the Mormon Claim
Joseph Smith and "Money-Digging"
As a quick refresher, Mormons claim that Joseph Smith had the "First Vision" in 1820, and then in 1823 through 1827 he was visited yearly by the angel Moroni, translated the
Book of Mormon in 1828 and again in 1829, and then published it in 1830. One MAJOR problem with Mormonism is Joseph Smith's "money-digging" background smack-dab in the middle of this period. In fact, in the first chapter of his "History" in the PofGP he explains (falsely) how the rumor of him as a money-digger got started around 1825-26. What's "money-digging", you ask.
"Money-digging" (also sometimes called "glass-looking") was a con or a fraud that was practiced in the Northeastern US at that time. The con man would have a "magic stone" which he would place in his hat, and then pull his hat over his face, excluding all light. The stone would then supposedly shine and the money-digger could locate hidden treasure. People would pay the money-digger to tell them where to dig, but there was another part of the scam. When you got "close" to the treasure, the money-digger would usually tell you that the treasure had moved. The whole thing was like looking into a crystal ball or doing palm-reading. Two interesting quotes:
(1) In an 1859 interview, Martin Harris, one of the three witnesses to the
Book of Mormon plates, stated that in Oct 1826 Joseph Smith had been approached by an angel and told to "quit the company of the money-diggers."
(2) David Whitmer, another of the three witnesses, wrote: "I will now give you a description of the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principle scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear."
Also significant are the affadavits and statements made by a number of Smith's neighbors in Palmyra, about Smith's lifestyle in the 1820's. Several neighbors have stated that Joseph Smiths Senior and Junior were both money-diggers, and that Jr. (i.e. the Mormon founder) was particularly good at it and was the head of a group of money-diggers.
In late 1825 a wealthy Pennsylvania farmer named Josiah Stowell (sometimes spelled Stoal) came 150 miles to hire Smith because of Smith's reputation. Smith was hired to help Stowell locate a supposed old Spanish silver mine on Stowell's farm. During this time two significant things happened. First, Smith met his future wife, Emma Hale, and in later interviews her father explained how he didn't like Joseph Smith when he first met him because Smith was a money-digger, and Mr. Hale didn't want any criminals marrying his daughter! Perhaps even more damaging, however, was the fact that Smith was tried and convicted in court in March 1826 for "glass-looking". The charge had been brought up by Stowell's nephew, who saw through the con that his uncle didn't. Mormon historians now acknowledge that this trial happened and that Smith was convicted on this charge.
All of this means that during the very years Smith was supposedly being readied by God to restore true Christianity, he was working as a con man, and that the very mechanism by which he worked his con is the way that he "translated" the
Book of Mormon into English! Now I now that everyone has faults, no one is perfect, etc. But let's ask the question: would God work in this way?
Finally, as I hinted at at the start of this post, in chapter 1 of his "History" in the PofGP Smith conceded that in late 1825 he was hired by Stowell, but Smith gives the impression that he was only a common laborer and that "hence arose the very prevalent notion that I was a money-digger." The fact is that the "notion" was "prevalent" because it was true. Mormons try to make it sound like it's nothing more than a false rumor.
As for Oliver Cowdery, the last of the three witnesses, and divining rods, the basic problem is the same. Something that most Mormons don't know (and would be very surprised to find out) is that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery are related (they are third cousins). But also, their fathers (Joseph Smith, Sr., and William Cowdery) had worked together in 1800 to 1802 in Vermont using divining rods, as part of what was known in Vermont history as the Wood Scrape (named for the ringleader Nathaniel Wood). One Mormon historian writes: "These exciting events had occurred five years before Oliver Cowdery was born, but the countryside roundabout Wells, Poultney, and Middletown had remained pitted by the excavations of the money diggers, and he had grown up within a tradition which predisposed him to accept Joseph Smith's claims, he himself being an experimenter with forked rods and peepstones." Money-digging and using divining rods were very similar in how they worked.
Let me end by stating my conclusion that Smith concocted this Book of Mormon
business as an outgrowth of his money-digging schemes. Even as successful as he was as a money-digger, it never paid much and he got in trouble with the law, so he fabricated the idea of the gold plates as the ultimate con. For him it meant the change from a poor and obscure life to fame, fortune, women, and power. The con worked so well that even today, 150-plus years later, he is adored and revered by 10 million people worldwide who are blind to the notion that Smith's background was that of a con man.
Avon, Indiana, USA