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Joseph Smith Treasure Digging - MS Truth Claims Essay

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5 minutes ago, mapman said:

I feel like the word superstition is confusing because it doesn't have a well-defined meaning. From my point of view, things like black cats or 13th floors should be in a separate category from "folk magic." The treasure seekers were involved in practices that included rituals, visionary experiences, and interactions with spiritual beings (and if certain accounts are to be believed, sacred texts and animal sacrifice). There is an implied theology of the spirit world that is derived from pre-Christian European religions. That is just plain old religious beliefs. People like to call it superstition or magic to try to differentiate it from "real" religion or because they think it is weird.

Some atheists have used "superstition" to mean religion and spirituality in general. Some people have used it to mean paganism or Catholicism or whatever religion you don't like. Probably the most common usage refers to old wives' tales. When the word can mean whatever you happen to think is irrational, it has become a meaningless word.

I don't think there is a clear distinction between superstition and religious beliefs as I think they are intertwined.  Early Mormonism believed in curses along with beliefs in blessings, however that belief seems to have dwindled away for contemporary members.  So have curses now been relegated to "superstition" even though they clearly were part of the theological construction of early Mormonism.  

Also, thinking about Greek mythology, which clearly was a religious set of beliefs at one time, but now I'm not sure if anyone actually practices that as a form of religion in the 21st century.  What makes a belief religious, verses superstitious?  When a Mormon tells you that one of the three Nephites helped them at a time of need, is that a religious belief?  What about when a Mormon tells you that Satan is in control of the water and that you need to avoid the water or risk being influenced by Satan, especially on Sunday's!  These things sound similar to your black cat and 13th floor examples to me.  

 

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11 minutes ago, mapman said:

I feel like the word superstition is confusing because it doesn't have a well-defined meaning. From my point of view, things like black cats or 13th floors should be in a separate category from "folk magic." The treasure seekers were involved in practices that included rituals, visionary experiences, and interactions with spiritual beings (and if certain accounts are to be believed, sacred texts and animal sacrifice). There is an implied theology of the spirit world that is derived from pre-Christian European religions. That is just plain old religious beliefs. People like to call it superstition or magic to try to differentiate it from "real" religion or because they think it is weird.

Some atheists have used "superstition" to mean religion and spirituality in general. Some people have used it to mean paganism or Catholicism or whatever religion you don't like. Probably the most common usage refers to old wives' tales. When the word can mean whatever you happen to think is irrational, it has become a meaningless word.

Superstition is a pretty broad category. The problem is that when you look for information on a population you're stuck with what pollsters have asked about. I do think though that so many people having beliefs that aren't scientific is pretty significant. In particular the rates that see "energy" are pretty noticeable. It's fair to question how much say a chiropractor is tied to folk magic whatever the origins of the practices. However it also seems pretty clear that for a sizable minority of people folk magic, albeit transformed through the New Age movement of the 70's and 80's, remains a live practice.

The problem is, as you note, that distinguishes these practices from religion is effectively impossible. As I said the real issue is a backlash to organized dogmatic religion. Arguably that started in the 70's and 80's. Even the rise of self-identified Evangelicalism (as opposed to more formal groups) is very much tied to the non-denominational Christian movement that tended to devalue formal theology in preference to more charismatic practices. (Not necessarily speaking in tongues or the like, but a more performative set of singing and excitement more akin to a concert) Religion well before the current sudden decrease in conservative Protestant numbers was already moving away from formalism into a kind of buffet type of religion. Ironically in many ways this mirrors the environment of Joseph Smith minus the move to join formal Protestant sects in the Great Awakening. Then the line between Christianity and folk magic was effectively non-existent. (Despite antagonism by certain sects) Today you're seeing the same thing and it's getting larger.

That's why I find secularism a somewhat problematic term. A secularist who believes in astrology or energy healing really isn't a secularist formally speaking. One might well argue that a lot of people who buy into "superstitions" do so in a more utilitarian pragmatic sense. That is they don't necessarily believe it as true in a formal sense but see it as useful, if only psychologically. But one could also say that the more liberal Protestant sects where people are formally atheist or agnostic yet see ethical and social utility in the Christianity aren't that much different. All that differs are the practices and rites. Even in so-called occult practices like tarot or even mysticism you find a significant number of people who don't buy into the metaphysics at all but see it as useful mentally. Much like Americans like Zen Buddhism and feel they can embrace it as a practical aid without buying into the more metaphysical approaches in other forms of Buddhism.

 

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11 minutes ago, clarkgoble said:

We know that one of Joseph's early plural marriages was to the widow of William Morgan, a well know exposer of Masonry. (And whose death was attributed to Masons in many conspiracy theories)

"in many conspiracy theories"?

It was my understanding that there was no question Morgan's death was directly attributable to the Masons but I admittedly have not read a great deal about it.  Would you comment a bit more about what you know about Morgan's death?

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2 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

I don't think there is a clear distinction between superstition and religious beliefs as I think they are intertwined.  Early Mormonism believed in curses along with beliefs in blessings, however that belief seems to have dwindled away for contemporary members.  So have curses now been relegated to "superstition" even though they clearly were part of the theological construction of early Mormonism.  

I think that's more common than you think. While we don't dust our feet, discourse about dusting of feet is still regularly heard. That is older practices people might not directly experience remain a part of folk beliefs. Ditto with a lot of angelic support. I think there's a much more expansive sense of Mormonism than what gets formally taught at Church. However since it's more shared in social groups not everyone gets exposed to it depending upon who ones social connections are. But if you go to say the MTC you tend to hear a lot of these stories. 

I don't know if it's still maintained, but BYU used to have a huge collection of such folk tales I believed collected by anthropologists. This included not just things you'd expect like three Nephite stories or the like, but also exorcisms (although we don't call it that) and other such stories. Start talking with many leaders and you'll hear a ton of these sorts of things often attributed first hand.

6 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

What about when a Mormon tells you that Satan is in control of the water and that you need to avoid the water or risk being influenced by Satan, especially on Sunday's!  These things sound similar to your black cat and 13th floor examples to me.  

I've not heard that one a lot, but it's a great example of a folk belief. Back when I was on my mission that was frequently given as the explanation of why Missionaries weren't allowed swimming (rather than the more prosaic explanation that some missionaries just drown statistically).

But that's also a good point in that many members will jump to "supernatural" explanations of events without necessarily having a supernatural experience. Is that superstition? These things get pretty blurry.

2 minutes ago, CA Steve said:

"in many conspiracy theories"?

It was my understanding that there was no question Morgan's death was directly attributable to the Masons but I admittedly have not read a great deal about it.  Would you comment a bit more about what you know about Morgan's death?

Sorry, I was more thinking of the idea of a broad Masonic conspiracy at the time which was part of anti-Masonic sentiment. Morgan disappeared, but they accounts of what happened don't necessarily agree. The main account is that he was thrown off a boat and drowned ion the Niagara river. An other account say he was paid off to disappear. One person purportedly confessed on his deathbed ot the murder, although that's questionable. A body did wash up which many claimed was Morgan but there are stronger reasons to think it wasn't him. The sheriff of Niagara along with three others were tried and convicted for the murder of Morgan but how guilty they were is still debated. Most assume he was murdered by those Masons but that doesn't imply a larger Masonic conspiracy. The more important point is less who killed him and why than how larger society viewed things. At least in terms of what influenced Joseph Smith.

Morgan's widow most explicitly believed in the conspiracy though. She married Joseph at the time there were rather obvious and similar Missouri conspiracies against Joseph. (Although she was a polyandrous wife and remained with her formal husband) Whether that colored how Joseph viewed the conspiracies against him is interesting. It's worth noting the Masonic nature of his murder. It's generally thought he made the Masonic cry as he was shot and that those in the mob included many Masons.

20 minutes ago, mapman said:

I don't know that I have a strong opinion on the matter, but wouldn't a simpler explanation be that Joseph, from years of practice, had gotten to the point where he could enter into a trance without the aid of a seer stone, and so he simply found it easier to see visions that way? I haven't seen any evidence that he ever changed how he viewed seer stones, and as was pointed out, later revelations still talk about them.

Yes, and there is indirect evidence for that such as the context of D&C 76. We know the seer stone wasn't used then. At the end of the experience Sidney Rigdon was extremely weak and Joseph was reported to have said he's not as used to it as Joseph was. D&C 76 is the key evidence used to argue against continued seer stone use, although it is at best circumstantial.

35 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

A question that Dan Vogel raised that I heard in his recent MS interview that caused me to think a little more about this, is the idea that Joseph may have been intentionally placing objects around and then using his stone to find those objects, essentially to build up the trust that people would have in his abilities.  If this is correct, and we know many people that practice in deception use these kinds of techniques as part of their act, then this shows that Joseph at some level would have known that what he saw in his stone wasn't real. 

That's extremely speculative though. I know Dan after suggesting not a ton of space between his view and Taves has of late been pushing the more formal fraud model stronger. I'm very curious as to how Taves' model gets treated long term by skeptics like Dan. (I know he's chimed in on the thread occasionally so maybe he'll speak to that) The problem is that for Taves Joseph is just instantiated mental models he views as spiritual. If that's what is going on then Dan's fraud speculations become problematic.

35 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

But there is other evidence that he believed in his own abilities.  I like the example of him going to Salem to find treasure.  I think there is definitely evidence to show that he believed in his own abilities to some degree, but I read other evidence to suggest that he also knew that he was being deceptive as well.  I think its a complicated picture for sure, and humans can be very complicated.  

Yup, and that's weight for both the Taves and faithful models. You also have a view (I think originating with Brodie?) that he initially was a fraud but came to deceive even himself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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6 minutes ago, clarkgoble said:

Superstition is a pretty broad category. The problem is that when you look for information on a population you're stuck with what pollsters have asked about. I do think though that so many people having beliefs that aren't scientific is pretty significant. In particular the rates that see "energy" are pretty noticeable. It's fair to question how much say a chiropractor is tied to folk magic whatever the origins of the practices. However it also seems pretty clear that for a sizable minority of people folk magic, albeit transformed through the New Age movement of the 70's and 80's, remains a live practice.

The problem is, as you note, that distinguishes these practices from religion is effectively impossible. As I said the real issue is a backlash to organized dogmatic religion. Arguably that started in the 70's and 80's. Even the rise of self-identified Evangelicalism (as opposed to more formal groups) is very much tied to the non-denominational Christian movement that tended to devalue formal theology in preference to more charismatic practices. (Not necessarily speaking in tongues or the like, but a more performative set of singing and excitement more akin to a concert) Religion well before the current sudden decrease in conservative Protestant numbers was already moving away from formalism into a kind of buffet type of religion. Ironically in many ways this mirrors the environment of Joseph Smith minus the move to join formal Protestant sects in the Great Awakening. Then the line between Christianity and folk magic was effectively non-existent. (Despite antagonism by certain sects) Today you're seeing the same thing and it's getting larger.

That's why I find secularism a somewhat problematic term. A secularist who believes in astrology or energy healing really isn't a secularist formally speaking. One might well argue that a lot of people who buy into "superstitions" do so in a more utilitarian pragmatic sense. That is they don't necessarily believe it as true in a formal sense but see it as useful, if only psychologically. But one could also say that the more liberal Protestant sects where people are formally atheist or agnostic yet see ethical and social utility in the Christianity aren't that much different. All that differs are the practices and rites. Even in so-called occult practices like tarot or even mysticism you find a significant number of people who don't buy into the metaphysics at all but see it as useful mentally. Much like Americans like Zen Buddhism and feel they can embrace it as a practical aid without buying into the more metaphysical approaches in other forms of Buddhism.

 

Yes, I agree with what you are saying here. I have found it best to think of the New Age movement as a new religious movement that is a mixture of Western esotericism and Eastern mysticism. I think your point that it is not possible to divide magic from religion is what I was trying to get across. People have tried to come up with objective definitions for magic, like that it is the belief in manipulating spirits or the physical world through symbols and rituals, but even when you can identify magical practices that way, it is misleading because the practitioners have usually not distinguished these practices from their religious beliefs in their own worldview. Some groups have used the word magic to describe their own practices (especially people like Cornelius Agrippa or Aleister Crowley or neopagans), so I think it is proper to use the word in the cases where the practitioners use it themselves.

I don't think anyone has actually demonstrated whether the treasure seekers in upstate New York themselves considered what they were doing was magic. Obviously other people in the community did, but do we really have a good understanding of their own worldview? Based on the way that the Book of Mormon consistently associates magic with witchcraft and wickedness, I'm doubtful that Joseph would have viewed it that way, though he could have changed how he thought about it by that point.

I agree that it is interesting that there has always been so much pseudoscience and anti-science beliefs. One thing that I was surprised by was a study (I think it was done by Pew) that showed that the majority of religious "nones" believed in God and considered themselves spiritual. It made me change the way I think about our society. I think a lot of us assume that we are getting more atheistic or agnostic, but it seems like we are mostly just rejecting organized religion in greater numbers and becoming more willing to be eclectic in our beliefs.

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26 minutes ago, CA Steve said:

"in many conspiracy theories"?

It was my understanding that there was no question Morgan's death was directly attributable to the Masons but I admittedly have not read a great deal about it.  Would you comment a bit more about what you know about Morgan's death?

There was a conspiracy theory that Freemasons were as an entire organization out to murder people, take over the government, etc. It's pretty similar to how cunning folk back in the early modern period were accused by the church of being witches and of conspiring with Satan to murder people and generally destroy society. Other esoteric groups and societies like Rosicrucians or more recently Satanists and Wicca have had similar accusations made against them. Our own temples have been accused of some pretty lurid stuff as well. It seems that secretive and socially marginal religious groups are often the victims of conspiracy theories.

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46 minutes ago, clarkgoble said:

I was more thinking of the ones we know for sure used a seer stone / U&T. My point was more or less that after D&C 10 we have no clear indication that the seer stone was used for anything which is significant in and of itself. 

But you're right that he may well have been using it. Just that we have no direct evidence for it except late accounts that are untrustworthy in various ways. It's a big deal since I think it'd affect how believers look at say the Book of Abraham process.

The question is whether we should assume he wasn't a stone when we don't have explicit evidence of non-use.  Should the starting assumption be use of a stone, or non-use of a stone?  We don't have a whole lot of evidence for non-use of stones either, so I would question the baseline assumption being made here.  

As for the BoA or other projects, why would the use of a stone for those projects affect how believers look at them?  I don't think most orthodox Mormons today think about whether or not Joseph used stones or not.  I think they look mostly at the content of the text itself and are unaware of and not interested in the specific mechanics of the process.  

56 minutes ago, clarkgoble said:

I don't think we need mind reading, although it is frustrating that Joseph never really discussed methods. So understanding is difficult. That was partially why I found that account of scrying by Hockley interesting. It's not necessarily how Joseph did it (and it's worth noting that Hockley didn't do his own scrying but brought in young women to do it). However it does provide a cultural context for the practice which may give circumstantial arguments for how Joseph may have used it and the hat.

As I said I think there's still a lot of historical work to do here. In particular I think a paper looking at the approaches to scrying and comparing them to accounts of Joseph's use would be very helpful. I'm surprised more hasn't been done here.

I agree that additional scholarly writing needs to be done here.   I believe Mark Ashhurst-McGee wants to eventually turn his thesis paper on this topic into a published book, but that may be years down the road, and I'm not sure how comfortable church leaders would be with some of the frankness around these topics.  

1 hour ago, clarkgoble said:

Joe Swick's book is apparently coming out in a year or two after around two decades of work. So I think the conversation will change significantly then. I'm just hoping he approaches it from a more skeptical historical stance rather than the more masonic symbolic/mystic stance. For the latter he tends to read everything through a later masonic lens whereas a historic argument will carefully make use of what masonic traditions he actually had exposure to and when. Arguing for what Joseph was exposed to is tricky and the temptation is to go into Nibley styled parallelism to argue for exposure. That can end up in a vicious type of circularity.

This becomes significant since a big question is whether Joseph Smith was exposed to certain non-standard forms of French masonry. In particular "heretical" rites sometimes called the Egyptian rite by Fabre d'Olivet. This, along with Adoptive Masonry which also arose in France, offer significant parallels to a lot of Joseph's thought particularly in Nauvoo with the Relief Society. The problem is that neither can be established as being anywhere in Joseph's environment. They really only become established in the US after Joseph's death. So the parallels are there but establishing them as an influence is pretty problematic.

There's also the question of when Joseph was exposed to Masonry. Various people like Dan Vogel note that Book of Mormon passages can be read in terms of anti-Masonic fervor in the US. We know that one of Joseph's early plural marriages was to the widow of William Morgan, a well know exposer of Masonry. (And whose death was attributed to Masons in many conspiracy theories) Joseph had family members who were Masons. There's also some indirect evidence that Masons tied to the Royal Arch tradition (which influenced the endowment) were involved in making the Jewish homeland that Don Bradley sees as an influence on the Book of Mormon translation era. (See his thesis - although we discussed it here) None of these necessarily tell us anything about Joseph's view of Christianity through a Masonic lens. I don't think we can reliably establish that until Nauvoo. However they do lend weight to Masonic parallels (whether done by critics or defenders).

This is all very interesting, especially considering the Joseph Sr. and wasn't Alvin or Hyrum, a practicing mason, prior to Joseph's work on the BoM.  I attended a presentation at Sunstone last summer, and I can't remember who was presenting, but it was about masonry and connections to early Mormonism.  I recall there was a story of someone finding a gold plate with the name of YHWH engraved on it, and I thought that sounded fascinating if Joseph knew about that prior to the BoM project.  

This is just top of my mind speculation, but do you think it possible that Luman Walters might have been a connecting point for Joseph learning about French masonry?  He did spend time in Paris and I believe was potentially a very influential person on JS in the early years.  

For early exposure to masonry, wouldn't Joseph's dad be the first possible connection?  Also, for the anti-masonic passages in the BoM, you could say that he was influenced by the current events people were talking about.  Its amazing that William Morgan's widow became one of Joseph's early polygamous marriages, such an unexpected connection.  

 

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46 minutes ago, clarkgoble said:

I think that's more common than you think. While we don't dust our feet, discourse about dusting of feet is still regularly heard. That is older practices people might not directly experience remain a part of folk beliefs. Ditto with a lot of angelic support. I think there's a much more expansive sense of Mormonism than what gets formally taught at Church. However since it's more shared in social groups not everyone gets exposed to it depending upon who ones social connections are. But if you go to say the MTC you tend to hear a lot of these stories. 

I don't know if it's still maintained, but BYU used to have a huge collection of such folk tales I believed collected by anthropologists. This included not just things you'd expect like three Nephite stories or the like, but also exorcisms (although we don't call it that) and other such stories. Start talking with many leaders and you'll hear a ton of these sorts of things often attributed first hand.

I was raised on a lot of these stories, but coming from a smaller community in Utah likely contributed to my exposure, and also the fact that I'm now in my mid 40s, I wonder how prevalent these ideas are for the younger generations.  

52 minutes ago, clarkgoble said:
1 hour ago, hope_for_things said:

A question that Dan Vogel raised that I heard in his recent MS interview that caused me to think a little more about this, is the idea that Joseph may have been intentionally placing objects around and then using his stone to find those objects, essentially to build up the trust that people would have in his abilities.  If this is correct, and we know many people that practice in deception use these kinds of techniques as part of their act, then this shows that Joseph at some level would have known that what he saw in his stone wasn't real. 

That's extremely speculative though. I know Dan after suggesting not a ton of space between his view and Taves has of late been pushing the more formal fraud model stronger. I'm very curious as to how Taves' model gets treated long term by skeptics like Dan. (I know he's chimed in on the thread occasionally so maybe he'll speak to that) The problem is that for Taves Joseph is just instantiated mental models he views as spiritual. If that's what is going on then Dan's fraud speculations become problematic.

I would like to know how Dan views Taves' perspective and hear him comment about how his pious fraud perspective differs from her thesis.  But I don't think Dan's comments on that interview show him "pushing the more formal fraud model".  If you listened to the full interview (I did) and follow things Dan has said, I think he clearly sees Joseph as a complex person with multiple different motivating personality traits.  I see Joseph this way as well. 

I'm not sure what you mean exactly by a formal fraud model, but I suspect this implies that Joseph had an elaborate plan ahead of time to deceive everyone and create a church to get gain, and that he was 100% aware of his deceptions all along the way and that nothing that he produced had a shred of sincerity to it.  This is somewhat of a straw man on my part, but I'm trying to make a point that this is definitely not the kind of Joseph that any thoughtful scholars that I'm aware of, would conceptualize.  

59 minutes ago, clarkgoble said:
1 hour ago, hope_for_things said:

But there is other evidence that he believed in his own abilities.  I like the example of him going to Salem to find treasure.  I think there is definitely evidence to show that he believed in his own abilities to some degree, but I read other evidence to suggest that he also knew that he was being deceptive as well.  I think its a complicated picture for sure, and humans can be very complicated.  

Yup, and that's weight for both the Taves and faithful models. You also have a view (I think originating with Brodie?) that he initially was a fraud but came to deceive even himself.

I still haven't read Brodie yet (I know, I'm woefully behind on my reading list) so I couldn't have directly been informed by her.  I don't like using the word fraud, as its just too absolute a term.  Was Joseph 100% honest all the time?  No, of course not.  How much was Joseph seeking to deceive vs. believing in his abilities and the reality of stones, spirits, treasure, enchantments, etc.  I don't know exactly, that is very hard to tell.  But if Joseph did hide objects ahead of time and pretend to find these objects using a stone, I think that shows at least at some level that he was being deceptive.  However, what if he justified this deception as a form of training to become more adept as a seer and that this like practicing in effort to build the true skill of seership?  We can't read his mind, as I mentioned earlier.  

 

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1 hour ago, hope_for_things said:

I recall there was a story of someone finding a gold plate with the name of YHWH engraved on it, and I thought that sounded fascinating if Joseph knew about that prior to the BoM project.  

Yeah, it's a constant point brought up. I don't see it as a real parallel to the Book of Mormon because it's not plates as a book but a single plate tied to a whole lot else. Others disagree but to me it's a pretty weak parallel. If anything it's more of a parallel to D&C 130 although as I said that explanation of Rev 2:17 is explicit in Royal Arch Masonry as well as certain Biblical commentaries.

1 hour ago, hope_for_things said:

This is just top of my mind speculation, but do you think it possible that Luman Walters might have been a connecting point for Joseph learning about French masonry?  He did spend time in Paris and I believe was potentially a very influential person on JS in the early years.  

That's the one connection but there's really not any evidence for it I'm aware of. (I'd be very interested if there is - presumably Swick's book will engage the issue) Merely being in Paris isn't much of a parallel. Whether Joseph encountered any of Fabre d'Olivet's writings is more interesting. I don't recall when the English translations first were published in Europe. But if there were French copies that'd be intriguing. There are some loose parallels between d'Olivet's ideas about Hebrew and heiroglyphics and Joseph's Egyptian grammar work. I don't know if anyone has done a more rigorous study on that though. I don't believe so.

1 hour ago, hope_for_things said:

For early exposure to masonry, wouldn't Joseph's dad be the first possible connection?

Yup. And his brother. 

I'm eagerly awaiting Don Bradley's work on the 116 pages since it's clear there was much more temple stuff in it than anyone had realized before. While most of the temple stuff Don has mentioned is more tied to stuff in Exodus, it'd be interesting to see if any have masonic overtones. Even for skeptics who see anti-masonry in the Book of Mormon the secret combinations appear a kind of counterfeit priesthood suggesting a legitimate priesthood. And of course many have noted the temple nature of Alma 13 even though critics have tended to downplay it. It even has a quasi-secrecy to it. (Alma 12:9) So it's quite possible for a naturalistic critic to see that passage and others through the lens of Masonry. Especially Royal Arch masonry. Again I suspect this will be addressed in Joe Swick's book - although we'll see what kind of arguments he actually makes.

49 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

I'm not sure what you mean exactly by a formal fraud model, but I suspect this implies that Joseph had an elaborate plan ahead of time to deceive everyone and create a church to get gain, and that he was 100% aware of his deceptions all along the way and that nothing that he produced had a shred of sincerity to it.  This is somewhat of a straw man on my part, but I'm trying to make a point that this is definitely not the kind of Joseph that any thoughtful scholars that I'm aware of, would conceptualize.  

By formal fraud I just mean Joseph doing things to intentionally and knowingly mislead those around him. So it's very broad. The idea of hiding items he could find with his stone to get people to believe him would be completely fraudulent from my perspective. (I don't think it's established he did that mind you)

This is the place I've been critical of Taves, I should note, and why I actually think the Fraud Model has more weight. There's no indication Joseph ever portrayed the plates as actualized plates of a spiritual reality with him creating the plates. Even if Taves is right and that's what he did, then the way he conducted himself with Harris and Emma seems fraudulent.

To me the simpler explanation is just that he believed what he had were real plates and thought he was really translating. i.e. the delusion explanation explains far more. The problem with the delusion model though, and why I suspect Dan rejects it, is that presumably he'd be able to tell whether the plates were ancient or not. So the very nature of the plates IMO requires some degree of fraud if they aren't authentic in some sense. 

To your point about Dan's views of fraud, I'm more just here thinking of the Book of Mormon. If Joseph made the plates that's fraud pure and simple to my book. I'm sure Dan sees Joseph as a complex figure perhaps following what I recall Brodie suggesting. That is over time Joseph convinced himself of his own fraud. Again personally I find that at a certain point that gets unwieldily complex. But I know we've discussed that here in the past. I just have a hard time seeing Joseph persisting in the fraud with all the opposition or forgetting he was making everything up initially.

The Taves model I think works quite well for the period after the Book of Mormon. It's just the Book of Mormon translation that I think she has difficulty with. But that of course, especially for the believer, is the key issue that has to be dealt with. If the Book of Mormon was done like the Book of Abraham then I'd think it'd completely work. However there we have real artifacts to deal with. With the Book of Mormon the mysterious plates and other items have to be addressed.

 

Quote

The question is whether we should assume he wasn't a stone when we don't have explicit evidence of non-use.  Should the starting assumption be use of a stone, or non-use of a stone?  We don't have a whole lot of evidence for non-use of stones either, so I would question the baseline assumption being made here.  

Again I think here the issue is that it's explicit up until D&C 10. We then know that in a least some cases like D&C 76 he's not using it. That's still fairly early during the JST work. Yet it mysteriously ceases to be part of the discourse. I don't think one can assume, given that shift, that he's using it. So I think the burden of proof is on those arguing he is using it despite no indications. The counter argument of course is that the discourse about the U&T (Nephite interpreters) being taken was being told. He may not have wanted people to know he was using his personal seer stone. The problem with that is that we know by Nauvoo he was forthright about the importance of the seer stone yet still didn't portray it as used anymore that I can tell.

However I think there's a lot more to do here. And we are obviously limited by the paucity of evidence one direction or the other.

49 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

I was raised on a lot of these stories, but coming from a smaller community in Utah likely contributed to my exposure, and also the fact that I'm now in my mid 40s, I wonder how prevalent these ideas are for the younger generations.  

Yeah honestly I don't know. I heard most of the stories at BYU or the MTC. I'd imagine there's still getting spread though. But not really being with a lot of young people I'd be the first to say I don't know for sure.

 

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17 minutes ago, clarkgoble said:

Again personally I find that at a certain point that gets unwieldily complex. But I know we've discussed that here in the past. I just have a hard time seeing Joseph persisting in the fraud with all the opposition or forgetting he was making everything up initially.

I see this comment frequently, that no one would persist in such an endeavor if he knew it was fraudulent, but such an objection presumes there were other options he could have pursued. What else was he supposed to do?

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1 hour ago, CA Steve said:

I see this comment frequently, that no one would persist in such an endeavor if he knew it was fraudulent, but such an objection presumes there were other options he could have pursued. What else was he supposed to do?

Isn't that straightforward? Get a regular job like everyone else of the era. Even if he wanted to remain a con artist you move to a different con or move to a different location. Again there were lots of people doing religious cons who moved around and shook things up a bit when one thing wasn't working.

It's not like Joseph is someone in the late 20th century trained as a steel worker in the later stages of life. He was in his early 20's and in reasonable health.

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On 1/28/2019 at 6:55 PM, PacMan said:

Yes, I did give a counter interpretation.  And that is the evidence of the exhumation, which you have now ignored multiple times, was THREE DAYS LATE. 

You are assuming that there was only one date on which to bring Alvin and that JS Sr. would have understood it that way. It is likely that 22 September 1827, the day JS got the plates was projected back to 1823 and 1824.

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Further, I don't care what Anderson said because I can look and read the document on my own. 

I referred to Anderson because he also connected JS Sr.’s exhuming Alvin’s body with quelling rumors that the corpse had been used in an attempt to get the plates. Yet you probably don’t think he is a fool. Read:

“So gossip about exhuming Alvin’s body was highest a year after Joseph’s 1823 visit to the hill, the time when, according to the angel’s instructions, Joseph was to bring Alvin. Apparently, word had circulated of Joseph’s instructions, and the false rumor was being spread that the Smiths had dug up—or would dig up—the corpse to fulfill the instructions. Father Smith was evidently pained that the family would be accused of such procedures, and so he took the action necessary to correct the rumor.”

Anderson’s interpretation is different than mine and Quinn’s, but he connected the rumors to the angel’s request. Why? Because of the timing. But Anderson didn’t consider other aspects of the story.

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The document shows that Joseph Smith, Sr. wanted to quell distressing rumors that his son had been dug up and dissected.  That, my friend, is why he exhumed Alvin's body.  And that is TOTALLY different than what you suggested.  Digging up Alvin to see that he was undisturbed has no comparison to digging up the body to cart it off to meet an angel.  That you think those are "not too different" is an excellent example of why your work is so questionable.

Of course the interpretation I and Quinn offered is different. We question JS Sr.’s reasoning as suspicious.

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Look up the definition of ad hominem.  Attacking one's conspiracy or imagination is not part of the definition.

Really? These attacks were not arguments but mere name calling: “grasping at the most absurd, lunatic, and salacious conspiracy” and "Vogel's own perverse imagination."

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Again, I don't care what Anderson thinks.  I care about the evidence.  You bring in a fanciful assumption that "it would have been apparent if the grave had been disturbed during the previous three days."  Says who?  Have you researched how dirt settles?  If we are going to dive into the fantasy land of speculation, then let's be reasonable about it. 

This is where you show us how unfamiliar you are with the fundamental laws of nature and why your criticism is meaningless.

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The whole Alvin thing was a big enough deal that J.S., Sr. published a statement in the newspaper.  Which means, there were probably a whole lot of people trodding around the grave site (which was, at best, no more than 10 months old--my speculation is that it was probably only 3-4 months old after he was reburied in the Spring).  So when you talk about the ground being apparently being disturbed, what do you mean?  No flowers?  No grass?  Footprints?  Because all of those were probably true!  It WAS disturbed, but JS, Sr. didn't know the extent. 

Again, your comments here are completely silly and provides us with an explanation of why you have trouble following the reasoning of Quinn and myself. The idea that Alvin was buried in a shallow grave because the ground was frozen in November so he was dug up in the spring and reburied is absurd. Even if the ground was frozen in November (average 33-52 degrees Fahrenheit), it wouldn’t have been very deep. Recent digging in late September would leave all kinds of evidence. No way around that. The fact that you can’t grasp that helps explain your inability to appreciate a legitimate clue.

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But even more important is that you fail to consider the sympathies of a father that just wanted to know.  Being a father myself, that's what I would have done to put a grieved mind at ease.  But not you?  When it comes to your children, is close good enough?

Not if JS Sr. was the one who started the rumor as a pretext. Once he saw the ground was undisturbed, he would do anything not to dig Alvin up.

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Who said the Angel needed to know?  Who said he did know?  Who said he didn't?  How does Alvin's death change that at the time Joseph Smith asked who the "right" person was, the right person was, indeed, Alvin?  You are building so many unstated assumptions into your logic that you (again) prove why I have a problem with your scholarship.  It's not that it is wrong.  The problem is it's bad. 

My point was that the requirement to bring Alvin, then Lawrence, then Emma is that the story fits with treasure lore.

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It's not reliable because you are not honest about what you know, what you don't, what you assume, and why you make the assumptions that you do.  You take some documents, mix them with unfounded assumptions, slam them into a sausage maker, hit the green button, and call the unrecognizable mound of processed who-knows-what, "meat."  Sorry, I ain't eating it.

It only seems that way since you can’t grasp the significance of some of the clues. There’s no history without connecting the dots. After giving my reasoning, I only state that it is “probable,” not a certainty.

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Another example.  You state that "[t]he assertion that no deceiver has ever fooled their own family is, of course, silly."  This, "of course," is a dishonest straw man.  I did not say that.  I did not even infer that.  But that's what you read because you're not accurate with information and your analysis is shoddy.  Let's be honest--you are a story teller.  There's nothing wrong with that.  Just don't call it history.  Because it's not.

Another example of how you can’t see the implications of your own statements. You argued that JS’s family should know it he was telling the truth or not. That’s a false assumption since many frauds have fooled their own families.

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But, I digress:  I want to make sure that I have this completely correct.  May I quote Dan Vogel as agreeing with the following: "The family of Joseph Smith, Jr., regardless of his own truthfulness, sincerely and honestly believed in his claims regarding the visitation of an angel and the existence, promise, content, and location of the golden plates?"

I do not believe there was a Smith family conspiracy. I made that clear in my interview with John Dehlin. My point about JS Sr.’s disinterment of Alvin possibly shows how much he believed JS.

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On 1/28/2019 at 10:57 PM, Robert F. Smith said:

Excellent question, but on what basis can we even hazard a guess?  Should we take a close look at religious history?  Secular history?  How about logic?  Should we be presentist?  What sort of tools should we use to begin to answer such a question?  What is "reasonable"?  Is there a God?

Scholars never ask such a prejudicial question, because the answer will necessarily be a matter of opinion, not fact.  Scholars prefer to look at the end-product.  Does the purported translation of an ancient document have the signs of antiquity?  Or does it have the signs of a forgery?  That is what historians and questioned-document examiners focus on.

Here’s a question. If the plates were found or revealed today, do you think scholars would be able to study, decipher or otherwise figure out a somewhat faithful rendition of the Book of Mormon as it is known today?

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46 minutes ago, Gervin said:

Here’s a question. If the plates were found or revealed today, do you think scholars would be able to study, decipher or otherwise figure out a somewhat faithful rendition of the Book of Mormon as it is known today?

Hi Gervin:

Yes.  If the BofM plates were presented today to a competent Egyptologist (not simply a Transcript of Caractors on a piece of paper), he/she would be able to readily provide a good translation of the Small Plates of Nephi right away -- since they would be in the standard hieratic or early demotic Egyptian which Nephi had been trained in.  With that in hand, even though the remainder of the Plates were in Reformed Egyptian, the same professional would be able to make sense of the changes in language and script which had taken place over the subsequent thousand years of linguistic development.  There are even computer programs designed to make that task easier, as long as the related languages are already well understood.

In such case, one would prefer that the Egyptologist be a non-Mormon, and that his work be confirmed by non-Mormon colleagues.  Otherwise, things might get ugly.  Of course, if a full transcript of the Plates, a transliteration, and a translation were provided in the Joseph Smith Papers Project online, then anyone could check the issue for himself.

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10 hours ago, clarkgoble said:

That's the one connection but there's really not any evidence for it I'm aware of. (I'd be very interested if there is - presumably Swick's book will engage the issue) Merely being in Paris isn't much of a parallel.

Luman wasn't just in Paris. He was allegedly in Paris to study.
If those studies place him anywhere close to the writings of french orientalists like Silvestre de Sacy, then much of the Book of Mormon narrative can be accounted for.

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10 hours ago, Rajah Manchou said:

Luman wasn't just in Paris. He was allegedly in Paris to study.
If those studies place him anywhere close to the writings of french orientalists like Silvestre de Sacy, then much of the Book of Mormon narrative can be accounted for.

How so? I get claiming he was exposed to esoteric forms of French masonry - although the evidence is lacking. It's true that mesmerism and masonry were often tied together in France. Although I believe that's more in the early 18th century and not necessarily the period Luman was in France. Do you have more information there? Or is this just an indirect reference to a possibility that Luman knew Alessandro Cagliostro? 

I don't see how he'd be the author of the Book of Mormon. I know Abner Cole claims Luman was the source of the idea of a book for Joseph as fraud. But content wise things seem more difficult. You also have the Lucy Smith account that sees him as trying to get the plates away from Joseph and thought them authentic. Brigham Young has a similar account although some disagree over whether he's actually talking about Luman.

I confess I don't know much about de Sacy so I can't say anything there.

Edited by clarkgoble

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19 hours ago, clarkgoble said:

Isn't that straightforward? Get a regular job like everyone else of the era. Even if he wanted to remain a con artist you move to a different con or move to a different location. Again there were lots of people doing religious cons who moved around and shook things up a bit when one thing wasn't working.

It's not like Joseph is someone in the late 20th century trained as a steel worker in the later stages of life. He was in his early 20's and in reasonable health.

My comment about his lack of other options assumed an older Joseph who had already founded a church and produced the Book of Mormon,  and after he had moved to Kirtland. Perhaps in his early 20's, at least up until the time he published the Book of Mormon, he might have been able to go back to being an ordinary worker, though I think his past few years of being the focal point in treasure hunting would still have made that difficult. 

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5 hours ago, CA Steve said:

My comment about his lack of other options assumed an older Joseph who had already founded a church and produced the Book of Mormon,  and after he had moved to Kirtland. Perhaps in his early 20's, at least up until the time he published the Book of Mormon, he might have been able to go back to being an ordinary worker, though I think his past few years of being the focal point in treasure hunting would still have made that difficult. 

Even Luman apparently just became a doctor. Don't see why Joseph would have had it worse - particularly if he changed his name.

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8 hours ago, clarkgoble said:

Even Luman apparently just became a doctor. Don't see why Joseph would have had it worse - particularly if he changed his name.

I think a better comparison would have been J.C. Bennett who, in spite of his proclivities toward fraud and immoral behavior, accomplished quite a bit in his life. See The Saintly Scoundrel: The Life and Times of Dr. John Cook Bennett by Andrew F. Smith. But in either case I don't think Joseph had the range of alternate abilities to say just choose to become a doctor like Luman or agricultural expert as was the case for Bennett. Both were far better educated that Joseph. I am not familiar Luman's background but I doubt that it compares to Joseph's who had an extensive network of  family and friends. I doubt that Joseph would have just been able or even willing to pop up somewhere else as someone else and even if it were possible, it would mean completely abandoning his current lifestyle, friends and family to go somewhere to become a common laborer,. It's hard to see that ever being a consideration and more difficult as time went along and the enterprise around him grew.

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7 minutes ago, CA Steve said:

I think a better comparison would have been J.C. Bennett who, in spite of his proclivities toward fraud and immoral behavior, accomplished quite a bit in his life. See The Saintly Scoundrel: The Life and Times of Dr. John Cook Bennett by Andrew F. Smith. But in either case I don't think Joseph had the range of alternate abilities to say just choose to become a doctor like Luman or agricultural expert as was the case for Bennett. Both were far better educated that Joseph. I am not familiar Luman's background but I doubt that it compares to Joseph's who had an extensive network of  family and friends. I doubt that Joseph would have just been able or even willing to pop up somewhere else as someone else and even if it were possible, it would mean completely abandoning his current lifestyle, friends and family to go somewhere to become a common laborer,. It's hard to see that ever being a consideration and more difficult as time went along and the enterprise around him grew.

The point about Joseph's skills is a fair point and a place where Luman, Bennett or others had an advantage. But again reinventing oneself was relatively common. Further the majority of people were laborers - but laborers not regularly being attacked or living in abject poverty. I agree that by Nauvoo things were different. But if you're pointing to the pre-Missouri period then the future was completely open to Joseph. Most of us had relatives from the time who had nothing, came to America with nothing, and created a life. That was always open to Joseph.

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3 hours ago, clarkgoble said:

The point about Joseph's skills is a fair point and a place where Luman, Bennett or others had an advantage. But again reinventing oneself was relatively common. Further the majority of people were laborers - but laborers not regularly being attacked or living in abject poverty. I agree that by Nauvoo things were different. But if you're pointing to the pre-Missouri period then the future was completely open to Joseph. Most of us had relatives from the time who had nothing, came to America with nothing, and created a life. That was always open to Joseph.

For the most part I agree but I would go back a few year  further before I would say he had a lot of options. I think once he published the BoM and founded the church, his future was pretty much dictated. So I would say we have to look at pre 1830 to claim he had many choices. Once he started gathering followers  I think his own notoriety  would have prevented from doing anything beyond being a religious leader unless he was willing to abandon his family and friends, change his name and move a long ways away.

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Luman Walter's early life is not well documented. There is one source that says that he studied in Europe and another that said he went to Paris. That's all we know about that. The story goes that he ran away from home when he was a little kid and went to Europe by himself. I don't think there is good enough documentation to know that he really went, it could have just been a story. Even if he did, there's no way to know who he came into contact with.

He was a "doctor" later in life, but it was more like herbs and potions than normal medicine. His father and a couple if his brothers were also "doctors", so I don't think it was necessarily new for him. He also continued to do treasure seeking after he moved south of Palmyra later in his life. His obituary described him as "eccentric", so he didn't rebrand himself really.

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On 1/30/2019 at 8:51 PM, Dan Vogel said:

You are assuming that there was only one date on which to bring Alvin and that JS Sr. would have understood it that way. It is likely that 22 September 1827, the day JS got the plates was projected back to 1823 and 1824.

Wait, what's this have to do with the fact that I DID give a counter interpretation when you said that I did not?  Whether you like my explanation or not is completely independent from the fact that I did, in fact, give one.  In any event, this is typical you.  You sneak in a very important word: "likely" (without support).  So, your logic is that it is "probable" that Joseph Smith Sr. dug up Alvin to get the plates, because he was a liar and because it is "likely" that 1827 was projected back to 1823 and 1824?  Never mind that I don't even understand what you're saying (if 1827 was projected back to 1823 and 1824 then what purpose would there have been for J.S., Sr. to even be involved in the exhumation of Alvin controversy?), but you just completely dismantled your "probable" thesis.  You are making a host of wild assumptions--but still, let me give you a charitable 60% chance of being correct that "the day JS got the plates was project back to 1823 and 1824" (whatever that means).  And then there's the (charitably given) 60% probability that J.S., Sr. was lying...that only gives you a 36% chance you're actually right.  In fact, you don't get close to being even 50% right until these combined factors are right around 70%, each.  And you're nowhere close to that.
 

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I referred to Anderson because he also connected JS Sr.’s exhuming Alvin’s body with quelling rumors that the corpse had been used in an attempt to get the plates. Yet you probably don’t think he is a fool. Read:

“So gossip about exhuming Alvin’s body was highest a year after Joseph’s 1823 visit to the hill, the time when, according to the angel’s instructions, Joseph was to bring Alvin. Apparently, word had circulated of Joseph’s instructions, and the false rumor was being spread that the Smiths had dug up—or would dig up—the corpse to fulfill the instructions. Father Smith was evidently pained that the family would be accused of such procedures, and so he took the action necessary to correct the rumor.”

Anderson’s interpretation is different than mine and Quinn’s, but he connected the rumors to the angel’s request. Why? Because of the timing. But Anderson didn’t consider other aspects of the story.
Of course the interpretation I and Quinn offered is different. We question JS Sr.’s reasoning as suspicious.

 

And apparently the rumors were that someone (perhaps a family member) dissected Alvin for this purpose.  And given that J.S., Sr. published a statement, whatever the rumor, it's logical that he wasn't part of the particulars of the rumor (otherwise the declaration would have been self-serving and pointless to publish).  So I don't have a problem with connecting the rumors (as alluded to in J.S., Sr.'s statement) to the angel.  That's not the problem.  The problem is the twisted conspiracy that J.S., Sr. dug Alvin up to get the plates.  Apart from all the other reasons I mention, there is nothing in his history to suggest that J.S., Sr. would have done this.  Being superstitious does not lead one to digging up their dead son's corpse.

And of course you're suspicious.  You've got an ax to grind.  It is what it is.

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Really? These attacks were not arguments but mere name calling: “grasping at the most absurd, lunatic, and salacious conspiracy” and "Vogel's own perverse imagination."

Sorry, I fail to see the name I called you.  If that's your version of ad hominem, then you're a hypocrite (there it is!).  You've repeatedly referred to my statement of silly.  But you don't see me getting all worked up about it.

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This is where you show us how unfamiliar you are with the fundamental laws of nature and why your criticism is meaningless.

Wait, what?  What fundamental laws of nature are you talking about?  I am genuinely interested.  In any event, whether Alvin was reburied in the Spring was complete speculation on my part.  The difference between you and me, however, is that I actually said that it was speculation.

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Again, your comments here are completely silly and provides us with an explanation of why you have trouble following the reasoning of Quinn and myself. The idea that Alvin was buried in a shallow grave because the ground was frozen in November so he was dug up in the spring and reburied is absurd. Even if the ground was frozen in November (average 33-52 degrees Fahrenheit), it wouldn’t have been very deep. Recent digging in late September would leave all kinds of evidence. No way around that. The fact that you can’t grasp that helps explain your inability to appreciate a legitimate clue.

See above.  But also, let's be honest about your google search for temperatures.  Alvin died November 19.  So he was buried in the last third of the month.  Drop another 1.4 degrees for the average increase in temperature since 1880, and you get about 27-44 degrees.

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Not if JS Sr. was the one who started the rumor as a pretext. Once he saw the ground was undisturbed, he would do anything not to dig Alvin up.

That doesn't even make sense.  So J.S., Sr. started rumors as a pretext for something that people wouldn't have thought about had he not started the rumor?  And again, you've provided nothing to suggest that the ground was "undisturbed."  Give the rumors (however started), is it your position that there would have been a thick patch of grass and flowers on the plot?  Sorry.  It was "likely" a dirt mound full of footprints.

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My point was that the requirement to bring Alvin, then Lawrence, then Emma is that the story fits with treasure lore.

And I fit a triple-D cup.  It doesn't mean I wear one.
 

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Another example of how you can’t see the implications of your own statements. You argued that JS’s family should know it he was telling the truth or not. That’s a false assumption since many frauds have fooled their own families.

CFR.  You ability to read and understand what I actually say is now concerning (particularly after I told you you were misrepresenting what I said).

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I do not believe there was a Smith family conspiracy. I made that clear in my interview with John Dehlin. My point about JS Sr.’s disinterment of Alvin possibly shows how much he believed JS.

John Dehlin is a waste of time.  He markets to the low-hanging (intellectual) masses (just look at his recent essays).  So don't hold it personal that I didn't watch that interview.  But I do appreciate understanding your position.  I agree with it.  Now, I can say that the idea that a boy pulled one over on his parents to such an extent and with such success, given his education and life experience, is very, very difficult to accept.  I speak three languages, I've lived around the world, I am a voracious reader, I have an advanced degree from one of the best schools in my field, and not only could I not reproduce the BoM, but I am continually amazed at the little nuggets of profound information that I consistently find in that book.  From an evidentiary standpoint, and assuming that we are right that this was not a Smith family fraud, there is absolutely no way to conclude that J.S. did not do what he said he did, greatly because he could not have formulated a plan to do so, long before he knew the necessary people needed to perpetuate the plan, and at an age without the credibility to do so, and then actually make it come to fruition all under the noses of those closest to him.

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11 hours ago, mapman said:

Luman Walter's early life is not well documented. There is one source that says that he studied in Europe and another that said he went to Paris. That's all we know about that. The story goes that he ran away from home when he was a little kid and went to Europe by himself. I don't think there is good enough documentation to know that he really went, it could have just been a story. Even if he did, there's no way to know who he came into contact with.

I certainly agree, although there does seem evidence he learned mesmerism in France which would have put him in contact with some of the figures of esoteric Masonry. Which is why I think Walter gets brought up. But I certainly agree there's no evidence he was inducted into such rites, knew much if anything about them, let alone initiated a young Joseph Smith. While there's evidence a critic can make that the author of the Book of Mormon was familiar with at least the broad outlines of Masonry, there's nothing indicating detailed knowledge that I'm aware of. (Again Joe Swick's forthcoming book may make one rethink that, but we'll have to await his arguments and claims)

If Joseph was exposed to esoteric French Masonry then all indications are that it was post-Missouri encounters. But it's not even clear, beyond a few parallels with the Relief Society, that he was. Most of the Masonic parallels can be found in fairly straightforward Royal Arch Masonry or the standard three degrees.

14 hours ago, CA Steve said:

For the most part I agree but I would go back a few year  further before I would say he had a lot of options. I think once he published the BoM and founded the church, his future was pretty much dictated.

I'd strongly disagree there. There weren't photographs or video in the early 19th century making everyone aware of what someone looked like. Even his name was common. Were he to have moved out of the New York region I bet no one would know who he was. Again, this is done quite regularly in the 19th century. At best one could say he'd have to break his family ties somewhat by moving - but again a rather common event. Reinventing oneself in early America was easy and common.

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11 minutes ago, clarkgoble said:

Were he to have moved out of the New York region I bet no one would know who he was.

It seems to me we are just disagreeing over a period of a year or so. The difference between when he moved out of New York and when he founded the Church is what, a year? I doubt either one of us can pick a specific point in time where such an opportunity was no longer an option. I am fine with any suggestion that up until he moved out of New York in 1831 he still might have been able to just disappear and go back to  farming as a tenant or he maybe he could have gone back to Emma's father at the time also and live there. This is really an escalating scale here, the further along he gets the more unlikely such a choice is possible. 

 

 

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