Joseph Smith and The Occult
WHO WAS JOSEPH SMITH?
By Allen Harrod
Who was Joseph Smith? Was he a fraud or a prophet? Was he a charlatan or a chosen seer of God? Was he a conscious imposter or a deranged visionary? The Joseph Smith of history is vastly different from the common Mormon perception and the current LDS Church presentation of him. He has been cleaned up and somewhat sanitized in some present biographies. Some of his false predictions and erratic behavior have been deleted or changed in contemporary histories. Yet, many of the original records in the LDS archives have been copied by their scholars and reproduced for us to examine.
In an attempt to answer the question, "Who was Joseph Smith?" he will be examined from these three perspectives: family, factions and figures who influenced him.
Family influences upon Joseph Smith
According to New England genealogical records, Joseph Smith, Jr. had a rather illustrious ancestry. His first paternal ancestor that can be discovered was Robert Smith, his great-great-grandfather. Robert was an English Puritan who arrive in America in 1638. Joseph's great-grandfather was Samuel Smith, a gentleman and a representative of the Massachusetts General. Asahel Smith, grandfather to the founder of Mormonism, was a captain of the Minute Men who responded to the Lexington alarm and then on to the siege of Boston.1
Joseph's maternal grandfather Solomon Mack, claimed to have experienced divine visitations from heaven. When he was seventy-eight years of age, the accounts of these visions were published in a little book which he peddled to friends, neighbors and anyone who would purchase them.2
Lucy Mack Smith, the mother of Joseph Smith, Jr. was ambitious but limited in formal education. She was highly mystical and was given to strange dreams. She was, however, the most enterprising member of her family. People who knew her best said she would look you straight in the eye and weave an unimaginable tale, and when challenged she would defend her exaggerated statements without shame.
Little can be said of Joseph's father for little record remains concerning him. The gifted Mormon writer Dale Morgan described Joseph Smith, Sr., as having "no liking for the axe and little more for the plow, and was not a man to immune himself in a lonesome clearing at the outer reaches of civilization."3 He was also given to treasure digging. In an affidavit signed by several prominent citizens of Manchester, New York, on November 3, 1833, the Smith men were described as "lazy, indolent, intemperate, destitute of moral character and addicted to vicious habits."4
Factions that influenced Smith
The first faction that influenced Joseph Smith, Jr. was a fascination with the occult. Mormon scholar D. Michael Quinn, has carefully documented that Smith was influenced by the culture of his day and particularly by his immediate family. His father and uncle both used divining rods.5 Luman Walters was likely the individual who introduced Joseph Smith, Jr. to using the "seer stone" for the pretense of discovering treasure.6 The Palmyra Reflector dubbed him as "Walters the Magician" who operated by the use of "familiar spirits," using instruments of witchcraft such as a "stuffed toad," "an old sword," and a "seer stone."7
Dr. Reed Durham, former president of the Mormon History Association, and Professor of Religion at the University of Utah, in a 1974 lecture revealed that at the time of his death Joseph Smith was wearing what was formerly thought to have been a "Masonic jewel" was actually a "Jupiter talisman." This proves that Joseph Smith was engaged in occult practices until the end of his life in 1844.8 A talisman is an object engraved with astrological signs believed to have possessed power to avert evil and bring good luck. Such pieces are clearly identified with occult magic. This lecture, although true, brought the wrath of then President Spencer W. Kimbell down upon Dr. Durham. The talisman is currently kept in the LDS Archives.
Thirty miles from the Smith farm in Palmyra, the Shakers built a community hall. Ann Lee's followers viewed her as the reincarnated Christ. Lee was believed by her followers to speak in seventy-two different tongues, all unintelligible to those who heard them. The Shakers also believed that she could converse with the dead. Even if Smith did not attend any of these meeting he could have read about their practices in the local paper.9 The Shakers believe in new, extra-biblical revelations and visions from God, as do the Mormons. Another similarity between the two groups is their prohibition against the use of coffee, tea, tobacco, and liquor; Smith almost certainly knew about the Shaker's teachings when he later gave a revelation from God typed the "Word of Wisdom." The similarities are too obvious to be insignificant in the new religion of Smith.
Not more than twenty-five miles in another direction, Jemima Wilkinson, a Quaker, claimed to be Christ, calling herself the "Universal Friend." She led her group by revelations from heaven. Her group practiced communal living along with celibacy. The traits of communal living and being lead by divine revelations were also very prominent among the early Mormons. In contrast to Wilkinson's group, however, early Mormons did not practice celibacy.
Another group that likely influenced Smith's thinking was the "Seekers," of which Joseph Smith's uncle, Jason Mack, was a member. The Seekers believed, as does the Mormon church, that the contemporary Church has become corrupt, the Scriptures are defective, and that the faithful can be validated through the Apostolic gifts.10
While Smith was definitely influence by the general millennial fever of the 1830s he was specifically influenced by the predictions of William Miller, who's teaching gave a basis for today's Seventh Day Adventist. Smith, in 1835 during the time that William Miller was predicting the coming of Christ for 1844, prophesied the return of Christ at an ordination service of the twelve apostles in his new church. He declared that the world scene should be completed within fifty-six years.11 Woven deeply into the fabric of Mormonism are their eschatological claims to world dominance through the coming millennial reign of Christ, which by the way, Smith taught would take place not in Jerusalem the Zion of the Bible but in Independence, Missouri.
Still another influence upon the eclectic thinking of Smith was Emanuel Swedenborg. Although they were not contemporaries, Smith likely picked up some of Swedenborg's ideas by reading the Palmyra Reflector.12 Swedenborg considered himself a seer of new revelations from God, which transcended the revelation of Scripture. Swedenborg, like Smith, could describe the celestial world in minute detail. Anyone familiar with the teachings of the Mormons will quickly recognize ideas of Swedenborg. (See Profile in this issue)
There can be no question about the ideas that Smith carried over into Mormonism by way of Sidney Rigdon a former associate of Alexander Campbell. Two major themes of Mormonism are the "Restored Gospel" idea and the teaching of baptismal regeneration. While the Seekers taught that the gospel had been lost the Campbellites taught that it had been restored. Campbell coined the term "restoration," by which he meant the recovery of the New Testament pattern and practices. Smith and Rigdon extended the idea to cover the Old Testament also. Noted Mormon scholars Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton acknowledge the influence of the restoration teaching of Campbell upon the early Saints.13
The first name given to the Mormons was also likely to have been influenced by Campbell: the Church of Christ. While the formal name "Disciples of Christ" became a common designation for Campbell's group as early as 1825, he was referring to his church as the "Church of Christ."14 Some believe that Smith knew Sidney Rigdon, a one-time member of Campbell's Church of Christ, before Rigdon joined the Mormon Church. If so, it is significant that Smith named his group the Church of Christ in 1830.
Another extremely important influence upon Smith is the original source for his "conversion story," known as the "First Vision." Mormon Apostle John A. Widtsoe, rightfully measured everything that followed by the validity of Joseph's first vision when he wrote, "The First Vision of 1820 is of the first importance in the history of Joseph Smith. Upon its reality rest the truth and value of his subsequent work."
Jerald and Sandra Tanner were the first to reveal that there were different accounts of the First Vision. Finally, Mormon scholars admitted this fact. The full diaries of Joseph Smith, which have been published by Mormon historian Scott H. Faulring, record are at least three accounts of the first vision. The earliest account is found in Smith's own handwriting in his diary between July 20 and November 27, 1832, twelve years after the event was supposed to take place. He states he saw only the person of Christ who announced that his sins were forgiven. In this first account there is no record of seeing angels or conversation as to which church to join. He also says he was 16 years old at the time. In the church newspaper, Messenger and Advocate, dated February 1835, Oliver Cowdery, Smith's cousin and confidant, begins the church history and includes a second account of the first vision. In this account neither the Father nor the Son are mentioned, but a "personage stood before him" described as a "messenger [an angel] sent by commandment of the Lord." On November 9,1835 Smith dictated a third account of the first vision, found in his diary. This account grew out of a discussion with a "Jewish minister" where he claimed to be "about 14 years old." A second person appears in this account "like unto the first" who "testifyed [sic] unto me that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." The second person is not identified as God the Father, but rather seems to be an angelic being bearing testimony to Jesus. Again, there is no discussion as to which church to join. Not until March 1,1842, in the Times and Seasons, twenty-two years after the event was supposed to taken place did the church newspaper mention two personages (Christ and God) appearing to him simultaneously. This became the official account found today in Pearl of Great Price.
Smith was also likely influenced by the conversion story of Charles Finney. By comparing the two conversion stories it becomes clear that Smith either heard Finney tell his story, or he either heard or read about Finney's conversion story.
A final influence upon Smith was the Masonic order. Originally, while Smith was dictating the Book of Mormon he reflected the strong anti-Mason sentiment of the times.15 In fact, his brother Hyrum joined the Masonic Order in Palmyra at the time Joseph claimed to find the golden plates. It is likely that the idea for discovering the golden plates came from Jewish Cabalistic lore and carried into Masonic legend where Enoch is said to have found buried treasure of gold and brass plates. Characters on the plates were said to be in Egyptian hieroglyphics, all of which sounds remarkably similar to Smith's supposed discovery of the golden and brass plates in the hill Cumorah near his home. Despite this likely early plagiarism of Mormon lore, Smith later became a Mason through the influence of Dr. John D. Bennett at Nauvoo. He subsequently brought virtually every male member of his religion into the order.
From the Masonic ritual Smith carried the secret names, tokens (handclasps), penalties, signs and phrases into the Mormon Temple ceremonies. Prominent Masonic symbols such as the beehive and sun face were transported into the fabric of Mormonism. The sun face with extending rays was placed on the Nauvoo temple and the beehive remains an important symbol of Mormonism today.
Figures Who Influenced Smith
Key figures who influenced Smith were Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery and Sidney Rigdon. Martin Harris provided the funds through the sale of a piece of land to print the first edition of the Book of Mormon, but he subsequently became a continual thorn in Smith's side until his death.
One of the most overlooked items in the early history of Smith, until rather recently, is the fact that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were distant cousins, through their mothers. Cowdery, only a year younger than Smith, was Smith's secretary and recorded the Book of Mormon as Joseph dictated it from behind a curtain. This is important for several reasons. Cowdery was from Poultney, Vermont and attended the Congregational Church of Ethan Smith who wrote View of the Hebrews that many believe is the basis for the Book of Mormon. It may also explain why Cowdery, after being excommunicated, refused to air his disagreements with Smith.
Sidney Rigdon came into the Mormon church fresh from a falling out with Alexander Campbell. With him he bought a faulted theological basis to Mormonism. Gordon Fraser has called him, "Smith's theologian." John Hyde, who left the church in Utah, identified Rigdon as being the "compiling genesis of Mormonism" and the inventor of many of it's "forms and arguments." David Whitmer, a supposed witness of the golden plates, later left the church and credited Rigdon for instituting the priesthood idea. There is no doubt that Rigdon was one of the most influential persons in the life of Joseph Smith.
The historical record of the nineteenth century shows remarkable parallels between the religious environment of western New York and the developing Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Based upon these records, it is reasonable to conclude that Joseph Smith was a fraudulent businessman, occultist, and plagiarist.
1 Hebert Spencer Salisbury, "The Mormon War in Hancock County," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, July 1915, 281-282.
2 William J. Whalen, The Latter-day Saints in the Modern World (New York: The John Day Company, 1964), 23.
3 John Phillip Walker, Editor, Dale Morgan on Early Days of Mormonism (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986), 219.
4 Daniel P. Kidder, Mormonism and the Mormons: A Historical View of the Rise and Progress Of the Sect Self-styled Latter-day Saints (New York: Carlton and Lanhan, 1842), 20-21.
5 D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Salt Lake City: Signature Press, 1987), 27-28.
6 Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise and Progress of Mormonism (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1867),28,38.
7 The Reflector, June 12, July 7, 1830; February 28,1831.
8 Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Mormonism-Shadow or Reality? (Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1982), 492 as cited from Mormon Miscellaneous, October 1975, 11,13,16.
9 Thomas F. O'Dea, The Mormons (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1975), 11.
10 William Alexander Linn, The Story of the Mormons (New York: Russell & Russell, 1902),9.
11 Leroy Edwin Froom, "The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers," (Tokoma Park, Washington, DC, Review and Herald, Volume 4, Publishing Association, 1954), 462-465.
12 The Reflector, March 16,1830.
13 Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton, The Mormon Experience (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), 27.
14 Dean C. Jessee, "The Writing of Joseph's History," Brigham Young University Studies, Volume 11, Number 4 (Summer 1971), 471-472.
15 John Hyde, Jr., Mormonism: It's Leaders and Designs (New York: W.P. Fetridge & Co., 1857), 152,153.
Joseph Smith - Background
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