Saturday, August 26, 2023

U&T in the Elders' Journal - Outdated narratives in the Joseph Smith Papers

 The Joseph Smith Papers project has produced outstanding documentation of historical records. 

Unfortunately, the editors have an editorial agenda that undermines the credibility of the notes throughout the Joseph Smith Papers, both online and in print.

Their agenda has led them to create a false historical narrative in the Joseph Smith Papers that supports the false historical narrative in the Saints book, volume 1.

In this post we'll look at an example from the notes on an article in the Elders' Journal from 1838.

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Note 5 annotates this sentence:

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.5

Note 5:

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We will discuss each part of Note 5 underlined in a different color.

At the outset, we recognize that the editors may have not been aware of some of these problems when they printed the volumes, but that is no justification for preserving these errors in the online version.

Red. The note claims that "the biblical term Urim and Thummim was first applied to the interpreters by William W. Phelps in 1833." 

The editors know this is false because there is a well-documented use of the term from 1832, a year before Phelps used the term. The 1832 source is even found in the Joseph Smith Papers themselves!

(See the Glossary under "Urim and Thummim," discussed below).

An article in thBoston Investigator 2 (August 10, 1832), reported on the missionary efforts of Orson Hyde and Samuel Smith (Joseph's younger brother). They had been called on a mission to the "eastern countries" in January 1832 (D&C 75:13). 

The article included this exchange:

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.

There is no extant documentation to explain how Samuel Smith or Orson Hyde learned the term. Orson had been baptized in Kirtland in October 1831, merely 10 months earlier. He was 27 years old when the article was published, while Samuel was 24. 

Samuel was one of the Eight Witnesses of the plates and one of the original six members of the Church. He is known as the first missionary. 

It is unlikely that either Orson or Samuel invented the use of the term Urim and Thummim in connection with the translation. Samuel could have heard it directly from Joseph Smith when Joseph related his experiences to his family. Either or both could have heard it in Kirtland. 

The description of the instrument they gave in their response to the questions matches that given by Joseph and others. They specified that the instrument was "found with the plates." 

William W. Phelps' 1833 article may reflect what he learned from the same source that taught either or both of Orson and Samuel, a different source, or something he developed independently.  

The point is, Phelps was not the first to apply the biblical term to the interpreters, as the note claims. This is important because of the next item. 

NOTE: Those interested in more details can see my more discussion here:

. The note claims that "JS adopted the term thereafter.c" The idea that Joseph adopted the term from Phelps is pure speculation based on the false claim that Phelps was the first to apply the term to the interpreter. 

This speculation also assumes that Joseph didn't use or know about the term before Orson Hyde and Samuel Smith used it in 1832. Readers can compare that possibility to the alternative possibility that it was Joseph himself who explained the Urim and Thummim, by name, to Orson and Samuel, as well as others. 

Subnote c in turn cites biblical passages and this entry in Joseph's journal from 9-11 Nov. 1835: "also that the Urim and Thumim,73 was hid up with the record, and that God would give me power to translate it, with the assistance of this instrument. 

Here we see Joseph specifying that the Urim and Thummim "was hid up with the record," not found in a well, and that Joseph's power to translate was "with the assistance of this instrument." (emphasis added)

Subnote 73 in turn says, "JS here used the phrase to describe an instrument buried with the golden plates, “two stones in silver bows,” which he used to translate characters inscribed on the gold plates into English."

In assessing these references, it's important to remember that Joseph implied that it was Moroni who used the term when he explained the instruments to Joseph in 1823, a timeline that makes sense.

34... He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants;
35 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)

Because we can all see that the JSP note about Phelps is factually false, we are left with the earliest extant documented use of the term in 1832 by Orson Hyde and Samuel Smith, verses Joseph's later recollection that he learned the term from Moroni.

Blue. The note states as a fact that "JS also used other seer stones to translate the plates." 

Because the sources cited contradict what Joseph and Oliver always said, an accurate narrative would not report this claim as a fact, but instead would report something such as this: "Some accounts indicate Joseph may have used other seer stones to translate the plates."

Subnote d refers to "Urim and Thummm" in the glossary, which is found here:

Besides including the 1832 article that the Elders' Journal note ignores, the Glossary makes this claim:

The term was also applied to seer stones JS said he used to translate and to receive some of his early revelations.6 

The references cited in subnote 6 directly contradict what Joseph and Oliver said, as anyone can see.

Green. The note states "After 1833, JS at times referred to seer stones as Urim and Thummim.e"

The note cites the Woodruff and Young journals again. While Woodruff did say he saw the Urim and Thummim in December 1841,  Brigham Young reported the meeting differently. He said Joseph explained the Urim and Thummim and also showed them his seer stone. 

Because the note doesn't give a link to the page in Brigham's history, I'll include it here:

27 Dec. I met with the Twelve at Bro Joseph S. He conversed with us in a familiar manner on a variety of subjects and explained to us the Urim and Thummim which he found with the plates, called in the Book of Mormon, the Interpreters. He said that every man who lived on the earth was entitled to a seer stone, and should have one, but they are kept from them in consequence of their wickedness, and most of those who do find one make unwise use of it. He showed us his seer stone.

Brigham Young relates that Joseph explicitly contrasted the U&T that came with the plates, described by Joseph the same way he and Oliver always identified it, with the seer stone Joseph possessed.

Woodruff apparently understood the conversation differently, providing far less detail than Brigham Young. Woodruff's account could also be interpreted to mean he "saw" in the sense of "understood" the Urim and Thummim for the first time.

Yet the SITH scholars emphasize Woodruff's account instead of Brigham's.

Because the note doesn't give a citation to the page in Woodruff's journal, I'll include the specific citations here for people to read.

Dec. 27th. The Twelve or a part of them spent the day with Joseph the seer and he unfolded unto them many glorious things of the kingdom of God the privileges & blessings of the priesthood &c. I had the privilege of seeing for the first time in my day the URIM & THUMMIM.

More Woodruff entries:

Woodruff gets the Stephens books from Bernhisel:

Woodruff reads and is enthusiastic about the Stephens books (p. 108):

Woodruff arrives in Nauvoo.

Woodruff mentions Joseph for the first time on Oct 31 because Joseph "severely reproved Benjamin Winchester for getting out of his place and doing wrong."

Woodruff writes to Bernhisel on Nov 5th and reports that on the 7th, Joseph taught that "charity covers a multitude of sins and what many people call sin was not sin and he did many thing sto break down superstition."

Nov. 28th. "I spent the day at B. Young in company with Joseph & the Twelve in conversing upon a variety of subjects it was an interesting day... Joseph said the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any Book on earth and the key stone of our religion and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than any other book.

The end

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