri treasure hunting revelation; Wood Scrape; “gift of Aaron”; “wand or rod”; Heber C. Kimball rod and prayer; magic; occult; divining lost objects; seerstone; parchments; talisman ; citing Orson Pratt, "Discourse at Brigham City," 27 June 1874, Ogden (Utah) Junction, cited in Orson Pratt, "Two Days´ Meeting at Brigham City," Millennial Star 36 (11 August 1874), 498–499.
  31. Richard L. Anderson, "The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Searching," Brigham Young University Studies 24 no. 4 (1984). PDF link
    Caution: this article was published before Mark Hofmann's forgeries were discovered. It may treat fraudulent documents as genuine. Click for list of known forged documents.
    Discusses money-digging; Salem treasure hunting episode; fraudulent 1838 Missouri treasure hunting revelation; Wood Scrape; “gift of Aaron”; “wand or rod”; Heber C. Kimball rod and prayer; magic; occult; divining lost objects; seerstone; parchments; talisman
  32. Van Wagoner and Walker, 58–59 (citations removed).
  33. Van Wagoner and Walker, 58–59 (citations removed). See also Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 230.
  34. Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View 242–247.
  35. Brant A. Gardner, "Joseph the Seer—or Why Did He Translate With a Rock in His Hat?," Proceedings of the 2009 FAIR Conference (August 2009).
  36. Kenneth W. Godfrey, "A New Prophet and a New Scripture: The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon," Ensign (January 1988).
  37. Matthew Brown, "Revised or Unaltered? Joseph Smith's Foundational Stories.", 2006 FAIR Conference.
  38. William J. Hamblin, "That Old Black Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 225–394. [{{{url}}} off-site] (emphasis in original) Hamblin cites Luck Mack Smith, 1845 manuscript history transcribed without punctuation, in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:285. and Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana and Chicago, Illinois: University of Illinois Press; Reprint edition, 1987), 73. ISBN 0252060121.
  39. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 235-236. (Affidavits examined) Reproduced in "The Origin of Mormonism," Christian Enquirer (New York) 5/51 (25 September 1852): [1]. Also available in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:40-45.
  40. Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Review of Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reexamined by Rodger I. Anderson," FARMS Review of Books 3/1 (1991): 52–80. off-site [Anderson's references have been silently removed from this citation.]
  41. This section of the response was based on William J. Hamblin, "'Everything Is Everything': Was Joseph Smith Influenced by Kabbalah? Review of Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection by Lance S. Owens," FARMS Review of Books 8/2 (1996): 251–325. off-site. Please consult the original for references and further information. By the nature of a wiki project, the base text may have since been modified and added to.
  42. Larry E. Morris, "'I Should Have an Eye Single to the Glory of God’: Joseph Smith’s Account of the Angel and the Plates (Review of: "From Captain Kidd’s Treasure Ghost to the Angel Moroni: Changing Dramatis Personae in Early Mormonism")," FARMS Review 17/1 (2005): 11–82. off-site
  43. Bruce Chilton, "Jesus’ Dispute in the Temple and the Origin of the Eucharist," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 29 no. 4, 22–23.
  44. D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1998), 121 ( Index of claims )
  45. 45.0 45.1 45.2 45.3 45.4 45.5 45.6 William J. Hamblin, Daniel C. Peterson, and George L. Mitton, "Mormon in the Fiery Furnace Or, Loftes Tryk Goes to Cambridge] (Review of The Refiner's Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 by John L. Brooke)," FARMS Review of Books 6/2 (1994): 3–58. off-site
  46. 46.0 46.1 46.2 46.3 46.4 46.5 46.6 William J. Hamblin, "'Everything Is Everything': Was Joseph Smith Influenced by Kabbalah? Review of Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection by Lance S. Owens," FARMS Review of Books 8/2 (1996): 251–325. off-site
  47. William J. Hamblin, Daniel C. Peterson, and George L. Mitton, "Mormon in the Fiery Furnace Or, Loftes Tryk Goes to Cambridge] (Review of The Refiner's Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 by John L. Brooke)," FARMS Review of Books 6/2 (1994): 3–58. off-site(italics in original)
  48. Dr. Reed Durham’s Presidential Address before the Mormon History Association on 20 April 1974.
  49. Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), 225. ( Index of claims )
  50. https://www.fairmormon.org/archive/publications/the-truth-about-the-god-makers
  51. Jerald R. Johansen, After the Martyrdom: What Happened to the Family of Joseph Smith (Springville, Utah: Horizon Publishers, 2004[1997]), 79. ISBN 0882905961. off-site
  52. 52.0 52.1 52.2 52.3 52.4 Richard L. Anderson, "The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Searching," Brigham Young University Studies 24 no. 4 (1984). PDF link
    Caution: this article was published before Mark Hofmann's forgeries were discovered. It may treat fraudulent documents as genuine. Click for list of known forged documents.
    Discusses money-digging; Salem treasure hunting episode; fraudulent 1838 Missouri treasure hunting revelation; Wood Scrape; “gift of Aaron”; “wand or rod”; Heber C. Kimball rod and prayer; magic; occult; divining lost objects; seerstone; parchments; talisman
  53. Original coming from LaMar C. Berett, The Wilford Wood Collection, Vol. 1 (Provo, UT: Wilford C. Wood Foundation, 1972), 173.
  54. Anderson points to its original source in J. W. Woods "The Mormon Prophet," Daily Democrat (Ottumwa, Iowa), 10 May 1885; and in Edward H. Stiles, Recollections and Sketches of Notable Lawyers and Public Men of Early Iowa (Des Moines: Homestead Publishing Co., 1916), 271.
  55. Stephen E. Robinson, "Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, by D. Michael Quinn," Brigham Young University Studies 27 no. 4 (1987), 94–95.
  56. These are examples of later arguments by Quinn in an attempt to refute Anderson.
  57. Gilbert W. Scharffs, The Truth about ‘The God Makers’ (Salt Lake City, Utah: Publishers Press, 1989; republished by Bookcraft, 1994), 180. Full text FAIR link ISBN 088494963X.
  58. This section of the response was based on William J. Hamblin, "'Everything Is Everything': Was Joseph Smith Influenced by Kabbalah? Review of Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection by Lance S. Owens," FARMS Review of Books 8/2 (1996): 251–325. off-site. By the nature of a wiki project, it has since been modified and added to.
  59. D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1998), 355—56 n. 121 ( Index of claims )
  60. Robert N. Hullinger, Mormon Answer to Skepticism: Why Joseph Smith Wrote the Book of Mormon (St. Louis, MO: Clayton Publishing House, 1980), 105; D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1998), 61, 196–197.
Articles about Joseph Smith

What is the distinction between belief in "folk magic" and a religious belief in the supernatural?

The use of the terms "magic" and "occult" are prejudicial, loaded terminology

When critics use the term "magic" or "occult," they are using prejudicial, loaded terminology. Used in a neutral sense, magic might mean only that a person believes in the supernatural, and believes that supernatural can be influenced for the believer's benefit.

However, critics are generally not clear about what definition of magic they are using, and how to distinguish a "magical" belief in the supernatural from a "religious" belief in the supernatural.[1] Scholars of magic and religion have, in fact, come to realize that defining "magic" is probably a hopeless task. John Gee noted:

Defining "magic" as "religious beliefs other than their own"

In 1990, Cambridge University published Stanley Tambiah's Magic, Science, Religion, and the Scope of Rationality, which showed that the definitions of many of the most important writers on "magic" were heavily influenced both by their backgrounds and their personal ideological agendas: they defined "magic" as religious beliefs other than their own. In 1992, the International Interdisciplinary Conference on Magic in the Ancient World failed to come to any agreement on what "magic" was. The plenary speaker, Jonathan Z. Smith, in particular voiced strong opinions:

I see little merit in continuing the use of the substantive term "magic" in second-order, theoretical, academic discourse. We have better and more precise scholarly taxa for each of the phenomena commonly denoted by "magic" which, among other benefits, create more useful categories for comparison. For any culture I am familiar with, we can trade places between the corpus of materials conventionally labeled "magical" and corpora designated by other generic terms (e.g., healing, divining, execrative) with no cognitive loss. Indeed, there would be a gain.[2]

The use of the term "magic" is a negative label for modern Christians

The use of the term "magic" imposes, especially for modern Christians, a negative label at the outset, which explains its popularity for critics. As Professor of Egyptology Robert K. Ritner explained:

Modern Western terms for 'magic' function primarily as designations for that which we as a society do not accept, and which has overtones of the supernatural or the demonic (but not of the divine). It is important to stress that this pejorative connotation has not been grafted onto the notion of magic as the result of any recent theoretical fancy but is inherent in Western terminology virtually from its beginning. It constitutes the essential core of the Western concept of magic.[3]

The Book of Mormon condemns "magic"

Moroni's visit was a turning point for Joseph, for it is important to note that the Book of Mormon itself condemns "magic" whenever it is mentioned:

And it came to pass that there were sorceries, and witchcrafts, and magics; and the power of the evil one was wrought upon all the face of the land, even unto the fulfilling of all the words of Abinadi, and also Samuel the Lamanite. Mormon 1꞉19

Regardless of Joseph's or his family's previous opinions regarding folk magic prior to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, they clearly always believed in and had faith in God. Joseph believed that instruments such as the Urim and Thummim and his seer stone were consecrated by God for their intended use.

Were Joseph Smith's spiritual experiences originally products of magic and the occult?

Joseph's family believed in folk magic, and that Joseph himself used several different seer stones in order to locate lost objects

It is a known fact that Joseph's family believed in folk magic, and that Joseph himself used several different seer stones in order to locate lost objects.[4] Brant Gardner notes,

Young Joseph Smith was a member of a specialized sub-community with ties to these very old and very respected practices, though by the early 1800s they were respected only by a marginalized segment of society.

Joseph's family shared folk magic beliefs that were common to the day. Joseph's mother, Lucy, felt it important to note in her history that the family did not let these magical endeavors prevent the family from doing the necessary work to survive:

But let not my reader suppose that, because I shall pursue another topic for a season, that we stopped our labor and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing Magic circles or sooth saying to the neglect of all kinds of business. We never during our lives suffered one important interest to swallow up every other obligation. But, whilst we worked with our hands, we endeavored to remember the service of, and the welfare of our souls.[5]

Joseph's involvement with Josiah Stowell's attempt to locate a lost Spanish treasure is well documented in Church history

Stowell requested Joseph's assistance in a mining operation looking for old coins and precious metals. This effort, in fact, resulted in charges being brought against Joseph by Stowell's relatives for being a "glasslooker" in 1826. Joseph was ultimately charged with being a "disorderly person" and released. (For more detailed information, see: Joseph Smith's 1826 glasslooking trial)

Some, however, believe that all of Joseph's early spiritual experiences, particularly the First Vision and the visit of Moroni, were originally magical or occult experiences that were only later couched in spiritual terms. For example, the Hurlbut affidavits relate stories of Moroni's visit that cast the angel in the role of spiritual treasure guardian, with one (Willard Chase) even claiming that the angel appeared in the form of a toad.

D. Michael Quinn has been the most prolific author on the subject of "magic" influences on the origins of Mormonism. According to William Hamblin:

Quinn's overall thesis is that Joseph Smith and other early Latter-day Saint leaders were fundamentally influenced by occult and magical thought, books, and practices in the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is unmitigated nonsense. Yet the fact that Quinn could not discover a single primary source written by Latter-day Saints that makes any positive statement about magic is hardly dissuasive to a historian of Quinn's inventive capacity.[6]

Joseph Smith and his followers undoubtedly believed in supernatural power

Joseph Smith and his followers undoubtedly believed in supernatural power. And, they may have had some ideas about how to access that power that now strike us as inaccurate and even strange. This is not surprising, given the two centuries and massive scientific advances which separate our culture from theirs. However, there is no evidence that Joseph and others considered these things to be "magic," or the "occult," nor did they consider "magic" or the "occult" to be positive things.

What were the attitudes of Joseph Smith and his contemporaries toward "magic"?

The attitudes of Joseph Smith and his contemporaries toward "magic" was always negative

In 1841, Wilford Woodruff recounted an episode of Church disciplinary action:

The President then brought up the case of a Br Moumford, who was holding the office of a Priest, from whome fellowship had been withdrawn by the council of officers in consequence of his practizing fortune Telling, Magic, Black art &c & called upon Elders Woodruff & Cordon to express their feelings upon the subject when Elder Woodruff arose, & spoke Briefly upon the subject, & informed the assembly that we had no such custom or practice in the Church, & that we should not fellowship any individual who Practiced Magic fortune Telling, Black art &c for it was not of God. When It was moved & carried by the whole church that fellowship be withdrawn from Br Moumford.[7]

And, most importantly, the Book of Mormon's treatment of "magic" or "sorcery" is always negative, which seems strange if (as we are asked to believe by the critics) Joseph Smith concocted it while at the same time embracing that same "magic."

Joseph Smith locates a seer stone while digging a well. Image copyright (c) 2016 by Anthony Sweat.

How did Joseph Smith use his seer stones as a youth?

Joseph as the village seer: the use of the seer stone prior to the Restoration

Brant Gardner clarifies the role that Joseph and his stone played within the community of Palmyra,

Young Joseph Smith was a member of a specialized sub-community with ties to these very old and very respected practices, though by the early 1800s they were respected only by a marginalized segment of society. He exhibited a talent parallel to others in similar communities. Even in Palmyra he was not unique. In D. Michael Quinn's words: "Until the Book of Mormon thrust young Smith into prominence, Palmyra's most notable seer was Sally Chase, who used a greenish-colored stone. William Stafford also had a seer stone, and Joshua Stafford had a 'peepstone which looked like white marble and had a hole through the center.'" Richard Bushman adds Chauncy Hart, and an unnamed man in Susquehanna County, both of whom had stones with which they found lost objects.[8]

During his tenure as a "village seer," Joseph acquired several seer stones. Joseph first used a neighbor's seer stone (probably that belonging to Palmyra seer Sally Chase, on the balance of historical evidence, though there are other possibilities) to discover the location of a brown, baby's foot-shaped stone. The vision of this stone likely occurred in about 1819–1820, and he obtained his first seer stone in about 1821–1822.[9]

The second seer stone was reportedly found while digging a well on the property of William Chase in 1822

Joseph then used this first stone to find a second stone (a white one). The second seer stone was reportedly found on the property of William Chase in 1822 as Chase described it:

In the year 1822, I was engaged in digging a well. I employed Alvin and Joseph Smith to assist me.... After digging about twenty feet below the surface of the earth, we discovered a singularly appearing stone, which excited my curiosity. I brought it to the top of the well, and as we were examining it, Joseph put it into his hat, and then his face into the top of his hat.... The next morning he came to me, and wished to obtain the stone, alleging that he could see in it; but I told him I did not wish to part with it on account of its being a curiosity, but I would lend it.[10]


Did Joseph Smith place his seer stone in his hat while looking for lost objects?

Martin Harris recounted that Joseph could find lost objects with one of his seer stones

Martin Harris recounted that Joseph could find lost objects with the second, white stone:

I was at the house of his father in Manchester, two miles south of Palmyra village, and was picking my teeth with a pin while sitting on the bars. The pin caught in my teeth and dropped from my fingers into shavings and straw. I jumped from the bars and looked for it. Joseph and Northrop Sweet also did the same. We could not find it. I then took Joseph on surprise, and said to him--I said, "Take your stone." I had never seen it, and did not know that he had it with him. He had it in his pocket. He took it and placed it in his hat--the old white hat--and placed his face in his hat. I watched him closely to see that he did not look to one side; he reached out his hand beyond me on the right, and moved a little stick and there I saw the pin, which he picked up and gave to me. I know he did not look out of the hat until after he had picked up the pin.[11]

Joseph's mother also indicated that Joseph was sought out by some, including Josiah Stoal, to use the stone to find hidden valuables. He

came for Joseph on account of having heard that he possessed certain keys by which he could discern things invisible to the natural eye.[12]

Joseph referred to this incident in JS-H 1:55-56.

Stoal eventually joined the Church; some of his family, however, charged Joseph in court for events related to this treasure seeking. Stoal testified in Joseph's defense.

Joseph Knight also said that, at the command of the angel Moroni, Joseph looked into his seer stone to learn who he should marry. He "looked in his glass and found it was Emma Hale."[13]

For a detailed response, see: Joseph's 1826 glasslooking trial

How many seer stones did Joseph Smith have in his possession?

Joseph had between two to four seer stones

Joseph first used a neighbor's seer stone (probably Sally Chase, on the balance of historical evidence, though there are other possibilities) to discover the location of a brown, baby's foot-shaped stone. The vision of this stone likely occurred in about 1819–1820, and he obtained his first seer stone in about 1821–1822.[14]

Joseph then used this first stone to find a second stone (a white one). The color and sequence of obtaining these stones has often been confused,[15] and readers interested in an in-depth treatment are referred to the endnotes.[16]

Joseph would later discover at least two more seers stones in Nauvoo, on the banks of the Mississippi. These stones seem to have been collected more for their appearance, and there is little evidence of Joseph using them at that late date in his prophetic career.[17]

What did Joseph Smith's seer stones look like?

Witnesses gave descriptions of the stones

One witness reported (of the first, brown stone), from 1826:

It was about the size of a small hen's egg, in the shape of a high-instepped shoe. It was composed of layers of different colors passing diagonally through it. It was very hard and smooth, perhaps by being carried in the pocket.[18]

The second stone:

[the] Seer Stone was the shape of an egg though not quite so large, of a gray cast something like granite but with white stripes running around it. It was transparent but had no holes, neither on the end or in the sides.[19]

How were Joseph Smith's seer stones involved in the translation of the Book of Mormon?

Joseph may have used his seer stone to view the location of the plates after Moroni told him where they were

There is considerable evidence that the location of the plates and Nephite interpreters (Urim and Thummim) were revealed to Joseph via his second, white seer stone. In 1859, Martin Harris recalled that "Joseph had a stone which was dug from the well of Mason Chase...It was by means of this stone he first discovered the plates."[20]

Some critics have sought to create a contradiction here, since Joseph's history reported that Moroni revealed the plates to him (JS-H 1꞉34-35,42). This is an example of a false dichotomy: Moroni could easily have told Joseph about the plates and interpreters. The vision to Joseph may well have then come through the seer stone, as some of the sections of the Doctrine and Covenants (e.g., Section X) would later be revealed. One account matches this theory well:

I had a conversation with [Joseph], and asked him where he found them [the plates] and how he come to know where they were. he said he had a revelation from God that told him they were hid in a certain hill and he looked in his [seer] stone and saw them in the place of deposit.[21]

Joseph was initially more excited about the Nephite interpreters than the gold plates

Joseph Knight recalled that Joseph was more excited about the Nephite interpreters than the gold plates:

After breakfast Joseph called me into the other room, set his foot on the bed, and leaned his head on his hand and said, "Well I am disappointed."

"Well, I said, "I am sorry."

"Well, he said, "I am greatly disappointed. It is ten times better than I expected."

Then he went on to tell the length and width and thickness of the plates and, said he, they appear to be gold. But, he seemed to think more of the glasses or the Urim and Thummim than he did of the plate for, said he, "I can see anything. They are marvelous."[22]

Martin Harris described the Nephite interpreters

Martin Harris later described the Nephite interpreters as "about two inches in diameter, perfectly round, and about five-eighths of an inch thick at the centre.... They were joined by a round bar of silver, about three-eights of an inch in diameter, and about four inches long, which with the two stones, would make eight inches."[23]

Joseph often used the seer stone to translate

Despite having the Nephite interpreters, Joseph Smith often used the seer stone to translate. This led to an episode in which Martin tested the veracity of Joseph's claim to use the second, white stone to translate:[24]

Once Martin found a rock closely resembling the seerstone Joseph sometimes used in place of the interpreters and substituted it without the Prophet’s knowledge. When the translation resumed, Joseph paused for a long time and then exclaimed, "Martin, what is the matter, all is as dark as Egypt." Martin then confessed that he wished to "stop the mouths of fools" who told him that the Prophet memorized sentences and merely repeated them.[25]

Joseph used his white seer stone sometimes "for convenience" during the translation of the 116 pages with Martin Harris; later witnesses reported him using his brown seer stone.

Joseph sometimes used the Nephite interpreters in the same manner as his seer stones, even when he was not translating

Mark-Ashurst McGee notes that Joseph used the Nephite interpreters in the same manner as his seer stone, even when he was not translating the plates, and may have removed them from the frame which held them:

On one occasion, while Joseph was digging a well for a woman in Macedon, his wife Emma felt that the plates were in danger and came to tell Joseph. Lucy wrote that Joseph, "having just looked into them before Emma go there[,] he perceived her coming and cmae up out of the well and met her..." [26] It seems doubtful that Joseph would have the eight-inch long pair of glasses with him while at work in the well. It seems that Joseph eventually detached the lenses from their frame and carried them in a pouch as he had his brown seer stone.[27]

For a detailed response, see: Why would Joseph use the "rock in the hat" for the Book of Mormon translation that he previously used for "money digging?"


Why did Joseph Smith eventually stop using the seer stones to receive revelation?

Joseph eventually learned, through divine tutoring, how to receive unmediated revelation

These "Urim and Thummim" were the means of receiving most of the formal revelations until June 1829. That was the time of completing the Book of Mormon, which was translated through the Nephite interpreters and also Joseph's other seer stone(s). After this, seer stones were generally not used while receiving revelation or translation. (The JST and the Book of Abraham translations both began with seer stone usage, but Joseph soon quit using them.[28]) Following his baptism, receipt of the Holy Ghost, and ordination to the Melchizedek priesthood, Joseph seems have felt far less need to resort to the stones.[29] He had learned, through divine tutoring, how to receive unmediated revelation—the Lord had taken him "line upon line" from where he was (surrounded with beliefs about seeing and divining) and brought him to further light, knowledge, and power.

This perspective was reinforced by Orson Pratt, who watched the New Testament revision (JST) and wondered why the use of seer stones/interpreters (as with the Book of Mormon) was not continued:

While this thought passed through the speaker's mind, Joseph, as if he read his thoughts, looked up and explained that the Lord gave him the Urim and Thummim when he was inexperienced in the Spirit of inspiration. But now he had advanced so far that he understood the operations of that Spirit and did not need the assistance of that instrument.[30]

Are there any Biblical parallels to Joseph Smith's understanding of the use of seer stones?

The idea of sacred stones acting as revelators to believers is present in the Bible

The idea of sacred stones acting as revelators to believers is present in the Bible, and Joseph Smith embraced a decidedly "non-magical" and "pro-religious" view of them:

In Revelation, John incorporates past religious symbols into his message. Thus the most internally consistent interpretation of the "white stone" combines with the book's assurance that the faithful will become "kings and priests" to the Most High (Rev. 1:6). These eternal priests will be in tune with God's will, like the High Priest with the breastplate of shining stones and the Urim. In Hebrew that term means "light," corresponding to the "white" stone of John's Revelation. This correlation should be obvious, but Joseph Smith is virtually alone in confidence that John sees the redeemed as full High Priests: "Then the white stone mentioned in Rev. 2:17 is the Urim and Thummim, whereby all things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms, even all kingdoms, will be made know." As for genuine religion, Joseph Smith perceived the stone of John's vision not as a stone of chance but as a conduit of enlightenment and a reward of worthiness of character.[31]

What happened to Joseph Smith's seer stones?

The Nephite interpreters were reclaimed by Moroni

As noted above, the Nephite interpreters were apparently reclaimed by Moroni following the loss of the 116 pages, and were only seen again by the Three Witnesses (Testimony of Three).

The seer stone was given to Oliver Cowdery

Van Wagoner and Walker write:

David Whitmer indicated that the seer stone was later given to Oliver Cowdery: "After the translation of the Book of Mormon was finished early in the spring of 1830 before April 6th, Joseph gave the Stone to Oliver Cowdery and told me as well as the rest that he was through with it, and he did not use the Stone anymore." Whitmer, who was Cowdery's brother-in-law, stated that on Oliver's death in 1848, another brother-in-law, "Phineas Young, a brother of Brigham Young, and an old-time and once intimate friend of the Cowdery family came out from Salt Lake City, and during his visit he contrived to get the stone from its hiding place, through a little deceptive sophistry, extended upon the grief-stricken widow. When he returned to Utah he carried it in triumph to the apostles of Brigham Young's 'lion house.'"...

[Van Wagoner and Walker here confuse the two seer stones, so this section is not included here, given that better information has since come to light.]

...Joseph Fielding Smith, as an apostle, made clear that "the Seer Stone which was in the possession of the Prophet Joseph Smith in early days . . . is now in the possession of the Church." Elder Joseph Anderson, Assistant to the Council of the Twelve and long-time secretary to the First Presidency, clarified in 1971 that the "Seer Stone that Joseph Smith used in the early days of the Church is in possession of the Church and is kept in a safe in Joseph Fielding Smith's office.... [The stone is] slightly smaller than a chicken egg, oval, chocolate in color."[32] (This would be Joseph's first, "shoe-shaped stone," which was given to Oliver Cowdery, and then to his brother-in-law Phineas Young, brother of Brigham Young.[33]

Joseph's second (white) stone is also in the possession of the LDS First Presidency.[34]

Gardner: "Joseph Smith, long before golden plates complicated his position as a local seer, appears to have functioned just as Sally Chase did"

Brant Gardner:

Joseph Smith, long before golden plates complicated his position as a local seer, appears to have functioned just as Sally Chase did. Quinn reports that: "E. W. Vanderhoof [writing in 1905] remembered that his Dutch grandfather once paid Smith seventy-five cents to look into his ‘whitish, glossy, and opaque’ stone to locate a stolen mare. The grandfather soon ‘recovered his beast, which Joe said was somewhere on the lake shore and [was] about to be run over to Canada.’ Vanderhoof groused that ‘anybody could have told him that, as it was invariably the way a horse thief would take to dispose of a stolen animal in those days.'"13 While Vanderhoof reported a positive result of the consultation, it is interesting that his statement includes a qualifier that has the same intent as those added by the Saunders’ brothers. By the end of the century, one wouldn’t want to actually credit a village seer when describing their activities. Nevertheless, it isn’t the effectiveness that is important—it is the nature of the consultation. Sally Chase’s clients consulted her to find things which were lost, and Joseph Smith had at least one client who did the same.[35] —(Click here to continue)

Godfrey: "Martin found a rock closely resembling the seerstone Joseph sometimes used in place of the interpreters and substituted it without the Prophet’s knowledge"

Martin was a shrewd farmer and businessman, and a man of some property. He often warred between belief and doubt. For example, Martin put Joseph to the test during the translation of the 116 pages with the seer stone. He repeatedly subjected Joseph's claims to empirical tests to detect deception or fraud. He came away from those experiences convinced that Joseph was truly able to translate the plates. He was so convinced, he was willing to suffer ridicule and committed significant financial resources to publishing the Book of Mormon.

Kenneth W. Godfrey, Ensign (January 1988):

After returning from a trip to Palmyra to settle his affairs, Martin began to transcribe. From April 12 to June 14, Joseph translated while Martin wrote, with only a curtain between them. On occasion they took breaks from the arduous task, sometimes going to the river and throwing stones. Once Martin found a rock closely resembling the seerstone Joseph sometimes used in place of the interpreters and substituted it without the Prophet’s knowledge. When the translation resumed, Joseph paused for a long time and then exclaimed, "Martin, what is the matter, all is as dark as Egypt." Martin then confessed that he wished to "stop the mouths of fools" who told him that the Prophet memorized sentences and merely repeated them.[36]

To learn more about: seer stones in Church publications
Online
  • Richard Lloyd Anderson, "‘By the Gift and Power of God’," Ensign (September 1977): 79.
  • Hyrum Andrus, Joseph Smith, the Man, the Seer (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1960), 102. GL direct link
  • William J. Hamblin, "An Apologist for the Critics: Brent Lee Metcalfe's Assumptions and Methodologies (Review of Apologetic and Critical Assumptions about Book of Mormon Historicity by Brent Lee Metcalfe)," FARMS Review of Books 6/1 (1994): 434–523. off-site
  • Marvin S. Hill, "Money-Digging Folklore and the Beginnings of Mormonism: An Interpretative Suggestion," Brigham Young University Studies 24 no. 4 (Fall 1984), ?–??.GospeLink
  • Francis W. Kirkham, "The Manner of Translating The BOOK of MORMON," Improvement Era (1939). GL direct link
  • Joseph Fielding McConkie, Craig J. Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration: A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants and Other Modern Revelations (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 2000), D&C 9. GL direct link
  • Stephen D. Ricks, "Translation of the Book of Mormon: Interpreting the Evidence," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/2 (1993). [201–206] link
  • Brigham H. Roberts, "A Brief Debate on the Book of Mormon," in Defense of the Faith and the Saints, 2 vols. (1907), 1:350. Vol 1 GL direct link Vol 2 GL direct linkGL direct link
  • Royal Skousen, "Towards a Critical Edition of the Book of Mormon," Brigham Young University Studies 30 no. 1 (Winter 1990), 52.GL direct link
Navigators


Was a "vagabond fortune-teller" named Walters Joseph Smith's "mentor"?

The idea that Walter's "mantle" fell upon Joseph is the creation of an enemy of Joseph Smith, Abner Cole

It is claimed by some that a "vagabond fortune-teller" named Walters became popular in the Palmyra area, and that when Walters left the area, "his mantle fell upon" Joseph Smith. However, the idea that "Walters the Magician" was a mentor to Joseph Smith and that his "mantle" fell upon Joseph once Walters left the area originated with Abner Cole. Cole published a mockery of the Book of Mormon called the "Book of Pukei."

Matthew Brown discusses the "Book of Pukei":,

Cole claims in the "Book of Pukei" that the Book of Mormon really came into existence in the following manner:

  • Walters the Magician was involved in witchcraft and money-digging.
  • Walters was summoned to Manchester, New York by a group of wicked, idle, and slothful individuals—one of which was Joseph Smith.
  • Walters took the slothful individuals of Manchester out into the woods on numerous nighttime money-digging excursions. They drew a magic circle, sacrificed a rooster, and dug into the ground but never actually found anything.
  • The slothful group of Manchesterites then decided that Walters was a fraud. Walters himself admitted that he was an imposter and decided to skip town before the strong arm of the law caught up with him.
  • At this point, the mantle of Walters the Magician fell upon Joseph Smith and the rest of the Manchester rabble rallied around him.
  • The "spirit of the money-diggers" (who is identified implicitly with Satan in the text) appeared to Joseph Smith and revealed the Golden Bible to him.[37]

Does Lucy Mack Smith's mention of the "faculty of Abrac" and "magic circles" evidence that "magick" played a strong role in the Smith family's early life?

Lucy Mack Smith denied that her family was involved in wasting time by drawing "magic circles"

Critics generally neglect to provide the entire quote from Lucy. Dr. William J. Hamblin notes that there is "an ambiguously phrased statement of Lucy Mack Smith in which she denied that her family was involved in drawing "Magic circles."

There is no evidence from any Latter-day Saint sources about how to make "magic circles"

William Hamblin notes,

Quinn provides only very limited evidence, from anti-Mormon sources, that the Smiths were involved in making magic circles. He provides no evidence from LDS sources discussing how to make magic circles, describing their use by early Mormons, or establishing Mormon belief in the efficacy of such things.

Quinn does claim to have found one LDS reference supporting the use of magic circles. This is an ambiguously phrased statement of Lucy Mack Smith in which she denied that her family was involved in drawing "Magic circles" (p. 68; cf. 47, 66). Quinn maintains, because of an ambiguity of phraseology, that Lucy Mack Smith is saying that her family drew magic circles. The issue revolves around how the grammar of the original text should be understood. Here is how I read the text (with my understanding of the punctuation and capitalization added).

Now I shall change my theme for the present. But let not my reader suppose that, because I shall pursue another topic for a season, that we stopped our labor and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing Magic circles or sooth saying to the neglect of all kinds of business. We never during our lives suffered one important interest to swallow up every other obligation. But, whilst we worked with our hands, we endeavored to remember the service of, and the welfare of our souls.125

When Lucy's statement is examined in context, it can be seen that she explicitly denies that the Smith's were involved in such things as "magic circles"

Hamblin continues,

Here is how I interpret the referents in the text.

Now I shall change my theme for the present [from a discussion of farming and building to an account of Joseph's vision of Moroni and the golden plates which immediately follows this paragraph]. But let not my reader suppose that, because I shall pursue another topic [Joseph's visions] for a season, that we stopped our labor [of farming and building] and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing Magic circles or sooth saying to the neglect of all kinds of business [farming and building, as the anti-Mormons asserted, claiming the Smiths were lazy]. We never in our lives suffered one important interest [farming and building] to swallow up every other obligation [religion]. But, whilst we worked with our hands [at farming and building] we endeavored to remember the service of, and the welfare of our souls [through religion].

Thus, as I understand the text, Lucy Smith declares she is changing her theme to the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. In the public mind, that story is associated with claims that the Smiths were lazy and involved in magical activities. By the time Lucy Smith wrote this text in 1845, anti-Mormons were alleging that Joseph had been seeking treasure by drawing magic circles. She explicitly denies that they were involved in such things. She also denies that the Smiths were lazy. She wants to emphasize that, although she is not going to mention farming and building activities for a while, these activities were still going on. Quinn wants to understand the antecedent of "one important interest" as "trying to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing Magic circles or sooth saying" (p. 68). I believe that the antecedent of "one important interest" is "all kinds of business," meaning farming and building. Quinn maintains the phrase to the neglect of means that they pursued magic to some degree, but not to the extent that they completely neglected their farming. I believe that the phrase to the neglect of means that they did not pursue magic at all, and therefore did not neglect their farming and building at all: they were not pursuing magic and thereby neglecting their business.

Lucy's narrative focuses on religious and business concerns, and does not discuss magic

Hamblin concludes,

Although the phrasing is a bit ambiguous, the matter can easily be resolved by reference to the rest of Lucy's narrative. Contra Quinn, Lucy Smith's text provides no other mention of the supposedly "important interest" of magical activities but does deal prominently with their religious and business concerns. If magic activities were such an important part of Joseph Smith's life and Lucy was speaking of them in a positive sense as "important interests," why did she not talk about them further in any unambiguous passage? My interpretation fits much better into the context of Lucy Smith's narrative as a whole, in which she amply discusses farming and family life, as well as religion and Joseph's revelations—the two important interests of the family—but makes no other mention of magic. As Richard Bushman notes, "Lucy Smith's main point was that the Smiths were not lazy as the [anti-Mormon] affidavits claimed—they had not stopped their labor to practice magic."126 Thus, ironically, Quinn is claiming that Lucy Smith's denial of the false claims that the Smith family was engaged in magical activities has magically become a confirmation of those very magical activities she is denying![38]

Did Joseph Smith, Sr. practice "divination"?

Peter Ingersoll, a former neighbor of the Smiths, claimed that Joseph Smith, Sr., practiced "divination"

It has been claimed that Joseph Smith, Sr., practiced "divination," and that this is evidence for the strong role which "magick" played in the Smith family's early life. This claim relies on one of the Hurlburt-Howe affidavits, given by Peter Ingersoll, a former neighbor of the Smiths.

Ingersoll's affidavit reads:

‘Was a neighbor of Smith from 1822 to 1830. The general employment of the family was digging for money. Smith senior once asked me to go with him to see whether a mineral rod would work in my hand, saying he was confident it would. As my oxen were eating, and being myself at leisure, I went with him. When he arrived near the place where he thought there was money, he cut a small witch-hazel, and gave me direction how to hold it. He then went off some rods, telling me to say to the rod, ‘Work to the money,’ which I did in an audible voice. He rebuked me for speaking it loud, saying it must be spoken in a whisper. While the old man was standing off some rods, throwing himself into various shapes, I told him the rod did not work. He seemed much surprised, and said he thought he saw it move. It was now time for me to return to my labor. On my return I picked up a small stone, and was carelessly tossing it from one hand to the other. Said he, (looking very earnestly,) ‘What are you going to do with that stone?’ ‘Throw it at the birds,’ I replied. ‘No,’ said the old man, ‘it is of great worth.’ I gave it to him. ‘Now,’ said he, ‘if you only knew the value there is back of my house!’ and pointing to a place near, ‘There,’ said he, ‘is one chest of gold and another of silver.’ He then put the stone which I had given him into his hat, and stooping forward, he bowed and made sundry maneuvers, quite similar to those of a stool-pigeon. At length he took down his hat, and, being very much exhausted, said, in a faint voice, ‘If you knew what I had seen, you would believe.’ His son, Alvin, went through the same performance, which was equally disgusting.

‘Another time the said Joseph senior told me that the best time for digging money was in the heat of summer, when the heat of the sun caused the chests of money to rise near the top of the ground. ‘You notice,’ said he, ‘the large stones on the top of the ground; we call them rocks, and they truly appear so, but they are in fact, most of them chests of money raised by the heat of the sun.’’....[39]

Some of Ingersoll's claims are clearly false, based on other, more reliable testimony

Some of Ingersoll's claims are clearly false, based on other, more reliable testimony. It is telling that the critics often wish to jettison Ingersoll's claims as those of a teller-of-tall-tales or a liar when it is clear that he cannot be trusted. Yet, when no evidence exists (pro- or con-) save Ingersoll's testimony, they then present his witness as a reliable data point for conclusions about the early years of Joseph Smith and his family. Of Ingersoll's claims, Richard L. Anderson noted:

Peter lived near Joseph Smith and was employed to go with him to Pennsylvania to move Emma's personal property to the Smith farm in the fall of 1827. Ingersoll claims that after this, Joseph told him he brought home white sand in his work frock and walked into the house to find "the family" (parents, Emma, brothers and sisters) eating. When they asked what he carried, he "very gravely" told them (for the first time) that he had a "golden Bible" and had received a revelation that no one could see it and live. At that point (according to Ingersoll), Joseph offered to let the family see, but they fearfully refused, and Ingersoll says that Joseph added, "Now, I have got the damned fools fixed, and will carry out the fun."

Rodger Anderson [author of the book under review by Anderson] agrees with me that this is just a tall tale. Why? Family sources prove they looked forward to getting the plates long before this late 1827 occurrence, and Joseph had far more respect for his family than the anecdote allows. So Rodger Anderson thinks that Ingersoll at first believed Joseph and then retaliated: "it seems likely that Ingersoll created the story as a way of striking back at Smith for his own gullibility in swallowing a story he later became convinced was a hoax" (p. 56). That may be, and there are perhaps others making affidavits with similar motives. But the more provable point is that good stories die hard. Facts were obviously bent to make Joseph Smith the butt of many a joke. So anecdotes could be yarns good for a guffaw around a pot-bellied stove.

Ingersoll has another story in this class. Joseph planned to move Emma and the plates to Pennsylvania at the end of 1827. Then Ingersoll has Joseph playing a religious mind game with Martin Harris: "I . . . told him that I had a command to ask the first honest man I met with, for fifty dollars in money, and he would let me have it. I saw at once, said Jo, that it took his notion, for he promptly give me the fifty." Willard Chase tells a similar story, not identifying his source. But in this case both Joseph Smith and Martin Harris gave their recollections. Both say that Martin was converted to Joseph Smith's revelations first and then offered the money out of conviction, not because of sudden street-side flattery. The best historical evidence is not something told by another party, especially one with hostility to the person he is reporting....

Rodger Anderson recoils at my suggestion that the affidavits were "contaminated by Hurlbut," but he has merely argued harder for one road to this same result. Rodger Anderson then contends that Hurlbut's influence does not matter, since many of the statements were signed under oath before a magistrate. This is one of scores of irrelevancies. The question is credibility, not form. As Jesus essentially said in the Sermon on the Mount, the honest person is regularly believable, not just under oath. Nor does the act of signing settle all, since it is hardly human nature to read the fine print of a contract or all details of prewritten petitions. Rodger Anderson finds Ingersoll's sand-for-plates story "the most dubious" (p. 56) and thus admits that Ingersoll is "the possible exception" in "knowingly swearing to a lie" (p. 114). But Ingersoll does not tell taller stories than many others glinting in the hostile statements reprinted by Rodger Anderson. Like the persecuting orthodox from the Pharisees to the Puritans, the New York community was performing an act of moral virtue to purge itself of the stigma of an offending new religion. Hurlbut contributed to the process of mutual contamination of similar stories and catch-words....

Rodger Anderson closes his survey with the appeal to accept "the Hurlbut-Deming affidavits" as significant "primary documents relating to Joseph Smith's early life and the origins of Mormonism" (p. 114). Some tell of "early life," but many only repeat tall tales or disclose the prejudice that Joseph Smith said faced him from the beginning. There are some authentic facts about the outward life of young Joseph, but his inner life makes him significant. It is this other half that the testimonials brashly claim to penetrate but cannot. To the extent that the Prophet's spiritual experiences are the primary issue, the Hurlbut-Deming statements are not primary documents.

Here I have discussed some aspects of their objective shortcomings, but I do not intend to take much time answering countercharges. Those who think like Rodger Anderson will continue to reason that the Hurlbut-Deming materials contain serious history because "many based their descriptions on close association with the Joseph Smith, Sr., family" (p. 114). That is too sloppy for my taste. Downgrading a reputation is serious business, and I want a reasonable burden of proof to be met on each major contention. Knowing the family is not enough—knowing specific incidents is required. The mathematics of true personal history is fairly simple: half-truths added to others still retain their category of half-truths; conclusions without personal knowledge have zero value; and any number multiplied by zero is still zero.

A final, highly personal reaction: I once discussed a negative biography with a friend, literature professor Neal Lambert. After pointing out shortcomings in method and evidence, I self-consciously added an intuitive judgment: "and I think there is a poor tone to the book." Instantly picking up my apologetic manner, Neal answered vigorously, "But tone is everything." In reality, attitude penetrates the judgments we make, whether in gathering the Hurlbut-Deming materials or in defending them. With few exceptions, the mind-set of these testimonials is skeptical, hypercritical, ridiculing. But history is a serious effort to understand, and tools with the above labels have limited value.[40]

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Peter Ingersoll: Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 232-237, 248-249. (Affidavits examined) Partially reproduced in "The Origin of Mormonism," Christian Enquirer (New York) 5/51 (25 September 1852): [1]. Also available in full in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:40-45.

Did early members of the "Mormon" Church believe in witchcraft?

While some members may have believed in witchcraft, all the scriptural and primary evidence portrays their opinion of such things as negative, not positive

[41] There are a number of texts and incidents which indicate a basically negative attitude towards the occult by most early Mormons. Brooke himself notices several incidents manifesting such an anti-occult strain in early LDS thought: George A. Smith, for instance, destroyed magic books brought to America by English converts (p. 239). Likewise, "organizations advocating the occult were suppressed" by Brigham Young in 1855 (p. 287), while, "in 1900 and 1901, church publications launched the first explicit attacks on folk magic" (p. 291). But the evidence of negative attitudes among Mormons to matters occult is much more widespread than Brooke indicates.

The Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants contain several explicit condemnations of sorcery, witchcraft, and magic. While admitting that there are only "rare references to magic or witchcraft in the Book of Mormon" (p. 176, 177), Brooke nonetheless insists that the "categories of treasure, magic, and sorcery . . . fascinated Joseph Smith" (p. 168). The Book of Mormon maintains that Christ will "cut off witchcrafts out of thy land" (3 Nephi 21꞉16), and sorcery, witchcraft, and "the magic art" are mentioned in lists of sins (Alma 1꞉32, Mormon 2꞉10). "Sorceries, and witchcrafts, and magics" are also attributed to "the power of the evil one" (Mormon 1꞉19). In the Doctrine and Covenants, sorcerers are among those who are "cast down to hell" (D&C 76꞉103,106), who "shall have their part in . . . the second death" (D&C 63꞉17). These are the only references to magical or occult powers in LDS scripture, and they are uniformly and emphatically negative. Brooke's key terms, such as "alchemy," "astrology," "hermeticism," "androgyny," and "cabala," are never mentioned in LDS scripture.

Several early LDS writers were unequivocal in their condemnation of magic and the occult. One brother was "disfellowshipped by the council of officers, for using magic, and telling fortunes &c." The ancient Egyptian use of "omens, charms, unlucky days and magic" is described as "grossly superstitious." Orson Pratt described alchemy as "the pursuit of that vain phantom." His brother Parley was even more forthright:

It is, then, a matter of certainty, according to the things revealed to the ancient Prophets, and renewed unto us, that all the animal magnetic phenomena, all the trances and visions of clairvoyant states, all the phenomena of spiritual knockings, writing mediums, &c., are from impure, unlawful, and unholy sources; and that those holy and chosen vessels which hold the keys of Priesthood in this world, in the spirit world, or in the world of resurrected beings, stand as far aloof from all these improper channels, or unholy mediums, of spiritual communication, as the heavens are higher than the earth, or as the mysteries of the third heaven, which are unlawful to utter, differ from the jargon of sectarian ignorance and folly, or the divinations of foul spirits, abandoned wizards, magic-mongers, jugglers, and fortune-tellers.

Based on this extensive (but admittedly incomplete) survey of early Mormon writings, we can arrive at three logical conclusions:

  1. the unique ideas that critics advocating the "magic" hypothesis claim were central to the origins of Mormonism do not occur in early LDS primary texts;
  2. early Mormons seldom concerned themselves with things occult; but
  3. on the infrequent occasions when they mention the occult, it is without exception viewed negatively.

Was the fact that the recovery of the Book of Mormon plates occurred on the autumnal equinox somehow significant?

Book of Mormon Central, KnoWhy #193: Why Did Moroni Deliver the Plates on September 22? (Video)

There are many religious traditions (including Judaism) that use the equinoxes as part of their religious calendar

Joseph's meetings with Moroni and the recovery of the Book of Mormon occurred on the autumnal equinox, a date with astrological and magical significance. Some have speculated that this is evidence of Joseph Smith's preoccupation with "magick." However, there are many religious traditions (including Judaism) that use the equinoxes as part of their religious calendar. Thus, the presence of a significant "astrological" date may be coincidental or present for religious, not "magical" reasons. This again highlights the problems with "magic" as a category.

In this instance, critics presume that their claims about Joseph's preoccupation with magic is an accurate description of his attempt to recover the plates (see circular reasoning). If, however, there are other explanations for receiving the plates on the evening of 21–22 September 1827, then this cannot be used as evidence for pre-occupation with a "magic world view."

The recovery of the Book of Mormon plates occurred on a vital date in the Jewish calendar: Rosh ha-Shanah, the Jewish New Year

The Book of Mormon claims to be a religious text, with a world-view sharing close affinities with Judaism. Interestingly, the plates' recovery occurred on a vital date in the Jewish calendar:

Rosh ha-Shanah, the Jewish New Year (which had begun at sundown on 21 September 1827). At Rosh ha-Shanah the faithful were commanded to set a day aside as "a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation" (Leviticus 23:24).[42]

Rosh ha-Shanah also begins the Asseret Yemei Teshuva (The Ten Days of Repentance) which precede the holiest day of the Jewish year: Yom Kippur, the day of the atonement. Likewise, the Book of Mormon claimed to come forth to preach repentance, and prepare the way for Christ's second coming.

Rosh ha-Shanah is celebrated by the blowing of the ram's horn (shofar), just as Jesus' apocalyptic teachings foretold that the elect would be gathered by angels "with a great sound of a trumpet" (Matthew 24:31). The Revelation of St. John features angels with trumpets as part of the preparation or heralding of Christ's second coming (e.g., Revelation 8:2,6; compare D&C 77꞉12). The Book of Mormon portrays itself squarely within this tradition, heralding and preparing the way for the gathering of the elect and the return of Christ (1 Nephi 13꞉34-42).

In the Jerusalem temple, "at the autumnal equinox the rays of the sun could enter the [holy of holies] because the whole of the edifice faced east."[43] Thus, on a date in which the idea of divine illumination, light, and knowledge streaming into God's earthly temple was so prominent, a new divine revelation of scripture fits at least as well as Quinn's claim that this date has astrological significance for "the introduction of 'broad cultural movements and religious ideas'."[44]

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Joseph Smith derive his religious ideas in part from a mysticism called Kabbalah?

There is little actual evidence to support this

It is claimed that Joseph Smith's religious ideas derived in part from Kabbalah, a type of (usually Jewish) mysticism. Critics and the unwary presume that because a few lengthy works have been written about Joseph Smith and kabbalistic ideas, this is sufficient grounds for presuming a connection. The evidence behind this connection, is, however, on shaky evidential ground.

Before swallowing the critics' explanation, one should study the extensive reviews which illustrate numerous problems with this approach thus far.

It is not the job of the Saints to prove that kaballah did not influence Joseph Smith. It is the job of his critics to prove that it did. And, thus far, that proof has not been forthcoming. Extensive reviews of the works which purport to find this strain in Joseph Smith's thought are available (see below).

It is difficult to prove a negative—how might we prove that Joseph's ideas were not from Kabbalah? Rather, we can consider a number of the problems with this intellectual construct, and then ask if there are not perhaps better ways to understand Joseph's thought.

Some authors merely describe LDS doctrine or practice in kabbalistic or "hermetical" terms

Some authors merely describe LDS doctrine or practice in kabbalistic or "hermetical" terms, and then presume that by doing so they have proved that these ideas were, in fact, drawn from kabbalah. This is circular reasoning.

For example, one review wrote that:

Throughout his book, Brooke's approach might be characterized as scholarship by adjective (see, e.g., pp. 240, 294). Time and again, he places the adjective "hermetic" or "alchemical" before a noun relating to Mormonism and then proceeds as if the mere act of juxtaposing the two terms—essentially without argument—had established that the ill-defined adjective really applies. He holds that "certainly Joseph Smith was predisposed to a hermetic interpretation of sacred history and processes from his boyhood" (p. 208). But what does this mean? What is a "hermetic interpretation" here? Although Brooke himself seems to have a predisposition to a "hermetic interpretation" of almost everything in sight, Joseph Smith and his followers undoubtedly did not have the remotest idea of what hermeticism was.

Simply labeling Mormon celestial marriage "hermetic" and "alchemical" (as on pp. 214, 257-58, 281) does not make it such. Frequently, in a kind of fallacy of misplaced concretion, Brooke is misled by his own metaphors to misread nineteenth-century realities (as in his use of the terms "alchemy" and "transmutation" in discussing the Kirtland Bank [pp. 222-23; cf. 227-28]), and even twentieth-century Utah (as when he describes modern financial scams in Utah as "alchemical" [p. 299]). On at least one occasion, Fawn Brodie's (twentieth-century) portrayal of Sidney Rigdon as engaged in a metaphorical "witchhunt" inspires Brooke—evidently by sheer word association—to claim that Joseph Smith (!) saw himself as literally surrounded by witches (p. 230).[45]

This is a common approach, with another author falling victim to the same tendency:

Owens's entire thesis also suffers repeatedly from semantic equivocation—using a term "in two or more senses within a single argument, so that a conclusion appears to follow when in fact it does not."61 Owens does not adequately recognize the fact that the semantic domain of words can vary radically from individual to individual, through translation, by shifts in meaning through time, or because of idiosyncratic use by different contemporary communities.62 For Owens it is often sufficient to assert that he feels that kabbalistic or hermetic ideas "resonate" with his understanding of Latter-day Saint thought (p. 132). Thus, in an attempt to demonstrate affiliations between the Latter-day Saint world view and that of esotericists, Owens presents a number of ideas that he claims represent parallels between his understanding of the kabbalistic and hermetic traditions and his view of Latter-day Saint theology, but that, upon closer inspection, turn out to be only vaguely similar, if at all....

Owens frequently implicitly redefines kabbalistic and hermetic terms in a way that would have been foreign to both the original esoteric believers and to early Latter-day Saints. In an effort to make ideas seem similar, he is forced to severely distort both what esotericists and Latter-day Saints believe.[46]

Some critics stretch LDS scripture to the breaking point in an effort to "prove" their argument

...when a Book of Mormon passage denounces "works of darkness" (Alma 37꞉23), Brooke asserts that "although he never mentions them by name, Smith had declared an occult war on the witchlike art of the counterfeiters" (p. 178). Really? Nothing in the passage calls for such an interpretation, any more than does the analogous phrase in Ephesians 5:11. There can be little doubt, of course, that the early Latter-day Saints, like most of their contemporaries on the American frontier, suffered from counterfeiters' schemes and regarded them as enemies.....But that scarcely justifies Professor Brooke's arbitrary allegorical speculations. Besides, as readers will notice, Brooke cannot really decide whether the Mormons opposed counterfeiting or favored it. Either option will suffice for him, since either will allow him to claim that they were fascinated by it and since, taken together, they constitute a historical hypothesis that is virtually impervious to historical proof or disproof.[45]

Some critics ignore the common biblical sources for ideas in LDS thought, and instead argue that these ideas came from much more obscure hermetic thought

It is universally acknowledged that biblical quotations, paraphrases, and imagery fill all early LDS scripture, writings, and sermons. Time and again early Latter-day Saints explicitly point to biblical precedents for their doctrines and practices. Joseph Smith and all the early Mormon elders taught and defended their doctrines from the Bible. Even in the great King Follett discourse—which Brooke sees as a cornucopia of "hermetic" doctrine—Joseph declared "I am going to prove it [the doctrine of multiple gods] to you by the Bible." The text is filled with biblical quotations and allusions. Never do the early Saints claim they are following hermetic or alchemical precedents. Brooke, however, generously sets out to correct this lapse for them....[45]

Although far less problematically or extensively than Brooke, Owens also ignores obvious biblical antecedents to Latter-day Saint thought in favor of alleged hermetic or alchemical antecedents. Owens informs us that "Paracelsus also prophesied of the coming of the prophet "Elias' as part of a universal restoration, another idea possibly affecting the work of Joseph Smith" (p. 163 n. 90). Quite true. But why does Owens fail to mention the strong biblical tradition of the return of Elijah/Elias, the clear source for this idea for both Paracelsus and Joseph Smith? [46]

Critics cannot produce primary sources from the early Saints expressing their interest in kabbalah or hermeticism

Furthermore, critics tend to ignore or downplay evidence of an opposition to "magic" or "the occult" among early Saints:

...there are a number of texts and incidents which indicate a basically negative attitude towards the occult by most early Mormons. Brooke himself notices several incidents manifesting such an anti-occult strain in early LDS thought: George A. Smith, for instance, destroyed magic books brought to America by English converts (p. 239). Likewise, "organizations advocating the occult were suppressed" by Brigham Young in 1855 (p. 287), while, "in 1900 and 1901, church publications launched the first explicit attacks on folk magic" (p. 291).36 But the evidence of negative attitudes among Mormons to matters occult is much more widespread than Brooke indicates.

The Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants contain several explicit condemnations of sorcery, witchcraft, and magic....The Book of Mormon maintains that Christ will "cut off witchcrafts out of thy land" (3 Nephi 21:16), and sorcery, witchcraft, and "the magic art" are mentioned in lists of sins (Alma 1:32, Mormon 2:10). "Sorceries, and witchcrafts, and magics" are also attributed to "the power of the evil one" (Mormon 1:19). In the Doctrine and Covenants, sorcerers are among those who are "cast down to hell" (D&C 76:103, 106), who "shall have their part in . . . the second death" (D&C 63:17).37 These are the only references to magical or occult powers in LDS scripture, and they are uniformly and emphatically negative. Brooke's key terms, such as "alchemy," "astrology," "hermeticism," "androgyny," and "cabala," are never mentioned in LDS scripture.[45]

In another case, critics present

background material [that is] is often dated or misrepresented. Owens's use of sources, both primary and secondary, is problematic at a number of levels. First, he ignores nearly all earlier writings by Latter-day Saint scholars on the significance of the possible parallels between Latter-day Saint ideas and the Western esoteric tradition. There is, in fact, a growing body of Latter-day Saint literature that has examined some of these alleged parallels, and presented possible interpretations of the relationship between the esoteric tradition and the gospel. Why is Nibley not even mentioned by Owens, despite the fact that he has been writing on this subject for four decades?9 Robert F. Smith's discussion of many of these issues is ignored....

Furthermore, for the most part, Owens's account of the Western esoteric tradition does not rely on primary sources, or even translations of primary sources, but on secondary summaries, which he often misunderstands or misrepresents. This unfamiliarity with both the primary and secondary sources may in part explain the numerous errors that occur throughout his article....[46]

Critics often fail to provide any specifics to link these ideas to the members of the Church—generally because there aren't any such sources.

This does not deter critics, however, from a chain of speculation, supposition, and probability that hides the fact that no evidence whatever has been presented:

Owens insists that "any backwoods rodsman divining for buried treasures in New York in 1820 may have known about the [esoteric] tradition" and that "there undoubtedly existed individuals [in the early nineteenth-century United States] who were deeply cognizant of Hermeticism, its lore, rituals, and aspirations. And this group probably included an occasional associate of treasure diggers" (p. 159). Elsewhere Owens asserts that "there must have been more than a few" people in frontier New York who had been influenced by the hermetic, kabbalistic, and alchemical traditions (p. 165, emphasis added to all these citations). Evidence, please! Who exactly were these individuals? What exactly did they know? How exactly did they gain their unusual knowledge? Exactly when and where did they live? With whom exactly did they associate? What exactly did they teach their associates? What evidence—any evidence at all—does Owens provide for any of his speculations? [46]

Reliance on late, anti-Mormon accounts

Given the lack of material to support this hypothesis in the words of Joseph Smith or his followers, critics turn to their enemies:

...in large part Brooke relies on late secondhand anti-Mormon accounts—taken at face value—while rejecting or ignoring eye-witness contemporary Mormon accounts of the same events or ideas....

In a book purportedly analyzing the thought of Joseph Smith, it is remarkable how infrequently Joseph himself is actually quoted. Instead we find what Joseph's enemies wanted others to believe he was saying and doing. Thus, while it may be true that some early non-Mormons or anti-Mormons occasionally described some activities of Joseph Smith and the Saints as somehow related to "magic," it is purely a derogatory outsider view. The Saints never describe their own beliefs and activities in those terms. Brooke has a disturbing tendency to cite standard LDS sources and histories on noncontroversial matters—thereby establishing an impression of impartiality—while, on disputed points, using anti-Mormon sources without explaining the Mormon perspective or interpretation.[47]

Sometimes, critics even give "magical" meaning to common words used by Joseph Smith in a completely different context

in a breathtaking case of academic legerdemain, he takes common terms that occur with specialized technical meanings in hermetic and alchemical thought—terms such as "furnace," "refine," "stone," "metal," etc.—and proposes the existence of such common terms in Mormon writings as a subtle but irrefutable indication that Mormons had hermetic and alchemical ideas in the backs of their minds all along. In fact, so subtle is the impact of hermetic and alchemical thought on Joseph that "the hermetic implications of his theology may not even have been clear to Smith himself" (p. 208)! This is truly an alchemical transmutation of baseless assertions into pure academic fool's gold.[45]

Or:

Owens ignores two other obvious explanations: that both esoteric and Latter-day Saint ideas derive from a similar source, e.g., the Bible, or that Joseph Smith received true revelation, as opposed to some ill-defined type of Jungian "personal cognition." [46]

Some critics' relative unfamiliarity with LDS history is made clear by repeated self-contradiction and historical blunders

Brooke's presentation of early Mormon history is likewise plagued by repeated blunders. His depiction of a Joseph Smith who is "bitter," "suspicious," and "anxious" (p. 135)—a description helpful to Brooke's environmentalist reading of the Book of Mormon—flies in the face of Brooke's own claim that "by all accounts he was a gregarious, playful character" (p. 180; cf. JS-H 1:28). It may also seem remarkable to some that Joseph believed that "the simultaneous emergence of counterfeiting and the spurious Masonry of the corrupt country Grand Lodge in the early 1820s was an affliction on the people, the consequence of their rejection of Joseph Smith as a preacher of the gospel" (p. 177), since Joseph had not yet restored the gospel or begun to preach in the early 1820s. Brooke has Joseph and Oliver being "baptized into the Priesthood of Aaron" (p. 156), even though their baptism and their ordination to the priesthood were clearly two separate events.66 Furthermore, he uses the alleged counterfeiting activities of Theodore Turley, Peter Hawes, Joseph H. Jackson, Marenus Eaton, and Edward Bonney to propose a continued Mormon fascination with counterfeiting, and thereby, with alchemy (pp. 269-70), despite the fact that Jackson, Eaton, and Bonney were not LDS! And Brooke seems unsure as to whether John Taylor's Mediation and Atonement "was of great significance doctrinally, because it marked the rejection of the Adam-God concept," (p. 289) or whether the "rejection of the Adam-God doctrine [was] something that John Taylor had not really attempted" (p. 291).[45]

Errors also extend beyond LDS matters into the history of "magick" thought itself:

Owens makes an unsupported claim that the alchemists' ""philosopher's stone' [was] the antecedent of Joseph Smith's "seer's stone'" (p. 136). In fact, the philosopher's stone (lapis philosophorum) was thought to have been composed of primordial matter, the quintessentia—the fifth element after air, water, fire, and earth. Unlike Joseph's seer stone, it was not really a literal "stone" at all, but primordial matter (materia prima)—"this stone therefore is no stone," as notes a famous alchemical text.26 Sometimes described as a powder the color of sulfur, the philosopher's stone was used for the transmutation of matter and had little or nothing to do with divination. Indeed, the use of stones and mirrors for divination antedates the origin of the idea of the philosopher's stone. There is no relationship beyond the fact that both happen to be called a stone....

Owens claims that the concept that "God was once as man now is . . . could, by various exegetical approaches, be found in the Hermetic-Kabbalistic tradition" (pp. 178-79). It is understandable that he provides neither primary nor secondary evidence for this assertion, since no hermetic or kabbalistic texts make such a claim. Unlike Latter-day Saint concepts of God and divinization, the metaphysical presuppositions of both hermeticism and kabbalism are fundamentally Neoplatonic.[46]

Even the complete absence of evidence is no bar to the critic:

Owens speculates at great length about possible Rosicrucian influences on Joseph Smith (pp. 138-54), asserting (with absolutely no evidence) that Luman Walter was influenced by Rosicrucian ideas (p. 162). Once again, however, Owens ignores the annoying fact that the Rosicrucian movement was effectively dead at the time of Joseph Smith. In England "the Gold and Rosy Cross appears to have had no English members and was virtually extinct by 1793."...

Thus Joseph Smith was alive precisely during the period of the least influence of Kabbalah, hermeticism, and Rosicrucianism, all of which had seriously declined by the late eighteenth century—before Joseph's birth—and would revive only in the late nineteenth century, after Joseph's death. Owens never recognizes these developments, but instead consistently quotes sources earlier and later than Joseph Smith as indicative of the ideas supposedly found in Joseph's day.[46]

Some critics do not seem to even understand modern LDS thought and history well

For example:

Professor Brooke's ignorance of contemporary Mormonism hurts him in amusing ways. Even the cold fusion claims made at the University of Utah a few years ago are pressed into service as illustrations of Mormon hermeticism: They are interesting, Brooke declares, "given Mormon doctrines on the nature of matter" (p. 299). He never troubles himself, though, to explain how the experiments of the two non-Mormon chemists Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischman are even remotely helpful as indicators of Latter-day Saint attitudes and beliefs.

It is probably significant that Brooke's mistakes are not random; rather, his presentation consistently misrepresents LDS scripture, doctrine, and history in ways that tend to support his thesis by making LDS ideas seem closer to his hermetic prototypes. These are not minor errors involving marginal characters or events in LDS scripture and history; nor are they mere matters of interpretation. Rather, for the most part, they are fundamental errors, clearly demonstrating Brooke's feeble grasp of the primary texts.[45]

Did Joseph Smith have a Jupiter talisman on his person at the time of his death?

The only source of evidence that claims Joseph Smith had the Jupiter Talisman on his person is Charles Bidamon, made long after the death of Joseph and Emma

Did Joseph have this Talisman on him when he was murdered? What would it mean if he did?

This well circulated claim finds its origins in a 1974 talk by Dr. Reed Durham. Durham said that Joseph "evidently [had a Talisman] on his person when he was martyred. The talisman, originally purchased from the Emma Smith Bidamon family, fully notarized by that family to be authentic and to have belonged to Joseph Smith, can now be identified as a Jupiter talisman."[48]

There is only one source of evidence that claims Joseph Smith had the Jupiter Talisman on his person, and that source is Charles Bidamon. Bidamon's statement was made long after the death of Joseph and Emma, relied on memories from his youth, and was undergirded by financial motives.

The idea that Joseph Smith might have had a Jupiter Talisman in his possession is used by critics of the Church as proof of his fascination with the occult. As one work put it: "The fact that Smith owned a Jupiter talisman shows that his fascination with the occult was not just a childish fad. At the time of his death, Smith had on his person this talisman....[49]

By contrast, contemporary evidence demonstrates that Joseph did not have such a Talisman in his possession at his death.

Durham, the source of the idea in modern discourse, would later say:

I now wish I had presented some of my material differently… For instance, at the present time, after rechecking my data, I find no primary evidence that Joseph Smith ever possessed a Jupiter talisman. The source for my comment was a second-hand, late source. It came from Wilford Wood, who was told it by Charlie Bidamon, who was told it by his father, Lewis Bidamon, who was Emma’s second husband and a non-Mormon not too friendly to the LDS Church. So, the idea that the Prophet had such a talisman is highly questionable!... [One author who was presented wrote:] "Dr. Durham also told me he was trying to play the "devil’s advocate" in his Nauvoo speech, which is what many there, including myself, sensed. Unfortunately others took the words to further their purposes."[50]

What is the source of the story about Joseph Smith possessing a Jupiter talisman?

The source of the Talisman story, upon which Dr. Durham based his remarks, was Wilford C. Wood, who was told it by Charles Bidamon, the son of Lewis Bidamon

Lewis was Emma Smith's non-Mormon second husband. Charles was born following an affair between Lewis Bidamon and Nancy Abercrombie, which occurred while Lewis was married to Emma. Charles was taken in by Emma when four years old, and raised by her until her death 11 years later.[51] (This action says much for Emma's charity.)

The talisman, or "silver pocket piece" as described in 1937, appeared on a list of items purportedly own by Joseph Smith which were to be sold by Charles Bidamon

Richard Lloyd Anderson wrote that the Talisman, or "silver pocket piece" as described in 1937, appeared on a list of items purportedly own by Joseph Smith which were to be sold by Charles Bidamon. One item listed was "a silver pocket piece which was in the Prophet's pocket at the time of his assassination."[52]:541 Wilford Wood, who collected Mormon memorabilia, purchased it in 1938 along with a document from Bidamon certifying that the Prophet possessed it when murdered. The affidavit sworn to by Charles Bidamon at the time of Wilford C. Wood's purchase was very specific:

This piece came to me through the relationship of my father, Major L. C. Bidamon, who married the Prophet Joseph Smith's widow, Emma Smith. I certify that I have many times heard her say, when being interviewed, and showing the piece, that it was in the Prophet's pocket when he was martyred at Carthage, Ill.[52]:558

Bidamon waited fifty-eight years after Emma’s death to make his certification, and notes that at the time of her death he was only fifteen years old

Anderson noted that Bidamon waited fifty-eight years after Emma’s death to make his certification, and notes that at the time of her death he was only fifteen years old.

Durham based his comments on Wood's description for the item which was: "This piece [the Talisman] was in Joseph Smith's pocket when he was martyred at Carthage Jail."[52]:558[53] However, a list of the items in Joseph's possession at the time of his death was provided to Emma following the martyrdom. On this list there was no mention made of any Talisman-like item. If there had been such an article, it ought to have been listed.

The list of items in Joseph's possession at the time of his death did not list the talisman among them

In 1984, Anderson located and published the itemized list of the contents of Joseph Smith's pockets at his death. The list was originally published in 1885 in Iowa by James W. Woods, Smith's lawyer, who collected the prophet's personal effects after the Martyrdom. The contents from the published 1885 printing are as follows:

Received, Nauvoo, Illinois, July 2, 1844, of James W. Woods, one hundred and thirty- five dollars and fifty cents in gold and silver and receipt for shroud, one gold finger ring, one gold pen and pencil case, one penknife, one pair of tweezers, one silk and one leather purse, one small pocket wallet containing a note of John P. Green for $50, and a receipt of Heber C. Kimball for a note of hand on Ellen M. Saunders for one thousand dollars, as the property of Joseph Smith. - Emma Smith.[52]:558[54]

No Talisman or item like it is listed. It could not be mistaken for a coin or even a "Masonic Jewel" as Durham first thought. Anderson described the Talisman as being "an inch-and-a-half in diameter and covered with symbols and a prayer on one side and square of sixteen Hebrew characters on the other."[52]:541 Significant is the fact that no associate of Joseph Smith has ever mentioned anything like this medallion. There are no interviews that ever record Emma mentioning any such item as attested to by Charles Bidamon, though he claimed she often spoke of it.

Stephen Robinson: "In the case of the Jupiter coin, this same extrapolation error is compounded with a very uncritical acceptance of the artifact in the first place"

Of the matter of the Jupiter talisman that is alleged to have been among Joseph Smith's possessions at the time of his death, Stephen Robinson wrote:

In the case of the Jupiter coin, this same extrapolation error is compounded with a very uncritical acceptance of the artifact in the first place. If the coin were Joseph's, that fact alone would tell us nothing about what it meant to him. But in fact there is insufficient evidence to prove that the artifact ever belonged to the Prophet. The coin was completely unknown until 1930 when an aging Charles Bidamon sold it to Wilford Wood. The only evidence that it was Joseph's is an affidavit of Bidamon, who stood to gain financially by so representing it. Quinn [and any other critic who embraces this theory] uncritically accepts Bidamon's affidavit as solid proof that the coin was Joseph's. Yet the coin was not mentioned in the 1844 list of Joseph's possessions returned to Emma. Quinn negotiates this difficulty by suggesting the coin must have been worn around Joseph's neck under his shirt. But in so doing Quinn impeaches his only witness for the coin's authenticity, for Bidamon's affidavit, the only evidence linking the coin to Joseph, specifically and solemnly swears that the coin was in Joseph's pocket at Carthage. The real empirical evidence here is just too weak to prove that the coin was really Joseph's, let alone to extrapolate a conclusion from mere possession of the artifact that Joseph must have believed in and practiced magic. The recent Hofmann affair should have taught us that an affidavit from the seller, especially a 1930 affidavit to third hand information contradicted by the 1844 evidence, just isn't enough 'proof' to hang your hat on.[55]

Could the list of items on Joseph's person at the time of his death have been incomplete?

Bidamon's certification clearly states that the Talisman was "in the Prophet’s pocket when he was martyred," yet it does not appear in the list of his possessions at the time of his death

More recent arguments contend that Wood’s list was exaggerated or was an all together different type of list. For example, some suggest that since neither Joseph's gun or hat were on the report, the list must not be complete. It should be obvious, however, that these items were not found on Joseph's person. The record clearly states that he dropped his gun and left it behind before being murdered. As for the hat, even if he had been wearing it indoors, it seems unlikely to have remained on his head after a gun-fight and fall from a second-story window.

Critics also argue that the Talisman was not accounted for was because it ought to have been worn around the neck, hidden from view and secret to all (including Emma no less). Thus, the argument runs, it was overlooked in the inventory. While it may be true that Talismans are worn around the neck, Bidamon's certification clearly states that the Talisman was "in the Prophet’s pocket when he was martyred." So which is it? In his pocket like a lucky charm or secretly worn around his neck as such an item should properly be used? In either case, the record is clear that he did not have a Talisman on his person at the time of his death. The rest is speculation.

The critics also resort to arguing that a prisoner could not possibly have had a penknife, so how accurate can the list of Joseph's possessions be? Obviously, the fact that he had a gun makes the possession of a knife a matter of no consequence.[56] Critics will dismiss contemporary evidence simply because it is inconvenient.

"at the present time, after checking my data, I find no primary evidence that Joseph Smith ever possessed a Jupiter Talisman"

As a final note to the saga, when Durham was later asked how he felt about his speech regarding the Talisman, he replied:

I now wish I had presented some of my material differently." "For instance, at the present time, after checking my data, I find no primary evidence that Joseph Smith ever possessed a Jupiter Talisman. The source for my comment was a second-hand, late source. It came from Wilford Wood, who was told it by Charlie Bidamon, who was told it by his father, Lewis Bidamon, who was Emma’s second husband and non-Mormon not too friendly to the LDS Church. So the idea that the Prophet had such a talisman is highly questionable.[57]

What is the probability that Joseph Smith possessed items related to "magic"?

Probability problems

This claim rests upon a lengthy chain of supposition:[58]

  1. Joseph himself owned the item (e.g., parchment, Mars dagger, or Jupiter talisman).
  2. His possession dates to his early days of "treasure seeking."
  3. He used them for magical purposes.
  4. He made them himself or commissioned them.
  5. He therefore must have used magic books to make them.
  6. He therefore must have had an occult mentor to help him with the difficult process of understanding the magical books and making these items.
  7. This occult mentor transmitted extensive arcane hermetic lore to Joseph beyond the knowledge necessary to make the artifacts.

Theses seven propositions are simply a tissue of assumptions, assertions, and speculations. There is no contemporary primary evidence that Joseph himself owned or used these items. We do not know when, how, or why these items became heirlooms of the Hyrum Smith family. Again, there is no contemporary primary evidence that mentions Joseph or anyone in his family using these artifacts—as Quinn himself noted, "possession alone may not be proof of use." There is no evidence that Joseph ever had any magic books. There is no evidence that Joseph ever had an occult mentor who helped him make or use these items.

Improbability

The methodology used by the critics is a classic example of what one could call the miracle of the addition of the probabilities. The case relies on a rickety tower of unproven propositions that do not provide certainty, rather a geometrically increasing improbability. Probabilities are multiplied, not added. Combining two propositions, each of which has a 50% probability, does not create a 100% probability, it creates a 25% probability that both are true together:

  • chance of proposition #1 being true = 50% = 0.5
  • chance of proposition #2 being true = 50% = 0.5
  • chance of BOTH being true = .5 x .5 = .25 = 25%

Allowing each of these seven propositions a 50% probability—a very generous allowance—creates a .0078% probability that the combination of all seven propositions is true. And this is only one element of a very complex and convoluted argument, with literally dozens of similar unverified assertions. The result is a monumentally high improbability that the overall thesis is correct.

A non-response to this argument

D. Michael Quinn, a major proponent of the "magick" argument, responded to the above by claiming that "Only when cumulative evidence runs contrary to the FARMS agenda, do polemicists like Hamblin want readers to view each piece of evidence as though it existed in isolation."[59]

Replied Hamblin:

Quinn misunderstands and misrepresents my position on what I have called the "miracle of the addition of the probabilities"....

[Quinn's rebuttal discusses] the process of the verification of historical evidence. The issue was unproven propositions, not parallel evidence.

Quinn...proposed that a series of "magic" artifacts provide evidence that Joseph Smith practiced magic. My position is that, in order for us to accept any particular artifact as a single piece of evidence, we must first accept several unproven propositions, each of which may be true or false, but none of which is proven. The more unproven propositions one must accept to validate a piece of evidence, the greater the probability that the evidence is not, in fact, authentic. Thus, two historiographical processes are under discussion. One is the authentication of a particular piece of evidence: did Joseph own a magical talisman and use it to perform magical rites? The second is the cumulative significance of previously authenticated evidence in proving a particular thesis: does the authentication of the use of the talisman demonstrate that Joseph was a magician who adhered to a magical worldview? Quinn apparently cannot distinguish between these two phases of the historical endeavor, which goes far to account for some of the numerous failings in his book....

Of course the probative value of evidence is cumulative. The more evidence you have, the greater the probability that your overall thesis is true. Thus, if Quinn can demonstrate that the talisman and the parchment and the dagger all belonged to the Smith family and were used for magical purposes, it would be more probable that his overall thesis is true than if he could establish only that the Smiths owned and used just one of those three items. But my argument is that the authenticity of each of these pieces of evidence rests on half a dozen unproven propositions and assumptions.[6]

Was a "magic dagger" once owned by Hyrum Smith?

Everyone in the nineteenth-century frontier had at least one dagger, and this one was not designed for ceremonial magic or treasure hunting

It is claimed that the Smith family owned a magic dagger that was among Hyrum Smith's heirlooms. They cite this as proof of the Smith family's deep involvement in ritual magick.

William Hamblin discusses a dagger that was discovered to be among the the Hyrum Smith family heirlooms. The dagger is claimed by historian D. Michael Quinn to be associated with the practice of magic:

The big problem for Quinn is that a dagger is usually just a dagger. Everyone in the nineteenth-century frontier had at least one, and most people had many. Some daggers were inscribed; others were not. Daggers were bought and sold just like any other tool and could easily pass from one owner to another. Given the data presented above, we do not know when, where, or how Hyrum obtained his dagger, or even if he really did. Since there is no documentation on the dagger until 1963, it could have been obtained by one of his descendants after his death and later accidentally confused with Hy rum's heirlooms. We do not know what it meant to Hyrum (assuming he owned it). Was it simply a dagger with some strange marks? Was it a gift to him from a Masonic friend? All of this is speculation—but it is no more speculative than Quinn's theories. Whatever the origin and purpose of the dagger, though, it is quite clear that, based on the evidence Quinn himself has presented, it does not match the magic daggers designed for making magic circles nor does it match the astrology of any of the Smiths.[6]

Hamblin concludes that,

[D. Michael] Quinn, and those who have followed him, have completely misunderstood or misrepresented the purpose of the dagger. The inclusion of the astrological sigil for Scorpio means the dagger was designed for someone born under the sign of Scorpio. None of the Smiths was. Therefore, it was not made for the Smiths. Quinn demonstrates no understanding of talismanic magic. The inclusion of the talismanic sigils for Mars means it was designed to grant victory in battle or litigation. It was not designed for ceremonial magic or treasure hunting, as Quinn claims. Quinn cites sources from after 1870 as evidence for what the Smiths supposedly believed, while completely misrepresenting those sources. The only possible conclusion to draw from all this is that the dagger was made for an unknown person, and, if it somehow came into the possession of Hyrum Smith, it was obtained secondhand with the engravings already made. This conforms with the late Smith family tradition that remembers the signs on the blade as "Masonic" rather than magical.[6]

Does the Book of Mormon’s reference to "slippery treasures" stem from Joseph Smith’s involvement in money digging and the occult?

Review of the Criticism

Some readers of the Book of Mormon and other critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have criticized the Book of Mormon’s reference to "slippery treasures".[60] This reference has been cited as evidence to them that the supposed "magic world view" of Joseph Smith and perhaps his associates influenced the composition of the Book of Mormon for those portions of the Book of Mormon that reference such "slippery treasures."

Book of Mormon Central: Why Did Samuel Say the Wealth of Some Nephites Would Become "Slippery"?

This charge/question has been examined in detail by Book of Mormon Central. Readers are invited to become acquainted with their material to address the question.

Book of Mormon Central:

Samuel the Lamanite’s famous prophetic warnings are found in Helaman 13–15. His pronouncement began with a massive rebuke of the pride, greed, iniquities, priestcrafts, ingratitude, and foolishness of wicked Nephites who were willing to embrace false prophets while utterly rejecting the righteous prophets (Helaman 13:25–29). Samuel pulled no punches. In this context, he used the word "slippery" three times, and the word "slipped" once (vv. 30–36).

Did Joseph Smith's family own "magic parchments" which suggest their involvement in the "occult"?

There is no evidence that Joseph knew of, possessed, or used magical parchments

It is claimed that the Smith family owned "magic parchments," suggesting their involvement in the "occult." However, there is no evidence that Joseph knew of, possessed, or used magical parchments. All we know is that some parchments were eventually "heirlooms" of the Hyrum Smith family, but their provenance is not clear.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Notes

  1. See discussions of this issue in: John Gee, "Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 185–224. [{{{url}}} off-site]; William J. Hamblin, "That Old Black Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 225–394. [{{{url}}} off-site]; William J. Hamblin, "That Old Black Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 225–394. [{{{url}}} off-site]
  2. John Gee, "Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 185–224. [{{{url}}} off-site]; citing Stanley J. Tambiah, Magic, Science, Religion, and the Scope of Rationality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) and Jonathan Z. Smith, "Trading Places," in Ancient Magic and Ritual Power, ed. Marvin Meyer and Paul Mirecki (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 16.
  3. Robert K. Ritner, "Egyptian Magic: Questions of Legitimacy, Religious Orthodoxy and Social Deviance," in Studies in Pharaonic Religion and Society in Honour of J. Gwyn Griffiths , ed. Alan B. Lloyd (London: Egypt Exploration Society, 1992), 190; cited in John Gee, "Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 185–224. [{{{url}}} off-site] (emphasis in original).
  4. Criticisms of Joseph's use of "folk magic" appear in the following publications: “The Book of Mormon and the Mormonites,” Athenaeum, Museum of Foreign Literature, Science and Art 42 (July 1841): 370–74. off-site; Henry Caswall, The Prophet of the Nineteenth Century, or, the Rise, Progress, and Present State of the Mormons, or Latter-Day Saints : To Which Is Appended an Analysis of the Book of Mormon (London: Printed for J. G. F. & J. Rivington, 1843), 28. off-site; John A. Clark, “Gleanings by the Way. No. VII,” Episcopal Recorder (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) 18, no. 25 (12 September 1840), ??. off-site; James H. Hunt, Mormonism: Embracing the Origin, Rise and Progress of the Sect (St. Louis: Ustick and Davies, 1844), n.p.. off-site; MormonThink.com website (as of 28 April 2012). Page: http://mormonthink.com/transbomweb.htm; La Roy Sunderland, “Mormonism,” Zion’s Watchman (New York) 3, no. 9 (3 March 1838): 34, citing Howe. off-site
  5. Luck Mack Smith, 1845 manuscript history transcribed without punctuation, in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:285.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 William J. Hamblin, "That Old Black Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 225–394. [{{{url}}} off-site]
  7. Wilford Woodruff, Journal, 28 March 1841; also cited in Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 2:75. ISBN 0941214133.
  8. Brant A. Gardner, Joseph the Seer—or Why Did He Translate With a Rock in His Hat?, FAIR Conference 2009. Gardner references D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1987), 38. and Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 70.
  9. Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 200–215.
  10. Eber Dudley Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, Ohio: Telegraph Press, 1834), 241-242; cited in Richard Van Wagoner and Steven Walker, "Joseph Smith: 'The Gift of Seeing," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 no. 2 (Summer 1982): 48–68.
  11. Joel Tiffany, Tiffany's Monthly (June 1859): 164;cited in Van Wagoner and Walker, 55.
  12. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853),91–92.
  13. Dean C. Jessee, "Joseph Knight's Recollection of Early Mormon History," Brigham Young University Studies 17 no. 1 (August 1976).; cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 281. Buy online
  14. Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 200–215.
  15. See, for example, Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 1:129. GospeLink; Roberts was followed by Richard S. Van Wagoner, Dan Vogel, Ogden Kraut, Jerald and Sandra Tanner, and D. Michael Quinn. See discussion in Ashurst-McGee, 247n317.
  16. Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 200–283.
  17. Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 200–201.
  18. W. D. Purple, The Chenango Union (3 May 1877); cited in Francis Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America: The Book of Mormon, 2 vols., (Salt Lake City: Utah Printing, 1959[1942]), 2:365. ASIN B000HMY138. (See Van Wagoner and Walker, 54.)
  19. Richard Marcellas Robinson, "The History of a Nephite Coin," manuscript, 20 December 1834, Church archives; cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 264. Buy online
  20. Mormonism—II," Tiffany's Monthly (June 1859): 163, see also 169; cited in Ashurst-McGee (2000), 286.
  21. Henry Harris, statement in E.D. Howe Mormonism Unvailed (1833), 252; cited in Ashurst-McGee (2000), 290.
  22. Joseph Knight, cited in Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton, Saints Without Halos: The Human Side of Mormon History (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1981), 6. Spelling and punctuation have been modernized. The original text reads: "After Brackfist Joseph Cald me in to the other Room and he sit his foot on the Bed and leaned his head on his hand and says, well I am Dissopented. Well, say I, I am sorrey. Well, says he, I am grateley Dissopnted. It is ten times Better then I expected. Then he went on to tell the length and width and thickness of the plates and, said he, they appear to be gold. But he seamed to think more of the glasses or the urim and thummim than he Did of the plates for says he, I can see anything. They are Marvelous."
  23. Joel Tiffany, "Mormonism—No. II," Tiffany's Monthly (June 1859): 165–166; cited in VanWagoner and Walker, footnote 27.
  24. Tiffany, 163.
  25. Told in Millennial Star 44:87; quotation from Kenneth W. Godfrey, "A New Prophet and a New Scripture: The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon," Ensign (January 1988): 6.
  26. Lucy Smith, "Preliminary Manuscript," 64, in Early Mormon Documents, 1:333-34. Cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 320–326.
  27. Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 320–326.
  28. Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 334–337.
  29. Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 332–333.
  30. Richard L. Anderson, "The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Searching," Brigham Young University Studies 24 no. 4 (1984). PDF link
    Caution: this article was published before Mark Hofmann's forgeries were discovered. It may treat fraudulent documents as genuine. Click for list of known forged documents.
    Discusses money-digging; Salem treasure hunting episode; fraudulent 1838 Missouri treasure hunting revelation; Wood Scrape; “gift of Aaron”; “wand or rod”; Heber C. Kimball rod and prayer; magic; occult; divining lost objects; seerstone; parchments; talisman ; citing Orson Pratt, "Discourse at Brigham City," 27 June 1874, Ogden (Utah) Junction, cited in Orson Pratt, "Two Days´ Meeting at Brigham City," Millennial Star 36 (11 August 1874), 498–499.
  31. Richard L. Anderson, "The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Searching," Brigham Young University Studies 24 no. 4 (1984). PDF link
    Caution: this article was published before Mark Hofmann's forgeries were discovered. It may treat fraudulent documents as genuine. Click for list of known forged documents.
    Discusses money-digging; Salem treasure hunting episode; fraudulent 1838 Missouri treasure hunting revelation; Wood Scrape; “gift of Aaron”; “wand or rod”; Heber C. Kimball rod and prayer; magic; occult; divining lost objects; seerstone; parchments; talisman
  32. Van Wagoner and Walker, 58–59 (citations removed).
  33. Van Wagoner and Walker, 58–59 (citations removed). See also Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 230.
  34. Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View 242–247.
  35. Brant A. Gardner, "Joseph the Seer—or Why Did He Translate With a Rock in His Hat?," Proceedings of the 2009 FAIR Conference (August 2009).
  36. Kenneth W. Godfrey, "A New Prophet and a New Scripture: The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon," Ensign (January 1988).
  37. Matthew Brown, "Revised or Unaltered? Joseph Smith's Foundational Stories.", 2006 FAIR Conference.
  38. William J. Hamblin, "That Old Black Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 225–394. [{{{url}}} off-site] (emphasis in original) Hamblin cites Luck Mack Smith, 1845 manuscript history transcribed without punctuation, in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:285. and Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana and Chicago, Illinois: University of Illinois Press; Reprint edition, 1987), 73. ISBN 0252060121.
  39. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 235-236. (Affidavits examined) Reproduced in "The Origin of Mormonism," Christian Enquirer (New York) 5/51 (25 September 1852): [1]. Also available in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:40-45.
  40. Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Review of Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reexamined by Rodger I. Anderson," FARMS Review of Books 3/1 (1991): 52–80. off-site [Anderson's references have been silently removed from this citation.]
  41. This section of the response was based on William J. Hamblin, "'Everything Is Everything': Was Joseph Smith Influenced by Kabbalah? Review of Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection by Lance S. Owens," FARMS Review of Books 8/2 (1996): 251–325. off-site. Please consult the original for references and further information. By the nature of a wiki project, the base text may have since been modified and added to.
  42. Larry E. Morris, "'I Should Have an Eye Single to the Glory of God’: Joseph Smith’s Account of the Angel and the Plates (Review of: "From Captain Kidd’s Treasure Ghost to the Angel Moroni: Changing Dramatis Personae in Early Mormonism")," FARMS Review 17/1 (2005): 11–82. off-site
  43. Bruce Chilton, "Jesus’ Dispute in the Temple and the Origin of the Eucharist," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 29 no. 4, 22–23.
  44. D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1998), 121 ( Index of claims )
  45. 45.0 45.1 45.2 45.3 45.4 45.5 45.6 William J. Hamblin, Daniel C. Peterson, and George L. Mitton, "Mormon in the Fiery Furnace Or, Loftes Tryk Goes to Cambridge] (Review of The Refiner's Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 by John L. Brooke)," FARMS Review of Books 6/2 (1994): 3–58. off-site
  46. 46.0 46.1 46.2 46.3 46.4 46.5 46.6 William J. Hamblin, "'Everything Is Everything': Was Joseph Smith Influenced by Kabbalah? Review of Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection by Lance S. Owens," FARMS Review of Books 8/2 (1996): 251–325. off-site
  47. William J. Hamblin, Daniel C. Peterson, and George L. Mitton, "Mormon in the Fiery Furnace Or, Loftes Tryk Goes to Cambridge] (Review of The Refiner's Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 by John L. Brooke)," FARMS Review of Books 6/2 (1994): 3–58. off-site(italics in original)
  48. Dr. Reed Durham’s Presidential Address before the Mormon History Association on 20 April 1974.
  49. Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), 225. ( Index of claims )
  50. https://www.fairmormon.org/archive/publications/the-truth-about-the-god-makers
  51. Jerald R. Johansen, After the Martyrdom: What Happened to the Family of Joseph Smith (Springville, Utah: Horizon Publishers, 2004[1997]), 79. ISBN 0882905961. off-site
  52. 52.0 52.1 52.2 52.3 52.4 Richard L. Anderson, "The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Searching," Brigham Young University Studies 24 no. 4 (1984). PDF link
    Caution: this article was published before Mark Hofmann's forgeries were discovered. It may treat fraudulent documents as genuine. Click for list of known forged documents.
    Discusses money-digging; Salem treasure hunting episode; fraudulent 1838 Missouri treasure hunting revelation; Wood Scrape; “gift of Aaron”; “wand or rod”; Heber C. Kimball rod and prayer; magic; occult; divining lost objects; seerstone; parchments; talisman
  53. Original coming from LaMar C. Berett, The Wilford Wood Collection, Vol. 1 (Provo, UT: Wilford C. Wood Foundation, 1972), 173.
  54. Anderson points to its original source in J. W. Woods "The Mormon Prophet," Daily Democrat (Ottumwa, Iowa), 10 May 1885; and in Edward H. Stiles, Recollections and Sketches of Notable Lawyers and Public Men of Early Iowa (Des Moines: Homestead Publishing Co., 1916), 271.
  55. Stephen E. Robinson, "Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, by D. Michael Quinn," Brigham Young University Studies 27 no. 4 (1987), 94–95.
  56. These are examples of later arguments by Quinn in an attempt to refute Anderson.
  57. Gilbert W. Scharffs, The Truth about ‘The God Makers’ (Salt Lake City, Utah: Publishers Press, 1989; republished by Bookcraft, 1994), 180. Full text FAIR link ISBN 088494963X.
  58. This section of the response was based on William J. Hamblin, "'Everything Is Everything': Was Joseph Smith Influenced by Kabbalah? Review of Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection by Lance S. Owens," FARMS Review of Books 8/2 (1996): 251–325. off-site. By the nature of a wiki project, it has since been modified and added to.
  59. D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1998), 355—56 n. 121 ( Index of claims )
  60. Robert N. Hullinger, Mormon Answer to Skepticism: Why Joseph Smith Wrote the Book of Mormon (St. Louis, MO: Clayton Publishing House, 1980), 105; D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1998), 61, 196–197.
  1. REDIRECTJoseph Smith and folk magic or the occult#Did Joseph Smith place his seer stone in his hat while looking for lost objects?

Response to claim: 2-3 - The plates were often not nearby while Joseph translated them

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

The plates were often not nearby while Joseph translated them.

Author's sources:
  • Joseph Smith III, "Last Testimony of Sister Emma," Saints' Herald, 1 Oct. 1879, 290; Howe, "Affidavit of Isaac Hale", Mormonism Unvailed, 265;
  • Martin Harris, interview by John A. Clark, 1828, in The Episcopal Recorder (Philadelphia), 5 Sept. 1840, 94; quoted in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 2:266;
  • Joseph Smith Sr., interview by Fayette Lapham quoted in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 1:464.

FAIR's Response

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

This is correct. The plates did not need to be in front of Joseph while he translated.


Question: Why were the gold plates needed at all if they weren't used directly during the translation process?

Joseph did not need the plates physically present to translate, since the translation was done by revelation

Much is made of the fact that Joseph used a seer stone, which he placed in a hat, to dictate the text of the Book of Mormon without viewing the plates directly. [1]

Joseph Smith translates using the seer stone placed within his hat while the plates are wrapped in a cloth on the table while his wife Emma acts as scribe. Image Copyright (c) 2014 Anthony Sweat. This image appears in the Church publication From Darkness Unto Light: Joseph Smith's Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon, by Michael Hubbard Mackay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, Religious Studies Center, BYU, Deseret Book Company (May 11, 2015)

Some witness accounts suggest that Joseph was able to translate while the plates were covered, or when they were not even in the same room with him. [2] Therefore, if the plates themselves were not being used during the translation process, why was it necessary to have plates at all?

Joseph did not need the plates physically present to translate, since the translation was done by revelation. The existence of the plates was vital, however, to demonstrate that the story he was translating was literally true.

The existence of the physical plates attested to the reality of the Nephite record

If there had been no plates, and Joseph had simply received the entire Book of Mormon through revelation, there would have been no Anthon visit, nor would there have been any witnesses. The very fact that plates existed served a greater purpose, even if they were not directly viewed during all of the translation process.

The plates served a variety of purposes.

  1. They were viewed by witnesses as solid evidence that Joseph did indeed have an ancient record.
  2. Joseph's efforts to obtain them over a four year period taught him and matured him in preparation for performing the translation,
  3. Joseph's efforts to protect and preserve them helped build his character. If Joseph were perpetrating a fraud, it would have been much simpler to claim direct revelation from God and forgo the physical plates.
  4. Joseph copied characters off the plates to give to Martin Harris, which he subsequently showed to Charles Anthon. This was enough to convince Martin to assist with the production of the Book of Mormon.

The plates' existence as material artifacts eliminated the possibility that Joseph was simply honestly mistaken. Either Joseph was knowingly perpetuating a fraud, or he was a genuine prophet.

The existence of actual plates eliminates the idea that the Book of Mormon was "spiritually true," but fictional

Furthermore, the existence of actual plates eliminates the idea that the Book of Mormon was "spiritually true," but fictional. There is a great difference between an allegorical or moral fiction about Nephites, and real, literal Nephites who saw a literal Christ who was literally resurrected.


Response to claim: 6 - It is claimed that Oliver attempted to translate using a divining rod

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

It is claimed that Oliver attempted to translate using a divining rod.

Author's sources:
  1. D&C 8꞉6-8; Book of Commandments 7:3.

FAIR's Response

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

This may be true, as confirmed by Church sources.


Revelations in Context on history.lds.org: "Cowdery was among those who believed in and used a divining rod"

Revelations in Context on history.lds.org:

Oliver Cowdery lived in a culture steeped in biblical ideas, language and practices. The revelation’s reference to Moses likely resonated with him. The Old Testament account of Moses and his brother Aaron recounted several instances of using rods to manifest God’s will (see Ex. 7:9-12; Num. 17:8). Many Christians in Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery's day similarly believed in divining rods as an instrument for revelation. Cowdery was among those who believed in and used a divining rod.[3]


Question: What if the "rod of nature" was indeed a physical object such as a divining rod?

God allowed Oliver to use the rod as a tool to receive spiritual guidance

If we presume that the Book of Commandments revelation of 1829 did refer to a physical rod, it is useful to consider just what Oliver was told:

Oliver Cowdery's first revelation commanded him to lay aside the world and build the restored kingdom: "Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich" (D&C 6:7). Whatever prior use Oliver made of his "gift of working with the rod," this revelation directed him to heavenly treasure. Indeed, this first commandment names but one special power: "Thy gift" is "sacred and cometh from above." It is defined as the ability to "inquire" and "know mysteries which are great and marvelous." Thus Oliver is commanded to "exercise thy gift, that thou mayest find out mysteries, that thou mayest bring many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, convince them of the error of their ways." Thus his gift of knowledge of salvation will lead to the "greatest of all gifts," the "gift of salvation" (D&C 6:10-13).

Oliver's initial revelation closes with the command to seek heavenly "treasures" by assisting "in bringing to light, with your gift, those parts of my scriptures which have been hidden because of iniquity" (D&C 6:27). The revelation on the gift of the rod probably followed within a week. It continued the theme of learning ancient truth through translating: "Remember, this is your gift" (D&C 8:5). And it could be exercised by believing "you shall receive a knowledge concerning the engravings of old records" (D&C 8:1). Then a second promise was made:

Now this is not all, for you have another gift, which is the gift of working with the rod. Behold, it has told you things. Behold, there is no other power save God that can cause this rod of nature to work in your hands, for it is the work of God. And therefore whatsoever you shall ask me to tell you by that means, will I grant unto you, that you shall know.

But there were strict limits to this promise: "Trifle not with these things. Do not ask for that which you ought not. Ask that you may know the mysteries of God, and that you may translate all those ancient records."

So the "rod of nature" in Cowdery's "hands" would be a means of gaining revelation on doctrine. [4]

Thus, the alteration which describes the "rod" as "the gift of Aaron" clarifies the Lord's intent, and explains how Oliver and Joseph understood the matter. Aaron's rod was an instrument of power, but only insofar as God revealed and commanded its use. Such a perspective is a far cry from the "occult" links which the critics attempt to create:

D&C 8 approves a rod only for sacred information. It also suggests the rod that displayed God's power in the Egyptian plagues, in striking the rock for life-giving water or in calling down strength on Israel's warriors. That rod was a straight shaft, the shepherd's staff possessed by Moses at his call (Ex. 4:2-4). Used by both Moses and Aaron, it was foremost the "rod of God," also Moses' rod, but formally called the "rod of Aaron." It functioned as a visible sign of authority, just as Judah's "scepter" was a sign of divine kingship in Jacob's blessing or Elijah's staff held by the servant who went in his name. Thus the rod of Aaron was a staff of delegated agency, and the 1835 revision to "The gift of Aaron" suggests Oliver's spiritual power to assist Joseph Smith as Aaron assisted Moses. [5]


Dallin H. Oaks (1987): "It should be recognized that such tools as the Urim and Thummim, the Liahona, seerstones, and other articles have been used appropriately in biblical, Book of Mormon, and modern times"

Dallin H. Oaks:

It should be recognized that such tools as the Urim and Thummim, the Liahona, seerstones, and other articles have been used appropriately in biblical, Book of Mormon, and modern times by those who have the gift and authority to obtain revelation from God in connection with their use. At the same time, scriptural accounts and personal experience show that unauthorized though perhaps well-meaning persons have made inappropriate use of tangible objects while seeking or claiming to receive spiritual guidance. Those who define folk magic to include any use of tangible objects to aid in obtaining spiritual guidance confound the real with the counterfeit. They mislead themselves and their readers. [6]


Gospel Topics: "the Bible mentions other physical instruments used to access God’s power: the rod of Aaron, a brass serpent, holy anointing oils, the Ark of the Covenant, and even dirt from the ground mixed with saliva"

Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

Some people have balked at this claim of physical instruments used in the divine translation process, but such aids to facilitate the communication of God’s power and inspiration are consistent with accounts in scripture. In addition to the Urim and Thummim, the Bible mentions other physical instruments used to access God’s power: the rod of Aaron, a brass serpent, holy anointing oils, the Ark of the Covenant, and even dirt from the ground mixed with saliva to heal the eyes of a blind man.[7]


Response to claim: 6 - Oliver would ask questions of his divining rod in faith and it would move

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

Oliver would ask questions of his divining rod in faith and it would move.

Author's sources:
  1. "Barnes Frisbie account" quoted in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 1:603-05, 619-20.

FAIR's Response

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

This may be correct, as confirmed by Church sources.


Revelations in Context on history.lds.org: "Cowdery was among those who believed in and used a divining rod"

Revelations in Context on history.lds.org:

Oliver Cowdery lived in a culture steeped in biblical ideas, language and practices. The revelation’s reference to Moses likely resonated with him. The Old Testament account of Moses and his brother Aaron recounted several instances of using rods to manifest God’s will (see Ex. 7:9-12; Num. 17:8). Many Christians in Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery's day similarly believed in divining rods as an instrument for revelation. Cowdery was among those who believed in and used a divining rod.[8]


Response to claim: 7 - Alterations in a different handwriting on the 116 pages would have been readily apparent

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

Alterations in a different handwriting on the 116 pages would have been readily apparent.

Author's sources:
  1. No source provided.

FAIR's Response

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

It is assumed that the only way that someone could alter the text would be to attempt to alter the handwriting. All they really had to do was publish their version of the text. It is likely that Lucy Harris burned the manuscript before anyone had a chance to do that.


Question: Would alterations in a different handwriting to the stolen 116 pages of Book of Mormon manuscript have been readily apparent?

This perspective ignores the fact that it would have been a simple matter to publish Joseph's purported translation with alterations

One critical website has claimed that the story is "nonsensical" because any changes made to the transcript would be noticeable.[9] This perspective ignores the fact that it would have been a simple matter to publish Joseph's purported translation with alterations, and then either "lose" or conveniently destroy the original manuscript.

A local paper was happy to plagiarize the Book of Mormon text before it was even published and print excerpts in the newspaper. The Smiths had to use the threat of legal action to get him to stop.[10] This demonstrates that finding a publisher to broadcast at least some altered text--enough to discredit Joseph--would not have been difficult.

Something somewhat similar actually happened with the Spalding manuscript: the manuscript was found, but was hidden by those wishing to discredit Joseph

Something somewhat similar actually happened with the Spalding manuscript--the manuscript was found, but was hidden by those wishing to discredit Joseph. His critics simply requested affidavits from people who claimed to have read the manuscript, and who testified that it matched the Book of Mormon. This was the dominant critical theory for explaining the Book of Mormon until the Spalding manuscript was found, disproving the theory. How much better to have people (like Lucy Harris) who could publish what they claimed and would swear were Joseph's actual words from the original translation?

If this story is so "nonsensical," then why did none of Joseph's friends, allies, or family find it suspicious at the time? Like many critics' theories, this one requires everyone involved except Joseph to be complete dunces. They obviously found the possibility plausible, which suggests that if we do not, we are missing something about how they saw things. It is possible that an alteration that would not stand up to 21st century forensics might be far more persuasive to many in a rural 19th century audience, crippling the Restoration before it began.


Response to claim: 8 - Joseph was brought to court three times for stone gazing

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

Joseph was brought to court three times for stone gazing.

Author's sources:
  1. Marquardt and Walters, Inventing Mormonism: Tradition and the Historical Record, 70-75, 174-78.

FAIR's Response

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

The author fails to note that Joseph was acquitted each and every time, and that these three court appearances were all related to related to the same original incident with Josiah Stowell. Initially, Joseph appeared before a judge in 1826 after having been charged by relatives of Josiah Stowell, who had hired Joseph to help him located a lost mine. Stowell's relatives thought that Joseph was defrauding Josiah, however, Joseph was ultimately released and the matter never went to trial. Four years later, on July 1, 1030, after the Book of Mormon was published, Joseph was again charged and brought before a judge. During this trial, according to one hostile witness, "it was shown that the Book of Mormon was brought to light by the same magic power by which he pretended to tell fortunes, discover hidden treasures." Josiah Stowell was questioned in an attempt to implicate Joseph. However, Joseph was found "not guilty" and released. Joseph was then brought before the court again on a similar charge to that made the original 1826 court appearance the very next day. Joseph was acquitted due to the statute of limitations, since four years had passed. When Joseph stepped out of court, he was served a warrant to appear in court in a different county. This charge was also ultimately dismissed.
  1. REDIRECTJoseph Smith's 1826 trial#What is Joseph Smith's 1826 South Bainbridge "trial" for "glasslooking"?
  2. REDIRECTJoseph Smith's 1826 trial#What events resulted in Joseph Smith's 1826 court appearance in South Bainbridge?

Response to claim: 9 - Peter Ingersoll reported that he heard Joseph acknowledge to Isaac Hale that he was never able to see anything in his seer stone

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

Peter Ingersoll reported that he heard Joseph acknowledge to Isaac Hale that he was never able to see anything in his seer stone.

Author's sources:
  1. "Affidavit of Peter Ingersoll", Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834). (Affidavits examined)

FAIR's Response

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

This is a third-hand account from another hostile source. Peter Ingersoll (who was hostile), reported that Emma's father Isaac Hale (who was also hostile to "money digging" and the use of seer stones), is said to have reported that Joseph Smith admitted that he really couldn't see anything using the stone.


<onlyinclude>

  1. REDIRECTThe Hurlbut affidavits

Response to claim: 9 - After he lost the manuscript, Joseph is claimed to have become more vague regarding the method of translation

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

After he lost the manuscript, Joseph is claimed to have become more vague regarding the method of translation.

Author's sources:
  1. No source provided.

FAIR's Response

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

Joseph only said that the translation was accomplished by the "gift and power of God." He never went into specifics, either before or after the loss of the manuscript.


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

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

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

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

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

"Brother Joseph Smith, Jun., said that it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon; and also said that it was not expedient for him to relate these things"[11]

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


Response to claim: 9 - Joseph is claimed to have altered the Book of Mormon to modify the description of God and Jesus to be separate beings

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

Joseph is claimed to have altered the Book of Mormon to modify the description of God and Jesus to be separate beings.

Author's sources:

FAIR's Response

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

The theory put forth by critics is that Joseph altered the Book of Mormon to match his changing view of the Godhead. However, it is simply illogical to conclude that Joseph Smith changed only the four passages in 1 Nephi to conform to his supposed changing theological beliefs, but somehow forgot to change all the others.
  1. REDIRECTEvents after the First Vision

Response to claim: 10 - It is claimed that scholars have determined that Joseph consulted an open Bible during translation

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

It is claimed that scholars have determined that Joseph consulted an open Bible during translation.

Author's sources:
  1. No source provided.

FAIR's Response

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

Although some Latter-day Saint scholars believe that Joseph consulted a Bible when he came to passages in the Book of Mormon which were essentially the same as those in the King James Bible, the fact that Joseph performed most of the dictation in the open using the stone and the hat seems to contradict this idea. Joseph was never observed consulting any books during the translation, which was observed by many people.


Articles about the Book of Mormon
Authorship
Translation process
Gold plates
Witnesses
The Bible and the Book of Mormon
Language and the Book of Mormon
Geography
DNA
Anachronisms
Doctrine and teachings
Lamanites
Other

Articles about the Holy Bible


Introduction

Does the Book of Mormon plagiarize the King James Bible?

The Book of Mormon emulates the language and style of the King James Bible because that is the scriptural style Joseph Smith, translator of the Book of Mormon, was familiar with

The Book of Mormon and the Bible testify of each other, reinforcing a single message of good news to the world.

Critics of the Book of Mormon write that major portions of it are copied, without attribution, from the Bible. They argue that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon by plagiarizing the Authorized ("King James") Version of the Bible.

Hugh Nibley: "As to the 'passages lifted bodily from the King James Version,' we first ask, 'How else does one quote scripture if not bodily:'"

In 1961, LDS scholar Hugh Nibley wrote:

[One of the] most devastating argument[s] against the Book of Mormon was that it actually quoted the Bible. The early critics were simply staggered by the incredible stupidity of including large sections of the Bible in a book which they insisted was specifically designed to fool the Bible-reading public. They screamed blasphemy and plagiarism at the top of their lungs, but today any biblical scholar knows that it would be extremely suspicious if a book purporting to be the product of a society of pious emigrants from Jerusalem in ancient times did not quote the Bible. No lengthy religious writing of the Hebrews could conceivably be genuine if it was not full of scriptural quotations.

...to quote another writer of Christianity Today [magazine],[12] "passages lifted bodily from the King James Version," and that it quotes, not only from the Old Testament, but also the New Testament as well.

How can scripture be cited except 'bodily':

As to the "passages lifted bodily from the King James Version," we first ask, "How else does one quote scripture if not bodily:" And why should anyone quoting the Bible to American readers of 1830 not follow the only version of the Bible known to them:

Actually the Bible passages quoted in the Book of Mormon often differ from the King James Version, but where the latter is correct there is every reason why it should be followed. When Jesus and the Apostles and, for that matter, the Angel Gabriel quote the scriptures in the New Testament, do they recite from some mysterious Urtext: Do they quote the prophets of old in the ultimate original: Do they give their own inspired translations: No, they do not. They quote the Septuagint, a Greek version of the Old Testament prepared in the third century B.C. Why so: Because that happened to be the received standard version of the Bible accepted by the readers of the Greek New Testament. When "holy men of God" quote the scriptures it is always in the received standard version of the people they are addressing.

Prophets usually use the version of scripture with which their audience is familiar

We do not claim the King James Version of the Septuagint to be the original scriptures—in fact, nobody on earth today knows where the original scriptures are or what they say. Inspired men have in every age have been content to accept the received version of the people among whom they labored, with the Spirit giving correction where correction was necessary.

Since the Book of Mormon is a translation, "with all its faults," into English for English-speaking people whose fathers for generations had known no other scriptures but the standard English Bible, it would be both pointless and confusing to present the scriptures to them in any other form, so far as their teachings were correct.

What is thought to be a very serious charge against the Book of Mormon today is that it, a book written down long before New Testament times and on the other side of the world, actually quotes the New Testament! True, it is the same Savior speaking in both, and the same Holy Ghost, and so we can expect the same doctrines in the same language.

"Faith, hope, and charity" from the New Testament:

But what about the "Faith, Hope and Charity" passage in Moroni 7꞉45: Its resemblance to 1 Corinthians 13:] is undeniable. This particular passage, recently singled out for attack in Christianity Today, is actually one of those things that turn out to be a striking vindication of the Book of Mormon. For the whole passage, which scholars have labeled "the Hymn to Charity," was shown early in this century by a number of first-rate investigators working independently (A. Harnack, J. Weiss, R. Reizenstein) to have originated not with Paul at all, but to go back to some older but unknown source: Paul is merely quoting from the record.

Now it so happens that other Book of Mormon writers were also peculiarly fond of quoting from the record. Captain Moroni, for example, reminds his people of an old tradition about the two garments of Joseph, telling them a detailed story which I have found only in [th' Alabi of Persia,] a thousand-year-old commentary on the Old Testament, a work still untranslated and quite unknown to the world of Joseph Smith. So I find it not a refutation but a confirmation of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon when Paul and Moroni both quote from a once well-known but now lost Hebrew writing.

Why KJV English:

Now as to [the] question, "Why did Joseph Smith, a nineteenth century American farm boy, translate the Book of Mormon into seventeenth century King James English instead of into contemporary language:"

The first thing to note is that the "contemporary language" of the country-people of New England 130 years ago was not so far from King James English. Even the New England writers of later generations, like Webster, Melville, and Emerson, lapse into its stately periods and "thees and thous" in their loftier passages.

∗       ∗       ∗

Furthermore, the Book of Mormon is full of scripture, and for the world of Joseph Smith's day, the King James Version was the Scripture, as we have noted; large sections of the Book of Mormon, therefore, had to be in the language of the King James Version—and what of the rest of it: That is scripture, too.

One can think of lots of arguments for using King James English in the Book of Mormon, but the clearest comes out of very recent experience. In the past decade, as you know, certain ancient nonbiblical texts, discovered near the Dead Sea, have been translated by modern, up-to-date American readers. I open at random a contemporary Protestant scholar's modern translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and what do I read: "For thine is the battle, and by the strength of thy hand their corpses were scattered without burial. Goliath the Hittite, a mighty man of valor, thou didst deliver into the hand of thy servant David."[13]

Even professional translators will lapse into the scriptural language that they know

Obviously the man who wrote this knew the Bible, and we must not forget that ancient scribes were consciously archaic in their writing, so that most of the scriptures were probably in old-fashioned language the day they were written down. To efface that solemn antique style by the latest up-to-date usage is to translate falsely.

At any rate, Professor Burrows, in 1955 (not 1835!), falls naturally and without apology into the language of the King James Bible. Or take a modern Jewish scholar who purposely avoids archaisms in his translation of the Scrolls for modern American readers: "All things are inscribed before Thee in a recording script, for every moment of time, for the infinite cycles of years, in their several appointed times. No single thing is hidden, naught missing from Thy presence."[14] Professor Gaster, too, falls under the spell of our religious idiom. [A more recent example of the same phenomenon in the twenty-first century is discussed here.]

By frankly using that idiom, the Book of Mormon avoids the necessity of having to be redone into "modern English" every thirty or forty years. If the plates were being translated for the first time today, it would still be King James English![15]

Quotations from the Bible in the Book of Mormon are sometimes uncited quotes from Old Testament prophets on the brass plates, similar to the many unattributed Old Testament quotes in the New Testament; others may be similar phrasing emulated by Joseph Smith during his translation.

Oddly enough, this does not mean that Joseph Smith simply plagiarized from the KJV. Using the Original and Printer's Manuscripts of the Book of Mormon, Latter-day Saint scholar Royal Skousen has identified that none of the King James language contained in the Book of Mormon could have been copied directly from the Bible. He deduces this from the fact that when quoting, echoing, or alluding to the passages, Oliver (Joseph's amanuensis for the dictation of the Book of Mormon) consistently misspells certain words from the text that he wouldn't have misspelled if he was looking at the then-current edition of the KJV.[16]

Even if all the biblical passages were removed from the Book of Mormon, there would be a great deal of text remaining. Joseph was able to produce long, intricate religious texts without using the bible; if he was trying to deceive people, why did he "plagiarize" from the one book—the Bible—which his readership was sure to recognize: The Book of Mormon itself declares that it came forth in part to support the Bible (2 Nephi 9). Perhaps the inclusion of KJV text can show it engaging the Bible rather than just cribbing from it. If we didn't get some KJV text, we might think that the Nephites were trying to communicate an entirely different message.

A Proposed Scenario

Skousen proposes that, rather than looking at a Bible (the absence of a Bible now near-definitively confirmed by the manuscript evidence and the unequivocal statements of witnesses to the translation to the Book of Mormon), Joseph was provided a page of text via his gift of seership. This page of text contained, in this view, the King James Bible text. Joseph was then free to alter the text for his audience. Thus:

  • As Joseph was translating the text of the Book of Mormon, he encounter something that was being roughly similar to texts from the Bible. This would occur most prominently when Nephi quotes from Isaiah.
  • Instead of translating Nephi's quotations of Isaiah word-for-word, the Lord gave the passages from Isaiah as contained in the KJV. Reasons for which this may have been done are discussed earlier in this article.
  • Consequently, the Isaiah chapters on Nephi's plates would have looked slightly different from the Isaiah chapters that we have now in the Book of Mormon. Nephi's version of Isaiah 8꞉52 would have been the primitive, early version written by 1st Isaiah. The version of Isaiah 8꞉52 that we have now in the Book of Mormon would not then be taken directly from Nephi's plates, but rather adapted from the KJV Bible as described.
Learn more about biblical allusions or citation in the Book of Mormon
FAIR links
  • Ben McGuire, "Nephi and Goliath: A Reappraisal of the Use of the Old Testament in First Nephi," Proceedings of the 2001 FAIR Conference (August 2001). link
  • Sara Riley, "“Even as Moses’ Did”: The Use of the Exodus Narrative in Mosiah 11-18," Proceedings of the 2018 FAIR Conference (August 2018). link
Online
  • Sidney B. Sperry, "Literary Problems in the Book of Mormon involving 1 Corinthians 12, 13, and Other New Testament Books," farms.byu.edu off-site.
  • Learn More About Parts 5 and 6 of Volume 3 of the Critical Text Project of the Book of Mormon off-site.
  • Royal Skousen, "The History of the Book of Mormon Text: Parts 5 and 6 of Volume 3 of the Critical Text" off-site.
  • Standford Carmack, "Bad Grammar in the Book of Mormon Found in Early English Bibles" off-site.
  • Stan Spencer, "Missing Words: King James Bible Italics, the Translation of the Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith as an Unlearned Reader" off-site.
Video

Navigators

See also:The New Testament and the Book of Mormon

General questions


Characters

Did Joseph Smith use characters from the Bible as templates for the characters in the Book of Mormon:

Critic Fawn Brodie claimed:

Many stories [Joseph Smith] borrowed from the Bible [for the creation of the Book of Mormon]. The daughter of Jared, like Salome, danced before a king and a decapitation followed. Aminadi, like Daniel, deciphered handwriting on a wall, and Alma was converted after the exact fashion of St. Paul. The daughters of the Lamanites were abducted like the dancing daughters of Shiloh; and Ammon, like the American counterpart of David, for want of a Goliath slew six sheep-rustlers with his sling.[17]

When deciding whether Joseph used characters from the bible as templates we should remember a few things.

Problems with parallels

Similarities do not necessarily imply causal influence. Literary scholars have long considered the question of how to tell if two texts have influenced each other.[18]

It was once popular to list elements found in both texts in table form and 'compare' the similarities or parallels. This is now discouraged as it tends to what is called 'parallelomania.' Ben McGuire quoted Everett Ferguson on this technique's use on Christianity:

another image from geometry that has been used to describe the relation of Christianity to its context is “parallels,” and these have caused various concerns to modern readers. This volume will call attention to a number of similarities between Christianity and various aspects of its environment. Many more could have been included, and probably many more than are currently recognized will become known as a result of further study and future discoveries. What is to be made of these parallels? Do they explain away Christianity as a natural product of its environment? Must they be explained away in order to defend the truth or validity of Christianity? Neither position is necessary. . . . The kind and significance of the parallels may be further clarified by commenting on the cultural parallels. That Christians observed the same customs and used words in the same way as their contemporaries is hardly noteworthy in itself. Those things belonged to the place and time when Christianity began. The situation could not have been otherwise for Christianity to have been a real historical phenomenon, open now to historical study. To expect the situation to have been otherwise would require Christianity to be something other than it is, a historical religion. Indeed, if Christianity did not have these linguistic and cultural contacts with the first-century Mediterranean world the presumption would be that it was a fiction originating in another time and place.[19]

If this is true of Christianity in general, it is even more so for the restored Church of Jesus Christ whose origins are recent, and for whom supposed parallels will be even easier to find, but no less misleading.

As McGuire explains:

Simply stated, on some level we can find a parallel to any source. An author may not recognize another’s text in his writings at all—even if parallels may be found. This isn’t to say that there isn’t literary plagiarism. But, the concern here is with mistakenly finding it when it may not actually have occurred. ...[20]:29

He goes on to quote W.H. Bennett, who provides two warnings applicable to our question. The first cautions:

(Many alleged parallels are entirely irrelevant, and are only such as must naturally exist between works in the same language, by authors of the same race, acquainted with the history and literature, customs and traditions which were earlier than both of them. . . .[21]

This is of major importance in trying to determine whether biblical characters are the source of Book of Mormon ones. Why? Because the Book of Mormon claims to share a culture, religious outlook, and textual tradition with the bible.

It would therefore be unsurprising that a similar environment created similar themes, characters, and situations.

This becomes even more likely when we realize that a major part of ancient Hebrew writing was the type scene.

What is a "type scene"?

Book of Mormon Central, KnoWhy #414: How Does the Book of Mormon Use an Ancient Storytelling Technique: (Video)

Book of Mormon Central has produced an excellent article that may explain this type of "plagiarism" in the Book of Mormon. That article is reproduced in full (including citations for easy reference) below:

In Genesis 4, Abraham sent his servant to a foreign land to find a wife for Isaac. When he got there, he met a girl named Rebekah at a well, she drew water for him, she ran off to tell her family about it, and later she and Isaac were betrothed. Something similar happened to Jacob. He went to a foreign land to find a wife, he met Rachael by a well, he drew water for her, she ran to tell her family, and Jacob and Rachael were betrothed (see Genesis 9). As with all true stories, the author could have told these stories in many different ways.[22] However, the reason these two stories are so similar is because they are both based on the same pattern, called a type-scene.[23]
A type-scene is an ancient storytelling technique where certain kinds of stories are told in certain ways.[24] The ancient audience expected that when a main character got engaged, for example, he would journey to a foreign land, encounter a woman at a well, and draw water from the well.[25] Then the woman would rush home to tell the family, and the man and the woman would be betrothed.[25]:62 However, each time the storyteller applied this type-scene to a new character, they would change the story slightly. This allowed the type-scene to fit each character’s historical circumstances, but also gave insights into the personalities of each character in the story.[26]
For instance, biblical scholar Robert Alter noted that "it is only in [Isaac's] betrothal scene that the girl, not the stranger, draws water from the well."[25]:64 This fits well with what we see Rebekah doing later, when she took "the initiative at a crucial moment in the story in order to obtain the paternal blessing for her favored son, Jacob."[25]:64 Ultimately, "Rebekah is to become the shrewdest and the most potent of the matriarchs, and so it is entirely appropriate that she should dominate her betrothal scene."[27] The more these stories differ from the basic type-scene, the more one can expect that the characters in the scene will turn out differently than expected.[28]
Alan Goff has pointed out a radically different, but still recognizable, version of this type scene in Alma 7.[29] Just as in the classic type-scene, Ammon went to a foreign land, but in this case, he went to preach the gospel (Alma 17꞉12).[29]:105 Although Ammon did not meet a woman there, the king offered Ammon his daughter in marriage, but he declined (v. 24).[30] Shortly thereafter, Ammon went to the waters of Sebus, rather than a well, to water the flocks (v. 26).[31] Finally, instead of the woman returning to tell the family about the presence of a potential suitor, the servants returned to the king with the arms of the would-be sheep rustlers (v. 39).[32]
The differences between the basic type-scene and the Ammon story teach us much about Ammon and how we can be like him. Instead of going to a foreign land to find a wife, Ammon went to a foreign land to preach the gospel. When he got there and was offered the hand of the princess, he declined, stating that he wished to work for the king of the Lamanites instead. In addition to simply drawing water for the flocks, he saved them at the peril of his own life. Finally, those present at the watering of the flocks returned to tell the king not about Ammon as a potential suitor, but about the power of God that was with him.
The Ammon story takes the type-scene, in which the hero is simply trying to find a wife, and turns it on its head. Everything Ammon does in the story is done for selfless reasons. The last part of the type-scene, in which the hero becomes betrothed, is conspicuous by its absence. Ammon does not become betrothed at the end of the story because that was not his purpose in traveling to the land of the Lamanites. He went to the Lamanites to preach the gospel and remained focused on that goal the entire time he was in Lamanite lands.
It is easy for us to become so focused on ourselves and our own needs that we rarely think about those around us. Mormon’s masterful reworking of this type-scene reminds us all of the importance of putting others first. If we will all replace selfishness with selflessness, like Ammon did, we can be a true force for good in the lives of those around us and have the power of God with us in our lives, like Ammon did.

Book of Mormon Central has also produced this video on the subject:


A second caution

We will return to the idea of "type scenes" when we consider specific examples. But first we will consider the second of W.H. Bennett's cautions about finding supposed sources for parallel accounts:

In considering two similar passages, A and B, there are at least three possible explanations of their resemblance. A may be dependent on B, or B on A, or both A and B may be dependent on something prior to both of them. A critic with a theory—and everybody starts with a prepossession in favour of some theory —is tempted to take for granted that the relation of the parallel passages is in accordance with his theory. If he holds that B is older than A, it seems to him that A is so obviously dependent on B, that this dependence proves the early date of B. But, as a rule, it is very difficult to determine which of two similar passages is dependent on the other. Often the question can only be settled by our knowledge that one passage is taken from an earlier work than the other; and where we do not possess such knowledge the priority is quite uncertain, and a comparison of the passages yields little or no evidence as to the date of the documents in which they occur. . . ..[33]

Bennett insists that we cannot approach a text without a theory—and critics of the Book of Mormon have a theory that it is a forgery. Thus, they conclude that the Book of Mormon (A) is dependent on the King James Bible characters(B), since the KJV was certainly published before the Book of Mormon.

Once they conclude that these are "so obviously dependent" on the Bible, it becomes a simple matters to convince oneself that these parallels prove plagiarism or influence. But it is equally possible for such characters to both be type-scene characters (as discussed in the previous section). In that case, both the Bible and the Book of Mormon are dependent upon something else that predates them—the type scene.

Or, as we saw with the example with the "duplicate" kings of England, many themes and stories and personalities recur in history. If an ancient author is looking for type-scenes, then they will emphasize the similarities even further, misleading the zealous critic into thinking they have found a smoking gun.

Specific Book of Mormon type-scenes

We will now consider some specific examples of type scenes, examining both the similarities and the differences between them and the biblical 'parallels'.

The Daughter of Jared and Salome

BYU Professor Nicholas J. Frederick addressed this very question in the book Illuminating the Jaredite Records published by the Book of Mormon Academy.[34]:236–51

Frederick points out that similarities do exist. Both stories involve:

  1. An unnamed daughter
  2. A female performing a dance before a powerful male figure
  3. Demands for decapitation—one realized, the other foiled
  4. Revenge against a perceived injustice
  5. Swearing of oaths with unfortunate consequences (the beheading of John the Baptist and the destruction of the Jaredites).

But Frederick also points out important dissimilarities—we might call these the unparallels:

  1. Who is the instigator? "[I]n Ether 8 the daughters of Jared is the primary actor; it is she who puts the evil ideas into her father's head and dances before Akish. In Mark's account Salome acts at her mother's behest and presumably does not know that her dance will result in John's death until her mother instructs her after the dance to ask for John's head (see 6꞉24). She is as much of a pawn in her mother's game as Herod is. Because of this, the daughter of Jared seems to occupy the position or role of both Herodias and Salome , as if both figures were collapsed into one Jaredite female."[34]:239
  2. The audience of the dance: "Salome dances for her father and his friends, while the daughter of Jared dances for a potential husband. The presence of Herod's guests presumably ensures that Salome's request will not be dismissed, an action that would likely have caused Herod to lose face. The daughters of Jared, in the same fashion, has exactly the audience she requires."[34]:239
  3. The nature of the request: "Herod is clearly uncomfortable offering up John's head, but he has little choice—his promise must be kept. Akish appears completely comfortable with the request to carry out the murderous plot, as are, one assumes, both Jared and his daughter."[34]:239
  4. The nature of the dance itself: "The daughter of Jared's dance is prefaced by Moroni's statement that Jared's daughter was "exceedingly fair," suggesting a likely sensual element to her dance, on that is expected to appeal to Akish and that will lead to his matrimonial request. While there is nothing in the text to suggest a salaciousness to the dance itself, it does appear designed to highlight the woman's physical attractiveness. In contrast, Salome is described simply as a 'damsel' (Mark 6꞉22), and no mention is made of her physical appearance. Nor is there any suggestion that her dance was in any way seductive or erotic, only that it 'pleased Herod' (v. 22). Again, to suggest without textual evidence that Salome's dance contained a lascivious element or that it was, in the words of one scholar, 'hardly more than a striptease' is to surely go beyond the mark."[34]:239

Frederick proposes a few possible scenarios to answer the question of how we got a story this similar to Salome in the Book of Mormon:

  1. Salome is a direct analogue for the daughter of Jared. This idea, as observed by Frederick, simply does not work.
  2. The daughter of Jared as a blend of both Herodias and Salome, a move that combines these two women into one remarkable figure. Yet even then the daughter of Jared is more Herodias than Salome. The dance itself is the only contribution of Salome to the daughter of Jared's story.
  3. Joseph Smith drawing on the Salome story in the nineteenth century with its oversexualized portrayal of Salome. Yet even this does not do the daughter or Jared justice. The daughter of Jared is depicted as calm, shrewd, devoted, knowledgeable, and self-sacrificing. She may be beautiful, but her beauty is one of her features; it does not define her.

Hugh Nibley writes that the account of the daughter of Jared is more similar to ancient accounts that use the same motifs of the dancing princess, old king, and challenger to the throne of the king. That is, this could be a case in which both the bible and the Book of Mormon account are drawing on a third, even older, source—the type-scene.

This is indeed a strange and terrible tradition of throne succession, yet there is no better attested tradition in the early world than the ritual of the dancing princess (represented by the salme priestess of the Babylonians, hence the name Salome) who wins the heart of a stranger and induces him to marry her, behead the whole king, and mount the throne. I once collected a huge dossier on this awful woman and even read a paper on her at an annual meeting of the American Historical Association.[35] You find out all about the sordid triangle of the old king, the challenger, and the dancing beauty from Frazer, Jane Harrison, Altheim, B. Chweitzer, Franell, and any number of folklorists.[36] The thing to note especially is that there actually seems to have been a succession rite of great antiquity that followed this pattern. It is the story behind the rites at Olympia and Ara Sacra and the wanton and shocking dances of the ritual hierodules throughout the ancient world.[37] Though it is not without actual historical parallels, as when in A.D. 998 the sister of the khalif obtained as a gift the head of the ruler of Syria,[38] the episode of the a dancing princess is at all times essentially a ritual, and the name of Salome is perhaps no accident, for her story is anything but unique. Certainly the book of Ether is on the soundest possible ground in attributing the behavior of the daughter of Jared to the inspiration of ritual texts – secret directories on the art of deposing an aging king. The Jaredite version, incidentally, is quite different from the Salome story of the Bible, but is identical with many earlier accounts that have come down to us in the oldest records of civilization.[39]

Aminadi and Daniel

The single 'parallel'—that both men interpreted the writings of God on a wall—is tenuous. Parallel aspects do not equal dependency, unless we assume what we set out to prove.

Brant A. Gardner observes:

The story of Aminadi [in Alma 10꞉2-3] clearly parallels Daniel 5꞉5-17 with a prophet interpreting Yahweh's writing on a wall, although there is no language dependency. There can be no textual dependency because Daniel describes events during the Babylonian captivity that postdates Lehi's departure from Jerusalem. Just as Alma's conversion experience was similar to, but different from, Paul's (see commentary accompanying Mosiah 27꞉10-11), it is probable that, if we had a fuller version of Aminadi's story, we would see both similarities and differences.[40]

Ammon and David

The only similarity between these two stories is that both men killed another individual or group with a sling. How many stories can we find authored before the Book of Mormon was translated where a protagonist defeats an antagonist with a sling? Hundreds. The comparison is flimsy at best, and probably included simply to increase the number of "hits" in order to create the impression of even more numerous problems.

(This is part of a fallacious debating technique known as the Gish Gallop.)

The daughters of the Lamanites and the dancing daughters of Shiloh

French illuminated manuscript (1244-1254) of the Benjaminite arriving with his concubine in Gibeah. This is a benign beginning to a horrific account. From "The Morgan Bible."

Latter-day Saint philosopher Alan Goff wrote a short chapter on this parallel back in 1991:

A minor story in the Book of Mormon provides an example of how complex the task of reading the book can be. It also illustrates how much richer our understand­ing can be when we remember that the Book of Mormon is an ancient record with connections to other ancient records, par­ticularly the Old Testament. In the book of Mosiah, a band of wicked priests hid in the wilderness and kidnapped some young women to be their wives (see Mosiah 20꞉1-5). This story can be read as an adventure tale. If looked at carefully, however, it shows the kind of connections between the Book of Mormon and the Old Testament that demonstrate that the Book of Mormon is an ancient book.

The story of kidnapping by the wicked priests is a minor part of the record of the people of Zeniff. When King Noah, ruler over the Zeniffites, rejected the prophet Abinadi's message and had him killed, the priest Alma and his followers separated from the rest of the people. Soon thereafter, the Lamanites at­tacked the people of Zeniff. As they fled from the Lamanites, King Noah commanded them to abandon their families. Instead, they executed Noah and attempted to kill his priests (see Mosiah 19꞉19-21). These priests escaped into the wilderness, led by Amulon, one of their number, and later kidnapped some daughter sof the Lamanites to be their wives. Angered by the kidnapping and assuming the Zeniffites were guilty, the Lamanites attacked them. Peace was restored when the Lamanites learned who the real kidnappers were (see Mosiah 20꞉26).

To allow the tribe of Benjamin to survive after they had vowed not to marry their daughters to them, the Israelites arranged a "bride theft" event to get around the vow. (Illustration from :Gustav Doré, "Abduction of the girls at Shiloh," La Grande Bible de Tours (1866).)

A Biblical Parallel

This story of the abduction of young Lamanite women is similar to a story in the Bible in which men from the tribe of Benjamin kidnap daughters of Israel at Shiloh. The end of the book of Judges contains three stories about the tribe of Benjamin. In the first, Benjaminites abused and murdered a Levite con­cubine (see Judges 20). In the second, the other eleven tribes gathered to punish the offenders, and a civil war resulted (see Judges 19). The third story tells of the kidnapping (see Judges 1).

After destroying most of the tribe of Benjamin, the Israelites realized that this tribe was in danger of extinction. To preserve the tribe, the Benjaminites needed wives. But the Israelites had vowed not to allow their daughters to marry the Benjaminites. To get around their vow, they instructed the Benjaminites to kidnap the daughters of the Israelites who lived at Shiloh while the young women danced in the vineyards. As the daughters of Shiloh gathered, the Benjaminites lay hidden. The girls danced, and the Benjaminites stole them to be their wives.

The Stealing of the Daughters of the Lamanites

The similarities between the stories in Mosiah and Judges are complex and carefully stated:

Then they said, Behold, there is a feast of the Lord in Shiloh yearly in a place which is on the north side of Beth­el, on the east side of the high­way that goeth up from Beth­el to Shechem, and on the south of Lebonah. Therefore they commanded the children of Benjamin, saying, Go and lie in wait in the vineyards; and see, and behold, if the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in dances, then come ye out of the vineyards, and catch you every man his wife of the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin (Judges 21꞉19-21). Now there was a place in Shemlon where the daughters of the Lamanites did gather themselves together to sing, and to dance, and to make themselves merry. And it came to pass that there was one day a small number of them gathered together to sing and to dance (Mosiah 20꞉1-2).

The Bible clearly mentions the incident as a yearly ritual. The Book of Mormon mentions it as a regular occurrence, not telling us how often ("one day"). In both stories the kidnapped virgins became the wives of the abductors. The record says that the priests of Noah, "being ashamed to return to the city of Nephi, yea, and also fearing that the people would slay them, therefore they durst not return to their wives and their children" (Mosiah 20꞉3), so they watched the dancers and kidnapped sub­stitute wives. When the narrative returned to the story of Amulon and his fellow priests, the daughters of the Lamanites were then called "their wives" (Mosiah 23꞉33).

In both stories, the abductors, like peeping toms, waited and watched the spectacle. The Benjaminites lay in wait in the vine­yards watching the dancing. The wicked priests also found the place where the girls danced, then "they laid and watched them" (Mosiah 20꞉4). We know that the priests hid because in the next verse they "came forth out of their secret places" and abducted twenty-four of the dancing maidens. Not only is the watching stressed in both stories, but also the lying in wait. These were not crimes of passion, but ones of premeditation.

The Meaning of Parallels

Some Book of Mormon critics have seen the parallels between the two stories and concluded that Joseph Smith merely copied the story from Judges, they conclude that any similarities in stories indicate plagiarism. Biblical scholars take a more sophis­ticated approach than do these critics to texts that may appear to borrow from other texts. Scholars often see similarities be­tween stories as evidence of the writer's sophistication and of the richness of the text.

For example, the first of the stories about the Benjaminites, telling of the rape and death of a concubine, is similar to an earlier Bible story of Lot and his two visitors at Sodom. The story in Judges tells of a Levite and his concubine who were returning home from a visit to her father's house in Bethlehem. At a late hour they arrived at Gibeah, a Benjaminite city. Only one old man was willing to take the travelers in. As the host entertained, the men of the city gathered outside and demanded that the host bring the Levite outside so they could rape him. The host protested this violation of the law of hospitality and offered his own virgin daughter and the Levite's concubine as substitutes. The Levite instead pushed his concubine out to the mob, who "abused her all the night until the morning" (Judges 19:25). In the morning she was dead.

This story is obviously similar to the story of Lot's visitors in Genesis 19. In both stories the guests were taken in, the inhabitants of the cities threatened a homosexual rape, and the host offered two women as substitutes to spare the men. Ob­viously readers are meant to see a relationship between the two stories. Biblical scholars see this as an example of conscious borrowing intended both to enhance the meaning of the second story and to emphasize how wicked Gibeah had become. The story in Genesis 19 can easily be read and understood with no awareness of the story in Judges 19, but to understand Judges 19 in any complete way the reader must see the connection to Sodom. The Levite was portrayed unfavorably compared to Lot's divine visitors. The visitors to Sodom effected a divine rescue, while the Levite threw out his own concubine to save himself.[41]

I believe that, in a similar way, the story of the abduction in Mosiah means more when we see it light of the story in Judges. I feel that the author of the story in Mosiah borrowed consciously from the story in Judges, which he knew from the plates of brass, to help make his point.

The story of the abduction of the daughters of Shiloh is the final story in Judges. One of the main purposes of Judges was to justify the establishment of a king. Judges described the evil the Israelites did in the Lord's sight (see Judges 3꞉7 4꞉1), ex­plaining that they did evil because there was no king over the people (see Judges 17꞉6; 18꞉1). Judges ends with three stories about the tribe of Benjamin that illustrate this evil. The stories are preceded by a statement about the lack of a king over the land: "And it came to pass in those days, when there was no king in Israel. . . " (Judges 19꞉1). The third story ends with a similar statement: "In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21꞉25). The topsy-turvy world described in Judges 17-Judges 21 dem­onstrates that doing what is right in one's own eyes is often the same thing as doing what is evil in the Lord's eyes.[42]

By emphasizing parallels to the kidnapping story in Judges, the author of the story in Mosiah seems to me to have strength­ened the moral point. The wicked priests led by Amulon were also evil, doing what was right in their own eyes rather than following the Lord.

Other Parallels

Understandably, the text shows disapproval of all that Amu­lon and his fellow priests did. The parallel case from Judges of doing what is right in man's eyes is only one way the text shows this disapproval. There are other parallels that further discredit Amulon and his companions.

After the Lamanites captured Amulon and his people, the record states that "Amulon did gain favor in the eyes of the king of the Lamanites" (Mosiah 24꞉1). In gaining the favor of the Lamanites, these priests clearly lost favor with God. There is a note of disapproval in the narrator's words when he says that the people of Amulon not only found favor in the eyes of the Lamanite king, but also that the king appointed these men to be teachers over all his people (see Mosiah 24꞉1). As teachers, these priests taught the Lamanites the language of the Nephites (see Mosiah 24꞉4), "nevertheless they knew not God; neither did the brethren of Amulon teach them anything concerning the Lord their God, neither the law of Moses; nor did they teach them the words of Abinadi" (Mosiah 24꞉5).

On the other hand, Alma taught his people how God de­livered both the followers of Limhi and Alma out of bondage (see Mosiah 25꞉10,16). He also taught them "repentance and faith on the Lord" (Mosiah 25:15) as he organized them into congregations. The author emphasizes how different from Alma the priests of Noah were. He says directly that the priests of Noah didn't teach the Lamanites Abinadi's words. He also spe­cifically mentions that Alma "went about privately among the people, and began to teach the words of Abinadi" (Mosiah 18꞉1). Both Alma and Amulon entered the narrative as priests of Noah. Upon hearing the words of Abinadi, Alma repented, but Amulon refused to repent. Alma taught the prophet's words in secret, while Amulon and his priests utterly refused to teach them to the Lamanites.

The reader is led to see the contrasting lives, not just of Alma and Amulon, but of the people of Limhi and Alma and the people of Amulon. Both Alma and Amulon led colonies into the wil­derness: Alma and his people, when Noah's soldiers discovered their "movement," "took their tents and their families and de­parted into the wilderness" (Mosiah 18꞉32,34). Amulon and his followers also fled into the wilderness, but at Noah's command they left their families behind (see Mosiah 19꞉11-23).

The wicked priests abandoned their wives when King Noah "commanded them that all the men should leave their wives and their children, and flee before the Lamanites" (Mosiah 19꞉11), then they went about trying to find substitute wives. The other Zeniffites would rather have perished than leave their wives and children behind (see Mosiah 19:12). Thus those who remained behind "caused that their fair daughters should stand forth and plead with the Lamanites that they would not slay them" (Mosiah 19:13). The daughters inspired "compassion" among the Lamanites, for they "were charmed with the beauty of their women" (Mosiah 19:14). Later, Amulon would do the same thing, sending out the Lamanite daughters he and the other priests had kidnapped to plead for mercy (see Mosiah 23꞉33-34).

The text has set up parallel examples for the reader to com­pare. The Zeniffites sent men out to find those who had fled their children and wives, "all save the king and his priests" (Mosiah 19꞉18), and had vowed that they would return to their wives and children or die seeking revenge if the Lamanites had killed them (Mosiah 19꞉19). The parallel stories of sending the two sets of daughters to beg for mercy from the Lamanites teach the reader that what appear to be the same actions actually differ when performed by the good-hearted on the one hand or the evil-hearted on the other.

When we compare the people as the text invites us to do, we contrast the care the men of Limhi showed for their wives and children with the abandonment by the priests of Noah. All of these events define the lack of moral character of the priests. The fact that the Lamanite king was willing to permit the stealing of the Lamanite daughters by welcoming Amulon and the priests into his kingdom speaks badly of this king, just as the Israelites' encouragement of the Benjaminites to kidnap their own daugh­ters speaks badly of all Israel. The people of Limhi, on the other hand, "fought for their lives, and for their wives, and for their children" (Mosiah 20꞉11). These differences reveal not only the character of the priests of Noah, who abandoned their families rather than fall into Lamanite hands, but also of the Nephites, who decided to face death with their families rather than aban­don them.

The text is clearly unsympathetic to the people of Amulon. The connection between the two stories of abduction is a hint from the author that their actions were reminiscent of a time, reported in Judges, when the Israelites didn't follow God's law but did what was right in their own eyes. The priests are por­trayed as indifferent to God, in spite of their position, which should have made them more anxious to follow God.

The Book of Mormon story of the stealing of the Lamanite daughters cannot be accounted for by the simplistic claim that it was just copied from the Bible. The Book of Mormon makes sophisticated use of the story to make its own point. Critics of the Book of Mormon believe that the author of the text used the earlier story from Judges, and I agree. But unlike them, I believe that the parallel enhances the book and reveals it to be an ancient document rather than a modern imitation.[43]

Goff has more recently treated this episode in more detail, with a thorough discussion of type-scenes and judging the value of readings that assume parallels by plagiarism.[44]

Alma and Paul

This parallel has received the largest amount of attention from critics, apologists, and other scholars.

Paul's dramatic experience on the road to Damascus turned him into a Christian and perhaps the faith's most influential missionary. Despite the artist's dramatic use of horses, there's no evidence that Paul was riding as he travelled on his mission to persecute Christians. (Image: Luca Giordano, "The Conversion of St. Paul," (1690).)

The Book of Mormon records the conversion and ministry of a young man named Alma. Alma goes about trying to lead people away from God's church. An angel appears, causing Alma and his companions to fall and tremble because of fear. Because of this experience, Alma was converted to the gospel and spent his life teaching it thereafter.

In 2002, critic Grant H. Palmer asserted that this conversion narrative and much of the rest of Alma’s story "seems to draw" on Paul’s story of conversion and ministry in the New Testament as a narrative structure.[45]

In particular, critics assert that the following parallels exist:

  1. Both men were wicked before their dramatic conversion (Mosiah 27꞉8; 1 Tim. 1꞉12-13).
  2. Both traveled about persecuting and seeking to destroy the church of God (14#p6, 14 Alma 36꞉6, 14; 1 Cor. 15꞉9; Acts 22꞉4)
  3. Both were persecuting the church when they saw a heavenly vision (Mosiah 27꞉10-11; Acts 26꞉11-13).
  4. Their companions fell to the earth and were unable to understand the voice that spoke (Mosiah 27꞉12; Acts 22꞉9; 26꞉14).
  5. Both were asked in vision why they persecuted the Lord (Mosiah 27꞉13; Acts 9꞉4; 22꞉7).
  6. Both were struck dumb/blind, became helpless, and were assisted by their companions. They went without food before converting (Mosiah 27꞉19, 23-24; Acts 9꞉8).
  7. Both preached the gospel and both performed the same miracle (Mosiah 27꞉32; Alma 15꞉11; Acts 9꞉20; 14꞉10).
  8. While preaching, they supported themselves by their own labors (Alma 30꞉32; 1 Cor 4꞉12)
  9. They were put in prison. After they prayed, an earthquake resulted in their bands being loosed (26-28#p22, 26-28 Alma 14꞉22, 26-28; 25-26#p23, 25-26 Acts 16꞉23, 25-26).
  10. Both used the same phrases in their preaching.[46]

This article will seek to examine this criticism and address it in a way that makes sense given orthodox Latter-day Saint theological commitments.

A translator can see parallels too

A well-informed translator would also see the parallels, and so the translation could emphasize the Pauline parallels. If we insist that Joseph was not well-informed enough to see the parallels, he can hardly have been well-informed enough to create the parallels either.

Are roughly parallel stories surprising?

Are we really to believe that there can't be two narratives of men persecuting a church organization, being visited by a heavenly messenger exhorting them to repent, having them converted to preaching repentance, supporting themselves by their own labor while they preach, and being freed from bands and prison without one narrative being literately dependent on the other?

Scholars John Welch and John F. Hall created a chart noting similarities and differences between Alma's and Paul's conversion.[47] They explain:

The conversions of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus and of Alma the Younger in the land of Zarahemla are similar in certain fundamental respects, as one would expect since the source of their spiritual reversals was one and the same. Interestingly, in each case we have three accounts of their conversions: Paul’s conversion is reported in Acts 9, 22, and 26. Alma’s conversion is given in Mosiah 7, Alma 6, and 38. No two of these accounts are exactly the same. The columns on the far right and left sides of chart 15-17 show the verses of these six accounts in which each element either appears or is absent. Down the middle are found the elements shared by both Paul and Alma, and off center are words or experiences unique to either Paul or Alma. In sum, the personalized differences significantly offset and highlight the individual experiences in the two conversions.

The chart they created can be seen here.

Reviewing Each Alleged Parallel

The parallels are examined below. Each narrative has important similarities and dissimilarities that need to be considered in isolation in order to understand how combining them too hastily can lead to misunderstanding.

1. Both men were wicked before their dramatic conversion (Mosiah 27꞉8; 1 Tim. 1꞉12-13)

A fairly innocuous parallel when taken by itself and one that we could establish with many other books. This parallel can only be seen as convincing when taken with other parallels. This parallel and the next are probably better combined with parallels three and four as one parallel. Both are so naturally tied into 3/4 that they function better as one parallel. The critics may be trying to list a greater number of parallels because it makes the criticism look more persuasive than it actually is. (This is another example of the Gish Gallop.)

2. Both traveled about persecuting and seeking to destroy the church of God (Alma 36꞉6, 14; 1 Cor. 15꞉9; Acts 22꞉4)

  1. The account of Alma stresses that they were corrupting people and getting them to not keep the commandments (Mosiah 27꞉8-10). Paul's emphasizes, by contrast, that he was arresting and persecuting the Saints. Paul imprisoned followers of Christ (Acts 9꞉1-2) whereas Alma had no such power.
  2. In Alma's case, his actions were illegal. In Paul's, they were legal and sanctioned by the Jewish authorities.
  3. Paul is a part of the majority religion persecuting the minority religion, while Alma is the opposite.

The parallels are superficial, and ignore the differences.

3. Both were persecuting the church when they saw a heavenly vision (Mosiah 27꞉10-11; Acts 26꞉11-13); 4. Their companions fell to the earth and were unable to understand the voice that spoke (Mosiah 27꞉12; Acts 22꞉9; 26꞉14)

Paul is on the road to Damascus when he has his vision. The Book of Mormon doesn't give us any details as to the location of Alma and his companions.

We know that Alma was with four other people at the time of the heavenly appearance. We are not told how many companions Saul had with him while on the road to Damascus, though it was clearly more than one since he speaks of them in the plural (Acts 22꞉9).

"The next slight difference comes in the angel's appearance to them. To Alma the angel comes in a cloud and to Saul with a bright light from heaven (Acts 9꞉3)."[48]

"The next difference is the description of the voice. No description accompanies the voice in Paul's account, but in Alma's it is 'a voice of thunder' that shakes the earth. Both Saul and Alma fall to the ground—Saul/Paul because he appears to recognize majesty, and with Alma, as a result of the earth's shaking."[48]:4:450

In both accounts, all fall to the ground and all hear the voice of the angel. "The difference is that, in the Book of Mormon account, all fall and all see the messenger (v. 18)…In the Old World example, the companions heard a voice, but the record does not allow us to infer either that they understood it or assumed it to be divine."[48]:4:451

Once more we see differences that the "parallels" approach gloss over.

In Alma's case, it is an angel—not a divine being. In Paul's case, it is Jesus Christ.

5. Both were asked in vision why they persecuted the Lord (Mosiah 27꞉13; Acts 9꞉4; 22꞉7)

"The similarity to Paul's experience is that 'persecution' is part of the divine message in both cases. In Saul's case, however, it is Christ who is persecuted and in Alma's it is the church. The fact of persecution exists in both cases; but in the New World, Alma's persecution precedes Jesus's coming in the flesh. Thus, in one sense, there was no person with which the church might be directly identified and against whom one might persecute as in the New Testament example. Alma's version of apostasy was almost certainly like that of Noah and his priests in which he accepted much of the competing religion but also held some beliefs of the Mosaic law. In this case, Alma and the sons of Mosiah could not have accepted a declaration like that given to Saul because they would not have believed that they were persecuting Yahweh himself, only those who believed in the future Atoning Messiah. Nevertheless, the messenger declares that the church was equated with Yahweh. Alma and the sons of Mosiah were not persecuting people who believed in a nonexistent being, but they were directly persecuting their own God."[48]:4:451–52

6. Both were struck dumb/blind, became helpless, and were assisted by their companions. They went without food before converting (Mosiah 27꞉19, 27꞉23-24; Acts 9꞉9)

  1. Being made dumb is entirely different from being made blind.
  2. Brant Gardner wrote that "Contary to Saul ... Alma is completely debilitated. His companions are functional, able to carry him to assistance. Saul was only blind, but Alma was dumb and so weak that he was 'carried helpless.'"[48]:4:454
  3. Paul was incapacitated for three days and Alma for "two days and two nights"[48]:4:457
  4. Paul went without food before converting. That is specified clearly in the account of his conversion. In Alma's conversion, it is the priests who intentionally fast before Alma receives his strength again.

Again, the parallels are superficial with many details that do not match.

7. Both preached the gospel and both performed the same miracle (Mosiah 27꞉32; Alma 15꞉11; Acts 9꞉20; 14:10)

Both indeed preached the Gospel. Alma ascended to political power after his conversion and then relinquished it before entering ministry whereas Paul had political power in the Jewish world, relinquished it, and did not ascend to it again after conversion and before entering ministry.

Paul and Alma did not perform the same miracle. In Alma's passages, he implores the Lord to heal Zeezrom from a serious fever. Zeezrom asks to be healed, and walks to show that he is better, not because he had been physically lame.

By contrast, in Paul's passages, he merely commands the man lame from birth to walk without being asked

Once more, a superficial list of parallels ignores many differences.

8. While preaching, they supported themselves by their own labors (Alma 30꞉32; 1 Cor 4꞉12)

This is true, though hardly a significant point. Those who sincerely preach would not need to be paid to do so, and preaching an unpopular faith is not likely to be financially rewarding anyway. It is hard to see how Alma and Paul's stories—if true—could have been different on this point.

(We could equally argue that they both preached to large groups in the open air—but that is a meaningless parallel since what they are doing virtually requires that they do so.)

9. They were put in prison. After they prayed, an earthquake resulted in their bands being loosed (Alma 14꞉22,26-28; Acts 16꞉23,25-26 )

Paul and Silas were placed in prison after being stripped and whipped. Alma and Amulek were also confined to prison after being stripped of clothes but were smitten, spit upon, and had people gnash their teeth at them. Paul was imprisoned three times throughout his ministry and Alma once.

Palmer is entirely wrong that an earthquake resulted in Alma's bands being loosed. Alma's bands are loosed by God and then the prison walls shake and tumble. With Paul, it's the foundations of the prison that shake first, doors open, and then the bands are loosed. The walls of the prison in Paul's narrative do not tumble down.

This is a good example of how parallels can blind us to differences—our minds see things that are similar, and gloss over the differences. The critics' emphasis on parallels while ignoring unparallels makes them even more vulnerable to this cognitive error.

10. Same Phrases in Teaching

Palmer suggests that both authors used the same phrases in teaching. Yet, the Book of Mormon is replete with phrasing similar to the New Testament—which is unsurprising since similar ideas are being taught in similar language to people familiar with the KJV New Testament.

The use of such language is not unique to Alma and his conversion narratives and thus it can't be used as a peculiarity to establish Joseph Smith's dependence on Paul's conversion narratives for Alma.

To learn more:The New Testament and the Book of Mormon

Paul and Alma—Conclusion

Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, "Alma’s Prophetic Commissioning Type Scene"

Alan Goff,  Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, (April 29, 2022)
The story often referred to as Alma’s conversion narrative is too often interpreted as a simplistic plagiarism of Paul’s conversion-to-Christianity story in the book of Acts. Both the New and Old Testaments appropriate an ancient narrative genre called the prophetic commissioning story. Paul’s and Alma’s commissioning narratives hearken back to this literary genre, and to refer to either as pilfered is to misunderstand not just these individual narratives but the larger approach Hebraic writers used in composing biblical and Book of Mormon narrative. To the modern mind the similarity in stories triggers explanations involving plagiarism and theft from earlier stories and denies the historicity of the narratives; ancient writers — especially of Hebraic narrative — had a quite different view of such concerns. To deny the historical nature of the stories because they appeal to particular narrative conventions is to impose a mistaken modern conceptual framework on the texts involved. A better and more complex grasp of Hebraic narrative is a necessary first step to understanding these two (and many more) Book of Mormon and biblical stories.

Click here to view the complete article

Edward A. Freeman pointed out how cautious we must be in concluding that similarities mean plagiarism or any kind of litereary dependence. He wrote of the kings of England:

I have often thought how easily two important reigns in our own history might be dealt with in the way that I have spoken of, how easily the later reign might be judged to be a mere repetition of the former, if we knew no more of them than we know of some other parts of history. Let us suppose that the reigns of Henry the First and Henry the Second were known to us only in the same meagre way that we know the reigns of some of the ancient potentates of the East. In short and dry annals they might easily be told so as to look like the same story. Each king bears the same name; each reigns the same number of years; each comes to the crown in a way other than succession from father to son; each restores order after a time of confusion; each improves his political position by his marriage; each is hailed as a restorer of the old native kingship; each loses his eldest son; each gives his daughter Matilda to a Henry in Germany; each has a controversy with his archbishop; each wages war with France; each dies in his continental dominions; each, if our supposed meagre annals can be supposed to tell us of such points, shows himself a great lawgiver and administrator, and each, to some extent, displays the same personal qualities, good and bad. Now when we come really to study [Page 35]the two reigns, we see that the details of all these supposed points of likeness are utterly different; but I am supposing very meagre annals, such as very often are all that we can get, and, in such annals, the two tales would very likely be so told that a master of higher criticism might cast aside Henry the Second and his acts as a mere double of his grandfather and his acts. We know how very far wrong such a judgment would be; and this should make us be cautious in applying a rule which, though often very useful, is always dangerous in cases where we may get utterly wrong without knowing it.[49]

Further details on this topic are available in a paper by Alan Goff—who once more reminds us that Paul and Alma are simply examples of a much broader literary pattern: a type-scene.[50]


Old Testament

How can 1 Nephi 22:15 in the Book of Mormon quote Malachi 4:1 hundreds of years before Malachi was written:

Book of Mormon Central, KnoWhy #218: Why Did Jesus Give The Nephites Malachi's Prophecies: (Video)

The translation language may resemble Malachi, but the work is not attributed to Malachi

Only if we presume that the Book of Mormon is a fraud at the outset is this convincing. If we assume that it is a translation, then the use of bible language tells us merely that Joseph used biblical language.

The Book of Mormon claims to be a "translation." Joseph could choose to render similar (or identical) material using KJV language if that adequately represented the text's intent.

Joseph used entire chapters (e.g., 3 Nephi 12-14 based on biblical texts that he did not claim were quotations from original texts (even Malachi is treated this way by Jesus in 3 Nephi 24-25). This was simply how Joseph translated.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources


New Testament

Did Joseph Smith riff off of Hebrews 7 to produce the material discussing Melchizedek in Alma 2 and 13:

Critic David P. Wright argues that

Alma chapters 12-13, traditionally dated to about 82 B.C.E., depends in part on the New Testament epistle to the Hebrews, dated by critical scholars to the last third of the first century C.E. The dependence of Alma 2꞉13 on Hebrews thus constitutes an anachronism and indicates that the chapters are a composition of Joseph Smith.[51]

Replied John Tvedtnes:

Wright contends that Alma 13꞉17-19 is a reworking of Hebrews 7꞉1-4, noting six elements shared by the two texts and appearing in the same order in both. [Ref] To his list of six, Wright adds a seventh that is pure guesswork, saying that the words 'there were many before him, and also there were many afterwards' (Alma 13꞉19) derive from the notion of no beginning of days or end of life in Hebrews 7꞉3. This is much too far-fetched.[52]

This argument is long, detailed, and hard to summarize easily. We include some highlights, with links to more detailed treatments.

John A. Tvedtnes’ review of Wright’s chapter

John Tvedtnes was one of the first to respond to Wright’s contentions in the Review of Books on the Book of Mormon back in 1994. Tvedtnes argues that the parallels do not come from Joseph Smith reading Hebrews 7 but instead that both Hebrews 7 and Alma 3 share in thought from an earlier source discussing Melchizedek. Readers can find a link to his paper at the citation below.[53]

John W. Welch 1990 Book Chapter on the Melchizedek Material in Alma 3

Three years before Wright published on this topic, John W. Welch wrote a paper on the Melchizedek material in Alma 2꞉13. While not being a direct reponse to Wright, Welch provides insightful comparisons between Alma 3, Hebrews 7, Genesis 2, and extrabiblical lore about Melchizedek to elucidate how Alma interprets Genesis and frames concepts of priesthood and thus how it differs from Hebrews 7. Readers are strongly encouraged to read Welch’s paper.[54]

Book of Mormon Central KnoWhy on Alma and Melchizedek

Book of Mormon Central, KnoWhy #120: Why Did Alma Talk about Melchizedek: (Video)

Book of Mormon Central has written an accessible distillation and analysis of the Melchizedek material in Alma 3 that readers are encouraged to visit.

Brant A. Gardner Commentary in Second Witness

Gardner has written a commentary on Alma 2 and 13 with Wright’s argument and Tvedtnes' response in mind and offers a subtle response to both. In that commentary, "[he takes] the position that the construction of Alma’s text follows a different logic and theme than that of Hebrews. [He develops] this argument in the commentary on the individual verses [of Alma 3]."[55]

Does Helaman 12:25-26 quote John 5:29?

We must remember that the speaker in this case is Mormon, who was writing more than three centuries after Jesus Christ, and who had access to a large variety of Nephite records

Some claim that Helaman 12꞉25-26 quotes John 5꞉29 [56]:

And I would that all men might be saved. But we read that in the great and last day there are some who shall be cast out, yea, who shall be cast off from the presence of the Lord. [26] Yea, who shall be consigned to a state of endless misery, fulfilling the words which say: They that have done good shall have everlasting life; and they that have done evil shall have everlasting damnation. And thus it is. Amen. (Helaman 12꞉25-26)

It is claimed that the "reading" referred to is from John:

And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.(John 5:29:{{{4}}})

The problem is that Helaman 12꞉26 doesn't quote John, but at best paraphrases. The issue is over the word "read" that is used to force the connection. We must remember that the speaker in this case is Mormon, who was writing more than three centuries after Jesus Christ, and who had access to a large variety of Nephite records.

For example, the following Book of Mormon verses are potential sources for these ideas:

3 Nephi 26꞉5

If they be good, to the resurrection of everlasting life; and if they be evil, to the resurrection of damnation....

Mormon had access to this text, and it approximates that used in Helaman quite closely. (Remember that many who criticize the Book of Mormon on this point claim that Helman is speaking pre-Jesus Christ, rather than the editor Mormon, who is post-Jesus and thus post-3 Nephi.)

Other options include those listed below.

1 Nephi 14꞉7

For the time cometh, saith the Lamb of God, that I will work a great and a marvelous work among the children of men; a work which shall be everlasting, either on the one hand or on the other—either to the convincing of them unto peace and life eternal, or unto the deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds unto their being brought down into captivity, and also into destruction, both temporally and spiritually, according to the captivity of the devil, of which I have spoken.

2 Nephi 10꞉23

Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves—to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life.

Alma 22꞉6

"And also, what is this that Ammon said—If ye will repent ye shall be saved, and if ye will not repent, ye shall be cast off at the last day:"

While Mormon in Helaman doesn't use the "resurrection of life" and "resurrection of damnation" that is found in John, it does use the "shall be cast off" and "the last day". Now it isn't exact either, and its quite likely that it isn't a direct quote of this passage.

2 Nephi 2꞉26

Another source of this teaching in the Book of Mormon comes in 2 Nephi 2, in particular in verse 26:

"And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given." (2 Nephi 2꞉26)

Mormon also uses this passage when he writes in Words of Mormon 1꞉11:

"And they were handed down from king Benjamin, from generation to generation until they have fallen into my hands. And I, Mormon, pray to God that they may be preserved from this time henceforth. And I know that they will be preserved; for there are great things written upon them, out of which my people and their brethren shall be judged at the great and last day, according to the word of God which is written."

Other teaching from Christ's era:

Given that Mormon is writing well after Jesus' visit to the Nephites, it is also possible that he is citing another Christian text from that period—it would be logical for Jesus to teach something similar to John 5꞉29 among the Nephites, though as we have seen there were ample other pre-crucifixion texts available to the Nephites as well.

Summary

Since we have this idea present in Alma 22꞉6 (the missionary Aaron quoting Alma the Younger), it seems likely that this was an idea that was taught commonly among the Nephites. This is confirmed by the other passages cited. We can see how the passage in Helaman reflects a Nephite theology and need not be a New Testament theology introduced anachronistically.

Ultimately, the idea is not a particularly complex one, and could easily have had multiple sources or approximations. Mormon need not be even citing a particular text, but merely indicating that one can "read" this idea in a variety of Nephite texts, as demonstrated above.

Thus, the claim of plagiarism seems forced, since there are Nephite texts which more closely approximate the citation than does the gospel of John, and a precise citation is not present in any case.

See also:Bible passages in the Book of Mormon
Summary: What does the inclusion of KJV text in the Book of Mormon tell us?
Alleged KJV translation errors in the Book of Mormon
Why do portions of Book of Mormon and KJV match so closely?
Summary: Are the King James passages in the Book of Mormon evidence of plagiarism?
KJV italicized text in the Book of Mormon
Summary: Many changes in the Book of Mormon occur in the KJV italicized text. What is that text for? Did Joseph focus on it during the translation?
Isaiah and the Book of MormonNew Testament text
Quoting MalachiGreek words: alpha and omega?

Learn more about biblical allusions or citation in the Book of Mormon
FAIR links
  • Ben McGuire, "Nephi and Goliath: A Reappraisal of the Use of the Old Testament in First Nephi," Proceedings of the 2001 FAIR Conference (August 2001). link
  • Sara Riley, "“Even as Moses’ Did”: The Use of the Exodus Narrative in Mosiah 11-18," Proceedings of the 2018 FAIR Conference (August 2018). link
Online
  • Sidney B. Sperry, "Literary Problems in the Book of Mormon involving 1 Corinthians 12, 13, and Other New Testament Books," farms.byu.edu off-site.
  • Learn More About Parts 5 and 6 of Volume 3 of the Critical Text Project of the Book of Mormon off-site.
  • Royal Skousen, "The History of the Book of Mormon Text: Parts 5 and 6 of Volume 3 of the Critical Text" off-site.
  • Standford Carmack, "Bad Grammar in the Book of Mormon Found in Early English Bibles" off-site.
  • Stan Spencer, "Missing Words: King James Bible Italics, the Translation of the Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith as an Unlearned Reader" off-site.
Video

Navigators

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources


Notes

  1. John Dehlin, "Questions and Answers," Mormon Stories Podcast (25 June 2014).
  2. Interview of Emma Smith by her son Joseph Smith III, "Interview with Joseph Smith III, 1879," in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:539.
  3. Jeffrey G. Cannon, "Oliver Cowdery's Gift," Revelations in Context on history.lds.org
  4. "Mature Joseph Smith," 235.
  5. "Mature Joseph Smith," 235.
  6. Dallin H. Oaks, "Recent Events Involving Church History and Forged Documents," Ensign (October 1987): 63.
  7. "Book of Mormon Translation," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013).
  8. Jeffrey G. Cannon, "Oliver Cowdery's Gift," Revelations in Context on history.lds.org
  9. MormonThink.com website (as of 8 May 2012). Page: http://mormonthink.com/lost116web.htm
  10. "Prior to the publication of the book some pages of the manuscript were published by Abner Cole, an ex-justice of the peace, who published the Palmyra Reflector under the name Obadiah Dogberry. On December 29, 1829, Dogberry published the present Chapter 1 of First Nephi and the first the verses of Chapter 2. The issues of January 13, and 22, 1830, published more the Book of Mormon text, but Smith threatened to take Cole to court for violation of copyright and Cole ran no more of the excerpts." - Leonard J. Arrington, "Mormonism: From Its New York Beginnings," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 13 no. 3, 125.
  11. History of the Church, 1:220. Volume 1 link
  12. Nibley is responding to Wesley P. Walters, "Mormonism," Christianity Today 5/6 (19 December 1960): 8–10.
  13. Nibley is quoting Millar Burrows, The Dead Sea Scrolls (Michigan: Baker, 1955; reprinted 1978), 1:397.
  14. Nibley is quoting Theodore H. Gaster, The Dead Sea Scriptures (New York: Doubleday, 1964), 136.
  15. Church News, 29 July 1961: 10, 15. Reprinted in Hugh W. Nibley, The Prophetic Book of Mormon (Vol. 8 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1989), 214–18. ISBN 0875791794. Wiki editors have added subheadings to this section to aid in readability and navigation. [Nibley's first edition of Since Cumorah cites such sources as R. Reitzenstein, in Nachrichter v. d. kgl. Ges. d. Wiss. zu Gottingen (1916): 362, 416, and 1917 Heft 1, pp. 130-151, and Historische Zeitschrift 116 (DATE:), pp. 189-202. A von Harnack, in Journal of Biblical Literature 50 (1931), pp. 266ff; cf. Alf. Resch, "Der Paulinismus u. die Logia Jesu," in Texte u. Untersuchungen. N. F. 13 (1904).]
  16. Interpreter Foundation, "The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon," <https://interpreterfoundation.org/the-history-of-the-text-of-the-book-of-mormon/> (25 January 2020).
  17. Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: the Life of Joseph Smith, 2nd ed. (New York: Vintage, 1995), 62–63.
  18. For a detailed and thorough review of the literature on this topic, see: Benjamin L. McGuire, "Finding Parallels: Some Cautions and Criticisms, Part One," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 5/1 (17 May 2013). [1–60] link and Benjamin L. McGuire, "Finding Parallels: Some Cautions and Criticisms, Part Two," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 5/2 (24 May 2013). [61–104] link
  19. Benjamin L. McGuire, "Finding Parallels: Some Cautions and Criticisms, Part One," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 5/1 (17 May 2013): 8-9. [1–60] link; citing Everett Ferguson, “Introduction: Perspectives on Parallels,” in Backgrounds of Early Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 1-2
  20. Benjamin L. McGuire, "Finding Parallels: Some Cautions and Criticisms, Part One," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 5/1 (17 May 2013). [1–60] link
  21. W. H.Bennett and Walter F. Adeney, A Biblical Introduction (New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1899), 39; cited in {{Interpreter:McGuire:Finding Parallels Some Cautions And Criticisms Part One:2013:Short|pages=36}
  22. For a concrete example of this in the Book of Mormon, see Book of Mormon Central, "Why Are there Multiple Accounts of Joseph Smith's and Alma's Visions: ([https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/bofm/alma/36?lang=eng&id=p6-7#p6-7 Alma 36꞉6-7)]," KnoWhy 264 (January 20, 2017).
  23. For an introduction to type-scenes, see Michael Austin, "How the Book of Mormon Reads the Bible: A Theory of Types," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 26, (2017): 51-53. For one perspective on how type-scenes are a subtle witness for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, see Alan Goff, "Uncritical Theory and Thin Description: The Resistance to History," Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 7, no. 1 (1995): 187-190.
  24. For a few examples other examples of type-scenes in the Book of Mormon, see Richard Dilworth Rust, "Recurrence in Book of Mormon Narratives," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 3/1 (1994): 42-43. [39–52] link.
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 25.3 Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2011), 62.
  26. Ibid., 63.
  27. Ibid.
  28. For one example of this, see Ibid., 70.
  29. 29.0 29.1 Alan Goff, "Reduction and Enlargement: Harold Bloom's Mormons (Review of The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation by Harold Bloom)," Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 5/1 (1993): 105. [96–108] link
  30. Ibid.
  31. Ibid.
  32. For more context on this story, see Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 Vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 4:275-276.
  33. Bennett, 39; cited in Benjamin L. McGuire, Interpreter (17 May 2013): 36-37.
  34. 34.0 34.1 34.2 34.3 34.4 Nicholas J. Frederick, "Whence the Daughter of Jared:" in Illuminating the Jaredite Records, ed. Daniel L. Belnap (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2020)
  35. At the Pacific Coast meeting in 1940, ARAHA (1940): 90.
  36. Hugh W. Nibley, "Sparsiones," Classical Journal 40 (1945): 541–43.
  37. Ibid., for a preliminary treatment.
  38. E.A. Wallis Budge, Chronology of Bar Hebraeus, (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2010), 1:182, "The sister of the Khalifah had a certain scribe, and Egyptian, in Syiria, and he sent and complained to her about Abu Tahir [the ruler of Syria]. . . . And because her brother always paid very great attention to her, she went and wept before him. And she received [from him] the command, and she sent [it] and killed Abu Tahir, and his head was carried to Egypt."
  39. Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, The World of the Jaredites, There Were Jaredites (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1988), 213.
  40. Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 Vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2007).
  41. Stuart Lasine, "Guest and Host in Judges 19: Lot's Hospitality in an Inverted World," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 29 (June 1984): 40.
  42. Lasine, "Gust and Host," 55.
  43. Alan Goff, "The Stealing of the Daughters of the Lamanites," in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, ed. John L. Sorenson (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1992), 67–74.
  44. Alan Goff, "The Plagiary of the Daughters of the Lamanites," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 61/1 (2024). [57–96] link
  45. Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002) 50-51. ( Index of claims ) . Similar arguments are presented in Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), 62-63. ( Index of claims ) and G. T. Harrison, That Mormon Book: Mormonism’s Keystone Exposed or The Hoax Book (n.p.: n.p., 1981).
  46. Palmer cites 16 examples in which Alma and Paul used similar phrases in their teaching.
  47. John W. Welch, John F. Hall and J. Gregory Welch, Charting the New Testament: Visual Aids for Personal Study and Teaching (Provo, Utah: FARMS and Institute for the Study and Preservation of Ancient Texts, 2002), chart(s) 15-17. ISBN 0934893640. off-site(Permission in digital version granted for non-profit reproduction and distribution if copyright notice intact and material unaltered.)
  48. 48.0 48.1 48.2 48.3 48.4 48.5 Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007).
  49. Edward A. Freeman, The Methods of Historical Study (London: Macmillan, 1886), 138–39; cited in Benjamin L. McGuire, Interpreter (17 May 2013): 34-35.
  50. Alan Goff, "Alma's Prophetic Commissioning Type Scene," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 51/5 (29 April 2022). [115–164] link
  51. David P. Wright, "’In Plain Terms That We Might Understand’: Joseph Smith’s Transformation of Hebrews in Alma 2꞉13" in New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology, ed. Brent Lee Metcalfe (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993), 165–229 (166).
  52. John A. Tvedtnes, "Review of New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology by Brent Lee Metcalfe," Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6/1 (1994). [8–50] link
  53. John A. Tvedtnes (1994): 19-23.
  54. John W. Welch, "The Melchizedek Material in Alma 13-19," in By Study and Also by Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday, 27 March 1990, ed. John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book/Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1990), 2:248.
  55. Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 Vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 4:213n2.
  56. Making Life Count Ministries, Inc., "Proof the Book of Mormon Isn't True," (PDF on-line, no date), 1.
Articles about the Holy Bible

Articles about the Book of Mormon
Authorship
Translation process
Gold plates
Witnesses
The Bible and the Book of Mormon
Language and the Book of Mormon
Geography
DNA
Anachronisms
Doctrine and teachings
Lamanites
Other

Why does the Book of Mormon's translation of Isaiah material match the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible so closely?

Some have presumed that Joseph simply opened a Bible and copied those chapters when he came to material on the gold plates that he recognized as being from the Bible

Some passages from the Bible (parts of Isaiah, for example) were included in the Book of Mormon text. Some people have long adopted the position that Joseph Smith simply copied the King James Version (KJV) Bible text for the relevant portions of, for example, Isaiah. Even some Church members have presumed that the close match between the texts indicates that Joseph simply opened a Bible and copied those chapters when he came to material on the gold plates that he recognized as being from the Bible.

The Saints do not believe in one fixed, inviolate, "perfect" rendering of a scripture or doctrinal concept. The Book of Mormon likely reflects differences between the Nephite textual tradition and the commonly known Biblical manuscripts.

Joseph did not believe that there was "one and only one" true translation of a given passage or text. The Book of Mormon is "the most correct book" in the sense that it those who read and obey its precepts will draw nearer to God than in reading any other book. This is not a claim about textual perfection. The book itself even insists that some errors will still be present—title page, Mormon 9꞉31). In fact, Brigham Young taught that the Book of Mormon text would have been different if it were redone later:

Should the Lord Almighty send an angel to re-write the Bible, it would in many places be very different from what it now is. And I will even venture to say that if the Book of Mormon were now to be re-written, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation. According as people are willing to receive the things of God, so the heavens send forth their blessings. [1]

Why are many of the quotes from Isaiah in the Book of Mormon identical to those in the King James Bible?

Witnesses to the translation process are unanimous that Joseph did not have any books, manuscripts, or notes to which he referred while translating. There are thus several problems with the idea that Joseph simply copied the Bible:

1) Witnesses to the translation process are unanimous that Joseph did not have any books, manuscripts, or notes to which he referred while translating. Recalled Emma, in a later interview:

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 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.[2]

Martin Harris also noted that Joseph would translate with his face buried in his hat in order to use the seer stone/urim and thummim. This would make referring to a Bible or notes virtually impossible:

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...[3]

2) It is not clear that Joseph even owned a Bible during the Book of Mormon translation. He and Oliver Cowdery later purchased a Bible, which suggests (given Joseph's straitened financial situation) that he did not already own one.[4]

3) It is not clear that Joseph's Biblical knowledge was at all broad during the Book of Mormon translation. It seems unlikely that he would have recognized, say, Isaiah, had he encountered it on the plates. Recalled Emma Smith:

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. .?. . When he stopped for any purpose at any time he would, when he commenced again, begin where he left off without any hesitation, and one time while he was translating he stopped suddenly, pale as a sheet, and said, "Emma, did Jerusalem have walls around it?" When I answered, "Yes," he replied, "Oh! I was afraid I had been deceived." He had such a limited knowledge of history at the time that he did not even know that Jerusalem was surrounded by walls.[5]

Emma also noted that

Joseph Smith could neither write nor dictate a coherent and wellworded letter; let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, . . . it is marvelous to me, "a marvel and a wonder," as much so as to any one else.[6]

And, if Joseph was merely inventing the Book of Mormon story, he picked some of the more obscure and difficult Bible passages to include.

4) If Joseph was forging the Book of Mormon, why include Biblical passages at all? Clearly, Joseph was able to rapidly produce a vast and complex text that no biblical content at all. If Joseph was trying to perpetrate a fraud, why did he include near-verbatim quotations from the one book (the KJV Bible) with which his target audience was sure to be familiar?

So, what else ought we to consider regarding the Isaiah passages?

Consideration #1—Adaptation of Isaiah

There are also areas in which Nephi seems to adapt Isaiah as he "likens it unto himself." Ancient scribes and authors did not have the same preoccupation with literal, precise citation that we do. They would adapt texts to make their point, which Nephi explicitly tells us he is doing.

Some differences, then, may not reflect a textual difference at all, but instead represent Nephi's novel adaptation of the text.

To learn more:Nephi likening the scriptures
Summary: This idea is explored in more detail below.

Consideration #2—Bible text itself quotes extensively from past scripture

When considering the presence of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, we note that one Bible scholar has found that the four gospels attest to the fact that Jesus Christ and the apostles consistently quoted scripture. He calculated that over "ten percent of the daily conversation of Jesus consisted of Old Testament words quoted literally" and nearly 50% of the Lord's words as quoted by John were quotations from the Old Testament.[7]

When we learn that Isaiah is the most quoted of all prophets, being more frequently quoted by Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John (in his Revelation) than any other Old Testament prophet, it should not surprise us that both the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants also quote Isaiah more than any other prophet.[8] The Lord told the Nephites that "great are the words of Isaiah," and the prophet Nephi confessed, "my soul delighteth in his words... for he verily saw my Redeemer, even as I have seen him" (2 Nephi 11꞉2).

New Testament writers quoted hundreds of Old Testament scriptures including 76 verses from Isaiah

It is clear that the writings of Isaiah held special significance for Jesus Christ and Nephi (see 2 Nephi 11꞉8, 25꞉5; 3 Nephi 20꞉11; 23꞉1-3). Isaiah's prophecies might also have been quoted frequently because they were largely concerned with latter-day events. The Saints understand Isaiah to have foretold the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith (see 49), the gathering of Israel in the last days (18), the coming forth of the Book of Mormon (29), wickedness in the last days (33), and the Savior's second coming, and the millennium (13, 26, 27). While he also wrote about the Savior's first coming (32꞉1-4) and events in his own time (20,23), most of what he wrote about is yet to be fulfilled.[9]

When one considers that New Testament writers quoted hundreds of Old Testament scriptures including 76 verses from Isaiah[10] it should not surprise us that Book of Mormon writers did likewise. After all, these writings were part of the old world scriptures brought with them to the new world 1 Nephi 19꞉22-23). If the prophets of the Book of Mormon had not quoted Isaiah we might have cause to question the text's authenticity.

Paul has been called the most original of all New Testament writers but investigations of his epistles show that Paul often quoted from classical writers, orators, dramas, law courts, sports commentaries, and ancient religious rites. Even the well-known Pauline formula of "faith, hope, and charity," which appears also in the Book of Mormon, has been traced to Babylonian writings.[11]

Consideration #3—Analogy with the Dead Sea Scrolls

Even academic translators sometimes copy a previous translation if it serves the purpose of their translation. For example, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) provided previously unknown texts of many Biblical writings. However, in some translations of the DSS, approximately 90% is simply copied from the KJV.

Surely we are not expected to believe that the DSS translators dropped back into King James idiom and just happened to come up with a nearly identical text! They, in fact, unabashedly copied the KJV, except where the DSS texts were substantially different from already known Hebrew manuscripts.

In some translations of the Dead Sea Scrolls, approximately 90% is simply copied from the King James Bible

Even academic translators sometimes copy a previous translation if it serves the purpose of their translation. For example, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) provided previously unknown texts for many Biblical writings. However, in some translations of the DSS, approximately 90% is simply copied from the KJV.

Surely we are not expected to believe that the DSS translators dropped back into King James idiom and just happened to come up with a nearly identical text! They, in fact, unabashedly copied the KJV, except where the DSS texts were substantially different from already known Hebrew manuscripts.[12]

The purpose of the DSS translation is to highlight the differences between the newly discovered manuscripts and those to which scholars already had access

Why was this done? Because, the purpose of the DSS translation is to highlight the differences between the newly discovered manuscripts and those to which scholars already had access. Thus, in areas where the DSS manuscripts agree with the Biblical texts that were already known, the KJV translation is used to indicate this. Here, for example, is how the first verses of Genesis are treated:

Dead Sea Scrolls Translation: 1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. [2 And] the earth [was] formless and void; and darkness was upon the fac[e of the dee]p: and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. 3 And God said, "Let there be light," [and there was light. 4 And] God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light [from the darkness.] 5 And God called the light daytime, and the darkness he cal[led ni]ght. And there was evening [and there was morning,] one day.

KJV: 1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. 3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. 4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. 5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

We can see that it generally follows that same King James language. In places, it has variant readings, and it footnotes what ancient texts caused these different readings. You can also see from the various punctuation marks that there is a system in place to help us understand what part of the text comes from which source. Why would a translation made in 1999 (170 years after the Book of Mormon gets published) generally follow the King James Version? It isn't because the King James Version is the best, or the easiest to understand. In 1830, it was the only mass produced translation (the next major translation wouldn't be published for another half century). And it remains today one of the most common translations of the Bible. You don't have to be a specialist to compare the two texts and see what the differences are. In this way, we can (as non-specialists) get a better feel for the various ancient versions of the biblical texts. The same is true for the Book of Mormon except perhaps in reverse. By using the KJV language, we are probably being clued in to the fact that the potential differences aren't the important parts of the Book of Mormon. Rather than focusing on how this or that word was changed, we can focus on what the passages are trying to teach us.

This is not to argue that there may not be a better way to render the text than the KJV—but, it would be counterproductive for the DSS committee spent a lot of time improving on the KJV translation. A reader without access to the original manuscripts could then never be sure if a difference between the DSS translation and the KJV translation represented a true difference in the DSS, or simply the choice of the DSS translators to improve the KJV.

The situation with the Book of Mormon is likely analogous

The situation with the Book of Mormon is likely analogous. For example, most of the text to which the Nephites had access would not have differed significantly from the Hebrew texts used in Bible translations. The differences in wording between the KJV and the Book of Mormon highlight the areas in which there were theologically significant differences between the Nephite versions and the Masoretic text, from which the Bible was translated. Other areas can be assumed to be essentially the same. If one wants an improved or clearer translation of a passage that is identical in the Book of Mormon and the KJV, one has only to go to the original manuscripts available to all scholars. Basing the text on the KJV focuses the reader on the important clarifications, as opposed to doing a new translation from scratch, and distracting the reader with many differences that might be due simply to translator preference.

Furthermore, using a KJV "base text" also helps us to identify the source of some scriptural citations that might be otherwise unclear. Consider this bit from Jacob 1꞉7:

Wherefore we labored diligently among our people, that we might persuade them to come unto Christ, and partake of the goodness of God, that they might enter into his rest, lest by any means he should swear in his wrath they should not enter in, as in the provocation in the days of temptation while the children of Israel were in the wilderness.

This sounds nice, but its real impact on our reading Jacob occurs when we recognize that Jacob is alluding to Psalm 95꞉8-11:

8 Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness: 9 When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work. 10 Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways: 11 Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest.

Jacob wants us to understand what follows in the context of Israel being led in the wilderness by Moses. Drawing that connection is hard enough for people who don't have a lot of familiarity with the Old Testament. But had it followed language not found in the Bible they had (the KJV)—even if conceptually it was the same—it would have been far more difficult for readers to connect the two to understand the point Jacob was trying to make.

In this way, it makes a lot of sense for a translation—even a divinely inspired translation produced via revelation—to follow a conventional text where it duplicates the same original source material. It isn't just about trying to duplicate the source material, it is also about getting the reader who then reads the text to understand it.

Consideration #4—Accounting for the rest of the Book of Mormon

Even if we insist that Joseph plagiarized the Book of Mormon, critics have failed to show the source of the remaining 93% (when all similar texts are removed). A 100% non-biblical book of scripture wouldn't have been much more difficult to produce—so why tip his hand by quoting the Bible? This is the one text his readers would be sure to know!

Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, "Was Joseph Smith Smarter Than the Average Fourth Year Hebrew Student? Finding a Restoration-Significant Hebraism in Book of Mormon Isaiah"

Paul Y. Hoskisson,  Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, (2016)
The brass plates version of Isaiah 2:2, as contained in 2 Nephi 12:2, contains a small difference, not attested in any other pre-1830 Isaiah witness, that not only helps clarify the meaning but also ties the verse to events of the Restoration. The change does so by introducing a Hebraism that would have been impossible for Joseph Smith, the Prophet, to have produced on his own.

Click here to view the complete article

So, were the Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon simply plagiarized from the KJV?

Nephi and Jacob generally make it clear when they are quoting from Isaiah

If a Christian is making an accusation of plagiarism, then they are, by the same logic, indicting the Bible which they share with us. Close examination of the Old Testament reveals many passages which are copied nearly word for word including grammatical errors. Micah, who lived hundreds of years after Isaiah, copied word for word in Micah 4꞉1-3 from Isaiah's prophecy in Isaiah 2꞉2-4 without ogiving him credit.[13] That would be inappropriate today, but that's simply how ancient writers used other texts. They were far less concerned with originality, or on tracing an idea's source. In fact, if an idea was new, they tended to view it with suspicion. Besides, Micah may have relied on his literate audience knowing Isaiah without being told.

Ancient readers lived and breathed the biblical texts. Even the citation of a few words was enough to bring a whole series of associations, stories, and texts to mind. Modern readers experience something similar if someone says, "May the Force be with you." Without being told, they know that this is a quote from the movie Star Wars, and it brings a host of concepts about dangerous missions, seemingly impossible tasks, and heroism. Ancient readers had at least this rich an association with their holy writings.

We also find the genealogy from Genesis 5꞉10-11,36 repeated in 1 Chronicles, much of the history in Samuel and Kings is repeated in Chronicles, and Isaiah 36꞉2 through Isaiah 38꞉5 is the same as 2 Kings 18꞉17 through 2 Kings 20꞉6.

Although Old Testament scripture was often quoted by Old and New Testament writers without giving credit, Nephi and Jacob generally make it clear when they are quoting from Isaiah. Indeed, much of 2 Nephi may be seen as an Isaiah commentary. It is ironic that critics of the Book of Mormon find fault with its "plagiarism," even though its authors typically mention their sources, while they do not condemn the Bible's authors when they do not.

Additionally, the Church has made clear in the 1981 and the 2013 editions of the Book of Mormon [14] in footnote "a" for 2 Nephi 12꞉2 that: "Comparison with the King James Bible in English shows that there are differences in more than half of the 433 verses of Isaiah quoted in the Book of Mormon, while about 200 verses have the same wording as the KJV"[15] Thus it doesn't appear that the Church is afraid of having its members understand the similarities and differences between the King James Version of the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

Finally, it may be that the use of King James language for passages shared by the Bible and the Book of Mormon allows the Book of Mormon to highlight those areas in which the Book of Mormon's original texts were genuinely different from the textual tradition of the Old World's which gave us the Bible of today.

A closer look at these duplicate Isaiah texts actually provides us an additional witness of the Book of Mormon's authenticity

A closer look at these duplicate texts actually provides us an additional witness of the Book of Mormon's authenticity.[16]

The 21 chapters of Isaiah which are quoted (Chapters 2-14, 29, and 48-54) either partially or completely, represent about one-third of the book of Isaiah, but less than two and one-half percent of the total Book of Mormon. We also find that more than half of all verses quoted from Isaiah (234 of 433) differ from the King James version available to Joseph Smith.[17] Perhaps it may be said that the Book of Mormon follows the King James (Masoretic) text when the original meaning is closer to how the King James renders the passages in question.

Additionally, we often find differences in Book of Mormon Isaiah texts where modern renderings of the text disagree.[18] One verse (2 Nephi 12꞉16), is not only different but adds a completely new phrase: "And upon all the ships of the sea." This non-King James addition agrees with the Greek (Septuagint) version of the Bible, which was first translated into English in 1808 by Charles Thomson. [19] Such a translation was "rare for its time."[20] The textual variants in the two texts have theological import and ancient support. John Tvedtnes has documented many in this study of the Isaiah variants in the Book of Mormon.[21]

Main articles:Plagiarism of errors in the KJV?
Summary: There are many reasons to reject the notion that Joseph Smith either made use of a Bible during the translation of the Book of Mormon or had one nearby that he was memorizing prior to or at the time of the translation of the Book of Mormon. There are also reasons to question the charge of plagiarism.
Is the Book of Mormon plagiarized from the KJV?
Summary: The claim of 'plagiarism' is a superficially appealing one, but it ignores many facts and factors.

Do the changes in the Book of Mormon Isaiah passages reflect a better translation of the underlying Hebrew?

Here are the changes to the Isaiah text in the Book of Mormon that may make a significant change to the meaning of the text. These changes are taken from Book of Mormon Reference Companion (2003) edited by Dennis L. Largey.[22]

Significant changes to Isaiah material in the Book of Mormon
IsaiahDifferences1.png

IsaiahDifferences2.png

IsaiahDifferences3.png
IsaiahDifferences4.png

IsaiahDifferences5.png
IsaiahDifferences6.png

IsaiahDifferences7.png


The rest of the changes can be found in Royal Skousen’s Analysis of Textual Variants in the Book of Mormon online.

The vast majority of Book of Mormon changes to Isaiah are on places where italicized text was placed in the King James Bible.[23]:106 Some of these changes do not reflect a better translation of the earliest extant Isaiah source we have today.

The Book of Mormon’s rendering of Isaiah does not purport to be the original text of Isaiah

It should first be mentioned that the Book of Mormon does not purport to be the original text of Isaiah as composed by Isaiah himself. That is an assumption that readers of the Book of Mormon have brought to the text.

We do not know what the original text of Isaiah was

It should next be noted that we do not know what the original text of Isaiah as composed by Isaiah was like. We have early textual witnesses such as the Great Isaiah Scroll (1Qlsa[a]) recovered from the Dead Sea Scrolls, but this is not the original text as composed by Isaiah. We don’t know what the original was like and will likely never know. Thus anyone claiming to know how to judge the Book of Mormon’s rendering of Isaiah based on its fidelity to "the original Hebrew" is acting foolishly and likely tendentiously.

Nephi likely changed wording to comment on Isaiah

The changes in Isaiah can be thought of to be commentary by Book of Mormon authors. Joseph Spencer at BYU has most persuasively argued that Nephi’s selection and edits of Isaiah are deliberate and that they reflect a coherent theological vision of the scattering and gathering of Israel.[24]

Nephi may have been adding these changes in order to clarify Isaiah’s words, clarify the Lord’s words if Isaiah didn’t communicate them clearly enough, or as Nephi’s independent revelatory (or even non-revelatory) adding to Isaiah based in his then-current theological understanding.

Some of the changes do reflect a better translation of the Hebrew

John Tvedtnes has shown that many of the Book of Mormon's translation variants of Isaiah have ancient support.[25]

This throws a huge wrench into any critic's theories that Joseph Smith merely cribbed off of the King James Isaiah.

Some "Problematic" Variants Explained

Critics of the Book of Mormon have pointed to various passages in which the Book of Mormon derives much of its text from KJV Isaiah. These derivations also include some changes from the KJV that vary in their degree of significance. In some cases of these changes, critics allege that the Book of Mormon also changes the wording of the text from the KJV to such an extent that the changes cannot be considered an accurate reflection of the underlying Hebrew. These changes, in turn, become evidence against the notion that the Book of Mormon is a translation of an ancient text. Discussion of these supposed problematic changes has been limited to the Book of Mormon's variants with the KJV Isaiah.

Given the evidence of Nephi's "likening above", much of these variants can actually be considered Nephi's changes and Joseph Smith's accurate translation of Nephi's and not Isaiah's Hebrew. Thus the critics have evidently not considered a theory that could change their assessment of the Book of Mormon's Isaiah and ancient authenticity.

We can explore some of these "problematic variants" pointed to by critics in order to demonstrate that the Book of Mormon variants may fit in with a larger theological project undertaken by Nephi in the Book of Mormon.

Location in Canon Erroneous Translation Passage Commentary
"Problematic" Book of Mormon Variants from Hebrew Underlying KJV Isaiah
1. Isaiah 9꞉1 ~ 2 Nephi 19꞉1 "Red sea" 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 afterwards did more grievously afflict by the way of the Red Sea beyond Jordan in Galilee of the nations. See below in section following this table for a full analysis.
2. Isaiah 12꞉2 ~ 2 Nephi 22꞉2 Jehovah "Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid; for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also has become my salvation." Some have criticized the use of the name JEHOVAH in 2 Nephi 22꞉2 because it is a later term. Use of the proper name "Jehovah"—which is an anglicized form of the Hebrew Yahweh—was common in the KJV Bible.[26] and was also in common use in Joseph Smith's day.[27]

Although the name Jehovah is of more recent origin than the original Book of Mormon plates, it does not mean this name could not properly be used in translating a more ancient Hebrew title denoting the eternal I AM. Why should Joseph Smith be criticized for using the same name that King James translators used?

This criticism is the equivalent of complaining that Joseph used the word "God" in his translation. The English word "God" certainly did not exist when Isaiah was written! But this is a translation—and so of course terms that did not exist when the original was written will sometimes be used.

3. Isaiah 50꞉2 ~ 2 Nephi 7꞉2 Wherefore as a declarative "Wherefore when I came, there was no man; when I called, yea there was none to answer. O house of Israel, is my hand shortened at all that it cannot redeem? Or have I no power to deliver? Behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea. I make the rivers a wilderness and their fish to stink because the waters are dried up and they dieth because of thirst." (Book of Mormon) David P. Wright states: "The [Book of Mormon] inverts the italicized words and reads as a statement rather than a "Wherefore, when I came there was no man; when I called, yea, there was none to answer." The [Book of Mormon] reading depends on the ambiguity or polysemy of the English "wherefore." In English this word can be an interrogative ("why?") or a conjunction ("therefore"). It is an interrogative in the KJV verse here, translating the Hebrew word maddûac "why?" The BM reading uses "wherefore" as a conjunction, which is not possible for Hebrew maddûac. This reveals the BM's dependence on the English text."

Wright cites Tvedtnes (The Isaiah Variants, 35, 80, 116-117), and states that Tvedtnes "thinks that this variant is due to a misunderstanding by Smith or the scribe (apparently the English copiest). The variant must be intentional and from Smith: not only does it involve italicized words ... the adverb 'yea' also appears in the BM reading. This well fits a change from interrogation to declaration. The variant also appears twice in the passage."

4. Isaiah 51꞉19 ~ 2 Nephi 8꞉19 Sons "These two sons are come unto thee. Who shall be sorry for thee, thy desolation and destruction and the famine and the sword? And by whom shall I comfort thee." (Book of Mormon) John A. Tvedtnes writes: "KJV's 'two things' read 'two sons' in [Book of Mormon]. MT has simply štym, the feminine numeral 'two'. It is hence not possible to admit that the original read 'sons'. Moreover, the two 'things' are then listed in the same verse as 'desolation and destruction', then reworded as the parallels 'the famine and the sword'.

On the surface, the substitution of another word for the one italicized in KJV looks like normal procedure for Joseph Smith, but it could also be a scribal error. The [Book of Mormon]change was probably prompted by the fact that vs. 18 ends by speaking 'of all the sons she hath brought up', while vs. 20 begins by speaking of 'thy sons'."[28]

David P. Wright writes: "In one case where the [Book of Mormon] has another word for an italicized word, the meaning is significantly changed, but not in accordance with the Hebrew original. The phrase 'These two things are come unto thee' becomes 'These two sons are come unto thee' (Isa 51꞉19//2 Ne 8꞉19). This is an extremely unlikely reading for any ancient text since the phrase in Hebrew is formulated in the feminine ($etayim hënnâ qör'ötayik) whereas 'sons' (bänîm) is masculine. The variant in the BM is oblivious to the requirements of Hebrew, and it is doubtful that the Hebrew developed from a masculine to feminine formulation. Smith apparently replaced the italicized word, picking up 'sons' from the context of vv. 18 and 20 which speak of 'sons.'"

Interestingly, Joseph Smith, in Old Testament Manuscript 2 (of the Joseph Smith Translation), replaced 'things' with 'sons'.

This change was noted by Orson Hyde in a letter dated July 7, 1840:

Jews are gathering; and have issued orders, or a circular, and universal proclamation for their brethren, in all the world, to return to Palestine, for the land is ready for their reception. "But there is none to guide her among all the sons whom she hath brought up, but these two things are come unto thee."—See Isaiah 51꞉18,19. Things, you know, in English means any kind of fish, beast, or birds. But the book of Mormon says, "These two sons are come unto thee" this is better sense, and more to the point. As Jerusalem has no sons to take her by the hand and lead her among all thy number whom she hath brought forth, Bro. Page and myself feel that we ought to hurry along and take her by the hand; for are her sons but the Gentiles have brought us up. (Times and Seasons, 1, no. 10 [August 1840]: 156-57)
5. Isaiah 48꞉16 ~ 1 Nephi 20꞉16 Am 1 Nephi 20꞉16 deletes the italicized am in Isaiah 48꞉16's "from the time that it was, there am I". 1 Nephi 20꞉16 adds the word "declared" after "from the time that it was", deletes the italicized "am" from "there am I", and changes the phrase "there am I" to the phrase "have I spoken". Critics charge that the addition of "declared" requires another underlying Hebrew term that would give us that translation in English rather than merely the current term that is rendered as "that it was". Though here, just as with the addition of "have I spoken", the addition clarifies the underlying message of Isaiah and makes smoother the English translation of it. Scholar Brant Gardner proposed that the addition of "have I spoken" was done by Joseph Smith himself.[29] Though one could see the "declared" and "have I spoken" changes as Nephi's edits of Isaiah to clarify Isaiah.

One could also presume that perhaps there is a lost version of Isaiah that was on the brass plates that Joseph Smith eventually translated. Gardner cautions that "from a literary standpoint, ['have I spoken'] removes an important scriptural allusion. The declaration 'there am I' is not just an indication that Yahweh has spoken, as it becomes in the Book of Mormon rendition, but a declaration of the person, power, and reality of the Lord, related thematically to the appellation 'I AM,' since the Lord and the Spirit appear as separate entities (Blenkinsopp, 'Isaiah 40–55, 295)."[29] Though that allusion is made elsewhere in scripture, and the inclusion of such an allusion in 1 Nephi 20꞉16 is not necessary. Either way, there doesn't seem to be a huge problem here.

6. Isaiah 4꞉5 ~ 2 Nephi 14꞉5 defense And the Lord will create upon every dwelling-place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for upon all the glory of Zion shall be a defence. Walter Martin claims that Isaiah 4꞉5 is followed (mistakenly) by (2 Nephi 14꞉5). The phrase "For upon all the glory shall be a defense" should actually be "For over all the glory there will be a canopy."

Martin ignores that as translation literature, the Book of Mormon may well follow the KJV when the documents upon which the KJV is based match those of the Nephite text. Book of Mormon variants likely reflect only theologically significant changes not available in the Old World textual tradition.

To learn more:Table of alleged KJV translations errors persisting in the Book of Mormon
Summary: This article provides further, more detailed analysis of this alleged translation error.

2 Nephi 19:1-The 'Red' Sea?

The King James Bible reads as follows (italics from KJV included for convenience):

Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations.

2 Nephi 19꞉1, a quotation of Isaiah by the prophet Nephi, reads:

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 afterwards did more grievously afflict by the way of the Red Sea beyond Jordan in Galilee of the nations.

The Book of Mormon deletes the word "her" from 9꞉1 and then inserts "Red" before "sea" making the verse read "afflict by way of the Red Sea". "The problem with this", describes one critic "is that (a) Christ quoted Isaiah in Matt. 4꞉14-15 and did not mention the Red Sea [true], (b) 'Red' sea is not found in any source manuscripts [from which one could translate Isaiah. [Also true.], and (c) the Red Sea [he likely is referring more specifically to the Gulf of Aqaba] 25 miles away [from the sea of Galilee, which the Isaiah prophecy refers to in context. Also True]."[30]

Despite having all these facts correct, the critic's conclusion is still overly hasty.

In context, Isaiah is prophetically anticipating "a period of gloom and darkness until a new Davidic monarch arises to replace Ahaz."[31] Several interpreters take this chapter to be speaking about the coming Messiah.

Hypothesis #1: Nephi's "likening" of Isaiah to his contemporary historical and theological context

In another article, we've discussed how this verse in the Book of Mormon actually perpetuates a translation error of Isaiah made by the King James translators of the Bible.

Instead of saying "and afterwards did more grievously afflict by the way of the sea", the text should say "but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan".[32] A question now arises: could the translation of "grievously afflicting" actually be some sort of modification by Nephi that provides commentary on Nephi? We know that there were modifications done by Nephi to affect the meaning and intent of Isaiah's scripture as a sort of commentary on Nephi's present situation that Nephi calls "likening" (1 Nephi 19꞉23). Could there be something similar going on here?

Suffering in the wilderness

As a guess, this may have something to do with the difficult journey that Lehi, Nephi, and their family faced by the borders of the Red Sea as they traveled down the Arabian Peninsula. In 1 Nephi 6, 7, 8, 2 Nephi 1, 2_short Nephi 2, 2_short Nephi 3, _short2 Nephi 4, and 5 Nephi mentions that he and his family experienced afflictions and that they began to murmur against God—perhaps presupposing that God was the source of those afflictions given their wickedness. Nephi says that the afflictions that he and his family faced in 1 Nephi 6 when he lost his bow came at a time when they were traveling in "the most fertile parts of the wilderness, which were in the borders near the Red Sea" (16꞉14, (emphasis added)).

Evidence from the original manuscript

Latter-day Saint linguist and scholar of the textual history of the Book of Mormon Skousen believes that "Red Sea" was not an accident by scribes of the Book of Mormon translation. Instead, "Red Sea" was actually on the plates that Joseph Smith translated from. He deduces this from the fact that there is no manuscript evidence that scribes of the Book of Mormon translation text inserted "Red" next to "sea" even in the original manuscript of the translation of the Book of Mormon.

Furthermore, there are four uses in the Bible of the phrase "by the way of the Red Sea" (Numbers 14꞉25; Numbers 21꞉4; Deuteronomy 1꞉40; Deuteronomy 2꞉1). Familiarity with the phrase, Skousen argues, perhaps led Nephi to add the word "Red" to sea in his copying of Isaiah. Either that or "Red" was actually a part of the text and Nephi didn't add anything to it. Furthermore, out of 82 occurrences of the word "sea" in the Book of Mormon, there is no manuscript evidence that scribes added "Red" to the word "sea", even as a mistake that was then corrected.[33] Skousen retained "Red Sea" in his reconstruction of the earliest text of the Book of Mormon: the text as it came from the mouth of Joseph Smith (or at least the best reconstruction of it).[34]

Nephi is explicitly "likening" Isaiah to his current situation (1 Nephi 19꞉23). It's likely that something similar is going on here. Thus, it's not an error, but (on this theory at least) an intentional emendation by Nephi to creatively "liken" the scriptures Isaiah wrote to his present situation which Joseph translated correctly. Thus, the intent of the verse is changed and does actually lead us into an incorrect understanding of what Isaiah meant to communicate about God’s nature. But it isn’t an error of what Nephi meant to communicate about God with his likening of Isaiah.

Hypothesis #2: Scribal Overcorrection

John Tvedtnes explains:

9:1 (MT 8:23) = 2 Ne. 19꞉1

KJV: "afflict her by the way of the sea"

BM: "afflict by the way of the Red Sea"

The deletion of italicized "her" is understandable, since it is not in [the Masoretic Text: the source for most current translations of Isaiah]. (I) However, [Book of Mormon] must be wrong in speaking of the "RED Sea", which is certainly not "beyond Jordan, in Galilee", nor near the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali. This appears to be a case of scribal overcorrection, due to prior mention of the Red Sea in the BM text.[35]

In other words, Tvedtnes suggests that the addition of the word "red" is an example of Oliver Cowdery "over-hearing" (hearing "sea" and adding "red" in error).

Hypothesis #3: An error while copying the original manuscript to the printer's manuscript

D. Charles Pyle suggested that the error may be the result of Oliver miscopying the original manuscript to the Printer's manuscript, presumably following similar logic to that of John Tvedtnes.[36]

Hypothesis #4: Egyptian translator's error

Pyle also suggested that it's possible to understand this as an error of an Egyptian translator into Hebrew and that Joseph Smith translated this passage, error and all, into English.[36]

Hypothesis #5: Joseph inserting a word where it was missing

Author Stan Spencer wrote a long article for Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship in which he discussed the italics in the King James Bible as used in the Book of Mormon. When translating passages in the Book of Mormon that are quotations of the King James Bible, scholars of the Book of Mormon note that a large amount of differences between the King James Bible and the Book of Mormon's quotations of it center around the italics. The italics are sometimes omitted and sometimes revised in the Book of Mormon. Spencer outlined three possibilities to account for the differences between the King James Bible text and the Book of Mormon quotations of it:

Stan Spencer laid out three hypotheses for the italicized words of the KJV in the Book of Mormon including how and why they were revised or omitted:

  1. Elder B.H. Roberts hypothesized that the italics interaction represents what was on the actual Book of Mormon plates. In Spencer's words: "Roberts attributes the differences in the Book of Mormon to ancient variants in the Nephite plates, presumably reflecting the record on the brass plates, at least in the chapters Nephi and Jacob say they are reading." According to Roberts, the version of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon is consistently "superior [in] sense and clearness."[37]:56 Spencer calls this the Ancient Variants Hypothesis.
  2. Spencer calls the second the Italics Revision Hypothesis. Advocates include Stan Larson, David P. Wright, and believing Book of Mormon scholar Brant Gardner. It holds that Joseph Smith was intentionally targeting italics in the King James Bible, knew what they meant, and intentionally revised them.[37]:56-58
  3. Spencer's own theory he names the Missing Words Hypothesis. This theory holds that Joseph was given a vision of a biblical passage in his mind with missing KJV italics and that part of the work of translation for Joseph Smith was to decide whether to supply words to the passage and, if so, what words to supply.[37]

Thus, in Spencer's thinking, Joseph Smith could have seen the passage from Isaiah 9꞉1 in the Book of Mormon and inserted "red" before sea—perhaps thinking that the text in Isaiah was somehow in error.[38]

To learn more:KJV italicized text in the Book of Mormon
Summary: Many changes in the Book of Mormon occur in the KJV italicized text. What is that text for? Did Joseph focus on it during the translation?

Hypothesis #6: The way of the Red Sea

The following response is provided by Jeff Lindsay,

The Book of Mormon deletes "her" from the KJV and changes "sea" to "Red Sea." Based on verse 1 in light of verse 2 from Isaiah, many people conclude that the sea is the Sea of Galilee, not the Red Sea. The KJV for Isaiah 9꞉2 is:

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

So yes, these verses do appear to be a prophecy of the ministry of Christ, and the Sea of Galilee would make sense. So why does the Book of Mormon have the puzzling reference to the Red Sea? Here is a possible explanation offered by D. Charles Pyle in e-mail received June 2004:

There are those who say that this is an error. It is possible that it is a scribal error on the part of Oliver Cowdery in copying the printer's manuscript from the original manuscript. The problem is that this cannot be proven or disproven because this portion of the original manuscript no longer is extant. It also is possible that the Egyptian textual translation of the Hebrew is in error and that Joseph Smith translated it, error and all. On the other hand, it also is possible that it is not an error at all.

The King's Highway also was part of what was known in ancient times as the Way of the Red Sea, which led out of Egypt along the shores of the Red Sea, passed through Edom and changed direction after meeting with the Way of the Sea, in Galilee, to go into Mesopotamia. It is possible that Joseph journeyed this way, or at least part of this way, to avoid going through Judaea when he took Jesus into Nazareth as a young child. If so, it would be quite correct in that the light would pass into the region of Naphtali via the Way of the Red Sea. Joseph sought to avoid contact with Archelaus and a back route would be one of the best ways to avoid contact.

We also know that Jesus went into the wilderness for his temptation after being baptized in a region on the other side of the Jordan. The English Book of Mormon has Bethabara as do several versions of the Bible while [several other translations have] Bethany beyond Jordan. He would then have come down from Galilee to be baptized on the other side of the Jordan (east of the river; 'beyond Jordan' meant to the east of the Jordan River), and come down around the Way of the Red Sea and around the Dead Sea to the Wilderness of Judaea. Remember, Jesus' wandered the wilderness for forty days, plenty of time to travel around the Dead Sea in that manner, that region being one the most inhospitable in the main. There are possible hints that Jesus came through Edom or Idumea. One way that he could have done so is to travel the Way of the Red Sea, which passes through Edom. The records of Jesus' life and travels are scanty at best and it is impossible to know for certainty at this time. In any case, I am not willing to state without good evidence that this passage is in error with any degree of certainty, for in my opinion there is no certainty either way. I have sifted through much contradictory 'evidence' and have formed no solid conclusion on this textual matter.

Bottom line: we're not really sure, but there are a couple of reasonable possibilities consistent with the concept of the Book of Mormon being an authentic ancient text. ... There is a plausible basis from the ancient world for referring to the sea as the Red Sea. On the other hand, if Joseph were relying on his knowledge of the Bible and fabricating the text, changing "sea" to "Red Sea" would make no sense. What would motivate a Bible literate fabricator to make such a change?[36]

Solution #7: Joseph Smith "restoring" Isaiah intent JST-Style

A seventh solution was offered by Brant Gardner:

Joseph Smith appears to have understood that the italicized words were added by the KJV translators to make sense of the Hebrew. Combined with the addition of the "Red Sea," these changes appear to suggest a modern interaction with the KJV text that intends to both "restore" by removing the italicized words that were not originally present, and by attempting to clarify which sea. Such changes warn us that we should be very cautious about suggesting a literal translation of the plates. The evidence suggests that Joseph's intellect participated in the project (also suggested by D&C 9꞉7–10).[39]


How do we explain multiple "Isaiahs" and the Book of Mormon?

The challenge to the Book of Mormon is that Nephi quotes several chapters from Second Isaiah, who allegedly had not yet written his material in time for Nephi to quote from it

Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship:

Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, "Their Imperfect Best: Isaianic Authorship from an LDS Perspective"

Daniel T. Ellsworth,  Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, (15 September 2017)
For Latter-day Saints, the critical scholarly consensus that most of the book of Isaiah was not authored by Isaiah often presents a problem, particularly since many Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon are assigned post-exilic dating by critical scholars. The critical position is based on an entirely different set of assumptions than most believers are accustomed to bring to scripture. This article surveys some of the reasons for the critical scholarly position, also providing an alternative set of assumptions that Latter-day Saints can use to understand the features of the text.

Click here to view the complete article

As part of the record Nephi creates for his people, he quotes heavily from the prophet Isaiah. The source for Nephi's text are the brass plates that he and his brothers obtained from Laban before leaving Jerusalem. Traditionally, the Book of Isaiah has been understood to be the composition of a single author living before Nephi, and before the Babylonian exile. However, modern scholars have found evidence in the Book of Isaiah that it was written by multiple authors spanning periods of time before and during the Babylonian exile, including before and after Nephi and his brothers obtained the brass plates. Nephi quotes from some of the passages of Isaiah that scholars believe were written after Nephi and his family left Jerusalem, creating a conundrum for students of the Book of Mormon.

The general division of Isaiah chapters according to this view looks like this:

  • Ch. 2-39, First Isaiah (Proto-Isaiah), written about 100 years before Lehi left Jerusalem, and so available to Nephi on Laban's brass plates.
  • Ch. 40-55, Second Isaiah (Deutero-Isaiah), written, at the earliest 20-30 years after Lehi left Jerusalem, and so allegedly not available to Nephi on Laban's brass plates.
  • Ch. 56-66, Third Isaiah (Trito-Isaiah), written at least 60-70 years after Lehi left Jerusalem, and so not available to Nephi on Laban's brass plates.

The challenge to the Book of Mormon is that Nephi quotes several chapters from Second Isaiah, who allegedly had not yet written his material in time for Nephi to quote from it. The key question is, "Were those passages available to Nephi on the plates of brass?". If some parts of Isaiah were not written until after Nephi obtained the brass plates then they obviously would not be available for Nephi to quote from. This criticism/question is not new to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For instance, the semi-official encyclopedic work Encyclopedia of Mormonism (1992, 2007) broached it in their entry on Isaiah in the Book of Mormon.[40] Among the Latter-day Saints who are familiar with this issue there is more than one approach taken. Some argue for single authorship of Isaiah, while others agree that the Book of Isaiah was authored by more than one person and look for ways to resolve that with the Book of Mormon.

We will look at both approaches now.

Option #1—Accepting multiple authorship

Many Latter-day Saint scholars and students have come to agree with mainstream biblical scholars who suggest that parts of the Book of Isaiah were written by multiple authors and at different times. There is no official position from the Church that requires Latter-day Saints to see Isaiah as having been written by one author. Therefore, Latter-day Saints are free to form their own opinions of this issue. Hugh Nibley summarizes the main reasons why many believe Isaiah was written by multiple authors:

"The dating of Deutero-Isaiah rests on three things: (1) the mention of Cyrus (Isa. 44꞉28), who lived 200 years after Isaiah and long after Lehi; (2) the threats against Babylon (Isa. 47꞉1, 48꞉14), which became the oppressor of Judah after the days of Isaiah and (3) the general language and setting of the text, which suggests a historical background commonly associated with a later period than that of Isaiah."[41]

Latter-day Saints who agree with this view do not do so because they don't believe that Isaiah could not prophecy of future events. Certainly it is within God's power to have Isaiah predict the name of Cyrus, or for Isaiah to write as if he were experiencing the Israelite exile to Babylon which would not happen for a couple hundred years. However, it would be very unusual for these things to happen. Those who accept the multiple authorship of Isaiah ask questions like, "Why would God have Isaiah predict the name of Cyrus, which would have been meaningless to his audience, and not predict the name of the Jesus?" Why would God have Isaiah write as if he were experiencing the Babylonian exile? It would make little sense to his contemporary audience, and would not be very helpful to them. They would be long dead before any of those prophecies made sense. It could be written like that as a sign to future audiences that God has predictive power, but to some that seems like an unusual and trivial thing for God to do.

The important question to ask for the purposes of this study is not "Who wrote the text of Isaiah", but rather "When and how was the text of Isaiah written?".

Isaiah in the Book of Mormon

The primary Isaiah passages found in the Book of Mormon are illustrated in the accompanying table.

Isaiah passages found in the Book of Mormon

2 Nephi 12-24 quotes 1st Isaiah. This is not a problem because it is agreed by scholars that this author wrote before Nephi obtained the brass plates. 1 Nephi 20-21, 2 Nephi 7-2 Nephi 8, and 3 Nephi 16꞉18-20all quote from 2nd Isaiah, which is a problem if those chapters were not written by 2nd Isaiah until after Nephi had obtained the brass plates. (The 3 Nephi example is a citation of Isaiah by the risen Christ, so any of the 'Isaiahs' would have written by that point. One could argue, however, that it would be strange for the Savior to cite a prophecy they did not have without pointing that out.)

Along with the quotations from the above table, Third Isaiah is alluded to in Jacob 6꞉3 of the Book of Mormon. It is important to remember that the only part of 2nd Isaiah we need to account for is Isaiah 48-Isaiah 53 and the only part of Trito-Isaiah (it should be remembered that some scholars reject trito-Isaiah) being the one verse from Isaiah 65 (65꞉2). Thus we have four chapters and four verses to account for.

The development of the text of Isaiah

Understanding the proposed development of the text of Isaiah may be helpful:

  • 1st Isaiah wrote during a time when a powerful nation, Assyria, threatened the destruction of Israel. While this was the immediate issue in 1st Isaiah's mind, he also may have been inspired to make general prophecies about a more future destruction of Israel. While not specifically mentioning "Bablyon" or "Cyrus", this 1st Isaiah may have made broad prophecies about a future threat to Israel separate from the immediate Assyrian threat.
  • Latter-day Saints scholar Sidney B. Sperry has suggested that we pay attention to the research of several non-Latter-day Saint scholars who "held that Isaiah 40-66 arose in exilic times, but consisted in considerable measure of ancient prophecies of Isaiah, which were reproduced by an author of Isaiah's school living in the exilic period, because the events of the day were bringing fulfillment of the prophecies." In other words, our current Isaiah 40-55 (or 40-66) may originate in primitive writings of 1st Isaiah, but they were reworked and reinterpreted by 2nd Isaiah, and it is in this form that we have them. This is very likely the best approach and one the easily accounts for the both the essential unity of the text of Isaiah and the presence of material from other chapters. Marc Schindler describes this approach in detail.[42]
  • In the same vein, Latter-day Saint scholar Brant Gardner writes:
Rather than seeing the specificity of "Cyrus" or "Babylon" as denying Isaiah's authorship because they must have been written later, those same techniques of analysis suggest that others added those names later when fulfillment made the intent of the prophecy obvious. Cyrus might not have been named when Isaiah ben Amoz [1st Isaiah] wrote, but anyone living after the fact would certainly recognize the name and perhaps "improve" the original Isaiah text by adding the specifics of the fulfilled prophecy. If the earliest versions of Deutero-Isaiah were actually written by proto-Isaiah, they were later redacted on the basis of the similar historical facts of destruction and hope of return from exile that were part of both the earlier Assyrian and later Babylonian captivity.

Issues of Translation

We now need to ask, "What text was available to Nephi?" He would have only had the text of 1st Isaiah (which presumably would include the 1st Isaiah version of the 4 chapters and 4 verses of Deutero-Isaiah that we need), a text which possibly included broad prophecies of the threat of future exile for Israel. The prophecies on Laban's plates of brass which Nephi was quoting from may not have specifically mentioned "Babylon" as that threat.

Thus, what Nephi quoted as he inscribed on his plates would have been the original, early, 1st Isaiah version of Isaiah 48-52 and all of chs. 2-40. However, the text that we have in the Book of Mormon of Isaiah 48-52 quotes from the later, 2nd Isaiah material (which is a reworked version of 1st Isaiah's earlier material) as found in the KJV Bible. How would advocates of the Deutero-Isaiah option address this?

The answer hinges on the translation process. Some have thought that the Book of Mormon must have been nothing but formal equivalency (word for word translation). The Book of Mormon does not likely represent a one-for-one conversion of text from Reformed Egyptian to English, however.

Using the Original and Printer's Manuscripts of the Book of Mormon, Latter-day Saint scholar Royal Skousen has determined that none of the King James language contained in the Book of Mormon could have been copied directly from the Bible. He deduces this from the fact that spelling of words had indeed been standardized prior to the translation of the Book of Mormon (contrary to popular belief) and that Oliver Cowdery (Joseph's scribe) consistently misspells certain words from the text that he wouldn't have misspelled if he was looking at the then-current edition of the KJB.[43]

A Proposed Scenario

Skousen proposes that, rather than looking at a Bible (the absence of a Bible now near-definitively confirmed by the manuscript evidence and the unequivocal statements of witnesses to the translation to the Book of Mormon), Joseph was provided a page of text via his gift of seership. This page of text contained, in this view, the King James Bible text. Joseph was then free to alter the text for his audience. Thus:

  • As Joseph was translating the text of the Book of Mormon, he encounter something that was being roughly similar to texts from the Bible. This would occur most prominently when Nephi quotes from Isaiah.
  • Instead of translating Nephi's quotations of Isaiah word-for-word, the Lord gave the passages from Isaiah as contained in the KJV. Reasons for which this may have been done are discussed earlier in this article.
  • Consequently, the Isaiah chapters on Nephi's plates would have looked slightly different from the Isaiah chapters that we have now in the Book of Mormon. Nephi's version of Isaiah 48-52 would have been the primitive, early version written by 1st Isaiah. The version of Isaiah 48-52 that we have now in the Book of Mormon would not then be taken directly from Nephi's plates, but rather adapted from the KJV Bible as described.

A mistake Joseph doesn't make

If we're going to criticize the Book of Mormon for containing 2nd Isaiah, we need to give credit where it gets things right. Scholars believe that Isaiah chapter 1 was not part of 1st Isaiah's original book,[44] but was a later addition by a later writer, perhaps 2nd or 3rd Isaiah.

It is noteworthy that the Book of Mormon starts instead with Isaiah 2 and continues until Isaiah 14 without break. So this was a prime opportunity for Joseph Smith to make an error if he is fabricating the Book of Mormon. If you're going to quote that much Isaiah, why not begin from the beginning? But, he didn't.

Option #2—Theories of a “Single Isaiah” and the Book of Mormon

Some take a conservative view and argue for the unity of Isaiah, suggesting that theories about multiple authorship are not correct. This approach was taken by one author in an old article in the Ensign. The following represents part of that answer that was given (the full text may be read on churchofjesuschrist.org at the link below):

Many non-LDS scholars claim that the second half of the book of Isaiah was written after the time Lehi left Jerusalem, Yet the Book of Mormon contains material from both halves. How do we explain this?

....

Literary style in Hebrew is much more accessible to computer analysis than is English. This is partly because the Hebrew characteristic known as the function prefix can help identify speech patterns of a given author. For example, how an author uses Hebrew function prefixes, such as those that translate into “and in this,” “and it is,” and “and to,” are expected to be unique with him. Thus, comparing parts of an author’s work with other parts, as well as comparing his work with work by other authors, can yield statistical evidence for claims of authorship.

Accordingly, we coded the Hebrew text of the book of Isaiah and a random sampling of eleven other Old Testament books onto computer tape. 3 Then, using a computer, we compared rates of literary usage (such as unique expressions and idiomatic phrases including the function prefix and other such literary elements) from text to text. Since any author varies within himself, depending on context, audience, his own change of style, and so forth, variations for a given author were compared with variations between authors for any literary element.

The results of the study were conclusive: there is a unique authorship style throughout the various sections of Isaiah. The rates of usage for the elements of this particular style are more consistent within the book of Isaiah, regardless of the section, than in any other book in the study. This statistical evidence led us to a single conclusion: based on style alone, the book of Isaiah definitely appears to be the work of one man. The two parts of Isaiah most often claimed to have been written by different authors, chapters 1–39 and 40–66, were found to be more similar to each other in style than to any of the other eleven Old Testament books examined.[45]

Single or multiple Isaiahs?—Summary

We should recognize that:

  • We have four chapters and four verses to account for. We don't need to have the entire book of Isaiah date to a certain time—just those passages in the Book of Mormon.
  • The Book of Mormon uses KJV language for a variety of reasons which do not require "plagiarism" as an explanation.
  • Literary arguments for dating a text are often highly subjective and most prone to disagreement. Many scholars use narrative criticism to establish the dating of a text. This is one of the trickiest ways to date a text and several scholars have pointed out how tenuous these approaches can be.[46] This is significant: we have no manuscript evidence that would establish that there were multiple authors. The earliest manuscript of the text "ha[s been] dated using both radiocarbon dating and palaeographic/scribal dating[,] giving calibrated date ranges between 356–103 BCE and 150–100 BCE respectively."[47]
  • The argument would be settled were a copy of Isaiah—either whole or few of fragments of the 2nd or 3rd Isaiah material— within 7th century strata. This is unlikely because:
    • The texts themselves, if preserved, would most likely be contained within temple deposits. These would have been ransacked by the Babylonians when they took Israel captive circa 600 BCE. Upon taking Israel, the Babylonians pillaged and destroyed the Israelite's temples, records, and other belongings.[48] The most likely temple site would be the Temple of Solomon which is buried under the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. It is archaeologically inaccessible by law for religious and political reasons.
    • The texts, if they survived outside temple deposits and survived Babylonian or other foreign invasion, would rarely survive for two millennia. For example, K.A. Kitchen commenting on arguments against the historicity of the Exodus narratives in the Bible, wrote the following:
Egyptian gods gave only victories to kings—and defeats indicated divine disapproval, not applause! It is no use looking for administrative registers giving the Hebrews "customs clearance" to clear out of Egypt. In fact, 99 percent of all New Kingdom papyri are irrevocably lost (administrative and otherwise), the more so in the sopping mud of the Delta; the few survivors hail from the dry sands of Sawwara and Upper Egypt, far away from Pi-Ramesse's total of our administrative texts so far recovered from Pi-Ramesse![49]
Thus, depending on what environmental conditions obtained upon deposition, the papyri or scrolls are likely lost. (In some ways, the survival of any ancient text is a near miracle given everything that can happen to it.)
But even in good conditions for preservation, it may be years before such a document were uncovered. Consider that one archaeological excavation took some 30 years to uncover a Philistine cemetery in southern Israel.[50] This argument against the Book of Mormon is an argument from silence. A single discovery can overturn such silence.
Learn more about Isaiah in the Book of Mormon
FAIR links
  • Wordprint evidence and 'Deutero-Isaiah' FAIR link
Online
  • Daniel T. Ellsworth, "Their Imperfect Best: Isaianic Authorship from an LDS Perspective," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 27/1 (15 September 2017). [1–28] link
Video
  • "Deutero-Isaiah," BH Roberts Foundation print-link.
  • KnoWhy #38, "What Vision Guides Nephi's Choice of Isaiah Chapters?," Scripture Central (12 February 2024). link
  • KnoWhy #214, "Why Did Jesus Mix Together Micah and Isaiah?," Scripture Central (21 August 2019). link
  • KnoWhy #216, "Why Did Jesus Quote All of Isaiah 54?," Scripture Central (21 August 2019). link

Saints Unscripted:

Print
  • Joseph M. Spencer, The Vision of All: Twenty-five Lectures on Isaiah in Nephi's Record. Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford, 2016. This book is remarkable in that, as part of its analysis, it demonstrates clearly that the selection of Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon is one not done at random but that there is a unifying theme and purpose that drives Nephi's use of Isaiah.
  • Sidney B. Sperry, "The ‘Isaiah Problem’ in the Book of Mormon," in Book of Mormon Compendium. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1968. An explanation of the problem and response from Sidney Sperry concerning the "Isaiah Problem."
  • Kent P. Jackson, "Isaiah in the Book of Mormon," in A Reason for Faith: Navigating LDS Doctrine and Church History. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2016. This book chapter responds to common questions about the so-called "Isaiah Problem" and offers resources for further study and help in resolving those questions.
  • David Carr, “Reaching for Unity in Isaiah,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 18, no. 57 (1993): 61–80. There is a large bibliography of scholars who believe in a single Isaiah in notes 3-5 of this article.
  • R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament. Grant Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1969, 371–78.
  • F. W. Bush, D. A. Hubbard, and W. S.LaSor, Old Testament Survey. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982.
  • Donald Parry and John W. Welch, Isaiah in the Book of Mormon. Provo, UT: FARMS, 1998. One of the largest studies done on Isaiah in the Book of Mormon. John Welch offers his perspective on the "Isaiah Problem" near the end of the volume.
  • Alvin A. and Larry L. Rencher, "A Computer Analysis of the Isaiah Authorship Problem," Adams, BYU Studies 15 (Autumn 1974): 95-102. This analysis takes the English KJV text of Isaiah and through textual analysis argues that there was one singular author of Isaiah. That this study was done with the English translation of Isaiah instead of the original Hebrew is a weakness (though perhaps not necessarily fatal to the authors' arguments).
  • Francis L. Andersen, "Style and Authorship," in The Tyndale Paper 21 (June 1976): 2.
  • E. J. Kissane, The Book of Isaiah. 2 vols. Dublin, Ireland: 1941, 1943.
  • Victor L. Ludlow, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet. Salt Lake City, 1981.
  • John A. Tvedtnes, "Isaiah Variants in the Book of Mormon," Isaiah and the Prophets, ed. M. Nyman. Provo, Utah: 1984.
  • Edward J. Young, Introduction to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: 1949.
  • Joshua M. Sears, "Deutero-Isaiah in the Book of Mormon," in They Shall Grow Together: The Bible in the Book of Mormon, ed. Charles Swift and Nicholas J. Frederick. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2022. Perhaps the best treatment on different approaches taken by Latter-day Saints to the problem and resources for reconciling criticism.
Navigators
Sub categories

Why does Isaiah in the Book of Mormon not match the Dead Sea Scrolls?

The English Book of Mormon text of Isaiah does not purport to be the original Isaiah text

Mistranslations of the King James version of Isaiah have been corrected using the Isaiah version found with the Dead Sea scrolls. Why is it that the quotes from Isaiah contained in the Book of Mormon have the same translation errors contained in the King James version instead of matching the original ancient text?

The question makes some inaccurate assumptions:

  • It is not the case that the Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsa[a]) is the original text of Isaiah. It is an earlier witness to the text than we previously had before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), but it itself is centuries removed from the original(s).
  • The English Book of Mormon text of Isaiah does not purport to be the original text either; that is an assumption that many LDS have brought to the text, but is not necessarily true.

These are basic issues of what is called "textual criticism," which is the science/art of trying to recover to the extent possible the text in its original form. Critical text scholars do not believe that the Great Isaiah Scroll matches exactly the original text of Isaiah. It is true that the masoretic scribal tradition has tried valiantly to copy texts as perfectly as possible. Various approaches have been used, such as counting the letters in a chapter and testing a copy against that, in order to ensure a high degree of accuracy in their work. However, the masoretic scribes did their work in the second half of the first millennium A.D. Prior to that time, many errors had already crept in the text.

The term "redaction" refers to a form of editing in which multiple source texts are combined together in order to make it appear that they comprise a single text. The standard scholarly theory of the development of Isaiah is that it was redacted from two or three different texts. Yet none of this is reflected in the Great Isaiah Scroll, which is close to the canonical form of the text we have today. So if the scholars are correct there was substantial redaction of the text long before the scribes ever had a chance to practice their efforts at copying on the text.

The Book of Mormon text would have been far removed from Isaiah: The brass plates version would have been at least a century after the fact

Even the Book of Mormon text would have been far removed from Isaiah. The brass plates version would have been at least a century after the fact (with many copies intervening), and that was copied and recopied into Book of Mormon records. The Nephite texutal tradition was a Josephite one (Ephraism and Manasseh) from the Northern Kingdom of Israel—this is where Lehi hailed from. It was thus probably an independent stream of textual variation from the Judah-based texts that our modern bible draws from. Differences between these two traditions would be expected.


Notes

  1. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 9:311.
  2. Joseph Smith III, "Last Testimony of Sister Emma," Saints’ Advocate 2 (Oct. 1879): 51
  3. David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887), 12 ; cited frequently, including Neal A. Maxwell, Ensign (January 1997): 34–41. off-site
  4. John A. Tvedtnes and Matthew Roper, "Joseph Smith's Use of the Apocrypha: Shadow or Reality? (Review of Joseph Smith's Use of the Apocrypha by Jerald and Sandra Tanner)," FARMS Review 8/2 (1996). [326–372] link
  5. Emma Smith to Edmund C. Briggs, "A Visit to Nauvoo in 1856," Journal of History 9 (January 1916): 454.
  6. Joseph Smith III, "Last Testimony of Sister Emma," Saints’ Advocate 2 (Oct. 1879): 51
  7. Jay P. Green Sr., The Interlinear Bible, Hebrew-Greek-English (Sovereign Grace Publishers, 1995), 975.
  8. LDS KJV, Bible Dictionary, 707. off-site.
  9. Bruce R. McConkie, "Ten Keys to Understanding Isaiah," Ensign/10 (October 1973): 78–83. off-site
  10. See LDS KJV, Bible Dictionary, "Quotations from the Old Testament found in the New Testament," 756-59. off-site
  11. Hugh W. Nibley, Since Cumorah, 2nd edition, (Vol. 7 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988), 128. ISBN 0875791395.
  12. See, for example, Martin G. Abegg, Jr., Peter Flint, Eugene Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible (New York: HarperCollins, 2012). Other examples of similar choices in translation include: Robert H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 1913), Theodor H. Gaster, The Dead Sea Scriptures, 3rd ed. (Garden City, NY: Anchor, 1976), and Robert Lisle Lindsey, A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark (Jerusalem: Baptist House, n.d.).
  13. See A. Melvin McDonald, Day of Defense (Sounds of Zion Inc., 1986; 2004), 49.
  14. These were the only editions consulted for this point.
  15. See page 81 of either edition of the Book of Mormon.
  16. See Michael Hickenbotham, Answering Challenging Mormon Questions: Replies to 130 Queries by Friends and Critics of the LDS Church (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort Publisher, 2004),193–196. (Key source)
  17. See Book of Mormon note to 2 Nephi 12꞉2
  18. See also See also Kirk Holland Vestal and Arthur Wallace, The Firm Foundation of Mormonism (Los Angeles, CA: The L. L. Company, 1981), 70–72.
  19. The implications of this change represent a more complicated textual history than previously thought. See discussion in Dana M. Pike and David R. Seely, "'Upon All the Ships of the Sea, and Upon All the Ships of Tarshish': Revisiting 2 Nephi 12:16 and Isaiah 2:16," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14/2 (2005). [12–25] link For earlier discussions, see Gilbert W. Scharffs, The Truth about ‘The God Makers’ (Salt Lake City, Utah: Publishers Press, 1989; republished by Bookcraft, 1994), 172. Full text FAIR link ISBN 088494963X.; see also Milton R. Hunter and Thomas Stuart Ferguson, Ancient America and the Book of Mormon (Kolob Book Company, 1964),100–102.; Hugh W. Nibley, Since Cumorah, 2nd edition, (Vol. 7 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988),129–143. ISBN 0875791395.
  20. Wikipedia, "Thomson's Translation," <http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomson%27s_Translation> (11 February 2015).
  21. A critic, David Wright, responded to Tvedtnes and Tvedtnes’ review of that critic’s response can be found in John A. Tvedtnes, "Isaiah in the Bible and the Book of Mormon (Review of 'Isaiah in the Book of Mormon: Or Joseph Smith in Isaiah.' in American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon, 157–234.)," FARMS Review 16/2 (2004). [161–172] link.
  22. Please forgive blurriness from scanning/transmitting the images.
  23. Stan Spencer, "Missing Words: King James Bible Italics, the Translation of the Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith as an Unlearned Reader," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 38/5 (10 July 2020). [45–106] link
  24. See Joseph M. Spencer, The Vision of All: 25 Lectures on Isaiah in Nephi’s Record (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2016). For a good summary, see BMC Team, "What Vision Guides Nephi’s Choice of Isaiah Chapters?" KnoWhy #38 (February 22, 2016).
  25. John A. Tvedtnes, "Isaiah Variants in the Book of Mormon," in Isaiah and the Prophets: Inspired Voices from the Old Testament, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1984), 165–78. A critic, David Wright, responded to John Tvedtnes' chapter there. Tvedtnes responds to Wright in John A. Tvedtnes, "Isaiah in the Bible and the Book of Mormon," The FARMS Review 16, no. 2 (2004): 161–72.
  26. See Exodus 6꞉3; Psalms 83꞉18; Isaiah 12꞉2; 26꞉4.
  27. See such scriptural examples as D&C 109꞉34,42,56,68; 110꞉1-3; 128꞉9. See also Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 220, 221, 250–251. off-site
  28. John A. Tvedtnes, The Isaiah Variants in the Book of Mormon, 87; note: there is no evidence that this is a scribal mistake. Skousen retains "sons"
  29. 29.0 29.1 Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 Vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 1:394.
  30. Jeremy T. Runnells, CES Letter: My Search for Answers to My Mormon Doubts (n.p.: CES Letter Foundation, 2017), 9.
  31. Marvin A. Sweeney, "Isaiah," in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, ed. Michael D. Coogan, 5th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), 992n8.18–9.7.
  32. Royal Skousen, The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon, Part Five: King James Quotations in the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2019), 216.
  33. Royal Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon Part Two: 2 Nephi 1 – M (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2014), 732–33.
  34. Royal Skousen, ed., The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text, 2nd edition (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2022). off-site
  35. John Tvedtnes, "The Isaiah Variants in the Book of Mormon," FARMS Preliminary Reports (1981): 45.
  36. 36.0 36.1 36.2 Jeff Lindsay, "Why does 2 Nephi 19:1 incorrectly change 'sea' in Isaiah 9 to 'Red Sea'?", LDS FAQ: Mormon Answers.
  37. 37.0 37.1 37.2 Stan Spencer, "Missing Words: King James Bible Italics, the Translation of the Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith as an Unlearned Reader," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 38/5 (10 July 2020). [45–106] link
  38. Stan Spencer, "Missing Words: King James Bible Italics, the Translation of the Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith as an Unlearned Reader," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 38 (2020): 45–106 (esp. 56–68).
  39. Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 Vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 2:267.
  40. Legrande Davies, "Isaiah: Texts in the Book of Mormon," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992). Worthy of mention is that two then-current apostles, Elder Neal A. Maxwell and Elder Dallin H. Oaks, and one future apostle, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, were advisors for the encyclopedia and its editorial board. They are recognized in the acknowledgements to the encyclopedia.
  41. Hugh W. Nibley, Since Cumorah, 2nd edition, (Vol. 7 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988), "Chapter 5: The Bible in the Book of Mormon", subsection "The Book of Mormon Explains Isaiah". ISBN 0875791395.
  42. Marc Schindler, "Deutero-Isaiah in the Book of Mormon?," FAIR Papers FAIR link
  43. Interpreter Foundation, "The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon," <https://interpreterfoundation.org/the-history-of-the-text-of-the-book-of-mormon/> (25 January 2020).
  44. John Barton, Isaiah 1-39, (London: T&T Clark International, 1995), 25–26. See also Michael Fallon, "Introduction to Isaiah 40–48," Isaiah School in Exile—Isaiah 40–55 (6 September 2014), 194.
  45. L. La Mar Adams, "I Have a Question," Ensign 14 (October 1984): 29.
  46. Benjamin D. Sommer, "Dating Pentateuchal Texts and the Perils of Pseudo-Historicism," The Pentateuch: International Perspectives on Current Research eds., Thomas B. Dozeman, Konrad Schmid, and Baruch J. Schwartz (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2011), 85-108.
  47. Wikipedia, "Isaiah Scroll," <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaiah_Scroll> (25 January 2020); citing Timothy A.J. Jull, et al., "Radiocarbon Dating of Scrolls and Linen Fragments from the Judean Desert," Radiocarbon 37-1 (1995): 14. doi:10.1017/S0033822200014740. Also citing All About Archaeology, "The Dead Sea Scrolls," <https://www.allaboutarchaeology.org/dead-sea-scrolls-2.htm> (25 January 2020).
  48. Wikipedia, "Siege of Jerusalem (587 BC)," <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Jerusalem_(587_BC)> (25 January 2020).
  49. Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI and Cambridge, MA: William B. Eerdmans, 2010), 311.
  50. ABC News, "Philistine cemetery uncovered in archaeological dig in Israel, Goliath's people were 'normal sized'," <https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-07-11/old-bones-cast-new-light-on-goliath-people/7584904> (4 November 2019).

Response to claim: 10 - The book claims that Joseph copied errors from the King James Bible

The author(s) of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins make(s) the following claim:

The book claims that Joseph copied errors from the King James Bible.

Author's sources:
  1. No source provided.

FAIR's Response

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

Some of the Book of Mormon Isaiah passages generally match the version of Isaiah found in the Bible of the time, however, not all of them do. Yet, none of the witnesses to the translation process ever saw a Bible consulted. The translation was performed in the open.