Mormons and Jews
by Steven Epperson
Joseph Smith and Modern Israel
[p.73] Scriptural exposition and prophetic charisma were not sufficient for assembling the Saints and building a city for the righteous. The exigencies of the gathering demanded rational planning for an ordered economy and a trained labor and missionary force. These daunting tasks underscored the necessity of education, especially for Joseph Smith and others within the church’s leadership who were handicapped by abbreviated formal schooling. While searching for teachers for a ministerial school where church leaders could be properly instructed, Smith and others encountered contemporary American Jews for the first time. These meetings were to have a significant impact on Smith, the development of his theology, and his understanding of the Jewish people.
In response to explosive church growth and an agenda of this worldly kingdom building, “Joseph,” Fawn Brodie writes, “began to make learning a personal ideal … [H]idden under the guise of mysticism in Joseph was an insatiable curiosity and hunger for knowledge.”1 This hunger was shared by many Mormons similarly deprived of the rudiments of education.2 The public ideal of learning was given its first authoritative expression in a revelation dated 27 and 28 December 1832 and 3 January 1833 and later published as Doctrine and Covenants 88. Known as the “Olive [p.74] Leaf,” this revelation instructed the Saints first that they should “Teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom. Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you. That you may be instructed more perfectly … Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and perplexities of the nations … and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms.” Topics sacred and secular came within the domain of the kingdom; their study was an act of worship which would be attended and illumined by divine grace.3 The sacrality of the pursuit of knowledge was underscored by the locality of its undertaking: a temple consecrated unto the Lord. In the same revelation the Saints were bidden to “organize yourselves, prepare every needful thing; and establish a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of learning … a house of God.”4
Beginning with the laying of foundation stones on 25 July 1833, the Saints in Kirtland were to work two and a half years on their first temple.5 In the spring of 1836, a contemporary observer described the newly completed “huge stone temple” built on a site with a commanding view of the Chagrin Valley: “Its dimensions are sixty by eighty feet, and fifty feet high. It is of no earthly order of architecture, but the Prophet says it is exactly according to the pattern showed him. It appears to be of two stories, having two rows of gothic windows running round it, besides windows projecting from the roof for the attic story. The first floor is the place of worship, and is completed in a very showy style… the second floor, and the attic loft are designed for a seminary, literary and theological!”6
Thus “according to the pattern”7 of the divine template, the configurations of the overall structure and the articulation of its parts manifest the temple’s conjoined purpose as house of worship and study. The “order of [p.75] the house” mandated that fully more than half of its “inner court” be devoted to a “school of the prophets established for … instruction in all things” (D&C 95:15-17; 88:127). In four winter sessions from 1833 through 1837 (excluding the winter of 1834), “elders” were instructed in doctrine, which included not only revelations and “lectures on faith” but also orthography, arithmetic, grammar, geography, Hebrew in the winter term of 1836, and Latin and Greek in the winter of 1837. By 1835 hundreds of Saints were drawn to the curriculum of the school and enjoined to “seek ye diligently and teach one another … seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118; also 109:14).
According to John Cotrill, a visiting elder from Missouri, the Kirtland Saints were inspired with an “extravagant thirst after knowledge.”8 James H. Eells grudgingly admired Kirtland’s education mania: “Mormons appear to be very eager to acquire education. Men, women and children lately attended school … and about seventy men in middle life, from twenty to forty years of age, are most eagerly engaged in the study [of Hebrew]. They pursue their studies alone until twelve o’clock at night, and attend to nothing else … They are by no means, as a class, men of weak minds. Perhaps most fanatics and visionaries have intellects peculiarly though perversely active.”9
Accounts of the 23 January 1833 inaugural session of the school over which Joseph Smith presided suggest the conjunction of learning and worship sought by the Saints. Before two dozen close associates, Smith invested the pursuit of knowledge with all the solemnity, reverence, and intensity which the completed House of the Lord was later designed to instill. The Kirtland Council Minute Book records: “Opened with Prayer by the President and after much speaking praying and singing, all done in Tongues proceeded to washing hands faces [p.76] feet in the name of the Lord … after which the president girded himself with a towel and again washed the feet of all the Elders wiping them with a towel.”10 Zebedee Coltrin, one of the inaugural members of the school, recounted almost a half century later that “before going to school we washed ourselves and put on clean linen.”11 The Lord’s Supper was administered “after the ancient order,” and members of the school came fasting at sunrise and continued throughout the class.
Although James Eells had in his account of Kirtland “noticed some fine looking and intelligent men among them,” for the most part he found these freshmen students “exceedingly ignorant.”12 Excluded from educational opportunities through tradition, class, and poverty, these “elders,” “Saints,” and incipient “prophets” celebrated learning like priests celebrating the cult in the Tent of Meeting.
Later in a letter to Isaac Galland written on 22 March 1839, Smith articulated the formative dynamic of knowledge in the lives of the Saints: ‘”The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we have the right to embrace all, and every item of the truth, without limitation or without being circumscribed or prohibited by the creeds and superstitious notions of men.”13 It was in pursuit of this “first and fundamental principle” that the Saints made their first recorded acquaintances with Jews.
In the autumn of 1835 it had been decided to add Hebrew to the curriculum of the School of the Prophets. Oliver Cowdery had corresponded with Lucius Parker of Southborough, Massachusetts, seeking to engage him as a Hebrew instructor.14 But when it became clear Parker knew little beyond the rudiments of the language, the Saints began to look elsewhere.
The solution seemed close at hand. At the nearby Willoughby College, a forerunner to Case Western Reserve University, Dr. Daniel Levi Madura Peixotto (1800-43) [p.77] was a faculty member. Previously Peixotto had been editor of the New York Medical and Physical Journal and a founder of the New York Academy of Medicine. An active Jacksonian Democrat, he had also served as hazzan of New York’s Congregation Shearith Israel.15 Having just rejected Parker as an instructor, Smith along with Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery, Frederick G. Williams and others went to Willoughby to hear Peixotto lecture.16 Ostensibly the purpose of this 2 November trip was to hear Peixotto lecture on “physics,” but as a result of their meeting, he was engaged “to teach us in the Hebrew language, when we had our room prepared.”17
As the Saints worked to complete their temple and to begin at the school, Smith sent his “second elder” Cowdery to New York “to make arrangements respecting a book bindery”18 and to purchase dictionaries, grammars, and lexicons for the school. Cowdery departed that very week.
At about the same time on the morning of 9 November, “Joshua the Jewish Minister” appeared on the streets of Kirtland.19 Unknown to the Saints, this Joshua was better known in New York state as “Matthias the Prophet,” or Robert Matthias, religious eccentric and perpetual litigant and defendant in criminal and civil lawsuits.20 His unannounced arrival at the door of Joseph Smith was at first met with curious interest. Matthias’s appearance, Smith remembered, “was something singular, having a beard about three inches in length, quite grey: also his hair was long and considerably silvered with age … tall, straight, slender built, of thin visage, blue eyes, and fair complexion, wore a sea-green frock coat and pantaloons, black fur hat with narrow brim; and while speaking, frequently shut his eyes, with a scowl on his countenance.” Smith inquired about the elderly man’s name, but he received no definite reply. Instead the two “soon commenced talking on the subject of religion.” Gossip about the aged “Jew” of [p.78] rather remarkable mien at Smith’s house soon brought a stream of visitors to his door. Smith later noted that “curiosity to see a man that was reputed to be a Jew, caused many to call during the day, and more particularly in the evening” during “Joshua’s” first day among the Kirtland Saints.
During a three day period, the twenty-nine-year old prophet and leader of the Latter-day Saints boarded and conversed at length with this man he welcomed as a Jew. After some preliminary introductions and conversation, a brief “relation of the circumstances connected with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon,” and dinner together, Smith urged “Joshua” to freely speak his mind on “the subject of religion” and to describe in length his belief and practice.
For the rest of that evening and throughout a good portion of the following day, Matthias obliged. He interpreted the prophecies of Daniel and of John’s Apocalypse, commenting on the relationship of those enigmatic books to contemporary political and industrial affairs. He went on to expound the doctrine of resurrection, the nature of “light” described in the Genesis account of the world’s formation, the assumption of priestly names by virtue of the “transmigration of soul or spirit from father to son.” Smith’s scribe, Warren Parrish, was present during Matthias’s wide ranging remarks and dutifully recorded the visitor’s “doctrines” at length. Smith throughout refrained from arguing or contradicting, “wishing,” he noted, “to draw out all that I could concerning his faith.” When Matthias’s comments became too obscure, Smith requested the elderly man to more clearly disclose their meaning.
The point for Smith was that here was an immediate opportunity for a presumed “Jewish minister” to “enlighten my mind more on his views respecting the fundamentals of his belief.” The Saints were in the midst of building a temple without Christian precedent. [p.79] Smith was seeking a vernacular proper to the “restoration of all things” and had turned to Hebraic institutions, categories, and practices to distance his church from “apostate” Christianity and to underline their continuity with covenant Israel. Smith had encouraged the Saints to “embrace all, and every item of the truth, without limitation … [whether] written in the old or new testament, or anywhere else, by any manifestation.” Now in the same week, Smith had enlisted Peixotto as Hebrew instructor, sent Cowdery off in search of Hebrew texts, and met at length with Matthias.
Unfortunately, other events combined to discourage the Ohio Saints just at the point when they were so receptive to outside influence from Jewish sources. First, “Joshua, the Jewish Minister,” was a fraud. His Christian prophetic preoccupations soon made clear that his “Jewish” credentials were fabricated, and he was compelled to confess his deceit. Although he candidly remarked that Matthias “made some very excellent remarks,” Smith was forced to admit that Matthias’s “mind was evidently filled with darkness … [H]e was in reality in possession of a wicked and depraved spirit. On the morning of the eleventh Matthias was requested to leave the city.”
Oliver Cowdery did encounter an authentic Jewish witness before he returned to Kirtland from New York City. He wrote to his brother Warren, “I became quite intimately acquainted with a learned Jew, with whom I held several conversations one very interesting.”21 However, out of all the members of the Mormon hierarchy, with the possible exception of Sidney Rigdon, Cowdery was the least open to such an encounter. For Cowdery the Jewish people represented an instance of a broken covenantal community. The only lesson to be learned from it was negative: how to avoid their ignominious demise and exile.
[p.80] For the next six weeks the assembled elders stumbled through the Hebrew alphabet, translations, and pronunciation, manifestly in need of professional instruction. Joseph’s impatience and desire to learn the language can be glimpsed in the following diary entry, typical of these winter days: “Tuesday, 22.—At home. Continued my studies. O may God give me learning, even language; and endue [endow] me with qualifications to magnify his name while I live.”22 The upper room of the temple stood ready for the Hebrew class: only Peixotto himself was wanting until the 4 January date set for the formal opening of Hebrew instruction.
A third event intruded in this season of learning and anticipation. On the last day of 1835, Smith entered into his journal an extract entitled “Heathen Temple on Lake Erie” from Mordecai Manual Noah’s Jewish newspaper, the New York Evening Star. For Smith this entry summed up outside opinion about “the cause of God, which I have fearlessly espoused”: “That bold-faced imposter, Joe Smith, of Gold Bible and Mormon memory, has caused his poor fanatical followers to erect on the shores of Lake Erie … a stone building … denominating the same ‘The Temple of the Lord.’ We should think this work of iniquity extorted out of the pockets of his dupes, as it reflects its shadows over the blue Lake, would make the waters crimson with shame at the prostitution of its beautiful banks to such unhallowed purposes.”23
In an essay, “How to Become a People: The Mormon Scenario,” American historian R. Laurence Moore suggests that Mormon distinctiveness and the religious persecution which dogged the Mormon community throughout the nineteenth century were cultivated by the Saints themselves through a “rhetoric of deviance”: “Mormons were different because they said they were different and because their claims, frequently advanced in the most obnoxious way possible, prompted others to agree and to treat them as such.”24 According to Moore, [p.81] Latter-day Saints deliberately fostered an identity through distinction and opposition. Outside opposition confirmed this sense of uniqueness and legitimated the LDS move away from an “apostate” Christian world.
In the case of Mordicai M. Noah, Smith’s strategy of opposition worked against his openness to Jewish influences. Noah had attempted to foster his own “gathering” at “Ararat” on Grand Island, New York, a decade earlier. The Mormon undertaking no doubt seemed a poor coin in comparison to his own scheme and detracted from his dream of a gathered Israel. Joseph rose to Noah’s bait: “Thus much from M. M. Noah, a Jew, who has used all the influence in his power, to dupe his fellow Jews, and make them believe that the New Jerusalem for them was to be built on Grand Island … The Lord reward him according to his deeds.”25
In December 1835 and January 1836, a final blow came to an LDS opening to Jewish sources. Peixotto failed to appear on the appointed day of instruction, although informed that the room, texts, and students waited. The members of the class voted “that his services were not wanted.” The school would “do the best we could until we obtained a teacher.”26
Smith’s frustration can be seen in his journal history. The elders no longer “would submit to such treatment” in future dealings. The following day “unpleasant feelings” and “controversy” broke out in the teacher-less classroom as strong-willed students such as Orson Pratt and Smith himself strove over “so small a matter as the sound of a Hebrew letter.”27 For men seeking to acquire “a pure language, and [an] earth … filled with sacred knowledge,” the unfortunate experiences of the previous two months must have seemed too familiar, their relations with outsiders again compromised through misunderstanding and acrimony.
However, William McLellin returned from the Hudson Seminary, where he had been sent to look for an [p.82] instructor, with good news: a teacher was hired for a “term of seven weeks, for three hundred and twenty dollars.” With revived hopes Smith wrote, “He is highly celebrated as a Hebrew scholar, and proposes to give us sufficient knowledge during the above term to start us in reading and translating the language.”28 By engaging Joshua Seixas, the Saints obtained the service of what one scholar has called “the best Hebraist, Jew or not, whom Kirtland could have hoped to attract in the 1830’s.” This was the same “James Seixas” who in 1833 produced the Manual of Hebrew Grammar for the Use of Beginners, a work second only in quality at that time to that of Moses Stuart at Andover Seminary. Not only was Seixas acquainted with Stuart’s work, he was also a “friendly correspondant” with the elderly Hebraist.”29
Seixas was the son of America’s most prominent Jewish civic and religious leader, Rabbi Gershom Mendes Seixas. The elder Seixas had been “minister of Shearith Israel” in New York City, one of the thirteen clergymen to participate in Washington’s 1789 inauguration, a trustee of Columbia College, and member of the first Board of Regents of the state university.30 Like Smith, Joshua Seixas was also in his early thirties. He was teaching Hebrew and working from his Manual in several newly founded seminaries and colleges in the frontier state of Ohio. Before teaching at Hudson Seminary, he had passed a brief period at Oberlin College, where Lorenzo Snow, later to become an apostle and president of the LDS church, had been one of his young students.
The seven years of labor lavished on the production of his Manual and his work as a teacher were motivated, he wrote, by “a desire to benefit others and promote the best of all studies, the study of the Bible.”31 He rekindled hopes among the brethren in Kirtland, hopes which would not be disappointed.
[p.83] On 26 January the first term officially began with about forty adult pupils attending. Instruction took place five days a week, with hour-long sessions meeting at ten in the morning and two in the afternoon.32 After the first week thirty more adults presented themselves as pupils. And by mid-February, Seixas found himself teaching four separate classes.33
Smith took to Seixas immediately. Seixas’s “instruction pleased me much,” he wrote of their first day in class. On 30 January Joseph observed, “He is a man of excellent understanding, and has a knowledge of many languages which were spoken by the ancients, and he is an honorable man, so far as I can judge yet.”34 Joseph in company with Rigdon, Cowdery, and others often visited Seixas in the latter’s private rooms in the evening to converse on the subject of the school, their want of books, particular questions about Hebrew, and religious subjects. Smith remarked that Seixas “conversed freely,” that he was “an interesting man,” cordial, intelligent, and pleasant.35 Smith lent his own horses and sleigh so that his instructor could visit his wife and children in nearby Hudson during the cold winter months.
The sympathetic treatment accorded Seixas by the Saints in Kirtland and their manifest dedication to the study of Hebrew contributed to an excellent working relationship between students and scholars and rapid progress at the school. By 15 February translating exercises had begun, and Seixas remarked that his Kirtland pupils “were the most forward of any class he ever instructed for the same length of time.”36 The Ohio Atlas printed a letter from a visitor to the city on 16 March 1836, reporting that the elders “are now studying Hebrew with great zeal, under the instruction of Mr. Seixas.”37 John Corrill noted at about the same time, “Schools were instituted for the use of the elders and others. Some studied grammar and other branches; they [p.84] also employed the celebrated Hebrew teacher, Mr. Seixas, who gave them much insight, in a short time, into that language. They had been previously commanded to seek learning and study the best books, and get a knowledge of countries, kingdoms, languages, etc., which inspired them with an extraordinary thirst after knowledge.”38
A special class of the most advanced pupils was rganized to study in additional sections besides the usual two-hour daily meetings. This group included Smith, Rigdon, Cowdery, and apostles Orson Hyde, Orson Pratt, and others. They started translating Genesis 17 and 22 with the fired-up Smith “retiring to the printing office” after class, where he “translated ten verses of the 3rd of Exodus, which, with the first and second Psalms, are our next lesson.”39
For Smith this was a season of great activity and happiness. He was simultaneously supervising the completion of work on the temple for its 27 March dedication, instructing priesthood quorums in their duties, receiving visitors, “attending to family concerns,” speaking to numerous congregations, officiating at marriages, daily laboring on “my studies as usual,” and attending school. Amidst this flurry of activity, Smith paused to exclaim, “my soul delights in reading the word of the Lord in the original, and I am determined to pursue the study of the languages, until I shall become master of them, if I am permitted to live long enough. At any rate, so long as I do live, I am determined to make this my object; and with the blessing of God, I shall succeed to my satisfaction.”40 Events momentous and tragic were later to deflect this pursuit.
Seixas was contracted to another term of instruction and had even brought his family to Kirtland, but for reasons not entirely clear, the expected spring session never took place, and formal, organized study of Hebrew among the Saints came to an end. However, the [p.85] spirit of those seven weeks was framed by Seixas in the certificate he awarded Smith on completing his first course in biblical Hebrew. Dated 30 March 1836, the document included the following appraisal of the student and host: “Mr. Joseph Smith Junior … has been indefatigable in acquiring the principles of the sacred language of the Old Testament Scriptures. He has so far accomplished a knowledge of it, that he is able to translate to my entire satisfaction … I take this opportunity of thanking him for his industry and his marked kindness towards me.”41
The American Jewish historian, Moshe Davis, commenting on this document in particular and on this interlude in Kirtland in general, notes that this “help[s] to explain much … at a crucial moment in the evolution of [Mormon] theology and program.” Thereafter “some of the implications of the later relationship between Mormons and Jews become logical.” Essentially, it was through this kind of experience that the inseparable bond of Mormons, Hebrew, Bible, and Holy Land was consecrated. Davis further suggests that the keen interest of the Latter-day Saints in “the divine tongue” was completed by the desire to more “fully understand the new revelations” promised and issuing forth from the Lord as his house, his temple, approached its dedication.42
Indeed those bonds were manifestly consecrated in the revelatory events and words attending the dedicatory ceremonies of the Saints’ first temple, which occurred at the same time Seixas was issuing Smith’s certificate.43 Smith’s dedicatory prayer of 27 March is of particular significance. Coincident with completing their tutorial with Seixas, Smith included the following words in this priestly invocation upon the house of learning and worship: “Now these words, O Lord, we have spoken before thee, concerning the revelations and commandments which thou hast given unto us, who are [p.86] identified with the Gentiles. But thou knowest that thou hast a great love for the children of Jacob, who have been scattered upon the mountains for a long time, in a cloudy and dark day. We therefore ask thee to have mercy upon the children of Jacob, that Jerusalem, from this hour, may begin to be redeemed; And the yoke of bondage may begin to be broken off from the house of David; And the children of Judah may begin to return to the lands which thou didst give to Abraham their father” (D&C 109:60-63).
From Smith’s earliest revelations, gentile and Israelite are intimately associated by an imperative to gather to lands of covenant. A host of Book of Mormon passages etch the Saints’ commission to “further the cause of the recovery of God’s covenant people,” first by gathering out a righteous people of covenant from the Gentiles; and second, to assist the independent gathering of the Lord’s “ancient covenant people” to Jerusalem through material and sacramental means. The “sacramental” aspect of the Latter-day Saint commission found tangible, concrete expression in the rendering of the “keys” of the gathering to Smith by revelation on 3 April 1836 and, four years later, by sending Apostle Orson Hyde to Palestine. But in acknowledging the Lord’s “great love for the children of Jacob,” Smith expressed an additional sensibility to the unique status of Israel, its homeland, and of the Lord’s unimpaired steadfastness to Israel’s redemption. The “yoke of bondage … of the house of David” henceforth must be “broken off” and Israel recovered from its exile.
It is tempting to speculate further about the influence Joshua Seixas had on these developments. But for the past half dozen years and more, Smith had been dealing with “ancient” covenant texts which record the stormy but persistent love affair between Israel and its God. Until his acquaintance with Seixas, Smith had never known a living nineteenth-century Jew, Robert [p.87] Matthias’s claims notwithstanding. Smith’s work on the text of the Book of Mormon, even with the christologizing filter of its editors and “translator,” and also his “revised” manuscript of the Hebrew Scriptures, provided the foundation for Smith’s recognition of the “great love” of Jacob’s God and for his belief in Israel’s imminent gathering to Palestine.
In spite of Matthias’s imposture, the disappointment over Peixotto’s non-appearance, Cowdery’s tense encounter with the “learned Jew” in New York, and Seixas’s polite rebuff of Smith’s over-zealous friendship (discussed below), the fact remains that Smith wanted to learn from and listen to the voices and opinions of living Jews. This might appear to be a small matter. But during this period of American history, the attitude was rare.44
Smith’s New Testament revision frequently demonstrated his ignorance of first century Judaism and of the subsequent development of Jewish texts, scholarship, institutions, and movements up to 1836. In this he shared much with the majority of his contemporaries inside and outside the Mormon church. Rigdon, Smith’s first counselor in the church presidency, echoed traditional theological perspective in his two-and-a-half-hour sermon on Matthew 18:18-20 at the Kirtland temple dedication. He reasoned that because “the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head,” Israel’s God “did not put His name there [the Jerusalem temple] nor did he accept the worship of those who paid their vows and adorations there.” He expanded the condemnation from this passage to all first century Jewish parties, all depicted as dysfunctional and rent with schism except in their opposition to “The Savior.”45
At the same sacred service, Smith followed Rigdon’s jeremiad with his dedicatory prayer and its more sober and informed appraisal of Israel. From this point on [p.88] Smith’s views on Israel diverged publicly from those of many of the senior figures in the church.
In another setting Smith condemned that “spirit which hath so strongly riveted the creeds of the fathers … upon the hearts of the children,” calling it “an iron yoke … a strong bond, [the] fetters of hell” (D&C 123:7-8). All early Latter-day Saints were drawn into their covenant community from other Christian churches. The process of conversion was not so profound or the break so radical with customs and creeds of the past that inherited anti-Jewish prejudice was eliminated.
Seixas’s cordiality and intelligence initially elicited from Smith an inclusive, conversionist impulse. Oliver Cowdery’s “Sketch Book” records that Smith, Rigdon, and Cowdery prayed together two weeks after the commencements of their studies that Seixas “may embrace the gospel and believe the Book of Mormon … that he may become our brother in the faith of the gospel.”46
However, from first to last, as Louis Zucker has observed, Seixas “shunned all theological controversy” and met all of the brethren’s leadings “with a graciously polite reserve.” In his “Mormon and Jew: A Meeting on the American Frontier,” Zucker points out that “Seixas apparently cultivated the traditional Jewish attitude, namely: a desire neither to proselytize nor to be proselyted, a desire not to reawaken acerbity between Jew and non-Jew.”47 Early on in February 1836, Joseph related to Seixas “some of the dealings of God with me, and gave him some of the evidence of truth in the work of the latter days.” The good teacher, he records, “Listened cordially and did not oppose.”48 On another occasion Seixas “listened with attention, and appeared interested” when Smith spoke to him on “the subject of religion.”49
The contrast between Seixas’s considered reticence and Smith’s high hopes for this “chosen vessel unto the Lord” that “he will eventually embrace” the gospel began [p.89] to make Joseph feel self-conscious about his efforts. After waxing optimistic about his instructor’s future among the Saints in his journal, Smith breaks off and self-mockingly states, “but I forebear lest I get to prophesying upon his head.”50 Time and proximity transformed their relationship. Seixas the “stranger” became the “neighbor”; Seixas the Jew ceased to be a theological abstraction. The “ancient” covenant people were embodied in a lively contemporary dialogue.
Seixas’s quiet composure when evangelized, his evident devotion to the foundational text and holy language of his people, his intelligence and sincerity tested Smith’s uncritical assumptions about the rules of encounter between Jew and Mormon. Seixas was far from supine before what Mormons saw as their religious authority; he was in no way tempted to embrace the aggressive faith of his gentile admirer. Smith’s Hebrew instructor lived a meaningful and productive life without the “restored” gospel. In Seixas, Smith had finally made the first-hand acquaintance of another “peculiar people, distinct and separate … a light and an example to all surrounding nation,” a people of what Smith would later call “true piety [and] real religion.”51 For a man who claimed that he was told by divine revelation that “all the sects … were an abomination” in the sight of the Lord, such adjectives as “true” and “real” for another religious community were hardly trivial.
During the final six weeks of Seixas’s tenure in Kirtland, Smith never again mentioned conversion. Instead his journal history focused on Seixas as acquaintance and mentor. He savored their evening tutorials, exulting as the language disclosed its bounty. He brooded over the dearth of texts and materials cramping the progress of nearly 120 pupils crowding Seixas’s four classes. Smith tried to extend Seixas’s contract to a second term and mediated a dispute between instructor and a group of pupils over the sale of some Bibles.
[p.90] Above all he labored over the passages singled out by Seixas for translation in his “select class.” Those texts all dealt with covenant: its singularity and renewal, its stipulations and promises. The transcendent God, creator of heaven and earth, enters into a binding pact with a mortal son, Abraham, in Genesis 17; the covenant is imperiled and then rescued in the “binding of Isaac” in Genesis 22; finally in Exodus 3 the Lord hears captive Israel’s cries, remembers his covenant with Abraham, and calls Moses to lead Israel’s hosts from bondage and into a land of promise.
By any reckoning the three years following the dedication of the Kirtland temple were turbulent ones for Smith and the Latter-day Saints. The well-documented woes which afflicted Kirtland during the “panic” year of 1837 precipitated divisive controversies and schisms within the church and pressed against Kirtland’s season of temple building, schooling, and endowment.
During the Kirtland sojourn Smith had increasingly absorbed both “religious” and “secular” responsibilities in the office of the presidency, much to the consternation of many Saints who wanted a prophet disentangled from worldly affairs. Ironically it was a modern Orthodox Jewish scholar who commented that Smith “was now, in every historical sense of the Hebrew word, a nabi [a prophet].”52 But for many of his associates in the hierarchy and for a faction from the rank and file of the church, the all too-human face of prophecy was insufficient. They expected infallibility in Smith’s words and actions.
When a militant faction of dissenters threatened the life of Smith and his supporters, he fled to Mormon settlements in Missouri, where he was warmly received.53 But flight to Missouri in January 1838 brought him little respite from controversy. Frontier Missourians had never welcomed the influx of Mormons, who came for the most part from northern, non-slave states. [p.91] Suspicion and animosity—religious and political, cultural and economic-erupted sporadically into violence and reprisal. Dozens of Latter-day Saints died, and hundreds were forcibly expelled from one western county to another by mobs and regular militia alike.
In 1838 the influx of Kirtland Saints and their prophet into the tense Missouri back country only exacerbated already poisoned Mormon-gentile relations. A 6 August 1838 election day disturbance at Gallatin, where Mormons were harassed and prevented from voting, set off more disorder which led to an “extermination order” by Governor Lilburn Boggs on 27 October 1838 and, finally, Mormon expulsion from the state.54 In the fall of 1838, Smith and others were arrested and left to rot in Liberty Jail in Independence, Missouri. The fractured, hounded, and demoralized Saints continued their forced hegira yet again, seeking a haven from violence and a place for their “gathering.”
Illinois temporarily welcomed the Saints, and on its western border they began laying the foundations of a city and a new temple. Smith and companions were never formally charged or tried and finally escaped imprisonment in the spring of 1839. They too gathered to the new city rising from the marshlands above the banks of the Mississippi. The months of confinement, disastrous to the health of the ailing Rigdon, were a torment to Smith but also a period of reflection. It was in Liberty Jail that Smith sketched the contours of much of what was distinctive in his theology in the final years.
Smith’s experiences in Kirtland and Missouri combined to leave him repulsed by dogmas—religious, cultural, or political—which fostered prejudice and violence. In Liberty Jail he wrote: “We have been made to bow down with grief, sorrow, and care, under the most damning hand of murder, tyranny and oppression, supported and urged on and upheld by that spirit which hath so strongly riveted the creeds of the fathers… upon [p.92] the hearts of the children, and filled the world with confusion” (D&C 123:7). Smith would counter “unrighteous dominion” with the “virtue of the priesthood” (D&C 121:41-42). In this vein Smith wrote his March 1839 letter which embraced truth from whatever source as “the first and fundamental principle of our holy religion.”
Interest in education had not been lost in the chaos and disappointment of Kirtland. Following in the spirit of the School of the Prophets, a regularly constituted lyceum for adult “continuing education” was organized in the new center of gathering at Nauvoo, Illinois, and a system of common schools was being established by 1841.55 At the apex of a planned educational system was a “University of the City of Nauvoo,” whose charter was a centerpiece of the city’s incorporation along with that of the Nauvoo Legion. In a prospectus issued to “the Saints Scattered Abroad,” Smith wrote that “We hope to make this institution one of the great lights of the world, and by and through it to diffuse that kind of knowledge which will be of practicable utility, and for the public good, and also for private and individual happiness.”56
A corollary to the system of education was Smith’s openness to the numerous travelers who began to include Nauvoo in their circuit. Josiah Quincy, visiting from Boston, provided this description of Nauvoo: “The curve of the river enclosed a position lovely enough to furnish a site for the utopian communities of Plato and Sir Thomas More; and here was an orderly city, magnificently laid out, and teeming with enterprise.”57
Frequently these travelers arrived to criticize, propound, and convert. They were often invited to lecture and preach, usually to sizeable assemblies. One astonished Methodist minister, Samuel Prior, “sat in breathless silence” during one of Smith’s sermons “waiting to hear that foul aspersion of other sects… that rancorous denunciation of every individual but a Mormon.” [p.93] To his amazement, instead he “was invited to preach, and did so.” “The congregation was large,” he wrote, “they paid the utmost attention. This surprised me a little, as I did not expect to find any such thing as a religious tolerance among them.”58 Nauvoo hosted and often heard out Masons, socialists, Unitarians, and mainline denominational representatives either in private homes, lecture halls, or open air congregations.
The legacy at work in the streets, halls, and school rooms of Nauvoo was twofold. Negatively the lessons of persecution had been forced upon the Saints. Positively through the tutelage of figures such as Seixas, the distinctive integrity of individual minds and the collective commitment of covenantal communities were being impressed upon the Mormons gathered at Nauvoo.
On 27 June 1839 Smith addressed questions concerning a “vast number [of the] Keys of the Kingdom”59 which had been discussed the previous day in a study group comprised of some of Nauvoo’s leading citizens. Included in Smith’s discourse, according to his scribe, Willard Richards, were such subjects as the “Doctrines of Faith … Repentance … Baptism … Tongues … Resurrection and Election.”60 The focus of the doctrine of “election” was the question of the relationship of gentiles—Latter-day Saint converts—to Israel’s covenant inherited from Abraham.
How can a gentile be of the seed of Abraham and thus a co-heir within the patriarch’s household? William Marks, who was to become president of the Nauvoo stake, had written an article in a July 1837 Messenger and Advocate called, “Behold the Good and Severity of God.” Here Marks etched this dilemma of election in the following words, “we remark again that the Law, the covenants and promises, were to Israel, and the Gentiles, as such, had no claim in any promises that had been made.”61 Marks’s solution was congruent with that of Smith’s later discussion of election in 1839: “if ye be [p.94] Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed and heirs of the promise.”
According to Smith, all nations would worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob which Jesus and his disciples preached and thus make Abraham the father of many nations. Smith also believed that the effect of conversion and the “Gift of the Holy Ghost” was a material one, which “upon a Gentile is to purge out the old blood and make him actually the seed of Abraham.”62 As in Paul’s epistles, the life of Jesus was the goal, the telos, of the Law; Israel’s eternal covenant was never in question.
In the spring of 1841, Smith returned to “the subject of election” in an assembly of the Saints on the “Meeting Ground” in Nauvoo. As it was reported in the Times and Seasons: “The speaker … read the 9th chap. in Romans, from which it was evident that the election there spoken of was pertaining to the flesh, and had reference to the seed of Abraham, according to the promise God made to Abraham, saying, ‘In thee and thy seed all, the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ To them belong the adoptions, and the covenants &c.…election of the promised seed still continues.”63
During the mid-1830s in Kirtland, Sidney Rigdon and Oliver Cowdery, the two men second in power and authority among the Latter-day Saints, similarly addressed the question of covenant and election. In these years, 1834 and 1835, both men were at the height of their authority within the community. Their articles, letters, and pronouncements dominated the pages of the major periodicals, the Evening and Morning Star and the Messenger and Advocate. But Rigdon’s essay on “The Millennium,” in which his views on the covenant and election were featured, and Cowdery’s sixth letter of historical reminiscences about the founding of the Latter-day Saint church, which also touched on covenant [p.95] and election, varied significantly from Smith’s later pronouncements.
In their writings both men interpreted Jeremiah 31:31-34. According to Rigdon the restoration of Israel’s standing and fortune was to come “not by virtue of any previous covenant with the House of Israel but by [another covenant] which was to be made with the House of Israel and the House of Judah in the last days,” one “which was to be different from all other covenants.” That covenant would be taught from “the stammering lips” of the Gentiles, who in the “latter days … were to enlighten them [Israel].”64
Cowdery wrote to the editor of the Messenger and Advocate that Israel’s covenant had been broken and could be substituted only by one wholly new, a covenant “put … in their inward parts” and written “in their hearts.”65 It was clear from the text of Cowdery’s letter that the Latter-day Saints, the favored remnant after two general “apostasies,” one Jewish and one gentile, were to be the heralds of the new “perpetual covenant.” In Cowdery’s parlance that covenant was synonymous with the Latter-day Saint gospel.
But in Nauvoo several years later when Smith picked up the subject of election and covenant again and referred to the same Jeremiah prooftext, his writings avoided his associates’ preoccupations and conclusions. Jeremiah was called up by Smith only in reference to the knowledge of the Lord shared by all who crossed the threshold of faith and inherited the covenant. It is not verses 31-35 of chapter 31 which beckoned to Smith but rather verse 34. Christian exegetes and apologists had been drawn to the former passage as a text forecasting the church, the “new covenant” and the “new Israel.”
Smith’s concern was epistemological not supersessionist, about knowing and understanding about salvation, not overcoming and replacing the Jewish people. How can the Saints, gentile disciples of a first century [p.96] Palestinian Jew, “Know the Lord”? How could they be sure of their “calling & election”? Joseph’s concern was for “the twelve [apostles] & even the least Saint.” He looked forward to “the day … when no man need say to his neighbor know ye the Lord for all shall know him … from the least to the greatest.”66 That Israel’s covenant would be replaced by a “perpetual one” according to Latter-day Saint terms is not mentioned.
A fitting prologue to his June 1839 discourse was entered into Smith’s journal history dated 21 May. It begins, “To show the feelings of that long scattered branch of the house of Israel, the Jews, I here quote a letter written by one of their number, on hearing that his son had embraced Christianity.67 What follows is an impassioned letter quoted at length without editorial comment, purportedly written by “A. L. Landau, Rabbi,” of Breslau.68 The rabbi pleads with his son in Berlin: “Do not shed the innocent blood of your parents … Do you think that the Christians … will support you and fill up the place of our fellow believers? … [Do] not change our true and holy doctrine, for that deceitful, untrue and perverse doctrine of Christianity. What! will you give up a pearl for that which is nothing…? Why hast thou forsaken that holy law which shall have an eternal value; which was given by my servant Moses, and no man shall change it?” The letter goes on to call the prospective convert to his senses and his duty; it charges “the Lord be with you!” and then concludes abruptly “because of weeping.”
Why does this letter appear in Smith’s historical narrative? The entry leaps out from among one sentence summaries of Smith’s work week: “Saturday. May 18-Finished my business at (Quincy for the present … Monday 20—at home attending to a variety of business.”69 Then comes Tuesday’s entry and a flood of emotions from a devastated Jewish father a continent away.
[p.97] Perhaps the letter echoed Smith’s own troubled feelings over the denouement of the Missouri persecutions. He had only two months before escaped imprisonment. The violence and constant threats to the security and lives of the Saints and their property had elicited acts of courage and devotion, cowardice and defection. Stung by apostasy and criticism, Smith could have been drawing a parallel to his anguish and hopes over those who had left: “Will you give up a pearl for that which is nothing?”
Or Smith could have recorded this letter solely because he approved of the reference to “that deceitful, untrue and perverse doctrine of [apostate] Christianity” and its ministers, who also considered Mormons and their Christian restorationism “as a thing of naught.” The case could be made that as traditional Christian apologetics depended on its “controversy” with the “old” Israel, so the Latter-day Saint identity was beholden to its opposition to “apostate” Christendom. Mormons were certainly not above resorting to polemics borrowed from non-Christian sources for ammunition in their own assault upon orthodox Christianity.
However, neither of these interpretations can fully account for this dramatic addition to Smith’s historical record. The most telling argument against such conjectures is the short introduction added by Smith to the letter. Neither wayward Mormons nor Missouri persecution nor Mormonism’s controversy with Christendom figure in Smith’s commentary. The entry is made, Smith writes, “To show the feelings of … the Jews.”70 He lets them speak for themselves without Christian censorship.
Smith’s attitude immediately affected the tone of the Times and Seasons, the bi-monthly church publication, when he took over its editorial responsibilities in 1842. The paper’s first number had appeared in November 1839; Ebenezer Robinson and Smith’s brother, Don Carlos, [p.98] were its editors. Subsequent issues appeared under the editorship of various individuals, including Robert B. Thompson and John Taylor.71 In the hands of these editors, the position of the paper was straightforward in denouncing persecution of Jewish communities. It covered stories which tended to coincide with the basic contours of LDS predictions about movements and events leading to the millennial advent of Christ. But it also featured theological or biblical articles which in the main reflected traditional Christian assessments of Jewish religion and the exile of the Jewish people.
The first editorials opposed religious persecution, especially by Slavic and Oriental despots. The paper found itself in good company heaping editorial outrage on the notorious “Damascus blood libel” along with Niles’ Weekly, Frazier’s Magazine, and the New York Herald, from whose columns the Times and Seasons borrowed liberally. Similarly it could exult in “the truly gratifying intelligence that Sir Moses’ [Montefiore] efforts obtain release of 7 Jews on charge of being party to the death of Father Thomas.”72
The Mormon press reported letters of appeal being sent from the German Jewish population in Jerusalem “To our Brethren the Israelites of Europe and America” for assistance in building their dwellings. These settlers promised “to devote a portion of your wealth as a sacred tribute” towards erecting “the temple of the most holy king.” “It is with great pleasure,” the Mormon editors wrote, “[that] we lay before our readers the proclamation of the Jews from the land of inheritances.”73
Any movement towards Jewish gathering to Jerusalem or efforts to rebuild and restore its former glory were greeted enthusiastically. “[T]he judgements which the Lord denounced against that people, in consequence of their repeated transgressions,” one editorial read, “have indeed been fulfilled to the very letter; and the promises of their restoration, to the land of their [p.99] Fathers, with their ultimate splendor and glory, now remains to be accomplished.” “Surely,” Ebenezer Robinson and Don Carlos Smith concluded, “the work of the father, as spoken … has commenced, which shall roll forth with power … until Jerusalem shall be built up … and Zion be established to be thrown down no more forever.”74
Ultimately according to these editors, the “judgements which the Lord denounced against that people” were a “manifestation to the religious Jews, that they had departed from the principles delivered unto them through the messengers who God inspired.” “Every person in every degree acquainted with the Jewish history,” an unsigned article on “The Gospel” argued, “knows that God, previous to the days of the Savior’s coming in the flesh, was withdrawn from that people.”75 The “whole world,” the author opines, “apostatized from the living God … there was not a sufficiency of righteousness to save one creature in all the world.”76
This position reflects a theological commitment common among pre-millennialists in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. A gathering of Judah, a restored Jerusalem, even an independent polity in an “unconverted” nation were concessions required by a “literal” reading of the prophecies. However, events had to proceed according to a Christian, pre-millennial script. Accordingly, the roads and seas Jews travelled to return to their homeland, the fields they cultivated, the foundations they laid, the walls they erected, the blood spilled, the infants born, all would ultimately confirm Christian divination and adventist expectation. Jewish lives were not their own but were lived at the behest of Christians who alone knew their story.
With the 15 February 1842 issue of the Times and Seasons, Smith made his debut as editor. Comparing two numbers of the paper, one from 15 December 1841 and the first issue under Smith’s direction two months [p.100] later, the changed perspective is evident. The 15 December issue featured an article on “Charity” taken from Benjamin Winchester’s LDS magazine, The Gospel Reflector, which had been produced independently in Philadelphia.77 Written by Winchester, the “presiding elder” in Philadelphia, the article extolled Christian charity in contrast to Jewish ethics in first-century Palestine. Jews “at the time of Christ,” Winchester wrote, were broken into “sects” and had “apostatized” from its ordinances and covenant by vaunting “traditions over law.”78 Their acts of charity, he assumed, were the grudging concessions of legalists, performed not with the benevolent intent of a disinterested heart but mechanistically with an eye to perfunctory service and quantifiable merit.
With the 15 February number of the Times and Seasons, Smith began publishing letters and articles culled from sources written by and apparently for Jews. Unlike the presentation of the Winchester article, Smith presented these items unadorned. Jews directly addressed Christian readers.
Thus an article dealing with the status of Jews living among gentiles is presented simply, Smith writes, to show “the feeling of one of the seed of Abraham upon this subject.” It is entitled, “A Word in Season from an Israelite, to His Brethren.”79 The anonymous author of the letter asserts that as a result of Jewish fidelity to God’s truth, “We are as completely a nation as when first established as such for we acknowledge ourselves now, as then, as being under the immediate government of the Sovereign of the universe, with the same law for our obedience as was vouchsafed to our ancient fathers.”
The constitutive intent of that law had produced, the writer explained, a concrete historical fact—a chosen people, an independent “nation”—and at the same time furnished that people with its restless, creative raison d’etre. “We are,” the article continues, “a separate people from all the nations of the earth … [T]he greatest [p.101] object of our selection was to constitute us the instrument to work out the redemption of mankind, from the darkness, and unhappiness of a false worship.” With such a calling and agenda he asks: “shall we cast aside our real law at the bidding of the ‘London Society?’ [The London Society for Propagating the Gospel Amongst the Jews] and the written law at the command of Deists, and self styled philosophers? Ought we merely to accommodate our religion’s observance to suit our convenience? … What, if we were so lost to a sense of our own dignity, would become of the trust reposed in us by the Supreme being? What of our religion?—of ourselves as a people, of our offspring?”
It is uncertain whether Joseph Smith was informed of the debates, hinted at in this letter, raging at that time within the Jewish community in America and Europe over basic and wide ranging reform. Possibly either Seixas or Alexander Neibaur, a German Jew who in England converted to Mormonism and worked in Nauvoo as a “surgeon dentist,” described the Orthodox or Reform parties and their respective platforms.
From Smith’s record and Neibaur’s diary, it is evident that the two often met for German and Hebrew tutorials.80 However, Neibaur’s single contribution to the pages of the Times and Seasons was an article on Jewish belief concerning the resurrection, where he cites only traditional Jewish sources and outlines traditional arguments for the doctrine.81 There are no explicit indications by either Smith or Neibaur that the state of contemporary Jewry was ever a topic of discussion. The articles Smith was to cite later, though originating from proponents of Reform and Orthodoxy, were presented without reference to controversy. Smith does not demonstrate knowledge about intra-Jewish affairs, but still the break from obtrusive theologizing and commentary is abrupt and clear.
[p.102] The 15 March issue of the Times and Seasons featured an extract from modern Orthodoxy’s “founder” and earliest prominent exponent Sampson Raphael Hirsch’s Essays on Israel’s Duties in Dispersion, which included a discussion of ” “tsaadekau.”82 By printing this selection, Smith hoped to show how “Jews … maintain principles of benevolence and charity which many of our professedly enlightened Christians would do well to imitate.”83 The attention of the LDS reader is directed to the words and “feelings of the Jews” in their own right.
The subject of the anonymous “Word in season” letter, published on 15 February, also accorded well with Smith’s analogous preoccupation: how to forge a collection of diverse individuals into a holy nation and kingdom of priests, a distinct people. The Jewish writer’s appeal for fidelity to Israel’s rederuptive and covenantal commission in the face of Christendora’s cultural solvents would have no doubt addressed some of Smith’s central concerns. Having translated the Book of Mormon which told of the law and doctrine proceeding “in purity” from the Jews and being distorted by the machinations of gentile Christians, Smith now seemed to be providing a limited forum for Israel’s voice to again speak unmediated to the Saints.
He followed up the 15 February letter by affirming the “literal gathering of Israel” as one of thirteen essential Latter-day Saint beliefs84 and by printing an extract from S. R. Hirsch’s Essays on Israel’s Duties in Dispersion. Prefacing the latter column, Smith again underscored his intention to “show what the feelings of the Jews are, in regard to moral rectitude, and that although persecuted, afflicted, robbed and spoiled, they still adhere with great tenacity to their ancient moral code, and maintain principles…Christians would do well to imitate.”85
The next issue of 1 April 1842 included a reprint of the extraordinary “dedicatory prayer” offered by Elder [p.103] Orson Hyde from the summit of the Mount of Olives.86 In that prayer Hyde expressed Mormon hopes for both the gathering and the restoration of the Jewish people in Palestine, and he blessed and dedicated the land to flourish politically, spiritually, and agriculturally with the return of exiled Judah. “Rabbi” Landau’s impassioned letter to his son was quoted in its entirety in the next bi-monthly number.87 Unlike the terse introduction it received in Smith’s journal history, the Times and Seasons’s preface ran to several dozen lines.
The preface was polemical, with Smith blasting the Christian world for its persecution of Jews. Christians have created of themselves a “merciless” adversary to the Israel of God and a “religion … so at variance with the principles of righteousness” that Jews have little recourse but to “cherish in their bosoms, feelings of disgust and abhorrence at the idea of their children embracing it.”88 He laments this destructive and alienating visage of Christianity: “What a pity that the glorious precepts of the Redeemer should be so misrepresented.” But he declined to deliver the expected resolution to this criticism: convert the Jews.
Editorially Smith complemented the work of his distant apostle, Orson Hyde. The attention of both men focused on contemporary Jewry, but unlike their Christian peers in this most evangelical of periods, neither advocated Jewish missions. In the very next issue of the Times and Seasons, Smith roundly criticized contemporary Christians. “Did God,” he asks, “ever tell the London Society, to send out missionaries?” Commenting on the pathetic spectacle of the attempts by “Mr. Ewald, London Missionary” to convert a “Rabbi Judea,” Smith concluded, “What consummate ignorance is displayed in missionaries quoting the New Testament to the Jews. … As if the Rabbi was going to be damned by not bowing with deference to his [Ewald’s] ipse dixit.”89 [p.104] After publishing several more letters from Hyde during the summer months of 1842, Smith abruptly resigned as the journal’s editor. The last “Jews” column he was to edit featured an extract in English translation from Michael Creizenach’s Schulhan Aruch, oder Enzyklopaedische Darstellung des Mosaischen Gesetzes. In that multi-volume work, Creizenach attempted to show “that talmudic Judaism was a reform of Biblical Judaism, and, thus, that the Reform Judaism of his own time was a legitimate approach.”90 The Times and Seasons included Creizenach’s plea for a revival of education and of an informed piety which would continue the work of “reform” begun by the Talmud. Smith’s final, terse comment summed up the intent of the “Jews” columns over which he had presided as editor. He concluded that the subject of the column, the Jewish people, “inculcate attendance on divine worship” and manifest to any “disinterested reader” what can be seen as “true piety, real religion, and acts of devotion to God.91
With the passing of editorial duties from Smith to former English dissident Methodist lay preacher John Taylor, now Mormon apostle, the editorial slant of the Times and Seasons resumed a more conventional approach to contemporary Jewry. Subsequent “Jews” columns comprised uncredited notices about Jewish emigration plans in Europe and population statistics from the popular press. The major exception was a 1 February 1843 article, “Both One in Christ,” written by a converted Jew, “Alfred Morris Myres,” and taken from a Christian religious publication. The article focused on the “Church of Rome” as the greatest obstacle to missionary endeavor. The author invokes sympathy for Jews and hope that the Jewish “miracle” will soon be crowned with the “future blessings for them in store,” the blessings of Christ and his Protestant church.92
[p.105] The step from Hirsch and Creizenach to Myres signalled the demise of the “Jews” column as a conduit of Jewish expression to a Mormon readership. Entries continued to be fairly frequent but inconsequential until Smith’s death in the summer of 1844. His assassination marked a new round of violence, which climaxed in yet another mass expulsion from dearly won homes and temple. Smith’s halting approach to God’s Israel was waylaid by the challenges of a greater order of magnitude forced on his successors.
The leadership of the early LDS movement was not of a single mind. The Mormon hierarchy was comprised of several dozen men of fierce will and belief yoked roughly together in the common pursuit of the “restoration.” But what was the restoration to look like? Mormon leaders came from different denominations, sects, and schools of thought and brought with them as converts to the LDS church beliefs and agendas which were often profoundly at odds. Smith’s leadership provided the glue which bound his associates together, but it is clear from the writings and actions of many of them that the force of Smith’s personality and ideas did not always insure unanimity.
Thus it is not surprising to read that Rigdon and Cowdery in propounding their ideas would draw on their own resources, background, education, and religious world view. What is singularly important to note is that Smith disagreed fundamentally with their views on Jewish people. From the first decade of Mormonism, distinct and divergent views about Jewish people were expressed by Mormon leaders—Smith and disciples such as Brigham Young and Orson Hyde on one side, and Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery, and Orson Pratt on the other. It is possible that these men were not consciously aware of how antagonistic their views were. If they were conscious of it privately, opposition was not expressed publicly nor were antagonists named.
2. “Most of the people called the Latter-day Saints have been taken from the rural and manufacturing districts of this and the old countries, and they belonged to the poorest of the poor … There are but few in this Church who are not of the laboring class, and they have not had an opportunity to cultivate their minds … Brother Heber and I never went to school until we got into ‘Mormonism’: that was the first of our schooling … What are we here for? To learn to enjoy more, and to increase in knowledge and in experience.” These statements by Brigham Young taken from the Journal of Discourses are quoted in “Educating the Saints,” Nibley on the Timely and the Timeless: Classic Essays of Hugh W. Nibley, Religious Studies Monograph Series, vol. 1 (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1978), 234-35.
3. “Mormons, then, possess a theology which … embraces the concept that the processes of salvation, the steps to sanctification, are profoundly and inseparably connected with the acquisition of knowledge and intelligence … this concept of learning, even commandment to study, underscores the idea for Latter-day Saints, too, learning may be thought of as an act of devotion to God, an action which possesses transcendent meaning.” S. Kent Brown, in Jacob Neusner, The Glory of God Is Intelligence: Four Lectures on the Role of Intellect in Judaism, Religious Studies Monograph Series, vol. 3 (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1978), xviii-xix.
4. For an account of the reception of this revelation, see Lyndon W. Cook, The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith: A Historical and Biographical Commentary of the Doctrine and Covenants (Provo, UT: Seventy’s Mission Bookstore, 1981).
5. For a description of the Kirtland temple, see Laurel B. Andrew, The Early Temples of the Mormons: The Architecture of the Millennial Kingdom in the American West (Albany: State University of New York, 1978), 35-53.
6. From a letter to a Br. Leavitt by James H. Eells, extracted from the Christian Journal of Exeter, New Hampshire, 21 Apr. 1836, quoted in Among the Mormons: Historic Accounts by Contemporary Observers, eds. William Mulder and A. Russell Mortensen (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1958), 88. “When the Lord commanded this people to build a house in the land of Kirtland, he gave them the pattern by vision from heaven, and commanded them to build that house according to the heavenly pattern that he by his voice had inspired to his servants,” according to Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, 14:273.
14. Parker was a cousin of Brigham Young. See Joseph Smith et al, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1927-32), 2:470; hereafter cited as HC.
20. Accounts of the career of Mattbias included Theodore Schroeder, “Mattbias the Prophet, (1788-1837),” Journal of Religious Psychology 6 (Jan. 1913): 59-65; and William L. Stone, Matthias and His Impostures: or, the Progress of Fanaticism (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1835).
33. Ibid., 2:391. Milton V. Backman, Jr., has estimated the number at about 120 people; Backman, The Heavens Resound: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Ohio, 1830-1838 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983), 271.
42. Moshe Davis, ‘”The Holy Land Idea in American Spiritual History,” in With Eyes Toward Zion: Scholars Colloquium on America-Holy Land Studies, ed. Moshe Davis, vol. 5 (New York: Arno Press, 1977), 151-53.
52. Zucker, “Joseph Smith as a Student of Hebrew,” 42. In a note responding to a critical letter from one of Dialogue’s readers attacking his estimation of Smith, Zucker wrote: “Although I limit Joseph Smith to genius and transcendental intuition and see him not above occasional charlatanry, yet I will not yield to RFS’s thinking-for-me and categorize Joseph Smith as a nebi sheker … When Joseph Smith seems to me to be a nebi emet, a genuine prophet, I regard him as being of the mould of Moses, Isaiah, Jesus—a mould created cumulatively by the succession of Hebrew prophets … All learned to prophesy from the Hebrew prophets. Were there no Hebrew prophets for them [gentile religious and social critic-prophets] to imitate, they would have criticized their countrymen, their times, in far different ways.” Louis Zucker Papers, Marriott Library, Special Collections, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah.
55. The lyceum met every Tuesday at different locations in Nauvoo for several months beginning 5 January 1841. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph, Religious Studies Monograph Series, vol. 6 (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1980), 82, 263. See also Robert B. Flanders, Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965), 52.
61. Messenger and Advocate 3 (July 1837): 542. William Marks, born in Rutland, Vermont, 15 November 1792, was president of the “Nauvoo Stake of Zion” from 1839-44. Elected alderman for Nauvoo in February 1841, he also served as a regent of the University of the City of Nauvoo. See Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia, vol. 1 (Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson History Company, 1901), 283-84.
68. In Smith’s History, the letter is dated 21 May 1839 and entered into his history of 1839 of the same date. It is most likely that Joseph learned of this letter after May 1839 and inserted it after it was published in a second source.
71. For a brief description of the Times and Seasons, see Peter Crawley and Chad Flake, A Mormon Fifty: An Exhibition in the Harold B. Lee Library in Conjunction with the Annual Conference of the Mormon History Association (Provo, UT: Friends of the Brigham Young University Library, 1984), number 2.
80. See 24 May 1844, diary entry, Alexander Neibaur Journal 1841-61, LDS archives; also “Had the honor of instruction [sic] the Prophet Joseph Smith until he went [to Carthage] in the German (and Hebrew) from which text he Preached several times to large Congregations,” from Alexander Neibauer, Reminiscences, Mar. 1876, LDS archives.