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Defending the Faith: Four testimonials of the Prophet Joseph Smith

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  • Weber State Graduate Clearfield, UT
    April 10, 2014 7:00 a.m.

    "It seems obvious to me that, when evaluating Joseph Smith, the judgments of contemporaries who knew him best ought to be given special emphasis."

    If Peterson is going to travel down this road, perhaps the judgments of contemporaries who knew James Strang "ought to be given special emphasis" regarding Strang's claim as the sole legitimate leader of the Church after the death of Joseph Smith.

    Followers of Strang make a similar argument that Peterson makes about Smith. Strang was allegedly "supported by all of the family of Joseph Smith. He was joined by the mother, wife, and three sisters of Joseph Smith. He was sustained by the only surviving brother of Joseph Smith, and his brothers-in-law. He was believed by all of the living Book of Mormon witnesses, except one who was no longer a member of the church."

    I don't see Strang's followers trumping Smiths, but it certainly can be reduced to a silly debate about how my contemporaries should be given more "special emphasis" than yours...as if this somehow adds more credibility to a claim...so why even bring it up?

  • Mountanman Hayden, ID
    April 10, 2014 7:30 a.m.

    Yet another excellent article by Dr. Peterson. Thank you!

  • eastcoastcoug Danbury, CT
    April 10, 2014 8:37 a.m.

    The research of the past decade or so has certainly yielded a lot of great information about Joseph Smith and early church history. Along with it, there are many legitimate issues as well as distractions that often make it difficult to discern what really happened.

    For me, I feel the content of the Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price are more significant and impactful than how they were translated. It would all be supernatural - whether Joseph Smith looked through ancient eyepieces or looked into a hat or saw writing in the sky. For me the result (the content) and what it does for my understanding of the world, for my faith, my ability to see others as spirit children of a living God, that is what matters.

    As for the recent writings on the character of these people, it's great to have and I enjoy reading. I had many ancestors who were there and chose to sustain Joseph and Brigham as prophets. That carries a lot of weight for me. Who am I to say I'm smarter than they were, with what little I have to go on as physical evidence or character witnesses?

  • eastcoastcoug Danbury, CT
    April 10, 2014 8:49 a.m.

    WSU Grad,

    So let's go with your assumption here about Strang and his contemporaries. Since most of the Smith family and others you mentioned disavowed Strang before his death, that would seem to support Peterson's contention of going with "the judgment of contemporaries".

    Strang joined the LDS church just a few months before Joseph's murder. He was not already an Apostle or leader of any sort. His claim to the presidency rested on a letter that he claimed to have received from Joseph before Joseph's death. A letter some experts say has a forged signature.

    When you die, would you want your legacy represented by those who know you best, or those who do not??

  • Verdad Orem, UT
    April 10, 2014 9:03 a.m.

    I'm not sure that I see your point, Weber State Graduate.

    Are you really prepared to argue that, in judging the character of historical people, the evidence of those who knew them shouldn't be given any more attention than the opinions of those who didn't know them at all?

    Peterson didn't say that no other evidence should be taken into account, nor that the testimonies of acquaintances should trump everything else, but surely it's reasonable to pay special attention to what's said by those who were in the best position to know somebody at first hand.

    And, finally, Peterson has already written here about James J. Strang and his witnesses. I Googled it to be sure: He did a column about Strang on June 9, 2011. Look for "Deseret News Peterson James Strang." (I'm apparently not allowed to give the link here.)

  • Bob A. Bohey Marlborough, MA
    April 10, 2014 9:22 a.m.

    It appears that the writer of the article proposes that people who spoke/speak in a positive way about J.S. should be taken more seriously than those who do not. Interesting.

  • 1.96 Standard Deviations OREM, UT
    April 10, 2014 9:28 a.m.

    Weber State Graduate:

    Daniel Peterson wrote an article about James Strang on June 9, 2011 for DN. It is entitled, "Defending the Faith: The story behind James Strang and his sect." Do a search on DN and check it out for yourself. In summary, James Strang's close associates essentially called him a fraud and denied their testimonies. Later, James Strang was killed in 1856 by some of his own disaffected followers.

    Can you tell me of any legitimate fruits of James Strang that indicate he was to preside over the church after Joseph Smith died? What is his legacy?

  • Moontan Roanoke, VA
    April 10, 2014 9:32 a.m.

    @ Mr Bohey ... In your personal life, who's testimony is apt to be more accurate - those who speak well of you, or those who speak ill?

    This isn't to suggest our critics don't have truthful things to say, but I do believe, on the whole, a positive outlook is never as tainted as a negative one.

  • RockOn Spanish Fork, UT
    April 10, 2014 9:39 a.m.

    Nice article, Dan. And Bob, you are right. They should be taken more seriously.

  • fboy Bountiful, UT
    April 10, 2014 9:43 a.m.

    1.96

    "James Strang's close associates essentially called him a fraud and denied their testimonies. Later, James Strang was killed in 1856 by some of his own disaffected followers."

    Isn't that pretty much exactly what happened to Joseph Smith as well?

  • Steve C. Warren WEST VALLEY CITY, UT
    April 10, 2014 9:49 a.m.

    Although there is an excellent chance that Brigham Young on his deathbed was referring to Joseph Smith when he said "Joseph, Joseph, Joseph," there's also an excellent chance that he was referring to his son Joseph, who had died in August 1875. Joseph Young was the first male child of Brigham Young, who likely was strongly affected by his son's unexpected death.

    Brigham loved Joseph Smith, but let's not automatically assume that in passing from this life he was being greeted by Joseph Smith rather than his own son.

  • Church member North Salt Lake, UT
    April 10, 2014 10:15 a.m.

    I agree with Bob A. Bohey

    The church wants you to believe everything that was said that is positive about Joseph. And they want you to not believe anything that was said that makes him look bad. No surprise.

  • Church member North Salt Lake, UT
    April 10, 2014 10:18 a.m.

    To: Moontan

    You make some interesting points. Those closest to Warren Jeffs have very positive things to say about him. They even know that he is a prophet of God. Should we believe them as well? How do we tell the difference between all the people who proclaim to be prophets?

  • Verdad Orem, UT
    April 10, 2014 10:47 a.m.

    Bob A. Bohey and "Church member":

    Peterson wrote that special emphasis should be given to the testimonies of those who knew a person best. This seems to be a reasonable historical principle. He said nothing about rejecting negative comments and paying attention only to positive testimonials.

  • Ghostleigh Chandler, AZ
    April 10, 2014 10:58 a.m.

    I don't believe Joseph Smith was murdered by "some of his own disaffected followers" as fboy has queried.

  • 1aggie SALT LAKE CITY, UT
    April 10, 2014 11:41 a.m.

    I think a person's deeds should carry more weight than what his friends say. And in eveluating a person's deeds, all (un-whitewashed) information should be considered. Sources that attempt to obfuscate or cherry-pick facts should be discounted when weighing conflicting information regarding a person's deeds.

  • 1aggie SALT LAKE CITY, UT
    April 10, 2014 11:46 a.m.

    When evaluating testimonials as a form of judging character, we should remember that Goebbels, Goering, Himmler, and Hess has great things to say about you know who.

  • Brahmabull sandy, ut
    April 10, 2014 12:21 p.m.

    eastcoastcoug

    "When you die, would you want your legacy represented by those who know you best, or those who do not??"

    Perhaps those who don't know him best can give a more accurate and unbiased view of the true character of the person and the events surrounding them.

  • Moontan Roanoke, VA
    April 10, 2014 12:33 p.m.

    @Church Member: Good question. I'd side with a preponderance of the evidence, and toss in a healthy dose of 'follow my heart' and enough intellect to check any and all excess. Then I'd move through life content that my decision was upright if not all right, reminding myself now and again that I'll never have all the answers this side of eternity.

  • Bob A. Bohey Marlborough, MA
    April 10, 2014 12:41 p.m.

    @Verdad "Peterson wrote that special emphasis should be given to the testimonies of those who knew a person best. This seems to be a reasonable historical principle. He said nothing about rejecting negative comments and paying attention only to positive testimonials"

    Church member summed it up nicely for me: "Those closest to Warren Jeffs have very positive things to say about him. They even know that he is a prophet of God. Should we believe them as well? How do we tell the difference between all the people who proclaim to be prophets?"

    Now your comments leave the impression that you are somewhat intelligent and if that is the case am I to believe that you didn't comprehend that the writers intent was to persuade the readers that the positive accounts of J.S. should be taken more seriously than the negative? Shame on you.

  • Church member North Salt Lake, UT
    April 10, 2014 12:46 p.m.

    @Moontan

    I agree 100%. It is impossible to know one way of the other for sure. Anyone who tells you otherwise is mistaken or lying. No one knows what happens when we die. All we can do is live the best lives we can.

  • 1.96 Standard Deviations OREM, UT
    April 10, 2014 12:45 p.m.

    Church member:

    "How do we tell the difference between all the people who proclaim to be prophets?"

    Do you believe in Christ's teaching, "by their fruits ye shall know them?"

    Do you also believe God answer prayers with perfect clarity, leaving no room for doubt? I.E. By the power of the Holy Ghost?

  • Moontan Roanoke, VA
    April 10, 2014 1:22 p.m.

    @Church Member ... Hold on, please. Don't take my answer to your question re character and Warren Jeff, and apply it to my views of the Church, the Prophet, and the possibility or impossibility of life after death. That's quite a stretch there. If I tell you my favorite color for a vehicle is black, don't tell everyone Moontan's going to paint his house black.

  • antodav TAMPA, FL
    April 10, 2014 1:25 p.m.

    His name would be known for good and for evil, as Moroni said. That prophecy has definitely come true, and there is little ground in between. Like Christ himself, Joseph Smith was either exactly what he said he was, in which case he was one of the greatest men who ever lived, or he was a madman and a fraud, in which case nothing that he ever said or established can ever be assigned any value. But I have seen his work and tasted the fruit that it has born. I know that it is good, and thus I know that he was exactly what he professed to be: a true prophet of God, who restored the true Church of Jesus Christ onto the Earth again. My witness can be added onto those of the people quoted in this article. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

  • panamadesnews Lindon, UT
    April 10, 2014 7:31 p.m.

    To Bob A Bohey:

    No, he said that we should take seriously the testimonies of those who knew him best!

  • mark Salt Lake City, UT
    April 11, 2014 2:04 a.m.

    Actually the testimony of people closest to someone isn't always the best testimony in determining who that person was. For instance, as someone already pointed out, you can find praise for Hitler from those closest to him. Also you can find praise for Jim Jones, and Charles Manson from those who knew them.

    Not saying Mr. Smith was like these people, but just pointing our that people will give praise for many reasons. As far as Mr. Smith you can find testimony critical of him by people that knew him well also.

  • sharrona layton, UT
    April 11, 2014 7:44 a.m.

    RE:1.96 Standard Deviations, How do we tell the difference between all the people who proclaim to be prophets?" Do you believe in Christ's teaching, "by their fruits ye shall know them?" True,

    Fruits can be doctrine e.g…Not that which goes into the mouth defiles a man; but that which comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.(Mt 15:11)

    Wine(oinos) was used by Jesus 2:1-11, He turns water into wine not wine into water And Mt 11:19.. Timothy 1Tim 5:23.MT 9:17, Mark 2:22 implies fermentation. Jesus or would not be Temple worthy today.

    Wine (gleukos)denotes “sweet” new wine. Acts 2:13 where the accusation shows that it was intoxicant and must have been undergoing fermentation.

    JS,” In the very beginning the bible shows there is a plurality of Gods. Beyond the power of refutation”.(Hof C v. 6 p.476) Wrong,

    Genesis 1:1 Greek Septuagint In the beginning God (*o Theos, Grk. 2316). Clearly God, singular. *Nominative singular article.

  • Weber State Graduate Clearfield, UT
    April 11, 2014 8:46 a.m.

    I believe weber's point was pretty clear. It appears his post was to use Strang only as an example -- using the judgments of contemporaries as somehow deserving special emphasis is not any more valid for one person than it is another.

    By playing such a game, one could use "contemporaries" of all kinds of folks for special emphasis, but it doesn't make the claims of Joseph Smith or James Strang any more valid.

    Validating the Prophet Joseph Smith should be a matter of faith, which is a better approach, rather than what other people have to say – good or bad.

    I think weber never intended to rehash old arguments about Strang himself. At least that's how I understood his post.

  • 1aggie SALT LAKE CITY, UT
    April 11, 2014 10:19 a.m.

    The following statement was made above:

    "Joseph Smith was either exactly what he said he was, in which case he was one of the greatest men who ever lived, or he was a madman and a fraud, in which case nothing that he ever said or established can ever be assigned any value."

    I don't mean to mock here, but the above statement is false (and ridiculous) on its face. Of course a person can not be what they say they are and still do something good or valuable. One (or two) lies does not negate other good deeds.

    I bring this up because this type of (adoration) talk sounds crazy to logical nonbelievers (as does the excessive quoting of scriptures to nonbelievers) and immediately gets dismissed as hyperbolic nonsense. If you want to convince a logical nonbeliever of something, using "crazy talk" has no place in the discussion. I have not examined everything Joseph's friends said about him, but I can understand why testimonies using such hyperbole might be rejected offhand by nonbelievers.

  • Schnee Salt Lake City, UT
    April 11, 2014 11:44 a.m.

    @antodav
    "Joseph Smith was either exactly what he said he was, in which case he was one of the greatest men who ever lived, or he was a madman and a fraud"

    Yeah, unlike someone like Methodism's founder John Wesley, Joseph Smith doesn't leave much of a neutral option thanks to the Book of Mormon. Either it is what it's claimed to be, or it's a fraud. There's not really any room for a "well I think he's a sincere guy who is just wrong" position. It's kind of a shame because I don't believe in the Book of Mormon but would like to just believe that Joseph Smith was sincere and wrong but the hoops I have to jump through to make that position make sense are... well I never have had a high vertical leap.

  • Church member North Salt Lake, UT
    April 11, 2014 11:54 a.m.

    To 1.96 Standard Deviations:

    You say "Do you also believe God answers prayers with perfect clarity, leaving no room for doubt?"

    If God answered prayers with perfect clarity then why are there hundreds and hundreds of religions today. Wouldn't everyone pray and get the same answer? If you listen to people from other faiths talk they believe just as strongly as you that their church is true. And if you ask them how they "know" they will say God has told them. So maybe prayers are not as clear as you have been led to believe.

  • 1.96 Standard Deviations OREM, UT
    April 11, 2014 12:53 p.m.

    Church member:

    I take that as a "no" that you don't believe God answers prayers with perfect clarity.

    What are your thoughts or opinions of Jesus Christ?

  • Michigander Westland, MI
    April 11, 2014 12:56 p.m.

    The true successors to Joseph Smith in the Church Presidency were Sidney Rigdon and William Bickerton. Brigham Young was a fallen apostle.

    When BY died the words "Joseph, Joseph, Joseph" were not words of hopeful reunion, but were words of anguish and despair. Joseph Smith, in the paradise of God, could not save BY as BY was being dragged down to outer darkness.

  • Brahmabull sandy, ut
    April 11, 2014 4:07 p.m.

    Michigander

    While I certainly don't believe in the teachings of the current mormon church, I also do not believe that you know where Brigham Young's final resting place for the eternities will be. Anybody who makes a statement like that loses credibility immediately as there is no way to know that.

  • Michigander Westland, MI
    April 12, 2014 4:17 p.m.

    Brahmabull,

    ANYONE can know that for sure and for certain from the Book of Mormon (2Ne. 9:36; 26:32; 28:15).

  • donn layton, UT
    April 12, 2014 8:57 p.m.

    RE: Ghostleigh, I don't believe Joseph Smith was murdered by "some of his own disaffected followers" as fboy has queried.

    “I remember what Joseph said, a short time before he was slain in one of the last sermons I ever heard him preach. Said he, “Men are here today who are seeking my blood, and they are those who have held the Priesthood and have received their washings and anointing’s; men who have received their endowments.” I saw the faces of those men at that time, and they had a hand in slaying the Prophet. (JoD v 4 p 140).

    Whether Mormons killed JS or not is unimportant many important Mormons wanted to by taking an oath to kill him. (The Oath upon request) . Francis M Higbee was at a meeting of dissenters on April 28, 1844.

    Brigham Young comments on it.… when you feel like killing me for so doing, as some of the people did who called themselves brethren in the days of Joseph Smith, look out for yourselves, for false brethren were the cause of Joseph's death, and I am not a very righteous man.(JoD v 3 49.)

  • MoreMan San Diego, CA
    April 13, 2014 1:27 p.m.

    I say ask Emma, Oliver Cowdrey, and the editor of the Nauvoo Expositor.

  • VMan22 Sandy, UT
    April 15, 2014 9:58 a.m.

    I can understand "Defending the Faith" but I am not sure that extends to defending history. I mean wouldn't you be suspicious of person who was trying to defend Thomas Jefferson as a person? This all sounds too much like politics. Defend the "Faith" by focusing on which principles you are going to live by. Defend the "Faith" by living by a strong moral code, not flapping your lips about people who lived so long ago that you can't say for certainty anything regarding their character, it makes you look desperate.