Joseph Smith’s Response to Skepticism
Robert N. Hullinger

Chapter 6.
Ezekiel’s Two Books

[p.65]Say, our Savior came through the tribe of Judah, and the Jews kept the record of the bible … and then, that the Redeemer shall come the second time, in the tribe of Joseph; and they have also written and kept a record, called the Book of Mormon.… and who can mistake what Ezekiel meant by the Two Sticks? They are the Lord’s reading sticks (or records) for the benefit of Israel.
—W. W. Phelps,1 an early Mormon apologist

The advice to “Go west, young man,” guided America long before Horace Greeley. Immediately after the Revolutionary War, west meant to New Englanders the stretch of terrain from New York to Niagara Falls. Out there the Indians were fighting the ever-encroaching whites. Out there the boundaries of a surging nation claimed still more land. Out there, beyond the Falls, was Cincinnati and St. Louis—gateway to the new frontier. By the late 1820s the western-most boundary had moved 250 miles from St. Louis to what is now the Kansas-Missouri border. Beyond that lay Indian territory.

Government policy toward Indians tended more and more toward removal. One church official advised their displacement beyond the Mississippi River where the whites would leave them alone, and vice versa.2 Treaties made with the red men would not be kept. Tribes from the south and north over the years were forced out of the settled eastern regions—themselves to settle and displace [p.66] other Indians.

In Palmyra this process was carefully watched. People read of Indian uprisings in the south due to government disregard of treaty obligations. Seminoles, Creeks, and Cherokees left their lands. Senecas sold over 80,000 acres near Buffalo to begin their retreat to a better place.3 Many missionaries saw the retreat as a pilgrimage. Since whites could not be trusted, it was said, Indians would be better off beyond the reach of the United States.4 Whatever part of the east they came from, the Indians were going to the center of the continent. Such a gathering had millennial overtones.

Another kind of gathering took place in the west in 1825. Mordecai Manuel Noah, self-appointed guardian of the Jews, founded a City of Refuge for oppressed Jews around the world. Situated on Grand Island in the Niagara River, the City of Ararat was dedicated in September 1825 as the reestablishment of the Jewish people as a nation. Laws were proclaimed, relations with the U.S. government were set up, and Noah’s arms were opened to oppressed Jews everywhere.5 A long story of the event was printed in the Wayne Sentinel accompanied by the claim that Indians and Jews were all descendants of Abraham. Ararat was to be temporary. The Jews would stay there until they could return to Palestine.

According to the Palmyra press, the Jewish influx had already begun. They came from the oppressive European governments which denied Jewish rights. Christian missionaries opened missions in Jerusalem.6 The millennial picture was coming into focus, and the lens through which many saw it was Ezekiel 37.

Ezekiel 37 foretold the restoration of Jews to their land after their captivity in Babylon. It viewed them as a nation dead and gone which would take flesh and live again (vv. 1-10), much as bones in a grave stepping forth to new life (vv. 11-14). Ezekiel pictured it still another way: “The word of the LORD came again unto me, saying, Moreover, thou son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon it, for Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions; then take another stick and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions. And join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand” (vv. 15-17). Then Ezekiel was to tell the people that they would return to Jerusalem and be reunited with the tribes of Israel, just as he held the two sticks united as one in his hand.

Elias Boudinot earlier had found the restoration theme of [p.67] Ezekiel 37 useful in exploring the connections between Indians and Israelites, and Ethan Smith used the passage to full advantage.7 He quoted 37:11-14 as something to be fulfilled in the Millennium and not simply through the conversion of the Jews. “Lest any should say,” he wrote, that “the prediction which here seems to foretell the restoration of the ten tribes, as well as that of the Jews, were accomplished in the restoration of that few of the Israelites, who clave to the Jews under the house of David, and the ten tribes are irrevocably lost; it is here expressed that the Jews and those Israelites, their companions, were symbolized by one stick; and Ephraim, all the house of Israel (the whole ten tribes,) by the other stick.”8

Smith pointed to the continued existence of the Jews as an argument for a literal restoration. If the preservation of the Jews was literally intended by God—as their present existence evidenced—then Israel would be literally restored to one land, receive a new heart and spirit, and “the stick of Ephraim is to become one in the hand of the prophet, with the stick of the Jews.” Smith further observed: “America was the land of Israel’s outcast state. It was Israel’s huge valley of dry bones … literal wilderness of thousands of miles, where the dry bones of the outcasts of Israel have for thousands of years been scattered … the most essential pile of the prophet Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones.” Israel’s outcast condition presented a “volume of new evidence of the divinity of the Old Testament” and therein lay the importance of America as the valley of the dry bones.9

The restoration symbolized by Ezekiel’s joining of the two sticks in his hand, Smith cautioned, had received neither a partial nor a complete fulfillment. None of the tribes, whose names were “written on the second stick, in the hand of the prophet, have ever yet been recovered. The whole passage is intimately connected with the battle of that great day, which introduces the Millennium.”10

Finally, Smith related the “way-preparer” of Isaiah 40 to Ezekiel 37. John the Baptist may have fulfilled the former passage in its most immediate sense, but if the American Indians were the lost tribes of Israel, then its fullest completion would come in connection with the Millennium. “The voice, which restores Israel, is heard in the vast wilderness of America,” and “is to have a kind of literal fulfillment upon a much greater scale, in the missions, which shall recover the ten tribes.”11

Ethan Smith’s literalistic application of Old Testament prophe-[p.68]cies of restoration for Judah and Israel depended on the notion that Israel was not yet restored. The Book of Mormon presents the same view of the Indians: they were to be restored in fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel. But the Book of Mormon contributes an important innovation. The Indians are presented as members of only one Israelite tribe—that of Joseph as represented through the half-tribes of his sons Ephraim and Manasseh.12 Joseph Smith based this identification of the Indians as members of the tribe of Joseph on Ezekiel 37:16-17 and on Ethan Smith’s use of the passage, although he never literally quoted it.

Another innovation by Joseph Smith in the use made of this passage came in his interpretation of the “sticks” of 37:16 as “books” or “records” of the tribes of Joseph and Judah.13 The Book of Mormon makes clear the existence of two parallel records from the two tribes. In the vision of 1 Nephi, for example, Nephi saw the Gentiles who would come to America and scatter his descendants. The Gentiles had a book which was the record of the Jews, the Bible, but many of the important parts of that book had been omitted by the great and abominable church which was among the Gentiles. The Europeans brought the truncated Bible to America and to the Indians. Later on, an additional record would come to them: “And they must come according to the words which shall be established by the mouth of the Lamb; and the words of the Lamb shall be made known in the records of thy seed, as well as in the records of the twelve apostles of the Lamb; wherefore they both shall be established in one; for there is one God and one Shepherd over all the earth” (1 Ne. 13:41). In other words, the Nephites would be given a separate record through which Christ would make known his words. It would parallel and equal the record of the Jews, and would also restore many missing portions of the Bible.

The second record would be the record of the descendants of the biblical Joseph. The Book of Mormon includes Lehi’s death-bed blessing to his last-born son Joseph, which makes this clear and foretells important details about the production of that record in the last days. According to the Book of Mormon, Joseph in the Bible was told by God that one of his descendants would minister to the rest of humankind. He would be another Moses. “But a seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins; and unto him will I give power to bring forth my word unto the seed of thy loins—and not to the bringing forth of my word only, saith the Lord, but to the convincing them of [p.69] my words, which shall have already gone forth among them. Wherefore, the fruit of thy loins shall write; and the fruit of the loins of Judah shall write; and that which shall be written by the fruit of thy loins, and also that which shall be written by the fruit of the loins of Judah, shall grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins” (2 Ne. 3:11-12). Like the biblical Joseph, the seer would be named Joseph, as would his father. Like Moses, he would receive the writing of God and have a spokesman. The writing to come from biblical Joseph’s descendant would refute false doctrine, settle disputes, and establish peace among Joseph’s posterity.

In 2 Nephi 29 God assures Lehi’s son Nephi that God would remember their posterity “and that the words of your seed should proceed out of my mouth unto your seed” (the words of the Nephites would go to the Lamanites-Indians): “Thou fool, that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible. Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews? Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I … bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth? Wherefore murmur ye, because … that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also” (w. 3-8). God was again affirming to Nephi that the Bible does not contain all the words of the Lord; more would come. Every nation shall have its own book out of which it would be judged.

In the Book of Mormon then Ezekiel 37 is implicitly called up to indicate that the Bible was to come from the Jews, the tribe of Judah. The Old and New Testaments were to be viewed as one book. The Nephites would be given a separate record through which Christ’s words would be made known. It would equal and parallel the biblical record of the apostles and prophets. The Bible would be given to the Gentiles, and then the abominable church would remove some sections. After that, the Gentiles would bring the deficient book to the Indians.

A latter-day Joseph from the tribe of Joseph would write the Lord’s words to give to the Indians. This writing, the Book of Mormon, would convince the Indians of the Bible’s authenticity and would be used with the Bible together as one unit. Two nations then would become one, and their respective records one record. Their [p.70] united testimony would make more of an impact than the testimony of only one people and of only one record. Every nation would have its own God-given record or scripture. All the tribes of Israel would produce scriptures. At the time of Israel’s restoration all the different scriptures, including the records of the Jews and the tribe of Joseph, would be joined together into one great scripture.

Joseph Smith’s implicit use of Ezekiel 37 had apologetic value in his defense of God. He gained the benefit of proof for God’s existence, as he saw it, for there were two records in different parts of the world testifying to God’s being and activity. God’s justice and impartiality were upheld by making provision for each nation and tribe to have its own God-given record. God’s unchanging way of dealing with humanity was maintained by having the different records contain the same essential message (2 Ne. 29:8). Ongoing revelation was asserted. By calling fools all who fought to uphold the Bible as the only written revelation, the idea of a closed biblical canon was denied.

The Book of Mormon may not have literally quoted Ezekiel 37:16-17, but early Mormons did.14 Joseph Smith himself made explicit use of the passage in a revelation which was amended after 1833 and before 1835. Jesus spoke to Smith about his mission “to reveal the Book of Mormon, containing the fulness of my everlasting gospel, to whom I have committed the keys of the record of the stick of Ephraim” (D&C 27:5).15 Smith’s interest in the restoration of the Indians continued after the publication of the Book of Mormon.16 Often discoveries or theories which might suggest that Smith’s interpretation of “stick” as “book” or “record” corresponded with Indian tradition were printed in Mormon periodicals.17 In his preaching Smith interwove this interpretation of Ezekiel 37 with his equally distinctive interpretation of another biblical passage—Isaiah 29. Ezekiel 37 had established the Book of Mormon as equal to the Bible. Isaiah 29, as Joseph Smith viewed it, predicted important events related to the discovery and translation of the book. Both confirmed God’s preparation for the coming forth of the new record.


1. The Evening and the Morning Star, Nov. 1832.

2. R. Pierce Beaver, Church, State, and the American Indians (St. Louis: [p.71]Concordia Publishing House, 1966), 95; see chap. 3, “The Missions and Indian Removal,” 85-122.

3. Wayne Sentinel, 14 Feb., 17 Mar., 9, 23 June 1826; 8 Feb., 15 Aug. 1828; 6 Apr., 19 July, 16 Aug. 1825; 2 Feb. 1827; 8 Sept. 1826.

4. Beaver, chap. 3.

5. Wayne Sentinel, 27 Sept., 4, 11 Oct. 1825. See Abram Leon Sacher, A History of the Jews, 4th ed., rev. & enlarged (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1953), 396, for a description of the dedication ceremony; and Wayne Sentinel, 15 Nov. 1825.

6. Letters from Levi Parsons and Pliny Fisk, Presbyterian missionaries to Jerusalem, were often featured: Palmyra Register, 9 Dec. 1818; 11 Oct. 1820; Western Farmer, 20 June, 1 Aug. 1821; 31 Feb. 1822; Palmyra Herald, 17 July 1822; Wayne Sentinel, 24 Dec. 1823. Articles appeared on modern Jerusalem (Western Farmer, 20 June 1820) and the Holy Land (1 Aug. 1821).

7. Elias Boudinot, A Star in the West (Trenton, NJ: D. Fenton, S. Hutchinson, J. Dunham, 1816), 46, comments on Ezekiel 37:16: “It appears by this chapter, that there are some few of the Israelites still with Judah; but all are again to become one people at a future day. It also appears that the body of the house of Israel are remote from Judah, and are to be brought from distant countries to Jerusalem, when they are to become one nation.”

8. Ethan Smith, View of the Hebrews (Poultney, VT: Smith & Shute, 1825), 53.

9. Ibid., 247, 79, 257, 266.

10. Ibid., 54.

11. Ibid., 257. The Shakers had identified Ann Lee as the voice in the wilderness. Mormons were to see Joseph Smith as the voice. Parley Pratt wrote that he was “the Elias, the Restorer, the presiding Messenger, holding the keys of the ‘Dispensation of the fulness of time.'” Key to the Science of Theology (Liverpool, 1855), 77.

12. Lehi, patriarch of the Book of Mormon, came from a family of the tribe of Joseph which escaped the dispersion of the ten tribes in 721 B.C. by fleeing to Egypt. Lehi returned to Jerusalem, only to flee again with his family as the Babylonian invasion was imminent. Lehi was of the half-tribe Manasseh. Ishmael, who went with Lehi, was later said to be of the tribe of Ephraim. Still another fugitive, Zoram, was of unknown tribal origin.

By marrying Ishmael’s daughters, Laman and Nephi provided America with a branch of the tribe of biblical Joseph. The restoration of the ten tribes of Israel will take place in Jerusalem, but the restoration of the tribe of Joseph—including those of Ephraim and Manasseh and the Book of Mormon tribes of Laman and Nephi—will happen on the American continent.

13. The best explication of this view is that of Hugh Nibley, “The Stick of Judah,” Improvement Era 56 (Jan.-June, 1953), a somewhat technical treatment of the anthropological evidence of the use of writing sticks in [p.72]several cultures. A simplified version of the series is found in An Approach to the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret New Press, 1964), 257-72. Hundreds of years of French missionary influence, however, were not considered for the Indians of the northeastern region of the North American continent, nor Spanish and Portuguese missionary influence for the South American continent.

14. See Joseph Smith et al., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1927), 1:84; 2:41,390; 3:53; New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth, NH), 25 Oct. 1831; The Evening and the Morning Star, June 1832, 6. These are representative; there are many more.

15. Other allusions are found in D&C 33:16; 35:17; 128:19-20.

16. Mormon publisher Phelps started a tradition which was continued in early Mormon newspapers. In The Evening and the Morning Star, Dec. 1832, he reported that 400 Shawnees “passed this place for their inheritance a few miles west, and the scene was at once calculated to refer the mind to the prophecies concerning the gathering of Israel in the last days.” From his vantage point in Independence, Missouri, Phelps rejoiced “that the great purpose of the Lord are fulfilling before eyes.” Routine reports of Indian movements were occasions to consider the fulfillment of prophecy.

17. “Israel Will Be Gathered,” The Evening and the Morning Star, June 1833.