Joseph Smith and Book of Mormon Geography

Joseph wasn’t told by Moroni who the Lamanites were.  Joseph speculated for years that the Lamanites’ descendants were American Indians.  Lots of quotes for that.

The Book of Mormon text doesn’t reference Cherokees, Iroquois, Hopi tribes.  It only mentions things such as this continent and other vague ideas.  Nothing concrete.  So, Joseph speculated and felt he had good reason to believe all the native peoples in North and South America descended from Lehi.

However, not everyone knows that Joseph shifted his views after reading this book in 1841:  “Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and the Yucatan“.

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From Jeff Lindsay:   “What Could Joseph Smith Have Known about Mesoamerica?

“Many early leaders of the Church simply assumed that the Book of Mormon dealt with all of the Americas and all of the ancestors of the Indians. When information about Mesoamerica became available in the 1840s, there was keen interest in Mesoamerica as the possible location of the Book of Mormon, as we will see below, but this interest faded as the Church faced more serious issues: the martyrdom of Joseph, crossing the plains, struggling for survival against pressures from the US government, etc.

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It was not until well into this century that the issue of Book of Mormon geography became a topic for serious study, and then many scholars and thinkers realized that old assumptions needed to be revisited. The result has been an increasing consensus for a limited geography in Mesoamerica….

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The leaders of the Church did not know the geographical details of the Book of Mormon when it was published, but were glad to learn of new discoveries of ancient civilizations that seemed consistent with the civilizations described in the Book of Mormon–a consistency that has been greatly strengthened since.

It appeared that new information was leading them to revise their previous deductions–not revelations–about the scope of the Book of Mormon. But that flash of insight would fade and for decades the general membership of the Church would think of the Book of Mormon as dealing with the entire New World. But careful reading of the text clearly demands a limited geography, and Mesoamerica is the prime candidate.”

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More from Lindsay:  “Recently I have had anti-Mormon critics say that it would have been obvious for Joseph to write about large cities and civilization in the ancient Americas. But the civilizations of Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon are a world apart from the tribes Joseph might have known of in New York.

In fact, when the Book of Mormon was published, the idea of ancient advanced civilizations on this continent was so utterly foreign that the witnesses of the Book of Mormon expected it to be rejected by the people. David Whitmer, in an 1883 interview with James H. Hart, said:

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When we [the Witnesses] were first told to publish our statement, we felt sure that the people would not believe it, for the Book told of a people who were refined and dwelt in large cities; but the Lord told us that He would make it known to the people, and people should discover evidence of the truth of what is written in the Book.

 

From John Sorensen:  The Book of Mormon as a Mesoamerican Record. 

“There was one brief episode in Nauvoo when Nephite geography received new attention. A phenomenally popular book by John Lloyd Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan(New York, 1841), came into the possession of Church leaders in Nauvoo in 1842. It constituted the first body of information of any substance from which they, together with most people in the English-speaking world, could learn about some of the most spectacular ruins in Mesoamerica.

The Saints’ newspaper, the Times and Seasons, published long excerpts from the book. Apostle Orson Pratt later recalled, “Most of the discoveries made by Catherwood and Stephens were original … [i.e.] had not been described by previous travelers” [Millennial Star, Vol. 11, No. 8, 15 April 1849, p. 116]. Stephens’s biographer confirms Pratt’s recollection: “The acceptance of an ‘Indian civilization’ demanded, to an American living in 1839 [when the first edition of Stephens appeared in England], an entire reorientation, for to him, an Indian was one of those barbaric, tepee dwellers against whom wars were constantly waged….

Nor did one ever think of calling the other [e.g., Mesoamerican] indigenous inhabitants of the continent ‘civilized.’ In the universally accepted opinion [of that day], they were like their North American counterparts — savages” [Victor Wolfgang Von Hagen, Maya Explorer: The Life of John Lloyd Stephens, Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1948, p. 75]. Enthusiastic comments published at Nauvoo showed that the Church’s leaders, including Joseph Smith, were immensely stimulated by the new information.

Within a few weeks of the first notice, they announced they had just discovered, by reading Stephens’s book, that the Nephites’ prime homeland must have been in Central, not South, America. [See Times and Seasons, Vol. 3, No. 22, 15 Sept. 1842, pp. 921-922. Later, the October 1st issue indicated that the editors had learned another important fact relating to the Book of Mormon from studying Stephens’ work, namely, that “Central America, or Guatimala [sic]” was where the city of Zarahemla had been. Maps of Guatemala in that day tended to show Chiapas in southern Mexico as part of Guatemala, according to Sorenson.] An implication was that South America might not have been involved to a major degree, or perhaps not at all. (Also implicit was the point that the old interpretation was not considered by them to have come by revelation.)”

 

From Matthew Roper:  Joseph Smith, Central American Ruins, and the Book of Mormon

Americans in the year 1841 welcomed the publication of Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, by John Lloyd Stephens, with illustrations by Frederick Catherwood.[1] The two explorers had visited the region in 1839 and 1840. This work not only recounted their travels but also described for the first time many of the pre-Columbian ruins found there. Catherwood was a skilled artist and produced accurate and detailed sketches of many of the ruins and monuments which they described in their work. The 1841 volumes were an instant success and were widely praised in the national press.

The two travelers returned to Yucatan for a second expedition in 1841 and stayed until 1842. In 1843, they published a second set of volumes, Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, describing their discovery of forty-four previously unknown sites in the region.[2] In 1844, Catherwood published another volume, Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, which consisted of twenty-five of his own hand-colored lithographs interspersed with his commentary.[3]Like the 1841 volumes, these subsequent books received wide acclaim.

Joseph Smith and other early Latter-day Saints also greeted these Central American discoveries with enthusiasm, in large part because of their potential relevance to the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith’s own interest and endorsement of the books had a significant impact on Latter-day Saint interpretations. In addition to providing new information on Central American discoveries, these volumes provided Latter-day Saints with a useful rebuttal to those who claimed that native American peoples were incapable of the kind of cultural achievement described in the Book of Mormon. Those discoveries also influenced how Latter-day Saints interpreted the cultural and historical setting of the book.

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On September 8, 1841, John Bernhisel (image above), a recent Latter-day Saint convert in New York City, wrote to Joseph Smith informing him that he had sent him a copy of Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan “as a token of my regard for you as a Prophet of the Lord.”[4] On November 16, 1842, Joseph Smith responded to Bernhisel and thanked him for the gift:

“I received your kind present by the hand of Er [Elder] Woodruff & feel myself under many obligations for this mark of your esteem & friendship which to me is the more interesting as it unfolds & developes many things that are of great importance to this generation & corresponds with & supports the testimony of the Book of Mormon; I have read the volumes with the greatest interest & pleasure & must say that of all histories that have been written pertaining to the antiquities of this country it is the most correct luminous & comprihensive.”[5]

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The letter to Bernhisel, written in the hand of John Taylor, belongs to a class of historical documents which are only extant in the hand of scribes, but which are part of the Joseph Smith corpus.[6] The document could suggest that Joseph Smith either dictated the letter to John Taylor, or that he directed John to write to Bernhisel on his behalf using the words he deemed proper.

In either case, it would be unlikely for John Taylor to attribute views and opinions to Joseph Smith that were not his own or that were inconsistent with his teachings. As with several other letters of this kind, it is reasonable to see the content of the letter to Bernhisel as an accurate representation of Joseph Smith’s intent, if not his own words: he read and enjoyed the volumes by Stephens and Catherwood, shared the excitement these discoveries generated among his friends and associates, and believed that they contained information both consistent with and supportive of the Book of Mormon.[7]

Roper continues:

Many critics of the Book of Mormon shared this perception and rejected it, at least in part, on the basis of its description of Jaredite and Lehite cultural achievements. Missionary Parley P. Pratt described an 1831 encounter in which an Illinois minister dismissed the Book of Mormon for its apparent lack of archaeological evidence. “He said there were no antiquities in America, no ruined cities, buildings, monuments, inscriptions, mounds, or fortifications, to show the existence of such a people as the Book of Mormon described.”[29]

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“According to [the Book of] Mormon,” wrote a British critic in 1839, “these native Americans could read, and write,” but “when that country first became known to Europeans, the inhabitants knew no more about letters than a four-legged animal knows the rules of logic; and not a scrap of writing was to be found.”[30] There was not, asserted another critic in 1840, “even so much as a shadow or proof, that the sciences of reading and writing [and other evidences of advanced culture mentioned in the Book of Mormon] were ever known here.”[31]

 

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Worth reading this February 2018 exclusive in the National Geographic:  Laser Scans Reveal Maya “Megalopolis” Below Guatemalan Jungle.

Critics often say Joseph played no role in the Times and Seasons publications at the time of this Mesoamerican discussion.  Read this 2013 article:  Joseph Smith, the Times and Seasons, and Central American Ruins.

Abstract of the article below:

During the time the Latter-day Saints lived in Nauvoo, John Stephens and Frederick Catherwood published “Incidents of Travel in Central America”, an illustrated report of the first discovery of ancient ruins in Central America by explorers.

 

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These discoveries caused great excitement among the Saints, and subsequently five editorials appeared in the Times and Seasons commenting on what these meant for the church. Although the author of the editorials was not indicated, historians have wondered if Joseph Smith penned them since he was the newspaper’s editor at the time.

We examined the historical evidence surrounding the editorials and
conducted a detailed stylometric analysis of the texts, comparing the writing style in the editorials with the writing styles of Joseph Smith, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff—the only men involved with the newspaper during the time the editorials were published.

Both the historical and stylometric evidence point toward Joseph Smith as the most likely author of the editorials. Even if he did not write them alone, he took full responsibility for the contents of the newspaper during his editorial tenure when he stated, “I alone stand for it.”

More information on the topic:  Joseph Smith, John Lloyd Stephens, and the Times and Seasons.  

Another post:  Joseph Smith & Mesoamerica.

John Lloyd Stephens (b. 1805) a New York Lawyer, became the first explorer in Central America, traveling with artist Frederick Catherwood. Stephen’s published four books in New York in 1840. Joseph Smith read them in 1840.  Books by StephensAs Editor of the “Times and Seasons” in Nauvoo, Illinois, Joseph Smith wrote an editorial on October 1, 1842  about the explorations of Stephens in Mesoamerica in which he stated, “The city of Zarahemla was built upon this land.”

Interesting comments from a previous prophet:

Pres. Benson - Blood of Lehi

The Church has no official position on this topic.  Yet, it is interesting to see the data coming out of Mesoamerica and Joseph’s attention on the subject in the early 1840s.

 

Joseph’s Smith Polygamy and (unsupported) Claims of Polyandry

Nobody has done more research on this topic than Brian Hales.  Brian encourages more transparency.

Latter-day Saints Q & A provides insights in his three-video series:

10-minute summary from a Church historian:

Short video about when Joseph first began to think about polygamy.  First revelations on the topic were before 1832.

Brian Hales has done incalculable amounts of work on this topic.  See his website — Joseph Smith’s Polygamy — with search engine lists of all wives, and all know details associated with each wife.

A recent presentation by Brian Hales on this topic:

Greg Smith discusses polygamy at a 2016 conference in Rome:

Gospel Tangents discusses the restoration of the priesthood in 1829, and its relevance to Fannie Alger.  Peter, James, and John bestowed the Melchizedek Priesthood.  That fact in 1829 helps answer this question:  was Fannie sealed to Joseph and with what authority?

Elijah restored the keys to direct others to seal and be sealed.  This occurred in Kirtland in 1836.  Keys are not priesthood.  Joseph held the priesthood since 1829.

Though Joseph didn’t orally share the Elijah Kirtland visitation, it was immediately dictated and put in a journal.

A candid discussion about the young women Joseph married:

Geneticist Ugo Perego shares his research as part of understanding Joseph’s polygamy.   Ugo himself performed some of the experiments to demonstrate lack of paternity.

http://www.ldsperspectives.com/2016/10/26/dna-detective-work-ugo-perego/

From Brian Hales’ research.  Joseph was sealed to a 14 year-old young woman.  All the evidence points to an eternity-only sealing.  No evidence of sexual relations.

John C Bennett was not a polygamist.  He was a serial adulterer.

This controversy, involving William Law, led to Joseph’s death.  William Law started the Nauvoo Expositor newspaper, which was unlawfully destroyed in an order by Joseph Smith.

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Blake Ostler shares insight in this podcast:

Stephen Jones is Real presents a new lens with which to consider these old issues.

Plural Marriage from a Woman’s Perspective – Mormon Polygamy Answers 3/3:

Brian Hales responds to the significant challenges on the topic:

Brian’s wife, Laura Hales, discusses the topic:

Debunking the anti-Mormon CES Letter and its extreme claims:

Ugo Perego, geneticist, contributes to an issue of paternity:

Joseph discusses the (almost-all-made-decades-later) claims against Joseph outside of Nauvoo:

An interesting view on the social conditions:

Van Hale touches on the topic of Lust in the 19th Century in a recent Mormon Miscellaneous podcast.

Items discussed:
  • Book of Mormon printer’s manuscript purchased for $35 mil by LDS Church
  • Political sexual teenagers several decades ago.
  • Plural Marriage vs Polygamy, Polyandry, Spiritual Wifery
    Many more women than men
    Women can demand marriage from righteous men
  • LDS condemns Lust
  • Sources:
    Brigham Young
    Jesse Haven
    John Gunnison
    Orson Pratt
    Helen Mar Whitney
    George Q. Cannon
  • Brigham Young – 38 children with 12 of his 49 plural wives

Succession in the LDS Church

A recent summary of a few of the factors affecting the Church in 1844:

Starting with the first transition in August 1844 till today, the video discusses succession in the LDS Church.

This video wasn’t made yesterday,  but the content is solid.

LDS Truth Claims:

Joseph Smith’s First Vision

Stephen Jones is Real provides his insights:

Jeff at Latter-day Saints Q & A shares this insight:

Richard Lloyd Anderson, Harvard-trained attorney and Berkeley PhD shares his insight.   BYU devotional given in 1983:

“I have spent half of my time studying the sources of the life of Joseph Smith, and the other half studying the words of Christ and the New Testament prophets. I find it hard to believe in the biblical prophets without also accepting Joseph Smith and those called after him. The same reasons that lead a thinking person to accept Peter and Paul as Christ’s servants should also lead that person to accept Joseph Smith as commissioned by Christ.

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Here I am going to take Paul as an example because we know more about his life than that of any other New Testament prophet. His main strengths as a prophet are also those of Joseph Smith.

If you forget some comparisons, please remember the principle—that the leading evidences that Paul is a true prophet also support Joseph Smith as called of God. Remembering that fundamental proposition, you can reconstruct this talk anytime with you own examples. Proof of the mission of any true prophet gives the format for identifying a later true prophet.”

Another BYU devotional.  This one from Truman G. Madsen in 1978:

This portion of his talk shares the memory of an acquaintance of Joseph.  She was present when an area church leader visiting her family twice.  Each time the churchman discouraged this person’s father from allowing Joseph to have such good relations with his family.

Critics claim Joseph didn’t share his vision with others till 1832.  Simply not true.

“The enemies of Joseph Smith have made out over and over that he was shiftless, lazy, indolent, that he never did a day’s work in his life.10 But a document exists that contains reported recollections about Joseph Smith as recorded by Martha Cox.

One of these comes from a woman, identified as Mrs. Palmer, who knew him in his early life when she was a child.11 As a girl—years younger than him, apparently—she watched him with others of the boys working on her father’s farm. Far from his being indolent, the truth is that, according to this account, her father hired Joseph because he was such a good worker.12

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Another reason was that Joseph was able to get the other boys to work. The suspicion is that he did that by the deft use of his fists. It is my belief that one of the feelings he had of unworthiness, one of the things for which he asked forgiveness (and his account shows that he did pray for forgiveness prior to the visitations of Moroni), was this physical propensity.

He was so strong, so muscular, so physically able, that that was one way he had of solving problems. This troubled him. He did not feel it was consonant with the divine commission he had received.13

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Mrs. Palmer’s account speaks of “the excitement stirred up among some of the people over [Joseph’s] first vision.” A churchman, she recalls, came to her father “to remonstrate against his allowing such close friendship between his family” and the boy Joseph. But the father, pleased with Joseph’s work on his farm, was determined to keep him on.

Of the vision, he said that it was “the sweet dream of a pure-minded boy.” Later, the daughter reports, Joseph claimed to have had another vision; and this time it led to the production of a book. The churchman came again, and at this point the girl’s father turned against Joseph. But, she adds significantly, by then it was too late. Joseph Smith had a following.14″

Insight into Joseph’s style:

Joseph personally wrote very little.  Instead, he used many scribes:

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Sandra Tanner, one of the LDS Church’s biggest critics, has been asked many times over the years why she left Mormonism.  Of course, each time she shares a slightly different version.  Years apart, and depending on the context, Sandra’s stories are slightly different.  We wouldn’t expect anything else.

A friend of mine — who has studied ex-Mormons for decades — told me he had seen a list of Sandra Tanner’s many and various deconversion stories.  Do these unique deconversion stories — some short, some long, some very detailed, some with dates, some with key details absent — prove Sandra was lying?

Of course not!  The same must be said for Joseph.  However, LDS critics are not nearly as consistent.

An anonymous letter (in favor of the LDS Church) in response to the Tanners’ book, “Mormonism–Shadow or Reality.”

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Commenting on the differences between the various accounts of the First Vision, one non-LDS scholar commented as follows:

“Critics of Mormonism have delighted in the discrepancies between this canonical account [the 1838 account of the First Vision as found in the Pearl of Great Price] and earlier renditions, especially one written in Smith’s own hand in 1832.

For example, in the 1832 version, Jesus appears to Smith alone, and does all the talking himself. Such complaints, however, are much ado about relatively nothing. Any good lawyer (or historian) would expect to find contradictions in competing narratives written down years apart and decades after the event.

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And despite the contradictions, key elements abide. In each case, Jesus appears to Smith in a vision. In each case, Smith is blessed with a revelation. In each case, God tells him to remain all of from all Christian denominations, as something better is in store.”

(Stephen Prothero, American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon [New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003], 171, comment in square brackets added for clarification)

More from Robert Boylan here.

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A few personal thoughts about claimed conflict or tension between Joseph’s 1832 and 1838 accounts.  Joseph said Lord twice in his 1832 journal.  Joseph said separate beings in 1838 account.

All the Father did was introduce. Nothing is contradictory in the 1832 account. It’s true, details are lacking. Clarification is lacking. I wish it was more obvious.  But it does not contradict later accounts that provided additional details.  1838 was meant to be the published account, as part of the History of the Church.
 
I’ve become a better, clearer writer after years living with my wife. She’s a super writer. I must have been a horrible writer in high school (which Joseph didn’t have) and early at BYU.
 
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By the way, Joseph usually wrote several drafts before publishing future revelations. His 1832 journal account surely isn’t the polished work he (and future scholars and members) later wished it would have been, since critics now closely scrutinize it.
 
When my wife will edit my writing, I now try to make everything painfully obvious, so my wife won’t ask a bazillion questions about who and what.  Many such details are often completely unclear in every rough draft, as was JS’s 1832 journal account of his vision.
 
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My wife edits everything that important audiences might see. Everything. Because I can’t anticipate what isn’t clear. Joseph made similar errors, in my view.
 

Why so many accounts?

Did Joseph change his story?

Why weren’t the accounts identical?

Why don’t more Latter-day Saints know about the various accounts?

Conclusion on First Vision issues:

Critics claim Joseph didn’t report on the First Vision till his first written account in 1832.  Not true.  At least one account in the area newspaper (in 1831) reported that Joseph had seen God.  4 witnesses were aware of this 1831 account.

Listen around the 1:27:00 mark:

http://interpreterfoundation.org/interpreter-radio-show-march-11-2018/

Short introduction about Joseph’s First Vision accounts written by himself or his scribes during his lifetime:

A graphical comparison of the details of Joseph Smith’s accounts of the First Vision.

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Short introduction about accounts written by others during Joseph’s lifetime:

Short introduction with a focus on the familiar 1838 account:

Joseph’s First Vision may be the most well-documented theophany in history.  Five of the eight documents are unique with three being copies of previous ones.   Five other known writers documented the event in Joseph’s lifetime.  Joseph published two known accounts in 1839 and 1842.

Scholars would be thrilled to have that much direct and indirect documentation of Moses’ encounter at the burning bush, Isaiah’s vision of the heavenly temple, and Paul on the road to Damascus.

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Speaking of Paul, Richard Lloyd Anderson wrote about the many parallels between Paul’s and Joseph’s accounts here.

Both gave their accounts at different times, in different settings, with differing details.  Complementary accounts, not obvious fraud.

Both can still be considered prophets.  Worth reading.

Couple background videos about Joseph’s First Vision:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sojlVvgZ0I8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZoDqnhnjcM&t=3s

Joseph provided accounts throughout his life and many written accounts. Below is a graphic published in the Improvement Era in 1970.  The same information was published in BYU Studies in 1969.

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Richard Anderson wrote of the First Vision and details surrounding Joseph’s accounts in the April 1996 Ensign. Click here.  

Matthew Grow shares his insight in Rome in 2016:

Ron Barney was the executive director of the Mormon History Association when he gave this talk:

Joseph’s story got abroad in the early days.  He published his account to put an end to rumors and falsehoods.  Joseph was never eager to share the First Vision.  This may seem strange with us.  But this is consistent with how he handled many other events.

For example, Joseph didn’t tell his father of his nightly Moroni visitations until Moroni told him to do so (the next day, after Joseph collapsed crossing the fence).  Joseph likely wouldn’t have told anyone — and followed this pattern with his 1st Vision — unless instructed by the angel.

Joseph was religiously private.  Joseph hesitated giving details about the translation of the Book of Mormon when asked for particulars by Hyrum.  Joseph tried to teach church leaders to keep sacred experiences sacred. Joseph taught in 1835 before the Kirtland Temple dedication, “If God gives you a manifestation, keep it to yourself.”

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April 3, 1836: Savior appeared to Joseph and Oliver.  They received keys from Moses, Elias, and Elijah.  Elder Pratt included this (Joseph Smith’s) journal entry into D&C 110, but not until 1876.  But most don’t realize the Joseph discreetly kept the record of the event to himself.  Joseph told few if any of the full scope.

Oliver was also disinclined to speak of the awesome 1836 event.  Oliver had already shown this behavior: visited by the Savior in 1829 and shown the plates in a vision, Oliver shared this to virtually no one.

Not until November 1852 was this account published in the Deseret News.   This was entirely consistent with Joseph.  He shared little.

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Matthew 17 contains the Transfiguration.  Jesus instructed Peter, James, and John to tell no man.  This type of event was not to be spread abroad.

According to Hugh Nibley:  “From his own account [in the 1838-39 account of the First Vision] it is apparent that he would not have told it publicly at all had he not been “induced” to do so by all the scandal stories that were circulating.   It was a rule among those possessing the Gospel in ancient times that the greater teachings not be publicly divulged.”

Likewise, no narrative exists from Joseph or Oliver relative to the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood.  The record shows Joseph and Oliver discussed it, but determined sharing was not appropriate.

Steven Harper:   Four Accounts and Three Critiques of Joseph Smith’s First Vision.

Joseph Factual and interpretive (what vision meant over time) memory plays a role in Joseph’s individual accounts.

Criticisms that Steven Harper addresses:

Image result for a priori knowledge1)  Critics — from the first minister to today’s critics — denounced Joseph’s First Vision a priori.  It just couldn’t have happened.  Reasonable people know this, they say.  This view is from a skeptical interpretation or hermeneutic.  Latter-day Saints tend to have a hermeneutic of trust.

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2)  Joseph didn’t share First Vision story till 1840.  False:   written accounts exist from 1832.   Other details were shared by others in 1820 and certainly before 1840. Critics’ methods assume how a person, such as Joseph, must have acted if the accounts were true.  Joseph was criticized and persecuted.  He didn’t share this story much in the early years.

A few days after Joseph’s vision, Joseph shared his story with the Methodist minister (who had been involved in the area’s religious upheavals).  This minister showed great contempt.  Joseph said in his 1832 account that “he could find no one” who would believe.

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3)  No revivals in Palmyra in 1820.  Perhaps true, but you can’t prove a negative.  But Joseph talked about the activity across the “district” and didn’t specify 1820.  Many camp meetings were held in Manchester and the area in years around and including 1820.  Joseph was factually accurate when you read the text of Joseph’s own report.

Brett McDonald also created a video, explaining the historical evidence behind the First Vision (from start till 43:00).

Joseph saw God and Jesus (2 unique individuals) in 1820.   At the outset and for a variety of reasons (mostly persecution), Joseph told few people about this event.  But Joseph shared much, much more than critics want to acknowledge.  And he was consistent in his accounts of the vision.

Brian Hales shares information to rebut the CES Letter — the latest aggregated tract critical of LDS truth claims.

Brian Hales points out in the above video (starting at 4:25) that Joseph (w/ Sydney Rigdon) saw “the plain separateness of” God and Jesus, as they saw the 3 degrees of glory in vision (D&C 76).  Their joint vision occurred on February 16, 1832.  This vision occurred around 6 months before Joseph personally penned his first account of the 1st Vision.

Joseph did not hold a Trinitarian view of the Godhead when he wrote his first account in the summer of 1832.  How could he?  Joseph saw God and Jesus separately several months before on 2/16/1832 recorded in D&C 76.  He was neither a Trinitarian in 1832 — at the time Joseph recorded his First Vision story — nor earlier.  The historical record is clear on the basis of recorded visions.

Critics assert that Joseph didn’t tell others about his first vision for years.  And that his accounts weren’t consistent.  The research shows otherwise.

Consider this timeline from the YouTube video below:

This speaker, Matthew Brown, at the 2004 FAIR Mormon conference showed below that Joseph did share his 1st Vision account with many others than the Methodist minister. The entire video is good. The first vision discussion starts at 18:40.

At 20:50 of the below video Matthew Brown points out that Joseph’s father and mother reported (verbally and in print) that Joseph was mistreated and persecuted in 1820 (after his first visitation from heaven took place) by religionists.

At 21: 09: A non-Mormon Smith neighbor is also quoted in 1820 who witnessed a religionist’s reaction. This religionist was a Presbyterian minister instructed the non-Mormon neighbor’s father to not allow his son to associate with the Smith boy. The minister continued, saying that Joseph “must be put down or else he would someday convince others to follow after him.” Not persecution? Would you have wanted to share your first vision with lots of folks after that?

These above accounts aren’t in alignment with many LDS critics’ claims. Critics claim that the 1st Vision didn’t exist until 1838, and wasn’t generally known by Latter-day Saints till 1840.

Further facts (at 22:10 in video): Joseph’s own town newspaper published in 1830 that Joseph Smith had seen God personally.

Missionaries from 1830 on taught that Joseph saw God and Jesus (as separate beings) in a grove of trees in 1820. The phrase, “This is my Beloved Son. Hear Him!”, was generally known.

Was Joseph’s experience known only to a few individuals?  No! The opposite is true. In 1831 Joseph told a crowd of over 200 people about his earliest manifestation. And in 1834 he related it in a midst of many large congregations.

In addition to clarifying who knew about the First Vision before 1840, Matthew Brown shares much about the misconceptions regarding Joseph’s early days and ministry. So, watch the entire video…

Did early LDS leaders misunderstand the First Vision, as critics suggest?  Nope.

Early friends and associates of the prophet were familiar with Joseph’s First Vision story.  Read the link below:

Did Early LDS Leaders Misunderstand the First Vision?

A friend posted this in a discussion group:

“Use this handy chart. The First Vision Accounts are numbered 1-8. If it’s not on the list (for example, Cowdery’s 1834-35 letters to the editor, which is a Book of Mormon origin story) it’s not a FV account. Antis like to throw those in to make the differences seem larger than they are. Letters A-P are the various story points.

1) Letter Book, 1831-32, Joseph Smith
2) Jewish Minister, 1835, Joseph Smith
3) Official Version, 1838-39, Joseph Smith
4) Pratt tract, 1840, Orson Pratt
5) Hyde tract, 1842, Orson Hyde
6) Wentworth letter, 1842, Joseph Smith
7) N.Y. Spectator, 1843, Joseph Smith
8) Neibaur diary, 1844, Alexander Neibaur

A) Religious excitement: 3,8
B) JS’s concern for his soul: 1,4,5,6,8
C) Disillusionment w/existing churches: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7
D) Which church was right: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8
E) JS searches the scriptures: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8
F) JS prays: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 
G) Strange force of opposition: 2,3,4,5,8
H) Appearance of light: 1,2,3,4,7,8
I) Appearance of Deity: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8
J) Two personages: 2,3,4,5,6,7,8 
K) Forgiveness of sins: 1,2,4 
L) Testimony of Jesus: 1,2,3,7 
M) Join no church: 1,3,4,5,6,7,8
N) Gospel to be restored: 4,5,6
O) JS filled with love: 1
P) Unsuccessful in getting others to believe:1,3,8

With respect to the age question, every FV account which mentions age (as originally written) has him at 14 years old. The only outlier is the 1831-32 Letter Book account – which has him at 15 in an inclusion – which was added after the fact, in somebody else’s handwriting.”

Restoration of the Priesthood: Aaronic and Melchezidek

President Kimball said years ago, pointing to a statue of St. Peter holding keys, “Today, I hold the keys.”

Both priesthoods were restored as Joseph and Oliver translated the Book of Mormon in Harmony, Pennsylvania.  Many details were provided about the Aaronic Priesthood.  Fewer details are known about the Melchizedek.

A summary from LDS.org:  Where was the Priesthood Restored?

A two-minute video about the Priesthood Restoration Site near Harmony (now Oakland), PA.

58-minute video below by Elder Nelson on the Restoration of the Priesthood.

President Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles dedicated the Priesthood Restoration Site in Oakland Township, Pennsylvania, on Saturday, September 19, 2015.

It was in this area Joseph Smith received the priesthood, translated most of the Book of Mormon and received several additional revelations now canonized as scripture.

Another video, highlighting historical details of Joseph’s activities in and around Harmony, PA from late 1827 till June 1829.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2aZHLgnnit0

April 15, 1829 John the Baptist restored the Aaronic Priesthood.  We know lots of details of this visitation.

The date and location of the Restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood is not known with certainty. Several accounts were given later and scholars have provided general estimates about date and location.

Critics suggest that without a date & exact location the entire story is shown to be an obvious lie.  Does that logically follow?  No. That’s absurd!

Do we know when Jesus commissioned his Apostles?  No.

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Does it matter that we don’t know the specific dates of virtually anything in the Bible?  No.

How would it matter to know the dates?  It wouldn’t.

For many years we didn’t know that Martin Harris received payment for his $3000 loan for the Book of Mormon publication. Decades later, Church historians found a record, indicating Martin got 60 acres in exchange for this $3000 loan.

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Some things turn up in Church history. Some don’t.

Read this to get more background:  Dating the Restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood

From this article, “The Restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods” we get this range of dates:

“Historical records and the testimony of Joseph Smith’s associates tell the manner, order, and pattern of priesthood restoration and indicate that the time of the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood was probably within the 13-day period of 16 to 28 May 1829.”

Read descriptions of South Bainbridge, Colesville, and other locations pertinent to the Restoration of the Priesthood.

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After visiting friends in Colesville Township, NY near the end of May, 1829 mobs forced Oliver and Joseph to flee.  They traveled all night to return to Harmony, PA where they were actively translating the record into the Book of Mormon.

Oliver, much weaker physically than Joseph, collapsed during the night. Joseph carried the small Oliver for a time, but became exhausted himself.  Sometime in the morning Peter, James, and John appeared.

This video’s map is helpful, as are the scholars who fill in details:

Joseph and Oliver left that region (Harmony, PA) shortly after receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood, and moved to join with the Whitmers.  They arrived at the Whitmers’ home before the end of May 1829.

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Joseph and Oliver (and possibly a few other scribes) completed the translation in Fayette, NY.    The Golden Plates were shown to the 3 and 8 witnesses in Fayette, near the Whitmer farm.  And later, on 4/6/1830, the Church was organized in the Whitmer log cabin.

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Gospel Tangents discusses the restoration of the priesthood in 1829, and its relevance to Fannie Alger.  Peter, James, and John bestowed the Melchizedek Priesthood.  That restoration in 1829 helps answer this question:  was Fannie sealed to Joseph and with what authority?

Elijah restored the keys to direct others to seal and be sealed.  This occurred in Kirtland in 1836.  Keys are not priesthood.  Joseph held the priesthood since 1829.

Though Joseph didn’t orally share the Elijah Kirtland visitation, it was immediately dictated and put in a journal.

Ron Barney explains that we must understand Joseph Smith’s sensibilities regarding sacred matters.  In his presentation below, Ron also makes these points:

Joseph’s story got abroad in the early days.  He published his account to put an end to rumors and falsehoods.  Joseph was never eager to share the First Vision.  This may seem strange with us.  But this is consistent with how he handled many other events.

For example, Joseph didn’t tell his father of his nightly Moroni visitations until Moroni told him to do so (the next day, after Joseph collapsed crossing the fence).  Joseph likely wouldn’t have told anyone — and followed this pattern with his 1st Vision — unless instructed by the angel.

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Joseph was religiously private.  Joseph hesitated giving details about the translation of the Book of Mormon when asked for particulars by Hyrum.  Joseph tried to teach church leaders to keep sacred experiences sacred. Joseph taught in 1835 before the Kirtland Temple dedication, “If God gives you a manifestation, keep it to yourself.”

April 3, 1836: Savior appeared to Joseph and Oliver.  They received keys from Moses, Elias, and Elijah.  Elder Pratt included this (Joseph Smith’s) journal entry into D&C 110, but not until 1876.  But most don’t realize the Joseph discreetly kept the record of the event to himself.  Joseph told few if any of the full scope.

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Oliver was also disinclined to speak of the awesome 1836 event.  Oliver had already shown this behavior: visited by the Savior in 1829 and shown the plates in a vision, Oliver shared this to virtually no one.

Not until November 1852 was this account published in the Deseret News.   This was entirely consistent with Joseph.  He shared little.

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Matthew 17 contains the Transfiguration.  Jesus instructed Peter, James, and John to tell no man.  This type of event was not to be spread abroad.

According to Hugh Nibley:  “From his own account [in the 1838-39 account of the First Vision] it is apparent that he would not have told it publicly at all had he not been “induced” to do so by all the scandal stories that were circulating.   It was a rule among those possessing the Gospel in ancient times that the greater teachings not be publicly divulged.”

Likewise, no narrative exists from Joseph or Oliver relative to the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood.  The record shows Joseph and Oliver discussed it, but determined sharing was not appropriate.

Bushman, in his book “Rough Stone Rolling”, says that the Melchizedek Priesthood may have been restored in 1830.  Not 1829.  Start around the 15:00 mark:

A. William Lund, former Assistant Historian of the Church, gave this speech on the Melchizedek Priesthood Restoration in 1951 at BYU.  These aren’t new issues.  And Bro. Lund had a unique position from which to provide insight.

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Brother Lund worked at and was associated with the Church Historians Office from 1908 till his death in 1971.

When Brother Lund came to work at the Historian’s Office there were many veteran members of the Church who personally recalled experiences in Nauvoo and early Utah.

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He enjoyed talking with them, as well as visitors who streamed past his desk for more than the next sixty years.

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Brett McDonald discusses evidence relative to the priesthood restoration, starting around 44:40 in the below video.  The first part of this video focuses on the First Vision.

Oliver and Joseph didn’t regularly and publicly discuss the specifics of the restoration till 1834.  Oliver did refer to his own personal priesthood authority in 1829, however.  See video segment below at 47:05 for discussion of Oliver’s account in 1829.

As Brett explains in the video above, Oliver was a consistent and reliable witness throughout his life.  No conspiracy with Joseph — not during translation, restoration of the priesthood, or when he saw the angel and plates with the other witnesses.

It might be a good time to review this below video about Oliver’s role as a witness to the Golden Plates, among other objects and items (Sword of Laban, Liahona, Urim and Thummim, brass plates, etc).

Who Wrote the Lectures on Faith: Sydney Rigdon

In 1835, the church published the Doctrine and Covenants, which contained significant additions to the 1833 Book of Commandments. At the beginning of the collection of revelations were seven theological lectures that had originally been delivered at the Kirtland School the preceding winter.

Details about the purpose and curriculum of the Kirtland School, later referred to as the “School for the Elders” or “School of the Prophets,” are uncertain. Most of what we know is taken from late reminiscences recorded nearly fifty years after its commencement. Lessons included at least an English grammar element and the seven theological lectures, which were part of a series to “unfold … the doctrine of Jesus Christ.” The classroom consisted of prospective missionaries and church leaders and, by all accounts, was presided over by Sidney Rigdon.

The lectures were removed from the Doctrine and Covenants in the 1921 edition, but they did not fade away. They have proven to be particularly buoyant as they have experienced resurgent popularity over the years and an ability to maintain a loyal following. But the history of the Lectures on Faith are a cautionary tale for members of the church that illustrates the dangers of historical forgetting.

It was common knowledge in the 19th century that the lectures were written by Sidney Rigdon, but by the mid-twentieth century it was thought that the Prophet Joseph Smith had penned them. Perhaps enamored with the arcane rhetorical style of the arguments, some members latched on to them as a source of deep theological thought. What they didn’t realize was that the style mimics that of the preachers of the 19th century and of the Campbellites in particular. Especially telling is the reference to a binary Godhead in the fifth lecture. Joseph Smith explicitly declared in Nauvoo that his concept of the Godhead had never changed, and he had always taught the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost were separate entities.

But all the historical evidence to discredit Joseph Smith and attribute Sidney Rigdon as author was circumstantial. It wasn’t until Noel Reynold’s discovered some new documents that he realized he had found the “smoking gun” and the confirmation that he needed to form a solid argument for Sidney Rigdon as the author.

Join Laura Harris Hales as she discusses with Noel Reynolds the mystery of the authorship of the Lectures on Faith and what we can learn from this episode in Mormon history.

 

Episode 44: Mystery Solved: Who wrote the Lectures on Faith? – Noel Reynolds