Question: Could Joseph Smith's theology as described in the Book of Abraham have been influenced by Thomas Dick's book The Philosophy of a Future State?

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Question: Could Joseph Smith's theology as described in the Book of Abraham have been influenced by Thomas Dick's book The Philosophy of a Future State?

Fawn Brodie suggested that Joseph Smith developed the theology described in the Book of Abraham by reading Thomas Dick’s The Philosophy of a Future State

This criticism was advanced by Fawn Brodie, who suggested that Joseph Smith developed the theology described in the Book of Abraham by reading Thomas Dick’s The Philosophy of a Future State. An excerpt from Dick’s work was published by Oliver Cowdery in the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate in December 1836,[1] therefore one could assume that Joseph had access to the book in the 1835-1836 timeframe during which the Book of Abraham was being produced. Dick's book was also in the possession of the Prophet by 1844, at which time he donated his copy to the Nauvoo Library and Literary Institute. [2]

It is also known that two of Dick's books were available in the Manchester Library, [3] although none of the Smith family were actually members of the library and were unlikely to have had access to its resources.[4] Based upon this circumstantial evidence, Brodie not only assumes that the Prophet must have read the book, but that he incorporated Dick’s ideas into the Book of Abraham.

Many of the ideas promoted by Thomas Dick were common Protestant beliefs, however, Joseph Smith rejected or contradicted many of the ideas put forth by Dick

It should first be noted that commentary on Abraham in Philosophy of a Future State does not mention him in any context that is similar to the Book of Abraham. There are references to "The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob"[5], to Abraham living as an intelligent being in another state at the time of Moses at the burning bush[6], to Abraham "giving up the ghost" and being "gathered to his people"[7] to Abraham being buried at Machpelah[8], to the ability to sit with "Abraham , and Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven."[9], and to Abraham's "[expectation] of a future city which had foundations, whose builder and maker is God." and that "He obtained no such city in the earthly Canaan; and therefore we must necessarily suppose, that his views were directed at the mansions of perpetuity beyond the confines of the present world."[10]. With regards to Moses, he is not mentioned in a context similar to that of the Book of Moses. There is reference to Moses being animated by the conviction of a future world and life [11], reference to Moses "being gathered to his people" as an evidence for the doctrine of afterlife in the Old Testament.[12] A reference to "holy intelligences" singing praises to God with the song of Moses--a reference to Revelations 15:3[13], another reference to the same verse on page 225, a reference to Moses as a possible messenger to John regarding the "New Jerusalem" mentioned in revelations,[14] and a reference to moses and others hypothetically forming "something approaching to a paradise on earth[15]. Many of the ideas promoted by Thomas Dick were common Protestant beliefs and were therefore available without having to read Dick’s work. Joseph Smith never made any public or written statements indicating that he was aware of or that he had ever read Dick’s book. The only evidence that even suggests the possibility is circumstantial and is based upon the appearance of several passages from A Philosophy of a Future State in the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. More importantly, Joseph Smith rejected or contradicted many of the ideas put forth by Dick in A Philosophy of a Future State. It is therefore unlikely, contrary to Brodie’s speculation, that Joseph had been “recently reading” Dick’s work and that it made a “lasting impression” upon the Prophet.[16][17]

Notes

  1. Oliver Cowdery (editor), "ON THE ABSURDITY OF SUPPOSING THAT THE THINKING PRINCIPLE IN MAN WILL EVER BE ANNIHILATED," (December 1836) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 3:423-425. (An extract from "Thomas Dick's Philosophy of a Future State.") It should be noted that the November 1836 date given for this article given by Brodie in No Man Knows My History on page 171 is incorrect.
  2. Kenneth W. Godfrey, "A Note on the Nauvoo Library and Literary Institute," BYU Studies 14, no. 3 (1974) off-site
  3. Robert Paul, "Joseph Smith and the Manchester (New York) Library," Brigham Young University Studies 22 no. 3 (1982), 333–356.
  4. John Brooke, The Refiner's Fire (Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 207.
  5. Dick, Thomas "Philosophy of a Future State" (William Collins: South Frederick Street, Glasgow, Paternoster Row, London. 1830) 121 off-site(accessed 17 December 2018)
  6. Ibid
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid, 123
  10. Ibid, 119
  11. Ibid., 119
  12. Ibid., 121
  13. Ibid., 125
  14. Ibid., 276
  15. Ibid., 279
  16. Hugh Nibley, No, Ma'am, That's Not History: A Brief Review of Mrs. Brodie's Reluctant Vindication of a Prophet She Seeks to Expose (Bookcraft: 1946). off-site
  17. Jones, pp. 94-6.