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299: Haley Lemmon – The Joseph Smith Translation – Revelation or Plagiarism

Haley Wilson Lemmon sits down with us today to discuss the Joseph Smith translation of the Bible.   Haley worked with BYU Professor Thomas A Wayment in looking into what possible sources Joseph Smith used in his Bible translation.  The major discovery here was that Joseph Smith “direct borrowed” or plagiarized heavily from Adam Clarke’s Commentary in order to carry out his Bible translation.  There is a multiple of tangents we take this conversation
–  What led to this research?
– How pervasive this plagiarism was.
– Was there any pushback from BYU or the Church leadership?
– Was there any pressure to edit certain ideas out?
– Joseph use of other sources in his work such as Buck’s Dictionary
– How this demonstrates once again how problematic the Church’s narrative is
– The imposed need to redefine what it meant for Joseph to translate
– How understanding Joseph Smith on this issue sheds light on his other “translations”.
– How this either speaks to Joseph Smith being a genius or it imposes that Joseph had other sources by his side in his translation work and what that means for other works including the book of abraham but namely the book of Mormon
– Does the Book of Mormon utilize Clarke’s Commentary?
– What can we infer about Sidney Rigdon’s involvement
– How her and Wayments write-up is in their mind the most faithful way to interpret the data.
– The difficult position the Church is in with its narrative falling apart
– How BYU censured her regarding her blog about her faith crisis
– Where Haley is at today in her faith journey

BYU’s Synopsis of Lemmon’s and Wayment’s Research
Adam Clarke’s Commentary



31 thoughts on “299: Haley Lemmon – The Joseph Smith Translation – Revelation or Plagiarism”

  1. Now having heard the entirety of this podcast episode. I wonder how we can see this from the faithful angle and how God is deciding to move it’s church forward.

    It almost seems from Progressive Podcasts that we ought to be going in the same direction that community of Christ has gone which I’m not sure if we should yet.

    The future of Mormonism in an information era is an interesting one for sure. The Church needs to play it cards right, and its all about critical mass awareness of issues. Which I’m not sure we have reach that point yet, I would think within the next two decades we will be there. Till then, we will be lonely with our progressive perspectives… but at least Haley has her companion with her on the same page and how wonderful that is.

    I hope that Mormon agnostics find a way to still enjoy church for what is was, is, and will become.

    1. As for how we can see this from a faithful angle, one that my parents give a lot is, “Well, isn’t it possible that Heavenly Father could have inspired both men to write the same thing down?” As in Joseph didn’t actually plagiarize or use another’s work but rather God told two men on two different occasions the same thing. When they go there I know it’s time to throw in the towel on that particular topic.

      1. The problem is when you begin to find that God revealed to other people the same things he revealed to JS, before he made them known to him. It’s quite unsettling.

      2. That wily God…don’t you guys see? Not only did god reveal his plain and precious truths to other “normies” before he finally revealed them to his chosen loin, he also revealed complicated and unprecious untruths to these people so that his mouthpiece could revelatify the same untruths to us, thereby making it clear who was in charge all along (god). See, this is the way the god mind works. It defies all logic, therefore it is infinite in its wisdom. 😳🤯🤥

  2. When I get it right, there have been hints to plagiarism in the JS translation from Clarke’s Commentaries some years ago. Ronald V. Huggins has written about it in his article “Without a Cause” and “Ships of Tarshish”, in: Dialogue 36, no. 1 (2003), pp. 157-179. It’s the same passage Haley mentions as her first discovery.

    Just one interesting quote from the article (p. 173): “It was just this “veriagation” that provided Emma’s uncle, the Rev. Nathaniel Lewis, with a way to test the powers of Joseph Smith’s mysterious Urim and Thummim. One day he asked Joseph “if any one but himself could translate other languages into English by the aid of his miraculous spectacles?” When Joseph said yes, Lewis lifted down a large volume from its place on the shelf and opened it. He then “proposed to Joe to let him make the experiment upon some of the strange languages he found in Clarke’s Commentary, and stated to him if it was even so, and the experiment proved successful, he would then believe the story about the gold plates. But at this proposition Joe was much offended, and never undertook to convert ‘uncle Lewis’ afterward.” This anecdote reveals that Clarke’s commentary was near at hand while the Book of Mormon was being translated and that Nathaniel Lewis had at least made Joseph Smith aware of its existence. There is also the possibility that Joseph himself consulted Clarke’s Commentary, or had it quoted to (or at) him on other occasions by Uncle Lewis.”

    See also:

    Like JS, Adam Clarke was very critical of the Song of Solomon and told young ministers to avoid preaching on it.

    It is also known that Clarke is among those contemporaries of JS that have speculated on Jewish origins of the American Indians. In his commentary on Is 49:12 he writes: ” סין sin signifies a bush, and סינים sinim, bushes, woods, etc. Probably this means that the land where several of the lost Jews dwell is a woodland. The ten tribes are gone, no one knows whither. On the slave coast in Africa, some Jewish rites appear among the people, and all the males are circumcised. The whole of this land, as it appears from the coast, may be emphatically called שינים ארץ erets sinim, the land of bushes, as it is all covered with woods as far as the eye can reach. Many of the Indians in North America, which is also a woodland, have a great profusion of rites, apparently in their basis Jewish. Is it not possible that the descendants of the ten lost tribes are among those in America, or among those in Africa, whom European nations think they have a right to enslave? It is of those lost tribes that the twenty-first verse speaks: “And these, where had they been?””

    See David J. Richards, The Book of Mormon and it relationship with the Bible (2017), 142.

    Dan Vogel has mentioned parallels between JS’s cosmological views and Adam Clarke:

    1. Has anyone looked at possible plagiarism from the Book of Enoch in the Book of Mormon? The first English translation of Enoch came out in 1823.
      The only thing I’be found is a quote similar to what was said about Judas in the New Testament — it would be better for that man if he had never been born– but it is in the plural, like a similar passage in Enoch.

  3. Wow, great research, story and ending! Churches tend to corrupt and fall every couple hundred years. The same with govts, for the same reasons, rooted in Authority-worship and not questioning and correcting errors resulting from this, piling up line upon line. Reformations either happen or the whole thing crumbles.

    The mentioned Community of Christ is a good example of a modern day reformation, restoring truth and honesty, restoring the “rudder” to stay on course, correct course, to follow Jesus. They restored the real Law of Common Consent, constant reformation or course corrections. This has sadly become anti-christ “coerced consent” in the LDS church not allowing for correction. Too proud and mighty to be wrong, correct, repent? The BoM does tell that story too.

    Punishment for seeking truth to follow Christ first – eternal truths? Moroni 10: 5,6,18,19?
    Punishment for being honest in dealings with fellowmen?
    Punishment for sustaining leaders in following Christ/Truth first and leading us to follow Christ/Truth first? Where did the real Jesus go; the trunk of our shiney new Only True Jesus Mobile?
    Shocking? Christ’s Bullies? By their fruits… gone bad?
    Matt 7: 15-20? Ravening Proud Leaders in fine wool suits?
    Thought police?
    Matt 23? Corruption/Bullying/Abuse in it’s finest hour?
    1 Nephi 8: 5-9 Warning of the result of following leaders to God?
    2 Nephi 28: 14-23 Our day? LDS in our day?
    Mormon 8: 32-41 Our day? But not US in our day?
    Ether 8: 24,25 It applied to every society, govt and church in the Bible and BoM, but not US??? They all fell from this, but not us?

    Who is most subject to falling to the agenda of corrupt men/the adversary? Those humbly on the lookout making course changes (repentance), or those who are proudly “impervious to error,” immune to the influence of “Saint’n” can lead us astray and “…does not apologize?” That’s part of repentance and course correction, but, for peasants, peons and pawns only?

    1. Further on the Community of Christ church (was RLDS) which Haley mentioned near the end. They lost many staunch members when they reformed and thus changed names too. They let Jesus “out of the trunk” and made appropriate changes and restorations to the narrative, rules and doctrines. They did this Christlike, with member input and real approval (not coerced) to unite members in Christ. They laid out their beliefs but did not force you to believe those standard defined beliefs which became much less rigid (of Christ).

      Love, acceptance and forgiveness first. No force, threats or punishment to make you believe in their particular version of Jesus in any particular forced way. Of Christ. No coercion to adopt and uphold only their less rigid (Christlike – Matt 7: 15-20 & Matt 23: 10-29) set out beliefs/doctrines.

      You will not be punished for questioning (Christlike – Matt 7: 15-20 & Matt 23: 10-29), not agreeing, having different views or for seeking further truth and light. Members have input and are not punished for a dissenting vote when they question if something IS of Christ.

      They are no longer the thought police nor the bedroom police… Hey, like Christ! Members and leaders who wanted mega-strong leaders or wanted proud high positions and forced salvation (the other brother’s plan) generally dropped out. The real Jesus didn’t really interest them. It was about leaders and endless rules to them (Matt 23: 10-29)

      1. I have to differ on this. The amount of outright lying that thethe “reformers” did to help avoid dissent from the membership eas horrible. I left that church because of it. The goals were worthy, but the way they were pursued was potty dirty.
        I won’t start on a tirade about it, but I can never trust the leadership ever again. That was one time that not having a state church was demonstrated as a necessity.

  4. I REALLY appreciate Haley’s humility and vulnerability. Thank you, Haley (and Bill) for this very useful and interesting episode. Haley was very careful about how she discussed the research and showed respect for people who may have otherwise been hurt, outed, or embarrassed. You don’t need a seer stone to recognize that jobs, careers and diplomas can be lost if the church leaders or BYU officials did not like the outcome. Or to recognize what this says about those leaders and officials, and what they fear (truth?). I also admire how honest she was about how learning what she did during this project impacted her “testimony” – or perspectives on certain truth claims of the church. I hope she succeeds and is joyful in all her endeavors.

  5. If only the community of Christ was growing strong!! It would be a signal that honesty and transparency work.

    However, if you look at the movie Come Sunday, you see how an inclusive and loving type of church doesn’t really gain much traction.

    There must be some level of forcefulness and coercion to hold it together else it apart. Unfortunately all love and acceptance doesn’t really work that well either.

    1. D. Michael Martindale

      So you’re actually saying the church cannot be honest and transparent? Well, if that isn’t revealing!

  6. These was an amazing discussion. I guess my decision to not be involved in the church was a good one. How I ever believed it was true is beyond me. It is has been tough to leave it behind, but I’m glad to learn the truth.

  7. She references papers articles and an upcoming book? Where can I find that. I also can’t seem to find anything on byu orca website. Is anyone able to link those items to me please?
    Thank you,

    1. I came here for the exact same purpose. I would love to know where these additional studies, books, and resources can be found.

  8. D. Michael Martindale

    Interesting information, but I feel compelled to comment on the astounding mushy thinking from you two in trying to “soften” the data to preserve some wiggle room for faith.

    Joseph Smith called the JST an inspired translation of the Bible. Demonstrating he plagiarized Adam Clark to produce it conclusively refutes that claim. Your effort to equate creative infusions Joseph put into the plagiarized material to divine inspiration is absurd. It’s called creativity, and as a storyteller, I do that all the time, so I know whereof I speak.

    Joseph Smith was adamant throughout his life that he was translating ancient writings by the power of God. This has been the “narrative,” as you call it, of the church for its entire existence until modern scholarship and the Internet blew that approach out of the water.

    To say the church’s lifelong narrative has to be “softened” and updated to a new narrative is nothing but postmodern gobbledygook. It’s an admission that the original narrative was a lie, and if you revise a lie to keep it viable, you end up with a revised lie, not a revitalized faith.

    Added to that is your blatant admission that the whole project was conducted with the intent of interpreting it and reporting it in as faithful a manner as possible. This is an admission that the study is heavily biased.

    And yet your conclusion was still that Joseph Smith plagiarized the JST. To come up with that conclusion even with and in spite of the heavily pro-faith bias of the methodology is damning evidence that there is no wiggle room for faith.

    Prominent church members in the past often admitted that there is no (postmodern) wiggle room between the acceptance or repudiation of Joseph’s claims to divine inspiraiton. “It’s either of God or the devil” was uttered on more than one occasion by more than one prominent member.

    When the claim has been to be an authorized and inspired speaker for God in a manner where the representatives of God cannot lead their followers astray, there is no room for a softened middle ground. Either they speak for God or they don’t. Either they can’t lead us astray or they can.

    In spite of your effort to categorize the two sides of the dichotomy as extremes and we need to find some squishy, feel-good middle ground that allows us to preserve our faith in the face of compelling evidence that the whole thing is a fraud, the fact is there is no middle ground. Either Joseph was an authentic prophet or a fraud, whether deliberately or self-deceived. This is not extremism. This is called logic.

    The increasingly silly apologetics that defenders of the faith have to resort to as more and more facts come out challenging Joseph and his claims is a testament to the fact that his claims are indeed indefensible.

    If you have to revise the claims of generations of those who are ostensibly divinely inspired spokesmen for God to preserve your faith, the game has already been lost. If you have to keep apologizing for your prophets and massaging the messages they preach just to preserve your faith in them as prophets, of what use is such a prophet anyway? We can never trust what he says, because we may have to soften it in the future.

    1. ahh D Michael – I feel what you are saying. I get it. I have those frustrated moments that feel like your comments really hit home for me. I suppose it might be like my old dog that is sick and I just don’t yet want to call the vet to schedule anything just yet.

    2. You’ve incorrectly characterized what Bill is trying to achieve. The false narrative the church has promoted for so long will not be undone in one fell swoop. It will be gradually, even glacially, dismantled. With this interview, I think Bill very effectively establishes the idea that, first, JS was no ignoramus from the sticks, and second, the available evidence demonstrates that JS could have regularly pilfered from other sources even if no contemporaneous accounts mention those sources. If those ideas gain traction, walls will tumble.

      1. Put another way [and correct me if I am wrong] because no record states what other books or items were in the translating rooms during the work the church has either created or allowed the idea that JS did the transation in a vacuum so-to-speak.

  9. God works in mysterious ways……

    To those of us who believe in God, how do we continue to believe in the LDS fallible, puny god?

    God the Father was not mentioned in the early version of Joseph’s experience in the grove. And was not even included in his family’s reminiscences of his Joseph’s youth. Yet Joseph Smith has the Father strolling casually through the school of prophets in a business suit?????????? The same God the Father who couldn’t be bothered to show up in person to His Only Begotten Son’s baptism in the New Testament?? So is JS more important to God than Jesus? It appears to be so.

    Joseph Smith was a wonderful storyteller, with a fertile mind — who used whatever material available which pleased him. His mom recalls how he could tell of ancient people, even describing their manner of dress, etc, long before the “gold plates” were ‘discovered’.

    The many stories about his persecution from other religions is mostly bogus. He was rejected by those religions for his less than stellar character, so he created his own religion to promote what he thought was good at the time.

    For someone who had seen and conversed with gods and angels, he sure changed his theology a lot. That should be a glaring reason to question his facts. If God is real, He (God) would not have to keep reinventing the truth. One and done. Why worship a god who doesn’t know the outcome from the beginning? Black & priesthood? Polygamy and polyandry? Adam-God Theory?

    There are just too many questions without reasonable answers within the LDS church.

    This podcast helps to highlight up some of those unanswered questions. Great job Bill and Haley Lemmon. I very much appreciate your posting this podcast.

  10. Bill:

    There is ample evidence that Joseph Smith didn’t excercise tight control over material that WAS published with his name on it. Just look at all the edits by Rigdon and Cowdery in Revelation Book 1. And the JST WASN’T even published (in Joseph’s lifetime). To assume that a change here and there with Clark’s footprint on it couldn’t be the contribution of Rigdon just isn’t warranted. Why do you even imagine that every change was from Joseph? From my perspective Rigdon adding Clarke’s ideas in a dozen places seems much more consistent with what we know both about Rigdon and about Joseph’s egalitarian views of translation than the rather silly idea that he was memorizing Clark’s commentary in private and then quoting those ideas with precision during his translation. You imagine Joseph Smith as a genius. Emma, who knew him far better than you or I said, “Joseph Smith … could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter…” “The truth’s out there” but Joseph as a genius scholar ain’t it. Keep digging. You’ll find the truth and when you do it won’t feel like you’re guessing.

    McKay Platt

  11. The ignostic atheist

    My institute director once said that to read the Bible without taking into account the JST was the equivalent of learning (or teaching) false doctrine. This podcast set that bologna straight.

    Thank you for sharing your research and story Haley. Both were fascinating.

  12. Hello, Bill 21 February 2019

    A few thoughts on Clarke’s Commentary and the Joseph Smith Translation

    First on prophecy.
    The idea that prophecy and inspiration flow whole and untouched from the learning, language, culture and customs of a prophet’s time is not always the case. For example, Bible prophets. What comes is crystal clear at times, and more like a noisy phone line at other times, for example some of what Paul has to say, or even Moses. That prophecy is not easily obtained is shown in 1 Nephi 5:21, for one “And we had obtained the records which the Lord had commanded us, and searched them and found that they were desirable; yea, even of great worth unto us, insomuch that we could preserve the commandments of the Lord unto our children.” This means God’s effort of sending it all again is not trivial, and it is apparent when God uses power Satan can use equal and opposite power. God is economical in sending inspiration to prophets – and to people, for that and other reasons. We make our beds, and He will let us lay in them because that’s what we thought we wanted.

    Second on use of the terms plagiarism, borrowing and lifting.
    Let’s transport to the first half of 19th century frontier America, to a prophet who is correcting the King James Version of the Bible, and to his scribes. You said in the podcast, “I want to ask … if you can give us a feel for just how much Joseph is directly borrowing, and for the sake of this conversation I think it is fair to say “plagiarized” and I think plagiarism in the 1840’s or 1835 would have been much different understanding than today’s scholarly way of seeing plagiarism. Can you give us a feel for just how much plagiarism Joseph is doing…?”
    Wikipedia on plagiarism says “the modern concept of plagiarism as immoral and originality as an ideal emerged in Europe in the 18 century, particularly with the Romantic Movement.”
    Bill the use of the word plagiarism is inappropriate. Joseph indeed may have used Clarke’s Commentary and other sources to help as he worked, and when in agreement incorporated them. Why not? Our modern day concept of plagiarism, borrowing and lifting were probably not even a part of his culture. How about using the word “used” instead? That does not preclude prophetic vision, but “plagiarized” “borrowed” and “lifted” do.

    Third, on upending the Church’s narrative.
    The problem begins with perspective. It appears there is an unstated underlying conceptualization in the podcast and some of the “Thoughts” following it that if the narrative of the Church can be upended, the game is over, the Church (and Joseph Smith) will be proven to be a hoax. However the problem with that perspective is that although it may dissuade some, many including myself are not associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints because of “the narrative of the Church” which definitely has and will continue to change as a function of the needs of the Saints and the times and the inspiration or lack thereof of those in charge and/or those who are members of it. We agree that they can err, as does “the narrative of the Church” from time to time, fallen prey to the desires for power so common to organized religions historically. So why are many if not most not dissuaded? Why has and is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints growing by leaps and bounds? Here’s why, Bill: Because knowing they have receive inspiration and revelation from God by the Holy Ghost, they are trying to live loyal to it, even though weak. It’s not about the narrative of the Church, it’s about hearing God’s voice.
    We agree that Joseph Smith the Prophet was neither perfect nor infallible. We know he committed sin, and was rebuked by the Lord from time to time. If he used Clarke’s Commentary – so what, Bill? No big deal. Where ever revelation comes from, it is still revelation. Through a seer stone, through study of the Scriptures, through a near death experience, through watching a spider or the sky, or through Clarke’s Commentary, the source does not matter, if God is speaking, then He is speaking and the only question is can we hear what He has to say. Even in mid-19th century, even when not attributing the source.

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