Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Mormonism Unvailed in the Joseph Smith Papers

It's difficult for people in our day to appreciate the real-world challenges faced by the early Latter-day Saints. An example is the 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed.

Without understanding the historical context, people today are easily misled by those who advocate the stone-in-the-hat (SITH) theory of the origin of the Book of Mormon, which Mormonism Unvailed set forth as an alternative to the Urim and Thummim account provided by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

Compare the claims of Mormonism Unvailed with what the SITH scholars are teaching today. Other than the term "peep stone" in lieu of "seer stone," the following account from Mormonism Unvailed is indistinguishable from what Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, and even the Gospel Topics Essay teach today. It looks like the script from Dan Peterson's Witnesses movie.

The translation finally commenced. They were found to contain a language not now known upon the earth, which they termed "reformed Egyptian characters." The plates, therefore, which had been so much talked of, were found to be of no manner of use. After all, the Lord showed and communicated to him every word and letter of the Book. Instead of looking at the characters inscribed upon the plates, the prophet was obliged to resort to the old ''peep stone," which he formerly used in money-digging. This he placed in a hat, or box, into which he also thrust his face. Through the stone he could then discover a single word at a time, which he repeated aloud to his amanuensis, who committed it to paper, when another word would immediately appear, and thus the performance continued to the end of the book.

Apparently these fine LDS scholars find the SITH narrative in Mormonism Unvailed so credible that it supersedes what Joseph and Oliver taught.

The Joseph Smith Papers provide historical background that illuminates the significance of Mormonism Unvailed for people living in the mid 1800s. [For a discussion of Joseph Smith's response to that book, see

For example, in discussing the article "Travel Account and Questions, November 1837," the editors provided this background:

In addition to summarizing his journey to Far West and the administrative decisions made there, JS enumerated a series of questions that he said were “daily and hourly asked by all classes of people whilst we are traveling.” Though the specific circumstances that prompted such questions are unclear, many of the queries were related to longstanding misconceptions about church doctrine and JS’s past. Avowedly anti-Mormon publications had long influenced how the public viewed JS and the church. Eber D. Howe’s Mormonism Unvailed, which had been published three years prior in Painesville, Ohio, had shaped some of the public discourse surrounding JS and the church.7 [emphasis added]

Although JS stated his intention to answer the questions in the next issue of the Elders’ Journal, JS’s departure from Ohio and the seizure and burning of the Kirtland printing office in January 1838 delayed the publication of these answers until the paper resumed printing in Far West, Missouri, in July 1838.8

Footnote 7:

[7]Written to convince the public that JS was an imposter and to warn “those who are yet liable . . . to be enclosed within its [Mormonism’s] fetters,” Howe’s book featured a series of affidavits collected by Doctor Philastus Hurlbut from individuals who claimed to have been acquainted with JS and his family when they lived in New York. Following its publication, JS defended his and his family’s reputations, stating that he had never “been guilty of wronging or injuring any man or society of men” and that he was only guilty of having, in his youth, “a light, and too often, vain mind.” Howe’s book received a favorable review in Alexander Campbell’s Millennial Harbinger and was available for purchase throughout Ohio, western New York, and Pennsylvania. (Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, ix; JS to Oliver Cowdery, LDS Messenger and Advocate, Dec. 1834, 1:40; “Mormonism Unveiled,” Millennial Harbinger, Jan. 1835, 44–45; “Mormonism Unveiled,” Fredonia [NY] Censor, 25 Mar. 1835, [3]; News Item, Naked Truths about Mormonism [Oakland, CA], Apr. 1888, 4.)  

Howe, Eber D. Mormonism Unvailed: Or, A Faithful Account of That Singular Imposition and Delusion, from Its Rise to the Present Time. With Sketches of the Characters of Its Propagators, and a Full Detail of the Manner in Which the Famous Golden Bible Was Brought before the World. To Which Are Added, Inquiries into the Probability That the Historical Part of the Said Bible Was Written by One Solomon Spalding, More Than Twenty Years Ago, and by Him Intended to Have Been Published as a Romance. Painesville, OH: By the author, 1834.

Millennial Harbinger. Bethany, VA. Jan. 1830–Dec. 1870.

Fredonia Censor. Fredonia, NY. 1824–1932.

Naked Truths about Mormonism: Also a Journal for Important, Newly Apprehended Truths, and Miscellany. Oakland, CA. Jan. and Apr. 1888.

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