Section 2: Golden Plates and a Prophet

Golden Plates and a Prophet

Raised in this fertile climate of folklore and religious ardor was young Joseph Smith. His family too was caught up in the excitement.

The phraseology used here implies that Joseph Smith's experiences, and those of his family, can be attributed to nothing but "folklore" and "excitement." There are a few problems with these assumptions, not the least of which is the attempt to ascribe to the Smith family anything but sincerity. This will be addressed further on.

The term "folklore" has, in our day, a negative connotation of believing in false things simply because they have been passed around among people. Another modern term would probably be "urban legend." The problem with this, however, is that the "folklore" referred to here are the "buried Indian treasure," and "Local legends… of a great Indian civilization that perished in a terrible battle somewhere in New York State," both of which have a basis in facts! Nearly everyone was a farmer in those days, and as they plowed the land they constantly dug up remnants of a preexistent civilization in that area. Besides the physical evidences, these people also knew of the writings of early colonists and land surveyors from the 1600's and 1700's, who documented ruined forts and other battlements in that area, including detailed drawings. Today, we are unfamiliar with these things because they have been suppressed by scientists because they don't fit in with the currently popular theories about the pre-colonized Americas and early Native Americans.

Once again, I am super excited to get into this much-maligned topic, but will forebear further discussion until Section 9: Historical Enigmas.

On the topic of sincerity, I find it hard to believe that anyone would endure through the trials and tribulations that Joseph Smith and his family went through without being truly sincere, setting aside all truth claims for the moment. The desire to attribute their actions to "excitement" fades when you consider that in order for people to remain motivated by excitement, you have to keep people excited! This is the problem most modern churches face, and it is the reason those same churches have begun to implement rock bands and other entertainments in their worship services. The moment you ask these congregants to actually do anything, you have lost them.

In Joseph Smith's case, I wonder just how much "excitement" it would take to keep him motivated through several attempted murders1, frequent unjust incarcerations and legal trials2, and constant harrassment from the local community3, not to mention being made a complete social outcast? His family, being the first ones to hear about his First Vision, and being the people who knew him better than anyone else could, gave him their full support and endured much the same treatment, even losing their home and being forced to relocate multiple times. Joseph's brother, Hyrum, went to jail to support his brother and was murdered there with him. In my opinion, it is unlikely that "excitement" was their motivation.

It must be considered, then, that Joseph Smith may have been sincere. If we allow him to speak for himself, instead of ascribing possible motivations to him, we may discover something:

It caused me serious reflection then, and often has since, how very strange it was that an obscure boy, of a little over fourteen years of age, and one, too, who was doomed to the necessity of obtaining a scanty maintenance by his daily labor, should be thought a character of sufficient importance to attract the attention of the great ones of the most popular sects of the day, and in a manner to create in them a spirit of the most bitter persecution and reviling. But strange or not, so it was, and it was often the cause of great sorrow to myself.

However, it was nevertheless a fact that I had beheld a vision. I have thought since, that I felt much like Paul, when he made his defense before King Agrippa, and related the account of the vision he had when he saw a light, and heard a voice; but still there were but few who believed him; some said he was dishonest, others said he was mad; and he was ridiculed and reviled. But all this did not destroy the reality of his vision. He had seen a vision, he knew he had, and all the persecution under heaven could not make it otherwise; and though they should persecute him unto death, yet he knew, and would know to his latest breath, that he had both seen a light and heard a voice speaking unto him, and all the world could not make him think or believe otherwise.

So it was with me. I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation.

Do you hear any "folklore" or "excitement" in those words? I don't.

Joseph's mother wrote of their experiencing healings, miracles, and visions. But when she and some of the children joined a church, Joseph refused to follow.

This is true. Some of the members of Joseph's family joined one church, and some another. Joseph had not yet decided which he believed in. His own words are:

I was at this time in my fifteenth year. My father’s family was proselyted to the Presbyterian faith, and four of them joined that church, namely, my mother, Lucy; my brothers Hyrum and Samuel Harrison; and my sister Sophronia.

During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness; but though my feelings were deep and often poignant, still I kept myself aloof from all these parties, though I attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit. In process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them; but so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong…

While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.4

If you would like to read what Joseph's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, wrote about "experiencing healings, miracles, and visions", I invite you to read her autobiographical book, The History of Joseph Smith By His Mother Lucy Mack Smith5.

Later, in his life story, he wrote of his prayer for help and the answer he received. Joseph told of a vision in which God forbade him to join any of the sects because they were all in error.

As this experience is the basis for much LDS doctrine, more than a brief passing comment is necessary. Here are his own words on this sacred experience:

After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.

But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.

It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!

My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join.

I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: "they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”6

This was a profound experience, and Joseph maintained its truthfulness until his dying day. If we were to consider, even for a moment, that it actually happened, we might understand what motivated him to remain true in the face of extreme adversity. It makes a lot more sense than "folklore" and "excitement." In fact, it would even make more sense to simply say that he believed that it happened, even if it didn't, but the information in the remainder of this book will demonstrate the impossibility that any of this – the First Vision, the Book of Mormon, etc. – was simply one man's fabrication.

Then, one autumn day in 1823, the 17-year-old Smith told his family that an angel named Moroni had shown him a set of ancient golden plates. Four years later he claimed he was given the plates and the exclusive divine power to translate them, which required using a special stone called "a seer stone" and a pair of magic silver spectacles- two smooth three-cornered diamonds set in glass.

This extremely brief outline of events causes one to wonder why Joseph wasn't given the plates in the first place. Why did he "claim he was given the plates" four years later, instead of right away? The answer is simple, but you cannot be expected to discover it by reading between the few lines given. Moroni was the last prophet to write on the Golden Plates, so it was he who came to deliver them to Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith was, however, an ignorant farmboy – receiving only a third-grade formal education during his lifetime, a teenager – a group not generally known for being responsible, and he came from a very poor family that had recently suffered great financial loss7, so a book written on gold would solve all of their financial problems very quickly! For these reasons, Moroni made Joseph wait to receive the plates; he needed to understand the value of what was on the plates, their importance to the world, and the role that he himself would play in bringing them forth8. Joseph met Moroni where the plates were buried, once a year for four years, and was instructed by him.

When Joseph was led to the Golden Plates, he found them in a stone box accompanied by several other items, including the above-mentioned "spectacles," which he described thus:

"[T]here were two stones in silver bows, and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted "seers" in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book."9

It was Joseph's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, who described the "spectacles" as containing "two smooth three-cornered diamonds set in glass" in a book she had published 30 years after they were given to Joseph10. This obscure book is unknown to most Mormons, and therefore so is this description of the "spectacles." While there were others who saw the device, no one else gave this description.

Martin Harris, one of the Three Witnesses (explained below) and the first scribe to write for Joseph as he dictated the Book of Mormon, gave the following description:

[They were] about two inches in diameter, perfectly round, and about five-eighths of an inch thick at the centre.... They were joined by a round bar of diver, about three-eights of an inch in diameter, and about four inches long, which with the two stones, would make eight inches11.

Although uncommon today, seers were commonly known in Old Testament times, as 1 Samuel 9:9 attests:

King James Version

(Beforetime in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, thus he spake, Come, and let us go to the seer: for he that is now called a Prophet was beforetime called a Seer.)

New World Translation

(In former times in Israel, this was what a man would say when going to seek God: "Come, and let us go to the seer." For the prophet of today used to be called a seer in former times.)12

The use of seer stones sounds strange to modern sensibilities, but Ex. 28:30 informs us that the breastplate of Aaron (worn by Aaron and his sons while officiating in the temple) contained seer stones similar to those found by Joseph Smith, and they were used to judge the Israelites:

And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim; and they shall be upon Aaron’s heart, when he goeth in before the Lord: and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the Lord continually.

The official Jehovah's Witness website,, has an entry for Urim and Thummim in their Glossary of Bible Terms. It says:

Urim and Thummim. Objects used by the high priest in a manner similar to the use of lots to determine the divine will when questions of national importance needed an answer from Jehovah. The Urim and Thummim were put inside the high priest’s breastpiece when he entered the tabernacle. Their use seems to have ceased when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem.—Ex 28:30; Ne 7:65.13

It is interesting to note that the Urim and Thummim were not actually part of the breastplate, but separate objects that were removed and replaced as needed, as described in Leviticus 8:7-8. In Deut. 33:8, Moses blesses the tribe of Levi with possession of the Urim and Thummim, but by the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, however, these sacred objects appear to be missing14.

The Glossary definition above claims that the Urim and Thummim were used "similar to the use of lots." Some Jewish sources also make this claim, although many others claim that they were used for seeing words revealed from God, much like Joseph Smith was said to have used them during the translation of the Book of Mormon15.

One of these two objects shows up in another Old Testament story, this time being used specifically to get information from the Lord, just as Joseph Smith did. Sometime after David killed Goliath, King Saul became jealous of him and tried to kill him. This, among other things, caused Saul to grow out of favor with the Lord. When times got tough, and an advancing army threatened the Israelites, Saul tried to get advice from the Lord using all the methods he was aware of, as described in 1 Sam. 28:5-6:

And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart greatly trembled.

And when Saul enquired of the LORD, the LORD answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets.

It is common knowledge that the Lord answers prayers through dreams and prophets, but this verse informs us that the Urim is another means whereby the Lord could have answered Saul's prayer.

While the article refers to these seer stones as magic, this is not the case. They received their abilities through the power of God, just as Moses' staff miraculously transformed into a snake before Pharaoh. Moses did not perform magic tricks and neither did Joseph Smith. It should also be noted that faithful Mormons do not practice magic, or witchcraft, or anything else of the sort.

It meant instant death for others to see the plates at that time, Smith warned.

This, of course, plays into the suggestion that he was only fibbing about it all along, and that he needed an excuse for not providing evidence of possession of the Golden Plates to anyone and everyone who inquired about it. The truth, as usual, is another thing entirely.

George Q. Cannon, in his book, Life of Joseph Smith the Prophet16, said:

Joseph was told that the Lord expected him to shield the record from profane touch and sight.

It only makes sense that Joseph would be required to keep a sacred thing sacred, particularly if that sacred thing were made of precious metals, which would almost certainly be used for gain were they to fall into the wrong hands, and the record be lost forever.

As for the accusation, however, Joseph Smith's own words are:

[The angel Moroni] told me, that when I got those plates of which he had spoken...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 destroyed17.

Notice that the threat of destruction is promised to Joseph, himself, if he shows them to anyone but those he is commanded to show them to. In point of fact, there were three men, referred to as the Three Witnesses, who were allowed to see the Golden Plates, and to hear the voice of the Lord testify of its truth. Their joint testimony of their experience is included in the front of every edition of the Book of Mormon18, as follows:

Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also of the people of Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken. And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true. And we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true. And it is marvelous in our eyes. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him eternally in the heavens. And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.

Oliver Cowdery
David Whitmer
Martin Harris

Eight other men were allowed to see the plates, as well, and touch them. Their testimony is also included in the Book of Mormon19:

Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of this work, has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shown unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen. And we lie not, God bearing witness of it.

Christian Whitmer
Jacob Whitmer
Peter Whitmer, Jun.
John Whitmer
Hiram Page
Joseph Smith, Sen.
Hyrum Smith
Samuel H. Smith

A little-known story from LDS Church history adds a twelfth witness –and a woman– to this list20. Mary Whitmer, mother of five of the above-named witnesses, was actually the first person other than Joseph to see the Golden Plates. The translation of the Book of Mormon was taking place at the Whitmer home and Joseph Smith, his wife, Emma, and their scribe, Martin Harris, were staying there. The Whitmers had nine children, so three additional adults was a great burden on Mary, in a day without automatic dish- or clothes-washers. She began to question what was taking place in her home, and to wonder if it was worth all the extra burden on her.

One day, though, probably in June 1829, when she was going out to milk the cows in the family barn — where, David happened to know, the plates were concealed at the time — she met an "old man," as she described him, who said to her, in David’s account of the story, "You have been very faithful and diligent in your labors, but you are tired because of the increase of your toil; it is proper therefore that you should receive a witness that your faith may be strengthened."

"Thereupon," David said, "he showed her the plates." And this unexpected encounter "completely removed" her feeling of being overwhelmed, said her son, "and nerved her up for her increased responsibilities."

Afterwards, Mary was able to describe the plates in detail. John C. Whitmer, her grandson, reported that he himself had heard his grandmother tell of this event several times. He summarized her experience as follows:

"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 (that is, the translation of the Book of Mormon), she was filled with unexpressible (sic) 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 to 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."20

It is important to note that every one of the twelve above-mentioned witnesses stood by their testimony to their dying day, even despite the fact that some of them became bitter enemies of the church. You can read some of these deathbed testimonies in the FAIR wiki article, entitled "Did any of the Book of Mormon witnesses ever recant?"21

Smith, who could read but not write well, dictated the "translation" of the plates to several scribes. Sitting behind a curtain, he related a story said to be compiled by a Hebrew man named Mormon.

Joseph Smith could "read but not write well" because he had the equivalent of a third grade education, as mentioned above; this was common in his day, when education was not mandatory, and most able-bodied men, women, and children spent their time working their families' farms and fields, gaining an education only in their free time or not at all.

The mention here of Joseph Smith working from "behind a curtain" is another attempt to suggest that he was merely putting on a show. While one man who worked with Joseph Smith did, in fact, mention a curtain hanging between them, several others specifically mentioned this not being the case, and that they saw the plates as Joseph read from them:

With regard to the physical circumstances of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his scribe, Martin Harris was quoted as saying there was a blanket or curtain hung between himself and Joseph during the translation process. If Martin is accurately quoted, perhaps this occurred when the Prophet was copying characters directly from the plates in the sample to be taken to Professor Charles Anthon, since the dates mentioned are several months before Martin Harris’s brief scribal duties began. I say this because although David Whitmer mentions a blanket being used—it was only to partition off the living area in order to keep both the translator and scribe from the eyes of visitors…

In fact, Elizabeth Anne Whitmer Cowdery, Oliver’s wife, said, "Joseph never had a curtain drawn between him and his scribe"… Emma likewise said of her days as scribe, early on, that Joseph dictated "hour after hour with nothing between us"…22

Emma (mentioned in the quote above) was the wife of Joseph Smith.

It is a strange thing that the author here refers to Mormon as "Hebrew." I have never heard any Latter-day Saint describe him as such. In fact, Mormon is only "Hebrew" in that he was partially descended from Jewish ancestry.

The plates were inscribed in "reformed Egyptian" writing, Smith explained, which was more compact than Hebrew.

Non-Latter-day Saint scholars and others have long scoffed at the idea that an Israelite group from Jerusalem should have written in Egyptian and mocked the term "reformed Egyptian" as nonsense. Since Joseph Smith's time, we have learned a great deal about Egyptian and Israelite records and realize that the Book of Mormon was correct in all respects.

The ancient Egyptians used three types of writing systems. The most well known, the hieroglyphs (Greek for "sacred symbols"), comprised nearly 400 picture characters depicting things found in real life. A cursive script called hieratic (Greek for "sacred") was also used, principally on papyrus. Around 700 B.C., the Egyptians developed an even more cursive script that we call demotic (Greek for "popular"), which bore little resemblance to the hieroglyphs. Both hieratic and demotic were in use in Lehi's time and can properly be termed "reformed Egyptian."23

Joseph's reference to "reformed Egyptian" has long been a harping point for his detractors, despite the discovery of multiple languages that fit this description. For reference, the Book of Mormon begins around 600 B.C., precisely in the proper time frame and physical location for the mixed use of these two languages. The fact is, Hebrew texts were being written in Egyptian long before Lehi's time. In January 2007, Science Daily reported on one such text:

The first public revelation of the earliest continuous Semitic text ever deciphered has taken place at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The presentation was made by Prof. Richard Steiner, professor of Semitic languages and literature at Yeshiva University in New York, in a lecture entitled "Proto-Canaanite Spells in the Pyramid Texts: a First Look at the History of Hebrew in the Third Millennium B.C.E." The lecture was sponsored by the Academy of the Hebrew Language in cooperation with the Hebrew University and the World Union of Jewish Studies.

Prof. Steiner… provided the interpretation for Semitic passages in Egyptian texts that were discovered more than a century ago, inscribed on the subterranean walls of the pyramid of King Unas at Saqqara in Egypt. The pyramid dates from the 24th century B.C.E., but Egyptologists agree that the texts are older. The dates proposed for them range from the 25th to the 30th centuries B.C.E. No continuous Semitic texts from this period have ever been deciphered before.

The passages… had puzzled scholars who tried to read them as if they were ordinary Egyptian texts. In August, 2002, Prof. Steiner received an email message from Robert Ritner, professor of Egyptology at the University of Chicago, asking whether any of them could be Semitic. "I immediately recognized the Semitic words…"24

Many other examples are given in the previously quoted article, Notes and Communications: Jewish and Other Semitic Texts Written in Egyptian Characters, by John A. Tvedtnes and Stephen D. Ricks. It should be remembered that Joseph Smith was mocked because the Book of Mormon referred to "reformed Egyptian" in a day when scientists and the world at large did not know such a thing existed, but, as you can see, it has since been proven correct.

At one point during the process of translating the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith and Martin Harris wrote down several characters from the Golden Plates and tried to have scholars of the day verify them. Unfortunately, Egyptology was still in its very infancy then, but we have the benefit of nearly 200 years of study on the subject at our disposal. How do these characters stand up? Quite well, actually. See for yourself.25 Could Joseph have simply copied characters from a book? Hardly. Demotic was unreadable until the Rosetta Stone was deciphered, and this process was taking place during the time between when Joseph Smith was born and long after the Book of Mormon was published26. Joseph Smith did purchase a mummy and some papyrus at one point, but that was in 1835, long after the Book of Mormon was already published.27

Mormon and his son Moroni were described as being among the last survivors of a people called the Nephite nation, fair-skinned descendants of Hebrews said to have migrated to America about 600 B.C.E. to escape Jerusalem's destruction.

The account relates that Jesus had appeared to this nation in America after his death and resurrection and had chosen 12 Nephite apostles. The Lamanites, a people also of Hebrew descent, were rebellious and warlike and so were cursed by God with dark skin.

These references to skin color are based on assumptions that are not necessarily wrought out in the text itself. There are two main schools of thought among Mormons concerning the reference to the "skin of blackness" that was given to the Lamanites. The first group takes the phraseology literally, meaning they believe that the Lamanites literally had their skin color changed from "white" to "black." This view is often, but not always, depicted in contemporary LDS art. The second group sees the phrase as metaphorical.

Adherents to the first school of thought generally point to Pre-Columbian paintings depicting both dark and light-skinned people, which have been found in Central/South America, among other things28. There are also tribes of white-skinned Indians in Central/South America, some written about during the 1600's, and one that was unknown until the mid-1900's29.

Adherents to the second school of thought, point to other areas for proof. The late Dr. Hugh Nibley was professor of ancient scripture at BYU. He was fluent in many languages, one of them Arabic. On this topic, he said:

This amazing coincidentia oppositorum is the clash of black and white. With the Arabs, to be white of countenance is to be blessed and to be black of countenance is to be cursed; there are parallel expressions in Hebrew and Egyptian… The mark was not a racial thing but was acquired by "whosoever suffered himself to be led away by the Lamanites" (Alma 3:10); Alma moreover defines a Nephite as anyone observing "the tradition of their fathers" (Alma 3:11). Which makes the difference between Nephite and Lamanite a cultural, not a racial, one. Does this also apply to the dark skin? Note that the dark skin is never mentioned alone but always as attending a generally depraved way of life, which also is described as the direct result of the curse. When the Lamanites become "white" again, it is by living among the Nephites as Nephites, i.e., adopting the Nephite way of life (3 Nephi 2:15—16). The cultural picture may not be the whole story of the dark skin of the Lamanites, but it is an important part of that story and is given great emphasis by the Book of Mormon itself. There is nowhere any mention of red skin, incidentally, but only of black (or dark) and white, the terms being used as the Arabs use them.30

It is important to note that Arabs live in the area around Jerusalem, the same area Lehi and his family originated from. It is also important to note that the curse and the mark are two different things, just as when God cursed Cain31. Nowhere does it say that the curse was the "skin of blackness," whatever is meant by that term.

Another Mormon scholar, Brant A. Gardner, also addressed this topic in his article, What Does the Book of Mormon Mean by “Skin of Blackness”?32

While the term “Lamanite” became a political designation for all non-Nephites (Jacob 1:13-4), it included lineal Lamanites and the specific location where they settled…

Colors also have social meanings that are quite separate from describing the eye’s perception of light waves. Humans tend to make binary-opposed sets, of which black and white form a classic set. The two “colors” are considered to be opposites of each other. To each of them a social value is attached, with white representing good and black representing bad (with good/bad being similar binary oppositions). Thus, someone may have a “black heart,” but this descriptor is of a quality, not a pigment.

Armand L. Mauss, professor emeritus of sociology at Washington State University, discusses this very issue:

In modern colloquial English (or American) we sometimes speak of people as having “thick” or “thin” skins, without intending any literal dermatological meaning. Attributions of “white” versus “black” or “dark” skins could be read in a similarly figurative manner, as they might have been by Joseph Smith himself (or by his Nephite authors). The reader therefore need not attribute racist intentions when the Book of Mormon uses such terms as dark or filthy versus white or pure, especially when “racial traits,” such as skin color, are not even explicitly mentioned—which is the case most of the time.

The other thing that needs do be addressed here is the mention of twelve "apostles" in the New World. As would be expected of any history, the Book of Mormon is complex. Many prophets kept records on various sets of plates, and these records were kept by each subsequent prophet. Eventually, the prophet Mormon had a thousand years of records in his possession, so he abridged them, compiling only the most important things that would be relevant to our day (because the Lord showed our day to him33). Hence, what we have is known as the Book of Mormon. After Mormon's death, his son Moroni (the same Moroni that visited Joseph Smith) added a few things he felt were important. One of these things is contained in Moroni chapter 2:

The words of Christ, which he spake unto his disciples, the twelve whom he had chosen, as he laid his hands upon them—

And he called them by name, saying: Ye shall call on the Father in my name, in mighty prayer; and after ye have done this ye shall have power that to him upon whom ye shall lay your hands, ye shall give the Holy Ghost; and in my name shall ye give it, for thus do mine apostles.

Now Christ spake these words unto them at the time of his first appearing; and the multitude heard it not, but the disciples heard it; and on as many as they laid their hands, fell the Holy Ghost.

Although the twelve Nephites chosen by the Lord here in America served the same basic function as the Apostles –i.e., to be witnesses of Christ– you will notice that throughout the Book of Mormon they are always referred to as "disciples." The word "apostles" here refers to the Twelve Apostles of the New Testament, whom the Lord told the Nephites about when He visited them in 3 Nephi chapters 11-2634.

Mormon's account principally chronicled the ongoing battles between these two nations. The Nephites grew wicked and eventually were annihilated by the Lamanites, who were ancestors of the American Indians.

As mentioned previously, the history contained in the Book of Mormon is quite complex. Rather than a simplistic tale of one righteous nation growing wicked and then being destroyed, there are multiple groups of people who go in and out of various states of obedience to God.

According to Smith, Mormon's son, now the spirit Moroni, had given him the record on golden plates and the commission leading to the restoration of Christ's church. Smith soon had a following.

For a few examples of the difficult missionary labor that was required for Joseph Smith to "soon [have] a following," I recommend reading chapter 4 of Truth Restored, entitled "The Church Organized"35.

A prosperous believer financed the publishing of Smith's manuscript called the Book of Mormon. It appeared in print in the spring of 1830.

This is a tale I have never heard before. Here is what really happened:

As the work of translation drew to a close in late June, the Prophet turned his attention to the publication of the book. Repeated negotiations were held with Egbert B. Grandin, a twenty-three-year-old printer in Palmyra. A few sheets of the manuscript with the title page were submitted to him for an estimate of the cost. Grandin and his businessmen friends were reluctant to undertake the project of printing the “golden Bible,” as they called it. So Joseph and his companions went to Rochester where they contacted a prominent citizen and printer, Thurlow Weed, who turned them down because he did not believe Joseph’s account of the translation. They then visited Elihu F. Marshall also of Rochester who was willing to print and bind the manuscript, but his price was exorbitant. The brethren returned to Grandin and finally persuaded him to print the book if Martin Harris would sign a mortgage agreement guaranteeing payment for the printing through the sale of part of his Palmyra farm if necessary. By then the Prophet had received another bid from a Rochester printer, so Grandin agreed to publish. An agreement was made on 17 August 1829 to print five thousand copies for three thousand dollars. This was an extremely large number of copies in those days, especially for a small local printer…

Opposition to the new scripture surfaced even before the printing was completed… A number of people held a meeting and passed resolutions not to purchase the book when it came from the press. When Grandin grew nervous, Joseph returned to Palmyra to reassure him that the printing costs would be paid. Martin Harris, fearing that he might lose his farm if the Book of Mormon did not sell, approached the Prophet and requested guidance… One hundred and fifty-one acres of Martin Harris’s farm were sold at a public auction in April 1831 to pay off Mr. Grandin. This sacrifice made the printing of the Book of Mormon possible36.

Two weeks later, Joseph Smith announced his official title: "Seer, a Translator, a Prophet, an Apostle of Jesus Christ."

It was actually the Lord who gave this title to Joseph Smith, in a revelation that is now the twenty-first section of the Doctrine & Covenants37.

On April 6, 1830, the Mormon Church, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was born. [Footnote: Originally named The Church of Christ, on April 26, 1838, it became The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or LDS. Though LDS is the designation preferred by members, the name Mormon (derived from the Book of Mormon) is also used in this series of articles, since it is the more familiar term to many readers.]

The Church of Christ was an unofficial name used by the members in the early days of the Restoration. The official name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was revealed to Joseph Smith by the Lord himself38. The nickname "Mormon" began as a derogatory term, exactly as the term "Christian" began. The author states that it is used because it is "the more familiar term." Just imagine, though, how quickly the real name of the Church would become known if people would use it in articles such as this!

Smith had a commanding presence that won the devotion of many converts.

In a June 27, 1995, BYU Devotional address entitled "Joseph Smith's Christlike Attributes," Jack H. Goaslind – a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy – shared the following:

The Prophet was not adverse to introspection, even when prompted by scurrilous tales. Stories about Joseph, many of them twisted or blatantly false, circulated constantly. Yet the Prophet said something like this:

When I have heard of a story about me, I sit down and think about it and pray about it, and I ask myself the question, “Did I say something or was there something about my manner to give some basis for that story to start?” And often if I think about it long enough, I realize I have done something to give that basis. And there wells up in me a forgiveness of the person who has told that story, and a resolve that I will never do that thing again39.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell, a contemporary LDS Apostle, said:

The Prophet Joseph Smith, of course, was not a perfect man. There has been only one such—Jesus Christ… We do not, as some occasionally charge, worship Joseph Smith…39

For this reason, Latter-day Saints are not shocked to hear stories of the Prophet acting as normal men would. Even Biblical prophets and apostles had moments where they acted like normal people, after all. The editors of the Joseph Smith Papers Project40, therefore, report on the reactions of some who met or knew Joseph Smith, who did, in fact, think he had a "commanding presence," including Charles Francis Adams, son of former American president John Quincy Adams41. Others reported that he was sensitive to insults, sometimes lashing back41.

LDS Apostle Dallin H. Oaks also said:

In a sermon preached a little over a month before he was martyred, he declared, “I never told you I was perfect—but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught”42.

More frequently, though, we find reports such as that from an Illinois reporter who interviewed Joseph Smith and reported of him: “His voice is low and soft, and his smile, which is frequent, is agreeable.”43 Referring to historical records we have from those who knew Joseph Smith, author Janet Thomas says:

We know that he was kind and enjoyed being around children. We know he was inspired and inspiring, and he had a deep intellect. And we know he was cheerful and loved people and cared about their well-being.43

Clearly, there was much more to Joseph Smith than a "commanding presence" that won the devotion of his followers.

But his unconventional religion also made many enemies.

The Church got its enemies less through its lack of convention than through the sensational lies told about their people, doctrines, and practices. Sadly, despite Mormons being a part of American society and culture for nearly 200 years, most of these lies still prevail because today's preachers have inherited them from their predecessors. This Awake! article I am responding to is a fine example. Thankfully, some are coming to this realization and repenting. In 2004, for instance, Robert Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, "apologized to Mormons for evangelicals' tendency to distort the truth about Latter-day Saints' beliefs"44.

From the very beginning, when Joseph Smith organized his church in 1830, my evangelical forebears hurled angry accusations and vehement denunciations at the Mormon community–a practice that continues from some evangelical quarters even into this present day44.

Other enemies developed, in part, due to slanderous depictions of Mormons in the popular fiction of the day.

BEFORE 1900, novels about Mormons ranged from the amateurish to the slick, from the scurrilous to the rather even-handed, from the realistic to the wildly imaginary. Their one common thread was that almost all of them condemned Mormons for their greed, their violence, their vulgarity and particularly, of course, for their marriage practices. Leonard Arrington and Jon Haupt conclude their article, "Intolerable Zion: The Image of Mormonism in Nineteenth Century American Literature," with a list of no fewer than fifty Mormon novels published before the turn of the century, several of which went through more than one edition. The length of this list—and it does not include plays, short stories, or travelers' accounts—may seem surprising: every year of the last half of the nineteenth century brought forth an average of one novel set in Nauvoo or Salt Lake45.

There were also people who were excommunicated from the Church for various reasons, who told lies to neighboring non-Mormons that instigated these people to violence.

While the Saints were in Far West, Missouri, Elizabeth Marsh, Thomas’s wife, and her friend Sister Harris decided they would exchange milk in order to make more cheese than they otherwise could. To be certain all was done fairly, they agreed that they should not save what were called the strippings, but that the milk and strippings should all go together. Strippings came at the end of the milking and were richer in cream.

Sister Harris was faithful to the agreement, but Sister Marsh, desiring to make some especially delicious cheese, saved a pint of strippings from each cow and sent Sister Harris the milk without the strippings. This caused the two women to quarrel. When they could not settle their differences, the matter was referred to the home teachers to settle. They found Elizabeth Marsh guilty of failure to keep her agreement. She and her husband were upset with the decision, and the matter was then referred to the bishop for a Church trial. The bishop’s court decided that the strippings were wrongfully saved and that Sister Marsh had violated her covenant with Sister Harris.

Thomas Marsh appealed to the high council, and the men comprising this council confirmed the bishop’s decision. He then appealed to the First Presidency of the Church. Joseph Smith and his counselors considered the case and upheld the decision of the high council.

Elder Thomas B. Marsh, who sided with his wife through all of this, became angrier with each successive decision—so angry, in fact, that he went before a magistrate and swore that the Mormons were hostile toward the state of Missouri. His affidavit led to—or at least was a factor in—Governor Lilburn Boggs’s cruel extermination order, which resulted in over 15,000 Saints being driven from their homes, with all the terrible suffering and consequent death that followed. All of this occurred because of a disagreement over the exchange of milk and cream46.

The fledgling church was hounded; its members fled from New York to Ohio and then to Missouri in search of its New Jerusalem.

Kinda makes sense now, doesn't it? Notice that the members of the Church were not fleeing "in search of… New Jerusalem," but rather to escape "the burning of homes, the seizing of private property, the beating of men, and the raping of women" which accompanied the mobbing incidents such as the Missouri "extermination order" mentioned above47. It would be more appropriate to say that they were in search of "the land of Zion,"48 where they could live their religion in peace.

As prophet, Smith uttered revelation after revelation, pronouncing God's will on matters ranging from financial donations to a divine mandate to take multiple wives. This latter revelation particularly spawned much persecution. Faced with suspicion and antagonism at every turn, the Mormons took up arms to defend themselves.

Joseph Smith truly did receive many revelations, and it is curious that the author would choose to specify "financial donations" (I assume they refer to the Biblical principle of tithing) and polygamy, when many of his other revelations are much more striking and important.

The early Saints did, in fact, fight back, but very rarely. They attempted to establish their own communities away from persecutors, but the mobs followed. They tried many times to appeal to the government with their grievances, but received no assistance whatsoever.

The governor refused to help, saying that "the quarrel was between the Mormons and the mob" and that they should "fight it out" themselves. This blasted whatever hopes the Saints may have still entertained for executive relief49.

The intrigue and turmoil that marked the early years of Smith's life never abated. Frontier towns, inundated with influxes of Smith's followers, put up stiff resistance. They had use neither for another sacred book nor for a self-proclaimed prophet.

The early Latter-day Saints did not "inundate" frontier towns; they built their own towns, often in places neglected by others, such as tiny Commerce, Illinois which the Mormons turned into the beautiful, bustling Nauvoo50. Either way, in light of the abovementioned rapes, murders, arsons, and robberies committed on the Mormon people, it seems that a book and a prophet, both with the intent of turning people to Christ, would have done them all good. Indeed, in light of the previously-mentioned popular fiction and prevalent religious slander, it may be safely said that the people of these frontier towns had no idea what either Mormons or Mormonism truly were. They may have felt differently had they read 2 Nephi 25:26:

And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.

It should also be mentioned that whether or not Joseph Smith was a "self-proclaimed prophet" is a matter of opinion. Mormons believe that he was called by God, like all Biblical prophets were. When John the Baptist emerged from the wilderness, do you think there were people who considered him a "self-proclaimed prophet"? Absolutely. Was it true? Of course not. In the end, it is irresponsible to attribute motives to these people without references. Were they really concerned about "another sacred book" or "a self-proclaimed prophet," or were they outraged by the false tales they heard about Mormon men kidnapping people's daughters to make them their wives, or their supposed hostility to the state government?

Then, in 1839, to the dismay of the local populace, the Mormons established a thriving colony, with its own mills, factory, university, and militia, in Nauvoo, Illinois.

I suppose the mention of a militia is supposed to shock the reader. I should hope that it would be understandable by now.

Night-riding mobs burned homes and haystacks near Adam-Ondi-Ahman, and state militia officers instructed Lyman Wight to organize a Mormon militia for protection51.

The Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry for Nauvoo shows that non-Mormons also lived in the city54, and the minutes of the Nauvoo Legion itself reveal the following:

The Legion is not, as has been falsely represented by its enemies, exclusively a Mormon military association, but a body of citizen-soldiers organized (without regard to political preferences or religious sentiments) for the public defence, the general good, and the preservation of law and order—to save the innocent, unoffending citizen from the iron grasp of the oppressor, and perpetuate and sustain our free institutions against misrule, anarchy, and mob violence—no other views are entertained or tolerated52.

When hostilities erupted, Smith was arrested and jailed in Carthage, Illinois. There, on June 27, 1844, a mob raided the jail and shot and killed him.

Joseph Smith was arrested numerous times on false charges, and always went free when no case could be held up against him. The mob at Carthage decided to murder the Prophet when they realized that their scheme of false witnesses and false imprisonment was not acheiving what they desired. It is incorrect to say that he was jailed following hostilities:

On June 10, 1844, Joseph Smith, who was the mayor of Nauvoo, and the Nauvoo city council ordered the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor and the press on which it was printed. The Nauvoo Expositor was an anti-Mormon newspaper that slandered the Prophet and other Saints and called for the repeal of the Nauvoo Charter. City officials feared that this publication would lead to mob action. As a result of the action by the mayor and city council, Illinois authorities brought an unfounded charge of riot against the Prophet, his brother Hyrum, and other Nauvoo city officials. The governor of Illinois, Thomas Ford, ordered the men to stand trial in Carthage, Illinois, the county seat, and promised them protection. Joseph knew that if he went to Carthage, his life would be in great danger from the mobs who were threatening him.

Believing that the mobs wanted only them, Joseph and Hyrum decided to leave for the West to preserve their lives. On June 23, they crossed the Mississippi River, but later that day, brethren from Nauvoo found the Prophet and told him that troops would invade the city if he did not surrender to the authorities in Carthage. This the Prophet agreed to do, hoping to appease both government officials and the mobs. On June 24, Joseph and Hyrum Smith bade farewell to their families and rode with other Nauvoo city officials toward Carthage, voluntarily surrendering themselves to county officials in Carthage the next day. After the brothers had been released on bail for the initial charge, they were falsely charged with treason against the state of Illinois, arrested, and imprisoned in Carthage Jail to await a hearing. Elders John Taylor and Willard Richards, the only members of the Twelve who were not then serving missions, voluntarily joined them…

Shortly after five o’clock in the afternoon, a large group of attackers stormed the jail, firing their guns at the men inside. Within a few minutes, the foul deed was done. Hyrum Smith was shot first and died almost immediately. Elder Richards miraculously received only a superficial wound; and Elder Taylor, though severely wounded, survived and later became the third President of the Church. The Prophet Joseph ran to the window and was fatally shot53.

For more information on the life and ministry of the Prophet, Joseph Smith, you may wish to visit, an official site of the LDS Church.


  1. There were several attempts made to take the life of Joseph Smith. You can read about a few of them, here:
  2. For examples of Joseph Smith's frequent unjust incarcerations and legal trials, I recommend the following:
  3. Several examples of the constant harrassment Joseph Smith received from the local community can be found in the following:
  4. Joseph Smith - History 1:7-8, 11-12
  5. Available to read online at OpenLibrary: The History of Joseph Smith By His Mother Lucy Mack Smith.
  6. Joseph Smith-History 1:15-19
  7. Joseph Smith, Sr., lost a great deal of money on a ginseng venture. The details are outlined in The History of Joseph Smith By His Mother Lucy Mack Smith, pgs 47-49.
  8. Joseph Smith-History 1:46, 53-54
  9. Joseph Smith-History 1:35
  10. Biographical sketches of Joseph Smith the prophet, and his progenitors for many generations, pg 101. This book is actually what was later published, in edited form, as The History of Joseph Smith By His Mother Lucy Mack Smith.
  11. Joel Tiffany, "Mormonism—No. II," Tiffany's Monthly (June 1859): 165–166; cited in VanWagoner and Walker, footnote 27. As quoted in the FAIR wiki article, entitled Joseph Smith/Seer stones, under the heading, "How were the stone(s) involved in the translation of the Book of Mormon?"
  14. Ezra 2:63; Neh. 7:65
  16. SLC: Deseret Book, 1964, 45.
  17. Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith
  18. Testimony of Three Witnesses
  19. Testimony of Eight Witnesses
  20. Defending the Faith: Mary Whitmer, 12th witness to the Book of Mormon, Deseret News, July 18, 2013.
  21. "Did any of the Book of Mormon witnesses ever recant?",
  22. "By the Gift and Power of God," by Elder Neal A. Maxwell. Ensign, Jan. 1997.
  23. Notes and Communications: Jewish and Other Semitic Texts Written in Egyptian Characters, by John A. Tvedtnes and Stephen D. Ricks, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 5/2 (1996). ( Lehi is the first prophet in the Book of Mormon, and the text has its beginnings in the Jerusalem area with Lehi and his family being commanded to leave; they were subsequently led to the Americas.
  24. Earliest Semitic Text Revealed In Egyptian Pyramid Inscription, January 30, 2007.
  25. Evidence For Reformed Egyptian By Russell Littlecreek. ( This website shows the characters as they were transcribed by Joseph Smith and Martin Harris. Click on a character to see information from dictionaries on "Egyptian Hieratic, Demotic, and Hieroglyphs."
  27. John Corrill, A Brief History of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1839, pg 45. (!/paperSummary/john-corrill-a-brief-history-of-the-church-of-christ-of-latter-day-saints-1839&p=43)
  28. The Bearded Gods Speak, Thor Heyerdahl, 1971. See the images at the bottom of the page. (
  29. White Amazonian Indians, Wikipedia. ( See also White Lamanites in Darien Peninsula, YouTube. ( This is a clip from a documentary entitled Ancient Ruins of America, directed by Jack West and distributed by Sounds of Zion.
  30. Lehi in the Desert; The World of the Jaredites; There Were Jaredites, Hugh Nibley, Chapter 4. (
  31. See Gen. 4:9-15.
  33. Mormon 8:35
  34. This bit of information quoted by Moroni was in the records Mormon and Moroni had in their possession, but Mormon had neglected to include it, for whatever reason, so Moroni added it.
  36. Chapter Five: Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon and Restoration of the Priesthood, Church History In The Fulness Of Times Student Manual, (2003), 52–66. (
  37. D&C 21:1
  38. D&C 115:4
  39. . ( The article also contains the following recommendation: "See They Knew the Prophet, comp. Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1974), p. 144."
  40. "The goal of the Joseph Smith Papers Project is to publish every extant document written by Smith or by his scribes in his behalf, as well as other records that were created under his direction or that reflect his personal instruction or involvement." Joseph Smith and His Papers: An Introduction. (
  42. Joseph, the Man and the Prophet, Dallin H. Oaks, April 1996 General Conference. (
  43. What Did Joseph Smith Really Look Like?, Janet Thomas, New Era, Dec. 2005. (
  44. 'We Have Sinned Against You' A leading evangelical speaks at the Mormon Tabernacle and says evangelicals have spread lies about LDS beliefs, by Robert Mouw, BeliefNet, Nov. 2004.
  45. Sensational Virtue: Nineteenth-Century Mormon Fiction and Popular Taste, by Karen Lynn. (
  46. School Thy Feelings, O My Brother, by Thomas S. Monson, Oct. 2009 General Conference. (
  47. Elder Oaks Testifies before U.S. Congressional Subcommittee, Ensign, July 1992. (
  48. D&C 101:69-70
  49. Chapter Sixteen: Missouri Persecutions and Expulsion, Church History In The Fulness Of Times Student Manual, (2003), 193–210. (
  50. Commerce, Illinois, Joseph Smith Papers. (
  51. Triumph and Tragedy, Glen M. Leonard, Liahona. Mar. 1979. (
  52. General Orders for Nauvoo Legion, 4 May 1841, page 417-418, Joseph Smith Papers Project. (!/paperSummary/general-orders-for-nauvoo-legion-4-may-1841&p=2)
  53. Chapter 46: The Martyrdom: The Prophet Seals His Testimony with His Blood, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (2011), 528–40. (