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An American Prophet's Record: The Diaries & Journals of Joseph Smith

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An American Prophet's Record: The Diaries & Journals of Joseph Smith

Scott H. Faulring, ed., An American Prophet's Record: The Diaries & Journals of Joseph Smith, 2nd ed., (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), lviii + 518 pages, Joseph Smith chronology and bibliography, prominent characters, map, index, paperback, ISBN 0-941214-78-8.

This extensive collection of the writings, personal musings and daily incidents of Joseph Smith's life, contains eleven different documents arranged in chronological order, and is bound in one inexpensive volume. Faulring has retained original spelling and punctuation as much as possible, as this review does in its quotes from the diaries and journals. The documents start with Joseph's first and only known attempt to record in his own hand the events surrounding the first vision, and chronicle his life from 1832 to June 22, 1844, five days before his death at the hands of the Carthage mob.

"We find repeated references throughout the diaries to Joseph's own violations of the Word of Wisdom."

This volume also includes a detailed introduction, a map of key locations, an extensive "Joseph Smith Chronology," brief biographical sketches of prominent characters and a "Joseph Smith Bibliography." As a suitable ending, the book's final twenty-one pages contain a very useful index.

Joseph's Daily Life

The contents of the diaries and journals are in turn humorous, boring, informative, dry and revealing. Through them we gain insight into Joseph's daily actions and attitudes. For example, part of the entry dated Saturday December 5th, 1835 reads,

I received a letter today from ... Parley Pratt's mother in law from Herkimer Co, NY of no consequence as to what it contained, but cost me 25 cents for postage. I mention this as it is a common occurrence and I am subjected to a great deal of expence in this way by those who I know nothing about, only that they are destitute of good manners . . . . common respect and good breeding would dictate them to pay postage on their letters. (p. 71)

These journals also record significant, and at times, amusing events within the community of the Latter-day Saints. Under the date of Saturday, April 28, 1838 we have the account of one Aaron Lyon, a presiding High Priest, who was in want of a wife, and accordingly "set his wits to work to get one." The entry continues,

He commences by getting (as he said) revelations from God that he must marry Mrs. Jackson, or that She was the woman to make his wife . . . . He therefore told Mrs. Jackson that he had had a revelation from God that her husband was dead & c. and that she must concent to marry him, or she would be forever miserable; for he had seen her future State of existance and that She must remember, that whom soever he blessed, would be blessed, and whom soever he cursed, would be cursed, influencing her mind if possible to believe his [priesthood] power was sufficient to make her forever miserable provided she complied not with his request &c. Accordingly they came to an agreement and were soon to be married, but fortunately, or unfortunately for both parties, previous to the arrival of the nuptial day, Behold! to the astonishment of our defendant, the husband of Mrs. Jackson arrived at home ...

The entry continues,

the old gentleman Lyon at this time (if not before) knew verry well that his God who gave these revelations (if revelations he had) must of course be no less than the devil and in order to palliate the justice of his crime, Saddled the whole burden upon the devil ... (p. 178).

After a severe verbal scourging by President Sidney Rigdon and George M. Hinkle, mercy, in the person of President Joseph Smith stepped forward and speaking on his behalf, ''saved him Still in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and in this last kingdom'' (p. 179).

This is an interesting insight into the life of Joseph Smith, for only eight years previous he found himself in a situation similar to that of Bro. Lyon. In 1830 Joseph had received a revelation that the brethren were to sell the copyright to the Book of Mormon in Canada. They failed to do so, (partly because the revelation sent them to the wrong town) and upon their return, accused Joseph Smith of falsely prophesying. Joseph responded "Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of man: and some revelations are of the devil." (Comprehensive History of the Church, Vol. 1, p. 165). Now, having been deceived by a false revelation himself, Joseph was able to show mercy to someone in the same circumstance.

Women and the Priesthood

The various diaries and journals also shed historical light on some of today's controversies. One example is that of women and the priesthood. At the present, LDS women are denied direct access to the privileges and blessings of priesthood. Yet on April 28, 1842 Joseph showed the women of the newly formed "Female Relief Society" how they would "come in possession of the privileges, blessings and gifts of the Priesthood" (p. 244). Apparently this did take place, for on Saturday, October 7,1843 "Hiram and his wife were blessed, ordained, and anointed [to the fulness of the priesthood]" (p. 418). Later, on Sunday October 23, "William Marks and wife anointed [to fulness of the priesthood and quorum of the anointed] 24 present" (p. 423). Given this precedent, one wonders if women will continue to be denied these same privileges and blessings today.

The Word of Wisdom

Another issue raised by the diaries is how much weight should be placed on the Word of Wisdom. There was obvious cause for confusion on the issue during Joseph's lifetime. As early as February 1834 we have this statement by Joseph Smith:

No official member in this Church is worthy to hold an office after having the word of wisdom properly taught him; and he, the official member, neglecting to comply with and obey it. The High Council of the Church then voted unanimously to accept this decision (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 117).

We find enforcement of this ruling in the excommunication of David Whitmer on April 13, 1838, the first charge against him being "for not observing the words of wisdom" (p. 174). This was also the charge brought against Elder Almon W. Babbitt on August19, 1835, as recorded in History of the Church, Vol. II, p. 252. Elder Babbitt admitted to the offense and said, "that he had taken the liberty to break the Word of Wisdom, from the example of President Joseph Smith, Jun., and others ..." This would seem like a typical attempt at blame-shifting, except that we find repeated references throughout the diaries to Joseph's own violations of the Word of Wisdom.

On January 20, 1843 the diary records, "Elder Hyde told of the excellent white wine he drank in the east [Palestine]. Joseph prophecied in the name of the Lord that he would drink wine with him in that country."

Another reference is under March 11, 1843. It reads,

Joseph said he had tea with his breakfast. His wife asked him if [it] was good. He said if it was a little stronger he should like it better, when Mother Granger remarked, "it is so strong and good I should think it would answer Both for drink and food (p. 332).

Friday, May 31, 1844 — "called to see Sister Richards who was very sick. Laid on hands. Directed some Raspberry tea and she was better." (p. 486).

Saturday, June 1, 1844 — "Drank a glass of beer at Moissers" (p. 486)

It is easy to see why the publication of these journals and diaries has made some in the upper echelons of Church leadership uneasy. Not so much that Joseph's drinking tea, wine or beer was wrong in and of itself but rather his inconsistency in maintaining a double standard was wrong. Apparently it is for this reason that all the above references to breaking the Word of Wisdom were edited out by Church leaders when they printed Joseph Smith's History of the Church (7 Vols.).

For example, in History of the Church, Vol. 6, p. 424, the entry for Friday, May 31, 1844 now reads,

called to see Sister Richards, who was sick. I administered to her laying on of hands, when she felt better.

Mysteriously, the raspberry tea has disappeared.

If the Bible does not support such restrictions, and Joseph himself did not take them seriously, is it right to make keeping the Word of Wisdom a necessary requirement for obtaining eternal life? (For one must go through the Temple to gain exaltation, one cannot go to the Temple without a recommend, and one cannot get a recommend if one has not kept the Word of Wisdom.)

The diaries contain much historical data, such as shedding further light on the issue of the Danites (p. 198), Joseph's early account of the First Vision which is quite different from the "official version" found in the Pearl of Great Price (p. 5), and various visions and revelations (pp. 118, 152, 157, 248, 392, 432). They also document Joseph's private instruction on celestial marriage to a few of the elders in May 1843 (p. 381), his own plural marriages in April 1842 and June 1843 (p. 387, 396), and his public forbidding of both the teaching and practice of plurality of wives on October 5, 1843 (p. 417). Scott H. Faulring and Signature Books have done a great service to students of Mormon history in letting the diaries speak for themselves. Obviously, all the material is not "faith promoting," but for those wanting to dig deeper into the life and times of Mormonism's founder, An American Prophet's Record will prove to be a valuable tool.