Question: Didn't Hugh Nibley claim that a record of this trial would be "the most damning evidence in existence" against Joseph Smith?


Question: Didn't Hugh Nibley claim that a record of this trial would be "the most damning evidence in existence" against Joseph Smith?

Nibley felt that the "court record" didn't seem to be correct

Hugh Nibley had serious doubts as to whether or not Joseph Smith was actually brought to trial in 1826, and he felt that the only real trial was in 1830. For the most part, Nibley felt that the "court record" didn't seem to be correct. The following quote is taken from Nibley's book "The Myth Makers:"

"if this court record is authentic it is the most damning evidence in existence against Joseph Smith."

Why are the 1971 discoveries important?

It was easy to cast doubt on the reality of the 1826 hearing until the bills from Judge Albert Neely and Constable Philip De Zeng were found in 1971. These documents were removed from their purported site of discovery by Dr. Wesley Walters, a well-known anti-Mormon author.

Walters wrote, "Because the two 1826 bills had not only suffered from dampness, but had severe water damage as well, Mr. Poffarl hand-carried the documents to the Yale University's Beinecke Library, which has one of the best document preservation centers in the country." [1] The problem with this action is, once you have removed a document from a historical setting and then try to restore it to the same setting, you can't prove that you have not altered the document.

The actions of Walters and Poffarl compromised the documents. By having the documents removed and only returned under threat of a lawsuit by the County, it opened the possibility that they could be forged documents. They are generally considered to be authentic.

Nibley's real point at issue is not whether or not there was a trial, but whether or not a record existed proving Joseph guilty of deceit

Since Wesley Walters has found some bills related to the trial, the critics now claim that the case is proven and that Nibley has proven their case for them. Nothing is further from the truth. First of all you need to look at the whole quote. Nibley was chastising Tuttle for not actually using the trial record that he had. He was questioning why he would do that if it was so important.

"You knew its immense value as a weapon against Joseph Smith if its authenticity could be established. And the only way to establish authenticity was to get hold of the record book from which the pages had been purportedly torn. After all, you had only Miss Pearsall's word for it that the book ever existed. Why didn't you immediately send he back to find the book or make every effort to get hold of I? Why didn't you "unearth" it, as they later said you did? . . . The authenticity of the record still rests entirely on the confidential testimony of Miss Pearsall to the Bishop. And who was Miss Pearsall? A zealous old maid, apparently: "a woman helper in our mission," who lived right in the Tuttle home and would do anything to assist her superior. The picture I get is that of a gossipy old housekeeper. If this court record is authentic, it is the most damning evidence in existence against Joseph Smith. Why, then, [speaking to Tuttle] was it not republished in your article in the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge after 1891? . . . in 1906 Bishop Tuttle published his Reminiscences of a Missionary Bishop in which he blasts the Mormons as hotly as ever. . . yet in the final summary of his life's experiences he never mentions the story of the court record - his one claim to immortal fame and the gratitude of the human race if it were true!" (Nibley "The Myth Makers", 246)

The Pearsall account, which has never been produced, claims that the defendant was found guilty. The real point at issue is not whether or not there was a trial, but whether or not a record existed proving Joseph guilty of deceit. A document proving such guilt has not been found.

Notes

  1. Wesley P. Walters, "Joseph Smith's Bainbridge, N.Y. Court Trials," The Westminster Theological Journal 36:2 (1974), 153.