Ep 32 – Smith v. Smith Aftermath of Zion's Camp
On this episode, we cover the History of the Church recounting of Sylvester Smith v. Joseph Smith. A couple of month's long journey had riled up some unfriendly feelings between Sylvester and Joe, but luckily, Joe wasn't in the wrong for any situation, and everything was Sylvester's fault. After that we talk about organizing the quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and finish out with a discussion about the 1835 version of the First Vision account.
Outro music Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Messenger and Advocate February 1835:
22 year old activist suicide article:
Welcome to episode 32 of the Naked Mormonism Podcast, the serial Mormon history podcast. Today is April 14th 2016, my name is Bryce Blankenagel, and thank you for joining me.
Last historical episode was part 2 of the march of Zion's camp to Missouri and the various problems the camp encountered along the way. We had David Michael on to add in his knowledge of military history as a fellow history nerd, and honestly, I had a really good time talking about Joe's first military campaign that ended with a non-epic non-climax and simply making the situation, in Missouri, worse than it was to begin with.
This march was undertaken for the purpose of reinstating the Missouri Mormons, that had been chased out of Independence, back into their homes and businesses. The Missourians hated the Mormons with their anti-slavery progressivism, and really wanted them out of Jackson County, which was born out with the Battle for Zion that happened in November of 1833. Once word came back about the Mormons being displaced from their homes, while their few possessions were looted, and houses burned down, Joe decided to be the big man, and organize a militia to answer violence with more violence.
After many trials and tribulations, Joe ended up backing down and disbanding Zion's camp, and the Missouri Mormons were given asylum in Clay and Caldwell Counties, just north of Jackson County. By the time the march of Zion's camp was over, 14 people had died from cholera, and the only gunshot wound was from a man who accidentally shot himself in the leg with his pistol. All in all, for marching a band of 200 armed men over 1000 miles, it's a bit surprising that this was the only gunshot wound that happened, so that's worth giving kudos to at very least.
But where the big problems sets in, is when you consider the entirety of the campaign and the aftermath of it. The Missouri Mormons didn't have much in the way of supplies and staples, and that's why this march was organized in the first place. Joe wanted to help relieve the pressures that were stemming from lack of resources in Missouri, but, in Joe fashion, he Joe'd the whole thing up pretty badly. He only collected barely 10% of the money necessary to help the Missouri Mormons get out of the financial hardships they were dealing with, and still made the march. The whole time Zion's camp was traversing across state lines, they were short on water, food, and many other necessary staples. Once they arrived in Liberty, Missouri, riddled with cholera, they merely exacerbated the problems the Missouri Mormons were dealing with in the first place, which was primarily a lack of supplies. They just brought along Cholera for the fun of it, which took out Algernon Sidney Gilbert, or as we knew him Asid Glibert.
Zion's camp didn't even have enough supplies to make the 1000 mile journey back to Kirtland once things were settled in Missouri, forcing some of them to stay behind, while Joe's closest possee took the last remaining money and supplies to finance their own trip back to HQ in Kirtland.
After all was said and done, Joe only made the Missouri problem exponentially worse, and served to drive a wedge in the negotiations that were underway between the Missouri Mormons and the other people living in Missouri that had chased them out of Jackson County. I'm convinced that the only way this could have gone worse is if there was indeed a firefight between Zion's camp and the Missouri militia, but even then it could have been woven into the fabric of the Mormon persecution complex, which would have possibly made the march more successful in the grand scheme of things. All things considered, I'm pretty sure that what really happened, was the worst possible scenario, and is the most monumental fuck up in all of Joe's history up to this point. He Joe'd it up pretty badly.
We ended the episode with talking about Sylvester Smith, no relation to Joseph Smith, and his constant nagging voice of dissent during the whole march. Once they arrived back in Kirtland, Sylvester tried to bring up charges against Joe, the allegations of which are a bit fuzzy, and Sylvester was subsequently excommunicated for his misdeeds. He was reinstated after signing a confession admitting fault on his part, which he subsequently recanted, after which he signed another statement fearing punishment, and was permanently reinsated into the church... at least for another couple of years, but we'll talk about that when it becomes relevant, and we'll cover the trial in detail very soon.
That's it for the roundup of the last historical episodes, let's get into the meat of today's episode.. the aftermath of Zion's camp.
Let's begin by trying to parse out the details in the case of Sylvester Smith vs. Joseph Smith. When the small contingency of Zion's camp returned, Sylvester brought up unknown charges against Joe, and a disciplinary council was held to determine guilt on the part of Joe. This is from the History of the Church, vol 2 starting on 147.
"On the 23rd of August, a council was convened for the purpose of hearing the resolutions designed for the Star, which were to be drawn up by Elders Oliver Cowdery, Thomas Burdick, and Orson Hyde, on the subject of the difficulty existing between President Joseph Smith, Jun., and Sylvester Smith. Elder Reynolds Cahoon presided in consequence of the ill health of Bishop Whitney."
And then it goes on to detail the legal statements made concerning the matter.
"Whereas a report having come to this place censuring the conduct of President Joseph Smith, Jun., relative to his proceedings during his late journey to and from Missouri; and whereas said report was calculated to create an unfavorable influence as regards the moral character and honesty of our brother, it becomes necessary for us to investigate the matter, and report the same to our bretheren abroad;
Resolved: That after hearing from the mouths of some that a suspicion rested upon their minds relative to the conduct of our president as regards his honesty and godly walk, we have investigated his whole proceedings by calling upon those who accompanied him to and from Missouri, and we are happy to have it in our power to way to our brethren abroad, on and all, that we are satisfied with his conduct, having learned from the clearest evidence, that he has acted in every respect worthy of his high and responsible station in the Church, and has prudently and cautiously preserved the good of this society at large, and is worthy of our esteem and fellowship, and that those reports could have originated in the minds of none except such as either from a natural misunderstanding, or natural jealousy, are easily led to conceive of evils where none exist."
It goes on from there, but that's the jist of what we need to start our discussion. Put yourself in the position of these elders that were called to hear the case. These elders that were listed at the beginning of the excerpt were all good friends of Joe, and probably considered any criminal allegations against him to be the work of the devil. Let's run with a hypothetical for a minute here to try and bring it all to reality. When I was talking to David, he speculated on the possibility that Joe was getting a little frisky with one of the few women that were involved in the march of Zion's camp. For the sake of argument, let's take that for granted, and assume that the charges Sylvester brought up against Joe were adultery charges; that fits the bill for the allegations of dishonesty or an ungodly walk, and it's perfectly in line with what Joe has done before, and would later do at a systematic level in Nauvoo. I'll say at the onset, given the content of the court proceedings, this doesn't seem very plausible, but we're merely granting that Joe got a little frisky with one of the ten wormen in Zion's camp.
Picture yourself in the shoes of Sylvester during Zion's camp. Everything has been absolute shit up to this point.... More like everything had been a shit volcano exploding during a shit hurricane confluencing with a shit tornado to make the perfect shit storm, but that might be a little hyperbole.
You're hungry, and have been eating shit food for days, drinking water that smells like shit, not bathing, probably covered in your own shit. The Horses aren't eating their usual diet, and neither are you, so everybody's shitting uncontrollably. You have to sleep on the horseshit covered ground, fueling the fire with dried cowshit, which makes all the little shitbirds and shitrabbits you cook taste like shit. The rain won't stop turning the ground into shitmud that breaks the shitcovered wagon wheels that bind up and break and shit. Everytime some shit goes down in the camp, Joe hops on his high shithorse and gives a shitty speach about how shitty your life is because of your sin. Have I painted a shitty enough picture yet? No? Well... Everything that facilitated this shitmilitia was all due to the shit Mormons were catching for not wanting to own the ultimate unpaid shit-takers, aka slaves, and the Mormons had their shit shot up because of the shitmob of shitty slave owners in Missouri, but you don't own any slaves so you don't have a dog in this shitfight. And all of this shit is leading up possibly the biggest shitstorm firefight between battling shitarmies that don't wanna be able to smell each other's shit. I would feel pretty shitty in this situation if I were there, and understandably, you would too.
Maybe you get up in the middle of the night to take a violent shit, and you happen to look over to the prophet's tent, and hear what sounds like a horny bear mauling a $5 hooker. Suddenly the noise stops and 2 minutes later, one of the ten women involved in Zion's camp emerges from the tent with a shameful or devious look on her face. Of course, you don't want to be seen, so you hide behind a tree to watch the scene play out, and the woman straightens herself up, fixes her hair, and walks to the tent where her husband and child are still fast asleep.
What do you do in that situation? You could confront the prophet about it, but you know he'll just deny deny deny, and find some way to weasel out of the accusation. You could keep your mouth shut and take the secret to the grave with you, but that doesn't do anybody any good. What's your third option? Tell some of the other men in the camp that aren't as gung ho to follow the prophet, or are doubting in the slightest, and incite insurrection through the ranks, maybe your 20 closest friends on the march, or something. Well, we know that at one point 20 people did break off from the march, only to rejoin upon the realization that they would never make it back to Kirtland with their limited supplies. We also know that Sylvester tried to charge Joe with ungodly conduct once they returned to Kirtland, the details of which we'll get into.
Now put yourself in Sylvester's shoes upon returning to Kirtland. You known what happened, and you want other people to know about it, but the only recourse for action is bringing the charges into a disciplinary council that's chaired by Joe, his best friends, and closest colleagues. It's like trying to file a complaint about the Hanford Nuclar site to the executives and lawyers of the Hanford Nuclear center, to try and bring criminal prosecution for the oil spill... and then BP holding their own court proceedings in their own court with their own judge, juried by stakeholders in the company... Sylvester was simply not going to win this fight, and we see that in the statement released by the presiding elders of the Church that we just read.
But Joe wouldn't take these allegations lying down, and had to react in a familiar fashion. Just like Joe filed a complaint against Doctor Philastus Hurlbut after Hurlbut filed his complaint against Joe, in order to try and muddy the waters, Joe did the same thing with Sylvester, and this is what we find in the History of the Church vol 2 starting on page 150.
"August 28, 1834. -- This day the High Council assembled according to the direction of Bishop Whitney, to try Brother Sylvester Smith, charged with a misdemeanor. The following is a copy of the complaint:--
Sir, I prefer the following charges against Sylvester Smith, a High Priest of said Church:--
1st: He has refused to submit to the decision of a council of the High Priests and Elders of this Church, held in this place on the 11th of this month, given in a case of difficulty between said Sylvester Smith and Joseph Smith, Jun.
2nd: He continues to charge said Joseph Smith, contrary to the decision of the before mentioned council, with improper conduct in his proceedings as President of the Church of the Latter-day Saints, during his journey the past season to the State of Missouri.
As these things are exceedingly grievous to many of the Saints in Kirtland, and very prejudicial to the cause of truth in general, I therefore require that you summon the High Council of this Church to investigate this case, that a final decision may be had upon the same. I say the High Council because it is a case affecting the Presidency of said Church.
I mean, did we expect Joe to act any other way? As soon as Joe was charged for doing something unbecoming of a prophet of God, he would manufacture allegations against the person that charged him in the first place. It's a classic case of misdirection, and it fuckin worked because the leadership of the church obviously sided with the infallible and pious Joseph Smith, Jun.
In researching this dispute between Sylvester and Joe I started transcribing the court documents into the show notes. But, in reading further and further through the notes, I think it'll be advantageous to just read the court proceedings in their entirety from the History of the Church, also, these documents don't exist anywhere else other than the History of the Church. Normally I won't read this much straight from the church's own history, because it's good to go to other sources to find concurring evidence, but this is the direct recounting of the court minutes during the 7-day long court proceedings. Of course, I'll be reading it straight through, but offering my own commentary as we chug through it.
Vol 2 151-160
So, what can we learn from all of this.... (Vamp)
That takes us to the end of 1834. I know everybody is probably wondering what happened in Kirtland with Hingepin Rigdon and Ollie, while Joe and friends were on their perilous journey to Missouri and back, and so am I! In looking through the history, it seems like nothing notable whatsoever happened, because I can't find any mention of activites happening in Joe's absence. Of course, some things had to happen, but if anything notable did, it was drastically overshadowed by the fight between Joe and Sylvester upon their return to Kirtland. That's not to say that certain things didn't happen in reaction to Sylvester's dissent, because that's what we'll discuss next, but as for the time when Joe was gone and Rigdon and Ollie were holding down the fort, it seems like nothing worth recording made it into the historical records that I'm researching.
Now that we understand how Joe reacted to allegations of not acting like a prophet, we can see the repurcussions and the doubling down that Joe did to ensure his place on the stand as president of the church.
First, we have to set the scene and understand what else was going on. The newspaper "The Evening and Morning Star" was no longer in print because the Independence printing press had been destroyed. To remedy this problem, Joe established another printer, in Kirtland this time, which printed the new church newspaper "The Messenger and Advocate". I think he changed the name for the purpose of distancing the new paper from the history the previous printer carried with it. If people started seeing new editions of the same newspaper that had facilitated the Missouri mob to chase the Mormons out of Jackson County, they might feel a little skittish for fear of a similar fate in Kirtland.
The persecution complex was really ramping up at this time, which was not for lack of reason. I suppose calling it a persecution "complex" isn't necessarily fitting, because it wasn't a complex. It was a harsh reality that each and every Mormon had to deal with on a day-to-day basis. The Mormons in Kirtland were relatively safe because of their overwhelming majority population, but that was specific only to Kirtland. Any Mormons living in towns outside of Kirtland were probably being treated with the same vitriole that the Missouri Mormons were dealing with, only to a slightly lesser degree.
It's worth pointing out that Missouri will be the primary epicenter of contention in church history for a very long time. While the immediate situation was remedied in Jackson county, the pressures that built up to the march of Zion's camp were still a very strong force that the Missouri Mormons were constantly dealing with. Those pressures don't ever go away for the forseeable future, so bare that in mind as we lead up to the Hauns Mill massacre in another couple of years.
It's also worth pointing out that the Mormons in Kirtland weren't completely safe, as they would very soon be chased out of their homes as well, you know, another few years down the road. The Kirtland temple was also in the middle of its very slow and arduous construction during this time we're discussing. It took almost 3 whole years to complete construction, and we'll talk about the dedication ceremony when that comes up in 1836, because it's about as looney and delusional as a 3 dollar bill in a vat of iowaska.
Let's close up 1834 and move into 1835. The last notable thing that happened at the end of 1834 was the opening of a grammar school in Kirtland, with William E. McLellin and Hingepin Rigdon as teachers. Now, you might say, Rigdon as a grammar teacher, that seems absurd with everything on his plate as Joe's second in command, but is it really? We know that Rigdon was a bookworm, and loved the bible, perhaps moreso than most other men, and certainly moreso than Joe, so why not engage in teaching something he has a personal love for? Remember back to the time in Hiram, Ohio; Joe and Rigdon were working together on writing their own version of the bible, and revelation was given through one of them in answer to the other asking questions about the bible. We even read when they were going through the book of Revelation, it was this weird Q&A where Rigdon or Joe channelled god to help clarify the text or something... very weird. The point is, Rigdon was exemplifying his capacity and ability to teach the bible, and he obviously loved doing it. Why else would he become a preacher in the first place? It really does make sense that he was one of the teachers in this new school, whether it was for grammar, or bible knowledge, he simply loved teaching, and it's really not out of the ordinary to consider that Rigdon was one of the primary teachers at this grammar school.
This is the passage where Joe mentions the establishment of this school.
"It was necessary to make preparations for the school of the Elders, wherein they might be more perfectly instructed in the great things of God, during the coming winter."
So it was basically the School of the Prophets 2.0, with a minor in biblical studies. This is an excerpt from the February 1835 edition of the Messenger and Advocate, where William E. McLellin describes the school.
"Having been requested by the Trusties of the "Kirtland School," to give a small sketch of the number of students who have attended this institution, and of their progress in the different sciences, I cheerfully comply with the request, having been an instructor therein from its commencement in Dec. Last.
The School has been conducted under the immediate care and inspection of Joseph Smith Jr., F.G. Williams, Sidney Rigdon, O. Cowdery.
When the school first commenced, we received in to it both large and small, but in about three weeks the classes became so large, and the house so crowded, that it was thought advisable to dismiss all the small students, and continue those only who wished to study the sciences of penmanship, arithmetic, English grammar and geography. Before we dismissed the small scholars, there were in all about 130 who attended. Since that time there have been, upon an average, about 100, the most of whom have received lectures upon English grammar; and for the last four weeks about 70 have been studying geography one half the day, and grammar and writing the other part.
T. Burdick's arithmetic, S. Kirkham's grammar and J. Olney's geography have been used, with Webster's dictionary, as standard.
Since the year 1827 I have taught school in five different states, and I have visited many school in which I was not engaged, as a teacher; but in none, I can say with certainty, have I seen students make more rapid progress, than in this. I expect myself to leave the institution, but yet, I have a great desire to see it flourish. I therefore most cheerfully recommend it to all those whose circumstances and situation will allow them to attend, as being a place where strict attention is paid to good morals as well as to the sciences.
W. E. McLellin"
Now why is this important? What we have is a veteran school teacher, William E. McLellin endorsing the school that Joe, Rigdon, and Ollie had created. This is as good a time as any to discuss McLellin and where he fits into the timeline. William McLellin was an obsessive record keeper, and kept very elaborate journals, both during his time in the church, and well after he left the church. There are very few people in the church history that have such a fascinating story as William McLellin, and he'll be an integral person in a lot of research that happens after the 1838 Defection day when the bank collapses. The thing is, a lot of his work is quite controversial, even though he was in every sense of the word a contemporary historian as the church was evolving throughout the entirety of mid 1800's.
To make this even more real, in the 1980's Mark Hoffman was buying and selling old Mormon documents, while peppering in his own counterfeit documents to spice up the history a little bit. The Salamander Letter that I read on the very first episode of this show was penned by the skilled hands of Mark Hoffman. Without going into much detail, he set up one final deal that included a document crate full of letters and journals from our one and only, William McLellin. Hoffman claimed that he had volumes of McLellin's work, and it contained information that was.... less than flattering about Joseph Smith and other early church leaders. Understanding that he couldn't fabricate multiple volumes and journals, Hoffman decided to kill two people to cover up his crimes. A pipe bomb that he was about to use on somebody had a premature detonation, which nearly killed Hoffman, and led to his arrest and conviction. During the court proceedings, the court tried to subpeona the McLellin collection that Hoffman claimed to have, and it was later found out that the church unwittingly had the entirety of the McLellin collection in their own archives the whole time. The finer details of Hoffman's work is a story for another day, but hopefully we can understand the gravity of the documents and research we're talking about here, all collected and chronicled by McLellin.
Like I said, William McLellin will be an integral piece of our timeline, and can't go without a proper name. What better to call a veteran school teacher, and incessant researcher/chronicler than Professor Bill? Before talking about that passage from the newspaper that Professor Bill wrote, let's get him caught up in our storyline, because we need to know where he came from. Professer Bill McLellin was born on January 18, 1806, less than a month after Joe was born. He was living in Tennessee when Samuel Smith and Reynolds Cahoon were preaching there in the summer of 1831. He gave up whatever he was doing and followed them back to Kirtland, and was baptized along the way. Very soon after the Professor was baptized, he became ordained as an Elder in the church, and would assume various leadership roles throughout his tenure in the church. He was an important part of the negotiations between the Missourians, and the Mormons living in Missouri, while Zion's camp was marching out. He followed Joe back to Kirtland after Zion's camp was disbanded, and that leads us to the point during which he wrote that passage, and was one of the teachers in the School of the Elders. There is a wikipedia article about him that has his picture. If I had to guess, it was probably taken in the 1850's or maybe 60's, and this guy looks like the most interesting man in the world after a 10 year alcholic binge where he reaaaaly let himself go. His chinstrap beard has integrated with his big bushy sideburns, and it all looks like a scraggly white rat's nest that's eating his face. Although, I have to say... he has one of the most suave looking David Beckham hairdos I've ever seen.
So Professor Bill writes this incredibly positive endorsement of the School of the Elders 3 months after it's organized. Apparently the population of people wanting to attend became too much for the school to handle, and they had to cull the little ones from its population. This endorsement would seem unimportant if it weren't for the fact that 6 months after this, Professor Bill had some major disagreements about the conduct going on inside the School. We'll get there in our timeline soon enough, but we have a bit to cover before it happens, so it's important to keep Professor Bill in the back of our minds for the next few episodes.
We'll come back to that issue of the Messenger and Advocate in a minute, but before we do, we have to talk about the organization of the quorum of the twelve apostles. There were pressures going on in the church that required a strict organization of the leadership in the church, and this was the answer Joe had. We'll talk about those pressures that lead up to this in a minute.
This is taken from the History of the Church, vol 2 186-187
"A hymn was then sung, "Hark, listen to the trumpeters." President Hyrum Smith prayed, and meeting was dismissed for one hour.
Assembled pursuant to adjournment, and commenced with prayer.
President Joseph Smith, Jun., said that the first business of the meeting was, for the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon to pray, each one, and then proceed to choose twelve men from the Church, as Apostles, to go to all nations,kindreds, tongues, and people.
The Three Witnesses, viz., Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris united in prayer.
These Three Witnesses were then blessed by the laying on of the hands of the Presidency.
The Witnesses then, according to a former commandment, proceeded to make choice of the Twelve. Their names are as follows:
- Lyman E. Johnson
- Brigham Young
- Heber C. Kimball
- Orson Hyde
- David W. Patten
- Luke S. Johnson
- William E. McLellin
- John F Boynton
- Orson Pratt
- William Smith
- Thomas P. Marsh
- Parley P. Pratt"
Let's talk about the Book of Mormon for a minute. Follow me on this line of logic to see if I'm crazy or not.
The Book of Mormon claims to be the third testament of Jesus Christ, necessary for the building up of Zion the New Jerusalem on the American Continent. Initially it was created for the purpose of uniting the Lamanites, and bringing them to a knowledge of Jesus, but it also claims to be a book for the purpose of getting somebody closer to god than any other book. The Book of Mormon is the foundational text for the Mormon church, and should therefore be the handbook of the Mormon religion. We know that's obviously not the case because the Book of Covenants exists to fill in the gaps that the Book of Mormon leaves, but the BoM does talk about Jesus coming to the American continent to establish his church among his believers. Obviously, having 12 apostles is one of the main things Jesus is known for in the bible, and that maps to the current LDS church, because they still have a quorum of 12 apostles.
The problem I have is it took 5 years after Joe's church was organized for this to become one of the tenants of Mormonism. Furthermore, 12 apostles aren't mentioned in the Book of Mormon, and most importantly, Jesus never established a church with 12 apostles on the American continent in the Book of Mormon.
Now, don't get me wrong, because in 3 Nephi 19 it describes Jesus calling 12 disciples, and splitting up the multitude, for each of those 12 to teach, but it never calls them Apostles. Now, you could argue that Apostle and disciple are interchangeable words, but not in the bible. Anybody that believed in Jesus was a disciple, so Jesus' 12 apostles were disciples of him, meaning they followed the discipline that Jesus was the master of, but there's a distinction between the two. In the bible, the Apostles were the special counsellors to Jesus, set apart from the rest of the disciples that followed Jesus' discipline, but the Book of Mormon only mentions disciples. What's more is the Book of Mormon doesn't follow these 12 disciples around like Acts does, and it doesn't talk much about them being the arbiters of Jesus' gospel after he ascended to heaven, implying they were the ecclesiastical authority of Jesus's church.
If the 12 apostles are the foundation of ecclesiastical authority in the one true church, why did God allow Joe's one true Church of Christ to operate for 5 years without that authority structure, and why isn't that governing structure prescribed in the Book of Mormon? An apologist might be tempted to say that God couldn't reveal the fullness of the gospel to Joe all at once, it had to be doled out in small portions and implemented piece by piece as situations necessitated more of the gospel. My answer to that would be ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?! There have been countless situations in the early church that would have been easier if there was some kind of hiearchy or governing body set up, instead of just randomly appointing people to random tasks with revelations specific to each person, which is what Joe had been doing up to this point! Who knows how much more successful the church would have been if there were a single governing body to take care of problems that were cropping up, or handling insurrections. Businesses tend to thrive when there is a hierarchy or governing body set up with a CEO and his closest officers being the people that carry out the will of the boss. It took God 5 years of Joe's church running to adopt a very simple business model that's proved successful for humans for thousands of years.
If god was waiting until situations necessitated this one part of the gospel to bring forward the practice of the quorum of the twelve, he was about 2,628,000 minutes late with this revelation.
You may also be thinking, I didn't remember hearing Ollie or Hingepin Rigdon in that list, much less the three witnesses, Hyrum Smith, or Sylvester Smith! Well, of course Sylvester Smith wouldn't be in there, but he would be made one of the presidents of the 70 at the next meeting they held, but what about the other important people. Well, the Church presidency was above this governing body of Twelve apostles, meaning that we had President Joseph Smith, President Oliver Cowdery, President Sidney Rigdon, and Patriarch Joseph Smith Sr.
And as I said before, the very next meeting the leadership held, they organized and called members to the quorum of the 70, to be a further governing body at the lowest level, making them the high men on the totem pole. Every single one of the men in the quorum of the 70 was a member of Zion's camp, as were all the presidents of the quorum of the 70.
Historians, believers and not, argue that this was the main purpose behind the march of Zion's camp, basically testing the mettle of these guys to see if they were worthy to be in a leadership position in the church. D. Michael Quinn and Richard Bushman even claim this to be the case in their coverage of Zion's camp, it was just a culling of those with weak testimonies.
My argument merely stems from the fact that this organization of these two major governing bodies could have been useful long before this in countless situations, some of which we've covered. I figured this out, and I'm just a guy. It shouldn't have taken an omnipotent god 5 years of chaos to figure out how to run the one true goddamn church, right?! Maybe I'm just ignorant and God works in mysterious ways... mysterious and ineffective...
Soon after this time in the church history, Joe brings forward his big revelation on the Melchisedek Priesthood, and sets it apart from the Aaronic priesthood, which was an even bigger point of organizational authority that would have come in handy before this, but alas, it still took 5 years for God to bring this revelation forward. We'll talk about that next episode.
There was something else that I wanted to talk about, which will take us to the end of the historical portion of today's episode. It's something from that same February 1835 issue of the Messenger and Advocate that we read from earlier, and it concerns a version of the first vision account that Joe supposedly experienced. Up to this point, we've talked a couple of times about the first vision story, and some of the problems in it. The biggest problem with the first vision account is, of course, the fact that it was printed 10 years after it supposedly happened, being printed in 1832, talking about Joe seeing the heavens open up and being forgiven of his sins in 1822. This is just scratching the surface when it comes to the historicity of Joe seeing angels before 1830. A few episodes ago we read the entirety of that 1832 history that Joe dictated, so we won't discuss it now, but what we are going to talk about is the 1835 first vision account.
As the story goes for TBM's today, at the age of 14, Joseph Smith went and prayed in the sacred grove, and god and Jesus appeared to him, telling him that all the religions were wrong, and their professors corrupt. In 1823, the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph and told him where to find the plates, and 4 years later, Joseph was able to unearth them and translate the Egyptian writings into the Book of Mormon. I know most people listening are probably like.. uugh... yes, we know the story from the Mormon perspective, stop harping on it; but it's very important to understand for what we're about to read.
In the same February 1835 issue of the Messenger and Advocate that had that blurb by Professor Bill about the School of the Elders, our good friend Ollie Cowdung printed an official history of Joseph's first vision. Let's read it to see if we can parse out some details. By the way, there will be a link to this in the show notes just in case you want to read a pdf of a photocopy of this newspaper article for yourself, and it's taken from the BYU online archive website.
There is a lot of preacher talk in the letter, so I'm going to skip over those parts, because we're only interested in the historical recounting of Joe's vision here.
"You will recollect that I mentioned the time of a religious excitement, in Palmyra and vicinity to have been in the 15th year of our brother J. Smith Jr's, age—that was an error in the type—it should have been in the 17th.-- You will please remember this correction, as it will be necessary for the full understanding of what will follow in time. This would bring the date down to the year 1823.
I do not deem it necessary to write further on the subject of this excitement. It is doubted by many whether any real or essential good ever resulted from such excitements, while others advocate their propriety with warmth.
The mind is easily called up to reflection upon a matter of such deep importance, and it is just that it should be; but there is a regret occupying the heart when we consider the deep anxiety of thousands, who are lead away with a vain imagination, or groundless hope, no better than the idle wind or the spider's web.
But if others were not benefited, our brother was urged forward and strengthened in the determination to know for himself of the certainty and reality of pure and holy religion. -- And it is only necessary for me to say, that while this excitement continued, he continued to call upon the Lord in secret for a full manifestation of divine approbation, and for, to him, the all important information, if a Supreme being did exist, to have an assurance that he was accepted of him. This, most assuredly, was correct-- it was right. . .
But to proceed with my narrative.--
On the evening of the 21st of September, 1823, previous to retiring to rest, our brother's mind was unusually wrought upon the subject which had so long agitated his mind—his heart was drawn out in fervent prayer, and his whole soul was so lost to every thing of a temporal nature, that earth, to him, had lost its charms, and all he desired was to be prepared in heart to commune with some kind messenger who could communicate to him the desired information of his acceptance with God.
At length the family retired, and he, as usual, bent his way, though in silence, where others might have rested their weary frames "locked fast in sleep's embrace;" but repose had fled, and accustomed slumber had spread her refreshing hand over others beside him—he continued still to pray—his heart, though once hard and obdurate, was softened, and that mind which had often flitted, like the "wild bird of passage," had settled upon a determined basis not to be decoyed or driven from its purpose.
In this situation hours passed unnumbered—how many or how few I know not, neither is he able to inform me; but supposes it must have been eleven or twelve, and perhaps later, as the noise and bustle of the family, in retireing, had long since ceased.-- While continuing in prayer for a manifestation in some way that his sins were forgiven; endeavoring to exercise faith in the scriptures, on a sudden a light like that of day, only of a purer and far more glorious apparance and brightness, burst into the room.-- Indeed, to use his own description, the first sight was as though the house was filled with consuming and unquenchable fire. This sudden appearance of a light so bright, as must naturally be expected, occasioned a shock or sensation, visible to the extremities of the body. It was, however, followed with a calmness and serenity of mind, and an overwhelming rapture of joy that surpassed understanding, and in a moment a personage stood before him.
Notwithstanding the room was previously filled with light above the brightness of the sun, as I have before described, yet there seemed to be an additional glory surrounding or accompanying this personage, which shone with an increased degree of brilliancy, of which he was in the midst; and though his countenance was as lightening, yet it was of a pleasing, innocent and glorious appearance, so much so, that every fear was banished from the heart, and nothing but calmness pervaded the soul. . .
But it may be well to relate the particulars as far as given—The stature of this personage was a little above the common size of men in this age; his garment was perfectly white, and had the appearance of being without seam.
Though fear was banished from his heart, yet his surprise was no less when he heard him declare himself to be a messenger sent by commandment of the Lord, to deliver a special message, and to witness to him that his sins were forgiven, and that his prayers were heard; and that the scriptures might be fulfilled, which say--...
He then proceeded and gave a general account of the promises made to the fathers, and also gave a history of the aborigines of this country, and said they were literal descendants of Abraham. He represented them as once being an enlightened and intelligent people, possessing a correct knowledge of the gospel, and the plan of restoration and redemption. He said this history was written and deposited not far from that place, and that it was our brother's privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain, and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose with the record.
"Yet," said he, "the scripture must be fulfilled before it is translated, which says that the words of a book which were sealed, were presented to the learned; for thus has God determined to leave men without excuse, and show to the meek that his arm is not shortened that it cannot save."
A part of the book was sealed, and was not to be opened yet. The Sealed part, said he, contains the same revelation which was given to John upon the isle of Patmos, and when the people of the Lord are prepared, and found worthy, then it wil be unfolded unto them.
On the subject of bringing to light the unsealed part of this record, it may be proper to say, that our brother was expressly informed, that it must be done with an eye single to the glory of God; if this consideration did not wholly characterize all his proceedings in relation to it, the adversary of truth would overcome him, or at least prevent his making that proficiency in this glorious work which he otherwise would.
While describing the place where the record was deposited, he gave a minute relation of it, and the vision of his mind being opened at the same time, he was permitted to view it critically; and previously being acquainted with the place, he was able to follow the direction of the vision, afterward, according to the voice of the angel, and obtain the book.
I close for the present by subscribing myself as ever, your brother in Christ.
I know that was a long reading, but there is an overall point that I'm trying to get at. Did anybody notice anything peculiar in this account?
The third paragraph we read started with this line "The mind is easily called up to reflection upon a matter of such deep importance," as well it should. When somebody has a life changing experience, like seeing angels or god, that experience tends to stick with them. I was having a discussion with a TBM a while back, and when it came down to why he believes, he said he had a ministering of angels while his kid was sick in the hospital. Of course, I probably should have asked him what he meant without sounding incredulous, because he shut down and didn't offer any details beyond that, but it was apparently an occurence that stuck with him enough to unfalteringly solidify his own personal faith in the church.
When Joe had this angellic visitation in 1823, I can only imagine that it was a truly monumental occasion for him, but let's talk in detail about the paragraph preceding this vision in 1823.
"But if others were not benefited, our brother was urged forward and strengthened in the determination to know for himself of the certainty and reality of pure and holy religion. -- And it is only necessary for me to say, that while this excitement continued, he continued to call upon the Lord in secret for a full manifestation of divine approbation, and for, to him, the all important information, if a Supreme being did exist, to have an assurance that he was accepted of him. This, most assuredly, was correct-- it was right. . .
But to proceed with my narrative.--
On the evening of the 21st of September, 1823, previous to retiring to rest, our brother's mind was unusually wrought upon the subject which had so long agitated his mind—his heart was drawn out in fervent prayer, and his whole soul was so lost to every thing of a temporal nature, that earth, to him, had lost its charms, and all he desired was to be prepared in heart to commune with some kind messenger who could communicate to him the desired information of his acceptance with God."
Let me get this straight, in 1823, Joe was struggling with the question of God existing? According to the current narrative, this was 3 years AFTER Joe had the sacred grove visitation of God and Jesus in separate bodies, floating above him, and yet in 1823 he's somehow questioning if God exists?!?! How the fuck does that work?! And please, don't retreat to saying, well this was written by Oliver Cowdery, not Smith himself, because do you really think that Joe would let this history be published in the church newspaper without being the final say on what goes into the passage?
And to go beyond that, this account of the 1823 visitation is immensely detailed, but altogether neglects mentioning the appearance in 1820 of fucking GOOOOD! Was this visitation of an unnammed angel really that much more exciting than seeing GOD!?!? So much more exciting that the appearance of God didn't even merit a mention or elusion to?!
To go even deeper, the 1832 account said that in 1822, Joe was in the wilderness crying to god and the heavens opened up, and the Lord said his sins are forgiven, and to go his way and sin no more. GOD personally told Joe that he was forgiven of his sins and accepted, yet in 1823, a year later, Joe is praying to be forgiven of his sins, and be given a sign that God exists?! Did he not take God's word for it when God said that his sins were forgiven a year before?!
But the problems go even deeper than that! The angel that appeared in 1823 is completely unnammed. In the 1832 account, it merely states that the record was engraven by Maroni, spelled with an A, but speaks about it in the third person, never claiming to be Moroni.
If we spelunk even further down this rabbit hole, we find that most of the earliest versions of the 1823 visitation call the angel Nephi, not Moroni. Even Joe's own mother in the original publication of her book Autobiographical Sketches of Joseph Smith, claims the angel was named Nephi. Multiple newspaper publications, that Joe was at the head of, printed articles claiming the angel to be Nephi, up to two years before Joe's death, and he never published a correction or retraction for those articles.
Some may claim that it was a typo that was later corrected, but if that were the case it would read Morino, or Muroni or something, mistaking the main character is not a typo. It would be like George R.R. Martin saying in an interview that Cerci Lannister as mother of the dragons entombed the dragons in the dungeon of the city, it just wouldn't happen if the visitation happened the way Joe claimed.
It's only after Joe's death that any mentions of it being Nephi were changed to Moroni. In the current version of Lucy's book, Autobiographical Sketches of Joseph Smith, it says Moroni, but that's only because Bloody fucking Brigham went on a propaganda campaign and required all known copies to be collected and burned, and for a new proprietary version to be published under the same title, the epitomy of revisionist history. Joseph's own mother called the angel Nephi until her dying breath, and it was only changed later to fit Bloody Brigham's narrative. Joseph's own 1842 history called the angel Moroni, and it was only after Bloody Brigham obsessively eradicated all known documents to make his own version of the history fit his own narrative, that the angel was consistently called Moroni. By the way, just a small aside here, I found out recently that the current History of the Church differs from Joseph's original 1842 history of the church by 62,000 words. Yes, 62,000 words have been altogether added or deleted from Joe's own dictated history, and it's still claimed to be his one true history... I don't know how to quantify that, but 62,000 words is more than 20% of the words in the Book of Mormon's 500+ pages. This 13 page document that I'm reading from right now has less than 11,000 words. If you were to take all the words that were added or subtracted from Joe's 6 volume history of the church at the hand of Bloody Brigham, you could fill a small book with them. If that isn't revisionist history.... I don't know what else to call it. So anytime that I read out of the History of the Church and say something like "take it for what it's worth," I really mean it, because who knows how much is changed from the original version.
The problems with the historicity of the first vision account are truly endless. There are currently 9 different known version of the first vision account, and they all differ on some minor points, and a few of them are wildly different from others on major points. When historians are trying to determine historical accuracy of any given event, everything I just ranted about are exact symptoms of a large scale obfuscation, or wholesale fabrication of the event, and that is a HUUUGE problem when determining the truthfulness of this one true prophet of God.
I'm probably starting to sound like a broken record at this point, but I'm an history nerd, not an actual historian. I was never taught the proper tools for parsing out historical truths from multiple differing historical accounts. I was spoonfed shitty history from shitty historical sources. Don't think I'm holding the Mormon church alone responsible for this blind spot in my education, because it's a systematic problem with education in general at this point.
The problem stems from where we get our history. So many history books, public education textbooks especially, are guilty of only giving one side, or ommitting some details of historical events.
I'm a frequenter of reddit, and there was a great ELI5 on there with a question along the lines of "I was taught about Thomas Edison in history class, and taught about the difference between AC and DC in science class, but I don't remember learning anything about Nikola Tesla. Why is that?"
The best answer I could find in the comments section was the top reply to it, citing the fact that Edison was an industrialist, while Tesla was a much lesser known inventor. It's hard to explain the concepts of Tesla's inventions to grade school children, while it's easy to explain the inventor of the light bulb, so Edison is discussed more in history class.
While this answer was good, I feel like it was lacking in so many respects. While Thomas Edison is revered on the level of most of the founding fathers, Nikola Tesla, who was arguably a better inventor, barely merits a mention in most history books, and I think that's primarily due to the smear campaign that Edison waged against Tesla. Obviously, Tesla's AC was a better technology than Edison's DC, and the majority of powered things today run on AC because it's so easy to transform to higher and lower voltages, travels distances with much lower impedence, and is inherently less dangerous.
But this smear campaign is all but ignored in the annals of history. We don't talk about the fact that the first electric chair victim was done as a stunt by Edison to prove that AC is more dangerous than DC. Edison pumped this guy full of AC for over a minute straight with a massive crowd of curious onlookers, while the man screamed in agony and lit on fire before finally dying. The harsh reality is, if Edison would have used his own DC to do the job, the man would have been dead in a matter of seconds, and wouldn't have spent more than a minute screaming and wailing, and upsetting the onlookers, thus inciting fear of Tesla's technology. The scene was reportedly so horrible that men and women were fainting and even vommitting from the sight of a fellow human being enduring such torture.
I believe Edison even electrocuted an elephant to further illustrate the point, but my memory could be falsly conflating another story in that respect. The point I'm getting at here is the fact that Edison was a monster, with great showmanship, and sales tactics, while Tesla was a much more noble man, perpetually reinvesting any money he had into newer inventions, and died virtually penniless. His impact on the world of electrical innovation is vastly under represented in most public education history books.
Of course, none of that information was made readily available to me while in school learning about electricity and inventors from a century ago. The information was there, and I could have looked it up on the internet, but the history textbooks I read in school make no mention of this horrible smear campaign, because it might severely damage how people view Thomas Edison today. That's why he's held up on a pedestal similar to the founding fathers, even though he wasn't one, because he was the most successful inventor of his time, even though Tesla was obviously much more prolific and inventive than Edison. We've even found Tesla's blueprints for wireless technology! Tesla deserves to be revered, and possibly even exalted above Edison, if not for his superior inventive powers, than just for being a better person in general, and I think this gets at the heart of my frustration.
When we hold these historical individuals with such high reverence, the picture of that person in our mind ceases to hold any semblence to the people behind these cardboard cutouts, and very few historical individuals have been victim of this revisionist history moreso than Joseph Smith.
The Joseph Smith that Mormons believe in today is nothing like the real Joe. This portrait of a holy and pious, nearly infallible, man that Mormons think their religion to be spawned by, holds almost no connection to the Joe that's portrayed in the real historical documents. That version of the first vision account that we just read was published in February of 1835, and it's worth noting the other things going on in church history at that time. Only 3 months prior to this being published, Eber Howe's Mormonism Unvailed was published, and by the time this account was published, Mormonism Unvailed was hitting record sales numbers. In the same February of 1835 publication that this article was printed in, the cover page article even mentions How's book, so obviously it was making the rounds and devout Mormons were asking some tough questions that Joe and Rigdon didn't want to answer.
Like in the case with Edison, when Tesla came along, it threatened Edison's standing, and he engaged in whatever was necessary to keep him at the forefront of the burgeoning technology of electricity. Joe did the same thing. When Mormonism Unvailed came along, it posed a true existential threat to Joe and Co., and thus we see the reaction to this threat in Joe's propaganda campaign, that forever shaped how Mormons view Joseph Smith for the rest of history.
I'm not bothered by the fact that this conjectural information about Joseph Smith wasn't presented to me on a silver platter. I'm not even bothered by the fact that my perspective of Joe becomes broader and more complete with each and every document I read about him, in fact I love that about studying Mormon history. I'm bothered by the fact that I had to dig this fucking deep to even be aware of this highly conjectural part of Joe's history, that poses a real threat to his claims of divine authority, which lie at the foundation of Mormonism.
You wanna know the dumbest part of it all? I'm probably going to receive in an email or two about that little story with Edison and Tesla from somebody that holds some personal reverence for Edison, pissed off about me dragging his name through the mud, which only furthers my point that revisionist history is a systematic problem that pervades even the most comprehensible recounting of an historical event or person.
The Joseph Smith that Mormon's know and love today is an ultimate example of what revisionist history can do to a person. We're lucky that we have so much documented history surrounding Joe so we can try to understand the real man behind the cardboard cutout that's portrayed in the church's own history. Luckily, we can see the historical revising that Joe was doing to try and make himself out to be an unflappable holy and pious prophet. We can see Joe's own revisionist history juxtaposed to other documents, and see where they come into contradiction with so many other historical accounts of him.
I suppose, all of that points to the overall goal of doing all this research. I'm a lover of truth, and when somebody alters that for their own gain, I take it as a personal assault on my intellect, and a crime against the overall wealth of human knowledge, which is truly inexusable. The LDS church could act more like the Community of Christ, also known as the reorganized reorganized LDS church. They embrace the history of Ol' Joe Smith, and only hold the Book of Mormon up as a 19th century work concerning 19th century burned-over district Christianity. They accept gays, they have women in all leadership roles in the church, I believe they gave blacks the priesthood in like the 50's or something, and they don't judge or discriminate the way the SLC LDS church does at a systematic level. This is incontrovertable proof that the LDS church could survive if they were to abandon their indefensible positions about Joe and the history of the church, much less their bigotry on gays, women and anybody with the Mark of Cain. But, as Chuck said in last weeks episode, they're never going to embrace these changes willingly; it'll take an act of asset seizing, or political pressure before they give even one inch of the battleground to their adversary. We need to be that adversary, and hold their feet to the fire on their bigotted and discriminatory ways, and force the church to embrace the 21st century with the rest of the civilized fucking world.
I'm reminded of a Voltaire quote I heard on the founding fathers Irreligiosophy episodes and it sums up the Mormon church so well.
"Every sensible man, every honest man, must hold the Christian sect in horror. But what shall we substitute in it's place? you say. What? A ferocious animal has sucked the blood of my relatives. I tell you to rid yourselves of this beast, and you ask me what you shall put in it's place?"
Yes the church has sucked the blood of my relatives, but not only that. The more I dig into the history, and the more I learn about the church, the more I realize that every single person associated with the church throughout it's entire history has been a victim of this vampiric death cult, and I can't stand idly by. It's not just the blood of my relatives, it's the blood of my friends, it's my blood, it's the blood of every gay teenager that's kicked out of their home because they're full of sin. It's the blood of 120 dead men women and children in a meadow in southern Utah. It's the blood of the prophets that Bloody Brigham swore to avenge upon the earth to the third and fourth generation. It's the very blood of our shared humanity that's been drawn in such small doses, that no person notices until they're too weak stand on their own goddamn feet and fight back.
Let us stand together and say with one collective voice, I'm not going to be your life force anymore! I'm not going to have my blood sucked by a ferocious ravenous animal, and I'm going to fight to take my life back! We owe it to ourselves! We owe it to our loved ones and friends and neighbors to fight back! The church won't survive if we stand up and say I'm madder than hell, and you can't take my life away from me!
Until that day, until we stand together opposed to the Mormon cult, the church will never relinquish these vestigial tenants of hateful bigotry and historical lies. We must fight the church with the same intolerance that constructs their stark white granite facade of holiness. We owe it to the collective intelligence of the human race to either drastically alter the Mormon religion, or wipe it off the face of the fucking planet.
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