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In the recent charges brought against LDS President and Prophet Thomas S. Monson there are 7 claims made which are purported to be false representations by the church.

Claim #4 is as follows:

“Joseph and Hyrum Smith were killed as martyrs in 1844 because they would not deny their testimony of the Book of Mormon.”
(Summons of Thomas S Monson,

One question that may arise is whether or not that is in fact what the church has represented to it’s members. One of the most convincing evidences that could be produced would be an audio recording of a verbal testimony of a person who was alive at the time, who knew the circumstances of their death and had the credentials and authority to make such a statement.

Unfortunately no such technology existed at the time of Joseph’s death.


Wax cylinders containing the recording of the Prophet's testimony

Wax cylinders containing the recording of the Prophet’s testimony

But someone who was alive then did live on until audio recording technology saw it’s inception with Thomas Edison’s “Talking Machine.” In the late 1800’s President Wilford Woodruff was honored to be the first mormon to bear testimony and have the audio of that recording saved for posterity. Of all the things for a Prophet and witness to the restoration to bear record of, it is no surprise that he addresses the martyrdom of Joseph Smith directly.

Here is the audio recording made on 19 March, 1897 as prepared by BYU studies:

The full transcript of his testimony is included in the appendix at the tend of this post and can be viewed as it is recorded in church archives here. Here is the pertinent part of his testimony:

Excerpt from Wilford Woodruff Testimony

Excerpt from Wilford Woodruff Testimony

Here we have a sitting Prophet of God and first hand witness of Joseph Smith bearing strong testimony to those living at the time and to all posterity. He confirms that the Prophet “laid down his life” and did so for  “the word of God and testimony of Jesus Christ”. This word of God and testimony of Jesus Christ was none other than the Book of Mormon, another testament of Jesus Christ.

It would seem very clear that this is the position that the Church holds to as it comes directly from the mouth of one who was a witness to the Prophet, speaking of their own will and conscience, with the full power and authority of one who speaks for God. I know of no retraction or disavowal of this bold testimony. If the church were to produce any literature or pamphlet contradicting this statement it would raise serious questions about the reliability of the testimony of a Prophet.

Common Objections

“The church doesn’t teach that anymore.”

The church has never disavowed the statement (unlike it’s recent disavowals of certain statements by Brigham Young regarding race and the priesthood). The church currently teaches this. The testimony of the Prophet Wilford Woodruff is quoted in the current manual “Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff” in Chapter 2. (See page 14 of the printed version) While the manual was first published in 2003, it was published in it’s online form in 2011 under the administration of Thomas S. Monson. This links this representation of the cause for Joseph Smith’s martyrdom to President Monson.

“The Prophet Woodruff misspoke”

If you read the account from the church reporter at the time, Pres. Woodruff spent a great deal of effort making sure that his testimony was well prepared and deliberately and accurately recorded.

Arthur Winter, Church reporter, noted in his journal on March 19: “Several days ago President Woodruff dictated to me his testimony on several points connected with the work of God, his intention being to get his testimony written down just as he wanted it and then he could speak it into the phonograph. Today he repeated it into the talking machine, so that in years to come, long after he shall have passed away, one may hear reproduced by the phonograph, the words he spoke and the very tone of his voice.””
(“”This Is My Testimony, Spoken by Myself into a Talking Machine“: Wilford Woodruff’s 1897 Statement in Stereo” BYUStudies)

“The Prophet was wrong”

This is actually the perspective of critics of the church. If a sitting prophet was wrong about a bold testimony of the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, then the question is whether he was intentionally misrepresenting facts or not.

If he was innocently mistaken, then it calls into question the ability of a Prophet, Seer and Revelator to do any of those things. If they have no special power in this regard, then the priesthood which they claim authority by is impotent and pointless, further diminishing the integrity of Joseph Smith’s own claim to divine ordination. It certainly diminishes the Church’s claim to authority and if people are made aware of this fact, then it is likely that they would no longer heed the warnings, advisements and so forth which direct them to pay tithing.

If he was intentionally deceptive, then it impeaches the Prophet’s character as a man of God and thereby the Priesthood authority and power that he claimed to have given him that status. If that priesthood authority is so impeached, then it again discredits Joseph’s own claim to divinity as well as the current Church’s claim to legitimate authority. Again, if members are made known of this it is likely that they would no longer follow the directions of tithe payment to the church.

“The Prophet was correct – The prophet was killed for refusing to deny his testimony of the Book of Mormon”

This is the most likely objection to be raised by defenders of the church. I have written previously about what circumstances exactly led to the Prophet being held in the jail at Carthage.

In summary, William Law a former member of the church and counselor to Joseph Smith who had disaffected after learning of the doctrine of polygamy along with other former members got together and published a new newspaper titled the “Nauvoo Expositor.” In it’s first issue, Law and his partners accused Joseph Smith of secretly preaching and practicing polygamy. As previously demonstrated, these accusations were absolutely true. Joseph, as Mayor of Nauvoo, called the city council together and acted to destroy the press and any further issues of the Nauvoo expositor.

When this action was made known to the Hancock county court, an arrest warrant for Joseph and others was issued. Joseph had the unrelated Municipal Court of Nauvoo, which was populated by church members, dismiss the charges thereby avoiding arrest. As it became clear that the state governor and law enforcement would persist in bringing Joseph to account for the destruction of the press, Joseph declared martial law and called up the Nauvoo legion – a militia populated by church members loyal to Smith. When Governor Ford traveled to Hancock to deal with the crisis he sent a posse to arrest Joseph, however they were unsuccessful as Joseph had fled the jurisdiction crossing the Mississippi river to Iowa to escape arrest. After Emma sent a letter to Joseph to Joseph begging him to return, Joseph finally allowed himself to be taken custody. He was charged with inciting a riot, soon upgraded to treason and was held at the jail in Carthage awaiting trial when a mob attacked and murdered Joseph and Hyrum on June 27, 1844.

The chain of events that led to the incarceration and murder of Joseph Smith started with his reaction to the publication of the Nauvoo Expositor. It, then, becomes important to examine what the Expositor accused Joseph of. If the Expositor demanded that Joseph Smith deny the authenticity of the Book of Mormon – then the claim that he was killed as a result of his refusal to deny the Book of Mormon could be true. The editors of the Expositor addressed the issue of the Book of Mormon directly:

excerpt from Expositor preamble

excerpt from Expositor preamble – click to see the full original expositor.

“We all verily believe, and many of us know of a surety, that the religion of the Latter Day Saints, as originally taught by Joseph Smith, which is contained in the Old and New Testaments, Book of Covenants, and Book of Mormon, is verily true; and that the pure principles set forth in those books, are the immutable and eternal principles of Heaven”
(Nauvoo Expositor – preamble. page 1, column 6, top)

The authors of the Nauvoo Expositor themselves believed the Book of Mormon to be the word of God! They did not want Joseph Smith to deny the book that they still held to convey the “immutable and eternal principles of heaven”

As such, the idea that Joseph and Hyrum were incarcerated and murdered as a result of their refusal to deny their testimony of the Book of Mormon is a mischaracterization at best.


Time will tell what sort of evidence is presented in the upcoming court case. It is established that the Church maintains that the Prophet was killed for his testimony of the Book of Mormon. Was he actually killed for other reasons? A careful examination of the timeline of events leading up to his murder is quite revealing and an analysis of the text of the Nauvoo Expositor reveals that those accusers held the Book of Mormon in the same high regard as the Prophet himself. The actual motivations of his murderers likely involved anger over misappropriation of Masonic rituals, polygamy, political power, tyranny and righteous indignation. None of these motives are justifications for the murder that took place. Josephs guilt and any subsequent punishment should have been established in an independent and impartial court.

Like many other persecuted religious leaders, the story of his murder has been characterized a martyrdom and used by his followers to incite passion and fervor in the members that remain. Has his death been misrepresented and mischaracterized in order to maintain a pristine image of the Prophet in the minds of members and investigators who are not aware of the full circumstances of his murder? While a member of the church for almost 40 years, I was not aware of what exactly the Expositor had published. I was just told that it published lies and attempted to destroy the community that Joseph and the church had built and that the men involved also plotted to murder the prophet at Carthage. This had the effect of increasing my testimony of Joseph Smith and believing that his death sealed up the truth of the Gospel that he had restored.

Now that I am more informed, I take a very different view of matters. Death of a prophet alone does not seal up any degree of truth – otherwise we would all be following the teachings of David Koresh. When I discovered that Joseph had in fact been practicing polygamy and that all of the accusations published in the Expositor were true, then I saw his actions as those of a tyrant. It destroyed the image of the pious prophet that had been built up in my mind through a lifetime of sunday school and seminary.

I have not paid a cent of tithing to the church that Joseph started since discovering this history. History does matter. False representations do have an effect on tithing revenues of the church. As such there is an incentive for the leaders to continue to distort and suppress this information. I am living proof.

Appendix 1

I bear my testimony that the Prophet Joseph Smith said, before a large assemblage in Illinois, that if he were the emperor of the world and had control over the whole human family he would sustain every man, woman and child in the enjoyment of their religion. Those are my sentiments today.

I bear my testimony that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, ordained of God to lay the foundation of his church and kingdom in the last dispensation of the fulness of times.

I bear my testimony that in the early spring of 1844, in Nauvoo, the Prophet Joseph Smith called the Twelve Apostles together and he delivered unto them the ordinances of the Church and kingdom of God; and all the keys and powers that God had bestowed upon him, he sealed upon our heads, and he told us that we must round up our shoulders and bear off this kingdom, or we would be d*mned. I am the only man now living in the flesh who heard that testimony from his mouth, and I know that it was true by the power of God manifest to him. At that meeting he stood on his feet for about three hours and taught us the things of the kingdom. His face was as clear as amber, and he was covered with a power that I had never seen in any man in the flesh before.

I bear testimony that Joseph Smith was the author of the endowments as received by the Latter-day Saints. I received my own endowments under his hands and direction, and I know they are true principles. I not only received my own endowments under his hands, but I bear my testimony that Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, George A. Smith, John Taylor and other brethren received their endowments under the hands and direction of the Prophet Joseph; and also my wife Pheobe, Bathsheba Smith, Leonora Taylor, Mary Smith and others whose names I cannot recall now.

The Prophet Joseph laid down his life for the word of God and testimony of Jesus Christ, and he will be crowned as a martyr in the presence of God and the Lamb.

In all his testimonies to us the power of God was visibly manifest with the Prophet Joseph.

This is my testimony, spoken by myself into a talking machine on this the 19th day of March, 1897, in the 91st year of my age.

Wilford Woodruff

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