“Imminent Martyrdom”

At the October 2009 General Conference LDS Apostle Jeffrey Holland gave a talk titled, “Safety for the Soul.” This talk has been closely examined and critiqued in a series of videos posted by FlackerMan on You Tube. In video #2 (of 5) FlackerMan examines Mr. Holland’s claim of Joseph Smith’s dying testimony of the Book of Mormon. In October 2009 Mr. Holland said,

“May I refer to a modern last-days testimony. When Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum, started for Carthage, to face what they knew would be an imminent martyrdom…”

In his critique, FlackerMan disputes the frequently asserted LDS claim that Joseph Smith knew he was going to die at Carthage. FlackerMan asks some pretty interesting questions related to Joseph’s behavior in relation to his death; they, in turn, call into question the notion that Joseph was willingly going like a lamb to the slaughter as he travelled from Nauvoo to Carthage (see D&C 135:4). I have edited and listed many of FlackerMan’s questions here for your consideration.

  • Joseph removed his temple garments before going to Carthage and told others to do the same (D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, 146). Why would he do this if he were about to die a martyr’s death for his testimony?
  • Joseph, Hyrum and others drank wine while singing songs in Carthage Jail (History of the Church, 7:101). Why would Joseph disobey the Word of Wisdom, a direct revelation from God, if he knew he was very soon to stand before that God for judgment and be required to give an account of his behavior?
  • Joseph sent an order to the Nauvoo Legion instructing an attack on Carthage Jail to free the prisoners. When the mob approached, Joseph mistook them for his liberators and told the frightened jailer, “Don’t trouble yourself, they have come to rescue me” (Quinn, 141). Why would Joseph have made plans for, and expected, his escape if he knew he was going to die?
  • Joseph had and used a gun defensively during the attack (History of the Church, 7:101-103). Why would he bother to fend off his attackers if he was going “like a lamb to the slaughter” and knew he was about to die?
  • When Joseph’s gun ran out of ammunition he ran to the window and, using the Masonic distress code, called for help from fellow Masons who might have been in the mob (see E. Cecil McGavin, Mormonism and Masonry, 16-17). Why would he call for help if he knew his destiny was to die that day? Indeed, if Joseph knew his death was imminent, why did he not just give himself up for the safety of his friends who were with him?
  • After the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum, the LDS Church was in crisis.  No clear direction for succession in leadership had been set in place. This lack of direction resulted in many schisms and breakaway Mormon groups all claiming to be God’s only true church. If Joseph knew he was never to return from Carthage Jail, why didn’t he definitively name a successor before his death?

Did Joseph Smith know he was going to Carthage to die? The circumstances and Joseph’s behavior surrounding his death make that seem highly unlikely. This is yet another faith-promoting Mormon myth employed to persuade people to pin their eternal hopes to what is ultimately a lie.

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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59 Responses to “Imminent Martyrdom”

  1. Mike R says:


    [ Deseret News, Church section 5-26-1945 ]

  2. mantis mutu says:

    Thankyou David for your thorough response. I think you stated your case well on many of the points I addressed.

    So I’m certainly placed in a position to address what you call your two “main beefs”: that JS failed to live up to the Isaiah metaphor of going “as a lamb to the slaughter” in…

    (1) his decision to accept & use a pistol while at Carthage clearly subverts the ideals of innocence & nonviolence embodied by the lamb.

    & (2) his ordering of the destruction of the Expositor Press made him guilty of the crime he was being arrested for, & again subverts the ideal of innocence embodied by the lamb.

    If one is in the business of deconstructing all of JS’s actions leading up to & terminating in his Carthage assassination by the high standard of the Isaiah metaphor he gave to his family the day before turning himself in–then I have no objections w/ the above two observations.

    JS’s acceptance & use of the pistol certainly distinguishes him from Jesus’ example of full complicity in “bowing beneath all things” w/ his utter surrender to the torture & execution administered to him by the Romans. But in saying that we must also admit that the example of Jesus’ execution in this & other ways goes beyond the Isaiah sacrificial metaphor.

    Animal sacrifice involved absolutely no torture, furthermore, the lamb-victim’s ignorance to what was happening can’t rightly compare w/ Jesus’ willing, knowing acceptance of his execution. Additionally, animal sacrifice was executed in compliance w/ divine law, while we know tht Jesus’ sacrifice resulted from a loaded-court “democracy” that subverted Roman law. If you really want to get technical in the application of the Isaiah metaphor, I could point out that JS’s Carthage experience certainly sides w/ the Christian expansion of the metaphor in that JS feared his surrender to lawful authorities was doomed to result in his death by a “loaded-court” democracy—in his case, the mobbing vigilantes who ultimately realized his fears.

  3. mantis mutu says:

    But if we’re in the business of following the metaphor to such details (granted, as a conservative literary critic, I’m not usually inclined to do so) I can also allow myself to go a little further in seeing JS’s desperate return of gunfire as a parallel to the violent, kicking death-throes that I imagine came from a sacrificial lamb when its innocence to the situation ended w/ the sudden thrust of a knife. Such a comparison carries the metaphor well beyond JS’s intended meaning when used w/ his family, but w/ everyone else feeling entitled to free-play of the metaphor & Carthage situation, I thought I’d make my own contribution.

    As for JS’s culpability in his arrest—certainly, by the legal standard of the day (& moreso now), JS was guilty of destruction of personal property. He claimed the right as Mayor to the destruction of a public nuisance, but honest Mormons and all Mormon historians that I am aware of agree that JS was not going to win that case. Legally speaking, he was in the wrong, & probably knew it. But his life certainly shouldn’t have been an issue. Many have claimed tht in destroying a press JS was guilty of a sacrosanct American ideal, & tht is what inspired the ire of the mob that killed him, but that claim is anachronistic to the America of the day. It was simply in the act of leaving the safety of Nauvoo & traveling north JS knew he was placing himself at the mercy of a frenzied population that had wanted him dead for two years. Without the Nauvoo legion, Smith was dead in 1842. Bennett, Sharpe, and probably a dozen others would’ve made sure of it. Though you claim that I side w/ the common LDS notion that Smith’s foreknowledge of his death was a sign of his prophetic powers, I at no time in this thread make that claim. I fully side with the same position that you understand—that JS knew of his death simply because he knew that outside of the safety of Nauvoo he was as good as dead.

  4. mantis mutu says:

    There was a group of people who vehemently wanted him gone, and between the vigilantism rampant in the population and the frenzied Mormon hatred brewing for years in the region, outside of Nauvoo the accomplishment of their purposes would not be too difficult a task.

    But regardless, JS’s legal culpability in the press’s destruction is undeniable. For me, as for many Mormons, the rightness of JS’s destruction of the press wasn’t a matter of legality, but of divine justice. The Nauvoo Expositor represented a group of believers who had rejected the sacred principles entrusted to them, and they were in the process of poisoning the Church by going against the Lord’s prophet in disseminating that sacred information in a way contrary to the way instructed by the Lord. Obviously this is an issue that non-believers are not going to easily sympathize with…& while I plan on returning to it—and returning to other aspects of our conversation—for now, David, I’m tied up for a day or so, and must make a sudden end. Sorry.

    Thanx for the exchange.


  5. Mutu,

    Thanks for the quick reply. Sometimes I take for granted people’s busy schedules and internet availability. Also, you did not state that Joseph’s pistol fired “twice” but rather once; I caught that in my last post. Honestly, sometimes your honesty throws me. I would want you to fully explain what this means to you:

    “For me, as for many Mormons, the rightness of JS’s destruction of the press wasn’t a matter of legality, but of divine justice”

    Couldn’t non-Mormons say something similar about the killing of Joseph Smith and the destruction of the Nauvoo Temple? Illegal but just. And how about the fear that Joseph would become a law unto himself – a general of the Midwest akin to Muhammad? Clearly, the non-Mormons who killed Smith felt they had provocation if not justification. How much of the anger directed towards Smith in his last days could be attributed to Masons upset with him revealing Masonic secrets to non-Masons? Does this sentiment not run against the article of faith regarding being subject to earthly authorities?

    Also, I do not think that Isaiah 53:5-7 must be interpreted as the sacrifice of a lamb to God, even though it is clearly Messianic. It could simply be a lamb killed for food or other practical needs. Indeed, I think the context suggests this – And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers.

    I think the point or idea of the phrase, and the Isaiah passage, is that someone does not resist and is silent before death. I do not see this as applying to Joseph. He was there partly because of his own action(s). Again, I think the mob was wrong, and that Joseph was somewhat justified in firing back. He had a right to a trial, and given his crime the death sentence was probably not a just punishment even for his day. But he was not silent or innocent.

  6. I think the impartial observation of the events surrounding Joseph’s death does not inspire confidence in his prophethood. I think some critics can find every little thing wrong with Joseph, and his defenders actually see his last days as confirming his prophetic status. But I do not see how someone who is not familiar with Mormonism can look at his life, especially his last days, and get a positive vibe towards Joseph’s prophethood.

  7. David,

    Just caught your comments about the phrase “lamb to the slaughter”.

    I think you’ve touched on an important point – the original text from Isaiah may put the phrase in a messianic/non-messianic context, but the phrase in the ‘modern’ context (mid 19th Century North America included) certainly means someone being silent and unresisting before his (or her) death.

    So, regardless of what Isaiah may, or may not have meant, the use of the phrase in a modern context definitely implies that the “lamb” does not fight back. Hence, the contrast with the violent clash that culminated in Joseph Smith’s death.

    It’s not a phrase I would use because it would not be applicable in this case.

  8. Jim says:

    At lds.org there are a number of videos to choose from to view. One of these is “Testimony of the Book of Mormon” by Apostle Holland. I watched this, and found it interesting that he claimed that the new-looking book was Hyrum’s. Was it preserved that well? How is Hyrum’s use of it evidence that the BoM is divine revelation? Just because he may have thought so is irrelevant. And the tragedies that FOLLOWED their murders are also irrelevant. Just because some people were duped into believing the BoM’s story that Hebrews from Jerusalem chose to adopt Egyptian (which is absurd), and suffered for it, does not help us determine the validity of the BoM!

    Then I revisited this blog entry and found the reference to FlackerMan’s video. Watching his #2 and 3 videos was very helpful, especially when he exposed the Hyrum’s BoM in Holland’s hand to be an altered replica. So can people knowingly deceive to promote the BoM? His example demonstrates that the answer is “Yes.”

  9. Pingback: Mormon Coffee » Joseph Smith’s Death Not Inherently Significant?

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