Monday, October 16, 2017

Revisiting the School of the Prophets and the Revelation that Established it – Part I

A reader commented recently, evidently to our comment that Joseph Smith created the School of the Prophets, and presented the Second Lesson, etc., by stating: “Sidney Rigdon wrote lectures on faith, not Joseph Smith.” He goes on to list a website: LDS Perspectives Podcast, “Mystery Solved: Who Wrote the Lectures on Faith?” by Noel Beldon Reynolds, a political science professor at BYU, where he has served as an associate academic vice president and as director for the Foundation for Ancient Studies (FARMS).    If this is an issue with any of our readers, take a look at Reynolds rationale:
On a recent trip to Kirtland just outside of Cleveland, Ohio, we visited the Newell K. Whitney store and entered the room where the School of the Prophets was held. The room was small, filled with very uncomfortable benches upon which the participants sat for hours while studying and listening to the instruction

Actually, it seems a little presumptuous to make definitive claims about the school of the prophets, or much about it, since we don’t know very much about specific details other than what was taught. As an example, we don’t even know why the school of the prophets was so named, or what inspired its name, other than it is mentioned three times in the revelation (D&C 88:127, 136 and 137). However, initially, the reference was not to the school of the prophets, but to the calling or organizing of a “solemn assembly” (D&C 88:70), and in this assembly they were “to teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom” (D&C 88:77), then again in vs 117 “call your solemn assembly, as I have commanded you,” with vs 118 specific: 
    “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith,” and again in the following verse “Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God” (D&C 88:119, emphasis added).
    So why the term “School of the Prophets,” since Joseph Smith was the only active prophet at the time these schools were given (until the Salt Lake period and then Brigham Young was the only prophet). Of course, the Quorum of the Twelve are prophets, seers and revelators, but their keys were not active. By contrast, in the Old Testament there was an assemblage called the “sons of the prophets” (2 Kings 2:3,5,7,15; 4:1,38; 5:22; 6:1)—in the Hebrew, the word here translated as “sons” can also be translated as “member (of a guild, order or class)” and shows that the term “sons of the prophets” was not about literal descent, but about a member of a prophetic guild or order. Jeremiah described these “sons” as assembling in communal halls before a master, for instruction, in a somewhat type of future training purpose.
    In Joseph Smith’s school of the prophets, he was directed through revelation by the Lord to establish and direct it. Joseph was the President and appointed Orson Hyde as the teacher. Subjects were: Theology, which was regularly taught, also English Grammar, and other subjects. At times, Sidney Rigdon lectured on grammar. In fact, the “lectures on theology” (referred to as the Theological School) were the Lectures on Faith that were developed for the school, and were regularly delivered, and absorbed for the most part everything else of a temporal nature, and the attendees gave the most studious attention to the all-important object of qualifying themselves as messengers of Jesus Christ, to be ready to do His will in carrying glad tidings to all that would open their eyes, ears, and hearts.
    When the school was divided into two groups, certain members were appointed to speak at each meeting. Sidney Rigdon was the main teacher, however, others were also called upon. Heber C. Kimball said of this: “a certain number were appointed to speak at each meeting. On one occasion I was called upon to speak on the principle of faith. Several brethren spoke before me, and quoted every passage mentioned in the Scriptures on the subject. I referred to an original circumstance which took place in my family.”
    Later, women and children were invited to attend. At this time a grammar school was organized and commended in Kirtland, Ohio, taught by Sidney Rigdon and William E. McLellin, and held especially for the young Elders of the Church, many of whom lacked the necessary education as representatives of the Church and missionaries to preach the gospel to the world (Journal History 22 Dec).
    The school at this point was conducted under the direction of Joseph Smith, Frederick G. Williams, Sidney Rigdon and Oliver Cowdery. At this time, the subjects had been expanded to include penmanship, arithmetic, grammar and geography. Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary was used as the standard dictionary. A Hebrew School was added and a combined curricula offered 11 subjects.
    For those who do not know the story of the beginning of the School of the Prophets, Joseph Smith said: “On the evening of the 21st of September, A.D. 1823, while I was praying unto God, and endeavoring to exercise faith in the precious promises of Scripture, on a sudden a light like that of day, only of a far purer and more glorious appearance and brightness, burst into the room indeed the first sight was as though the house was filled with consuming fire; the appearance produced a shock that affected the whole body; in a moment a personage stood before me surrounded with a glory yet greater than that with which I was already surrounded. This messenger proclaimed himself to be an angel of God, sent to bring the joyful tidings that the covenant which God made with ancient Israel was at hand to be fulfilled, that the preparatory work for the second coming of the Messiah was speedily to commence; that the time was at hand for the Gospel in all its fullness to be preached in power, unto all nations that a people might be prepared for the Millennial reign. I was informed that I was chosen to be an instrument in the hands of God to bring about some of His purposes in this glorious dispensation” (History of the Church, Vol.4: pp.536 )
    A major purpose of the School of the Prophet was to increase the faith of Church members: “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118)
    The Setting in which the School of the Prophets was established—The world in which the School of the Prophets emerged was a world at the beginning of monumental change.  In his book entitled The Birth of the Modern, Paul Johnson (1991) has insightfully described the period between 1815 and 1830 as a time in the “which the matrix of the modern world was largely formed” (p. xvii). Matrix here means “womb” or “mold.”
    As for the development of the curriculum and the lesson detail, it is important to understand the workings of the First Presidency of the day and specifically the Prophet and President of the Church, Joseph Smith. This is seen when following the revelation (D&C 88), a conference of High Priests assembled in the translating room in Kirtland, Ohio, on 27 December 1832. During this meeting the following was covered and discussed:
First Revelation (D&C 88:1-126)
    •    Call for the organization of a school was given (70-77, 117-119)
    •    The mission statement was set forth (77-80)
    •    The curriculum was categorized (79).
    •    Rules of personal student conduct were revealed (120-126)

Second Revelation (D&C 88:127-133)
    •    Rules for classroom conduct    

Third Revelation (D&C 88: 134-141)
    •    Ritual for initiation

(See the next post, “Revisiting the School of the Prophets and the Revelation that Established it – Part II,” regarding who wrote the lessons in the School of the Prophets)

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