Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith
Robert D. Anderson
Regression and Recapitulation:
The End of Alma, the Book of Helaman
Despite Joseph Smith’s traumatic childhood surgery, I would not formally diagnose him as suffering from post‑traumatic stress disorder. Even though his silence on typical symptoms cannot be taken as proof that he did not experience such symptoms, the historical record does not show the typical pattern: a victim distressed by intrusive and unwanted images of the traumatic experience; awaking from repeated nightmares, body and bed drenched in perspiration; involuntary triggering of fearful reactions (veterans, for instance, may find themselves shaking and crying when a helicopter flies overhead), disruptions to thinking or concentration on a task; and conscious organization of their lives so that they can avoid anything that might remind them of the trauma. When the former soldier dissociates into “flashbacks,” others are in physical danger from him, for he is back in the jungle and ready to attack.
It seems likely that Smith experienced such symptoms when he was a child following the surgery; but by the time he dictated the Book of Mormon, seventeen years later, I think he was actually expanding and embellishing the details for the purpose of gaining power and prestige. They had changed from “ego‑alien” (repugnant and distressing to him) to “ego‑syntonic” (acceptable to his goals and feelings). The violence of the surgery had become part of his personality. He had partially “mastered” it by making it his own. This diagnosis still allows for the possibility that he dictated the Book of Mormon hoping for some therapeutic benefit. From my perspective, this young man may have benefited greatly from psychotherapy dealing with his surgery and family deprivation; without access to such aid, at least one of the Book of Mormon’s several purposes may charitably be seen as his effort to find relief.
If my analysis of this situation is correct, some part of Smith sought greater mastery over his childhood trauma and, sensing his emotional and economic difference from his neighbors, longed for ordinary commonness. It is possible to see in his dictating style some elements of intensive psychotherapy, including unrestrained free association and minimal noncondemning responses from his scribes. In addition, he reduced outside stimuli by looking at his stone in a hat. A patient on the couch can talk about the ceiling tiles for only so long. Then the relative vacuum in his or her conscious mind begins to draw on past emotions and experiences in his or her unconscious, and the monologue increases in intensity, coloring, and distortion. This voice from the unconscious sometimes frightens patients; they find themselves trembling and crying “for no reason at all.” They may say, “I can’t believe I’m saying this. Where is this stuff coming from?” They may say, as they begin to experience childhood feelings but without enough clarity to know what is happening, “You seem like a nice person and haven’t said anything mean, but I’m frightened of you. It doesn’t make sense.” Even in the public and highly ritualized setting of a Mormon testimony meeting, we have all seen that talking about an intense experience may force an emotional reliving of that experience. In treatment, the encouragement to talk with minimal assignment of content pressures an emotional return to times of troubles. Patients may experience this awareness with surprise and disbelief. Smith was reliving his humiliation and possible grief when his child was born dead and, I hope, his concern for Emma’s physical pain and worry about whether she would survive the birth. This event had occurred less than a year earlier; he countered the emotional pain with hypomania, obvious by its inappropriate timing in the story. As a psychiatrist, I suspect that this incident stirred feelings and memories of past tragedies, including Alvin’s death, Sophronia’s near‑death experience during the typhoid epidemic, and the death of baby Ephraim when Joseph was four. His hypomania was probably dealing with all of these layered experiences.
The essential difference between Smith’s dictation of the Book of Mormon and a therapeutic setting is the listener’s attitude. As bonding between the therapist and client develops, the therapist begins to understand and then to clarify the association between Smith’s personal history and his fantasies. He or she would begin to confront Joseph about the origin of his stories, help him deal directly with his painful memories, and raise questions about his intent in using these fantasies with other people. This last issue would become the main therapeutic task of the interchange, for Smith’s efforts to enlist converts to join his self‑deceit (and/or his own certain knowledge about the origin of his fantasies) constitutes a coercive claim that he could own their lives. Either Smith would have to begin withdrawing from this search for power, or the therapist would have to withdraw, for he or she would be either wasting time or reinforcing Smith’s behavior by remaining. He or she would thus be “owned” by Smith, and the therapy would become only a training ground for enhanced techniques in manipulating others. Smith may have chosen those who dictated for him because they were not inclined to confront him. In turn, they cooperated for their own reasons of attached or reflected glory or gain. (See further discussion of this point in chapter 7.) Their acceptance validated his claims and began the process of turning a fantasy into a psychological reality.
In the final diagnostic chapter, I will analyze Smith’s personality according to the five components identified in the introduction; the most important is narcissism. Narcissists, despite sometimes impressive public personae, never achieve full integration of feeling or function. Observers are most likely to be struck by the grandiose self, but its foundation is inferiority, shame, and inadequacy. These individuals have strong psychological defenses; their apparent invulnerability draws followers to them. But they lack the perspective that maturity and humility bring; humiliation triggers an internal fury that only slowly abates. They commonly surround themselves with compliant admirers who accept their propaganda of supernormal abilities. Narcissists demonstrating grandiosity buffer themselves from the outside world with these people, focusing on their admiration so they can ignore criticism.
But in Harmony, in the spring of 1829, Smith had few admirers: Emma, Josiah Stowell, and Joseph Knight. Although Stowell and Knight lived only a few miles away, he probably did not see them daily. His own family was 120 miles away, absorbed in problems of their own. If Joseph Lewis and Hiel Lewis were telling the truth, Smith made grandiose claims about magic, bleeding ghosts, gold records, and a son who could open the gold book. Emma’s cousins were incensed at these non‑Christian claims of near‑omnipotence. Why did he think he was better than they? Why did angels never visit them? When his magical son was born deformed and dead, I assume that his public humiliation could not have been worse. Even Emma had failed him by not producing the son he expected. Although her family was no doubt motivated in its hostility toward Smith by a wish to protect her, her acceptance of Smith’s claims of supernatural abilities angered them, I hypothesize; and the Lewis cousins’ rejection of his membership amounts to a public judgement. According to my hypothesis, despite his attempts at normalcy, he seethed in silence for seven months, then returned to his grand claims.
In summary, I have argued that the book of Alma presents the following autobiographical events: Alvin’s death in November 1823 (Nehor’s murder of Gideon), the Palmyra revival of March 1824 to March 1825 (Alma II’s conversion), Smith’s imprisonment and trial at South Bainbridge in March 1826 (Alma and Amulek in Ammonihah), Smith’s rejection by Emma’s family in 1827 (Ammon’s contest against the sheep thieves, his conversion of Lamoni’s household, and Abish’s support), the stillborn in June 1828 (the massacre of the innocent pacificist Anti‑Nephi‑Lehies, Ammon’s hypomanic response, the survivors’ grief, Alma’s sermon of the swelling seed and God’s redeeming son), Smith’s expulsion from Emma’s church by her cousins, also in June 1828 (the hypocritical Zoramites), and Smith’s unspoken humiliation (Alma’s instructions to his three sons). These events bring Smith’s life to the year 1828.
As already mentioned, narcissistic individuals show child‑like thinking. Their grandiose fantasies compensate for the inadequacies in their lives. They cannot handle complex feelings. They polarize their world into good/bad, white/black, us/them categories. This pattern characterizes the entire Book of Mormon, but, as I read the section focused mainly on Book of Mormon wars, beginning in the last part of Alma and continuing through the genocidal last battle, I see Smith expressing his expanding fury; at least psychologically, he will destroy his world in vengeance.
War: The Polarization of Personality into Extremes
Individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder believe that they are superior, special, or unique and expect others to recognize them as such. … They may feel that they can only be understood by, and should only associate with, other people who are special or of high status and may attribute “unique,” “perfect,” or “gifted” qualities to those with whom they associate. Individuals with this disorder believe that their needs are special and beyond the ken of ordinary people. Their own self‑esteem is enhanced (i.e., “mirrored”) by the idealized value that they assign to those with whom they associate. They are likely to insist on having only the “top” person (doctor, lawyer, hairdresser, instructor) or being affiliated with the “best” institutions, but may devalue the credentials of those who disappoint them. … Individuals with this disorder generally require excessive admiration.1
On the surface [narcissistic personalities] appear to present a remarkable absence of object relationships; on a deeper level, their interactions reflect very intense, primitive, internalized object relationships of a frightening kind and an incapacity to depend on internalized good objects. … [They use the mental mechanisms of omnipotence and devaluation and] may shift between the need to establish a demanding, clinging relationship to an idealized “magic” object at some times, and fantasies and behavior betraying a deep feeling of magical omnipotence of their own at other times … [Splitting is the] division of internalized object relations into “good” and “bad” [and] happens at first simply because of the [immaturity of the] early ego, [but later] is used defensively.2
MORONI, ZARAHEMNAH, AND AMALAKIAH: GOOD AND BAD ALTER EGOS
In the war stories of Alma and Helaman, Joseph Smith continues, through the technique of splitting, to identify with political leaders in the United States. Psychologically speaking, these fantasies are frightening.
TIME: 74‑69 B.C.E.//1823‑28 C.E.
PLACE: THE LAND OF NEPHI (LAMANITES)//ISAAC HALE HOMESTEAD AND ENVIRONS; THE UNITED STATES
PERSONAE: ZARAHEMNAH//POSSIBLY NATHAN SMITH, ALVIN’S PHYSICIAN, AND/OR JOHN QUINCY ADAMS
MORONI//JOSEPH SMITH, JR.; ANDREW JACKSON
AMALICKIAH//JOSEPH SMITH, JR.; JOHN QUINCY ADAMS
THE TITLE OF LIBERTY//THE HICKORY POLE
The war sections of Alma and Helaman reveal, I submit, polarized extremes as Smith emotionally regresses under the pressure of his humiliation and rage. Here he demonstrated the thinking of a young child or of an unintegrated, immature personality who has difficulty dealing with ambiguity and complexity.
The conflicts between the heroic Nephite Moroni, an alter ego of Joseph Smith (not to be confused with Moroni, the son of Mormon, who is the final writer in the Book of Mormon), and his military opponents, Zarahemnah and Amalickiah, demonstrate how abstract and mythic the struggles are becoming. The sole episode of triangular—Oedipal—conflict in the overwhelming dyadic Book of Mormon occurs in this section. Moroni is introduced with no background. He simply appears out of nowhere just at the moment of need: “Now the leader of the Nephites … was Moroni; and Moroni took all the command, and the government of their wars—and he was only twenty and five years old” (BM 341; Alma 43:16‑17). Smith was twenty‑three and a half. This magnificent national leader is, in psychological terms, an idealized version of Smith’s self:
And Moroni was a strong and mighty man; he was a man of perfect understanding; yea, a man that did not delight in bloodshed; a man whose soul did joy in the liberty and the freedom of his country … a man who did labor exceedingly for the welfare and safety of his people … and this was the faith of Moroni; and his heart did glory in it; not in the shedding of blood, but in doing good, in preserving his people; yea, in keeping the commandments of God; yea, and resisting iniquity. (BM 358‑59; Alma 48:11‑48)
This alter ego is balanced by two dark doubles who represent the polar opposite. The first is Zarahemnah, leader of the Lamanites and dissident Nephites. War maneuvers, secrecy, strategies, and miracles blend as Moroni consults Alma for military counsel. The armor‑clad Nephites rout the naked Lamanites; Moroni offers to let them surrender, reiterating that the Nephites are fighting, not for conquest, but for their “religion … wives and … children … liberty … and sacred word of God.”
Zarahemnah attributes Moroni’s success in battle to “cunning” and superior equipment, then attacks Moroni during the parley. A Nephite soldier scalps Zarahemnah with a single sword stroke, and the battle recommences. This time the Lamanites, Zarahemnah included, are forced to surrender and take an oath of peace. Although the Lamanites are assumed to be crafty savages, and although the oath is coerced from them, the Book of Mormon assumes that it will be scrupulously kept. The number of the dead is so “exceeding great” that they cannot be counted; their bodies are thrown in the river Sidon “and are buried in the depths of the sea” (BM 347; Alma 44). Alma then relinquishes the sacred records to his son, Helaman, leaves Zarahemla, and disappears forever. It is the nineteenth year of the reign of the judges (73 B.C.E.). Helaman, a righteous and effective warrior in the Lamanite conflicts, deals with the Nephites’ “many little dissen[s]ions and disturbances” by preaching, establishing churches, and appointing priests and teachers (BM 349; Alma 45:20‑24).
At the start of the book of Alma, he began with a personal confrontation between the anti‑Christ Nehor and an aged warrior Gideon, and then expanded that one‑to‑one conflict into a social narrative between followers of Nehor (the Amlicites) and Alma. He now does the same thing, and the battle between Moroni and Zarahemnah now takes on a government enlargement.
Smith’s second dark double is Amalickiah, the Book of Mormon’s supreme villain. A “large and strong man,” he covets the kingship, attracts a following among dissatisfied minor judges, and begins to undermine “the church of God and [to] destroy the foundation of liberty.” Moroni, furious at Amalakiah,
rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it, in memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children; and he fastened it upon the end of a pole thereof. And he fastened on his headplate … breastplate, and his shields … and … his armor about his loins; and he took the pole, which had on the end thereof his rent coat, (and he called it the title of liberty,) … And … he went forth among the people, waving the rent of his garment in the air, that all might see the writing which he had wrote upon the rent …
The people “came running together, with their armors girded about their loins, rending their garments in token, or as a covenant,” constituting an army made up from “all parts of the land.” Amalickiah, seeing his followers’ fear that he should not gain the point,” fled into Lamanite country, hotly pursued by Moroni’s army. Moroni, now twenty‑six and battle‑hardened, received full powers under what we would call martial law declared in a national emergency. Amalickiah roused the Lamanites’ savage anger toward the Nephites. By ruse and deception, he rapidly rose to second in military command, poisoned his superior, and became chief. Amalickiah marched back to the Lamanite capital where his servants “stabbed the king to the heart” and then accused his terror‑stricken servants, who had taken to their heels, of the murder (BM 355‑56; Alma 47:1‑25). The army, outraged to see the king “lying in his gore,” pursued the fleeing servants, killing those they could capture. Some escaped into Nephite territory and reported events to Moroni. Meanwhile, Amalickiah’s report satisfied the queen, whom he wooed and married, “and thus … he obtained the kingdom; yea, he was acknowledged king throughout all the land” (BM 356‑57; Alma 47:26‑35).
At first glance, this story looks like the timeless triangle of Oedipus Rex and Shakespeare’s Hamlet: the protagonist kills the father figure and marries the mother. Yet Amalakiah does not fit the pattern in the usual way. He seeks raw political power through cunning, cruelty, deception, and murder. Sexual desire is irrelevant; the queen is simply one means to an end, not the goal. Rather than fitting the classical Freudian model of the Oedipal triangle, I argue that it matches the more subtle and complex reworkings of Oedipal development by Freud’s successors.3 According to this revised hypothesis, the child between birth and three identifies almost totally, first, with the mother, then with both the mother and father. The child’s ability to handle this simplest and most basic triangle is largely determined by his or her previous development, security, and parents’ response. Trauma during the Oedipal period—Joseph Smith’s surgery, for instance—regresses the child to these earlier developmental stages, sometimes permanently, characterized by extreme fantasies of omnipotence, magical thinking, and the polarization of personality and thinking into opposites. Smith’s father was so weak that Lucy had already made the youthful seer “her man” long before his supernatural claims. And, I think, Smith’s father, with his economic failings, delusional belief in magic, and problems with drinking, through the years presents a picture of fragility. We know that Joseph Jr. had become central to the family by his mid‑teens with his role as magician and seer stone peeping, but I suspect that his mother viewed him as special from the time of his “miraculous” survival from leg surgery—and perhaps even before, for he was given the father’s name. Such preeminence teaches the child that he has special rights, a view that certainly would affect his later behavior, including his sexual attitudes.
THE HARRIS MARRIAGE
In June 1828 Martin Harris coaxed the 116 manuscript pages out of Smith to show to his immediate family, and they disappeared permanently while in his charge. In 1833, after the disintegration of the Harris marriage, Mrs. Harris described Martin Harris in unflattering terms:
Martin Harris was once industrious[,] attentive to his domestic concerns, and thought to be worth about ten thousand dollars. He is naturally quick in temper … he has whipped, kicked, and turned me out of the house. … Because I would not give credit [to Joseph Smith’s claims] he became more austere toward me. In one of his fits of rage he struck me with the butt end of a whip … beat me on the head four or five times … turned me out of doors twice, and beat me in a shameful manner. … My flesh was black and blue in many places.4
A neighbor, G. W. Stoddard, agreed that Harris “was known to frequently abuse his wife, by whipping her, kicking her out of bed and turning her out of doors. etc.”5
Tellingly, at this point in the not‑yet‑resolved conflict between Moroni and Amalakiah, the Book of Mormon narrative contains an embedded subplot involving Morianton, a “man of much … angry … passion.” When Moroni settles a land dispute against Morianton, he takes his followers and flees “into the land northward.” However, “being a man of much passion,” Morianton “fell upon” a maidservant “and beat her much” (BM 365; Alma 50:30‑31). She fled to Moroni and revealed Morianton’s flight; to prevent Morianton’s escape, Moroni sent an army under Teancum who slew the “wicked and stubborn” dissident and brought back his group as prisoners. Moroni then negotiated a final peace.
I hypothesize that this story suggests both the conflict between Martin and Lucy Harris and also between the Harris family and Smith family. Harris/Morianton is presented as a woman beater, “wicked and stubborn” and subject to “mad fits.” Teancum had to follow Morianton north; Smith had to go north from Harmony to confront Harris. As a final detail, the story suggests a property dispute between the Harris and Smith families. In fact, Lucy Harris protested the diversion of Martin’s property to underwrite the Book of Mormon; Martin, by supporting the Book of Mormon, was asserting that Smith as prophet was the property’s true owner (BM 365‑66; Alma 50:25‑36, esp. 30).6
NATIONAL PARALLELS: THE JACKSON ELECTION OF 1828
In addition to parallels with Harris, I hypothesize that the Mor‑oni/Amalakiah conflict is a disguised reworking of national politics. As a corroborating detail, as soon as “the people of Nephi had peace restored” from the Morianton rebellion, then “Nephihah, the second chief judge, died,” necessitating an election (BM 366; Alma 50:37 [67 B.C.E.//fall 1828]).
The Oedipal conflict in Amalakiah’s story is weak by comparison with the search for power, a pattern in keeping with the fact that women are generally irrelevant in the Book of Mormon. Therefore, I find the queen’s presence to be strong circumstantial evidence that Smith was writing out sectional rivalries and national dissensions as part of his darkest conflicts, using the U.S. election in disguised form. A major issue in the presidential election of 1828 was a contest between the perceived aristocrats of the eastern seaboard and the “common man” of the interior. In 1824 Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams colluded, as we have seen, to deprive Andrew Jackson, the candidate with the plurality, by using the electoral college.7 Jackson seemed initially accepting of this arrangement but rapidly changed his position and began acting with the next election in mind, which he won by a popular vote of 648,000 to 508,000 and an electoral vote of 178 to 83.
Jackson (1767‑1845) was seen as a man of the ordinary people, while the people were looking for “a government that would be more responsive to their needs and interests.” Stubborn, quarrelsome, a gambler and drinker, vigorous, sensitive and humorless, Jackson the hero was a plain, simple, virtuous man.8 He had become major general of the Tennessee militia in 1802, and the War of 1812 provided him an opportunity to show his abilities. In March 1814 he crushed the Creek Indians who were allies of the British, then further punished them by taking away 20 million acres of their lands. Nine months later his motley army won an amazing victory at the battle of New Orleans, and he became an instant national hero. He was a warrior hero among “free‑men” and had demonstrated that he could defeat “Lamanites.” His nickname, earned as a young man, was “Old Hickory,” an admiring tribute to his unyielding determination. Born in Tennessee rather than among the perceived elites of the eastern seaboard, he took as his motto: “Let the people rule.” One biographer described the class conflict represented in the election of 1828: “Nearly all the talent, nearly all the learning, nearly all the ancient wealth, nearly all the business activity, nearly all the book‑nourished intelligence, nearly all the silverforked civilization of the country, united in opposition to [Andrew] Jackson.”9 In contrast, John Quincy Adams, Jackson’s opponent in both 1824 and 1828, was called “`King John the Second.’”10 Common men saw him as a corrupt “blue‑blood … an unprincipled hypocrite whose mania for office had brought him money from the public treasury … from the date of his birth.” Rumors circulated. He had been “corrupted by long residence in European courts, especially the Russian court, where he had prostituted a beautiful American girl to the carnal desires of Czar Alexander I … and [he] hated popular government, and inwardly detested the heroes of the American Revolution.” In the eyes of the ordinary U.S. citizen, he had cheated them out of their choice for president and imposed himself like a tyrannous monarch.11 He was a king among king‑men.
According to one biographer, “The symbol of his [Jackson’s] campaign, the hickory pole, appeared in astonishing numbers, set up in every village … throughout the country. In the train of noisy demonstrations around the poles came new trappings of political campaigning designed to excite the electorate and appeal to its basic emotions—barbecues, ox roasts, torchlight parades, bonfire, and firework displays.”12 I argue that Smith used the hickory pole as the model for the pole on which Moroni hoisted his title of liberty (BM 351‑53; Alma 46:11‑36), as part of the larger contest about national leadership between an elitist faction and the “voice of the people.”
In the Book of Mormon, Pahoran, the chief judge, resisted pressure from certain factions “that a few particular points of the law should be altered. … Therefore there arose a warm dispute concerning the matter, but not unto bloodshed.” The political issues of 1828 were large. Should the U.S. continue to support, by providing financial advantages, to the privately owned “Bank of United States”? Could the federal government impose tariffs on manufactured goods produced in the state of South Carolina? If South Carolina resisted, should the government send an army to force compliance? There were land development issues, Indian problems, and internal improvements such as canals, roads, and railroads to attend to. Issues were drowned, however, in the contest between the two personalities of Jackson and Adams, and a campaign became a morality play of “virtue and republican simplicity over corruption and unprincipled aristocracy.”13
In the Book of Mormon, Pahoran’s opponents “were called king‑men, for they were desirous … to overthrow the free government and to establish a king over the land.” The free‑men wished to retain the system of judges. At the election “the voice of the people came in favor of the free‑men, and Pahoran retained the judgement seat. … Now those which were in favor of kings were those of high birth; and they sought to be kings; and they were supported by those which sought power and authority over the people” (BM 367; Alma 51:8). At this “critical time for such contentions,” Amalickiah reappeared, posing an immediate military challenge. From a psychoanalytic perspective, victory and survival depend on Joseph Smith through his surrogate, Moroni. When the sulky king‑men refuse to take up arms, Moroni was “exceeding wroth.” Armed with authority from the chief judge, he executed 4,000 king‑men, imprisoned others without trial, and conscripted the rest: “And thus Moroni put an end to those king‑men … the stubbornness, and the pride of those people which professed the blood of nobility; but they were brought down to humble themselves like unto their brethren, and to fight valiantly for their freedom from bondage.” He also forced them “to hoist the title of liberty upon their towers, and in their cities” (BM 367‑68; Alma 51:4‑21).
This statement not only recalls the ubiquity of Jackson’s hickory poles, but also the fact that Jackson’s supporters in Tennessee threatened to tar and feather anyone voting for Adams. On Jackson’s inauguration, 4 March 1829, the frontiersmen, backwoodsmen, war veterans, and laborers stormed the White House in triumph. They trampled broken china into the carpets with their muddy boots and broke furniture by standing on it. Women fainted. A phalanx of friends formed around Jackson to save him from being crushed, and he escaped from the White House. Thirty‑two days after this national event, Oliver Cowdery arrived in Harmony, and the prodigious feat of dictating the Book of Mormon in less than thirteen weeks began.
However, Jackson’s political triumph was marred by a personal tragedy which I believe appears in a much attenuated form in Amalakiah’s preemption of the Lamanite queen. Women, and their real‑life prototypes, are so underrepresented in the Book of Mormon that one assumes they must have had some special significance to Smith to appear at all. I think the death of Rachel Jackson, attributed to the viciousness of the campaign, motivated Smith to introduce a Lamanite queen into the story. Jackson had married Rachel Donelson Robards in August 1791. She had been told that her husband, Lewis Robards, had been granted a divorce by the Virginia legislature on grounds of her desertion and adultery in mid‑1791. She had married Jackson only to discover later that the divorce had not been finalized.
As already mentioned (chapter 3), the 1824 election had been a one‑party contest. Jackson had gained the most electoral votes, but Adams and Henry Clay had joined forces and became president and secretary of state in what Jackson and the nation believed was a back‑room bargain. Jackson began campaigning for the next election soon afterward and continued for four years. The campaign was the most brutal, vicious, and mud‑slinging in U.S. history. The questions of “Bank of the United States” and the question of forceful compliance of federal tariffs against the state of South Carolina were swept away by “chicanery, slippery tactics, and downright falsehoods upon which the politicians relied to win the contest.”14 Rachel Jackson was a sensitive person, and the campaign by the opposition represented her as an adulteress. Jackson tried to protect her from these attacks on her morality, but she was devastated and died of a stroke on 22 December 1828, as he prepared to move to the White House. At her grave after they had covered her coffin, Jackson said loudly, “In the presence of this dear saint I can and do forgive my enemies. But those vile wretches who have slandered her must look to God for mercy.” A few days later he said, “May God Almighty forgive her murderers as I know she forgave them. I never can!”15
Smith now stands at the point where both his personal narrative and his national history encounter the dictation of the Book of Mormon. I hope to show that Alma’s final chapters write out a version of 1828‑29 events, focusing on the anti‑Masonic hysteria which also reached its height during that election year. But once again he begins with the traumatic, defining experiences of his childhood: the bloody surgery and the years of intermittent hunger which followed.
War Continued: Invincibility
[In the phallic narcissist] the unconscious shame from the fear of castration is continually denied by phallic assertiveness. This may even be accompanied by a sense of omnipotence and a feeling of invulnerability which allows such individuals, feeling that some miraculous fate of good luck will carry them through, to continually take risks.16
TIME: 73‑53 B.C.E.//1811‑26 C.E.
PERSONAE: THE 2,060 AMMONITE YOUTHS (SONS OF HELAMAN)// THE CHILD JOSEPH SMITH
MORONI//THE IDEALIZED JOSEPH SMITH, JR.
AMALICKIAH; AMMORON//NATHAN SMITH; JOHN QUINCY
ADAMS; DARK ALTER EGO OF JOSEPH SMITH, JR.
PAHORAN//JOSEPH SMITH, SR.
Smith next writes a Book of Mormon narrative in which 2,060 youths are miraculously protected against bodily injury from swords and knives, an extreme fantasy in which he probably protects himself from the surgeon’s threat. At this point, from a psychoanalytic perspective, the autobiographical elements are both more disguised and more extreme. It is my professional opinion that, rather than dealing with his childhood trauma in a mature way, Smith is regressing farther, returning as well to a child’s structuring imagination.
For example, Nephite society became more polarized. Moroni and the Nephites continued their struggle against the Lamanites, led by the initially successful evil Amalickiah. Teancum assassinated Amalickiah by night with “a javelin to his heart.” Amalickiah’s brother, Ammoron, regrouped the army, then, after a series of skirmishes, attacked the main army with exceeding fury.” Moroni was wounded but recovered. The war seesawed back and forth, with the narrative following campaigns on two and sometimes three fronts, wounds, the taking, guarding, and exchanges of prisoners, and political problems on the home front. Many Book of Mormon readers are puzzled and bored by these maneuvers, particularly by their length. The usual explanation is that Mormon, the last great general and the book’s abridger, had a special interest in his people’s military history.17 A more plausible explanation, I feel, is that Joseph Smith had a special interest in these wars; he is battling both his mortality and his surgeon; he must face the pain, come close to death, and then conquer absolutely. His solution is not, however, the psychologically healthy one of coming to terms with the inevitability of suffering and death but the child’s fantasy solution of becoming invincible.
The plight of the Nephites was exacerbated because they needed to protect the people of Ammon, who, confronted by the dangerous situation, contemplated breaking their vow of pacifism to enter the war as allies to the Nephites.
But behold as they were about to take their weapons of war, they were overpowered by the persuasions of Helaman and his brethren, for they were about to break the oath which they had made; and Helaman feared lest by so doing, they should lose their souls; therefore all those which had entered into this covenant, were compelled to behold their brethren wade through their afflictions, in their dangerous circumstances, at this time. (BM 376; Alma 53:13‑16)
However, their 2,000 sons, not bound by the same covenant, enlisted under Helaman
to protect the land unto the laying down of their lives. … And they were all young men, and they were exceeding valiant for courage, and also for strength and activity; but behold, this was not all: they were men which were true at all times in whatsoever thing they were entrusted; yea, they were men of truth and soberness, for they had been taught to keep the commandments of God, and to walk uprightly before him. (BM 376; Alma 53:17‑21)
Meanwhile, complications from these battles were mounting. Moroni had taken so many captives that guarding and feeding them were becoming problems, even though he was also using them to fortify Bountiful and Mulek. Then his enemy, Ammaron, who held many wives and children prisoner in addition to soldiers, petitioned for an exchange of prisoners. Moroni also desired this but tactlessly sent a letter of sermonizing damnation to Ammaron, who angrily withdrew his petition. Moroni found a “descendent of Laman,” who was named Laman, among his soldiers, and sent him to the enemy camp with the tale that he had escaped from the Nephites while they slept and that he, with some other escapees, had brought wine they had stolen from the Nephites.
The mention of wine should alert us to the possibility that Joseph will begin another fantasy variation of his childhood surgery and, in fact, I believe he does, importing a sort of regressed logic into the text. Given the extremity and gravity of the situation developing within the Book of Mormon, providing wine to the all‑too‑willing guards is both overelaborate yet trivial. The guards get drunk and fall asleep. At one point Moroni manages to get arms to the Nephite prisoners—not just to the soldiers, but “even to their women, and all those of their children, as many as were able to use a weapon of war.” This is possible because of the drunkenness of the Lamanite guards. As a result, the Nephites turn the tables on their Lamanite guards. Thereafter, as Mormon proudly records,
Many times did the Lamanites attempt to encircle them about by night, but in these attempts they did lose many prisoners—And many times did they attempt to administer of their wine to the Nephites, that they might destroy them with poison or with drunkenness. But behold, the Nephites were not slow to remember the Lord their God, in this their times of affliction. They could not be taken in their snares; yea, they would not partake of their wine; yea, they would not take of wine, save they had firstly given to some of the Lamanite prisoners. And they were thus cautious, that no poison should be administered among them; for if wine would poison a Lamanite, it would also poison a Nephite. (BM 381; Alma 55: 28‑32)
This simple comedy of drunken guards is emphasized and repeated to the point of becoming ludicrous, like a child who has discovered a pun. But the motifs in this story are suggestive: helpless women and children suddenly become armed and dangerous; wine becomes, not a drink, but a drug. These signals refer us again to little Joseph’s surgery. In my opinion, both the story content and literary style suggest that Smith has, under the influence of reliving his childhood surgery, regressed in emotional age.
Moroni was victorious in capturing the Lamanite guards and releasing the Nephite captives, men, women, and children. This was but one episode in ongoing war, and Moroni needed to attack the fortified city of Morianton. At this point he received a letter from Helaman, a general engaged in complicated battles in a different area where the Lamanites had been victorious until Helaman arrived with the 2,000 youths—his “sons” who were the children of those who had taken an oath of pacificism—to swell the Nephite army to 10,000 troops and assist in the battles. Helaman proudly described these young men: “Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers, than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, that God would deliver them. And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it.”
This statement is, theologically, nonsensical: how can their faith in their mothers’ faith save them? Yet, psychologically, it is familiar. Lucy had insisted that the doctors “must try one more time” to save Joseph’s leg. Now Joseph Jr. has metamorphosed into 2,000 invulnerable youths. After the first battle, Helaman “numbered those young men which had fought with me, fearing lest there were many of them slain. But behold, to my great joy, there had not one soul of them fallen to the earth; yea, and they had fought as if with the strength of God; yea, never was men known to have to have fought with such miraculous strength (BM 381‑86; Alma 55:33‑35; 56:1‑57). He repeats, ”And I did remember the words which they said unto me that their mothers had taught them.” From a psychoanalytic perspective, Smith here pays tribute to his mother for saving his leg.
In the second battle, at which sixty more youths join the sons of Helaman, over 1,000 Nephite soldiers die out of a total 16,000; still the Ammonites are invulnerable:
Two hundred … had fainted because of the loss of blood … [but] not one soul of them … did perish; yea, and neither was there one soul among them which had not received many wounds. … and we do justly ascribe it to the miraculous power of God, because of their exceeding faith in that which they had been taught to believe … that … whosoever did not doubt … should be preserved. (BM 388‑89; Alma 57:22‑26)
Early in his life Brigham H. Roberts, LDS general authority, reviewed this story of the Lamanite youths:
Yes, they were preserved according to their faith in God. They had no fear of death, they loved their own and their father[s’] liberty more than life, and they fought with the fierceness of young lions, and more than once by the prowess given them of God, snatched victory from the very jaws of defeat. And though at times many of them were wounded, and on one occasion two hundred fainted from loss of blood, yet not one of them were killed in battle.18
But years later he approached this incident in a more questioning spirit as a “beautiful story of faith! Beautiful story of mother‑assurance! Is it History? Or is it a wonder‑tale of a pious but immature mind?”19 In my judgement, Roberts has correctly identified the logic of childhood in this retelling of Smith’s surgery. Increasingly broad, sweeping, and generalized, it speaks to Smith’s wish for invulnerability in the most extravagant terms yet seen.
The next chronological element in Smith’s autobiography is the years of economic stress and deprivation which followed between 1813 and 1816 until the family moved to Palmyra. Previous accounts (Lehi’s family’s wandering in the wilderness; the Gadianton band’s unsuccessful seven‑year siege of the Nephites) underplayed the narrative; but this retelling consumes three chapters (BM 389‑96; Alma 58‑60).
Desperate for supplies, Helaman wrote to Moroni: “Now we do not know the cause that the government does not grant us more strength. … We do not desire to murmur … [but] we fear that there is some faction in the government. … We trust God will deliver us, not withstanding the weakness of our armies.” When the Nephites lost the city of Nephihah to the Lamanites, Moroni angrily wrote to the chief judge, Pahoran: “We desire to know the cause of this exceeding great neglect. … Can you think to sit upon your thrones, in a state of thoughtless stupor, while your enemies are … murdering thousands of your brethren? … Ye have withheld provisions … when they were about to perish with hunger.” He accused Pahoran of treason and threatens to attack the capital and dethrone Pahoran unless aid was forthcoming:
Yea, behold I do not fear your power nor your authority, but it is my God whom I fear. … The sword of justice doth hang over you. … God will not suffer that we should perish with hunger; therefore he will give unto us of your food, even if it must be by the sword. Now see ye fulfill the word of God. Behold, I am Moroni, your Chief Captain. I seek not for power but to pull it down. I seek not for honor of the world, but for the glory of my God, and the freedom and welfare of my country.
Even though there is no documentary evidence that the Smith family actually went hungry, reading from the Book of Mormon back into Joseph’s life, I argue that this passage provides psychological evidence that it occurred. I hear the voice of young Joseph expressing fury about physical deprivation, daily physical hunger, and the squabbling at the table which must have made antagonists of everyone in the family. The phrase “thoughtless stupor” even suggests the possibility that Joseph Sr. was drunk, contributing to the crisis.
Finally a grieving letter arrived from Pahoran, describing an insurrection that had shattered the government and forced him to flee from Zarahemla. He was the one who needs rescue: “I am not angry, but do rejoice in the greatness of your heart. I, Pahoran, do not seek for power, save only to retain my judgement‑seat that I may preserve the rights and the liberty of my people” (BM 399; Alma 61:9). Thus Smith not only voiced his anger but also exonerated his parents’ failures as beyond their control.
In Alma’s final two chapters, Smith retells his history to the point of discovering the gold record but in a more diffuse and ambiguous form than in previous stories because of the on‑going military conflict. When Pahoran tells Moroni to join him in Zarahemla (62:1‑11), Smith may be alluding to the family’s reunion in Palmyra. They put down the insurrection, restoring peace to Zarahemla, possibly a version of the family settling into Palmyra. Reinforcements go to the various Nephite armies (vv. 11‑12) and Nephihah returns to Nephite possession with the loss of only one Nephite life (vv. 14‑26). The Lamanite prisoners join the Nephites in peaceful farming, suggesting the family’s move to their farm (v. 29). The heroic Teancum, trying to assassinate the Lamanite captain, as he had earlier killed Amalakiah by stealth, is himself killed (vv. 32‑37), sounding the theme of Alvin’s death. Moroni drives the remaining Lamanites from the land “with a great slaughter”; and in the following peace, Helaman and his brothers convert many—the revival scene (vv. 38, 44‑47). Even more striking, the final chapter of Alma both opens and closes with a mention of a sacred record—the record Smith is now translating. Again I must emphasize the speculative nature of this interpretation.
The book of Alma ends with the peaceful deaths of a series of record‑keepers: Alma, Helaman, Shiblon, and Helaman II.20 After thirty years of intensive warfare came four years of peace, a final effort by the Lamanites, and the Nephite success in repelling it. The book ends in the fortieth year of the judges (52 B.C.E.). If my last interpretations are correct, these stories correlate to the life of Joseph Smith after 1825.
Internal Corrosion and Inconstancy
[The Narcissistic personality] is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love … [He] is often envious of others [and] may begrudge others their successes or possessions, feeling that [he] better [deserves] those achievements, admiration, or privileges.21
These people are envious of everything, even of other people’s object relations.22
It is postulated that under optimum circumstances the very young infant enjoys some vague sense of omnipotence, autarchy, and perfect union with mother and environment, since all needs are gratified relatively quickly upon their being experienced and with no special effort on the part of the infant. … This experience of satisfactory unity with the caretaking environment, usually the mother, builds in the young psyche a sense of omnipotence, a fantasy of total bliss and power. … Those infants who are able to begin gradually to delegate their own sense of omnipotence to a parent for whom they have loving feelings, and to share that omnipotence while gaining a feeling of greater effectiveness, both individually and through sharing, are likely to develop a sturdy and joyful sense of self. Those infants who respond with increasing frustration and rage to the recognition of their own helplessness in satisfying their needs, or who find that the mother on whom they are dependent is an unreliable gratifier of their needs, are likely to develop rage tinged with inadequate feelings of themselves as beings incapable of providing for their own gratification [and will make] reparative attempts [by] omnipotent fantasies.23
TIME: 52‑51 B.C.E.//1826‑28 C.E.
PERSONAE: THE GADIANTON BAND//THE MASONIC ORDER
FIVE SUSPECTS IN THE MURDER OF THE CHIEF JUDGE//FIVE SUSPECTS IN THE MURDER OF WILLIAM MORGAN
CANDIDATES FOR CHIEF JUDGE//CANDIDATES FOR U.S. PRESIDENT AND NEW YORK GOVERNORSHIP
In the book of Helaman, I argue that Smith writes out contemporary events—particularly the anti‑Masonic turmoil of 1826‑27—and that he again indulges in dreams of omnipotence by having God grant total power to Nephi Jr. (See also chapter 3.)
William Morgan, a disgruntled Mason, wrote an exposé of Masonic secret rites; but while it was being published in Batavia, New York, in September 1826, Masons burned the printing press, beat the owner, and charged Morgan with theft. At Canandaigua, nine miles from Smith’s home, Morgan was acquitted, then rearrested for a debt of $2.69 and jailed. Someone paid his debt; but, remember from chapter 3, as he walked out of jail, he was seized, gagged, thrust into a yellow carriage, and driven to the Canadian border. There he disappeared, presumably murdered. His book, published in 1827, was an immediate sensation and fanned flames of national outrage against Masonry as a secret society that was controlling courts and government offices. Five men were tried for the murder in January 1827. Three were acquitted and two received light sentences, providing “proof” to many of Masonic control of the courts.
During this time the city of Rochester, twenty miles from Palmyra, was the bitterest center of the conflict. Pamphlets reviewing the trial appeared in large numbers, Rochester had the first of thirty‑two anti‑Masonic papers in the state, and speakers traveled “from town to town to divulge Masonic secrets.” They focused on the rites of initiates that pledged protection to Masonic brothers whether they were “right or wrong,” and on the threats “of death to anyone who divulged Masonic secrets.” Eighteen trials of Masonic “conspirators” occurred in western New York between October 1826 and 1831.24 The anti‑Masonic hysteria swept the country until about 1838 when it was replaced by the slavery conflict. In New York state, over two‑thirds of the 600 Masonic lodges were abandoned.25 Andrew Jackson was a high‑ranking Mason, while John Quincy Adams declared, “I state that I am not, never was, and never shall be a Freemason.” Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists saw the Masons as evil competition; Masons were forbidden communion. The Dutch Reform Church in New York called Masonry “a mixture of Paganism and Mohammedanism. … We also find that it perverts the meaning [of Christianity] and is full of names of blasphemy and [is guilty of] administering illegal, profane, and horrible oaths.”26 The three candidates for governor of New York in 1828 each took positions on Masonry. Martin Van Buren won but resigned after twelve weeks to become Jackson’s secretary of state. His replacement took the public position that the Masons should dissolve their organization because it was “founded on principles which tend to subvert all government.” The anti‑Masonic movement had grown large enough for a convention at Le Roy, New York, in February 1829, with plans to hold a national convention in September 1830. Both state and federal congresses had investigative committees.27
Joseph Smith retells this political history but in a way that reveals an internal moral struggle over hidden corruption. Ironically, Smith himself later became a high‑ranking Mason, played some role with the vigilante Danites, and organized a secret political Council of Fifty, which some see as the equivalent of a Gadianton band.
Our clue about the time frame is a contested election, again drawing our attention to 1827‑28. When Pahoran dies, three of his sons contend for the judgement seat: Pahoran II, Paanchi, and Pacumeni. Pahoran II wins the election. Paanchi leads a revolt but is captured and executed. His followers retaliate by hiring an assassin, Kishkumen, who kills Pahoran and escapes, his band of assassins mingling successfully with ordinary citizens. Kishkumen had belonged to the secret band led by one Gadianton “who was exceeding expert in many words, and also in his craft, to carry out the secret work of murder and robbery.” Pacumeni is elected chief judge to replace his murdered brother. Preoccupied with these political intrigues, the Nephites are caught off guard when the Lamanites attack, capture Zarahemla, and kill Pacumeni. The nation rallies under Moronihah, son of Moroni, to regain their territories after much bloody conflict; and Helaman II, son of Helaman, is elected chief judge. Kishkumen again plots to murder him; but a disguised servant of Helaman, who has been attending the secret meetings, gets Kishkumen alone and “did stab Kishkumen, even to the heart, that he fell dead without a groan” (BM 407‑12; Hel. 1‑3).
Gadianton, alarmed by Kishkumen’s absence, abandons his plan to take over the government and flees with his band into the wilderness. The group remains cohesive, however; and in years to come will corrupt the Nephite nation from within. After a period of righteousness and peace, the Nephites become proud and wicked. Helaman II dies and is replaced by Nephi Jr. in 39 B.C.E., Joseph Smith’s surrogate. Dissensions intensify, some Nephites join the Lamanites, and the “work of death” begins in 35 B.C.E. with the Lamanites retaking Zarahemla. In the social struggle that follows, the racial polarization (good Nephites/bad Lamanites) is erased, then reversed, with the Nephites becoming wicked and harboring the secret Gadianton band.
Now this great loss of the Nephites, and the great slaughter which was among them, would not have happened, had it not been for their wickedness and their abomination which was among them; yea, and it was among those which professed to belong to the church of God; and it was because of their exceeding riches … [and] oppression to the poor … [and] withholding their food from the hungry … [and] clothing from the naked … [and] smiting their humble brethren upon the cheek, making a mock of that which was sacred, denying the spirit of prophecy and revelation, murdering, plundering, lying, steeling, committing adultery, raising up great contentions, and deserting away into the land of Nephi, among the Lamanites; and because of their great wickedness, and their boastings in their own strength, they were left in their own strength; therefore they did not prosper, but were afflicted, and smitten, and driven before the Lamanites, until they had lost possession of almost all their lands. (BM 416; Hel. 4:10‑13)
From a psychoanalytic perspective, Smith is retelling the national fantasies that began even before Morgan’s murder in 1826. The next section, however, is personal. Nephi Jr. resigns the chief judgeship (like Alma) and, with his brother Lehi, preaches “with power and authority.” In Zarahemla they convert 8,000 Lamanites. Imprisoned in the land of Nephi, they are encircled with fire while their would‑be slayers are terrified by the quaking prison and a voice that warns: “Repent ye, repent ye, and seek no more to destroy my servants whom I have sent unto you to declare good tidings. … And … it was not a voice of thunder, neither was it a voice of great tumultuous noise, but behold, it was a still voice of perfect mildness, as if it had been a whisper, and it did pierce to the very soul” (BM 419‑20; Hel. 5:14‑33). The walls continue to shake. The voice speaks twice more. The brothers’ faces “did shine exceedingly, even as the face of angels.” The Lamanites repent, are encircled with the same fire, and “the Holy Spirit of God did come down from Heaven, and did enter into their hearts, and they were filled as if with fire; and could speak forth marvelous words. And it came to pass that there came a voice unto them, yea, a pleasant voice, as if it were a whisper, saying, Peace, peace be unto you, because of your faith in my well beloved.” Angels minister to them, and they become missionaries in turn, converting the majority of the Lamanites who laid down their weapons and returned the conquered land to the Nephites (BM 420‑22; Hel. 5:34‑52).
This is the most extreme fantasy yet derived from Smith’s brush with jail. His humiliation has become a nation‑saving miracle that, according to Baptist minister M. T. Lamb, combines and outperforms the angelic escapes from prison by the apostles Peter (Acts 5, 12) and Paul (Acts 16), the fiery furnace of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Dan. 3), the darkness and awful dread of Sinai (Ex. 19), the shining face of Moses (Ex. 34), the still small voice heard by Elijah (1 Kgs. 19) and the outpouring of the spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2).28
In a refreshing reversal, the Lamanites accept the prophets, repent, convert, and become preachers and missionaries. In contrast, the Nephites are “hardened and impenitent and grossly wicked.” During this odd transitional phase, the two groups have “free intercourse, one with another, to buy and sell, and to get gain, according to their desire.” This trade results in increased wealth: “They did raise grain in abundance … and they did flourish exceedingly. And they did multiply and wax exceedingly strong in the land. And they did raise many flocks and herds. … Behold, their women did toil and spin, and did make all manner of cloth, of fine twined linen, and cloth of every kind, to clothe their nakedness” (BM 422‑23; Hel. 6:1‑13). But because they were blessed with peace and prosperity, they “began to set their hearts upon their riches … [and] to get gain, that they might be lifted up one above another; therefore they began to commit secret murders” (BM 423; Hel. 6:14‑17).
We have seen this cycle before in the Book of Mormon: obedience results in God’s blessings of prosperity; material well‑being brings hard hearts and pride; God awakens the unrighteous with war and afflictions until the people repent. But there is no maturing as a result of these experiences, no escape from these repeated cycles. And the rapidity of the cycling becomes absurd in this phase of the narrative.
And thus ended the eighty and first year of the reign of the Judges [11 B.C.E.]. And in the eighty and second year, they began again to forget the Lord their God. And in the eighty and third year, they began to wax strong in iniquity. And in the eighty and fourth year, they did not mend their ways. And it came to pass in the eighty and fifth year, they did wax stronger and stronger in their pride, and in their wickedness; and thus they were ripening again for destruction. … And thus we can behold how false, and also the unsteadiness of the hearts of the children of men. (BM 439; Hel. 12:1‑6)
I suspect that the description of free trade is an echo of Smith’s life in 1827‑28, when he traveled back and forth between Palmyra and Harmony, married, and hosted his parents at the Hales’. It follows, then, that the immature cycle of greed and pride as a source of maintaining self‑esteem represents Smith’s personal maturity. Eventually even his concept of heaven is structured by competition with one’s peers over possessions and dominions, including who would have the most wives and father the most children.29
Even more dangerous than this struggle for possessions is the increasing influence of the Gadianton band. As the Lamanites are transformed into “good objects,” the Nephites become “bad objects”—a striking example of Otto Kernberg’s observation about the abrupt shifts and reversals that occur between “good objects and bad objects” in the narcissist.30 This secret band has an obvious external referent in the secret Masonic society; but I would argue as well that it simultaneously points to Smith’s deeper psychological terrain.
When Nephi had left the judgment seat to preach the gospel, Cezoram became chief judge. He “was murdered by an unknown hand,” and replaced by his son, also soon murdered. The motive for these “secret murders” is greed: “They began to set their hearts upon their riches … and to get gain, that they might be lifted up one above another” (BM 423; Hel. 6:17). Although most of Nephite society seems to fall under the condemnation of being materialistic, it is the Gadianton robbers who are willing to resort to murder and to protect themselves in a parody of unity with “secret signs, and their secret words. … that whatsoever wickedness his brother should do, he should not be injured by his brother, … thus they might murder, and plunder, and steal, and commit whoredoms, and all manner of wickedness.” The source of these secret oaths is “the same being who did entice our first parents to partake of the forbidden fruit; yea, that same being who did plot with Cain, that if he would murder his brother Abel, it should not be known unto the world. … And it was the same being … which is the author of all sin” (BM 423‑24; Hel. 6:14‑30).
The Nephite/Lamanite reversal is tied to their response to this secret organization. The Lamanites, in a two‑pronged action, hunt down the Gadianton band and also preach the gospel to its members with the result that the band is “utterly destroyed from among the Lamanites.” In contrast, the Nephites allow the band to “obtain sole management of the government, insomuch that they did trample under their feet, and smite, and rend, and turn their backs upon the poor, and the meek, and humble followers of God. And thus we see that they were in an awful state, and ripening for everlasting destruction” (BM 425‑26; Hel. 6:37‑41).
At this point Nephi/Joseph returns home to Zarahemla/Palmyra from his missionary/family journeys. This area was the very center of the national Gadianton/anti‑Masonic conflict. He discovers the Nephites in a state of “awful wickedness” with the Gadianton robbers in “the judgment seats … doing no justice … condemning the righteous because of their righteousness; letting the wicked go unpunished, because of their money … to rule according to their wills … [and] commit adultery, and steal, and kill” (BM 426; Hel. 7:1‑6).
Heartsore, Nephi begins praying in his garden tower, which is near the main road to Zarahemla’s central market. When he realizes that he has attracted a crowd of the curious, he chastises them, warning them by name of Gadianton band members who are among them. Inspired, Nephi announces that the chief judge has just been murdered by his power‑hungry brother and, furthermore, predicts the brother’s guilty reaction to the accusation (BM 426‑31; Hel. 7, 8). Some of Nephi’s listeners conclude that he is either a prophet or a God “for except he was a God, he could not know of all things. For behold, he hath told us the thoughts of our hearts” (BM 434; Hel. 9:40‑41). Still, despite the precise fulfillment of his prophecies, only a few of the Nephites are converted. In a private manifestation, God consoles him:
Blessed art thou. … I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will. … I am God … [and] declare it unto thee in the presence of mine angels,31 that ye shall have power over this people, and shall smite the earth with famine, and with pestilence, and destruction. … Behold, I give unto you power that whatsoever ye shall seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven. … And thus, if ye shall say unto this temple, it shall be rent in twain, and it shall be done … [and] unto this mountain, be thou cast down … it shall be done. (BM 434‑35; Hel. 10:1‑10)
Nephi uses this power to bring a famine in an attempt to encourage repentance. It works briefly, but the Nephites remain inconstant, immature, incapable of self‑discipline, with the Gadianton band always growing.
Readers have long seen in these stories an expression of public fears about Masonry and its secrets. Lamb, writing sixty years later, could remember “when almost all of the above accusations [in the Book of Mormon], and in almost the same language, were freely hurled against the Masonic Brotherhood by hot‑headed and radical opponents.”32 Walter Prince made an extended comparison of the Morgan episode and the Book of Mormon in 1917:
Now in at least twenty‑one chapters in seven out of the sixteen “books” of the Book of Mormon are to be found passages … plainly referring to Masonry under the guise of a pretended similar organization in ancient America. … The warning of [George] Washington in his Farewell Address, against “combinations … with real design to direct, control, counteract or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities” was quoted a thousand times in Anti‑Masonic speeches and writings, and accordingly we find the Book of Mormon employing the term “combination” fives times … and “secret combination” fifteen times. … The claim or poetic fiction of the Masons that their order is from very old times is reflected in “which had been handed down from Cain” (BM 553; Ether 8:15).
No charge was more frequently sounded in the furor of 1826‑33 than that the Masons monopolized the offices, and defeated justice in the courts in the interest of their members, and accordingly we read in the Book of Mormon of the “secret combinations” “filling the judgement‑seats, having usurped the power and authority of the land … letting the wicked go unpunished because of their money.” … Not only are the general charges against the Masons faithfully impressed upon these many passages … but so also is the tragedy of William Morgan. Twenty‑eight times, and in almost every passage, are the “secret combinations” coupled with “murder” and “murderers” while the words “kill,” “slay” and “blood,” with similar implications are employed. The source of the obsessing idea becomes more patent with the four‑fold use of the expression “secret murder” (BM 416‑18; Hel. 6:29; 8:4) since Morgan was murdered secretly. … At any rate, it is impossible to mistake the connection between the belief of the masses that the light sentences of the several men convicted of Morgan’s abduction was an insult to justice and the statement in the Book of Mormon that lawyers and others connected with the ancient covenants conspired to “deliver those who were guilty of murder from the grasp of justice.” (BM 467; 3 Ne. 6:29)33
Further correlations include a secret trial by the Masons by the “laws of their wickedness,” and the publication of the pamphlet despite opposition: “Their secret abominations have been brought out of darkness and made known unto us” (BM 328; Alma 37:26).34 Smith juxtaposes this story of secret organizations immediately after his (Nephi’s) imprisonment, thus grounding it firmly in his life history. As a psychiatrist, I am most struck by what this narrative of secret combinations and compensatory power suggests about Smith’s psyche. Any patient who talks so incessantly about an evil hidden brotherhood is revealing an unending conflict. What the patient opposes is the underside of the conflict, in this case recognizing the advantages of such secret oaths and contracts in binding people together, even illicitly. Tellingly, in the Nephite narrative, the evil powers are steadily gaining, corroding from within. And the compensatory fantasy of “good” within this context of extreme evil is absolute power.
As I read this scenario, Smith feels intensely envious of others and their possessions; he declared that the desire for possessions is evil, yet repeatedly and secretly tries to obtain “gain,” even by illicit means. Ultimately he attempts to deal with his envy, not by acceptance and humility, but by asserting absolute God‑given omnipotence. Psychologically speaking, this story of moral conflict and the eventual ascendancy of secret evil is a troubling prediction that sadly is borne out by Smith’s future. Within a few years, he declares all marriages void except those performed by the Mormon priesthood; he not only stepped outside the religious and legal bounds of monogamy, but also took other men’s wives as his own.35 Within ten years Mormonism gave rise to the Danites, a secret organization that began with self‑protection and loyalty to Mormon priesthood leaders, whether “right or wrong,” and ended with vigilantism. Lying, control of judges, and bloc voting contributed to violent expulsion from Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. The Mormons demonstrated repeatedly that they could not live with anyone, including those who originally welcomed them with Christian kindness. The Mormon temple ceremony of the early 1840s eventually included secret oaths and covenants of obedience that had their counterpart in Masonic oaths, including covenants to kill or be killed if secrets were divulged, and an oath of vengeance that remained part of the ceremony for almost 100 years. Smith’s secret political Council of Fifty, which crowned him president, high priest, and king, was resolved to make him president of the United States or, failing that, to establish a new Mormon empire in the West. These secret oaths reemerged as an element at Mountain Meadows in 1857 where over 100 non‑Mormon men, women, and children were murdered. Then, united by oaths and fear of retaliation from within the church, the Mormons delivered up a single scapegoat and successfully blocked U.S. territorial courts from delivering justice.36 Mormonism became America’s most despised religion.
The last incident in the Book of Mormon before Christ’s birth marks the completion of the righteous‑Lamanite/wicked‑Nephite reversal. For the first time, a Lamanite prophet appears. Through Samuel’s language and images, Smith temporarily fuses his two worlds: the world of magic (the world of his father, the world of treasures and gold plates) and Protestant revivalism (the world of his mother, the world of revivals and camp meetings). Samuel, another alter ego for Smith, appears from nowhere at a critical moment, preaches from the city wall (symbolic of borders and transitions), cannot be killed by arrows, and disappears as quickly as he came. He foretells the destruction of the Nephite people in 400 years, the signs of Christ’s birth in five years, and the signs of Christ’s death and the accompanying destruction. He is a modified John the Baptist in the Book of Mormon.
But he serves another purpose as well, for he explains to Smith’s nineteenth‑century followers why the gold plates are his only money‑digging success:
Whoso shall hide up treasures in the earth, shall find them again no more, because of the great curse on the land, save he be a righteous man, and shall hide it up unto the Lord. … And he that hideth not up his treasures unto me [God], cursed is he, and also the treasure, and none shall redeem it because of the curse of the land. … And then shall ye lament, and say, O that I had repented, and had not killed the prophets, and stoned them, and cast them out … and then they would not have become slippery, that we should lose them. … Behold, we layeth a tool here, and on the morrow it is gone; and behold, our swords are taken from us in the day we have sought them for battle. Yea, we have hid up our treasures, and they have slipped away from us, because of the curse of the land … Behold, we are surrounded by demons … Behold, our iniquities are great: O Lord, canst thou not turn away thine anger from us? And this shall be your language in them days. 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; yea, for ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain; and ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head. (BM 443‑445; Hel. 13)37
I consider Smith’s remarkable ability to fuse the two opposite supernatural worlds a major indicator that he is ready to found a new church.
3. Jay R. Greenberg and Stephen A. Mitchell, Object Relations in Psychoanalytic Theory (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983); Lawrence H. Schwartz, “The Role of Psychodynamic Concepts in Psychiatry: New Developments,” paper presented at the annual meeting of the Washington State Psychiatric Association, 15 Apr. 1989, Vancouver, B.C.; photocopy in my possession.
6. In an eighty‑year‑old study of Book of Mormon names, Walter F. Prince, “Psychological Tests for the Authorship of the Book of Mormon,” American Journal of Psychology 28 (3 July 1917): 373‑89, used the then‑new concept of Freud’s “psychic censor” to trace their origin—primarily finding such parallels between the Gadianton band and anti‑Masonry as Smith’s use of Morgan as a base for the many uses of Mor*** in the Book of Mormon, and also that the “anti” of the anti‑Masonic phrase as the source of similar terms used in the Book of Mormon. He also pointed to the similarities between Chesebro, the surname of the principal Mason, and Book of Mormon characters Zeezrom, Cezorum, and Seezorum. See Theodore Schroeder’s negative response in the same journal, “Authorship of the Book of Mormon,” 30 (Jan. 1919): 66‑72, in which he takes issue with Prince on the basis of the discredited hypothesis that Solomon Spaulding, not Joseph Smith, wrote the Book of Mormon. See also Prince’s brusque response in “A Footnote: `Authorship of the Book of Mormon,’” ibid., 427‑28.
7. I knew nothing about the politics or government during this period, but it seemed clear from the Book of Mormon that there were prominent issues. Nevertheless, I was still surprised to find the close parallels. See R. K. Andrist, Andrew Jackson: Soldier and Statesman (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1963), and B. Davis, Old Hickory: A Life of Andrew Jackson (New York: Dial Press, 1977), esp. 201‑44.
16. W. W. Meissner, “Narcissistic Personalities and Borderline Conditions: Differential Diagnosis,” in Essential Papers on Narcissism, ed., A. P. Morrison (New York: New York University Press, 1986), 407‑408.
17. R. Douglas Phillips, “Why Is So Much of the Book of Mormon Given Over to Military Accounts?” in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, eds. Stephen D. Ricks and William J. Hamblin (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1990), 25‑28.
18. B. H. Roberts, “Moroni IX,” Contributor 11:335‑40, reprinted in B. H. Roberts, A Scrap Book, Vol. 1 (Provo, UT: Pulsipher Publishers, n.d.), 227. I would argue that Smith borrowed another incident from Josiah Priest’s Wonders of Nature and Providence Displayed (Albany, NY: Author and E. E. Hosford, 1825), 530‑32. When the British army practiced some maneuvers on Sunday, the Methodist minister told his flock to avoid these Sabbath‑breakers. Putting patriotism above religious obedience, ten Methodist youths asked the officer for arms. Irritated at the minister, the officer threatened to place them in the front line. One replied, “We are not afraid to die. … Place us in the front of the hottest battle, and we shall die fighting for king and country.” The officer placed them at a bridge and ordered them to retreat after firing once on the Irish rebels. “No sir,” responded the youth, “we will not retreat; we will stand our ground and die upon the spot.” After four volleys, the rest of the soldiers joined them “and in about an hour and a half, the rebels began to fly in all directions. … [Later] one of the ten young men … informed them that the Lord had so wonderfully preserved them all, that not one of them had received the slightest wound.”
20. During this period Hagoth, a “curious” man, builds boats and makes two settlement voyages, not returning from the second (BM 405‑406; Alma 63:4‑8). The traditional explanation is that Hagoth’s people are the ancestors of the Polynesians. This episode has a contemporary counterpart. According to LaRue W. Piercy, Hawaii: Truth Stranger Than Fiction (Honolulu: Fisher Printing Co., 1985), 79, Hawaiian Bibles were being printed at Rochester in 1827‑28, and newspapers reported the departure of Christian missionaries in November 1822 and 1827. The boats would have returned about a year later.
22. Otto Kernberg, in an aside comment at a discussion group in 1973; see also Alice Miller, “Depression and Grandiosity as Related Forms of Narcissistic Disturbances,” in Morrison, Essential Papers, 323‑37.
29. Orson Pratt, “Celestial Marriage,” The Seer, May‑Dec. 1853, 65‑192, photographic reprint (Salt Lake City: Eborn Books and Publishers Press, 1990); David John Buerger, “The Adam‑God Doctrine,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 (Spring 1982): 14‑58; Boyd Kirkland, “The Development of the Mormon Doctrine of God,” 32‑52, and “Eternal Progression and the Second Death of the Theology of Brigham Young,” 171‑82, both in Gary J. Bergera, Line Upon Line: Essays on Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989); Gary J. Bergera, “The Orson Pratt—Brigham Young Controversies: Conflict within the Quorums, 1853 to 1868,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 13 (Summer 1980): 7‑49.
31. This remarkable sentence implies that a statement by God can be made more trustworthy by having angels as witnesses. In other words, Smith’s view of absolute truth, here stated by God, is that it exists in varying degrees.
32. Lamb, Golden Bible, 230‑31; Alexander Campbell, Delusions: An Analysis of the Book of Mormon (Boston: Benjamin H. Greene, 1832), 9; Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 2d ed., rev. and enl. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971) 65‑66; Thomas F. O’Dea, The Mormons (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 35.
34. The principal Mason acting legally in arresting Morgan was surnamed Chesebro, arguably the source of both Cezorum (leader of robbers) and Seezorum (judge elected by robbers). Chesebro received a light sentence. Ibid., 381.
36. For a summary of Smith’s search for political power and intimidating organizations, see 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); Marvin S. Hill, Quest for Refuge: The Mormon Flight from American Pluralism (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989); D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994), and his The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), throughout, but esp. 226‑372, and notes for analysis of Mormonism’s “culture of violence” and secret government control in the West. The classic work on the Mountain Meadows Massacre is Juanita Brooks, Mountain Meadows Massacre (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962). Brooks, a practicing Mormon, maintained her own oath of secrecy by deftly avoiding the exact wording and therefore the full impact of the temple oaths on the crime in this otherwise excellent work. Mormon church presidents were secretly crowned king until at least 1885. D. Michael Quinn, “The Council of Fifty and Its Members, 1844 to 1945,” BYU Studies 20 (Winter 1980): 163‑97, esp. 188, emphasizes the council’s symbolic and spiritual, rather than political, meaning; but Quinn’s position changed with his later writings. See his Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power. Under governmental pressure and Supreme Court decisions threatening disenfranchisement of the church, the failure of Jesus to appear before the deaths of the first generation of Mormons, and because of the basic loyalty of the majority of the members of the church, the reversal of Mormonism from an anti‑democratic antagonist to the United States that began in 1890 was largely completed by 1930. See Thomas G. Alexander, Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter‑day Saints, 1890‑1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986). Today, American Mormons are a conservative people dedicated to the United States, but still can move en bloc in political action. Under direction of the male Mormon leadership, Mormon women flooded the meetings supporting the Equal Rights Amendment, and blocked or derailed agendas. These acts of religious fundamentalism “tipped the scales” in defeating the Equal Rights Amendment in 1982. See Quinn, Mormon Hierarchy: Extension of Power, 373‑408.
37. For Samuel’s importance in explaining the failure of money‑digging, see Brent Lee Metcalfe, response to Edgar Snow, “A Narrative Critical Exegesis of the Samuel the Lamanite Narrative,” Sunstone Symposium, Aug. 1994, Salt Lake City. See also: “And behold, if a man hideth up a treasure in the earth, and the Lord shall say, let it be accursed, because of the iniquity of him that hath hid it up, behold, it shall be accursed, that no man shall find thee from this time hence forth and forever” (BM 440: Hel. 12:18‑20).