The Book of Mormon and the Mormonites

1841-07

❮ Home

“The Book of Mormon and the Mormonites.” Athenaeum, Museum of Foreign Literature, Science and Art 42 (July 1841): 370–74.

From the Anthemeum.

THE BOOK OF MORMON AND THE MORMONITES.

The Book of Mormon: an Account written by the Hand of Mormon, upon Plates taken from the Plates of Nephi.

“Wherefore it is an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites; written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the House of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile: written by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation. Written, and sealed up, and hid up unto the LORD, that they might not be destroyed: to come forth by the gift and power of GOD unto the interpretation thereof: sealed by the hand of Moroni and hid up unto the LORD, to come forth in due time by the way of Gentile; the interpretation thereof by the gift of GOD:

“An abridgement taken from the book of Ether; also, which is a record o f the people of Jared;: who were scattered at the time the LORD confounded the language of the people when they were building a tower to get to heaven; which is to show unto the the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the LORD hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the LORD, that they are not cast off forever; and also the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself unto all nations. And now if there are faults, they are the mistakes of men; wherefore condemn not the things of GOD, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ.”

Translated by Joseph Smith, jun. First European, from the second American edition.

Liverpool Young & co.

HERE is a bitter satire on the much talked of “march of mind,” and the self-laudation of this “the nineteenth century!” Here is a pretended revelation, so absurd, so puerile, that it would seem unlikely to impose on the most ignorant and uncivilised, which has found thousands of followers in England— has been adapted by a party sufficiently numerous and wealthy to support a monthly periodical called the Millennial Star—And has so far advanced in organisation as to possess synodical conferences, local councils, and a general assembly!

Can such things be,

And overcome us like a summer cloud,

Without our special wonder?

We have nothing to do with the religious tenets of the Mormonites; it is enough to say that they are nearly identical with those of the German Anabaptists in the days of Luther, and that there are grounds for suspecting the coincidences to have been intentional; but the audacions forgery before us belongs to literary history, and, if for no better reason than its novelty, deserves to be investigated: indeed, in boldness of assertion and nullity of evidence, it is without a parallel in the annals of imposture. We shall first state the account which the Mormonites themselves give of their pretended revelation, and then from external and internal evidence show what was the origin of the forgery, and some of the circumstances which have contributed to give it currency both in America and in England.

Joseph Smith, jun., the apostle of the Mormonites, declares that reflecting upon the many hundred denominations into which the Christian world is divided, he went into a grove, at a short distance from his father’s house, and there besought Divine aid to show him which of all the rival claimants was the true Church. “While thus pouring out his soul,” says the narrative published by the Mormonite church, “Anxiously desiring an answer from God, he at length saw a very bright and glorious light in the heavens above, which at first seemed to be at a considerable distance. He continued praying, while the light appeared to be gradually descending towards him; and as it drew nearer, it increased in brightness and magnitude, so that by the time that it reached the tops of the trees, the whole wilderness, for some distance around, was illuminated in a most glorious and brilliant manner.” Into this cloud of glory Smith, says the narrative, was received, and he met within it two angelic personages, who exactly resembled each other in their features; they informed him that all his sins were forgiven, that all the religious denominations then existing were believing in erroneous doctrines, and consequently, “That none of them was acknowledged of God as his church and kingdom.” At the same time he received a promise, “that the fulness of the gospel should at some future time be made known to him.”

It is worth pausing to observe the similarity between this story and the account Mahommed gave of the first revelation he received; the coming of the angel Gabriel to his cave, the purification from original sin, and the promise of a future revelation to be given when he made the night-journey to heaven.

Joseph Smith, like Mahommed according to some traditions, did not pay much attention to the first revelation; but a second was vouchsafed to him in his bed-room, on the night of the 21st of September, 1823. A single personage appeared by his bedside, and notwithstanding the brightness of the light which previously illuminated the room, “there seemed to be an additional glory surrounding or accompanying this personage, which shone with an additional degree of brilliancy, of which he was in the midst: and though his countenance was as lightning, yet it was of a pleasing, innocent, and glorious appearance; so much so, that every fear was banished from the heart, and nothing but calmness pervaded the soul. The stature of this personage was a little above the common size of men in this age; his garment was perfectly white, and had the appearance of being without seam.” This celestial being informed Smith that the American Indians were “a remnant of Israel,” who had anciently prophets and inspired writers amongst them, and that some of their records, “by commandment of God to one of the last of the prophets,”had been deposited in a safe and secret place, to keep them from the hands of the wicked who sought to destroy them.

The third revelation, which was vouchsafed on the following morning, informed Joseph Smith of the place where these relics were deposited; it was “in a large hill on the east side of the mail-road from Palmyra, Wayne county, to Canandaigua, Ontario [370] county, state of New York, about four miles form Palmyra, and within one of the little village of Manchester.” Here Joseph Smith found a square stone chest containing plates like gold, “about seven by eight inches in width and length, being not quite so thick as common tin.” The Devil made his appearance while the box was being opened, but the purpose for which he came is not explained in the narrative.

The angel did not allow Smith to take these golden plates until he had been instructed in the Egyptian language, for it was in “the modern Egyptian” characters and language that these plates were graven. On the 22d of September, 1827, the angel delivered the record to Joseph Smith, Jun., and in the course of the following year he transcribed his translation of “the unsealed” portion of the records, under the name of ‘The Book of Mormon,’ which, as the narrative with truth declares, “contains nearly as much reading as the Old Testament. The work was, however, not published until the year 1830, and on the 6th of April, in that year, the Mormonites formed themselves into a sect, under the name of “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints”—that is, about the time that the Unknown Tongues began to make a noise in England. The first burst of this enthusiasm was terrific; in the words of the narrative, “Devils were cast out, and the sick were healed by the prayer of faith and laying on of hands.” An impostor named Matthews, or as he called himself, Matthias, proclaimed himself the Supreme Being, and might have become the head of a sect, had not the death of one of his votaries under suspicious circumstances, placed him as a criminal at the bar of justice, where his cowardice and his stupidity united to disenchant the female portion of his flock, which was both the larger and the more lucrative to the impostor. The disclosures made at the trial, of the influence of this man, were scarcely credible.

The Book of Mormon, included in a substantial structure of 634 pages, consists of two histories or romances very inartificially connected. The history of the Nephites, a portion of the tribe of Joseph, occupies the first portion. They are described as having emigrated from Jerusalem under the guidance of the prophet Nephi, and having been miraculously led to America, where they became the progenitors of the Indian race. Many years after their settlement they are supposed to discover the records of the Jaredites, an extinct nation, which came to America about the time of the building of Babel. The specimens we shall extract form this strange production will both serve as examples of its style, and also help us to trace the origin of the forgery. We shall first extract a portion of the vision of Nephi, in which he was foreshown the discovery of America by Europeans.

“And it came to pass, that the angel spake unto me, saying, look! And I looked and beheld many nations and kingdoms. And the angels said unto me, what beholdest thou? And I said, I behold many nations and kingdoms, and he said unto me, these are the nations and kingdom of the Gentiles.

“And it came to pass, that I saw among the nations of the Gentiles the foundaetion of a great church. And the angel said unto me, behold the foundtaion of a church, which is most abominable above all other churches, which slayeth the saints of God, yea, and tortureth them down, and yoketh them with a yoke of iron, and bringeth them down into captivity.

“And it came to pass, that I beheld this great and abominable church; and I saw the devil that he was the foundation of it. And I also saw gold, and silver, and silks, and scarlets, and fine twined linen, and all manner of precious clothing; and I saw many harlots. And the angel spake unto me saying, behold the gold, and the silver and the silks, and the scarlets, and the fine twined linen, and the precious clothing, and the harlots, are the desires of this great and abominable church: and also for the praise of the world, do they destroy the saints of God, and bring them down into captivity.

“And it came to pass that I looked and beheld many waters; and they divided the Gentiles from the seed of my brethren. And it came to pass that the angel said unto me, behold the wrath of God is upon the seed of my brethren! And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.

“And it came to pass that I beheld the spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivitiy, upon the many waters.

“And it came to pass that I beheld many multitudes of the Gentiles, upon the land of promise; and I beheld the wrath of God, that it was upon the seed of my brethren; and they were scattered before the Gentiles and were smitten. And I beheld the spirit of the Lord, that it was upon the Gentiles; that they did prosper, and obtain the land for their inheritance; and I beheld that they were white, and exceeding fair and beautiful, like unto my people, before they were slain.”

The allusion to the Church of Rome in this part of the vision is so obvious a manifestation of forgery, that it may appear strange how an impostor could have been guilty of such a blunder; but from 1825 to 1832 there was a strong current of popular prejudice against the Roman Catholics in the state of New York, which was considerably strengthened by the publication of Maria Monk’s pretended confession; some convents and chapels were destroyed by fanatical mobs, and these circumstances, no doubt, induced the author to court popular prejudice, to which, when at its full height, in America, no appeal can be too gross.

A still more palpable blunder occurs in a subsequent page. After the emigrants have sailed, they are described as mutinying against Nephi, as the Spanish crews did against Columbus, but they released him when a tempest came on, as he was the only person capable of working the ship. He is then represented as saying:

“And it came to pass after they had loosed me, behold, I took the compass, and it did work whither I desired it. And it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord; and after I had prayed, the winds did cease, and the storms did cease, and there was a great calm.” [371]

The impostor was not aware that he was antedating the discovery of the needle’s polarity by several centuries, and he speaks of the compass in such a way as to show that he was utterly ignorant of the nature of the implement. A Mormonite elder has unwittingly explained the probate source of this error; when pressed with this palpable mark of forgery, he unhesitatingly replied that the compass was mentioned in Scripture, quoting from the account of St. Paul’s voyage, “We fetched a compass [that is, took a circuitous course] and came to Rhegium.” It would be fortunate if the misapprehensions of the sacred text, by such ignorant readers, were confined to a blunder so innocent as this whimsical misapprehension.

The history of the settlements of the emigrants in North and South America contains some romantic and some very puerile incidents; but, passing these by, we turn to the prophecies of Nephi, to show how cunningly they are framed to support the imposture. The prophet is represented as predicting not merely the long concealment and future discovery of the sacred books or plates, but also that the language in which they were written should be unintelligible to the learned, and should be interpreted by one whose only learning was derived from inspiration:

“But, behold, it shall come to pass that the Lord God shall say unto him to whom he shall deliver the book, take these words which are not sealed, and deliver them to another, that he may show them unto the learned, saying, read this, I pray thee. And the learned shall say, bring hither the book, and I will read them: and now, because of the glory of the world, and to get gain, will they say this, and not for the glory of God. And the man shall say, I cannot bring the book, for it is sealed. Then shall the learned say, I cannot read it. Wherefore it shall come to pass, that the Lord God will deliver again the book and the words thereof to him that is not learned; and the man that is not learned, shall say, I am not learned; then shall the Lord God say unto him, the learned shall not read them, for they have rejected them, and I am able to do mine own work; wherefore thou shalt read the words which I shall give unto thee. touch not the things which are sealed, for I will bring them fort in mine own due time; for I will show unto the children of men, that I am able to do mine own work.”

In a similar strain the prophet enters into an anticipatory argument with those who shall declare that the Bible is the sole revelation of the Deity:

“Thou fool, that shall say, a bible, we have got a bible, and we need no more bible. Have ye obtained a bible, save it were by the Jews? Know ye not that there are more nations than one?

Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above, and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth?

Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together, the testimony of the two nations shall run together also. And I do this that I may prove unto many, that I am the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word, ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be, until the end of man; neither from that time henceforth and for ever.”

The history of the pretended Israelites is continued in the books of Enos, Jarom, Zeniff,

&c., and through them all, we find one signal proof not merely of imposture, but of the ignorance of the impostor, repeated with singular pertinacity. Every successive prophet predicts to the Nephites the future coming of Christ; the writer has fallen into the vulgar error of mistaking an epithet for a name; the word “Christ,” as all educated persons know, is not a name, but a Greek title of office, signifying “The Anointed,” being in fact a translation of the Hebrew word Messiah; it is true that in modern times, and by a corruption which is now become inveterate, the term is used by western Christians, as if it were a proper name, or at least an untranslatable designation, but this is a modern error, and it has been avoided by most of the oriental churches.

Now, the use of a Greek term, at an age when the Greek language was unformed, and by a people with whom it was impossible for Greeks to have intercourse, and moreover, whose native language was of such peculiar construction as not to be susceptible of foreign admixture, is a mark of forgery so obvious and decisive that it ought long since to have exposed the delusion.

Unhappily, however, we are forced to conclude from the pamphlets before us, that the American Methodists, who first undertook to expose the Mormonites, were scarcely less ignorant than themselves.

A second Nephi takes up the history at a period cotemporary with the events recorded in the New Testament. It avers that our Lord exhibited himself to the Nephites after his resurrection, and the words attributed to him bear still more conclusive evidence of the ignorance of the impostors:

“Behold I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are. I was with the Father from the beginning. I am in the Father, and the Father in me; and in me hath the Father glorified his name. I came unto my own, and my own received me not. And the scriptures, concerning my coming, are fulfilled. And as many as have received me, to them have I given to become the Sons of God; and even so will I to as many as shall believe on my name, for behold, by me redemption cometh, and in me is the law of Moses fulfilled. I am the light and the life of the world. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.”

In addition to the former blunder respecting the name “Christ, ” we have the name “Jesus” in its Greek form, and not as the Hebrews would have called it, “Joshua;” but we have furthermore the names of the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet given as a metaphorical description of continued existence to a nation that had never heard of the [372] Greek language.

It is quite clear that the writer mistook Alpha and Omega for some sacred and mystic sounds, to which particular sanctity was attached,—a blunder by no means confined to the Mormonites,— and wrote them down without perceiving that they were an evidence of forgery, so palpable as to be manifest to school-boys.

The change of colour in the descendants of the emigrants is stated to have been a punishment for their sins, and the final sealing up of the sacred records before the arrival of the Europeans is attributed to the increasing wickedness of the people. The pretended revelation concludes with some ceremonial rules, principally relating to the necessity of total immersion in the sacrament of baptism.

Enough has now been said to show the nature and character of this extraordinary forgery.

Had the success of the imposture been confined to America, we might have noticed its history briefly, as a strange example of the aberrations of the human mind; but it is making rapid progress in England, particularly in the manufacturing districts; and it is also spreading in Wales.

Furthermore, its converts are not made from the lowest ranks; those sought and obtained by the Mormonite apostles are mechanics and tradesmen who have saved a little money, who are remarkable for their moral character, but who are exposed to delusion from having, as Archbishop Sharpe expressed it, “studied the Bible with an ill-balanced mind.” We feel it therefore a duty to expose the origin of the imposture, and to give some particulars respecting its authors, which we trust will be of service in preventing the spread of the delusion.

From the testimony of eighty different persons residing in Wayne and Ontario counties, New York, it appears that Joseph Smith, junior, was originally a “Money-digger.” It is a common belief in America that large sums of money were buried in the earth by the buccaneers, and by persons compelled to fly from their homes during the Revolutionary wars. Of this belief many impostors have taken advantage, declaring that they can discover the treasure by spells and incantations. The success with which Smith practised these arts, pointed him out as a fit associate to Sidney Rigdon, and Oliver Cowdery, who had by accident become possessed of the manuscripts which were made the foundation of the ‘Book of Mormon.’ It is of some importance to observe that there were two sets of imposture, originally distinct,—the pretended discovery of the metallic plates, devised by Smith and Martin Harris, and the pretended translation of these plates, published as the ‘Book of Mormon,’ which appears to have been suggested by Sidney Rigdon.

Smith, Harris, and some others, were known as the “Gold Bible Company,” before the pretended discovery of the plates, and for some time after that event seem to have had no notion of founding a new religion. In the authentication of the pretended discovery, signed by seven witnesses, which Smith published, the witnesses only testify, “We have seen and hefted [lifted,] and know of a surety that the said Smith hath got the plates of which we have spoken.” Hence the original fraud appears to have been a scheme of pretended treasures and forged antiquities.

We shall soon see how this fraud was connected with the ‘Book of Mormon.’ A clergyman named Solomon Spaulding left the ministry and entered into business in Cherry Vale, New York, where he failed in the year 1809. The discoveries of the antiquities of the “Mounds” occurred about the same time; and when he removed after his failure into the state of Ohio, he found much curiosity excited by these relics of extinct civilisation. Long previous it had been a popular theory with certain speculative writers, that the aboriginal Americans were the descendants of the Ten Tribes; indeed the theory has still many advocates in the United States.

Spaulding hoped by combining this theory with the recent discoveries to produce a novel, the sale of which would enable him to pay his debts. He resolved to call it ‘The Manuscript Found,’ and to present it to the world as an historical record of the first inhabitants of America. As he was a vain man, he frequently read portions of the work of his friends and neighbours. His brother, his partner, his wife, and six of his friends testify. “That they well remember many of the names and incidents mentioned in Spaulding’s manuscript, and that they know them to be the same as those found in the 'Book of Mormon.’ ”

The manuscript was prepared for press, and in 1812 Spaulding took it to a printer named Lambdin, residing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: before any arrangement could be concluded, the author died; and as the MS. Was of great extent, Lambdin was unwilling to risk his money on the speculation. He lent the MS. To Sidney Rigdon, who, on the death of Lambdin in 1826, joined with Smith in palming it on the world as a new revelation. The worthy associates re-wrote and greatly altered the work; their additions to it can indeed be often traced by the clumsiness with which they are introduced, and among these additions we find prominent the promise, that the New Jerusalem should be founded in America, the command that the saints should have a community of goods, and the rule, that all admitted into the body should receive baptism by total immersion.

The history of the fraud is a proper introduction to the purposes for which it was designed. In addition to the ‘Book of Mormon’ the impostors have produced another work, called ‘The Book of Doctrines and Covenants,’ which they allow to be seen only by the initiated, and to be put into the hands only of those on whom they can depend. No copy of this work is to be procured in England, but we have been able to obtain some extracts taken by gentlemen in America. In this work the demand for money meets us everywhere. The following language is put into the mouth of the Supreme Being:—

“Let all the monies which can be spared, it mattereth not unto us whether it be little or much, be sent up into the land of Zion, unto those whom I have appointed to receive....Let all those who have not families, who receive money, send it up to the bishop of Zion, or unto the bishop of Ohio, that it may be consecrated for the bringing forth of the revelations, and the printing thereof, and establishing Zion,” sec. 17. “He that sendeth up treasures unto the land of Zion shall receive an inheritance in this world. And his work shall follow him. And also a reward in the world to come....It is meet that my servant Joseph Smith, jun., should have a house built in which to live and translate. And again it is meet that my [373] servant, Sidney Rigdon, should live as seemeth him good, inasmuch as he keepeth my commandments,” sec. 64.

The following reveals some particulars respecting Oliver Cowderey, one of the three witnesses to the supernatural origin of the ‘Book of Mormon:’—

“Hearken unto me, saith the Lord your God, for my servant Oliver Cowderey’s sake. It is not wisdom in me that he should be intrusted with the commandments and the monies, which he shall carry up unto the land of Zion, except one go with him who is true and faithful. Wherefore I, the Lord, willeth that my servant John Whitmer shall go with my servant Oliver Cowderey,” sec. 44.

In August 1831, the Mormonites, or “Latterday saints,” commenced their settlements in Missouri. In about two years their numbers had considerably increased, when the other inhabitants of the State took up arms against them, and a sanguinary civil war raged for nearly five years. We have no inclination to enter into the details of the lawless outrages committed on both sides, or the frightful picture they give of American life in the frontier provinces. It will be sufficient to say that true bills for murder were found against the Mormonite leaders, and that many of them contrived to escape from prison. Among the fugitives we find the names of several of those who are the most active apostles of the Mormonites in England, particularly Parley P. Pratt, the editor of the Millenial Star at Manchester. In the Mormonite appeal it is recorded:

“A bill was found against Parley P. Pratt, Morris Phelps, and Luman Gibbs for murder, and also a man by the name of King Follett for robbery.... In the evening, when the jailer brought in their suppers, they walked out at the door, that is Parley P. Pratt, Morris Phelps, and King Follett; Luman Gibbs continued; the others were closely pursued, and Follett was retaken and carried back, but the other two effected their escape to the State of Illinois.”

Since their expulsion from Missouri, the Mormonites have settled in Illinois, and founded three towns, the chief of which they call Nauvoo—a name which they have the hardihood to assert is derived from the Hebrew, and signifies Beautiful. They have sent missionaries into various parts of England to collect recruits; the deluded victims are persuaded to deposit their little stocks in the treasury of the sect, and are then sent over to the settlements on the Mississippi. They have been most successful in Preston, from whence no less than forty-four respectable persons, respectable at least in their class, have emigrated to the Mormonite colony within the last three weeks. This success may, in some degree, be attributed to the art by which the Mormonite leaders have connected themselves with the Temperance movement. In the 80th section of the ‘Book of Doctrine,’ the Temperance rules are strongly enjoined on the Mormonites, and hence they can present themselves to zealots in the cause as the only sect in which total abstinence is a matter of religious obligation. We find also that they are endeavouring to gain the Irvingites and Campbellites; for in a communication from Clithero it is stated,—“As soon as the converts were baptised and confirmed, they spoke with unknown tongues.” The last reports of the Mormonite Elders boast of increasing success, particularly in Staffordshire, Herefordshire, and Wales; and we have reason to fear that the boast is not wholly destitute of foundation.

Before closing this statement it is necessary to say a few words respecting the Mormonite hymns, for which they make a claim to divine inspiration, and which have really proved very efficient agents in their success. Greater balderdash than these productions can scarcely be conceived; they are devoid of grammar, sense, or rhyme; and yet they are compared by the deluded Mormonites to the Psalms of David. One specimen will suffice. It forms part of a contrast between the first and second advent of the Messiah:—

The first was persecuted,

And into Egypt fled.—

A pilgrim and a stranger Not where to lay his head.

The second at his temple Will suddenly appear,

And all his saints come with him To reign a thousand year.

The first a man of sorrows,

Rejected by his own;

And Israel left in blindness To wander forth forlorn.

The second brings deliverance,

They crown him as their king,

They own him as their Saviour And join his praise to sing.

Human patience can copy no more. Before concluding, however, we must call the attention of those who are engaged in resisting the progress of this heresy, to the plain internal evidences of forgery which we have shown in the ‘Book of Mormon.’ The imposture is artfully framed to catch those who are familiar with the language and style of our authorised version, but know nothing of the original; we see that its authors have adopted the most vulgar errors, but we may also see that they would not have adopted them, had not such errors been common. A very little general instruction would have saved most of the victims of this delusion; and assuredly nothing but a vast extent of popular ignorance can account for the success of such an imposture here, at the time when it had notoriously begun to fail in America.

❮ Back