The Authenticity of the Golden Plates: Part 1

Is it necessary to have the golden plates in our possession to stand as a witness of the truth?

Literal Belief:

At times, the testimony of the witnesses is proclaimed as evidence and proof of the truthfulness of the work. At other times, LDS members are being warned that testimonies should never be based on physical evidence or historical evidence.

“David Whitmer was out of the Church, but he never denied his testimony of the angel’s visitation, of handling the golden plates, or of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Hearing with my own ears this remarkable experience directly from Brother Moyle’s lips had a powerful, confirming effect upon my growing testimony. Having heard it, I felt it was binding upon me.”– “A Growing Testimony”- James E. Faust- Oct 2000

“Witnesses, even witnesses who were for a time hostile to Joseph, testified to their death that they had seen an angel and had handled the plates. “They have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man,” they declared. ‘Wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true.’– “Safety for the Soul”- Jeffrey R. Holland- Oct 2009

“I remember an experience that I had as mission president some years ago when I presided over the affairs of the Church in Eastern Canada. I met with about 30 different ministers of different religions and then I let them ask me questions and the very first question I was asked was by a fine minister who said, “Mr. Ballard, if you just give us the gold plates and let us see that they exist, then we would know that the Book of Mormon is true.” And I looked at him and I said, “Father, you know better than that. You’re a man of the cloth. You know that God has never revealed religious truth to the heart and soul of a man or a woman except by the power of the spirit. Now you could have those plates, you could turn the pages, you could look at it, you could hold it, and you wouldn’t know any more after that experience whether or not the book is true than you would have before.”Transcript of Interview with Elder M. Russell Ballard

“A saving testimony of the Book of Mormon will never come from a spectacular historical or archaeological find. If the Lord meant for our testimonies to be based on physical, historical evidence other than scripture, he would send Moroni with the golden plates.– “The Elusive Balance”-Bishop Glenn L. Pace- Feb 1988

“This revelation [D&C 5:10] declared that this generation shall have the word of the Lord through Joseph Smith. There may be some who think that this is unreasonable, and the Lord should use some miraculous means to convert the world. Frequently when strangers … hear the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, they ask if the plates are in some museum where they may be seen. Some of them with some scientific training, express themselves to the effect that if the scholars could see and examine the plates and learn to read them, they would then bear witness to the truth of the Book of Mormon and the veracity of Joseph Smith, and the whole world would then be converted. When they are informed that the angel took the plates back again, they turn away in their skepticism, shaking their heads. But the Lord has said: ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ (Isa. 55:8–9.) We have learned that people are not converted by miracles or by examining records. If the Lord had placed the plates where the scholars could examine them, they would have scoffed at them just as much as they do today. People are converted by their hearts being penetrated by the Spirit of the Lord when they humbly hearken to the testimonies of the Lord’s servants. The Jews witnessed the miracles of our Lord, but this did not prevent them from crying out against him and having him crucified.”- Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1946-1949], 1: 36 – 37.)

He rarely if ever actually had the plates with him; he couldn’t read what was on them except through revelation anyway, and he could receive revelation (via the “interpreters”) just as easily without the plates as with them. (So why were the plates necessary? Perhaps, among other things, to reassure him and the witnesses who saw and testified of them — and, thus also, us — that he was dealing with something objectively real and external to himself.)- Daniel Peterson- “Defending the Faith: Joseph, the stone and the hat: Why it all matters” Deseret News March 2015

Daniel Peterson: He could be lying, he could have faked the plates, that is Dan Vogel’s position. I don’t see it…

Dan Wotherspoon: The plates are a scandal, in the sense of, you have to deal with them. It takes it into a different realm. 

Daniel Peterson: I remember a conversation with a friend of mine, who has since left the church. A very bright guy whom I like very much, but he said at one point “You know, the plates don’t seem to have been used in the translation process.” And that’s certainly true in a lot of cases, they were in another room or something. He said “What function do you think they served?” Well, my immediate reaction to him was, well, I think for one thing, they are an absolutely indigestible lump in the throat of people like you, who want to say that it was just Joseph Smith imagining things. They just rule that out if they really existed. Either he deliberately, or someone deliberately made them or something, but he’s not just in la la land. There’s a 60 pound material object there, and if you trust some of the other witnesses, there were other objects, lots of plates, sword of Laban, the Liahona, the breast plate. I mean these are being treated fairly matter of factly. Lucy Mack Smith is holding it, and according to some accounts I almost think that she saw it, uncovered, the breast plate and everything. Where do these things come from? It’s hard to explain them away as just, well it’s impossible I think, to explain them away as just hallucination. – Daniel Peterson Mormon Stories interview with Dan Wotherspoon

I am unaware of any explanations given by church authorities or defenders of the faith as to WHY the plates were given back to the angel (presumably Moroni). There is no reason given in the History of the Church either. It is presumed that most members believe it is somehow a test of faith from God, to believe in golden plates that are not presently in our possession.

Non-Literal Belief:

There are couple of schools of thought for non-literal belief. To some, they consider the Book of Mormon scripture and the question of historicity or physical golden plates is unimportant, not very important or perhaps even uninteresting. Others believe that the golden plates were not a genuine ancient artifact but something Joseph may have “materialized,” while at the same time possessing a physical artifact of his own making.

Ann Taves is a Non-Mormon scholar who believes that stating Joseph was a true prophet because the plates existed or that Joseph was a fraud, or delusional because they didn’t exist, is too simplistic. She believes that Joseph could have been a sincere visionary who “materialized” the golden plates similar to how the Eucharist is materialized in Catholicism to become the true body of Christ.

“If we consider Joseph’s directive, the obedient response of insiders, and their willingness to protect the plates from skeptical outsiders, we can envision an alternative way to view the materialization of the plates that involved neither recovery and translation in any usual sense nor necessarily deception or fraud, but rather a process through which  the power of revelatory dream-visions, in ancient inhabitants of the Americas, and in golden records buried in a hillside came to believe that a material object covered by a cloth or hidden in a box were the ancient plates revealed to Joseph Smith by the ancient Nephite, Moroni. Either/or views of the plates rest on a narrow conception of the materialization process, such that he either dug them up or he did not. Highlighting the crucial role played by those who believed in the reality of the ancient plates suggests a broader view that embeds the recovery of the plates in a process of materialization that stretched (at least) from Smith’s dream vision in 1823 to the publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830.

Comparison of the golden plates and the Eucharist allows us to consider the possibility that Smith viewed something that he made – metal plates – as a vehicle through which something sacred — the ancient golden plates — could be made (really) present. In both cases, the sacred character is visible only to those who believe. In both cases, the materialization unfolds in accord with a story. In the case of the Eucharist, the story of the last supper; in the case of the Mormon Prophet, the story of the angel and the buried plates. Moreover, in both cases, believers claim that this is not just an enactment. The priest doesn’t just pretend that the wafer is the body of Christ. Standing in for Christ, he says, referring to the wafer, “this is my body.” Nor did Smith claim that the plates were a representation of ancient gold plates, he claimed that they really were. In much the way that Jesus is said to have held up human made bread and said to his disciples “this is my body,” Joseph Smith may have made plates, placed them in a box, and said to his family: these are the golden plates. While some in each tradition may view these statements as figurative, others – orthodox Catholics and orthodox LDS – might view them as more literally true in light of their belief in the power of divinity to manifest itself in material bodies and objects.”– “History and the Claims of Revelation: Joseph Smith and the Materialization of the Golden Plates”- Ann Taves

Non-Belief:

If we currently had the golden plates in our possession it would certainly serve as an important witness to the authenticity of Mormonism. The plates could be subject to chemical and electronic analyses, similar to what was done with the Kinderhook Plates. If authentic to the time period indicated in the Book of Mormon narrative, this would be important evidence. The characters on the plates could be examined and verified that they were indeed some type of “Reformed Egyptian” that could probably not be deciphered by Egyptologists. Certainly this would not make believers out of everyone, because some individuals would not accept the authenticity of Mormonism no matter what evidence is provided, the same way some believers accept the authenticity of Mormonism no matter what evidence is provided to the contrary.  Most assuredly, however, if we actually had the plates in our possession, it would setup the scenario that Elder Holland talked about when referring to the text of the Book of Mormon:

“…if that is the case, then such a person, elect or otherwise, has been deceived; and if he or she leaves this Church, it must be done by crawling over or under or around the Book of Mormon [Golden Plates] to make that exit. In that sense the book is what Christ Himself was said to be: “a stone of stumbling, … a rock of offence,”  a barrier in the path of one who wishes not to believe in this work.”“Safety for the Soul”- Elder Holland– strikethrough and brackets added by me

There is abundant, credible evidence that the Book of Mormon text is a 19th century product engineered by Joseph Smith as sole author, and therefore it’s not that difficult to crawl over, under, or around it, but how on earth could one explain away the existence of authentically ancient golden plates?

Even more troubling, if the Book of Mormon narrative is to be believed, great care was given to the production and custody of these plates. It is accepted by most, if not all, believing and non-believing scholars that the entire text of the Book of Mormon we have today was created by Joseph Smith dictating the words while looking at his peep stone in the crown of a hat and not consulting the actual plates, at all. Some surmise that the first 116 pages that were lost (The Book of Lehi) were dictated using the Urim and Thummin, but some believing scholars -Michael Quinn, Royal Skousen- and many non-believing scholars think the seer stone was used the entire time. Joseph was behind a curtain some of that time so we don’t really know for sure what source material he was using or what methods he was employing, but Martin Harris was his scribe for the first 116 pages. We do know that when Martin Harris was able to actually see Joseph Translating, he stated he was using the seer stone. Again, most scholars agree that the entire Book of Mormon as we know it today was produced without consulting the plates at all.

“Martin Harris related an incident that occurred during the time that he wrote that portion of the translation of the Book of Mormon which he was favored to write direct from the mouth of the Prophet Joseph Smith. He said that the Prophet possessed a seerstone, by which he was enabled to translate as well as from the Urim and Thummim, and for convenience he then used the seerstone. Martin explained the translation as follows: By aid of the seerstone, sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written by Martin, and when finished he would say, “Written,” and if correctly written, that sentence would disappear and another appear in its place, but if not written correctly it remained until corrected, so that the translation was just as it was engraven on the plates, precisely in the language then used.”– Elder Edward Stevenson to Editor of the Deseret News, cit. “One of the Three Witnesses,” Millennial Star 44 (30 Jan 1882):78-79; (6 Feb 1882):86-87

“I really don’t know how the published text relates to the text on the plates, considering that Joseph did not look at the plates as he dictated the book. There are various ways of explaining that, but I do think the Book of Mormon is a marvelous creation and far beyond Joseph Smith’s natural powers in 1829.”– Richard Bushman- Reddit AMA (ask me anything)

Jennifer Napier-Pearce: (reading listener question)- “If the golden plates were not necessary, and not even used to translate the Book of Mormon, what is the point of having them? Why did Moroni and Mormon (two prophets in the Book of Mormon), go to so much trouble to write them and transport them all the way to upstate New York?

Richard Bushman: “I think that’s the question of the moment. I don’t think we have a good answer to that. It’s quite remarkable. All this effort to preserve them all those years. Why do we have to have them? You know Joseph Smith kept them under his bed, in his bedroom. Every morning he would get them from under his bed and put them on the table, wrapped in cloth, and then proceed to translate. It implies that their presence was of some significance, that maybe it was part of the technology of revelation, maybe it was inspiration, maybe it was respect. It’s very hard to say, but they’re treated as if they were important but just how much they were a part of the translation process itself, I don’t know that anyone has an answer to that right now“-Richard Bushman on Trib Talk

“In writing for J[oseph]. S[mith]. I frequently wrote for day after day, often he sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face bu=ried in his hat, with the stone in it and dictating hour after hour, with nothing between us. He had neither mss [manuscript] nor book to read from. If he had had any=thing of the Kind he could not have concealed it from me. The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at con=cealment, wrapped in a small linen <table> cloth, which I had given him to fold them in.”- Emma Smith Bidamon Interview with Joseph Smith III, February 1879 in Dan Vogel- “Early Mormon Documents Volume 1”- page 539

“Soon after this, I was informed they had brought a wonderful book of Plates down with them. I was shown a box in which it is said they were contained, which had to all appearances, been used as a glass box of the common window glass. I was allowed to feel the weight of the box, and they gave me to understand, that the book of plates was then in the box—into which, however, I was not allowed to look. I inquired of Joseph Smith Jr., who was to be the first who would be allowed to see the Book of Plates? He said it was a young child. After this, I became dissatisfied, and informed him that if there was any thing in my house of that description, which I could not be allowed to see, he must take it away; if he did not, I was determined to see it. After that, the Plates were said to be hid in the woods.”

“The manner in which he pretended to read and interpret, was the same as when he looked for the money-diggers, with the stone in his hat, and his hat over his face, while the Book of Plates were at the same time hid in the woods!“- Isaac Hale (father of Emma Smith) affidavit- sworn before Charles Dimon- Justice of the Peace

The golden plates along with the Urim and Thummim were passed down generation after generation, watched over by God for 1000 years. They were buried in the Hill Cumorah and God watched over them for another 1400 years. Joseph dug them up, ran through the woods frantically to escape his enemies, and had to be constantly vigilant about their safekeeping. An all-loving, tender, merciful God told Joseph he would destroy him if he allowed anyone to see the plates. These plates were precious. Laban had to be killed for the brass plates so the Nephites had access to God’s word and to enable them to inscribe Isaiahs’ words onto the golden plates. So Joseph uses a peep stone he puts in the bottom of his hat and “channels” the entire Book of Mormon as we know it today WITHOUT EVEN LOOKING AT THESE PRECIOUS PRESERVED PLATES, and often times the plates were not even in the same room but were hidden away in the woods. This same peep stone was used in his treasure digging expeditions, none of which were successful by the way, because right as he was about to capture the treasure, it moved deeper down into the earth. The treasure was “slippery.” When the “translation” process was finished the angel took these precious plates back and no one can explain why.

Facebook exchange with Nephi Mormon Moroni Laman_2

Credit: Paul Malan

Depictions of the

Depictions of the “translation” process

Was there a real artifact, and was it ancient or modern?

Literal Belief:

Yes, there were actual plates, an ancient authentic artifact, transcribed by Book of Mormon prophets, and preserved for Joseph Smith, and translated by the “gift and power of God.”

“The historians’ problem is that the people around Joseph consistently wrote and acted as if he had the Book of Mormon plates. Emma Smith and Oliver Cowdery, who both lived in the house where Joseph worked, never questioned the existence of the plates. Nor did Joseph Smith Sr., Lucy Smith, or David Whitmer. Skeptics have to minimize quotations from the participants or else the plates take on all too real a life.”

“One fact in Joseph Smith’s history may prevent his complete absorption into the muffling embrace of liberal tolerance, and that fact is the existence of the gold plates…Most of the Doctrine and Covenants fits within the limits of believable revelation- though privately the readers may feel the words came from no greater distance than Joseph’s own subconscious. But gold plates, sitting on the table as Joseph translated, shown to witnesses to feel and examine, touched by Emma as she cleaned the house? Such a tangible artifact is hard to attribute to a standard religious experience, even in an extraordinary person such as Joseph. With the gold plates, we cross into the realm of deception or psychotic delusion. In the minds of many readers, to see and touch forty pounds of gold plates with ancient writings on them, people had to be either tricked or confused. Joseph turns back into the impostor or self-deluded fanatic.”

“Here the old issue, then, reasserts itself. The broad-minded reader has to ask, Can it be possible that Joseph Smith did receive the gold plates from an angel? Was he guided from heaven, or was he not? There is no hiding behind the marvelous workings of the human spirit in explaining the plates. Either something fishy was going on, or Joseph did have a visitor from heaven.”- Richard Bushman. 2004. “Believing History: Latter-day Saint Essays”

“With those few words spoken to Joseph Smith, the angel managed to convey something of the complexity and variability of the roles this “golden bible” would play. First, Moroni emphasized the rootedness of this new revelation from Heaven in artifactual reality. Referring to a book actually “deposited” in the earth, and consisting of a physical, tangible medium—actual gold plates—lifts the revelatory experience beyond the nebulous stuff of visions and alters the whole dynamic of the religious claims Smith would be making. It shifts the debate—at least partly—from the realm of interiority and subjectivity toward that of empiricism and objectivity.”

“Paul himself referred to one of his own experiences as being “in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell” (2 Cor. 12:3). He obviously considered such a distinction irrelevant to the validity of his experience and the reality of what he saw. It is hard to imagine a precedent more like Harris’s own versions in which he emphatically asserts until the day of his death the actuality of the angel who “came down from heaven” and who “brought and laid [the plates] before our eyes, that we beheld and saw,” while also reporting, according to others, that he “never claimed to have seen them with his natural eyes, only with spiritual vision.” In the case of the Book of Mormon, the distinction is ultimately irrelevant. Why, one can fairly ask, should it be necessary to spiritualize what are, in essence, presented as archaeological artifacts? Dream-visions may be in the mind of the beholder, but gold plates are not subject to such facile psychologizing. They were, in the angel’s words, buried in a nearby hillside, not in Joseph’s psyche or religious unconscious, and they chronicle a history of this hemisphere, not a heavenly city to come. As such, the claims and experiences of the prophet are thrust irretrievably into the public sphere, no longer subject to his private acts of interpretation alone. It is this fact, the intrusion of Joseph’s message into the realm of the concrete, historical, and empirical, that dramatically alters the terms by which the public will engage this new religious phenomenon.”- Terryl Givens, 2002. “By the Hand of Mormon”

“Some argue that since we lack the original plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated, it should be read as a 19th-century English-language text rather than as an ancient one.

But scholars routinely test the claims to historicity of translated documents for which no early original-language manuscripts exist and then, if satisfied of their authenticity, regularly use them as valuable scholarly resources for understanding the ancient world.”Daniel Peterson- “Defending the Faith: But where are the Golden Plates?”- Deseret News Feb 2015

“I would hope that (the golden plates) could be in dialogue with the Shroud of Turin and the Arc of the Covenant, the Holy Grail, all the great religious emblems and material objects that down through history shaped things,” Bushman continued. “That they would become part of a larger dialogue, not just a little religion isolated in the United States, but one of the world religious cultures. In his presentation, Bushman outlined the effect of the golden plates on the culture of Smith’s time, as well as their extended influence on the world today, found in beliefs, imagination, artwork, Broadway plays and public discourse. He said although their physical existence is in dispute, the plates have had a definite presence in the imagination and culture of Mormons and non-Mormons alike.” 

“The plates walk a fine line between magic and religion, between enchantment and disenchantment, between fraud and religious genius,” Bushman said during his presentation. “They make the claim that the supernatural has entered into the natural world.”

“He said the plates can be seen as either “the fatal flaw” in Joseph Smith’s story, or as “the most palpable evidence of its authenticity.” Bushman suggested that perhaps it is the plates’ very elusiveness that has made them the subject of so much debate and kept them in the realm of shared cultural experience long after Smith’s death.”- Richard Bushman- Utah State’s Eccles Science Learning Center, March 22, 2012

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“Our primary focus in studying the Book of Mormon should be on the principles of the gospel anyway, not on the process by which the book came forth. Yet because its coming so amply fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy of a `marvelous work and a wonder,’ we may find strengthened faith in considering how marvelous and wondrous the translation was…”-Neal A. Maxwell– Ensign, January 1997, pg. 39

Non-literal Belief:

This question may not be interesting or important to those who view the Book of Mormon as scripture, regardless of whether it is of ancient origin or not. To others, there is perhaps a “middle-way” explanation where Joseph Smith is neither a true prophet or a delusional fraud. Both Dan Vogel and Ann Taves take the view that Joseph was a “pious fraud.” That is, he may have employed some fraudulent means but he was sincere and the ends justified the means, as he was going about God’s work.

“Explanations of the gold plates to date tend to presuppose an either/or choice: ancient golden plates either existed or they did not. If they existed, then Smith was who he claimed to be. If they did not and Smith knew it, then he must have consciously deceived his followers in order to convince them that they existed. Alternatively, if Smith believed there were plates when in fact there were not, then he was deluded. Although some non-believing historians have chosen to bracket the contentious issue of the golden plates, others – both non-Mormon and ex- Mormon — forthrightly acknowledge their belief that there were no actual gold plates; indeed, this is so obvious to some historians that they are taken aback when they discover that many Mormon intellectuals believe there were.”

“In keeping with these either/or choices, non-believing contemporaries of the Smiths and non-believing historians in the present typically explain Smith’s claims regarding the plates in terms of deception, fantasy, or a prank that got out of hand.”

Skeptics in my view have been too quick to jump from the assumption that there were no plates to the conclusion that Joseph Smith was either deluded or a fraud. In doing so, they sidestep the most interesting (and challenging) questions. For the sake of argument, I want to assume that there were no plates or at least no ancient golden plates and at the same time take seriously believers’ claim that Smith was not a fraud. If we start with those premises, then we have to explain how the plates might have become real for Smith as well as his followers. The challenge, however, is not just to explain how they might have become real for Smith, but how they might have become real for him in some non-delusory sense. This shift in premises forces us to consider a greater range of explanatory possibilities and has the potential to expand our understanding of the way that new religious movements emerge.”- “History and the Claims of Revelation: Joseph Smith and the Materialization of the Golden Plates”- Ann Taves

“The most obvious solution to Shipps’s puzzle is to suggest that Smith was a “pious deceiver” or “sincere fraud,” someone who deceives to achieve holy objectives. Admittedly, the terms “pious deceiver/’ “sincere fraud,” and the like are not wholly satisfying. Nevertheless, “pious” connotes a sincere religious conviction, and my use of “fraud” or “deceiver” is limited to describing some of Smith’s activities—the possible construction of plates from tin as well as his claim that the Book of Mormon is a translation of an anciently engraved record, for example—not to Smith’s perception of himself. In other words, Smith may have engaged in fraudulent activities while at the same time believing that he had been called of God to preach repentance in the most effective way possible. In fact, this was the thesis of Lutheran minister Robert N. Hullinger’s 1980 book, Mormon Answer to Skepticism: Why Joseph Smith Wrote the Book of Mormon. Responding to Shipps’s complaint that the Book of Mormon “has by and large been neglected as a source which might facilitate a better understanding of Joseph Smith’s early career,” Hullinger attempted to discover Smith’s motives for writing the book by examining the book’s rhetoric, and concluded: “Joseph Smith … regarded himself as [a] defender of God.” “Even if one believes that Joseph Smith was at best a scoundrel,” he observed, “one still must account for the Book of Mormon.” Indeed, the book’s religious appeal—its defense of God, Jesus Christ, and spiritual gifts, and its call to repentance—argues strongly against presuming that Smith’s motives were malicious or completely self-serving.

Among the first lines Smith wrote in his new journal, which he began keeping in November 1832, was: “Oh my God grant that I may be directed in all my thoughts Oh bless thy Servant Amen.” A few days later he wrote: “Oh Lord deliver thy servant out of temptations and fill his heart with wisdom and understanding.” Such passages, which Brodie either ignored or was unaware of, reveal Smith’s inner, spiritual world, and those who ignore this, who fail to recognize a deeply spiritual dimension to Smith’s character, or who count his profession of religion as contrived, throw away a major piece of the prophet puzzle. I am convinced that those who wish to understand Smith on his own terms must escape the confinement of Brodie’s paradigm. At the same time, one cannot turn a blind eye to Smith’s willingness to deceive. One of the clearest indications of this is his public denials of teaching and practicing polygamy while privately doing so. But perhaps of more relevance is his activity as a treasure seer. This is one of those pieces of the puzzle that, I believe, has been mishandled, or at least not fully appreciated by Mormon scholars generally. Some wish to compartmentalize Smith’s treasure-seeing activity as irrelevant to his prophetic career, or to view it as some kind of psychic training-ground for the developing prophet. If these perspectives are not entirely inaccurate, they are at least incomplete.

Despite an attempt to minimize his early involvement in treasure searching, Smith was in reality an aggressive and ambitious leader among the competing treasure seers of Manchester, New York. It was in fact his unparalleled reputation as a treasure seer that drew Josiah Stowell to hire Smith, not as a digger, but as a seer to locate treasure. From November 1825 until his arrest and court hearing in South Bainbridge in March 1826, Smith was employed by Stowell and others to locate treasure not only in Harmony, Pennsylvania, but also at various locations in the southern New York counties of Broome and Chenango. During the 1826 proceeding, Smith admitted under oath that he had been actively engaged as a treasure seer for the past three years and that he had recently decided to abandon the practice because it was straining his eyes. It was not without reason that Smith tried to conceal these facts in his history: if he did not consider them at odds with his role as prophet, he at least found them easier to omit than to explain.

It is when we examine specific examples of Smith’s treasure seeing that apologetic or traditionalist explanations run aground. Jonathan Thompson, for instance, testifying in Smith’s defense at the court hearing, reported that on one occasion Smith located a treasure chest with his seer stone. After digging several feet, the men struck something sound-ing like a board or plank. Excitedly they asked Smith to look into his stone again, probably to verify the source of the sound as there was apparently some doubt. But, as Thompson reported, Smith “would not look again pretending that he was alarmed … on account of the circumstances relating to the trunk being buried [which] came all fresh to his mind, that the last time that he looked, he discovered distinctly, the two Indians who buried the trunk, that a quarrel ensued between them and that one of said Indians was killed by the other and thrown into the hole beside of the trunk, to guard it as he supposed.” Despite failing to uncover the trunk, Thompson remained a believer in Smith’s “professed skill,” explaining to the court that “on account of an enchantment, the trunk kept settling away from under them while digging.”

Those who believe Smith literally translated the Book of Mormon from anciently engraved plates or who attempt to dismiss his previous treasure-seeing activities as irrelevant have difficulty with Thompson’s testimony. Central to their conundrum is the knowledge that Smith used the same stone later to translate the Book of Mormon. The implications are obvious: if Smith actually translated and received revelations with his stone, as Mormon apologists maintain, didn’t he also locate real buried treasure by the same means? Specifically, in the instance that Thompson reported, was there an actual trunk and did Smith really see the two Indians who had fought over it?

Any explanation of Joseph Smith must account for the details provided by Thompson’s friendly testimony if it is to be taken seriously. As I view it, there are three possible interpretations, none of which fits comfortably with traditionalist views of Smith and his subsequent work as a translator: (1) Smith saw a treasure chest in his stone that was not really there; in other words, his visions and revelations were the product of his imagination; (2) Smith saw nothing in his stone but only pretended that he did; and (3) Smith saw a real treasure chest in his stone which, no matter the explanation, was never recovered. Thus, to be consistent, apologists must either accept the treasure-seeking lore of Smith’s day as reality—including belief in seer stones, mineral rods, guardian spirits, bleeding ghosts, enchanted treasures that slip through the earth, and the like—as D. Michael Quinn has done, and thereby reject rationalist categories of historical investigation, or come face-to-face with a Joseph Smith who either consciously or unconsciously deceived.

The fact that Smith allowed family and friends—even those hostile to his claims such as Lucy Harris and Isaac Hale—to handle the plates while covered with a cloth or concealed in a box excludes the possibility of an unconscious fraud. Likewise, a detailed examination of Smith’s activities as a treasure seer presents examples not easily explained as Smith’s self deception. Josiah Stowell, another believer in Smith’s gift, testified at the same court hearing that Smith said that he saw in his stone a treasure “on a certain Root of a stump 5 feet from [the] surface of the earth, and with it would be found a tail feather.” After digging, Stowell said that they “found a tail feather, but the money was gone, that he supposed that [the] money moved down.” The discovery of an object not normally found underground becomes either proof of Smith’s true gift or evidence of his fraudulent activity, for the deluded do not accomplish such feats. In this instance, rather than accept Stowell’s explanation for the treasure’s disappearance, it seems easier to suggest that Smith planted the tail feather during a previous visit to the area or, more likely, during the process of digging. It may have been this kind of activity that gave Smith an edge over his competitors, perhaps also explaining how he excelled them in reputation.

Despite the apparent evidence of conscious fraud, I would caution against viewing Smith’s activity as a treasure seer in either/or terms, for it is possible that Smith was both deluded and deceptive in his operations. In other words, Smith may have been sincere in his claims about seeing treasures and guardian spirits in his stone but was sometimes tempted to provide proof through fraudulent means, either to satisfy his followers or silence his enemies. Although the evidence for fraud is more easily demonstrated, nevertheless Smith’s complaint about being persecuted for his gift, if not pure rhetoric, may have been sincere after all.”- “The Prophet Puzzle Revisited”- Dan Vogel- Dialogue article 1998

Non-Belief:

Whether one is believing or not, it is almost universally agreed upon that there was indeed a physical artifact (Brent Metcalfe is a noted exception here). It is very clear from the documentary evidence that not one single individual, besides Joseph, saw the plates uncovered, or out in the open (unless you believe the account of Mary Whitmer). I touch on the testimonies of the 11 witnesses in part 2 of this post. Why would the plates need to be wrapped in a frock/linen tablecloth or secreted in a wooden box, hidden from view from the time they were “recovered,” until the entire “translation” of Book of Mormon was finished? It is very reasonable to conclude these methods were employed to conceal the fact that the plates were not genuine. Skeptics believe Joseph constructed a set of plates out of tin or some other type of metal.

No one in Joseph’s immediate family, no relatives, not one of the scribes who sat by him day after day taking dictation from him, saw the plates uncovered. Not one time. Interestingly, no one ever saw the Urim and Thummim uncovered either. It was always covered with a cloth. Certainly there were descriptions given of the plates, their dimensions, and the shape and size of the Urim and Thummim but those descriptions were supplied by Joseph himself since these objects were never seen uncovered.

“Mrs. Smith was a sincere believer in her husband’s faith.… I asked if she ever had seen those plates, or the miraculous pair of spectacles, known in Mormon history as ‘Urim and Thummim.’ She had not; but they veritable existed”-(Register and Leader [Des Moines], 13 June 1907; reprinted in Saints’ Herald 54 [19 June 1907]: 542).- Interview with Julius Chambers- Reproduced in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:546 

Question. What of the truth of Mormonism?
Answer. I know Mormonism to be the truth; and believe the Church to have been established by divine direction. I have complete faith in it. In writing for your father I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.
Question. Had he not a book or manuscript from which he read, or dictated to you?
Answer. He had neither manuscript nor book to read from.

Question. Could he not have had, and you not know it?
Answer. If he had had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me.

Question. Are you sure that he had the plates at the time you were writing for him?
Answer. The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen tablecloth, which I had given him to fold them in. I once felt of the plates, as they thus lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape. They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book.

Question. I should suppose that you would have uncovered the plates and examined them?
Answer. I did not attempt to handle the plates, other than I have told you, nor uncover them to look at them. I was satisfied that it was the work of God, and therefore did not feel it to be necessary to do so;

Major Bidamon here suggested: Did Mr. Smith forbid your examining the plates?

Answer. I do not think he did. I knew that he had them, and was not specially curious about them. I moved them from place to place on the table, as it was necessary in doing my work.

– [Emma Smith interview in presence of her husband, Lewis Bidamon], The Saints’ Herald, vol. 26, pp. 289, 290 [1 Oct 1879]

Bro. Briggs then handed me a pencil and asked Bro. Smith if he ever saw the plates his brother had had, from which the Book of Mormon was translated. He replied, “I did not see them uncovered, but I handled them and hefted them while wrapped in a tow frock and judged them to have weighed about sixty pounds. I could tell they were plates of some kind and that they were fastened together by rings running through the back. Their size was as described in mother’s history.”

Bro. Briggs then asked, “Did any others of the family see them?” “Yes,” said he; “Father and my brother Samuel saw them as I did while in the frock. So did Hyrum and others of the family.”

“Was this frock one that Joseph took with him especially to wrap the plates in?” “No, it was his every day frock such as young men used to wear then.”

“Din’t you want to remove the cloth and see the bare plates?” said Bro. B[riggs]. “No,” he replied; “for father had just asked if he might not be permitted to do so, and Joseph, putting his hand on them said; “No, I am instructed not to show them to any one. If I do, I will transgress and lose them again.” Besides we did not care to have him break the commandment and suffer as he did before.” 

“Did you not doubt Joseph’s testimony sometimes?” said Bro. Briggs. “No,” was the reply. “We all had the most implicit confidence in what he said. He was a truthful boy. Father and mother believed him, why should not the children? I suppose if he had told crooked stories about other things we might have doubted his word about the plates, but Joseph was a truthful boy. That Father and mother believed his report and suffered persecution for that belief shows that he was truthful. No sir, we never doubted his word for one minute.”Wm. B. Smith’s last Statement,” Zion’s Ensign 5 (13 Jan. 1894): 6; reprinted in the Deseret Evening News 27 (20 Jan. 1894): 11; Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 56 (26 Feb. 1894): 132. Reproduced in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:510-512.

“The time to receive the plates came at last. When Joseph received them, he came in and said: “Father, I have got the plates.” All believed it was true, father, mother, brothers and sisters. You can tell what a child is. Parents know whether their children are truthful or not. The proof of the pudding is not in chewing the string, but in eating the pudding. Father knew his child was telling the truth. When the plates were brought in they were wrapped up in a tow frock. My father then put them into a pillow case. Father said, “What, Joseph, can we not see them?” “No. I was disobedient the first time, but I intend to be faithful this time; for I was forbidden to show them until they are translated, but you can feel them.” We handled them and could tell what they were. They were not quite as large as this Bible. Could tell whether they were round or square. Could raise the leaves this way (raising a few leaves of the Bible before him). One could easily tell that they were not a stone, hewn out to deceive, or even a block of wood. Being a mixture of gold and copper, they were much heavier than stone, and very much heavier than wood.”-William Smith Testimony- Saints Herald Oct 4th, 1884

“He said he had hefted the plates as they lay on the table wrapped in an old frock or jacket in which Joseph <h>ad brought them home. That he had thum[b]ed them through the cloth and ascertained that they were thin sheets of some kind of metal. When asked why he had not uncovered them he said they were told not to do so unless the Lord would give permission, that they were the property of an angel and had received strict command[ments] [p. 1] with regard to that matter. Bro. Pender remarked that most people would ha[v]e examined them any way. The old man suddenly straiphtened [straightened] up and look looked intently at him and said. The Lord knew he could trust Joseph and as for the rest of the family we had no desire to transgress the commandment of the Lord but on the other hand was exceeding anxious to do al<l> we we were commanded to do.”-“Statement of J. W. Peterson Concerning William Smith,” 1 May 1921, 1, Miscellaneous Letters and Papers, Community of Christ Archives (EMD 1:508). See also “The Old Soldier’s Testimony,” 644 (EMD 1:505).

“She told me Joseph allowed her to “heft” the package but not to see the gold plates, as the angel had forbidden him to show them at that period. She said they were very heavy. 

Catherine Smith Salisbury then told me that while dusting up the room where the Prophet had his study she saw a package on the table containing the gold plates on which was engraved the story of the Book of Mormon. She said she hefted those plates and found them very heavy like gold and also rippled her fingers up the edge of the plates and felt that they were separate metal plates and heard the tinkle of sound that they made.”- Herbert S. Salisbury (reminiscences of Katherine Smith-sister of Joseph), “Things the Prophet’s Sister Told Me,” 2 July 1945 (San Rafael, California), LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah- reproduced in Dan Vogel (Editor)Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:524

The Urim and Thummim and Breastplate were always covered with a cloth as well. Why was this so?

In the Lucy Mack History (Martha Coray was Lucy’s scribe), the version published in 1853 by Orson Pratt, Lucy talked about when Joseph obtained the plates, and he showed her and let her handle the Urim and Thummim:

“I trembled with fear, lest all might be lost in consequence of some failure in keeping the commandments of God, that I was under the necessity of leaving the room in order to conceal my feelings. Joseph saw this, and said, ‘Do not be uneasy mother, all is right- see here, I have got a key.’ I knew not what he meant, but took the article of which he spoke into my hands, and, upon examination, found that it consisted of two smooth three-cornered diamonds set in glass, and the glasses were set in silver bows, which were connected with other in much the same way as old fashioned spectacles. He took them again and left me, but said nothing respecting the Record [plates].” – brackets added by me.- Final Draft of Martha Coray’s notes for Lucy Mack History 

It would appear by the description above that Lucy handled the Urim and Thummim uncovered and visually inspected them. If we look at the preliminary draft of Martha Coray’s notes, we find an interesting footnote at the bottom of the page which states:

” (*with no covering but a silk handkerchief)”- Martha Coray rough draft manuscript of Lucy Mack History

Lucy sees spectacles covered with a silk hankerchief

Lucy Mack Smith handles the breastplate, but covered in a cloth as well.

“Upon meeting him, he handed me the breastplate spoken of in his history. It was wrapped in a thin muslin handkerchief, so thin that I could see glistening metal, and ascertain its proportions without any difficulty.”– Final Draft of Martha Coray’s notes for Lucy Mack History

Jane Manning was also permitted to handle the Urim and Thummim, but again, she was not allowed to look at it.

“One morning I met Brother Joseph coming out of his mothers room he said good morning and shook hands with me. I went in to his mothers room she said good morning bring me that bundle from my bureau and sit down here. I did as she told me, she placed the bundle in my hands and said, handle this and after I had done it she said sit down. Do you remember that I told you about the Urim and Thummim when I told you about the book of Mormon, I answered yes mam. She then told me I had just handled it, you are not permitted to see it, but you have been permitted to handle it. You will live long after I am dead and gone and you can tell the Latter-day Saints, that you was permitted to handle the Urim and Thummim.”- Jane Manning James Autobiography, p. 19, holograph in LDS Church Archives.

Does it not raise any suspicion that God told Joseph he would be destroyed if he showed anyone the plates or other artifacts, or that others felt God would destroy or curse them for viewing the plates?

Again, he told me, that when I got those plates of which he had spoken—for the time that they should be obtained was not yet fulfilled—I should not show them to any person; neither the breastplate with the Urim and Thummim; only to those to whom I should be commanded to show them; if I did I should be destroyed. Joseph Smith History 1:42

“I adverted once more to the roguery which had been in my opinion practised upon him, and asked him what had become of the gold plates. He informed me that they were in a trunk with the large pair of spectacles. I advised him to go to a magistrate and have the trunk examined. He said the “curse of God” would come upon him should he do this. On my pressing him, however, to pursue the course which I had recommended, he told me that he would open the trunk, if I would take the “curse of God” upon myself. I replied that I would do so with the greatest willingness, and would incur every risk of that nature, provided I could only extricate him from the grasp of rogues. He then left me.”- Charles Anthon statement about Martin Harris

“The stones were white, like polished marble, with a few gray streaks. I never dared to look into them by placing them in the hat, because Moses said that `no man could see God and live,’ and we could see anything we wished by looking into them; and I could not keep the desire to see God out of my mind. And beside, we had a command to let no man look into them, except by the command of God, lest he should `look aught and perish.’ “- Mormonism–No. II,” Tiffany’s Monthly. Devoted to the Investigation of the Science of Mind, in the Physical, Intellectual, Moral and Religious Planes Thereof 5 (August 1859): 166.

When William Hyde expressed a desire to see the plates, Joseph Smith Sr. responded:

“It will mean death for you to attempt to look at the plates. They are sewed  in a silk sack and the first person who disbelieves the truth of my assertion will be obliterated.”

William Hyde then responded:

“I began to think now that the man was demented and my belief was strengthened by the fact that Smith senior was a somnambulist.” (A somnambulist is someone who claims the ability to to see concealed objects – like buried treasure through a seer stone, or golden plates through a covering)…Smith’s hearers, or proselytes, generally wanted to see the great ‘prognosticators,’ but Smith’s answer would invanably be that the Angel Maroni, who had charge of the plates, commanded that no one should see them under penalty of death and confiscation.”- parentheses added by me William Hyde interview- “Birth of Mormonism. The Story of an Old Man Who Was There When the Tables of Stone Were Found. ” Chicago Times 14 Oct 1888

The plates did not behave like a traditional material object

Literal Belief:

God is all powerful and all-knowing and his ways are not our ways. There is nothing out of the ordinary if he removes the plates and makes them re-appear supernaturally through his own divine means or through the means of an angel.

When Joseph Smith, David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery were leaving Harmony, travelling to Fayette to finish the translation, they did not transport the plates with them. Apparently there was a walking angel who, through some physical exertion, transported the plates for them.

“David Whitmer said: “Oliver Cowdery, & the Prophet & I were riding in a wagon, & an aged man about 5 feet 10 inches tall heavy set & on his back an old fashioned Army knapsack strapped over his shoulders & something square in it, & he walked alongside of the wagon & wiped the sweat off his face. Smiling very pleasantly David asked him to ride and he replied “I am going across to the Hill Comorah.” Soon after they passed they felt strangely & stopped, but could see nothing of him all around was clear & they asked the Lord about it. He said that the Prophet looked as white as a sheet & said that it was one of the Nephites and that he had the plates. On arriving at home they were impressed that the same person was under the shed & again they were informed that it was so. They saw where he had been & the next morning and he took the plates from a box & showed them to her. She said that they were fastened with rings thus: he turned the leaves over -this was a satisfaction to her….”- David Whitmer interview with Edward Stevenson, December 1877, Journal, 28:123-130, entry of 2 January 1887, LDS Church Archives – original cited in Vogel Early Mormon Documents 5: 30-31.

Interestingly, in John Whitmer’s account of his mother being shown the plates, he stated that this happened while the work of translation was going on in the house. This is another confirmation that the plates were not used during the translation process.

“The translation was going on at the house of the Elder Peter Whitmer, her husband. Joseph Smith with his wife and Oliver Cowdery, whom David Whitmer a short time previous had brought up from Harmony, Pennsylvania, were all boarding with the Whitmers, and my grandmother in having so many extra persons to care for, besides her own large household was often overloaded with work to such an extent that she felt it to be quite a burden. One evening, when (after having done her usual day’s work in the house) she went to the barn to milk the cows, she met a stranger carrying something on his back that looked like a knapsack. At first she was a little afraid of him, but when he spoke to her in a kind, friendly tone and began to explain to her the nature of the work which was going on in her house, she was filled with inexpressible joy and satisfaction. He then untied his knapsack and showed her a bundle of plates, which in size and appearance corresponded with the description subsequently given by the witnesses of the Book of Mormon. This strange person turned the leaves of the book of plates over, leaf after leaf, and also showed her the engravings upon them; after which he told her to be patient and faithful in bearing her burden a little longer, promising that if she would do so, she should be blessed; and her reward would be sure, if she proved faithful to the end. The personage then suddenly vanished with the plates, and where he went, she could not tell. From that moment my grandmother was enabled to perform her household duties with comparative ease, and she felt no more inclination to murmur because her lot was hard.”- Account of Mary Whitmer in Statement of John C. Whitmer quoted in Andrew Jenson, The Historical Record 7, Nos. 8-10 (October 1888), 621.

Non-Literal Belief:

“The fact that insiders do not describe the golden plates as an ordinary material object, but rather as one that ancient Nephites display, deliver, and take away as appropriate; the fact that Lucy Smith says that ancient Nephites – not Joseph – brought the plates to the grove where some argue the eight saw them with their natural eyes; and the fact that most believers testified to seeing the ancient plates either directly in vision or indirectly while hidden in a box or covered by a cloth suggests to me that there was a material artifact, but that it was most likely neither ancient nor gold. I think Vogel (2004: 98-99) is probably correct in speculating that Smith made the plates himself, but, and this is the crucial question, is there any way he could have done this and still viewed them — in some non-delusory sense – as ancient golden plates?”– “History and the Claims of Revelation: Joseph Smith and the Materialization of the Golden Plates”- Ann Taves

Non-Belief:

The plates were often taken away and given back by a supernatural force or teleported/transported from one place to another without Joseph’s involvement. It begs the question why Joseph had to be involved at all with the safeguarding of the plates when they were often in the possession of some supernatural entity or this supernatural entity had the power to destroy anyone who looked upon them. Why did Joseph have to transport he plates in a barrel of beans from Manchester to Harmony but the angel brought them from Harmony to Fayette? Why did the responsibility of not showing them “to any person; [lest] I should be destroyed,” fall upon Joseph when this supernatural entity had the power to keep them away from any nefarious forces and transport them at will?

“After thus translating a number of plates, Harris wanted to return to Palmyra, taking a part of the writings with hint; but the Lord objected, for fear that Harris would show them to unbelievers, who would make sport and derision of them. But Harris finally obtained leave to take them, on condition that he should let no one see them, except those who believed in them; in this he was indiscreet, and showed them to some one that he ought not to. When he next went to his drawer to get them, behold! they were not there; the Lord had taken them away. Joseph and Harris returned to Harmony, and found the plates missing—the Lord had taken them also. Then Joseph put on the spectacles, and saw where the Lord had hid them, among the rocks, in the mountains. Though not allowed to get them, he could, by the help of the spectacles, read them where they were, as well as if they were before him. They were directed not to re-translate the part already gone over, for fear the new work would not correspond, in every particular, with the old; their enemies might take advantage of that circumstance, and condemn the whole.”– Fayette Lapham, “Interview with the Father of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, Forty Years Ago. His Account of the finding of the Sacred Plates,” Historical Magazine [second series] 7 May 1870: 305-309. Cited in “Joseph Smith, Sr., Interview with Fayette Lapham, 1830,” Early Mormon Documents 1:458

“In a few days we were follow by Joseph and Oliver and the Whitmers who came to make us a visit and also to make some arrangements about getting the book printed soon after they came They all that is the male part of the company repaired to a little grove where it was customary for the family to offer up their secret prayers. as Joseph had been instructed that the plates would be carried there by one of the ancient Nephites. Here it was that those 8 witnesses recorded in the Book of Mormon looked upon the plates and handled them of which they bear witness in the [title page of the Book of Mormon]. . . . After the witnesses returned to the house the Angel again made his appearance to Joseph and received the plates from his hands.“-Lucy Mack Smith’s history, preliminary manuscript, Family and Church History Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Conclusion

Whether or not there were authentically ancient golden plates has little bearing on whether the text of the Book of Mormon is considered scripture, especially to those who do not believe literally. Designating something as scripture is a subjective decision based on personal and spiritual factors. The difficulty arises when the objective evidence does not match the claims made about said scripture. In the case of the Book of Mormon that would be literal golden plates or historicity issues with the Book of Mormon narrative (DNA, archaeology,animal and plant life, anti-universalism, infant baptism, etc etc) . Non-literal believers may acknowledge a lack of historicity and no authentically ancient golden plates but instead focus on the product, the actual text of the Book of Mormon, and how it benefits them in their lives. Those who believe literally or not at all justifiably place a lot of importance on whether the claims made about the Book of Mormon actually bear out. There is power in literal belief because the text of the Book of Mormon itself is believed to hold power, especially when the narrative is said to be about real places and real people. Back in the days of Joseph Smith it was seer stones, divining rods, magic talismans or parchments that held power to access hidden knowledge and change lives but in modern day it is the text of the Book of Mormon. Reading the text is believed to have the power to make one’s day brighter and better, to give answers to life’s questions, and according to Elder Ballard in a recent address to the Utah South area, to make all your doubts go away. For non-believers like me the text of the Book of Mormon does not hold that same power any longer. As a non-believer I can still find inspiration in Alma 32 or Mosiah 18 even though I do not believe Alma or Mosiah are historical figures, but overall the text as a whole does not hold much authority or value in my life for those same reasons.

The issue of the golden plates holds some importance to me because when I was stacking all of my doubts on the proverbial shelf, it was a re-reading of the Joseph Smith history that brought that shelf crashing down. At the time, my view of the divine/God was evolving from an authoritarian, judgmental God who could also be loving, to a God who was simply all-loving and all-caring, period. As I read about Joseph’s claim that God would not simply chastise him but  DESTROY him if he allowed someone to look upon the plates, I had an experience that as a believer I would have classified as a “confirmation of the spirit” that this story was not true. It was overwhelming. It was the first time I allowed myself to ask the question, “What if the Book of Mormon is not true and Joseph wasn’t a prophet?” It was at that point I finally gave myself permission to follow the evidence wherever it may lead me. I simply can’t believe in a God who would destroy Joseph for allowing someone to view the plates, or destroy Emma Smith if she didn’t accept polygamy (D&C 132), or destroy his children, including infants, in a global flood, or kill the innocent firstborn in Egypt to punish the Pharaoh. I can’t believe that Joseph was a prophet in the way he presented it. But I’ve studied 3 large biographies of Joseph Smith (by Richard Bushman, Fawn Brodie, and Dan Vogel) and countless primary source documents and the more I do so, the more slack I am willing to cut Joseph in certain areas and not be so quick to label him a fraud or charlatan. I believe his motives were sincere in many cases and he viewed some of these deceptive practices as a means to an end. That does not absolve him of the deception he did carry out and some of the harmful and sometimes downright egregious practices he perpetuated.

I understand there are many who disagree with me and I try to extend the same charity and respect that I hope to receive from them. I hope there will be some who read this post and gain some understanding as to why people believe differently and why some people move from literal belief to non-belief, or non-literal belief.

4 Comments

  1. churchistrue

    Thank your for this blog article. Great information, and I agree with your conclusions. I give similar point of view at my blog http://www.churchistrue.com.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: 23 September 2015 | Mormonverse

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    The best known elements of the golden plates story are found in an account told by Smith in 1838 and incorporated into the official church histories of some Latter Day Saint movement denominations.

    Reply
  4. g-5858.com/update

    By then, however, some of Smith’s treasure-seeking company had heard that Smith said he had been successful in obtaining the plates, and they wanted what they believed was their share of the profits from what they viewed as part of a joint venture in treasure hunting.

    Reply

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