Question: Did Joseph Smith "retrofit" his "treasure seeking" to have a religious explanation?

Table of Contents

Question: Did Joseph Smith "retrofit" his "treasure seeking" to have a religious explanation?

Critics claim that Moroni was originally conceived of as a treasure guardian by Joseph, and only later came to be seen as a divine messenger, an angel

The attitude of acceptance toward money-digging in general society changed later in the century, and certainly became a liability for Joseph among the educated and sophisticated, such as newspaper publishers and clergy. His use of a seer stone provided further ammunition for his critics. For example, it is now claimed by one critic of the Church that "As a youth and young adult Joseph Smith engaged in folk magic and treasure digging, promoting himself as one who could help others find buried treasure by placing a magic stone in a hat." [1]

The earliest documents strongly suggest that Joseph and those close to him always understood Moroni as an angelic messenger, with a divine role

Claims that Joseph "retrofitted" his visions with religious trappings after the fact often beg the question, and ignore crucial evidence. In fact, the earliest accounts treat the matter as religious; this is true even of skeptical newspaper reports, as well as a Smith family letter which shows that Joseph or his father considered Moroni "the Angel of the Lord" as early as 1828. [2]

Joseph and those around him may have also seen some aspects of Moroni in a "treasure guardian" role (and he certainly did guard something of both material and spiritual value—the gold plates) but this seems to have been a secondary conclusion, as they interpreted Joseph's experience through their own preconceptions and understanding.

However, Moroni's status as an angel and messenger from God, is well attested in the early sources. Interestingly, the "treasure guardian" motif becomes more common and distinct in later sources, especially those gathered by enemies of Joseph, who sought to discredit him through ridicule and association with the (increasingly disreputable) practice of "treasure digging." [3]

The Hofmann forgeries exaggerated "magic" and "occult" elements of treasure digging even further

The Hofmann forgeries gave great emphasis to the "money-digging" and "occult" aspects of Joseph's experience, and they unfortunately shaded a good deal of the initial scholarly discussion surrounding these issues. Hofmann's documents made the case "air-tight," so to speak, and so other clues along the way were given more weight. When the Hofmann documents collapsed, some authors were not willing to abandon the shaky interpretive edifice they had constructed. [4]

Notes

  1. John Dehlin, "Questions and Answers," Mormon Stories Podcast (25 June 2014).
  2. Mark Ashurst-McGee, "Moroni as Angel and as Treasure Guardian," FARMS Review 18/1 (2006): 34–100. [{{{url}}} off-site] wiki  (Key source)
  3. Larry E. Morris, "'I Should Have an Eye Single to the Glory of God’: Joseph Smith’s Account of the Angel and the Plates (Review of: "From Captain Kidd’s Treasure Ghost to the Angel Moroni: Changing Dramatis Personae in Early Mormonism")," FARMS Review 17/1 (2005): 11–82. off-site  (Key source)
  4. Stephen E. Robinson, "Review of D. Michael Quinn Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (1987)," Brigham Young University Studies 27 no. 4 (Date?), 88. PDF link; see also John Gee, "Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 185–224. [{{{url}}} off-site]; William J. Hamblin, "That Old Black Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 225–394. [{{{url}}} off-site]; Rhett S. James, "Writing History Must Not Be an Act of Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 395–414. [{{{url}}} off-site]