Mark Owen writes

The Mormon madness


The night of 21 September 1823 was one of great significance for the world, even if most of that world was quite unaware of the fact. For that was the very night when a 17-year-old American boy, Joseph Smith, was visited by an angel. Now this may seem, to some of my readers, a rather strange event to have occurred but surely it must be so, for Joseph himself was absolutely certain he had seen the heavenly visitor, and the lad appeared to be honest and upright. I hope my readers are not doubters.

And angels, after all, have engaged in such visitations many times through history so we should not think this encounter so strange. Gabriel, after all, visited Daniel back in Old Testament times, appeared later to Mary, then, centuries later again, met up with Muhammad in his cave. But this time it wasn't Gabriel who visited young Joseph but a new heavenly visitant, Moroni by name. I must whisper a secret, though. Just by chance a sixteenth century Italian artist bore that same name! I'm not suggesting that young Joseph picked it up somewhere, in a book perhaps or a magazine (for he wasn't much of a hand at reading), but I would not be fair to my readers if I did not note the point.

Well, the story goes that young Joseph, as he prayed, beheld Moroni standing by his bed. The angel announced to the startled lad that he would find upon a nearby hillside a set of golden plates - a book, indeed, containing the 'fulness of the everlasting Gospel' as delivered by Christ to the ancient inhabitants of America. Well now, this was indeed a new turn of events in religious, indeed, world history. There are some people who claim Jesus had visited Britain after his alleged resurrection; now we find he even crossed the Atlantic!

There is a little more to the story than this, though. We don't know a great deal about Joseph's early life or his family, except that as a boy (he was born on 23 December 1805) his father found it difficult disciplining his son because the boy suffered from epileptic fits. (Some folk think this affliction was experienced by little Muhammad, too.) However an interesting study published in New York in 1844 (very close to the events) by Professor J B Turner, under the title The Rise, Progress and Causes of Mormonism claimed that young Joseph, prior to his elevation to prophethood, had followed his father's profession, that of money-digger.

This was an activity engaged in by people in the maritime districts of the USA in the belief that vast amounts of hidden treasure and bullion had been buried by first by Indians, then by buccaneers and, more recently, by revolutionaries.


An air of mystery, with strange incantations and the like, surrounded the activities of the money-diggers, to fool the gullible. At one stage young Joseph was actually dragged into a court of law and warned because he could not substantiate his treasure claims. But it was not only physical treasure that Joseph claimed to discover. On some of his perambulations he had received, so he said, other heavenly visitations, on one occasion a bright light having appeared over his head, when he was caught up into its midst. (Sounds like flying saucer activity!)

Now we do know something about the Smith family; it was not highly regarded, to put it mildly. Its members were described later as poor, thriftless, ignorant and none too honest. In fact, soon after the Book of Mormon was published it was thought prudent by the new Prophet and his little band to move away from the home turf. A bit too much was known of the leader's background there!

So Smith and some thirty or so converts moved to Kirtland, Ohio, which was to be the seat of the New Jerusalem. It was here that a new revelation reached the Prophet, a very convenient one, too. He was to start a bank, which heavenly order he duly obeyed, thereafter flooding the countryside with worthless banknotes in the process. Joseph and another Mormon, Sidney Rigdon (un unscrupulous character we will have cause to meet with again) got themselves tarred and feathered for their efforts. But somehow I don't think you'll find all this recorded in the official Mormon histories.

But back to our story. Remember those magical plates? Sure enough, the day after Joseph's encounter with Moroni the plates were found buried in a stone box. Mind you, Moroni's actions thereafter were a bit strange. For some inscrutable reason he wouldn't let the youth have them for another four years. But finally patience was rewarded and the heavenly missives were delivered into Joseph Smith's hands. They were, so we are reliably informed by Joseph, in the form of a golden volume, about 15 cm thick, each plate being about 20 cm x 17 cm, the whole held with three rings. The young man immediately set to work to translate the message from the 'Reformed Egyptian' hieroglyphics in which they were said to have been written.

Now Joseph, an unlearned man, didn't read Reformed Egyptian. In fact, he was so ignorant that he hardly read his own English language! Nor write it. I doubt anybody did read Reformed Egyptian but never mind, in this task he was aided by two mystical stones or implements, known as Urim and Thummim, in some accounts described as miracle spectacles, made up up crystals set in a silver bow. Now this bit of the story showed great originality, I must say, for these names have been lifted straight out of the Jewish religion. Well, that's not so strange really for all religion builds on what has gone before; there is nothing really new under the believers' sun.


Well, using his magic spectacles Joseph found it quite easy to translate the writings. He got himself an amanuensis or secretary, Oliver Cowdery (and we will have reason to return to this good man later) and then hid behind a curtain with his plates. But the Urim and Thummim was so powerful a device that all Joseph needed to do was to place it at the bottom of his old stovepipe hat and stare down into it. The plates remained on the table beside him, covered by a cloth. And, lo and behold, Joseph would speak forth the words to be recorded for posterity.

(Incidentally, other accounts say that a farmer, Martin Harris, actually assisted Smith in the translation process. Harris was to finance the publication of the book, as we shall see.)

This, then, was the 'interpretation' whereby Joseph Smith, upright American citizen, gave to the world a whole new religion and a guidebook to accompany it, The Book of Mormon. (The name Mormon was that of a prophet, father of Moroni, who in an earthly incarnation had compiled the book and concealed it on the hill.) The book was published in 1830 with the backing of a farmer, Martin Harris, who apparently had more money than good sense. The book was described by Mark Twain as 'chloroform in print.'

Curiously the plates seemed to disappear after this, like Moses' tablets of stone and other religious artifacts. All you'll find today in the Mormon literature are specious photographs of gold tablets with ancient writings, but these are not THE gold plates, just 'illustrations' of what they might have been like! As there are drawings shown of what Reformed Egyptian looks like! There is, naturally as always, a good story told to explain this disappearance; at least the Mormons have an explanation, which is more than can be said for the Jews.

I'm not accusing Joseph of duplicity, mind you, for some of the first Mormons actually swore they saw them; it's right there in writing, at the beginning of the Book of Mormon, and if it is in writing it must be true, surely! Well, it's still there today in every edition BUT - Cowdery, Harris and another, David Whitmer, whose names are listed among those who testified to its authenticity. some years later renounced Mormonism and denounced the statement as false!

It wasn't long before the revelations began to stir up many nave people (of which there seem to be unlimited numbers in the USA) and a church was formed - the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Joseph was aided by his father and others in this task.

But this displeased some of the believers in the former revelations and, ten years later, on 4 December 1833, fifty-one people signed the following statement, issued in Palmyra, New York:

'We, the undersigned, having been acquainted with the Smith family for a number of years, while they resided near this place, have no hesitation in saying, that we consider them to be destitute of that moral character which ought to entitle them to the confidence of any community. They were particularly infamous for visionary projects, spent much of their time digging for money, which they pretended was laid in the earth; and to this day large excavations may be seen in the earth not far from their residence, where they used to spend their time in digging for hidden treasures.

'Joseph Smith senior, and his son Joseph, were in particular considered entirely destitute of moral character, and addicted to vicious habits. Martin Harris [one of the signatories to the statement concerning the plates] had acquired a considerable property, and in matters of business his word was considered good; but on moral and religious subjects he was perfectly visionary; sometimes advocating one sentiment, sometimes another....It was not supposed that any of them were possessed of sufficient character or influence to make any one believe their book or their sentiments; and we know not a single individual in this vicinity who puts the least confidence in their pretended revelations.'

Doubtless the unwashed masses who followed Joseph would not even read these words and if they did, would reject them. Prophets fail; sadly, belief never fails. Much given to revelation-getting was our Joseph, for in time still more heavenly messages came to him. The result is found in the books Doctrine and Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price. These became the foundation writings upon which was built the Mormon church and its dissident offshoots, including the Reorganized [sic!] Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.


Now I might be unkind in bringing such a matter up but it has been suggested, with good reason I think, that the real source of Joseph Smith inspiration was actually a work called The Manuscript Found, an unpublished text written by a former clergyman early in the nineteenth century. Strenuous efforts have been made to deny this assertion but all the evidence points the other way.

It appears that one Solomon Spaulding, a Congregationalist cleric, left his ministry to go into business in Cherry Vale, New York. Evidently the Lord was mightily displeased, for he failed, in the year 1809. While living in Conneaut, Ohio, he became interested in some Indian sepulchral mounds which were at that time creating something of a stir.

Spaulding turned to that hope of many a person in financial straights - he would write a novel to raise some funds, centred around these mounds. Some say it was a work of fiction, others that it was intended as history, for Spaulding asserted that he had unearthed his knowledge from one of these mounds. Some point is lent to this latter idea by the manner in which Spaulding wrote his book, in the style of the ancient Hebrew prophets, which fact has a bearing, to say the least, on Joseph Smith's book.

Quite taken up with his idea, he would read the manuscript to neighbours; in fact, he created a certain notoriety for himself by his constant harping on the story. Thus this tale was well-known to some people already by 1812, when the clergyman hived himself off to Pittsburgh to seek a publisher.

We have no certain knowledge as to what happened next; indeed none of this story would have come to anything had it not been for Joe Smith. Mr Spaulding would have remained just another hopeful but unpublished writer. Anyway, the manuscript was left with a printer, Lamdin by name, and the man's son (or a compositor working for the printer) passed it on to one Sidney Rigdon, a preacher of the Campbellite (later known as Disciples or the Churches of Christ) persuasion residing at Mentor, Ohio.

Now we have already met with Mr Rigdon, remember. He got together with Smith and lo and behold, the new revelation was announced. Or so this story goes. Good as any other, at least as good as the official line from Mormondom, which has it that Mr Rigdon was shown the Book of Mormon in 1830 by some LDS missionaries en route to the West and embraced the faith.

Poor Joseph! He had the misfortune to be born in an age when knowledge spread itself around rather easily; pity we didn't know more about some of the older revelation-getters and the sources of their inspiration! Fortunately for Joseph, in 1816 the original author of the romance had joined his ancestors in the earth (to which we all hasten, whatever else Christian preachers claim).

In 1826 the printer, too, passed away, and thereafter Joe Smith was able to claim this curious story all for himself. Now, isn't it interesting that there was that otherwise inexplicable 4-year delay imposed by the angel. Joseph Smith met up with Moroni in 1823 but didn't take possession of the plates until 1827, that is when both the author and the printer of the original book were safely removed from the scene. Which all seems to imply that Joseph Smith was one of the most blatant plagiarists the world has ever seen.

But there is more. It has also been reported from people living in those distant times that Joseph Smith originally produced his work as a piece of fiction, in other words, if such is true he was blatantly using the work of the earlier writer and passing it off as his own. When the Book of Mormon first appeared in 1830 neighbours of the family told reporters that Joseph had told them he had written the story to help his struggling family's finances and had been surprised when some people treated it as true!

Eventually, as this story goes, he woke up to the possibilities inherent in the religion espoused in his book and began treating it as fact! The book, whatever its original nature, received a great boost when launched into print. What was then a large quantity - 5,000 copies - were produced, published in Palmyra, and printed by a local printer, Egbert B. Grandin. It first appeared on 26 March 1830.

And where did the money come from to print it? Young Joseph had managed to latch onto a nave farmer, Martin Harris, who had been convinced of the prophet's divine message. Harris mortgaged his 240-acre farm to the tune of $3,000. Foolish believer; few copies sold and the Harris farm was sold up to pay the debt; Harris became yet another victim of religion.

The important point in all this is that upon the revelations supposedly received by Joseph Smith was built a virile church that flourishes in many parts of the world even today. Its members, like many others in their churches, believe implicitly in the divine origin of their faith. They may, of course, be quite mistaken. Somebody must surely be mistaken somewhere in the world's babel of religious voices!


What, then, do Mormons believe? What is the great revelation in the Book of Mormon? Basically, an amazing mish-mash of trash. The American Indians, it seems, are descendants of the lost tribes of Israel, who left their homeland around 600 BCE. (Others place them elsewhere; a strong movement, active when I was young, once had them peopling Britain and Scandinavia.) It seems that these Jews divided into two opposing groups, the bad ones, the Lamanites, and the good ones, the Nephites. Eventually the baddies (who became the present Red Indians) slaughtered all the goodies, except just one - Moroni. He of the golden plates. Aware that he was about to snuff it too, he buried the plates in a hillside, Cumorah, until, many centuries later he appeared, now as an angel, to Joseph.

What, then, are some of the distinctive doctrines of Mormondom? Like all religion, there is nothing unique in the Mormon 'revelation'; all the doctrines of the Church of LDS are to be found elsewhere in one form or another. Each new religion synthesizes from that which precedes it. Sir Richard Burton, who visited the Mormons in Salt Lake City in 1861, pointed out to their leaders that their faith was essentially an agglomeration of Jewish mysticism, millennialism, transcendentalism, freemasonry and Islamic practices. The leaders were quite unabashed in their reply; their religion embraced all truth, they said! Muhammad said the same.

At first sight many Mormon beliefs sound like traditional Christian doctrines but there are subtle and important differences. Baptism is by immersion but Mormons believe all baptisms performed before Joseph Smith's arrival on the world scene are invalid. They thus carry out the frenzied activity of having themselves baptized over and over again on behalf of dead ancestors!

Like many of the faiths born in the USA in the nineteenth century the Mormons believe in the 'near return' of Christ. Those who are Mormons will be saved; the rest will be destroyed. But, unlike the others, they believe Christ will set up his kingdom on the American continent. Will the capital be New York? Or Washington? Or perhaps that home of religious nuttery, Los Angeles? Or maybe they expect Salt Lake City to house Christ!

The uniqueness of the Book of Mormon is clearly evident - to Mormons! Nephi, supposedly a pre-Christian prophet, sounds forth on the faith but his words are those of the Westminster Confession of Faith from the 17th century! Nephi, again, speaks in terms of the Wesleyan Book of Discipline (18th century). And he finds cows and oxen in America in 500 BCE; they were introduced by Europeans around 1490. Meanwhile Lehi quotes Shakespeare! And other words come directly from the King James Bible.


Sex plays an interesting role in the ideas of the Mormons. Intercourse is not for enjoyment (a view they share with many orthodox Christians and some others) but merely for multiplying the number of the faithful. They don't like birth control and this results in more Mormons being born than other folk. Someone once estimated their birth-rate at about sixty percent above the US average! A woman is thus restricted in her sexual activities to those occasions on which she is required to serve her purpose of baby-making. The men, however, from early times solved their sexual problems by taking more than one wife. But on the other hand polygamy solves the problem of surplus females, a common phenomenon of many religions.

The first Mormons took to the heavy task of consoling so many ladies with zest and polygamy was soon the order of the day. All this started with Joseph himself, who was very keen on the ladies. Quite early in his ministry he had prevailed upon several women to cohabit with him. But his first wife was none too happy at this, and some of the saints also objected. Lo and behold, Joseph conveniently received another revelation from the heavens, on 12 July 1843, expressly establishing and approving polygamy! It seems not to bother the saints that the Book of Mormon itself denounces polygamy! In fact, Joseph kept this new revelation secret for a time and there are suggestions that Brigham Young, his successor, conveniently discovered it after the Prophet's death. Brigham liked his ladies, too, as we shall see.

From then on the question of plural wives was to inflame passions and cause a great rift between the Mormons and their fellow-Americans. The GOD-fearing puritanical and religiously orthodox Americans around them got a bit worked up. After all their Bible seemed, to them, to advocate strict monogamy. (Which isn't, in fact, true, but they thought it was.)

Meanwhile the affairs of the sect had become rather involved. Back in 1836 a large temple was consecrated in Kirtland, an impressive addition to their holdings, along with the bank still then functioning. Missionaries were despatched to heathen England and all in all expansion was the order of the day. Smith even tried out a little faith healing. Some cases came good but he struck trouble when the cures ran out. Then, in 1838, the bank ran out, too, of money, forcing Smith and Rigdon to flee to avoid their creditors. Well, that is what happened; as Mormon history tells it, the Prophet received another convenient revelation, informing him to depart to Missouri. This instruction was obeyed with unaccustomed speed!

About this time a secret Inner Circle was formed, known as the Danites, around Smith, with the object of supporting him and enabling him, so it was said, to posses first one state, then the whole United States, then the whole world. He was, after all, supposed to be the bearer of GOD's last word to man.

In fact the Danites were accused of plotting, if not actually doing such deeds, to kill the enemies of Joseph Smith. There is no doubt that much bloodshed occurred both among the brethren and their enemies as they moved westward. Smith was authoritarian in his rule and provoked other strong-willed men to oppose him.

Turmoil continued. There were constant moves from place to place. Eventually a new holy city was established, known as Nauvoo, in Illinois, and in 1841 the foundations were laid for a new temple. There was peace, of sorts, for a time and a great white temple was built but passions were inflamed on all sides over the question of multiple wives. A newspaper,The Expositor, attacked the Mormons, publishing the affidavits of sixteen women claiming Smith or other Mormons had attempted to seduce them. The Mormons didn't mess about; they countered by burning down the newspaper office. (I must watch out!)

An arrest warrant was issued to detain Smith, his brother Hyram and sixteen other Mormons. They resisted the authorities with arms and the militia had to be called out but eventually the Governor persuaded Smith to surrender and stand trial.


Undoubtedly what followed was the turning point for the Church. Under Smith it might have remained a small and unimportant sect, eventually withering away. But a mob of GOD-fearing Americans broke into the prison and shot Smith and his brother dead. The Church now had its martyrs and what is more, waiting in the wings was a man of powerful personality, Brigham Young, who had the abilities of leadership lacking in Smith.

With Smith sent on the way to his heavenly reward there followed more trouble, the charter for Nauvoo being withdrawn by the legislature of Illinois. Soon there was to follow a great trek of the faithful, headed by Brigham Young, a former painter and glazier, to their latest promised land, this time in Utah, where they founded the Kingdom of Zion in Salt Lake City.

By the year 1848 the great bulk of the faithful had moved into Utah. Before long the Mormons virtually ruled an area stretching from the Rockies to the Sierra Nevada and large numbers of converts arrived there from Britain and Scandinavia. Brigham Young and his holy city fascinated many people who visited from far and wide, Mark Twain and Emerson among them. Sir Richard Burton spent three weeks among the Mormons in Utah towards the end of 1860 and wrote a book as a result, The City of the Saints.

Young was himself very taken up with the idea of multiple wives and upon his death had no less than 17 of them, and a tribe of 56 offspring! But through the years the question of polygamy continued to stir up the passions of fellow-Americans and Brigham Young was himself arrested for engaging in polygamy when in 1871 it was declared a criminal offence.

As we have already seen the Mormons at times proved to be a violent body of believers and were prepared to take up arms to defend themselves. Between 1849 and 1877, when Young died, conflict occurred on several occasions. Armed Mormons attacked government forces, destroyed supply trains and on one occasion slaughtered a party of 150 innocent migrants. Such violent activities seemed to deny the very faith they preached! A war had almost broken out between the federal government and a Mormon citizen army in 1857 and during one period the Mormons had 400 'Wolf Hunters' chasing up those disillusioned disciples who wanted to leave Salt Lake City. It is reported that a number of men, women and children 'trouble-makers' were murdered during this period.

The battle continued over polygamy throughout the period until, in 1890, President Wilford Woodruff, a Mormon, promised the Mormons would give up the practice, which must have created not a few problems among the menfolk. Well, not too many, for in recent times it has been stated that even today some 20,000, (or 40,000, some say) Utah Mormons have more than one wife, and others do elsewhere. Good luck to them!

As recently as 1979 violence broke out among the faithful. One of the renegade polygamists, John Singer, got himself a bit worked up when authorities tried to put his children into the state school; Singer died from police bullets. On the 9th anniversary of his death another male member of the clan dynamited a nearby Mormon church, leaving a trail of damage.

Just a bit more titillation before we pass from the sexual aspects of this fascinating church. Mormons are expected to avoid wasting one single ovum or sperm. There's work to be done, you see. Now while the men are enjoined not to have intercourse with their wives during pregnancy, wives are expected to go 'barefoot and pregnant' nine out of every twelve months, to ensure a plentiful harvest of little Mormons. Life is, after all, a Very Serious affair for out there in the Great Beyond are souls waiting to be born into the world and it remains for GOD's faithful Mormon people to provide the earthen vessels for these souls. Little touch of Eastern religion here. And all this goes a long way to explain polygamy!


The priesthood in the LDS church is different to many. Little boys become priests at age twelve. These are the Aaronic priests. In time, as they grow, they pass through different orders, with Biblical names like Melchizedeck, Seventies, and so forth. At about seventeen the young men cycle their way around the world as missionaries, a two-year unpaid stint. Not only is it unpaid but their families bear all costs, which include overseas travel. But this does not faze Mormons, for they must give ten percent of their income to the church. And that is the minimum, the starting-point only.

I've been writing about the men and boys. What of the girls? Well, truth to tell the Mormons are chauvinistic and the only effective role women seem to have is to lend their wombs for baby-bearing. All the church's offices are taken up by men. They don't like Negroes, either. Coloured people can join, and the church happily collects their ten percent but never let them set foot in the great holy Temple in Salt Lake City; definitely a no-no.

There is one women, though, brave enough to stand up and be counted. Her name is Shirley Pedler and she was born into a Mormon family but at the tender age of thirteen became an unbeliever. She didn't like the Mormon idea that women were the servile underlings of men, nor their ideas about black people. She skipped a church meeting and officials demanded action. The rebellious girl became in time a student at the University of Utah, and then in 1975 was appointed executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (UCLA) in Utah. Right in the heart of Mormondom.

Now back when Brigham Young was governor of Salt Lake City, federal judges who tried to defend civil liberties were run out of town and thereafter what was good for the Mormons was good the the state of Utah. Shirley Pedler set out to change all that. She took up the cause of homosexuals and the ACLU brought litigation to block state regulation of so-called 'indecent' cable-TV programming. She lobbied for women's right to abortion. The ACLU, under her direction, sued the Mormon Church over job discrimination. Employees of a Mormon clothing factory had lost their jobs because they failed to meet 'worthiness standards.' In this the ACLU challenged biassed American law that exempted religious organizations from provisions prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion. [We have the same.] All this was carried on in the face of rabid hate-mail and occasional death threats.

Interviewed by Penthouse magazine, Ms Pedler wisely commented: 'Most people become fearful when others do not mirror, and therefore confirm, what we believe. We want the world to be as we are.' True of the Mormons, true of all religious people. In time Shirley Pedlar moved to other work in New Orleans. Women continue in their subservient role in the Church.

The massive funds collected by the elders are put to good use. To be fair to them, the Mormons are notable for their welfare programs and look after members carefully when they experience economic hardship. But they also operate large business enterprises and more or less own the bulk of Utah.

At the top of the Mormon heap is their pope - the President, who acts much like a pope. Under him are twelve Apostles. These thirteen are the holiest of holies. Their word is law. They provide the continuity with the founding fathers - Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.


The Mormons have one notable Obsession - water. I have already mentioned how they keep getting themselves baptized, over and over. You see, the Mormons fervently believe that all who have gone before, if they died unbaptized, are doomed to spend eternity in hell. The entire family is intended to be a unit in Paradise. Now this Obsession drives them to frantic activity, researching far and wide their family trees. Vast storehouses of information have been built up on computers to enable a member to track down his or her ancestors and undertake those vicarious baptisms on their behalf.

At the heart of Mormondom in Salt Lake City is to be found the world's largest repository of genealogical information. One figure given was the 'equivalent of over 4 million 300-page books.' Over twenty branch libraries around the USA also provide data and every day Mormon members are to be seen busily scanning records from the past so as to ferret out the names of all those unbaptized sinners. A curious activity, indeed, and one quite unique, so far as I can tell, to the Mormons. (Although ritual washings are a common feature of many religions.)

Baptism is by full immersion in warm water in an elaborate font supported by brass cows. Must be delightful for the male celebrants (for they are all male) if a young and attractive female Mormon gets taken up with this Obsession. Her shimmy-shirt (a hospital gown), all dripping wet, would not conceal very much; bit like a wet T-shirt contest. But it must have been even greater fun in the old days. The saints got themselves immersed quite naked.

It is rumoured some, in far parts, still do, but as the church guards carefully its inner sanctuary, we probably won't get to see! Great place for the paparazzi! I can see the headlines now: 'Secret shots of naked Mormon romp'. One young reporter who wormed her way in among the faithful in America caused a stir when she presented herself naked to the attendant; she'd been reading an old book.

The garment donned for baptism is regulation underwear for the prudish modern Mormons. They are taught it must be worn at all times, even when bathing; reminiscent of the activities in Catholic girls' schools in less enlightened days.


Recent years have seen relatively massive growth in Mormondom. There were 1,417,000 U.S. members, give or take a few, in 1951. This total had more than doubled, to some 3 million-odd, by 1969. Similar growth has taken place elsewhere. Probably the spearhead of this expansion is the Bicycle Brigade - those clean-cut young missionaries sent out two-by-two to convert the world from its evil ways. (Although I notice more on foot these days than heretofore.) Proselytizing is the name of this game and it's a race between the Mormons and the Witnesses of Jehovah to reach the most doorsteps in the land.

Back in 1982 pyramid selling schemes were spreading like wildfire in the USA and elsewhere. And one of the chief areas where such schemes flourished was in the Mormons' very own state of Utah. Now it was not that the laws there were weaker than elsewhere and certainly we cannot accuse the LDS Church of fostering such schemes. But someone finally put his finger on the pulse of the matter. A government regulator commented: 'The Mormons are very social. They communicate with one another and trust each other very much. If someone in the church believes something is right, he can sell it to others. They are nice, trusting people.' I have often found that those who sell religion well also sell other things well - real estate, cars, you name it.

But before I conclude I must return to Joseph Smith amazing revelations. Early in 1990 newspapers around the world carried reports of an American expedition claiming to have found three large stone tablets with early Semitic hieroglyphs in a lost city in the jungles of Peru. A curious story this; the leader of the group was one Gene Savoy, a respected figure in archeology, credited with locating many other lost Inca cities. The claim was made that the tablets included ancient Hebrew letters and symbols, referring to Ophir or Beth-Horon, the source of gold for ancient Palestine in Solomon's day.

There may, of course, have been very early links between the civilizations of the Americas and the East; no disputing that. But orthodox archeologists have expressed unbridled scepticism as to any Hebrew connection. Interestingly the results of the find were to be presented first at a gathering at Brigham Young University, Utah. No further word has reached me on this subject but the connection with the Mormon University is suspect, to say the least!

In any event all the evidence points to Joseph Smith being nothing more nor less than an outright fraud. His bloody death served to elevate him to martyrdom and the sect itself probably owes far more to the strong-willed personality of Brigham Young than to any other single factor for its success.


In 1828 Martin Harris, the farmer who became dissilusioned with his prophet, took a sheet of paper bearing some of the strange characters, copied there by Smith, to New York and showed them to Charles Anthon, a classics scholar at Columbia College, and Dr Samuel Mitchell, vice-president of Rutgers University. To these scholars the writings appeared as a mixture of Egyptian hieroglyphics and Arabian symbols. They were unable to translate them. Not surprisingly!

But finally, there is a little-known work by an English author, a Mr Caswell, written after this man visited Nauvoo in the year 1842. Mr Caswell actually met up with Joseph Smith and an interesting encounter it proved to be. After the preliminaries, during which Caswell noted Smith to be 'a coarse plebeian person in aspect....a curious mixture of the knave and the clown,' he handed a book to the Prophet, begging him to provide an explanation of its contents.

Smith asked Caswell if he had any idea as to its contents, to which Caswell replied that he believed it to be a Greek Psalter. 'No,' said Smith, 'it ain't Greek at all, except perhaps a few words. What ain't Greek is Egyptian, and what ain't Egyptian is Greek.' Then he added, 'This book is very valuable, it is a dictionary of Egyptian hieroglyphics!' This fact was proved by the capital letters at the start of each verse. These were of the ornamented variety and Joseph Smith thought them to be Egyptian glyphs, the translation following! They were 'Reformed Egyptian' - just like the letters on his golden plates.

At this amazing piece of news the Mormons gathered around their great leader congratulated Caswell on receiving such important information from their inspired Prophet!

So much for this upstart Prophet, one of the last in a long line of fraudulent bearers of messages from the gods.

Mark Owen, 1990 -

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