The Science of Reminiscence: Joseph Smith Vignettes. II

This is the second in a series of posts on memories about Joseph Smith. The same cautions apply as noted in post 1.

Easton Kelsey heard him [Joseph Smith] say that he (Joseph) had been with John, the Beloved Apostle of Jesus who told him that he was busy among the ten tribes organizing and preparing them to return.[1]

 

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“I (Joseph) was once in council with the Ancient Twelve, but they [deletion] were so far advanced in the wonderful things of heaven that I had not a word to say I merely looked on and listened.”[2]

“No man can be a Minister of the Gospel unless he has the Spirit of Revelation and Prophesy.”[3]

“After I got through translating the Book of Mormon, I took up the Bible to read with the Urim and Thummim I read the first Chapter of Genesis and I saw the things as they were done. I turned over the next and the next and the whole passed before me like a grand panorama and so on chapter after chapter until I read the whole of it. I saw it all! Then I think of the Sectarian Priests boasting of what they know—why I have forgotten a thousand times more than ever they knew. (This was spoken at the House of [?] Brown. N. Y. 1830[9?]. Sidney Rigdon being along. Related by Lorenzo Brown 1880.[4]

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These kinds of sound-bite statements disconnect claimed memories from context, and correspond to the ways we deploy Joseph-Smith-as-proof-text in modern church settings. This sort of thing is common practice for religions in general and the biblical writers freely appropriated the authority of texts to suit their purposes. The original Nephi declared the practice of severing religious texts from their original context to be a useful one, able to link the current generation of believers with the divine by seeing current trials and behaviors through a reconstructed past.  But Nephi’s situation may be somewhat different from ours or the ancients in general.

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[1] Kelsey (1813-1899) was ordained an elder in Kirtland, Ohio in 1836. Kelsey had three wives by 1852 and fathered 23 children. He died in St. George, Utah. Kelsey was not the only one to relate a story about Joseph Smith and John (Latter-day Saints, like most nineteenth-century Christians, identified the beloved disciple with John the apostle). Early in Joseph’s career (June 3, 1831 — the conference where the high priesthood was restored) John Whitmer reported that “The spirit of the Lord fell upon Joseph in an unusual manner. And he prophesied that John the Revelator was then among the ten tribes of Israel who had been led away by Salmanasar King of Israel [Assyria], to prepare them for their return, from their long dispersion, to again possess the land of their fathers. He prophesied many more things that I have not written.” Oliver B. Huntington repeated a story to the effect that Joseph Smith spoke with John “While ‘the camp of Zion’ was on the way to Missouri in 1834. Joseph was some ways ahead of the company one day, when there was seen talking with him by the roadside a man, a stranger. When the company came up there was no person with him. When at camp that night, Heber asked the Prophet who that man was; Joseph replied it was the beloved Disciple, John, who was then on his way to the ten tribes in the north.” Kelsey’s recollection may be a composite of the various versions of this idea. Contemporary sources for such tales seem to be absent.

[2] Joseph and the ancient apostles. The statement may be mythologized version of Joseph Smith’s statement at the organization of first high council. Orson Hyde reported, “Bro Joseph then said he would show the order of councils in ancient days as shown to him by vision. The law by which to govern the council in the church of Christ. Jerusalem was the seat of the church council in ancient days. The apostle Peter was the president of the council in ancient days and held the Keys of the Kingdom of God, ^on the earth^ was appointed to this office by the voice of the Savior – and confirmed ^acknowledged^ in it by the voice of the church. He had two men appointed as counsellors with him, and in case Peter was absent, his counsellors could transact business, ^or either one of them. The President could also transact business alone.^”

[3] This recalls some of Joseph Smith’s frequent preaching.

[4] The report may come from Lorenzo Brown, born 1823 in Pomfret, New York. Since Brown’s family did not begin to join the church until 1837, the date of 1839 (when Joseph Smith came East for redress attempts) is most likely in that case. However, Brown and his family had traveled to Nauvoo by 1839. Another possibility is that Lorenzo is offering hearsay testimony. Urim and Thummim is a relatively later term and applied broadly to Joseph’s revelatory instruments such as the spectacles with the golden plates, or his various “seer” stones. “Sectarian priests” was a fairly common term among LDS preachers and missionaries of the era (for example, see Joseph Smith’s sermon of October 15, 1843;). The Urim mentioned here likely refers to one of the stones. On such stones, see Mark Ashurst-McGee, “Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet (Logan, UT: MA thesis, Utah State University, 2001). Brown’s tale may have become embellished over time. If so, it would not be the first.

Comments

  1. The Hadith of Joseph. Would that our tradition had also developed a way to evaluate them.

  2. I love these probings into how religious memory is made and deployed. Keep ‘em coming!

    Ben: the Hadith of Joseph is exactly right.

  3. It’s an remarkable paragraph in favor of all the web users;
    they will take benefit from iit I am sure.

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