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 28, 2023

SITH origin: Dehlin, Smoot, MacKay, Dirkmaat

No one has a problem with historians (or anyone else) proposing interpretations of the historical record. We all understand the concept of multiple working hypotheses, and we all agree people can believe whatever they want.

But we expect people to at least be clear about the facts and the assumptions, inferences, and theories that lead to their hypotheses and conclusions. 

When we pursue clarity, charity, and understanding, we start with clarity for a reason. Obfuscation and misdirection don't lead to understanding but to confusion. People can't make informed decisions when they don't have clarity about the facts--and about the difference between facts and assumptions, inferences, etc. When people simply omit facts to persuade others to accept their hypotheses, we all want an explanation for why they omitted those facts. 

IOW, don't just omit relevant facts without at least explaining why. We may or may not agree with your explanation, but we want to know you have one.


In the pursuit of clarity, we've seen previously how M2C originated with a map published in 1917 (and 1918, 1919, and 1923) by an RLDS scholar named L.E. Hills* whose theory that the "real Cumorah/Ramah" was in Mexico was promptly rejected by both RLDS and LDS leaders who reaffirmed what Joseph and Oliver taught. But LDS scholars who rejected what the prophets taught about Cumorah persisted in promoting Hills' M2C theory. They've raised and spent millions of dollars from faithful Latter-day Saints to all but erase the New York Cumorah/Ramah from the collective memory of the Church.

Fortunately, no amount of money can erase what everyone can read right in the Joseph Smith Papers.

And, as always, if anyone thinks I've erred or misstated anything, feel free to email me at lostzarahemla@gmail.com and I'll make the corrections. 


A similar process is underway to establish SITH (the stone-in-the-hat theory), particularly by John Dehlin, Stephen O. Smoot, Michael Hubbard MacKay, and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat.

As we'll see, Smoot/MacKay/Dirkmaat omitted highly relevant facts about SITH and invented an opposite narrative instead that they've promoted heavily. In the pursuit of charity, we can assume they have a good faith reason for doing so, but it's difficult to imagine what that might be. At any rate, they should have disclosed the facts and explained why they omitted them.

Here's the problem. Not only did they publish this false narrative years ago with no pushback from the LDS scholarly community, but as recently as this year--2023--they persuaded Deseret Book to promote the false narrative with additional embellishments--all to establish SITH as the only acceptable explanation for the Book of Mormon.


Some people think SITH became prominent among Latter-day Saints because of Richard Bushman's book Rough Stone Rolling, published in 2007. But Bushman accurately reported the historical accounts. He could/should have clarified a few things and added additional references, as suggested here, https://www.mobom.org/rsr-review, but he didn't change the historical record to promote an agenda. 

John Dehlin's 2013 "Faith Crisis Report" took SITH a step further by claiming SITH was the actual origin of the Book of Mormon and that there was a "gap" between the "true" SITH accounts and the "false" teachings of the Church regarding the Urim and Thummim. Dehlin's Mormon Stories podcast has repeated that theme ever since.

(click to enlarge)

Dehlin's report led to the publication of the Gospel Topics Essays, including the essay on Book of Mormon Translation which adopted Dehlin's narrative. The essay doesn't even quote what Joseph and Oliver said about the translation; instead, it selectively quotes from other sources to promote the Dehlin narrative. For an analysis, see https://www.ldshistoricalnarratives.com/2022/09/analysis-gospel-topics-essay-on-book-of.html.

The 2015 book From Darkness Unto Light, by Michael Hubbard MacKay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, quoted original sources and wove a narrative that further persuaded many Latter-day Saints to accept SITH (the stone-in-the-hat theory). However, without explaining why, the authors omitted original sources that contradicted SITH. Worse, they also falsified the historical record to promote SITH. 

Specifically, they invented a narrative around Jonathan Hadley, who published the first known account of the translation. 

Smoot/MacKay/Dirkmaat claim Joseph Smith visited Hadley to ask if he would publish the Book of Mormon. They claim Joseph related the SITH account to him. They claim that Hadley was initially amiable toward Joseph Smith, and that Hadley's account should be accepted on its face.

Yet in an account they don't even cite (let alone quote), Hadley himself said it was Martin Harris alone who visited him. Hadley never said Joseph visited him. He never said he ever met Joseph. And he explained that he not only refused to have anything to do with the publication, but that he would "expose" the "whole Mormon gang" if they succeeded in publishing the Book of Mormon.

IOW, Smoot/MacKay/Dirkmaat claim SITH originated with Joseph Smith, when the historical record shows us that it originated with an avowed antagonist who had never even met Joseph Smith.

Stephen O. Smoot wrote an enthusiastic review in the Interpreter.

But perhaps the most fascinating insight to be found in this section of the book is the discussion of Jonathan A. Hadley’s 1829 account of his visit with Joseph Smith. Printer of the Palmyra Freeman, Hadley reported in August 1829 that the Prophet had recently come to him seeking to contract the publication of the Book of Mormon. Although he contemptuously dismissed his account of the recovery of the plates, Hadley nevertheless reported Joseph’s description to him of the physical dimensions thereof. 

This is the type of "peer approval" at the Interpreter that we've all come to know and love. It's what happens when people rely on what others write without looking at the original sources.

MacKay and Dirkmaat were so enamored with their Hadley narrative that they included it on the first page of their latest book, Let's Talk About the Translation of the Book of Mormon, published in 2023 by Deseret Book.

Consequently, Deseret Book is officially on record for promoting the false narrative that SITH originated with Joseph Smith.

I posted a detailed analysis about all of this. It's an excerpt from the appendix in an upcoming book about LDS apologetics. You can read it here:


Here's a brief example of the Smoot/MacKay/Dirkmaat narrative, compared to what Hadley actually said. 

Smoot, MacKay, Dirkmaat


Though Hadley's small-time operation could not accommodate the herculean project of printing the Book of Mormon, he went from amiable to incensed after Joseph eventually agreed to terms with the recalcitrant Grandin rather than Hadley's more well-positioned friend in Rochester.

Joseph had described to Hadley many of the remarkable events that had let him to the plates and how they were translated. Now Hadley determined to undermine Joseph Smith by relating the fantastical events Joseph had told him.

Soon after the translation was completed, I was one day waited upon by Harris, and offered the printing of the Book of Mormon. This was in the summer of 1829, at which time I was carrying on the printing business at Palmyra. Harris owned a good farm in that town, and offered to mortgage it to secure the expense of printing. Though he was a subscriber to my paper, and had frequently "labored" to convert me to the Mormon faith, I was so sceptical as to utterly refuse to have any "part or lot" in the imposition, telling him at the same time, that if he proceeded with the publication, I should feel it my duty, as the conductor of a faithful public journal, to expose him and the whole Mormon gang. He took the work, however, to the other office in the village, and it was soon put to press. It was then I wrote and published an article, which you may recollect, headed "THE GOLDEN BIBLE," giving a history of the humbug up to that time. This article was extensively copied, it having been the first ever published about the Mormons.

The MacKay/Dirkmaat narrative as it appears on the first page of Let's Talk About:

Smoot promoting SITH in the Interpreter:


*The simulation winked at us by having a guy named "Hills" promote the idea of "two hills Cumorah" or M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory). We should have known all along it was fake news.

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