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Lucy’s Dreams, Joseph Sr’s Rational Religion (Part 4 of 5)

Lucy Mack Smith had dreams that were very similar to some mentioned in the Book of Mormon.  Joseph Smith Sr., on the other hand, was much more rational with regards to religion.  What else can Dr. Mark Staker tell us about the Smith religious background, following his latest archaeological dig at the “Joseph & Lucy Smith’s Tunbridge Farm?”

GT:  I had an interview with Colby Townsend. He said that Asael got angry at Joseph, Sr. and threw a book at him. I think it was Thomas Paine’s, Age of Reason, if I remember right.

Mark:  Yeah.

GT:  Can you can you tell us a little bit more about that story?

Mark:  Well, when the Smith family moves to Vermont, there are two major ways of seeing religion. One of those is the Congregationalists…. Universalism moves into Vermont very early, about the same time the Smith family arrives up there, right there in their area. As a matter of fact, they seem to be among the earliest, if not the earliest proponents of it in their region, but it spreads far and wide. There are others who share a similar approach to religion. One of those is the leader of the Green Mountain Boys, Allen and his brother. Ira Allen, and is one of those and his brother is…

GT:  Ethan Allen.

Mark:  Yeah, thank you, Ethan. So, Ethan is the one that writes a book, but they’re very much in line with the deists.  They wouldn’t necessarily probably call themselves deists. I’ve not found in the records that they’re making that direct connection, but they believe in God, that God created them and kind of moved on and it’s not directly involved in our lives now. So, that’s important because they don’t believe in modern revelation. They don’t believe in dreams. They don’t believe in visions.  They don’t believe that angels are coming to visit, those kinds of things. Thomas Paine is very much in that same line of thinking.  Lucy mentions it in her rough draft of her family history and takes it out later, maybe because it shows kind of a negative aspect of some family contention where family throws in Thomas Paine’s book and tells Joseph, Sr. to read it. Sometimes people have questioned that saying, “Oh, well, Thomas Paine, he is a deist, or even worse. Some people will push it as he’s an atheist and how would Asael encourage his son to read that if he’s truly a religious man?” Well, I think it’s not that he’s accepting everything that Thomas Paine has to say, but he’s emphasizing the Age of Reason that we are rational, reasonable people.

Mark:  As a Universalist, they’re thinking about religion in a rational, reasonable way. The Universalists, much like deists, much like Ethan Allen and his brother, Ira Allen, who are writing and very influential in Vermont. They downplay the miraculous, the visionary world, the dreams that you have that are divine intervention and direct interaction with God. So, they even suggest that Thomas Paine does, and so does Ethan Allen, but maybe some of those stories about visions in the earlier Bible material was kind of told in a way back anciently that suggests there’s something about God that wasn’t true, and maybe he didn’t give them visions, either. It depends on how they’re wording it as to what they’re quite suggesting at the time. So, I think that what Asael is saying by that, “Read this,” is not that he’s saying that Jesus Christ is not divine, although there are some Universalists that think that, as well, but most see him as a divine in a way that he’s able to offer salvation to everybody, that the atonement is universal, and that everybody is saved. You find that later on in the dreams that Lucy shares about her husband.  She’s suggesting that Joseph has these seven dreams that are important.  If you look at them carefully, the first dreams are still Universalist. He has this dream where he’s partaking of this fruit and his family comes to protect the fruit with him. Richard Bushman suggests maybe Lucy’s projecting back, hearing the stories of Lehi and his family.

GT:  Yeah, because Lucy’s [dreams] sound a lot like the Book of Mormon, some of her dreams.

Mark:  Bushman suggests, well, maybe, you’re four decades later. She does, in lots of other parts of her history, she’s trying to suggest connections between her and Lehi and her husband and the Book of Mormon. She’s using that as a model. Whatever the dream initially was, it may have changed in her memory over 40 years, based on her continual reading in the Book of Mormon, but there must have been some elements of it that she saw as connected, something about concern for family and salvation, which allowed her to later connect those two and remember it that way.

GT:  Well, you would think his mother would be more likely to believe in the visions than the Father. Right?

Mark:  I imagine she would, in a certain kind of context. I don’t know what Joseph learned in that vision. But there were things that maybe he was unsure that both parents would accept. But I think you’re right. By the time he’s having his visions, that he’s moved fully into his mother’s camp in a lot of ways, but there are enough differences between the two, that it makes him feel like he’s unsure about sharing this with his family until he’s encouraged to do so.

Do you think Joseph was more like his mother or father religiously?  Check out our conversation….

Lucy had religious dreams, but Joseph Sr was a Universalist, which generally downplayed dreams & miracles.

Don’t miss our other conversations with Mark!

535: Smith Farmers Were Spiritual, Not Religious

534: When Joseph Met Lucy

533: Smith Family Farm in Vermont

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*Reconciling Biblical Scholarship (Part 7 of 7)

When people engage the scriptures from a scholarly approach, many lose faith in the scriptures.  We’ll first talk about how to reconcile Nephi’s story of obtaining the Brass Plates with the idea that the Torah didn’t exist in 600 BC. Is there a way to reconcile biblical scholarship?  I asked that question to Colby Townsend and was a bit surprised by his answer.

GT:  So, do we try to reconcile that? Do we say, oh, maybe Lehi left later? I don’t know.

Colby:  I don’t know. That’s one of those things where I alluded to earlier where a lot of times people will [say,] “Okay, you’ve just come in and smashed up this this wall. Now you need to put it back up together for me.” Yeah.

GT:  How do we pick up our pieces of faith knowing all this stuff?

Colby:  Right, so that’s where I say that coming as a historian into this study, I can’t really do that for you. That’s really up to individuals. There are a handful of other scholars. Joe Spencer is a good friend of mine. And I’ve always suggested, go to him. He’s a good theologian, and he’ll help you go through and figure some of that out. But you know, coming from the outside, really as a historian and trying to study and understand the history of the texts that you have, that’s just not something that I really do.

GT:  So you can’t help us out?

Colby:  Yeah, sorry. Yeah, for me, I think that Bill Davis has really done a good service recently in his book.[1]

Check out our conversation….  Remember this episode is only available to subscribers of our free newsletter.  Sign up at so I can send you a secret link to the conclusion!

[1] The book is called “Visions of a Seer Stone” and can be purchased at .

How do we reconcile faith with scholarship?

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Colby!

431:  Adam Clarke & Book of Mormon

430:  Joseph Smith & Documentary Hypothesis

429:  Arguments against Documentary Hypothesis

428:  Exodus & Israelite Polytheism

427:  Old Testament scholarship 101

426:  Intro to Documentary Hypothesis



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Adam Clarke’s Impact on Book of Mormon (Part 6 of 7)

In a previous interview with Dr. Thomas Wayment, Thom showed how Joseph Smith used Adam Clarke’s Commentary to correct various passages in the New Testament.  Biblical scholar Colby Townsend says it isn’t just the New Testament, and we talk about how Adam Clarke affected Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.

GT:  Hmm. Well, and I know you spend some time talking about Adam Clarke’s Commentary, and I know Dr. Thomas Wayment has done that, which was really fantastic. Yeah. Because it seems like Joseph used a lot of Adam Clarke’s Commentary.

Colby:  Right.

GT:  And it was interesting to me as I read your paper to see how Adam Clarke was reacting to this documentary hypothesis.

Colby: So in Thom and Haley’s paper, they discuss some of the possible ways that Joseph Smith could have gotten Adam Clarke’s Commentary for the New Testament revision, because they show about 300 or so different revisions that Smith made to the New Testament that come directly from Clarke. When you have that preponderance of evidence, there’s no denying that. So what I’m doing in my chapter is essentially just showing that Adam Clarke was really important and really significant. But showing also that the scholarship from Britain that was really directly affecting the Americas was shielding the Americas from some of the more specific points. So Adam Clarke didn’t name any of the scholars. He didn’t engage directly with any of their theories. He didn’t say who was arguing that Moses didn’t write it. And it really wasn’t until about 1805-1810 that a lot of scholars started saying, yeah, “Moses didn’t write this. Deuteronomy had to be written far later.”

So, in my thesis, at least, that’s what the only time that I really touch on Clarke’s Commentary just to show that. Clarke was really just not specifically saying why any of those scholars thought that way. He wasn’t rebutting any of their specific arguments. He basically just used the timeworn argument, that they don’t really accept revelation and so therefore, forget them.

GT:  And so is that basically the argument that Joseph Smith adopted was Adam Clarke’s argument? Forget them. Moses really did write this. Is that right?

Colby:  Pretty much. I mean, we can’t know, because he never really specifically said but if you look at Moses 1, I have a paper coming out this coming fall. That one will be in the Journal of Mormon History. [It will be] on the composition of Moses 1:7 and the idea of translation as a modern expansion on ancient sources. I argue that Blake Ostler’s theory doesn’t really work for the Book of Mormon. I don’t really show why. I just say that it doesn’t really work there necessarily, but it does work for the Bible revision. The text of the Bible is the ancient source. And then there are modern expansions, [such as] Moses 1 for example. Moses 1 is fascinating because it’s a totally new addition to the text of Genesis. And in a sense, it reframes and recontextualizes the text of the Torah. It portrays the beginning of Genesis as if it’s a revelation directly from God, to Moses, and Moses commanded to write it down. In my paper, I show that the first half of Moses 1 is dependent on the language and structure of Matthew 4, and a handful of other very specific arguments. I show that both Moses 1 and Moses 7 were composed in the 19th century.

Check out our conversation….

Colby Townsend says Joseph Smith was highly influenced by Adam Clarke’s “Commentary on the Bible.”

Don’t miss our previous conversation with Dr. Thomas Wayment where he discusses his paper on Adam Clarke’s role in the Joseph Smith Translation.

237: Is Adam Clarke’s Commentary Source of JST? (Wayment)

And don’t miss our previous conversations with Colby!

430:  Joseph Smith & Documentary Hypothesis

429:  Arguments against Documentary Hypothesis

428:  Exodus & Israelite Polytheism

427:  Old Testament scholarship 101

426:  Intro to Documentary Hypothesis