Sunday, August 13, 2023

SITH narrative explained by Brant Gardner

Epic interview with Brant Gardner on SITH

This is an amazing interview. 

It is the single best explanation of the SITH worldview that I'm aware of. Brant Gardner, who is one of the most if not the most qualified people to address the topic, draws back the "veil" over SITH. 

[SITH is the acronym for stone-in-the-hat theory of Book of Mormon translation.]

We might call this interview "SITH Unvailed."

The discussion below is long. I did it to document all the SITH claims that have been made over the years and the rhetorical tactics used by the SITH sayers.

_____

In the interest of clarity, charity and understanding, yesterday we discussed the first part of Brant Gardner's interview on the YouTube channel "Mormonism with the Murph," found here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DvvRyYXgq0&t=3133s


All the kudos and concerns I listed yesterday apply to this post as well. Hopefully it is obvious that we're not taking "the advantage of one because of his words." The pursuit of clarity, charity and understanding overlooks simple errors made in an informal context. 

The parts of the interview we're discussing here are not simply inadvertent misstatements Brant made, but specific assertions that are core to his advocacy of M2C and SITH. [M2C is the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory that rejects the New York Cumorah in favor of the "real Cumorah" somewhere in southern Mexico.]

Today we'll discuss Brant's comments on the translation of the Book of Mormon.

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Let's start with reasons why people should care what Brant Gardner says.

1. He's a nice guy, a faithful Latter-day Saint, and a thoughtful, rational scholar who has written thousands of pages in books and articles about the Book of Mormon. Plus, he's one of the few M2C/SITH scholars who are willing to engage in the issues outside of the M2C/SITH silos.

2. He represents much of the "consensus" views among M2C and SITH scholars. It's not only his self-proclaimed expertise, either. He is widely recognized by the M2C/SITH scholars as an expert in this area.

3. He is a key participant at the Interpreter, where he is on the Board of Advisors.

(click to enlarge)
https://interpreterfoundation.org/foundation/

He has been, and maybe still is, one of the webmasters who decides which comments are allowed on the Interpreter website. IOW, he's the censor there.

He is also part of their network of volunteers, as seen in this "mash-up" along with the other M2Cers and SITH sayers. Not that there's anything wrong with that. They're all great people.


4. He has an important role at Book of Mormon Central, serving on the "Research and Writing Team" along with other Interpreters.
(click to enlarge)
https://bookofmormoncentral.org/directory

All of this is more of the same. If you look at the BMC directory, you'll see Scott Gordon, President of FAIR, is on the BMC Board of Directors, Jack Welch is featured in the Interpreter photo, etc.

I used to call these interlocking organizations the "citation cartel," but people got offended by that term so I stopped using it in the interest if charity and understanding. That doesn't change the reality that we can all see these are the same people wearing different hats. 

I consider it deceptive and misleading for these scholars, as good and thoughtful as they are, to use multiple organizations to convey the impression that this small, incestuous group of academics represents a broad-based, independent consensus on SITH and M2C that justifies suppressing and attacking alternative faithful interpretations, but it is what it is. 

Readers can decide for themselves.

_____

Maybe Murph's viewers would like him to do a podcast on the group formerly known as the "citation cartel."

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Before starting, I emphasize that I have deep respect for the detailed, comprehensive, and accurate work of professional historians. Their work-product is awesome. The Joseph Smith Papers, like the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University, are a world-class resource that everyone interested in Church history must become familiar with. 

That said, there is a huge difference between (i) finding, preserving, organizing and presenting historical documents and (ii) interpreting those documents.

And there is a huge difference between (i) providing objective, factual context and (ii) editorializing about the meaning, significance, and relevance of historical documents.

In my view, the Joseph Smith papers has too often blended editorializing with factual context. I've given several examples elsewhere, and I include a few here. The distinction becomes obvious once you look for it.

This problem with historical analysis resembles the problem with experts generally. As a young lawyer, I soon learned that you can find experts to testify convincingly for both sides of pretty much every issue. People are easily persuaded when they hear only one side of an issue. That's why trials require a controversy; i.e., two sides (at least) present their respective cases to a decisionmaker. Allowing only one side to be heard is a kangaroo court with a predetermined outcome.

As a businessman who funded university research, I also learned that scientists can design experiments to produce whatever results you want (within reason). That's one reason why peer reviewed studies are often not replicable.

For these and other reasons, I don't defer to the opinions of experts. I'll listen and assess their claims based on logic, reason, and whatever facts they cite. 

Whenever a member of the credentialed class claims expertise, per se, as a reason to accept their theories (or to reject a noncredentialed theory), that's a "tell" for a poor argument that is primarily, if not completely, subjective.

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Another aspect of historical research is the treatment of witnesses. I can't tell how historians are trained to assess witness statements, but in many cases, they seem to take witness statements at face value. 

That might seem acceptable to most people, but as a lawyer, this baffles me. The credibility of witness testimony depends on many factors, including but not limited to (i) exploring defects in perception (not actually present, incorporating hearsay and assumptions, conflated memories, etc.), (ii) reconciling inconsistent statements, (iii) exposing bias, agenda, ulterior motives, etc., and (iv) evaluating competency (mental and physical). On top of these issues, we have the inherent problem of hearsay, including newspaper reports, journals, letters, etc., that are not verbatim and often without context.

As if that isn't enough complexity, we have advocates who focus on defending their theories at, seemingly, all costs. As we'll see in this discussion, they falsely blame others (in this case me) of doing what they themselves are doing.

Hopefully this analysis will help everyone interested come closer to achieving clarity, charity, and understanding.

_____

Back to Brant Gardner on the translation.

Here is a summary of today's post:

We can all see that Brant and the other SITH sayers reject what Joseph and Oliver wrote about the translation and other topics. And that’s fine. People can believe whatever they want.

But the SITH sayers are promoting a particular interpretation of the historical record based on choices they’ve made, informed by their own assumptions, inferences, and theories. Their interpretations are not facts.

An alternative narrative that corroborates what Joseph and Oliver said is also supported by the historical evidence. In my view, this narrative is better supported and more plausible than the SITH narrative.

Here's a key: those of us who still believe what Joseph and Oliver said have no problem with full disclosure and consideration of all the evidence. We embrace clarity, charity and understanding. But throughout this interview, like other SITH sayers Brant Gardner obfuscates, misrepresents, reads the minds of historical figures, and invents historical evidence, as we can all see.

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We'll start out of chronological order to highlight a complaint Brant made about others without realizing it is the basis for everything he writes about M2C and SITH.

The time code is from Murph's youtube video, here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DvvRyYXgq0&t=3133s

49:09

Brant: it is an apologetic for a particular idea where you say I'm uncomfortable with that history and I want it to be different therefore I will find things that fit my premise.

Comment. As we’ll see when we get to this part of the interview, Brant was referring (falsely) to my approach to SITH. But I start with this because it’s a fascinating Freudian slip, also called parapraxis, in which Brant describes his own approach to these issues.

We saw several examples of this in his discussion of Book of Mormon geography, such as when he claimed Joseph Smith said he was “crossing the plains of the Lamanites.”

His mind so deeply rejects the North American setting that it apparently won’t allow Brant to accurately recall Joseph’s actual statement, which was “crossing the plains of the Nephites.”

Brant’s books about the setting of the Book of Mormon employ this type of confirmation bias.

To his credit, Brant rejected the Stela 5 meme that was popular among M2Cers. But as we read his books and articles on the topic, we see a pattern of seeking for and finding details in Mesoamerica that “parallel” his interpretation of the text while rejecting data that contradict his interpretation (such as Letter VII).

We all do this, more or less, so this is not a surprise. But it’s telling to see Brant articulate this problem only in the context of finding fault with those who disagree with him.

[Now back to the beginning of this part of the conversation]

7:55 Murph: Understanding how the Book of Mormon was translated… you know I grew up believing that Joseph Smith translated it, you know, by the gift and power of God. Most of the depictions show him, you know, with the plates, you know, looking at the gold plates. We read about in his official history as he describes it, using the Urim and Thummim which are the Nephite interpreters or the spectacles, like they're like two, sort of like whiteish Stones, weren't they?

In a silver bow…

8:29

… and they're kind of worn as spectacles

Here Murph accurately relates the traditional understanding of how the Book of Mormon was translated, based on authentic historical documents; i.e., Joseph translated the plates by means of the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates. He and Oliver were consistent whenever they discussed the translation.

One example is from the 1838 Elders’ Journal:

Question 4th. How, and where did you

obtain the book of Mormon?

Answer. Moroni, the person who deposited

the plates, from whence the book of Mormon was translated, in a hill in Manchester, Ontario County New York, being dead; and

raised again therefrom, appeared unto me,

and told me where they were; and gave me

directions how to obtain them. I obtained

them, and the Urim and Thummim with

them; by the means of which, I translated

the plates; and thus came the book of Mormon.

Link: Joseph Smith Papers

That explanation is clear, direct, and unequivocal. Joseph explains he translated the plates by means of the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates. The statement leaves no room for a seer stone found elsewhere.

8:29 but actually there's quite a few statements from some eyewitnesses like uh Emma Smith his wife, Martin Harris, David Whitmer uh maybe some others as well who talk about him having a Seer Stone and him putting it into his hat burying his face in the hat and then either reading and we'll get into that later with your review

or dictating the words as they appeared on the stone

8:54

and for a lot of for a lot of people I didn't know about that until um I think after my mission, the Seer Stone was used… I remember somebody said to me that the church anoints the seer Stone because I went on my mission 2015.

I think that was the year the church were like publicly you know, released it and there was, I think an article Joseph the Seer about it so I think it could be good to initially talk about, you know, seer stones and Joseph Smith sort of uh folk magic, you know, the culture and, you know, the 18th 19th century of using not just seer stones but things like uh divining rods and people believing in you know buried treasure underground guarded by spirits that was sort of like the culture that, the environment that he was in. Is there anything you want to tell us a bit about yeah sort of like the 19th century magical folklore and culture he grew up?

Murph does a good job establishing the fundamental discrepancy between what Joseph and Oliver said versus what others said. He also describes the “magic world view” that has become widely accepted.

The Ensign article to which he refers is here:

Link: Ensign 2015

I’ve discussed this article several times, such as here:

It's a great article, overall, but it started a theme that continues to cause a lot of confusion in the Church. For example, the article says


In another Book of Mormon account, Alma the Younger gives the interpreters to his son Helaman. “Preserve these interpreters,” Alma counsels him, referring to the two stones in silver bows. But Alma also quotes a prophecy that appears to refer to a single stone: “And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light.” (Alma 37:21, 23).

The problem here: the original version of Alma 37 did not read “interpreters.” It read “directors.” The term was changed in the 1920 edition of the Book of Mormon. Thus, when Oliver Cowdery said "interpreters" he could not have been referring to Alma 37.

The article also claimed this:

 

By 1833, Joseph Smith and his associates began using the biblical term “Urim and Thummim” to refer to any stones used to receive divine revelations, including both the Nephite interpreters and the single seer stone.17 This imprecise terminology has complicated attempts to reconstruct the exact method by which Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon.

This paragraph states a weak theory as a fact. Note 17 refers to the Wilford Woodruff account of seeing the Urim and Thummim in Nauvoo, but Brigham Young’s account of the same meeting clearly distinguished between the Urim and Thummim and the seer stone Joseph showed on that occasion.

Besides, as anyone knows who has read the 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed, that book made a clear distinction between the Urim and Thummim and the seer or "peep" stones. It presented them as alternative accounts that were circulating at the time. That context explains why it is significant--critical--that Joseph and Oliver always said Joseph translated with the Urim and Thummim and never said he translated with a seer stone.

Link: BookofMormonCentralAmerica

9:50

Brant: I think it's important to know that that that existed because it gives a context

to what Joseph was doing because when we hear it you know it's the reaction everybody has to the seer stone which is, oh no, this is weird, this is strange and what we don't understand because we come from a very different world view is, for the people who lived in that world view and at that time this was perfectly normal this was accepted this is what you do and if you dig into the history of this it actually has a very long history and it goes back into England…

Brant is accurately relating the modern LDS scholarly narrative about the acceptability of seer stones in Joseph Smith’s time, but it’s obviously apologetic when we consider how the topic was actually treated during Joseph’s lifetime.

It was hardly “perfectly normal” to use seer stones to find treasure, let alone to translate an ancient record. Instead, the practice was an object of ridicule and scorn, as we read right in the 1834 Mormonism Unvailed:

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.

Link: Archive.org Mormonism Unvailed

After digressing into a discussion of herbalists vs doctors, Brant continues.

 

13:04

Up until the translation of the Book of Mormon Joseph Smith is part of this culture of people who believe that you can find things with the Seer Stone and before the translation of the Book of Mormon there are records of Joseph Smith using a Seer Stone to find lost things

If there are records of these events that predate the translation of the Book of Mormon, they aren’t documented anywhere I’ve seen, apart from the trial when Joseph was charged with fraud, essentially, for using the stones, as Brant discusses later. The other accounts are post facto recollections.

13:23

He found a lost wallet he told somebody where they're you know where their lost horse was

um famously Martin Harris was testing Joseph and he said you know I just dropped a pin can you find it in you know the tall grass right Joseph you know takes out of seer Stone and is able

to find it um he describes Josiah Stoal’s property as well on Josiah Stoal is  convinced of his uh his seeric gift and hires him uh to come to Harmony Pennsylvania to help you know dig on the silver mine they were going to yeah and all of that says you know this is a context where Martin Harris believed that this was possible other people believed it was possible so it's not strange at all.

These accounts were related after the fact, which doesn’t make them untrue but it does raise the possibility of embellishment, conflation with other stories, etc.

Oliver Cowdery addressed these and related charges in Letter VIII, which Joseph had copied into his own journal as part of his life history and encouraged its republication in the Gospel Reflector and Times and Seasons. , as well as the Millennial Star and the Prophet. IOW, Oliver’s eight letters were widely distributed among the Saints during Joseph’s lifetime. Part of Letter I is canonized in JS-H in the Pearl of Great Price.

Here's an excerpt from several pages of explanation:

On the private character of our brother I need add nothing further, at present, previous to his obtaining the records of the Nephites, only that while in that country, some verry officious persons complained of him as a disorderly person, and brought him before the authorities of the country county; but there being no cause of action he was honorably acquited.

Link: Joseph Smith Papers

14:07 what I think is fascinating is you know if somebody comes to me and you know an angel Moroni came to me and said by the way you're going to translate something my first response is okay where are the dictionaries you know give me the dictionary give me the you know where is the apparatus where's the grammar where's the dictionary how am I going to do this? 

Moroni comes to Joseph and Joseph's got the same question how in the world am I going to do this?

 

This is all projection and mind-reading. Naturally, as a scholar, Brant would think this way. But we have no record of Joseph saying or implying anything of the sort.

To the contrary, Joseph knew exactly what to do because Moroni told him he was going to use the Urim and Thummim to translate the record. “God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book.” (Joseph Smith—History 1:35)

Letter IV explains that 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.”

LinkJoseph Smith Papers

And that’s exactly what Joseph actually did once he got to Harmony (long before Martin Harris went there.)

By this timely aid was I enabled to reach the place of my destination in Pennsylvania; and immediately after my arrival there I commenced copying the characters off the plates. I copied a considerable number of them, and by means of the Urim and Thummim I translated some of them, which I did between the time I arrived at the house of my wife’s father, in the month of December, and the February following.

(Joseph Smith—History 1:62)

14:35

And so one of the questions that gets asked is, okay, maybe we'll find someone to translate it and so they actually, uh, with that in mind you know, we've got the plates. We're going to get them translated they said. Martin Harris goes off, goes east to consult with the scholars to see if he can get someone to translate

M: yeah he takes some of the characters with him

“with that in mind” is more mind reading by Brant.

Note the glaring error here. Martin did not take just the characters with him. He took the characters along with Joseph’s translation.

This was the whole point of Martin’s trip. Not to get the characters translated, but to validate Joseph’s own translation he had done before Martin even came to Harmony.

14:57

B: and the whole thing with Charles Anthon is because they're looking for someone to translate and this is yeah I can't do it you know I you know like they look good but yeah I can't do it.

So everything comes back and it gets to Joseph and Joseph realizes okay I'm going to have to do it.

Brant contradicts Joseph’s explicit history, which quotes Martin Harris.

“I went to the city of New York, and presented the characters which had been translated, with the translation thereof, to Professor Charles Anthon, a gentleman celebrated for his literary attainments. Professor Anthon stated that the translation was correct, more so than any he had before seen translated from the Egyptian.

(Joseph Smith—History 1:64)

I realize the SITH sayers have problems with Martin’s version of events, just as they have problems with Joseph’s version. But here Brant is reading Joseph’s mind to say Joseph “realizes” he’s going to have to translate only after Martin returns from New York, despite the fact Joseph had explicitly translated the characters before giving them to Martin along with the translation to take to New York.

Nowhere does Brant explain these passages from JS-H, nor does Murph call him out on them.

In the interest of charity, we can assume Brant and other SITH sayers have an explanation. One I’ve heard is that Joseph tried to translate using his own intellect, but failed, and that’s why he resorted to the seer stone. That strikes me as pure fiction because Joseph said he did successfully translate the characters with the U&T before Martin took them to New York. Like Brant’s mind-reading, this is just a retroactive justification for SITH.

15:14 how is he going to do that? You know he looks at the plates and everything else and he goes how in the world am I going to see something that I can't see? how do I get the hidden message from this?

This is not merely mind-reading by Brant. It’s calling Joseph a liar for claiming he copied and translated the characters.

It is hardly a “hidden message” when he can copy the characters and translate them into English, as he said he did.

15:27 and his only concept is to go back to what he knew which is, you know, I can find things with a seer stone. I can see things that otherwise could not be seen. And so it's absolutely logical in his world that he's going to use that Seer Stone as a means of translation because he's got nothing else. There's no grammars. There's no, there's no nothing. Even if there were grammar Joseph wouldn't probably know how to read that darn thing.

 

If Joseph is going “back to what he knew,” he is going back to the Urim and Thummim he had already used to translate the characters.

Brant says Joseph has “got nothing else” than the seer stone.

Seriously, it is difficult to believe that Brant Gardner is unaware of JS-H. But if he is aware, this is obvious and intentional misinformation to fool listeners into accepting SITH.

15:58 Murph: like the magical culture and it's described as Folk magic. Some people, particularly you know some Christians might criticize that, you know is this uh dark magic, you know black magic satanic stuff they were engaged with. My understanding is it was term deemed as Folk magic because it's the magic of

the people uh you know engaging in you know using Seer stones or divining rods and it was more their magical worldview and sort of like a you know pseudo-science there, understanding of how the world works.

Murph does a good job summarizing the SITH narrative here.

Mormonism Unvailed put it this way:

 

Joseph, Jun. in the mean time, had become very expert in the arts of necromancy, jugling, the use of the divining rod, and looking into what they termed a "peep-stone,” by which means he soon collected about him a gang of idle, credulous young men, to perform the labor of digging into the hills and mountains, and other lonely places, in that vicinity, in search of gold.

Link: Archive.org Mormonism Unvailed

But Joseph and Oliver hardly approved of Mormonism Unvailed. See a short discussion here:

Link: LDSHistoricalNarratives

16:35 Brant: yeah it is unfortunate that it got

labeled as magic because then you can say okay wait a minute. Magic is not right. And then you

get this occult thing. When I was talking about that clash between the old traditional and this newer modern science coming in the idea that the um that old folk belief was satanic is actually much later in history. It's a reaction to that right it's a denial it's sort of saying okay yeah that's a bad thing. Well it wasn't at the time. It's a different reaction that people have when you get that label and it's unfortunate.

This begins a discussion of how seer stones were perceived as acceptable at the time. To normalize SITH, the SITH sayers pursue this line of argument, resorting to a lot of generalities.

But when Brant says the idea that seer stones were Satanic “is actually much later in history,” he should at least cite and explain why the Lord told Joseph to have Oliver tell Hiram Page that “Satan deceiveth him” when Page used a stone.

That’s explicitly Satanic, and September 1830 is hardly “later in history.”

11 And again, thou shalt take thy brother, Hiram Page, between him and thee alone, and tell him that those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me and that Satan deceiveth him;

(Doctrine and Covenants 28:11)

17:22

Murph: almost kind of like presentism isn't it? Because whenever I talked to Dan Vogel he said that the Smiths and other people that would have engaged in these folk magic practices. They wouldn't have seen it as uh anything satanic or dark. They just would have understood that's how the world works and they're invisible forces.

Naturally, Dan would frame it this way because it fits his narrative. But we can all read D&C 28:11.

There were probably some people who thought seer stones were fine, others who thought they were evil, and others who didn’t care. But the 1830 revelation explicitly links the Page stone to Satan, so it’s hard to say that Joseph’s contemporaries “wouldn’t have seen it as anything satanic.”

18:47

Brant: so yeah this the whole idea that satanic that is actually a reaction that comes much later in time

Brant reiterates his bizarre claim that September 1830 (D&C 28:11) is “much later in time.”

[The discussion veers into divining rods, others who used seer stones, more anecdotes about Joseph using the stone, etc.]

The credibility of the seer stone accounts is subjective; i.e., people can believe or disbelieve them and give arguments to justify their beliefs.

Here, though, Brant gives us more extensive mind-reading, telling us what Joseph was thinking when he was supposedly using the stone.

[after discussing more accounts, including animal sacrifice, Murph asks] 34:13 have you looked at those quotes and do you have any thoughts?

 

34:20 there are a whole bunch of things that

were collected after the fact, where somebody's going in they're saying I want to get all these affidavits. Well they're trying to get things, trying to encourage people to say bad things about Joseph

M: yeah and Hurlburt affidavits

B: yeah these are people who uh you know who are familiar with the kinds of things that went on and so I wouldn't be surprised that somebody was involved with animal sacrifice I also wouldn't be surprised that they said Joseph was, whether he was or he wasn't uh you know these were things that had happened people had done that and so okay here's a bad story let me impute that with the Joseph… my take on it is that those based on the context the way they're being collected and the nature of the stories uh I think what we're seeing is people who know that those things happened and therefore imputed them to Joseph because they wanted the person collecting the stories wanted something bad to say about Joseph. so I don't necessarily think that that actually happened with Joseph I think it actually happened with someone um and they just imputed that story to Joseph because it didn't sound good and therefore it would make Joseph look bad…

Comment. This is a good discussion of the subjectivity and dubious reliability of these historical narratives.

Contrast these accounts with what Oliver wrote in Letter VIII, cited above.

During Joseph’s lifetime, Oliver’s letters (essays) were the most frequently republished accounts of the Restoration, explicitly approved by Joseph Smith.

However, to the extent Oliver’s essays refute SITH and M2C, modern LDS historians reject them. But rejecting these essays for ideological reasons is the epitome of presentism.

38:14

Murph: okay so we'll transition away from Seer Stone treasure digging. We'll talk briefly before we get into your theories of the different translation theories. So when Joseph receives the gold plates after they, you know, go to Charles Anton he can't translate it and then Joseph begins translating with Martin Harris

Here Murph repeats Brant’s revisionist history, ignoring (or oblivious to) Joseph’s own account in JS-H.

38:33

there's from Martin and from Emma that he uses Urim and Thummim or the spectacles in translation although I remember I brought up with Steven Smoot you know the story of Martin

swapping the stones with Joseph so there's a bit of ambiguity was it only the Urim and Thummim

or was the Seer Stone also used during the 116 pages but it seems that the sources indicate that after the loss of the 116 Pages it was predominantly the Seer stone that was placed in the hat for the Book of Mormon as we have it today. Do you agree with that? do you have any thoughts on you know the Urim and Thummim and spectacles versus seer stone?

Murph continues explaining the SITH theory, including the stone swapping account, a hearsay account that was published only after Martin’s death, based on a conversation Martin had years previously on the train to Utah, shortly after his bout of delirium in Ohio.

The other fallacy here, of course, is that the SITH sayers seem to forget or ignore that the statements from Joseph and Oliver describe what happened after the loss of the 116 pages.

39:10

Brant: the first thought I have is I have to correct language here. The idea that the Urim and Thummim was ever used with the Book of Mormon is wrong.

How do you like that for a statement?

M: Explain.

B: The Urim and Thummim is never in the Book of Mormon. The Urim and Thummim has nothing to do with the Book of Mormon. The Urim and Thummim was never in the new world.

39:35

M: right

 

Brant tries to be provocative here, which is good rhetorical technique, but it’s pure word thinking.

When Brant claims the Urim and Thummim has nothing to do with the Book of Mormon, he refers to the Old Testament Urim and Thummim. He intentionally doesn’t make that clear because he has implicitly rejected what Joseph Smith said about the term.

Obviously, the term “Urim and Thummim” can apply to more than one object.

Joseph reported that Moroni said “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;”

(Joseph Smith—History 1:35)

As Oliver explained, Moroni told Joseph it was his “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.”

Link: Joseph Smith Papers

To be clear: Brant, like other SITH sayers, claim Joseph and Oliver were misleading everyone by retroactively misquoting Moroni.

This is the pattern. To promote their own theories, the SITH sayers say Joseph and Oliver misled everyone by saying Joseph translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates. They misled everyone by even using the term Urim and Thummim. They misled everyone about the hill Cumorah in New York.

Brant’s position is not irrational or counterfactual. It’s a deliberate choice to reject what Joseph and Oliver claimed in favor of accepting what others said.

And that’s fine, if people want to adopt that interpretation. It’s one of multiple working hypotheses. But Brant should give people clarity about his position instead of obscuring it with word thinking.

B: It was a term that at least uh as early as W.W Phelps, we believe he was the earliest one, applied to the Seer stones or the interpreters and then it became common usage.

For a long time scholars believed Phelps coined the term because his 1833 publication was the earliest known reference.

But recently an earlier reference was discovered in an 1832 Boston newspaper. It’s surprising Brant doesn’t know about this. Maybe he does but he didn’t mention it because it contradicts his narrative and he would just as soon leave his readers and listeners ignorant of the reference.

We can all read about it in the Joseph Smith Papers.

Link: Joseph Smith Papers

“JS and other church members began referring to the instrument as the Urim and Thummim by 1832.5”

Let’s pause and look at the agenda-driven rhetoric in that sentence. The JSP editors claim JS “began” using the term Urim and Thummim “by 1832.” But that’s not what the historical evidence tells us.

Published accounts can’t tell us when JS “began” using the term because we have few accounts (and even fewer verbatim accounts) of what Joseph said between 1823 and 1832. All we can legitimately say is the first known published use of the term was this article from 1832 in Boston. But just as the 1832 article contradicted the long-held claim that Phelps coined the term, an earlier discovery would contradict the claim that JS began using the term in 1832.

Besides, unless Orson Hyde and Samuel Smith coined the term themselves for this interview, they must have heard it from Joseph Smith previously. Samuel could have heard it as early as 1823, actually.

If the JSP editors were not promoting the SITH agenda, they would have factually reported merely that this was the first known published account of the term Urim and Thummim in connection with the translation.

But this is not the only historical evidence. Joseph and Oliver both said that Moroni used the term back in 1823. Scholars can reject their claim, but the interest of clarity requires them to do so openly, not by rhetorical tricks the way Brant does here.

Now, let’s look at Note 5 in the JSP. It gives this citation, which isn’t all that helpful because there is no link.

“Questions Proposed to the Mormonite Preachers and Their Answers Obtained before the Whole Assembly at Julien Hall, Sunday Evening, August 5, 1832,” Boston Investigator, 10 Aug. 1832, [2]

It’s odd that the JSP editors did not provide at least an excerpt from the content of the article so readers could see it in context. Well, maybe not odd, given the way they promote SITH throughout the JSP.

In that article, Samuel Smith and Orson Hyde are quoted in this Q&A session:

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.

Obviously, these answers are another refutation of SITH. They even specifically explain what they mean by "Urim and Thummim." Maybe that’s why Brant didn’t bring it up during the interview.

For more discussion of the U&T issue, see Link: Mobom.org

39:54

in the Book of Mormon they're interpreters. And so a Seer stone is one that Joseph had before. The interpreters are the ones that came with the plates. The Urim and Thummim is just a name that somebody applied later, frankly because by the time they started getting members of the church uh there were a lot of people coming where the shift away from that previous magical worldview was already occurring and it was getting stronger and so people kind of wanted to distance themselves from the seer stones and one of the ways you did it is you biblicized them by giving them the name Urim and Thummim.

Here again, Brant is reading the minds of the early members of the Church, accusing them of wanting to “distance themselves from the seer stones.” In his version of history, Moroni did not use the term the way Joseph and Oliver said.

Instead, Orson Hyde and Samuel Smith “biblicized” the narrative by telling the people in Boston that Joseph used the Urim and Thummim, which they described as spectacles found with the plates.

Another version of history (which I consider more congruent with the historical record) is that Joseph, Oliver and their contemporaries did want to distance themselves from the seer stone because Joseph never used the seer stone to translate the plates. They related accurate history; i.e., that Joseph used the Urim and Thummim, identified by Moroni, to translate the plates.

[here they discuss the “gift of Aaron” for a while]

 

41:14 you know the very fact that we think of dividing rods and Seer Stones as, you know, unusual and strange, that is an opinion that was beginning early on and it informed the way some of the early church members reacted to the

stories and so you get things like renaming or re-labeling the interpreters and the Seer Stones as Urim and Thummim which makes them much more palatable. But you also get changes in the Doctrine and Covenants where you remove the rod because that's a little too strange and we want to make things a little more normal.

41:54

now you get people who will say that Joseph never used the Seer Stone because they have this belief, again coming from the occult, this other reaction to that, that we were talking about, that says that this is black magic

 

Here, Brant repeats the SITH sayers’ insistence that the term Urim and Thummim applied to both the intepreters and the seer stone(s).

To repeat, in case readers are skipping around through this discussion, there is no historical record that anyone used the term Urim and Thummim to mean both the Nephite interpreters and the seer stone people claim Joseph put in the hat. Mormonism Unvailed, David Whitmer, Emma Smith and Marting Harris all made a clear distinction between the two; i.e., there was the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates, and there was a separate seer stone.

Nevertheless, to avoid any confusion, Joseph specifically explained that he translated the plates by means of the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates.

Brant’s rhetoric about the occult is a red herring intended to lead readers/viewers to think past the sale.

42:08

M: people like the Stoddards and things

The Stoddards do focus on the black magic element, an area of disagreement between us, which is fine.

B: yeah but you get that still you know with people in, the church casts a wide net and we get lots of different people with lots of different histories and beliefs and some of those ideas that developed in later Evangelical Christianity have come into the heritage of some of the people in the church but that whole idea that they're trying to distance themselves

42:39

that's the reason why it faded from church history. Not that they were trying, you know, actively trying to hide it they were trying to sort of assimilate.

Which I think if you really think about it is the same thing as hiding.

 

Brant’s narrative that LDS leaders were hiding the actual church history “to sort of assimilate” is a plausible narrative. It’s an essential narrative to support SITH.

However, an alternative narrative has Joseph and Oliver stating facts to counter false rumors and innuendo. That’s exactly how Oliver and Joseph explained their efforts, and that’s also why they denounced Mormonism Unvailed.

Oliver introduced his eight essays this way:

That our narrative may be correct, and particularly the introduction, it is proper to inform our patrons, that our brother J. Smith Jr. has offered to assist us. Indeed, there are many items connected with the fore part of this subject that render his labor indispensible. With his labor and with authentic documents now in our possession, we hope to render this a pleasing and agreeable narrative, well worth the examination and perusal of the Saints.—

To do <​Justice to​> this subject will require time and space: we therefore ask the forbearance of our readears, assuring them that it shall be founded upon facts.

Link: Joseph Smith Papers

Joseph introduced his own history this way:

1 Owing to the many reports which have been put in circulation by evil-disposed and designing persons, in relation to the rise and progress of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, all of which have been designed by the authors thereof to militate against its character as a Church and its progress in the world—I have been induced to write this history, to disabuse the public mind, and put all inquirers after truth in possession of the facts, as they have transpired, in relation both to myself and the Church, so far as I have such facts in my possession.

2 In this history I shall present the various events in relation to this Church, in truth and righteousness, as they have transpired, or as they at present exist, being now [1838] the eighth year since the organization of the said Church.

(Joseph Smith—History 1:1–2)

We can all see that Brant and the other SITH sayers reject what Joseph and Oliver wrote about the translation and other topics. And that’s fine. People can believe whatever they want.

But the SITH sayers are promoting a particular interpretation of the historical record based on choices they’ve made, informed by their own assumptions, inferences, and theories. Their interpretations are not facts.

An alternative narrative that corroborates what Joseph and Oliver said is also supported by the historical evidence.

Those of us who believe what Joseph and Oliver said have no problem with full disclosure and consideration of all the evidence. But throughout this interview, Brant obfuscates, misrepresents, and invents historical evidence, as we can all see.

42:58

M: my Impressions about looking at some of the quotes from Joseph Fielding Smith it sounds to me like he probably genuinely believed there was accounts of the seer stone that were hearsay. I think he just dismissed them. He didn't believe them. So I don't know how much was an intentional covering or he just didn't um accept or believe it.

43:16

B: there were several who, by the time they got around to looking at history, and they didn't have all the documents, they didn't look at that thing seriously, they just looked at the history and that

whole dichotomy of saying uh you know we're modern people but how do you account for Joseph and the seer stone one of the ways of doing is by denying that he had a seer Stone.

43:41

But the good historical work that's been done and encouraged by the church recently and supported and then published by the church it's very very clear that a Seer Stone was used.

So yes there was a historical time when they were trying to kind of distance themselves from it and you know become part of the modern world and separate themselves from that folk Magic.

History now allows us to go back and not be as embarrassed about our history as we might have been at one time.

Murph hits on a key point: the credibility, reliability, and plausibility of the statements of the SITH witnesses.

There are lots of ways witness testimony can be impeached. Joseph Fielding Smith and others recognized the clear distinction between hearsay and direct evidence, between vague generalities and specifics, etc.

This has been a main difference between my approach and that of the SITH sayers, as I’ve explained in my books and presentations.

Brant’s claim that people “didn’t have all the documents” is inexplicable.

Mormonism Unvailed was not only well known, but specifically refuted by Joseph and Oliver.

Emma’s “Last Testimony” was not only published in the Saints’ Herald, but it was discussed robustly at the time in the Deseret News in Utah.

David Whitmer’s An Address to All Believers in Christ was published and widely distributed and discussed.

Martin Harris’ accounts were published in the Deseret News before and after his death.

There are few if any “new discoveries” in Church history. Joseph's contemporaries understood these issues far better than modern historians looking back and speculating.

Nevertheless, the modern revisionists such as Brant Gardner have resurrected long-known accounts to repudiate what Joseph and Oliver taught.

 

 

44:10 Murph: What would you say to those people who say the Seer Stone was never used?

Because I've been sent a book by I believe it's Jonathan Neville and James Lucas which I'm going to read their book and bring them on. I think they enjoy the work I'm doing but they disagree very much with the seer stone.

I, you know, I said I'll read the book and I'll engage, but to me the thing that I always

find a little bit strange is you know you have statements for Martin Harris, Emma Smith, David Whitmer who are your faithful Witnesses, eyewitnesses who would have been around who would have witnessed The Book of Mormon translation but they're not claiming that you know it was fraud or he's making it up they’re claiming it was miraculous you know by the gift and power of God using the stone.

Brant: yeah

Murph: they're faith promoting statements but then these people want to just reject them and these are like prominent Witnesses of the restoration and they say like, no, just trust, you know because Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith only mentioned Urim and Thummim and I think they say that the Lord uses the word Urim and Thummim in the doctrine and covenants so I've had one person said to me, well, who you're going to trust, the Lord, Joseph Smith or you know all these other ones

Comment. Here Murph explains that he doesn’t understand why my co-author and I don’t think Joseph used the seer stone, although that is not our position.

We’ll get into that when we do the podcast with Murph, but he seems to be conflating our approach with that of the Stoddards.

We think the evidence is clear that Joseph possessed and used seer stones, just not for translating the plates.

In the book, we discuss all the evidence, including Martin, Emma, and David, but I’ll save that for the podcast.

It’s the problem I mentioned in the introduction, that people take witness statements at face value without examining credibility, reliability, veracity, etc.

45:24

Brant: they actually don't really know much about how the Doctrine and Covenants was put together.

This one is funny, actually. In this very interview, Brant misquotes sources, demonstrates that he doesn’t know much about what Joseph actually wrote, and omits references that contradict his theories. Then he accuses me of not knowing much about how the D&C was put together, even though in our book we discuss the specific point of the addition of the U&T in the 1835 D&C.

And there’s an entire article about it here:

Link: Mobom.org

45:30

The doctrine covenants is heavily edited and changed and altered and you know as you mentioned things like the rod are taken out

Brant’s framing here seems intentionally misleading. Anyone can see that the 1835 D&C is not “heavily edited and changed and altered” from the Book of Commandments (BOC).

Critics say these relatively few edits were made to “hide” weird parts from the Book of Commandments (BOC), but printed copies of the BOC existed at the time (and still exist today), so hiding seems a futile effort.

Another interpretation treats these edits as clarifications (my view).

The change to D&C 8 regarding the gift of Aaron (replacing the gift of working with the rod), which Brant and Murph discussed elsewhere in the podcast, supports both interpretations, so people can believe whatever they want.

45:42

what happens with those books, so the Stoddards have one and Neville has one,

 for some of the statements of the faithful people who saw it those are late statements and they say, Well, they're apostates by then and they didn't like the church and so therefore they must be making that up yeah in other words they're finding excuse to deny it

As much as I like Brant personally and respect his scholarship, it is inexcusable for him to misrepresent my views this way.

I disagree with the Stoddards in several respects, including their claim that the SITH statements came from apostates who made up the SITH narrative.

46:00 the second thing is they just assume that urim and Thummim is real. You know, when it says Urim and Thummim it means Urim and Thummim.

 

They don't understand that that was a generic term that was used for the interpreters.

 

46:10 and so basically they'll say it was always the interpreters and never a seer stone

 

M: because my understanding it's sort of like your mythology is the term used for both the

46:24

interpreters or the Seer Stone because they're both sort of seeric devices used in the translation

 

Assume it is real? Maybe Brant misspoke, but is he implying the U&T was not real?

Next, he claims I “don’t understand” that U&T is a generic term used for the Interpreters, as if that is a fact instead of a weak theory promoted by the SITH sayers.

Because the SITH theory defies the statements from Joseph and Oliver, the SITH sayers recognize they need to (i) redefine the term Urim and Thummim and (ii) read Joseph’s mind to discern his true intent that contradicts the plain meaning of his words.

However, we can all see that Mormonism Unvailed clearly distinguished between the “peep stone” and the U&T. We can all see that David, Emma, and Martin also clearly distinguished between the two.

More importantly, when Joseph used the term to describe the translation, he emphasized that he used the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates. He left no room for a seer stone he found elsewhere.

46:30 Basically any of the books that are promoting that are promoting the idea are massaging history without actually doing good history

In this Orwellian statement, Brant claims that quoting actual historical sources instead of mind reading is not “good history.”

As he demonstrates throughout this interview, Brant claims “good history” consists of ignoring sources that contradict his SITH theory while promoting as fact his weak theory that the term Urim and Thummim was so generic it included the seer stone Joseph found in a well.

As bad as Brant’s theory is, it doesn’t matter because Joseph specified he used the U&T that came with the plates.

46:40

yeah you don't have actual historians doing it.

 

When we were talking in the other part about you know scholars uh you know people who know what they're doing uh looking at

geography or geology. Now there's a reason why we want to look at the people who have training in those fields as opposed to people who are, you know, armchair geologists and saying this looks like that we have the parallels we talked about parallelism and the problems of that

Here is the deference to the credentialed class that the SITH and M2C scholars play as their trump card. “Trust me,” they say.

Except the appeal to experts doesn’t work, for the same reason it doesn’t work in court; i.e., there are experts on all sides with completely contradictory conclusions.

If you polled all the experts in geography, geology, anthropology, or any other field, how many would conclude that the evidence in Mesoamerica proves, or even corroborates, the Book of Mormon?

Only a handful of LDS apologists such as Brant. The rest—the vast mainstream of scholars and experts—find Brant’s propositions preposterous.

That said, parallelism can problematic, a point I’ve made many times with respect to John Sorenson’s “correspondences.”

47:13

yeah well when you get into these books again you're dealing with people who are not trained historians who are complaining about what trained historians have found

Again, Brant might be referring to the Stoddards here because of their animus toward Richard Bushman and other historians.

However, he cannot point to any statement of mine complaining “about what trained historians have found” because I appreciate the work of the historians and discuss all of their findings.

I have no problem with what the historians have literally found. But I do have problems with some of what they have metaphorically “found” as they express their interpretations.

47:20

well the trained historians have been through the Joseph Smith papers the trained historians have been through all of the documents yeah why are they wrong and the people who are not trained as historians and are pushing an idea that they had before they started doing the research

why are they right?

Brant commits an obvious compound fallacy here.

First, trained historians may be good at collecting and organizing historical information, and we can all see that the Joseph Smith Papers (JSP) are exemplary in this respect.

But “going through” the evidence is merely the first step.

The problems arise in interpreting the evidence.

Different historians reach different conclusions from identical facts because conclusions are subjectively based on assumptions, inferences, theories, etc.

The JSP documents are impeccable, but the commentary is rife with speculation and agenda promotion. I’ve shown many examples of this.

Second, Brant asserts that I am pushing an idea I had before I started doing the research. That’s an outright lie that I can show from my own publications. [see below]

47:49

you know if you start looking for something you'll find what you're looking for. So you know, in scholarly work if you start with a premise and you know, what I'm going to do is I'm going to find something that that verifies my premise, well you'll find what you're looking for because anything that doesn't fit you find an excuse for and you cast off.

M: Yeah, you ignore.

This is an amazing admission from Brant because it explains all of his work on both SITH and M2C.

He started and ended believing in and promoting both SITH and M2C. We all know he is heavily invested in both theories due to his years of research, publication, and activity with the organizations formerly known as the citation cartel.

In this very interview, we’ve seen him find an excuse for historical evidence (such as Zelph) that contradicts his theories, which he then cast off.

Unbelievable.

48:00

Historians start with the reverse and they say where is the evidence? What does the evidence say? And then I'll collect and bring the theory.

 

M: That's important. Take all the sources into account and not just dismiss the ones even if you don't like the implication because some people may have trouble with the implication of you know him using a seer stone and he used the same stone in folk magic, treasure digging and they may not like that.

This idealized theory of how historians work is contradicted daily by historians everywhere. Critics and faithful scholars look at the identical evidence and yet they disagree about the interpretation.

To be sure, they have converged into a consensus on SITH, but in both cases they reach that consensus by repudiating what Joseph and Oliver unambiguously claimed.

Faithful scholars justify their SITH saying by simply omitting evidence that contradicts their theories.

A good example of this is From Darkness unto Light by MacKay and Dirkmaat, who proposed the generic application of U&T but forgot to quote and discuss the passage in Mormonism Unvailed that clearly distinguishes between the two.

Another example is the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Translation that never once quotes or discusses what Joseph and Oliver said about the translation (apart from a truncated out-of-context excerpt).

48:36

yeah and then they also stop and don't, you know, remember what happens with these sear stones after the fact. That you know the Urim and Thummim was dedicated on the altar but it was a Seer stone and you know the descriptions tell us that it was a Seer Stone so you know we've got those same seer stones and their history

This is more sleight-of-hand, if not an outright lie. Brant appears to be referring to Wilford Woodruff dedicating a seer stone on the altar of the Manti temple in 1887, but he did not refer to it as the Urim and Thummim. See, e.g., Link: LDSLiving

Brant should provide a reference or citation when he makes claims such as this one.

yeah the history itself is very strong that Joseph Smith had and did use the seer stone

This assertion, oft repeated in this podcast, is a red herring distraction from my approach.

I accept the evidence that Joseph had and used a seer stone. That’s not the question. The question is, what did he use it for?

I say the totality of the evidence demonstrates that whatever he did with the stone, he didn’t use it to produce the Book of Mormon.

49:09

B-it is an apologetic for a particular idea where you say I'm uncomfortable with that history and I

want it to be different therefore I will find things that fit my premise.

 

And that's where those other books come from.

 

I've read them both and both of them are basically starting with a premise and finding any way they can to support the premise without actually doing the full historical research

I can’t speak for the Stoddards, but in my case, Brant’s accusation is demonstrably false. And he would know that if he was a serious scholar. Yet he falsely represents my views, either ignorantly or intentionally, it’s difficult to tell.

In my book Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates, published in 2016, I proposed that Joseph used the U&T in Harmony and the seer stone in Fayette. On page 99, I wrote:

 

I think the best way to resolve these specific discrepancies is to conclude that Joseph used both the interpreters and the seer stone. Some people prefer to believe that he used only one or the other, but to do so they must reject evidence purely because they don’t like it.

I also think Joseph returned the interpreters with the Harmony plates when he gave them to the messenger before moving to Fayette. This explains why witnesses in Fayette didn’t mention the interpreters.

When I wrote that in 2016, I was still relying on the research and theories promoted by the SITH scholars. Subsequently, I had some time to do independent research. I discussed my findings with others and concluded that the evidence, taken as a whole, does not support SITH as an explanation for the origin of the Book of Mormon. That’s why I wrote A Man that Can Translate, why I have revised Whatever Happened, and why I co-authored the book with Jim Lucas.

This is the similar process I went through when I changed my mind from accepting M2C, based on deference to the M2C scholars, to rejecting M2C based on my own independent research.

By contrast, Brant and his fellow M2C scholars have not only never changed their SITH and M2C views, but they don’t tolerate alternative faithful views in their organizations. Like Brant in this very podcast, they misrepresent the evidence and the views of those they disagree with.

Their work is pure confirmation bias, dressed up as legitimate scholarship through their faux academic organizations.

[the next part of the podcast they speculate about why Joseph would use a hat and how SITH proves Joseph wasn’t reading from a manuscript]

This is exactly my point; i.e., David and Emma related SITH to refute the Spalding theory that Joseph read from a manuscript.

For the rest of the interview, you need to watch or read it yourself to see what else Brant claims.

 

 

One last comment. Based on the books he has published, Brant knows that every book that proposes a scenario based on research is written to support that premise. If the author’s research led him/her to a different conclusion, the book would support that different conclusion.

This should be axiomatic, but Brant describes it as a problem—even though that’s precisely what he has done with every book and article he has written.

Maybe in Brant’s case he never considered alternative scenarios, but that that doesn’t mean other authors haven’t changed their initial ideas after doing research. As I’ve shown, that’s what I did with respect to SITH (and also what I did with respect to M2C, which I had accepted for decades because I relied on Brant and other experts before taking another look at their evidence and rationales).

Brant also claims I haven’t “actually” done “the full historical research.” If I’ve overlooked any historical evidence, he should point it out. In my books I’ve cited all the available evidence as well as commentary (such as Brant’s) that contradicts my own interpretations.

I do this because I seek clarity, charity and understanding. Clarity requires full disclosure and openness, which I’ve done in all my work. Anyone watching this podcast can see that Brant cannot say the same.

We can all see the same approach taken by the organizations Brant works for: Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter Foundation, and FAIRLDS.

Hopefully this podcast will help clear the air and open doors for Latter-day Saints and people everywhere to learn that there are viable interpretations of the historical and other extrinsic evidence that corroborate and support what Joseph and Oliver said all along.


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