The Mythic Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith’s 19th century Utah editors held him in high regard, not necessarily for his personal perfection, but for his standing as opener of ancient mysteries, restorer of forgotten salvific lore and authoritative purveyor of power to defeat death, hell and the Devil.

The early historians sometimes winked at the humanity of Joseph while he lived, or at least saw that humanity as irrelevant in the mythic events of the beginning of Mormonism. And they played out that approach as they produced the official history of his era. Passion for accuracy and completeness melded with that conviction of momentous divinely ordained events to give a history of Smith that told the religious message of restoration, but essentially left out the sometimes painful or just mundane details that filled the spaces between devotional landmarks.

Here I just want to point out a couple of very small examples in this process of (what I consider to be honest) myth-building. On Sunday May 12, 1844, Joseph took the “stand” near the Nauvoo temple with his old polyglot New Testament. He preached a sermon that followed the “crisis pattern,” found in previous times when upheaval within and danger from without stalked him and his people. Marked by supportive revelation in those earlier crises, like the current LDS D&C 113, this time a sermon would contextualize Joseph as Prophet Foretold. Reiterating his King Follett text of foreordination to dispensational leadership, passages like Rev. 14:6-7 and Matt. 24:14 would be read as referring to Joseph himself and hence verifying his own and the faith of Saints who believed him, having found solace in the new revelation of Mormonism. But the point here is textual adjustment for sometimes subtle purpose, so let’s get to it.

Below are some excerpts (left column) of Thomas Bullock’s report of the May 12 sermon, and on the right the form those excerpts took in the history produced in 1855-6 Utah. Much of the change here was probably the work of George A. Smith, but may also be due to Bullock himself. Whoever pressed these changes, they were approved by the church presidency in 1856.

God will always protect me. I calculate to be one of the Instruments of setting up the Kingdom of Daniel, by the word of the Lord, and I intend to revolutionize the whole world God will always protect me until my mission is fufilled, I calculate to be one of the Instruments of setting up the Kingdom of Daniel, by the word of the Lord, and I intend to lay a foundation that will revolutionize the whole world

This text shows Joseph’s devotion to the “stone cut out without hands” narrative of Daniel 2 and his placement of himself and the Latter-day Saints in that narrative. The portions in red represent the additions of the 1850s. The first change seems clearly to represent a protective motive, adjusting the statement to fit the facts as well as tradition that strengthened over time: he had clearly prophesied that his lease on life was not permanent and would soon be up. The second insertion does essentially the same thing. Joseph would not see the project completed and hindsight was clear. He should be made to see that. The second change is a rather subtle one and polishes the presentation.

Another segment of the same sermon:

he that arms himself with Gun, sword, or Pistol will some time be sorry for it – I never carry any thing bigger than my Pen Knife he that arms himself with gun, sword, or pistol except in the defense of truth, will some time be sorry for it – I never carry any weapon with me bigger than my penknife

The changes here may represent the editor’s concern with Joseph’s death. Joseph was given a pistol in Carthage Jail and he used it at least to some effect. Of course it echoes the NT proverb as well as other events in Mormonism.

Finally this interesting passage:

I have an order of things to save the poor fellows at any rate, and get them saved for I will send men to preach to them in prison and save them if I can. There is baptism &c for those who are alive, and baptism for the dead, all who died without the knowledge of the gospel I have an order of things to save the poor fellows at any rate, and get them saved; for I will send men to preach to them in prison, and save them if I can. There are mansions for those who obey a celestial law – and there are other mansions for those who come short of that law; every man in his own order. There is baptism &c for those to exercise who are alive, and baptism for the dead who died without the knowledge of the gospel

Here the editor’s add significant phrasing. Uncritical use in the past has suggested that it meant Joseph supplied independent support for the statement of D&C 131:1. It is not likely that allusions were made in either direction.

There are a number of other interesting instances in the sermon, some involving commonly quoted passages that are attributed to Joseph Smith. A lesson for all editors I suppose. Beware of making the text so clever that people quote you instead of the author. <grin>

[I should note that the above analysis and the texts themselves are preliminary and are part of a rather interesting puzzle that surrounds this sermon. The complete story will certainly be much longer and no doubt about as interesting as watching paint dry for most people. But me being a text junky means you'll have to live with more of this.]

Comments

  1. If this is watching paint dry, lay on another coat while I pull up a chair.

    Fascinating, and unsettling when you think of how we tend to parse some things so closely.

  2. Bro. Jones says:

    Very interesting indeed. I always find it fascinating that the relatively extemporaneous, unvarnished words of our early leaders are still so full of life (especially compared to our often moribund, correlated Conference talks of today).

  3. I learn something new every time I log on here: Salvific? What a stellar word. I’ve never used it. It will be great to keep up my sleeve if the opportunity ever arises playing Scrabble.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    I love this stuff. Thanks, Bill, and keep it coming.

  5. Dave P. says:

    Sadly Joseph Smith did not complete his final mission. He’d succumbed to his carnal lusts and desires as warned against in Section 3:1-11 and had only begun to repent when the Lord told him to flee to the Rockies to be protected until his repentance was complete and he could return to get the church in order.

    Unfortunately he once again feared man more than God, returned to Nauvoo and lost the protection of the Lord. We all know what happened next.

  6. *major eye roll*

  7. Dave P.,
    That’s a fantastic comment for a blog not named BCC. Take it elsewhere.

  8. Among the many academic explanatory models we’ve received to situate Smith’s prophetic programme: we’ve received the functionalist model of “escape from pluralism”; the romantic-reaction model of Harold Bloom; the cultural remnant models of Brooke and Quinn; & the charlatan model, ad nauseum. But the model of Smith’s being “purveyor” of immortality seems to be coming forward, recently–or have I been paying ill attention? This model has a quasi-Messianic feel about it which is not out-of-place in an environment which viewed Smith’s role as second only to the Christ’s in salvation history. Of course, I take exception with none of these, not having the academic expertise to fully weigh them against each other. I would dearly love to see one of our great minds do the work for me. But, particularly in response to #5: A considerable mythic development in Joseph’s story for the faithful has been the requirement that he “Seal his testimony with his blood.” So–”we all DO know what happened next.”

  9. Ardis, that’s always an interesting thing to watch. A lot of us do it with scripture as well. But if anything is known at all about scripture (even the Book of Mormon) you should be careful *not* to hang your hat on a comma. (g)

  10. Golden.

  11. kevinf says:

    WVS, I like your distinction regarding “(…honest) myth building.” At any rate, watching your paint dry is high drama for me. Keep it coming.

  12. Thanks, Kevin, J, kevinf. Brent, I think your observation illustrates the oscillation we often see in cultural history. The vision of JS as messianic representative or substitute extended to his successors for a period but has faded somewhat. Andrew Ehat’s masters thesis was a resurfacing of seeing JS as primarily bringing power over the ultimate enemies of man. Sam Brown’s forthcoming book at Oxford UP puts JS’s entire ministry under the umbrella of death conquest.

  13. Is Bullock’s report of the sermon supposed to be a word-for-word transcription? Or is it just his notes?

  14. Most interesting paint drying I’ve experienced in a long time.

    I also appreciate the acknowledment that there is honest myth building. It’s so important to recognize that, and so many people struggle to understand that myth building truly can be fully honest.

  15. Zefram, the short answer is no. Bullock was very good at transcription, but there are no perfect reports of Joseph Smith’s sermons. In this case the story is more complex, but must await another forum.

  16. “[t]he umbrella of death conquest” —> WIN!

  17. WVS, was Bullock using shorthand, and then transcribing it in longhand afterwards? Or was he writing things down in longhand at the actual time of the sermon?

  18. Bullock did not use a formal shorthand. He used an abbreviation scheme which drew on a tradition with some history in Britain. Unlike formal shorthand which uses a script readable by adepts, one can read Bullock’s fairly easily since it is just an abbreviated longhand. Bullock produced his report during the event.

  19. I really enjoyed this Bill. Thanks for the careful and detailed walk-through.

  20. mmiles says:

    Really interesting. Is there a reason George A Smith is suspected to be the one to edit the transcript? Was Bullock the only one that kept notes? Is there a reason that Bullock’s was the original they referenced before editing?
    Lastly, when you say early historians, do you mean contemoporary members of JS who heard and recorded his sermons?

  21. Bill can correct and expand on anything I say, but I figured I would jump in. Depending on the sermon, there may be only one account or up to four or even five (of varying quality, mind you). You probably are familiar with the idea of JS keeping a history (part of the 1838 history is the “JS History” in the PoGP). However most of it was completed after his death and the bulk of what we have now as the “History of the Church” comes eventually from the “Manuscript History” compiled in the 1850s by the office historians of the Church from various source materials (like bullocks account).

  22. mmiles says:

    And was GAS the person who oversaw that compilation? Thanks.

  23. Yeah, he became the “Church Historian” After Willard Richards died in 1854. So he sort of ran the office. But the FP often checked off on things.

  24. The Historian’s Office letterbooks preserve much of the outgoing correspondence from the HO’s office in the 1850s and beyond, written by men like George A. Smith and Wilford Woodruff. Many of those letters to early members of the church explain that they (the HO) are looking for memories in general and sometimes specific bits of data to improve the history they are then writing — a history that purports to have been written by Joseph Smith.

    (Like J., I wanted to jump in and hope Bill doesn’t mind.)

  25. “HO’s office.” Sheesh.

  26. J and Ardis give a good summary of the situation, mmiles. The relevant historians for our purposes here were Willard Richards, George A. Smith and Wilford Woodruff. In Nauvoo, especially in the year before JS died, clerks would be assigned to record some of JS’s sermons. Richards organized, outlined and saw to the writing of JS’s history beginning in 1842. One of the goals of the project was to report JS’s sermons. With the abandonment of Nauvoo, the project was on hold and Richards became ill before work could really get going again in Utah. After Richards’ death in 1854, George A took over and got the office clerks (Bullock was one of them) to begin compiling existing reports of the sermons for insertion into the manuscript history of JS. In the present case the only available source for the clerks was Thomas Bullock’s report made at the sermon in May 1844. For important sermons like this one, after a draft was made, the draft would be read by church leaders for approval.

    The usual process of making up a draft of a sermon for the history would involve a clerk (Bullock, Jonathan Grimshaw or Robert Campbell were often assigned) pulling available reports for a sermon and sometimes meshing those reports together, fleshing them out, correcting grammar and making some other kinds of additions when the historian would offer changes perhaps based on their general acquaintance with JS’s teaching, say, or occasionally to provide support for current interpretations of doctrine or emphases. They could also offer changes or additions to make the sermon either self consistent or consistent with other ideas seen as important at the time. This mostly took place during the period 1854-56. An easy way to get a bit more info about the history process is to look at some notes I made here.

  27. mmiles says:

    Ardis, WVS, J. Stapley,
    Thank you!

  28. Very interesting. Thank you!

  29. prometheus says:

    Paint drying indeed – where can I buy some more! :) Really, fascinating stuff there.

  30. jmb275 says:

    Awesome WVS. Thanks for this. I love learning the ways in which we’ve mythologized Joseph Smith. Some of it for better, and some for worse.

  31. I don’t understand how any of that is “honest”. To me it seems like a straight-up lie, only changed because otherwise Joseph Smith wouldn’t be seen as a true prophet to some (like, how could he have not known that if he was really a prophet?) They are making things that turned out to be untrue, true. That is not honest.

    It bothers me a LOT that the words of our prophets are “edited” at all. Its one thing to change spelling errors, its another to assume you know his “true intent” and actually ADD words and phrases to it, which completely change the original meaning.

    I feel like I can’t trust a single word this church produces. Who knows who said it, or whats been changed to profit the church and hide truths that are not “faith building”. I’ll tell you whats not faith building- LIES.

  32. Given his criteria, O must REALLY hate the New Testament. Oh, and the Old Testament too.

  33. That a prophet says something does not make it canon. It is canon because the community, takes it to be so. So, though I am quite interested in the kinds of changes that WVS shows us, I’m not with those who want to give the original words an unwarranted unchangeable status to which we must defer. Continuing revelation includes the ability of the community to continue to understand itself through its texts, including to modify them to reflect the continuing self-understanding that comes through revelation.

  34. O: Both ricke and Jim F make important points. We should also observe that the construction of memoirs and historical annals in the 19th century was a very different process than we would use today. I think the Joseph Smith Papers project gives pointed illustration to the idea that even revelatory texts are not so rigid that they cannot be improved upon in terms of clarity and other issues. That may explode some mythology. So be it.

    In terms of Joseph Smith, his historian-editors were people who knew and heard him. In the cultural context in which Joseph’s history was written, it was authentic – even extraordinary. If you can’t find room in your psyche for cultural transition of historiographic standards, then you’re in for a lot of future shock.

  35. bonsai says:

    Sorry to intrude on a wonderful academic discussion (honest praise). Correct me if I am wrong, but judging from the comments it seems that you all have been able to retain a belief in Mormonism despite critical assertions that it is false based on an honest reading of the uncensored history? I am new to the objections to the church based on its history and they have severely crippled if not extinguished my belief in the restoration. I went to FARMS and FAIRLDS for answers but found the pot calling the kettle black and even outright deception on FAIRLDS.

    Where can I go for honest pro-LDS answers to some of the routine questions regarding the history and other criticisms of the Book of Mormon (such as the myriad parallels to Manuscript Story) that aren’t the pat “already debunked – tired and worn out argument” and yet provide no further answer? This site? Please, just a point in the right direction to the basics. Thanks in advance for any help.

    To keep the comments here uncluttered with any responses to mine, you can email me at joshuastwin@gmail.com

  36. “it seems that you all have been able to retain a belief in Mormonism despite critical assertions that it is false based on an honest reading of the uncensored history?”

    Nope, that’s not an accurate conclusion for me – based on the application and implication of the usage of “honest” in the sentence. Take that word out, and it’s pretty accurate for me. It’s a big difference, and it’s important, imo.

  37. @bonsai
    I am curious if you can point out any point of deception that you found at FAIRLDS as I have always found them to use the utmost honesty and integrity, even to the point of admitting at times that they don’t have a fully developed answer. So again please point to to a point of deception on FAIRLDS to remove my skepticism toward you intentions.

  38. @Zerabp

    FAIR enough ;) My plea for help was genuine and that’s why I didn’s spam the blog and provided an email address (and thanks to the one individual who responded to my plea via email). But I guess that when you make an accusation you better be able to back it up, right? To decrease your skepticism toward my intentions by understanding why I wrote what I did (feel free to correct any assumptions and error on my part) here is a page from FAIRLDS that really gets me:

    http://en.fairmormon.org/Book_of_Mormon_and_Spaulding_manuscript

    From the conclusion: “Modern supporters of the Spaulding authorship theory simply ignore the inconvenient fact that the manuscript recovered in the late 19th century bears no resemblance to the Book of Mormon and that no second manuscript has been discovered.”

    When the LDS and RLDS churches jointly republished Manuscript Story again they said in the publishers preface that there was “not one sentence, one incident, or one proper name common to both.”

    They must not have read it. That would make them unqualified to make such ignorant statements. I read the beginning of Manuscript Story and noted enough parallels to Joseph’s story of retrieving the plates in the introduction to call FAIRLDS’ statement and the publisher’s preface complete BS: the author/translator of the work lifts a partially buried stone with a lever to reveal a stone box (entrance to a cave) and a record of a forgotten, warring people and translates it and then urges the reader to not treat the work lightly. Come on. There’s no resemblance? I guess they do say “to the Book of Mormon” and do note on another page that there is some resemblance to Joseph’s retrieval story. But not on this page and that’s deceptive.

    In regards to “resemblance to the Book of Mormon”, I read parts of Broadhurst’s review of M. D. Bown’s book, One Hundred Similarities Between the Book of Mormon and the Spaulding Manuscript. Some of the parallels are weak, but many are disconcerting:

    On point #90, Armies of huge size were assembled:
    “Bown missed the fact that in both accounts divisions of troops numbering in the thousands are referred to as “bands,” or even as “little bands” and “small bands.” Holley points out Spalding’s “‘BAND OF about three THOUSAND resolute warriors,’ a ‘SMALL BAND OF valiant citizens,’ and a “LITTLE BAND OF DESPERATE heroes.’” He then compares these large groups of Ohians to some equally impressive troops of warriors in the Book of Mormon, including “my LITTLE BAND OF two THOUSAND,” and “my LITTLE BAND (who) fought most DESPERATELY.” Holley adds to this observation that military leaders in both sources were fond of calling some of these troops “my sons.” The phraseology overlap is substantial and we would be hard-pressed to guess which account the reference had been taken from, if our attention was directed to something like: “my little band of two thousand and five hundred brave sons.”

    On point #97, Similar strategy is described:
    “This is one of Bown’s more important discoveries, but he has neglected to explore and document the complex elements of the parallel…. In his more generous moments Spalding also has his protagonists subdue the enemy without shedding blood on either side. “The Book of Mormon is also replete with near-impossible troop movements, surprises, and stratagems. The night-time stratagem conducted against an unaware enemy is a favorite topic from the account concerning the murder of Laban forward. It is these night-time stratagems which caught Bown’s attention, and rightly so. The sub-parallels provided by the two records in these matters are so detailed, both in theme and vocabulary, as to make us wonder whether there might not be some other explanation for them than mere coincidence….But with the more apparent biblical language removed, the Book of Mormon night-time stratagem stories can be seen to share a substantial overlap of vocabulary and phraseology with Spalding.”

    Some other uncanny parallels:
    15. The departure of a small party from the Old World 16. The people crossed the ocean in a sailing vessel 17. A great storm arose 18. The voyagers became frightened, and were lost 19. The storm continued many days 20. They prayed to God for the storm to cease 21. Then the storm ceased 22. They sailed further several days and then landed 23. They landed on the American Continent 24. There were many rivers and lakes in the land 79. There were two dominant, but contrasting races or tribes 80. Some of the people were dark, others lighter 81. The people had a great leader with four sons 82. Two of the sons became leaders of opposing tribes 88. There were wars between two factions 89. The last war was to be one of extermination 90. Armies of huge size were assembled 91. They were armed with swords and with bows and arrows 92. Great destruction of property and towns, by fire 93. There was a tremendous slaughter 94. Women and children included in the slaughter 95. They fought on a plain, overlooked by a hill 96. They fought during the day and rested at night 97. Similar strategy is described 98. They buried their dead in heaps and covered them 99. Attributed their destruction to the judgment of God

    Granted, I have not examined all the parallels personally. But I did read through the part where the storm arises and they become afraid and pray to God for deliverance, etc. I want to state emphatically that I am not saying that the parallels prove that the theory is true. Regardless of whether it is true or not, this data makes FAIRLDS’ statement that there is “no resemblance” and the preface saying not “one incident” in common…lies. This is why I said that I don’t trust them.

    Apologists like to point out that their are differences between any work with numerous parallels to the Book of Mormon or other doctrines like Swederborg’s degrees of Glory. So true. But if you are going to plagarize something, surely you’re going to take only what you want and it becomes a specious argument.

    There’s also Vernal Holley’s BOOK OF MORMON AUTHORSHIP: A CLOSER LOOK, Ogden: Zenos, 1983:

    Both “present a white God person.”
    Both “involve use of seer stones.”
    Both state that it “will come forth . . .when the Europeans (gentiles) inhabit this land.”
    Both “translators” testify of the truthfulness of the work and request that the readers read it “with a pure heart”
    Both have the earth revolving about the sun-something unknown until 1543 A.D
    A theological address by an Indian chief in Spaulding’s manuscript contains “the same thoughts” and they are “in the same order” as in a similar address in the Book of Mormon by King Benjamin.
    The religious section of Spaulding is written in the chiastic style, which is found throughout the Book of Mormon.

    In regards to Vernal’s book I found this about the archaeology issue:

    “Even more surprising than these parallels, however, is the land area described in the two books. Holley emphasizes that Book of Mormon geography quite neatly matches the land described in Manuscript. Thus the “sea east” becomes Lake Ontario and the “sea west” becomes Lake Erie rather than, as Mormons have assumed, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Locating the River Sidon has always been a difficulty for Book of Mormon scholars. With this model, however, the River Sidon handily becomes the present-day Genesee River.
    “Another problem has been the width of the ‘small neck of land’ in the Book of Mormon, which is described as ‘a day and a half’s journey’ from sea to sea (Alma 22:32; 13:76). The distance of thirty-seven miles between these two lakes fits the description much better than the distance of over one hundred thirty miles at the Isthmus of Panama. ancient fortified earthworks have been found at this location.
    “Spaulding lived in this area and had first-hand knowledge of the earthworks, names and geographical locations that are portrayed in his writings. By imposing the Book of Mormon descriptions on maps of these areas, the following modern place names are found to coincide with the cities and lands in the Book of Mormon:
    Modern B of M
    Angola Angola
    Boaz Boaz
    Jerusalem Jerusalem
    Jordan Jordan
    Lehigh Lehi
    Rama Ramah
    St. Agathe Ogath
    Alma Valley of Alma
    Antrim Antum
    Antioch Anti-Anti
    Conner Comner
    St. Ephrem Hill Ephraim
    Hellam Helam
    Jacobsburg Jacobugath
    Kishkiminetas Kishkumen
    Mantua Manti
    Monroe Moroni
    Minoa Minon
    Moraviantown Morianton
    Morin Moron
    Noah Lake Land of Noah
    Oneida Onidah
    Oneida Castle Hill Onidah
    Omer Omner
    Ripple Lake Waters of Ripli- ancum
    Sodom Sidom
    Shiloh Shilom
    Shurbrook Shurr
    Tenecum Teancum
    “Holley bolsters his case for Spaulding authorship of the Book of Mormon with a quotation by Mormon archaeologist Joseph Vincent, who said:
    “’If a sincere student of the Book of Mormon will conscientiously read and study the book itself and will plot out all the locations mentioned,…he will find that all Book of Mormon lands lie within a five or six hundred mile radius, and that this area could not possibly extend from Chile to New York.’”

    I haven’t been able to find a debunk of these arguments. Can you point any out to me?

  39. @Zerabp

    Also from FAIRLDS’ conclusion: “They also ignore the complete lack of any persuasive evidence for contact between Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith prior to the Book of Mormon’s publication.”

    I think this statement is a bit hypocritical. Apologists like to argue that a seeming lack of archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon doesn’t mean there isn’t any. They readily accept the idea that there must be data, it just hasn’t been discovered yet.

    And what about the arguments made here:
    http://www.i4m.com/think/history/Book-of-Mormon.pdf

    For example: Book of Commandments 4:2 was written March 1828. It says, “and he has a gift to translate the book, and I have commanded him that he shall pretend to no other gift, for I will grant him no other gift.” In the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants 5:4, this revelation was revised to say, “And you have a gift to translate the plates; and this is the first gift that I bestowed upon you; and I have commanded that you should pretend to no other gift until my purpose is fulfilled in this; for I will grant unto you no other gift until it is finished.”
    There is a change in the substance of the revelation and I don’t think “line upon line” really cuts it. So why did this revelation change? If you take the perspective that Rigdon was the originator of the plan and the revelator in this instance, he was trying to keep Joseph in his place as finder and translator of the Book of Mormon only. Then the data fits a little better, doesn’t it? But, as the “finder” of the Book of Mormon, Joseph took control of the following and threw out the original revelation for one that favored him as leader of the new movement.

    What about a debunk of the Jocker et al., 2008 research?:
    “A 2008 computer analysis of the text of the Book of Mormon compared to writings of possible authors of the text shows a high probability that the authors of the book were Spalding, Rigdon, and Oliver Cowdery; concluding that ‘our analysis supports the theory that the Book of Mormon was written by multiple, nineteenth-century authors, and more specifically, we find strong support for the Spalding-Rigdon theory of authorship. In all the data, we find Rigdon as a unifying force.’” They also argue against the oft quoted “Hilton study and pointed out numerous flaws in it.”

    From the FAIRLDS conclusion: “Until the purported second manuscript appears, all these critics have is a nonexistent document which they can claim says anything they want. This is doubtlessly the attraction of the ‘theory’ and shows the lengths to which critics will go to disprove the Book of Mormon.”

    Again, this is ignoring the volume of parallels between the existing Manuscript Story and the Book of Mormon and the other data, regardless of whether there ever was a second manuscript and is false.

    What about this argument: “In 1832, Latter Day Saint missionaries Samuel H. Smith and Orson Hyde visited Conneaut, Ohio, and preached from the Book of Mormon. Nehemiah King, a resident of Conneaut who knew Spalding when he lived there, felt that the Mormon text resembled the story written by Spalding years before. ” From a wikipedia article.

    This seems to preclude the later mess of testimony and accusations of tampering of testimony by Hurlbut.

    Lightplanet says in regards to the Spaulding theory: “Critics have resorted to the wrongful use of parallels in historic analysis, thus undermining their credibility as serious, and objective, analyzers of history and religion.”

    Yet they link a personal letter from Quinn which says, “The existence of parallels in ancient rites and LDS ordinances therefore is of at least equal importance as Masonic-LDS parallels.”

    And, on their page, Book of Mormon Archaeology, they discuss “indirect archaeological evidence” and “correspondences” in support of the Book of Mormon. I believe those are all ways of saying “historical parallels.” Subtle hypocrisy. Oh, and they even use the word “parallels.” Not so subtle hypocrisy.

  40. @ray, @zerabp

    Here is another page from FAIRLDS that really gets me and why I said an “honest” reading of church history:

    http://en.fairmormon.org/Mormonism_and_racial_issues/Brigham_Young/Race_mixing_punishable_by_death

    This is a defense of Brigham Young’s purported racism specifically addressing statements about death being the only option for those who mix their seed with anyone from the lineage of Cain.

    First, the FAIRLDS author attempts to help us understand Brother Brigham’s intent by defining “the white man who belongs to the chosen seed” (priesthood holders). Then with this definition they guide us to the “likely” audience he was addressing (the members), emphasizing that “the rest of the United States was certainly not listening.”

    However, FAIRLDS then quotes from the paragraph of the discourse that follows the quote, which seems to imply that Brother Brigham wasn’t talking to the priesthood, nor limiting his comments to the members:

    “…Brigham went on to declare: ‘I say to all men and all women, submit to God, to his ordinances and to His rule; serve Him, and cease your quarrelling, and stay the shedding of each other’s blood.’ He is thus in the mode of condemning the United States and the ‘nations of the earth’ for their sins…”

    And if we look at the portion of the discourse just before the race mixing quote we read: “The rank, rabid abolitionists… have set the whole national fabric on fire…. I am no abolitionist, neither am I a proslavery man; I hate some of their principles and especially some of their conduct, as I do the gates of hell. The Southerners make the negroes, and the Northerners worship them; this is all the difference between slaveholders and abolitionists. I would like the President of the United States and all the world to hear this.”

    We should ask the question, hear what? The part before “I would like…all the world to hear this” or the part that comes after: death to race mixers? Either way, the “likely” audience is either “The President” and “all the world” or the “United States” and “the nations of the earth” and not limited to the LDS faithful as they inaccurately submit.

    Much of the article is an effort to demonstrate that Brother Brigham was sort of a champion for the good treatment of slaves. This is true. He was. Sort of. They reference a speech Brother Brigham gave before the Utah legislature when it was considering laws on slavery to show that “Brigham Young nevertheless advocated humane treatment of slaves and provisions for their eventual release.” I’d like to note that this “eventual release” was limited to cases of sexual abuse and other poor treatment and not the abolition of slavery.

    I want to emphasize that the author of the wiki conveniently leaves out the majority of the speech that shows President Young’s honest sentiment and which give a clearer picture of his views:

    “I will remark with regard to Slavery, inasmuch as we believe in the Bible, inasmuch as we believe in the Ordinances of God, in the Priesthood order and decrees of God, we must believe in Slavery [because it is a curse from God and only God can remove it]….I am a firm believer in Slavery….I know it is right, and there should be a law made to have slaves serve their master, because they are not capable of ruling themselves. When the Lord God cursed old Cain, He said, ‘Until the last drop of Abel’s blood receives the Priesthood, and enjoys the blessings of the same, Cain shall bear the curse,’ then Cain is calculated to have his share next, and not until then; consequently, I am firm in the belief that they ought to dwell in servitude….When a master has a Negro, and uses him well, he is much better off than if he was free [compared to masters who whip and break limbs].” – Paul Collier. The Teachings of President Brigham Young, Vol 3:26-29, 1852-1854.

    Elsewhere, FAIRLDS takes the approach that there was a different cultural context that we need to understand in order to understand the purported racism seen in certain comments from leaders of the church. The common defense is that leaders weren’t really racist but simply fallible in adopting the protestant traditions of the time to explain the priesthood ban. But they fail to reconcile many other quotes and this 1852 speech before the Utah Legislature where Young is saying that for the saints, belief in slavery is synoymous with believing in the ordinances and priesthood and decrees of God and Young’s emphasis: “I know it is right” and “I am firm in the belief….” Or, the 1963 quote on death to race mixers as “the law of God.”

    Both leaders of the church and Southern slave owners used doctrinal explanations to justify a continuation of the enslavement of an “inferior race” (Joseph Fielding Smith’s words). How is that not racism? It seems clear to me that Brigham Young was racist, albeit a benevolent racist. Why not just admit it?

    FAIRLDS does admit, “In the 1863 context, Brigham Young did not sympathize with pro-abolitionist sentiments in the North or the pro-slavery sentiments in the South, but advocated a moderate, middle ground.” Further on the FAIRLDS page you find that Brother Brigham’s more neutral, benevolent slavery was part of positioning the lovely Deseret for admission to the Union.

    In regards to all of the above regarding Young’s pro-slavery speech and later “moderate, middle ground”, what I want to know is why Brother Brigham ignored this revelation given to Joseph Smith, recorded in 1833: “Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another” (DC 101:79). Why was he not anti-slavery and in tune with the current revelations? Utah statehood was more important to the Lord’s church and kingdom than freeing a people in bondage? That doesn’t make sense to me and seems to contradict this revelation from God.

    FAIRLDS continues with this line: “Brigham condemned the white male (and perhaps priesthood holder) who ‘mixes’ with black Africans. Why?” They persist in taking the position that the comments were directed at the white male for using his position of authority to take sexual liberties with female slaves and it is this behavior that Brother Brigham was condemning. Or the other extreme of a black man as a predator of white women. They say, “Thus, a good part of Brigham’s objection likely rested on the circumstances which would attend most white male/black woman pairings in his day. He would have likely known of no counter-examples—no relationships with blacks could be legal, and most resulted from duress.”

    Uh, except that the very first quote they reference says, “If they ‘a mixed race couple’ were far away from the gentiles they would all [have] to be killed — when they mingle seed it is death to all.” In the very next line, Brother Brigham himself defines this couple as “a black man & white woman.” Also, the word “couple” seems to belie the author’s claim.

    The author of this FAIRLDS wiki tries to use smoke and mirrors to obfuscate Brother Brigham’s racism, all the while pretending that the data on center stage shows something it does not. The data shows that he was speaking to “the nations of the earth” and that he was condemning race mixing: “a black man & white woman.” And! that he felt it was the “law of God.”

    This data demonstrates that the FAIRLDS apologist in this instance had an agenda and resorted to dubious means to achieve their aim, including taking quotes out of context. This is exactly what apologists are constantly accusing critics of.

    While FAIR cautions elsewhere along the lines of this very blog post – that we shouldn’t hold early church historians to the same standard as we do modern historians in their mythologizing of early church leaders – they fail as modern historians by suggesting what is not validated by the evidence in a modern attempt to mythologize Brigham Young. Hypocritical.

  41. See my response in #36.

  42. @Ray
    I don’t understand what you are saying by referring back to your comment. I’m trying to be honest with myself and what I’ve read. Please just point out if I am in error and where. Are you saying I’m dishonest? Or that my intentions aren’t pure? What are you saying? I’m tired and not following.

  43. That’s not at all what I’m saying, and the thought that it would be taken that way never crossed my mind. I truly am sorry about that.

    You said, “critical assertions that it is false based on an honest reading of the uncensored history” – which at least implies that any and all “honest” readings of uncensored history would bring the conclusion that Mormonism is false. If that’s not what you meant, I apoloize again – but it is the direct implication that is most obvious in the wording.

    I’ll try to be concise, but my main point is that “honest” and “selective” aren’t mutually exclusive – especially when dealing with “myth building”. “Myth” too often is associated with “fictional” (like the third definition at Dictionary.com: “any invented story, idea, or concept: His account of the event is pure myth.”), but the very first definition is more in line with this post, imo:

    “a traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some being or hero or event, **with or without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation**, especially one that is concerned with deities or demigods and explains some practice, rite, or phenomenon of nature.”

    Myths, in this sense, are nothing more than selective accounts that focus on certain things in order to emphasize
    certain things – and “honesty” has nothing to do with that basic selection process.

    Can a “full biography” of Winston Churchill exclude the fact that he drank a lot and had a biting sense of humor, especially when he had been drinking a lot? Can such a record ignore Thomas Jefferson’s sexual indiscretions? Can such a record ignore Joseph Smith’s experiments with arrangments other than monogamous marriage and sealing – or his poor financial management skills? Of course not.

    However, those things don’t have to present at all in an “honest” myth – especially when those things are recorded in other accounts that are available.

  44. One more thing, just to be clear:

    Apologetics often are very, very different than myth – especially in the sense of the longer I posted in my last comment. (Sometimes, unfortunately, they are exactly like the third dictionary definition.)

    It is reasonable to have huge problems with some apologetics, but those don’t translate automatically into valid cirticisms of myth building.

    If you are interested, read Campbell’s “The Power of Myth”. It’s fascinating.

  45. @ray
    Thanks for the clarification and insight.

    “Can such a record ignore Joseph Smith’s experiments with arrangments other than monogamous marriage and sealing – or his poor financial management skills?”

    No, but it sure does try your faith when you’ve never heard it before. It doesn’t sound very prophet-like compared to the white washed version presented in Sunday School and portrayed in the modern mythologizing by the church (or church friendly organizations) in movies like Emma Smith: My Story or in the Ensign.

    It makes for a real rude awakening.

    What is your take on the 1832 version of the first vision where Joseph said it was a prayer of repentance and that he already knew from his reading of the Bible that the other churches had gone astray before he went to pray? And fails to mention the Father?

  46. I have no problem with it, personally (or the other versions) – but “why” is a discussion for another thread that deals with it. Such a discussion could spiral into something about all the issues that are ignored in myth building, and I don’t have the right to do that on someone else’s thread.

    If you want to talk about that (or anything else), contact me personally through e-mail. Just click on my name, scroll to the bottom of my personal blog and send me an e-mail. It might take me a little while to respond, but I will.

  47. Christopher Jone’s recent paper in the JMH on the first vision would be an important read for you.

  48. What’s the JMH?

  49. The Journal of Mormon History

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