Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Composition vs. Transcription: Richard Bushman on the Translation of the Book of Mormon

In his marvelous biography of Joseph Smith, Rough Stone Rolling, Richard Bushman makes the following statement about the method of translation of the Book of Mormon:
Composition is the naturalistic explanation for the Book of Mormon--the way books are always written--but it is at odds with the Joseph Smith of the historical record. The accounts of the neighbors picture an unambitious, uneducated, treasure-seeking Joseph, who had never written anything and is not known to have read anything but the Bible and perhaps the newspaper. None of the neighbors noted signs of learning or intellectual interests beyond the religious discussions in a juvenile debating club. To account for the disjuncture between the Book of Mormon's complexity and Joseph's history as an uneducated rural visionary, the composition theory calls for a precocious genius of extraordinary powers who was voraciously consuming information without anyone knowing it.

The transcription theory has Joseph Smith "seeing" the Book of Mormon text in the seerstone or the Urim and Thummim. He saw the words in the stone as he had seen lost objects or treasure and dictated them to his secretary. The eyewitnesses who described translation, Joseph Knight, Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer, who was in the house during the last weeks of translation, understood translation as transcription. Referring to the seerstone as a Urim and Thummim, Knight said: "Now the way he translated was he put the urim and thummim into his hat and Darkned his Eyes then he would take a sentance and it would apper in Brite Roman Letters. Then he would tell the writer and he would write it. Then that would go away the next sentance would Come and so on." Joseph himself said almost nothing about his method but implied transcription when he said that "the Lord had prepared spectacles for to read the Book." Close scrutiny of the original manuscript (by a believing scholar) seems to support transcription. Judging from the way Cowdery wrote down the words, Joseph saw twenty to thirty words at a time, dictated them, and then waited for the next twenty to appear. Difficult names (Zenoch, Amalickiah) were spelled out. By any measure, transcription was a miraculous process, calling for a huge leap of faith to believe, yet, paradoxically, it is more in harmony with the young Joseph of the historical record than is composition.
(Bushman, p. 72)
While much remains unclear about how Joseph did the translation (was it really so literal or direct as some witnesses assumed?), all witnesses insist that it was a divine process of translation, not a work of composition. And that's consistent with the manuscripts that have survived, as Royal Skousen has masterfully demonstrated.

Naturalistic explanations for the Book of Mormon are unable to explain how he could have written it, let alone why. And a severe obstacle for the composition/plagiarism theories is how Joseph could possibly have hoped to have gotten away with a fraud that involved so many witnesses - and why they all would go to their graves insisting that the plates were real and the translation was divine, even when some of them had fallen out with Joseph Smith.

Truly the Book of Mormon is a marvelous work and a wonder.


Anonymous said...

Your last paragraph is the same point made in the comic book the Book of Mormon on Trial.
It's a good point, but what's never noted is the possibility of monetary gain from publishing a book. Most of the witnesses were related, further adding to the potential for a conspiracy.
Martin's wife notes that he may have had ulterior monetary motives in his involvement. Similarly, there were people and resources within Joseph's sphere of influence that could have conspired to craft the Book of Mormon.
But faith and personal testimony trump all of these concerns.

Anonymous said...

"there were people and resources"

Speculation, all. Notice the words used: "potential" "may have had" "possibility"

These people and resources being whom and what? And the quality of these people and resources?

And if it were all about money (which, interestingly enough, was one of the main concerns on the minds of the Smiths at the time--that, I'll grant you), why the elaborate drama of losing the 116 pages? David Whitmer had no financial stake in the operation. Martin Harris was the ONLY one who had any monetary investment.

And how easy should it have been to disavow the book once it flopped. That's what normally happens--book fails, publisher moves on, author either writes another one or is forgotten. Not with Joseph. He not only sticks to his flop; he dies for it.

Sorry, the money theory is just too simplistic to be taken seriously.

Anonymous said...

This makes for an interesting test of Occam's Razor. Which is the simplest answer: that it was a group of men conspiring to fabricate a religious organization in order to make money, or a case of a young boy reopening the heavens (which would eventually lead to all sorts of suspicious activities, including marrying his teenage maid and advocating capital punishment against those who crossed him).

Stacey Pokorney, the "Party Crasher" said...

So, as a non-LDS Christian, I would be fascinated to see the original gold plates that Joesph Smith found, and to see the writing. Where is this located? Is it in the main church headquarters in Salt Lake City, or is it near Cumorah in upstate New York? I am hoping to take some religious studying trips next summer and I would love to plan a visit to wherever that location is. Throw me a bone, please!

Anonymous said...

"which would eventually lead to all sorts of suspicious activities, including marrying his teenage maid and advocating capital punishment against those who crossed him)"

You could at least a little more covert about your sleight-of-hand here :)

Even more, you might do us the courtesy of actually citing your references (are you aware of ANY of the literature that's been done on the topic--even a single scholarly article?). Most educated Mormons are fully aware of your claims (Helen Mar Kimball, Fanny Alger, the Partridge sisters), both of which are significant distortions of the historical documentation. This topic has been treated elsewhere on Jeff's blog. If you want to see it, you can search for it on the google function.

Bottom line: marrying the maid was a dynastic marriage. Joseph never gave the inclinations of libidinal freak--but a man who sincerely believed what he did was commanded by God. I challenge anyone one to find a solid scrap of evidence that paints Joseph as the libertine folks like to paint him as (Brodie didn't even buy into it; why should anyone else?)

Anonymous said...


While the plates are not available, we do have at least one of the famed Anthon manuscripts which shows us some of the characters believed to have been on the plates (a transcription of the plates characters Martin Harris took to a scholar in New York--another story, another time). Here is an image.


This is not likely the one Anthon referred to in later correspondence; however, this was found in David Whitmer's papers.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Anonymous at 11:21 AM must surely be familiar with criticisms of the Occam's Razor theory. Subscription to the theory requires acceptance of certain underlying valuations which cannot be proven to be consistently true (i.e. that simplicity is always more important than other considerations). Why, wholesale acceptance of Occam's Razor requires as much faith as acceptance of any religious principle.

Jeff Lindsay said...

This post is not about polygamy.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Jeff.

I let myself get carried away in addressing every stupid concern.

Mea Culpa, mea culpa.

Bishop Rick said...


This is a public blog. Topics tend to get side tracked. If you can't deal with that, perhaps you should stop blogging publically and open a private website that only people who agree with you can have access to.

Bishop Rick said...


The reason the gold plates are not available is because they were taken to heaven by an angel of the Lord after the translation / transcription was completed.

Do you have any more questions?

Bishop Rick said...

The possibility that a conspiracy existed with the end game being monotary recompense in one form or another certainly exists. It has as much credence as the divine translation story, if not more.

With the conspiricy theory, you are asking people to believe something that can and indeed has happened before.

With the divine translation story, you are asking people to believe something that has never happened before, and is not likely to happen in the future.

This is where Occam's Razor comes into play.

Bottom line, if you believe the BofM to be a real translation from golden plates, you must do so based on faith (which you must do with religion in general).

In so doing, you choose not to believe the conspiracy theories or plagarism stories, but that does not mean they are false (or true). You simply choose to believe one way or another.

Anonymous said...

The conspiracy theory certainly is simpler; however, simplicity seldom has a relationship with reality. Also, it's too easy to fall back on a conspiracy; it can't be proven wrong.

On Occam's Razor--
An American Revolution never happened before. A Jewish holocaust by crazed dictator never happened before. At some point, everything violated Occam's Razor

No, I don't buy into Occam's Razor in the least. I follow where the evidence leads. If it's complex, so be it. If one feels the conspiracy theory is more reasonable, I'll listen to the argument--as long as I see sound documentation.

Otherwise, as Elder Holland once noted, all of our talk amounts to fried froth.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Rick, it's fairly common for bloggers to moderate comments. Rather than using the moderate comments feature of blogger, I just step in occasionally when I feel something is out of line. Out of line antics include profanity, wildly off-topic comments, and links to unwelcome sites (including anti-Mormon sites, porn, and Packer fan sites). If that bothers you, I'm sorry. It's a public site subject to my private supervision.

Stacey Pokorney, the "Party Crasher" said...

Hello, all, sorry I'm late back to the party!
Walker, it's true no "American Revolution" never happened before the one we had, but revolutions in and of themselves have happened throughout history and continue to happen today.
No "Jewish Holocaust" happened before the 1940's in Germany? I am sure that Jews throughout history would argue that aside from that one particularly gruesome event in human history, Jews have been persecuted and slaughtered by the millions for centuries. One need look no further than King Herod's murder of thousands of innocent infants at the time of Christ's birth, or even to the medieval Black Plague, when in the late 14th centure millions of European Jews were burned at the stake as they were blamed for causing the disease.

I agree that Occam's Razor may be too simplistic of an explanation for every issue, especially issues of faith. What everyone is forgetting is that the mere attempt to "prove" the BofM or any other document requires intellectual scrutiny, not faith. All are welcome to believe whatever they want, but when one says, "Hey, I can prove this document is true, take a look at this," then I think weighing the evidence presented, and considering it through the eyes of Occam's Razor among many other factors, only makes logical sense!
Blessings to all,
Stacey Pokorney
Dallas, TX

Anonymous said...


You certainly would agree though that the American Revolution was a unique event, with many causes. Yet, like the BOok of Mormon, how much easier it is to ascribe to it a simplistic "economic" or "racial" analysis to it, leaving out a myriad of other, often more important factors. Yet, such analysis fits beautifully with Occam's Razor. Hence, the fallacy of Occam.

Let's apply OR to the BOM--just for fun/argument's sake. A simple money making scheme should have produced a simple book. It doesn't matter who all conspired in the divine origin story--what matters is the text itself, the evidence. ALl the evidence need not be belabored here (cement, chiasmus, Nahom, names, plausible geography, names :)

What is the "simplest" explanation for this plethora of Old World connections? No access to quality scholarship, little reading ability, a cursory knowledge of Bible stories (he didn't know about Jerusalem's walls)? The simplest explanation is that somebody intimately acquainted with Old World languages and cultures wrote the BOM, something Joseph certainly was not.

The simplest explanation is the one given. It takes a leap of faith the size of Tennessee for me to believe that Joseph could "absorb" all this information from a few local legends about mounds and a few Protestant sermons. One might as well say that angels come down and give books to farm boys :)

Bishop Rick said...


It is well known that JS had a fairly intimate knowledge of the Bible as he studied it constantly. In doing so, he must have had adequate reading ability.

And what is this plethera of old world references you are referring to, that can't be found in the bible?

There is nothing in the BOM that requires intimate knowledge of old world culture and language that can't be accessed from the bible.

I'm not saying the conspiracy theories are true, but JS's lack of education is not a defense against them.

Bishop Rick said...


Fair enough.

Anonymous said...

"I'm not saying the conspiracy theories are true"

Good. Franklin once said that the only way to get two Americans to keep a secret was to shoot one.

"It is well known that JS had a fairly intimate knowledge of the Bible as he studied it constantly. In doing so, he must have had adequate reading ability"

That's not what the primary witness says. Lucy Mack Smith stated in her history:

"I think that we presented the most peculiar aspect of any family that ever lived upon the earth, all seated in a circle, father, mother, sons, and daughters, listening in breathless anxiety to the religious teachings of a boy eighteen years of age who had NEVER READ THE BIBLE through by course in his life. For Joseph was less inclined to the study of books than any child we had, but much more given to reflection and deep study." All Joseph did was nibble and peck (which would likely account for the similarity in phrasing with the Book of Mormon). His knowledge was sporadic, lacking the infrastructure
typically needed to create a Bible-based "historical" account.
Add to this Emma's remark about JOseph's ignorance of the Bible while translating re: Jerusalem's walls. The evidence weighs clearly on the side of ignorance and I invite anyone to provide solid documentation to the contrary.

Some folks mention that Joseph could recognize the Malachi verse quoted by Moroni. However, this argument falls short. Joseph was writing his history long afterwards, after he gained this intimate acquaintance with the Bible. He remembered what Moroni told him, compared it to what he had read since then, and recorded the difference in his history.

Joseph's prowess with the Bible came about later in life, as his self-perception as Prophet grew.

But if you want "have faith" that Lucy's and Emma's word can't be trusted, feel free. In which case, it becomes our contemporaries' word against their's--not a fair matchup, I'd say.

"And what is this plethera of old world references you are referring to, that can't be found in the bible?"

Too little space here--here are a few nuggets.

Could you please point to a discussion of an Arabian-Peninsula Nahom in the Bible? How about the treachery/garb wordplay found in Helaman 9:6? And you have the credentials to take on William ALbright in his observation that the name, Pahoran, has Egyptian roots?

And the translation of the name Mosiah, something only a Hebraist would know (and but recently at that with John Sawyer's work)? Chiasmus have become cliche, but I do point out Helaman chapter 6, with the Zedekiah/Lord word play (theophoric suffixes, something Joseph wouldn't have been able to pronounce, let alone be exposed to) The list continues.

What is the "simplest" explanation? A Joseph Smith that never farms, but walks around all day soaking in random bits about Hebrew wordplays, which, to reiterize, were not likely on the discourse of the Eerie Canal building ruffians that Joseph tended to associate with?

What theory BEST accounts for ALL of the evidence? Not the Bible--too unrelated the evidence. Not upstate New York--too vague of parallels.

What theory do YOU offer, Rick?

Anonymous said...

What about the theory that Oliver and his contacts (Ethan Smith, the Mason guy that ended up murdered whatever his name was), wrote the Book of Mormon and simply enlisted Joseph as their spokesperson. And Joseph, already eccentric and charismatic, ran with the ball they gave him.
Isn't this the underlying plot behind Dan Brown's next book? The connection between Joseph and the local Masonic activity? If so, apologists need to be getting their ducks in a row now.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely, Louis (on the Dan Brown part, not the first part--too much inertia had been built up on gold plates stories independent of/prior to Cowdery's visit). Mormon folks are generally ill informed on Mason/Mormon connections. What they know is often simplistic and even worse, incorrect. While nothing is going to truly halt the work, this certainly could be an annoying gnat.

Noob Mormon said...

I keep hearing about all the information available in the 1800's that could have enabled someone (Joseph Smith or otherwise) to fabricate the BOM. has anyone here seen a compiled list of all the references necessary to do this?

Bishop Rick said...


Remember, it is you who brought this subject up, not me.

LMS didn't say that JS "NEVER READ THE BIBLE" as you highlight. She said he never read the bible through by course. In other words, he never read from start to finish.

You would have us believe that JS was a lazy uneducated kid that did not have time for studying the bible, but rather preferred to spend his time in reflection.

Now that is exactly who I would single out to restore my Gospel which BTW is based on the Bible.

JS remembered what Moroni told him...? Why couldn't he remember if it was Moroni or Nephi that visited him or whether it was Nephi, or a group of Angels, or Jesus, or Jesus and God the Father that appeared to him in the Grove?

There is no arabian penninsula by the name of Nahom. You must be referring to NHM which only a handful of mormon scholars associate with Nahom, and absolutely no non-Mormon scholars. What about the 100s of other geograpical references in the BOM where no proof has been established? By comparison, the Bible is loaded with proven geographical references.

Garb/Treachery wordplay? You must be kidding. Yes it is true that the Hebrew translation of Garb is associated with the word Treachery, but that makes no sense in Helaman 9:6 (...being stabbed by his brother by a garb of secrecy...). Replace garb with treachery and the sentence makes no sense. Replace garb of with "clothed in" and the sentence makes perfect sense. Garb used in this manner was poplular in JS's time.

Pahoran and Mosiah having Egyptian and Hebrew roots respectively is weak at best. I can take any name in the bible and with a slight change have created a name with Egyptian or Hebrew roots. Certainly JS could have done the same.

Not to mention the other 100s of names in the BOM that have no such roots.

Chiasmus is folly that can be found in any text of sufficiant size.

I would have thought you would lead with your best stuff since "space is limited", but you have lead with nothing.

I don't have a conspiracy theory for why JS would have written the BOM himself or in conjunction with others, but if I were to formulate one it would be to generate a revenue stream (which the BOM did) to ascend to a leadership position over a people (which JS did) and to create a theocracy with which I could convince my followers of anything I wished (I would mention several candidates here but don't want to get sensored).

Is it possible that the BOM has divine origins? Sure.

Is it possible that the BOM was bourne out of conspiracy? Again Sure.

Anonymous said...

Will anyone ever find sufficient objective proof, beyond reasonable doubt, that the Book of Mormon is what Joseph Smith said it is? No, of course not. God would never allow that. He requires that we live by faith.

Curiously enough, a person can study the Book of Mormon, ponder its message, and ask God quite directly whether or not it is true, and find out that it is.

I don't question the truth of the Book of Mormon because I can feel that it is true. That's the way the Spirit communicates truth -- not through argument or logic. God provides sufficient witnesss to establish that it is something worth investigating, but then requires some personal investment before he reveals more.

The role of the apologetic, as I see it, is to show that the divine origin of the Book of Mormon is a plausible explanation, even if one of several. The point? A person who sees no plausibility in modern revelation won't test it, and will thereby miss out on tremendous blessings that could be theirs.

Anonymous said...

No worries, Rick. Really. The topic came up from ANon (way back when) about this being a conspiracy theory. I simply don't buy it.

Per the specific points:

1. My commentary following Lucy's statement is significant, that Joseph's reading was unsystematic. No misreading here. Also don't forget Emma's comment about his lack of knowledge on Jerusalem's walls (JOseph looked frightened half to death when he thought he was deceived on the wall issue, Emma said).

And I wouldn't have you believe it necessarily; Lucy would.

2. Your counter does not relate. Diversion from the topic. It is worth noting that Joseph did generally have a bad memory. Why he remembered the Malachi verse and can't remember other things, I can only place on the singularity of the experience burning it into his mind.

3. A misunderstanding. I wasn't referring to a peninsula; I was just referring to Arabian-Peninsual as an adjective, but no matter.

In any case, I was speaking of NHM. Frankly, though, I don't care who finds evidence. The question is: what does the evidence mean? That NHM fits (and it shouldn't have, if it were a random guess--who thinks of the ARabian desert in the 19th century as being "bountiful" in anything but dust?) should again play into our thinking. And that the BOM does fit quite well in terms of proportionality of distances and directional accuracy should play into the picture as well.

4. No joke (though I do find this one particularly funny :) I'm referring to a literary device, not a strict translation. Certainly you don't replace one word with the other. My conclusion would that the author was hinting at the treachery of the situation. If you don't want to accept, don't. Just don't dismiss it without offering a superior explanation.

5. I've seen and read out loud the Hebrew for the name Mosiah. Mem, Ayin, Shesh, and Hey, if you're interested in the precise spelling. It's there. The translation of the term fits beautifully (a temporal savior). I'm not qualified to take on Albright in even his passing observations. Again, if you have a better conclusion, please offer it.

6. Notice how little emphasis I placed on chiasmus. I recognize that it can be forced onto a text. I was simply referring to theophoric suffix nature of the chiastic climax, which is indeed more than random parallelism.

7. The Book of Mormon sold quite poorly, practically boycotted by the populace. Grandin was freaking out, wondering what would happen. And if the Book were so ordinary, so fitting to the Bible, why would it convince anybody of anything? Folks weren't just duped into this on his sole word--Pratt just read the book.

Honestly, I was just going off the top of my head--I try not to spend too much research energy on blogs.

Anyway, cheers.

Anonymous said...

oops, got my Arabian geography discombobulated.

NHM is the burial ground; Wadi Sayq (among other candidates) the Bountiful.

Sorry for burdening the blog!

Bishop Rick said...


You are saying that God hides the truth from those that seek it because truth gets in the way of faith.

Hiding the truth is nothing less than a lie. Does your God lie? Mine doesn't.

Bishop Rick said...


In #7, I wasn't referring to sales of BOMs (although JS did send people to sell the BOM transcript in search of revenue). I was referring to the revenue stream created by tithe paying members that subsidised JS throughout his adult life...JS never held a job.

Anonymous said...

Point well taken.

But you should be more discreet on the absolute statements such as "Joseph never held a job"

As an adult, he did own the store in Nauvoo (and made less-than-shrewd business decisions by giving every joe schlunk who walked in as much credit as he wanted/said he needed).

Other employers:

Josiah Stowell (working in sawmills)
Joseph Knight Sr (working in carding machinery and gristmills--Joseph Knight Jr. quoted Sr that Joseph was "the best hand he ever had")

And re: tithing--Joseph was remarkably late in getting his slice of the pay--not until 1838. He WAS a poor businessman. Here he is, a prophet who can have anything he wants, and he waits 8 years to dip into the pie. Apparently, there was almost no immediate causation between the BOM and the law of tithing (which the latter monies were used far more in the Missouri humanitarian needs than for Joseph)

Joseph the money grubber at his finest :)

Anonymous said...

Bishop Rick,

Yes, I am saying that God does hide the truth from those who seek it in some other way than the way he has counseled us, which is by faith, humility, study, pondering, and prayer -- with obedience to his commandments thrown in to remove influences that would prevent us from receiving communication through the Holy Spirit.

Christ taught only by parable. Why? "It was to veil the meaning. The parable conveys to the hearer religious truth exactly in proportion to his faith and intelligence..." (BD).

Or, as Christ put it, "Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive." (Matt. 13:13-14)

So is this your God, or is it some other?

God works from the inside out, not the outside in. When we exercise faith, it is rewarded with great knowledge. When we abandon faith and seek truth by some other way, we are pretty much on our own, and yes, by his own admission, he will hide the truth from us.

My advice is to have faith and search it out by study and prayer. You will not be disappointed.

Anonymous said...

I don't mean to be overbearing, but it occurred to me that it might not be clear what it means to "exercise faith" in discovering whether the Book of Mormon is true. It doesn't mean that you have to somehow convince yourself it is true before asking God -- it means that you need to have an open mind about the Book of Mormon, but have faith in God, that he can and will reveal whether or not the book is true, or, lacking that, a desire to believe that God will reveal truth to you.

It is also important to remove negative influences, such as those that come through exposure to pornography, mind-altering drugs, and other negative behaviors. The spirit is a sensitive instrument and must be nurtured in order to perceive revelation.

Bishop Rick said...


I appreciate explanation, and understand you are interpreting scripture to come to your conclusions.

That said, I must say that I struggle with this concept. It reminds me of an old AM radio with a dial tuner that doesn't quite grab the signal.

Why would God and Jesus veil truth? If they are indeed teaching, then why speak in a way that only those that are already intelligent enough can understand. Not a very good teacher if you ask me.

I can see Jesus using this tactic when speaking to the pharisees and such, but not his followers. He would have wanted them to be able to understand his message fully.

Why does this have to be so hard? You are already at a disadvantage if you are not born into the right situation, then you have to find your way through all the trickery and veiled messages. Seems like we are all just being set up to fail.

The guy that is born into a radical muslim family and is taught to hate jews and other infidels has no chance. When he walks into a restaurant with a bomb attached to himself and detonates it in the name of Allah really believes he is doing the right thing. He has a testimony if you will that he is willing to seal with his own blood.

Is he right? I don't think so, but that is not the point. The point is that he thinks he is right. He has faith in that which has been taught him. So this learn by faith thing doesn't quite resonate with me. Leaves too much to chance.

This can't be the plan of an omnipotent. It makes no sense.

Anonymous said...

Bishop Rick,

Good questions, it does seem odd on the surface that God would want to hide truth. I can think of a couple of reasons.

One rolls back to the whole purpose for which the earth was created and why we are here. It isn't about how much we learn, but about what we become. Becoming better than we are now is a step-by-step process, beginning with the simple and working up. A piano teacher doesn't plop Rachmaninoff in front of a beginning student -- it would be too overwhelming. A good teacher will provide just enough to keep the student challenged and moving forward, but not so much as to discourage or overwhelm.

Another reason, related to the first, is that he loves us too much. If he were to reveal to me a principle I'm not capable of living, it would condemn me.

I don't quite understand the suicide bomber analogy. He is brainwashed into a lifestyle of hatred by external influences. Growing through faith is an internal process, and leads from principle to principle. The result of that growth is ever-increasing internal peace, joy, love, and understanding.

There are many scriptural examples of what is possible when one persists in growing by faith and obedience. Look at Abraham, Moses, Enoch, the brother of Jared, Joseph Smith and many others. They reached the point where God revealed amazing things to them because they had grown sufficiently that they could handle it. I hope to get there some day. I hope to see you there, as well.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, one more reason (Jeff is going to kick me off his blog).

We are all at different levels of growth. We each need personally-tailored lessons that can only be delivered through the Holy Spirit.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bishop Rick!

Bishop Rick said… “Why does this have to be so hard?”

I’d say it’s the cost of our ability to have agency. Irrespective of my opinion, the fact of the matter is that faith based communication and our lot in life is simply put, very hard. Only way I make sense of it is looking at the results.

Does one's faith based action result in trauma, suffering, and despair? Or result in the lifting up or rescuing of other human beings?


Anonymous said...

Does one's faith based action result in trauma, suffering, and despair? Or result in the lifting up or rescuing of other human beings?
should be only carefully applied to the founders of the LDS church.

Anonymous said...

Good old-fashioned innuendo eh? Nice work on the subtlety though.

Anonymous said...

Why not respond to a legitimate concern rather than belittling the insinuation itself? How would you respond to the concern that several of those associated with Joseph and other early leaders (especially their wives), recorded stress, anxiety, and suffering?

Anonymous said...

Anon... what a peculiar comment.

The past is the past.

But for fun, I’ll bite. Are you saying the Inquisition, religious justification for slavery, the Crusades, Aztec human sacrifices, and the many, many other insidious acts done in the name of religion are on par with “founders of the LDS church”. From what I can see the “founders”, even with their flaws and mistakes, inspired tens of thousands of people to bravely face unjust persecution, restore the gospel, build a miraculous city in the sands of Utah, and settle vast amounts of the western U.S.

Rage if you want, but I’d rather hold judgment on those in our times who profit personally, with money or power, via religious manipulation, and with that profit unleash terror, promote sin, and engage in selfish personal gratifications.



Anonymous said...

Frankly, and I could be wrong, it doesn't seem like a legitimate. No explanation, no evidence, no scholarship. Just a jab thrown out to incite a reaction using written "winks" and "nods" if you will.

Why dignify such things with rebuttal? If Anon wants to give us a real concern that we can sink our teeth into, it would be nice.

But since you, Louis, asked, we could talk about individuals who suffered tremendously (specifically, the Handcart companies), but then we have the famed quote from Francis Webster (which quote I have fully authenticated as plausible, btw): such is "the price we paid to become acquainted with deity."

That's why it's illegitimate: the victims of such "suffering and despair" themselves are more accepting of it than we are, folks sitting in our air conditioned (or heated) cubicles and who generally don't know the first thing about suffering on that magnitude.

Anonymous said...

Why is it so hard? How would you grow if it wasn't hard?

We spend far too much time trying to know and prove, rather than doing and becoming.

Jeff Lindsay said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jeff Lindsay said...

I'd like to see how Occam's razor deals with the loyalty of the witnesses AFTER the Book of Mormon proved to be a financial flop, AFTER they had lost so much because of persecution against the Church, and AFTER some of them had fallen out with Joseph Smith and left the Saints.

Every witness of the plates, over a dozen people, went to their graves insisting that they plates were real and the Book of Mormon divine. I suggest that the most logical and economic explanation is that they at least thought the plates were real.

All a conspiracy to make money? That would take a mighty dull razor.

Bishop Rick said...


If there was a conspiracy and all the witnesses were in on it, it would not be unusual for them to stay loyal to the conspiracy, especially through silence.

In addition, taking a secret to the grave is not unusual either. These guys weren't proclaiming the divinity of the plates on their death bed. They simply didn't talk about it after leaving the church.

A better question would be what motivated them to leave the church with such a sure knowledge.

Either that knowledge wasn't so sure (as in they never saw or touched the plates without the plates being covered), or the supposed conspiracy did not yeild the fruits they expected.

Anonymous said...

"These guys weren't proclaiming the divinity of the plates on their death bed. They simply didn't talk about it after leaving the church."

To quote David Whitmer on his deathbed (notice the second reference, a newspaper, which would have little reason to exaggerate):

"My friend, if God ever uttered a truth, the testimony I now bear is true. I did see the angel of God, and I beheld the glory of the Lord, and he declared the record true" (Journal of Angus Cannon, Jan. 7, 1888. Cp. Cannon's Tabernacle speech, Deseret Evening News, Feb. 12, 1888; also see Richmond Democrat, Jan. 26, Feb. 2, 1888)

Again, Whitmer, less than a year earlier: "Kind reader, . . . beware how you hastily condemn that book which I know to be the word of God; for his own voice and an angel from heaven declared the truth of it unto me, and to two other witnesses who testified on their deathbed that it was true" (Whitmer, Address to All Believers in Christ, p. 43)

Martin Harris, speaking of the plates late in life(you can check me for context in Richard Anderson's work on the witnesses, INvestigating the BOM witnesses, page 117): "I tell you of these things that you may tell others that what I have said is true, and I dare not deny it; I heard the voice of God commanding me to testify to the same." (Letter of Simon Smith to President Joseph Smith III, Dec. 29, 1880, Clifton, England, Saints' Herald 28 (1881):43)

And finally, on Oliver (and David) as recorded by Thomas Marsh, who asked them of their experience at the height of their personal rebellion against the prophet:

"I enquired seriously at David if it was true that he had seen the angel, according to his testimony as one of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon. He replied, as sure as there is a God in heaven, he saw the angel, according to his testimony in that book. I asked him, if so, how he did not stand by Joseph? He answered, in the days when Joseph received the Book of Mormon, and brought it forth, he was a good man filled with the Holy Ghost, but he considered he had now fallen. I interrogated Oliver Cowdery in the same manner, who answered me similarly."

And there's Oliver's famous court scene, doubted by some, but likely correct on a fundamental level, when Cowdery was slammed by another lawyer with his involvement in MOrmonism. Even when faced with the perfect opportunity to deny it or at least mitigate it, he stuck to it, saying "whatever his faults and weaknesses might be, the testimony which he had written, and which he had given to the world, was literally true" (I use the George Cannon account, though Phineas Young and Brigham Young both had credible testimony to the same event--though they placed it in the wrong state)

Bishop Rick said...


I'm not sure how credible the 3 witnesses are. David Whitmer also stated that God told him to leave the LDS church:

"God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens and told me to 'separate myself from among the Latter Day Saints, for as they sought to do unto me, so it should be done unto them." Metcalfe, 1993, p. 177

Oliver Cowdery had a reputation as someone who believed in magical worlds.

Martin Harris was asked to leave the group of JS, DW, and OC, because he was interfering in the vision. (Conspiracy theorists would say this was the perfect opportunity for him to assist in fooling DW and OC who were prone to believe in magic).

Then later, MH was allowed to have the same vision (seperate from OC and DW) that allowed him to see the plates.

Nobody actually saw the plates. The witnesses were allowed to handle them through cloth, but never see them. The 3 witnesses only saw them in a vision where Moroni showed them the plates and turned their pages in front of them.

The more I think about it, the sillier it seems that the 3 witnesses would not be allowed to directly look upon the plates, but they would be allowed to see Moroni handling the plates. I guess Moroni got the plates from the box where JS had hidden them so he could show them to the 3Ws and then returned them afterwards prior to their return. Would have been much easier to just show them right there where they were rather than going to all the trouble of going to the woods and praying for a vision (which could have been MH, who as you state was the only one with monetary investment).

Again, I'm just saying that there is plenty of evidence, motive, and circumstance to support a conspiracy theory.

Bishop Rick said...


In response to your comment at 12:03pm Aug. 11:

"I don't quite understand the suicide bomber analogy. He is brainwashed into a lifestyle of hatred by external influences. Growing through faith is an internal process, and leads from principle to principle. The result of that growth is ever-increasing internal peace, joy, love, and understanding."

That is precisely my point. 2 men are put on this earth. 1 into an LDS family, 1 into a radical muslim family. They are both taught religious tenets and brought up to respect their faith and obey its doctrine. Each say the other is brainwashed, and each's opinion is as legitimate as the other's.

You say that the radical muslim is the one who is brainwashed. How do you know you are not the one who is brainwashed? How do you know you are not both brainwashed?

You both feel in your heart that you are right. Each of you feels that you follow the promptings of the spirit where the other follows the promptings of the deciever.

I don't know Pops. There is just way too much left to chance.

Anonymous said...

Bishop Rick,

The suicide bomber is taught to hate and to kill, and that's about it. That's brainwashing.

In contrast, my parents taught me what they believed, but also taught me that I had better find out for myself if what they were teaching was true. That's not brainwashing.

Anonymous said...

Pardon the exceptionally long post--it's sadly necessary.

Don't forget:
You DID say that there was NO deathbed witness. Yet, that is, as shown, incorrect--there WAS a deathbed witness, which strikes at the core of the previous post's argument.

Now, I see a shift of gears, a retreat from "The witnesseses were silent" to "the witnesses are untrustworthy." From outright fraud to simple wild-eyed stupidity--too very different accusations, a shift apparently necessitated by presentation of the evidence. When evidence causes such a dramatic changes, I have a hard time accepting further arguments as anything but a knee-jerk reaction to contort inconvenient facts.

On Oliver, I have yet to see convincing evidence that your claim is correct. There has been one incident that has floated around involving some divining-rod activity Middletown, known as the "Wood Scrape," which amounted to basically a couple of zealots looking for money and missing people with divining and later declaring a coming earthquake which would mark the end of the world. It didn't happen, and the preachers were run out of town. A 19th century historian named Frisbie claimed Oliver and his father William (as well as Joseph, Sr.) were with one of the preachers searching for the lost money.

However, even Frisbie acknowledged that the theory had a "want for satsifactory evidence." Quinn revived it later, however he assumes that William Cowdery was involved in the incident, something that is wholly undocumented. Quinn also assumes that the preacher, named Winchell and William were neighbors--quite incorrect. ALl that we know is Winchell stayed with them a short while before the Wood Scrape Incident.

You can speculate on the gossip if you wish; just know that rational conclusions are reached through idle conjecture. As historian Larry Miller maintains, the wood scrape theory is "long on speculation and short on fact."

On their role as witnesses:

"Nobody actually saw the plates. The witnesses were allowed to handle them through cloth, but never see them"

The testimony of the front of every BOM contradicts that ("we have SEEN and hefted...we also the SAW engravings"). I suppose if you want to say they were lying, you can do that. HOwever, forgive me if I buy into the witness of 14 contemporaries to Joseph over that of one later comer of 150+ years.

On handling it through cloth/hefting a box, you must be speaking of William Smith, Lucy Mack Smith, and Emma. The eight witnesses, however, did indeed see them in broad daylight.

John Whitmer:
Therefore I desire to testify to all that will come to the knowledge of this address, that I have most assuredly SEEN the plates from whence the Book of Mormon is translated, and that I have handled these plates, and know of a surety that Joseph Smith, Jr., has translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God (Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 2 (1836):236-37)

Daniel Tyler's conversion through these words of Samuel Smith:

"In the spring of 1832, Elders Samuel H. Smith and Orson Hyde . . . came to our neighborhood and held a few meetings. Elder Smith read the 29th chapter of Isaiah at the first meeting and delineated the circumstances of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, of which he said he was a witness. He knew his brother Joseph had the plates, for the prophet had shown them to him, and he had handled them and seen the engravings thereon. His speech was more like a narrative than a sermon" (Daniel Tyler, "Incidents of Experience," Classic Experiences and Adventures
(Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969), pp. 20-46)

Lyman Wight had wrote that Peter Whitmer he had indeed "seen the plates" (Journal of Lyman Wight, cit. Saints' Herald 29 (1882):19)

Next accusation?

Bishop Rick said...


First let me say that I am not making accusations. I am merely throwing stuff out there supporting the possibility of a conspiracy.

Next, when I made the statement that no one was making deathbed confessions about the validity of the BOM, I did so without research. When you presented a couple of cases, I researched them and proved that your assessment was indeed valid.

I stand corrected on the deathbed confession statement.

I will address the rest of your post in a seperate note.

Bishop Rick said...


"When evidence causes such dramatic changes, I have a hard time accepting further arguments as anything but a knee-jerk reaction to contort inconvenient facts."

Now that doesn't seem very fair. If evidence is valid, it should be considered regardless of who delivers it, plus I have readily admitted in previous posts when I have been wrong. I guess I am not allowed to make a mistake on this blog.

Regarding David Whitmer, what I presented is well documented and cannot be dismissed. I admit that the OC evidence is lacking, but again, I am just throwing out support for possibilities. It should be noted however, that OC did privately deny the divinity of the BOM and stated that he did not believe in angels. When pressed on this issue in court, he stated that he did not "believe" in angels because he "knew" they existed since he had seen them. You can make whatever you want out of that.

Now for the discussion of whether anyone has ever actually seen or handled the plates without being concealed in one way or another, I stand by that statement.

This is again well documented. The testimony in the front of the BOM doesn't have to be a lie for this statement to be true. I have no doubt that the 8 witnesses saw and handled the plates. What you fail to see is that this could still be done while under cloth, and they could still have made out inscriptions in the plates.

I'm sorry, but this postulation more readily supports the fact that the 3 witnesses (who were much more prominent members of the church) were never allowed to actually see or touch the plates lest JS be struck down. That is why they had to see the plates in a vision.

Why would the lesser members (if you will), the 8 witnesses, be allowed to actually see them? This makes no sense.

If you are to reconcile this, you would have to reason that they saw and handled them thru a cloth as Martin Harris said in an interview...

"I never saw the golden plates, only in a visionary or entranced state. I wrote a great deal of the Book of Mormon myself, as Joseph Smith translated or spelled the words out in English. Sometimes the plates would be on a table in the room in which Smith did the translating, covered over with a cloth. I was told by Smith that God would strike him dead if he attempted to look at them, and I believed it. When the time came for the three witnesses to see the plates, Joseph Smith, myself, David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery, went into the woods to pray. When they had engaged in prayer, they failed at the time to see the plates or the angel who should have been on hand to exhibit them. They all believed it was because I was not good enough, or in other words, not sufficiently sanctified. I withdrew. As soon as I had gone away, the three others saw the angel and the plates. In about three days I went into the woods to pray that I might see the plates. While praying I passed into a state of entrancement, and in that state I saw the angel and the plates.
n.d., microfilm copy, p. 70-71.)

There are many other similar references.

Even you have to admit, that it makes more sense that none of the witnesses actually saw and handled the plates in the flesh, than only the 8 witnesses did when the 3 were not allowed.

Once again, I am not making accusations. I am simply making arguments that support the possibility of a conspiracy theory.

One might think that you doth protest too much.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough, Rick. I try to do the same (get people to think by throwing out ideas).

Just don't expect folks to brush it off when you make a supposed statement of fact (there were no deathbed testimonies) and then evidence proves otherwise.

Here again we see the flaws of Occam's Razor--by believing that the witnesses didn't actually see the natural plates that means that none of them had. It's an argument that, while "making sense" is clearly not supported by the statements of the witnesses themselves. We would be forcing what we think history had to have been rather than what it actually was.

How could you "see engravings" through cloth? The explanation that "makes sense" here actually requires leaps that nothing the record supports. Whitmer elaborated on the "spiritual" nature of the vision: "Of course we were in the spirit when we had the view, for no man can behold the face of an angel except in spiritual view, but we were in the body also and everything was as NATURAL to us as it is at ANY OTHER TIME" (David Whitmer letter to Anthony Metcalf)

Re: Martin. The fellow who recorded Harris' testimony you cited was John Corrill, former counselor to Bishop Partridge and a disaffected, strict rationalist who wanted to "spiritualize" the event, thus illegitimizing that plates as bonafide physical evidence.

Furthermore, other records indicate that Martin thought of the vision in quite physical terms: "Gentlemen, do you see that hand (his own)? Are you sure you see it? Are your eyes playing a trick or something? No. Well as sure as see my hand, so sure did see the angel and the plates" (Anderson, INvestigating the BOM witnesses)

"It should be noted however, that OC did privately deny the divinity of the BOM and stated that he did not believe in angels...because he "knew" they existed since he had seen them."

Martin Harris said something similar to what you cite--intersting: "No, I do not believe it...Gentlemen, what I have said is true from the fact that my belief is swallowed up in knowledge" (Letter of Edward Stevenson to Millenial Star--Edward rebaptized Martin)

Oliver did not deny the BOM on his deathbed, so I'm not sure if he would deny it elsewhere:
David Whitmer writing: "I also testify to the world, that neither Oliver Cowdery or Martin Harris ever at any time denied their testimony. … I was present at the death bed of Oliver Cowdery, and his last words were, ‘Brother David, be true to your testimony to the Book of Mormon.’ ”

Oliver's wife: “He always without one doubt or shadow of turning affirmed the divinity and truth of the Book of Mormon" (Elizabeth Cowdery to David Whitmer, March 8, 1887, published in the religious periodical The Return 3, no. 5 (Dec. 1892): 7)

If you're referring to "Defence in a Rehearsal of My Grounds for Separating Myself from the Latter Day Saints," that's been established to be fraudulant. The document is of extremely vague origin and is contradicted by verifiable records (such as a letter by Oliver during his estrangement that recalled "being the presence of John")

Re: Oliver, if you're referring to the Joel Johnson poem that claims Oliver denied the BOM, that needs to be taken for what it is: poetry rather than documentation. Johnson had no access to Cowdery's thoughts at the time of writing and was likely just referring to his general apostasy.

Oliver said, after returning to the Church (which, btw, he would have no real motive to do unless he actually believed): I beheld with my eyes, and handled with my hands, the gold plates. … I was present with Joseph when an holy angel … conferred, or restored, the Aaronic Priesthood. … I was also present with Joseph when the Melchizedek Priesthood was conferred by the holy angels of God" (Journal of Reuben Miller, Oct. 21, 1848, at LDS Archives)

Stacey Pokorney, the "Party Crasher" said...

So, as archeologists explore extensively, has anyone found documentation on where the places mentioned in the Book of Mormon were located?

Anonymous said...

The discussions and back-and-forth between BishopRick and Walker are 90% of why I visit your blog. Thank you for allowing these thought provoking discussions.
Your posts are great on their own too!

Anonymous said...

The sixth comment mentions the availability of an Anthon transcript. But wasn't that transcript just another forgery by the murderer Mark Hoffman?

Jeff Lindsay said...

Stacey, there is a growing consensus among LDS scholars and apologists that the Book of Mormon took place in a limited region within Mesoamerica. In one of the more popular models, a particular hill in Veracruz State of Mexico is the canidate for the Hill Cumorah/Ramah of the Book of Mormon. The puny little hill in New York is where the plates were later taken (by Moroni after 384 A.D., perhaps?) and left for Joseph Smith to later find. The name "Cunmorah" was applied to that hill by Oliver Cowdery and others, making an assumption that just doesn't fit the details of the text. Cumorah, in the text, is where all the Nephite records EXCEPT the Book of Mormon plates were left, and was a prominent hill that provided advantages for an army in time of battle. None of this fits the place where the plates where found, and there is no reason to think it should. It's unfortunate that the name has stuck and become part of the popular LDS psyche.

Robert said...

I have spent the last two days reading posts by various people on this blog, and have wanted to comment on several different streams of responses. I realize this comment on this particular posting comes late, and it may well never be read, but I wanted to make it in the pertinent place nonetheless.

The particular comment by Bishop Rick I wanted to take issue with, or at least expound on, was the one regarding hiding truth by speaking in ways only "ones who are already intelligent could understand" when teaching about truth. "Jesus the Christ" explains this far better than I can, but I will do my best. Jesus taught in ways that both the intelligent listener/deep thinker and the simple-minded/ignorant could understand. When he told people that it was easier for a camel to pass through The Eye of the Needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven, for instance, he was not saying that a rich man had to literally pass through a needle's eye. He instead was referring literally to the gate in Jerusalem's wall known as the Eye of the Needle, which was especially built to keep animals from easily running through it by putting a turn in its opening that required them to squeeze around it. In other words, the people sitting there (who lived in that city and knew that gate) knew he was speaking in plain and simple words. The deep thinker, though, also knew he was explaining a deeper matter, that wealth would be an obstacle as well as a blessing, and it must be appreciated as such. So many misunderstandings have come from the meaning of that one verse, but Jesus was teaching in a simple way to people who would understand his message on both levels. He often used such examples, choosing to point out things known to locals or known to the area or simply known to Jews of that time and using it in a parable. Another example is the story that "If you have faith but the size of a mustard seed, you can move a mountain." Well, Jesus wanted people to understand the power of faith on a deep level, but he also knew that the people of Israel had moved a mountain at the behest of Herod the Great because it blocked the view of one of his fortresses and made it easier to attack. They literally used shovels and other moving equipment to move a mountain. By understanding things about his audience, he knew how to share both profound and simple truths in the same story.

In the end, Christ and Heavenly Father teach us in the ways our mind can handle. If they told you today, "Here, this is how you can create your own world. All you need to know is this:" and proceeded to explain the complex workings of geology, physics, atmospheric conditions, life itself... your mind might literally burst from the knowledge. As another post on this stream of comments pointed out, by teaching us a truth we could not yet accept and follow, we would be unduly condemned. By waiting until our faith is strong enough to accept certain things, Christ and Heavenly Father prepare us to receive exaltation and progress eternally by helping us as we go. If knowledge is teachable only in total or not at all, then I suppose we should teach kindergartners to write essays instead of learning to simply recognize their alphabet, to understand differential equations and chaos theory instead of to count, and to read Chaucer and Shakespeare instead of Dr. Seuss. Truth can be shared in part without being misleading, and in fact can be shared partially and still be completely true in spirit and in fact. If all matters of faith had to be taught by lifting the veil entirely, then mortal life has little purpose, for we have come here only to have our eyes dimmed and then brightened and dimmed and brightened, rather than to learn the bright truths with our dim eyes. Mortality is a test to help us learn more about ourselves, and in so doing we gain a greater appreciation of things we already know.

My mother-in-law once gave me a great explanation of learning that really helped me understand life a lot better. Her example was given to a piano student of hers. He was a young boy not much interested in practicing for his lessons, and when he complained to her one day that it was because it was hard, she said, "But you like hard things." He said, "No I don't." She insisted that he did. She said, "When you play your video games, do you like to beat a level and then play it over and over again?" He said no, and she pointed out that he probably did his best to play harder and harder levels so he would get better at the game. When he learned to ride a bike, he didn't always ride in the slow, careful way he'd learned on the day he first tried it. No, he rode it faster and tried tricks on it and even let go of the handlebars now and then - because he liked to become better at riding it. After that the boy never had trouble practicing because he appreciated what he was doing by practicing. I think life is about liking hard things. If we had everything easy - no pain, no sin, no difficulty created by need of things or of knowledge - then we would be very much like a boy who always plays video games on level one even after beating it. We came here to progress eternally, to learn what it is to sacrifice and to suffer, but also to be blessed by those things in the greater knowledge we have of having things we desire and feeling pleasure. Even in this life, having things handed to us too often can let us forget how hard life can be. Imagine if we'd never had any difficulty. Hard to really fathom, isn't it? I'm thankful for my ignorance, thankful for the veil, and I love hard things.