How could Joseph Smith have written the Book of Mormon if he was “ignorant” and a man of “limited education”?
The full details of Joseph Smith’s education are not completely known, but the best estimates are that he had the possibility to have up to seven years formal schooling. It is unlikely that Joseph had seven years as he stated that his family duties deprived him and his brothers the benefit of an education.
Irrespective of the number of years of schooling he had, we know that he was considered to be uneducated and ignorant by those favorable to him and by critics:
- Martin Harris, who was one of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon said that Joseph was “a poor writer, and could not even draw up a note of hand as his education was so limited.” (Simon Smith to the editor, April 30, 1884, Saints’ Herald 31 (May 24, 1884): 324)
- Another witness, David Whitmer said Joseph was “illiterate” (The Golden Tables,” Chicago Times, August 7, 1875, 1), a “man of limited education,” and “ignorant of the Bible.” (M. J. Hubble, interview, November 13, 1886)
- His wife Emma said Joseph “could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter; let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, it is marvelous to me, ‘a marvel and a wonder,’ as much so as to any one else.” (Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Herald, 1 Oct. 1879, p. 290)
- He was called “an ignoramus” by The Gem of Rochester in May 1830 (Francis Kirkham, New Witness for Christ in America, 2:56)
- He was referred to as “That spindle shanked ignoramus Jo Smith,” in the Palmyra Reflector in June 1830 (Francis Kirkham, New Witness for Christ in America, 2:56)
- He was called an “ignoramus” who “can neither read nor write” by Obediah Dogberry in July 1830 (Francis Kirkham, New Witness for Christ in America, 2:53-54)
- He was said to have “but little expression of countenance, other than that of dullness; his mental powers appear to be extremely limited, and from the small opportunity he had had in school, he made little or no proficiency. We have never been able to learn that any of the family were ever noted for much else than ignorance and stupidity.” by Obediah Dogberry (Francis Kirkham, New Witness for Christ in America, 2:64)
- He was said to be “as ignorant and as impudent a knave as ever wrote a book,” an “ignorant and impudent liar.” by preacher-son Alexander Campbell (Francis Kirkham, New Witness for Christ in America, 2:105-106)
- Alexander Campbell said that “Joseph Smith is a very ignorant man” (Francis Kirkham, New Witness for Christ in America, 2:105-106)
- Joseph was “a perfect ignoramus” – David I. Burnett, editor of the Evangelical Inquirer, in March 1831 (Francis Kirkham, New Witness for Christ in America, 2:112)
- He was a “blockhead” according to critic Origen Bacheler (Francis Kirkham, New Witness for Christ in America, 2:160)
- Isaac Hale, Joseph Smith’s father-in-law said “I first became acquainted with Joseph Smith Jr. in November, 1825. … His appearance at this time, was that of a careless young man—not very well educated.” (Isaac Hale as quoted in E. D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed: or, A Faithful Account of That Singular Imposition and Delusion, from Its Rise to the Present Time (Painesville, OH: E. D. Howe, 1834), 263.)
- John H. Gilbert, who typeset the Book of Mormon, when asked if Joseph was educated at the time of the translation, replied, “Oh, not at all then.” (John H. Gilbert, quoted in “The Hill Cumorah and the Book of Mormon,” The Saints’ Herald, vol. 28, (1881): 165–166.)
- Michael Morse, Joseph’s brother-in-law, said “that he first knew Joseph when he came to Harmony, Pa., an awkward, unlearned youth of about nineteen years of age.” (Michael Morse quoted in William W. Blair to Editors, 22 May 1879, Saints’ Herald 26 (15 June 1879): 190–191)
- Morse also when asked whether Joseph was “sufficiently intelligent and talented to compose and dictate of his own ability the [Book of Mormon] written down by the scribes,” he responded that “he was confident that he [Morse] had more learning than Joseph then had.” (Michael Morse quoted in William W. Blair to Editors, 22 May 1879, Saints’ Herald 26 (15 June 1879): 190–191.)
- Orsamus Turner, who knew the Smith family in the 1820s, referred to Joseph was “possessed of less than ordinary intellect” (Turner, History of the Pioneer Settlement, 213.)
- Critic of Joseph Smith, Eber D. Howe, said he believed “it to be a fact” that “the common advantages of education were denied to [Joseph Smith], or that they were much neglected.” (Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 12)
- The Palmyra Reflector said in 1831 that Joseph’s “mental powers appear to be extremely limited, and from the small opportunity he has had at school, he made little or no proficiency.” (“Golden Bible, No. 3” Palmyra Reflector, 1 February 1831.)
How do we reconcile the creation of the Book of Mormon with these descriptions of Joseph?
Add a Question
Thank you for your submission