Road to Carthage 7 - Pride
On this episode, we examine the pride and arrogance of Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism.
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
I’m proud to be an American!
Why? Why is being born in a certain time in a certain place something to take pride in? Is it the indoctrination of nationalism that invades our culture and everyday conversations, slowly degrading the foundations of societies across the world? There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in what we do; what we achieve, what we accomplish, what we create. We take pride in these because we worked for them. Pride, however, carries a stigma. So much so, that there are entire lesson manuals in the church about the pride cycle.
The pride cycle from the Book of Mormon goes like this. The chosen people of god are super righteous and god blesses them with wealth and prosperity. Then, they become prideful and forget that god is responsible for giving them all their worldly possessions. They fall away from god, and god curses them, thus destroying everything that gave them pride to begin with, killing their friends and families, and often burning their cities to the ground. This causes the chosen people to be humbled by the curses of god. They become righteous because of this humbling and change in skin color to whiteness and delightsomeness and then god begins to bless them. The cycle then repeats and thus we have what’s known to Mormons as The Pride Cycle. It exists in the macro with various cities and groups of people in the Book of Mormon but it’s also a pattern that emerges when considering the entire narrative of the Book of Mormon’s 3000 year story. Just like any work of literature, the Book of Mormon contains lessons we can take from its pages that are never printed in any church-printed manual for actual instruction. We can’t have the masses pondering their existence and morality beyond what we tell them, can we? Nobody will give you the knowledge you need to overthrow them.
Whether it’s the noble unwilling leader rising to greatness in a time of calamity, 3 magi wandering time and space teaching mortals the mysteries of existence, an promising underdog who overcomes great trials and receives recognition from a member of high society, initiates learning their strengths and weaknesses, the cycle of life, death, and the rebirth of people and nations, the dichotomies of peace and war, light and dark, good and evil, wealth and poverty, the Book of Mormon actually contains some story-telling elements of chaos and Hermetic philosophy that are worth exploration in the abstract, ignoring the claims of divinity. It’s because of these deeper lessons, all replete throughout what we consider the great classic literature, that nuanced believers can consider the Book of Mormon as divinely inspired while not being accurate history. Those people see divinely inspired lessons in every work of art, literature, and philosophy regardless of whether or not the work claims to be scripture. I see these lessons too without any appeal to divine origin. They’re stories that have existed for thousands of years and underpin nearly every element of philosophical exploration. We take the lessons, repackage them, change the names of the protagonist and antagonist, and retell a different story with the same lesson underneath it all. Every story has been told, every word has been spoken. The more of these stories we consume, the more we see the connective threads; the more the strings that tug on reality come into focus. Only then can we spread our wings to fly far away and teach these lessons to the next generation. Somehow, someday, I hope you’ll understand.
Samantha Payne, a schoolmate of Joseph Smith in Manchester, New York, said in 1880 that “he was regarded as … a braggadocio,” among other things. Confidence is an attractive feature. But confidence, like every other character trait, is a tool that can be wielded for good and evil alike. Confidence has a few ugly twins, arrogance, narcissism, audacity, and taken to extremes confidence can morph into a god complex.
Jo’s arrogance is clearly rooted in his childhood, like every other narcissist who preceded and followed him. According to a New York neighbor named Daniel Hendrix, Lucy Mack Smith was “a great admirer of her son, despite his shiftless and provoking ways. She always declared that he was born with a genius, and did not have to work.” According to Hendrix, she once remarked that “the boy will be able some of these days to buy the whole of Palmyra and all the folks in it. You don’t know what a brain my boy has under that old hat” (EMD 3:212). Neighbor Wallace Miner, on whose land Joe dug out a 20-foot cave, claimed that Mother Lucy “was told in a dream she would give birth to a son who would be a great leader” (EMD 3:255). Orsamus Turner, a local historian, wrote in 1851 that “The incipient hints, the first givings out that a Prophet was to spring from her humble household, came from her” (EMD 3:48).
In a large family with scarce resources, arrogance became a survival mechanism to get more attention, and therefore resources, than his siblings. This evolved beyond the Smith family dynamics and became a success formula in Jo’s teenage years. Ep 10, 11, 12.
Joe carefully crafted a reputation as a powerful seer and conjuror during his treasure-digging days, but in the Book of Mormon he took the myth of Joseph Smith to the next level. In the autobiographical first portion of the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi Chapter 3, the prophet Lehi is on his deathbed, speaking to his son Nephi. Lehi says,
4 For behold, thou art the fruit of my loins; and I am a descendant of Joseph who was carried captive into Egypt. . . . 6 For Joseph truly testified, saying: A seer shall the Lord my God raise up, who shall be a choice seer unto the fruit of my loins. 7 Yea, Joseph truly said: Thus saith the Lord unto me: A choice seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins; and he shall be esteemed highly among the fruit of thy loins. And unto him will I give commandment that he shall do a work for the fruit of thy loins, his brethren, which shall be of great worth unto them, even to the bringing of them to the knowledge of the covenants which I have made with thy fathers. 8 And I will give unto him a commandment that he shall do none other work, save the work which I shall command him. And I will make him great in mine eyes; for he shall do my work. 9 And he shall be great like unto Moses, whom I have said I would raise up unto you, to deliver my people, O house of Israel. . . 13 And out of weakness he shall be made strong, in that day when my work shall commence among all my people, unto the restoring thee, O house of Israel, saith the Lord. 14 And thus prophesied Joseph, saying: Behold, that seer will the Lord bless; and they that seek to destroy him shall be confounded; for this promise, which I have obtained of the Lord, of the fruit of my loins, shall be fulfilled. Behold, I am sure of the fulfilling of this promise; 15 And his name shall be called after me; and it shall be after the name of his father. And he shall be like unto me; for the thing, which the Lord shall bring forth by his hand, by the power of the Lord shall bring my people unto salvation.
Mormons are taught in Sunday school that this is the Book of Mormon prophecy of Joseph Smith. But if we view the Book of Mormon not as an ancient history, but a product of Jo’s own mind, Joe produced this ancient book of scripture, and into it he writes a prophecy about himself: a future “choice seer” named Joseph, the son of Joseph, descended from the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi and the biblical prophet Joseph of Egypt. He will be great like Moses, and he’ll save the entire world, and anyone who dares to oppose him will be crushed by the power of God. And oh, my favorite part: God commands him to do no work except the work of God. Remember a few episodes ago when we went through 30 pages of script about Jo’s idleness and his desire to avoid physical labor at all costs? That revelation about him not having any strength in temporal labors also makes its way into the Book of Mormon. All things considered, if writing a new book of scripture as a sequel to the Bible weren’t audacious enough, writing a prophecy about himself into that book of scripture says a lot about Jo’s character and opinion of himself. Ep 17.
Joe didn’t stop at writing himself into the Book of Mormon. That wasn’t enough for him, so he also created his own inspired revision of the BIBLE. And he “restored” a lot of “plain and precious parts” that he claimed had been removed from the Bible by the eeeevil Catholics, including a version of that same “choice seer” prophecy that appears in the Book of Mormon. Genesis chapter 50 has eleven-and-a-half brand new verses, all about the future coming of Joseph, son of Joseph. I won’t read them to you, because they’re basically cut-and-pasted right out of the Book of Mormon passage I already read. So many Christians consider Joseph Smith or Mormonism to be anti-Christ or heretical; the charge is understandable when we consider the sanctity of the Bible itself and Jo’s audacity in writing his own version to complement all his other scriptures and revelations.
The very act of writing new scripture is arrogant to begin with, but I want to examine an aspect of Jo’s scriptures that bear strict scrutiny, white supremacy, the most caustic, divisive, deadly, and hereditary of all versions of arrogance. People will often claim that Joseph was progressive considering he ordained a black man, Elijah Able, into the priesthood. Well, Elijah Able was a rather white and delightsome African-American, and it’s unclear whether Joe even knew he had African ancestry or maybe Jo ordained Able as an example of how a black man can become righteous enough that his skin will turn white and delightsome. It was Brigham Young who applied the curse of Cain to black people and barred them from getting the priesthood, but he built that priesthood ban policy on teachings from the scriptures that Joe wrote. Jo’s own priesthood discrimination is far more conjectural and less defined than Bloody Brigham’s.
In Joe’s translation of Genesis, he makes some changes to the Bible story in which Noah gets drunk and his son Ham makes fun of him. In the original Bible story, after Noah sobers up, he curses Ham’s son Canaan to be a servant to his brothers. In Joe’s version of the story, Noah’s cursing of Canaan includes not only servitude, but also black skin. And I quote, “there was a blackness come upon all the Children of Canaan that they were dispised among all people . . . Noah awoke from his wine and k[n]ew what his younger son had done unto him, and he said cursed be Canaan a Servent of servents shall he be unto his breatheren and he said blessed be the Lord God of Shem and Canaan shall be his servent and a vail of darkness shall cover him that he shall be known among all men.” Jo provided a religious explanation for keeping black people in slavery, just like every other anti-abolitionist Christian of his time. His explanation, however, didn’t involve interpretation of Biblical verses so much as rewriting them to say what he wanted them to say.
The Book of Mormon, JS translation of the Bible, Book of Moses, Book of Abraham, and Doctrine and Covenants, all include multiple passages of white supremacy and manifest destiny. We don’t have to discuss the damage caused to humanity by these elitist concepts because we’ve discussed them ad nauseum on this show. Eps 165, 170, 189, 214.
As Jo’s ministry matured, he continued to elevate himself above all else. Whether it was dissenters in the ranks, rival religious groups, or religious instruction concerning the mysteries of gods kingdom, Jo always needed to be the epicenter of expertise and attention in his religious group. A cult of personality centered around the religious dicta of one man is just a religious cult. Jo hoarded the limelight and attention of any group of people, a polarizing character trait that served to build him up and tear him down at different points in his life. In Kirtland we see a dramatic example of this when we examine the Doctrine and Covenants and the Book of Abraham.
In August 1835, Oliver Cowdery… Cowdung Allover… because nicknames are hard… you know what, screw it, I’m proud of it as one of my earliest creations even if it wasn’t my best work. COWDUNG ALLOVER presented the Doctrine and Covenants to the Church leadership, and a bunch of guys got up and testified that it was true, and then they all voted to accept it as scripture. Now, here’s the weird part about this. Most of these revelations had already been published a few years earlier, in the 1833 Book of Commandments, which had a limited printing because the Missouri mob burned down the printing press in the middle of production, making the surviving copies super rare. If you have a Book of Commandments, give me a call, I’m sure we can work something out and my dignity is dirt cheap. Now the Church republished them in the Doctrine and Covenants in 1835 with the Lectures on Faith as part of the production. But, Jo and a committee of other Church leaders heavily edited the revelations in between these two publications with only 2 years separating them. There are thousands and thousands of differences. And yet these are supposed to be revelations from God! That same god that said I’m the same yesterday, today, and forever… just changed his mind. If I’m God and I give my words to a prophet, and within two years that miscreant makes radical changes to the words I gave him, I’d be pretty pissed… Maybe I’d even curse the dude for changing my unchangeable words. These words in the D&C are immutable truths meant to be passed down through generations of believers in me, and they have the arrogance to change the words that came out of my mouth through my mouthpiece who I went through the trouble of appearing in the woods to just 10 years earlier?! How dare you, Joseph Smith?! How dare you think you know the mind of god better than god himself?! Either God messed up or Jo had to retcon god’s words to fit an evolving narrative. This is maddening because people often talk about the thousands of edits in the Book of Mormon like that’s a problem to the narrative; it is, but what about the tens of thousands of changes in the Doctrine and Covenants. Maybe Jo made an error in translating the gold plates, but there’s absolutely no excuse for changing the direct revelations from god after the revelations are initially dictated. Friend of the show, Joel Kuhn, Indiana, made an awesome tool for comparing the different versions of the D&C at comparedandc.com. Look it up, see for yourself just how much god changes his mind about consequential and important stuff in early Mormonism. Or, just listen to My Book of Mormon podcast and you’ll hear about all the differences in historical context.
The D&C are one thing, but let’s talk about the Book of Abraham, we need to discuss a man named Antonio Lebolo. Antonio Lebolo was the superintendent over a huge archaeological dig site in Egypt between 1818 and 1822. He was tasked with coordinating the discovered and stolen artifacts. Lebolo amassed a large collection of Egyptian Papyri and mummies to be shipped to a collector in New York, where Michael Chandler was able to purchase a bunch of these for resale. Chandler paraded these mummies and Papyri around the east coast from 1833 to 1835, selling some of them, and charging people to view them. Chandler made a pretty good living on the road with these artifacts, but his biggest score was awaiting him in Kirtland, Ohio. While Chandler was charging 25 cents for adults to view the artifacts, he would soon be given $2400 for the purchase of all the remaining artifacts in his possession -- that’s about $62,000 today. Ep 33.
On July 3rd, 1835, he found his way to Kirtland. He may have heard about Joe’s miraculous translating abilities. Joe looked at the papyrus scrolls and pronounced them to be the records of the biblical patriarchs Abraham and Joseph. Well, not a single person in America at the time could read Egyptian hieroglyphics, so there was no one to gainsay Joe. Being the astute artifact dealer he was, Chandler supported Joe’s claim of their origins as a sales tactic. He gave Joe a signed certificate that said, “from the information that I could ever learn, or meet with [about the meaning of these papyri], I find that of Mr. Joseph Smith, Jun., to correspond in the most minute matter.”
According to the History of the Church, “Soon after this, some of the Saints at Kirtland purchased the mummies and papyrus, a description of which will appear hereafter, and with WW. Phelps and Oliver Cowdery as scribes, I commenced the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics.” Joe wasn’t as interested in the mummies as he was in the papyri, but Chandler refused to sell one without the other, and he charged Joe $2400 for the lot and left Kirtland with a smile on his face and pockets full of coin. Apologists will point to Chandler’s signed statement as proof that the Book of Abraham is what Jo claimed it to be, but why would Chandler contradict the almighty prophet of the almighty god when he could sell the artifacts for an order of magnitude more than he would have sold them anywhere else? Michael Chandler being a good salesman is a greater indictment of Jo’s knowledge and expertise than Chandler’s.
Joe immediately began translating, but he only got a couple chapters of the Book of Abraham and a booklet called the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar done before he back-burnered the project for 7 years. The fact that the translations weren’t yet complete didn’t stop the prophet from leveraging the papyri and mummies in the meantime. The 4 mummies out of their respective sarcophagi and the papyri were exhibited in Kirtland in the uppermost floor of the temple once completed in early 1836. Joe was way more interested in having real-life antiquities to show off than he was in translating whatever the papyri actually said. One was a money maker, the other required actual effort and creative writing.
Finally, in March of 1842, nearly 7 years after acquisition of the Egyptian collection, he authored a few more chapters of the Book of Abraham and published them in the Church periodical “The Times and Seasons.” along with 3 illustrations copied from the papyri. Joseph’s interpretations of these documents obviously don’t line up with what Egyptologists say they mean. These are common Egyptian funeral documents that were buried with a corpse in order to guide the dead person into the afterlife. They contain magic spells and invocations to various Egyptian gods. But Jo turned the whole thing into an autobiographical account written by the biblical patriarch Abraham, who supposedly lived about 1000 BCE, “by his own hand upon papyrus.” Eps 103, 104.
The Book of Abraham contains plenty more white supremacy and serves as the explicit scriptural basis for the priesthood ban. In Joe’s translation of the illustration known as Facsimile 3, he interprets the black-skinned god Anubis as a slave. And in Chapter 1, verses 26 and 27 of the Book of Abraham, we read this:
Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam, and also of Noah, his father, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood. Now, Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood, notwithstanding the Pharaohs would fain claim it from Noah, through Ham, therefore my father was led away by their idolatry.
Remember, the lineage of Ham was the one that Joe claimed Noah cursed with dark skin and slavery. Now Joe is saying that Ham’s lineage is also “cursed as pertaining to the priesthood.” So Brigham Young may have been the one who made it official Church policy that black men couldn’t be ordained, but Joe’s the one who made up the whole white supremacist myth that policy is based on and wrote it into Mormon scripture from all eternity to all eternity. That’s why anything short of decanonization of this wretched little book won’t suffice. Burn it. Burn all the Books of Abraham. They’re pure 19th-century white supremacy masquerading as the words of the almighty god. The least the church today could do is put a disclaimer at the front of their scriptures talking about them being a product of their time. Warner Brothers does it with their cartoons from the 1950s and when a Christian media company that produced such gems as “sunday go to meetin’ time, Confederate Honey, coal black and de sebben dwarfs, Goldilocks and the jivin’ bears, Tokio Jokio, and Bugs Bunny nips the nips” has the upper hand on Mormonism when it comes to race issues there’s something deeply and cynically wrong. I’m sure Warner Brothers made lots of money off that racism when those cartoons were popular so those disclaimers in front of them nowadays don’t hurt the royalty checks anymore. I digress...
Chapter 3 of the Book of Abraham is where things get really interesting. While he worked on the Book of Abraham, Joe was studying Hebrew, reading the Jewish historian Josephus, and also reading a book by Thomas Dick on philosophy and astronomy. Jo just couldn’t resist the opportunity to show off all his worldly knowledge in the Book of Abraham. Check this out:
And I, Abraham, had the Urim and Thummim, which the Lord my God had given unto me, in Ur of the Chaldees; and I saw the stars also that they were very great, and that one of them was nearest unto the throne of God; and there were many great ones, which were near unto it; and the Lord said unto me, these are the governing ones; and the name of the great one is Kolob, because it is near unto me: for I am the Lord thy God, I have set this one to govern all those which belong to the same order of that upon which thou standest. And the Lord said unto me, by the Urim and Thummim, that Kolob was after the manner of the Lord, according to its times and seasons in the Revolutions thereof, that one revolution was a day unto the Lord, after his manner of reckoning, it being one thousand years according to the time appointed unto that whereon thou standest; this is the reckoning of the Lord’s time, according to the reckoning of Kolob.
A few things to discuss here. Abraham looks into his peep stone and sees that God lives on a planet near a star named Kolob, and that planet revolves around its sun so slowly that it takes a thousand Earth years to make a single revolution, although to God this apparently only feels like one day.
Astronomy wasn’t actually Joe’s strong suit, but he knew just enough to feel supremely confident in writing scriptures about it. There’s a lot of gobbledegook in the Book of Abraham, so I won’t read you the whole thing, but the gist of it is that there’s a hierarchy of celestial bodies in the universe, and as you move up the hierarchy, the celestial bodies become more luminous and time slows down. Time is slower on the moon than it is on the earth, and slower on the sun than it is on the moon, and so forth up the hierarchy of celestial bodies until you come to Kolob, which has the slowest time of all and governs the entire visible universe that we can see when we look up at the stars at night. This should make Kolob pretty easy to identify by modern astronomers, one would think.
Kolob has two companion stars that together basically comprise a celestial first presidency, then there are twelve moving stars like a celestial Quorum of Twelve Apostles, and twelve fixed stars like a celestial high council. The whole universe is structured like the priesthood of the Church, and the primacy of Kolob over the universe is cosmic evidence of the primacy of Joseph Smith over the Church. Not only did this egomaniac write himself into the Bible, but he also wrote himself into the literal stars through his scriptures.
But, another thing that absolutely cannot escape our skeptical eye is the term Kolob itself. From where did Jo get this unique and odd term? He probably picked it up during his first round of Hebrew studies after the Egyptian papyri were purchased. Hebrew is an efficient language of consonants, meaning translators are responsible for putting in the vowels they best estimate to match the meaning of the original author. That means Kolob in Hebrew would just be KLB, which translates to dog. This has led Mormons to speculate that Kolob is actually sirius, or Alpha Canis Majoris, also called “the Dog Star”, as it’s the brightest star in the night sky. You can see it in the night sky by tracing the three stars of Orion’s Belt that form a line to the nose of Canis Majoris, which is the Dog Star. From that passage in the Book of Abraham claiming Kolob is the brightest star was just Jo using the Hebrew word for Canis Majoris and saying “God lives there” while pointing at the brightest star in the sky. However, where I find this to be interesting is where the term klb or “Dog” comes up in the Bible. In the Bible, dogs are always defiled and dirty creatures. In Deuteronomy ch 23:18 we find where dogs are held in regard as low as prostitutes. KJV
Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore, or the price of a dog, into the house of the LORD thy God for any vow: for even both these are abomination unto the LORD thy God.
Basically, if you’re making a money offering to god as tithing, you better not make your money by being a sex worker, or give him the price a dog costs? That doesn’t seem right. Well, let’s look at the NIV translation of the same verse to see if klb can take on a different meaning.
You must not bring the earnings of a female prostitute or of a male prostitute into the house of the LORD your God to pay any vow, because the LORD your God detests them both.
When the Book of Abraham was published and the passage we read earlier was actually fleshed out, polygamy was being practiced among the closest acolytes of the prophet; he’d soon write the revelation that the only men who ascend to become gods are those with multiple wives. Yes… Joseph Smith said that god grew up on a planet nearest the star… gigolo. Not only does god have probably millions of wives that we don’t talk about because we may or may not have the same heavenly mother from one dude, but god grew up on a planet ruled by the star male sex worker.
Did… did Jo just get us all? Was that deliberate? The word Kolob had to come from somewhere in his brain… Like… did he just send a signal to everybody in the future who’d study him? Was that one of the mysteries to his kingdom that only those with spiritual eyes could see? If so, that’s boldfaced egotism if ever I did see it in all my days studying this hubris-filled narcissist.
After moving to Missouri, one project Joe worked on there in 1838 was an official history of his life. Moses had the Book of Moses, Abraham had the Book of Abraham, Nephi had the Book of Nephi. This was Joe Smith’s Book of Joe Smith. He used it to construct an epic legend of his life and to smooth over some rough spots in his personal autobiography. And when I say smooth over some rough spots, I mean he totally revised and fabricated facts about his life and apologists have been shouldered with the unenviable task of harmonizing the plot holes ever since.
I can think of no greater example of historical revisionism than Joseph Smith’s first-vision account. From his first iteration in 1832 to this official 1839 version that’s canonized as Mormon scripture in the Pearl of Great Price, dozens of important foundational claims are wildly different and the first vision serves to be a catalyst for many people losing their Mormon faith. Eps 19, 24, 32, 33.
Joe had written his first account of the First Vision in 1832. According to this account, he felt convicted of his sins, and he couldn’t find a church that matched the one he had read about in the New Testament, so he prayed and “the Lord” appeared and forgave him of his sins. This 1832 story was already an evolution from the first dictated account written by Ollie which became Book of Commandments Ch 24, or modern D&C section 20.
For, after it truly was manifested unto this first elder [Joseph Smith], that he had received a remission of his sins, he was entangled again in the vanities of the world;
But after truly repenting, God ministered unto him by an holy angel, whose countenance was as lightning, and whose garments were pure and white above all whiteness, and gave unto him commandments which inspired him from on high, and gave unto him power, by the means which were before prepared, that he should translate a book;
There’s absolutely nothing in there about God or Jesus appearing, just god ministering to Jo through a supremely white angel who’s unnamed and doesn’t determine whether it was a resurrected being or a spirit. Jo wouldn’t come up with the handshake litmus test for true or familiar spirits for another few years. This is actually the first dictated version of the first vision, but it wasn’t published until 1833, making his own 1832 account generally agreed to be the first first vision account. But even from his 1830 dictation of his revelation to the 1832 version he wrote by his own hand we see legendary evolution to serve a false narrative of divine sanction when no such thing ever actually happened.
He wrote his second account in 1835. In this version it wasn’t his sins that bothered him; it was that he couldn’t decide which church was true. So he went to the woods and prayed about it, but he encountered some kind of demonic opposition that swelled his tongue in his mouth so he couldn’t speak, and he heard footsteps approaching from behind him. Cotton mouth is an annoying side effect some of us are all too familiar with. On his third attempt to pray, he finally broke free of the demonic influence and called out in mighty prayer. A pillar of fire appeared, and a “personage” told him his sins were forgiven and Jesus is the son of God. He also saw many angels. The 1832 account hadn’t mentioned the demonic attack, the pillar of fire, or the angels.
And finally, in 1838, he gave the version in his official history. This version starts the same way as the 1835 account: he was trying to figure out which church is true, so he prayed in the woods, and his tongue swelled in his mouth. But instead of hearing footsteps behind him, in this version he saw darkness all around him. He had his breakthrough moment and saw a pillar of light, but in this version there were two personages in the light rather than just one, and “One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” Joe asked the personages which of the churches is true, and
I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”
Boy, God and Jesus sure have a lot to say in this version that Joe apparently neglected to mention in 1832 and 1835. And, wait… God and Jesus? Why do we suddenly have two personages when in the previous versions it was just one? Jesus was there with his dad, and you just forgot to mention that? And where did the pantheon of angels go?
With these few conflicting details about the nature of god, I’m barely even scratching the surface of the historical revisionism that Joe does in his official history. The details of his vision of Moroni change, too. In some versions, he gives the angel’s name as Nephi, not Moroni! JOE! The angel told you his name, and you can’t keep it straight? Was it Nephi or Moroni??? In the span of 7 years in New York and Kirtland, Jo not only changed the very words of god in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and Bible, but he even changed the very nature of god from a single personage in the sky, to legions of angels, to god again, to god and Jesus in corporeal form, and forgot the name of the angel who appeared to him who happened to be an integral character in the Book of Mormon narrative and how the plates got buried in New York for Jo to translate to begin with. You think George R.R. Martin ever mixes up Ned Stark with Jon Snow in his interviews? It was never Joseph Smith himself who made the mistake, it was the author of the Evening and the Morning Star article… okay… That’s Ollie; You think George R.R. Martin’s writing assistant ever mixes up Ned Stark and Jon Snow?
All of these inconsistencies wouldn’t be a problem if Jo’s latest story wasn’t canonized scripture because scripture is supposed to be God's word and therefore perfect. But it is and now we have M. Russell Ballard standing up in General Conference offering low-rent pseudo-apologetics about his great great uncle by claiming we’re blessed to have at least 4 different accounts of the first vision. Replete throughout this era of the History of the Church we find Jo and his closest acolytes preaching about his history and how the Book of Mormon came to be. The propaganda campaign started early and the very survival of the church relied on people believing Jo’s lie. You lie for long enough to enough people and they’ll call it their sincerely-held religious belief. To fabricate a story, alter it to serve selfish ends, then canonize it as scripture, meaning the holy word of god, then convince legions of foot-soldiers to spread those lies, is an act of narcissistic self-importance that would cause Eli Bosnick to blush, and he’s utterly shameless. Sure, you were a 9/11 truther at one point, but has anybody actually verified that story? Has anybody compared his different tellings of when he first met Noah? It just beggars belief.
Moving on! We’ve already talked quite a bit about Joe’s midnight flight from Kirtland, Ohio to Far West, Missouri in December 1837, and his role in starting a war against the Missourians throughout 1838. So if you’ve listened to the rest of this series or episodes 39-50, then you already know that the Mormons had made an agreement to stay in Caldwell County, but when Joe showed up, he decided that God wanted the Saints to expand into Daviess County and establish the settlement of Adam-ondi-Ahman there. This would become a twin city Mormon headquarters to complement Far West in Caldwell County, thus expanding the tactical advantages in the coming war.
What I haven’t talked about yet is where the name Adam-ondi-Ahman comes from. On May 19, 1838, Joe visited the area where he wanted to put a settlement. Lyman Wight had already built a house there. According to the History of the Church,
We pursued our course up the river, mostly through timber, for about eighteen miles, when we arrived at Colonel Lyman Wight's home. He lives at the foot of Tower Hill (a name I gave the place in consequence of the remains of an old Nephite altar or tower that stood the[r]e), where we camped for the Sabbath. In the afternoon I went up the river about half a mile to Wight's Ferry, accompanied by President Rigdon, and my clerk, George W. Robinson, for the purpose of selecting and laying claim to a city plat near said ferry in Daviess County, township 60, ranges 27 and 28, and sections 25, 36, 31, and 30, which the brethren called "Spring Hill," but by the mouth of the Lord it was named Adam-ondi-Ahman, because, said He, it is the place where Adam shall come to visit his people, or the Ancient of Days shall sit, as spoken of by Daniel the Prophet.
That bit about this being the place where Adam will come to sit in judgment in the last days is canonized in LDS scripture as D&C 116. But there’s more. Not only was this a Book of Mormon location with an old Nephite altar, not only was it the place where Adam would return in the last days, but it was also the place where Adam and Eve offered sacrifices after they were expelled from the Garden of Eden. According to Heber C. Kimball on pages 209-210 of The Life of Heber C. Kimball,
The Prophet Joseph called upon Brother Brigham, myself and others, saying, “Brethren, come, go along with me, and I will show you something,” He led us a short distance to a place where were the ruins of three altars built of stone, one above the other, and one standing a little back of the other, like unto the pulpits in the Kirtland Temple, representing the order of three grades of Priesthood; “There,” said Joseph, “is the place where Adam offered up sacrifice after he was cast out of the garden.” The altar stood at the highest point of the bluff. I went and examined the place several times while I remained there.
Listen. Joe wanted to put a settlement here, but he knew that his people had made an agreement not to. So he had to give them really good reasons to feel like this land belonged to them, no matter what they had agreed to with the Missourians. So he came up with stories about Nephites and Adam and Eve having lived here. Once again, You’re making stuff up again, Joseph. He did this all the time, on the spot, to serve short-sighted ends and those lies have forced over a century and a half of apologists to try to harmonize and figure out exactly how the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri, while all the descendants of Adam and Eve were Israelites in the middle east. Some say everything in the bible before the flood actually happened in America and Noah’s ark was built here, only to convey Noah to Mount Ararat when the flood was over and the reset button was hit for all life on earth. Or maybe once they left the Garden of Eden they wandered across the Atlantic Ocean all the way to modern-day Jerusalem before they had Cain and Abel. Maybe the spaceship that brought Jehovah, Peter, James, and John here just picked up Adam and Eve and plopped them down in northern Africa as a courtesy. I suppose pesky little facts like the Bible narrative itself don’t much matter when you’re making your own militant Christian cult.
The fact of the matter is, Joe didn’t think he had to abide by any agreements with the Missourians, because he thought he was invincible. Here’s an excerpt from a sermon he gave during the Missouri Mormon War that resulted from his decision to expand into Daviess County. This is from the History of Reed Peck.
We have yielded to the mob in Dewitt and now they are preparing to strike a blow in Daviess, but I am determined that we will not give another foot and I care not how many come against us, 10 or 10000 God will send his angels to our deliverance and we can conquer 10000 as easily as 10[!]
Joe clearly had delusions of single-handedly fighting off entire armies with nothing but his god-power-infused fisticuffs. Obviously no angels showed up, though, and Joe got a wake-up call when thousands of state militiamen surrounded Far West ready to exterminate every single Mormon. Fortunately for Joe’s followers, he came to his senses and realized that he couldn’t win this fight through sheer force of ego. He ordered his troops to lay down their arms and surrendered the town, immediately sending a messenger to Adam-Ondi-Ahman instructing the leadership there to do the same. A military leader worth his salt doesn’t buckle before a shot is fired in the actual battle. Jo was a poser and his entire public persona required he never break that prideful facade.
In Illinois Joe had a couple encounters that reminded him of Michael Chandler showing up in Kirtland with the Egyptian papyri and mummies, and he tried to duplicate his earlier success with the Book of Abraham. Unfortunately for Joe, both of these encounters were hoaxes designed to expose him for the fraud he was, and in his arrogance he fell for both of them.
In the first case, a contemporary critic of Joseph Smith named Henry Caswell picked up a copy of the March 1842 Times and Seasons, in which was printed the Book of Abraham and the facsimiles from which the Book of Abraham was supposedly translated. Caswell, a professor and reverend, donned regular street clothes and embarked upon a journey to Nauvoo. Caswell had on his person a copy of a Greek Psalter-- in other words, a manuscript of the book of Psalms from the Bible, written in Greek. The one Caswell had with him he estimated to be from about the 1200s C.E.
The day he arrived he toured the city. At Newell K. Whitney’s store he “mentioned that I had been informed that Mr. Smith possessed some remarkable Egyptian curiosities, which I wished to see. I added that, if Mr. Smith could be induced to show me his treasures, I would show him in return a very wonderful book which had lately come into my possession.” He showed the worm-eaten book to the storekeeper and a group of spectators, one of whom “declared that he knew it to be a revelation from the Lord, and that probably it was one of the lost books of the Bible providentially recovered. Looking at me with a patronizing air, he assured me that I had brought it to the right place to get it interpreted, for that none on earth but the Lord's Prophet could explain it, or unfold its real antiquity and value.” The storekeeper agreed to set up a meeting between Caswell and Joe.
When Caswell went to meet Joe, a crowd gathered, clamoring to see the book.
I met Joseph Smith at a short distance from his dwelling, and was regularly introduced to him by the storekeeper. . . . On entering the house, chairs were provided for the prophet and myself, while the curious and gaping spectators remained standing. I handed the book to the prophet, and begged him to explain its contents. He asked me if I had any idea of its meaning. I replied, that I believed it to be a Greek Psalter; but that I should like to hear his opinion. "No he said; "it ain't Greek at all, except, perhaps, a few words. What ain't Greek, is Egyptian; and what ain't Egyptian, is Greek. This book is very valuable. It is a dictionary of Egyptian Hieroglyphics." Pointing to the capital letters at the commencement of each verse, he said: Them figures is Egyptian hieroglyphics; and them which follows, is the interpretation of the hieroglyphics, written in the reformed Egyptian. Them characters is like the letters that was engraved on the golden plates."
Joe offered to buy the book, which was worth nothing to Caswell, since he couldn’t read it. Caswell declined and said the book was worth many hundred dollars. He also declined to lend the book to Joe. Caswell then wrapped up the book and asked Joe to show him the Egyptian papyrus.
He [Joe] produced the glass frames which I had seen on the previous day; but he did not appear very forward to explain the figures. I pointed to a particular hieroglyphic, and requested him to expound its meaning. No answer being returned, I looked up, and behold! the prophet had disappeared. The Mormons told me that he had just stepped out, and would probably soon return. I waited some time, but in vain: and at length descended to the street in front of the store. Here I heard the noise of wheels, and presently I saw the prophet in a light waggon, flourishing his whip and driving away as fast as two fine horses could draw him. As he disappeared from view, enveloped in a cloud of dust, I felt that I had turned over another page in the great book of human nature.
I think we all get that sense occasionally when we study the life of Joseph Smith. After Caswell’s interaction with Jo and Jo quickly fleeing the scene of his own stupidity, Caswell approached Willard Richards about the scenario, to which White-out Willard said, “sometimes Mr. Smith speaks as a prophet, and sometimes as a mere man.” This story highlights Jo’s arrogance and the ability of his friends to cover for his lies. It didn’t matter the subject, Jo always had to be the most knowledgeable in the room about it. Then, when he clearly lied, people like White-out Willard were there to equivocate and excuse the behavior. Millions have fallen into line behind these lies to protect the precious name of a conceited man whose only abilities where he excelled were habitually lying.
The second hoax happened the following year, in 1843. It was perpetrated by a man named Wilbur Fugate and his two friends, Robert Wiley and Bridge Whitton. These guys were 3 jolly gents living in a town near Nauvoo called Kinderhook, Illinois, right near Quincy where the saints first settled after the Missouri exodus. Similar to Caswell, these guys devised a plan to lure Jo into a trap to make him look a fool. However, these three weren’t satisfied with presenting a simple Greek Psalter to the self-proclaimed prophet and seeing what happened, they took it to the next level. Wilbur Fugate had some level of metallurgical expertise. He, along with Wiley and Whitton made a set of six plates and used some chemicals to etch them, making them appear ancient to untrained eyes. On April 16, 1843, they put their plan into play. They claimed to have found the plates in an Indian burial mound near Kinderhook, along with the skeleton of a nine-foot-tall giant. Then they took them to Nauvoo to show them to the almighty prophet who could translate unknown languages.
In his journal for May 7, 1843, Joe recorded, “In the forenoon I was visited by several gentlemen, concerning the plates which were dug out [of] a mound near Kinderhook. Sent by W[illia]m Smith to the office for Hebrew Bible and Lexicon.” An anonymous letter published in the New York Herald says, “The plates are evidently brass, and are covered on both sides with hyerogliphics. He compared them in my presence with his Egyptian alphabet, which he took from the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated, and they are evidently the same characters. He therefore will be able to decipher them.” And the Times and Seasons reported, “President Joseph has translated a portion, and says they contain the history of the person with whom they were found; and he was a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom through the ruler of heaven and earth.”
It was all a trap and Joe got suckered by this hoax and offered a preliminary interpretation of the plates. Now, the apologists will point out that he apparently used a Hebrew Lexicon and the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar, so he was translating by secular means rather than by divine revelation. But that just pushes the problem back a step, because where did the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar come from? Supposedly by revelation in 1835 when the papyri were first acquired. The reality is that either Jo could translate unknown languages or he couldn’t. He said he could do it and he was wrong. At best he perceived himself with delusions of grandeur, at worst it was yet another lie to keep his people interested and invested in the cult with living and expanding doctrine and theology.
What I find even more fascinating about this story is that the hoaxers didn’t reveal the fraud, because they were waiting for Joe to produce a translation, and he never got around to it before he died. If the Mormons had pushed him to actually produce the translation, there’s no telling what might be contained in the resulting scripture just like the Book of Abraham. In 1879, Wilbur Fugate finally appeared back on the scene with an affidavit that he had colluded with the two other guys to fabricate the plates, and explained how they did it. The great thing about this is that the apologists didn’t believe him. They attacked his character and continued to insist that the plates were authentic as late as 1980. A chemical analysis was finally done, and the Ensign magazine admitted the plates were a forgery in 1981. So much for Joe’s gift of translation, and so much for the credibility of Mormon apologetic “thinkers” like Hugh Nibley and his cabal of sophists. Ep 143.
Despite his flirtation with the Greek Psalter and the Kinderhoax Plates, in Illinois Joe wrote fewer scriptures than he had earlier in his life. Instead, he mostly couched new doctrines in his sermons and temple rituals to smaller and smaller groups of people he knew he could trust.
At the October 1841 General Conference, Joe delivered a sermon in which he introduced the doctrine of baptism for the dead. Joe considered Mormon baptism to be a requirement for exaltation, so that raised the problem of what happens to loved ones who have died without the opportunity for Mormon baptism like Jo’s older brother, Alvin. Baptism for the dead solved the problem by allowing a living person to be baptized for, and in behalf of, a deceased person. The person who stands proxy becomes a savior for their dead loved ones. Here are some quotes from the record of this sermon in the History of the Church:
He presented baptism for the dead as the only way that men can appear as saviors on Mount Zion. . . . There is a way to release the spirit of the dead; that is by the power and authority of the Priesthood—by binding and loosing on earth. This doctrine appears glorious, inasmuch as it exhibits the greatness of divine compassion and benevolence in the extent of the plan of human salvation. . . .
This gives you an idea of the direction that Joe’s theology is going. Humans can be saviors. We have the power by the authority of the priesthood to make decrees here on earth that God is obligated to follow in heaven. This is a very human-centered theology. I forget, why do other Christians consider Mormons to be anti-Christ? There was, however, a catch after Jo had introduced the doctrine because he recognized it could be leveraged as a tool to make the Mormons work harder on his own pet projects.
President Joseph Smith then announced, “There shall be no more baptisms for the dead, until the ordinance can be attended to in the font of the Lord’s House; and the Church shall not hold another general conference, until they can meet in said house. For thus saith the Lord!”
His parting words are crucial to understanding why baptisms for the dead was used as leverage. He said we MUST perform baptisms for the dead to get our own salvation and to provide proxy salvation, but those baptisms, which had been done in the Mississippi River prior to this point, could now only be performed in the House of the Lord, the Temple. No more Necromancy for the Mormons until they finish building the temple. No more salvation for the Mormons and no more General Conferences until a great and spacious building is constructed. And then he capped off this coercive screed with a “thus saith the Lord” to really drive the point home that he wasn’t speaking as a man when he was leveraging the salvation of the Mormons. This is how Joe motivated people to do what he wanted: by holding their dead relatives and their own celestial progression hostage. But no, Joseph Smith was prophet of the restoration because it was what the lord wanted for his people in this dispensation, it’s all part of his plan; it had absolutely nothing to do with Jo’s own ego.
In Nauvoo Joe also introduced his temple rituals. But before we get to that, we need to discuss Mormonism and Freemasonry, because Freemasonry is essential context for understanding Joe’s temple rituals. Ep 100.
Freemasonry is a fraternal secret society, basically a club for dudes that involves various myths and rituals, and oaths of loyalty and secrecy. It was first created in about the 14th century, although it claims to date all the way back to the time of the biblical king Solomon and the construction of his temple. The first official American Masonic lodge was formed in 1731 in Pennsylvania. Many of the founding fathers were Masons as were a number of the enlightenment philosophers from whom the founding fathers drew their inspiration. Many politicians since the foundation of the country have been Masons or have had friends who were Masons. Masonic lodges are a great place to meet people and share ideas and viewpoints a person otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to. It’s also a place to pass around the mysteries of the universe in its many forms. Masonry is the school while fields of esoteric knowledge are the curricula.
Joseph Smith’s father and 2 of his uncles were universalists and Masons. With uncles Asael Smith, John Smith, and father Joseph Smith Sr. being so wrapped up in Masonry, Universalism, and the occult, Joseph was literally surrounded by Masons during his most formative years as a child and teenager. Even Hyrum, Jo’s older brother, became a Mason in New York in the 1820s and spelled his name HIRAM instead of HYRUM until pretty late in his life, which is an homage to the central figure of the Masonic passion narrative. That’s why we call him Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff Smith. Then, something extremely prominent and public occurred in Joseph’s own backyard. A guy named William Morgan wrote an expose of Freemasonry, in which he shared some of the organization’s secrets. Some Masons allegedly kidnapped him and probably murdered him in retaliation. There was a huge wave of anti-Masonic sentiment in Joe’s neighborhood, and even the formation of an anti-Masonic political party that enjoyed some success in the next few elections. Lots of Masonic lodges shut down, and the conspiracy theories that spread about Masonry still reverberate in our popular culture to this day. Jo ended up marrying William Morgan’s widow in 1838, Lucinda Pendleton Morgan, who, herself, was a public figure in the anti-Masonry movement and enjoyed some public notoriety for her speeches.
The Book of Mormon and Book of Moses contain language that has been interpreted as anti-Masonic. For instance, the Book of Mormon condemns “secret combinations,” which was a favorite phrase of the anti-Masonic movement. And the Book of Moses describes an ancient conspiracy between Cain and Satan in which they covenanted to “commit murder and get gain.” Cain took the title “Master Mahan,” which evoked the Masonic title of “Master Mason,” because Jo was the O.G. Mormon who was so good with nicknames. However, for the rest of his career, Joe was very positive towards Masonry. So it’s tough to reconcile the Book of Mormon’s anti-Masonry with Joe’s interest in Masonry. D. Michael Quinn straight-up denies that the Book of Mormon is anti-Masonic, but his is a bit of a fringe view. Other historians think Joe was part of a reformist movement within Masonry that affirmed true Masonry while condemning what the reformers called “spurious Masonry.”
Whatever his reasons for writing anti-Masonry rhetoric into the Book of Mormon, Joe later used a lot of Masonic language and symbolism in Kirtland and Missouri and even became a Master Freemason himself in Nauvoo. For instance, Joe’s Danite organization in Missouri seems to have had Masonic parallels. Historian Todd Compton writes in the book Fire and Sword,
Descriptions of Danite signs and countersigns often employed Masonic terminology. The Masonic ideal was that a Mason in danger would make a Masonic sign or speak a Masonic word or phrase; then fellow Masons would recognize this signal and come to his aid. The Danite signs and passwords served exactly the same functions and were used in this way during the election “knock-down” at Gallatin. . . . Given Smith’s extensive interest in Masonry at Nauvoo, it is possible that Masonic aspects of Danitism are a pre-Nauvoo example of Smith’s interest in the Masonic ritual. . . . It should be remembered that Lucinda Pendleton Morgan Harris (wife of George W. Harris, a prominent member of the Far West High Council), was the widow of Masonic “martyr” William Morgan, who had published the first exposé of the Masonic rite. The Joseph Smith family stayed with the Harrises when they first arrived in Far West.
In Illinois, Joe became close friends with John C. Bennett and Lucius Scovil, both Freemasons. In 1841, Scovil tried to get a lodge in Quincy, Illinois to sponsor the creation of a lodge in Nauvoo. The Quincy lodge refused. Normally you wouldn’t be able to open a lodge without sponsorship, but the following year on March 15, 1842, Illinois Grand Master Abraham Jonas waived the rule and granted Nauvoo a "special dispensation" to organize. He also made Joseph Smith and his counselor, Sidney Rigdon, "Masons at sight." He probably did this on the promise that the Mormons would vote for him for public office. He raised Joe directly to third or “sublime” degree of Master Mason and appointed him “Grand Chaplain” of the lodge. Eventually about 1500 men joined the Nauvoo lodge, compared to about 150 per lodge in the rest of Illinois. Everything about the Nauvoo lodge was irregular, and it infuriated Masons all over the rest of Illinois. By 1844, the number of Master Masons in Nauvoo outnumbered the Masons in the rest of the state of Illinois. The obvious endgame with making so many Mormon men Masons was for political gains and elevating Nauvoo to national notoriety among other Masons throughout the nation. With the Nauvoo Lodge so large, Jo became one of the most powerful Masons in the nation, and he must have absolutely delighted in that fact.
About 7 weeks after Joe received the Masonic mysteries, he introduced the Nauvoo endowment ceremony. Historian Fawn Brodie argued on page 279 of her book No Man Knows My History,
The Mormon Temple endowment ceremony is without a doubt taken from the Masonic ceremonies Joseph Smith participated in just weeks before he introduced the temple endowment. The grips, tokens, covenants, secret words, keys, etc. were word for word the same when first introduced. Members who were Masons previous to Joseph joining the fraternal order unashamedly referred to the Mormon endowment as "celestial masonry."
A contemporary account lends some insight into the Joseph’s mentality behind appropriating the Masonic rituals for the temple endowment ceremony. In a letter from Heber the Creeper Kimball to P-cubed Parley Parker Pratt, he said the following: “Bro Joseph Ses[says] Masonary was taken from preasthood but has become degen[e]rated. But menny things are perfect.”
I won’t get into all the similarities, but here are just a few examples. The main symbols of Masonry are the compass and the square. A compass and square are also cut into the Mormon temple garment. The handshakes are almost exactly the same as are the five points of fellowship. Masonic initiates are given a new name, and so are Mormon initiates. The Masonic ceremony included an oath of secrecy and a penalty sign where you drew your thumb across your throat to indicate what would happen to you if you spilled the fraternity’s secrets, and the Mormon endowment used a very similar oath and penalty sign. I could go on, but the oath and penalty are maybe the most important part, because this is the piece of Masonry that Joe cared most about. He once declared that “the secret of Masonry is to keep a secret.” He was trying to teach his followers to keep his secrets, especially polygamy and world domination.
On 4 May 1842, Jo as the Highest of Priests and Master of Ceremonies, along with his brother Hyrum, likely as the Senior Grand Warden or some other similarly named position, gathered 9 fellow master Masons; James Adams, Heber the Creeper Kimball, William Law, William Marks, George Miller, White-out Willard Richards, Father Newel K. Whitney, and Bloody Brigham Young and performed the first temple passion play. These 9 men Jo and Hyrum initiated in the first week of May 1842 would come to be known as The Anointed Quorum, the Holy Order, or the Holy Order of the Anointed. This quorum was the most secretive and esoteric group Jo had ever created in his entire ministry.
The endowment ritual involved passing through several degrees. In the first and second degrees, the initiates were washed and anointed with oil infused with plants and given garments to wear. In the third and fourth degrees there was a reenactment of the Creation of the world and the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The fifth degree portrayed a Protestant minister conspiring with the devil to destroy Mormonism. The sixth degree included the oaths and penalties. And in the seventh degree, the initiates symbolically entered a room which represented the celestial kingdom, where they’re crowned king and queen, and taught Mormonism’s deepest mysteries such as the doctrine of polygamy. Joe wins them over with the flattery of crowning them kings and queens, a little sugar to make the medicine go down. Eps 108, 110, 111.
A year after he created the Holy Order and introduced the endowment ritual, Joe also introduced another ritual called the Second Anointing. The Second Anointing gives you guaranteed salvation. Those with the second anointing will go to the highest level of the celestial kingdom and get their own planet unless they shed innocent blood, that’s the only disqualifier. Killing an innocent person was and is the only thing which would bar these called and elected saints from the celestial kingdom, and luckily the Church leadership designates who is and is not innocent.
A brief note on secrecy in general. When a person like Joseph Smith with as much social clout as he carried creates exclusive groups, it encourages competition among his followers to prove their worth to the prophet, and thereby gain access to the exclusive groups. There’s an inherent coercion that takes place here and it also self-selects for only the most loyal people to surround the prophet at any given time. With enough years of these exclusive and secretive groups and Jo is surrounded exclusively with people who will do whatever he says no matter how insane or immoral. People wonder how Jo was able to get people to coerce young girls into celestial marriage, assassinate people, keep secret the designs of the impending Mormon revolution of America, and so many other illegal, immoral, and outright vile practices; the only people who were given this knowledge aspired to be granted that information after exhibiting unyielding loyalty to the prophet for years. In many ways, for a person like Jo, this was always his dream; to have a group of close followers who hung on his every word as if it came from god himself. It takes a dangerous combination of charisma and conceit to create this human phenomena. Jo was far from the first or last to accomplish it, but he is a spectacular example of how these psychological mechanisms play out. Exclusivity centered around a cult of personality, especially a religious personality, exalts the person who leads the group to be far greater than human to the point that he can do no wrong and anything he desires is not only the most important thing in the world, but the very will of god. A thousand hit-pieces could be written about him and nothing would shake the loyalty of these dedicated brainwashed followers. #Jo2020, amiright?
All of this temple stuff ultimately culminated in the doctrine of exaltation, so let’s go ahead and discuss that even though we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves in our timeline, but it fits thematically. In 1844 Joe gave a famous sermon called the King Follett Discourse in which he laid this doctrine out. Eps 193, 194, 195. It’s called the King Follett Discourse because it was delivered at the funeral of a guy named King Follett. After a lengthy and nonsensical introduction… listeners of this show have no idea what that’s like..., Joe jumps right into it by introducing the idea that before the world was created, a plan was laid “in the midst of the Council of the Eternal God of all other gods.” Obviously the idea that there’s more than one god was pretty heretical to Protestant Christians, but this had been brewing in Joe’s head for a while. During his Hebrew studies he had picked up on the fact that the creation story in the Bible uses the plural form of the word “God.” His Jewish Hebrew teacher had told him this was like the royal “we,” but Joe wasn’t buying it. He thought the creation story was teaching polytheism. Eventually he would adopt the term Elohim to refer to god, which is the pluralized version of the Hebrew “El,” meaning god. The Mormon god is literally just a pluralized form of a generic term used in Hebrew to refer to many different gods. And yes, YahWeh isn’t the only god in the Bible. He’s just a jealous war god the Isrealites really liked because they were bloodthirsty monsters who frequently committed genocide at YahWeh’s command.
Next Joe asks a rhetorical question: “what kind of a being is God?” He basically says this is the most important question religion can answer, and I’m going to answer it for you. If I fail, then it’s my duty to renounce all pretensions to being a prophet. But if I succeed, “let every man and woman henceforth put their hand on their mouth and never say any thing against the man of God again.” In other words, if you find my teachings inspirational then you should shut up and never complain about any of the crimes I commit or the fact that I’m raping your daughters. Then Joe lays out his key idea:
First, God himself, who sits enthroned in yonder heavens, is a man like unto one of yourselves, that is the great secret. If the vail was rent to-day, and the great God, who holds this world in its orbit, and upholds all things by his power; if you were to see him to-day, you would see him in all the person, image and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion and image of God; Adam received instruction, walked, talked and conversed with him, as one man talks and communes with another.
Why do other Christians consider Mormonism anti-Christ again? Maybe it’s stuff like this about their precious eternal incorporeal modulistic trifecta thingy who birthed himself only to kill himself to save his creation from himself.
. . . I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined that God was God from all eternity. These are incomprehensible ideas to some, but they are the simple and first principles of the gospel, to know for a certainty the character of God, that we may converse with him as one man with another, and that God himself; the Father of us all dwelt on an earth the same as Jesus Christ himself did, and I will show it from the Bible.
So God has a human body because he was once just a mortal man who lived on an earth like ours, nearest the star gigolo I might add, and at some point he became God. And that’s not all, because you can be a god too:
You have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves; to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done; by going from a small degree to another, from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you are able to sit in glory as doth those who sit enthroned in everlasting power. . . . [The Bible says] they shall be heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. What is it? to inherit the same glory, the same power and the same exaltation, until you ascend the throne of eternal power the same as those who are gone before. What did Jesus do? why I do the things I saw my Father do when worlds came rolling into existence. I saw my Father work out his kingdom with fear and trembling, and I must do the same; and when I get my kingdom I shall present it to my Father, so that he obtains kingdom upon kingdom, and it will exalt his glory, so that Jesus treads in his tracks to inherit what God did before; it is plain beyond disputation, and you thus learn some of the first principles of the gospel, about which so much hath been said.
So we are God’s heirs, and we will inherit the same glory and power that he has. Now, Joe was not the first person to teach something like this. This idea of becoming gods goes way back in Jewish and Christian theology. In fact, Joe may have learned about some of this from his Jewish friend Alexander Neibaur. Ep 155. It wasn’t a very popular idea in nineteenth-century America, though. Most Protestants had a theology of humility, which minimized human power in order to exalt God’s power. Joe goes the opposite direction and minimizes God’s power in order to exalt human power. Joe goes on in this sermon to lay out a bunch more ideas that exalt the human, including the idea that our spirits are self-existent, immortal, uncreated, and co-equal with God. Our spirits have existed for all eternity, and God merely “organized” them through celestial procreation with his harem of wives. An astronomer says we’re all stardust, a Mormon says we’re all god ejaculate. There’s one more quote we need to read from this sermon, from Joe’s concluding paragraph:
I have intended my remarks to all; both rich and poor, bond and free, great and small. I have no enmity against any man. I love you all. I am your best friend, and if persons miss their mark, it is their own fault. If I reprove a man and he hates me, he is a fool, for I love all men, especially these my brethren and sisters. I rejoice in bearing the testimony of my aged friends. You never knew my heart; no man knows my history; I cannot tell it. I shall never undertake it; if I had not experienced what I have, I should not have known it myself. I never did harm any man since I have been born in the world. My voice is always for peace, I cannot lie down until all my work is finished. I never think any evil, nor any thing to the harm of my fellow man.— When I am called at the trump of the ark-angel, and weighed in the balance you will all know me then… God bless you all. Amen.
I, Joseph Smith, am perfect and wouldn’t harm a fly; I’m full of love and never think any evil, and my history is too vast and great to be encompassed in words. Well, last week’s episode was all about Joe’s wrath against his enemies, so you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t buy into Joe’s boasting and outright lies here about what a great and peaceful and loving guy he was. Just a few weeks before this he published a letter in the Times and Seasons titled “A Friendly Hint to Missouri,” threatening them as the first place the great Mormon militia would begin its military campaign to burn across the nation and overthrow the government. Ep 185. Jo even sent a letter to a private revolutionary war militia known as the Green Mountain Boys asking for help with this campaign. Ep 181. How he wrapped the King Follett Discourse taps into something we’ll get into at the end of today’s episode, the question of why he is such a fascinating and enigmatic figure to study. No man knows his history, but yet millions are taught it and thousands try to truly understand it. Why? More on that later.
Joe boasted a lot during the Nauvoo years. For instance, on July 29, 1842, after once again successfully evading state authorities’ attempts to arrest him, Joe got up on the stand and preached a sermon. Here’s his account of the sermon in History of the Church 5:136:
I arose and congratulated the brethren and sisters on the victory I had once more gained over the Missourians. I had told them formerly about fighting the Missourians, and about fighting alone. I had not fought them with the sword, or by carnal weapons; I had done it by stratagem, by outwitting them, and there had been no lives lost, and there would be no lives lost if they would hearken to my counsel. [(yeah, that worked so well for the Mormons in Missouri!)] Up to this day God had given me wisdom to save the people who took counsel. None had ever been killed who abode by my counsel. At Hauns’ Mill the brethren went contrary to my counsel, if they had not, their lives would have been spared. I had been in Nauvoo all the while, and outwitted Bennett’s associates, and attended to my own business in the city all the time. We want to whip the world mentally and they will whip themselves physically. . . . Orson Pratt has attempted to destroy himself and caused all the city almost to go in search of him. . . . O. Pratt and others of the same class caused trouble by telling stories to people who would betray me, and they must believe those stories because his Wife told him so! [(RIP Sarah Pratt; you never deserved this)] I will live to trample on their ashes with the soles of my feet. . . . If oppression comes I will then show them that there is a Moses and a Joshua amongst us; and I will fight them, if they don’t take off oppression from me. I will do as I have done this time, I will run into the woods, I will fight them in my own way.
I mean, the idea that he had outwitted the Missourians during the 1838 Mormon War was pretty delusional, but the propaganda was so deeply ingrained in the collective Mormon mindset that they probably cheered when he said it. The claim that no lives were lost except for the people at Haun’s Mill was inaccurate. The boasting about being a “Joshua” when he had escaped arrest by hiding in the woods was just hilarious; yeah, Jo bravely fled into a corn patch. And the part where he makes fun of Apostle Orson Pratt for having been driven to a suicide attempt by Joe’s bad behavior? Seriously? By the way, Orson Pratt was sitting on the stand when Joe said all of this. The whole crowd was looking at Pratt as Joe made fun of his thoughts of suicide and called him a Judas and said he would trample on his ashes. Frankly, it seems like Joe wanted Orson Pratt to commit suicide, and he was trying to drive him to it. Maybe that would finally drive Sarah to the desperate ends of joining Jo’s harem. Eps 134, 138. The people in the crowd fed off this propaganda; these lies. Anybody sickened by how dishonest this had long since left the church. For everybody who remained, this was red meat to a bloodthirsty hoard of rabid animals ready to goose step behind their revolutionary supreme leader.
Here’s another “fun” one. On December 29, 1842, Joe was on his way to Springfield, Illinois. He tried to stop for the night at a tavern in the town of Paris, but the tavern-owner said the people of Paris had heard the Mormons were bad people, and had made a compact not to shelter them. Joe brags in History of the Church 5:211 about how he bullied the tavern keeper into letting him stay:
I said to him, [“]we will stay, but no thanks to you. I have men enough to take the town, and if we must freeze, we will freeze by the burning of these houses.[“] The taverns were then opened, and we were accommodated, and received many apologies in the morning.
Not only was the prophet the kind of person who would threaten to burn down your house to keep himself warm, but he was also the kind of person who thought it was cool to brag about it in his history after the Mormons had done that very thing not 5 years earlier.
Here’s another one. In 1843 when Joe sent his henchman Joseph H. Jackson to murder Missouri Governor Lilburn W. Boggs and to break Porter Rockwell out of prison after Port botched the assassination; Jackson returned having failed in both missions. Eps 144, 147. He went to Joe’s house and made his excuses, and Joe prophesied that Pistol Packin’ Porter would come home safely eventually. Then they had the following homoerotic conversation, as reported by Jackson:
Silence ensued for a few minutes, when Joe suddenly looked me full in the eye, and after gazing steadily for a few moments said. "Jackson you are the first man that I have ever met that I could not look down." Said I, "do you like a bold eye?" He replied that he did and then commenced a panegyric on himself. He said that he was a good and godly man, and that he had never known wrong in his life, for in all his acts, he was guided and protected by the power of the Holy Ghost -- that the Missourians had tried to kill him, but rifle balls could have no effect on him, for he had been shot at thirteen times in Missouri, and the balls bounded back as hail from the side of a house; and for this reason he knew the Holy Ghost was with him, and that he truly was the greatest man on the earth.
According to Jackson, Jo considered himself literally invincible, able to take every ball the Missourians could shoot at him without flinching. In due time, we’ll put that claim to the test.
In the conversation, Jo did some more bragging after his enforcers known as the “Destroying Angels” freed him from the custody of Sheriff Harmon T. Wilson and Joseph Reynolds, who arrested him in June 1843 in Dixon, Illinois.The Destroying Angels took the sheriffs into custody, and then added insult to injury by having them formally arrested for kidnapping by a Hancock County sheriff and forcing them to give up their guns. Then Joe made a triumphal entry into Nauvoo in his full regalia, like some kind of bargain bin warlord. Eps 144, 145. A Nauvoo court held a habeas corpus hearing for Joe, in which Joe’s lawyer made some completely asinine arguments, including the claim that the warrant was for a Joseph Smith Jr., but Joe had a son by the same name and thus went by Joseph Smith Sr., and therefore couldn’t be the same Joseph Smith named in the warrant. Ep 146, 147. That was actually one of his arguments. Joe went by Joseph Smith Jr. his whole life, and now he decides he wants to be called Joseph Smith Sr. when it was legally advantageous? The court remanded Joe into the custody of Nauvoo marshal Henry G. Sherwood, and Sherwood let him go. After this victory, Joe gave a sermon to brag about it with a bit more homoeroticism mixed into his scatterbrained rant.
I am well—I am hearty. I hardly know how to express my feelings—I feel strong as a giant. . . . I pulled sticks with the men coming along, and I pulled up with one hand the strongest man that could be found: then two men tried, but they could not pull me up, and I continued to pull mentally until I pulled Missouri to Nauvoo. But I will pass from that subject. . . . Relative to our city charter, courts, right of habeas corpus, . . . I wish you to know and publish that we have all power; and if any man from this time forth says anything to the contrary, cast it into his teeth[!] . . . I have dragged these men here by my hand, and will do it again; but I swear I will not deal so mildly with them again; for the time has come when forbearance is no longer a virtue: and if you or I are again taken unlawfully, you are at liberty to give loose to blood and thunder. . . . But before I will bear this unhallowed persecution any longer—before I will be dragged away again, among my enemies, for trial, I will spill the last drop of blood in my veins, and will see all my enemies IN HELL!
So Joe basically says, “I am the tug of war champion of the world, and I have beaten the whole state of Missouri at tug-of-war, and we are all powerful!” Huzzah! “And the next time I beat them in tug-of-war will be the last, because we’ll kill the bastards!” Huzzah! Classic Joe Smith. I can’t wait to test that prophecy at the end.
One of Joe’s better boasts was on May 26, 1844, when he knew the publication of the Nauvoo Expositor was about to ignite a blaze throughout the city; this screed was aimed right at the Fosters, Higbees, Laws, and Joseph H. Jackson. If you log into the Utah Lighthouse Ministries website, this quote is featured on the front page to… I guess… prove how anti-Christ Joseph Smith was and own the Morms. I think it’s funny but this stuff is really important to religious folk and people who call themselves “true Christians”. I will, however, agree with those folks when they say the modern church is everything contrary to the values in the Book of Mormon and Jesus’ teachings. Jesus was a socialist and Mormonism is the wealthiest religion in the world. Great and spacious buildings are unequivocally evil but Mormonism has 140-something temples, thousands of chapels, and owns all the largest buildings in Utah. Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple but Mormons buy garments in their great and spacious temples. Jesus hung out with people who get excommunicated from the church. Charity never faileth yet the modern church gives less than 1/10th of 1% of their income to humanitarian aid. Don’t pray in your closet, pray before every meal, public gathering, with your family before bed and after waking up, and before every church function and scout or young women’s camp like some kind of nervous tick. Don’t argue with the Pharisees, invite them to a nice dinner after they arrive on your private jet and ask them to pass a bill or tax cut for you. They have enough money to solve world hunger during a global pandemic but the rainy-day fund keeps growing as the government keeps shoveling money out to religions and corporations, leaving tens of millions unemployed without savings to fend for themselves. My overall point, claim whatever you want to be your scriptures, but at least follow them to the extent laws allow. You can’t call the menu at Fat Shack your scriptures and then lobby government to pass laws forcing everybody to be vegetarian. You can’t be a virgin Kama Sutra expert. You can’t teach the pride cycle to millions of people while so clearly teetering on the edge before the fall. You don’t get to preach racial tolerance and harmony while your god says dark skin is a curse on the lazy and unrighteous fencesitters to make them less appealing to his righteous white-skinned chosen people. What does it say about a person or institution that so quickly discards its claimed words of god when they can make a dollar doing so? Point made, let’s get to some of Jo’s final words from late May 1844, barely a month before he died in the Carthage gunfight.
I,… have been in perils, and oftener than anyone in this generation; as Paul boasted, I have suffered more than Paul did. I should be like a fish out of water if I were out of persecution; perhaps my brethren think it requires all this to keep me humble. The Lord has constituted me so curiously that I glory in persecution; I am not near so humble as if I was not persecuted. If oppression will make a wise man mad, much more a fool. If they want a beardless boy to whip all the world, I will get on the top of a mountain and crow like a rooster; I shall always beat them… Come on ye prosecutors, ye false swearers; all hell boil over; ye burning mountains roll down your lava; for I will come out on the top at last. I have more to boast of than ever any man had; I am the only man that ever has been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam; a large majority of the whole have stood by me: neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as me; the followers of Jesus ran away from him; the Latter Day Saints never ran away from me yet.
So Joe considered himself a greater man than Jesus Christ, and how can you argue with that? After all, Jesus wasn’t able to keep a church together, whereas Joe had kept a Church together for fourteen years... with just, I don’t know, maybe a major schism every two years or so where some portion of the Latter Day Saints did, indeed, run away from him or chase him out of town at the point of a bayonet and pitchfork.
But Joe’s braggadocio isn’t really the greatest sign of his arrogance. Boasting about perceived accomplishments is one thing, but the greatest sign of his arrogance surrounds his greatest ambitions. He basically made plans to overthrow all national governments and take over the world with himself at the head of his new world Mormon government. Ep 214. Here’s how Joseph H. Jackson explains Jo’s plans while Jo was running for President in 1844:
There was a Mr. Brown, formerly of Rushville, with whom I became acquainted in Nauvoo, soon after my arrival there. This man has a wonderful genius for invention, and has planned a sub-marine battery and steam fire ship, which, to all appearance, is capable of great execution. He stated to me, that he had been operating for 21 years, in perfecting this work, but had not the means to bring the matter before the nation, and that Joe made him a propusition, which had caused him to remove to Nauvoo. This proposition was, to furnish the means to take him, together with G. A. Adams and Orson Hyde, to Russia, where the invention would be laid before the Emperor; and as Joe had great faith in its success, he expected a large sum for the secret, Which Brown and Joe were to divide. This was palmed off on Brown, but was far from being Joe's real object. His real object, as he disclosed it to me, was this: He would first run for President, and thus be able to prove to the Emperor of Russia his strength in the Union. He would then send G. A. Adams, Orson Hyde, and Brown to Russia, and after the utility of the invention had been fairly proved to the Emperor, Joe's proposition to him was to be submitted: which was to form a league for the overthrow of the powers that be. Now this may seem too ridiculous for any man to imagine possible; nevertheless, no one acquainted with the excessive vanity of Joe Smith, will doubt but that he in reality believed that he could form even so preposterous a union.
What is it with narcissistic presidential candidates looking for help from Russia? Anyway, Jackson’s account of Joe’s intentions is basically confirmed by the Minutes of the Council of Fifty, which the LDS Church recently released as part of the Joseph Smith Papers Project. The Council of Fifty was to be the government of the kingdom of God, under Joseph Smith as king and president. The minute book itself is titled “Record of the Council of Fifty or Kingdom of God.” The official, revealed name of the Council of Fifty is “The Kingdom of God and His Laws with the Keys and Power[s] thereof, and Judgment in the Hands of His Servants, Ahman Christ.” Eps 168, 169, 170.
Jo always wanted to be king of a world that looked to him as sole governmental and religious authority. He aspired to become a Moses, a Mohammed, a religious prophet warlord that subjugated the American people under his arm of power only to then extend his campaign to the rest of the world. The Council of Fifty is how he planned on doing it. I can’t stress enough how important the Council of Fifty is. William Clayton, who kept the Council of Fifty’s minute book, believed the council replicated “the Grand Council amongst the Gods when the organization of this world was contemplated.” Lyman Wight called it “Grand Council of God,” and “Grand Council of Heaven,” and John D. Lee called it “councils of the Gods,” which was fitting with Mormon theology because all these dudes believed they were actually on the path toward godhood and why wait for death for such a noble position? It was also sometimes called the “Living Constitution,” because the authority of the “living” men who comprised the council trumped the authority of any “dead” document such as the US Constitution. From its infancy, Mormonism has been a revolutionary religion; that isn’t a badge of honor, it’s a declaration of misanthropy and elitist lawlessness. Ep 214.
Before the first meeting of the Council of Fifty got under way on March 11, 1844, Elder Lucian Woodworth moved that “every member of it to be bound to eternal secrecy as to what passed here, not to have the privilege of telling anything which might be talked of to any person even to our wives, and the man who broke the rule ‘should lose his cursed head.’” The motion passed unanimously. Then Joe laid out an agenda for the council, which included rewriting the US Constitution, forming alliances with the Indians, and forming an alliance with Sam Houston in New Mexico. The agenda also included searching for a place out West for the Mormons to settle. “All seemed agreed to look to some place where we can go and establish a Theocracy either in Texas or Oregon or somewhere in California &c.” And that was just the first meeting. Eps 185, 189.
A week later, on March 19, 1844, Hyrum Smith made a speech in the council in which he said “that the time was at hand when the prophecies should be fulfilled, when the nations were ready to embrace the gospel and when the ensign should be lift up and the standard to the people and he believed if we will set up the standard and raise the ensign the honest in heart of all nations will immediately begin to flock to the standard of our God.” John Taylor got up next and “referred especially to the United States[,] England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Poland, Switzerland, Germany &c… concerning the situation of the different nations of the earth showing that they were ripe to receive the truth.” At this meeting the council “Resolved that a “communication be made immediately to the General Government through our representative, Mr [John] Wentworth, specifying that General Joseph Smith will protect the Texas and Oregon from all foreign invasion if the General Government will authorise him to raise volunteers in the United States for that purpose.” Yes, I’m sure their intentions in wanting to raise an army were purely for the defense of the US. At a later meeting, on April 11, 1844, “President Joseph was voted our P[rophet] P[riest] and K[ing] with loud Hosannas.” Two days after that, Joe “prophecied the entire overthrow of this nation in a few years.” Where do apostates and non-believers exist in this Mormon theocracy? I’m reminded of the 1000 years of probation after the second coming which will be the era where Jesus reigns supreme and every knee shall bow and every tongue confess the gospel is the way, the truth, and the light. How will billions of people be taught the gospel? Reeducation prison camps of course; those who don’t convert are given to the buffetings of Satan; they are the salt who hath lost its savor, to be cast out and trodden under foot. You think a Mormon theocracy would be tolerant of any other religions or non-religious folk like yours truly? Or would we be the Labans of the world?
There were three non-Mormon members on the Council of Fifty, all of them really interesting. Marinus G. Eaton and Edward Bonney were both counterfeiters, as we discussed earlier in this series. Eaton specifically was a family friend of the Smiths from the New York era. The third was Uriah Brown. He was the inventor described by Joseph H. Jackson, the guy who Jackson said had invented a submarine. Jackson undersold it. Uriah Brown didn’t just have plans to build a submarine, but also an “invention of liquid fire to destroy an army or navy.” Clearly Joe wanted these flamethrowing submarines badly enough to let their non-Mormon inventor sit on this highly-secretive and revolutionary council.
The Council of Fifty Minutes recorded by Quilliam Claypen were plutonium, and Joe knew it. When he gave himself up for arrest and was taken to Carthage prior to the shootout, he whispered to Quilliam and “told me either to put the r[ecords] of K[ingdom] into the hands of some faithful man and send them away, or burn them, or bury them. I concluded to bury them, which I did immediately on my return home.” 7 days after Joe was killed, Quilliam dug them up. They had been damaged by water, but he reconstructed them, which is why we can benefit from reading them today. Oddly enough, the church historians redact documents that relate to temple work and sealings, but this overtly anti-American anti-human document is completely unredacted and transcribed for anybody to read at their pleasure. I encourage you to do so or listen to any episodes where we discuss the Council of Fifty. Eps 159, 163, 168, 169, 170, 189, 197, 198, 199, 201, 204, 213, 214.
Before Joe went to his death, he couldn’t resist one last defiant boast against his enemies. With Nauvoo under martial law and the Nauvoo Legion mustered in full regalia to defend the city, Joseph made his last public address as first prophet of the Mormons, which is recorded in the History of the Church and captured in a painting from the 1880s we’ve discussed a few times. He began by warning the Saints that their enemies didn’t want just his blood; they wanted the blood of all Mormons. The enemies are at the gates, only complete and total cohesion behind your prophet will save you. Then he laid out the case for Mormon innocence he’d attempt to make in letter form to Governor Ford who dismantled each argument in totality:
I call God, angels and all men to witness that we are innocent of the charges which are heralded forth through the public prints against us by our enemies; and while they assemble together in unlawful mobs to take away our rights and destroy our lives, they think to shield themselves under the refuge of lies which they have thus wickedly fabricated.
He then called upon his followers to fight alongside him.
Will you all stand by me to the death, and sustain at the peril of your lives the laws of our country, and the liberties and privileges which our fathers have transmitted unto us, sealed with their sacred blood? ([“]Aye,[“] shouted thousands.) He then said “it is well, if you had not done it I would have gone out there (pointing to the west) and would have raised up a mightier people.[“] . . . (Drawing his sword and presenting it to heaven he said)—I call God and angels to witness, that I have unsheathed my sword with a firm and unalterable determination that this people shall have their legal rights, and be protected from mob violence, or my blood shall be spilt upon the ground like water, and my body consigned to the silent tomb. While I live I will never tamely submit to the dominion of cursed mobocracy; I would welcome death rather than submit to this oppression, and it would be sweet—oh, sweet to rest in the grave rather than submit to this oppression, agitation, annoyance, confusion, and alarm upon alarm any longer. . . . I do not regard my own life; I am ready to be offered a sacrifice for this people, for what can our enemies do? Only kill the body and their power is then at an end. Stand firm, my friends; never flinch; Do not seek to save your lives; for he that is afraid to die for the truth will lose eternal life.
Why do we study Joseph Smith? What makes his legacy and story so enigmatic and appealing? What makes a charismatic figure just that, a charismatic figure? I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this and I don’t think I’ll ever figure it out. Jo refused to be a footprint in the sand. He took great pains to ensure he’d be spoken of for good and evil for generations to come. There’s something raw and human about his story that compels us to pay attention. Love him or hate him, we can’t look away from the prophet.
We’re attracted to people who are confident, especially to a fault. A person like this with absolutely no altruistic, or even redeeming, qualities can overcome any amount of negativity, internal or external, with enough hubris. A thousand hit pieces can be written about a public figure like this and their many exploits of inhumanity. People called him a modern Mahomet in a derogatory way, yet he took pride in it. People called him a heaven-daring wretch and he went on to fabricate theology other Christians consider absolute heresy. He flaunted the law and when people attempted to make him accountable he exclaimed they were denying his rights as an American citizen. We see figures so filled with brazen and unashamed confidence like Jo and we think… they must be doing something right to be so successful. We see survival benefits to these figures and attach ourselves to them in hopes that we’ll enjoy some fraction of the prosperity they have.
To bring this to a sharper point and capture the overall thesis of today’s show; Joseph Smith did a lot. He had a lot of accomplishments for which he was proud. Many of those accomplishments required flaunting laws, acquiring property and wealth from his followers, incurring debt he never intended on repaying, theft, secret combinations with death oaths for revealing those secrets, assassination squads, committing treason against the nation which granted him the liberties to form his own religion, commodifying women and sexuality to an even greater extent than the culture in which he lived; all of that is to say he was a bad guy, but he was an ambitious and successful bad guy. He was a bad guy who accomplished so much and bragged every step of the way. That arrogance, that conceit, and his inability to ever admit fault, is many ways is a key to the guy’s charisma and appeal. We love to hate people we don’t understand, especially when they revel in the fact that we can never know their history.
Just because a person is proud of their achievements or boasts about what they’ve accomplished, doesn’t say much about who they are or their character. It’s what those achievements and accomplishments are to begin with that says much more about who that person is. Jo boasted of his ability to lead a cult with no remorse and the least amount of real work necessary. He boasted about flaunting laws and never being held accountable. He boasted about raising armies and committing treason. He boasted about knowing unknown languages in the face of being repeatedly proven wrong. He boasted about the thousands of people who risked life and limb to follow him and all the suffering he forced upon them. He boasted about hiding his teenage consorts from his first wife, Emma. It’s not the boasting itself, but what the boasting is about that’s at issue.
To quote a conversation Jackson had with Jo:
He continued to talk about his wife until my anger got the better of my prudence, and I then told him, he must stop such conversation to me, and that I would not hear him rail out on so worthy a woman as I believed Emma to be, and threatened to knock him down if he did not cease. I told him he was a d--d rascal, and he thought every other man as black-hearted as himself. At the same time I accused him of living in fornication with other women, and that he especially should hold his peace in regard to Emma. To these aspersions he made no angry retort, but would not at that time own that he lived in fornication with other women, and said he was a godly man in every act, but that Emma was jealous of him. He then asked me if I had ever known him to do anything wrong with the women. I replied that I had not, but that in my opinion any man that was base enough to concoct schemes for pillage and murder as he had done, would lie with his mother if she would permit him.
I’m proud of the six years of serialized podcasting it’s taken us to get here. I hope you’re ready listeners, the time is nigh at hand to finally bury this motherfucker.
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