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The 1830 Book of Mormon: Joseph Smith’s Rough Draft

by Sharon Lindbloom
6 June 2021

Last month (on 25 May 2021) LDS Living reprinted an essay from the book, “Know Brother Joseph,” by Angela Hallstrom. In this essay, the LDS author explains that the very existence of the Book of Mormon is a “vital” and “foundational” aspect of her testimony of the validity of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its founding prophet, Joseph Smith.

As an author herself, Ms. Hallstrom understands the difficulties that are inherent in writing: the messiness of rough drafts, the necessity of nearly endless rewrites, the danger of plot holes and structural mistakes. She understands that good writing takes lots of time, lots of planning, and lots of correcting. But the Book of Mormon was written and delivered to the printer without ever having had an outline, a rough draft, or edits and rewrites. And it only took Joseph Smith, a 24-year-old uneducated and inarticulate farm “boy” three months to produce.

[This Mormonism in the News article will be quite limited in scope. For a more comprehensive look at whether Joseph Smith could have written the Book of Mormon, consider both the LDS position and the critic’s position found at MormonThink.com.]

Much of Ms. Hallstrom’s understanding of the process Joseph Smith followed in producing the Book of Mormon is based on the “Last Testimony of Sister Emma” which recounts an interview between Joseph’s son (Joseph III) and Joseph’s legal wife, Emma Smith Bidamon. In this interview (as reported in Ms. Hallstrom’s essay), Emma said,

“Joseph Smith…could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter; let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon…Your father would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him… It would have been improbable for a learned man to do this; and, for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.”

This, for both Emma Smith and Angela Hallstrom, makes the Book of Mormon “a marvel and a wonder” that cannot be ignored. For them, it is strong evidence that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. But is it really?

Much has been written about the many problems found in the Book of Mormon text, including structural mistakes, historical mistakes, and theological mistakes (Ms. Hallstrom’s comments notwithstanding). The draft delivered to the printer in 1829 has since undergone many changes that reach far beyond spelling corrections – over 3,000 of them. So while Joseph’s initial manuscript was published as delivered to E.B. Grandin’s print shop in 1829 (apart from the addition of punctuation), the original text of the book has not stood unedited. Additionally, the “Last Testimony of Sister Emma” is not without its own problems.

Emma claimed that Joseph “could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter” at the time he was dictating the Book of Mormon. But Joseph wrote a letter to Oliver Cowdery in October of 1829 that was, though without punctuation (just as with the Book of Mormon manuscript), quite coherent and well-worded. It began,

“Respected Sir

“I would in form you that I arrived at home on sunday morning the 4th after having a prosperous Journey, and found all well the people are all friendly to <us> except a few who are in opposition to evry thing unless it is some thing that is exactly like themselves and two of our most formadable persacutors are now under censure and are cited to a tryal in the church for crimes which if true are worse than all the Gold Book business. we do not rejoice in the affliction of our enimies but we shall be glad to have truth prevail…” (Joseph Smith letter to Oliver Cowdery)

Emma also testified, “…after interruptions, [Joseph] would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him…” Emma’s previous claim that Joseph could not dictate a well-worded letter when in fact he could, raises questions as to the accuracy of her claim of his spontaneity as well. Nevertheless, while the ability to pick up a storyline without review would demonstrate that Joseph Smith had remarkable story-telling skills, it really says nothing more than that. Especially when, according to historian and LDS general authority B.H. Roberts,

“…[T]here is a certain lack of perspective in the things the book relates as history that points quite clearly to an undeveloped mind as their origin. The narrative proceeds in characteristic disregard of conditions necessary to its reasonableness, as if it were a tale told by a child, with utter disregard for consistency…” (Studies of the Book of Mormon, 251)

Still, questions remain regarding the accuracy of Emma’s testimony on this point (and others). In her “Last Testimony,” Emma also provided information about things other than the translation of the Book of Mormon. Her son, Joseph III, asked about his father’s practice of polygamy and was given answers that were untrue:

Q. What about the revelation on polygamy? Did Joseph Smith have anything like it? What of spiritual wifery?

A. There was no revelation on either polygamy, or spiritual wives. There were some rumors or something of the sort, of which I asked my husband. He assured me that all there was to it was that, in a chat about plural wives, he had said, “Well, such a system might possibly be, if everybody was agreed to it, and would behave as they should; but they would not; and besides, it was contrary to the will of heaven.” No such thing as polygamy, or spiritual wifery, was taught, publicly or privately, before my husband’s death, that I have now, or ever had, any knowledge of.

Q. Did he not have other wives than yourself?

A. He had no other wife but me; nor did he to my knowledge ever have.

Emma certainly knew about Joseph Smith’s revelation on polygamy. In an effort to quiet Emma’s anger and frustration over Joseph’s practice of plural marriage, Hyrum Smith (Joseph’s brother) presented the revelation to Emma on July 12, 1843. Hyrum reported back to Joseph,

“I have never received a more severe talking to in my life. Emma is very bitter and full of resentment and anger.” (Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, 153)

Emma was also well aware that Joseph had additional wives. She “gave” Joseph four of them herself:

“In May 1843 [Emma] finally agreed to give Joseph other wives if she could choose them. Any of Joseph’s other wives, who by now numbered at least sixteen, would have been more comfortable if they had had Emma’s approval. Emma chose the two sets of sisters then living in her house, Emily and Eliza Partridge and Sarah and Maria Lawrence.” (Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 143)

If Emma chose to answer questions about Joseph’s polygamy dishonestly, it raises questions about the truthfulness or accuracy of her testimony regarding the Book of Mormon as well.

It is not unusual for Mormons to assert the sorts of things Ms. Hallstrom has highlighted in her article in an effort to convince people that the Book of Mormon was divinely produced, that it is “a marvel and a wonder.” But the Bible says we need to look at the contents of the book to determine whether it is from God (see Acts 17:11). And doing that, what we find is that the Book of Mormon presents another Jesus, another Spirit, and another Gospel than those God previously revealed in the Bible (see 2 Corinthians 11:4).

The apostle Paul warned, “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:6-9). The Book of Mormon, then, is not “a marvel and a wonder”; it is accursed.

Yet God promises to welcome anyone who leaves their false beliefs and turns to Him (2 Corinthians 6:16-18). He forgives and embraces even the worst of us if we but confess our sins and trust in Him (Acts 26:17-18). Now that is a true marvel and a wonder!

To see Sharon’s other news articles, click here.

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