Emma Smith’s last testimony is used to support the narrative that Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon was miraculous, particularly that he didn’t have a book or manuscript to read from, and that he could not have concealed a manuscript from her.1
Question. What of the truth of Mormonism?
Answer. I know Mormonism to be the truth; and believe the Church to have been established by divine direction. I have complete faith in it. In writing for your father I frequently wrote da y after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.
Question. Had he not a book or manuscript from which he read, or dictated to you?
Answer. He had neither manuscript nor book to read from.
Question. Could he not have had, and you not know it?
Answer. If he had had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me.
However, Emma’s witness of the Book of Mormon follows directly after her testimony on polygamy:
Question. What about the revelation on polygamy? Did Joseph Smith have anything like it? What of spiritual wifery?
Answer. There was no revelation on either polygamy or spiritual wives. There were some rumors of something of the sort, of which I asked my husband. He assured me that all there was of it was, that, in a chat about plural wives, he had said, “Well, such a system might possibly be, if everybody was agreed to it, and would behave as they should; but they would not; and besides, it was contrary to the will of heaven.” No such thing as polygamy or spiritual wifery was taught, publicly or privately, before my husband’s death, that I have now, or ever had any knowledge of.
Question. Did he not have other wives than yourself?
Answer. He had no other wife but me; nor did he to my knowledge ever have.
Question. Did he not hold marital relations with women other than yourself?
Answer. He did not have improper relations with any woman that ever came to my knowledge.
Question. Was there nothing about spiritual wives that you recollect?
Answer. At one time my husband came to me and asked me if I had heard certain rumors about spiritual marriages, or anything of the kind; and assured me that if I had, that they were without foundation; that there was no such doctrine, and never should be with his knowledge or consent. I know that he had no other wife or wives than myself, in any sense, either spiritual or otherwise.
If we accept that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy (and there is good contemporary evidence supporting this) then we can conclude the following about Emma (and Joseph):
- Emma was lying. She knew the truth and was willing to tell a bald-faced lie.
- Emma was telling the truth: she was naive about the actions of her husband or Joseph was adept at hiding his actions and information from her (or some combination).
Both of these condition our confidence in Emma as a reliable witness on the creation of the Book of Mormon. From the above statements on polygamy we can be reasonably confident that Emma was either capable of lying or, alternatively, that she was naive about her husband’s actions or that Joseph was adept at hiding information from her. All possibilities call into question her testimony on the Book of Mormon.