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Givens explores how the Book of Mormon has been defined as a cultural Book's role as the engine behind what may become the next world religion. By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion.
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Deciding to pray for heavenly guidance, Smith had retired to the woods to ask God which church he should join. Although the timing and the naming of the event assign it absolute primacy in the founding of Mormonism, the vision was described by the young Joseph and apparently interpreted by him at the time as a private experience with no greater implications for the world at Apparently Smith did share his experience with at least a few persons outside the family circle, for he later said that he was chastised by the clergy and ridiculed by neighbors for his claims.

Nothing in particular seems to have been the catalyst behind his petition that night, other than a sense that the absolution of sin granted him as a youth of 14 was in need of renewal. And this time, before the night was over, the young man would no longer be able to doubt that he was caught up in events of world-shaking importance.

With those few words spoken to Joseph Smith, the angel managed First, Moroni emphasized the rootedness of this new revelation from Heaven in artifactual reality. It shifts the debate—at least partly—from the realm of interiority and subjectivity toward that of empiricism and objectivity.

Moroni, in fact, revealed to Jo- seph that he was one of those inhabitants of ancient America, the last prophet of his people, chronicler of their history, and keeper of their sacred plates.

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Grounding the text in a history that is proximate and veri- fiable proves a keenly double-edged sword, subjecting the record as it does to the exacting gaze of scholarly verification. He might as well have said the record affirmed those same ten commandments that God delivered to Atlantis.

And the description raises as many questions as it answers: does the record reiterate canonical scripture, extend ca- nonical scripture, or replace canonical scripture?


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And the instrument through which these cataclysms would be made manifest and propagated was a fantastic set of golden plates, to which subject the angel now returned. Then, yet a third time the scene was repeated. This hillside in Manchester, New York, three miles south of the Smith farm, was where Joseph Smith first viewed the gold plates in September of In a field where the fatigued Smith fainted while return- ing home early from chores, Moroni rehearsed the entirety of his teach- ings, warnings, and commands, and then instructed Joseph to relate all that he had experienced to his father.

Joseph immediately did so, and his father encouraged him to visit the hill to see the miraculous arti- facts. So on that morning of September 22, , Joseph Smith left the field and walked down the Palmyra-Canandaigua road, turning off to the left about halfway to the village of Manchester when he recognized, a few hundred feet in the distance, the hill Moroni had shown him in the vision the night before.

According to some accounts, the box contained two other artifacts: the sword of Laban, which an early writer in the Book of Mormon had taken from a Jewish ruler and which served in subsequent Book of Mormon history as both a model for other weapons and as an important article We know he had been quick to share his first vision with resi- dents of his community. And even conversations within the fam- ily circle about Moroni and his record ended several weeks after that first visit.

Smith continued to help with the grueling work of the family farm, occasionally hiring himself out to help with the an- nual payments on their property. Such was the prevailing Sircumstancies of the family, Connected with the want of money and the scarcity of provisions that nesessaty made an imperative demand upon evrey energy, nerve or member of the family for boath economy and labour which this demant had to be met with the strictest kind of endustry [sic]. Josiah Stowell, an affluent farmer from South Bainbridge, New York, believed he possessed a map identifying the location of a lost silver mine near the town of Harmony, which was just across the Pennsylvania border along the Susquehanna River.

He had come to Palmyra with a friend, Joseph Knight, to buy grain. Skep- tics then and now have found in the prevailing cultural climate a causative explanation for the abundant supernaturalism of the religion soon to emerge from upstate New York. Certainly Joseph himself was aware of the possibilities for disastrous contamination of the one by the other, but he seems to have come to a full recognition of their distinct- ness only with time.

The stone he found in the well, for example, he considered to be truly endowed with special powers. Together with his father and several neigh- bors, Joseph set out on the mile journey to Harmony, Pennsylvania. Although they only persisted in their efforts for a month or so, the expe- rience was important for two reasons. First, while he worked near Har- mony, Joseph boarded at the home of Isaac Hale.

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First, the Stowell silver mine project was a failure. Evidence exists that shortly thereafter, in March of , a nephew of Stowell named Peter Bridgeman filed a complaint against Joseph for disorderly conduct—apparently related to his occult practices.

When his fellow Palmyrans returned home in the wake of the silver mine fiasco, Joseph had stayed on to work for both Josiah Stowell and Joseph Knight in nearby Colesville and to court Emma. When Isaac Hale refused permission to the couple, they waited until a Sunday while he was at church and rode to the home of Squire Tarbill who married them on January 18, The pair located in Manchester, but Emma wrote home the next summer requesting permission to come collect some belongings.

Peter Ingersoll was hired to assist them, and both he and Isaac Hale recorded the exchange that occurred when Jo- seph was confronted by his angry father-in-law. It was bad enough for Joseph not to have much in the way of prospects. But those pursuits in which he was engaged were not calculated to warm the heart of a father- in-law concerned for the welfare and reputation of his bright and tal- ented daughter.

By the Hand of Mormon: The American Script...

His money-digging days were now firmly behind him. But gold and seer stones were still very much in his future. The Gold Plates Moroni had first come in September of Lucy recorded that Joseph revisited the location that would be known as Hill Cumorah in Septem- ber of , but for the second time returned without the plates. His fourth visit would have occurred while he was living in Harmony, working and courting Emma.

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He does not record at what point he was released from his vow of silence, but his father seems to have broken it on at least one occasion. Lucy Mack wrote that in or , Joseph Sr. No one else, she insisted, was in on the secret. If he had been testing the waters of public acceptance of his message in any large-scale fashion, we might expect the vociferous response to the Book of Mormon to have begun earlier than it did.

As it is, hardly a mention is made of the plates by outside sources before That was certainly the case with at least one neighbor. Right over here, in Illinois and Ohio, in mounds there, they have discovered copper plates. I thought no more about it. At any rate, shortly after his most recent visit to the hill, Joseph Smith himself, apparently in excited anticipation of the end of his period of probation and imposed silence, at last was beginning to share the de- tails of his visions with intimates.

He first divulged his mission to the family for whom he was then working, the Knights. My Father and I believed what he told us. On a business errand for his father in nearby Manchester, Joseph was unusually late returning home. September of , he told the church, was the month of his enlistment. The elder Smith reported no unusual activity.

She panicked when she was unable to provide one, but Joseph reassured her that he could do without. When they returned, both Knight and Lucy describe a kind of mock solemnity with which Joseph tormented his expectant audience. That Joseph could show levity at a time such as this reveals an irrepressible playfulness that he could never quite shake off.

It would recurrently expose him to charges of undignified, unprophetlike comportment—and suggests as After she left the room in apparent distress, he quickly followed her with words of reassurance. All is right.

A reference in 1 Samuel more clearly establishes their connection to seership. Never- theless, these and a few other scattered references reveal little concern- ing the puzzling origin, description, or operation of the ancient oracles. Adam Clarke, an older contemporary of Joseph Smith, discusses the mysterious Urim and Thummim in his magisterial commentary first published in What these were has, I believe, never yet been discovered. They are nowhere described. There is no direction given to Moses or any other how to make them. Whatever they were, they do not appear to have been made on this [their first mentioned] occasion.

If they were the work of man at all, they must have been the articles in the ancient tabernacle, matters used by the patriarchs, and not here particularly described, be- cause well known. The very indeterminateness of such an ancient allusion is the kind of occasion that calls for prophetic inter- vention. In this case, it is precisely this circumstance of a sacred artifact apparently known anciently but no longer, of the survival in the scrip- tural record of tantalizing hints and shadows of ampler realities and contexts no longer present that helped define the particular prophetic role Joseph set about enacting.

Restoration, as he comes to understand the process, always builds upon the fragmentary remains of eternal truths, and thus diminishes the sense of historical and conceptual dis- tance that separates one biblical dispensation from another. The golden plates were a remarkable relic—but one without any biblical or histori- cal precedent.

Significantly, in the initial euphoria of his first successful return from Hill Cumorah, Joseph seems to have forgotten the plates altogether in his excitement over the interpreters. Lucy Mack wrote that he had secreted them in an old birch log, about three miles from home. The next day, Septem- ber 23, he found work in nearby Macedon. He hoped to use the money earned for a chest in which to secure the plates.

They claimed that Joseph had been a traitor, and had appropriated to himself that which belonged to them. Willard Chase would And Samuel Lawrence, who had somehow learned even of the hillside where the plates were buried, had been threatened by Jo- seph for continuing to intrude into the whole business.

The morning of September 24, Joseph Sr. He returned home to warn the family. Emma rode off to Macedon, explained matters to Joseph, and the two of them came back at once, meeting his worried, pacing father a mile from their farm. Once home, Joseph calmly arranged for his brother Hyrum to find a lockable chest, then set off alone on a three-mile walk to retrieve the plates. He took them from their hiding place in the birch log oak tree, according to Harris , wrapped them in his frock, and cut through the woods to avoid pursuers or the merely curious.

The most wide-ranging study on the subject outside Mormon presses, By the Hand of Mormon will fascinate anyone curious about a religious people who, despite their numbers, remain strangers in our midst. The lack of aggression by the female upon initial aggression by By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture That Launched a New World Religion the male is an essential component of recognition of sex she is clearly subordinate.

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A fitting for connecting two sizes of threaded pipe. The most wide-ranging study on the subject outside Mormon presses, By the Hand of Mormon will fascinate anyone curious about a religious people who, despite their numbers, remain very much strangers in our midst. Publication Date:. Terryl L Givens.