Sludge from a Dark Well

The Salt Lake Tribune ran an interesting opinion piece last week (22 January 2008) written by Eric Dursteler, an associate professor at BYU. Describing himself as “a Mormon and a historian,” in “Attacks on Islam, Mormonism spring from the same dark well” Dr. Dursteler draws a parallel between the vitriolic language sometimes used to describe Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith, and the language used in the Middle Ages to describe Islam’s founder, Muhammad. What’s more, this same sort of language was used against Joseph Smith in the 1800s. Dr. Dursteler explains,

“In describing Joseph Smith as a criminal, a fraud and a rapist, [current liberal pundit Lawrence] O’Donnell was drawing on deeply-rooted themes and images which medieval Christians used in the age of the Crusades, and which were revived in the 19th century by critics of Mormonism…

“…During the 19th century as Mormonism began to expand, American commentators dusted off the centuries-old rhetoric used against Islam and in similarly vituperative fashion equated the Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith, with the Muslim prophet, Muhammad. From the faith’s earliest days, Smith was referred to as the ‘Yankee’ or the ‘American’ Muhammad, and newspaper editors included him in a long line of religious imposters, which included the Muslim prophet.”

I’m no fan of Lawrence O’Donnell or his turgidity. I tend to agree with Dr. Dursteler that uncalled-for use of such virulent language may be a ploy on O’Donnell’s part to boost ratings. Yet, there is more to the story of the linking of Joseph Smith with Muhammad, historically speaking, than Dr. Dursteler has provided for his readers.

On October 14th, 1838 Joseph Smith equated himself with Muhammad. As reported by another Mormon historian, in a speech given to “every able-bodied Mormon in Caldwell County” Missouri, the Prophet said,Joseph Smith with Sword

“If the people will let us alone we will preach the gospel in peace. But if they come on us to molest us, we will establish our religion by the sword. We will trample down our enemies and make it one gore of blood from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. I will be to this generation a second Mohammed, whose motto in treating for peace was ‘Alcoran or the Sword.’ So shall it eventually be with us — ‘Joseph Smith or the Sword!'” (Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 230-231. See History of the Church 3:167)

Though the LDS Church questions whether Joseph actually said this, Ms. Brodie based her report on the affidavits of seven different men, two of whom were LDS Apostles. The actions of the Mormons over the following days indicate Joseph probably said — and meant — what he was accused of. Hearing reports of “disturbances” in Daviess County, a non-Mormon committee went to investigate. They reported back,

“‘that much more had been done by the Mormons than the people of this county had been informed of.’ …Millport and Gallatin were almost entirely in ashes, Peniston’s horsemill had been torn down and its parts scattered, and nearly all the Daviess settlers had been driven from the county, their possessions seized, and their homes burned.” (Stephen C. LeSueur, The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri, 136)

It is somewhat incongruous for Dr. Dursteler to find fault with people comparing Joseph Smith to Muhammad, when Joseph Smith did it himself.

More thoughts on Sludge from a Dark Well to be continued in a future post…

For further reading see Joseph Smith – The Second Muhammad?

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
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6 Responses to Sludge from a Dark Well

  1. falcon says:

    I believe that the Mormon Church would like to promote an image of Joseph Smith that doesn’t match the historical record. As a matter of fact, he gave as good as he got when it came to verbal as well as physical conflict. His order to destroy the printing press of a rival (who was exposing Smith’s adultery) led to his jailing and eventual murder. He had a gun and was trying to defend himself when he got killed. Can’t really blame him. He could dust it up with the best of them. He wasn’t a meek pacifist by any stretch of the imagination. Very interesting, this history of Mormonism and Smith. Too bad more Mormons don’t avail themselves of the unsanitized version.

  2. mikeb says:

    I find it very interesting that both men supposedly claimed to have had an angel appear to them and reveal some word/revelation from God.
    Yet both messages are entirely different. Why is that? In light of what the Bible says in Galatians 1:8 But even though we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preachedto you, let him be accursed…
    Isn’t there a guy in Miami Florida who says an angel appeared to him and told him he was the second coming of Christ? I’m not making this up.
    I’m just waiting for the next angel to appear.

  3. Arthur Sido says:

    It all comes back to a lack of contentment, a dissatisfaction with God alone as the author and finisher of our salvation. Men like Smith and Mohammad have always come along trying to change or add to the Gospel. Their motivations may be different, but the result is the same: a false Gospel offering a false hope.

  4. Jacob5 says:

    Well, that is a very openminded statement. I thought this was a forum to discuss the mormon faith.
    But I guess this is just a “sludge” slinging post.

  5. mikeb says:


    There isn’t any sludge slinging going on but, I do apologize if the truth hurts. The bible is so full of warnings about following false prophets. Galatians 1:8 is just one but it is extremely specific about how people will be lead astray “an angel from heaven”. In the Bible when ever an angel from heaven appeared they never said anything contrary to what the Bible teaches. If Joseph Smith had know this maybe he would have been more discerning. The great thing is, now we know. We don’t have any reason or excuse now to not know the truth. That is one of the things that people are going to have to answer for when they stand before the living God. What are you do with the truth?

  6. Jacob5 says:

    You know what, extend it to whomever you wish. If you want to view the bible with one eye closed that is your choice. In your mind anyone who goes against your archaic beliefs is false. You may say that about me, but we don’t go bashing people over the heads about it. I am out of this EV be Happy blog.

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