Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Joseph F. Smith 1913: Part 1: On the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon

In November 1912 Episcopal Bishop Franklin S. Spalding of Salt Lake City, Utah published his pamphlet, Joseph Smith Jr., as a Translator. Spalding had solicited and published statements from  influential American and European scholars of the day who dismissed the Book of Abraham as a fraud. This generated a flurry of articles published in Utah and across the nation over the next year or more.

In February 1913 President Joseph F. Smith wrote to Isaac Russell, a professional writer and a Latter-day Saint who had been negatively influenced by these attacks. Acknowledging that the Church, at the time, did not have the ability to fully respond to some of these criticisms, President Smith explained some of his concerns with Russell.

You will recall that Bishop Spalding and associates took all the time they needed to digest and bring forth this plan of attack without making known their purpose, and the result of their labor was put forth in pamphlet form unannounced, and this with the pretense of getting at the truth.

This pamphlet was circulated among Mormons and non-Mormons, but the former class, found since to have received free copies of the pamphlet, consisted chiefly of students not capable of seeing through the scheme behind it.

At first it was thought best to treat the pamphlet in silence for the time being, as it dealt with a subject none of our community was thought capable of writing upon, as none was known to be capable of passing on the translations of the hieroglyphics it contained from an Egyptologist standpoint. But, much to our gratification, Brother Sjodahl quickly took the question up and submitted a communication in answer, and without any knowledge whatever of this fact, Brother Roberts did likewise. . . . 

I could not but keenly feel the significance of an attack of this kind because of the effect it was perhaps going to have on those of our young people lacking in faith, and when Brothers Sjodahl and Roberts voluntarily came forward in defense my heart warmed towards them, and they and I, and all interested in the outcome so far feel well in what has been done, but your communication produced a very different feeling, as the spirit of it to us was from one in the camp of the enemy, and the thought occurred to me that you, a member of the Church, could ill afford to stand in with Bishop Spalding in a premeditated attack on our religious faith.

President Smith then counseled Russell to not abandon his faith, the truthfulness of the Book of Abraham or the work of the Prophet Joseph Smith, but rather do his best to defend it.

In connection with this whole matter this thought is of prime importance, and should ever be borne in mind: The same overruling providence which prompted the father of Joseph Smith to change the place of abode of himself and family from Vermont to Palmyra, New York, the neighborhood of the Hill Cumorah, where were hidden at that time the sacred Nephite record, also prompted the exhuming of the mummies containing the sacred writings of Abraham, and guided the man in possession of them to the Prophet Joseph Smith, and the self-same spirit moved upon Oliver Cowdery to come to, and make the acquaintance of, Joseph who needed his help, as was plainly make known to Oliver by revelation. And we firmly believe that the same overruling providence will continue to move upon men, whom the Lord in his wisdom will use, from time to time,  to bring forth and establish in their own way and their own time indisputable evidences of the authenticity and divinity, not only of the Book of Abraham, as brought to light through the Prophet Joseph Smith, but the Book of Mormon as well.

This part of the work, however, is evidently for the scientists themselves to accomplish and not for us as a Church, for our testimony is not received or admitted by the critics, and in its consummation it is to be hoped they will have dug their own grave of unbelief, and be willing to acknowledge the truth. But in the meantime whatever you or any other member of the Church may be able to do along this line of work will of course be acceptable to the Lord and your brethren, and will at the same time redown [sic] to your own gratification and honor.

I sincerely hope that the love of the truth and the desire to uphold and defend it may ever be a part and portion of your being, and that nothing may occur in your life, however eventful it may be, to weaken your faith or in the least shake your confidence in the Prophet Joseph Smith. 

With best wishes and kind love, 
I am your friend and brother, 
Joseph F. Smith.

[Joseph F. Smith to Isaac Russell, February 2, 1913]

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