April 8, 2008

"The Devil Pitching Onto Joseph"

Heber C. Kimball March 2, 1856

You know that the world has made a great deal of fuss, and told many lies about the devil pitching on to Joseph Smith when he went to get the plates, but they will get to a place where the devils will handle them worse than they did Joseph when he got the plates; if they do not embrace the Gospel it will be so (JD 3:230).
Who was Pres. Kimball talking about and what was this about the devil pitching onto Joseph? Eber D. Howe published the first anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unveiled in 1834. As editor of the Painesville Telegraph in Ohio, Howe advertised his book in the November 28, 1834 edition:
Just published in this Town, a Book under the above title, containing a history of the Mormon imposition, from its rise to the present time, with many other peculiarities of the sect. 292 pages, 12 mo. For sale at this office, wholesale, and at the Painesville Book-Store.[1]
The book contains many interesting accounts and affidavits sworn by Isaac Hale, W.W. Phelps, Charles Anthon, Lucy Harris, and other people said to be neighbors or associates of the Smith family.[2] These affidavits were collected in the early 1830s by Mormon apostate Philastus Hurlbut. It appears Unveiled contains the first published account of the devil "pitching onto Joseph," including a woodcut illustration of the event which is described as follows:
REMARKABLE EVENTS The reader will already have observed, that a great variety of contradictory stories were elated by the Smith family, before they had any fixed plan of operation, respecting the finding of the plates, from which their book was translated. One is, that after the plates were taken from their hiding place by Jo, he again laid them down, looked into the hole, where he saw a toad,[3] which immediately transformed itself into a spirit, and gave him a tremendous blow. Another is, that after he had got the plates, a spirit assaulted him with the intention of getting them from his possession, and actually jerked them out of his hands -- Jo, nothing daunted, in return seized them again, and started to run, when his Satanic Majesty, (or the spirit) applied his foot to the prophet's seat of honor, which raised him three or four feet from the ground. This being the opening scene of Mormonism, we have represented the wonderful event in our frontispiece. Here then is the finding of the plates, containing a new revelation from Heaven; and the modus operandi may seem to the Mormon, truly wonderful, and in character with that Being who upholds and sustains the Universe; but to the rational mind it can excite no other emotion than contempt for his species.[4]
Joseph Smith was aware of the Howe account at least by September 1, 1835 when he sent a letter to John Whitmer mentioning Unveiled:
Behold, then is not this the Kingdom of heaven that is raising its head in the last days in the majesty of its God, even the Church of the Latter-day Saints, like an impenetrable, immovable rock in the midst of the mighty deep, exposed to the storms and tempests of Satan, but has, thus far, remained steadfast, and is still braving the mountain waves of opposition, which are driven by the tempestuous winds of sinking crafts, which have [dashed] and are still dashing with tremendous foam across its triumphant brow; urged onward with redoubled fury by the enemy of righteousness, with his pitchfork of lies, as you will see fairly represented in a cut contained in Mr. Howe's Mormonism Unveiled? And we hope that this adversary of truth will continue to stir up the sink of iniquity, that the people may the more readily discern between the righteous and the wicked.[5]
Eleven years after the Heber C. Kimball Journal of Discourses sermon quoted above another account of devils and Joseph Smith was printed in Pomeroy Tucker's Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism, published in 1867:
Accordingly, when the appointed hour [to retrieve the plates, Sept. 22, 1827,] came, the prophet, assuming his practised air of mystery, took in hand his money-digging spade and a large napkin, and went off in silence and alone in the solitude of the forest, and after an absence of some three hours, returned, apparently with the sacred charge concealed within the folds of the napkin... Conflicting stories were afterward told in regard to the manner of keeping the book in concealment and safety, which are not worth repeating... Smith told a frightful story of the display of celestial pyrotechnics -- the angel who had led him to the discovery again appearing as his guide and protector, an confronting ten thousand devils gathered there, with their menacing sulfurous flame and smoke, to deter him from his purpose! This story was repeated and magnified by the believers, and no doubt aided the experiment upon superstitious minds which eventuated so successfully.[6]

In the illustration (click to enlarge) you can see the little devil imps dancing around Joseph on the hill as he retrieved the plates. The Howe and Tucker accounts seem to mix some truth with error regarding Joseph, the devils and the plates. Both accounts have interesting parallels to and differences from Oliver Cowdery's 1835 account of Joseph and the plates; which itself is not a definitive account:
On attempting to take possession of the record a shock was produced upon his system, by an invisible power which deprived him, in a measure, of his natural strength. He desisted for an instant, and then made another attempt, but was more sensibly shocked than before. What was the occasion of this he knew not-there was the pure unsullied record, as had been described-he had heard of the power of enchantment, and a thousand like stories, which held the hidden treasures of the earth, and supposed that physical exertion and personal strength was only necessary to enable him to yet obtain the object of his wish. He therefore made the third attempt with an increased exertion, when his strength failed him more than at either of the former times, and without premeditating he exclaimed, "Why can I not obtain this book?" "Because you have not kept the commandments of the Lord," answered a voice, within a seeming short distance. He looked, and to his astonishment, there stood the angel who had previously given him the directions concerning this matter. In an instant, all the former instructions, the great intelligence concerning Israel and the last days, were brought to his mind: he thought of the time when his heart was fervently engaged in prayer to the Lord, when his spirit was contrite, and when his holy messenger from the skies unfolded the wonderful things connected with this record. He had come, to be sure, and found the word of the angel fulfilled concerning the reality of the record, but he had failed to remember the great end for which they had been kept, and in consequence could not have power to take them into his possession and bear them away. At that instant he looked to the Lord in prayer, and as he prayed darkness began to disperse from his mind and his soul was lit up as it was the evening before, and he was filled with the Holy Spirit; and again did the Lord manifest his condescension and mercy: the heavens were opened and the glory of the Lord shone round about and rested upon him. While he thus stood gazing and admiring, the angel said, "Look!" and as he thus spake he beheld the prince of darkness, surrounded by his innumerable train of associates. All this passed before him, and the heavenly messenger said, "All this is shown, the good and the evil, the holy and impure, the glory of God and the power of darkness, that you may know hereafter the two powers and never be influenced or overcome by that wicked one.[7] Behold, whatever entices and leads to good and to do good, is of God, and whatever does not is of that wicked one: It is he that fills the hearts of men with evil, to walk in darkness and blaspheme God; and you may learn from henceforth, that his ways are to destruction, but the way of holiness is peace and rest. You now see why you could not obtain this record; that the commandment was strict, and that if ever these sacred things are obtained they must be by prayer and faithfulness in obeying the Lord.[8]

The stories each conflict, perhaps most obviously in regards to chronology. Cowdery and Chase (and thus, Howe,) describe the vision of devils as occurring in September 1823 during Joseph's first visit to the hill whereas Tucker dates the experience in September 1827 when Joseph actually took the plates from the hill.

There is additional evidence regarding Joseph's encounters with the Devil from sources friendly to the prophet and from the prophet himself. For a brief discussion see "Joseph and the Devil." Footnotes [1] "Mormonism Unvailed," Painesville Telegraph, Nov. 28, 1834. [2] For excerpts of the Harris, Hale, and Phelps affidavit's see RickGrunder.com, who recently sold a copy of Unveiled for $2,253.98. His auction listing includes a few scans and transcriptions. (Accessed April 8, 2008.) [3] This mention of the toad may have been what sparked Mark Hoffman's "salamander letter," which was the forgery of a letter written my Martin Harris which described Moroni as a white salamander. See Richard E. Turley, Victims: The LDS Church and the Mark Hofmann Case, p. 81-83. [4] Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unveiled, 275-276. This description of Joseph's encounter is Howe's summary of an affidavit written by Willard Chase, printed on page 242 of Mormonism Unveiled. For more information on Eber D. Howe, see the website Saints Without Halo's. Unveiled was based mostly on affidavits collected by Mormon apostate Philastus Hurlbut who gave his collected information to Howe to publish. Perhaps Hurlbut's own excommunication and conviction by a court for publicly threatening the life of Joseph Smith was seen as potentially discrediting his account (see HC 2:46-47; Ohio, Geauga County, Court of Common Pleas Records, Book P, pp. 431-32; Milton V. Backman, Jr., The Heavens Resound). Milton V. Backman called the book "the first book of significance printed with the design of destroying the Church" (Backman, Jr. , The Heavens Resound, p. 207).
[5] History of the Church 2:268. The letter was published in the Messenger and Advocate in September of 1835. By 1838 Joseph decided to make a more official published account regarding the rise of the Church largely due to anti-Mormon accounts such as Howe's.
Owing to the many reports which have been put in circulation by evil-disposed and designing persons, in relation to the rise and progress of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, all of which have been designed by the authors thereof to militate against its character as a Church and its progress in the world—I have been induced to write this history, to disabuse the public mind, and put all inquirers after truth in possession of the facts, as they have transpired, in relation both to myself and the Church, so far as I have such facts in my possession (JS-H 1:1).
[6] Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism, (NYC: D. Appleton & Co., 1867) p. 30-31. Tucker seems to follow more closely than Howe the Oliver Cowdery account. Jeff Lindsay's Light Planet page has a brief discussion on Tucker including some criticism of his book by Hugh Nibley. (Accessed April 8, 2008.) [7] See "Tempted in Proportion to the Light." [8] Oliver Cowdery, Letter III, Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate, 2(1), 195–201, October 1835. Reprinted in Francis W. Kirkham, A New Witness For Christ In America Vol. I, pg. 98-99.


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