In November 1835 Latter-day Saints in Kirtland Ohio were visited by a man who represented himself to be a Jewish teacher by the name “Joshua.” While in Kirtland, the Prophet patiently listened to the man, and then after several days, dismissed his teachings as erroneous, and told him to leave.
The man’s real name, as it turned out, was not Joshua, but Robert Matthews (also known as Matthias), and he is the subject of an interesting biography now in a second edition. See Paul E. Johnson and Sean Wilentz, The Kingdom of Matthias: A Story of Sex and Salvation in 19th Century America, updated edition (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). That book provides useful historical context on Matthias’ background and ideas. Readers who want to know more about Matthias may want to consult that biography as well as Joseph Smith’s journal account of his visit given below. The extract from Joseph Smith’s account of his encounter with Matthias as recorded in his 1835 journal is given below at the end of this post (original punctuation and spelling is included).
We can draw several conclusions about this man's teachings and understand several reasons that the Joseph Smith found them erroneous and inconsistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
First, while there may have been additional things with which he may have taken issue (Joseph remarked that Matthias’ mind was “evidently filled with darkness”), Smith’s account makes clear that the man’s teachings about the resurrection were those of the most interest to him. Hence his patient effort to get to man to state explicitly those things about which he may at first have been vague.
Second, as Isabella Van Waggonen, one of the visitor’s former followers explained, “Matthias and his disciples at this time did not believe in a resurrection of the body, but that the spirits of the former saints would enter the bodies of the present generation, and thus begin heaven upon earth.” [Olive Gilbert], Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave (New York: For the Author, 1853), 94-95, emphasis added. This would have directly contradicted Joseph Smith’s own testimony of the resurrection.
Third, Matthias professed to be Deity himself, a claim that many, including Joseph Smith, would have considered blasphemous. This did not mean that Matthias aspired to be like God. Rather, he claimed to be God himself. Johnson and Wilentz note, “At quieter times and before smaller audiences, Matthias provided details about his own past and the world’s future. Matthias was the Spirit of Truth—the male governing spirit, or God. He could enter any body or take on any shape and had been doing so for thousands of years. His spirit had given life to all the plants and animals, and it remained in them. He had created Adam and had endowed him with the male governing spirit; during his early lifetime Adam was God.” (The Kingdom of Matthias, 94). Van Waggonen remembered when she first met Matthias “on opening the door, she for the first time, beheld Matthias, and her early impression of seeing Jesus in the flesh rushed into her mind” (Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave, 90). After Joseph Smith shared an account of his early visions, Matthias felt comfortable opening up to the Prophet observing that Joseph “could bear stronger meat than many others.” In this setting Smith recorded that Matthias “professed to be the spirit of truth itself, also, that he possesses the soul of Christ.”
Fourth, Matthias held that instead of a literal resurrection of the body in which the dead would rise from their graves, “resurrection” consisted of the “spirit of the fathers” or some of the spirits of dead individuals, ancestors, former prophets or saints, inhabited subsequent mortal bodies of their descendants. This, he professed, had happened many times. In addition to Adam “The Spirit of Truth had entered Abraham …. The Spirit then entered each of the prophets and apostles in their turn and was strengthened each time by the knowledge and faith acquired in a righteous man’s life. The Spirit had been Jesus Christ. After the Crucifixion he entered Mathias, the Apostle chosen by God to replace Judas.” (The Kingdom of Matthias, 94-95). Elijah Pierson was another firm supporter of Matthias. The two men, Pierson and Matthias, “mutually discovered that they held the same sentiments, both admitting the direct influence of the Spirit, and the transmission of spirits from one body to another.” Pierson possessed the body of Elijah the Tishbite “Matthias, however, claiming to be the Father, or to possess the spirit of the Father—he was God upon earth, because the spirit of God dwelt in him; while Pierson then understood his mission was like that of John the Baptist, which the name Elias meant” (Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave, 92-93).
Hence “resurrection” as taught by Matthias, consisted of certain spirits, or a collective group of departed spirits, migrating from mortal body to mortal body from generation to generation. “In the proper order of things, the governing spirit passed from father to son in a fixed system of spirit genealogy. When a righteous man died, his spirit joined his father’s spirit in the body of a newborn child. The child then carried those spirits through life, adding acquired knowledge along the way. And at his death the child’s spirit rejoined the spirit of the father who was his teacher in the body of yet another child” (The Kingdom of Matthias, 95). When pressed by Joseph Smith to clarify his views of the resurrection Matthias claimed “that he poss[ess]es the spirit of his fathers, that he is a litteral decendant of Mathias the Apostle that was chosen in the place of Judas that fell and that his spirit is resurrected in him, and that this is the way or scheme of eternal life, this transmigration of soul or spirit from Father to Son.”
After showing hospitality, patiently listening, and asking clarifying questions, the Prophet pronounced the man’s teachings false and inspired by a demonic or wicked source. It was time for him to go. “I told him that his doctrine was of the Devil that he was in reality in possession of wicked and depraved spirit, although he professed to be the spirit of truth, it self, also that he possesses the soul of Christ; he tarried until Wednesday 11.th, after breckfast I told him, that my God told me that his God is the Devil, and I could not keep him any longer, and he must depart, and so I for once cast out the Devil in bodily shape, & I believe a murderer.”
9–11 November 1835 • Monday–Wednesday
Monday morning 9th. after
Sister <Mary> Whitcher came in and
wished to see me, she I granted her request she gave a
relation of her griveances which were, unfathonable at present, and if
true sore indeed, and I pray my heavenly Father to bring the truth of
her case to light, that the reward due to evil doers may be given
them, and <that> the afflicted & oppressed may be delivered;—
while setting in my house between the hours of nine <ten>
& 10 11 this morning a man came in, and introduced
himself to me, calling <himself> self <by the name
of> Joshua the Jewish minister, his appearance was some what <
thing> singular, having a beard about 3 inches in length which is
quite grey, also his hair is long and considerably silvered with age [p.
22] I should think he is about 50 or 55 years old, tall and strait slender
built of thin visage blue eyes, and fair complexion, he wears a sea green frock
coat, & pantaloons of the same, black fur hat with narrow brim, and
while speaking frequently shuts his eyes, with a scowl on
his countinance; I made some enquiry after his name but received
no definite answer; we soon commenced talking upon the subject of religion and
after I had made some remarks concerning the bible I commenced giving him
a relation of the circumstances connected with the coming forth of the book of
Mormon, as follows— being wrought up in my mind, respecting the subject of
religion and looking upon <at> the different systems
taught the children of men, I knew not who was right or who was
wrong and concidering it of the first importance that I should be
right, in matters that involve d eternal consequences; being thus
perplexed in mind I retired to the silent grove and bowd down
before the Lord, under a realising sense that he had said (if the
bible be true) ask and you shall receive knock and it shall be opened seek
and you shall find and again, if any man lack wisdom let him ask of
God who giveth to all men libarally and upbradeth not; information was
what I most desired at this time, and with a
fixed determination I to obtain it, I called upon the
Lord for the first time, in the place above stated or in other words
I made a fruitless attempt to pray, my toung seemed to be swolen in my
mouth, so that I could not utter, I heard a noise behind me like
some person walking towards me, <I> strove again to pray, but
could not, the noise of walking seemed to draw nearer, I sprung up on my
feet, and [p. 23] and looked around, but saw no person or
thing that was calculated to produce the noise of walking, I kneeled again
my mouth was opened and my toung liberated, and I called on the Lord
in mighty prayer, a pillar of fire appeared above my head, it
presently rested down upon my <me> head,
and filled me with joy unspeakable, a personage appeard in the midst, of
this pillar of flame which was spread all around, and yet nothing
consumed, another personage soon appeard like unto the first, he said unto
me thy sins are forgiven thee, he testifyed unto me that Jesus
Christ is the son of God; <and I saw many angels in this
vision> I was about 14. years old when I received this first
communication; When I was about 17 years old I saw another vision
of angels, in the night season after I had retired to bed I had not
been a sleep, when but was meditating upon my past life and
experiance, I was verry concious that I had not kept
the commandments, and I repented hartily for all my sins and
transgression, and humbled myself before Him; <whose eyes are over all
things>, all at once the room was iluminated above the brightness of
the sun an angel appeared before me, his hands and feet were naked
pure and white, and he stood between the floors of the room, clothed
<with> in purity inexpressible, he said unto me
I am a messenger sent from God, be faithful and keep his commandments
in all things, he told me of a sacred record which was written on
plates of gold, I saw in the vision the place where they were deposited,
he said the indians, were the literal descendants of Abraham he
explained many things of the prophesies to [p. 24] me,
one I will mention which is this in Malachi 4 behold the
day of the Lord cometh &c; also that the Urim and Thumim, was hid
up with the record, and that God would give me power to translate it,
with the assistance of this instrument he then gradually vanished out of
my sight, or the vision closed, while meditating on what I had seen,
the Angel appeard to me again and related the same things and much more,
also the third time bearing the same tidings, and departed; during the
time I was in this vision I did not realize any thing else around
me except what was shown me in this communication: after the vision
had all passed, I found that it was nearly day-light, the family soon
arose, I got up also:— on that day while in the field at work
with my Father he asked me if I was sick I replyed, I had but
little strenght, he told me to go to the house, I started and went part
way and was finally deprived deprived of my strength and
fell, but how long I remained I do not know; the Angel came to me again
and commanded me to go and tell my Father, what I had seen and heard, I did so, he wept and
told me that it was a vision from God to attend to it I went and
found the place, where the plates were, according to the direction of the
Angel, also saw them, and the angel as before; the powers of darkness
strove hard against me, I called on God, the Angel told me that the
reason why I could not obtain the plates at this time was because I
was under transgression, but to come again in one year from that
time, I did so, but did not obtain them [p. 25] also the third
and the fourth year, at which time I obtained them, and translated them
into the english language; by the gift and power of God and have been
preaching it ever since.
While I was relating this brief history of the establishment of the Church of Christ in these last days, Joshua seemed to be highly entertained after I had got through I observed that, the hour of worship & time to dine had now arived and invited him to tarry, which he concented to,
After dinner the conversation was resumed and Joshua proceded to make some remarks on the prophesies, as follows:
He observed that he was aware that I could bear
stronger meat than many others, therefore he should open his mind the more
freely;— Daniel has told us that he is to stand in his proper lot, in the
latter days according to his vision he had a right to shut it up and
also to open it again after many days, or in the latter
times; Daniels Image whose head was gold, and body, armes, legs and
feet was composed of the different materials described in his vision
represents different governments, the golden head was <to represent>
Nebuchodnazer King of Babylon, the other parts other kings & forms of
government, which I shall not now mention in detail, but confine my
remarks, more particularly to the feet of the Image; The policy of the
wicked spirit, is to separate what God has joined togather and unite what
He has separated, which he has succeded in doing to admiration, in
the present state of society, which is like unto Iron and clay, there
is confusion in all things, both [p. 26] both Political and religious, and
notwithstanding all the efforts that are made to bring about a union,
is remains disunited, and all attempts to <unite
her> are as fruitless, as to attemp to unite Iron & Clay.
The feet of the Image, is the government of these united States, other Nations & kingdoms are looking up to her for an example, of union fredom and equal rights, and therefore worship her, like as Daniel saw in the vision, although they are begining to loose confidence in her, seeing the broils and discord that distract, her political & religious horizon this Image is characteristic of all governments and institutions or most of them; as they begin with a head of gold and terminate in the contempible feet of Iron & clay: making a splendid appearance at first, proposing to do much more than the[y] can perform, and finally end in degradation and sink, in infamy; we should not only start to come out of Babylon but leav it entirely lest we are overthrown in her ruins, we should keep improving and reforming, twenty-fours hours for improvement now is worth as much as a year a hundred years ago; the spirit of the Fathers that was cut down, or those that were under the altar, are now rising this is the first resurection the Elder that fall’s first will rise last; we should not form any opinion only for the present, and leave the result of futurity with God: I have risen up out of obscurity, but was lookd. up to when but a youth, in temporal things: It is not necessary that God should give us all things at first or in his first commission to us, but in his second. John saw the angel deliver the gospel in the last days, which would not be necessary if [p. 27] it was already in the world this expression would be inconsistent, the small lights that God has given, is sufficient to lead us out of babylon, when we get out we shall have the greater light. I told Johua that I did not understand him concerning the resurection and wishd him to be more explanitory on the subject; he replied that he did not feell impressed by the spirit to unfold it further at present, but perhaps he might at some other time.
I then withdrew to do some buisness with another gentleman that called to see me.
He [Robert Matthews] informed my Scribe that he was born in Washington County Town of Cambridge New York. he says that all the railroads canals and other improvements are performed by spirits of the resurection.
The silence spoken of by John the Revelator which is to be in heaven for the space of half an hour, is between 1830 & 1851, during which time the judgments of God will be poured out after that time there will be peace.
Curiosity to see a man that was reputed to be a jew caused many to call during the day and more particularly at evening suspicions were entertained that said Joshua was the noted Mathias of New York, spoken so much of in the public prints on account of the trials he underwent in that place before a court of justice, for murder manslaughter comtempt of court whiping his Daughter &c for the two last crimes he was imprisoned, and came out about 4, months [p. 28] since, after some, equivocating he confessed that he was realy Mathias: after supper I proposed that he should deliver a lecture to us, he did so sitting in his chair; he commenced by saying God said let there be light and there was light, which he dwelt upon through his discource, he made some verry exelent remarks but his mind was evidently filled with darkness, after he dismissed his meeting, and the congregation disperced, he conversed freely upon the circumstances that transpired in New York,
His name is Robert Mathias, he say[s] that Joshua, is his priestly name.
during all this time I did not contradict his sentiments, wishing to draw out all that I could concerning his faith; the next morning Tuesday 10th I resumed the conversation and desired him to enlighten my mind more on his views respecting the resurection, he says that he poss[ess]es the spirit of his fathers, that he is a litteral decendant of Mathias the Apostle that was chosen in the place of Judas that fell and that his spirit is resurrected in him, and that this is the way or scheme of eternal life, this transmigration of soul or spirit from Father to Son: I told him that his doctrine was of the Devil that he was in reality in possession of wicked and depraved spirit, although he professed to be the spirit of truth, it self, also that he possesses the soul of Christ; he tarried until Wednesday 11.th, after breckfast I told him, that my God told me that his God is the Devil, and I could not keep him any longer, and he must depart, and so I for once cast out the Devil in bodily shape, & I believe a murderer
Joseph Smith Journal, 9-11 November, 1835, The Joseph Smith Papers: Journals, Volume 1: 1832-1839, ed. Dean C. Jesse, Mark Ashurst-McGee, Richard L. Jensen (Salt Lake City, UT: Church Historian’s Press, 2008), 92-95.
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