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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

SITH video update

Yesterday I described the latest SITH video as anonymous, but a reader informed me that it was created by Kevin Prince, who developed the Gospel Lessons youtube channel and the Gospel Learning App. That's all fine. People can believe (and advocate) whatever they want, and I'm sure Brother Prince is awesome.

But why would he omit what Joseph and Oliver taught so he can promote SITH?

It turns out, he's coordinating with Book of Mormon Central to release his app.


That explains why he's promoting SITH. 

Book of Mormon Central is spending millions of dollars to try to persuade the Latter-day Saints to accept SITH (as well as M2C). 

They have another big fundraiser coming up in September, which we'll discuss in coming posts.

To work with Book of Mormon Central, people have to accept (or at least promote) SITH and M2C, as we've seen in the work of their employees and affiliates.


Some people wonder why BOMC promotes SITH. If you ask them, they'll refer you to one of their "Kno-Why" articles about how Joseph couldn't have learned the Nephite language, how David Whitmer and Emma Smith described SITH (albeit not until decades after Joseph and Oliver had died), or how the book Mormonism Unvailed told the truth about SITH after all and Joseph and Oliver simply misled everyone when they said Joseph translated by means of the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates, or some other rationalization.

Bottom line, SITH rejects what Joseph and Oliver said about the translation.

Just as M2C does.  

It's much easier for people to reject what Joseph and Oliver said about the translation once people have already been persuaded to reject what they said about the Hill Cumorah in New York (i.e., the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory, or M2C).


After all, M2C is embedded in their logo, which was the old logo from the M2C-promoting FARMS organization.


Book of Mormon Central is the attractive public face (facade) of BMAF, the Book of Mormon Archaeological Foundation, which has promoted M2C for many years.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Yet another SITH video!

An anonymous youtube channel titled "Gospel Lessons" recently released a video titled "Joseph Smith's Seer Stone" to help promote SITH (the stone-in-the-hat theory of Book of Mormon translation). 


Anonymous channels, like anonymous blogs, are awesome because we never know if they are sincere or "false flags," and this is no different. (This explains why one of my main critics remains anonymous.)

If E.D. Howe was alive today, he'd be releasing videos such as this instead of republishing Mormonism Unvailed to promote SITH.

But we'll assume the channel, which purports to come from a faithful Primary teacher, is sincere. 

As such, it's even more alarming than a false flag because it reflects how deeply SITH has insinuated itself into the worldview of modern Latter-day Saints.

The video never once quotes or cites what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery said about the translation of the Book of Mormon. [See http://www.lettervii.com/p/translation-references.html]

It's easy to assume the creator doesn't even know what they said, because their teachings have been deliberately omitted from the Gospel Topics Essay, the Saints book (vol. 1), and other modern references. 

I hear from more and more Church members who treat these references as scripture. And, to be sure, non-English speaking Latter-day Saints don't have feasible access to what Joseph and Oliver taught because their teachings are available mainly in English (the Joseph Smith Papers and other original sources). 

The omission (suppression?) of what Joseph and Oliver taught is an ongoing tragedy that could be easily remedied with a few edits to correct the oversight.

Let's look at the video. Original in blue, my comments in red.

Response to SITH video by Gospel Lessons

Joseph Smith's Seer Stone




This is another ridiculous attempt to promote SITH (the stone-in-the-hat theory) while ignoring what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery said. Regarding the Urim and Thummim, this video claims at 3:50, "this is in fact not how the process worked at all as many of us now know." What this video "knows" was promoted back in 1834 in the anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unvailed. Joseph and Oliver refuted SITH multiple times, but now LDS intellectuals and critics alike have revived it. Ignore them and stick with what Joseph and Oliver said.

At 5:47, the video says, "it isn't clear whether he [Moroni] also returned the Urim and Thummim or not." But it's crystal clear if you care what Joseph and Oliver said.

At 6:11, the video says, "in other words joseph smith used the Urim and Thummim given him by moroni to translate the 116 pages that are now lost and the rest of the book of mormon the entire book of mormon that you have and you've read your entire life was not translated using the urim and thummim but rather this other seer stone it can be confusing because even joseph referred to these and other stones all as Urim and Thummim or seer stones interchangeably.

He did no such thing and no one has found such a claim. Instead, responding to this ridiculous SITH narrative, Joseph emphasized that he translated the record by means of the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates!

At 12:08, the video relates a theory as a fact, the same way David Whitmer and the other SITH witnesses did.

"the gold plates needed to be nearby but they were usually covered in a napkin while joseph would look at the stone inside the hat and the words would appear on it and he would dictate to a scribe while joseph and many others called this the translation process"

This is an excellent example of the way historians have simply adopted what the SITH witnesses said while ignoring their competency, availability, and motives, not to mention the context of the SITH statements (i.e., they were trying to refute the Spalding theory). If some future historian comes across this video, it will become yet another SITH “witness” even though the video is simply repeating hearsay while stating it as a fact.

Next, at 12:22, the video says "it isn't a traditional translation because joseph didn't know both reformed egyptian and english and looked at the characters and determined the right words and phrases in english."


Except the video forgot to mention JS-H:

immediately after my arrival there [in Harmony, Pennsylvania] I commenced copying the characters off the plates. I copied a considerable number of them, and by means of the Urim and Thummim I translated some of them, which I did between the time I arrived at the house of my wife’s father, in the month of December, and the February following.

(Joseph Smith—History 1:62)


Here Joseph explains that he began translating the characters as he copied them off the plates. He could not have more explicitly explained that he was learning the meaning of the characters. This may not be a “traditional translation” because he was using the Urim and Thummim, but he was unambiguously studying the characters because he copied them and translated them.

Then the video cites 2 Nephi 27:20.

12:42 for those who don't like that this is the process used

It’s not a question of “liking” or “not liking” SITH, it’s a question of what did Joseph and Oliver claim?

12:48 look at second nephi 27:20 which is nephi giving isaiah 29 so this is really isaiah speaking of the coming forth of the book of mormon it says quote “then shall the lord god say unto him the learned shall not read them for they have rejected them and i am able to do my own work wherefore thou shalt read the words which i shall give unto thee.”

13:10 he didn't say he would give him the ability to translate languages or have the scholarly education to translate an ancient record he said that joseph would read the words god would give unto him and that is exactly what happened

While this is a common justification for SITH, the SITH sayers take this verse out of context. When read in context, the passage obviously refers to the engravings on the plates, which Joseph said he studied and translated. These are the words God gave to Joseph to read and translate into English.

14 Wherefore, the Lord God will proceed to bring forth the words of the book; and in the mouth of as many witnesses as seemeth him good will he establish his word; and wo be unto him that rejecteth the word of God!

15 But behold, it shall come to pass that the Lord God shall say unto him to whom he shall deliver the book: Take these words which are not sealed and deliver them to another, that he may show them unto the learned, saying: Read this, I pray thee. And the learned shall say: Bring hither the book, and I will read them.

16 And now, because of the glory of the world and to get gain will they say this, and not for the glory of God.

17 And the man shall say: I cannot bring the book, for it is sealed.

18 Then shall the learned say: I cannot read it.

19 Wherefore it shall come to pass, that the Lord God will deliver again the book and the words thereof to him that is not learned; and the man that is not learned shall say: I am not learned.

20 Then shall the Lord God say unto him: The learned shall not read them, for they have rejected them, and I am able to do mine own work; wherefore thou shalt read the words which I shall give unto thee.

21 Touch not the things which are sealed, for I will bring them forth in mine own due time; for I will show unto the children of men that I am able to do mine own work.

22 Wherefore, when thou hast read the words which I have commanded thee, and obtained the witnesses which I have promised unto thee, then shalt thou seal up the book again, and hide it up unto me, that I may preserve the words which thou hast not read, until I shall see fit in mine own wisdom to reveal all things unto the children of men.

(2 Nephi 27:14–22)


If all Joseph did was read words that appeared on a stone, there would be no point for the Lord to warn him not to touch the sealed portion. Furthermore, the Lord preserved the words that Joseph did not read by having Joseph hide up the record again (when he returned the plates to the repository in Cumorah). The Lord would not have to “preserve” the words Joseph didn’t read if he merely read words that appeared on a stone.

Moroni told Joseph he was called to translate the plates. Revelations in the D&C reiterate that Joseph was required to translate the engravings. Nowhere do the scriptures state, suggest or imply that Joseph merely had to read words that appeared on a seer stone.

Next, the video relates some speculation.

13:32 some might ask why he didn't need the plates at all if he didn't need to look at them or use them in any way look no one knows a hundred percent

Based on what Joseph and Oliver said, we can know 100% that Joseph needed the plates because he was translating the engravings on the plates.

13:40 but it does seem to me that there needs to be a reference object or something there for the transliteration process to work when moroni took the plates he still had the brown stone but he couldn't transliterate

This is commonly referred to as the talisman or ____ theory. I assume everyone can see the logical fallacy here, as well as the factual fallacy. The video assumes Joseph did not possess the Urim and Thummim after he lost the 116 pages, which is what David Whitmer said, even though that contradicts what Joseph, Oliver, and Lucy Mack Smith reported.

14:01 shortly after the process of transliteration of the book of Mormon was complete he gave the genesis [the video claims the brown stone relates to the timing of the creation of the Earth] seer stone to oliver cowdery while some wonder if the white stone was used rather than this genesis stone and perhaps it was the fact that joseph gives the stone to oliver who was the translator for all of the that portion of the book of Mormon that the seer stone was used for it seems to indicate that it was the brown stone

There’s a lot of thinking past the sale here. Debating which “seer stone” Joseph used leads people to simply assume that Joseph used a seer stone instead of the Urim and Thummim to translate the plates. If (as I propose) Joseph used the brown stone purely for demonstration purposes, he naturally would have given it to Oliver because he didn’t need it any longer.

Recall that when Oliver rejoined the Church and reiterated his testimony that Joseph translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim, he possessed this brown seer stone but didn’t display it or even mention it. This has led some LDS scholars to surmise that Oliver deliberately misled everyone, but in my view, they have that backwards. Oliver sought to correct the SITH rumors by reiterating what he and Joseph had always said.

16:11 in summary i think the seer stones are super cool between history scripture and the pure awesomeness factor i don't know why anybody finds the use of special stones to be strange or weird it all seems directly in line with how things have always been and always will be

Yes, more and more Latter-day Saints are reframing SITH as a feature, not a bug.

The SITH narrative shows us that E.D. Howe (and Hurlburt, his source) knew what he was doing when he described SITH in Mormonism Unvailed.

Let’s not forget that Joseph knew what he was doing when he refuted SITH and said “Hurlburt and the Howes are among the basest of mankind, and known to be such and yet the priests and their coadjutors hail them as their best friends and publish their lies, speaking of them in the highest terms.”

(Elders’ Journal I.4:59 ¶12–60 ¶3)

Now, in our day, it is our own LDS scholars who are publishing the Hurlburt/Howe lies.



To repeat, this video is another ridiculous effort to mainstream SITH (the stone-in-the-hat theory). SITH was set out in the 1834 anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unvailed. Joseph and Oliver refuted it multiple times by explaining that Joseph translated the record by means of the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates. This video ignores what Joseph and Oliver said in favor of SITH sayers who repeated the Mormonism Unvailed narrative. It's easy to promote SITH when you ignore what Joseph and Oliver said, but it's impossible to promote SITH when you accept what they said.


Monday, August 29, 2022

Milky Way photo

This is remarkable. This image of the Milky Way reportedly contains around 84 million stars.

You can download a 9-gig image of the Milky Way here:

Download here: https://www.eso.org/public/usa/images/eso1242a/?lang

But you can also zoom into it on this website:

Zoomable here: https://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1242a/zoomable/

Friday, August 26, 2022

Lucy Mack Smith was solid, except when she contradicted M2C and SITH

I recently noticed that I have 298 unpublished posts that I wrote for this blog. They consist mainly of notes I've made over the years. Here's one of them:

Lucy Mack Smith
Many LDS intellectuals are schizophrenic about Lucy Mack Smith. They think her history is credible and reliable about everything except (i) Cumorah, (ii) the Urim and Thummim, and (iii) the First Vision, which she didn't mention.

For example, in the Joseph Smith Papers, Translations and Revelations, Vol. 5, Original Manuscript, the Introduction cites or refers to Lucy 36 times.* But they carefully avoid what she said about Cumorah and the Urim and Thummim.

The Saints book, Volume 1, follows the same approach, citing Lucy's history dozens of times but omitting what she said about Cumorah and the Urim and Thummim.

And yet, there is nothing inherently suspect about Lucy's recollections regarding Cumorah. When she related what Joseph said about Moroni's visit, she recalled that Moroni identified the hill where the plates were deposited as the "hill of Cumorah."

When Joseph was late returning home from Manchester in early 1827, he explained to his parents that he had encountered the angel "at the Hill Cumorah." 

The intellectuals who reject (and censor) these accounts offer no justification for their choice other than their need to accommodate the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C). Instead, they resort to two patently outcome-driven rationales:

- Some say Lucy's reference to Cumorah must be attributed to her erroneous adoption of a supposedly false tradition about Cumorah started by unknown early persons at an unknown time. 

- Others say Lucy wasn't credible because she didn't describe the First Vision in her original dictated account (the 1844/5 version).

Obviously, these two objections contradict one another.

While it's true that Lucy didn't mention the First Vision in her history, that is consistent with the actual history; i.e., Joseph didn't say he told anyone other than the Methodist minister about his vision (JS-H 1:21, and we don't know what he actually told the minister anyway).

Given that Joseph never told his mother contemporaneously about the First Vision, why would anyone expect Lucy to relate a memory of something that didn't happen? 

In Lucy's 1845 draft, someone inserted Joseph Smith's 1838 account of the First Vision, but Lucy did not say Joseph told her about it when it happened.

IOW, Lucy's omission of the First Vision in her dictated history is evidence that her memory was intact and accurately related.

Yet the M2C scholars want us to believe that because Lucy didn't relate a false retrospective memory of the First Vision, she did relate a false retrospective memory of what Joseph said about the hill Cumorah. 

If not for their obsession with accommodating M2C, no historian would propose such an analysis. 

This is the type of irrational thinking that arises when people become apologists for a theory instead of unbiased historians seeking to relate accurate history.


* Excerpts from the Introduction below. In addition, the Introduction cites Lucy's history 23 times.

- Joseph Smith's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, recorded that her son acquired the plates in the early morning of 22 September 1827

- Lucy Mack Smith, who remembered seeing the spectacles before her son's move to Harmony, gave a description of the instrument that is similar to Harris's

- Lucy Mack Smith, who was still living in Manchester when the loss occurred, recalled in her 1845 history that her son returned to Harmony almost immediately after learning the manuscript had been lost: 

- Lucy Mack Smith did not learn that her son had received the plates again until she and her husband, Joseph Smith Sr., visited Harmony in early September 1828.   

- Lucy Mack Smith recorded that it was with delight that her son stated he had “commenced translating,” with Emma's assistance. 

- Lucy Mack Smith recorded that when the angel returned the plates to Smith, he also promised “that the Lord would send [him) a scribe.”

- Given the antagonism of their neighbors, Lucy Mack Smith and her husband were reluctant to share their son's experiences with their new acquaintance. 

- According to Lucy Mack Smith's reminiscence, Cowdery eventually gained the trust of the Smiths.

- Cowdery told Lucy Mack Smith and her husband, “There is a work for me to do in this thing and I am determined if there is to attend to it.” 

- Lucy Mack Smith stated later that “evil designing people were seeking to take away Joseph's life in order to prevent the work of God from going forth among the world.”

- When Lucy Mack Smith received word that the translation was complete, she, her husband, and Martin Harris traveled to the Whitmer home. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

The SITH tipping point

A few years ago I discussed how paradigms shift.


That post involved Book of Mormon geography. 

In this post, we'll look at the tipping point for SITH (the stone-in-the-hat theory).


Some people wonder why I discuss SITH on this page which originated as a discussion about M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory). One reason is that both theories share the claim that Joseph and Oliver were unreliable speculators who misled the Church. M2C teaches that Joseph and Oliver misled everyone about Cumorah. SITH teaches that they misled everyone about the translation.

I think both Joseph and Oliver told the unvarnished truth, so I discuss the two topics together.


From time to time I hear from people I've known for decades, who have been faithful Latter-day Saints the whole time, but who are troubled by SITH. Everyone who knows what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery taught can easily see how SITH contradicts their teachings.

Despite the current trend toward accepting SITH, many Church members still believe what Joseph and Oliver taught instead. It's difficult to tell whether we are near, at, or past the tipping point.

Since 1834, critics have tried, unsuccessfully, to establish SITH as the "actual" history of the translation of the Book of Mormon.


SITH was spelled out in the 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed., published by E.D. Howe based on material provide by Doctor Philastes Hurlburt. You can read the excerpt (with the link) here:


If you read that excerpt, you'll see how it is essentially the same claim made by leading LDS historians and intellectuals.

Yet SITH originated as a tool to destroy faith in what Joseph and Oliver taught, and by extension, to destroy faith in the Book of Mormon. It continues to have that effect today.

Social media critics of the Restoration are having some success on social media. For example, here's a recent post from Twitter (with the link and author removed).

As the graphic claims, critics commonly promote the narrative that "Joseph Smith actually translated the Book of Mormon" with SITH.

Then the critics claim Church leaders "lied" about the translation, thereby undermining faith in both the Book of Mormon and in the teachings of Church leaders.

It's common now for people to ask when they first learned about SITH. Those familiar with Church history know that SITH has been floated all along. 

But they also know that the SITH narrative did not prevail in the days of Joseph Smith.   

In fact, Joseph discussed the authors of Mormonism Unvailed in the pages of the Elders' Journal

This is the Hurlburt that was author of a book [Mormonism Unvailed] which bears the name of E. [Edward] D. Howe, but it was this said Hurlburt that was the author of it. But after the affair of Hurlburt’s wife and the pious old deacon, the persecutors thought it better to put some other name as author to their book than Hurlburt, so E. D. Howe substituted his name. The change however was not much better. Asahel Howe, one of E. D.’s brothers who was said to be the likeliest of the family, served apprenticeship in the work house in Ohio for robbing the post office. And yet notwithstanding all this, all the pious priests of all denominations were found following in the wake of these mortals.

Hurlburt and the Howes are among the basest of mankind, and known to be such and yet the priests and their coadjutors hail them as their best friends and publish their lies, speaking of them in the highest terms. And after all this, they want us to say that they are pious souls and good saints. Can we believe it? Surely men of common sense will not ask us to do it.

Good men love to associate with good men, and bad men with bad ones, and when we see men making friends with drunkards, thieves, liars, and swindlers, shall we call them saints? If we were to do it, we might be justly charged with “partaking of their evil deeds.”

(Elders’ Journal I.4:59 ¶12–60 ¶3)


When we read what Joseph Smith had to say about them, we wonder why our modern LDS scholars and intellectuals defer to Hurlburt and Howe.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Room at the Inn

Here's a wonderful video that explains why we can all work together, regardless of our differences. 


Unity in diversity.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

SITHsayers and cognitive dissonance

One "tell" of cognitive dissonance is deliberately avoiding the fact that causes cognitive dissonance. 

In our day, many LDS apologists promote the idea that Joseph Smith didn't really translate the plates. They say he merely read words that appeared on a stone he put in the hat (the stone-in-the-hat theory, or SITH).

Because Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery directly refuted SITH, the modern apologists simply ignore what Joseph and Oliver said.

That's one way to avoid cognitive dissonance. But is that a viable approach?

A better approach is to accept what Joseph and Oliver taught and assess contrary evidence accordingly.


The history of SITH can be traced to the 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed, which described SITH much like our modern LDS apologists do.

The translation finally commenced. They 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 [Joseph] 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. See https://archive.org/details/mormonismunvaile00howe/page/18

Did Joseph and Oliver ever confirm this explanation?


They directly refuted it.

Recall the introduction to the Gospel Topics Essays, which quotes D&C 88:118 and explains that "Seeking “out of the best books” does not mean seeking only one set of opinions, but it does require us to distinguish between reliable sources and unreliable sources."

What more reliable source about the translation could there be than Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery?


On three notable occasions post-Mormonism Unvailed, Joseph Smith provided an explanation of the translation that leaves no room for SITH. Because Joseph’s teachings have been omitted from the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Translation, the Saints books, and the writings of the SITH sayers, few current Latter-day Saints know about these important teachings.

How, and where did you obtain the book of Mormon?

Moroni, the person who deposited the plates, from whence the book of Mormon was translated, in a hill in Manchester, Ontario County, New York, being dead; and raised again therefrom, appeared unto me, and told me where they were, and gave me directions how to obtain them. I obtained them, and the Urim and Thummim with them, by the means of which, I translated the plates; and thus came the Book of Mormon. (Elders’ Journal, July 1838)[1]

With the records was found a curious instrument, which the ancients called "Urim and Thummim," which consisted of two transparent stones set in the rim of a bow fastened to a breast plate. Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift and power of God. (“Church History,” [aka the Wentworth Letter], Times and Seasons, March 1, 1842)[2]


With the records was found a curious instrument which the ancients called "Urim and Thummim," which consisted of two transparent stones set in the rim on a bow fastened to a breast plate. Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record, by the gift and power of God. (“Church History,” [aka the Wentworth Letter], Times and Seasons, March 1, 1842)[3]

Monday, August 15, 2022

Teaching nonsense

Reminds me of the way M2C and SITH teaches that Joseph and Oliver were wrong.

Ours may become the first civilization destroyed, not by the power of our enemies, but by the ignorance of our teachers and the dangerous nonsense they are teaching our children. In an age of artificial intelligence, they are creating artificial stupidity.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

David McCullough on history

The outstanding historian David McCullough passed away this week. In February 2005 in Arizona at a Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar, McCullough gave a speech titled "Knowing History and Knowing Who We Are."

His observations pertain to the study of LDS Church history. Young and new Latter-day Saints have difficulty understand our history because important events and historical records have been mowed over by modern theories and interpretations, particularly regarding SITH and M2C.

In the excerpts below (in blue) I offer some applications to LDS history (in red). Emphasis added.

The speech was adapted and reprinted in 2008, here: 



Former President Harry S. Truman once remarked that the history we don’t know is the only new thing in the world. 

For young and new Latter-day Saints, it's a "new thing" for them to learn that Joseph Smith translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates. Another '"new thing" is learning that the hill Cumorah in New York state is actually the hill Cumorah (and hill Ramah) of the Book of Mormon.

Picking up on a related theme, the late Daniel Boorstin, an eminent historian, Librarian of Congress, and griend of mine, wrote that planning for the future without a sense of the past is similar to planting cut flowers and hoping for the best.

Today, the new generation of young Americans are like a field of cut flowers, by-and-large historically illiterate. This does not bode well for our future.

The same is true for young and new Latter-day Saints, who are easily confused by SITH and M2C because they are illiterate on those topics.

After delivering a talk at the University of Missouri, I spoke with a young woman who said that until my talk she had not known that all of the original 13 colonies were on the east coast. How could a student at a fine university not know this, I wondered.

Ask most young Latter-day Saints about the hill Cumorah or the Urim and Thummim and they have no clue about what Joseph and his contemporaries.


All of us who are educators, parents, and writers bear a great responsibility: We must communicate to the younger generation that Americans — as individuals, but also collectively as a nation — cannot truly know who we are or where we are going unless we know where we have been.

We should value what our forebears — and that includes our own parents and grandparents — have done for us; otherwise our history will simply slip away. If we inherit an old oil painting and no one tells us that it is a priceless work of art, then we’ll probably lose interest in it, either sticking it in a closet or selling it. Of course, history is not static like a painting, but eternally fascinating, because events and people can be freshly examined with new techniques and perspectives. Each generation, we peel back biases that have blinded those before us. The more we know about the past enables us to ask richer and more provocative questions about who we are today.

We also must tell the next generation one of the great truths of history: that no past event was preordained. Every battle, election, and revolution could have turned out differently at any point along the way, just as a person’s own life can change unpredictably. Nothing occurs in a vacuum, a fact that is not as self-evident as it might sound, particularly to a young person.

And we would do well to remind young people that nobody ever lived in the past. Jefferson, Adams, and Washington did not walk around thinking, “Isn’t it fascinating living in the past?” They lived in the present, of course, just as we do today, every bit uncertain of the future as we are. How easy it is for historians and biographers — or any of us — to look backward in time and judge the actions of others. Yet we are not making those tough decisions in real time with definite uncertainties.


Family, teachers, friends, rivals, and competitors have all shaped us. So, too, have those who lived long before us. Think about symphony composers, painters, poets, and writers of great literature: We walk around every day quoting Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Pope without even knowing it. We believe that its our way of speaking, but it’s actually what we have been given.

Naturally, Joseph Smith translated the plates using his own lexicon, which is exactly what we expect of any translator.

The laws that govern us, the freedoms we enjoy, the institutions that we often unfortunately take for granted, represent the hard work of others stretching back far into the past. Acting indifferent to this fact does not just smack of ignorance, but rudeness. How can we claim indifference to learning about those people who made it possible for us to become citizens of the world’s greatest country? The freedoms we enjoy are not just a birthright, but something for which millions have struggled, suffered, and died.

Character and Destiny

None of the writers and signers of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia during that fateful summer of 1776 were superhuman; each had flaws, failings, and weaknesses. Some ardently disliked others. All said and did things he regretted. Yet the fact that these imperfect human beings rose to the occasion and performed as they did testifies to their humanity. It is our ability then and now to rise to the occasion and exhibit our strengths—not our failings, weaknesses, and sins—that define us as Americans.


The desire to find out what’s not working, fix it, and then maybe get it to work is an American quality and our guiding star. The founding fathers had no prior experience in revolutions or nation-making. The faces of these men, framed by powdered hair and marked by awkward-looking teeth, stare out from old paintings and the money in our wallets, like elder statesmen. But, when George Washington took command of the continental army at Cambridge in 1775, he was 43-years-old, the oldest of the lot. Jefferson penned the Declaration at 33, while John Adams signed it at 40. Benjamin Rush — a founder of the antislavery movement in Philadelphia and one of the most interesting founding fathers — was only 30 years old.


The freedoms we enjoy represent the hard work of others stretching back far into the past

Our Failure, Our Duty

There’s no secret to teaching history well or making it interesting. Barbara Tuchman summed up what every teacher, parent, and writer should know in two words: “Tell stories.” E.M. Forster gave a wonderful definition of “story.” If you say that the king died and then the queen died of grief, then that becomes a story, because it calls for empathy on the part of both the storyteller and the listener. We need historians who have the heart and humanity necessary to help students imagine the lives of people who have lived in the past and were just as human as we are today.


Listening to the Past

Samuel Eliot Morison wrote that we should read history because it helps us behave better. So, too, we ought to read history because it breaks down dividers between the disciplines of science, medicine, philosophy, art, and music, which is all part of the human story. History enables us to understand the interconnections. Understanding the 18th century, for example, depends on familiarity with its vocabulary, because their words often mean something different than they do today. In a letter that John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail, “We can’t guarantee success in this war, but we can do something better. We can deserve it.” The word “deserve” has such a different meaning today when all that matters is success, getting ahead, and rising to the top.

Adam’s letter indicates that while God controls the outcome of the war, the colonists can control how they behave. They can “deserve” success. That line practically lifted me out of my chair when I first read it. Three weeks later I found the same word in George Washington’s correspondence. It occurred to me that they both were quoting somebody else. I pulled down Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations from the bookshelf and scanned entries from the 18th century. Bingo, I found it in Joseph Addison’s play, Cato . Adams, Washington, and others were quoting the language of the time, a kind of secular creed if you will. It is impossible to fathom their behavior without knowing why honor mattered so much that they put their lives and fortunes on the line for it. Those were not just words.

We hear talk frequently these days about the difficult, dangerous times we live in. Yet our nation has lived through darker times, although this is not evident listening to those who broadcast the news. The year 1776 was perhaps the darkest time in our history. Or what about the first months of 1942 after Pearl Harbor when German submarines sank our oil tankers in plain sight off the coats of Florida and New Jersey? Our recruits drilled with wooden rifles. Our air force did not exist, and the navy was badly hurt. The Nazi machine looked unstoppable. After Pearl Harbor, when Winston Churchill crossed the Atlantic and gave a magnificent speech, saying that we had not journeyed this far because we were made of sugar candy. It’s as true today as it ever was.

History is not just a subject that ought to be taught or read because it will make us a better citizen, although it will. Nor should we encourage young people to embrace history only because it creates more thoughtful and understanding human beings. Nor should we only share stories about the past because we will behave better. History should be taught for pleasure. The joy of history, like art or music or literature, consists of an expansion of the experience of being alive. And that is what education is largely about.

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