No Palmyra Revivals?

The Mormon Stories essay on the First Vision says the following about the historical setting of Joseph Smith’s First Vision:

Joseph’s mother, Lucy, dated the Palmyra revivals after Alvin’s death in 1823—during the time she began seeking comfort in the religious community. The revival periods are an important question, as Smith’s 1838-39 account states that “great multitudes” joined the various churches. Reverend Wesley P. Walters concurred, pointing to contemporary records that state 1824 as the date of the revival Joseph Smith referred to, not 1820. [6] Oliver Cowdery, likewise, places the revival in 1823 and, according to Walters, “makes no reference to any vision occurring in 1820.” [7] Lucy kept a personal journal. Though she frequently elaborated on mundane things, such as being offended when a gathering of local ladies criticized her modest log cabin, she recorded no mention of her son’s visitation with God.

Joseph did not identify the 1820 date for his vision until he dictated his history eighteen years later. Indeed, in earlier retellings, Joseph vacillates on his age being between fourteen and sixteen. One historian suggested that he may have relied upon the affidavits in Mormonism Unvailed to narrow down a year and season only, an argument bolstered by the conflicting ages he provided. The affidavits of his Palmyra neighbors consistently affirm that the Smith family was deeply engaged in treasure-digging in 1820. [8]

Mormon Stories essays, “First Vision,” accessed April 17, 2019.
Screenshot of Mormon Stories essays, “First Vision,” accessed April 17, 2019.

There are multiple factual errors in this section of the essay.

  • “Joseph’s mother, Lucy, dated the Palmyra revivals after Alvin’s death in 1823—during the time she began seeking comfort in the religious community.” This is not entirely true. Lucy’s 1844–1845 draft version of her history does seem to place the religious excitement in the Palmyra area in the year 1823 in connection with the visitation of Moroni. But her the second draft of that same history quotes Joseph’s 1838 account of the First Vision where he places the “great excitement” during the year 1820. The reason for this discrepancy is not entirely clear. What is clear, however, is that the author of the Mormon Stories essay has not been entirely honest about what Lucy’s history actually says.
  • “Reverend Wesley P. Walters concurred, pointing to contemporary records that state 1824 as the date of the revival Joseph Smith referred to, not 1820.” The essay cites the article “The Question of the Palmyra Revival” for this claim. However, this article dates to the 1960s. Subsequent research has debunk Walters’ conclusion that there was no revival around the year 1820. This includes research by Richard Bushman and D. Michael Quinn, two of the authors cited in the Mormon Stories essay. The Mormon Stories essay is relying on thoroughly outdated work.
  • “Oliver Cowdery, likewise, places the revival in 1823 and, according to Walters, ‘makes no reference to any vision occurring in 1820.'” While this is true, there is a very plausible reason for it besides the idea that Joseph Smith was just making things up. The Mormon Stories essay never informs its readers about alternative ways of interpreting this data because the author has an agenda to diminish faith in Joseph Smith’s claims.
  • “Lucy kept a personal journal. Though she frequently elaborated on mundane things, such as being offended when a gathering of local ladies criticized her modest log cabin, she recorded no mention of her son’s visitation with God.” Calling Lucy’s 1845 history “a personal journal” is misleading. While her 1844-45 history did rely on earlier sources, it was not a contemporary record of the history of the Smith family in the 1810s and 1820s but rather a retrospective cobbled together from Lucy’s personal dictation to scribes and the redacting of disparate extant sources.1 Besides, this point is irrelevant because Joseph Smith in his 1838 history specifically says he declined to inform his mother about the details of his First Vision when she asked him, so why would we expect her to have preserved an account of such in the first place?
  • “Indeed, in earlier retellings, Joseph vacillates on his age being between fourteen and sixteen.” As pointed out in an early post, the detail that Joseph was 16 when he had his First Vision comes not from Joseph himself but from one of his clerks making a secondary insertion in the Prophet’s 1832 history. In fact, Joseph was broadly consistent in reporting how old he was when he had the First Vision: between 14–15 years old.
    • 1832 Account: “from the age of twelve years to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart concerning the sittuation of the world of mankind”
    • 1835 Account: “I was about 14. years old when I received this first communication”
    • 1838 Account: “I was at this time in my fifteenth year”
    • 1842 Account: “When about fourteen years of age I began to reflect upon the importance of being prepared for a future state”
  • The Mormon Stories essay cites D. Michael Quinn in footnote 8 (Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, p. 141) for this claim: “The affidavits of his Palmyra neighbors consistently affirm that the Smith family was deeply engaged in treasure-digging in 1820.” The irony here is that Quinn does not agree with the author of the Mormon Stories essay. The reason for the (negligible) discrepancies in Joseph’s reported age at the time of the First Vision is not because of any fabrication, but, as Quinn himself says, because “like many people today, Joseph Jr. was confused by the distinction between stating his age (‘fourteen years old’) and its equivalent year-of-life (‘fifteenth year,’ which begins on one’s fourteenth birthday).”

Practically every single point raised in these two short paragraphs are debatable or flatly untrue. A more reliable retelling of these historical details can be found in the RSC book Exploring the First Vision.

Eat your heart out, Dehlinites.

Post-Script:

Speaking of Lucy’s 1845 history, the Mormon Stories makes this claim:

1853 – Lucy Smith, Joseph’s mother, published Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith. This is where we first learn of Joseph Smith’s heroic childhood leg operation, Joseph Senior’s 7 visions and 2 of her own. There was no mention of any first vision. This absence is troubling when contrasted against Lucy’s lengthy stories about the angel and the plates. Recognizing the omission, Orson Pratt later placed the canonized vision story into her book word for word.

Mormon Stories essays, “First Vision,” accessed April 17, 2019.
Screenshot of Mormon Stories essays, “First Vision,” accessed April 17, 2019.

Lucy’s 1844-45 first rough draft of her history does not mention the First Vision. However, the second revised draft prepared in 1845 under Lucy’s supervision, also called the “fair copy,” did include verbatim quotations of Joseph’s 1838 history, including a verbatim quotation of his First Vision account.

The conspiracy theory cooked up in the Mormon Stories essay that Orson Pratt “placed the canonized vision story into her book word for word” because its “absence” and “omission” in Lucy’s history “is troubling” has no supporting evidence. The manuscript evidence alone refutes this laughable claim, since the “fair copy” prepared by Howard Coray in 1845 and utilized by Pratt in his 1853 publication contains a verbatim quotation of the “canonized vision story.”

The author of the essay is literally just making things up.

What About the Lemba?

John Dehlin’s Mormon Stories essay on DNA and the Book of Mormon makes the following claim:

The Lenba [sic] are a group of 80,000 South Africans who claim Jewish heritage, practice many Jewish rituals, and claimed to be descended from small group of Middle Eastern men (perhaps as small as seven) who migrated to South East Africa 2,500 years ago and intermarried with the local women. Modern science backs their claim.

More than 50% of the Lemba Y-chromosomes are West Asian in origin. The DNA evidence suggests a migration date between 2,670 and 3,200 years ago, not far from their claim of 2,500. A study in 2000 found that a substantial number of Lemba men carry a particular haplotype of the Y-chromosome known as the Cohen modal haplotype (CMH), as well as a haplogroup of Y-DNA Haplogroup J found among some Jews, but also in other populations across the Middle East and Arabia. The genetic studies have found no Semitic female contribution to the Lemba gene pool. This indicates that Israelite men migrated to Africa in ancient times and took wives from among the local people while settling in new communities, just as their origin story suggests.

The similarities to the Book of Mormon premise are striking. Taking for granted that the Book of Mormon people existed in history, the migrations took place at the same time, the groups were of similar size, both had Israelite DNA, and likely intermarried with the locals. The big difference – abundant DNA evidence vs. no DNA evidence, and preserved Jewish culture and ritual vs. no preservation of Jewish culture or ritual.

Screenshot of “DNA and the Book of Mormon,” accessed March 14, 2019.

First of all, the name of the tribe in question is Lemba, not “Lenba” [sic].

More important is whether the essay’s central claim is correct: there is “abundant DNA evidence” that the Lemba are descendants of ancient Israelites.

Using the primary research method of John Dehlin and his anonymous collaborator(s), when we consult Wikipedia we discover that the most recent scientific study does not support claims of Lemba descent from ancient Israelites on genetic grounds.

The Wikipedia article cites three studies published in 2013, 2014, and 2016 which conclude:

While it was not possible to trace unequivocally the origins of the non-African Y chromosomes in the Lemba and Remba, this study does not support the earlier claims of their Jewish genetic heritage. . . . It seems more likely that Arab traders, who are known to have established long-distance trade networks involving some thousands of kilometres along the western rim of the Indian Ocean, from Sofala in the south to the Red Sea in the north and beyond to the Hadramut, India and even China from about 900 AD, are more likely linked with the ancestry of the nonAfrican founding males of the Lemba/Remba.

Soodyall (2013)

[O]ur results stress the limitations of using the above haplotype motifs as reliable Jewish ancestry predictors and show its inadequacy for forensic or genealogical purposes. . . . [W]hile the observed distribution of sub-clades of haplotypes at mitochondrial and Y chromosome non-recombinant genomes might be compatible with founder events in recent times at the origin of Jewish groups as Cohenite, Levite, Ashkenazite, the overall substantial polyphyletism as well as their systematic occurrence in non-Jewish groups highlights the lack of support for using them either as markers of Jewish ancestry or Biblical tales.

Tofanelli et al (2014)

When blood groups and serum protein markers were used, the Lemba were indistinguishable from the neighbors among whom they lived; the same was true for mitochondrial DNA which represented the input of females in their gene pool. However, the Y chromosomes, which represented their history through male contributions, showed the link to non-African ancestors. When trying to elucidate the most likely geographic region of origin of the non-African Y chromosomes in the Lemba, the best that could be done was to narrow it to the Middle Eastern region. While no evidence of the CMH was found in the higher resolution study, no inferences can be made about their claims about being Jewish—all that can be said is the lineage commonly associated with the Cohanim is not found in the Lemba.

Soodyall and Kromberg (2016)

So much for “abundant DNA evidence.”

Of course, had the author of the Mormon Stories essay merely consulted an actual scientist like Ugo Perego, they could have avoided this embarrassment.

Or they could have even read this short column by Michael Ash.

Or these observations by David G. Stewart, Jr. (pp. 113–116).

In fact, “modern science” does not back Lemba claims to Jewish heritage as purported in the Mormon Stories essay. What it has done is show that the picture is much more complicated than Dehlin’s simplistic and misinformed claims lead on.

Was Steel Known in Nephi’s Day?

In John Dehlin’s essay on Archaeology and the Book of Mormon he writes:

Although the Book of Mormon twice mentions that Nephi moltened steel out of a rock, only crude iron technology existed in 600 BC. Steel did not yet exist, as it required charcoal heated to 2,500-3,000 degrees. Charcoal wasn’t discovered until some 1,500 years later and required the laborious felling of acres of trees to create sufficient charcoal.

“Archaeology and the Book of Mormon,” Mormon Stories, accessed March 11, 2019.
Screenshot of “Archaeology and the Book of Mormon” taken on March 11, 2019.

The claim that steel was unknown in Nephi’s day is uninformed and erroneous.

The process of making ancient steel has been described by various authorities of on the subject.

Phillip King and Lawrence Stager explain:

Wrought iron heated in contact with charcoal (carbon) at high temperature produces carbonized iron or steel, which is more malleable than cast iron. Steel can be hardened by quenching (practiced as early as the tenth century BCE), that is, cooling off the red hot steel by sudden immersion into a vat of cold liquid.1

James Muhly, who is a leading authority on the subject of ancient metallurgy has written:

The addition of carbon, absorbed into the surface of the iron by a sort of osmosis while the hot iron was in contact with charcoal for an extended period in a reducing atmosphere, greatly increased the hardness of the metal. Such iron, with up to 0.8 percent carbon, is known as steel. If this red hot steel was quenched, by plunging it into a bath of cold water, the resulting product was harder than any bronze. The quenching produced a layer of very hard martensite on the surface of the iron, the amount of martensite formed dependent upon the thickness of the object in question (and thus the rate of cooling). If too much martensite was produced, the resulting steel would be very hard but also very brittle and liable to shatter. It was then necessary to reheat the object in an oxidizing atmosphere, in order to relieve the strains from the freshly formed martensite, a process known as tempering. Tempering was actually a trade-off, sacrificing hardness for greater durability and toughness . . . In the twelfth century BCE, all the necessary technology for producing effective tools, implements and weapons of quenched and tempered steel was developed in surprisingly short order.2

Archaeologists have recovered steel artifacts from various sites in the ancient Near East dating to before Nephi’s day:

Steel artifacts from the Iron IA (twelfth century) burial cave in the Beqa Valley, Jordan, provide an interesting body of material in that steel was used there to produce bracelets and rings. 3

According to Anthony Snodgrass:

Egyptian axes and other implements dating from about 900 B.C. onward were found to have been carburized, quenched, and probably tempered as well, a finding that is quite incompatible with the picture of backwardness and isolation that is sometimes painted.4

Recently Naama Yahalom-Mack and Adi Eliyahu-Behar reported that over sixty badly corroded iron objects were recovered by archaeologists from sites in Syro-Palestine dating from the late second and early first millennium B.C. These included knives, tools, weapons, and bracelets. Chemical analysis was done on each of these. They report:

The results showed that ‘ghost structures’ of pearlite, clearly indicating the presence of carbon, were present in almost all the objects (excluding three), demonstrating that almost all were made of steel.5

Contrary to John Dehlin’s claims, the process of making iron into steel tools and other useful objects was known in the ancient Near East, including the land of Israel the land from which Nephi came hundreds years before Lehi left Jerusalem. The idea that Nephi could have known or learned how to make steel tools out of iron ore poses no problem for the Book of Mormon, but is consistent with what is now known and what we continue to learn about the ancient world.

Is A Seven-Day Week Anachronistic for the Book of Mormon?

John Dehlin’s essay on Archaeology and the Book of Mormon claims that the mentioning of a seven-day week is anachronistic.

Referenced as the “seventh day” or the Sabbath day in Mosiah, the concept of a 7 day week didn’t originate until well after Lehi left Jerusalem.

“Archaeology and the Book of Mormon”
Screenshot of “Archaeology and the Book of Mormon” taken on February 18, 2019

The essay does not cite where in Mosiah there is reference to the “seventh day” or Sabbath day. In fact, the reference is Mosiah 13:16–19 (with another reference to the “sabbath day” at Mosiah 18:23 at Jarom 1:5). Mosiah 13:16–19, however is a quotation of Exodus 20:8–11.

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lordblessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

Without providing the full citation from Mosiah (which is a biblical quotation), the author of the Mormon Stories essay (as well as Dehlin) is misleading his or her readers.

But what about the claim that “the concept of a 7 day week didn’t originate until well after Lehi left Jerusalem”? The Mormon Stories essay hyperlinks to the Wikipedia article for “Week.” The essay appears to be following the conventional understanding given in the article that “a continuous seven-day cycle that runs throughout history paying no attention whatsoever to the phases of the moon was first practiced in Judaism, dated to the 6th century BC at the latest,” and that “it seems likely that the Hebrew seven-day week is based on the Babylonian tradition, although going through certain adaptations.”

What the Mormon Stories essay leaves out, however, is this sentence in the same article:

Niels-Erik Andreasen, Jeffrey H. Tigay, and others claimed that the Biblical Sabbath is mentioned as a day of rest in some of the earliest layers of the Pentateuch dated to the 9th century BC at the latest, centuries before Judea’s Babylonian exile. They also find the resemblance between the Biblical Sabbath and the Babylonian system to be weak. Therefore, they suggested that the seven-day week may reflect an independent Israelite tradition.

The Wikipedia article cites four sources for this:

  • Andreasen, Niels-Erik A. (1972). The Old Testament Sabbath: A Tradition-historical Investigation. Society of Biblical Literature.
  • Shafer, Byron E. (1974). “Reviewed Work: The Old Testament Sabbath: A Tradition-Historical Investigation by Niels-Erik A. Andreasen”. Journal of Biblical Literature. 93 (2): 300–301.
  • Tigay, Jeffery H. (1998). “Shavua”. Mo’adei Yisra’el: Time and Holy Days in the Biblical and Second Commonwealth Periods (Heb.), ed. Jacob S. Licht: 22–23.
  • Hallo, William W. (1977). “New Moons and Sabbaths: A Case-Study in the Contrastive Approach”. Hebrew Union College Annual. 48: 1–18.

So the fully developed concept of a seven-day week as we know today may have been the product of the Jewish exile in Babylon, but this theory is disputed.1 There are mainstream biblical scholars who recognize the strong likelihood that this concept has historical antecedents which well predate Lehi’s departure from Jerusalem. Shafer, reviewing and encapsulating Andreasen’s work, lays out one plausible historical development for the Sabbath:

(A) The earliest traditions were “the regulations for the six days of work and the seventh day of rest” and “the prohibition against performing any work on the seventh day at the risk of death.” These were perhaps pre-Mosaic, but that is uncertain. The themes are encountered in well-developed form in the earliest period, and we are unable to press behind that time to the origins of the institution or its traditions. (B) in the 9th and 8th centuries, traditions reflect a Sabbath which was a cultic feast day celebrated at the sanctuaries and temple . . . (C) In the later monarchy, the literary traditions re-emphasized the old Sabbath tradition of humanitarian concern and link the Sabbath with the exodus event of Israel’s salvation history. Andreasen argues that the abundant references to Sabbath in the exilic literature of P and Ezekiel cannot be satisfactorily explained by the traditional scholarly arguments from a sudden increased exilic interest in Sabbath . . . Therefore, he hypothesizes that this theological elaboration of the old traditions began during the reform movement of Hezekiah and continued through the reign of Manasseh into the reign of Josiah. . . . (D) In the exilic period, Ezekiel and P elaborate these traditions and, in addition, identify the Sabbath as a sign and covenant between Yahweh and Israel.2

Hallo, who is also cited in the Wikipedia article hyperlinked to in the Mormon Stories essay, likewise says this concerning the development of the Sabbath:

As early as the time of Solomon, we are entitled to detect a seven-day cycle in the festivities marking the dedication of his temple. The double injunction to work for six days and to rest every seventh is the most fundamental piece of social legislation written into the Decalogue. . . . The cultic counterpart of this legislation permeates every one of the many ritual calendars in the Pentateuch. Creation itself is retroactively cast into the mold of the seven-day week, as also of the Exodus typology, and thus secondarily turned into the justification for the earthly ordinance.3

Dating the composition of Exodus 20 is complicated. “The Horeb-Sinai narrative (chaps. 19–24, 32–34) will always frustrate attempts to understanding its composition history.”4 Notwithstanding, the origin of the material in the version of the Decalogue in Exodus 20 is frequently “assign[ed] dates . . . from the twelfth through the ninth centuries B.C,”5 and in any event, “the Sabbath observance does not owe its origins to the Fourth Commandment, since the practice is apparently very ancient, having existed in Mosaic times (cf. Exod 16:22–30). The Fourth Commandment merely recalled and reinforced the traditional observance.”6

The nineteenth and early twentieth consensus that “such features of the Decalogue as the sabbath law . . . could not have arisen until after the eighth century, or even later, in the exilic period . . . no longer exists.”7 Now scholars, such as those cited above, recognize that “the Sabbath was the cornerstone of Israelite religious practice from earliest times,”8 as well as the complicated evolution of ancient Israel’s social and religious institutions, including the Sabbath. “How widely and in what periods [the Sabbath] was observed is unclear,” observes Meyers, but evidence “suggests that at least some part of the population was committed to sabbath observance in the preexilic, exilic, and postexilic periods.”9

Finally, there is even non-biblical evidence for a pre-exilic origin of the Sabbath:

It is often argued that the sabbath observance is mainly an exilic or postexilic development. That may be true with reference to how widespread it was. Nevertheless, it seems to have a long history behind it and was thus probably observed in some form or other by some elements of the population long before the end of the monarchy. The texts here confirm its existence and its practice in the [Elepnatine] community; on the other hand, how it was celebrated is not so clear.10

The simplistic claim made in the Mormon Stories essay (“the concept of a 7 day week didn’t originate until well after Lehi left Jerusalem”) reflects a surface-level reading of a single non-academic source (Wikipedia) that does not adequately cover the scope of the issue. What’s more, the very Wikipedia article that the author of the Mormon Stories essay relies on includes information that directly refutes the essay’s simplistic claim!

As in most other matters, all that John Dehlin has done in this instance is mislead his readers.

Those Ottomans Got Around

Alexander Campbell, my dear colleague from the space and time warp, has done a terrific job of answering the claim that scimitars in the Book of Mormon are an anachronism.1 Still, something else caught my eye.


Cimeter: The curved, bladed weapon, mentioned 3 times in the Book of Mormon, originated with the Ottoman empire in the 9th Century. Not only is it an Asian word for blade, it’s also made of anachronistic steel. It remains unknown how Lehi would be aware of it, as the word was unused in any contemporary Hebrew literature.


Screenshot of “Archaeology and the Book of Mormon” as accessed on February 14, 2019.

According to the essay, scimitars were created by the Ottoman Empire in the 9th century.

Traditional Ottoman sources claim that their forebears arrived in the modern-day territory of Turkey sometime during the 13th century after the Mongols chased them out of Central Asia. Several modern scholars believe that they were originally raiders and freebooters in the 11th century.2 Regardless, no one has ever claimed the 9th century! Osman Bey – the dynasty’s founder – does not even make an appearance in the Byzantine sources until 1302.

A tip of the ol’ Fedora for rewriting half of Middle-Eastern history in one fell swoop.

All joking aside, the essay author is desperate to score any point against Book of Mormon historicity that they can. Even if that means creating anachronisms of their own.

On Mormon Stories and Widow’s Sons

The weather vane of the Nauvoo temple as drawn by William Weeks showing the square and compass

When it comes to the deeply problematic Mormon Stories essay on the Temple Ceremony / Masonry you are not getting much of the the truth on either.

Instead of providing a responsible look at the important and fascinating connections between the endowment ceremony and Freemasonry (and their differences) it appears that the author would much rather present you with things like long-discredited, sinister theories about Masonic thirst for power or stuff like Mormon psychological control because of their shock value. The author creates fear and casts shadows wherever possible, sacrificing any sort of nuance and accuracy in order to do so. This does not serve to foster open dialogue and honest inquiry, and the story it tells is definitely not “accurate and robust.” 

The author of the essay also mixes and matches historical and theological criticisms, yet treats both as equally valid for the purposes of their argument. They are rather different beasts, and we will treat these issues in depth through a series of separate responses. We will look at the history of Freemasonry and the temple, at biblical and other ancient precedents, and at the theological value of temple attendance. We will then respond to the series of questions appended to the essay because those are likely to be used extensively as talking points in order to discredit the temple ceremony.  

There are two points at the heart of all these responses:

  • 1. Masonry and masonic influence on the temple rituals are not to be feared.
  • 2. Masonry is far from being the entire story.

Here is a little case study which illustrates many of the ways in which the essay is problematic. None of the quotes I will use are obscure or hard to find. A good many actually come from a source with which the author is very familiar.

“For generations, the Church vigorously denied Masonry’s influence while declaring its own ceremonies to be different, more pure, even chastising historians who accurately documented the striking similarities.” 


Screenshot of “ TEMPLE CEREMONY / MASONRY ” as accessed on February 14, 2019.  

Further down the essay, the identity of the chastised historian is made clear.

“The Church’s sensitivity to its Masonic roots eased little over the decades. In 1974, Reed Durham, President of Mormon History Association and Director of Institute at University of Utah, delivered a speech on Masonry at their annual gathering. The Church reacted strongly, forcing him to write an apology before demoting him, effectively ending his career (Writing of Mormon History, 259).” 


Screenshot of “ TEMPLE CEREMONY / MASONRY ” as accessed on February 14, 2019.

This narrative simply is not true. 

In 1989 Gilbert W. Scharffs responded to Ed Decker’s claim that the 1974 talk had nearly cost Durham his membership.

My appointment as director came prior to Dr. Durham’s Nauvoo speech, and was to have been for one year only, to allow him time to do research for a volume of LDS history that he had been commissioned to write by the historical department of the LDS Church. After my year as director came to an end (during which time Dr. Durham presented his Nauvoo paper) I was told he was given the option of returning as institute director or to the higher assignment of area director of LDS educational programs. Dr. Durham declined both positions wanting to be free to spend more time in research and full-time teaching, as part of the LDS Institute of Religion faculty, which he does to this day with distinction and a strong testimony.1

Reed C. Durham, Jr., pictured with other Institute of Religion faculty in Salt Lake City, 1970. Durham is seated third from the right

Not only did this not end Durham’s career – he retired from CES teaching sometime in the 1990s – Durham was actually part of the projected multi-volume sesquicentennial history project some years later.2 Durham’s volume was not singled out like Bushman’s was,3 it was simply never completed once the project died. He did publish some of it in the form of a journal article in BYU Studies,4 and also authored some entries in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.

The List of contributors to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (1992), showing Durham employed by the CES

If Durham was neither demoted nor had his career effectively ended, then what actually happened? 

It is hard to believe that the author of the essay did not know that there was more to the story, especially given the following from Prince’s Arrington biography.


Durham began his speech on a flippant note that, given the nature of his topic, would have the effect of exacerbating any negative reactions from the church hierarchy: “Regardless of the possible incriminations and stigma that might ensue, I should like, in this paper, to interpose some unorthodox findings and fancies upon the more traditional and canonical propaganda of the faith.”5

Reed Durham took a sensitive topic relating to some of the holiest rites and ordinances in the church, and ran it over roughshod by a flippant tone and irresponsible generalizations which easily created the impression that the endowment was not a divinely inspired restoration. Durham himself conceded as much in his written apology.


I have been informed of instances where even my own colleagues in the Mormon History Association, and also some close friends within the Church misinterpreted what I said, and more important to me, in some cases even questioned my faith in Joseph Smith and the Church. Of course, I assume the full responsibility for creating those questions, concerns, and misunderstandings. It was because I was not skillful enough, erudite enough, nor perhaps prayerful enough to make my personal position and feelings clearly known.6

Mervin B. Hogan – whom the author mentions approvingly – offered the following caution when he circulated an unauthorized yet accurate transcript of the talk to fellow masons. “Dr. Durham’s unfolding of his strange thesis has numerous potholes and several – somewhat inconspicuous – booby traps which can ensnare the unsuspecting inquirer.”7

Prince documents that Arrington’s department knew of the masonic connections well before Durham’s talk, but also that in answer to the question of whether or not it was “sound historically,” Arrington said that “we had serious reservations.”8

When Scharffs asked Durham many years later, “How do you feel about your Nauvoo speech now?” Durham responded that,


I now wish I had presented some of my material differently… For instance, at the present time, after rechecking my data, I find no primary evidence that Joseph Smith ever possessed a Jupiter talisman. The source for my comment was a second-hand, late source. It came from Wilford Wood, who was told it by Charlie Bidamon, who was told it by his father, Lewis Bidamon, who was Emma’s second husband and a non-Mormon not too friendly to the LDS Church. So, the idea that the Prophet had such a talisman is highly questionable!9

The Jupiter talisman, an item that Durham originally believed belong to Joseph, but later realised that this was not supported by any of the evidence

 The only personal fallout for Reed Durham was that he was required by his superior in the CES to write a letter of apology in which he affirmed his testimony of Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling and of the divine inspiration of temple work, a copy of which was sent to all who attended the talk. Granted, Arrington did feel that writing the letter was “unnecessary and rather silly,”and told Fielding Anderson so, but that was the extent of the discipline against Durham. Arrington did go on to say that “Reed has never been an effective Church history researcher since that date,”10 but that is a curious statement to give in 1981, considering that Durham had been hired by Arrington to write the sesquicentennial volume on the crossing of the plains.

Given all this you could argue that the church overreacted, but it is obvious that the issues with Durham’s talk were not with accurate documentation, and that is what Mormon Stories will not tell you.

Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Pyrrho’s Comments on Anonymity

My friend and fellow time traveler Pyrrho of Elis has given some cogent remarks on why we, Legion, remain anonymous (or, more precisely, pseudonymous).

There is just one additional point I would like to add.

It is ideal for peer review to be double-blind to ensure that the review remains about the quality of arguments and not the individual authors. John Dehlin’s essays are anonymous, and so are our reviews, thus upholding this important standard.

We are confident that John Dehlin’s fanbase at Reddit will understand.

Why Do We Remain Anonymous?

Image result for pyrrho
Me in a former lifetime

Hello dear reader, my name is Pyrrho of Elis, and I am the founder of the Greek school of philosophy known as Skepticism. Or so my username says anyway; my real identity, like the rest of Legion, shall remain anonymous.

In the past few days since this blog was started, many have said that FairMormon is behind the blog, or that we are in the employ of the Church directly, or that we simply have a bone to pick with John Dehlin. There is something to be said for all of these claims, but they are all false.

FairMormon is an organization that we respect, but we are not affiliated with them and no one at FairMormon knows who we are either. I assure you that we are not being paid or supplemented in anyway by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (though all of us are believing members of said church). As far as having problems with John Dehlin, none of us have met him personally (as far as I am aware), but we do consider him an irresponsible intellectual and we are concerned for the welfare of those who leave the church after listening to his podcasts or reading his essays.

Now that that is all squared away, to the point of the present work: Why do we choose to remain anonymous rather than revealing our true identity’s? First, it is kind of fun to have dual identities (ask Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent). But most importantly, we are not seeking publicity or attention. Who we really are has nothing to do with the arguments and evidence that we will present and defend. Who we really are is immaterial; what matters is if we follow the evidence wherever it may lead and if we are honest about the problems that the Church faces. We consider these problems and questions important; we do not consider ourselves important and frankly you should not either.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Cheerio.