Thursday, December 28, 2017

Looking at Early Church Comments – Part I

A reader of our blog made the statement in answer to one of our articles that “Lucy Mack Smith quoted Joseph using Cumorah before receiving the plates,” as quoted on page 104 of Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1845, found in Chapter 23: “Joseph Obtains the Plates,” which she dated as September 20, 1828, though the date was later crossed that out and 1827 entered. This was a small part of a conversation between Joseph and his father, while in his mother’s presence.
Joseph Sr., and Lucy Mack, Smith

However, it should be noted that in her work, Lucy Mack Smith also writes numerous full word-for-word exact conversations between people that were held in which she was not present, such as those of her husband and neighbors, between he and people who called upon him, between he and Emma, Joseph’s wife, or actions taken between Emma and Joseph many miles away, and what people specifically did once she was gone from their presence, as well as her own conversations, word for word, with various people and family members 20 years earlier.
    As an example, Lucy writes of this event where Joseph in despair complained to she and Joseph’s father that “I have taken the severest chastisement, that I have ever had in my life,” and Joseph Smith Sr. became irritated thinking it was another attack from a neighbor, Joseph replied: “Stop, father, stop. It was the angel of the Lord—as I passed by the hill of Cumorah, where the plates are, the angel of the Lord met me and said, that I had not been engaged enough in the work of the Lord; that the time had come for the record to be brought forth; and, that I must be up and doing, and set myself about the things which God had commanded me to do,” and seeing that his father was still concerned, Joseph added, “give yourself no uneasiness concerning the reprimand that I have received; for I now know the course that I am to pursue; so all will be well.”
    It would also not be uncommon for a person to insert a descriptive word that later became known (the name of the hill where the plates were uncovered) when reciting such a conversation from memory for better clarification. Thus, “as I passed by the hill where the plates are,” could well have become “as I passed by the hill of Cumorah, where the plates are.” This obviously would be how the information would be remembered and better understood. As an example, in the same written account, in the following sentence to the above, Lucy wrote: “It was also made known to him at this interview, that he should make another effort to obtain the plates on the 22d. of the following September; But this he did not mention to us at that time.” Nor did she know of it at the time—it was something that became known later that, in retrospect, or speaking after the fact, as she was doing nearly 20 year later, she inserted for additional information and clarification.
    Now, most people have difficulty remembering exactly a conversation held in their presence a few days earlier, but this conversation, held in 1827, was not written down until 1845. Meaning no disrespect to Lucy Mack Smith, remembering a word-for-word conversation uttered by someone else, no matter its importance, eighteen years later seems a little unrealistic, especially to base an entire idea on it that a descriptive word was used that is not known to  have been used by Joseph at any other time.
    It should also be understood that the past was very different than from today in such matters as recording information. According to Church historians like Willard Richards, Orson Pratt, and B. H. Roberts, there seems little doubt that the methods employed in the 1830s and 1840s lacked such capability for exactness when recounting events. In addition, it has often been stated that early Church histories did not include the name "Cumorah" originally, but sometimes were added later for clarification once the hill became so known. In fact, numerous items have been added by Historians to histories, documents, etc., in order to clarify and make their understanding more clear to later readers. An example of this is found in the several journal descriptions of the finding of the Zelph skeleton during the march of Zion’s Camp. The current edition of the “History of the Church,” suggests a first-hand account by the Prophet Joseph wherein he said that by way of revelation he learned that the bones belonged to a “white Lamanite” named Zelph who was a warrior under the prophet Onandagus who was “known from the hill Cumorah or eastern sea to the Rocky mountains” and that he was killed “during the last great struggle of the Lamanites and Nephites” (HC 2:79).
    This account, however, is not a first-hand report from the Prophet. In typical 19th-century fashion, the official “history” comprised details from a variety of journal entries but was written as if Joseph, himself, were authoring the history. Willard Richards, who was responsible for compiling the events into one narrative, made some alterations that affected how future generations understood the details of the event. Of the seven accounts of the event only one mentions “Cumorah” while the other five do not. By the time our current version of the compilation came to be, some details that are not supported by all of the six accounts were included into print. Wilford Woodruff’s statement that mounds in the area had been built “probably by the Nephites and Lamanites” became an implied certainty when Richards left out the word “probably.” The mere “arrow” of the three earliest accounts became an “Indian Arrow,” and finally a “Lamanitish Arrow.” The phrase “known from the Atlantic to the Rocky Mountains,” became “known from the Hill Cumorah” or “eastern sea to the Rocky Mountains.” The statement that the battle in which Zelph was killed occurred “among the Lamanites” became “with the Lamanites.” Some of the accounts claim that the Zelph bones belonged to a man of large stature, whereas other accounts claim that he was “short” and “stout” (Deseret News, “Faith,” December 27, 2010).
    As for the value of all these reports, and the final claim by some current theorists that the Zelph event proves the Book of Mormon occurred in the Heartland of North America, the Apostle John A. Widtsoe remarked, “This is not of much value in Book of Mormon geographical studies, since Zelph probably dated from a later time when Nephites and Lamanites had been somewhat dispersed and had wandered over the country” (Improvement Era, July 1950, 547).
    As for Brigham Young’s reaction to Lucy Mack Smith's history, it might be of note that she failed to mention in her writings some 25 years later, when she was 75, about Joseph’s First Vision, a significant error that Brigham Young felt could be used by critics of the Church to discount the event. When Orson Pratt took one of the finished copies of her manuscript to England and published it there, and its widespread use Brigham Young felt it full of errors, even though Orson Pratt had issued a statement in 1855 claiming that he believed Lucy's manuscript 'was written under the inspection of the Prophet Joseph Smith (however, from evidences since received, it is believed that the greater part of the manuscripts did not pass under Joseph’s review, as there were items which are ascertained to be incorrect—Deseret News 5, 21 March 1855, 16). Later, Orson Pratt himself pointed out that he had erred in suggesting the manuscript had been completed prior to the death of Joseph Smith.
    Brigham Young began to complain about errors in Lucy's history almost as soon as it was published in 1855, and instructed church historians to begin working on a corrected version, and assigned George A. Smith and Elias Smith to begin working on corrections in 1856, with Elias still working on them ten years later. It was finally published in 1902 by President Joseph F. Smith, a descendant of Lucy Mack Smith. The revised publication was based on the corrections by George Albert Smith and Elias Smith, but it is not known exactly what the changes were that were made, nor do we know the relationship of the 1954 edition mentioned in the letter to the original or to the 1902 version (Preston Nibley edited a version, but we are not sure if it is the one mentioned or not).
    According to Lavina Fielding Anderson in “Lucy’s Book: A Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith’s Family Memoir,” (Signature Books, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2001), “About ten percent of Lucy’s original material was omitted, much of it personal family references and Lucy’s original preface.
    Nothing stated here is meant to criticize Lucy Mack Smith, she was a great and elect lady, we are just stating factual data to keep in mind when evaluating such matters.
(See the next post, “Looking at Early Church Comments – Part II,” for more information on Lucy Mack Smith’s book and comments about what Joseph Smith said)

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