The Latter Day Saint Movement or Mormonism is one of the most popular Christian movements followed not only in the United States where it was founded in the 19th century but also round the world. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, is discussed as one of the most controversial figures in the history of religious movements because of his intentions to declare himself as the prophet, his vision of the Holy Scripture’s reliability, and his provocative discussion of the Americans’ religious history (Remini 2002, p. 23; Van Wagoner 1982, p. 50).
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In spite of the fact that the followers of the Latter Day Saint Movement discuss Joseph Smith as the prophet equal to Moses and other prophets, this statement is rather controversial because the founder of Mormonism does not respond to the basic criteria according to which the prophets are described in the Bible; Smith’s prophecies and predictions are not supported with the facts and real events; and Smith’s views on the nature and origin of God and people are not reflected in the Bible. That is why, Smith cannot be discussed as the prophet while referring to the criteria set in the Holy Scripture.
Joseph Smith proclaimed himself as the prophet in the 1830s, while stating that he had visions. According to Smith’s words, the angel directed him to focus on the specific golden plates on which the history of the American civilization was inscribed. Smith’s task was to translate the texts and to present them to the public. The translation became known as the Book of Mormon in which Smith presented the history of the nation which took its origins from the Nephites who were ruled by their prophet Mormon, and who followed the holy principles declared by Moses (Vogel 2004, p. 111). Furthermore, Smith also stated that he was directed to revise the Bible and to add important facts to the scriptures in order to present the true history of the world (Eliason 2001, p. 54). Smith’s self-proclamation as the prophet after experiencing the visions responded to the words that “If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream” (Numbers 12:6). However, Smith’s further actions violated the principles stated in the Bible regarding true prophets.
Much attention is paid to the prophet’s self-proclamation in the Bible, and a list of criteria is presented to conclude about the true nature of the prophet. It is stated in the Bible that the prophet, who “shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die” (Deuteronomy 18:20). To conclude about the true nature of the prophet’s words, it is necessary to pay attention to the further events and to the prophet’s ability to predict them. Thus, “if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him” (Deuteronomy 18:22).
Smith proposed a lot of predictions while focusing on building Zion, on the nations’ participation in the Civil War, and on the future of Mormons (Christianity, cults and religions 2008, p. 58). However, the prophecies were not supported with the real facts and events, and many critics of Mormonism state that the proclamation of Smith as the prophet was necessary to promote the Church and to attract more followers (Palmer 2012, p. 160; Remini 2002, p. 109). Many Americans followed Smith’s words in spite of their false character because he demonstrated the support for his words with references to the Book of Mormon and focused on the necessity to revise the Bible.
From this point, Smith not only presented his vision of the American religious history but also revised the Holy Scripture and added his interpretations to the words spoke by God. Thus, Smith violated one more criterion necessary to discuss influential religious figures as the real prophets. It is stated in the Bible, “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:2).
However, Smith revised some parts in the Bible, and he also proposed his Book of Mormon as the most credible and correct variant of the holy words. As a result, many Smith’s statements contradict the traditional Christian visions significantly (Persuitte 2000, p. 23). Smith declared that his revision of the Bible was necessary to restore the lost parts of the text, and he drew the followers’ attention to the fact that the whole restoration of Christianity was necessary while being realised under the direction of Smith as the modern prophet.
The most provocative statement which is presented in Smith’s texts is the idea that many Gods existed during the history of the world, and people can also become Gods because of their nature. Proclaiming the idea that one God cannot be omniscient and that one God could not exist during all the history, Smith violates the basic principle presented in the Bible, “The Lord our God is one Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Smith compares God and people regarding their resemblance in the nature and bodies. That is why, Bushman pays attention to the fact that “Joseph redefined the nature of God, giving Him a form and a body and locating Him in time and space” (Bushman 2007, p. 421).
Manipulating the ideas that God had the physical characteristics and each male follower of Latter Day Saint Movement could become God, Smith attracted a lot of Americans to the sect during the 19th century because of their worries associated with the social and political instability in the country (Stark & Neilson 2005, p. 118-120). The other controversial statement is associated with the figure of Jesus.
In his texts, Smith states that he is the second one to Jesus because Jesus is just a male figure born of God and the mortal mother. The followers of the Latter Day Saint Movement should not worship Jesus as God because Smith denies the idea of the Holy Trinity (Vogel 2004, p. 114-116). However, it is stated in the Bible regarding Jesus that “He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all” (John 3:31).
While interpreting the Bible’s words, it is possible to state that Jesus came from the heavens, and Christians should worship Him as well as God the Father. Nevertheless, Smith did not interpret the Holy Scripture, but he intended to revise it according to his personal beliefs. This statement adds to the list of contradictions found in Smith’s texts while comparing them to the traditional Christian vision.
The problem is in the fact that not only Joseph Smith discussed himself as the prophet, but all the movement’s followers were impressed by the influential leader, and they stated widely that his discussions of the nature of God, family structures and relations, and interactions in the religious community were similar in their character to the statements of such prophets as Moses and Elijah (Bushman 2007, p. 115; Remini 2002, p. 121-123). In 1840, hundreds of Americans who became Mormons joined their Joseph the Prophet to build Zion in the newly established city Nauvoo, Illinois (Stark & Neilson 2005, p. 19-21). The followers of the movement stated that Smith created the conditions for restoring the Christian faith, and that is why more people could be converted into Mormonism. Thus, Smith followed the examples of the prophets described in the Old Testament while proclaiming his own prophecies and supporting the ideas presented in the Book of Mormon.
From this point, Smith’s confidence was based on his discussion of the revelation which allowed him speaking as the other prophets (Christianity, cults and religions 2008, p. 59). Thus, the followers of the movement believed in Smith’s words because he spoke with the authority of such prophets as Moses, Elijah, and Isaiah. Furthermore, Mormons were inclined to discuss the figure of Joseph the Prophet as even more influential than all the known prophets because Smith stated that his Book of Mormon was the most correct and credible source among all the holy texts known to people (Eliason 2001, p. 21).
These discussions of Smith’s figure in the history of the Christian religion reflected the prophet’s own words about his contribution to the salvation of people. According to Bushman, Smith’s words were as those ones of the prophets and witnesses of divine enigmas, thus, “Joseph spoke like a witness or an initiate in heavenly mysteries, rather than a prophet delivering revelations from the Lord’s mouth” (Bushman 2007, p. 419). That is why, Smith’s words about the role of God for the creation of the nation of Americans were supported widely in many American cities.
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Thus, in spite of the fact that Joseph Smith’s prophecies cannot be supported with facts and real evidences, his person remains to be one of the most influential figures in the religious sphere of the Americans’ life. Due to Smith’s proclaimed role in the mankind’s salvation, not only Smith but also his followers placed the man second to Jesus. The followers of Mormonism are inclined to state that Smith’s faults as the prophet are the results of his intentions to revise the holy words for the people in the most effective way, in order to share the true knowledge and restore the faith. In spite of the fact that there are no evidences to support the idea that Joseph Smith was the great prophet, it is almost impossible to reject the opinion that Smith reformed the history of Christianity for the Americans because he presented his own vision of the Americans’ history and religion.
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