Joseph Smith | BYU Studies

Joseph Smith

Sustaining the Law: Joseph Smith's Legal Encounters

Joseph Smith believed in sustaining the law. This book presents his main legal encounters in the context of his day. Party to more than two hundred suits in the courts of New York, Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, and elsewhere, he faced criminal charges as well as civil claims and collection matters. In the end, he was never convicted of any crime, and he paid his debts. These incidents were significant institutionally as well as personally.

The Martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith

This compilation of groundbreaking articles about the Martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith is selected from over fifty years of LDS scholarship published by BYU Studies. This volume features articles on Joseph's meeting with John C. Calhoun Jr., a crime scene analysis of the Carthage Jail, the Joseph/Hyrum funeral sermon, mobocracy, the Martyrdom itself, and the aftermath of this tragic event.


"John C. Calhoun Jr. Meets the Prophet Joseph Smith Shortly before the Departure for Carthage"
Brian Q. Cannon

The Worlds of Joseph Smith

The Worlds of Joseph Smith contains all the papers presented at the Joseph Smith bicentennial conference in the Library of Congress, May 6-7, 2005. This volume elucidates Joseph's life and mission by positioning him — to the degree possible — within the larger framework of American spirituality and world religions. The papers in this volume examine the worlds of Joseph Smith, past, present, and future. Part 1 explores the early nineteenth-century world of his day. Part 2 examines his interaction with ancient worlds. Part 3 introduces readers to Joseph Smith at a personal level.

Are Christians Mormon?

"Harold Bloom, the self-proclaimed "unbelieving Jew" and distinguished scholar, recently characterized Joseph Smith as "a religious genius," stating that the religion Smith founded "is truly a biblical religion." More recently, Carl Mosser has written concerning the doctrine of that religion: "Mormonism's heresies are legion; they are also very interesting and often unique in the history of heresy." Biblical or heretical?

Joseph Smith in Vermont and New York

This compilation of groundbreaking articles about Joseph Smith is selected from over fifty years of LDS scholarship published by BYU Studies. This volume features articles on young Joseph Smith's leg surgery, the historical setting and early accounts of the First Vision, friends' and family members' recollections of Joseph's early religious experiences, Joseph's 1826 trial, and more.


"Joseph Smith's Boyhood Operation: An 1813 Surgical Success"
LeRoy S. Wirthlin

Joseph Smith and the Church in Ohio

This compilation of groundbreaking articles about Joseph Smith is selected from over fifty years of LDS scholarship published by BYU Studies. This volume features articles on Kirtland, the chronology of the Ohio revelations, the Book of Commandments and Revelations, the United Firm, the Kirtland Temple, Mormon political involvement in Ohio, and more.


"Kirtland: A Perspective on Time and Place"
Robert L. Layton

Joseph Smith and Comparative Theology

This compilation of groundbreaking articles comparing Joseph Smith's theology with the views of other religions and individuals is selected from over fifty years of LDS scholarship published by BYU Studies. This volume features articles on the Shakers, the making of a global religion, the problem of evil, the corporeality of God, Søren Kierkegaard, open and relational theology, preexilic Israelite religion, Calvinism, Catholic liturgy, divine embodiment, and more.


"Joseph Smith Challenges the Theological World"
David Paulsen

Part 1: Joseph Smith in His Own Time

BYU Studies Staff
As scholars look back on Joseph Smith two hundred years after his birth, several historical questions capture their immediate attention. How was Joseph Smith shaped or constrained by his moment in history? How much was Joseph Smith a product of his own time? To what extent can he be explained in terms of the prevailing attitudes of his day? Is it more illuminating to think of him as a critic or... Read more

Joseph Smith's Many Histories

Richard L. Bushman
In 1992 my wife, Claudia, published a book titled America Discovered Columbus: How an Italian Explorer Became an American Hero . The book argued that until the American Revolution, Columbus was almost completely neglected in histories of the British colonies. Not until three centuries after the fact did North Americans honor him as the discoverer of America. Even in 1972, it required a stretch of... Read more

The Joseph/Hyrum Smith Funeral Sermon

Richard S. Van WagonerSteven C. Walker
As the hearse bearing the "bodies" of Joseph and Hyrum Smith (actually sandbagged coffins) passed the Nauvoo meeting ground the afternoon of Saturday, 29 June 1844, "William W. Phelps was preaching the funeral sermon." The choice of Phelps as eulogist to the Prophet and the Patriarch is strange, the content of his sermon stranger, the tone of that sermon strangest of all. Read more

The King James Bible in America: Pilgrim, Prophet, President, Preacher

John S. Tanner
John S. Tanner, BYU academic vice president (2004-2011), says the influence the King James Bible on American culture and history is like the air we breathe. This paper, given in 2011 at Oxford University, illustrates this influence by examining the central role the King James Bible played in the lives of a Pilgrim, John Winthrop; a prophet, Joseph Smith; a president, Abraham Lincoln; and a... Read more

Lightning Out of Heaven: Joseph Smith and the Forging of Community

Terryl L. Givens
It is the quality of the community of the Latter-day Saints, not its rate of increase, that is the more vital fact—and the more enduring mystery—of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Givens explores some of the factors that he believes have contributed to the effect that Joseph's message has wrought on the world and on his followers in particular. His remarks are in essence an... Read more

Joseph Smith Encounters Calvinism

Robert L. Millet
In seventeenth-century Europe, followers of John Calvin debated with followers of Jacob Arminius about five main doctrinal points: the total depravity of man, God's unconditional election of certain people, the limited nature of the Atonement, the irresistibility of God's grace, and the perseverance of the Saints. This article gives a brief account of that controversy and then compares the... Read more

Physical Evidence at Carthage Jail and What It Reveals about the Assassination of Joseph and Hyrum Smith

Joseph L. LyonDavid W. Lyon
In 1844, Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was assassinated in Carthage, Illinois, along with his brother, Hyrum. Much has been written about the assassination of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, but little attention has been paid to the crime scene in Carthage Jail. This article examines eyewitness accounts of the assault, the layout of the crime scene, the... Read more

A Book of Commandments and Revelations: Editorial Introduction to This Special Feature

John W. Welch
This short piece is the introduction to several articles in this issue of BYU Studies about the Book of Commandments and Revelations, a foundational document of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Book of Commandments was published in 2009 as part of The Joseph Smith Papers . Shortly after arrangements were finalized in May 2009 for the publication of the BCR, a plenary session... Read more

Joseph Smith and the United Firm: The Growth and Decline of the Church's First Master Plan of Business and Finance, Ohio and Missouri, 1832–1834

Max H Parkin
The United Firm was a business management company established by Joseph Smith (founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) that oversaw both the Church's economic pursuits, such as maintaining properties, and some spiritual matters, such as publishing revelations and planning the city of Zion. Its board of managers essentially fulfilled roles later taken on by Church leaders when... Read more

Habeas Corpus in Early Nineteenth-Century Mormonism: Joseph Smith's Legal Bulwark for Personal Freedom

Jeffrey N. Walker
*This article is being offered free as a courtesy to as it was footnoted in a Newsroom post on their site. After Joseph Smith's incarceration in Liberty Jail in Liberty, Missouri, in 1838-1839, Smith believed that he would not survive another imprisonment. It was in fact his jailing in Illinois that ended in his murder in 1844. This paper explores Smith's use of writs of habeas corpus to... Read more

Katharine Smith Salisbury's Recollections of Joseph's Meetings with Moroni

Kyle R. Walker
Katherine Smith Salisbury, the last surviving member of the Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith family was frequently sought out by converts, missionaries, and reporters for her recollections of those early events of the Restoration. Such visitors reported that she was a willing and able conversationalist on matters pertaining to her family and was quick to share her testimony of the truth of the work... Read more


BYU Studies Staff
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John Milton, Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon

Robert A. Rees
This comparison of Joseph Smith and John Milton focuses on their literary output and especially the preparation each had for dictating a long religious work, in Milton's case Paradise Lost and in Smith's the Book of Mormon. Most notable authors, including Milton, had a long apprenticeship that involved writing several "try works," practice works that served as tutorials and stepping stones... Read more

Introducing A Book of Commandments and Revelations, A Major New Documentary "Discovery"

Robert J. Woodford
This article is one of several in this issue of BYU Studies about the Book of Commandments and Revelations (BCR), a foundational document of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Book of Commandments and Revelations (BCR) is the manuscript collection of revelations Oliver Cowdery and John Whitmer took to Missouri in November 1831 from which the Book of Commandments was to be... Read more

Road to Martyrdom: Joseph Smith's Last Legal Cases

Joseph I. Bentley
While the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor in June 1844 played a role in the martyrdom of Joseph Smith in Carthage, Illinois, on June 27, 1844, there were other factors. These included fear of the Nauvoo Legion's power and the concentration of power in Joseph Smith himself, economic competition with some of the leading Mormon opponents, and political unrest due to the rapidly increasing Mormon... Read more


BYU Studies Staff
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From Manuscript to Printed Page: An Analysis of the History of the Book of Commandments and Revelations

Robin S. Jensen
This article is one of several in this issue about the Book of Commandments and Revelations, a foundational document of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Book of Commandments and Revelations (BCR) is a surprisingly unpretentious document, judging by its physical condition. Instead of appearing regal and glorious as would befit its important contents, the Book of Commandments... Read more

Priceless Words and Fallible Memories: Joseph Smith as Seen in the Effort to Preserve His Discourses

Dean C. Jessee
Speaking of Joseph Smith, the Lord told an ancient prophet, "I will not loose his tongue, that he shall speak much, for I will not make him mighty in speaking." As if in fulfillment, some who heard Joseph noted that he was "not unusually talented for a Speaker," nor did he appear to be "an educated man." Yet many also complimented the energy, fervor, and meekness of his speech. Because of Joseph'... Read more

Affinities and Infinities: Joseph Smith and John Milton

Rosalynde Welch
The lives of John Milton and Joseph Smith converge and diverge in fascinating ways. Milton was the son of a middling scrivener who depended on the unsavory practice of money lending, but made a handsome life for his family; Smith was the son of a landless farmer who depended on the undesirable necessity of borrowing and in time a morass of debt defined the family life. Both men were autodidacts... Read more

Church Leaders in Liberty Jail

Leonard J. Arrington
When war between the Latter-day Saints and "the Missouri mob" seemed inevitable in October 1838, five Church officials approached the camp of General Samuel D. Lucas, commander of the Missouri Militia, under a flag of truce to negotiate a settlement. The five were Joseph Smith, President of the Church; Sidney Rigdon, member of the First Presidency; Parley P. Pratt, member of the Council of Twelve... Read more

Biographical Reflections on the American Joseph Smith

Robert V. Remini
I have long thought that the importance and role of Joseph Smith in the history of religion in America has been muted more than necessary by the Latter-day Saint church. As his biographer, I was and remain very anxious that his contribution to American culture and religion in general be recognized and appreciated, both by Mormons and by non-Mormons. Read more

Parting the Veil: The Visions of Joseph Smith

Alexander L. Baugh
Joseph Smith the seer ushered in the dispensation of the fullness of times. His role was known and prophesied of anciently. The Lord promised Joseph of Egypt that in the last days a "choice seer" would come through his lineage and would bring his seed to a knowledge of the covenants made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (2 Nephi 3:7; JST Gen. 50:27–28). "That seer will the Lord bless," Joseph... Read more

The Character of Joseph Smith

Richard L. Bushman
Joseph warned the Saints of the difficulty in trying to understand him, and yet we still want to know what kind of a man he was: How would we experience him if we knew him? What was the feel of his personality? How did the visions and revelations affect his character? Was he lifted above human foibles and idiosyncrasies by his contact with the heavens? Was he a little magical? Without claiming to... Read more


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Joseph Smith as an American Restorationist

Richard T. Hughes
Richard Bushman's wonderfully expansive paper "Joseph Smith's Many Histories" reminds us in forceful ways of the historical complexity that helped create the Mormon Prophet, Joseph Smith. Bushman also reminds us that while historical complexity is embedded in history, it embeds itself as well in the hearts and minds of human beings who discover the various realities of history and then... Read more

Joseph Smith and the 1834 D. P. Hurlbut Case

David W. Grua
Joseph Smith, the Latter-day Saint Prophet, was not a lawyer by training, but he became well acquainted with the court system in New York, Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois during his brief lifetime. Through his encounters with the law, he developed a distinct view of the law's prospect for delivering justice. At first, Smith had a firm belief that, through faith and God's assistance, he would find... Read more

The Development of the Joseph Smith Historic Center

Kenneth E. Stobaugh
In an 1893 letter, Alexander Hale Smith, a son of Joseph and Emma Smith, informed E. L. Kelley, the Presiding Bishop of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, that the Nauvoo House was to be auctioned at an administrator's sale. Alexander wrote, "I haven't for years felt a particle of interest in the old place until of late. I feel we ought to take advantage of every... Read more

Joseph Smith and Egyptian Artifacts: A Model for Evaluating the Prophetic Nature of the Prophet's Ideas about the Ancient World

Kerry Muhlestein
Joseph Smith’s collection of Egyptian antiquities has been the point of much interest, both in his day and ours. Among those things that piqued great attention during the Prophet’s lifetime, and continue to do so today, are his explanations of the drawings (known as vignettes when referring to ancient Egyptian literature) on the papyri he possessed and connections he made between the papyri,... Read more