long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Monday, August 8, 2022

The Orson Pratt landmine

Experienced SITH sayers and M2Cers avoid citing or even mentioning Orson Pratt because they don't want their followers to know that Orson unequivocally affirmed the New York Cumorah and the translation of the Book of Mormon with the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates.

Someone forgot to alert Brother Kraus about Orson Pratt before he stepped on that landmine.

Because so many people asked me to respond to Brother Kraus' tedious 63-page, 24,000-word review of my book A Man that Can Translate, I've been wading through it as time permits. As you'll see, he has inadvertently strengthened the arguments I made in that book. More importantly, he has exposed the vapid SITH arguments for all to see.

Buried in his review, Brother Kraus cited as authority for one of his claims Orson Pratt's December 1877 sermon.

That sermon should have disposed of the SITH argument once and for all.

Here's an excerpt from my review of Brother Kraus' review, with his work in blue and mine in red.

Orson Pratt likewise taught that the Urim and Thummim were not in the possession of the Church while in Utah (contrary to Neville’s claim that Brigham Young possessed them), describing the future coming forth and translation of “other records translated by the Urim and Thummim, that same instrument that Joseph Smith used in the translation of the ‘Book of Mormon,’ which will again come forth and be revealed to the seer and revelator that God will raise up by which these ancient records will be brought to light.20

Take a moment to consider what just happened here.

Brother Kraus and other SITH sayers argue that Joseph used the term Urim and Thummim to refer to the brown stone they claim Joseph put in the hat, upon which words appeared that Joseph read out loud to his scribes.

Yet that brown stone is in the Church vaults today. As mentioned above, its provenance has been demonstrated by a continuous chain of custody. Photographs have been published and widely distributed.


Whether or not Orson Pratt knew Brigham had the brown stone, his statement, quoted by Brother Kraus, specifically excludes the brown stone from any connection with the translation of the Book of Mormon because, instead of being in the possession of Brigham Young as the brown stone was, the actual Urim and Thummim that Joseph used to translate the Book of Mormon “will again come forth” sometime in the future to be used to bring to light ancient records.

Parenthetically, something Brother Kraus forgot to quote from this same sermon by Orson Pratt ought to be the end of the SITH argument conflating the Urim and Thummim with the brown seer stone.


You will perceive, Latter-day Saints, how this Urim and Thummim was formed in the first place. It was not something that existed on the earth in a natural state, it was something made by the Lord. He is a good mechanic, he understands how to make things….

He made the Urim and Thummim, and we have an account of his making it in the words which I have been reading. Two crystal stones that he gave unto the brother of Jared were made by him. When ye shall write these things, ye shall seal them up, also the interpreters, until the Lord shall see fit, in his own due time, to reveal them to the children of men.

 (Wordcrucher citation, 1877, OP King Limhi ¶34 • JD 19:214)

 Orson’s explanation precludes any possible conflation of ordinary rocks, such as the brown one the Church has displayed, with the Urim and Thummim formed by God that Moroni deposited in the stone box with the plates. The SITH sayers cannot reconcile their redefinition of terms with what Orson explained here. Instead, they simply ignore what he said. 


My discussion of Brother Kraus' claim continues, but for purposes of this post, I'll stop it there. 

As always, we should assess Orson Pratt's sermon in context. He was familiar with SITH because the 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed had set out the SITH argument. Here's an excerpt from A Man that Can Translate:

For decades, leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints taught that Joseph used the U&T. If you search the Journal of Discourses or LDS General Conference addresses, you get over 100 results of leaders testifying that Joseph translated the plates with the “Urim and Thummim” that he obtained from Moroni, which had been prepared for the purpose of translating the plates.[1]

On the other hand, the 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed described a different process.


The translation finally commenced. They [the plates] were found to contain a language not now known upon the earth, which they termed “reformed Egyptian characters." The plates, therefore, which had been so much talked of, were  found to be of no manner of use. After all, the Lord showed and communicated to him every word and letter of the Book. Instead of looking at the characters inscribed upon the plates, the prophet was obliged to resort to the old “peep stone,” which he formerly used in money - digging. This he placed in a hat, or box, into which he also thrust his face. Through the stone he could then discover a single word at a time, which he repeated aloud to his amanuensis, who committed it to paper, when another word would immediately appear, and thus the performance continued to the end of the book.[2]


This 1834 passage looks contemporary because it is the same narrative many modern historians have adopted.

The speakers in Journal of Discourses were familiar with Mormonism Unvailed and Oliver’s eight essays that cited facts to rebut the claims of the critics (see Chapter 4). Many of them knew Oliver and Joseph personally and heard them testify that Joseph used the U&T to translate the plates.

In recent decades, however, faithful LDS scholars re-evaluated the historical evidence cited by critics regarding SITH. They decided the evidence was credible enough to warrant incorporation into standard Church history narratives, thereby implementing Synthesis #1. 

[1] I recommend using WordCruncher to search LDS General Conference addresses. A good alternative is https://scriptures.byu.edu/ .

[2] Mormonism Unvailed, p. 18, available online at. https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=KXJNAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&pg=GBS.PA18 

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