Modern Martyrs?

This past week in Sunday School there was a discussion of Joseph Smith’s martyrdom and Doctrine and Covenants 135. My Sunday School teacher, whom I love and believe to have been sincerely sharing her thoughts on the martyrdom, went a little crazy. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but the line “Joseph Smith died for us” was uttered.

Now, I understand that different people get their testimony of the Gospel from different sources and in different ways. I myself have always been a Book of Mormon first guy; it’s how I got my testimony and it is how I maintain it. My testimony of Joseph Smith comes from his translation work on the Book of Mormon, not so much his other stuff (which isn’t to say I don’t appreciate it, don’t worship using it, or disbelieve it, just that my testimony came from the Book of Mormon and that it where it mostly resides). I don’t feel that my testimony is superior to anyone’s and I’m happy to have people get to the Gospel from all angles. So please read what follows as an inquiry, not a rant.

I don’t get our need for martyrs in the Catholic/Orthodox-saint sense. I admit that Christ’s blood needed to be shed in order for the Atonement to take place, but aside from that I don’t see the appeal. The message of Abraham and Isaac is, very explicitly, that God doesn’t require our blood. I doubt that the early Christians would have had that different an experience if Peter and James had died natural deaths. The Church would not be any less true for me (I think) if Joseph had lived until he was eighty. While it is nice to assume that Joseph’s death was all part of God’s plan, set up from the beginning, what do we lose if we see it as another 119 pages lost, evidence of Satan’s short-sighted plans rather than God’s need for spilt blood.

I tend to think that when John Taylor wrote that Joseph had “sealed his mission and his works with his own blood,” he didn’t view it as a necessary thing. It is a statement that Joseph was faithful to the end; that’s all. I’m no historian; was the immediate period prior to his incarceration the only time Joseph feared for his own life and spoke portentiously about it? Couldn’t a lamb going to the slaughter refer to another stint in a fetid prison, instead of a foretold death?

In any case, since we know that Joseph wasn’t particularly inclined to face the justice of Carthage and that his decision to go was some mixture of love of his people and a desire to save face, I wonder at my Sunday School teachers conviction. That Joseph reluctantly crossed back over the river to submit to arrest does not indicate to me a great desire to shed his own blood for the cause (nor, I suppose, does the fact that he shot back at his attackers while in Carthage Jail). I had a mission companion once who had a goal of getting arrested by Russian police for teaching the Gospel. It happened while he was my companion. Goal achieved, but he had to behave rather obnoxiously to do it (ignoring mission guidelines, I might add). There may be salvific power in suffering, but I’m skeptical it comes to those who seek it out.

The Catholics and Orthodox celebrate their saints for their stalwart devotion to God in the face of torture. The deaths of the saints are gruesome and often miraculous. I was recently reminded of the martyrdom of St. Christina, who was drowned and ripped apart. Those who venerate saints take God’s choice to put her back together again as a sign of divine love, but reviving someone just so that they can undergo another tortuous death doesn’t strike me as love. However, we are also frequently assured that saints felt no pain, so what do I know?

If we accept that Joseph Smith did more save Christ only for the salvation of men, then it seems to me that we need to be realistic regarding his death. I don’t know the value of seeing it as foreordained but I think that if we take Joseph and Jesus as exemplars then we should respect their real attitudes as they approached death. Christ asked that the cup be taken from him. Joseph made plans to flee to Iowa. Christ cried from the cross, “My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?” Joseph looked at his friends and said, “If my life is of no value to my friends it is of none to myself.” There is despair and fear in these words and moments. We should respect that, rather than glossing it over.

So, if I am wrong to object to direct comparisons between Joseph and Jesus, it isn’t because I don’t value what they have done. It’s to some degree because I find Christ incomparable. But, more than that, it is because I worry that we can, in becoming overly fascinated with the interesting deaths of our loyal dead, we may seek out troubles and flaws that God wouldn’t want to see in us. We are, after all, often as short-sighted as the Devil.


  1. “I don’t want to go into too much detail, but the line “Joseph Smith died for us” was uttered.”

    I remember Susan Easton Black told me (us it was a class) that the church removed the blood at Carthage jail because members were exhibiting worshipful behavior over it.

    I guess this whenever you are a martyr religious societies often begin to exhibit a worship for you that begins to cross the line.

  2. Our own lives are our ultimate possessions. When someone gives life for another, it is considered a highly valuable thing. It is also highly nationalistic, something that bonds a group of people together as nothing else can. It’s the same as “honoring those who died for us” that you get from any militaristic society. In both cases the purpose is to say “see, he gave up his life for this cause, you better respect the cause.”

  3. Our class had a related overly-exuberant moment, with the teacher insisting that Joseph’s death absolutely had to be a violent one, that his blood had to be shed … that he had to be a martyr.

    I don’t see it. Every scripture anybody cites about sealing testimony can — and is — read by me as a simple legal requirement that a testament is only in force once the testifyer is beyond the point of changing his testimony. You make a will — a last will and testament — in your youth, and you can change it a hundred times during your life if you want to. It has no legal effect until you die. Joseph’s testimony was sealed — became final — was beyond the point of change when he died. He lived faithfully, and he died faithfully.

    What am I missing? So far as I can seem to wrap my understanding around it, Christ with his unique mission and unique divine/human heritage was the only one whose blood was a requirement. Making this claim about Joseph equates him too nearly to the Savior — “he died for us” — than I’m comfortable with.

  4. I used to love D&C 135 because it such a stirring tribute to The Prophet. However, I think we need to take into account that is was written as an emotional expression of love for a recently fallen (and very charismatic) leader. As a result, it might just be a bit over-the-top. It is understandable that John Taylor would express himself that way, after all, he was there. We should be able to put these things in context, but we seem to have trouble doing so.

    John, your comment about your testimony and the Book of Mormon helped me put into words some things I have been thinking about lately. Thanks.

  5. Maybe it would be helpful to define the elements of “martyrdom”?
    First, why was the specific reason for those who put the person to death? For example, was it because as Stephen he was testifying of an open vision of Christ OR was it because someone believed someone was stealing his wife? Cause-effect might have some bearing? In other words did the person do anything to contribute to their murder (even if not justified such as slandering someone or destroying someone’s property)

    Second, how did the person respond as martyrdom approached? Did they as Anti-Nephi lehites prostrate themselves? Or did they seek to preserve their life? or go as far as shooting back—not “lamb to slaughter” but rather struggle to point of hurting or shooting those who are the murderers?

    We have hundreds of examples of Christian martyrs from the time of Christ. How did this latter day martyrdom compare? One final thought. For those who believe that a “prophet will never lead us astray” (I personally do not) but will be taken before he does is the inverse true, ie, he will not be taken if he is not leading us astray. And if so, does this principle have any bearing on what occurred here in light of the Nauvoo family value experiment?

    Just asking?


  6. I can no longer remember the exact context, but I had a Sunday School/Priesthood teacher some 30 or so years ago who took us through D&C 135 and say, in so many words, “Isn’t this a little much? Isn’t the language a bit inflammatory?” I was startled, but had to acknowledge his assessment.

    Like Chris H., I have since learned to appreciate D&C 135 for its outpouring of grief and anger by John Taylor. It’s the same reason I love the original lyrics to “Praise to the Man” (“Long shall his blood which was shed by assassins/Stain Illinois while the earth lauds his fame.”). I think they are both important because they provided outlets for the Saints’ emotions, which otherwise could have led to escalating violence in post-Joseph Nauvoo.

    But if any Sunday School/Priesthood teacher or class member ever said “Joseph Smith died for us” in my presence, I would quickly (though politely) correct them. Though in another sense, Joseph died because of the Saints in Nauvoo: “If my life is of no value to my friends, it is of none to me.” There may be a deep lesson in there for us when we are inclined to criticize Church leaders. ..bruce..

  7. You aren’t “just asking,” Ron. You’re a viper.

  8. One of my favorite lines from the person Jesus called the greatest prophet (John the Baptist) was: “I must decrease that he might increase.” What a perceptive statement. And yet Jesus called John the Baptist also the “least”—Jesus might have been communicating something about the cultic hero worship of humans—-sometimes we have to look at someone’s own words to get some additional clues to the environment they are creating around themselves:

    “I have more to boast of than any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such work as I “(History of the Church, Vol.6, pp. 408-09).

    So “Praise to the Man” which includes the words “THe earth must atone for the blood of that man.”

    Now exactly how is the earth going to ATONE for his death? Create a blood oath of revenge perhaps? See the natural progression of such oaths in MMM? Did that suffice?

    Did Joseph mediate great knowledge of Christ to the earth? Yes in my opinion. Do I worship Joseph in any form? Absolutely not, and as far as I know he never asked us to do so==all emotions and anger control aside

  9. Maybe we should differentiate between different types of “martyrs”. There are martyrs who died by execution (e.g., Jesus, Apostle Peter, William Tyndale, Ken Saro-Wiwa in Nigeria) after some kind of supposed legal process. And there are martyrs who were murdered (e.g., Joseph Smith, many civil rights workers in the ’60s) without any pretense of state authority.

    I think those in the second category may suffer in comparison to those in the first category. Especially if, unlike the slain civil rights activists who were committed to nonviolence, they do something non-martyry and non-lamb-to-the-slaughter-y, and actually try to defend themselves. Shooting back at an angry mob who outnumber you and who shot first — well, that disqualifies you from being a fully-credentialed Category One “martyr”.

    “Martyr” being such a subjective term, this issue doesn’t really bother me much. I think Joseph’s “lamb to the slaughter” phrase perhaps reflects his emotional state before surrendering to the authorities. It was after his murder that the phrase took on such resonance for his friends who saw him killed. It doesn’t bother me that Joseph didn’t act lamb-like in the jail when attacked. He acted like an American who believed in due process, who doesn’t expect to be attacked while supposedly in official custody. As for Joseph shooting back at the mob, I figure he wasn’t trying to protect just himself, but also his brother and his 2 friends.

    If someone was trying to shoot your brother, wouldn’t you try to protect him?

  10. FMaxwell,

    Nice analysis/differentiation as to nature of martyrdom. It does not bother me one bit that Joseph shot back. The point of DC 135 is placing Joseph “nearly” in the category of Christ is the issue when the lines begin to blur. The beauty of the restored gospel for me is that Joseph could be subject to a disciplinary council after Zion’s Camp (whether justified or not) consistent with DC 107 that ALL men are subject to such councils if they screw up.

  11. I for one believe you can be a martyr and defend yourself at the same time. At no time do I see an either or idea. The fact that Stephen was stoned to death or that Paul and Peter purportedly were crucified does not make them more a martyr than say Parley Pratt, David Patten or Joseph Smith who all died as apostles/prophets while serving the Lord.

    To me I would agree that making Joseph into a Christ figure is a mistake. One can understand and accept that the grief of the saints in that period was internalized into statements and expression rather than in violence.

    I do think that the expression that the blood of martyrs is calling for justice, and the idea that the “earth must atone” are the same type of ideas. That the world will be called to account for their actions and will have to atone for it.

    In a way it is a metaphor for the judgment day that people will meet. In my opinion the earth in the song refers to the people not to the object.

  12. JonW,

    What is cool about mormon blogs is one can discuss the 800 lb. gorilla issues that one has in this setting that one cannot discuss in church–nor should–unless one wants to incur irrational, emotional/ad hominen attacks. I see your point that “people” must account and not the “earth” as a whole for what they did to Joseph.
    As to David Patten and Parley Pratt, maybe there is a third category for martyrs? One’s that provoke their assailants? The attacks on Gallatin and Crooked River were not exactly Christ like nor justified and violation of DC 98 mandate just five years earlier. In other words, David Patten was arguably on a revenge crusade more than holy mission and they were just shooting back and defending themselves in Crooked River. And Parley, well I loved his biography and faith, but maybe Parley was just another human being that really pissed off a man who thought his wife was being stolen. As a 29 year litigator and dealing with raw, intense emotions some might call this “manslaughter” and not murder of Parley. I suspect you know the history but from one perspective this is how Parley met his end. Somehow this does not seem to fit the typical “martyr” story…sorry if this offends what is pasted below but I suspect this is a forum where such issues can be addressed while we sit stone quiet in GD week after week:

    “While in San Francisco, Pratt induced the wife of Hector H. McLean, a custom-house official, the mother of three children, to accept the Mormon faith and to elope with him to Utah as his ninth wife. The children were sent to her parents in Louisiana by their father, and there she sometime later obtained them, after pretending that she had abandoned the Mormon belief.

    “When McLean learned of this he went East, and traced his wife and Pratt to Houston, Texas, and thence to Fort Gibson, near Van Buren, Arkansas. There he had Pratt arrested, but there seemed to be no law under which he could be held. As soon as Pratt was released, he left the place on horseback. McLean, who had found letters from Pratt to his wife at Fort Gibson which increased his feeling against the man, followed him on horseback for eight miles, and then, overtaking him, shot him so that he died in two hours.”

  13. “The Church would not be any less true for me (I think) if Joseph had lived until he was eighty.”


    “For those who believe that a “prophet will never lead us astray” (I personally do not) but will be taken before he does is the inverse true, ie, he will not be taken if he is not leading us astray. And if so, does this principle have any bearing on what occurred here in light of the Nauvoo family value experiment?”

    Joseph’s innovations in theology and practice were increasing exponentially as he lived on. Had he not died, I think more and more drastic changes would have occurred. Perhaps these changes would have driven so many people away as to ultimately destroy the solidarity of the church. I think the church’s survival depended on Joseph’s death.

    But this does beg the question – If Joseph did die because, as Ron suggested, he had started to lead his people astray with polygamy, at what point do we consider his teachings to be “fallen”?

    I don’t think we have any rational reason to believe that Joseph was done “revealing” when he was killed. These leads me to three alternate explanations:

    1) Satan inspired people to kill him. If he had been allowed to continue, would he have revealed more truths than we have now? And does that mean that we don’t actually have “the fulness” of the Gospel?

    2) He brought about his own death by deviating from God’s commands. If he was killed because he had started leading people astray, the last years of his life must be suspect. This brings in not only polygamy, but the entire Endowment and sealing.

    3) God orchestrated his death so that it would happen exactly when his work was done. A troubling picture of our merciful Heavenly Father.

  14. Re 10 – Thanks, Ron. I’d agree that there can be a problem if people use D&C 135:3 to equate Joseph with Christ. I think D&C 135 should be thought of as a different kind of writing than most of the other sections in the book. It’s not written by Deity, but by a man, John Taylor. It’s there because JT was an eyewitness of the event. I see the first sentence of verse 3 as rhethorical hyperbole from a man who just saw his leader and friend die. I don’t think it necessarily is a statement of cosmic, spiritual fact. Maybe Joshua would have said the same about Moses. But because D&C 135 is part of the “scriptures”, I think it’s easy for many in the Church to over-emphasize one particularly striking phrase.

    Note that when I call the phrase hyperbole, I’m not criticizing it. I’m just recognizing it as a literary figure of speech.

    I’d likewise consider the “earth must atone for the blood of that man” line in “Praise to the Man” as another emotional expression of the love, grief and anger of the Saints after Joseph’s murder. Sort of like all the calls for justice and vengeance in the Psalms. Once again, not the words of Deity, but the cries of pain of some of his children.

  15. Ron,
    I hesitate to respond to your comments because I suspect, like Ardis, that you are a troll. Nonetheless, I think that they deserve some response.

    As you possibly know, the word “martyr” comes from Greek and means “witness” in that language. Martyr don’t do what they do in a vacuum. Though they are victims, they understand their own death as a testimony of what they believe. In that light, I don’t see the death of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis as being fundamentally superior to Joseph’s or anyone else’s. All martyrs die deaths of defiance and faith.

    The Christians who died at the time of the Romans likely fought for their lives. Please remember that Fox’s Book of Martyrs is a kind of propaganda; I doubt it offers unadulterated history. Besides, part of the point of the post is that I find the stories of those early martyrs often unhelpful (and really, really gruesome). It is helpful to remember that in the early Christian church, there is no love of earthly life or the body, so the death of martyrs and the destruction of their bodies is meant to remind us that this life is crap.

    nor do I believe that a prophet’s death necessarily indicates that he was leading people astray. But why don’t you tell me how you feel about President Hinckley, while we are on the subject?

    Of course we don’t worship Joseph. No-one claimed otherwise (not even in my Sunday School class).

    Also, there are numerous scriptural references to the blood of prophets crying out from the dust. I don’t think that language is anything to worry about (except perhaps for folks who kill prophets).

    Wait, what disciplinary council was Joseph subject to?

    Finally, I’m ecstatic that you feel that you are sufficiently qualified to judge the early apostles in the modern era and that you can objectively declare them deserving of being shot to death. I applaud your fearless pursuit of the truth above all.

    I decided to not correct her because I didn’t feel it was my place, I don’t think I could have done it without inviting the spirit of contention, I understood that she was bearing her testimony of the impact of Joseph Smith’s life (not his death), and she was deeply, deeply sincere.

    Maybe his death had more to do with anti-Mormon sentiment in the area and less to do with your half-baked theories.

  16. Re: 12.
    Ron, what is the source from which you copied the paragraphs about Parley and the McLeans? I remember years ago reading an exhaustive BYU Studies article on this topic, and there’s a lot more to this story than most people know.

  17. John, I always read “Joseph sealed his testimony with his blood” to be that he was faithful to end. The end. I am fantastically uncomfortable, to the point I might get up and leave, if someone tries to equate Joseph with the Atonement.

    When I read that Joseph did more for mankind, save only Jesus Christ, I read that to be about his bringing forth of the BoM, not about his person having saving qualities.

  18. Re: 15,
    “Maybe his death had more to do with anti-Mormon sentiment in the area and less to do with your half-baked theories.”
    I believe that falls under #1 that I mentioned.

    The thing that drives me crazy about BCC is that its like a little insiders’ club. The regulars dominate the discussion, and anyone who raises points that are disagreeable is considered a “troll”, or is just flat out ignored. And then they are dismissed easily because one of the perma’s comes up with some witty way to insult them.

    Really enlightening, folks.

  19. Skeptical,
    With all due respect, bite me. I was as rude to you as I was to Ron. Ron just made more points that I felt like responding, too (also you repeated many of his).

    And know, I don’t agree that your #1 agreed with my assessment. That’s because your #1, like all the points you and Ron made, was a question that was intended to cast doubt on the church, not to open inquiry. Frankly, if BCC is an insider’s club, I’m, at this point, glad you’re not in.

  20. Tracy,
    I agree.

  21. Kathryn Soper says:

    I showed the church’s video reenactment of the martyrdom to my Gospel Doctrine class the other week. They leave out the best parts! No gun-toting prophet, no Masonic distress call. Pfft.

  22. Go figure. ;)

  23. john willis says:

    Yesterday I taught the GD lesson on the Martyrdom of Joseph Smith as our regular teacher was at a family reunion.
    I started by putting four pictures on the chalk board, Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. I asked the question what do all of these men have in common. The anwer that I was seeking and got was that all were Martyrs for the truth.

    I quoted from the late Raymond E. Brown a Catholic Priest and distinguished biblical scholar and his book The Death of the Messiah which discusses the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. He makes the point that Jewish religious leadership of Jesus’ time who sought his death were not hypocrites but sincere religous believers who honestly believed that Jesus’ teaching were blasphemous. He argues that any prophet who asks members of a religious tradition to do more than they have been previously asked to do and claims to speak for God will create hostility among the religous and political establishment of his or her time.

    I suggested that was true of Jesus ,Joseph Smith, MLK and Gandhi and was at least a partial explanation of why they were all martyred.

    This was not exactly what was in the manual but I’d like to think I made the class members think. My stake president was visiting our ward, which was a suprise to me ,and was in the class. I wasn’t called in for a summary disciplinary council after Sunday School so I hope I wasn’t too far off base.

  24. Re: 23
    I was thinking about Gandhi when writing my earlier comments about Joseph shooting back at the people trying to kill him and his brother. But it’s probably unfair to compare Joseph to Gandhi.

    The only relevant commentary I could recall on this comes from Buffy, season 3:

    [Buffy is fighting a demon named Ken, who has enslaved a bunch of humans.]

    Buffy: Hey, Ken, wanna see my impression of Gandhi?

    [She kills the demon with a club. One of the freed prisoners, Lily, comes up behind her and looks at Ken squeamishly.]

    Lily: Gandhi?

    Buffy: Well, you know, if he was really pissed off.

  25. No disrespect intended for your comment, john willis. Sounds like you did a good job teaching the lesson.

  26. Left Field says:

    My Gospel Doctrine teacher last week reminded me of something I had forgotten. There were two guns smuggled into the jail, not just one.

  27. Steve Evans says:

    Skeptical, try to relax – not everybody is insidery. If it helps, I definitely agree with your statement that “I don’t think we have any rational reason to believe that Joseph was done “revealing” when he was killed.” I don’t think your three alternatives necessarily follow, but I do agree that it is generally unhelpful to assume that Joseph was taken because he had nothing left to accomplish.

  28. Skeptical,
    It is possible (likely even) that I am being a big jerk. I apologize for being said jerk. Please continue to participate.

  29. Ron Madson says:

    First, what is a “troll”? I am relatively new to this format of learning/exchange and if I am a “troll” then I would like to know how it is defined.

    Second, I sincerely want to come to grips with certain irreconcilable issues in my mind on this and other related topics in regards to our faith. My style is a little adversarial to an extent and maybe that makes me a “troll”, but I do appreciate thoughtful responses. I thought #13 “Skeptical” raised a provocative point as to what could have been had Joseph remained and his analysis as to 3 alternatives–they are worth discussing IMO.

    #14 I agree with FMaxwell that we are not talking direct revelation but a tribute of sort–a tribute founded in the honor culture of their day–probably over the top–but that is okay as long as it does not form a doctrinal basis to extrapolate a form of deification…

    #16–thank you for responding. Maybe I can clarify a few thoughts. The reference to the anti-nephi lehites is to focus on the elements that might be considered as traditional martyre—the non-resistance that Christ spoke of “resist not evil.” I do think that martyrdom comes in many forms but a CHRISTIAN martyrdom has a certain quality IMO that distinguishes itself. Violent resistance moves it to a degree IMO away from the highest forms of Christian martyrdom. Not that I am critical or judgmental of it but just observing differences.
    I am not sure what reference to Pres. Hinckley ha to do with this topic? What is the purpose of that reference? A litmus test as to me personally or some allusion as to his persecution? Not sure?

  30. We can get hung up on “he died for us” because we’re talking about Joseph’s death in the context of the atonement of Christ.

    But outside that context we talk about others’ deaths all the time with that sort of language, and nobody thinks that we’re assigning messianic status to anybody else. Soldiers “die for [or give their lives for] their country.” Firefighters on 9/11 “died saving their fellow men and women.” If we think of Joseph’s death (and life, for that matter) in that context, I don’t imagine we should have any difficulty in agreeing that he gave his life for the restoration of the gospel, and, therefore, for us.

  31. I taught this lesson yesterday in my GD class. I also started with various martyrs such as Lincoln, MLK Jr., Ghandi–point being they were all killed for a cause. We all die at some point but a person’s life and death become wrapped up in the larger meaning of their cause when they die for it or because of it. It’s not as glorious to slip in the bathtub, nor does it rile up the troops as much when you fall while cleaning the rain gutters.

    At the very least I was trying to understand meaning and the effect that Joseph’s murder had on the young church at the time. I posed the question (sorry, it wasn’t in the manual) asking how things would have turned out for the church and Joseph if he had left and later met or led the saints to the west. Would he have eventually turned “emeritus status” and ended his days playing with the grandchildren and answering questions for the Deseret News “Remember when . . .” retrospectives? Would his popularity have been affected? Would his particular style as a prophet lost its vigor and revolutionary zeal?

    In my lesson I consciously avoided mucking around Section 135. What is the point? I read verses 4 and 5 and commented how deeply hurt and grieved his friends must have been and what nice things to write about someone you miss. Then I moved on to asking the class what Joseph’s life meant to them–what impressed them among his accomplishments. From our point of view now things will look different from 1844 Nauvoo’s perspective.

    In the end I asked the class to consider not if they were willing to die for a cause, but rather willing to live for a cause, which I think is a greater sacrifice. And when we fall into the melodramatic trap of glorifying the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, we run the risk of discounting the incredible sacrifice he made with his living. From age 14 on, he did not have a normal life. I’m sure there were times Emma wished he were an accountant or something, but his whole life was consumed by the cause, even to the end of it. Maybe a martyrdom makes you more memorable, but it’s the living that really counts.

  32. Ron Madson says:

    I think it would be helpful to define what “martyrdom” is and if there are different types of “martyrdom.” I still am not sure how it is being used here?

    Here is my definition of what I consider “Christian” Martyrdom:

    1. The actual murder or killing of the Christian is BASED on the specific truth or teaching of the martyr, ie, to use an example we all know: If Osama is found and killed in a cave then millions will call him a martyr for the faith . Fine. They will say he died for his belief in Islam or Mohammed, etc. He will in a Girardian sense be deified. But was he killed because of what he believed in or taught? No. As a tort lawyer I would say that the “proximate cause” or actual cause could be directly linked to 9/11 plot, planning and acts related. That is it. We find the direct link. Just believing or teaching Islam had nothing to do with it. Islam or his approach may have influenced him but heck it was his deeds that caused the reaction. So the first test IMO is to link the actual deed to the death. Not to pick on Parley and yes the history is debatable to a degree but when the Deseret News a couple years ago said he was a martyr because he died because of what he taught and believed in I just do not see it that way. McLean if interviewed will say I bet: “I could care less about BOM or the fact Mormons teach this or that doctrine, but rather I killed the son of a bitch because I “perceive” he stole my wife and children. That is the cause or proximate cause. Now one could argue Parley practiced polygamy because of his faith and doctrine that caused him to marry her even if not divorced yet, but I would not place Parley as being killed because of teaching truth/doctrine—this was a domestic matter gone bad pure and simple IMO. So focusing on Joseph Smith why did the Nauvoo conspirators charge him of doing? Teaching the King Follett discourse? Teaching three degrees of glory? Saying he had a first vision (no, I have read the entire Nauvoo Expositor article and Law stated he believed Joseph and restoration) but rather they cite the reasons. And then he is charged with destroying a free press. That is why he was arrested? Why was he killed? Was it for teaching a certain doctrine? Maybe but proximate causes seem more political and personal (polygamy and more to the point polyandry) then his testifying of Christ, etc.

    2. The second aspect of Christian martyrdom as discussed is acting as a Christian before, during and after. Did the person engage in any un christlike behavior to provoke the retaliation? Did the person not emulate Christ by “resisting evil” even if evil. Again, I am not suggesting one cannot resist but again we are comparing in our language, songs and culture a near or complete comparison to Christ. I do not see Joseph as being a “Christian” martyr (not resisting evil–and I mean not only shooting back but rather slandering Law and others and destroying a press as provocation). Rather I see him only as a person being killed that was Christian not necessarily acting as Christ in the events that led to his arrest and the firestorm—- as objective as I can be about this.

    In some ways Joseph can be considered a martyr but a “Christian” martyr in the traditional sense? It can be argued he was but I can see how it could be argued that he created his own firestorm —for reasons I and thousands of us that read with an objective eye church history cannot ignore.

  33. #31 “And when we fall into the melodramatic trap of glorifying the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, we run the risk of discounting the incredible sacrifice he made with his living.”

    Excellent point.

  34. “Did the person engage in any un-christlike behavior to provoke the retaliation? Did the person not emulate Christ by “resisting evil” even if evil.”

    Yeah, if we define the term “martyr” in any way we choose, anyone who is killed by others can or cannot be a martyr – depending totally on our own opinion and perspective. Martyrdom is in the eye of the definer.

    Frankly, based on the criterion that (paraphrasing Ron) “a martyr did nothing to provoke or cause his/her death” there are NO martyrs in history. Jesus himself wasn’t a martyr, since the last week of his life was FULL of actions that provoked the Jewish leaders and the Romans.

    Did you mean more than that, Ron – or is that a fair representation of your point?

  35. Thomas Parkin says:

    I think he was done revealing. I think he probably had much more to say, but I think that the foundation was established, and nothing more that he may have to say would have been beneficial to us.

    Polygamy, the Endowment, all the Nauvoo era theology including the Sermon in the Grove and the King Follet bit given days before his death, all say the same basic thing to me. Heaven is a real place where real beings do meaningful things and God is only a part of this. Heaven is not sitting in mystical awe of God forever and ever, and therefore Christian living is much more that surrender of being, and does not involve obliteration of the personality. (I actually think the idea of martyrdom has to be seen within the context of these realities.) Neither is heaven going to be what we might, in our limited view and contracted feelings expect, nor even, with our earth bound desires intact, likely want. But we have this teaching either in symbols or only in trailing off hints. Joseph may have had a desire to be more explicit, I think there are quotes from him that would indicate that. But, to have had explicit descriptions would have subverted the process by which we need to learn – somewhat in the way Mormon is forbidden to write certain things because our faith is to be tried. So, I think Joseph was done, but that he was not done a handful of weeks sooner – we wouldn’t have had our religion without those final sermons.

    The timing is impeccable.

    By the by, Christ constantly slandered the people who finally saw that He was crucified, constantly provoked and intentionally offended them. ~

  36. Ron Madson says:

    #34 Ray,
    You raise a very important point that I missed in my hasty definition. Christ was by his very nature, and especially the last week, a provocation. He was turning upside down the very social structure of his culture and implicitly all cultures that oppressed the poor, the outcaste, the “least” for which he was killed. He was the advocate for the least in every respect. So was Gandhi and all great martyrs. I guess the issue then is whether the “provocation” the martyr is engaging in was of God or man? Was the provocation justified or not? Righteous or unrighteous? In the case of Osama of course the provocation we would consider “unrighteous” even if a billion people disagree. To use force, coercion, unrighteous dominion and unchristlike approach—fear, intimidation, stating falsehoods (this Christ never did–he would not even lie for an advantage or cover up I suppose). That is the question. It then comes back to full circle to the issue of his day. Was the provocation that Joseph engaged in righteous or unrighteous? So, for example, was David Patten’s Danite attack on Crook River righteous or not righteous? Was it God’s will or was it violation of DC 98, but yet do we feel a need to support everyone on our team? Was the excommunication of THomas Marsh (my wife is a descendant) an act of his being martyred for telling the truth or not as to those attacks? So, now Joseph Smith. What did he do to provoke his second counselor, Willam Law, Dr. Foster and others . Some thought his soliciting wives of others and accompanying activities of coverup and was more intimidation, lying, coercion, manipulation, etc. then holy acts leading to martyrdom. Who was right? I do not know, but could William Law and Joseph both be considered martyrs for the “truth” as they saw it? Not sure. I am really not sure. It just doesn’t seem the same as Christ’s ministry that lead to his death nor even Gandhi’s for that matter. But fortunately my faith is not founded on any mortal.

  37. The question of “what is a true martyr?” is a bit too platonic (ironically it is Plato who crafts Socrates as a martyr). If we attempt to come up with an ideal-type of martyr, any real-life example will fall short. This then turns into a flogging of our heroes and such an exercise is rather annoying. Ron, are you trying to provoke Ardis? You are getting close to provoking me with all this “did Joseph deserve it” stuff.

  38. Ron,
    Generally speaking, a troll is someone who is not representing themselves honestly or someone on the internet who is looking to stir up controversy/incite a flame war on a thread. To some degree, they play the role of “wolves in sheep’s clothing” on the internet.

    I remain very skeptical regarding your participation in this thread.

    It strikes me that a Christian martyrdom is a Christian martyrdom if someone dies over Christian belief. Beyond that, I don’t think it is helpful to make further distinctions. I’m concerned that grading the value of various Christian deaths cheapens them. It’s an odd sort of distinction to want to make, frankly.

    Regarding President Hinckley, that was a test of sorts. Since you were positing that we can legitimately infer that the death of a prophet indicates that he must be leading the church astray, I was hoping for your intuitions regarding President Hinckley’s oncoming, divinely-averted apostasy.

    Mark B.,
    I don’t think that we call soldiers who die in combat martyrs, though. It strikes me that nationalistic approaches are of a different order than those in a religious context. Which probably just means that I agree with your statement, but think that your point is completely off-base.

    Ron (again, some more),
    Okey dokey then. Let’s suppose for a moment that you are sincere in arguing that the proximate cause of Joseph’s death is a dispute over proper interpretation of the Nauvoo charter as it relates to first amendment issues. The inspiration for the Expositor may have been Joseph’s experiments in plural marriage, but we generally understand those experiments to originate with God. If you believe that, whatever the outcome and the manner of experimentation, Joseph’s forays into polygamy where somehow inspired by God rather than libido, then dying as a result of that proximate cause might well be considered a matter of death over belief. If you find Joseph’s Nauvoo shenanigans more a matter of libido than faith, then your mileage will vary. At present, I’m operating under the assumption that this is your approach. Please feel free to inform me if I am incorrect.

    I’m afraid that I agree with Ray. I don’t know that any Christian martyrdom would meet your standard. Whatever their origin, they are all read as acts of defiance.

  39. Glenn Thigpen says:

    To me a martyr is one who is not seeking such a status, but is one who is killed for a cause doing what he/she feels must be done. Joseph Smith indeed was a reluctant martyr, which I understand and agree with. However, Joseph was willing to seal his testimony with his blood, in spit of his rather natural aversion to having his life taken so prematurely.
    (Dead martyrs usually evoke a lot of emotionalism and irrational actions and that seems to be the desire of some of them.
    But as far as reluctance is concerned, even Jesus showed a bit of that in the Garden of Gethsemanee. I don’t get hung up on whether someone else thinks Joseph was a martyr or not or whether it was necessary or not. I have seen no scriptures pointing one way or the other. The only thing that I need to know about Joseph is the fact that he was/is a prophet called of God. And he is that.


  40. Ron,
    I can’t tell you how happy I am that your faith isn’t founded on any mortal. If that gave any indication whatsoever of what you actually believed, you great big ball of critical thinking and objectivity, I’d likely be even happier. Nonetheless, facing the unambiguous ambiguity of your participation here, I am intrigued by your laundry list of unmartyrs in the early church. I dare say it is sure is a lucky thing that those folks were all shot to death or else who knows what sort of church we might have today. In any case, I suggest that we drop the discussion as to whether or not anyone deserved to be shot, okay?

  41. This is actually an interesting topic. It’s pretty clear that this was a sacred belief in the 1840s and that it was well-situated in Mormon theology during Smith’s lifetime. I lay it out in my chapter on martyrdom which I’m revising now–I’m hoping to get the manuscript out the door within the next 6-8 weeks pending scheduling issues at work.

    Not saying it has to be normative now, but when people do say something like that, it’s clear that they are sharing the viewpoints of many of the inner circle ca. 1844-1846.

  42. Steve Evans says:

    Ron, a word of advice: give the commenting a rest for a little while. Wondering aloud whether both William Law and Joseph Smith both deserve the appellation of martyr is a really great way to be banned from commenting.

  43. Ron Madson says:

    Good advice Steve Evans.
    I apologize for offending Ardis who obviously took my first post #5 very hard as indicated in her response in #7. I obviously have little skill in these type of forums as to how to introduce controversial thoughts in my rattled brain–maybe it is best to just leave those thoughts there–as we do in GD class.
    I will withdraw with this last clarification. I believe that Parley was a wonderful, faithful, inspired servant of God. He was sincere. I also believe David Patten was sincere even if I being a semi-pacifist (at least to DC 98 level) think it was foolish to counterattack. I believe Joseph had the terrible burden of revealing many shattering truths in the great work of the restoration. And was a martyr. My mention of Marsh and Law are only to illustrate that I believe they may have been sincere/honest also from their limited perspective. Maybe dead wrong, maybe not. I think the verdict is in as to at least Law’s status in this forum, but the opening question was as to the nature/conditions of Joseph’s death and comparison to Jesus.

  44. Took it hard, Ron? No, I just have an exceptionally keen trollometer. And your disingenuousness about your “rattled brain” is further evidence of your trollishness.

  45. Holden Caulfield says:

    The beating given to Ron on this thread remind me how the only things I like about BCC are the sideblog and the LDS headlines. How does that register, Ardis?

  46. Alright, everyone be nice to Ron. You are going to make Holden cry.

  47. Bloggernacle Observer says:

    Ron is good at what he does. He does it everywhere he comments. Ardis is good at detecting it. Starvation is a good strategy. Maybe it will create a new modern martyr. Wait, he provoked it. Never mind. Starvation is a good strategy. I’ll follow it now.

  48. FWIW, I found this from Joseph himself.

    I do not regard my own life. I am ready to be offered a sacrifice for this people….

    He talked of being like a lamb going to the slaughter, too, right?

    And Wilford Woodruff declared that “it was required of him, as the head of this dispensation, that he should seal his testimony with his blood.”

    Don’t know what to make of it all, but perhaps your teacher was not completely out there, or perhaps at least, her comment ought not be criticized too heavily. It seems that there may be some precedent for her thoughts — precedent printed in the current RS/PH manual (those quotes come from Ch. 46)

  49. This entire thread is a little disappointing. John C.\’s initial post posited that there may be something wrong with comparing Jesus and Joseph Smith.

    unfortunately it denigrated into some pretty petty ad hominem attacks by bloggers. Perhaps that is the unfortunate nature of blogging where we always assume the worst from other commenters when in actually we often know very little about their motives. Im glad that some feel confident in their discerning powers but maybe we should give some the benefit of the doubt. I think it behooves people to be a little more gracious towards a person even if your less gracious towards their ideas.

    If you think someone\’s ideas are off then address that, but the ad hominem stuff is pretty weak. No one likes to have certain sacred cows slaughtered let alone their assumptions questioned but name calling. really?

    I think all can probably agree that Joseph\’s martydom (if people are fine calling it that) is very different in degree, type, kind, etc than that of Jesus. Whether there is something significant about why each individual was killed? What specifically they taught? and How they approached that death seems highly relevant to the initial post.

    Jesus is the way, truth, and life and no man comes unto the father save it be through him. That should probably be enough to convince any of us that Joseph for all the wonderful and sometimes frustratingly difficult to defend things he did, that he is not a martyr in the sense that Jesus was and whatever one may mean when saying Joseph \”died for us\” that it certainly cannot mean anything like what Christ\’s death accomplished or we are verging on blasphemy.

  50. Glenn Smith says:

    Wow, I wonder what a face-to-face debate would be like!

    When this lesson was given, my thought was. “Was Joseph a poor shot in the heat of the moment? What would the headlines have been like if he had killed several of the mobbers. He likely would have been vilified even by those who showed him tolerance – his martyrdom tarnished.
    Ensign » 1994 » June
    Joseph Smith among the Prophets By Robert L. Millet
    “””As suggested earlier, the life of Joseph Smith was in some degree patterned after that of his Master, Jesus Christ. That pattern holds true even when extended to its tragic conclusion. Like his Master, Joseph Smith also shed his blood in order that the final testament, the reestablishment of the new covenant, might be in full effect (see Heb. 9:16). Just prior to his death, the Prophet Joseph was reported to have remarked:

    “I am tired, I have been mobbed, I have suffered so much. Some of the brethren think they can carry this work out better than I can, far better. I have asked the Lord to take me out of this world. I have stood all I can. I have to seal my testimony to this generation with my blood. I have to do it, for this work will never progress until I am gone, for the testimony is of no force until the testator is dead. People little know who I am when they talk about me, and they never will know until they see me weighed in the balance in the kingdom of God. Then they will know who I am, see me as I am. I dare not tell them, and they do not know me” (Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, in They Knew the Prophet, comp. Hyrum and Helen Mae Andrus, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1974, pp. 26–27).””””

    Very interesting discussion.

  51. p.s. I tend to be one who thinks that we can talk about what Joseph did as having similarities w/o overshadowing or undermining what the Savior did.

    I also think that most prophets in some way are types of the Savior, so could a noting of the prophet’s sacrifice, if you want to call it that, if looked at in that light, possibly magnify the meaning of what the Savior did?

    Joseph’s life did that, too. The Savior’s sacrifice made salvation possible, and bridged heaven and earth. Joseph’s work restored the truth about the atonement, the nature of God, etc. and the authority to open up Christ’s salvation to the living and the dead. Whatever Joseph did was for the Savior, and glorified the Son and His Father.

  52. Mostly I have to agree with Holden (#45) – But for the sake of second chances, I’ll try one more time.

    A couple people chimed in that, indeed, maybe Joseph wasn’t done revealing. I think (as far as one can in a hypothetical situation) that, had he lived, his pronouncements would not have stopped. I think this because his innovations were exponentially increasing as time went on, and were giving absolutely no signs of stopping. So here are my questions.

    A) If you accept that his revelations would have been ongoing, what, if any, implications does that have for the Gospel as we have it now? Or, alternatively, what implications, if any, does it have about Joseph’s character?

    B) If you do not think his revelations would have continued, how do you think the church would have developed had he lived? An interesting thing about the D&C is that many of the sections are basically answers to personal prayers. Would Joseph have declared the heavens closed? Would people have stopped going to him for the kind of explicit, specific revelation that now makes up our canon?

    I’ll leave off giving my own analysis, since apparently finding historical circumstances less than faith-inspiring makes one a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

    I also think it is important or at least intriguing to assess the “why” in Joseph’s death. Did God “allow” or “cause” him to die? Or was it the act of evil men overcoming God’s plan? Or something else? I think the answer (which will be different for each person) has to reflect either on our conception of God or on the character and role of Joseph.

    I get that these questions can be asked regarding any individual who suffers/dies, but it seems particularly relevant about a figure who is often heralded to have done more for humankind than anyone, save Jesus. For a person whose life was defined by God’s direct intervention, it seems too easy to just assume that God stepped back in the critical moment of his death.

  53. John Mansfield says:

    A common Christian reading of the Old Testament is that all those lives were in one way or another symbols of Christ. It is also common to consider a Christian disciple’s life to be a witness of Jesus Christ. So, finding some symbolism of Christ in Joseph Smith’s death seems a very reasonable concept.

  54. Perhaps I should provide a reader’s guide so that people understand the musings of my rattled-brain. I was, in the original post, trying to find why we value the comparison today (since we also spend an awful lot of time try to convince folk that we don’t worship Joseph). I’m also concerned that some folk, like my mission companion (and a few commenters on this thread), might seek martyrdom, which seems to me to be something that is thrust upon someone, not sought.

    What I found objectionable in the thread was that people took this as an opportunity to grade martyrs as to the value of their death, which, as we have incomplete information in mortality, strikes me as arrogant and distasteful. For that matter, people were positing all sorts of scenarios with Joseph as a fallen prophet or with Joseph as asking for it, which seemed unnecessary and ill-intentioned to me. It seems to me that Joseph’s belief that what he was doing was of God is sufficient to explain the anger directed toward him, especially when one considers the astounding growth in the numbers of people who agreed with him. There may be other proximate causes, but to ignore Joseph’s religious innovation and revelation is, I think, to ignore the forest for the trees.

    Also, blogging is rough and tumble. Newcomers are often treated with suspicion or contempt, which is perhaps better than being ignored (but maybe only just barely). This has to do with the phenomenon of trolls (there really are people who just show up to start fights) and it has to do with the day to day policing of a site. Blogs try to set a tone that attracts a particular community and it is a struggle to maintain the community itself and the atmosphere that attracts it. I couldn’t accurately describe what the community is that we are trying to attract here, but allowing some of the questions asked in this thread to go unchallenged would, I think, drive the community away. So I behaved badly, playing the bad cop (which put Steve Evans in the role of the good cop, which is hilarious). Unfortunately, this means that we often have to guess at intentions and certain behaviors (while ambiguous) do trend toward trollishness (hang around a while and you’ll see). If you are engaged in these behaviors innocently, please forgive my ogreishness. I get better with acquaintance; most of us do (at least, I hope so; Houlden obviously disagrees).

    Okay, back to the thread,
    smb and others seem to be saying that reflects the outlook at the time (that Joseph’s death was preordained and the loss of his blood was necessary). I’m not sure if that is what we generally believe today (hence my discomfort in Sunday School). I’m, at present, much more interested in what we do with our history than what our historical figures did with our history. Does that make sense?

    In any case, I agree with you that comparisons between Christ and Joseph are not inherently bad, so long as we maintain the proper perspective. Their contributions, while both significant, are not equivalent.

    Yossarian (I like how all the literary types are coming out of the woodwork; how long will it be before Humbert Humbert comments?)
    I don’t disagree with anything you said, except that by your standard no-one would be a martyr but Christ. Which is weird because I don’t usually hear him referred to as a martyr, but I do hear his followers described as such. Also, the original post took it for granted that Joseph was a martyr and was worried about why we value martyrdom, which is why the original post’s author finds all this discussion of who qualifies as a martyr so distracting and off the point.

    As Ardis said, I don’t think we have to read that as saying that Joseph had to be sacrificed, just that people won’t get him til he is gone (and obviously that turned out to not be entirely true (as this thread attests)). That said, I don’t think readings that insist he had to shed blood are unfounded, just unnecessary.

    A: I don’t think it says anything about his character and I don’t know that it says anything about the Gospel. Since we believe in continuing revelation, we believe that other mouthpieces/prophets have been chosen. Since I think his character is irrelevent to the question, I don’t understand why you bring it up at all.

    B: I don’t get the premise of this question. Why would I assume that revelation would end? As a believer in continuing revelation, why would any Mormon assume this?

    “it seems too easy to just assume that God stepped back in the critical moment of his death.”
    What do you mean by “God stepped back”?

  55. Skeptical, the problem is you ask loaded questions. How about this as another alternative: Joseph, aware of the gathering storm, with the fear of a Missouri extradition looming, and with the insight of a prophet, sensed his life was hanging in the balance. These circumstances precipitated the exponential increase in innovations you talk about, i.e. a rush to reveal all that God had shown him before he died. In this scenario, in the parallel universe where Joseph senses he will live until he is 80 perhaps he reveals his ‘Nauvoo theology’ in a more orderly, less-rushed manner; but ultimately, either way, with the passing of Joseph Smith we have a restoration of the fulness of the gospel without a need to reject polygamy and the endowment and without a need to imagine a God orchestrating Joseph’s death.

  56. I don’t know if Joseph Smith’s death was martydom, or even his mindset that day. I do believe from my study of him and his character, he would have willingly given his life for his Church and his beliefs.

  57. Our ward handled this lesson quite well.

    Teacher covered…

    1. How polygamy was causing dissent in Nauvoo
    2. How the press was destroyed
    3. The nature of the firearm that JS used to fire back at the mob with.

    I personally like section 135. It gives a sense of the loyalty that the members felt towards JS.

    In my own family history there is a story about how one of my ancestors watched JS and Hyrum ride out of town to Carthage jail and how happy they seemed. The writer also comments on how fine their horses were.

  58. Some years ago, in writing a summary of the history of the Church for history discussion group, I took the trouble to carefully read the History of the Church where the events leading to the martyrdom are discussed.
    The opposition to Joseph Smith, both from apostates within the church and bitter enemies outside it was becoming critical. He knew that they planned his death. He even knew that they laid the Expositor as a trap. If he let it go, it would incite the kind of frenzy that led to the expulsion of the Saints from Missouri by the mob, something he had pledged he would give his life to prevent repeating: If he acted to stop it, he himself would draw fire for destruction of the press. It was not justice he feared, it was murder and betrayal while a prisoner nominally in state custody, and as events showed, those fears were-well justified. But he went, anyway.
    Whether intentionally or by inspiration, Joseph chose to draw the lighting on himself rather than let it fall on the Saints: Governer Ford had threatened to call out the state militia if Joseph did not surrender. He bought a precious year and a half for the Saints to finish the temple, begin receiving their endowments, and begin to move West. The exodus from Nauvoo could have been much sooner, much hastier and much bloodier than it actually was. In a certain sense, I think, Joseph did give his life for his people.
    I’ve also considered D&C 136:34-40 to offer the Lord’s perspective on the event.

  59. It took the blood of two martyrs to seal the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants upon the heads of our people. (See here:

    To remove blood and death from the stories of Joseph and Hyrum Smith is to whitewash the story into something it was never supposed to be, and is disrespectful to their memory.

    It never would have mattered if Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon if he hadn’t died a martyr’s death in order to seal it as a binding covenant upon our people.

    And I would suggest that you be more careful about putting words into John Taylor’s mouth like that. Joseph’s death WAS a necessary thing. And that statement isn’t meant to garner sympathy or revel in sentiment. It’s a fact established in the scriptures and the teachings of the prophets, as well as His servants (as is the case of Sister Black’s talk cited above.)

  60. John C. and Ardis,

    My reading of the Wheat and the Tares is that the better way to separate trolls from earnest investigators might be to respond to both with equal calmness, with the assumption of good faith.

    When the discussion has ripened to the point that all points have been aired, it will be clear enough to all who is the troll: his/her own words will have condemned him/her.

    The problem with ad hominem attacks is not merely that they are too easy, but that third-party observers suspect that you have no better argument at hand.

    The risk here in not that you be offended, the Church be slandered, nor the troll not be given his comeuppance. It is the lurking uncertain (probably Mormon) reader with questions of her own, gauging the potential reaction to her own future queries. Tread lightly on others’ crises of faith.

  61. Glenn Smith says:

    The Prophet Joseph is revered and loved but not worshipped in my life. Worshp is reserved for the Father and Son. I don’t know whether or not his life NEEDED forfeiting. As mentioned, his work was complete, and the promise of life until that point was kept. Because he went “as a lamb to the slaughter”, he must have anticipated death and all that his death would mean. I wonder what Joseph and Hyrum discussed as they rode to Carthage. I am grateful for the work he accomplished at such great suffering, rewarded by such great joy.

  62. Steve Evans says:

    Paradox, I agree — which is why I won’t listen to a Church leader until he is dead.

  63. It never would have mattered if Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon if he hadn’t died a martyr’s death in order to seal it as a binding covenant upon our people.

    You can’t be serious, can you? Really? It’s one thing to note that JSJ died because of his commitment to the restored truth or even to placate increasingly violent antimormon sentiment in Illinois. But a metaphysical necessity? That’s just nonsense.

  64. I’m working on a guest post for BCC: “Joseph Smith: Martyr, or Troll?”

  65. And, as Steve’s #62 reminds us, it’s really a shame that someone like Ezra Taft Benson, who persistently taught that the words of dead prophets are less important than those of living prophets, just didn’t understand that the Carthage Grays were doing God’s work.

  66. Steve Evans says:

    To be fair to Paradox, there’s a strong line of belief that the most powerful testaments of Christ are those sealed with the blood of the testator. But to say that the Book of Mormon wouldn’t have mattered anything, or to say that Joseph Smith’s death was necessary to render his work effective — that is just misguided and smacks of blood atonement fundamentalism.

  67. Dan,
    You are, no doubt, correct. And, probably, a discussion of trolls and troll-beating is an appropriate topic for a thread on the uses to which we put martyrs. But Ron and Skeptical don’t strike me as being currently in the midst of a crisis. Let’s just put the threadjack to bed, shall we?

  68. “But Ron and Skeptical don’t strike me as being currently in the midst of a crisis.”

    Lovely assumptions, John C.

    And for the record, I’m a she, not a he.

  69. Steve Evans says:

    Skepticism knows no gender!

    Wait, though, are you in the midst of a crisis? Because seriously, if you are, then that’s a totally different matter and you should just tell John to shut up.

  70. Sorry about that, Skeptical. If you are in the midst of a crisis, even more so. I’m nothing if not a fool.

  71. My problem with seeing Joseph’s death as necessary is that it validates the peculiar and perhaps slightly unsettling atmosphere around his leadership at the time, which heavily involved secrecy, deception, and public vs. private discourse. Saying that he HAD to die is the same for me as saying “There was no way that Joseph could have backtracked on some of his rhetoric or policy decisions, there was no way he could have publicized polygamy, and there was no way he could have improved his outreach or PR–besides dying.”

    It’s as if the lay membership of the Church would have expected the leadership to pay with their lives before the sorts of changes we’ve seen in Official Declaration 1 (and indeed, I think some of Pres. Woodruff’s language in the manifesto specifically speaks to the notion that the imprisonment and/or death of the prophet and leaders would not be a good thing) and 2.

  72. @ John C. 54

    To a certain extent everyone is arguing over semantics and what should define a martyr. Some want it fairly narrow encompassing certain characteristics such as non-violence while others seek a broader definition which could arguably include many individuals we might not readily consider martyrs. Im fine labeling people martyrs since the title martyr is less of a concern for me than what they were martyred for, what they \”witness.\” The larger issue for me is the who is the greatest type mentality that leads some to want to rank martyrs and place Joseph Smith and other men as 2nd, 3rd, and so forth. If the savior taught anything to his disciples, it was that in his kingdom we dont engage in that. The least is the greatest.

    Now as to your original question, which I missed, mea culpa, on why we value martyrdom. That may have something to do with us still being stuck in a sacrificial mindset that demands blood in order to seal testimonies, covenants, etc. Unfortunately, it seems like a very OT, antiquated sentiment which Jesus seems to have sought to do away with. God doesnt need martyrs nor sacrifice in terms of blood but of hearts and souls turned towards him, thats the acceptable sacrifice.

    Martyrdom should not be something that we seek, like we can see in certain strains of Islam, but if it comes should be the results of trying to follow God. None of us should be out actively looking to be crucified, that is not the meaning of taking up our cross. We should however be willing to suffer even death for the kingdom. Like you mentioned, Joseph was reluctant to go to his death just as one could argue Jesus was. I dont think God nor anyone needed Joseph\’s death. Its sad that many of us seem to need it to justify or give weight to his revelations. The truth of his revelations should stand or fall independent of the nature of his death.

    Rene Girard wrote:

    [I]n Christianity the martyr does not die in order to be copied. The Christian can be moved to pity over him, but he does not desire to die like him. He is suspicious of it, even. The martyr is for Christians a model to accompany them but not a model for throwing oneself into the fire with him.

  73. Tongue in cheek…

    So if I blog something that makes Brad or John C mad I can simply counter their wrath by saying I am in a crisis of faith? Sweet. Its my new strategy

  74. It never would have mattered if Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon if he hadn’t died a martyr’s death in order to seal it as a binding covenant upon our people.

    But why? People assert this all the time without explaining why. I think people are mistaking “had to die” with “had to die a violent death” — if the violence is a component, if his testimony of the Book of Mormon would somehow have been invalidated had he died in his sleep after the most peaceful year of his life, then WHY?

    (And thank you, Dan Westen and others, for noting that while it is oh so wicked of me to condemn a troll on sight, it is somehow a virtue for you to condemn my discernment. You need consistency — heaven knows, your minds are little enough for that hobgoblin.)

  75. Ardis, Chill.

  76. Oh, Scott.

  77. …but reviving someone just so that they can undergo another tortuous death doesn’t strike me as love.

    I’m pretty convinced that God’s idea of love is very different from our idea of love.

    And, if we don’t really understand the values being expressed, how can we be confident in our judgments based on those values?

    My answer: We shouldn’t be. It seems to me that humility should just be common sense.

  78. #72 and #74. Thank you.

    THe question raised by Ardis is highly pertinent IMO. Why would the BOM be less valid if Joseph was not murdered but rather died in his sleep? The BOM text for me stands independent of how it came about and/or how it was indirectly “sealed” by his death. Like Yossarian I am a big fan of Rene Girard and sacral violence IMO is man required and created and not God demanded, or in other words, “human inevitability and not divine necessity.”

    IMO God does not demand blood nor does the cosmos–we do of each other. I personally wish that Joseph would have fled to the Rocky Mountains. It is pure speculation but who would have not wanted the rest of the BOM and the writings of the brother of Jared or who knows what else.

    For clarification, IMO Joseph did not deserve to die (at most we are talking petty legal offenses with mitigating factors) nor did Parley nor David nor even our enemies. Comparisons and grades of martyrdom and comparisons like a golf leader board is a natural human trait–a trap I created and fell into in reviewing my previous posts. Like Yossarian commented Jesus was not into that even though his disciples apparently were….

  79. I’m not sure if that is what we generally believe today (hence my discomfort in Sunday School).
    I’m, at present, much more interested in what we do with our history than what our historical figures did with our history. Does that make sense?

    Yes, it makes sense…and part of why I threw those quotes into the discussion is because they are all included in our *current* manual. In my view, what is in the manual reflects, at least to some degree, “what we [or at least some] are doing with our history.” It brings an interesting, more current, layer to the discussion, imo.

    I agree with you that comparisons between Christ and Joseph are not inherently bad, so long as we maintain the proper perspective. Their contributions, while both significant, are not equivalent.

    I agree with you completely on that.

  80. I don’t know why ‘Blood’ comes up as much as it does in these things..but it does. I think ALL Cultures put a lots of meanings into the need of sheding of blood. The surprise would be in it NOT being a part of Joseph Smith death story.

  81. Yossarian,
    I really like that Girard quote. Thanks for sharing it.

    I’ve got my eye on you now. :)

    I agree that humility is almost always a better approach.

    s’all good. Sorry for being a big meanie.

    good point. I guess that I read those as outpourings of grief instead of doctrinal claims. I think the actual words can support both readings independently, while historical context probably argues for both readings simultaneously. It would be interesting to know what the Brethren wanted us to get out of them.

    I agree.

    Gosh, I’m so darn agreeable today. Why do we ever fight?

  82. Definitely was in a crisis…. now I’m just tired. Maybe that means my crisis is reaching a conclusion of sorts.

    Good to see Girard brought up here. I think mimesis is incredibly relevant to our culture (American and LDS).

  83. Well then, I’m especially sorry for my earlier jerkitude, Skeptical. Please accept my apologies for adding to your burden.

  84. I read John 12:20-36 this morning. It seems to explain much of the “glory” found in Martyrdom throughout Christianity, particularly verse 25.

    It doesn’t bother me that Joseph Smith has his place set among the martyrs, even that there was a good reason for it.

    I can also see that we have to be careful not to compare him too closely with Jesus, Who was the Only One whose martyrdom could be the Infinite Atonement for the sins of the world.

    Yesterday, I also finished re-reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I was thinking how Harry Potter compares with Joseph Smith (even though it was probably the furthest thing from JK Rowling’s mind when she wrote it.) Harry Potter was also compared with Jesus Christ, though, when the story (Spoiler Alert!) gave him off to me mostly just a would-be martyr, who, if he really did die, was at least able to come back in a Life-after-death situation, and to enjoy the earthly rewards of his “sacrifice.” HP compares with JS more because of their willingness to die for a good cause, and because of the necessity of enduring their names having been slandered throughout their worlds, than anything else.

    But I also agree that the Book of Mormon was the principal fruit of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and it is a good fruit.

  85. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    Many have marveled because of his death; but it was needful that he should seal his testimony with his blood, that he might be honored and the wicked might be condemned. (D&C 136:39)

    That’s why he couldn’t just die in his sleep.

  86. Antonio Teixeira says:

    Most people in the church tend to focus on the early work/prophetic ministry of Joseph Smith and forget the later developments, specially during the Nauvoo period. Of course, this tendency makes sense in the light of the current LDS doctrine. So, in my opinion, obtaining a testimony about Joseph through the Book of Mormon is a great start, but it is a start, in case your enthusiasm for the gospel continues to grow.

    What your Sunday school teacher has said probably sounds very “mainstream” compared to what is implied by John Taylor in D&C 135. Not to mention Brigham’s stements about Joseph being a saviour and a god to his people.

    A interesting point in the discussion about the alleged necessity of the martyrdom at that time, since one of the last revelations Joseph received commanded them to go to the Rocky Mountains.

  87. Is there any useful analogy between Joseph Smith not living to lead Brigham Young to the “promised land” of Deseret, and Moses not living (i.e. allowed to live) to enter the Promised Land.

    It seems usual that those whose calling is to inspire are not usually called to administer.

  88. I also think: with the martyrdom of the Prophet, there was less focus to the persecution of the Saints. “Traitors and tyrants now fight him in vain…” It was interesting to me that Lucy Mack Smith said she had received some inspiration prior to Joseph’s death that he would soon be beyond the reach of his enemies.

  89. 85: That would be true of any man who died well but violently (9/11 first responders, say). It doesn’t speak to Joseph’s prophetic mission — honoring Joseph and condemning the wicked doesn’t add one iota of support to the claim that he was a prophet, that the Book of Mormon was authentic, that God speaks again to men, etc., etc.

  90. I agree with 85, and to some extent with 89. Honoring Joseph within the Church increased because of his martyrdom and made the Church stronger, even though it may have had no effect on those who didn’t already have a testimony.

    The wicked are condemned through their acts and not through their intents, even though God knows the thoughts and intents of their hearts. That also has less to do with individual testimony than with justice being served.

  91. #89, Ardis,

    Thank you..I agree completely. So there is no misunderstanding, for myself, the authenticity of latter day revelations and restorations stand independent of whether evil men choose or did not chose to murder someone. And stand independent as to whether Joseph was murdered or died in his sleep or for that matter the cause/effect or how he handled it.
    IMO men demand blood and not God. We build cairns to cover the truth rather then reveal it. For example, if a nation engages in a war those that are killed on our team are honored and revered. Whether their or our cause was just or not becomes increasingly irrelevant. Then we begin saying “to honor those who gave their life” we must not abandon the enterprise and must also send more bodies/more blood–but that tells us nothing as to the justice of the cause but tells us everything about the anthropological nature of blood sacrifice.
    The most revolutionary writings as to the nature of Christianity and the atonement IMO can be found in Rene Girard’s writings. He is to theology what Darwin was to creationism–revolutionary. One can never read the scriptures and in particular the BOM the same again after reading his writings. The “things hidden since the foundation of the earth” is that we are the ones that demand blood not God. We are the ones that shed blood. God does not want Joseph murdered nor desires his children to do so.
    Does God want those with evil thoughts to act out those thoughts and kill as they did Joseph? The Son of Man felt no need to stone the adulteress even if the keepers of the law required it.
    THe murder of Joseph has an effect on us as we build a cairn–a cairn found in DC 135, but such effect neither validates nor invalidates the authenticity of his revelations.

  92. We would not have had 9/11 in the first place if the terrorists had not been willing to be martyrs for their cause, and I am not saying that anyone should try to die for their cause, but to be willing to do so rather than reject what you know to be true.

    This morning, I read JS-H 1:24-25. Joseph, comparing himself to Paul defending himself to King Agrippa, said: “…and though they should persecute him unto death, yet he knew, and would know to his latest breath, that he had both seen a light and heard a voice….”

    Joseph’s testimony would have been sealed with his blood the same if he had died a natural death, but people would have had to wait longer for that to happen. As long as someone lives, they are free to deny their previous testimony, but once dead, the testimony can no longer be changed.

    Heavenly Father also sees death differently than we do. He commands us not to kill, but He either allows us all to die or actually causes death through natural disasters or whatever. The point of our lives is that we prove ourselves and that we have a chance to repent. The scriptures indicate throughout the history of the world that when a people are “ripened in iniquity” they will be destroyed, and God is the Judge and Executioner–the only completely Righteous and All-Knowing Judge.