long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

First chapter of Brought to Light

Several people have been asking me about Brought to Light. I'll discuss it more in two weeks, but for now, here's the opening section of Chapter 1:

Church history is a delightful topic on its own, but it also gives us insights into our own roles in the Restoration. The early members of the Church were courageous, confident, and compassionate, but also complex. Like us, they were not perfect. They had strong testimonies of the truth, but struggled to live up to their aspirations. Despite their weaknesses, and in the face of strong opposition, they achieved miraculous success in building the foundation for today’s Church.
I wrote this book to share what I think are faith-affirming historical facts about one of the least-understood figures of Mormon history—Benjamin Winchester. Like me a year ago, I suspect you have never heard of Benjamin Winchester (unless you read my previous book, The Lost City of Zarahemla). He has become a footnote character in Church history, known—if at all—as a troublemaker. A month before he was murdered in Carthage, Joseph Smith said that Benjamin Winchester “had a rotten heart” and “would injure the Church as much as he could.” As you’ll see, Winchester was a far more influential figure than has been previously recognized, just as Joseph warned.

If you’ve read Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, studied the Church lesson manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, or viewed Book of Mormon artwork on the walls of Church buildings, you’ve seen the work of Benjamin Winchester. This book presents evidence that articles we have long attributed to Joseph Smith were actually written by Winchester. He was one of the “ghosts in the print shop,” meaning he was one of the authors of unattributed material in the Times and Seasons. Some of it was published anonymously, some under pseudonyms, and some signed simply “Ed.” for editor. 

As I showed in The Lost City of Zarahemla, Winchester started out as an enthusiastic young missionary and Church leader, a close friend of Wilford Woodruff, William Smith, Parley P. Pratt, Erastus Snow, and Joseph Smith himself. His enthusiasm grew into zealotry and self-righteousness that brought him into direct conflict with Church leaders and, eventually, apostasy. Hence Joseph’s description.

One way that Winchester injured the Church was providing what would become the basis for the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography. That was the topic of Lost City. The book you’re reading now expands beyond that specific point to look at other ways in which Benjamin Winchester left his mark on the Church.

Basically, I propose that Joseph Smith did not write the unattributed editorials in the 1842 Times and Seasons. (The Times and Seasons was the early Church newspaper equivalent of today’s Ensignand Liahona.) These editorials have long been incorrectly attributed to Joseph, conferring a quasi-scriptural importance on them that persists to the present day.

I hope the evidence brought to light in this book will affirm the faith of those who accept the latter-day restoration of the Gospel. But it may require some changes in thinking as well.

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