The Transfiguration of Brigham Young


It’s Throwback Thursday!
The following blog article originally posted at Mormon Coffee on August 8, 2011.


When Joseph Smith died in June of 1844, the Mormon Church faced a succession crisis. Mormon historian Richard S. Van Wagoner explained,

“Despite frequent kidnaping and assassination attempts, Joseph Smith established no firm policies regarding presidential succession in the event of his death. The resulting confusion threw the prophetic transition into turmoil. He simply had not expected to die at thirty-eight. Never given to full disclosure to any man or woman, the prophet’s public and private statements between 1834-44 suggested at least eight different methods for succession, each pointing to different successors with some claims to validity.” (“The Making of a Mormon Myth: The 1844 Transfiguration of Brigham Young,” Dialog, Vol. 28, No. 4, Winter 1995, 4, pdf)

Many people vied for the office of President of the Church left vacant at Smith’s death. The two main contenders, however, were Sidney Rigdon (First Counselor in the First Presidency) and Brigham Young (President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles). Church members were divided and argued over the identity of Smith’s successor. A special meeting was called in Nauvoo for August 8, 1844 to decide who would lead the floundering church. Sidney Rigdon spoke and made a case for his ascension to the office of President. Then Brigham Young spoke in behalf of The Twelve. It was then that the miracle occurred.

“If Joseph had risen from the dead and again spoken in their hearing, the effect could not have been more startling than it was to many present at that meeting, it was the voice of Joseph himself; and not only was it the voice of Joseph which was heard, but it seemed in the eyes of the people as if it were the very person of Joseph which stood before them. A more wonderful and miraculous event than was wrought that day in the presence of that congregation, we never heard of. The Lord gave His people a testimony that left no room for doubt as to who was the man chosen to lead them. They both saw and heard with their natural eyes and ears, and the words which were uttered came, accompanied by the convincing power of God, to their hearts, and they were filled with the Spirit and with great joy. There had been gloom, and in some hearts, probably, doubt and uncertainty, but now it was plain to all that here was the man upon whom the Lord had bestowed the necessary authority to act in their midst in Joseph’s stead. On that occasion Brigham Young seemed to be transformed, and a change such as that we read of in the scriptures as happening to the Prophet Elisha, when Elijah was translated in his presence, seemed to have taken place with him. The mantle of the Prophet Joseph had been left for Brigham. … The people said one to another: ‘The spirit of Joseph rests on Brigham’: they knew that he was the man chosen to lead them and they honored him accordingly.” (George Q. Cannon, circa 1864, quoted in Van Wagoner, 14-15)

Except that they didn’t.

As Mr. Van Wagoner points out, on August 8, 1844 the Latter-day Saints chose a group of men, not one man, to lead the church when they voted in favor of the Quorum of the Twelve apostles as their leading authority. Brigham Young was not sustained as the President of the Church until December 1847, and this was not without opposition and argument. The historical facts actually suggest that Brigham Young was not chosen to lead the church that day, for one week later, on August 15, the Twelve published an epistle that said,

“You are now without a prophet present with you in the flesh to guide you. … Let no man presume for a moment that [Joseph Smith’s] place will be filled by another; for, remember he stands in his own place, and always will.” (Times and Seasons 5 (15 Aug. 1844): 618, quoted in Van Wagoner, 14)

Furthermore, history also suggests that there was no transfiguration on August 8 to guide the people toward God’s will in the matter. According to Mr. Van Wagoner, “no known contemporary record supports a supernatural occurrence” at either the morning or afternoon August 8 meetings, but there are plenty of accounts from later years that mention Brigham Young’s transfiguration.

“The earliest detailed accounts of a purported transfiguration did not begin to surface until long after the Saints were settled in the Great Basin. The fact that no account was included in ‘Joseph Smith’s History,’ completed in August 1856, or in The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, completed before his 1857 death, suggests that the myth was not fully developed by this period. The first public reference to a ‘transfiguration’ may have been a 19 July 1857 statement by Albert Carrington before a huge gathering of Saints that ‘he could not tell [Brigham Young] from Joseph Smith’ when Young ‘was speaking in the stand in Nauvoo’ during the 8 August 1844 convocation…

“Retrospective retellings of a ‘transfiguration,’ in a variety of forms, can be found in dozens of sources, yet no two seem to agree on precise details.” (16-17)

Some who later claimed to have witnessed the transfiguration were not actually in Nauvoo on August 8, 1844. John D. Lee said he saw and heard a strong resemblance in Brigham Young to Joseph Smith “at that time,” but he did not arrive in Nauvoo until August 20. In 1869 Orson Hyde, an apostle of the Mormon Church, described the famous August 8 meeting and his participation in it. He said,

“We went among the congregation…he [Brigham] spoke, and his words went through me like electricity…This is my testimony; it was not only the voice of Joseph, but there were the features, the gestures and even the stature of Joseph before us in the person of Brigham.” (Journal of Discourse 13:181)

Mr. Hyde’s testimony is astonishing – because he was not in Nauvoo on August 8, but rather arrived in the city five days later.

One contemporary account of the transfiguration of Brigham Young was found in the diary of Mormon George Laub, thought to have been written in 1846. Mr. Van Wagoner explains, “This small tan-colored leather diary, which has misled many scholars, has now been determined to be a copy of the original by Laub himself, with additions.” The original diary has also been discovered, and it contains no reference to Brigham Young’s transfiguration.

Mr. Van Wagoner sums up,

“Apostles Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, and Wilford Woodruff, all of whom made 8 August 1844 entries in their diaries, make no reference to an epiphany. Such an event, had it truly transpired, would have stood at the apogee of world history, a physical metamorphosis unsurpassed except for the transfiguration and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet neither the Times and Seasons nor the Nauvoo Neighbor, local newspapers owned by the church, mention such a wonder. Neither do the 1844 and 1845 accounts of Jedediah Grant and Orson Hyde, specifically written to refute Sidney Rigdon’s robust challenge to the Quorum of Twelve’s succession claims.” (22)

The transfiguration of Brigham Young is but another Mormon myth used to undergird the validity of a church that has no solid foundation. Mormons, consider the words of Seventy B.H. Roberts:

“…since these things are myth and our Church has permitted them to be perpetuated … might not the other fundamentals to the actual story of the Church, the things in which it had its origin, might they not all be lies and nothing but lies.” (quoted in Van Wagoner, 24)

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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9 Responses to The Transfiguration of Brigham Young

  1. falcon says:

    AH Nuts!
    Another urban legend bites the dust. It’s amazing that when people take the time to actually attempt to verify the facts, the facts get in the way of a great story. There’s an entire website dedicated to Mormon Urban Legends.

    I think it would do Mormons good if they stopped depending on their feelings to confirm truth and actually delved into what they’ve been taught to see if it is indeed true.
    How about the one where supposedly after the death of the first century Church apostles the gospel disappeared from the earth and needed to be restored? That one is easily disproved and just think, it forms the foundation of the Mormon religion.
    How about the myth that the Bible has been corrupted and cannot to trusted? Another Mormon factoid that can easily be dismissed with a little investigation. There are a couple of Mormon myths that qualify as conspiracy theories that go along with this; one being that Catholic monks, copying the Biblical manuscripts, left all of the Mormonism out of the Bible?
    And isn’t there a Mormon legend that the apostle John never died?
    Mormons are nice folks, but very gullible.

  2. falcon says:

    One of the all time great Mormon story tellers was Paul H. Dunn. He was a favorite speaker at LDS events like the fireside chats where he’d keep the youth enraptured with his fabulous (supposedly true) tales.
    For those not familiar with Paul H. Dunn, he was a general authority of the Mormon Church. Paul was famous for telling lies woven into his talks and stories in order to more fully indoctrinate members. Some of his lies included being a professional baseball player and serving in World War II where a machine gun ripped his clothes off but left him alive due to his garments.
    Among Dunn’s claims that proved to be false were:
    * that he had played major league baseball with the St. Louis Cardinals.
    * that he was one of only six in his 1,000-man combat group who survived World War II, and was the only one of the six survivors who wasn’t wounded.
    * that he was the sole survivor among 11 infantrymen in a 100-yard race against death, during which one burst of machine-gun fire ripped his right boot off, another tore off his ammunition and canteen belt and yet another split his helmet in half—all without wounding him.
    *that his best friend died in his arms from serious injuries sustained in a battle on Okinawa.
    When blog poster writes:
    “…..what always struck me most about the Paul H. Dunn incident was the reaction of some of Dunn’s defenders. I remember so many fellow members who insisted that he’d done nothing wrong. To even acknowledge that he’d erred was more than some members could handle. This was pathetic, in my view, and the whole incident and the reactions it spawned probably revealed as much about certain Church members and their propensity for denial as it did about Dunn and the propensity of the leadership to get too creative with their anecdotes.”

  3. falcon says:

    I would guess that most folks who came into the LDS fold within the last twenty years have never heard about what became known as “The Mark Hofmann Affair”. No sex people. It wasn’t that kind of affair.
    Here’s what it was about as told in a short article on my favorite blog:

    This “affair” called into question the idea that the LDS people should follow their leaders because they will never lead them astray. The LDS leaders showed that they could be scammed and had no spiritual or even human discernment to speak of. There seems to be something baked into the cake of Mormon culture that produces very sincere but gullible people.

  4. falcon says:

    Here’s a good summary:

    Mark Hofmann was a gifted and masterful forger. Like any good con man, he knew part of his success manufacturing and selling fake historical documents depended on willing victims – people who wanted to believe. Growing up Mormon, Hofmann realized he was surrounded by the devout who were trained to trust authority. He also saw they were true believers about their sacred history and legends. This was a situation ripe for exploitation.
    From his years of collecting, buying and selling old documents and studying church history, Mark Hofmann knew there were skeletons in the Mormon closet. He also knew the church was interested in acquiring potentially embarrassing documents so they could suppress them.
    So Hofmann created the “Salamander Letter” [at right], a document by church founder Joseph Smith encountering a talking salamander that turned into an angel. The sale of this “document” to his brethren, created, penned and aged by Hoffmann, netted the son of the Mormons $40,000.
    Hofmann was on his way.
    There were dozens of other “documents” only Hofmann could “discover.” Over a period of four years, Hofmann’s transactions with the leaders of the LDS netted him nearly a million dollars. In cash.,0

    Faithful Mormons would have to come up with some pretty creative LDS rationalization in order to rescue the equity they have in the sect and it’s leaders.

  5. Mike R says:

    It’s true that Mormons are much easier to fool than most other religions simply because they were won into the Mormon church largely by trusting their feelings/emotions ( praying about the Book of Mormon etc ) so whatever sounds / feels good when coming from their various leaders must be true they reason . However that’s a recipe for being detoured from the truth in God’s Word by religious men — whether Mormon leaders or others .

    falcon mentioned Paul Dunn and Mark Hoffman , and there are other examples that could be cited where an “inner witness” felt by Mormons causing them to believe something was true but which turned out to be not from the Holy Ghost at all .

    The Mormon people don’t need their prophets to guide them into truth .
    Mormonism is not the answer .

  6. Mike R says:

    Sharon is correct when she says about the story of Brigham’s Young’s transfiguration :

    ” The Transfiguration of Brigham Young is but another Mormon myth used to undergird the validity of a church that has no solid foundation .”

    The foundation of Mormonism is the teachings of men who have made exclusive claims of authority . Their claim has been tested in the light of God’s Word and found wanting . After Joseph Smith’s death Brigham Young went on to become a textbook example of a latter days false prophet . When Joseph Smith drifted from the true gospel of salvation and succumbed to apostasy , his disciples like Brigham Young followed suit . Sad but true .

    The Mormon people are in a serious situation ( Matt 15: 14 ) , and a full schedule of church activities can’t make up for following prophets who have succumbed to apostasy by running way past the truths about God , Jesus , or how people can receive eternal life taught by God’s true prophets and apostles in the Bible . 2 Tim 4:3-4 ; Jude 3

  7. falcon says:

    I would say if there’s no substance; that the faithful have to live off of urban legends and myths, the foundation is sand. What do I mean by that? There are several examples but one that I’m sure most Mormons don’t know about is the early change in Smith’s religion from the “Book of Commandments” to the “Doctrines and Covenants”.
    Think about it. The BoC was edited heavily to reflect Smith’s ever changing “revelations”. It bothered some of the early followers so much that they walked away from Smith, recognizing what he was doing. This can’t be covered by “continuous revelation”. These followers of Mormonism, even today, see Smith as a fallen prophet.
    That’s one big problem with the Mormon revelation and that is that it is “progressive”. Wouldn’t you think that if you have a revelation from God and then you get another revelation that it would build on what was given previously? That’s not so with Mormon revelation.
    Another point is that Smith changed his story about his first vision eight times. These changes seem to correspond when there would be a crisis in his leadership. Smith built his religion on his “visions” and “appearances” of spirit beings. So if these tales aren’t true, what is left of Mormonism? It doesn’t take much investigation to unravel Smith’s stories.
    I would suggest that a better foundation for faith is the Lord Jesus Christ and God’s revealed Word, the Holy Bible. Mormons need to discover for themselves who Jesus is and how the Bible stands as God’s inspired Word and as such the message is without error. If someone can’t bring themselves to see the Bible as God’s revealed Word, protected by the Holy Spirit, they will believe anything a “prophet” tells them because there is no definitive standard by which to judge (the prophet).

  8. falcon says:

    Even when a Christian tells me about “a word from the Lord” or a “vision” or a “dream”, I exercise a healthy skepticism. I even question the spiritual manifestations that I get, testing everything. This is because there is one standard and that’s the Word of God, the Bible. If someone doesn’t hold to a divine inspiration and inerrancy of the Word of God, they will believe anything, especially if it sounds spiritual. It’s also healthy to question when someone brings a “fresh” interpretation of the Word. There are certain principles that need to be followed when studying the Word and if these principles aren’t adhered to, a person can wander off into all kinds of error.
    So, our Mormon friends see the Bible as corrupted and won’t trust it but they hold strongly to Mormon myths, legends, faulty leadership and their own feelings for their spiritual foundation. The Bible warns us that the heart is wicked and deceitful above all else and there-in lies the problem for Mormons.
    At its inception, Mormonism held to the BoM as truth. There have been at least 3,900 changes in the book, many that change the original basic doctrine. This was suppose to be the most correct book ever written. The sect also used something called the “Book of Commandments” that recorded original revelations. Then Joseph Smith changed the BoC to the D&C and re-wrote many of the revelations. That caused a split in the original group and many view Smith as a fallen prophet from that time. Then a major manifesto was pronounced in 1890 ending polygamy as a formal practice although it is still in the D&C (#132). There are sects of Mormons who believe the sect went into apostasy at that time and that the LDS church is in need of restoration.
    So process this. Joseph Smith claimed, wrongly I might add, that the Christian Church went into apostasy with the death of the apostles and that the Bible can’t be trusted due to corruption of the text. And yet the LDS prophets change doctrine and practice all of the time corrupting, some would say, the supposed restoration.
    It would behoove Mormons to go back to the Word of God, the Bible, and read it as a child, trusting in the Holy Ghost to guide and instruct and lead them to everlasting life through Christ Jesus Our Lord.

  9. Mike R says:


    You brought up a good point when you mentioned about being careful to accept a purported vision or “revelation” by even those who claim to be Christians . Some of the t.v. preachers have become popular ( and rich! ) because sincere people believe their claim that God told them such and such
    and that’s all it takes to convince some people to accept their new teaching or request for money .

    Mormon leaders have convinced their followers to accept Mormonism largely by the misuse of
    feelings . In the latter days that is not the criteria to start a proper test any prophet arising who might make a claim of exclusive authority to represent God as His mouthpiece etc . The apostle John’s counsel on testing any prophet/ messengers in his day is still the safe method in our day —
    1 Jn 4:1 ; 2Jn 7-9 . Paul also contributed to providing for our spiritual safety today by what he penned in Gal 1:8 and 2 Tim 4:3-4 .

    Mormon missionaries in the beginning claimed their gospel of salvation was the same one that Paul preached ( Rom 1:16 ) . They used the Book of Mormon and Bible to preach about God and the requirements to receive eternal life .Yet after a few short years there was changes to their message ,
    new teachings appeared from their leaders which had drifted from the original doctrines . Belief in one God became belief in Gods , belief in God being always God became belief in a God who was not always God only human male from another planet , and belief in a female Deity , a Goddess , also was introduced . Can’t get much further off track than that ! In addition to adding these to their gospel there was also new important ordinances introduced — some were even to be kept hidden from the general public . All in all , visions/ dreams and revelations by their leaders caused LDS to also drifted further away from the gospel that Jesus’ directed His apostles to preach after sending them out as missionaries to preach .

    It’s a very serious matter to trust religious leaders new teachings blindly , and despite their denial of that fact LDS have done just that . It’s a sad fact which breaks our hearts to see decent sincere people swayed by the very kind of prophets Jesus warned would appear in the latter days — Matt 24:11

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