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Miscellaneous Myths About Church History Vol. 1

This is a fun short article that can helpfully purify our discussions about Church History and, therefore, other aspects of our gospel conversations. Without further ado, let us dive in:


"Joseph Smith was poorly educated"

By today's standards, this is absolutely true. It is not as nuanced of a view as it should be though. Many of us like to exalt Joseph Smith's uneducated nature in order to make the various things he did more miraculous (as they undoubtedly are). In reality though, according to the scholars working on The Joseph Smith Papers Project, Joseph Smith was just as educated (if not a little more so) than most of his contemporaries. In fact, he was a much better speller than Brigham Young (even later on in Brigham's life). He was a very good public speaker and had a rather large vocabulary. Later on, in Joseph Smith's life, he had many tutors teach him in the realm of languages and other subjects. The sources for this information can be found here.


"John Taylor's pocket watch saved his life during the Martyrdom at Carthage Jail"

Dr. Joseph Lynn Lyon at the University of Utah has performed forensic testing to see if this myth holds up to snuff. Dr. Lyon concludes that the guns that were used during this event would have obliterated the face of the watch if it actually struck the watch (picture below). Various authors of Church History have started to neglect this detail about the events at Carthage due to Dr. Lyon's experiments. This does not rule out the fact that maybe something miraculous happened, but we can definitely say that the pocket watch in and of itself did NOT stop a bullet from killing John Taylor.


"Cain still roams the earth today. He might be bigfoot."

This story was given by David W. Patten and has been perpetuated by some that should know better. In the account from Mr. Patten himself, he does not refer to the figure he met as Cain. In addition, Moses 5:51 implies that Cain died while an apocryphal source, the Book of Jasher, claims he, in fact, did die (see Jasher 2:26-30).


"The story of Martin Harris losing the 116 pages"

The story of Martin Harris losing the original manuscript of the first 116 pages of the Book of Mormon is well known and a true story. There are various details about the conventional story that corrects what we think we know about it. Dr. Don Bradley has done extensive research on this story and comes to the following conclusions. First, it is believed that the pages actually lost were much more than 116. That number probably comes closer to 200 pages or more. "The lost manuscript chronologically covered a full half of Mormon’s total abridgment that started 600 years from Lehi to Christ and ended in 320 AD. The remaining pages starting with Mosiah represent the second half of Mormon’s abridgment and are much greater than 116." (1) Second, we rarely discuss the reasons for Martin Harris' incessant bugging of Joseph Smith. Martin Harris had acted as a scribe for Joseph for some time. As a farmer, he had missed a whole harvest season and missed the wedding of his beloved daughter to be Joseph's scribe. We can gain some sympathy for Martin but still learn a valuable lesson.


"Polygamy was taught by the early brethren as being necessary for our exaltation"
Brian and Laura Hales, the two most prominent LDS historians on Polygamy, have said the following:

"Well, I think it’s always been the elephant in the room, even before this increased dialogue on polygamy. There was this joke about if we were going to populate worlds on end, we’d want to have some help. But it was a joke to dispel the actual pain. I don’t think any of us really want to be polygamists, including men. I’ve talked to plenty of men who’ve said, “One’s enough, thank you very much.” With the heightened dialogue, you have more people researching the topic, bringing up issues. One thing they do is quote mine in the Journal of Discourses. Now you know what quote mining is, right. You’re looking for something specifically, so you find what you want and you go, “Aha! I’ve caught it.” Well, the Fundamentalist sects of Mormons have done this for years to justify the
continued practice of polygamy. The same quotes keep coming up over, and over, and over again. There’s a couple by Brigham Young and another one by Joseph F. Smith where it seems like they’re saying that polygamy is required for exaltation.
If you read those quotes in context, you will either read from the speaker themselves that they’re simply opining on the topic. This is something they personally believe, even though it hasn’t been revealed, or it is simply being quoted out of context. But these quotes have been exploited as more
and more people are learning about polygamy. I think to insight fear. Just to say, “This is a really horrible thing,” and “Look, these people say we have to do it, so now this really is something we need to worry about, because it is our problem, because our theology teaches this.” When actually, our theology does not teach that. No prophet has ever said that polygamy is required for exaltation. Joseph Smith didn’t say it and President Thomas S. Monson hasn’t said it, either."


  1. Re the watch - could have been a ricochet - and richochets can kill too . . . .

    1. Dr. Lyons, in a BYU Studies article, concludes that none of the damage done to the watch could have been done by a bullet or even a ricochet. He concludes that damage was done when he smashed up against the window sill. It is a very convincing argument if you desire to read the facts here: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3961&context=byusq

      Thanks for reading!


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