Friday, December 29, 2023

The obsolete Gospel Topics Essays

The Gospel Topics Essays on Book of Mormon Translation and Geography have always been notorious for the way they studiously avoid the clear, direct and unmistakable statements by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery on these topics. This is now more obvious than ever because of a recent announcement on the Church's website that renders those essays obsolete, as anyone can see.

In December the Church announced a new resource called "Topics and Questions" which replaces "Gospel Topics."

This is a significant improvement. We will see many changes if the concept and methodology permeates all Gospel instruction and study throughout the Church.

Topics and Questions "provides resources for those seeking answers and for helping others with their gospel questions." The link is here:

The new resource offers two categories of principles based on "Helping Others with Questions" and "Seeking Answers to Questions." 

This resource is congruent with the Institute course "Answering Gospel Questions" that I've been teaching online. 

One of the principles under "Seeking Answers to Questions" is "Consult Reliable Sources." Here's the link:

The following excerpt shows the aspirations of the new approach. When we compare this aspiration to the reality of the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Translation and the short article on geography we see that the essays need a lot of work. 

The Translation essay violates every one of the principles outlined in the following excerpt. Instead of quoting and citing what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery said about the translation, the essay quotes and cites the speculative opinions of certain modern scholars.

We can hope that in 2024, this essay, along with others we've discussed, will be revised according to the principles set out in "Seeking Answers."

Original in blue, my comments in red.

Consult Reliable Sources

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught, “Never in the history of the world have we had easier access to more information—some of it true, some of it false, and much of it partially true.”1 In this environment of uncertainty, the Church urges members to “seek out and share only credible, reliable, and factual sources of information.”2 We should avoid sources that are founded on rumor or that promote contention or anger.

Learning to assess the quality of our sources of information involves both spiritual and intellectual work. Here are some tips for evaluating information:

  • Evaluate the reliability of sources. Not all sources are of equal value on all topics. The best sources will have direct knowledge of a topic instead of relying on hearsay, rumor, or innuendo. They will speak from a position of direct knowledge or expertise. 

[Comment. The Translation essay omits the best sources about the translation; i.e., what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery said. These two men had direct knowledge. Their statements are not hearsay related decades after the events, but explicit, clear, and unmistakable explanations of the translation, published in an environment of criticism and false claims. Omitting their statements is a direct, obvious defiance of the new guidance. At a minimum, the revised Translation essay must include the full published statements of Joseph and Oliver regarding the translation of the Book of Mormon.]

  • They will refer to other reputable sources so you can check their claims. Reliable sources will not always affirm what you already think. They may challenge your views. If you have questions about official Church teachings, look first at what current Church leaders have and have not said. This will help you evaluate other, earlier statements.

[Comment. This principle brings an element of irony to the discussion. The reliable sources of Joseph and Oliver will definitely not "affirm what you already think" if you've succumbed to the SITH narrative (stone-in-the-hat) or M2C (the Mesoamerican/two Cumorahs narrative.]

  • Learn to recognize bias. Almost all sources have some bias. This does not automatically make them unreliable, but it is important to take the source creator’s perspective into account. Examine your source’s motives and background. Be wary of sources that claim to be unbiased or that express views in inflammatory ways.

[Comment. The obvious problem with the Gospel Topics Essays is that they are anonymous. It is literally impossible to recognize the bias of an anonymous source that neither admits nor explains any bias. Since the Gospel Topics Essays were originally published, we've wondered why they authors did not explain their bias. We've had to infer that the authors sought to accommodate M2C and SITH because there is no other apparent explanation for why they omitted the direct, explicit teachings of Joseph, Oliver and their successors regarding both Cumorah and the translation by means of the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates. We infer that their motives involve their background as intellectuals who have promoted M2C and SITH. Revised essays that acknowledge the principle of recognizing bias will surely correct this fundamental error.] 

  • Corroborate what you learn. It is significant when multiple reliable sources agree or speak with clarity on a topic. This is especially true when studying sources discussing Church history and teachings. Though it is not always possible to find this kind of agreement among sources, it is helpful to compare information from different sources so you can better assess their quality.

[Comment. The teachings of Joseph and Oliver about the origin and setting of the Book of Mormon are not only clear and consistent, but they are corroborated by the teachings of their peers and successors in Church leadership. Readers of the current versions of the essays would never know this because the essays omit what Joseph, Oliver and their successors taught about the origin and setting of the Book of Mormon.]

  • Distinguish facts from interpretation. Some pieces of information are facts. But much of what we encounter on the internet and in other publications consists of someone’s interpretation of the facts. The best interpretations try to account for all the facts. They consider specific details or facts in broader context and give them proper weight. They don’t simply dismiss information that doesn’t agree with a particular point of view. Check the sources used to make a particular interpretation to ensure they support the claims being made and are not taken out of context.

[Comment. This is one of the most glaring errors in the Translation and Geography essays. Both are replete with interpretations by scholars who promote M2C and SITH, and both lack authentic historical facts taught by Joseph and Oliver. They link to third-hand accounts and speculations of scholars instead of to authentic published statements by Joseph and Oliver and their successors.]


For anyone unfamiliar with the problems with the Gospel Topics Essays, I've discussed the subject several times.

Here is a brief summary of the issues.

1. Essay on geography. The obvious omission in the geography essay is that it completely omits (aka censors, or decorrelates) the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah in New York, including those listed here:

Church leaders have always been clear about two things: (i) The Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in western New York, and (ii) we don't know the location of other settings. These twin teachings are well established and are corroborated by extrinsic scientific evidence. 

Omitting these teachings from the essay is confusing to Latter-day Saints and others interested in the Restoration. The only conceivable rationale for omitting these teachings is to accommodate the M2C theory (Mesoamerican/two Cumorahs theory) promoted by certain RLDS and LDS scholars, who explicitly reject the teachings of the prophets. Which is fine. People can believe and teach whatever they want. But obfuscating the issue by censoring the teachings of the prophets is the antithesis of clarity, charity and understanding. 

Revising the obsolete essay will go far to promoting clarity, charity and understanding among all those interested in the Restoration.

2. Essay on Translation. The obvious omission in the translation essay is that it completely omits (aka censors, or decorrelates) the teachings of the prophets about the translation of the Book of Mormon.

In the Preface to the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith wrote:

As  many  false  reports  have  been  circulated  respec­ting  the  following  work,  and  also  many  unlawful  mea­sures  taken  by  evil  designing  persons  to  destroy  me, and also the work, I would inform you that I translated, by the gift and power of God, and caused to be written, one hundred and sixteen pages, the which I took from the Book of Lehi, which was an account abridged from the plates of Lehi, by the hand of Mormon.

The "many false reports" circulated consisted of the article by Jonathan Hadley that related SITH in Hadley's effort to ridicule the Book of Mormon. In the Preface, Joseph explicitly states that he translated the text that he took from the Book of Lehi and not from a stone (or spectacles) in a hat. 

Joseph and Oliver repeatedly explained that Joseph translated the engravings by means of the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates, but the essay on Translation neither quotes nor cites what they taught. 

The obsolete essay can be easily edited to provide the complete list of statements by Joseph and Oliver. If the authors decide to repudiate those teachings in favor of SITH, they should at least do so overtly and clearly so everyone can see their bias and agenda instead of avoiding the issue by omitting those teachings.

Monday, December 4, 2023

The Urim and Thummim narratives

My book Infinite Goodness includes a section on the Urim and Thummim. It's a useful overview of the narratives about the Urim and Thummim that I want to be able to refer to people, so I'm posting that section from the book here, with an additional link not in the book.


Urim and Thummim.
Jonathan Edwards’ observations about the “Urim and Thummim” may shed light on some unresolved questions in Church history.

Throughout this book, we’ve noted alternative faithful narratives for the Book of Mormon: translation (U&T) vs. vision (SITH). Statements by both Joseph and Oliver suggest it was Moroni who used the term “Urim and Thummim” when explaining the existence of the plates and how Joseph would translate them. For example,


He also informed me that the Urim & Thummim was hid up with the record, and that God would give me power to translate it with the assistance of this instrument; he then gradually vanished out of my sight or the vision closed.[1]


However, neither the text of the Book of Mormon nor any extant documentation prior to 1832 refers by name to the Urim and Thummim. The text refers to “interpreters” while early documentation refers to “spectacles.” This leaves believers to speculate about the origin of the term as applied to the Nephite interpreters/spectacles, particularly Moroni’s use of a biblical term that involved a much different relic.

The earliest known published account of the translation is from August 11, 1829, six weeks after the translation was completed in the Palmyra Freeman. The article titled “Golden Bible” included this passage:

Its proselytes give the following account… By placing the spectacles in a hat, and looking into it, Smith could (he said so, at least,) interpret the characters.[2]

This article was republished in the Niagara Courier on August 27, 1829, the Rochester Daily Advertiser and Telegraph on August 31, 1829, and the Painesville [Ohio] Telegraph on September 22, 1829.

A separate article published in Rochester on September 5, 1829, directly attributes the account to Martin Harris.

A man by the name of Martin Harris was in this village a few days since endeavoring to make a contract for printing a large quantity of a work called the Golden Bible. He gave something like the following account of it.... By placing the spectacles in a hat and looking into it, Smith interprets the characters into the English language.[3]

The reliability and precision of these early accounts (“he gave something like”) is questionable. No one could have seen Joseph put the Urim and Thummim into a hat because Joseph had been forbidden from displaying the interpreters until the translation was complete. That’s why Joseph used a stone during the demonstration.

Perhaps Martin said “stone” and the reporter conflated it with prior accounts about the “spectacles.” Whether and how much earlier events, rumors, and misunderstanding influenced these newspaper articles is impossible to say.

In his 1832 History, Joseph Smith wrote “the Lord had prepared spectacles for to read the Book therefore.” His scribe Frederick G. Williams continued the sentence: “I commenced translating the characters.”[4] Translating characters isn’t merely reading words off a stone in a hat.

That Joseph did not use the term “Urim and Thummim” in the 1832 history does not mean that the term was not in circulation at that point. “Spectacles” is a shorter and more descriptive term, perhaps more appropriate in the brief 1832 history.

Joseph had apparently used the term Urim and Thummim at least by the time he wrote his 1832 history. The earliest known documented historical reference connecting the “Urim and Thummim” to the Book of Mormon dates to August 1832, roughly concurrent with Joseph’s 1832 history. An article in the Boston Investigator from August 5, 1832,[5] reported a question-and-answer sequence with Orson Hyde and Samuel Smith who were serving as missionaries in Boston.


Q.-By whom was a fac simile of some part of the language and characters taken, and on what material.

A.-It was taken by Joseph Smith on paper from the original plates themselves….

Q.-In what manner was the interpretation, or translation made known, and by whom was it written?

A.-It was made known by the spirit of the Lord through the medium of the Urim and Thummim; and was written partly by Oliver Cowdery, and partly by Martin Harris.

Q.-What do you mean by Urim and Thummim?

A.-The same as were used by the prophets of old, which were two crystal stones, placed in bows something in the form of spectacles, which were found with the plates.

Q.-What became of the plates after the translation was made?

A.-They were delivered into the hands of the angel of the Lord by whom they were afterwards shown to the three witnesses, who have testified to that effect.

Q.-At what place was the translation made?

A.-Partly at Manchester, Ontario county, N.Y. where the plates were found, and partly on the banks of the Susquehannah river in Pennsylvania.

[Note: this error confuses Fayette with Manchester, likely an error by the reporter.]

Q.-How many were present at the time and who?

A.-Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris-and several others at least part of the time whose names were mentioned but not taken down.

[Note: this is evidence that this exchange was not recorded verbatim.]

Q.-When were the plates seen by the eight who saw them, and who have testified to that fact; before they were translated, or since?

A.-They were seen at different times while they were in the hands of Joseph Smith and during the time of their translation.

[Note: This is another error or misunderstanding because the witnesses did not see the plates until after the translation was completed.]

Q.-Did they see the fac simile also, and if so, did they compare the fac simile with the plates to see if they agreed?

A.-They saw the fac simile also, but did not compare it with the plates to see whether it agreed or not.


The missionaries’ response uses a phrase identical to the one Joseph used in the 1842 Wentworth letter. “Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift, and power of God.”[6] That phrase could be coincidental, but it also suggests that that Joseph was the common source; i.e., that his brother Samuel and/or Orson Hyde learned about the Urim and Thummim from Joseph.

Some scholars conclude that the phrase “Urim and Thummim” was adopted years after Moroni’s first visit, but both Joseph and Oliver published accounts depicting Moroni himself as having used the term.

He [Moroni] said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants;

Also, that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book.

(Joseph Smith—History 1:34–35)

In 1835, Oliver, who had kept a notebook of what Joseph told him starting in April 1829, related what Moroni told Joseph during their first encounter in 1823.

He [Moroni] said this history was written and deposited not far from that place, and that it was our brother’s privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose with the record.[7]

Nothing in the historical record contradicts what Joseph and Oliver taught in these examples. Moroni could have used the term whether Joseph published it or not. Evidently, at least by summer of 1832 Orson and Samuel had heard about it from someone.

On top of the vague chronology of events, we wonder why Moroni would have called the interpreters the “Urim and Thummim.”

Scholars have long observed that the Urim and Thummim described by Joseph Smith differs from the Urim and Thummim mentioned in the Bible. There are only a few references in the Bible.

30 ¶ And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim; and they shall be upon Aaron’s heart, when he goeth in before the Lord: and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the Lord continually. (Exodus 28:30)

8 And he put the breastplate upon him: also he put in the breastplate the Urim and the Thummim. (Leviticus 8:8–9)

8 ¶ And of Levi he said, Let thy Thummim and thy Urim be with thy holy one, whom thou didst prove at Massah, and with whom thou didst strive at the waters of Meribah; (Deuteronomy 33:8)

63 And the Tirshatha said unto them, that they should not eat of the most holy things, till there stood up a priest with Urim and with Thummim. (Ezra 2:63)

65 And the Tirshatha said unto them, that they should not eat of the most holy things, till there stood up a priest with Urim and Thummim. (Nehemiah 7:65)

These obscure passages don’t explain much. The biblical Urim and Thummim was “put in” the breastplate and the priest could stand up with them. There is no suggestion of “spectacles” such as those Joseph found with the plates or any connection to a “seer” here.[8]  

A good summary of biblical interpretations is here:

Even assuming Joseph was familiar with these biblical passages, it would have been confusing for Moroni to use the term Urim and Thummim to refer to the Nephite interpreters. However, Joseph’s understanding of the Urim and Thummim was not necessarily limited to what he could read in the Bible. Jonathan Edwards discussed the Urim and Thummim in several passages in the 1808 edition of his work. He pointed out that:

(i) the ancient priests determined matters by Urim and Thummm,

(ii) that the Jews had lost the Urim and Thummim,

(iii) that it was something by which the high priest inquired of God and receive immediate answers from him,

(iv) that God revealed himself by Urim and Thummim.

These characteristics roughly fit the Nephite interpreters, or spectacles, which had been prepared to enable Joseph to translate the plates. In a sense, the translation process required Joseph to inquire of God and receive answers. If Moroni referred to the spectacles as “Urim and Thummim,” Joseph could have understood the term as explained by Edwards: a means for getting answers from God and an object that had been lost to the Jews (although once he translated the plates, he would learn that the interpreters originated with the brother of Jared).

Other Christian writers offered brief explanations of the Urim and Thummim, but Edwards wrote enough about the topic to support Moroni’s use of the term (assuming Joseph read Edwards’ writings). Edwards pointed out that there was no account of the Urim and Thummim “being ever restored.” Moroni putting the interpreters with the plates could be seen as restoring the Urim and Thummim.

Again another thing that was lost that the Jews had before was the Urim and Thummim . This is evident by Ezra 2:63, "And the Tirshatha [said unto them], that they should not eat of the most holy things, till there should stand up a priest with Urim and with Thummim." And we have no account of this being ever restored, but the ancient writings of the Jews say the contrary. What this Urim and Thummim was I shall not now inquire, but only shall observe that it was something by which the high priest inquired of God and received immediate answers from him, or by which God gave forth immediate oracles on particular occasions. This was now withdrawn, the time approaching when Christ, the great antitype of the Urim and Thummim, the great word and oracle of God, was to come… 

And it was of vast importance that we should have an inspired history of these times of the Jewish church wherein there was kept up a more extraordinary intercourse between God and them, and while he used to dwell among them, as it were, visibly revealing himself to them by the Shekinah, by Urim and Thummim, and by prophecy, and so more immediately to order their affairs….

It was by the Urim and the Thummim that the high priest was especially furnished to make intercession for the people, and to reveal the mind and will[9] of God to them. The Urim and Thummim had their principal importance, as they were typical, and represented the perfection, and merit, the light, and glory, there are in Christ.

Another puzzle involving the Urim and Thummim is the expanded application of the term around 1843 (D&C 130). In the early years of the Church, the term meant the Nephite interpreters. The 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed distinguished between the Urim and Thummim and the “peep stone” that some people claimed Joseph put in a hat to see the words he dictated to his scribes. In response to Mormonism Unvailed, Oliver Cowdery emphasizes that Joseph translated with the Urim and Thummim. (JS-H 1:71, note 1). Subsequent teachings by Joseph and Oliver reaffirmed this point.

On April 2, 1843, however, Joseph taught that “the placed where God resides is a great Urim and Thummim,” that the earth “will be a Urim and Thummim to the inhabitants who dwell thereon,” and “the white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17 will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one.” Although not presented as revelation, these teachings have been canonized as such.

Perhaps Joseph was influenced by comments Jonathan Edwards made in his notebooks of ideas and insights that he drew upon for his sermons and treatises. Some, but not all, of these Miscellanies[10] were published in the 1830 10-volume collection of The Works of President Edwards, edited by his grandson Sereno Edwards Dwight.

Entry number 240 discusses the Urim and Thummim. I’m not aware that it was published in whole or in part prior to 1843, or whether Joseph would have had access to it if it was published, but Edwards’ here explains that in his view, the term referred not to specific objects but to the spiritual power to prophesy and obtain divine responses. This expanded concept of the term is congruent with what Joseph taught, so it’s worth considering. I’ve highlighted relevant portions in bold.



There has been great inquiry, what was that urim and thummim that was in the breastplate of the high priest, whereas I think we have it plainly described in Exodus 28:17–21. …

Every jewel stood for a tribe, and had the name of that tribe written on it that it stood for. God's people are called his jewels. So Christ bears our judgment; that is, he is our representative in judgment and, as to God's dealings with respect to his law, he stands for us.

The name "urim and thummim" signifies light and perfection; and it being 'tis the plural number, may more properly be rendered "glisterings" (or "brightnesses") and "beauties," because of the charming appearances that the jewels made by their different kinds of glisterings, and the beautiful proportion of their different colors. …

The use of it seems to be much the same with the plate of gold on the miter mentioned in Exodus 28:36, whereon was engraved "holiness to the Lord"; which the high priest was to have on his forehead, that he might bear the iniquity of the children of Israel, and that he might be accepted when he came in before the Lord (as Exodus 28:38). By the urim and thummim he was to bear the judgment of the children of Israel on his heart; by this plate of gold he was to bear the iniquity of the children of Israel on his head. 

We find them both mentioned after the same manner, where we have an account of Moses putting the holy garments upon Aaron, as in Leviticus 8:8–9, …

But if the objection be allowed, all that it can argue is that the urim and thummim was not any material thing, but a power given to the breastplate of foretelling or of obtaining divine responses. 

For we can't imagine in reason, that any material thing was expected to be sent down from heaven, to be put into the breastplate; but Leviticus 8:8 proves it was [a] material thing.

Therefore, if they had those jewels in the breastplate at that time, the reason of their speaking in this manner must be, because they did not think them worthy the name of urim and thummim till they had such a power given them as the former urim and thummim had.

[2] “Golden Bible,” The Freeman, August 11, 1829, online at

[3] “A Golden Bible,” The Gem, of Literature and Science, Rochester, NY, September 5, 1829, Vol. I, No. 9, online at

[4] Joseph Smith, History, circa Summer 1832, online at

[6] “Church History,” Times and Seasons, March 1, 1842, online at

[7] Oliver Cowdery, “Letter IV,” History, 1834-1836, p. 64, online at

[8] Jewish traditions have various understandings, ranging from the Urim and Thummim as lots or dice cast for divination to their being illuminated words or jewels on the breastplate that formed words. Whether Joseph was familiar with this speculation is unknown but unlikely. See Trevan G. Hatch, “Magic, Biblical Law, and the Israelite Urim and Thummim,” Studia Antiqua 5, no. 2 (2007).  


[9] The non-biblical phrase “mind and will” appears only in D&C 133:61 (November 3, 1831). “And this according to the mind and will of the Lord.”

[10] A complete list of the Miscellanies is available here:

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Wentworth letter and hemispheric vs limited geography

In this post, we'll look at the history of the "hemispheric model" of Book of Mormon geography by comparing the Wentworth letter and Orson Pratt’s 1840 pamphlet.

Some Latter-day Saint scholars and critics claim that Joseph Smith embraced, adopted, or tolerated a hemispheric model for the setting of the Book of Mormon in the Americas. At the same time, many of these scholars and critics reject what Joseph and Oliver taught about the New York Cumorah.

I’m fine with people believing whatever they want, because I favor charity and understanding, but I also favor clarity. We can see from Letter VII and other historical sources that the New York Cumorah was an established fact. Because the text of the Book of Mormon never mentions America, the only reason to assume Lehi landed in the western hemisphere is because Joseph and Oliver said they did. The argument that Joseph and Oliver were wrong about Cumorah, but correct about a setting in the Americas, seems irrational to me.

In terms of clarity, it is clear that some early Latter-day Saints promoted a hemispheric model, particularly Parley P. and Orson Pratt and Benjamin Winchester, who focused on Central America.

The scholars and critics who claim Joseph taught a hemispheric model cite anonymous articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons as proof. The articles were signed by “Ed.” and they assume Joseph was an active editor. That’s not an unreasonable assumption, but it’s also not the only reasonable assumption. The totality of the circumstances indicates that Joseph was merely a nominal editor (in name only), as I discussed in The Lost City of Zarahemla and other books.

Furthermore, Joseph himself refuted the hemispheric model in the Wentworth letter.

In the 1 March 1842 edition of the Times and Seasons, Joseph Smith published a letter over his signature titled “Church History.” The letter responded to a request from John Wentworth, the editor and proprietor of the Chicago Democrat, who sought information for a friend of his named Mr. Bastow.

The letter is commonly known now as the Wentworth letter. It was included as a chapter in the lesson manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith.

In the first paragraph, Joseph wrote “As Mr. Bastow has taken the proper steps to obtain correct information all that I shall ask at his hands, is, that he publish the account entire, ungarnished, and without misrepresentation.

As it turns out, Joseph didn’t need to worry about Mr. Bastow. The group that declined to publish the Wentworth letter “entire, ungarnished and without misrepresentation” was the Curriculum Department that published the lesson manual. They omitted a key segment of the Wentworth letter, and the omission continues to cause confusion among Latter-day Saints and their friends.

Below is a screen shot of the lesson manual that shows the ellipses for the deleted (censored) material.

In the table below, the censored material from the Wentworth letter is shown in bold dark red. The omission of these important parts of the Wentworth letter prevents Latter-day Saints around the world, speaking all different languages, from knowing what Joseph actually taught about the Book of Mormon.

It's no wonder so many are confused and are susceptible to the claims of the scholars and critics who reject what Joseph taught.

The Wentworth letter appears to have been adapted in part from an 1840 pamphlet published by Orson Pratt. The Joseph Smith Papers included Orson Pratt’s 1840 pamphlet to provide context for the Wentworth letter. They highlighted the parts of Pratt’s pamphlet that correspond to the Wentworth letter.

The table below shows the comparison, starting with page 14 of the pamphlet.

Two key changes Joseph made.

1.     1. Orson Pratt wrote “The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem, about six hundred years before Christ, being Israelites, principally the descendants of Joseph.” Joseph clarified by writing “The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem, about six hundred years before Christ. They were principally Israelites of the descendants of Joseph.” Joseph’s explanation accommodates non-Israelites among the group, where Pratt’s version said they were all Israelites.

2.     2. Orson Pratt wrote “The remaining remnant, having dwindled into an uncivilized state, still continue to inhabit the land, although divided into a “multitude of nations,” and are called by Europeans the “American Indians.” He then spent several pages claiming that Lehi landed in South America, that “The persecuted nation emigrated towards the northern parts of South America, leaving the wicked nation in possession of the middle and southern parts of the same,” and that, “The second colony, which left Jerusalem eleven years after the remnant of Joseph left that city, [i.e., the Mulekites] landed in North America, and emigrated from thence, to the northern parts of South America; and about four hundred years after, they were discovered by the Nephites, as we stated in the foregoing.” Joseph replaced Orson Pratt’s hemispheric explanation with the simple declaration that “The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country.” Because Joseph wrote the letter in Nauvoo, Illinois, and sent it to Mr. Wentworth in Chicago, Illinois, the term “this country” naturally meant the country in which both sender and recipient lived. This is consistent with the revelations, as note 12 in the Joseph Smith Papers observed.

Other interpretations are possible. For example, some scholars/critics claim that when Joseph wrote “this country” he actually meant “this hemisphere” and thereby incorporated Orson Pratt’s theory instead of refuting it.

Read the comparisons and decide for yourself.

Orson Pratt – 1840 pamphlet

Joseph Smith – 1842 Wentworth letter

p. 14. He had not gone far, before he was overtaken by an officer with a search-warrant, who flattered himself with the idea, that he should surely obtain the plates; after searching very diligently, he was sadly disappointed at not finding them. Mr Smith then drove on; but before he got to his journey’s end, he was again overtaken by an officer on the same business, and after ransacking the waggon very carefully, he went his way, as much chagrined as the first, at not being able to discover the object of his research. Without any further molestation, he pursued his journey until he came into the northern part of Pennsylvania, near the Susquehannah river, in which part his father-in-law resided.10

Having provided himself with a home, he commenced translating the record, by the gift and power of God, through the means of the Urim and Thummim; and being a poor writer, he was under the necessity of employing a scribe, to write the translation as it came from his mouth.

In the mean time, a few of the original characters were accurately transcribed and translated by Mr Smith, which, with the translation, were taken by a gentleman by the name of Martin Harris, to the city of New York, where they were presented to a learned gentleman by the name of [Charles] Anthon, who professed to be extensively acquainted with many languages, both ancient and modern. He examined them; but was unable to decipher them correctly; but he presumed, that if the original records could be brought, he could assist in translating them.

But to return. Mr Smith continued the work of translation, as his pecuniary circumstances would permit, until he finished the unsealed part of the records. The part translated is entitled the “Book of Mormon,” which contains nearly as much reading as the Old Testament.










Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift, and power of God.

p. 14

In this important and most interesting book,

we can read the history of ancient America,

from its early settlement by a colony

who came from the tower of Babel,

at the confusion of languages,

to the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian era.

By these Records we are informed,

that America, in ancient times, has been inhabited by two distinct races of people.

The first, or more ancient race, came directly from the great tower, being called Jaredites.

The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem, about six hundred years before Christ, being Israelites,

In this important and interesting book

the history of ancient America is unfolded,

from its first settlement by a colony

that came from the tower of Babel,

at the confusion of languages

to the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian era.

We are informed by these records

that America in ancient times has been inhabited by two distinct races of people.

The first were called Jaredites and came directly from the tower of Babel.11

The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem, about six hundred years before Christ. They were principally Israelites,

p. 15. principally the descendants of Joseph.

The first nation, or Jaredites, were destroyed about the time that the Israelites came from Jerusalem, who succeeded them in the inheritance of the country.

The principal nation of the second race, fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century.

of the descendants of Joseph.

The Jaredites were destroyed about the time that the Israelites came from Jerusalem, who succeeded them in the inheritance of the country.

The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century.


The remaining remnant, having dwindled into an uncivilized state, still continue to inhabit the land, although divided into a “multitude of nations,” and are called by Europeans the “American Indians.”

The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country.12


JSP Note 12: JS previously implied or stated that the “Lamanites” were ancestors of the American Indians. In 1830 JS received a revelation that directed Oliver Cowdery to “go unto the Lamanites & Preach my Gospel unto them.” Between late 1830 and early 1831, Cowdery and others preached among the Seneca Nation of Indians in New York, the Wyandot Indians in Ohio, and the Shawnee and Delaware Indians west of Missouri. (Letter to Noah C. Saxton, 4 Jan. 1833; Revelation, Sept. 1830–B [D&C 28:8]; Letter from Oliver Cowdery, 12 Nov. 1830; Pratt, Autobiography, 54; Letter to Hyrum Smith, 3–4 Mar. 1831.) 

We learn from this very ancient history, that at the confusion of languages, when the Lord scattered the people upon all the face of the earth, the Jaredites, being a righteous people, obtained favour in the sight of the Lord, and were not confounded. And because of their righteousness, the Lord miraculously led them from the tower to the great ocean, where they were commanded to build vessels, in which they were marvellously brought across the great deep to the shores of North America.11

And the Lord God promised to give them America, which was a very choice land in his sight, for an inheritance. And He swore unto them in his wrath, that whoso should possess this land of promise, from that time henceforth and forever, should serve him, the true and only God, or they should be swept off when the fulness of his wrath should come upon them, and they were fully ripened in iniquity. Moreover, he promised to make them a great and powerful nation, so that there should be no greater nation upon all the face of the earth.

Accordingly, in process of time, they became a very numerous and powerful people, occupying principally North America; building large cities in all quarters of the land; being a civilized and enlightened nation. Agriculture and machinery were carried on to a great extent. Commercial and manufacturing business flourished on every hand; yet, in consequence of wickedness, they were often visited with terrible judgments. Many prophets were raised up among them from generation to generation, who testified against the wickedness of the people, and prophesied of judgments and calamities which awaited them, if they did not repent, &c. Sometimes they were visited by pestilence and plagues, and sometimes by famine and war, until at length (having occupied the land some fifteen or

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p. 16. sixteen hundred years) their wickedness became so great, that the Lord threatened, by the mouth of his prophets, to utterly destroy them from the face of the land. But they gave no heed to these warnings; therefore the word of the Lord was fulfilled; and they were entirely destroyed; leaving their houses, their cities, and their land desolate; and their sacred records also, which were kept on gold plates, were left by one of their last prophets whose name was Ether, in such a situation, that they were discovered by the remnant of Joseph, who soon afterwards were brought from Jerusalem to inherit the land.12

This remnant of Joseph were also led in a miraculous manner from Jerusalem, in the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah. They were first led to the eastern borders of the Red Sea; then they journeyed for some time along the borders thereof, nearly in a south-east direction; after which, they altered their course nearly eastward, until they came to the great waters, where, by the commandment of God, they built a vessel, in which they were safely brought across the great Pacific ocean, and landed upon the western coast of South America.13

In the eleventh year of the reign of Zedekiah, at the time the Jews were carried away captive into Babylon, another remnant were brought out of Jerusalem; some of whom were descendants of Judah. They landed in North America; soon after which they emigrated into the northern parts of South America, at which place they were discovered by the remnant of Joseph, something like four hundred years after.14

From these ancient records, we learn, that this remnant of Joseph, soon after they landed, separated themselves into two distinct nations. This division was caused by a certain portion of them being greatly persecuted, because of their righteousness, by the remainder. The persecuted nation emigrated towards the northern parts of South America, leaving the wicked nation in possession of the middle and southern parts of the same. The former were called Nephites, being led by a prophet whose name was Nephi. The latter were called Lamanites, being led by a very wicked man whose name was Laman. The Nephites had in their possession a copy of the Holy Scriptures, viz. the five books of Moses, and the prophecies of the holy


p. 17. prophets, down to Jeremiah, in whose days they left Jerusalem. These Scriptures were engraved on plates of brass, in the Egyptian language.15 They themselves also made plates, soon after their landing, on which they began to engrave their own history, prophecies, visions, and revelations. All these sacred records were kept by holy and righteous men, who were inspired by the Holy Ghost; and were carefully preserved and handed down from generation to generation.

And the Lord gave unto them the whole continent, for a land of promise, and he promised, that they, and their children after them, should inherit it, on condition of their obedience to his commandments; but if they were disobedient, they should be cut off from his presence. And the Nephites began to prosper in the land, according to their righteousness, and they multiplied and spread forth to the east, and west, and north; building large villages, and cities, and synagogues, and temples, together with forts, and towers, and fortifications, to defend themselves against their enemies. And they cultivated the earth, and raised various kinds of grain in abundance. They also raised numerous flocks of domestic animals, and became a very wealthy people; having in abundance gold, silver, copper, tin, iron, &c. Arts and sciences flourished to a great extent. Various kinds of machinery were in use. Cloths, of various kinds, were manufactured. Swords, cimeters, axes, and various implements of war were made, together with head-shields, arm-shields, and breastplates, to defend themselves in battle with their enemies. And in the days of their righteousness, they were a civilized, enlightened, and happy people.

But, on the other hand, the Lamanites, because of the hardness of their hearts, brought down many judgments upon their own heads; nevertheless, they were not destroyed as a nation; but the Lord God sent forth a curse upon them, and they became a dark, loathsome, and filthy people. Before their rebellion, they were white and exceedingly fair, like the Nephites; but the Lord God cursed them in their complexions, and they were changed to a dark colour; and they became a wild, savage, and ferocious people; being great enemies to the Nephites, whom they sought, by every means, to destroy, and many times came


p. 18. against them, with their numerous hosts to battle, but were repulsed by the Nephites, and driven back to their own possessions, not, however, generally speaking, without great loss on both sides; for tens of thousands were very frequently slain, after which they were piled together in great heaps upon the face of the ground, and covered with a shallow covering of earth, which will satisfactorily account for those ancient mounds, filled with human bones, so numerous at the present day, both in North and South America.

The second colony, which left Jerusalem eleven years after the remnant of Joseph left that city, landed in North America, and emigrated from thence, to the northern parts of South America; and about four hundred years after, they were discovered by the Nephites, as we stated in the foregoing.

They were called the people of Zarahemla. They had been perplexed with many wars among themselves; and having brought no records with them, their language had become corrupted, and they denied the being of God; and at the time they were discovered by the Nephites they were very numerous, and only in a partial state of civilization; but the Nephites united with them, and taught them the Holy Scriptures, and they were restored to civilization, and became one nation with them.16 And in process of time, the Nephites began to build ships near the Isthmus of Darien, and launch them forth into the western ocean, in which great numbers sailed a great distance to the northward, and began to colonize North America.17 Other colonies emigrated by land, and in a few centuries the whole continent became peopled. North America, at that time, was almost entirely destitute of timber, it having been cut off by the more ancient race, who came from the great tower, at the confusion of languages; but the Nephites became very skilful in building houses of cement; also, much timber was carried by the way of shipping from South to North America. They also planted groves and began to raise timber, that in time their wants might be supplied. Large cities were built in various parts of the continent, both among the Lamanites and Nephites. The law of Moses was observed by the latter. Numerous prophets were raised up from time to time throughout their generations.


p. 19. Many records, both historical and prophetical, which were of great size, were kept among them; some on plates of gold and other metals, and some on other materials. The sacred records, also, of the more ancient race who had been destroyed, were found by them. These were engraved on plates of gold. They translated them into their own language by the gift and power of God, through the means of the Urim and Thummim. They contained an historical account from the creation down to the Tower of Babel, and from that time down until they were destroyed, comprising a period of about thirty-four hundred, or thirty-five hundred years. They also contained many prophecies, great and marvellous, reaching forward to the final end and consummation of all things, and the creation of the new heaven and new earth.

The prophets also among the Nephites prophesied of great things. They opened the secrets of futurity, and saw the coming of Messiah in the flesh, and prophesied of the blessings to come upon their descendants in the latter times, and made known the history of unborn generations, and unfolded the grand events of ages to come, and viewed the power, and glory, and majesty of Messiah’s second advent, and beheld the establishment of the kingdom of peace, and gazed upon the glories of the day of righteousness, and saw creation redeemed from the curse, and all the righteous filled with songs of everlasting joy.

The Nephites knew of the birth and crucifixion of Christ, by certain celestial and terrestrial phenomena, which, at those times, were shown forth in fulfilment of the predictions of many of their prophets. Notwithstanding the many blessings with which they had been blessed, they had fallen into great wickedness, and had cast out the saints and the prophets, and stoned and killed them. Therefore, at the time of the crucifixion of Christ, they were visited in great judgment. Thick darkness covered the whole continent. The earth was terribly convulsed. The rocks were rent into broken fragments, and afterwards found in seams and cracks upon all the face of the land. Mountains were sunk into valleys, and valleys raised into mountains. The highways and level roads were broken up and spoiled. Many cities were laid in ruins. Others were buried up in the depths of the earth, and mountains occupied their place.


p. 20. While others were sunk, and waters came up in their stead, and others still were burned by fire from heaven.18

Thus, the predictions of their prophets were fulfilled upon their heads. Thus, the more wicked part, both of the Nephites and Lamanites, were destroyed. Thus, the Almighty executed vengeance and fury upon them, that the blood of the saints and prophets might no longer cry from the ground against them.


p. 20. Those who survived these terrible judgments, were favoured with the personal ministry of Christ. For after He arose from the dead, and finished his ministry at Jerusalem, and ascended to heaven, he descended in the presence of the Nephites, who were assembled round about their temple in the northern parts of South America. He exhibited to them his wounded hands, and side, and feet; and commanded the law of Moses to be abolished; and introduced and established the Gospel in its stead; and chose twelve disciples from among them to administer the same; and instituted the sacrament; and prayed for and blessed their little children; and healed their sick, and blind, and lame, and deaf, and those who were afflicted in any way, and raised a man from the dead, and showed forth his power in their midst; and expounded the Scriptures, which had been given from the beginning down to that time; and made known unto them all things which should take place down until He should come in his glory, and from that time down to the end, when all people, nations, and languages should stand before God to be judged, and the heaven and the earth should pass away, and there should be a new heaven and new earth. These teachings of Jesus were engraved upon plates, some of which are contained in the book of Mormon; but the more part are not revealed in that book, but are hereafter to be made manifest to the saints.19

After Jesus had finished ministering unto them, he ascended into heaven; and the twelve disciples, whom he had chosen, went forth upon all the face of the land, preaching the gospel; baptizing those who repented for the remission of sins, after which they laid their hands upon them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit. Mighty miracles were wrought by them, and also by many of the church. The Nephites and Lamanites were all converted unto the Lord, both in South and North America: and they dwelt

This book also tells us that our Saviour made his appearance upon this continent after his resurrection, that he planted the gospel here in all its fulness, and richness, and power, and blessing; that they had apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers and evangelists; the same order, the same priesthood, the same ordinances, gifts, powers, and blessing, as was enjoyed on the eastern continent, that the people were cut off in consequence of their transgressions, that the last of their prophets who existed among them was commanded to write an abridgement of their prophesies, history &c., and to hide it up in the earth, and that it should come forth and be united with the bible for the accomplishment of the purposes of God in the last days. For a more particular account I would refer to the Book of Mormon, which can be purchased at Nauvoo, or from any of our travelling elders.

p. 21. in righteousness above three hundred years; but towards the close of the fourth century of the Christian era, they had so far apostatized from God, that he suffered great judgments to fall upon them. The Lamanites, at that time, dwelt in South America, and the Nephites in North America.

A great and terrible war commenced between them, which lasted for many years, and resulted in the complete overthrow and destruction of the Nephites. This war commenced at the Isthmus of Darien, and was very destructive to both nations for many years. At length, the Nephites were driven before their enemies, a great distance to the north, and north-east; and having gathered their whole nation together, both men, women, and children, they encamped on, and round about the hill Cumorah, where the records were found, which is in the State of New York, about two hundred miles west of the city of Albany. Here they were met by the numerous hosts of the Lamanites, and were slain, and hewn down, and slaughtered, both male and female—the aged, middle aged, and children. Hundreds of thousands were slain on both sides; and the nation of the Nephites were destroyed, excepting a few who had deserted over to the Lamanites, and a few who escaped into the south country, and a few who fell wounded, and were left by the Lamanites on the field of battle for dead, among whom were Mormon and his son Moroni, who were righteous men.20

Mormon had made an abridgement, from the records of his forefathers, upon plates, which abridgement he entitled the “Book of Mormon;” and, (being commanded of God,) he hid up in the hill Cumorah, all the sacred records of his forefathers which were in his possession, except the abridgement called the “Book of Mormon,” which he gave to his son Moroni to finish. Moroni survived his nation a few years, and continued the writings, in which he informs us, that the Lamanites hunted those few Nephites who escaped the great and tremendous battle of Cumorah, until they were all destroyed, excepting those who were mingled with the Lamanites, and that he was left alone, and kept himself hid, for they sought to destroy every Nephite who would not deny the Christ. He furthermore states, that the Lamanites were at war one with another, and that the


p. 22. whole face of the land was one continual scene of murdering, robbing, and plundering.21 He continued the history until the four hundred and twentieth year of the Christian era, when, (by the commandment of God,) he hid up the records in the hill Cumorah, where they remained concealed, until by the ministry of an angel they were discovered to Mr Smith, who, by the gift and power of God, translated them into the English language, by the means of the Urim and Thummim, as stated in the foregoing.

After the book was translated, the Lord raised up witnesses to bear testimony to the nations of its truth, who, at the close of the volume, send forth their testimony, which reads as follows:—


“Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come, that we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also of the people of Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken; and we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety, that the work is true. And we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man. 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; and it is marvellous in our eyes, nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him eternally in the heavens. And the honour be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.







The GTE and the Wilford Woodruff quotation

It amazes me that there are still discussions about the origin of the Book of Mormon (SITH vs U&T) among Latter-day Saints who don't...