Mormon History

New Revelations Versus Books - 1879

The Salt Lake Daily Tribune September 28, 1879


While Rigdon gave to Mormonism its written word, it is not to be denied that Smith gave to it much of its unwritten and unwritable spirit; and while there is a modicum of truth associated with this "unwritten word" of Mormonism, what truth there is in the written is not visible to the naked eye. It is for the most part empty pretense and bold assumption. "The Books!" said Brigham Young. "the books are not worth the ashes of a rye straw. The Church has the living oracles." And Brigham -- in the first part of his declaration at least -- was right; and Joseph, in a like (unavowed but practical) position, was right too. "There is a spirit in man; and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding." And these men, unlettered as they were, having minds "uncorrupted by books," at times felt this inspiration of the Almighty giving them understanding -- perhaps much as the Indian feels it. Rigdon was a bookish and formal literalist - with a bee in his bonnet. There is no royal road to learning -- priesthood, revelation, or any other. Of course the sincere, devout mind must always be (so far) in advance of the insincere and undevout. The Spirit of God in the soul of man -- shed abroad in the heart -- is like the early and latter rain upon the soil. But nothing can compensate for the lack of faithful (and fruitful) efforts to "get understanding" from books, from one another, from all the wide domains of nature and art. Knowledge is power; but wisdom, the sum and concentration of knowledge, is the very seed and issue of salvation.

Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers, and I linger on the shore,
And the individual withers, and the world is more and more.

Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers, and he bears a laden breast,
Full of sad experience, moving toward the stillness of his rest.

(Mormonism is no very congeniel theme.)

The Josephite Mormons hold fast by the Mormon books. Many Mormons here do, but the wiser few, whether here or yonder, have discarded, or are discarding them, for they cannot be digested. Indeed the Battle of the Books is just now uon the church known as Mormon, whether in Utah or Illinois, and it will yet wax hot. The issue (it is not difficult to forsee) will be, the assigning of Rigdon to his true place in the Mormon work, which he has never yet had, and Joseph Smith his, whe he has never yet had. The Bible and the Christian religion will remain, as they have all along remained, unaffected by this or any other sectarian issue.

It is a highly significant fact that Joseph Smith, the imaginary founder of Mormonism, was not present on the occasion of the Book of Doctrine and Covenants veing presented to the church for the acceptance as its law and rule of faith. He happened to be away in Michigan at this very important juncture. He was in Kirtland, the then headquarters of Mormonism, just before and just after this important event. But the real Moses of Mormonism -- its real lawgiver -- was then present in the person of Sidney Rigdon, (and its "Aaron," too, in the person of O. Cowdery). This was the occasion of a "General Assembly of the Church of Latter-day Saints," and was held in August, 1835, and then accepted (what Elder Pratt called and as we have seen miscalled the first edition of) the Book of Doctrine and Covenants.

(The "History of Joseph Smith" fails to state that the Section on Marriage was accepted by the unanimous voice of this Conference. For this piece of information one has to refer to Elder Pratt's "first edition" of the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, at the end. This edition is also very rare. But Apostle J. F. Smith will no doubt find a copy at the Historian's office.)

It is to be borne in mind that Rigdon was twelve years older than Smith. In 1823, when Smith was a youth of eighteen, Rigdon was thirty. The year 1823 figures conspicuously as a very important date in Mormon history, but, so far as Smith is concerned, it has no great interest or significance. To be sure, that was a very important year in Rigdon's life, but what of that? We shall see anon. The year 1823 is the date in Mormon history when Smith claims to have had his first "call." Three years before (in 1820) at the age of fifteen, the Father and Son had appealed to him (so he says, or so it is said for him,) for the purpose of telling him that all the sects were wrong, and an "abomination" in the sight of heaven, forbidding the youth Joseph to join with any of them -- this injustice being twice impressively repeated. (Yet, spite of this, and even after he has "translated" a part of the sacred plates, he tries hard to join the Methodist church in Harmony, Pennsylvania. If this fact is disputed, satisfactory evidence can be given.) In 1823, when he was eighteen, a messenger sent from the presence of God -- so the history has it -- who said his name was Nephi, came to Joseph for the purpose of making known to him the existence of the sacred plates containing the Book of Mormon, etc. "He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang."

There is no reason to dispute that Joseph's earliest vision (so called), when he was a boy of fifteen, had some ground in an actual experience of some such kind. One boy, at least, out of a hundred, will have dreams of a similar character. Why, a friend at our elbow was just relating a most striking dream of his, had when a boy, in which the Father and Son appeared to him, (this dream was several times repeated) and this could readily be twisted into a wonderful vision had he been disposed to thus exaggerate, or make a mountain out of a molehill for him -- as Rigdon undoubtedly was disposed, and (I believe) did in the case of young Joseph. But, leaving out the fact, or fancy, of the Father and Son appearing to young Joe, what do we encounter upon the very threshold of this Mormon structure? Two palpable equivocations:

First -- This angel's name.

Second -- (which will be noticed first,) What did this angel say?

"He said there was a book deposited written upon gold plates." But the Book of Mormon itself does not claim to have been written upon gold plates -- only the "Book of Ether," a very small, fractional part of the Book of Mormon. Here again the oily and effusive scribe, Cowdery, is caught tripping, for he says:

I wrote with my own pen, the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet Joseph, as he translated it by the gift and power of God, by the means of the Urim and Thummim, or, as it is called by that book, 'holy interpreters.' I beheld with my eyes, and handled with my hands, the gold plates from which it was translated. I also saw with my eyes and handled with my hands the 'holy Interpreters.' That book is true. Sidney Rigdon did not write it. Mr. Spaulding did not write it. I wrote it. I wrote it myself as it fell from the lips of the prophet. -- Mill. Star; Vol. xxi, No. 34.

Cowdery is reported to have borne this testimony a few months before his death. It is pretended, that the plates were -- with the exception named -- gold plates! If they had been, it is exceedingly doubtful if they ever would have been "translated" except into "current coin of the realm."

Now as to the angel's name. Was it Nephi or Moroni? In a half-column of Joseph's history, the "messenger sent from the presence of God," (Sept. 22, 1823,) is described in the most dazzling style, but it appears he did not know his own name, or, if he did, assumed an alias to the inoffensive youth whom "God" (whose presence this messenger had just left) had singled out to do His marvellous work. He (Nephi -- Moroni -- which?) "said that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people.'

It is important to know when the above narrative was first recited, when it was written, and who composed it. It first appeared in print some eighteen years after its pretended occurence -- time enough for the whole matter to have been carefully elaborated and nicely dovetailed; and yet, the fatal oversight of Nephi for Moroni! If Joseph hah had, in 1823, the name of this angel sent from the presence of God, it is inconceivable that he should not have communicated it to Cowdery; but in the series of Cowdery's Letters to Phelps, written and published as late as 1834-5, the name of this angel sent from the presence of God with the all-important mission, is not given. In his lectures on Early Mormonism, last winter, Apostle Joseph F. Smith touched upon this matter, and attempted to explain it, but entirely failed to clear up the discrepancy. If it was Moroni, why did he give the name Nephi? Can any Mormon tell? Or, if the angel gave any name at all, why, in his parade of particulars, did not Cowdery mention it?