Praise to the Man
After watching this film, I felt like I needed to take a shower. As a Christian, I am appalled by the praise, not only given to Joseph Smith in this film, but in the way Mormons continue to focus their attention on him. One ex-Mormon friend of mine put the difference between Mormons and Christians by using a pizza delivery man as an example. A Mormon is one who wastes time adoring the delivery man--how nice he looks, how nice his car is, how well-mannered he is, etc. While this is going on, the pizza grows cold. A Christian is one who concentrates on the pizza representing Christ and His gospel. As an example of all this, the film quotes a popular LDS hymnist, Eliza R. Snow: “With the help of God and his brethren, he laid the foundation for the greatest work ever established by man” (emphasis added). The film also quotes Brigham Young as saying, “I am bold to say that no better man ever lived. I feel like shouting Hallelujah all the time when I think that I ever knew Joseph Smith the prophet” (emphasis added).
This film is a story told through the eyes of W. W. Phelps, an early LDS Church leader who wrote the well-known LDS hymn, “Praise to the Man.” This film is a historical documentary with acting as well as interviews with such notable authorities as LDS historian Richard Bushman and BYU’s late Truman Madsen. The film was of first rate cinematography. It had beautiful scenery and music throughout.
Given this was meant to be a historical piece, I will offer a more accurate picture of the various events portrayed in this propaganda film.
1. The film gives the standard story of the first vision from 1838, but there were earlier and later contradictory stories given of this event--some even given by Smith himself. For more on this, see here.
2. Contrary to the film, there is no record of an “1819 revival” that swept the nation, including upstate New York. Actually, Smith’s account says that revivals and religious excitement were going on in the spring of 1820 and this is what motivated him to ask the Lord of which church to join. The facts concerning membership growth in the various denominations at that time were negligible. By contrast, the numbers were substantially increased in 1824-1825. This is further corroborated by Smith’s mother saying that the revival occurred after her son Alvin’s death in 1823. For more on this, see here.
3. Smith says in the film, “I was answered that I must join none of them… and many other things did He say unto me.” This is a feckless attempt to convey the message Smith supposedly received. He actually revealed that the various denominations (Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists were singled out) “were all wrong; …all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt that: ‘they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof” (Joseph Smith—History 1:19; cf. 1:9).
4. William Smith, Joseph’s younger brother, is quoted in the film saying, “When Joseph told us of his vision, we believed him. I suppose if he told crooked stories about other things we might have doubted his word, but Joseph was a truthful boy.” The problem with this is that Smith was charged $2.68 on March 20, 1826 for being a “Glass looker.” “State of New York v. Joseph Smith. Warrant issued upon written complaint upon oath of Peter G. Bridgeman, who informed that one Joseph Smith of Bainbridge was a disorderly person and an imposter. …[This included] ‘all persons pretending to have skill in physiognomy, palmistry, or like crafty science, or pretending to tell fortunes, or to discover where lost goods may be found.’ Since Smith had never actually led the diggers to anything of value, Bridgeman considered that Joseph was indeed pretending to discover lost items” (H. Michael Marquardt & Wesley P. Walters, Inventing Mormonism [Smith Research Associates, 1994], 71). Smith would look at a stone and pretend to tell people where to find buried treasure. He later would put a stone in a hat and pretend to tell people the translational treasure of the Book of Mormon (cf. here). All this must have been an indication of Joseph’s truthfulness to William.
5. The angel who first visited Smith was named Nephi, not Moroni, in the 1838 first vision account (cf. 1851 Pearl of Great Price, 41 and Times and Seasons 3:753). The 1838 account became the standard story minus the change from Nephi to Moroni.
6. In October 1825, Josiah Stowell hired Smith to dig for a silver mine. This was the time when Smith met Emma Hale, who would later become his wife. Smith stayed in the Hale home while employed. The film stated that Emma’s father, Issac Hale, didn’t approve, but there is no mention as to why. Bushman says outside this film that it was due to Smith’s business practice of magic treasure seeking (Rough Stone Rolling, 53-4). What concerned father could blame Issac?
7. The film shows Smith running away from a mob with the plates. The problem here, though, is that given the description of the plates, they would be too heavy to run around as Smith did with them in the film (cf. here).
8. The film simply gives Martin Harris’s account of his meeting with Dr. Charles Anthon. Harris says that Anthon retracted his testimony of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon “Reformed Egyptian” characters scribbled on a piece of paper. Harris claims Anthon said they were “Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac, and Arabic” (Joseph Smith—History 1:64). But according to Anthon, in a later letter, he said that the whole thing was a fraud, and the characters were a mix of different alphabets—Greek, Hebrew, weird Roman letters—“any thing else but ‘Egyptian Hieroglyphics.’” The Harris manuscript (or at least a copy of it) has since been found, and it verifies Anthon’s, not Harris’, claim.
9. The film claims that only after Smith asked God three times to give Harris the 116 page manuscript of the Book of Mormon to take home with him was permission granted. Harris ended up losing the manuscript. Why was Smith so depressed? Was it because it was lost? Couldn’t God have easily used Smith again to translate those pages? Madsen said that Smith was depressed because he felt like he betrayed the council given him. So he came up with a rule… when God commands, do it. But why would that be the case, since God supposedly gave Smith permission? Perhaps God never gave Smith permission, but the film does not portray this. The whole story of the 116 pages is simply a mess--a fine example of covering one’s anterior! For more problems with the lost 116 pages, see here.
10. The film said, “After the plates were returned, Emma served as a scribe for Joseph for a time.” The film never indicates where the plates went. Should the film have said, “After Smith returned to the plates”?
11. In the dictation process, nothing is shown of Smith looking into his seer stone in his hat. It just shows him looking at the plates in his hand. This is also a feckless attempt to avoid the strangeness of the primary means of translation.
12. The Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods could not have been given to Smith. The Aaronic was done away, since there is no longer a need for the Old Testament sacrificial system. The Lamb of God has been sacrificed, and as Jesus said on the cross, sin has been paid in full (Greek for “it is finished”). Hebrews 7 makes clear there was a change in the priesthood. The Aaronic gave way to the Melchizedek, and of which there is only One worthy enough of the title. This One doesn’t continue to die like all the other Old Testament priests, but is One who is our priest forevermore. His sacrifice has been given once for all.
14. The dictation process being completed in just over two months does not necessitate a miracle without any formal education. First, Smith did have formal education. He enrolled in the Bainbridge, New York area while working for Josiah Stowell. This would put him in school around 20 years old. Smith testified to this fact before Judge Albert Neely on March 20, 1826. There are other confirmations of this fact (cf., Inventing Mormonism, 44). Second, plagiarism is something less than miraculous, and it doesn’t take someone with a formal education. Eric Johnson states that “a fifth of the Book of Mormon is copied straight out of the King James Version Bible, including the errors made by the English translators.” He goes on to talk about other sources Smith likely utilized.
15. The film portrayed the witnesses actually handling and seeing the plates. For problems with the witnesses’ character as well as whether this handling and seeing was actual or visionary, see here.
16. The fifth President of the LDS Church, Lorenzo Snow, is quoted as saying, “A man bearing such a wonderful testimony and having such a countenance as he possessed could hardly be a false prophet.” This sounds rather subjective. It is a wonderful testimony, since Snow agrees with it, and he admires Smith’s countenance. This is nice for Snow, but what of those who disagree with Smith’s testimony and find it blasphemous? And what about those who don’t like Smith’s countenance? Pictures I have seen of his countenance look rather creepy. One’s likes and dislikes are really besides the point. The Bible is clear that even Satan can transform into an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). We must test the prophets and spirits by the word of God. The Apostle Paul tells us that if the apostles or even an angel from heaven give any other gospel than that which was already delivered, then it is to be damned (Galatians 1:6-9).
17. The film tells of Smith’s Civil War prophecy, but fails to mention that he said it would pour out to all nations. For more on this problematic prophecy, see here.
18. The film mentions the School of the Prophets in which Smith taught doctrine, but it fails to mention anything about the Lectures on Faith. These were the “doctrine” part of the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants in 1835. They were deleted from the 1921 version due to such teachings as the Father being a personage of spirit, there only being two persons in the Godhead—the Father and Son, and the mind that is shared between them is called the Holy Spirit (cf., Section V).
19. The film says that Smith got a revelation to take a group and “defend” the Saints in Missouri. They formed what was called Zion’s Camp. In May 1834, the company left Kirtland, Ohio for Missouri. Someway through the journey, Smith got another revelation that his men should not fight. Instead, they were to disband and return to their homes. Were the enemies too powerful for God that He had to change His mind?
20. The film briefly mentions the Book of Abraham papyri that Smith purchased from Michael Chandler. What the film doesn’t say is that the facsimiles given therein demonstrate that Smith did not translate them correctly. These papyri resurfaced in 1967, and Egyptologists have concluded these have nothing to do with Abraham. They were pagan funerary texts. For more on this, see here and here.
21. The film talks about Missouri Governor Boggs extermination order of the Mormons, but fails to mention this was only after LDS leader Sidney Rigdon made a fiery speech that they would exterminate any mob that provoked them. For more on the escalation of both sides, see here.
22. The film documents the 1842 attempt on life of Boggs, Smith getting blamed for it, and then being acquitted of it. This allegedly fostered animosity within Nauvoo. William and Wilson Law were accused of slandering Smith’s business and government practices and plural marriage in their one and only issue of The Nauvoo Expositor. The City Council (of which Smith was Mayor) concluded that the law didn’t protect libel, and thus the Expositor was not protected and considered a public nuisance. The film didn’t tell of how the Council actually destroyed the printing press.
In the film, Smith wipes mud from children’s feet, plays games with them, is amiable to strangers, forgives those like Phelps who betrayed him, so how could anyone want him dead? It must be pure bigotry.
But what was slanderous in what the Laws printed? What was untrue? Plural marriage is only mentioned in the film at this point, and it was certainly an explosive issue. The film did not mention that the paper also exposed Smith’s polytheism, and this was also an explosive issue. To read the Expositor, see here.
23. The film has Illinois Governor Ford sending a letter to Smith for him to stand trial on the charge of treason, but the film doesn’t specifically give details here on how he was treasonous. Smith flees, but then returns to Carthage going as a “lamb to the slaughter.” Nothing is shown of Smith defending himself against the mob with a pistol. For more on this, see here.
For more info on this film, see here.
R. M. Sivulka
West Jordan, UT
February 17, 2010