For Mormons - How Much Do You Really Know About Joseph Smith?

LDS, I know you revere Joseph Smith as your founding prophet, but have you ever really taken a deeper dive into his history? The LDS church presents a very romanticized, rosy picture of Joseph the man, but historians both inside and outside the church tell a much different story. If you knew, for example, that Joseph had adulterous affairs and married at least 33 women, many of whom were teenagers as young as 14 or already married to other men, how would that affect your belief in his credibility as a prophet? If you knew that he threatened some of these women if they refused his proposals, but promised salvation for their whole family if they accepted, would that change your mind about the man? If you knew that Joseph lied to his first wife, Emma, as well as to many others about his affairs and plural marriages, would that affect you in any way?

If you knew that Joseph conned people out of their money by claiming he could find buried treasure for them by looking at seer stones in a hat, and that he used the exact same method to translate the Book of Mormon, would that bother you? If you knew that he copied extensive portions from his copy of a 1769 edition of the King James Bible, including its translation errors, and put them right into the Book of Mormon, would that cause you to ask some questions? If you found out that Egyptologists have proven that Joseph completely mistranslated the papyrus scrolls to create the Book of Abraham, and that those scrolls have nothing whatsoever to do with Abraham at all, would you take a second look? If you learned that Joseph was conned by some locals who created fake ancient metal plates (the Kinderhook Plates) and then presented them to him for translation, would you still think he had the ability to translate anything?

I ask these questions because the historical evidence overwhelmingly shows that Joseph did all these things and many more just as bad or worse, yet most chapel going LDS have no idea and continue to believe that Joseph was a great man, husband, father, and prophet.

I don’t know whether it’s because you have been told not to look deeper into the history because it’s “anti-Mormon,” or whether the emotional connection simply trumps history, or if it’s because you just haven’t ever heard these things before, but I would simply challenge you to take a deeper look for yourselves. If Joseph was a good man and a true prophet, then you have absolutely nothing to lose by doing the research. Ultimately, it’s truth that matters and I would encourage you to not accept canned or evasive answers. The history is there. All you have to do is read it.

Good information. I didn’t know anything about the Kinderhook Plates. But you forgot to tell them that the moon is inhabited by people dressed like Quakers. :stuck_out_tongue:

The Kinderhook plates were six brass plates, each in the shape of a bell marked with what appeared to be ancient characters. Forgers made the plates, artificially aged their appearance with acid, and then buried them in a mound under a rock near Kinderhook, Pike County, Illinois. The same men “discovered” them on 23 April 1843, and six days later took them to Joseph Smith in Nauvoo for him to translate. The arrival of the plates in Nauvoo and Joseph’s efforts to translate them was recorded by Joseph’s clerk, William Clayton, and also in separate documents by Apostle Parley P. Pratt and Nauvoo resident Charlotte Haven. Upon first examining the plates, Joseph Smith claimed they were an ancient record of a Jaredite who was a descendant of Ham (one of Noah’s sons) through the loins of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

Joseph had woodcuts made of the plates for publication. Facsimiles of the plates were published in 24 Jun 1843 in the Nauvoo Neighbor. Unfortunately for Joseph, in 1855 the hoax came out when one of the men involved admitted to the forgery. In 1879 another of the group admitted it as well. He told the whole story of how the plates were made and how they were buried and “found.” The plates were not available for testing until 1920 when the Chicago Historical Society obtained one of them, which was an exact match to the facsimile published in 1843. Scientific tests since then confirmed the forgers’ admission that it was a nineteenth century creation and not an ancient record at all.

This is not the only recorded historical example of Joseph mistranslating ancient writing. We see the exact same result with the Egyptian papyrus scrolls that he “translated” into the Book of Abraham. Modern Egyptologists have translated the very same scrolls and categorically stated that there is nothing on those scrolls whatsoever having anything to with Abraham. Even the facsimiles still found to this very day in The Book of Abraham are completely mistranslated. How can LDS have that in their canonized scripture? Yet your average chapel-going Mormon has no idea there is anything wrong. It simply boggles the mind.

Given these two examples, and others, is it reasonable then to have any confidence that Joseph can be trusted when it comes to the The Book of Mormon? What makes Joseph trustworthy at all?

I read somewhere that Smith’s first wife, Anna, testified in front of Congress that he was a fraud. I don’t know if that’s true or not. Something you could look up. The internet is doing a lot of good regarding informing Mormons about the truth of their organization.

His first wife’s name was Emma, not Anna. I don’t know anything about her testifying as you mention. I do know she did not go with the main LDS body to Utah under Brigham Young’s leadership after Joseph was killed. She believed her son was Joseph’s successor, not Brigham, so she and her children stayed behind. An offshoot of the Mormon church began this way. During Joseph’s last few years there was a great deal of turmoil within the church, much of it to do with Joseph’s own conduct and the direction he was taking the church.

Many of the senior leadership were either excommunicated or left the church. One prime example is William Law. He was Joseph’s second counselor in the First Presidency, and became appalled with Joseph’s personal conduct and as a result published the Nauvoo Expositor, a newspaper that exposed Joseph’s terrible conduct to the rest of the church in Nauvoo. You can still read that paper today. In retaliation, Joseph had the printing press burned to the ground and this led to his eventual murder. In the eyes of the LDS church, William Law was an apostate, but the more historians learn about what really happened between him and Joseph, the more they realize William was the good guy. Grant Palmer, an LDS historian, said he couldn’t find anything in the* Expositor* that wasn’t true. William Law was known for being a very honest and upright man.

It is so sad to see these naive young Americans arrive at my door in Australia on their missionary year trying to convert me. I have always welcomed them and have had interesting film presentations from them as they return week after week with new information. They spend hours going through their teachings on their priesthood garments; their marriage beliefs of salvation of their women; this refusal of tea and coffee etc. They have presented me with free copies of the Book of Mormon and tracts on everything from Archangel Moroni to rejections on any slur on Smith’s reputation… They have amused me for hours as I keep them away from the neighbours, but I respect their commitment to their beliefs and wish Catholics were as committed. I query them about the world at large and realise how limited their general education is and commit them to Our Loving God for His special protection and conversion. There is no use arguing with them except to try to sow a seed of doubt which may foster deeper thought.
As guests in my house, of course, I treat them with full hospitality and never try to deride them.

These young missionaries most likely know almost nothing of the problems I’ve described thus far. They are trained to stick with their pretty well-defined script. They are even probably unaware that Joseph had many wives. They will not want to discuss with you The Doctrine and Covenants or the Pearl of Great Price too much, because they know that all the uniquely Mormon doctrines are in there and not in the Book of Mormon. Much of what’s in the Book of Mormon reflects standard Evangelical Christianity. About 25% comes right out of the King James bible, a 1769 edition to be exact, including the errors (Joseph owned a copy). Another 50% can be attributed to Joseph’s own local environment in 19th century Northeast America (books he owned, stories he heard, Protestant revivals he attended, etc.). The remaining 25% hasn’t been figured out yet. Here is a great video talk of this exact topic from a very credible LDS historian:

There is a lot that many people do not know about their own religion that if they actually pursued the facts, they would possibly leave their faith.

But that is why it is called “faith”.
You have faith in it anyway.

People have faith in Christianity and Judaism and Islam…when others cannot understand for a second how they could possibly do so.
I’m sure someone of the Mormon faith could point out to you dozens and dozens of holes and discrepancies and incredulous stories and negative events in all the religions, above, to equal what you write about the founder of Mormonism.


Yes and no. In this thread I’m really not talking about issues of faith. Faith is believing in something that cannot be proven, like the resurrection or other miracles. In the case of early LDS history, however, there is so much historical documentation readily available that faith doesn’t really enter into the issues I’ve discussed thus far in this thread. I don’t need to depend on faith to understand these specific LDS problems any more than I need faith to know that George Washington was the first president. These issues can be examined from a historical perspective, and the evidence showing Joseph to be a fraud is quite overwhelming.

The LDS church depends enormously on the credibility of their prophets, most especially Joseph Smith, precisely because of the claims they make about these men. This is not so for Catholicism. Our religion isn’t dependent on the conduct of any one person or group of people. We acknowledge that our leaders are sinners just like the rest of us. But it’s quite different in Mormonism.

I cannot speak for Islam or Judaism because I don’t know enough about either, but if you compare Catholicism to Mormonism in terms of historical problems pointing to fraud, you will find a vast difference between the two. As evidence of this I point to the huge influx of Protestant ministers into the Catholic Church over the last couple decades. A common thread is that their historical studies led them into the Church, warts and all (and there are a lot of warts along the way). But even so, the good stuff outweighs the bad. You do not find this same experience in Mormonism. The Mormon Church doesn’t even acknowledge its historical faults, because to do so would destroy the credibility of their prophets. The more history a Mormon learns about their religion, the more likely they are to leave. This is not so for Catholics.

I had a Catholic friend years ago who converted to Mormonism. I asked her why she converted, and her reply was “because they support me”. She got a lot of friendship and attention, help and even material goods from her Mormon friends that she did not get in the Catholic Church, which is sad. Anyway, I then looked up what Mormons believe. This was before the internet, when you had to make a real effort to get such information. It’s so easy now.

I found out all kinds of shocking things about their beliefs: they can become gods on another planet, multiple wives in the afterlife, endlessly giving birth to spirit babies to occupy the bodies of the people on the planet they rule over, Jesus and Satan are brothers, God was once a man, blah, blah, blah. I was shocked.

The next time I went out to lunch with her, I politely told her what I had found out, not sure how she would react. She stared at me with a puzzled look, cocked her head slightly, furrowed brow, and said, “Why, that sounds Satanic!” She had no idea. How many other Mormons have no idea? I don’t know where she is now, but I hope she came home to Rome.

I visited Utah some years ago and stayed in Salt Lake City for a few days. I was struck by the beauty of the city, but also by the strangeness of it all.

I did the ‘tourist’ things, which included a tour of Joseph Smith’s house. I had made friends on the trip with a very funny, clever but sarcastic Jewish woman from New York. She wasn’t going to let the commentary from the gracious Mormon guide go unchallenged! So, when the guide told us about Joseph Smith’s wives, my friend stopped her and said 'So just so I understand this properly - one of his wives was 14? And he was HOW old?" Other similar questions followed. The rest of the party were smiling, as they knew why she was asking for ‘clarification!’

I felt a little sorry for the guide, who answered all the questions in good part and didn’t seem to realise the picture she was painting of this man, with her reverent commentary of his rather unorthodox life. :slight_smile:

Did you mean Brigham Young’s house? Joseph Smith never was in Salt Lake. He was killed before the Mormons migrated to Utah.

It’s sad when people convert for reasons that have little to do with the belief system of a religion. Mormons are quite successful at converting people. Retention not so much. A very large percentage go inactive very quickly after conversion. There is a principle within Mormonism commonly known as giving “the milk before the meat,” i.e., the idea that you don’t teach the deeper doctrines to prospective converts. That doesn’t come until much later, after one has been in the church for a while, and even then many never get to the “meat,” sort of like your friend.

The LDS church leadership has recently become quite concerned with the numbers that are resigning their membership in the church as a result of ever easier access to the kind of information in this thread. The members are reading this stuff all over the internet. Many feel duped by the church when they discover the real history of early Mormonism, as they learn all these things that were omitted from the official manuals in Sunday school, seminary, institute (religious ed for college students), or in missionary training. The church has access to all the same information–in fact most of it comes from it’s own historical documents (that most members have never read). They are really caught between a rock and a hard place. If they come out and honestly tell the full real history they will lose a lot of people. If they don’t then the members will continue to find it out on their own on the internet. Either way it’s not good.

My mistake. The guide was talking about Joseph Smith, though. :slight_smile:

Chris, why are you presenting only part of the facts? The truth is Joseph never provided a translation of the Kinderhook plates. Why did you leave this out of your above explanation?

I for one have heard all this and more. I am still Mormon and will continue to be. All Mormons are not ignorant of their own teachings.

I wouldn’t feel too sorry for the tour guide. At least she was honest about the polygamy.

Last summer, we traveled to Utah for my sister’s wedding (which we were not permitted to actually attend, by the way). We had left the LDS church 6 months prior to this visit. My husband wanted to see the Conference Center since we had missed it on our previous visit to Salt Lake. We went on one of the tours and our guide was a senior sister missionary. Everyone in our group was not LDS, although we did not identify ourselves as former Mormons. We didn’t say much or ask any questions until we got to the hall of portraits of old prophets and apostles. My husband asked the guide how many wives Brigham Young had. She lied and told us that Brigham Young only had one wife. We didn’t confront her on her lie. I mean, most people know that Brigham Young was a polygamist so I was shocked that the missionary actually lied about it. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so shocked. I would have expected her to be less than truthful about Joseph Smith’s polygamy but not Brigham Young’s.

Here are the facts we know about the episode–Joseph examined the plates and translated at least a portion of them, and claimed they were something they were not. From Joseph’s clerk William Clayton on May 1, 1843:
I have seen 6 brass plates which were found in Adams County by some persons who were digging in a mound…They are covered with ancient characters of language containing from 30 to 40 on each side of the plates. Prest J. [Joseph] has translated a portion and says they contain the history of the person with whom they were found and he was a descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the ruler of heaven and earth.
From Apostle Parley P. Pratt six days later:
[S]ix plates having the appearance of Brass have lately been dug out of a mound by a gentlemen in Pike Co. Illinois. they are small and filled with engravings in Egyptian language and contain the genealogy of one of the ancient Jaredites back to Ham son of Noah… the gentlemen who found them were un-connected with the church, but have brought them to Joseph Smith for examination and translation. [A] large number of Citizens here have seen them and Compared the characters with those on the Egyptian papyri which is now in this city.
So we know Joseph translated at least a portion of the plates and got it wrong, He was duped. That’s enough for me, unless you have further evidence that somehow proves the opposite.

Also, I would be interested in your thoughts on Joseph’s history of adultery and polygamous marriages (including his marriages to teenagers and married women). What I’m getting at here is that whether it be Joseph’s troubling personal life or his deceptions at “translating” multiple ancient documents, or a myriad of other problems, there is a pattern here that strongly suggests he was a con man. All I can say to you is that if you are really going to make an objective conclusion about Joseph Smith, you have to take emotion and loyalty out of the equation and examine the historical facts for what they say on their own. Surely you can see the church has not been forthcoming about its real history. There is a reason for that.

I was looking for a book on the history of the mormon religion, something that was scholarly instead of a hatchet job (like I don’t want to read the Bart Ehrman version of an anti-mormon book, but just a legit history book). I was looking around and thinking “One Nation under gods” by Richard Abanes looked good. Would anyone recommend this or another book?

What is also interesting is looking into the history of the First and Second “Great Awakenings” in the early US and how these traveling preachers found a way to make a lot of money in a short time. They could also stay one step ahead of the people duped by broken promises by traveling often. The birth of many different religious sects began during those times. Look carefully at the history of both the LDS and the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the same context. Look at the time frame and how they might have been seen the benefits of these operations. Perhaps even inspired by them. In fact, the founder of the JWs has a very interesting background as a con man. Perhaps some of these preachers had good intentions, but some were true con men.

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