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News » Deep End

Praise to the Sham

Documents tie up strange Joseph Smith history



The publication of the Joseph Smith Papers has caused a huge upheaval in Mormon studies, leaving scholars and laypeople alike scratching their heads and trying to come to terms with the cognitive dissonance now rattling their brains like an overloaded washing machine. For the true believers, among whom I humbly count myself, the picture that emerges of the prophet is considerably at odds with the traditional highly sanitized portrait of the great religious genius.

Unlike the prophet’s acolyte and successor, the estimable Brigham Young, who has always come across as a rock’em, sock’em, rootin’-tootin’ Force of Nature, Joseph Smith himself is a very insubstantial presence, shoved to the back of the historical refrigerator like a forgotten half-pint of no-fat milk. Now, God be thanked, the prophet is getting his due. He will never be the aromatic big blue cheese of a man like Brigham Young, but at least he will be a more formidable comestible, something like a sharp wedge of cheddar, perhaps.

The current edition of the Joseph Smith Papers is about three times the size of the Book of Mormon, and about 10 times harder to heft. For those of you without the time or inclination to wade through the thousands of pages, I am providing highlights gleaned from several weeks of nonstop reading. Herewith are the Best Revelations (in a nontheological sense) from the Joseph Smith Papers.

Cowboys and Indians, or You’re Making Things Up Again, Joey.
We’ve always known that young Joey had a fertile imagination, thanks to accounts from his mother of how he entertained family, friends and neighbors with tales of ancient peoples marauding the American landscape. Now, we have crayon drawings that the prophet’s mother saved, showing crude stick figures, labeled Kneebite and the Lemonite, simultaneously chopping off each other’s head.

Jack Nicholson Was Not the First Guy to Wear Shades Indoors.
On page 457 of the Papers, we find a footnote explaining why the Prophet quit using the Urim and Thummim magic spectacles to translate the Golden Plates and had to use his treasure-hunting seer stone placed in the bottom of his fedora. Apparently, Nephi or Moroni took the magic spectacles back to heaven because Joseph was wearing them around the house instead of using them to tackle Reformed Egyptian.

Why the Prophet Gave Up Golf
At first, Joseph was happy to have the Three Nephites carry his mashie niblick, spoon and brassie for him at the Palmyra Pines Golf Links, in that they were demons at finding lost balls, giving him the correct yardage and reading greens. After a while, however, Joseph got tired of them telling him over and over and over again about the old days in Zarahemla and sent them packing.

Dying for a Smoke
The old story was that Emma, Joseph’s original wife, couldn’t take the smelly cigars that Joseph and the lads smoked during confabs at the Smith residence, giving rise to the Word of Wisdom. On page 552, paragraph four of the Papers, we read that the Prophet kicked the habit when a mysterious Indian provided him with a crude version of the Nicoderm patch.

Perils of Polygamy
Frustrated by several losing seasons in the church softball league, the prophet was impressed with an all-girls team from Ohio, and after many long nights of prayer, the Lord gave the prophet the go-ahead to take the entire infield as eternal companions. Unfortunately, there was too much squabbling about batting order, so Joseph traded them, along with a draft pick to be named later, to Brigham Young’s Sabbath Sluggers. In exchange, the prophet got the good field, no-hit Pratt brothers Orson and Parley.

Handshake Controversy
On page 137, we learn that many of the Brethren came to blows over the official church handshake. One faction was in favor of the Fist Bump, another wanted the High Five and a third group insisted on the Pinky Swear. After much acrimonious debate, a compromise was reached, and the Council of the Twelve unanimously sustained the secret hand grip used by the Sigma Chis, the Pi Phis, the Sigma Nus, the Kappa Kappa Gammas and several other fraternal societies.

Prophesying Blues
We know that the prophet did a pretty damned good job of predicting the future, though he was only half right about men on the moon. (They had to wear space suits, not top hats.) But he was dead-on with regard to such things as filter cigarettes, Spanx, breast implants and the defeat of Mitt Romney.

D.P. Sorensen writes a satire column for City Weekly.