Saints: The Standard of Truth? (Part 2)
Following the review of the new LDS book, Saints, we wanted to do a full blown annotation of the book to show where the LDS church still refuses to be honest with members about some difficult issues. This is Part 2 of Saints, covering the time-frame between April 1830 and April 1836. If you have not read Part 1 yet, you can catch up on those chapters here.
Every day come back and we will review a new chapter -- we will do our best to point out where the church is being honest, where they are being fair, and where they are hiding and suppressing their difficult history as we've done in the LDS annotated essays.
Part Two: A House of Faith (April 1830-Aptil 1836)
Chapter Sixteen: Only a Prelude (Blacks and the Church, Tensions in Missouri, Mob Attacks)
Chapter Nine: Come Life Or Come Death
The ninth chapter of Saints is a transition chapter as Joseph Smith and the church begins the move out of New York. The early section of the chapter focuses on some of the early converts to the church including the Knight family, Parley Pratt, Brigham Young, and others. They also highlight the turmoil that Joseph Smith was facing at home, being arrested for preaching the Book of Mormon and spending a night in jail for it. Shortly after, Joseph records a revelation from God to leave the farm to focus on his new calling along with another revelation for Emma, who was struggling with the decision to leave New York.
Where this chapter gets really interesting to me is when they talk about Hiram Page's seer stone, which I give credit to Saints for discussing with more depth than other difficult historical topics so far. It is, to me, one of the most amazing elements of the early days of the church, because some of the most important members believed that Hiram Page was receiving revelation through his seer stone in the same manner that Joseph Smith claimed to receive revelation through his own.
Saints mentions that Oliver Cowdery and the Whitmers believed Hiram Page was receiving revelation. That means that two of the three witnesses believed that Hiram Page's revelations were from God, just as they believed Joseph Smith. They could not tell the difference between the spirit confirming the truthfulness of Joseph Smith or Hiram Page, which puts into question the founders of the church's ability to discern the truth.
Furthermore, this episode highlights exactly why the church has avoided Joseph Smith's use of a seer stone for over 150 years and interchanged it with the idea of the Urim and Thummim. They know how simple it sounds to use a rock found while digging a well to both translate the Book of Mormon and receive revelation, and how easy it is for anyone to do exactly what Joseph Smith was doing to claim authority over this church.
Upon hearing the news, "Joseph knew he was facing a crisis. Hiram’s revelations mimicked the language of scripture. They spoke of the establishment of Zion and the organization of the church, but at times they contradicted the New Testament and truths the Lord had revealed through Joseph."
This is a paragraph that could have been written by a critic of the church about Joseph. One of the problems with the Book of Mormon is the reliance on the King James Bible (KJV), with both the same writing style as the KJV along with translation errors that were copied directly into the Book of Mormon. We discuss this more on our annotated Book of Mormon translation essay along with our Deutero-Isaiah page, but a huge issue with the Book of Mormon is how it mimicked the language of the KJV. In addition, Joseph Smith spoke of the establishment of Zion in the Americas, which was in contradiction to many Christian views at the time.
"Unsure of what to do, Joseph stayed up praying one night, pleading for guidance. He had experienced opposition before, but not from his friends. If he acted too forcefully against Hiram’s revelations, he could offend those who believed in them or discourage faithful Saints from seeking revelation on their own. But if he did not condemn the false revelations, they could undermine the authority of the Lord’s word and divide the Saints."
One of the things we will note about Joseph Smith as we go is that he constantly makes his authority seem grander as he runs into different problems internally or externally. In this case, Joseph claims to know the revelations were false before he even received a revelation about it, which critics would note is further proof that Joseph Smith was only concerned about his authority because he knew the Lord wasn't speaking through him either.
"After many sleepless hours, Joseph received a revelation directed to Oliver. “No one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith,” the Lord declared, “for all things must be done in order, and by common consent in the church.” The Lord directed Oliver to teach this principle to Hiram."
We have commented on this before, but Joseph Smith always received prompt revelations when they are of great benefit to him personally. In this case, he was able to record a quick revelation to reestablish his authority at the top of the church and squash anyone else from trying to receive personal revelation with a stone like Joseph did. You can read a recap of the revelations that Joseph received that helped him personally on our summary page (#19). Again, from a critical standpoint this episode speaks to how fragile Joseph's authority was, and how the spirit was not strong with the early witnesses to discern what was real and what was fake.
Included in this revelation was instructions for "Oliver to go nearly a thousand miles to the western edge of the United States to preach the restored gospel to American Indians, who were remnants of the house of Israel."
At the time the Book of Mormon was written and for the next 160+ years, church leaders have told us that the Native Americans are the descendants of the Lamanites. As a matter of fact, the introduction to the Book of Mormon used to say "after thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians."
The problem for the Book of Mormon is that we now have incredibly detailed DNA testing, and in the 1990s the advancements allowed us to finally understand where the Native Americans came from, and the data shows that the Native Americans originally came from Asia during the last ice age by crossing the Bering Strait. Our annotated essay on DNA and the Book of Mormon details these issues with incredible detail, answering every possible explanation that the LDS church now gives us for this problem for the Book of Mormon.
Everything we now know is clear that the Native Americans are not from Israel, but from Asia. This prompted the church to change the introduction from "the principal ancestors of the American Indians" to "among the ancestors of the American Indians." DNA testing would argue with the changed statement as well, since all evidence points to Asia, but this is further proof that the church knows that DNA testing has completely upended the entire purpose of the Book of Mormon.
We highly encourage anyone interested in how DNA studies have impacted the Book of Mormon narrative to read our annotated Gospel Topics essay. It covers this in so much more detail, and it is crucial to understanding why it is such a tremendous problem that Joseph's revelation claims that Oliver would go to "preach the restored gospel to American Indians, who were remnants of the house of Israel."
The last section of the chapter introduces Sidney Rigdon, a Campbellite preacher from Ohio. As we will discuss in more detail going forward, Rigdon is a major contributor to Mormon theology including the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods. We discuss this in our priesthood timeline page, but the Campbellite branch spoke of these two priesthoods which were then retrofitted into LDS theology a few years after Rigdon joined the church. There are no mentions of the Aaronic or Melchizedek priesthoods before Rigdon began working closely with Joseph Smith. Again, we will detail this more as we go, but we wanted to mention this now since the priesthood restoration was featured in the last two chapters.
Chapter 10: Gathered In
The beginning of chapter ten focuses on the church finding new members, including those that were a part of Sidney Rigdon's congregation. Soon after Saints again references Oliver's revelation to "preach to the American Indians who lived beyond the western border of the United States." As we discussed in the previous chapter, we now know that the American Indians are not the Lamanites from the Book of Mormon, and while the history is correct in that the revelation Joseph received claimed that they were, science (as accepted practically unanimously by those who work in the field) tells us that the revelation that they are the descendants of Lamanites is incorrect. We won't dive deeper here since we just discussed it in chapter nine, but for a lot more information on this topic, please check out or Book of Mormon DNA annotated essay.
Once Sidney Rigdon finally meets Joseph Smith, Saints discusses how Rigdon becomes Joseph's scribe for a new project, "an inspired translation of the Bible. From the Book of Mormon, they knew that precious truths had been corrupted through the ages and taken away from the Old and New Testaments. Using a Bible that Oliver purchased from Grandin’s bookstore, they had begun to study the book of Genesis, seeking inspiration about passages that seemed incomplete or unclear."
A recent study from BYU outlined how extensively that Joseph Smith used and lifted directly from the Bible commentaries of Adam Clarke for his translation of the Bible. It is indisputable that Joseph Smith used other material for his translation of the Bible, which is in direct contradiction to the way this process is described in Saints. You can read our write-up about the plagiarism in the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible based on the BYU study here. This again fits into the trend that we have noticed of Joseph Smith continuously incorporated other source material or ideas into the evolving theology and scriptures of the church. We mentioned this in a previous chapter, but on our summary page we call this the Joseph Smith 'mixtape theory,' because it happens in many key parts of Mormonism.
Saints also discusses the Book of Moses that Joseph Smith brought forth from his translation of Genesis. There is no source material to compare to (no ancient plates, papyrus, etc), which makes the Book of Moses a work of Joseph Smith that does not get a lot of attention, but there are some issues that remain including a lot of similarities to the New Testament. We know that the Book of Moses came from Joseph's revision/translation of Genesis, but the similarities to the New Testament are interesting because they are not cited or explained. A good example of the Book of Moses' use of the New Testament is from the following write-up: "Moses 1 is dependent on the structure and content of Matthew 4 in its construction of the temptation of Moses, transforming Moses into a messianic figure in the same way the author of Matthew transforms Jesus into a new Moses. Moses 1 agrees with Matthew 4 against the temptation of Jesus found in Luke 4. This is a critical observation for understanding not only Moses 1, but in formulating one’s approach to interpreting it. The connections between Moses 1 and Matthew 4 can be summarized with the following: Moses 1:1=Matt. 4:8 (“up into an exceeding high mountain”); Moses 1:12=Matt. 4:9; 15:9; Mark 7:7; Luke 4:7 (Satan says “worship me”); Moses 1:15=Matt. 4:9; Luke 4:7 (“Worship God for him only shalt thou serve”); Moses 1:17=Matt. 4:9 (“and worship me”); Moses 1:18=Matt. 4:9 (“Depart hence, Satan”); Moses 1:19=Matthew 4:9 (“worship me”); Moses 1:20=Matt. 4:10 (“Depart hence, Satan”); and Moses 1:21=Matthew 4:10 (“Depart hence, Satan”). The rest of the chapter is sprinkled with language that is shared among the gospels, some that is unique to the gospel of John, and language from the rest of the NT and OT." (Source Criticism and the Books of Moses and Abraham, Brooks)
One argument that apologists make about the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (JST) and Book of Moses is that these two works were not translated since there was no source material, but Saints specifically says "at the end of December, the Lord instructed Joseph and Sidney to pause their work on the translation." This again confirms that the JST is considered a translation by revelation from God, which is problematic due to the heavy use on other source materials including the Adam Clarke Bible commentaries.
Joseph Smith then records a revelation that the church should move to Ohio, which was difficult for the early members who would take losses on their property by selling quickly to make the journey to Ohio. As many members struggled with the idea of moving to Ohio after such losses, Joseph claims another revelation which states that the Lord said “I hold forth and deign to give unto you greater riches, even a land of promise,” the Lord declared, “and I will give it unto you for the land of your inheritance, if you seek it with all your hearts.”
It might seem like a small thing, but we do want to point out where Joseph Smith was able to receive revelation quickly whenever his authority seemed questioned. This revelation is also pretty amazing because as we will soon learn, many Saints lost everything in Ohio when Joseph's Kirtland "anti-bank" fails. We will discuss that more later, but the revelation that the Lord wanted the members to know that he would "give unto you greater riches" if they moved to Ohio is certainly questionable given what we know about church history following this revelation.
We discussed Hiram Page and how he was getting revelation from his seer stone in chapter 9, but it needs to be noted that many early members to the church were from a magical worldview. Saints makes this point in the following paragraph: "Some of the Saints in Kirtland took their beliefs to wild extremes, reveling in what they took to be gifts of the Spirit. Several people claimed to have visions they could not explain. Others believed the Holy Ghost made them slide or scoot across the ground. One man bounced around rooms or swung from ceiling joists whenever he thought he felt the Spirit. Another acted like a baboon."
Again, this might not seem like a significant detail, but it just illustrates how the early members believed the Holy Ghost to work. It made other early members leave the church because they did not believe in this kind of Spirit, but the reality is that many of the early, prominent members of the church believed in these kinds of things (visions, being compelled to act in certain ways from the Spirit, etc). We often gloss over this when talking about the early church members including the Smith family's treasure digging, Martin Harris claiming that during the Book of Mormon translation that he "met the Lord Jesus Christ, who walked along by the side of him in the shape of a deer for two or three miles, talking with him as familiarly as one man talks with another,” (John A. Clark letter, August 31, 1840), or that Oliver Cowdery believed he received revelation through a "divining rod."
Our last note on chapter 10 is the final three paragraphs, which is when Joseph Smith arrives in Kirtland, Ohio:
"On February 4, 1831, a sleigh arrived at the store Newel owned and operated in Kirtland. A twenty-five-year-old man stepped out, bounded inside, and reached his hand across the counter. “Newel K. Whitney!” he cried. “Thou art the man!”
Newel shook his hand. “You have the advantage of me,” he said. “I could not call you by name, as you have me.”
“I am Joseph the prophet,” the man exclaimed. “You have prayed me here, now what do you want of me?”"
I understand that in a "non-fiction narrative" the church wants to make these stories come to life, but this just does not paint Joseph Smith as the humble, meek man that is often described, reluctant to undertake the authority of his calling. This reads like the person we've described in the last few chapters, who immediately claims revelation when his sole authority is questioned by others (when some Saints seemed unwilling to move to Ohio), and makes sure that everyone knows he is the only one that can speak with God (when Hiram Page received revelation through his seer stone and key members believed him). It is an interesting development in his character, and we're curious to see where Saints takes it as we continue our review.
Chapter 11: Ye Shall Receive My Law
One of the most important beliefs of the LDS church that I was told as a member was the power of personal revelation. Chapter 11 starts off talking about early members being very focused on finding their own personal revelation and gifts from the Spirit and how that troubled Joseph. "As Joseph visited church members, he saw their enthusiasm for spiritual gifts and their sincere desire to pattern their lives after the saints in the New Testament. Joseph loved the gifts of the Spirit himself and knew they had a role in the restored church, but he worried that some Saints in Kirtland were getting carried away in their pursuit of them."
This led Joseph to receive revelations to try and head off these beliefs and behaviors to once again reestablish his authority as the sole conduit between the early members and God. "Responding to the extreme behaviors of some Saints, the Lord warned that false spirits were abroad on the earth, deceiving people into thinking that the Holy Ghost caused them to act wildly." We discussed this in the last chapter, but it just needs to be noted while reading that revelation that Joseph Smith claimed to see spirits when digging for treasure, Martin Harris claimed the Lord appeared to him as a deer, and Oliver Cowdery used a "divining rod" to try and receive revelation.
Saints then discusses Olivery Cowdery's work in teaching the American Indians about the Book of Mormon. We have discussed the problems with the idea that the American Indians are descendants of the Lamanites, but we need to address it again since Saints continues to discuss this part of Mormon history that was believed at the time but has since been proven false.
Oliver tells Kikthawenund and his council about the Book of Mormon and the history behind it. "He introduced the Book of Mormon as a history of the ancestors of the American Indians." The problem here is that we now know that the American Indians are not descendants of Lamanites. The DNA profiles simply do not match and as our ability to test more precisely has improved, the results have only confirmed that the Indians came to the Americans through Asia and not from Israel.
Our LDS annotated essay on the Book of Mormon and DNA is incredibly long, detailed, and thorough and I truly hope everyone reading these fact-checks of Saints will read it. The church puts forth a number of apologetic arguments to explain why this is not a massive problem for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as a scripture from God, but we explain why their arguments simply can not work under scrutiny. It is a part of Mormon history that every prophet believed the Lamanites were the ancestors of current day Indians, but it is simply not true and Saints does a disservice to readers by not providing any context to this problem.
After the update from Oliver, we get a quick glimpse at Joseph Smith implementing the law of consecration, where church members "were to think of all their land and wealth as a sacred stewardship from God, given to them so they could care for their families, relieve the poor, and build Zion. Saints who chose to obey the law were to consecrate their property to the church by deeding it to the bishop. He would then return land and goods to them as an inheritance in Zion, according to the needs of their families."
A few points to be made here: First, the revelation was changed between the Book of Commandments and the Doctrine and Covenants from "all thy properties" to "of thy properties." That is a significant change, and one that creates a problem as this revelation is used in the Utah period. You can see all of the changes below that were made the original revelation in the Book of Commandments before it was altered years later (click to enlarge).
We're not going to spend too much more time here yet, but the law of consecration takes on multiple movements and also ties into Joseph Smith's creation of the Kirtland Safety Society, which is the failed bank that causes many early members to lose everything after trusting Joseph with their savings. We will definitely touch base on these points as they happen in Saints.
The last part of this chapter that we want to cover is a huge one - the first mention of polygamy. From Saints: "With the Lord’s law revealed and Saints from New York gathering to Ohio, Joseph and Sidney resumed the inspired translation of the Bible. They moved on from the account of Enoch to the story of the patriarch Abraham, whom the Lord promised to make a father of many nations.
The Lord did not reveal extensive changes to the text, but as Joseph read Abraham’s story, he pondered much about the patriarch’s life. Why had the Lord not condemned Abraham and other Old Testament patriarchs for marrying multiple wives, a practice Bible-reading Americans abhorred?"
There are a number of problems with these paragraphs, and it is important to note them now because Saints is cleverly trying to conflate things in order to provide Joseph Smith with an out for his polygamous marriages and relationships before the revelation was recorded twelve years later in 1843.
First, the church states in the heading to D&C 132 that even though the revelation was not recorded until 1843, Joseph had actually been thinking about polygamy since 1831. As stated above, this date is important because the church needs to establish that Joseph was thinking about polygamy before his relationship with Fanny Alger, which is going to occur shortly after this chapter in 1833.
But the bigger problem is that in 1831, Joseph Smith's discussions about polygamy were not about marrying other women to raise seed as stated in D&C 132, which is in the citations here even though it wouldn't be written for 12 years, but to marry the Indians as polygamous wives so that they could be turned 'white and delightsome.' W.W. Phelps, Oliver Cowdery and five other men who received instruction for their mission to the Indians to take “wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity may become white, delightsome and just.” (Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr., 1831 revelation, recorded in a letter from W.W. Phelps to Brigham Young, dated August 12, 1861)
Second, as we discuss in our annotated LDS essay on polygamy, nowhere in the Bible does God command men to take polygamous wives. Even Abraham is never commanded to take another wife even though it is commonly referenced by the church as justification. According to the Bible it was Abraham’s wife Sara, not God, who told Abraham to take her handmaiden so that Abraham would be able to father children. (Genesis 16:1-3)
Third, as D&C 132 states, it is Joseph that asks God why polygamy was OK which begs the question of why Joseph was so interested in polygamy in the first place. Of all the topics in the Bible to ask for revelation about, why was Joseph asking God about such an obscure topic as polygamy? And why was Joseph asking the question in terms of why it was allowed for "Old Testament patriarchs," but not for him, considering that most references to polygamy in the scriptures are of God considering it an abomination?
Fourth (and last), Saints mentions that the "Book of Mormon provided one answer. In the days of Jacob, Nephi’s younger brother, the Lord commanded Nephite men to have only one wife. But He also declared that He could direct them otherwise, if circumstances required it, to raise up righteous children."
To this fourth point, the critical response would be to point out that if Joseph Smith was thinking about polygamy and he was the writer of the Book of Mormon, he would likely mention somewhere that there would be a time when it would be allowed under God. Just as the Book of Mormon discusses seer stones while it was being translated with a seer stone, and just as the Book of Mormon happens to mention that a seer named Joseph would someday be a prophet, critics often mention that these issues actually lend credibility to the theory that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon.
Polygamy is a very ugly, messy practice, and Saints is working hard here to begin the inoculation of members to the problems it causes by mentioning it here briefly. There is no evidence that polygamy was ever mentioned in 1831 in any way besides the W.W. Phelps letter, which is a completely different type of polygamy than the one Joseph embarks on just two years later with Fanny Alger (and there are legitimate questions as to whether Alger was a polygamous wife or an affair, but we will get to that later).
It is also disgusting to think that Joseph was teaching church members that having sex with the Indians (that Joseph Smith claimed were descendants of Lamanites, but DNA has proven this is not true) would turn them 'white and delightsome' - a phrase also used in the Book of Mormon. There is a reason the church makes a vague reference to Joseph thinking about this revelation since 1831 but never explains to members exactly what that thinking was, and it is because they know how offensive the 1831 letter would be to members given that it is nothing like the D&C 132 revelation and the incredibly racist idea of turning the Indians "white, delightsome and just."
As with many of these larger church history topics, we have the annotated Gospel Topics essay on polygamy in Kirtland and Nauvoo up and highly recommend it to anyone with questions about polygamy. Just as with the other essays so far, it really highlights just how messy polygamy was, how Joseph Smith continually changed the church's position on it, and how the apologetic arguments simply do not fit with the history as we now know it. Please give it a read if you have not seen it before - it will be referenced often as we continue to see polygamy in chapters of Saints.
The rest of this chapter focuses on Lucy Mack Smith traveling with other members from New York to Ohio, and how Oliver was having trouble converting the Indians to Mormonism. There is not much to say about these storylines other than to point out how Lucy Mack Smith's story nicely weaves a faith promoting ending to the chapter after briefly touching the polygamy issue.
Again, this chapter is pure inoculation for members on the subject of polygamy and the problem DNA testing has been for the narrative of the Book of Mormon as well. I believe Saints is an easy read for members who don't want to dig into historical issues, but anyone who reads Saints and then still wants to dig deeper is going to find out quickly that the "Standard of Truth" is hiding quite a bit of context and information from faithful church members. If there are any of those members out there, please shoot us an email at as I would be happy to hear about your experience in reading the two different 'versions' of Saints' portrayal of church history.
Chapter 12: After Much Tribulation
The beginning of chapter twelve focuses on the Partridge sisters, Emily and Eliza, who are the daughters of Edward, the man just appointed Bishop by Joseph. They are seven and eleven years old in this chapter, but what Saints does not tell you here is that in just twelve years they will both be polygamous wives of Joseph Smith. We will discuss that more later, but it is important to note how messy the history is and how it is so interconnected to the families close to Joseph (and Emma) Smith.
Saints then discusses the Ohio settlement in Kirtland, and how Leman Copley had originally given his land to the church under the Law of Consecration only to leave the church and take his land back. This left the early church members with no place to live, and Joseph with a crisis on his hands to determine where to settle next.
Joseph asked the Lord what to do, and received a revelation promptly. "“You shall take your journey into the regions westward,” the Lord told them, “unto the land of Missouri.”" This told the church members that Zion would be established in Missouri and not Kirtland, and "Joseph spoke optimistically about the church in Independence. He told some of the elders that Oliver and the other missionaries were sure to have built up a strong branch of the church there, as they had in Kirtland. Some of the elders took it as a prophecy."
This quote from Saints is intriguing for a few reasons. First, there is a strong implication here that it is the church members' fault for believing Joseph Smith's own words that the church was strong in Missouri. Second, this sets up a common apologetic argument that is used when prophets get something wrong: If what they say turns out to be true (or not proven false), they were speaking as a prophet, but when they get something wrong (or their teachings are later disavowed), they were speaking as 'imperfect men.'
Of course, that last quote from Saints is pretty obvious foreshadowing that upon arriving the members were not happy with what they saw. Besides not being as built up as hoped, "the missionaries had baptized only a handful of people in the area, so the branch was not as strong as Joseph had expected. Feeling misled, Ezra and others began to question Joseph’s prophetic gifts."
Six days after their arrival which led to many questioning Joseph's prophetic abilities, he was given revelation. "“This land,” the Lord told him, “is the land which I have appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the saints.”"
But even with this revelation some members were still unsure about the revelation. Edward Partridge, the Bishop of the church, "was frustrated with the prophet and did not see how the Saints could establish Zion there." Partridge knew he would be responsible for purchasing land and would not be able to go home to his family as he had told his wife.
A few days later Joseph again received revelation, attempting to calm the uneasiness of the members who were frustrated by the situation in Missouri. “Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation,” He declared. “For after much tribulation come the blessings.”
The revelation continued on, this time directed at Edward for questioning Joseph about his previous revelation. “If he repent not of his sins,” He said of the bishop, “let him take heed lest he fall. Behold his mission is given unto him, and it shall not be given again.”
Of course, this revelation directed at Edward "humbled" him and caused him to ask "the Lord to forgive his blindness of heart and told Joseph that he would stay in Independence and prepare the land of Zion for the Saints."
We have already pointed this out and will continue to do so, but Joseph Smith always seems to receive revelation to scold those who begin to question his authority. In Saints, we already have this three times: When Martin Harris did not want to sell his property to finance the Book of Mormon (Chapter 8), when Hiram Page used a seer stone to receive revelation just as Joseph did (Chapter 9), and now with Edward Partridge having doubts about Joseph Smith's credibility.
This is interesting both because of how timely and specific Joseph Smith's revelations tend to be when his authority is not respected, and how future prophets have never had the same ability since. We will see this again as Saints continues, and even his wife Emma will be threatened by God as she continues to stand in the way of Joseph entering into more polygamous marriages.
The last part of the chapter details the trek back to Kirtland, where Joseph, Oliver, and Sidney leave the waters mid-trip to travel by land. This is the account of this event from Saints:
"Joseph took the lead in his canoe the next afternoon, but some of the elders were upset with him and Oliver and refused to paddle. At a dangerous bend in the river, they hit a submerged tree and nearly capsized. Fearing for the lives of everyone in the company, Joseph and Sidney ordered the elders off the river.
After they set up camp, Joseph, Oliver, and Sidney tried to talk to the group and ease tensions. Irritated, the men called Joseph and Sidney cowards for getting off the river, mocked the way Oliver paddled his canoe, and accused Joseph of acting like a dictator. The quarrel lasted long into the night."
The reference here is D&C 61, and this story has a lot more detail than what is given in Saints. During this trip, Elder William Phelps claimed to see "the destroyer in his most horrible power, ride upon the face of the waters." (History of the Church 1:202–3) This led to Joseph Smith receiving the revelation now known as D&C 61, which states that God "cursed the waters.... Wherefore, the days will come that no flesh shall be safe upon the waters." (D&C 61:14-15)
God then tells Joseph that he should travel by land with Sidney and Oliver, leaving the other eight men continue on in the cursed waters. "And now, concerning my servants, Sidney Rigdon, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Oliver Cowdery, let them come not again upon the waters, save it be upon the canal, while journeying unto their homes; or in other words they shall not come upon the waters to journey, save upon the canal. Behold, I, the Lord, have appointed a way for the journeying of my saints; and behold, this is the way—that after they leave the canal they shall journey by land, inasmuch as they are commanded to journey and go up unto the land of Zion." (D&C 61:23-24)
As we state in our summary page (#19, Joseph Smith and the Convenience of Revelations), Joseph Smith tended to receive revelations that were quite helpful in getting him out of tough situations or establishing his authority. In this case, the revelation allowed him to avoid traveling by the unusually rough waters, but left the eight men below Joseph, Sidney, and Oliver to continue on by water. This is the reason that the men called Joseph, Sidney, and Oliver cowards, and it is quite a difference story given the context that Saints conveniently leaves out.
The last thing we will mention about this chapter is the continual references and inferences to the Indians being Lamanites. We don't want to beat a dead horse here, but if you have not read our annotated LDS essay on DNA and the Book of Mormon, please do so. It really provides a detailed picture of how we know the Lamanites are not the ancestors of American Indians, which calls into question the revelations that declared them to be, the church leaders that proclaim them to be, and the Book of Mormon itself that claimed the Lamanites were the "principal ancestors" of the Indians. It is important to keep this in mind as you read Saints, because this is such a foundational belief in the church that impacts their beliefs and decisions for a long time to come.
Chapter 13: The Gift Has Returned
Saints picks up in chapter 13 with Joseph arriving back in Kirtland, and the tensions regarding the trip having calmed back down with the exception of Ezra Booth. Upon arriving, Ezra Booth wrote a letter to the Ohio Star detailing his time in Mormonism and denouncing Joseph Smith and the church. Saints references the letter but does not provide a link (likely because it is not faith promoting), but you can read the entire letter here. (Ezra Booth, For the Ohio Star, 1831)
In the letter Booth discusses something that I think is important for members with questions to read: It is OK to recognize that the feelings you have had regarding the church felt like receiving confirmation of the spirit, but as you learn more realize the church is not true. From Booth's letter:
"When I embraced Mormonism, I conscientiously believed it to be of God. The impressions of my mind were deep and powerful, and my feelings were exerted to a degree to which I had been a stranger. Like a ghost, it haunted me by night and by day, until I was mysteriously hurried, as it were by a kind of necessity, into the vortex of delusion. At times I was much elated; but generally, things in prospect were the greatest stimulants to action.
On our arrival in the western part of the State of Missouri, the place of our destination, we discovered that prophecy and visions had failed, or rather had proved false. This fact was so notorious, and the evidence so clear that no one could mistake it -- so much so, that Mr. Rigdon himself said that "Joseph's vision was a bad thing." This was glossed over, apparently, to the satisfaction of most persons present; but not fully to my own. It excited a suspicion that some things were not right, and prepared my mind for the investigation of a variety of circumstances, which occurred during my residence there, and indeed, to review the whole subject from its commencement to that time. My opportunities for a thorough examination, were far greater than they could have been, had I remained at home; and therefore I do not regret that I made that journey, though I sincerely regret the cause of it." (Ezra Booth, For the Ohio Star, 1831)
As someone who left the church after having trouble with the history of the church, I think those two paragraphs are amazing in highlighting that there were spiritual confirmations to me regarding the church, but that once I was able to really have an open mind and research the church, I came to the conclusion that the spiritual feeling came from me and not from God. And as Booth says, "My opportunities for a thorough examination, were far greater than they could have been, had I remained at home; and therefore I do not regret that I made that journey, though I sincerely regret the cause of it," really make the point that getting the opportunity to do the research and learn more about the church can be difficult and painful, but in the end knowing the truth is more important that continuing to be hidden from it.
Saints then discusses how Ezra Booth's preaching license was revoked by a "conference of Saints," and Joseph Smith received a revelation from the Lord "rebuking" Booth's letters to the Ohio Star. The revelation is for church members to "stop condemning Joseph’s errors and criticizing him without cause," which is a pretty convenient revelation to receive as we have outlined in previous chapters. The Lord tells Joseph (about himself), “He has sinned,” the Lord acknowledged, “but verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, forgive sins unto those who confess their sins before me and ask forgiveness.”
Following Joseph Smith claiming the Lord has asked all members to stop criticizing Joseph, the Lord then "called a few church members to sell their property and go to Missouri." One of the things Joseph learned early on when he couldn't get Martin Harris to sell his property until he claimed a revelation from the Lord, is that when he received a revelation members are much less likely to question the authority of it than if Joseph just asks members himself.
This is a fairly faith promoting chapter, with not a lot of historical topics but more focused on early members joining the church. A large portion of the chapter discusses William McLellin, who joins the church and becomes a passionate preacher. He makes the journey to Kirtland and "had several specific questions he wanted answered, but he kept them to himself, praying that Joseph would discern them on his own and reveal their answers." Upon meeting Joseph, William asked for a personal revelation like the ones Joseph had given for others, and when he received the revelation "William heard the Lord answer each of his questions. His anxiety gave way to joy. He knew he had found a prophet of God."
It is difficult to really make much of this story, because McLellin never wrote down with the questions were. If you read D&C 66, you can't really find too many specifics that would apply to McLellin beyond his troubles with adultery, and we do not know if Joseph knew this already from his time in the church. Even still, it is impossible to find five specifics in the revelation that would not have been in almost any other revelation at the time. But since we do not know what the five questions are, it is also impossible to disprove which is why the story has become such a faith promoting one in LDS manuals.
After a second letter to the Ohio Star from Ezra Booth claiming that Joseph is hiding revelations from church members, they decide to compile all of the revelations together to form the Book of Commandments. This is the precursor to the Doctrine and Covenants, and included all of the church history through God until this point. As we have noted about the priesthood, there are a lot of major discrepancies between the Book of Commandments and Doctrine and Covenants, because Joseph changes revelations in very profound ways, which of course calls into question their credibility if they can be altered in such monumental ways years later.
There were some members who were afraid that publishing this book could stir up bad feelings towards the church, but Joseph has a revelation from God to address those fears. “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself,” He declared, “and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.”
While this eased the fears of some members, there were a few who "knew the revelations were true, but they were embarrassed that the word of the Lord had come to them filtered through Joseph’s limited vocabulary and weak grammar."
Until the end of 1830, Joseph Smith was receiving revelations through the seer stone. (Quinn, D. Michael (1998), Early Mormonism and the Magic World View) That means that Joseph Smith would put the stone in a hat, stick his head fully in the had to seal out the light, and read the words that appeared. One must wonder if the members with this fear of "Joseph's limited vocabulary and weak grammar" were referring to all of his revelations or just the ones recorded in 1831.
Joseph, of course, has an answer for this in his revelation where God tells him that the revelations are given to His servants “in their weakness, after the manner of their language.” He then issues the church members a challenge to write a revelation themselves to see if they can write a revelation that is believable. If not, the revelation contends, the members would know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet.
William McLellin then attempts to write a revelation, but when they read it the other men in the room knew it was not from God and the fears were eased. There are a lot of problems with this story, most of which is that if everyone knows it is an attempt to write a revelation they are unlikely to receive that feeling of warmth that they would feel if they did not know it was effectively fan-fiction revelation. It would not be hard for anyone who studies Joseph Smith's revelations to replicate them, but in a meeting such as this everyone knows ahead of time which one is the placebo and that makes the experiment designed to succeed in Joseph's direction.
The chapter finishes with the faith promoting story of Nancy Towle, who visits Joseph Smith with the intention to rattle him. When she is preached to about the Book of Mormon she replied that “If I had that book, sir, I would burn it." Upon seeing Joseph Smith, she asks him to swear under oath that he saw an angel to which Joseph replied “I will not swear at all." Getting unnerved, Nancy asks Joseph “Are you not ashamed of such pretensions? You who are no more than any ignorant plowboy of our land!””
Joseph then replies that “The gift has returned back again, as in former times, to illiterate fishermen.”
Chapter thirteen did not hit a lot of the difficult church historical issues, but it does provide a lot of faith promoting stories for their readers. There are issues with some of these stories, but at the end of the day they tell us clearly that despite a lot of tension and problems with the church, many early members felt something they could not deny. We highlighted Ezra Booth's letter earlier because of Saints references it, but also because the lesson it tells is meaningful. I felt something I could not deny at the time, but have since realized that it was my own confirmation bias that led me to that point. The more I have researched church history, the more I have discovered that it does not line up.
We are only thirteen chapters into Saints, but I'd like to believe we have made a very strong argument that there are a lot of very damaging issues that are either glossed over or ignored altogether. Once you begin to research those issues more fully, the confirmation that this is from God disappears not because your body it taken over by Satan, but because once you learn the truth, your heart and mind can no longer confirm them to you.
On that note, I ask that those of you reading keep researching these topics (our annotated LDS essays are a great start) and continue our review of Saints. There is nothing more important than the truth, even if it is difficult to discover and come to terms with, and there is no way to find the truth unless you open your mind to the possibility that what you have been taught is not true.
Please email us if you have any questions or concerns - we can always help you with more information, links to podcasts about different topics, or even support groups that can help you in a faith transition. There are a lot of people going through this transition with you, so please do not feel alone and please reach out if you are looking for people to discuss these topics with. See you all tomorrow for chapter fourteen!
Chapter 14: Visions and Nightmares
Opening up chapter fourteen is an overview of John and Elsa Johnson, the couple that Joseph and Emma had moved in with at Kirtland. Saints states early on that "the Johnsons were around the same age as Joseph’s parents, so most of their children had married and moved out of their spacious farmhouse, leaving plenty of room for Joseph to meet with church leaders and work on his translation of the Bible." This is important for later in the chapter, so we just wanted to emphasize that now.
Saints then discusses how "Joseph and Sidney spent much of their time translating in an upstairs room at the Johnson home" which led questions about heaven. We again note that Saints uses "translating" the Bible which is questionable since we now know that Joseph Smith borrowed heavily from Adam Clarke's Bible commentaries as per the new BYU study, which puts the idea of "translating" into a much different light.
Following the questions about heaven, "Joseph, Sidney, and about twelve other men sat in an upstairs room in the Johnson home," and a vision opened up between the two of them regarding the concept of Heaven. The following paragraph from Saints sums up how the vision went:
“What do I see?” Joseph asked as he and Sidney marveled at the wonders they saw. He then described what he beheld in the vision, and Sidney said, “I see the same.” Sidney then asked the same question and described the scene before him. Once he finished, Joseph said, “I see the same.”
We then learn that the vision "described heaven in a way no one in the room had ever imagined. Rather than being a single kingdom, it was organized into various kingdoms of glory." Furthermore, Saints discussed how these kingdoms of glory are organized: "The Lord prepared telestial glory for those who had been wicked and unrepentant on earth. Terrestrial glory was for those who had lived honorably in life but had not fully obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ. Celestial glory was for those who accepted Christ, made and kept gospel covenants, and inherited the fullness of God’s glory."
Here is what Saints does not talk about: The idea of multiple levels of Heaven was originally popularized by Emanuel Swedenborg in the late 1700s. Swedenborg believed that "There are three heavens," described as "entirely distinct from each other." He called the highest heaven "the Celestial Kingdom," and stated that the inhabitants of the three heavens corresponded to the "sun, moon and stars." He even taught that eternal marriage was necessary to achieve the highest kingdom of Heaven. (Swedenborg, Conjugial Love, pg. 155)
A BYU Studies article concedes that Swedenborg had a lot of concepts that mirror what Joseph Smith later "introduced" to Mormonism, but concludes with: "Believing Latter-day Saints might answer that question with an explanation that parallels Joseph Smith’s reported statement to Edward Hunter: it is possible that Swedenborg saw the heavens. Latter-day Saints readily accept that individuals outside their tradition have been given special, revealed insight into heavenly truths, and thus the points of convergence in Swedenborgianism and Mormonism could reflect accurate, though independent, descriptions of true Christian eschatology. Latter-day Saints could accept that, to a remarkable degree, Emanuel Swedenborg and Joseph Smith both experienced actual visions of the afterlife reality."
This is a line of apologetics that has become quite popular as we learn more and more about how Joseph Smith utilized the sources around him to shape Mormonism. We detail the different areas that Joseph Smith pulled from in our summary page under the 'Joseph Smith Mixtape Theory' (#22).
From there the chapter turns to a much more serious event, which is when Joseph Smith is tarred and feathered by a mob. Saints blames the incitement of the mob on Ezra Booth's letters along with the news of the vision about the kingdoms of Heaven, and describes the mob's brutal assault on Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon in pretty specific detail.
This is a story that many current members tell when critics describe what they believe to be Joseph Smith's fraudulent teachings, because they argue that no one would get tarred and feathered just to con a bunch of people. It also helps to cement the idea that Joseph Smith was persecuted for his beliefs but carried on against all odds. It is a truly horrific incident that should have never happened, and it has been a faith promoting story for what Joseph Smith suffered to bring forth the church.
Here is the problem with this story though: There is good reason to believe the mob was not out to get Joseph Smith because of his teachings, but for other reasons including his Law of Consecration and because of suspicions of sexual improprieties with Marinda Johnson. The following paragraph from Saints is very important to this story: "After they had gone some distance from the house, they tore away his clothes and held him down while a man approached with a sharp knife, ready to mutilate him. But the man took a look at Joseph and refused to cut him."
Some sources have documented since that the man with a sharp knife was actually a doctor, brought by Eli Johnson (Nancy's uncle) with the mob to castrate Joseph for his sexual advances on Marinda. At the last moment the doctor declined the procedure and left the scene. We have two different accounts of this event:
“Fortified by a barrel of whiskey, [the mob] smashed their way into the Johnson home on the night of March 24, 1832 and dragged Joseph from the trundle bed where he had fallen asleep while watching one of the twins. They stripped him, scratched and beat him with savage pleasure, and smeared his bleeding body with tar from head to foot. Ripping a pillow into shreds, they plastered him with feathers. It is said that Eli Johnson demanded that the prophet be castrated, for he suspected Joseph of being too intimate with his sister (niece), Nancy Marinda. But the doctor who had been persuaded to join the mob declined the responsibility at the last moment…” (Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History, page119).
“The motivation for this mobbing has been debated. Clark Braden…alleged…that Marinda’s brother (uncle) Eli led a mob against Smith because the prophet had been too intimate with Marinda. This tradition suggests that Smith may have married Marinda at this early time, and some circumstantial factors support such a possibility. The castration attempt might be taken as evidence that the mob felt that Joseph had committed a sexual impropriety; since the attempt is reported by [Marinda's brother who became LDS apostle] Luke Johnson, there is no good reason to doubt it. Also, they had planned the operation in advance, as they brought along a doctor to perform it. The first revelations had been received in 1831, by historian Danel Bachman’s dating. Also, Joseph did tend to marry women who had stayed at his house or in whose house he had stayed” (Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, page 231).
These two accounts provide us with reason to think the mob was there to castrate Joseph for what they believed to be sexual advances on Marinda, and the fact that the attempt was reported by a future LDS apostle (Luke Johnson) only adds some weight to this account. In addition, Luke Johnson confirms the doctor was there for castration (Deseret News 8 (May 26, 1858)), which is a punishment that was used for sexual offenses. Last, we should note that while Compton states there are "some circumstantial factors" to support them being married at this early time, we do know for sure that Smith marries Marinda as a polyandrous wife while her future husband was sent away on a mission by Joseph.
On the other hand, there are some accounts that the mob attacked Joseph and Sidney not because of sexual advances, but because of fear that the church was going to take people's land and put it under the control of Smith. Symonds Ryder, the leader of the mob, claimed the attack was because of "the horrid fact that a plot was laid to take their property from them and place it under the control of Smith." (Symonds Ryder, "Letter to A. S. Hayden," 1 February 1868)
There is also the question as to why the mob would attack Sidney Rigdon if the sole reason was Joseph's sexual advances, while it would make more sense if there was fear of land being taken by the church under the Law of Consecration (or United Order), which was difficult for many members and created fear that the church was creating a society that would threaten non-members. Furthermore, Ryder's reasoning above needs to be give heavy consideration since he was believed to have led the attack.
The truth is that we don't know for sure why the attack happened, and there is a lot of circumstantial evidence for multiple factors. This is not to say that Joseph Smith deserved to be tarred and feathered whatsoever, but to make it known that the LDS narrative as to why it happened is at best a lot less clear than Saints would like you to think it is.
Following the attack, one of Joseph's twins, Joseph, died later in the week. "The prophet blamed his son’s death on the cold air that poured into the house when the mob dragged him away."
Joseph then went back to Missouri to continue organizing the church, and brought Newel Whitney with as Joseph brought a revelation to Newel to "consecrate surplus money from his profitable businesses to help support the store, printing office, and land purchases in Independence."
Upon arriving, Joseph called a group of members together to give them the revelation on the finances of the church. “I give unto you this commandment, that ye bind yourselves by this covenant,” the Lord declared, “every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God.” Bound thus together, they called themselves the United Firm."
We then hear more about William McLellin, who is now struggling in his role with the church. "After months of setbacks, he started to question whether it was the Lord or Joseph Smith who had called him on a mission."
Can we just point out really quickly that it was just one chapter ago that William received a revelation that he claimed personally answered all five of his questions, proving to him that Joseph was a true prophet? If that was truly the case, how could he possible be questioning if Joseph was the mouthpiece for God this quickly afterwards?
McLellin then decides to bring a group of early members to Jackson County against the wishes of Joseph Smith and Bishop Partridge. He bought two lots of property from the government, and his group settled in, presenting a challenge for Bishop Partridge to get everyone on their feet.
Because of the increase of members arriving in Missouri, local prices were being driven up which caused more tension among the non-members in the area. The chapter ends with a very ominous quote from a local: “They are crowding in,” one woman observed as more Saints settled around her. “I do think they ought to be punished.”
This is a rough chapter with the difficult section on Joseph and Sidney being attacked and tarred and feathered, but there are a lot of important historical issues to consider. The multiple kingdoms of Heaven was a topic I was taught as a member that was "unheard of at the time," yet we now know it was not only discussed by Emanuel Swedenborg, but that Joseph Smith was aware of Swedenborg from this conversation between William Hunter and Joseph Smith: "I asked him if he was acquainted with the Sweadenburgers. His answer I verially believe. ‘Emanuel Sweadenburg had a view of the world to come but for daily food he perished.’" (William E. Hunter, Edward Hunter: Faithful Steward, pg. 316, original spelling).
As we have stated in earlier chapters, these are difficult topics to read about because most members do not know about these issues. I certainly did not when I was an attending member, but even having been inactive for a long time now I still feel hurt when reading about historical topics that were not taught honestly to me. I hope those who can approach these topics with an open mind will continue to research church history here and elsewhere, and if you need any further advice, sources, or support email us at anytime.
Chapter 15: Holy Places
We begin again with stories of more people being baptized into the church, before turning to Joseph Smith returning to Ohio from a trip to New York. Here we are introduced to Brigham Young, future president of the church. It gives a very faith promoting account of Brigham and Joseph's first encounters, and discusses how Brigham "Brigham knew at once he was a prophet of God."
They then have dinner where it is claimed that Brigham spoke in tongues. Joseph declares the the "tongue is from God" and continues to speak in the same language. "Joseph then spoke in the same language, declaring that it was the language Adam had spoken in the Garden of Eden and encouraging the Saints to seek the gift of tongues, as Paul had done in the New Testament, for the benefit of the children of God."
One quite interesting point to note here is what Joseph Smith claimed with the language Adam spoke. Joseph Smith was recorded speaking in the "perfect English" of God by B.R. Johnson. This is the following exchange:
Question: What is the name of God in pure language?
Question: What is the name of the son of God?
Joseph: The Son Awmen
Question: What are Angels called in pure language?
Joseph: Awmen Angls-men
(Joseph Smith Jr, as recorded by BR Johnson, March 1832, the Joseph Smith Papers)
Of course it is up to the reader to decide if that sounds like real translation of pure English or something that Joseph made up on the spot as he did with Egyptian later in life, but I just want to point out what "speaking in tongues" meant for Joseph.
Saints then discusses Joseph's Civil War revelation, which came after reading a local newspaper that discussed how South Carolina was fighting taxes on imported good and was beginning to rebel. Joseph's revelation declares that "war and natural disaster would then pour out upon all nations, spreading misery and death across the earth." Of course, the Civil War did not have war upon all nations, though apologists do claim that other nations were sought to help their cause. This is considered by critics to be a failed prophesy because war did not pour out beyond the United States.
Joseph continues to worry about the members in Missouri having doubts about his leadership, and receives a revelation to build a temple. He sends his revelation to Missouri as an "olive leaf" to the people in Missouri, asking them to turn back to his leadership or else Zion will fall.
The School of Prophets also is introduced in this chapter, which leads to the revelation on the Word of Wisdom. As we state on our summary page, the Word of Wisdom is heavily lifted from the Temperance movement that is gaining steam around the country now. The original Word of Wisdom was not like the one currently discussed today, but also included hot soups as as well. In addition, the Word of Wisdom was not originally a commandment, but a guideline. This leads Saints to use a a few choice words to make Joseph Smith look as good as possible such as "Joseph did not normally use tobacco" and "he continued to drink alcohol occasionally."
The chapter finishes with Joseph receiving word back from Missouri that the members had begun to reconcile with Joseph's leadership, and they were ready for a temple. They then drew up plans for the temple along with the city of Zion, allowing themselves plans to add on to the city as more members came until it filled the entire country. “Lay off another in the same way,” Joseph directed, “and so fill up the world in these last days.”
This chapter is an interesting one because it contains many prophecies, which are interesting to look back on and determine which ones did not happen as stated such as the Civil War prophecy and a temple being built in Independence. The Word of Wisdom is also interesting mostly because of its evolution from being more of a guidance to being a very strict commandment in the church many decades later. And the introduction of Brigham Young is only the beginning of his part in LDS history.
Chapter 16: Only a Prelude
This is a difficult chapter of Saints, and we're going to keep this one short. It deals with the initial mob attacks on the early church members, and while there are records of the fears that those in the mob held, their actions were awful and I am not going to attempt to defend them out of respect to the people who were victimized in these early attacks.
The chapter starts out by talking about Emily Partridge, who we mentioned earlier will be a wife of Joseph Smith about ten years later. It talked about why she did not understand why those in Jackson County did not want the church members to leave the area, and how some in the area had begun setting small fires to intimidate members to leave.
It does mention how many did not like how the church was preaching to the Indians, which again forces us to mention that the reason they were preaching to the Indians is because the Book of Mormon states that they were the the descendants of the Lamanites. However, the breakthroughs in DNA studies have proven this to not be the case. You can read about this is much more detail at our annotated LDS Gospel Topics essay on DNA studies and the Book of Mormon.
A big part of the early tensions between members and the locals was about slavery. Almost all early members in Missouri had traveled from states like Ohio and New York, where slavery was illegal. This led the church to allow blacks to become members early on, which put fear into the locals that they would assist in the uprisings that had been occurring between slaves and their white slaveholders in the area.
William Phelps had written in the Evening and Morning Star to try and ease the tensions, and declared that the church would obey Missouri's laws that restricted the rights of free blacks. “So long as we have no special rule in the church as to people of color,” he wrote vaguely, “let prudence guide.”
This led people in the county such as Samuel Lucas to believe this writing was an invitation to black people to come to Missouri. Because of the uprisings in local states such as a deaths of 50 white men and women from dozens of enslaved people, this put fear into those in Jackson County towards the church.
Upon seeing the response, William Phelps quickly released a one page leaflet recanting his earlier writings and declaring that “we are opposed to having free people of color admitted into the state, and we say that none will be admitted into the church.” Phelps had hoped that this would ease the fears, but at this point the locals had already decided that the church members needed to leave.
Saints cites the LDS Gospel Topics essay on Race and the Priesthood, and while a lot of the events in that essay are still in the future from this chapter, we invite anyone interested to read our annotated version of this essay. This is a time in the church when there was a lot of confusion as to the church's stance on blacks and their standing in the church, and it will take decades to fully change to what most critics think of with blacks and the church.
Following the article from Phelps, the mob destroyed the printing press to stop the Evening and Morning Star from continuing, and also to stop the printing of the Book of Commandments. This leads to the faith promoting story often told in church of Mary Elizabeth Rollins gathering the pages of the Book of Commandments to save the history of the church, even as the mob was trying to destroy everything around them. Much like the Partridge sisters, Mary Elizabeth Rollins will be a future polyandrous wife of Joseph Smith even after she was married to her initial husband Adam Lightner. This again is still yet to happen in the future, but a note that is not mentioned when discussing the life of Mary Elizabeth Rollins in church articles or educational materials.
The rest of the chapter describes the mob's destruction of homes and church property, including the mob taking Edward Partridge and Charles Allen, two members that the mob tarred and feathered. As I said at the beginning, I am not going to go into details here as to why it happened. The truth is that even if the church had threatened the way of life of the locals, it does not excuse or rationalize what the mob did. It is a very difficult read, and I think we should all agree that what the mob did here was inexcusable and horrific.
One of the reasons we're fact-checking Saints is to look at the historical issues with the church and where they are not being honest, but it is not meant to be disrespectful or demeaning towards the early church members or the beliefs they held. We hope to continue to do that as we move forward, but I hope everyone reading can appreciate what a horrible night this was for early church members. And for those of us that currently are members or used to members, I hope we can all respect what the early church members went through even if we ultimately come to the conclusion that they suffered for what was ultimately a false church brought forth by Joseph Smith.
Sometimes it feels like when we come to the conclusion that the church is not true that we are dishonoring the pioneers in the church before us, but that is not the case at all. I truly feel that we can all respect and honor what they went through while acknowledging they did not have access to the historical documents, scientific advancements, and Biblical scholarship during their lifetimes to know about the problematic issues with Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. And I hope we can all keep that in mind as we touch on troubling topics going forward in Saints, and thank you all again for reading along with us!
Chapter Seventeen: Though the Mob Kill Us
This chapter continues with a lot of the difficult events of the continued mob attacks against the early members in Missouri, so again we will keep in short in those areas as there is no reason to try and disrespect what they went through by trying to either justify the mob or blame the victims. I just want to make that clear upfront as much of this chapter focuses on those events.
Chapter seventeen begins with William McLellin continuing to have doubts about the church, but meeting up with Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer in Missouri. As he talks to them about his doubts, they confirm their witness of the Book of Mormon, and McLellin says he believes them.
One thing about this chapter that is frustrating from a critical viewpoint is the idea being presented here is that Joseph Smith received a revelation before the mob attacks to tell those in Missouri to be strong. The problem is that the heading of D&C 98 concedes that Joseph Smith knew of the mob tensions and violence even as Saints implies that he could not have known all of it to make the revelation appear to be more prophetic.
Again, if this revelation was designed to be for the members in Missouri before the attacks, they would never hear the message until after. As Saints puts it: "On August 6, 1833, before Joseph learned the extent of the violence in Missouri, he received a revelation about the persecution in Zion."
The clear implication here is that the revelation addresses the violence in Missouri before it happened, but the revelation is a very vague response to what has been escalating tensions and incidents that Joseph Smith no doubt knew about, as conceded in the heading of D&C 98.
Saints again references how many early members are losing faith in Joseph's claim to being a prophet of God. Currently he is dealing with defections in Kirtland, while all of the problems were occurring in Missouri. Joseph also knows that they can not abandon their property in Missouri, and wrote a letter to leaders in Missouri.
“It is the will of the Lord,” he wrote, “that not one foot of land purchased should be given to the enemies of God or sold to them.”
This leads to Edward Partridge seeking legal help through the courts, but the local judges had no interest in helping the church protect themselves against the locals. Because the church had sought to rebuild, the locals became furious and immediately called for the church to leave.
A large section of this chapter details the mob attacks and the church trying to defend itself. We're not going to critique that in any way, because some early members went through hell and regardless of whether or not the church is true, that should be respected.
Saints then details how some of the church members were arrested and released after the church had declared they would leave. This leads to a faith promoting story about how the mob tried to kill Sidney Gilbert but "one of the guns had broken, and the other had misfired." It needs to be pointed out that the source for this story is a Parley Pratt book written in 1839, years after this event happened and one he did not witness himself.
It does not mean it didn't happen, but as we have pointed out with many LDS faith promoting legends, they do not hold up to history. We detail some of the biggest faith promoting stories such as the transfiguration of Brigham Young, the Miracle of the Gulls, and Woodruff's vision of the Founding Fathers. Please check that page out if you're interested in more details on these events.
The church began heading north following these attacks, and there is another faith promoting story about Philo Dibble's recovery from a gunshot. I can not tell from the source when it was written, but it is a firsthand account from Philo. The section from the source itself describes the event:
"David Whitmer, however, sent me word that I should live and not die, but I could see no possible chance to recover. After the surgeon had left me, Brother Newell Knight came to see me, and sat down on the side of my bed. He laid his right hand on my head, but never spoke. I felt the Spirit resting upon me at the crown of my head before his hand touched me, and I knew immediately that I was going to be healed. It seemed to form like a ring under the skin, and followed down my body. When the ring came to the wound, another ring formed around the first bullet hole, also the second and third. Then a ring formed on each shoulder and on each hip, and followed down to the ends of my fingers and toes and left me. I immediately arose and discharged three quarts of blood or more, with some pieces of my clothes that had been driven into my body by the bullets. I then dressed myself and went out doors and saw the falling of the stars, which so encouraged the Saints and frightened their enemies. It was one of the grandest sights I ever beheld. From that time not a drop of blood came from me and I never afterwards felt the slightest pain or inconvenience from my wounds, except that I was somewhat weak from the loss of blood." (Philo Dibble's account)
Again, we will never know what happened here. The point is that these types of miraculous events simply have not happened since we've had the ability to document events in real time, and Saints does not account for what the surgeon might have done before leaving. The source does not either, so we just do not know if he had a procedure done, if he was heavily medicated as the surgeon left the room, or what.
The chapter ends with Joseph Smith seeing a meteor shower and believing it to be a fulfillment of prophecy of "stars falling from the heavens before the Second Coming, when the Savior would return and reign a thousand years in peace."
One of the things that we often mention about Joseph Smith in our annotated essays is that his doctrine on science, astronomy, and the world tend to match what was thought in his lifetime, but not before it and certainly not after it. In this case, Joseph Smith does not know what a meteor shower is, but assumes it to be a sign from God of the last days. Just as Joseph Smith does not know that a rainbow is merely a "reflection, refraction and dispersion of light in water droplets resulting in a spectrum of light appearing in the sky," he did not know that meteor showers are a naturally occurring thing.
The rainbow legend comes from the following teaching of Joseph Smith: "I have asked of the Lord concerning His coming; and while asking the Lord, He gave a sign and said, 'In the days of Noah I set a bow in the heavens as a sign and token that in any year that the bow should be seen the Lord would not come; but there should be seed time and harvest during that year: but whenever you see the bow withdrawn, it shall be a token that there shall be famine, pestilence, and great distress among the nations, and that the coming of the Messiah is not far distant'" (Joseph Fielding Smith, "Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith," Section Six 1843-44, p.341).
We know that rainbows only come with rain/precipitation, so the lack of rainbows means the lack of rain which means you would have family, pestilence, and distress. Again, Joseph Smith at the time would not know that rainbows are a naturally occurring event from reflection of water, so a critical viewpoint here is that he tries to make doctrine of it in order to explain the universe around him to his followers.
The reality is that Joseph Smith was teaching that the end of the world was just years away. Not 100 years, not 200 years, but it would happen in less than 60 years. This was the reason for the urgency in their preaching, and Joseph Smith himself prophesied that if he lived until the year 1890 that Christ would return. Because he died, many would argue it was not a failed prophesy, but his teachings otherwise of a return being near certainly gave the impression that he believed the end was imminent.
This was another tough chapter with the mob attacks, but there are some interesting doctrinal areas too as well as the faith promoting stories near the end. It didn't end up being as short of a recap as I thought it would at the beginning, so hopefully we were able to add some value to Saints for those who are following along. Thanks for reading!
Chapter Eighteen: The Camp of Israel
After the painful events of the attacks on church members in Missouri, Saints picks up with Joseph Smith's reaction to the developments. The chapter begins with Joseph Smith expressing that his "heart is somewhat sorrowful" after the meteor shower that Joseph mistook for a sign from God never materialized into anything else. As we mentioned in the last chapter, we see often how Joseph's beliefs in astrology/meteorology fit very well with his lifetime, but do not match what we know now. Critics often point out that if the church was indeed true, the scriptures would more align with what we know now about the Earth, but as we see here and in the Book of Abraham, they match the time Joseph lived in with no ability to understand any of the mysteries that were not known at the time.
One thing that Saints mentions here is that Joseph Smith is suffering from the reports from Doctor Philastus Hurlbut about Joseph's life in Palmyra. They note that Hulrbut's report to those in Ohio includes stories with "some false, others exaggerated." They do not mention what those stories are, and quickly seek to discredit Hurlbut by noting that "Hurlbut also swore he would wash his hands in Joseph’s blood."
First, it needs to be stated that Hurlbut threatening to "wash his hands in Joseph's blood," whether meant literally or not, is inexcusable. This incident is discussed in Rough Stone Rolling and wonders if Joseph's four week trip to New York and Canada during such an important time was done out of fear for Hurlbut. Upon his return, Joseph appointed bodyguards, filed a complaint in court, and even prayed that the Lord would "destroy him who has lifted his heel against me even that wicked man Doctor P. Hurlbut." (Rough Stone Rolling, p 232)
What is left out of Saints, however, is that Hurlbut recorded affidavits from Joseph's neighbors in Palmyra who discussed the Smith family's history of digging for money and treasure who "told marvelous stories about ghosts, hob-goblins, caverns, and various other matters." The citizens finished their statements by noting that "we are truly glad to dispense with their society." (Rough Stone Rolling, p 232)
The problem here is that once again Saints glosses over a very troubling part of church history while leaving out the part that might give current members pause. It is difficult to claim to be the "Standard of Truth" when every instance is painted in the most faith promoting way possible, with countless omissions of difficult church historical events. According to the church definition of honesty, "we can also intentionally deceive others by a gesture or a look, by silence, or by telling only part of the truth. Whenever we lead people in any way to believe something that is not true, we are not being honest." (LDS.org, Gospel Principles)
We now know the stories of Joseph Smith and his family being treasure diggers is true, and Saints reluctantly admits this earlier when they discuss the trial brought on for his work with Josiah Stowell. Of course this is dismissed as a non-story, but as we pointed out then there is a lot of evidence to show that Joseph Smith was actually found guilty, and that the story of receiving the gold plates matches very closely to those seeking treasure. We discuss this in even more detail on our annotated essay on the Book of Mormon translation.
Joseph then receives the news of the church's expulsion in Missouri, which puzzles Joseph because "Joseph did not understand why God had let the Saints suffer and lose the promised land." He prays for further guidance, and is told to be still and trust in Him. Again, critics would argue that Joseph Smith is caught here with a failed prophecy, and is now stuck trying to find a way to explain to the members who have given up everything why God did not keep them in the lands as they were told He would.
Months later, Joseph records a revelation that the Lord "declared that they had been afflicted for their sins, but He had compassion on them and promised they would not be forsaken."
Again, a critic would argue that Joseph Smith knows that his prophecy failed, and needs to find a way out. And just as he has done in other situations, Joseph puts the blame on the victims for not being true enough for God to protect them. Furthermore, Joseph then commands the members in Missouri "to purchase land in Zion and seek legal, peaceful means to get back what they had lost" through this commandment.
Where this revelation takes a completely different turn than the earlier messages to Missouri is that "the Lord also indicated that Zion could be reclaimed by power." This leads Joseph to command the church in Ohio to begin forming a group that will march to Missouri to take the land back. “The redemption of Zion must needs come by power,” the Lord declared. “Let no man be afraid to lay down his life for my sake.”
The revelation calls for 500 men to go to Missouri, but "the force was only a small fraction of the five hundred the Lord had called for." Even though the force did not match the revelation, they carried on to Missouri with a lot of details about the journey including mentions of Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff, two future prophets of the church.
Upon arriving in Missouri, Joseph finds out that Governor Dunklin had refused to provide militia support for the church to go back to their land. Joseph decides to carry on, and the camp continued on to Missouri knowing they would not have any backup beyond the church members who had been relocated after being expelled.
They discuss a story about attackers descending on Joseph's camp, but being forced to bail on their plans to attack Joseph's group because of a storm that swells the size of the river between them. “Boys, there is some meaning to this,” he exclaimed. “God is in this storm!”
This quote is taken from Joseph Smith's history, written about five years after the event. Again, it is possible that Joseph said that regarding the storm (just a chapter earlier he mistook a meteor shower for a fulfillment of a prophecy regarding the Second Coming), but this falls into the quote we've referenced before that "History is written by the victors." Again, we can't prove something didn't happen, but as we've detailed on our faith promoting stories page, history does not back up these miraculous claims when there are different points of view available.
Without the aid of Governor Dunklin, Joseph began seeking out local officials to seek help for the church to reclaim their lands. The officials "agreed to help calm the anger of their fellow citizens, but they warned the camp not to go into Jackson County." They feared if church members went into Independence, violence could escalate quickly.
The very next day, Joseph Smith recorded a revelation that “Zion cannot be built up,” He declared, “unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom.” This followed by a commandment that the church members should wait to rebuild Zion until they had further prepared themselves with more learning. “And this cannot be brought to pass,” He explained, “until mine elders are endowed with power from on high.”
This revelation pleased many members, but angered some who did not understand why they were led all the way to Missouri only to turn around, leaving the Missouri church members stranded after spending so much time and money getting there. After all of the cost, stress, and risk traveling to Missouri, Joseph Smith was going to turn around and leave them helpless for longer.
I would ask anyone interested to read D&C 105 to get a context for the revelation. Again, the blame is put on the Missouri church members for not being faithful enough ("But behold, they have not learned to be obedient to the things which I required at their hands, but are full of all manner of evil, and do not impart of their substance, as becometh saints, to the poor and afflicted among them"), and the revelation then calls for no further action to be taken to help them.
We were told in previous chapters that God promised to protect the church in Missouri, and now we're being told that because they are "full of all manner of evil" that not only were they not saved, but will not even be helped by Joseph now.
A critical reading of D&C 105 leads some to believe that Joseph was nervous about undertaking a battle with such small numbers, and received this revelation as a way out of what had been such a difficult mission to begin with. It is also worth noting that the revelation in D&C 105 gives himself and the top church leaders an out: "I speak not concerning those who are appointed to lead my people, who are the first elders of my church, for they are not all under this condemnation." (D&C 105:7)
This is a pattern with Joseph's revelations that we have noted multiple times already in Saints - God always praises Joseph and tells those with doubts to not judge him in revelations, while giving him an out of difficult situations that leave other earlier members angry. We note this on our Summary page in the convenience of revelations.
The chapter ends with most of Joseph's group going back to Ohio, while a few remained back in Missouri to help the stranded members, specifically Wilford Woodruff who will be a future prophet of the church.
Our biggest takeaways in this chapter are how Saints continues to gloss over troubling stories without actually discussing why they are a problem, and how D&C 105 is, to a critical viewpoint, a troubling revelation that allows Joseph Smith to abandon the members in Missouri when the outcome looked so grim. And not only does this give Joseph Smith a way to go back to Ohio, but does so by castling blame on the righteousness of church members while again praising Joseph Smith and the other top leaders at the time.
One final note about how honesty can also be about "by only telling part of the truth:" We are now moving through 1834 in chapter eighteen, which is by some accounts after Joseph Smith began his affair/polygamous relationship with Fanny Alger. We discuss this in our annotated LDS polygamy essay, but this is a huge development in Joseph Smith's lifetime, and is completely ignored during this time period (she is mentioned in chapter 25).
Perhaps it is not a huge problem that Saints does not mention Fanny Alger here as they do mention her later, but William McLellin and Martin Harris both have this relationship beginning in 1832 or 1833. Fanny isn't mentioned in Saints until 1837, and at that point she is brushed aside as a wife under Joseph's revelation that would not be recorded for, at minimum, 7 years after the relationship took place. It feels important that the 'Standard of Truth' would mention these events as they happened, but again they are left out as it completely disrupts the clean narrative presented here. And as critics often point out, church history is molded in ways that make Joseph look as close to perfect as possible, while the history that we are pointing out here tells a much different story. And that story will continue in chapter 19 - thanks for reading!
Chapter Nineteen: Stewards Over This Ministry
The beginning of chapter nineteen of Saints highlights a problem I've had with Joseph Smith's revelations for a long time. It discusses how following the disbanding of the 'Camp of Israel,' there was an outbreak of cholera which sickened over sixty people and took the lives of "more than a dozen."
Cholera can be avoided by boiling water before drinking it or using it when preparing food. Joseph Smith had claimed to receive the Word of Wisdom already, which was guidance to live healthier lives. As we pointed out at the time, the revelation closely mirrored the temperance movement of the day, which was a growing movement to abstain from alcohol, tobacco, and even hot drinks such as soup.
During the time it was not known that boiling water could save lives, and the Word of Wisdom did not give this very basic health guideline either. It was something that I never thought of as an active member of the church, but in hindsight I find it very difficult to believe that God would instruct Joseph Smith to limit hot soups to live a healthy life but not reveal to the church how crucial boiling water would be to their health. Critics argue that Joseph Smith tended to reveal doctrine and practices that were known to him through other sources, and this would be an area where he could have really proven himself to be a revelator in bringing forth such a vital health practice.
Following the cholera outbreak, Joseph Smith took steps to organize the church further "after receiving a vision of how Peter organized the Lord’s church anciently." We noted in earlier chapters about how the priesthood restoration was "retrofitted" by Joseph Smith changing the revelation to including the visitation from John the Baptist along with the separate priesthoods (Melchizedek and Aaronic), and those were changed during this time-frame.
Joseph Smith then gets to work on the Kirtland temple and stresses over the lack of money. They had spent a lot of money on their trip to Zion, which ended with them turning around and leaving the members in Missouri on their own, and now were low on funds to continue paying their debts in Kirtland. Sidney Rigdon undertook much of the debt, and he worried about being held to account if the church defaulted on their responsibilities.
Saints then discusses how some members from New York were making their way to Missouri following the revelation to move to Zion and purchase property, and they stopped at Kirtland on the way. Upon their arrival, Joseph Smith and the high council recommended they stay in Kirtland for the winter. The council also asked the men to lend them the money they had raised, which brought some relief to their financial woes.
Joseph then chooses the "Quorum of the Twelve Apostles," which models after the New Testament apostles, even selecting two pairs of brothers. Saints briefly highlights the twelve that were chosen and then discusses Joseph expanding the church further with the "Quroum of the Seventy." The seventy chosen "were all veterans of the Camp of Israel," which was important as there were still tensions regarding to the march to Zion that left the members in Missouri without help.
The final two paragraphs of Saints address this tension between Joseph and those who went to Zion with him:
"Shortly after their call, the prophet spoke to the new quorums. “Some of you are angry with me because you did not fight in Missouri,” he said. “But let me tell you, God did not want you to fight.” Instead, Joseph explained, God had called them to Missouri to test their willingness to sacrifice and consecrate their lives to Zion, and to increase the power of their faith.
“He could not organize His kingdom with twelve men to open the gospel door to the nations of the earth, and with seventy men under their direction to follow in their tracks,” he taught, “unless He took them from a body of men who had offered their lives and who had made as great a sacrifice as did Abraham.”"
We have pointed out a few instances already where Joseph Smith tells of revelation when he's in a tough spot, and critics would argue this is another instance of that. Joseph Smith did not want to fight in Missouri once he realized there would be no additional help there, and while that was probably the smart move strategically, it is not what he told the church members would happen upon their arrival in Zion.
But another pattern we see with Joseph Smith is that he often likes to talk of testing others as God did to Abraham. This occurs when Joseph asks other men for their daughters or wives in polygamous marriages, and it happens here as well when his authority is being challenged due to questionable decisions. Again, critics would argue this is a way that Joseph tries to diffuse tense situations that he knows are heading in bad directions, but this is a tactic we will see again in Joseph's lifetime especially with polygamy. We want to note it here because once you see the pattern, we believe a lot of other things about Joseph's difficult theologies and practices begin to make a lot more sense.
Chapter Twenty: Do Not Cast Me Off
This chapter begins with one of the most important events in the history of the church: the purchase of the mummies and scrolls that would later become the Book of Abraham. It is important because it will become a canonized scripture, but also because critics often cite this as perhaps the biggest smoking gun against Joseph Smith since we still have source materials to compare to.
Saints paints the story of how Joseph came to purchase these mummies and scrolls: "In July, a poster advertising “Egyptian Antiquities” appeared in town... Michael Chandler, the man showcasing the artifacts, had heard of Joseph and come to Kirtland to see if he wanted to purchase them. Joseph examined the mummies, but he was more interested in the scrolls. They were covered with strange writing and curious images of people, boats, birds, and snakes."
In the 1830s, no one in America could translate or read Egyptian. It was a source of great wonder and excitement, so of course the writings would have "strange writing and curious images" as Joseph notes. This is what made Egyptian so mysterious and why so many were interested in trying to unlock the meanings.
Saints continues: "Chandler permitted the prophet to take the scrolls home and study them overnight. Joseph knew Egypt played an important role in the lives of several prophets in the Bible. He also knew Nephi, Mormon, and other writers of the Book of Mormon had recorded their words in what Moroni called “reformed Egyptian."
Again, we have pointed this out earlier, but the idea of "reformed Egyptian" has still never been verified to be a language that ever existed beyond Joseph's claims. We are taught that the Book of Mormon populations were so large they numbered in the millions in battles and then the Lamanites continued on to be the Native Americans, yet there is absolutely no evidence or record of any writing that matches the 'caractors' that Joseph Smith write down to show Charles Anthon. Those are the characters that, as we pointed out earlier, look like English letters and numbers rotated, altered, or flipped.
As you can see above, "reformed Egyptian" carries a lot of similarities to English characters, and as such the critical viewpoint here is that Joseph Smith could not understand Egyptian any better than anyone else during this time, and created these 'caractors' so Martin Harris would help finance the Book of Mormon.
The story continues: "As he examined the writings on the scrolls, he discerned that they contained vital teachings from the Old Testament patriarch Abraham. Meeting with Chandler the next day, Joseph asked how much he wanted for the scrolls. Chandler said he would only sell the scrolls and mummies together, for $2,400."
One thing that is interesting here is the use of the word "discern" in the paragraph. For many years the church taught that the Book of Abraham was translated by Joseph Smith, but here the use of the word "discern" leaves some wiggle room. And the reason for this is laid out strongly in our annotated LDS Essay on the Book of Abraham: The papyrus has absolutely nothing to do with Abraham. Therefore, Saints has to give Joseph Smith some wiggle room here because they can not say he translated any of the scrolls since we now know that Joseph Smith's translations have been proven incorrect.
Furthermore, in the very last chapter it is discussed at length just how dire the financial situation of the church was, yet here Joseph collects $2,400 to buy these scrolls that do not even have a single thing to do with Abraham. From chapter nineteen: "Harrison and John agreed to loan the church part of the $850 from their branch." If the church was in such bad shape that they needed to borrow "part of the $850 from their branch" just to keep up with mounting debts, why are they spending $2,400 for scrolls that do not actually reference Abraham?
We do not want to get too far ahead on the Book of Abraham, but if you read our annotated LDS Essay you will see that apologists now claim Joseph Smith received the Book of Abraham through a "catalyst" where they acknowledge that the scrolls didn't actually have anything to do with Abraham, but Joseph studying them led to the revelation containing the book. We describe in great detail why that explanation can not work, but again we note that in our opinion God would not confirm to Joseph to spend $2,400 on scrolls if He would just reveal the text to Joseph regardless.
The chapter has a lot of highly narrative style stories, such as Emma seeing the temple being built around her, and a lot of time is spent discussing the marriage between Newel Knight and Lydia Bailey. But one thing that is tucked in the chapter is that the Doctrine and Covenants is being printed. Saints describes the book as "a combination of revelations from the unpublished Book of Commandments and more recent revelations, together with a series of lectures on faith that church leaders had given to the elders. The Saints accepted the Doctrine and Covenants as a work of scripture, as important as the Bible and Book of Mormon."
There are a couple of points to make here. First, the Book of Commandments was published, but most of the books were destroyed. There are a few remaining copies that are in existence today, and they are incredibly important because we can see all of the important changes that Joseph made to the revelations. Second, Saints does not even mention that Joseph updated revelations here, even though it has been highly documented and Saints is being held up as the "Standard of Truth."
We highlight some of the most important changes on our changes to the Doctrine and Covenants page, but it is here where Joseph Smith adds in John the Baptist and the names Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods. Joseph also changes a revelation that originally said the Book of Mormon would be the only gift from God he would ever receive, along with the foundation of the church, Olivery Cowdery's "Gift of Aaron," and more. These changes are incredibly important to understanding why so many critics take issue with the credibility of Joseph Smith, and for Saints to gloss over those changes here feels like a lie of omission.
The end of the chapter focuses on Joseph's quarrels with his brother William. It takes a long time, but he makes peace with William and the chapter ends with the family united once again.
As you read chapter twenty of Saints you can see the seeds being planted for the Book of Abraham, and we invite all of you to read our annotated LDS Gospel Topics essay on the Book of Abraham. It is a long read with our annotations, but it needs to be long in order to fully explain why each of the potential scenarios that the church gives for how the book was translated (as the papyrus does not have anything to do with Abraham) simply do not work. We are not trying to be harsh here and this is not an "anti-Mormon" stance - these are factual reasons why the Book of Abraham translation from Joseph Smith is inaccurate both in its content and why Joseph's own words do not allow for the apologist possibilities to work within the history of the church.
Chapter Twenty-One: The Spirit of God
The beginning of chapter twenty one starts with the Kirtland temple being finished, with descriptions of how the New Testament apostles received their "power when the Spirit descended upon them like a rushing wind, and they spoke in tongues." Saints references that the as the church members talked to Joseph and "prepared for their endowment, they anticipated a similar spiritual outpouring."
As the temple opened, Joseph was anointed by his father and promptly saw a vision of the celestial kingdom, with his brother Alvin who did not have the chance to join the church before he passed. Joseph saw God and Jesus, which is one of the earlier references to God and Jesus being separate beings from Joseph Smith. As we mention in the annotated First Vision LDS essay, Joseph Smith held a trinitarian view until the mid 1830s, which is when the Book of Mormon had multiple changes from "God" to the "Son of God."
This vision leads Joseph to explain that "people in Alvin’s situation would not be damned for lacking opportunities on earth. The Lord also taught that small children who died before reaching the age of accountability, like the four infants Joseph and Emma had buried, would be saved in the celestial kingdom."
We're not going to spend a lot of time on this vision, but it was always odd to me as a member that if you did not hear about the Mormon church during your life, you had an easier path to the celestial kingdom than if you were born in the church and had to live your entire life under the rules of the church. But this solved a big hole in church theology since so many people will never join the church during their lifetimes, so of course it needs to be addressed as to what happens to them.
One thing that this chapter talks about is how so many people who received the sacrament or anointing from Joseph saw visions, angles, and even were fact to face with Jesus Christ. We've seen this in earlier chapters of Saints, where members after meeting with Joseph would act in weird ways, have visions, or even claim to speak in tongues.
We're going to look at this in two ways: First, it needs to stressed heavily here that these kinds of events just do not happen to people who receive the endowment today, nor did it happen to those who received the endowment that were not around Joseph Smith. Critics have long asked why God would grant visions to people that were given the sacrament or anointing from Joseph, but then end the magical worldview to anyone not in Joseph's presence.
The church has only one canonized vision after Joseph Smith, and that is D&C 138 recorded in 1918. Critics argue that there must be a reason that every prophet after Joseph Smith through today does not claim any visionary experiences (with the one exception noted), and that members do not experience any of the same visions, ability to speak in tongues, or meetings with Christ.
Because these experiences would happen after drinking sacrament wine or being anointed by Joseph, many even at the time theorized that, because Joseph himself prepared the wine and consecrated oil, he added elements to the wine and consecrated oil that could produce these kinds of visions. There is of course no definitive proof that it happened, but the type of behavior noted here (and in earlier chapters of Saints) mirrors the experience that comes from taking some of the substances known of during Joseph's time. There is a detailed write-up that highlights the substances used at the time, Joseph's possible connections to them, and the times when these visions were recorded following the sacrament/anointings from Joseph by Robert T. Beckstead. (Beckstead's Sunstone Presentation)
We don't want to spend too much more time on this topic, but we do ask anyone reading this to think why these visions happened so freely to Joseph and those directly around him, but not to anyone else. If God truly passed down the power of the endowment through Joseph to all of us, why did we not experience these same visions and ability to speak in tongues upon receiving the endowment? Why did Brigham Young not receive these kinds of visions as a prophet? In fact with Brigham Young, we have been told he transfigured into Joseph Smith, but as we discuss on our Faith Promoting Stories page, all evidence during the time indicates that nothing supernatural happened whatsoever.
Following these visions, the temple was dedicated and many showed up to hear Sidney Rigdon's two hour talk and Joseph's prayer. We have descriptions of many feeling the spirit of God, but no visions or speaking in tongues for those in attendance until later that evening when Joseph met with a small group of church leaders and partook of break and wine prepared by Joseph.
During this meeting, "the men began to speak in tongues, as the Savior’s apostles had done at Pentecost. Some at the meeting saw heavenly fire resting on those who spoke. Others saw angels. Outside, Saints saw a bright cloud and a pillar of fire rest over the temple."
We're not trying to beat a dead horse here, but these kinds of visions happening in such great numbers when the men were drinking wine prepared by Joseph Smith is incredibly interesting when you consider these experiences just do not happen like this when Joseph is not around. And just as earlier chapters of Saints point out, the visions and behaviors were not always faith promoting.
One vision that Saints does not mention from the Kirtland temple era is from John Pulsipher. He recounts the following vision: "One pleasant day in March, while I was at work in the woods, about one mile from the Temple, with father, Elias Pulsipher and Jesse Baker, there was a steamboat past over Kirtland in the air! It was a clear, sunshine day. When we first heard the distant noise, we all stopped work. We listened and wondered what it could be. As it drew nearer, we heard the puffing of a steamboat, intermingled with the sound of many wagons rattling over a rough stony road. We all listened with wonder but could not see what it was. It seemed to pass right over our heads; we all heard the sound of a steamboat as plain as we ever did in our lives. It passed right along and soon went out of our hearing. When it got down to the city it was seen by a number of persons. It was a large fine and beautiful boat, painted in the finest style. It was filled with people. All seemed full of joy. Old Elder Beamon, who had died a few months before was seen standing in the bow of the boat swinging his hat and singing a well known hymn. The boat went steady along over the city, passed right over the Temple and went out of sight to the west! This wonderful sight encouraged the Saints because they knew the Lord had not forgotten them." (John Pulsipher Autobiography)
Next we have a third mention of members having these experiences following partaking of bread and wine in the temple. "Joseph and his counselors went home, leaving the Twelve to take charge of the meeting. The Spirit again descended on the men in the temple, and they began to prophesy, speak in tongues, and exhort one another in the gospel. Ministering angels appeared to some men, and a few others had visions of the Savior."
On Easter Sunday, Joseph and Oliver received a vision after they lowered the canvas to be completely hidden from the congregation. This is an interesting vision because Joseph and Oliver claim to see the Lord, Moses, Abraham, and others, but what is the most important part of this vision is Joseph claiming to be visited by Elias and Elijah.
Elijah gives Joseph the keys to the priesthood, but that is not the problem. The problem is that Elias and Elijah are the same person. Elias is simply the Greek name of Elijah, but Joseph Smith apparently did not realize this at the time of the vision. Apologists at FAIR claim that is not a problem, because while "It is certainly true that "Elias" is the Greek form of the Hebrew "Elijah," however, there are also cases when the name "Elias" is applied to someone besides Elijah."
Bruce R. McConkie gives five different possibilities to explain the major problem here created by Joseph Smith's vision, which are summarized below (Article from Richard Packman):
1. A prophet of Abraham's time (D&C 110:12) and the "spirit" or "doctrine" of this prophet; McConkie admits that "We have no information, at this time, as to the mortal life or ministry of Elias. It is apparent that he lived in the days of Abraham, but whether he was Abraham, or Melchizedek, or some other prophet, we do not know."
2. The Greek form of 'Elijah'; McConkie says, "This leads to some confusion..."
3. The Spirit and Doctrine of Elias, which is to prepare for a greater work to come (this must therefore pertain only to the Aaronic priesthood, says McConkie).
4. The Elias of the Restoration. According to Joseph Smith, says McConkie, Christ is the Elias (JST "Inspired Version" John 1:21-28). McConkie clarifies: "By revelation we are also informed that the Elias who was to restore all things is the angel Gabriel who was know in mortality as Noah. (D&C 27:6-7)…From the same authentic source we also learn that the promised Elias is John the Revelator. (D&C 77:9, 14)." McConkie then concludes that 'Elias' is a "composite personage." It is a "name and a title."
5. John the Baptist is a good example of an 'Elias,' says McConkie.
Just as Joseph Smith used Deutero-Isaiah verses in the Book of Mormon that were unavailable to Lehi before he left, Joseph Smith here apparently did not know that Elias was simply the Greek name for Elijah. And because he did not know that, the entire vision here is open to intense scrutiny because the apologist answers do not make sense when you apply Occam's Razor to them.
One other note that we mentioned before is that by this point Joseph Smith has been involved in a relationship with Fanny Alger - whether it was an affair or a polygamous marriage is up for debate, but there is no marriage record anywhere even as apologists insist it was proper.
The problem though is that Joseph Smith never claims to receive the sealing "keys" until this event, which means that his marriage to Fanny Alger prior to receiving the keys would not be a polygamous sealing under God. If the relationship to Fanny was not an affair as stated by Oliver Cowdery, then the marriage was illegal not just under the laws of the land, but under God's laws as well. Saints clearly does not want to touch this subject yet (they will, but not in an accurate timeframe) because they know how damning it is to Joseph's character and actions.
The chapter ends with Joseph Smith Sr giving patriarchal blessings to members as they headed out to be missionaries. We can go into patriarchal blessings at a later time, but what is interesting is that of the recordings we have of the blessings given by Joseph Smith Sr, "the great majority expected to be present at the earth’s “winding up scene.” As with Joseph's revelations, they truly believed the Millennium was approaching within years. Looking at that in the context of 2018, it does raise many questions about the mindset of early church leaders and why their mindset was so incorrect about the last days.
No doubt this is a pretty remarkable chapter. The countless visions of the small groups meeting with Joseph are absolutely unique and one that deserves so much more research. We hope those reading this will check out the presentation we linked to as well as another Sunstone presentation given in 2017 which is now on Youtube. After digesting these presentations, ask yourself why these visions, speaking in tongues, and meetings with Christ never happened in this manner again with people not around Joseph Smith. It is a tough one to be open enough to think about, but when you're ready to really open up and dig into the truth caims of the church, this is a really difficult subject to tackle.