Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith
Robert D. Anderson
Joseph and the Sword of Laban
Using psychoanalytic perspectives and tools, I argue that certain themes and incidents from the childhood of Joseph Smith, Jr., repeat themselves in disguise within the Book of Mormon narrative. All scholars who accept naturalistic premises expect that the vocabulary, incidents, and stories within the Book of Mormon are circumscribed by Smith’s personal experience, events in his town and environs, ideas from his readings, and political issues of moment in the United States, but few have looked for the sources of his main themes within his personal and family life.1 Often these events are reworked within the text with a remarkably strict chronological ordering. For this reason, I will begin with an examination of Smith’s childhood that emphasizes incidents and themes that will repeat themselves within the confines of his first artistic creation, the Book of Mormon. The creative artist may reveal aspects of his life throughout his works, but it is hoped that the artistic work will be therapeutic and maturational for the artist. When this is so, the first work of the artist is usually most revealing of his personality, and the problems or conflicts most transparent. With resolution of conflicts and problems by his “art therapy,” the artist’s work becomes more and more removed from the original life problems.2 I will later use this Book of Mormon material in forming a psychological profile of Joseph Smith, an approach that also requires a review of the observations and opinions of those around Smith and his family. For the first decade of his life, his mother’s manuscript biography is almost our sole reference.
The portrait of Smith’s childhood in the Book of Mormon emphasizes its difficulties and traumas, and also events and attitudes within both his extended and immediate families. Like all of us, he was greatly influenced by the cultural and psychological inheritance of his family. One important historical incident occurred over 120 years before his birth. During the Salem witch trials, his great great grandfather, Samuell Smith, and Samuell Smith’s father in law, John Gould, accused two women of acts of witchcraft. Both women were hanged on the basis of those accusations. In the annals of witchcraft, the 1692 Salem trials were unlike the many trials occurring in Europe, for these American trials were quickly recognized as the result of a group and cultural delusion, and both official and unofficial amends began within four years.
Our psychoanalysis of Joseph Smith as a member of this family can properly include the question, “Did an unusually strong belief in supernatural evil, in the form of magic and witchcraft, pass down through the generations in the Smith family partly as a defense against the guilt Samuell and his father in law felt in causing the deaths of these two innocent women?” We do not know the answer to this question. No known document created by the Smith family dating from Joseph Smith’s time refers to Samuell or to the Salem witch trials. We do not know if it was a guilty and shameful secret that Joseph Sr. tried to keep from his wife and children, whether it was a half fantastical piece of family lore related at the comfortable fireside, or even whether the knowledge had already died out of the Smith family’s conscious knowledge in the four generations before Joseph Jr. was born. Still, Joseph Smith, Sr., believed in witchcraft and taught magic to his children, and both magic and witchcraft would appear in the Book of Mormon, while his brother Jesse was contemptuous of the practice and belief.3
As we shall see, however, a constellation of family problems may very well have contributed to a world view in which evil forces played an active role. As I read the scanty records describing the early years of Joseph Sr.’s and Lucy’s marriage, I see an almost dysfunctional family, overwhelmed by the threat of economic failure, a tendency toward drink on the part of Joseph Smith, Sr., that, in my opinion, approached or reached actual alcoholism,4 episodes of short rations that almost certainly produced times of hunger, and two episodes of depression on Lucy’s part—one before her marriage in association with the deaths of her sisters and one afterward following the birth of her third child. This suggests a possible pattern of periodic depression and emotional withdrawal. Belief in magic was both a cause and result of this family devastation.
Dysfunction in the Smith Family The marriage between
Joseph Smith, Sr., and Lucy Mack on 24 January 1796 had begun on an economically sound footing, for Joseph’s father, Asael Smith, gave them a farm valued at $1,500 as a wedding gift.5 Lucy’s elder brother, Stephen, and his business partner gave Lucy a thousand dollars as a wedding present. Furthermore, Lucy tells us that she had enough money of her own, without touching this gift, to purchase furniture.6
Lucy also brought with her a psychological inheritance of visions in her family and an important family record. Her father, Solomon Mack (1735 1820), had published his autobiography in a forty eight page chapbook when he was seventy six. He related his participation in the French and Indian wars and the American Revolution, his long history of poverty and physical accidents, and a striking religious conversion experienced in the year he wrote his autobiography. Previously, he declared that he would not “hearken” to God, but “had practically said unto God, depart from me. It seemed to me that I saw a bright light in a dark night when contemplating on my bed, which I could not account for—” he wrote, “but I thought I heard a voice calling to me again. … Sleep departed from my eyes; and I literally watered by pillow with tears.” He prayed to have his eyes opened, and Christ’s lamentations over the future of Jerusalem came forcefully to his mind. “[G]od did appear for me and took me out of the horrible pit and mirey clay, and set my feet on the rock of Christ Jesus.”7 This chapbook set the Mack family apart from others and gave them a quiet prestige, according to biographer Fawn M. Brodie.8 I hypothesize that this chapbook appears in the Book of Mormon as the brass plates, a critical family record whose possession is a matter of life and death—even justifying murder.
As Lucy reports her own childhood, she seems to have had a tendency to depression and other psychological and physical complaints. Lucy, the last of eight children, had become grief stricken after the deaths of two older sisters from tuberculosis, and “for months after this I did not feel as though life was worth seeking after.” This language suggests a depression that had approached suicidal proportions. Depression is a recurring illness, sometimes with symptoms of exhaustion, physical complaints, and religious preoccupation. Stephen, in an attempt to distract her, brought her to his home eighty miles away in Tunbridge, Vermont; here, at age nineteen, she first met Joseph Smith and his family.
After several months, she returned to her parents’ home; but Stephen again returned and made an “urgent request” that she return to Tunbridge with him. She did. On 24 January 1796, she and Joseph, ages twenty one and twenty four respectively, were married.9 Her account is not sufficiently precise to let us determine the dates of her visit, but there is at least a possibility that she was pregnant when they married. About fifty years later on 9 December 1834, Joseph Sr., who became terminally ill in 1839 and died in 1842, recorded in introductory remarks for his five volumes of patriarchal blessings: “The Lord, in his just providence has taken from me at an untimely birth, a son: this has been a matter of affliction; but the Lord’s ways are just. … My next son, Alvin … was taken …” His youngest son, Don Carlos, wrote in his family record at some point before his own death in 1841 that Joseph and Lucy’s “first Born died soon after it was Born and was not named amongst the living.” This information is not conclusive. Lucy never mentioned the birth and death of a first son;10 however, in her 1853 published biography, she gives Alvin’s birthdate as 1799, three years after the marriage, while the town records date his birth at 11 February 1798, two years after the marriage.11 From a psychoanalytic perspective, we may ask if there had been another birth date she was unconsciously trying to change. Alvin’s birth was followed by those of ten more children, all but one of whom survived to adulthood.
The next child was Hyrum, born 9 February 1800. Between 1796 and 1802, Joseph and Lucy farmed the land Asael Smith had given them in Tunbridge.12 In 1802 they rented the farm and moved to Randolph, population 1,800, where Joseph opened a general store, but moved back to Tunbridge where Sophronia was born 17 May 1803.13 During the pregnancy or immediately after the birth, Lucy developed a cold and cough with heavy fever, which was diagnosed as “confirmed consumption.” Tuberculosis is unlikely, since no one else, including the children, seems to have been infected, and her unlikely recovery would have taken many years. Pneumonia seems much more likely. This illness brought Lucy close to death and left her debilitated. Attended by her mother, she became so nervous that she could not tolerate any noise above a whisper. She covenanted with God that if he would let her live, she would seek the true religion. A voice spoke to her, saying, “Seek and ye shall find …”
Naturally concerned for her two toddlers and her newborn, Lucy would have been very anxious about her health, especially as she had seen two sisters die of the disease that she was now diagnosed with, whether correctly or not. It seems likely that her earlier depression returned, perhaps masked by religious zeal, somatic concerns, and exhaustion, and perhaps exacerbated by post partum depression. Although she regained her health, she became preoccupied with Bible reading and concerns about her salvation that continued through the next two crucial decades. She expressed disappointment in the various ministers she heard preach, returning from one sermon in “total despair and with a greaved and troubled spirit … saying in my heart there is not on Earth the religion which I seek.”14 This period of stress on Lucy’s mental and physical health coincided with stress on the family’s economic well being. Her husband’s quest for wealth or “treasure” had already begun to take its toll on the family’s finances, and the financial disaster which now occurred explains their return to their farm. Joseph Sr. had been selling mercantile goods at their store on credit, accepting promises of commodities at harvest; as a result, he was in debt to his Boston suppliers. Presumably already over extended, he decided to process ginseng root, which grew wild in Vermont, and export it to China, where it was prized for curing plague, increasing virility, and prolonging life. The enterprise required getting the root from farmers, crystallizing it, and then shipping it.
Another merchant, whom Lucy identifies as Stevens of Royalton, offered Smith $3,000 for his considerable store, but Smith turned down the offer and made arrangements in New York City to ship the root, expecting to earn $4,500. According to Lucy, Stevens sent his son on the same ship with another small store of ginseng; once in China, young Stevens, rather than the ship’s captain, sold the ginseng, then told Smith the trip had been a failure. However, he set up to process more ginseng and, while drunk, showed a trunk full of gold and silver to Stephen Mack, bragging that it was the money he had cheated Joseph Smith out of. Stephen immediately came to Randolph to tell Joseph; but by the time Joseph reached Randolph, Stevens had fled to Canada with the money.15 Joseph, his mercantile debt compounded by the ginseng failure, was financially ruined. The family would not be in comfortable circumstances for the next twenty seven years.
Joseph and Lucy moved back to the farm, sold it for half its value, according to Lucy, and used Lucy’s wedding gift of a thousand dollars to pay off the last of their debts. Including their original move to the Tunbridge farm as newlyweds, they moved at least ten times in sixteen years. After selling the Tunbridge farm, they moved to nearby Royalton for a few months, and relocated in Sharon, Vermont, where Joseph Smith, Jr., was born on 23 December 1805. Three years later, the fifth child, Samuel Harrison, was born on 13 March 1808. By this time, the family had moved back to Tunbridge.
Joseph Smith Sr.’s lost trunk of gold and silver, viewed by Stephen Mack, must have taken on increasing meaning during these stressful years. According to a later unfriendly account, by 1808 Joseph Smith, Sr., had begun searching for buried treasure or “money digging,” using magic rituals to guide him, and would continue this practice for over thirty years.16 The search for buried treasure and the use of magic is now considered merely a cultural delusion by most educated Americans, with the exception of Wiccans who have revived white witchcraft as an alternative religion. However, it is so important in the creation of the Book of Mormon and subsequent Mormon beliefs that some background is necessary.
Nineteenth century Magical Practices
Much of what we would now call magic was integrated into or manifested as part of religious practices, apparently from Babylonian times at over two millennia B.C.E. The Old Testament condemns magic, thus providing evidence that it coexisted at the same time. In fact, at least some Old Testament practices would probably be considered magical if they were in current use. The New Testament also records and condemns specific magical incidents. In Western culture, the legend of King Arthur embodies the splitting off from pagan to Christian magic; before Merlin were the Celtic curses of Modred and Morgan le Fay, and after Merlin came the search for the Holy Grail. The Catholic church incorporated enough similarities to magic in the miraculous relics of the saints and in its rituals (the Mass) and talisman (the rosary) to satisfy the common folk. The church provided both umbrella for and boundary between magic and miracle. From a magical perspective, the priest was a magician whose incantation, “Hoc ist Corpus Meum,” literally—magically—transubstantiated the sacrament wafer and wine to the body and blood of Christ.
The Reformation made a deliberate attempt to exclude Catholic “paganistic” relics with supernatural powers from Protestantism, thus having the effect, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, of splitting magic and Christianity once more. But in those centuries of wider literacy, magic developed its own voluminous literature.17
Magic came with the pilgrims to the colonies. In England it may have reached its zenith around the time Reginald Scott published his works of Devils and Spirits (1665) and the Discoveries of Witchcraft (five editions 1584 1665). Queen Elizabeth had her own magician, John Dee.18 In the Salem witch trials of 1692, Tituba, a black Caribbean servant, played a key role. During the Enlightenment in Europe and America, the importance of magic withered under the glare of rationalism as education spread farther. While belief in magic continued to exist through all socio economic strata during the 1800 30 period, it was most often found and performed by the uneducated. Rather than being a high art or a complex discipline, it had deteriorated into a passion that focused on the here and now, was frequently motivated by a get rich quick mentality, and required both credulity and superstition.
For example, folk magic practitioners of Joseph Smith’s time and place believed that the divining rod, when taken from certain “magical” trees such as the witch hazel, and held in the right way, with the question whispered to it, would bend in the direction of lost animals or a desired object such as water or a lost needle. But sometimes, when the goal was more momentous—the quest for a gold mine or for buried treasure, for instance—the rituals grew complex, required precise performance, and included astrological elements such as a reading of the stars, working at the correct phase of the moon, or attention to the seasons of the sun. Sometimes these rituals demanded working at night with a lantern, always in a group of two, three, or more, drawing circles on the ground with a ceremonial knife, burying sticks, repeating incantory phrases while one participant walked three times in a circle, sacrificing a sheep or other animal, and so forth. Numbers were important, especially the number three or three repetitions. Such ventures contained an element of danger, for each treasure was guarded by a spirit who would move the treasure in the earth, even while one dug. Silence and precise performance of the ritual were imperative to “chain” this spirit. Believers in magic imagined that fabulous treasures in large numbers approached the surface of the earth and descended again in regular cycles. These treasures could be a vein of gold but were more commonly conceived of as chests of gold coin buried by sea pirates, left behind by traveling Spaniards, or abandoned by a lost Indian tribe.19 During this period, magic belief existed in islands: in New England, especially Vermont, in some sections of New York, and in some parts of Ohio.20 By 1850 this subculture was gone, except in parts of African American culture, the Mormons, the Pennsylvania Dutch and in such fragmentary forms as New Age crystals and psychic readings. Not only gone, but forgotten. Comments in American diaries seemed puzzling until researchers began to revive the history in the early 1970s.21
During its heyday, however, belief in buried treasure accessible only through magic was a vigorous delusion. In the 1820s a sympathetic Vermont paper stated that at least 500 respectable citizens were involved in digging for money.22 Most articles deplored the wasted energy and credulity. It was not a reputable occupation, although some respected citizens might quietly hire a known money digger.
Other aspects of folk magic practiced in Joseph Smith’s area during the first third of the nineteenth century of particular relevance to this story are necromancy (communication with the dead called up by ritual) and the use of a stone with which to locate desired objects. These natural stones might be found anywhere. Sometimes the stone had some special quality—transparency or translucence, a special design, remarkable colors or shapes, etc. The stone would be placed in a hat, and the seer would bury his face in the hat, pulling up the sides to exclude all light. He could then see the location of the desired object. The process was called scrying and the worker was a scryer, a seer, or, more commonly, a peeper using a peep stone.23
Using magic placed one outside of, and frequently in opposition to, mainstream Protestantism, which defined attendant spirits or guardians as evil spirits. This attitude is still much the same on the part of today’s fundamental Protestants explaining magic and spiritualism. In rural areas and with spontaneous churches or groups, as in Joseph Smith’s day, religion frequently included visions and trances, but attempted to keep itself apart from magic.
A Period of Poverty
With this brief review, we can now return to the story of the Smith family, for Joseph Smith’s father, almost certainly spurred on by hopes of improving the family finances, began working in magic around the time he was born or very shortly thereafter. Even if Joseph Sr.’s claim to have been a money digger for thirty years was a slightly exaggerated boast, he was certainly involved in this practice by 1819, according to many reports from his Palmyra neighbors, even after making due allowances for bias.24 Thus Joseph Jr.’s parents were spiritually divided in significant ways. Lucy was seeking for a Protestant church that had New Testament characteristics and considered magical practices evil, while Joseph Sr. was not only a practitioner of these arts but also trained at least two sons in their practice.25 Yet it is not accurate to see a sharp and absolute boundary, for Joseph Sr. attended Protestant meetings with Lucy at least a few times, and Lucy did not seem to be alarmed by magical practices in her family.26 Mormonism combined these two opposing worlds; and even though it steadily diminished the magical elements, magic practices continued in Utah with the first generation of Mormons and is retained in the title of the church president as prophet, seer, and revelator.27 Joseph Smith, Jr., became a user of divining rods by about age thirteen, and then, around age sixteen, began using a seer stone to seek buried treasure.28
On a psychoanalytical note, involvement in such non rational systems is not a good way to solve financial family distress. While the hope embodied in magic rituals no doubt relieved their immediate feelings of despair, the practice almost certainly contributed to the cycle of impoverishment and despair, as delusional practice replaced productive work and drained off such resources as time, energy, and creative thought that could have been devoted to profitable entrepreneurship. Further, the practice requires self deception and training in deceiving both the self and others within the believing family or group of practitioners. About a year before Joseph’s birth, the family rented a farm in Sharon, Vermont, from Lucy’s father where Joseph Sr. farmed in the summer and taught school in “the winter,” which helped the family financially. He apparently continued this practice for a few years until the family became “quite comfortable.”29
This period of time is crucial to our thinking about the psychology of the young prophet. The family history shows two serious financial losses and moves, a mother’s apparent depression, and five pregnancies. We must contemplate his mother’s psychological strength, question her emotional availability to her children, and ponder the possibility of irritability—a common symptom in depressed people. She has numerous children to feed, warm, and clothe; possibly her husband was indulging himself in drink during this period. The coming years will almost certainly add more burdens. She will participate in the cultural delusion of “digging for money.” The major psychological defenses Joseph will articulate by the shape he gives Book of Mormon narratives suggest unresolved conflict throughout these very early years, which he may have dealt with by the childish devices of magic and omnipotence, beliefs which Joseph Sr., to the extent that he participated in magic, must have reinforced.
The family moved back to Royalton, where the sixth child, Ephraim, was born on 13 March 1810. He died eleven days later, and unlike the living children does not have a representative in the Book of Mormon stories (discussed below).30 Exactly one year later William was born. The family then moved to Lebanon, New Hampshire, and the children attended school on a street still remembered as “poverty lane.”31 Hyrum, now around twelve, began school at Moore’s Charity Academy in nearby Hanover, perhaps as one of their charity students. During this time, family conditions improved. Lucy’s preliminary manuscript documents that they lacked nothing to make the children “perfectly comfortable both for food and raiment … and respectable appearance in society.” They planned for the long term future and old age, and “met with success on every hand.”32 Another child, Catherine, was born to Lucy and Joseph Sr. on 8 July 1812.
At the time of this birth, Joseph Jr. was about six and a half, and the next family catastrophe would fall upon him—the typhus (typhoid) that settled in the bone of his leg. Lucy does not date the typhiod epidemic that afflicted all of the children, and Joseph later recalled his age as “five years old or thereabouts.”33 This typhoid epidemic raged throughout 1812 and 1813, killing 5 percent of the people living in nearby Hanover.34 I accept as probable that Joseph was seven years old because Nathan Smith, the doctor who operated on his diseased leg, had been in Hanover, Vermont, since 1798 where he headed the medical school at Dartmouth. He had accepted direction of the Yale Medical School in New Haven, Connecticut, and should have been there in January 1813; however, his own family had contracted typhus and he was detained in Hanover until at least March 1813. We do not know the exact date for the surgery. Cyrus Perkins had treated fifty cases in the fall of 1812, but the epidemic in 1813 was larger. Using metaphor, allegory, and simile, and reading from the Book of Mormon back into Joseph’s life, Joseph “remembers” his age during this event as five. The precise chronology within the Book of Mormon of the cataclysm at the time of Christ’s resurrection provides extremely suggestive support for Joseph’s memory. (See chapter 3.) From a psychoanalytic perspective, this cosmic cataclysm is one of the manifestations of young Joseph’s personal cataclysm—the barely averted amputation of his leg and ensuing bloody operation at the hands of a group of surgeons—that replays itself obsessively within the Book of Mormon.
If my reconstruction of the chronology is correct, the epidemic struck the Smith family during the fall and winter of 1812. Joseph turned seven in late December. All of the Smith children became ill. Sophronia, aged nine, was infected first, probably in the early fall, and lay dangerously ill for over three months. After eighty nine days of constant attendance, the physician admitted that his medicine was useless. Sophronia seemed to be in a final coma, eyes open and fixed and apparently not breathing. After her parents’ fervent prayers at her bedside, Lucy picked her up, wrapped her in a blanket, and began pacing the floor, continuing her prayers. Eventually Sophronia caught her breath, sobbed, and began breathing normally.
All of the Smith children recovered uneventfully, except Joseph. He developed a pain in his shoulder, which the local physician misdiagnosed as a sprain even though young Joseph insisted he had not injured himself. The physician anointed the shoulder with bone liniment. Called back two weeks later, he made the proper diagnosis: a large “fever sore” (abscess) between his breast and shoulder. Joseph states it was under the shoulder, making it an abscess in the axilla or armpit. But in lancing or squeezing the abscess to remove the large quantity of pus, the physician apparently seeded the bacteria into the bloodstream. Joseph recalled that the wound “discharged freely, after which the disease removed and descended into my left leg and ancle and terminated in a fever sore of the worst kind.” According to his mother, “As soon as this sore had discharged itself the pain left it shooting like lightning as he said down his side into the marrow of his leg on the same side, the boy almost in total despair.”35 Typhoid osteomyelitis frequently settled in the long leg bones of younger people.36
Young Joseph had now developed a severe illness, which was possibly physician caused (“iatrogenic”). Surely both Joseph and the family viewed the physician with suspicion. The pain was excruciating and relentless. Lucy carried him in her arms, the motion soothing his pain, for two weeks until she collapsed; ten year old Hyrum took over the task of comforting the suffering Joseph. The doctor returned a week later and made an eight inch incision in the front of the tibia between Joseph’s knee and ankle. This procedure was done without anesthesia, before bacterial contamination was understood, and probably with little concern for sterility or even cleanliness. The operation opened the infection to the outside, relieved the pressure, and brought immediate, but temporary, relief. As the wound healed, the infection was again sealed inside, and the pain and swelling returned. Two weeks later the doctor returned and again cut down to Joseph’s bone. Immediate relief was followed by the wound’s healing which again sealed the infection inside his bone, and the terrible pain returned.
At this point, some time between January and March 1813, a council of surgeons was called—the mother remembers seven, Joseph eleven. The only physician whom Lucy identifies by name is a “Dr. Stone”; however, the chief surgical consultant was Nathan Smith (1762 1828), and the coincidence that he shared a surname (though not kinship) with the family may be reflected in the story of Nephi and Laban. Nathan Smith was Harvard Medical School’s fifth graduate in 1790, then trained in Edinburgh and London, returning to Dartmouth College in Hanover where he, in 1798, singlehandedly founded Dartmouth Medical School. In 1812 he was joined by Dr. Cyrus Perkins who collaborated in the Joseph Smith consultation along with medical students from Dartmouth Medical School.37 This council of surgeons decided amputation was necessary to save his life, the standard treatment of the day.
After typhoid infected the bone, pressure from the infection on the outside of the shaft (under the periosteum) as well as inside the shaft cut off the blood supply, necrotizing the bone. New bone attempted to grow over this infected dead bone, sealing in the infection and continuing the problem. In 1798 Nathan Smith innovated the surgical procedure of operating directly on osteomyelitis to drain the wound. He would drill four holes in the bone shaft, then cut a large window out from between these four corners by chipping or sawing. He could then begin pulling out the internal infected dead bone (the sequestrum); this procedure might extend over days to weeks while the bone healed from inside. Lucy mentions a drill and “forceps or pincers.” She does not describe the knife, but the image of today’s small scalpel is probably inadequate. Nathan Smith, despite his European training, was a frontier surgeon, for whom speed—being able to amputate a man’s leg in one or two minutes—was a sign of excellence. William D. Morain, a plastic surgeon writing about Joseph’s surgery, describes the frontier surgeon’s instrument as an “amputation knife, that foot long, sword like instrument whose design had not appreciably changed in the hundreds of years since the primitive barber surgeons.”38 Nathan Smith’s surviving papers provide no record of this incident. We do know that his usual charge for osteomyelitis surgery was $11.39
From a psychoanalytic perspective, so critical is this terrible incident in the life of little Joseph that its variations begin and end the Book of Mormon, and shadings of it are found throughout its stories. In preparation for understanding Joseph’s experience, later altered into fantasy and then conquering miracle, we must understand the story in as much detail as possible. I accept Lucy’s detailed account as authentic. She
invited them [the doctors] into another room apart from where Joseph lay[.] Now said I gentlemen (for there were seven of them) What can you do to save my boys leg[.] They answered we can do nothing we have cut it open to the bone 2 [times] and find the bone so affected that it is incurable but this was like a thunderbolt to me. I appealed to the principle Surgeon present. Said I Doctor Stone, can you not try once more by cutting round the bone and taking out the affected part there may be a part of the bone that is sound which will heal over and thus you may save the leg you will [not] take off the leg till you try once more. I will [not] consent to your entering his room till you promise this.
They agreed to this after a short consultation; then we went to the invalid:—the Doctor said, my poor boy, we have come again. “Yes,” said Joseph, “I see you have; but you have not come to take off my leg, have you sir?” No, said the surgeon, “it is your mothers request, that we should make one more effort; and that is what we have now come for.[”] My husband, who was constantly with the child, seemed for a moment to contemplate my countenance; then turning his eyes upon his boy, at once all his sufferings, together with my intense anxiety rushed upon his mind; and he burst into a flood of tears, and sobbed like a child.
The surgeons immediately ordered cords to be brought to bind the patient fast to the bedstead; but [Joseph] objected and when the doctor insisted that he must be confined he said decidedly, “No, Doctor I will not be bound. I can bear the process better unconfined.” “Then,” said Dr. Stone, “will you drink some brandy.”
“No,” said the child, “not one drop.”
Then said the Dr., “will you take some wine? You must take something, or you never can endure the severe operation to which you must be subjected. ”No, answered the boy, “I will not touch one particle of liquor; neither will I be tied down: but I will tell you what I will do, I will have my Father sit on the bed close by me; and then I will do whatever is necessary to be done, in order to have the bone taken out. But Mother, I want you to leave the room, I know that you cannot endure to see me suffer so. Father can bear it. But you have carr[i]ed me so much, and watched over me so long, you are almost worn out. Then looking up into my face his eyes swimming with tears, he said beseechingly; Now Mother, promise me you will not stay, will you? The Lord will help me so that I shall get through with it; so do you leave me and go away off till they get through with it.
To this I consented; so, after bringing a number of folded sheets to lay under his leg, I left him, going some hundred yards from the house.
The surgeons began by boring into the bone, first on one side of the affected part, then on the othe[r] after which, they broke it loose with a pair of forceps or pincers: thus, they took away, 3 large pieces of the bone. When they broke off the first piece, he screamed so loud with the pain of his leg, that I could not repress my desire of going to him but as soon as I entered the room he cried out Oh! Mother! go back! go back! I do not want you to come in I will tough it if you will go. When the 3[rd] fracture [third piece] was taken away I burst into the room again and Oh! my God what a spectacle for a Mothers eye[.] the wound torn open to view[,] My boy and the bed on which he [lay] covered with the blood which that was still gushing from the wound[.] He was pale as a corpse and the big drops of sweat were rolling down his face every feature of which depicted agony that cannot be described.
I was forced from the room and detained till they finished the operation and after placing him upon a clean bed with fresh clothing clearing the room from every appearance of blood and any apparatus used in the extraction I was permitte[d] to enter.40
As a psychiatrist, I find something troubling in this description of the surgery and the interactions between little Joseph and his parents. The father, overwhelmed with anxiety, burst into tears and “sobbed like a child.” This was not a helpful response at a time of crisis. What the child needed at this moment was not childlike instability in his father, but stability and effectiveness; Joseph seemed to be taking care of his father. Child psychotherapists know this pattern well—“a reversal of generations”—when parents are emotional labile or dysfunctional. Joseph does the same thing with his mother: “Go back!” Mormon writers have used this story to suggest how good this future prophet was even as a child, and how much his parents cared. In therapeutic terms, this incident is not a commendable one. Joseph was a young child, possibly five, no more than seven, desperately protecting the emotional state of his parents even while he was undergoing a life threatening crisis and extreme physical pain. The implication is that they were unstable and that, even at this early age, he has learned that his security depends on providing security for them.
Lucy has emphasized three themes in telling this awful event. She has told of her own role in forcing the doctors to the better of two terrible choices (either attempts for curative surgery or amputation); the encouragement of alcohol as an anesthetic, in the form of wine or brandy, which Joseph refuses; and then the vivid glimpses of the agonizing, bloody operation. I will show how Joseph, like Lucy, emphasizes the same themes in the Book of Mormon, as he unsuccessfully attempts to overcome this determining episode in his life.
Almost certainly our human reaction is pity and horror as this young, already suffering child is subjected to such a tortuous procedure. Our natural sympathy for the weeping father, the courageous child, and the heart stricken mother are our strongest emotional reactions. Yet the psychiatric task is something like the surgeon’s, requiring that we proceed despite our natural feelings. The surgeon’s goal is the patient’s physical health; the psychiatrist’s is understanding the mental and emotional processes. It requires us to analyze even painful aspects of this incident and bring to bear upon it psychiatric and psychological knowledge.
Such an ordeal would have been traumatic for anyone. I argue that it was one of the determining events in Joseph’s life for two reasons. First, it came at a stressful point in an already stressful family history. Second, about age seven is a crucial point in the developmental history of growing boys.
As for the first reason, even though the move to Lebanon apparently signaled relief from the most pressing financial burdens and Lucy describes them as having, by their “exertions,” achieved “prosperity,” it is easy to identify a number of stressors. After having been reduced to poverty once, Lucy and Joseph would have been on the alert to avoid a recurrence; apparently they were united in this goal but possibly not in the means for achieving it. If Joseph Sr.’s statement about money digging for thirty years is correct, then he had begun his explorations into magic about four years earlier. Furthermore, I would suggest that he had drunk to excess on at least enough occasions by this point that it had become a source of conflict between Lucy and Joseph. Where else but in family arguments would seven year old Joseph have learned to avoid alcohol, even as an emergency medication, so adamantly? The family was still dealing with the major stress caused by the near simultaneous illness of all seven children, during which Sophronia had nearly died. Lucy was nursing a new baby. The death of Ephraim was not quite three years in the past. She had moved six times and had experienced eight, possibly nine, pregnancies. She must have been chronically exhausted—physically and mentally. She was certainly physically exhausted during this time period since she had been nursing her sick children for so long that she had become ill herself. Did she resent her husband? Was she continuing to deal with recurring or chronic depression? How available was she to her children?
As for the second reason, Joseph’s developmental stage, he was in the late Oedipal period. In contrast to the younger child’s total involvement with the mother—which had probably been abbreviated by the births of three children after himself—Joseph had the developmental task of dealing consciously with the “triangular” relationship of his mother, father, and himself. At this stage, the young boy becomes aware of his body, including his sexual resemblances to his powerful father; he fears that his body will be damaged or injured, especially by an angry father; and he dreads his father’s punishment because he also desires total ownership of his mother. Successful passage through this period of triangular relationships requires abandoning extreme childhood fantasies of power and developing increased respect for the wishes and thinking of others. Resolution of these struggles is believed to occur with most children by identification with both parents, but especially with the parent of the same sex. Such identification includes accepting their values and results in the final major imprint for his future conscience. This stage prepares the boy for the world outside the family. When boys have completed this task, we feel free to send them to school to learn to master the environment and begin the relationships with others that will eventually lead to their own families.
But successful passage requires that infancy and young childhood have been secure and safe, so that a solid, stable core identity had already begun. If this environment is unstable and conflicted, as I argue was the case for the Smith family, if only some of the time, then the boy’s core identity remains undeveloped and immature even if the Oedipal period is not environmentally turbulent. But Joseph, at this vulnerable stage, was also experiencing the trauma of prolonged physical suffering, threats of amputation/mutilation, and a three times repeated operation that inflicted purposeful suffering on him. From a psychoanalytic perspective, a boy in these circumstances simply cannot handle the complexities of the Oedipal triangle and nightmare fears which have now become reality. He regresses backward to the defenses of infancy. I argue that Joseph used the Book of Mormon as a narrative stage on which he obsessively replayed his surgery in various forms; present psychodynamic thought suggests that his failure to resolve and settle the trauma of surgery occurred because the family’s unstable background left him not fully capable of dealing with such a harsh crisis.41
We are turning a page in the history of the Smith family, and it may be useful to reflect on what we know and do not know. The diagnosis of a narcissistic personality is made from symptomatic behavior manifest in the adult. Joseph Smith will manifest at least some of those characteristics. The psychoanalytic theoretical explanation for the adult personality, gathered from long term intensive treatment of adults, is of significant disturbance and deprivation in the child’s very early home environment. Such evidence comes from the controlled emotional regression that occurs during treatment and consists of the reexperiencing of early childhood feelings by the patient, mixed with memories. I know of no statistics that correlate early childhood deprivation and later adult pathological narcissism. I doubt such studies can be done, for it would require following a large number of individuals over twenty or more years. (The prevalence of adult pathological narcissism in general society is estimated at less than 1 percent, with males being overrepresented.42) Further, the presence of an observer during infancy and childhood would alter parent/child interactions; and if the observer saw depriving behavior, medical ethics would require intervention. Sometimes there is outside confirmation of such disturbance; most of the time there is not, and the family history just reviewed does not provide the kind of information that can be considered conclusive. The evidence, as it is in any family or individual case study of early childhood, is incomplete, and, in this case, contradictory. The mother has emphasized that the family had recovered from financial loss, was comfortable in life, that the needs of the children were provided for, and that the parents were making long range and clearly prudent plans. The father had worked at farming in the summer and taught school in the winter. However, sources of negative impact include Joseph Sr.’s business misjudgments and loss of their farm, the death of the baby Ephraim, and six moves throughout New England over a brief span. We know the mother had at least one, and probably two, bouts of what I consider mental illness—probably depression—by the birth of the third child. If, over the years, problems expand and are more observable by outsiders, then it seems probable that the father’s drinking may have begun, and we may wonder if he had already begun experimenting with magical practices by way of compensation for personal inadequacies. If not, we might contemplate what kind of self deceptive thinking—“modes of thought and background assumptions”—at the back of his mind and possibly manifest in family discussions—would later allow him to accept such a cultural delusion. In writing this summary, I recall certain teenagers admitted to a psychiatric unit under my care. Interviews with the parents revealed little to account for their child’s destructive behavior or mental illness. Under such circumstances, I would give more weight to the possible genetics of the problem. However, in a number of cases, I would receive a telephone call from an older sibling, saying, “My brother and I want to talk with you and tell you what it was like growing up in this family.” This conversation would make the reason for the problem clearer. “They didn’t tell you about the drinking and the physical fights, did they?” The Smith family records do not provide complete information on the family dynamic, leaving us with unanswered questions: What were the emotional interactions between the parents at times of stress? How did they discipline the children? What were the attitudes, thinking, and feeling that governed the atmosphere in the home? How did the mother relate to her children when they were infants and small toddlers, especially during her depression? I believe we are justified in questioning Lucy Mack Smith’s continued positive descriptions of her family. She dictated her history forty years after these events to followers who wanted a heroic view of their martyred prophet. Further, already in this chapter, and again in the next, we have seen her distort reality to a significant degree. Note how she changes the ordinary dreams of her husband into “visions,” and how she supports the delusional belief that her husband and sons—before the advent of Mormonism—have supernatural, magical abilities. She is saved from the severe psychiatric label of psychosis (or its legal counterpart, insanity) because her beliefs are part of group belief, albeit a dying subculture. Nietzsche’s well known dictum applies here: “With individuals, insanity is the exception; with groups, it is the rule.” We must ask if Lucy is capable of seeing or describing serious dysfuntion within her own family. As a psychiatrist I would describe the movement of the Smith family as being downhill for the next four to five years. The surgery, by itself, would be enough to regress any child for a period of time, perhaps for life; but I am proposing, in addition, that Joseph remained fixated at this earlier period characterized by magical thinking and powerful images because of the difficulties the family had before and after the surgery in providing a supportive environment. Further, the Book of Mormon provides episodes that strongly suggest physical hunger and psychological inconsistency within the family. The testimony of their later neighbors in Palmyra, whose objectivity is quite naturally challenged by the Mormon faithful, was of a deplorable family but it cannot be dismissed out of hand. I will examine it in this and the next chapter. What were the antecedents to these negative comments? Before the production of the Book of Mormon, we can document deceit by Joseph Smith, Jr., from courtroom documents (see chapter 3) and in personal interactions later in his life. Perhaps the most important question is how little Joseph experienced his family history. I see provocative, though inconclusive, suggestions in the Book of Mormon that all was not well in the Smith household. Many orthodox Mormons believe that by the sheer force and righteousness of his personality, Joseph remained unscarred by these events. I think it is more profitable in understanding Joseph Smith to weigh the potential damage from his surgery, combined with a family background that contained multiple moves, past financial loss, and emotional distress. Some astute Mormons will recognize occasional reflections of these events in Joseph’s later personal life,43 but this study is restricted to the Book of Mormon as a manifestation of how he handled these events psychologically. The Book of Mormon is dyadic in its tensions, focused on struggles between two men, two nations, or two sides of moral conflict within a man, men, or nations. With one possible exception,44 it makes no use of the equally timeless triangle relationship. Psychoanalytic theory would propose that young Joseph had “regressed to” and/or remained “fixated at” a pre Oedipal emotional stage of development. The illness of all of the children, requiring the parents’ care, medical attention, and perhaps even hired nurses (Lucy mentions the presence of other adults during Sophronia’s crisis), and capped by Joseph’s illness and repeated operations obviously had a depleting effect on the family’s emotional and financial status. According to Lucy, “sickness with all its attendant expenses … reduced us so that we were now compelled to make arrangements for going into some kind of business to provide for present wants rather than future prospects as we had previously contemplated.”45 If they were able to pay their debts, which seems doubtful, although Lucy does not discuss this point, there was certainly nothing left over. Joseph’s perception, as captured in Book of Mormon narratives, was that the family was virtually bankrupt. In an act of mixed benefit, Joseph Sr. and Lucy sent Joseph to live with his uncle Jesse Smith in Salem, Massachusetts, probably during the summer of 1813, in hopes that the “sea breezes” would restore his health. We know nothing of Jesse’s home arrangements, whether his wife was kindly and welcoming to this young invalid, or how Joseph fit into Jesse’s family. Presumably they treated him well, but Jesse certainly seemed to have had no hesitancy in causing turmoil among his brothers and sisters if his open quarreling and fits of temper when brothers Joseph and John visited him later with the Book of Mormon are any indication.46 It seems plausible that he would have expected Joseph Jr. to conform to the household rather than being accommodated by it and that Joseph would have been afraid of his uncle’s temper; furthermore, a normal seven year old living apart from his family for several months would quite naturally experience intense loneliness, feelings of abandonment, and insecurity. We do not, in fact, know that he had such feelings. He never comments on that time at Uncle Jesse’s and neither does Lucy. But if Joseph experienced such feelings, he may have coped with them by private and comforting fantasies of power and a sense that he should not become too attached or dependent on anyone lest similar abandonment occur. And if so, the separation would have added to the “fixation” of his regressed state. Joseph apparently returned home in a matter of months, for the mother states that “after one whole year of affliction we were able once more to look upon our children and each other in health.”47 Difficult Times in Vermont The Smith family’s partial solution to its financial difficulties was to move to Norwich, Vermont, probably in early 1814. Were they fleeing creditors? Lucy does not comment which, in itself, is in striking contrast to her detailed description of her strenuous (and successful) efforts to pay off all creditors, even double paying some, when the family moved from Vermont to Palmyra, New York. They rented a farm and planted crops, but what followed brought their already precarious finances even lower in a period that Joseph, I will argue, recreated repeatedly in the Book of Mormon as a time of privation and repeated hunger. The first year the Smiths’ crops failed. “We bought our bread with the proceeds of the orchard and our own industry,” Lucy summarized. Surely there were days of actual scarcity, especially during the winter of 1814 15, followed by hope in the spring as they planted again. The season must have already contained disturbing signs, for Joseph Sr. determined to move to New York state “where the farmers raise wheat in abundance” if the crops failed again.48 In April 1815, however, the volcano Tambora in Indonesia erupted. If the Smith family read of the event a year later, I doubt they realized its effect on their lives. It killed 50,000 and displaced 35,000 more. Its plume was 150 times the size of the Mount St. Helen’s explosion in 1980, and its aerosol of sulfuric acid and other materials began to circle the globe. This veil over the earth caused a European famine and actual starvation in New England, where 1816 was “the year without summer.” The Norwich Courier, 19 June 1816, reported: “We hear of severe frosts from almost every quarters. In some places north considerable snow has fallen. Vegetation has suffered very much. … [W]e have seen the streams frozen and the hills white with snow, when … summer should have been in its flower and prime.” Prices for food soared, and “there was great destitution among the [New England] people the next winter and spring. The farmers in some instances were reduced to the last extremity, and many cattle died. The poorer men could not buy corn at the exorbitant prices.” There were unconfirmed reports of people hanging themselves after they had slaughtered their flocks. At Plymouth, Connecticut, it snowed for an hour on 10 June.49 This experience confirmed Joseph Sr.’s decision to move. Lucy, pregnant that winter, gave birth to Don Carlos, her youngest son and eighth living child on 25 March 1816. Joseph Sr. left, apparently in late spring or early summer; and reached Palmyra, a town of 3,500, in upstate New York. If his antagonistic brother Jesse can be believed, he claimed that he chose Palmyra through magical direction.50 Lucy explains that Joseph Sr. had settled all of his debts before leaving Norwich; however, when he sent for his family, creditors reportedly descended on Lucy and her eight children and took $150, leaving her with $60 to $80 for the wagon trip to New York. The family reached New York, probably in the late fall of 1816 and through some snow of that volcanic “winter.” This move was another traumatic and humiliating experience for Joseph Jr., who would turn eleven just before Christmas. I argue that versions of this journey also appear, imaginatively reworked into narratives, in the Book of Mormon. (See below.) Caleb Howard, Joseph Sr.’s agent to help the family move, was, according to Lucy, an “unprincipled unfeeling wretch by the manner he handled my goods and money as well as his treatment of my children, especially Joseph who was still somewhat lame. This child was compelled by Mr. Howard to travel for miles [at a] time on foot.”51 Twenty two years later, Joseph recorded this account of the journey:
After he [Howard] had started on the journey with my mother and family spent the money he had received of my father by drinking and gambling, etc.—We fell in with a family by the name of Gates who were traveling West and Howard drove me from the wagon and made me travel in my weak state through the snow forty miles per day for several days, during which time I suffered the most excruciating weariness and pain, and all this that Mr. Howard might enjoy the society of two of Mr. Gates daughters which he took on the wagon where I should h[a]ve rode, and thus he continued to do day after day through the Journey and when my brothers remonstrated with Mr. Howard for his treatment of me, he would knock them down with the butt of his whipp.52
By this time, the Smith family was so destitute that they were renting sleeping rooms in taverns with articles of clothing.53 Near Utica, New York, Howard dumped the goods off the wagon, claimed that all the money was gone, and started to drive away. Lucy confronted Howard at a tavern, fired him, and repossessed horses and wagon—“her property.” Joseph Jr. was assigned to ride in one of the sleighs of the accompanying Gates family but was “knocked down by the driver, one of Gate’s sons, and left to wallow in my blood until a stranger came along, picked me up, and carried me to the town of Palmyra.”54 After traveling some three or four weeks, the family finally arrived in Palmyra with only a few pennies. The reunion scene with the father was moving and tender. Settling in Palmyra In Palmyra life began to improve, and the seven to eight years of absolute desolation that began with the death of the baby Ephraim in March 1810 were almost over. Neighbors recalled that the family rented a small house on Main Street near the edge of Palmyra village for about three years.55 Lucy painted and sold oilcloth coverings for tables, while Joseph Sr. and the older boys hired out for farming, gardening, and well digging. According to Pomeroy Tucker, a young newspaperman who later turned historian, Joseph Sr. also opened a “cake and [root]beer shop,” selling gingerbread, pies, boiled eggs, and such, and peddling them from a hand cart during civic celebrations. The family lived as common laborers by “the chopping and retailing of cordwood, the raising and bartering of small crops of agricultural products and garden vegetables, the manufacture and sale of black ash baskets and birch brooms, the making of maple sugar and molasses in the season for that work, and in the continued business of peddling cake and beer.”56 By their united exertions, the Smiths climbed above destitution. By April 1819, they had moved two miles south of the village, renting or squatting on land owned by one Samuel Jennings, and barely within the Palmyra “township.” Here their last child, Lucy, was born 18 July 1821. Joseph Jr. was fifteen and a half. The description of this first Smith family dwelling is brief: “a rude log house, with but a small spot underbrushed around it.”57 They lived here, probably, until the summer of 1822. Lucy summarized that “in two years from the time we entered Palmyra … we were able to settle ourselves upon our own land in a snug comfortable though humble habitation built and neatly furnished by our own industry.”58 Lucy tells us little about young Joseph’s early adolescence. Nothing unusual happened until he was fourteen. Joseph “reflect[ed] more deeply than common persons … upon everything of a religious nature,” and was a “remarkably quiet, well disposed child.”59 Despite this inoffensive presentation, someone fired two bullets at him one evening at dusk as he crossed the yard toward the house, returning home from an unspecified errand.60 Lucy professes herself baffled, but we might note that about this time he had begun his practice of magic.61 During this period, Lucy describes none of Joseph Jr.’s activities except for work on the family farm and hired labor for others. He had recovered from his surgery except for a slight permanent limp. Physically he grew tall (over six feet) and muscular (over 200 pounds), and became a strong wrestler—but on at least one later occasion, he teased Howard Coray, who weighed 130 pounds to Joseph’s 212, into a wrestling match so strenuous that he broke Coray’s leg. Although he seemed remorseful and personally nursed Coray, it was not enough to keep him from doing it again when he walked into his Nauvoo store, where “the diminutive [James] Monroe was clerking. Joseph put his large leg on Monroe’s shoulder, and commented, `You are stouter than I thought.’” He then wrestled him and broke his leg also. As a psychiatrist, I consider these incidents a clue that Joseph may have never completely resolved his leg surgery and that he could find reassurance from his surgical experience by reversing his “passive helplessness” into “active conquest” at the expense of his followers.62 This theme will reappear in the first story in the Book of Mormon. While still living in this rude cabin, probably in the late summer of 1820, the Smiths purchased 100 acres sixty feet south of their cabin, a location which was across the boundary in Farmington township. (In March 1821 it was renamed Manchester township; the village of Manchester was five miles farther south.) Their financial arrangement required beginning, middle, and end payments, two years of hard work in clearing and cultivating the land, and the loss of everything if they defaulted at any time.63 On this property they eventually constructed a “small, one story, smoky log house,” then moved into it. They had also cleared thirty acres. “This house was divided into two rooms, on the ground floor, and had a low garret, in two apartments.”64 The date of this move was not earlier than July 1821 and probably not until after the last half of 1822.65 Later a bedroom wing of sawed slabs was added to accommodate the eleven member family. The clearing of the 100 acres was done by burning.66 But by August 1821, only a month after daughter Lucy’s birth, family finances were already so precarious that the Smiths were about to lose their land. Lucy recorded, “But the second payment was now coming due and no means as yet of meeting it.” To make the second payment (and the remainder of the first), the oldest “serious and industrious” son, Alvin, left home, worked elsewhere, and by “persevering industry [and] after much labor Suffering and fatigue” returned with enough money for the second of three payments.67 At this moment of financial crisis, Alvin is clearly the hero. What would have happened to this ill prepared family without their industrious son? Pomeroy Tucker noted the problem when he described the daytime activities of the Smiths:
The larger proportion of the time of the Smiths, however, was spent in hunting and fishing, trapping muskrats (“mushrats” was the word they used), digging out woodchucks from their holes, and idly lounging around the stores and shops in the village. Joseph generally took the leading direction of the rural enterprises mentioned, instead of going to school like other boys—though he was seldom known personally to participate in the practical work involved in these or any other pursuits.68
This cabin would be used as home, barn, and then home again over an eight year period between about 1822 and 1830. The most complete description by Tucker is not complimentary. Looking back forty years later, he said, “But little improvement was made upon this land by the Smith family in the way of clearing, fencing, or tillage. Their farm work was done in a slovenly half way, profitless manner.”69 According to Tucker, nighttime thefts were occurring in the neighborhood and with “inadequate visible means or habits of profitable industry [of the Smith family] the suspicions of some good people in the community were apt to be turned toward them.” People watched their “hencoops, smoke houses, and pork barrels” more carefully, but no conclusive evidence was found.70 Tucker’s reports, which he admits were unsupported by facts, seem like malicious gossip. Furthermore, they are inconsistent with Lucy’s, for, in addition to Alvin’s energy, Lucy reports that they made a thousand pounds of “Mapel sugar” each year, and cultivated thirty acres of crops. One neighbor stated that the Smiths were known for their sugar production.71 Reading with caution from the Book of Mormon back into the Smith family, we might wonder if the inconsistency of the Book of Mormon peoples was a characteristic of the Smith family. The negative view of some neighbors was probably intensified by the family’s involvement in money digging instead of usual work. I have used a number of these specific testimonies about the Smith family and their involvement in magic. Traditional Mormonism usually discredits these testimonies on the basis of bias in collection methods and intent by a disgruntled disfellowshipped Mormon; a frequent and plausible opinion holds that Joseph’s spirituality stirred the kind of antagonism received by ancient prophets. Yet while it is not impossible that some of these reports were, in fact, prompted by malice or a desire to impress the listener or even to have retrospective “reasons” for disliking the Smiths who had certainly disrupted the community, others were willing to sign sworn statements about similar views of the Smith family.72 The last payment was due about the time the Smiths moved onto the property in late 1822; but they received a type of temporary reprieve when the land agent died in July. This family, so child like in their magic beliefs and money digging, either did not have the money or did not save it for the eventual payment. Tucker explains: “Shortly before quitting the premises they erected a small frame house thereon, partly enclosed, and never finished by them, in which they lived for the remainder of their time there, using their original log hut for a barn. This property, finally vacated by the Smiths in 1831, is now included in the well organized farm of Mr. Seth T. Chapman.”73 In the fall of 1823, according to Lucy, “we … began to make preparations for building a house[.] We also planted a large orchard and made every possible preparation for ease as when advanced age should deprive us of the ability to make those physical exertions which we were then capable of.”74 Two years later, the house was still not complete; and then, even with the extra year for saving, they were not prepared when payment was finally demanded, and lost it. Lucy tells a complicated story about the house’s carpenter who, with at least two other men, told the new land agent lies about the family’s care of the property, made the final payment to him, received title to the land, but were shamed into selling it to a Quaker friend who allowed the family to live in the house for another two years. In contrast, William Smith, Joseph’s last surviving brother, made a statement fifty years later about the expense of building the two houses that suggests the Smiths had used the money for the final land payment to build the house.75 By the time Seth T. Chapman bought and completed the frame house in 1860, “it had changed hands many times, and had also been considerably enlarged.”76 This farm house is now a Mormon shrine, seen as evidence of the Smith family’s industry. Even in its incomplete form, it was the highest aspiration and achievement of this sad family and the loss of house and farm was undoubtedly the single largest material setback to the family during the life of young Joseph. Tucker describes the Smith family as “an illiterate, whiskey drinking, shiftless, irreligious race of people,” with the adolescent Joseph
being unanimously voted the laziest and most worthless of the generation. From the age of twelve to twenty years he is distinctly remembered as a dull eyed, flaxen haired, prevaricating boy—noted only for his indolent and vagabondish character, and his habits of exaggeration and untruthfulness. … He could utter the most palpable exaggeration or marvelous absurdity with the utmost apparent gravity. … He was, however, proverbially good natured, very rarely if ever indulging in any combative spirit toward any one, whatever might be the provocation, and yet was never known to laugh. Albeit, he seemed to be the pride of his indulgent father, who has been heard to boast of him as the “genus of the family,” quoting his own expression.77
Such extreme statements need to be taken cautiously, but Tucker’s perhaps malicious comments are supported by another historian, Orsamus Turner (discussed below). I wish Tucker had provided specific examples, but after the Smith family had left the area, over fifty townspeople signed affidavits accusing them of laziness, low morals, and shiftlessness.78 Determining the degree of dysfunction in a family is problematic. We have later reports of the father’s drinking, reports that are contradictory or revealing of inconsistency in the work habits of the family, their increasing involvement in the subculture of magic, the mother’s apparent depressions, and increasing economic and religious contentions. Mormon psychiatrist C. Jess Groesbeck believed the family was “stressed.”79 Dan Vogel, a historian, argues that the Smith family was dysfunctional and that the parents were stressed because of Lucy’s periodic depressions and Joseph Sr.’s alcoholism, as well as by conflict over religion and economic conditions. I believe that Vogel’s historical evidence for both Lucy’s depression and Joseph Sr.’s alcoholism, though not conclusive, is persuasive. Although not a psychologist, Vogel uses “family systems” thinking to suggest that the children were drawn into the conflict, with the oldest son, Alvin—as assigned in family systems—designated to manage the family’s productivity and emulate the family’s dominant values and themes. It seems indisputably clear that the family would have lost the farm earlier except for Alvin’s industry. With Alvin’s death, Vogel proposes, the family experienced psychological disequilibrium which lasted a number of years. Within thirty months of his death, the family experienced an economic crisis with the loss of their farm, a religious crisis with the division of the family during the 1824 25 Palmyra revival, and a legal crisis with Joseph Jr.’s public humiliation at an 1826 trial for “glass looking.” Joseph Jr. then picked up the assignment of saving the family. (The fourth child in family systems theory often carries the assignment of catching and collecting unresolved family tensions). Joseph Jr. stated as much in an 1835 angry response to his brother, William: “I brought salvation to my father’s house, as an instrument in the hands of God when they were in a miserable situation.”80 The economic difficulties of the Smith family did not end with the publication of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith, Sr., went to jail for thirty days for nonpayment of a debt in late 1830, and his son Hyrum escaped jail time when the whole family left the Palmyra/Manchester area. As a psychiatrist, I observe these descriptions of idleness and indolence. I wonder if it is possible that Joseph Jr. suffered from “identity diffusion”—problems with identity and an absence of life direction. I hypothesize that he may have developed a narcissistic “false self” to meet the public, behind which remained an undeveloped true self. Joseph’s aversion to direct competition may have resulted from his surgery. If he felt handicapped, it is possible that he used indirect, more subtle methods to achieve his ends, thus reducing the threat of another physical attack. From a professional perspective, the overall impact of this dysfunctional family on young Joseph remains suspect. Psychologically speaking, Joseph’s self esteem must have been low; he had to deal with a lifestyle of moves, intermittent failures, and the amiable contempt of others. If Tucker is accurately reporting Joseph’s exaggerations and palpable absurdities—and for the purposes of my diagnosis I am assuming that he is—then Joseph was probably engaging in a fantasy compensation for personal inferiority, for his family’s low social importance, and his own unpromising future. Such a possibility is compatible with a developing narcissistic personality. Joseph read avidly and assiduously, according to Tucker, far in advance of others in the family, including a book about an imposter.81 He also read the Bible and could discuss its teachings with assurance. According to Tucker, “The Prophecies and Revelations were his special forte. His interpretations of scriptural passages were always original and unique, and his deductions and conclusions often disgustingly blasphemous, according to the common apprehensions of Christian people.”82 The Book of Mormon would later manifest Joseph’s firm grasp of Old and New Testament language and events; but he expands and embellishes biblical miracles. Joseph also decided against affiliating himself with more orthodox religion. Tucker states that young Joseph “joined the probationary class of the Methodist church in Palmyra and made some active demonstrations of engagedness” but withdrew, announcing that both churches and the Bible were fables. In 1832, shortly after the Book of Mormon was published, Joseph himself stated: “At about the age of twelve years my mind became seriously imprest with regard to the all important concerns for the wellfare of my immortal Soul which led me to searching the Scriptures believeing as I was taught, that they contained the word of God.”83 At least some of Tucker’s negative statements have one sophisticated supporter. Another newspaperman turned historian, Orsamus Turner, lived in Palmyra until Joseph was sixteen and a half. Thirty five years later he described Joseph Sr. as “a great babbler, credulous, not especially industrious, a money digger, prone to the marvelous; and withal, a little given to difficulties with neighbors, and petty law suits.” Lucy Smith impressed him as “a woman of strong uncultivated intellect; artful and cunning; imbued with an illy regulated religious enthusiasm.” Notably missing from this portrait is any suggestion of the depression that I have hypothesized afflicted Lucy at least periodically. In this portrait she comes across as sharp, perhaps unpredictable, and wily.84 Turner describes the future creator of the Book of Mormon as without direction but much involved in religion and political debate:
Joseph Smith Jr. … was lounging, idle; … and possessed of less than ordinary intellect. The author’s own recollections of him are distinct ones. He used to come into the village of Palmyra with little jags of wood from his backwoods home; sometimes patronizing a village grocery too freely; sometimes find an odd job to do about the store of Seymour Scovall; and once a week he would stroll into the office of the old Palmyra Register, for his father’s paper. How impious, in us young “dare Devils” to once in a while blacken the face of the then meddling inquisitive lounger—but afterwards Prophet, with the old fashioned [ink] balls, when he used to put himself in the way of the working of the old fashioned ramage press! … But Joseph had a little ambition; and some very laudable aspirations; the mother’s intellect occasionally shone out in him feebly, especially when he used to help us solve some portentous questions of moral or political ethics, in our juvenile debating club, which we moved down to the old red school house on Durfee street, to get rid of the annoyance of critics that used to drop in upon us in the village; and subsequently, [when he was between fifteen and a half and sixteen and a half]85 after catching a spark of Methodism in the camp meeting, away down in the woods, on the Vienna road, he was a very passable exhorter in the evening meetings.
This description invites three clarifying remarks. The blackening of his face by printer’s balls would not, in my opinion, have been friendly boyhood teasing between peers but a humiliating insult, since Joseph knew his family had a poor reputation. The term “exhorter” in the evening meetings was a formal designation of a young man with some ability at speaking who was urged to “exercise his gifts.” At that time Methodist preachers traveled in circuits, meeting at convenient temporary places such as in the woods, or at a tavern, and established local “classes” under a “class leader.” Both Orsamus Turner and Pomeroy Tucker have described Joseph’s idleness and aversion to school. Here is Joseph’s description of his education:
and being in indigent circumstances were obliged to labour hard for the support of a large Family having nine children. As it required the exertions of all that were able to render any assistance for the support of the Family therefore we were deprived of the bennifit of an education Suffice it to say I was mearly instructid in reading and writing and the ground /rules/ of Arithmatic which constuted my whole literary acquirements.86
It is not surprising that a family with so little material success would place their hopes elsewhere—in the supernatural and the occult, a generally ineffective way to improve their material circumstances. Lucy’s account, by recounting dreams of her husband and referring to them as “visions,” decades after they occurred, makes it clear that the family valued dreams as a channel to supernatural power. D. Michael Quinn summarizes evidence suggesting that, during Joseph’s mid teens, he began to follow his father into occult practices, taking up the use of the divining rod, then seer stones, as aids in his money digging projects. The evidence of these activities comes from both Palmyra/Manchester and near Harmony, Pennsylvania, and is extensive.87 As the Smiths became involved in Palmyra’s religious revivals of 1824 25, their language of dreams and magic became progressively embellished by the language of Christianity. The beginnings of the Mormon story, Joseph’s encounter with the angel, and his possession of the golden plates take place mostly contemporaneously with his heaviest emphasis on dreams and magic. He first tells the story of the gold book and its guardian within this context. Over time, however, his story becomes more in keeping with biblical angels and messengers, and the story takes on a Christian refinement. The strict guardian of the book becomes a firm, warning angel. In her history Lucy Mack Smith reported one of her own dreams dating from 1803. She had remembered this dream for more than forty years, suggesting the immense significance she attached to it. She also reported five dreams that Joseph Sr. had between 1811 and 1819 and mentioned two more that she did not remember in enough detail to recount.88 In the first, Joseph Sr. is traveling in a barren wasteland, accompanied by a guide—an “attendant spirit”—who tells him that the desolation is because the world is without the true religion. The spirit promises Joseph that he will find a box on a log, the contents of which will bring him wisdom. When he forces open the box, terrifying animals rise up around him. He drops the box and flees in terror, awaking trembling but happy. The second dream reappears as a Book of Mormon narrative. Joseph Sr. is again traveling in a barren and desolate land, urged on by his spiritual guide. He follows a narrow path to a beautiful stream of water with a rope along the bank, and a handsome tree adorned with dazzlingly white fruit. This tree excites his wonder and admiration, and its fruit tasted “delicious beyond description.” He brought his wife and seven children to join him at the tree, and all were inexpressibly happy as they ate the delicious fruit. Then he saw a large building, its doors and windows filled with well dressed people who were mocking the family and pointing fingers at them while they continued to partake of the fruit. Observing their scorn and contempt, Joseph Sr. asks the guide for an explanation. The building represents “Babylon … and the inhabitants thereof, who scorn and despise the Saints of God, because of their humility.” The fruit represents “the pure love of God, shed abroad in the hearts of all those who love him.” The guide also draws his attention to his “other” children, two small youngsters whom he also brings to the tree and feeds with the fruit. Psychologically speaking, these children may represent the dead firstborn son and infant Ephraim. Again Joseph Sr. awoke, so filled with happiness that he clapped his hands. In the third dream, he is again walking despite severe lameness. His guide directs him to a garden where twelve wooden images, lined up on either side of the walkway, bow to him as he passes. He is then made well. In the fourth dream, unaccompanied by a guide, he is making his way toward a meetinghouse where the Judgement will occur. To his distress, he arrives too late and is locked out; his body wastes away until the porter reminds him to call on Jesus. He does so and is made whole. In the last recorded dream, a peddlar recognizes his honesty but informs him that he lacks one thing for salvation. The peddler will write down the necessary item; but in his anxiety, Joseph Sr. wakes prematurely. Lucy recorded these dreams in detail twenty five years after they occurred. But to her and the family, they had the status of visions. He had a “vision,” she said of the 1811 dream, “which I shall relate in his own words.” He had another “singular dream,” followed by “another vision,” “one more,” “two more visions,” “a sixth,” and finally “the seventh and last vision my husband had was in 1819.” Almost certainly, Joseph or Lucy or both would have told these supernatural visions repeatedly to their children and discussed them during Joseph’s youth, ages six to fourteen and beyond. The interchangeablity of dreaming and visions is also an element of Book of Mormon narratives. (See below.) This biographical outline of Joseph Smith Jr.’s life brings us to about age seventeen, immediately before the appearance of the gold treasure book with its guardian spirit, and probably, I hypothesize, just after he advanced from using a divining rod to being a seer.89 I have naturally focused on biographical elements that will help us understand his disguised autobiography in the Book of Mormon. My goal is not just to parallel these stories of fact and fantasy to see how he transforms his life story into religious narrative, but also to fit the Book of Mormon into a more comprehensive psychological evaluation of him. Although we need to examine the crucial events surrounding the coming forth of the Book of Mormon itself, it will be helpful, I feel, to interrupt this historical narrative to compare Joseph’s historical autobiography to what I call the “first story” in the Book of Mormon—the flight from Jerusalem, obtaining possession of the brass plates, wanderings in the wilderness, and arriving in the promised land. As background, however, I wish to emphasize the importance of this initial Nephi story. I compare it to the first hour of a patient who has just started intensive psychotherapy. Like other psychotherapists, I try to make detailed notes during that first hour, for my experience tells me that it contains in condensed, symbolic form the main problems to be discussed in the next months. The Nephi Laban conflict is the first creative story in Joseph’s first creation. It is perhaps more precise to say that this story is the first surviving creative story, since we know that he told his family numerous stories from the Book of Mormon before he received it and also because the first dictation of 116 pages was destroyed. The first dictated version would have made a fascinating and significant comparison with the account in 1 Nephi, but the retelling keeps within the first version’s story frame. As we follow the progressive change of the guardian of the treasure with his ritualistic behavior to a firm biblical angel warning of the dangers of disobedience, it is reasonable to suppose that the first dictated version had less Christianity and more magic in it. It is also reasonable to hypothesize that when he again started dictation with his new scribe, Oliver Cowdery, something had changed and that the emphasis shifted toward Christianity. There is good evidence that Smith did not immediately restart his dictation at the beginning of the Book of Mormon but continued on toward the end. (See chapter 3.) I believe he completed his dictation through the small book of Mormon within the Book of Mormon, then returned to the beginning and redid the destroyed 116 pages. Then he dictated the book of Ether, for I will propose that the book of Ether was dictated to tell us (and not tell us) about the period of dictation of the majority of the Book of Mormon. He then dictated the book of Moroni which contains material suggesting that he is getting ready to start a church. This sequence, if correct, makes this first story nearly the last in his dictation, but the story is so central to the rest of the book, so dramatic and concise, and reflected so thoroughly throughout the rest of the stories, that I think we are looking at a refined story that had been repeated numerous times and that he had told for the first time in the lost 116 pages. The major differences are that the second version is probably more spiritual and personal in nature, since it is Nephi’s private autobiography, rather than being a third person abridgement of official records made by Mormon, the last great prophet general. From a psychological and naturalistic viewpoint, I think we gained more than we lost. From that same perspective, it is important for us to pay attention to one more item. After the guardian spirit showed him the book in its buried stone box, Joseph told his family and a number of other people that the box contained not only the gold plates and spectacle shaped objects that would enable him to translate the plates, but also a sword. I argue that the sword represents Nathan Smith’s scalpel, and serves as a signal that this narrative is about the surgery, and, in fact, was created to deal with the surgery.90 Conquest of Surgery:1 Nephi and the Sword of Laban
Early frustrations … lead to reparative attempts to maintain omnipotent fantasies, despite the helpless rage experienced by the infant in the course of ordinary failures of maternal care. One of these defensive efforts involves the attempt to master feelings of rage, frustration, and helplessness by the intrapsychic shift from pride in providing one’s self with satisfactions to pride in the fantasy of control over … one who is responsible for the frustrations.91 Individuals with this disorder [of narcissistic personality] have a grandiose sense of self importance. … They routinely overestimate their abilities and inflate their accomplishments, often appearing boastful and pretentious. They may blithely assume that others attribute the same value to their efforts and may be surprised when the praise they expect and feel they deserve is not forthcoming. Often implicit in the inflated judgments of their own accomplishments is an underestimation (devaluation) of the contributions of others. They are often preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love. … They may ruminate about “long overdue” admiration and privilege and compare themselves favorably with famous or privileged people. Individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder believe that they are superior, special, or unique and expect others to recognize them as such. … They may feel that they can only be understood by, and should only associate with, other people who are special or of high status and may attribute “unique,” “perfect,” or “gifted” qualities to those with whom they associate. Individuals with this disorder believe that their needs are special and beyond the ken of ordinary people. Their own self esteem is enhanced (i.e., “mirrored”) by the idealized value that they assign to those with whom they associate. They are likely to insist on having only the “top” person (doctor, lawyer, hairdresser, instructor) or being affiliated with the “best” institutions, but may devalue the credentials of those who disappoint them.92
Joseph Smith’s associates are none other than the prophets and apostles of the Bible. He brings this fantasy of importance and power into being through his alter ego, Nephi, in the Book of Mormon. The first story in the Book of Mormon is a narrative told by the fourth child of a father with supernatural powers. Joseph Smith, Jr., was also the fourth child of such a father; in both families this child is following in his father’s supernatural footsteps. Not surprisingly, given the Smith family’s history, Lehi’s family’s major task is to change locales. The Book of Mormon father, Lehi, a prophet during the time of Jeremiah, receives divine instructions to remove his family from Jerusalem. Jeremiah, Lehi’s contemporary, was warning the Jews about their impending captivity by the Babylonians shortly before 600 B.C.E. They reject his message and persecute him; Lehi preaches a similar message of repentance and his life is in danger. The tale of the fourth son parallels Joseph Smith’s autobiography, presenting in disguised form but remarkably precise chronological order the story of Joseph Smith’s early years, his traumatic surgery, his family’s losing struggles in New England, their difficult journey to New York, and the relative peace and prosperity of their early years in Palmyra. The shared patterns between Smith’s story and Nephi’s story also preview major patterns repeated four times as the Book of Mormon continues. In Nephi’s story the three older siblings are all brothers—Laman, Lemuel, and Sam. I argue that they correspond to Joseph’s three older siblings: Alvin, Hyrum, and Sophronia. Despite the shift in gender, an obvious disguise, Sophronia and Sam share the qualities of being cooperative and quiet, and their names begin with the same letter. (For other examples of Joseph/Book of Mormon characters with similar first letters in names, see chapter 5.) The Book of Mormon siblings are symmetrical opponents: Laman and Lemuel consistently oppose Sam and Nephi. Almost nothing is known about the relationships among the brothers and sisters in the Smith family as children; while Joseph’s account mentions both Alvin and Hyrum in glowing terms and Hyrum was inseparable from him as an adult, Joseph barely mentions Sophronia. Is this paired configuration wholly fictional? Perhaps, but it is also possible to hypothesize that the children formed alliances to deal with the family poverty, possible episodes of hunger while they were living “day to day,” the stress of repeated moves, and Lucy’s frequent pregnancies, perhaps accompanied by depression. The Book of Mormon from the beginning presents a picture of family rivalries and power struggles which will become increasingly difficult to ignore. In the Book of Mormon, if this hypothesis is accurate, Joseph experienced the headiness of fantasy’s power by changing a hard working brother (Alvin) into an unbelieving reprobate, hostile and defiant (Laman); and he quickly expanded this method by changing a decent, caring human being—his surgeon—into a drunken thieving murderer. Within this context, a passage such as the following in the early pages of the book seems suggestive. The Lord confirms to Nephi a message which had earlier been given to his father: “And inasmuch as thy brethren shall rebel against thee they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. And inasmuch as thou shalt keep my commandments, thou shalt be made a ruler and a teacher over thy brethren. For behold, in that day that they shall rebel against me, I will curse them even with a sore curse and they shall have no power over thy seed except they shall rebel against me also. And … if so … [the seed of Laman and Lemuel] shall be a scourge unto thy seed, to stir them up in the ways of remembrance” (BM 9; 1 Ne. 2:20 24). Such a passage seems to suggest that Joseph’s (Nephi’s) parents used the older children to discipline the younger ones. Further, such action by God is at cross purposes with himself, for he will use extreme physical punishment to teach obedience but at the same time create psychological conflict in his Nephite children. The parents’ aggression pressures the child toward conscious submission out of fear and simultaneously toward an unconscious identification with the parents’ aggressive behavior. Children of violence often become violent parents. Is this a report of Joseph’s experiences with his parents? While no evidence has survived of Joseph Sr.’s and Lucy’s parenting practices with Joseph before age seven, such a hypothesis would partially account for what I will argue are Joseph Jr.’s persistent fantasies of power. Nephi’s first independent action—taking the plates from the Jerusalem ruler who holds them (1 Ne. 3 4)—presents a version of what must have been Joseph’s most traumatic memory—the bloody surgery on his leg. The Book of Mormon version exaggerates, intensifies, and also reverses the autobiography, a pattern that I will also argue is typical of how Joseph used the Book of Mormon. When Nephi takes the plates by trickery, killing their guardian, he completes a pattern of reversal and compensation; thus a humiliating occasion in real life becomes one of domination in the Book of Mormon, an occasion of sadness becomes one of elation, and so on. Soon after Lehi removes his family from Jerusalem, God orders him to send his four sons back to the city to obtain the “brass plates” from a wealthy and powerful Jew named Laban. These plates contain two records, “the history of the Jews” (the Bible) and a family genealogy (which may correspond psychologically to Solomon Mack’s autobiography). Laban, the possessor of the family history, is thus identified as a relative.93 I see Laban as the earliest version of surgeon Nathan Smith in the Book of Mormon, a prototype of the killing physician who will make several reappearances in the narrative. Laban shares a number of characteristics with Nathan Smith. Laban is a relative; although Nathan Smith was not, the shared surname would easily lead a child aged five to seven to believe that he was. Nathan Smith has killing power, thanks to his profession, and took the leadership in the council of surgeons. Laban is a man who can “slay fifty … or command fifty” and then (exaggeratedly) “or even … tens of thousands.” He takes the family’s wealth, is associated with alcohol, and carries a sword. Nathan Smith charges a high fee for his services, offers young Joseph alcohol, and carries his surgeon’s knife. The four sons collectively make their first visit to Laban, without success. They then choose Laman to make a second attempt, but Laban calls him a robber and orders his servants to kill him. Nathan Smith, a decent and honorable man as far as is known, has, in Joseph’s fantasy of power, become a dishonest drunken would be murderer. For the third attempt, the four brothers gather the family treasure and offer it in exchange for the plates. Laban takes their possessions but orders his servants to kill them. They flee into the wilderness for safety. Alvin/Laman and Hyrum/Lemuel beat Joseph/Nephi for endangering them; an angel not only stops them but tells them Joseph/Nephi will be a ruler over them. Joseph/Nephi, still determined to carry out the commandments of God despite Laman’s and Lemuel’s hostility and Sam’s passivity, returns to Jerusalem after dark to face his “relative” again as Joseph did in real life. He finds Laban/Nathan Smith “fallen to earth before me, for he was drunken with wine.” The surgeon, who offered Joseph brandy or wine is now inebriated. In fantasy, Smith has turned the tables on him by the psychiatric process of “changing passive helplessness into active conquest.” He describes the “foot long” surgeon’s knife as it might have seemed to a child: “And I beheld his sword, and I drew it forth from the sheath thereof; and the hilt thereof was of pure gold, and the workmanship was exceedingly fine, and I saw the blade thereof was of the most precious steel.” Joseph/Nephi is commanded “by the spirit” to kill Laban. At first he shrinks but then comes up with four reasons for killing him: “Behold the Lord hath delivered him into my hands. Yea, and I also knew that he had sought to take away mine own life; yea, and he would not harken unto the commandments of the Lord; and he had also taken away our property.” This list is a classic presentation of rationalization. If a patient gave such reasons, a therapist’s response might be, “You give me one reason after another. I wonder which one is the real one? Or perhaps none of them is? Perhaps there is a reason behind all of them that is the real one, and you haven’t told it to me—or, perhaps, even to yourself.” What might this “real” reason be? I suggest that it is simple revenge. Laban/Nathan Smith has caused Joseph/Nephi more fear and pain than he had ever before known in his life, in a manner that emphasized his smallness and helplessness; Joseph/Nephi wants to kill him. And he does: “Therefore I did obey the voice of the spirit and took Laban by the hair of the head, and I smote off his head with his own sword” (BM 13; 1 Ne. 4:18). The retaliation against the surgeon is complete. I see in this early use of rationalization the beginning of a pattern that Joseph Smith will use when he performs other deeds of questionable morality when the “commandments” of God become his reason for later breaking the laws in the United States.94 Joseph/Nephi’s next action is striking: “I took the garments of Laban and put them upon my own body; yea, every whit; and I did gird on his armour about my loins” (BM 13; 1 Ne. 4:19). From a psychoanalytic perspective, this statement may be among the most important in the Book of Mormon. Joseph announces that he will assume someone else’s personality and authority (develop an alter ego), and that the process either began or was intensified by the surgery. As a psychiatrist, I also observe that the real Nathan Smith was a decent man performing a painful but life saving duty for Joseph Smith. In Smith’s later life, when decent men attempt to accomplish tasks which threaten Joseph Smith, he likewise defines them as evil and attacks to avoid the helplessness he felt before Laban/the surgeon.95 This story establishes a crucial pattern which repeats itself again and again in the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith compensates for a terrible real life experience by displacing it with a conquering fantasy. In this and chapter 3, I will continue to review the misfortunes and tragedies in Joseph Smith’s life. In each case, he resolves these issues by a fantasy conquest, the solution he “learned” from his surgical experience. I argue that it set the pattern by which he deals with problems. In the Book of Mormon, I will try to demonstrate, Joseph conquers and solves each real life dilemma. His next humiliation will be on the wagon journey from Vermont to New York, when mean spirited Caleb Howard purposely ignores and increases Joseph’s exhaustion and pain. How does he compensate for this humiliation? The Book of Mormon episodes which follow Laban’s death confirm the power of disguise. Dressed as Laban, Nephi/Joseph goes to Laban’s treasury, mimics Laban’s voice, obtains possession of the records, and tricks Zoram, Laban’s servant, into following him outside the city where Laman/Alvin, Lemuel/Hyrum, and Sam/Sophronia are waiting. They are also fooled by the disguise and flee until Nephi calls them back in his own voice. Taking alarm, Zoram tries to flee: “And now I, Nephi, being a man large in stature, and also having received much strength of the Lord, therefore I did seize upon the servant of Laban” (BM 13 14; 1 Ne. 4:20 38). This scene can be read psychologically as a fantasy reversal of Joseph’s helplessness during the surgery, introducing the theme of Joseph’s search for power over others.96 Zoram is only the first person in the Book of Mormon who comes under Nephi/Joseph’s control; psychologically, the first person the child Joseph could control would be his next younger sibling, Samuel Harrison, born in 1808. According to the scenario I am proposing, the Book of Mormon narrative now contains representations of Joseph’s parents and the first five living children. Lehi’s family then sojourns “in the wilderness for the space of … eight years” (BM 42; 1 Ne. 17:1 4), ending with their arrival in the promised land. In Joseph’s autobiography, this period begins after the surgery and ends when the family reaches Palmyra, a period that lasted somewhere between three and one half and five years. In two additional retellings of this story as a Book of Mormon narrative, Joseph makes this period last both seven and four years. Perhaps expanding their duration emphasizes how terrible those years were. My own belief is that, in this version, he dates the Smith family desolation from Ephraim’s death in March 1810 to settling in the cabin in Palmyra in comfort around 1818. Joseph Smith also modifies these early childhood experiences from the age of five—the age he gives himself for his surgery—to eleven or so by interweaving a section of his later life—his marriage—into the story. God commands Lehi to send his sons back to Jerusalem once more to bring out Ishmael, his wife, five daughters, and two sons, so they can marry. They succeed with relative ease. Two of the daughters immediately pair up with Alvin/Laman and Hyrum/Lemuel and become rebellious, desiring to return to Jerusalem. This story contains parallels of Joseph’s marriage to Emma Hale (see chapter 3); and the first time Joseph dictated this story, he was living near his in laws. Isaac Hale, a hardworking and prosperous farmer, refused Joseph’s first request for Emma’s hand, was distraught when they eloped, and testified against his new son in law in a sworn newspaper affidavit six years after their marriage. Smith apparently did not handle this antagonism well. Several years of confrontation and conflict, interspersed with periods of peace, ended with a breach so irrevocable that Emma never saw her parents again. In fantasy, Joseph eliminates Isaac by having Ishmael die in the wilderness, the only casualty in the party in the Old World. In real life Smith originally brought Emma first to live with his own family in Manchester. Lorenzo Saunders reported, “Joseph’s wife was a pretty woman, just as pretty a woman as I ever saw. When she came to the Smith’s she was disappointed and used to come down to our house and sit down and cry. Said she was deceived and got into a hard place.”97 Perhaps her bitterness at being separated from her family and her disappointment at her situation (I read Saunders’s statement to mean that Joseph had misrepresented the comforts of his parental home) can be heard in the cries of the daughters of Ishmael who “did mourn exceedingly, because of the loss of their father … saying: Our father is dead … and they did murmur against me” (BM 41; 1 Ne. 16:35). As Lucy considered Joseph Sr.’s dreams to be visions, so does the Book of Mormon. Lehi states: “I have dreamed a dream; or, in other words, I have seen a vision.” Joseph Sr.’s dream of the first tree, which occurred in 1811 when Joseph was five, reemerges in the Book of Mormon, motivating Nephi to heroic faithfulness. Significantly, Nephi had prayed to have the same dream as his father. In the Book of Mormon version of this dream, a guide “dressed in a white robe” leads Lehi through a dreary wasteland to a tree standing by a river with an iron rod running along the bank. The fruit, which represents the “pure love of God,” is “most sweet … and white” and it “filled my soul with exceeding great joy.” Lehi persuades most of the family to join him, but Laman and Lemuel refuse. A spacious building is filled with worldly people who scorn the family eating from the tree representing the “pure love of God” (BM 19 26; 1 Ne. 8 11). The parallels between Lehi’s and Joseph Sr.’s dreams were discovered by non Mormons as early as 1902.98 The orthodox Mormon explanation is that Lucy, grief stricken and then seventy, was influenced by the Book of Mormon and included details from Lehi’s dream in her record.99 Fawn Brodie had earlier countered this argument by pointing out that such reverse borrowing was unlikely since Lucy also remembered and recounted four other dreams in great detail. In my proposal, this dream/vision takes its proper place in the chronology of Joseph Smith’s life.100 In the wilderness, Lehi and his family turn, as did the Smith family, to magic. Though interpreted as miraculous by the orthodox, the compass called the “Liahona” is best interpreted, in my opinion, as a divining rod, and functions as a magic tool which, under the influence of faithfulness, guides Lehi’s family to the “more fertile parts of the wilderness.” This instrument appears quite magically on the ground in the front of the tent one morning, “a ball of curious workmanship … Within the ball were two spindles; and the one pointed the way whither we should go into the wilderness” (BM 39; 1 Ne. 16:10). Other improbable aspects of the story, in which gaps in logic are made up for by magical qualities, are that Nephi/Joseph breaks his “steel” bow and replaces it with a child’s bow made of a straight stick. In the Book of Mormon, the families are fatigued and beginning to starve. The story reminds us that in the middle of those years of hardship (1810 18) the Smith family was living day to day; this fantasy supports the idea that he experienced hunger. But the fantasy is an exaggeration, and we cannot tell how much the hunger is exaggerated. Using the magical compass, Joseph/Nephi finds food and saves his family. From a psychoanalytic perspective, Joseph is dealing with a real life misfortune by a compensating fantasy. Now the Book of Mormon provides some evidence of sibling squabbles in the Smith home and envy over Joseph’s ascendancy as the developing supernatural seer. (See chapter 3.) The ascension of Nephi as an even greater prophet than his father will be paralleled by Joseph Smith’s ascension over his own father as a magician. “And Laman said … let us slay our father, and also our brother Nephi who has taken it upon himself to be our ruler and our teacher. … We know he lies … and he worketh many things by his cunning arts … to make himself a king and a ruler over us, that he may do with us according to his will and pleasure” (BM 1 Ne. 16:38.) I hypothesize that the Smiths experienced almost a decade of desolation (1810 18), during which two more sons were born: William in 1811 and Don Carlos in 1816. Similarly Lehi “begat two sons in the wilderness; the elder was called Jacob and the younger Joseph.” In the Smith home the crops were failing for the third year when young Don Carlos was born. In the Book of Mormon this situation is also described: “While we did live upon raw meat in the wilderness, our women did give plenty of suck for their children, and were strong yea, even like unto men” (BM 42; 1 Ne. 17:1.) Again this description can be seen as a compensating fantasy for the Smith family’s situation and supports the hypothesis that they experienced episodes of hunger. In the Book of Mormon, after wandering in the “wilderness,” Lehi’s family reaches the seashore at a place they name “Bountiful” near a sea “of many waters” where they build a boat in which to travel to their promised land. Food is available in abundance. However, Laman’s and Lemuel’s rebelliousness hinders the construction of the ship. In this struggle the narrative focuses clearly on what I think we must understand as Joseph’s ultimate goal: power. Nephi/Joseph has been arguing with his brothers over ship building. When the brothers become so angry at Nephi’s lecturing that they attack him, he responds impressively, “In the name of the Almighty God, I command you that ye touch me not, for I am filled with the power of God … and whoso shall lay his hands upon me shall wither even as a dry reed.” This power lasts a number of days. God commands Nephi/Joseph to demonstrate this power by touching. The shock makes them “[fall] down before me.” As I have noted, I interpret the Smiths’ “promised land” to be Palmyra, New York. I think this ship building episode is best explained as the construction of the rough log cabins, first on the Jennings property and then on their own. If we accept as accurate the descriptions by Orsamus Turner and Pomeroy Tucker concerning Joseph’s indolent nature and recognize through Lucy’s biography the “serious and industrious” nature of the oldest son, Alvin/Laman, then Joseph has simply reversed the sequence, just as he reversed the family’s disadvantages. In the description of the sea voyage itself can be seen the Smith family’s struggle with the harsh and selfish driver, Caleb Howard, and his flirtations with the Gates daughters: “My brethren and the Sons of Ishmael and also their wives began to make themselves merry, insomuch that they began to dance, and to sing, and speak with much rudeness … yea … exceeding rudeness” (BM 48: 1 Ne. 18:1 9). Howard had spent the family money on drinking and gambling, had made a little lame boy walk through the snow, and had allowed another driver to knock him down in the mud. This traumatic experience, I suggest, emerges as Laman’s and Lemuel’s attack on Nephi. They “did bind me with cords, and they did treat me with much harshness.” His wrists and ankles “had swollen exceedingly” from the tight cords, “and great was the soreness thereof” (BM 48: 1 Ne. 18:10 13). They repent only when God frightens them with a terrible storm. Nephi, who has remained firmly faithful during the days of ill treatment, guides the ship using the magic compass, and the ship reaches the promised land safely. Again Smith has reversed his helpless humiliation and pain on that trip of his childhood and has become the one in control. After this difficult crossing, Lehi and his extended family arrive in the promised land, a rich wilderness supporting a dense population of cows, “oxen,” asses, “horses,” and wild goats (BM 49 50; 1 Ne. 18:25). Joseph Sr. had chosen Palmyra as the site for his next move because it was rich: farmers there raised “wheat in abundance.” The Book of Mormon land was immediately fertile: “We did begin to till the earth, and we began to plant seeds; yea, we did put all our seeds into the earth, which we had brought from the land of Jerusalem. And it came to pass that they did grow abundantly” (BM 49 50; 1 Ne. 18:25). The promised land can thus be seen as the first version of the Smith family’s early years of relative peace and prosperity after arriving in New York. In the Book of Mormon, Joseph/Nephi gives a lengthy series of sermons and transcribes Isaiah’s prophecies for a number of chapters. Lehi dies after pronouncing his last exhortations, blessings, and prophecies. Immediately sibling rivalry flares into murderous hatred, and God warns Joseph/Nephi to move away from them. After this time Laman, Lemuel, and their descendants (“Lamanites”) “were cut off from [God’s] presence … [and he] did cause a skin of blackness [redness] to come upon them. … They shall be loathsome … idle, full of mischief and subtlety, and did seek in the wilderness for beasts of prey.” These Lamanites, the ancestors of the American Indians, were assigned by God (without knowing it) to be a scourge to Nephi’s followers (“Nephites”), and to whip them to repentance whenever they fall into sin, and, if the Nephites become too evil, to destroy them completely. The family is now split into two opposing national factions as God had warned, setting the stage for the dyadic physical and moral contention in the rest of the book. By now I propose that we have identified the following Smith family members in the Book of Mormon: Joseph Sr./Lehi, Lucy/Sariah, Alvin/Laman, Hyrum/Lemuel, Sophronia/Sam, Joseph/Nephi, Samuel Harrison/Zoram, William/Jacob, and Don Carlos/Joseph. Women are significantly unrepresented throughout the Book of Mormon, but I suggest that Joseph’s two younger sisters, Catherine (b. 1812) and Lucy (b. 1821) crop up in Nephi’s almost parenthetical statement that, when he moved his people into the wilderness away from the Lamanites, the group included “also my sisters” (BM 71; 2 Ne. 5:6). It is the only mention of sisters, but I suggest they are there because Joseph wanted to assure Catherine and Lucy a place with his family in the promised land. Although Nephi does not specify a number, I believe that Joseph had two sisters in mind because Ishmael’s family included two sons, obviously to make symmetrical matches.101 After Lehi’s family’s eight years in the wilderness, Book of Mormon scholar John Sorenson estimates that forty three may have entered the boat. After the division, B. H. Roberts estimated that the original Nephite group numbered under 100, and many of these would have been children.102 The accomplishments of Lehi’s family during these first years in the promised land are, even in fantasy, exaggerated. Nephi’s group includes two elderly widows, three young married couples (probably with children), two young men, and two young women. It is hard to imagine that this group numbered over thirty. He gives a report twenty two years later when “thirty years had passed away since from the time we left Jerusalem.” By this time, the group cannot number many more than a hundred, and probably a majority would be young children; but they have created a major civilization. Instead of dealing with the normal frontier concerns about growing crops, building homes, fighting illness, adapting to the country, defending themselves against predators, and hunting meat, while maintaining a lookout for the Lamanites, the record recounts that they have developed a foundry in which Nephi forges steel swords based on the model of Laban’s sword. He has also taught them “to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance” (BM 72; 2 Ne. 5:7 15). Even more impressively, this small group has built a temple “after the manner of the Temple of Solomon save it were not built of so many precious things; for they were not to be found upon the land. … But the manner of construction was like unto the temple of Solomon and the workmanship was exceeding fine” (BM 72; 2 Ne. 5:16). This description is more like a frontier tall tale than a plausible history. The temple of Solomon in Jerusalem was the glory of two nations, built by more than 150,000 workers over a period of seven years. Anti Mormon E. D. Howe, writing four years after the Book of Mormon was published, was the first to point out the inconsistency of Nephi’s temple. B. H. Roberts, an early twentieth century Mormon general authority, also elaborated on these implausibilities in his review of Book of Mormon problems.103 However, questions of plausibility are relevant to this analysis only as they shed light on Joseph Smith’s underlying psychological state. When the Book of Mormon is seen as a repetitive tale of wish fulfillment and compensation, then the exaggerations only underscore the intensity of Joseph’s need to succeed. When Nephi makes swords using the model of Laban’s dreaded sword, Joseph is again controlling and reversing the meaning of the surgeon’s feared knife. When the Nephite temple replicates Solomon’s, I see it as a fantasy structure compensating for the one building that the Smiths could contemplate with some measure of pride—the “small frame house” on their farm in Manchester. This building’s existence psychologically wipes out the series of rented cabins they have lived in for the past decade, corresponding to Lehi’s tent. Again the Book of Mormon fantasy compensates for real life incompleteness and loss. To summarize: I argue that these chapters of the Book of Mormon take us through Joseph Smith’s disguised autobiography from birth to about seventeen—his surgery, moves, years of desolation, the births of his brothers, the painful and humiliating trip to Palmyra, the building of the cabin, and the construction of the farmhouse. He has modified the statistics of his real wanderings by exaggerating the number of years in the wilderness, inserting his marriage out of order, and finding some relief from hunger before the trip to the promised land/Palmyra. The outline of the story paralleling his life is reasonably clear, and the major revelation is his technique of fantasy compensation. However, I have here presented only an outline of complex stories with all sorts of overdetermined connections to episodes in the life of Joseph Smith. For example, in these chapters Nephi is bound with cords, or beaten, or threatened with beating by his brothers and others at least three times, only to be rescued by God. How helpless Joseph must have felt when the surgeons proposed binding him to the bedstead. Another unexplored possibility is that Nephi’s discovery of gold, silver, steel, copper, iron, and brass is the lavish wish fulfillment of at least eighteen unproductive attempts to find buried treasure.104 When Nephi dies, the eulogy recorded in the Book of Mormon states that the people loved him “exceedingly, he having been a great protector for them, having wielded the sword of Laban in their defense” (BM 124; Jacob 1:9 10). We might think it strange that this sword would become a symbol of righteous strength in a book meant to be another witness of Jesus Christ, for it was a tool of war and death, still known by the name of its original possessor, who is otherwise remembered for his wealth, greed, corruption, and being murdered while drunk. Furthermore, Nephi took it from him in a morally ambiguous episode that combines heroism, cowardice, and rationalization. The sword is mentioned twice more in the Book of Mormon. Four hundred years after Nephi’s death, righteous King Benjamin wielded it against an invading Lamanite army: “he did fight with the strength of his own arm, with the sword of Laban” (BM 152; Words of Mormon 13). It is last mentioned when Benjamin turns the kingdom over to his son: “And moreover, he also gave him charge concerning the records which were engraven on the plates of brass; and also the plates of Nephi; and also, the sword of Laban, and the ball or director, which led our fathers through the wilderness” (BM 155; Mosiah 1:15 16). At this point, Nathan Smith’s “foot long” scalpel, now a symbol of compensatory power, disappears from the Book of Mormon. However, it reemerges in Mormon legend. For the fiftieth anniversary of Smith’s receiving the gold plates and thirteen years after his murder, Brigham Young told a group of Saints in Farmington, Utah:
I believe I will take the liberty to tell you of another circumstance that will be as marvelous as anything can be. This is an incident in the life of [Joseph Smith’s scribe] Oliver Cowdery, but he did not take the liberty of telling such things in meeting as I take. I tell these things to you, and I have a motive for doing so. I want to carry them to the ears of my brethren and sisters, and to the children also, that they may grow to an understanding of some things that seem to be entirely hidden from the human family. Oliver Cowdery went with the Prophet Joseph when he deposited these plates. Joseph did not translate all of the plates; there was a portion of them sealed, which you can learn from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. When Joseph got the plates, the angel instructed him to carry them back to the hill Cumorah, which he did. Oliver says that when Joseph and Oliver went there, the hill opened, and they walked into a cave, in which there was a large and spacious room. He says he did not think, at the time, whether they had the light of the sun or artificial light; but that it was just as light as day. They laid the plates on a table; it was a large table that stood in the room. Under this table there was a pile of plates as much as two feet high, and there were altogether in this room more plates than probably many wagon loads; they were piled up in the corner and along the walls. The first time they went there the sword of Laban hung upon the wall; but when they went again it had been taken down and laid upon the table across the gold plates; it was unsheathed, and on it was written these words; “This sword will never be sheathed again until the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God and his Christ.”105
Notes: 1. Those who have approached the Book of Mormon naturalistically have commented on its reflection of Joseph Smith’s life and environment. Most of these comments have been brief, introductory, or general; or, after noting a few parallels with his life, they have turned to parallels with the happenings in the United States or upstate New York. I. Woodbridge Riley, The Founder of Mormonism: A Psychological Study of Joseph Smith Jr. (New York: Dodd Mead & Co., 1902), 26, 113 30; Walter F. Prince, “Psychological Tests for the Authorship of the Book of Mormon,” American Journal of Psychology 28 (July 1917): 375; Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 2d ed., rev. and enl. (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1971), 50 66. The closest approach to seeing the book as a reflection of Smith’s personal life to date—although still flawed, in my opinion—is William D. Morain, The Sword of Laban: Joseph Smith, Jr. and the Dissociated Mind (Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press, 1998). See my discussion of Morain in the preface.
3. D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1987), 28. In the Salem trials nineteen were found guilty and hanged, one was pressed to death, one was murdered in prison, and five adults and two infants died in prison. See Enders A. Robinson, The Devil Discovered (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1991), 204 50, 362 64. Mary Esty, accused of witchcraft by Samuell Smith and John Gould, left written testimony and a moving appeal to avoid the gallows. It concludes, “The Lord alone, who is the searcher of all hearts, knows that as I shall answer it at the Tribunal Seat, that I know not the least thing of Witchcraft, therefore I cannot, I durst not belye my own Soul. I beg your Honours not to deny this my humble Petition, from a poor dying Innocent person, and I question not but the Lord will give a blessing to your Endeavours.” Her appeal was rejected. R. Calef, More Wonders of the Invisible World (London, 1700); reprinted in George L. Burr, ed., Narrative of the Witchcraft Cases, 1648 1706 (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1966), 38 369. Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, 28 30, provides four references to the Smith Esty trial. Palmyra neighbor Fayette Lapham wrote that “Joseph Smith, Senior, we soon learned, from his own lips, was a firm believer in witchcraft and other supernatural things; had brought up his family in the same belief.” Quoted by Quinn and in Francis W. Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America (Independence, MO; Zion’s Printing and Publishing Co., 1951), 2:526. Jesse’s contemptuous letter (which possibly implies his brother used magic to leave Vermont) is quoted by Quinn and Richard L. Anderson, “The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Searching,” BYU Studies 24 (Fall 1984): 526. Mentions of witchcraft and magic appear in the Book of Mormon, first ed., [BM] 520 21 (Morm. 1:19, 2:10).
4. The degree of Joseph Sr.’s drinking is impossible to ascertain absolutely, requiring the historian to estimate his drinking. The strongest evidence that he did drink to some degree appears in a patriarchal blessing that Joseph Sr. gave his son Hyrum in 1834, praising Hyrum’s respect for his father: “Though he [referring to himself] has been out of way through wine, thou hast never forsaken him nor laughed him to scorn.” Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 208n55. The wording implies serious repetitive drinking. In a healthy family, one episode of a father being drunk will be remembered with humor, a few with mounting apprehension, and many with scorn and contempt. Arguments that the degree of drinking would have been understated are the well known tendency of the drinking individual and his family to minimize or hide the problem, compounded by the strong possibility of censored history by the Mormon church. Symptoms of alcoholism include hangovers, blackouts, interference with work, requests by others to desist, unsuccessful attempts to stop, drinking alone, hiding the alcohol, and, as with any addiction, continued behavior despite its destructive effects. In a personal communication with orthodox Mormon and Jungian analyst C. Jess Groesbeck, Mormon historian Marvin Hill commented that Joseph Sr.’s drinking was seldom talked about and may be one reason why he has been left in the shadows historically. Groesbeck opined that Joseph Sr. “habitually and chronically abused alcohol, which must have had a shattering effect on the family.” That is a good definition of alcoholism. C. Jess Groesbeck, “The Smiths and Their Dreams and Visions,” Sunstone 12 (Mar. 1988): 24. Indirect evidence for the father’s drinking is Isaac Hale’s observing Joseph Jr.’s “insolent and saucy” behavior toward his father, followed by sobbing relief when his father was baptized into Mormonism. Hale qtd. in E. D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH: Author, 1834), 263; Dean C. Jessee, “Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History,” BYU Studies 17 (Fall 1976), 37. Pomeroy Tucker, The Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1867), 16, stated that the Smiths “were popularly regarded as an illiterate, whiskey drinking, shiftless, irreligious race of people.” Dan Vogel, in a review of dysfunction in the Smith family, concurs that Joseph Sr. suffered from severe alcoholism and provides statements about his “intemperance” (along with other members of the Smith family) from neighbors David and Barton Stafford, and another eleven men. Quoting Howe’s Mormonism Unvailed, 249 51, 262, and a reference fifty years later from Lorenzo Saunders as interviewed by William H. Kelley, 17 September 1884, E. L. Kelley Papers, RLDS Church Library Archives, Independence, Missouri. See Dan Vogel, “Joseph Smith’s Family Dynamics,” Salt Lake Sunstone Symposium, August 1998, with agreement in response by psychiatrist C. Jess Groesbeck, audiocassette #SL98, 112, tape and paper in my possession. See other references in Dan Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996), 1:470n11, hereafter cited as Vogel, Lucy Smith History.
5. Lucy Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool: S. W. Richards, 1853), 51. Not in the surviving preliminary manuscript, published as “Lucy Smith History, 1845,” with extensive annotations and side by side comparison with the 1853 published version in Vogel, Lucy Smith History, 227 450.
10. Joseph Smith, Sr., Introductory Comments: Patriarchal Blessing book 1:1 2, Historical Department Archives, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah (hereafter LDS Archives); “Copy of Don Carlos Smith’s family record written by his own hand,” ca. 1839 40, 7; Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, 198n65.
11. Larry C. Porter, “A Study of the Origins of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints in the States of New York and Pennsylvania, 1816 1831,” Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1971, 14; Vogel, Lucy Smith History, 242 43n33.
16. James Colin Brewster, Very Important! To the Mormon Money Diggers (Springfield, IL: Brewster, 1843), 2 4, quoted Joseph Smith, Sr., as saying in Ohio, sometime between 1831 and 1838: “I know more about money digging than any man in this generation, for I have been in the business more than thirty years.” Qtd. in Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Mormonism, Magic, and Masonry (Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1988), 19. Marvin S. Hill, “Money Digging Folklore and the Beginnings of Mormonism: An Interpretive Suggestion,” BYU Studies 24 (Fall 1984): 473 88, also uses Brewster’s statement as an indication of Joseph Sr.’s long standing interest in money digging. Brewster had claimed to receive revelations and once translated a lost book of the Bible. Joseph read his manuscript and stated the book was “not true” and that “God never gave revelations to that Brewster.” History of the Church, 5:214 15. Brewster was disfellowshipped in 1837.
17. In this discussion, and in the history of magic in the next chapter, I have relied heavily on Quinn’s Early Mormonism and the Magic World View. He discusses the magic religious problem in his introduction but would probably agree only with the first paragraph in this summary of my position. According to many Bible theologians, magic differs from religious miracles in three ways: its philosophy is unsophisticated with limited concepts of God and morality; the motive for magic is usually some immediate gain; and the results are guaranteed if the controlling rituals are performed accurately, i.e., the ritual compels God. Religious miracles, in contrast, usually result from moral behavior without guaranteed results despite correct performance of the ritual, emphasize the moral long range intent of God, and are contained within a religious philosophy. In sum, the province of magic is to meet immediate goals without further moral obligations. If a believer in magic had “ethics,” it was not for a moral position as part of a group, but because his or her religious “purification” increased the chances of accomplishing a successful ritual. Yet some magic beliefs, such as voodoo in Haiti, do contain philosophical thinking. Furthermore, while most prudent magicians would not guarantee results, some aspects of religions do offer guarantees, such as the certainty, for the believer, that the wine and wafer of the Catholic mass become the body and blood of Christ and, within Mormonism, some of the temple ceremonies that are guaranteed except under exceptional circumstances. In short, how does one distinguish between religious miracles and magic, symbolically represented by the miracle producing phrase, “Hoc ist Corpus Meum” and its corrupted “magical” counterpart, “Hocus pocus”? For a concise summary, see John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1991), 303 11, who, with other Bible historians, believes that the single decisive factor is that a miracle is performed within an established religion while magic is performed by fringe groups. This view establishes both Joseph Smith and Jesus in his day as magicians. The distinction lies not between the rituals or results, but between the orientation of the viewing groups. As one historian has written, “`Jesus the magician’ was the figure seen by most ancient opponents of Jesus; `Jesus the Son of God’ was the figure seen by that party of his followers which eventually triumphed; the real Jesus was the man whose words and actions gave rise to these contradictory interpretations. `Jesus the Son of God’ is pictured in the gospels; the works that pictured `Jesus the magician’ were destroyed in antiquity after Christians got control of the Roman empire. We know the lost works only from fragments and references, mostly in the works of Christian authors.“ Also: “Such private dealings with supernatural beings make up most of what we call `magic’ as well as what we call `private religion.’ There is no clear line between the two. … For instance, spells for destruction of an enemy are commonly supposed to be magical, but there are many in the Psalms. The cliché, that the religious man petitions the gods while the magician tries to compel them, is simply false.” See Morton Smith, Jesus the Magician (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1978), vii, 69, also 83 84, 91 92.
29. Vogel, Lucy Smith History, 253, and “Miscellaneous Document of Uncertain Origin,” 646 47. Reference has already been made to Joseph Sr.’s 1834 patriarchal blessing to his son, Hyrum, and its allusion to his heavy drinking. Lorenzo Saunders, a Palmyra neighbor, remembered as an elderly man that, when he was a teenager, “the old man would go to turkey shoots and get tight.” Lorenzo’s brother, Orlando, reported seeing Joseph Smith, Sr., dressed in the “raggedest and dirtiest shirt and all full of holes.” Quoted in Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, 208n55, and Marvin S. Hill, Quest for Refuge: The Mormon Flight from American Pluralism (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 190n5.
30. In a psychoanalytic review of an earlier draft of this work, anthropologist JoAnn Campbell of the University of Washington, in a personal communication, speculated that this dead infant was the incipient psychological origin for the angel Moroni/Nephi.
33. Joseph Smith “History” Book A 1, 131 32, LDS Archives, qtd. in Reed C. Durham, Jr., “Joseph Smith’s Own Story of a Serious Childhood Illness,” BYU Studies 10 (Summer 1970): 480 82, and in Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Papers of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989), 1:268n1.
39. Wirthlin, “Nathan Smith,” 319 35, and his “Joseph Smith’s Boyhood Operation,” 131 54. In these otherwise excellent reviews, Wirthlin does not discuss the possibility that the osteomyelitis was iatrogenic. Ten to fifteen years after operating on Joseph Smith, Nathan Smith published two works describing his surgical procedure: Practical Essay on Typhous Fever (New York: E. Bliss and E. White, 1824) and “Observations on the Pathology and Treatment of Necrosis,” Philadelphia Monthly Journal of Medicine and Surgery, 1827, 11 19, 66 75.
40. Ibid., 263 69. Three sources exist about this surgical procedure. One is Nathan Smith’s own professional writings, describing his treatment of osteomyelitis. The second is Lucy’s preliminary manuscript, which the 1853 published version follows without significant variation. The third is Joseph Smith’s account, dictated when he was thirty three and published in 1970 for the first time in Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:268n1: “When I was five years old or thereabouts I was attacked with the Typhus [typhoid] Fever, and at one time, during my sickness, my father dispaired of my life. The doctors broke the fever, after which it settled under my shoulder, and Dr. Parker called it a sprained shoulder and anointed it with bone ointment, and freely applied the hot shovel, when it proved to be a swelling under the arm which was opened, and discharged freely, after which the disease removed and descended into my left leg and ancle and terminated in a fever sore of the worst kind, and I endured the most acute suffering for a long time under the care of Drs. Smith, Stone and Perkins, of Hanover. At one time eleven Doctors came from Dartmouth Medical College, at Hanover, New Hampshire, for the purpose of amputation, but, young as I was, I utterly refused to give my assent to the operation, but consented to their trying an experiment by removing a large portion of the bone from my left leg, which they did, and fourteen additional pieces of bone afterwards worked out before my leg healed, during which time I was reduced so very low that my mother could carry me with ease.”
41. “Psychoanalytic case histories tended to emphasize certain dramatic incidents, certain grossly traumatic events—from the child’s witnessing the `primal scene’ to the loss of a parent in childhood. But we have come to incline to the opinion that such traumatic events may be no more than clues that point to the truly pathogenic factors, the unwholesome atmosphere to which the child was exposed during the years when his self was established. Taken by themselves, in other words, these events leave fewer serious disturbances in their wake than the chronic ambience created by the deep rooted attitudes of the self objects [parents], since even the still vulnerable self, in the process of formation, can cope with serious traumata if it is embedded in a healthily supportive milieu. The essence of the healthy matrix for the growing self of the child is a mature, cohesive parental self that is in tune with the changing needs of the child. … Some parents, however, are not adequately sensitive to the needs of the child but will instead respond to the needs of their own insecurely established self.” Heinz Kohut and Ernest S. Wolf, “The Disorders of the Self and Their Treatment: An Outline,” International Journal of Psycho Analysis 59 (1978): 417.
46. Jesse’s method of disagreeing with Joseph Sr.’s religious beliefs was to open the door of Lucy’s home and “throw” in a copy of Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason. He forbade his visiting brother his house and threatened to put him out “with an axe.” Vogel, Lucy Smith History, 250.
49. Henry Stommel and Elizabeth Stommel, “The Year without a Summer,” Scientific American 240 (June 1979): 180 81; “Volcano,” Public Broadcasting System, Nova, 1990. The Courier report was shown close up in the video.
50. In a letter referring to Joseph Sr.’s belief in magic, Jesse scornfully quoted Joseph Sr. as saying, “This is my god which brought me out of the land of Vermont.” Jesse Smith, Letter to Hyrum Smith, 17 June 1829, Stockholm, New York, Hyrum Smith, Letterbook 2 (1837 43), 59, qtd. in Richard L. Anderson, “The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Seeking,” BYU Studies 24 (Fall 1984): 526.
55. H. Michael Marquardt and Wesley P. Walters, Inventing Mormonism: Tradition and the Historical Record (San Francisco: Smith Research Associates, 1994), 3 4. I follow their careful detective work on the Palmyra area homes of the Smith family.
63. Marquardt and Walters, Inventing Mormonism, 4 6. The purchasing method seems typical for that time and place. Frequently the first payment was made over the first few months of the first year, the second on the first anniversary of the agreement, and the third at the end of two years. The seller may have required them to build a cabin, make other improvements, etc. The buyer paid the taxes during the purchase period. Lucy states, “In one year’s time we made nearly all of the first payment. The Agent adivised us to build a log house on the land and commence clearing it, we did so. It was not long till we had 30 acres ready for cultivation.” Vogel, Lucy Smith History, 277 78.
65. Marquardt and Walters, Inventing Mormonism, 3 8; Vogel, Lucy Smith History, 280n80. Richard L. Bushman argues that this second log cabin exists on paper only and was a result of an error in finding the township line in the middle of a woods. See his “Just the Facts Please,” Review of Inventing Mormonism, in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6 (1994): 122 33. Possibly they may have moved the cabin log by log onto “their” property; but this solution seems unlikely since Peter Ingersoll moved onto the Jennings property in 1822 and most likely used the cabin in which the Smiths had first lived. Dan Vogel, personal communication, 1996.
66. William Smith, Joseph’s younger brother, describes it as “mostly done in the form of fire.” “Notes Written on `Chamber’s Life of Joseph Smith,’ by William Smith,” about 1875, typescript, 20, LDS Archives, qtd. by Marquardt and Walters, Inventing Mormonism, 13n24.
72. For example, David Stafford stated that Joseph Smith, Sr., was a “drunkard and a liar … and his boys were truly a lazy set of fellows. … It was well known, that the general employment of the Smith family was money digging and fortune telling.” Barton Stafford testified that “Joseph Smith, Sen. was a noted drunkard, and most of the family followed his example” and gave an example of drunkenness in Joseph Smith Jr. G. W. Stoddard and Richard H. Ford testified, “The Smith family never made any pretentions to respectability,” and fifty signed the statement describing that the family as “destitute of that moral character, which ought to entitle them to the confidence of any community. They were particularly famous for visionary projects, spent much of their time in digging for money which they pretended was hid in the earth; and to this day, large excavations may be seen in the earth, not far from their residence, where they used to spend their time in digging for hidden treasures.” Eleven men said they “were not only a lazy, indolent set of men, but also intemperate; and their word was not to be depended upon.” See Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 249, 250 51, 261 62. Defense by the Mormon faithful against these testimonies may be found in Richard L. Anderson, “Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reappraised,” BYU Studies 10 (Spring 1970): 283 314; Anderson, “Reliability of the Early History of Lucy and Joseph Smith,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 4 (Summer 1969): 13 28, while affirmation of these statements may be found in Rodger I. Anderson, Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reexamined (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990).
75. “The improvements made on this farm was first commenced by building a log house at no small expense, and at a later date a frame house at a cost of several hundred dollars.” From “Notes Written on `Chamber’s Life of Joseph Smith,’ by William Smith,” about 1875, typescript, 17, in Marquardt and Walters, Inventing Mormonism, 13. See also Anderson, “Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reappraised,” 314.
80. Joseph Smith, Jr., et al., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 7 vols., 2d ed. rev. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1948 printing), 2:343; Dan Vogel, “Joseph Smith’s Family Dynamics,” July 1998, Sunstone Symposium, Salt Lake City; copy in my possession.
83. Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:5; Scott H. Faulring, ed., An American Prophet’s Records: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1989), 4.
85. Joseph’s age at the time is deduced from the date when the Methodists purchased the property in the woods on the Vienna Road (July 1821; Deeds of Ontario Co., Bk. G345), and the fact that Turner left Palmyra in 1822. See Wesley P. Walters, “A Reply to Dr. Bushman,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 4 (Spring 1969): 99.
87. Quinn, Magic World View, 38 39, 41, 47, 59 62, 65 72, 123, 192 224, provides extensive documentation. Although many of the reports of Joseph’s money digging activities speak in generalities, they paint a picture of episodes dating from 1819 to 1826 during which at least eighteen separate money digging attempts can be identified. After the founding of the Mormon church, Joseph Smith began to understate his past activities in magic. In the July 1838 issue of the Elders’ Journal, he answered frequently asked questions. One was whether he was a money digger. He responded, “Yes, but it was never a very profitable job to him, as he only got fourteen dollars a month for it.” Qtd. in ibid., 50. Five extensively documented papers written from an orthodox and traditional perspective discussing magic in early Mormonism were published in BYU Studies 24 (Fall 1984): Dean C. Jessee, “New Documents and Mormon Beginnings,” 397 428; Ronald W. Walker, “The Persisting Idea of American Treasure Hunting,” 429 60; Ronald W. Walker, “Joseph Smith: `The Palmyra Seer,’” 461 72; Marvin S. Hill, “Money Digging Folklore and the Beginnings of Mormonism: An Interpretive Suggestion,” 473 89; Richard L. Anderson, “The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Searching,” 489 558. Wilford Woodruff, fourth president of the church, commented that Joseph Smith found a “seer stone … by revelation some 30 feet under the earth” which he “carried … through life.” Journal, 18 May 1888, as quoted in Quinn, Early Magic World View, 148; see also Reed C. Durham, “Is There No Help for the Widow’s Son?” presidential address, Mormon History Association, 20 Apr. 1974, and Jack Adamson, “The Treasure of the Widow’s Son,” both papers published by Martin Publishing Co., Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1980. Paul Hedengren, In Defense of Faith: Assessing Arguments Against Latter day Saint Belief (Provo, UT: Bradford and Wilson, 1985), 178; Linda Sillitoe and Allen Roberts, Salamander: The Story of the Mormon Forgery Murders (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1988); Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, The Mormon Murders (New York: Werdenfeld & Nicolson, 1988). Dan Vogel, “The Location of Joseph Smith’s Early Treasure Quests,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 27 (Fall 1994): 197 231, reports exploring eighteen different sites of his treasure seeking and the evidence of money digging that still remains. Rodger I. Anderson, Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reexamined, documents twenty seven accounts of magical money digging by the Smiths, half of which involved young Joseph.
90. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 267; F. Lapham, “Interview with the Father of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, Forty Years Ago. His Account of the Finding of the Sacred Plates,” Historical Magazine … of America, 7, 2nd series (Morrisania, NY: Henry B. Dawson, 1870), reprinted in Francis W. Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America (Independence, MO: Zion’s Printing and Publishing Co., 1970), 2:387, 383 91; Brett L. Holbrook, “The Sword of Laban as a Symbol of Divine Authority and Kingship” (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1993), 2:1, 39 72, esp. 59 72. These testimonies include one from Harmony, Pennsylvania, one with Joseph’s father in Manchester, one from a sister, from the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon, and others. Others believed he still had the sword later in his life. The belief that the story of Laban and his sword was created to deal with the surgery is also the belief of RLDS surgeon William D. Morain, as discussed throughout his Sword of Laban.
93. Traditional scholars also assume that Laban is a relative. See Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert: The World of the Jaredites, in The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1988), 5, 35ff.; and John L. Sorenson, “The Composition of Lehi’s Family,” in John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks, eds., By Study and Also by Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1990), 2:174 96. Sorenson speculates that the implausibly large population of Lehite descendants might be explained by conjecturing that Lehi’s group contained many unmentioned servants and their families, although he finds such a hypothesis unlikely. He also proposes, but finds unlikely, the idea that Lehi had plural wives, since the only named or mentioned wife, Sariah, seems unlikely to be the mother of the four older sons, two younger sons born in the wilderness, and at least two otherwise unmentioned daughters, given their speculated age spread and conditions of longevity and reproductive years at the time. Ibid., 179 85. From a psychological view, I wonder if these Mormon scholars aren’t sensing and trying to account for the real (Smith) family behind the fantasy.
94. Polygamy and deceit about polygamy are two prominent examples. At the same time he was breaking the laws of the states in which the Mormons resided, he was insisting that monogamy was the rule and practice of the church. See Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986), iii 69; Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, Prophet’s Wife, “Elect Lady,” Polygamy’s Foe, 1804 1879 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1984), 95 156.
95. Perhaps the most striking example is his later attack on his wife when he accused her of being “a child of hell and literally the most wicked woman on this earth.” He also accused her of trying to poison him. Newell and Avery, Mormon Enigma, 164; see also 157 64.
96. History provides evidence that Smith’s desire for power and control became extreme toward the end of his life. He formed, or at least sanctioned the activities of, a secret “Danite” band which used intimidation and threats to enforce compliance, then organized the secret Council of Fifty to set up the political kingdom of God, and had himself secretly crowned king by this group. Klaus J. Hansen, Quest for Empire: The Political Kingdom of God and the Council of Fifty in Mormon History (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1970), 72 179.
101. Inconsistently, this plan did not work out. Ishmael’s sons stayed with Laman and Lemuel, thus becoming enemies (BM 271; Alma 17:19). Ishmael’s descendants, whom I suggest represent Isaac Hale’s extended family, thus become a major element in Joseph’s fantasy conquest of them that occupies so large a section of the Book of Mormon.