- Published on Monday, 18 February 2013 07:00
- Written by William Hopper
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If you don't like history, and you think the history of religions is even more boring, you should read the Heathen's Guide to World religions by William Hopper. One of his gems is his account of the Mormons - he once told me he worries about what the Muslims will do to him for what he says - he's lucky that Mormons are fairly peaceful! This is an excerpt that he's published on his site.
Joseph Smith II was born in Vermont in 1805. Until he was fifteen, he was basically a nobody like the rest of us. Then things got a little weird.
It seems that while wandering around the backwoods of Vermont, young Joseph came across two “personages whose brightness and glory defy all description.” In a rare twist in this kind of tale, it wasn’t JC and it wasn’t angels. It was Mormoni and his father, Mormon. Don’t worry if you never heard of them from the Bible. They aren’t in it. These two are an entirely new addition to the tale.
A few years later, Smith was visited by actual angels, who led him over the hills and through the woods to grandmother’s hou..er, no. Try that again…through the woods to a secret hiding place, where they showed him a bunch of golden plates. The inscriptions on the plates were in what Smith called “Reformed Egyptian.” The fact that Egyptologists then (or now, for that matter) had never heard of this language didn’t seem to hinder Smith’s story. It was Reformed Egyptian. The main problem that Smith saw in all of this was that he couldn’t read Reformed Egyptian. “No problem,” said the angel, and handed him a pair of magic eyeglasses. He put them on and suddenly he could read and decipher Reformed Egyptian.
He busily set to copying the whole thing out in English, then took it all home where he published it as The Book of Mormon. As a result of this interpretation (as well as other visions he had around the same time), Joseph Smith made a public declaration of the creation of new church, called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The declaration was made in La Fayette in Seneca County, New York on April 6, 1830.
“So…what about these golden plates?” you ask.
Well, I’ll tell you. The Book of Mormon got an awful lot of attention. I’ll go into detail about what was in it in a moment, but suffice to say it was enough to whet the whistle of every theologian, historian, and cryptographer this side of Mount Zion. In a flurry of activity, the whole world wanted to see the plates from which this book was translated. Scholars from around the world were suddenly descending on Vermont and Upper New York in droves, waiting to get a peek at these divine tablets. They never did.
It seems these angels were shy. When the furor around the plates grew, the angels came back to Smith and told him to return the plates to their hiding place, and made him forget where they were. No one outside of Smith and (presumably) his family ever saw the plates, and they were never authenticated by any of the scholars of the day.
The word “dubious” comes to mind here. Can’t say why, but it does.
The Book of Mormon
Of making many books there is no end.
~The Bible, Ecclesiastics 12:12
Trust me, you can get one of there things for free. They practically force them on you if you show any interest whatsoever.
The Book of Mormon is so named because the last book in it is called the Book of Mormon. Go figure. Like the Bible, it has other books in it that all add to the tale. The tale goes something like this…
You remember the story of the Babylonian exile from the Judaism section? This is where the First Temple was destroyed and the Hebrew king got carried off to Babylon. Well, a funny thing happened on the way to captivity, as they say. You see, there were thirteen tribes of Israel that went into Babylon. Twelve came back and rebuilt the Temple when the Persians invaded. So what happened to the missing tribe? (Yet another deep, mystic secret.)
Me? I’ve always figured that they just assimilated into the Babylonian culture. I mean, it was amazing enough to figure that the people that stayed Jewish did so under such extreme pressure to become good Babylonians. The idea that some of them did exactly that is no great surprise to me. But this isn’t what Joseph Smith says.
Smith (sorry—the angel that guided Smith) said that this tribe did, in fact remain the unified tribe. But somehow they just never made it back to Israel when everyone else did. According to The Book of Mormon, these guys hopped on a bunch of cigar shaped boats and sailed away. (Presumably on the Atlantic, but who knows?) Anyway, they sealed themselves inside these boats. There was no deck. No windows. Just a big, cigar-shaped tube floating along on the high sea. God, being the thoughtful guy he was in this story, packed a bunch of phosphorus rocks in with them so they could see inside the boat. Then the whole lost tribe floated on out to open sea and headed for the Americas.
They entered the New World, carrying their Jewish heritage with them, and continuing to record the divine influences in their lives—commandments, miracles, that sort of thing. The Book of Mormon also speaks of how JC came and visited them after he ascended in front of the apostles. (I get this image of JC flying through the air like Christopher Reeves in the Superman movies—taking off from Israel, flying across the Atlantic, then setting gently down in North America to chat with the lost tribe.)
The Book of Mormon (or BoM, as I like to call it) goes on to say that the people fell away from “the one true God” and became savages. (These would be the modern-day Native Americans.) The story goes that God saw the wickedness that was growing in the people and decided it was time that what was in your hearts should show up on your skin. To this end, He darkened or lightened people according to the love or hate in their soul. Black people were considered the most evil, whites the most pure. (And hey…Smith was white. Coincidence or what?) The savage natives were reddish in color because they were at one time pure and therefore couldn’t fall all the way down to being black-skinned. (Mormons truly believe this, by the way. Ask one of them sometime. Particularly if you’re not white. It’ll scare the hell out of them.)
Take note, though. These guys have a prophet all the time now. The old one is always replaced. Apparently, the new guy has recanted some of this facial stuff—something about the NAACP and huge riots gave them the divine inspiration to change it.
Marriage is popular because it combines the maximum of temptation with the maximum of opportunity.
~George Bernard Shaw, The Revolutionist’s Handbook
In 1843, Joseph Smith (now living among a thriving Mormon community in Illinois) declared that polygamy was okay. He was right, by the way. The Old Testament does back him up. Remember, most of the laws of marriage and sex came from Augustine, not the Bible. In the Bible, polygamy was legal. In Illinois, however, it wasn’t. The Governor of Illinois ordered Joseph and his brother Hiram arrested for the crime of polygamy (and inciting people to polygamy) and both were summarily picked up and thrown in jail in Carthage, Illinois.
Folklore has it that a band of armed men broke in and shot both brothers. While this is essentially true, there’s a few minor details that seem a little hazy... most notably the lack of a mob. The official story on this is that the local sheriff went out to get a bite to eat and when he got back the two brothers were dead. It doesn’t change much, but I’m pretty sure that what happened was that the sheriff went out to dinner, accidentally leaving everyone in the jail cells armed to the teeth except for Joseph and Hiram. An hour later, he comes back and is astounded to find that somehow the brothers have been mysteriously pumped full of lead. He then asks around the jail to see if anyone saw anything and, amazingly enough, the other prisoners report that a whole mob of people had broken in and killed the brothers. “Oh dear,” says the sheriff. “We’d better get an APB out on that mob. Unruly, you say? Okay. We’ll get right on it. Right after dessert.”
So Joseph Smith becomes a martyr. There’s nothing like a martyr to get things rolling in a religion.
William J. Hopper is the author of The Heathen's Guide to World Religions - his web site is here.
Originally published on this site January 2010