Kemo D. (kemo_d7) wrote,
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Kemo's Church

Origins of Mormonism

Welcome back! Today we're going to talk about the Origins of Mormonism.

If you happen to have been born with white skin and if you have not lived all your life as a Latter-day Druid nuncio trapped in China since the 1922 reorganization of the Kuomintang, without a doubt you have been visited by pairs of bright-faced, clean-scrubbed, conservatively attired Mormon missionaries, or "elders", as the eighteen-to twenty-year old boys prefer to be called.



If you happen to have been born with black skin, however, you may never have the opportunity to talk with any elders -- unless, of course, you might have had the misfortune to fall on top of a couple by stumbling onto a pit-trap set for them by the Baptist or other fire-breathing Protestant groups that are out to "get the cults." If this has happened to you, and if you managed to avoid impaling yourself on the pointed sticks at the bottom of the pit, and if at least one of the missionaries avoided the sticks as well, you will have been told that Mormon church -- the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- is the one of the most thriving enterprises in America today. That it is a thriving financial enterprise, you might not have been told by the youthful elder. But you will have been told that this marvelous tax shelter was founded in 1830 by a fellow named Joseph Smith, Correction, Joseph Smith Junior.



Smith got his new religion going by writing a book known as The Book of Mormon. The book was much too dull to make it as a novel -- Mark Twain called the book "chloroform in print" -- so it was marketed as a new bible. Having quite a flair for publicity, Smith pretended to have translated The Book of Mormon from a pile of gold plates dug out of a glacial hill in upstate New York -- with the help of a resurrected man, no less!



The book purports to tell of lost tribes of Israelites and others floating to South America, some in giant barrels, others in a boat. Arriving in America, they all turned into Indians, built cities, fought wars, received a visit from Jesus Christ after he couldn't make a go of it in Palestine, and finally killed each other off in A.D. 421. Shortly before the fatal fight -- a colossal battle allegedly waged at Hill Cumorah, near Palmyra, New York -- a person appropriately name Moroni buried the plates for Smith to find.

Some day I will devote an entire column to The Book of Mormon. Here it must suffice to recount an amusing anecdote concerning the birth of the book.



When young Smith claimed he had a magic "seer stone," a stone with which he could see inside hills and beneath the surface of the ground to inspect for buried treasurers and enchantments. The seer stone became transformed into the biblical "urim and thummin" with which he later claimed he could "translate" any language -- including "reformed Egyptian," the imaginary language in which his Jewish Indians supposedly had written their history. A locked box held what Smith claimed to be the gold plates bearing this reformed Egyptian Chaldee Jewish American Indian history.



Sitting in one-half of a room divided into two sections by means of a blanket hung from a rope, Smith would pretend to be translating aloud from the plates and would dictate The Book of Mormon to his secretary Martin Harris. Harris sat on the other side of the blanket, afraid to peek at the plates for fear he would be stricken with the plague, and the scab, and hemorrhoids, and the botch of Egypt. After many days of such inventive labor, 116 pages of manuscript had been written -- all of it supposedly translated by divine guidance by means of the magical seer stone.



And it came to pass...disaster struck! Martin Harris' wife, Lucy, stole the manuscripture and taunted her gullible husband, "If this be a divine communication, the same being who revealed it to you can easily replace it."

The impostor Smith was trapped. He knew it was impossible for him to reproduce the story exactly, although he should have been able to do so if there had indeed been divine guidance. To redictate it would be to invite disasterous comparison. At this point, surely, a lesser man would have given up the job of bible-writing and have become a used-mule salesman or a whortleberry farmer. But not Joe Smith -- no sir! He went right back to work and dictated The Book of Mormon.



How did he get away with it? How did he avoid being checkmated by Lucy Harris' threat to compare the new inspiration with the old one? Very simple. He added a preface to the first edition of the book. The preface claimed that the 116 pages had been translated from supposed Plates of Lehi and that the devil had caused the translation to be stolen and altered from what Smith had "translated." So that even if Smith were to produce a new translation word-for-word identical with the first, it nevertheless would appear to differ from the stolen pages because of the changes which had been made in the latter by the cunning of the devil. Therefore, god had changed the writing assignment so that The Book of Mormon no longer is a translation of The Plates of Lehi!

God's exact words, according to the preface, were: "I will not suffer that Satan shall accomplish his evil design in this thing. Therefore thou shalt translate from the plates of Nephi."

As you can see, this god was still speaking King James' English even though it was now the year 1828. The preface did the trick, however, and Lucy Harris was neutralized.



Encouraged by the success of his first bible, Joseph Smith proceeded to write other "scriptures." One of these is known as The Book of Abraham and is published today as part of a volume known as The Pearl of Great Price.



Unlike The Book of Mormon, which merely dull or silly, depending upon how much coffee one has been drinking, The Book of Abraham has a rather unpleasant side. Until recent years, it was used to justify the racist policies of the Mormon church. Blacks formerly were not allowed to hold the "priesthood." Since almost all postpubertal Mormon males are priests and since Mormon women can't amount to anything unless they marry a man who does hold the priesthood, this dogma effectively kept Blacks out of the "white and delightsome" Church of Jesus of Latter-Day Saints.

The offensive passages are to be found in Chapter I, verses 20-27. Verse 24 ends with a reference to the biblical "curse of Ham": "From Ham sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land."

Verses 26-7, referring to Pharaoh (whom Smith supposed to be a Negro), say that Noah "cursed him (Ham and his descendants) as pertaining to the priesthood. No Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could have the right of priesthood," and so on.



Now I must admit, in all fairness, that these passages are rather mild stuff and aren't as bad as the bible passages which were used by the Christian clergy to justify slavery. And I must inform the reader that although missionaries still do not go out in search of black converts, Blacks nowadays can hold the priesthood if they desire. The head of the Mormon church -- the "Chief Seer and Revelator" -- a few years ago got a message direct from his god to change this policy. The change came just in the nick of time, too, since civil rights legislation was making it harder for racist organizations to feed at the federal money-trough.



How did Joseph Smith come to write this book?

Well, it was 1835. The Mormons had moved from
New York state to Ohio. Michael Chandler, a traveling showman, came to Kirtland on July 3, 1835, exhibiting some Egyptian papyri and mummies. Smith declared the papyri contained the autographic writings of the patriarchs Abraham and Joseph of Egypt and that he could read them! The Mormons bought the mummies and the papyri.

When Josiah Quincy visited Smith later at Nauvoo, Illinois, Smith told him, "That is the handwriting of Abraham...this is the autograph of Moses, and these lines were written by his brother Aaron." In fact, the introduction to The Book of Abraham still reads, "The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt...written by his own hand, upon papyrus.

Armed with his magic seer stone, this would-be prophet set to work and "translated" The Book of Abraham.




Egyptologists have now translated all the Joseph Smith papyri -- including the parts Joseph said could not yet be revealed -- and we can say without fear of contradiction that the materials have nothing to do with Abraham or with Blacks. They are delightfully pagan in nature, and nothing Jewish can be seen in them. They are part of the Book of Breathings -- a late abridgment of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. In fact, these papyri date from approximately the beginning of the Christian era and are about two thousand years too late to contain the autograph of Abraham!



The major religions of the world began too long ago for anthropologists to be able to reconstruct accurately the complex interactions between fraud, delusion, and honest ignorance which went into their manufacture. In the case of Mormonism, however, a very scientific case can be built up to show quite unambiguously the role of chicanery in the formation of this most uniquely American religion. Joseph Smith dared to invent a new religion in the age of printing! 

Kemo D. (a.k.a. no.7)

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