From where, blood atonement

I recently sat down with Polly Aird and Levi Peterson to discuss Polly’s recent book, Mormon Convert, Mormon Defector (reviews here, here, and here). This volume is a biography of Peter McAuslan, who converted to the Mormon church in Scotland, then immigrated to Utah just in time for the challenges of the mid 1850′s, the Mormon reformation, and the Utah War. There is no question that this was a jarring transition.

Levi made some comments about “blood atonement” preaching, which was most emphatic during and generally limited to the Reformation era. Looking for a reason for the doctrine’s existence, Levi hypothesized that bloodlust is an essentially human character and that the 1850s were an incubator for its manifestation. I don’t disagree that humans are a rather violent bunch. However, I think that blood atonement rhetoric arose from an Old Testament providential world-view.

The Latter-day Saints viewed themselves not just as a metaphorical Israel, but that they were actually creating the new State of Israel in the Great Basin. God delivered them from the apostate United States and they settled in a land with their own Dead Sea and River Jordan. There are some interesting anomalies that arise from this cultural recapitulation—various proscriptions against eating pork, for example, or circumcising newborns at the Endowment House at eight days old. Generally, however, the most evident example of this identity is a particular view of providence.

Reading the Hebrew Bible, the narratives are fairly simple. The people of Israel turn away from Yahweh and they are smitten with famine or invasion. The people turn to Yahweh and the state prospers. For the Latter-day Saints, who were the covenant people, what did it mean that Yahweh’s mighty hand was smiting them? They sought a reformation, where people repented and forsook their sins. And I tend to think that blood atonement rhetoric arose from taking the Hebrew Bible seriously. God decreed the punishments for sin; frequently, that punishment was death. Perhaps the bizarre soteriological explanations were simply a hybrid between the old law and new Christology.

Though echos of blood atonement reflected through Mormonism for a few decades, Church leaders immediately abandoned the position and have subsequently disavowed it. That said, I think the terrifying rhetoric of the Reformation, and there is no question that it is disturbing, can best be understood in context of the Israelite self identity. And as much as that might contextualize the historical details, I wonder if it doesn’t further complicate the case for Fundamentalist readings of Bible.

Comments

  1. And don’t forget, JS wanted to, or at least predicted the restoration of pre-Mosaic animal sacrifice. Mormonism was nothing if not a rejuvenation of the patriarchal OT together with an overlay of NT practice in JS new scripture. The Book of Mormon offered lots of reinforcement for what you’re describing, in its way.

  2. Right on, WVS. The idea of Old Testament restorationism is well established in Joseph Smith’s lifetime and the Book of Mormon fits the pattern as well.

  3. Wasn’t the existence of Utah’s death penalty by firing squad (a method the inmate could choose) attributed to Blood Atonement?

  4. Tim J., Joseph Fielding Smith made some comments to that effect, I believe; but I haven’t really looked closely at subject. Check out this recent write-up by Matt B.

  5. And don’t Mormons believe that a last great animal sacrifice will be offered on the altar at Adam-Ondi-Ahma?

  6. Course Correction, I generally consider myself well informed on topics relating to Mormon eschatology; but I’ve not heard of that one before. So I’m going with no.

  7. Last Lemming says:

    And don’t Mormons believe that a last great animal sacrifice will be offered on the altar at Adam-Ondi-Ahma?

    I remember the restoration of animal sacrifice being taught in Sunday School as recently as 1982. But it was the temple in Jerusalem, not Adam-ondi-Ahman. Also, it was Jews, not Mormons, who would be performing it.

  8. ByTheRules says:

    Last Lemming, I understand the same as you. You may find the following from templeinstitute.org interesting:

    Building a Holy Temple begins with the first stone. With this in mind, the Temple Institute has embarked upon building the mizbeach – the stone altar. Stones have been gathered from an area of the Dead Sea, where it can be safely verified that no metal tool has ever touched the stones’ surfaces. The stones were then wrapped so as to guarantee that they would not come in contact with metal as they were transported to the community of Mitzpe Yericho, east of Jerusalem.

    There the stones are to be assembled with specially prepared cement. The altar will be small in scale, but within the dimensions required by halacha, (Jewish law), and will be fit for use. However, the altar can only be used in its proper location on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The altar’s small size will facilitate its quick transport to Jerusalem at the first possible opportunity.

  9. i think you’re right j.

    scary stuff.

  10. 5 — I find “what Mormons believe” to be an interesting topic, especially when it comes to things that haven’t been taught by the institutional Church for a long time. It’s surprising how many of those things are believed by some, or even many Mormons, but I start getting uncomfortable with the generality with which this belief is described.

    But, I would prefer to avoid tangenting at this point in the thread.

    J — I appreciated this conversation then and here. I am not familiar with the Reformation, and what you’re saying is both informative and makes sense (always a plus).

  11. Course Correction probably had quotes like this in his mind:
    “The sacrifice of animals will be done to complete the restoration when the temple spoken of is built; at the beginning of the millennium, or in the restoration, blood sacrifices will be performed long enough to complete the fulness of the restoration in this dispensation. Afterwards sacrifice will be of some other character.”
    ( Doctrines of Salvation, 3:94, also quoted in institute manual http://institute.lds.org/manuals/doctrine-and-covenants-institute-student-manual/dc-in-011-13.asp)

    The temple spoken of here is the temple in Adam-Ondi-Ahman: “It should be remembered that the great temple, which is yet to be built in the City Zion, will not be one edifice, but twelve. Some of these temples will be for the lesser priesthood. … and a place provided where the sons of Levi may offer their offering in righteousness.”

  12. Ron Madson says:

    DC 13 in part:
    ……and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.”
    Here is my take FWIW. Anciently we surrounded altars a killed something else (child, then animals–even a God) to scapegoat for OUR sins. Then in the last days we build an altar and there make the only acceptable offering on the altar–OUR OWN SINS. That is IMO the “acceptable offering” when we finally woke up and realized that God wanted us to follow Him and offer ourselves. So now we surround an altar to bless other and no longer believe that we must kill something or someone and call it God’s will OR in order to please God. I believe the “acceptable offering” is being made each day in our temples. The concept that we would return to believing that in order to please God we have to kill something FOR Him was finally put to and end when His son came and told us to do away with it once and for all.

  13. Ron Madson says:

    Even if we must tether ourselves to “restoring” all things OT, you might consider that several prophets, including Isaiah, were not too keen on the whole animal sacrifice and some went so far to say that animal sacrifice was not given by God but fabricated by men a la Girard. Of course, as Jeremiah learned such talk can get you major ostracized…

    Jeremiah 7: 22….”For on the day that I brought your ancestors out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to them or command them concerning burnt-offerings and sacrifices”

  14. I think that blood atonement rhetoric arose from an Old Testament providential world-view.

    Bingo. Fully agreed. I also think that being in complete isolation with the Utah War exacerbating an already deep ideological tension of “us vs. them” mindset only foments the issue. Looking for any culture to which they could subscribe to, replicate, and draw on for guidance, the Old Testament world was near irresistible.

    I wonder if it doesn’t further complicate the case for Fundamentalist readings of Bible.

    Agreed again. Even more, I think it highlights how the process of reading and interpreting the bible is always tethered to one’s cultural context. Reading it as a tribe isolated in the desert with a quasi-theocracy will drive one to focus similar situations in the biblical text—in this case, the world and world-view of the Mosaic tribes with their Mosaic laws. Most often in fundamentalist readings, the reader is actively seeking a specific brand of interpretation to guide and influence how they want to view the world.

    “Fundamentalism” always reveals just as much about those reading the text as it does what the text actually says.

  15. #14, Ben I think you’re on to something, but bend your elbow and direct your index finger back toward your text and replace the word “Fundamentalism” with “Scripture interpretation”.

    Which adds new meaning to the phrase, in so far as it is translated correctly. With even some of the plainest scriptures, how you interpret it, internalize it, what you view as the implications, what principles you glean, all say a lot about how each of us read the text. Pointing the finger at the big bad boogie fundamentalists (whatever that is) may be satisfying, but the way an atheist views a particular passage also says something about them. The way the prophet views a particular passage also says something about them. And might I suggest the way some of us position ourselves above our brothers and sisters in the faith, as well as those who laid the firm foundations we stand upon, reveal something about us as well.

  16. C: you don’t say anything I don’t fully agree with. I posit fundamentalism as just one form of “scripture interpretation,” all of which different interpretations are guilty of the same specialized (mis)readings. Yet there is definitely a scale along which different interpretations are offered, and I posit that “fundamentalist” or “literalist” a bit further along that scale than some others.

    Personally, I know I always have to be on guard against my own misreadings of such texts, and it would be severely problematic for me to assume that I succeed a lot of the time.

  17. Excellent thoughts, Ben. Thanks.

  18. Levi made another observation at our session that I hadn’t thought of before. I knew the violent preaching of the Mormon Reformation was related to the imminently expected millennium, but still…. Levi pointed out that for the early Mormons who believed so thoroughly that fire and total destruction would soon descend on the whole, impure world, and that the only way to escape was by “gathering to Zion,” blood atonement was not all that strange a tenet. A belief in a vengeful God without mercy! Thank heavens that view has changed.

  19. Polly, that is an interesting suggestion; though I’m not sure how much it played into what was happening. Compared to modern evangelical premillennialists, BY was fairly progressive–he claimed that most of the world (including non-Mormons and non-Christians) would be spared. It is also my reading that he didn’t necessarily anticipate an immediate coming of Christ. I agree that the idea of God destroying much of humanity at his coming plays into the idea of violence. But it seems to me that all Christians have to struggle with a God that, at least for a while, required capital punishment for adultery, and that required the blood of Christ to fulfill his own demands. While I think that Mormonism has offered some unique approaches to that predicament, the reality is that such a God is easily portrayed as a psychopath, and perhaps a sadist.

    So why during the Reformation did Mormon rhetoric trend the way it did? It is hard for me to map premillennialism onto that situation.

  20. J. Stapley,
    I think “blood atonement rhetoric “, does not tell the full story. There was actual blood atonement done. Also, that the rhetoric was “limited to the Reformation era”____ I was still hearing it in the 60s.

  21. Bob, where was blood atonement done? Also, I’m guessing you were not hearing from any church leaders.

  22. I thought–based on my research–that the whole point of gathering was twofold: First, to escape the destruction coming on “Babylon,” and secondly, to build the Kingdom of God while there was still time. I’ve just been reading MacKinnon’s “At Sword’s Point, Part 1″ on the Utah War, and there is no doubt from BY’s sermons in the late summer and fall of 1857 that he saw the army’s coming as the opening play in the End Times. Certainly in the worst–meaning, most fanatical–period of the mid to late 1850s, there was no mercy spared for non-Mormons, except, no doubt, for Thomas L. Kane. It would be interesting to do a comparison of BY’s views on the world’s destruction over time.

    Of all the sins that blood atonement was the only atonement for, denying the Holy Ghost, i.e., apostasy, ranked first, before murder and adultery.

    I took Levi’s link to millennialist violence and blood atonement to be the mindset that could accommodate them both, not necessarily that there was a link between them. Except that the people must be purified.

    This is sounding a bit rambling to me, but I’ll post it anyway!

  23. J, you’ve helped frame the reformation for me a little better with this post. I still find that after a lot of reading in pre-Civil War American history, the implied violence, visions of an imminent and catastrophic dawning to the millennium, and fiery rhetoric of the reformation didn’t vary as much as we might think from the contemporary American culture. These were much more violent times than we like to think. The reformation certainly took the rhetoric much farther, and applied a patina of righteousness and entitlement that exceeded what might be heard, say, in Missouri in the 1850′s. This was the era of John Brown and his violent abolitionist tendencies, and he also acted out the language in violent means. It’s a matter of degree, but still the “Old Testament Restoration” concept as you explain it here made sure it fell on fertile soil in 1850′s Utah.

  24. #21 Am I free to give specific examples of “blood atonement” being “done” on this blog? Without getting permanently banned for spilling my ink describing the details? My ggggrandfather was a participant at MMM. He also testified at the trial of JD Lee. I have our family records/journals, including references to patriarchal blessings all about avenging JS death to boot. Some there thought they were allowing those they killed to “atone” with their blood.

  25. Ron, the religious mindset is fundamental to understanding what happened at MMM, there is more to the picture. There were the Mormons’ feelings of grievance and resentment at past injustices and repeated dispossession of land and property. This long-standing anger joined the hysteria–riled up by Geo. A. Smith on a storming trip south–of preparing to fight the army led by a famously cruel general (Harney) and the happenstance of a wealthy emigrant wagon train passing through their territory at a time when any outsider was seen as an enemy. The ingredients combined to ignite the mass killing. But I don’t think the southern Mormons cared a hoot about the souls of the Arkansas immigrants.

  26. Polly, I’ll have to admit that I may be working with a sampling bias. I haven’t made a systematic study of all blood atonement rhetoric. But my inclination right now, is to view the threat against those denying the holy ghost as being categorically different from those who commit adultery. There is some hint that there doesn’t seem to be any atonement for the former. Though, I readily admit that I don’t have a good handle on these things and I may be mistaken. I also think that the linguistic dynamism of denying the holy ghost is interesting. It is clear that from 1843-1846 that it is most associated with murder at least from a liturgical perspective. Though I agree that it becomes more closely associated with apostasy.

    I also agree that the persistent early Mormon belief of gathering as protection from the impending storm is at play in the mid 1850s. I’m basing my ideas of BY perspective in relation to his sermons on the temple liturgy. In the mid 1850s, the complete temple liturgy was not available and wouldn’t be for the near future and Young is pretty optimistic about working toward that future (though he also invokes the millennium as well, so there is that).

  27. Ron, Polly is correct, I believe. Blood atonement was aimed at Mormons, not non-Mormons. Possible vengeance for JS is not blood atonement either. I believe that John D. Lee is the only source for a specific account of blood atonement and it is hearsay. I also wouldn’t be surprised if a case where individuals allegedly guilty of incest were murdered was not partially motivated by blood atonement.

  28. The murder of the Parrishes in Springville in March 1857–6 months before MMM–is sometimes thought of as an example of blood atonement, but here I think it more likely that the bishop, Aaron Johnson, who arranged for it, was more interested in cleansing his community than worrying about the souls of the Parrishes. The latter had lost their faith and were trying to escape to California when they were murdered. The fullest account is the one I wrote, buried in the middle of “‘You Nasty Apostates, Clear Out’: Reasons for Disaffection in the Late 1850s,” Journal of Mormon History, Fall 2004.

  29. My understanding of the Blood Atonement doctrine is also that it only applied to Mormons. It somehow came up in Seminary when I was 16 and one of the other kids in my class said it was never practiced, but then our seminary teacher corrected him and said that it was practiced in such a way that those who needed to atone with their blood were given the option to commit suicide. I dont personally know of any records supporting that idea that that was what happened, but some of BYs writings seem to suggest that was a correct way of performing it.

    In light of my own reading though over the past few years, I get the impression that it may not have been that innocent at all, and the reviews of Polly Airds book (which unfortunately I have not yet been able to read) seem to give me the impression that there were instances in which people were murdered in acts of possible Blood Atonement. Whether BY or other leaders were involved at the time seems a little fuzzy to me, though having read some transcripts of talks given at the time I am willing to accept that the rhetoric of the Mormon reformation is troubling.

    That said, I have been curious about 2 things for a while. If in fact these people were murdered and did not take their own lives of their own will how can that constitute repentance or restitution in any way, and two what were the criteria for having become apostate for one of these groups to want to murder you? Apostasy is one of those funny terms that seems to be in the eye of the beholder and there are definitely degrees of it.

  30. Polly and J. Stapley, clarifications noted and appreciated. I intend to write a short “story” as to my gggrandfather. “Hearsay” is when we quote others but their words are not hearsay if they actually observe someone cutting someone’s throat to have their blood spill on the ground rather then shooting them as an act of “tender mercy” for their souls-they are then percipient witnesses. But you are correct, the motivations/circumstances were complex but one can hear that at the trial of any individual or group of murderers–the doctrine of blood atonement or any need for atoning sure didn’t help—and I would suggest that a steady stream of NT teaching of the words of Christ systemically throughout the church from the top to the bottom rather then this perverse doctrine might have deterred such conduct. We will never know–

  31. Jonathan, re the sin of denying the Holy Ghost. I had always taken BY’s sermon to imply that’s what he was talking about. It was one of the sermons that launched the Reformation: “There are sins that men commit for which they cannot receive forgiveness in this world, or in that which is to come, and if they had their eyes open to see their true condition, they would be perfectly willing to have their blood spilt upon the ground, that the smoke thereof might ascend to heaven as an offering for their sins; and the smoking incense would atone for their sins.” BY, 21 Sep 1856, in JD 4:53. Maybe I’m wrong?

  32. Observer (f.k.a. Eric. S.) says:

    Great post, thank you. The more I learn about blood atonement, the more it resembles the pattern of modern Fundamentalism. Let’s face it, any human can find justification to commit any heinous and pathetic act on another human in the world’s leading sacred texts (Bible, Koran, etc.). History is full of instances where sacred texts take on a perverted meaning to man, and then man feels justified while acting despicably. But the key misunderstanding, I sense, is that man supplants himself for God and what God wants to do to men as a result of sin. No question God ordered genocide (men, women, children) in the OT. But that does not give other men a license to do the same under the guise of that particular OT account. I suspect ‘blood atonement’ rhetoric–borne out of a heated environment of national insecurity between the Utah Territory and the United States in the 1850s – 1900–was no exception to this pattern of misguided and pathetic justification. Fortunately, the Church has renounced and disavowed the whole concept, as a peaceful solution to co-existence was reached.

  33. Right. It is just hard for me to integrate that with other aspects of his thought (e.g., that the spirits of such people would be destroyed). I may very well be mistaken. I should look closer at the rhetoric.

  34. Observer…ditto except the “No question God ordered genocide (men, women and children) in the OT.” What? How certain are you of that oral tradition—century layers of hearsay? Jesus came to say “it is written of old” or “said of old” such and such but I am here to say and show you what I am really like and not all those times you took my name in vain for your tribalistic murders

  35. Re losing the Holy Ghost: Writes Todd Compton: “Latter-day Saints believe that apostasy occurs whenever an individual or community rejects the revelations and ordinances of God, changes the gospel of Jesus Christ, or rebels against the commandments of God, thereby losing the blessings of the Holy Ghost and of divine AUTHORITY,” (Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4:56–58).

    On the term “apostate”: From our (Will Bagley, Jeff Nichols, and me) upcoming volume (due out next fall) in the Kingdom of the West series, titled, “‘Playing with Shadows’: Voices of Dissent in the Mormon West,” we write:

    “Mormon historical discourse needs a vocabulary of dissent that is more precise and equitable than simply branding people “apostates,” whether the church excommunicates them or they simply leave. ‘Apostate’ is a pejorative, used to marginalize and diminish those whose experiences lead them to part ways with the Mormon faith. . . The ‘apostate’ epithet is best reserved for anti-church militants who lost faith, became embittered, and then preached or wrote hostile indictments of their former faith. Rather than becoming militant anti-Mormons, most became disaffected as a reaction to the policies of church leaders or the effects of their actions. Since the faith’s highest authorities preached violence and covered up its consequences, many of them feared for their lives. Yet the range of experience of those who abandoned the Saints include those who never lost their love for the Mormon people or a longing for the ideal society they dreamed of building.”

  36. Observer (f.k.a. Eric. S.) says:

    Ron – Are you familiar with 1 Samuel 15? Not my words, theirs. No hearsay. No oral tradition. In fact, God was upset with Saul because he refused to follow God’s “commandment” to completely wipe out (including women, children, and even animals to boot) the Amalikites (see v.11). Saul was not fit to be king.

  37. Ron Madson says:

    Observer,
    Yes I am familiar with it. I simply do not believe all the words in the OT “claimed” to have come from God actually from God–neither do the later prophets in the same book that denounce their war and tribal narratives. It is a book in travail with itself IMO. For example, I can believe that the BOM is from God but it does not follow that every opinion or claim is “true.” Just that it was translated correctly–a true account of their true and false tribal narrative/claims. So, for example, if Nephi says God told me to kill Laban, then maybe God did or maybe God didn’t–that was Nephi’s take on the account. I draw my own conclusions based on a macro view of the OT as well as the BOM–the specific claims made are subject to interpretation from that framework. Even in our dispensation ,getting back to the OP for this thread, prophets/men made claims that later proved to be false and they even claimed God told them such and such. Why would the OT being even more remote any different?

  38. Observer (f.k.a. Eric. S.) says:

    Ron – I very much agree with the way you approach reading the text. But I was not speaking to the literal credibility of text or the Bible itself as a whole. Within the context of this OP, I was suggesting that–if one is a wack job Fundamentalist–if one needs some explicit sacred textual reference to point to when he/she stokes the rhetoric fire and justifies his/her behavior, there is plenty of text to chose from. Without additional thought, as you suggest, it is not too hard for one to make general extrapolations regarding justified violence from our canon.

    Interestingly, the hymn Praise to the Man still contains the following verse, “Earth must atone for the blood of that man.” And just like scriptural text, one can twist and bend this text to mean whatever you want it to mean. I personally don’t know what this particular line of the hymn means, or the implications of it that Williams Phelps had in mind when he penned it shortly following the Prophet’s murder.

  39. It’s always a laugh to see how complicated the gospel of non-canonized sources is.

  40. I had also heard of blood atonement used to justify the killings of non-LDS by Mormons.

    I agree with others that “the salvation of the souls” of those they killed was not the intended purpose of the killings. Nevertheless, I am inclined to believe that they used the rehtoric from a need to justify something as schocking as mass murder, and to apeace themselves after having done it.

    I can think of the following quote by Brigham Young which appears to apply Blood Atonement in the context of “enemies,” which would include anyone deserving vengeance for Joseph Smith’s blood.

    ” All mankind love themselves, and let these principles be known by an individual, and he would be glad to have his blood shed. That would be loving themselves, even unto an eternal exaltation. Will you love your brothers or sisters likewise, when they have committed a sin that cannot be atoned for without the sheding of their blood? Will you love that man or woman well enough to shed their blood? That is what Jesus Christ meant. He never told a man or woman to love their enemies in their wickedness, never. He never intended any such thing; his language is left as it is for those to read who have the Spirit to discern between truth and error; it was so left for those who can discern the things of God. Jesus Christ never meant that we should love a wicked man in his wickedness.” (BY, JD, Vol. 4, p. 215-221)

    The context of the quote is for people who have “knowledge” of a state of exaltation. But being familiar with human reasoning in contexts of warfare and mass murder, it doesn’t seem for me too much of a stretch if the early Mormons perpetrating mass murder used this rehtoric in a vague application to appeace and justify their actions.

  41. Great post. Nearly everything I was going to say someone else already did.

    Just a couple of comments though. First some of the angst over blood atonement always struck me as odd. So hanging, electrocution, and lethal injection are fine but something more symbolic is bad. As a few suggested the problem is partially our own view of capital punishment and the particular crimes put under that category. (esp. in ancient Israel) The easiest way to justify this leads inexorably to moral relativism which is obviously problematic.

    I think one problem with our uncomfortableness with blood atonement is that we are attempting to avoid these very problems of how to deal with the Old Testament. Of course Mormons are hardly unique in that. The two most common approaches are to simply adopt a high degree of fallibilism towards scripture to the extent that we simply discount anything that makes us uncomfortable. (Which many theologically liberal Protestants and Catholics have done) The other strategy is just to avoid the topic – often by talking about the old law being done away with the new. That is really a rather artless dodge though. However say what one will about their many mistakes, but it is interesting that the early Mormons did see that one had to grapple and engage with the Old Testament in a way that we all too often don’t do anymore.

  42. Clark, I agree and like Ben noted, I think it is a very difficult thing to grapple with.

  43. I quoted this on another post, but I think it is applicable here too. I read this (and the other reference listed in the parentheses) as the application of blood atonement language to non-Mormon “enemies.”

    I will take the Government of the United States, and the laws of Missouri and Illinois, from the year 1833 to 1845, and if they had been carried out according to their letter and spirit, they would have strung up the murderers and mobocrats who illegally and unrighteously killed, plundered, harassed, and expelled us. I will tell you how much I love those characters. If they had any respect to their own welfare, they would come forth and say, whether Joseph Smith was a Prophet or not, “We shed his blood, and now let us atone for it;” and they would be willing to have their heads chopped off, that their blood might run upon the ground, and the smoke of it rise before the Lord as an incense for their sins. I love them that much. But if the Lord wishes them to live and foam out their sins before all men and women, it is all right, I care not where they go, or what they do. (Brigham Young, “The Priesthood and Satan—The Constitution and Government of the United States—Rights and Policy of the Latter-Day Saints,” February 15, 1855, Journal of Discourses 2:186-87; see also Brigham Young, “Necessity of Building Temples—The Endowment,” April 6, 1853. Journal of Discourses 2:32)

  44. Looks like I need to look at this stuff better; thanks, David.

  45. But even in this case of non-Mormons, the idea is that they would have to have “respect to their own welfare” and voluntarily seek to atone for it. That is explicit in the paragraph David states.

    Manuel’s extract omits the preceding sentence which also requires a sinner’s understanding of his guilt and his desire to expiate his guilt by requesting blood atonement:

    Now take a person in this congregation who has knowledge with regard to being saved in the kingdom of our God and our Father, and being exalted, one who knows and understands the principles of eternal life, and sees the beauty and excellency of the eternities before him compared with the vain and foolish things of the world, and suppose that he is overtaken in a gross fault, that he has committed a sin that he knows will deprive him of that exaltation which he desires, and that he cannot attain to it without the shedding of his blood, and also knows that by having his blood shed he will atone for that sin, and be saved and exalted with the Gods, is there a man or woman in this house but what would say, ‘shed my blood that I may be saved and exalted with the Gods?’

    I’m not aware of any blood atonement language that aims at inflicting “atonement” on an unwilling, unrepentant victim. Not that I’m defending the blood atonement speeches of the 1850s — I’m not. Not at all. But it also isn’t right for anyone to push them farther than can be supported by the actual speeches, which has been the usual tendency over the past 150 years whenever these speeches are brought up.

  46. Ardis, you have it just right from my understanding.

  47. Observer (f.k.a. Eric. S.) says:

    Are there any document instances where an act of “blood atonement” was consummated involving either an LDS or non-LDS?

  48. #47: My GGGandmother, Priscilla Clark Pickett, upon the death of her husband, left Salt Lake and the Church in 1889 for California. On 7-7-1889, she was found dead in Carson City__her thoat cut ear to ear. While the local newspapers clained it was the Mormons who did it, the Courts, (after working on the matter for over ten years), never went beyond “at the hands of another”.
    My 1st cousin (Richard), Won the 2006 Writing Award of the National Genealogical Society for his paper on this story.

  49. I may be very wrong but I cannot really see Ardis’s interpretation of the two paragraphs. I can see another interpretation viable.

    I read that BY is stating men naturally would not concede to blood atonement since they don’t have that knowledge of exaltation, but that saints having that knowledge should love them enough to shed their blood. For if the sinner had that knowledge, he/she would then be glad to have his/her blood shed.

    I don’t see anywhere where “the sinner’s understanding of his guilt and his desire to expiate his guilt by requesting blood atonement” is actually required.

    Note that reasoning in the following:

    “…is there a man or woman in this house but what would say, ‘shed my blood that I may be saved and exalted with the Gods?’

    “All mankind love themselves, and let these principles be known by an individual, and he would be glad to have his blood shed. That would be loving themselves, even unto an eternal exaltation. Will you love your brothers or sisters likewise, when they have committed a sin that cannot be atoned for without the sheding of their blood? Will you love that man or woman well enough to shed their blood?”

  50. I also see that big “if” they knew or “if they had any respect for their own welfare…” in the quote posted by David G supports my interpretation rather than Ardis’s.

  51. Manuel: huh?

    I admit that these are very complex English grammatical structures, but all these phrases in the first sentence connoting a person’s *knowledge” –

    “… who has knowledge with regard to being saved…”

    “… one who knows and understands the principles…”

    “… a sin that he knows will deprive him …”

    “… also knows that by having his blood shed …”

    – are the prerequisites to this:

    “… is there a man or woman in this house but what would say, ‘shed my blood that I may be saved and exalted with the Gods?’ …”

    If you’re mathematically or logically inclined, that knowledge constitutes the “if” to the “then” statement: “If they knew X, then they would submit to Y.”

    Same thing with the bit you extract from David G’s quotation: “If they had respect for their own welfare, then they would come forth and ask for …”

    Nothing in either quotation, or in any other blood atonement talk I’ve ever seen anywhere, calls for action in the absence of a guilty person’s knowledge or in the absence of a guilty person’s request. All those comments about “if you love a person enough to kill him” follow the pre-requisite “if he knows, and if he asks to atone.” I don’t see how they can be twisted to read otherwise, without ignoring the grammatical structure and separating the “if” from the “then.” Basic English.

  52. Observer (f.k.a. Eric. S.) says:

    #48 Bob – Very interesting. Any chance you could get a hold of the article and send it to me? I’d love to read it. I looked for it on the NGS’s web site, and they only post through 2008. Thank you.

  53. Bob, are you saying that leaving Utah when a spouse died was justification in that era for murder – and that the way she was killed means it was a religiously motivated murder caused by the idea of blood atonement? If so, um . . . wow. If not, why mention it in the context of this discussion?

    Manuel, Ardis’ reading is the only one that makes sense, linguistically.

  54. #52: I have the paper__long and dry__lots of footnotes.
    I would direct you to the “Maria Lousia Pickett” website. She was the daughter of Pricsilla Clark Pickett. There is a lot of details and newspaper articles.There is a photo of Maria with a baby on her lap___That’s my Grandfather.
    #53: Pricilla left the Church bitter__and broke her vows.

  55. Observer (f.k.a. Eric. S.) says:

    Bob #54 Thank you. I will check it out. Now, in relation to your response to #53, if a Court of law (and presumptively prosecutors of Carson City) could not conclude “who dunnit” and why etc., I’m not sure us lowly ordinary readers as jurors can or should do much more than conclude that the details of her death are conclusively inconclusive. And again I’m just going off the very very little I know base on what you’ve said so far. But I’m still intrigued. I mean, can or should we even really say there was a connection between her acrimonious departure, as you suggest, from the Church and her death? I want to read and draw my own conclusions, if any.

  56. Observer (f.k.a. Eric. S.) says:

    Bob – I just read two links on Priscilla. Says that her husband, prior to his death in Carson City, bought a life insurance policy for $5k. When he died a few months later, Priscilla collected. A few months later, someone broke into her home, killed her, and took the insurance proceeds. So in 3 minutes of reading I’ve discovery an alternative motive (assuming what I’m reading is true from the family links) to her murder than an acrimonious relationship with the Church. Notably, there were a number of relatives and apparent neighbors who moved with her and her late husband to Carson City. So I’m not about to conclude that this was related to “blood atonement.”

  57. Observer (f.k.a. Eric. S.) says:

    Bob – it gets even more interesting. One of the articles says that Priscilla took the $5k in insurance proceeds, and bought a policy on her own life for the same amount shortly before she was found dead. Money is a motivation.

    There was absolutely zero evidence that any “Danites” killed her, notwithstanding bigoted accusations of the same. And the testimony of an alleged “Danite” (who was allegedly and cooincidentally Mormon) put him several days and miles away from the scene. And he’s the best the prosecutor could come up with! So then the prosecutor blamed Indians when Mormons didn’t work out! The prosecutor had nothing but a body. The court, coroner, and jury concluded nothing regarding who committed the crime. In fact, they could not even rule out the possibility of a suicide. So I sincerely hope you have not concluded that the Church was at all related to her death or that it relates to “blood atonement” as there was Zero proof of such claim.

    These articles are actually very telling of the type of bigotry that was spewed about the LDS church and embraced by the SF Chronicle and small town readership in the west during the late 1800s. In fact, one SF article says, “[The Destroying Angels] probably organized the Mountain Meadows Massacre.” Such an inflammatory suggestion is comical and has no foundation other than fear and bigotry.

    The articles are full of “probably”s and “if”s. Sigh.

  58. #55: Yes__it is a “who dunnit”.
    I have always told my cousin Richard I would give him full credit for the years of work he did on Priscilla.
    The only “connection” I make is the reason the Church, at that time, gave for a need of a Blood Atonement and how it would be carried out.

  59. Sorry Ardis, I am really not trying to be a hard head here, but I don’t really see the “request” requirement.

    And can you please chill a little? I am not trying to “twist” anything nor am I trying to “push” anything further than it is supported by the speeches.

    If you consider the following three paragraphs after the two we have been discussing, it becomes even clearer:

    Now take the wicked, and I can refer to where the Lord had to slay every soul of the Israelites that went out of Egypt, except Caleb and Joshua. He slew them by the hands of their enemies, by the plague, and by the sword, why? Because He loved them, and promised Abraham that He would save them. And He loved Abraham because he was a friend to his God, and would stick to Him in the hour of darkness, hence He promised Abraham that He would save his seed. And He could save them upon no other principle, for they had forfeited their right to the land of Canaan by transgressing the law of God, and they could not have atoned for the sin if they had lived. But if they were slain, the Lord could bring them up in the resurrection, and give them the land of Canaan, and He could not do it on any other principle.

    I could refer you to plenty of instances where men, have been righteously slain, in order to atone for their sins. I have seen scores and hundreds of people for whom there would have been a chance (in the last resurrection there will be) if their lives had been taken and their blood spilled on the ground as a smoking incense to the Almighty, but who are now angels to the devil, until our elder brother Jesus Christ raises them up—conquers death, hell, and the grave. I have known a great many men who have left this Church for whom there is no chance whatever for exaltation, but if their blood had been spilled, it would have been better for them. The wickedness and ignorance of the nations forbid this principle’s being in full force, but the time will come when the law of God will be in full force.

    This is loving our neighbour as ourselves; if he needs help, help him; and if he wants salvation and it is necessary to spill his blood on the earth in order that he may be saved, spill it. Any of you who understand the principles of eternity, if you have sinned a sin requiring the shedding of blood, except the sin unto death, would not be satisfied nor rest until your blood should be spilled, that you might gain that salvation you desire. That is the way to love mankind.

    Brigham explains this “doctrine” with specific examples that you seem to be conveniently dismissing. He says the wicked Israelites were slain by “by the hands of their enemies, by the plague, and by the sword” because the Lord loves them so that the shedding of their blood would atone for their sins. Are you saying these Israelites “requested” to be slain? That is ridiculous.

    He goes on to say he can refer his audiences to “plenty of instances where men, have been righteously slain, in order to atone for their sins.” Are you saying these instances would be of men who requested to be slain to atone for their sins? I’m sorry, but I think you are in plain denial.

    And please don’t try to insult my intelligence with your “this is basic English” and “if you are mathematically inclined” lines. I am an engineer, and I understand complex English very well, thank you very much. Chill.

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