The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of the fastest growing religious groups in the world, with an international membership of over 15 million.1 Its current assets total a minimum of $40 billion, with over $8 billion in annual gross income. Financial gain comes from its profit-making businesses and investments, and imposing a compulsory 10% income tax (“tithe”) on its members.2
The founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, Jr., alleged to have been visited by Moroni, an angel of God, on 21 September 1823. This messenger purportedly revealed to him the location of an ancient book, engraved on gold plates, which contained “a record of the fulness of the divine laws and covenants” which God had delivered to the ancient inhabitants of the Americas. With these gold plates were two transparent stones, called Urim and Thummim, which Smith was to use in translating the book into English. Four years later he supposedly received the plates, and the first edition of the Book of Mormon was published in 1830.
Three other men (Oliver Cowdery [Smith’s cousin], David Whitmer, and Martin Harris) also claimed to have seen the plates and the angel and heard the voice of God. Their testimony is printed in the front of the Book of Mormon. But how reliable are these witnesses? It is interesting that although they were all ordained as high priests, apostles, and church presidents, each left the Mormon Church within a few years, denouncing Joseph Smith, Jr. as being guilty of numerous crimes. In return the Mormon Church condemned them as reprobates and criminals. Whichever may be true, the testimony of these witnesses destroys the Book of Mormon’s credibility.
There were also eight others who claimed to have seen the plates. Five were related to David Whitmer (one of the “three witnesses”), and the others were Joseph Smith, Jr.’s father and two brothers. By 1838, however, all of them who were still alive had left the Church, except Smith’s family (cf. R. C. Evans, Forty Years in the Mormon Church: Why I Left It 24-26). Further, of the first twelve apostles appointed in the Mormon Church and chosen by the “three witnesses” (Church History 1:541), seven were excommunicated (LDS Church News 50-51, cited in The Utah Evangel [Jan.-Feb. 1987]: 6).
What about the testimony of Joseph Smith, Jr. himself? Can he be trusted? Today the Mormons portray him as a humble, godly man who simply answered the divine call to restore true religion. However, the facts of history paint a different picture of Smith. In 1826, three years after his alleged angelic visit, Joseph Smith, Jr. was arrested, tried and found guilty of fraud in Bainbridge, New York. Oliver Cowdery, one of the “three witnesses,” reported that before the plates were found, “some very officious person complained of him [Smith] as a disorderly person, and brought him before the authorities of the county” (Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate [Oct. 1835] 2:200-201).
The account of the trial was first published in Fraser’s Magazine in Feb. 1873 (7:229-30), in which Smith, described as “a disorderly person and an impostor,” confessed to using a seer stone to find hidden treasure for purposes of fraud and deception. As early as 1831 these events were mentioned in a letter published in the Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate, stating that for several years prior to the appearance of the Book of Mormon, Smith “was about the country in the character of a glass-looker: pretending, by means of a certain stone, or glass, which he put in a hat, to be able to discover lost goods, hidden treasures, mines of gold and silver . . .” (120). The letter went on to explain that Smith was “arrested as a disorderly person, tried and condemned before a court of justice.”
In the court record Smith confessed that “for three years” prior to 1826 he had used a stone placed in his hat to find treasures or lost property. It is interesting that his money-digging activities began in 1823, the very time that he claims to have been visited by Moroni and received knowledge of the gold plates and transparent stones.
For years the Mormon Church has denied the authenticity of this court document. The Mormon scholar Francis W. Kirkham agreed that if the court record could be proven authentic, “then it follows that his [Smith’s] believers must deny his claimed divine guidance which led them to follow him . . . . How could he be a prophet of God, the leader of the Restored Church to these tens of thousands, if he had been the superstitious fraud which ‘the pages from a book’ declared he confessed to be?” (A New Witness for Christ in America 1:486-87). Dr. Hugh Nibley, in his attempt to discredit this document, wrote: “. . . if this court record is authentic it is the most damning evidence in existence against Joseph Smith” (The Myth Makers 142). In the August 1971 issue of the Salt Lake City Messenger, the discovery of a document was announced which proved the authenticity of the published court record. It was the original bill of the 20 March 1826 trial, in which Joseph Smith, Jr. is called “The Glass looker.” A copy of this document is published in Jerald and Sandra Tanner’s Mormonism-Shadow or Reality? 33.
Joseph Smith, Jr. is hailed by his followers as a martyred hero, who “willingly” gave his life for his testimony. But the facts of history tell us that he shot three of his assailants before he was killed (Time [4 August 1997]:52; cf. History of the Church 7:100-103). The Mormons may celebrate Joseph Smith, Jr. as a martyr, but he certainly did not go willingly!
Furthermore, where are the gold plates? Can they be examined so that Smith’s story may be verified? Smith conveniently claimed: “When, according to arrangements, the messenger called for them, I delivered them up to him; and he has them in his charge until this day . . .” The plates were supposedly written in a language called “the reformed Egyptian,” and the Book of Mormon states: “But the Lord knoweth the things which we have written, and also that none other people knoweth our language; and because that none other people knoweth our language, therefore he hath prepared means for the interpretation thereof” (Mormon 9:32, 34). Thus Smith, with the aid of the Urim and Thummim, was the only one able to translate the plates, and the world is asked to believe that his “inspired translation” is the word of God.
Smith supposedly copied some of the characters off the plates and Martin Harris (one of the “three witnesses”) took them, along with Smith’s translation, to Professor Charles Anthon for examination. Professor Anthon purportedly said that “the translation was correct, more so than any he had before seen translated from the Egyptian.” Harris claimed that Professor Anthon gave him a certificate of authenticity, but then tore it to pieces when he was told the background of the writing (Joseph Smith-History 1:64-65, in The Pearl of Great Price 56-57).
Isn’t it ironic that Professor Anthon could determine the accuracy of Smith’s translation when the Book of Mormon maintains that “none other people knoweth our language”? How did Professor Anthon learn “the reformed Egyptian” since no other literature in that language exists? The truth is, Professor Anthon wrote a letter to E. D. Howe on 17 Feb. 1834 in which he denies the statements attributed to him by the Mormons. He said their claim “is perfectly false,” and considered the incident “a trick, perhaps a hoax.” His entire letter is reproduced in Walter Martin’s The Kingdom of the Cults 181-82.
The Mormon Apostle Le Grand Richards wrote: “There is not an honest man or woman in this world who loves the Lord who wouldn’t join this Church if they knew what it was” (Deseret News [22 Jan. 1966]:16). After honestly examining the facts, however, and coming to know the true history of Mormonism, one’s love for the Lord would lead him/her in a different direction.
--Kevin L. Moore
1 See “Mormonism is fastest-growing faith in half of USA,” USA Today 2012, <http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/religion/story/2012-05-02/religion-census-mromon/54701198/1>; also “Mormons Are Fastest Growing Religion,” CBN 2014, <http://www.cbn.com/spirituallife/churchandministry/evangelism/mormons_are_fastest_growing_religion.aspx>.
2 See Time (4 August 1997): 50-57; and more recently Bloomberg Businessweek, “How the Mormons Make Money” (18 July 2012), <http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-07-10/how-the-mormons-make-money>.
Addendum: Since this article was posted, the Mormon Church has publicly acknowledged that its founder, Joseph Smith, Jr., was married to up to 40 women, including a 14-year-old girl and others who were already married. They seek to vindicate Smith by alleging that God commanded polygamy and then later retracted it. See <www.lds.org/topics/plural-marriage-in-kirtland-and-nauvoo?lang=eng>.
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