Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith
Robert D. Anderson
Joseph Grows Up: Nephi and Jesus
From a psychoanalytic perspective, Joseph Smith’s “first story” in 1–2 Nephi establishes the themes that dominate his psychological task of dealing with real life misfortunes through fantasies of reversal and exaggerated compensation. From them, as a psychiatrist, I can anticipate hearing repeated versions of four brothers, one a leader (or four brothers and a leader), wine and swords that will introduce us to various disguised versions of his surgery, and an arduous and disruptive relocation. I can also begin looking for these same psychological coping mechanisms throughout his life as he deals with his socially inferior and disadvantaged family. In these Book of Mormon stories, the heroes are Joseph Smith’s alter egos; other people from his real life are diminished or presented as evil. I hypothesize that Smith’s motive is to gain power over people and reverse his childhood helplessness, particularly during his surgery. Later narratives in the Book of Mormon will provide reasons for embellishing, reinforcing, diminishing, modifying, or retracting these initial views.
I believe that the application of psychoanalytical theory to Smith’s autobiography and to the Book of Mormon narratives in chapter 2 provides persuasive reasons for seeing the Book of Mormon as a disguised version of Smith’s life. This conclusion is what we should expect, according to the general experience of applied psychoanalysis. But the narrative’s secondary themes also merit attention. For example, the story of Lehi’s family wandering in the wilderness echoes the exodus from Egypt of the children of Israel and their wandering, under Moses’ guidance, in the Sinai desert for forty years.1 Biblical motifs and events recur throughout the Book of Mormon. But I argue that Smith also braids into his book concepts from his readings and from local and national current events. This ability to integrate past, present, personal, local, national, and global events will be a major aspect of his religious genius.
I have tried to show how, in the first story in the Book of Mormon, Smith relates an abbreviated story of his life until his mid teens, with emphasis on his childhood—his surgery when he was between five and seven, and the humiliating family migration from Vermont to New York when he was about ten. He mentions only briefly later events such as his marriage and the construction of the family homes. Throughout the Book of Mormon he tells and retells various events from his life, but the clearest, most concise, and chronologically exact review of his adolescence and early adulthood to age twenty four (when he began dictating the present version of the Book of Mormon to Oliver Cowdery) is 3 Nephi. Believers consider this book the most important and sacred of the Book of Mormon narratives, for it recounts the spectacular visit of the resurrected Jesus to the American continent.
This chapter first describes Smith’s life to age twenty four. Then it summarizes the story of Nephi, a descendent and namesake of the first Nephi, with emphasis on the psychological parallels between the two accounts that will help build a cohesive assessment of Joseph Smith.
Splitting as Joseph Smith’s Primary
Psychological Defense in the Book of Mormon
The world of the Book of Mormon is dyadic: good/bad; white/black. Most psychologists agree that such polarization characterizes the child’s earliest forms of thinking:
This division of internalized object relations [i.e., people and things] into “good” and “bad” happens at first simply because of the lack of integrative capacity of the early ego … [and later] is used defensively by the emerging ego in order to prevent the generalization of anxiety … by [the] … maintaining apart of mental images of these important people which contain conflicted feelings and ideas.
This defensive division of the ego, in which what was at first a simple defect in integration is then used actively for other purposes [and] is in essence the mechanism of splitting. This mechanism is normally used only in an early stage of ego development during the first year of life and rapidly is replaced by higher defensive operations of the ego which center around repression and related mechanisms such as reaction formation, isolation, and undoing. … In contrast, in pathological conditions … this mechanism … persists. …
Under these pathological circumstances, contradictory ego states are alternately activated; and so long as these contradictory ego states can be kept separate from each other, anxiety is prevented. Such a state of affairs is, of course, very detrimental … and underlies the syndrome of identity diffusion.2
Judging people and events in these simple polarized opposites is a stage we all pass through; in attenuated form, it exists even in normal healthy adults. Usually it is relegated to the artistic part of life or emerges in creative regression. It is found in comic strips, some plays, paintings, opera, and especially movies. It is found in adult narcissistic personalities and also in fundamentalistic religions which divide the world into “us”/“them,” good/bad, saved/unsaved. The Book of Mormon presents this polarized world with its division of people into “righteous” and “evil.” Nephites are white and Lamanites black (red); the Nephites tend to slip rapidly from unusually good to unusually bad. It is instructive, I believe, that Joseph Smith about fifteen years later manifested more complex thinking and articulated a view of heaven with multiple gradations (D&C 76).
For example, Nephi the son of Lehi described his vision of Joseph Smith’s world. In it, Roman Catholicism, as seen through the eyes of nineteenth century Protestantism, was a completely evil organization:
I saw among the nations of the Gentiles, the foundation of a great church. … which is most abominable above all other churches, which slayeth the Saints of God. … and I saw the devil, that he was the founder of it. And I also saw gold, and silver, and silks, and scarlets, and fine twined linen, and all manner of precious clothing; and I saw many harlots. … and also for the praise of the world do they destroy the Saints of God, and also bring them down into captivity. (BM 28 29; 1 Ne. 13:4 9)
This “abominable” church corrupted the Bible, according to the Book of Mormon, censoring and altering the scriptures until “an exceeding great many [people] do stumble, yea insomuch that Satan hath great power over them” (BM 30; 1 Ne. 13:20 29). The Book of Mormon text makes it clear that there are only two churches:
And [the angel] saith unto me, Look. … Behold, there is save it be, two churches: the one is the church of the Devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God, belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth. …
And … I beheld the church of the lamb of God, and its numbers were few, because of the wickedness and abominations of the whore. (BM 33; 1 Ne. 14:9 12)
Smith canonized this polarity into a religious philosophy. Lehi, in a sermon to his son Jacob, described how all would come before God to be judged, receiving the punishment affixed to their sinfulness:
which punishment that is affixed is in opposition to that of the happiness which is affixed, to answer the ends of the atonement; for it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. … [wherefore] … even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter; wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man, that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself, save it should be that he were enticed by the one or the other. (BM 63 64; 2 Ne. 2:10 16)
From a psychoanalytic perspective, seeing an “opposition in all things” requires wrenching the world into polarized images. Only occasionally do healthy people feel such tension.
I believe that splitting—or actively keeping apart identifications, internal mental images, conflicted feelings, and memories that are part of the child’s personality—underlies all other psychological defenses for Joseph Smith. When splitting becomes a permanent, major defense past early childhood, it is
a fundamental cause of ego weakness. … The direct clinical manifestation of splitting may be the alternative expression of complementary sides of a conflict in certain character disorders, combined with a bland denial and lack of concern over the contradiction in his behavior and internal experience. … [But] probably the best known manifestation of splitting is the division of external objects [such as individuals or churches] into “all good” ones and “all bad” ones, with the concomitant possibility of complete, abrupt shifts of an object from one extreme compartment to the other; that is, sudden and complete reversals of all feelings and conceptualizations about a particular person.3
Delusion and Deception in Joseph Smith’s Adolescence
As we have seen, Joseph Smith grew up in a family that experienced significant relationship problems and financial difficulties. He accepted his father’s dreams as religious visions and participated with his father, brothers Alvin and sometimes Hyrum, and neighbors in money digging and other magic practices. He himself used both a divining rod and seer stone. To deal with the inevitable failure, the participant must fuse self deception with deception of others. In other words, convincing others reinforces one’s own belief and substitutes for objective evidence. Group belief is necessary.4 According to contemporary accounts, Joseph Jr. began using a divining rod for money digging at about age thirteen or fourteen; before age seventeen, he became a seer searching for treasure.5 (See chapter 2.) I take the position that the line between “magic” and “miracle” was a blurred one for the adolescent Joseph. His account of a visit from the angel and his discovery of the buried gold records have elements of both: it is a semi magical and also semi Christian miracle. This event is disguised in a Book of Mormon narrative.
ABSENCE OF THE FIRST VISION IN THE BOOK OF MORMON
Significantly, the Book of Mormon does not contain a version of Smith’s first vision of God and Jesus, except, perhaps, in an embryonic and undifferentiated form (BM 519; Mormon 1:15) that I will discuss in chapter 7 as an example of follower enhancement. The reason, I argue, is that the story, as we have it, at least, did not exist until after the publication of the Book of Mormon. In the now canonized version of that first vision, written in 1838 when he was thirty three, Smith describes his turmoil during a local revival because of competition among the various religions. When he prayed to know which church to join, God and Jesus appeared to him, condemned all Christianity, told him to join “none of them,” and implied he would be the means of restoring the original Church of Christ as it had existed in the days of the apostles. Although Smith dates this revival in the spring of 1820 when he was fourteen, no known revival occurred in Palmyra between 1818 and 1823, especially not one that caused the kind of furor Smith describes. The revival which matches his description occurred in 1824 25 (he turned nineteen in December 1824) and is confirmed in the Protestant church records, town newspapers, and personal memoirs. Thus Joseph moved the revival back in time four years.6 Until Smith wrote about this experience in his late twenties, the story apparently did not exist. The most vigorous search by the most devout Mormon historians produces the same conclusion. No one—not family, friends, or enemies—knew this story. In personal writings and conversations, Smith began to develop his first vision story which makes its first written appearance in 1832, again in 1835, and finally in 1838. All three surviving versions give him a different age at the time of the vision, assign different purposes in praying, and at least partially disagree on the preliminary supernatural experiences leading up to the vision, the number of heavenly visitors, and their identity.7
ROLE OF THE ANGEL/GUARDIAN SPIRIT
The first official first vision account was a rambling and lengthy version written by Oliver Cowdery in association with Joseph Smith and published in the first church newspaper, the Messenger and Advocate in 1834.8 Smith prayed in 1823 “for … the all important information, if a Supreme being did exist, [and] to have an assurance that he was accepted of him.” In response, the angelic guardian of the buried gold book visited him. Earlier unofficial versions (both friendly and unfriendly) place this story in the context of money digging and magic. Lucy Smith also introduces the story of the angel in the context of magic, a context that was silently edited from all published versions until 1996:
I shall change my theme for the present but let not my reader suppose that because I shall pursue another topic for a season that we stopt our labor and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac drawing Magic circles or sooth saying to the neglect of all kinds of business we never during lives suffered one important interest to swallow up every other obligation but whilst we worked with our hands we endeavored to remember the service of & the welfare of our souls.9
Lucy thus defends her family against accusations of laziness but shows no discomfort in revealing the family’s ongoing involvement with magic practices.
Mormon historian D. Michael Quinn and others have reconstructed the earliest contours of the story about the angel and the buried gold records within a magical context.10 Seeking forgiveness for his sins, Smith prayed at about 11:00 p.m. on Sunday, 21 September 1823, the night of the autumn equinox and a full moon. Although he does not quote his prayer or suggest accompanying rituals, I argue that the act of praying on that date was itself ritualistic. In addition to the significance of the full moon and the equinox, Sunday was the only night of the week ruled by Jupiter, Smith’s ruling planet. In response a dead man, guardian of a treasure book which he had buried, appeared to Smith and repeated his instructions three times, a number with magic significance, without the least variation. The first published newspaper references and early Mormon leaders equated these events to a thrice repeated dream.11 A close Mormon friend who became Smith’s financial backer said Smith had, earlier that evening, been seer to a group of money diggers.12
According to his canonized account, Smith reported in 1838 that, when he went to the hill on Monday, “owing to the distinctness of vision which I had concerning it, I knew the place the instant I arrived there.” However, contemporary witnesses, both Mormon and non Mormon, remembered that Smith said he used his seer stone to find the gold plates.13
Smith’s earliest version of this encounter with the angel was recorded in 1832 (but not published until the late 1960s):
It was on the 22nd day of September AD 1822 . Thus [the angel] appeared to me three times in one night and once on the next day. Then I immediately went to the place and found where the plates was deposited as the angel of the Lord had commanded me and straightway made three attempts to get them. Then being exceedingly frightened I suppose it had been a dreem of Vision, but when I consid[e]red I knew that it was not. Therefore I cried unto the Lord in the angony of my soul, “Why can I not obtain them?”
Behold the angel appeared unto me again and said unto me, “You have not kept the commandments of the Lord which I gave unto you. Therefore you cannot now obtain them for the time is not yet fulfilled. Therefore thou wast left unto temptation that thou mightest be made acquainted with the power of the Lord [and] thou shalt be forgiven. And in his own due time thou shalt obtain them.”
For now I had been tempted of the advisary and saught the Plates to obtain riches and kept not the commandment that I should have an eye single to the glory of God. Therefore I was chastened.14
In the 1835 and 1838 accounts, Quinn summarizes that Smith removed four elements from this 1832 version suggesting a magic context. (1) Smith made three attempts to pull the book out of the box but could not. (2) He was “exceedingly frightened,” not just “afraid” (1838 version).15 (3) The angel rebuked him for disobedience without specifying how he was disobedient. (4) He acknowledged that he could see the plates as a source of income. In comparison, the canonized 1838 version dropped these details and any sense of his dialogue with the angel:
On the west side of this hill [Cumorah] not far from the top, under a stone of considerable size, lay the plates deposited in a stone box[.] This stone was thick and rounding in the middle on the upper side, and thinner toward the edges, so that the middle part of it was visible above the ground. … Having removed the earth and obtained a lever which I got fixed under the edge of the stone … I looked in, and there indeed did I behold the plates, the Urim and Thummin, and the Breastplate as stated by the messenger[.] The box in which they lay was formed by laying stones together in some kind of cement. … I made an attempt to take them out, but was forbidden by the messenger, and was again informed that the time [for] bringing them forth had not yet arrived, neither would it, until four years from that time, but he told me that I should come to that place precisely in one year from that time, and that he would there meet with me, and that I should continue to do so until the time should come for obtaining the plates.16
Two non Mormon neighbors, one friendly and one unfriendly, left accounts many years later that explain why Smith described himself in the early draft of his experience as “exceedingly frightened” of the angel. Both men say that, along with the plates in the box, Smith saw something “like a toad,” which then transformed itself into the angel. According to one of the accounts, this being struck Smith on the side of the head. Such stories were a common part of the magic tradition.17
Both Lucy Mack Smith and Joseph Knight, a devoted friend in his late fifties and later a Mormon himself, also give versions of the angel story. Both leave in details which Smith later removed. They also suggest why he was unable to get the plates. He had been commanded not to let the plates out of his hands; when he set them down to look for “something else” in the box, thus violating the precise instructions, the plates vanished. Lucy described the problem:
He vis[i]ted the place where the plates were laid and thinking he could keep every commandment given him supposed that it would be possible for him to take them from their place and carry them home. But said the divine messenger you must take them into your hands and go straight to the house without delay. … Accordingly … he went to the place appointed. … He put forth his hand and took them up but when he lifted them from their place the thought flashed across his mind that there might be something more in the box that would be a benefit to him in a pecuniary point of view. … He laid the record down in order to cover up the box least some one should come along. … When he turned again to take up the record it was gone. … He was much alarmed at this. He asked the Lord why. … The angel appeared to him and told him that he had not done as he was commanded in that he laid down the record in order to secure some imaginary treasure that remained. … After some further conversation Joseph was permitted to raise the stone again and there he beheld the plates the same as before. He reached forth his hand to take them but was thrown to the ground. … He arose and went to the house.18
Joseph Knight adds a critical detail:
He oncovered it [the box in the ground] and found the Book and took it out and laid [it] Down By his side and thot he would Cover the place over again thinkin[g] there might be something else here. But he was told to take the Book and go right away. And after he had Covered the place he turned round to take the Book and it was not there and he was astonished that the Book was gone. He thot he would look in the place again and see if it had not got Back again. He had heard people tell of such things. And he opened the Box and Behold the Book was there. He took hold of it to take it out again and Behold he Could not stur the Book any more then he Could the mountin. He exclaimed “why Cant I stur this Book?” And he was answerd, “you have not Done rite; you should have took the Book and a gone right away. You cant have it now.” Joseph says, “when can I have it?” The answer was the 22nd Date of September next if you Bring the right person with you. Joseph says, “who is the right person?” The answer was “your oldest Brother.”19
This ritual struggle is a familiar theme in other stories from Smith’s period about obtaining buried treasures by magical means. Other unfriendly accounts agree with Knight. Smith was to return in one year with his “serious and industrious” brother Alvin.20
A couple of observations are important at this point. First, it is my professional opinion that the story of a guardian angel protecting a gold record began as a fantasy in Smith’s mind but, reinforced by the belief of his family and followers, it increasingly became a psychological reality to him. Second, in the 1838 canonized account the angel is different from the 1832 crafty guardian spirit who made such strange exactions. Even the first official printed version of this story, written by Oliver Cowdery and published in 1834, describes a brilliant angel circled in nonconsuming fire who quotes Old Testament scripture and tells Smith about the record of ancient America.21 Earlier versions of the angel/guardian, many from unfriendly and retrospective sources, are less biblical. The angel/guardian is described variously as a “little old man with a long beard,” a “large, tall man dressed in an ancient suit of clothes covered with blood,” a “Spaniard … with his throat cut,” a plainly dressed Quaker, “the spirit of one of the Saints that was on this continent … previous to Columbus, and finally an angel.”22
The traditional orthodox position is that the speakers were probably motivated by malice or were passing on much changed hearsay. This explanation may be true or partially true; however, Smith himself, as we have seen, also gave various versions of the story and gave the angel/guardian spirit two different identities. In the manuscript of his official history (1838) and printed version (1842, published under his review) and again in 1851 (after his death), the name of the angel was Nephi—the first major prophet in the Book of Mormon. That is what his mother said in 1844 as well; so did Mary Musser Whitmer, mother of five of the Book of Mormon’s eleven official witnesses. Meanwhile, in 1832, and also in 1838 (in the Elder’s Journal), Smith called the angel Moroni, the last prophet in the book. The official version now names only Moroni; it is Moroni, not Nephi, who trumpets from atop Mormon temples around the world, and the book he holds is presumed to be the Book of Mormon.23 Not only did Smith relate various versions of the angel story, but they progressively reduce the magic context for the angel’s first interactions with him.
THE DEATH OF ALVIN SMITH
The guardian spirit assigned an important role to Alvin Smith as a necessary companion before Joseph could receive the book. Only two months afterwards, however, Alvin became ill. The family’s usual physician was away and the physician from the next town gave Alvin calomel (mercurous chloride), a toxin frequently used as a purgative. Alvin died after four agonizing days. An autopsy discovered the calomel untouched in the upper bowel, surrounded by gangrene. The doctors performing the autopsy were distressed at the medical misjudgment of a “careless quack.”24 This episode was the second negative experience with physicians. A doctor had been unable to help Sophronia during the typhoid epidemic and then may have caused Joseph’s leg infection; in three successive operations, he and others inflicted excruciating pain on Joseph. Now another doctor had killed Alvin, and still others had mutilated his body. During the funeral service, Presbyterian minister Benjamin Stockton implied that Alvin would go to hell because he had not joined the church. This sermon distressed all of the family and irrevocably alienated Joseph Sr. from the Presbyterians.25
Even given the tendency to glorify the dead, Alvin seems to have been remarkably responsible and decent. Singlehanded, he made the second payment on their land and home. Now a third payment was coming due, and the guardian angel had designated him as Joseph’s companion to receive the records, yet he had died—suddenly and unnecessarily. It was a heavy blow for the family.26
Psychologically speaking, it is probable that Alvin’s death at the hands of a physician stirred feelings and memories of Joseph’s earlier surgery. These two episodes are, in my opinion, combined, expressed, and narrated in a variety of ways in the Book of Mormon. Alvin’s death altered Joseph’s position within the family. I see his parents passing over Hyrum to give him a central place. Unlike Alvin, he had survived the attack by physicians and he was now emerging as a seer. Both factors together suggested that he had unusual powers or that God was taking a personal interest in him. Lucy’s history shows that it was Joseph Jr., not Joseph Sr., who took the dominant place in family evenings at the fireside:
From this time forth Joseph continued to receive instructions from time to time and every evening we gathered our children together[.] I think that we presented the most peculiar aspect of any family that ever lived upon the Earth all seated in a circle[,] father[,] Mother[,] sons and Daughters listening in breathless anxiety to the religious teachings of a boy 16 y[e]ars of age who had never read the Bible through by course in his life for Joseph was less inclined to the study of books than any child we had but much more given to reflection and deep study[.]
In the course of our evening conversations Joseph would give us some of the most amusing recitals which could be immagined[.] he would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent[,] their dress[,] their maner of traveling[,] the animals which they rode[,] The cities that were built by them[,] the structure of their warfare[,] their religious worship as particularly as though he had spent his life with them[.]27
Thus the Smith family was nurturing young Joseph’s claims to be a person with supernatural powers, and Joseph had opportunity to develop the stories later to be found in the Book of Mormon.
THE PALMYRA REVIVALS OF 1824–25
After Alvin’s death in November 1823, the religious revivals began that Smith would later date to 1820. Lucy’s manuscript biography confirms that the revivals came after, not before, Alvin’s death and provides some information concerning the Smith family’s participation:
when Joseph spoke of the [buried gold] record it would immediately bring Alvin to our minds … [and] we all wept … and we could not be comforted[.]
About this time their was a great revival in religion and the whole neighborhood was very much aroused to the subject and we among the rest flocked to the meeting house to see if their was a word of comfort for us that might relieve our overcharged feelings but as there was at this time a man there laboring in that place to effect a union of all the churches that all denominations might be agreed to worship god with one mind and one heart.28
Again and again in the Book of Mormon, disguised versions of the revival follow immediately after a good man meets an untimely end at the hands of evildoers. It becomes an important motif to add to those already established in the Book of Mormon stories.
The revival commenced near Palmyra in the early spring of 1824, four or five months after Alvin’s death, and continued with moderate enthusiasm until September under the direction of Presbyterian minister Benjamin Stockton, who had so offended Joseph Sr. at Alvin’s funeral. Methodist revivalist George Lane had the reputation for being a man of good “gifts,” much “grace,” and “usefulness.”29 He arrived on 25 September 1824, and the intensity of the revival picked up dramatically. Lane left the area on 22 December (by which time 150 had converted), but the revival continued into the first three months of 1825, and by March nearly 400 had been converted. It was truly a local phenomenon, for over 400 people converted to the Baptists, Methodists, or Presbyterians by September 1825 from a town of 3,500.30 Apparently the contrast in Lane’s and Stockton’s preaching styles made them an effective team. Book of Mormon revivals will feature two styles of preachers—one harsh and threatening, the other preaching the love and grace of Jesus.
According to William Smith, Joseph Sr. boycotted the revivals, while Lucy, Sophronia, Hyrum, and Samuel joined the Presbyterians under Stockton. William adds that Joseph was “one of several hopeful converts” to the Methodists, but Joseph’s version is only that he had been “partial” to the Methodists. Significantly, William remembered that Lane “preached a sermon on `what church shall I join?’ And the burden of his discourse was to ask God, using as a text, `If any man lack wisdom let him ask of God who giveth to all men liberally, [James 1:5].’”31 Lane’s direction appears as an important though unattributed motivation in Joseph’s first vision story, and I assume from this and other evidence within the Book of Mormon (discussed below) that Smith took a keen interest in these preaching services.
Public Humiliation and the Abandonment of Magic
Thus the five yearly visits of the angel between 1823 and 1827 overlapped significantly with the period of most intense religious revivals in and around Palmyra. Smith was seventeen at the beginning of this period, twenty two at its close. Yet the townspeople do not remember his stories about the angel/messenger or the record in the context of Christianity or the revivals. To them, he was a youthful seer seeking treasure by magical means. Over twenty seven testimonies survive about the Smith family’s involvement in magic money digging; half describe Joseph’s involvement.32 It seems clear that Joseph had one foot in Christian revivalism and the other in magic. However, according to Michael Quinn, after 1826 Smith minimized his involvement in magic in favor of Christianity.33
Quinn argues,34 and I agree, that one crucial event was Smith’s marriage, significant in itself but also because it solved the problem of taking Alvin to the yearly encounter with the guardian spirit. According to Joseph Knight, the angel told Smith at the 1826 meeting to bring someone else instead of Alvin. “Joseph says, `who is the right Person?’ The answer was you will know. Then he looked in his glass [seer stone] and found it was Emma Hale, Daughter of old Mr. Hail of Pensylvany, a girl that he had seen Before, for he had Bin Down there Before with me.”35
THE SOUTH BAINBRIDGE TRIAL, 1826
Another event in 1826, however, was far more important than his marriage in shifting his attention away from magic. In fact, in psychological terms, I see his marriage as hardly more than a side issue in this larger context. In March 1826 Peter Bridgeman brought charges against Smith for magic and money digging. Smith’s version of the trial in South Bainbridge, New York, written by Oliver Cowdery, was that “some very officious person complained of him as a disorderly person, and brought him before the authorities of the country; but there being no cause of action he was honorably acquitted.”36 This version is considerably more positive than the actual happening.
About 120 miles from Palmyra lived a wealthy, strong minded, industrious Dutch farmer named Josiah/Isaiah Stowell/Stoal. He was fifty six years old, a Presbyterian deacon with grown children, who lived near South Bainbridge (now Afton), Chenango County, New York, about twenty miles from the Pennsylvania border. He believed in magic treasure seeking and believed there was a silver mine near Harmony (later Lanesboro, now Oakland), Pennsylvania, just over the state line. This supposed silver mine had been operated by the Spaniards, then lost to history along with a cache of coins and bullion. Stowell had hired diggers in the summer of 1825 but had failed to find the mine. Through his son, Simpson Stowell, who lived in the Palmyra Manchester area, he heard of Joseph Smith and traveled to Manchester to meet him. Using his magic stone in a white stove pipe hat, Smith described specific details about Stowell’s farm, convincing Stowell of his supernatural talents. Stowell hired Smith to help find the Spanish cave and paid him $14 a month plus room and board. For the first few weeks Joseph Jr. and Joseph Sr. boarded at the nearby home of Isaac Hale. Here Joseph Jr. met Emma. A group of nine money diggers, including the two Smiths, Stowell, Isaac Hale, and one of his sons signed an agreement on 1 November 1825 specifying how the mine’s treasure would be divided when it was found.37 Isaac Hale quickly became disillusioned and contemptuous of the treasure seeking effort.
Meanwhile, in Manchester, panic ensued when the new owners of the Smith property arrived in Lucy’s frame house with a signed deed. The new land agent had heard rumors from a neighbor who wanted the farm that the Smiths had burned sugar maple trees, torn down the fences, and were otherwise damaging the property. Hyrum sent an urgent message after his father, Joseph Sr. dashed home, and the entire family mounted a strenuous effort to reverse the sale. The land agent retrieved the deed; because the Smiths could not make the payment, they compromised on selling the land to Lemuel Durfee, a Quaker, who charitably allowed the Smiths to remain as tenants in their unfinished farmhouse for a year. One of the Smith boys would work for Durfee as rent.38
Joseph Jr., arguably the hope of the family, did not return home to cope with this financial crisis. I suggest that, perhaps on an unconscious level, Joseph Sr. and Lucy both saw Joseph’s financial contribution as either finding the treasure through his supernatural talents or by manipulating Josiah Stowell. After his father’s departure, Joseph moved to the Stowell home where Stowell’s children became concerned that their father was squandering his fortune. Finally Stowell’s nephew, Peter Bridgeman,39 acted for the children and had Smith arrested as a “disorderly person and an imposter,” jailed overnight, and brought up the next morning before Judge Albert Neeley for a pre trial examination.
Two accounts of his trial have survived: one by W. D. Purple, a respected local physician and clerk, and the account from the court docket. Neither is friendly to Joseph Smith, and both differ in style and content, with Purple emphasizing the dramatic and narrative elements, while the court reporter focused on evidence that would justify (or not) a full trial.40 Purple described the events leading to the trial:
Mr. Stowell was a man of much force of character, of indomitable will, and well fitted as a pioneer in the unbroken wilderness that this country possessed at the close of the last century. … He was a very industrious, exemplary man, and by severe labor and frugality had acquired surroundings that excited the envy of many of his less fortunate neighbors. He had at this time grown up sons and daughters to share his property and the honors of his name.
About this time he took upon himself a monomaniacal impression to seek for hidden treasures which he believed were buried in the earth. He hired help and repaired to Northern Pennsylvania, in the vicinity of Lanesboro [previously named Harmony], to prosecute his search for untold wealth which he believed to be buried there … and camped out on the black hills of that region for weeks at a time, [as] was freely admitted by himself and family. …
There had lived a few years previous to this date, in the vicinity of Great Bend, a poor man named Joseph Smith, who, with his family, had removed to the western part of the State, and lived in squalid poverty near Palmyra, in Ontario County. Mr. Stowell, while at Lanesboro, heard of the fame of one of his sons, named Joseph, who by the aid of a magic stone had become a famous seer of lost or hidden treasures. … In due time he arrived at the humble log cabin, midway between Canandaigua and Palmyra, and found the sought for treasure in the person of Joseph Smith, Jr. a lad of some eighteen years of age. He, with the magic stone, was at once transferred from his humble abode to a more pretentious mansion of Deacon Stowell. Here, in the estimation of the Deacon, he confirmed his conceded powers as a seer, by means of the stone which he placed in his hat, and by excluding the light from all other terrestrial things, could see whatever he wished, even in the depths of the earth. This omniscient attribute he firmly claimed. Deacon Stowell and others as firmly believed it. …
In February, 1826, the sons of Mr. Stowell, who lived with their father, were greatly incensed against Smith, as they plainly saw their father squandering his property in the fruitless search for hidden treasures, and saw that the youthful seer had unlimited control over the illusions of their sire. They made up their mind that “patience had ceased to be a virtue,” and … caused the arrest of Smith as a vagrant, without visible means of livelihood. The trial came on in the above mentioned month, before Albert Neeley, Esquire, the father of Bishop Neeley of the State of Maine. I was an intimate friend of the Justice, and was invited to take notes of the trial which I did.41
Smith, called as the first witness, confirmed but tried to downplay his money digging activities. The docket reads:
Prisoner examined. Says that he came from town of Palmyra, and had been at the house of Josiah Stowell in Bainbridge most of time since; had small part of time been employed in looking for mines, but the major part had been employed by said Stowell on his farm, and going to school; that he had a certain stone, which he had occasionally looked at to determine where hidden treasures in the bowels of the earth were; that he professed to tell in this manner where gold mines were a distance under ground, and had looked for Mr. Stowell several times, and informed him where he could find those treasures, and Mr. Stowell had been engaged in digging for them; that at Palmyra he pretended to tell, by looking at this stone, where coined money was buried in Pennsylvania, and while at Palmyra he had frequently ascertained in that way where lost property was, of various kinds; that he had occasionally been in the habit of looking through this stone to find lost property for three years, but of late had pretty much given it up on account its injuring his health, especially his eyes—made them sore; that he did not solicit business of this kind, and had always rather declined having anything to do with this business.42
Purple’s account relates how Smith says he discovered his seer stone:
He said when he was a lad, he heard of a neighboring girl some three miles from him, who could look into a glass and see anything however hidden from others; that he was seized with a strong desire to see her and her glass; that after much effort he induced his parents to let him visit her. He did so, and was permitted to look in the glass, which was placed in a hat to exclude the light. He was greatly surprised to see but one thing, which was a small stone, a great way off. It soon became luminous, and dazzled his eyes, and after a short time it became as intense as the mid day sun. He said that the stone was under the roots of a tree or shrub as large as his arm, situated about a mile up a stream that puts in on the South side of Lake Erie, not far from the New York and Pennsylvania line. He often had an opportunity to look in the glass, and with the same result. The luminous stone alone attracted his attention. This singular circumstance occupied his mind for some years, when he left his father’s house, and with his youthful zeal traveled west in search of this luminous stone.
He took a few shillings in money and some provisions with him. He stopped on the road with a farmer, and worked three days, and replenished his means of support. After traveling some one hundred and fifty miles he found himself at the mouth of the creek. He did not have the glass with him, but he knew its exact location. He borrowed an old ax and a hoe, and repaired to the tree. With some labor and exertion he found the stone, carried it to the creek, washed and wiped it dry, sat down on the bank, placed it in his hat, and discovered that time, place and distance were annihilated; that all the intervening obstacles were removed, and that he possessed one of the attributes of Deity, an All Seeing Eye. He arose with a thankful heart, carried his tools to their owner, turned his feet towards the rising sun, and sought with weary limbs his long deserted home.
On the request of the Court, he exhibited the stone. It was about the size of a small hen’s egg, in the shape of a high instepped shoe.43 It was composed of layers of different colors passing diagonally through it. It was very hard and smooth, perhaps by being carried in the pocket.
Stowell himself testified, offering unwavering support for Smith. According to the docket, he admitted that they had never discovered treasure but attributed the cause to the treasure’s mobility (again a quality of treasure in the Book of Mormon):
Josiah Stowell sworn. Says that prisoner had been at his house something like five months. Had been employed by him to work on farm part of time; that he pretended to have skill of telling where hidden treasures in the earth were, by means of looking through a certain stone; that prisoner had looked for him sometimes—once to tell him about money … once for gold … and once for a salt spring—and that he positively knew that the prisoner could tell, and professed the art of seeing those valuable treasures through the medium of said stone: that he found the digging part … as prisoner represented it; that prisoner had looked through said stone for Deacon Attelon, for a mine—did not exactly find it, but got a piece of ore, which resembled gold, he thinks; that prisoner had told by means of this stone where a Mr. Bacon had buried money; that he and prisoner had been in search of it; the prisoner said that it was in a certain root of a stump five feet from surface of the earth, and with it would be found a tail feather; that said Stowell and prisoner there upon commenced digging, found a tail feather, but money was gone; that he supposed that money moved down; that prisoner did offer his services; that he never deceived him; that prisoner looked through stone, and described Josiah’s Stowell’s house and out houses while at Palmyra, at Simpson Stowell’s, correctly; that he had told about a painted tree with a man’s hand painted upon it, by means of said stone; that he had been in company with prisoner digging for gold, and had the most implicit faith in prisoner’s skill.
Purple’s account confirms Stowell’s steadfast defense of Smith:
He [Stowell] confirmed all that is said above in relation to himself, and delineated many other circumstances not necessary to record. He swore that the prisoner possessed all the power he claimed, and declared he could see things fifty feet below the surface of the earth, as plain as the witness could see what was on the Justice’s table, and described very many circumstances to confirm his words. Justice Neeley soberly looked at the witness and in a solemn, dignified voice, said, “Deacon Stowell, do I understand you as swearing before God, under the solemn oath you have taken, that you believe the prisoner can see by the aid of the stone fifty feet below the surface of the earth, as plainly as you can see what is on my table?” “Do I believe it?” says Deacon Stowell, “do I believe it? No, it is not a matter of belief. I positively know it to be true.”
Jonathan Thompson, who dug with Smith and Stowell, testified that charmed and guarded treasures were difficult and frightening to obtain. Again such stories find suggestive echoes in the earliest versions of Smith’s series of “encounters” with the angel/guardian figure which would have been occurring during this same period of time. According to the docket:
Jonathan Thompson says that prisoner was requested to look [on] Yeomans [property] for chest of money; did look, and pretended to know where it was, and that prisoner, Thompson, and Yeomans went in search of it; that Smith arrived at spot first (was in night); that Smith looked in hat while there, and when very dark, and told how the chest was situated. After digging several feet, struck upon something sounding like a board or plank. Prisoner could not look again, pretending that he was alarmed the last time that he looked, on account of the circumstances relating to the trunk being buried came all fresh to his mind; that the last time that he looked, he discovered distinctly the two Indians who buried the trunk that a quarrel ensued between them, and that one of said Indians was killed by the other, and thrown into the hole beside the trunk, to guard it, as he supposed. Thompson says that he believes in the prisoner’s professed skill; that the board which he struck his spade upon was probably the chest, but, on account of an enchantment, the trunk kept settling away from under them while digging; that, notwithstanding they continued constantly removing the dirt, yet the trunk kept about the same distance from them.
Purple’s summary of Thompson’s testimony is very similar:
Smith had told the Deacon that very many years before a band of robbers had buried on his flat a box of treasure, and as it was very valuable they had by a sacrifice placed a charm over it to protect it, so that it could not be obtained except by faith, accompanied by certain talismanic influences. So, after arming themselves with fasting and prayer, they sallied forth to the spot designated by Smith. Digging was commenced with fear and trembling, in the presence of this imaginary charm. In a few feet from the surface the box of treasure was struck by the shovel, on which they redoubled their energies, but it gradually receded from their grasp. One of the men placed his hand upon the box, but it gradually sunk from his reach. After some five feet in depth had been attained without success, a council of war against this spirit of darkness was called, and they resolved that the lack of faith, or some untoward mental emotion, was the cause of their failure.
As we have seen, Smith, in the earliest versions of the story about the gold records of the Book of Mormon, disobeyed the guardian’s/angel’s command and promptly lost possession of the book. Purple’s summary of Thompson’s testimony continues with a somewhat different version of Smith’s strategy for satisfying the guardian spirit and obtaining the treasure:
In this emergency the fruitful mind of Smith was called on to devise a way to obtain the prize. Mr. Stowell went to his flock and selected a fine vigorous lamb, and resolved to sacrifice it to the demon spirit who guarded the coveted treasure. Shortly after the venerable Deacon might be seen on his knees at prayer near the pit, while Smith, with a lantern in one hand to dispel the midnight darkness might be seen making a circuit around the spot, sprinkling the flowing blood from the lamb upon the ground, as a propitiation to the spirit that thwarted them. They then descended the excavation, but the treasure still receded from their grasp, and it was never obtained.
The docket book report by Judge Albert Neeley concludes, “And thereupon the Court finds the defendent guilty,” which, in context, probably meant guilty enough to go to a full trial, with the conclusion fairly obvious. In 1971 two pieces of paper—original holographs from this legal examination—were found in the basement of the county jail in Norwich, New York.44 These were bills for the cost of the trial from Judge Albert Neeley and his constable, Philip DeZeng. These charges confirm the trial, but also include charges for notifying two more justices of the peace so that a full trial—a “Court of Special Sessions”—could be held. In apparent contradiction, Purple recorded his memory that: “As the testimony of Deacon Stowell could not be impeached, the prisoner was discharged, and in a few weeks left town.” Further, the bills of all four justices of the peace in Bainbridge have been found, and there are no charges for a “Court of Special Sessions.” Apparently, a full trial was never held.
These historical contradictions were largely resolved with the discovery of two more pieces of evidence. In the Library of Congress, a Protestant newspaper, the Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate, published at Utica, New York, on 9 April 1831, contained a letter written by Dr. Abram W. Benton entitled “Mormonites.”45 Benton’s letter referred to this trial, quoted some of the testimony of Deacon Stowell, then commented that the people had become tired of this imposition. They “had him [Joseph Smith] arrested as a disorderly person, tried and condemned before a court of Justice. But, considering his youth, (he then being a minor,) and thinking he might reform his conduct, he was designedly allowed to escape. This was four or five years ago.”
Final clarification of the conclusion of this examination came in a letter found in the Illinois State Historical Library in Springfield, Illinois.46 This letter had been written by Judge Joel King Noble in 1842. Judge Noble had presided at an 1830 trial of Joseph Smith in Colesville that was dismissed on a technicality, but Noble also knew about this earlier 1826 trial. He referred to some magical practices of Joseph Smith, including the sacrifice of a black dog while magically searching for a chest of money. Referring to the 1826 trial, Noble said that “Jo[seph Smith] was condemned,” then added the comment that the “whisper came to Jo., `Off, Off!’” and so Joseph “took Leg Bail.” These were early slang expressions meaning “to escape from custody.” Noble then commented that “Jo. was not seen in our town for 2 Years or more (except in dark corners).” The most likely explanation behind these comments “is that the three justices discussed the case, and considering that since this was Joseph Smith’s first offence, privately made a deal with him” to leave town and avoid punishment.47 Purple, not aware of these “behind the scenes” arrangements, believed that Smith had been discharged. In this charitable act, the three judges also avoided embarrassing their friend and prominent citizen, Josiah Stowell. Joseph apparently hid out “in dark corners” in Bainbridge if Purple was correct that he didn’t leave for a “few weeks.”
Smith was humiliated by the trial. According to Purple, Joseph Sr., who had apparently returned to Bainbridge some time after Durfee bought the farm on 20 December 1835, had testified that both he and his son
were mortified that this wonderful power which God had so miraculously given him should be used only in search of filthy lucre, or its equivalent in earthly treasures and with a longfaced, “sanctimonious seemin,” he said his constant prayer to his Heavenly Father was to manifest His will concerning this marvelous power. He trusted that the Son of Righteousness would some day illumine the heart of the boy, and enable him to see His will concerning Him.
Purple, respected and decent, reflects the community opinions of Smith and his father at the trial:
These words have ever had a strong impression on my mind. They seemed to contain a prophetic vision of the future history of that mighty delusion of the present century, Mormonism. The “old man eloquent” with his lank and haggard visage—his form very poorly clad—indicating a wandering vagabond rather than an oracle of future events, has, in view of those events, excited my wonder. … What a picture for the pencil of a Hogarth! How difficult to believe it could have been enacted in the nineteenth century of the Christian era! … But as it was declared under oath, in a Court of Justice … it is worthy of recital as evincing the spirit of delusion.
Other than humiliation, what did Joseph Smith learn from this trial? By now, I believe, he was seeing that magic was a dead end. He had already observed how Christian revivalists could enthuse and maneuver believers. His trial had proved that it was fairly easy to prosecute for fraud within a framework of magic belief. But who would dare bring Christian miracles to trial? He also learned that, while the majority of the world would think of him with contempt, he could draw from a small percentage a loyal belief that exceeded common sense or reason and crossed over the line into delusion. It is my opinion that, with this episode, Smith turns a corner; his direction increasingly leads away from magic and toward Christianity. However, a few observations may be useful:
This pretrial examination stands as a memorial against the integrity of Joseph Smith. The hearing establishes that either Smith had non Christian—magical—supernatural powers of discernment and vision (which never produced treasures), or he was deceptive.48 We do not know, from court records, the precise final outcome of the pretrial examination; but Dale L. Morgan, a nonbelieving Mormon historian who discovered one of the five evidences for the hearing, commented: “From the point of view of Mormon history, it is immaterial what the finding of the court was on the technical charge of being `a disorderly person and an imposter’; what is important is the evidence adduced, and its bearing on the life of Joseph Smith before he announced his claim to be a prophet of God.”49
When this pretrial examination was rediscovered, many Mormons declared it to be a fabrication by evil men against a true prophet of God, and the document itself remains largely unknown to the rank and file members of the church. As evidence mounted, it and especially its implications were simply ignored. Those who acknowledge it minimized its importance. Mormon attorney Gordon A. Madsen declared the trial a mere “blip” in the life of Joseph Smith, while Mormon historian Richard L. Anderson, with rather more sophistication, suggested that Smith’s spirituality was immature and that he progressed to a more mature form of supernatural “Christian” claims.50
But the issue for a psychiatrist is not the personality per se or spiritual development, but misrepresentation, even deceit; and the historical record documents the same general pattern for the rest of Smith’s life.51 The pretrial examination suggests that delusion had become a way of life for young Joseph. I have now presented evidence from many testimonies—and there will be more—that he originally created multiple versions of his story, progressing to a final, canonized version. The “unfriendly” testimonies form a consistent corrective to this progressive, ultimately deceptive story. For example, was the angel Moroni or Nephi? Was he a magical guardian of a treasure or a biblical angel of the gospel? Was the Palmyra revival in 1820 or 1824 25? At this point, Smith had not developed his “first vision” story of God and Jesus. I see it going through a contradictory development. Was Joseph’s deception conscious or unconscious? Did he deceive himself along with others? The Book of Mormon, to the extent that it can accurately be read back into Smith’s biography, makes such a suggestion plausible. Irritated by the first Nephi, his antagonistic brother, Laman, proposed to his other antagonistic brother, Lemuel, “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 41; 1 Ne. 16:37 38). Is it possible that even the Smith children tired of Joseph’s machinations?
Joseph Smith never referred to this humiliating pretrial examination in any of his writings, but a characteristic of the narcissistic personality is that it does not handle shame or humiliation well. Using allegory, simile, and metaphor, Smith reviews this pretrial examination twice in the Book of Mormon (discussed below). In both versions, his psychological upheavals are represented by geophysical upheavals, suggesting the extent to which he was psychologically shaken. In the second version, again using allegory, metaphor, and simile, and reading from the Book of Mormon back into Joseph’s life, Josiah Stowell reappears as the sole supporter of a holy prophet beleaguered by enemies.
After the trial, Smith apparently worked in nearby Colesville and quietly boarded at Stowell’s home. He also apparently used this time to court Emma Hale. Joseph had announced that the angel had instructed him to bring Alvin to the next meeting, but Alvin had died two months later. Emma Hale now became important in Joseph’s readjustment of the story, and his courtship of her had a meaning beyond romance. Joseph’s friend, Joseph Knight, who was in his mid fifties, explained that, at the yearly meeting with the angel in 1826, he was told to bring someone else in place of his dead brother: “Joseph says, `who is the right Person?’ The answer was you will know. Then he looked in his glass [stone] and found it was Emma Hale, Daughter of old Mr. Hail of Pensylvany, a girl that he had seen Before, for he had Bin Down there Before with me.”52
Joseph had told his parents that he continued to be lonely for his dead brother, wished to marry, and preferred Emma to any woman he had met.53 He and Emma were married on 18 January 1827, in plenty of time for meeting the angel in September of that year. They were married, probably, by the one justice of the peace in Bainbridge who was not one of the three notified for the “Court of Special Sessions.” The couple eloped because of the objections of Emma’s family. Joseph was twenty one, Emma twenty two. From a psychological perspective, Joseph’s decision to marry is extremely important, as was his relationship to Emma.
Joseph immediately took Emma to the Smith home to Manchester. Emma Hale, whose family was respected and financially comfortable, now found herself a member of a family who was little respected by at least a portion of the community, who engaged in nighttime rituals and money digging, and whose financial circumstances were so reduced that they were tenants in their own house.
About six months later in July or August 1827, Emma wrote her father that she wanted to collect her belongings, including clothes, furniture, and cows. Her father agreed, and she and Smith accomplished this errand with a Manchester neighbor, Peter Ingersoll, whom Smith hired to drive them to Harmony in his wagon in August. On the night of 21 September, she and Joseph borrowed Joseph Knight’s horse and carriage and drove to Cumorah to get the gold plates. Her exact role at that point is not clear. According to Emma’s cousins, Joseph and Hiel Lewis, both local leaders in the Methodist Episcopal church who were writing fifty years later in Illinois, Emma turned her back while Joseph retrieved the gold plates from their vault in the ground, then hid them in a trunk of a dead tree. According to Martin Harris, interviewed by a reporter in 1859, Emma knelt and prayed. And according to Lucy Mack Smith, she simply stayed in the wagon at the foot of the hill.54 Emma never tried to see the plates because she was not authorized to do so by God, even though the temptation must have been overwhelming, given her father’s scorn and her husband’s negative reputation. She certainly had opportunity, since she believed that the plates were at times in a box underneath her bed or sitting on the furniture wrapped in cloth as she cleaned.55 From a psychoanalytic perspective, it is possible to see Emma’s great self restraint as her assumption of what will become a full time job—looking away from possible evidence of deception by her husband. Her behavior is the physical manifestation of the psychological defense of denial. If deceived in anything, she might be deceived in everything. It is probable that she has been caught in the web of Joseph’s charisma and that her own self esteem is becoming dependent on his claims and the reflection from his self importance.
Six years later Ingersoll, no longer accommodating, made a sworn affidavit about driving Joseph and Emma to Harmony. From a psychoanalytic perspective, his observations are among the most important psychological evidences about Smith’s motives for claiming supernatural powers. He describes Smith’s conflicts as Isaac Hale pressed him to settle into conventional living, while Joseph’s parents pressed him toward the supernatural.
His father in law (Mr. Hale) addressed Joseph, in a flood of tears: “You have stolen my daughter and married her. I had much rather have followed her to her grave. You spend your time in digging for money—pretend to see in a stone, and thus try to deceive people.” Joseph wept, and acknowledged he could not see in a stone now, nor never could; and that his former pretensions in that respect, were all false. He then promised to give up his old habits of digging for money and looking into stones. Mr. Hale told Joseph, if he would move to Pennsylvania and work for a living, he would assist him in getting into business. Joseph acceded to this proposition. I then returned with Joseph and his wife to Manchester. … Joseph told me on his return, that he intended to keep the promise which he had made to his father in law; but, said he, it will be hard for me, for they will all oppose, as they want me to look in the stone for them to dig money: and in fact it was as he predicted. They urged him, day after day, to resume his old practice of looking in the stone. He seemed much perplexed as to the course he should pursue.56
As a psychiatrist, I hear the ring of truth in Ingersoll’s description. Joseph’s view of himself has been largely determined by what his family wanted to believe about him. When he is removed from their influence and confronted by his decent father in law, the shell of his false self temporarily cracked; but as he returned to his family, the grandiose personality with its supernatural claims reasserted itself. This tension helps explain the perpetual dyadic conflicts in the Book of Mormon that end in moral failure and destruction. In contrast to Isaac Hale stands the encouragement of his own parents and Deacon Josiah Stowell’s unwavering certainty that Smith could see fifty feet into the earth. Both extremes deal with known mental forces and behavior, which develop from the elements of a person’s psychological make up. Given Joseph Smith’s background of deprivation and trauma, I interpret his inner self to be struggling with inferiority, fear, and insecurity; he masks these feelings with competence, power, and “specialness.” But only an audience who believes the mask provides evidence that he is succeeding. In psychological terms, Smith makes a contract: “I will become the person you want me to convince you that I am.” The narcissist is permanently caught between mask and mirror: he exists as a reflection from his audience. Who he is—who he becomes to himself as well as to others—results from this combination. In therapeutic terms, if it had been possible to take Smith away—and keep him away—from people who wanted him to have supernatural powers, then he might have developed into a normal adult. But unless that happened, he would continue to victimize his believers even as their desire that he possess supernatural powers trapped him in turn. He is both victim and victimizer.
DICTATING THE FIRST 116 PAGES
In any case, Joseph Smith came to a crossroads in August 1827. In Harmony, he could see a vision of his life if he abandoned his supernatural claims and vowed to choose normalcy. Would his life be like his father’s? But by late September back in Palmyra, he had made a different decision. He took Emma with him to the hill; he returned to tell his family and supporters that he had obtained the treasured book. And from that point on, he was committed to producing a translation of it. Apparently he first began dictating using the “breast plate with the seer stones.” According to Lucy, who felt the seer stones through a “silk handkerchief,” they consisted of “2 smooth 3 cornered diamonds set in glass and the glass was set in silver bows … [like] old fashioned spectacles.” The 1853 published version of her history contains a description, not in her 1844 manuscript, that the breastplate was “concave on one side and convex on the other, and extended from the neck downwards as far as the center of the stomach of a man of extraordinary size.” It had four straps—two to go over the shoulders and two around the hips—the width of two of her fingers with “holes in the end” for easy fastening. Then she added, “The whole plate was worth at least five hundred dollars,”57 a comment suggesting that the plates and artifacts were still associated with a money digging context in her mind. Martin Harris and David Whitmer, who later claimed to have seen the gold plates under miraculous conditions, described the same “spectacles” in somewhat contradictory terms. Harris remembered them as “white, like polished marble, with a few grey streaks two inches in diameter, perfectly round, and about five eighths of an inch thick at the centre,” while Whitmer recalled them as “transparent stones set in a bow shaped frame and very much resembled a pair of spectacles.”58 Interviewed in 1891, Joseph’s younger brother, William, said the “two stones were placed literally between the two rims of a [double silver] bow.” William claimed, with Joseph’s approval, to have looked through the two stones, but “could see nothing, as he did not have the gift of Seer.”59
Smith had agreed to share any discovered treasures not only with Stowell’s money diggers in Pennsylvania but also with his colleagues in the Palmyra/Manchester area.60 When they heard about gold plates, they believed he was breaking his contract. Smith reports being attacked three times in the woods as he carried the plates home; he reports dislocating his thumb in fighting off one man. Treasure seekers broke into the Smith home and repeatedly searched their property.
Two months later, in December 1827, he and Emma moved to Harmony, Pennsylvania, where the skeptical Isaac Hale let them live in a two room shed where Emma’s brother tanned deer skins.61 While it was being readied for their habitation, they temporarily lived in a garret of the Hale house. Here the first known dictation of the Book of Mormon occurred with Emma and her brother Reuben serving as scribes.62 Apparently Smith had covered the departure of Lehi’s family from Jerusalem, Nephi’s murder of Laban and possession of the brass plates, and Ishmael’s death in the wilderness by February 1828 when Martin Harris arrived from Palmyra.63
From a psychoanalytic perspective, Harris was the first of three men who turned the Book of Mormon into reality by the simple and effective means of becoming Smith’s financial backer. Psychologically speaking, he was an enabler. A forty five year old moderately wealthy farmer, married with probably three children at or near adulthood, he was also a money digger, an abusive husband,64 and a religious addict who had already joined five different religious sects, would later be excommunicated from Mormonism, return to Mormonism, become a missionary for a Mormon splinter group, return to Mormonism, leave again, then return, and die in Utah, poor and debilitated.65 Harris apparently never lost his belief in Smith’s miraculous power to translate the Book of Mormon but found the later revelations spurious. Harris’s motives were probably mixed, for others recall his plans for the book to make him rich.66 Thirty years later Harris recalled the incident that convinced him of Smith’s supernatural powers:
I was at the house of his father in Manchester, two miles south of Palmyra village, and was picking my teeth with a pin while sitting on the bars. The pin caught in my teeth, and dropped from my fingers into shavings and straw. I jumped from the bars and looked for it. Joseph … did the same. We could not find it. I then took Joseph on surprise, and said to him—I said, “take your stone.” I had never seen it and did not know that he had it with him. He had it in his pocket. He took it and placed it in his hat—the old white [stove pipe] hat—and placed his face in the hat. I watched him closely see that he did not look on one side; he reached out his hand beyond me on the right, and moved a little stick, and there I saw the pin, which he picked up and gave to me. I knew he did not look out of the hat until after he had picked up the pin.67
According to Peter Ingersoll, Smith spotted Harris in Palmyra and announced to him, “I have a commandment from God to ask the first man I meet in the street to give me fifty dollars to assist me in doing the work of the Lord by translating the Golden Bible.” Harris gave him the money.68 Joseph used it to move to Pennsylvania. Harris’s wife was strongly opposed to Harris’s interest. They separated before the Book of Mormon was published, and she wrote an affidavit, accusing him of beating her repeatedly, mad fits, and possible infidelity.69 Lucy Harris’s accusations were supported by neighbor G. W. Stoddard. Reading from the Book of Mormon back into Joseph’s life and in a story I will later review, a reflection of Martin Harris will appear in the book as a woman beating man of “much … angry … passion” (Alma 50:31 32).
When Harris reached Harmony in February 1828, he took some “caractors” Smith copied off the gold plates to New York City to confirm their authenticity. He showed them to Charles Anthon, a scholar of antiquities at Columbia University, and returned to Pennsylvania convinced of the divinity of the work. Anthon later wrote that the characters were “perfectly false” and “all a trick, perhaps a hoax.”70 Smith took Harris’s version of the interview and worked it into the Book of Mormon as a prophecy (BM 110 11; 2 Ne. 27:14 21). In the glow of growing importance, Harris returned to Palmyra, but soon returned to Pennsylvania, accompanied by his wife. A feisty woman, convinced that Smith was trying to get her husband’s money, Mrs. Harris searched the house trying to find the gold plates. She eventually returned to New York, while Harris acted as scribe for the next two months. During that time Smith finished dictating 116 foolscap pages, about one fourth of the Book of Mormon, allegedly using the breastplate with the spectacles behind a curtain.71
It was apparently important to Harris to convince his wife that he was not being deluded. He repeatedly urged Smith to let him show his wife the completed pages of the manuscript. Three times Smith inquired of God, using his seer stone. After two refusals came consent, and Harris rushed to Palmyra with the dictation on 14 June 1828.
THE BIRTH OF A DEFORMED SON
The next day, 15 June 1828, Emma gave birth to a stillborn son whom they named Alvin after Smith’s older (now dead) brother.72 Midwife Rhoda Skinner, Emma’s sister in law, stated that the child was malformed in terms that Newell and Avery describe as “birth defects.” Sophia Lewis, probably a cousin of Emma, likewise described the baby as “very much deformed.”73 Years later John C. Bennett, Smith’s friend turned enemy, used the archaic, technically correct medical term—“monster”—to describe the infant.74 Today mental health workers are alert to the emotional devastation of the parents of a dead baby, even if it never lived.75 Healthy parents who know they have done “nothing wrong” may still struggle with irrational guilt. Undeniably, an extra psychological burden was added through the alarming deformations. The child’s father was a man “chosen by God.” How was such a thing possible? Was it a judgement from God? Had they as parents done something amiss? Smith’s usual style later in life would be to blame others. Did he blame his wife, construing the child’s deformities as punishment from God for siding with her family on occasion? Although there is no documentary evidence of such disagreements, beyond Isaac Hale’s dismay, already described, Emma was surrounded by relatives who disapproved of her marriage and of Joseph. It seems unlikely that she would have remained immune to their criticisms of her support of her husband. With his past history of involvement in magic, it seems unlikely that it was never an issue between them and that she never challenged his attitude. The available records (granted, none from Emma) show Joseph as a concerned and tender husband, in great anxiety over Emma’s difficult childbirth; he nursed her himself, and it was she who insisted that he go to Palmyra to investigate Martin Harris’s silence.
Lucy Mack Smith confirms Joseph’s concern for his wife’s condition. The narcissistic personality is capable of saying the right thing at the right time and “being” genuinely kind and caring. In various degrees and times, such a personality may actually be concerned for others; but over time observers can see that most statements are ultimately self serving. The narcissist strives to be convincing, and so the behavior, not just the words, become increasingly important. Joseph could wrestle a smaller man, break his leg, nurse him compassionately, then do it again. (See chapter 2.) His posture while under oath in a courtroom must also be considered. While I would not argue that he did not have romantic feelings for Emma, the reasons he gave his mother for the marriage were to relieve his own feelings of loneliness and to meet the angel’s requirement for a companion. In short, Emma was doubly a substitute for his dead brother, Alvin, a point reinforced by naming his first child for his dead brother. These are not attitudes one wants in a friend or loving spouse. As a psychiatrist, I have professional skepticism about the genuineness of Joseph’s concern for Emma. Was his guilt an expression of his misjudgment or because he was now caught in a corner of his own making?
Five years later three antagonistic contemporaries, one in Palmyra quoting Martin Harris, Sophia Lewis of Harmony, and Joshua M’Kune (also McKune), the Methodist Episcopal minister, also from Harmony, testified under oath that Smith had announced that his male child “would be able when two years old to translate the Gold Bible,” that this “first born child was to translate the characters, and hieroglyphics, upon the Plates into our language at the age of three years,” and that the “Book of Plates could not be opened under penalty of death by any other person but his (Smith’s) first born, which was to be male.” In addition, Smith told his father in law that a small child would be the first to see the plates.76 These boastful predictions meant that Smith had set himself up for special devastation. Using metaphor, allegory, and simile, and reading from the Book of Mormon back into Joseph’s life, he will handle this humiliation by techniques we have already seen: he will reverse it into a wonderful miracle.
Smith turned to religion—either for consolation or possibly to placate a vengeful God. He “presented himself in a very serious and humble manner” to the circuit riding minister of Emma’s faith and to the Methodist Episcopal class in Harmony. The minister, who arrived on a Wednesday in June, put his name on the class roll. Emma’s first cousin, Joseph Lewis, an official in the church, heard about the new member on Saturday. On Sunday before meeting began, he and Rev. McKune pulled Smith aside and candidly told him that it would be a “disgrace to the church to have a practicing necromancer, a dealer in enchantments and bleeding ghosts, in it.” Furthermore, his “habits, and moral character were at variance with the [church] discipline” and there would have to be “recantation, confession, and at least promised reformation.” Smith could either remove his name from the rolls or submit to an investigation. Smith resigned although, through a clerical error, his name was not removed for six months.77
I consider the Bainbridge trial of 1826 to be a first blow, the deformed and stillborn child a second. Hard on its heels came a third. Anxious because he had not heard from Harris for over two weeks, Emma encouraged Joseph to leave her in her mother’s care and investigate. Smith traveled most of the way by stagecoach, then walked the final twenty miles in the night. Harris confessed that his wife had let him lock the manuscript in her dresser after reading it; then in her absence, he had forced the lock and showed the manuscript to unauthorized people. Harris and other Palmyrans believed that his wife had burned the pages of dictation. These pages have never reappeared.78 We have only Joseph’s word on the content of the lost 116 pages which, reportedly, dealt with government, war, and society. Nevertheless, again, based on Joseph’s word (see note 62), this history also contained more personal material. It is my opinion that Joseph’s final version is more refined and contains much more Christianity, while the earlier version had more magic in it. The rising level of Christianity was enhanced by the arrival (discussed below) of his major scribe, Oliver Cowdery.
Smith implies that these lost pages contained magical elements when he tells us that the redictation of this section was more “spiritual” in nature (BM 16, 21; 1 Ne. 6; 9:4). But perhaps the best clue is how much the guardian of the treasure was still from the world of magic. Emma’s cousins, Joseph and Hiel Lewis, make it clear that, during the period of this first dictation, Joseph did not talk about a visitation or about an angelic messenger. Rather, he described a “dream” in which he saw the ghost of a man with “a long beard … down … to the pit of his stomach … with his throat cut from ear to ear, and the blood streaming down.” They believed that the “vision” and “angels” were later additions—“afterthoughts, revised to order.”79 In retrospect, I suggest that Smith had a rather well formed idea about a pre Columbian magical American story but only a poorly developed concept for an ancient American Christian history. Even at this late date, he needed something more for a cohesive narrative.
The loss of the 116 pages left Smith in a difficult situation. Lucy remembered Martin’s cry, “Oh, I have lost my soul!” and Joseph’s response, “Oh, my God! All is lost! … Must I return to my wife with such a tale as this I dare not do it least I should kill her at once.”80 The narcissistic personality in its varied forms and mixtures with other personality issues can be capable of different degrees of concern and worry. Smith may indeed be troubled by his wife’s condition, but I believe that he is also worried that his false self is at risk. Maintaining my premise that he was drawing the Book of Mormon narrative from his own experiences, I hypothesize that he thought of and discarded the most obvious alternative—redictating the story as he remembered it. There was no way he could get all the details correct; furthermore, almost certainly the manuscript still existed and would be produced for public comparison if he tried again.
On 3 July 1828 he received a revelation chastising him for delivering the sacred dictation “into the hands of a wicked man and this is the reason that thou has lost thy privileges for a season.” But ironically this reminder of lost power in fact reveals a new one. This revelation is, as far as I know, the first revelation written down by the prophet. Thus it holds a unique position in Smith’s development. Until this point, he has claimed only to be the translator of an ancient record. Now, in this moment of urgent crisis, he takes the step of enhancing his identify from translator to prophet—a man who speaks the words of God for today’s problems. From this point on, he gives revelations that deal with new pressing issues, not just translations. Psychologically, he must rely on only his own powers. At this moment all other powers and promises have failed him, including Harris, his wife, and his promised son. The paradox of such a personality is that it truly trusts no one, yet must constantly have a sympathetic audience. For the moment, Smith had no one.
He then returned to the convalescing Emma. I see this particular time period as having intense psychological significance. If I am correct that he was motivated by a desire to control others, then this quest was temporarily blocked because of fear and criticism. He was 120 miles from his family, the chief source of expectations that he possessed and would exercise supernatural powers. If he tried, the missing manuscript might be produced at any moment to make him look like a fool. He was twenty miles from South Bainbridge where, a year and a half earlier, he had spent a night in jail, had been tried for fraudulent activities, and been found guilty. Everyone in the area knew about this episode and was still watching. And he was only 150 yards away from his in laws and their extended family. Although some may have been supportive, he does not mention it; instead, they seem to have taken their tone from Isaac Hale who found his claims outrageous, barely tolerated him for Emma’s sake, and obviously wanted him to begin living a stable and hard working life.
SEVEN MONTHS OF NORMALCY
For the next seven months, from the chastening revelation on 3 July 1828 to February 1829, Smith yielded, retreated from his supernatural claims, and came as close to a conventional life as he ever would. He later explained this gap as punishment for losing the 116 pages: the angel had taken away the gold plates and translating spectacles; however, in late 1828 he told Lucy a different story—that these items had been returned to him 22 September 1828, on the night of the equinox.81 He later recalled, “I did not go immediately to translating, but went to laboring with my hands upon a small farm which I had purchased of my wife’s father, in order to provide for my family.”82
During these months, Smith’s parents came to visit, staying with Isaac and Elizabeth Hale for perhaps two months. Lucy remembered Joseph as so “hurried with his secular affairs, that he could not proceed with his spiritual concerns as fast as was necessary … [and] his wife had so much of her time taken up with the care of her house, that she could write for him but a small portion of the time.”83 The traditional perspective is to see this period as a dark one, a time of spiritual loss and suffering. But from a psychological point of view, I see it as one of the healthiest periods of Smith’s adult life. Smith’s deception was contained by fright, sorrow, and humiliation. Fright, sorrow, and humiliation can be important positive outside forces in the treatment of narcissistic personalities. Such experiences may provide some added motivation for the patient to struggle toward change by giving up grand claims that have gotten him in trouble and to move toward ordinary commonness.
But two factors encouraged his return to the supernatural. The first was poverty. In early winter he and Emma were so poor that they paid a begging visit to Joseph’s older friend, Joseph Knight, asking for help. He gave Smith food, a pair of shoes, and $3.00.84 Only if we understand the desperateness of their economic plight can we begin to appreciate the extremity of Smith’s solutions. Perhaps he looked into the future during that winter and saw himself becoming his father. Perhaps he saw a future of poverty and contempt from his neighbors. But these factors are minor compared to the enormous underlying problem of identity. Take away the façade that was now crystallizing, and what remained was a small, incomplete, and helpless shadow of a man. But for narcissists, seeing themselves as ordinary and common is to feel weak and perpetually threatened that emotional deprivation, even physical hunger, might occur at any time. Perhaps even more powerful is feeling that they simply do not know who they are. Smith’s need to be important and in control was strong; he returned to the compensating personality.
I see his parents’ visit as the second factor. They obviously encouraged his supernatural claims, perhaps reporting their own belief that, since the original manuscript had not resurfaced in Palmyra, it must have been destroyed. Smith could begin again.
In February 1829 Smith received a revelation for his father. From a psychological view, this revelation (Book of Commandments [BC] III; D&C 4) reveals his past Bible readings, his attendance at religious services or revivals, and his ability to weave fragments into a new creation. In two sentences—two verses—he smoothly combines segments from Isaiah, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, James, and Paul.85 I argue that his ability to create this revelatory literature demonstrates that he is ready to weave stories together, also suggesting that his creation of personality is adequate to create the Book of Mormon.
From a psychoanalytic perspective, this moment of return to claims of supernatural power was a decisive turning point for Joseph Smith, one that closed the door on the possibility of developing a healthy self. This moment is, in therapeutic terms, the saddest for Smith—not three years later when he is tarred, beaten, and nearly castrated in Ohio; or ten years later when he is incarcerated for months in Missouri; or fifteen years later when he is jailed and shot by a mob in Illinois. At this point, on a farm in Pennsylvania, his power over others is minimal; he has not had sexual relations with dozens of women and girls; three brothers and hundreds of followers have not yet died for him, given him their properties, their lives, their wives, their time, and their finest loyalty.
Every dynamic psychiatrist or psychoanalyst I know believes that we have a say over our own destiny, but here are some of the forces Joseph Smith had to contend with: being raised in a family of poverty and inferiority by parents generally incapable of assuring their economic well being; a mother who experienced at least two depressive episodes, one before and one after marriage, and who was, arguably, emotionally unavailable to her children when she was under intense economic stress; a father who compensated for reality by a belief in magic as a means of controlling natural forces and getting rich; the father’s drinking—severe enough to have frightened five year old Joseph; poverty that may have included episodes of actual hunger; increasing numbers of mouths to feed; many moves and instability of environment in childhood; repeated episodes of medical incompetence that resulted in a permanent limp, while another resulted in the death of a beloved brother; being raised to believe that, instead of being like their neighbors, one’s family and oneself had supernatural powers; and that the morality taught by his father was pride in how successful one was in one’s “supernatural” pursuits.
From a psychoanalytic perspective, a genuine acknowledgement that one comes from a dysfunctional, inferior family is a beginning step toward health. With such an admission, one can begin working toward authentic accomplishment. But to replace an honest awareness of dysfunction with the delusion that a man’s dreams are divine visions and that he can do magical (“spiritual?”) acts diverts energies from potential progress and mires him more deeply in fantasy.
Dictating the Book of Mormon
The revelation to his father was the first of a number of similar revelations to men who were beginning to gather around Smith, each one, I suggest, hungry for something extraordinary to give his life purpose and distinction. This revelation predicted that “a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men,” a statement of capitulation on Smith’s part to the pressures to reconstruct the Book of Mormon. Smith began dictating again, this time to Emma and her brother Reuben, Smith’s own brother, Samuel Harrison, and Martin Harris.86
However, because the angel refused to return the breastplate and seer stones set in spectacles, Smith produced the entire Book of Mormon, as it now exists, using his old instrument of magic: a single seer stone in a hat.87 Martin Harris called this method more “convenient,” and it had its advantages. Smith did not need the gold plates in front of him; they could be safely hidden, in any locale he chose. Now other people could watch the translation process; and at least eight people described Smith’s “new” method of dictation.88 David Whitmer commented:
Joseph would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to … his … scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear.89
Joseph Knight, then in his late fifties, whose black carriage had been borrowed without his knowledge to retrieve the gold plates in September 1827, also described the process:
Now the way he translated was he put the urim and thummim [seer stone] into his hat and Darkened his Eyes then he would take a sentance and it would apper in Brite Roman Letters. Then he would tell the writer and he would write it. Then that would go away the next sentance would Come and so on. But if it was not Spelt rite it would not go away till it was rite. so we see it was marvelous. Thus was the hol translated.90
Emma Smith described the process on more than one occasion to her son: “Now the first that my husband translated, was translated by use of Urim and Thummim [breastplate and seer stones], and that was the part that Martin Harris lost, after that [my husband] used a small stone, not exactly black, but was rather a dark color.” She later added: “In writing for your father I frequently wrote day after day, sitting by the table close to him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.”91
Comparatively few pages of text had been dictated when around 5:00 on Sunday evening, 5 April 1829, Oliver Cowdery came to the door.92 Cowdery, accompanied by Smith’s twenty one year old brother Samuel, had walked the 120 miles from Manchester where he had been teaching school and boarding with Joseph Sr. and Lucy. Joseph Sr. had, over the course of the winter, told him about his son’s special calling from God; and fired by religious zeal and personal experiences in prayer that confirmed to him the truth of what Joseph Sr. had told him, Cowdery was presenting himself to assist Joseph Jr. If Harris was the enabler, Cowdery was the facilitator.
OLIVER COWDERY’S BACKGROUND
It is my opinion that Cowdery brought with him the over arching conceptual plans and some of the important details that made it possible for Smith to complete the Book of Mormon. Cowdery’s qualifications for teaching were minimal; in fact, Hyrum Smith as school trustee had actually hired Lyman Cowdery, who accepted the job, then urged them to accept his brother Oliver as his replacement. Oliver had worked as a blacksmith, farmhand, and store clerk; according to John Gilbert, the Book of Mormon’s typesetter, he was not capable of correcting the grammar in the dictation.93 In the next nine to thirteen weeks, twenty three year old Joseph Smith dictated to twenty two year old Oliver Cowdery a book of 275,000 words; the printer, John H. Gilbert, who set its 588 pages, also corrected the grammar.94 It reached an estimated less than .1 percent of the population, but the effect was so profound that it changed American history.
Critical in understanding this process is understanding Oliver Cowdery. Like Joseph Smith, he approached the world with a dual perspective, one of which was magic. Cowdery had been born in Middleton, Vermont, only fifty miles from Smith. They may not have known they were related; Cowdery was a third cousin to Lucy Mack Smith and was also related by marriage.95 His father, William Cowdery, had been enmeshed in a scandal involving magic about 1800 near their home and had used divining rods in seeking treasure.96 Within two days of their meeting, Cowdery was writing full time as Smith’s scribe; and within the month Smith gave Cowdery a series of revelations. In the first, God told Cowdery that he had the divine gift of revelation and in the second that he had the gift “of working with the rod: behold it has told you things: behold there is no power save God, that can cause this rod of nature, to work in your hands, for it is the work of God; and therefore whatsoever you shall ask me to tell you by that means, that will I grant unto you, that you shall know.”97 In psychological terms, the narcissist had found an absolutely necessary figure: an awestruck, encouraging, and supportive individual who responded fully to his charisma. For her part, I see Emma as caught in Joseph’s narcissism, as well. If this is true (and the documentation is absent to decide the case conclusively one way or the other), then she gained her importance from association or reflection of the narcissist. Thus, when someone attempted to comfort her on the day of Joseph’s murder by assuring her that this sorrow would be the crown of her life, she responded, “My husband was my crown.”98 Though uttered in grief, it does not suggest successful individual maturation.
Cowdery’s second perspective was the Hebrew origins of the Native Americans. This interest, like the interest in magic, he also shared with Smith. In 1803 the Cowdery family, including seven year old Oliver, moved to Poultney, Vermont, in Rutland County, which shares a border with Windsor County, where Smith was born and lived for ten years. In Poultney, Oliver’s stepmother joined the Congregational church in 1810 followed by his stepsisters in 1818. In 1821 Ethan Smith (no relation to the Joseph Smith family) became their pastor.99 Although there is no documentation that Ethan Smith and Oliver Cowdery had any kind of relationship, I argue that it requires more effort to believe they did not than that they did. As a consequence, I see Ethan Smith as the unwitting third man to help Joseph Smith produce the Book of Mormon by acting as an absent but necessary theologian.
In 1823 Ethan Smith published A View of the Hebrews; or The Tribes of Israel in America,100 which brought together writings by authors as far back as the sixteenth century promoting a popular belief of the day—that the Native Americans were the descendants of the lost ten tribes of Israel. Because of widespread interest, a second enlarged edition was printed in 1825. Ethan Smith visited Palmyra, perhaps in 1827, for the Wayne Sentinel printed notices that he should call at the post office for letters.101 The year after Ethan Smith’s first edition appeared, Josiah Priest, whose works were a compilation of curious, dramatic, and historical items, printed fifty six pages from Ethan Smith’s book word for word in his own Wonders of Nature and Providence Displayed (Rochester, NY: n.p., 1824), only twenty miles from Palmyra, with a second edition following the next year.102 The Manchester library, five miles from the Smith home, owned a copy; and according to Robert Paul, it was repeatedly checked out in 1826 27.103 Hence it is highly likely—B. H. Roberts called it a “close certainty”—that Joseph Smith knew Ethan Smith’s book, especially given the family’s interest in pre Columbian America.104 From a naturalistic perspective, I argue that Ethan Smith’s book provided the concept and outline for much of the Book of Mormon. Although Ethan Smith was a distinguished theologian and successful author of the most influential book of the period promoting a Hebrew Christian ancestry for the Native American, as well as being pastor to Cowdery’s family, neither Cowdery nor Joseph Smith ever mention him. As a psychiatrist, I find this silence telling.
In the early 1920s, B. H. Roberts, the leading intellectual Mormon general authority and historian, wrote a 284 page manuscript comparing these two books and finding multiple similarities. Some of Ethan Smith’s slight misquotations from the Bible appear in the Book of Mormon with similar near quotations from Josiah Priest’s book.105 Joseph Smith undoubtedly knew the common view about Indian origins; with specific details from Ethan Smith’s views provided by Oliver Cowdery, Smith was in a position to unify Christian magic and Christian miracle, pre Columbian fantasy and Bible myth.
As I read the Book of Mormon, I see Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery constructing narratives of Joseph’s personal life within Ethan Smith’s conceptual framework, if not following the outline of his book. I also hypothesize that, dictating to Oliver Cowdery, who was ignorant of the similarities between Joseph’s life and the narratives he was writing down, Joseph could be less restrained in fantasy than he had been with his wife or Martin Harris.
According to most devout and nonbelieving students of the Book of Mormon alike, Smith began the dictation where he had left off (Mosiah). I feel that he was waiting for time to pass and his confidence to increase that the 116 pages would not resurface. After dictating from Mosiah through (probably) the short book individually named “Book of Mormon” almost at its end by the end of May, he returned to the beginning, retelling the story of the departure from Jerusalem, Laban, the sword, the plates, and the arrival in the promised land. For reasons I discuss in chapter 6, he dictated the book of Ether next, then finished off with the book of Moroni, a clear announcement that he was ready to start a church.106
Preparing for the possibility that the lost 116 pages might reappear, he created an explanation: God had foreseen this loss of the 116 pages over 2,000 years earlier and knew that evil men would alter the record to diminish Smith’s credibility as a translator. So God inspired Nephi and several generations of his descendants to write a similar, but not identical, history on “small plates” which were added to the record without being edited and condensed. Smith translated this second “more spiritual and personal” version.
From a psychoanalytic perspective, this story provided a reason for belief to those who desperately wanted proof that God, in an eternal world of omnipotent perfection, had touched one spot—one person—on earth. But among men and women who approached life in a more common sense way, the complexities of this scenario create difficulties. Some of them might also have sensed, without knowing the term, that Smith was using the defense mechanism of projection in accusing his enemies of forgery. Such projection appears in the interactions between Nephi and Laban, who first threatens Nephi and his brothers with his sword but then turns up, literally, at Nephi’s feet, still armed but helpless to use his sword. Joseph Smith/Nephi had projected his anger and deception onto the surgeon Nathan Smith/Laban, and turned him into a drunk thieving murderer.
Revenge and Compensation for Humiliation:
The Second Nephi
Vulnerability in self esteem makes individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder very sensitive to “injury” from criticism or defeat. Although they may not show it outwardly, criticism may haunt these individuals and may leave them feeling humiliated, degraded, hollow, and empty. They may react with disdain, rage, or defiant counterattack. Such experiences often lead to social withdrawal or an appearance of humility that may mask and protect the grandiosity. Interpersonal relations are typically impaired due to problems derived from entitlement, the need for admiration, and the relative disregard for the sensitivities of others. Though overweening ambition and confidence may lead to high achievement, performance may be disrupted due to intolerance of criticism or defeat. Sometimes vocational functioning can be very low, reflecting an unwillingness to take a risk in competitive or other situations in which defeat is possible.107
Although the specific form of the environmental trauma may vary, we suggest that there is a common denominator in that these environmental traumata induce the formation of a precocious and premature sense of self—which retains its fragility and must be supported by omnipotent and grandiose fantasies. … [and this creates] a state of illusionary self sufficiency. … By means of the illusion of self sufficiency the individual is removed from the fear of closeness to objects [people], for he denies any instinctual demand made upon the object.108
[The child] escapes the painful feeling of nothingness by molding himself in fancy into something outstanding—the more he is alienated, not only from others but also from himself, the more easily such notions acquire a psychic reality. His notions of himself become a substitute for his undermined self esteem; they become his “real me”. … In rather simplified terms, a person clings to illusions about himself because, and as far as, he has lost himself.109
Nephi, the son of Nephi, the son of Helaman, in 3 Nephi may be another major alter ego for Smith. (To distinguish clearly between them, I call them Nephi Sr. [son of Helaman] and Nephi Jr. [son of Nephi].) This narrative again demonstrates how key events from Joseph Smith’s early adulthood appear in the Book of Mormon text. It is striking that, of all Smith’s possible alter egos in the Book of Mormon, the two most important are named Nephi, a psychological clue that they are mirrors of each other and serve the same psychological function.
Nephi Jr., namesake of the first Nephi, lived some 500 years later, just before the coming of Jesus Christ to the Americas. The narrative of the first Nephi, as I have argued, told in disguised form the story of Joseph Smith’s childhood and early adolescence. In the 3 Nephi account, Smith may refer briefly to his surgery, the years of intermittent hunger, the religious revival, Alvin’s death, the Bainbridge trial, the death of his firstborn son, loss of the manuscript, and seven months of normal living before he again began dictating the Book of Mormon. The account in 3 Nephi thus focused on the second and third decade of Smith’s life but used many of the same psychological patterns of relation demonstrated by the first retelling and that will be demonstrated throughout the book. Strikingly, the chronology for a disguised reliving of Smith’s story matches the chronology of Smith’s life virtually year for year.
The summary of the Book of Mormon narrative in chapter 2 brought us to the point where Lehi and the heroic Nephi had died, the latter about age seventy around 540 B.C.E. The period from around 500 B.C.E. to 200 B.C.E.—30 percent of Nephite history—is covered in only five to seven pages, a little over 1 percent of the whole Book of Mormon. Each king or keeper of the record commented on his own degree of righteousness and personal religious experience, then passed the record on. Around 200 B.C.E. this rapid pace slowed and the story unfolded in greater detail for the next century. Extended wars began between the Nephites and the Lamanites. The Nephites moved to new territory and established various “Christian” communities (see chapter 4), complete with baptism, a king’s statesmanlike sermon, a prophet’s martyrdom, marvelous conversions, and dedicated missionary work by five young men. Around 92 B.C.E. a peaceful revolution transformed the Nephite government from a monarchy to a monarchy/democracy, followed by thirty two years of virulent warfare between the Nephites and Lamanites. Temporarily, reversing the usual pattern, the Lamanites, largely converted by a miracle, became righteous. War between the two major races was then replaced by internal conflict between the legitimate government and a secret evil brotherhood (the Gadianton band) that corrupted individuals and infiltrated the administrative and judicial branches of the government, as if Masonry and the Mafia had joined forces. This band of secret robbers and murderers expanded with the tolerance and collusion of the Nephite people as they slowly slid into iniquity. The government was in danger of collapsing.
Around 6 B.C.E. a Lamanite prophet, Samuel, foretold Jesus Christ’s birth. He predicted two confirming signs: the star of Bethlehem and a dramatic night without darkness. He warned the people to repent or suffer terrible destruction at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. During this time the keepers of the sacred plates of brass as well as their own were a righteous father son dyad, Nephi Sr. and Nephi Jr.
Nephi Jr. received the plates of brass from his father, who then “departed” from the land, disappearing forever.110 Unbelievers insisted that the time for Samuel’s prophecies had passed, and designated a day for killing the believers. Nephi Jr., sorrowful and distraught, engaged in lengthy prayer far into the night and was comforted when the Lord spoke: “This night shall the sign be given and on the morrow come I into the world” (BM 453; 3 Ne. 1:13). The signs appeared, the wicked repented, and there was a “great remission of sins.” However, the next thirty three years, while Christ was fulfilling his mission in Palestine, were given over to resistance against the thriving Gadianton band, which began with flattery and deceit and ended with robbery, murder, and rebellion against the government.
The Nephites in the Book of Mormon are characterized by the constancy of their inconstancy. By 3 C.E.—three years after the “great remission of sins”—they were beginning “to wax strong in wickedness and abominations.” This trend continued for the next ten years, despite preaching and prophesying by the shrinking number of the righteous. Meanwhile the Gadianton robbers steadily enlarged their power base (BM 452 456; 3 Ne. 1, 2).
Converted Lamanites joined with Nephites in defense against these robbers; and, once again, reading from the Book of Mormon back into Smith’s life provides a sort of “evidence” of periods of hunger for the family. The Gadianton band threatened the destruction of the country in 13 C.E.; the Nephites gained the upper hand one year later, only to suffer another attack in 15 C.E. In 16 C.E. Giddianhi, the robber chief, sent a written ultimatum to Lachoneus, the Nephite chief executive: capitulation or extermination. The Latin name is startling in a book of supposedly Hebrew and Egyptian origins; when a patient says something contradictory to facts and his level of knowledge, the therapist becomes alerted to possible strong psychological factors at play. This raising of consciousness is now justified by the following event; for, more significantly, the letter is a simplistic, almost boyish one, of bluster and threats. It alerts us to pay close attention. The robber praised Lachoneus for his firmness in maintaining “defense of your liberty, and your property, and your country. … And it seemeth a pity unto me, most noble Lachoneus that ye should be so foolish and vain to suppose that ye can stand against so many brave men, which are at my command. … and do await. … for the word, Go down. … and destroy.” Giddianhi gave Lachoneus a month to make up his mind. If he capitulated, he may join the band of robbers on an equal footing. If not, “on the morrow month, I will command that my armies shall come down … and shall let fall the sword upon you” (BM 457 58; 3 Ne. 3).
From a psychoanalytic perspective, the message is familiar: “You are very brave, but I am giving you two terrible choices.” I think the source of the story lies in this event from Lucy’s history:
Said I, “Doctor … can you not try once more by cutting round the bone. … and thus you may save the leg. You will [not] take off the leg until you try once more. …” 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.”111
In this retelling of Joseph Smith’s autobiography, Lachoneus is Lucy, negotiating with the robbers with swords (the surgeons), who are giving her the two choices of amputation or operation. It is Lucy, not Joseph Sr., who negotiates; Joseph Sr. is weeping at Joseph Jr.’s bedside, in what is certainly a demonstration of unhelpful emotional lability in a time of crisis. Joseph Jr. demonstrates his bravery by refusing to be bound with cords or drugged with alcohol. He chooses to face the surgery with his father, not his mother. His bravery did not keep him from pain.
In the Book of Mormon, the Nephites made a drastic choice. They gathered by the tens of thousands to a fortified place and prepared to withstand a seven year siege, bringing with them their horses, chariots, cattle, flocks, and grain. Because they had stripped the land of food, the robbers also had only two choices: attack or starve (BM 459 460; 3 Ne. 3 4:7). The seven years in 3 Nephi corresponds to eight years in the wilderness in the 1 2 Nephi version.
In this, our second reading, the bloody private event is transformed by the Book of Mormon into a national war which occurred in “the sixth month” of 19 C.E. and corresponds to the year 1811 C.E. in Smith’s memory:112 “great and terrible was the slaughter thereof, insomuch that there never was known so great a slaughter among the people of Lehi since he left Jerusalem.” The Gadianton band attacked with lamb skins around their loins, heads shorn and bodies dyed in blood and “great and terrible was the appearance of the armies” (BM 460 61; 3 Ne. 4:7). This description corresponds both to Joseph’s living memory of the surgery and also to Lucy’s description: “Oh! My God what a spectacle for a mother’s eye. The wound torn open to view and my boy and the bed on which he covered with the blood which was still gushing from the wound. He was pale as a corpse and … his face every feature of which depicted agony that cannot be described.”113
In short, surgery has been transformed imaginatively into a major battle. The Nephites fought off this attack, pursuing the robbers to the borders of the wilderness. Giddianhi, “weary because of his much fighting,” was “overtaken and slain” (BM 461; 3 Ne. 4:14). Like Laban, Giddianhi is a robber who is cut down by the sword. Joseph has, in fantasy, taken his vengeance on the pain inflicting surgeon.
The Nephites then returned to their fortification. The next two and a half years of the siege were eventless and correspond historically, in my opinion, to the first years of recovery after Joseph’s surgery. Then the Lamanites besieged the Nephite fortress under the command of another leader, Zemnarihah (21 C.E.) This event corresponds, I believe, to the beginning of the three years of crop failure and economic desperation for the Smiths (1813 16). In a fantasy reversal, the Nephites (the Smith family) have ample stores while the robbers (the surgeons) subsist on a dwindling supply of wilderness game, “insomuch that the robbers were about to perish with hunger” (BM 462 63; 3 Ne. 4:15 21). In this case, the hunger suggested by Lucy’s history of three years of crop failures has been projected onto the enemy.114 In an example of expansiveness, both the family and the surgeons have become the equivalent of national groups. In the decisive battle, the Nephites decimate the robbers, require them to repent, and hang Zemnarihah. Again, a representative of the surgeon has been killed.
Lucy summarizes the family’s gratitude when it is clear that they have all survived typhoid and that Joseph will recover from the surgery: “We realized the blessing for I believe we felt more to acknowledge the hand of God in preserving our lives through such a desperate siege.”115 This family thanksgiving is exaggerated in the Book of Mormon: the people “did break forth, all as one, in singing and praising their God, for the great thing which he had done for them, in preserving them from falling into the hands of their enemies; yea, they did cry Hosanna to the Most High God” (BM 463; Ne. 4:29 33).
From a psychoanalytic perspective, the drive and fantasies for omnipotence that began before the surgery and were enhanced by the surgery and following events are now temporarily contained and reversed. Frightened by the surgery and periods of hunger, Smith’s fantasies of omnipotence are briefly squelched and reversed into humility. In the Book of Mormon, God is praised for saving them:
They knew it was because of their repentance and their humility that they had been delivered from everlasting destruction. And now behold there was not a living soul among all the people of the Nephites which did doubt in the least thing in the words of all the holy prophets which had spoken. … [they forsook] all their sins … abominations … and whoredoms, and did serve God. (BM 463; 3 Ne. 5:1)
This beatific state occurred in 21 or 22 C.E. (1813 14). But Joseph Smith did not have enough ego strength to renounce narcissism. The desperate need for compensating fantasies of power slowly returned as he felt increasingly safe during his recovery. Three years passed without incident—the length of time that the Nephites’ faith and repentance endured. At that point (26 C.E.//1818), seven years after the great battle, the people “did return to their own lands” from their fortress encampment, taking with them their animals, treasures, remaining food, and other goods. This episode corresponds with the Smith family’s move to Palmyra in 1817 and settling in their own cabin in 1818, seven years after the surgery (BM 465; 3 Ne. 6:1 3).
The next three years comprise a period of relative tranquility in both the life of the family and in the Book of Mormon narrative:
There was great order in the land; and they had formed their laws according to equity and justice. And now there was nothing in all the land to hinder the people from prospering continually. … There were many cities built anew, and … many highways cast up, and many roads made, which led from city to city, and from land to land, and from place to place. And thus passed twenty and eighth year , and the people had continued peace. (BM 465; 3 Ne. 6:1 10)
The period of relative tranquility for the Smith family paralleled the historical “era of good feeling” during the first of U.S. president James Monroe’s two terms (1816 24). In 1818 the Cumberland Road (the “National Road”) reached Ohio and opened up Kentucky, Tennessee, and lands westward.116 Thus the larger social context also found its way in disguised form into the Book of Mormon. Supporting evidence is Orsamus Turner’s memory that Joseph came into the printer’s shop weekly to get his father’s paper, participated in the debating club, and read extensively.117
In 29 C.E. (1821) the Nephites’ prosperity is disrupted by “disputings … pride and boastings, because of … riches.” “Lawyers,” “merchants,” and “officers” began forming social “ranks, according to their riches, and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches” (BM 466; 3 Ne. 6:11 14). This hierarchical view of social privilege, from a psychological perspective, is consistent with how an ill educated and poor fifteen year old could view his own lack of privilege (encouraged perhaps by his socially aware mother). Smith had written that because of “indigent circumstances. … we were deprived of the bennifit of an education.”118
In 30 C.E. Book of Mormon society degenerated into “awful wickedness.” The 30 33 C.E. era in Nephite history corresponds roughly to 1823 26 for the Smiths. In September 1826 New York was rocked by the disappearance and presumed murder of William Morgan, a brick and stone mason of Batavia, New York, and also a member of the Masonic order. He was in jail in Canandaigua, New York, nine miles from the Smith farmhouse for a debt of $2.69, but the real reason for his imprisonment was his determination to publish a book revealing the secrets of Masonry. Someone paid his debt, and Morgan was released from jail; but as he stepped into the street, he was seized, gagged, and thrust into a carriage. A wild drive followed, with relays of horses to the Canadian border where all traces of Morgan disappeared.119 This event fed into a widespread belief that Masons were secretly controlling the government, courts, and elections; the resulting national paranoia lasted for over a decade.120 Five Masons were tried for Morgan’s murder. Three were acquitted, and two received sentences of less than a year. I argue that this story appears in the Book of Mormon as the Gadianton band’s corruption of the Nephite judges, who were bought off “to deliver those which were guilty of murder from the grasp of justice” (BM 467; 3 Ne. 6:28 30). The band also murdered “the Chief Judge of the land” in the thirtieth year, a period of violence during which the Nephite government actually collapsed. The church “began to be broken up,” and the people “were divided one against another … into tribes, every man according to his family, and his kindred and friends; and thus they did destroy the government of the land” (BM 467 68; 3 Ne. 6:15 7:2).
Monroe’s second term (1820 24), rather than continuing the “era of good feeling,” was characterized by sectional hostility, individual political rivalries, bitter conflict over slavery (Maine, no; Missouri, yes), and the one party election of 1824 with four candidates. Andrew Jackson won a plurality of votes, but the electoral college was split with 99 votes for Jackson, 84 for John Quincy Adams, 41 for W. H. Crawford, and 37 for Henry Clay. No one had a constitutional majority, although the will of the people was reasonably clear. By law the election was decided in the U.S. House of Representatives, where, according to common belief, Henry Clay, in a secret agreement, gave his votes to John Quincy Adams in exchange for an appointment as Secretary of State. Cries of corruption erupted. One newspaper editorialized: “Expired at Washington on the ninth of February, of poison administered by the assassin hands of John Quincy Adams, the usurper, and Henry Clay[:] the virtue, liberty and independence of the United States.”121
In Palmyra the years 1823 24 (31 32 C.E.) also commenced, as we have seen, a period of competitive religious revivalism. Smith later stigmatized the “great love” professed by converts of various sects as “more pretended than real; for a feeling of great confusion and bad feeling ensued—priest contending against priest, and convert against convert; so that all their good feelings for one another, if they ever had any, were entirely lost in a strife of words.”122 Similarly, in the Book of Mormon, “six years had not passed away, since the more part of the people had turned from their righteousness, like the dog to his vomit, or the sow to her wallowing in the mire” (BM 468; 3 Ne. 7:8).
In 31 C.E. (1823) the tribal division resulted in “strict laws” so that “in some degree they had peace in the land.” The faithless Nephites actively persecuted the prophets; they stoned Nephi’s brother near the end of that year. Significantly, Smith here compensated strikingly for Alvin’s death, which coincided with the first visits of the angel/guardian spirit. Similarly, Joseph Smith’s alter ego Nephi Jr. heard the voice of the Lord, saw angels, and began to “minister with power and great authority, … and even his brother did he raise from the dead” (BM 469; 3 Ne. 7:19). Psychologically, Smith was ranking himself with Elijah and Elisha, who had raised one dead person apiece, and Jesus who had restored Lazarus and the daughter of Jairus to life (1 Kgs. 17:17 24; 2 Kgs. 4:14 37; Matt. 9:18 26; John 11:32 45). But who had also repaired a broken body, perhaps with a crushed skull? Those who had stoned Nephi’s brother witnessed this miracle but “were angry with him [Nephi], because of his power: and he did also many more miracles, in the sight of the people, in the name of Jesus” (BM 469; 3 Ne. 7:20). Smith conquered the tragedy of Alvin’s death by a reversed fantasy that also, incidentally, showed his power and authority over an older brother.
Nephi’s preaching began a revival of religious activity among the people: “the thirty and first year  did pass away, and there were but few which were converted unto the Lord,” a historically accurate statement. The next year, 1824, was similar. However, by the “thirty and third year ,” there were “many in the commencement of this year, that were baptized unto repentance; and thus the more part of the year did pass away” (BM 467 70; 3 Ne. 7:20 26). The parallels between Nephi’s revival and the Palmyra revival are striking, not only the description of the slow beginning and the sudden jump in conversions when George Lane arrived to work with Benjamin Stockton, but also in its chronology. The revival commenced in the spring of 1824, a few months after Alvin’s death in November 1823 and continued moderately for almost a year. About 150 were baptized in late 1824, and another 250 were added in the first three months of 1825. Or, as Nephi recorded, “there were many in the commencement of this year [33 C.E.//1825] … that were baptized … and the year did pass away.” By September 1825, when the Palmyra churches looked back over the previous twelve months, over 400 had been baptized; of these 208 were Methodists, 94 Baptists, and 99 Presbyterians.123 Apparently the effects of Rev. George Lane continued after his departure. The revival was over in both the Book of Mormon and Palmyra one and a half to two years after the brother’s death. As a psychiatrist, I would expect the revival to be transformed in fantasy to become a sign of Smith’s own emerging religious power and authority. In real life he almost returned to the Methodist church; in the Book of Mormon fantasy, he has replaced Stockton and Lane as the religious leader.
The next event was Christ’s crucifixion, which occurred in the Book of Mormon “in the thirty and fourth year, in the first month, in the fourth day of the month” (BM 470; 3 Ne. 8:5). Nephi’s brother had been stoned in the latter part of the thirty first year—more than twenty four months earlier but probably less than thirty. Significantly, the space between Alvin’s death and early 1826 was twenty seven months. The New Testament records that the “earth did quake and rocks rent”; there were three hours of darkness, and the temple veil was rent (Mark 15:33 38; Luke 23:55 56; Matt. 27:51). The Book of Mormon exaggerates these events into a geophysical holocaust, as, throughout the book, it exaggerates biblical miracles. This three hour cataclysm began with a terrible storm; tidal waves, fire, and earthquakes destroyed sixteen cities and changed the “whole face” of the northern land, breaking up highways and roads. Thousands died, presumably including children, infants, and pregnant mothers.
Next came a darkness so thick that the survivors could feel it, and no fire or candle could be lit for the next three days. The survivors wept and mourned: “O that we had repented … and not stoned the prophets. … Then would our mothers, and our fair daughters, and our children have been spared.” This selective miracle spared the “more righteous” but slew those guilty of “iniquity and abominations.” Then the survivors heard a voice, twice without comprehending it, but the third time understanding as it said
Wo, wo, wo unto this people; wo unto the inhabitants of the whole earth, except they shall repent. … Behold, that great city Zarahemla have I burned with fire. … and the great city Moroni have I caused to be sunk in the depths of the sea. … and. … the great city Moronihah have I covered with earth. … And … the city of Gilgal … sunk … and city of Onihah … and … Mocumi … Gadiandi … Gadiomnah … Jacob … and … Gimgimno … to be sunk. … and made hills and valleys in the places thereof. … and [the cities of] Laman … and Josh … Gad … and Kishkumen have I caused to be burned with fire. (BM 470 472; 3 Ne. 8:19 9:19)
Who has destroyed lands, cities, men and women who were perhaps “wicked,” but also innocent children and infants? “Behold I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God. … I am the light and the life of the world” (BM 473; 3 Ne. 9:11 22). The resurrected Christ then descended and preached his gospel of love and compassion, including the Sermon on the Mount. As a psychiatrist, I see a contradiction between behavior and words that the author does not appreciate. Such failure to recognize paradox is typical of the narcissistic personality.
Today Mormon geologists look for evidence of this geophysical holocaust in the oceans off Chile and Peru,124 while Mormon archaeologists search for evidence of a Middle Eastern culture or language throughout the Americas. With no historical or scientific findings anywhere for this story, I believe we are justified in looking to the personal story of Joseph Smith.
A more fruitful source for this geophysical holocaust is Smith’s inner life. The catastrophe in the Book of Mormon comes as a judgment from God—mirroring, I argue, the time when Smith stood before a literal judgment bar in South Bainbridge and was declared guilty. Psychologically, this fantasy of external destruction reveals how shattered he was by his trial for magic and money digging, and his difficulty in handling the resulting shame and humiliation is proportional to the magnitude of the devastation.125 He combines his internal devastation with a fantasy act of revenge on those who killed his brother and humiliated him. Every psychiatrist has heard patients present dreams and fantasies of volcanos and earthquakes, suggesting intensity of emotional upheaval. The narcissistic personality cannot handle shame or humiliation; it feels even ordinary slights, rebuffs, or insults with frightening emotional intensity. The narcissist’s defenses include surrounding himself or herself with compliant people who buffer the narcissist from the outside world. But if these buffers are inadequate or unavailable, as was the case for Smith during his trial, then the narcissist’s personality is terribly shaken. This story makes a contribution to the diagnostic profile of Joseph Smith.126
Up to this point, Smith has followed both the chronological order and timing of his autobiography in creating the Book of Mormon narrative. He continues the order, but not the close time parallels. As already discussed, the five events following Smith’s humiliating trial are the death of Smith’s deformed and stillborn son, his rejection by Emma’s church, his loss of the manuscript, a period of conventional living, then a return to dictation. All five events in this same chronological order can be found in the Book of Mormon story in the book of 3 Nephi, but these incidents are more highly disguised than the autobiographical parallels with the story of the first Nephi and Lehi. These events happened within two years of the time when Smith dictated them to Cowdery, sufficient reason, in my opinion, to take special pains with disguising them.
From a psychoanalytic perspective, we would expect the “very much deformed” stillborn son to be transformed by compensatory exaggerated fantasy into a child of unearthly beauty. Therefore, I see the Book of Mormon story of Christ blessing the children as the transformation of this painful and frightening loss:
[Jesus] commanded that their little children should be brought. So they brought their little children and sat them down upon the ground round about him, and Jesus stood in their midst … and … groaned … and prayed … and he took their little children one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them … and spoke unto the multitude. … Behold your little ones. And as they looked to behold, they cast their eyes toward heaven, and they saw the Heavens open, and they saw angels descending out of Heaven as it were, in the midst of fire; and they came down and encircled those little ones about; and they were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them, and the multitude did see and hear, and bear record. (BM 490; 3 Ne. 17:21 24)
Rather than one horribly deformed child, we here have a multitude of children encircled by the glory of God and ministered to by angels. No scene could have more completely erased the sorrowful memory of the dead child and the humiliating memory of how Smith had boasted of this child’s ability to his skeptical in laws.
Chronologically, the disguised version of Smith’s application to Emma’s church should follow this scene of the children and precede the lost manuscript. In fact, we find Jesus counseling the people against the kind of behavior that humiliated the grieving Joseph.
And now behold, this is the commandment which I give unto you, that ye shall not suffer any one, knowingly, to partake of my flesh, and blood unworthily … For whoso eateth and drinketh my flesh and blood unworthily eateth and drinketh damnation to his soul. … Nevertheless ye shall not cast him out from among you, but ye shall minister unto him and shall pray for him unto the Father, in my name and if it so be that he repenteth, and is baptized in my name, then shall ye receive him, and shall minister unto him of my flesh and blood. … Nevertheless, ye shall not cast him out of your … places of worship … for ye know not but what they will return and repent. (BM 492; 3 Ne. 18:28 32)
This statement of tolerance and compassion thus becomes a condemnation, put in God’s mouth, against the Methodist Episcopal church of Harmony. In fact, Smith never forgave the Methodist Episcopals and later the Methodists, whom he said God had singled out as especially unworthy.127 The quotation from Jesus about the sacrament paraphrases 1 Corinthians 11:24 30, and the rest of the passage can be read as Smith’s complaint that, even if his in laws felt he was unworthy of the sacrament, they should have let him attend church.
The stillbirth occurred only eighteen days before Smith discovered the loss of the manuscript, and the application to the Methodist Episcopal church came in between. One would expect the disguised representations of these events in the Book of Mormon to follow each other in quick succession. Smith’s self chastisement for not making a copy of the manuscript appears as Jesus chastising Smith’s alter ego Nephi Jr. for not recording events at all:
I commanded my servant Samuel, the Lamanite, that he should testify unto this people … that there were many saints which should arise from the dead. … Were it not so? And his disciples answered him and said, Yea, Lord, Samuel did prophesy according to thy words, and they were all fulfilled. And Jesus saith unto them, How be it that ye have not written this thing? … And … Nephi remembered that this thing had not been written. And it came to pass that Jesus commanded that it should be written; therefore it was written according as he commanded. (BM 503; 3 Ne. 23:6 14)
Psychiatrists agree that major psychological conflicts and emotional trauma cannot be totally suppressed in our communications, even with conscious intent. This event involving the record makes an important pattern between events in Smith’s life and events in the Book of Mormon: Smith projects his self chastisement onto God.
Interestingly, at this point in the Book of Mormon narrative there is another episode of Jesus and the children. This repetition of compensatory fantasy underscores how traumatized Smith was by the malformed stillbirth, especially since the fantasy is even more miraculous:
d they did speak unto their fathers great and marvellous things … and … after he had ascended into Heaven the second time … behold, it came to pass on the morrow, that the multitude gathered themselves together, and they both saw and heard these children; yea, even babes did open their mouths, and utter marvellous things; and the things which they did utter were forbidden, that there should not any man write them. (BM 506 507; 3 Ne. 26:16)
Smith’s child, who, he boasted, would translate the golden plates, is here transformed into a multitude of children speaking the secrets of God.
After Christ departed from the Nephites, they experienced approximately two generations (160 years, 34 194 C.E.) of peace, a period that corresponded to Smith’s relatively normal life between 3 July 1828 and February 1829. Nephi’s son, Amos, “kept [the record] eighty and four years and there was still peace in the land, save it were for a small part of the people, which had revolted from the church, and took upon them the name of Lamanites” (BM 516; 4 Ne. 19 21). During this time the people repaired the destruction and “spread upon all the face of the land.” The church prospered, and
there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people. And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness: and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people of God: There were no robbers, nor no murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor no manner of Ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God: And how blessed were they. (BM 515 16; 4 Ne. 12 18)
From a psychoanalytic perspective, this passage strongly suggests that Smith, temporarily controlled by outside pressures, found peace from his internal conflicts for a time. This ideal peace deteriorated in 201 C.E. when social classes replaced Christian communalism; thirty years later (231 C.E.), a “great division” into Lamanites, Nephites, and other subdivisions recurred. The peace from Jesus’ visit in 33 C.E. to this division lasted 197 years. The seven months of Smith’s retreat into conventional living lasted, in round months of thirty days each, 210 days. The two figures are so close that, as a psychiatrist, I suspect a simple mental substitution of days for years. In seventy more years, all righteousness had evaporated from among the people. Tellingly, in Smith’s real life, after giving his father a revelation some time in February, he began dictating the Book of Mormon to Oliver Cowdery in early April—a little more than sixty days. As Smith intensified his supernatural claims, the Book of Mormon peoples intensified their evil. These parallels are very suggestive.
In his final addition to the Book of Mormon, Ether, I argue that Smith will disclose important information about his dictation of the Book of Mormon. (See chapter 6.) This self disclosure is one of three reasons for the addition of this otherwise puzzling book.
1. Wesley P. Walters, “The Use of the Old Testament in the Book of Mormon,” M.A. thesis, Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, MO, 1981, 25 29. Walters ascribes this pattern to Smith’s use of Old Testament motifs. The orthodox Mormon position is that Nephi saw his exodus to a promised land as symbolically parallel to the original exodus from Egypt. John L. Sorenson, “Composition of Lehi’s Family,” in By Study and Also by Faith, eds., John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1990), 182; and George S. Tate, “The Typology of the Exodus Pattern in the Book of Mormon,” in Literature of Belief, ed. Neal E. Lambert (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1981), 245 62.
4. Sigmund Freud, “Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego,” (1922) Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (hereafter Standard Edition) (London: Hogarth Press, 1955), 18:69 143. Nietzsche’s well known dictum applies: “With individuals, insanity is the exception; with groups it is the rule.” Irving L. Janis, Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1983), 9, 13.
6. Wesley P. Walters, “New Light on Mormon Origins from the Palmyra Revival,” 59 81, and response by Richard L. Bushman, 82 100, in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 4 (Spring 1969). Orthodox Mormon attempts to keep the 1820 date may be found in Milton V. Backman, Joseph Smith’s First Vision (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1890), and Richard L. Anderson, “Circumstantial Confirmation of the First Vision through Reminiscences,” BYU Studies 9 (Spring 1969): 373 404. Mormon historian Marvin S. Hill accepts the 1824 date in “The First Vision Controversy: A Critique and Reconciliation,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 (Summer 1982): 31 46. In 1842 Smith summarized his 1838 version in a letter to a Chicago newspaper editor, John Wentworth. Qtd in Backman, First Vision, 168 69.
7. Dean C. Jessee, “The Early Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” BYU Studies 9 (1969): 275 94; Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Papers of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), 1:6 7, 127, 272 73.
8. Cowdery, with Smith, in Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Kirtland, Ohio, 1834 35, 1:13, 40, 79 80. Cowdery explains his collaboration with Smith: “That our narrative may be correct, and particularly the introduction, it is proper to inform our patrons, that our brother J. Smith, Jr. has offered to assist us. Indeed there are many items connected with the fore part of this subject that render his labor indispensable.” Letter III, 1 (Dec. 1834): 42 43, starts the description of the first vision (in which the divine visitor is an angel); it continues in Letter IV, 1 (Feb. 1835): 78, and Letter VII, 1 (July 1835): 155 59.
11. Ibid., 114, quotes an 1829 newspaper account that Smith had been “visited in a dream by the spirit of the Almighty [and was] thrice thus visited.” One month later a Rochester newspaper quoted Martin Harris: Smith “said that he had been visited by the spirit of the Almighty … and after a third visit from the same spirit in a dream he proceeded to the spot [Cumorah].”
14. Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1984), 7; see also Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:8 9; Scott H. Faulring, ed., An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1989), 6 7.
17. These men are Willard Chase, affidavit, 11 Dec. 1833, in E. D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH: Author, 1834), and Benjamin Saunders, interviewed in 1884, Miscellany, 1795 1948, Box 2, fd. 44, 2, 19, RLDS Library Archives; both quoted in Quinn, Magic World View, 124 28. Quinn then reviews ancient and European historical sources providing context from the world of magic for such a happening (128 33).
18. Vogel, Lucy Smith History, 297 98. Compare the report sixty years later by Joseph’s brother, William: “He took [the plates] from the stone box in which they were found, and placed them on the ground behind him, when the thought came into his mind that there might be a treasure hidden with them. While stooping forward to see, he was overpowered, so that could not look farther. Turning to get the plates, he found they had gone; and on looking around found that they were in the box again; but he could not get them.” “Statement,” Saints’ Herald 2 (4 Oct. 1884): 643.
19. Dean C. Jessee, “Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History,” BYU Studies 17 (Autumn 1976): 29 39. See also Quinn, Magic World View, 139, who provides three additional references to this story.
22. John Phillip Walker, ed., Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism: Correspondence and a New History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986), 266, 380n16 21, who summarizes quotations from 1828, 1830 31, 1851, 1870, 1879, and 1880.
25. According to Joseph’s younger brother William in 1894, “Rev. Stockton was the president of the meeting and suggested that it was their meeting and under their care and they had a church there and they [the Smiths] ought to join the Presbyterians, but as father did not like Rev. Stockton very well, our folks hesitated.” The reason for the dislike was Stockton’s funeral sermon for Alvin when he implied that Alvin “had gone to hell, for Alvin was not a church member, but he was a good boy and my father did not like it.” William adds that Joseph Sr. attended one of Stockton’s revival meetings, then stopped. H. Michael Marquardt and Wesley P. Walters, Inventing Mormonism: Tradition and the Historical Record (San Francisco: Smith Research Associates, 1994), 19 20; 36 37n16; William Smith, interviewed by E. C. Briggs as reported by J. W. Petersen to Zion’s Ensign (Independence, MO), and reprinted in Deseret News, 20 Jan. 1894, qtd. in Walters, “New Light on Mormon Origins from the Palmyra Revival,” 75n10.
26. Rumors in town may have suggested that Alvin’s body was disinterred—perhaps to get part of the corpse to satisfy the angelic messenger during Joseph’s yearly visit. Joseph Smith, Sr., published a notice in six consecutive issues of the Palmyra Wayne Sentinel beginning 25 September 1824:
TO THE PUBLIC: Whereas reports have been industriously put in circulation, that my son, Alvin, had been removed from the place of his interment and dissected; which reports every person possessed of human sensibility must know, are peculiarly calculated to harrow up the mind of a parent and deeply wound the feelings of relations—therefore, for the purpose of ascertaining the truth of such reports, I, with some of my neighbors this morning, repaired to the grave, and removing the earth, found the body which had not been disturbed. This method is taken for the purpose of satisfying the minds of those who may have heard the report, and of informing those who have put it into circulation, that it is earnestly requested that they would desist therefrom; and that it is believed by some that they have been stimulated to injure the reputation of certain persons than a philanthropy for the peace and welfare of myself and friends. /s/ Joseph Smith.
30. Walters, “New Light on Mormon Origins,” 64 66: “[By March 1925] in Palmyra and Macedon … more than 400 have already testified … [and] the work is still progressing.” Wayne Sentinel (Palmyra), 2 Mar. 1825, 3 4.
31. William Smith, qtd. in Marquardt and Walters, Inventing Mormonism, 19, 36n16. William’s statement contradicts Joseph’s 1838 canonized account of the first vision in which God commands him in 1820 not to “join with any of them.” Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:272 73.
32. Rodger I. Anderson, Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reexamined (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990), 117 72. Anderson’s list includes episodes of animal sacrifice: a dog named Tray when Joseph was nineteen or twenty; a lamb (reviewed later in this chapter); and a black sheep.
36. Oliver Cowdery, with Joseph Smith, Messenger and Advocate 2 (Oct. 1835): 200 201. This account briefly discusses a legend about a Spanish treasure cave near Harmony and presents Smith as a reluctant participant.
37. The “Articles of Agreement” was kept by “a citizen of Thompson township,” who passed it on to a journalist in 1880. It was published in the anti Mormon Daily Tribune (Salt Lake City), 23 Apr. 1880, and reprinted in Francis W. Kirkham, New Witness for Christ in America (Independence, MO: Zion’s Printing and Publishing Co., 1951), 1:492 94 (my source here). The signers were Isaac Hale, David Hale, P. Newton, Charles A. Newton, Joseph Smith, Sr., Joseph Smith, Jr., Isaiah [Josiah] Stowell, Calvin Stowell, and William I. Wiley.
38. Marquardt and Walters, Inventing Mormonism, 69, 82, 120 22, 141. This agreement apparently extended for another two years, for Durfee recorded on 16 April 1827 that “S. Harrison Smith son of Joseph Smith began to work for me by the month … for 7 months for the use of the place where Said Joseph Smith lives. Lemuel Durfee, Account Book, 1813 29, 15, Ontario County Historical Society, Canandaigua, New York, quoted by Marquart and Walters, Inventing Mormonism, 142n31; see also Vogel, Lucy Smith History, 322n129.
40. The records of the trial of Joseph Smith, Jr., are so potentially injurious to his reputation as a prophet of God that their rediscovery met with firm opposition from the Mormon establishment. This led to further investigation and discoveries, so that the provenance of the records can now be established with a high degree of assurance. Wesley P. Walters, “Joseph Smith’s Bainbridge, N.Y., Court Trials,” Westminster Theological Journal 36 (Winter 1974): 123 37, including nn. 1 23, and his “From Occult to Cult with Joseph Smith, Jr.,” Journal of Pastoral Practice 1 (Summer 1977), published together by Utah Lighthouse Ministry (Salt Lake City, n.d.). See also Marquardt and Walters, Inventing Mormonism, 63 87, unnumbered pages between 199 201, 223 30.
41. W. D. Purple, “Joseph Smith, the Originator of Mormonism: Historical Reminiscences of the Town of Afton,” Chenango Union 20 (3 May 1877): 3, Norwich, New York, reprinted in Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ, 2:362 68; Marquardt and Walter, Inventing Mormonism, 63 87, 222 30.
42. “Mormonism,” New Schaff Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (New York, 1883), 2:1576, qtd. in Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 2d ed. rev. and enl. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971), 427 29.
43. Smith used this stone while he produced the Book of Mormon. It is today in the First Presidency’s vault, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, Salt Lake City. Quinn, Magic World View, 195 96.
45. Walker, Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism, letter dated 19 Aug. 1947, 129 30; and Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Joseph Smith and Money Digging (Salt Lake City: Modern Microfilm, 1970), photographic copy, 120.
50. Gordon A. Madsen, “Joseph Smith’s 1826 Trial: The Legal Setting,” BYU Studies 30 (Spring 1990), 91; Richard L. Anderson, “The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Seeking,” BYU Studies 24 (Fall 1984): 489 560.
51. Susan Staker, “The Lord Said, `Thy Wife Is a Very Fair Woman to Look Upon’: The Book of Abraham, Secrets, and Lying for the Lord,” 17 Aug. 1996, Sunstone Symposium, Salt Lake City, photocopy of paper in my possession; Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, Prophet’s Wife, “Elect Lady,” Polygamy’s Foe, 1804 1879, 95 168; George D. Smith, ed., An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton (Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1995), 93 136.
54. “Mormon History,” Amboy Journal 24 (30 Apr. 1879): 1; Joel Tiffany, “Mormonism,” Tiffany’s Monthly (New York) 5 (Aug. 1859): 163 64, qtd. in Kirkham, New Witness, 2:377; Vogel, Lucy Smith History, 326 30. See also summaries in Quinn, Magic World View, 112 48, and Marquardt and Walters, Inventing Mormonism, 96 115.
58. Martin Harris, “Mormonism,” Tiffany’s Monthly 5 (May 1859): 116, reprt. in Kirkham, New Witness, 2:372 82, esp. 378. See also Richmond Democrat, 26 Jan. 1886, from Plattsburg Democrat, reprt. in Saints Herald 4 (Feb. 1888): 67, and qtd. in James E. Lancaster, “The Translation of the Book of Mormon,” in The Word of God: Essays on Mormon Scripture, ed. Dan Vogel (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990), 100.
62. Ibid. A more detailed chronology of the translation period may be found in Stephen D. Ricks, “Joseph Smith’s Means and Methods of Translating the Book of Mormon,” and in John W. Welch and Tim Rathbone, “The Translation of the Book of Mormon: Basic Historical Information,” published under one cover, #WRR 86 (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1986).
63. The contents of the lost 116 pages can be inferred from a sermon given by Mormon apostle Erastus Snow in May 1882. He remembered, “The Prophet Joseph informed us that the record of Lehi was contained on the 116 pages that were first translated and subsequently stolen, and of which an abridgment is given us in the first Book of Nephi, which is the record of Nephi individually, he himself being of the lineage of Manasseh; but that Ishmael was of the lineage of Ephraim, and that his sons married into Lehi’s family, and Lehi’s sons married Ishmael’s daughters.” Journal of Discourses (Liverpool and London: LDS Booksellers Depot, 1855 86), 23:184.
65. Ronald Walker, “Martin Harris: Mormonism’s Early Convert,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19 (Winter 1986): 29 43; see also Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Case Against Mormonism (Salt Lake City: Lighthouse Ministry, 1968), 2:2 33. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 261, prints the testimony of neighbor G. W. Stoddard who lists orthodox Quaker, Universalist, Restorationer, Baptist, and Presbyterian as Harris’s previous religious affiliations. Stoddard also confirms Harris’s wife beating.
68. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 236. Neighbor Willard Chase (246), who is probably quoting Ingersoll, repeats this sentence. Lucy Mack Smith recorded a more benign but not incompatible version in which Harris spontaneously gave Smith $50 in the presence of others “to do the Lords work with.” Vogel, Lucy Smith History, 349.
70. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, 80 92; Anthon letters in Kirkham, New Witness, 1:415 22. Harris also saw a prominent and “knowledgeable” physician, Samuel L. Mitchell. Mitchell, who died in 1831, may have encouraged Harris, for Mitchell was corresponding with Dr. Francis Corroy at the Mayan ceremonial ruin of Palenque. Corroy, a French physician and amateur archaeologist, believed alternately that they were either 4,600 or 1,300 years old and that the ruins had been built by the Egyptians, among others. Robert L. Brunhouse, In Search of the Maya (New York: Ballantine Books, 1973), 65 68.
71. Lancaster, “The Translation of the Book of Mormon,” 97 112, 111 12n25. As an old man, Harris said Joseph also used a seer stone to translate, perhaps referring to the second translation period. Ricks, “Joseph Smith’s Means and Methods,” 4, 7n25, 7n13, Welch and Rathbone, “The Translation of the Book of Mormon,” 9 10.
72. Vogel, Lucy Smith History, 357 58. Newell and Avery, Mormon Enigma, 314n12; Richard L. Anderson reported to Welch and Rathbone that “the Smith family Bible clearly reads `Alvin.’” Welch and Rathbone, “The Translation of the Book of Mormon,” 12n36.
75. Psychological responses to stillbirth include “emptiness,” “low self esteem,” “unbearable helplessness,” “underlying shame,” and feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, failure, and worthlessness. Irving G. Leon, “The Psychoanalytic Conceptualization of Perinatal Loss: A Multidimensional Model,” American Journal of Psychiatry 149 (Nov. 1992): 1464 71, esp. 1465, 1470. Emma was surrounded by family members, but these relatives did not respect her husband and probably condemned her choice to elope in the face of her father’s clear disapproval. “When a mother gives birth to a stillborn infant, the reaction of others, especially doctors, nurses, and family members, may influence the processes of grief.” Elizabeth Kirkley Best and Kenneth R. Kellner, “The Forgotten Grief: A Review of the Psychology of Stillbirth,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 52 (July 1982): 425; emphasis theirs.
77. “Mormon History,” Amboy [Illinois] Journal, 30 Mar. 1879, 30 Apr. 1879, 21 May 1879, and 11 June 1879. Emma’s cousins, Joseph and Hiel Lewis, lived in Amboy but had been officers in the church in Harmony fifty years earlier. Reverend Wesley P. Walters published their comments in the Utah Christian Tract Society Newsletter (La Mesa, CA), July Aug. 1971, 1. Newell and Avery, Mormon Enigma, 25, and Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, 94 95, report the incident but do not explore its significance in showing Hale family and community feeling about Smith’s reputation.
79. Joseph and Hiel Lewis, “Mormon History,” Amboy Journal, 30 Apr. 1879: 1, recalled their memories of what Smith had told them of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, fifty years after Smith’s 1826 27 residence near the family home:
He [Joseph] said that by a dream he was informed that at such a place in a certain hill, in an iron box, were some gold plates with curious engravings, which he must get and translate, and write a book; that the plates were to be kept concealed from every human being for a certain time, some two or three years; that he went to the place and dug till he came to the stone that covered the box, when he was knocked down; that he again attempted to remove the stone, and was again knocked down; this attempt was made the third time, and the third time he was knocked down. Then he exclaimed, “Why can’t I get it?” or words to that effect; and then he saw a man standing over the spot, which to him appeared like a Spaniard, having a long beard coming down over his breast to about here (Smith putting his hand to the pit of his stomach) with his (the ghost’s) throat cut from ear to ear, and the blood streaming down, who told him that he could not get it alone; that another person whom he, Smith, would know at first sight, must come with him, and then he could get it. And when Smith saw Miss Emma Hale, he knew that she was the person …
In all this narrative, there was not one word about “visions of God,” or of angels, or heavenly revelations. All his information was by that dream, and that bleeding ghost. The heavenly visions and messages of angels, etc., contained in Mormon books, were after thoughts, revised to order. (Emphasis theirs.)
When challenged by Edwin Cadwell of the RLDS church, the Lewis brothers acknowledged that they may have misremembered that the box was “iron” but stated that others still living could attest to the rest of the story. Hiel Lewis, “Review of Mormonism,” Amboy Journal, 4 June 1879, 1.
85. “Now, behold, a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men, [//Isaiah 29:14], therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart[,] might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless at the last day: [//Mark 12:30, Luke 10:24, 1 Cor. 1:8] Therefore if ye have desires to serve God, ye are called to the work, for behold, the field is white already to harvest, and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul, [//John 4:35, 36] and faith, hope, charity, and love, with an eye single to the glory of God, qualifies him for the work [//1 Cor. 13:13]. Remember temperance, patience, humility, diligence, &c., ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened unto you: Amen” [//2 Peter 1:5 7; Matt. 7:7, 8, Luke 18:1, James 1:5]. See Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, 95, 221n54.
86. Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:9; Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, 144 46; Walker, Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism, 278, 386; Saint’s Herald 26 (1 Oct. 1879): 290. Joseph lists Martin Harris and his brother as scribes; Emma adds herself and Reuben. Later scribes included John and David Whitmer, and finally Oliver Cowdery, who would become Joseph’s main scribe.
87. There is apparently universal agreement on this point from many eyewitnesses to Smith’s dictation technique after the 116 pages were lost. However, Oliver Cowdery, who afterward became Smith’s main scribe, testified in an 1830 trial that “said Smith found with the plates, from which he translated his book, two transparent stones, resembling glass, set in silver bows. That by looking through these, he was able to read in English, the reformed Egyptian characters, which were engraved on the plates.” He reaffirms that his experience was with Joseph when Joseph was using the “Urim and Thummin, or, as the Nephites would have said, `Interpreters.’” These statements, at variance with those of so many other witnesses, may raise the question of Cowdery’s honesty. Possibly protecting Cowdery, devout Mormonism allows for the possibility that Smith continued to use both the seer stone in a hat and the spectacles attached to the breastplate, although a number of people, including Emma, said that it did not happen. Ricks, “Joseph Smith’s Means,” 5; Welch and Rathbone, “The Translation of the Book of Mormon,” 10 20; Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, 221n51; Vogel, Lucy Smith History, 369 71; Tanner and Tanner, Joseph Smith and Money Digging, 7 9. Some apparent contradictions in the testimony of observers, but not all, occur because they used the Bible phrase “urim and thummin” to describe both the two seer stones attached to the breastplate and the single seer stone which he viewed in his white stove pipe hat.
The mechanical description of translation, in which the translated words in English were viewed by Joseph when he looked into the stone, and not as a product of his own mental effort was accepted throughout the nineteenth century, but it makes God speak in New England idiom with flawed grammar. B. H. Roberts, Defense of the Faith of the Saints, Vol. 1 (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1907), 305 307, insisted in 1907: “The theory of [the mechanical translation will] invite ridicule, and make of those who advocate it candidates for contempt. … [It is] contrary to common sense and reason. … The old theory must be abandoned.” He advances instead the scenario that “the Prophet saw the Nephite characters in the Urim and Thummin; through strenuous mental effort, the exercise of faith and the operation of the inspiration of God upon his mind, he obtained the thought represented by the Nephite characters, understood them in the Nephite characters, understood them in the Nephite language, and then expressed the understanding, the thought, in such language as he was master of; which language, as his mind by mental processes arranged it, was reflected and held to his vision in Urim and Thummin until written by his amanuensis.” See also 275 311.
However, Royal Skousen, who has done the most detailed work on the surviving manuscript pages, argues for a return to the mechanistic method: “Joseph Smith was not the author of the Book of Mormon, not even its English language translation. … [He] could actually see … the translated English text—word for word and letter for letter.” Royal Skousen, “Translating the Book of Mormon: Evidence from the Original Manuscript,” in Reynolds, Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited, 61 94.
88. Lancaster, “The Translation of the Book of Mormon,” 97 112. Lancaster quotes from the following eyewitnesses: Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, Elizabeth Ann Whitmer Cowdery Johnson, Michael Morse (husband of Emma’s sister, Trial Hale), and William Smith. Lancaster also gives sources for the other quotations in this section, except that of Joseph Knight. The Martin Harris quotation is quoted on 102 103.
94. Welch and Rathbone, “The Translation of the Book of Mormon,” 38; “Memorandum made by John H. Gilbert, esq.,” 8 Sept. 1892, in Wilford C. Wood, Joseph Smith Begins His Work (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1963), preface, n.p.
95. Stanley P. Gunn, Oliver Cowdery: Second Elder and Scribe (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1962); Richard L. Anderson, “The Second Witness of Priesthood Restoration,” Improvement Era 82 (Sept. 1968): 15 24; Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, 94 98; David Persuitte, Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1985), 56, 235 38.
96. Quinn, Magic World View, 84 86; Tanner and Tanner, Joseph Smith and Money Digging, 16 18; Persuitte, Joseph Smith and the Origins, 57; Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, 96 104.
97. As part of his general pattern of erasing magical references from Mormonism, Smith edited this revelation for the 1835 version of the Doctrine and Covenants to read: “for you have another gift, which is the gift of Aaron; behold it has told you many things” (D&C 8:7 8). This was one of a thousand changes—102 in one revelation alone—that Joseph made in his revelations between 1833 and 1835. Most of the changes are stylistic; but some, such as this one, are substantive. See Richard P. Howard, “Latter Day Scriptures and the Doctrine of Propositional Revelation,” in Vogel, Word of God, 1 18.
99. Ethan Smith (1762 1849) wrote and edited a number of books, including A View of the Hebrews when he was sixty one. Members of the Poultney Historical Society had known about the Ethan Smith/Oliver Cowdery connection, but no one had commented publicly on it until David Persuitte described it to Presbyterian minister Wesley P. Walters, who included it in his master’s thesis in 1981. Persuitte, personal communication, 1990; see also Persuitte, Joseph Smith, 7, 270: “When I examined and took photos of [the church records] in the summer of 1977, the original church records were in the possession of the Poultney Historical Society. The records were apparently stolen from the museum when it was closed during the following winter, but the Society still has photocopies of the original, as well as the transcription of the births, baptisms, etc. that the WPA made from the records during the thirties.”
101. Brigham H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, edited by Brigham D. Madsen, with a biographical essay by Sterling M. McMurrin (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985), 27; Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994), 464 65, see also 461 66.
105. Persuitte, Joseph Smith, lists more than fifty five prominent and detailed parallels in his index, 292, 138 50. For example, the ancestors of the Indians were white and of Israelitish origin; they had an Urim with precious stones and had a book; they divided into two groups, one civilized, one barbaric, engaged in wars that demolished the civilized sector, and experienced earthquakes at Christ’s crucifixion; they used Egyptian writing and had legends of Moses “as a type of Christ.” Compare Roberts’s twenty six major parallels in his Studies of the Book of Mormon, 241 42. Ethan Smith misquotes Isaiah 11: “And it shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall set his hand again … to gather the remnant of his people … from the isles [islands in Isaiah] of the sea. … and four quarters [corners in Isaiah] of the earth.” In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Zenos says that the Lord will “remember the isles of the sea … and … gather in … the House of Israel … from the four quarters of the earth” (BM 51 52; 1 Ne. 19:15 16; Persuitte, Joseph Smith, 141 42). As another example, Lehi admonishes his sons: “Awake! and arise from the dust, and hear the words of a trembling parent, whose limbs ye must soon lay down in the cold and silent grave, from whence no traveler can return” (BM 61; 2 Ne. 1:14). This statement paraphrases Hamlet’s soliloquy, Act III.1, “death, the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns,” but it is much closer to Priest’s allusion: “my time was short, and I had some preparation to make before I went to `that bourne from whence no traveller returns.’” Ibid., 147.
106. Dean C. Jessee, “The Original Book of Mormon Manuscript,” BYU Studies 10 (Spring 1970): 259 78, was able to show from the scribal hands on the surviving pages of the original manuscript that Smith had not simply started over with Lehi’s family in Jerusalem when he began dictating again in February 1829. Additional evidence is the number of interpolations and “corrections” Smith progressively made in quoting biblical scriptures in the Book of Mormon. Walters, “The Use of the Old Testament in the Book of Mormon,” 32 94. The most comprehensive review of this issue is Brent Lee Metcalfe, “The Priority of Mosiah: A Prelude to Book of Mormon Exegesis,” in New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology, ed. Metcalfe (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993), 395 444.
107. “Associated Features and Disorders of the Narcissistic Personality,” American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed. (Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 1994), 660 61.
108. Arnold H. Modell, “A Narcissistic Defense Against Affects and the Illusion of Self Sufficiency,” in Essential Papers on Narcissism, ed. Andrew P. Morrison (New York: New York Universities Press, 1986), 296, see also 293 307.
110. Psychologically speaking, the erasure of this father, who has given his own name to his son, seems significant. I hypothesize that Joseph Smith may be taking this method of writing out his own increasing disappointment at his father’s inadequacies, his drinking (which I assume continued), and his apparent inability to make an adequate living for the family. During this second decade of Joseph Smith’s life, as he acquires the father’s magical gifts with the divining rod and the seer stone and goes beyond them, I think it is obvious that the son replaces the father as the family’s key figure.
112. This date, which begins a fifteen year chronology correlating the Book of Mormon with Smith’s life, is based on Joseph’s memories and fantasies. As he remembers, this sequence began when he was “five years old or thereabouts” with the surgery—hence, 1811. As discussed in chapter 2, a more probable date is the winter of 1812 13.
117. Orsamus Turner, History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham’s Purchase (Rochester, NY: William Alling, 1851), 213 215, 400; see also Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism, 17.
120. Charles McCarthy, “The Antimasonic Party,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1902 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1903), 1:367 574, esp. 371 87, 531 43; see also VanDusen, The Jacksonian Era.
125. Marvin Hill, Quest for Refuge: The Mormon Flight from American Pluralism (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 193n62, stated: “It is significant that Joseph Smith never mentioned this trial in any of his writings.” Smith was silent on this episode in his autobiographical writings, I argue, because his shame was so deep; yet in a setting where he was free to exercise his fantasies, this episode becomes the most dramatic in the Book of Mormon.
126. I argue that Smith was inspired by Josiah Priest’s Wonders of Nature and Providence Displayed (Albany, NY: Author and E. and E. Hosford, 1825), 527. Priest quotes Adam Clarke, LL.D, as saying that the plagues of Egypt including “darkness which may be felt. … [and] thick clammy vapours [that] would prevent lamps, etc. from burning; or even if they could be ignited, the light, through the palpable obscurity could diffuse itself to no distance from the burning body … [and] lasted for three days” (527). Priest also describes “a most violent whirlwind. … typhones. … with such fury and violence as to threaten the destruction of the whole fleet” at Charleston, South Carolina (558), and was combined with a terrible storm in Ireland (174): “a violent wind … a dreadful clap of thunder … a thick darkness. … that continued for half a quarter of an hour. … Continued lightning broke out without ceasing, so that heaven and earth seemed to be united in flame” (174). Priest vividly portrays the terrors of volcanic upheavals, earthquakes and burning islands: Mount Etna (1669, 1755) some of Vesuvius’ twenty eruptions (79, 1631, 1698, 1754, 1770), Santorini (1707), the earthquake sinking of Port Royal, Jamaica (1692), similar devastations in Lima (1747), and many other events. These extensive descriptions (257 84) provide an adequate source for the Book of Mormon cataclysms.
127. In an interview with Alexander Neibaur on 24 May 1844, Joseph reported that he asked “must I join the Methodist Church.” God answered, “No—they are not my People. They have gone astray and there is none that doeth good no not one.” Qtd. in Improvement Era, Apr. 1970, 12.