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Part 1: The Early Church

The First Vision

President Gordon B. Hinckley rested the entire truthfulness of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on the validity of the First Vision when he stated, 

“Our whole strength rests on the validity of that [First] vision. It either occurred or it did not occur. If it did not, then this work is a fraud. If it did, then it is the most important and wonderful work under the heavens” (Gordon B. Hinckley, The Marvelous Foundation of Our Faith, General Conference, October 2002)

When studying the circumstances surrounding the First Vision, issues arise that are not taught to members of the Church. These issues involve: the timeline, common First Vision-like accounts, Joseph’s multiple accounts, contemporary statements, discrepancies with the official version, and continued concealment.


Joseph Smith claimed to have experienced the First Vision in 1820, yet there appears to be no record before 1832. The Church confirms this fact when it states, “The oldest account, written in 1832, was part of an autobiography. This account emphasized Joseph's quest for religious truth and his desire to be forgiven of his sins. Therein, Joseph stated that the Lord said to him, “Joseph my son thy sins are forgiven thee.” ( If this event occurred in 1820, then it was 12 years later when Joseph decided to first make a record of it; 2 years after the organization of the Church. 

No contemporary periodicals in the 1830s mention Joseph Smith, none of the publications of the Church in that decade, and no journal or correspondence from that time mention the story of the First Vision. 

The book of commandments for the government of the Church of Christ.
The Book of Commandments (1833), a predecessor to the Doctrine and Covenants, contains no mention of the first vision.

Former Church Historian James B. Allen, acknowledged that the story of the First Vision was not known in the 1830's. Elder Allen stated that in the 1830s "the general membership of the Church knew little, if anything, about it." (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1966) According to the historical record, there is no reference to the First Vision in any published or hand-recorded material in the 1830s.

In 1833 the Church published the Book of Commandments, a predecessor to the Doctrine and Covenants. The first printing of the Book of Commandments also contained the Lectures on Faith, a series of seven lectures outlining the doctrine and theology of the Church up to that point; no reference was made of the First Vision. The first periodical to be published by the Church was The Evening and Morning Star, but it never tells the story of the First Vision. Nor do the pages of the Latter-day Saints Messenger and Advocate, printed in Kirtland. In this newspaper Oliver Cowdery, who was second only to Joseph Smith in the early organization of the Church, published a series of letters dealing with the origin of the Church. These letters were written with the approval of Joseph Smith, but again, they contained no mention of any vision.

First mormon missionary pamphlet, A Voice of Warning and Instruction to All People
The first missionary pamphlet, A Voice of Warning (1837), has no mention of the First Vision.

The first missionary pamphlet of the Church was the Voice of Warning and Instruction to All People, published in 1837 by apostle Parley P. Pratt. The book contains long sections on items important to missionaries of the 1830's, such as the fulfillment of prophecy, the Book of Mormon, external evidence of the book's authenticity, the resurrection, and the nature of revelation, but again, nothing on the First Vision. 

The story of the First Vision was not printed until 1840, when Orson Pratt published an account where neither personage is identified at Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ.

For over 20 years there are no records of transcribed sermons by Joseph or the other elders of the Church, no personal journal entries by any of Joseph Smith’s family or followers, and no LDS periodicals describing this historic event as we’ve come to know it. Before its first publication, none of the more than 16,000 members of the Church ever recorded hearing about it. From all this it would appear that the general membership did not receive any information about the First Vision until the 1840’s. Even then the story certainly did not hold the prominent place in common knowledge that it does today.

Common First Vision-like Accounts

Several religious publications in the New England area demonstrate that such visions were common during the early Church. 

1. Norris Stearns published his own vision in Greenfield, Massachusetts in 1815; not far from where the Joseph Smith Senior family lived in Vermont.

“At length, as I lay apparently upon the brink of eternal woe, seeing nothing but death before me, suddenly there came a sweet flow of the love of God to my soul, which gradually increased. At the same time, there appeared a small gleam of light in the room, above the brightness of the sun, then at his meridian, which grew brighter and brighter… At length, being in an ecstasy of joy, I turned to the other side of the bed, (whether in the body or out I cannot tell, God knoweth) there I saw two spirits, which I knew at the first sight. But if I had the tongue of an Angel I could not describe their glory, for they brought the joys of heaven with them. One was God, my Maker, almost in bodily shape like a man. His face was, as it were a flame of Fire, and his body, as it had been a Pillar and a Cloud. In looking steadfastly to discern features, I could see none, but a small glimpse would appear in some other place. Below him stood Jesus Christ my Redeemer, in perfect shape like a man—His face was not ablaze, but had the countenance of fire, being bright and shining. His Father’s will appeared to be his! All was condescension, peace, and love!” (Norris Stearns, The Religious Experience Of Norris Stearns. 1815)

2. Minister Elias Smith published a book in which he told of his conversion in 1816.

“I went into the woods ... a light appeared from heaven ... My mind seemed to rise in that light to the throne of God and the Lamb ... The Lamb once slain appeared to my understanding, and while viewing him, I felt such love to him as I never felt to any thing earthly ... It is not possible for me to tell how long I remained in that situation” (Elias Smith, The Life, Conversion, Preaching, Travels, and Sufferings of Elias Smith. 1816)

Asa Wild claimed to have a revelation that was published on October 22, 1823.

“It seemed as if my mind ... was struck motionless, as well as into nothing, before the awful and glorious majesty of the Great Jehovah. He then spake ... He also told me, that every denomination of professing Christians had become extremely corrupt”

(Asa Wild, Wayne Sentinel, 1823. 6482/6131)

4. Billy Hibbard, a New York preacher, published his memoirs in 1825 and included an experience with meeting Jesus and God the Father when was a young boy.

“…when I came to the place of prayer, had kneeled down and closed my eyes, with my hands uplifted toward the heavens, I saw Jesus Christ at the right hand of God looking down upon me, and God the Father looking upon him. The look of Jesus on me removed the burden of my sins, while he spoke these words, “Be faithful unto death and this shall be thy place of rest.” (Billy Hibbard, Memoirs of the Life and Travels of B. Hibbard: Minister of the Gospel. 1825)

5. John S Thompson, a New York minister, published another similar account in 1826.

“I dreamed Christ descended from the firmament, in a glare of brightness, exceeding ten fold the brilliancy of the meridian Sun, and he came to me saying, ‘I commission you to go and tell mankind that I am come; and bid every man to shout victory.” (John S. Thompson, The Christian Guide to a Right Understanding of the Sacred Scriptures. 1826)

6. Solomon Chamberlin, an early member of the Church, published a pamphlet of his experience before he met Joseph Smith.

“Dissatisfied with the religions he had tried, Chamberlain prayed for further guidance, and in 1816, according to his account, "the Lord revealed to me in a vision of the night an angel," whom Chamberlain asked about the right way. The angel told him that the churches were corrupt and that God would soon raise up an apostolic church. Chamberlain printed up an account of his visions and was still distributing them and looking for the apostolic church when he stopped in Palmyra.” (John Taylor, Nauvoo Journal, Jan-Sept 1845, BYU Studies 23 no.3, p.45. Referring to A Sketch of the Experience of Solomon Chamberlin, Lyons, New York, 1829)

It appears that when Joseph Smith initially wrote his First Vision experience in 1832, many people related stories of visionary experiences with Heavenly Father and Jesus. Joseph’s story turns out to be quite a common claim in his day. 

Multiple Accounts of the First Vision records 4 separate accounts of the First Vision by Joseph between 1832-1842. 

Earliest account – Joseph Smith’s journal. Letterbook 1A, 27 November 1832.

Second Account – Joseph’s 1835 account notes that while one of the two personages testifies that Jesus is the Son of God, neither personage is specifically identified as God or Jesus. Joseph writes that he also sees “many angels.”

Third Account – 1838 (draft 2) account adopted as the official version.

Fourth Account –1842 account from the Wentworth Letter notes two beings; again neither identified as God or Jesus.

Which One Is Correct?

Just after the turn of the century, the Church needed to decide on an official account of the First Vision. It picked the version that was printed in the Times and Seasons on March 15th, 1842. What is now found in The Pearl of Great Price is the 2nd draft of an account written by James Mulholland, one of Joseph’s scribes.


It was the first time any account identified the heavenly visitor(s), as anything other than angels. Compared to the earliest mention of the First Vision written by Joseph Smith himself, the official account written by Mulholland shows some discrepancies. Joseph’s motivation to pray in the grove was originally a desire for the forgiveness of his sins, not to know which churches were true because Joseph had already come to the conclusion that all churches were false. Also, the near-death experience of being overcome by an evil power is only found in the James Mulholland version. And most importantly, Joseph states, “I saw the Lord” vs. “I saw two Personages.”

The differences between both accounts are quite significant, especially in the most important piece of information they are communicating. If they are both supposed to be of the same event, then why would the official account say he spoke to God and Jesus, while Joseph’s journal says he only saw the Lord? No priesthood, relief society or Sunday school manual has ever mentioned that the First Vision story found in the Pearl of Great Price differs significantly from the one Joseph originally wrote.

Contemporary Accounts

It appears that Joseph told the elders of the Church a very different experience than any of his written accounts. 

Brigham Young 

The Lord did not come with the armies of heaven ... but He did send his angel to this same obscure person, Joseph Smith jun., who afterwards became a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, and informed him that he should not join any of the religious sects of the day, for they were all wrong.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 2, 1855, p.171)

Wilford Woodruff 

The same organization and Gospel that Christ died for ... is again established in this generation. How did it come? By the ministering of an holy angel from God, out of heaven, who held converse with man, and revealed unto him the darkness that enveloped the world ... He told him the Gospel was not among men, and that there was not a true organization of His kingdom in the world ... Joseph was strengthened by the Spirit and power of God, and was enabled to listen to the teachings of the angel. . . The man to whom the angel appeared obeyed the Gospel.” (Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses, vol.2, 1855, pp.196-197)

George A. Smith 

He [Joseph Smith] went humbly before the Lord and inquired of Him, and the Lord answered his prayer, and revealed to Joseph, by the ministration of angels, the true condition of the religious world. When the holy angel appeared, Joseph inquired which of all these denominations was right and which he should join, and was told they were all wrong.” (George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses, 1863, vol.12, pp.334)

John Taylor 

“How was it, and which was right? None of them was right, just as it was when the Prophet Joseph asked the angel which of the sects was right that he might join it. The answer was that none of them are right. What, none of them? No. We will not stop to argue that question; the angel merely told him to join none of them that none of them were right.” (John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, vol.20, 1879, pp.158-171)

The above statement from 3rd president of the Church, John Taylor, reveals that as late as 1879  (35 years after Joseph Smith’s death; 59 years after his vision) the Church was still not teaching that Joseph saw two personages but only an “angel.” This makes it seem that the official version in the Pearl of Great Price must be a much later revision. 

Continued Concealment

Using the vast resources of the Church education system, members are not informed of the inconsistencies relating to Joseph’s visions. It also appears that average members are not the only ones surprised by this evidence. President of the First Quorum of the Seventy, S. Dilworth Young, published a statement in the Improvement Era on this subject.

“I cannot remember the time when I have not heard the story, concerning the coming of the Father and the Son to the Prophet Joseph Smith. I am concerned however with one item which has recently been called to my attention on this matter. There appears to be going about our communities some writing to the effect that the Prophet Joseph Smith evolved his doctrine from what might have been a vision, in which he is supposed to have said that he saw an angel, instead of the Father and the Son. According to this theory, by the time he was inspired to write the occurrence in 1838, he had come to the conclusion that there were two beings.

This rather shocked me. I can see no reason why the Prophet, with his brilliant mind, would have failed to remember in sharp relief every detail of that eventful day. I can remember quite vividly that in 1915 I had a mere dream, and while the dream was prophetic in nature, it was not startling. It has been long since fulfilled, but I can remember every detail of it as sharply and clearly as though it had happened yesterday. How then could any man conceive that the Prophet, receiving such a vision as he received, would not remember it and would fail to write it clearly, distinctly, and accurately?”

S. Dilworth Young – Improvement Era, General Conference edition, June 1957


Considering that First Vision-like accounts were common in New England, that it took 60 years for leadership to become aware of the “two personages”, and the active suppression of this information, it feels hard to be confident in the truthfulness of the First Vision.

Chapter 2 The Translation

The Church has taught that the translation process of the Book of Mormon looked like this: Joseph Smith read the golden plates like a book, translating the text out loud to Oliver Cowdery, who served as scribe. The context surrounding the translation process raises issues that are not evident to members of the Church. These issues involve the actual translation using a seer stone, Joseph’s use of folk magic, and his trouble with the law regarding these circumstances.

The Actual Method

“Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.”

David Whitmer – Address to All Believers In Christ, 1887Also in Russell M. Nelson – A Treasured Testament Ensign, July 1993

Contrary to general Church teachings, Joseph did not read the gold plates like an open book at all. Rather, during the translation process, he buried his face in a hat that contained a common rock. The gold plates were either covered by a cloth where no one, including Joseph, could see them or they were in a different location altogether. The Church knew the true method, yet commissioned works of art and film and uses the education system to teach otherwise.

“I frequently wrote day 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.”

Emma Smith – Last Testimony of Sister Emma,Saints’ Herald 26, Oct. 1, 1879

Emma Smith and David Whitmer describe Joseph’s use of the seer stone and hat, but this information had all but been buried. In December 2013 the Church released an essay addressing the translation of the Book of Mormon issue. Finally, after public criticisms, the seer stone is again mentioned for a new generation of members.

“The other instrument, which Joseph Smith discovered in the ground years before he retrieved the gold plates, was a small oval stone, or “seer stone.” As a young man during  the 1820s, Joseph Smith, like others in his day, used a seer stone to look for lost objects and buried treasure.”​

Book of Mormon Translation,

On August 4th, 2015, published an article titled, Joseph the Seer. It contains the first ever, official image of one of Joseph Smith’s seer stones. It is the very same stone Joseph found while digging a well on the property of Willard Chase in 1822. For nearly 200 years the Church has had the stone in their possession yet never actively taught about it; and in the case of former president of the Church, Joseph Fielding Smith, has denied its role. (Doctrines of Salvation Vol.3)

Folk Magic

Could Joseph Smith’s experiences actually be products of his family’s practice of local folk magic? BYU Studies Quarterly describes the Smith family culture when it stated, “In frontier America, seer stones or ‘peep stones’ were commonly used by lost object finders, people engaged in the widespread practice of lost treasure digging.” (BYU Studies Quarterly, Vol.55, No.1, 2016)

Director of Center for Western Studies at BYU and president of the Mormon History Association, Ronald W. Walker, put the Smith family’s activities in historical context.

“From Colonial times to at least the age of Jackson [1776-1837] Americans dug for magical treasure. There were hundreds and probably thousands of these money-diggers all seeking troves of fabled coins, mines, jewels and other valued prizes “The money-diggers placed faith in conjuring elemental spirits, thrice spoken dreams, seeric gifts, and enchanted treasure.”

“Clearly the ideas of hidden but guarded treasure with their secondary and accompanying motifs of ancient texts, animals, boxes, devils, caves, gold, incantations, mountains and even the ratifying number three were an ancient bequest.

“A treasure-finding device used by adepts was the “peep” or “seer” stone, whose acclaimed gifts excelled even those of the divining rod. Such stones seemed to be everywhere and were of every possible description. Joseph Smith’s various stones reportedly included a smooth grey egg-shaped rock found in a neighbor’s well, a second which he reportedly dug up near Lake Erie after espying it in his neighbor’s stone and still others collected from the Mississippi River sands near Nauvoo, Illinois.

“With most village seers requiring that the light be secluded this stone in the hat procedure was standard by this method an adept could see within the stone crystal a helpful spirit or the precise locality of the underground treasure.” “While finding the right moment to dig was important, the need to circumvent the treasure’s guardian was crucial. Like its Old World antecedents, the American treasure keeper might be demonic or divine. Or it could be a cat, dog, snake or some other protecting animal. But generally, the American treasure guardian was a murdered youth or man whose body had been left with the buried valuables to ensure their protection. Guardian Indians were a frequent motif while a murdered pirate protected Captain Kidd’s troves.

“As Vermont’s early nineteenth-century emigration swept into upstate New York the money digging frenzy came with it. Such superstition was frequent in the new settlements. The Palmyra Reflector labeled the New York money hunting mania, “Men and women without distinction of age or sex became marvelously wise in the occult sciences, many dreamed and others saw visions disclosing to them, deep in the bowels of the earth, rich and shining treasures.

“Rumors constantly swirled about hunters’ smiling fortunes, which excited still others to further digging. Smith family reportedly found objects as a cannonball, a cache of gold watches and according to the viewpoint of some of their neighbors the golden plates which produced the book of Mormon. Indeed in ways that are yet to be explored, money digging may have influenced two of the nineteenth century’s major social and religious movements Mormonism and Spiritualism. Its touch on American society was not light.”

Ronald W. Walker – The Persistent Idea of Treasure Hunting in America. index.php/BYUStudies/article/viewFile/5447/5097

“Like many other New Englanders, they were familiar with searches for lost treasure by supernatural means. Joseph Smith’s father was reputed to be one of these treasure seekers, and Joseph Smith himself had found a stone, called a seer stone, which reportedly enabled him to find lost objects. Treasure-seekers wanted to employ him to help with their searches. One, a man named Josiah Stowell, hired Joseph and his father in 1825 to dig for a supposed Spanish treasure near Harmony, Pennsylvania. The effort came to nothing, and the Smiths returned home, but the neighbors continued to think of the Smiths as part of the treasure-seeking company.”

Richard L. Bushman – Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Joseph,Joseph

“By 1825, [19 yrs old – 5 years after the First Vision] young Joseph had a reputation in Manchester and Palmyra for his activities as a treasure seer, or someone who used a seer stone to locate gold or other valuable objects buried in the earth.”

Elder Steven E. Snow – Church Historian, Ensign, September 2015

Even Isaac Hale did not consent to Joseph and Emma’s marriage because he did not have stable employment and had a reputation of looking into peep stones for buried treasure. At one point Joseph visited Emma’s father in an attempt to reconcile for marrying Emma anyway. Forgivingly, Isaac invited Joseph and Emma to make their home in Harmony.

“I said with paternal concern and some compassion, that if Joseph would move to Pennsylvania and give up his old practice of looking in the stone, I would assist him in getting into business. Smith stated to me that he had given up what he called ‘glass-looking’ and that he expected and was willing to work hard for a living.”

Isaac Hale – History of the Church, vol.1, ch.2

The Smith family’s use of seer stones to find buried gold treasure was a common folk magic practice in New England.

Trouble With The Law

Between 21-25 years old, Joseph Smith was arrested 4 separate times for fraud. displays a trial bill for Justice Albert Neely where Josiah Stowell brought charges against Joseph for glass-looking and was convicted of a misdemeanor.

“Prisoner examined: says that he came from the town of Palmyra, and had been at the house of Josiah Stowell in Bainbridge … That he had a certain stone which he had occasionally looked at to determine where hidden treasures in the bowels of the earth were; that he professed to tell in this manner where gold mines were at a distance underground, and had looked for Mr. Stowell several times, and had informed him where he could find these treasures, and Mr. Stowell had been engaged in digging for them.

Josiah Stowell sworn: says that prisoner had … pretended to have skill of telling where hidden treasures in the earth were by means of looking through a certain stone; that prisoner had looked for him sometimes; once to tell him about money buried in Bend Mountain in Pennsylvania [and] once for gold on Monument Hill.

Jonathon Thompson: says that prisoner was requested to look for chest of money; did look, and pretended to know where it was … Smith looked in his hat while there, and when very dark, and told how the chest was situated…That the last time he looked he discovered distinctly the two Indians who buried the trunk, that a quarrel ensued between them, and that one of said Indians was killed by the other, and thrown into the hold beside the trunk, to guard it, as he supposed. And therefore the Court find the Defendant guilty.”

Joseph Smith’s 1826 court transcript



BYU Professor, Ronald Walker, states that the events surrounding Joseph and the gold plates were very typical of early 19th-century folk magic practitioners.

If Joseph used a seer stone to defraud people while selling treasure-hunting services, then used the same stone to write the Book of Mormon while selling religious services, it speaks to the overall credibility of his claim. Considering that Joseph did not even use the plates during the translation, considering that folk magic was common in the New England area, and he had been in trouble with the law for treasure hunting, it seems hard to feel confident in the authenticity of the official translation story.

Chapter 3 The Witnesses

Losing confidence in the truthfulness of Joseph’s claims made me think of the witnesses to the plates and how their testimonies lend credibility to the entire narrative; however, research turns up issues of their own. These included the fact that no scribe ever saw the plates, the 3 and 8 witnesses only saw the plates with their spiritual eyes, the printed testimony did not reflect literal events, and nearly all the witnesses left the Church.

The Scribes

During the translation process, Joseph was either behind a curtain or the plates sat underneath a cloth in a box in another room. No scribe to the translation process (Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris or Emma Smith) was ever allowed to see the plates. Emma only felt the plates through a cloth on the table. Why wouldn’t Joseph want anybody to see the plates? (By the Gift and Power of God, Elder Neal A. Maxwell January 1997 Ensign quoting David Whitmer  Interviews: A Restoration Witness, ed. Lyndon W. Cook, [1991], p173) and (Joseph Smith III, “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” pp289–90).

The 3 Witnesses

The History of the Church records the event where Martin Harris, David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery became the first witnesses to the gold plates after Joseph Smith. Joseph describes how the men gained their witness of the plates in a purely visionary setting.

“Not many days after the above commandment was given, we four, viz., Martin Harris, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery and myself, agreed to retire into the woods, and try to obtain, by fervent and humble prayer, the fulfilment of the promises given in the above revelation—that they should have a view of the plates. We accordingly made choice of a piece of woods convenient to Mr. Whitmer’s house, to which we retired, and having knelt down, we began to pray in much faith to Almighty God to bestow upon us a realization of these promises. According to previous arrangement, I commenced by vocal prayer to our Heavenly Father, and was followed by each of the others in succession. We did not at the first trial, however, obtain any answer or manifestation of divine favor in our behalf. We again observed the same order of prayer, each calling on and praying fervently to God in rotation, but with the same result as before. Upon this, our second failure, Martin Harris proposed that he should withdraw himself from us, believing, as he expressed himself, that his presence was the cause of our not obtaining what we wished for. He accordingly withdrew from us, and we knelt down again, and had not been many minutes engaged in prayer, when presently we beheld a light above us in the air, of exceeding brightness; and behold, an angel stood before us. In his hands he held the plates which we had been praying for these to have a view of. He turned over the leaves one by one, so that we could see them, and discern the engravings thereon distinctly. He then addressed himself to David Whitmer, and said, ‘David, blessed is the Lord, and he that keeps His commandments;’ when, immediately afterwards, we heard a voice from out of the bright light above us, saying, ‘These plates have been revealed by the power of God, and they have been translated by the power of God. The translation of them which you have seen is correct, and I command you to bear record of what you now see and hear.”

Joseph Smith – History of the Church, vol.1, pp.54–55

Joseph Smith, David Whitmer, and Oliver Cowdery saw an angel and the plates after Martin Harris withdrew from the group. Joseph goes on to tell how he left David and Oliver and went in pursuit of Martin Harris, whom he found at a considerable distance fervently  engaged in prayer. Then they both joined in prayer, and according to Joseph, “the same vision was opened to our view.” Remember, the word “vision” means dream not reality. It is important to note that Joseph never claimed to have carried the plates into the woods where they prayed. Praying to see the plates in the woods seems rather odd if Joseph actually possessed physical plates. Why was prayer necessary to see the plates if they were in fact, a physical object? Martin Harris’ behavior also seems strange if the plates actually existed.

The Testimony of The 3 Witnesses is Not Accurate

Printed in the Book of Mormon is the Testimony of the Three Witnesses. It is not an accurate account of the events, but a reconstruction of multiple experiences.

“And we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates… And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true.”

Testimony of the Three Witnesses, The Book of Mormon

The language in this statement makes it seem as if all four men experienced this event together. However, the History of the Church passage clearly shows that the Martin Harris’ vision happened separately. Not only that, but later statements made by David Whitmer and Martin Harris show that the angel brought additional objects for them to see. This is curiously left out of the signed Testimony of the Three Witnesses.

“We not only saw the plates of the Book of Mormon but also the brass plates, the plates of the Book of Ether, the plates containing the records of the wickedness and secret combinations of the people of the world down to the time of their being engraved, and many other plates … there appeared as it were, a table with many records or plates upon it, besides the plates of the Book of Mormon, also the Sword of Laban, the Directors i.e., the ball which Lehi had-and the Interpreters [Urim and Thummim].”

David Whitmer – interview by Orson Pratt, Book of Mormon Compendium, 1878, pp.55-56

Why fail to mention the other plates and important Nephite artifacts?

The 8 Witnesses

On March 25, 1838, Martin Harris testified in public that none of the 3 or 8 witnesses saw or handled the physical plates. This statement caused apostles Luke S. Johnson, Lyman E. Johnson, John F. Boynton, high priest Stephen Burnett and LDS Seventy Warren Parish to leave the church. A letter on dated April 15, 1838, Stephen Burnett wrote the following to Lyman Johnson:

“I have reflected long and deliberately upon the history of this church and weighed the evidence for and against it — loth to give it up — but when I came to hear Martin Harris state in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver [Cowdery] nor David [Whitmer] and also that the eight witnesses never saw them and hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it, the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundations was sapped and the entire superstructure fell a heap of ruins, … I was followed by W. [Warren] Parish, Luke Johnson and John Boynton, all of who concurred with me. After we were done speaking, M[artin] Harris arose and said he was sorry for any man who rejected the Book of Mormon for he knew it was true, he said he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or handkerchief over them, but he never saw them only as he saw a city through a mountain. And said that he never should have told that the testimony of the eight was false, if it had not been picked out of air but should have let it passed as it was.”

Stephen Burnett – Letter Stephen Burnett to Johnson, April 15 1838

On April 5, 1839 member of the Church, Theodore Turley, challenged John Whitmer, one of the 8 witnesses, to either affirm or deny his testimony regarding the gold plates. Whitmer responded by saying,

“I now say, I handled those plates … they were shown to me by a supernatural power”

John Whitmer – History of the Church, vol.3 p307

Why would a supernatural power be necessary if the plates actually existed? Couldn’t Joseph just invite the men he wanted to be witnesses over to his house, take the plates out of the box where he kept them and pass them around? Why are visions and supernatural means necessary to see these plates?

Published on are the signed statements by the 3 and 8 witnesses.

JosephSmithPapers reveals that both statements and all signatures are in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery. The official statements printed in the Book of Mormon are not signed with original signatures, dated or given a specific location where the events occurred. These are not 11 legally sworn statements; rather they are accounts pre-written, pre-signed and agreed upon at some later time, especially when considering that not a single witness ever saw the plates.

Where Are The Plates Now?

After completing the Book of Mormon Joseph had no more use of the plates and he gave up possession of them. Wilford Woodruff records,

“President Young said in relation to Joseph Smith returning the plates of the Book of Mormon, that he did not return them to the box from where he had received them. But he went into a cave in the Hill Cumorah with Oliver Cowdery and deposited those plates upon a table.”

Wilford Woodruff – Leaves From My Journal, December 11, 1869

In an interview, David Whitmer recalls:

Interviewer – Where are the plates now?Whitmer – In a cave, where the angel has hidden them up till the time arrives when the plates, which are sealed, shall be translated. God will yet raise up a mighty one, who shall do his work till it is finished and Jesus comes again.Interviewer – Where is that cave?Whitmer – In the State of New York.”

David Whitmer – Deseret Evening News, August 16, 1878

According to Wilford Woodruff and David Whitmer, it seems as though they are still here on the Earth in a cave in the Hill Cumorah. Surely the Church must be in possession of the plates as there is a visitor’s center at the Hill Cumorah.

The Succession Crisis

For roughly three years after Joseph and Hyrum Smith’s deaths, several people competed to assume the role as prophet and leader of the Church. Claiming to be the new rightful successor were: Sidney Rigdon, Brigham Young, James Strang, Samuel Smith, William Smith, Joseph Smith III and others.

Sidney Rigdon – First counselor in the First Presidency to Joseph Smith, argued that by virtue of revelation from the Prophet himself, he should be rightful heir to Joseph’s position.

Doctrine and Covenants 20:6 And again, verily I say unto thy brethren, Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams, their sins are forgiven them also, and they are accounted as equal with thee in holding the keys of this last kingdom

James Strang – Asserted that, unlike the others, he had physical proof of his prophetic calling. He produced a 3-page letter, supposedly written by Joseph Smith, naming Strang as his successor. While the wording of the letter is somewhat ambiguous and the handwriting does not match Joseph’s, it still convinced many members of the Church to follow Strang.

Brigham Young – Fighting between individual competitors lasted 3 years until the most senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Brigham Young, was voted “President of the whole Church of Latter Day Saints” by the remaining members of the Twelve.

Joseph Smith lll – While Joseph Smith and five others were imprisoned at Liberty Jail in Missouri, his young son, Joseph lll, was brought to visit on several occasions. Imprisoned with Joseph was apostle Lyman Wight. Lyman did not agree with Brigham’s new position as leader of the Church because he witnessed Joseph Smith ordain his oldest son, Joseph lll, to be his successor.

“Joseph called on me shortly after we came out of [Liberty] jail to lay hands with him on the head of a youth and heard him cry aloud, ‘You are my successor when I depart,’ and heard the blessings poured on his head.” (Who was the youth Lyman referred to?) “The fifties assembled should have called on all the authorities of the church down to the lay members from all the face of the earth, and then have called on young Joseph, and held him up before the congregation of Israel to take his father’s place in the flesh!”

Lyman Wight – Gospel Herald, Voree, WI, August 31, 1848Saints Advocate, Vol.7, September 1884

None of the 3 scribes of the Book of Mormon, Emma Smith, Sidney Rigdon and Oliver Cowdery, wanted to be affiliated with the new Brigham Young-led Church. None of the 3 Witnesses wanted to be part of Brigham’s Church and none of the 8 Witnesses did either. While Samuel Smith and Joseph Sr. did not end up leaving the Church like the rest, it is important to note that the Church was financially supporting them at the time. Once Brigham took over as president, not a single surviving scribe or member of the 3 and 8 witnesses decided to stay with the Church anymore. 


1. No scribe was allowed to see the plates.

2. Witnesses that did say they saw the plates said they did so spiritually, not physically.

3. Signatures of the witnesses are the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery.

4. All witnesses to the plates ended up leaving the Church, save 2 members of the Smith family.

How much credibility can we give the testimonies of those that have claimed to see the plates when the records show that it was seen in visions, not physically as the Church teaches? How much trust can we put in the statements of these witnesses when all of them that weren’t being financially supported by the Church ended up leaving?

Chapter 4

The Kinderhook Plates

The Kinderhook Plates are six brass plates engraved by men from Illinois for the purpose of exposing Joseph Smith as someone who could not divinely translate ancient writings. This chapter covers the background, Joseph’s translation, the forgery claim, the 1953 test results, and the 1980 test results.


“On April 23, 1843, a group of men excavated an old earth mound just outside the town of Kinderhook, Illinois, and came up with a most interesting find. The excavation was headed by Robert Wiley, a local merchant. After digging down about twelve feet, they came upon “fire burned rock, charcoal, ashes, and badly decomposed human bones. Near the [corner] a bundle was found that consisted of six plates of brass of a bell shape, each having a hole near the small end, a ring through them all and clasped with two clasps. The plates appeared to have some kind of writing on them but were so badly oxidized they could not be clearly distinguished until Dr. W. P.Harris, MD, treated them with a dilute solution of sulphuric acid which made them perfectly clear. They were completely covered with “hieroglyphics” on both sides. A certificate stating the facts of the find was drawn up and signed by nine of the men present and sent to nearby newspapers.”

Welby W. Ricks – The Kinderhook Plates,The Improvement Era, September 19, 1962


“I insert facsimiles of the six brass plates found near Kinderhook, in Pike county, Illinois, on April 23, by Mr. Robert Wiley and others, while excavating a large mound. They found a skeleton about six feet from the surface of the earth, which must have stood nine feet high. The plates were found on the breast of the skeleton and were covered on both sides with ancient characters. I have translated a portion of them, and find they contain the history of the person with whom they were found. He was a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the Ruler of heaven and earth.”

Joseph Smith – History of the Church, May 1, 1843, vol.5 , p.372

Joseph claimed to translate a portion of the plates. He stated that the body they were found with was descended from Ham.

Brigham Young was also with Joseph at the time he was studying the plates. He made a tracing of one of the kinderhoook plates in his notebook. Inside the drawing he wrote:

“May 3, 1843. I took this[sketch] at Joseph Smith’s house. Found near Quincy.”

Brigham Young – Brigham Young papers, Joseph FieldingSmith Institute of Church History, BYU.

The Forgery Claim

In a letter, Wilbur Fugate, one of the men present during the excavation, claimed to have helped craft the plates.

“I received your letter in regard to those plates, and will say in answer that they are a humbug, gotten up by Robert Wiley, Bridge Whitton and myself…None of the nine persons who signed the certificate knew the secret, except, Wiley and I. We read in Pratt’s prophecy that “Truth is yet to spring up out of the earth.” We concluded to prove the prophecy by way of a joke. We soon made our plans and executed them, Bridge Whitton cut them out of some pieces of copper; Wiley and I made the hieroglyphics by making impressions on beeswax and filling them with acid and putting it on the plates. When they were finished we put them together with rust made of nitric acid, old iron and lead, and bound them with a piece of hoop iron, covering them completely with the rust.

Our plans worked admirably. A certain Sunday was appointed for digging. The night before, Wiley went to the Mound where he had previously dug to the depth of about eight feet, there being a flat rock that sounded hollow beneath, and put them under it. On the following morning quite a number of citizens were there to assist in the search, there being two Mormon elders present (Marsh and Sharp). The rock was soon removed, but some time elapsed before the plates were discovered. I finally picked them up and exclaimed, “A piece of pot metal!” Fayette Grubb snatched them from me and struck them against the rock and they fell to pieces. Dr. Harris examined them and said they had hieroglyphics on them. He took acid and removed the rust and they were soon out on exhibition.”

Wilbur Fugate Letter of Wilbur Fugate to James T. Cobb,8 April 1878,Wisconsin Historical Society,Madison, WI

Faithful LDS members disregarded Fulgate’s story and held to Joseph’s translation of the plates and maintained that the plates were in fact ancient artifacts.

1953 Test Results

Addressing the forgery claim of Wilbur Fugate, the Church used two professional engravers to examine the Kinderhook plates. The Improvement Era article goes on to state:

“Mr. Fugate said Wiley and he had etched the plates. Yet two professional engraves were invited to view the plates in 1953 and give their unbiased opinion about them – which they did freely and without charge. They stated clearly that the plate was engraved with a pointed instrument.” “The plates are now back in their original category of genuine. What scholars may learn from this ancient record in future years or what may be translated by divine power is an exciting thought to contemplate. This much remains. Joseph Smith, Jun., stands as a true prophet and translator of ancient records by divine means and all the world is invited to investigate the truth which has sprung out of the earth not only of the Kinderhook plates, but of the Book of Mormon as well.”

Welby W. Ricks – The Kinderhook Plates, The Improvement Era, September 19, 1962

The assessment was that the plates were authentic and Joseph was a true prophet. As late as the printing of this 1962 article, every prophet from Joseph Smith to David O. McKay believed the plates to be authentic.

1980 Test Results

In 1980 BYU professor Stanley B. Kimball was able to secure permission to perform more scientific testing on the plates. In the August 1981 Ensign, the Church published an article detailing the testing processes, results and conclusion,which reverses its earlier position.

“These tests, involving some very sophisticated analytical techniques, were performed by Professor D. Lynn Johnson of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern University. Dr. Johnson used a scanning electron microscope (SEM) to examine the grooves that form the characters on the plate to determine whether they were cut or scratched with a tool or whether they were etched with acid. A scanning Auger microprobe (SAM) was used to detect any nitrogen residues that might have been left in the grooves as a result of etching with nitric acid.The irregular, grainy texture characteristic of acid etching is evident, not a striated surface that would have been produced by an engraving tool. A thorough SEM examination of the characters on the plate brought Dr. Johnson to the conclusion that the characters on the plate were indeed prepared by acid etching, not by any form of tooling, scratching, or cutting.

It became apparent during the SEM study that a residue of some kind was present in some of the grooves. The scanning Auger microprobe (SAM) was used to analyze these residues. A clear indication of nitrogen was detected, which would be consistent with a copper nitrate residue and could indicate that nitric acid was used in the etching, as those who reportedly originated the deception had claimed.

“A recent electronic and chemical analysis of a metal plate (one of six original plates) brought in 1843 to the Prophet Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, Illinois, appears to solve a previously unanswered question in Church history, helping to further evidence that the plate is what its producers later said it was—a nineteenth-century attempt to lure Joseph Smith into making a translation of ancient-looking characters that had been etched into the plates."

Stanley P. Kimball – Kinderhook Plates Brought to Joseph SmithAppear to be a Nineteenth-Century Hoax, Ensign, 1981


  1. Fake ancient plates were fashioned out of copper and iron. Using acid, they etched counterfeit hieroglyphics.

  2. The plates were taken to Joseph Smith where he pronounced them genuine and translated the “ancient characters.”

  3. The entire body of the Church believed in the authenticity of the plates.

  4. Wilbur Fugate claimed he, Wiley and Whitton made the plates as a joke.

  5. A 1953 observation claims the plates are genuine; reinforcing the Church’s position.

  6. After further scientific testing, it was concluded that the Kinderhook Plates were absolutely not genuine.

The fraudulent Kinderhook plates raise several troubling concerns. How could the prophet Joseph Smith believe they were authentic and claim to have translated the symbols as an account of a descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharaoh, King of Egypt? This also puts into question Joseph’s translations of the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham characters.

Chapter 5

The Word of Wisdom

In studying all aspects of early Church history, I often thought about the Word of Wisdom and how much the revelation means in verifying Joseph Smith’s prophetic abilities. However, the more I researched the historical context of Word of Wisdom the more I learned that it was not unique in its instructions for health during that period. In fact, conventional ideas, movements, and additional influences likely shaped what we have come to know as “the Lord’s law of health.”

The Word of Wisdom

The Word of Wisdom was written by Joseph Smith in Kirtland, Ohio on February 27, 1833.

Doctrine and Covenants 89.

2. To be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint

5. That inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good, neither meet in the sight of yourFather, only in assembling yourselves together to offer up your sacraments before him.

6. And, behold, this should be wine, yea, pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make.

7. And, again, strong drinks are not for the belly, but for the washing of your bodies.

9. And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.

11. Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving.

12. Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving;nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;

13. And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.

17. wheat for man, and corn for the ox, and oats for the horse, and rye for the fowls and for swine, and for all beasts of thefield, and barley for all useful animals, and for mild drinks, as also other grain.

There are several things mentioned in The Word of Wisdom that aren’t commonly observed in modern LDS culture.

Verse 2 – Clearly states that the Word of Wisdom is not a commandment; yet modern members are asked if they follow it during temple interviews and will not be issued a temple recommend if the interviewer feels that they do not properly adhere.

Verse 6,7,9,17 – Makes the distinction between 4 different types of drinks: wine, strong, hot and mild. Wine = ok for the sacrament if you make it yourself. Strong drinks = not ok. Hot drinks = not ok. Mild drinks = ok.

Verse 9 – Mentions “hot drinks.” What exactly does “hot drinks” refer to? Apostle George Q. Cannon stated,

“We are told, and very plainly too, that hot drinks – tea, coffee, chocolate, cocoa and all drinks of this kind are not good for man.… We must not permit them to drink liquor or hot drinks, or hot soups or to use tobacco or other articles that are injurious.”

George Q. Cannon – General Conference, April 7,1868, Journal of Discourses, vol.12

Verse 11 – Only eat produce in their proper season.

Verse 12,13 – Meat should only be eaten in the winter or during a famine.

Verse 17 – Mild drinks made from barley are ok. What drinks are made from barley? Beer.

It seems that the modern Church has settled on coffee, tea, alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs as the new interpretation. But according to the text of the Word of Wisdom, members should refrain from hot drinks of all kinds, chocolate and soups included. Alcohol is not outright banned, but only strong drinks (hard liquor). In addition, according to the Word of Wisdom, all members should be vegetarian most of the year. These parts have been reinterpreted to change the original intent. Additionally, the Lord’s Law of Health seems to lack real health considerations. Currently, extremely obese members are given temple recommends, while active, healthy, and fit members who drink coffee and tea would not qualify. It seems that if God really wanted to give the saints a code of health that would have prevented pioneer deaths due to a long list of illnesses including scarlet fever, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, influenza, pneumonia, cholera, malaria and small pox, he would have added things like the need for sanitizing water  by boiling, increased personal hygiene and quarantining of sick persons.

In fact, the Church has long taught that coffee and tea were unhealthy; however, this reputation appears to be mistaken. Studies involving over 1.5 million participants who consumed 3-5 cups of coffee a day were at the lowest risk for cardiovascular diseases, stroke, prostate, breast and lung cancers, compared with those who drank none. Similar research show that polyphenol, a powerful antioxidant found in black, green and white teas, combat free-radicals that contribute to cancer, heart disease, kidney damage, diabetes, and helps lower cholesterol. ( and (

Possible Influences

Popular Misconceptions Regarding “Hot Drinks”

​One common misconceptions in this era said that hot liquids were not good for the body. A popular book titled, Wholesome Advice against the Abuse of Hot Liquors, particularly targeted tea, coffee and hot chocolate labeling them as unhealthy. This book argued that an excess consumption of hot drinks caused the blood and insides to heat up and that “Excess of heat is the most common cause of sickness and death.” Medical science at the time was so basic that the evidence presented in the book was based largely upon crude anatomical knowledge and references to classical Greek and Roman texts. A few decades later, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was arguing for complete abstinence from tea, on the grounds that it gave rise to “numberless disorders, particularly those of a nervous kind”. He placed emphasis on the religious importance of self-denial. ( Interestingly, Joseph Smith became very familiar with Methodist teachings when in June 1828 he became a member of minister Nathanial Lewis’ Harmony, Pennsylvania congregation. It is important to note that Joseph became a member after the First Vision where he was told that all religions were incorrect.

The Temperance Movement

Alcohol had been socially acceptable during the colonial era, but a social shift in the early 19th century initiated the belief that drinking was no longer acceptable. The temperance movement was an organized effort to encourage moderation in the consumption of alcohol or press for complete abstinence. The American Temperance Society  was founded in 1826 and it benefited from a renewed interest in religion and morality in America. The movement began to grow exponentially. Within 12 years it claimed more than 8,000 local groups and over 1.5 million members. By 1839, 18 temperance journals were being published. Some groups took positions on moral issues and advocated temperance with alcohol rather than abstinence. The movement split along two lines: moderates who allowed some drinking and relied on moral persuasion alone, and radicals who demanded prohibition laws to restrict or ban alcohol.Prohibitionists dominated many of the largest temperance organizations after the 1830’s, and temperance eventually became synonymous with prohibition.

“On October 6, 1830, the Kirtland Temperance Society was organized with two hundred thirty nine members…. This society at Kirtland was a most active one…. it revolutionized the social customs of the neighborhood. The Temperance Society succeeded in eliminating a distillery in Kirtland on February 1, 1833, just twentyseven days before the Latter-day Saint revelation counseling abstinence was announced, and that the distillery at Mentor, near Kirtland, was also closed at the same time.”

Brigham Young University Studies, Winter 1959, pp.39-40

Emma Smith

Joseph Smith started a training school called the School of the Prophets for the elders of the Church, which opened in Kirtland on the second floor of the Newel K. Whitney mercantile store in January 1833. Brigham Young stated that the Word of Wisdom was given in response to problems encountered while conducting those meetings:

​“I think I am as well acquainted with the circumstances which led to the giving of the Word of Wisdom…When they assembled together in this room after breakfast, the first thing they did was to light their pipes, and, while smoking, talk about the great things of the kingdom, and spit all over the room, and as soon as the pipe was out of their mouths a large chew of tobacco would then be taken. Often when the Prophet [Joseph Smith] entered the room to give the school instructions he would find himself in a cloud of tobacco smoke. This, and the complaints of his wife at having to clean so filthy a floor, made the Prophet think upon the matter, and he inquired of the Lord relating to the conduct of the Elders in using tobacco, and the revelation known as the Word of Wisdom was the result of his inquiry.”

Brigham Young – Journal of Discourses, vol.12, p.158

Disregarding the Word of Wisdom

The History of the Church records that Joseph taught the Word of Wisdom but did not practice it. If the Lord really gave this revelation to Joseph, one would think he would at least follow it himself.

“We then partook of some refreshments, and our hearts were made glad with the fruit of the vine. This is according to the pattern set by our Savior Himself, and we feel disposed to patronize all the institutions of heaven.”

Joseph Smith – History of the Church, January 14, 1836, vol.2, p.369

“Called at the office and drank a glass of wine with Sister Jenetta Richards, made by her mother in England, and reviewed a portion of the conference minutes.”

Joseph Smith – History of the Church, May 3 1843, vol.5, p.380

“Ordinance on the Personal Sale of Liquors – Section 1. Be it ordained by the City Council of Nauvoo, that the Mayor of the city be and is hereby authorized to see or give spirits of any quantity as he in his wisdom shall judge to be for the health and comfort, or convenience of such travelers or other persons as shall visit his house from time to time. Passed December 12, 1843. Joseph Smith, Mayor.”

Joseph Smith – History of the Church, December 12, 1843, vol.6, p.111

“Before the jailor came in, his boy brought in some water, and said the guard wanted some wine. Joseph gave Dr. Richards two dollars to give the guard; but the guard said one was enough, and would take no more. The guard immediately sent for a bottle of wine, pipes, and two small papers of tobacco; and one of the guards brought them into the jail soon after the jailor went out. Dr. Richards uncorked the bottle, and presented a glass to Joseph, who tasted, as also Brother Taylor and the doctor, and the bottle was then given to the guard, who turned to go out.”

History of the Church, June 27, 1844, vol.6, p.616


1826 – American Temperance Society founded.

1828 – Joseph Smith becomes a member of the Methodist church that discouraged hot drinks.

1830 – Kirtland Temperance Society founded.

1833 – (Jan.) Joseph Smith hears complaints from Emma about tobacco.

1833 – (Feb. 1) The Kirtland Temperance Society eliminates the distillery in Kirtland.

1833 – (Feb. 27) Joseph writes the Word of Wisdom limiting hot drinks, tobacco and strong drinks.

I have never been taught in Church that abstinence from alcohol and other hot drinks were already popular concepts of time leading up to the revelation. It appears that the Word of Wisdom may not be unique instruction, but well within the context of 19th century assumptions. Perhaps it was spurred by Emma’s complaints, added to by Methodist teachings and pressured by the local Kirtland Temperance Society.

Chapter 6

The Endowment

Was the temple endowment really a revelation from God or could it have another origin? This chapter covers the origin of Freemasonry, founders of the Church and their Masonic membership, and similarities between Masonic temple ceremonies and the LDS temple endowment.

Origin of Freemasonry

“The earliest Masonic texts each contain some sort of a history of the craft, or mystery, of masonry. The oldest known work of this type, The Halliwell Manuscript, dating from between 1390 and 1425.”

Grand Lodge of British Columbia – The Halliwell Manuscript.

​“Some are also told that King Solomon ruled over Masonic lodges as grand master. The stories they weave around the building of the temple are obviously not literal or historical facts but a dramatic means of explaining the principles of Freemasonry. Freemasonry neither originated nor existed in Solomon’s time. The general agreement amongst serious Masonic historians and researchers is that Freemasonry has arisen, either directly or indirectly, from the medieval stonemasons who built great cathedrals and castles. Those who favor the direct descent from operative masonry say there were three stages to the evolution of Freemasonry. The stonemasons gathered in huts (lodges) to rest and eat. These lodges gradually became not the hut but the grouping together of stonemasons to regulate their craft. In time, and in common with other trades, they developed primitive initiation ceremonies for new apprentices.”

“As stonemasons could easily travel all over the country from one building site to another, and as there were also no trade union cards or certificates of apprenticeship they began to adopt a private word which a traveling stonemason could use when he arrived at a new site, to prove that he was properly trained and had been a member of a lodge. It was, after all, easier to communicate a special word to prove that you knew what you were doing and were entitled to the wages it deserved that to spend hours carving a block of stone to demonstrate your skills.”

“We know that in the early 1600s these operative lodges began to admit men who had no connection with the trade – accepted or gentlemen masons. Why this was done and what form of ceremony was used is not known. As the 1600s drew to a close more and more gentlemen began to join the lodges, gradually taking them over and turning them into lodges of free and accepted or speculative masons, no longer having any connection with the stonemasons’ craft. This is based on evidence from Scotland. In England, the first evidence of a lodge completely made up of non-operative masons is found. English evidence through the 1600s points to Freemasonry existing apart from any actual or supposed organization of operative stonemasons. This was a period of great religious and political turmoil and intolerance. Men were unable to meet together without differences of political and religious opinion leading to arguments. Opposing views split families and the English civil war of 1642-6 was the ultimate outcome. As their central idea was one of building a better society they borrowed their forms and symbols from the operative builders craft and took their central allegory from the Bible, the common source book known to all, in which the only building described in any detail is King Solomon’ s Temple.

Stonemasons tools also provided them with a multiplicity of emblems to illustrate the principles they were putting forward. The formation of the premier Grand Lodge in 1717 had been followed, around 1725, by the Grand Lodge of Ireland and, in 1736; the Grand Lodge of Scotland. These three Grand Lodges did much to spread Freemasonry throughout the world, to the extent that all regular Grand Lodges throughout the world, whatever the immediate means of their formation, ultimately trace their origins back to one, or a combination, of the Grand Lodges within the British Isles.” history/history.html

Church leaders claim that the connection between Masons and Mormons date back to the stonemasons who built Solomon’s temple in the Old Testament.

“Modern Masonry is a fragmentary presentation of the ancient order established by King Solomon. From whom it is said to have been handed down through the centuries. that he was not sorry there was such a similarity, because of the fact that the ordinances and rites revealed to Joseph Smith constituted a reintroduction upon the earth of the divine plan inaugurated in the Temple of Solomon in ancient days. Masonry is an apostasy from the ancient early order, just as so-called Christianity is an apostasy from the true Church of Christ”

​Elder Melvin J. Ballard – The Salt Lake Herald, December 29, 1919

“We have the true Masonry. The Masonry of today is received from the apostasy which took place in the days of Solomon, and David. They have now and then a thing that is correct, but we have the real thing.”

Heber C. Kimball – Heber C. Kimball and Family, The Nauvoo Years.Brigham Young University Studies. 1975, p.458

Freemason historians cite its origins to the late 14th to the early 15th century in Scotland as a trade guild, not 950 BC in Jerusalem. President Kimball and Elder Ballard appear to be mistaken about the origins of masonry and thus the Church’s historical connection for the endowment ceremony.

LDS Masons

As soon as the saints erected the Nauvoo Lodge, Joseph Smith also sought membership in the fraternity because members of this family and several of the first members of the Church were Masons. Joseph Smith Sr. was a documented member in upstate New York. He was raised to the degree of Master Mason May 7, 1818, in Ontario Lodge No. 23 of Canandaigua, New York. His older brother Hyrum was a member of Mount Moriah Lodge No. 112 at Palmyra, New York.

Other prominent members include: Joseph’s other brothers Samuel and William Smith, subsequent presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff and Lorenzo Snow, members of First Presidencies: Sidney Rigdon, William Law, John C. Bennett and Heber C. Kimball, apostles: Orson Pratt, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Hyde and Lyman Johnson, Joseph’s secretary: William Clayton, presiding bishop: Newell K. Whitney, Joseph’s bodyguard: Porter Rockwell, and many more.

“15 March 1842 Tuesday – I officiated as grand chaplain at the installation of the Nauvoo Lodge of Free Masons, at the Grove near the Temple. Grand Master Jonas, of Columbus, being present, a large number of people assembled on the occasion. The day was exceedingly fine; all things were done in order, and universal satisfaction was manifested. In the evening I received the first degree in Free Masonry in the Nauvoo Lodge, assembled in my general business office.”

Joseph Smith –  Journal 1841–1842. Also in History of the Church, vol.4, p.550

Just seven weeks after his initiation as a first-degree mason, on April 4, 1842, Joseph introduces the endowment ceremony in the upper room of his red brick store; the same room where his Masonic initiation took place. Present were Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, William Law, Heber C. Kimball, and others.

Similarities between Masonic rituals and the LDS Temple Ceremony

What exactly was Joseph Smith exposed to during his initiation and is it possible that any of it made its way into the endowment ceremony that he introduced just weeks later? Three books on Freemasonry by William M. Morgan, Jabez Richardson, and Malcolm C. Duncan reveal all of the rituals used in Masonic temple ceremonies. They show that the words, actions, and symbols used LDS temple ordinances have nearly identical Masonic sources. Below is a collection of those that bare the most striking resemblances. (Illustrations of Masonry by One of the Fraternity, 1827. Monitor of Free-Masonry, 1860. Masonic Ritual and Monitor, 1866)

Compass and Square

Masonic compass and square: “The candidate then enters, the Senior Deacon at the same time pressing his left breast with the point of the compass…As he enters, the angle of the square is pressed against his right breast”

LDS sign of the compass and square: “Corresponding marks are found in your individual garment. On the right is the mark of the square. … On the left is the mark of the compass”

Washing and Anointing

Masonic washing ceremony: “Master orders the basin of the perfumed water and a clean napkin to be brought to him, and directs candidate to wash his hands, which he does … Master takes a box of perfumed ointment and anoints candidate on his head, eyes, mouth, heart, the tip of his right ear, hand, foot.”

LDS initiatory: “Having authority, I wash you preparatory to your receiving your anointings. I anoint your head … your ears … your eyes … your nose … your lips … your neck … your shoulders … your back … your breast … your vitals and bowels … your arms and hands … your loins … your legs and feet…”.


Masonic apron:  “I now present you with a lambskin or white Entered

Apprentice’s apron which is an emblem of innocence.”

LDS apron: “See, you are naked. Take you fig leaves and make you aprons.”

New Name

Masonic new name: “I also present you with a new name; it is ________.”

LDS new name: “I give you a new name which is never to be divulged to anyone expect at a certain place and time shown you. The I shall give you is ________ .


Masonic: Grip of Entered Apprentice

LDS: First Token of the Aaronic priesthood

Masonic: Real Grip of Fellow Craft

LDS: Second Token of the Aaronic priesthood


Masonic: Due-guard of the Fellow Craft Mason.

LDS: Sign of the First Token of the Aaronic Priesthood.


Masonic: DSign of the Fellow Craft Mason

LDS: Sign of the Second Token of the Aaronic Priesthood.


Masonic: Due-guard of the Master Mason.

LDS: Sign of the First Token of the Melchizedek Priesthood.


Masonic: Sign of Grand Hailing Distress

LDS: Sign of the Second Token of the Melchizedek Priesthood.

Penalties – Removed from LDS temple endowment in April 1990.

Masonic penalty sign of an Entered Apprentice and Oath: “Made from the due-guard by dropping the left hand carelessly; at the same time raise the right arm and draw the hand, still open, across the throat, thumb next to the throat, and drop the hand perpendicular by the side.”

“Binding myself under no less penalty than to have my throat cut across, my tongue torn out by the roots.”

LDS penalty of the First Token of the Aaronic Priesthood and Oath:“The execution of the Penalty is represented by placing the thumb under the left ear, the palm of the hand down, and by drawing the thumb quickly across the throat to the right ear, and dropping the hand to the side.”

“We, and each of us, covenant and promise that we will not reveal any of the secrets of this, the First Token of the Aaronic Priesthood, with its accompanying name, sign, or penalty. Should we do so, we agree that our throats be cut from ear to ear and our tongues torn out by our roots.”

Masonic penalty of the Fellow Craft: “Having my left breast torn open, my heart plucked out, and given to the wild beasts of the field and the fowls of the air.”

LDS penalty of the Second Token of the Aaronic Priesthood: “We agree to have our breasts cut open and our hearts and vitals torn from our bodies and given to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field.”

Masonic penalty of the Master Mason: “To have my body cut in two, my bowels removed and burned to ashes which are then to be scattered to the four winds of heaven.”

LDS penalty of the First Token of the Melchizedek Priesthood: “Should we do so, we agree that our bodies be cut asunder in the midst and all our bowels gush out.”

Instructions at the Veil

Masonic Mallet: (pictured)

LDS Mallet: “The person is brought to this point, and the worker gives three distinct taps with the mallet. Whereupon, The Lord parts the Veil, and asks, “ What is wanted?”

Masonic Instructions: “The Master and candidate holding each other by the grip, as before described, the Master says…”

Q. What is this? A. A grip.

Q. A grip of what? A. The grip of an Entered Apprentice Mason.

Q. Has it a name? A. It has.

Q. Will you give it to me? A. I did not so receive it, neither can I so impart it.

LDS INSTRUCTIONS AT THE VEIL: “Present him at the veil and his request shall be granted…”

Q. What is that? A. The second token of the Melchizedek priesthood.

Q. Has it a name? A. It has.

Q. Will you give it to me? A. I cannot, for I have not yet received it.

Masonic Symbol Usage

Bees and the Beehive

Industry was the employment of a very large number of men, tens of thousands in many instances, on one undertaking at one place and at the same time period.  Where a modern builder looks to machines as the means to accomplish his results, the Medieval builder who had no power-driven machines had to look to men. It was for such reason that Medieval Freemasons thought much about and had a wide knowledge of the forms of work.

The general organization of a Lodge is based on the principle of forms of work. An emblem of work, called industry, is the Beehive. Hence looking at the regulated labor of these insects when congregated in their hive, it is not surprising that a beehive should have been deemed an appropriate emblem of systematized industry. Freemasonry has therefore adopted the beehive as a symbol of industry.

Albert G. Mackey – Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, 1895

All Seeing Eye

Masonic – “The open eye was selected as a symbol of watchfulness and care of the universe. The All-Seeing Eye may then be considered as a symbol of God manifested in his omnipresence, his guardian and his preserving character.”

Albert G. Mackey – Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, 1894

LDS – “The Salt Lake temple is reportedly the singly visual symbol that most quickly communicates “Mormon” to others. Overwhelmed by the building itself, people may not realize how extensive the ornamentation is … on the east and west center towers with accompanying stones representing an all-seeing eye and clasped hands.” “The all seeing eye is a symbol of God’s protection and omnipresence.”

The Salt Lake Temple, Ensign, Jan, 1978 andGerald E. Hansen – Sacred Walls: Learning FromTemple Symbols, Deseret Book, 2009

Sun, Moon, and Stars

Masonic – The book ‘Heaven and its Wonders and Hell From Things Heard and Seen’ by Emanuel Swedenborg, a Freemason, was first published in America in 1812. He uses the sun, moon, and stars to describe varying degrees of heavenly relationships with the Lord, the closest being named the Celestial Kingdom. “In the Celestial Kingdom the light appears flaming because the angels there receive light from the Lord as a sun; but in the spiritual kingdom, the light is shining white because the angels there receive light from the Lord as a moon … but those that are in hell turn themselves to opposite darkness and dense darkness.”

Emanuel Swedenborg – Heaven and Hell, Ch.5 – There Are Three Heavens, p.28

LDS – “Latter-day revelation confirms the teaching of the Bible on these matters and verifies that there are three general categories or glories to which the members of the human family will be assigned in their judgment following their resurrection from the grave. These are known as the Celestial, Terrestrial and Telestial Kingdoms, of which the sun, moon, and stars are spoken of as being typical.”


March 15, 1842 – Joseph Smith became a Freemason in his general business office.

History of the Church, vol.4, p.551

May 4, 1842 – Joseph instructed the other leaders on the washings, anointing, signs, and tokens.

History of the Church, vol.5, p.2

Parallels between Freemasonry and the LDS endowment appear to be problematic. It seems that every LDS temple ceremony has a nearly identical masonic ceremony with the corresponding words, token, sign and symbol. This begs the question – Could Joseph Smith have simply borrowed this “revelation”?

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