BYU conference explores Joseph Smith and the ancient world

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  • Tyler D Meridian, ID
    March 14, 2013 1:49 p.m.

    @ Craig Clark – “He relied too heavily on a spectacular intuition until he would find himself in water over his head.”

    Curious what your sources on JS are – books, etc… grateful.

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    March 13, 2013 3:43 p.m.

    m.g. scott,

    Here are my impressions. Joseph Smith founded the school of the prophets in Kirtland to encourage learning across a wide spectrum of secular and religious studies. Joseph himself never mastered any subject but he could put on a pretense to an erudition he didn’t possess.

    He was easily consumed with burning enthusiasm to learn but couldn’t sustain a study to fruition. One example was Hebrew. Another was law. He plunged into both, mastered neither, learned just enough to impress people, then pontificated like a world class authority. He relied too heavily on a spectacular intuition until he would find himself in water over his head. How sad that he had the intellect but lacked the necessary discipline to channel it.

  • m.g. scott LAYTON, UT
    March 13, 2013 12:53 p.m.

    From what little I know of Joseph Smith history, it seems to me that in all his moving and travels he was basically in very rural areas of America. It's not like he spent a year studying at Harvard in Boston, or even had access to any major libraries. I could be wrong, but I would like to know just what sources of scholarly information he had access to and where they came from. No matter how smart you are, without some way to inform yourself you will mostly stay a third grade educated person. So, did this symposium address this issue? From the article is didn't seem so. Anyone know?

  • GilmerTexasCougar Gilmer, TX
    March 13, 2013 8:51 a.m.

    I have a B.A. degree from BYU in Provo and a M.A. degree from Stephen F. Austin in Nacogdoches, TX. Therefore, I have been associated with many highly educated people. I'm also a retired teacher and that occupation helped me continue to be associated with highly educated people. My father had a first cousin who did not complete the eighth grade. He probably was the best educated man I have ever been associated with. His formal education was considerably greater than that of Joseph Smith but considerably less than that of college professors. But in the end both he and Joseph Smith were indeed highly educated.

  • Ghost Writer GILBERT, AZ
    March 12, 2013 1:52 p.m.

    Thinkman -- First of all, you're clinging to a strict, personal definition of the phrase "not a learned man", that precludes Joseph from seeking an education as he progressed in his life. My take is that he was unlearned in that he did not have access to a formal public education up to the time that the gospel was restored.

    As for your criticism of the translation of verses in the Bible, I think you're setting a standard that is not valid -- As in any translation from one language to another, there are going to be ambiguities -- ambiguities that well need constant clarification as time progresses and language changes. Languages rarely translate literally. There will be descriptions and phrases in King James English that could always be further clarified. I believe this was true in Joseph's time as well as ours. The purpose of the translation of the Book of Mormon under Joseph was to provide a 2nd witness for Jesus Christ, not to meet some Socratic standard of logic. I always like to remember the Book of Mormon admonishing us to not condemn the things of God because of the weaknesses of men.

  • Average Me Bremerton, WA
    March 12, 2013 10:45 a.m.


    If compare the Book of Mormon account and the Bible version of Mathew 5 you will notice that there are a few small differences but with great significance. 1. In Math Jesus says bring your sacrifice to the alter. In the BOM he says bring your sacrifices unto me. 2. in vs 48 Jesus says be perfect even as God is perfect. In the BOM it says be perfect even as I, and your God are perfect. It's interesting to note that Jesus in Mathew is talking before he comopleted his mission. In BOM he already completed his mission and therefor can say bring your sacrifice unto me, because that is the new law, and be perfect like him and God because he can actually say, after completed his life and mission, was perfect. Again very small changes but very significant and in my opinion shows Joseph as being more inspired than a fraud.

  • Brahmabull sandy, ut
    March 12, 2013 10:14 a.m.

    Iron & clay - Where is any reference that the stones Joseph found while digging a well were 'touched by the finger of god'? They were common stones, not only that, but people using supposed magic stones were very common in that day. People used them to treasure hunt. Also, why would he need stones to translate the plates? He knew he had the urim and thummim to translate. He didn't actually translate the plates, as witnesses state he didn't use the plates during translation. Why would he go to all of the trouble to get the plates when he didn't even use them in translation?

    The point I think that thinkman is trying to make is that the church often makes Joseph Smith seem to have been illiterate, unable to read, and write and that clearly wasn't the case. It is overstated to the maximum. There is a big difference in uneducated(formally) and illiterate. You can be literate withough being educated (formally) and that is where the problem is. I was taught that as well, that Joseph was illiterate.

  • sjames AMERICAN FORK, UT
    March 12, 2013 8:32 a.m.

    There is no "rewrite" or change of history. Joseph Smith was very unlearned. He translated the plates in his early 20's throughout a time when he had little formal education in the ways of reading and writing. His thirst for knowledge allowed him to teach himself several things throughout his life. It is inaccurate to say that Joseph was not intelligent. Few people have accomplished such a variety of difficult things in such a short time.
    It IS accurate to say that he was uneducated. Especially at the time of the translation.

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    March 11, 2013 3:15 p.m.

    Twin Lights,

    "I have no wish to engage in an argument over the issue of whether Joseph was or was not a prophet."

    That wasn't my intent. My point is that, for non-Mormons, the Mormon belief that Joseph Smith was a prophet is an obstacle to understanding his ideas. In my view, accepting his prophetic claims shouldn't be prerequisite to considering his theological thought.

  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    March 11, 2013 1:07 p.m.

    Craig Clark,

    I have no wish to engage in an argument over the issue of whether Joseph was or was not a prophet. You have made your opinion obvious. I assume mine is equally so.

    You and Woolybruce had posed questions as to why members responded the way they often do and I was simply trying to provide (my interpretation of) the “why”.

    One would suppose that most prophetic claims have been greeted with skepticism. Understandably so. I was once skeptical as well.


    I have no doubt there have been many such as the psychologist you mention. Do folks of all backgrounds around the world subscribe to that person’s prophetic gifts?

    Of course any and all prophetic claims can be ridiculed (and Biblically many were). Of course Joseph could have been a false prophet. Just as John the Baptist could have been. But I believe in both.

    You keep trotting out the different Jesus issue. But perhaps it is your understanding which is less true to what the apostles understood.

    I have no idea why you quote Joseph on lawyers. Attorneys have so few friends to defend them . . .

  • sharrona layton, UT
    March 11, 2013 12:38 p.m.

    RE:Twin Lights, By his mid to late 30s Joseph had become a talented man. But still not talented enough to have done what he did and produced what he wrote on his own.

    In 1965 a Jewish atheistic psychologist from Columbia University began to channel messages from a spirit she believed to be Jesus. She ultimately produced, or she says Jesus revealed to her, well over a thousand pages of revelation during the next seven years.
    A course in miracles,Who there is Jesus? Jesus evolutionary elder brother shows the rest of us our evolutionary potential. " So in reality Jesus is a way-shower.

    (2Cor 11:4)”For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit… . Or,

    Joseph Smith, “Don’t employ lawyers, or pay them money for their knowledge, for I have learned that they don’t know anything. ‘ I know more than they all do’. (D.H.C. v. 5 p.467).

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    March 11, 2013 12:22 p.m.

    Twin Lights,

    ".....the way some would tell it, Joseph was so remarkable as to fabricate the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. I think most LDS would say that, at least in the first part of his ministry, Joseph was simply not that capable...."

    To that I say nonsense. Creating the Book of Mormon from imagination is not unachievable with the King James Bible as a conscious or subconscious model. But let's consider the possibility that his initial dreams of fame and fortune crystallized into an altruistic objective in the process. His account of Moroni warning him that he could not translate if his desire was to make money is an intriguing bit of information Joseph provides us with.

    That’s one of those details that made people find him credible. It’s his claim to be a prophet that remains an obstacle for many to giving serious consideration to his distinctive theology.

  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    March 11, 2013 10:21 a.m.

    Woolybruce, Craig Clark,

    I agree Joseph was a remarkable man with strong native gifts and a desire to use them in fulfillment of his mission. That included learning a wide variety of things.

    The problem I think is in two issues.

    First, the way some would tell it, Joseph was so remarkable as to fabricate the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. I think most LDS would say that, at least in the first part of his ministry, Joseph was simply not that capable. His knowledge grew exponentially over his adult life as he learned both from revelation and his own study. But the evidence indicates he was still rather rough at 21.

    Second, is what “drive” means. This goes to his motives vs. his mission. Some want to present him as a highly driven, very clever man (neither description fully positive). Hence, not a prophet but a talented charlatan.

    By his mid to late 30s Joseph had become a talented man. But still not talented enough to have done what he did and produced what he wrote on his own.

    Just my thoughts, but I think this is the resistance you encounter.

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    March 11, 2013 9:35 a.m.

    It can be misleading to over-stress the lack of a disciplined formal education as indicative of what he one is capable of achieving. Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain are two examples of being largely self-taught through the reading they sought out. What I sense in Joseph Smith is an impatience to know and speak authoritatively on matters to which he was drawn by native gifts and inclination.

    Because of Latter-day Saint faith that Joseph Smith was first and foremost a prophet, it’s a natural tendency for Mormons to deemphasize what secular knowledge he may have picked up along the way that may have influenced his thought. We don’t ignore those factors when assessing St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas. Why handicap Joseph Smith?

  • tgurd Gonzales, LA
    March 11, 2013 9:04 a.m.

    I think the key word here is Prophet, Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God, He was taught from on high how could any earthly school compare. I have a testimony to the glorious visions, the Book of Mormon, Temples and all of Gospel Restoration that he brought forth by the power of God and Prophets that held the keys to those Sacred Ordinances and Gospel ideals which were need to bring back the Church of Jesus Christ as in former days. Take a look at the Missionarys that go forth thru out the world and bear witness to the Restoration. The lives that are touched and the many people whose hearts are changed when taught the Gospel. The lives of members and of Missionaries speak of the love the Savior had for us and we as the Savior, welcome all unto Christ.

  • Thinkman Provo, UT
    March 10, 2013 8:03 p.m.

    Mhenshaw, Ktc John, Michigan,

    You still haven't addressed my point. Why did I learn and why did Gospel Principles and Gospel Doctrine and even church leaders teach that Joseph wasn't a learned man and now the shift in thinking is that he was actually an authority on ancient scripture?

    Also, why didn't he correct the Book of Mormon passages that are word for word just like the corrected verses he corrected in his Bible JST translations if he hebis such an ancient language expert?

  • mhenshaw Leesburg, VA
    March 10, 2013 4:50 p.m.

    >>I thought Joseph Smith wasn't a learned man...Why the shift and rewriting of history?

    There's no conflict or rewriting of history. Joseph wasn't a learned man in the sense that he had very little formal education. His family was very poor and so didn't have the resources to send their children to school, so a lot of his training in reading, writing, and math came through home study. He had no college degrees and never attended any secular institution of higher learning. Virtually all of the education he attained as an adult came through his own motivated study. But that self-study was so intense that by the time he died, he was pretty knowledgable on a variety of subject related to religion.

  • KTC John Wetumpka, AL
    March 10, 2013 3:59 p.m.

    Joseph acquired the gold plates from which the translation was made in 1827 when he was only 21 years of age, and he did some early translating shortly thereafter, although his original translation work was lost by Martin Harris. As of the time he first acquired the gold plates, he had a near total absence of formal educational training as the world views it. That fact should help to put the origin of the Book of Mormon into a proper perspective.

  • Chris from Rose Park Hartford, CT
    March 10, 2013 2:43 p.m.


    The way that I have understood it is that during the translation process he was not yet a learned man, with much formal education. The Book of Mormon was published when he was 24. He died when he was 38. During his life he sought for learning and definitely became learned. Now, I'm not a Joseph Smith expert, so I don't know exactly when he started studying other languages, but it's not hard for me to imagine that most of it took place in his 20's and 30's.

  • sharrona layton, UT
    March 10, 2013 2:16 p.m.

    RE: Tators, he was also very learned from being self taught in ancient languages.

    Hebrew,Greek,Latin and English are all used in the prophecy of (Genesis 6:60 JST),… “Only Begotten is the Son of Man even “Jesus Christ ,a righteous judge who shall come in the *meridian of time”.

    “Only Begotten“ KJVT=(g 3439 monogenes).

    “Jesus” is the Hellenized-anglicized form of “Yeshua”,which means salvation. Yeshua never heard the name “Jesus” in his lifetime. He was always called Yeshua which is very similar to Joshua.

    “Christ” is taken from the Hebrew word “Mashuach” or “Anointed One”,which translated into the Greek “Christos” and later Anglicized to” Christ.”

    *Meridian of time.(Hebrews 9:26 JST)….in the end=( g 4930,synteleia) of the age has he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Heb 9:26)

    Moses, Adam or JS must have had a KJV N.T..

    *12 century Latin?

  • Unreconstructed Reb Chantilly, VA
    March 10, 2013 1:41 p.m.

    I don't presume to know the conversion of angelic visitations to college credit, but the overwhelming evidence is that Joseph was quited unlearned growing up. But believe in his prophetic calling or not, it's also hard to argue that he wasn't innately intelligent and eager to learn. It's not a "shift and rewriting of history" to teach that Joseph "could not write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter" (per Emma Smith) at the time of the Book of Mormon translation, and at the same time point out that he was a hungry learner and later in life he tried teaching himself (or finding those who could teach him) on a variety of subjects. It is possible to be both intelligenct and completely uneducated formally.

  • Henry Drummond San Jose, CA
    March 10, 2013 1:22 p.m.


    I'm not LDS but I have a lot of friends who are. A basic part of Mormon belief is that Joseph Smith was not capable of composing the Book of Mormon on his own. I think some of them overdo his lack of education a bit, suggesting that he was completely illiterate. The historical record would suggest that Joseph Smith certainly had thirst for knowledge and took the opportunity to educate himself whenever he could. Whether or not it was enough to write the Book of Mormon is of course a matter of faith. Joseph Smith was fascinated not only with the ancient world but astronomy and mathematics as well. He surrounded himself with people of learning. He seems to be a self-styled Prophet who doesn't think revelation is the only way to learn. That's what makes him such a fascinating person to study.

  • Tators Hyrum, UT
    March 10, 2013 1:14 p.m.

    Joseph Smith was not learned as to any formal education per the standards of men. And yet he was also very learned from being self taught in ancient languages and in other related matters and subjects. Whether he was learned or unleaded depends on the standard one is applying... formal or informal education. Either way, he was certainly a very informed man and obviously very intelligent.

  • woolybruce Idaho Falls, ID
    March 10, 2013 12:57 p.m.

    Discussing Mormon History with the orthodox is problematic. Commenting on the "remarkable" man Joseph Smith was offensive even heretical. It seems to be a problem for true believers to make Joseph Smith more remarkable than what he should be. Or make Joseph Smith more driven than what he should be. Does making Joseph Smith more remarkable, or more driven for self enlightenment somehow make him less of a prophet? It must be for the offense generated from the true believers.

  • Michigander Westland, MI
    March 10, 2013 12:16 p.m.


    Joseph Smith was unlearned UNTIL his five yearly teaching sessions (Sep.22, 1823 to Sep.22, 1827) under the instructive voice of the Angel Moroni and later on Friday May 15, 1829 when his mind was further enabled (along with Oliver Cowdery's mind) with the laying-on-of-hands by the Angel Moroni on both of their heads, nothwithstanding Joseph's many post-1830 doctrinal errors.

    Joseph Smith's five yearly sessions (or 5 days) with Angel Moroni were akin to today's four years of college credit.

  • Aggielove Cache county, USA
    March 10, 2013 11:45 a.m.

    I would LOVE to see that..

  • Thinkman Provo, UT
    March 10, 2013 10:22 a.m.

    I thought Joseph Smith wasn't a learned man. That is what I was taught in Gospel Principles and later Gospel Doctrine and even when I attended BYU. We were told by prophets, apostles and Seventies that he was without learning and in no way could have written anything of historical nor of high scholarship yet now we are told that he was a very learned man?

    Why the shift and rewriting of history? What purpose does this conference serve oher than veneration of an already beloved founder of the church?

    I'm a bit puzzled.

  • iron&clay RIVERTON, UT
    March 10, 2013 9:46 a.m.

    Joseph was a Seer who had possession of stones (glass, crystal?) which were touched by the finger of God and gave him not only tri-generational views of past present and the future but a super-natural ability to translate ancient languages into the English language.

    My perceptions from Joseph Smith of the language of Adam is that one syllable of Adamic language is equivalent to a whole phrase of English.

    Joseph Smith did not have the advantage of the internet in the early 1800's.
    The internet, though inspired by God, is just a rudimentary communication and resource tool and cannot break through the veil to contemporary spheres nor can it allow it's user to see into the future or the past of the earth with it's inhabitants and their destiny in God's plan of Salvation.

  • Cats Somewhere in Time, UT
    March 10, 2013 9:26 a.m.

    Sure wish I'd been there.

    March 10, 2013 8:24 a.m.

    David Holland's comments ought to be brought to the attention of every student reluctant to get serious about learning history. To say that we study history to avoid the mistakes of the past is only one reason to immerse ourselves into it's study, and probably not the best one. A more productive view is to think in terms of building upon the past to create a better future.

    A side note: to LDS students and others persuing a genealogical interest, the connection to held beliefs about family history (or just the love of it) ought to be obvious.

  • Munk Cottonwood Heights, UT
    March 10, 2013 12:21 a.m.

    Independently, regardless whether or not one believes the teaches of the LDS church; Joesph Smith was a very learned man. It was not uncommon in those days with any that could, to read not only biblical and religion texts but classical writings as well.