Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith
Robert D. Anderson
A Book of Intricate Complexity: Mosiah and Alma
I believe that the first major attempt to understand Joseph Smith was that of his antagonist, Eber D. Howe, in Mormonism Unvailed.1 Howe proposed that the Book of Mormon had been adapted from a romance written by a poverty‑stricken Presbyterian minister, Solomon Spaulding, fifteen years earlier. This proposal, supported in his book by many testimonies from individuals, lasted until the original Spaulding manuscript was rediscovered in 1884, when no meaningful connection between it and the Book of Mormon could be found. This theory, however, had successfully blocked more sophisticated inquiry into the source(s) of the Book of Mormon for fifty years. From that point, further examination explored other hypotheses besides that accepted by devout Mormons. Evidence began to accumulate suggesting that the book reflected the early nineteenth‑century American frontier.2 Further, travel, geographic, and population claims in the book seemed implausible.3 While no Mormon acknowledgment has been forthcoming, M. T. Lamb’s 1887 book was probably the impetus for the “new geographic theory” of the Book of Mormon which put Cumorah in Central America and limited the whole Book of Mormon history to a geographic diameter of 400 miles.
The first attempt to understand Joseph Smith psychologically occurred in 1902 and relied on what was by then the canonized version of his “first vision” of God and Jesus. In his doctoral dissertation, I. Woodbridge Riley proposed that Smith suffered from a migraine‑type of epilepsy, a possibility that no longer fits medical knowledge.4 Riley believed that the Book of Mormon was a product of the American environment, discarded the Spaulding theory, and mentioned a few items that suggested the autobiographical possibilities of Smith in the Book of Mormon. He was the first to notice the parallels between the dreams of Joseph Smith, Sr., and Lehi in the Book of Mormon.5 Walter F. Prince in 1917 found evidence that was satisfying to him that Smith was the sole author of the Book of Mormon. Prince’s views were challenged by Theodore Schroeder, who, however, began his argument by insisting on the outdated hypothesis that Solomon Spaulding wrote the Book of Mormon. Some of his conclusions will be reviewed in chapter 5.6
During the first part of the twentieth century, various diagnoses were given to Joseph Smith. Harry M. Beardsley offered “demential Praecox,” a “voluntarily induced schizophrenia,” and “dissociation,” while Bernard DeVoto hypothesized that Smith was a “paranoid” who heard “auditory hallucinations.” Most recently, William D. Morain, a plastic surgeon with ties to the RLDS church, has proposed that Smith “dissociated,” and dictated the Book of Mormon in a “trance.”7
The problem with these proposals is that they see Smith dictating the Book of Mormon without full mental functioning. He is “not all there,” but rather is limited by or under the influence of a severe mental illness that decreases function. In contrast, if not in response to the earlier chapters, I hope readers will appreciate what every devout student of the Book of Mormon knows—its complexity. This complexity initially hid the population and travel improbabilities in the text. Dates, places, and stories interlock in confusing, but internally consistent patterns, with almost no errors. (I will mention one, perhaps two, clear errors in chapter 6.) Such a feat required clear, sharp calculations during the dictation. In my professional opinion, such an achievement was not possible for someone of even temporarily limited mental functioning. Yet even with such integration of cognitive function, the book required some framework. I am proposing that the theology, stories, and geography came from Joseph’s life, expanded into “greater than life” episodes, and being modified as required to allow him to conquer in fantastic fantasy.
The previous two chapters have reviewed the personal story of Smith to the point where he began dictating the Book of Mormon as it currently exists, each one focusing on a story of one of the two important Nephis in the book. The activities of these Smith alter egos show a clear, compact, and close chronological fit between events in the Book of Mormon and events in Smith’s own life. Even though 3 Nephi was written before the current version of 1‑2 Nephi, it is my belief that Smith had, in the lost 116 pages, basically covered the same material that he revisited in 1‑2 Nephi. Thus the story of the first Nephi emphasized the first decade of Smith’s life, the story of the second Nephi the second and third decades. Events in their life stories, I have argued, present a pattern of distinctive themes and figures from key events in Smith’s life.
As the Book of Mormon proceeds, elements of Smith’s autobiography repeatedly recur, though seldom in such crystalline form and precise chronological order. This chapter will confirm the motifs previously identified and add two or three more: a revival that follows a good man’s death (see also chapter 2), the appearance of an angel, and the mention of a gold record that needed translation. This chapter will not only attempt to confirm how Smith used reversal and compensation as fantasy techniques for dealing with his misfortunes, but also document his use of a second psychological technique—exaggerating biblical stories to tell and “correct” his life.8
As a psychiatrist, I argue that the formula to understanding the Book of Mormon is that, beneath its exaggeration and reversal of misfortune, lies the original episode from Joseph Smith’s life—or, in parallel fashion, adds to his life story exaggeration and reversal to find the Book of Mormon version. Familiar motifs will continue to be groups of four or five men, often brothers; the mention of wine with swords; travel following an armed conflict with robbers; and revivals following the death of a good man, often occurring at the same time that an angel appears. Other characters from his life reappear in disguise as Smith becomes one alter‑ego hero after another within the plots of the Book of Mormon.
In the previous two chapters, Smith’s life has been the central theme, the Book of Mormon stories their mirror. In this chapter and the next, I reverse the order, summarizing Book of Mormon stories and briefly presenting their correlation with Smith’s life. Although it would certainly be rewarding to analyze in detail literally hundreds of Book of Mormon episodes, space precludes such an approach. I wish to present the most important parallels and let the reader fill in the details through additional study. From a psychoanalytic perspective, the book’s heros and despots stir the deepest and most primitive childhood fantasies of magic and power. The theology has real content and conflict, for it distills four centuries of problems in Protestant thought.9 The next section is an example.
Polygamy and Doubt
[The] emotional life [of narcissists] is shallow. They experience little empathy for the feelings of others, they obtain very little enjoyment from life other than from the tributes they receive from others or from their own grandiose fantasies, and they feel restless and bored when external glitter wears off and no new sources feed their self‑regard. … In general, their relationships with other people are clearly exploitative and sometimes parasitic. It is as if they feel they have the right to control and possess others and to exploit them without guilt feelings—and behind a surface which very often is charming and engaging, one senses coldness and ruthlessness.10
The first Nephi’s death is recorded in the short book kept by Jacob, his younger brother, who replaced him as religious and political leader. Jacob then chastised the entire assembled Nephite nation for materialism and for the sin of polygamy, which Jacob calls the “abominable” sin of “whoredoms.” Jacob condemns David’s and Solomon’s polygamy, for the Lord has
seen the sorrow, and heard the mourning of the daughters of my people. … Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives … and the sobbing of their hearts ascendeth up to God against you. … Behold, the Lamanites … are more righteous than you; for they have not forgotten the commandments of the Lord. … that they should have save it were one wife; and concubines they should have none. … Their husbands love their wives, and their wives love their husbands, and their husbands and their wives love their children.
The sole exception is: “For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things” (BM 124‑28; Jacob 1:15‑3:7).
Smith would have known that polygamy was a Protestant problem. Polygamy was apparently practiced during Jesus’ ministry without a word of condemnation (see Matt. 25:1‑12). Some Christians during apostolic times would have been converted Jewish men with multiple wives, for Paul had advised Timothy that bishops and deacons should be the husbands of only one wife (1 Tim. 3:2). Polygamy continued among the European Jews until around 1000 C.E. In 1531 Luther advocated its practice to Henry VIII and, in 1539, gave permission to Prince Philip of Hesse to take a second wife. The Anabaptists in Germany in the sixteenth century practiced polygamy, and others in Protestantism continued to press for its return.11 Smith, under “command” from God, married more than thirty women before his death in 1844, including already married women and pubescent girls. The historical record confirms my suspicion as a psychiatrist that such behavior would be devastating for Emma, even though he concealed as many of these relationships as possible. Joseph Smith had dictated this first (and later lost) section of the Book of Mormon during early 1828, when Emma entered the last half of her pregnancy with the stillborn child, Alvin. She may have been sexually unavailable or sexually unattractive to him. If this first 116 pages was similar to his redictation—or if, when he redictated this section, he was reflecting on his past experiences—then this section may contain evidence of marital disharmony. One outside accusation appears to provide support for this conjecture. In August 1830 Joseph and Emma abruptly left Harmony. Fifty years later Hiel Lewis commented, as quoted in the Amboy Journal, that one “Levi Lewis states that he has heard Joseph Smith and Martin Harris both say that adultery was no crime. Harris said that `he did not blame Smith for attempting to seduce E. W., (Eliza Winters).’”12 Hiel Lewis had been an official in Emma’s religious congregation in Harmony, Pennsylvania, fifty years earlier. While devout Mormons correctly point out that the report is second hand and that it emerges after a lapse of fifty years, from a professional perspective, I find it worth considering as the beginning of Joseph Smith’s sexual expansion. Consider the progress:
In 1831 Smith privately stated that plural marriage was a “correct principle,” but the time had “not yet come to teach and practice it.” If he received this knowledge by revelation, it remains unrecorded or at least unpublished. In that year he also told early convert, Mary Elizabeth Rollins, then twelve years old, that God had commanded him to take her as a plural wife—which he did eleven years later. He also stated that the Lamanites (American Indians) would become “white and delightsome” through their plural marriages to white men. In 1833 he was, in the words of Oliver Cowdery, caught by his wife in a “dirty, filthy affair” with sixteen‑year‑old Fanny Alger. Years later, in Utah, Mormon pioneer and leader Heber C. Kimball referred to Alger as Smith’s first plural wife, while Alger’s cousin remembered that his father had performed a marriage uniting Joseph and Fanny. In November 1835 Joseph declared all religious and civil marriages null and void, for they had not been performed by the Mormon priesthood, a declaration that opened the door to taking already “married” women as his plural wives.13
The difference between the sexual expansiveness of Joseph Smith and others is that he put his multiple marriages within a theological framework and made the practice a command from God. Although the exact date when he began practicing polygamy is unknown, he was certainly involved with plural wives and teaching the principle secretly to devoted followers by the early 1840s. The major revelation on it, now canonized as Doctrine and Covenants 132, is dated July 1843. Thirty‑three wives (twelve of whom, already married, continued to live with their husbands to conceal their marriages to Smith) can now be confirmed from the records, and another seven are possible. He married girls as young as fourteen and sixteen years old.14
Smith used coercion and emotional pressure to persuade at least some of these women to marry him. He told two women—Mary Elizabeth Rollins, then a married twenty‑three‑year‑old, and Eliza R. Snow, age thirty‑eight—that he was forced by God to take his wives in this illegal practice. An angel had come to him and commanded him, he stated. He had balked. The angel came again, and again he resisted. As Mary Elizabeth recalled, Smith “talked to him [the angel] soberly about it, and told him it was an abomination and quoted scripture to him.” On the third time, the angel appeared, sword in hand, and commanded him to begin the practice or he “would slay him.” Therapeutically speaking, this “vision” is a manifestation of the ghost of scalpel‑wielding surgeon Nathan Smith, suggesting a focus on childhood issues. According to Eliza, Joseph told her that the angel had said his “priesthood would be taken from him and he would be destroyed.” Both women married him.15 Reading from the Book of Mormon back into Joseph’s life suggests that Emma knew of some sexual dalliance by Joseph and that her reaction may have been a possible source for the prophet Jacob’s accusation that adulterous Nephite men had “broken the hearts of your tender wives” but that God had heard their “sobbing” and “mourning” (Jacob 2:35, 31).
To someone who doubts or does not believe in the supernatural (or in Smith’s version of the supernatural), questions about his ability to truly care for his wife, as well as for people in general, are now increasingly obvious. From my professional perspective, I see the marital dynamic as unhealthy—a continuation of the earlier encouragement to believe in his supernatural money‑digging powers. In addition to this distressing naturalistic view of his coercion of Eliza R. Snow and Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, as well as the psychological pain he inflicted on Emma (if not at this point in time, then certainly later), a psychiatrist sees this sad fact: each of these women was responding to Smith’s projected image and married him because of his claims. Not once did he know what it was to be loved for himself. Nor could he love any of these women for herself.
The book of Jacob continues with an extensive, complex allegory of the tame and wild olive tree, reflecting God’s plans for the house of Israel. It is a exaggeration of Paul’s allegory (Rom. 11), and elaborates several references by Ethan Smith who applied the same metaphor to the American Indians. There are several interpretations of this extensive allegory by traditional Mormons.16
The book ends with a debate between Jacob and Sherem, the first of three anti‑Christs in the Book of Mormon. Sherem denies that anyone “knows” that Christ will come, demands a sign, is struck down, and confesses his sin before dying. Though probably based on a real individual in Smith’s life, he also epitomizes the rational atheism of Thomas Paine’s influential Age of Reason. Paine, a major influence behind the Declaration of Independence, had then turned his attention to religion. He wrote: “Of all the tyrannies that effect mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst; every other species of tyranny is limited to the world we live in; but this attempts to stride beyond the grave, and seeks to pursue us into eternity.”17 Paine wrote in “simple and clear language for the common man. He took Deism [a belief in a creator who did not interact in the affairs of men] … and made it a living creed for the average man. By doing so … he threatened the hold of the clergy upon the people.”18
The Final Part of the “Small Plates”
Next come the very short books of Enos, Jarom, and Omni (BM 143‑53). An anomaly in the Book of Mormon, they cover 314 years—31 percent of the Nephite history—in only 1.5 percent of the entire book. Each of the recordkeepers comments briefly on his personal behavior or religious experience and passes the record on. Omni spins through the records of four keepers in only twelve verses.
Psychologically, it makes sense to explain this section as Smith’s attempt to quickly reach the point at which this new record joins the already finished section. Because he was writing these “small plates” to cover the lost 116 pages after dictating the rest of the Book of Mormon, I suggest that both time and the size of the book were pressing on him and that his tendency to elaborate—as with the allegory of the tame and wild olive tree—had gotten out of hand. He bridged these three centuries to bring him to the joining point.
The Revival Begun
TIME:124 B.C.E.//1824‑25 C.E.
PERSONAE:KING BENJAMIN//REV. BENJAMIN STOCKTON
The interlocking and overlapping stories in the book of Mosiah and the early sections of Alma demonstrate how Smith continued to rewrite his life within the Book of Mormon text. The main story line follows the Nephite civilization through the reigns of Mosiah I, Benjamin, and Mosiah II, and the judgeship of Alma II (Alma the younger). However, three stories are embedded within and intersect with it—Zeniff’s colony, the missionary sons of Mosiah, and the mission of Alma and Amulek. The narratives of the two Nephis are organized chain fashion, each story succeeding the previous story in neat chronological order. In contrast, the Mosiah/Alma texts are nested or stacked, often happening at the same time, interrupting and repeating each other. From a psychoanalytic perspective, I argue that each of the stacked stories occurring simultaneously in the Book of Mormon reveals part of the original incident in Smith’s life and that reading the paired stories will provide the complete incident.
These interlocking stories are not only framed by but are linked together by the familiar motif of the journey. Other familiar motifs include Alvin’s death, Smith’s encounter with the angel and gold plates, the religious revival, Smith’s imprisonment and trial, his troubled relations with the Hale family, the death of the firstborn child, and the transforming trauma of Smith’s childhood—the bloody surgery.
The main story line follows the central body of Nephites. Mosiah I, the Nephite king, obeys God’s commandment to flee with his people from the land of Nephi to provide a buffer of wilderness between themselves and the Lamanites. They find the land of Zarahemla, which is populated by the Mulekites, who fled from Jerusalem at about the same time as Lehi; but lacking records, they are becoming uncivilized. (The Mulekites have found the record of a third people, the Jaredites, who reached the promised land from the tower of Babel. I will review the story of the Jaredites and the book of Ether in chapter 6.) Mosiah translates the Jaredite record (the book of Ether) and unites his people with the Mulekites. His son, Benjamin, is a righteous ruler. Benjamin’s son, Mosiah II, is also a righteous king. Mosiah II has four sons: Ammon, Aaron, Omner, and Himni.
During Benjamin’s reign, the Lamanites discover them, resulting in “a serious war and much bloodshed between the Nephites and Lamanites” (BM 150; Omni 24). Mormon, summarizing these events 500 years later, adds an intriguing detail: “King Benjamin gathered together his armies, and he did stand against them; and he did fight with the strength of his own arm, with the sword of Laban” (BM 152; Words of Mormon 13). This sequence is important. The first story is framed by two journeys: that of the Nephites into the land of Zarahemla and that of the Mulekites from Jerusalem. The journeys suggest, psychologically, the point at which the Smiths moved to New York, while the sword of Laban, the “serious war,” and “much bloodshed” suggest both Smith’s surgery (“much bloodshed”) and Alvin’s death (because of the chronology). We may speculatively date these events to Joseph Smith’s winter of 1823‑24.
This speculation seems confirmed because the next event is the beginning of a religious revival—the “proper” event to follow Alvin’s death. Benjamin, in relinquishing the kingdom to his son, Mosiah II, gave him the plates of brass, the plates engraved by Nephi, the magic compass used in the wilderness, and Laban’s sword (BM 155; Mosiah 1:15‑16). He called his people together in a great encampment in tents and addressed them from a tower near the temple. The crowd was too great to hear his voice, so he had his message written and delivered by runners. The people, convicted of sin, fell to the ground, implored the mercy of God, converted universally, took on the name of Christ, made a life‑long covenant of obedience to God, were reborn as children of Christ (124 years before Christ), and had their names listed by King Benjamin (BM 155‑68; Mosiah 1:18‑6:7).
From a psychoanalytic perspective, this episode exaggerates frontier America camp meetings, with those present falling to the earth due to the intense emotion. As historian Michael T. Walton summarizes:
The camp meeting began in the “second great awakening” at the turn of the 19th century as an ecumenical revival meeting. By the 1820’s, however, it had become the exclusive property of the Methodists. In over 600 such gatherings a year, Methodist preachers hoped to bring religion to unchurched America. The camp meeting was one of the most significant social institutions on the frontier. People came for miles to help clear the land, erect the raised speakers stand and set up their family tents around the compound. For days various preachers would deliver sermons on man’s sinfulness and the need for atonement. Many would be stricken with their sense of sin and collapse in what was known as the falling exercise. At the end of the encampment, those who had been converted were enrolled in the Methodist records so that they could be visited by circuit preachers. Those who were not able to feel a manifestation of the divine were exhorted to “go to the grove to seek God.”19
Benjamin’s lengthy sermon, moreover, fits the condemnatory tone we would expect from the first Benjamin (Stockton), the minister who stated publicly that Alvin was in hell because he had lived unchurched. Benjamin’s exhortations to altruism are phrased as commandments of God, fueled by guilt. Psychologically, Reverend Benjamin speaks through the persona of King Benjamin, oppressive, intense, relentless in his pressure:
And even I [King Benjamin], myself, have labored with mine own hands that I might serve you, and that ye should not be laden with taxes. … I tell you these things that ye may know that I can answer a clear conscience before God this day. … that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God. … and if I who has spent his days in your service, and yet has been in the service of God, do merit any thanks from you, O how you ought to thank your heavenly King! … If ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants. …
And now in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives for which ye are indebted unto him. And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast … (BM 156‑59; Mosiah 2:14‑16, 22‑24)
And ye will not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably, and to render to every man according to that which is his due. And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil who is the master of sin … and … ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish. Perhaps thou shalt say: the man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just. But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same has great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God. For behold, are we not all beggars? … And … all you who deny the beggar, because ye have not; I would that ye say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not but if I had I would give. And now, if ye say this in your hearts ye remain guiltless, otherwise ye are condemned; and your condemnation is just for ye covet that which ye have not received. …
And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.
And … remember … that whosoever among you borroweth of his neighbor should return the thing that he borroweth … or else thou shalt commit sin; and perhaps thou shalt cause thy neighbor to commit sin also. (BM 160‑62; Mosiah 4:13‑14, 16‑19, 28)
This call to altruism and common sense is magnificent, but underlying it is fear of God’s punishment:
And finally, I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them. But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not.20 (BM 165; Mosiah 4:29‑30)
If we can assume—and I do—that Smith recalled themes from Stockton’s sermons to put in the mouth of his Nephite king, the people who attended the Palmyra revival in 1824‑25 resisted this guilt‑laden approach. The Stockton/Benjamin view emphasizes the sufferings of Jesus and threatens punishment if the people do not repent. From a psychoanalytic perspective, it is a despair‑producing sermon, for salvation requires perfection in behavior and even thought. In September 1825 Reverend George Lane arrived, and the tempo of conversions increased, with almost all of the 400 baptisms occurring in the next six months.21 As far as I know, there is no record of Lane’s preaching style and content;22 but I believe that the Book of Mormon preserves his hope in Christ’s saving grace.
The Revival Concluded
TIME: 200‑123 B.C.E.//1816‑25 C.E.
PERSONAE: ABINADI//ALVIN; REV. GEORGE LANE
ALMA//JOSEPH SMITH; REV. GEORGE LANE
KING NOAH//A REPRESENTATIVE OF CORRUPT POWER; PHYSICIANS, JUDGES, LAND OWNERS
ALMA THE YOUNGER//JOSEPH SMITH; THE APOSTLE PAUL
The second story, stacked over these events in the reign of Benjamin’s successor‑son, Mosiah II, and hence part of the revival narrative, is that of Zeniff, his son Noah, and his grandson Limhi. In about 200 B.C.E., Zeniff received permission from Mosiah I, Benjamin’s father, to lead a party of Nephites from the land of Zarahemla back to the land of Nephi, now populated by Lamanites (BM 151; Omni 27‑30). Nothing more was heard from them until Mosiah II sent a search party of sixteen led by Ammon, “a strong and mighty man” (BM 168; Mosiah 7:1‑6). The narrative of Ammon’s journey and the history of this Nephite colony—an embedded story beginning in the “past” of the main narrative—dominates the book of Mosiah, but concludes by moving forward quickly to nearly the same period as King Benjamin’s sermon.
As a psychiatrist, I hear in Ammon’s story the experience of the Smith family: “they knew not the course they should travel in the wilderness, to go up to the land of … Nephi; therefore they wandered many days in the wilderness, even forty days did they wander” (BM 168; Mosiah 7: 5). Ammon’s group found the Nephite colony led by King Limhi, Zeniff’s grandson, who is “exceeding glad.” This meeting, I feel, recalls the Smith family’s joyful reunion with Joseph Sr. in Palmyra. Limhi invites Ammon’s group to “eat, and drink and rest themselves from the labors of their journey; for they had suffered many things: they had suffered hunger, thirst, and fatigue” (BM 169‑70; Mosiah 7:9‑20)—Smith’s own memory of how, as a lame boy laboring through the snow, he had “suffered the most excruciating weariness and pain.” Furthermore, Limhi’s group was in “bondage to the Lamanites, and are taxed with a tax grievous to be borne” (BM 169; Mosiah 7:15), suggesting the Smiths’ straitened finances—Lucy was almost literally penniless by the time they arrived.
A third story is stacked onto these two, as Limhi recounts his people’s history for the last three generations. This story within a story again presents events from Smith’s life in disguised and fragmentary form. For example, Zeniff’s followers battle repeatedly with the Lamanites, thus presenting the familiar sequence of a journey, conflict, and blood. The narrative exaggerates the fatalities (3,043 Lamanites and 279 of Zeniff’s followers), thus underscoring the psychological significance of these motifs.23 In a second battle nine years later, the dead are too numerous to count. From a psychoanalytic perspective, these deaths signal not only an extravagant version of Alvin’s death but also, I think, echoes of Smith’s surgery.
Succeeding Zeniff was his son Noah, a successful warrior but a wicked king who reveled with “wives and concubines” and constructed “many elegant and spacious buildings. … a spacious palace. … and throne in the midst thereof. … ornamented with gold and silver” (BM 177‑80; Mosiah 11). He taxed his people heavily and surrounded himself with priests who also spent “their time with harlots.” Abinadi, who seems to have been modeled after the prophet Nathan who chastised the adulterous King David, launched an aggressive mission of calling the people to repentance. Noah eventually captured, imprisoned, and tried him. Confronting Noah and his priests, Abinadi was so filled with the power of God that “his face shone with exceeding luster, even as Moses did while in the Mount of Sinai, while speaking with the Lord” (BM 181‑83; Mosiah 13). He preached and prophesied concerning Christ and the resurrection, mixing scriptures fluently from the Old and New Testaments in a style reminiscent of revivals during the Second Great Awakening. He preaches, not the wrath of God, but the grace of Christ, thus leading me to speculate that the Reverend George Lane had taken a similar approach during the Palmyra revival:
Behold, they [humankind] would have been endlessly lost, were it not that God redeemed his people from their lost and fallen state. But remember, that he that persists in his own carnal nature, and goes on in the ways of sin and rebellion against God, he remaineth in his fallen state, and the devil hath all power over him. … And now if Christ had not come into the world, speaking of things to come, as though they had already come,24 there could have been no redemption. … But there is a resurrection, therefore the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ: He is the light and the life of the world; yea, a light that is endless, that can never be darkened; yea, and also a life which is endless, that there can be no more death. … This mortal shall put on immortality, and this corruption shall put on incorruption … to be judged of him according to their works … If they be good, to the resurrection of endless life and happiness, and if they be evil, to the resurrection of endless damnation … having never called upon the Lord while the arms of mercy was extended towards them; for … they would not. … And now had ye not to … remember only in and through Christ ye can be saved … (BM 189; Mosiah 16)
Furious at Abinadi’s condemnation of their wickedness, Noah and his priests sentence him to death. I argue that, even though Abinadi was burned alive, not killed by the sword, his death is a replay of Alvin’s motif: a good man killed by one of high position.25 Alma, one of Noah’s priests, was inspired by Abinadi, tried to save him, recorded the prophet’s words, repented of his own sins, went into hiding to save his life from Noah’s wrath, and quietly began preaching to and baptizing converts. I hypothesize that this scenario was Smith’s transformation of George Lane into Abinadi and himself into Alma. Alma hid in
a place which was called Mormon,26 having received its name from the king, being in the borders of the land. … by wild beasts. … Now, there was in Mormon a fountain of pure water, and Alma resorted thither, there being near the water a thicket of small trees, where he did hide himself in the day‑time from the searches of the king. … As many as believed him went thither to hear his words. … and he did teach them and did preach repentance, and redemption, and faith on the Lord. (BM 191; Mosiah 18:4‑7)
This small community was idyllic, a loving flock in the wilderness, bound together in faith and charity. Those baptized agreed to enter
into the fold of God, to bear one another’s burdens. … to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times, and all places, and in all things. … [They] were filled with the Grace of God. And they were called the Church of God, or the church of Christ, from that time forward. … And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one toward another … and thus they became the children of God.
And now it came to pass that all this was done in Mormon, yea, by the waters of Mormon, in the forest that was near the waters of Mormon; yea, the place of Mormon, the waters of Mormon, the forest of Mormon, now beautiful are they to the eyes of them who there came to the knowledge of their Redeemer; yea, and how blessed are they. … And these things were done in the borders of the land, that they might not come to the knowledge of the king. (BM 192‑93; Mosiah 18:9‑30)
When the king sent his army after them, forewarned of God, “they took their tents and their families and departed into the wilderness. And they were in number about four hundred and fifty souls” (BM 190‑94; Mosiah 17, 18).
This scene by the waters of Mormon is a moment of supreme beauty in the Book of Mormon, a paradisiacal Eden in ancient America. The people are saved by their faith in Jesus and then, automatically, have hearts filled with charity. It is no accident that their numbers were almost exactly those of the Palmyra harvest (“over 400”), baptized in the area’s rivers, streams, and lakes. This scene of Alma (Reverend Lane) ministering tenderly to his little flock is a pleasant complement to King Benjamin (Benjamin Stockton) with his practical, heavy‑handed, and guilt‑producing commandments. Although I have no historic evidence to support my views, I suspect that Lane comforted Smith as he mourned his brother’s death, temporarily becoming a superficial role model.
From a psychoanalytic perspective, the stacked stories of Benjamin in Zarahemla and Zeniff’s people in the land of Nephi tell two versions of Smith’s story. Together, they tell the complete history of the Palmyra revival. Significantly, the Book of Mormon merges these two stories and continues Smith’s story through the experience yet another alter ego: Alma’s son, who is also named Alma (yet another “Jr.” or, in Book of Mormon terms, Alma the younger).
Alma’s flock of 450, after fleeing from Noah’s army, found a fertile location in the wilderness and farmed for about twenty years. They were discovered by Noah’s priests who had followed the escaping Noah, lost themselves in the wilderness, then teamed up with a party of Lamanites. The renegade priests and Lamanites oppressed Alma’s people until the Lord caused a “deep sleep” to overcome their guards and Alma could lead his people to safety (Mosiah 24:19). This time Alma and his people reached Zarahemla where King Mosiah II greeted them with joy and authorized Alma to organize the church (BM 202‑208; Mosiah 23, 24).
The two episodes of revival, occurring in different places but within the same time frame, are completed by this point. The problems in interpreting these stories may be helpful in understanding the rest of this book. In reading this and later sections of the book, devout Mormons have emphasized the “flimsy” or fragmentary nature of the parallels. In this case, we have only the Book of Mormon sermons and no extant documents of the manner and style of either George Lane or Benjamin Stockton for comparison. Not only do I agree that this omission makes a conclusive evaluation impossible, but there are also some particular problems with my interpretation. I chose the parallels between Benjamin Stockton//King Benjamin, and Abinadi//George Lane as the most probable. But another hypothesis is possible. Perhaps Joseph Smith, for purposes of disguise, reversed these parallels, and it is King Benjamin who is the fantasy representative of George Lane. This conjecture is supported by three pieces of evidence. (1) Camp meetings by the 1820s were largely the domain of the Methodists, and George Lane was a Methodist. (2) King Benjamin’s sermon emphasized altruistic, charitable behavior, yet the Presbyterians were criticized for being niggardly. (3) I think that Smith does a similar intentional reversal to disguise Book of Mormon geography, making it more difficult to parallel it with his biographical geography. (See chapter 5.)
It is hard to determine what is going on in a person’s mind even with a live, cooperative, and honest patient. Smith, dead for 150 years and from a different culture, is not, to my way of thinking, cooperative. Still, I don’t think my manner of interpretation can be lightly dismissed. Although academic history, by definition, excludes the supernatural as the explanation for events, let us permit Smith’s description of the ancient and divine origins of the Book of Mormon to enter into the discussion, weighing it against what I am trying to do and remembering that a theory has only to be better than the alternate(s) it seeks to replace, not completely satisfactory in all respects.
Smith sketched three migrations from the Middle East to the New World. The major body was of Jews from Jerusalem. American archaeology fails to support this proposal. He proposed that, 125 years before the birth of Christ, these Jewish people were preaching “Christ and him crucified,” performing baptisms, and enjoying the Holy Spirit. This proposal receives no support from theologians or historians of Judaism nor from the rest of Christianity. In this story of revival, Smith describes the Nephite form of Christianity as having the specific characteristics of an early nineteenth‑century American frontier camp meeting, with phrases and terminology borrowed straight from the Second Great Awakening. Again, the history of religion does not support the proposition that either the camp meeting as a form or the specific evangelical language of frontier Methodists and Presbyterians can be dated back to that early period of Mesoamerican history.
To these negative responses, there are at least two positive findings: Smith claimed he could miraculously translate ancient languages, but that has been put to the test and found wanting.27 The second explanation is the position I take that Smith is a man who engaged in deceit and coercion from early adulthood throughout his life. My position is that belief in the Book of Mormon is an act of faith, not the result of scientific or academic inquiry.
I acknowledge that psychodynamic concepts are a “soft science” and that applied psychoanalysis is even softer. But it is rooted in the natural world and the body of knowledge that has accumulated about how both mentally healthy people and mentally ill patients react and think, and how the works of artists and writers reflect their personalities in one way or another. In the rest of this book I will continue to look for a consistent chronological picture of Joseph Smith’s life, making tentative interpretations on unavoidably fragmentary information.
The stories of these two families come together in the next generation. Alma II and the four sons of Mosiah were rebellious and apostate youths until an angel confronted them and punished Alma II with the torments of hell for three days. Alma II (yet another Jr.) is another of Smith’s alter egos; and in writing this narrative, Smith paints what may be a striking portrait, in psychological terms, of himself before his conversion: “He became a very wicked and an idolatrous man. And he was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities. And he became a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church of God; stealing away the hearts of the people; causing much dissension” (BM 212; Mosiah 27:8‑10).
I do not think Smith was confessing his personal sins as much as he was depicting himself from an orthodox Protestant perspective. I have proposed that Smith sometimes quoted his antagonists in their negative opinion of him. For example, his siblings, if they are reflected in Laman and Lemuel, commented that he lied and used cunning as a means to gain power over them. He will do this again. He does not seem bothered by their views. Before and after the revival, Smith continued magic activities, dug for money, and used his seer stone. Protestants of his day saw such behavior as less than fully righteous at best and traffic with the devil at worst. Psychologically, Smith can be said to document the completion of his “grandiose [false] self” as he/Alma sees an angel. In fact Alma’s conversion recalls the earliest versions of Smith’s own conversion story, which, as we have seen, did not feature God and Jesus but rather an angel and forgiveness of his sins. In this Book of Mormon version, he exaggerates and dramatizes the angelic visitation to the wayward Alma Jr.: “Behold the angel of the Lord … descended as it were in a cloud; and he spoke with a voice of thunder, which caused the earth to shake upon which they stood. … and … he cried. … Alma, arise and stand forth, for why persecutest thou the church of God? … for … the Lord has heard the prayers of thy father.” After three days of torment, Alma calls upon Christ, is forgiven, revives, and bears ecstatic witness: “My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity. I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God. My soul was wrecked with eternal torment; but I am snatched, and my soul is pained no more” (BM 212, 214; Mosiah 27:11‑14, 29). This phrase and others come directly from the unmodified revivalist rhetoric of the Second Great Awakening in the 1820s.28 The four sons of Mosiah are also converted and become missionaries to the Lamanites of legendary endurance and effectiveness. They renounce political aspirations, as well, an event that triggers a change in the form of government from monarchy to a more democratic system of elected judges. Alma II becomes a missionary, but rather to renegade Nephites. I see in their number, five, a Smith family parallel, for four converted to Presbyterianism, and Smith was swayed toward Methodism. (Eventually two of Mosiah’s four sons also become alter egos for variations of Smith’s autobiographical narratives. See below.)
After the “revival” episodes in the Book of Mormon, we would predict, according to Smith’s psychic map, gold treasure or a gold book. In fact, in the next chapter (BM 216; Mosiah 28), Smith discusses how Mosiah II translated the Jaredites’ gold records using the breastplate and two seer stones. I discuss the Jaredite story in chapter 6, but the sequence confirms that Smith uses it, a story within a story, as an expanded fantasy of his own life as he has the other narratives up to this point.
The Order of Nehor
Narcissistic rage occurs in many forms; they all share, however, a specific psychological flavor which gives them a distinct position within the wide realm of human aggressions. The need for revenge, for righting a wrong, for undoing a hurt by whatever means, and a deeply anchored, unrelenting compulsion in the pursuit to all these aims which gives no rest to those who have suffered a narcissistic injury—[such as ridicule, contempt, and conspicuous defeat]—these are features which are characteristic for the phenomenon of narcissistic rage in all its forms and which set it apart from other kinds of aggression.29
TIME: 92‑81 B.C.E.//1823‑27 C.E.
PLACE: ZARAHEMLA//PALMYRA; THEN AMMONIHAH//SOUTH BAINBRIDGE
PERSONAE: ALMA THE YOUNGER//JOSEPH SMITH, JR.
THE ORDER OF NEHOR//ANY IN POSITIONS OF POWER AND PRESTIGE WITH SOME CONTROL OVER THE SMITH FAMILY
GIDEON//ALVIN, PERHAPS WITH ELEMENTS OF JOSEPH AS A CHILD
AMLICI//DUPLICATE OF NEHOR, AND POSSIBLY JOHNQUINCY ADAMS
FOREMOST LAWYER ZEEZROM//JUDGE ALBERT NEELEY
In the book of Alma, the Book of Mormon’s longest, the four sons of Mosiah began missionary work among the Lamanites, leaving Mosiah II without an heir. Before his death in 92 B.C.E., he supervised the transformation of the government from a hereditary monarchy to a “rule of judges,” in which the chief judge, once elected, could retain that position for life. Alma II was the first man elected to that office, adding its functions to the position he already held as high priest of the church.30 Mosiah transmitted to him the symbols of power: the brass plates, the gold plates, etc., but not the sword of Laban. It disappears from the Book of Mormon narrative; but because Smith had not been able to find a more mature way to deal with humiliation and disappointment than his compensatory fantasies, no psychiatrist would be surprised to see it reappear with even more awesome powers.31 It does—as Ammon’s almost‑magical weapon.
The book of Alma chronicles various missionary endeavors of faith and hope played out against the background of a civilization descending steadily into war. From a psychoanalytic perspective, these wars embody Smith’s narcissistic rage, caused by his public humiliation over the stillborn death of his first son.
The first part of the book of Alma deals, however, with personal narratives. Alma first achieves an important political triumph over Nehor, the second of the Book of Mormon’s three anti‑Christs. A physically strong and evil man, Nehor had assured the people that they need not fear God, for all will be “saved at the last day. … and, in the end, all men should have eternal life.”32 When an aged warrior, Gideon, argued with him, Nehor killed Gideon with his sword, and Alma condemned Nehor to death for the murder but not his theology, because the law allowed freedom of belief.
Viewed from a psychoanalytic perspective, Smith has dictated another compensatory fantasy of retribution for the death of a good man. I see in this tale, not only Alvin’s death, but also, because of the blood and violence, Smith’s surgery. If so, then Smith, through his alter ego, Alma, administers justice. I also read the triumph over Nehor as being so psychologically satisfying that Smith expanded the story to the larger society. His rewritings of the local excitement caused by the revival and the national political turmoil during the period of Alvin’s death show his “power” in providing solutions, a pattern that will intensify in this section of the Book of Mormon.
Next Amlici, a follower of Nehor, tried to persuade the people to repudiate the judge system and name him king. But “the voice of the people came against Amlici” (BM 225; Alma 2:7). He organized his followers, they consecrated him king, and he launched a rebellion. In one day the Nephites killed 12,532 Amlicites while losing 6,562 of their own. In a climactic sword fight, Amlici and Alma met
face to face; and they did contend mightily one with another. And it came to pass that Alma, being a man of God, being exercised with much faith, cried saying: O Lord, have mercy and spare my life, that I may be an instrument in thy hands to save and preserve this people. Now when Alma said these words he contended again with Amlici; and he was strengthened, insomuch that he slew Amlici with the sword. (BM 227; Alma 2:28‑30)
Once again Smith, in Alma’s persona, has taken revenge on Nathan Smith and Alvin’s physician, also saving the government from the injustice that had denied Andrew Jackson the presidency in 1824 through trickery with the electoral college. (See chapters 3 and 5.) The next two autobiographical events are the Smith family’s mourning for Alvin’s death and the revival. The book of Alma records both simultaneously:
The people were afflicted, yea greatly afflicted for the loss of their brethren … and every soul had cause to mourn; and they believed it was the judgments of God sent upon them, because of their wickedness and their abominations; therefore they were awakened to a remembrance of their duty, and they began to establish the church more fully; yea, and many were baptized in the waters of Sidon and were joined to the church of God. (BM 230; Alma 4:1‑4)
In this compensatory fantasy, Alma himself baptized 3,500. In fact, the motif of revival preaching takes over at this point in the Book of Mormon (see, for example, BM 232‑38; Alma 5) with Alma giving up his position as chief judge to become a sometimes rejected but always powerful preacher. In Alma’s transition from temporal to spiritual power, I see the transition period in Smith’s life after Alvin’s death. Also the angel reappeared as if on cue, recapitulating the sequence of angel, sword, and revival.
In this Book of Mormon episode, Alma had gone to preach in Ammonihah, a town “on the west of the river Sidon by the borders of the wilderness” (BM 236‑42; Alma 7; [83 B.C.E.//1826 C.E.]). These phrases communicate to me that Smith is recalling the move from Palmyra to the border of Pennsylvania by the Susquehanna River. These “lands, and their cities, and their villages, yea, even all their small villages [were named] after him who first possessed them; and thus it was with the city of Ammonihah” (BM 242‑43; Alma 8:3‑7). Tellingly with the exception of Bainbridge and South Bainbridge, the surrounding towns and hamlets are named for individuals: Colesville, Harpersville, Taylortown, Bennettsville, Masonville, Bettsburgh, Quinntown (now Quinnville), Doraville, etc.
This geographical point is worth developing. I suggest a simple naturalistic solution to the Book of Mormon geography problems discussed in my introduction: I hypothesize that Smith conceptualized Book of Mormon geography by turning his own locale upside down and superimposing it on an exaggerated and unsophisticated view of the Americas. For example, he put oxen, cows, asses, sheep, domesticated goats and swine, horses (with chariots), and elephants in pre‑Columbian America. Zarahemla/Palmyra, the Nephite capitol in the center of their civilization, was multiplied ten‑fold to the size of Washington, D.C., in 1830 which had 27,000 whites, 6,100 slaves, and 6,100 free blacks totalling 39,000. These Nephite lands reversed in polarity and became southern until the end‑battles in the book, and the northern Lamanite country usually represented Joseph’s travels south to the area of southeastern New York and Pennsylvania. The only river in the Book of Mormon, Sidon, was an exaggeration of the Susquehanna to the size of the Mississippi. But the river Sidon also ran by Zarahemla/Palmyra which the Susquehanna does not do. Here Joseph seemed to have followed the plan for the “Chenango Canal” which in 1827‑29 was the cause of one of the two loudest debates between the opposing parties in New York State. The plan was to connect Maryland and Pennsylvania with the Great Lakes interior by extending the Susquehanna River north through the proposed “Chenango Canal” up to the Erie Canal, which, in Smith’s day ran west, alongside of Zarahemla/Palmyra.33 This inverted‑geography thesis gives Smith an outline easy to bring to mind and visualize as he dictated for those thirteen weeks, thus keeping his story straight. The geography had to be disguised enough to avoid obvious correlation with his known life. From a naturalistic approach, the geography, like the stories, could only come from his personal life, which, to this point, had a diameter of 345 miles as the crow flies, extending from Lebanon, New Hampshire, on the east to the edge of Lake Erie (where he found his seer stone) on the west.
To return to the parallels between Smith’s life and the experiences of Alma and Amulek: The citizens of Ammonihah reviled Alma and spat upon him. In sorrow he left, but the same angel who converted him fourteen years earlier commended his sincerity and sent him back, promising him a companion. Amulek, the promised companion, had also seen the angel; together they preach, having some success in making converts.
From a psychoanalytic perspective, I suggest that Amulek represents Smith’s main supporter in his magic endeavors in South Bainbridge, Josiah Stowell. Just as Stowell defended Smith from those who ridiculed his supernatural claims (Stowell’s relatives and the Hales), so does Amulek defend Alma. Alma and Amulek are tried before Ammonihah’s “foremost” lawyer, Zeezrom, and both are imprisoned—a clear second version, in my opinion, of Smith’s 1826 trial. God demolishes the prison, and they escape (see Alma 8‑15). Continuing the compensating fantasy, Zeezrom, unlike his real‑life counterpart, Judge Albert Neeley, repents, converts, and becomes a missionary. The impoverished Smith lived in Stowell’s affluent home, despite Stowell’s family’s opposition; but as another element of reversal and compensatory fantasy, Alma rewarded Amulek for his loyalty. Amulek had “forsaken all his gold, and silver, and precious things … for the word of God, he being rejected by those who were once his friends and also by his father and his kindred[,] … Alma … took Amulek and came over to the land of Zarahemla … to his own house, and did administer unto him his tribulations, and strengthened him in the Lord” (BM 266; Alma 15:16‑18).
In Smith’s first fantasy version of the Bainbridge trial (the cataclysm accompanying Christ’s death), its devastating impact can be measured by the magnitude of destruction and by the specificity of the date on which it occurred. In this second version, the impact of the trial can be measured by the extensive sermonizing, digressions, martyrdom of Alma’s converts, the conversion of Zeezrom, and the destruction of the prison—covering twenty‑five pages and seven chapters (BM 249, 264; Alma 10:6, 14:23).
However, the fantasy went a step farther in seeking retribution for his humiliation. A few months later, the Lamanites destroyed Ammonihah. Smith also assigned a precise date to this final moment of vindication—in the
eleventh year of the reign of the judges … on the fifth day of the second month … the people of Ammonihah were destroyed; yea, every living soul … and also their great city, which they said God could not destroy because of its greatness. But behold, in one day it was left desolate; and their carcasses were mangled by dogs and wild beasts of the wilderness. … And so great was the scent thereof, that the people did not go in to possess the land of Ammonihah for many years. And it was called the desolation of Nehors; for they were of the profession of Nehor. (BM 267; Alma 16)
Smith’s compensatory vengeance on those who had humiliated him is graphic, extreme, and specifically dated. The emphasis on a literal connection to Nehor, also slain in psychological retribution, recalls Smith’s earlier acts of revenge on the physicians—here broadened to anyone in positions of power and prestige—who had inflicted pain on the child Smith, caused the death of his brother, taken away their farmhouse, and disdained his family.
Embedded within the Ammonihah narrative is an addendum that psychologically suggests Smith’s experiences with money‑digging near South Bainbridge. Although he had been humiliated, he also detached his future wife from her disbelieving relatives and attached her to himself. In the Book of Mormon, the Lamanites who destroyed Ammonihah took hostages from “around” the area. Alma petitioned the Lord for their safety and release, and God instructed Alma where the Nephite army could intercept the Lamanites and free the hostages (BM 267; Alma 16).
This embedded story also explains why Smith dated the occurrence; because Isaac Hale refused permission for Emma to wed Joseph, they eloped in January 1827, emancipating her from her father and making her the companion demanded by the angel so Smith could get the gold plates seven months later.
Meanwhile, in another stacked story, Mosiah’s sons (whom I suggest correspond to the four Smiths who converted to Presbyterianism during the revival) rejected the monarchy in favor of serving God as missionaries for fourteen years among the Lamanites. The experiences of two, Ammon (not to be confused with the Ammon who rescued Limhi’s people) and Aaron, again enact portions of Smith’s history and are chronologically stacked over Alma’s storyline.
Their story—particularly Ammon’s—is the core of this chapter for two reasons. It culminates in Smith’s failed boast about his firstborn son in front of his enemies, an experience that I argue is even more painful than the South Bainbridge trial. Like the trial, he never wrote about his child’s deformities, I hypothesize, because the subject was too painful—but because it was so painful, he could not keep the event fully hidden. Second, Ammon represents the unconscious prototype of Smith’s later life in its most exposed form in the Book of Mormon. From a psychoanalytic perspective, Ammon is an example of phallic narcissism, and his sword is an awesome phallic symbol.
Invincibility Confronts Overwhelming Devastation
All infants are narcissists, and these traits are well developed by age two: the search for power, self‑centeredness, greed, and the assumption of control over others, usually the mother. In normal development, a caring mother will mold herself to the newborn’s needs. All mothers know how exhausting this is. Then, over time, in sensitive response to the readiness of the child, the mother will slow down, modify, and even stop some of her “on‑constant‑call” behavior. In “good enough” mothering, these steps will be small, incremental, and paced to the child’s physical and neurological development. These will be “mini‑jolts” which might get “mini‑rages” as the child loses control of his world, but they are small enough to be handled progressively by the child. Further, the child begins to take genuine pride in his own accomplishments. But if the emotional or physical deprivation and frustrations are too great for him at that particular stage, the initial crying and screaming give way to an internal world of compensating omnipotent fantasy. The narcissistic personality remains fixated on the quest for power, frequently characterized by expanded fantasies of omnipotence and conquest and, when possible, by exploitation in the real world. The infantile desire to overcome opposition effortlessly, as if by magic, is frequently carried forward to the later stages of childhood. In the Oedipal stage, a narcissistic boy adds, to the normal intense feelings about his phallus, an extra element of magic; he becomes preoccupied with sexual success, power, brilliance, and specialness.
The male narcissistic personality has been unofficially divided into four subtypes. The least functional two are the craving and the paranoid, while the more effective two are the manipulative and phallic types. As I read Joseph Smith’s personality, he combines characteristics of the manipulative and phallic types:
The manipulator perceives that another person’s goal conflicts with his own [and] he intends to influence the other person and employs deception in the influencing process, and he has the satisfying feeling of having put something over on the other person when the manipulation works. … These components of manipulation are readily available to consciousness; the manipulator knows what he is doing. …
The phallic narcissistic personality … are the “men’s men.” … They parade their masculinity, often along athletic or aggressive lines. In common with some manipulative personalities, they tend to be both exhibitionist and reckless. While the exhibitionism of the manipulative personality tends more to call attention to his “good behavior” and reputation, the phallic narcissist tends more to show himself off and to exhibit his body, clothes, and manliness. The manipulative person is more reckless in his schemes, deceptions and manipulations; the phallic narcissist tends more towards feats of reckless daring. … Many phallic narcissistic men seem to have a dual attitude to women. On the one hand, they talk about them in the contemptuous terms of locker‑room language. On the other hand, they are the defenders of motherhood and the sanctity of women.34
Phallic narcissism stems from the period of development in which the penis in males prototypically becomes invested with narcissistic [self‑centered] libido [attachment] and thus becomes highly valued and prized. This is the so‑called phallic stage of development, usually occurring around the third to fifth year—also known as the oedipal phase. Along with this investment in the penis or its symbolic equivalents comes the threat of its loss in the form of castration anxiety. … Qualities associated with this narcissistic configuration are pride in phallic prowess and performance, the search for admiration especially of skill or mastery, a sense of daring, counterphobic behaviors, unwillingness to accept defeat, omnipotence in the face of seemingly impossible obstacles, exhibitionism, assertiveness, and self‑aggrandizement. The underlying themes are the wish for admiration of the phallic accomplishment and the need to defend against anxiety from castration fears and vulnerability. Individuals with these character traits tend to be self‑centered, independent, difficult to intimidate, often fearless, ready to spring into action—strong personalities that step readily and willingly into positions of leadership. … Reich described them as “self‑confident, often arrogant, elastic, vigorous and often impressive. … The outspoken types tend to achieve leading positions in life and resent subordination.” To this Kernberg adds, “Because narcissistic personalities are often driven by intense needs for power and prestige to assume positions of authority and leadership, individuals with such characteristics are found rather frequently in top leadership positions.” The narcissistic need in such a personality compels him to take risks and undertake arduous tasks for the sake of winning a narcissistic prize and gaining a position of power and grandiose satisfaction. Moreover, the capacity to maintain self‑esteem and integral psychic functioning depends on gaining the required narcissistic gratifications.35
As I analyze Joseph Smith, I suggest that his Oedipal phase would be characterized by intense anxiety to him because of the repeated operations on his leg, requiring extreme compensation through fantasy conquests and omnipotence. A weak father also contributes to phallic narcissism, for the boy child finds compensating super strength in his fantasies. If I am correct in seeing Joseph Sr. as weak, then Joseph Jr. was doubly at risk for never finding adequate means of dealing maturely with his underlying narcissism.
Some may be surprised at the lack of direct sexual morality and conflict in the Book of Mormon. What made Smith different from the ordinary “womanizing” man are the unusual characteristics he brought to the relationships. In both the Book of Mormon and in his official documented history, women are underrepresented, almost ignored. His sexuality differed from others in that he put it within a theologic framework and made it a commandment of God. Further, he lied about his sexuality to his wife (for a while), his friends, church, state, and nation. It is the grandiosity and daring deceit that are the unusual characteristics worthy of note of his sexual expansion. From a naturalistic view, the next story in the Book of Mormon may represent as close as we can get to the underlying fantasy behind his sexual behavior.
TIME: 92‑77 B.C.E.//1826‑28 C.E.
PLACE: THE LAND OF NEPHI, NOW POSSESSED BY LAMANITES//ISAAC HALE’S HOMESTEAD AND NEIGHBORHOOD
PERSONAE: AMMON//JOSEPH SMITH
KING LAMONI//ISAAC HALE
ABISH//EMMA HALE SMITH
THE SHEEP THIEVES//THE HALE BROTHERS
KING LAMONI’S FATHER//PERHAPS JUDGE NEELEY, THE LOCAL MINISTER, OR MEMBERS OF THE STOWELL FAMILY
AMALEKITES AND AMULONITES//HALE, LEWIS, AND/OR STOWELL FAMILIES
ZORAMITE SYNAGOGUE//METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH
THE ANTI‑NEPHI‑LEHIES//THE STILLBORN, DEFORMED FIRST SON
Ammon and his brothers separated at the Lamanite border, and Ammon went to “the land of Ishmael, the land being called after the sons of Ishmael, who also became Lamanites” (BM 271; Alma 17:19).36 The Lamanites captured Ammon and took him bound before King Lamoni, a descendant of Ishmael. This genealogical connection is a clue, I suggest, that Ammon’s story will rework Smith’s experience in Pennsylvania with Isaac Hale, who strongly disapproved of him as a son‑in‑law, would have preferred to see his daughter dead rather than married to him, and exerted maximum pressure to remake Smith into a stable, hard‑working farmer. According to one of Emma’s brothers‑in‑law, her brothers deliberately provoked Smith “at every opportunity”; once, on a fishing trip, they intentionally “vexed” Smith until he tore off his coat and challenged them to a fight.37
Lamoni (Isaac Hale) began the acquaintance by inquiring if Ammon wanted to live among the Lamanites: “And Ammon said unto him: Yea, I desire to dwell among this people for a time; yea, and perhaps until the day I die. … Lamoni was much pleased with Ammon and caused that his bands should be loosed; and he would that Ammon should take one of his daughters to wife. But Ammon said unto him: Nay, but I will be thy servant” (BM 270‑761; Alma 17:18‑25).
The elements of compensation are obvious. Almost as soon as Lamoni laid eyes on Ammon, he saw him as not only an acceptable resident but a desirable son‑in‑law. Yet Ammon declined the proffered marriage. Why? Obviously for the satisfaction of refusing the king and of taking an exaggeratedly humble position as a servant that recalls all of the fairy tales of the disguised prince. From this very lowly position, his true worth would be even more dazzling. Here he reverses the humiliating need to elope.
Ammon’s glamorous career began almost immediately as he accompanied the king’s shepherds “to the place of water, which was called the water of Sebus” where “a certain number of Lamanites who had been with their flocks to water, stood and scattered the flocks of Ammon, and the servants of the king, … insomuch that they fled many ways” (BM 271; Alma 17:26‑27).
If Smith had been metaphorically “scattered” by the teasing or rudeness of his brothers‑in‑law, possibly because they were attempting to make him look worse in Isaac Hale’s eyes than he already did, he psychologically took revenge on them in this story. The other servants begin to weep, frightened that Lamoni will kill them for losing the sheep. Confidently Ammon thought: “I will shew forth my power … which is in me, in restoring these flocks unto the king, that I may win the hearts of these my fellow servants … to believe in my words” (BM 272; Alma 17:29).
Ammon took on the whole pack of “vexers” singlehandedly, first killing some with a slingshot, like David against Goliath. When they attacked with clubs, he drew his sword, that already charged motif: “But behold, every man that lifted his club to smite Ammon, he smote off their arms with his sword; for he did withstand their blows by smiting off their arms with the edge of his sword, insomuch that they began to be astonished … and flee … yea, and they were not a few in number” (BM 272‑73; Alma 17: 34‑38).
Ammon’s companions took these severed limbs to King Lamoni, who was “astonished exceedingly” and decided that Ammon must be “the Great Spirit; and he hath come down at this time to preserve your lives, that I might not slay you as I did your brethren.” When the king next saw Ammon, he was frightened and suppliant, asking Ammon if he was the Great Spirit (BM 272‑74; Alma 17:34‑18:11). As a psychiatrist, I suspect that Smith is reveling in this compensatory story. Not only did the father‑in‑law figure petition Ammon/Joseph to marry his daughter, but he was ready to see him as a god and promises Ammon/Joseph anything he wanted.
At this point, a striking event occurs. Ammon, promised anything he might wish or desire, decides to use “guile” or trickery. In short, Ammon will exploit the king: “Now Ammon being wise yet harmless he saith unto Lamoni, Wilt thou hearken unto my words, if I tell thee by what power I do these things? and this is the thing I desire of thee. And the king answered him, and said, Yea, I will believe all thy words; and thus he was caught with guile” (BM 275; Alma 18:22‑23). And while Lamoni is duped, the reader is being encouraged to admire Ammon’s cleverness.
Ammon’s next step in exercising power over the king is to require him to “hearken” and “believe” his preaching. Lamoni agrees to do so and, after listening to Ammon, is struck by what nineteenth‑century revivalists called “the falling exercise,” or an ecstatic swoon that, from a psychiatric perspective, was a trance‑like state resulting in a period of psychologically caused bodily paralysis and partial or complete unconsciousness. It was then seen as a sign of conversion.38 After forty‑eight hours, the queen begins to wonder if he is dead; some have said that he is decomposing, but, she says, “as for myself, he doth not stink.” She believes Ammon when he confidently tells her that the king “sleepeth in God and on the morrow he shall rise again.” He praises her: “There has not been such great faith among all the people of the Nephites” (BM 277; Alma 19:8‑10). The next morning Lamoni awakes and declares that he has seen his “Redeemer; and he shall come forth, and be born of a woman, and he shall redeem all mankind who believe on his name” (BM 277; Alma 19:12‑13). Upon hearing this testimony, Lamoni again comes under the falling power, this time joined by the queen and Ammon.
This extravagant demonstration frightens all of the servants “save it were one of the Lamanitish women, whose name was Abish, she having been converted to the Lord for many years, on account of a remarkable vision of her father [but] never had made it known [and] she ran from house to house, making it known to the people.” At her call many gather, including relatives of the sheep thieves Ammon has killed. One of them tries to kill the unconscious Ammon, but God strikes him dead. Then Abish takes the queen by the hand, who immediately rises and declares, “O blessed Jesus, who has saved me from an awful hell. … And when she had said this, she clasped her hands, being filled with joy, speaking many words which were not understood …” The rest of this episode, including speaking in tongues, proceeds with revivalist exaggeration. Everyone who has witnessed this scene is converted by the heroic Ammon and joins the church he establishes (BM 277‑79; Alma 19:14‑36).
From a psychoanalytic perspective, I suggest that Emma, who has been almost completely absent from the Book of Mormon version of Smith’s life, is Abish. She is the one person in the king’s court (besides the unconscious king and queen) who believes Ammon/Joseph. In a fairy tale, she would be the king’s daughter and Ammon’s future wife; but in this story, her function is to express absolute and unwavering confidence in Ammon—not to “reward” his efforts or to raise his status.
In the next incident, Ammon goes from triumph to triumph, reversing, I suggest, the stinging encounters with his in‑laws, reviewed in chapter 3. Reading from the Book of Mormon back into Joseph Smith’s life, I hypothesize that perhaps even some of the dialogue may have come from these conflicts: “Why did ye not come to the feast on that great day when I made a feast?”, etc. God tells Ammon that Lamoni’s father will try to kill him and that Ammon’s brothers are in jail in Middoni. Lamoni assures Ammon that the king of Middoni is his personal friend, and the two set out to rescue Ammon’s brothers.
On the way Ammon and Lamoni encounter the king’s father, who promptly orders his son to kill this Nephite who is “one of the children of a liar,” planning “by their cunning and their lyings, [to] deceive us, that they may again rob us of our property” (BM 280‑81; Alma 20: 8‑13). This is the second time in the Book of Mormon that the protagonist is called a liar by his antagonists (BM 41; 1 Ne. 16:38; see chapter 2). Again reading from the Book of Mormon back into Smith’s life suggests historical statements of the Hale and Lewis families. If so, Joseph seems little troubled by the attack. From a naturalistic view, he does not counter this attack by speaking the truth but by constructing a conquering fantasy of omnipotence. When Lamoni refuses his father’s command, the father attempts to kill Ammon; but Ammon easily deflects his blows, wounds the father’s arm, and then at sword point demands the release of his brothers, a guarantee to allow Lamoni to hold his kingdom without fealty, and the promise of freedom of belief for Lamoni. The father, overjoyed at not being killed, had originally offered Ammon half his kingdom and gratefully accepts these lesser requests (BM 280‑82; Alma 20:16, 20‑27).
Smith’s fantasy thus psychologically reverses the scornful attitudes of Emma’s father, the rejection of her cousins from the Methodist Episcopal church, the obvious belief of Judge Neeley (the king of the whole land) that Smith was a fraud, and Josiah Stowell’s relatives who took Smith to court as an “impostor.” The three jailed sons of Mosiah represent Smith, psychologically, when he was imprisoned for the night in South Bainbridge. Although the Smith family was able to remain as tenants in their frame house, after the year expired, they all, including Oliver Cowdery who refused to leave the family, had to return to the small crowded cabin. Perhaps it was a symbolic jail cell. Certainly, their straitened economic circumstances were oppressive. In fantasy Smith saw himself as the only one who could free them. (A year after dictating this story, Smith’s father went to jail for nonpayment of debt and his brother Hyrum escaped jail only by permanently fleeing from the Palmyra/Manchester area.)39
On a fantasy level, Smith wipes out his humiliation from his in‑laws. Yet, psychologically, Smith is still trying to process his experience as a child, conquering the surgeon by holding the sword in his own hand and defeating those in power. Within this context, the Book of Mormon can be read as an answer to Smith’s childhood question: “How can I avoid ever being helpless and in pain again with the limited tools my family has given me?” Beneath this representation of surgery is the magic power of the sword and Smith’s fantasy of himself as invincible.
Ammon’s story reveals coercion and manipulation, characteristics of the narcissistic personality. Ammon catches the terrified king “with guile,” by asking him if he would “believe” and “hearken to” whatever he said—the equivalent of frightening someone into signing a contract before reading it. Ammon describes himself as “wise yet harmless.” From a psych‑ ological perspective, the fact that Smith, speaking through an alter ego, finds deceit and manipulation “harmless” is one of the most troubling admissions of the Book of Mormon. Similarly, Ammon offers Lamoni’s father a choice between death and accepting his terms, and apparently accepts at face value that Lamoni’s father is truly grateful. Ammon does not appreciate—or care—that individuals coerced by intimidation and threats do not respond with genuine gratitude. As a psychiatrist, I would fear that, if these techniques are working for Smith in early adulthood, he will continue to use them.40
Ammon’s story demonstrates the multilayered meanings that therapists must pay attention to simultaneously. In the story of Nephi and Laban, the surgeon becomes a wealthy robber, made absolutely helpless through drunkenness, and is decapitated. Although the sword of Laban is not identified by name in the rest of the Book of Mormon, it is possible that it could be Ammon’s sword, handed down to him by his father (BM 216; Mosiah 28:20). In either case, Ammon’s weapon is symbolically, if not literally, Laban’s sword.
Keeping this possible genealogy in mind, it requires no effort to read Ammon’s encounter with the sheep thieves—robbers like Laban and like the Gadianton band. All of them are figures of the surgeon Nathan Smith. A symbol of absolute power is Smith’s ability to amputate—arms by Ammon, head by Nephi. By using the symbolic instrument used against him in the surgery, Smith causes their deaths and symbolic castrations instead of his own.
Each fantasy briefly soothes Smith’s fears—which is the purpose of fantasy—but they return and must be conquered again. Ammon’s fearless courage stems from his secret—that he cannot be killed. He is literally invincible. Mosiah II, worried if he should let his sons be missionaries to the savage Lamanites, was reassured when God promised him: “Let them go up, for … I will deliver thy sons out of the hands of the Lamanites” (BM 215‑16; Mosiah 28:7). While Ammon is fighting the sheep‑scatterers, the narrative notes that they “knew not that the Lord had promised Mosiah that he would deliver his sons out of their hands” (BM 272; Alma 17:35). The narrator insists again on this point when one of his victim’s brothers tries to kill the unconscious Ammon in the throne room but is struck dead himself. Again the narrative confirms: “Now we see that Ammon could not be slain, for the Lord had said … I will spare him” (BM 27:8; Alma 19:23). In the Book of Mormon, Smith does not need to fear surgery or physicians or anyone else again. In psychological terms, however, the fact that Ammon knows he is invincible while the other characters within the narrative do not means that he manipulates their ignorance to his advantage, another example of his “guile.”
From this episode, the Book of Mormon next relates another stacked story: the experiences of Ammon’s imprisoned brother Aaron and Aaron’s companion, Muloki. As we might predict, their story presents yet another version of the Smiths’ life story at Harmony. This story of compensatory fantasy deals with what I consider the most intense humiliation Smith experienced, a story so humiliating that he dare not tell it, yet so devastating that he cannot avoid it. This is his boast that his firstborn will be a miracle child who can open and translate the gold book, when the reality is that the child is a malformed stillbirth.41
Smith’s alter ego Aaron proselytes among hardened strangers who have “built synagogues after the order of the Nehors,” a signal that he is dealing with the powerful and prestigious—like the Hale and Lewis families:
Now the Lamanites … had built a great city, which was called Jerusalem. … [and] were sufficiently hardened, but the Amalekites, and Amulonites, were still harder. … Aaron came to the city of Jerusalem, and firstly began to preach to the Amalekites. And he began to preach to them in their synagogues … built … after the order of the Nehors; for many of the Amalekites and Amulonites were after the order of the Nehors. Therefore, as Aaron entered into one of their synagogues to preach unto the people, and as he was speaking unto them, behold, there arose an Amalekite, and began to contend with him, saying: What is that thou has testified? Hast thou seen an angel? Why do not angels appear unto us? Behold, are not this people as good as thy people? (BM 283; Alma 21:2‑5)
Except for the king and queen, only Abish (Emma) believed Ammon in the court of King Lamoni. Aaron has the same experience: “The Amalekites were not converted, save only one; neither was any of the Amulonites, but they did harden their hearts, and also the hearts of the Lamanites in that part of the land whithersoever they dwelt” (BM 290; Alma 23:13‑14).
This more generalized story still, in my professional opinion, represents either Josiah Stowell, Smith’s first convert, and Stowell’s disbelieving family, or Emma and her extended family. The Amalekite challenge about the angel would accurately represent the views of the Stowells, Hales, and/or Lewises. As discussed in chapter 3, fifty years after these events, Joseph and Hiel Lewis, brothers who were officials in Emma’s church, described the first “angel” described by Smith; this being lacked any Christian characteristics and had “his throat cut ear to ear, and blood streaming down.” They rejected Smith’s application to the church, in part, because of his “necromancy.” Reading from the Book of Mormon back into his life, are these sentences from an Amalekite a fantasy enlargement of Joseph’s interchange with the Lewises?
Aaron left Jerusalem, encountered Muloki, and continued preaching with him in Middoni. “Few believed on the words they taught.” Instead, repeating the theme of imprisonment and judgement, Aaron and his companions are “taken and cast into prison.” Ammon and Lamoni, as we have already seen, deliver them, bringing these two overlapping versions of Smith’s life together (BM 283‑84; Alma 21:11‑14). Revival follows imprisonment: Aaron completes the conversion of Lamoni’s father, who experiences the same “falling” ecstasy. Aaron restores him in the presence of his queen and servants. The king issues a proclamation recommending these missionaries to his people, and thousands of Lamanites are converted.
In Smith’s compensatory fiction, rather than being humiliated before all the people in the area of Harmony and South Bainbridge, he converts them to his view. But Aaron’s success is even more grandiose than Ammon’s. In fact, from this point forward, the events become more extreme in portraying resolutions to the conflicts in Smith’s life. The extreme compensation in this case begins when the converted abandon the name of Lamanite and call themselves, first, “Anti‑Nephi‑Lehies” (BM 290; Alma 23:16‑17), then “Ammonites,” or the people of Ammon, thus implying that Ammon/Joseph Smith is the father of a new nation. In addition to a new name, these converts take a vow of absolute pacifism, which remains unshaken even though thousands are eventually massacred by their unconverted savage Lamanite brothers. In yet another compensatory fantasy, the Lamanite slayers are so struck by the Ammonites’ steadfastness that more are converted than were killed. Among those who remain unconverted are Aaron’s foes, the Amalekites and Amulonites: “And thus we can plainly discern, that after a people has been once enlightened by the spirit of God, and hath had great knowledge of things pertaining to righteousness, and then have fallen away into sin and transgression, they become more hardened, and thus their estate becometh worse than as though they had never known these things” (BM 293; Alma 24:30). From a psychoanalytic perspective, this passage means that Smith damns Emma’s family and others in the New York and Pennsylvania area because they refuse to believe him. The intensity of his anger is shown by the vengeance he takes upon them: “almost all the seed of Amulon and his brethren” are killed by the Nephites (BM 294; Alma 25:3‑4) and by internal fighting among the Lamanites (BM 294‑95; Alma 25:3‑13).
These narrative events demonstrate the remarkable strength of Smith’s psychological defenses. Episodes of inferiority, shame, humiliation, and failure have, through fantasy reversal, become glorious conquests, destruction of his enemies, and personal invulnerability. From a narrative perspective, the missionary success of Ammon and Aaron has come at a fearful cost in deaths. Yet in an episode of hypomania (an elevation of mood and excitement that, in more extreme forms, becomes mania), Ammon ignores the deaths, tragedies, wounds, rapes, dismemberings, burning of towns, dislocations, grievings, and general devastation that would occur from savages driven by hatred, and begins an ill‑timed extended exultation (four pages in the text) which causes even his brother Aaron discomfort: “Ammon, I fear that thy joy doth carry thee away unto boasting” (BM 296; Alma 26:10). Ammon is only spurred on to greater heights:
My joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God; yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength, I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God; for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold the many miracles we have wrought in this land. … Behold, how many thousands of our brethren hath he loosed from the pains of hell; and they are brought to sing redeeming love. … and they are encircled about with the matchless bounty of his love. … therefore let us glory, yea, we will glory in the Lord; yea we will rejoice for our joy is full; yea, we will praise our God forever. … Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long suffering towards the children of men? Behold I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel. … And we have entered into their houses and taught them … and we have entered into their temples and synagogues … and we have been cast out, and mocked, and spit upon, and smote upon our cheeks; and we have been stoned. … Now behold … and see the fruits of our labors; and are they few? I say unto you, Nay, there are many. … How many of these have laid down their lives; and we know that they have gone to their God. … Now have we not reason to rejoice? Yea, I say unto you, there never was men that had so great reason to rejoice as we, since the world began; yea, and my joy is carried away, even unto boasting in my God … and he is a merciful Being; even unto salvation. … Now if this is boasting, even so will I boast; for this is my life and my light, my joy and my salvation, and my redemption from everlasting wo … and my great thanksgiving; yea, and I will give thanks unto my God forever. (BM 296‑98; Alma 26)
Certainly a belief in ultimate happiness for the righteous dead helps to compensate for death and suffering. But still in such traumatic circumstances, one expects grief and mourning for the dead and exhaustion in the temporary relief from bloody, hand‑to‑hand battles. What despairing, traumatic experience can this exaggerated, bizarre euphoria be guarding against? I argue that it is the malformed stillbirth whose glorious future Smith had boasted of to Emma’s family. The turmoil and suffering it inflicted on Smith becomes increasingly evident in the narrative as bloody carnage followed by hypomanic euphoria. It is the same psychological process I identified in the incidents involving children in 3 Nephi.
The narrative follows this pattern exactly: carnage during a Lamanite attack, then mourning, then Ammon’s overwrought euphoria:
And now this was a time that there was a great mourning and lamentation heard throughout all the land, among all the people of Nephi; yea the cry of widows mourning for their husbands, and also of fathers mourning for their sons, and the daughter for the brother; yea the brother for the father: and thus the cry of mourning was heard among everyone of them; mourning for their kindred which had been slain. And now surely this was a sorrowful day; yea a time of solemnity. (BM 302; Alma 28:1‑6)
As a psychotherapist, I note that the anguish of a mother for her son is absent in this litany of loss. Was it too obvious, or temporarily too painful, to contemplate? Yet at this point of the narrative, Alma also returns, concluding with his famous descant, “O that I were an angel …” It is the theme of the descant, not its poetry, that is important. I read this passage as Smith’s confession that his grandiose view is genuinely shaken: “O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people. … But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me” (BM 303; Alma 29:1‑9). In psychological terms, he is struggling to acknowledge his vulnerability and to accept the mortal reality “allotted” to him.
These scenes written out of and around, as I am conjecturing, the death of his firstborn son provide crucial context for the narrative’s forecast of a more general period of war and struggle to follow: “And this is the account of the wars and contentions among the Nephites, and also the wars between the Nephites and Lamanites” (BM 302: Alma 28:9). Smith’s turmoil over the humiliating death of his son occupies the next twelve chapters; when he finally finds his fantasy compensation, he also announces the intensification of the wars. These wars are decreed by the death of his son, and what I see as his retaliatory rage at this humiliation will increasingly dominate the pages of the text and continue to the end of the Book of Mormon.
As I read the record Smith left, he attempts to divert himself from his anguish to engage in a long philosophical debate in Alma 30. Yet even in this diversion, he cannot completely get away from his conflict and returns more explicitly to his humiliation over his dead son. From my professional perspective, this psychological reason explains why Korihor, the third, last, and greatest anti‑Christ in the Book of Mormon, appears, seemingly out of nowhere at a moment of peace (BM 305‑10; Alma 30). The contest with Korihor represents Smith’s continued struggle with fate or the existence of God.
The narrative contextualizes Korihor with an affirmation of personal liberty: “Now there was no law against a man’s belief; for it was strictly contrary to the commands of God, that there should be a law which should bring men on unequal grounds. … and this Anti‑Christ, whose name was Korihor, and the law could have no hold on him” (BM 305; Alma 30:7‑1). Putting Korihor’s arguments in Zarahemla into modern English makes them more easily comparable with the religious arguments of Joseph Smith’s day:
You people are unnecessarily tied down by your religious beliefs. Why are you waiting for Christ? No one can foretell the future. The prophecies you believe in are foolish traditions only. What assurance do you have of their truth? You can’t know that Christ will come. The idea of a remission of sins is the effect of a mental illness brought on by the traditions of your fathers. These traditions are not true. Further the idea of an atonement is unreasonable, for each man is responsible for himself and the results of his life are his own doing. If a man becomes prosperous, it is because of his self‑discipline, intellect, and strength. Whatever a man does is no crime.
The people of Zarahemla who believe Korihor ignore morality and indulge in wickedness including, specifically, whoredoms. Their reasoning is: If death is the end, then no bar to self‑indulgence exists.
Korihor next enters the land of Jershon, inhabited by the Ammonites. “More wise” than the Nephites, “they took him, and bound him, and carried him before Ammon, which was a High Priest over that people” (BM 306; Alma 30:13‑20). Ammon, the swordsman/missionary, has him “carried out of the land.” In Gideon the inhabitants again take him “bound and carried” before Giddonah, the high priest/chief judge. Giddonah asks Korihor why he has perverted the ways of the Lord, interfered with the peoples’ happiness, and spoken against the prophets. Korihor explains (again paraphrased in modern English):
I don’t teach tradition as fact and don’t like seeing people tied down unnecessarily by illusion. You do these ancient ordinances and rituals to gain control over the people, keep them in ignorance, and keep them suppressed. This is not emotional freedom but bondage. You don’t know that those ancient prophecies are true, and it is unreasonable to blame these people for the sin committed by a parent in the Garden of Eden. No child should be blamed for what a parent does. You say Christ shall come to make this right. But you don’t know Christ will come. You say he will be slain for the sins of the world, and thereby you lead this people after foolish traditions for your own ends. You keep them in bondage so you can glut yourselves with their work, and they dare not be assertive or enjoy their rights or enjoy their own possessions lest they offend you, your traditions, whims, dreams, visions, and pretended mysteries, and your unknown God—a being they have never seen or known, which never was nor ever will be.
Giddonah’s officers bind Korihor and return him to the land of Zarahemla, where the original statement about religious freedom was made. In Zarahemla Korihor confronts both the chief judge and Alma as high priest. Again Korihor accuses the priests and teachers of misleading the people into foolish traditions so they can “glut” themselves on the labors of the people. Alma counters with his arguments for the existence of God—the testimony of the brethren, the holy prophets, the scriptures, and all of nature. Korihor insists on a stubborn agnosticism: “I do not deny the existence of God, but I do not believe that there is a God; and I say also, that ye do not know that there is a God; and except ye show me a sign, I will not believe.”
From a psychodynamic perspective, Korihor’s two‑sided position on God may reflect Joseph’s. Does God exist, and, if so, why did he do this to us? Is this stillborn child a sign from God of something? Of his existence? Of punishment for misbehavior? Or does it mean God doesn’t exist? Or, if he exists, doesn’t care? Even rational parents of a stillborn child today who know they did nothing wrong may struggle with the feelings that they are being punished for something and find themselves, with feelings of irrational guilt, searching for what it might be.
Certainly this post‑Enlightenment argument recurred many times in upstate New York between 1800 and 1830. Those familiar with Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason would have recognized Korihor’s voice, his demand for some kind of proof, and his suspicion of the oppression of superstition.42 But Korihor’s arguments are almost unanswerably strong; Smith, to bring the story back under his control, has God strike Korihor dumb. Korihor then writes a retraction of sorts, explaining that an angel once appeared to him, convincing him that there was no God and appealing to his “carnal mind … and for this cause, I withstood the truth.” Even so Alma refuses to remove the curse and Korihor “was cast out, and went about from house to house, a begging for his food … and as he went forth amongst them, behold, he was run upon, and trodden down, even until he was dead”43 (BM 306‑310; Alma 30:21‑60).
Psychologically speaking, the contradictions in this story are instructive, pinpointing disasters that still lie in Smith’s future. In addition to the fact that God’s intervention is fantastic—like a debater who strikes his opponent whose arguments he is unable to answer with logic and reason—a more important insight is Smith’s attitude toward civil liberties. Despite Mosiah’s laws guaranteeing freedom of speech, Korihor is arrested, deported, and brought repeatedly before authorities. He has lost his freedom because of what he has said. I suggest that Smith similarly will give lip service to freedom of speech but truly does not understand it and eventually ignores constitutional protections of religion and speech. His destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor in 1844 is only the most conspicuous, and most deadly, example.44 I also think it is instructive that Korihor said he deceived himself because an angel lied to him. Is Smith considering making a similar confession? Is Joseph reflecting on what he is doing with his angel story? Does Korihor represent not only the Age of Enlightenment doubter but also a guilty Smith who has been punished by God?
Theologically, it is also interesting that the theme of the philosophical question—does God exist?—is answered with punishing violence. Does Smith here suggest that he believes in fate (astrology and magic) rather than God, because the randomness of fate giving him a dead deformed son is still preferable to the punishment of a vengeful God?
The incident that follows Korihor’s death is psychological confirmation to me that Smith is still working through the trauma of his stillborn son, specifically the rebuff from Joseph and Hiel Lewis when he tried to join Emma’s church. In the Book of Mormon, after Korihor’s death, word reaches Alma that the Zoramites, a Nephite faction, are becoming wicked. Alma launches a missionary crusade with three of Mosiah’s four missionary sons, Amulek, the formerly evil judge Zeezrom, and two of his own three sons, here mentioned for the first time. These Zoramites have built a high altar, the Holy Stand or “Rameumptom,” in the center of their synagogue. One person at a time ascends the narrow, elevated platform and recites a ritual prayer:
Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren … and thou hast elected us, that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; … and we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren, which doth bind them down to a belief in Christ, which doth lead their hearts to wander far from thee, our God. And again: We thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and holy people. Amen. (BM 309‑11; Alma 31:1‑18)
Alma is “astonished beyond all measure” at this unseemly pride and grieves for this “wicked and perverse people; yea, he saw that their hearts were set upon gold and upon silver, and upon all manner of fine goods … [and] their costly apparel, and their ringlets, and their bracelets, and their ornaments of gold.” Their conversion efforts find
success among the poor class of people for behold, they were cast out of the synagogues because of the coarseness of their apparel; therefore they were not permitted to enter into their synagogues to worship God, being esteemed as filthiness; therefore they were poor; yea, they were esteemed by their brethren as dross; therefore they were poor as to things of the world; and also they were poor in heart.
Alma assures them that they can worship outside of church and points out a positive side to their poverty: “It is well that ye are cast out of your synagogues, that ye may be humble, and that ye may learn wisdom; for it is because [of this] that ye are brought to a lowliness of heart. … And now because ye are compelled to be humble, blessed are ye; for a man sometimes, if he is compelled to be humble, seeketh repentance; and … shall find mercy” (BM 311‑14; Alma 31:19‑38; 32:1‑14). The parallels between Smith’s rejection and the poorer Zoramites are, psychologically speaking, very thinly disguised. Smith’s parody of Protestant rituals in general and of the Hales’ congregation is savage and unforgiving. Once again Smith has transformed and reversed the scene of his pain and humiliation.
Alma delivers a famous lecture on faith to these poorer converts, a sermon that, in my judgement, attempts for the third time to deal with the infant’s death. He has described the child once as the radiant miracle of angels ministering to the children during Jesus’ visit and again as the mass slaughter of the innocent Ammonites. Now he finds yet another metaphor: the child as a growing seed.
Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief … behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts,45 and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves, it must needs be that this is a good seed … for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding; yea, and it beginneth to be delicious to me. … Nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge. But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, and then ye must needs say, that the seed is good. … Yea; for every seed bringeth forth unto its own likeness; therefore, if a seed groweth, it is good, but if it groweth not, behold, it is not good; therefore it is cast away. …
But if ye neglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it has no root it withers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out … because your ground is barren; and ye will not nourish the tree, therefore ye cannot have the fruit thereof.
And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word, in nourishing it; that it may take root in you, behold, by and by, ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white; yea, and pure above all that is pure. (BM 314‑16; Alma 32:21‑43)
Reading from the Book of Mormon back into his life, we note that the failure of the tree occurs because of inadequate nourishment. Joseph may be feeling guilty over not providing adequately for his wife, but there is insufficient information to reach a firm conclusion. Smith was farming land rented from his father‑in‑law, and they were living in a building owned by either Isaac Hale or his son.
Alma adds a quotation from the unknown Old Testament prophet Zenos:
Thou has heard my prayer … concerning … my enemies, and thou didst turn them to me. … Yea, thou art merciful unto thy children, when they cry unto thee to be heard of thee, and not of men. … O God, thou hast been merciful unto me, and heard my cries in the midst of thy congregation. … Also … when I have been cast out, and have been despised by mine enemies … thou didst visit them in thine anger, with speedy destruction; and thou didst hear me because of mine afflictions and my sincerity.
Once again in Smith’s story God sides with him against Joseph and Hiel Lewis, who refused him entrance to the church. Strikingly, God is merciful because, in a passage quoted from another unknown Bible prophet, Zenock, he has a son. It is striking indeed that son appears nine times in twelve verses:
It is because of thy Son that thou hast been thus merciful to me. … Thou has turned thy judgments away from me, because of thy Son. … He saith, Thou hast turned away thy judgments because of thy Son. … How can ye disbelieve on the Son of God? … Thou art angry, O Lord, with this people, because they will not understand of thy mercies which thou hast bestowed upon them, because of thy Son. And now my brethren, ye see that a second prophet of old has testified of the Son of God. … These are not the only ones who have spoken concerning the Son of God. … He was spoken of by Moses. … Begin to believe in the Son of God, that he will come to redeem his people. … And then may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of his Son. (BM 317‑18; Alma 33:4‑23)
As I read this defensive accusation, I hear Smith’s bitterness over the gross humiliation in front of his wife’s family, combined with the loss of masculine pride in failing to have his miraculous son, as determining his final direction, using any means for conquest available. But Smith has still not finished telling us about the loss of his son. He has described his conquest over those who rejected him in his pain. He has reversed his internal emotions from depression to euphoria. But he still has no son.46
Therefore, in the final section of this series of stacked stories, Alma, Smith’s alter ego, tells his life story to his three sons (one does not suffice). To his righteous son Helaman (BM 323‑30; Alma 36‑37), Alma speaks of his conversion, a version of Smith’s move from Methodism to his own new religion, in exaggerated revival terms. To this same son, he entrusts the records he has received. Psychologically, Smith has succeeded in having a son work with the records. In a grandiose statement, he attributes the salvation of thousands to his work; continuing to read from the Book of Mormon back into his life tells us that he is aware that a successful dictation of the Book of Mormon will bring followers:
Were it not for these things that these records do contain, which are on these plates, Ammon and his brethren could not have convinced so many thousands of the Lamanites, of the incorrect traditions of their fathers. … And who knoweth but what they will be the means of bringing many thousands of [Lamanites], yea, and also many thousands of our stiffnecked brethren, the Nephites, which are now hardening their hearts in sin and iniquities.
Smith seems to interweave his own miraculous story with Protestant evangelizing, preparing to present himself as a prophet. To his second son Shiblon (BM 330‑32; Alma 38), Alma briefly recounts his miraculous conversion by the angel, then advises: “See that ye are not lifted up unto pride; yea, see that ye do not boast in your own wisdom, nor of your much strength; use boldness, but not overbearance; and also see that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love; see that ye refrain from idleness.” Smith may thus reveal some of his own struggles with narcissistic arrogance.
But the third son, Corianton (BM 332‑40; Alma 39‑42), has been immoral and faithless: “Thou didst do that which was grievous unto me; for thou didst forsake the ministry and go over into the land of Sidon, among the borders of the Lamanites, after the harlot Isabel; yea, she did steal away the hearts of many; but this was no excuse for thee, my son.” Isabel is one of three female Book of Mormon characters. (The biblical personages Eve and Mary are named in the text.) The other two are Lucy Mack Smith, represented by Lehi’s wife Sariah, and Emma, who appears briefly as the believing Abish. Who is Isabel? Alma denounces harlotry as the third most serious sin: “Know ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins, save it be the shedding of innocent blood, or denying the Holy Ghost … which is unpardonable.” Furthermore, Corianton’s sexual laxness brought “great iniquity” on the Zoramites, “for when they saw your conduct they would not believe in my words.”
Within a psychoanalytic framework, Smith may be writing out either a mental struggle or disguising an actual lapse in sexual fidelity. No conclusive answer is possible; but the incident in which Hiel Lewis, quoting Levi Lewis’s accusation fifty years later that Smith had attempted to seduce Eliza Winters, is suggestive. I may now conjecture that the problem occurred before this approximate dictation time of May 1829. If Smith did, in fact, attempt to seduce Winters and if the sequence of attempt and dictating this passage of the Book of Mormon is correct, Smith seems to be admitting that, because of his behavior, Emma’s cousins would not believe his story, an outcome that seems probable. As always, reading from the Book of Mormon back into Smith’s life is only suggestive, but this story finds some support, again inconclusive, with the “sobbing” of “tender wives” described by Nephi’s brother, Jacob, in his sermon against polygamy (BM 126‑7; Jac. 2:28‑3:7; see above).
After expressing concern about his son’s sexual misconduct, Alma discusses the resurrection, the judgments of God, and the eternal states of the righteous and damned. According to Alma, the final judgment will consider both deeds and desires. Then, interestingly, he argues that, while repentance, atonement, law, and punishment are all necessary, so is sin:
The plan of redemption could not be brought about, only on conditions of repentance of men in the [earthly] probationary state … for except it were for these conditions, mercy could not take effect except it should destroy the work of justice … [and] God would cease to be God. … The plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be perfect … just … and merciful. … Now, how could a man repent except he should sin?
From a psychological perspective, this elaborate explanation of the necessity of sin to operationalize mercy, judgment, repentance, and justice suggests that Smith was troubled with guilt and having a difficult time finding psychological equilibrium.47
After these patriarchal lectures, a major shift occurs in the Book of Mormon. Until now personal stories have dominated, nearly all of them featuring Smith’s alter egos and acting out fantasies to compensate for his own life; they all have a basis in reality. Now the Nephite‑Lamanite wars dominate the action; their basis in Smith’s autobiography is more tenuous, suggesting to me that he is revealing deeper issues, not just repeating his life’s story. In psychological terms, he has achieved fantasy compensation for the deformed stillbirth, but he has not come to terms with his public humiliation. These wars, covering the next thirty‑two years, express a shocking level of retaliatory bitterness.
1. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed; or, a Faithful Account of That Singular Imposition and Delusion (Painesville, OH: Author, 1834); see also Thomas G. Alexander, “The Place of Joseph Smith in the Development of American Religion: A Historiographical Inquiry,” Journal of Mormon History 5 (1978): 3‑17.
4. I. Woodbridge Riley, The Founder of Mormonism: A Psychological Study of Joseph Smith, Jr. (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1902), 68‑70. For a description of the creation of a major Mormon vision of the three degrees of heaven, see Philo Dibble’s eyewitness account in Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994), 112‑13. Little in this description fits the accepted medical profile. E. H. Reynolds and M. R. Trimble, eds., Epilepsy and Psychiatry (London and New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1981), esp. M. R. Trimble, “The Limbic System,” 216‑226, and B. Toone, “Psychoses of Epilepsy,” 113‑37; they classify epilepsy with psychosis into
1.Psychoses directly related to the occurrence of seizure activity; including
a.Abnormal mental states that are a direct and immediate consequenceof underlying seizure activity and which may have some of the featuresof a psychotic state: continuous auras, petit mal status, temporal lobestatus
2. Interictal psychoses:
a.Schizophrenia‑like and paranoid psychoses
See also Jerome Kroll and Bernard Bachrach, “Visions and Psychopathology in the Middle Ages,” Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 170:41‑49.
For an excellent study of the complexity of pathological environment, genetic contribution, and toxic enhancement in an artistic genius, see Russell D. Monroe, “The Episodic Psychoses of Vincent Van Gogh,” Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 166 (1978): 480‑88. No specific conclusions can be drawn concerning Van Gogh’s behavior and artistry. Monroe comments, “Every conceivable diagnosis has been applied to Vincent’s illness, including schizophrenia, paranoia, manic‑depressive psychosis, epilepsy, complex psychic seizures, delirium tremens, and many more esoteric labels. Today, Vincent’s illness might be diagnosed as a reactive schizophrenia, acute schizophrenia, schizoid‑affective disorder, psychosis with epilepsy, limbic system disorder, or, as preferred by the author, the descriptive but etiologically noncommittal term, episodic psychotic reaction. … It should be pointed out that few patients with episodic disorders demonstrate creativity and few geniuses manifest behavior suggesting episodic behavioral disorders. Also, a neurophysiological explanation, no matter how elegant (and limbic seizures are more simplistic than elegant), can never fully explain creativity. Such an explanation demands an introspective, social, and historical perspective.” See also W. W. Meissner, Vincent’s Religion: The Search for Meaning (New York: Peter Lang, 1997).
6. Walter F. Prince, “Psychological Tests for the Authorship of the Book of Mormon” American Journal of Psychology 28 (July 1917): 373‑89; Theodore Schroeder, “Authorship of the Book of Mormon,” American Journal of Psychology 30 (1919): 66‑72; and Prince’s convincing response in his “A Footnote: `Authorship of the Book of Mormon,’” same vol., 427‑28.
7. Francis W. Kirkham, A New Witness For Christ in America: Attempts to Prove the Book of Mormon Man‑Made (Independence, MO: Zion’s Printing and Publishing, 1951), quoting Harry M. Beardsley, Joseph Smith and His Mormon Empire, 1931, in 2:79‑84, and Bernard DeVoto, “The Centennial of Mormonism,” American Mercury, Jan. 1930, qtd. in ibid., 1:351‑53; William D. Morain, The Sword of Laban: Joseph Smith, Jr. and the Dissociated Mind (Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Press, 1998), 87‑128.
8. “The daughter of Jared, like Salome, danced before a king and a decapitation followed. Abinadi, like Daniel, deciphered handwriting on a wall, and Alma was converted after the exact fashion of St. Paul. The daughters of the Lamanites were abducted like the dancing daughters of Shiloh; and Ammon, the American counterpart of David, for want of a Goliath slew six sheep‑rustlers with his sling.” Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 2d ed., rev. and enl. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971), 62‑63. See also Wesley P. Walters, “The Use of the Old Testament in the Book of Mormon,” M.A. thesis, Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, MO, 1981, 25‑30, and H. Michael Marquardt, “The Use of the Bible in the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Pastoral Practice 2 (1978): 118‑32. Marquardt lists 200 New Testament verses used in the Book of Mormon before 33 C.E.
9. According to Smith’s contemporary, Alexander Campbell, founder of the Church of Christ, “The Mormonites,” Millennial Harbinger 2 (Feb. 1831): 93: “This prophet Smith, through his stone spectacles, wrote on the plates of Nephi, in his book of Mormon, every error and almost every truth discussed in New York for the last ten years. He decides all the great controversies—infant baptism, ordination, the trinity, regeneration, repentance, justification, the fall of man, the atonement, transubstantiation, fasting, penance, church government, religious experience, the call to the ministry, the general resurrection, eternal punishment, who may baptize, and even the question of free masonry, republican government, and the rights of man.”
11. George D. Smith, “Nauvoo Roots of Mormon Polygamy, 1841‑46: A Preliminary Demographic Report,” Dialogue: Journal of Mormon Thought 27 (Spring 1994): 1‑72. See also Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986), 4‑12.
12. “That Mormon History,” Amboy [Illinois] Journal, 6 Aug. 1879, 1. Levi Lewis may be a relative of Hiel and Joseph Lewis, cousins of Emma Smith; but I have been unable to find any information identifying him. The parentheses around “Eliza Winters” are in the original.
13. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 4‑5, 8; Van Wagoner, “Joseph and Marriage,” Sunstone 10 (1985): 32‑33; Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1984), 64‑67; Todd Compton, “Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith’s Plural Wives and Polygamy: A Critical View,” in Reconsidering No Man Knows My History: Fawn M. Brodie and Joseph Smith in Retrospect, ed. Newell G. Bringhurst (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1996), 161‑62; Compton, “Fanny Alger Smith Custer: Mormonism’s First Plural Wife?” Journal of Mormon History 22 (Spring 1996): 174‑207; Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 25‑42.
15. Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, partly quoted in Newell and Avery, Mormon Enigma, 100‑101, from “Remarks,” Address at Brigham Young University, 14 Apr. 1905; Eliza R. Snow, qtd. in Klaus J. Hansen, Quest for Empire: The Political Kingdom of God and the Council of Fifty in Mormon History (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1970), 53. While conflicts between divine and national law are not unknown, the New Testament also specifically counsels Christians to be “subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates …” (Titus 3:1).
16. Ethan Smith, A View of the Hebrews (Poultney, VT: Smith & Shute, 1825), 62‑63. Jacob attributes the allegory to Zenos, a prophet not mentioned in the Old Testament. Zenos may, in fact, be Ethan Smith. See also Paul Y. Hoskisson, “Explicating the Mystery of the Rejected Foundation Stone: The Allegory of the Olive Tree,” BYU Studies 30 (Summer 1990): 77‑87; Stephen D. Ricks and John W. Welch, eds., The Allegory of the Olive Tree: The Olive, the Bible, and Jacob 5 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book/FARMS, 1994).
19. Michael T. Walton, “Joseph Smith and Science: The Methodist Connection. A Case Study in Mormonism as a Response to 19th Century American Revivalism,” Sunstone presentation, Aug. 1984, photocopy in my possession; see also Brigham H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985), 284‑318.
20. According to Dan Vogel, Religious Seekers and the Advent of Mormonism (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1988), 32, 44n34, Benjamin’s sermon contains nothing specifically Presbyterian, and his sermon might be hypocritical, for the Presbyterians were seen as neglecting the poor and downtrodden.
23. Although the Book of Mormon does not give direct population figures, John C. Kunich, “Multiply Exceedingly: Book of Mormon Population Sizes,” in New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology, ed. Brent Lee Metcalfe (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993), 231‑68, has calculated normal growth curves and concluded that some “of the details of events in the Book of Mormon are not literally historical” (265).
24. This sentence by Abinadi conflates two time periods, and seems to be an error with rapid correction by Joseph Smith. It initially refers to Christ who had already come—i.e., as viewed from Smith’s day, and then corrects it to Abinadi’s day.
25. Later Noah had to deal simultaneously with a Lamanite attack and a revolt by his own people. He ordered his followers to abandon their families and flee with him into the wilderness. Later ashamed of their cowardice, these followers rebelled and put him to death “by fire,” thus fulfilling Abinadi’s dying curse. I consider this symmetry to be another compensatory fantasy by which Smith dealt psychologically with Alvin’s death.
27. In 1835 an Egyptian papyrus came into the possession of Joseph Smith who declared its writings to be from the hand of the ancient patriarch, Abraham. His translation from this papyrus was canonized by the LDS church as the Book of Abraham, now contained in a small volume of Mormon scripture entitled the Pearl of Great Price. In 1967 the original papyrus was rediscovered. According to Mormon historian Klaus J. Hansen, “A scholarly translation published in 1968 revealed the papyri as rather common funerary documents bearing absolutely no relationship to the Book of Abraham. Significantly, this translation caused nary a ripple among the faithful, who are secure in the knowledge that scholarly apologists are at work reconciling the seeming discrepancy.” Hansen, Mormonism and the American Experience (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 31‑32. See also “The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri: Translations and Interpretations,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 3 (Summer 1968): 67‑105, with a translation by John A. Wilson, 67‑85, and five articles of commentary.
28. Lamb, a Baptist minister, in The Golden Bible, 222‑28, identified phrases from Methodist camp meetings that had been transferred into the Book of Mormon, including “`Encircled about eternally in the arms of his love …’ [BM 61; 2 Ne. 1:15] `The hands of hell which encircled them about were loosed and their souls did sing redeeming love …’ [BM 233; Alma 5:9] `My brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love …’ [BM 234; Alma 5:26] `For the arms of mercy are extended toward them …’ [BM 235; Alma 5:33].” Also: “But behold, your days of probation is past; ye have procrastinated the day of your salvation until it is everlastingly too late, [and your destruction is made sure] [BM 445; Hel. 13:38].” A good single example is the whole of Alma [Jr.]’s sermon of salvationist exhortation (BM 232‑38; Alma 5). Each of these phrases finds explicit parallel(s) in Methodist literature of the time.
30. This is perhaps the first indicator of Smith’s vision of the kingdom of God in which he attempted to dissolve the separation of church and state, an effort which led to difficulties in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. The persecution of the Mormons as they moved westward became intense in Ohio and extreme in Missouri and, shortly before and after Smith’s murder, in Illinois. However, wherever they went, Mormons lied about illegal polygamy, formed secret societies of intimidation and threats, attempted to control politics by bloc voting, and struggled to create a theocratic government, with the ultimate desire to form an independent Mormon empire or at least a separate state within the nation. The local populace responded to these injuries to democracy with violence. See Hansen, Quest for Empire, 72‑179.
31. Some traditional Mormons agree that Ammon’s sword is probably the sword of Laban but not identified as such. Brett L. Holbrook, “The Sword of Laban as a Symbol of Divine Authority and Kingship,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2 (Spring 1993): 39‑69, esp. 54.
36. The Book of Mormon never explains in detail the marriages of Lehi’s and Ishmael’s children. One insight into the contents of the lost 116 pages can be inferred from a sermon given by Mormon pioneer 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, 26 vols. (London and Liverpool: LDS Booksellers Depot, 1855‑86), 23:184.
37. Donna Hill, Joseph Smith: The First Mormon (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1977), 68. She does not cite a source for her conclusion that the brothers‑in‑law frequently and deliberately provoked Smith for this fishing incident.
38. B. H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, ed. Brigham D. Madsen (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985), 290‑316, discusses the replication of nineteenth‑century Methodist revivalist phenomena in the Book of Mormon.
40. Ammon would not need guile to encourage Lamoni to listen to him, nor would Ammon need to deny that he intended harm unless he planned to lie. Furthermore, hearken, or some form of it, is used over eighty times in the Book of Mormon; in every instance except possibly 2 Nephi 23:5, it means not only to listen but also to obey.
41. The psychodynamic interpretation of Smith’s antagonism with his wife’s family and church, including his reaction to the loss of his firstborn son, is, according to my hypothesis, processed in over forty pages of the Book of Mormon (282‑320; Alma 21‑42) and requires significant conjecture. My basis for seeing him as humiliated is the grandiose statements he reportedly made to his wife’s family about his future son’s miraculous translating power. (See chapter 3). These testimonies are suspect in the eyes of devout Mormons because Smith himself made no known statements about being humiliated. My assumption of his response is based on what would be expected from someone with a narcissistic profile, his application to join his wife’s religious class, and his silence about his 1826 trial, which was a far more public humiliation.
And now, ye priests of every description, who have preached and written against the former part of “The Age of Reason,” what have ye to say? Will ye, with all this mass of evidence against you, and staring you in the face, still have the assurance to march into your pulpits and continue to impose these books on your congregations as the works of inspired penmen, and the Word of God, when it is as evident as demonstration can make truth appear that the persons who ye say are the authors are not the authors, and that ye know not who the authors are?
What shadow of pretense have ye now to produce for continuing the blasphemous fraud? What have ye still of offer against the pure and moral religion of Deism, in support of your system of falsehood, idolatry and pretended revelation? Had the cruel and murderous orders with which the Bible is filled, and the numberless torturing executions of men, women and children, in consequence of those orders, been ascribed to some friend whose memory you revered, you would have glowed with satisfaction at detecting the falsehood of the charge, and gloried in defending his injured fame. Is it because ye are sunk in the cruelty of superstition, or feel no interest in the honor of your Creator, that ye listen to the horrid tales of the Bible, or hear them with callous indifference? The evidence I have produced, and shall produce in the course of this work, to prove that the Bible is without authority, will, while it wounds the stubbornness of a priest, relieve and tranquillize the minds of millions; it will free them from all those hard thoughts of the Almighty which priestcraft and the Bible had infused into their minds, and which stood in everlasting opposition to all their ideas of His moral justice and benevolence. (123‑124)
… The Bible and the Testament are impositions upon the world, .. . the fall of man, the account of Jesus Christ being the Son of God, and of his dying to appease the wrath of God, and of salvation by that strange means are all fabulous inventions, dishonorable to the wisdom and power of the Almighty. … (168)
But though, speaking for myself, I thus admit the possibility of revelation, I totally disbelieve that the Almighty ever did communicate anything to man, by any mode of speech, in any language, or by any kind of vision, or appearance, or by any means which our senses are capable of receiving, otherwise than by the universal display of Himself in the works of the creation. …
The most detestable wickedness, the most horrid cruelties, and the greatest miseries that have afflicted the human race have had their origin in this thing called revelation, or revealed religion. It has been the most dishonorable belief against the character of the Divinity, the most destructive to morality and the peace and happiness of man that ever was propagated since man began to exist. (182)
43. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, 271, concludes his discussion concerning the three anti‑Christs (Sherem, Nehor, Korihor): there is a “strong implication that [all three] have their origin in one mind,” with “rawness” and “amateurishness” “increasingly evident. … [carrying] `proof’ that it is the work of a pious youth dealing with the commonplace stock arguments clumsily put together for the belief in the existence of God. … The evidence, I sorrowfully submit, points to Joseph Smith as their creator. It is difficult to believe that they are the product of history …”
44. Marvin Hill, Quest for Refuge: The Mormon Flight from American Pluralism (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 142‑51, but see his technique of escaping from previous arrests by his illicit use of habeas corpus, 99‑151.
45. This word, which appears on the printer’s manuscript copy, is probably a Freudian slip. The word, from the context, would more likely be breast or heart, which he has already used once. As a psychiatrist, I see Smith as recalling literally though perhaps unconsciously Emma’s breasts, swollen first with the pregnancy and, after delivery, with milk for the dead infant. However, since Alma is talking to more than one person, his reference to the breasts (plural) of his hearers (plural) is literally correct; and no definite conclusion can be made.
46. A valid question is to what degree Smith’s emotional reaction to this child’s death was grief. Grief, a healthy and normal reaction to pain, is what we would ordinarily expect. Like the question of humiliation, we have no direct statements of Smith’s feelings. But the naturalistic evidence is discouraging. The hypomania of Ammon/Joseph Smith is an abnormal response, perhaps countering depression, which is also abnormal. During the visit of Jesus, Smith turned the reaction triggered by children into a magnificently expanded Bible story of wonder, again sidestepping the pain of the loss. In this instance, he turns it into a sermon and makes use of it in the Book of Mormon. Finally, the content of the stories with the representatives of the Hale and Lewis families is vengeful. The platform for this material in the Book of Mormon is to convince people of his miraculous powers. We are left to wonder how much Smith genuinely cared about others or was capable of love.
The alternate view is to believe that the unknown Bible prophets Zenos and Zenock really did exist and that these selected sermons from them about enemy congregations and the importance of having a son are coincidental; that their writings were known to the Nephites who really did exist; and that Smith is not deceitful about his ability to translate this story. See Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, Prophet’s Wife, “Elect Lady,” Polygamy’s Foe, 1804‑1879 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1984), 95‑168, and George D. Smith, ed., An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton (Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1995), 193‑36.
47. Theologically, this argument would have been common during Smith’s day. While Smith, in my opinion, uses it to reveal/hide his struggle over guilt and sin, he drew its specifics from Josiah Priest’s Wonders of Nature and Providence Displayed (Rochester, NY: Author, 1824; Albany. NY: E. and E. Hosford, 1825, 1826), 127‑37. The 1825 edition argues: Adam and Eve were prohibited from eating the fruit to test their “homage and obedience,” and show gratitude for God’s benevolence. Because of disobedience, they earned only degradation and woe. The Deist sees no reason for the death of Christ, for surely God could have rescued man without such a process. The Christian asks, “Do you admit the attributes of God to be essential to his nature?” and, when the Deist agrees, the Christian and the Deist further agree justice is an attribute of God. Christian: “Can then … a being necessarily just, suspend his justice? If he can, he must, during that suspension, be destitute of justice; and this will prove that justice is not essential to his nature. … But if God cannot suspend his justice, you must admit the necessity of that atonement. … [For i]f mercy can overcome justice, what is become of that Omnipotence by which justice is supported?” (133‑35)