Jesus & Joseph: Parallel Lives

By Rodney Turner

Reviewed by Sharon Lindbloom 

Jesus & Joseph was published in 2005, the year marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of the book’s namesake, Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith. It is, therefore, a book that seeks to honor the Prophet as well as celebrate his contributions to our world. The book jacket states, “Beginning with Adam, Enoch, Noah and the other early patriarchs, the divine labor of declaring the message of salvation to the offspring of God on this planet went forward. This effort was carried on in the post-diluvian dispensations of such Old Testament personalities as Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Elijah–and of such Book of Mormon prophets as Nephi, Mosiah, Alma, and Abinadi. However, the heights of this effort were centered in two individuals: Jesus of Nazareth and Joseph the Prophet.”

Author Rodney Turner, includes a standard disclaimer stating he alone bears all responsibility for the contents of Jesus & Joseph. Nevertheless, he has impressive credentials for writing a book which discusses a good bit of Mormon doctrine. Holding BA and MA degrees from BYU and a PhD from the University of Southern California, Dr. Turner is currently Emeritus Professor of Ancient Scripture (BYU). According to the book jacket, he has taught “virtually all of the scriptural and doctrinal courses offered at BYU,” taught LDS Seminary, and assisted in curriculum development for the LDS Church. He should, therefore, have a sound understanding of Mormon doctrine.

Jesus & Joseph is divided into seven sections, each section addressing a different aspect of the parallel lives of these two men. Beginning with the author’s understanding of the foreordinations of both Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith, the remaining sections cover the men’s families, divine credentials, ground-breaking doctrines, deaths, future ministries, and a conclusion titled “By Their Fruits.” Throughout all runs the continuing themes of comparison between, and the intertwined lives, of Jesus and Joseph.

Dr. Turner covers a considerable amount of doctrine and history in this book. Sometimes his writing is predictable, sometimes refreshing, and sometimes utterly outrageous.

Predictable

On page 43 of Jesus & Joseph Dr. Turner writes:

“What is truth? The Smiths did believe in an unseen world of spiritual realities and they did engage in various aspects of what has been termed folk magic. Joseph Smith Sr. did claim prophetic dreams and seriously–and perhaps naively–did engage in treasure seeking. After acquiring a seer stone in 1822, young Joseph did use it for such nonspiritual purposes as locating lost articles and attempting to find hidden treasure. However, in those early years, Joseph was only an apprentice prophet.”

Dr. Turner excuses Joseph’s occult activity due to the fact that his behavior and beliefs were common in New England at this time. Claiming the Smith family was guilty only of being “naïve and gullible,” Dr. Turner says, “…they harmed no one.”

This is a typical LDS justification of the Smith family’s occult activity. However, Dr. Turner hasn’t considered the whole story.

In 1826 Joseph was employed by Josiah Stowell as a glass-looker (or “money-digger” as designated in Joseph Smith–History 1:56). After Joseph spent several months unsuccessfully digging for buried treasure, Stowell’s nephew, Peter Bridgman, grew concerned that his uncle was being swindled. Joseph was brought to court on charges of being a “disorderly person and an imposter.” In his own defense Joseph admitted that he occasionally looked into a seer stone to “determine where hidden treasures in the bowels of the earth were,” and that he had previously “pretended” to discover the location of buried money (see Marquardt and Walters, Inventing Mormonism, pages 63-87).

Dr. Turner may say this harmed no one, but Mr. Stowell and other customers of Joseph’s glass-looking business never did get their money’s worth.

Furthermore, while Dr. Turner excuses Joseph on the merits of being only an “apprentice prophet,” Joseph’s arrest and subsequent court appearance took place nearly three full years into his ‘apprenticeship’; Dr. Turner identifies Joseph as matured and “prepared” for the mantle of prophet only 18 months later (Jesus & Joseph, page 45).

Since God takes a definite and firm stand against even so-called folk magic (see Deuteronomy 18:9-12), would Joseph’s angel-tutors have indulged his participation in glass-looking/money-digging? Dr. Turner barely scratches the surface of the Smith family’s documented involvement with witchcraft and other magic practices (see D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View), characterizing their divination and sorcery as merely “naïve and gullible.” The minimization of this highly significant aspect of the Prophet’s life and history is an example of an unfortunate characteristic of Dr. Turner’s book.

A few additional examples of Dr. Turner’s predictable but ill-informed ideas found in Jesus & Joseph include:

  • Compared to the Book of Mormon, the Bible is untrustworthy due to it being the “product of multiple manuscripts and multiple translations by multiple translators, leading to multiple interpretations” (page 90).
  • In the 4th century church leaders “held a council to consider basic Christian theology. Inspired by Platonic philosophical concepts, they proceeded to produce–out of the thin air of human reason–the tortured, self-contradictory prose of the Nicene Creed of 325” (page 99).
  • The Christian doctrine of the Trinity defined as “the doctrine of three Gods in one immaterial body without parts or passions. And Jesus? Somehow He was a necessary, but temporary, partial absentee from the Trinity” (page 103; emphasis retained from the original).

Refreshing

Jesus & Joseph is at times refreshing as Dr. Turner addresses some controversial LDS doctrines. For instance, in his discussion of the conception of Jesus, Dr. Turner explains that LDS doctrine is at odds with the beliefs of “orthodox Christians.” “Mary,” he says, “was enveloped in the glory of the Holy Ghost, so that she might conceive of the Father, even as Moses was enveloped in like glory so that he might endure the presence of the Father (see Moses 1:11)… Why did the Holy Ghost envelop Mary? Modern revelation answers: ‘For no man has seen God in the flesh, except quickened by the Spirit of God’ (D&C 67:11)” (page 20).

To clarify what this means and to set the record straight, Dr. Turner includes two quotes from LDS leaders. The first is from Ezra Taft Benson (who became the 13th President of the LDS Church): “…Jesus Christ is the Son of God in the most literal sense. The body in which He performed His mission in the flesh was sired by that same holy being we worship as God our Eternal Father.”

The second quote is 6th LDS President Joseph F. Smith speaking to children at a stake conference: “Now, my little friends, I will repeat again in words as simple as I can, and you talk to your parents about it, that God, the Eternal Father is literally the father of Jesus Christ. Mary was married to Joseph for time. No man could take her for eternity because she belonged to the Father of her divine Son” (pages 20-21).

Thus Dr. Turner has clearly stated the LDS doctrine that Mary is married to God the Father for all eternity. She was enveloped by the Holy Ghost in such a manner that enabled her to endure the presence of the Eternal Father as the flesh and bone Father literally sired the body of Jesus. According to Dr. Turner, the enveloping of the Holy Ghost allowed Mary to endure the process of conception; then she forgets the whole experience (page 21).

Christians have long maintained that these unbiblical doctrines have been taught by LDS leaders, though that is denied by some Latter-day Saints. It is refreshing to read Dr. Turner’s unapologetic statement of LDS belief as well as his admission that the Mormon view is “contrary to the belief of orthodox Christians” (page 20; for the Christian position on the conception of Jesus, please see Matthew 1:15ff and Luke 1:26ff).

Additional refreshing doctrinal admissions from Jesus & Joseph include:

  • “Eleven days before his martyrdom, Joseph–commenting on Abraham’s statement that ‘Intelligences exist one above another, so that there is no end to them’–revealed the doctrine of an endless lineage of Divine Fathers… His declaration that every father has a father and every God has a God reflects the patriarchal order of Heaven wherein the gods rise from exaltation to exaltation in an endless chain of celestial progression” (page 110).
  • “Historically, orthodox Christianity considered it the height of blasphemy to suggest the possibility that Jesus was married… Being the Good Shepherd, Jesus led His flock by example in all things. He obeyed every commandment and received every ordinance of the house of the Lord required of anyone seeking eternal life and exaltation… While we do not know with certitude when Jesus married, or whom He married–Mary, Martha, or Mary Magdalene are most frequently suggested–we do know that He married” (pages 111-112; emphasis retained from the original).
  • Dr. Turner wrote: “Elder John A. Widtsoe wrote circumspectly of this divine principle: ‘Sex, which is indispensable on this earth for the perpetuation of the human race, is an eternal quality which has its equivalent everywhere. It is indestructible. The relationship between men and women is eternal and must continue eternally. In accordance with the Gospel philosophy there are males and females in heaven. Since we have a Father who is our God, we must also have a mother who possesses the attributes of godhood… As the sex relation, then, represents an eternal condition, the begetting of children is coincidentally an eternal necessity. We were begotten into the spirit world by God the Father, and have been born into the world which we now possess.’ The ties that bind in time are the ties that bind in eternity: ‘And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there…'” (page 119).

Outrageous

As stated earlier, the overarching theme of Jesus & Joseph is the author’s thesis that Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith lived “parallel lives.” It is in the delineation of these “parallels” that Dr. Turner’s ideas become utterly outrageous.

Many of the parallels Dr. Turner describes are purely superficial:

  • “Jesus, like Joseph, came from a large family…” (page 22).
  • “Jesus and Joseph had earthly fathers named Joseph” (page 27).
  • “Both Jesus and Joseph were also subject to vicious attacks on their characters and teachings…” (page 37).
  • “When we possess a more complete knowledge of Jesus we will find that, like Joseph, He, too, possessed a warm, cheerful, outgoing personality” (page 45).

Some of the parallels have a little more substance to them:

  • “As Satan raged against Jesus, he also raged against Joseph” (page 41).
  • “Joseph, like Jesus, began his mission with baptism” (page 63).
  • “Just as Jesus saw many of His followers fall away, so did Joseph” (page 81).
  • “While religious and social issues played a part in the conspiracies against both Jesus and Joseph, money and politics were also factors. Their enemies were men of their own faith: Jews in the case of Jesus, Christians in the case of Joseph” (page 130).

But let not the reader be lulled into thinking Jesus & Joseph is an innocent comparison of corresponding details from the lives of two men, as one might compare the lives of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. From a Christian perspective, Dr. Turner carries his list of parallels to heretical proportions.

In the forward to Jesus & Joseph Dr. Turner writes: “Indeed, if we can recognize the extent to which their [Jesus and Joseph] spiritual lives are interwoven, we can begin to appreciate the unique bond of brotherhood that exists between them. Doing so, we shall see that the vital labors of Jesus in behalf of mankind in the dispensation of the meridian of time were brought to fruition by Him only after His resurrection, through His brother, Joseph the Prophet, in the dispensation of the fulness of times. For this reason, the subtitle of this book is Parallel Lives” (page xix).

A few pages later Dr. Turner writes, “The labors of Jesus and Joseph were foreordained in the councils of heaven. Those labors are intertwined and interrelated. As we shall see, Jesus laid the doctrinal foundation for Joseph’s labors” (page 18).

These statements (and others) give the reader the idea that Jesus was merely one more link in a chain of important patriarchs leading up to the final, consummate link–Joseph Smith.

Throughout the book Dr. Turner is careful to make the point that Jesus and Joseph were different, that Jesus was greater than Joseph (“Jesus was divine; Joseph was not.” page 18). Yet when he compares specifics, Joseph often comes out ahead.

For instance, on page 65 Dr. Turner writes, “As with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, so was it with Joseph: The glory of the Spirit was at times visibly manifest in him.” Then Dr. Turner relates three different times when Joseph was thus transfigured (Jesus, of course, was transfigured only once).

On pages 119 – 122 Dr. Turner includes a summary of “new treasures” given to mankind by each Jesus and Joseph. The list for Jesus contains 12 items; Joseph’s list, 15.

In the longest chapter in the book, Calvary and Carthage, Dr. Turner writes about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and then says, “Although individuals sometimes speak of their ‘Gethsemane,’ in truth, there will never be but one. Still, in his lifetime, Joseph Smith was sorely tried with a full measure of hunger, thirst, and fatigue. In addition, he experienced three specific physical and emotional ordeals” (page 143). Joseph endured three Gethsemane experiences, Jesus only one.

Dr. Turner’s list of Joseph’s Gethsemane trials includes an 1831 tar and feathering, Joseph’s 1838 imprisonment in Liberty Jail, and what Dr. Turner calls the prelude to Joseph’s “martyrdom” in 1844.

Though these experiences were “physical and emotional ordeals” for Joseph, there is no basis for comparing them in any way to the travail of Jesus in Gethsemane. In Gethsemane the sinless Son of God wrestled with the mission set before Him. Though He was innocent, Jesus would soon die under the weight of the terrible wrath of God in judgment.

Joseph, on the other hand, was far from innocent. In fact, in contrast to Jesus, Joseph’s “Gethesemanes” were the natural consequences of his immoral or illegal activities. In Jesus & Joseph Dr. Turner either fails to place Joseph’s trials in historical context or presents a thin veneer of the actual circumstances surrounding them.

Historical documentation shows: 1) Joseph’s tar and feathering was a warning against his improper attentions toward a young woman (not his wife); 2) Joseph’s imprisonment in Liberty Jail was because of an attack against the United States Militia by Mormon soldiers (an act of treason); and 3) Joseph’s trial and imprisonment in Carthage Jail followed his illegal order to destroy a newspaper (a violation of the Constitutional rights of Joseph’s critics). (For historical information on these three events see: 1) Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, pages 230-232; 2) Stephen C. LeSueur, The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri, pages 131-218; and 3) Hallwas and Launius, Cultures in Conflict: A Documentary History of the Mormon War in Illinois, page 149.)

Even taking into account Dr. Turner’s caveat that Jesus’ Gethsemane experience stands alone, to draw a parallel between it and Joseph Smith’s “ordeals” profoundly dishonors Jesus Christ.

Near the end of the Calvary and Carthage chapter Dr. Turner writes, “While both Jesus and Joseph died as martyrs, their deaths were far different.” Then follows a list of five particulars in which Jesus’ crucifixion and Joseph’s murder differed, Jesus’ experience being the most difficult of the two. But then Dr. Turner concludes the chapter: “Jesus Christ and Joseph the Prophet came to bring life, light, and salvation to mankind. In doing so, they sealed their testimonies with their life’s blood. Both died because of who they were and what they proclaimed. For had they not lived the lives they lived and borne the witnesses they bore, they would not have died as they did. So Jesus died on the hill of Calvary; Joseph in the shadows of Carthage. Each triumphed in his own way” (page 169).

Drawing these parallels, Dr. Turner goes where angels rightly fear to tread.

It is true that Jesus Christ came to bring light, life, and salvation to mankind. He is our Savior who lived a sinless life and died a sacrificial death to satisfy our Holy God’s demand for judgment against our sin. Jesus was born, lived and died for this purpose.

Just before Jesus surrendered to death on the cross, He cried, “It is finished!” The debt had been paid in full. Jesus completed not only His work, but the work of providing life and salvation to His people. To suggest that Joseph Smith–or any man–lived and died to supplement the finished work of Christ for salvation is a very dangerous position to hold. Nevertheless, Dr. Turner makes it abundantly clear that this is his position, and he implies by his training and allegiance that it is also the position of the LDS Church.

Indeed, an article in the LDS Church’s official Ensign magazine substantiates Dr. Turner’s position. LDS professor Robert L. Millet wrote, “As suggested earlier, the life of Joseph Smith was in some degree patterned after that of his Master, Jesus Christ. That pattern holds true even when extended to its tragic conclusion. Like his Master, Joseph Smith also shed his blood in order that the final testament, the reestablishment of the new covenant, might be in full effect (see Heb. 9:16)” (Ensign, June 1994, page 22).

Contrary to the LDS teachings expressed by both Dr. Turner and Dr. Millet, the Bible says salvation belongs to the Lord (Jonah 2:9); He shares His glory with no one (Isaiah 42:8); Jesus Christ has said “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 21:6). There is no room here for the idea that Joseph Smith came to bring salvation to mankind.

Additional outrageous ideas found in the book on the concerted efforts of Jesus and Joseph:

  • “Jesus and Joseph are eternal brothers working together for the salvation and exaltation of mankind. What Jesus began in the meridian of time, He will complete through Joseph in this, the dispensation of the fullness of times… While their mutual labors began in the pre-mortal world of spirits, those labors will not end until every soul that can be saved has been saved” (page 201; emphasis retained from the original).
  • “Each son or daughter of God must come to be all that he or she can be so as to find his or her rightful mansion in His Kingdom. Until that moment, the work of the Father in bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man is unfinished. And as long as that work is incomplete, Jesus and Joseph will continue to labor in the vineyards of salvation” (page 203).
  • “In all that he did, Joseph was acting as the surrogate of Jesus… Thus, even as the Son of God is the keystone of the plan of salvation, so is Joseph the keystone of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints! Remove him and the entire edifice collapses; it stands or falls with him” (page 215; emphasis retained from the original).

Dr. Turner emphasizes Jesus’ important standing as head of the duo in an attempt to temper his lofty praise of Joseph; but he falls short of accomplishing that goal. As the reader nears the end of the book, it is hard to think of Joseph as anything less than a divine co-redeemer with Christ.

Consider this from page 203:

“In due time [earth] will come forth as an immortal, celestial sphere. Jesus will then claim it as His own. Then, as Joseph declared, the Father will ‘take a higher exaltation’ and Jesus ‘will take His place’–thus becoming exalted Himself… And Joseph? He, too, will rise to celestial heights as an exalted son of God and will claim all that are his own. For every worthy soul sealed to him during and after his mortal life will be bound to him forever” (emphasis retained from the original).

Finally, in the author’s conclusion he quotes Joseph Smith telling his followers, “Would to God, brethren, I could tell you who I am! Would to God I could tell you what I know! But you would call it blasphemy, and there are men upon this stand who would want to take my life” (page 222).

And again, Joseph is quoted, “You don’t know me; you can never know my heart… When I am called by the trump of the archangel and weighed in the balance, you will all know me then (page 222; emphasis retained from the original).

Dr. Turner asks, “What did the Prophet Joseph mean by these remarks?” After reading the preceding 200-plus pages extolling Joseph Smith, the logical conclusion for a reader to reach is that Joseph Smith was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ, or Jesus Christ come again. But the author stops short of this declaration saying only that Joseph “knew something concerning his eternal identity so glorious he dared not reveal it to others. Joseph knew the Saints would not, because they could not, believe him. Notwithstanding, when we come forth with him as resurrected men and women–with the memory of our pre-mortal lives restored–then we shall finally know ‘Brother Joseph’–because then we will have the capacity to know him” (page 223).

Jesus & Joseph is a hard book for Christians. At nearly every turn of the page, the reader is faced with descriptions of attributes and accomplishments which belong to Christ alone; but they are being ascribed–at least in part–to Joseph Smith. The continual elevation of Joseph is grievous to one whose faith requires complete fidelity to Christ.

Additionally, Jesus & Joseph misrepresents Christian doctrine and Christian history, while at the same time whitewashing LDS Church history.

However, all these things considered, I believe Jesus & Joseph is worth reading (with caution). In this book Dr. Turner reveals the true heart and soul of Mormonism; and that’s a rare thing. An honest reader will discover that, although Mormonism puts Jesus Christ in the center of the name of the Church, it seeks to supplant Him in people’s hearts, replacing Him with Joseph Smith.


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