Ep 130 – Quadrennial Airlift Rescue

On this episode, we get an airlift out of the valleys of deep Mormon history so we can see the mountain peaks we’ve scaled and view what lies ahead. This is 4 years of serial history in review, made in a format that can be used as a reference source to find information in the backlog.

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Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/

It’s a trumpet! No, it’s an apron! No, it’s a man’s face! We spend a lot of time examining small details within Mormon history and it’s really easy to lose sight of the whole picture.

There’s a tradeoff here. We can root around in the mud and the muck covering the valleys of deep Mormon history, but that can only be done at the sacrifice of losing sight of the mountain tops. We could remain on the mountain tops and look into the valleys of deeper history, but the finer details where nuanced conversations happen are left too vague to understand that nuance.

So, what’s the solution when we find ourselves lost in the historical valleys without the mountain tops in sight? We take an airlift extraction out and navigate our way with new foresight. This belabored analogy is my way of saying, let’s review how we got to where we are in Mormon history. I frequently make the mistake of thinking that everybody listening is working with the same set of information in their brain as me. I’m trying to be the tour guide here, but I too often don’t acknowledge that tour guides are there because the people on the tour are completely unfamiliar with the territory.

Let’s discuss the journey so far. I’ll hit the high-level points of Mormon history that we’ve discussed and refer you to which episode in the backlog that goes through the deeper dive of each point. There’s also stuff we’ve missed that will be discussed eventually when they fit into the subject matter of future episodes. The Greek Psalter incident is a subject that stands out to me that we’ve yet to discuss, but I’ll find a good spot for it in the timeline moving forward.

So, let’s get started.

Early life of JS Ep 1. All from Lucy Mack Smith recounted in 1845. Not trustworthy but the only source we have.

Emma Hale introduced ep 2. I did a terrible job of introducing her, but I’d yet to read her biography or any papers about her when I did the episode. I’ve tried to remedy those oversights with episodes 107 and 108 when Emma enters the sphere as president of the Relief Society.

The majority of the first 10 history episodes were introducing prominent figures into the timeline. David Whitmer, Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery each had their own episodes.

Jo’s early life is hotly controversial and ripe for speculation. You see, so much of what we have all does come from his own mother when she recounted it after his death. You think she was biased at all? It isn’t until he begins treasure digging with other people that we get corroborating accounts of who Jo really was.

The good little boy of Lucy Mack Smith’s biographical sketches is betrayed by people who’d been burned by Jo’s clever wit and lack of work ethic. He became a bit of a pariah during his treasure-digging days, which all happened during the time he later claimed he was communicating with angels.

Throughout this time, Jo was repeatedly sighted as quite intemperate. All the Smith boys had irregular income as hired hands when they couldn’t land a treasure-digging contract.

Soon Jo claimed to have the plates. I know I’m probably rehearsing information you all know, but this is the groundwork needed to understand the rest of the mountain peaks we’ll be skimming today. Ep 9 is when Jo finally got the plates home after supposedly running through the woods with them tucked under his arm, fending off multiple attackers.

Jo kept digging himself deeper into his own bad reputation. Episodes 10-14 discuss extensively the name he was making for himself. Then, episode 14 begins the introduction of Sidney Rigdon.

Let’s talk Rigdon authorship of the Book of Mormon for a minute here. The prevailing theory for how the Book of Mormon was written until B.H. Roberts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries successfully put the theory down was that Rigdon had stolen a manuscript from a dead guy. Any expose or so-called anti-Mormon book for the entirety of the 19th century addresses the spalding-Rigdon authorship and claims it as the most reasonable solution for the Book of Mormon.

What that means is if you were to ask anybody who knew anything about Mormonism in the 19th century where they think the Book of Mormon came from, almost without fail they’d say it came from a manuscript that Sidney Rigdon stole. A lot of convincing evidence and arguments are made that Rigdon wrote the Book of Mormon and published it through Joseph Smith to create a degree of separation between him and the Spalding manuscript.

Some have even gone so far as to claim that the unnamed angel that Jo met every year in the woods was actually Sidney Rigdon while he was working on the Book of Mormon manuscript. Maybe the angel was a spirit Rigdon was channeling through occult ritualism, maybe it was a divine messenger, maybe it was simply a later creation completely fabricated by Joseph to give the Book of Mormon divine origins. There’s a ton of conjecture here.

Where the Rigdon authorship theory can’t be currently substantiated is getting the manuscript in Jo’s hands. That, and there are multiple accounts from David Whitmer, John Whitmer, and Emma Hale Smith that they would see Jo with his head buried in the hat for hours at a time without any manuscript. However, their motivations for such claims are readily apparent. The simple fact is that no historian can place Jo and Rigdon in the same place at the same time which would allow them to have collaborated. Personally, I don’t see this as a major hurdle. We don’t have GPS tracking of either of them and both their timelines throughout the 1820s have plenty of holes which would allow for them to meet. Even if they themselves never met, their assistants, Parley Pratt and Oliver Cowdery are almost completely absent from the historical record prior to 1829.

Regardless of the explanatory power of the Rigdon authorship theory, even if he didn’t steal Spalding’s manuscript, the theory requires conspiracy which makes it immediately suspect. The broad realm of Mormon historians today regard it as a fringe theory. With that said, you can listen to episodes 14-17 and the 7.5 hr Book of Mormon motherlode episode to get a cursory rundown of the Rigdon authorship theory.

The first year of the Church of Christ, 1830, was a tough one for the prophet. He dealt with multiple arrests, dissent, Hiram Page using his own seer stone to give revelation from the devil, being forcefully removed from Colesville, New York, a local reporter stealing his manuscript and printing a satire calling Joe an ignoramous, and the first missionary troop make their way to Jackson County, Missouri after a quick stop in Kirtland, Ohio when they baptized Sidney Rigdon. That’s all episodes 20-24.

After Rigdon and Edward Partridge visited Jo in New York, he and Emma decided it best to move the church and themselves to Kirtland, Ohio. Jo gave a revelation that everybody should sell or rent their property in New York and move with them to Kirtland or the land westward, Missouri.

Jo met a lot of fertile soil in Kirtland receptive to his new message. A lot of really strange things begin to happen out here. Episodes 25 and 26 go through the various power grabs Jo made along with the various new people he made friends with for various reasons. Newel Whitney, Edward partridge, John Johnson, and a bunch of other wealthy converts were quickly elevated to high ranks within the church. John Whitmer was given the office of first official church historian.

Brigham Young enters the Mormon sphere at this time in 1832. We went through a brief overview of his life prior to joining, how he converted, and what positions he was given upon his induction into the brotherhood. That was episode 27 when Brigham makes his dramatic debut into our historical timeline.

Mormonism waxes complicated as the years progress into the mid-1830s. Jo works with Sidney Rigdon to write the new translation of the Bible, write the Book of Moses, create the Lectures on Faith to be used in the School of the Prophets, and distinguish Mormon theology from Campbellite theology that most Kirtland Rigdonites adhered to prior to being baptized. All the while, the Church in Missouri continues to grow larger as the gathering place for Zion. Eventually the Missouri church, run by Cowdery and the Whitmers, would be larger than the Kirtland Church. Estimations of population numbers vary as to when the Missouri membership was larger than the Kirtland membership, but by 1834 or 5 is a conservative estimate.

Keep in mind during this time that the church wasn’t run by a central body as it is today. It was established with Joseph Smith as prophet seer and revelator of the church. Each stake of Zion had its own leadership body who indirectly worked with the leadership in Kirtland. They published their own news articles while the Kirtland body published their own proprietary periodical. However, Jo was still the keystone of it all, he was the top of the pyramid.

This was made apparent when the Mormons were kicked out of Jackson County, Missouri and Jo decided it was a good idea to march a thousand armed Mormons the 1000 miles to liberate the territory and “restore Zion,” whatever that means. The army ended up being just over 200 guys with nearly a dozen women and children to help feed the group. They marched out to Missouri with no plans, not enough provisions or ammunition to wage any sort of war, and only a small number of commanding officers who even had any sort of military training. This military march came to be known as Zion’s camp because that’s all it was, a camping trip with like a dozen people dying from cholera. I had on the illustrious David Michael for episodes 30 and 31 where we covered it top to bottom.

Jo becomes more militant and political from here on.

The rest of 1830s change after Zions camp.

Ancient papyri ep 33 plus Fanny Alger.

Kirtland Temple dedication ep 34

Jo goes treasure digging in Massachusetts ep 35

Kirtland Safety Society, brother of Gideon society ep 36

Q12 contrive assassination attempt ep 37

Grandison Newell assassination attempt and court troubles ep 39

Jo and Rigdon go to Missouri and cleanse the leadership ep 41

Rigdon’s July oration ep 43

Missouri grows to fever pitch 44-49

Haun’s Mill massacre 48

Court of inquiry 50

Mormon exodus from Missouri to Illinois Jo in Liberty Jail ep 51-53

Jo attempts to write his own history 54-56.

Smith-entheogen theory 59-60.

Revealing Jo’s political motivations, meets with POTUS and seeks $1.2mn in reparations for Missouri exodus ep 58. Called President Martin Van Buren a fop or a fool without parts.

John C. Bennett finally enters the timeline in episode 62.

Take a minute to consider the episode numbers here. We’re on 130 today, and Bennett entered the timeline in 62. It took us 62 episodes to cover roughly 35 years of Joseph Smith’s history, but Nauvoo is so insanely complicated that it’s taken us the next 60 episodes to progress another 2 years. Now, I could have taken that long to cover Kirtland and Missouri history, but to be honest, I had no idea what I was doing 2 years ago leading up to the Nauvoo period. The shift around episodes 50-60 is where I stopped telling all of you about popular Mormon history and started digging in much deeper and actually studying the history the way historians do. There’s a subtle difference between the two approaches. One describes what historians have spent over a century constructing, the other takes what historians have been constructing for over a century and building on that body of knowledge.

Hopefully that explains the massive disparity between pacing we used to do as opposed to our current pacing through the timeline. That, and Nauvoo is just inherently more complex in every possible way. Any Mormon historian anywhere on the belief spectrum will agree that Nauvoo is the most complex and radical time of the Joseph era of Mormonism. After studying what they’ve been studying for over a century, I see why that’s just an axiomatic truth of Mormon history.

The documentary history of the church illustrates this very well when we see that volumes 1-3 cover 32 years from 1805-1837, while volumes 4-7 are twice the size of 1-3 and cover the 6 years of 1838-1844. Nauvoo is just intense.

John Bennett’s influence was immediately felt in Nauvoo government, which is to also say Nauvoo Mormon leadership. He started pulling all kinds of strings. He got the Nauvoo Charter passed which created all sorts of amazing provisions to turn Nauvoo into the burgeoning theocracy it would soon become. We read through the entire charter on episode 66.

An underlying theme throughout nearly all of Mormon history is the complete and utter destitution of Joseph Smith and the Mormons at large. We went through a bit of the financial strains on ep 72. Nauvoo was built purely on speculation. The Mormon elite knew that Nauvoo would become the next big population center on the Mississippi while non-Mormon land speculators saw thousands of refugees moving near their land as a prime opportunity to capitalize on other’s misfortunes.

Temple cornerstone ceremony with Nauvoo Legion ep 77

Doctrine and rampant practice of polygamy makes its debut in eps 78-84. Entire history of polygamy vs. monogamy in multiple religious and cultural traditions.

Joseph Smith arrested again ep 88. This was a notable time in the timeline because it marked the end of the Quorum of Apostle’s mission to Europe from 1839-41. Brigham Young had been very successful. Shared multiple letters back and forth from Nauvoo to Liverpool. Established the Millennial Star which ran until 1971. Established emigration fund.

The Book of Abraham was published and the Book of Mormon original manuscript was buried in the Nauvoo House cornerstone in ep 99. That’s when Jo was quoted saying he’s had enough trouble with this thing.

Ep 100 walked through Mormonism and Masonry with the introduction of the Quorum of Anointed 7 weeks after Jo had ascended to master mason at sight.

Nauvoo Relief Society ep 100.

Book of Abraham eps 103-106. Surprisingly more complex than initially thought and the air time completely got away from me.

Porter Rockwell attempted assassination of Boggs ep 109.

Temple ceremony exposes 110-111.

Finally we began witnessing the turn of Jo and Bennett’s relationship with episode 115. We’ve spent a lot of time on the impact of Bennett on Mormon history and the doctrine of polygamy. Rummaging in the fallout from the Bennett Meltdown is where we’ve been ever since.

There you go. 4 years of covering Mormon history in serial format summed up in a few minutes of riffing. Each one of those points I mentioned takes hours to unpack. That’s why we’ve been so frequently lost in the valleys of Mormon history and need to occasionally take a chopper out to get back up to the mountain peaks and see where we’ve been and, more importantly, what lies ahead. In the coming months and probably even years, we have major developments to discuss. The increase of polygamy, the kinderhook plates, doctrinal developments leading to the King Follett discourse, tons of political maneuvers, the increased expansion of the Mormon theocracy, the Council of Fifty, dissent, fracturing, schisms, the Nauvoo expositor, Carthage, more schisms, infighting and underground militias exerting influence, the battle of Nauvoo and the Illinois militia takeover forcing the Brighamites out, the completion of the Nauvoo temple and the ordinances contained therein, the continued fracturing of a handful of disparate sects of Mormonism, and then we transition out of the Nauvoo era of Mormonism in 1845-47.

In regards to judging long-dead people ~ there's a lot of cultural details, context & thoughts missing. It's not a conclusive thing.

Anti-mormonism churns out plausibilities like fan fiction, the variations are endless. But do not cite evidence from original sources.

Go to those original sources cited in anti-mo lit & see if they're cited correctly or in context. That's where most of the fails are.

You ever hear stuff like this parroted about, or is that just me who follows people with whom I disagree? Look, if you’ve listened to every episode in the backlog, I hope you realize the absurdity of quotes like what I just read. If you were just nodding along this whole episode at everything we reviewed, if this was all old information to you, then you know more history than almost any person sitting in sacrament meeting every Sunday. Everything in Mormon history happens within the context of the people and time in which it took place. To learn Mormon history without context is a major disservice to the people who lived it and a disservice to the complex and fascinating field of Mormon history academia.

Unfortunately for us all, so many conversations about Mormon history devolve to a Mormon and an anti-Mormon slugging it out with quick arguments and claimed refutations of those arguments, but neither party is working with the same body of knowledge and they often refuse to meet each other eye to eye.

Think back on everything today, at any point did I say such and such was an argument for why the church is or isn’t true? Did I say anything about theology or doctrine beyond just when the specific doctrine or practice was implemented? Whether or not the church is true is such a useless conversation when it’s exchanged in the towering shadow of Mormon history academia. It’s arguing whether mac or android is better while never acknowledging how cool it is to have unlimited information at our fingertips delivered by a handheld device with thousands of times the processing power of the standard at-home computer from 20 years prior.

Whether or not Mormonism is true is the most useless conversation to have, but at the same time it’s the most important conversation to most people who talk Mormonism in general. For the last 4 years I’ve sought to provide you, not with the arguments about why the truth claims of Mormonism are false, but with the information for you to make your own arguments about Mormon history should you need it; and if that information happens to entertain you along the way, then I guess mission accomplished. This show isn’t created to give you a spearhead argument your Mormon coworker or loved one throws out there after reading an article by Dan Peterson, it’s created to give you a tactical nuke of information; you decide how best to use it. You’re all smart. The correspondence I get every week from so many of you and the links you send my way show that you’re a smart audience.

So yeah, this episode is essentially our 4-year anniversary. A little celebratory naval-gazing felt in order, but doing so in a way that it can be a useful resource to you if you’re searching for that one thing in Mormon history but can’t remember when or where it happened.

Besides, there’s a handy-dandy search bar at nakedmormonismpodcast.com, courtesy of 49dollarsites.com, where you can search the entire backlog of episodes and show notes to find exactly what you’re looking for. My hope is this. When you happen to get in a conversation about a single topic within Mormon history, whether that’s a specific sermon Joseph Smith gave, the particulars of the Sarah Pratt affair, what the original temple ceremony looked like and its similarities and differences with contemporary Masonic rituals, I hope you can scour your memory banks for the content and context of that subject. And, if you can’t, tell the person that you’re not informed enough about the subject, come back and listen to the episode, then return to the conversation at a later time armed with the relevant information and your own thoughts and arguments about it. As a serial history, I hope this is entertaining and informative. As a source to reference for yourself or to send people to, I hope it is useful for those purposes. Engage only in conversations that are worth having, people, you’ll save your sanity by doing so.

With all that said, I hope you had an awesome thanksgiving. For our non-American listeners, I hope you had an awesome week? I guess?... We’ll descend back into the wasteland of the Bennett Meltdown next week continuing in late August of 1842.

Copyright Ground Gnomes LLC subject to fair use. Citation example: "Naked Mormonism Podcast (or NMP), Ep #, original air date 11/23/2018"