(Revised 4 Feb 2013)
It is a common anti-Mormon assertion that Joseph Smith invented stories about the restoration of the priesthood in 1834, falsely claiming that the angelic John the Baptist, and later Peter, James and John, restored the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods. (See, for example, G. Palmer, An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, (Signature, 2002), 215-234. See list of reviews here.)
There are, in fact, a number of pre-1834 sources that allude to the restoration of the priesthood, which I have quoted here.
But another serious problem faces the anti-Mormon claim that Joseph invented stories of angelic ordination in 1834 because he was “facing a credibility crisis that threatened the church’s survival” in Kirtland (Palmer, 227). If this were true, if Joseph brazenly made up tales of angelic restoration of priesthood to dupe his faltering followers, why didn’t he simply claim that he was ordained to those priesthood powers by angels in 1834? Since he’s making it all up according to the anti-Mormons, why wouldn’t he simply say that he received angelic priesthood in 1834 instead of 1829? Why complicate his already false claims with additional complicated layers of duplicity? And why claim two priesthoods? Wouldn’t one priesthood do if Joseph was really making up the story? And why not simply claim that Jesus himself gave Joseph the priesthood? Why do you need John the Baptist and Peter, James and John as intermediaries?
The other aspect of this problem for anti-Mormons is that if JS were simply inventing the story in 1834, why didn’t he provide a specific date for the restoration of the Melchizedek priesthood? Remember, he is really just making it all up according to the anti-Mormons. So why not make up a date to go with the false story? Why leave it vague? Paradoxically, the very vagueness of the date of the restoration of the Melchizedek priesthood is evidence of the authenticity of the claim, since if he were simply making it up in 1834, he could easily invent a specific date for the alleged restoration of the Melchizedek priesthood. He could even have simply said that it occurred a few hours after the restoration of the Aaronic priesthood, if nothing else. Inventing a detailed and specific story would have been just as easy for Joseph Smith as inventing a vague story.
(Thanks to Mark Jasinski for some suggestions.)