In the year when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) is noting the 150th anniversary of founder Joseph Smith's murder at an Illinois jail, a new book reinterprets some of Smith's historical recollections.
In "Inventing Mormonism" (Signature Books), authors Michael Marquardt and Wesley Waiters—both evangelical Christians—use historical records of nineteenth century life in New York as well as the diaries and testimony of Smith's friends and foes to reconstruct Mormon history.
Mormons, who now number 9 million worldwide, are taught to accept as historical fact Smith's account of a visit by two heavenly personages, said to be God and Jesus Christ, and the guidance of an angel to the location of gold plates containing the "Book of Mormon" text.
But Marquardt, who lives in Sandy, Utah, and was an LDS church member for 17 years, and Waiters, a Presbyterian pastor who died in 1990, show that something other than an angelic vision may have been responsible for Smith's find. The historians make a connection between Smith's reputation for money digging (an illegal means of finding hidden funds, for which he was charged in a New York State court), the discovery of the famous golden plates, and the claim that Smith used a seer stone, an occult tool, to find the plates.
"Was [Joseph] Smith less than forthcoming in later years about his evolution from Manchester [New York] farmboy to a new prophet?" the historians ask.
Those who are critical of the LDS church, including Luke Wilson of Gospel Truths Ministries in Grand Rapids, Michigan, say the book could shake the faith of some.
"Mormons are not going to give up the Mormon story without a fight," Wilson says. This book provides "airtight and inescapable evidence" of Smith's dishonesty, he says.
But the book's Mormon publisher, George Smith, says the LDS church would not be too distressed over this volume. "I don't think it would challenge anyone's faith."
"There have been numerous books written about the church over the years," LDS spokesperson Don LeFever says. "Officials of the church, by policy, do not comment except to say that such publications represent the personal opinions and expressions of the respective authors."
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