Sidney Rigdon and the Book of Mormon

 

Moroni, JS, and gold plates
Joseph Smith receives the plates of the Book of Mormon. According to one suggested scenario, “Moroni” (in the white robe) was really Sidney Rigdon, and the “plates” were really the manuscript of a bad novel purloined from the late Solomon Spalding.  (Image from LDS.org)

 

I offer, below, some notes about suggestions that Joseph Smith had help in the composition of a fraudulent nineteenth-century Book of Mormon:

 

Although there have long been speculations about a helper or conspiracy of helpers, no primary historical source indicates that any other person assisted Joseph Smith in the composition of the Book of Mormon. Likewise,

There are no primary sources which suggest that prior to the fall of 1827 Joseph Smith possessed metal plates, a Urim and Thummim, a script containing characters that appeared like ancient writing, nor a manuscript containing a religious history of ancient America. Nor are there any primary sources which indicate that before or during these eighteen months Joseph Smith was composing (by writing and rewriting) a history or studying scholarly publications that might have aided him in writing about the past.[1]

Suggestions to the contrary have about them the air of desperation.

Here, for example, are the comments of Dr. John Stafford, given in a March 1881 interview with E. L. and William H. Kelley:

“If young Smith was as illiterate as you say, Doctor, how do you account for the Book of Mormon?”

“Well, I can’t; except that Sidney Rigdon was connected with them.”

“What makes you think he was connected with them?”

‘Because I can’t account for the Book of Mormon any other way.”

“Was Rigdon ever around there before the Book of Mormon was published?”

“No, not as we could ever find out.”

“Well, you have been looking out for the facts a long time, have you not, Doctor?”

“Yes, I have been thinking and hearing about it for the last fifty years, and lived right among all their old neighbors there most of the time.”

“And no one has ever been able to trace the acquaintance of Rigdon and Smith, until after the Book of Mormon was published, and Rigdon was proselyted by Parley P. Pratt, in Ohio?”

“Not that I know of.”[2]

 

[1] Backman, Eyewitness Accounts, 58.

[2] Andrus and Andrus, They Knew the Prophet, 5.

 

***

 

In this context, it’s probably worthwhile mentioning a report of remarks made in New York City on 12 March 1905 by Sidney’s son John W. Rigdon.  Fred J. Pack and Sadie Grant Pack, who were there, provided a summary that was published in the April 1905 issue of the Improvement Era.  Here’s an extract from their account:

 

In the  early  sixties,  [he  gave  the  year]  I  went  to  Idaho  and thence  to  Salt  Lake  City.    Eliza  R.  Snow and  others  tried  to  induce  me  to join  the  Church,  but  I  did  not,  and  came  home  to  the east  rather  poorly  impressed  with  the  Utah  people.    I  determined to  ascertain  from  my  father  whether  he  knew anything  in  regard to  the  origin  of  the  Book  of  Mormon  other  than  had  been  made public,  and  if  such  were  unfavorable  to  the  Church  I  should  make it  known.    My  father  was  then  in  his  last  years,  and  I  found  him as  firm  as  ever  in  declaring  that  he  himself  had  nothing  whatever to  do  in  writing  the  book,  and  that  Joseph  Smith  received  it  from an  angel.    On  his  dying  bed  he  made  the  same  declaration  to  a Methodist  minister.

I myself  well  remember  when  Parley  P.  Pratt  brought  the book  to  my  father’s  house,  and  presented  it  to  him,  and  I  also know  that  this  was  the  first  time  that  my  father  ever  saw  it.    My sister,  some  nine  years  older  than  I,  testified  to  me  a  few  months ago  that  she also  remembers  when  the  book was first  seen by  our father.  My  mother  has  also  told  me  that  father  had  nothing  whatever  to  do with  the  writing  of  the  book,  and  that  she  positively knew  that  he  had  never  seen  it  until  Parley  P.  Pratt  came  to  our home  with  it.  These  testimonies  have  clung  to  me  ever  since,  and I  could not  forget  them.

 

Ultimately, John W. Rigdon joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the summer of 1904, being baptized in the Hudson River.

 

***

 

Incidentally, my wife and I enjoyed attending a conference of the Vista California Stake this morning.  The visiting General Authority and concluding speaker at the stake conference was Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Council of the Twelve.

 

Posted from Oceanside, California

 

 

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