Thursday, January 13, 2005

How did Joseph see the past (w/o giggles)?

After a long blog silence, I want to ask this question for your input. Give me quotes; give me secondary sources; give me your ideas (even if they are half-baked). How did Joseph view or understand the past and its importance? He established a coherent scheme of salvation for the dead, which I am very familiar with. But does it seem to you that the past (history, historical persons and events) pervade his world view and religious teachings? He knew the patriarchs and prophets, we learn, by personal encounter and instruction.

Most of the pages of scripture he brought to the world were translations (in one way or another) of ancient records--including that wonderful Section 7 "translated version of the record made on parchment" received in April 1829. Tell me why you think this prophet didn't just look forward; Do you know anything he said or revealed about it?


11 Comments:

At 1/14/2005 01:54:00 PM,

I'm not sure he was terribly backward-looking. I suppose when you're the lead-off hitter for a new dispensation you don't have that luxury. We can look back and find examples in history that we relate to, that share our same context. Joseph didn't really have that. Of course, these are all just first-impact responses. Sure, he "communed" with ancients, but only insofar as it furthered his present concerns (i.e. restoring the gospel). Even the Book of Mormon was a history, but for a long time in the church, its primary purpose was to establish Joseph Smith as a prophet. One place to get a feel for JS' view of history might be in his different takes on the first vision. I'll look into this some more. 

Posted by Chris Patton

 
At 1/15/2005 01:02:00 PM,

Here are some examples of what I am looking at:

1. Salvation for the dead, by placing upon the living the burden of performing ordinances that will truly better the condition of the dead.

2. Yeah, I think you are right in that the text of the Book of Mormon was not thought to be as important as its mere existence, but I don't think that negates the importance of its scriptural genre as mostly history. In fact, considering all the forms a religious text can take, it is almost surprising that Joseph's book is history. History is based in the concrete and hopefully empirical past, it names persons, places, events and societies that should have existed if a history is to be taken seriously. It seems like a mystical journey narrative, or a visionary account, or a collection of wisdom sayings/glorifications of God would evade persecution and induce greater acceptance, but Joseph's story is firmly grounded in the past's convergence with the present, e.g., Joseph physically obtained the prophets' gold plates that had been buried 1400 years previously.

3. The "restoration" sought to bring past glories, blessings, prophets, and powers into the present. His work was to dispell modern ignorance of God's prior covenants, and by the same keys held anciently, offer the ancient covenants in the modern world.

4. Other branches of Joseph's calling, such as the translation of the Bible and the Book of Abraham were also involved in the resurrection of the lost past--more pages of his scripture come from the past through him than from the Lord directly to Joseph for modern benefit.

I am looking to see, also, if this attitude is a divergence from his contemporary religionists, or countrymen even. What role did the past play in religion in his day, and in the nation as a whole?



 

Posted by Jason Kn

 
At 1/25/2005 11:49:00 AM,

My reply to Doug's mention of my post and little discussion of why Joseph should look to the past as a prophet when, as Doug said, he had various angels to instruct him.

You say angels; I say past prophets and patriarchs. It looks like Joseph gets up-to-the-minute divine instruction; I say he received from these figures of the past those keys, powers, and the knowledge that they either held during their life, or hold now in the resurrection.

I don't mean to say Joseph spent his time digging through books to find out how to operate the church in the 1800s; I mean to say that the past undeniably (in my mind--feel free to disagree) converges with Joseph in interesting and little-explored ways.

Example from Sunday school (1/23)--When the angel Moroni (who was an ancient prophet during his life) came to visit Joseph in September 1824(?) he didn't bring a celestial newspaper hot off the presses. He brought a message of a really old record that he had buried with his own hands, and he told of the civilization, laws, society, mode of living of this ancient (now destroyed) people.

Comments strongly encouraged; low threshold for sincere appreciation. 

Posted by Jason Kn

 
At 1/25/2005 12:37:00 PM,

Didn't Richard Bushman say something about this at the Yale Conference?

I have more thoughts, I just need to organize them a bit... 

Posted by Chris Patton

 
At 1/26/2005 12:47:00 AM,

Chris, I remember that Bushman did talk some on this subject--and his last chapter of Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism takes a initial step in that direction.

But Bushman, as far as I remember, focused on the narrative v. systematic theology distinction, claiming that Joseph theology was presented as a narrative--a story--from which principles of belief and action are derived. I wonder if this is the same concept expressed differently. Joseph sees salvation in the past--a frequent justification for the present order is the past order, which was just and inspired. 

Posted by Jason Kn

 
At 1/26/2005 12:48:00 AM,

Chris, I remember that Bushman did talk some on this subject--and his last chapter of Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism takes a initial step in that direction.

But Bushman, as far as I remember, focused on the narrative v. systematic theology distinction, claiming that Joseph theology was presented as a narrative--a story--from which principles of belief and action are derived. I wonder if this is the same concept expressed differently. Joseph sees salvation in the past--a frequent justification for the present order is the past order, which was just and inspired. 

Posted by Jason Kn

 
At 1/31/2005 08:36:00 AM,

The whole crux of Mormonism is its bridge between the past and the present. This is where Moroni fits in. However, I feel like Moroni's mission was the exception in terms of J.S.'s interaction with angel/patriarchs.

It is true that past prophets and patriarchs were sent to J.S. but the overwhelming majority of his communication with heaven was NOT with angels, but with Christ as found in the D&C. These revelations rarely mention past civilizations and are practically articles from the "celestial press." Even in his communication with the past prophets, it seems like the "message" was not about ancient Israel, or King Herod but about restoring lost keys.

As for JS's personal take on historical events, I'm sufficiently unread to post any references. 

Posted by Doug Spencer

 
At 2/01/2005 12:35:00 AM,

The human tendency to validate and find authority in the past comes to mind. For example, as a Mormon, I absolutely love the fact that we have our modern Twelve Apostles, that make general policy under inspiration and travel the world preaching the gospel and strengthening the church. It has the unmistakable air of Clarity, as I see it. Twelve Apostles called by Christ then; twelve apostles called by Christ now.

So many of us have our pet historicities--it is very common for Latter-day Saints to get a prideful tingle when we read a scholarly and well-researched comparison between x aspect of our modern church and x aspect in ancient judeo/christian religion.

As I see it, history is probably the riskiest realm to deal in as a prophet. There's no fixing what happened, while prophecy is on the horizon, and present experience can be deemed subjective and esoteric. But history has happened, to put it simply. One meaning I would give to the word "risky" is that it might be hardest to believe an account of the remote past that seems to come from no apparent source. 

Posted by Jason Kn

 
At 2/03/2005 03:21:00 PM,

I pulled this off of gospellink.

"Words of Oliver B. Huntington: On another occasion, when Joseph was sitting in Dimick's shop waiting for something, he got on a wonderful strain of relating the history of the world in the past, recounting many strange things I never had read or heard of before. When he came to the present times, he did not stop, but went on and related the principal events that will transpire in the history of the world down to the time when the angel will declare that time shall be no longer.
Although I did not see the events with my natural eyes, the vividness of their appearance to my mind was next to reality. He declared the succession of events with as great clearness as one of us can repeat the events of our past lives." (Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, comps., They Knew the Prophet, p. 66)

 

Posted by Chris Patton

 
At 2/03/2005 06:33:00 PM,

Chris, that is a great quote! Thanks a million. I guess you GospeLinkers don't care very much about this, but _They Knew the Prophet_ has recently been reprinted in touchable form, which I enjoy.

Doesn't it look like, as a few people have said, a certain O-Dogg among them, that prophets work and speak "out of time" [al di fuori tempo]? Does the actual distinction between past and future fade for them in the spirit? As Roberts asks, isn't [future] prophecy [true] history in reverse?

Honestly, thanks for the quote, Cristofero. 

Posted by Jason Kn

 
At 2/04/2005 09:23:00 AM,

There's a great chapter in Rabbi Abraham Heschel's book "The Prophets" called "the prophet and history". It deals with the "out of time" issues, etc. I'll reread it this weekend and post some quotations.  

Posted by Chris Patton

 

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