Question: What did critics of the Church during Joseph Smith's lifetime think of the 1826 court hearing?

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Question: What did critics of the Church during Joseph Smith's lifetime think of the 1826 court hearing?

Critics of Joseph Smith's time ignored the 1826 court hearing

Critics of Joseph Smith's time ignored the 1826 court hearing:

  1. They didn't bring it up in another trial in the same area in 1830.
  2. It was not mentioned in any of the affidavits collected by Hurlbut in 1833, even though he was diligently looking for every piece of dirt he could find.
  3. Although the trial was briefly mentioned in 1831, it was not mentioned again in a published record for 46 years.

The attraction of this event for a later generation of critics, however, lies in the fact that:

  • Society had changed
  • Seer Stones were no longer acceptable
  • Treasure digging was considered abnormal
  • Spiritual gifts were reinterpreted as manifestations of the occult

Many people of the 1800s did not see any differences between what later generations would label as "magic" and religiously-driven activities recorded in the Bible

Many people of the 1800s did not see any differences between what later generations would label as "magic" and religiously-driven activities recorded in the Bible—such as Joseph's silver cup (see Genesis 44:2,5) in which 'he divineth' (which was also practiced by the surrounding pagans and referred to as hydromancy),[1] or the rod of Aaron and its divinely-driven power (Exodus 7:9-12).

The Bible records that Jacob used rods to cause Laban's cattle to produce spotted, and speckled offspring (see Genesis 30:37-39) — one can only imagine what the critics would say should Joseph Smith have attempted such a thing!

In Joseph Smith's own day other Christian leaders were involved in practices which today's critics would call 'occultic'

In Joseph Smith's own day other Christian leaders were involved in practices which today's critics would call 'occultic.' Quinn, for instance, observes that in "1825, a Massachusetts magazine noted with approval that a local clergyman used a forked divining rod.... Similarly, a Methodist minister wrote twenty-three years later that a fellow clergymen in New Jersey had used a divining rod up to the 1830s to locate buried treasure and the 'spirits [that] keep guard over buried coin'...." [2]

Activities of the early 1800s or Biblical times which later generations would view skeptically were simply thought of as part of how the world worked

It is important to realize that every statement about "magic" or the "occult" by LDS authors is a negative one. Joseph and his contemporaries would likely have shocked and dismayed to be charged with practicing "magic." For them, such beliefs were simply how the world worked. Someone might make use of a compass without understanding the principles of magnetism. This mysterious, but apparently effective, device was useful even if its underlying mechanism was not understood. In a similar way, activities of the early 1800s or Biblical times which later generations would view skeptically were simply thought of as part of how the world worked.

But, it is a huge leap from this realization to charging that Joseph and his followers believed they were drawing power from anything but a divine or proper source.

Notes

  1. D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1998), 30 ( Index of claims )
  2. Quinn, 5