In 1971 Joseph Smith was arrested and brought before a Justice of the Peace for that practice of a “glass looker”. Before this he was in a court case where he would look into a stone placed in his hat to find treasure. He conned many people with this practice before it was brought before court. He found the plates in 1823. How do you know it wasn’t just another con of his? No one else really saw the plates and no one was there for the first vision or when angel moroni told him to get the plates.
Let me start off by making an observation regarding your question. In 1971, Joseph Smith would have been dead for 144 years. I will address this more later.
With access now to more information than any other generation, pertaining to the life of Joseph Smith, these are important questions, thank you for asking. Let’s first recognize your unspoken question, “Was Joseph Smith truly a prophet called by God”?
When Joseph Smith was first informed of a book on gold plates that he would translate, the angel Moroni declared, “[Joseph Smith’s] name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people.” By a simple search on the Internet, as you have discovered, we are given evidence constantly that this prophecy is proven to be true!
The trial of 1826 is evidence of the angel Moroni’s prophecy. Have you truly studied, thoroughly studied, all the evidences in support and against the accusation? What sources have you actually studied and are they actual records or an interpretation of actual events, or simply another false accusation (along with many others) that seek/aim to slander the character of Joseph Smith?
Joseph’s “money-digging” past is covered in a balanced way in Rough Stone Rolling pg 48-52. I say “balanced” because I find some of Bushman’s sources questionable (such as the affidavits asserting that Joseph hung out with questionable company that did not include the swearers, yet they ascertain that they were privy to confessions that one does not share with strangers). Nonetheless, as Bushman observes, “[i]n exposing the Smiths, the neighbors inadvertently described a culture of magic in which they and many others in the nineteenth-century New York were involved” (pg 49). That is, the statements set up a context where a humble Joseph is not surprised when the Lord instructs him to translate via sacred instruments (much like Moses’ tabernacle and the temple it inspired greatly resemble Egyptian and Assyrian temples; and how Moses’ law smacks of being influenced by Hammurabi).
The charge of treasure hunting via magic crescendoed with the 1826 Bainbridge trial (or more properly, hearing). Cowdery’s account is scant. “[W]hile in that country, some very officious person complained of him as a disorderly person, and brought him before the authorities of the county; but there being no cause of action he was honorably acquited” (The Messenger and Advocate, October 1835). “Disorderly person” is a legal phrase meaning Joseph claimed he could discover lost items (treasure included). I assume this is the event you specifically refer to, since Judge Neely’s bill was found and published in 1971 (before this, there was a lot of doubt on the reality of the event given that most of the testimony was recorded by the Prophet’s enemies half a century later). The accounts we have of the hearing are contradictory (the bills simply state something happened that day, and the judge should be paid for his services), but Joseph’s testimonies as shared in the affidavits (ironically enough) paint him as a reluctant participant (Bushman, 51-52). The judge apparently did not find the results of the hearing warranted an actual trial.
This accusation is so dated that Joseph included it in a list of frequently asked questions. “Was not Joseph Smith a money-digger? Yes, but it was never a very profitable job for him as he only got fourteen dollars a month for it” (History of the Church 3:29). Joseph outgrew the things of his youth. Oliver Cowdery confirms the “culture of magic” and the influence that would have on a young Joseph after his time at the Stowell’s as a “money-digger”. Bushman even goes so far as to state that the period of preparation from 1823 to 1827 “may have [been]… to purge himself of his treasure-seeking greed” (pg 51).
Now, let’s review a spoken question of yours that you haven’t researched very thoroughly. I hope I am not too blunt, Ashley. It appears you haven’t taken the opportunity to study for yourself — possibly just read a few Google searches or listened to an uninformed or misguided individual — as your statement specified, “No one else really saw the plates and no one was there for the first vision or when the angel Moroni told him to get the plates.
True, no one was there when Joseph Smith experienced the first vision. True, no one witnessed the angel Moroni telling Joseph Smith where to find and then retrieve the plates. False, no one really saw the plates; Wait! can this really be true?
As a Christian, a believer in Christ, no one was there except for Adam and Eve when they taught their children about their experience in the Garden in Eden. No one was with Moses when he was called to the top of a mountain, and the Lord wrote with his finger the Ten Commandments that as Christians we love and abide by. No one went with Moses as he walked up the mountain a second time. No one was with Moses when God spoke to him from a burning bush asking him to remove the shoes from his feet for he was on sacred/holy ground. Yet! Do we accept and bear witness that these events did occur?
Indeed we do bear witness that these events did occur, and occur they did. Thus, I am a little shocked when this argument is presented by Christians — no matter how sincere they may be — as we have plenty of evidence from scripture that God will work with his prophets, one-on-one, face-to-face, as a friend would speak unto a friend, as a father would speak to a son.
Let us now take a moment to review facts pertaining to the Book of Mormon, which was translated from plates with the appearance of gold. In the beginning of the Book of Mormon we are given 11 additional witnesses regarding these plates. The first of these witnesses was given by three others, “The Three Witnesses,” and their words:
“Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also of the people of Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken. And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true. And we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true.”
Now that it has been verified that three other people saw the plates, let’s move forward with the Eight Witnesses,
“Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of this work, has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shown unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken.”
In light of these witness we know for a surety that 11 other people were given opportunity to view the plates. Three of the witnesses, not only were able to view the plates, they were given opportunity to meet Moroni — the same Moroni who informed Joseph Smith of a work he would accomplish and where to locate the plates of gold. The other eight witnesses confirm the number of leaves, did handle the plates with their own hands and give witness to the accuracy of the engravings and the curious workmanship; however, despite all these witnesses what is the most important witness a person can receive? Personal revelation from the Holy Ghost which God has promised we can receive.
In our General Conference meeting, this month, one of the Lord’s Apostles specified, Elder Neil L. Anderson,
“To questions about Joseph’s character, we might share the words of thousands who knew him personally and who gave their lives for the work he helped establish. John Taylor, who was shot four times by the mob that killed Joseph, would later declare: “I testify before God, angels, and men, that [Joseph] was a good, honorable, [and] virtuous man— … [and] that his private and public character was unimpeachable—and that he lived and died as a man of God.”
Elder Neil L. Anderson,“We might remind the inquirer that some information about Joseph, while true, may be presented completely out of context to his own day and situation.”
Elder Russell M. Nelson illustrated this point. He said:
“I was serving as a consultant to the United States government at its National Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia. Once while awaiting a taxi to take me to the airport after our meetings were over, I stretched out on the lawn to soak in a few welcome rays of sunshine before returning to the winter weather of Utah. … Later I received a photograph in the mail taken by a photographer with a telephoto lens, capturing my moment of relaxation on the lawn. Under it was a caption, ‘Governmental consultant at the National Center.’ The picture was true, the caption was true, but the truth was used to promote a false impression.” We do not discard something we know to be true because of something we do not yet understand.”
Joseph Smith, indeed, has been accused of both things he did do and things he has been falsely accused, false witnesses. What Joseph Smith did or did not do is irrelevant to his calling as a prophet of God and as the translator of the Book of Mormon. We have promise. We have sure promise, from a loving God, that if we sincerely search the prophets (sincerely read the Book of Mormon), and then pray with real intent (pondering the love of God) that God will answer our prayers by the Holy Ghost; however, this witness will not come, Ashley, unless an individual reads, ponders, and then prays with a sincere heart with real intent (a true desire to act upon the witness given). I wish you the best Ashley in your pursuit of truth and happiness and bear again my witness, “I know Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.”