Strangers and Pilgrims

Season 1 – Death of the Prophet Joseph Smith

Home of the Strangers and Pilgrims Podcast

Filtering by Category: Religion

Saul Bellow Visits Nauvoo

In 1957 Saul Bellow wrote an essay called "Illinois Journey".  In the essay he talks about the city of Nauvoo.  He says:

On the Mississippi a few hours south of Galena, the Mormons built a city at Nauvoo in 1819 and erected a temple.

I'll stop quoting here to point out that he is wrong -- Nauvoo as we know it was founded in 1840.  But, not everyone is right about everything.  In fact, as I've researched for this podcast, it has been interesting to see how many books and articles disagree with one another about history, and say completely opposite things -- even when it comes to the objective parts of their stories.

Anyway, Saul Bellow continues:

After the murder of the prophet Smith and his brother in neighboring Carthage, the Mormons emigrated under the leadership of Brigham Young, leaving many empty buildings. . .

Now, unobtrusively but with steady purpose, the Mormons have been coming back to Nauvoo.  They have reopened some of the old brick and stone houses in the lower town, near the Mississippi; they have trimmed the lawns and cleaned the windows and set out historical markets. . .

Nauvoo today is filled, it seemed to me, with Mormon missionaries who double as tourist guides.  When I came for information, I was embraced, literally, by an elderly man; he was extremely brotherly, hearty and familiar.  His gray eyes were sharp, though his skin was brown and wrinkled.  His gestures were ample, virile, and western, and he clapped me on the back as we sat talking, and gripped me by the leg.  As any man in his right mind naturally wants to be saved, I listened attentively, but less to his doctrines perhaps than to his western tones, wondering how different he could really be from other Americans of the same type.  I went to lie afterward beside the river and look at Iowa on the other bank, which shone like smoke over the pungent muddy water that poured into the southern horizon.  Here the Mormons had crossed. . .

I just found this quote today in a book I got from the library called "There Is Simply Too Much To Think About."  It's selections of Saul Bellow's non-fiction writings.

I am glad I didn't find the quote sooner -- I would have been tempted to put it in Episode 9 of the podcast.

I found the quote because I was in the book's index looking for "Eliot, T.S.", because I was trying to find a quote from the book I remembered reading that I wanted to make a blog post out of.

When I was in the C's, working my way to the E's, in the index, however, I noticed "Cabet, Etienne" and had to stop because I knew he was the founder of the Icarian movement that bought up land in Nauvoo after the Mormons left.  I went and read the entry in which Cabet was mentioned and was surprised to find that Saul Bellow, Nobel Prize in Literature holding Saul Bellow, had described a Latter-day Saint Senior Missionary in Nauvoo.  And, I had to write it down in a blog post because I think Saul Bellow is one of the great writers, and I am tickled that he wrote about a senior missionary in Nauvoo.

The Tomb of Joseph

At the end of Episode 1 of Season 1 of the podcast, I quote Joseph Smith as saying that Porter Rockwell was " a fellow-wanderer with myself— an exile from his home." 

That quote can be found here in the Book of the Law of the Lord

The Book of the Law of the Lord was a book of revelations, and journal entries, and notes, kept by Joseph Smith and his scribes for a year -- at least the Book that I have linked to was kept for a year, from December 1841 to December 1842.

In the Book of the Law of the Lord, Joseph Smith makes a request -- or expresses his desire -- that after he is dead he and all of his family members -- parents, siblings, wife, children, will be buried in a tomb he was currently building.  He asked that the tomb have written on it " the Tomb of Joseph, a descendant of Jacob."

A really great resource on this tomb of Joseph's can be found in this essay by Joseph D. Johnstun.

As we know, Joseph was never buried in the tomb.  In Episode 8 of the podcast we talk about how he was buried in an unmarked tomb to prevent his body being stolen by mobs trying to collect a bounty on his head.

The exact location of the tomb is unknown.  Though, the above article references a few possible locations.  It has also architectural drawings of the tomb.  Sketches of its possible location.  And, stories about it.

Hopefully, the Tomb of Joseph will make a brief appearance in Season 2 Episode 1 of the Strangers and Pilgrims podcast.



The Return of W.W. Phelps

In Episode 2 of the podcast, which you can listen to here on itunes and here on stitcher, i talk about how William Law -- the publisher of the Nauvoo Expositor -- was the latest in a long line of leaders of the early Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who left the church and started to fight against its founder, Joseph Smith.

In Episode 2 I talk about two of those men who left and how they both came back to the church after leaving it, and fighting against Joseph.  Those men were two members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles when they left -- Orson Hyde and Thomas Marsh.  Orson Hyde came back in 6 months and Thomas Marsh came back -- I think 18 years later.

Another leader of the religion that left and fought against Joseph was W.W. Phelps. 

In late 1837 Joseph Smith received a revelation telling him that W.W. Phelps had "done things which are not pleasing" in the sight of the Lord.  And, that if he didn't repent he would be "removed out of his place."

W.W. Phelps refused to be held accountable by the religion for whatever it was he did that was "not pleasing" to the Lord, and would be excommunicated from the religion in March 1838.

After being separated from the church for a space of time W.W Phelps would write a letter to Joseph asking for forgiveness.

In return, Joseph would send a letter back to Phelps telling him he had forgiveness.

Phelps would be rebaptized late June 1840.

After being rebaptized W.W. Phelps would write the hymn Praise to the Man in honor of Joseph Smith the Prophet.

The early years of the restored Church of Jesus Christ is full of great stories like this.

Slaying of a Wolf

The introduction episode of the podcast is out on iTunes.

It's up on Stitcher, too.

The intro is about 3 minutes long.

In the introduction I quote a guy that lived in Joseph Smith's county about the trial of some of the men who killed Joseph.   About 100 men murdered Joseph -- or 100 men were involved in the attack on him.  Only nine went to court for the crime, and all nine of them were found not guilty. 

Regarding these nine men being found not-guilty, this guy in Hancock County -- the county in which Joseph lived -- said,  “There was not a man on the jury, in the court, [or] in the county, that did not know the defendants had done the murder. But it was not proven.”

Another quote about the generally accepted anger and hatred against Joseph Smith comes from Parley P. Pratt, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the church Joseph founded). 

Parley said:

A few months or years spent in this miniature war in Hancock county had sufficed to possess many of the actors with the spirit of demons; and in the mind of any anti-Mormon there was nothing more criminal in the shooting of Smith than in the slaying of a wolf."

The death of Joseph Smith is the death of a man who his enemies are hunting like a wolf, and his friends are desperately trying to protect.



CLICK HERE to find it on iTunes.



The Nauvoo Charter

In researching and writing for this podcast on the death of Joseph Smith I read a lot of books, and articles, and things.

One of the books I read sections of was Zion in the Courts by Firmage & Mangrum.  They had a pretty good little section on The Nauvoo charter.

The Nauvoo charter is a large part of Joseph's death.   The Nauvoo charter was a bill that the Illinois Congress passed that allowed the city of Nauvoo to be incorporated -- it allowed Nauvoo to exist as a legal entity.  Nauvoo was the city that Joseph Smith, and a large portion of Latter-day Saints, lived in when Joseph was killed -- and a city of which Joseph was mayor.  It's a city they built when they were refugees.

One of the goal's of Joseph's enemies, during the last 6 months of his life, was to destroy Nauvoo's charter so that the city would lose a lot of the privileges given to it by the state.

As you listen to the podcast we'll talk more about the charter, and more about how they tried to destroy it, and how that figured into their ultimate goal of Joseph's death.



Why The Website (was)

NOTE: Before the website for my podcast was it was -- before I changed it, though, I had already written this blog post.  I like it, so, I'm not taking it down.

I have always loved the section of Alexander Pope's An Essay on Criticism where he talks about the Pierian Spring.  In that section he says:

A little learning is a dang'rous thing;

Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:

There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,

And drinking largely sobers us again

As I was researching the story of the Death of Joseph Smith for Season 1 of this podcast I discovered that Joseph Smith also liked this section of Alexander Pope's poem.  He actually quoted it twice in the last 3 months of his life.

I would love to go back and figure out where he first learned about the poem.  It must've been towards his death, since I can only find these two references.

The first time Joseph quotes this section of Pope's poem is in a meeting on March 7, 1844.  He uses the poem in a speech where he is criticizing Nauvoo lawyers regarding maritime law.

He says, regarding those lawyers:

"they have never stuck their noses into a book on maritime law in their lives, and, as Pope says: -- Shallow draughts intoxicate the brain; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring."

The second time Joseph quotes the poem is on June 16, 1844.  He uses the poem when he is teaching on the plurality of Gods.

He says, regarding that subject:

"I want to show a little learning as well as other fools -- A little learning is a dangerous thing.  Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.  There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, And drinking largely sobers us again.  All this confusion among professed translators is for want of drinking another draught."

I named the website that hosts my podcast because was taken.  And, because "thing" is the word that Pope used to rhyme with "spring" in his poem.

And, I really like the idea that a little learning can give you a false idea, but a lot of learning can set you back on the right course.  And, I was hoping that, in my telling of the story of the Death of the Prophet Joseph Smith, that first of all people would find an entertaining story.  And, second of all, as people listen to the story, that even though it is not an exhaustive resource on Joseph's death, that it would be a "large drink" to them, in which they could learn more about history and Joseph's life.



Joseph Smith as the Knight of Faith

I look at the prophet Joseph Smith as a Knight of Faith.  Kierkegaard came up with the phrase a "Knight of Faith" in his book Fear and Trembling.  Fear and Trembling is a small little book in which Kierkegaard looks at Abraham offering his son Isaac as a sacrifice from multiple different angles.

Kierkegaard refers to Abraham as a Knight of Faith, and explains that he believes a Knight of Faith is really the only type of thing worth really pursuing and understanding and marveling at.

In talking about his search for a Knight of Faith, Kierkegaard said:

People commonly travel around the world to see rivers and mountains, new stars, birds of rare plumage, queerly deformed fishes, ridiculous breeds of men–they abandon themselves to the bestial stupor which gapes at existence, and they think they have seen something. This does not interest me. But if I knew where there was such a knight of faith, I would make a pilgrimage to him on foot, for this prodigy interests me absolutely. I would not let go of him for an instant, every moment I would watch to see how he managed to make the movements, I would regard myself as secured for life, and would divide my time between looking at him and practicing the exercises myself, and thus would spend all my time admiring him. As was said, I have not found any such person, but I can well think him.

I think, if you look at what Kierkegaard defines as a Knight of Faith, you could easily apply it to Joseph Smith.  For example, in Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard says:

By faith Abraham went out from the land of his fathers and became a sojourner in the land of promise. He left one thing behind, took one thing with him: he left his earthly understanding behind and took faith with him–otherwise he would not have wandered forth but would have thought this unreasonable.

Abraham became a sojourner.  He left his earthly understanding behind and walked by faith.  That reminds me of Joseph Smith.  That reminds me of someone who is a stranger and a pilgrim. 

And, even that phrase that Kierkegaard uses -- or that Kierkegaard's translator uses, "became a sojourner in the land of promise," comes from Hebrews 11 where the author of that book refers to Abraham as a Stranger and a Pilgrim.  I think of a Knight of Faith and of a Stranger and Pilgrim as two interchangeable phrases for the same idea. 

So, I think, in my own way.  Trying to tell the story of the prophet Joseph Smith is my trying to make a pilgrimage to Joseph the same way that Kierkegaard would make a pilgrimage to Abraham.