Is the Book of Mormon a Hoax? Part II

Back in 2012 we published an article entitled "Is the Book of Mormon a Hoax?", in which we fully explained the Spalding-Rigdon Theory, whose supporters believe that the Book of Mormon was, in essence, plagiarized by early Mormon leader Sidney Rigdon, from a fantasy novel written years earlier by an obscure author named Solomon Spalding.

Naturally, such a controversial article resulted in a deluge of reader email and even though it's been a few years since we first published the article, we continue to receive feedback about our Mormonism-as-a-hoax stance. As a result, we decided it was time to post a follow-up article, in order to provide readers with further evidence that Mormonism is not a religion, but a money-making scheme originated by Joseph Smith and his cadre of frauds and hucksters.

In this installment, we will delve into historical accounts and explore the lives of early Mormon leaders, supported by affidavits given by those who actually knew Joseph Smith, Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and other leaders of the LDS movement. The following information comes from an 1834 book, "Mormonism Unvailed" [sic], written by Eber D. Howe.

Howe, the founder of Ohio's Painesville Telegraph newspaper, was one of the first critics of Mormonism, and his book created such a stir that leaders of the LDS movement rushed to publish their own sensationalistic pro-Mormon "tell-all" books, often using the same title in a blatant effort to confuse readers. For instance, after Howe's 1834 critique of the LDS movement came "Mormonism Unveiled" by Orvilla S. Belisle (1855), "Mormonism Unveiled" by William Warner Bishop (1882), and "Mormonism Unveiled" by E.S. Goodrich (1884). Belisle's work claimed to be the "official" biography of Joseph Smith, Bishop's work claimed to be the official biography of Mormon martyr John Doyle Lee, and Goodrich's work centered around Salt Lake City crime statistics, in a bizarre effort to show that polygamists are much better behaved than everyone else.

Eber D. Howe

Howe's expose of Mormonism contained affidavits from 80 personal acquaintances of Smith and Martin Harris (one of the "Three Witnesses" who claimed to have seen the angel presenting the Golden Plates). All of these acquaintances lived in New York's Wayne and Ontario counties, the birthplace of Mormonism. Howe begins his book by debunking Harris' prophecies, since he probably figured that the best way to begin his debunking of Mormonism as a whole was by debunking one of the church's central prophets.

Harris had his prophecies printed up and posted on the wall of his office. One of Harris' prophecies stated:

"Within four years from September 1832, there will not be one wicked person left in the United States; that the righteous will be gathered to Zion, and that there will be no President over these United States at that time". On his wall was also posted a prophecy stating: "I do hereby assert and declare that in four years from the date hereof, every sectarian and religious denomination in the United States shall be broken down, and every Christian shall be gathered unto the Mormonites, and the rest of the human race shall perish. If these things do not take place, I will hereby consent to have my hand separated from my body".

Needless to say, none of his prophecies came to pass, and Harris never went through with his promise to have his hand chopped off.

Martin Harris: The prophet who wasn't.

Martin Harris was often a source of embarrassment for Joseph Smith, who would've distanced himself from Harris were it not for the fact that Harris was Smith's primary financial backer; it was Harris who mortgaged his own farm in order to pay $3,000 to E.B. Grandin for publishing the Book of Mormon. Harris insisted that he get to keep 100% of the book's profits until he was reimbursed.

The following summarizes the witness affidavits presented in Howe's book:

1. Smith and his family were employed in the common 19th century practice of "fortune digging". A favorite scam of gypsies and witches of the era, fortune diggers would approach farmers and offer to reveal to them (often with the aid of a divining rod) the location of treasure that was buried on their property-- for a large sum of money. The fortune-digger, of course, would be long gone by the time the gullible farmer finished digging his hole.

David Stafford, a neighbor of the Smiths, wrote: "It is well known that the general employment of the Smith family was money digging and fortune telling. They kept around them constantly a gang of worthless fellows who dug for money nights and were idle in the day time. It was a mystery to their neighbors how they got their living."

2. Smith and Harris were once overheard admitting that the Book of Mormon was a hoax. According to Abigail Harris, she heard Martin Harris remarking to his wife Lucy: "What if it is a lie? If you will let me alone, I will make money out of it."

3. Smith and Harris had been seen spending a lot of time together right before the Golden Plates were found. The two men were familiarly known in their neighborhood as the "Golden Bible Company", and they were regarded by citizens of the community as a lying, indolent set of fellows, in whom no confidence could be placed. According to some, Smith's reputation was so bad that he should not be believed even when under oath.

4. The wife of Martin Harris testified that he is both a cruel man and a liar, who often beat her. Harris later threw her out of the house. She also accused him of having an affair with a Mrs. Haggard.

5. Smith once confessed to making up the entire story about the Golden Plates in an effort to make money, telling one witness: "When it (the Book of Mormon) is completed, my family will be placed on a level above the generality of mankind."

6. Many facets of Mormonism can be traced back to Smith's father, whose own kooky beliefs may have influenced his son. One neighbor of the Smith family, Peter Ingersoll, stated that long before the Book of Mormon was printed, Smith's father told him  that camels roamed the wilds of the New World, and how a mysterious pre-Columbian "Golden Bible" was found in the hollow of a tree in Canada containing the history of North America.

7. Smith liked to play practical jokes on his family. According to Ingersoll, Smith once told his parents that he had found a "golden Bible", much like the one his father believed had been found in Canada. "I've got the damned fools fixed," quipped Smith to Ingersoll, "and will carry out the fun". Smith then attempted to persuade a man named Willard Chase to build a chest to store his imaginary "golden Bible". Chase would have no part of it, so Smith built the chest himself. Ingersoll's deposition was sworn before Judge Baldwin of Wayne County.

8. Parley Chase, a neighbor of the Smith family, stated: "I was acquainted with the family of Joseph Smith, Sen., both before and since they became Mormons, and feel free to state that not one of the male members of the Smith family were entitled to any credit, whatsoever. They were lazy, intemperate and wirhtless men, very much addicted to lying."

9. Several of Howe's witnesses accuse the Smith family of stealing their farm animals.

10. Stated David Stafford: "I have been acquainted with the family of Joseph Smith, Sen., for several years, and I know him to be a drunkard and a liar, and to be much in the habit of gambling. He and his boys were truly a lazy set of fellows, and more particularly Joseph, who very aptly followed his father's example, and in some respects was worse." Stafford then relates a story of a fistfight with a drunken Joseph Smith, which resulted in Smith being fined by the local magistrate for disturbing the peace.

Barton Stafford also corroborated these claims, referring to the senior Smith as "a noted drunkard", and implying that the so-called prophet Joseph Smith was an even bigger drunkard than his father. Stafford then relates a story about another drunken brawl involving the founder of Mormonism, in which Smith has his shirt torn from his body. Stafford's own wife covers the prophet with a shawl and escorted him home.

11. Joshua Stafford, a neighbor to the Smith family for two years, stated that the Smith family told "marvelous stories about ghosts, hob-goblins, caverns, and various other mysterious matters". Interestingly, the very word Mormon is the Anglicized form of the Greek word Mormoo, which translates into "hob-goblin".

12. Even the scholar who translated the mysterious writing from the Golden Bible- Professor Charles Anthon- concluded the tablets were a hoax. Early versions of the Book of Mormon stated that the mysterious language, known as "Reformed Egyptian", was first deciphered by Professor Anthon. When Anthon learned that his name was being attached to the Book of Mormon, he went ballistic, penning a letter to Eber Howe on the 14th of February, 1834, which read:

Dear Sir- I received this morning your favor of the 9th inst. and lose no time in making a reply. The whole story about my having pronounced the Mormonite inscription to be "reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics" is perfectly false. Some years ago, a plain, and apparently simple-hearted farmer, called upon me with a note from Dr. Mitchell of our city, now deceased, requesting me to decypher, if possible, a paper, which the farmer would hand me, and which Dr. M confessed he had been unable to understand. Upon examining the paper in question, I soon came to the conclusion that it was all a trick, perhaps a hoax.

Anthon requested that his letter be published immediately in the event that his name was mentioned again "by these wretched fanatics".

Fifty-one of the eighty witnesses cited by Howe signed the following statement, which was published in his book:

Palmyra, Dec. 4, 1833

We, the undersigned, have been acquainted with the Smith family, for a number of years, while they resided near this place, and we have no hesitation in saying that we consider them destitute of that moral character, which ought to entitle them to the confidence of any community. They were particularly famous for visionary projects, spent much of their time in digging for money, which they pretended was hid in the earth; and to this day, large excavations may be seen in the earth, not far from their residence, where they used to spend their time in digging for hidden treasures. Joseph Smith, sen., and his Joseph were, in particular, considered entirely destitute of moral character, and addicted to vicious habits.

So is the Latter Day Saint movement a true religion or a hoax? The evidence, by an overwhelming margin, indicates that the "Golden Bible" was pure 19th century hoaxery at its finest.