The Spalding Enigma: The Fallacy of Repetition Continued?

Fatal Error #1:
Rigdon Did Not Visit Smith Prior to 1830!

A Critique of Chapter Eleven, "The Mysterious Stranger"

"As I was going up the stairs I met a man who wasn't there. He wasn't there again today. Gee I wish he'd go away." Ogden Nash

In contravention to the unequivocal and presumptive declarations of Sidney Rigdon 1, Joseph Smith 2, and Oliver Cowdery 3  (i.e. prima fascia evidence from the principle agents in question), as corroborated by their respective families and friends 4, the Spalding theorists have asserted that Sidney Rigdon visited periodically with Joseph Smith prior to 1830. In fact, the Enigma authors suggest that Rigdon was, in actuality, the "angel" that appeared to Smith from 1823 to 1827.

This assertion is vital to the theory because it provides the foundation upon which key premises of the theory rest, such as: 1) Rigdon was the "mastermind" behind the conspiracy (with Smith and Cowdery) to commit religious fraud; 2) Rigdon was in possession of the Spalding manuscript, which he and his coconspirators plagiarized to create the Book of Mormon; and 3) during the pretended translation process, Rigdon was instrumental in making changes and adding select religious material to the manuscript in preparation for publication.

So, if it is determined that Rigdon did not visited with Smith prior to 1830, but these two men were relative strangers to each other up to that point, it would, in the words of Art Vanick (one of the Enigma authors), "at the least be very bad for the Spalding theory." In truth, without a foundation, the Spalding theory's house of cards collapses.

In silent acknowledgement of this fact, and through much labor, after five decades of unsubstantiated innuendo, hearsay, rumors, and conjectures, as well as conspicuous silence from the supposed eye-witnesses (and this amidst sometimes intense investigations), a seeming miracle began to occur in which tongues were loosed and memories long clouded and muddled were suddenly made clear. Several aged former neighbors of the Smith's were persuaded (in some cases through much persistence, and others through remunerative incentives) to make statements in which they claim to recall seeing in their half-century or more past, a "stranger" visiting Smith at various times prior to 1830, who they were supposedly told was Rigdon.

In Chapter Eleven, the Enigma authors have selectively gathered together some of these "recollections", and boldly proclaimed:

"Obviously the conclusion which must be drawn from [matching the witnesses' statements to the Rigdon time-line] is devastating to the Mormons, for in every instance without exception, where a witness or witnesses have claimed that Rigdon and Smith were together, a gap in Rigdon's chronology occurs which allows sufficient time for him to have visited New York. Since the odds for such a thing happening by chance are considerable (if not astronomical), and since there is no way any of these witnesses could possibly have known where gaps in Rigdon's chronology would occur, nor is there any evidence of collusion among them, the Spalding Enigma moves ever closer to a solution. In spite of what Mormon apologists will say, a strong case has now been made for the argument that Smith, Rigdon and Cowdery were in collusion regarding the so-called Golden Bible long before any heretofore known, or at least, admitted, contact among the three." (Enigma, p. 490)

Passing graciously over the illogical assertion that gaps in time are evidence of specific events having occurred (particular given that there are numerous gaps, some of which are rather lengthy), I will test the accuracy and the honesty of the claim above, with the expressed intent of proving it seriously wanting in both regards.

To keep the information manageable, I will provide a brief description of the statements from each Enigma witness, with a link to separate pages containing a more in-depth analysis (which the reader can access by clicking on the name of each witness). If there is no brief explanation or linked name, that means that I have yet to examine that particular witness, or post the results thereof, in this critique-in-progress.

However, before examining the statements, it may be of interest to relate the following experience of Jean Piaget, a child psychologist:

"...one of my first memories would date, if it were true, from my second year. I can still see, most clearly, the following scene, in which I believed until I was about fifteen. I was sitting in my pram, which my nurse was pushing in the Champs Elysees, when a men tried to kidnap me. I was held in by the strap fastened around me while my nurse bravely tried to stand between me and the thief. She received various scratches, and I can still see vaguely those on her face. Then a crowd gathered, a policeman with a short cloak and a white baton came up, and the man took to his heels. I can still see the whole scene, and can even place it near the tube station. When I was about fifteen, my parents received a letter from my former nurse saying that she had been converted to the Salvation Army. She wanted to confess her past faults, and in particular to return the watch she had been given as a reward on occasion. She had made up the whole story, faking the scratches. I, therefore, must have heard, as a child, the account of this story, which my parents believed, and projected into the past in the form of a visual memory."("Magic of the Mind" in Witness For the Defense: The Accused, the Eyewitness, and the Expert Who Puts Memory On Trial, by Dr. Elizabeth Loftus and Katherine Ketcham, St. Martin's Press, 1991)

Drs. Loftus and Ketchum (cited above) assert: 

"Memories don't just fade, as the old saying would have us believe; they also grow. What fades is the initial perception, the actual experience of the events. But every time we recall an event, we must reconstruct the memory, and with each recollection the memory may be changed--colored by succeeding events, other people's recollections or suggestions, increased understanding, or a new context. 

"Truth and reality, when seen through the filter of our memories, are not objective facts but subjective, interpretive realities. We interpret the past, correcting ourselves, adding bits and pieces, deleting uncomplimentary or disturbing recollections, sweeping, dusting, tidying things up. Thus our representation of the past takes on a living, shifting reality; it is not fixed and immutable, not a place way back there that is preserved in stone, but a living thing that changes shape, expands, shrinks, and expands again, an amoebalike creature with powers to make us laugh, and cry, and clench our fists. Enormous powers--powers even to make us believe in something that never happened. (ibid.)

With this important preface in mind, let us now examine the "evidence".

Alleged eye witness accounts:

One may tell just how flimsy the case is for the Spalding theory by how few the supposed eye witnesses (particularly in as social a community as Palmyra in which the alleged events supposedly took place over a number of years), by how untimely their statements, by how questionable the circumstances under which the statements were given, by how insignificant the events that were supposedly being recalled many years later, and by how inconsistent or contradictory the statements may be. Out of a community of hundreds of people, the Enigma authors were only able to locate, fifty years after the events in question, the dubious testimony of these five elderly witnesses:

The deafening silent majority:

Among the statements of the supposed eye-witnesses listed above were mentioned a number of people who also allegedly saw, and even supposedly associated with Sidney Rigdon in Palmyra or Colesville (along with Joseph Smith) prior to 1830. They were: Peter Ingersol, Samuel Lawrence, Willard Chase, George Roper, "Old Man" Rockwell, a "large part of the people of Palmyra", those allegedly attending the church meetings in Wayne and Ontario counties, Andrews, the Wilcox sons, and the people of Coleville.

Add to this the many families and friends of the Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, and other hypothetical eye witnesses who would likely have seen Rigdon during one of his alleged frequent and prolonged visits--that is, were one to believe all of what has been reported.

However, even after 150 plus years of intense investigations by the Spalding theorists, there has been produced not a single supportive statement from this huge group--including from those who, in certain instances, were quite liberal in their criticism of Joseph Smith and the LDS faith. In fact, there are those of this huge group who have testified to the contrary.5

Hearsay accounts:

Given the marked lack of eye-witness statements over a considerable length of time, and given the clearly unreliable eye-witness statements collected later on, the Spalding theorists have been forced to prop up their flimsy case with innuendo, hearsay, rumors, and conjecture--falsely labeling each as evidence and testimony.

But, as will be shown, in almost comedic fashion, these intended supportive statements, highly dubious in their own way, often conflict and even seriously contradicts the eye-witness accounts. And, in those rare instances where relative consistency may be found, there is some question as to whether the alleged eye-witness accounts are actually a product of the innuendo, hearsay, rumors, and conjecture.

Circumstantial evidence:

In an even more desperate and comedic attempt to prop up their flimsy case, the Enigma authors lead-off in Chapter 11 with a series of irrelevant, highly questionable, and biased conjectures that were based fallaciously on strained circumstantial evidence .

Leaving aside the several critical corrections the Enigma authors made to some of the statements of their own circumstantial witnesses (unwittingly impeaching them); not to mentioning the fact that the opinions of certain of their witnesses changed over time (from believing that Smith supposedly authored the Book of Mormon, to later asserting Rigdon's involvement)(forthcoming); forgetting the fact that most all of the circumstantial witnesses were disgruntled members of Rigdon's former Church, and whose motives and "recollections" were very suspect; ignoring for the moment that several of the statements conflict with the statements of other supposed Enigma witnesses as well as the Rigdon/Smith time-line (contrary to what the Enigma authors suggest above); even were Rigdon to have demonstrated a pre-Book of Mormon curiosity for aboriginal forts and burial mounds, and made general predictions related thereto--not unlike what many other men of that day had done (forthcoming), and spoke of new doctrines and religions (one of which Rigdon started on his own prior to hearing about the Book of Mormon) as well as the coming forth of new scriptures; none of this demonstrates in the slightest that Rigdon had visited with Smith prior to 1830, let alone that Rigdon was involved in the alleged Book of Mormon "conspiracy".

As such, there is little or no need for me to examine this material. But, for interest sake, and to extinguish any possible burning embers that may be fanned into flames of illusionary support for the Spalding theory, I will critique the following statements proffered in Enigma as time permits: Lucy Smith; Alexander Campbell, Rev. Samuel Whitney, Rev. Darwin Atwater, Adamson Bentley, Deacon Thomas Clapp, Dr. S. Rosa (alias for Philastus Hurlbut?), Z. Rudolph, J. Rudolph, Almon B. Green, Reuben P. Harmon.

A collective look at the evidence:

In summary, the only valid evidence (if you can call it that) which the Enigma authors have produced, was the statements from five elderly former neighbors of the Smiths. Each of these statements had several aspect to them, anyone of which calls the reliability of the statements into serious question, and several of which were fatal to the credibility of the supposed witnesses--and thus fatal to the spurious assertion that Rigdon visited Smith prior to 1830. For example:

  1. Contrary to what the Enigma authors assert above, each of the statements were either partially or wholly in conflict with credible historical and/or empirical evidence, and were thus proven false, or they were so vague as to be rendered untestible historically.
  2. Several of the statements were internally contradictory, while other statements were in direct conflict which each other, thus begging the question of which, if any, of the contradictory statements were true.
  3. The statements were very untimely (first recorded more than fifty years after the alleged events), supposedly in recollection of a relatively insignificant event (the supposed visit of a stranger in their youth), following persistent and baseless rumors over the years, and, in some cases, containing language that was strikingly similar to that of the baseless rumors, thus begging the question as to why they waited so long, and whether the "recollections" were actually influenced by, or the product of, the baseless rumors.
  4. Several of the statements were riddled with rumors, and blurred the lines between rumor and experience, thus begging the question as to whether the alleged sightings of Rigdon were just rumor.
  5. The statements were taken under questionable circumstances (lacking in certitude, and as a result of considerable pressure or remunerative compensation), from people less than favorable to Joseph Smith and the restored gospel of Christ, and at the hands of highly biased researchers (frustrated Spalding theorists bent on extracting any little thing, seemingly any way they could, over as long a period as needed, in order to support their theory and/or discredit the LDS faith), thus begging the question as to whether the statements were genuine or not.

Given these fatal and/or critical concerns, the statements of the supposed eye witnesses may rightly be rejected. And, one may safely assume that, in the words of Ogden Nash, these people "saw a man that wasn't there."

This then leaves the Enigma authors with dubious, conflicting, and contradictory innuendo, hearsay, rumor, conjecture, and circumstantial statements with which to argue for the proposition that Rigdon visited Smith prior to 1830. In other words, they have no case. Their foundational assertion has been laid fatally to waste, and the Spalding house of cards has once again collapsed.

However, there has been left in good standing the prima facia evidence in support of the official historical record of the LDS faith--i.e. the time-honored, presumptive, first-hand declarations of Sidney Rigdon, Joseph Smith, and others, that Sidney Rigdon learned of the Book of Mormon in November of 1830, and he met Joseph Smith for the first time the following month.


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Footnotes:

  1. Sidney Rigdon: In the fall of 1830, "The first house at which they [Pratt and Cowdery] called, was Elder Rigdon's; and after the usual salutations, presented him with the Book of Mormon -- stating it was a revelation from God. This being the first time he had ever heard of or seen the Book of Mormon, he felt very much prejudiced at the assertion; and he replied that, "he had one Bible which he believed was a revelation from God, and with which he pretended to have some acquaintance; but with respect to the book they had presented him, he must say that he had considerable doubt." Upon which they expressed a desire to investigate the subject, and argue the matter; but he replied, "No, young gentlemen, you must not argue with me on the subject; but I will read your book, and see what claim it has upon my faith, and will endeavor to ascertain whether it be a revelation from God or not."(1843 Biography of Sidney Rigdon Nauvoo, IL, early 1843 Attributed to Joseph Smith, jr., but probably largely written by Rigdon himself, "History of Joseph Smith," in: Times & Seasons, Nauvoo, IL, Apr.-Sept., 1843). "In the spring of 1833 or 1834 at the house of Samuel Baker, near New Portage, Medina County, Ohio, we whose signatures are affixed, did hear Elder Sidney Rigdon, in the presence of a large congregation, say he had been informed that some in the neighborhood had accused him of being the instigator of the Book of Mormon. Standing in the door way, there being many standing in the door yard, he, holding up the Book of Mormon, said, "I testify in the presence of this congregation, and before God and all the Holy Angels up yonder, (pointing towards Heaven), before whom I expect to give account at the judgment day, that I never saw a sentence of the Book of Mormon, I never penend a sentence of the Book, I never knew there was such a book in existence as the Book of Mormon, until it was presented to me by Parley P. Pratt, in the form that it is now in."(A letter to Joseph Smith III, from Phineas Bronson, Hiel Bronson, and Mary Bronson, Princeville, Ill., March 14, 1872, as quoted by Dale Broadhurst)
  2. Joesph Smith: the History of the Church by Joseph Smith Jr. directly counters in nearly every particular the many assertions of the Spalding theory (particularly with the account of Sidney Rigdon's conversion in November of 1830--see the History of the Church, Vol.1, Ch.11, pp. 120-125).
  3. Oliver Cowdery: in 1834 and 1835, Oliver Cowdery sent a series of letters to W.W. Phelps in which he briefly described the events leading up to the restoration of Christ's Church (deriving the majority of the information, no doubt, from Joseph Smith). These letters were published in several volumes of the Messanger and Advocate. They confirm the authorized version of history, and contradict the revisionist history of the Spalding theorists, particularly with these statements: "Near this time of the setting of the sun, Sabbath evening, April 5th, 1829, my natural eyes for the first time beheld this brother: he then resided in Harmony, Susquehanna county, Penn. On Monday, the 6th, I assisted him in arranging some business of a temporal nature, and on Tuesday, the 7th, commenced to write the Book of Mormon. These were days never to be forgotten; to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated with the Urim and Thummim, or as the Nephites would have said, "interpreters," the history or record called "The Book of Mormon." (Letter I from Oliver Cowdery to W.W. Phelps, LDS Messenger and Advocate, Vol 1, October, 1834, p.13), "It is sufficient for my present purpose, to know, that such is the fact: that in 1823, yes, 1823, a man with whom I have had the most intimate and personal acquaintance, for almost seven years, actually discovered by the vision of God., the plates from which the book of Mormon, as much as it is disbelieved, was translated! Such is the case, though men rack their very brains to invent falsehoods, and then waft them upon every breeze, to the contrary notwithstanding."(ibid. Vol 2, p.196)
  4. Family and Friends

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Last updated 2/8/01