Joseph Smith Seer Stones: Don Bradley’s Insights into Joseph’s Translations (Part 3)

Todd Noall

Todd Noall

Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

Fact Checked by Kevin Prince

So moving on to the subject of the 116 pages of The Book of Mormons which is still loosely connected to the topic of Joseph Smith seer stones, most of what I’ve got on that’s going to be in chapter four of my book. But there are 40-some sources, historical sources, that talk about that subject. And one of the things I’ve done in terms of analysis, that had not been done before, is I have taken all of those sources and I’ve arranged them chronologically. Because I wanted to see how the story changed with time? And once I did that things just started to pop out. And I’ve mentioned this before but one of the keys to doing history right is just getting events in the right order. So once you put those accounts in the right order, you start to see the pattern. 

So the pattern we see is that early on there is some suspicion that falls on Martin Harris’s wife, Lucy Harris from Martin. But there’s nothing said about her destroying manuscripts, there’s no concept that she’s destroyed it. It’s more ideas like she’s hidden it or she’s given it to someone else, or whatnot. And then the idea that it was Lucy Harris, and that she takes it and burns it, doesn’t appear until the 1850s, about a quarter of a century after the theft. And when it does first appear, it appears in an account where the person writing is purely speculating. They say they think it was her, but then they say she either hid it or burned it. So that’s a clear acknowledgement, but we don’t know. Now the next person who cites that person writing in the early 1860s, they now use basically the exact words which shows they’re relying on this earlier account. But they say she either hid it or burned it but it’s supposed to be the latter. So they’re quoting the earlier person’s uncertainty but they’re saying, ‘we think it’s probably that she burned it.’ The next account a few years later, in publication, just says that she burned it. 

Okay, so it’s gone from conjecture, ‘it’s got to be this or this, but we don’t know,’ to, ‘it’s got to be this or this but probably this,’ to, ‘forget this. It’s this.’ Then the further you get in time from the actual events, the more likely it is that someone will give the story that was burned. So as a historian, what I want to see is, what are people saying as you get closer and closer to the event because that’s when people actually knew stuff. What they’re saying the further and further you get from the event is how the folklore shapes, right? So my friend, Chris Blythe, that’s what he’s into. He doesn’t care so much what happened, he’s more fascinated by the stories about it. But I want to know what happened. So I’m looking at it like, this story that she burned it, this is a late story that gets reinforced more and more with time. 

And partly, I think it makes a better story, right? And this can be applied to a variety of narratives like Fanny Alger, and the two seer stone. The further away that it gets, the more sensational the stories get, right? When actually, when you get down to the real history, it’s far more benign. The original thing is, ‘we know what happened to this thing.’ Well, that’s boring, so it’s like a game of Clue or something. It turns into, ‘it was the disgruntled wife in the kitchen, you know, with the torch.’ And so you can actually think about this and picture the wife with like, the angry look on her face, casting the pages into the fire and the flames, right? And that’s a great image, so I think that’s why this sticks. It’s the concept of mimetics. And the idea of a meme has now come to mean like an image that gets spread on the internet, but it comes from an earlier idea where a meme is just like an idea that’s good at spreading itself. So the idea that you should have lots of kids in your religion, that’s a good meme because people who have lots of kids tend to spread that idea to their offspring, right? That’s one of those certain ideas that are better at spreading themselves. There are no shakers around anymore because they didn’t believe in procreating. So that’s not a very good meme because it doesn’t spread well. So some narratives, some stories are better at spreading themselves. Well, a more powerful image is better at spreading itself then a narrative we don’t know for certain. That doesn’t spread. 

So then I started looking into who the suspects are. So the Harris’s son-in-law, Flanders Dike, makes a great suspect. I mean, I think if this were a modern crime, he would be questioned for sure. No question about that. Especially given his history. So we all know Martin Harris pestered the Lord to let him take that manuscript. But why? God says no and he’s like, ‘Oh, come on.’ God says no again, and Martin meets him with, ‘oh, come on’ again, and he keeps going. So why does he keep pestering God? Well, the key is actually the timeline. Joseph tells us that Martin was down in Harmony helping prepare for him to produce this manuscript, between about April 12 and June 14. 

So then I started creating a timeline of what’s going on with the Harris family during that time? Well, it turns out that in upstate New York, Martin Harris made his money from farming. He’s an expert farmer. It turns out that the planting season in upstate New York is mid-April to mid-June. When was Martin down in Pennsylvania? Mid-April to mid-June. He misses the planting season. Now, he’s the guy in charge of the farm so he would have had farmhands, I’m sure, doing something. But he’s the guy who had the expert knowledge to supervise everybody. All the locals talked about, ‘Well, he was wacky in his religious beliefs, but that guy really was an expert farmer.’ He knew everything, you know, it only makes sense that he’d be there yet he’s not there. So then in the Palmyra newspaper, during that same period, May 8 1828, there’s a notice in the newspaper saying that Martin Harris’s daughter, Lucy Harris Jr. has married Flanders Dike in Palmyra. So guess who not only missed the whole planting season on his farm, but his own daughter’s wedding? 

So he knows he cannot go home. He can’t say, ‘if you could only see this manuscript, then you would know why I missed the planting season and our daughter’s wedding.’ No, no, no, no. He’s gotta have something to actually show for repairing that level of sacrifice from his family. That’s why he insisted on taking the manuscript, okay. But the family is unhappy with him. The wife is unhappy with him. But the daughter, Lucy, and the son-in-law, whose wedding he did not go to, they’re probably not too happy with them either. So we have an account from Lucy Mack Smith saying that at one point, the son-in-law, Flanders Dike, actually steals the Anthon transcript. And he later returns it, but he steals it for a time. So he’s unhappy with Martin Harris over things that have to do with the Book of Mormon translation and Joseph Smith seer stones, because Martin missed the wedding, we know he’s stealing documents related to the Book of Mormon translation, and it turns out, he’s from a family of swindlers. So there’s an account in the Wayne Sentinel Palmyra newspaper in 1830, saying Flanders Dike has skipped town with $1,000 of other people’s goods and money. And it says this is like the fifth such con that members of this family have pulled in the area in the last few years and it enumerates other crimes by members of his family. So he comes from a family of swindlers. And then the next time he’s mentioned in the newspaper is a few years later, when he’s escaped from jail. So he’s not the only suspect, but he’s a very good one.

By Todd Noall, Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

Fact Checked by Mr. Kevin Prince, Source Expert

Kevin Prince is a religious scholar and host of the Gospel Learning Youtube channel. His channel has garnered over 41,000 subscribers and accumulated over 4.5 million views. Mr. Prince also created the Gospel Learning App, a reliable platform where individuals seeking truth can access trustworthy answers to religious questions from top educators worldwide.

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