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, January 11, 2023

Joseph Smith Papers overview

There's a nice article about the Joseph Smith Papers here:


I encourage everyone to use the Joseph Smith Papers when they study Church history. But you need to do so carefully, because the editorial content is agenda-driven.

It's similar to using non-LDS Bible commentaries that offer interpretations without the context of the Restoration. The actual documents and historical context can be helpful to understanding the Bible, but we have to recognize editorial spin and manipulation, driven by the agenda of the authors.

It's quite bizarre that the Joseph Smith Papers promotes certain agendas instead of simply reporting accurate history, but the problem is evident to anyone who looks.


The Joseph Smith Papers team is already seeing a significant amount of web traffic. The website reported more than 3.5 million page views and nearly 900,000 unique visitors last year as Latter-day Saints studied Doctrine and Covenants with the “Come, Follow Me” curriculum.

There's an ironic comment in the article, however:

  • Not only have the papers enhanced the overall study of Latter-day Saint history for members and scholars, they have also become a symbol of transparency for Church history, redacting nothing and hitting topics such as plural marriage, the Book of Abraham, Book of Mormon translation and more. Scholars and critics now have a ready resource they need to take seriously in order for their writings of Latter-day Saint history to be taken seriously, Rogers said.

Even if the editors did not redact anything from the original documents, they definitely have redacted important things from their commentaries. 

If the editors of the Joseph Smith Papers actually sought transparency about Church history, they would point out that Joseph and Oliver (i) always said Joseph translated with the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates, and (ii) never once said or implied that Joseph used the stone-in-the-hat (SITH) to produce the Book of Mormon.

For example, in the Introduction to Revelations and Translations: Volume 5, Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon, the editors wrote this:

When mentioning the translation process, Joseph Smith stated on several occasions that he had translated the Book of Mormon “by the gift and power of God.”8


While that's technically accurate, it's misleading by omission (redaction) because Joseph (and Oliver) also said Joseph translated the plates by means of the Urim and Thummim which came with the plates. But no reader of the Joseph Smith Papers editorial content would know that, just as no reader of the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Translation would know that.

They're trying to redact the Urim and Thummim right out of Church history.

Note 8 says this:

JS, Journal, 9–11 Nov. 1835. Joseph Smith consistently described the translation this way throughout his life. Three individuals who acted as witnesses to the plates described Smith’s work similarly. (See, for example, Preface to Book of Mormon, ca. Aug. 1829JS, Kirtland, OH, to Noah C. Saxton, Rochester, NY, 4 Jan. 1833JS, “Church History,” Times and Seasons, 1 Mar. 1842, 3:707; and Testimony of Three Witnesses, in Book of Mormon, Printer’s Manuscript, ca. Aug. 1829–ca. Jan. 1830, pp. 463–464.)  

First, it's fun that they cite the relatively obscure journal entry instead of the Q&A in the Elders' Journal (which isn't even included in the footnote). We wonder why. 

The journal entry cited, Journal, 9-11 Nov. 1835, includes this comment about the translation. 

 I obtained them, and translated them into the english language; by the gift and power of God and have been preaching it ever since.

If that's the only part of the journal people read, they don't see any mention of the Urim and Thummim, just as the JSP editors claimed. 

But a few pages earlier, the same entry provides this context.

also that the Urim and Thumim, was hid up with the record, and that God would give me power to translate it, with the assistance of this instrument

I've discussed how editorial bias has infected the Joseph Smith Papers here:


[NOTE: there's a typo in there. "The editors don’t explain why they omit the Urim and Thummim when they mention the translation process, but the omission [reflects] the widespread belief among modern LDS scholars that Joseph did not use the Urim and Thummim."]

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