Archive for June, 2018

“Joseph Smith Translating” by Nelson

by Fred W. Anson
One of the most common apologetics for the Book of Mormon is that an ignorant Farmboy couldn’t have possibly have written it. Mormon Apologists like to point to his wife Emma Smith’s 1879 statement to her son that, “Joseph Smith could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter; let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon.”1 This apologetic ignores a few niggling details:

  1. A 23-year old male is a man, not a “farmboy”.
  2. Joseph Smith, Sr. was an itinerate school teacher2 and Joseph Smith, Jr. was homeschooled.
  3. This statement was made by the same woman who, in the very same interview, we now know lied about her husband’s polygamous marriages to her own son (Joseph Smith III).3 Emma Smith had a vested interest in maintaining and stewarding Joseph Smith, Jr’s reputation as a true prophet of God – even if it required lying to do so.
  4. The manuscript record demonstrates that while Joseph Smith, Jr. was spelling and grammar challenged he could, despite Emma Smith’s claims, write reasonably well.

To this last point, please consider the following letter written by Smith to Oliver Cowdery on October 22, 1829, half a year before Smith published the Book of Mormon:

Joseph Smith’s Letter to Oliver Cowdery, 22 October 1829

Respected sir I would in form you that I arrived at home on sunday morning the 4th. after having a prosperous journy, and found all well the people are all friendly to <us> except a few who are in opposition to evry thing unless it is some thing that is exactly like themselves and two of our most formadable persacutors are now under censure and are cited to a tryaltrial in the church for crimes which if true are worse than all the Gold Book business. we do not rejoice in the affliction of our enimies but we shall be glad to have truth prevail[.] there begins to be a great call for our books in this country the minds of the people are very much excited when they find that there is a copy right obtained and that there is really books about to be printed I have bought a horse of Mr. [Josiah] Stowell and want some one to come after it as soon as convenient Mr Stowell has a prospect of getting five or six hundred dol lars he does not know certain that he can get it but he is a going to try and if he can get the money he wants to pay it in immediately for books we want to hear from you and know how you prosper in the good work, give our best respects to Father & Mother and all our brothers and Sisters to Mr. [Martin] Harris and all the company concerned tell them that our prayers are put up daily for them that they may be prospered in evry, good word and work and that they may be preserved from sin here and and from the consequen[c]e of sin here after and now dear brother be faithful in the discharge of evry duty looking for the reward of the righteous and now may God of his infinite mercy keep an<d> pre serve us spotless untill his coming and receive us all to rest with him in eternal repose through the attonement of Christ our Lord Amen Joseph Smith Jr”
(source http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/letter-to-oliver-cowdery-22-october-1829/1#full-transcript)

As Mormon Researcher, Eric Johnson notes:

According to the editors of the Joseph Smith papers, this letter was indeed written by Smith:

‘JS wrote this letter from Harmony, Pennsylvania, to Oliver Cowdery, who was overseeing the printing of the Book of Mormon in Palmyra, New York. Four months earlier, on 11 June 1829, JS had obtained a copyright for the book, and after he and Martin Harris negotiated with local printers, Harris mortgaged his farm on 25 August to cover the cost of printing.’

Granted, the letter is not perfect in its grammar or structure. (Neither was the original Book of Mormon, for that matter.) Still, this is not the work of a rube, an unintelligent farm boy. Consider some of the words that were used: “prosperous,” “opposition,” “affliction,” “prevail,” “obtained,” “convenient,” “prospered,” “preserved,” “discharge,” and “infinite.” That he is able to use such vocabulary–yes, even spelling them correctly–is not the mark of an unintelligent person.”4

And for those who might object because, as the Joseph Smith Papers Project editor notes, this letter was actually dictated to transcribed, by Frederick G. Williams, here’s a link to the transcript of Joseph Smith’s 1832 handwritten (with a few scribal insertions also by Frederick G. Williams) First Vision account. As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. Bad spelling and grammar aside, this is prose equally reasonable and displays a better than average vocabulary: http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-circa-summer-1832/1#full-transcript (please click on link)

And here is how that transcript would read if but lightly edited and modernized (by adding light paragraphing and formatting for legibility and clarity, and by fixing the grammar and spelling). I think you will agree that this is hardly the bad, illegible chicken scratching of some uneducated farmboy:

A History of the life of Joseph Smith Jr.
An account of his marvelous experience and of all the mighty acts which he did in the name of Jesus Christ the son of the living God, of whom he bears record. This is also an account of the rise of the church of Christ in the eve of time according as the Lord brought forth and established by his hand, his first receiving this testimony from on high; Secondly, the ministering of Angels; Thirdly the reception of the holy Priesthood by the ministering of those Angels to administer the letter of the Law of the Gospel – the Law and commandments as they were given unto him and in those ordinances; Fourthly a confirmation and reception of the high Priesthood after the holy order of the son of the living God power and ordinance from on high to preach the Gospel in the administration and demonstration of the spirit, the Keys of the Kingdom of God conferred upon him, and the continuation of the blessings of God to him. – Frederick G. Williams

I was born in the town of Sharon in the State of Vermont North America on the twenty-third day of December AD 1805 of goodly Parents who spared no pains to instructing me in the Christian religion. At the age of about ten years, my Father Joseph Smith Seignior moved to Palmyra, Ontario County in the State of New York. And being in indigent circumstances my parents were obliged to labor hard for the support of a large Family having nine children. And as it required their exertions of all that were able to render any assistance for the support of the Family, therefore, we were deprived of the benefit of an education suffice it to say I was merely instructed in reading and writing and the ground rules of Arithmetic which constituted the whole of my literary acquirements.

At about the age of twelve years, my mind became seriously impressed in regard to the all-important concerns of for the welfare of my immortal Soul which led me to search the scriptures believing as I was taught, that they contained the word of God. Thus applying myself to them, and my intimate acquaintance with those of different denominations, led me to marvel exceedingly for I discovered that they did not adorn. Instead of adorning their profession by a holy walk and Godly conversation agreeable to what I found contained in that sacred depository this was a grief to my Soul. Thus from the age of twelve years to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart concerning the situation of the world of mankind the contentions and divisions the wickedness and abominations and the darkness which pervaded the of the minds of mankind my mind became exceedingly distressed for I become convicted of my sins and by searching the scriptures I found that mankind did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatized from the true and living faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament. And I felt lead to mourn for my own sins and for the sins of the world for I learned in the scriptures that God was the same yesterday today and forever and that he was no respecter of persons for he was God.

I looked upon the sun the glorious luminary of the earth and also the moon rolling in their majesty through the heavens and also the stars shining in their courses and the earth also upon which I stood and the beast of the field and the fowls of heaven and the fish of the waters and also man walking forth upon the face of the earth in majesty. And in the strength of beauty whose power and intelligence in governing the things which are so exceeding great and marvelous – even in the likeness of He who created them – that when I considered upon these things my heart exclaimed well hath the wise man said that it is a fool that says in his heart there is no God.

My heart exclaimed all these things bear testimony and bespeak an omnipotent and omnipresent power a being who makes Laws and decrees and binds all things in their bounds. He who fills Eternity who was and is and will be from all Eternity to Eternity. And when I considered all these things and that being, I sought to worship him as one should worship him – in spirit and in truth.

Therefore, I cried unto the Lord for mercy, for there was none else to whom I could go to obtain mercy, and the Lord heard my cry in the wilderness and while in the attitude of calling upon the Lord while in the 16th year of my life, a pillar of fire light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the spirit of god and the Lord opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord. He spoke unto me saying Joseph my son thy sins are forgiven thee. Go thy way, walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments. Behold I am the Lord of glory. I was crucified for the world that all those who believe on my name may have Eternal life.

Joseph Smith’s handwritten 1832 First Vision account

Behold the world lies in sin and at this time and none doeth good – no not one. They have turned aside from the gospel and keep not my commandments. They draw near to me with their lips while their hearts are far from me and my anger is kindling against the inhabitants of the earth to visit them according to their ungodliness and to bring to pass that which has been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and Apostles. Behold and lo I come quickly as it is written of me in the cloud clothed in the glory of my Father. And my soul was filled with love and for many days I could rejoice with great Joy and the Lord was with me but could find none that would believe the heavenly vision.

Nevertheless, I pondered these things in my heart. But after many days I fell into transgressions and sinned in many things which brought a wound upon my soul and there were many things which transpired that cannot be written. And my Father’s family have suffered many persecutions and afflictions.

And it came to pass when I was seventeen years of age I called again upon the Lord and he shewed unto me a heavenly vision for behold an angel of the Lord came and stood before me and it was by night. He called me by name and he said the Lord had forgiven me my sins and he revealed unto me that in the Town of Manchester, Ontario County, N.Y. there was plates of gold upon which there were engravings which were engraved by Maroni and his fathers the servants of the living God in ancient days, deposited by the commandment of God, and kept by the power thereof. And Maroni commanded that I should go and get them. He also revealed unto me many things concerning the inhabitants of the earth which since have been revealed in commandments and revelations.

This was on the 22d day of September 1822 AD. And thus he appeared unto me three times in one night and once on the next day. So then I immediately went to the place and found where the plates were deposited as the angel of the Lord had commanded me and straightway made three attempts to get them. Then being exceedingly frightened, I supposed it had been a dream of Vision but when I considered I knew that it was not.

Therefore, I cried unto the Lord in the agony of my soul as to why I can’t obtain them. Then behold the angel appeared unto me again and said unto me, “You have not kept the commandments of the Lord which I gave unto you. Therefore, you cannot now obtain them for the time is not yet fulfilled. Therefore, thou were left unto temptation that thou might be made acquainted with the power of the adversary. Therefore, repent and call on the Lord that thou shalt be forgiven. And in his own due time, thou shalt obtain them. For now, I had been tempted of the adversary and sought the Plates to obtain riches. I have not kept the commandment that I should have an eye single to the Glory of God.

Therefore, I was chastened and sought diligently to obtain the plates and didn’t obtain them until I was twenty-one years of age – this is the year that I was married to Emma Hale, daughter of Isaac Hale, who lived in Harmony, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania on the 18th of January 1827AD. On the 22d day of Sept of this same year, I obtained the plates. Then in the following December, we moved to Susquehanna with the assistance of a man by the name of Martin Harris who became convinced of the vision, and who gave me fifty Dollars to bear my expenses.

Because of his faith, and this righteous deed, the Lord appeared unto him in a vision and showed unto him the marvelous work which He was about to do. He immediately came to Susquehanna and said the Lord had shown him that he must go to New York City with some of the characters so we proceeded to copy some of them and he took his journey to the eastern cities and to learned men. He said to them, “Read this I pray thee. And the learned men said, “I cannot!” But they said that if he would bring the plates they would read it. But the Lord had forbidden it and he returned to me and gave them to me to translate and I said, “I cannot for I am not learned!”

But the Lord had prepared spectacles for to read the Book, therefore, I commenced translating the characters and thus the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled which is written in the 29th chapter concerning the book.

And it came to pass that after we had translated 116 pages that he desired to carry them to read to his friends that peradventure he might convince them of the truth. Therefore, I inquired of the Lord and the Lord said unto me that he must not take them. And I spoke unto him (Martin) the word of the Lord. And he said, “Inquire again.” So I inquired again, and also a third time, and the Lord said unto me, “Let him go with them. Only he shall covenant with me that he will not shew them to only but four persons.” So he covenanted with the Lord that he would do according to the word of the Lord.

Therefore he took them and took his journey unto his friends to Palmyra, Wayne County, in the State of New York, and he broke the covenant which he made before the Lord. So the Lord suffered the writings to fall into the hands of wicked men. Thus Martin was chastened for his transgression. And so I also was chastened also for my transgression for asking the Lord the third time. Therefore the Plates was taken from me by the power of God and I was not able to obtain them for a season and it came to pass after much humility and affliction of soul I obtained them again when Lord appeared unto a young man by the name of Oliver Cowdery and shewed unto him the plates in a vision. And he also showed him the truth of the work and what the Lord was about to do through me his unworthy servant.

Therefore, he was desirous to come and write for me and to translate. Now my wife had written some for me to translate, and also my Brother Samuel H Smith, but we had become reduced in property and my wife’s father was about to turn me out of doors. I had nowhere to go and I cried unto the Lord that he would provide for me to accomplish the work whereunto he had commanded me.

In summary, the claim that Joseph Smith was incapable of writing the Book of Mormon is simply wrong. Sure, he was no Dickens, but he could generate well-formed (albeit with poorly spelled and compromised grammar) sentences and his command of the English language was actually quite impressive. In a nutshell, he was more than capable of writing the Book of Mormon – especially given the fact that he had collaborators and capable editors to assist him. The apologetic that he couldn’t is just silly given the evidence.

“Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail” by Greg K. Olsen

NOTES
1 Joseph Smith III, “Last Testament of Sister Emma”, The Saints’ Herald, vol. 26, pp. 289, p.290, 1 Oct 1879; also cited in Joseph Smith, Heman Conoman Smith, and F. Henry Edwards, “The History of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” (Independence, Mo: Herald House, 1967), 3:353–358.

2 From Richard Lloyd Anderson, “The Early Preparation of the Prophet Joseph Smith”, Ensign, December 2005:

“Father Smith taught common school for several winters while the Smiths lived in the Prophet’s birthplace. But young Joseph was not ready for regular instruction until after his family had moved to neighboring Royalton Township, where Joseph Smith Sr. appears on the tax records from 1809 to 1811. A granddaughter of Royalton deacon Jonathan Kinney said he “oft repeated” that “I taught Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet, his letters while teaching school upon Dewey Hill about the year 1810–15.”

3 Op cit, Joseph Smith III. The line of questioning in that interview with her son Joseph Smith III goes like this:

Question. Was there nothing about spiritual wives that you recollect?

Answer. At one time my husband came to me and asked me if I had heard certain rumors about spiritual marriages, or anything of the kind; and assured me that if I had, that they were without foundation; that there was no such doctrine, and never should be with his knowledge or consent. I know that he had no other wife or wives than myself, in any sense, either spiritual or otherwise.

But we now know from the historical record that Emma Smith was present at the sham second polygamous marriage of Joseph Smith, Jr. to the Partridge sisters.
(See Eric Johnson, “Did Emma Smith approve of polygamy?” for a full, short recounting of this event.  This event is also confirmed in several other sources such as Todd Compton’s, “In Sacred Loneliness”, Richard S. Van Wagoner’s, “Mormon Polygamy: A History”, and Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery’s, “Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith” which Mr. Johnson uses as his source in his article.)

4 Eric Johnson, “Book of Mormon Translation”, MRM website.

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