CES Reply: Three Witnesses – Whitmer & Cowdery

David Whitmer:

David claimed in early June 1829 before their group declaration that he, Cowdery, and Joseph Smith observed “one of the Nephites” carrying the records in a knapsack on his way to Cumorah.  Several days later this trio perceived “that the Same Person was under the shed” at the Whitmer farm. – An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, p.179

I can find no 1829 version of this story. Dan Vogel reports that Whitmer told this story “with varying detail” beginning in 1877, almost 50 years after the fact. So many of the statements you rely on to discredit David Whitmer come from a time when he was severely disaffected with Joseph, and that disaffection coupled with advanced age makes it difficult to sort out what’s reliable and what’s not.

In 1880, David Whitmer was asked for a description of the angel who showed him the plates.   Whitmer responded that the angel “had no appearance or shape.” When asked by the interviewer how he then could bear testimony that he had seen and heard an angel, Whitmer replied, “Have you never had impressions?” To which the interviewer responded, “Then you had impressions as the Quaker when the spirit moves, or as a good Methodist in giving a happy experience, a feeling?” “Just so,” replied Whitmer. – Interview with John Murphy, June 1880, EMD 5:63

Nice try. Whitmer himself quickly issued a statement to directly refute this account of the story immediately after it was published.

A young Mormon lawyer, James Henry Moyle, who interviewed Whitmer in 1885, asked if there was any possibility that Whitmer had been deceived. “His answer was unequivocal…that he saw the plates and heard the angel with unmistakable clearness.” But Moyle went away “not fully satisfied…It was more spiritual than I anticipated.” – Moyle diary, June 28, 1885, EMD 5:141

Well, good for Moyle. Sounds like it’s more Moyle’s problem than Whitmer’s. In multiple interviews, Whitmer repeatedly made it clear that this was far more than just a spiritual impression. Orson Pratt recounts an interview with Whitmer where he specified all the things he saw “just as plain as I see this bed (striking his hand upon the bed beside him).” Moyle himself describes later conversations with Whitmer that provide a distinct physical context for the angels’ appearance:

“He said that they (Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris) were out in the primitive woods in Western New York; that there was nothing between them and the Angel except a log that had fallen in the forest; that it was broad daylight with nothing to prevent either hearing or seeing all that took place…he did see and hear the Angel and heard the declaration that the plates had been correctly translated; that there was absolutely nothing to prevent his having a full, clear view of it all. I remember very distinctly asking him if there was anything unnatural or unusual about the surroundings or the atmosphere. He answered that question. I do not remember exactly the words he used, but he indicated that there was something of a haze or peculiarity about the atmosphere that surrounded them but nothing that would prevent his having a clear vision and knowledge of all that took place. He declared to me that the testimony which he published to the world was true and that he had never denied any part of it.” (James Henry Moyle, statement, 13 September 1938; in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:146-147.)

The idea seems to be that Moyle wanted some kind of concrete description of the “haze or peculiarity” and was unsatisfied when Whitmer couldn’t directly explain the spiritual element of the vision in more mundane, down-to-earth terms. Both Moyle and Whitmer would be surprised to see this exchange used to support a contention that Whitmer didn’t actually see the plates or the angel.

Whitmer’s testimony also included the following:

“If you believe my testimony to the Book of Mormon; if you believe that God spake to us three witnesses by his own voice, then I tell you that in June, 1838, God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens and told me to ‘separate myself from among the Latter Day Saints, for as they sought to do unto me, so it should be done unto them.’”

– David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ (promoting his Whitmerite sect)

If David Whitmer is a credible witness, why are we only using his testimony of the Book of Mormon while ignoring his other testimony claiming that God Himself spoke to Whitmer “by his own voice from the heavens” in June 1838 commanding Whitmer to apostatize from the Lord’s one and only true Church?

In June, 1838, David Whitmer had already been excommunicated from the Church for two months. The voice from God, therefore, wasn’t telling him to “apostatize from the Lord’s one and only true Church,” as he was already in a state of apostasy when the voice from heaven reportedly spoke to him. Apostasy tends to warp one’s spiritual perceptions and access to heaven.

Oliver Cowdery:

Like Joseph and most of the Book of Mormon witnesses, Oliver Cowdery and his family were treasure hunters. 

What does that mean? Were they riding around on Captain Kidd’s pirate ship? By profession, Joseph Smith and his family were farmers, and Oliver Cowdery was a schoolteacher. There is no record of Oliver Cowdery engaging in treasure hunting, either professionally or as an amateur treasure hunting hobbyist.

Oliver’s preferred tool of trade, as mentioned above, was the divining rod.

And there is no record of what he did with that divining rod. Most people who used such rods used them to try to find water to dig wells, not find buried treasure.

He was known as a “rodsman.”

He was? You put the word in quotes – can you therefore give me a contemporary firsthand source that labeled him as such? Because he was actually known as a “schoolteacher.” And, later, a “lawyer.” Although “lawyer” is arguably a far more pejorative term than “rodsman.”

Along with the witnesses, Oliver held a magical mindset.

Meaning what? You offer this arbitrary label as if it’s self-explanatory and it somehow disqualifies Oliver from being a serious person. Oliver was quite accomplished, both in and out of the Church, and he was also highly respected, both in and out of the Church, and his career demonstrates that he was a rather practical man, not some wannabe wizard, as you seem to be implying.

Oliver Cowdery was not an objective and independent witness.  As scribe for the Book of Mormon, co-founder of the Church, and cousin to Joseph Smith, there was a serious conflict of interest in Oliver being a witness.

Conflict of interest? As a scribe who experienced the translation process firsthand, he was already a witness by default. This is like saying Joseph had a “conflict of interest” by testifying of what he knew, which is sort of ridiculous. Oliver and Joseph were both interested in the Book of Mormon – what’s the interest that conflicts with that?

“Conflict of interest” is a term used to describe people who, say, stand to gain private financial rewards for their action in official public capacities, or lawyers who represent or influence clients on opposite sides of a dispute. Oliver had no official capacity as an elected official or lawyer that would conflict with his being a witness, so you’re misapplying the term here.  To paraphrase Inigo Montoya, you keep using that phrase, but I do not think it means what you think it means.

You also seem to define “objective and independent” as “someone who thinks Joseph Smith was a fraud.”

4. Second Sight:

People believed they could see things as a vision in their mind.  They called it “second sight.” 

Which people?

We call it “imagination.” 

We do? Are you including me in this?

It made no difference to these people if they saw with their natural eyes or their spiritual eyes as they both were one and the same.

So, in other words, some people, presumably 19th Century people based on your context, couldn’t distinguish between reality and imagination, the way we can. Quite a nice little straw man you’ve built there. Really helps with the condescension process.

As mentioned previously, people believed they could see spirits and their dwelling places in the local hills along with seeing buried treasure deep in the ground.  This supernatural way of seeing the world is also referred in Doctrine & Covenants as “the eyes of our understanding.”

“The veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened. We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us; and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold, in color like amber.”

That’s the verse you link to to show that the phrase “the eyes of our understanding” has reference to visions of “buried treasure deep in the ground?” They’re talking about something happening right in front of them (“[he was] standing upon the breastwork of the [Kirtland Temple] pulpit, before us”) not underground treasure miles away.

There is absolutely no support in the actual text of D&C 110 for your bizarre interpretation of this phrase.

If the plates and the experiences were real and tangible as 21st century Mormons are led to believe, why would the witnesses make the following kind of statements when describing the plates and the experience:

“While praying I passed into a state of entrancement, and in that state I saw the angel and the plates.” – EMD 2:346-47

“I never saw the gold plates, only in a visionary or entranced state.” – EMD 2:346-47

They wouldn’t. Those two statements are part of a single quote attributed to Martin Harris after his death by Anthony Metcalf, who referred to Joseph Smith as a “pretend prophet” and was trying to discredit the Church. They contradict everything Martin Harris had to say firsthand about the experience, and it is extraordinarily unlikely that Harris would suddenly change his story so radically when being interviewed by an antagonistic critic.

Martin Harris, in the last years of his life, had this to say:

“The Prophet Joseph Smith, and Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer and myself, went into a little grove to pray to obtain a promise that we should behold it with our eyes natural eyes, that we could testify of it to the world” (EMD 2:375). [Emphasis added, strikethrough in original.] Deliberate use of the phrase “natural eyes” is in direct contradiction to your straw-man premise of “second sight” or “eyes of our understanding.”

Or how about this one:

“Gentlemen, do you see that hand? Are you sure you see it? Are your eyes playing a trick or something? No. Well, as sure as you see my hand so sure did I see the angel and the plates.” (Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 116)

Why do you ignore everything Martin Harris actually said and instead take the word of a hostile critic citing posthumous hearsay at face value?

“He only saw the plates with a spiritual eye” – Joseph Smith Begins His Work, Vol. 1, 1958

More posthumous hearsay from a hostile critic of the Church written in 1892, seventeen years after Martin’s death and at least sixty years after this likely-bogus confession allegedly took place.

“As shown in the vision” – Zenas H. Gurley, Jr., Interview with David Whitmer on January 14, 1885

You’re splitting hairs here. Describing a visit from an angel as a “vision” does not preclude that it was a literal experience. We refer to Joseph Smith’s “First Vision,” but we do not deny that the Father and the Son were physically present for the experience with that description.

“Never saw the plates with his natural eyes but only in vision or imagination”

– Letter from Stephen Burnett to “Br. Johnson,” April 15, 1838, in Joseph Smith Letter Book, p. 2

Another hearsay statement from a bitter ex-Mormon. He claims Martin and the other witnesses admitted this in public, which is extraordinarily curious, as such a damning admission would no doubt have prompted a wave of apostasy and a great deal of consternation that would surely have made its way into someone else’s journal. As it stands, without any shred of corroborating evidence that Martin made such a public statement, there’s every reason to believe that Burnett is making this up.

“They were shown to me by a supernatural power”

History of the Church Vol. 3, Ch. 21, p. 307-308

Yes. An angel.

Also, your link here is broken. I don’t know who supposedly said this or if the statement is reliable.

“…when I came to hear Martin Harris state in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver nor David & also that the eight witnesses never saw them & hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it, the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundation was sapped & the entire superstructure fell in heap of ruins, I therefore three  week  since  in  the  Stone  Chapel…renounced  the  Book  of  Mormon…after  we were done speaking M Harris arose & said he was sorry for any man who rejected the Book of Mormon for he knew it was true, he said he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them, but he never saw them only as he saw a city throught [sic] a mountain. And said that he never should have told that the testimony of the eight was false, if it had not been picked out of—–—[him/me?] but should have let it passed as it was…”

– Letter from Stephen Burnett to “Br. Johnson,” April 15, 1838, in Joseph Smith Letter Book, p. 2

Oh, so you do have a second witness about Martin Harris’s daring public admission of fraud.

No, wait – this is exactly the same unreliable guy you quoted two sentences earlier. In fact, this is exactly the same quote. Is your case so flimsy that you have to dress up the same quote twice to give the illusion that Martin had more detractors than he actually had?

The foreman in the Palmyra printing office that produced the first Book of Mormon said that Harris “used to practice a good deal of his characteristic jargon and ‘seeing with the spiritual eye,’ and the like.” – Mormonism: Its Origin, Rise, and Progress, p.71

And you did it again! This is just another excerpt from John Gilbert’s hostile 1892, 17-years-after-Martins-death, over-six-decades-after-the-conversation-took-place account that you quoted five quotes earlier. Why only quote the same statement from Gilbert twice? Why not break this into three quotes to give an even greater illusion of credibility?

Two other Palmyra residents said that Harris told them that he had seen the plates with “the eye of faith” or “spiritual eyes” – EMD 2:270 and 3:22

The first comes from John A. Clark, the same guy who made up the stuff about Martin talking to Jesus as a deer. Clark’s claim to fame is his lengthy treatise “proving” that the Book of Mormon was lifted from the Spaulding manuscript, a theory which has since been thoroughly debunked and has been rejected by critics as well as supporters, except for a handful of people like Vernal Holley, who provided your bogus Book of Mormon geography maps. The second comes from a Presbyterian pastor who was hostile to the Church, and it comes with an admission that it is hearsay that came to him by way of gossip – the pastor never heard Martin say “spiritual eyes,” as Martin had left Palmyra before any such supposed confession took place.

John H. Gilbert, the typesetter for most of the Book of Mormon, said that he had asked Harris, “Martin, did you see those plates with your naked eyes?” According to Gilbert, Harris “looked down for an instant, raised his eyes up, and said, ‘No, I saw them with a spiritual eye.” – EMD 2:548

And there it is! Ladies and gentlemen, we have a John Gilbert trifecta! You quote the same guy three times from the same document as if you have amassed three separate statements against Martin Harris’s testimony! In other words, you say we ought to reject Martin Harris based on the statements of five different witnesses: Stephen Burnett, Stephen Burnett, John Gilbert, John Gilbert, and John Gilbert.

Honestly, Jeremy, this is extraordinarily sloppy and misleading “scholarship” on your part.

If these witnesses literally really saw the plates like everyone else on the planet sees tangible objects…why strange statements like, “I never saw them only as I see a city through a mountain”?   What does that even mean?  

It means Stephen Burnett made it up.

I’ve never seen a city through a mountain. Have you?

No, but I’ve seen you pretend that one guy is actually three different guys.

Why all these bizarre statements from the witnesses if the plates were real and the event literal?

There are at least three fewer bizarre statements than you claim there to be, and the three that remain are demonstrably fraudulent and contradict the over 60 firsthand statements from the actual witnesses themselves that you choose to ignore.

Why would you need a vision or supernatural power to see real, physical plates that Joseph said were in a box that he carried around?

You wouldn’t. That’s why the Eight Witnesses describe the utterly mundane experience of having “seen and hefted” the plates, minus any supernatural power. The testimony of the Three Witnesses, however, includes more than just a physical interaction with sheets of metal – it includes a visit from an angel, which is a supernatural experience by definition.

When Martin Harris was asked, “But did you see them [plates] with your natural, your bodily eyes, just as you see this pencil-case in my hand? Now say no or yes to this.” Martin answered, “I did not see them as I do that pencil-case, yet I saw them with the eye of faith; I saw them just as distinctly as I see anything around me, though at the time they were covered over with a cloth.”

Origin and History of the Mormonites, p. 406

Why couldn’t Martin just simply answer “yes”?

Because this whole conversation never took place. This is John Clark that you’re re-quoting, the discredited Spaulding guy. So now we’re up to seven distinct witnesses against Martin – Stephen Burnett, Stephen Burnett, John Gilbert, John Gilbert, John Gilbert, John A. Clark, and John A. Clark. All three of the seven are bogus.

Many of the 11 Witnesses may have had the same last name, but at least none of them were the same person.

Tomorrow: Strangites!

The Fifth Stage of GOP Grief

If I’m enjoying anything about Donald Trump’s conquest and pillaging of what’s left of the Republican Party, it’s watching Glenn Beck be humiliated and, of course, seeing Ted Cruz implode. Tonight, I’m drunk on anti-Cruz schadenfreude. 

I’m really dreading the inevitable Trump hangover tomorrow morning.

Although, really, it probably won’t be all that bad. After all, I went through the five stages of GOP grief a long time ago. I’ve come to accept that Donald Trump, who is equal parts odious and ridiculous, is the Black Plague to create the ring around the Republican rosie. Ashes; ashes; we all fall down. 

Most of my Republican friends have been dragging their heels in the other four stages. Even in February, there were plenty in denial, (Rubio will pull it out!), and Mormons have done more than their fair share of bargaining. (It’ll be Romney in a contested convention!) There’s still oodles of anger and depression, but there’s very little acceptance. 

Well, Trump is now the nominee. Acceptance is the only viable option left. 

Acceptance doesn’t mean happiness, you understand. Accepting reality is not the same thing as liking it. I can accept that Zack Snyder is going to continue to butcher the DC movie universe, but that doesn’t make “Batman v. Superman” suck any less. But as they say, crap happens. (Yes, I know that’s not how they say it. I’m still in denial on that one.) 

So as you ponder the unimaginable reality in which we collectively find ourselves, I suggest you get a head start on the Five Stages of General Election Grief and accept a few things in May instead of waiting until November.

1. Accept that Trump has ended the Republican Party as a credible, conservative, or even a coherent political force. 

If Trumpism bears any resemblance to conservatism, it’s purely coincidental. Even Trump has no idea what Trumpism is. This is not an ideological movement; it’s a political suicide squad. The people who support Trump don’t believe in anything beyond the utter destruction of anything connected to the existing system of American governance. They just want to burn it all down. That includes the GOP “establishment,” which, although a hackneyed and intellectually lazy concept to begin with, now is revealed to be an impotent dinosaur with no capacity to keep The Donald from dancing on its grave. 

The party, as they say, is over. 

2. Accept that Trump, now having won the party’s nomination, will essentially abandon his party in the campaign to come. 

Trump has demonstrated the capacity to jettison all his ideological baggage and ignore the media frenzy his inconsistency creates. Remember when Trump was a birther who thought the president was born in Kenya?  Bring it up with him, and he shrugs his shoulders and says, “I don’t talk about that anymore.” He doesn’t disavow it; he just ignores it. Call him on a contradiction or even an outright lie, and he doubles down on the lie. And the media gets itself into a lather, which drives Trump’s poll numbers up. 

Trump is going to stop talking about a wall. He’s going to stop talking about banning Muslims. He’s never going to mention the Republican Party again. His running mate will be either a Democrat or a celebrity with no known political affiliations. He’s going to transcend party. And, horror of horrors, it just might work. 

3. Accept that Trump can win. 

Ha ha ha. Trump can win?! What an idiot I must be. Look at his negatives! He’s ridiculous! Hillary will destroy him!

Yeah, okay. Talk to the “Republican establishment” about how Trump can’t ever be the nominee. Last August, the mighty Nate Silver gave Trump a 5% chance of winning the nomination. And yet here he is. 

But that’s just Republicans, who, by definition, are morons, right? Well, maybe, but I don’t think Democrats should underestimate the stupidity in their own ranks. Do not be surprised when young and ignorant Bernie supporters identify with Trump’s burn-it-all-down message instead of Hillary’s milquetoast, screechy-grandma routine. Do not presume that longstanding institutional and demographic hatred of Republicans will apply to Trump, who registers in the public mind more as “that guy from ‘The Apprentice'” than “a Republican.” 

Understand the limits of what I’m saying here. I’m not saying Trump will win. But just assuming he can’t win is a mistake. It’s the mistake that the Republicans made, and it destroyed the party. National destruction is a very real possibility if the electorate at large makes the same mistake. 

4. Accept that, either way, America is done.

The structural instability of the global economy is eroding the effectiveness of the very concept of the nation state, so Trump and Hillary are actually competing to see who gets to turn the light off on the way out. 

I’m going to bed now. 

At least Cruz lost. 

CES Reply: More from Brother Brigham

Continuing my reply to Jeremy Runnell’s “Letter to a CES Director,” with Jeremy’s original words in green:

If Brigham Young was really a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, would it not be unreasonable to expect that God would give him a hint that racism is not okay, sexism is not okay, blood atonement is not okay and God’s name is not “Adam”?

God gave him plenty of hints. He’s given you the same hints, as you both have direct access to the same God. In addition, the scriptures that condemn all these evils were in print while Brigham was still alive. In addition, your condemnation of Brigham in these points is ill-informed, particularly with regard to Adam-God and blood atonement, neither of which infiltrated Mormon theology.

I want to talk about Brigham’s racism for a moment, however, as this is the flaw in his character I find most troubling and which, arguably, has done the most damage to the Church as a whole.

A cousin of mine, who wrote his own version of a CES Letter when he left the Church, called my attention to one of Brigham’s most incendiary – and misinterpreted – racial statements.  I’ll share it with you, although you’ve probably heard it before.

Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.

– Brigham Young, as found in the Journal of Discourses 10:111 


Then I read Brigham Young’s full sermon in which that quote is found, and I had a remarkable experience that made me feel a whole lot better about Brigham Young’s racial attitudes than I ever had before.

In the preceding paragraph to the one I quoted, Brigham makes the following statement:

I am no abolitionist, neither am I a proslavery man; I hate some of their principles and especially some of their conduct, as I do the gates of hell.

What principles and conduct does he hate, then? In this sermon, he makes it clear that he hates how proslavery men feel they can abuse and savage their “property” at will. For instance, just two paragraphs after he makes the incendiary statement I quoted at the outset, he says this:

If the Government of the United States, in Congress assembled, had the right to pass an anti-polygamy bill, they had also the right to pass a law that slaves should not be abused as they have been; they had also a right to make a law that negroes should be used like human beings, and not worse than dumb brutes. For their abuse of that race, the whites will be cursed, unless they repent.

I am neither an abolitionist nor a pro-slavery man. If I could have been influenced by private injury to choose one side in preference to the other, I should certainly be against the pro-slavery side of the question.”

Already, those past two paragraphs make him far more enlightened than a good chunk of the 19th Century populace. Consider, for instance, this statement:

I am not now, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social or political equality of the white and black races. I am not now nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor of intermarriages with white people. There is a physical difference between the white and the black races which will forever forbid the two races living together on social or political equality. There must be a position of superior and inferior, and I am in favor of assigning the superior position to the white man.

– Abraham Lincoln

But could anything possibly justify that incendiary statement about the death penalty for interracial relations? Let’s look at the money sentence, where Brigham says that “[i]f the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot.”

This comes in the midst of a sermon that, overall, has little or nothing to do with race. Every other mention of race is in the paragraphs I previously shared, and those are clearly derisive of white people who abuse slaves and treat them like animals. So why suddenly bring up the whole issue of a death penalty for interracial marriage?

Well, wait a minute. He makes no mention of marriage. And he only suggests one party in the group ought to be put to death – the “white man of the chosen seed.” Where is the mention of the black woman being put to death? It’s not there. Why isn’t it there? Because in the act Brigham is describing, those black women are victims who have done nothing wrong.

In 1863, when this sermon was given, there was no clamor for interracial marriage. The overwhelming majority of whites and blacks were repulsed by the idea, and Brigham would have had no need to rail against it.

So these “white men of the chosen seed” weren’t marrying these women; they were raping them.

Brigham, thankfully, wasn’t cool with that.

It was common practice, even among the relative handful of Latter-day Saints who owned slaves, to sexually assault their female slaves, causing some church leaders to decry the idea of men with “white wives” and “black concubines.” After all, the conventional wisdom went, there was no harm in doing whatever you wanted with what was wickedly considered to be mere subhuman property.

Brigham, again, is here saying that that’s just not cool. He’s saying that raping a black woman will call down the condemnation of God just as surely as the rape of a white woman will.

Incidentally, who are the “white men of the chosen seed?” If it’s all white men, then why does he add that “chosen seed” qualifier? Elsewhere in the same sermon, he rails against the pro-slavery whites in Missouri and their corruption and wickedness.

So they’re not the “chosen seed;” the Latter-day Saints are. So Brigham Young’s point, then, was that Latter-day Saints who rape their slaves deserve to be struck dead on the spot, and this “will always be so.”

I’m kinda OK with that.

Notice, too, that he talks about “the law of God,” and continually makes that the qualifier. In other words, that’s what these people deserve if God were fully in charge. But in many sermons, he also recognized the fact that the laws of God can only be enforced when God himself rules, and so, in the meantime we’re subject to the law of man – a law that Brigham himself was pretty much in charge of making.

So did Utah law call for the death penalty for interracial relationships? Nope. The law, according to an 1860 account, stated the following:

“Slaves coming into the Territory with their masters of their own free will, continue to be in all respects slaves, but cruelty and withholding proper food, raiment, etc., makes the ownership void. Every master or mistress who has carnal relations with his or her Negro slaves forfeits his or her right to the slaves, who thereby becomes the property of the commonwealth. Every individual man or woman who has carnal relations with a Negro or a negress who is sentenced to imprisonment not exceeding three years, and to a fine from 500 to 1000 dollars.” (A Journey To Great Salt Lake City 1:469-70)

So, with this context, suddenly Brigham looks pretty darned enlightened, really. Yes, just like far too many Protestants of his age, he believed black people were descended from Cain and carried a curse, but Brigham’s statement is actually a statement that rises above the prevailing sentiments of the day, a statement that says these slaves are human beings, not animals, and you priesthood holders will be held accountable before God for how you treat them,

This is not to say Brigham Young wasn’t a racist. Certainly, by today’s standards, he was. And if this quote had originated from a recent leader, I think there’s little question that whoever uttered those words should be removed from office, be it the President of the Church, an Apostle, or the guy who sets up the chairs.

In 1863, however, I think the Lord would have a very hard time finding leaders who had enough racial understanding to be as shocked by those words as we are today.

Again, we’re told repeatedly that we learn line upon line; precept upon precept. Hymn #2, “The Spirit of God,” exults in the fact that “the Lord is extending the Saints’ understanding,” and I’m therefore very wary of judging social mores of 1852 by the light of what we now know as a church, a nation, and a world in the 21st Century.

Brigham’s reaction here actually suggests that he was taking a few more hints from God than you’re willing to concede.

Tomorrow: Kinderhookin’!

CES Reply: Mark Hofmann… and More!

Continuing my reply to Jeremy Runnell’s “Letter to a CES Director,” with Jeremy’s original words in green:

Mark Hofmann:


Cool! Dig the groovy haircut on the murderer guy!

In the early to mid-1980s, the Church shelled out close to $900,000 in antiquities and cash to Mark Hofmann – a conman and soon-to-be serial killer – to purchase and suppress bizarre and embarrassing documents into the Church vaults that undermined and threatened the Church’s story of its origins. The documents were later proven to be forgeries.

That’s a wildly warped version of what really happened.

Not sure where you get the $900,000 figure, as most of the documents were donated to the Church by members, and others were traded for other rarities like a copy of the Book of Commandments. Most of Hofmann’s forgeries were actually supportive of the Church’s story of its origins – most notably the fake Charles Anthon letter, which is the item that President Kimball is looking at in the picture you provide. The Church lists ten documents at the LDS.org website that were referenced in official Church materials, seven of which are highly supportive of the Church’s story.  Hofmann was essentially “building the brand” by creating documents that would establish his credibility as a dealer.

The idea that the church was trying to “purchase and suppress” documents that were “bizarre and embarrassing” is belied by a number of facts. The forgery that could be termed “bizarre” would be the Salamander Letter, which claimed that Moroni was a lizard. But the Church didn’t purchase the Salamander Letter. There were negotiations with Hofmann to buy it, but they fell through. It was later donated to the Church, which “suppressed” the document by publishing the full text of it in the Church News not long after they secured it.

The other two documents that were embarrassing were the Joseph Smith III blessing, where Joseph Smith, Jr. supposedly selected his son as his successor, and the Josiah Stowell note, which confirmed that Joseph was a treasure seeker. Hofmann said in an interview that he was confident the Church would be eager to “buy the blessing on the spot and bury it,” i.e. purchase and suppress. The Church did nothing of the kind and initially turned Hofmann away. Later, after negotiations with the RLDS to buy the JS III blessing fell through, the Church entered into a new round of discussions with Hofmann and agreed to a non-cash trade to secure the fake blessing, which they then offered at no cost to the Reorganized Church. The Church immediately made the content of the letter public.

That’s a pretty lousy job of purchasing and suppressing.

Lack of discernment by the Brethren on such a grave threat to the Church.

Another assumption of prophetic infallibility. I’m convinced that over 90% of all the objections you raise in the CES Letter would vanish on the wind if you recognized how wrong it is to assume that prophets that aren’t perfect can’t really be prophets.

But all right, let’s pretend things had gone the way you assume they ought to have gone. Imagine the apostles meeting in the upper rooms of the Salt Lake Temple the day after Hofmann approached them with his first forgery. Suddenly, the room is filled with light. Moroni appears to warn them of the fraud, maybe even quoting a scripture or two from the 1769 version of the KJV. Consequently, the Brethren cut off all negotiations with Hofmann along and deliver a mighty rebuking to him for his evil ways. Perhaps they also excommunicate him to boot.

What happens then?

Well, if I’m Hofmann, I go to the press. Hofmann appeared to be a meek, unassuming kind of guy, and he would have been able to generate tremendous media sympathy if the big, bad Brethren had been so mean to him. The same historical experts who validated the documents in the real turn of events would no doubt validate them in this fantasy world we’re imagining, so suddenly the media narrative is that the Church is burying its head in the sand about its own history.

Soon, the Salt Lake Tribune is on the front door of the Church Office Building, demanding to know why they refuse to accept reality. Out comes Dallin Oaks or Gordon Hinckley to say – what? That Moroni told them it was a fraud? Suddenly the Church comes across as an ignorant bully, and Hofmann looks like the guileless innocent speaking truth to power.

This would have been a far graver threat to the integrity of the Church than the way it really happened.

Speeches by Dallin H. Oaks and Gordon B. Hinckley offering apologetic explanations for troubling documents (Salamander Letter and Joseph Smith III Blessing) that later ended up, unbeknownst to Oaks and Hinckley at the time of their apologetic talks, being proven complete fakes and forgeries.

They were far more beknownst than you imply. Elder Oaks’s talk to which you link is entirely focused on treating such documents with considerable skepticism. President Hinckley’s talk is a recounting of the line of authority from Joseph Smith to Spencer Kimball, with the document serving as a catalyst for the discussion rather than as the object of it. It is only directly referenced at the beginning and end of the talk.

The following is Oaks’ 1985 defense of the fake Salamander letter (which Oaks evidently thought was real and legitimate at the time):

“Another source of differences in the accounts of different witnesses is the different meanings that different persons attach to words. We have a vivid illustration of this in the recent media excitement about the word salamander in a letter Martin Harris is supposed to have sent to W. W. Phelps over 150 years ago. All of the scores of media stories on that subject apparently assume that the author of that letter used the word salamander in the modern sense of a ‘tailed amphibian.’

One wonders why so many writers neglected to reveal to their readers that there is another meaning of salamander, which may even have been the primary meaning in this context in the 1820s. That meaning, which is listed second in a current edition of Webster’s New World Dictionary, is ‘a spirit supposed to live in fire’ (2d College ed. 1982, s.v. ‘salamander’). Modern and ancient literature contain many examples of this usage.

Look at the language he uses here. He cites an accurate and indisputable fact – an alternative definition of salamander as a spirit living in fire – and then posits that this “may even have been” what Martin Harris meant. (Yes, I know Martin Harris didn’t mean this because he didn’t say this; the letter is a fraud.) “May even have been” leaves open the possibility that it “may even not have been.” This is no ringing declaration from heaven. Reading the whole talk, it’s very clear that Elder Oaks remains deeply skeptical of the letter, even though he doesn’t denounce it outright.

All these examples you provide are simply reiterations of your initial charge – you believe a real prophet would not be able to be deceived because prophets ought to be perfect.

Joseph Fielding McConkie, my second mission president and Bruce R.’s son, wrote a book called Answers: Straightforward Answers to Tough Gospel Questions. One of the questions was “How can prophets be deceived, as in the case of Mark Hoffman?”

His answer is really good. I recount it here:

This question is simply another way of asking why prophets aren’t infallible. It is doubtful that those asking the question suppose themselves obligated to be faultless. Why, the, do they suppose other must be? We do not believe in the infallibility of missionaries, or Sunday School teachers, or even bishops or stake presidents. At what point do we suppose infallibility must begin?

In a revelation dealing with the lost one hundred and sixteen pages of the Book of Mormon the Lord told Joseph Smith: “But as you cannot always judge the righteous, or as you cannot always tell the wicked from the righteous, therefore I say unto, hold your peace until I shall see fit to make all things known unto the world concerning the matter” (D&C 10:37) [from Answers, p. 179]

If the Lord told Joseph that he couldn’t always tell the righteous from the wicked, why should we assume that his successors could?

So, what just happened?   Oaks defended and rationalized a completely fake and made up document that Mark Hofmann created while telling “Latter-day Saint readers” to be “more sophisticated in their evaluation of what they read.” 

Honestly, you couldn’t have put a more negative spin in this if you tried. The talk does nothing to “defend” the Salamander Letter, and it encourages skepticism. Again, you’ve found one more piece of evidence that the Brethren are fallible, which is a fact that is not in dispute. You’re beating a dead horse.

Dishonesty by Hinckley on his relationship with Hofmann, his meetings, and which documents that the Church had and didn’t have.

This is a baseless charge for which you have no evidence.

The Church was forced to produce, albeit reluctantly, documents that it had previously denied existed after Hofmann leaked to the media that he sold the documents to the Church.

Another baseless charge. How do you know they released these “reluctantly?” Was that word in the press release? The Church made no attempt to hide any of these documents.

While these “prophets, seers, and revelators” were being duped and conned by Mark Hofmann’s forgeries, the Tanners – considered some of the biggest enemies of the Church – actually came out and said that the Salamander Letter was a fake. Even when the Salamander Letter proved very useful to discrediting the Church, the Tanners had better discernment than the Brethren did. While the Tanners publicly rejected the Salamander Letter, the Church continued buying fakes from Hofmann and Elder Oaks continued telling Latter-day Saints to be more sophisticated.

Elder Oaks made that statement precisely once, and it proved to be wise counsel. Not sure why it sticks in your craw. It was accompanied by these others statements, too: “As readers we should be skeptical about the authenticity of such documents, especially when we are unsure where they were found or who had custody of them for 150 years. Newly found, historically important documents can be extremely valuable, so there is a powerful incentive for those who own them to advocate and support their authenticity. The recent spectacular fraud involving the so‑called Hitler diaries reminds us of this and should convince us to be cautious.” [Emphasis added]

This was not the full-on embrace that you’re implying it is.

You remind me of my conversation with Mike Norton, the guy who sneaks into temples to shoot videos for YouTube. He brags about the fact that none of the temple workers have the discernment to recognize his intentions. From my perspective, I think it speaks well for the Brethren and the temple workers that they accept people at face value. Cynical and suspicious people are harder to con, surely, but the fact that apostles and prophets are perhaps too trusting and guileless is not the worst fault you could have.

As for the Tanners, good for them.

It should be noted that the Church never dropped their skepticism about the Hofmann documents or verified their authenticity. “No one, of course, can be certain that Martin Harris wrote the document,” the First Presidency said about the Salamander Letter. “However, at this point we accept the judgment of the examiner that there is no indication that it is a forgery. This does not preclude the possibility that it may have been forged at a time when the Church had many enemies.”

I’m told that prophets are just men who are only prophets when acting as such (whatever that means).

I’m not sure what it means, either, at least in the way you describe it. Are you suggesting that when they are acting as prophets, they cease to be men? Are they possessed a la Linda Blair and have their bodies taken over by the Spirit so they can no longer act on their own volition? The assumption of infallibility is so problematic that I don’t understand how anyone could possibly think it compatible with the Restored Gospel.

I’m told that like all prophets, Brigham Young was a man of his time. 

How could he be anything else?

For example, I was told that Brigham Young was acting as a man when he taught that Adam is our God and the only God with whom we have to deal with.  Never mind that he taught it over the pulpit in not one but two General Conferences and never mind that he introduced this theology into the endowment ceremony in the Temples.

No, not never mind. Mind. Be mindful that a prophet’s agency doesn’t dissipate when he stands at a certain pulpit or walks into a temple and mindful that agency is antithetical to infallibility. Also be mindful that there is likely some component of Adam-God that modern audiences don’t understand, as even these prophetic announcements apparently had no impact whatsoever on Mormon theology in theory or in practice as we would expect them to have.

Never mind that Brigham Young made it clear that he was speaking as a prophet :

“I have never yet preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they may not call scripture.” – Journal of Discourses 13:95

The very next line of that sermon is “Let me have the privilege of correcting a sermon.” If he’s infallible, why would he have to correct his sermons? That’s an admission that someone feigning infallibility would never make. In addition, since when do we believe in infallible scriptures? “If there be errors, they are the mistakes of men” applies to both the written and spoken word.

Also, why are you quoting this in the context of Adam-God? The sermon you’re quoting here says absolutely nothing about that subject.

Why would I want my kids singing “Follow the Prophet” with such a ridiculous 183-year track record?  

“Ridiculous 183-year track record?” You think Adam-God, Mark Hofmann, and other anomalous quirks constitute the entirety of the legacy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? The track record of the Church is one of lives blessed by service freely given to members and non-members alike. The amount of good that prophets have done vastly outweighs the human errors they have made.

What credibility do the Brethren have?

Quite a lot, actually. They’ve been wrong on occasion, but they’ve also been very, very right the vast majority of the time.

I turn again to J.F. McConkie. The question he’s addressing is, “If we can’t trust the judgment of the prophet in everything, how can we trust it in anything?” From pages 180 and 181 of “Answers:

This chain of thought is used by fundamentalists who claim the Bible to be inherent and infallible. Their argument is that if the Bible is an error on the smallest thing, be it a matter of science, history, geography, or whatever, we cannot possibly trust it when it speaks of Christ or gospel principles. All manner of contortions are necessary to maintain this position. It makes of their theology a pious fraud and constantly requires its adherents to lie, as it were, for God.

What if we assume that a person who made a mistake on one matter could never be trusted on another matter? Because we have all made mistakes, there would not be a soul left upon the face of the earth we could trust. The irony of the argument of infallibility as it applies to the Bible is that those who make it cannot agree among themselves about what its various passages mean. Of what value is an infallible book among people whose interpretations of it are so terribly flawed?

The idea of infallibility simply doesn’t work. Are children justified in rejecting the inspired counsel of their parents if they can show them some other things their parents erred? Can we set aside the counsel of the bishop if we know something of his own shortcomings? Can we disregard the instruction of the family physician if we discover he misdiagnosed an illness on some past occasion? Perfection is not requisite for trust, nor need we be perfect to enjoy the prompting of the Spirit or to share in the wisdom of heaven. Gratefully, that is the case, for were it not, none of us would be suitable for the Lord’s service.

Why would I want them following the prophet when a prophet is just a man of his time teaching his “theories” that will likely be disavowed by future Prophets, Seers, and Revelators?

You’re looking at the teachings of the prophets through a fun-house mirror. It’s a gross distortion to say that prophets primarily teach “theories” that are later disavowed. What percentage of Brigham Young’s entirety of teachings is no longer consistent with what the church currently teaches? There’s no way to definitively quantify it, but objectively speaking, it’s a pretty small percentage. What’s the likelihood that, say, baptism by immersion will become passé under the next church president? Are we going to abandon the Book of Mormon? Ditch the Sabbath Day? When should we expect a repudiation of the Sermon on the Mount?

By fixating on anomalous episodes in history that are inconsistent with how the church currently operates, you’re overlooking the fact that, on the whole, the Church has been remarkably consistent in its doctrines and practices for nearly two centuries.

If his moral blueprint is not much better than their Sunday School teachers?

Sure! Why should his moral blueprint be any better than those of Sunday School teachers? Shouldn’t Sunday School teachers be teaching good doctrine, too? Your false assumption here is that we should expect fallible Sunday School teachers, but not fallible prophets.

If, historically speaking, the doctrine he teaches today will likely be tomorrow’s false doctrine?

Not likely at all, but certainly possible when new light and knowledge is revealed, as we have been promised it will be.

Tomorrow: More from Brother Brigham


My Online Conversation with Jeremy Runnells

I have never met Jeremy Runnells, although we have far more mutual friends than I realized when I first started writing my reply to his letter. Let me also say again that I have no interest in attacking Mr. Runnells personally, and that I wish him well in wherever his faith journey takes him.

As I continue to inflict my CES Letter Reply on an unsuspecting world, I’m repeatedly asked about whether or not Jeremy Runnells, author of the CES Letter, has read my response and expressed any opinion about what I’ve had to say.

The answer is that I’m not entirely sure. I know he’s aware of this blog, as he made several comments on this post prior to my writing a response to his letter. Those comments may have escaped the notice of those reading my reply, so I thought I’d take a moment to bring them to your attention.

The piece that drew Mr. Runnells to stallioncornell.com was titled “True and Living,” and it outlined why I will continue to sustain fallible leaders in a church filled with imperfect people who, even though they occasionally fall short, are doing the best they can to emulate the Savior.

Calling himself simply “J,” but using his CESLetter email address to identify himself, Jeremy wrote, “Very eloquently rationalized. But could you sustain a bishop that wouldn’t be as… Open minded as you?”

I replied, “Very snarkily condemned. (And I can see your email address, you know.) As for sustaining bishops, I could, I have, and I will.”

Here is the rest of the exchange, with Jeremy’s words in green:

Jeremy: It’s really, really hard not to be snarky with people who rationalize the death and suffering of innocents. (Sustaining evil is evil.)

Me: Indeed it is! And sustaining good is good. And since there hasn’t been an organization or a person alive, other than Christ Himself, who was purely one or the other, life doesn’t offer us those kinds of binary decisions. (Although I do think sustaining an organization like yours, whose sole purpose is to destroy the faith of others, is generally a bad idea.)

I think abandoning the Church would result in greater suicides and suffering than staying and trying to improve it. Call that a rationalization if you must, yet I certainly don’t think your approach of looking for every opportunity to tear down genuine faith is a better one.

Jeremy: I just hope you can see why so many people are choosing to leave Mormonism, because they see the injustice and unrighteousness and then choose not to follow it. I hope you make the consciousness choice not to shun them and revile them, the way so many Mormons do.

Me: Shunning/reviling is your current M.O., Mr. Runnells, not mine. I’m both surprised and saddened that you haven’t yet realized that bitterness is a pretty miserable foundation on which to build a life.

For my part, I wrote a post about this a little while back, in which I conclude by saying ‘My point is that I will never shun someone who leaves the Church. I will not cease to care for them. I will not cease to pray for them. This includes both friends and family. If my children grow up and decide to be Jehovah’s Witnesses/atheists/carnival folk, I will adore them and do everything in my power to let them know that their father’s love is unconditional, just as I believe our Heavenly Father’s love for all of us is.”

That still strikes me as a good idea.

Jeremy: Desire for Truth=Bitterness. Got it! I just wish all Mormons were as accepting and non- judgemental as you. (Seriously there is no snark in that second sentence.) Agree to disagree on the rest! I’ll be watching.

Me: You’re really quite big on the binary, Jeremy. You claim your motive for devoting your entire life to tearing down the Church is purely a “desire for truth,” while you attack my motive for sustaining the Church as an attempt to “rationalize the suffering and death of innocents” and a penchant for “sustaining evil.” In the real world, imperfect people struggle with good and evil and are a mixture of both, but people are either all good or all bad in Runnell World. In your scenario, then, an imperfect church that isn’t all good must therefore be all bad. No wonder you lost your faith.

And, yes, there’s tremendous bitterness in such binary thinking, sir. That bitterness is plain to see from the tone of your short comments here, but it drips from every word of your CES letter – not just bitterness, but fury, hatred, and contempt. Your magnum opus is not the product of a dispassionate scholar seeking the truth; it is a strident propaganda piece that picks and chooses what the truth is based solely on what you hate. It gives every church critic the benefit of the doubt and assumes the most diabolical motives possible for every Mormon mistake.

So, yes, I’ll be watching, too.


That exchange was the catalyst that prompted my reply.

To my knowledge, Jeremy has not returned to this blog. If he has, he hasn’t left a comment. I received a second-hand account that Jeremy, on another blog, said, “Jim Bennett didn’t answer the questions. Instead, he danced around and made jokes and borderline ad hominem attacks.”

I haven’t been able to find this statement myself to verify it. If anyone has a link to it, or to any other reference to my reply that Jeremy has made, I’d be grateful if you’d be willing to share it.

I do know that many have tried to bring my reply to his attention. At least two people, to my knowledge, have tried to post a link to the reply on Jeremy’s FB page in threads where Jeremy insists that nobody has answered his questions. Their comments were quickly deleted, and the people were banned from being able to even view Jeremy’s page.

It may well be, then, that our brief exchange in my comments section may be the entirety of our direct interaction. I hope that doesn’t remain the case.


CES Reply: Polygamy – The Conclusion!

Continuing my reply to Jeremy Runnell’s “Letter to a CES Director,” with Jeremy’s original words in green:

In an attempt to influence and abate public rumors of his secret polygamy, Joseph got 31 witnesses to sign an affidavit published in the LDS October 1, 1842 Times and Seasons stating that Joseph did not practice polygamy.  Pointing to the above-mentioned D&C 101:4 scripture, these witnesses claimed the following:

“…we know of no other rule or system of marriage than the one published in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants.”

Nope. Quote the rest of it, please.

We the undersigned members of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and residents of the city of Nauvoo, persons of families do hereby certify and declare that we know of no other rule or system of marriage than the one published from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and we give this certificate to show that Dr. J. C. Bennett’s “secret wife system” is a creature of his own make as we know of no such society in this place not never did. [Emphasis added]

This was not, in fact, an affidavit “stating that Joseph did not practice polygamy.” It is an affidavit disavowing “Dr. J.C. Bennett’s ‘secret wife system,” i.e. the “spiritual wifeism” I described earlier, which was a flimsy pretext for adultery and antithetical to the principle of plural marriage as practiced by Joseph.

The problem with this affidavit is that it was signed by several people who were secret polygamists or who knew that Joseph was a polygamist at the time they signed the affidavit. In fact, Eliza R. Snow, one of the signers of this affidavit, was Joseph Smith’s plural wife.

She was also, if some sources to be believed, on the receiving end of John C. Bennett’s predatory “spiritual wife” advances. She would have every legitimate reason to come out in full force of Dr. Bennett’s gross distortion of the principle of plural marriage.

In addition, the fact that 31 witnesses could make this statement with a clear conscience undermines your implication that they saw a conflict between the predatory seduction they were denouncing and the principle of plural marriage they were practicing.

Joseph and Eliza were married 3 months earlier on June 29, 1842. Two Apostles and future prophets, John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff, were very aware of Joseph’s polygamy behind the scenes when they signed. Another signer, Bishop Whitney, had personally married his daughter Sarah Ann Whitney to Joseph as a plural wife a few months earlier on July 27, 1842; Whitney’s wife and Sarah’s mother Elizabeth  (also a signer) witnessed the ceremony.

So if this was such a blatant lie, why did no one object? Are we to assume that all of these people were as blithely dishonest as you suggest Joseph Smith was? The far more plausible explanation the idea that this affidavit was denouncing a practice that they believed was wholly inconsistent with the doctrine they were then living.

What does it say about Joseph Smith and his character to include his plural wife and buddies – who knew about his secret polygamy/polyandry – to lie and perjure in a sworn public affidavit that Joseph was not a polygamist?

It says that you have unwittingly misinterpreted this affidavit as perjury when it was not.

Now, does the fact that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy and polyandry while lying to Emma, the Saints, and the world about it over the course of 10+ years prove that he was a false prophet?  That the Church is false?  No, it doesn’t.

Well, that’s mighty big of you, but it’s also a distortion of reality. Joseph practiced no polyandry – sealings, no marriage, no sex. You really have no idea what he told Emma. No question he was less than fully honest in discussing the practice with the world, but the fact that he still attempted to reconcile honesty with concern for the safety of the Saints speaks well of him.

Also, 10+ years is really stretching it. He was first married to a plural wife in late 1835/early 1836, and he was dead by 1844, so nine years is the best you can do. Given that almost all of Joseph’s practice of the doctrine took place in the two-and-a-half years of his life, that’s an unsustainable accusation.

What it does prove, however, is that Joseph Smith’s pattern of behavior or modus operandi for a period of at least 10 years of his adult life was to keep secrets, be deceptive, and be dishonest – both privately and publicly.

Is a bishop or stake president who refuses to discuss the private confession of an adulterer in public being secretive, deceptive, and dishonest? If you ask a bishop directly if Brother So-and-So had an affair, would he be wrong to try and find some way to deflect the question to protect the sanctity of the confidentiality to which he is bound? Should we applaud a bishop who blabs about such private matters because that bishop is being honest?

This is a line I have had to walk in my own family. Having been involved as a bishopric member in administering disciplinary councils, I learned things about my fellow ward members about which I cannot speak or even hint to own wife. When such things come up in passing, I try not to be dishonest, but I definitely do everything I can to skirt the subject. Does this make me a liar? By your definition, yes. From my perspective, I’m trying to balance the value of honesty with the value of protecting those who trust me to keep things confidential.

Just as I do not deny that polygamy is strange and even troubling, I think it is impossible for any remotely objective observer to deny that Joseph believed it to be the will of God, and that he practiced plural marriage as a religious principle, not as a vehicle for sexual predation. As such, he felt duty bound to keep such matters confidential in the same spirit that church leaders today do not publicize the confessional discussions they have with church members.

It’s when you take this snapshot of Joseph’s character and start looking into the Book of Abraham, the Kinderhook Plates, the Book of Mormon, the multiple First Vision accounts, Priesthood restoration, and so on that you start to see a very disturbing pattern and picture.

When you apply a single lens colored with a blanket assumption of dishonesty, then of course every pattern is disturbing. You’re like the citizens of the Emerald City who wear green glasses so that everything looks green. (That doesn’t happen in the movie, but it’s in the book.)

You’ve been unable to objectively demonstrate dishonesty in the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, the Book of Abraham, or the multiple – and consistent – First Vision accounts. All you’ve been able to do is show your own assumption of dishonesty in instances that are often based on your own misunderstandings and not the facts.

Do you really think this approach is exclusive to Joseph Smith?

If you assume from the outset that Martin Luther King or Gandhi were fundamentally dishonest (they both had extramarital affairs about which they lied), or that George Washington was inherently wicked (he owned other human beings), or that Barack Obama is a bloodthirsty killer (he ordered the murder of Osama bin Laden), then every perception of these largely decent and upstanding men is tainted, and they can do nothing right.

What’s truly disturbing to me is that every time it’s possible to give Joseph the benefit of the doubt, you choose not to grant it to him. In fact, you choose to interpret all of his actions in as harsh a light as possible. I think it would be wise to readjust your snapshot.


Warren Jeffs is more closely aligned to Joseph Smith Mormonism than the LDS Church is.

Sorry to be crude, but this is like saying rape and marital intimacy are essentially the same thing.

How many of Warren Jeffs’ relationships were sealings, not marriages, with no sex? As repeatedly mentioned above, Joseph had no sexual relations with underage girls and was therefore no pedophile, and he had sealings/no marriage/no sex with any other men’s wives and was not an adulterer. The only new accusation in here is that Joseph, by marrying women who were related to each other, was in violation of the Law of Moses, a law fulfilled by the coming of Christ that we are no longer commanded to live. I’m not sure, but I’m willing to bet Joseph ate shellfish on occasion, too, which, under the Mosaic law, constitutes “an abomination.” (Leviticus 11:12.) One more thing you can use to pile on, Jeremy.

But enough of my yakkin’. What else do the unreliable and inflammatory folks at Mormoninfographics.com have to say?

many wives

Again, we’re just retreading all the same ground here – so many of these are not sexual relationships and not even marriages, and simply repeating the same accusations graphically is kind of tedious, albeit a bit more colorful. Saying the same thing over and over doesn’t make it more true.

Interesting, however, that the graphic identifies Fanny Alger as a “housekeeper” and not a “foster daughter,” which is how you erroneously described here earlier. I do concede, however, that the (irrelevant) dream about Emma Smith poisoning Desdemona Fullmer is a nice touch if your goal is to think as poorly of Joseph Smith as is possible, which seems to be the purpose here. Context suggests that the recounting of the dream, which Fullmer recounted in 1868 when the Utah church was deeply suspicious of Emma, was more of an attempt to smear the RLDS folks than indict Joseph. Perhaps we should forgive her for such a slight, as Fullmer remained faithful throughout her life.

Tomorrow: Brother Brigham

CES Reply: Even More Abraham!

Note: I’ve stopped posting a explanation at the top of these CES Reply posts, but that seems to be creating some confusion. So, for the record, this is an excerpt from my “Reply from a Former CES Employee,” which was written in response to Jeremy Runnells’  “Letter to a CES Director.” This is a line-by-line response, with Jeremy’s original words in green.


The following is a side-by-side comparison of what Joseph Smith translated in Facsimile 3 versus what it actually says according to Egyptologists and modern Egyptology:

Facs abe 3

Oh, boy. Kevin Mathie again. Haven’t we beaten this dead horse long enough? All the stuff I said about Facsimiles 1 and 2 applies here, too.

I’ll add this comment about Facsimile 3 from a Mormon Egyptologist John Gee, who has degrees from Berkeley and a doctorate in Egyptology from Yale. Yeah, he’s a Mormon, so you’ll write him off, but surely his opinion should carry equal weight with a specialist in orchestral and hybrid music.

Here’s what Gee had to say:

“Facsimile 3 has always been the most neglected of the three facsimiles in the Book of Abraham. Unfortunately, most of what has been said about this facsimile is seriously wanting at best and highly erroneous at worst. This lamentable state of affairs exists because the basic Egyptological work on Facsimile 3 has not been done, and much of the evidence lies neglected and unpublished in museums. Furthermore, what an ancient Egyptian understood by a vignette and what a modern Egyptologist understands by the same vignette are by no means the same thing. Until we understand what the Egyptians understood by this scene, we have no hope of telling whether what Joseph Smith said about them matches what the Egyptians thought about them.”

Why should I presume John Gee is wrong and Kevin Mathie is right?

3. Egyptologists state that Joseph Smith’s translation of the papyri and facsimiles are gibberish and have absolutely nothing to do with what the papyri and facsimiles actually are and what they actually say. Nothing in each and every facsimile is correct to what Joseph Smith claimed they said.

Nothing? How can you say that when even your own graphics above say otherwise? Four corners of the earth. God on his throne. Two bullseyes in Facsimile #2 that Joseph couldn’t possible have arrived at on his own. There are many, many others that Mormons have found, but since they’re Mormons, you can dismiss them ad hominem along with their very credible arguments, many of which can be found here.

Just saying they’re not there doesn’t make them go away.

Also, just to nitpick, I don’t think the word “gibberish” means what you think it means. The primary definition of “gibberish” is “unintelligible or meaningless speech or writing.” Joseph’s writing on this subject is both intelligible and meaningful. Even if it is incorrect, it’s certainly not “gibberish.”

Facsimile 1:

1. The names are wrong.

Not if the names are representative of an earlier interpretation of these symbols than the one Kevin Mathie is using.

2. The Abraham scene is wrong.

Not at all. You’re wrong to assume that the scene is consistent with other couch table scenes when it demonstrably is not, as most persuasively evidenced by the presence of a live body on the table and not a sarcophagus.

3. He names gods that are not part of the Egyptian belief system; of any known mythology or belief system.

For this to be definitively wrong, you would have to conclusively prove that these names didn’t exist. Since you can’t prove a negative, your assertion here is meaningless. (And, anyway, Mormons have found persuasive evidence of antiquity in these names, as seen here.)

Facsimile 2:

1. Joseph translated 11 figures on this facsimile. None of the names are correct as each one of these gods does not even exist in Egyptian religion or any recorded mythology.

What on earth do you mean he “translated” 11 figures? As mentioned earlier, art doesn’t “translate” the same way text does. No, Joseph presents the figures as they appear on the papyrus and offers names for them that you presume can be proven not to exist, despite the logical impossibility of proving negatives. You’re also presuming that symbols remain constantly and consistently interpreted over the course of thousands of years, which is rarely, if ever, the case.

2. Joseph misidentifies every god in this facsimile.

Good thing we have a non-Egyptological member of ASCAP who got it right, then, right? In a fallacious argument from authority, which is all you’re really offering here, shouldn’t the Mormon Egyptologist trump the non-qualified critics?

Facsimile 3:

1. Joseph misidentifies the Egyptian god Osiris as Abraham.

My theory is that he was originally Abraham, and that he was later misidentified by Egyptians as Osiris, much in the same way View of the Hebrews mistakes Quetzalcoatl for Moses. (See? Misappropriation of symbols. It happens even with non-Mormons, too!)

2. Misidentifies the Egyptian god Isis as the Pharaoh.

Same deal as above.

3. Misidentifies the Egyptian god Maat as the Prince of the Pharaoh. 


4. Misidentifies the Egyptian god Anubis as a slave.

Wait a minute. That guy’s Anubis? Isn’t Anubis the one with the jackal’s head in all your non-Facsimile 1-resembling couch scenes? Why does this Anubis look nothing like the other Anubises? He looks like an ancient Ed Grimley with that weird spurt of hair sticking out of his head.  Fact is, this interpretation, like all of the interpretations you offer, are far from definitive.

5. Misidentifies the dead Hor as a waiter.

What if he’s really Quetzalcoatl?

6. Joseph misidentifies – twice – a female as a male.

What if they’re just lovely men?

Sorry to be so flippant, but you’re presuming definitive interpretations of these figures where none exist. (See the quote from John Gee, above.)  If they did, you’d have a more credible source for them than Kevin Mathie.

4. The Book of Abraham teaches a Newtonian view of the universe.

Wholly incorrect. Sir Isaac Newton’s major contribution to our understanding of the nature of the universe was to advance heliocentrism – the idea that the earth revolves around the sun – definitely disprove geocentrism; i.e. the idea that everything in the universe orbits the earth. Yet the Book of Abraham has no mention of earth or anything else revolving around the sun. Rather, the text suggests that Abraham thought geocentrically, with planets and stars arranged in tiers “above” the earth, and everything cosmologically is compared to its relationship with the earth, implying a geocentric model, which was un-Newtonian as it is possible to be.

Yet even this is supposition. Neither geocentrism or heliocentrism is explicitly offered as a cosmological framework in the Book of Abraham. Simply asserting that the book is “Newtonian” cannot be sustained by any evidence from the book itself.

Its Newtonian astronomy concepts, mechanics, and models of the universe have been discredited by 20th century Einsteinian physics.

Given that the Book of Abraham offers no Newtonian astronomy concepts, mechanics, or models, your statement here is worthless.

What we find in Abraham 3 and the official scriptures of the LDS Church regarding science reflects a Newtonian world concept.

Really? Where? Please show your work. This statement is wholly false.

The Catholic Church’s Ptolemaic cosmology was displaced by the new Copernican and Newtonian world model, just as the nineteenth-century, canonized, Newtonian world view is challenged by Einstein’s twentieth-century science.

Also, the movie “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” featured the debut of the song “Puberty Love.” That fact is as relevant to a discussion of the Book of Abraham as your recitation of the history of physics.

Keith Norman, an LDS scholar, has written that for the LDS Church, “It is no longer possible to pretend there is no conflict.”

Keith Norman? Am I supposed to know who he is?

Your A-Team of LDS scholars consists of a lawyer who did some fundraising for a private archeological group (Thomas Ferguson), the guy in charge of the animated Killer Tomatoes series (Boyd Kirkland), the musical director for the Salt Lake Acting Company (Kevin Mathie), and now this Keith Norman guy, whose entire contribution to LDS scholarship seems to consist of a couple of articles written for Dialogue and Sunstone almost thirty years ago. The idea that his opinion represents a definitive deconstruction or even an accurate representation of LDS cosmology is more than a little silly.

Those troubled by Mr. Norman’s assertions would do well to read the whole article, to which you do not provide a link. In the piece, Norman himself is quite self-effacing and readily concedes that his academic credentials and skills are not up to the task of providing anything more than his personal speculation on this subject. “Astronomy has always held a fascination for me, but my mathematical abilities are awaiting the Millennium for development,” he says. (Norman’s degree is in early Christian studies, not any hard sciences.) Later, he admits he only has “a superficial knowledge of what has been going on in theoretical physics in this [the 20th] century. I can presume to offer no more than that, as I am still struggling with books on the subject written for the layman.”

He also qualifies his observations about Mormon cosmology with a concession that no cosmological framework in LDS theology has “ever [been] systematized,” which means that any conflicts he observes are only with his own personal theories of what that cosmology is. And right after he writes the sentence you quote above re: the conflict between cosmology and doctrine, he writes this sentence:

Given the dynamic nature of Mormon theology, and the mechanism of progressive revelation in accordance with our capacity to receive, such a reconciliation [between cosmology and doctrine] is by no means far- fetched.

He also offers no evidence that the Book of Abraham teaches a Newtonian view of the universe. He cites the B of A only once. Here’s the reference in its entirety:

The astronomical assertions in the Pearl of Great Price may indicate that God rules within our own galaxy, the Milky Way: “Kolob is set nigh unto the throne of God, to govern all those planets which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest” (Abr. 3:9; cf. facsimile 2, esp. fig. 5). Does each God have his and her own galaxy or cluster of galaxies?

A good question, and one that in no way undermines the cosmology of the Book of Abraham. Correct me if I’m wrong, but your proof-texting of Norman’s article suggests you didn’t actually read it before you cited it.

Norman continues: “Scientific cosmology began its leap forward just when Mormon doctrine was becoming stabilized. The revolution in twentieth-century physics precipitated by Einstein dethroned Newtonian physics as the ultimate explanation of the way the universe works. Relativity theory and quantum mechanics, combined with advances in astronomy, have established a vastly different picture of how the universe began, how it is structured and operates, and the nature of matter and energy. This new scientific cosmology poses a serious challenge to the Mormon version of the universe.”

Again, you’re presuming more than Mr. Norman himself does. There is no definitive “Mormon version of the universe” in cosmological terms, and Norman is only offering a personal theory of what that version is, frankly conceding he is unqualified to do so with any academic authority. And none of this has any bearing on the presence or absence of Newtonian physics in the Book of Abraham, an issue Norman doesn’t address at all.

Many of the astronomical and cosmological ideas found in both Joseph Smith’s environment and in the Book of Abraham have become out of vogue, and some of these Newtonian concepts are scientific relics. The evidence suggests that the Book of Abraham reflects concepts of Joseph Smith’s time and place rather than those of an ancient world. – Grant Palmer, An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, p.25

Quite the opposite. The Book of Abraham implies geocentrism, which would have been right at home in the ancient world and entirely alien to Joseph Smith’s time and place. Citing specific examples of any supposed “scientific relics” from the book would be helpful. The reason neither you nor Palmer actually cites them is that they just aren’t there.

5. 86% of Book of Abraham chapters 2, 4, and 5 are King James Version Genesis chapters 1, 2, 11, and 12. Sixty-six out of seventy-seven verses are quotations or close paraphrases of King James Version wording. – An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, p.19

The Book of Abraham is supposed to be an ancient text written thousands of years ago “by his own hand upon papyrus.” What are 17th century King James Version text doing in there? What does this say about the book being anciently written by Abraham?

This is just a reprise of the same issue you raised in your issues with Book of Mormon translation, and, once again, you demonstrate a fundamental ignorance of the relationship between an original text and its translated version. A modern translator’s word choices say nothing about the antiquity of a given text, and, absent copyright issues, there is nothing sinister about translators relying on existing translations of similar material to guide them in their translation.  When the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, he quoted from the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, which was the most modern version then available. What does this say about the Old Testament as an ancient document? Nothing whatsoever.

Also, never forget that when King James Bible translated the KJV between 1604 and 1611, they were occasionally put their words into the text to make reading more English. (Note: That previous sentence was how Google Translate rendered one of Jeremy’s statements when translated from English to Hebrew and then back to English again.)

6. Why are there anachronisms in the Book of Abraham? Chaldeans? Egyptus? Pharaoh?

These look more like legitimate translation choices than actual anachronisms.

Re: Chaldeans: Abraham was born in Ur of the Chaldees, and so it’s not surprising that he also refers to his land as “Chaldea” and its inhabitants as “Chaldeans.” It’s clear from the text that the use of the term “Chaldeans” has reference to people from Ur, not people from the nation of Chaldea that came along much later. How else should Abraham have described the people from Ur of the Chaldees? Chaldeesians? Ur-ites?

Re: Egyptus: Prepublication versions of the B of A manuscript refer to Egyptus as “Zeptah,” which is similar to the chronologically appropriate and non-anachronistic “SЗt-Ptḥ,” which can be rendered in a Latinized version as “Egyptus.” This independent etymology actually strengthens the case for the Book of Abraham’s ancient origins.

Re: Pharoah: The fact that Egyptians didn’t use the word Pharoah to describe their kings until later than Abraham would have written his book doesn’t – and shouldn’t –  preclude a translator from using the commonly understood word in a modern translation.

7. Facsimile 2, Figure #5 states the sun receives its “light from the revolutions of Kolob.” We now know that the process of nuclear fusion is what makes the stars and suns shine. With the discovery of quantum mechanics, scientists learned that the sun’s source of energy is internal, and not external. The sun shines because of thermonuclear fusion; not because it gets its light from any other star as claimed by the Book of Abraham.

This one inspired me to set up a class action lawsuit against Stevie Wonder for his song “You Are the Sunshine of my Life” because, contrary to his scientifically inaccurate lyrics, the sunshine of his life is actually a product of thermonuclear fusion.

The comment on Figure #5 reads as follows:

Is called in Egyptian Enish-go-on-dosh; this is one of the governing planets also, and is said by the Egyptians to be the Sun, and to borrow its light from Kolob through the medium of Kae-e-vanrash, which is the grand Key, or, in other words, the governing power, which governs fifteen other fixed planets or stars, as also Floeese or the Moon, the Earth and the Sun in their annual revolutions. This planet receives its power through the medium of Kli-flos-is-es, or Hah-ko-kau-beam, the stars represented by numbers 22 and 23, receiving light from the revolutions of Kolob.

The phrase “is said by the Egyptians” ought to be a clue that this is a description of an Egyptian metaphor, not a literal scientific treatise. In other words, when we say “the sun rises in the East,” those words convey a valuable metaphorical meaning, even though they’re not at all scientifically accurate. The sun, of course, is well beyond the boundaries of the four cardinal directions, and it is the earth’s relative movement, not the sun’s, that accounts for this scientifically indefensible concept of “sunrise.”

On the other hand, I don’t see any reason why thermonuclear fusion couldn’t be a key component of “the medium of Kae-e-vanrash.”

Tomorrow: Abraham – The Finale!


CES Reply: The First Vision (Part II)

3. In the 1832 account, Joseph said that before praying he knew that there was no true or living faith or denomination upon the earth as built by Jesus Christ in the New Testament. His primary purpose in going to prayer was to seek forgiveness of his sins.

4. In the official 1838 account, Joseph said his “object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join”…”(for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong).”

This is in direct contradiction to his 1832 First Vision account.

Two issues raised here. One is the idea that in 1832 he says he already knew that all churches were false before praying, while in 1838 he said that “it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong,” which you posit constitutes a direct contradiction between the two accounts.

The other issue is Joseph’s purpose for praying – in 1832 he says it is to get his sins forgiven, while in 1838 he says it is “to know which of all the sects was right.”  You insist that this, too constitutes a direct contradiction between the two accounts.

To adequately respond to the first issue, I think it’s helpful to begin by addressing the second issue and then circling back to the first with some additional context under our belts.

In the case of “Forgiveness of Sins v. Which Church is True,” FAIR and others maintain that this supposed discrepancy can be explained by the fact that Joseph, in fact, had two distinct items on his agenda when he knelt down to pray – 1. Which Church is the right one? and 2. As long as you’re at it, can I also get my sins forgiven while I’m here? As much as I respect FAIR, I don’t think that’s the right answer.

To understand why, we must, of course, turn to the uncorrelated wisdom of “Seinfeld.”

In the 130th Seinfeld episode titled “The Calzone,” which originally aired on April 25, 1996, Elaine makes a bet with a character named Todd Gack, with a free dinner put forward as the stakes. Todd says that Dustin Hoffman appeared in the movie “Star Wars;” Elaine says that’s nonsense. Elaine, of course, is correct, so she wins the bet, which means that Todd has to buy her dinner. Over the course of the episode, we learn that Todd has a system of making stupid bets with women in order to get them to go out with him without actually having to ask them for dates.

Todd Gack’s admittedly brilliant system is irrelevant to our discussion, but the “Star Wars” bet is not.

Even with a free dinner at stake, the impact of the bet’s outcome on Elaine’s life is insignificant. It’s a simple academic question, an empty exercise in curiosity. And the impact it has on her eternal salvation? None whatsoever.

True, even without a free dinner at stake, people engage in meaningless pop culture arguments like this all the time, sometimes getting quite heated about them. (“What do you mean Justin Timberlake was in NSYNC, you moron? Everyone knows he was one of the Backstreet Boys!”) But Google now provides instant resolution for most of them, and while the loser in the disagreement may be miffed for a moment or two, such incidents are, under most circumstances, quickly forgotten. (Although Justin Timberlake was, in fact, in NSYNC and not the Backstreet Boys. Google it if you don’t believe me.)

Turning back to the First Vision, saying that Joseph Smith had two different items on his agenda when he went to pray is to reduce the question about the which church is right to the equivalent of the status of Dustin Hoffman’s Jedi pedigree. Joseph wasn’t asking an academic question of idle curiosity; it was a question whose answer could be the difference between heaven and hell. Never mind dinner; in Joseph’s mind, his soul was at stake.

You see that in all of Joseph’s firsthand accounts. “[M]y mind become seriously imprest with regard to the all importent concerns of for the wellfare of my immortal Soul,” he wrote in 1832. “I considered it of the first importance that I should be right, in matters that involve eternal consequ[e]nces;” he wrote in 1835. “My mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness… my feelings were deep and often poignant… What is to be done?” he wrote in 1838. “I began to reflect upon the importance of being prepared for a future [i.e. eternal] state,” he wrote in 1842.

These are different words, to be sure, but there’s no mistaking the commonality of their underlying meaning. I believe that all these accounts show that Joseph’s deepest desire was to know what he had to do to be saved. That was the one and only item on his agenda in the Sacred Grove.

The question he asked, then, about which church he should join tells us about young Joseph’s theological assumptions. It’s clear in all accounts that salvation and church membership were inextricably linked in his mind. Even in 1832, where he doesn’t specify what question he asked the Lord before his sins were forgiven, he goes on at great length about his concern for the error he sees in all the churches. If they could travel back in time, many modern religionists would counsel young Joseph that a relationship with Christ and forgiveness of sins can happen without belonging to any church whatsoever, but that possibility doesn’t seem to occur to Joseph, nor would it have been likely to occur to anyone in the early 19th Century. Christ without a church in 1820? Who could imagine such heresy? Certainly not an illiterate farmboy who, at that point, had no inkling what the Lord had in store for him.

Why, then, did he ask which church to join? Because he thought he needed to belong to church to be saved from his sins. In Joseph’s mind, “which church is the right one” and “how can I get my sins forgiven” were variations on the same theme, and only minor variations at that. Rather than show inconsistency, the two accounts are remarkably united in their depiction of Joseph’s concern for his soul and his assumptions about what was necessary to save it.

So with that understanding, the apparent contradiction about whether or not he had decided that all the churches were wrong prior to praying becomes far less problematic. The 1832 account spends more time detailing the specific problems with all the churches than the 1838 account, indicating that Joseph still believed in the importance of joining a church to gain access to the atonement. True, he doesn’t explicitly say that any church membership is necessary, but he didn’t have to – those reading his account in 1832 would have had the same assumptions, and neither Joseph or his audience would have even considered the modern/post-modern idea of an effectual Christian life outside the boundaries of organized religion. Even if all the churches were wrong to one degree or another, surely Joseph would still have felt it necessary to join the best one – or the “most correct” one, to borrow a phrase from earlier in your letter and later in his life.

The other interesting thing about Joseph’s 1838 statement that “it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong” is that, if you apply the kind of legalistic standard necessary to make those words some kind of indefensible contradiction of the 1832 account, you would then have to say they are also a contradiction of what he had to say just eight verses earlier in the 1838 account.

Verse 10 of Joseph Smith History:

In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it? [Emphasis added]

What? He had previously considered the possibility that the churches could be “all wrong together?” But doesn’t he say just eight short verses later that “it had never entered into [his] heart that all were wrong?” Doesn’t this prove your point?

No, it reveals your assumptions, which are incorrect.

You approached this with the unspoken and unchallenged assumption that if the First Vision were true, every account of that vision would have to identical, or at least close to identical, which is seldom, if ever, how people recount similar events over long spans of time. Furthermore, you erroneously assumed Josephs’s accounts would have to conform with your own modern understanding of religious culture that are at odds with the culture in which Joseph found himself. No reader in 1832 would have read Joseph’s emphasis on forgiveness of sins in that account as any kind of contradiction with a desire to know which church to join. They “knew,” or assumed, anyway, that forgiveness of sins couldn’t happen outside the boundaries of a church.

So how does one reconcile JSH 1:10 with JSH 1:18? The key phrase, I think, is “entered into my heart.” He had clearly intellectually considered the possibility all churches were in error in verse 10 (and in the 1832 account,) but the idea doesn’t really sink in – i.e. enter into his heart – until verse 18. I think all of us have had this experience – things happen that we choose not to believe even when we get the information, but we don’t allow our intellectual knowledge to “enter into our hearts.” I’m betting you probably had a similar experience in researching church history – you’d stumble upon a distressing fact and say to yourself “That can’t be true!” and, after a period of struggle, and perhaps even mourning, there finally comes acceptance. It enters in to your heart.

When that happens, we can all identify with Amulek from the Book of Mormon, who once said of his own testimony, “I knew concerning these things, yet I would not know.” (Alma 10:6)

Make up your mind, Amulek! Did you know or didn’t you know?! That’s a direct contradiction!

5. Other problems:

The dates / his ages: The 1832 account states Joseph was 15 years old when he had the vision in 1821 while the other accounts state he was 14 years old in 1820 when he had the vision.

You are correct. Joseph’s incorrect age was written in by Frederick G. Williams as a marginal note above Joseph’s handwriting in the 1832 account. There’s no reason to assume it’s anything other than an honest mistake. If you’re expecting infallibility in the 1832 account, you’re in serious trouble. The grammar alone in that thing is truly atrocious.

The reason or motive for seeking divine help – Bible reading and conviction of sins, a revival, a desire to know if God exists, wanting to know which church to join – are not reported the same in each account.

Not to be rude, but this is a truly bizarre complaint with some very strange assumptions. In which account, for instance, does Joseph claim that he went into the woods to pray solely because of a revival? He also mentions his birthplace in both the 1832 and 1838 versions. Should this be interpreted as a claim that he was seeking divine help because he was born in Vermont? Because he left out his birthplace in the 1835 and 1842 versions, should we then presume that he couldn’t really have been born in Vermont because this was not “reported the same in each account?”

You act as if these elements, all of which come into play at different times in the overall story, are all completely unrelated non sequiturs – in a previous version of your letter, you said they were “all over the map.” No, “all over the map” would be one version where Joseph prayed because he was dared to by Hyrum, and another where he prayed because he thought that it would help him find buried treasure, and yet another where he thought prayer was the only way to ward off elephants. (Another mention of elephants! Could it be mere coincidence?)

Your elements aren’t all over the map; they’re all part of the same map, or at least different maps covering the same territory. Revivals lead to Bible reading, which leads to a desire to know more about God, which leads to a conviction of sins, which leads to a desire to know which church to join to be forgiven. All steps on the same journey; all plot points on the same map. True, some accounts/maps don’t have all the same plots pointed in the other accounts/maps, but all the points are consistent across the accounts. The fact that different maps drawn at different times don’t look like photocopies of each other shouldn’t be surprising at all. Your map of the “lands of Joseph Smith’s youth” don’t have all the same points on them that other maps of the same territory do. Does that make either of those maps contradictory or fraudulent? Does it mean that Jacobsburg doesn’t really exist?

Who appears to him – a spirit, an angel, two angels, Jesus, many angels, the Father and the Son – are all over the place.

Nonsense. One account only explicitly mentions one personage, and another mentions as an afterthought that angels were there, too. That’s the sum total of any differences. Hardly all over the place.

The historical record shows that there was no revival in Palmyra in 1820. There was one in 1817 and there was another in 1824.

That may be why none of Joseph’s First Vision accounts mention a revival.

There are records from his brother, William Smith, and his mother Lucy Mack Smith, both stating that the family joined Presbyterianism after Alvin’s death in November 1823 despite Joseph Smith claiming in the official 1838 account that they joined in 1820; 3 years before Alvin Smith’s death.

You’ll have to provide links to such records, as I can find no sources that offer any date whatsoever as to when the Smiths became Presbyterians. Even Joseph is vague on this point –  the 1838 account only says that Joseph’s family were Presbyterians as of 1820, not that this was the year that they joined. In fact, Joseph’s statement to his mother right after the First Vision that he had learned for himself that Presbyterianism was not true would suggest that the Smith family’s Presbyterian affiliation preceded the First Vision.

Why did Joseph hold a Trinitarian view of the Godhead, as shown previously with the Book of Mormon, if he clearly saw that the Father and Son were separate embodied beings in the official First Vision?

He didn’t. As shown previously in my reply, the Book of Mormon does not demonstrate that Joseph Smith held a Trinitarian view of the Godhead.

Like the rock in the hat story, I did not know there were multiple First Vision accounts.

This implies that the Church must have been actively withholding this information from you, which is demonstrably false. It was readily available for anyone interested in the subject. If I could find it on my mission from an Ensign in the late 1980s, it wasn’t hard to find.

I did not know its contradictions or that the Church members didn’t know about a First Vision until 22 years after it supposedly happened.

They didn’t? Even though Joseph began writing about it 12 years after it happened, was having documented conversations about it with non-members 15 years after it happened, and wrote a lengthy history of it 18 years after it happened that was later canonized as scripture?

I was unaware of these omissions in the mission field as I was never taught or trained in the Missionary Training Center to teach investigators these facts.

Facts aren’t the issue; your assumptions are. The facts as you taught them in the mission field are consistently represented in all four of these accounts. Yet you assume that all four accounts need to be identical, or near identical, to be accurate. If I apply that standard to my own missionary journal and my blog, I would have to conclude that most of my mission probably didn’t happen.

And then we have your graphic:

FirstvisionAgain, sorry to be so dismissive, but this graphic is irredeemably stupid.

To begin with, you have been discussing four accounts of the First Vision, but only three of them are represented by this graphic, which ignores the 1842 account in the Wentworth Letter. Instead, we suddenly get a mention of “Joseph to Erastus Holmes” in 1835, a nine-world journal entry written five days after the previous version cited in the graphic where Joseph, in his journal, made a passing reference to the experience as his “first visitation of angels.” Apparently, even in an off-handed reference own journal, he had to describe every element of the vision in order to demonstrate that it had actually happened. Given that he had, in fact, recorded all those elements in his journal just five days earlier, the obvious explanation here is that he didn’t feel the need to repeat himself in such a terse entry. By that reasoning, every time Joseph would have mentioned the vision in conversation even in passing, he’d be contradicting himself.

This graphic also maintains that Joseph didn’t mention the Father or the Son in the Nov. 9 1835 account. Even though two personages appear and the second forgives his sins the way that “the Lord” did in the 1832 account, we’re to assume these were only “angelic beings” and not the Father and Son because Joseph didn’t specifically label them here as “Father” and “Son.” But in the same text, after describing the two personages, Joseph goes on to say “and I saw many angels in this vision” as an addendum. Wouldn’t that suggest that the two identified personages were something other than angels? Isn’t it Christ who forgives sins? This graphic is trying to manufacture a contradiction that doesn’t exist.

Perhaps the pettiest distinction made in this goofy graphic is that Joseph included mention of a pillar of “fire” in some versions, but a pillar of “light” in others. Both words appear in the 1832 version, but the word “fire” is crossed out, suggesting Joseph was uncertain as to which would be the better word to use. The 1838 account uses “light” and not “fire,” yet it describes the light as “above the brightness of the sun,” which, in scientific terms, means “pretty darn bright – fiery, even!”

This is a meaningless distinction. It’s a writer choosing between two very similar words, not conspiratorial evidence of fraud.

Tomorrow: The Book of Abraham

CES Reply: The Joseph Smith Translation

This is an excerpt from “A Reply from a Former CES Employee.” The entire document can be downloaded for free.

Download CES Reply


This is a line-by-line response to Jeremy Runnells’ “Letter to a CES Director: Why I Lost My Testimony.” Jeremy’s words are in green, the color of life, while mine are in black, the color of darkness.


I’ll now let you state your third question in full without interrupting.

3. The Book of Mormon includes mistranslated biblical passages that were later changed in Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible. These Book of Mormon verses should match the inspired JST version instead of the incorrect KJV version that Joseph later fixed. A typical example of the differences between the BOM, the KJV, and the JST:

3 Nephi 13:25-27:

  • 25:  …Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye 
shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, 
and the body than raiment? 

  • 26:  Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap nor gather into barns; 
yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? 

  • 27:  Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? 

Matthew 6:25-27 (from the King James Version Bible – not the JST):

  • 25:  Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye 
shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, 
and the body than raiment? 

  • 26:  Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into 
barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? 

  • 27:  Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? 

The above Sermon on the Mount passages are identical, which is understandable as Christ may have said the same thing to both groups of people in the Old world as well as the New world. Let’s look at the JST version of the above identical passages:

Joseph Smith Translation of the same passages in the LDS Bible for Matthew 6:25-27:

  • 25:  And, again, I say unto you, Go ye into the world, and care not for the world: for the 
world will hate you, and will persecute you, and will turn you out of their synagogues. 

  • 26:  Nevertheless, ye shall go forth from house to house, teaching the people; and I will go 
before you. 

  • 27:  And your heavenly Father will provide for you, whatsoever things ye need for food, 
what ye shall eat; and for raiment, what ye shall wear or put on. 

Christ’s Sermon on the Mount in the Bible and the Book of Mormon are identical. Joseph Smith corrected the Bible. In doing so, he also corrected the same identical Sermon on the Mount passage in the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is “the most correct book” and was translated a mere decade before the JST. The Book of Mormon was not corrupted over time and did not need correcting. How is it that the Book of Mormon has the incorrect Sermon on the Mount passage and does not match the correct JST version in the first place?

To answer your question, I think we have to define some terms. The first is the idea that the Book of Mormon is “the most correct book.” The second is the concept of translation as it specifically relates to the JST. We’ll take them both in turn.

The idea of “the most correct book” comes from Joseph Smith’s famous statement on the subject, which reads as follows:

I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.

Fair enough. But what does that mean, exactly?

Throughout your letter, you return to this phrase repeatedly, as if it’s somehow a claim of Book of Mormon inerrancy, when, in fact, it’s precisely the opposite. If the Book of Mormon is the “most correct” book, that means that all other books, to one extent or another, are less correct, and therefore contain a degree of error. But it also a clear admission that the Book of Mormon itself also contains error. Joseph Smith does not state that the Book of Mormon is “entirely correct,” or “always correct,” or “the perfectly correct book.” He is offering a comparison rather than issuing an ultimatum. If the Bible and other books were only, say, 2% correct, and the Book of Mormon were 3% correct, it would still be “the most correct” under those circumstances, even if 97% of it were incorrect. (I personally don’t think the Bible is only 2% correct or that the Book of Mormon is only 3% correct; I’m pushing this to an extreme to illustrate the point.) The comparison highlights the fact that, while no religious texts are perfect, the Book of Mormon is the best of the lot.

It’s also necessary to define what Joseph Smith, and those who quote him, actually mean when they say the Book of Mormon is “correct” in any respect – least, most, or otherwise. How comprehensively should we interpret that adjective? Is it more correct than, say, Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” on the subject of black holes? No, the Book of Mormon doesn’t even mention black holes, so Hawking’s book is demonstrably more scientifically correct than the Book of Mormon. Okay, then is the Book of Mormon the most grammatically correct of any book on earth? It clearly isn’t, although I don’t know what book would be. (“Hey, Bob, you really ought to read Hobos in Love by Floyd Burgermeister. It’s a terrible story, but it’s the most grammatically correct of any book on earth.”)

In the context of the original statement, it’s clear Joseph is talking about the “precepts” that the Book of Mormon teaches and nothing else. In other words, if you’re looking to learn godly precepts while you’re stranded on a desert island, and you’re only allowed to have one book with you, then you ought to choose the Book of Mormon, as it’s your best bet for drawing closer to God. Science, grammar, spelling, penmanship – the correctness of any of those elements don’t come into play at all. To insist that they do is to push a tortured legalistic interpretation of Joseph Smith’s simple statement and distort his intent.

Now let’s turn our attention to the Joseph Smith translation of the Bible, which is unlike the KJV translation or most other biblical translations in that it was not the transfer of religious text from language to another. Joseph loosely tossed the word “translation” around to describe a number of different processes, some of which were definitionally similar to what the KJV translators did, but many, indeed perhaps most, of which were not.  The production of the JST was performed by a “translation” method that was, by all accounts, not that kind of translation at all.

In “translating” the Bible, Joseph read the English KJV text and then recorded revelations that he received in doing so. Large passages of text from the JST have no extant ancient text from which they were derived, nor did Joseph claim to have those ancient texts in his possession, although he did suggest that many such revelations were representations of ancient texts that had been lost. The most obvious example is the Book of Moses, which was revealed to Joseph during his “translation” of Genesis, despite the fact that, as far as we know, he never saw the original text of the Book of Moses. Joseph would refer to this as a translation and insist that what he had written were indeed the words of Moses, but this process did not require him to read ideas in one language and find the proper words for them in English, which is what traditional translators do.

So, equipped with these two freshly-defined premises, let’s return to your question. You seem concerned that the JST is “correcting” the KJV and the Book of Mormon, a book Joseph described as “the most correct.” But there’s absolutely no reason to see the JST language as “correcting” anything in the Book of Mormon. The precepts stated in the B of M version of the Sermon on the Mount are still correct precepts. The JST simply offer additional information that supplements rather than corrects the original information, just as the Book of Moses doesn’t replace Genesis but, rather, adds to it.

Actually, you could make a case that the JST is “correcting” the KJV, since the KJV version offers a general application for the “take no thought what ye shall eat” principle, while the JST suggests that this was advice specific to the apostles, not the general church membership. But the irony, here, is that this is identical to the precepts put forward Book of Mormon.

In your question, you use an ellipsis when you quote 3 Nephi 13:25, which would lead a casual reader to assume that 3 Nephi 13:25 is identical to Matthew 6:25. It isn’t. You left out a very important part.

Here’s 3 Nephi 13:25 in full:

And now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words he looked upon the twelve whom he had chosen, and said unto them: Remember the words which I have spoken. For behold, ye are they whom I have chosen to minister unto this people. Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?

So it turns out the Book of Mormon directs this passage to the apostles and not to the church membership at large and therefore departs from the KJV in precisely the same way the JST does, only it does so using different language. Thus the JST isn’t correcting the Book of Mormon at all; they’re both saying the same thing.

And if you’re going to be intellectually consistent, I don’t think you can complain that the same ideas are being expressed in different language, when your initial objection to the Book of Mormon is its inclusion of identical language to translate the same ancient text.

Tomorrow: DNA and Book of Mormon anachronisms

Guest Post: Were the Lamanites Werewolves?

Today’s post comes from Siegfried Goodfellow and is reposted with permission. It’s bizarre, wonderful, and kind of brilliant.


Werewolves, Lamanites, and Grendel : Oh My!

an investigation into possible crosscurrents between

Germanic mythology and Mormon folklore

Germanic mythology provides a comparative perspective from which to take a fresh look at what the Book of Mormon has to say about the Lamanites, a tribe of difficult opponents who act as adversaries to the more virtuous Nephites. In particular, Germanic mythic documents about werewolves attest to a time in the beginning ages of this earth when human beings became corrupted and produced a race of half-men, half-monsters. This becomes our starting point for reexamining the nature of the Lamanites.

In Chapters 121 – 122 of De Origine Actibusque Gothorum, Jordanes tells us that a certain rex Gothorum, “King of the Goths”, repperit in populo suo quasdam magas mulieres, quas patrio sermone “haliurunnas” is ipse cognominat, easque habens suspectas, de medio sui proturbat longeque ab exercitu suo fugatas in solitudinem coegit errare. Quas spiritus immundi per heremum vagantes quum vidissent et earum se complexibus in coitu miscuissent, genus hoc ferocissimum ediderunt, quae fuit primum inter paludes, minutum, taetrum atque exile quasi hominum genus, nec alia voce notum nisi quod humani sermonis imaginem assignabat, “discovered in the midst of his people certain female sorcerors who in the ancestral speech are called “haljurunnas” [death-whisperers (ie., cursers)], and suspecting the presence of evil in them, he drove them out of the community, driving them into exile a long way off from his army, and forcing them to wander in the lonely wilderness. When foul and evil spirits saw them wandering through the wastelands, they mingled with their embraces in sexual intercourse, giving birth to ferocious offspring, who live especially in the swamps, adiminished, foul, offensive, ugly, swarthy, and poor (or emaciatedkind of human being, with different kinds of voices not recognizable unless one assigned it a certain likeness to human speech.” (Translation from my Alda Aldr, a thorough documentation of the “Ages of Men” compiled across Germanic mythic documents.)

The key word here is taetrum, meaning hideous, abominable, ugly, offensive, foul, shocking, loathsome, as well as minutum, meaningdiminished.

The great Norse eschatological poem Voluspa tells the tale of how an evil sorceress brought curses and enchanted men into the forms of monsters, disrupting the Golden Age at the beginning of time. Voluspa 22 : Heiði hana hétu, hvars til húsa kom, völu velspá, vitti hon ganda, seið hon hvars hon kunni, seið hon hugleikin, æ var hon angan illrar brúðar/ þjóðar, “Heid was she called, when she came to houses, that prophetess of fraudulent visions, she bewitched monsters/serpents/wolves, she enchanted whomever she could, she bewitched their minds with strife, ever was she the sweet-savor of ill women/nations”. Note how Jordanes’ account and Voluspa’s account naturally harmonize. In Voluspa, Heid has particularly warped “ill women”, while in Jordanes, there are female sorcerors who become responsible for producing foul offspring. In Voluspa, it speaks of the sorceress Heid enchanting whomever she could and bewitching them into wolves and other sorts of monsters, such that strife and conflict became their only way of life. Volsungasaga has an account of these kinds of werewolves.

Nú er það eitthvert sinn að þeir fara enn á skóginn að afla sér fjár en þeir finna eitt hús og tvo menn sofandi í húsinu með digrum gullhringum. Þeir höfðu orðið fyrir ósköpum því að úlfahamir hengu í húsinu yfir þeim. Hið tíunda hvert dægur máttu þeir komast úr hömunum. Þeir voru konungasynir. Þeir Sigmundur fóru í hamina og máttu eigi úr komast og fylgdi sú náttúra sem áður var. Létu og vargsröddu. (Volsungasaga 8.) “Now it happens that one time they were faring into the forest to win themselves wealth when they found a house and two men sleeping in the house with big golden rings. They had words of unshaping (ill fate : a curse) over them such that wolf-skins hung in the house over them. Every tenth day they were able to come out of the skins. They were the sons of kings. Sigmund and Sinfjotli went into the skins and were not able to come out, and followed that nature they had before, and they let out a wolf’s voice (howl).”

What was that “nature”? finnur Sigmundur sjö menn og lætur úlfsröddu. Og Sinfjötli heyrir það, fer til þegar og drepur alla. …Og er Sinfjötli hefir eigi lengi farið um skóginn, finnur hann ellefu menn og berst við þá og fer svo að hann drepur þá alla. (Ibid.) “Sigmund found seven men and let out the wolfs-howl. And Sinfjotli heard that, and went at once and killed them all … And when Sinfjotli had fared but a short ways into the forest, he found eleven men and fought against them and it fared so that he killed them all.”

They are cursed with wolfskins out of which they cannot escape, which make them ferociously savage and bloodythirsty, able to kill dozens of men.

Now compare the account in the Book of Mormon to these unnatural werewolves, cursed to live in dark, wolfish skins. The Book of Mormon is claimed to be the collected chronicles of an offshoot of the Jewish people who left Jerusalem for America, but it was translated or transliterated or in some special way interpreted by Joseph Smith, a young man who was from a family of cunning men and treasure-seekers. In fact, the means with which he interpreted the gold or brass plates he claimed to have found was with a seer stone. We should therefore see this “translation” as more of a spiritual process akin to a scrying operation, that would have activated the archetypes implicit in his folkloric mind. As his folkloric cultural tradition ultimately came out of Europe, a Europe replete with werewolf tales, we must at least consider the possibility these may have formed unconscious archetypal backdrops to his spiritual interpretation process.

One will note the recurring descriptions of the Lamanites in bold below : they were cursed, they had a skin of blackness come upon them, they had dwindled in size due to unbelief, were considered loathsome, filthy, abominable, ferocious, bloodthirsty, wilderness-wanderers, who were greedy for riches gained through murder, robbery, and plunder, because they did not care to work for themselves to produce such wealth. All of this is due to their iniquity, their hardness of heart, and their evil-doing. However, despite all these characteristics, it was still prophecied that there was a chance for their redemption whereby in time they might lose their skins of blackness and become a blessed people.

It has heretofore been assumed that “skin of blackness” referred to a change in pigmentation and that therefore the Lamanites might be comparable to other races with darker skin, such as Africans or Native Americans. But anyone who has studied werewolf folklore knows that inevitably it is the donning of a wolf skin or pelt that brings about the lycanthropic change, and indeed, the idea of “shifting skins” is a common motif in shamanic journeys involving some form of shapeshifting into animals. A “skin” therefore does not by any means refer to the natural human epidermis, but may refer to a coat, a fur, a pelt, or some other covering, particularly of a charmed or magical variety. This is confirmed not only in explicit mythology, but even in the witch trials, where some persons believed to be werewolves were brought to trial, and they testified to their own beliefs in this regard, and how they felt compelled to go on killing sprees, whether this was of cattle or even human beings. It should be noted that Black Wolves, or Canis lycaon,can have extremely black pelts. When one considers how bloodthirsty and ferocious werewolves were considered to be folklorically, and how bloodthirsty and ferocious the Lamanites were considered to be, serious consideration should be given to the interpretation that the “skin of blackness” was nothing other than a werewolf pelt that deformed these people and their offspring into a cursed, lycanthropic race. Nevertheless, there was a possibility they could be restored to virtue.

Similarly, in the time of Scyld (the great patriarch of the Teutonic folk, so named for that he proved a shield or protection to his people, particularly through his creation of a law code), Saxo Grammaticus reports (in Book One of his Gesta Danorum, History of the Danes) that there were people who had degenerated, becoming morally depraved and wild (perditam), and who had lost their sense of restraint and self-control through idle or luxurious habits, whom he caused to regrasp their virtue and worth through painstaking, industrious working of the land. (Idem perditam et enervam vitam agentes continentiamque luxu labefacere solitos ad capessendam virtutem rerum agitatione sedulus excitabat.) The type of man indicated here is further described when Saxo says in his time there were observed in the land complures … fortitudinis pugiles, “many fighters of great strength”, whom Scyld was forced to meet in single combat. Indeed, Scyld’s career as a young man was inaugurated when he confronted a gigantic bear and was able to wrestle and bind him with his belt, and Saxo tells us this was considered an augury of the course of his entire life. It may very well be that this was no natural bear, but the first encounter with one of these were-animal types bewitched by Heid. The robbers and fighters he meets up with in his career thus fall into this category. What’s significant is that in Saxo’s account, like in the Book of Mormon, there is some kind of hope envisioned for these people. Scyld puts them to work, obviously as thralls — also described as loathsome and ugly and strong in Rigsthula — so that they can “grasp their virtue” through this worthy work, and we can see that the account that they had lost their sense of self-restraint through luxurious or idle habits matches what the Book of Mormon says, which is that the Lamanites turned to robbery and plunder because they had inordinate greed for riches, but were unwilling to work for them. The natural remedy would be to put them to work, to get them back in the habit of being productive individuals. Just as the Lamanites seem to pass their curse onto their children — yet this can be countered and overcome by virtue — so unfortunately the first generation of werewolves were unable to purge themselves of their foul nature, for there continued recidivism. Saxo says Primus rescindendarum manumissionum legem edidit, servi, quem forte libertate donaverat, clandestinis insidiis petitus, “(Scyld) was the first to annul to the law of manumission that he had (originally) spread out, when a thrall, whom he had by chance given his liberty, attacked him in a secret ambush.” In other words, Scyld had provided for these thralls working off their crimes to be eventually freed, but seeing that recidivism made those so freed to continue in their assaults and plots, he had to annul that plan for the time being. However, he did try to heal them of their deformations and injuries. Aegros fomentis prosequi remediaque graviter affectis benignius exhibere solebat, “He was in the habit of bringing solace to the sick and infirm, and to giving medicines to the seriously impaired out of his bounty.” As Saxo also attests that Scyld paid off people’s debts out of the communal treasury, it may be that this included the debts wracked up by fines for criminal behavior, and this could have been part of his original manumission program. Healing was possible, obviously, but it might take more than one generation. Similarly, over time, the Lamanites might be able to be missionized to become more virtuous.

This does not require us to posit that the Lamanites were literally werewolves within the context of the story — although given the presence of Giants and other creatures in the Old Testament, I think we should not dismiss this possibility too quickly — but may have been a wolfish people who might as well have been werewolves, and who therefore could be spoken of in the metaphoric terms of a werewolf, having a pelt of blackness thrown over them. In Old Norse, outlaws were called vargs, wolves. While at one point in the distant past, this may actually have matched folkloric beliefs about lycanthropy, at the time we encounter it in the literature, it certainly had more of a metaphoric content. Similarly, if Norse/Germanic mythology tells us there was a time when people became werewolves, does this require of us to think of this in literal terms? Of course not. It makes a better action adventure story that way, and mythology thrives on translating metaphorical or spiritual truths into action adventures that people can enjoy, particularly because such imagery is more striking and tends to stay in the memory, but the important point about Scyld’s time in the ancient days is that people started acting more greedy, ferocious, and bloodthirsty towards each other, such that they were acting like wolves. (And is it possible that just as Jordanes speaks of the “diminishment” of these corrupted men, and Rigsthula speaks of the thralls as if they were almost humpbacked, and The Book of Mormon describes the Lamanites as “dwindled”, that the word might be an unconscious creative neologism from “the lame man”, ie., men wounded by their sins? I put this forward as creative speculation rather than serious assertion.)

Another theory that had some circulation in Joseph Smith’s day, particularly amongst Baptists, was the so-called “two seed” or “Serpent-seed” theology, an idea that went back to the Gnostics, and is attested in some Kabbalistic writings(The Zohar also propagates this “two seed” or “serpent seed” theology. “On the side of Cain are all the haunts of the evil species; from the side of Abel comes a more merciful class, yet not wholly beneficial – good wine mixed with bad.”), but was championed by Daniel Parker in the early to mid 1800s. Parker was a Primitive Baptist who formed an offshoot sect, the “Two-Seed-In-The-Spirit” Predestinarian Baptists. This theology held that Eve “received the Serpentine nature” in Parker’s words when she gave into his temptation to eat of the fruit. This reception of the “Serpentine nature” actually included “the Serpent’s seed”, the “seed of Satan”, that competed alongside and within her with the “Elect seed”. Parker, in his “Treatise on the Two Seeds”, from which these quotes are taken, compared Eve with Mother Earth. Just as Mother Earth was made by the curse to produce thorns and thistles, poisonous matters, alongside her beautiful green coat of spring, with all her nutrifying grains and fruits, so Eve carried tares or thistles within her seed as well. He posits, basing himself on 1 John 3 : 12, where it says that Cain “was of that wicked one”, that Cain was the offspring of the Serpent seed, whereas Abel was the offspring of Eve’s own nature, and therefore of the Elect. He argues that there is a “manifest enmity between the two seeds”, which is enacted in Cain’s killing of Abel. He calls upon Jesus’ parable of the tares and the wheat as referring to these two different seeds in humankind when Jesus says, “the good seed are the children of the kingdom, but the tares are the children of the wicked one.” Thus, Satan had brought “forth a set of beings” who were “directly from the fountain of iniquity”. Through this, Satan had “engraved his image in their hearts”, an interesting statement, as Adam and Eve had originally been created in God’s image, and thus with God’s image engraved in their hearts, so to speak. But here appears a competing image written right on the heart. Parker argues that these two seeds do not manifest abstractly as two competing qualities, but actually incarnate as two different kinds of people, the Elect and the Non-Elect, and those who have inherited Satan’s seed – for there is a strict dichotomy here separating the two, as one inherits one or the other — are prone to idolatry, whoredom, and the sword, due to “the Serpent’s fury”. He references Genesis 5 : 1-3, where Cain is not listed amongst the “generations of Adam, in the day God created man”, and this list is after a genealogy of Cain is listed, implying that these are two different lines.

Parker insists on this dichotomy to the point that he argues that missionary activity amongst the Non-Elect is useless, as they cannot be turned. He even considers every sect not of the Baptists to be of the Non-Elect Serpent Seed! So in this particular theological twist, Parker is different from either the Book of Mormon, or Scyld’s enthralling of the werewolves, because both of the latter believed in the possibility of redemption. But the condemnation of the multiple sects against the one true sect Parker does share in common with Joseph Smith, who, confused by the multiple denominations, sought out what might be the true teaching. It’s significant to note that in contrast to Parker, in Smith’s material, the “bad seed” are very much redeemable.

But this tradition did not originate with Parker, as it had sunk down such deep folkloric seeds as to find reflection in the Beowulf poem, where Grendel is spoken of as being of Cain’s kindred. Beowulf, 100-114 oð ðæt án ongan / fyrene fremman féond on helle / wæs se grimma gaést Grendel háten /maére mearcstapa sé þe móras héold / fen ond fæsten fífelcynnes* eard /wonsaélí wer weardode hwíle /siþðan him scyppend forscrifen hæfde / in Caines cynne þone cwealm gewræc / éce drihten þæs þe hé Ábel slóg / ne gefeah hé þaére faéhðe ac hé hine feor forwræc / metod for þý máne mancynne fram / þanon untýdras ealle onwócon / eotenas ond ylfe ond orcnéäs / swylce gígantas þá wið gode wunnon/ lange þráge, “Until one began to commit crimes, a fiend from hell, a cruel and fierce enemy called Grendel, a nightmare wanderer in the desolate borderlands, he who held the moors, fen and fortress, dwelling of the monster-kindred, that joyless man guarded for a time, since him fate had cut out dooms, in Cain’s kindred ; that death he avenged, eternal Lord, when he slew Abel, he didn’t exult in their feud, for he banished him far away, fated for his crime from mankind ; from thence terrible offspring all sprung forth, etins and elves and sea-monsters, in other words giants who struggled against God a long time.” Although the official story in the Bible states that all of Cain’s offspring were killed in the flood, oral stories and folklore for a long time alleged that some of them survived, and we can see here especially in this Old English tradition, that the drowned giants of Cain’s kindred were transformed into sea-monsters. Other traditions have Noah’s son Ham inheriting much of this legacy (and therein lies a terrible tale of slavery and seeking justification in old stories), such that Old Irish glosses on the Bible have the Formorians — the monstrous opponents of the fairy-like Tuatha de Danaan — being either the descendants of Ham or of Cain. These represent attempts to graft old heathen lore into a new Christian context. But you see the theme of the “bad seed” of Cain being passed down in the form of these monsters and men-become-monsters.

(*See Voluspa 51 : fara fíflmegir með freka allir, “fare all the sons of the monster/fool with the wolf”, and it is said that Byleist’s brother — Loki — travels with them. In fact, he’s steering the ship. Fiflmegir may here mean “sons of the fool”, the fool being Loki. They are either Loki’s sons or his grandsons, if it means sons of the monstrous wolf ; in any case, they are in Loki’s kin and related to the Wolf. If they are children of Fenris, they are indeed in a Werewolf clan. Fiflmegir in Voluspa and fifelcynnes in Beowulf are thus identical, and all related to Fenris, who by his very name, lurks in the fens and swamps. There is a gloss on fifel that translates to “marine monsters”, which would be a good word for these monsters of the swamps. It would also connect nicely to the subaltern but authentically folkloric tradition that the Sons of Cain who survived the flood had transformed into sea-monsters.)

Grendel lives on nicera mere, “in the sea-monsters’ sea”, in a fenfreoðo, “marshy sanctuary”, wód, “wading”, of móre under misthleoþum, “over the moors under the misty shelters”. Being of the fens and swamps, he in turn connects to the foul, offensive offspring of the Heliurunna witches spawned in the swamps in Jordanes’ account. In fact, Beowulf speaks of “death-whisperers” or “hel-runes” in direct relation to Grendel, attesting to a linguistic continuity, but not a conscious allusion, to the Heliurunnas in the Jordanes’ text. Beowulf 161 – 165 : seomade ond syrede sinnihte héold / mistige móras men ne cunnon / hwyder helrúnan hwyrftum scríþað. / Swá fela fyrena féond mancynnes / atol ángengea oft gefremede, “He [Grendel] hung about and plotted, and in perpetual night held the misty moors ; men do not know whither death-whisperers (helrunan) go when they wander. So many crimes that foe of mankind, the terrible lone-walker, oft committed.” Here we have the swamps, the runes of hel, the predatory relationship. Fens or swamplands have specific implications in Germanic myth, because that is where the Great Wolf, or the Werewolf of Werewolves, the Fenris Wolf, gotten on Loki by Angrboda-Gullveig (Heid) comes from, and for which he is named. His name might be translated “Wolf of the Swamp”. This in turns connects to folkloric werewolf activity, because people accused of being werewolves in the witch trials, who openly admitted to a self-belief in this regard, spoke of having to pass through some kind of wetland to go down into hell on their ecstatic journeys. That wetland might be a swamp or a river or even a sea, but the idea of there being a wet place that must be passed through in a journey between worlds is common to many of these testimonies. Grendel’s mother is spoken of in the Beowulf poem in ways very reminiscent of Heid, and probably represents either the same figure in a different guise, or a very similar cognate figure, and thus Grendel by association is drawn into the circle of beings around Fenris, and thus takes part, at least by proxy, in the werewolf phenomenon.

And like a wolf, Grendel is extremely bloodthirsty and violent. He’s a mánscaða manna cynnes, “terrible scather of mankind”, grim ond graédig, “grim and greedy”, réoc ond réþe, “savage and terrible”, capable of seizing and preying upon thirty men at a time — just as the werewolves in Volsungasagahave the ability to take out dozens of opponents at once. He is wælfylle, “full with the abundance of slaughter”, and skilled in gúðcræft, “war-craft”. Hegefremede / morðbeala máre ond nó mearn fore, “committed disastrous murder, and never regretted it”, for faéhðe ond fyrene wæs tó fæst on þám,“feud and crime was too strong with him”. Beowulf 151 – 156 : Grendel wan / hwíle wið Hróþgár heteníðas wæg / fyrene ond faéhðe fela misséra, / singále sæce sibbe ne wolde / wið manna hwone mægenes Deniga, / feorhbealo feorran, féa þingian, “Grendel contended a long while against Hrothgar, inflicting enmity, crimes and feuds for many years [in fact, over ten years!], continuously fighting, he willed no kindness with any man of Danish kin, nor withdrew from life-harm, nor settled with payment.”

Grendel fits hand in glove with Jordanes’, Saxo’s, Voluspa’s, and Volsungasaga’s traditions, the bloodthirsty savage from the wolfish fens who partakes of a corrupted lineage. This folkloric strata continued at the peasant level through European history, as the witch trials concerning werewolves continued to attest. Often invoking the wolf pelt, such men who believed themselves werewolves saw themselves as subject to this transformation for various lengths of time, which subjected them, whether good or not — because some werewolves claimed to be on the side of good (which might connect them in archaic days to Odin’s wolves rather than Heid’s wolves) — to various ferocious behaviors, particularly attacking cattle and other domestic animals. All of this forms a matrix out of which it is possible Smith unconsciously drew upon when he was interpreting the material that eventually became The Book of Mormon.

It may be that these two strands of mythic tradition, the Germanic and the Mormonic, may have no inherent relation to each other, although again attention should be given to the connective tissue of folklore as inherited by a cunning-man family such as the Smiths in the possible unconscious and archetypal interpretation of the plates Joseph Smith was working with ; but in any case, even if there is no inherent relation, it may still very well be that at an archetypal level, these two strands illuminate each other and fill each other out. Instead of being seen in racial terms, the Lamanites ought more constructively to be seen as a lineage of men who gave themselves over to the monstrous, and suffered from terrible deformities, but whom, in time, hold a promise of redemption. Similarly, the thralls in Norse tradition represent the remnant of a group of people transformed to werewolves who became predators upon their fellow tribespeople, and who the great archetypal lawgiver Scyld made to work off their crimes, and who may, someday, be finally redeemed of the inner traces of their original curse. The themes of corruption, recidivism, and eventual hopes of restoration run throughout the long arc of these stories.

Here are the attestations in the Book of Mormon :

1 Nephi 12:23: “And it came to pass that I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full ofidleness and all manner of abominations.”

2 Nephi 5:24: “And because of their cursing . . . they did become an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety, and did seek in the wilderness for beasts of prey.”

Enos 1:20 : “And I bear record that the people of Nephi did seek diligently to restore the Lamanites unto the true faith in God. But our labors were vain; their hatred was fixed, and they were led by their evil nature that they became wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, full of idolatry and filthiness; feeding upon beasts of prey; dwelling in tents, and wandering about in the wilderness with a short skin girdle about their loins and their heads shaven; and their skill was in the bow, and in the cimeter, and the ax. And many of them did eat nothing save it was raw meat; and they were continually seeking to destroy us.”

Mosiah 10:12: “They were a wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, believing in the tradition of their fathers. . . .”

Alma 17:13–14: “And it came to pass when they had arrived in the borders of the land of the Lamanites, that they separated themselves and departed one from another, trusting in the Lord that they should meet again at the close of their harvest; for they supposed that great was the work which they had undertaken. And assuredly it was great, for they had undertaken to preach the word of God to a wild and a hardened and a ferocious people; a people who delighted in murdering the Nephites, and robbing and plundering them; and their hearts were set upon riches, or upon gold and silver, and precious stones; yet they sought to obtain these things by murdering and plundering, that they might not labor for them with their own hands.”

Helaman 3:16: “And they have been handed down from one generation to another by the Nephites, even until they have fallen into transgression and have been murdered, plundered, and hunted, and driven forth, and slain, and scattered upon the face of the earth, and mixed with the Lamanites until they are no more called the Nephites, becoming wicked, and wild, and ferocious, yea, even becoming Lamanites.”

Mormon 5:15: “And also that the seed of this people may more fully believe his gospel, which shall go forth unto them from the Gentiles; for this people shall be scattered, and shall become a dark, a filthy, and a loathsome people, beyond the description of that which ever hath been amongst us, yea, even that which hath been among the Lamanites, and this because of their unbelief and idolatry.”

2 Nephi 5 : “20 Wherefore, the word of the Lord was fulfilled which he spake unto me, saying that: Inasmuch as they will not hearken unto thy words they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. And behold, they were cut off from his presence.

21 And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.

22 And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities.

23 And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done.

24 And because of their cursing which was upon them they did become an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety, and did seek in the wilderness for beasts of prey.

25 And the Lord God said unto me: They shall be a scourge unto thy seed, to stir them up in remembrance of me; and inasmuch as they will not remember me, and hearken unto my words, they shall scourge them even unto destruction.”

1 Nephi 12:23: “And I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people.”

2 Nephi 30 : “6 And then shall they rejoice; for they shall know that it is a blessing unto them from the hand of God; and their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a pure and a delightsome people.”

Jarom 1 :6 : “And they were scattered upon much of the face of the land, and the Lamanites also. And they were exceedingly more numerous than were they of the Nephites; and they loved murder and would drink the blood of beasts.”

Jacob 3 : “5 Behold, the Lamanites your brethren, whom ye hate because of their filthiness and the cursing which hath come upon their skins, are more righteous than you; for they have not forgotten the commandment of the Lord, which was given unto our father—that they should have save it were one wife, and concubines they should have none, and there should not be whoredoms committed among them.

6 And now, this commandment they observe to keep; wherefore, because of this observance, in keeping this commandment, the Lord God will not destroy them, but will be merciful unto them; and one day they shall become a blessed people.

7 Behold, their husbands love their wives, and their wives love their husbands; and their husbands and their wives love their children; and their unbelief and their hatred towards you is because of the iniquity of their fathers; wherefore, how much better are you than they, in the sight of your great Creator?

8 O my brethren, I fear that unless ye shall repent of your sins that their skins will be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought with them before the throne of God.

9 Wherefore, a commandment I give unto you, which is the word of God, that ye revile no more against them because of the darkness of their skins; neither shall ye revile against them because of their filthiness; but ye shall remember your own filthiness, and remember that their filthiness came because of their fathers.”

Alma 26 : “ 23 Now do ye remember, my brethren, that we said unto our brethren in the land of Zarahemla, we go up to the land of Nephi, to preach unto our brethren, the Lamanites, and they laughed us to scorn?

24 For they said unto us: Do ye suppose that ye can bring the Lamanites to the knowledge of the truth? Do ye suppose that ye can convince the Lamanites of the incorrectness of the traditions of their fathers, as stiffnecked a people as they are; whose hearts delight in the shedding of blood; whose days have been spent in the grossest iniquity; whose ways have been the ways of a transgressor from the beginning? Now my brethren, ye remember that this was their language.

25 And moreover they did say: Let us take up arms against them, that we destroy them and their iniquity out of the land, lest they overrun us and destroy us.”


all translations by me