S A I N T S: CHERRY-PICKING HISTORY…
About October 1823:
“Night after night he [Joseph Smith, Jr.] captivated the family with talk of the gold plates and the people who wrote them.”
Saints (Volume 1): The Standard of Truth 1815-1846 (Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4 September 2018), 3:28.
The reference above comes from “Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations [Later named ‘History of Joseph Smith by His Mother’]” by Lucy Mack Smith; published in 1853, thirty years after the event, and three years prior to her death at age 80.
The most glaring inconsistency of the entry is the fact that Joseph appears to be telling the family ‘nightly’ stories from the book in which he was not privileged to take from the hill. How is this possible? There is no historical evidence to suggest that he was given the opportunity to use the seer stone in his hat, or the Urim and Thummim to translate and read while Moroni hovered on the hill. Nor is there historical evidence to suggest the Angel told him detailed stories about the contents. Nonetheless, the faithful are left to assume this must be the case.
The skeptic will perhaps conclude he was getting his information from his neighbor, Ethan Smith, who wrote the book ‘View of the Hebrews;’ published earlier that year. Others may assume he was quoting directly from ‘A Manuscript Found.’ Regardless of which trail you follow, it’s evident that there was no lack of localized information regarding the Lost Tribes of Israel and speculation on Mound Builders. There is also little doubt Joseph had a vivid imagination.
It seems to many who read it, that although Lucy had good intentions in writing the history shortly after Joseph’s death in 1844, that the (then) 69-year-old mother could have been embellishing aspects about her famous son, as the aged are prone to do.
No doubt this was the feeling of Brigham Young, who called it a “tissue of lies” and didn’t want the publication to thrive in the public until corrections were made. In fact, “[i]n 1865, Young ordered the church members to have their copies destroyed” (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Joseph_Smith_by_His_Mother). It was revised and reprinted after the turn of the century by Joseph F. Smith.
It is strange that the church now seems to fully embrace Lucy’s account by giving it a prominent place, even though the second president of the church found it untruthful. What is also ironic, is that other histories, such as the grand collection of speeches from the late 19th century, the ‘Journal of Discourses,’ are often chided as being inaccurate, though the set was once considered scripture:
“The Journal of Discourses deservedly ranks as one of the standard works of the Church.”
George Q. Cannon, Journal of Discourses – Volume 8 (Liverpool, England: George Q. Cannon, 1861), iii, “Preface”
Yes, the Journal of Discourses is quoted in “Saints” from time-to-time. Evidently parts of it, as well as selected passages of Lucy’s history have been authorized as current truth. Given its track record, it is entirely reasonable to assume that this could change in 20 years, or with the words of the next prophet.
RE-rewrite: “Night after night he [Joseph Smith, Jr.] captivated the family with imaginative stories of Native Americans.”