FROM SUPERSTITION TO BLASPHEMY!
It is characteristic of the human mind
to hate the man one has injured
The reaction to the declaration that a new book of Scripture was to be translated from gold plates with divine help, was profound scepticism. That scepticism excited the invention of many theories of the derivation of the Book of Mormon. As one theory was shown to be inadequate another was created in its place. Any solution not dependant upon a divine origin was welcomed.
Following the example of the Jewish Sanhedrin who altered the charge against Jesus from blasphemy which they were competent to try, to one of treason which they were not, but which carried the death penalty under Roman law, Joseph Smith's critics changed their charge from superstition to blasphemy. This was intended to galvanize interdenominational opposition to Smith and his Latter-day Saints. This chapter traces the changing levels of criticism against the Book of Mormon and its translator. Many a pulpit and open-air meeting heard angry and insulting charges made against the Prophet Joseph Smith and his "Gold Bible." Much of that criticism was published in newspapers, the earliest appearing in June 1929, nine months before the book was published.
Just about this particular region [Palmyra], for some time past, concerning a pretended discovery, through superhuman means, of an ancient record, of a religious and divine nature of origin, written in ancient characters, impossible to be interpreted by any to whom the special gift has not been imparted by inspiration. It is generally known and spoken of as the "Golden bible". Most people entertain an idea that the whole matter is the result of a gross imposition, and a grosser superstition.
This quotation is introduced to show that the gold plate story was known before the book was published and contains certain details about the Book of Mormon which proves that they were not post-publication productions. It demonstrates the level of scepticism that greeted the book. Earlier opinions of the Book of Mormon, printed before it was published, appeared in the PALMYRA REFLECTOR. The editor had obtained parts of the Book of Mormon which was being type-set at E.B. Grandin's printing works in Palmyra. He published these and commented:
We do not intend at this time, to discuss the merits or demerits of this work, and feel astonished that some of our neighbours, who profess liberal principles, and are probably quite as ignorant on the subject as we are, should give themselves quite so much uneasiness about matters that so little concern them. The Book, when it shall come before the public, must stand or fall according to the whims and fancies of its readers. How it will stand the test of rigid criticism, we are not prepared to say, not having as yet examined many of its pages, - We are, however, prepared to state, that from a part of the first chapter, now before us, and which we this day publish, we cannot discover anything treasonable, or which will have the tendency to subvert our liberties. As to its religious character, we have as yet no means of determining and if we had, we should be quite loth to meddle with the tender conscience of out neighbours.
When it came to Joseph's attention that the work was being published without his permission, he put a stop to it. This brought about a change of heart in the editor who next wrote:
Diabolical. Our readers must be aware of the great difficulty we labor under in translating our foreign correspondence. The inspired man who wrote the "Gold Bible" on "plates of brass" in the "reformed Egyptian" language on account of its brevity, as we are informed, through the medium of one of these pseudo-prophets, never had half the trouble that we experience in deciphering the unseemly scrolls of this dark representative of old Pluto's domain.
Reports published after the book's publication adopted a stronger line. It may be that there were some who considered the pre-publication announcements of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon as idle talk intended to create a stir. The book's appearance changed the situation and made it necessary for hostile image-makers to get quickly work on the Book of Mormon.
Book of Mormon - Alias the "Golden-bible"
The Book of Mormon has been placed in our hands. A viler imposition was never practiced. It is an evidence of fraud, blasphemy, and credulity, shocking to Christians and moralists. The author and proprietor is Joseph Smith Jr., a fellow who by some hocus pocus acquired such influence over a wealthy farmer [Martin Harris] of Wayne County that the latter mortgaged his farm for $3,000 which he paid for printing and binding five-thousand copies of this blasphemous work.
This extract appeared less than a month after the Book of Mormon was published. In it the Book of Mormon and Smith are described in pejorative language as a manipulator, Harris a dupe over whom Smith has some sinister influence. A month later The Horn of the Green Mountains carried a similar article which it credited to the Advertizer's editorial. The Rochester Republican of 30th March 1830 considered the book "A NEW WAY OF RAISING THE WIND", and referred to believers in the Book of Mormon as "dupes." By these and similar articles, criticism of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon entered a wider public arena, and were subject to stronger terms of opprobrium.
Critical articles found their way from one newspaper to another: a pattern which remains common among anti-Mormon ministries, when one writer quotes another, often without acknowledgement. No effort is made to determine the reliability of the information. It is generally sufficient that the material provides ammunition against Mormons. By this means potent mythical imagery is constructed and employed and published lies assume a deathless quality.
The printing of the Book of Mormon was attended by more pressing problems than hostile criticism. Precautions were taken to prevent the manuscript falling into the wrong hands. However, these failed to take into account the possibility of theft within the printing shop. The owner of the print-shop, Egbert B Grandin, hired out his shop to Squire Cole who published a weekly newspaper. Hyrum Smith, feeling uneasy about the security of the manuscript of the Book of Mormon, persuaded Oliver Cowdery to accompany him on a surprise visit to Grandin's shop one Sunday afternoon. Lucy Mack Smith describes what happened.
On arriving at the printing establishment, they found it occupied by an individual by the name of Cole, an ex-justice of the peace, who was busily employed in printing a newspaper. Hyrum, was much surprised at finding him there, and remarked, "How is it, Mr. Cole, that you are so hard at work on Sunday?"
Mr. Cole replied, that he could not have the press, in the day time during the week, and was obliged to do his printing at night and on Sundays.
Upon reading the prospectus of his paper, they found that he had agreed with his subscribers to publish one form of "Joe Smith's Gold Bible" each week, and thereby furnish them with the principle portion of the book in such a way that they would not be obliged to pay the Smiths for it. His paper was entitled Dogberry Papers on Winter Hill. in this, he had thrown together a parcel of the most vulgar, disgusting prose, and the meanest, and most low-lived doggerel, in juxtaposition with a portion of the Book of Mormon, which he had pilfered. At this perversion of common sense and moral feeling, Hyrum was shocked, as well as indignant at the dishonest course which Mr. Cole had taken, in order to possess himself of the work.
"Mr. Cole," said he, "what right have you to print the Book of Mormon in this manner? Do you not know that we have secured the copyright?"
"It is none of your business," answered Cole, "I have hired the press, and will print what I please, so help yourself."
"Mr. Cole," rejoined Hyrum, "that manuscript is sacred, and I forbid your printing any more of it."
"Smith," exclaimed Cole, in a tone of anger, "I don't care a damn for you: that damned bible is going into my paper, in spite of all you can do."
Hyrum endeavoured to dissuade him from his purpose, but finding him inexorable, left him to issue his paper, as he had hitherto done; for when they found him at work, he had already issued six or seven numbers, and had managed to keep them out of our sight.
On returning from the office, they asked my husband what course was best for them to pursue, relative to Mr. Cole. He told them that he considered it a matter with which Joseph ought to be acquainted. Accordingly he set out for Pennsylvania, and returned with Joseph the ensuing Sunday. The weather was so extremely cold, that they came near perishing before they arrived at home, nevertheless, as soon as Joseph made himself partially comfortable, he went to the printing office, where he found Cole employed, as on the Sunday previous. "How do you do, Mr. Cole," said Joseph, "you seem hard at work."
"How do you do, Mr. Smith," answered Cole, dryly.
Joseph examined his Dogberry Paper, and then said firmly, "Mr. Cole, that book [the Book of Mormon], and the right of publishing it, belongs to me, and I forbid you meddling with it any further."
At this Mr. Cole threw off his coat, rolled up his sleeves, and came towards Joseph, smacking his fists together with vengeance, and roaring our, "Do you want to fight, sir? do you want to fight? I will publish just what I please. Now, if you want to fight just come on."
Joseph threatened legal action for infringement of copyright and Cole halted his activities. Fair comment must be borne without complaint but deliberate misrepresentation is another matter. It was Cole's intention to distort the content of the Book of Mormon in an insulting parody.
In 1831 The Painesville Telegraph continued the attack:
THE GOLD BIBLE fever seems to be somewhat abating in this vicinity. We have never doubted that reason would in due time resume its empire over the minds of many, although many may persevere in sustaining the Hoax, after they are convinced of the imposition, rather than acknowledge they were duped by so barefaced and contemptible an artifice. Some half dozen have broken the spell which bound them to the car of their idol, and others begin to doubt. One of the imposters, who has been up the Missouri to find the promised land, has returned, after more Mormon books. What must have been his astonishment on finding that Smith and Rigdon had declared Kirtland to be the promised land, while he and others were in ardent pursuit of it near the base of the Rocky Mountains!! It was a "wild goose chase."
A letter published in 1831 over the initials M.S.C. contrasts Joseph Smith and other Church leaders, and the ministers of the New Testament Church of Christ.
Again, respecting Smith and his followers, do they give any proof of their honesty? They can give none but their own assertion; they have no sacrifice to make-no loss of fortune or reputation to sustain-they are in a land of liberty. Very different were the circumstances of those who first promulgated the "faith once delivered to the saints;"-They had to forsake their relatives, leave their possessions, and forfeit their reputation. Scourging and torture, imprisonment and death, were often staring them in the face, and always in the prospective. Thirteen apostles, all save one, sealed their testimony with their blood. So whether their religion was true or false, they proved their honesty. But Mormonism is to be proved from the beginning to end by assertion, and this we have in numbers, without fractions. But we know that they cannot more roundly and positively assert than hundreds of imposters who have gone before them.
MSC is correct. Those who continue in faith in the face of bitter persecution and suffer "scourging," "torture," "imprisonment," "death," and who seal "their testimony with their blood" prove their honesty.
- Smith was constantly referred to as an "imposter," or a "blasphemer," yet he and many other denigrated Latter-day Saints literally fulfilled each of the conditions that M.S.C. set down as the ultimate test. Not a test of the truth of a religion but a test of the honesty of its professors.
- Mormons have passed the test prescribed by a Christian, and which was savagely applied to them by Christians. Joseph and his fellow-workers often had to "leave their relatives" as a result of religious persecution.
- Many times the Saints were forced to "leave their possessions" and properties.
- Their stock was driven off and their crops and homes burned.
- Reputations were slandered and libelled. M.S.C. was merely continuing the process by the letter in which he complains that Joseph Smith's reputation was intact!
- The Saints became acquainted to scourging, torture, and rapine. Like their ancient predecessors invoked as examples by M.S.C., they were subject to almost constant persecution.
- This was frequently very serious and was often led by religionists and clergymen, th emodern equivalents of the Scribes and Pharisees, &c, that persecuted Jesus and his followers.
- In the face of inhuman treatment Joseph and the Latter Day Saints maintained their dignity, sure that they were engaged in a divinely commissioned work.
- Joseph Smith "sealed his testimony with his blood", and although he had ample opportunity to escape he went willingly to the place of his martyrdom:
I am going like a lamb to the slaughter, but I am calm as a summer's morning. I have a conscience devoid of offense toward God and toward all men. If they take my life I shall die an innocent man, and my blood shall cry from the ground for vengeance, and it shall be said of me, ‘He was murdered in cold blood!'
The power of published images to initiate persecution should not be underestimated. Neither by those who prosecute it or its targets.
"Persecution is the pursuit and harrying of an enemy with the intention to destroy....the logical consequence of any persecution is the cessation of the enemies' activities whatever it costs to bring that about, even the loss of life! "
The persecutors of Joseph Smith and the Latter-day Saints succeeded in not only murdering him and his brother Hyrum, but also of killing many other Latter-day Saints. They hounded this tragic people from place to place, from county to county, until at last, in despair that they could find neither peace not justice under the banner of the United States, they left the country. They headed westward into Mexican lands trekking to the inter-mountain west.
Even in their isolated stronghold in the tops of the mountains the far-reaching tentacles of persecution found them.
The many persecuting ministries currently active are proof of how long and persistant those insidious tentacles are.