Mormonism and Wikipedia/Joseph Smith, Jr./1827 to 1830/051909

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A FairMormon Analysis of Wikipedia: Mormonism and Wikipedia/Joseph Smith, Jr./1827 to 1830
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An analysis of Wikipedia article "Joseph Smith, Jr." (Version 19 May 2009)

NOTE: The Wikipedia article text below this point, upon which this review is based, has undergone restructuring.
FAIR is in the process of updating the article text to the current revision

1827 to 1830: Organizing the Church

Book of Mormon

- Wikipedia Main Article: Joseph Smith, Jr.–1827_to_1830:_Organizing_the_Church Wikipedia Footnotes: Joseph Smith, Jr.–Notes A FAIR Opinion

Smith and his wife moved to Harmony, Pennsylvania, with the financial assistance of their neighbor Martin Harris.

  • Ronald W. Walker, "Martin Harris: Mormonism's Early Convert," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19 (Winter 1986):35.

Initially Smith told a few family members and Joseph Knight that he had retrieved the plates written in unusual characters as well as the Urim and Thummim.

  • Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith, Rough Stone Rolling," Alfred A. Knopf, pp. 59-60.
  • Harris took copies of the transcribed characters, which Smith called Reformed Egyptian to several well-known scholars, including Columbia College professor Charles Anthon. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith, Rough Stone Rolling, 64.
  • Harris reported that Anthon had initially provided authentication of the Reformed Egyptian characters but had then torn up his written statement when he heard that Smith had received them from an angel. Anthon subsequently wrote two letters, conflicting on major points, but both insisting that the characters were meaningless and that Harris had been the victim of a fraud. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith, Rough Stone Rolling, 64-65.
  • Why the qualifier "initially?" The Bushman source states that this is exactly what Joseph told them. To his mother he said, "Do not be uneasy mother, all is right—see here, I have got a key." Lucy said that she felt "two smooth three-cornered diamonds set in glass." To Joseph Knight, Joseph said that the Urim and Thummim were "Marvelus," and that he could "see any thing" using them. Regarding the plates, Joseph said that they were "writen in Caracters" and that he wanted them translated. Bushman cites Lucy Smith's biography and "Joseph Knight's Recollection."
  • The footnote notes correctly that Anthon's letters contradicted one another, but fails to state in what detail, instead emphasizing that both insisted that the "characters were meaningless." According to the cited source (Bushman, p. 65),

In the first letter Anthon said he refused to give Harris a written opinion; according to the second, the opinion was written "without any hesitation," in an attempt to expose the fraud.

  • Bushman, p. 577 note 16 states that the 1834 Anthon letter first appeared in MoU, 269-72, and the 1841 letter in Clark, Gleanings by the Way, 233-38. Both are reprinted in Early Mormon Documents, 4:377-86.

Harris was convinced that the plates were genuine, and he began acting as Smith's scribe while Smith translated them by examining the Urim and Thummim or seer stones in the bottom of his hat.

  • Joseph Smith—History 1
  • Whitmer (1875) ("Having placed the Urim and Thummim in his hat, Joseph placed the hat over his face, and with prophetic eyes read the invisible symbols syllable by syllable and word by word.").
  • Michael Morse, Smith's brother-in-law, stating that he watched Smith on several occasions: "The mode of procedure consisted in Joseph's placing the Seer Stone in the crown of a hat, then putting his face into the hat, so as to entirely cover his face."
  • (Wagoner (1982) , quoting W.W. Blair, Latter Day Saints' Herald 26 (15 Nov. 1879): 341, who was quoting Michael Morse).
  • Smith's wife Emma stated that she took dictation from her husband as she sat next to him, and that he would put his face into a hat with the stone in it, dictating for hours at a time. Smith (1879) , pp. 536-40.
  • Isaac Hale wrote, "The manner in which he [Smith] pretended to read and interpret, was the same as when he looked for the money-diggers, with the stone in his hat, and his hat over his face, while the Book of Plates were at the same time hid in the woods!" David Whitmer, an early disciple of Smith, wrote that Joseph "did not use the plates in the translation, but would hold the interpreters to his eyes and cover his face with a hat, excluding all light, and before his eyes would appear what seemed to be Parchment," on which he would see the characters on the plates along with a translation.
  • Joseph Knight wrote, "Now the way he translated was he put the urim and thummim into the hat and Darkned his Eyes then he would take a sentance and it would apper in Brite Roman Letters. Then he would tell the writer and he would write it. Then that would go away the next sentance would Come and so on. But if it was not Spelt rite it would not go away till it was rite, so we see it was marvelous. Thus was the hol translated." Marquart, H. Michael (1994), Inventing Mormonism 103–4.
  • Others have made note of Smith's procedures: "The plates could not have been used directly in the process. The Prophet, his face in a hat to exclude exterior light, would have been unable to view the plates directly even if they had been present during transcription. A mental picture of the young Joseph, face buried in a hat, gazing into a seer stone, plates out of sight, has not been a generally held view since the early days of the Church. The view raises some difficult questions. Why, for example, was such great care taken to preserve the plates for thousands of years if they were not to be used directly in the translation process?" (Richard Van Wagoner and Steven Walker, "Joseph Smith: 'The Gift of Seeing,'" Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 [Summer 1982]: 52).
  • Bushman notes: "[A]s work on the Book of Mormon proceeded, a seerstone took the place of the Urim and Thummim as an aid in the work, blending magic with inspired translation." (Bushman, p. 131) "There is evidence that the translation stone was given him after he lost the Urim and Thummim when the 116 pages disappeared. (Bushman, p. 590, note 24 citing Van Wagoner and Walker, "'The Gift of Seeing,'" 54)
  • See Joseph Smith and seer stones
  • See Book of Mormon translation method

From April 12 to June 14, 1828, Smith and Harris worked consistently on the translation. A curtain divided the two men, and Smith used Urim and Thummim or seer stones as "interpreters."

  • Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith, Rough Stone Rolling, 66.
  •  Citation abuse— The meaning of a source quotation has been altered, or the source used does not support the author's conclusion.

    The cited source does not mention seer stones other than the Urim and Thummim at this point in the translation process. Bushman states,

For two months, form about April 12 to June 14, 1828, Joseph and Harris were hard at work. Joseph translated using the interpreters (also called the Urim and Thummim, crystals mounted on a breast plate), and Harris wrote down the text as it was dictated. A curtain divided the men to prevent Harris from seeing the plates.


The result of their work was 116 pages. After relentless requests by Harris, Smith reluctantly allowed Harris to take the manuscript to Palmyra to assuage the growing skepticism of Harris' wife Lucy. When Harris returned, long overdue, he told Smith that the manuscript had disappeared.

About the same time, Smith's wife Emma gave birth to a stillborn son. Smith, understandably distraught over losing both his child and the manuscript,

  • He had had great hopes for his first-born child, reportedly telling people that the child would see the plates Howe (1834) , p. 264 and assist in the translation Howe (1834) , p. 267.
  •  Violates Wikipedia: Synthesis off-site: Do not put together information from multiple sources to reach a conclusion that is not stated explicitly by any of the sources.
    Violated by John "Foxe" —Diff: off-site

    The sources say nothing about Joseph having "great hopes" for his child—this is that addition of the wiki editor. The wiki editor has also used two dubious, hostile third-hand sources to synthesize the conclusion that Joseph's first-born child would see and translate the plates. These are the only two sources that make such a claim.
  • According to the source, Hale said,

I inquired of Joseph Smith Jr., who was to be the first who would be allowed to see the Book of Plates? He said it was a young child. After this, I became dissatisfied, and informed him that if there was any thing in my house of that description, which I could not be allowed to see, he must take it away; if he did not, I was determined to see it. After that, the Plates were said to be hid in the woods. (Howe, 1834, p. 264)

  • According the the source, McKune said,

"Joseph Smith, Jr. told him that (Smith's) first-born child was to translate the characters, and hieroglyphics, upon the Plates into our language at the age of three years; but this child was not permitted to live to verify the prediction." (Howe, 1834, p. 267-8)


then dictated to Emma his first written revelation, which rebuked him for losing the manuscript pages but assigned most of the blame to Harris.

  • Phelps (1833) .

The revelation assured Smith that if he repented, God would restore the interpreters that the angel had taken away.

  • Phelps (1833) .

During this period, Smith also may have briefly joined a Methodist inquirers' class in Harmony.

  • McKune (1879) . Emma's family attended the church, which was led by Nathaniel Lewis, Emma's uncle. Lewis (Lewis) ;
  • Porter (1969) , p. 332. Joseph Lewis, a cousin of Emma "objected to the inclusion of a 'practicing necromancer' on the Methodist roll," and Smith voluntarily withdrew Lewis (Lewis) in EMD 4:305;
  • Bushman (2005) , p. 69-70.

Lucy Mack Smith said that her son received the interpreters again on September 22, 1828, and he slowly resumed translating with Emma taking the dictation. The pace of the translation greatly increased, however, after April 7, 1829, when Oliver Cowdery arrived in Harmony. Cowdery was a school teacher whose family, like Smith's, had engaged in treasure seeking and other magical practices,

  • Bushman (2005) , p. 73
  •  An author's opinion has been converted to fact— An opinion expressed by the author of a secondary source is being portrayed in the article as if it were a proven fact.
    Violated by John "Foxe" —Diff: off-site

    Bushman said that Oliver's "family may have engaged in treasure-seeking." (emphasis added). The wiki author has converted Bushman's speculation to fact by stating that Oliver's family had engaged in treasure seeking. This imprecision in the use of sources comes from Bob Jones University (BJU) history professor John "Foxe."
  • Oliver himself may have used a divining rod, although there is no evidence that it was used for treasure-seeking. According to the cited source, "Most likely, Cowdery used a rod to discover water and minerals." (Bushman, p. 73).
  • See Oliver Cowdery and the "rod of nature".

and Cowdery had taken an interest in Smith's story while in Palmyra.

  • Bushman (2005) , p. 71.
  •  Violates Wikipedia: Citing sources off-site— There is either no citation to support the statement or the citation given is incorrect.

    The statement is incorrect. The cited source states that "Cowdery had learned of Joseph's work while teaching the district school in Manchester and boarding with the Smiths." (Bushman, p. 71).

Smith dictated most of the Book of Mormon to Cowdery between early April and late June.

  • Bushman (2005) , p. 73.
  •  Correct, per cited sources

In later years, both men testified that during this period they had been ordained by John the Baptist and then had baptized each other in the Susquehanna River.

  • Bushman (2005) , p. 74-75;
  • Joseph Smith - History 1:68-70.
  • Cowdery first publicized the visitation of John the Baptist in 1834, Smith not until a history composed in 1838 was first published in 1842.
  •  Correct, per cited sources

Early years of the church

- Wikipedia Main Article: Joseph Smith, Jr.–Early_years_of_the_church Wikipedia Footnotes: Joseph Smith, Jr.–Notes A FAIR Opinion

In early June 1829, Smith and Cowdery moved to Fayette, New York to complete the translation, and Smith began to seek converts. As Richard Bushman has written, when people believed, "they did not just subscribe to the book; they were baptized." But as Smith "began to seek converts the question of credibility had to be addressed again. Joseph knew his story was unbelievable."

  • Bushman (2005) , p. 77
  • From the cited source,

As he began to seek converts, the question of credibility had to be addressed again. Joseph knew his story was unbelievable. Outside of his immediate family and close associates, he faced a wall of skepticism. Martin Harris...had doubts about the plates from the start...The March revelation, while stalling Harris, hinted at the possibility that others might see the plates. (Bushman, p. 77)


He finally had a revelation that others, known today as the Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses, would bear testimony to the existence of the plates—which they did in early July 1829.

  • Bushman (2005) , pp. 77-78.
  • The two testimonies are undated, and the exact dates on which the Witnesses are said to have seen the plates is unknown. Smith said that when he finished translating the gold plates, the angel Moroni took them away.
  •  Violates Wikipedia: Citing sources off-site— There is either no citation to support the statement or the citation given is incorrect.

    The Bushman source says nothing related to the second portion of the footnote, which talks about the testimonies being undated.

Finally, the Book of Mormon was published in Palmyra on March 26, 1830 by printer E. B. Grandin. Martin Harris financed the publication by mortgaging his farm.

  • Bushman (2005) , p. 80. Because he could not pay the debt, Harris lost both his farm and his wife, who had refused to become a party to the mortgage.

On April 6, 1830, Joseph Smith and his followers formally organized as the Church of Christ,

  • The majority of witnesses report that the organization took place in the log home of Joseph Smith, Sr. in the Manchester area (Smith (1844) ;
  • Smith (1883) , p. 14;
  • Jessee (1976) ;
  • Tucker (1867) , p. 58), followed by a meeting the next Sunday in Fayette, New York Tucker (1867) , p. 58;
  • but one of Smith's histories Roberts (1902) , p. 78 and a later statement by David Whitmer assert that the organization took place in Fayette Whitmer (1887) , p. 33.
  •  References not included in the Wikipedia article
    Several Fayette references are missing.
  • The recently revealed Book of Commandments and Revelations, which had been kept in the First Presidency's vault until its publication in the Joseph Smith Papers series, supports the Fayette location. According to R. Scott Lloyd,:

"The manuscript may have the effect, [Steven C. Harper] said, of resolving a controversy that has arisen over whether the Church was organized at Fayette, N.Y., as has traditionally been understood, or at Manchester, N.Y. It does so by affirming that a revelation given on April 6, 1830, was given at Fayette, not at Manchester. 'The 1833 Book of Commandments, heretofore the earliest source available, located this revelation in Manchester,' he explained. Some authors thus argued that the traditional story of the Church's founding in Fayette lacked foundation in the historical record, 'but we can now see that in this case, tradition and the historical record match up,' he said."
(R. Scott Lloyd, "'Major Discovery' Discussed at Mormon History Association Conference," Church News, 22 May 2009.)

  • Orson Pratt: "I well recollect when I was but a boy of nineteen visiting the place where this Church was organized, and visiting the Prophet Joseph, who resided at that time in Fayette, Seneca County, New York, at the house where the Church was organized." (Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 13:356.)
  • French’s New York Gazetteer, published by R. Pearsall Smith, at Syracuse, New York, [since] 1800, also contained some data concerning Mormonism, and states that the first Mormon society was formed in the town of Fayette, Seneca County, in 1830” (Letter, Diedrich Villers, Jr. to Ellen E. Dickinson; published in Ellen E. Dickinson, New Light on Mormonism)
  • See: Location of the organization of the Church  [needs work]

and small branches were established in Palmyra, Fayette, and Colesville, New York. There was strong opposition to the church, and in late June, Smith was again brought to court but acquitted.

  • Bushman (2005) , pp. 116-17.

Perhaps it was to this period that Smith and Cowdery referred when they later said that they had received a visitation from Peter, James, and John, three apostles of Jesus, who appeared to them in order to restore the Melchizedek priesthood, which they said contained the necessary authority to restore Christ's church.

  • Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2007, p. 7-8;
  • Bushman (2005) , p. 118. Erastus Snow said that Peter, James, and John had appeared to Smith and Cowdery "at a period when they were being pursued by their enemies and they had to travel all night," a circumstance that occurred in late June 1830.

In July 1831, Smith revealed that the church would establish a "City of Zion" in Native American territory near Missouri.

  • D & C 57:1-3

In anticipation, Smith dispatched missionaries, led by Oliver Cowdery, to the area. On their way, they converted a group of Disciples of Christ adherents in Kirtland, Ohio led by Sidney Rigdon. To avoid growing opposition in New York, Smith moved the headquarters of the church to Kirtland.


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Further reading

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