Sunday, August 22, 2010

What Manner of Man was Joseph Smith?

What manner of man was Joseph Smith? It is almost beyond belief to reflect on his accomplishments, to try to wrap our minds around all that he brought to pass between 1820 and 1844. Leon R. Hartshorn, dramatized the Prophet’s accomplishments through a fictitious story.

It was a warm day—the date, June 29, 1844. A boat is approaching a horseshoe bend in the Mississippi River. Situated prominently on that bend is a city. A traveler seeks to identify the city from his map, but the map which was printed a few years previously shows no such city. Upon inquiry the interested traveler is told that the city is Nauvoo and that the boat would make a brief stop there.

As the boat docks, the traveler becomes curious as to why long lines of people are waiting to enter a large home on the river front. He, being in no hurry to reach his destination, informs the captain that he is going to remain in this Nauvoo for a few hours, or perhaps overnight.

As the visitor approaches the end of the line, it becomes apparent that these are grief-stricken people. All of the ladies and many of the men are weeping. He approaches one of the mourners and inquires, "Excuse me, what are these lines for; what are you waiting to see?"

The mourner looks at him in amazement, "You mean you don’t know?"

"I’m a stranger here. I just arrived on the boat," he answers, pointing in the direction of the pier.

"Oh, I see," replies the mourner. "These people and myself are waiting to view the bodies of Lieutenant General Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum Smith who were killed two days ago."

"Lieutenant General Smith?" the visitor says questioningly.

"Yes, he was the lieutenant-general of a legion of five thousand men, most of them uniformed and equipped."

"How many others were killed with them?" asks the stranger.

"None," replies the mourner. "This is perhaps one of the reasons Joseph died. He believed that it was his life that was wanted and that if he died, the lust for blood would be satisfied and others would not be killed. He wanted his brother Hyrum to live, by Hyrum insisted that he be by the side of his brother. In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated."

The traveler asks, "How did the trouble that led to their deaths begin?"

"The most immediate cause was the destruction of the printing press of the Nauvoo Expositor," replies the mourner. "The Expositor was owned by the enemies of Joseph Smith, and they published a libelous paper. An order to close the paper was issued by the city council and the mayor, Joseph Smith."

"Joseph Smith was the mayor of this city?"

"Yes, he was," comes the reply.

"This is a very new city, isn’t it?" says the stranger. "Why, it isn’t even on my map."

"Yes, Yes, it is new. Why, just six years ago this was nothing but a swamp."

The traveler says, "It is a beautiful city. I noticed as I came up the river that most of the farms and corrals were outside of town."

"Yes, this is the way Joseph planned the city."

"Joseph planned this city?" repeats the stranger.

"Yes, so that the people, who are mostly farmers, could have the advantages of city life by all living together—so that we might associate together and learn from each other."

The traveler comments on the wide, straight streets and the well-built houses. He also tells the mourner that he has seen a large white building apparently under construction. The building is on the most prominent rise of land in the city. The mourner informer informs the visitor that the building is the temple and that Joseph Smith had designed it to be the dominant landmark in the city.

"Joseph Smith designed the temple!" the stranger exclaims.

"Yes, Joseph designed it," comes the reply.

The traveler then remembers, "You were telling me what led to the death of this Joseph Smith."

"Oh, yes, the Expositor incident. But the trouble began a long time ago, long before that incident, even before Joseph translated the ancient record."

"He was a translator of ancient languages?" repeats the visitor. "How many languages did he know?"

"I am not certain," replies the mourner, "but he knew Hebrew, German, and Egyptian."

"What happened to this translation of the ancient record?" questions the traveler.

"It has been published and is called the Book of Mormon."

The traveler continues to question, "Has he published any other books?"

"Oh, yes, as president of the Church---"

"President of the Church---?"

"Yes, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Almost everyone here in Nauvoo is a member of the Church."

"As I was saying," continues the mourner, "as president of the Church he published the Doctrine and Covenants."

"What kind of book is that?" asks the amazed visitor.

It is a book of revelations which were given to the Prophet Joseph Smith by the Lord.

"The Prophet Joseph Smith!"

"Yes, he was a prophet of God. God the father and Jesus Christ appeared to him and conversed with him. In fact, it wad after Joseph, full of joy and boyish enthusiasm, told his neighbors that he had seen a vision that the persecution first began. Not only was Joseph persecuted, but also all of his followers. Why, many of the people you see about you here were driven from homes in Missouri. None of us were paid for our losses. Joseph tried in vain to obtain redress, but we were refused. That is the principal reason that Joseph became a candidate for the presidency of the United States."

"A candidate for the presidency of the United States!" the bewildered traveler replies.

he mourner continues: "It was four days ago that Joseph bid a reluctant farewell to his family, looked longingly at the temple and then at his farm, and said, ‘This is the loveliest place and best people under the heavens,' as he rode toward the county seat at Carthage to turn himself over to his enemies. He said to those who accompanied him, ‘I am going like a lamb to the slaughter, but I am as calm as a summer’s morning.’ He was promised protection and a fair trial, but two days ago, on June 27th, a band of over one hundred men with blackened faces stormed the Carthage jail. A few moments later they retreated, and Lieutenant General Joseph Smith and his faithful brother Hyrum lay dead."

The traveler and the mourner have now come to the door. They cease talking. The visitor strains to see the bodies. He sees two coffins, and in each, directly over the face of the occupant, is a piece of glass. The visitor looks questioningly at the mourner, who with a gesture indicates that the nearest casket contains the body of Joseph Smith.

As the stranger views the body, his face registers surprise and disbelief. He speaks almost silently, ‘This is Joseph Smith!’ He sees a young man, a handsome man with a prominent nose and a slightly receding forehead. He is stunned; he had expected to see an old man with white hair and a long, flowing beard, and a face drawn and wrinkled with age. He quietly whispers to the mourner, ‘How old was he?’

In a subdued tone comes the reply, "He was thirty-eight years of age."

As the traveler looks almost in disbelief, he thinks, "Lieutenant general, linguist, translator, author, mayor, prophet, president, city planner, architect, presidential candidate—what manner of man was this Joseph Smith?"

The silence is interrupted as a man in the corner of the room asks for the attention of the group and says, ‘My dear brothers and sisters, it is five o’clock. We would like to clear this room so that the loved ones of those deceased can view the bodies alone for the last time.’

As the traveler and the mourner make their way out through the open door, the traveler stops to shake the mourner’s hand and to thank him. When he reaches the gate he turns and begins walking in the direction of the temple.

As he walks, the same question escapes his lips: "What manner of man was this Joseph Smith?"

He continues up the street and is lost from view.

Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1970), 62-66, emphasis in original. Taken from Robert Millet's Talk entitled: What Manner of Man? (November 2005)

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