Thursday, April 27, 2023

Mormonism Unvailed: then and now

This month (April) marks the tenth anniversary of the release of the CES Letter, Jeremy Runnels' list of questions about Church history and doctrine. It's easy to understand why Jeremy was frustrated at the lack of answers to the questions he raised. 

The Interpreters (FAIRMormon, the Interpreter, etc.) engaged the CES Letter, but as Runnels pointed out, they agreed on some of the key points, such as SITH (the stone-in-the-hat explanation for the Book of Mormon).

2023 also marks the tenth anniversary of John Dehlin's "Faith Crisis Report" and the first of the Gospel Topics Essays. The Faith Crisis Report proposed a way of "Breaking the cycle of disaffection."

1) Mitigating Faith Crisis for Future Generations

Mitigating Faith Crisis for future generations is possible but will require bold steps. The key is to ensure future generations no longer become shocked by gaps between our official LDS narrative and our uncorrelated history.

These so-called "gaps" included SITH vs. the Urim and Thummim explanation that Joseph and Oliver provided. 

The sequence can be summarized this way.

1. In 1834, the book Mormonism Unvailed set out the SITH narrative this way:

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. 

Notice that, apart from the term "old 'peep stone'," this description from Mormonism Unvailed is essentially what the Interpreters advocate today. Dan Peterson even made a movie teaching this to the world.

2. Starting in 1834, Oliver Cowdery wrote 8 essays about Church history to refute the claims of Mormonism Unvailed (including Letter VII about Cumorah).

In December, 1835, Joseph Smith wrote a letter to the Elders of the Church about Mormonism Unvailed:

We might farther say that, we could introduce him to “Mormonism Unveiled.” Also to the right honorable Doct. P. Hurlburt, who is the legitimate author of the same, who is not so much a doctor of physic, as of falsehood, or by name. We could also give him an introduction to the reverend Mr. Howe, the illegitimate author of “Mormonism Unveiled,” in order to give currency to the publication, as Mr. Hurlburt, about this time, was bound over to court, for threatening life. He is also an associate of the celebrated Mr. Clapp, who has of late immortalised his name by swearing that he would not believe a Mormon under oath; and by his polite introduction to said Hurlburt’s wife, which cost him (as we have been informed) a round sum. Also his son Mathew testified that, the book of Mormon had been proved false an hundred times, by Howe’s book: and also, that he would not believe a Mormon under oath. And also we could mention the reverend Mr. Bentley, who, we believe, has been actively engaged in injuring the character of his brother-in-law, viz: Elder S. [Sidney] Rigdon.

Now, the above statements are according to our best information: and we believe them to be true; and this is as fair a sample of the doctrine of Campbellism, as we ask, taking the statements of these gentlemen, and judging them by their fruits. And we might and many more to the black catalogue; even the ringleaders, not of the Nazarenes, for how can any good thing come out of Nazareth, but of the far-famed Mentor mob: all sons and legitimate heirs of the same spirit of Alexander Campbell, and “Mormonism Unveiled,” according to the representation in the cut spoken of above.

The above cloud of darkness has long been beating with mountain waves upon the immovable rock of the church of the Latter Day Saints, and notwithstanding all this, the mustard seed is still towering its lofty branches, higher and higher, and extending itself wider and wider, and the charriot wheels of the kingdom are still rolling on, impelled by the mighty arm of Jehovah; and in spite of all opposition will still roll on until his words are all fulfilled.

Our readers will excuse us for deviating from the subject, when they take into consideration the abuses, that have been heaped upon us heretofore, which we have tamely submitted to, until forbearance is no longer required at our hands, having frequently turned both hand the right and left cheek, we believe it our duty now to stand up in our own defence. 

(Messenger and Advocate II.3:228 ¶2–5)

In 1836, Orson Hyde wrote to the Messenger and Advocate

The cause of God will roll on in the face of an opposing world, and I cannot but make the expression of the Prophet, saying, “no weapon formed against thee shall prosper.” The first weapon raised against the spread of truth, of any consideration in this country, was the wicked and scurrilous pamphlet published by A. Campbell. Next, perhaps, were the letters of E. Booth, and thirdly, Mormonism unveiled written by Mr. E.D. Howe, alias. Doct. P. Hulbert.
These were designed severally in their turn for the exposure and overthrow of “Mormonism” as they termed it; but it appears that heaven has not blessed the means which they employed to effect their object, “No weapon raised against it shall prosper.”
The writings of the above named persons, I find have no influence in the world at all; for they are not even quoted by opposers, and I believe for no other reason than—that they are ashamed of them.
(Messenger and Advocate II.7:296 ¶9–11)

In 1837, one missionary wrote a letter to the Messenger and Advocate, explaining that 

“Mormonism unvailed” has been circulated in this part of the country, but that has but little influence on the minds of those who are seeking after truth: What is the chaff to the wheat? The truth is, the honest in heart will and do rejoice when they hear the truth proclaimed.

(Messenger and Advocate III.11:549 ¶4)

The 1838 Elders' Journal included this discussion of Mormonism Unvailed.

Is it any wonder then, that we say of the priests of modern days that they are of Satan’s own making and are of their father the devil. Nay verily nay, for no being but a scandalous sycophant and base hypocrite would say other ways. As it was with Doctor Philastes Hurlburt, so it is with these creatures. While Hurlburt was held in bounds by the Church and made to behalf himself, he was denounced by the priests as one of the worst of men, but no sooner was he excluded from the Church for adultery, than instantly he became one of the finest men in the world. Old deacon Clapp of Mentor ran and took him and his family into the house with himself and so exceedingly was he pleased with him, that purely out of respect to him, he went to bed to his wife. This great kindness and respect Hurlburt did not feel just so well about but the pious old deacon gave him a hundred dollars and a yoke of oxen, and all was well again.
This is the Hurlburt that was author of a book which bears the name of E. [Edward] D. Howe, but it was this said Hurlburt that was the author of it. But after the affair of Hurlburt’s wife and the pious old deacon, the persecutors thought it better to put some other name   as author to their book than Hurlburt, so E. D. Howe substituted his name. The change however was not much better. Asahel Howe, one of E. D.’s brothers who was said to be the likeliest of the family, served apprenticeship in the work house in Ohio for robbing the post office. And yet notwithstanding all this, all the pious priests of all denominations were found following in the wake of these mortals.
Hurlburt and the Howes are among the basest of mankind, and known to be such and yet the priests and their coadjutors hail them as their best friends and publish their lies, speaking of them in the highest terms. And after all this, they want us to say that they are pious souls and good saints. Can we believe it? Surely men of common sense will not ask us to do it.
Good men love to associate with good men, and bad men with bad ones, and when we see men making friends with drunkards, thieves, liars, and swindlers, shall we call them saints? If we were to do it, we might be justly charged with “partaking of their evil deeds.”
Therefore until we have more evidence than we have now, we shall always think when we see men associating with scoundrels, that they themselves are scoundrels. And there we shall leave them for the present, firmly believing that when the day of decision had come that we shall see all the priests who adhere to the sectarian religions of the day. With all their followers, without one exception, receive their portion with the devil and his angels.
(Elders’ Journal I.4:59 ¶11–60 ¶4)

3. Starting in October 2011, a team organized by John Dehlin conducted a survey and prepared an analysis about the so-called "faith crisis" among Latter-day Saints, emphasizing SITH.

4. April 2013. Runnels released the CES Letter that, among other things, questions the historicity of the Book of Mormon and presents SITH as the "actual" origin of the Book of Mormon instead of the traditional narrative of the translation by means of the Urim and Thummim.

5. August 2013. Dehlin and his team presented the final "Faith Crisis Report" to Church leaders.

6. November 2013. The first Gospel Topics Essays were published on the Church's website, justifying SITH without even quoting what Joseph and Oliver said about the translation with the Urim and Thummim.

Ever since, on his Mormon Stories podcast John Dehlin has used SITH as a means to undermine faith, citing the Gospel Topics Essays themselves.

The Interpreters

The Interpreters also embrace and promote SITH, claiming Joseph didn't use the U&T or the plates, but differing with the critics in the sense that they claim Joseph was inspired by God, while the critics claim Joseph composed the text and lied about the Urim and Thummim and the plates.

For example, in 2016 Book of Mormon Central published an article claiming there is "ambiguity" about the translation.

Like other SITH-sayers, Book of Mormon Central (BMC) ignores the specific and unambiguous explanations from Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. Instead, BMC cites the speculations of scholars to create a place for the SITH narrative from Mormonism Unvailed.

Dan Peterson and his Interpreter Foundation produced a feature film to promote the SITH narrative from Mormonism Unvailed.


In my view, what Joseph and Oliver said about the translation makes more sense and is better supported by the evidence than what the SITH-sayers claim. This is just as true today as it was in 1834 when E.D. Howe published the SITH narrative in Mormonism Unvailed.

But that's just me.

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