Question: Did Joseph Smith appear in public smoking a cigar right after teaching a sermon on the Word of Wisdom?

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Question: Did Joseph Smith appear in public smoking a cigar right after teaching a sermon on the Word of Wisdom?

This accusation was made by Amasa Lyman, who had already been excommunicated from the Church

Abraham H. Cannon made an entry in his diary stating that Amasa Lyman saw Joseph Smith smoking the cigar immediately after delivering a sermon on the Word of Wisdom and that he immediately afterward "rode through the streets smoking a cigar" in order to try "the faith of the Saints."[1] At the time that Lyman made this accusation, he had already been excommunicated from the Church.

We ought to start with a degree of suspicion when we hear stories like this, because Joseph really did to things on occasion to test the Saints

These sorts of things really call into question a lot of these kinds of stories - especially when they are published long after the events they claim to be portraying (and the cigar story is certainly that). By the time these stories develop, we have these cultural myths being created about Joseph Smith. And so when we have this story about the Amasa Lyman encounter that first shows up in Abraham Canon's journal in 1895, we ought to start with a degree of suspicion. The problem we have with stories like this is that Joseph really did on occasion do things to test the Saints. He liked to go down to the boats at Nauvoo dressed poorly so as to interact with the new converts coming in to Nauvoo and to see what their expectations were. He regularly acted in ways that some thought were inappropriate for a prophet. One of the more widely known stories in the later 19th century was this one, recorded by William Allred and published in 1892:

I was with him [Joseph Smith] in the troubles at DeWitt, Adam-ondi-ahman, and in Far West. I have played ball with him many times in Nauvoo. He was preaching once, and he said it tried some of the pious folks to see him play ball with the boys. He then related a story of a certain prophet who was sitting under the shade of a tree amusing himself in some way, when a hunter came along with his bow and arrow, and reproved him. The prophet asked him if he kept his bow strung up all the time. The hunter answered that he did not. The prophet asked why, and he said it would lose its elasticity if he did. The prophet said it was just so with his mind, he did not want it strung up all the time. Another time when I heard him preaching he said if he should tell the people all the Lord had revealed to him, some would seek his life. Even as good a man as old Father C—-, here on the stand, he added, (pointing back to him) would seek his life.[2]

There is this story, and it sounds like something we might expect, but it tends to have problems when we realize that this entire story is based on a much older story about the New Testament apostle John. Here is a version of that story, published by Fracis De Sales, in 1609:

It is necessary sometimes to relax our minds as well as our bodies by some kind of recreation. St. John the Evangelist, as Cassian relates, was one day found by a huntsman with a partridge on his hand, which he was caressing for his recreation. The huntsman asked how such a man as he could spend his time in so poor and mean an occupation? St. John replied: Why dost thou not carry thy bow always bent? For fear, answered the huntsman, that if it were always bent, it would loose its spring and become useless. Be not surprised, then, replied the apostle, that I should sometimes remit a little of the close application and attention of my spirit and enjoy a little recreation, that I may afterward employ myself more fervently in divine contemplation.[3]


Notes

  1. October 1895 entry in theDiary of Abraham H. Cannon, Volume 19
  2. [citation needed]
  3. [citation needed]