By Bill McKeever and Aaron Shafovaloff
According to a Mormon-friendly and official Church-published source, Joseph Smith taught that the moon was inhabited by people that dressed like Quakers. With Philo Dibble, a close associate with Joseph Smith, as his source, Oliver B. Huntington wrote with significant detail:
“The inhabitants of the moon are more of a uniform size than the inhabitants of the earth, being about 6 feet in height. They dress very much like the Quaker style and are quite general in style or the one fashion of dress. They live to be very old; coming generally, near a thousand years. This is the description of them as given by Joseph the Seer, and he could ‘See’ whatever he asked the Father in the name of Jesus to see”1
Huntington was quoted in the Young Woman’s Journal, which “was adopted as the official magazine for the Young Ladies Mutual Improvement Association in 1897.”2
“Astronomers and philosophers have, from time almost immemorial until very recently, asserted that the moon was uninhabited, that it had no atmosphere, etc. But recent discoveries, through the means of powerful telescopes, have given scientists a doubt or two upon the old theory. Nearly all the great discoveries of men in the last half century have, in one way or another, either directly or indirectly, contributed to prove Joseph Smith to be a Prophet. As far back as 1837, I know that he said the moon was inhabited by men and women the same as this earth, and that they lived to a greater age than we do — that they live generally to near the age of a 1000 years. He described the men as averaging near six feet in height, and dressing quite uniformly in something near the Quaker style. In my patriarchal blessing, given by the father of Joseph the Prophet, in Kirtland, 1837, I was told that I should preach the gospel before I was 21 years of age; that I should preach the gospel to the inhabitants upon the islands of the sea, and — to the inhabitants of the moon, even the planet you can now behold with your eyes.”3
Huntington’s account fits with the larger context of Latter-day Saint teachings and beliefs. Author Dan Vogel notes the following:
“The statement in Abraham 3:5 that the moon is greater than the earth would hardly make sense if the moon were a desolate globe. Of course the pronouncements of Oliver Cowdery and Hyrum Smith that every star and planet was inhabited implied an inhabited moon. Like their contemporaries, Mormons were fascinated with possible inhabitants on the planet closest to earth. Encouraged by the recent spectroscopic discoveries which indicated that the moon had an atmosphere, Oliver B. Huntington related in 1892 an occasion on which Joseph Smith was purported to have expressed his belief that “the moon was inhabited by men and women the same as this earth.” According to Huntington, Smith described the moon’s inhabitants, saying that “they lived to a greater age than we do—that they live generally to near the age of 1000 years,” that the men averaged “near six feet in height, and dres[sed] quite uniformly in something near the Quaker style… The literature of the day also described supernatural ways of going to the moon and other planets. Later in the nineteenth century, when science began replacing supposition regarding an inhabited moon, Mormons refused to give up their belief, which they believed was rooted in revelation. An article entitled “Are the Worlds Inhabited?” appeared in the Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star in 1882 to defend the Mormon position against the advances made by science: “To the question, is the moon inhabited? astronomers have returned a definite negative answer. It has been claimed that the moon is a dead world, without atmosphere, without vegetation, without moisture, and consequently without inhabitants.… On this subject the Latter-day Saints have the advantage of a little definite information.… ‘That by him and through him and of him the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God [LDS D&C 76:24; RLDS D&C 76:3h].’… The worlds are inhabited—millions of them. They form the abode of the offspring of Deity. Birthplaces, probation planets; prisonhouses; spirit spheres; paradises; gehennas; homes for the resurrected; glorified suns for perfected and celestialized intelligences; all moving in their respective orbits, governed by fixed laws adapted to their condition and that of their inhabitants.” First-generation Mormons resisted any changes in their cosmological concepts. To them these were not just ideas or theories; they explained reality as they knew it.”4
According to Dan Hale, Philo Dibble
“was a collector and had expended considerable effort to collect and produce an exhibit about the life and death of Joseph Smith, which he presented in several Mormon communities. It was at one of these presentations in January of 1881 that Huntington acquired Joseph Smith’s moonmen statement from Dibble.”5
All things considered, the argument that Smith actually taught such things about moon men is probably not strong enough to use. While evidence suggests that Dibble was probably recounting things from one of his own experiences with Joseph Smith, it is not conclusive. If non-Mormons are going to appeal to Huntington’s claim as found in the official Mormon publication, they should do so with caution, context, and qualification.
Of course, to outright reject Dibble’s and Huntington’s claim, one must join Mormon apologists in questioning their integrity as well as the judgment of the Mormon editors of the Young Woman’s Journal for including Huntington’s account in this Church-published magazine. While some think of the issue as a controversy between Mormons and “anti-Mormons”, it is probably more of a disagreement between modern Mormon apologists and the testimony of Dibble, a revered early Mormon who was a close associate of Joseph Smith.
A Common Belief Nonetheless
Despite any questions that remain over Huntington’s and Dibble’s direct link of the teaching to Joseph Smith, the idea of moon men was commonly held among Mormon leaders, many of whom had intimate acquaintance with Smith. It even showed up in patriarchal blessings, which are supposed to include “an inspired and prophetic statement of the life possibilities and mission of the recipient”6. Van Vogel writes:
“[Oliver B.] Huntington received a blessing from his father, William, on 7 December 1836. As recorded in the Patriarchal Blessing Book, the text reads: ‘I lay my hands on thee & bless thee with a father’s blessing.… Thou shalt be called to preach the gospel to this generation.… Before thou art twenty one thou wilt be called to preach the fullness of the gospel, thou shalt have power with God even to translate thyself to Heaven, & preach to the inhabitants of the moon or planets, if it shall be expedient, if thou art faithful all these blessings will be given thee …’ Other early Mormon blessings expressed similar sentiments. On 15 December 1836 Lorenzo Snow received a blessing under the hand of Joseph Smith, Sr.: ‘Thou shalt have great faith, even like the brother of Jared. Thou shalt have power to translate thyself from one planet to another, power to go to the moon if thou desire it, power to preach to the spirits in prison. Power like Enoch to translate thyself to heaven …’ On 21 February 1836 Joseph Smith, Sr., blessed Jonathan Crosby, saying: ‘Thou shalt … Be caught up to the third heavens, and behold unspeakable things, whether in the body or out.… And when thy [p.210] mission is full here, thou shalt visit other worlds.’ Wilford Woodruff recorded in his journal on 3 January 1837 that Zebedee Coltrin ‘Pronounced great blessings upon my head by the Spirit of Prophecy & Revelation.’ Among other things the blessing said that he ‘should visit COLUB & Preach to the spirits in Prision & that I should bring all of my friends or relatives forth from the Terrestrial Kingdom.’ These blessings are congruent with Joseph Smith’s conviction that translated beings were ordained by God ‘to be ministering angels unto many planets.'”7
Is the Sun Inhabited?
Brigham Young expanded on the teaching that the Sun was inhabited.
“Who can tell us of the inhabitants of this little planet that shines of an evening, called the moon?… when you inquire about the inhabitants of that sphere you find that the most learned are as ignorant in regard to them as the most ignorant of their fathers. So it is in regard to the inhabitants of the sun. Do you think it is inhabited? I rather think it is. Do you think there is any life there? No question of it; it was not made in vain. It was made to give light to those who dwell upon it, and to other planets; and so will this earth when it is celestialized”.8
Going the Extra Mile to Mitigate Criticism of Joseph Smith
In One-Minute Answers to Anti-Mormon Questions, Mormon author Stephen W. Gibson writes:
“At the present time, man has no scientific or revealed knowledge of whether or not there are inhabitants on the earth’s moon. The fact that a handful of astronauts didn’t see any inhabitants in the tiny area they viewed when they landed on the moon decades ago certainly gives no definitive information, any more than visitors to earth who might land in barren Death Valley would have any idea of the billions of inhabitants elsewhere.”9
For a look at other historical issues related to Mormonism, please click here.
- The History of Oliver B. Huntington, p. 10, typed copy, Marriott Library, University of Utah
- Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1-4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), p. 535
- Young Woman’s Journal 3:263-264. Online digital reproduction of the relevant material available here.
- Dan Vogel. The Word of God, p. 209-210
- Sunstone 5 (September/October 1982): 13–17. According to other sources on the internet Dibble was apparently born on June 6, 1806 in Peru, MA. He went on to become a revered Church-veteran. His autobiography is available online here.
- Information and Suggestions for Patriarchs , 3–4. Quoted by Richard D. Allred in “The Lord Blesses His Children through Patriarchal Blessings,” Ensign, Nov 1997, 27
- Dan Vogel. The Word of God, p. 209-210
- Brigham Young, July 24, 1870, Journal of Discourses 13:271. Available online here.
- One-Minute Answers to Anti-Mormon Questions, by Stephen W. Gibson. Horizon Publishers & Distributors, 1995. p. 80. Available online here.