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Mormonism 201 (Joseph Smith): Response to Lance Starr and Samuel Katich

Response to Lance Starr and Samuel Katich
Reviewed by Mike Thomas

Some of the chapters in Mormonism 101 have elicited more than one response. I suppose this is what is called a backhanded compliment. It must be an encouragement to the authors to have drawn that much attention, albeit from critics. This is one of those chapters, one response coming from Lance Starr and the other from Samuel Katich. I will not respond to them separately but will try and incorporate both men’s comments in one piece (Ecc.12:12).

The stock Mormon preamble

As I have said in my response to another critic of Mormonism 101, it seems inevitable that the Mormon’s first response to any criticism is disparaging and dismissive. This is a great shame because it shuts down any opportunity for genuine dialogue. These two respondents’ opening shots are so typical. In response to McKeever and Johnson’s observation that “there is no question that many Mormon historians have painted Smith as a man of high morals and impeccable integrity. Any reports to the contrary are often assumed to have been made by enemies of the church or disgruntled ex-Mormons,” Lance Starr declares: “The fact is that we don’t ‘assume’ that such statements were made by enemies of the church and disgruntled member (sic), we know for a fact that many of them were made by such.” Katich, in his opening remarks, writes, “The authors’ approach is typical of writings hypercritical of Mormonism.”

Such immediate confirmation of their assertion must, again, be heartening to the authors of 101. Both go on to disparage McKeever and Johnson further. Starr declares them void of understanding and totally unoriginal, and Katich accuses them of being biased, selective, and motivated solely by money. This before Starr and Katich ever present evidence or comment on the subjects presented in the book.

It is a cherished scenario in Mormon imaginations that detractors are all low, mean, and vicious people who are driven by spite and malice and motivated by pecuniary interests. This fantasy is a weak but convenient excuse for not listening when cherished ideas are brought into question.

Tragically, there is no growth in a life so galvanized in its ways that it refuses to think outside the box. There is no freedom for a life that is so fearful of ideas other than its own that it will not entertain them as anything but aberrant and dangerous. There is no hope for a life “ever hearing but never understanding; …ever seeing but never perceiving.” Well, we may be despised for it, but there are those of us who care enough about this state of affairs to stay and take the brickbats, and I would only repeat the oft used words of Galatians 4:16: “Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?”

Selective Quoting

I do wish to say something about the accusation of selective quoting. Any author of such a controversial work, examining the history of any movement or society, leaves him or herself open to the accusation of leaving things out in order to achieve a bias. On the other hand, any author will tell you of the practical and frustrating limits one has to work to in preparing a book for publication.

While Mormon commentators would wish, as these do, to accuse McKeever and Johnson of leaving out “evidence for the accused,” I am convinced that there has been much evidence for the prosecution that might have been included but time and space wouldn’t allow. The advantage of the present exercise is that each interested party has the opportunity to put his points more fully.

My fear is that, while the Christian community has ready access to both McKeever and Johnson’s work and the Mormon critique of it, the Mormon community, because of prejudice against “apostate literature” built into the system, will not have such free access and will only knowMormonism 101 through its detractors. My own experience sadly shows this all too often to be the case. Will the publishers of Mormonism 201 be as prepared to publish the rebuttals of their project?

It should also be said that the authors don’t pretend to be totally unbiased observers. Rather, they clearly explain that they intend to expose the error in the Mormon faith and the telling of gospel truth according to their Evangelical understanding of God’s message. This does not mean that they are incapable of giving a fair and honest account of events, only that their account is designed to go beyond simply informing to warning the reader that here is something that is not all that it seems.

Because an account is critical does not mean that it is dishonest. By the same token, an account that is uncritical, almost hagiographic, does not mean that it is altogether trustworthy. It is interesting to consider how much “evidence for the prosecution” is left out of the Mormon account of events. Of course, the right attitude is to say that it is all grist to the mill.

The Perfect Prophet

Now here is a straw man if ever there was one. McKeever and Johnson do question the moral fitness of Joseph Smith for the high office of prophet of the restoration. However, while they compare the Joseph Smith of popular and romanticized Mormon perception with the Joseph Smith of history, Katich and Starr quickly put up the romanticized Joseph and accuse McKeever and Johnson of pulling him down. McKeever and Johnson do not demand a perfect prophet. Instead, they simply ask for a better standard of integrity than is found in Joseph Smith. Katich and Starr, on the other hand, present us with a prophet falling just short of perfection (and this they admit grudgingly), accusing McKeever and Johnson of expecting too much.

The fairest of the fair

McKeever and Johnson quote a recent Ensign article that said the following: “Yet Joseph Smith was more than an uncommon man with a common name. Few individuals’ lives and labors have been foreknown and foretold like those of this great and long-hoped-for seer. The Prophet Joseph Smith’s life and ministry were seen by ancient prophets ‘since the world began’ as part of the ‘restitution of all things’…From the days of Adam, prophets like Enoch, Joseph of Egypt, Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Malachi, and the Apostle Paul looked forward to his ministry and the establishment of the kingdom of God through his labors.”

Later in the same chapter they quote no less an authority than Brigham Young: “Well now, examine the character of the Savior, and examine the characters of those who have written the Old and New Testaments; and then compare them with the character of Joseph Smith, the founder of this work…and you will find that his character stands as fair as that of any man’s mentioned in the Bible.  We can find no person who presents a better character to the world when the facts are known.” 

From the two quotes cited above, one gets a picture of a veritable paragon whose advent was foreseen and eagerly anticipated by every prophet since the beginning of time. If we did not know that we were discussing Joseph Smith, one might be forgiven for thinking that this was a reference to the Saviour himself.

But such a comparison is not far-fetched, it seems, according to Brigham Young, the latter-day Moses of the Mormons, since he describes Joseph Smith’s character as being every bit as fair as that of the Saviour. I confess, I had to read and read again the Young quote, familiar as it is to me, before writing the last line, for I did not believe it myself and wanted to be sure I was not misrepresenting what was said. But I am not mistaken.

Young wrote, “Well now, examine the character of the Savior, and examine the characters of those who have written the Old and New Testaments.” On the one side of the equation we have the Saviour and the writers of the Testaments. He continued, “And then compare them (the Savior and the writers) with the character of Joseph Smith.” On the other we have Joseph Smith. Young concluded: “And you will find that his character stands as fair as that of any man’s mentioned in the Bible.  We can find no person who presents a better character to the world when the facts are known.”

In other words, Joseph’s character is every bit as good as that of Jesus. Having been presented with such a leader, it would not seem unnatural to expect the highest standards of integrity, conduct, and language. Is this what we find?

Polyandry and Sorcery

Only Katich comments on these subjects and, frankly, I don’t blame Starr for leaving it alone. I do not envy the person charged with defending Joseph Smith in these things.

As an aside, much has been made of the “prophecy” that good and evil will be spoken of Joseph Smith “among all people.” Certainly this exercise seems to be fulfilling the prophecy and we, his critics, appear unwitting instruments in its fulfillment. But good and evil is probably spoken of most people of prominence in the world, including people like me of whom the overwhelming number of people in the world have never heard. It is not prescient, not even particularly clever to make such a prediction.

But, of course, to someone inside Mormonism, and for whom Mormonism is the world, it seems that there is nowhere in the world where Joseph’s name isn’t held in either high esteem or mean contempt. But there are vast tracts of the world where Ronald McDonald is, probably more familiar than Joseph Smith. My own discussions with people about Mormonism reveal a huge ignorance of both the faith and its founder. Certainly, Michael Jackson’s reputation is more familiar and spoken of than that of Joseph Smith as are many other prominent people in the world and in world history.

Nonetheless, under this heading Katich presents us with alternative and positive testimony regarding the character and conduct of Joseph Smith, as if to prove the point. I confess to feeling some sympathy with his approach as well as with the sentiments of those he quotes. To some Joseph Smith plays a key role in the shaping of their lives and their faith. To dismiss him, disparage him, or otherwise question his integrity is not easily done. Katich quotes Marvin S. Hill: “If a look at the human side of Joseph Smith seems at times somewhat unflattering, it comes from no desire to diminish him. It comes rather from the belief that at times in the Church we tend to expect too much of him, to ask him to be more than human in everything he did.”

We like our heroes to be heroic. Of that there is no doubt. The suggestion here is that heroes have faults, and what of it? Mormons sometimes expect too much of the man while critics make too much of his failings. Somewhere in between we find the real Joseph Smith, a flawed hero, but a hero nonetheless.


Just as many people know nothing of Joseph Smith, many more have no idea of what polyandry means. Let us be clear here. Joseph Smith not only married many women—this is called polygamy—but many of those women were already married to other men. This is what is known as polyandry. Remarkably, this is not in dispute. What is in question is the motive for and “rightness” of such polygamous and polyandrous unions.

I am amused by Katich’s words as he tears into McKeever and Johnson for misrepresenting the true and, to Katich’s mind, virtuous motives Joseph had for taking other men’s wives. He writes:“Contrary to popular nineteenth-century notions about polygamy, the Mormon harem, dominated by lascivious males with hyperactive libidos, did not exist. The image of unlimited lust was largely the creation of Gentile travelers to Salt Lake City more interested in titillating audiences back home than in accurately portraying plural marriage.”

The word “largely” intrigues me. Is he saying that some negative reporting was accurate and reliable? Regardless, I think we should let the facts seize people’s minds before we comment upon them. Joseph “married” a lot of women. Figures postulated have been between 20 and 60, the middle ground being most popular. McKeever and Johnson claim that a full third of Joseph’s “marriages” were polyandrous, and they put this figure at 11.

Indeed, we know that nine of his first twelve wives were married to other men. The non-Mormon readers must simply look at these facts and ask themselves how they feel about it all. Even Mormons might ask themselves the same question. Never mind that this is Joseph Smith. Never mind the party line. Never mind what your bishop will ask you in your next temple recommend interview about supporting and sustaining the church. Ask yourself, “What do I think of this? And what do I imagine the world might think?”

What we have here is the inuring of Mormon minds to the facts of Smith’s history. In reading many of the criticisms of 101, I find that the constant accusation is that there is nothing new in the book, that it has all been heard before, and that Mormons are simply not shocked. The problem, however, does not lie in the lack of originality in the book but rather that these facts do not shock more Mormons. Instead of shaking their faith, many Mormons put up with what most unbiased observers would otherwise see as base and contemptible behaviour. Consider the following explanation of Joseph’s conduct by Katich:

Besides the fact that God at times commands men to do things that He at other times forbids them from doing, for Joseph, barriers to marriage were removed. Richard Van Wagoner, one of McKeever and Johnson’s key sources, notes that Joseph “believed he had been given powers that transcended civil law. Claiming sole responsibility for binding and unbinding marriages on earth and in heaven, he did not consider it necessary to obtain civil marriage licenses or divorce decrees. Whenever he deemed it appropriate he could release a woman from her earthly marriage and seal her to himself or to another with no stigma of adultery.”

Similarly, Daynes noted that with marital barriers removed, there was no need to commit acts of adultery or fornication, thus, Joseph’s plural marriages were “not adultery because a man could not commit adultery with wives who belonged to him.” Ultimately, the generalized and speculative characterizations regarding these unique marriages find Joseph labeled by a term (polyandry) that does not apply in the fullest sense of definition and degree of intimate involvement implied by its use. Joseph “believed he had been given powers that transcended civil law.”

In other words, Joseph considered himself above the law. This is an interesting assertion in light of the Mormon twelfth Article of Faith, which declares: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”

Of course, the argument will be brought that this only goes so far and that there is a higher law declaring how a person should obey God rather than man. However, such a gross abuse of a gospel imperative is inexcusable. When that dictum was coined (Acts 4:18-20), it was in response to a warning not to preach the good news of Jesus Christ. To excuse the taking of other men’s wives by appealing to a higher authority is perverse. It could also be argued that, at the time, there was no law against polygamy. Could this be because the founders of the United States of America based their legislation on Christian principles and had not envisioned having to draft any such law?

Joseph was a law unto himself. Mormon Apostle Jedediah Grant had this to say on the subject:

If Joseph had a right to dictate me in relation to salvation, in relation to the hereafter, he had a right to dictate me in relation to all my earthly affairs, in relation to the treasures of the earth, and in relation to the earth itself. He had a right to dictate in relation to the cities of the earth, to the natives of the earth, and in relation to everything on Land and on sea. That is what he had a right to do, if he had any right at all. If he did not have that right, he did not have the priesthood of God, he did not have the endless priesthood that emanates from the eternal being. A priesthood that is clipped, and lacks length, is not the priesthood of God; if it lacks depth, it is not the priesthood of God; for the priesthood in ancient times extended over the wide world, and coped with the universe, and had a right to govern and control the inhabitants thereof, to regulate them, give them laws, and execute those laws. The power looked like the priesthood of God. This same priesthood has been given to Joseph Smith and has been handed down to his successors.

What did Joseph do with this power, this right to govern and dictate? From the same speech, part of which Katich selectively quotes, we read:

When the family organization was revealed from heaven – the patriarchal order of God, and Joseph began, on the right and on the left, to add to his family, what a quaking there was in Israel. Says one brother to another, “Joseph says all covenants are done away, and none are binding but the new covenants; now suppose Joseph should come and say he wanted your wife, what would you say to that?” “I would tell him to go to hell.” This was the spirit of many in the early days of this church.

From this, Grant goes on to make the assertion in the earlier quote, including stating that if Smith had the priesthood, he had the right to do these things. Now the impression is given, and it is widely understood among Mormons today that both polygamy and polyandry served the purpose of allowing women who might otherwise not marry, or marry eternally, to enter into an eternal covenant so they could enter God’s highest kingdom. Katich himself brings up this point when he quotes Glen M. Leonard, who said, “This ordinance ensured the woman a marriage that would be valid in the resurrection no matter what became of her temporary, civil agreement. For some, it may have seemed the only way to gain that sacred promise.”

Katich further explains, “Looking beyond McKeever and Johnson’s obsession with sexual triangulation, the logical and probable conclusion to be drawn from Joseph’s practice is that God inspired and commanded him to be sealed to these women as both a means to test their faith and in certain cases establish eternal links.”

But if this is the case, why would Joseph, in Jedediah Grant’s example, want to marry wives of men who were otherwise brothers in the church? In this example he is not marrying wives of apostates or non-Mormons. Why, if these men are Mormons, shouldn’t their wives marry their husbands for eternity? Why would Joseph declare all previous covenants done away with?

The piece of Grant’s speech that is quoted by Katich begs the same question. Grant asked, “What would a man say, who felt aright, when Joseph asked him for his money? He would say, ‘Yes, and I wish I had more to help to build up the kingdom of God.’ Or if he came and said, ‘I want your wife?’ ‘O yes,’ he would say, ‘here she is, there are plenty more.'”

Here is a situation where a man is so faithful to the prophet as to be willing to give the prophet his wife. Why doesn’t the wife marry this worthy priesthood holder for eternity? What does Joseph want with the wife of another worthy servant of God? He can’t be providing an otherwise unavailable eternal covenant. The husband is available!  But maybe the husband is otherwise unworthy.

Perhaps the husband broke the Word of Wisdom such as smoking. Yet Joseph smoked. Maybe the husband drank alcohol. But Joseph drank alcohol. Maybe the husband wasn’t faithful – don’t even go there. Joseph even asked his apostles to give their wives. Now, I know this turned out to be “an Abrahamic test,” but the point is that they took him seriously. Therefore it must have been a recognised practice for Joseph to request the wives of worthy priesthood holders. Grant clearly felt that Joseph had the right to dictate and govern as he pleased, and it seems clear that he did. It seems to me, also, that it was Joseph who was obsessed with sexual triangulation, and “triangulation” is an understatement.

Much is made by Katich of the holy and religious nature of these things. “Plural marriage was about revelation and obedience, not lust,” he declares. Consider, however, the attitude in which these “servants of God” approached the issue:

Supposing that I have a wife or a dozen of them, and she should say, “You cannot be exalted without me,” and suppose they all should say so what of that?…Suppose that I lose the whole of them before I go into the spirit world, but that I have been a good, faithful, man…do you think I will be destitute there. No, the Lord says there are more there than there are here…there are millions of them…we will go to brother Joseph and say, “Here we are brother Joseph; we are here ourselves are we not., with none of the property we possessed in our probationary state, not even the rings on our fingers?” He will say to us, “Come along, my boys, we will give you a good suit of clothes. Where are your wives?” “They are back yonder; they would not follow us.” “Never mind,” says Joseph, “Here are thousands, have all you want.”

It sounds positively pious, doesn’t it? It is liberating for women and humbling for men. It also sounds more like the heaven of Islam than that of Christianity. So here we have a situation where Joseph is approaching worthy priesthood holders, at least in some cases, asking them for their wives, and getting what he asks for. He is not providing an otherwise unavailable eternal covenant since their husbands would have been able to provide this. Smith was asking them to enter with him into an eternal marriage whose main aim is to raise posterity for eternity.

It has been argued that some of these women, because of age and other considerations, were a convincing argument for the discipline of celibacy. But remember that, as far as Mormons are concerned, marriage, as well as all its attendant duties and benefits, is for eternity. So what is the difference between saying, “Brother, I want to have sex with your wife tomorrow” and “Brother, I want to have sex with your wife after this life, when God has blessed her with a more pleasing aspect”? And, anyway, what better argument could there be for a noble motive for what is an otherwise despicable practice than to marry a few ugly women. “See, Emma,” says Joseph, “this isn’t about sex, honest.”

Katich argues that there is no evidence that these marriages were anything more than platonic. He criticises the authors for speculating and accuses them of following a faulty logic, thus:

According to the evidence

  1. About 28 percent of Joseph’s marriages are known to have “had physical dimensions.”
  2. Evidence for the part may be taken for the whole.
  3. Therefore, sexual relations characterised most of his marriages.

He asserts that the second assumption is flawed and based on pure speculation. But consider the following speculation by Katich:

  1. Mormon marriage is specifically for the purpose of sealing a relationship between a man and a woman for eternity.
  2. The primary purpose for such a union is to raise an eternal posterity through sexual intercourse and childbirth and raising an eternal family.
  3. Therefore, Joseph did not have sex with a majority of his wives.

You figure out which sequence makes more sense.

Magical Mystery Tour

Katich’s answer to the charge of money digging and treasure seeking is audacious enough to deserve our applause. It is also illustrative of how the Mormon Church generally deals with these issues. Before we go any further, consider the history of dissembling and denial in the Mormon Church.

  • One of the most published and quoted (but least read) of Mormon apologists, Hugh Nibley, said that “Joseph Smith lived a little more than twenty four years after this first vision. During this time he told but one story…”
  • There are six different versions of Joseph Smith’s “first vision” account.
  • The Mormon Church published Section 101 of the Doctrine and Covenants in 1835 condemning the practice and stating that its members were not polygamists. That official statement was printed in every copy of the D&C until 1876. Throughout that period Latter-day Saints practised polygamy. Incidentally, I have sometimes wondered whatever happened to that revelation. I mean, with all the fuss about fundamentalist Mormons and all, you would think they could dust it off and put it to good use.
  • The Mormon Church consistently denied that Joseph Smith was ever involved in or tried as a glass looker, which refers to a person who peers through a glass stone and sees things not discernible by the natural eye. Since the discovery of the court documents that clearly show his trial in Bainbridge, New York in 1826 for this very charge, Mormon apologists have changed their tune. And so to Katich’s account of events.

It does strike me as “convenient” that when it comes to telling the story of Mormonism from a Mormon perspective, the legendary reputation of the Saints as record keepers proves almost unerringly reliable. But when it comes to looking at those more interesting aspects of Mormon history that can tarnish reputations and bring the integrity of Mormonism into question, the past becomes a foreign country. Who knows what really happened?

Money Digging

I found Katich’s account of Joseph’s money digging exploits confusing. In one paragraph he introduces the familiar explanation like this: “Joseph’s money-digging youth is certainly no secret. When asked if he was a money digger, Joseph said, ‘Yes, but it was never a very profitable job…only got fourteen dollars a month for it.’ His mother, Lucy Mack Smith, explained the prevalent money digging story as originating from Joseph’s employment as a hired silver mine digger for Josiah Stowell. Lucy said that Joseph ‘endeavored to divert [Stowell] from his vain pursuit,’ however, he ultimately succumbed, as Richard Bushman concludes, to ‘pressure from neighbors, from the enthusiastic and well-off Josiah Stowell, from his own father, and from cruel, unrelenting poverty.'”

Smith, the humble laborer, is supposedly pressed by unrelenting poverty to dig where the eccentric Josiah Stowell tells him to dig. Knowing the folly of such practices, Smith tries to “divert” his employer from his folly, but he continues to hire out as a mere mine worker, staying only because of his pecuniary needs and the pressure of friends and family.

Katich goes on in the next paragraph, however, to paint a different picture: It was becoming clear by 1826 that both Joseph and his father were more able to discern the ultimate purposes of Joseph’s seer abilities. It was testified in 1826 that Joseph Sr. said of his son Joseph Jr. that ‘both he and his son were mortified that this wonderful power which God has so miraculously given him should be used only in search of filthy lucre, or its equivalent in earthly treasures…’ ‘His constant prayer to his Heavenly Father was to manifest His will concerning this marvelous power. He trusted that the Son of Righteousness would some day illumine the heart of the boy, and enable him to see His will concerning him.’ Of course the realization of that prayer can clearly be seen in the worldwide attraction to what is currently an eleven-million-member congregation of Saints devoted to Jesus Christ and His restored Church.”

Here we have a picture of Joseph Smith acting as an adventurer and entrepreneur, hiring himself out as a man able to find treasures in the earth by divination. Not only this, but this is a man who uses what is considered the gift of God for treasure hunting. Katich must decide whether the stories of Smith’s money digging exploits were pernicious exaggerations of his innocent employment as a laborer to a money-digging local or whether the stories tell accurately of a man who claimed to be able to find lost treasure in the earth, thus drawing wealthy people like Stowell into the enterprise. It cannot be both. Smith cannot have been discouraging Stowell while at the same time claiming to have the power to find treasure, thus encouraging him.

Certainly, the evidence presented to the court in Bainbridge in 1826 supports the picture of a diviner of treasure rather than a humble laborer: “Mr. Thompson, an employee of Mr. Stowell, was the next witness…Smith had told the Deacon that very many years before a band of robbers had buried on his flat a box of treasure, and as it was very valuable they had by a sacrifice placed a charm over it to protect it, so that it could not be obtained except by faith, accompanied by certaintalismanic influences…the box of treasure was struck by the shovel, on which they redoubled their energies, but it gradually receded from their grasp. One of the men placed his hand upon the box, but it gradually sunk from his reach…Mr. Stowell went to his flock and selected a fine vigouros lamb, and resolved to sacrifice it to the demon spirit who guarded the coveted treasure…but the treasure still receded from their grasp, and it was never obtained.”

Now, who is directing the work in this account? Is Stowell telling Smith the labourer where to dig? Or is Smith the treasure diviner telling Stowell where to dig and how to obtain treasure? Note also the reference to “talismanic influences,” surely proof that the Jupiter talisman story has provenance.

The above is a classic account of how money diggers worked, promising for financial gain to tell landowners where treasure was buried on their land, offering to help obtain it by divination, and then blaming their failure to deliver what was promised on evil influences working against them. This is a scenario repeated time and again as Joseph Smith promises Zion to the saints only to find that persecution, disobedience, and opposition of all kinds drive them out again.

Well, That’s All Right Then

Katich explains the money-digging story against the background of the superstitious 19th century by quoting D. Michael Quinn: “It is often difficult for us in the twentieth century to appreciate the world from the perspective of earlier times… All of us have a tendency to assume that our ancestors saw the world as we see it today.”

Katich comments, “This idea that those people in earlier generations had ‘misguided world views'” stems from our “inability to understand the point of view of ‘premodern (sic) man.'”He then quotes Quinn as saying “[this] obscure[s] our understanding of people only a few generations in the past” before concluding“Undoubtedly, McKeever and Johnson share this tendency and demonstrate their bias as they fall victim to what historians call ‘the fallacy of presentism.’ The point is that we cannot judge the culture of another time based on what is acceptable in our time.”

A good observation and legitimate enough if you are, indeed, comparing pre-modern with post-modern man. However, we are comparing the conduct and life of Joseph Smith with the claims made for him by Mormons and with his supposed high calling as a prophet of God. This not an exercise in anthropology in which man is studied in relation to himself but rather a study of man in relation to the calling of God. When God calls, he calls out of the world: Abraham out of pagan Ur; Israel out of Egypt; Christians out of the world, the first two in both a physical and spiritual sense, the last spiritually.

Katich asks the following question:

We could ask if McKeever and Johnson would follow a man known to have killed an Egyptian taskmaster? Or a man who used a magic cup for divination? Or a man who claimed to live in the belly of a whale? Or a man who lay drunken in his tent to the embarrassment of his family? Or a man who sought out Christians for prosecution and death? Or a man who collected taxes for a repressive government? These are the men of the Bible; they were unquestionably involved in such things. Do McKeever and Johnson believe this makes the Bible any less true? Would they have trouble accepting Matthew or Paul if they reappeared today?

But surely these examples prove my point. Moses slew the Egyptian some forty years before his great calling as a great deliverer of Israel, forty years in which God had to deal with him so that he learned to do things God’s way. Paul, likewise, persecuted Christians before his great calling, and so did Matthew collect taxes for a repressive government before Jesus told him, “Follow me.” I fail to see how Jonah fits into his picture of flawed leaders. So far as Noah is concerned, I suggest this is an example where the Bible is more akin to Moynahan’s history, The Faith, in showing warts and all than the sanitized hagiography that passes for the history of Joseph Smith.

There is no mealy-mouthed hiding of Noah’s drunkenness as there is of Joseph’s full involvement,after his calling, in money digging and treasure divining. In fact, Joseph Smith claims to have been called by God the Father and Jesus in a vision in 1820 to restore Christianity. This is a man who met with an angel annually between 1823 and 1827 during which time he received instructions from heaven. It was later said of him:

Save Jesus Christ only, the world has never known a more competent authority than Joseph Smith. It is one thing to read a book of scripture and quite another to be personally instructed by its authors. Who among the world’s scholars and religious leaders can lay claim to having stood face to face with Adam, Enoch, Noah, Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist, Peter, James and John?

Here is a man who has received instruction from angels and apostles of old as well as prophets and patriarchs concerning the building up of God’s kingdom. In 1827 he was considered ready to embark upon the start of this great task, and in 1826 he is a treasure-hunting, money-digging diviner of hidden gold? Furthermore, he is prosecuted, successfully, for doing it?

Katich insists, however, that money digging was a prevalent practice in those days. Everyone did it. Famous people did it. Respectable people did it. He would have the reader believe that money diggers simply had bad press and were really hard working and industrious, though simple-minded individuals, and a product of their age.

The Mormon Church itself lays great store by worthiness, interviewing candidates for membership, callings, and temple attendance. How would it react today if a prospective member were to follow the same line of reasoning? Imagine, for instance, a man with a gambling habit approaching the church for membership. Would he be required to give up his gambling? I can’t see why he should. After all, it is a prevalent practice in this age. Millions pursue the hobby.

Indeed, famous and respectable people do it. Horse racing is known as the sport of kings! Most of those who do gamble are otherwise hard working and industrious, though sometimes foolhardy people, a product of their age. Could such a man obtain a temple recommend? Come to think of it, what if that man were Joseph Smith?

There is a deliciously disarming piece of historical reporting by Katich of the Mormon Church’s “official” stand on the practice of magic and divination:

Regardless of speculations on who owned or used what, it remains the reality that such possessions only go to illustrate the climate of prevailing culture at the time. Joseph Sr., according to Quinn, took stock in such cultural folk magic, however, it is only a reflection in his posterity that such implements are shown as heirlooms and past traditions. This is clearly shown in early Church courts, overseen by Hyrum Smith himself as assistant president of the Church, wherein clear and direct stands against occult-type practices were made. It could be no clearer than in the disfellowshipment case of Brother Mountford. Mountford was disfellowshipped for his “practicing fortune telling, magic, black art, etc.” In 1841, Elder Woodruff explained the Church’s position on the Mountford case. Woodruff said, “we ha[ve] no such custom or practice in the Church, and that we should not fellowship any individual who practiced magic, fortune telling, black art, etc., for it was not of God.” Hence, whatever one chooses to make of the magical artifact’s (sic) existence, it remains clear they were not part of or accepted in practice of the LDS faith.

This reminds me of a similar statement made by Mormon leaders about its stand toward another practice that brought the church into disrepute:

Inasmuch as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy: we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife; and one woman, one husband, except in the case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.

Such a track record hardly inspires confidence, don’t you think?

The Sin of Happiness

What is most audacious about all this, perhaps, is the oft-quoted “confession” of Joseph Smith that he was not always all he might have been and should have been in light of his calling. This is trotted out without fail every time Smith’s character is impugned and, again, in light of what we have discovered is inadequate to the point of being farcical. Katich quotes:

Being of very tender years, and persecuted by those who ought to have been my friends… I was left to all kinds of temptations; and mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God. In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins. A disposition to commit such was never in my nature. But I was guilty of levity, and sometimes associated with jovial company, etc., not consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God as I had been. But this will not seem very strange to any one who recollects my youth, and is acquainted with my native cheery temperament.

Continuing this theme in a letter to Oliver Cowdery, Smith said:

…during this time, as is common to most, or all youths, I fell into many vices and follies; but as my accusers are, and have been forward to accuse me of being guilty of gross and outrageous violations of the peace and good order of the community, I take the occasion to remark that, though as I have said above, ‘as is common to most, or all youths, I fell into many vices and follies,’ I have not, neither can it be sustained, in truth, been guilty of wronging or injuring any man or society of men; and those imperfections to which I allude, and for which I have often had occasion to lament, were a light, and too often, vain mind, exhibiting a foolish and trifling conversation. This being all, and the worst, that my accusers can substantiate against my moral character, I wish to add that it is not without a deep feeling of regret that I am thus called upon in answer to my own conscience, to fulfil a duty I owe to myself, as well as to the cause of truth, in making this public confession of my former uncircumspect walk, and trifling conversation and more particularly, as I often acted in violation of those holy precepts which I knew came from God. But as the ‘Articles and Covenants,’ of this Church are plain upon this particular point, I do not deem it important to proceed further. I only add, that I do not, nor never have, pretended to be any other than a man ‘subject to passion,’ and liable, without the assisting grace of the Savior, to deviate from that perfect path in which all men are commanded to walk.

So Joseph Smith was guilty of enjoying a good joke, indulging himself in trivial talk (perhaps the football results?), and having a vain mind. Did I tell you that the word “gullible” is not to be found the dictionary?

The Jupiter Talisman, or What’s Sauce for the Goose is Sauce for the Gander

Katich has argued that Smith’s background and cultural heritage do not disqualify him as an honest reporter of events. Yet it is the background and heritage of Charles Bidaman, it seems, to which Katich objects, and that he thinks disqualifies Bidaman as a reliable source. In a mean piece of character assassination, Katich dismisses Bidaman, the man who certified the authenticity of the talisman.

The source of the now-famous talisman story, which Dr. Durham bases his findings on, originated from Wilford C. Wood, who was told it by Charles Bidaman, who was the illegitimate son of Lewis Bidaman. Lewis was Emma Smith’s non-Mormon second husband. Charles was born out of an affair between Lewis Bidaman and Nancy Abercrombie, which occurred while Lewis was married to Emma. Charles was taken in by Emma at the age of 4 and raised by her until she died 11 years later.

Charles Bidaman is dismissed on the grounds that he is the ungrateful bastard lovechild of the non-Mormon second husband of the apostate and embittered Emma Smith. I wonder why Katich doesn’t simply leave it there. After all, this evidence will be more than enough to convince the average Mormon, which says more about the average Mormon than it does about Charles Bidaman. However, in light of what we have learned about Joseph Smith’s relationships with women, I wonder that Katich brings up Bidaman’s character, or that of his father, at all.

He does not leave it there, however, and I am quite fond of the logic he brings to bear in showing that the talisman story is unreliable. Let us apply it as fully as we can:

Charles Bidaman Joseph Smith
Was merely a 15-year-old boy. Was merely a 14-year-old boy.
Waited 58 years to make his certification. Waited 20 years to give an official account of his vision.
No mention was made of the medallion by anyone at the time. No mention was made of the first vision by anyone at the time.
There was no mention of the talisman on the list of the contents of the dead prophet’s pockets. There was no mention of God and Jesus in the earliest,suppressed, account.
There is only one source of evidence that Joseph had the talisman – Charles Bidaman. There is only one source of evidence that Joseph had the vision – Joseph Smith.
Therefore there was no talisman. Therefore there was no vision.

The List

Much is made of the list of the contents of Joseph Smith’s pockets at his death. No talisman is listed with Smith’s other property. Maybe it was omitted deliberately in order to maintain an image of the prophet. Maybe Emma removed it as a personal keepsake, not willing to allow the Mormon Church to have it, in much the same way as she accused the Salt Lake Church of hijacking her dead husband’s memory to promote their own version of Mormonism. Yes, this is speculation, but I think you will find that, to the unbiased observer, not nearly as fantastic as the claim that the Joseph Smith discussed here was a prophet of God.

Saviour Prophet

I am reminded here of Katich’s charge, later in his essay, that McKeever and Johnson’s account and interpretation of Joseph Smith’s martyrdom closely mirrors that of Jerald and Sandra Tanner. Reading what Lance Starr and Samuel Katich have to say on the subject of Joseph’s role in judgment, one might have thought they had colluded together to compose their arguments. Of course, they haven’t, but have simply expressed separately their common understanding. A shame that they will not allow others the same facility. The terms “people” and “glasshouses” spring to mind.

Let us, under this heading, first look at what the Bible has to say about “judgment” in its various meanings. Both Starr and Katich argue that it is reasonable to expect Joseph Smith to have a role in the judgment since several Bible texts refer to the judging by apostles as well as the saints in general. The references they use are Matthew 19:27-28; Luke 22:29-30; 1 Cor.6:1-3; Rev.20:4. From this “Biblical evidence,” they argue their case for Joseph Smith having authority delegated to him to judge with Christ.


The first thing Scripture makes clear is that all will be judged by Christ. Revelation 20:11-13 says, “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it…And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.

Everyone appears before the throne on which Christ alone sits and issues judgment. But Scripture does say that others will “judge” (apostles (Matt.19:27-28; Luke 22:29-30) and the saints (1 Cor.6:1-3)). How are we to understand the role of believers in the judgment? If all the dead, great and small and including the saints, have already been judged, how are the saints to judge? Who are they to judge and what form does this judgment take?

In reference to 1 Cor.6:2, the Oxford Bible Commentary explains:

The consistent understanding of “Judge the World” here is that it is a reference to ruling rather than handing down judgments. Clearly, only Christ will judge in a juridical fashion because all judgment has been given to him, and “the dead, great and small” will stand before him on that day. (Rev.20:11-15, c.f. 2 Cor.5:10)

It goes on to explain:

The Old Testament understanding of judge is “ruler.” Therefore in Daniel 7:22, “the saints of the most high…possessed the kingdom,” and in Rev.2:26-7, “To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations – he will rule with an iron sceptre; he will dash them to pieces like pottery just as I have received authority from my father.” (c.f. Psalm 2:9)

The role of saints and apostles, then, is that of rulers in Christ’s established kingdom, not judges alongside Christ on the Day of the Lord. Expanding on this theme, it explains that Paul underlines this inheritance in 1 Cor.3:1-3 as he portrays the Corinthian saints as underestimating their own importance. “If they remembered their destiny in judging the world, even angels, they would not consider themselves incompetent to judge the trivial matters which they now ask others to decide.”

There is a juridical setting here in that legal disputes are in view. However, this is not a precedent for believing the saints will judge in the final judgment. It is also worth noting that Paul is likely talking about cases involving property (v.7), i.e. a situation is being judged and not a man. This is the very situation in which a judge in the context of ruler would adjudicate. They settle matters, keep order, and mete out justice. The whole thrust of Scripture signifies they will “rule” after judgment. This is shown in Daniel 7:22&27 (see above).

In reference to Matt.19:28, the Oxford Bible Commentary says:

The crucial verse 28, which alludes to Daniel 7:9-27, refers not to a one-time judgment but lordship. The text is not about Israel’s condemnation at the consummation but the disciples’ exercise of authority in the future (c.f. 20:20-21 “When you come into your kingdom.”) As the twelve Phylarchs once directed the twelve tribes under Moses, and as Israel was once ruled by judges, so shall it be at the end.

In reference specifically to judges, we see this working out in the book of Judges 2:16-19 where the Lord raised up rulers, or judges, to lead the people. The explanation in the introduction to this book in the NIV Study Bible states, “The title describes the leaders Israel had from the time of the elders who outlived Joshua until the time of the monarchy.”

In Isaiah 1:21 in the KJV we read of Jerusalem: “How is the faithful city become an harlot! It was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.” In the NIV the word judgment is given as justice. The Amplified Bible gives, “She was full of justice! Uprightness and right standing with God [once] lodged in her.” The New Century Bible gives the verse as: “The city of Jerusalem once followed the Lord. But she is no longer loyal to the Lord. She used to be filled with fairness. People there lived the way God wanted.”

What judgment means here is the ongoing administration of justice and right living rather than the meting out of final judgment. Thus the judges are to rule in Christ’s kingdom.

The Consent of Joseph?

Were McKeever and Johnson right, then, in their concluding remarks on this subject? This is what they wrote:

The Bible clearly states that every person – both believer and non-believer – will be judged by Jesus, not Joseph! There is no hint that somebody like Smith would assist in the judgment. Jesus said in John 5:22-23a, ‘For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father.

Lance Starr describes this as a “paraphrase” of the Bible text. It is not a paraphrase but is taken directly from the KJV and is what the Bible says. In any event, it is clear that the authors of 101have got it right. Scripture plainly shows us that all judgment, in the sense of juridical work, is committed to the Son, while judgment in the administrative sense of sharing in the rule of Christ’s kingdom, is given to the saints.

In light of what we have said above, consider what certain LDS leaders have said of Joseph Smith:

Brigham Young: “If I can pass brother Joseph, I shall stand a good chance for passing Peter, Jesus, the Prophets, Moses, Abraham, and all back to Father Adam, and be pretty sure of receiving his approbation…. If we can pass the sentinel Joseph the Prophet, we shall go into the celestial kingdom, and not a man can injure us. If he says, ‘God bless you, come along here’; if we will live so that Joseph will justify us, and say, ‘Here am I, brethren,’ we shall pass every sentinel.”

No man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith. From the day that the Priesthood was taken from the earth to the winding-up scene of all things, every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, junior, as a passport to their entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are – I with you and you with me. I cannot go there without his consent. He holds the keys of that kingdom for the last dispensation – the keys to rule in the spirit world.”

George Q. Cannon: “He stands, therefore, at the head of this dispensation and will throughout all eternity, and no man can take that power away from him. If any man holds these keys, he holds them subordinate to Joseph Smith…. If we get our salvation, we shall have to pass by him; if we enter into our glory, it will be through the authority that he has received. We cannot get around him.”

Joseph Fielding Smith: Nobody could reject this “testimony without incurring the most dreadful consequences, for he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

Evangelical commentators object about how Mormons venerate Smith while, at the same time, Mormons protest that their beliefs are misrepresented and that Joseph is subservient to Jesus and acts only on authority given by Jesus. To the Evangelical mind, quotes such as these seem to clearly venerate Joseph to a position no Evangelical believer would ascribe to any man, no matter who he is or what he has done. Starr makes a point worth considering when he asks whether, if we were to render the words of Brigham Young substituting the name Peter for Joseph, we would take a very different view of things. Thus:

“Whosoever confesseth that Peter was sent of God to reveal the holy Gospel to the children of men, and lay the foundation for gathering Israel, and building up the kingdom of God on the earth, that spirit of God; and every spirit that does not confess that God has sent Peter, and revealed the everlasting Gospel to and through him, is of Antichrist…”

But, of course, that proposition is never put in Scripture! We do have, as Katich observes, the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:40: “He who receives you receives me,” and in Luke 10:16, “He who listens to you listens to me.” But look at that Luke quote again, “He who listens to you listens to me.”Listens to what? What were people listening to? What were the apostles saying? Brigham Young knows:

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” (1 John 5:1)

“Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God.” (1 John 4:2)

These are the very references Young uses to build up to his incredible proclamation, his “new scripture,” concerning the role of Joseph Smith:

“For unbelievers we will quote from the Scriptures – “Whoso ever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” Again – “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God.” I will now give my scripture – “Whosoever confesseth that Joseph Smith was sent of God to reveal the holy Gospel to the children of men, and lay the foundation for gathering Israel, and building up the kingdom of God on the earth, that spirit of God; and every spirit that does not confess that God has sent Joseph Smith, and revealed the everlasting Gospel to and through him, is of Antichrist, no matter whether it is found in a pulpit or on a throne, nor how much divinity it may profess, nor what it professes with regard to revealed religion and the account that is given of the Savior and his Father in the Bible.”

But nowhere is our future in eternity dependent upon accepting a man. It is dependent on accepting the message of Jesus as preached through these men – and that is a completely different proposition. Nowhere in Scripture are we told that we must gain the approbation of a man; nowhere are we told that we enter God’s heaven only with the permission of a man; nowhere, certainly, are we told that we must look to a man to justify us. It is to the God-man Christ Jesus we look, and it is to him faithful men of God point. “But we point to Jesus, Joseph points to Jesus,” protests the Mormon. This brings me back to the question: From where do these Mormon ideas come? And what does this all mean? Why do Mormons appear orthodox one minute in proclaiming Jesus, yet the next minute they are totally unorthodox in proclaiming Joseph? Why are the arguments of one side so compelling…until I hear the arguments of the other?

Sensational Dispensationalism

Mormons believe that God is an exalted man and that he became God by obeying his God. They also believe that men can become gods and that God differs from us only in that he has grown so much further than we have. Yet true Christians hold that God is the only God in existence and that His attributes are completely different from those of fallible mankind.

To a Mormon God has a “great plan of happiness” and Jesus has a role in that plan just as Joseph has a role in that plan. Mormonism isn’t about God but about the plan. Everyone is subservient to the plan, even God himself. For it is by keeping to the plan that God became God. The Mormon priesthood is executive power to administer and carry through the plan, and each dispensation, or ecclesiastical age of the world, is administered by those holding this priesthood. Even God himself is subservient to the priesthood, for it is by the priesthood that he had “authority” to create the world.

Christ carried out his office by the power of the priesthood and could not be our Saviour without it. In this scheme – where God and his Christ are only greater than us in development, and priesthood and the plan are greater than all – it seems natural to say in one breath that Joseph is acting under the authority of Christ, and in the next to say that we must have Joseph’s permission to enter heaven. He is at the head of the dispensation in which we live and holds the executive power for it.

Because Mormons understand the judgment by the saints to mean juridical jurisdiction, they have no problem ascribing to Joseph the role of judge as they do. Look again at the quote from Brigham Young:

“If I can pass brother Joseph, I shall stand a good chance for passing Peter, Jesus, the Prophets, Moses, Abraham, and all back to Father Adam, and be pretty sure of receiving his approbation…. If we can pass the sentinel Joseph the Prophet, we shall go into the celestial kingdom, and not a man can injure us. If he says, ‘God bless you, come along here’; if we will live so that Joseph will justify us, and say, ‘Here am I, brethren,’ we shall pass every sentinel.”

There is a pyramidal structure here in which people must pass a series of dispensational key holders to gain heaven, including Joseph, Peter, Jesus, the prophets, Moses, Abraham, and Adam. Those who attended the Mormon temple prior to 1990 learned a series of handgrips and passwords “to pass the angels who stand sentinel.”

Although the Mormon God stands at the head of this structure, he is by no means at the head of everything, for his God has progressed beyond him, as has his God in turn, and so on into infinity. No one of whom Mormons speak is ever all in all, the prime mover, the uncreated creator of all things. They know no such being, and if they did, he would be a man. Again, Brigham Young said,

If we can pass the sentinel Joseph the Prophet, we shall go into the celestial kingdom, and not a man can injure us. If he says, ‘God bless you, come along here’; if we will live so that Joseph will justify us, and say, ‘Here am I, brethren,’ we shall pass every sentinel.

How can Joseph’s passport guarantee us entry? What of all the others mentioned in the list? The authority of every dispensation from Adam onwards is conferred upon Joseph Smith. This is what Joseph Fielding Smith had to say:

If all things are to be restored, and if the dispensation of the fulness of times is made up of, and is a uniting of, all dispensations, with their keys and powers, since the days of Adam, then those who held the keys of these various dispensations would have to confer them upon the head of one who stands at the head of the last dispensation, and the prophet Joseph Smith is that one.

He then quoted Doctrine and Covenants 128:20-21 describing this happening. In this scheme the idea that men and gods are the same species gives a completely different view of things. It doesn’t seem so audacious for Mormons to make such incredible claims for Joseph. Indeed, they are not incredible at all if God is only a greater man than us.  Again, read Brigham Young:

He (Joseph) holds the keys of that kingdom for the last dispensation – the keys to rule in the spirit-world; and he rules there triumphantly, for he gained full power and a glorious victory over the power of Satan while he was yet in the flesh, and was a martyr to his religion and to the name of Christ, which gives him a most perfect victory in the spirit-world. He reigns there as supreme a being in his sphere, capacity, and calling, as God does in heaven. (That word “sphere” again).

Praise to the Man!

There is a hymn in the Mormon Church, sung to the tune of “Scotland the Brave,” in which Joseph is lauded for his achievements. I took the opportunity recently of asking two men for their thoughts on it. Both are Christians of long-standing, one an experienced chorister of many years, the other a pastor in a local Baptist church, and neither knew much about Mormonism.

I interviewed them separately. Without comment or preamble, I simply handed them a copy of the Mormon Hymnbook. They leafed through the book, finding such familiar hymns as “Onward Christian Soldiers,” “The First Noel,” “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” “Now Thank We All Our God.” I think they were impressed. Then I asked them to turn to hymn 27 where they found the following:

Praise to the Man who communed with Jehovah!
Jesus anointed that prophet and seer.
Blessed to open the last dispensation,
Kings shall extol him and nations revere.

Praise to his memory he died as a martyr;
Honored and blest be his ever-great name!
Long shall his blood, which was shed by assassins,
Plead unto heaven while the earth lauds his fame.

Great is his glory and endless his priesthood.
Ever and ever the keys he will hold.
Faithful and true, he will enter his kingdom,
Crowned in the midst of the prophets of old.

Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven;
Earth must atone for the blood of that man.
Wake up the world for conflict of justice.
Millions shall know “Brother Joseph” again.


Hail to the prophet, ascended to heaven!
Traitors and tyrants now fight him in vein.
Mingling with Gods, he can plan for his brethren;
Death cannot conquer the hero again.

For both men silence ensued for what seemed an age. One was prompted to ask, “Is this about Jesus?” The other, on coming across the fourth verse, expressed amazement that Mormons made so much of Joseph of Egypt. It just didn’t sink in until I told them which Joseph was being referenced. Another silence followed. Then the comments came. Responding to the chorus, one said, “But there is only one who plans for us, and that is Jesus.” Another used the word “blasphemy”before he added, “I knew they weren’t right about some things, but I had no idea they were this wrong.”

The same man drew a parallel between this element and the Catholic view of Mary as co-redemptrix. The pastor wanted to know where Jesus was in all this. “They are worshipping Joseph,”he said. I mentioned that all faiths have their heroes, as the Christians have their saints, including Peter, Augustine, etc. He didn’t see it that way. “We don’t ‘praise’ them,” he protested, “and we don’t ‘hail them’ like this.

I asked the chorister whether he, in his many years of singing hymns and worship songs, had come across anything like it in Christian hymnology. He spoke of hymns that praised God for certain men, prayed to God for people, even told, in song, stories from the Bible (the breadth of his knowledge impressed me), but nothing that praised, extolled, or so revered a man. I think that Mormons, who are so inured to this way of thinking, have no idea how shocking it is to people who know only the orthodox, traditional Christianity. These men were seasoned and experienced Christians, not new to the faith. They were not ivory tower dwellers. But they were stunned.

If you were to ask a Christian who it was that fitted the main elements of this song:

Someone to be praised and honoured and whose name is “ever-great”;
Who is to be extolled and revered by kings and nations;
Whose blood pleads to heaven;
Whose priesthood is endless;
Who will enter into and be crowned in his kingdom;
Whose death must be answered for by the world;
Who has ascended to heaven;
Whom death cannot conquer;
And who plans for his brethren

What name do you think they would come up with?

Failed Prophet

As is often the case, Katich here provides the stick with which others might beat Mormonism. I am going to jump about a little here between the subject of Joseph the failed prophet and the subject of Joseph the proud prophet, simply because Katich introduces into his essay material that is geŕmaine to both. Under his heading “The Proud Prophet” and quoting Paul H. Peterson, Katich points out the following:

Of all the editorial alterations in History, perhaps the most serious one, especially with regard to trying to understand the Prophet’s personality, was the decision, apparently approved at the beginning of the project by Joseph himself, to convert third-person accounts written by other people to first-person accounts as if Joseph himself were writing. Among the end results, as Bitton and Arrington have pointed out, is a ‘certain distortion of the Prophet’s personality.’ The Prophet, on occasion, comes off as being confident to the point of arrogance; by appearing to rely on his own merits rather than upon the Lord, he seems less the ultimate religious figure than he in reality was.

In other words, not everything attributed to Smith was actually original to him. Katich then argues that the statements used by McKeever and Johnson to paint a picture of an arrogant man may well be the words of some unknown third party and not of Smith. Firstly, let’s agree that what Peterson says in the above quote is true, i.e. third party accounts were written in the first person to give the impression that Joseph himself was speaking. This is a well established fact. Be that as it may, this does not help Katich one jot. Let’s look at the facts.

  1. The change from third person to first person had Joseph’s approval.
  2. Joseph began “writing” his history in 1838.
  3. Over sixty percent of the history was written after Smith’s death in 1844. Of the almost 2,200 pages of the finished work, only 812 were completed by the time of Joseph’s death.
  4. It is admitted by Mormon historians that the manuscript history, both during Joseph’s life and after his death, was tampered with, and significant changes were made to make the history fit with subsequent events.

The above facts leave us with the following:

  1. If the change from third to first person carried the stamp of approval of Joseph Smith, then the boasting remains his. I can imagine him leaning over some scribe recording the words, I have more to boast of than any man did… and saying, I like that, I like that a lot.
  2. If the history was mostly written after his death, then it is plain dishonest to call it his.
  3. In any case, if future historians wrote most of it and doctored large tracts of it, how can Katich know what is original to Joseph?

This brings me to the failed prophecies under discussion. Katich makes much of the Rocky Mountain prophecy:

As a final note to this prophecy, Jenson notes Joseph’s predictions about going to the Rocky Mountains. The record reads:

“I had a conversation with a number of the brethren in the shade of the building on the subject of our persecution in Missouri and the constant annoyance which had followed us since we were driven from the State. I prophesied that the Saints should continue to suffer much affliction and would be driven to the Rocky Mountains; many would apostatize, others would be put to death by our persecutors or lose their lives in consequence of exposure or disease, and some of you will live to go and assist in making settlements and build cities and see the Saints become a mighty people in the Rocky Mountains.”

This of course was so completely fulfilled that no further discussion is necessary except in pointing out its omission from McKeever and Johnson’s ‘”study” of Joseph.

Let’s look at the whole entry for that day:

Saturday, 6[August 1842].—Passed over the river to Montrose, Iowa, in company with General Adams, Colonel Brewer, and others, and witnessed the installation of the officers of the Rising Sun Lodge Ancient York Masons, at Montrose, by General James Adams, Deputy Grand-Master of Illinois. While the Deputy Grand-Master was engaged in giving the requisite instructions to the Master-elect, I had a conversation with a number of brethren in the shade of the building on the subject of our persecutions in Missouri and the constant annoyance which has followed us since we were driven from that state. I prophesied that the Saints would continue to suffer much affliction and would be driven to the Rocky Mountains, many would apostatize, others would be put to death by our persecutors or lose their lives in consequence of exposure or disease, and some of you will live to go and assist in making settlements and build cities and see the Saints become a mighty people in the midst of the Rocky Mountains.

Two things are happening here: 1) Joseph has gone to be part of the installation of officers at a Masonic lodge, and 2) he has a conversation while there, giving the prophecy. The problem is that the prophecy is admitted to be an interpolation into the original record. Davis Bitton, an assistant church historian and contributor to Arlington’s Mormon Experience, says that “there is no such prophecy in the handwriting of Joseph Smith, or published during the prophet’s lifetime, but it was referred to in general terms during the trek west. After the arrival in the Salt Lake Valley the prophecy became more specific as time went on.” 

Bitton goes on to state that the history for this period was written in 1845, a year after Smith had been killed. He further states that the prophecy is an “insertion” added to the manuscript as “an afterthought.” The evidence for this is independent of “anti-Mormon” sentiments that might be read into this commentary by the paranoid.

The Rocky Mountain prophecy, then, was written into the history after the Mormons had reached the Rocky Mountains. Essentially all that is left of any significance happening on that day is Joseph Smith’s involvement with the esoteric cult of Freemasonry. Perhaps McKeever and Johnson saved the Mormon Church some embarrassment in omitting the prophecy. They were certainly right in not including it as a bona fide endorsement of Smith as a prophet.


The following commentary is taken from Mormonism, A Gold-Plated Religion:

In September of 1832 Joseph Smith was in Kirtland, Ohio.  These were the very early days of the church and, despite opposition (Joseph Smith had been tarred and feathered earlier that same year) expectations were high.  The Saints were defiant of the mob and determined to persevere.  Church members had been arriving in hundreds in the frontier town of Independence, Missouri, which had been identified in an earlier revelation as the centre place of Zion.

It was against this background that, on September 22 and 23, 1832, Joseph Smith gave a revelation concerning the establishment of Zion:
Yea, the word of the Lord concerning his church, established in the last days for the restoration of his people…for the gathering of his saints to stand upon Mount Zion, which shall be the established city of New Jerusalem.

Which City shall be built, beginning at the temple lot, which is appointed by the finger of the Lord, in the western boundaries of the State of Missouri…

Verily this is the word of the Lord, that the city New Jerusalem shall be built by the gathering of the saints, beginning at this place, even the temple lot, which temple shall be reared in this generation.

For verily this generation shall not pass away until an house shall be built unto the Lord…

…which house shall be built unto the Lord in this generation, upon the consecrated spot as I have appointed. (D&C 84:2-5,31)

In the early months of 1839 the Mormons were driven from Missouri, no temple having been built.  For many years they held to the hope that they would return to fulfil the prophecy.  Even as late as 1935, 96 years after the expulsion and over 100 years since the revelation, Joseph Fielding Smith said, “I firmly believe that there will be some of that generation who were living when this revelation was given who shall be living when this temple is reared.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection, 1935, p.270)

More recently, however, he has said: “It is also reasonable to believe that no soul living in 1832 is still living in mortality on the earth. (Answers to Gospel Questions, vol.4, p.112) 

Katich goes on to quote Andrew Jenson who relates the “prophecy” of tribulation in D&C 58, insisting that the expulsion from Missouri three years later is fulfillment of the prophecy. Katich then cites the now discredited Rocky Mountain prophecy as though to complete the picture. So Smith prophecies that Jackson County is the place, only to prophecy that tribulation will drive them out, and eventually the Saints will settle in the Rocky Mountains.

The “prophecy” in D&C 58, however, does not hint at expulsion but simply predicts tribulation, hardly a difficult prognosis considering their being driven from Kirtland, Ohio. The first five verses predict tribulation in terms vague enough that any adverse event following it might be said to have been predicted. The rest of the section seems to envision the Saints settling in this chosen place rather than leaving it so soon. For instance:

6 Behold, verily I say unto you, for this cause I have sent you-that you might be obedient, and that your hearts might be prepared to bear testimony of the things which are to come;

7a And also that you might be honored in laying the foundation, and in bearing record of the land upon which the Zion of God shall stand;

This is about laying the foundation of Zion, which has already been identified in the previous section as Independence, Jackson County, Missouri. Then we have:

7b And also that a feast of fat things might be prepared for the poor; yea, a feast of fat things, of wine on the lees well refined, that the earth may know that the mouths of the prophets shall not fail;

8 And also that a feast of fat things might be prepared for the poor; yea, a feast of fat things, of wine on the lees well refined, that the earth may know that the mouths of the prophets shall not fail;

9 Yea, a supper of the house of the Lord, well prepared, unto which all nations shall be invited.

10 First, the rich and the learned, the wise and the noble;

11 And after that cometh the day of my power; then shall the poor, the lame, and the blind, and the deaf, come in unto the marriage of the Lamb, and partake of the supper of the Lord, prepared for the great day to come.

12 Behold, I, the Lord, have spoken it.

13 And that the testimony might go forth from Zion, yea, from the mouth of the city of the heritage of God–

This is a prophecy of provision going forth from Zion, Jackson County, Missouri. Note the reference in verse 8 to the mouths of the prophets not failing. Then we have:

50 And I give unto my servant Sidney Rigdon a commandment, that he shall write a description of the land of Zion, and a statement of the will of God, as it shall be made known by the Spirit unto him;

51 And an epistle and subscription, to be presented unto all the churches to obtain moneys, to be put into the hands of the bishop, of himself or the agent, as seemeth him good or as he shall direct, to purchase lands for an inheritance for the children of God.

52 For, behold, verily I say unto you, the Lord willeth that the disciples and the children of men should open their hearts, even to purchase this whole region of country, as soon as time will permit.

56 And let the work of the gathering be not in haste, nor by flight; but let it be done as it shall be counseled by the elders of the church at the conferences, according to the knowledge which they receive from time to time.

57 And let my servant Sidney Rigdon consecrate and dedicate this land, and the spot for the temple, unto the Lord.

These people are purchasing land for gathering with no anticipation of expulsion whatsoever. Finally we have the following:

64 For, verily, the sound must go forth from this place into all the world, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth–the gospel must be preached unto every creature, with signs following them that believe.

65 And behold the Son of Man cometh. Amen.

The picture painted here is of a people establishing “Zion” and preparing to proclaim from Zion the Word of God. The first five verses anticipate tribulation, which is no surprise considering the problems already encountered. It’s astonishing the number of times money is mentioned in these prophecies. Joseph clearly anticipated a very big project and, in the name of the Lord, of course, was not shy in demanding funds for the job.


Having left Missouri, the saints settled in Illinois where they build Nauvoo on the banks of the Mississippi. In the Millennial Star, vol.23, p.280, Joseph is reported as saying of Nauvoo: “The Lord had an established law in relation to the matter: there must be a particular spot for the salvation of the dead. I verily believe this will be the place…”

Unfortunately, Joseph spoke too soon, and by 1846 the Saints were driven out of Missouri. In theHistory of the Church, when Joseph’s words were again reported, they came out somewhat differently: “The Lord had an established law in relation to the matter: there must be a particular spot for the salvation of the dead. I verily believe there will be place…”

Of course, when Brigham Young looked over the Salt Lake valley, he is reported to have said, “This is the place.” This goes to show that if you say the same thing often enough, you have a good chance of eventually being right. It helps if, along the way, you have faithful scribes to amend the records to “help” future Saints with the “right” sort of history. After all, you don’t want people drawing their own conclusions from the facts, do you?

Proud Prophet

Starr asks a good question:

They [McKeever and Johnson] first turn to Doctrine & Covenants 135:3, which reads: ‘Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it.” How this statement shows the “pride” of Joseph Smith is a mystery to me, seeing as how these are Joseph Smith’s words but the words of his compatriot, John Taylor. How the authors can impugn Smith as prideful based on the words of praise uttered by someone else is enigmatic.

I have another question. Where did Taylor and others quoted get this inflated notion of Joseph Smith? May I suggest from Joseph himself? From the man who declared of himself:

If they want a beardless boy to whip all the world, I will get on the top of a mountain and crow like a rooster; I shall always beat them….I have more to boast of than any man had. I am the only man that has been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam.  A large majority of the whole have stood by me.  Neither Paul, John, Peter nor Jesus ever did.  I boast that no man ever did such a work as I.  The followers of Jesus ran away from Him, but the Latter-day saints never ran away from me yet.

I suggest that the subsequent boasting of his followers: I am an Apostle of Joseph Smith…all who reject my testimony will go to hell. (Brigham Young); Praise to the Man…Great is his glory (Hymn 27, LDS Hymnbook); The Lord had his eye upon him, and upon his father, and upon his father’s father, and upon his progenitors clear back to Abraham, and from Abraham to the flood, from the flood to Enoch, and from Enoch to Adam.  He has watched that family and that blood as it has circulated from it’s fountain to the birth of that man. (Brigham Young); I will now give my scripture – “Whosoever confesseth that Joseph Smith was sent of God…that spirit is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that God has sent Joseph Smith…is of Anti-Christ. (Brigham Young). All of this boasting is based on Joseph’s view of himself. For goodness sake, he even gave Fawn Brodie the title of her famous book, No Man Knows My History.

Katich compares Joseph’s boasting to that of Paul, suggesting that clear parallels can be drawn. Like Paul, he says, Joseph was speaking from frustration and rebuking his critics. Like Paul, Joseph had suffered persecution. But Paul’s diatribe, if it might be called that, is a harangue against people of the very character of Joseph Smith:

For if anyone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted you put up with it easily enough. But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super-apostles.” (2 Cor.11:4-5)

The footnote in my NIV Study Bible is interesting here: “Paul’s sarcastic way of referring to the false apostles who had infiltrated the Corinthian church and were in reality not apostles at all, except in their own inflated opinion of themselves.” There is then a reference to the previous chapter, 2 Cor. 10:12: “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”

Paul went on in chapter 11 to “boast” of his sufferings, not as Joseph boasts but by simply putting the facts before his readers in an attempt to get them to compare his sacrifices with the comfortable boasting of the super-apostles. They were boasting of their authority, power and strength while Paul declaresdin verse 30, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”

Joseph, of course, had to claim that he had suffered more than Paul did. Is anyone surprised at this from a man who goes on to boast that he had achieved more than any man since Adam, even more than Jesus himself in keeping a church together. This is not, as Katich claims, patterned after Paul who went on to declare in 12:11, “I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the ‘super-apostles,’ even though I am nothing.”

Compare this with the words of Smith:

I combat the errors of the ages; I meet the violence of the mobs; I cope with illegal proceedings from executive authority; I cut the gordian knot of powers, and I solve mathematical problems of universities, with truth diamond-truth; and God is my “right hand man.

Greater than these…

Katich quotes John 14:12 to support the idea that it is perfectly reasonable for Joseph to achieve more than Jesus: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing, he will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”

One commentator has addressed the question this way:

What are these greater things of which Jesus speaks? Some think he is referring to spectacular miracles, but what would top the raising of Lazarus? Others think it refers to the missionary activity of the disciples, their bringing more converts to faith. Such activity is an important focus for the disciples, but the meaning here is more specific. These greater things are possible because I am going to the Father (v. 12). That is, Jesus’ greatest work has yet to occur: his death, resurrection and ascension. After he is glorified, the Spirit will be given (7:39), and believers can then receive the full benefits of the salvation Jesus has accomplished through the union that comes through the Spirit. The disciples’ works are greater in that they are “the conveying to people of the spiritual realities of which the works of Jesus are `signs'” (Beasley-Murray 1987:254). So greater things refer to our having a deeper understanding of God and sharing in his own life through actual union with him, which is now possible as a result of Jesus’ completed work (cf. 14:20). It is not just a matter of more disciples; it is a matter of a qualitatively new reality in which the disciples share.

The overriding theme running through these verses is the parallel of the Father’s relationship with the Son and the Spirit’s relationship with the disciples. The works of Jesus are the works of the Father in Him (8-11). When the Spirit comes, who is also God, the same can be said of the disciples (12-14) who will be enabled to do similar works. As the Father abides in Jesus (10), so the Spirit abides in the believer (17). Thus the confidence of Christ can be ours; as the Father was committed to the Son, so Jesus through his Spirit will stand with us in every need (13-14). The point in these verses is not that every prayerful request will be granted, but that the character of Christ’s relationship with God at this level may be ours. But here we must recall Jesus’ consistent subordination to his Father’s will and his desire simply to glorify and please God.

Just as Jesus was able to declare that the work he did was not his but the Father’s, so true disciples know that their work is only greater in the sense that the Spirit achieves greater things through them in light of the finished work of the Cross. In effect, Jesus is saying that greater works will be done because his spirit is there to do them, and our relationship with God in this respect is greater because of the indwelling of the Spirit rather than the physical presence of Jesus.

Compare the above orthodox thought with the boast of Joseph Smith:

I combat the errors of the ages; I meet the violence of the mobs; I cope with illegal proceedings from executive authority; I cut the gordian knot of powers, and Isolve mathematical problems of universities, with truth diamond-truth; and God is my “right hand man.”

Joseph Smith was a proud prophet who established a proud church which carries on the tradition of self veneration to this day.


Starr generously provides a dictionary definition of martyr, with which Katich concurs, claiming that McKeever and Johnson attempt to redefine the word and that, according to the dictionary, the definition does not preclude Joseph. The question raised here, however, is not how the dictionary defines a martyr. The dictionary definition is sufficiently general as to allow all sorts of people we might not immediately consider martyrs. Perhaps I can illustrate what I mean by using another definition – Man. If you look up man in the dictionary, you will likely find what I find in the dictionary open on my desk as I write this:

Man, noun, a human being: mankind: a grown-up human male: workman, manservant, etc.

If, however, a man were to commit some atrocity, especially against a helpless victim such as a child, woman, or elderly person, we might hear people question his manhood. Again, if a man acts in a cowardly fashion, we might say he is not a real man. In my part of the world, when speaking of such a man getting a tongue lashing from someone (perhaps his wife?), people might say, “She called him everything but a man!” This way of defining a man would need qualification beyond the basic dictionary definition above. We might wish to speak of courage, chivalry, kindness and a host of other virtues that would define man in this way.

In the same way, the question is what characterizes a martyr in popular belief and tradition? In theWordsworth Encyclopedia of World Religions, we find a more familiar and accurate definition of martyr that includes the dictionary definition but explains more clearly those characteristics that mark out the martyr from someone who dies with a gun in his hand.

Martyr: Person who willingly gives his life or makes great sacrifices rather than give up his beliefs, religious or otherwise. The name comes from the Greek word meaning, “witness.” Most religious faiths have their martyrs. The first recorded Christian martyr was St. Stephen who, about 36 was accused of blasphemy and stoned to death in Jerusalem (Acts 7:8-60). Many social and political movements have also their martyrs.

Martyrdom: In the Old Testament and frequently in the New Testament the Greek martus means witness; but Paul uses the term to designate Stephen at the precise moment of his death (Acts 22:20).The suffering of Jesus in his passion is the martyr’s model: in fact, the early church popularly called Christ himself the first martyr.

In the Epistle of Clement the indifference of pain that characterises many martyrs is ascribed to their confidence in the Christ rather than to their to their belief in the truth of his teaching. (NB “confidence in Christ,” not confidence in earthly means of deliverance) Theology defines martyrdom as the voluntary undergoing of death to bear witness to a cause, most properly speaking, to Christ’s truth. How extensive is this truth will vary according to the different views on the universality of grace; some will see instances of it in those who have laid down their lives for any righteousness, thus Socrates and John the Baptist; others will require a more explicitly Christian certificate to be attached to this heroism, and this, quite understandably, will be expected for official commemoration in the ecclesiastical calendar.

The cause for which they died may have been the simple gospel tidings, such as we may imagine to have been the case with Thomas the Apostle, or for order in the church (thus Thomas More), or the church’s freedom (Thomas of Canterbury).

If we look at the lives of those mentioned in this explanation of martyrdom, we find the following.

  • Thomas of Canterbury was murdered while at his prayers and, while the four men who murdered him came with swords, Thomas was armed with no more than a breviary.
  • Thomas More (that man for all seasons) was beheaded by Henry VIII and went to his death protesting only his faith in the supremacy of Rome for which he willingly forfeited his life.
  • Thomas the Apostle, tradition has it, was killed in India by a spear while preaching the gospel near Madras.
  • John the Baptist was beheaded, his only defense being the truth he proclaimed to the king who had him executed.
  • Stephen was stoned while armed only with the gospel that he proclaimed right up to the end. His end troubled Paul enormously, and I do wonder now whether we would have had the great apostle to the Gentiles had Stephen as well as others fought like tigers instead of dying like Christ.

And so we come to our great exemplar, Jesus the Christ. Both authors try to distract the reader from the main issue, i.e. the nature of Jesus going to his death and the necessity, as already described, of true believers following his example. Sadly, both also wrest Scripture from its plain meaning.

The first distraction is Katich’s observation of the parallels between McKeever and Johnson’s telling of the story and the same story as told by Jerald and Sandra Tanner. It seems that if a story has been told before, then Katich believes it will not stand retelling. On this basis, the Mormon Church should recall its approximately 60,000 missionaries. I seriously don’t understand his problem. Our understanding of the facts seldom changes, and therefore a fresh telling for a new audience or a new format for the same story will, of necessity, incorporate the same facts.

Of course, new evidence also necessitates an “updated” retelling, as when the court documents proving Joseph Smith having been prosecuted for treasure seeking came to light. But, of course, drawing attention to these parallels affords the opportunity to dust off those same tired clichés, such as “stale and tired recompilation,” and “same old story,” etc. in the hope that the reader will learn to be as imperiously dismissive as the writer.

The second distraction is the question of whether or not Joseph killed two men. McKeever and Johnson report the words of John Taylor in stating that two of the three members of the mob died as a result of being shot by Smith. Now, it seems that if a Mormon apostle and future president reports what he heard as though it were reliable testimony, that is OK. But if McKeever and Johnson report what a Mormon apostle and future president said, well, that is just too bad and they should be taken out and pilloried. In any event, if the two men didn’t die, then it is OK that Joseph Smith died with a gun in his hand.

I will not be drawn into an argument about whether the men survived. If it is the case, then it is for the authors of 101 to decide on an appropriate response to whatever evidence is put before them. I would not expect them to be accountable for my writings in this respect, and I will not be held accountable for theirs. What will not do is the suggestion that the survival of these two men rehabilitates Joseph Smith. He shot them with the intent of killing them and, by the account Taylor gives, there seems to have been vengeance in his heart:

I shall never forget the deep feeling of sympathy and regard manifested in the countenance of Brother Joseph as he drew nigh to Hyrum and, leaning over him, exclaimed, “Oh! My poor, dear brother Hyrum!” He, however, instantly arose, and with a firm quick step, and a determined expression of countenance, approached the door, and pulling the six-shooter left by Brother Wheelock from his pocket, opened the door slightly, and snapped the pistol six successive times.”

A determined expression? Determined to do what? To take revenge. Do not mistake me. I, for one, have great sympathy for the feelings of Joseph Smith at this time. I have three brothers and cannot vouch for how I would react in such circumstances. But this is not the point. There is more of the Wild West than of Calvary in this account. While we may wish to cheer on the man in the white hat as he expresses his righteous indignation at the deeds of desperados, we must remember the man wearing the crown of thorns who said, “Father forgive them.”

Both Starr and Katich try to rewrite Scripture in their own retelling of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. Katich asks:

Can McKeever and Johnson deny Christ as the Savior because he resisted earlier attempts against his life? Paul similarly fought death through following a lengthy legal process in hopes of freedom. So are we to conclude that Paul is not a Martyr either?

This perverse interpretation of our Saviour’s actions is remarkable. In several places in the gospel accounts we have Jesus declare, “My time has not yet come”  giving a picture of Jesus moving inevitably towards the destiny that he himself had foretold in Mark 8:31, “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.”

John 7:6-9 says, “The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right…I am not yet going to the Feast, because for me the right time has not yet come.” Further on, as Jesus prayed before his betrayal, we read in John 17:1, “Father the time has come.” The notion that Jesus “resisted arrest” in order to save his own skin, as implied by both Starr and Katich is so wrong-headed as to be ridiculous.

Jesus anticipated his time, sought it out, and, when it came, embraced it. Starr even tries to make something of Jesus’ words in Gethsemane (“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken fromme.”), suggesting that Jesus sought to avoid what was to come. Yet Katich fails to read the rest of Jesus’ words: “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew Henry said of this episode:

He begs that this cup might pass from him, that is, that he might avoid the sufferings now at hand; or, at least, that they might be shortened. This intimates no more than that he was really and truly Man, and as a Man he could not but be averse to pain and suffering. This is the first and simple act of man’s will—to start back from that which is sensibly grievous to us, and to desire the prevention and removal of it. The law of self-preservation is impressed upon the innocent nature of man, and rules there till overruled by some other law; therefore Christ admitted and expressed a reluctance to suffer, to show that he was taken from among men (Heb. 5:1), was touched with the feeling of our infirmities (Heb. 4:15), and tempted as we are;  yet without sin. Note, A prayer of faith against an affliction, may very well consist with the patience of hope under affliction.

Henry goes on to comment:

Note, [1.] Our Lord Jesus, though he had a quick sense of the extreme bitterness of the sufferings he was to undergo, yet was freely willing to submit to them for our redemption and salvation, and offered himself, and gave himself, for us. [2.] The reason of Christ’s submission to his sufferings, was, his Father’s will; as thou wilt, v. 39. He grounds his own willingness upon the Father’s will, and resolves the matter wholly into that; therefore he did what he did, and did it with delight, because it was the will of God, Ps. 40:8.

He concludes:

Though we may pray to God to prevent and remove an affliction, yet our chief errand, and that which we should most insist upon, must be, that he will give us grace to bear it well. It should be more our care to get our troubles sanctified, and our hearts satisfied under them, than to get them taken away. He prayed, saying, Thy will be done. Note, Prayer is the offering up, not only of our desires, but of our resignations, to God. It amounts to an acceptable prayer, when at any time we are in distress, to refer ourselves to God, and to commit our way and work to him; Thy will be done.

I have already said that my sympathy lies with Smith as he stood over his dead brother. Who knows what agonies a man experiences under such circumstances? However, while Christ’s humanity is clearly evidenced in his plea, If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me, it is immediately made subservient to his divine oneness of purpose with the Father in his words, Yet not as I will, but as you will. By comparison, Joseph’s immediate reaction is given full expression,my brother will be avenged! Furthermore, the Mormon Church for many years prophesied against and swore vengeance upon the authorities and individuals they held responsible for the deaths of Hyrum and Joseph.

Again, Scripture itself would be broken if we were to interpret this Gethsemane prayer as Starr would wish. In a clear description of Christ’s suffering, we read in Isaiah:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before his shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”

Were we to understand Matthew 26:39, as Starr suggests, then Jesus could not be said to have gone silently. Starr seems to want to contradict the testimony of Scripture on the basis of his experience of sheep in Montana. He is, of course, mixing the similes used in Scripture. I don’t care what his experiences are since the Scripture says that Jesus went to his death like a sheep to the slaughter and as a lamb before his shearers is silent (not as a lamb to the slaughter)he did not open his mouth. Scripture clearly portrays Jesus as being silent before his accusers. In Matthew’s gospel we read in Matthew 27:12-13: “When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, ‘Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?’ But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge – to the great amazement of the governor.”

This does not mean that he said nothing at all, as evidenced by the full account, but that he did not defend himself or seek to save himself. Katich then seeks to justify the violence of Joseph by quoting Jesus: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  But this is not a reference to people fighting off persecution. The passage continues: “For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law  – a man’s enemies will be members of his own household.”

It is true that Christ came to bring peace between God and man. Yet it is inevitable that conflict will follow. This is not a mandate for violence but a prophecy of persecution for the faith, even in our own families. Katich also wishes to make something of Jesus’ words in Luke 22:36-51. This is the dramatic episode in which Jesus faced his arrest. He reads the account thus:

While both sets of critics [referring to the Tanners as well as McKeever and Johnson] make much of Jesus telling Peter to put up his sword, both fail to mention the instruction was preceded by Jesus telling the apostles who did not have swords to sell their garments and buy one. Which was followed by Peter cutting the servant’s ear off, then Jesus said it was enough.

Here we have Jesus preparing his disciples for the shock of what is to come. To indicate the perilous times they will face, he uses an extreme figure of speech (“buy a sword”). It is perhaps like saying “keep your powder dry,” which does not indicate a literal need of weapons but a need to be ready for persecution. Someone cries, “See Lord, here are two swords.” Some commentators read Christ’s reply, “That is enough” as irony in the face of his disciples’ take him literally. In light of what he knows is to come, two swords are certainly not enough (indeed, eleven would not have sufficed!). His words, therefore, cannot be taken literally.

As far as Peter’s rash act of violence is concerned, Katich seems to feel that when Jesus says, “It is enough,” he is declaring his satisfaction that enough violent resistance had been expressed. The NIV makes it clear that Jesus’ words carry the meaning of, “No more of this!” The Jerusalem Bible has him say, “Leave it off! That will do!” so emphatic that there can be no mistake Jesus was not pleased with what was done. The Good News Bible has him say, “Enough of this!” What point would there be to resistance at this time? Wasn’t this the very reason he came? Of course – which is why the New Living Translation has him say, “Don’t resist anymore!”

One might wonder how someone comes to reinterpret Scripture in this way. It is simply because the initial reaction has been to jump to the defense of the prophet. In doing so every argument must be pressed into the service of his defense, even to the wresting of Scripture from its plain meaning. With this goal in mind, only a superficial glance is necessary to find something, anything to serve the purpose.

Again, an initial reaction, allowed to hold sway, has led to the doing of violence to Scripture, just as Joseph’s initial reaction, not submitted to God’s perfect will, led to him doing violence to his persecutors. A more humble approach, resigned to the word and will of God, might have led the critics to a clearer understanding of Scripture and Joseph Smith to have a better reputation than the one history affords him.

Finally on this point, I do recognize one way in which Joseph might qualify as a martyr. Christian martyrs, as we have seen, do not die fighting but preaching and praying. In the religion of Islam, however, many understand a martyr as someone who dies fighting for and killing enemies in behalf of their religion. I know many parallels have been drawn between Mormonism and Islam. Perhaps this is another.


Mike Thomas is a Director of Reachout Trust, a Christian ministry in the UK dedicated to reaching out to people in the cults, the occult and New Age ( He was a temple-endowed Mormon for most of his fourteen years of church membership and served in many callings in that church, mostly teaching. At the time of his leaving, he was elder’s quorum president. He is the co-author, with his wife Ann, of Mormonism, A Gold-Plated Religion, the only current study of Mormonism from a British perspective. He is also the co-author of Should Christians Apologise? a forthcoming book on apologetics, and the author of a systematic study of the Mormon missionary discussions. Finally, he is a regular contributor to the Reachout Quarterly magazine and web site. He has four children and two grandchildren and lives in Wales with his wife and a Yorkshire terrier named Millie. He says that his wife keeps him sane, his grandchildren keep him young, his children keep him informed, his dog keeps him fit, and God keeps him.


Note: All Biblical references are from the NIV Bible unless otherwise stated. Where I am quoting others I adhere to their spelling, but where I am “speaking” I use British spelling. For example, Savior and Saviour both appear in the following. In order to make this review easier to read, all original quotes from the Mormonism 201 rebuttal are boldfaced and italicized to separate these from the rest of the rejoinder

In this context I find that discussion is where two parties say what they want to say, while dialogue is where they actually listen to each other. Mormons, I find, can often have a discussion but struggle to pay sufficient attention to dialogue.

In order to make this review easier to read, all original quotes from the Mormonism 201 rebuttal are boldfaced and italicized to separate these from the rest of the rejoinder.

I can hear the Amens going up at FAIR and SHIELDS even as I write.

Ensign, July 1999, p.32.

Brigham Young from the Journal of Discourses, quoted in Mormonism 101, pp.256-257.

Joseph Smith History 1:33.

Emphasis added.

Emphasis added. The reader must go to Katich’s essay for references. I am sure he would wish you to read his comments “in context.”

Journal of Discourses 2:13-14


Journal of Discourses 2:14

Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses 4:209.

Quoted in The Changing World of Mormonism, p. 150, by Jerald and Sandra Tanner, a book I highly recommend.

Ibid., p. 91.

Discourses of Brigham Young

D&C 101:4, from 1835 to 1876, during which time the Mormons practiced polygamy.

Doctrines of Salvation, vol.3, p.97, emphasis in original.

Before Katich jumps up and accuses me of plagiarism and of recycling old charges, I will tell you that these well established facts can be found in Jerald and Sandra Tanner’s book The Changing World of Mormonism (chapter Changes in Joseph Smith’s History). Perhaps Katich could drag himself away from his sanitized version of events long enough to avail himself of the real facts concerning the issues under discussion.

In his footnote he gives his source: “This prophecy comes from Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Vol. 5, 85, footnote.”

Quoted in the Tanner’s Changing World of Mormonism, p.406.


Mormonism, A Gold-Plated Religion, Thomas, pub. Reachout Trust 1997, pp. 84, 85. This is a prophecy that has not failed once, but at least twice that we know of.

History of the Church 6:408

Times and Seasons 4:375

John 2:4; 7:6;8,30; 8:20

Matthew 10:34

Luke 2:14; John 14:27


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