Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Break in Blogging

Hello, friends. I seem to have run into some.... difficult times, of the sort that I may have to drop out of my educational program unless God provides some funds in a very direct way. Needless to say, it's taking a toll on me emotionally. I need to take a bit of time off from posting in order to attempt to get things together and devote myself as best as I can to prayer. No posts will be appearing for the next week; after that, I have a few posts set to release automatically until around mid-April, and hopefully by then, at least, I'll be back in business. I hope you all fare well while I'm gone... and if it crosses your mind to, please pray for me.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Red Man: A Poem by William W. Phelps

I found a poem by William W. Phelps, printed in The Latter-day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1/3 (December 1834): 34. The poem itself is taken from a letter that was written by Phelps from Liberty, Missouri, on 6 November 1834 and addressed to Oliver Cowdery. Despite some of the archaic terminology (e.g., "red man") that would by no stretch of the imagination be acceptable or politically correct today, I think it does give us an interesting glimpse of the way in which early Latter-day Saints viewed Native Americans. So, without further delay:

O stop and tell me, Red Man,
Who are ye? why you roam?
And how you get your living?
Have you no God; - no home?

With stature straight and portly,
And decked in native pride,
With feathers, paints, and broaches,
He willingly replied: -

"I once was pleasant Ephraim,
When Jacob for me pray'd;
But oh! How blessings vanish,
When man from God has stray'd!

Before your nation knew us,
Some thousand moons ago,
Our fathers fell in darkness,
And wander'd to and fro.

And long they've liv'd by hunting,
Instead of work and arts,
And so our race has dwindled,
To idle Indian hearts.

Yet hope within us lingers,
As if the Spirit spoke: -
'He'll come for your redemption,
And break your Gentile yoke:

And all your captive brothers,
From every clime shall come,
And quit their savage customs,
To live with God at home.'

Then joy will fill our bosoms,
And blessings crown our days,
To live in pure religion,
And sing our Maker's praise."

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling - 03

Richard L. Bushman
Chapter 3: "Translation: 1827-30" (pp. 57-83)

In the first and second chapters, Richard Bushman covered Joseph Smith's story from his family roots first up to his family's move to Palmyra, NY, and then beyond that up to the brink of Joseph Smith's retrieval of the golden plates from the Hill Cumorah. The first chapter covered several generations and the second chapter covered eleven or twelve years, but the third chapter marks the beginning of a major slow-down, with only the time period from 1827 to 1830 being covered. Bushman begins with lofty statements about Joseph's liminal position between "visionary supernaturalism" and "folk beliefs" on the one hand and "rational Christianity" on the other (57). Bushman then moves on to the issue of the golden plates, noting very few of the alternative suggestions of what exactly might have happened; Bushman goes on to dismiss them as merely speculative in a way that is, in this instance, far more 'believer' than 'historian'. As Bushman writes:

These explanations keep the story within the realm of the ordinary but require considerable fabrication themselves. Joseph "may" have done this and "probably" did that. Since the people who knew Joseph best treat the plates as fact, a skeptical analysis lacks evidence. A series of surmises replaces a documented narrative. (58)

As a historian, quite frankly, Bushman ought to be far more sensitive to the nature of historical reconstruction which in most circumstances requires that the honest historian offer up these "mays" and these "probablys". The stark difference between Bushman's approach at this sensitive spot and his approach elsewhere is, at least to my eyes, highly apparent. A less invested writer might simply have stated that documentation reveals an object that Joseph Smith asserted to be golden plates and which others believed, with varying degrees of verification, to be golden plates, and which may have indeed been golden plates but which others have explained in other ways. This pattern of Bushman's suddenly soft treatment at various sensitive areas is one of the few stunning weaknesses in Bushman's otherwise magisterial work - that, and his related habit of offering only a sparse few examples of alternative explanations in a very cursory fashion.

Moving on, Bushman picks up the narrative on the evening of 21 September 1827, where Joseph Knight Sr. reportedly saw Joseph Smith Jr. making preparations to retrieve the plates and worrying about interference from their neighbor Samuel Lawrence (59). Joseph left for the Hill Cumorah late that night, driving off with Emma in Joseph Knight's wagon. They returned after breakfast. Joseph presented to his mother an object wrapped in a silk handkerchief, which she claimed were like a pair of three-cornered diamonds connected by bows. Joseph did not immediately bring the plates home with him, but rather carved a hole in a birch log in the woods and hid them inside of it, which gave Joseph time to have a chest made for them. Unfortunately, despite attempts to keep things secret, it wasn't long until Willard Chase was already leading groups attempting to find them. When the Smith family learned this, it was time to bring the plates home as Bushman describes:

Joseph set out alone, still dressed in the linen frock he had been wearing to dig the well. Lucy Smith said he wrapped the plates in the frock and put them under his arm. Martin Harris later estimated that the plates weighed forty or fifty pounds, and Joseph carried them three miles. Wary of interference, Joseph thought it better to leave the road and travel in the woods. His caution proved useless. While he was scrambling over a tree that had fallen across the path, a man struck him with a gun. Joseph knocked the man down and ran off at full speed, still with the heavy plates under his arm. A half mile further he was assaulted again and again made his escape. Yet a third time someone tried to stop him before he finally reached home, speechless with fright and fatigue and suffering from a dislocated thumb. (60)

Hyrum brought Joseph a cherrywood chest for the plates, and Joseph buried the box beneath the hearthstones in their west room. An armed 'mob' attempted to rush their house, but all the Smith men dashed out with a yell and frightened the mob off into the woods. After that, Joseph transferred the plates to the local cooper's shop, separating them from the box.

He buried the box under a floorboard and hid the plates themselves in a pile of flax in the shop loft. That night Willard Chase and his sister Sally Chase with her green glass came with their friends to search. They rummaged around outside but did not come in. Lucy learned later that Sally Chase told the men the plates were in the coopering shop. The next morning, the Smiths found the floor torn up and the box smashed. To their relief, the plates were safely buried in the flax. (61)

This raises a whole batch of questions about the validity of Sally Chase's paranormal powers, but that's a whole 'nother can of worms to perhaps address after reading other books. In the meantime, Joseph knew he had to get out of there, and so Lucy Mack Smith approached a prosperous friendly Palmyra family: the Harrises. When Lucy Smith talked to Lucy Harris about the plate, she "immediately pressed money on Lucy Smith to assist in the translation". As Bushman describes, people like the Harrises - both Martin and Lucy - "were looking for wonders like their Puritan ancestors but as children of the Enlightenment were wary of being deceived. They wanted to believe but would retaliate if they detected fraud" (62). Both Martin and Lucy Harris went about their own ways of trying to verify their hopes. Lucy Harris desperately wanted a glimpse of the plates but was rebuffed; after she had a dream about the plates that night, she persuaded Joseph to accept a $28 loan. Martin Harris, on the other hand, contented himself with talking to each of the Smiths separately and seeing that their accounts matched up. (Frankly that sounds like a remarkably low standard.) Martin Harris was also permitted to lift the box that the plates were in, and then received a 'still small voice' in his soul that, as he saw it, confirmed that the plates were real.

When the people of Palmyra began threatening to tar and feather Joseph unless he showed them the plates, he fled town two days earlier than he'd announced his departure and hid the plates in a barrel full of beans. They went to Harmony and stayed in a house provided by Emma's parents. Isaac refused to let the plates stay in his house if he wasn't allowed to see them, and so he hid the plates in the woods for a time and moved with Emma into a small two-room house owned by her brother Jesse Hale. Joseph and Emma purchased that house and thirteen acres of land for $200 and made the last payment in August 1830; they lived there for 2.5 years.

Once finally settled, Joseph began the process of copying some of the figures and translating them. Martin Harris arrived in Harmony in February 1828, and Joseph arranged for Harris to take the characters east to be examined by a linguist (63). Harris stopped with several different figures - including Luther Bradish and Samuel Latham Mitchill - but the most famous by far was his encounter with Charles Anthon, a professor of classical studies at Columbia College, who was already renowned for his 1825 encyclopedia A Classical Dictionary. Unfortunately, it's not entirely clear what happened at that meeting. Anthon wrote two discordant accounts of it in 1834 and 1841, neither of which agrees with what Harris said happened. In 1834, Anthon said that he had refused to offer Harris any written opinion at all. In 1841, Anthon said that he had given Harris a clear written opinion so as to expose the fraud. Also, Anthon's description of the characters does not match up with the 'Anthon Transcript' published in 1844. Those characters are Egyptian, while Anthon described what he saw as a bunch of Greek and Hebrew letters and symbols for natural objects, and Harris claimed that Anthon told him that the characters were Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac, and Arabic. Harris also said that Anthon gave him a written opinion but then seized it and tore it up when he found out about the origin of the characters and was told he couldn't see the plates. Harris also attributed to Anthon a statement about being unable to read a sealed book, which Joseph understood in terms of Isaiah 29:11-12.

Martin Harris told his wife Lucy that he intended to help Joseph translate the plates, and Lucy became very determined to see them for herself to decide once and for all whether it was real or a hoax. She searched the Smith property, became frustrated, lamented publicly that Joseph intended to cheat her husband, and tried to talk Martin into giving up his plans. Joseph and Martin worked together from 12 April 1828 to 14 June 1828, with a curtain dividing the two of them and Joseph using the 'interpreters', the Urim and Thummim. By June 14, they had produced 116 pages of foolscap with text, but Martin Harris still had doubts and began pestering Joseph to at least let him show the manuscript to people. Although Joseph received negative answers twice through the interpreters, Martin convinced him to try a third time, which resulted in permission. Joseph insisted that Martin would only be allowed to show the manuscript to a few people: his wife, his brother, his parents, and his sister-in-law. Martin swore an oath to comply (66), and Moroni took the interpreters from Joseph (68).

As Martin Harris went, Emma gave birth to a firstborn son, Alvin Smith, who died the same day. Joseph eventually went north to Manchester to check up on Martin Harris... and got some very bad news. Martin had indeed showed the manuscript to his wife, which pleased her; Lucy Harris then allowed Martin to store the manuscript in her bureau. But then Martin decided to show the manuscript to a friend (contrary to his oath) while his wife was away, and so he picked the lock and marred his wife's bureau. Then Martin began to show the manuscript to all of his friends. Lucy Harris was angry with Martin over her bureau, and by the time Joseph reached the area, the manuscript had gone missing. Lucy Mack Smith assumed that Lucy Harris must have taken it with nefarious purposes to alter the manuscript and thus debunk Joseph. Joseph, meanwhile, was utterly despondent and returned to Harmony in July 1828. Moroni briefly returned the interpreters to Joseph, and through them he received a harsh revelation (D&C 3) that put him on probation but also included a promise of comfort.

During this dark period, Joseph and Emma attended Methodist meetings as a way of placating Emma's family. Joseph asked to be enrolled in the Methodist class led by Emma's brother-in-law, but her cousin Joseph Lewis was outraged and objected that Joseph, as a 'practicing necromancer', wasn't fit to participate (69). Bushman notes "no evidence of attendance", but Joseph's name did remain on the roll for six months. On 22 September 1828, Joseph received the interpreters from Moroni again, and although he and Emma did a bit of translating, their focus was on preparing temporally for the upcoming winter. In the early wintery months of 1829, Joseph received a revelation for his father (D&C 4). Emma acted as Joseph's scribe for further translation efforts, with Samuel Smith occasionally helping as well. The plates were kept either in a red morocco trunk or wrapped in a linen tablecloth on the table (70).

Late in the day on 5 April 1829, Samuel Smith brought a new visitor to the Smith household in Harmony, a 22-year-old bachelor named Oliver Cowdery. (Bushman does not mention the family ties between the Smiths and the Cowderys.) On their way to Harmony, Samuel and Oliver stopped in Fayette to visit Oliver's friend David Whitmer and promised to send back word about the plates. Cowdery eventually earned the family's trust. On 7 April 1829, a new burst of translation activity began that lasted until the project's completion in June. Bushman explains the method of translation:

By the time Cowdery arrived, translator and scribe were no longer separated. Emma said she sat at the same table with Joseph, writing as he dictated, with nothing between them, and the plates wrapped in a linen cloth on the table. When Cowdery took up the job of scribe, he and Joseph translated in the same room where Emma was working. Joseph looked in the seerstone, and the plates lay covered on the table. Neither Joseph nor Oliver explained how translation worked, but Joseph did not pretend to look at the "reformed Egyptian" words, the language on the plates, according to the book's own description. The plates lay covered on the table, while Joseph's head was in a hat looking at the seerstone, which by this time had replaced the interpreters. (71-72)

Bushman mentions two major paradigms for understanding the process: 'composition' and 'transcription'. As a Latter-day Saint, naturally Bushman wishes to favor the latter. He dismisses the former as calling for "a precocious genius of extraordinary powers who was voraciously consuming information without anyone knowing it" (72). He notes that the eyewitnesses to Joseph's activity all believed that he was performing transcription from the text that appeared in his seerstone. As Bushman goes on to say about transcription and its harmony with Joseph's past in folk magic, "The boy who gazed into stones and saw treasure grew up to become a translator who looked in a stone and saw words" (73).

Bushman notes that Cowdery was able to believe in Joseph so readily in part because Cowdery himself "used a rod to discover water and minerals"; he had a 'gift of working with the rod' as described in the original version of a revelation (D&C 8) that was later changed to remove the clear endorsement of divining rods. Bushman explains of Cowdery:

His [Cowdery's] family may have engaged in treasure-seeking and other magical practices in Vermont, and, like others in his culture, melded magic with Christianity. For a person with his cultural blend, an angel and gold plates had excitement and appeal. The revelation said nothing to discourage Cowdery's use of his special pwoers. [...] Rather than repudiate his claims, the revelation redirected Cowdery's use of his gifts. (73)

At this juncture, Cowdery wanted to try his hand at translating but failed - as explained by another April 1829 revelation (D&C 9) - because he neglected to first put in human effort before asking for God's confirmation. The translation project continued as normal, and in May 1829 they had to finally face the quandary of the missing 116 pages. A May 1829 revelation (D&C 10) directed him not to retranslate that portion, but rather to translate the plates of Nephi that covered the same period, which they began in late May or early June. Bushman also mentions the revelations that were given because of questions that arose during the translation process. In April 1829, for instance, Joseph and Oliver were at odds over what happened to the apostle John, and so a revelation (D&C 7) was given stating that John was still alive and would live to see the Second Coming.

They also had questions about the issue of authority, and were so disturbed that they went to the Susquehanna River to pray. According to Joseph's account given nearly a decade later, John the Baptist appeared to them to ordain them to the Aaronic Priesthood so that they could validly baptize one another at last (and also re-ordain each other to the Aaronic Priesthood thereafter, for some reason), and John promised them an even higher priesthood later. Cowdery mentioned the story in 1834, the first time it was ever told.

As tensions rose in Harmony over the translation work, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery transferred to the Whitmer farm in Fayette. At this point, Bushman notes that the Whitmers were Pennsylvania Germans and members of the German Reformed Church. Translation continued, with others such as John and Christian Whitmer also taking turns as scribes, though Cowdery remained the primary scribe. Joseph began to make quite a few converts, whom he baptized. In the meantime, there was still interest in seeing the plates, and eventually Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer persuaded Joseph to seek a revelation about it. This revelation "promised them a view not only of the plates but of the breastplate, the Urim and Thummim, and two sacred objects accompanying the plates - the sword of Laban and the Liahona, the miraculous ball with a compass given to Lehi by the Red Sea to set his course" (77-78).

Around 1 July 1829, the manuscript of the translation was at last finished, and on a day soon after that, the time came. Joseph took Harris, Cowdery, and Whitmer into the woods to pray for a while. After a time, Harris left, acknowledging that he was the obstacle. After Harris left, the others reported a vision in which an angel held the plates for them to see, and they also beheld the breastplate, the sword of Laban, and the Liahona lying on a table in their vision. When this was finished, Joseph sought Harris out and prayed with him until they together received the same vision. Joseph was relieved to finally not be alone (78).

A few days later, the time came for a return to Palmyra to arrange for the printing of the manuscripts. At the place in the old log house where the Smith family prayed, there gathered - in addition to Joseph Smith Jr. - also Joseph Smith Sr., Hyrum Smith, Samuel Smith, John Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Christian Whitmer, Peter Whitmer Jr., and Catherine Whitmer's husband Hiram Page. As Bushman describes what came next:

There Joseph showed them the plates, this time without an angel present. They turned over the leaves, examined the characters and the workmanship, and held the plates in their own hands. They later signed a statement saying what they had seen and testifying that they knew 'of a surety, that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken.' (79)

Bushman does note in passing, at least, that others have observed that the family loyalties may mitigate the merit of their testimony and that some have suggested that this, too, was a visionary experience through 'spiritual eyes', or perhaps the result of pressure exerted by Joseph Smith Jr. As at the previous sensitive spot, here once again Bushman cursorily notes in very sparse fashion a few of the alternative theories, but engages in no interaction with them whatsoever.

On 11 June 1829, Joseph got a copyright for the Book of Mormon after depositing the title page in the Utica office of R. R. Lansing, a clerk of the U.S. district court for the Northern District of New York. He also successfully - though not at first - negotiated with Egbert G. Grandin, a Palmyra printer, to print the first copies of the Book of Mormon. Martin Harris mortgaged his farm as security, which led to his wife divorcing him; Martin Harris eventually sold the farm on 7 April 1831. In the meantime, printing began in Palmyra, although awareness of growing hostility persuaded Joseph to direct Cowdery to transcribe another copy of the manuscript for safekeeping. Cowdery delivered the first 24 pages of the manuscript to Grandin's print shop in mid-August (80).

On 4 October 1829, Joseph returned home to Harmony, but soon there was trouble in Palmyra yet again. In September 1829, a former justice of the peace named Abner Cole began publishing a weekly periodical called The Reflector under the pseudonym 'O. Dogberry'. He commented on the upcoming "Gold Bible" through the fall, but on 29 December 1829 he actually printed lengthy excerpts from the yet-unpublished manuscript. After a confrontation with Joseph Smith, Cole printed excerpts yet again in the 13 January 1830 and 22 January 1830 issues of The Reflector, but it stopped there. In the meantime, the people of Palmyra were coming to regard the Book of Mormon as "a blasphemous rival to orthodox Christianity" (81). When the Smith family in Palmyra refused to back down, they were censured and suspended from communion by the Western Presbyterian Church. The people of the area attempted to persuade Grandin to stop the printing, but Martin Harris sold a portion of his farm to raise funds so the printing could continue (81). In the meantime, Hyrum urged Joseph to sell the copyright in Canada and requested that Joseph seek a revelation on the matter. In response, Joseph promised Oliver Cowdery and Hiram Page success if they went to Toronto, but things fell through (82). Here, Bushman carefully avoids stating definitively that this promise was given as a revelation, though in light of Hyrum's request, that's at least implicit in Bushman's text.

Grandin announced in the 26 March 1830 issue of the Wayne Sentinel that the Book of Mormon, a work printed in 'large Duodecimo' and running about 600 pages in length, was at last available for sale at the Palmyra Bookstore. The book didn't sell well, as a consequence of the boycott against it. Still, this put Joseph on the national stage, at least slightly. A brief notice had first appeared in the Wayne Sentinel about the Book of Mormon on 26 June 1829. Papers in Rochester made note of it in late August and early September 1829. After publication in the spring of 1830, substantial comments appeared in the Rochester Republican, the Rochester Daily Advertiser, and the Rochester Gem. Of course, these early comments were seldom favorable. Joseph was presented as a "full-blown religious imposter" (82). The editors used vocabulary drawn both from the province of false religion - such as 'enthusiasm', 'fanaticism', and 'blasphemy' - but also from treasure-seeking - such as 'charlatan' (83). The Smith family and their supporters ignored the negative press entirely. Strangely, Bushman notes, neither Joseph nor his mother Lucy ever mentioned the day when bound copies of the Book of Mormon first became available; Bushman also observes how little Joseph was mentioned in the preface to the first edition, and on that note of the book taking on "a life of its own", he concludes the third chapter (83). Many of the strengths of the previous chapters are present in this one as well, but as has been seen there are some critical weak points as well. In the fourth chapter, Bushman turns his focus away from the chronology of Joseph Smith's life and instead hones in on the Book of Mormon itself.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Hyrum Smith on the Plurality of Gods and Worlds

As you may recall, a week ago I posted a sermon preached by Joseph Smith and recorded by George Laub in his journal. Today I'd like to present another sermon, this one by Joseph's brother Hyrum, which also appears in the recollections of George Laub. According to Laub's notoriously unreliable dating, it was delivered on 27 April 1843; with Eugene England, I think it's more likely to have been preached around that time the next year, after the King Follett Discourse. As before, I give the text of the sermon summary with modernized punctuation, spelling, and grammar where appropriate; for the original, please see Eugene England, ed., "George Laub's Nauvoo Journal", BYU Studies 18/2 (1978): 27.

Brother Hyrum Smith - April 27th, 1843 - Concerning the plurality of gods and worlds:

Now I say unto you that there are "gods many and lords many" [1 Corinthians 8:5]. But to us there is one God the Father and Jesus Christ the first-begotten [cf. 1 Corinthians 8:6], who is made equal with God so that he himself is a god. And now the work that the Father has done, did he do also - and so there is a whole train and lineage of gods. And this world was created by faith and works, the same as if a man would build a house: he knows where the materials are and believes he could do the work of that building, for he understood the science of building and by faith he gained the work with his own hands and completed that building. The same way was this world by faith and works and by understanding the principle. It was made by the hands of God or gods. It was made of element - or, in other words, of chaos. It was in chaotic form from all eternity and will be to all eternity, and again they held counsel together that they might roll this world into form as all others are made, showing you by the building of a house as a sample or as figure, "in my Father's house are many mansions" [John 14:2] - or 'in my Father's world are many worlds'. "I will go and prepare a place for you" [John 14:3] - and then if there are many worlds, there must be many gods, for every star that we see is a world and is inhabited the same as this world is peopled. The sun and moon are inhabited and the stars, and Jesus Christ is the light of the sun, etc. The stars are inhabited the same as this earth. But any of them are larger than this earth, and many that we cannot see without a telescope are larger than this earth. They are under the same order as this earth is undergoing, and undergoing the same change. There was and is a first man, Adam, and also a Saviour in the meridian of times, the same computing times and all things in order. Many things are to be considered that will bring knowledge to our understanding, but the foolish understand not these things for this world was patterned after the former world or after mansions above.

So here are a few things I get out of Hyrum's sermon as Laub has recorded its substance for us:

  1. Hyrum seems to believe, as did his brother, that the 'gods many and lords many' of 1 Corinthians 8:5 are not pagan deities but are rather real deities with whom we have no dealings; they are, in other words, ontologically on par with the proper objects of our worship, but are nevertheless of no relevance to us religiously.
  2. Note the way Hyrum analyzes Christ's equality with God the Father. He says that this equality with God - which Christ does indeed have, in Hyrum's view - makes Jesus "a god", though apparently a second god separate from the Father, so that they are two gods rather than one God in the basic sense of the term.
  3. Hyrum talks about "a whole train and lineage of gods", which seems to allude to the teaching - found also in Joseph's preaching, unless the records are massively unfaithful to his historical teaching - that there were a countless number of other gods before the Father, so that while the Father is the greatest god of religious importance to us, this has to do with our unique relationship to him rather than with his actual status as the highest entity in all of reality. The Father and the Son are not 'the first and the last' in any more than a local sense here; there are, indeed, a vast line of gods who come before them.
    • Edit to add: This interpretation is somewhat controversial; see discussion in the comments. Another possibility is that the "whole train and lineage of gods" are all in generations subsequent to our Heavenly Father, in which case the Father would remain the first and supreme deity, which coheres well with certain contemporary strands of LDS thought. I nevertheless think that the previous reading is to be preferred. Grammatically, the present tense presented by Laub indicates that there already are this vast number of deities. On the alternative understanding, these would presumably all be descended from our Heavenly Father in some way. Furthermore, the phrase "train and lineage" seems to me to indicate that the concept of successive generations, successive iterations of the plan of salvation narrative, is in play. I struggle to see exactly where one might accommodate this within any clearly attested early LDS theological cosmology. Furthermore, we do have corroboration in Joseph Smith's sermons - for instance, in his famed message on 16 June 1844 - for the idea that our Heavenly Father himself had a father of his spirit (who by the reasoning there articulated presumably likewise had a father of his spirit, and so forth ad infinitum in an endless regress). The combination of these factors leads me to see a "train and lineage of gods" prior to our Father as being a somewhat more likely sense of Hyrum's message, though this is not so conclusive as I initially presented it. Further study needs to be done on possible background information to Hyrum's message.
  4. Hyrum goes on to posit - just as his brother Joseph did - that the world was not made ex nihilo ('out of nothing') but rather ex materia ('out of material'). He thus compares God's act of creation very closely to the act of constructing a building; both involve pre-existing materials not produced by or in any way dependent upon the craftsman.
  5. Furthermore, Hyrum says that the entire world we know to have been created by God was made from chaotic 'element', some basic material that was initially in a chaotic state and then had order imposed upon it by God (see Doctrine and Covenants 93:33). This discourse doesn't seem to give enough detail, however, to further reconstruct the details of Hyrum's comprehensive view, if he had one, of the ontological status of this 'element' and this 'chaos'.
  6. In the course of sketching his very close analogy between the work of a craftsman building a house and the work of God in 'building' the world, Hyrum elaborates on his curious remark that this involved "faith and works". By 'faith', Hyrum here means - if I understand his usage rightly - both the how-to knowledge and the belief in one's own capacity to carry out the task; without either, no labor could be done. These alone are not sufficient; the labor itself, the 'works', is also essential. 'Faith' here is thus the necessary prerequisite for engaging in the 'works' at all. (Compare to Mosiah 8:18.) Hyrum's presentation of this sort of faith differs markedly from scriptural notions of faith, which have an outward focus of belief/trust/loyalty in someone else.
  7. Note well that Hyrum says that our world was made "by the hands of God or gods", indicating the possibility that our world was the product of a multiplicity of deities; in short, this is a denial of what has sometimes been called 'creational monotheism', or at least a reduction of it to one epistemic possibility among several.
  8. Hyrum maintains quite firmly here that each star we see is itself inhabited, constituting each one as a discrete world. He believes that the sun and the moon are also each inhabited - a not uncommon opinion in those days, but one that Laub present Hyrum as expounding with a great degree of confidence and utilizing to develop his theological cosmology.
  9. Hyrum furthermore maintains that to each world in our universe, there must be a different corresponding deity. This allows us to get greater insight on what Hyrum means by 'world'. On one reading, then, it seems that our God was responsible only for the earth and its immediate environs. His domain of "the heavens and the earth" would thus be a local subsection - and a comparatively small one at that - of the total universe, which is under the segmented jurisdiction of numerous deities. (How Hyrum or anyone else holding this view would have reconciled this localist perspective with the LDS canonical positioning of God's base of power in the vicinity of Kolob is not here addressed but would be an interesting subject to investigate - see Abraham 3:2-3, 9.)
    • Alternatively, however, note Hyrum's gloss of John 14:2 as 'in my Father's world are many worlds'. This can give rise to yet another reading: namely, that the Father's domain is truly cosmic and maximal, but that the universe - the Father's world - is further segmented into the discrete domains of numerous subordinate deities. In this reading, 'world' can refer either to a local subsection of the cosmos or to the cosmos itself, with the Father standing in relation to the other lesser gods like an emperor to his provincial governors.
  10. To be honest, I can't make heads or tails of the last few lines of what Laub recorded Hyrum as having said, particularly the references to Adam and the Savior and how this relates to the various worlds. I get the reference to "the meridian of time" (Moses 5:57; 6:62), but either I lack the necessary background to understand the rest, or Laub's recollection is obscure.
  11. At the very end, though, there does seem to be an expression of belief that the pattern on which God organized our world was provided by the 'spiritual' world that came before it. If memory serves me rightly, this is an idea also found in LDS scripture (Moses 3:5).

What are your thoughts about Hyrum's sermon? What do you get out of it?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Baptizing the Bubble Boy: A Thought Experiment

As an infamous lover of possible thought experiments, I just can't not highlight this. It's a scenario provided by an anonymous poster at By Comment Consent in a post titled "You Make the Call: Bubble Boy edition". Here's the scenario. Imagine yourself as an Area Authority Seventy who, in this matter, has been given license by the First Presidency to resolve the quandary in whatever way you see as most consistent with proper LDS doctrine and practice. You've been contacted by a stake president on behalf of a bishop whose ward contains a twelve-year-old boy named Barry. Barry was born in the church, has a testimony, and wishes to be baptized. The problem is, Barry has a very nasty autoimmune deficiency requiring that he live inside a protective bubble built inside his home. Doctors have advised that any attempt to build a tank inside his bubble for a full immersion - which seems difficult anyway - could be quite hazardous to his health, possibly endangering his live. Barry wishes very much to have a baptism of some sort that the Church would recognize as valid and effectual.

So, as the Area Authority Seventy charged with finding a resolution for Barry and his bishop, what call do you make? (To see a few options, please check the original post over at BCC.)

Not being LDS, I see the best option as being a limited sort of baptism by sprinkling, which is one of the options suggested in the original post. It's not optimal, but is a legitimate option that's been recognized as valid in dire straits since early in the second century. If I were LDS, on the other hand, I think my instincts would lean towards a baptism by proxy while Barry yet lives. I'm not sure of that, however, because I lack the sort of firm grasp of the minute intricacies of LDS baptismal theology and current official practice that would be required to give a confident resolution from that standpoint.

What would you say?

Christ is Risen

This morning I'd like to share one of my favorite songs for use in contemporary Evangelical worship. And without a doubt, Matt Maher's "Christ is Risen" is beautifully, beautifully top-notch in that regard. Although the artist himself is actually Roman Catholic, the song is saturated in the pure and glorious truths that all those who profess Christ as the risen Lord can and ought to proclaim. Because all of us can bear testimony that Christ is Lord and he is risen!

O death, where is your sting?
O hell, where is your victory?
O church, come stand in the light,
The glory of God has defeated the night!

Sing it: O death, where is your sting?
O hell, where is your victory?
O church, come stand in the light,
Our God is not dead; he's alive, he's alive!

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling over death by death;
Come awake, come awake,
Come and rise up from the grave....

This recording doesn't quite do the song justice. Instead, imagine a beautiful chapel packed solid with Christians from every tribe and homeland, and all of them singing the song so joyously that one can't help but recognize it as a song of victory, singing it with cheering and rejoicing before the Lord and hands lifted high in unabashed worship. That was my first encounter with this song, here at seminary. And I've been in love with it ever since.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling - 02

Richard Lyman Bushman
Chapter 2: "The First Visions: 1816-27" (pp. 30-56)

In the first chapter, Richard Bushman gave an excellent treatment of the Smith family up to their move to Palmyra, NY, in late 1816 or early 1817. In the second chapter, Bushman plunges into the next eleven years, a time period that includes some of the most important formative events of the young Joseph's prophetic career. After some brief coverage of the history and layout of the region up until that point, Bushman turns his attention to the Smith family's entrance, noting that they initially lived in Palmyra without a farm, maintaining themselves through a small shop, Lucy's oilcloth table coverings, and hired labor performed by Joseph Smith Sr. and his older sins (31). When they made enough money to contract for a farm, "the Smiths located a wooded tract less than two miles south of Palmyra village on Stafford Road", and Joseph Smith Sr. paid $600-700 for 100 acres of land there in July 1820. However, at least a year before that, the Smiths built a small log house on the adjacent property of a local merchant named Samuel Jennings (32). After clearing the land through fire and beginning to farm, the Smiths were able to finally harvest a wheat crop in 1821. Funds remained tight and they continually fell short on their payments, though, and so they continued to pursue other lines of work as well (33). Having covered this and offered readers an excellent map of Palmyra and Manchester on page 34, Bushman next turned to the life of young Joseph Smith Jr. and his religious experiences:

During the fourteen years following the Smiths' move to Palmyra in 1816, Joseph Jr. had the experiences that led him to believe he was a prophet. In 1818, when he was twelve, he began to be troubled about his sins, though apparently no one in the family knew about it. Around 1820, the visions began, first of the Father and the Son and then, three years later, of the angel who gave instructions about the gold plates. In 1830, at twenty-four, he published the Book of Mormon, organized a church, and was identified as "a seer, a translator, an apostle of Jesus Christ." (35)

To gain insight on Smith religious culture at this time, Bushman mentions several of the dreams - which Lucy called "visions" - that Joseph Smith Sr. had around the same time period. The dreams expressed a sense of yearning for relief and a sense that it was just beyond reach. Bushman also tells us about the churches of Palmyra at the time:

Four churches met within a few miles of the Smiths' house. Presbyterians had the largest congregation in Palmyra village and in 1820 the only meetinghouse in the center. The Methodists, the next largest group, constructed a building of their own in 1822, followed by the Society of Friends in 1823. Two miles west of the village, a large congregation of Baptists had met in a meetinghouse since 1808, and in the eastern part of the township stood a second Presbyterian church. (36)

All in all, it sounds to me that in the 1818-1820 period, Palmyra probably offered relatively weak religious options, and so I can partly sympathize, I suppose, with the sense of religious dissatisfaction that the Smiths felt. Bushman notes, however, the impact of the religious revivals that swept through the village just as the Smiths were arriving. An endnote does reveal, however, that these churches were fairly small, with the Presbyterians having only 65 members and others even less (569 n. 24). Bushman also notes that, between the ages of twelve and fifteen, Joseph Smith Jr. read the Bible and regarded it as divine revelation but "was confused by the failings of the Christians in the town. Like his mother earlier, he was aware of more hypocrisy and contradiction than harmony or devotion" (37). Bushman remarks, however, that evidence does indicate that Joseph Jr. was favorably disposed towards Methodism. During these years, "Lucy joined the Western Presbyterian Church in Palmyra, probably the best established church in the village. Hyrum, Sophronia, and Samuel went to church with their mother, but Joseph Sr., Alvin, William, and Joseph Jr. stayed home" (37). Joseph Jr.'s participation in a juvenile debating club may also have driven him to contemplate the existence of God, but his case for it rested on the beauty of the universe (38).

Nevertheless, his religious tumult remained. Joseph felt a great concern for deciding between the various churches in the town, and since he felt that the Bible couldn't answer his questions, he opted to beg God for an extrabiblical answer. Bushman notes that in 1820, Joseph resolved to pray verbally and so went into a clearing in the woods for some privacy. Joseph initially understood his purported experiences in terms of "a personal conversion", in which he received "the message of forgiveness and redemption he had wanted to hear" (39). Bushman also notes that most early converts to Mormonism "probably never heard about the 1820 vision", and also usually didn't hear about his other early visions (39). Analyzing Joseph's varied and sometimes discordant retellings of the 'First Vision' experience, Bushman notes:

In the 1835 account and again in 1838, the balance of the two parts of the story - personal forgiveness as contrasted to the apostasy of the churches - shifted. Joseph's own salvation gave way to the opening of a new era of history. The promise of forgiveness through faith in Christ was dropped from the narrative, and the apostasy of Christian churches stood as the central message of the vision. The 1832 report emphasized general moral degeneration: "the world lieth in sin at this time and none doeth good." In 1838, by contrast, Joseph reported that he was told to join none of the sects. "All their Creeds were an abomination in his sight. . . . 'They teach for doctrines the commandments of men.'" The decay was doctrinal and institutional, as well as moral. The later accounts of the vision supplied the church with a founding story. (40)

What Bushman says next, however, is in my opinion one of the most helpful portions of the entire chapter, and it covers Joseph Smith Jr.'s interaction with the 'hostile' clergyman. I can do no better than to share a portion of what Bushman says:

Joseph did tell a Methodist preacher about the First Vision. Newly reborn people customarily talked over their experiences with a clergyman to test the validity of the conversion. The preacher's contempt shocked Joseph. Standing on the margins of the evangelical churches, Joseph may not have recognized the ill repute of visionaries. The preacher reacted quickly and negatively, not because of the strangeness of Joseph's story but because of its familiarity. Subjects of revivals all too often claimed to have seen visions. In 1826 a preacher at the Palmyra Academy said he saw Christ descend "in a glare of brightness, exceeding ten fold the brilliancy of the meridian Sun." The Wayne Sentinel in 1823 reported Asa Wild's vision of Christ in Amsterdam, New York, telling him that all denominations were corrupt. At various other times and places, beginning early in the Protestant era, religious eccentrics had claimed visits from divinity. Norris Stearns published an account in 1815 of two beings who appeared to him [...] The clergy of the mainline churches automatically suspected any visionary report, whatever its content. [...] The only acceptable message from heaven was assurance of forgiveness and a promise of grace. Joseph's report of God's rejection of all creeds and churches would have sounded all too familiar to the Methodist evangelical, who repeated the conventional point that "all such things had ceased with the apostles and that there never would be any more of them." The dismissal widened the gult between Joseph and the evangelical ministry. He felt that the clergy had picked him out for persecution. (40-41)

In short, Joseph's message was not a shocking one. It was a not-uncommon experience in the midst of the revivalist fervor for newly converted persons like Joseph. And so while the young Joseph perceived himself as being singled out, in actuality he was simply being dismissed as one more person who, like all the others, was having false visions pretending to go beyond what the apostles delivered once and for all to the people of God. I believe that this is an absolutely critical thing to understand about Joseph Smith's interactions with representatives of allegedly "apostate" Christianity in his day.

Moving past the First Vision, Bushman notes that in 1822 Alvin Smith began to build a new frame house of the family. Alvin had gathered money for the mortgage, but when the agent died in 1822, the Smiths decided to use it to build a new house rather than save it for later collection. As it turned out, that was a mistake. Bushman then takes some time to, as he frequently does, present Joseph Smith Sr. as a weak father who felt that he had failed his family and who was prone to drinking (42). Bushman also notes that, after the First Vision, Joseph Smith Jr. also felt himself being drawn back into sin; occasionally, Bushman observes, "he drank too much" (43).

On the evening of 21 September 1823, the Smith family had a discussion about the lack of any seeming agreement between the churches - in short, standard fare for Smith family opinion. After everyone went to bed, Joseph Smith Jr. stayed away to pray to God for forgiveness - and then he received yet another vision (43). This was the first of Joseph's numerous purported encounters with an angel named Moroni, though Bushman concedes in an endnote that in the 1838 account of the experience, Joseph said that the angel was Nephi, which Bushman asserts is "a puzzling mistake" (572 n. 57). Bushman quotes from the familiar account of Moroni telling Joseph about the golden plates that tell about the 'former inhabitants of this continent' and about the 'two stones in silver bows' that were the Urim and Thummim, all buried in a hill conveniently close by. Interestingly:

Moroni quoted Old and New Testament prophecies relating to the final days of the earth: the third and fourth chapters of Malachi, Acts 3:22-23, Joel 2:28-32, and Isaiah 11. These were the texts the clergy used to teach about the millennium. Joseph knew them well enough to note small departures from the words in the Bible. Hearing the familiar texts from the angel confirmed the common belief that the last days were near and Joseph was to prepare. (44)

Working out in the field the next day, Joseph seemed drain, and so his father sent him back to the house, but while climbing over a fence, Joseph Jr. passed out and awoke to see Moroni yet again, who "repeated the message of the previous night and commanded Joseph to tell his father", which he then did (45). Joseph Smith Sr., being himself a visionary, was already disposed to believe his son's experience, and so father counseled son to obey the angel. Thus, Joseph Smith Jr. went to the hill southeast of the family farm, a trip of about three miles. Thanks to his vision, Joseph Smith Jr. went to the scattered trees near the top of the western slope, dug away the dirt, and pried up a stone beneath which he found "the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the breastplate" (45). Joseph was overcome with a sense of greed over the golden plates, and when he touched them, he felt a painful shock and was thoroughly rebuked by Moroni and forbidden from having the plates until he got his motive straight. That evening, Joseph Smith Jr. informed his family about the encounter, and everyone believed him (46). Tragedy, however, soon struck:

Less than two months after Joseph went to the hill, Alvin fell sick with bilious colic. The doctor prescribed a large dose of calomel, a compound of mercury and chlorine thought to promote the discharge of bile. Lucy thought the calomel lodged in Alvin's stomach, and, according to her, the combined exertions of four physicians could not remove it. Feeling death was near, Alvin called the family to the bedside. He urged Joseph Jr. "to be a good boy, and do everything that lies in your power to obtain the Record." On November 19, 1823, Alvin died. (46)

The next year, Palmyra was swept by another revival, one strong enough to get even Joseph Smith Sr. to attend a few meetings, but Joseph Smith Jr. held back, saying that he could learn better by going into the woods alone and reading the Bible than by fellowshipping with other Christians (46). The frame house was completed in 1824, and the time for collection came due, and consequently Joseph and Hyrum looked for work in the countryside. In October 1825, Joseph Smith Sr. and Joseph Smith Jr. took a job digging in Pennsylvania for one Josiah Stowell Sr., "who believed that a Spanish silver mine was buried near Harmony, Pennsylvania" (47). After their first digging expedition, Stowell and one Joseph Knight Sr. "agreed to lend the Smiths money with next year's wheat crop as collateral" (47). In the meantime, the Smiths were being sued for payment by the frame house's carpenter, Russell Stoddard, as well as being hounded by their new land agent, John Greenwood. The only solution was for the Smiths to allow a local Quaker landholder named Lemuel Durfee to buy the farm and allow them to rent it and continue to benefit from the improvements they made (47).

At this point, Bushman finally begins to delve deeper into another subplot, namely that of 'digging'. In 1822, Joseph Smith Jr. discovered some stones that he believed allowed him to see things that natural eye could not see - in short, seerstones. He discovered one of them while digging a well with Willard Chase. One of his stones was dark and the other was white; he believed strongly in them throughout his life, as did his followers. "For a time Joseph used a stone to help people find lost property and other hidden things, and his reputation reached Stowell" (49). Unfortunately for Joseph, Willard Chase - who had initially discovered one of the stones but let Joseph take it home - eventually decided that he wanted it back very badly. His sister Sally Chase also had such a stone, as did numerous other people in the area; it was a prevalent part of their New York "culture of magic" (49). "Money-digging was epidemic in upstate New York. Stories of spirits guarding buried treasure were deeply enmeshed in the region's rural culture" (50). While newspaper editors and ministers tended to express dismay over the gullibility of this propensity to folk magic, many ordinary people were completely comfortable with their involvement in the occult, and the Smiths were no exception. As Bushman observes:

In addition to rod and stone divining, the Smiths probably believed in the rudimentary astrology found in the ubiquitous almanacs. Magical parchments handed down in the Hyrum Smith family may have originally belonged to Joseph Sr. The visit of the angel and the discovery of the gold plates would have confirmed the belief in supernatural powers. For people in a magical frame of mind, Moroni sounded like one of the spirits who stood guard over treasure in the tales of treasure-seeking. The similarities may even have made the extraordinary story more credible in the Smith family. (50)

Since I'll eventually be examining another book that engages this subject in much greater depth, I'll save my editorializing about Joseph Smith's involvement in this magic subculture for then. Bushman goes to great pains to contend that around 1823, Joseph Smith Jr. "began to orient himself away from treasure and toward translation" (51). By 1825, 'Joseph apparently felt that 'seeing' with a stone was the work of a 'seer,' a religious term, while 'peeping' or 'glass-looking' was fraudulent" (51). A complaint was brought against Joseph in early 1826 as "a disorderly person" on the grounds of a New York law that "specified that anyone pretending to have skill in discovering lost goods should be judged as a disorderly person" (52). Bushman doesn't delve into the outcome of the case, however, which is unusual for him, though in an endnote he does make reference to claims of an 'honorable acquittal' (574 n. 90).

Bushman moves on to say that Joseph spent the bulk of 1826 in southern New York, going to school and working for Stowell in Bainbridge and possibly also working in Joseph Knight Sr.'s carding mills in Colesville. Joseph returned to Manchester only briefly in the fall of 1826 for his annual appointment with Moroni at the Hill Cumorah, but Joseph may have even left before Hyrum's marriage on 2 November 1826 to Jerusha Barden.

During Joseph's expeditions in Harmony, he and his father had been boarders at the home of a man named Isaac Hale and found himself "attracted to the tall, dark-haired Emma", Isaac's daughter (53). Joseph decided already by December 1825 that he intended to marry her (572 n. 72). Hale objected, however, to Joseph's attempts to court Emma. This gives Bushman an occasion to offer a brief physical description of Joseph:

In January 1827, Emma visited Josiah Stowell in Bainbridge and saw Joseph. He was a handsome young man, over six feet tall with broad chest and shoulders, light brown hair, blue eyes, and long thick lashes, bushy brows, and a little beard. (53)

When Joseph was 21 years old and Emma was 22, they eloped and were married in South Bainbridge at the house of Zechariah Tarble on 18 January 1827. Instead of returning to Harmony, the pair of them moved to Manchester. Emma was worried that her family would be furious and didn't make contact until she sent for her belongings in the summer of 1827, and when Joseph and Emma went to meet Isaac in Harmony, Isaac "tearfully rebuked Joseph for stealing his daughter and said he would rather follow her to her grave than have her married to Joseph", but after Joseph assured Isaac that his treasure-seeking days were over, Isaac calmed down and allowed the couple to move onto his property (54).

Although Joseph was beginning to reorient himself to a more religious path of life, the treasure-seeking mentality still did affect him and his family. Bushman notes that Joseph Sr. and Lucy "admonished Joseph to be rigorously obedient to the messenger's instructions, just as exact compliance with prescribed rituals was required for successful money-digging" (54). However, by 1826 even Joseph Smith Sr. was beginning to see the plates "less and less as a treasure and more and more as a religious history" (54-55). Of Joseph Smith Jr.'s religious life, Bushman again remarks:

Joseph Jr. was left on his own to find answers. Although the revivals brushed his life and probably awakened concerns about his sins, he found salvation in a private vision, not in a camp meeting. He was bred to independence. The message of apostasy in the First Vision coupled with the rebuff received when he reported his vision widened the gulf between Joseph and the churches. After 1820, it was fairly certain he would cut a path for himself. (55)

Bushman goes on to suggest that if anything in the Smith family dynamic drove Joseph toward this prophetic vocation, it could only be "the desire to redeem his flawed, loving father", though Bushman of course does not belief that this alone can suffice to explain the course of Joseph's life (55).

In 1827, Joseph and Emma returned to Manchester, and Joseph was sent into the village on business. He returned late and exhausted, dropped into a chair, and then reported that Moroni had accosted him on the road and warned him that the time to bring forth the record had come. This is where Bushman concludes the second chapter, artfully positioning the reader at the edge of yet another focal point in Joseph's life. In this chapter as in the first, Bushman presents his portrait of Joseph's life artfully and with a masterful treatment of the sources. As himself a Latter-day Saint, Bushman of course does not attempt a critical, non-LDS reconstruction of what might have happened, nor does he consider it essential to his task as a historian to do so. For non-LDS readers, this can sometimes be a bother (especially in those instances where Bushman does not adequately air the issue at all), but there are more skeptical biographies of Joseph Smith available (though perhaps not enough). All in all, up to this point Bushman's biography is nevertheless a very useful and informative resource as well as, quite simply, an enjoyable read.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Joseph Smith Documents from 1834-1835

Just a bit earlier today, the website of the Joseph Smith Papers Project was updated with a whole slew of 121 documents from the years 1834-1835. Go check it out! I have By Common Consent to thank for the news; they note that it includes the minute book for the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some major exploring to do....

The Genesis Project

A friend of mine drew my attention to a recent article in Charisma Magazine, called "It Takes a Brave Guy to Plant a Church in Utah". This newsletter by J. Lee Grady focuses on Matt Roberts, a charismatic minister in his thirties who planted an evangelical congregation called The Genesis Project in Ogden, Utah. (Here is their statement of faith.) His congregation is apparently doing rather well, quantitatively speaking: they have about 950 people with several weekly meetings. According to Grady's article, about 75% of the congregation has some sort of LDS background. Here, however, are the paragraphs in the article that struck me:

"Mormon churches are not retaining their youth," Matt adds. "So there's a whole generation of kids [in Utah] who have been crushed by works-based religion."

Matt's outreach strategy, however, has not been anti-Mormon by any means. He's quick to acknowledge that young people from Christian churches have also been wounded by religion. So he just preaches Jesus, without attacking Mormon doctrines.....

"We don't argue with Mormons," Matt explains. "Some Christians have been really hateful toward them. One hundred percent of our members have relatives in the LDS Church [Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints]. We believe differently than they do, but we are here to serve them."

Grady goes on to say that, rather than draw the salary that many pastors of large congregations do, Matt Roberts prefers to have the bulk of the church's budget is devoted to various forms of outreach. His hope is "to scoop up all the young people in Ogden who have been hurt by drugs, rejection, promiscuity or religion and offer them a countercultural Jesus who cares".

Thoughts on Roberts' ministry and The Genesis Project?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling - 01

Richard Lyman Bushman
Chapter 1: "The Joseph Smith Family: To 1816" (pp. 8-29)

And so our summary/review of Richard Bushman's seminal biography Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling at last commences! After a brief prologue recounting Josiah Quincy Jr.'s account of his visit to Joseph Smith Jr. in May 1844, Richard Bushman launches into the first chapter of his monumental biography of Joseph Smith by examining the history of his ancestors. The opening pages of the chapter - begun from the perspective of immediately after Joseph's death - make clear that much of the material for this early portion is dependent upon the account of Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph Smith Jr.'s mother. Following this line, Bushman begins by recounting Lucy's own ancestry. Lucy Mack Smith was the daughter of Solomon Mack and Lydia Gates. Solomon was born on 15 September 1732 in Lyme, Connecticut, as the son of Ebenezer Mack and the grandson of John Mack, a prosperous trader. When Solomon was four, however, Ebenezer lost his land and Solomon had to work for a "hard-hearted and miserly farmer" (10). Solomon Mack became obsessed with becoming wealthy. Solomon served in the French and Indian War and used his discharge pay to buy a farm in Lyme. He married Lydia Gates in 1759. At this point, Bushman informs us that Lydia was the daughter of Daniel Gates, a deacon from the nearby Connecticut town of East Haddam. Bushman then recounts Solomon's later risky ventures, in which he sold his property in Lyme to gain rights to 1600 acres in New York as well as some property in New Hampshire.

Lucy Mack herself was born on 8 July 1775 in Gilsum, New Hampshire. Solomon learned the art of making saltpeter from Lydia's brother and "earned a dollar a day teaching the art from town to town" (10). He enlisted in the army and, in 1778, "signed on with the crew of a privateer" (11). Solomon was more absent than present from his home life for fourteen years, continually grasping after more, but in 1788, "he returned home with little to show for his exertions" (11). Solomon felt defeated, but Bushman notes that "the Mack family did not dwell in mean poverty. At various times, they owned farms and houses. Solomon had the capital to purchase land, freight vessels, buy a schooner, and to owe and be owed hundreds of dollars" (11). In 1811, Solomon Mack experienced a religious conversion.

As for Lucy's life, Bushman notes that she remembered her early life as marked by persistent death and illness. She watched Solomon endure repeated injuries, and in the 1790s she endured the deaths of her sisters Lovina and Lovisa from consumption. Lucy described her life in 1794 as having been one of grief, brooding, and melancholy. She attempted to turn her attention to religious activities - Bible reading and prayer - but felt that the heavily sectarian attitude of Christianity in her day was a serious obstacle (a considerable foreshadowing of her famous son's later struggles). Lucy's religious instruction came mostly from her mother Lydia, who had joined a Congregational church at age thirty. Lucy's brother Jason became "a religious seeker before he was sixteen, pursuing the spiritual gifts of early Christianity outside of established churches", and at age twenty became a lay preacher. Bushman notes that "Mack religion was family religion, and nothing outside the family satisfied her [Lucy]" (13).

After Lovisa and Lovina died, Lucy moved in with her brother Stephen, who had in 1793 moved to Tunbridge, Vermont, to pursue a career as a merchant. Stephen became a close friend of an older man who had moved to Tunbridge in 1791: Asael Smith. While at Tunbridge, Lucy met Asael's second son Joseph, whom Bushman describes as "a strong, tall young man of twenty-three" (13). After returning home for a while, Stephen persuaded Lucy to return to Tunbridge. Lucy married Joseph Smith on 24 January 1796, the marriage being performed by a justice of the peace named Seth Austin.

At this point, Bushman turns his attention to the Smith family. In 1638, a twelve-year-old Robert Smith sailed from England, and his descendants came to reside ten miles north of Salem in the village of Topsfield (14). Robert's son Samuel Smith was one of the accusers in the Salem Witch Trials. Samuel had a grandson named Samuel who "was repeatedly chosen assessor, selectman, town clerk, representative to the General Court (the Massachusetts legislature), and delegate to the Provincial Congress. Most important, Samuel was frequently chosen moderator of the town meeting, a position commanding universal respect" (14). This Samuel, who died in 1785, was the father of Asael Smith. Asael did not grow up wealthy for all his father's prestige, and hence "Asael scrambled for a toehold in the spare New England economy, much like Solomon Mack" (14).

In 1767, when Asael was 22 years old, he married Mary Duty of Windham, New Hampshire, and had three children during the five years he still lived with his father. The second of these children, Joseph Smith Sr., was born 12 July 1771. For the next several decades, Asael and Mary continually moved from town to town trying to establish themselves. Asael enlisted in the army in 1776 and inherited half of his father's property in 1785. After a trade with his brother Samuel Jr., Asael realized that the old farm was a hopeless cause, and so he sold in in 1791, leaving Asael, Mary, and their eleven children in need of a home. They purchased 83 acres of land in Tunbridge, Vermont, and in November 1791, "the Smiths crowded into the fourteen-by-ten-foot hut built by Jesse and Joseph and prepared for the Vermont winter" (15).

Here, Asael and his family achieved a measure of success. Joseph Smith and Lucy Mack, after their marriage, received a farm from Asael. By 1802, "the Smiths had a compound of adjoining farms totaling between 300 and 400 acres", which "brought Asael modest eminence in Tunbridge" (15). Between 1811 and 1820, Asael and many of the children moved to St. Lawrence County in New York. At this point, Bushman takes the opportunity to note that in 1830, Joseph Smith Sr. visited his family there to bring copies of the Book of Mormon, with the result that four of the brothers converted, and Asael and Mary were favorable. Asael died in 1830, but in 1836 three of the brothers as well as Mary moved to Kirtland to join the other Latter-day Saints. Bushman then gives some excellent insights into the religious texture of Asael's family:

The switch to Mormonism was not difficult for Asael. He had been dislodged from the crumbling orthodoxies of New England Congregationalism. His father had seen to the baptism of all four of his children in Topsfield's Congregational church, but after the Revolution, Asael drifted away from orthodoxy. He was drawn to the teachings of John Murray, a Universalist preacher, who emigrated from England in 1770 and began preaching in Gloucester, Massachusetts, about fifteen miles from Topsfield in 1774. [...] Murray carried the Calvinist idea of irresistible grace to its logical conclusion and included every soul within the circle of divine love. [...] Asael was moderator of the group [the Tunbridge Universalist Society], and Joseph and Jesse were among the seventeen [members]. That was the high point of the family's Universalism. Thereafter, Asael's children gravitated back toward orthodoxy before turning to Mormonism; Universalism became an overlay on family religion. But Asael's own convictions did not waver; his grandson George A. Smith remembers him writing "quires of paper on the doctrine of universal restoration" before his death. (17)

Bushman at this point finally resumes the chronological sequence of the narrative, turning to the early married years of Joseph Smith and Lucy Mack Smith. They stayed in Tunbridge for six years. "A first son died in childbirth, and then two years after their married Lucy bore a second son, Alvin, followed two years later by a third boy Hyrum" (18). The family then moved seven miles west to the larger town of Randolph, where Joseph opened a store with good he'd purchased from Boston on credit. Around this time, Joseph began to contemplate getting in on the ginseng trade. (Ginseng could be shipped to China and sold for a high price.) A merchant named Stevens tried to pay Joseph $3000 for the lot, but Joseph refused. Joseph wanted to circumvent middlemen in hopes of making even more money. However, Stevens' son sailed to China on the same ship and reported falsely to Joseph that the venture had been a failure. In fact, the product had sold well and Stevens cheated Joseph. When Joseph found this out, Stevens fled to Canada, and Joseph's attempts at pursuit failed. In the meantime, "Joseph found he had $2,000 in bad debts from his customers and nothing to pay the $1,800 owed in Boston", and so he sold the farm for $800 and used Lucy's $1000 wedding gift to pay off his own debts (19). And so the Smiths became tenants rather than owners. They moved seven times in the next fourteen years, mostly in a small circle between the Vermont towns of Tunbridge, Royalton, and Sharon. In 1811, they crossed the Connecticut River to Lebanon, New Hampshire, and then over again to Norwich, Vermont, and finally in 1816 moved to New York.

After sketching this picture, Bushman returns to the details, noting that in the spring of 1803, the Smiths were in Tunbridge for the birth of their daughter Sophronia. They later rented a farm from Solomon Mack. Bushman notes that Joseph and Lucy had a strong social network of Lucy's father and brothers in the area for support. While living on their rented farm in Sharon, VT, Lucy gave birth to another son on 23 December 1805: Joseph Smith Jr., the subject of this biography. They then moved to Tunbridge again, and Samuel Harrison Smith was born there on 13 March 1808. Then in Royalton, Ephraim Smith was born on 13 March 1810 (and died on 24 March 1810), and William Smith was born 13 March 1811. Despite some losses and the constant moves, Lucy remembered this time as a fairly happy one. The family moved to New Hampshire in 1811. "Hyrum, age eleven, was sent a few miles north to Moor's Charity School, associated with Dartmouth College. Alvin, thirteen, and Sophronia, eight, went to common school. Joseph Jr., five, and his two younger brothers, Samuel and William, three and six months, remained at home. In the summer of 1812 a baby girl, Katherine, joined the family" (20).

However, in 1812 and 1813, the Connecticut Valley was swept by an intense outbreak of typhoid fever, with which all of the Smith children fell ill. Sophronia nearly died. Joseph Jr., age six, was free of the fever after two weeks, but he developed a sore in his armpit and endured two weeks of intense pain before it could be diagnosed and lanced. That infection cleared up, but Joseph began to experience great pain in his left shin and ankle - osteomyelitis. Three weeks later, Dr. Stone made an eight-inch incision, which gave only temporary help. The bone had become infected. The doctor then had to make an even deeper incision, down to the bone itself. Still the infection didn't clear, and so Dr. Stone had to consult some of the surgeons at Dartmouth Medical College, such as Nathan Smith and Cyrus Perkins. They proposed amputation. Lucy and Joseph Jr. both objected, and Lucy begged the doctors to simply excise the infected portions of bone. Fortunately for Joseph Jr., Nathan Smith had great experience in the area and had developed an advanced surgical procedure for just such an occasion:

As the operation began, Lucy went out into the fields and left Joseph in his father's arms, the infected leg resting on folded sheets. The surgeons bored holes on each side of the leg bone and chipped off three large pieces. Joseph Jr. screamed when they broke off the first piece, and Lucy rushed back into the room. Sent away, she came back again as the third piece came off. Blood gushed from the open wound, and Joseph lay on the bed drenched in blood. (21)

As Joseph slowly recovered, fourteen additional pieces of bone began to surface. Recover took three years. The Smiths sent Joseph to live in Salem for a time with his uncle Jesse. Joseph hobbled on crutches until the family moved to New York. "From age seven to ten, he was either in bed or on crutches. To the end of his life he was slightly lame, possibly because of the trauma" (21). Using this episode as an insight into Smith family dynamics, Bushman presents Lucy as "a spirited woman, outspoken and candid, forceful under pressure", who gave a high-strung sort of comfort (22). Joseph Smith Sr., on the other hand, was emotional but steady, capable of bearing what Lucy's nerves couldn't.

After a brief discussion of Lucy's affection for her husband, Bushman notes that her "only explicit reservation about her husband was his diffidence about religion. After his brief flirtation with Universalism in 1797, Joseph Sr. hovered on the margins of the churches. Her own quest for peace of mind and a church had not slackened since girlhood, and her husband's refusal to become involved troubled her" (23). Bushman tells the story of when, in Randolph in 1803, Lucy fell ill and sensitive to sound, and a Methodist exhorter knocked on their door, being turned away by Lydia so as not to disturb Lucy any further. This gives Bushman an occasion to describe evangelical preaching at the time of the Second Great Awakening:

The main purpose of evangelical preaching was to set people on a quest for salvation. The conventional method was to convict people of their sins, to persuade them that they were utterly unable to please God through sheer obedience. Lucy's sense of "a dark and lonesome chasm, between myself and the Saviour" was a classic expression of the feeling the preachers wished to evoke. Having been brought so low, she should have been prepared to throw herself entirely on the mercy of God and plead for grace. In the ideal case, a new hope arises in the heart, and the person begins to rejoice in the glory and goodness of God. That realization opens a flood of happiness and love and an overwhelming sense of the beauty of the world. The scriptural phrase "born again" describes exactly the renewal that has occurred. (24)

Although Lucy didn't listen to any of this preaching during her illness, she was no doubt familiar with it. During her illness, when it seemed she might die, Lucy describes having begged the Lord to spare her life, and in return having heard a voice from heaven comforting her, after which she regained health. After a continued search for comfort among the churches of her area, she decided that none of them were what she was looking for. "She resigned herself to Bible reading and self-instruction. Eventually she found a minister to baptize her without requiring that she join a church" (25). Lucy did attend Methodist meetings in Tunbridge, and Joseph Sr. accompanied her, although his father Asael and brother Jesse were irate over Joseph's behavior. The revivals did excite Joseph Sr.'s interest in religion, but he couldn't accept "the institutional religion of his time", as expressed in several of the striking dreams he had around the time in 1811 (25). Joseph Sr. saw the religious scene of his day as "empty and silent, or fiercely hostile to true wisdom and understanding", harshly condemning the 'class of religionists' (26). Bushman presents readers with a striking, helpful, and well-presented smmary of Smith family religion:

It would be hard to place the Smiths in any one religious tradition. The family's religious culture was too eclectic. Smith and Mack relatives comprised an inventory of late-eighteenth-century alternatives. Joseph Sr.'s dreams linked him to radical Protestantism with its taste for spiritual manifestations. Solomon Mack underwent a classic evangelical conversion at the end of his life. Lucy's crisis in 1803 took the same form. Her brother Jason was a seeker. Asael's Universalism was a form of vernacular rationalism, an offspring of the Enlightenment. Asael used Thomas Paine's Age of Reason to quash Joseph Sr.'s flirtation with Methodism. Possibly in Vermont and certainly later in New York, Joseph Sr. was involved in magical practices, an unorthodox but not unusual way of connecting with the supernatural. The Smiths were exposed to a conglomeration of doctrines and attitudes, some imported from Europe, others springing up in New England, none sorted or ranked by recognized authority, all available for adoption as personal whim or circumstances dictated. The result was a religious melee. (26)

Turning away from the subject of religion, Bushman notes that after the Smiths were financially broken by the medical bills, they moved in 1814 to Norwich, Vermont, and rented a farm from 'Squire Moredock'. Lucy painted oilcloths, and Joseph Sr. likely "peddled small items and hired out as a farmhand" (27). By this time, their family was increasingly on its own. Unfortunately for them, their crops failed several years in a row. In their third year there - the "year without a summer" - snow fell in June. (A few months earlier, in March 1816, Lucy had given birth to Don Carlos Smith.) The cold and dry summer led thousands of Vermonters to leave the state, and it was in this migration that the Smiths left Vermont for New York.

In the summer of 1816, Joseph Sr. set out for Palmyra, New York. The rest of his family followed him later, but not before being hounded by last-minute creditors, leaving Lucy with only $60-80 for the trip. She and her children traveled with Caleb Howard and his team, and Bushman notes that by the end of the trip, Lucy "was paying innkeepers with clothing and bits of cloth" (28). Also unfortunately, Caleb Howard was - for want of a better word - a jerk. (I can think of several better words, actually, but they all seem to be profane...) Wanting the daughters of the Gates family (another group of fellow-travelers) to ride next to him, he forced Joseph Jr. to limp through the snow for days at a time. When Alvin and Hyrum protested, Caleb Howard struck them with the butt of his whip. When the Smiths ran out of money a few miles west of Utica, Caleb Howard tossed their belongings into the street and nearly set off with their wagon and team, but Lucy caused a scene and succeeded in retaining their things. Joseph Jr. was assigned to the sleigh of the Gates family, and one of their boys knocked Joseph down, leaving him in a pool of his own blood. A stranger found Joseph and carried him into Palmyra. "Lucy arrived at Palmyra, after a journey of three to four weeks, with a few possessions and nine cents. Her last payment to the innkeepers was made with Sophronia's eardrops" (29).

The first chapter of Bushman's biography makes clear that Bushman has mastered the primary sources needed to present a robust picture of Joseph Smith's life. He writes captivating and engaging prose, effectively drawing the reader into the plights and fortunes of the Smith family. One can't help but sympathize with them, especially with the many sufferings of Joseph Smith Jr. In the second chapter, Bushman presses onward to cover Joseph's life from their 1816 arrival in Palmyra through 1827.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Today's Quote for Thought

Today's quote for thought is a short blurb I've picked up from G. K. Chesterton:

It is the friction of two spiritual things, of tradition and invention, or of substance and symbol, from which the mind takes fire. The creeds condemned as complex have something like the secret of sex; they can breed thoughts. (The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton 20:218)


Monday, March 21, 2011

Joseph Smith on the Godhead and Mortal Probation: A Little-Known Sermon

I've been glancing through the Nauvoo journal of an early Latter-day Saint named George Laub, as transcribed and edited by Eugene England. In it, he records a number of sermons of early LDS leaders, including some that don't appear to have been recorded elsewhere. (One of them, in fact, appears to perhaps be a little-known recounting of the King Follett Discourse.) Unfortunately, George Laub's memory of the dates is faulty, but I wanted to present here a discourse of Joseph Smith that Laub recorded as having been given on 20 April 1843 (though it probably occurred a year later). Rather than preserve Laub's original punctuation and spelling as England does, I'm going to modernize things here to an extent. The sermon summary I'll be sharing this time around is on the subject of threeness and oneness in the Godhead and on entering into mortality. For the original text of this sermon as Laub recorded it, please see Eugene England, ed., "George Laub's Nauvoo Journal", BYU Studies 18/2 (1978): 26-27; I highly recommend it and commend the late Dr. England for his provision of this valuable document.

By Joseph Smith - April 20, 1843:

The Scripture says, "I and my Father are one" [John 10:30] and that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one - 1 John 5:7. But these three agree in the same thing, and did the Saviour pray to the Father, "I pray not for the world but those whom he gave me out of the world that we might be one", or to say 'be of one mind in the unity of the faith' [John 17:9, 22]?

But every one being a different or separate persons, and so is God and Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost. Separate persons. But they all agree in one or the self-same thing. But the Holy Ghost is yet a spiritual body and waiting to take to himself a body, as the Savior did or as God did or the gods before them took bodies. For the Saviour says the work that my Father did do I also [John 5:19], and these are the works. He took himself as a body and then laid down his life that he might take it up again, and the Scripture say those who will obey the commandments shall be heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ. We then also took bodies to lay them down, to take them up again, and 'the Spirit itself bears witness with our spirits that we are the children of God and if children then heirs and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ if so be that we suffer with him in the flesh that we may be also glorified together' - see Romans 8:16-17.

Here are some key points I pick up from this:

  1. Joseph Smith stresses here that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three "separate persons". Slight quibbles of nuance aside (the word 'distinct' would be less prone to misunderstanding than 'separate'), he may not be fully aware that this is what Trinitarians teach. The difference is in whether or not they are 'one God' in terms of the more basic concept of 'god', and this is where Joseph Smith's later teaching has deviated from the Trinitarian faith.
  2. Joseph Smith emphasizes that his concept of the 'oneness' of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is merely agreement of intent, perspective, and purpose between them; there is no robust sense of fundamental or ontological oneness to be found here. This has been a dominant trend in LDS thought ever since.
  3. Joseph Smith stresses that there is something valuable in having, not merely a 'spiritual body', but a 'body' (here Joseph does not qualify it further). He notes that the Holy Spirit is still in the 'spiritual body' stage, whereas both the Father and the Son have obtained bodies of flesh beyond that. (Whether or not the Holy Spirit is yet a god is a subject that Joseph Smith has not broached in this particular message, so far as Laub records its substance.)
  4. Joseph Smith mentions here that there are gods before the Father and the Son, and that these unnumbered additional gods have also gone through an experience in mortality. Given the corroboration of other recorded sermons and lectures of the mature Joseph Smith, it seems extremely probable that he did teach that the number of gods in existence was in excess of three, and that there are indeed gods above the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This stress on 'the plurality of gods' must be classified as a form of polytheism.
  5. In discussing the mortal experience, Joseph Smith stresses the repeated pattern of assuming a mortal life/body in the first place, then setting it aside, and then taking it back up again. Joseph Smith reads this into the Gospel of John, inferring as he often did that the Father must have undergone this experience; and here Joseph Smith casts our own experience in the same mold.
  6. Joseph Smith ends on a fairly unobjectionable note to the effect that, by cleaving to Christ, we are joint-heirs with him and will be glorified with him after our suffering with him. He takes this almost verbatim from Paul, but adds "in the flesh" after "suffer with him", or at least that's how Laub jotted it down. But why? Perhaps to emphasize the connection that Joseph wishes to draw with our mortal probation. It seems that Joseph is saying that Christ came to take up a body, surrender it through suffering, and regain it in glory, and we have been summoned to take up a body in order to share in that suffering and surrender, and it is through our participation in such that we are able to obtain the glory of being joint-heirs with Christ. I imagine that from this link, one could craft a very fascinating LDS theology of suffering: the purpose of our mortal probation is to afford us an opportunity to participate in Christ's own sufferings and be conformed to his image; exaltation comes only through the vale of tears that Christ himself trod, and only if we tread that ground with him. The purpose of our life here, then, is to share in Christ's suffering now so as to share in his glory later. I'll leave for later how to integrate commandment-keeping into this as part of a more cohesive vision.

What are your thoughts on what we have of this sermon?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Charles Penrose on Plural Marriage

In 1882, the Juvenile Instructor Office published Charles William Penrose's short book "Mormon" Doctrine, Plain and Simple: Or, Leaves from the Tree of Life. Charles Penrose (1832-1925) later taught theology at Brigham Young Academy, because a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1904, and became a member of the First Presidency in 1911. In one of those 'leaves', the one dedicated to the subject of marriage, Penrose naturally takes a few paragraphs to explain plural marriage. In order to understand what he says later, one must know this:

No man or woman, separate and single, can attain the fullness of celestial glory. Perfection of being, happiness, exaltation or dominion, is unattainable by either sex alone. (Charles W. Penrose, "Mormon" Doctrine, Plain and Simple [Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1882], 48)

Men and women may be saved in a separate and single state, but they cannot be exalted into the fullness of celestial glory without union in celestial marriage, because that is a state of perfection and comprehends the gift of perpetual increase, in which there are endless dominion and the exercise of all the powers of immortal manhood and womanhood united as one in the everlasting covenant. (Charles W. Penrose, "Mormon" Doctrine, Plain and Simple [Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1882], 50-51)

Now, as for plural marriage in particular:

In the case of a man marrying a wife in the everlasting covenant who dies while he continues in the flesh and marries another by the same divine law, each wife will come forth in her order and enter with him into his glory. Is there any reason why this should not be so? Is not each of these wives entitled to her position in eternity, by virtue of the sealing power which made her part of the man? Why should one enter into the exaltation of the celestial world, and the other be relegated to singleness and servitude? They all become one in the patriarchal order of family government. And if this be the case in heaven, why should not similar positions so far as possible exist on earth? Is earth holier than heaven? If a man receives from the Lord more wives than one under the sealing ordinances of celestial marriage, where is the moral wrong? They belong to no other man, but are his by mutual consent of all the interested parties, and they live together in the marriage stage, one as much as the other.

In this position there are occasions for the exercise of patience, forebearance, charity, self-sacrifice and the exercise of all the virtues to a far greater degree than in any other. In this plural family relation, an experience can be gained that no other condition in life affords, and the parties who so live and keep the law will be, in the very nature of things, prepared for a wider sphere of dominion, and power, and dignity, and might in the eternal world, than those who have only experienced the monogamic condition. They will, therefore, if they endure unto the end, go forward into the highest degree of exaltation, while their posterity will multiply at an ever-increasing ratio, until worlds will be filled by their generations and they will ascend to the majesty and splendor of the Gods on high. (Charles W. Penrose, "Mormon" Doctrine, Plain and Simple [Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1882], 51-52)

What sort of view of women and of marriage is embodied in Penrose's writing? Given how he argues for eternal polygyny, how might he approach the relatively few instances of genuine polyandry in LDS history, such as Joseph Smith's marriages to a number of already-married women? What does one make of Penrose's justification of plural marriage? For Latter-day Saints in particular, how do you approach his stated rationale given that earthly polygamy is now forbidden by the mainstream LDS Church?


Thursday, March 17, 2011

An Address to Americans: An Early LDS Poem

I here reprint an early LDS poem, Irish convert James Mulholland's An Address to Americans: A Poem in Blank Verse, which concerned the injustice of the sufferings of the Saints in Missouri and attempted to present the Saints as model American citizens. (And what better way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day than with a poem by an Irish convert?) The poem appeared in a pamphlet of the same title that was printed in Nauvoo in 1841 after the author's death. The poem itself appears on pages 3-11 of the pamphlet, and I hope you enjoy it and find it edifying:

Hail, Great Republic of this Western World!
Ye sons of peace, Columbia's freemen, hail!
Hear me, a son of Erin, sing the woes
The heartless persecutions, which a few
Of late have suffered for their conscience' sake:
Not in that land so famed for cruel wrongs,
Which gave me birth and reared me up to man:
Not in the lands of European rule,
Where despotism less or more prevails:
Neither on Asia, nor on Afric's shores,
Where barbarous idolatry holds sway.
But in America, the boast of all the world;
The pattern of equality, of rights, of freedom,
Liberty, and all that would ensure to men,
Their homes secure, their various altars free.
O! that my muse, would now inspire my pen
To paint the scenes which on my heart are sketched;
Or could I show in colors just and true,
How liberty is threatened; even now
Whilst yet I write, her votaries would fear.

Know then the fact, and be it known to all,
That great Missouri, (part of your republic,)
Has in her might arose, and claimed the privilege
At the cannon's mouth, to dictate modes of worship
Or forbid. To drive from out their State,
Or visit with extermination, such as dare
To worship God, as did the Saints of old:
Who dare to preach repentance, and direct
To be baptized, that sins may be remitted:
Who promise unto all who thus obey,
As Peter promised such in days of old,
The Holy Ghost - The Comforter -
Who teaches all things to the pure in heart.

Know it all earth, all nations, and all men,
That doctrines such as these have been promulged,
And taught, to men even now alive;
Taught, and believed, and practiced here on earth,
With consolation great, and holy joy.
Men who have left the world, with all its pride,
And sought a holy home, where together,
They might learn to know the Lord,
And walk in all his paths.
Far to the west, Missouri spreads to view
Her prairies vast, and there they seek a home;
By purchase; not by right, as enemies have said.
They raise their humble cots, and hope to escape
The growing evils of the present world,
By being lowly, humble, meek;
Adhering to the laws of God and man;
In all things subject to the powers that be.

But Satan, jealous of divided sway,
And fearful lest his rule might be abridged,
Or brought to nought, by fellowship like theirs:
Here in his favorite reservoir of crime,
He looks around him for a chosen few;
Who having found, he instigates and leads,
To deeds of outrage, murder, rapine, war;
Proclaimed at large against those peaceful men.

Evil prevails! The Saints of God must fly
To save their lives, and all they hold most dear,
In winter's blast, exposed on prairies bare,
They wander forth unfriended by the world.
Spoiled of their goods, deprived of house and home,
Their children barefoot tread the frozen ground,
And leave their footsteps red with infant blood.
Mean time a few more honored than the rest,
Stripped of their clothes, and tarred and feathered o'er,
Are thus sent forth; as living monuments
Of mob-law charity, and mercy great;
Whilst yet, lest ought be wanting, to conclude,
A few are butchered, that the scene be sealed
With blood - to cry to heaven, -
Like unto Abel's in the days of Cain.

From Jackson County driven, they wend their way,
And in Clay County find a safe retreat;
With open arms, and sympathizing balm,
The dwellers here receive these outcasts poor;
And every comfort which they can, bestow.
O Charity! greatest of the social three;
Thou great restorer of the human race;
On thee hangs all the law; the prophets all
Are by thy precepts mutually fulfilled.
To seek the widow poor, the orphan babe;
To shelter houseless outcasts, and relieve
The poor and needy, be he friend or foe;
Those are the acts which constitute the plan
Of wiping out a multitude of sins;
Obtaining favor in the sight of Him
Who gave the law; and meteth out to each,
As he has measured to his fellow man.

Deep in our hearts with gratitude sincere,
We'll still remember at the throne of grace,
Those who have thus administered relief;
Extended charity; and poured within our wounds,
The healing balm, in such a time of need.

Meanwhile, throughout the State
The friends of charity and peace, unite,
To deal out mercy to the injured Saints:
A region set apart of some extent
By State permission, for their special use;
Where they might purchase, and possess their lands,
And live in peace and harmony once more.
With happy prospects, such as these in view
They take possession, and commence again,
To till the earth, to raise the humble shed,
In hopes to spend their future years in peace,
And find a recompence for woes gone by.

And now behold! the County Caldwell rise,
As 'twere at once to notice in the world:
Behold the trains of emigrating Saints
Pour in from every State;
A steady stream continuous in its course:
Even from the north, where Britain still holds sway,
They journey westward, to fulfill the law
Of HIM who called them to embrace the Truth.

They purchase lands according to their means,
Or else embrace the rights, pre-emption laws extend;
In faith relying on Jehovah great;
That HE who feeds the ravens, and who owns the cattle
On a thousand hills, will for themselves and little ones provide;
If they but do their best, in honesty and fear,
To do their duty, both to God and man.

Now all around prosperity prevails,
All gracious Providence smiling o'er the scene;
Behold the fields of waving grain extend
Their ample bosoms to the summer's sun;
And crown the labors of industrious faith;
Whilst herds of cattle of all kinds increase
Their numbers on the flowery prairies vast;
Where, by the hand of bounteous Heaven prepared,
Profusion waits them, willingly bestowed.

The various seasons of the rolling year,
Had nearly twice revolved their annual round,
Since first these outcasts settled here in peace;
And plenty now in prospect, still gave hopes,
That by their perseverance in the faith of Christ,
They would attain to rear up Zion in the latter days,
Substantially here upon the earth:
That through even their weak agency,
Would be established on the mountain tops,
The mountain of God's house; of which the Prophets spake
As something certain in the latter days;
Which shall take place, or God's own word must fail;
And this that men might know the Lord;
And thereby 'scape destruction, when he comes
Revealed from heaven; in flaming fire,
To vengeance take, on all who know not God,
And disobey the gospel which HE gave,
For man's redemption from his fallen state.

Mean time, that all may know what God has done;
And what he's going to do in these last days;
They send their Elders forth, to preach repentance;
And proclaim to all, who'll hear them;
That the Lord has set his hand, the second time
To gather Israel, out from all the world;
That they may learn His law, and know Him when He comes.
Whilst thus the pure in heart are gathered up,
And brought to Zion in these latter days;
Their Pastors whom the Lord ordained them,
[That they might be fed with knowledge;
As he has promised in his sacred word;
When Israel's backsliding children should return;]
Zealously employ their time, to pour instruction,
Knowledge to bestow; and rivet fast upon the hearts of all,
Principles of Love, of righteousness and peace;
And general charity towards all mankind:
And after God's own word, as sacred next,
They labor to instil, most perfect reverence
For "the powers that be;" who now preside,
O'er these United States of North America.

Oft hath my heart rejoiced, with holy joy,
To hear their voices raised, in happy eloquence,
Teaching their brethren in the gospel bonds,
That their most sure belief on this great subject was,
That God's own wisdom had inspired the hearts,
Of all that sacred band, who raised the standard,
And maintained the cause, and raised the fabric here,
Of Freedom, Liberty, and their attendant train
Of blessings; not to be obtained where earthly kings hold sway;
Where foreign sovereigns dominate at will;
Thwart the free impulse of the virtuous soul;
Cramp all the energy of enterprise;
Require submission to their sapient wills;
And wish mankind to tremble at their nod.
But in a free republic like to yours, and yours alone,
Whose virtuous people do possess the power, the faith,
The honor to be self controlled: Who 'schew the plan
Of many toiling, that the few may reign:
Whose policy holds out to all mankind,
Inducements many, to become your friends;
Freedom of conscience, in that sacred right
Of worshiping Almighty God, secured:
Encouragement of enterprise held forth:
"Whilst genius rises to his sure reward
And merit only is the road to fame."
Allow me to relate why 'twas my heart felt glad;
Yea, why my soul rejoiced, when such a theme as this
Was introduced in our assemblies, and dwelt upon
As something sacred; not to be abused,
Nor lightly thought of by the Saints of God.

Whilst yet residing in my native land, (poor Ireland,)
Where tyranny and superstition still hold sway;
Where oftentimes, (as her own poet sings,)
"A sign is treason, and a murmur death."
Oft have I listened to my aged Sire,
Speak of the wrongs Americans withstood;
Their noble struggle to shake off the yoke,
Their mother country would impose on them:
And whilst he breathed the heartfelt, fervent prayer;
That finally, their tyrant taskmasters might fail
In all attempts to fetter freedom, and oppress the poor;
My mind drank in these sentiments, and imbibed
A love of freedom, which I still retain;
Which urged me on to leave my much loved home,
And seek a refuge in Columbia's land;
So famed for equal rights, freedom of thought,
And liberty of speech, and conscience free,
Unshackled in her views.

Induced thus, I bade adieu to home, and all its joys;
To try your nation if her fame were true,
Which I had heard; and realize myself,
Whether America, did still maintain,
Her love of virtue, harmony, and peace;
Her love of freedom, jealous of her charge.
And if you ask me, if I met with here
What I expected; I can answer yes -
I've found Americans, the poor man's friends;
The stranger's hosts; the advocates of equal rights;
The stern opposers of despotic power;
The warm supporters of all free will acts,
And offerings pure, unsullied aught by guile.

I speak at large; -
No general rule without exception holds;
No nation stands completely undefiled;
No people great or small can say,
We're perfect to a man: -
But whilst this world exists, and I shall live
A pilgrim here on earth; give me my choice,
I choose America for my abode:
I hail her constitution of united powers;
I claim to be her son adopted;
In due time partake, of all the privileges held out,
To those who honorably defend her laws;
Her constitution, and her freedom's fame.
For I do feel, that I have found, in her economy
Of self control; a plan congenial to my simple mind;
A precedent set forth, which must eventually
Pervade the world; and harmonize the nations;
If they will embrace, both truth and virtue when they burst their bonds;
And dare try freedom's self controlling power.

Hence then of course, it made my heart rejoice,
That I'd found the truth, of Jesus' gospel verified on earth;
And that I'd also found, my brethren in the gospel's bonds,
To advocate the cause, uphold the principle of equal rights;
Teach us to revere virtuous people's power;
And always pray Almighty God to bless them;
To bless the rulers of this Union great,
That they might honorably maintain her fame
Among the nations: shine forth a terror to despotic power;
And teach mankind a lesson, to be free.

Such doctrines we've been always taught
By those the world call "Mormons:"
Such are the doctrines we intend to teach,
The Church of Christ; "the Saints of latter days."
Throughout the world, to every nation, kindred, tongue;
To every people on this earthly globe; we'll preach
"The gospel," we've received of Jesus Christ;
By revelation in these latter days.
And when believers have been gathered up;
We'll teach them first to observe; the "all things
Whatsoever," he has commanded us;
And next, "be subject to the powers that be."
To great Jehovah render all your souls;
With-hold not Caesar's lawful tribute due.
Such with God's help we'll practice while we live;
Such with His help we'll cleave to till we die.

But, lo! Missouri's mobbers have convened,
Once more in council; to debate at length,
The Mormon question; with importance big.
Behold! the reverend, pious, long faced priest,
[Seeing his craft in danger]
Grasp at the help of villainy and crime:
Behold! the Squire, who swore the other day,
To uphold, administer, and observe the laws;
Commingle now with those, (and cheer them on)
Who here propose to drive the Mormons out:
Despite the laws of either God or man.
Behold the Judges, and the Generals next,
Descend from honor's station; tamper with mobs;
Wink at their outrage; and cheer on its course.
And finally, though last not least, behold,
That cruel man; even Lilburn W. Boggs;
(Who led the Jackson mob; and by such means,
Obtained the station of Missouri's Governor;)
Send forth his mandate to his General's brave;
"Exterminate! or drive from out this State,
Those Mormons! Treat them as foes!
Be sure cut off retreat! -
Act as you may, I authorize it all!
And give you power to exercise at will!"

Need I detail the scenes which now ensued;
The slaughter, rapine, plunder, rape and crime;
The murders at Haun's mill; great Bogart's flight
And subsequent career of infamy and vice?
Or need I tell, how General Clark came on,
And sanctioned Lucas' treaty.
Made us a speech, invoked the unknown God;
Claimed all the power to treat us as he would;
Told us our innocence was nought to him;
Advised us to forsake our modes of faith,
Never again to organize our church;
Prophesied our leaders fate was sealed,
The die was cast; we ne'er should see them more.
Appointed when we all must leave the State;
Claimed us his debtors for the brief respite;
Warned us to not attempt to disobey;
If he had to return, extermination was our certain doom;
Expressed his grief and sorrow for our fate;
Marched off his army, and his exit made?
No, I need not detail them; (if I could;)
In heaven they're registered, on earth they're known;
And when all hidden things are brought to light,
And all men judged according to their works;
The wronged, the innocent, shall then appear;
The unrepenting sinner know his doom,

Behold us now! --------------
Our leaders doomed to death, close iron'd in a jail:
Our brethren martyred; widows and their babes
Driven houseless on the snowy prairies bare;
To pitch their tents, to wend their weary way;
To save themselves from worse than monster rage:
Our properties conveyed away by deed of trust,
Enforced upon us at the risk of life,
To pay the wages of our ruthless foes;
And compensate for deeds, which they themselves had done:
Our houses plundered, fields of corn laid waste;
Our cattle driven, or wantonly destroyed;
Our lives in constant danger, from a band
Of prowling robbers; licensed by their chief,
To spoil, molest, and plunder us at will.
Yet 'midst these scenes, a ray of comfort came,
We felt the spirit in our bosoms burn;
Bestowing consolation, and the hope
That better days, and happier scenes were nigh;
When free from persecution, we might still remain
A people; worship our great Creator, and proclaim
Our faith and doctrines, to a willing world.

This was the mighty charm, which held us bound
In gospel's bonds, and brotherly esteem;
Whils't tauntingly, our haughty foes did boast,
The death blow struck, and all our cause undone:
Our Heavenly Father, send his spirit down, -
That "still small voice," spoke peace unto our souls;
Ye are my Sheep; hold on; I'll bear you through;
I'll find you pasturage, and keep you safe;
Be true, be patient, and you still are mine.
Such were the comforts which we still enjoyed,
Whil'st our sad foes were black with reckless crime;
Such are the comforts of the faithful Saint,
Whate'er his fate, where'er his lot be cast:
Hence truer joys, we as a people found,
Than those by whom in thraldom we were bound;
Hence truer joys, our Prophet, felt enchained
Than Lilburn, in the station he's attained.

But hark! A voice from Mississippi's shore,
Comes gently wafted o'er the prairies wide;
From Illinois - from Quincy it proceeds;
A voice of charity - a voice of peace; -
Come over here, ye houseless outcasts poor;
We'll give you comfort, and your wants supply;
There's room in Illinois, you're welcome here;
We'll hail you brethren, citizens, and friends;
We worship as we will; do you the same;
Enjoy again your conscientious faith;
Enjoy again, your native free born rights:
Enjoy again, prosperity and peace!

With joyous gratitude unfeigned we hail
The happy change, the proffered boon of grace;
We leave Missouri, at the rude command
Oh heartless tyrants place on high by crime:
In Illinois we've found a safe retreat;
A home, a shelter from oppression dire;
Where we can worship God, as we think right;
And mobbers come not, to disturb our peace;
Where we can live, and hope for better days;
Enjoy again our liberty, our rights;
That social intercourse which freedom grants;
And charity requires of man with man.

And long may social intercourse prevail;
And long may charity pervade each breast;
And long may Illinois remain the scene,
Of rich prosperity - by peace secured;
May Quincy flourish, and the regions round;
Where dwell those friends, when that great day appears;
When King Messiah comes; the world to judge;
Hear from his lips the blessed sentence; come!
Inherit joys which I've prepared for you!
For unto these my brethren did you give,
Raiment, and food, and drink, in time of need;
You found them strangers, and you took them in;
Sick and in prison, and you came to them;
And inasmuch, as thus to them you did;
So did you do it, even unto me.

Or rather, may those friends be found among;
These "brethren;" whom he looks on as himself;
Those who've been baptized; been born again,
Of water and the spirit; kept the faith;
Fought the good fight; and thus insured their crown:
Celestial glory, and celestial joy.

And even our enemies, may they repent,
And find their way to mercies throne of grace;
Obtain forgiveness, and amend their lives;
Obtain salvation from the sinners doom;
Obtain the prize, the virtuous shall receive.

And Oh! Americans of every State!
Of every policy - of every faith;
Who wish to uphold your envied country's fame,
And stay the torrent of abuse and crime:
May great Jehovah grant you power to sway,
Your nations sceptre with a master hand;
Watch o'er her honor with a jealous care;
Maintain her constitution and her laws;
Put down misrule, protect pure virtue's cause;
Maintain fair Freedom; Liberty uphold:
And show mankind, you're worthy of the charge.

And Oh! Ye Saints throughout this happy land,
Praise ye the Lord, all glory give to him,
Who stretched forth his arm, and kept us safe,
'Midst threatened death, 'midst dangers great and dread;
Who's given us friends and home, and peace, and hope;
And favor in the eyes of virtuous men;
Who in his own due time, put forth his hand,
And through our prayers, gave unto us again
Our brethren whom our foes had doomed to death;
Gave us again our Prophet safe and free;
Gave us again our Presidential three
Gave us again our FRIENDS, our LIBERTY.

"Praise ye the Lord," and let his praise resound,
Fill all the earth, and Heaven shall hear the sound:
And whilst we praise him, let our prayers ascend,
Before his throne, for every faithful friend;
For all the honest, over all the earth,
Whate'er their station, or whate'er their birth;
And when Messiah comes, our King to reign,
Descends on earth, with all his shining train;
May Truth and Liberty our motto be;
We're all UNITED, and we all are FREE.