Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet
by Dan Vogel
Alma’s Final Acts and Disappearance
In the previous chapter (Alma 29), Alma declared his wish to be able to effectively proclaim the gospel. In the next chapter (Alma 30), he realizes this wish in a dramatic way. It is 74 B.C. and a man named Korihor has emerged to teach the Nephites that the Messiah will not come as prophesied, that no one can know the future, and that such predictions are the “foolish traditions of your fathers” (30:12-14). Alma’s confrontation with this “Anti-Christ” and the latter’s surprise conversion read like the popular stories in circulation in Joseph Smith’s day about the confessions of dying infidels and heretics.1
Because of laws protecting free expression, Nephite leaders are unable to silence Korihor, but the people of Ammon in the land of Jershon “were more wise than many of the Nephites,” which means that they have no such compunction or restraint to prevent them from binding Korihor and taking him before the high priest (30:20). One can see in this story the serious misgivings Joseph Smith had about the Bill of Rights, particularly its protection of free speech and the free exercise of religion, and about tolerance for religious diversity. The Book of Mormon ideal is that of a state-sponsored church wherein religious leaders exercise full political power much like Puritan New England when Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson, and the Quakers were banished from various colonies—the same as happens in the Book of Mormon when Korihor stands before the high priest.
Banished from Jershon, Korihor travels to the land of Gideon where he is again arrested and arraigned, this time before Giddonah, a high priest and judge. At his arraignment, Korihor argues that religion is the codification of false traditions allowing priests to usurp political authority. He scoffs at the idea that human beings are a fallen race in need of a savior (30:21-29). Giddonah does not pass judgment on Korihor but sends him under guard to Zarahemla to be arraigned before the chief judge, Nephihah, and the high priest, Alma.
At the arraignment, Korihor charges that the priests and teachers are “leading away the people after the silly traditions of their fathers, for the sake of glutting on the labors of the people” (30:31). Alma counters, stating that they receive no financial compensation for their religious labors (30:32-35), then asks Korihor: “Believest thou that there is a God?” (v. 37). “Nay,” says Korihor (v. 38). Alma rails at the atheist, demanding the impossible—the proof of a negative: “And now what evidence have ye that there is no God, or that Christ cometh not?” (v. 40). Answering his own question, Alma declares: “I say unto you that ye have none, save it be your word only. But, behold, I have all things as a testimony that these things are true” (vv. 40-41). Alma accuses Korihor of being “possessed with a lying spirit” and with putting “off the Spirit of God” (v. 42).
Korihor ignores Alma’s accusation and asks: “If thou wilt show me a sign, that I may be convinced that there is a God, yea, show unto me that he hath power, and then will I be convinced of the truth of thy words” (30:43). Alma says: “Thou hast had signs enough; … all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator” (30:44). Alma’s response is what philosophers call the teleological argument for God’s existence or the “argument from design.” Reflecting on his youth, Smith admitted in 1832 that this argument was a major premise for his belief in God: “For I looked upon the sun, the glorious luminary of the earth, and also the moon rolling in their majesty through the heavens, and also the stars shining in their courses, and the earth also upon which I stood, and the beast of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and the fish of the waters, and also man walking forth upon the face of the earth … and when I considered upon these things, my heart exclaimed well hath the wise man said it is a fool that saith in his heart there is no God [Ps. 14:1] … [for] all these bear testimony and bespeak an omnipotent and omnipresent power, a being who maketh laws and decreeth and bindeth all things in their bounds, who filleth eternity, who was and is and will be from all eternity to eternity.”2
The argument from design was often promoted in Smith’s day. One of the classical presentations of teleology was William Paley’s Natural Theology; or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity Collected from the Appearances of Nature (Philadelphia, 1802), which argued that just as a watch implies the existence of a watchmaker, a well-ordered universe proves the existence of God. Paley was apparently unaware that the design argument had been criticized by British philosopher David Hume twenty-three years earlier in Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (Edinburgh, 1779). The major problem with the argument is that it assumes purposeful design rather than merely order. In reality, the universe is not so well organized and is filled with random events that serve no purpose. As useful as Paley’s analogy was as an illustration, it was not, as he assumed, a proof.3 The validity of the argument is less important than the changing historical context in which the debate took place. While the argument of a well-ordered universe is ancient, the inclusion of the earth’s movement as part of the evidence is post-Copernican. Alma’s argument that “the earth … and its motion … and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator” is anachronistic.4
Despite Alma’s reasoning, Korihor persists in asking for a sign (30:45), to which Alma’s ominous response is: “Behold, I am grieved because of the hardness of your heart, yea, that ye will still resist the spirit of the truth, that thy soul may be destroyed. But behold, it is better that thy soul should be lost than that thou shouldst be the means of bringing many souls down to destruction, by thy lying and by thy flattering words” (vv. 46 47). This is the logic of one who would impose belief by force. In this instance, at least, God is the one who will execute the punishment for, according to Alma’s word, Korihor is struck mute (vv. 48-50). In fiction, one achieves what is inaccessible in life: the ability to prove one’s faith and stop the mouths of disbelievers. The story of Alma and Korihor demonstrates that Smith had strong reservations about the religious tolerance enshrined in the Bill of Rights, which had given deism, Unitarianism, Universalism, and atheism free reign in America.
Although nothing is said of Korihor being deaf, the chief judge hands him a written question: “Art thou convinced of the power of God?” (30:51). Korihor writes that he has always believed in God but that the devil appeared to him as an angel and deceived him (30:52-53). He asks that the curse be lifted, but Alma refuses. Instead, Korihor is cast out and becomes a homeless beggar. Finally, while wandering among the Zoramites, he is trampled to death (v. 59). Mormon editorializes: “And thus we see the end of him who perverteth the ways of the Lord; and thus we see that the devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell” (v. 60). All those who had been influenced by Korihor’s teachings repent and are reclaimed by the church (vv. 57-58).
The literature of Smith’s day was replete with stories about people who repent at the last moment and infidels who endure horrible, painful deaths.5 There were tales of blasphemers who were instantly “struck deaf and dumb, with their tongues hanging out of their mouths” or who were “immediately struck speechless, motionless and almost without sign of life.”6 Ultimately, Korihor gives feeble representation of atheists in one who was visionary and knew what he was saying was untrue. Korihor was Smith’s straw man, whom he easily knocked down. In real life, he was less successful and probably frustrated.
About 74 B.C., Alma heads a mission to the apostate Zoramites and takes with him three of the four sons of Mosiah and two of his own sons, among others. The Zoramites inhabit Antionum, a land situated southeast of Zarahemla near the seashore and bordering the lands of the Lamanites. The Zoramites are proud and emphasize their appearance (31:24-25, 28). In addition to worshiping “dumb idols,” they pray from the top of a special stand called the “Rameumptom” which admits one person at a time. The Zoramites climb the stairs to Rameumptom and one by one repeat the same prayer. The words of the prayer hint at what many nineteenth-century readers would recognize as double election or predestination of the wicked as well as the righteous: “Holy God … thou has elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell” (vv. 16, 17). Zoramites worship once a week on “the day of the Lord” and are “never [heard] speaking of their God again until they had assembled themselves together again to the holy stand” (vv. 12, 23). In 1831, Alexander Campbell described the Zoramites as “a kind of Episcopalians.”7 More accurately, they represent all formalized religion including Catholicism, Anglicanism, Congregationalism, and Presbyterianism, which to Joseph’s sensibilities seemed lifeless.
Theologically, Zoramites are not Christian because they reject the incarnation of God, preferring to think that God “wilt be a spirit forever” (31:15).8This was Smith’s subtle criticism of trinitarians who rejected modalism. To Joseph, those who did not believe that Jesus was literally God, the eternal Father in the flesh, were the equivalent of anti-Christs.
Before traveling to Zoramite territory, Alma prays over the missionaries (31:26-35), then claps his hands, at which—and reminiscent of Jesus breathing on his disciples—“they were filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 36; cf. John 20:22). To continue the New Testament theme, the missionaries go their separate ways, “taking no thought for themselves what they should eat, or what they should drink, or what they should put on” (v. 37//Matt. 6:31).
Alma’s missionaries are most successful with the “poor class of people” who have been “cast out of the synagogues because of the coarseness of their apparel” (32:2). The Smith family would have been able to relate to this passage for, although not prohibited from attending church, their lack of decent clothing was a hindrance.9 In her manuscript, Lucy Smith reveals her sensitivity to the social implications of poverty, stating that a brief period of prosperity in Vermont had provided her family with “food and raiment as well as that which is necessary to a respectable appearance in society.”10 Joseph Sr.’s 1813 dream described his family’s critics as the well-dressed religious elite.11
When the poor come to Alma complaining that they do not have a place to worship, Alma is pleased because “their afflictions had truly humbled them and that they were in a preparation to hear the word” (32:6). Perhaps Joseph saw his family members who joined the Presbyterian church in this light. Yet, those who joined without being compelled by their afflictions would be even more blessed, Alma observes (vv. 13-16).
Alma enters into a discourse on faith and experimental religion. Concerning those who seek signs, he says: “Now I ask, is this faith? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it” (32:18). Alma continues to say that “faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true” (v. 21). This paraphrases Hebrews 11:1—“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”—which Smith may have relied on in other circumstances to explain his inability to display the gold plates.
Alma continues by challenging readers to experiment with his message, bringing to mind Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed (Matt. 13:4-8) as Alma compares his word to a seed and implores those having “a particle of faith” or a “desire to believe” to plant it in their hearts to see if it will grow. “If it be a true seed, or a good seed, … it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me” (32:27, 28).
Here again, the appeal is to emotions. Revivalists appealed to people’s feelings in order to waken lapsed Christians to the need to repent, but Smith went farther, saying that the listener’s feelings were themselves evidence of the truth of the message and a source of revelation. Indeed, Smith saw revelation as a “swelling” or “burning” feeling in the chest (cf. Doctrine and Covenants 8 and 9; hereafter D&C), something that most people experience occasionally in various contexts. However, Smith seems to experience this phenomenon more intensely and to give it greater significance. Note the close association between Alma’s seed that “swells” within the heart and Ammon’s heart that “brim[s] with joy” (Alma 26:11). Ammon’s joy is so intense, so expansive, that his brothers accuse him of boasting. As previously mentioned, feelings of euphoria and grandiosity are associated with what is generally referred to as mania.12 Given Smith’s theory of revelation, this was likely the method by which he decided to become a prophet and produce the Book of Mormon. He planted the seed of pious deception in his own heart to see if it would grow. When it produced a feeling of relief and joy, he concluded that God was telling him to proceed.
Both revivalists and anti-revivalists worried that encouragement of religious enthusiasm would result in private revelation and lead to extravagant claims.13 “I was always afraid,” wrote Congregationalist minister Charles Chauncy in 1743, “lest people … should learn to give heed to impulses and impressions, and by degrees come to revelations, and other extraordinaries.”14 John Wesley acknowledged that “vain men … have mistaken the voice of their own imagination for this ‘witness of the Spirit’ of God.”15 In “too many instances,” Chauncy said of the First Great Awakening, “raptures and ecstasies” gave way to “visions, and trances, and revelations.” He criticized American revivalist George Whitefield because in preaching on “inward feelings … he totally neglected giving people warning of the danger of a deluded, or over-heated imagination.”16 Wesley tried to “steer a middle course” between “mere formality” on one hand, and “the wildness of enthusiasm” on the other.17 American revivalist Jonathan Edwards held a similar view.18 Wesley struggled with the question of how the witness of the spirit might be “clearly and solidly distinguished from the presumption of a natural mind, and … the delusion of the devil” and concluded that it was impossible.19 He warned followers that “dreams, visions, or revelations,” as well as “tears or any involuntary effects wrought upon their bodies, … were in themselves of a doubtful, disputable nature: they might be from God and they might not, and were therefore not simply to be relied on (any more than simply condemned) but to be … brought to the only certain test, ‘the law and the testimony,’” meaning the Old and New Testaments.20 Later, Smith too will struggle to control enthusiasm among his followers, defining extreme bodily manifestations as “unedifying” and labeling any revelation challenging institutional stability as satanic.21
Returning to Alma’s test of truth: in the event that the seed Alma visualizes—the seed of his words—does not grow, he faults the quality of the soil rather than the seed itself. “But if ye neglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath no root it withers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out. Now, this is not because the seed was not good, neither is it because the fruit thereof would not be desirable; but it is because your ground is barren, and ye will not nourish the tree, therefore ye cannot have the fruit thereof” (32:38-39). This is an experiment that cannot be disproved. The creation of a closed system and insulation against contrary evidence is nevertheless the norm for religious movements.
Alma chastises the Zoramites for rejecting Christ, then quotes two prophets, evidently from the brass plates: Zenos, who says “Thou [God] hast turned away thy judgments because of thy Son” (33:13-14), and Zenock, who is said to have been stoned for teaching that mercy would come through God’s Son (vv. 15-17). In New Testament style, Alma refers to Moses’ raising of the serpent on a pole in the wilderness as a “type” of Jesus’ death (vv. 19-20; cf. Num. 21:8-9; John 3:14). He declares that the gospel of Christ—Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection, atonement, and judgement of all mankind “according to their works”—is the seed that, when planted in a heart and nourished by faith, “will become a tree, springing up in you unto everlasting life” (vv. 22-23). For those like Joseph Sr. who had succumbed to Unitarian rationalism, this emotional appeal was to provide a new kind of connection to Jesus that intellectualism had repressed.
When Alma ends his discourse, Amulek speaks to the Zoramites about Christ, declaring: “There must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; … therefore there can be nothing which is short of an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world. Therefore, it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; … and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal” (34:9, 12-13, 14).
This monologue was intended for Universalists such as Hosea Ballou who, in his Treatise on Atonement, rejected the common theory that humans sin against God, who is infinite, so sin itself is infinite and requires an infinite atonement to fulfill the demands of justice.22 According to Ballou, any God who imputes “an infinite debt,” especially one that is charged to individuals thousands of years before they are born, is not a God who is “infinitely merciful.”23 Ballou announced that he intended to disprove “the ideas, that sin is infinite, and that it deserves an infinite punishment; that the law transgressed is infinite, and inflicts an infinite penalty; and that the great Jehovah took on himself a natural body of flesh and blood, and actually suffered death on a cross, to satisfy his infinite justice, and thereby save his creatures from endless misery.”24 He argued that humans, as finite beings, are incapable of committing infinite sins and that they therefore do not need an “infinite atonement.”25 Instead, Jesus suffered as an example and to lead humans to divine love, not as an atonement for sin.26
In the face of such denials, the orthodox continued to maintain in Amulek-like fashion that human sin requires divine atonement. As one Presbyterian argued in 1821: “Sin is … a violation of an infinite law, rebellion against an infinite God. … But as all are sinners, all are naturally under an infinite load of guilt, which the justice of God necessarily requires to be expiated.”27 In 1825 the Methodist Magazine declared that denying “the necessity of an infinite atonement made by the death and suffering of Jesus Christ … goes to overturn the whole system of the gospel.”28 Also pertinent to Universalism is Amulek’s declaration that only through Jesus’ atonement can “mercy … satisfy the demands of justice” (34:15-16).
Amulek next tells the Zoramites that they must pray and worship God at all times and in all places, that religion is a way of life, not a once-a-week meeting (34:17-27). Much like James in the New Testament, Amulek warns that faith without works is vain (vv. 28-29//James 2:14-17). Here again, the theme of charity for the poor is emphasized: “If ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart [not] of your substance, … your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith” (v. 28). Smith had nearly been evicted from his home and had more than once needed the assistance of friends outside the town of Harmony.
In revival style, Amulek invites the Zoramites to “come forth and bring fruit unto repentance; … for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation” (34:30, 31//2 Cor. 6:2). He warns them to “not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, … cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed” (v. 33; cf. Eccles. 9:9-10). By contrast, Joseph Sr. assumed from his dream in 1817 that he could repent at any point in his life. Amulek precludes death-bed repentance, saying that such people “become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; … and this is the final state of the wicked” (34:35).
While many of the poor respond to Amulek’s call to repentance, the rich and powerful do not. King Zoram expels Amulek and his converts, who join Alma and Amulek and the Ammonites—the Lamanite converts of Ammon—in the northern Nephite land of Jershon. Upon learning that the Ammonites are harboring the banished Zoramites, Zoram becomes angry and threatens war. Refusing to give into Zoram’s demand, the Nephites prepare for hostilities. As pacifists, the Ammonites relocate to the land of Melek safely behind the lines of defense. In league with the Lamanites, the Zoramites begin their attack in the eighteenth year of the judges, 74 B.C. (35:1-13).
Meanwhile, Alma is “grieved for the iniquity of his people” (35:15) and prepares to leave the land of the Nephites. Standing before his sons, Helaman, Shiblon, and Corianton, Alma delivers a final charge. To his oldest son, Helaman, he recounts his miraculous conversion (36:1-30; cf. Mosiah 27). Alma’s feelings following the angel’s appearance are especially poignant: “I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins. … I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments. … [And] so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror” (vv. 12, 13, 14). In this state of misery, Alma remembered his father’s teachings about the Atonement and cried out: “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death” (v. 18). Instantly, he was relieved of all guilt: “And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (v. 20).
The vividness of this description of guilt, pain, and joy is striking and probably parallels Smith’s own personal conversion from his father’s belief in Unitarian-Universalism in 1820/21 to a kind of Universalism that included the divinity of Jesus and an atonement.29 Where Smith said that he was not moved by the revival of 1824-25, that he could not “feel and shout” with the other members of his family,30 this did not exclude the possibility of an earlier experience that was either public or primarily private. I see evidence of such a core event—some kind of powerful, life-altering, mystically-based conversion to Christianity from which Smith drew in this instance and elsewhere, although not in the sense of the traditional vision story that would emerge slowly over the years and involve embellishments and modifications.31
Paralleling Smith’s later account of a vision, Alma says: “Yea, methought I saw … God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels” (36:22). Could this be a fragment of what would become the story of Joseph Smith’s first vision and a remnant of his original dream experience? One of Smith’s early accounts says that he saw “many angels.”32 Another aspect of Alma’s heavenly vision is significant. While Smith’s 1838 account describes the Father and Son standing a few feet above the ground in a glorious beam of heavenly light, the 1832 account lacks this detail and is written in such a way as to imply a completely visionary, rather than literally physical or materialistic, event. In 1832, Smith says that a light descended upon him but that he saw no personage in the light. Instead, he was “filled with the spirit of God,” after which “the Lord opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord.”33 While not specific, this does not exclude the possibility that Smith saw Jesus in this “heavenly vision.” This seems to be the event that was later modified to include a literal appearance of the Father and the Son in the woods of western New York.
As a result of his vision, Alma explains that he was “born of God” and became a dedicated missionary (36:23-26). Concerning his need to duplicate his conversion experience in others, Alma tells his son: “Yea, and from that time even until now, I have labored without ceasing, that I might bring souls unto repentance; that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost” (v. 24). These words probably lie at the heart of Smith’s own extraordinary missionary impulse.
Next, Alma gives Helaman all the records and relics, including the plates of Nephi, the brass plates, the plates found by Limhi’s people containing the history of the Jaredites, the interpreters, the sword of Laban, and Lehi’s compass. With Alma’s instructions concerning the Jaredite history, we come to the first anti-Masonic passage in the Book of Mormon. Alma reveals that the Jaredites were destroyed because of their secret societies and secret works of murder and robbery (37:21). Smith believed that Masonic-like secret societies undermine free governments, as does Alma in warning Helaman not to divulge “their oaths, and their covenants, and their agreements in their secret abominations; yea, and all their signs and their wonders ye shall keep from this people, that they know them not, lest peradventure they should fall into darkness also and be destroyed” (v. 27).
Alma quotes the Lord declaring that he will “prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light, that I may discover unto my people who serve me, that I may discover unto them the works of their brethren, yea, their secret works, their works of darkness, and their wickedness and abominations” (37:23). Joseph Smith later identifies himself as Gazelem (D&C 78:9; 82:11; 104:26, 43, 45, 46),34 although here it is unclear whether the seer stone or the seer is intended. Regardless, Gazelem plays on the English word “gaze,” as in “stone gazer,” and it is through the seer stone that Smith reveals the Masonic conspiracy to overthrow the United States government.
It is dangerous business to shed light on a secret conspiracy for, as Alma says, the secret organizations “murdered all the prophets of the Lord who came among them to declare unto them concerning their iniquities” (37:30). This undoubtedly alludes to the 1826 Masonic-inspired murder of William Morgan, a stone mason from Batavia, New York, who planned to publish the secrets of Masonry. Anti-Masonic writer Lebbeus Armstrong said in 1830: “It is awfully to be feared, that when the light of eternity shall shine on the deeds of darkness, and every secret thing shall be brought into judgment, it will then be found, that many of the sudden deaths in the world have been the result of masonic VENGEANCE, in the execution of penalty in a lodge-room, or personal dispatch by poison, or assassination, as the ghosts of the murdered Artemas Kenedy, near Boston, the poisoned Simmons, of Albany, and a host of others, would, doubtless, testify now, were they permitted to speak.”35 Perhaps by withholding specific descriptions of Masonic oaths and signs, Smith hoped to escape such vengeance.
Alma warns that “there is a curse upon all this land, that destruction shall come upon all those workers of darkness, according to the power of God, when they are fully ripe. … Yea, and cursed be the land forever and ever unto those workers of darkness and secret combinations, even unto destruction, except they repent before they are fully ripe” (37:28). To many conservatives and anti-Masons, Andrew Jackson’s election in 1828 brought the nation to a precipice because Jackson was a Mason and a feared military tyrant.36 Into this environment, God sent his servant, Joseph, to warn America of impending destruction.
Unto his faithful son, Shiblon, Alma gives advice that Joseph could have taken: “Use boldness, but not overbearance; and also see that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love; see that ye refrain from idleness” (38:12). Joseph had called the Reverend Roach a “damned fool” and boasted of his own righteousness; he could benefit from the advice not to say in one’s heart: “O God, I thank thee that we are better than our brethren; but rather say: O Lord, forgive my unworthiness, and remember my brethren in mercy” (v. 14; cf. Luke 18:9-14).
Alma has more to say to his youngest son, Corianton, who has fallen away and become a Universalist. Corianton forsook his ministry to the Zoramites and took up with “wicked harlots,” especially the “harlot Isabel” (39:3, 11).37 His behavior has hindered Alma’s mission to the Zoramites, “for when they saw your conduct they would not believe in my words” (v. 11). This conduct is largely due to Corianton’s belief that God is merciful and will “restore” all men, both good and evil, to his presence (40:15-41:15). Alma offers his son four arguments against Universalism, all representative of the rhetoric found in Smith’s intellectual environment.38
First, Alma condemns his son’s sins as “most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost” (39:5) and exhorts him to “repent and forsake your sins” (v. 9). He argues that “if ye deny the Holy Ghost when it once has had place in you, and ye know that ye deny it, behold, this is a sin which is unpardonable; yea, and whosoever murdereth against the light and knowledge of God, it is not easy for him to obtain forgiveness” (v. 6). This argument brings into play the words of Jesus in the synoptic gospels (Matt. 12:31-32; Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10) and Hebrews 6:4-6 (cf. Heb. 10:26; 2 Pet. 2:20-22) and was a typical late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century argument against ultimate salvation for every person. It was an argument employed by Oliver Cowdery in 1834 and by Joseph Smith in 1844 to disprove the ultra-Universalists.39
The Gospel Advocate recognized in 1823 that “blasphemy against the Holy Ghost is frequently urged as an unanswerable objection to the salvation of those by whom it is committed. How often we hear it conceded by the most zealous abettors for the doctrine of endless sufferings, that if they could discover any way by which the final salvation of those who have sinned against the Holy Spirit, could be possible, they should entertain some hopes of the ultimate bliss of the whole human family.”40 An article in the Presbyterian Magazine in 1821 gave the following argument: “There is an unpardonable sin, for which prayer would be altogether useless; and that for this plain reason, it is declared to be irremissible. Our Lord has declared it so. It is the sin against the Holy Ghost. Now, it is clear, if this sin be unpardonable, the person guilty of it must for ever lie under the ban of vindicatory justice, and consequently his punishment must be eternal. … We conclude, then, that all men cannot be exempted from eternal punishment upon the ground of a vicarious atonement, because all were not embraced in its design.”41
In order to counter this, Universalists offered alternative interpretations. After noting that “the word here translated world is used sometimes for an age,” Universalist Samuel Hopkins argued in 1783 that “it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come” should read neither in the Mosaic dispensation, nor in the Christian and that this does not refer to “the future state.”42 This interpretation was welcomed by those who assumed that sinning after conversion amounted to blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.43
Alma’s second argument against Universalism concerns “the state of the soul between death and the resurrection” (40:11). Alma tells Corianton that contrary to Universalist assumptions, upon death there are two abodes for the spirits of God’s children: “The spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise,” but “the spirits of the wicked … shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and this because of their iniquity” (vv. 12-13//Luke 13:27-28).44 After the resurrection, “an awful death cometh upon the wicked … for they are unclean, and no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of God” (v. 26; cf. Eph. 5:5; Rev. 22:11). “Now this is the state of the souls of the wicked, yea, in darkness, and state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them [Heb. 10:27]; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection” (v. 14). Alma’s discussion is nearly identical with that of the anti-Universalist John Cleaveland, who in 1776 declared:
The time of life here on earth is our only probation-time for eternity. Behold now is the accepted time! Behold now is the day of salvation! [2 Cor. 6:2] God is now in Christ Jesus reconciling the world unto himself—he is now on a throne of grace, but after death is the judgment; after death, they that are filthy will be filthy still; and they that are holy will be holy still. [Rev. 22:11]—When Christ cometh to judgment then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God even the Father—that God may be all in all.—And … that after death unto the final judgment, while our bodies are in the grave our souls will be in a fixed state of happiness or misery, according to the state we were in when we gave up the ghost;—if in Christ, of happiness; if out of Christ—of misery, and after the resurrection and final judgment the wicked will be in a state of punishment in soul and body forever and ever.45
Alma’s third argument asserted that his wayward son misunderstood the scriptural references to “restoration.” Like nineteenth-century Universalists, Corianton had interpreted restoration to mean that all humanity would be “restored from sin to happiness” (41:9-10). However, Alma explains that the “restoration of which has been spoken by the mouth of the prophets” refers to a time when “the soul shall be restored to the body” (40:22-26), that is, the resurrection.
There was a favorite passage among Universalists and Restorationists, Acts 3:21, which declared that the heavens would retain Christ “until the times of the restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.”46 The orthodox rejected the suggestion that this referred to universal salvation. “Some have thought,” wrote Samuel Hopkins in 1783, “[that] these words signify, that all creatures shall be restored to holiness and happiness by Christ.” However, “the restoration of all things seems to mean nothing else here, but the accomplishment of all things which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets,” Hopkins wrote.47
Alma wants to turn his son’s definition against itself. Rather than justify the sinner, “restoration” condemns him or her, Alma says, for “the meaning of the word restoration is to bring back again evil for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish—good for that which is good; righteous for that which is righteous; just for that which is just; merciful for that which is merciful … therefore, the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner, and justifieth him not at all” (41:13, 15). Alma warns: “Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness” (v. 10).
Universalists and Restorationists would have considered this an unfair tactic and a misrepresentation. Universalists did not read the word as literally as Alma does, as indicated by the autobiography of Abel C. Thomas: “The object or end of Christ’s mission and ministry came up for consideration. It could not be strictly a restoration—that is, not in the literal meaning of the term—for this would imply a mere undoing or mischief, a taking back to a former condition. … To be restored to the original state of man, as in the case of Adam before he sinned, would be merely a return to a condition of innocence; but the text [Rom. 5:19] specifies a forward march of man to an estate of righteousness. So the text declares—and such is the uniform testimony, directly or indirectly, regarding Christ’s work.”48
The Reverend Thomas’s argument was essentially the same as Ballou’s, expressed in his Treatise: “Can there be any dispute, in the reader’s mind, respecting the nature of this restitution? Will any one pretend, that this restitution is only reinstating man in a state of probation? If that was the object of Christ’s coming into our world, if that was intended by his death and resurrection, was not the work already done, when Peter spake these words? Why then does he speak of the times of restitution yet to come? … I cannot conceive, that a restitution of man to any state which he has occupied, in flesh and blood, is worthy of the gospel plan; … But if we view the plan of the restitution of all things, which is to be accomplished in the fulness of times, a restitution or restoration from mortality and sin, to a state of immortality and righteousness, it is consistent with scripture, and worthy of God.”49
Alma’s logic is soon weakened when he fails to apply the same definition to his view of the resurrection. He says that the resurrection is a change from mortality to immortality, corruption to incorruption, when “all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame” (40:2, 23). For this to be consistent, he would have had to reason that mortality would be restored to mortality and corruption to corruption. Of course, the implication is of a pre-Fall condition; if so, Corianton should have been allowed the same latitude in his view of a moral restoration. In any case, Alma’s argument would have carried little weight with Universalists. As early as 1832 when Mormon elder Orson Hyde used Alma’s quibble over definitions in an argument, the Universalist scoffed at it.50
Alma has a fourth argument against Universalism, which is that the wicked will be punished as a result of God’s justice. According to Alma, Corianton was troubled “concerning the justice of God in the punishment of the sinner” and considered it an “injustice that the sinner should be consigned to a state of misery” (42:1).
Universalists and Restorationists constantly argued that the endless punishment of the wicked would be incompatible with God’s infinite goodness. The Universalist Magazine queried in 1818, “How is it possible that a being of infinite goodness should design a rational creature of his own production for a state of endless misery?”51 “Can a wise and good God punish for no purpose,” Elhanan Winchester asked in 1800, “but merely to satisfy what they call vindictive justice, which they say can never be satisfied to all eternity?”52
Alma contends that God is merciful, while also being just. “What, do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice?” he asks. “I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God” (42:25; also vv. 13, 22-23). The argument that God would cease to be God was familiar in Smith’s day. In 1821, a Presbyterian wrote: “I shall assume as a fact, that justice is a natural and necessary attribute of Jehovah; … that it [justice] must pursue its enemy, and punish its victim; that any compromise with mercy, would leave it no longer immaculate; in a word, that Jehovah can as soon cease to be, as he can cease to be just.”53
The Utica Christian Magazine argued the same in 1813: “[Some] deny the necessity of an atonement … because they say god is merciful. But he is also just. And he is as much bound to regard and maintain the dignity of his justice, as to express his mercy. … But God can no more disregard his justice in his conduct towards his creatures, than he can deny his own name, or destroy his moral perfection. If God had saved sinners from threatened and deserved punishment without an atonement, he would have sacrificed his justice, and have ruined his character and government.”54
Alma picks up the discussion of procrastination that Amulek began, confirming that there is but a short “time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God” (42:4; cf. 34:34-35). “The plan of redemption,” Alma declares, “could not be brought about, only on conditions of repentance of men in this probationary state, yea, this preparatory state” (42:13). Those who do not repent during mortality suffer the wrath of a just God (vv. 24-26).
The orthodox sometimes tried to teach Universalists that God intends life to be a “probationary state,” that acts done in the flesh carry eternal consequences,55 but Universalists rejected this concept. The Universalist Magazine argued against the “probationary state” in 1818, musing how strange it was that someone could be saved if he “becomes converted any time before he dies, if it be but one hour, or one minute in life.”56 Given this ongoing debate in the early nineteenth century, Alma’s warning to his son applied generally: “Do not risk one more offense against your God upon those points of doctrine, which ye have hitherto risked to commit sin” (41:9). This discourse must have persuaded Corianton, for he subsequently returned to the ministry (63:1-2, 10).
The character of Corianton as a believer in universal salvation who forsook his ministry to become sexually promiscuous was probably based, at least in part, on Martin Harris, who was at the time a Universal Restorationist.57 Harris had visited Joseph the previous month demanding further witness and had left unsatisfied. Joseph must have thought at the time that he had lost Harris and that, like Corianton, Harris would eventually forsake the Book of Mormon project.
In addition to reportedly telling Harmony resident Levi Lewis that “adultery was no crime,”58 Harris was warned in a July 1828 revelation that his “carnal desires” would “incur the vengeance of a just God upon him” (D&C 3:4). Lucy Harris would later insinuate that Martin committed adultery with a neighbor’s wife.59 Joseph seems to have known about this situation, alluding to it in a March 1830 revelation: “I command thee that thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife; nor seek thy neighbor’s life” (D&C 19:25). The same revelation conceded that Harris’s Restorationist beliefs were partly true.60
Both Harris and Corianton had the same character flaws and elicited similar criticisms. The July 1828 revelation called Harris a “wicked man” who “boasts in his own strength” and “depended upon his own judgment and boasted in his own wisdom” (D&C 3:4, 13). Alma said Corianton had fallen into sin because “thou didst go on unto boasting in thy strength and thy wisdom” (Alma 39:2). The revelation’s warning that Harris’s sins would “incur the vengeance of a just God” (3:4) brings to mind Alma’s words on the justice and mercy of God. The March 1829 revelation said that Harris would not see the plates “except he humble himself and acknowledge unto me [God] the things that he has done which are wrong” (D&C 5:28). Alma advised Corianton to return to the Zoramites “and acknowledge your faults and that wrong which ye have done” (Alma 39:13). Alma’s advice to Corianton was equally applicable to Harris: “Seek not after riches nor the vain things of this world” (Alma 39:14; cf. D&C 19:26).
At this point, Mormon leaves Alma’s missionary labors to focus on the wars between the Nephites and Lamanites. He introduces Moroni, the twenty-five-year-old chief captain of the Nephite armies (43:16-17). Robert Anderson has seen, correctly I believe, that there are parallels between Moroni and Andrew Jackson who had been elected president in 1828 partly due to his reputation as a military hero.61 Like Jackson, Moroni was fiercely patriotic, his actions sometimes extreme, cruel, and borderline insubordinate. Nevertheless, Jackson’s sense of nationalism, honor, and mission made him popular among the masses. There are also important differences between these two military leaders. Moroni was not only a shrewd strategist but, more significantly, a religious man who sought the advice of church leaders. In short, Moroni was a born-again Andrew Jackson. Given Smith’s own militancy which becomes clear in a subsequent chapter,62 Moroni likely represents not only an idealized version of Jackson but also an ideal projection of Smith himself as a future military leader.
Moroni sends spies to watch the movements of the Lamanite army. He also dispatches messengers to consult Alma who, through his gift of prophecy, divines the next move the Lamanites will make (43:23-24). Following Alma’s direction, Moroni prepares to ambush the Lamanites on their march toward Manti by concealing half his troops in a valley on the west side of the river Sidon and the other half behind the hill Riplah on the east side of the river (43:25-32). The use of divination and ambush evokes an explanation from Smith: “Moroni knew the intention of the Lamanites, that it was … to destroy their brethren, or … bring them into bondage. … And he also knowing that it was the only desire of the Nephites to preserve their lands, and their liberty, and their church, therefore he thought it no sin that he should defend them by stratagem” (v. 30). This might strike modern audiences as odd, the idea of fair play in battle still commanding some currency in nineteenth-century America,63 but the more important observation here would be that the Book of Mormon once again defends trickery where necessary for a good cause.
As the Lamanites come from the north, passing the hill into the valley to cross the river, Moroni’s troops, led by a general named Lehi, emerge from behind the hill and begin the massacre. The Lamanites, like nineteenth-century Indians, are not wearing any protective armor (43:35-40). To escape the onslaught, the Lamanites flee across the river where they are met by Moroni and his troops (vv. 41-42). They stand and fight. “Nevertheless,” Mormon interjects, “the Nephites were inspired by a better cause, for they were not fighting for monarchy nor power but they were fighting for their homes and their liberties, their wives and their children, and their all, yea, for their rites of worship and their church” (v. 45). This reflected America’s post-Revolutionary spirit. It was a call to resist the threat of an anti-Christian Masonic monarchy in the form of Jackson and his political faction (a theme more fully developed in the next chapter).64
Although half as numerous as the Lamanites, Moroni’s men surround the invading army (43:51-52) and Moroni offers to allow the Lamanite leader Zerahemnah65 and his men to go if they promise never again to attack (vv. 53-54; 44:1-7). Zerahemnah orders his men to lay down their weapons but refuses to promise a permanent peace (vv. 8-9). Moroni declares that the battle will continue unless they agree to his terms (v. 10).
Angry, Zerahemnah lunges toward Moroni. One of Moroni’s soldiers intercedes, breaking Zerahemnah’s sword with one swipe and removing his “scalp” with a second (44:13). Wounded, Zerahemnah retreats to his soldiers while Moroni’s soldier raises the scalp onto the tip of his sword and prophesies destruction on the Lamanites (vv. 13-14). Terrified, many of the Lamanites drop their weapons, promise to keep the peace, and depart (v. 15). Those who remain resume their futile struggle (vv. 16-18). Finally, when nearly all the Lamanites have been destroyed, Zerahemnah surrenders. After covenanting with Moroni not to return in war against the Nephites, Zerahemnah withdraws into Lamanite territory (vv. 19-20).
On this note, the record of Alma ends, although the Book of Alma does not (44:24). Editor Mormon prefaces the last portion of Alma’s book: The account of the people of Nephi, and their wars and dissensions, in the days of Helaman, according to the record of Helaman, which he kept in his days (Alma 45-62). Alma’s son Helaman not only records the wars and dissensions of the Nephites but reports his father’s final acts and mysterious disappearance.
Prior to his disappearance, Alma visits Helaman and delivers a prophecy concerning the final destruction of the Nephites by the Lamanites, which he commands his son to retain until after its fulfillment. Withholding a prophecy until it is fulfilled negates the purpose of such a gift, but after-the-fact predictions tend to be more reliable. Nevertheless, Alma declares: “Behold, I perceive that this very people, the Nephites, according to the spirit of revelation which is in me, in four hundred years from the time that Jesus Christ shall manifest himself unto them, shall dwindle in unbelief. Yea, and then shall they see wars and pestilences, yea, famines and bloodshed, even until the people of Nephi shall become extinct” (45:10-11). Smith knew the book’s conclusion from the beginning (Book of Commandments 2:6; cf. D&C 3:16-20), but this is the first time he reveals the approximate time of the Nephite destruction and connects it with an apostasy following Jesus’ visit to America.
The timing of Alma’s prediction is especially intriguing since it was given when the Nephite nation was spiritually and militarily secure. The mission of Alma and the sons of Mosiah was largely successful, and Moroni had repelled the invading Lamanite army. This was not unlike the situation in America during Monroe’s administration. Monroe was overwhelmingly elected in 1820 after a campaign devoid of factional wrangling and partisan politics. It was an Era of Good Feelings for many Americans: the English had been repelled, the Indians subdued, treaties with some Indian tribes signed; revivals were sweeping through the country and a few Indians had converted. In such optimistic times, there was little patience for prophets of doom and destruction. This would change in the aftermath of the hotly contested campaign of 1824 when Andrew Jackson was narrowly defeated by John Quincy Adams and then elected in 1828.66
After blessing Helaman, his other sons, and the church, Alma departs from the land of Zarahemla and disappears. Concerning this event, Mormon states:
And it came to pass that he was never heard of more; as to his death or burial we know not of. Behold, this we know, that he was a righteous man; and the saying went abroad in the church that he was taken up by the Spirit, or buried by the hand of the Lord, even as Moses. But behold, the scriptures saith the Lord took Moses unto himself; and we suppose that he has also received Alma in the spirit, unto himself; therefore, for this cause we know nothing concerning his death and burial. (45:18-19)
Smith had already introduced the concept of physical “translation” or passage into immortality without death, which he linked to the high priesthood (Alma 13).67 Here it is suggested that Alma was the first Nephite to achieve this state of existence.
Where Mormon associates Alma’s disappearance with Moses’ death and burial in a secret place (Deut. 34:5-6; cf. Jude 1:9), it indicates that Smith believed that Moses, like Enoch (Gen. 5) and Elijah (2 Kings 2), had been “translated” into heaven. If he does not decide exactly what became of Moses, he increases the mystery surrounding his disappearance by playing on Deuteronomy’s statement: “No man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.” Along this same line, Smith introduces an unknown scripture, which we have to assume comes from the brass plates, about God taking Moses “unto himself.” This may mean either that Moses died and his spirit was taken to heaven or that Moses, like Enoch and Elijah, was taken physically into heaven. Perhaps Smith was aware of the statement by Josephus concerning Moses: “A cloud stood over him on the sudden, and he disappeared in a certain valley, although he wrote in the holy books that he died, which was done out of fear, lest they should venture to say that, because of his extraordinary virtue, he went to God.”68
The ambiguity about Alma’s disappearance may be responsible for the “difference of opinion” that arose between Joseph and Oliver at this time regarding the fate of the apostle John.69 Smith’s control of the situation ensured that Cowdery would ultimately lose the debate. Still, they found themselves at opposite ends of a controversy that had puzzled New Testament scholars for centuries. Apparently, early Christians were troubled when the apostle John died before Jesus returned. They added an appendix to his gospel to explain that Jesus had not promised that he would “tarry till I come” as commonly believed, but that his words to Peter were intended as hyperbole—“If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” (John 21:22). Nevertheless, as Bible commentator Adam Clarke indicated, several interpretations of this passage had developed before Smith’s day:
Some have concluded … that John should never die. Many eminent men, ancients and moderns, have been and are of this opinion. … Others thought that our Lord intimated that John should live till Christ came to judge and destroy Jerusalem. … St. Augustin, Bede, and others, understood the passage thus: If I will that he remain till I come and take him away by a natural death, what is that to thee? follow thou me to thy crucifixion. … For nearly eighteen hundred years, the greatest men in the world have been puzzled with this passage. It would appear intolerable in me to attempt to decide, where so many eminent doctors have disagreed, and do still disagree.70
A revelation to Smith dated April 1829 decided the issue in favor of John’s translation and continued ministry on earth (D&C 7). Purportedly a translation of a record written on parchment and hidden anciently in a cave by John, Smith’s revelation claimed that Jesus granted his disciple’s wish to have “power over death, that I [John] may live and bring souls unto thee. … And for this cause the Lord said unto Peter: ‘If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee’” (vv. 2, 4). That John’s fate was on Smith’s mind while dictating the account of Alma’s disappearance is indicated by the parallel between Mormon’s statement that “the saying went abroad in the church that [Alma] was taken up by the Spirit” (Alma 45:19) and John 21:23—“Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die.” Thus, Smith chose the most improbable interpretation of John 21:23, one that was inconsistent with Jesus’ prediction of martyrdom for John and his brother James (Mark 10:35-41).71
About the same time as Smith was dictating Helaman’s account, he made a payment of $50 to Isaac Hale for his Harmony farm. The payment was made on 27 April 1829, four days early, and was probably the result of Samuel’s efforts on his brother’s farm. The final payment of $86 would not be due for another year.72 If Smith believed he was secure on his own property and beyond the reach of Hale and his other opponents in Harmony, the next few weeks would prove otherwise.
2. Joseph Smith, History, 1832, Joseph Smith Letterbook, 1:2-3, Joseph Smith Papers, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, UT (cf. Dan Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents, 5 vols. [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996-2003], 1:28; hereafter EMD).
8. The wording of Alma 31:15—“that thou [God] wast a spirit, and that thou art a spirit, and that thou wilt be a spirit forever”—recalls Hebrews 13:8, which Calvinists liked to cite to defend both the immutability of Christ and predestination (see Frank Hugh Foster, A Genetic History of the New England Theology [New York: Russel & Russel, 1963], 264-65).
9. Daniel Hendrix, a resident of Palmyra from 1822 to 1830, remembered seeing Joseph Jr. frequently wearing “torn and patched trousers, held to his form by a pair of suspenders made out of sheeting, with his calico shirt as dirty and black as the earth, and his uncombed hair sticking through the holes in his old battered hat … [and] his shoes were so old and worn out that he must have suffered in the snow and slush” (“Origin of Mormonism. Joe Smith and His Early Habits. How He Found the Golden Plates. A Contemporary of the Prophet Relates Some Interesting Facts,” San Francisco Chronicle, 14 May 1893, 12 [EMD 3:211]). Neighbor Lorenzo Saunders remarked that on one occasion Joseph Sr. was wearing “the dirtiest and raggedest shirt I ever saw” (Lorenzo Saunders, interviewed by William H. Kelley, 17 Sept. 1884, 3, E. L. Kelley Papers, Community of Christ [formerly RLDS Church] Archives, Independence, MO [EMD 2:128]). William D. Purple, a resident of South Bainbridge, reported that Joseph Sr. was “very poorly clad” and looked like “a wandering vagabond” when he appeared before Justice Neely in March 1826 (W[illiam]. D. Purple, “Joseph Smith, the Originator of Mormonism. Historical Reminiscences of the Town of Afton,” Chenango Union 30 [3 May 1877]: 3 [EMD 4:135]).
11. Lucy Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for many Generations (Liverpool, Eng.: S. W. Richards, 1853), 59 (EMD 1:258). In an 1830 editorial, Palmyra resident Abner Cole described Luther Howard as a religious hypocrite “who professes, ostentatiously, to belong to a Calvinistic church—where himself and family display a profusion of fine clothing” (Palmyra Reflector, 16 Mar. 1830, 89 [EMD 2:229]).
27. Presbyterian Magazine, Jan. 1821, 18-21. S. B. W[ylie], “Remarks on the Duration of Future Punishment,” Presbyterian Magazine 1 (Jan. 1821): 18-21. The infinite atonement theory, as well as its relevance to the Book of Mormon, is discussed in Mark D. Thomas, “Revival Language in the Book of Mormon,” Sunstone 8 (May-June 1983): 22-23. For other anti-Universalists who argued for the necessity of an infinite atonement, see Samuel Hopkins, An Inquiry Concerning the Future State of those who die in their Sins (Newport, RI, 1783), 120-55; Edward Wigglesworth, A Discourse Concerning the Duration of the Punishment of the Wicked in a Future State (Boston, 1729), 8-9.
37. Notice the parallel with Revelation 2:20 in which the Lord chastises the church in Thyatira “because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication.” While Daniel Peterson compares Alma’s “harlot Isabel” to the Jezebel of 1 Kings, I find comparison to Revelation 2:20 more striking (see Daniel C. Peterson, “Notes on ‘Gadianton Masonry,’” in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, ed. Stephen D. Ricks and William J. Hamblin [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990], 216, n. 22).
38. My discussion here closely follows Dan Vogel, “Anti-Universalist Rhetoric in the Book of Mormon,” in Brent Lee Metcalfe, ed., New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993), 36-47. Although disagreeing with my conclusions, apologist Stephen Clarke agrees that “Alma uses much of the same phraseology and many of the arguments employed by orthodox preachers to combat Universalism in Joseph Smith’s day” (Stephen Clarke, “‘Do Ye Suppose that Mercy Can Rob Justice?’: The Universalism Debate and Book of Mormon Soteriology,” in Archive of Restoration Culture: Summer Fellows’ Papers, 1997-1999 [Provo, UT: Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History, 2000], 158).
41. Presbyterian Magazine, Mar. 1821, 123-24; see also John Cleaveland, An Attempt to Nip in the Bud, the Unscriptural Doctrine of Universal Salvation (Salem, MA, 1776), 9; Hopkins, An Inquiry Concerning the Future State of those who die in their Sins, 26, 38-39, 72-73, 76; Methodist Magazine, June 1820, 213; New-York Missionary Magazine, and Repository of Religious Intelligence, 1802, 415; Utica Christian Magazine, Aug. 1813, 61.
42. Hopkins, An Inquiry Concerning the Future State of those who die in their Sins, 76; see also Hosea Ballou, Examination of the Doctrine of Future Retribution, on the Principles of Morals, Analogy, and the Scriptures (Boston, 1834), 167-68; Gospel Advocate, 26 Sept. 1823, 293; cf. Adam Clarke, The Holy Bible … With a Commentary and Critical Notes … by Adam Clarke, LL.D., 6 vols. (New York, 1811-17), s.v., Matt. 12:32; Abel C. Thomas, Autobiography of Rev. Abel C. Thomas: Including Recollections of Persons, Incidents, and Places (Boston, 1852), 404-405.
43. See Clarke, The Holy Bible, s.v., Matt. 12:31, where he mentions that “many sincere people have been grievously troubled with apprehensions that they had committed the unpardonable sin.” For some, even a false concept of the nature of the Holy Ghost could constitute the unpardonable sin: “Do you say that Jesus Christ was a created being, and the Holy Spirit a mere emanation from the Father? Take care lest you commit the unpardonable sin” (Methodist Magazine 8 [Mar. 1825]: 83; see also Thomas, Autobiography, 404-405).
44. Alma’s words that there will be “weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth” among the wicked in “outer darkness” refers to favorite proof-texts of anti-Universalists (Luke 13:27-28; Matt. 8:12; 13:42; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30). See Cleaveland, Attempt to Nip in the Bud, iv; see also Hopkins, Inquiry Concerning the Future State, 10.
50. Orson Hyde’s Journal for 4 February 1832 reads: “[We] called on an old Gentleman [who was] a universalian. [We] told him evil would be restored unto him instead of good except he repent &c. [He] treated our message rather lightly; but we were like Nephi [because] we talked plainly”(LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City).
57. G. W. Stoddard statement, 28 Nov. 1833, in Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 261 (EMD 2:29); John A. Clark to Dear Brethren, 24 Aug. 1840, Episcopal Recorder (Philadelphia) 18 (5 Sept. 1840): 94 (EMD 2:262); see also discussion of Doctrine and Covenants 19 (hereafter D&C) in chapter 29 of this volume.
71. See, e.g., The Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes (New York: Abingdon Press, 1951), 7:815, which notes that “Mark would hardly have given emphasis to this prediction unless both apostles had already been martyred.”