Should historians tell the truth?

A little over two years ago Jerald Tanner left this life for his home in Heaven. Born and raised a Latter-day Saint, when a young man Jerald discovered that Mormonism could not bring him to Christ. When God granted Jerald the free gift of salvation, Jerald spent his life in grateful service to God, researching and publishing information he hoped would help Latter-day Saints recognize the tremendous problems within Mormonism – and help them turn instead to Jesus.

The ministry Jerald co-founded with his wife, Sandra, Utah Lighthouse Ministry, has published a three-part series of articles on the life and work of Jerald Tanner. Authored by Ronald V. Huggins, the last article in the series was published in the November 2008 issue of the Salt Lake City Messenger. It takes a look at the integrity that guided Jerald as he examined LDS history and published his conclusions. Wherever the evidence led, that is where Jerald went. And he went there with no regard for a conclusion’s popularity or degree to which it might–or might not–serve his cause. This, of course, is what any good historian would do. However, as Ron Huggins notes in his Salt Lake City Messenger article, scholars today are sometimes more comfortable pleasing their intended audience than telling the whole truth.

Dr. Huggins explains, “It is very much the current sensibility and temperament among historians to write sympathetically about historical religious figures, giving them the benefit of the doubt wherever possible.” After citing two examples of this tendency among modern historians, Dr. Huggins asks, Is there ever a time for the historian to say, ‘Look, what we have here is a religious charlatan, a liar, a manipulative scoundrel who uses his spiritual sway over people to get what he wants.'” Apparently, many modern historians are unwilling to go there.

Dr. Huggins wrote,

“The long and short of this is that current historians do feel the pressure at times to knowingly write what is false or misleading in order to flatter their readers or publishers. As a Christian historian, Jerald no doubt could feel this pressure as well, but he had another point of reference. The Bible both warns against man pleasing, and provides a category that modern historical study finds hard to get a handle on: the false prophets…

“Many Christians may feel the identification of particular individuals, especially leaders of large religious groups, as pseudoprophetai (false prophets), is overly harsh. But the category of religious figures is one presented to us in the Scriptures themselves, and if we wish to claim to be Biblical Christians we have no alternative but to take the Scriptural warnings about such figures seriously. So for us such questions as whether Joseph Smith should be regarded as a ‘religious genius,’ as, for example, Harold Bloom describes him, or whether he was ‘sincere’ in thinking his revelations came from God, are of very little significance for the Christian, whose starting point is the teaching of Scripture. The main thing is to begin by describing the situation accurately, and this is what Jerald did. A false prophet, be he brilliant or stupid, interesting or dull, sincere or hypocritical, is still first and foremost a false prophet, and therefore no safe guide to follow if our goal is seeking and finding the way of God.”

Jerald Tanner told it as it was; he employed no flattery, made no effort to please his audience, and scrupulously avoided fudging on the facts.

But some historians fit into another category, conforming their conclusions to something LDS apostle Boyd K. Packer would be happy with. Mr. Packer once said,

“Church history can be so interesting and so inspiring as to be a very powerful tool indeed for building faith. If not properly written or properly taught, it may be a faith destroyer… There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not… Some things that are true are not very useful… That historian or scholar who delights in pointing out the weaknesses and frailties of present or past leaders destroys faith. A destroyer of faith — particularly one within the Church, and more particularly one who is employed specifically to build faith — places himself in great spiritual jeopardy. ” (“The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than The Intellect”)

Which sort of historian do you find more valuable – one who places courtesy and popularity ahead of truth? Or one who always tells the truth, even when it is uncomfortable?

For further reading see Historical Issues at the Mormonism Research Ministry web site.

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
This entry was posted in Truth, Honesty, Prayer, and Inquiry and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

82 Responses to Should historians tell the truth?

  1. mrgermit says:

    MDavis: this is not a test or a trap, I’m asking: who on your side of the “aisle” is doing, or did, a good job with history ?? Any POSITIVE examples of doing it right ?? Just asking…… I like your point about presenting the evidence whole, well said, that to me is what puts Bushman a cut above most, he does not seem to edit out that which is not “faith promoting”, which I appreciate.

    We agree to disagree about “versions”, yes, there is history, but ANY retelling of it will of a necessity be less than(or maybe MORE than) what actually happened, tho we try to get at the truth as best as we can. The better the historian, the less of a “version” it is…..or so it seems to me.


  2. Sharon Lindbloom says:


    Thank you for providing an example of the problems you see with the Tanners’ scholarship.

    I disagree regarding your concerns over this particular quote. In the Tanner’s book, the assertion they have made, support for which they quote Lucy Mack Smith, is this:

    The fact that Joseph Smith had a great interest in the ancient inhabitants of the land prior to his “translation” of the Book of Mormon is no secret to those who have read the History of Joseph Smith by his Mother.

    The portion of the text that was omitted (and indicated by ellipsis) is not really relevant to the Tanner’s statement. The specific fact the Tanners were documenting was that Joseph Smith had an interest in the ancient inhabitants of the land even before he began translating the plates. In the larger context of the section of the Tanners’ book that this comes from, the focus is not Joseph’s storytelling, but the culture in which the Book of Mormon appeared. Following this quote from Lucy Mack Smith, the Tanners spent three pages documenting contemporary discussions and attitudes regarding the origin (and other details) of the ancient inhabitants of America. Whether Joseph claimed instruction from God or whether his family believed his descriptions represented real people is not to the point.

    In my opinion, this example does not demonstrate that the Tanner’s “cut corners to reconstruct entire quotes to alter meaning.”

  3. Rick B says:

    FoF said

    As for the Joseph Smith Translation- there are copyright issues with the reorganized church. I would love if we were able to use it more.

    This is gotta be the stupidest thing I have ever heard of. How can you place a copyright on the Word of God?

    Add to that, If God really did speak to JS and SR And tell them to “Correct” Retranslate the Bible, I would think that God is smart enough to Know the LDS would not be allowed to use it.

    Then a question arises, How Come LDS claim they cannot fully use the JS Bible because of Copyright Issues, Yet I saw it Sold in a Local LDS bookstore. And How come I own a copy, and when I show it to LDS they want nothing to do with it. If God really did Command it to be re-translated, and LDS use small amounts of it, you would think they could simply use the entire thing.

    Also, If LDS do quote parts of it, then they should be able to quote from all of it. You mean to honestly tell me, RLDS are just in the waiting for LDS to quote from the J.S.T And then bust out a law suite over it? I doubt it. Rick b

  4. Free says:

    GB…you left out the lds mall being built in SLC.

  5. MDavis says:

    One would think that it WOULD be important to understand the source from which Joseph Smith said he received information about the inhabitants from.

    Their quote omits the fact that his mother ACKNOWLEDGES that Joseph Smith received this information FROM God. It also omits her acknowledgement that Joseph Smith was not getting it from the Bible.

    First quote makes it sound like it is coming just from Joseph Smith and his family is listening to his stories.

    Second quote puts context back into place and shows where his mother believed he was getting this information from.

    First quote takes away the impact of his mother’s belief of where he was receiving this information. It is thus misleading and cut to fit into the Tanner’s overall idea.

    Bad scholarship and deception.

  6. Free says:

    GB…what’s with the LOL ? I thought loud laughter was forbidden ; )

    But anyway GB…my good brother…don’t you think it’s kind of an indicator of the differences in our beliefs that I sign off from my posts mentioning our Savior and Master Jesus Christ and offering words of love to all, but you sign off from your post with mockery and loud laughter (which is against your vows).

    But anyway, peace to you my brother. I do love and forgive you. We’re all only human at this place and time. Let me share one of my favorite scriptures from Mark Ch. 9 with you:

    38 And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us.

    39 But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me.

    40 For he that is not against us is on our part.

    Much love and peace to all in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ of Nazareth

  7. falcon says:

    Good to have you back. What you’ve pointed out is what I’ve found and that is the LDS arguments usually come down to sounding like something out of Napoleon Dynamite: “Oh yeah, why don’t you go home and tell your mother to shut up!” I love that movie. It’s the only DVD I own. I even had an FFA leader order me an FFA jacket that says Napoleon Dynamite on the front and Preston, Idaho on the back. I bet it’s the only one in the entire world and I have it. I should put up a picture of me wearing it here on the Coffee.
    Berean has had similar experiences with Mormon missionaries that stop over as you did. One old guy got all upset because Berean actually had all of the books sitting right there to refer to. He was the same old dude that insisted that Mormons didn’t believe in progresson to godhood. See the bottom line is that they’ve heard from the Mormon god and nothing else matters. Even their own documents don’t matter. They want so badly for it all to be true that evidence doesn’t matter. They just keep pumping in their money and running laps around the temple chanting “I bear you my testimony”. It’s called “rescuing your equity”. They’ve got to make it true. It’s the same mentality that keeps people on the phone waiting endlessly while on hold, or the guy who keeps putting money in the slot machine hoping it will pay off, or the woman who won’t leave the guy who abuses and runs around on her because they’ve been together for such a long time and he really does love her despite all the evidence to the contrary. Like I’ve said before, Mormonism is some powerful dope!

  8. faithoffathers says:


    There are things called copyright laws. They existed before 1838. The reorganized church has the copyright for the JST. We do use it, but in my opinion probably not as much as we should. Because of the copyright deal, the LDS church cannot officially publish it on its own. We can publish it within out KJV. At least, this is my understanding.

    I know this sounds dumb to you, but we do believe in obeying the law. Good thing the Bible was published before copyright laws!

    falcon- I haven’t quite figured you out. But you sure seem to think sarcasm is effective. Sorry.


  9. mobaby says:

    The Tanners disagree with Joseph Smith’s mother on where the inspiration for his stories of North American inhabitants came from – Joseph’s imagination or from God. The Tanners point was he had these stories BEFORE the Book of Mormon project began. It was an idea that had been percolating in his consciousness. Their point did not focus on his mothers interpretation of Joseph’s stories. Their point stands – Joseph Smith reflected an idea of the culture in which he lived – the idea regarding North American inhabitants in the Ancient world. The Tanners think these were myths of his imagination spurred on by the culture, his mother thinks he had some pre-Book of Mormon revelatory insight. I guess the only scholarly thing to do is examine the archeological and historical evidence to see who has the right interpretation. Really, this is the best way to examine the competing claims. I am afraid it’s not looking good for Lucy Mack Smith’s thesis, but she cannot really be blamed because she did not have the benefit of the research we have now.

  10. falcon says:

    For you I’m breaking my long standing rule of not responding to people directly but to comment on the topic only. Is sarcasm effective as an argumentive technique you seem to be asking? Effective for what? To convince people of something? I gave-up the notion a long time ago that I could convince any Mormon writing here of anything dealing with the Mormon faith or Christianity. My goal is to expose Mormonism for what it is. What is it in my view? A religion founded and maintained on spiritual deception. I like to smoke Mormons out. That’s how we learn things like: at least one of our frequent contributors would kill or steal on command from the prophet or that the rock in the hat trick hocus pocus Joseph Smith pulled off to “translate” the golden plates is entirely acceptable and understandable (to some Mormons) and not really occult level scrying. I want the lurkers to see the depth of the personal deception and cult mind-set presented by our Mormon friends here. So I use hyperbole, wit, a pinch of sarcasm for added flavor to maike my points. Believe it or not, some enjoy reading what I write. You obviously are wearing your magic underwear way too tight. (There I go again) Loosen-up alittle. We can be friends. Maybe even have Rick, Berean and me more over for dinner sometime and we can talk about this stuff with your family.

  11. Rick B says:

    their is sarcasm in the Bible, I see nothing wrong with it. Sarcasm is not insulting people. Rick b

  12. mrgermit says:

    MDavis: after carefully reading both J.Tanners qt and the more complete quote, that you thoughtfully provided, your arguments just don’t go far. Tanner was making no particular statement about JS source of revelation, or what his mom thot about that, though it’s fairly obvious that Tanner has a strong opinion about that.

    Mobaby wrote:

    The Tanners point was he had these stories BEFORE the Book of Mormon project began. It was an idea that had been percolating in his consciousness. Their point did not focus on his mothers interpretation of Joseph’s stories. Their point stands –

    Sharon wrote;

    The specific fact the Tanners were documenting was that Joseph Smith had an interest in the ancient inhabitants of the land even before he began translating the plates. In the larger context of the section of the Tanners’ book that this comes from, the focus is not Joseph’s storytelling, but the culture in which the Book of Mormon appeared. Following this quote from Lucy Mack Smith, the Tanners spent three pages documenting contemporary discussions and attitudes regarding the origin (and other details) of the ancient inhabitants of America. Whether Joseph claimed instruction from God or whether his family believed his descriptions represented real people is not to the point.

    If you want to dispute THESE points, go ahead, this is the direction that J.Tanner was headed, and it seems to me that he used Lucy’s history to support his points. Refute him or show his unprofessional use of infrormation, but it looks like, so far, you’ve missed the point.

    Thanks for your posts GERMIT

    Sharon & Mobaby: good collective catch

  13. falcon says:

    I don’t think there’s much argument about the historical facts surrounding Mormonism. The argument, if there is one, is what do the facts mean. For example, we know that Jospeh Smith’s golden plates interpretation technique was the magic rock in the hat and not the LDS approved pictorial representation of the earnest young man studiously translating the plates stacked in front of him. Rock in the hat is a fact. What meaning can we attach to this. First of all, that the Mormon church isn’t really interested in broadcasting this fact to the faithful believers and nonMormons (for obvious reasons). What else do we know that is a historical fact. Well the witnesses to the BoM didn’t physically “see” the plates. They saw them with the “eyes of faith”. This is called second sight vision. The Mormon church however, doesn’t go out of its way to make this dinstinction. What’s a faithful believer to conclude when this fact is revealed and meaning must be attached to it? Well in both of these cases, some conclude that the whole program is bogus and jump ship. Others dig their heels in and believe more fervently. Another historical fact based on evidence is that the American Indians are not of Jewish origin. Some sort of meaning has to be attached to that fact. I know what that means to me. The faithful Mormon, however, now has another threshold of faith to cross because the introduction to the BoM has been changed and what all the old time Mormons believed, isn’t quite accurate anymore. Another historical fact; Joseph Smith claimed more than one woman as a “wife”, like 33 of them. So what meaning do we attach to that? Faithful Mormon interpretation, the Mormon god allowed it, and if we get the faith mood really working, the apostles had a lot of wives too (not a historical fact but a claim that can be massaged with an appropriate conspiracy theory).
    Yes, I would say historians have an obligation to reveal the truth. Here’s the fun part; since the Mormon leadership are not historians, they don’t have to. It’s an escape clause I am providing for them. Any “meaning” in Mormonism must support what Mormons believe…now….regardless of the facts. I think it’s better for Mormons to remain ignorant of the facts. At least they can then maintain a pretention of integrity.

  14. MDavis says:

    There is argument pertaining to how the facts are presented. To use terminology that is inconsistent with the LDS faith is an argumentative tactic. This tactic is used by many critics of the Church and is disrespectful and extremely unscholarly.

    Thus, the word “rock” is used to place a completely different picture than the actual term used, Urim and Thummim, which has biblical validity. The LDS Church teaches this, it is in our scriptures even though the previous poster wants readers to believe that somehow this is a cover up. Please see Ex 28:30, Lev. 8:8, Num 27:21, Deut. 33:8, 1 Sam. 28:6, Ezra 2: 63, and Neh. 7: 65 as examples of biblical scripture. Please see Ether 3: 21-28, Omni 1: 20-21, Mosiah 8: 13-19, Mosiah 21: 26-28, Mosiah 28: 11-20, Ether 4: 1-7. Also more clarifications can be found at D&C 10: 1, D&C 17: 1. Partial description of the stone is in Joseph Smith History 1:35.

    My second point has to do with primary evidence versus secondary evidence. Primary evidence, as I am putting it, has to do with direct revelation from God about His truth. While the experience can be described, it cannot be proven to another individual.

    The assumption in the post by falcon basically says that we must rely on secondary evidence, historical facts, etc to figure out whether something is right or wrong. This statement shows the ignorance and directly contradicts John 20: 29.

    It is the witness that an LDS receives that confirms the truthfulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We may not come face to face with him at this moment, but the Spirit of the Lord teaches and witnesses to us that He lives and that we are following Him.

    Thus, it does not matter what “light” critics may spin a particular fact. Rock or Urim and Thummim, the Spirit witnesses that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God and restored His Church that carries His name.

    Once we are Saints, then comes understanding of secondary evidence in the proper context and direction.

  15. DaveyMike says:

    Pardon my misunderstanding but are you saying that the Urim and Thummim used to translate the lost 116 pages is the same as the peep stone in the hat used to translate what is the complete published text of the Book of Mormon?

  16. faithoffathers says:


    Very well put, sir! I have long believed that the most convincing source of truth and testimony is the Holy Ghost, which is consistent with what the church teaches. I forget right off who said it, but I fully believe the concept that the Holy Ghost has a more powerful effect upon our spirits than if an angel were to appear to us personally. Something to do with the nature of our spirits.

    The spirit is just as real and “objective” if not more so than our other senses- vision, hearing, smell, touch, etc. I have tried for years to explain this to atheists- that the means of finding spiritual truth can be just as “scientific” and reproducible as biology and chemistry. The method of obtaining truth is very well laid out and testable, but it is not transferrable to another person.

    What I said in another post applies- about assumptions. If I know directly from God through the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true, there are many things that follow- Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, Joseph Smith is a prophet, the church is what it claims, etc. It is the best structure for individuals to know truth for themselves I could ever imagine.

    If we cannot rely on the Holy Ghost as the primary source of truth, we are left to argue over secondary evidences like lawyers in a courtroom, the criteria becoming who is most clever or gifted with language and debate. This is not the design of the God I know.

    “Once we are Saints, then comes understanding of secondary evidence in the proper context and direction.” Very well said, again.


  17. falcon says:

    This is not that complex. Joseph Smith put his seer stone (aka magic rock) in a hat. He then shoved his face in the hat and (he reported ) writing appeared that was the translation of some golden plates, which he kept covered-up. That’s the process! Now the faithful Mormon can deny the “testimony” of those who were there and accept the sanitized reworked version or accept the testimony of those that were there and embrace the rock in the hat as a legitimate translation “technique”. It’s a historical fact that he put his precious in a hat. Attach what ever meaning you want to it Mormon faithful. The guy was up to his eyeballs in the occult. It’s an established fact! His witnesses saw with “spiritual eyes” the same second sight occult vision practice that Smith employed. That’s a historic fact. Smith seduced 33 women claiming that an angel appeared to him with a sword and said he’d kill him if he didn’t start committing adultery. Another historical fact. You Mormons have got to get a grip! My mantra lately, and I’ll repeat it here, is that this deal must be some strong dope in order to flip your thinking processes to this degree. Mormons sound and act like abuse victims so I do get the psychological process and the emotional entanglement.

  18. Rick B says:

    Falcon said

    His witnesses saw with “spiritual eyes”

    It’s really sad that Faithful LDS believe this. If you cannot really see and handle it with your own eyes and your own hands, but assume you saw it, then something is wrong.

    Thomas said of Jesus, Unless I see with My eyes and feel the prints with my hands I will not believe, Jesus and the Disaples NEVER said, Use Spiritual eyes.

    Then here on this blog we are able to up load photos of ourselves if we choose to, What a joke I would be if I said, I see what FoF looks like with my Spiritual eyes.

    He is Bald, were talkin Chrome dome, Blue eyes Dark brown beard and his dome has a golden tan.

    Then he posts a photo, he has long natural blond hair, he is pasty white, could not tan if he tried, is clean shaven because he really cannot grow facial hair real well, when he tries it looks like crap. What A joke I would be, yet LDS believe it about the Golden plates.

    If it was true that the plates weighed around 200 plus pounds, and JS carried them under his arm like a book, how hard would it have been to show the witness’s the real thing? Rick b

  19. MDavis says:


    It is a fact that the Urim and Thummim is biblical. It is a fact that the Urim and Thummim was a means to revelation. When put in its proper context, putting the Urim and Thummim into a hat to block out light is no different than putting it into a breastplate. To say that it is of the occult is to attack the Bible and those who used the Urim and Thummim to consult with the Lord (Ezra 2: 63).

    You allude to the fact that because it was in a hat and as a result, people could not see what is going on somehow disqualifies him from being a Prophet, yet the majority of scriptures in the Bible are from men who claim to have received instructions from God without God telling everyone. In fact, the Bible supports the flow of God to Prophet to Mankind. Those who believe the Prophet, and hence, the message He delivers from God, prosper, and those who do not fall away.

    It is a historical fact that he put his “precious” in a hate (got to love the Lord of the Rings reference here). And it is a fact that is plausible considering the Bible supports the tool being put into the hat. So apparently it is ok for one to put a “rock” into a breastplate and receive revelation but not place it in a hat. Apparently it is ok to consult this “rock” for food but not for translation!

    Thus, it is the presentation that is at argument here and it is presentation that critics of the Church use to distort facts. Hence, Biblical Urim and Thummim becomes “rock” and part of “occult.” Sealings, which implies marriage but does NOT imply sexual relations becomes “adulterer” and “seducer of women,” two terms to express sexual relations.

    You say that it must be “strong dope in order to flip your thinking process to this degree.” To that I say it is deceptive to mention the word “rock” and not also mention that this “rock” was also called Urim and Thummim, a biblical name. It is also deceptive to fail to mention that this Urim and Thummim was used to receive answers from God.

    No, to use “rock” and allude to the fact that Joseph Smith was playing magic tricks is to mock the Bible and the use of the Urim and Thummim there and can only be summed up as a trick to casual observers who might not even know of the Urim and Thummim’s existence in the scriptures. Who is flipping the thinking process now I ask?

  20. mrgermit says:

    Fof and MDavis:

    FoF you wrote

    If we cannot rely on the Holy Ghost as the primary source of truth, we are left to argue over secondary evidences like lawyers in a courtroom, the criteria becoming who is most clever or gifted with language and debate. This is not the design of the God I know.

    this does not have to be the case at all, although things COULD degenerate to that point; I give you Lee Strobel, for example, who decides (as an avowed ATHEIST) to look into all the “secondary edidences”, especially the historical ones, to thoroughly disprove the Bible…..there have been many others who have tried this as well. He finds out that the edidence is quite solid, and there are probably, at some point, prayers to that God that he didn’t used to believe in (so I’m not saying this was 100% reliance on facts) and VOILA: you have the birth……..the REBIRTH of a christian apologist. Of course not everyone who looks at the evidence gets to this point, but let’s NOT throw the baby (use of reason, logic, history, judge of character, laws of science, etc,etc…..) out with the bathwater (the total denial of anything spiritual, or the use of supernatural witness reg. things spiritual)

    Using the 1st does not mean we deny the second.

    speaking of which, MDAVIS uses large amount of scriptural interpretation, AND the interpretation of human history in his appeal to refute Falcon with his (Davis’) entire 2cd paragraph “Thus the word “rock” etc…….. my point is, WE ALL have to appeal (rightfully so) to some kind of secondary means when talking to a second individual…..I can’t crawl inside YOUR experience……YOU can’t crawl inside MINE….we need a way to discern truth from error……..and we’ve had this discussion a million times (hit the macro key )

    These area;s, physical, mental , spiritual are really CONJOINED: not saying that the spiritual area is not pre-eminent, but I don’t think there is any sane way to compartmentalize them…….I dont’ think the Jews did.


    PS: again: is the seer stone and the UrimmThummim one and the same thing?? I dont’ think YOU (FoF) see it that way…’ve said they were separate……what am I missing here??? Mr.Davis ?????

  21. gundeck says:


    I must tell you, you are correct the Urim and Thummim are in fact biblical. I have always been interested in how the most obscure Biblical accounts can be seen so differently by Mormons and Christians.

    The Urim and Thummim are found in only a couple of places making their first appearance in the breast plate of Aaron in Ex 28:30 (or Ex 25:7?). In Numbers 27:21 and 1 Sam 14:41 they seem to only have the power to answer yes and no questions. Even if you assume that the Ephod described in Ex 25:7; 1 Sam 23:9-12; 30:7-8 is in fact the Urim and Thummim we see very little of their actual use in the Bible. Some have commented on the fact that both the Urim and Thummim and the Ephod (assuming they are the same) only gave affirmative answers when it responded at all (1 Sam 28:6).

    Another mystery is where the Urim and Thummim went between the reign of David and the return from Exile. Did Nephi steal them? I would like to know where you find biblical support for the Urim and Thummim being placed into a hat? From my, albeit short, research on the Urim and Thummim to place it in its biblical context for myself, I see no reference to placing the Urim and Thummim in a hat. Nothing I read explainable why the Urim and Thummim would need to have the light blocked, and how an oracle seemingly capable of only answering yes and no would now be able to translate texts in still unknown languages.

    It is plausible that the Urim and Thummim have the power to translate texts. It is plausible that the Urim and Thummim require darkness to work. It is plausible that Joseph Smith’s Urim and Thummim is of a different more powerful type than described in the bible. It is plausible that Joseph Smith was such a righteous prophet he was able to make the Urim and Thummim work in ways not described in the bible. It is plausible that God made a new Urim and Thummim just for the Book of Mormon translation. It is plausible that the Urim and Thummim were used in ways not described in the bible. While all of this is plausible none of it can be supported in the biblical text. This is an example of how something that seems plausible from a quick proof text cannot stand the test when scrutinized.

  22. mrgermit says:

    MDavis: you wrote

    Thus, it does not matter what “light” critics may spin a particular fact. Rock or Urim and Thummim, the Spirit witnesses that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God and restored His Church that carries His name.

    Once we are Saints, then comes understanding of secondary evidence in the proper context and direction.

    I thoroughly agree with this , and the consistent testimony of those who have left your church is that what they had THOUGHT to be “spin” on various facts, what they were TOLD were only slanted , biased quasi-facts, turned out to be much more…..or course you and your TBM friends disagree. Spirtitual rebirth puts all kinds of facts and evidence in its proper context, on that we (I think) can agree. The light that we “critics” put on a particular fact DO make a differrence if our story “adds up”, it the facts “make sense and are consistent with history as we know it, etc……..that is why the examination of these things MATTER, and I would argue, matter in the most fundamental sense, because truth itself matters, not just the truth of someone’s internal witness, but ALL truth. I am NOT claiming some kind of copyright on all truth, by the way, I’m only making a case of God caring about the truth of EVENTS as well as MIRACULOUS happenings, inner experiences, and the like. If your GOD and Prophet failed Meso-american history, I’m not sure he/she/it deserves the keys to the car……


    FoF: there is always the POSSIBILITY that what you THOT was direct revelation from GOD is, in fact, only your own human ASSUMPTION about things. the same possibility obviously exists for me…….. hence the need to EXAMINE everything, hold fast to that which is good…….

  23. faithoffathers says:


    Little research has been done on the Urim and Thummim, a very interesting topic- one I have tried to bring up a few times.

    Cornelius Van Dam, from the Theological College of the Canadian Reformed Churches is the first to really delve into this area in his 1997 book The Urim and Thummim: A Means of Revelation in Ancient Israel. Van Dam argues that the Urim and Thummim was associated with prophecy and revelation, not just using lots to get yes or no answers. He appeals to writings in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Babylonian Talmud, and other ancients sources.

    One such source is Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman (1194-1270) who said “the priest would fix his thought on the divine names in the Thummim, and his heart was made perfect so that he could understand the meaning of the letters that had lit up.” Joseph described the process as requiring great concentration and effort and spiritual purity. Interesting!

    Van Dam also quotes Targum Pseudo Jonathan on Exodus 28:30:

    “And you shall put into the breastplate the Urim, which illuminate their words and make manifest the hidden things of the House of Israeal, and the Tumim [sic] which perfect their deeds, for te High Priest who seeks instruction from the Lord through them. Because in them is engraved and exposed the great and holy Name by which the three hundred and ten worlds were created….”

    I find it very interesting that Joseph hit the nail so squarely here.

    We believe that Abraham used a Urim and Thummim as did the brother of Jared, Aaron and ancient Israel, and the Nephite prophets. There are more than one, and Joseph was given the one used by the brother of Jared and the Nephite prophets.

    more later.


  24. Sharon Lindbloom says:

    If this has already been brought up and I missed it, please forgive me. I think there’s a fundamental misunderstanding going on here that it would be helpful to clear up. The Urim and Thummim is not the same instrument as the seer stone. According to Richard Bushman in Rough Stone Rolling (pages 71-72, 131), Joseph began the Book of Mormon translation with the Urim and Thummim, which he discovered buried with the plates. But this changed.

    “Practice with his [Joseph’s] scrying stones carried over to translation of the gold plates. In fact, as the work on the Book of Mormon proceeded, a seerstone took the place of the Urim and Thummim as an aid in the work, blending magic with inspired translation.”

    It is this seerstone that Joseph placed in a hat. According to Bushman, sometimes the seerstone has been referred to as the Urim and Thummim, which has added some confusion. Nevertheless, they are two different objects.

  25. faithoffathers says:


    Amen, brother!

    I agree that all truth must agree- I think that is what you are saying. Or rather, that truth cannot contradict itself. I could not agree more. And I think God DOES expect us to use and develop both sources of knowledge and truth. But when it comes down to what truth is most valuable and precious, and that which changes us, I believe it is the truth from the Holy Ghost. In other words, if you were forced to let go of either “revealed” truth or “secondary/intellectual” truth, which would you keep. I argue that the “revealed” truth is most reliable, eternal, and deeper. And I think God wants us to place the greatest weight on this source, His source. Fortunately though, we are not asked to let go of either, at least not yet. There are times in life when we must choose, when we must step into the dark and trust. Another topic…

    I personally believe that this is how we really build a relationship with Him. Not just the outward mechanical actions. But real communication with Him, which is what He invites us to do everywhere in scripture. It requires faith, and increased faith is the result as we act upon the communications He gives to us.

    I sense that you see us LDS as not being able to put the “puzzle” together- the one you see so clearly after examinig the secondary evidences that, to you, show the church to be a fraud, etc. I think I understand what you are saying.

    The puzzle fits together very well from my perspective too. And I am not neglecting any of the pieces or evidences behind the pieces. I don’t have to cover my eyes in order to get the pieces to fit. I do invite all sources of truth, but place the greatest weight on what I know directly from God. Make sense? And what MDavis said really is true to me, that once the “light” goes on, a million different things, intellectual and spiritual, fit together and make more sense than anything else I have ever experienced.

    My personal definition of wisdom is being able to see the CONTEXT of things, events, people, etc. A wise friend once told me that “the greatest form of open-mindedness is a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” I believe this is true because it enhances the ability to see the context of things, while learning and accepting all truth.

    I have received so many undeniable, beautiful witnesses from the Holy Ghost about the Book of Mormon. You are probably tired of my saying this, but this is THE ONLY WAY for that light in a person’s mind to go on about all these things. The message and words of that book are so beautiful and powerful to me. I have read it nearly 80 times, and I find new and amazing things in it every time I study it. I have found every lofty claim about it to be absolutely true!



  26. faithoffathers says:


    I believe you are correct. My understanding, too, is that as the translation proceeded, Joseph eventually was able to translate without the need of the seerstone or Urim and Thummim. I have no clue as to where in the process these transitions occured.



  27. MDavis says:

    From Joseph Smith History, 1: 35:

    “Also, that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book.”

    So I disagree. The Urim and Thummim is a combination of the stones and breastplate. These together is what is known as the Urim and Thummim.

    Furthermore, both biblical and Joseph Smith accounts mention that these stones attach or are put into the breastplate somehow. This can infer that the stones could possibly be used without the need of the breastplate or in some other fashion.

    Hence, it is possible that Joseph Smith did not need the breastplate to use them. It is also possible that there are other mechanical uses for them.

  28. mrgermit says:

    To all LDS : I guess the thot that’s buzzing around my head, is “How do I explain the difference between MDavis on the one side, and FoF/R.Bushman (whose views seem to at least agree on many of the same points) on the other ??? Why the gap ??

    Is it that Bushman is more comfortable with JS magical worldview, not seeing that as an evil source so much as a supernatural one, that God just gave a push in the right direction ?? Seems , MDavis, that you don’t want to get too close to that magical worldview, but I hesitate to explain your views for you…….I’m told that’s rude, right up there with elbows on the table and slouching…… can you help me out (with an explanation……not the slouching……)

    Also, if as fine a historian as Mr.Bushman sees these things (Urimm and Thummim vs. Seer stone) as separate and distinct…….you can see and appreciate where non-Mormons (like ourselves) might fairly get the same idea. If we are mistreating history, what of Mr Bushman ???

  29. MDavis says:

    Listen, the whole Urim and Thummim issue really is for another blog post. My main point was the use of “rock” without any explanation. I believe that is a tactic used by many critics of the Church–insert different terminology, ignore plausible solutions, and come up with ridiculous conclusion. All of that is to place in the reader’s memory a completely different picture than what it is.

    Hence, insert rock instead of Urim & Thummim (or seer stones), ignore that there is Biblical Validity for the usage of these stones, and come to an alternate conclusion that Joseph Smith is going into the occult. Add a “my precious” in there for added effect.

    Like a previous poster said, it is plausible. It deserves a scholarly approach, not these type of tactics.

  30. Hi Ralph,

    As you might already know, I’m a fellow (adopted) Aussie and I go to an Anglican Church, and I’m replying to your comment on the affirmation of homosexuality by some Australian denominations and the Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA, which is part of the Worldwide Anglican Communion), which has ordained Gene Robinson (an open, practising homosexual) as Bishop of New Hampshire.

    Space does not permit, and this is not the forum, to discuss the issues at length, but you should know the following;

    1 Nobody in the Anglican Church is denying that this has happened
    2 Almost everybody in the Anglican Church agrees that the ordination of Gene Robinson was extremely controversial, provocative and potentially divisive
    3 A substantial constituency of the Anglican Church (mostly from Africa) want the higher authorities of the church to take disciplinary action against ECUSA
    4 The Archbishop of Canterbury (who has the highest office in the structure of the Church) wants to respect the autonomy of ECUSA whilst trying to avoid a split….

    …which has led to much diplomatic wrangling between Bishops and the possibility of sanctions being imposed on ECUSA.

    Its a horrible, ugly mess. Its an issue that has impacted on Australian denominations too. If you think that your Church has been spared, let me warn you that it will hit you like a tsunami at some time in the future. The only question is when.

    Though the current LDS leadership tends towards a highly conservative view of sexuality, what’s to stop them doing a mighty U-turn and going all out for an inclusionist ‘Gospel’? What I mean is, if one of your prophets got up and started to affirm the practising of homosexuality, what would be the basis of your reaction? You could appeal to the Bible, but you’ll need to reinstate it as a recognized authority, which would be problematic given the pronouncements of your earlier prophets.

    Speaking personally, I find the (mis)behaviour of ECUSA deeply troubling, but I can’t simply wish it to disappear. I’m also reminded that the mission of God is to enter into our horrible, ugly mess and to redeem it. If Christ got torn apart (literally) by entering into the human condition, what makes us think we should be spared the anguish that human behavior brings to us?

    In terms of Church membership, what LDS need to understand is that Evangelical Anglicans have a much lower view of Church membership than LDS. Though ‘membership’ is something we desire and promote, we don’t equate it with salvation. My faith rests upon Christ alone, not upon the Church to which I am committed. My salvation is not bound to my Church membership, so if I decide to walk, I’ll not lose it.

    Does this mean that ECUSA is apostate? I think so, and my reason is that it has abandoned its mandate, which is explicitly based on the Bible. The agony is in what we should do about it.

  31. Ralph says:


    Thanks for answering part of the question. Let me ask you the part you did not answer again using some of your words.

    You said “In terms of Church membership, what LDS need to understand is that Evangelical Anglicans have a much lower view of Church membership than LDS. Though ‘membership’ is something we desire and promote, we don’t equate it with salvation. My faith rests upon Christ alone, not upon the Church to which I am committed. My salvation is not bound to my Church membership, so if I decide to walk, I’ll not lose it.

    Does this mean that ECUSA is apostate? I think so, and my reason is that it has abandoned its mandate, which is explicitly based on the Bible. The agony is in what we should do about it.”

    What if you were part of the ECUSA and decided not to walk? Does that make you apostate because you are in essence promoting this ideology? Remember, if one does nothing about a situation its just the same as them agreeing with it.

    I can understand that you say the ECUSA and not the whole Church of England is apostate – I have heard some etories of whole wards being excommunicated at once because of a Bishop doing/teaching the wrong thing and the rest of the ward follows suite knowingly. But these, as afar as I know, are just stories – I cannot verify them. But yes, just an individual unit can go sour without spoiling the whole.

  32. mrgermit says:

    To All: found this today, nothing groundbreaking here, but for those interested, as I am, in Mormon history, I thot this article gave a good overview of some of the major questions and tensions withing the faith /history discussion. this quote is from the Boston Globe article by MARK OPPENHEIMER, dated Dec. 9, 2007; he does a pretty good job of quoting Mormon sources and Mormon scholars, or so I thot.

    enjoy GERMIT

    Petersen said. “There is a gate-keeping system in the [Mormon] church archives. I don’t think there’s a historian anywhere who would deny that.” And he agreed that Mormon scholars are unusually timid about agitating for change. “I guess the reason we [historians] are the way we are is we’ve seen it worse. And there’s a tendency to think if we just play nice, it will get better.”

    But the belief that history is subordinate to faith may be hard to shake, and for Mormons especially. As a newer religion, the LDS church is particularly susceptible to the challenges of historical muckraking. No one will ever discover if Moses truly heard God speak from a burning bush. But Joseph Smith left behind a long historical record – he wrote; his friends wrote about him; we know where he lived. Polygamy, a sensitive subject in the church, was banned in 1890, when the grandparents of many living Mormons were in plural marriages; history can seem painfully close.

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