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 First Vision (Part I)

First Vision Concerns & Questions: 

“Our whole strength rests on the validity of that [First] vision. It either occurred or it did not occur. If it did not, then this work is a fraud. If it did, then it is the most important and wonderful work under the heavens.”
– Gordon B. Hinckley, The Marvelous Foundation of Our Faith

I have sympathy for a number of your issues, as some of them I found troubling when I first learned about them, too. But for the life of me, I cannot empathize with any degree of concern about the different accounts of the First Vision. I don’t know when I discovered that there were different accounts, as the information was completely untroubling to me.

I think it may have been on my mission, because we repeatedly showed the movie “The First Vision,” complete with Joseph throwing a handful of seeds in the air, and the narration of the movie drew from both the 1838 account and the 1842 Wentworth Letter, and I wanted to know where the non-1838 language had come from. This was in a pre-Internet world, and I would only have had access to official church stuff. I found an article, probably in the Ensign, that compared the accounts, and my reaction was along the lines of, “Oh, okay. So that’s where that stuff came from.” It didn’t occur to me that I should find this the least bit troubling. (It may be the 1832 account wasn’t in that piece – that’s the only one with anything that could be taken as a significant contradiction with the other accounts. We’ll get to that when you do later in your letter.)

You’ve heard the standard apologetic line, I’m sure – i.e. Joseph was writing for different audiences and therefore emphasizing different elements of the same experience – but to drive this point home in a way that would feel less like a FAIR article, I wanted to personalize it a bit.

I’ve been writing a blog for almost nine years now – has it really been that long? Wow! – and I cover a wide variety of topics. The Church comes up, of course, as do politics and pop culture, along with esoterically weird topics like the identity of William Shakespeare. (I believe William Shakespeare was a pseudonym of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. Please don’t hold that against me.)

Yet over the course of almost a decade, on only one occasion on my blog have I recorded a “mission story” from beginning to end. I did it early in the blog’s history – the first week, in fact. The story is not one of earth-shaking significance. I just think it’s pretty funny, and, to me, it illustrates the daily sorts of absurdities that missionaries have to deal with, and it humanizes my mission experience in a way I find delightful. Yes, it’s light and silly, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve told it over the years in all kinds of settings – in many conversations, in Sunday School lessons, even from the pulpit. It makes for a great icebreaker before talking about truly spiritual things – a good joke to tell before you get into the meat of your talk.

So here’s the story, as I recorded it online on August 19, 2007, a little more than 18 years after these events take place:


A Religious Treatise

A Sunday blog entry requires some deep religious treatise, which calls to mind my Mormon missionary days in the land of Scotland lo these many years ago. I was training a new missionary in the paradise known as Drumchapel, a Glasgow slum where a guy sold drugs out of his sweetie van and the nighttime sky was aglow with flames from burning cars in the middle of the street. Needless to say, it was a pretty rough area, and the church building was right in the worst part of town. Missionaries dreaded being assigned to “The Drum,” and the office had even changed the name of the area to “Milngavie” to soften the blow of being condemned to the gulag of the Scotland Edinburgh Mission. It turned out to be no worse than any other place in Scotland. No matter where I was, the omnipresent rain always soaked me to the bone as I knocked on doors for ten to twelve hours a day. It wasn’t really that cold, but I was always wet, so there was no way to truly keep warm.

One day, my companion and I were invited in to the home of a church member after a long day of slogging through the streets, and he let us sit next to his freshly-lit coal fire in the living room. It was fairly late in the day, and the stifling warmth of the room was intoxicating. It also made it next to impossible for me to keep my eyes open.

We sat and listened patiently as he rambled on and on about something or other, and my mind started to wander. He wasn’t expecting either of us to speak, which was a welcome relief, but I also started to panic as my eyelids started to droop, and once the drooping begins, there’s no way to snap back into full consciousness. There are some techniques that produce some positive results, like tightening your sphincter as hard as you can, but their effects are only temporary. I struggled valiantly to stay alert, but I knew it was a lost cause. I’m not sure if I nodded off completely, but at some point in the middle of the conversation, I felt it necessary to make the following announcement:

“I have a cousin with Down Syndrome.”

I said this apropos of nothing, interrupting the church member in mid-ramble. Everyone in the room stopped and looked at me, which startled me back into the real world. My companion was aghast. I was aghast. It was an entirely inappropriate thing to say, and I wasn’t, at the time, even sure if it was true.

But, on the plus side, at least I was wide awake.


All right, story over.

It just so happens that I anal-retentively wrote in my missionary journal every single day of my mission. My father, at the time, was the president of the company that is now FranklinCovey, so of course I had one of those ubiquitous Franklin Day Planners, which was little more than a glorified page-length calendar in a leather binder. Every day from September 2, 1987 to September 21, 1989 has at least a page-length entry, and some are even longer. I kept a pretty meticulous record which could probably come in quite handy if someone needed to prosecute me for anything I did between late 1987 and late 1989.

So as I tried to think of a response to your First Vision concerns, I thought I’d dig through my journals, specifically the three months in early 1989 when I served my time in the Drum.  I thought it might be helpful to see how the 1989 Jim Bennett and 2007 Jim Bennett recorded the same event in different versions separated by a long period of time.

But here’s the problem: this didn’t make it into my missionary journal at all!

I was genuinely surprised by this. I checked and double-checked, but there’s no hint of the story anywhere. Given how much emphasis I had placed on this story since I’d come home, I couldn’t imagine that this wouldn’t have merited at least a single sentence along the lines of “Almost fell asleep in a member’s house today – yikes!” But as I read the journal, I realize that goofy 1989 Jim Bennett thought that what ought to be recorded more than anything else was his stupid feelings. There are a whole lot of entries where that dumb kid gives whole entries about “Woke up discouraged, but that just told me I needed to exercise more faith. I’m always happier when I trust in the Lord…” blah blah and blah.

I also spend a lot of time bearing my testimony to myself and way way WAY too much time mooning over the girl who dumped me right after I got home. All of that now is completely useless to me.  As I sat there and I read through it, only snippets of actual events pierced the emotional weather report, and, even then, they were usually just catalysts for more emotional navel gazing – “So and so seemed upset with me tonight at the fireside, and I felt intimidated and insecure…” I don’t care what you felt, you dork! What fireside? Why on earth would I waste my time writing about being intimidated and insecure? Why did I think I would want to look back on all my post-adolescent mood swings, all of which sound drearily the same as they’re recorded over the space of twenty-four months? Maybe this wouldn’t have been useful in a court of law after all.

But the absence of this story demonstrates my point. When I tell this story over two decades after it happened, I do so because it constitutes one of my most precious mission memories. But it was so unimportant to me at the time that I didn’t even bother to record it in my meticulous daily journal. Using your logic, you could easily make the case that the story must not have actually happened – if this was such a big deal to me, why is there no written record of it until 2007?

We’ll likely return to this as we move on through your First Vision objections.

2. No one – including Joseph Smith’s family members and the Saints – had ever heard about the First Vision for twelve to twenty-two years after it supposedly occurred. The first and earliest written account of the First Vision in Joseph Smith’s journal was written 12 years after the spring of 1820. There is absolutely no record of a First Vision prior to 1832.

There’s a clear logical fallacy at work here. Specifically, your first sentence in this paragraph is in no way proven by your second and third sentences. Even if 1832 constitutes the first time there’s any written record of the event, that doesn’t mean that no one had ever heard about the First Vision until Joseph finally took pen to paper twelve years after it happened. If all people know is what they have written down, then most of us don’t know anything at all.

So why would there be no written record of the First Vision until 1832? Joseph gives some clear clues on that score in the 1838 account, which is canonized scripture in the LDS Church.

Beginning with Verse 20 of Joseph Smith History from the Pearl of Great Price:

When the light had departed, I had no strength; but soon recovering in some degree, I went home. And as I leaned up to the fireplace, mother inquired what the matter was.

Here it is –  the first opportunity for Joseph to unburden himself of this great secret, and to the person to whom he was closer than anyone else in in the world, the one person more likely than any other to believe his astonishing tale – and what does Joseph do?

I replied, “Never mind, all is well—I am well enough off.” I then said to my mother, “I have learned for myself that Presbyterianism is not true.”

Reticence to share was his initial reaction, which is not at all surprising when we remember that we’re talking about 14-year-old kid here, one who has just experienced something overwhelmingly difficult to process. And events shortly thereafter would make him even more gun-shy about spreading the word.

He finally gets up the courage to tell a Methodist minister about the vision, and the minister blows him off “with great contempt” and makes him feel foolish for sharing it. He soon discovers that talking about the vision brings him nothing but trouble.

Verses 21 and 22:

I soon found, however, that my telling the story had excited a great deal of prejudice against me among professors of religion, and was the cause of great persecution, which continued to increase; and though I was an obscure boy, only between fourteen and fifteen years of age, and my circumstances in life such as to make a boy of no consequence in the world, yet men of high standing would take notice sufficient to excite the public mind against me, and create a bitter persecution; and this was common among all the sects—all united to persecute me.

It caused me serious reflection then, and often has since, how very strange it was that an obscure boy, of a little over fourteen years of age, and one, too, who was doomed to the necessity of obtaining a scanty maintenance by his daily labor, should be thought a character of sufficient importance to attract the attention of the great ones of the most popular sects of the day, and in a manner to create in them a spirit of the most bitter persecution and reviling. But strange or not, so it was, and it was often the cause of great sorrow to myself.

So when bullies are mocking you for talking about seeing God, what do you do? You stop talking about it. Certainly your family stops talking about it. But that doesn’t stop others for making fun of you for it, which, according to Joseph, they did – and some of it even leaked over into records of the time.

There’s a tidbit from The Reflector, a Palmyra newspaper that mocked the Mormons in February of 1831 for claiming that “Smith (they affirmed), had seen God frequently and personally.” Other possible earlier references pop up, too, although they’re more obscure than that. And, really, 1831 is just a year before 1832, so this doesn’t really move the needle much closer to a contemporaneous version. Why didn’t Joseph write something down about it at a time closer to his experience? Where’s the 1821 or 1822 account?

When you ask the question that way, you start to realize how shaky your premise is. The First Vision doesn’t appear in any 1821 or 1822 writings of Joseph Smith because there are no 1821 or 1822 writings of Joseph Smith. Joseph was 15 and 16 in 1821 and 1822, respectively, and he was, by his own description, “an obscure boy… of no consequence in the world” who was “doomed to the necessity of obtaining a scanty maintenance by his daily labor.” He was uneducated and essentially illiterate. He didn’t write anything down because he wasn’t capable of writing.

But those who were mocking and persecuting him weren’t all illiterate. Why don’t we have any contemporaneous accounts from them? After all, don’t most people make note in their journals all the scorn they heap on obscure boys of no consequence in the world? (“Dear Diary: Went back and teased that no-good Joseph Smith again today because he claims to have seen the Father and the Son in a vision, which, as we all know, violates Trinitarian doctrine..”) Don’t newspapers always publish investigative reports of the crackpot theories put forward by teenage day laborers? (Dateline: Palmyra, where obscure 15-year old Joseph Smith, a boy of no consequence in the world, has still not recanted his deistic blasphemies…) It isn’t until 1831 when The Reflector decides to throw in a First Vision-flavored jibe in its list of grievous sins against the Mormons, and the casual way it’s included in a laundry list of Mormon offenses suggests that the charge is nothing new, as if maybe people have been talking about it for a long time.

From 1820 until 1827, when Joseph started making rumblings about golden plates, nobody anticipated that this worthless kid was going to found a major religious movement, so records about him vary between scarce and nonexistent. And prior to 1830, the only written items we have from Joseph are the revelations he received in connection to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. In 1830, he receives a revelation, now D&C Section 20, that there is to be a “record kept,” so that’s probably the first time he gets a sense that maybe he ought to be writing more stuff down.

That revelation also includes this nugget of info in verse 5:

After it was truly manifested unto this first elder[ i.e Joseph Smith] that he had received a remission of his sins, he was entangled again in the vanities of the world;

And when was was it “truly manifested unto” Joseph that he had received a remission of his sins? In the 1832 account, Joseph says this happened when the Lord appeared to him. Quoting Joseph from his 1832 account:

“I saw the Lord and he spake unto me saying Joseph my son thy sins are forgiven thee.”

That would make verse 5 an 1830 direct reference to the First Vision, which negates your contention that there are no references to the First Vision until 1832. The 1838 account actually corroborates the idea in verse 5 that after the vision, Joseph was “entangled again in the vanities of the world.” Rather than contradicting each other, the references and account of the First Vision are actually quite consistent, even though they don’t all reference the whole experience in every account.

So with an 1830 commandment to start keeping a record, Joseph begins the process of recording revelations, but he still doesn’t begin keeping a personal journal until 1832.  And what’s one of the first things he writes about when he begins his personal history? The First Vision. That seems like an entirely reasonable timeline for discussion of the event.

Consider, for instance, that not only were there no written accounts of Joseph’s First Vision prior to 1832, there were no written accounts of anything in Joseph’s personal history. In the 1832 journal entry that constitutes the first account of the First Vision, he also states that he “was born in the town of Charon [Sharon] in the State of vermont North America on the twenty third day of December AD 1805.” Near as I can tell, this is the first time Joseph wrote about the date and place of his birth, and he waited until more than 26 years after the event to do it. So, using your logic, we should therefore presume that no one – including Joseph Smith’s family members and the Saints – had ever heard about Joseph Smith’s birth until 26 years after it supposedly occurred.

Tomorrow: First Vision – Part II

CES Reply: A Rock in a Hat

Book of Mormon Translation Concerns & Questions: 

Unlike the story I’ve been taught in Sunday School, Priesthood, General Conferences, Seminary, EFY, Ensigns, Church history tour, Missionary Training Center, and BYU…Joseph Smith used a rock in a hat for translating the Book of Mormon.

What did they teach you in Sunday School, Priesthood, General Conferences, Seminary, EFY, etc.? In my experience, there was some discussion about the Urim and Thummim, which were, in fact, used during the process, although it’s true that the rock in the hat never came up. But, for the most part, no one really brought up any real specifics about the process, which means that, once again, in the absence of solid information, speculation fills in the gaps. I think each of us had different ideas about the process and never thought to question our assumptions.  I don’t recall hearing any official rejection of the rock in the hat taught in any of the places you cite. And if you did, I would think you’d be able to provide a link to a manual or article that explicitly rejected the rock in the hat idea.

Ironically, the first time I heard the rock-in-the hat story was on my mission, when Joseph Fielding McConkie, son of Bruce R. and grandson of Joseph Fielding Smith, quoted David Whitmer on the subject and claimed that Whitmer didn’t know what he was talking about. Whitmer’s account about the process came decades later, after Joseph Smith’s death, and J.F. McConkie, taking a position he attributed to his father and grandfather, insisted it couldn’t have been that way, because reading words off a seer stone seemingly contradicts D&C 9, which is the only contemporaneous document on the subject that we have. D&C 9 chastises Oliver Cowdery for his translation attempt because he “took no thought save it was to ask” the Lord rather than trying to “study it out in [his] mind.” So if the rock in the hat idea wasn’t widely disseminated, which it wasn’t, it may have been because there was significant disagreement among the Brethren as to its veracity, with President Smith and Elder McConkie on the side that (probably incorrectly) maintained it was nonsense.

(I wish I had some kind of link for you, but I don’t. I do know that J.F. McConkie gave recorded speeches on this that were at one time sold by Deseret Book, but since his passing in 2013, all his stuff is out of print.)

Joseph Smith himself dodged questions about specifics of the translation process, saying only that it was accomplished “by the gift and power of God” and that it “was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the book of Mormon.” That was largely the extent of the official story I heard until the Church published its essay on the Book of Mormon translation.

In other words, he used the same “Ouija Board” that he used in his days treasure hunting where he would put in a rock – or a peep stone – in his hat and put his face in the hat to tell his customers the location of buried treasure.

Those are some other words, all right. How is a stone the same thing as a Ouija Board? Have you ever seen Ouija Boards? They don’t look like rocks in a hat.

He used the exact same method while the gold plates were covered or put in another room or buried in the woods during translating the Book of Mormon. These facts are not only confirmed in Rough Stone Rolling (p. 71-72), by FairMormon here and here, by Neal A. Maxwell Institute (FARMS), but also in an obscure 1992 talk given by Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Update: The Church’s December 2013 essay admits this.

It admits that the translation process included the rock in the hat method, but, contrary to the implication you’re making, it was not the exclusive method. From the Church’s essay:

Nevertheless, the scribes and others who observed the translation left numerous accounts that give insight into the process. Some accounts indicate that Joseph studied the characters on the plates. Most of the accounts speak of Joseph’s use of the Urim and Thummim (either the interpreters or the seer stone), and many accounts refer to his use of a single stone. [Emphasis added]

The fact that both “unofficial” apologists like FAIR, quasi-official apologists like BYU, respected Mormon scholars like Bushman, and entirely official apologists like Elder Nelson openly acknowledge the seer stone in the hat make it hard to argue that the church was actively engaged in “deception,” to use your word. We’ll talk more about it after looking at the pictures you provide.

Book of Mormon translation that the Church portrays to its members:

rock in hat 1

Book of Mormon translation as it actually happened:

Rock in hat 2

Actually, there are a number of inaccuracies in this second group of pics, too. Which hat did he use – the straw hat in the far right, the top hat in the bottom center, or the cowboy hat in the top center? The one on the far left looks like it has some kind of feather in it.

Those are quibbles, of course. The second group of pictures is undoubtedly more historically accurate than the first. Although many of the first group of pics can be interpreted as being consistent with the reports that Joseph, at least occasionally, “studied the characters on the plates.” I especially like the one on the top left, which shows Joseph wearing the breastplate and using the Urim and Thummim, something that witnesses insist was a part of the translation process, at least early on. (Looks weird, though doesn’t it?) But the two showing Joseph and Oliver with the plates in full view are clearly wrong, as all accounts say that the plates were hidden from Oliver’s view at all times during translation. Although I’ve always wondered what resources Oliver had at his disposal when he attempted to translate. Was he only given a stone and a hat? Maybe just his rod, which you complain about later? Wouldn’t it have been likely that he’d insist on having the plates, too? We’ll probably never know how that worked.

Why is the Church not being honest and transparent to its members about how Joseph Smith really translated the Book of Mormon? How am I supposed to be okay with this deception?

You call those paintings “deception?” Brother, you haven’t seen nuthin’ yet. Let me show you some real deception in Mormon art.

Witness “Abinadi before King Noah” by Arnold Friberg, which has appeared in every edition of the Book of Mormon in my lifetime.


I’m pretty sure that just about everything about this picture is wrong, from Abinadi’s ripped physique/six-pack to the weird fez things the priests are wearing, but, especially, to Noah’s pet leopards. Where’d he get the leopards? Aren’t they African? How’d they get to America? How did he domesticate them? Do they share a litter box?

[Note: Since first writing this, I found an interview with Friberg where he states these are jaguars, not leopards, which, alas, undermines my point, as, according to the infallible Wikipedia, jaguars are “the only extant Panthera species native to the Americas.” So Noah could conceivably have had jaguars. Although, really, no, he couldn’t. The Book of Mormon says nothing about jaguars, and people don’t have pet jaguars, even if they’re kings. Again, how did he domesticate them? Do they share a litter box?]

Here’s Friberg’s depiction of Ammon:


Those pecs! Those biceps! Man, they had good gyms back in ancient America, as well as funny looking hats. But guess what? All research we have suggests what they didn’t have is domesticated sheep. In fact, the Book of Mormon never mentions sheep in connection with Ammon, who was defending the kings “flocks,” but never says what animals were in those flocks. In my daughter’s Book of Mormon class at BYU her freshman year, the teacher made a convincing argument that these were flocks of turkeys. Turkeys, of all things! Yet here Friberg paints a bunch of sheep, or, at the very least, the hairiest turkeys I’ve ever laid eyes on.

Or howsabout Friberg’s stripling warriors?


Again with the zero percent body fat! Didn’t the Nephites have access to carbs?

And there’s our friend Helaman, leading his troops on horseback.

Wait a minute. On horseback? As we established earlier, nobody rode a single horse in the Book of Mormon. Nobody rode anything, not even a tapir. And why does Helaman get a horse while making all his troops walk on foot? What a jerk. Fortunately, I’m pretty sure this isn’t how it happened.

And on it goes.

The fact is that religious art has a very long history of inaccuracy, in and out of the church. It’s undeniable, for instance, that a Jewish fellow born just over two thousand years ago in Bethlehem wouldn’t grow up to look anything like this:

heartjesusThis blonde, pale, delicate-featured blue-eyed waif looks more likely to be the lead singer of ABBA than anyone with a drop of Middle Eastern blood in their veins. Yet pictures like this one have been the dominant artistic depictions of Christ for centuries, and long before Joseph Smith came along.

And, to be fair, I don’t think Mormon depictions of Christ do it much better. In every chapel, you can’t help but come face to face with this guy:

mountainjesusI love that he’s standing in front of a background you’d find in a modern photography studio, as if he’s posing for a senior portrait or something.

This seems to be the favored image of Jesus among most Mormons, but I confess I’ve never liked it at all. This doesn’t look like a kind and loving savior to me; it looks like a cross between a young Grizzly Adams and a BYU football player, the kind of guy who would have probably beaten me up back in middle school. Did Jesus work out at Arnold Friberg’s gym, too?

While we’re at it, let’s talk Christmas for a moment. You do realize that every nativity scene on display in every home is terribly, hopelessly, and woefully wrong, right? Mary and Joseph were poor people taking shelter in a dirty, stinky cave they shared with livestock, and they had to put their baby in a filthy pig trough, probably stepping through piles of poop to get there. Every nativity set I’ve seen shows a well-dressed couple in a rustic wooden cabin that’s entirely poop-free.

The Three Wise Men, who are always beatifically swooning over the child as the shepherds stand back in awe, didn’t arrive until at least a year after the birth, and, in fact, we don’t know if there were, in fact, three of them. There may have been two; there may have been a dozen or more. But tradition says three, so that’s how many strike a contorted swooning pose in deceptive plastic figurines that are hauled out of the attic in every Christian home during the month of December. And if your kids are anything like my kids, the figures all get rearranged and stuck in weird places, and maybe Luke Skywalker or My Little Pony end up making an appearance in the stable sometime along the way.

I also want to share a story with you that doesn’t really help my point here, but it does give some insight into where the Brethren are coming from on this.

I once had a meeting with a high-level church employee, and we had a very interesting conversation that included the following story:

It seems that, on one occasion, the Church commissioned an artist to paint a depiction of the First Vision. In this case, the artist did a considerable amount of research, and he determined that, back in the early 19th Century, a 14 year-old impoverished farmboy who went out into the woods to pray would almost certainly have been barefoot at the time. That makes sense – shoes were expensive, after all, and wearing them outside while working crops in the Spring would likely have been ridiculously extravagant and probably uncomfortable to boot.

So the artist painted his shoelessly and historically accurate portrayal of the First Vision, turned it into the Church, and found himself in the center of a controversy he had not anticipated, but which I’m sure you’ve guessed.

The Church wanted to know where Joseph’s shoes were.

The artists began by patiently explaining his research and conclusion, but it didn’t matter. The Church was unwilling to accept the painting as is. They insisted that the artist paint some suitable footwear, and the artist refused. One of the members of the committee suggested a compromise – that Joseph be depicted in a position where his feet would not be visible. The artist was unwilling to do that, either, and he ended up rejecting the commission altogether and withdrawing the painting. I have no idea what happened after that – I don’t know if he left the Church or if he just chalked it all up to experience and sucked it up, but I am interested in the questions this thing raises.

First off, what would I do in this situation? The artist has a point, certainly, but with regard to my relationship with the Church, I doubt this would be the hill I would want to die on. I’d probably just accept the compromise option, paint Joseph with his feet hidden, and recognize that the focal point of the painting shouldn’t necessarily be 19th Century podiatry.

But it has to be asked: why on earth should the Church care? Who are they protecting? What member of the Church is going to be offended by the idea of a barefoot prophet?

This is a problem of cultural groupthink more than deliberate deception.

I once asked a high-ranking mucky-muck on the Church’s Temple Committee why we didn’t see more original, interesting art in temples instead of the prints of prints of Harry Anderson and Del Parson magazine illustrations that you see everywhere else. His answer was that every piece of art that is approved to hang in temples has to go through umpteen layers of committee approval, and particularly with any portrayal of the Savior, it’s almost impossible to get consensus. So that’s why we stick with the tried and true – and boring.

Which is sad, really. Harry Anderson’s paintings are the ones that are used more often than any others, and the guy was a Seventh-Day Adventist! Can’t we rely on homegrown artists for a change?

Back to the main point, which is that religious art isn’t now and, really, never has been about historical accuracy. Like all art, it’s largely about evoking an emotional response by telling a story in a single static image, even if it has to take “artistic license” to do so. An image of Joseph poring over the plates by candlelight is evocative, and it tells a story that helps people feel an emotional connection to the translation process. An image of Joseph with his face in a hat just looks like he’s throwing up.

That’s not to say that excuses the fact that the art you provide is misleading and inaccurate, as it is definitely both of those things. But it’s noteworthy that the only way you can demonstrate that the church has been deliberately deceptive is to produce pieces of art, not actual false statements. Art is seldom, if ever, truly accurate, and every painting of the First Vision has Joseph Smith in shoes.

But if the Book of Mormon itself isn’t infallible, why should we expect Arnold Friberg to be?

The Church, to my knowledge, has never denied the rock in the hat; they’ve just chosen not to talk about it because it’s weird and embarrassing. Like you, I think that’s the wrong choice, and that bringing the weird, embarrassing bits of our history out in to the open is a much better approach. Thankfully, it’s the approach that the Church is starting to take. Although, like you, I believe there’s a lot more they can and should do on that score in the days ahead.

Tomorrow: The First Vision




CES Reply: Joseph Smith – Trinitarian? (Part II)

The following verses are among many verses still in the Book of Mormon that hold a Trinitarian view of the Godhead:

Alma 11:38-39:

38: Now Zeezrom saith again unto him: Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father?

39: And Amulek said unto him: Yea, he is the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth,and all things which in them are; he is the beginning and the end, the first and the last;

Mosiah 15:1-4:

1: And now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people.

2: And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son –

3: The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son –

4: And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth.
Ether 3:14-15:

14: Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters.

15: And never have I showed myself unto man whom I have created, for never has man believed in me as thou hast. Seest thou that ye are created after mine own image? Yea, even all men were created in the beginning after mine own image. (Emphasis added).

Mosiah 16:15:

15: Teach them that redemption cometh through Christ the Lord, who is the very Eternal Father. Amen.”

Yes, and these verses take the bottom out from under your argument. If Joseph’s purpose in altering 1 Nephi was to purge Trinitarianism from the Book of Mormon, why would he leave these untouched? Also, you left out a big one from your list. The same title page that announces the Book of Mormon is not inerrant also says the purpose of the Book of Mormon is “to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself unto all nations.” [Caps in original]

Again, there it is, right on the first page. The verses you quote, coupled with the announcement of its purpose, make it clear Christ is God and that he is the Eternal Father as well as the Son, and it does so more explicitly than the verses Joseph changed. Even if he somehow forgot about all these other verses – highly unlikely – surely he wouldn’t let that Trinitarian title page hang out there like a big steaming matso ball, would he?  In addition, the Doctrine and Covenants makes no attempt to shy away from these doctrines – several revelations begin by announcing that it is the Father speaking, and they end in the name of Jesus Christ.

What’s going on?

The answer, paradoxically, is that these verses are no more intrinsically Trinitarian than the changes are un-Trinitarian.

The Trinity relies on extra-Biblical creedal language to interpret scripture. In other words, one has to learn from creedal texts outside the Bible that God doesn’t make any sense at all and then graft that interpretation on the scripture after the fact. The plain meaning of the text will not automatically guide you to that bizarre conclusion. So these verses are consistent with Bible verses that make similar pronouncements, and no one, including Joseph Smith, has to apply the external Trinitarian lens to read them correctly.

After all, Jesus stated that “this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3) If our eternal life depends on us knowing God, how can we do that if he’s incomprehensible?

That verse comes from what I believe to be the most profoundly spiritual chapter in all of scripture. John 17, the Great Intercessory Prayer, offers the solution. It provides the clearest possible understanding of what God means when he says he is the Father and the Son, and it does so in what seems to me to be explicitly Mormon terms:

John 17: 20-23
20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;

 21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

 22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:

 23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

So we’re all supposed to be one, just as Christ and his father are one. Do we imagine that involves all of us becoming the same person? To be saved, does Jeremy Runnells have to become Jim Bennett and become Jesus Christ, too? Are we all to be some giant blobular God together, and yet be somehow also separate at the same time?

As Paul would say, Heaven forbid! This is a unity of purpose Christ is talking about, not an esoteric Trinitarian paradox. These verses in the Book of Mormon, and similar-sounding verses in the Bible, are teaching the essential nature of unity. To paraphrase BYU professor Robert Millet, they’re to teach us that the Father and the Son are infinitely more alike than they are separate. I think we often overcorrect in the Church and go out of our way to emphasize their distinct physical forms and lose sight of their innate and magnificent spiritual unity. These verses remain in order to teach us a profound lesson that we overlook at our spiritual peril.

When I teach this doctrine, I liken it to children who try to play one parent off the other. Kids often hold out hope that if Mom says no, maybe they can convince Dad to say yes. A perfectly united marriage wouldn’t have this problem, as the mother would be able to perfectly speak for the father, and vice versa.

In the Godhead, Jesus’s agenda is identical to the Father’s agenda – you can’t play one off of the other. So when people read scriptures and ask, “well, is this the Father or the Son speaking,” Jesus’s answer is – doesn’t matter in the least. We speak for each other without the slightest deviation. I am so in line with the Father that I can speak for the Father, in the first person as the Father, as if I were the Father.

That’s what Christ expects from us – to become one, to have His agenda be our agenda, for all of to be perfectly united and “knit together in love.” It’s a beautiful doctrine, and, at its core, astonishingly simple, as opposed to the Trinity, which is ridiculously complex and impossible to understand.

LDS scholar, Boyd Kirkland, made the following observation:

“The Book of Mormon and early revelations of Joseph Smith do indeed vividly portray a picture of the Father and Son as the same God…why is it that the Book of Mormon not only doesn’t clear up questions about the Godhead which have raged in Christianity for centuries, but on the contrary just adds to the confusion? This seems particularly ironic, since a major avowed purpose of the book was to restore lost truths and end doctrinal controversies caused by the “great and abominable Church’s” corruption of the Bible…In later years he [Joseph] reversed his earlier efforts to completely ‘monotheise’ the godhead and instead ‘tritheised’ it.” – LDS scholar, Boyd Kirkland, “An Evolving God” 

I googled Boyd Kirkland, and all I came up with was a Wikipedia article about “an American television director of animated cartoons. He was best known for his work on X-Men Evolution.” So I googled him again, adding the word “Mormon” to the search, and the same article popped up. Sure enough, under his biographical information, it points out that he was a Mormon who wrote articles about controversial issues. To twice reference him as an “LDS Scholar,” however, implies some kind of unique authority or academic status that he didn’t have – his educational background is a B.S. in business administration from Weber State, and he was an animator by profession. He’s no more an “LDS scholar” than I am – he was an unofficial critic to counter us unofficial apologists.

Sad to read that he passed away at age 60. Far too young.

Again, he’s welcome to his opinion, as are you, but I don’t see any need to agree with either, and I don’t think his argument necessarily carries any more weight than anyone else’s. Although I’m thrilled that he was, in fact, the “producer for Attack of the Killer Tomatoes: The Animated Series,” which may well be the greatest thing I’ve ever heard.

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!
They’ll beat you, bash you,
Squish you, smash you
Serve you up for brunch

And finish you off

For dinner or lunch!

Assuming that the official 1838 First Vision account is truthful and accurate, why would Joseph Smith hold a Trinitarian view of the Godhead if he personally saw God the Father and Jesus Christ as separate and embodied beings a few years earlier in the Sacred Grove? 

I don’t think he would or did hold a Trinitarian view. I don’t think these verses, both the changed and unchanged ones, suggest otherwise. Again, it’s very hard to “hold a Trinitarian view” in practical terms anyway, and a good deal of people who call themselves Trinitarians actually think of God in very Mormon terms because the Trinity, by definition, makes no sense at all.

To sum up, “Nuns on the Run” should be required viewing for all seminary students, as long as they cut out the nude scene in the girl’s locker room.

Tomorrow – A Rock in a Hat!

CES Reply: Joseph Smith – Trinitarian? (Part I)

11. The Book of Mormon taught and still teaches a Trinitarian view of the Godhead. Joseph Smith’s early theology also held this view.

It’s not nearly that simple, as I’ll discuss below.

As part of the over 100,000 changes to the Book of Mormon, there were major changes made to reflect Joseph’s evolved view of the Godhead.

100,000 changes? Actually, it’s probably more than that. The Book of Mormon was submitted to the printer without any punctuation whatsoever, along with heaven knows how many spelling errors. (Oliver, why couldn’t you have been an infallible speller?)  So every single item of punctuation can rightly be considered a change in the original manuscript. Certainly the 100,000 are almost all punctuation additions and corrections.

The handful of changes that have the slightest degree of doctrinal significance barely register in the double digits, making them approximately .01% of all the changes, total. So let’s deal with those, most of which do, in fact, directly relate to the Trinitarian view, although I don’t think it’s appropriate to refer to them as “major changes,” for reasons I’ll discuss below.


Original 1830 Edition Text

View Online

Current, Altered Text

View Online

1 Nephi 3 (p.25):
And he said unto me, Behold, the virgin whom thou seest, is the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh.
1 Nephi 11:18:
And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of
the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.
1 Nephi 3 (p.25):
And the angel said unto me, behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father!
1 Nephi 11:21:
And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even
the Son of the Eternal Father!
1 Nephi 3 (p.26):
And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Everlasting God, was judged of the world;
1 Nephi 11:32:
And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea,
the Son of the everlasting God was judged of the world;
1 Nephi 3 (p.32):
These last records…shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father and the Savior of the world;
1 Nephi 13:40:
These last records…shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is
the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world;

Your problem seems to be that the text was originally Trinitarian, while the changes are not. But that demonstrates a misunderstanding of doctrine of the Trinity, because even with the changes, these verses remain perfectly consistent with Trinitarian creeds.

No Trinitarian would object to calling Jesus Christ the Son of God, or the Son of the Eternal Father. They fully believe that Jesus is the Son of God. They also believe that Jesus is his own father, as well as a separate individual from his Father, but that he is also not separate from his Father. They believe there are definitely three Gods, but more importantly, there is definitely only one God.

And if that makes no sense, it’s because, by definition, it’s not supposed to.

From that great theological treatise, Eric Idle’s movie “Nuns of the Run:”

Eric Idle: Let me try and summarize this: God is his son. And his son is God. But his son moonlights as a holy ghost, a holy spirit, and a dove. And they all send each other, even though they’re all one and the same thing. 

Robbie Coltrane: You’ve got it. You really could be a nun!

Eric Idle: Thanks! Wait –  what I said – does that make any sense to you?

Robbie Coltrane: Well, no. And it makes no sense to anybody. That’s why you have to believe it.

You can watch the whole scene below:

If you want a more authoritative definition, here’s the doctrine of the Trinity, as described by the Athanasian Creed:

We worship one God in trinity, and trinity in unity; neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, is all one; the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet there are not three eternals, but one eternal. As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated; but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.  So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Ghost almighty, and yet there are not three Almighties, but one Almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God, and yet there are not three Gods, but one God.

To quote Elder James E. Talmage, “It would be difficult to conceive of a greater number of inconsistencies and contradictions, expressed in words as few.”

So the problem with understanding the Trinity is that, by definition, it’s “incomprehensible,” so the way people comprehend the incomprehensible often tends to be, in practice, fairly consistent with the Mormon view. Pollster Gary Lawrence, who worked with me on my father’s unsuccessful 2010 reelection campaign, conducted a series of polls on this subject, and the results were quite interesting.

The poll asked two questions of Christians across the country. Half were asked, “Do you believe that God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are three separate Beings, or are they three Beings in one body or substance?”

Twenty-seven percent responded similar to the Mormon belief that they are separate beings. Sixty-six percent answered in line with traditional Christian beliefs that they are “three beings in one body or substance.”

The other half of Christians surveyed were given a different question about the Trinity: “The New Testament says that God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are one. Do you believe that means they are one in purpose or one in body?”

This time the answers went the other direction. Those answering the traditional “one in body” were 31 percent. Those answering “one in purpose” were 58 percent.

Lawrence said that Mormons say the oneness of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the New Testament is an oneness of purpose. The positive response of Christians to this concept in the second question surprised Lawrence. “I was wondering if there was a difference. I wasn’t expecting a flip-flop. But it was. It just shifts from two-to-one one way and almost two-to-one the other way,” Lawrence said.

What caused the shift? Lawrence said it is in the way the questions were asked.

The first question focused on contrasting separateness and oneness — “separate beings” versus “three beings in one body or substance.”

The second question focused on the meaning of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’s oneness — a physical (or metaphyscial) oneness versus a purpose oneness.

“If it is presented in the way Mormons interpret scripture versus the opposite, they come toward the Mormon view,” Lawrence said. “If you focus on physical characteristics, you get another one.” – Courtesy of the Deseret News

The confusion over how to interpret the creeds is still with us, and it was definitely present in the 1830s. The accepted definition of the Trinity did not arrive until centuries after the Crucifixion, and only then after a great deal of heated – and even on occasion bloody – disagreements.  The biblical verses used to support it are in no way self-evident. As my mission president Joseph Fielding McConkie used to say, without any additional information, you could easily read the Bible from now until the Millennium and never have it occur to you that Jesus is his own father.

I offer all that to suggest that Joseph’s thinking on the Trinity very likely did evolve, but not in the way you imply. That is to say, he likely didn’t fully understand that believing in the Father and the Son as separate physical beings required you to simultaneously not believe they were separate physical beings. The Trinity is a logical impossibility, and it probably wasn’t until the Church started to attract attention that Joseph grasped the implications of how heretical his position really was.

But as to these verses, why were they changed? Nobody knows for sure. My guess is that they sounded too Catholic for Joseph’s taste, not necessarily Trinitarian. The phrase “mother of God” is uniquely Catholic and carries doctrinal implications that would likely have made Joseph uncomfortable, Trinitarians notwithstanding. All the other changes are in close textual proximity to that first one, so Joseph probably wanted to make sure this passage remained consistent. The changes really don’t change the doctrine – Jesus is both God and Son of God, after all, and Trinitarians fully accept that – and they seem to clarify the issue in a way that puts distance between the Mormons and the Catholics.

Of course, to accept that Joseph could make such changes is to accept that he could have made an error during the translation process, or that he may have made an error with this change, which, as I’ve repeatedly pointed out, is not hard for me to accept at all. That may have come as a shock to you, but, again, that introduction that warns about “the mistakes of men” has been in print for almost two hundred years, so it’s pretty hard to say the Church has been covering up the possibility of error.

Tomorrow: More Trinity!

CES Reply: The First Book of Napoleon

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

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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.


10. Another fascinating book published in 1809, The First Book of Napoleon, is shocking.

“Shocking,” is it? The same way the parallels to the Late War are “stunning,” “staggering,” and “astounding,” and Book of Mormon similarities to local names on maps are “striking?” You offer no such adjective for your opinion on View of the Hebrews. May I suggest “flabbergasting?”

Another personal interlude, if I may. I got an MBA from Brigham Young University in 1999. And in my first year of study, my finance professor taught us how to calculate the net present value of an asset. He said there are are four or five different methods to do just that.

“You know what that means, don’t you?” he asked the class.

We didn’t.

“It means,” he said, “that none of them are any good.”

In other words, if there were one simple, easy, and reliable way to calculate an NPV, there would be no need for another.

Similarly, every time you add a new volume as the supposed smoking gun of where Joseph cribbed the Book of Mormon, you weaken your argument. If there were one verifiable and undeniable source for his plagiarism, there would be no need to come up with half a dozen others. And if Joseph really was combing through such voluminous amounts of maps and literature and memorizing all these disconnected snippets and then reciting them to Oliver without referencing the texts themselves and all doing so unnoticed, he was likely even more of a genius than even most Mormons would imagine.

But okay, let’s see what’s so shocking.

The first chapter: 

  1. And behold it came to pass, in these latter days, that an evil spirit arose on the face of the earth, and greatly troubled the sons of men.
  2. And this spirit seized upon, and spread amongst the people who dwell in the land of Gaul.
  3. Now, in this people the fear of the Lord had not been for many generations, and they had become a corrupt and perverse people; and their chief priests, and the nobles of the land, and the learned men thereof, had become wicked in the imagines of their hearts, and in the practices of their lives. 
  4. And the evil spirit went abroad amongst the people, and they raged like unto the heathen, and they rose up against their lawful king, and slew him, and his queen also, and the prince their son; yea, verily, with a cruel and bloody death.
  5. And they moreover smote, with mighty wrath, the king’s guards, and banished the priests, and nobles of the land, and seized upon, and took unto themselves, their inheritances, their gold and silver, corn and oil, and whatsoever belonged unto them.
  6. Now it came to pass, that the nation of the Gauls continued to be sorely troubled and vexed, and the evil spirit whispered unto the people, even unto the meanest and vilest thereof…

…and it continues on. It’s like reading from the Book of Mormon. 

Actually, it’s more like reading from The Late War Between the United States and Great Britain. Do I smell plagiarism? How else could the Napoleon writers come up with the phrase “it came to pass” in verses 1 and 6? Also, both books include the phrase “for many generations” and “unto the people.” Am I supposed to assume this is merely coincidence?

This, too, is clearly written to mimic King James English. It’s supposed to be like reading from the Bible. Which it is, as much or more than it’s like reading from the Book of Mormon.

Interesting that you cite this as a first chapter, since the first chapter of the Book of Mormon, other than its KJV style, is nothing at all like this.

The first chapter:

  1. I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.
  2. Yea, I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.
  3. And I know that the record which I make is true; and I make it with mine own hand; and I make it according to my knowledge.
  4. For it came to pass in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah, (my father, Lehi, having dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days); and in that same year there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed.
  5. Wherefore it came to pass that my father, Lehi, as he went forth prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart, in behalf of his people.
  6. And it came to pass as he prayed unto the Lord, there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him; and he saw and heard much; and because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly.

I keep waiting for the evil spirit from the land of Gaul to show up, but I wait in vain.

When I first read this along with other passages from The First Book of Napoleon, I was floored.

Didn’t want to go with “flabbergasted,” huh?

Here we have two early 19th century contemporary books written at least a decade before the Book of Mormon that not only read and sound like the Book of Mormon but which also carry so many of its parallels and themes as well.

Sound like the Book of Mormon? Sure, because these two books were deliberately designed to sound like the KJV, and the Book of Mormon also sounds like the KJV.

But “parallels and themes?” No.

Both Late War and First War are about, you know, war. It’s right there in the title. And while there’s quite a bit of war in the Book of Mormon, the religious themes of the Book of Mormon are wide and far-reaching well beyond these books’ clumsy attempts to tie religion to wartime patriotism. These goofy 19th Century exercises in biblical mimicry don’t begin to approach the scope and breadth of Book of Mormon themes.

The following are a side-by-side comparison of the beginning of The First Book of Napoleon with the beginning of the Book of Mormon:

The First Book of Napoleon: 

Condemn not the (writing)…an account…the First Book of Napoleon…upon the face of the earth…it came to pass…the land…their inheritances their gold and silver and…the commandments of the Lord…the foolish imaginations of their hearts…small in stature…Jerusalem…because of the perverse wickedness of the people. 

Book of Mormon: 

Condemn not the (writing)…an account…the First Book of Nephi…upon the face of the earth…it came to pass…the land…his inheritance and his gold and his silver and…the commandments of the Lord…the foolish imaginations of his heart…large in stature…Jerusalem…because of the wickedness of the people.

Wait a minute. This is the “beginning of the First Book of Napoleon?” Earlier, you quoted the first six verses, which I assumed were the beginning, and they don’t sound anything like this. So which one’s the real beginning?

Turns out that in order to get this supposed parallel, you have to comb through  twenty-five pages of the First Book of Napoleon and link up unrelated short phrases by means of ellipses, and then perform a similar surgery on the Book of Mormon text. Using that method, I’ve discovered that your CES Letter was directly plagiarized from Life, the autobiography of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, which, in an astonishing parallel too remarkable to be coincidence, is the book nearest to me as I’m typing this reply. And, in what really is an odd coincidence, they both start with same word! Am I supposed to just assume this is a coincidence?

The following are a side-by-side comparison of the beginning of Letter to a CES Director and the beginning of Life by Keith Richards. Frankly, I’m flabbergasted.

Letter to a CES Director:
Thank you… you’re going to have… a real insight… [into] the laws of the land… There is no direct evidence…I found [cocaine]… in that which is to come…

Life by Keith Richards:
Thanks and praises… you’re not going to have… a real education… on this little point of law… there is a problem here about evidence…we found cocaine in that damn car…

…and it continues on. It’s like reading from Letter to a CES Director!

Also, both the CES letter and Life mention elephants. (“There was a huge business of getting elephants on stage in Memphis.” – Life, page 12.)  Just one more coincidence, huh? You really expect me to believe that?

Tomorrow: Joseph Smith and the Trinity

CES Reply: The Late War Between the United States and Great Britain

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

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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.


9. The Late War Between the United States and Great Britain: This was an 1819 textbook written in King James Version style language for New York state school children, one of them very likely being Joseph Smith. The first chapter alone is stunning as it reads incredibly like the Book of Mormon: 

  1. Now it came to pass, in the one thousand eight hundred and twelfth year of the christian era, and in the thirty and sixth year after the people of the provinces of Columbia had declared themselves a free and independent nation;
  2. That in the sixth month of the same year, on the first day of the month, the chief Governor, whom the people had chosen to rule over the land of Columbia;
  3. Even James, whose sir-name was Madison, delivered a written paper to the Great Sannhedrim of the people, who were assembled together.
  4. And the name of the city where the people were gathered together was called after the name of the chief captain of the land of Columbia, whose fame extendeth to the uttermost parts of the earth; albeit, he had slept with his fathers…

You and I have a very different definition of “stunning.” Since this was deliberately written to sound like the King James Bible, the only way it can be said to be “incredibly like the Book of Mormon” is to be surprised that any other book would also choose to mimic the KJV. No one would be stunned to acknowledge that this reads “incredibly like the King James Bible.” In fact, nobody would be likely to say that at all, even though the phrases you later insist were lifted out of this book can all be found in the Bible, too, which is where the Late War authors got them.

In substance, this textbook is absolutely nothing like the Book of Mormon. The story is completely different; the characters are completely different.  There’s no mention of the War of 1812 in the Book of Mormon, and there are no lengthy religious sermons in the Late War. It would certainly help your argument if at some point when the Jaredites were fighting, Napoleon were to show up. I guess we have to wait until you talk about the next candidate you propose as a Book of Mormon source.

Also, did Joseph plagiarize View of the Hebrews or The Late War Between the United States and Great Britain? When did Captain Kidd enter the picture? Don’t you have to make up your mind on this? Because the Book of Mormon production process you’re now suggesting has Joseph poring over all different kinds of manuscripts – from childhood textbooks to Ethan Smith to that trusty, error-filled 1769 version of the KJV, rummaging through Captain Kidd’s letters and stories and maps of every tiny village across a 2,000 mile radius as well as maps of African islands – and lifting a word here, a two-or-three word phrase there, and somehow cobbling them into 265,000 words of an internally consistent, theologically complex, and Semitically-influenced tome that is markedly different from any and all of his supposed source materials.

Along with the above KJV language style presence throughout the book, what are the following Book of Mormon phrases, verbatim, themes, and storylines doing in a children’s school textbook that was used in Joseph Smith’s own time and backyard? A mere decade before the publication of the Book of Mormon?

Okay, let’s take a look.

  • Devices of “curious workmanship” in relation to boats and weapons.
  • A “stripling” soldier “with his “weapon of war in his hand.”
    “A certain chief captain…was given in trust a band of more than two thousand chosen men, to go forth to battle” and who “all gave their services freely for the good of their country.”
  • Fortifications: “the people began to fortify themselves and entrench the high Places round about the city.”
  • Objects made “partly of brass and partly of iron, and were cunningly contrived with curious works, like unto a clock; and as it were a large ball.”
  • “Their polished steels of fine workmanship.”
  • “Nevertheless, it was so that the freeman came to the defence of the city, built strongholds and forts and raised up fortifications in abundance.”
  • Three Indian Prophets.
  • “Rod of iron.”
  • War between the wicked and righteous.
  • Maintaining the standard of liberty with righteousness.
  • Righteous Indians vs. savage Indians.
  • False Indian prophets.
  • Conversion of Indians.
  • Bands of robbers/pirates marauding the righteous protagonists.
  • Brass plates.
  • “And it came to pass, that a great multitude flocked to the banners of the great Sanhedrim” compared to Alma 62:5: “And it came to pass that thousands did flock unto his standard, and did take up their swords in defense of their freedom…”
  • Worthiness of Christopher Columbus.
  • Ships crossing the ocean.
  • A battle at a fort where righteous white protagonists are attacked by an army made up of dark-skinned natives driven by a white military leader. White protagonists are prepared for battle and slaughter their opponents to such an extent that they fill the trenches surrounding the fort with dead bodies. The surviving elements flee into the wilderness/forest.
  • Cataclysmic earthquake followed by great darkness.
  • Elephants/mammoths in America.
  • Literary Hebraisms/Chiasmus.
  • Boats and barges built from trees after the fashion of the ark.
  • A bunch of “it came to pass”
  • Many, many more parallels.

The staggering parallels and similarities to the Book of Mormon are astounding. 

Consider me both unstaggered and unastounded.

I probably should go through each of these one by one, but so many of them are ridiculous on their face that they don’t merit comment. Wow, two books referencing ships crossing the ocean? And both books also have elephants in them? What are the odds?!

These “staggering parallels” were not discovered by means of reading both texts and looking for common themes or passages; they were discovered by means of a computer analysis looking for identical words in thousands of different texts. Conceptually, the passages containing these “parallels” are generally referencing starkly different things and events, and they are using similar short phrases to describe stuff with no relationship to each other. Furthermore, none of the identical phrases are longer than five words long – i.e. “and it came to pass,” a Biblical phrase –  and almost all are only two or three words long.

So you provide things like the quote “partly of brass and partly of iron, and were cunningly contrived with curious works, like unto a clock; and as it were a large ball” as if that phrase appears in the Book of Mormon, which it doesn’t. Mormons, however, would read that phrase and assume it has reference to the Liahona, which was an item made of brass and of “curious workmanship.” But the Late War is here describing a torpedo, an item as unlike a Liahona as it is possible to be. So for this to be a Book of Mormon source, one has to think Joseph Smith scoured this text to find a phrase – “curious works” –  and modify it into “curious workmanship” and add “brass” and “ball” and apply it to a concept that has no corollary whatsoever in Late War. What kind of plagiarist goes to that much trouble? What kind of writer could possibly work that way?

Yes, the phrase “rod of iron” is in Late War. It’s on page 15, and it reads like this:

Then will we rule them with a rod of iron; and they shall be, unto us, hewers of wood and drawers of water.

The phrase “rule them with a rod of iron” is a Biblical phrase used twice in the Book of Revelation – see verses 2:27 and 12:5 – and a variation is in the Old Testament in Psalm 2:9, which says “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron.” In both Late War and the Bible, the rod of iron is a weapon, probably used to smack people over the head. Nowhere in the Book of Mormon do we find a seven-word quote from “Late War,” so the Biblical “rule them with a rod of iron” becomes merely “rod of iron.” And, furthermore, Lehi’s rod of iron is some kind of a long handrail used to guide people through mists of darkness toward the Tree of Life, utterly unlike a rod of iron you rule people with, and with no head-smacking in sight.

Three identical words; two completely unrelated concepts. Yet we’re supposed to presume this where Joseph got the idea for Lehi’s “rod of iron?”

This gets very absurd very quickly.

This outstanding web page outlines very clearly and simply just how devastating the Late War is to the Book of Mormon and its claims.

Whereas this outstanding web page is utterly devastating to the seriously flawed analysis of your outstanding web page.

Rick Grunder states in his paper:

“The presence of Hebraisms and other striking parallels in a popular children’s textbook (Late War), on the other hand – so close to Joseph Smith in his youth – must sober our perspective.” – p.770

Jeff Lindsay states on his blog:

“Yes, there are parallels, but scattered, weak, and not very helpful to a would-be plagiarizer.” – p. 1

Tomorrow: The First Book of Napoleon

CES Reply: View of the Hebrews – The Thrilling Conclusion!

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

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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.


This would be a good time to offer a view on View of the Hebrews from my favorite unofficial apologist, Hugh Nibley, once again in fiery red:

“If someone will show me how to draw a circle,” cries the youthful Joseph Smith, “I will make you a fine Swiss watch!” So Joachim or Anselm or Ethan Smith or Rabelais or somebody takes a stick and draws a circle in the sand, and forthwith the adroit and wily Joseph turns out a beautiful running mechanism that tells perfect time! This is not an exaggeration. The Book of Mormon in structure and design is every bit as complicated, involved, and ingenious as the works of a Swiss watch, and withal just as smoothly running. . . . The writer of that book brought together thousands of ideas and events and knit them together in a most marvelous unity. Yet the critics like to think they have explained the Book of Mormon completely if they can just discover where Joseph Smith might have got one of his ideas or expressions!”

(Right on, Hugh. Testify, brother!)

As a personal addendum, I offer my own experience.

I have written an – as of now – unpublished young adult novel titled “Gods, Monsters, and Jeff Downey,” which incorporates elements of Greek mythology and places them in a modern setting which directly corresponds to the area in Calabasas, California, where I went to high school. If you read Greek mythology, you will easily recognize where I’ve found many of my ideas, and if you’re even remotely familiar with the geography of where I grew up, every locale in the book will produce an instant flash of recognition.

No such flashes of recognition take place in reading View of the Hebrews in comparison to the Book of Mormon. Ethan Smith looks at ancient America and, while both books share some commonalities with regard to acknowledgment of widely accepted historical facts, View of the Hebrews reaches vastly different conclusions than anything found in the B of M text, which makes no sense at all if this was one of Joseph’s primary sources of inspiration.

But just for the sake of argument, I want to hypothetically concede your point and imagine that Joseph did sit down with View of the Hebrews as he was preparing to fabricate an ancient American record. Even if this were the case, the act of imagination necessary to produce the Book of Mormon with View of the Hebrews as a source would be just as arduous a task as writing the whole thing from scratch. There are plenty of people who are familiar with both Greek mythology and Calabasas geography, yet that familiarity does not qualify them to write a young adult novel about them. And if any of them were able enough writers to try their hand at writing a book incorporating both those elements, there is an almost-zero percent chance that what they would produce would bear anything but the most cursory resemblance to “Gods, Monsters, and Jeff Downey.”

Sure, you could expect to see Zeus and Prometheus and Mulholland Drive in both books, as such elements are common knowledge of people familiar with Greece and/or Calabasas, but the events, characters, and language would be entirely different. And the differences would be even greater if someone with that knowledge were writing an essay about Greek mythology as taught at Calabasas High School as opposed to a young adult fantasy novel. View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon are two vastly different kinds of books, and the similarities between the two, beyond a recognition of commonly accepted biblical and ancient American history, simply aren’t there.

Reverend Ethan Smith was the author of View of the Hebrews. Ethan Smith was a pastor in Poultney, Vermont when he wrote and published the book. Oliver Cowdery – also a Poultney, Vermont resident – was a member of Ethan’s congregation during this time and before he went to New York to join his cousin (third cousins) Joseph Smith. As you know, Oliver Cowdery played an instrumental role in bringing forth the Book of Mormon. 

So you’ve proven that Joseph could have seen View of the Hebrews prior to the production of the Book of Mormon. This merits a shrug of the shoulders and nothing else. Since the Book of Mormon text itself bears only the most cursory resemblance to View of the Hebrews, it doesn’t matter at all whether or not Joseph or Oliver had seen it before 1830. Certainly Joseph was at least passingly familiar with the text later in life, as he cites it as evidence for the Book of Mormon’s authenticity – again, an odd thing for a supposed plagiarist of that material to do. Nobody in Joseph’s lifetime thought the two texts were similar enough to merit any accusation of plagiarism, and nobody who spends even an hour with either text can plausibly claim that one was derived from the other.

LDS General Authority and scholar Elder B.H. Roberts privately researched the link between the Book of Mormon, the View of the Hebrews, Joseph’s father having the same dream in 1811 as Lehi’s dream, etc. that were available to Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris and others before the publication of the Book of Mormon. Elder Roberts’ private research was meant only for the eyes of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve and was never intended to be available to the public. Roberts’ work was later published in 1985 as Studies of the Book of Mormon. At the conclusion of his research, Elder B.H. Roberts came to the following conclusion:


No, he didn’t come to that conclusion. In a letter to his fellow church leaders with reference to the book, Roberts said, “Let me say once and for all, so as to avoid what might otherwise call for repeated explanation, that what is herein set forth does not represent any conclusions of mine.” [Emphasis added.] The entire book, including the quote you provide, is written in the voice of a straw man critic he created, and these aren’t arguments he, himself, agreed with in real life.

Elder Roberts was a firm believer in the historicity and divine nature of the Book of Mormon throughout his life, and he prepared this comparison as a “devil’s advocate” sort of brief on the best arguments that critics of the Book of Mormon would be able to muster. And, overall, they’re pretty flimsy.

To cite him without offering that context is to defame a good and faithful man and attribute opinions to him that were often diametrically opposed to what he actually believed.

Tomorrow: The Late War Between the United States and Great Britain


CES Reply: View of the Hebrews – Part II

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

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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.


This is also a continuation of yesterday’s discussion of Ethan Smith’s “View of the Hebrews” and its relationship, or lack thereof, to the Book of Mormon. Jeremy Runnells provided B.H. Roberts’ list of possible parallels between the two works, and I’ve addressed each of them in turn. I got up to Item M yesterday, so today I pick up where I left off.


N. Lost Indian records
You expand that to say that this has reference to “yellow leaves” buried in a hill that B.H. Roberts supposedly speculated might be made of gold. Yet the phrase “yellow leaves” does not appear in View of the Hebrews.

You’re likely referencing the four folded pieces of parchment, yellowed with age, dug out of an Indian grave that supposedly had a handful of Bible verses on them written in Hebrew, as mentioned on page 220 of View of the Hebrews. No reference to “Lost Indian records” on this parchment, unless you consider Deuteronomy to be a “lost Indian record.”

If B.H. Roberts or anyone else believes this old paper, which is described as being wrinkled and getting torn in half, might be made out of gold, that would be truly bizarre, as would presuming that this served as any kind of inspiration for the golden plates. Not only are they wholly dissimilar in form, they are also wholly dissimilar in function. Ethan Smith posits that the scraps of paper were discarded because the Indians could no longer read them and considered them worthless, while the golden plates recorded an intergenerational history and were buried specifically to preserve the history for future generations.

O. Breastplate, Urim & Thummim
Behold the sum total of references to the Breastplate, Urim and Thummim in View of the Hebrews:

“Before the Indian Archimagus officiates in making the supposed holy fire for the yearly atonement for sin, the sagan (waiter of the high priest) clothes him with a white ephod, which is a waist coat without sleeves. In resemblance of the Urim and Thum-inim, the American Archimagus wears a breast plate made of a white conch-shell with two holes bored in the middle of it, through which he puts the ends of an otter skin strap, and fastens a buck horn white button to the outside of each, as if in imitation of the precious stones of the Urim.” – page 173

None of this bears any resemblance to how the Urim and Thummim are referenced in the Book of Mormon itself or in its translation process, although I’m betting Joseph Smith could really have used some of those otter skin straps.

P. A man standing on a wall warning the people saying, “Wo, wo to this city…to this people” while subsequently being attacked.
The implication is that this was where Joseph lifted dialogue for Samuel the Lamanite, who never said the words you quote. The closest I can find is “Yea, wo unto this people who are called the people of Nephi except they shall repent” in Helaman 15:3. It’s got “wo,” “people” and some familiar prepositions in it, but it’s not close enough to constitute plagiarism, especially since its part of a much larger speech that has no antecedent in View of the Hebrews. And it’s obvious that 99.9999% of the dialogue in the Book of Mormon didn’t come from View of the Hebrews if this is the best example of supposedly plagiarized dialogue you can find.

The two men crying “wo” are quite different figures, too. Samuel was a prophet in the New World under attack on a wall and miraculously protected, while the View of the Hebrews guy was an old, frail dude who wandered the streets of Jerusalem and stayed off the walls for seven years while repeating the quote you provide ad nauseum – unlike in the case of Samuel, this single phrase constituted the entirety of his comments, which is probably why he was largely dismissed as a harmless quack. Yet when Jerusalem was under siege in 70 AD, “he ascended the walls, and in a voice still more tremendous than ever, he exclaimed, ‘Wo, wo to this city, this temple, and this people!’ And he then added, (for the first time for the seven years,) ‘Wo, wo to myself!’ The words were no sooner uttered, than a stone from a Roman machine without the walls, struck him dead on the spot!”

Looks more like an accident than an attack.

Q.  Prophets, spiritually gifted men transmit generational records
Not at all, at least in the View of the Hebrews case. Ethan Smith doesn’t identify a single person among the Indian population as a prophet, except perhaps Quetzalcoatl, a rather special case that we’ll address when he shows up later in your list. Traditional Christians like Ethan Smith believe that there have been no prophets after Christ, and View of the Hebrews explicitly states on page 127 that “We are to expect no new revelation from heaven.” E. Smith’s essay covers a time period solely after 70 AD, so it makes sense that he doesn’t name any new prophets at all – maybe that’s why you add the qualifier “spiritually gifted men,” which is so broad a label as to be a meaningless distinction. Of course, the Book of Mormon is dripping with prophets before, during, and after the time of Christ.

As for the idea that these V of H dudes with spiritual gifts are “transmit[ting] generational records,” that’s just nonsense. Any records that Ethan Smith imagines being kept are also imagined as being thrown away or left behind in Jerusalem, because he posited that the Indians considered them worthless. Ethan Smith repeatedly laments the fact that no such records survive and that all the information we have about them comes from unwritten and unreliable oral histories.

R. The Gospel preached in the Americas
View of the Hebrews references the preaching of the gospel in the Americas on page 187, which I quote at length here:

It seems the Spanish missionaries found such traces of resemblance between some of the rites of the religion of the natives of Mexico, and the religion which they wished to introduce, that our author says, “They persuaded them that the gospel had in very remote times, been already preached in America. And they investigated its traces in the Aztec ritual, with the same ardour which the learned who in our days engage in the study of Sanscrit , display in discussing the analogy between the Greek mythology and that of the Ganges and the Burrampooter.” It is a noted fact that there is a far greater analogy between much of the religion of the Indians, and Christianity, than between that of any other heathen nation on earth and Christianity.

In the Book of Mormon, the actual preaching of the gospel in the Americas is recorded firsthand by the people preaching it on page after page after page. Yet Ethan Smith never records the actual preaching of the gospel; he merely looks for parallels in Native American history and ritual and explores them at length. Those supposed parallels make up the bulk of Ethan Smith’s text, but the Book of Mormon completely ignores all of them. Many critics of the Book of Mormon claim that it is actually far too Christian, as it entirely lacks the Native American flavor that would have been there had Joseph been trying to manufacture a history of the Indians consistent with Ethan Smith’s premises.

And, again, note the style and subject of the above quoted paragraph. None of it has any corollary in the Book of Mormon.

S. Quotes whole chapters of Isaiah
And yet only 8.3% of the Isaiah verses quoted in View of the Hebrews are also included in the Book of Mormon. This is silly, anyway, as Joseph already had a Bible. If he wanted to plagiarize Isaiah, why did he need to use V of H as a middleman?

View of the Hebrews quotes a lot of stuff besides Isaiah, too, specifically Deuteronomy 30; Jeremiah 16, 23, 30-31, 35-37; Zephaniah 3; Amos 9; Hosea and Joel. Why didn’t any of those passages make their way into the Book of Mormon?

T. Good and bad are a necessary opposition
That’s the message of Star Wars, too. Should we assume George Lucas also lifted it from View of the Hebrews?

U. Pride denounced
So did View of the Hebrews lift that from Greek mythology? Because the denunciation of pride is a common theme in world literature since the beginning of the written word. In fact, I think even the Bible has a thing or two to say about it.

V. Polygamy denounced
The word “polygamy” does not appear in either text. The Book of Mormon has Jacob Chapter 2, which accurately fits this description, but the nearest I can find to a denunciation of polygamy in View of the Hebrews is on page 104, where 19th Century missionaries visit a Delaware Indian chief and record their conversation.

“Long time ago, (he added) it was a good custom among his people to take but one wife, and that for life. But now they had become so foolish, and so wicked, that they would take a number of wives at a time; and turn them away at pleasure!”

This looks to be as much a denunciation of divorce as polygamy, and the context of this is quite different in both texts. This is the expression of one modern Indian chief’s personal opinion of ancient history, not a sweeping prophetic declaration of the will of the Lord. This chief’s opinion is not cited to define doctrine but rather to illustrate parallels in Indian and Christian traditions.

W. Sacred towers and high places
View of the Hebrews used the word “tower” fifteen times, all in reference to military towers in Jerusalem at the time of the 70 A.D. siege – nothing “sacred” about them. The “sacred towers” in the Book of Mormon – King Benjamin’s tower and the Zoramite tower of Rameumptom – have no antecedent in View of the Hebrews. `

However, I must concede that both books, as well as pretty much every book ever written with any geographical information whatsoever, make reference to high places.

X. Messiah visits the Americas
Okay, this one’s a little too much fun.

It is impossible to review the history of ancient America without encountering the legend of Quetzalcoatl, who by most accounts was actually a winged serpent and not a white-bearded man. The irony is that the Book of Mormon not only doesn’t mention him at all; it makes no attempt at all to tie Christ’s visit to any of the Quetzalcoatl legends. Jesus in the Book of Mormon acts pretty much the same way as Jesus of the New Testament and not like any winged serpent. Why would a plagiarizing Joseph Smith leave the Quetzalcoatl legend entirely untouched?

You say the View of the Hebrews mentions “Quetzalcoatl, the white bearded ‘Mexican Messiah.’” Why don’t you say “Jesus” instead?

Because Ethan Smith thought Quetzalcoatl was Moses. Moses, of all people! Tying the serpent on a stick to the iconography of Quetzalcoatl, he sees the ancient legends as reference to Moses and not Christ. So should we assume Jesus the Messiah for everyone except Mexicans, because Moses gets “Mexican Messiah” duty?

Y. Idolatry and human sacrifice
There’s one reference to human sacrifice in View of the Hebrews, found on page 101. Here it is:

This may account for the degeneracy of some Indians far to the west, reported in the journals of Mr. Giddings, in his exploring tour. He informs, “They differ greatly in their ideas of the Great Spirit; one supposes that he dwells in a buffalo, another in a wolf, another in a bear. another in a bird, another in a rattlesnake. On great occasions, such as when they go to war, and when they return, (he adds) they sacrifice a dog, and have a dance. On these occasions they formerly sacrificed a prisoner taken in the war; but through the benevolent exertions of a trader among them, they have abandoned the practice of human sacrifice.

All we know about human sacrifice in View of the Hebrews is that one tribe stopped doing it at some point. The Book of Mormon doesn’t have a lot to say about human sacrifice, either, but what it does say is entirely dissimilar to the passage here. References to idolatry are also scarce in the Book of Mormon.

The point with this item, and with many others, is that Ethan Smith is commenting and speculating on historical events in ancient America, and the Book of Mormon claims to be recounting historical events in ancient America.  By most accounts, idolatry and human sacrifice were historical events in ancient America, so we should not be surprised to find independent references to them in both works.

How many works about World War II have been written? If two of them mentioned Nazi atrocities against Jews, would you accuse one author of plagiarism?

Z. Hebrews divide into two classes, civilized and barbarous
View of the Hebrews speculates about this and provides no specifics, while the Book of Mormon is far more complex than that. In the initial division between Nephites and Lamanites, the Nephites are civilized and the Lamanites are barbarous. But these adjectives cannot be permanently applied to either group. At times, the Lamanites are more righteous than the Nephites, and for two hundred years there are “no manner of –ites” and everyone lives in peace. The subtleties and details of the Book of Mormon on this subject have no antecedent in View of the Hebrews.

AA. Civilized thrive in art, written language, metallurgy, navigation
Really? Where does the Book of Mormon mention any art? Why does the View of the Hebrews lament the utter loss of written language among the Indians? View of the Hebrews mentions navigation with regard to biblical prophecy, but it makes no claims that Indians were capable of it, as Ethan Smith insisted they came to America by land and not by sea.

In any case, there’s historical evidence of an ancient American civilization that produced art, written language, metallurgy, and – debatably – navigation. What’s notable is that the treatment of identified historical facts in both records is so strikingly different.

BB. Government changes from monarchy to republic
Not at all. The government in the Book of Mormon changes from a monarchy to a “reign of the judges,” which bears little or no resemblance to a republic. The judges are only chosen by the voice of the people when one dies or resigns; otherwise, judgeships are passed down hereditarily, making this a modified monarchy more than a republic. There’s no senate or congress;  judges unilaterally make and enforce laws with no public input and no accountability to voters, although their judgments can be overturned by a group of “lesser judges.” Book of Mormon government is actually quite strange and quite different from American government, and it has no antecedent whatsoever in View of the Hebrews.

CC. Civil and ecclesiastical power is united in the same person
Which person? Are we only talking about the monarchy and not the republic, a republic that doesn’t exist in the Book of Mormon? Because in monarchies, then and now, ecclesiastical authority often rests with the king. That’s not a concept that either Smith would need to invent or plagiarize. Even today, Elizabeth II is the head of the Church of England. What’s striking is that in the Book of Mormon, this ecclesiastical authority extends to the judges once the monarchy is disbanded, as opposed to View of the Hebrews, where this is not the case.

DD. Long wars break out between the civilized and barbarous
Yes. That’s also true in Mel Gibson’s Meso-American-based movie “Apocalypto,” which he, too, must have plagiarized from View of the Hebrews. The historical evidence, then and now, suggested that in ancient America, long wars broke out between the civilized and barbarous. What would be remarkable is if any book dealing with ancient history in this region would fail to mention it.

EE. Extensive military fortifications, observations, “watch towers”
Every watchtower mentioned in View of the Hebrews is in Jerusalem of 70 AD, not in ancient America. As for military fortification and observations – yes, both books include observations, as does every book ever written – see item DD, above. Wars tend to have these sorts of things, and the idea of war is not something Joseph Smith would have had to plagiarize from Ethan Smith.

FF. Barbarous exterminate the civilized
Not in the Book of Mormon, they don’t. The Nephites who perish at the end are every bit as barbarous as the Lamanites. The complexity of who’s civilized and who’s barbarous defies easy categorization in the Book of Mormon. Again, no antecedent to this in View of the Hebrews.

GG.  Discusses the United States
Nope. The Book of Mormon makes no reference to the United States whatsoever. In fact, it doesn’t even explicitly identify its geography as being on the American continent. People, including church leaders, have interpreted many of its references to “this land” or “the land of promise” as references to the United States, but the text itself doesn’t sustain that interpretation, particularly if you accept a Meso-American limited geography model.

HH.  Ethan/Ether

Tomorrow: View of the Hebrews – The Thrilling Conclusion!

CES Reply: View of the Hebrews – Part I

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.


8. There was a book published in 1825 Vermont entitled View of the Hebrews.

There was, indeed. And, over a century later, it was republished by Brigham Young University, which suggests that the Church is not at all concerned if people read View of the Hebrews and compare it to the Book of Mormon. (They still have the entire V of the H text posted on the BYU website.) Incidentally, Joseph Smith was equally unconcerned, and he even cited View of the Hebrews in 1842 as evidence for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. It would be a very curious thing, indeed, for a plagiarist to call attention to his source material.

To read a single page of Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews is to instantly recognize that the Book of Mormon did not plagiarize from it. In fact, for the benefit of those reading this, let’s do precisely that. I’m going to pluck a paragraph at random and reproduce it here and let readers make a determination for themselves.

So here it is: the second paragraph from Chapter Three of View of the Hebrews, entitled “The Present State of Judah and Israel.” Enjoy:

The whole present population of the Jews has been calculated at five millions. But the probability is, (as has been thought by good judges,) that they are far more numerous.* One noted character says, that in Poland and part of Turkey, there are at least three millions of this people; and that among them generally, there is an unusual spirit of enquiry relative to Christianity. Mr. Noah says, that in the States of Barbary, their number exceeds seven hundred thousand. Their population in Persia, China, India, and Tartary, is stated (in a report of the London Society for the conversion of the Jews,) to be more than three hundred thousand. In Western Asia the Jews are numerous; and they are found in almost every land.

In which part of the Book of Mormon can we expect to find Joseph’s bastardized version of this?

And lest you think I’m plucking out a section that is unrepresentative of the majority of the View of the Hebrews text, feel free to reproduce any other section from V of the H and look for where Joseph adapted it in to his own allegedly derivative work. In addition, View of the Hebrews is just over 47,000 words long, compared to over 265,000 words in the Book of Mormon. If Joseph was just ripping off V of the H, how is it that Joseph’s version is more than five times longer than his source material? True, Peter Jackson was able to pad out The Hobbit into a trilogy of three-hour movies, but this is even more ridiculous than that. (And The Hobbit movies were pretty darn ridiculous.)

You’re making an apples-to-oranges comparison. View of the Hebrews is a polemical essay about Ethan Smith’s theory that the Indians are Israelites. It is not, like the Book of Mormon, a narrative history. It’s a recitation of historical facts and speculation; it has no story at all. In addition, the “evidences” that Ethan Smith provides to link the Indians to Israel are completely ignored in the Book of Mormon. You won’t find chiasmus or much in the way of King James-style English in V of the H. There are no Nephites, Lamanites, Jaredites, or Liahonas, or cureloms or cumoms, or any Book of Mormon proper names or places. Even Captain Kidd is nowhere to be seen.

This is like comparing Tolstoy’s War and Peace to an eBook titled “The Invasion of France 1814” by Captain Frederick William O. Maycock, D.S.O. Let’s even pretend Captain Maycock and Tolstoy wrote their books in the same language and at the same time. Both likely reference similar historical events, but Maycock’s work wouldn’t do anything to help Tolstoy write his masterpiece, even though they may share common opinions and similarly understand widely accepted historical facts.

Still, let’s take a look at your comparison.

View of the Hebrews compared to the Book of Mormon:


Source: B.H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, p.240-242,324-344

Poor B.H. Roberts. His work on this subject has been so woefully misrepresented that it’s almost criminal. We’ll get to that later. 

My initial plan was to make another chart where I add a fourth column describing why these supposed parallels are largely insignificant and, in some cases, ridiculous, but each point requires more text than a small box can allow. So I guess we have to do this the old fashioned way.

A. Both books reference the destruction of Jerusalem
Well, sort of, and one much more than the other. Ethan Smith begins his essay with a discussion of the sacking of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD, and then proceeds to describe all that immediately followed, lamenting the evils of Thadeus, Felix, Nero, and other Roman notables and quoting all the scripture in which Jesus foretold Jerusalem’s sad fate. His entire first chapter is a historical recounting of the fate of Jerusalem after Christ, citing events and figures that play no role in the Book of Mormon whatsoever. More than 1/5th of its entire text is a synopsis and commentary on a slice of Palestinian history completely removed from anything in the Book of Mormon.

In contrast, the Book of Mormon recounts the family of Lehi escaping from the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem 670 years earlier and never mentions the Romans at all. Furthermore, its narrative leaves Jerusalem behind entirely after the 14th of its 531 pages and never goes back. With the exception of Jerusalem and Jesus Himself, none of the people, places, or events referenced in V of H’s first 47 pages correlate in any way to the Book of Mormon. In content, length, and literary structure, the treatment of both books of two different historical accounts couldn’t be more different.

Again, let’s remember what View of the Hebrews is. As a treatise postulating an Israeli genealogy for Native Americans, it could not make its case without citing recorded historical events that overlap with events of concern to the Book of Mormon. How many other books have been written about these widely known and researched historical events? Should we assume that all of them have plagiarized each other?

B. Both books reference the Scattering of Israel
This should be considered a subsidiary of the first point, as Ethan Smith describes at great length Israel’s scattering in the context of the Roman sacking of Palestine. The Book of Mormon, however, contains no description of any actual scattering and only makes reference to it in passing and in a much different doctrinal context. Ethan Smith focuses exclusively on the Lost Ten Tribes, which get a few passing mentions but don’t really figure into the Book of Mormon narrative at all.

C. Both books reference the Restoration of the Ten Tribes
Well, yes, but with entirely different purposes and focus. In the Book of Mormon, the Ten Tribes are almost an afterthought – Lehi’s family descend from Joseph, not the Lost Tribes, which is in direct contrast to Ethan Smith’s theory that all Indians come from the Ten Tribes.

D. Both books reference Hebrews leaving the Old World for the New World
Yes, in very different contexts. Ethan Smith postulates that the Lost Tribes wandered into the Americas over the Bering Strait. Furthermore, he doesn’t tell us any specific expeditions thing about any specific people in their company- remember, V of H isn’t a story; it’s an essay. The Book of Mormon introduces us to a group of people with names who leave Jerusalem, wander in the wilderness, build a ship, and arrive in America – never specifically identified as America in the text itself – by sea, not by land. The events are different, as is the literary approach. It’s the difference between reading an academic essay about boys in New England boarding schools and reading Catcher in the Rye.

E. Religion a motivating factor
Why, yes, it was. Why is this a separate category? When you’re talking about the scattering and gathering of Israel, isn’t religion going to be a motivating factor? All of these initial objections are essentially subsets of the main charge repeated with only slight variations.

F. Migrations a long journey
Again, a distinction without a difference, as it’s just another element of the original charge. Would it have made a difference here if the migration in one of the books had been a short journey? You could add a category that said “In both books, people ate food in the course of the referenced migrations” and it would be as noteworthy as saying, essentially, “it’s a long way from Israel to America,” which is all you’re saying here.

G. Encounter “seas” of “many waters”
The word “seas” appears in View of the Hebrews precisely three times.

“This writer says, “They entered into the Euphrates by the narrow passages of the river.” He must mean, they repassed this river in its upper regions, or small streams, away toward Georgia; and hence must have taken their course between the Black and Caspian seas.”  – p. 76

“We have a prediction relative to the ten tribes, which fully accords with the things exhibited of them, and of the natives of our land… They shall run to and fro, over all the vast regions, the dreary wilds, which lie between those extreme seas.” – footnote, p. 107”

“Such texts have a special allusion to the lost tribes of the house of Israel. And their being called over mountains, and over seas, from the west, and from afar, receives an emphasis from the consideration of their being gathered from the vast wilds of America.” – p. 159

Nobody seems to be actually encountering seas in any of these quotes.

The phrase “many waters” does not appear in View of the Hebrews.

H. The Americas an uninhabited land
Contrary to Ethan Smith, the Book of Mormon makes no claim that America was uninhabited when Lehi arrived. In fact, the text argues precisely the opposite conclusion, as they were preceded by the Jaredites and encounter Coriantumr, who clearly got there before they did. (Perhaps it was uninhabited when the Jaredites got there; I can’t find a definitive statement on that subject one way or the other, but I may have missed it.) But if we’re arguing for parallels, we probably ought to focus on the proposed Israeli ancestry of the Indians, which has no bearing on the Jaredites, who were not of the House of Israel.

I. Settlers journey northward
Yes, some settlers do tend to do that. How Joseph Smith would have imagined settlers going north without View of the Hebrews, I’ll never know.

The word “northward” appears only once in View of the Hebrews on page 51: “Thence northward, on the shore of the said sea, as far as the point due west of Mount Lebanon.” He’s talking about the boundaries of Abraham’s territory with no mention of settlers.

The word “north” appears 68 times, mostly in reference to the Lost Tribes who, according to the Bible, will come forth “out of the land of the North,” which would suggest their journey was or will be in a direction other than north. If there’s a direct mention of a specific northward trek by any settlers in View of the Hebrews, I couldn’t find it. And in the Book of Mormon, settlers travel in every direction. I don’t see how this is a parallel of any significance, even if it were accurate, which it doesn’t seem to be.

And why does this matter, exactly? Would it help if all settlers referenced in the Book of Mormon only went south?

J. Encounter a valley of a great river
This seems to be the only reference in View of the Hebrews that might apply.

“Other tribes assure us that their remote fathers, on their way to this country, ‘came to a great river which they could not pass; when God dried up the river that they might pass over.’  – page 106

No valleys are mentioned in connection with any rivers, great or otherwise.

Ethan Smith uses the tradition referenced on page 106 to describe his speculation that God must have allowed the Indians to cross the “Beering’s Straits” by drying up rivers all over the place.

This is markedly different from the Book of Mormon’s River of Laman and Valley of Lemuel, as the river was both crossable and un-dried up.

K. A unity of race (Hebrew) settle the land and are the ancestral origin of American Indians
View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon differ dramatically on this point. Ethan Smith can’t stop yapping about the Ten Tribes, and how they came out of the north countries across the Bering Strait to escape Roman oppression. The Book of Mormon ignores the Ten Tribes as possible ancestors of the Indians, instead focusing on the non-lost tribes of Joseph and Judah in describing the Lehites and the Mulekites, respectively. Then, for good measure, it adds a group – the Jaredites – that are utterly un-Hebrew and dominate the land well before the House of Israel even comes along.

If you get one clear message out of Ethan Smith’s essay, it’s that the Indians are definitely the Lost Tribes. Yet this is a point that the Book of Mormon blithely ignores. So much of View of the Hebrews is devoted to tying the fate of the Lost Tribes to the history of the Indians that Joseph Smith would have had to discard just about everything Ethan Smith wrote when producing the Book of Mormon, including all of the supposed evidences of Hebraism among the Indians that Ethan Smith cites, not a single one of which makes its way into the Book of Mormon. Why plagiarize a text when you ignore its central premise and all supporting evidences?  In fact, how can that be said to be plagiarism at all?

L. Hebrew the origin of Indian language
Sort of. The Jaredites didn’t speak Hebrew, and the Mulekites had all but forgotten it, and the Nephites kept records in Reformed Egyptian. Again, since Ethan Smith’s theories tied the Indians to Israel, this, too, is just another subset of the original charge.

M. Egyptian hieroglyphics
What about them? The word “hieroglyphics” does not appear in either View of the Hebrews or the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon claims that the Lehites wrote in “Reformed Egyptian,” which are presumed to be hieroglyphics, but View of the Hebrews has nothing approaching a comparable reference. It makes no claims that the Indians wrote anything in Egyptian. It does claim, without any supporting material, that there appears to be some Egyptian influence in ancient American art. The Book of Mormon doesn’t mention art at all.

Tomorrow: View of the Hebrews – Part II!