Joseph Smith/Occultism and magic/Book of Mormon recovered on autumnal equinox

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Criticism

Critics claim that Joseph Smith's preoccupation with "magick" is supported by the fact that meetings with Moroni and the recovery of the Book of Mormon occurred on the autumnal equinox, a date with astrological and magical significance.

See also: Source(s) of the criticism

Response

In this instance, critics presume that their claims about Joseph's preoccupation with magic is an accurate description of his attempt to recover the plates (see circular reasoning). If, however, there are other explanations for receiving the plates on the evening of 21-22 September 1827, then this cannot be used as evidence for pre-occupation with a "magic world view."

The Book of Mormon claims to be a religious text, with a world-view sharing close affinities with Judaism. Interestingly, the plates' recovery occurred on a vital date in the Jewish calendar:

Rosh ha-Shanah, the Jewish New Year (which had begun at sundown on 21 September 1827). At Rosh ha-Shanah the faithful were commanded to set a day aside as "a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation" (Lev. 23:24).[1]

Rosh ha-Shanah also begins the Asseret Yemei Teshuva (The Ten Days of Repentance) which precede the holiest day of the Jewish year: Yom Kippur, the day of the atonement. Likewise, the Book of Mormon claimed to come forth to preach repentance, and prepare the way for Christ's second coming.

Rosh ha-Shanah is celebrated by the blowing of the ram's horn (shofar), just as Jesus' apocalyptic teachings foretold that the elect would be gathered by angels "with a great sound of a trumpet" (Matt. 24:31). The Revelation of St. John features angels with trumpets as part of the preparation or heralding of Christ's second coming (e.g., Rev. 8:2,6; compare D&C 77:12). The Book of Mormon portrays itself squarely within this tradition, heralding and preparing the way for the gathering of the elect and the return of Christ (1  Nephi 13:34-42).

In the Jerusalem temple, "at the autumnal equinox the rays of the sun could enter the [holy of holies] because the whole of the edifice faced east."[2] Thus, on a date in which the idea of divine illumination, light, and knowledge streaming into God's earthly temple was so prominent, a new divine revelation of scripture fits at least as well as Quinn's claim that this date has astrological significance for "the introduction of 'broad cultural movements and religious ideas'."[3]

Joseph and other members made no claims about 21-22 September being significant for any reason. He may not have known its significance, in either an astrological or religious context. Critics often assume that Joseph was fabricating his story, and so they must ascribe a significance to this date which Joseph was likely to know—they seize, therefore, on the astrological connection while severing it from its deep religious roots. This is again question begging, since it presumes at the outset that Joseph's tale was fraudulent, and that the Book of Mormon had nothing to do with ancient Judaism.

Conclusion

Critics are so enamored of the magic thesis that they fail to consider that many religious traditions (including Judaism) use the equinoxes as part of their religious calendar. Thus, the presence of a significant "astrological" date may be coincidental or present for religious, not "magical" reasons. This again highlights the problems with "magic" as a category.

Endnotes

  1. [note]  Larry E. Morris, "'I Should Have an Eye Single to the Glory of God’: Joseph Smith’s Account of the Angel and the Plates (Review of: "From Captain Kidd’s Treasure Ghost to the Angel Moroni: Changing Dramatis Personae in Early Mormonism")," FARMS Review 17/1 (2005): 11–82. off-site PDF link
  2. [note] Bruce Chilton, "Jesus’ Dispute in the Temple and the Origin of the Eucharist," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 29 no. 4, 22–23.
  3. [note]  D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1998), 121 ( Index of claims )

Further reading

FAIR wiki articles

"Magic" wiki articles

FAIR web site

"Magic" FAIR web links
  1. FAIR Topical Guide: 1826 Trial FAIR link
  2. FAIR Topical Guide: Character FAIR link
  3. FAIR Topical Guide: Family and Background FAIR link
  4. FAIR Topical Guide: Jupiter Talisman FAIR link
  5. FAIR Topical Guide: Treasure digging FAIR link
  • FAIR Topical Guide: Magic and occult FAIR link
  • FAIR Topical Guide: Seer stones FAIR link
  • Matthew B. Brown, “Revised or Unaltered?: Joseph Smith’s Foundational Stories,” 2006 FAIR Conference lecture
    Debunks the “Walters the Magician” rumor floating around Palmyra, New York. FAIR link
  • Brant A. Gardner, "Joseph the Seer—or Why Did He Translate With a Rock in His Hat?," 2009 FAIR Conference lecture, 7 August 2009 off-site
1826 trial FAIR web links
  • Russell Anderson, "The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith," (2002 FAIR Conference presentation.) FAIR link (Key source)
  • Danel W. Bachman, "Mormonism -- Shadow or Reality? History or Propaganda? Joseph Smith as a Case Study," (2000 FAIR Conference presentation.) FAIR link
  • Richard L. Bushman, "Joseph Smith Miscellany," (Mesa, Arizona: FAIR, 2005 FAIR Conference). FAIR link

External links

"Magic" web links
  • Richard L. Anderson, "Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reappraised," Brigham Young University Studies 10 no. 3 (1970), 283–314. PDF link
    Discusses content of Hurlbut ‘affidavits’ / Stafford, Chase, Ingersoll, Deming ‘affidavits’ – money digging / other Smith family with seerstone.
  • Richard L. Anderson, "The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Searching," Brigham Young University Studies 24 no. 4 (1984). PDF link GL direct link
    Caution: this article was published before Mark Hofmann's forgeries were discovered. It may treat fraudulent documents as genuine. Click for list of known forged documents.
    Discusses money-digging; Salem treasure hunting episode; fraudulent 1838 Missouri treasure hunting revelation; Wood Scrape; “gift of Aaron”; “wand or rod”; Heber C. Kimball rod and prayer; magic; occult; divining lost objects; seerstone; parchments; talisman
  • Richard L. Anderson, "The Alvin Smith Story: Fact and Fiction," Ensign (August 1987), 58. off-site
    Discusses Salamander Letter / Magic; Chase affidavit; Saunders memories; rumored Oliver Cowdery history
  • Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Review of Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reexamined by Rodger I. Anderson," FARMS Review of Books 3/1 (1991): 52–80. off-site
    Discusses seerstones; magic; money-digging; animal sacrifice; ‘faculty of Abrac’.
  • Mark Ashurst-McGee, "Moroni as Angel and as Treasure Guardian," FARMS Review 18/1 (2006): 34–100. off-site PDF link wiki
  • Davis Bitton, "Review of John L. Brooke, The Refiner’s Fire: the Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844," Brigham Young University Studies 34 no. 4 (1994–95), 182–192. PDF link
  • John Gee, "Abracadabra, Isaac and Jacob (Review of The Use of Egyptian Magical Papyri to Authenticate the Book of Abraham: A Critical Review by Edward H. Ashment)," FARMS Review of Books 7/1 (1995): 19–84. off-site PDF link
  • John Gee, "'Bird Island' Revisited, or the Book of Mormon through Pyramidal Kabbalistic Glasses: Review of Written by the Finger of God: A Testimony of Joseph Smith's Translations by Joe Sampson," FARMS Review of Books 7/1 (1995): 219–228. off-site PDF link
  • John Gee, "Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 185–224. off-site PDF link  (Key source)
  • William J. Hamblin, "'Everything Is Everything': Was Joseph Smith Influenced by Kabbalah? Review of Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection by Lance S. Owens," FARMS Review of Books 8/2 (1996): 251–325. off-site PDF link
  • William J. Hamblin, "That Old Black Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 225–394. off-site PDF link
  • William J. Hamblin, Daniel C. Peterson, and George L. Mitton, "Review of John L. Brooke, The Refiner’s Fire: the Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844," Brigham Young University Studies 34 no. 4 (1994–95), 167–181. PDF link
  • William J. Hamblin, Daniel C. Peterson, and George L. Mitton, "Mormon in the Fiery Furnace Or, Loftes Tryk Goes to Cambridge (Review of The Refiner's Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 by John L. Brooke)," FARMS Review of Books 6/2 (1994): 3–58. off-site PDF link
    Shorter version of BYU Studies paper above; discusses Hermeticism; Masonry
  • Marvin S. Hill, "Money-Digging Folklore and the Beginnings of Mormonism: An Interpretive Suggestion," Brigham Young University Studies 24 no. 4 (Fall 1984), 473–488.
    Caution: this article was published before Mark Hofmann's forgeries were discovered. It may treat fraudulent documents as genuine. Click for list of known forged documents. off-site
  • Rhett S. James, "Writing History Must Not Be an Act of Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 395–414. off-site PDF link
  • Larry E. Morris, "'I Should Have an Eye Single to the Glory of God’: Joseph Smith’s Account of the Angel and the Plates (Review of: "From Captain Kidd’s Treasure Ghost to the Angel Moroni: Changing Dramatis Personae in Early Mormonism")," FARMS Review 17/1 (2005): 11–82. off-site PDF link
  • Larry E. Morris, "Joseph Smith and "Interpretive Biography", Review of Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet by Dan Vogel," FARMS Review 18/1 (2006): 321–374. off-site PDF link wiki
  • Stephen E. Robinson, "Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, by D. Michael Quinn," Brigham Young University Studies 27 no. 4 (1987), ?–??. PDF link
  • Matthew Roper, "Unanswered Mormon Scholars (Review of Answering Mormon Scholars: A Response to Criticism Raised by Mormon Defenders)," FARMS Review of Books 9/1 (1997): 87–145. off-site PDF link (page 87–145; see especially section "Joseph Smith and 'Magic'")
  • Janet Thomas, "Magic," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 2:849. off-site off-site off-site
  • Ronald W. Walker, "Joseph Smith: The Palmyra Seer,," Brigham Young University Studies 24 no. 4 (Fall 1984), 461–472. off-site
    Caution: this article was published before Mark Hofmann's forgeries were discovered. It may treat fraudulent documents as genuine. Click for list of known forged documents.
  • Ronald W. Walker, "The Persisting Idea of American Treasure Hunting," Brigham Young University Studies 24 no. 4 (Fall 1984), 427–459. off-site
    Caution: this article was published before Mark Hofmann's forgeries were discovered. It may treat fraudulent documents as genuine. Click for list of known forged documents.
  • Benson Whittle, "review of Michael Quinn, Mormonism and the Magic World View, 1st ed.," Brigham Young University Studies 27 no. 4 (Fall 1984), 105–121. off-site
  • William A. Wilson, "review of Michael Quinn, Mormonism and the Magic World View, 1st ed.," Brigham Young University Studies 27 no. 4 (Fall 1984), 96–104. off-site

Printed material

"Magic" printed materials
  • Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000). Buy online
  • Richard L. Bushman, "Joseph Smith's Family Background," in The Prophet Joseph: Essays on the Life and Mission of Joseph Smith, ed. Larry C. Porter and Susan Easton Black (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1988), 1–18. ISBN 0875791778. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  • Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 41–52.
  • Stephen D. Ricks and Daniel C. Peterson, “Joseph Smith and ‘Magic’: Methodological Reflections on the Use of a Term,” in Robert L. Millet, ed., To Be Learned Is Good If . . . (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1987), 129–147.

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