Essays on the Joseph Smith Story and LDS Scriptures

FIRST VISION ACCOUNTS – November 20, 2013

This essay declares that there are “four different accounts of the vision” recorded by Joseph Smith and his scribes and an additional “five accounts written by contemporaries who heard Joseph Smith speak about the vision.”

While this essay discusses some of the variations between these nine accounts and tries to provide justification for significant differences, we believe that these differences raise questions as to the credibility of the First Vision story.

For example: Did Joseph Smith see “two personages”[1], or did he see “the Lord of glory”[2] or a company of “angels”[3]? Did Joseph Smith learn of the apostasy of Christianity through the First Vision or was it through reading the Scriptures?  Was Joseph Smith 14, 15 or 16 years old? Did the angel Moroni or Nephi visit Joseph Smith in his bedroom?  These are some of the discrepancies between the various accounts of the First Vision that raise doubt as to the credibility of this story.  This essay admits to another fact:

The earliest known account of the First Vision, the only account written in Joseph Smith’s own hand, is found in a short, unpublished autobiography Joseph Smith produced in the second half of 1832.”

Since Joseph Smith didn’t record his First Vision account until 1832, does this mean that he baptized people into the Mormon Church, which he started in 1830, without telling them about the vision? If Joseph Smith did receive such an important visitation from heaven in 1820, why couldn’t he remember who he saw and why did he wait 12 years to write it down, after he had already published the Book of Mormon and converted hundreds of people into his church?


This essay claims that the Mormon Church officially endorses the Book of Mormon as “the most correct of any Book on earth & the keystone of our religion & a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other Book.”

This is a key statement because many changes have been made to the text of the Book of Mormon over the years and many of the teachings in the Book of Mormon actually disagree with the foundational teachings of Mormonism.

Regarding the translation of the Book of Mormon, this essay claims, “Some accounts indicate that Joseph studied the characters on the plates” while other accounts state he did not use them. The Mormon Church declares,

“Most of the accounts speak of Joseph’s use of the Urim and Thummim (either the interpreters or the seer stone), and many accounts refer to his use of a single stone. According to these accounts, Joseph placed either the interpreters or the seer stone in a hat, pressed his face into the hat to block out extraneous light, and read aloud the English words that appeared on the instrument. …Emma …described Joseph ‘sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.’ According to Emma, the plates ‘often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen table cloth.’ ”

For years, the LDS Church has published pictures of Joseph Smith leaning over the gold plates in an attempt to translate them.  But this statement that Joseph Smith didn’t even look at the gold plates when he was translating the Book of Mormon is a huge admission from the LDS Church that the gold plates may not have been used at all.  However, in another account of the translation process, the essay discusses,

“The principal scribe, Oliver Cowdery, testified under oath in 1831 that Joseph Smith ‘found with the plates, from which he translated his book, two transparent stones, resembling glass, set in silver bows. That by looking through these, he was able to read in English, the reformed Egyptian characters, which were engraved on the plates.’ ”

So did Joseph Smith translate the Book of Mormon from the text of the gold plates themselves, or did he receive the text by revelation through the seer stone?  The latter story seems to provide a stronger case. This is consistent with Joseph Smith’s experience as a money-digger as it was common for the person who was looking for buried treasure to use divination tools, such as stones or glass balls, to try to locate the treasure under the ground. This essay admits in footnote 19,

“Joseph did not hide his well-known early involvement in treasure seeking. In 1838, he published responses to questions frequently asked of him. ‘Was not Jo Smith a money digger, one question read. Yes, Joseph answered, ‘but it was never a very profitable job to him, as he only got fourteen dollars a month for it.’ ” [4]



This essay claims that the Book of Mormon “contains a record of God’s dealings with… groups of people who migrated to America from the Near East…” Yet, the essay acknowledges,

“…some people have wondered whether the migrations it describes are compatible with scientific studies of ancient America. The discussion has centered on the field of population genetics and developments in DNA science. Some have contended that the migrations mentioned in the Book of Mormon did not occur because the majority of DNA identified to date in modern native peoples most closely resembles that of eastern Asian populations.  …The evidence assembled to date suggests that the majority of Native Americans carry largely Asian DNA. Scientists theorize that in an era that predated Book of Mormon accounts, a relatively small group of people migrated from northeast Asia to the Americas by way of a land bridge that connected Siberia to Alaska. These people, scientists say, spread rapidly to fill North and South America and were likely the primary ancestors of modern American Indians.”

Being forced to address this new DNA evidence, which dispels the myth of an ancient migration from the Near East to America, this essay admits that from 1981 until 2006, the Introduction to the Book of Mormon stated that the Lamanites were the “principal ancestors of the American Indians,”[5] while now, it has been revised, as the essay states:

“The 2006 update to the introduction of the Book of Mormon reflects this understanding by stating that Book of Mormon peoples were ‘among the ancestors of the American Indians.’ ”

The rest of this essay is dedicated to presenting reasons for not trusting the DNA evidence against the Book of Mormon migrations. The essay claims that the DNA “evidence is simply inconclusive.” Then it states, “Nothing is known about the DNA of Book of Mormon peoples,” and even if we could determine the specific genetic DNA markers of the Book of Mormon people, this essay claims that the DNA would not be detectable because they say that the Book of Mormon people were not the “exclusive inhabitants” of America.  The essay states:

“The Book of Mormon itself, however, does not claim that the peoples it describes were either the predominant or the exclusive inhabitants of the lands they occupied. In fact, cultural and demographic clues in its text hint at the presence of other groups.”

This is a blatant lie from the Mormon Church.  The Book of Mormon does claim that when the Book of Mormon people arrived in America, this land was “kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations.”  So how can the LDS Church say that the Book of Mormon does not claim that its people were the “exclusive inhabitants of the lands they occupied” when the Book of Mormon itself states:

2 NEPHI 1:8: “And behold, it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance.”

HELAMAN 3:8: “And it came to pass that they did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east.”

Certainly, these statements do not allow for another group of people to have migrated to America before the Book of Mormon people arrived. And as far as the essay’s claim “Nothing is known about the DNA of Book of Mormon peoples,” this is simply untrue because the Book of Mormon states that these people were direct descendants of the Hebrew patriarch Joseph in the Bible. So, it is expected that a Near Eastern genetic makeup, similar to what is found in Israel today, would be present in the Native American populations here in America. Yet, nothing of any significance has been found. The Book of Mormon states:

ALMA 10:3: “And Aminadi was a descendant of Nephi, who was the son of Lehi, who came out of the land of Jerusalem, who was a descendant of Manasseh, who was the son of Joseph who was sold into Egypt by the hands of his brethren.”

This, along with the fact that several artifacts mentioned in the Book of Mormon did not exist in pre-Columbian America, and the fact that archeologists have failed to uncover a single Book of Mormon coin, city, battlefield, or geographical area, provides ample evidence against the historicity of the Book of Mormon.  Even this essay acknowledges this in footnote 6:

“Though there are several plausible hypotheses regarding the geographic locations of Book of Mormon events, the Church takes no official position except that the events occurred in the Americas.”

The reason the LDS Church “takes no official position” on the geography of the Book of Mormon is due to the fact that nothing matches any true geographical map that we possess today. Thus, not one archaeological artifact has been uncovered in support of Book of Mormon claims.  This is quite the opposite for the Bible as archaeologists often start with the biblical descriptions given in the text to locate ancient cities.  Yet, nothing has ever been found in support of the descriptions given in the Book of Mormon for its lands, cities or people.



In this essay, the Mormon Church acknowledges that the church officially accepts the Book of Abraham as Mormon “scripture.” They also state that “fragments” of the original papyrus scrolls, which Joseph Smith claimed he translated, have been found, yet they admit “The relationship between those fragments and the text we have today is largely a matter of conjecture.”  This is due to the fact that, as they now admit in this essay,

None of the characters on the papyrus fragments mentioned Abraham’s name or any of the events recorded in the book of Abraham. Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham, though there is not unanimity, even among non-Mormon scholars, about the proper interpretation of the vignettes on these fragments. Scholars have identified the papyrus fragments as parts of standard funerary texts that were deposited with mummified bodies. These fragments date to between the third century B.C.E. and the first century C.E., long after Abraham lived.”

Did you catch what they said?  The Mormon Church officially admits that these “fragments” of the original papyrus scrolls, which Joseph Smith translated, do not even mention “Abraham’s name or any of the events recorded in the book of Abraham.”  They were not even written during the lifetime of Abraham!

So, how could Joseph Smith claim his translations from these fragments contain the very words of Abraham when they were not even written until several hundred years after Abraham’s life?

Some Mormons contend that the reason Smith’s translations do not match up to Egyptologists translations is due to portions of the papyrus scrolls that were lost in the Chicago fire. Yet, these claims fall apart on two accounts:

First, Joseph Smith copied the image from the papyrus scrolls directly into his version of the Book of Abraham, along with the text of his translation. This image is the very same image that was found in the fragments of his scrolls that were rescued from the Chicago fire. So even if a Mormon tries to argue that the portions that Joseph Smith translated were lost, that doesn’t change the fact that the image that Joseph Smith translated into his Book of Abraham does not match the true translation skilled Egyptologists give for this very same image.

And if a Mormon claims that this image in the fragment is not what Joseph Smith translated, why did Joseph Smith copy this image into his text of the Book of Abraham in the first place?  The Mormon Church still prints this image in their current canonized edition of the Book of Abraham.

Second, the portions lost argument does not account for the unreasonable date range between the time of Abraham’s life and the date these were written.  This evidence alone should be enough to convince any reasonable person that Joseph Smith’s claims concerning these manuscripts containing “The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt,” are completely false. There is absolutely no way that Abraham could have written any part of these scrolls when they didn’t even exist during his lifetime.

Also, we must remember that as the essay admits, these are “standard funerary texts that were deposited with mummified bodies.” This pagan practice of creating funerary texts to guide the mummified body’s departed soul in the afterlife is not an activity that the God-fearing, biblical patriarch Abraham would have taken any part in practicing.  So, there is no way that any lineage of copies of this ancient text could ever trace back to the writings of Abraham. Nor could there possibility be any additional text of these fragments found that would have connected these funerary texts to Abraham as the Bible condemns all participation in the pagan, occult ritual of communication with the dead.[6]  And if these Book of Abraham papyri aren’t enough to prove Joseph Smith was a fake translator, his Egyptian alphabet is another fraud, which he had started to work on before his death, that should convince all people of his inability to translate.  The essay notes:

“Some evidence suggests that Joseph studied the characters on  the Egyptian papyri and attempted to learn the Egyptian language. His history reports that, in July 1835, he was ‘continually engaged in translating an alphabet to the Book of Abraham, and arrangeing a grammar of the Egyptian language as practiced by the ancients.’  This ‘grammar,’ as it was called, consisted of columns of hieroglyphic characters followed by English translations recorded in a large notebook by Joseph’s scribe, William W. Phelps. Another manuscript, written by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, has Egyptian characters followed by explanations.”

Now, this is a significant fact for the Mormon Church to admit that Joseph Smith actually tried to create a “grammar” of the language of the Egyptian scrolls he translated as the Book of Abraham.  Now, let’s consider this fact and compare it to an earlier statement they made in this same essay (below) and see if you can spot the lie:

“We do know some things about the translation process. The word translation typically assumes an expert knowledge of multiple languages. Joseph Smith claimed no expertise in any language… Speaking of the translation of the Book of Mormon, the Lord said, ‘You cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.’ The same principle can be applied to the book of Abraham. The Lord did not require Joseph Smith to have knowledge of Egyptian. By the gift and power of God, Joseph received knowledge about the life and teachings of Abraham.”

What? “Joseph Smith claimed no expertise in any language,” and yet, he created this “grammar”? And what’s this statement: “The Lord did not require Joseph Smith to have knowledge of Egyptian”?  If that was the case, why did Joseph Smith create a “grammar” of the very Egyptian language he was translating from his papyrus scroll?  Does that make any sense to you?  Are Mormons just supposed to accept these lies as excuses to justify Joseph Smith’s fraudulent translation of the Book of Abraham?

And what does this excuse say about the Mormon view of God?  That He doesn’t know the Egyptian language well enough to give Joseph Smith an accurate translation?  Or is this just another attempt of the Mormon Church to place Joseph Smith’s frauds at Jesus’ feet claiming, God gave Joseph Smith this translation.  Are you kidding me?  Blaming these lies on God should be disgraceful for any true follower of Jesus Christ to accept!  Now regarding Joseph Smith’s grammar, the Mormon Church acknowledges:

“The relationship of these documents to the book of Abraham is not fully understood. Neither the rules nor the translations in the grammar book correspond to those recognized by Egyptologists today. Whatever the role of the grammar book, it appears that Joseph Smith began translating portions of the book of Abraham almost immediately after the purchase of the papyri. Phelps apparently viewed Joseph Smith as uniquely capable of understanding the Egyptian characters: ‘As no one could translate these writings,’ he told his wife, ‘they were presented to President Smith. He soon knew what they were.’ ”

Wow!  Here again, we get a glimpse as to Joseph Smith’s claim to be an expert on the Egyptian language.  If he wasn’t behaving in such a way as to deceive his own scribe, William W. Phelps, as to his knowledge of the Egyptian language, why didn’t he correct Phelps’ misunderstanding of his translation abilities?

Finally, the essay admits that without their Book of Abraham, many of the Mormon fundamental teachings, which most Christians reject, such as their views about the preexistence of humanity and Jesus and Lucifer being spirit-brothers, would not exist.  So, if this book is a fraud, these teachings must be discarded as well.  The essay states the following:

The book of Abraham clarifies several teachings that are obscure in the Bible. Life did not begin at birth, as is commonly believed. Prior to coming to earth, individuals existed as spirits. In a vision, Abraham saw that one of the spirits was “like unto God.” This divine being, Jesus Christ, led other spirits in organizing the earth out of “materials” or preexisting matter, not ex nihilo or out of nothing….Nowhere in the Bible is the purpose and potential of earth life stated so clearly as in the book of Abraham.”

Again, these unbiblical teachings of the Book of Abraham must be rejected by true Christianity.

[1] That is, God the Father and Jesus Christ, in the 1838 account.

[2] 1832 account.

[3] 1835 account.

[4] Selections from Elders’ Journal, July 1838, 43, available at: (

[5] See footnote 10 of this essay.

[6] See Deuteronomy 18:10-12.

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