Question: Was Bishop M'Kendree, a Methodist revivalist preacher, the model for King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon?

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Question: Was Bishop M'Kendree, a Methodist revivalist preacher, the model for King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon?

The parallels between the Methodist camp meeting at which M'Kendree appeared and King Benjamin's speech are general, sometimes manufactured, and likely coincidental

It is claimed by some who believe that Joseph Smith fabricated the Book of Mormon on his own, that Bishop M'Kendree—a Methodist revivalist preacher in Joseph Smith's era—was the model for "King Benjamin" in the Book of Mormon. An account by from Benjamin Paddock is usually cited in support of this claim. M'Kendree appeared at a Methodist camp meeting that was held one mile from Palmyra, New York, on 7 June 1826.

The parallels between the Methodist camp meeting and King Benjamin's speech are general, sometimes manufactured, and likely coincidental.

  • There is no evidence that Joseph Smith was even in the area in which the conference occurred.
  • The critics confuse and combine different events and do not accurately report those events.
  • The critics misreport the events in ways that seem calculated to make them seem more like the Book of Mormon than they were.
  • The matter for which the conference was talked about had nothing to do with the matter which the critics try to make the source for the Book of Mormon.

As with many of Grant Palmer's comparisons, once one takes the time to look at the comparison that he makes, and the actual sources he uses, one finds that the argument is not as compelling as Palmer believes it to be. This is not to say that there aren't some parallels, but let us first look at matters which Palmer must address before we can give much weight to his claim.

Historical background of the Methodist Camp meeting and M'Kendree's participation in it

Here is the historical background from Palmer:

Protestant concepts appear to abound in his discourses and experiences. For example, a Methodist camp meeting was held one mile from Palmyra, New York, on 7 June 1826 - a pivotal time in Joseph's life. Preparations for a camp meeting included leasing and consecrating the ground. Thus the "ground within the circle of the tents is considered sacred to the worship of God, and is our chapel." The Methodists referred to these "consecrated grounds" as their "House of God" or temple. The Palmyra camp meeting reportedly attracted over 10,000 people. Families came from all parts of the 100-mile conference district and pitched their tents facing the raised "stand" where the preachers were seated, including one named Benjamin G. Paddock (fig. 20). This large crowd heard the "valedictory" or farewell speech of their beloved "Bishop M'Kendree [who] made his appearance among us for the last time." He was the Methodist leader who "had presided" over the area for many years. The people had such reverence for this "sainted" man "that all were melted, and ... awed in his presence." In his emaciated and "feeble" condition, he spoke of his love for the people and then delivered a powerful message that covered "the whole process of personal salvation." Tremendous unity prevailed among the crowd, and "nearly every unconverted person on the ground" committed oneself to Christ. At the close of the meeting, the blessings and newly appointed "Stations of the Preachers" were made for the Ontario district.[1]

We can see where he wants to put emphasis for our easy comparison. Palmer's primary source is the memoir of this Benjamin G. Paddock. This book is available on-line.

It is unlikely that Joseph would have made the trip back to Palmyra to attend this event

The material cited by Palmer is on pages 177–181. A complete copy of this text is available in the wiki here (so that readers can examine it easily in its original context). Palmer actually seems far more concerned about making his parallels than he is about accuracy. Perhaps he believed that using an obscure source would allow him to be a little loose with the details. Here are three major problems with this particular little bit of text written by Palmer:

  1. While Joseph Smith's home is in Palmyra in June of 1826, Joseph himself is boarding with his future Father-in-law Isaac Hales, in Harmony Pennsylvania in 1826. It seems unlikely that Joseph would have made the trip back to Palmyra to attend this event.
  2. Can be seen from reading the full text, there are two concurrent events: The first is a Conference (an annual Conference for this religious group, much like LDS General Conference). For that event, there is a stage set up, the leading preachers are up on the stage, and some of them speak. The second is the camp meeting, which is associated with this first event. The camp meeting was held at the same time as the Conference, but it wasn't the same thing—and as Benjamin Paddock's memoir relates, "A great camp-meeting was held in connection with it. The ground was only about a mile from the village, so that members of the Conference not immediately and specially employed could take part in its services. At that early day, and previously, meetings of the kind were not unfrequently held in the neighborhood of our Annual Conferences; but the present one was exceptionally large." In other words, there was a camp that was often set up near the conference, and those who weren't tied up with the conference itself would go and preach to the crowd at the camp-meeting. The reason why this is interesting is that the camp meeting wasn't the reason why Bishop M'Kendree was there. And there isn't any indication that Bishop M'Kendree attended the camp meeting.
  3. Palmer says that Bishop M'Kendree gives a farewell speech. The reports are conflicted. Paddock tells us (referring to the Conference) that: "He was too feeble to preside, and occupied the chair only once or twice, and then only for a few minutes at a time. Still, however, at the urgent request of Bishop Hedding and leading members of the Conference, he signed the Journals at the close of the session as one of its presiding officers. Brethren were anxious to secure at least his signature as a memorial of his visit." So, here, it isn't mentioned as a farewell speech, although he does get up once or twice it notes.

The other account comes from George Peck's 1860 book Early Methodism within the bounds of the old Genesee Conference from 1788 to 1828: or the first forty years of Wesleyan evangelism in northern Pennsylvania, central and western New York, and Canada on pages 509-510:

1826. The conference met at Palmyra, 7th of June. Bishops M'Kendree and Hedding were present.

This session of the conference is noticeable as the one in which Bishop M'Kendree made his appearance among us for the last time. He was at the first session and signed the journal. He had presided at the sessions up to the year 1816, inclusive, since which he had not paid us a visit. He came to take leave. He opened the first session, made an instructive address in the the form of an exposition upon the lesson read from the Scriptures, and finally gave us his valedictory. In the journal for Monday it is recorded that

Bishop M'Kendree delivered a very appropriate address to the members of this conference, which he supposed to be his valedictory." It did not prove to be, as he supposed, his valedictory! He appeared in the conference on the last day of the session, as the following record shows:

Bishop M'Kendree having addressed the conference on the importance of missionary exertions and Sunday schools, therefore,

Resolved, That this conference heartily concur in the sentiments expressed by the bishops, and pledge themselves to use their influence to promote the cause of missions and of Sunday schools throughout their respective circuits and stations."

So where does all of the stuff in Palmer's book come from about this farewell speech about "the whole process of personal salvation"?

So where does all of the stuff in Palmer come from about this farewell speech about "the whole process of personal salvation"? Well, that comes from Paddock's description of the camp meeting (not the conference) when on the Sabbath, five of the participants at the conference gave sermons at the camp meeting:

But the Sabbath was the great day of the feast. Beginning in the morning at eight o'clock, five sermons were preached before the services closed in the evning. Bishop Hedding and Dr. Bangs took the two appointments nearest the meridian of the day, and preached with even more than their ordinary freedom and power. At about five in the afternoon the stand was assigned to the Rev. Glezen Fillmore, then in the vigor of mature manhood, now - for he still lives, a blessing to the Church and the world - trembling on the extreme verge of time. The sermon was in his best stule - more carefully prepared and more effectively delivered than were his discourses generally. The latter part of it contemplated the whole process of personal salvation, from its incipiency to its consummation in the world of light."

So, according to the sources, it's not this Bishop M'Kendree who speaks on personal salvation, It is a Reverend Glezen Fillmore

So, it's not this Bishop M'Kendree who speaks on personal salvation, it's not even Benjamin Paddock (who it seems never addressed either the conference or the camp meeting - having only been in the ministry for two years at this point). It is a Reverend Glezen Fillmore, who wasn't feeble or old, but rather was in the prime of his life according to Paddock (he was actually 37 years old at the time), and he was preaching in Rochester in 1826 when he came to the conference.

Nowhere in either account is this man (Bishop M'Kendree) delivering a sermon on personal salvation

On top of all of this, Paddock describes an event at the conference which he calls remarkable:

The sermon was in his best style - more carefully prepared and more effectively delivered than were his discourses generally. The latter part of it contemplated the whole process of personal salvation, from its incipiency to its consummation in the world of light. Having traced the track of the believer, all along from the dawn of spiritual life till he had entered the land of Beulah, and was about to plume himself for his flight to the celestial city, the speaker paused as if struggling with irrepressible emotion, and, looking upward, exclaimed, "O God, hold thy servant together while for a moment he looks through the gates ajar into the New Jerusalem!"

To describe the effect would be quite impossible. A tide of emotion swept over the congregation that seemed to carry all before it. I was seated near Bishop Hedding, who, from fatigue, was reclining upon a bed under and a little to the rear of the stand. It had been noticed before that he was much affected by the sermon; but when the sentence given above was uttered, the tears almost literally spurted from his eyes, and his noble form shook as if under the resistless control of a galvanic battery. The Rev. Goodwin Stoddard exhorted, and invited seekers within the circle of prayer in front of the stand. Hundreds came forward; some said nearly every unconverted person on the ground. In the spring of 1828, when I was pastor in Rochester, the delegates from New England, on their way to the General Conference in Pittsburgh, called and spent the Sabbath with me. Almost the first thing they said after we met was, "Where is that brother that wanted God to hold him together while he looked into heaven a moment?" It seems that the good Bishop had reported the sermon in more circles than one, for others from the east made a similar inquiry.

This is the event for which this Conference with its camp-meeting was best remembered. So, nowhere in either account is this man (Bishop M'Kendree) delivering a sermon on personal salvation. His role in the community has been overstated by Palmer (he hasn't attended the previous seven conference between 1816 and 1826). Yes there are some similarities that can be drawn—but these are nothing but coincidental. Palmer is misrepresenting his sources to make the parallels seem much stronger (trying to make the platform stage of the conference resemble King Benjamin's tower, for example).

And, finally, this would have been more interesting if Joseph Smith had likely been present. But he probably wasn't, and what he would have heard about the conference might have been the remarkable event that Paddock refers to that was talked about for quite some time.

Notes

  1. Grant H. Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002) 96-97. ( Index of claims )