FAIR is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing well-documented answers to criticisms of the doctrine, practice, and history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Joseph Smith/"Amusing recitals" of ancient American inhabitants
Was Joseph Smith simply telling "amusing recitals" and "tall tales"?
Jump to Subtopic:
- Question: Was the young Joseph Smith a teller of "tall tales"?
- Question: Did B.H. Roberts state that it was possible for Joseph Smith to have come up with the Book of Mormon on his own?
Question: Was the young Joseph Smith a teller of "tall tales"?
The Prophet's mother's account of her son telling "amusing recitals" about the ancient inhabitants of the American continent occurred during the years that Joseph was being prepared to receive the plates
Lucy's 1853 autobiography, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for many Generations was considered inaccurate by Brigham Young and was ordered to be rewritten. The reasons for this had nothing to do with Lucy's account of her son Joseph's "amusing recitals." The 1853 autobiography and the 1845 manuscript upon which it was based still exist, and both confirm that the "amusing recitals" mentioned by Lucy were done during the period during which Joseph was being instructed by the angel as he waited to retrieve the gold plates. Lucy Mack Smith said the following in her 1853 autobiography:
During our evening conversations, Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of travelings, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life among them.
The quote from Lucy Mack Smith is used by critics of the Church to show how Joseph Smith told "yarns" about Native Americans "long before any golden plates had been found." The chronology found in Lucy Mack Smith's history, however, tells just the opposite story, and puts this quotation in its proper context. Lucy says that the angel Moroni told her son (during his first appearance) about the existence of the plates and informed him where they were buried (see Lavina F. Anderson, ed., Lucy's Book: A Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith's Family Memoir [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2001], 335-36). Lucy then states that Joseph (the evening after he had seen the Nephite record in their place of deposit) told his family all about "the plates" (ibid., 343).
Lucy Mack Smith: "From this time forth Joseph continued to receive instructions from time to time and every evening we gathered our children"
Lucy Mack Smith's account of her son telling "amusing recitals" about the ancient inhabitants of the American continent occurred during the years that Joseph was being prepared to receive the plates. The stories that he was telling related to information that he was receiving from the angel Moroni: These were not "tall tales" that he fabricated for his family's amusement.
From Lucy's 1845 manuscript, we read:
Now said he[,] Father and Mother the angel of the Lord says that we must be careful not to proclaim these things or to mention them abroad For we do not any of us know the wickedness of the world which is so sinful that when we get the plates they will want to kill us for the sake of the gold if they know we
had<have> them...by sunset [we] were ready to be seated and give our attenundivided attention to Josephs recitals...From this time forth Joseph continued to receive instructions from time to time and every evening we gathered our children togather [together]...In the course of our evening conversations Joseph would give us some of the most ammusing [amusing] recitals which could be immagined [imagined]. he would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent their dress their man[n]er of traveling the animals which they rode The cities that were built by them the structure of their buildings with every particular of their mode of warfare their religious worship as particularly as though he had spent his life with them... The angel informed him at one time that he might make an effort to obtain the plates<on> the <22nd of the> ensueing september....
Clearly, Joseph Smith told his stories after he learned about, and saw, the golden plates. Indeed, it is known that Moroni showed Joseph visions and gave him information regarding the people whose stories were found on the Nephite record (see Times and Seasons, vol. 3, no. 9, 1 March 1842, 707-708), so the young man undoubtedly had quite a few stories to tell. Lucy Mack Smith simply said in her autobiography that her son told the family about information connected with the angel and the Book of Mormon plates. Lucy told the same information to Wandle Mace about seven years prior to producing her 1845 autobiography and clarified that this information was connected with the Book of Mormon "Nephites" and was shown to her son by vision.
In Joseph Smith's own official history he confirmed that he learned this information through the power of visions and Oliver Cowdery made note of the same thing. Thus, the origin of the stories mentioned by Joseph's mother in her autobiography was a heavenly one—she was not even remotely implying that her son was a teller of tall tales.
Question: Did B.H. Roberts state that it was possible for Joseph Smith to have come up with the Book of Mormon on his own?
B.H. Roberts was a believer in the divine origin of the Book of Mormon, and talked of young Joseph Smith as he sat up late detailing to the family the wonderful conversations he had with the angel
B.H. Roberts retained his belief that the Book of Mormon was of divine origin up until the end of his life. Yet, according to one critical website, B.H. Roberts "postulated that it was certainly possible for Joseph Smith to have come up with the Book of Mormon on his own."  Roberts, however, believed that Joseph had conversations with the Angel Moroni.
B.H. Roberts, in his critical study of the Book of Mormon, pointed out how future critics might make use of this.
The face of it is first established by the testimony of the mother who bore him, Lucy Smith. Speaking of the days immediately following the revelation making known the existence of the Book of Mormon to her son...Lucy Smith in her History of the Prophet Joseph Smith, recounts how in the evening of that day, the young prophet sat up late detailing to the family the wonderful conversations he had with the angel;
To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here
- Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:296. citing Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853), 36-173.
- Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:294–296. citing the 1845 manuscript of Lucy Mack Smith's autobiography.
- Lucy Smith, Lucy's Book: Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith's Family Memoir, edited by Lavina Fielding Anderson and Irene M. Bates, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 2001), 346. ISBN 1560851376.
- Times and Seasons 3 no. 9 (1 March 1842), 707. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
- Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1 no. 7 (April 1835), 112.
- "Could Joseph Smith have written the Book of Mormon?", MormonThink.com
- B. H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, (Salt Lake City, UT; Signature Books, 1992), 243. Some online ministries quote Roberts' use of Lucy's quote as "evidence" that Roberts lost his testimony of the Book of Mormon. They completely ignore Roberts's statements on the same page that Joseph was describing the "wonderful conversations he had with the angel."