The timeline is here for all those no sure what I'm talking about:
But I've heard the feedback and the cry: "What does it all mean?!" So this is the TL;DR version and my supposition about events.
Bear in mind I had no belief in the Spaulding-Rigdon theory when I started. It was nothing more than a conspiracy theory baked up by E. Howe to destroy the church. But I love a good conspiracy theory. Not to believe it, but to understand what people do with conflicting data (Whenever there is conflicting data and high stakes, conspiracy-theory arises). Whether that is in the work place (He says that our growth is due to his marketing techniques, but really we know it's our product line) or in Government (The Illuminati do it all!) it's always fascinated me how some people believe it so strongly and others dismiss it so casually (fun fact, my study of the Masons came from when I studied the Templar in College. From there I studied the original Illuminati as it was part of the masonic lodges originally.).
But walking into the Spaulding-Rigdon theory, I gave it a 0% chance of being true.
Then I saw "Who really wrote the Book of Mormon on Youtube". I was impressed. Not so much at the word print (At the time I dismissed that as having too small a sample size) but at the amount of data Dr. Criddle had assembled. So, I set out to disprove the Spaulding-Rigdon theory. After watching the video I gave it maybe a 25% chance at the highest.
Got that? My whole time, I'm trying to prove, the null hypothesis false.
So I drafted two plans. One was "If it were true, what would I expect to see". The second is "If it were false, what predictions would be made".
Here is a rough copy of my plan:
If the Spaulding-Rigdon were true:
Someone would talk. Look for key witnesses who spilled the beans
Joseph and Sidney would have good reason to attack individuals who left who were key
Joseph and Sidney should be closely tied in multiple matters.
Communication would need to be frequent between them
Individuals should notice this beyond those who had financial incentive to do so
Joseph and Sidney would each have motivation to forge a religious document (Joseph was simple, he was poor. But Sidney, why would he get into it?).
There would exist some key evidence. A letter between Joseph and Sidney, or something similar that would be a dead giveaway.
If the Spaulding-Rigdon were false:
There would not be motive, means or opportunity for Sidney to have done it.
There would be no possible link between Joseph and Sidney
There would be a flaw in the thought that Spaulding and Sidney could be connected
Joseph Smith would know the Book of Mormon far better than Sidney Rigdon.
As I researched, I began to become more and more upset at how many things lined up with Spaulding Rigdon
You have to understand, I didn't want it to be true. It would mean a complete revamp of my life (I was still TBM at this point). Divorce seemed a possibility. My family wouldn't respect me. This was not something I approached lightly, nor was I looking for an "Excuse to sin". Goodness knows we still have Family Home Evening on Monday nights, We still read scriptures daily with the kids, I'm still not a heavy drinker. etc. Up until I stopped attending church I was still responsible for 1/5 the home teaching in the ward. There was no "Sin" I was looking for an excuse to commit.
- Oliver Cowdery's partner claimed that Oliver confessed the Spaulding-Rigdon theory was true. Lang (his partner) waited until Oliver was dead to reveal this, out of respect for the man. This behavior is very typical of individuals who confess secrets and Lang had no motive to make it up. (05 November, 1881 letter from Lang to Thomas Gregg. See timeline entry for this date for excerpt text from letter)
- Sidney Rigdon threatened to "Expose Mormonism" pretty much since the first tar and feathering including threatening to slit Joseph and Emma's throats on that occasion (Emma Smith, Mormon Enigma. Pages on tar and feathering) . In 1833, (Just after Fanny Alger, and before the KSS is started) Sidney threatens to expose mormonism and is "Tossed about by a Devil and laid up for 5 weeks" in a room where he was alone with Joseph and Hyrum (both big guys). Sidney was a smaller man. This is significant because it is before polygamy was instigated (See my polygamy timeline for details). He threatens to expose mormonism again when his niece is proposed to by Joseph Smith as a plural wife. Also Significant is that Sidney had nothing to say about polygamy, but was privy to the Fanny Alger transaction if not more of Joseph's dealings until Joseph proposed to one of his own household. And again when the saints chose Brigham over him after Joseph's death. Sidney writes the saints in Utah and suggests they need to come back to him because he has the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon (Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon a Portrait of Excess (I don't have the specific page yet)). Sidney requests all his papers burned at his wife's death (Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon a Portrait of Excess p.456) (Because she was supposed to burn them if he died, and feeling insecure about anyone else doing it, burns them when she is no longer able to fulfill that roll. None of this makes any sense if Joseph is the sole author
- Joseph did not teach from the Book of Mormon. Every recorded speech made by Joseph for at least the first 10 years of the church (There is some debate in King Follett) has Joseph quoting large portions of the bible, but nothing from the Book of Mormon. Rigdon, on the other hand quotes the Book of Mormon verbatim, and frequently
- Rigdon became equal in power to Joseph so quickly, it upset other church leaders. What follows is a clear set of activities that strips Joseph of his closest friends and allies, and sets up close friends to Rigdon in powerful positions over anyone loyal to Joseph. Over the years, this power slowly shifts to Joseph.
- When Oliver leaves the church, Sidney gives a speech telling the saints to kill those who left. This is significant because prior to this, lots of people left the church, but no one is saying those who leave should be murdered. This speech is what gets Bogg's extermination order, that drives them from Missouri. Oliver Granger? No speech. A whole host of people are excommunicated in the early days (Many come back as well). But Rigdon/Smith are far more upset when Oliver Cowdery leaves.
- Joseph and Sidney shared about 10 revelations (in the Dandamp;C). Not just Dandamp;C 76, but actually several revelations where given to the two of them together (See timeline entries indicated as [Dual]. This is hard to explain if Joseph is the single author, or even if the church were true. Sure in the early days of the church, everyone received revelations and Joseph wasn't the clear prophet. But why it would be Joseph and Sidney. Not Joseph and Oliver? Not Joseph and Brigham? Not Joseph and the leader of the high council. Always Joseph and Sidney.
- Joseph and Sidney were in it together for the Kirtland Safety Society. Notice that the government doesn't fine Joseph and Oliver (First and second elders in the church) for the Kirtland Safety Society. No, the Government recognizes Joseph and Sidney equally responsible for the Kirtland Safety Society's illegal banking. Whether you accept the judgement as just or not, the point is, that the two got into schemes together often.
- A pattern emerges when you look at other translation efforts by Joseph. Joseph produced more than the Book of Mormon. He also translated the bible (primarily with Sidney), The Book of Abraham (Sidney and Parley were both key), and the Kinderhook plates (Again with a group of individuals). Why he would produce one book alone when he follows the pattern of assembling the same group of individuals over and over. well to me it looks like a clear pattern.
- Rigdon had means, motive and opportunity. When you look at the timeline, Rigdon is missing at the very times one would expect him to go missing (During when the 116 pages are lost, during the publication of the Book of Mormon, and during some major spouts of revelation). He is not missing during the month of June 1829, however which does not fit the theory. Rigdon's motives were to convince his friends Walter Scott and Alexander Campbell that various doctrines they were teaching were incorrect. Campbell and Scott both denounced the Book of Mormon as Sidney's creation and pointed out the similarities fairly quickly after its publication. Sidney also worked with a printer that had the completed Spaulding manuscript, providing book bindings.
- Palmyra and Kirtland were both on the Erie Canal. In 1822 the Eerie canal went all the way to Palmyra. This means that from 1822 on, the fastest way to communicate in the United States is between where Joseph and Sidney were located. Something like finding out that two individuals who started a religion in 1996 were both first adopters of the internet.
- Inside of both the Spaulding document, and in the Book of Mormon, are movements that appear to be copied out of an earlier text about George Washington. This is akin to finding a smoking gun for a different crime at a new crime scene. There is just no good reason that 1700 tactics and movements should show up in a pre-musket document from 1000 years prior. And that both documents have the same phrases and mistakes copied really implies that someone copied someone. And since Spaulding died before the Book of Mormon started, it must be that Joseph/Rigdon copied him.
I wish I could write down a fully scientific form of procedure. That I had time, resources and a PHD that would allow me to sit down and just plow through this. Instead I had a family, a day job, and a burning curiosity.
During my early years I took fastidious notes during seminary and on my mission. As well, I do have a very detailed memory. Between the two, I began to wonder particularly about Helen Mar Kimball. I had read only a bit about her and most of it from FAIR. I decided to approach her situation by researching what FAIR said for accuracy. I'd take each line and compare it to what I could find online, as well as in my own notes.
This lead to a sort of "Hypothesis, check FAIR, check Official documents, check historical documents." Approach. Often my Hypothesis would start with something claimed at church such as "Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery received the Melchizedek Priesthood on the banks of the Susquehanna river in 1824." and then see if I could verify anything verifiable in the statements by any historical evidence.
This lead to a lot of revisions, and if one views my full comment history on reddit, one can see that I began with several suppositions that I later had to give up. Most of them in favor of the church, because the weigh of evidence was against the claims of the church.
Further, my approach was very much based on the need to state whenever I was wrong. Openly and directly. Many times I've had to go back on my claims or statements because individuals found better evidence that supported another viewpoint. This has gone both ways: pro-LDS and against LDS claims have both been supported out of this kind of discussion.
At one point, I realized that many of these changes were driving conclusions that really illustrated how much power Sidney Rigdon had in the Church, and how thoroughly he's been written out of it. This pushed me to do a systematic reading of all of my notes, the church manuals, and the historical documents in chronological order, looking over and reviewing each incident in Mormon history to see if it colored the story in favor of, or against the Spaulding Rigdon theory.
My basic hypothesis for the entire journey was "The Spaulding-Rigdon Theory holds less credibility than the story currently put forward by the LDS church". I had to reject the null hypothesis on multiple occasions. Everything from the Melchizedek priesthood being given, and the first vision all the way to Joseph's reasons for dying are heavily altered by the LDS church. By no means have I concluded that there is enough evidence that only the Spaulding-Rigdon theory is left, but I can say without hesitation that there is far more evidence for it, than there is for the official story that church leadership presents in manuals, at conference and weekly at local congregations.
This Timeline is the compilation of all of these discussions, the notes, the rejection of hypothesis, and so forth. In fact, one could claim this entire blog is built around what I found while taking this journey. The first vision timeline was constructed while attempting to verify the LDS tale as compared to whether Sidney/Joseph could have been working together. The Polygamy timeline was constructed looking for whether polygamy was given to leadership as the LDS church would indicate (Say the 12 apostles, and the seventy) or whether it was a power grab from Rigdon (With close associates of Joseph who were already loyal being skipped, such as Porter Rockwell, but those who were associated heavily with Rigdon being deeply involved, such as Parley P. Pratt). Each step of the way, like a woven tapestry, I refined, played out hypothesis, read the history, and then had to accept or reject.
History is not a science, nor am I a PHD historian. However, I did attempt to use as much of a scientific approach as I could as I continued.
Further, I was trained to do historical analysis in my Economics of History course taught at BYU. There we were trained to look at slavery and the economic impact by it. When there was not enough data, we were taught to sign and measure the bias.
For example, there is only one record in all of history in which a slave owner recorded whipping the slaves (Source: Time on the Cross). Now this could be because they were so ashamed of it, that no slave owner discussed it. It could be that "whipping" was a punishment rarely used, but looks good on screen and hence was invented by Hollywood as a general expression of the treatment of slaves.
We were trained to find the sources, and then look at which direction the data pointed in. Helen Mar Kimball is a trusted source because she stayed faithful to Joseph all her life. She has very little reason to lie about the polygamous relationship. Her motives make her biased in favor of the LDS perspective. Her bias for Joseph will be large. Her discussions of polygamy later in life are very much in favor of the practice. Hence I trust when she gives dates and facts, that she is not lying just to make Joseph look bad.
Similarly, after the tar and feathering, when Sidney yells out he wants a razor to slit Joseph and Emma's throats, the person recording it is shocked by the request. They stay faithful and are not out to smear Joseph nor Sidney. It's simply an entry in a journal of a shocked person. The bias is small, but still in favor of Joseph and Sidney. These kind of details are what I tried to focus on, rather than the heavily anti-mormon claims, or the heavily pro-mormon claims.
A final example. The story of Brigham Young appearing as Joseph, after Joseph died, has no contemporary evidence. The story springs up in conference years later in Utah (in the 1850?s.) After that, it appears in other people's journals. Individuals DID write what happened on that day, and even quoted Brigham, but none of them recorded any transfiguration at all at the time. This is again, biased in favor of the LDS point of view in every way, but I must reject the story of Brigham transmogrifying into Joseph, because there is no evidence to support it at the time of the occurrence.
I hope this helps individuals weigh over what I used as evidence, what considerations went into my timelines. I hope they can read the sources for themselves, weigh over the bias and form their own testable hypothesis.
Finally, I am often accused of being anti-mormon. My motivations are often stated on my behalf. Let me be as clear as I can be. I began merely with questions and used 100% church sources and eventually had to reject the claims of the church once rigorous methodology was applied. My goal is in no way to destroy a religion nor to deconvert. My goal is to expose lies, promote truth, and cut through deception. If any individual after reading the full historical details decides the religion is still for them, I harbor no ill-will nor angst towards that person at all. I am fully against leadership who believes that individuals will fall away unless those individuals are deceived. Correlation and its need to sweep away every blemish from the very human church history is what I am against. Let the LDS faith, and any other mormon faith fully embrace the historical record as it stands and not promote stories with no historical evidence and I would be satisfied that it would become a grand institution. Until then, I will oppose the deception of the membership.
This section under construction along with links to suppositions
Also the first vision, the official version was clearly not written by Smith. There is good evidence that it was written by Rigdon while Smith was sill in the liberty Jail (This is the 1839 version printed in the Pearl of Great Price) because dates of when sisters were born, when the revival happened, etc. are all off. Things that Joseph would have known. Also the flowery language is much more Rigdon. Joseph was out of Liberty Jail by the time it was published, so he was aware, but the whole thing sounds like Rigdon. So why 1820 when nothing matches? I think it was to cover up that they met each other. They set Joseph's first experience with Deity to be before the two could be tied (the Spaulding Rigdon affidavits had been published by 5 years before this point). The first vision, in all its rewritten glory, is evidence for the Spaulding Rigdon theory. Otherwise why have Rigdon help write it, and why have it re-written so different from the original versions Joseph told. No, they had a need to have God talk to Joseph long before the Moroni 1824 visit, and I think that was to cover up their connection.
Between all of this I began to seriously consider the Spaulding-Rigdon theory as plausible. When you find that Campbell's group also discovered forged scripture and that Rigdon is the most likely author, it suddenly jumps to the fore-front of possibilities.
My own personal rendition of the story
All the details will never be known, but this is, with my knowledge of con-artists, magicians and the timeline, my own belief of how events took place. No one should get too caught up if one portion of this story is disproven or shifted. That's how history works. It's okay to not be perfect when reconstructing it as long as we are moving closer to the truth, instead of trying to hide details.
Joseph Smith Jr. dug a well for Spaulding's widow's neighbor. Rigdon went preaching in the the north east. We also have two accounts from Lorenzo Saunders that Rigdon ate dinner with Samuel Lawrence, a seer in the vicinity of Joseph Smith, who Joseph's parents paid for magical services on behalf of their son.
Rigdon has need of a "Weak and Simple thing". This seems key to the whole plan. He's recently out of being a baptist minister and still upset, he begins to rework the document. He talks to his magical friend, Samuel Lawrence, about producing a document and Samuel Lawrence recommends his pupil, Joseph Smith Jr. At first they decide to make a child do it to be the weak and simple things, but when Joseph's child dies. Joseph fills in for the plan.
Rigdon fashions a fake set of plates out of lead, but it turns out to be far more difficult than he thought as does re-working the manuscript. He is unable to make it to the 1825 meeting of Samuel Lawrence and Joseph Smith on the hill cumorah. Interestingly, it is Samuel Lawerence who first mentions Nephite interpreters being with the plates (or Willard Chase is lying) which puts him clearly in on the whole thing. Finally he gives up on making a full set of plates and only makes a few, plus a "Sealed portion" which is hollow, into which he places the manuscript (this accounts for the weight being 60 lbs. when it should have been closer to 200 Joseph mentions "lead" as a way to make fake plates to Martin Harris as lead is similar in weight to gold. This fake set of plates that are hollow accounts for all the various people who touch, hold or feel the plates throughout the years).
Joseph, meanwhile finds a mark. Martin Harris. A man with money who is ready to believe anything. He builds up a rapport with the man by finding pins and such.
Rigdon becomes a minister again and puts in some of his main arguments with his counter parts. Then he makes an excuse to be in a town only 60 miles from Joseph around September 22, 1827. He then makes the drive and deposits the plates. Joseph takes Joseph Knight's wagon and Emma (Whom he has convinced to marry him partly on the grounds that he cannot get the plates without her). He gets the plates and hides them.
Joseph's father also does something curious. He goes to Samuel Lawrence's house the night Joseph is getting the plates and eves-drops. How did Joseph Smith Sr. know that Samuel Lawrence would be doing something unless Samuel Lawrence knew about the whole plot.
He then needs to convince his family not to try to look at the plates because they are a poor excuse. He comes up with the idea that anyone looking at them will be killed, and talks about having to fight off men, when really they were just so heavy they dislocated his thumb alone. He then goes to Willard Chase, a man whom he has signed an agreement with to give part of the treasure to, for anything they have found, and tells him he needs a wooden chest to keep Golden Plates in.
Then Joseph takes the wooden chest and smashes it himself. When the family comes back, they all see it, and are convinced. They noise it abroad that others are after the plates. Willard and Sally, meanwhile, get huge credibility that Sally can really find lost things (Sally was also trained as a seer by Samuel Lawerence) because Joseph's claim is that Sally found the box, but not the plates.
This explains the mobs that occur frequently during this time period. They are Joseph Smith's treasure hunting friends whom he signed an agreement to share with, along with Samuel Lawrence who is afraid Sidney is going to cut him out of the deal (and Sidney does).
Joseph begins translation with Emma. He learns Jerusalem has a wall around it and is surprised. Again, not very likely if he was sole author. He translates with Martin using the stone-in-the-hat trick that Martin is already primed to believe in. Joseph takes each page, places it in the white straw hat and puts the hat to the fire (this was demonstrated during the 1826 trial of Joseph Smith). He then has light to read the page. After a page is "Translated" he puts it in the fire and reads the next page. This is how Joseph is able to "Pick back up again when they end without needing anything re-read to him" because Joseph always finishes at the end of the page. It also explains him needing to spell out names.
Harris's wife, Lucy, is a real fly in the ointment. She is always looking for the plates and if she finds them, the gig is up. Then the 116 pages happen.
Joseph is at first worried they'll be caught. He's afraid the gig is up. He's afraid that a very real person will be mad with him.
Then Joseph does something curious, he begins to translate again before the interpreters are given back to him. He finishes the Book of Mormon via the stone in the hat, with no interpreters used again. Anyone claiming that "The stone was prepatory" or that he no longer needed the interpreters needs to explain why it was when Joseph was out of favor with God, and decided to start translating on his own, that he suddenly was prepared.
Anyway, he translates the rest of Mosiah with Emma, and it's slow, and cumbersome. Joseph is afraid that Emma will find out about the plates or how he's doing the "trick". Maybe she does, she was no dim watt bulb. Anyway, Joseph complains to Sidney, and Sidney talks to a recent convert, parley p. pratt. Parley's first cousin just happens to be teaching Joseph Smith's father, and Oliver shows up, pretending not to know anything about the whole thing.
Oliver and Joseph then "Translate" the manuscript in a record short time. At about 6 pages a day. Revelation during this time period limit Joseph's power (they are changed later, which drives David Whitmer out of the church). Sidney Rigdon shows up to smooth things over with Samuel Lawerence in the summer of 1827, perhaps buying him off. Rigdon shows up in the summer of 1828, and again has a gap in 1829 about the time when the book of Mormon is published.
Then Rigdon goes back to Kirtland and preaches about a new book coming forward. Meanwhile Joseph has started baptising people. While Rigdon is in town he authorizes a church to be formed. The book of Mormon is published and 3 months later Rigdon is identified as author. Then another newspaper mentions it. And another.
But converts are happening, people are rolling in. Parley P. Pratt is sent on a mission to the Palmyra area by Sidney's congregation. He tells his wife they are going to visit relatives. Then he slips off the boat, leaving her to finish the trip alone, and goes straight to where his first cousin is living. He finds a copy of the book of Mormon and reads the entire thing with "Eating being a burden" (because he was involved in its production). He shows up, is baptized by his cousin, and then both of them head straight for Sidney Rigdon.
Sidney and Parley's journals both record his conversion took a long time, but it turns out it was only a week. Sidney tells the entire congregation to join the mormons and they throw him out. He then goes up to visit Joseph. All of these men put a big ta-do in about never having seen Joseph before. No one else really does.
Joseph gets a revelation to move everyone to Kirtland. They do. Then once people start arriving, Sidney suggests they check out the newly opened up indian territory in Missouri. They do. They return and send all of Joseph's poor folk friends out to Missouri. Sidney thinks he's incharge, but everyone wants to meet the prophet. Joseph gains popularity. The lands consecrated show up in large quantities and Joseph finds himelf land rich, but cash poor. They start the bank. The Bank fails.
Sidney and Joseph vie for power. Rigdon keeps putting people like Edward Partridge (A kirtlander) over Joseph's people, but people keep falling to be faithful to Joseph due to his charisma. Finally Joseph meets John C. Bennett, a first degree scoundrel, and Joseph knows it. Joseph puts him into power immediately because Joseph needs to keep secrets and Bennett knows how. Bennett gets him into Masonry, and suddenly Joseph knows how to build and maintain power.
What follows is Joseph converting the key powerful figures from Sidney over to be loyal to him via the endowment and polygamy. Secrets and secrets. It goes fine until he tries it with Sidney's niece. Then William and Jane law. It breaks down with the Expositor actually threatening to expose Joseph's power scheme and the church splitting after Joseph's death.
Sidney takes those who will come, along with those converts out east he found while running for vice president under Joseph's presidential ticket. He can't reveal the truth because his power is dependent upon the book of Mormon still. He longs for the days when the converts were high in number and writes to Brigham. "I could do it again" is his message with the sealed portion.
But he can't. He needs the front man. For all his dynamic speaking, he's not Joseph.
So do I believe the theory. I don't know. I think so at this point. The main point is that the evidence matches so much better the Spaulding-Rigdon theory than the "official church" theory, that I think it is not worth dismissing off-hand as every apologist ever has done.
And that it is worth Doubting the Doubts about the Spaulding-Rigdon theory before doubting one's faith in it.