Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Comore, Meroni

Bellin, Jacques Nicholas

Carte De L'Isle D' Anjouan (Comoros)

Paris: Chez Didot, 1784; from A.F. Prevost's Histoire Generale Des Voyages, Tome V, No. 13.


Thought I'd share what I found today. I will add some commentary soon.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Joe Smidt [sic] the Glass-Looker

Here is story that was published in 1843, about treasure digging quest that the prophet Joseph Smith (or rather, "Joe Smidt") was said to have been involved in. The historical accuracy of the story will no doubt be disputed (and understandably so), but since I am unaware of it being cited before, I decided to post a transcription here. Enjoy!—Mike



Near the waters of Unadilla, in the state of New York, there lived, some years since, a lean shoemaker and his sturdy, well-to-do wife. No lousy cobbler was Samuel Fish; and no slatternly, good-for-nothing body was Ruth; but, somehow or another, mouths increased upon them faster than they could well fill them; their heap of children, as aunt Eunice said, was dreadful; and indeed, the good man and his family, all told, numbered a dozen and one to spare; and could they have been seen marching in a row, from a very respectable front, made up of himself and wife, they would have run down nearly to a point. No wonder, though he industriously plied the awl, and made the waxed ends glisten and twang, morning, noon and night, while she, with equal ardor, made music with her constant step around him, that anxious care with them was a frequent guest, and want, with difficulty, barred the door.

In this dilemma, the good woman took it upon her, one night, to dream a dream; and awoke therefrom in a very agreeable frame of mind. Her first impulse, was to arouse her husband, who was sleeping like a log at her side; but she bethought herself that he had had a hard day’s work, and after all, it was but a dream; and so with commendable self-control, she again composed herself to rest.

Half an hour after, she awoke in a state of joyous trepidation, which would admit of no further delay. The self-same dream, complete in all its parts, had presented itself to her fancy again, giving an importance to the subject matter thereof, not to be attached to the ordinary vagaries of the night. She shook Samuel by the shoulders, and proceeded to recount it to him.

She had dreamed that a little old man, in a tarpaulin hat and sugar-paper small-clothes, stood before her; and after complimenting her and her husband, as very worthy, well-disposed people, if they only had the wherewithall to live, proceeded to inform her, that near at hand, under a certain tree on the banks of the Unadilla, was buried a rich treasure; which might be theirs for the taking, and would do them and their little ones much good.

“’Twas the ghost of Captain Kidd,” said Samuel.

“O no, not a ghost!” said Ruth, starting.

“Well, well, ghost or no ghost,” said Samuel, “it is a singular dream—a very singular dream—an extraordinary dream. Twice you have dreamed it, Ruth?”


“Well, good Ruth, go to sleep again, and remember, if you dream it over the thirrd time, it will come true to a certainty. Go to sleep, go to sleep!”

In obedience to the wishes of her spouse, the dame composed herself on her pillow; and Samuel, after fidgeting an hour or more in uneasy expectancy, becoming too nervous for repose, carefully got up and lighted a candle. With it in his hand, his face flushed with hopes, new and exciting, he approached the bed; and leaned over to see if he could get any clue to the success of his wife, in the expression of her features. She, good woman, with a start of terror, opened her eyes, and met his inquiring gaze. The candle fell from his hand; and she bounded out of bed to extinguish it, and as she did so, exclaimed:

“Why, Samuel, what on earth is the matter? Are you going to burn me up alive?”

“What luck? what luck?” shouted Samuel.

“Dear me!” returned his spouse, “I have not been asleep.”

Crest-fallen and discomfitted, the shoemaker crawled back into bed; and there he lay quietly until daylight, but he lay awake. Whether his wife slept, he knew not; and though he would have given half the contents of his shop to know, he dared not disturb her. At length, as gray morning had fairly got over the hills, he was electrified by a sudden spring on her part, as she came bolt upright in bed, exclaiming, “I have it, Samuel! I have dreamed it again!”

“The Lord be thanked,” said Samuel: “and now, wife, dress thee, and speed the breakfast; while I myself will attend to the children; and then we will go and consult shaker Brown respecting this most singular visitation.”

Shaker Brown was a tall, venerable man, of near three score and ten, who lived hard by. His long locks were faded nearly to a white, but his limbs retained a goodly portion of their vigor, and his pure, clear, blue eye, was still delightful to look upon. He had passed most of his life as one of a community of shakers; indeed, for many years, had been the principal of one of the most respectable societies of that singular sect; whence having emerged, and taken to him a young wife, in his old age, a child to the world, but deeply imbued with a knowledge of hidden things, and a love for the mystical, he was peculiarly qualified to act as counsellor on an occasion like the present. Hither went Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Fish, for advice; and the result of the visit was satisfactory in a high degree. Shaker Brown recommended that Joe Smidt, an itinerant vagabond glass-looker, who has since made quite a figure in the world, and was then in that region, but few miles away, should be sent for, to take the command of the important affair in hand; and for him, a messenger was accordingly despatched.

Joe Smidt, at that time, a sturdy, ruddy, square-built young fellow; in manner half way between clown and a sheep thief, had already begun to lord it in a small way, in matters mysterious and occult. When he arrived, he listened very respectfully to the narration of dame Fish, but did not condescend to ask any questions or to gape, or wonder over her dream; but treated the subject, in all respects, as though it were a matter of course, that coffers of gold should be buried, that she should dream about them, and he be called upon to bring them again to the light of day. He told some marvelous stories of his success in this way; and finally, having secured to himself a certain compensation, to be paid in hand, by Samuel and shaker Brown; beside an equal share in the venture, he proceeded to arrange a plan of operations for disemboweling the particular treasure which the little tarpaulin man had mentioned to Ruth in her dream. He exhibited a flat opaque glass, or stone, about the size of his palm; which, he said, was found in the grave of an Indian magician, lying upon the bones of the skeleton, over the heart; and which possessed the property of revealing to him the hidden things of earth.

Armed with this invaluable talisman, the dusk of evening was scarcely suffered to approach, when Samuel, shaker Brown and Smidt sallied forth. The tree, a spreading beach, indicated in Ruth’s dream, was easily found; for there was a bridge across the Unadilla, near by it, hid by an intervening clump of alders; and indeed, both Samuel and his wife, had been to the very spot a hundred times, hunting for their cow, or their pigs, or their children; and knew the tree as well as they did the butternut close by their own door. Arrived thereat, Smidt very gravely put the magical glass into his hat, and that to his face, in such a manner as to shut out all the light; while Samuel and Brown placed themselves on either side of him, and awaited in a very trying suspense his expected revelations. Soon Joe brought down the hat, and with an exclamation of delight, informed them that he had discovered the box of gold, buried but a few feet below the surface of the ground; but that it was enchanted, and he should have to break the spell which held it there, before it could be got at.

Satisfied with this, as a precurser, the party returned to Samuel’s house, where Ruth and Mrs. Brown anxiously awaited them. And there, Smidt showed a strong inclination to remain for the night; but the ardor of the others was too much aroused to permit of inactivity: they insisted, with much show of reason, that a delay of even one night was full of danger; and that the only safe course was to make sure of the treasure while it was within their reach. Joe was obliged to give way: and as soon as the necessary shovels and other implements could be got together, the party, enlarged by the addition of Ruth and Mrs. Brown, returned to the spot; where, by this time, many hopes and fears had become centered.

Joe now disposed himself to play his part with effect. Assuming all the dignity of bearing which he could command, he proceeded to describe a circle around the tree; and stepping within it, he pronounced some cabalistic words, or words, at least, of unknown sound and import to his auditors. Having, by his ceremony, taken possession of the ground, as he termed it, he charged his associates, that, while the work was in the progress, they must not, on peril of their lives, or, what with them was of equal moment, the loss of the treasure now so nearly within their grasp, utter a single word: and, stationing Ruth and Mrs. Brown a little away, as an outpost, to guard against surprise, he seized a bar, and the three men fell most lustily to digging.

Near by the scene of these events, was a little village; and indeed, the housel of Samuel Fish and shaker Brown might be said to for its extreme suburb of the river. The moving spirit of this place, was Colonel Spreeaway; a drinking, gambling, roistering merchant: and on the night in question, the business of the day having been brought to a close, he sat in his store, with several of his boon companions, to a late hour; and they made themselves merry with story telling and brandy and sugar. At length some one of the company said:

“What can have brought Joe Smidt here? I saw him pass by my shop to-day.”

“Yes, and he stopped at Fish’s,” said another.

“My wife was by there after dark,” remarked a third, “and saw shaker Brown through the window, and another man. I’ll wager it was Joe.”

“That puts me in mind,” said the colonel, “that I saw three men going across the fields toward the river, as I was coming home to-night, over the bridge. One of them, I knew was Brown, for he cannot be easily mistaken; but it was so dark that I could not make out the others.”

“Some new money-digging humbug, I’ll warrant,” said another.

“And if so,” continued the colonel, “they are at it now: and I move, boys, we have a little sport. Come, I’ll lock up, and we’ll take a turn down by the bridge.”

This proposition met with universal favor; and the company, to the number of half a dozen, set forth, and soon arrived in the neighborhood of the river. Dividing off into little scouting parties, it was not long before the money-diggers were discovered, who, by this time, by dint of sweat and vigorous blows, had succeeded in excavating the hole of considerable size in the loose, gravelly earth. Having maintained a scrupulous silence, and cut through the matted roots of the beech, with a chisel, they had got on with little noise and the more speed; until the shoulders of tall shaker Brown, as he slowly erected himself in discharging his shovel’s burden, hardly exceeded in attitude the level of the turf.

Carefully approaching close enough to ascertain the position of affairs, which they succeeded in doing without disturbing the sentinels of the night, Ruth and Mrs. Brown, who, like two deserted river nymphs, stood alone at a little distance from their friends, but eyes and soul absorbed in what was going on in the pit, the colonel and his followers re-assembled near the bridge. There was a large bright moon, but an occasional cloud passed over it; and selecting a moment when it was obscured, they betook themselves to the bridge; and, presently, the diggers were interrupted by a noise, as of a thousand cattle upon it. Mrs. Brown screamed and fled toward the pit; but Ruth, with masculine courage, stood her ground. Joe Smidt dropped his shovel, and cautiously peered around; and then motioned shaker Brown to help himself out upon the level of the earth to reconnoitre. This old gentleman did with some difficulty; but by the time he came in sight of the bridge, all was still. The moon was shining brightly again; the bridge was bare and cold, and not a living thing to be seen in any direction. After waiting a little time, he returned, and expressed to his companions, by mute looks and gestures, his inability to explain the strange occurrence: and so, after wondering in silence a minute or two, the trio proceeded in their labor.

Soon, however, they were startled and alarmed by a most vigorous caterwauling, set up on all sides of them, and in their immediate neighborhood: and screams and screeches, as of a score of panthers, succeeded; and every variety of noise which mortal organs may be supposed capable of producing. The sounds were enough to curdle one’s blood in his veins. The woman shrieked; and the men, not expecting the king conjurer, Joe, turned pale. And now, to add to their affright, amidst the din, were seen strange beings, on all fours, leaping like frogs from bush to bush; and turning with threatening, and to the excited imaginations of the money diggers, hellish aspect, toward the pit. It was too much for human strength to bear. Joe Smidt, Samuel Fish, and shaker Brown, bold men though they were, as they subsequently proved themselves, when matched with flesh and blood, clambered upon terra firma, as best they might, and taking their women between them, broke from the magical spot, beset, as they believed it, with a host of devils from the infernal regions, and fled toward home.

Up to this time, it is probable, that Smidt, although well aware he was deceiving others, was not deceived himself. But now he appears to have been caught in one of his own snares. Unable to account for the singular interruptions they had experienced, he came to the sage conclusion, that, in the practice of his conjurations, he had indeed called up the spirits of the invisible world; and spirits, it would seem, that it might be no very easy matter to quell.

Colonel Spreeaway and his friends, as soon as the coast was clear, gathered around the pit, and enjoyed a hearty laugh. There lay the shovels, and bars, and picks, as they had been dropped, in the alarm which seized upon those who had them in use: and the lights by which they had worked, were left burning. Dispatching one of his fellows in pursuit of the diggers, to make sure against a surprise in return, the colonel sent another to his store after an old box and some nails. These presently arrived, when the box was filled with stones, nailed down, and lowered into the pit; and the party now in possession, commenced digging in turn. They sunk a hole some two or three feet below the depth previously attained; and placing the box therein, piled stones upon it, and finished by smoothing the surface, as nearly as possible, to the shape in which they found it. This done, they retired to their several homes.

The money-diggers, meanwhile, were brooding over their discomfiture at shaker Brown’s. Their appearance was draggled and woe-begone in the extreme; and to add to their despondency, Joe had made the astounding disclosure, that he had felt the box of gold once that night, with his shovel, just as Mrs. Brown screamed; when it moved away from his touch, grating as it went; and very likely had gone to the other side of the tree, if not farther. This sad effect of the unfortunate scream made Mrs. Brown, for the time being, a sort of scape-goat, on which the rest were disposed to lay, not only their sins, but their misfortunes; and occasionally delights to exhibit to another, added a variety of taunting expressions; so that the pale, but round-face and handsome Mrs. Brown kept aloof in a corner and pouted by herself.

By and by, Smidt and Samuel gathered composure and courage enough to revisit the scene of their unaccountable adventures. They found everything quiet, and to appearance, as they had left it; except that the candles had burned low. These they extinguished, and pilling some loose brushwood over the pit, to conceal it as much as possible from chance of observation, they finally adjourned for the night.

The day following was devoted by the male part of the money-diggers to rest. Samuel slept; but Ruth, as usual, was astir. Her faith in the truth of her dream was by no means shaken; on the contrary, it seemed to have gathered strength from the very obstacles which had presented themselves in the way of its fulfilment. In fact, she was in a sort of bewilderment. Visions of wealth and the pleasures attendant thereon, floated through her brain; and as she dismissed her husband’s customers from the door, she could not well refrain from assuming some unaccustomed airs, and treating them with an indifference very foreign from her usual affable deportment. some, she informed, that her husband was sick, and could not be disturbed—others, that he had given up his shop, and they must go elsewhere; and others still, that he was about to move away to the city and establish a wholesale boot and shoe store. No wonder those who listened, came to the conclusion that the poor woman was demented.

At shaker Brown’s the scene was somewhat similar. Mrs. Brown was rather frail, and found herself flurried from her last night’s exertions. Her head was bound round with a white handkercheif, for she had the tooth-ach; and she would gladly have obtained some rest, but as often as she lay down, or threw herself back in her rocking-chair, on her pillows, with her feet upon a stool, and her tea-pot on a stand at her elbow, she was sure to be interrupted by some one’s calling to examine the little articles of wooden ware which her husband was in the habit of manufacturing. Indeed, Joe Smidt was the only one of the number whom worldly matters that day had no power to disturb. He, the shrewdest of conjurers, having eaten his fill, stretched himself at his length, in Mrs. Brown’s best bed, and snored like a prince, at his leisure.

Night having again arrived, and the moon and stars taken their places aloft, the party, as before, with the exception that Mrs. Brown was left behind, like so many sheep thieves, stole in a circuit round the hills to the river; and after an anxious survey of the placid water, and the still shore and upland, resumed their labor in the pit. Joe was evidently ill at ease. There was an air of perplexity and doubt upon his countenance; and as he was the central luminary, to whom the others looked for light, it is not be wondered at that every movement betrayed uncertainty and apprehension. The shovels were operated by spiritless wills, and an hour or more wore away before they reached the stones, or any evidence of the handiwork of Colonel Spreeaway and his friends. Then, indeed, there was an increased movement among them; and when finally the box itself was laid bare, the haggard, clutching joy of the money-diggers was beyond bounds; and the greater, as pictured on their faces, that they dared not give it tongue. No word was uttered—no, not even by Ruth, who stood staring at the top of the pit, like one transfixed and dumb.

With much difficulty, for it was found very heavy, the mysterious chest was raised to the surface, and placed upon the ground. Then, while the hands of the silent operators trembled, as with the palsy, it was attached to two poles by a rope; and Ruth readily lending her aid, it was slowly raised between the four, and borne in toilsome triumph toward the village.

Going by the fields to avoid observation, they were about to descend a little hill, which had cost them some trouble to climb, when they were suddenly brought to a stand, by a company of men, whose faces were muffled in handkershiefs; and a furious assault commenced upon them. But the money-diggers were in no mood to be trifled with. Forming a hollow square around their treasure, they gave back taunt for taunt, and buffet for buffet; and grappled with their foes as for life or for death. The exact order of the battle, however, was soon broken; for Ruth, with a quick instinct, perceiving it was likely to go hard with her friends, threw herself upon the box, and grasped it in her arms: and soon thereafter, all its brave defenders were down and lying prostrate upon the turf. While they were there held, each by a strength superior to his own, one of the assailants undertook to disengage Ruth from her hold. This he found no easy task; and losing his own footing in the struggle, cavalier and box, and the courageous spouse of Samuel Fish, together rolled down to the bottom of the hill.

The reader will readily come to the conclusion that the attacking party were no other than Colonel Spreeaway and his friends, who had taken this rough method of closing up the trickery commenced by them the night before. In fact, Ruth’s antagonist was no other than the gallant colonel himself. at the foot of the hill, the two combatants gained their legs at the same instant; and disdaining all parley or maneuvering as unworthy of the occasion, Ruth, rather flew, than ran, upon her foe. The black muffler which concealed his features, vanished in a moment; and then it was that furrows, long and deep, which time in its ravages, had as yet spared him, were ploughed upon his face in a twinkling. To save himself he was obliged to throw her upon the ground, and there hold her.

While the colonel was engaged in this awkward passage of arms, the others of his party came up, and seizing them mysterious box, quickly bore it away. Giving them a little time to secure their retreat, he then shook himself clear of Ruth; and those who had the rest of the vanquished party in charge, on the top of the hill, doing the same, they all took to their heels and disapeared. But they did not go without carrying with them substantial evidence of the fray. Beside the colonel’s smeared and smarting visage, one of his followers had received a cut in the throat; which threatened him with a lockjaw for a month: and another, whose fortune it had been to join in mortal strife with Samuel Fish, received a wound from an awl, or some similar instrument of war, in the region below the back; which compelled him, for a time, to dispense with the luxury of a chair.

Left to themselves, the money-diggers gathered together, and sent up toward the sky, a most woeful howl of despair. Slowly they turned toward home, crying as they went; and making the desolate night more desolate with their moans. As they came near the village, the noise they made alarmed their neighbors; and soon, although at a very unusual hour, a half dressed company collected together to listen to the incoherent accounts they gave of the treasure which they fancied had been even in their very hands, and cruelly wrested from them and their poverty, and turned to the sustenance and enjoyment of others.

By daylight, Joe Smidt and shaker Brown had become comparatively collected, and talked loudly of the law; but by this time the other side of the story got wind. Soon thereafter Joe quietly decamped; but no explanations then or afterward, were found to have any effect upon Samuel and his wife, or indeed, upon shaker Brown. They all believed most firmly, to the day of their deaths, that they had been robbed of countless treasures; and although they came to the conclusion that Colonel Spreeaway had a hand in the robbery, they entirely discarded that potion of the current belief which referred to his agency, the depositing of the mysterious box, where they had found it.

In short, their imaginary losses and disappointments so preyed upon their minds as to unfit them for the business of life. They became dispirited—indeed, broken-hearted; and ere many years rolled away, Samuel and Ruth, (their children having scattered over the world a thriftless, uncombed set,) and shaker Brown and his wife dragged out and at length finished a miserable existence at the public charge.

Binghampton, N.Y., June, 1843.



FACTION is a combination of a few to oppress the liberties of the many: the love of freedom is the impulse of an enlightened and presiding spirit, ever intent upon the welfare of the community, or body to which it belongs, and ready to give alarm, when it beholds an unlawful conspiracy formed, whether it be of rulers or subjects, with a design to oppress it.

J. R. Orton, “The Glass-Lookers,” The Rover: A Weekly Magazine of Tales, Poetry, and Engravings, Original and Selected, vol. 1 (New York, 1843), 264-66, http://books.google.com/books?id=-rsRAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA264 (accessed 2 October 2010).

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Seer Stones Looking "Small Unto the Understanding of Men"

I was reading the book of Mormon today—yes, I know, I am so righteous—and came across a passage that caught my attention. The Brother of Jared asks God to touch some stones, that they may be used to light the barges he built; two of which were later used as seer stones. The "Brother of Jared" then makes a parapraxis (a Freudian slip of sorts), breaking character, revealing the personal insecurities of Joseph Smith regarding his own use of seer stones.
Behold, O Lord, thou canst do this. We know that thou art able to show forth greater power, which looks small unto the understanding of men. (Ether 3:5)

Surely this wouldn't be the voice of the Brother of Jared. Jared's praise to God in this way would have been a blatant back-handed complement, and therefore out of character. On the other hand, the person of Joseph Smith, who was mocked and even legally prosecuted for the use of seer stones... saying this would have been perfectly understandable and within character.

I have the bad habit of reinventing the wheel, so forgive me if someone else has made this observation before. Frankly, I’d be surprised if nobody has, since it seems so obvious to me now. Your thoughts?


Edit to add: Similar language was expressed about the Liahona—another divining instrument likely inspired by Joseph Smith's treasure seeking activities. After describing its workings, Nephi remarks, "And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things." (1 Nephi 16:29) Coincidence?


Photo from http://mrm.org/mormons-on-pbs

Monday, August 2, 2010


Here is an interesting exchange that I did not include in my book. From the Viking Scroll (BYU Idaho's student newspaper), 16 May 1963, p. 2.


A Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor:

Your issue that came out the week before Easter shocked us. We want to know what right you had to put the symbol of the cross in the masthead of our newspaper. Don’t you know that we don’t worship the cross? Do you think we are Catholics? Why didn’t you use an Easter lily or even Easter rabbits? A group of about 25 of us have discussed this and we are really put out by it.

Incensed Students


Editor’s Note: Since Dr. Jacob, our adviser, was the one who chose the symbol for the masthead, we turned this letter over to him for his answer.)
Dear Incensed:

Thank you for your letter. You are right; we do not worship the cross, but we do not worship the Easter lily or the Easter bunny either. And just because we used the symbol of the cross and the scriptures in the masthead does not mean that we worship them.

Also, just because the Catholics use the cross for a symbol and probably overdo it, this does not mean that we, who belong to the Church of Jesus Christ, cannot use on occasion that symbol that has had so much significance for Christians throughout the ages. Do you know that a good number of years before there was ever a Roman Catholic church, the cross had meaning for the early Christians? Even the custom of crossing our fingers may date back to the time when members of the Early-day Church made the sign of the cross behind their backs when they were facing death before the Romans.

Speaking of the Lord Jesus, Paul said this: “For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell; and, having made peace through the blood of his cross by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be the things in earth, or things in heaven.” (Col. 1:19, 20.) To the Corinthians he wrote, “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but to us which are saved it is the power of God.” (I Cor. 1:18). In his epistle to the Philippians he warned of this kind of people: “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction....”

So, Incensed, let us not be enemies of the cross, when the very “God of Israel and the God of the whole earth” was “slain for the sins of the world.” This is why we chose to use the symbol of the cross and the scriptures in the masthead of your paper. I hope this explanation will help your incense to burn itself out with a deeper realization of what Easter really means.

C.H. Jacob
Adviser, Viking Scroll


Logo above comes from the "Mormons Who Glory in the Cross of Christ" facebook community.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Liahona, a Mineral Compass?

While considering the Smith family involvement in money-digging, and the treasure lore imbedded in the Book of Mormon (Helaman 13:33-36; Mormon 1:18), it has always seemed rather curious to me that Lehi found outside his tent the Liahona (compass), rather than a divining rod (Alma 37: 38-40).

Granted, the Book of Mormon says nothing about the Liahona being used for treasure seeking. Though this be the case, it is also true that some treasure seekers believed the divining rod (like the Liahona) could not only direct the practitioner to desired locations, but the rod could also communicate the will of God.

Some scholars have associated the Liahona with the Masonic globes of Enoch, quoting the following from Thomas Smith Web’s The Freemason’s Montor (1818):

They are the noblest instruments for improving the mind, and giving it the most distinct idea of any problem or proposition, as well as enabling it to solve the same. Contemplating these bodies, we are inspired with a due reverence for the Deity and his works, and are induced to encourage the studies of astronomy, geography, navigation, and the arts dependent on them.

With all due respect to these scholars, I am of the opinion that this connection quickly unravels when the quote’s entire context is considered. Unlike the Book of Mormon narrative’s description of the Liahona, there is nothing in Web’s description to suggest that the globes had mechanical “spindles” to “point the way.” Web instead describes the globes in this way:

These globes are two artificial spherical bodies, on the convex surfaces of which are represented the countries, seas, and various parts of the earth, the face of the heavens, the planetary revolutions, and other important particulars. The sphere with the parts of the earth delineated on its surface is called the terrestrial globe, and that with the constellations and other heavenly bodies, the celestial globe.

Now, considering these two quotes together... of course the terrestrial and celestial globes would “encourage the studies” of “geography [and] navigation,” but this is because the globes were maps, not compasses that could communicate the will of God.
The terrestrial globe, a map of the earth.
The celestial globe, a constellation map.

Is there a better connection to be made elsewhere—perhaps from a 19th century source—that could have been known by a family involved in treasure digging?
While researching 19th century treasure lore yesterday, I stumbled upon the following advertisement in The Plattsburgh Republican, 18 July 1874:

A compass used for treasure digging!! Is this the answer? Could it be that the Smith family assumed mineral compasses could communicate the will of God, like divining rods could? Had they even heard of mineral compasses? Unfortunately, the advertisement was dated fifty years too late, so I then looked for earlier sources and finally ended my search (of all places!) at an Encyclopedia Britannica (1824) entry under Bletonism—“a faculty of perceiving and indicating subterraneous springs and currents by sensation.” Under this entry the following is found:

Friday, May 7, 2010

Ezra Taft Benson, Anti-Catholicism, and Church/State Separation

Having recently given an example of how Ezra Taft Benson's politics influenced his church service, perhaps it would be fitting for me to now give an example of how the LDS Church influenced his political service. Benson served both church and state government simultaneously, as LDS Apostle and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

The following entry is found in the David O. McKay Diaries, 1 October 1957:

Telephone conversation with Ezra Taft Benson from Washington, D.C. regarding world tour to include Hawaii, Japan, the Far East, and Near East, and finally Rome, Italy where about November 11 to 15, he will be the representative of the government of the United States at an international meeting. He will be one of the scheduled speakers.

The American Ambassador has suggested to him that a meeting with the Pope be arranged.

Later, the Presidency decided that if he could avoid such a meeting without embarrassment, 'we would prefer that he do so.'

(see telephone conversation with Bro. Benson following)

Wednesday, October 2, 1957

Last evening, October, 1957, Elder Ezra Taft Benson called me by telephone at my home and asked whether or not he should accept a government appointment to go to Rome, Italy. The American Ambassador to Italy there would like to arrange a conference for him with the Pope. I told Brother Benson that I would talk with my counselors this morning and then let him know.


Telephone conversation with Elder Ezra Taft Benson, Wednesday, October 2, 1957.

(Brother Benson was contacted in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.)

President McKay: Can you hear me, Brother Benson?

Brother Benson: Yes. I am in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

President McKay: Regarding the matter we were discussing yesterday, we are all united in the feeling that if you can in honor, and without embarrassment, avoid that conference it would be well for you to do it.

Brother Benson: All right. I think I can.

President McKay: Was it the Ambassador?

Brother Benson: The American Ambassador to Italy.

President McKay: Yes. I see.

Brother Benson: He is the one who has proposed it. But I think I can avoid it, President McKay, because I am going to be in Rome for a very short time. I have to make an important address for a World Agricultural Congress, and I think the shortness of my stay can probably be used as a reason for not doing so.

President McKay: We have in mind particularly the effect upon our own people.

Brother Benson: Yes. That is the thing that concerned me too.

President McKay: And the dignity that you would have to give to such a conference.

Brother Benson: Yes, that is right.

President McKay: And really they have everything to gain and nothing to lose, and we have everything to lose and nothing to gain.

Brother Benson: I am in full harmony with that feeling.

President McKay: Well that is good. We are glad of that. We all feel that it would be pretty embarrassing to you, and we are helping you out of what might prove to be a conference that will reflect upon our Church.

Brother Benson: Well, I think it could be embarrassing both to me and to the Church.

President McKay: All right.

Brother Benson: I shall do my best, and I think I can work it out.

President McKay: The brethren all send their love to you.

Brother Benson: Thank you and my love to them, and thank you for calling.

President McKay: Thank you, and good-bye."

Friday, April 2, 2010

Mormons and the Cross--Sunstone West/Claremont Graduate University

During the Sunstone West Symposium at Claremont Graduate University last week, I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion (with Newell Bringhurst, Robert Rees, and D. Michael Quinn) featuring my forthcoming book Banishing the Cross: The Emergence of a Mormon Taboo. Pleased that the presentation was well received (the room was so full that we didn't have enough chairs), I was especially relieved that each of the accomplished scholars on my panel spoke positively about my research.

I already knew that Bringhurst and Rees would speak favorably of the book, since I had worked closely with them both for some time, but what Quinn would say was entirely unknown to me. And the fact that I had directly contradicted/challenged Quinn's interpretation of Joseph Smith's cane in my thesis and blog, this gave me all the more reason to be concerned.

But contrary to the nightmares I had the night before, Mike Quinn's remarks turned out to be quite flattering:

I find the evidence and analysis to be persuasive in Michael G. Reed's forthcoming book.... I appreciate something that he didn't include in his brief presentation today. While his book acknowledges that Joseph Smith's serpent-cane "was either inspired by Freemasonry, folk-magic, or both," he discovered a symbol in it that I did not recognize in my book about Early Mormonism and the Magic World View. In what I regarded as simply carved compartments on the cane, Reed perceives an inverted cross. Now I see it, too. Pointing out the previously unperceived is the role of ongoing historical analysis. I am very impressed with his detailed examination of the transition in official and unofficial LDS attitudes toward the Christian Cross.... Michael G. Reed has written a book that deftly examines one aspect of Mormonism's inconsistent overlaps with traditional Christianity and inconsistent departures therefrom.
In the coming week I am off again, this time traveling to Independence Missouri to present at the Restoration Studies Symposium. It would be nice to see some of you there. If you do attend, please introduce yourself. I'd love to meet you.

To those who may be interested, Sunstone now has the MP3 of my 2009 SLC presentation available to purchase for $3. You can order/download it here.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ezra Taft Benson, the John Birch Society, and the Peace Symbol

It is no secret that the 13th President of the LDS Church, Ezra Taft Benson, thought highly of (and had close associations with) the John Birch Society.

Since Benson had such high regard for the JBS[1], and since he served in Church and State government simultaneously--as both Apostle and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture--questions have been raised over whether (or to what degree) Benson's politics affected his religious ministry, and vice versa.

On October 2, 1970, Apostle Benson declared in a talk given at General Conference:

Have we... "polluted the holy church of God?".... The auxiliaries of the Church are to be a help, not a hindrance, to parents and the priesthood as they strive to lead their families back to God. Do any of us wear or display the broken cross, anti-Christ sign, that is the adversary's symbol of the so-called "peace movement"?[2]

Having received this information over the pulpit during General Conference, some Latter-day Saints assume that Benson's claim about the peace symbol is official doctrine and based on revelation. But where did he actually get such an idea? Benson was evidently parroting over the pulpit the political fear-mongering propaganda that had been published by the John Birch Society (in their official publication American Opinion) only four months before.

Titled "Peace Symbols: The Truth About Those Strange Designs," the article lambasted the peace movement by associating their symbol with a broken cross, Communism, anti-Christ, and a Satanism.

It was the upside-down broken cross. Such anti-Christian and anti-Jewish symbolism is common to Satanists...

The revolutionaries are pushing this business [of Satanism and black magic] like there's no tomorrow. And those 'peace symbols' are a part of it. They are symbols of the anti-Christ!...

[T]he actual origin of this Satanic symbol can be pinpointed....

[I]n America, as thousands of radicalized youths parade that same symbol, the heretics of the Christian have all but adopted the 'sign of the anti-Christ' as their own. And you can be absolutely certain that the Communists planned it that way.[3]

One is left to wonder why any Latter-day Saint would find this article authoritative, since it likewise associates the inverted pentagram and hand clasp with communism and Satanism--both of which are symbols that have been used by the Church. Inverted pentagrams were depicted on the Nauvoo temple (and other buildings). The hand clasp is found on the Salt Lake temple (and other buildings) and is a central part to the temple endowment ritual.

Says the same article quoted above:

Another esoteric symbol of the international socialist movement is the "joined" or "clasped" hands--the ancient sign of the god Fides. Mackey's Symbolism says this design has been used historically to denote fidelity. It is now used by the Freemasons, the A.F.L.-C.I.O., and is frequently reproduced in the Communist Daily World to indicate union between Comrades. The insignia is the official symbol of the Communist-controlled Student "Nonviolent" Coordinating Committee, and serves as the logo for the Trotskyite Communists' Workers World....[4]

Bernard Koerner cites the inverted cross as the symbol of "Drudenfuss," or Druid's foot. Standard German dictionaries describe this as a five-pointed star with one point up and two down. That star-shaped figure, which corresponds to the forked-shape runic figure [previously associated with the peace symbol in the article], is known in ancient symbolism as a pentalpha. In his Symbolism Of the Three Degrees, Oliver Day Street comments that "The Pentalpha with one of its points elevated, was a symbol of the pure and the virtuous and a harbinger of good, but with two of its points elevated it became the accursed Goat of Mendes which typifies Satan and foreboded evil and misfortune." One point (or finger) up, symbolized the monogram of Christ, while the inverse of the Pentalpha, or two points (two spread fingers [implying a condemnation of the Peace Sign typically made with the hand]) up, was the sign of Satan.[5]


[1] “I am enclosing [a] copy of the Review of the News (a weekly magazine published by the John Birch Society]. I assume you get it. I believe you should. This has more pertinent information and timely information on the situation today than most any little, inexpensive magazines.” “If you want to get something good, solid, more-detailed articles on various subjects, I recommend American Opinion [the John Birch Society’s monthly magazine]. You should be acquainted with Scott Stanley, the managing editor of these two magazines and one of the most brilliant young editors I know.” Ezra Taft Benson, "Grandfather Benson," signed by his secretary Betty MacDonald, to Steve Benson, 11 February 1982, http://www.exmormon.org/mormon/mormon419.htmmon.org/mormon/mormon419.htm (accessed 12 March 2010).
[2] Friday Mormon Session of General Conference, 2 October 1970.
[3] David E. Gumaer, "Peace Symbols: The Truth About Those Strange Designs," American Opinion (June 1970), 54, 55, 56.
[4] Ibid., 43.
[5] Ibid., 51.

Clasped hands on Salt Lake City Temple, http://www.halesstonecarver.com/ (accessed 12 March 2010.
Nauvoo Temple Pentagram Window, photo taken by author.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

By the laying on of WHAT???

When the 1992 Spanish edition of the Book of Mormon was first printed, a rather embarrassing typo was found on page 626. The chapter heading read "la imposicion de anos" instead of "manos"—"by the laying on of anuses". Upon realizing this error, the Church immediately recalled the Book of Mormons printed, but was unable to prevent a few of the volumes from circulating. The edition (nicknamed the “Freudian Slip edition”) has since become quite the collector's item.

This got me thinking about how LDS priesthood quorums so often argue over church policy and doctrinal interpretations. It is not uncommon, for example, to hear disagreements expressed over whether the child should be addressed or Heavenly Father during a baby's blessing. Can you imagine the arguments that could have resulted from this passage? "What are you doing elder? That is disgusting!" "No. This is what we are supposed to do. Look, it says right here, 'Laying on of Anuses!'"

Monday, January 25, 2010

2009 Niblets Awards--Vote Now!

The 2009 Niblets Awards (hosted by Mormon Matters) nominated this blog for "Best New Blog" and "Best Historical Post". If this blog is to win, your help is needed. Voting should only take a couple minutes. Vote for Cultural Mormon Cafeteria and all of your wildest dreams will come true!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Alma Matter--Does the Name Verify or Disprove the Book of Mormon's Authenticity?

In my previous post on the topic of "Virginal Conception", readers may have noticed that the Hebrew word "alma" pertains to a young woman of marriageable age. Some critics have taken issue with this feminine word being used as a masculine name in the Book of Mormon, insisting that this discredits the scripture's historical claims. Many Mormon apologists/scholars have rebutted this accusation, even asserting that this name actually validates the Book of Mormon's authenticity. Says one apologist:
The name “Alma” must be the most amusing evidence on Book of Mormon names that we have. As Hugh Nibley has pointed out, “Roman priests have found in this obviously Latin and obviously feminine name--(who does not know that Alma Mater means "fostering mother"?)--gratifying evidence of the ignorance and naiveté of the youthful Joseph Smith--how could he have been simple enough to let such a thing get by?” Surprisingly enough, for some of us, Alma has been attested to as a male Hebrew name in a number of ancient inscriptions. In the now infamous Dead Sea Scrolls, Biblical scholar Yigael Yadin discovered an inscription that he translated as Alma ben Yehuda, or “Alma son of Judah.” In another find, on clay tablets from Tell Mardikh (in northwestern Syria) we find eight different references to the personal name al6-ma on six tablets, referring to merchants who by and large were male in that period of time. The Semitic nature of this name, a variation of Akkadian, gives us great evidence of the presence of the Hebrew, male name of Alma both predating and postdating Lehi’s journey from Jerusalem. http://www.angelfire.com/az3/LDC/amww.htm#_Toc531697936

Although I concur that the findings noted above effectively rebut the assertion challenging the Book of Mormon's authenticity... I disagree that the findings should count as evidence confirming the Book of Mormon's historical claims. Why? Because Alma was also used as a masculine name in late 18th to early 19th century America, before the Book of Mormon was published. Having spent a mere hour plugging in various surnames into the genealogical database at familysearch.org, I gathered the following forty-seven examples:

1. Alma SMITH - Ancestral FileGender: M Birth; Married to Sarah Gates, 8 Jan 1789. Presbyterian Chk, Ballston Center, Saratoga, N Y
2. Alma A. Smith - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: 1823 , Tuscaloosa, Alabama
3. Alma Smith - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: About 1811 Of, Providence, Rhode Island
4. Alma Smith - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: 30 NOV 1800 Shoreham, Addison, Vermont
5. Alma C. SMITH - 1880 United States Census / MinnesotaSelf Gender: Male Birth: 1814 VT
6. Alma E. L. SMITH - 1880 United States Census / IndianaSelf Gender: Male Birth: 1820 IN
7. Alma [chase] - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: About 1793 Stephenstown, , Sullivan, New York
8. ALMA F. CHASE - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: 10 OCT 1822 Standish, Cumberland, Maine
9. Alma RICHARDS - Ancestral FileGender: M Birth/Christening: Sep 1780 Of, Hartford, Hartford, Conn.
10. ALMA CAPRON - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: 18 JAN 1793 East Greenwich, Kent, Rhode Island
11. Alma Harris - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: About 1803 Of, Albion, Orleans, New York
12. Alma L. HANSON - 1880 United States Census / MaineSelf Gender: Male Birth: [1819] ME
13. Alma [cowdery] - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: 12 AUG 1805 Hartland, Hartford, Connecticut
14. Alma Spalding - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: 1790 Sheffield, Massachusetts
15. Alma Spalding - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: 20 FEB 1796 , Connecticut
16. Alma Spalding - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: 27 FEB 1796 New Marlboro, Berkshire, Massachusetts
17. Alma Otis Johnson - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Other: About 1787 Of, Leyden Twp, Lewis, New York
18. Alma Johnson - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: About 1792 Of Middletown, Connecticut
19. Alma Scott - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: 25 APR 1792, Northampton, North Carolina
20. Alma R. SCOTT - Ancestral FileGender: M Birth/Christening: 4 Sep 1822 Fairfax, Franklin, Vermont
21. ALMA SCOTT - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: 09 AUG 1786 Cornwall, Addison, Vermont
22. Alma Phelps - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: 21 JUN 1814 Smithfield, Fayette, Pennsylvania
23. Almus ANDERSON - 1880 United States Census / MassachusettsSelf Gender: Male Birth: [1824] MA
24. Alma White - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: 18 JUL 1797 Upper, Middletown, Middlesex, Connecticut
25. Alma [wait] - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: About 1816 Of, Massachusetts
26. Alma Lee - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: 19 SEP 1810 Of, Washington Twp, Dutchess, New York
27. Alma Clark - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: 1795 Lee, Berkshire, Massachusetts
28. Alma Clark - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: 03 OCT 1797 Lebanon, New London, Connecticut
29. Alma Clark - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: 18 APR 1824 Of, Dunkirk, Chautauqua, New York
30. Alma J. Clark - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: 1825 , Missouri
31. Alma STARK - 1880 United States Census / OhioFatherL Gender: Male Birth: [1798] PA
32. ALMA LYON - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: 07 JUL 1794 Of, Weston, Fairfield, Connecticut
33. Alma Ann [lane] - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: 05 MAY 1820 Billerica, Maine
34. Alma Roberts - Pedigree Resource FileGender: M Birth/Christening: abt 1817 Pittsford, Rutland, Vermont
35. Alma Young - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: Jackson, Alabama
36. ALMA CROSS - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: 10 JAN 1790 Newton, Middlesex, Massachusetts
37. Alma Taylor - Pedigree Resource FileGender: M Birth/Christening: 13 May 1769 York, SC
38. Alma Tyler - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: 16 MAR 1812 Bradford, Essex, Massachusetts
39. Alma Ticknor Pease - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: 28 JUL 1802 Of, Canaan, Columbia, New York
40. Alma Coe Lyman - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: 26 MAR 1786 Of, Middlefield, Middlesex, Connecticut
41. Alma Browne - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: About 1796 Of, Greene, New York
42. ALMA BROWN - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: 1821 Peacham, Caledonia, Vermont
43. Alma - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: 08 SEP 1780 Fitzwilliam, Cheshire, New Hampshire
44. Alma Grant - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: 1812 Lake Geneva, Walworth, Wisconsin
45. Alma [thompson] - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: 27 MAY 1802 Of, Charlton, Worcester, Massachusetts
46. Alma Thompson - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: About 1807 Of, , Caledonia, Vermont
47. Alma Thompson - International Genealogical Index / NAGender: Male Birth: 1822 Grantsville, , Washington, New York

Does the name Alma disprove the Book of Mormon's authenticity? No. But the name doesn't verify its authenticity either.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


John Whitmer Books and I have negotiated a contract for a book deal. If you haven't already, subscribe to this blog, and you will be among the first to know when the book is available.

John Hamer's (President of the John Whitmer Historical Association) commentary: "I can tell you, we're very excited about this book. Mike's solid, original research overturns a lot of conventional wisdom about a topic that is absolutely fascinating.... I think this is a book a lot of folks will be interested in reading."