This is a very short summary of what I view as the 5 most important facts in understanding alternative models for LDS truth claims. To the best of my knowledge, every point made in this document is accepted as factual by both LDS and non-LDS scholars (please correct me if I am mistaken and I will alter the document).1
1. The 3rd facsimile is incorrectly translated
According to LDS scholars Hauglid and Jensen, Joseph Smith and his scribes “were working off of the papyri that we actually have in the Church today.” However, the Book of Abraham lds.org essay generally admits “the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham.”
2. The Book of Mormon is packed with 19th century ideas
In a recent interview, the well-known Mormon historian Richard Bushman stated:
… there is phrasing everywhere [in the Book of Mormon], long phrases, that if you google them you will find them in 19th century writings. The theology of the Book of Mormon is very much 19th century theology, and it reads like a 19th century understanding of the Hebrew Bible …
By any measure the Book of Mormon contains an immense number of ideas, phrases, and theology common to the early nineteenth century. Here are two examples of many:
- There are many points of similarity with the sermons of Jonathon Edwards Jr. and Sr.
- The book “The Late War”, by Gilbert Hunt, is very similar to the Book of Mormon in style and content. It contains extensive chiastic structures, like the Book of Mormon, and it also contains many similar Hebraisms.
- Recent LDS Scholar observations favoring a modern origin for the Book of Mormon
- Book of Mormon parallels to 1800s thought
3. Spiritual confirmations common to members of many religions
Members interpret spiritual experiences as a confirmation that their faith is true. But these confirmations appear to be at least somewhat common to members of many faiths (e.g., Judaism, Catholicism, Seventh Day Adventist, Scientology, Islam, and Divine Truth), many of which hold central tenets that appear to contradict core LDS doctrines.
4. LDS leaders taught that the Priesthood/Temple ban was divine
The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord…
And a 1969 First Presidency letter stated:
Our living prophet, President David O. McKay, has said, “The seeming discrimination by the Church toward the Negro is not something which originated with man; but goes back into the beginning with God…Revelation assures us that this plan antedates man’s mortal existence, extending back to man’s preexistent state.”
The Lowry Nelson letters and the Stewart Udall letters demonstrate the unwavering confidence Church leaders of that time had in the divinity of the Black Priesthood/Temple ban and the doctrines and teachings supporting it as well as the manner in which dissent may be treated in the Church.
- LDS Essay - “Race and the Priesthood” (lds.org)
- Race and the Priesthood - Response to LDS.org
- thoughtsonthingsandstuff.com response to 3 Mormons “Blacks and the Priesthood”
5. Joseph Smith’s polygamy is ethically problematic
Nearly all LDS scholars acknowledge that Joseph Smith was married to at least 33 wives, 11 of whom were already legally married to other men. The manner in which Joseph Smith practiced and spoke about polygamy was deceptive5 and at least some of his proposals would likely be viewed as involving undue influence according to modern ethical standards.6
In a recent interview, the most faithful LDS apologists on polygamy recounted the feelings of reviewers of their recent book on the topic: “At the end of the book [the book reviewer] didn’t get a warm fuzzy feeling and that’s not really something we think we can deliver with this topic.”
- According to Brian Hales, Joseph’s first polygamous relationship (with the teenage maid, Fanny Alger) was viewed as adulterous by his first wife, Emma, and close friend Oliver Cowdery.
- After the death of the Walker family’s mother, Joseph Smith volunteered to act as foster parent to the four oldest Walker children, encouraging the father to leave on a two year mission to the eastern states. While the father was away, he married the 17 year old, Lucy.
- Joseph frequently misled others about practicing polygamy.
- Joseph apparently promised a 14 year old girl—one who said “I hated polygamy in my heart”—that, in her own words, “If you will take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation and exaltation & that of your father’s household & all of your kindred.”
- After other failed marriage proposals to Zina Huntington, Joseph Smith proposed again to the happily newlywed, seven month pregnant mother: “I [Joseph] have put it off and put it off until an angel with a drawn sword has stood before me and told me if I did not establish that principle [plurality of wives] and live it, I would lose my position and my life and the Church could progress no further.” (source)
- According to Saints volume 1 (see chapter 40), Emily and Eliza Partridge were first sealed to Joseph Smith unbeknownst to Emma. When Emma later selected them to be sealed to Joseph, according to Emily, “to save family trouble Brother Joseph thought it best to have another ceremony performed.” (see Jensen Historical Record pg 240).
- Year of Polygamy (Lindsay Hansen Park)
- Mormon Polygamy Documents (all documents on Joseph Smith’s polygamy)
- Joseph Smith’s Polygamy (LDS polygamy apologist)
- LDS Essay - “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo” (lds.org)
- Plural Marriage in Kirtland & Nauvoo - Response to LDS.org
More Complete Analyses
Brian Hales very cursorily responded to this document; Here is my response to his cursory thoughts. I have altered the presentation of a few points based on this and other exchanges and appreciate his feedback. ↩
I asked an Egyptologist (reddit user junkholiday) about the legibility of the characters on Facsimile 3. He responded, “it’s damn near illegible. Imagine if there were just blobs in place of letters, or whole words. … And some of them could be recognizable glyphs, but drawn by a drunk toddler.” Hence translations are performed in some large part based on context gleaned from other similar documents. He elaborated, “Yeah, it’s matching up best guesses, but these sorts of texts are super formulaic, so we can make decent sense of [them].” He compared it to being able to make out “Never gonna ____ you __” which is probably “Never gonna give you up” but could be “Never gonna give you fleas”. But in no universe could it be “Four score and seven years ago.” The reader may consult Quinten Barney’s 2019 thesis, especially table 2.2, to judge the extent to which the characters are legible and correspond with known heiroglyphs. ↩
See Quinten Barney’s 2019 thesis, especially table 2.2, to judge the extent to which the characters are legible and correspond with known heiroglyphs. An argument is made here and in this video that the legible characters are indeed translated correctly. ↩
In August 2020, a Church Historian from the Church History Library responded to my inquiry about the 1949 First Presidency Statement. They wrote:
We can confirm that [The text of the 1949 Statement] was used by the First Presidency in responses to inquiries about the priesthood restriction for several years beginning in 1949. The text was never issued publicly but, rather, was used as standard language in private correspondence.
The word “deceptive” was chosen because it is the most precise word to describe Joseph Smith’s polygamy denials. ↩
See The Belmont Report on Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects of Research for a discussion of what typically constitutes “undue influence.” ↩