Section 1: A Young Man's Search for Answers

A Young Man's Search for Answers

The morning sun shone brightly, filtering down through the trees to a boy kneeling in fervent prayer. Fourteen-year-old Joseph was confused by the religious tumult of his time. Traditional churches were racked with division. New sects were everywhere. Which group should he join? On bended knee he asked: "Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?"

"Thus Joseph Smith described his early spiritual crisis. Little wonder he was confused. This was rural northeastern America in the early 19th century, a region ablaze with religious fervor.

[Footnote: "Historians later dubbed this area in western New York State the burned-over district because of the waves of short-lived religious revivals that swept the region during the early 1800's."]

It is quite appropriate to begin a discussion of "Mormonism" with Joseph Smith, as a true church cannot rest on a false prophet. Unfortunately, most of the criticism has been recycled by naysayers for more than one hundred years with little originality. Take, for instance, the "burned-over district," mentioned in these opening paragraphs. People mention the "burned-over district" because they seek to undermine what Joseph Smith did as merely one of countless religious movements of his day, and therefore lacking in originality. What they fail to mention is that the same thing can be said of the Jerusalem area at the time of Christ's original church.1 Satan always tries to undermine God's works with counterfeits.2

It is also interesting to note that the bible study group that became the Jehovah's Witnesses had its beginnings only forty years after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began, and only 300 miles away, by one Charles Taze Russell. Mr. Russell disputed many beliefs of mainstream Christianity based on his own Bible studies, and sought to revive the truth as he saw it. Apparently, Joseph Smith was only one of many confused by the religious fervor and multitude of Biblical interpretations in that region at that time.

You can read about Joseph Smith's search for truth, in his own words, by reading Joseph Smith - History, Chapter 13.

Hope was sorely needed. Many farmers struggled with a life as hard as the rocky soil they plowed. Yearning for something better, they were tantalized by tales of buried Indian treasure. So they combed the hills, armed with magic seer stones, incantations, and divining rods. Local legends told of a great Indian civilization that perished in a terrible battle somewhere in New York State.

While I am tremendously excited to begin a discussion on this topic, you will just have to wait until Section 9: Historical Enigmas. Don't peek!

Popular preachers of the day fanned the fires of speculation, saying that the American Indians were descended from the ten tribes of Israel. In 1823, for example, Ethan Smith wrote the book View of the Hebrews; or the tribes of Israel in America.

Gordon B. Hinckley, former president of the LDS Church, said:

It is strange to me that unbelieving critics must still go back to the old allegations that Joseph Smith wrote the book out of ideas gained from Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews and Solomon Spaulding's manuscript. To compare the Book of Mormon with these is like comparing a man to a horse. It is true they both walk, but beyond this there is little similarity4.

The LDS Church is apparently not too concerned about the content of these books, either, because they are both available to read online at the BYU Religious Studies Center website. You can read them for yourself, at the following links:

There is also a Spaulding Manuscript page on lds.org, the official website of the LDS Church, that gives some background.

Notes

  1. "Josephus describes four schools of Judaism that existed at the time of Christ, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Essenes and the Zealots. However, there were many sub-groups even of the Pharisees. It is like today, how many different types of "Protestant" churches are there? Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Pentecostals are all Protestant but are all very different. There was a similar variety among the Jewish sects at the time of Jesus." Jewish Sects at the Time of Christ, Aramaic Herald, July 27, 2010. http://aramaicherald.blogspot.com/2010/07/jewish-sects-at-time-of-christ.html
  2. See my article on the Mormon Chronicle website, entitled "Light for Darkness."
  3. https://www.lds.org/scriptures/pgp/js-h/1?lang=eng
  4. "My Testimony.", Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign, Nov. 1993: 51.