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.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

How God uses families - Part 2: Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith's family played an essential role in the restoration of the gospel. A series of financial problems prompted his father to move the family to the Palmyra area. His family's division among different Christian denominations led him to wonder which was right. Many of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants came as answers to specific questions. 

Joseph's siblings seem designed to teach him important lessons and to help him fulfill his mission. For example, the death of his older brother Alvin lead to the revelation now canonized as Section 137. His brother Hyrum supported him throughout their lives until they died together. His brother Don Carlos rescued Joseph's publishing initiatives. His brother William taught Joseph that even the people closest to you may violently disagree with you.

Ultimately, Joseph relied on his family more than anyone else. He was fiercely loyal to them, perhaps to a fault.

One example is in the area of publishing. The Lord commanded Joseph to translate the Book of Mormon. The process required him to read out loud, with a scribe recording his words. He tried a few scribes, including his wife Emma and her brother, but these didn't work out for various reasons. Then Martin Harris came, a literate man who could write. But Martin Harris proved untrustworthy when he lost the manuscript.

The Lord sent Oliver Cowdery, who was already well known to Joseph's family. Oliver proved capable and trustworthy, so much so that he shared Joseph's important interactions with Moroni, John the Baptist, Peter James and John, Moses, Elijah, Elias, and the Savior Himself. Joseph trusted Olvier to make a copy of the manuscript and to work with Hyrum and the printer to get the Book of Mormon published.

Oliver was like a brother--almost.

In July 1831, the Lord through Joseph called W.W. Phelps, an experienced newspaperman, to be a printer in Missouri (D&C 57). Oliver was called to edit material for publication with these words: "And let my servant Oliver Cowdery assist him [Phelps], even as I have commanded, in whatsoever place I shall appoint unto him, to copy, and to correct, and select, that all things may be right before me, as it shall be proved by the Spirit through him."

The revelation contained an implicit warning that Phelps either didn't recognize or didn't heed: "And lo, if the world receive his writings—behold here is wisdom—let him obtain whatsoever he can obtain in righteousness, for the good of the saints."

Phelps published the Evening and the Morning Star, the first Mormon newspaper. However, he wrote an article about slavery that enraged the Missourians to the point that they destroyed the printing press.

Next, Joseph sent Oliver to obtain another press and set up shop in Kirtland. Oliver continued the Evening and the Morning Star, but then replaced it with the Messenger and Advocate. Eventually his older brother Warren took over as editor. 

In the meantime, Phelps turned against Joseph, giving evidence that helped justify the Missourians in imprisoning Joseph in Liberty Jail. Oliver, too, left the Church, as did Warren. Joseph turned to his brother Don Carlos, who had learned the trade from Oliver, to start another Church paper, this one titled the Elders' Journal. Joseph had himself listed as editor, but Don Carlos was the actual editor for two issues. Sidney Rigdon later edited two issues back in Missouri. 

When the Saints moved to Nauvoo, Joseph again called on Don Carlos to edit and publish a Church newspaper. This was the Times and Seasons. Don Carlos worked at the paper until he died in September 1841, at which point Benjamin Winchester offered his services and moved to Nauvoo, where Ebeneezer Robinson had assumed control of the paper. In January, 1842, Joseph received a non-canonized revelation that the Twelve should take control of the paper. He became the nominal editor in February, with Wilford Woodruff and John Taylor assisting.

But there is no historical evidence that John Taylor actually edited the paper. In fact, later, in November 1842, when Joseph Smith resigned and named Taylor as editor, Joseph said that commenced Taylor's editorial career.

In the meantime, in April 1842, Joseph's brother William fulfilled the plans of Don Carlos and started a local paper, called the Wasp. It was printed, edited and published in the same printing shop as the Times and Seasons. In light of Joseph's previous experiences with Phelps and the Cowdery brothers, it makes sense that he would resort to his own family to manage the newspapers. 

Here's where inferences enter in. I think the best explanation for the available evidence is that William was editing both newspapers; i.e., Joseph followed the same pattern he had with the Elders' Journal, with himself as the nominal editor and his brother as the actual editor. 

This makes sense given the context of his family. The departure of his closest Church brother, Oliver Cowdery, affected Joseph deeply. He trusted no one more than his blood relatives. With Don Carlos dead and Hyrum busy in every other aspect of his life and work, to whom could Joseph turn except William?

Months after Joseph named Taylor as editor, he told Taylor that he could hardly trust him with all the mistakes he made.

The more we look at Joseph's relationship with his family, the better we understand many of the things he did and said.

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