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"From the Alexandria Gazette. A GLANCE AT THE MORMONS." IMPORTANT, LENGTHY ARTICLE IN: SUPPLEMENT TO THE COURANT. Published Every Other Week for the Subscribers to the Connecticut Courant. Hartford, Saturday, August 29, 1840 [VI:18].
Quarto, 29½ cm. (approx. 11¾ X 9 inches). Paged -144 (eight pages, complete issue). Very good; disbound from a volume. Faint foxing (lighter than suggested by the illustrations), and a very decent copy.
**SOLD** $ 1,850
RARE; I have not seen this before. The article describes the anonymous writer's important personal interview with Joseph Smith in late April 1840. It occupies some twenty-eight column inches on pp. 139-40, the equivalent of nearly a full quarto page of small type. It was presumably written by a Virginia resident or friend/correspondent of the Alexandria Gazette, across the Potomac River from Washington, DC, from which newspaper the article was printed here (then reprinted two months later in Illinois itself, in the Quincy Whig).
QUOTED by Marvin HILL, Sidney B. Sperry, Milton R. HUNTER, James R. CLARK, Jay M. TODD and likely other Mormon historians, but always from the later Quincy Whig newspaper of October 17, 1840. I believe the paper now offered here is the earliest printing of this important doctrinal record to be introduced to Mormon archives. Both newspapers credited the Alexandria Gazette for the original article, but an original example of that Virginia newspaper has not appeared for sale, so far as I am aware, at least in a Mormon setting.
HOWEVER one chooses to interpret this account, the implications are certainly provoking! Half a century ago, Elder Milton R. Hunter called selections from this text, ". . . excellent extracts . . . ," and viewed them as valuable non-Mormon support of early LDS witnesses, combining evidence ". . . to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt in any court of the land the validity of the story of the origin of the Book of Abraham." - Pearl of Great Price Commentary . . . , (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1951), pp. 15, 17. Until the late 1960s, LDS writers relished the more famous account by distinguished young Josiah Quincy, who with his even more distinguished friend Charles Francis Adams visited Joseph Smith in 1844, each later describing the mummies and papyrus of the Book of Abraham, separately remembering Joseph declaring that the hieroglyphs included actual handwriting of that ancient patriarch.
Then things changed. After the re-discovery and analysis of the Joseph Smith papyri, it became clear that these artifacts were produced many centuries after any Abraham could have written them in person. Now, according to Stan Larson, . . .
By ignoring all contemporary evidence of those who were shown the papyri by Joseph Smith, Hugh Nibley, "A New Look at the Pearl of Great Price," The Improvement Era 71 (February 1968): 20, can assert that "Joseph Smith never claimed that they [the Facsimiles] were autographic manuscripts or that they dated from the time of Abraham." [Quest for the Gold Plates; Thomas Stuart Ferguson's Archaeological Search for the Book of Mormon. (Salt Lake City: Freethinker Press in association with Smith Research Associates, 1996), p. 123, n. 38]
In other words, because the papyri were written after the time of Christ, it is no longer faith-promoting to quote Joseph Smith's interviewers who remembered him exhibiting these manuscripts as coming from the actual, physical hand of Abraham himself.
Enter the earlier, 1840 account now offered here, which most Latter-day Saints have never read. It is even more specific and pointed in what it says about the actual handwriting of Abraham. To provide complete context, here is the entire portion of the article which relates to the papyrus . . .
Here, then, is nearly conclusive evidence that Joseph Smith taught that the papyrus of the Book of Abraham contained Abraham's actual signature. The anonymous interviewer could not have known that this issue would become an important matter of faith more than a century later. He could not have known that two reputable interviewers would record Joseph saying essentially the same thing four years after his own visit to Nauvoo. And to think that the later interviewers would have fabricated this detail - either independently or having somehow seen the earlier account - stretches credulity and logic beyond all evidence surrounding the situation and the men concerned.
Reformed Egyptian: The implication in the description above seems to be that Joseph Smith conceived of the papyrus as containing Hebrew text:: Abraham writing Hebrew with Egyptian characters, much like the "Reformed Egyptian" description of the golden plates of the Book of Mormon.
THERE IS MORE. Did you memorize the ARTICLES OF FAITH when you were a child? If so, you can probably still recite the following words which Joseph Smith wrote to John Wentworth in 1842:
We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes. That Zion will be built upon this [the American] continent. That Christ will reign personally upon the earth, and that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradasaic[al] glory. [Times and Seasons 3:9 (March 1, 1842), p. 710 (emphasis added)]
Remember? Now, in the rare record at hand, we find a different doctrine declared by the same prophet only twenty-six months earlier . . .
Renowned Mormon historian Marvin Hill accepts this as an accurate report of Joseph's words. He quotes it with a prefatory explanation:
This kingdom was clearly a millennial one; there is no indication here that Joseph Smith expected the Saints to rule before that time. (Such may have been anticipated, however, for one Mormon suggested in 1834 that "previous to the Millennium there must be great changes take place in the world, both political and religious . . . to prepare the way for the Son of Man.") By 1840 the prophet had come to the view that the task of administering the millennial kingdom was to be left mostly to the Saints. The editor of the Quincy Whig quoted the prophet in answer to his question whether Mormons believed in Christ's personal reign on earth during the Millennium: "I believe that Christ will descend, but will immediately return to heaven. Some of our elders, before I found time to instruct them better, have unadvisedly propagated some such opinion; but I tell my people it is absurd."
Thus the Saints believed from early on that they would be responsible to govern, and it made little practical difference to them whether the kingdom was the church or a distinct political organization. [Quest for Refuge: The Mormon Flight from American Pluralism (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), pp. xvii-xviii. Hill's reference to the editor of the Quincy Whig results from taking the citation from a modern, secondary work, which in turn quoted from the Quincy Whig, which, as I mention above, in turn took this story from the Alexandria Gazette, as did this Supplement to the Courant two months earlier.]
For all its sophistication, I believe that Dr. Hill's interpretation shows why we also need to preserve and consult original source material like the rare newspaper presently available. There are naturally other topics of great interest, but the future owner of this paper can peruse those at leisure. Here is one final taste, recording Joseph Smith's attitude toward Martin Van Buren very shortly after their famous conversation in Washington, D.C. . . .
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