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The Story Vs. The Facts

promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. 2 Peter 2:19.

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The Story

The Facts

The Story

 Joseph Smith , was born December 23, 1805 in Sharon, Vermont and at the age of approximately ten, his family moved to Palmyre, New York. Four years later, after moving to Manchester, New York, a great religious excitement began with the Methodists and eventually all other groups. The religious excitement was centered on getting people converted.What sect or church you went to after conversion was not important, only the conversion.  However, after many joined one sect or left another, the priests and ministers began to contend and fight against each other thus proving this "Love" to be hypocritical and not real.  This created great confusion in the area.

Joseph Smith, not willing to commit himself to one particular sect at such an early age, was greatly confused over which sect was right. They all claimed to be right and proved the others to be in error, so Smith began to question: "How can I know who is right?" One day while laboring under the confusion of the churches, Smith read James 1:5.  (Look this verse up in the Bible).  This verse was the answer from God to his problems, and he decided to ask God for wisdom.

On a spring morning in 1820, Joseph Smith retired to the woods to kneel and pray for wisdom.As he prayed some power came over him that bound his tongue and darkness gathered about.This power he alludes to is Satan.  Exerting all his power in prayer, a pillar if light fell upon him and he was delivered from the enemy.  He then saw two figures standing above him in the air.One called him Smith, by name, and then pointed to the other and said, "this is my beloved Son, hear him!"

After gaining his composure, Smith then asked which of the sects were right. The answer he received was that they were all wrong, and part of II Timothy 3:5 was quoted to him. Again he was told not to join, and after gaining his strength, he left for home. When Smith told his vision to a Methodist preacher and others, he received much persecution and ridicule. Many said that what he had experienced was of Satan, but Smith puts it, "like Paul he persevered." Still he stayed with his so-called truth and continued working for three years, suffering persecution all the while.

During this period of three years he, by his own admission, lived in a great deal of sin. As a consequence of this, after retiring to bed on September 21, 1823, Smith asked God for forgiveness and an answer to his standing. He claims to have had full confidence in obtaining a divine manifestation. Suddenly the angel Moroni appeared and told him that God had a message for him.

He was told of a book written on golden plates gave the account of this continent's inhabitants and their source and also had the everlasting gospel. Also the Urim and Thumin, a special set of eyeglasses, were with the book to translate it. He was not to show them to anyone except those to whom he was commanded or he would be destroyed. The angel appeared twice more in the same night letting Smith know that Satan would try to tempt him into using the plates for personal gain, and also to show Smith the location of the plates.

The next day, upon fainting from exhaustion in the field, Moroni appeared again and told Smith to relate the incident to his father.  His father instructed him to do as Moroni said.  Upon finding the plates, the angel told Smith to visit this place once a year for four years and then he could have them.  Finally the day came and Smith was instructed to guard them till Moroni called for them back.  However the persecution was so great, Smith, and now his wife, moved to Pennsylvania where he began translating the plates.

 A man, who had befriended Smith, named Martin Harris, took some of his translations to New York City to get an approval on the translations that he received. The man, who supposedly said these were legitimate characters, later made a statement in a letter that this was a lie.  Later, John the Baptist supposedly appeared to Smith and a companion, Oliver Cowdrey, and he ordained them as elders of the Priesthood of Aaron. Upon baptizing each other, the Holy Spirit came upon them and gave them the spirit of prophecy.  Later, Peter, James, and John gave them the Priesthood of Melchizsedeck.

Smith now took a total of eleven witnesses to substantiate his claims and continued to write and prophesy. One of his visions told him that Jackson County, Missouri, was to be given to the Mormons.  However, due to great opposition here and other places, Smith settled down in Mauvoo, Illinois.  The "Mauvoo Expositor" wrote many unfavorable stories about Mormonism, and Smith ordered the press destroyed. He was imprisoned, and on June 27, 1844, a mob attacked the jail and killed Joseph Smith.  This, however, martyred him for the Mormons.

 After the assassination of Joseph Smith the leadership of the Mormon church went to a 43 year old man, Brigham Young, a follower of Joseph Smith. In 1846, Young and his followers left Mauvoo and settled in the state of Utah in Salt Lake City.  (The movie made of this journey is false in many places.)  Young led the group for more than 30 years, and gave it a firm establishment in the new land.  He became Mormon theology, and the cult grew to a membership of 140,000.

Young, however, was a questionable character himself-details not needed here-as his great zeal to control Utah expressed itself in fits of anger.  One incident that Mormons would like to forget forever was the Mountain Meadows Massacre in which Young ordered 150 non-Mormon immigrants to be killed.  A man named John D. Lee led the assault, and was later executed by the government.  Lee's book, The Confessions of John D. Lee, remains a thorn in the Mormon's side.  He depicts not only the questionable leadership of Young, but of the Mormon cult as a whole as well.  Brigham died in 1877.

The Witnesses: After completing the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith took three witnesses with him to the woods to observe the golden plates. At the beginning of each book the Mormons go to special effort to record the testimony of these witnesses. The original three were Oliver Cowdry, David Witmer, and Martin Harris.  Two of the witnesses were shortly charged by their fellow Mormons as thieves and counterfeiters, and Harris later changed his testimony to the following: "I saw them by faith as they were covered." All three were at one time banished as apostates from the church.

  Smith decided later that three was not enough, so he called eight more to witness the plates. Four of these were relatives of David Witmer, another married a Witmer daughter, and the other three were members of the prophet's own family. Three of these left the church.  


The Facts

By Allen Harrod [www.watchman.org/lds/whoisjosephsmith.htm]

Who was Joseph Smith? Was he a fraud or a prophet? Was he a charlatan or a chosen seer of God? Was he a conscious imposter or a deranged visionary? The Joseph Smith of history is vastly different from the common Mormon perception and the current LDS Church presentation of him. He has been cleaned up and somewhat sanitized in some present biographies. Some of his false predictions and erratic behavior have been deleted or changed in contemporary histories. Yet, many of the original records in the LDS archives have been copied by their scholars and reproduced for us to examine.

In an attempt to answer the question, "Who was Joseph Smith?" he will be examined from these three perspectives: family, factions and figures who influenced him.

Family influences upon Joseph Smith
According to New England genealogical records, Joseph Smith, Jr. had a rather illustrious ancestry. His first paternal ancestor that can be discovered was Robert Smith, his great-great-grandfather. Robert was an English Puritan who arrive in America in 1638. Joseph's great-grandfather was Samuel Smith, a gentleman and a representative of the Massachusetts General. Asahel Smith, grandfather to the founder of Mormonism, was a captain of the Minute Men who responded to the Lexington alarm and then on to the siege of Boston. (1)

Joseph's maternal grandfather Solomon Mack, claimed to have experienced divine visitations from heaven. When he was seventy-eight years of age, the accounts of these visions were published in a little book, which he peddled to friends, neighbors and anyone who would purchase them. (2)

Lucy Mack Smith, the mother of Joseph Smith, Jr. was ambitious but limited in formal education. She was highly mystical and was given to strange dreams. She was, however, the most enterprising member of her family. People who knew her best said she would look you straight in the eye and weave an unimaginable tale, and when challenged she would defend her exaggerated statements without shame.

Little can be said of Joseph's father for little record remains concerning him. The gifted Mormon writer Dale Morgan described Joseph Smith, Sr., as having "no liking for the axe and little more for the plow, and was not a man to immune himself in a lonesome clearing at the outer reaches of civilization." (3) He was also given to treasure digging. In an affidavit signed by several prominent citizens of Manchester, New York, on November 3, 1833, the Smith men were described as "lazy, indolent, intemperate, destitute of moral character and addicted to vicious habits." (4)

Factions that influenced Smith
The first faction that influenced Joseph Smith, Jr. was a fascination with the occult. Mormon scholar D. Michael Quinn, has carefully documented that Smith was influenced by the culture of his day and particularly by his immediate family. His father and uncle both used divining rods. (5)

 Luman Walters was likely the individual who introduced Joseph Smith, Jr. to using the "seer stone" for the pretense of discovering treasure. (6) The Palmyra Reflector dubbed him as "Walters the Magician" who operated by the use of "familiar spirits," using instruments of witchcraft such as a "stuffed toad," "an old sword," and a "seer stone." (7)

Dr. Reed Durham, former president of the Mormon History Association, and Professor of Religion at the University of Utah, in a 1974 lecture revealed that at the time of his death Joseph Smith was wearing what was formerly thought to have been a "Masonic jewel" was actually a "Jupiter talisman." This proves that Joseph Smith was engaged in occult practices until the end of his life in 1844. (8) A talisman is an object engraved with astrological signs believed to have possessed power to avert evil and bring good luck. Such pieces are clearly identified with occult magic. This lecture, although true, brought the wrath of then President Spencer W. Kimbell down upon Dr. Durham. The talisman is currently kept in the LDS Archives.

Thirty miles from the Smith farm in Palmyra, the Shakers built a community hall. Ann Lee's followers viewed her as the reincarnated Christ. Lee was believed by her followers to speak in seventy-two different tongues, all unintelligible to those who heard them. The Shakers also believed that she could converse with the dead. Even if Smith did not attend any of these meeting he could have read about their practices in the local paper. (9)

 The Shakers believe in new, extra-biblical revelations and visions from God, as do the Mormons. Another similarity between the two groups is their prohibition against the use of coffee, tea, tobacco, and liquor; Smith almost certainly knew about the Shaker's teachings when he later gave a revelation from God typed the "Word of Wisdom." The similarities are too obvious to be insignificant in the new religion of Smith.

Not more than twenty-five miles in another direction, Jemima Wilkinson, a Quaker, claimed to be Christ, calling herself the "Universal Friend." She led her group by revelations from heaven. Her group practiced communal living along with celibacy. The traits of communal living and being lead by divine revelations were also very prominent among the early Mormons. In contrast to Wilkinson's group, however, early Mormons did not practice celibacy.

Another group that likely influenced Smith's thinking was the "Seekers," of which Joseph Smith's uncle, Jason Mack, was a member. The Seekers believed, as does the Mormon church, that the contemporary Church has become corrupt, the Scriptures are defective, and that the faithful can be validated through the Apostolic gifts. (10)

While Smith was definitely influence by the general millennial fever of the 1830s he was specifically influenced by the predictions of William Miller, who's teaching gave a basis for today's Seventh Day Adventist. Smith, in 1835 during the time that William Miller was predicting the coming of Christ for 1844, prophesied the return of Christ at an ordination service of the twelve apostles in his new church. He declared that the world scene should be completed within fifty-six years. (11).  Woven deeply into the fabric of Mormonism are their eschatological claims to world dominance through the coming millennial reign of Christ, which by the way, Smith taught would take place not in Jerusalem the Zion of the Bible but in Independence, Missouri.

Still another influence upon the eclectic thinking of Smith was Emanuel Swedenborg. Although they were not contemporaries, Smith likely picked up some of Swedenborg's ideas by reading the Palmyra Reflector. (12) Swedenborg considered himself a seer of new revelations from God, which transcended the revelation of Scripture. Swedenborg, like Smith, could describe the celestial world in minute detail. Anyone familiar with the teachings of the Mormons will quickly recognize ideas of Swedenborg

There can be no question about the ideas that Smith carried over into Mormonism by way of Sidney Rigdon a former associate of Alexander Campbell. Two major themes of Mormonism are the "Restored Gospel" idea and the teaching of baptismal regeneration. While the Seekers taught that the gospel had been lost the Campbellites taught that it had been restored. Campbell coined the term "restoration," by which he meant the recovery of the New Testament pattern and practices. Smith and Rigdon extended the idea to cover the Old Testament also. Noted Mormon scholars Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton acknowledge the influence of the restoration teaching of Campbell upon the early Saints. (13)

The first name given to the Mormons was also likely to have been influenced by Campbell: the Church of Christ. While the formal name "Disciples of Christ" became a common designation for Campbell's group as early as 1825, he was referring to his church as the "Church of Christ." (14). Some believe that Smith knew Sidney Rigdon, a one-time member of Campbell's Church of Christ, before Rigdon joined the Mormon Church. If so, it is significant that Smith named his group the Church of Christ in 1830.

Another extremely important influence upon Smith is the original source for his "conversion story," known as the "First Vision." Mormon Apostle John A. Widtsoe, rightfully measured everything that followed by the validity of Joseph's first vision when he wrote, "The First Vision of 1820 is of the first importance in the history of Joseph Smith. Upon its reality rest the truth and value of his subsequent work."

Jerald and Sandra Tanner were the first to reveal that there were different accounts of the First Vision. Finally, Mormon scholars admitted this fact. The full diaries of Joseph Smith, which have been published by Mormon historian Scott H. Faulring, record are at least three accounts of the first vision.

 The earliest account is found in Smith's own handwriting in his diary between July 20 and November 27, 1832, twelve years after the event was supposed to take place. He states he saw only the person of Christ who announced that his sins were forgiven. In this first account there is no record of seeing angels or conversation as to which church to join. He also says he was 16 years old at the time.

In the church newspaper, Messenger and Advocate, dated February 1835, Oliver Cowdery, Smith's cousin and confidant, begins the church history and includes a second account of the first vision. In this account neither the Father nor the Son are mentioned, but a "personage stood before him" described as a "messenger [an angel] sent by commandment of the Lord." 

On November 9,1835 Smith dictated a third account of the first vision, found in his diary. This account grew out of a discussion with a "Jewish minister" where he claimed to be "about 14 years old." A second person appears in this account "like unto the first" who "testifyed [sic] unto me that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." The second person is not identified as God the Father, but rather seems to be an angelic being bearing testimony to Jesus. Again, there is no discussion as to which church to join.

Not until March 1,1842, in the Times and Seasons, twenty-two years after the event was supposed to taken place did the church newspaper mention two personages (Christ and God) appearing to him simultaneously. This became the official account found today in Pearl of Great Price.

Smith was also likely influenced by the conversion story of Charles  Finney. By comparing the two conversion stories it becomes clear that Smith either heard Finney tell his story, or he either heard or read about Finney's conversion story.

A final influence upon Smith was the Masonic order. Originally, while Smith was dictating the Book of Mormon he reflected the strong anti-Mason sentiment of the times. (15). In fact, his brother Hyrum joined the Masonic Order in Palmyra at the time Joseph claimed to find the golden plates. It is likely that the idea for discovering the golden plates came from Jewish Cabalistic lore and carried into Masonic legend where Enoch is said to have found buried treasure of gold and brass plates. Characters on the plates were said to be in Egyptian hieroglyphics, all of which sounds remarkably similar to Smith's supposed discovery of the golden and brass plates in the hill Cumorah near his home. Despite this likely early plagiarism of Mormon lore, Smith later became a Mason through the influence of Dr. John D. Bennett at Nauvoo. He subsequently brought virtually every male member of his religion into the order.

From the Masonic ritual Smith carried the secret names, tokens (handclasps), penalties, signs and phrases into the Mormon Temple ceremonies. Prominent Masonic symbols such as the beehive and sun face were transported into the fabric of Mormonism. The sun face with extending rays was placed on the Nauvoo temple and the beehive remains an important symbol of Mormonism today. [See Masonic & Mormon Symbols].

Figures Who Influenced Smith
Key figures who influenced Smith were Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery and Sidney Rigdon. Martin Harris provided the funds through the sale of a piece of land to print the first edition of the Book of Mormon, but he subsequently became a continual thorn in Smith's side until his death.

One of the most overlooked items in the early history of Smith, until rather recently, is the fact that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were distant cousins, through their mothers. Cowdery, only a year younger than Smith, was Smith's secretary and recorded the Book of Mormon as Joseph dictated it from behind a curtain. This is important for several reasons. Cowdery was from Poultney, Vermont and attended the Congregational Church of Ethan Smith who wrote View of the Hebrews, that many believe is the basis for the Book of Mormon. It may also explain why Cowdery, after being excommunicated, refused to air his disagreements with Smith.

Sidney Rigdon came into the Mormon church fresh from a falling out with Alexander Campbell. With him he bought a faulted theological basis to Mormonism. Gordon Fraser has called him, "Smith's theologian." John Hyde, who left the church in Utah, identified Rigdon as being the "compiling genesis of Mormonism" and the inventor of many of it's "forms and arguments." David Whitmer, a supposed witness of the golden plates, later left the church and credited Rigdon for instituting the priesthood idea. There is no doubt that Rigdon was one of the most influential persons in the life of Joseph Smith.

The historical record of the nineteenth century shows remarkable parallels between the religious environment of western New York and the developing Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Based upon these records, it is reasonable to conclude that Joseph Smith was a fraudulent businessman, occultist, and plagiarist.

1 Hebert Spencer Salisbury, "The Mormon War in Hancock County," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, July 1915, 281-282.
2 William J. Whalen, The Latter-day Saints in the Modern World (New York: The John Day Company, 1964), 23.
3 John Phillip Walker, Editor, Dale Morgan on Early Days of Mormonism (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986), 219.
4 Daniel P. Kidder, Mormonism and the Mormons: A Historical View of the Rise and Progress Of the Sect Self-styled Latter-day Saints (New York: Carlton and Lanhan, 1842), 20-21.
5 D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Salt Lake City: Signature Press, 1987), 27-28.
6 Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise and Progress of Mormonism (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1867),28,38.
7 The Reflector, June 12, July 7, 1830; February 28,1831.
8 Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Mormonism-Shadow or Reality? (Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1982), 492 as cited from Mormon Miscellaneous, October 1975, 11,13,16.
9 Thomas F. O'Dea, The Mormons (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1975), 11.
10 William Alexander Linn, The Story of the Mormons (New York: Russell & Russell, 1902),9.
11 Leroy Edwin Froom, "The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers," (Tokoma Park, Washington, DC, Review and Herald, Volume 4, Publishing Association, 1954), 462-465.
12 The Reflector, March 16,1830.
13 Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton, The Mormon Experience (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), 27.
14 Dean C. Jessee, "The Writing of Joseph's History," Brigham Young University Studies, Volume 11, Number 4 (Summer 1971), 471-472.
15 John Hyde, Jr., Mormonism: It's Leaders and Designs (New York: W.P. Fetridge & Co., 1857), 152,153.


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