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Was Joseph Smith a Fraud / Con-man?

Rich Kelsey

Joseph Smith


Today, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) is the 4th largest religious denomination in the United States. More than 85,000 full-time LDS missionaries are serving in 407 missions around the world. No doubt Mormonism is a formidable spiritual movement! However, "If the LDS Church were not true, would you want to know?"



In the year 1823 a young man named Joseph Smith claimed he experienced a heavenly vision. In 1827, Smith claimed he dug up a golden record of America's former inhabitants; then, in 1830 he founded what is now called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  


Four years after the LDS (Mormon) Church[i] was founded, in 1834, Joseph Smith's principal scribe, Book of Mormon witness and Second Elder to the Church Oliver Cowdery knew of only one first vision which Joseph Smith claimed he experienced; the 1823 vision Joseph Smith said took place in his bedroom. 


That 1823 vision was said to be a God-given answer to Joseph Smith's earnest longing to know:


“…the all important information, if a Supreme being did exist...?”  (Messenger and Advocate, Kirtland, Ohio, Dec. 1834, vol.1, p.78)    


While writing about the history of the LDS Church in the Church magazine, Oliver Cowdery made it clear that Joseph Smith did not know if God existed until he prayed in his bedroom on,


“the evening, of the 21st of September, 1823” (Messenger and Advocate, Kirtland, Ohio, Dec. 1834, vol.1, p.78)


Contrast this with the official Sacred Grove First Vision story which was first published in the 1840s and is what the average Mormon is taught and believes in today. That vision story has Joseph Smith having a divine visitation three years earlier in 1820.  Yet, why would Joseph Smith want to know


"... if a Supreme being did exist?"


in 1823, if he had been visited by God in 1820?  Obviously something is seriously wrong!  Apparently Joseph Smith did not keep his story straight.


What is the Truth? 


Today's official 1820 Sacred Grove First Vision story was unknown in 1834.


Why? (see documentation)


Perhaps because either it never happened; or, Joseph Smith didn't tell many people about it, including his right hand man Oliver Cowdery? (see documentation)


In reality: In the 1820's throughout the 1830's the only First vision story people were aware of was Smith's 1823 bedroom vision. (see documentation)


Yet, there is much more wrong with official LDS history than just inconsistencies in Joseph Smith's first vision accounts — the real Joseph Smith hardly resembles the man Mormons sing praise to in Church today:


Praise to the Man
Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah!
Jesus anointed that Prophet and Seer.
Blessed to open the last dispensation,
Kings shall extol him, and nations revere.

Hail to the Prophet, ascended to heaven!
Traitors and tyrants now fight him in vain.
Mingling with Gods, he can plan for his brethren;
Death cannot conquer the hero again.


Joseph Smith's original claim to fame was that he could see buried treasure by looking into a seer stone. (see documentation)  


Book of Mormon witness Martin Harris spoke highly of Smith's expertise with a stone:


"These plates were found at the north point of a hill two miles north of Manchester village. Joseph had a stone which was dug from the well of Mason Chase, twenty-four feet from the surface. In this stone he could see many things to my certain knowledge. It was by means of this stone he first discovered these plates." (Joel Tiffany, Interview with Martin Harris, Tiffany's Monthly, 1859, New York, p.163)


Con men of Smith's day also claimed they could see things while gazing into seer stones, much like wizards looking into crystal balls. The Mormon Church has an answer for this awkward history — unlike con artists of Smith's day, the Church claims that Joseph Smith really could see things in his stone. (see documentation)


LDS attorney Gordon A. Madsen uses this defense in his BYU Studies work:


"... he [Josiah Stowell] emphatically denied that he had been deceived or defrauded; on the contrary he positively knew the accused [Joseph Smith] could discern the whereabouts of subterranean objects..." (Joseph Smith's 1826 Trial: The Legal Selling, BYU Studies, p. 105) 


How many Latter-day Saints have taken the time to study their own Church history?  If they do, they might also find out that early versions of the golden plates stories sound like tales of early American folk-magic. (see documentation)


For example, speaking about Joseph Smith going to get the golden plates, his mother Lucy explained:


“In the moment of excitement, Joseph was overcome by the powers of darkness, and forgot the injunction that was laid upon him. Having some further conversation with the angel on this occasion, Joseph was permitted to raise the stone again, when he beheld the plates as he had done before. He immediately reached forth his hand to take them, but instead of getting them, as he anticipated, he was hurled back upon the ground with great violence. When he recovered, the angel was gone, and he arose and returned to the house weeping for grief and disappointment.” (Lucy Smith, Biographical Sketches, p. 347)


Willard Chase substantiated Lucy's account:


"... he [Joseph Smith] again stooped down and strove to take the book, when the spirit struck him again, and knocked him three or four rods, and hurt him prodigiously. After recovering from his fright, he enquired why he could not obtain the plates; to which the spirit made reply, because you have not obeyed your orders. He then enquired when he could have them, and was answered thus: come one year from this day, and bring with you your oldest brother, and you shall have them." (MORMONISM, p.242)


And, how many of the faithful have put Joseph Smith's translation of the bible to the test?


Lost Prophecies About Joseph Smith Found?


Envision Moses from Old Testament fame, writing an introduction to Genesis, (Moses One) only to have dishonest scribes remove that work from the biblical canon. Envision corrupt scribes also going through the remaining chapters of Genesis and removing thousands of other words which Moses had written. Then, envision God raising up a seer in the latter-days; who, under divine inspiration, restored Moses’ lost words to their ancient purity:


“And that seer will I bless, and they that seek to destroy him shall be confounded; for this promise I give unto you; for I will remember you from generation to generation; and his name shall be called Joseph, and it shall be after the name of his father; and he shall be like unto you; [Moses] for the thing which the Lord shall bring forth by his hand shall bring my people unto salvation.” (Genesis 50:33)


Out of all the bibles in the world, only the Joseph Smith Translation contains this prophecy; conventional versions end at Genesis 50:26. The JST contains an extra twelve verses ending at Genesis 50:38. The “seer” mentioned in the text is referring to Joseph Smith. His father’s name was also Joseph; and, there are other details in this prophecy that fit with another supposed lost prophecy about Smith:


“And in a day when the children of men shall esteem my words as naught and take many of them from the book which thou shalt write, behold, I will raise up another like unto thee; and they shall be had again among the children of men—among as many as shall believe.” (Moses 1:41)


God is supposedly speaking to Moses about a book Moses shall write, and how men will take many words away from it; yet God will raise up another like unto Moses and the missing words shall be


“had again.”


When Joseph Smith uttered Moses’ lost words to his scribe, and then realized he was the very person spoken of in the prophecy, this was possibly one of the greatest events in the history of religion! Or, perhaps it was a bald faced lie of grandiose proportions?  (see documentation)


One thing is certain:


LDS Church members (Mormons) hold their founding prophet in high regard:


"Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it." (Doctrine and Covenants 135:3)


Yet, do they have any idea who the real Joseph Smith was? (see documentation)


And, if they did take the time learn more about their founding prophet, would they still sing praise to the man?



Part II: Joseph Smith — The Great Pretender




Note: The following links will take you to articles in English; however, there is a Google translate button at the top of the articles which can be used to translate the articles into other languages:


LDS (Mormon) Series:


The Book of Mormon

Joseph Smith's First Vision
Joseph Smith on Trial
Those Mysterious Golden Plates
The Fall of Mormonism
Book of Moses Changes/Anachronisms
Another Testament of Jesus Christ
What to say to Mormons at the door
Preach My Gospel — A Guide to Missionary Service
Family Home Evening Lesson 1
■ Enchantment — Magic and Money Digging

Sub-Pages in the LDS (Mormon) Series

1. Joseph Smith has "got the plates?"

2. Joseph Smith Money Digging Accounts: 

● Joseph Smith Money Digging Accounts (Main Page)
Willard Chase Account of the Gold Plates
Fayette Lapham Account of the Gold Plates
Peter Ingersoll Account of Smith's Money Digging History
● The Amboy Journal < Bleeding Ghost Account
● Interview with Martin Harris in Tiffany's Monthly 1859


3. Joseph Smith 1826 Glass Looking Trial Testimonies / Records:

1826 Trial Testimonies (Main Page)
A. W. Benton Account
Bishop Tuttle Account
W. D. Purple Account
New Evidence and New Difficulties
Bill of Justice
LDS Accounts
Articles of Agreement


4. Joseph Smith First Vision Accounts: 

● First Vision Accounts (Main Page)
1823 Bedroom Vision/Dream Accounts (eighteen accounts from the 1820s—1840s...)
Bedroom vision account — "Official version" (Extracts from the History of Joseph Smith, the Prophet)
Joseph Smith's First Vision was unknown LDS statements
(1832) Joseph Smith's hand written account of the First Vision (Photo)
(1834-35) Joseph Smith's first published vision (which contains elements of the 1838 LDS "Official" First Vision story)
(1842) Joseph Smith's Sacred Grove Account — "Official LDS First Vision Account" — also found in Smith's 1838 History 


5. The Angel and the Gold Plates
6. Cumorah's Cave - Cameron J. Packer
7. Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History
8. Book of Mormon Printing Arrangements and History
9. The Trouble With Martin Harris (mean spirited quotes about Martin Harris taken mostly from LDS source material)
10. Introduction — Richard Bushman 


International Articles:

11. Mormonism is a lie / Joseph Smith was a fraud / The LDS Church is not true

12. LDS Priesthood Lie / Myth — the story of John the Baptist visiting Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery 

13. Disturbing Early Versions of the Golden Plates Stories

14. Joseph Smith Lied

15. Joseph Smith — The Great Pretender




[i] "The church teaches that it is a continuation of the Church of Christ established in 1830 by Joseph Smith. This original church underwent several name changes during the 1830s, being called the Church of Jesus Christ, the Church of God, and then in 1834, the name was officially changed to the Church of the Latter Day Saints." (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Wikipedia)






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