Joseph Smith was certainly not the first to claim revelations or to bring forth a new book purporting to be scripture. For instance, the story of the coming forth of the Koran, the sacred scripture of Islam, bears some interesting parallels to Joseph Smith’s account of the origin of the Book of Mormon. N. J. Dawood, who translated the Koran into English, gave this information concerning its origin:
“For Muslims it is the infallible word of God, a transcript of a tablet preserved in heaven, revealed to the Prophet Mohammed by the Angel Gabriel…. According to Muslim tradition, one night in Ramadhan about the year 610 [A.D.], as he was asleep or in a trance, the Angel Gabriel came to him and said: ‘Recite!’ He replied: ‘What shall I recited?’ The order was repeated three times…
“The Koranic revelations followed each other at brief intervals and were at first committed to memory by professional remembrancers. During Mohammed’s life-time verses were written on palm-leaves, stones, and any material that came to hand. Their collection was completed during the caliphate of Omar,…” (The Koran, 1968, Introduction, p. 9-10)
Mohammed claimed that he was God’s true prophet and that he was restoring true religion to the earth. Twelve centuries later, the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith made a similar claim. He related that he was visited by an angel who revealed that he was chosen to translate the Book of Mormon, a work containing the “fulness of the everlasting Gospel.” Smith, of course, also claimed to be God’s true prophet and said that he was restoring the truth which had been lost through apostasy.
In the published account of his life, Joseph Smith related that he became very disturbed when he was a youth because of the “strife among the different denominations,” and this “cry and tumult” led him to ask God “which of all the sects were right — and which I should join.” He was told that he must “join none of them, for they were all wrong… that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt…” (Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith 2:8-19) N. J. Dawood says that Mohammed was also concerned with the fact that the Jews and Christians had “divided themselves into schismatic sects.” In the scriptures given by Mohammed, we read: “Yet the Sects are divided concerning Jesus…. Truly, the unbelievers are in the grossest error.” (The Koran, translated by N. J. Dawood, Surah 19, p. 34) In Surah 30, page 190, this warning appears: “Do not split up your religion into sects, each exulting in its own beliefs.” In Surah 3, page 398, we read: “The only true faith in Allah’s sight is Islam. Those to whom the Scriptures [i.e., Jews and Christians] were given disagreed among themselves through jealousy only after knowledge had been given them.”
It is interesting to note that the Koran has roots that extend back into both the Jewish and Christian faiths. The Koran, in fact, claims that the Torah — the five books of Moses — was given by Allah: “To Moses We gave the Scriptures, a perfect code for the righteous…” (The Koran, Surah 6, p. 428) In Surah 4, page 373, we read: “We have revealed Our will to you as We revealed it to Noah and to the prophets who came after him; as We revealed it to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and David, to whom We gave the Psalms.” The Koran also has quite a bit to say about Jesus and the Gospel. For instance, on pages 381-82, Surah 5, the following appears: “There is guidance, and there is light, in the Torah which We have revealed. By it the prophets who surrendered themselves to Allah judged the Jews,… they gave judgement according to Allah’s scriptures…
“After those prophets We sent forth Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming the Torah already revealed, and gave him the Gospel, in which there is guidance and light, corroborating that which was revealed before it in the Torah…”
On pages 388-89 (Surah 5) of The Koran, we find the following: “Allah will say: ‘Jesus, son of Mary, remember the favour I have bestowed on you and on your mother: how I strengthened you with the Holy Spirit… how I instructed you in the Scriptures and in wisdom, in the Torah and in the Gospel… by my leave, you healed the blind man and the leper, and by My leave restored the dead to life…”
The Koran even teaches that Jesus was born of a virgin:
“And you shall recount in the Book the story of Mary…
“We sent to her Our spirit in the semblance of a full-grown man….
” ‘I am the messenger of your Lord,’ he replied, ‘and have come to give you a holy son.’
” ‘How shall I bear a child,’ she answered, ‘when I am a virgin, untouched by man?’
” ‘Such is the will of your Lord,’ he replied. ‘That is no difficult thing for Him. ‘He shall be a sign to mankind,’ says the Lord, ‘and a blessing from Ourself. That is Our decree.’ ” (The Koran, Surah 19, p. 33)
The Koran, however, teaches that Jesus was not crucified: “They [the Jews] declared: ‘We have put to death the Messiah Jesus the son of Mary, the apostle of Allah.’ They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but they thought they did…. Allah lifted him up to His presence; He is mighty and wise. There is none among the People of the Book [i.e., Jews and Christians who possess the Bible] but will believe in him before his death; and on the Day of Resurrection he will be a witness against them.” (Ibid., Surah 4, p. 372-73)
Although the Koran speaks very highly of Jesus, it is diametrically opposed to the New Testament teaching regarding his deity: “People of the Book, do not transgress the bounds of your religion. Speak nothing but the truth about Allah. The Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, was no more than Allah’s apostle and His Word which He cast to Mary: a spirit from Him…. Allah is but one God. Allah forbid that He should have a son!” (Ibid., p. 373-74) In Surah 18, page 90, the idea that Jesus was the Son of God is described as “a monstrous blasphemy.”
Some have suggested that Joseph Smith directly borrowed from Islam. Frances E. Willard, for instance, charged: “Modern Mohammedanism has its Mecca at Salt Lake… Clearly the Koran was Joseph Smith’s model, so closely followed as to exclude even the poor pretension of originality in his foul ‘revelations.’ ” (The Women of Mormonism, 1882, Introduction, p. xvi) It is obvious to those who have done research with regard to these two religions that this statement goes far beyond the truth. While the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon seems to have some interesting parallels to Mohammed’s story, as far as we can determine, the text of the book itself seems to bear no relationship to the Koran. The Book of Mormon, published in 1830, was Joseph Smith’s first major work. By the year 1838, however, there is some evidence that Joseph Smith was sympathetic to Mohammed and seemed to identify with him. In Senate Document 189, page 23, we find this statement in the testimony of George M. Hinkle: “I have heard Joseph Smith, jr. say that he believed Mahomet was a good man; that the Koran was not a true thing, but the world belied Mahomet, as they had belied him, and that Mahomet was a true prophet.” Smith felt that the Mormons had been unfairly persecuted because of their religion. Thomas B. Marsh, who had served as President of the Council of Twelve Apostles in the Mormon Church, gave an affidavit in which he stated: “I have heard the Prophet say… if he was not let alone, he would be a second Mohammed to this generation… that like Mohammed, whose motto in treating for peace was, ‘the Alcoran [i.e., the Koran] or the Sword.’ So should it be eventually with us, ‘Joseph Smith or the Sword.’ ” (History of the Church, vol. 3, p. 167)
In 1842, John C. Bennett alleged that Joseph Smith’s system of polygamy “closely resembles [that of] his master and model, Mahomet…” (History of the Saints, p. 218) While Bennett’s own character makes his statements somewhat questionable, it is interesting to note that both Mohammed and Joseph Smith gave revelations regarding plural marriage. In the Koran we read:
“Wives of the Prophet… those of you who obey Allah and His apostle and do good works shall be doubly rewarded…
“You [Mohammed] said to the man [Zeid] whom Allah and yourself have favoured: ‘Keep your wife and have fear of Allah.’ You sought to hide in your heart what Allah was to reveal [i.e., his intention to marry Zeid’s wife]. You were afraid of man, although it would have been more right to fear Allah. And when Zeid divorced his wife, We gave her to you in marriage, so that it should become legitimate for true believers to wed the wives of their adopted sons if they divorced them, Allah’s will must be done.
“No blame should be attached to the Prophet for doing what is sanctioned for him by Allah….
“Prophet, We have made lawful to you the wives to whom you have granted dowries and the slave-girls whom Allah has given you as booty… and the other women who gave themselves to you and whom you wished to take in marriage….
“You may put off any of your wives you please and take to your bed any of them you please. Nor is it unlawful for you to receive any of those whom you have temporarily set aside.” (The Koran, Surah 33, p. 287-288)
Although the Mormon Church no longer allows its members to practice polygamy on earth, Joseph Smith’s revelation on polygamy is still published in the Doctrine and Covenants [Web-editor: Doctrine and Covenants Section 132], one of the four standard works of the Mormon Church. In this revelation we read:
“Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord justified… my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines—
“Therefore, prepare thy heart to receive and obey the instructions…
“And let mine handmaid, Emma Smith, receive all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph, and who are virtuous and pure before me; and those who are not pure, and have said they were pure, shall be destroyed, saith the Lord God…. if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery… if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified.” (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 132, verses 1, 3, 52, 61-62)
Joseph Lee Robinson, a faithful Mormon, reported in his journal concerning a sermon which Joseph Smith gave in Nauvoo. Richard S. Van Wagoner gives this interesting information concerning this matter: “Joseph Lee Robinson… later remembered the prophet’s discussing possible difficulties missionaries could encounter in ‘Turkey or India or to a people where it was lawfull to have several wives where they practiced Poligamy.’ Smith envisioned a Muslim asking, ‘I have five wives… can I bring my five wives there and enjoy them as well as I can here, said the Prophet yes, the laws in Zion are such that you can bring your wives and enjoy them as well as there.’ ” (Mormon Polygamy—A History, p. 48)
Both Mohammed and Joseph Smith had problems with people claiming that their revelations were man-made, and both men combated their critics by challenging them to produce anything that would compare with their revelations. In the Koran we find the following:
“This Koran could not have been composed by any but Allah. It confirms what was revealed before it and fully explains the Scriptures. It is beyond doubt from the Lord of Creation.
“If they say: ‘It is your own invention,’ say: ‘Compose one chapter like it.’ ” (The Koran, Surah 10, page 67)
“If they say: ‘He has invented it himself,’ say to them: ‘Invent ten chapters like it. Call on whom you will of your idols, if what you say be true. But if they fail you, know that it is revealed with Allah’s knowledge, and that there is no god but Him. Will you then accept Islam?’ ” (Surah 11, page 132)
In a revelation given November, 1831, Joseph Smith’s God gave a similar invitation to scoffers:
“And now I, the Lord, give unto you a testimony of the truth of these commandments… seek ye out of the Book of Commandments, even the least that is among them, and appoint him that is the most wise among you;
“Or, if there be any among you that shall make one like unto it, then ye are justified in saying that ye do not know that they are true;
“But if ye cannot make one like unto it, ye are under condemnation if ye do not bear record that they are true.” (Doctrine and Covenants 67:4, 6-8)
Mohammed seemed to feel that although the Jews received the scriptures from Allah, they had corrupted them. In the Introduction to his translation of the Koran, p. 10, N. J. Dawood informs us that “Mohammed… firmly believed that he was the messenger of God, sent forth to confirm previous scriptures. God had revealed His will to the Jews and the Christians through chosen apostles, but they disobeyed God’s commandments… The Koran accuses the Jews of corrupting the Scriptures and the Christians of worshipping Christ as the son of God… having thus gone astray, they must be brought back to the right path, to the true religion preached by Abraham.”
In the Koran itself, we read: “Say: ‘Who, then, revealed the Scriptures which Moses brought down, a light and a guide for mankind? The Scriptures which you have transcribed on scraps of paper, declaring some of them and suppressing much, although you have now been taught what neither you nor your fathers knew before?’ ” (The Koran, Surah 6, p. 422) The Koran claims to bring to light things that were previously suppressed: “People of the Book! Our apostle has come to reveal to you much of what you have hidden of the Scriptures, and to forgive you much. A light has come to you from Allah and a glorious Book… Our apostle has come to reveal to you Our will after an interval during which there were no apostles… to you We have revealed the Book with the truth. It confirms the Scriptures which came before it and stands as a guardian over them.” (Surah 5, p. 378-79, 382)
Like Mohammed, Joseph Smith taught that the ancient scriptures were given by God but that they were corrupted by men and that things were suppressed. In the Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 13:26, 27, 29, this information appears: “Wherefore, these things go forth from the Jews in purity unto the Gentiles… And after they go forth… thou seest the foundation of a great and abominable church [the Roman Catholic Church], which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away…. that they may pervert the right ways of the Lord, and they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men…. because of the many plain and precious things which have been taken out of the book [the Bible]… an exceeding great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them.”
While Joseph Smith claimed that the Bible was “the word of God” only so far “as it is translated correctly,” he put no such qualification on the Book of Mormon: “…we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.” (Pearl of Great Price, The Articles of Faith, Article No. 8) Smith, in fact, “told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth…” (History of the Church, vol. 4, p. 461) Joseph Smith, of course, went far beyond the Book of Mormon and produced two other books of scripture — the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. Like the Koran, therefore, Joseph Smith’s revelations take precedence over the Bible. Any portion of the Bible which disagrees with the teachings of Joseph Smith is rejected as defective.
In the Koran, Mohammed added many things concerning biblical characters which are not found in the Bible itself. Allah instructed him as follows: “You shall also recount in the Book [the Koran] the story of Abraham: He was a prophet and a saintly man.” (The Koran, Surah 19, p. 34) Mohammed, therefore, gave some material concerning Abraham which was not recorded in the Bible. For instance, he related that Abraham’s people tried to kill him because he condemned their idolatry and wicked ways:
“And tell of Abraham. He said to his people: ‘Serve Allah and fear Him. That would be best for you, if you but knew it. You worship idols besides Allah and invent falsehoods….
“Abraham’s people replied: ‘Kill him! Burn him!‘
“But from the fire Allah delivered him.” (The Koran, Surah 29, p. 193-194)
Joseph Smith also revealed information concerning Abraham which is not found in the Bible. In fact, he claimed that he translated an entire book written by the patriarch himself and published it under the title, “The Book of Abraham.” Like Mohammed, Joseph Smith claimed that Abraham’s people tried to kill him and that he was delivered by God in a miraculous way:
“My fathers having turned from their righteousness… unto the worshiping of the gods of the heathen, utterly refused to hearken to my voice… but endeavored to take away my life… the priests laid violence upon me, that they might slay me…
“And as they lifted up their hands upon me… I lifted up my voice unto the Lord my God, and the Lord hearkened and heard… and the angel of his presence stood by me, and immediately unloosed my bands;
“And his voice was unto me: Abraham, Abraham, behold, my name is Jehovah, and I… have come down to deliver thee, and to take thee away from thy father’s house…” (Pearl of Great Price, The Book of Abraham, 1:5, 7, 12, 15-16)
In the book, The Rocky Mountain Saints, written in 1873, T. B. H. Stenhouse commented: “The student of Mormonism will be struck with the similarity of experience and claims of Joseph Smith and Mohammed.” (page 2) Two graduates of the Mormon Church’s Brigham Young University, Arnold Green and Lawrence Goldrup, have written an article on the danger of going too far in making parallels between Mohammed and Joseph Smith. They state, however, that while “comparisons between the Koran and the Book of Mormon are especially strained, a comparison of the Doctrine and Covenants with the Koran has some validity.” (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Spring 1971, p. 54) On page 57, Green and Goldrup point out a serious doctrinal difference between Mormons and Moslems. They note that Mohammed had an “uncompromising” belief in only one God, whereas Mormons believe “men can attain godhood (D&C 132:20, 37).” We agree that this doctrinal dissimilarity with regard to the Godhead is a serious difference. The Koran, in fact, seems to emphatically condemn the Mormon position: “Never has Allah begotten a son, nor is there any other god besides Him. Were this otherwise, each god would govern his own creation, each holding himself above the other. Exalted be Allah above their falsehoods!” (The Koran, Surah 23, p. 220) Spencer W. Kimball, the 12th president of the Mormon Church, certainly did not seem to accept Mohammed’s position with regard to the plurality of Gods. In a broadcast to those serving in the priesthood, President Kimball commented: “Brethren, 225,000 of you are here tonight. I suppose 225,000 of you may become gods. There seems to be plenty of space out there in the universe.” (The Ensign, Nov. 1975, p. 80)
While a large number of parallels can be marshaled to support the thesis that Joseph Smith borrowed ideas from Mohammed, there are many dissimilarities and the case is far from conclusive. The parallels seem to relate to concepts rather than any direct lifting of statements from the Koran. (In the book, Major Problems of Mormonism, pages 149-155, we demonstrate that the King James Version of the Bible, which was not published until A.D. 1611, probably had more influence on Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon than any other book. We note that we found “over a hundred quotations from the New Testament in the first two books of Nephi alone, and these books were supposed to have been written between 600 and 545 B.C.!” The evidence of plagiarism is absolutely overwhelming.)
Although the parallels to Islam may not trouble many members of the LDS Church, they do tend to show that Mormonism is not as unique as some defenders would argue. Mormons often ask how it is possible that an unlearned boy like Joseph Smith could create a religion that would bring in millions of converts and have such an influence upon the world. They feel that the growth of the church demonstrates that God’s hand is in the work. A similar question, however, might be directed back to the Mormons. How can they account for the growth of Islam? After all, for every Mormon there are about a hundred and twenty followers of Mohammed — the 1989 Information Please Almanac, p. 400, listed the number of Moslems at about “860,388,300.” If the Koran was not given by revelation from Allah, how could Islam have grown at the rate it did?
In the book, The Messenger, The Life of Mohammed, by R. V. B. Bodley, p. 57, we read that there has been a controversy as to whether Mohammed could read at the time he was visited by the Angel Gabriel: “Some say that he was illiterate, others say that he was not.” In any case, Mohammed seems to have spent his youth traveling with trading caravans and has been referred to as a “lowly Arab camel driver.” Despite his lack of education, he was able to produce the Koran — a book which hundreds of millions of people revere as the word of God as well as an important “work of Classical Arabic prose.”
The Koran itself calls Mohammed “the Unlettered Prophet” (Surah 7, p. 253). In the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 27:19, Joseph Smith is referred to as “him that is not learned.” That Joseph Smith, who came from a humble background, was able to produce works of “scripture” which have influenced millions of people does not prove that he was inspired by God. He had far more opportunities than Mohammed to acquire knowledge. Mohammed, for instance, lived before the invention of the printing press and therefore had no opportunity to read a printed newspaper, pamphlet or book. Joseph Smith, on the other hand, had access to his family’s newspaper, The Wayne Sentinel, as well as many other printed works. Mormon writer Milton V. Backman acknowledged that a library was organized in Manchester in 1817 and that it “contained histories, biographies, geographies, religious treatises, and other popular works of that age.” (Joseph Smith’s First Vision, p. 32)
A controversy concerning the book, The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie has been brewing since last fall. After its publication in September, 1988, it was banned in a number of countries. Although Rushdie’s book is a work of fiction, Moslems feel that it ridicules the prophet Mohammed. A number of people were killed and others wounded in protests concerning the book, and the Ayatollah Khomeini publicly called for the assassination of Mr. Rushdie: “Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on Sunday rejected the apology of British writer Salman Rushdie and exhorted Moslems around the world to ‘send him to hell’ for the novel… A bounty of $5.2 million has been put on Rushdie’s head by Iranian religious leaders since Khomeini issued the death sentence.” (Salt Lake Tribune, Feb. 20, 1989)
In an article written by Thomas Lippman, we find this information concerning the controversy The Satanic Verses has generated:
“Two chapters of Rushdie’s novel retell, in fictionalized form, the story of Mohammed and of the founding of Islam and the creation of the Koran. In his account, the prophet’s name is ‘neither Mahomet nor Moehammered’ but ‘the Devil’s synonym, Mahound,’ a name used in the past as a vulgar slur…
“Moslems believe Mohammed was illiterate. When the words of the Koran were dictated to him by God, he did not write them down but relayed them to a scribe who recorded them. In ‘The Satanic Verses,’ the scribe is ‘some sort of bum from Persia by the outlandish name of Salman,’ which is Rushdie’s name, and this Salman takes liberties with the wording of the holy book.
” ‘Little things at first,’ says the rascal Salman, recounting his work as the prophet’s scribe. ‘If Mahound recited a verse in which God was described as allhearing, all-knowing, I would write, all-knowing, all-wise. Here’s the point: Mahound did not notice the alterations. So there I was, actually writing the Book, or rewriting, anyway, polluting the word of God with my own profane language. But, my good heavens, if my poor words could not be distinguished from the Revelation by God’s own Messenger, then what did that mean? What did that say about the quality of the divine poetry?’ ” (Salt Lake Tribune, Feb. 19, 1989)
While we do not accept the Koran as a revelation from God, we are skeptical of attacking a religion with the use of fictional conversations that cannot be documented with evidence. Salman Rushdie, of course, did not claim that he was giving the true story of how Mohammed received the Koran, but the use of fictional conjectures in a book on such a serious subject does not seem like a very good method. On the other hand, the Ayatollah Khomeini’s order that Rushdie be assassinated is deplorable. Khomeini, of course, does not represent mainstream Moslem thought, and we agree with a statement made by Frances FitzGerald: ” ‘To see the Ayatollah as the representative of Islam,’ she said, ‘is to see the Grand Inquisitor as the representative of Christianity.’ ‘ (U.S. News & World Report, March 6, 1989, p. 30)
If Salman Rushdie had been writing on Mormonism, he would not have had to resort to fiction when writing about “satanic verses.” The first mention of Satan’s attempt to pollute Mormon scriptures appears in the Preface of the first edition of the Book of Mormon. In this Preface, Joseph Smith tells how Satan inspired his enemies to alter 116 pages of the Book of Mormon [the Book of Lehi] so that they could not be used in the printed version:
“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 said account, some person or persons have stolen and kept from me, notwithstanding my utmost exertions to recover it again — and being commanded of the Lord that I should not translate the same over again, for Satan had put it into their hearts to tempt the Lord their God, by altering the words, that they did read contrary from that which I translated and caused to be written; and if I should bring forth the same words again, or, in other words, if I should translate the same over, they would publish that which they had stolen, and Satan would stir up the hearts of this generation, that they might not receive this work: but behold, the Lord said unto me, I will not suffer that Satan shall accomplish his evil design in this thing: therefore thou shalt translate from the plates of Nephi, until ye come to that which ye have translated… I will shew unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the Devil.” (Book of Mormon, 1830 edition, Preface)
Although the Preface containing this information concerning Satan’s wicked plans to alter the Nephite scripture has been deleted from modern editions of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith gave a revelation concerning this matter which is still published in the Doctrine and Covenants as Section 10. In verse 14, the Lord tells Joseph Smith that he “will not suffer that Satan shall accomplish his evil design in this thing.” The loss of the Book of Lehi is actually presented as a victory for the Lord because the Book of Nephi, which was translated to take its place, is supposed to be even more spiritual. Mormon critics, however, point out that if Satan actually did cause Joseph Smith’s enemies to alter the words, they would have had to produce the original pages to prove that Joseph Smith could not produce an accurate duplicate of the original. It would be almost impossible to alter the manuscript without detection. The Mormons could have taken the case to court and easily won a significant victory. Critics feel that Joseph Smith probably did not keep a copy of the 116 pages which were lost and would not have been able to reproduce an exact copy of what he had previously written. Therefore, he was forced to claim that the Lord told him that his enemies had altered the pages. In any case, the missing pages were never found.
While Joseph Smith was translating the Book of Mormon, he became concerned that he himself could be deceived and produce satanic verses. Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery give this information: “Once, as he translated, the narrative mentioned the walls of Jerusalem. Joseph stopped. ‘Emma,’ he asked, ‘did Jerusalem have walls surrounding it?’ Emma told him it did. ‘O, I thought I was deceived,’ was his reply.” (Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 1984, p. 26)
Joseph Smith claimed that he was given an instrument known as the Urim and Thummim to translate the gold plates of the Book of Mormon. This instrument consisted of “two stones in silver bows” (History of the Church, vol. 1, p. 12). Although he used the Urim and Thummim to translated the first 116 pages which were stolen, statements by witnesses to the translation indicate that after the theft occurred, he used a “seer stone.” The Mormon historian B. H. Roberts wrote: “The Seer Stone referred to here was a chocolate-colored, somewhat egg-shaped stone which the Prophet found while digging a well in company with his brother Hyrum… It possessed the qualities of Urim and Thummim, since by means of it — as well as by means of the Interpreters found with the Nephite record, Joseph was able to translate the characters engraven on the plates.” (Comprehensive History of the Church, vol. 1, p. 129) Seer stones were often used by magicians and money-diggers for divination. Evidence shows that in 1826 Joseph Smith was arrested and brought before a Justice of the Peace in Bainbridge, New York, for using his seer stone, which he placed in his hat to exclude the light, to divine the location of buried treasures (see Major Problems of Mormonism, p. 122-127).
David Whitmer, one of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, was not ashamed of the fact that Joseph Smith used a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon. Whitmer, in fact, frankly admitted that Smith followed the occultic practice of placing the stone in his hat to translate the Book of Mormon: “I will now give you a description of the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face into the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing…. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.” (An Address To All Believers In Christ, Richmond, Missouri, 1887, p. 12)
At first, David Whitmer felt that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that his use of the seer stone insured that he was giving true revelations. Just before the Book of Mormon was published, however, Whitmer was greatly shocked to learn that satanic revelations could also come to Joseph Smith through the same stone:
“When the Book of Mormon was in the hands of the printer, more money was needed to finish the printing of it. We were waiting on Martin Harris who was doing his best to sell a part of his farm, in order to raise the necessary funds. After a time Hyrum Smith and others began to get impatient,… Brother Hyrum was vexed with Brother Martin, and thought they should get the money by some means outside of him, and not let him have anything to do with the publication of the Book, or receiving any of the profits thereof if any profits should accrue…. Brother Hyrum said it had been suggested to him that some of the brethren might go to Toronto, Canada, and sell the copy-right of the Book of Mormon for considerable money: and he persuaded Joseph to inquire of the Lord about it. Joseph concluded to do so. He had not yet given up the stone. Joseph looked into the hat in which he placed the stone, and received a revelation that some of the brethren should go to Toronto, Canada, and that they would sell the copyright of the Book of Mormon. Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery went to Toronto on this mission, but they failed entirely to sell the copyright, returning without any money. Joseph was at my father’s house when they returned. I was there also, and am an eye witness to these facts…. Well, we were all in great trouble, and we asked Joseph how it was that he had received a revelation from the Lord for some brethren to go to Toronto and sell the copy-right, and the brethren had utterly failed in their undertaking. Joseph did not know how it was, so he enquired of the Lord about it, and behold the following revelation came through the stone: ‘Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of man: and some revelations are of the devil.’ So we see that the revelation to go to Toronto and sell the copyright was not of God, but was of the devil or the heart of man.” (An Address To All Believers In Christ, 1887, p. 30-31)
Mormon historian B. H. Roberts made these comments about Whitmer’s accusation: “…May this Toronto incident and the Prophet’s explanation be accepted and faith still be maintained in him as an inspired man, a Prophet of God? I answer unhesitatingly in the affirmative. The revelation respecting the Toronto journey was not of God, surely; else it would not have failed; but the Prophet, overwrought in his deep anxiety for the progress of the work, saw reflected in the ‘Seer Stone’ his own thought, or that suggested to him by his brother Hyrum, rather than the thought of God… in this instance of the Toronto journey, Joseph was evidently not directed by the inspiration of the Lord.” (A Comprehensive History of the Church, vol. 1, p. 165)
Joseph Fielding Smith, who became the 10th president of the church, was apparently referring to this episode in a press conference in Salt Lake City: “President Smith said he believed, as did LDS Church founder Joseph Smith, that there are three kinds of relevations [sic]: ‘revelations from God, from man and from the devil.’ ” (Salt Lake Tribune, January 25, 1970)
David Whitmer said that there were “other false revelations that came through Brother Joseph as mouthpiece…. Many of Brother Joseph’s revelations were never printed. The revelation to go to Canada was written down on paper, but was never printed.” (An Address To All Believers In Christ, p. 31)
The knowledge that Joseph Smith could receive satanic or man-made revelations through the same stone he used to translate the Book of Mormon must have come as a heavy blow to the special witnesses to that book. Oliver Cowdery, one of the Three Witnesses, obviously lost faith in Joseph Smith’s ability to detect satanic or man-made verses in the revelations because he wrote a letter to Smith in which he claimed “he had discovered an error” in one of his revelations (Doctrine and Covenants 20:37). According to Smith, Cowdery said the “quotation… was erroneous, and added: ‘I command you in the name of God to erase those words, that no priestcraft be amongst us!’ ” (History of the Church, vol. 1, p. 105) Although Joseph Smith strongly rebuked Oliver Cowdery, it soon became obvious that the issue concerning satanic verses was not really settled. About three months later, Joseph Smith was surprised to learn that one of the Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon [there are two sets of witnesses: the Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses] was giving satanic revelations and that other witnesses were being led astray: “To our great grief, however, we soon found that Satan had been lying in wait to deceive… Brother Hiram Page had in his possession a certain stone, by which he had obtained certain ‘revelations’ concerning the upbuilding of Zion, the order of the Church, etc., all of which were entirely at variance with the order of God’s house… many, especially the Whitmer family and Oliver Cowdery, were believing much in the things set forth by this stone…” (History of the Church, vol. 1, p. 109-110) Although Joseph Smith does not name all of those involved in following these satanic revelations, it could have involved most of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon. He specifically names Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery and says that “the Whitmer family” were influenced by the revelations from this stone. Five of the Book of Mormon witnesses were from the Whitmer family. In an attempt to settle the matter, Joseph Smith claimed he received a revelation from the Lord that Hiram Page’s revelations came from Satan and that he (Joseph) was the only one who could receive revelations for the church:
“Behold, I say unto thee, Oliver… no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting Joseph Smith, Jun.,… for he receiveth them even as Moses…. thou shalt be obedient unto the things which I shall give him… thou shalt not command him who is at thy head… 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 28:1-3, 6, 11)