Thursday, September 22, 2011
Chloroform in Print
Probably more about Joseph Smith than any "Gentile" would care to know, but Richard Lyman Bushman's biography has garnered mostly favorable reviews, including this one from the New York Times. Bushman is a Mormon himself, but apparently went to great lengths to write an "unbiased" account of "The Prophet," setting him within the religious ferment of the time. After all, America was going through a second "Great Awakening," so it's not surprising Smith was able to quickly find adherents to his unique vision, which Mark Twain called "chloroform in print."
You really do have to wonder at the gullibility of people to swallow such a far-fetched story, replete with golden tablets, which he never produced. Apparently, it was these golden tablets that sent Thomas Stuart Ferguson on his quest to find the lost tribe of Nephites in the jungles of the Yucatan, eventually setting up the New World Archeological Foundation, which still functions today. Smith himself had hinted that this may be the place where the famous battle between the Lamanites and Nephites took place, after reading John Lloyd Stephens' Incidents of Travels in Yucatan, published in 1837, and that the long form version of The Book of Mormon might be buried there. Twenty-five years of fruitless digging (at least as far as any evidence of Nephites is concerned) resulted in a serious crisis of faith for Ferguson, who was forced to admit there was no archeological basis for anything Smith had written in his book.
Yet, there are many Mormons who still hold to Smith's gospel, which he supposedly "translated" from some Egyptian-like hieroglyphs with the help of magic stones, only to bury the golden tablets again as the angel Moroni instructed him to. You have to hand it to Smith in covering his bases, as any good storyteller does.