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Mormonism and Wikipedia/Joseph Smith, Jr./Distinctive views and teachings
An analysis of Wikipedia article "Joseph Smith"
A FairMormon Analysis of Wikipedia: "Joseph Smith"A work by a collaboration of authors (Link to Wikipedia article here)
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Distinctive views and teachings
Cosmology and theology Updated 9/3/2011
Smith taught that all existence was material,
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , pp. 419–20 (arguing that Smith may have been unaware of the other religious materialism arguments circulating in his day, such as those of Joseph Priestly).
including a world of "spirit matter" so fine that it was invisible to all but the purest mortal eyes.
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , p. 419; Brooke (1994) , pp. 3–5; Smith (1830) , p. 544 (story from the Book of Ether of Jesus revealing "the body of my spirit" to an especially faithful man, saying humanity was created in the image of his spirit body).
Matter, in Smith's view, could neither be created nor destroyed;
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , p. 420.
the creation involved only the reorganization of existing matter.
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , p. 421 (noting that Smith once taught the Earth was formed from broken-up pieces of prior planets).
Like matter, "intelligence" was co-eternal with God, and human spirits had been drawn from a pre-existent pool of eternal intelligences.
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , pp. 420–21.
Embodiment, therefore, was the purpose of earth life.
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , p. 421.
The work and glory of God, the supreme intelligence,
was to create worlds across the cosmos where inferior intelligences could be embodied.
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , p. 421 (quoting Smith as saying, "God is Good & all his acts is for the benefit of infereir inteligences [sic]."); Bloom (1992) , p. 101 ("Smith's God is hedged in by limitations and badly needs intelligences besides his own.").
Though Smith at first taught that God the Father was a spirit,
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , p. 420 (arguing that Smith's original view of a pure spirit God was traditionally Christian); Vogel, Dan, The Earliest Mormon Conception of God in Bergera (1989) , pp. 17–33 (arguing that Smith's original view was modalism, Jesus being the embodied manifestation the spirit Father, and that by 1834 Smith shifted to a binitarian formulation favored by Sidney Rigdon, which also viewed the Father as a spirit); Alexander, Thomas, The Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine: From Joseph Smith to Progressive Theology in Bergera (1989) , p. 53 (prior to 1835, Smith viewed God the Father as "an absolute personage of spirit").
he eventually viewed God as an advanced and glorified man,
Author's sources: *Widmer (2000) , p. 119; Alexander, Thomas, The Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine: From Joseph Smith to Progressive Theology in Bergera (1989) , p. 539 (describing Smith's doctrine as "material anthropomorphism"); Bloom (1992) , p. 101 ("Smith's God, after all, began as a man, and struggled heroically in and with time and space, rather after the pattern of colonial and revolutionary Americans.").
embodied within space
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , p. 421 ("Piece by piece, Joseph redefined the nature of God, giving Him a form and a body and locating Him in time and space."); Bloom (1992) , p. 101 ("Joseph Smith's God...is finite.... Exalted now into the heavens, God necessarily is still subject to the contingencies of time and space.").
with a throne situated near a star or planet named Kolob, and measuring time at the rate of a thousand years per Kolob day.
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , p. 455; Widmer (2000) , pp. 70–90.
Both God the Father and Jesus were distinct beings with physical bodies, but the Holy Spirit was a "personage of Spirit."
Author's sources: *Roberts (1909) , p. 325.
Through the gradual acquisition of knowledge,
Author's sources: *Larson (1978) , p. 7 (online ver.).
those who were sealed to their exaltation could eventually become coequal with God.
Author's sources: *Widmer (2000) , p. 119.
The ability of humans to progress to godhood implied a vast hierarchy of gods.
Author's sources: *Widmer (2000) , p. 119; Bushman (2005) , p. 535.
Each of these gods, in turn, would rule a kingdom of inferior intelligences, and so forth in an eternal hierarchy.
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , pp. 455–56, 535–37.
The opportunity to achieve godhood extended to all humanity; those who died with no opportunity to accept Latter Day Saint theology could achieve godhood by accepting its benefit in the afterlife through baptism for the dead.
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , p. 422.
Children who died in their innocence were guaranteed to rise at the resurrection and rule as gods without maturing to adulthood.
Author's sources: *Larson (1978) , p. 15 (online ver.).
Apart from those who committed the eternal sin, Smith taught that even the wicked and disbelieving would achieve a degree of glory in the afterlife,
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , p. 199.
where they would serve those who had achieved godhood.
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , p. 443.
Smith's teachings were rooted in dispensational restorationism.
Author's sources: *Brooke (1994) , p. 33.
He saw his teachings and the Church of Christ as a restoration of early Christian ideals that had been lost in a great apostasy.
Author's sources: *Remini (2000) , p. 84.
At first, Smith's church had little sense of hierarchy, Smith's religious authority being derived from visions and revelations.
Though Smith did not claim exclusive prophethood,
Author's sources: *Quinn (1994) , pp. 7–8.
an early revelation designated him as the only prophet allowed to issue commandments "as Moses."
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , pp. 121, 175; Phelps (1833) , p. 67 ("[N]o one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church, excepting my servant Joseph, for he receiveth them even as Moses.").
This religious authority encompassed economic and political as well as spiritual matters. For instance, in the early 1830s, he temporarily instituted a form of religious communism, called the United Order, requiring Saints to consecrate all their property to the church.
Author's sources: *Brodie (1972) , pp. 106, 112, 121–22.
He also envisioned that theocratic institutions he established would have a role in the world-wide political organization of the Millennium.
Author's sources: *Quinn (1994) , pp. 111–12, 115 (describing the expected role of the Council of Fifty).
By the mid-1830s, Smith began teaching a hierarchy of three priesthoods (Melchizedek, Aaronic, and Patriarchal),
Author's sources: *Quinn (1994) , pp. 27–34; Bushman (2005) , pp. 264–65.
each of them a continuation of biblical priesthoods through patrilineal succession or ordination by biblical figures appearing in visions.
Author's sources: *Quinn (1994) , p. 7.
Upon introducing the Melchizedek or "High" Priesthood in 1831,
Smith taught that its recipients would be "endowed with power from on high," thus fulfilling a need for a greater holiness and an authority commensurate with the New Testament apostles.
Author's sources: *Prince (1995) , pp. 19, 115–116, 119 (noting influence ofSidney Rigdon in developing this idea); Gospel of Luke 24:49 (Authorized King James Version) ("And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem until ye be endowed with power from on high.").
This doctrine of endowment evolved through the 1830s,
Author's sources: *Prince (1995) , pp. 31–32, 121–31 (outlining evolution of the endowment idea in 1833 and 1836).
until in 1842, the Nauvoo endowment included an elaborate ceremony containing symbolism similar to that of Freemasonry.
Author's sources: *Ostling (Ostling) , pp. 194–95; Prince (1995) , p. 146.
The endowment was extended to women in 1843,
Author's sources: *Prince (1995) , p. 140.
though Smith never clarified whether women could be ordained to priesthood offices.
Author's sources: *Prince (1995) , p. 201.
Smith taught that the High Priesthood's endowment of heavenly power included the sealing powers of Elijah, allowing High Priests to effect binding consequences in the afterlife.
Author's sources: *Brooke (1994) , pp. 30, 194–95, 203, 208 (Smith introduced the sealing power in 1831 as part of the High Priesthood, and then attributed this power to Elijah after he appeared in an 1836 vision in the Kirtland Temple).
For example, this power would enable proxy baptisms for the dead
Author's sources: *Brooke (1994) , pp. 221, 242–43.
and priesthood marriages that would be effective into the afterlife.
Author's sources: *Brooke (1994) , pp. 236.
Elijah's sealing powers also enabled the second anointing, or "fulness(sic) of the priesthood"
Author's sources: *Brooke (1994) , p. 256.
which, according to Smith, sealed married couples to their exaltation, thus virtually guaranteeing their eternal godhood.
Author's sources: *Brooke (1994) , p. 294 ("The ritual of the second anointing...granted a virtually unconditional promise of divinity in the celestial kingdom."); Bushman (2005) , pp. 497–98 (The second anointing ceremony "was Joseph's attempt to deal with the theological problem of assurance" of one's eternal life).
Theology of family
During the early 1840s, Smith unfolded a theology of family relations called the "New and Everlasting Covenant"
Author's sources: *Roberts (1909) , pp. 502–07 (1842 revelation describing the New and Everlasting Covenant).
that superseded all earthly bonds.
Author's sources: *Foster (1981) , pp. 161–62.
He taught that outside the Covenant, marriages were simply matters of contract,
Author's sources: *Foster (1981) , pp. 161–62 (quoting a source stating that in Smith's view, sex within earthly marriages was not sinful if the marriage was cemented by bonds of love and affection, but sex could be sinful even within marriage if the partners were alienated from each other).
and Mormons outside the Covenant would be mere ministering angels to those within, who would be gods.
Author's sources: *Foster (1981) , p. 145.
To fully enter the Covenant, a man and woman must participate in a "first anointing", a "sealing" ceremony, and a "second anointing".
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , pp. 497–98 (those who were married eternally were then "sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise" through the second anointing); Brooke (1994) , pp. 256–57.
When fully sealed into the Covenant, Smith said that no sin nor blasphemy (other than the eternal sin) could keep them from their "exaltation," that is, their godhood in the afterlife.
Author's sources: *Roberts (1909) , pp. 502–03; Bushman (2005) , pp. 497–98 (the second anointing provided a guarantee that participants would be exalted even if they sinned); Brooke (1994) , p. 257.
According to Smith, only one person on earth at a time—in this case, Smith—could possess this power of sealing.
Author's sources: *Roberts (1909) , pp. 501 ("I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this power in the last days, and there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this Priesthood are conferred.")
Smith taught that the highest exaltation would be achieved through "plural marriage" (polygamy),
Author's sources: *Foster (1981) , pp. 206–11; Compton (1997) , pp. 11, 22–23; Smith (2008) , pp. 356; Brooke (1994) , p. 255; Brodie (1971) , p. 300; Bushman (2005) , p. 443 (noting that a modern Mormon interpretation of Smith's 1843 polygamy revelation ties both polygamy an monogamy to degrees of exaltation).
which was the ultimate manifestation of this New and Everlasting Covenant.
Author's sources: *Bloom (1992) , p. 108 (polygamy and consequent progression towards godhood were "the true essence of becoming a Latter-day Saint, the heart of Mormon religion making.").
Plural marriage allowed an individual to transcend the angelic state and become a god
Author's sources: *Bloom (1992) , p. 105.
by accelerating the expansion of one's heavenly kingdom.
Author's sources: *Foster (1981) , p. 145 ("[I]f marriage with one wife...could bring eternal progression and ultimate godhood for men, then multiple wives in this life and the next would accelerate the process, in line with God's promise to Abraham that his seed eventually would be as numerous as the sand on the sea shore."); Brodie (1971) , p. 300 ("[I]f a man went to heaven with ten wives, he would have more than ten-fold the blessings of a mere monogamist, for all the children begotten through these wives would enhance his kingdom.").
Smith taught and practiced this doctrine secretly but publicly denied it.
Author's sources: *Brodie (1971) , pp. 185–86, 246, 307, 321, 344, 374, 377; Bushman (2005) , p. 491 (Smith denied he was advocating polygamy).
Nevertheless, Smith taught that once he revealed the doctrine to any man or woman, failure to practice it would be to risk God's wrath.
Author's sources: *Roberts (1909) , pp. 501, 507 ("[A]ll those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same;...and if ye abide not that covenant, then ye are damned." If a polygamist husband "teaches unto [his wife] the law of my Priesthood as pertaining to these things, then shall she believe and administer unto him, or she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord your God, for I will destroy her."); Bushman (2005) , p. 438 (noting the 1843 revelation about being "damned," and Smith's statements that unless he started to marry plural wives, an angel would slay him); Brodie (1971) , p. 342 (The 1843 revelation "threatened destruction to any wife who refused to accept the new law".)
History and eschatology
Smith taught that during a Great Apostasy, the Bible had degenerated from its original inerrant form, and the "abominable church," led by Satan, had perverted true Christianity.
Author's sources: *Hullinger (1992) , p. 154.
He viewed himself as the latter-day prophet who restored those lost truths via the Book of Mormon
Author's sources: *Hullinger (1992) , p. 154-54 (describing how the Book of Mormon solved various 19th century biblical controversies).
and later revelations. He described the Book of Mormon as a literal "history of the origins of the Indians."
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , p. 94; Roberts (1902) , p. 315 ("The Book of Mormon is a record of the forefathers of our western tribes of Indians.").
The book called the Indians "Lamanites," a people descended from Israelites who had left Jerusalem in 600 BCE
Author's sources: *Smith (1830) , p. 51 (Jesus "cometh according to the words of the angel, in six hundred years from the time my father left Jerusalem."); Phelps (1833) , p. 41 ("Lamanites are a remnant" of the Jews).
and whose skin pigmentation was a curse for their sinfulness.
Author's sources: *Brodie (1971) , p. 43; Smith (1830) , p. 73 (God "caused the cursing to come upon them... because of their iniquity.... [W]herefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people, therefore the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.").
Though Smith first identified Mormons as gentiles, he began teaching in the 1830s that the Mormons, too, were literal Israelites.
Smith also claimed to have regained lost truths of sacred history through his revelations and revision of the Bible. For example, he taught that the Garden of Eden had been located in Jackson County, Missouri, that Eve's partaking of the fruit was part of God's plan,
Author's sources: *2 Nephi 2:22-25
that Adam had practiced baptism, that the descendants of Cain were "black,"
Author's sources: *Hill (1977) , p. 385 (citing Book of Moses 7:22).
that Enoch had built a city of Zion so perfect that it was taken to heaven,
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , pp. 138–41.
that Egypt was discovered by the daughter of Ham,
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , p. 288.
that the descendants of Ham were denied the patriarchal right of priesthood,
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , p. 288; Hill (1977) , p. 385.
that Abraham had discovered astronomical truths by peering into a Urim and Thummim,
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , pp. 453–55.
that King David had been denied his godhood because of his sin, and that John the Apostle would walk the earth until the Second Coming of Jesus.
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , p. 74.
Smith declared that he would be one of the instruments in fulfilling Nebuchadnezzar's statue vision in the Book of Daniel: that he was the stone that would destroy secular government without "sword or gun",
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , pp. 521.
which would then be replaced with a theocratic Kingdom of God.
Author's sources: *Brodie (1971) , pp. 356–57; Bushman (2005) , p. 521; Bloom (1992) , p. 90 (Smith identified himself as the stone).
Smith taught that this political kingdom would be multidenominational and "democratic" so long as the people chose wisely; but there would be no elections.
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , pp. 522–23.
Jesus would appear during the Millennium as the ultimate ruler. Following a thousand years of peace, Judgment Day would be followed by a final resurrection, when all humanity would be assigned to one of three heavenly kingdoms.
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , pp. 521, 536–37.
Smith ran for President of the United States in 1844, campaigning as "General Joseph Smith" because he had earlier been appointed Lieutenant General of the Nauvoo Legion. Smith considered the United States Constitution, and especially the Bill of Rights, to be inspired by God and "the Saints' best and perhaps only defense."
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , p. 377.
He believed a strong central government crucial to the nation's well-being but thought democracy better than tyranny—although he also taught that a theocratic monarchy was the ideal form of government.
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , p. 522.
In foreign affairs, Smith was an expansionist, though he viewed "expansionism as brotherhood."
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , p. 516: "If Texas petitions Congress to be adopted among the sons of liberty, give her the right hand of fellowship; and refuse not the same friendly grip to Canada and Mexico."
Smith favored a strong central bank and high tariffs to protect American business and agriculture. He disfavored imprisonment of convicts except for murder, preferring efforts to reform criminals through labor; he also opposed courts-martial for military deserters. He supported capital punishment but opposed hanging,
Author's sources: *Roberts (1902) , p. 435.
preferring execution by firing squad or beheading in order to "spill [the criminal's] blood on the ground, and let the smoke thereof ascend up to God."
Author's sources: *Roberts (1909) , p. 296.
Despite having published a pro-slavery essay in 1836,
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , pp. 289, 327–28 (the essay "exhibited the conventional prejudiced of his day in asserting that blacks were cursed with servitude by a 'decree of Jehovah.'"); Hill (1977) , p. 381 (noting that Smith did not want to be identified as an abolitionist, even when he disfavored slavery).
Smith later strongly opposed slavery.
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , p. 289; Hill (1977) , pp. 380, 383 (citing 1833 revelation stating that "it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another").
During his presidential campaign, he proposed abolishing slavery by 1850 and compensating slaveholders
Author's sources: *Hill (1977) , p. 384.
through sale of public lands.
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , pp. 516, 327–28. Smith also proposed cutting congressional pay from eight to two dollars per day and requiring only two representatives per million people, thus reducing the number of representatives in the House to forty.
Smith did not believe blacks to be genetically inferior to whites;
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , p. 289; Hill (1977) , pp. 384–85.
he welcomed both freemen and slaves into the church and even ordained free black members into the priesthood
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , p. 289; Hill (1977) , pp. 381–82, 85.
But he opposed baptizing slaves without permission of their masters, and he opposed miscegenation.
Author's sources: *Bushman (2005) , p. 289; Hill (1977) , p. 379.
Ethics and behavior
Smith said his ethical rule was, "When the Lord commands, do it";
Author's sources: *Roberts (1904) , p. 170.
and by issuing revelations, Smith supplemented biblical imperatives with new directives. One of these revelations, called the "Word of Wisdom," was framed not as a commandment, but as a recommendation. Coming at a time of temperance agitation,
Author's sources: *Brodie (1971) , p. 166; Bushman (2005) , p. 212 (revelation "came at a time when temperance and food reforms were flourishing in the United States").
the guideline recommended that Saints avoid "strong" alcoholic drinks, wine (except sacramental wine), tobacco, meat (except in times of famine or cold weather), and "hot drinks."
Author's sources: *Smith (1835)
Smith and other contemporary church leaders did not always follow this counsel.
Author's sources: *Brodie (1971) , p. 289 (Smith drank wine "with relish" and noted his drinking in his journal "without apology."); Bushman (2005) , p. 213 ("Joseph drank tea and a glass of wine from time to time."); Ostling (1999) , pp. 177–78 (Smith "himself liked a nip every now and then, especially at weddings." His own Mansion House, which operated a hotel, maintained a fully stocked barroom, and Nauvoo also had a brewery that advertised in the church newspaper." According to Smith's fellow prisoner John Taylor, "the prophet requested and drank wine at Carthage Jail the night before his was murdered in 1844.").
In 1831, Smith taught that those who kept the laws of God had "no need to break the laws of the land."
Author's sources: *Phelps (1833) , p. 135.
Nevertheless, beginning in the mid-1830s and into the 1840s, as the Mormon people became involved in conflicts with the Missouri and Illinois state governments, Smith taught that "congress has no power to make a law that would abridge the rights of my religion," and that they were not under the obligation to follow laws they deemed as being contrary to their "religious privilege."
Author's sources: *Quinn (1994) , p. 88.
He also taught that:that which is wrong under one circumstance, may be and often is, right under another. God said thou shalt not kill—at another time he said thou shalt utterly destroy. This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the elders of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right...even things which may be considered abominable to all those who do not understand the order of heaven.
Author's sources: *Quinn (1994) , p. 112 (quoting a letter Smith wrote to the 19 year old daughter of Sidney Rigdon to justify Smith's polygamous proposal to her).
Smith may thus have felt justified in promoting polygamy despite its violation of both traditional ethical standards and the criminal law.
Author's sources: *Quinn (1994) , pp. 88–89.
In 1842 Smith published the "Articles of Faith," a short document later canonized, which declared that members of the church believed in "honoring, obeying, and sustaining the law."
Author's sources: *12th Article of Faith. Pearl of Great Price.
|Wikipedia references for "Joseph Smith, Jr."|
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- Compton, Todd, (1997), In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith Signature Books .
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- Widmer, Kurt, (2000), Mormonism and the Nature of God: A Theological Evolution, 1830–1915 McFarland .
Articles on this subject
- For an overview on this subject, see
- Mormonism and Wikipedia: The Church History That "Anyone Can Edit", Roger Nicholson, Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, Vol. 1, 2012. 151-190
- "Wiki Wars: In battle to define beliefs, Mormons and foes wage battle on Wikipedia", Michael De Groote, Deseret News, January 30, 2011.
- "Something Wiki This Way Comes: How collaborative editing is changing the face of online LDS apologetics", R. Scott Lloyd, Church News, August 8, 2011.
- Something Wiki This Way Comes: How Collaborative Editing is Changing the Face of Online LDS Apologetics. A close look at the challenges and history of editing LDS topics in a Wikipedia. This is a 2011 FAIR conference presentation by Roger Nicholson, in PDF format.
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