Dale R. Broadhurst's Comments:
Ch 1 Ch 2 Ch 3 Ch 4 Ch 5
Appendix & Summation
WILLIAM HETH WHITSITT: INSIGHTS INTO EARLY MORMONISM
the Faculty of
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
of the Requirements for the Degree
Master of Theology
Bryan Eugene Ready
[ ii ]
Bryan Eugene Ready
All Rights Reserved
Student: Bryan Eugene Ready
Title: William Heth Whitsitt: Insights into Early Mormonism.
My signature below indicates that I approve of the submission of the above mentioned manuscript for evaluation by the Seminary Style Reader and External Reader (PhD only) and for defense before this committee.
James A. Chancellor [signature] 11/12/01
Greg C. Wills [signature] 11/12/01
John P. Dever [signature] 11/6/01
[ iv - vi ]
001 CH. 1. INTRODUCTION
007 Whitsitt's Contributions to the Study of Early Mormonism
009 CH. 2. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
010 Early Influences
012 History of the Disciples
018 Sidney Rigdon
028 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1820-1844
032 The Spaulding-Rigdon Theory
033 William Heth Whitsitt
037 CH. 3. SIDNEY RIGDON AND THE ORIGIN OF MORMONISM
040 Manuscript Found
042 Rigdon's First Redaction
044 Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith
049 "John the Baptist"
050 Sidney Rigdon Becomes a Mormon
053 Rigdon's Foreknowledge of the Book of Mormon
061 CH. 4. SIDNEY RIGDON AND THE CAMPBELLITE INFLUENCE OF EARLY MORMON THEOLOGY AND PRACTICE
063 The Ancient Gospel
066 Other Sandemanian Similarities
067 The Lord's Supper
068 The Intellectual Nature of Faith
071 Opposition to Paid Clergy
073 Spiritual Gifts
074 Communalism and Theocracy
077 Other Areas
077 Translation of the Scriptures
078 Baptism for the Dead
081 A Pious Fraud
089 CH. 5. CONCLUSION
094 Rigdon's Denials
097 My Criticisms
099 Whitsitt's Motivation
102 The Origin of Mormonism
104 APP. 1. WILLIAM WHITSITT AND THE COWDERY DEFENCE
[ vii ]
This work marks a milestone in a fascinating journey in my life. I have been fascinated with the history and theology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since I was a teen-ager. As soon as I learned of the existence of Dr. Whitsitt's work on Mormonism, I knew I would have to look into it. I owe a word of thanks to the many people who enabled me to finish this thesis.
I would first like to thank my supervising professor, Dr. James Chancellor. He provided me with a great deal of freedom in formulating the outline for this project. Without his support and willingness to work with me after I moved to Illinois, this project would not have been completed. I would also like to thank Dr. John Dever for his encouragement, along with Dr. Greg Wills and their willingness to take time out of their schedules to serve on my advisory committee. Special thanks is also due to Dale Broadhurst for his feedback and willingness to post so many of the essential source materials that I needed, including the entire Whitsitt biography of Rigdon, on web sites.
Words cannot express my gratitude for the patience of my wife Jennifer and
my children, B. J. and Carrie, who graciously allowed daddy to go back to school (again!), and gave me several hours of (mostly) uninterrupted time at the computer Special thanks
also needs to be expressed to the members of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Piasa, Illinois for their patience as their new Pastor completed this work.
Finally I must thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In hindsight, it is fascinating to see how He worked everything out for me to complete this project. I owe Him this and so much more. May He receive all of the honor and glory.
Bryan E. Ready
Nine years before William Heth Whitsitt published his most famous work, A Question in Baptist History, he quietly finished another manuscript on the life of Sidney Rigdon entitled, Sidney Rigdon, the Real Founder of Mormonism. This work was a fourteen-hundred-page manuscript which marked the culmination of a decade-long study on the origins, leaders, and theology of Mormonism. 1
According to W. Morgan Patterson, Whitsitt was "fascinated by the ideas, leaders, and documents of Mormonism; and by 1887 he had amassed a huge amount of information on the subject." 2 "His curiosity about the Mormon movement seemed almost to be an obsession." 3 Whitsitt did a great deal of meticulous research on this
1 For the purposes of this paper the term "Mormonism refers to the movement organized by Joseph Smith, Jr. in 1830 and under his leadership until 1844. Over two hundred different organizations have sprung from this movement. Many of the organizations still extant today do not like to be referred to as Mormons, and they shun the term Mormonism. Yet Whitsitt's arguments, if correct, will have a significant impact on any group which claims Joseph Smith, Jr. as prophet. In all actuality, the phrase "Latter Day Saint Movement" would probably be more appropriate for a contemporary discussion. However, since Whitsitt used the term "Mormonism," that is the term that will be used in this paper.
Yet, only a handful of scholars are aware that this research exists. With the exception of Richard S. Van Wagoner's book, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess, and a few web sites on the internet, recent scholarly works dealing with the. origins of the Mormon movement and the life of Sidney Rigdon have no reference to Whitsitt's research. His research is totally missing from contemporary debate on early Mormonism. What Patterson suggests may have been Whitsitt's "magnum opus" 4 has quietly faded into obscurity. This disappearance is a travesty. Whitsitt's research provides some valuable insight into the origins of Mormonism. It is hoped that this thesis will bring attention to Whitsitt's work and thrust his ideas squarely into contemporary debates about the origin of Mormonism.
Whitsitt's claim that Sidney Rigdon was the real founder of Mormonism is not a new one. Many others have tried to advance this claim. What is unique about Whitsitt's research is the evidence he uses to support it. He gives evidence that Rigdon participated in Smith" visionary experiences, and he demonstrates the striking similarities between Campbellite theology and early Mormon theology. The purpose of this thesis is to examine critically William Whitsitt's claim and the evidence he gives to support It. This paper will argue that Whitsitt's research is an extremely valuable contribution to the discussion on the origins of Mormonism.
I first heard about Whitsitt's research in Mormonism when I attended the
Spring Founder's Day Convocation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1994. The speaker was W. Morgan Patterson. His subject was William Heth Whitsitt: The Seminary's Versatile Scholar. It was Patterson's address that sparked my interest in Whitsitt's work. Having studied Mormonism for many years, I thought it would be interesting to read Whitsitt' s contribution to the discussion of Mormonism, and see which scholars [were] aware of his work. I began contacting people who were actively involved in Mormon studies. I received responses from John L. Smith and Sandra Tanner. John L. Smith, a noted Southern Baptist authority on Mormonism, said that he had a copy of Whitsitt's manuscript on the life of Sidney Rigdon and was using it as a source for his forthcoming biography on the life of Sidney Rigdon. Sandra Tanner who is one of the foremost evangelical scholars on Mormonism today, sent me an article she co-wrote with her husband, Jerald Tanner, in 1989. This article links Whitsitt's manuscript with the Cowdery Defence. The Tanners were the first to point out the similarities between the two documents. They also suggest that Whitsitt may have played a role in the forgery of the Defence. An appendix to this paper will examine and refute that claim.
This information ignited my interest in Whitsitt's work and is the motivation for this thesis. At first, the intent of this thesis was simply to examine the similarities between Whitsitt's work and that of the Cowdery Defence, and to defend Whitsitt's name against the Tanners' suggestion that he may have been an accomplice to forgery. But as I began to examine Whitsitt's work on the subject, it became quite evident that his research might well provide valuable insights into the origins of Mormonism. His primary thesis is that Mormonism was actually founded by Sidney Rigdon and that Joseph Smith was
simply a figurehead employed by Rigdon to lead the movement. Whitsitt argues that Rigdon was not trying to perpetrate a fraud on the gullible. Instead, he saw himself engaged in a well-meaning attempt to restore the original teachings of the Christian Church.
Whitsitt has some extremely strong arguments supporting his position. These arguments need to be heard and addressed by the larger world of scholars engaged in Mormon studies. For if Whitsitt is correct, an alternative understanding of the origin of Mormonism is now available. For years only two alternatives have presented themselves: (1) Joseph Smith, Jr. and the early leaders of Mormonism were frauds intent on deceiving the faithful; or (2) Joseph Smith, Jr. was truly a prophet of God. Whitsitt provides us with a third alternative to this long-standing prophet-fraud dichotomy -- early Mormon leaders were sincere men trying to restore the true Church of Christ. The Book of Mormon was a pseudepigraphal attempt to provide a foundation for their movement. Joseph Smith, Jr. was merely a figurehead employed by Rigdon to lead the movement, but Smith's charisma overpowered the influence of Rigdon and eventually gave him total control of the movement.
Very little contemporary research has been done on Whitsitt's work. As Whitsitt researched the origins of Mormonism in the 1880's, he published many articles on the subject. These articles appeared in newspapers such as the New York Independent and the Western Recorder as well as the 1891 edition of the Concise Dictionary of Religious Knowledge. One of Whitsitt's Western Recorder articles is even mentioned in a pamphlet written by Joseph Smith III, entitled The Spaulding Story Re-Examined. 5
5 Joseph Smith III, The Spaulding Story Re-Examined (Lamoni, Iowa: Harold Steam Press, 1883), 13.
Whitsitt's biography of Rigdon is referred to in an article written by George R. Gibson, entitled, "The Origin of a Great Delusion," published in New Princeton Review. 6
After Whitsitt donated his manuscript to the Library of Congress in 1908 there is no mention of his work until the late 1970's, when Dale Broadhurst began his research on the connection between The Book of Mormon and the Spalding Manuscript. Most of Broadhurst's research is available on two web sites he operates -- www.sidneyrigdon.com and www.solomonspalding.com. Included on these web sites is the entire text of Whitsitt's biography of Rigdon. The Broadhurst web sites provide the greatest amount of scholarly analysis of the Whitsitt material that I have found. I have been corresponding with Broadhurst since October 8, 2000. He has indicated to me that, in his opinion, work on Whitsitt's research has been long overdue. Broadhurst is a member of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The most recent discussion of Whitsitt's study of Mormonism can be found in the aforementioned works by the Tanners, Van Wagoner, Broadhurst, and Patterson.
Currently there are three projects, in addition to my own, which are forthcoming on Whitsitt. One, Whitsitt's biography on Sidney Rigdon is to be published by an associate of Dale Broadhurst. Two, Elaine Ozment of Union College, Barbourville, Kentucky is working on a publication of Whitsitt s "Studies in Mormon Theology." Both of these works are scheduled to be published in 2002. Three, scholarly research is being done on Whitsitt's diaries which are currently sealed and are being held at the University of Richmond. No date has been given as to when this work will be published.
In reality there are very few scholarly resources on the life and work of
6 George Gibson, "The Origin of a Great Delusion," The New Princeton Review 61 (July-November 1886): 209.
William Whitsitt. In most cases he is only mentioned in connection with the controversy that bears his name. His other writings are virtually ignored. I could find no biography of the man with the exception of a few articles published in the Review and Expositor.
In addition to the Broadhurst sources on the Internet, the archives of the Boyce Library at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary appears to contain the majority of Whitsitt's research on Mormonism. His notes and personal files are in the archives, and the actual books Whitsitt used in his research are found in the Library. An on-line search of Whitsitt's papers listed in the card catalogue of the University of Richmond did not turn up any listings for Mormonism or Sidney Rigdon. An on-line search of the card catalogue of the Library of Congress did not turn up any listings for any manuscripts of which Southern Seminary did not already have copies. Apparently, with the exceptions of possible references in Whitsitt's diaries to which I was denied access, Southern Seminary's Boyce Library has the majority of Whitsitt's notes, writings, and resources on Mormonism. In these papers Whitsitt makes his opinions quite clear, and they were quite adequate for the purposes if this thesis.
The research for this thesis consisted of four phases. First, I examined Whitsitt's notes and personal writings on this subject both unpublished and published and identified Whitsitt's key points.
Second, I examined the few limited works that have referred to Whitsitt's writings on Mormonism and incorporated them into the thesis where appropriate.
Third, I compared and contrasted Whitsitt's arguments with other scholars' understandings of early Mormonism. These scholars include members of the Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, as well as Evangelical Christian, and secular scholars who are regarded as authorities in the field.
Finally, I organized my arguments and conclusions and present them here in this thesis, that Whitsitt's research is an extremely valuable contribution to the discussion on the origins of Mormonism.
Whitsitt's Contributions to the Study of Early Mormonism
I submit that Whitsitt's work makes five significant contributions to the study of early Mormonism. One, he was the first legitimate scholar to undertake a study of Mormonism. He undertook that study not to "expose" Mormonism, but to understand it. As a result of his study he came to the conclusion that Rigdon was the actual founder of Mormonism. His work deserves to be included in the broader discussion of Mormon origins simply because of its historical significance and his scholarly integrity.
Second, Whitsitt demonstrated it is entirely possible that Rigdon had a connection with Smith prior to his "conversion" in 1830. This argument is presented in chapter three of this thesis.
Third, Whitsitt demonstrated that Campbellite theology can be found in the Book of Mormon even though Joseph Smith had no known connection to Campbell's movement prior to 1830. He demonstrates that those sections of the Book of Mormon which seem to contradict the teachings of Campbell fall exactly in-line with the known beliefs of Sidney Rigdon. These arguments will be discussed in chapter four of this thesis.
Fourth, as a result of Whitsitt's findings, Rigdon's role in early Mormonism needs to be reevaluated. Perhaps Solomon Spaulding's manuscript played no part in the formation of the Book of Mormon. Whitsitt still presents credible evidence that Rigdon did play a part. The Spaulding-Rigdon theory needs to be reexamined. This point is discussed throughout the thesis, with some final thoughts given in the concluding chapter.
Fifth, Whitsitt's most significant contribution to the study of Mormonism is that Mormonism was founded by sincere, albeit extremely misguided individuals who thought they were doing God's work by restoring authentic Christianity. This point is also discussed throughout the thesis and affirmed in the conclusion.
In order to understand Whitsitt's argument fully and appreciate his contributions, it is necessary to understand the backgrounds which led to their formation. That is the focus of this next chapter.
This chapter will provide a brief overview of the respective histories of the Disciples of Christ 1 movement and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, so that we may understand the context of Whitsitt's claim that Sidney Rigdon was the "real" founder of Mormonism. This chapter will also contain a biographical sketch of Sidney Rigdon, as well as a summary of the Spalding-Rigdon theory. This theory attempts to link Rigdon with the production of the Book of Mormon. The chapter will conclude with a biographical sketch of Dr. Whitsitt.
The Disciples of Christ
The Disciples of Christ trace their origin back to four men -- Thomas Campbell, Alexander Campbell, Waiter Scott, and Barton Stone. 2 Each of these men had a vision to see the union of all Christians and the restoration of "primitive" Christianity. Each of
1 Two distinct groups trace their roots back to the Disciples of Christ movement led by Alexander Campbell. They are the "Christian Church" (Disciples of Christ) and the "Churches of Christ." The Churches of Christ began to break off from the main group (Disciples in Christ) during the latter part of the nineteenth-century. For the purposes of this paper, the titles "Disciples of Christ," "Campbellism," and Campbellite will be used to refer to the movement which was led by Alexander Campbell and to which both of these groups trace their origin. The use of the words "Campbellism" and "Campbellite" is Whitsitt's terminology.
2 Since Barton Stone did not formally join with Campbell until 1832, after Rigdon had joined the Mormon movement, his influence will not be discussed in detail.
The writings of John Glas, Robert Sandeman, James Haldane, and John Locke had a profound influence on both the Campbells and Walter Scott. In 1727, John Glas, a minister in the Church of Scotland, became convicted that the Church should not be associated with the state. He left the state church and organized an independent congregation. This congregation adopted the practice of having communion every week, a plurality of elders, and wore only scriptural names, mainly "Church of Christ." 3 In time, Robert Sandeman, Glas' son-in-law, adopted his principles but became much more vigorous in promoting them. Therefore, the resulting churches were referred to as "Sandemanian." 4
Sandeman also added to Glas' teachings. Sandeman taught that churches should derive their faith and practice only from what was taught in the Scripture. He taught that God had revealed the entire truth necessary to gain salvation in the Scriptures, and that this truth was intelligible to humans.
Since Sandemanian churches were encouraged to search the Scriptures for their faith and practice, some of them began to embrace beliefs not originally held by Glas
3 Leroy Garrett, The Stone-Campbell Movement (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Co., 1981), 49.
4 Winfred E. Garrison, An American Religious Movement (St. Louis, MO: The Bethany Press, 1945), 21.
and Sandeman. These include the practice of baptism by immersion, taking a weekly collection for the poor, feet washing and the practice of closed communion. Some of them also considered private wealth sinful, although they did not actually practice community of goods. 5
Even though there were probably only a dozen or two Sandemanian churches in Scotland and England, and fewer than ten in America, their influence spread through the prolific writings of Sandeman. 6 Sandeman's writings would also influence the Campbells and Scott.
William Whitsitt, in his book The Origin of the Disciples of Christ, went to great lengths to link Campbell and Scott with Sandemanian teachings. He went so far as to call the Campbellite movement an "offshoot" of Sandemanianism. Disciples of Christ writers Garrison and DeGroot, dismiss this idea but note that,
The 'offshoot' theory was easily disproved, but there were some real similarities that were not purely coincidental. Chief among these was the stress upon restoring the practices of the primitive church. Subordinate to this were certain details of practice believed to be derived from the primitive model, namely, plurality of elders, the weekly Lord's supper, calling the weekly collection 'the fellowship,' and refusing to call Sunday 'the Sabbath.' To these should be added the view of the intellectual nature of faith. 7
5 Ibid., 26.
6 Ibid., 21. Cf. Garrett, The Stone-Campbell Movement, 52.
7 Winfred E. Garrison and Alfred T. DeGroot, The Disciples of Christ: A History, rev. ed. (St. Louis, MO: The Bethany Press, 1958), 49.
congregational form of organization and weekly communion. They were also strong advocates of the restoration of "primitive" Christianity. 8
History of the Disciples (through 1832)
Thomas Campbell was a pastor and teacher in the Seceder branch of the Scottish Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland. 9 He became acquainted with the teachings of the Haldanes and Sandeman through the influence of a nearby Scotch Independent church which embodied their principles. 10 Thomas Campbell moved to America in 1807 because of his health. His family joined him in 1809.
Shortly after his arrival in America, Thomas Campbell joined the Associate Synod of North America which represented all the Seceder churches in America. He was appointed to a Presbytery in Pennsylvania and preached there regularly. Early on the influences he had felt back in Ireland began to play a role in his preaching. Within a few months, Campbell was tried and found guilty of heretical teaching and disorderly procedure by the local Presbytery. Campbell appealed to the Synod who censured the presbytery for their handling of the case. Since tensions between Campbell and the
Presbytery remained high, he formally severed his ties with both the Synod and Presbytery on October 13, 1808. 11
This break did not keep Campbell from preaching. He had gathered around him a number of sympathizers. In August 1809, he led them to form The Christian Association of Washington (Pennsylvania). Their motto being "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the scriptures are silent, we are silent." 12
On September 7, 1809, Thomas Campbell published his Declaration and Address, designed to be a statement of the principles of the Christian Association of Washington. 13 This document which would become "one of the most important documents in the history of the Disciples," 14 called for the unity of all Christians based upon the simple saving essentials of the gospel which most Christians accepted. 15
During this time frame, Alexander enrolled in a Haldane seminary in Glasgow. In the writings of Haldane, Glas, and Sandeman,
Alexander Campbell found not only the general concept of a needed restoration of primitive Christianity but such specific ideas as these: the independence of the local
11 Alexander Campbell, Memoirs of Elder Thomas Campbell, (Cincinnati: H. S. Bosworth, 1861), 15 (on-line), accessed 18 September 2001; available from http://www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/texts/acampbell/metc/METC00.HTM; Internet; cf. Hughes, The Churches of Christ,192.
12 Robert Richardson, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1868), 1:235 (on-line), accessed 18 September 2001; available from http://www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/texts/rrichardson/mac/MAC100.HTM; Internet. cf Hughes, The Churches of Christ, 192.
13 A. S. Hayden, Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve, Ohio (Cincinnati: Chase and Hall, 1875), 45 (on-line); accessed 18 September 2001; available from http://www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/texts/ahayden/ehd/EGD00A.HTM; Internet.
14 Garrison, An American Religious Movement, 69.
15 Campbell, Memoirs of Elder Thomas Campbell, 25ff.
congregation, weekly observance of the Lord's Supper, a plurality of elders, the denial of clerical privileges and dignities, the right and duty of laymen to have a part in the edification and discipline of the church; and a conception of faith as such a belief of testimony as any man is capable of by the application of his natural intelligence to the facts supplied by Scripture. 16
When Alexander Campbell rejoined his father and read the Declaration, he embraced it enthusiastically. Over the next year and a half, Alexander Campbell spent a great deal of time studying Scripture, in the original Greek and Hebrew, and preaching with his father the message of the Declaration.
On May 4, 1811, the Christian Association of Washington constituted itself a church. Thomas Campbell was chosen as elder, and Alexander Campbell was licensed to preach. The Brush Run church was born. It was the first official church in what would become the Disciples of Christ.
In the Autumn of 1813, having adopted the practice of baptism by immersion, the Brush Run church applied for admission to the Redstone Baptist Association. Despite the objections of some pastors, their membership was approved and they remained in the Association for seventeen years.Alexander Campbell soon became a favorite of the Baptists because of his ardent defense of baptism by immersion. He began to debate Presbyterian ministers around Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kentucky. Campbell's fame spread throughout the area prompting two prominent Baptist ministers in Eastern Ohio to visit with Alexander Campbell -- Adamson Bentley and Sidney Rigdon. Rigdon and Bentley were so impressed with Campbell's ideas that they began to preach them, at their churches and others, in the Mahoning Baptist Association of eastern Ohio.
16 Garrison, An American Religious Movement, 67-68.
Later that same year Campbell was challenged to a debate by a Rev. W. L. MacCalla, a Presbyterian minister in Augusta, Kentucky. Campbell was accompanied by young Sidney Rigdon, who by this time had become pastor of a church in Pittsburgh. 17
Through these debates Campbell began developing his ideas on baptism for the remission of sins. 18
In 1826, the Redstone Association cut off ten churches that were leaning towards Campbell's views. These churches organized the Washington Association the next year. The Mahoning Association in Ohio also became permeated with Campbell's teaching of "the Bible alone."
Campbell enjoyed great success and acceptance in the Mahoning Association. The majority of their churches embraced his reforms. One church, in Hiram, Ohio (later a site of significant events in Merman history) was second only to Campbell's church in acceptance of his reforms. 19 In 1826, Campbell published his own version of the New Testament. These events in the Mahoning Association and the rise of another young preacher by the name of Walter Scott, would shape the next period of Campbellite history.Scott was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. After graduating from the University there he came to Pittsburgh in 1819. While in Pittsburgh he began teaching a school conducted by a Mr. Forrester. Forrester was the leader of a Haldanean church. Under
17 Richardson, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, 2:71. Cf. Garrett, The Stone-Campbell Movement, 191.
18 Garrett, The Stone-Campbell Movement, 191-197; Garrison, An American Religious Movement, 79; and Richard T. Hughes and C. Leonard Allen, Illusions of Innocence (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 179.
19 Garrison and DeGroot, The Disciples of Christ, 186.
Forrester's influence, Scott began studying the writings of Glas, Sandeman, and Haldane. After Forrester's death, Scott began to lead the little church. In time he concluded that "the central and sufficient fact for Christian faith could be stated in these four words -- 'Jesus is the Christ.'" 20
It was at this point that Scott met Campbell and struck up a friendship. Scott began writing for Campbell's publication, The Christian Baptist. In1826, Scott moved to Steubenville, Ohio to be closer to Campbell. Scott became active in the Mahoning Baptist Association. In 1827, he was elected by the Association to serve as their evangelist among the churches.Scott was most concerned with defining the process by which one becomes a Christian. He would eventually identify five points which were essential to the preaching and acceptance of the Gospel. It was essential that all of these elements be present and they must occur in the right order These elements are: (l) Faith, the persuasion of the mind by rational evidence; (2) Repentance of sins; (3) Baptism in obedience to divine command; (4) Remission of sins; (5) The gift of the Holy Spirit. 21 The last two items were a fulfillment of God's promise, and they were conditional, based upon the completion of the first three steps. These became the five points of Scott's standard sermon. Scott would eventually refer to this formula as "the Gospel Restored." 22
20 Ibid., 182.
21 Hayden, Early History of the Disciples, 71. Cf. Hughes, The Churches of Christ, 27.
22 Garrison and DeGroot, The Disciples of Christ, 188. Cf. Hughes, The Churches of Christ, 26-28.
Through the success of Scott's preaching hundreds were converted and the total membership of the churches in the Mahoning Baptist Association doubled in one year. 23
Eventually Scott came to the conclusion that there was no Scriptural foundation for associations. He suggested the association be dissolved. The dissolution of the Mahoning Baptist Association took place in August 1830. From this point on the "reforming" Baptists would become known as the Disciples/Churches of Christ. In 1832 Barton Stone merged his group with the Disciples, solidifying their base and creating one of the most successful Protestant denominations in the nineteenth-century.
Having summarized the history of the Disciples of Christ up to 1832, we shall turn to the life of Sidney Rigdon, whom Whitsitt sees as the link between Campbellism and Mormonism. In doing so, I would like to quote an analysis of the connection between Campbellism and Mormonism made by two Disciples of Christ writers.
A peculiar problem of the Disciples in Ohio was the rise of the Mormons. Both appealed to the same constituency and with some striking similarities of approach, though also with some notable differences. Both based their appeal upon a plea for the restoration of a divine plan. Three Disciple preachers became prominent leaders in Mormonism -- Sidney Rigdon, Parley P. Pratt, and Orson Hyde.... The transition from one camp to the other was abrupt in all three cases, but startlingly sudden in Pratt's case. He preached one day as a Disciple and the next as a Mormon elder. Naturally they carried over with them many of the forms of thought and much of the terminology in which they had been trained. The defection -- or conversion, according to the point of view -- of these three preachers, carried some other Disciples over into Mormonism; for example, the entire Rigdonite congregation at Kirtland... became Mormon. The rivalry between the two groups became intense.... However, other than around Kirtland and Hiram, there was not a great deal of contact between them. 24
24 Ibid., 300-1.
Sidney Rigdon was born on February 18, 1793, at Piny Fork, Peter's Creek, St. Clair Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Little is known about Rigdon's childhood. He desperately wanted to continue his education beyond what he received in the local one-room schoolhouse. His father would not allow it. Since his younger brother was ill and incapable of working on the farm, he was sent to school, while Sidney, having a strong back, was forced to stay and work the farm; although, by his own admission and those of his neighbors he was not very good at it. 25
One significant incident from Rigdon's childhood which should be noted here is described by one of his brothers.
When quite a young boy, living with his father some fifteen miles south of Pittsburgh, he was thrown from a horse. His foot entangling in a stirrup, he was dragged some distance before relieved. In this accident he received some contusion of the brain as it ever afterward seriously affected his character, and in some respects his conduct.... His mental powers did not seem to be impaired, but the equilibrium of his intellectual exertions seems thereby to have been sadly affected. He still manifested great mental activity and power, but was to an equal degree inclined to run into wild visionary views on almost every question. 26
Rigdon biographer Richard S. Van Wagoner speculates that this injury might have precipitated his having "Bipolar Affective Disorder or manic-depressive illness." 27Whether or not Rigdon really had a mental illness is hard to determine. Such a diagnosis would explain some of his erratic behavior. Even Mormon writer Daryl
25 Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, Inc., 1994), in New Mormon Studies (CD-ROM) (Salt Lake City: Smith Research Associates, 1998) 6.
26 J. H. Kennedy, Early Days of Mormonism (London: Reeves and Turner, 1888), 62, quoted in Daryl Chase, "Sidney Rigdon - Early Mormon" (M.A. thesis, The University of Chicago, 1931). 9
27 Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, viii.
Chase seems to imply that he believed Rigdon might have suffered from some sort of personality disorder. He quotes Newel K. Whitney, an early Mormon leader and close friend of Rigdon, who said that Rigdon was "always either in the bottom of the cellar or up in the garret window." 28 It is interesting to note that Whitsitt disputes the idea that Rigdon suffered from mental illness.
That accident is suggested by his brother to have produced such a contusion of the brain as ever afterwards to have affected his character, and to a certain extent his conduct. But in all probability this supposition is without foundation....
There does not appear to have been the slightest symptom of mental derangement about Mr. Rigdon. He was of a highly excitable, nervous constitution of body and mind, now and then given to fits of hysteria muscularis, but in all his actions, so far as they have been made known by history, were rational and very consistent with the purpose he had before him. Besides it is more than possible that a blow which inflicted the amount of injury that has been suggested would have impaired his general health and shortened his life. This, however, was not the case. He survived to extreme age, dying on the 14th day of July 1876 in his 84th year. 29
28 Chase, "Sidney Rigdon -- Early Mormon," 43.
29 William Heth Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon: The Real Founder of Mormonism (1886, rev. 1891, TMs), p. 4 (on-line); accessed 19 May 2001; available from http://www.sidneyrigdon.com/wht/1891WhtC.htm; Internet.
30 Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, 9.
During the summer of 1820, after Rigdon moved to Warren, Ohio in search of his own church to pastor, three significant events occurred in Rigdon's life: (1) He married Phebe Brooks on June 12, 1820; (2) He began a career as an itinerant minister preaching at churches along the Western Reserve; (3) He became a follower of Alexander Campbell.
According to many, Rigdon's greatest contribution to Campbell's movement was his great oratory skills and persuasive rhetoric. 31 Alexander Campbell described Rigdon as "the great orator of the Mahoning association." 32 According to early Disciples of Christ historian, Amos Hayden.
Sidney Rigdon was an orator of no inconsiderable abilities. In person, he was full medium height, rotund in form; of countenance, while speaking, open and winning, with a little cast of melancholy. His action was graceful, his language copious, fluent in utterance, with articulation clear and musical.... His personal influence with an audience was very great.... He was just the man for an awakening. 33
31 Robert Richardson, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, 2:47.
32 Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, 26.
33 Hayden, Early History of the Disciples, 191.
34 Chase, "Sidney Rigdon -- Early Mormon," 17.
35 Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, 29.
baptismal remission (under Campbell's influence) and the Baptists' rejection of this doctrine was at the crux of the matter. 36 After he resigned, Rigdon joined with Walter Scott's small New Light Presbyterian group which was also meeting in Pittsburgh. Needing a way to support his family he began to work as a journeyman tanner while he served with Scott in the church. In December 1825 he moved his family back to the Western Reserve to serve as a circuit preacher.
In 1826 he was called to pastor in Mentor, Ohio. Once again he was in Campbell's inner circle and Campbell, Rigdon, and Scott preached side by side throughout the area.From all appearances Rigdon remained in good standing with Campbell until 1830. According to Chase, "Rigdon always caught and proclaimed the last word that fell from the lips of Scott or Campbell." 37 But Rigdon was getting some ideas of his own. He began to advocate the restoration of Christian communism, based upon the New Testament passages which describe the early church as holding all things in common.
Campbell disagreed. one writer notes,
Campbell, foreseeing the dangers of such a course, sternly corrected his 'error' before a crowded meeting at Austintown, Ohio. On his way home, Rigdon bitterly stated that, 'I have done as much in this reformation as Campbell or Scott and yet they get all the honor of it.' 38
37 Chase, "Sidney Rigdon -- Early Mormon," 36.
38 A. S. Hayden, Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve (Cincinnati: Chase & Hall, 1875), 311, quoted in Joseph Welles White, "The Influence of Sidney Rigdon upon the Theology of Mormonism" (M.A. thesis, University of Southern California, 1947), 30.
Rigdon proceeded to set up a small communal church in Kirtland, Ohio. Three months later, in November 1830, Rigdon would be baptized into the Mormon faith. The person instrumental in his conversion was Parley P. Pratt. Pratt had been a Campbellite lay-preacher and close friend of Rigdon. While on a missionary trip to New York, he read a copy of the Book of Mormon and converted. He met Joseph Smith Jr. and was appointed to go on a mission to Missouri. On his way to Missouri, he and his companions stopped to see Rigdon. Rigdon was shortly converted.Upon his conversion to Mormonism, he was expelled from his pastorate in Mentor. He moved to Hiram, Ohio and began to form a Mormon congregation. In mid-December he went to meet with Joseph Smith, supposedly for the first time. From that meeting until their fall-out in Nauvoo, Rigdon was Smith's chief advisor. That same month, Smith received a revelation to move his new church to Kirtland, Ohio, only a few miles away from the site of one of Rigdon's former churches.
Shortly after moving to Ohio, Smith and Rigdon began organizing the church, and experimenting with forms of communalism. The church continued to experiment with communalism sporadically even after they migrated to Utah.
During the next few years Smith and Rigdon would receive revelations dealing with the Priesthood, the three glories of heaven, the establishment of "Zion" in Independence, Missouri, and the construction of their first Temple in Kir[t]land. Smith would also ordain Rigdon as his "first counselor" a position Rigdon would hold until Smith's death.It was not all smooth sailing for Smith and Rigdon. Dissension in the church had already begun to oppose the leaders. On March 24, 1832, a mob consisting of non-Mormons
and apostate Mormons drug Rigdon and Smith from their homes and tarred and feathered them. The attack left Rigdon with a severe fever, and he was delirious for several days after the event. Perhaps Rigdon was still suffering the effects of his beating (or displaying mental illness) when he wildly declared a few months later at a prayer meeting, "The keys of the kingdom are rent from the Church, and there shall not be a prayer put up in this house this day." 39 The following Sunday, Smith denounced Rigdon's statement and ordered him to surrender his license until he repented. Rigdon surrendered his license, and after he had sufficiently "humbled himself" Smith gave him a new license. It does not appear that this incident had a long-lasting impact on Smith and Rigdon's friendship. Immediately after Rigdon repented, they were back working together on Smith's translation of the Bible.
The Mormons were also having trouble in Missouri. By the end of 1833 the Mormons were expelled from Jackson County. Although Rigdon was not in Missouri at the time, the animosity created by these events would lead directly to the Mormon War of 1838, of which Rigdon was one of the chief catalysts.From 1834 to 1836, Rigdon would continue as Smith's chief counselor. Smith even appointed him to lead various conferences of the church in his absence. Rigdon spent a lot of time teaching in the "School of the Elders" Smith had opened in Kirtland. In March of 1836 the Kirtland Temple was dedicated; and Rigdon gave the opening address. He spoke for two and a half hours. 40 Things were going well for Smith and Rigdon, but they would not stay that way for long.
39 Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, 126.
40 Church History in the Fulness of Times (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1993), 165.
In an effort to raise some much needed capital for the Mormons in Kirtland, Smith, Rigdon, and other church leaders decided to form a bank. But the bank failed to get a charter from the Ohio legislature. So Smith and Rigdon set up an "anti-banking" company which printed currency. In the spring of 1837, a panic struck the country. The company failed, along with several other banks in the area. This economic disaster caused a lot of people to lose faith in Smith and Rigdon. That summer a group of dissidents tried to take over the temple. The police were called in to quiet things down. But Smith and Rigdon were still the prime targets of the animosity. In addition to all of the internal problems in the church, they were also faced with legal problems for running an illegal bank.
On January 12, 1838, Smith and Rigdon would leave Kirtland at night on horseback fleeing from their enemies, creditors, and the law. They would arrive in Far West, Missouri, in March. By the end of the year they would be languishing in the Liberty Missouri, jail.Far West, Missouri, was the county seat of Caldwell county. In 1836, the Missouri legislature created Caldwell County as a place where the exiled Missouri Mormons could settle. Far West became the headquarters of the church once Smith moved there. Smith and Rigdon's refuge in Far West would only last for a few months. In June and July 1838, Rigdon delivered two speeches that would set the stage for more mob violence and the Mormon expulsion from Missouri. The first speech was directed against Mormon dissenters. The second speech Rigdon delivered on the fourth of July. In that speech he threatened retaliation against any further mob violence. "And that mob that comes on us to disturb us, it shall be between us and them a war of extermination...
for we will carry the seat of war to their own houses, and their own family." 41 Smith would make the mistake of publishing that speech in a pamphlet. When the non-Mormons read it, the stage was set for war.
In August, there was a skirmish between Mormons and anti-Mormons in nearby Gallatin, Missouri. The non-Mormons were trying to keep the Mormons from voting. This skirmish escalated into mob violence on both sides. After skirmishes between the Mormons and the State Militia, Missouri governor Lillburn Boggs issued his famous extermination order in which he ordered that the Mormons must be driven from the state or exterminated.
In order to prevent further bloodshed, Smith, Rigdon, and other church leaders surrendered at Far West on October 31. They narrowly escaped execution, but instead were charged with treason against the state, murder, burglary, arson, robbery, and larceny. 42
The conditions in the Liberty jail were horrible that winter. It appears that Rigdon went into shock and had "fits" during his imprisonment. 43 According to Chase, Rigdon would later be regarded as the one chiefly responsible for all of the problems the Mormons had in Missouri. 44In February 1839, Rigdon was set free on bail and made his way to Illinois. In April of that year Smith and the others in Liberty escaped and arrived in Quincy,
41 D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Salt Lake City: Smith Research Associates, 1994), 628.
42 Chase, "Sidney Rigdon -- Early Mormon," 139.
43 Ibid., 146.
44 Ibid., 143.
Illinois, where the majority of the Mormons were now staying. By the end of that month Smith would lead his people upriver to Commerce, Illinois. This city would come to be known as Nauvoo.
Later that year Smith began to seek redress from the Federal government for the Mormon losses in Missouri. He arranged for a meeting with congress and then sitting president, Martin Van Buren. Smith had appointed Rigdon to go and plead the Mormons' case, but Rigdon was still too sick and could not travel. Smith had to go and he received no help from either the Congress or the President. Chase sees this event as the beginning of the breakdown in the relationship between Smith and Rigdon. 45 Over the next few years the influences of Joseph' s brother, Hyrum, and an influential newcomer named, John C. Bennett would push Rigdon out of Joseph's inner circle.
By October of 1843, Smith was ready to be rid of Rigdon. At the October Conference, Smith rejected Rigdon as his First Counselor and wanted to appoint someone else. Rigdon made an impassioned plea in his own defense reminding Smith of their former friendship and how sick he had been since the Missouri incident. Hyrum Smith even spoke in his defense. In the end. Rigdon was sustained First Counselor against Smith's wishes.In 1844 controversy began to swirl around Nauvoo, and mob violence was again on the horizon. Not wanting to go through that again, Rigdon decided to move his family back to Pittsburgh to "build up the church" in that area. Smith was more than glad to have him go. 46 Rigdon left on June 18, 1844. On June 27, 1844, Smith and his
45 Ibid., 156.
46 Ibid., 163.
brother Hyrum were murdered in the Carthage, Illinois, jail.
After hearing of Smith's death, Rigdon arrived back in Nauvoo on August 3, 1844. The following Sunday Rigdon preached a sermon saying that God had appointed him Guardian of the church. He wanted them to call a meeting and appoint him Guardian of the Church. After some discussion, the meeting was scheduled for the following Thursday, August 8. Brigham Young arrived back in town on Tuesday, August 6, and the rest is history. Ultimately Rigdon was excommunicated on September 8, 1844.Rigdon set up a schismatic group in Pittsburgh under the name "The Church of Christ" on April 6, 1845. He began to publish his own newspaper where he vehemently attacked polygamy. In 1847 Rigdon, by then in abject poverty, moved in with his daughter and son-in-law in Friendship, New York and remained there for the majority of the rest of his life. In later years Brigham Young invited Rigdon to move out to Utah, but Rigdon refused. Attempts were made to revive Rigdon's role as a leader in a Mormon splinter group and some succeeded to a small degree. Rigdon stayed in Friendship and was forbidden by his family to preach while he was living with them. According to his son, "He never preached after he came to Allegany County; his family would not let him. He seemed sane upon every other subject except religion. When he got on that subject, he seemed to lose himself and his family would not permit him to talk on that subject, especially with strangers." 47 Rigdon would eventually die in utter obscurity at the home of his son-in-law at Friendship, New York, July 14, 1876, with his faithful wife Phebe still by his side. It should be noted that Rigdon maintained throughout his entire life that he never had anything to do with the production of the Book of Mormon.
47 John Wickliffe Rigdon, "The Life and Testimony of Sidney Rigdon," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 1, no. 4 (1966): 41.
There are still some small "churches" which recognize Rigdon's claim to authority in existence today.
In closing this section on Rigdon's life let me quote an observation made by Chase,
If Rigdon had been willing to play some secondary part to Brigham Young for the remainder of his life, he would have achieved undying fame in Mormon history. The same observation would hold true with respect to his earlier 'Campbellite' affiliations. Rigdon would have been listed among the founders of that sect if he had only humbled himself before Alexander Campbell. He had the necessary emotional qualifications to arouse people and loosen them from their traditional religious moorings, but he did not possess the intellectual stability essential for leadership. 48
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Since the previous section on Sidney Rigdon' s life coincided with much of the early history of the Mormon movement, we will not take the time to reiterate that here. Instead this section will present a broad overview of Latter-day Saint history for this time period and fill in some of the gaps, such as before Rigdon's "Conversion" and significant events in which he did not play a role.According to their scripture, the church traces its origins to a vision reportedly received by a fourteen-year-old farm boy in upstate New York during the year 1820. According to Joseph Smith, Jr., God the Father and His Son, Jesus appeared to him in response to a prayer he had uttered asking which church he should join. He was told that he should "join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight;" 49
48 Chase, "Sidney Rigdon-Early Mormon," 175.
49 Joseph Smith Jr., Joseph Smith -- History 1:19, The Pearl of Great Price (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1982).
On September 21, 1823, Smith received another vision. This time from an angel named Moroni. Moroni told him about some gold plates which contained the writings of an ancient nation that once roamed the American continents. When Joseph found the plates, however, he was not allowed to take them because he had "not kept the commandments of the Lord." 50 Smith was instructed by Moroni to return to this spot annually until the time had come when Smith would be able to receive the plates. Joseph finally received the plates on September 22, 1827. He then began the process of translating the plates. As he translated, issues began to arise in his mind regarding various ordinances. One of those was Baptism. Smith and his associate Oliver Cowdery, who at that time was serving as his scribe in the translation process, were concerned about the necessity of Baptism. On May 15, 1829, they went out to pray about the subject and received a visitation from John the Baptist, who ordained them to the Aaronic Priesthood and instructed them to baptize one another in the nearby river. A few months later the same two men received a visitation from Peter, James, and John who conferred upon them the Melchizedek priesthood.In June of 1829 the translation of the Book of Mormon was completed and the plates were shown to eleven different men. Their testimonies are recorded in the preface of every edition of the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon was published on March 26, 1830.
50 Gordon B. Hinckley, Truth Restored (Salt Lake City: Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1979), 12.
On April 6, 1830, Joseph Smith, Jr. organized the "Church of Christ" 51 in Fayette, New York.
In December of 1830, Smith received a revelation that the small church would move to Kirtland, Ohio. By January 1838 Smith and Rigdon were forced to leave Kirtland. By the end of the year they would be in the Liberty, Missouri jail.After surviving the ordeal in Missouri, the Mormons made their way to Illinois and built a bustling city on the banks of the Mississippi river. At its peak, Nauvoo had a population of about 11,000 people, second only to Chicago in population for the state. Mormonism prospered in Nauvoo, however, Smith would make three critical errors which would quickly bring an end to Nauvoo's prosperity and his life. His first error was his teaching on polygamy. Evidence suggests that Smith had been practicing polygamy in the early 1830's; in Nauvoo he began teaching it to others. His second error was placing too much trust in John C. Bennett. Bennett played a big part in getting the Illinois Legislature to grant the city of Nauvoo its charter. Bennett's victory in the state legislature immediately placed him in Joseph Smith's favor. Bennett would usurp much of Sidney Rigdon's role in the First Presidency, and since Sidney was still ill from the experience in the Liberty jail there was not much he could do about it. Bennett remained in Smith's inner circle for a year and a half. 52 By 1842 Joseph realized that Bennett was becoming dangerous. His military diatribes published in Nauvoo city papers were inflaming the non-Mormons in the same way that Rigdon's did back in Missouri.
51 Smith's church would undergo two name changes. In 1834, the name was changed to "The Church of the Latter Day Saints." In 1838, the name was changed to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
52 Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 2nd ed. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971), 268.
Bennett also began using Joseph Smith's revelation sanctioning polygamy, to gain sexual favors from women without Smith's permission. Things really came to a head when Smith and Bennett got into a fight over the affections of Sidney Rigdon's nineteen-year-old daughter, Nancy. 53 When Sidney found out about this involvement from Bennett, he angrily confronted Joseph about the issue. Smith in turn was furious with Bennett and excommunicated him on June 23, 1842. 54
Bennett wasted no time writing a book that exposed Smith's polygamy and accused him of setting up a kingdom on the Mississippi River. Bennett made a great deal of money selling his book and traveling on the lecture circuit exposing the evils of Mormonism. Bennett's tales fanned the flames of controversy around Smith and played a significant role in setting the stage for Smith's murder.The third critical error Smith committed was the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor's printing press. As word spread about Smith's polygamy, many of his followers became disillusioned. One such group started a paper called the Nauvoo Expositor. The purpose of this paper was to expose Smith's polygamy and some of his other controversial teachings. The paper printed one issue, Smith found out about it, and as Mayor of the city of Nauvoo, he declared the paper a nuisance and ordered the press to be destroyed. This event infuriated the non-Mormon neighbors who charged him with violating freedom of the press. As a result of the uproar, Smith declared martial law in the city. Smith would soon be arrested on charge of adultery and treason and be escorted to the Carthage jail where he was murdered on June 27, 1844.
53 Ibid., 310.
54 Ibid., 314.
The Spalding-Rigdon Theory
In order to understand some of the arguments Whitsitt makes, it is necessary to provide a brief overview of what is known as "The Spalding-Rigdon Theory." This "theory" was an attempt to link Rigdon with the authorship of the Book of Mormon. It was originally introduced in 1833 by ex-Mormon Philastus Hurlbut and published in E. D. Howe's Mormonism Unvailed. Whitsitt would use this book as a source in his research.
Hurlbut collected eight affidavits from friends and relatives of a deceased minister named Solomon Spalding, stating that the Book of Mormon contained a great many similarities to an unpublished manuscript of Spalding's, entitled Manuscript Found. This manuscript was written by Spalding in the hopes of getting it published and producing income. It was supposed to be a historical romance detailing how the first settlers came to America. They were Jews who would eventually become the descendants of the American Indians.These individuals claimed that Spalding had submitted his manuscript to a printer in Pittsburgh before his death in 1816. Allegedly, Rigdon got a hold of the manuscript while he was living in Pittsburgh. This theory goes on to say that Rigdon, using this manuscript, wrote the basic text of the Book of Mormon. He then passed it on to Smith who published it.
Let me state three points in regard to this theory which are important to this thesis. (1) Sidney Rigdon vehemently denied any connection with Spaulding's Manuscript Found. 55 (2) The majority of the contemporary scholars (but by no means all of them) of Mormon history, both members of the Mormon Church and non-members, reject the Spalding-Rigdon theory. However, it should be remembered that, up until the publication of Brodie' s book in 1945, the Spalding-Rigdon theory was the favored explanation of the origin of Mormonism by non-Mormons. (3) Even though Whitsitt was sympathetic to the Spalding-Rigdon theory, he felt that even if it could be proven that Rigdon had absolutely no connection with the Spalding manuscript, his work would still demonstrate that Rigdon was "the real founder of Mormonism," because of the overwhelming amount of Campbellite theology in the Book of Mormon.
William Heth Whitsitt
Finally, it is appropriate to provide a brief biographical sketch of William Heth Whitsitt. Whitsitt was born on November 25, 1841, near Nashville, Tennessee. In 1857 he enrolled in Union University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. He graduated with honors and a Master's Degree in 1861. In 1862, he was ordained to the gospel ministry by his home church, Mill Creek Baptist Church, and served for a time as pastor.With the outbreak of the Civil War, Whitsitt joined the Confederate Infantry. He was soon promoted to chaplain due to his education and ministerial experience. For three years he was involved in some of the worst fighting in the war. He was captured twice and spent twelve months in a prison camp before being exchanged. 56
55 Ibid., 450.
56 Jesse C. Fletcher, The Southern Baptist Convention: A Sesquicentennial History (Nashville, TN: Breadman & Holman, 1994), 68-69.
In 1866, Whitsitt entered the University of Virginia. One year later, after meeting and hearing John A. Broadus, Whitsitt entered the recently reopened Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina. After completing the two-year course of study there, and with the encouragement of Broadus, he traveled to Germany to study for two years at the universities of Leipzig and Berlin.
In 1872 he returned to America and was elected as the sixth member of the faculty of Southern Seminary as assistant professor of ecclesiastical history and biblical introduction. 57 He would eventually teach classes in polemical theology, Greek, and special German reading classes, as well.
In 1873, he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Divinity by Mercer University in recognition of his outstanding abilities as a scholar, teacher and preacher. In 1888 three other schools -- William Jewel, Georgetown, and Southwestern would honor him with the degree of Doctor of Laws. 58In 1895, Whitsitt was elected the third president of Southern Seminary. In 1896, Whitsitt published his landmark work, A Question in Baptist History, which sparked the controversy that today carries his name. Although Whitsitt's claims regarding Baptist origins have since been vindicated, they were extremely radical for the time, and a tremendous controversy ensued. In May 1899 the Seminary accepted his resignation.
57 W. Morgan Patterson, William Heth Whitsitt: The Seminary's Versatile Scholar (February 1994, TMs. Special Collections, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY), 5.
58 E. B. Pollard, "The Life and Work of William Heth 'Whitsitt," The Review and Expositor 9 (1912): 163.
Eventually Whitsitt left Louisville and joined the faculty of the University of Richmond in 1901. He taught there until 1909. He died there on January 20, 1911, at the age of 69.
Whitsitt was a remarkable scholar. In the words of W. Morgan Patterson,
A careful study of the man and his voluminous notes, papers, and journals reveal a solid classical education, unusual linguistic ability, and obvious versatility of accomplishment, and also broad interest in current affairs, biblical and theological studies, world religions, and the pursuit of many other subjects in addition to church history and Baptist history.... As a result of an examination of his written output, mostly unpublished, it is no exaggeration to speak of Whitsitt as Southern Seminary's Versatile scholar of its first half-century. 59
A brief perusal of Whitsitt's academic accomplishments demonstrates the validity of Patterson's claim. His literary output also demonstrates a great diversity. In addition to his A Question in Baptist History, in 1880 he published The Life and Times of Judge Caleb Wallace. In 1888 he published The Origin of the Disciples of Christ: A Contribution to the Centennial Anniversary of the Birth of Alexander Campbell. In 1904 he published the genealogy of the Whitsitt family. In 1910 his genealogy of Jefferson Davis was published. This literary output was in addition to all of the various journal and newspaper articles he authored. Of course we cannot forget Sidney Rigdon: The Real Founder of Mormonism, which Patterson designates as Whitsitt's "magnum opus." 60 He finished the manuscript on July 4, 1887. The entry in his diary for that day reads, "Wrote the last word of the last chapter of the Biography of Sidney Rigdon at Ten o'clock this morning. To God be all praise and thanksgiving! Amen and Amen. By my calculation
there are 138 chapters in the volume. Nobody will ever consent to print it." 61 Patterson notes,
He was fascinated by the ideas, leaders, and documents of Mormonism, and by 1887 he had amassed a huge amount of information on the subject. He had carried on a voluminous correspondence to assemble the facts related to Mormon beginnings and its leaders. There are scores of entries in his diaries dealing with the obstacles and successes of his research. They also show the tireless historical detective at work to track down every lead and source. 62
61 Ibid., 15.
62 Ibid., 14.
Most scholars who study the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints acknowledge the tremendous influence Sidney Rigdon exerted over the movement after his "conversion" in November 1830. However, the influence of Rigdon and the role he played in this movement prior to his conversion is in dispute. This chapter will examine Whitsitt's claim that Rigdon was the "real founder of Mormonism" by analyzing Rigdon's motivation for producing the Book of Mormon and his role in the movement from the time, according to Whitsitt, that he came into possession of the Spaulding manuscript in the mid-1820's to his eventual "conversion" to the church in 1830.
One of Whitsitt's most valuable contributions to the study of Mormonism is his insight into why the movement began. Whitsitt writes,
Numbers of people regard Mormonism in the light mere imposture. There is a great amount of imposture in it; but there is much more than this.... Imposture pure and simple is always weak; Mormonism is not weak. No religious party of modem times had made such rapid or surprising progress. 1
No, Mormonism is not an imposture; nor is its faith a mere hotch potch taken from outworn systems; nor is it a freak of religious dementia, nor is it a cunningly devised
1 William Heth Whitsitt, "Studies in Mormon Theology," part 1 (1885-1887, Ms, Special Collections, Boyce Library, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY), 1.
instrument of lust and greed of gain and power. We cannot explain the phenomena upon any hypothesis of that sort; the only explanation that can be found is to be sought in the fact that it is a regular and natural development of our American Protestantism. A painful admission but unavoidable. 2
It appears that Rigdon was fixated with the teaching of Campbell and Scott. But they would not go far enough in following their own motto of "Where the Scriptures speak we speak," especially when it came to practices such as spiritual gifts and "holding all things in common." According to Whitsitt, Rigdon believed that if an ancient scripture were to be produced, which explicitly advocated all of the teachings of the "restored" church including spiritual gifts and communalism, he could use it convince Campbell and the world. Since this "Scripture" would not be easily found, Rigdon set out to write one. Whitsitt writes,
It is tolerably apparent that Mr. Rigdon was sincere in the conviction that he stood wholly apart from the balance of mankind as the single chosen instrument of heaven in the midst of an apostate age. The cause he had so near his heart he believed was inherently true, and the means which he employed to promote it were to his thinking inherently pure, because they were of the special bestowment of divine inspiration. 3
But the allegation will be still laid against the honesty of Mr. Rigdon that he perpetrated a pious fraud. The history of the religious world abounds with instances of pious fraud. In the Old Testament the number of apocryphal and pseudepigraphical books is far too large to recount in this place.... The man who out of hand asserts the knavery all and singular, of the authors of these productions argues nothing so much as his own imbecility. On the contrary each case must be scrutinized apart, and with all the lights attainable should be judged after its own merits or demerits. For that reason every man of sober reflection must suspend his judgment touching the conduct of Rigdon until he has weighed all the conditions that may be involved.
2 Ibid., 3.
3 William Heth Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon: The Real Founder of Mormonism (1886, rev. 1891, TMs), p. 468 (on-line); accessed 19 May 2001; available from http://www.sidneyrigdon.com/wht/1891WhtC.htm; Internet.
The first of these conditions is that he was consumed with a desire to assist Mr. Scott and the Disciples in the labor of maintaining the "good confession" that "Jesus is the Christ" more effectually than they could accomplish the feat out of the Scriptures.
The second condition is that he had become insane under the teachings of Campbell respecting the 'ancient order,' and candidly believed that he was 'inspired of God' as were many of the 'Former-Day Saints.' This inspiration led him first to edit, then partially to re-edit the performance of Spaulding, and to employ the arts and invention of Smith to bring the completed product forward. It does not seem unreasonable to allow that a person whose mind had been that way unbalanced might do every act that is laid to the charge of Sidney in connection with the Book of Mormon without any stains of conscious dishonesty. 4
In Whitsitt's mind The Book of Mormon was Rigdon's pseudepigraphal attempt to "establish the truth of the Campbellite confession of faith," 5 and convince Campbell of the need for spiritual gifts and Christian communalism. Whether or not it was Rigdon's original intent to start a new church or simply incorporate the Book of Mormon into Campbell's movement is unclear. As early as 1824, Rigdon had begun to take Campbell to task over his omission of spiritual gifts. 6 By February 1830, two-months before Smith would organize his Church of Christ, Rigdon had organized a small communal group, independent of Campbell, on a large farm outside of Kirtland, Ohio. 7Rigdon and Campbell's breach appeared unavoidable following the 1830 annual meeting of the Mahoning Association, where Campbell severely rebuked Rigdon for his views on communalism. Perhaps Rigdon had seen the handwriting on the wall
4 Ibid., 469-470.
5 Whitsitt, "Studies in Mormon Theology," 9.
6 Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 165.
7 Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, Inc., 1994), in New Mormon Studies (CD-ROM) (Salt Lake City: Smith Research Associates, 1998), 50.
and decided to start a church which would reflect the totality of the restored ancient Gospel.
Whitsitt traces the origin of the Book of Mormon back to the writings of Solomon Spalding. In 1810, Spalding began writing a manuscript which he intended to publish in order to raise money to pay his debts. Whitsitt believes that he produced at least three distinct works all under the title of "Manuscript Found." The first of these works Whitsitt refers to as "The Honolulu Manuscript." In 1885 this manuscript was rediscovered in Honolulu, Hawaii, among papers which formerly belonged to E. D. Howe. This manuscript is one-hundred-seventy-seven pages long. It tells the story of a group [of] Romans who had set sail for Britain. During their voyage, a violent storm blew them off-course and they landed in North America. According to all who have seen the manuscript it bears absolutely no resemblance to the Book of Mormon. 8 Whitsitt concedes this point. However, he goes on to cite Howe who had witnesses claiming Spalding was working on another "Manuscript Found."
8 Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 204.
9 Ibid., 182.
manuscripts to the foreman of Robert Patterson's printing office, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to be considered for publication. Patterson wanted Spalding to pay for the costs of printing the manuscript. Since Spalding could not afford that, the plan was apparently abandoned. 10
Patterson's firm went bankrupt in 1818 and was reorganized that same year under the name Patterson & Lambdin. The firm operated out of a printing office named Butler & Lambdin. This point is significant. Rigdon, in his later denials of being connected with the Spalding manuscript, said that he did not know Patterson. But he never denied knowing Lambdin. Whitsitt cites two sources which say that Rigdon and Lambdin where good friends and Rigdon spent a great deal of time at the printing office while pastoring in Pittsburgh from 1822-1824. 11 One can only speculate how Rigdon came to possess the manuscript Whitsitt suggests that Lambdin may have given it to him or Rigdon may have bought it.Whitsitt' s belief that Spalding was the author of the Book of Mormon (minus the religious interpolations) is based upon three primary sources. First there are the interviews of witnesses which report seeing similarities of plot, names of people and cities, between some of Spalding's writings and the Book of Mormon, which were published in E. D. Howe's Mormonism Unvailed. The second is Who Wrote the Book of Mormon?, by Robert Patterson Jr., son of the aforementioned printer. In this book, Patterson acknowledges that his father had the manuscript and discusses ways Rigdon
10 Ibid., 185; Robert Patterson, Who Wrote the Book of Mormon (Philadelphia: L. H. Everts & Co., 1882), 2-3 (on-line); accessed 21 September 2001; available from http://www.solomonspalding.com/docs/l882PatA.htm; Internet.
11 Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 204r.
might have had access to it. His third source could better be described as a peculiarity in the Book of Mormon. Namely, at the end of the Book of Mormon, evil prevails. The righteous Nephites are totally destroyed by the wicked, unrighteous Lamanites. Whitsitt writes that if this book were written by an individual seeking to advance the claims of Christianity it is highly unlikely that the unrighteous group would have prevailed. However, if the individual writing this book was antagonistic toward religion, as Spalding was toward the end of his life, such an ending would be logical. 12
Rigdon's First Redaction
Rigdon admitted that he spent a lot of time in "Bible study" during his time in Pittsburgh. Rigdon biographer Van Wagoner quotes a later interview of Rigdon which says, "He thoroughly reviewed the Scriptures, and reached down to their profoundest depths. Dissatisfied with all ordinary interpretations, he began a series of new and original explanations of doctrine, of history and of prophecy." 13
Whitsitt asserts that a great majority of this study involved editing Spalding's work and inserting the new Campbellite theology. He writes,
It was a prime article of Rigdon's policy to have the doctrine of the Book of Mormon conform with exact nicety to the tenets which the Disciples were advocating. He wanted it to demonstrate that 'the Christian religion had been preached in this country during the first century, just as they were at the moment preaching on 'The Western Reserve.' 14
12 Ibid., 472.
13 Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, 30.
14 Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 355.
taken from the plates of Nephi." This work contained the first thirteen of the fifteen books listed in the current Book of Mormon. Book number fourteen, "Ether," was a separate work of Spalding that he incorporated into the Book of Mormon.
In the context of the story in the Book of Mormon, there are four separate sets of plates -- The plates of Brass, The Plates of Ether, The Plates of Mormon, The Plates of Nephi. However a preface to the Book of Mormon reveals that there are two sets of the plates of Nephi -- the Small Plates and the Large Plates. The small plates contain the first six books of the current Book of Mormon. Whitsitt argues that these "plates" were actually Spalding's original work rewritten by Rigdon to reflect Campbell's theology. Why did Rigdon stop after the first six books? Whitsitt speculates,
Sidney however, was a lazy scamp from his cradle... When he had proceeded in his task as far as the close of the Book of Omni his industry failed him; it was always short of breath; the process of rewriting would be too burdensome and he resolved to content himself with an easier method. Consequently he returned to the text of Spaulding, only inserting here and there larger or shorter religious harangues set down on separate sheets of paper for the purpose of imparting a religious character to the story, 15
Current editions of the Book of Mormon include this interesting explanation of the plates.
The Plates of Nephi, which were of two kinds: the Small Plates and the Large Plates. The former (Small Plates) were more particularly devoted to spiritual matters and the ministry and teachings of the prophets, while the latter were occupied mostly by a secular history of the peoples concerned (1 Nephi 9:2-4). From the time of Mosiah, however, the large plates also included items of major spiritual importance. 16
15 Ibid., 213.
16 A Brief Explanation About the Book of Mormon," The Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1986).
Whitsitt suspects that the seventh book "Words of Mormon" was originally the preface to Spalding's work, which Rigdon rearranged to suit his purpose. 17 Rigdon continued his insertions throughout the next six books from "Mosiah" to "Mormon."
The book of "Ether" in Joseph Smith's edition of the Book of Mormon also appears to have been an abridgment of Spalding's original. Whitsitt points out two interesting points that make it highly unlikely that this work was translated by Moroni, as the text implies. First, apparently Mormon had already hid these plates in the hill Cumorah before he entrusted his work to Moroni. 18 Second, where did Moroni get the plates on which he engraved the abridgment? In Mormon 8, he complains that he does not have very many plates left, only enough to finish the work of his father (Mormon chapters 8 & 9). This shortage of plates raises the question as to how and on what, the books of Ether and Moroni were engraved. Whitsitt believes the book of "Moroni" was an addendum of Rigdon to summarize and conclude the work. 19
Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith
As Rigdon progressed on the manuscript, he probably realized that no one would believe that he had discovered and translated this ancient scripture. Especially since the only extant manuscripts were in his handwriting. Whitsitt believed that he began looking for an amanuensis to transcribe the work.In 1822 Joseph Smith Jr. discovered a "seer stone" while digging a well for Mr. Willard Chase. Joseph soon began to employ his skill at gazing into the stone and
17 Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 213.
18 Moroni 6:6.
19 Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 215-219b.
locating that which was hidden to the naked eye. Knowledge of Joseph's skill soon spread throughout the countryside of New York. Whitsitt writes, "The public prints now and then gave accounts of a mysterious character in Western New York who was given to money-digging. Rigdon conceived the idea of involving his assistance." 20
According to Joseph Smith, on September 21-22, 1823 he received four visits from the angel Moroni. During these visits, the angel described to him the contents of the plates and told [him] where they were located.
According to Whitsitt, this "angel," originally named "Nephi" in Smith's earliest versions of the story, was Rigdon. 21 Whitsitt writes that after the conclusion of the annual meeting of the Redstone Association in early September 1823, Rigdon journeyed up to New York to meet with Smith.
It is likely that Sidney and Joseph took a bed together in the hovel of the family and almost throughout the night of the 21st of September, the former kept his associate awake describing the details of his plan and the part which Mr. Smith was expected to bear in it. 22
After the meeting, Rigdon left to accompany Campbell for his debate in Kentucky. In the intervening months, Whitsitt presumes that Rigdon kept in contact with Joseph through correspondence and possibly an annual meeting every September.However, early on it appears that Rigdon may have had second thoughts about entrusting this project solely to Joseph Smith. Whitsitt writes,
20 Whitsitt, "Studies in Mormon Theology," 9.
21 Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 274; For a reference to the angel being named "Nephi" see Joseph Smith Jr., The Papers of Joseph Smith, ed. Dean C. Jesse (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989), 1:277.
22 Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 275.
Possibly in consequence of the unsteadiness of his habits, and also, it may be, with reference to his youthful age -- he was not quite nineteen -- the angel, whether in person or by letter, signified his desire that at his appearance in September 1825, Mr. Smith should bring his oldest brother with him. Unhappily however, Alvin Smith, who was the said oldest brother, did not live to keep the tryst; on the 19th of November 1824, he was surprised by death. 23
When Smith showed up for the annual meeting in 1825 without his brother Alvin, the angel told him he would need to find someone else and bring that person with [him] next year When Joseph showed up in 1826, again without a companion, Rigdon was upset. Whitsitt speculates that Joseph's inability to find a suitable partner might have been a significant factor in his marriage to Emma Hale.
The angel, however, was manifestly not content with the unwillingness of the young man to be awarded a companion in his labors and responsibilities. Sidney perhaps now (boldly) took the position that Joseph should never be intrusted with his precious manuscript until he had succeeded in selecting a partner who should watch as well as aid him. Mr. Rigdon's plans looked towards a transcription of the document and he must have believed that was the most likely way to effect the end he sought.
Smith was at all times handy with expedients; he... appears to have suggested the name of Miss Emma Hale. The idea must have been pleasing to Rigdon as soon as it was proposed. Accordingly the statement was speedily given out that an angel appeared, and told Joseph he could not get the plates until he was married. 24
Smith and Hale eloped in January 1827. Emma makes this interesting comment about their wedding,
I had no intention of marrying when I left home; but during my visit at Mr. Stowel's your father visited me there. My folks were bitterly opposed to him; and, being importuned by your father, aided by Mr. Stowel, who urged me to marry him, and preferring to many him than any other man I knew, I consented. We went to Squire Tarbell's and were married. 25
23 Ibid., 280.
24 Ibid. 282-283.
25 Edward W. Tullidge, Life of Joseph the Prophet (New York: Tullidge & Crandall, 1880), 790; quoted in Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 265; see also Linda Newell and Valeen Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith 2nd ed. (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 1; and Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 93.
On September 21, 1827, Rigdon gave the redacted Spaulding manuscript to Smith.
It is likely that Rigdon was content to let Smith and his new bride transcribe the manuscript. Rigdon's next meeting with Joseph Smith probably occurred in July 1828, after learning that Martin Harris, Joseph Smith's amanuensis, had been entrusted with the first 116 pages of the transcription and had lost them. Sidney traveled to Harmony, Pennsylvania where Smith was residing. From there they traveled up to Palmyra, New York to check on Harris. Lucy Mack Smith, in her biography of her son, Joseph: relates an interesting story of a "stranger" who accompanied Joseph on this trip. 26
Whitsitt points out that this really should not have been a problem if Smith had only been transcribing the manuscript. He could simply start over again. However, Whitsitt believes Smith added his own comments to the Rigdon manuscript. For instance 2 Nephi 3:6-21 contains a prophecy of a great seer named Joseph.
It appears that Rigdon and Smith decided to stop their project for a little while to let things calm down. Whitsitt writes,
Under the excitement and even consternation that was occasioned by the tidings of the loss of the Book of Lehi, it would be natural for Rigdon to suggest that it might be safer for him to reclaim and preserve the manuscript till such time as they couldhave an opportunity to satisfy their minds regarding the extent and the effects of the accident. 27
27 Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 326.
26 Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and his Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool: S. W. Richards, 1853), in New Mormon Studies (CD-ROM) (Salt Lake City: Smith Research Associates, 1998), 119-120.
Eventually another amanuensis of Smith, Oliver Cowdery, would re-transcribe the lost 116 pages and Smith simply renamed them first and second Nephi, instead of Lehi. This would prevent anyone from producing the lost pages and finding inconsistencies between the two manuscripts.
Whitsitt also points out another significant event which occurred in conjunction with the lost 116 pages -- Joseph Smith received his first "revelation." 28 Whitsitt calls this "an accident which produced a prophet." 29 He goes on to write,
It was apparently sometime before setting forth from Harmony on this occasion that young Smith was favored with his first revelation from the Lord. It bears date Harmony, Susquehanna county, Pennsylvania, July 1828, and foreshadows the admirable powers which he afterwards displayed in the matter of always falling on his feet D&C, Section 3).... The substance of this initial revelation was with a great deal of very human shrewdness adapted to, the exigencies of the disaster in which Joseph now found himself involved.... 30
28 The Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981). 3.
29 Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 320.
30 Ibid., 322-24.
31 Ibid., 325.
"John the Baptist"
On November 18, 1827, two months after Rigdon had given Smith the manuscript, Walter Scott preached his first sermon on the long lost "ancient gospel" of baptism for the remission of sins in New Lisbon, Ohio. Contemporaries of Rigdon said he was immediately infatuated with this idea and spent a great deal of time studying the subject. In 1828, Rigdon visited Scott and discussed the subject in detail. It is likely that Rigdon felt compelled to include this information in the Book of Mormon. Whitsitt writes, "He could not think of permitting a treasure that sat so near his heart to be neglected in the pages of the Book of Mormon; it was above everything... that the "ancient gospel" should make its appearance there." 32This forced Sidney to make further changes to the manuscript. Whitsitt calls this Rigdon's "second redaction" of the manuscript. Whitsitt suggests that the changes were made in May 1829 after the following event occurred. During the process of "translating" the Book of Mormon, Smith and Cowdery "went into the woods to pray and inquire of the Lord respecting baptism for the remission of sins, that we found mentioned in the translation of the plates." 33 In response to that prayer a messenger, who identified himself as John the Baptist, ordained them into the Aaronic priesthood and instructed them on how to be baptized. Whitsitt identifies this messenger as Sidney Rigdon. He writes, "The designation of "John the Baptist" points so clearly to Mr. Rigdon that it is sufficient to reveal far more than it was desirable should be made known." 34 Whitsitt cites
32 Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 355.
33 Joseph Smith Jr., "Joseph Smith History," in Pearl of Great Price (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1982), 1:68.
34Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 358.
D&C 35:4 as further evidence that Rigdon was John the Baptist. "Behold thou wast sent forth, even as John to prepare the way before me" Whitsitt also suggests that the office to which Smith and Cowdery were actually ordained was that of Elder, which was common to the Campbellite movement.
Sidney Rigdon Becomes a Mormon
On April 6, 1830, Joseph Smith established his church of Christ in Manchester, New York with six members. 35 What role Rigdon had in its formation is unclear. The title "Church of Christ" is unmistakably Campbellite in origin and probably reflects the influence of Rigdon.In July 1830, Joseph received a revelation saying that the next conference of the church was to be held in the "west." 36 Whitsitt believed that Rigdon intended to bring Joseph to the annual meeting of the Mahoning Association, held in late August 1830. There Joseph Smith and Alexander Campbell would have met face to face. What an incredible event that would have been. Unfortunately it never took place. Apparently Sidney lost his courage. A journal entry by early Mormon convert Newel Knight, cited by Whitsitt, says that Joseph had prepared to go west in late August but "the conveyance in which he intended to make the journey did not arrive from 'the west;' and the distance was too great to walk." 37
35 Official records say Fayette, New York. Whitsitt points out this inconsistency in Sidney Rigdon, 514ff.; cf. H. Michael Marquardt and Wesley P. Walters, Inventing Mormonism (Salt Lake City: Smith Research Associates, 1994), 153-65.
36 D&C 26:1.
37 Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 559.
Possibly in an attempt to communicate with Smith over his failure to bring him to Ohio, Rigdon dispatched Parley P. Pratt, a young Campbellite minister under Rigdon's guidance, on a mission to New York. During this trip Mr. Pratt happened upon a copy of the Book of Mormon, which had been in print since March of that year He read the entire five-hundred-eighty-eight-page book, then went to the Smith home near Manchester, where he met with Hyrum, Joseph's older brother. Hyrum took him to meet Cowdery in Fayette, and Pratt was subsequently baptized on September first of that year and ordained an Elder in the church. Later that month he finally got to meet with Joseph Smith, who had been in Harmony, Pennsylvania when Pratt arrived. Pratt immediately began preaching his new faith. His first convert was his younger brother Orson. Whitsitt writes,
It is believed that Parley signified to his Mormon brethren immediately upon his baptism in August 1830 the necessity which Rigdon experienced to alter his scheme, and suggested the main outlines of the plan he now proposed to employ in order to transfer Joseph to "the west." That plan was for Mr. Smith to send certain persons from New York to go through the form of converting Sidney and his church at Kirtland; when this task had been happily accomplished it would be perfectly natural for Joseph to show himself in Kirtland. 38
38 Ibid., 567.
30 D&C 30.
When presented with a copy of the Book of Mormon, Rigdon spurned it publicly, but he agreed to read the book. In the meantime he allowed Cowdery and Pratt to preach to his congregation. After they finished, he encouraged his congregation to "prove all things" and think about what the two missionaries had said to them. Eventually Rigdon would receive his own "revelation as to the truth of Mormonism. 41 In the meantime Pratt, Cowdery and associates would baptize one hundred and twenty-seven people in the first three weeks of their work there. 42 Finally, on November 8, 1830 Sidney Rigdon and his wife Phoebe were baptized by Oliver Cowdery. Whitsitt writes,
Herein was a complete surrender on the part of Rigdon; instead of playing the leading role, as he had done hitherto, it was now indispensable that he should descend to the position of second fiddler. 43
If Sidney had only possessed the capacities and the impudence of Mr. Smith, there would have been no necessity for this ignoble surrender.... The very man who had baptized Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery on the 15th day of May 1829, finds himself under the necessity on the 9th of November 1830 to enter the communion which he had himself established, in the character of a novice.... It was never in the power of Mr. Rigdon to retrieve the loss that (accorded) from such an unhappy disaster. Say what he might and do what he would, it was clear to the mind of every believing member of the "Church of Christ" that Joseph stood at its head by divine right; his position was paramount, while that of the man who had hatched the whole enterprise and given it shape was clearly to be recognized as an inferior of the humble tool he had selected merely to give him aid in conducting some of the minor details of it. 44
40 D&C 32.
41 Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, 60-61.
42 Ibid., 61.
43 Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 567.
revelation commanding that the young church "should assemble together at the Ohio." 45 Rigdon arrived back in Ohio in mid-January 1831. Joseph Smith and his family arrived on February 1, 1831. Joseph and his Church of Christ were finally in the "west" and enjoying the success that Rigdon had long envisioned. Rigdon had paid a terrible price, he would never be regarded as the leader of the movement. Still, next to Joseph Smith, Rigdon would be the most influential leader of the Mormon movement for the next decade.
Rigdon's Foreknowledge of the Book of Mormon
Another interesting fact that Whitsitt points out is Rigdon's apparent foreknowledge of the Book of Mormon. Whitsitt cites three witnesses, Darwin Atwater, Adamson Bentley and Alexander Campbell, who said Rigdon told them about a book, soon to be published that would describe the original inhabitants of America. 46 Rigdon told Darwin Atwater about the book as early as January 1827.Mormon writer, Richard Van Wagoner attributes Rigdon's foreknowledge to various newspaper accounts, published in the Western Reserve, which reported Smith finding the plates. 47 But this theory does not explain how Rigdon knew the content of the plates before Joseph Smith received them in September 1827. Also, it is likely that Atwater, Bentley, and Campbell would have had access to the same newspapers as Rigdon.
44 Ibid., 573-74.
45 D&C 37.
46 Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 244-248.
CritiqueAdmittedly, much of what Whitsitt has written on the role of Sidney Rigdon in early Mormonism is speculation. Since speculation does not prove anything, many people will dismiss Whitsitt's claims on those grounds. Others will dismiss his ideas because of his belief that Rigdon used Spalding's manuscript. After all, as Richard Van Wagoner notes, "The weight of scholarly studies since Fawn Brodie's seminal 1945, No Man Knows My History, biography of Joseph Smith has all but eliminated the Spalding theory and Rigdon's complicity." 48 However, it should be remembered that in writing the above, Whitsitt was not trying to prove the "Spalding-Rigdon" theory. Instead, his work "is an effort to demonstrate from original documents and history, that Mormon theology and church constitution were conceived and produced by Rigdon and not by Joseph Smith." 49 His primary evidence for this assertion is the overwhelming amount of Campbellite theology, not only found in early Mormonism, but also the Book of Mormon. Whitsitt can demonstrate this point even if Solomon Spalding had never lived. What we find in Whitsitt's assessment of Rigdon's role in early Mormonism is a framework which demonstrates the possibility that Rigdon had the motive, skill, and opportunity to produce a
47 Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, 55. Mormon writer, Richard Bushman, notes that the first mention in a newspaper of Smith finding the plates was in Palmyra, New York's Wayne Sentinel, on 26 June1829. Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith, 111.
48 Ibid., 137.
49 William H. Whitsitt, Louisville, Kentucky, to (Dr. Worthington C. Ford, Washington D.C.), L, 28 August 1908 (on-line); accessed 21 September 2001; available from http://www.sidneyrigdon.com/wht/1891WhtC.htm; Internet.
work like the Book of Mormon, and establish a movement nearly identical to Campbell's.
One might compare this framework to a modem day murder case where a prosecutor has a victim, and the murder weapon, with the alleged murderer's fingerprints on the gun. Still the prosecutor must demonstrate that the defendant had motive and opportunity. So the prosecutor uses circumstantial evidence to prove that he did. In Whitsitt's mind the "smoking gun" was the overt Campbellite theology found in the Book of Mormon. He further detected Rigdon's "fingerprints" all over that "gun." So Whitsitt's speculative writings attempt to piece together circumstantial evidence that Rigdon did indeed have "motive" and "opportunity." Although the weight of the evidence will always rest on the murder weapon and the fingerprints found thereon. I think Whitsitt made his case. Two of his stronger points will be discussed below.
PseudepigraphaWhitsitt's most significant insight into early Mormonism is his assertion that the Book of Mormon was a pseudepigraphal work designed "to prove that "Jesus is the Christ" and to establish immersion and such other points embraced in Campbellism prior to the date of surrender of the manuscript to Smith." 50 This truly is a radical idea -- that the Book of Mormon was not brought forth by conniving knaves seeking to deceive and fleece the public, or by people who were delusional or mentally ill, but rather by someone who was sincere, albeit extremely misguided. Most of the rhetoric surrounding the origins of Mormonism could be categorized into two camps. Camp one, Mormons who believed and defended their stories;
50 Whitsitt, "Studies in Mormon Theology," 19.
camp two, Anti-Mormons who sought to expose Mormonism as a fraud. There was virtually no middle ground. What Whitsitt did was provide a third option to this prophet-fraud dichotomy which needs to be seriously examined.
Throughout my experience of studying the early history of Mormonism, there has been one question in my mind that I have had a hard time answering. It is a question that Christian apologists have often asked in defense of the rise of early Christianity; namely, why would someone suffer and die for something they knew was a fraud? The leaders of early Mormonism were beaten, tarred and feathered, and imprisoned. They were driven from their homes on more than one occasion. Some were even killed. Granted, they brought a lot of this "persecution" on themselves, but why would they go through it if they knew they were perpetrating a fraud? I think Whitsitt provides the answer to this question. Whitsitt's answer is so significant and offers such a different perspective that any future discussion of the origins of Mormonism which does not include Whitsitt's assertion will be incomplete.
ImpersonationsWhitsitt was not the first to assert that Rigdon was the John the Baptist of May 15, 1829. But he believed it. He also believed Rigdon played the role of the angel Moroni. These assertions are sure to raise some eyebrows. They almost seem preposterous. How could he have pulled it off? Surely Cowdery and others would have recognized Rigdon when he joined the church in November 1830. I think it is highly possible that Rigdon may have played the roles ascribed to John the Baptist and the angel Moroni. I do not think he necessarily "impersonated" them. Allow me to explain.
We must remember that when we read "official" histories of the Latter-day Saints, they have been sanitized, revised, mythologized, and canonized. More than 4,000 changes have been made to the Book of Mormon since it was published in 1830. Likewise, there have been significant changes to the Doctrine and Covenants, (revelations being altered and a whole section of the book deleted) as well as Joseph Smith's History of the Church, which he began writing in 1838. Events in the church's history have been rearranged in order to present a smoother and more flowing picture of their origin. I would like to look at one instance in particular, the restoration of the Melchizedek priesthood, and show how this event might be indicative of what happened with Rigdon.
According to official accounts, Peter, James, and John, appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery sometime in the spring or early summer of 1829 and conferred upon them the Melchizedek priesthood. 51 However, as Historian D. Michael Quinn points out, contemporary sources say this event happened later. He quotes Joseph Smith's account of a church conference held in June 1831 below.
According to Smith, 'the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood was manifested and conferred for the first time upon several of the Elders.' This required Assistant Church Historian B. H. Roberts later to write a footnote denying the text: 'The Prophet does not mean that the Melchizedek Priesthood was given for the first time in the Church' in June 1831. Of course this is precisely what Smith and others in attendance said happened. 52
51 D&C 13; Gordon B. Hinckley, Truth Restored (Salt Lake City: Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1979), 22; Joseph Smith Jr., History of the Church, 1:40.
52 D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy; Origins of Power (Salt Lake City: Smith Research Associates, 1994), 31-32' Joseph Smith Jr., History of the Church, 1:176.
As a matter of fact, the first account of the restoration of the Melchizedek priesthood did not occur until the 1835 publication of the and Doctrine and Covenants when verses were added to previous revelations published in the 1833 Book of Commandments. Peter, James, and John are still no where to be found. It is only in the 1840's that we find any reference to this apostolic trio. 53 Quinn, a Mormon, believes that Peter, James, and John did restore the priesthood to Smith in early July 1830. Yet if you take Smith's statement,
So how does this explanation apply to Rigdon? Whitsitt contends that Rigdon baptized Smith and Cowdery and ordained them "Elders" on May 15, 1829, near Harmony, Pennsylvania. According to a chronology of Rigdon's life, published in Fawn Brodie's No Man Knows My History, there is a gap of possibly one month and a half between May and July 1829, where Rigdon's whereabouts are unaccounted for. It is therefore possible that Rigdon could have been with Smith and Cowdery in Pennsylvania.The suggestion that John the Baptist was present at this event is also conspicuously absent from all source documents until Cowdery mentions him in 1834. Section 13 of the current Doctrine and Covenants which details John the Baptist's visit was not published until 1842. It was not added to the Doctrine and Covenants until 1876. It should also be noted that the other reference to John the Baptist in D&C 27:8 was added in 1835. It did not appear in the original revelation published in the Book of
53 Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy, 14-32.
Commandments. Joseph writes about the reason for this silence "we were forced to keep secret the circumstances of having received the Priesthood and our having been baptized, owing to a spirit of persecution which had already manifested itself in the neighborhood." 54 One wonders if explanation was really the case?
Notice that official accounts say that Smith and Cowdery were ordained into the Aaronic priesthood, while Whitsitt says they were ordained to the office of Elder. Today, the office of "Elder" is associated with the Melchizedek Priesthood, but Quinn points out that originally the office of "Elder" was associated with the Aaronic Priesthood. 55
Book of Mormon witness, David Whitmer, makes an interesting statement regarding Rigdon and the priesthood in his booklet An Address to all Believers in Christ,
This matter of 'priesthood,' since the days of Sydney (sic) Rigdon, has been the great hobby and stumbling-block of the Latter Day Saints.... Authority is the word we used for the first two years in the church -- until Sydney Rigdon's days in Ohio. This matter of the two orders of priesthood in the Church of Christ, and lineal priesthood of the old law being in the church, all originated in the mind of Sydney Rigdon. He explained these things to Brother Joseph in his way, out of the old Scriptures, and to Brother Joseph to inquire, etc. He would inquire, and as mouthpiece speak out the revelations just as they had it fixed up in their hearts.... This is the way the High Priests and the 'priesthood' as you have it, was introduced into the Church of Christ almost two years after its beginning -- and after we had baptized and confirmed about two thousand souls into the church. 56
54 Joseph Smith Ir., History of the Church, 1:43-44; Bushman also notes that Smith and Cowdery initially said nothing publicly about their visitation from the John the Baptist, Bushman, Joseph Smith, 102.
55 Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy, 27.
56 David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ (Richmond, MO: David Whitmer, 1887; reprint, Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1990), 64.
into this event was correct. It was Rigdon who baptized Smith and Cowdery, and ordained them as Elders, not as John the Baptist, but simply as Rigdon. Over the years, due to the perceived need to have an angel present for a heavenly stamp of approval, Rigdon's role was transformed into John the Baptist's. This explanation would also give further credence to Whitsitt's insight into D&C 35:4, quoted above.
The same thing can be said in regards to Rigdon and the angel Moroni. Brodie's chronology of Rigdon's life shows a gap of one month and a half between August 23, and October 9, 1827 where Rigdon's whereabouts are unaccounted. On September 22, 1827, Smith received the plates from the angel Moroni. If Whitsitt's assertion that Rigdon wrote the book of Moroni is correct, then identifying him as the "angel" (the Greek word for "messenger") Moroni was a logical thing to do. The fact that this "angel" was originally referred to as "Nephi," also seems to demonstrate some fluidity in regards to the angel's identity.
Obviously, we may never know for sure what happened in those early years of Mormonism. Whitsitt's insights, though speculative at times, do provide some logical explanations which deserve to be explored and included in future discussions of Mormon origins.
Whitsitt was convinced that the Book of Mormon and Mormon theology betrayed a Campbellite origin. He writes, "That conclusion is capable of demonstration beyond any reasonable question." 1 In his mind, Sidney Rigdon was the primary agent in the creation of both. Whitsitt traced virtually everything in Mormon theology, from the anthropomorphic nature of God and the priesthood, to the three levels of heaven back to the influence of Rigdon. But given Smith's skill for revelation, and his knowledge of the Bible it would be difficult to prove Rigdon was the source for all of these ideas.
What can be demonstrated is the heavy Campbellite influence found in the Book of Mormon and early Mormon theology. Since Rigdon was a major figure in the Campbells' movement, and Smith had no known connection to Campbell prior to Parley Pratt joining his church in the Summer of 1830, Rigdon's innocence can be postulated in the areas of the heaviest Campbellite influence.Some will argue that the Campbellite similarities are a result of Rigdon' s influence after his conversion in November 1830. Therefore the primary focus of this chapter will be to examine what Whitsitt identifies as the Campbellite influence within the
1 William Heth Whitsitt, "Mormonism," In The Concise Dictionary of Religious Knowledge and Gazetteer, ed. Samuel Macauley, 2nd ed. (New York: The Christian Literature Company, 1891), 616.
text of the Book of Mormon itself. This chapter will also examine Whitsitt's understanding of Rigdon's motivation to write the Book of Mormon, critique Whitsitt's findings, and briefly discuss what Whitsitt sees as Rigdon's influence in some other important Mormon beliefs.
Sidney Rigdon and the Campbellite Influence in the Book of Mormon.
Though the literature of Mormonism is extensive, no author has yet undertaken to investigate the Sacred Books of Mormonism with any degree of patience and system. Laborious and learned students have merely skimmed the surface of the Book of Mormon.... This is an omission which I have made it my task to supply in the present volume.... The Sacred books of Mormonism speak a plain and unvarnished story: they seem to point to Sidney Rigdon as the real founder of Mormon theology. 2
In 1821, after "brooding" upon the works of Glas, Locke, Sandeman, Haldane, and the Bible, Walter Scott came to the conclusion that the Christian faith could be summarized in the statement "Jesus is the Christ." 3 Scott felt this phrase was so significant that he had it written in chalk above the door to his academy. 4The author of the Book of Mormon also believed that phrase was significant. The title page of the Book of Mormon says that its purpose is to convince "the Jew and
2 William Heth Whitsitt, Louisville, Kentucky, to Dr. Worthington C. Ford, Washington D. C., L, 28 August 1908, (on-line); accessed 21 September 2001; available from http://www.sidneyrigdon.com/wht/1891WhtC.htm; Internet.
3 Winfred E. Garrison and Alfred T. DeGroot, The Disciples of Christ: A History, rev. ed. (St. Louis, MO: The Bethany Press, 1958), 182.
4 Whitsitt William Heth Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon: The Real Founder of Mormonism (1886, rev. 1891, TMs), p. 409 (on-line); accessed 19 May 2001; available from http://www.sidneyrigdon.com/wht/1891WhtC.htm; Internet
Gentile that Jesus is the Christ." The specific phrase, "Jesus is the Christ," occurs four times in the Book of Mormon -- Moroni 7:44; Mormon 5:14; and twice in 2 Nephi 26:12. Scott even acknowledged the similarity between his teachings and the usage of that phrase in the Book of Mormon. 5 No doubt Rigdon was influenced by Scott while they served together at the church in Pittsburgh.
The Book of Mormon does seem to accomplish its purpose -- to prove that Jesus is the Christ. The prophecies of the Nephite prophets give far more detail into the birth, ministry death, and resurrection of Jesus that do their Palestinian counterparts. Whitsitt writes,
Those who accept the inspiration of the Book of Mormon can not fail to perceive that the volume is much more clear and definite in foretelling the presence and mission of the Savior of man, than the inspired writings of the Jews. It is no wonder that multitudes of simple people of vulgar common sense should value the production of Mr. Rigdon above any other revelation. 6
The Ancient Gospel
On the 18th of November 1827, Mr. Walter Scott stood up at New Lisbon, Ohio and introduced the long lost "ancient gospel" of baptism for the remission of sins. Scott stressed five points which were essential to the preaching and acceptance of the gospel.There must be the right elements in the right order. He found that the exact steps, authoritatively given as constituting the way to salvation, were these: (1) Faith, the
5 Walter Scott, The Messiahship (Cincinnati: H. S. Bosworth), 6; quoted in Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 411.
6 Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 413-414.
7 Ibid., 459.
persuasion of the mind by rational evidence.... (2) Repentance of sins.... (3) Baptism in obedience to divine command. (4) Remission of Sins, and (5) the gift of the Holy Spirit, both in fulfillment of God's promise, which is conditioned on man's completion of the first three steps. 8
A few months later, Rigdon visited Scott in Warren, Ohio and was soon so impressed with Scott's "discovery" he began preaching it far and wide. Whitsitt writes that Rigdon felt this discovery was so important he had to include it in the Book of Mormon,
He (Rigdon) could not think of permitting a treasure that sat so near his heart to be neglected in the pages of the Book of Mormon; it was above everything... that the "ancient gospel" should make its appearance there. 9
Rigdon had already given the manuscript to Smith. So it would be necessary for him to make some additions to the manuscript. Whitsitt writes that these additions can be found in the books of Third Nephi through Moroni, as well as the last three chapters of Second Nephi. 10 Compare Scott's formula to the following verses.
Turn, all ye Gentiles, from your wicked ways; and repent of your evil doings,... come unto me, and be baptized in my name, that ye may receive a remission of your sins, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.... 11
Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins. 12
And the first fruits of repentance is baptism; and baptism cometh by faith unto the fulfilling the commandments; and the fulfilling the commandments bringeth remission
8 Winfred E. Garrison, An American Religious Movement (St. Louis, MO: The Bethany Press, 1945), 84-85.
9 Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 355.
10 Ibid., 434.
11 3 Nephi 30:2.
12 3 Nephi 12:2b.
of sins; And the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love.... 13
For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. 14
That last reference listed above comes from, what Whitsitt calls, an "appendix" to Second Nephi -- chapters thirty-one through thirty-three. Second Nephi, chapter thirty concludes with the statement "And now, my beloved brethren I make an end of my sayings." Whitsitt believes that verse marked the end of the original book. When Rigdon learned of Scott's "discovery" he went back and added chapters thirty-one through thirty-three as an appendix to the book. These chapters deal almost exclusively with the topics of baptism and the Holy Spirit, and have no apparent connection with the preceding chapters.
It is possible that the author of the Book of Mormon derived his ideas on remission of sins from the Bible. Indeed the Bible does use that terminology.In the New Testament, the word "remission" occurs ten times. It always implies the remission of sins. It is connected with baptism three times. Yet in the Book of Mormon, the word "remission" occurs twenty-eight times. It is used in connection with Baptism seven times. It is obvious then that the idea of "remission" was important to the author of the Book of Mormon. According to Whitsitt, this idea betrays a Sandemanian/Campbellite influence.
13 Moroni 8:25-26; cf. 3 Nephi 11:34; 27:20; 4 Nephi 1:1; Mormon 7:8,10; Moroni 6: 1-4; 8:11.
The immersed Sandemanians of Scotland are the first who made a watchword and battle-cry of the phrase baptism for remission. This was copied by the Campbellites and from them by Mr. Rigdon in behalf of the Mormons. 15
This is a different doctrine from baptismal regeneration which so many other denominations of Christians have proclaimed and is characteristic of the Sandemanians and Campbellites and Mormons. 16
Significantly, the Sandemanians, Campbellite, and Mormons also share other similarities which are not found anywhere else. Before we turn our attention there, compare Scott's formula above to the fourth Article of Faith in Mormon Scriptures.
We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. 17
Other Sandemanian Similarities,Disciple writers Garrison and DeGroot list the following Sandemanian influences which can be found in Campbellism: Restoring the practices of the primitive church; plurality of elders, the weekly Lord's supper; calling the weekly collection
15 William Heth Whitsitt, "Studies in Mormon Theology," part 1 (1885-1887, AMs, Special Collections, Boyce Library, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky), 27.
16 Ibid.," 19. Whitsitt distinguishes between baptismal regeneration and remission as follows. "Baptism was clearly asserted to be necessary to salvation; not in the way of baptismal regeneration, however, but in the way of effecting the remission of sins after the act of mere belief." Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 56.
17 Joseph Smith, Jr. "The Articles of Faith," 4, The Pearl of Great Price (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1982)
18 Whitsitt, "Studies in Mormon Theology," 27.
"the fellowship;" refusing to call Sunday "the Sabbath;" and the intellectual nature of faith. 19 Whitsitt would add the belief in baptism for the remission of sins to this list. Mormonism shares these teachings with the exception of two -- calling the weekly offering "the fellowship," and Mormons refer to Sunday as the Sabbath. I will discuss two of these shared teachings in more detail -- the observance of the Lord's supper and the intellectual nature of faith.
The Lord Supper.
Although Mormons and Campbellites believe in baptismal remission as opposed to baptismal regeneration, they still maintain that baptism is efficacious for salvation. They share the idea that baptism is efficacious with other Christian denominations. However, every Christian group which holds baptism to be efficacious also holds the taking of the sacrament/communion/Lord's supper to be efficacious. According to Whitsitt, only three groups do not -- Sandemanians, Campbellites, and Mormons. He writes,
When the Sandemanian church of New York (city) in the year 1820 sent forth (the) well-known document urging that baptism was designed for the remission of sins, it forgot to employ its ingenuity likewise to discover some biblical authority to elevate the other sacrament to a like dignity.... The Disciples, therefore, were the only body of Christians in existence who allowed the two sacraments to stand on different planes of efficacy; while baptism is efficacious to remit sins, the Lord's Supper is nothing more than a memorial rite.... This dissimilarity touching amount and nature of the efficacy of the two sacraments is an indication of theological unripeness. It was perfectly natural that it should be found in the Book of Mormon, like his master Mr. Rigdon teaches that the bread is merely in remembrance of the body of 'thy Son' (Moroni 4:3), and that the wine is for a like purpose (Moroni 5:2). 20
19Garrison and DeGroot, The Disciples of Christ, 49.
20 Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 455.
Thus, in the Book of Mormon we find another Sandemanian/Campbellite distinction. It teaches Baptism is efficacious but the Lord's Supper is not.
The Intellectual Nature of Faith.
...Sandeman... (taught) that God had not only revealed his truth in terms intelligible to man and provided the means of salvation through Christ, but had also furnished in Scripture adequate evidence of the truth of his revelation, so that the natural man, just as he is, with all his sins, can weight the evidence and accept the truth. That acceptance is faith. Saving faith, said Sandeman, is an act of man's reason, and it differs from any other act of belief only in being belief of a saving fact. ... This view of faith came to have immense importance in the history of the Disciples. 21
Campbell would later summarize this view of faith by saying, "evidence alone produces faith, or testimony is all that is necessary to faith." 22
Based upon this view of faith, Campbell came to the conclusion that it was only through the words of Scripture that the Holy Spirit could convict people of their sins. According to Whitsitt this belief was called the "Word alone system." 23 Whitsitt notes this similarity in the Book of Mormon.
The phrase 'Word alone system' must have been current in the ranks of the Disciples as early as the period of Mr. Rigdon's preeminence among them, for there is a rather distinct allusion to it in the Book of Mosiah 26:15-16: Blessed art thou, Alma, and blessed are they who were baptized in the waters of Mormon. Thou art blessed because of thy exceeding faith in the words alone of my servant Abinadi.
21 Garrison, An American Religious Movement, 23. Cf. Leroy Garrett, The Stone-Campbell Movement, (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Co., 1981), 53-54.
22 Alexander Campbell, Christian Baptist, 6 no. 3 (October 1828), 58; quoted in Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 45.
23 Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 417a-b.
And blessed are they because of their exceeding faith in the words alone, which thou hast spoken unto them." 24
Compare also these references
And also that king Noah and his priests had caused the people to commit so many sins and inquities against God; and they also did mourn for the death of Abinadi; and also for the departure of Alma and the people that went with him, who had formed a church of God through the strength and power of God, and faith on the words which had been spoken by Abinadi. 25
And now I ask of you on what conditions are they saved? Yea, what grounds had they to hope for salvation? What is the cause of their being loosed from the bands of death, yea, and also the chains of hell? Behold, I can tell you -- did not my father Alma believe in the words which were delivered by the mouth of Abinadi? And was he not a holy prophet? Did he not speak the words of God, and my father Alma believe them? And according to his faith there was a mighty change wrought in his heart. Behold I say unto you that this is all true. 26
It is common knowledge that the title "Church of Christ" was commonly used by churches affiliated with Campbell. 27 Campbell was insistent upon "the necessity far a rigidly scriptural name for the church, as an organization to wear." 28 Whitsitt notes that the Book of Mormon takes a similar view. "Like nearly all Disciple literature the Book of
Mormon is amusingly strenuous touching the business of nomenclature." 29 Take, for example, the following verses.
And those who did belong to the church were faithful; yea, all those who were true believers in Christ took upon them, gladly, the name of Christ, or Christians as they were called, because of their belief in Christ who should come. 30
And now it shall come to pass that whosoever shall not take upon them the name of Christ must be called by some other name, therefore he findeth himself on the left hand of God. 31
Whitsitt goes on to note that the Nephite church almost always bears one of two titles, "Church of God' and "Church of Christ." 32 "Church of Christ" is used exclusively after Christ appears to the Nephites in Third Nephi. The title "Church of Christ" is repeated seven times in the Book of Mormon. It should also be noted that the phrase "Church of Christ" is not found in the Bible. When Sidney Rigdon formed his own splinter group in 1844, it was also called "The Church of Christ." 33
ApostasyAlexander Campbell held the view that "all Christian sects are more or less apostatized from the institutions of the Savior." 34 As a result of this view he called for
29 Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 437.
30 Alma 46:15; cf. 3 Nephi 27:3-1.
31 Mosiah 5:10.
32 Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 437.
33 Steven Shields, Divergent Paths of the Restoration, 4" ed., rev. (Los Angeles: Restoration Research, 1990), 37.
34 Dan Vogel, Religious Seekers and the Advent of Mormonism (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1988), in New Mormon Studies (CD-ROM) (Salt Lake City: Smith Research Associates, 1998), 50; see also, Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989), 167.
A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things, in which he urged, first, the abandonment of everything not in use among the early Christians, as creeds and confessions, unscriptural words and phrases, theological theories, etc.; and second, the adoption of everything sanctioned by primitive practice. 35
The author of the Book of Mormon also believed the church had apostatized.
And the angel of the Lord said unto me: Thou hast beheld that the book.... contained the fulness of the gospel of the Lord, of whom the twelve apostles bear record.... And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.... Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God. 36
Opposition to Paid Clergy/Distinction Between Teachers and Preachers
The author of the Book of Mormon continued to follow Campbell's lead in describing the appropriate roles of preachers and teachers. For instance, Campbell was opposed to a paid clergy. 37 So was the author of the Book of Mormon.
And he also commanded them that the priests whom he had ordained should labor with their own hands for their support. 38
Yea, and all their priests and teachers should labor with their own bands for their support, in all cases save it were in sickness, or in much want and doing these things they did abound in the grace of God. 39
35Robert Richardson, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1868), 2:124 (on-line), accessed 18 September 2001; available from http://www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/texts/rrichardson/MAC100.HTM; Internet.
36 1 Nephi 13:24-28; cf. 1 Nephi 12:11ff; 2 Nephi 26:9-10 & Helaman 13:5ff.
37 Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 446-447.
38 Mosiah 18:24.
39 Mosiah 27:5.
Whitsitt notes that Campbell sometimes uses a particular "phrase" when he denounces paid clergymen. This phrase is also found in the Book of Mormon.
Mr. Campbell had a cant phrase that was uncommonly near to his heart... He brings it forward sometimes in season, but most generally out of season, especially when he is discussing the custom of preachers to accept a fixed salary. For example he says: 'Money, I think, may be considered not merely as the bond of union in the popular establishments, but it is really the rock on which the popular churches are built.' It is a small, but for that reason significant circumstance that when Mr. Rigdon comes to denounce the reception of a stated compensation by ministers of the gospel he resorts to this same word 'popular,' employed in the same sense as Mr. Campbell derived it from Sandeman: 'Declaring unto the people that every priest and teacher ought to become popular; and they ought not to labor with their hands, but that they ought to be supported by the people' (Alma 1:3 cf. 35:3 &1 Nephi 22:23). 40
Campbell also seems to have drawn a distinction between the roles of preachers and teachers, He believed that almost anyone could preach, but teaching was a special gift from God, Whitsitt writes,
The distinction between preachers and teachers of religion was a vagary of which the Sandemanians were very fond; it appears in a Sandemanian document which Mr. Campbell held up to be of value enough to be allowed to keep its place in the stereotype edition of the Christian Baptist. 41
40 Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 446-447.
41 Ibid., 439f.
42 2 Nephi 5:26.
43 Mosiah 26:7.
And it came to pass that they were brought before the priests, and delivered up unto the priests by the teachers; and the priests brought them before Alma, who was the high priest. 43
The manner which the disciples, who were called the elders of the church, ordained priests and teachers -- After they had prayed unto the Father in the name of Christ, they laid their hands upon them, and said: In the name of Jesus Christ I ordain you to be a priest, (or, if he be a teacher) I ordain you to be a teacher, to preach repentance and remission of sins through Jesus Christ, by the endurance of faith on his name to the end. Amen. 44
Whitsitt sees this similarity as a further evidence of a connection between Campbell/Rigdon and the Book of Mormon.
This rare flower of the "Bethany dialect" could not escape Mr. Rigdon; he has accordingly adopted it into the Book of Mormon, calling the third class of office-bearers by the name of teachers and not preachers. Nevertheless a 'teacher of Christianity' might be a preacher, just as was true in the case of the apostle Paul; hence in many places Sidney speaks of his teachers as also preaching. Indeed this is the prevailing (image) of the Book of Mormon, and it does not contradict the accepted language of Canaan,...' 45
One final note, after the appearance of Christ in Third Nephi, the author of the Book of Mormon consistently refers to the leaders of the church as "Elders." 46 This title was also used by the Campbellites.
Spiritual giftsScholars agree that the role of spiritual gifts in the church was a major point of contention between Campbell and Rigdon. This issue and their disagreement on the practice of communalism, were the primary reasons Rigdon broke with Campbell.
44 Moroni 3:1-3; cf. Mosiah 25:21; Alma 15:13.
45 Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 439g
46 Moroni 3:1ff.
47 Vogel, Religious Seekers, 165; cf. Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 165.
Whereas Campbell believed that the giving of spiritual gifts ceased with the death of the Apostles, Sidney Rigdon argued that "along with the primitive gospel, supernatural gifts and miracles ought to be restored." 47 Whitsitt writes, "Mr. Rigdon confidently affirmed that Christianity would never be 'restored' until the power of speaking with tongues and working all kinds of miracles was also restored." 48 The Book of Mormon not only affirms the use of spiritual gifts, it condemns those who do not practice them.
Yea, after having been such a highly favored people of the Lord.... Having been visited by the Spirit of God; having conversed with angels, and having been spoken unto by the voice of the Lord; and having the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and also many gifts, the gift of speaking with tongues, and the gift of preaching, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the gift of translation.... 49
Yea, woe unto him that shall deny the revelations of the Lord, and that shall say the Lord no longer worketh by revelation, or by prophecy, or by gifts, or by tongues, or by healings, or by the power of the Holy Ghost! 50
Communalism and Theocracy
The idea of holding all things in common, of which Rigdon was so fond of, is also found in the Book of Mormon.
And they taught, and did minister one to another; and they had all things common among them, every man dealing justly, one with another. 51
And it came to pass in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another. And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich
48 Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 167.
49 Alma 9:20-21; cf. Moroni 7;10.
50 3 Nephi 29:6.
51 3 Nephi 26:19.
poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift. 52
Whitsitt credits Rigdon for introducing this idea into Mormon theology. Rigdon believed that the New Testament taught communism/communalism (cf. Acts 2:44-45), and that it should be 'restored,' Campbell held that communism/communalism was not an 'essential.' 53
Undeterred by Campbell's opposition, Rigdon began experimenting with communalism in February of 1830 when he organized six families on the farm of Isaac Morley to covenant with each other to renounce private property and share all goods. By October 1830 the group numbered more than 100 individuals. 54
Rigdon's penchant for communalism would later evolve into a quest he shared with Smith to build "Zion" on the American continent and set up a theocracy. Mormon writer Van Wagoner notes,
Mormonism in its purest distillation is the fused product of Joseph Smith's and Sidney Rigdon's revolutionary thinking condensed into the prophet's revelations. Their joint vision recast existing American social, economic, and political systems into an apocalyptic model they called Zion. Faced with the uncertainty, if not the menace of the future, their followers were drawn from daily routines into a larger-than-life existence in which the group's endeavors took on an epic quality. 55
52 4 Nephi 1:2-3; cf. 4 Nephi 1:25, Mosiah 18:27-28; 27:3; Alma 1:26.
53 Daryl Chase, "Sidney Rigdon -- Early Mormon" (M.A. diss., The University of Chicago, 1931), p. 201.
54 Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, Inc., 1994), in New Mormon Studies (CD-ROM) (Salt Lake City: Smith Research Associates, 1998), 50.
55 Ibid., 142.
56 Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 615a-b.
It was a leading item of Mr. Rigdon's scheme from the onset to establish a theocracy; he could not perceive how else it would be possible to "speak where the Scriptures speak," at least in the Old Testament portion of the record. By consequence a theocracy is often with sufficient clearness intimated in the Book of Mormon; it is likewise provided for in the earlier Sections of the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. 56
In harmony with this insane conception Mr. Rigdon declared in a discourse delivered on the 6th of April 1844: "When God sets up a system of salvation he sets up a system of government. When I speak of a government I mean what I say; I mean a government that shall rule over spiritual and temporal affairs. For it has been a universal mistake to suppose that salvation is distinct from government" The Mormon church was expected to supplant every other form of government as the sole condition of salvation. 57
Whitsitt is convinced that the majority of the troubles that the Mormons faced were not a result of their theology, but their communal/theocratical practices. He writes,
The source of all the woes of the Mormon church must be sought in the fact that it is a theocracy of the highest grade. In keeping with a vicious tendency, inherited from the Disciples and the Sandemanians, but much accelerated in its own hands, it has literalized the Scriptures so far that it expects to introduce into modern society the same relations as prevailed in Israel more than twenty-five hundred years ago, where the state was nothing but a handmaid of the religious establishment. 58
This Theocracy is the most important fact that comes to sight in the annals of Mormonism; it is the source of all the distresses that they have hitherto experience. Their theocracy has always rendered it impossible for the Mormons to live at peace with their neighbors.... 59
57 Ibid., 883.
58 Ibid., 882.
59 Ibid., 1303.
Colonel Pitcher, one of the principles in the Missouri difficulties, gave a newspaper writer an interview in 1881 on the troubles in Jackson County, where he had resided since 1826. He stated that Mormons and old settlers got along well until W. W. Phelps began to publish "the so called revelations of Joseph Smith" in The Morning and Evening Star. "The Mormons, as a rule," he wrote, were an ignorant and a fanatical people, though there were some very intelligent men among them. The troubles of 1833, which led to their expulsion from the county, were originated by these fanatics making boasts that they intended to possess the entire county, saying that God had promised it to them and they were going to have it. This of course caused ill feeling toward them, which continued to grow more and more bitter, until the final uprising.
One can argue that the potential for the Mormon theocracy was alluded to in the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon promises that the Lord is going to reestablish "Zion." 61 It also pronounces a blessing on those who "seek to bring forth Zion." 62 "Zion" in Mormon theology is equivalent with the Kingdom of God on Earth. The practice of "holding all things in common" is included in the idea of "Zion." The reader will recall that Smith and Rigdon's goal was to establish "Zion" in Missouri.
Other areasTranslation of the Scriptures. In January 1826, Campbell published his "translation" 63 of the New Testament. This translation had attracted much notice on the part of his followers. By 1834 the fourth edition of this work was in print. Not to be outdone, Smith and Rigdon began working on their own "translation" of the Scriptures.
60 Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, 145.
61 3 Nephi 21:1, cf. Mosiah 12:22.
62 Nephi 13:37.
63 This translation was made by George Campbell, James MacKnight, and Philip Doddridge, published in Great Britain, to which Campbell made various emendations added a preface critical notes, and appendices.
It is true that Smith began working on this "translation" several months before he "met" Rigdon in December 1830. However, if Whitsitt's belief, that the two were already working together in collusion, is true, then it is possible that it was Rigdon's idea to produce their own version.
Whitsitt points out two significant similarities between Campbell's edition and that of Rigdon/Smith's. One, both use the word, "Testimony" in the titles of the Gospels, for example, "The Testimony of Matthew" as opposed to "The Gospel of Matthew." 64
Campbell always preferred the usage of the word "testimony" when referring to the Gospels. Two, both do away with special pronouns addressing deity. 65
Baptism for the dead. Although Whitsitt credits Smith for teaching Baptism for the dead, he reminds us that it was the "literalizing" principle" of Campbell through Rigdon, "where the Scriptures speak we speak that laid the foundation for Baptism for the dead, I Corinthians 15:7 was all of the foundation they needed.
Endowments. The first ordinance conducted in the Kirtland temple was a foot-washing ceremony This ceremony is another aspect of Sandemanian theology that Rigdon learned while serving with Walter Scott at his church in Pittsburgh. This ceremony was the precursor to the later temple ceremonies that Smith developed after he joined the Masons.Polygamy. Whitsitt holds that the revelation on polygamy was originally a "spiritual wife" system in which the marriage relationship was to take place in eternity
64 Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 741-742.
65 Whitsitt, "Studies in Mormon Theology," 41.
not here. It is obvious that Rigdon was adamantly opposed to polygamy. He condemns it in the Book of Mormon. Whitsitt credits Rigdon for inserting the revelation on monogamy in the early editions of the D&C while Smith was away. He speculates that allowing the revelation on eternal marriage was a compromise between Rigdon and Smith, with Rigdon thinking that the marriage was to be in effect after death. Smith evidently had other plans and was more than willing to enjoy the advantages of multiple partners on this side of the grave.
Whitsitt credits Rigdon for keeping polygamy under cover in Nauvoo. Joseph wanted to make it public and practice it openly but Rigdon would not let him. When Smith tried to remove Rigdon as his counselor, Rigdon made a successful appeal and was sustained in spite of Joseph's wishes. 66
Swedenborg. Whitsitt traces the origin of a great many Mormon doctrines to the teachings of Emmanuel Swedenborg. Among these are, polygamy, the three heavens, the eternal nature of matter, anthropomorphism, and polytheism. 67 Since it is impossible to determine whether it was Smith or Rigdon who introduced these teachings into Mormonism, this position will not be discussed further. The possible influence of Swedenborg on Mormonism would be an interesting research topic for future scholars to pursue.
In concluding the above section, it is rather obvious that there are some significant similarities between the theology of the Campbellites and early Mormonism. It can be argued that these similarities came as a result of Rigdon' s influence after he converted
to Mormonism in 1830. Since many of these beliefs can be found in the Book of Mormon, then it can be argued that the author of the Book of Mormon was familiar with the teachings of Campbell and Scott. Whitsitt would say that person was Sidney Rigdon This next section will argue that point.
ConclusionWe will let Whitsitt speak for himself.
The main end of the work as declared in terms upon the title page... is to sustain... that "Jesus is the Christ." The pains to which Sidney is pleased to submit in executing that portion of the business are truly admirable, and from beginning to end unremitting.... The Disciple gospel is also found in the Book of Mormon.... It is out of the question that Mr. Joseph Smith who had scarcely heard of the existence of the Disciples should have been capable of producing this nice agreement....
The ordo salutis inculcated in the second redaction, namely, 1. Faith, 2. Repentance, 3. Baptism, 4. Remission, 5. The Holy Ghost, is the same as the Disciples' affirm and maintain...
The fact that baptism is allowed to stand upon a higher plane as regards its efficacy than the other sacrament, which is held to be a mere memorial rite, is an expression... which can be met with nowhere else except among the Disciples and the Mormons....
The Book of Mormon strenuously and repeatedly insists upon the same
nomenclature as the Disciples. Both alike affirm that individual believers should be known as 'Christians', and the church in its collective capacity as 'The Church of Christ.'
Opposition against a fixed salary for preachers of the gospel was common to the Book of Mormon and to the Disciples of the period when it was composed.
The use of the cant expressions popular' and 'teacher' and 'words alone' in senses that occur in the Book of Mormon would not have been natural to any other than a person who chanced to be well schooled in the so-called 'Bethany dialect.'The particulars above displayed, embrace very nearly all the peculiarities which distinguish the Disciples from other Christian communities. The fact that they are all reproduced in the Book of Mormon is believed to be significant.... The points that have been detailed show that the Book of Mormon could have been constructed by no other than (the) hand of a Disciple theologian, the single point in which that
production goes beyond the position of the Disciples will fix its authorship upon Mr. Rigdon.... This single point is displayed in the emphasis that is laid upon gifts of the spirit.... Among all the various leaders of the Disciples there is not but Sidney who has been charged with a violent inclination in that direction.... Therefore the conclusion is here firmly held that while the theology of the Book of Mormon unhesitatingly points to a Disciple author.... In few words, the theological contents of the Book of Mormon are of such a complexion that... no other person in the world -- except Sidney Rigdon could have or would have fashioned them. In the entire range of Mormon literature the present is the only instance where the Book of Mormon has been subjected to a serious and systematic investigation in order to elicit from its own statements the secret of its origin. This investigation and this result comprise the most notable addition which the present volume contributes to the sum of information regarding Mormonism. 68
A Pious Fraud
It is clear that the internal evidence of the Book of Mormon indicates a distinct Campbellite influence. In Whitsitt's mind this influence could have come from none other than Rigdon. Still, one must ask the question, "Why would Rigdon desire to create such a book?" Whitsitt believes that it was Rigdon's intention to create a "pious fraud" along the lines of the pseudepigraphal writings of the post-apostolic era, in order to prove the tenets that he, Campbell, and Scott were proclaiming. Whitsitt writes, "He (Rigdon) wanted it (The Book of Mormon) to demonstrate that 'the Christian religion had been preached in this country during the first century, just as they were at the moment preaching it on 'The Western Reserve.'" 69
Whitsitt gives the following reasons for his belief that the Book of Mormon is a pious fraud.
1. The author distinctly places the Book of Mormon on a level with the Bible (2 Nephi 3:12; 1 Nephi 13:40). 2. He boasts in many passages of the plainness of his prophecies. (2 Nephi 31:3; 33:6) and asserts, what is quite true, that they are plainer
68 Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 459-465.
69 Ibid., 355.
even than the predictions of Isaiah (2 Nephi 25:4,7) 3. These prophecies are also declared with truth, I apprehend, to be more numerous than those contained in the Christian Scriptures (1 Nephi 13:23). 4. It is common for Mormons to speak of the Book of Mormon as the fulness of the gospel. 5. The Bible is being represented as incomplete through the wickedness of a great and abominable church; which abstracted many plain and precious things from its contents. (1 Nephi 13:32). 70
Whitsitt also does not begrudge Rigdon the success of his work in constructing a pious fraud. He writes,
Among the many pious frauds which are preserved in historical records the work of Rigdon, when judged according to its merits and without prejudice, will always hold an honorable position. It is not a dull and stupid production as has been so often charged by those who were not in possession of the key to it; on the contrary the work has been quite well done and is everywhere worthy of study. 71
Whitsitt was the first writer to demonstrate the significant Campbellite influences in Mormon theology. He was not the last. The Story of the Mormons, by William Linn, published in 19; George Arbaugh's Revelation in Mormonism published in 1932; and Joseph White's 1947 thesis, "The Influence of Sidney Rigdon upon the Theology of Mormonism," are three examples of writers who echoed Whitsitt's arguments even though they were unfamiliar with his writings.In response, scholars who favor Smith as the author of the Book of Mormon have gone to great lengths to demonstrate that Joseph Smith could have been familiar with a restorationist theotogy similar to Campbell's.
70 Whitsitt, "Studies in Mormon Theology," part 5, 8.
71 Ibid., 7.
Jan Shipps argues that the similarities between Mormon and Campbellite theology are "more apparent than real." Campbell deduced his arguments from the Scriptures in a "completely 'rational' fashion." Whereas, the foundation for the Mormon faith is found in the revelation of new Scripture which must be accepted on non-rational grounds. 72 However, if one accepts Whitsitt's notion that the Book of Mormon was Rigdon's attempt to canonize Campbell's teachings, then the similarities are indeed real.Other scholars, such as Dan Vogel, argue that what Campbell and Scott taught was part of a greater restorationist milieu; and that the theology of the Book of Mormon reflects this broader background, not just Campbell and Scott's teachings. In the book, Religious Seekers and the Advent of Mormonism, Vogel identifies some of the characteristics of this broader milieu. These include: a belief in the apostasy of the church and the need for a restoration. Some groups, such as Campbell's, believed that the restoration only needed to be a theological one. Others believed that, not only was a theological correction needed, but also, a restoration of the authority to act in God's name, completed with apostles and prophets; 73 A rejection of paid clergy, 74 the necessity for spiritual gifts; 75 an open canon; 76 the proper name of the church should contain
72 Jan Shipps, Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition (Urbana: The University of Illinois Press, 1985), 72-74.
73 Vogel Religious Seekers, p. x.
74 Ibid., 80ff.
75 Ibid., 85.
76 Ibid., 159.
the name "Christ" or "Christian;" 77 and even communalism. Vogel points out that Joseph Smith's uncle was the leader of a communal experiment in New Brunswick. 78
Vogel goes on to dismiss the idea that smith may have been influenced by Campbell via Rigdon. He writes,
Because of the similarity between Mormonism and some of the teachings of Alexander Campbell, some writers have suggested that Smith purloined his primitive gospel from the Campbellites via Sidney Rigdon. This assertion suffers on several counts. First, it fails to recognize the differences between Campbell's and Rigdon's views. Second, Joseph Smith was exposed to Primitivism and Seekerism early in life through his parents and others. And third, Gospel Primitivism and Seekerism appeared in the Book of Mormon long before Rigdon came in contact with Mormonism. 79
The first and third arguments listed above can be dismissed easily if one believes that Rigdon was the author of the Book of Mormon and had access to Smith prior to his "conversion." However, the second argument, that Joseph Smith was exposed to this theological milieu through his parents, does have some merit. Virtually all of Smith's biographers mention the fact that his parents especially his father, were inclined to the "seeker" movements whose theological positions were mentioned above.
Do these arguments provide a sufficient explanation for the theology of the Book of Mormon or is Whitsitt's explanation more convincing? Before I answer that question let me pose a few more.Why does the Book of Mormon teach baptism for the remission of sins, but this doctrine is not found in any of Smith's revelations until March of 1830? Whitsitt goes on to note that there is a significant absence of Campbellite (or seeker/restorationist)
77 Ibid., 137ff.
78 Ibid., 173.
79 Ibid., 41.
theology present in Smith's revelations prior to his official meeting with Rigdon. 80 Yet the Book of Mormon is full of it.
Why does the Book of Mormon condemn the baptism of infants (Moroni 8:9 et al.), but Joseph Smith later received a revelation that said John the Baptist was baptized as an infant (D&C 84:28); and also a revelation that children should be baptized at age eight (D&C 68:25)? Whitsitt argues that this inconsistency indicates Smith was influenced by Methodist teaching, of which Smith, himself admitted being partial to, and the revelation to baptize children at age eight was a compromise between Smith and Rigdon.
If Rigdon did not have a hand in compiling the Book of Mormon, how do you explain 2 Nephi 3:18, which predicts that Smith will have a spokesman?
It is true that Rigdon and Campbell disagreed on some issues -- especially communalism and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Why does the Book of Mormon always reflect Rigdon's views and not those of Campbell?
Why does the Book of Mormon contain Walter Scott's idea of Baptism for the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Ghost?It is obvious that someone familiar with Campbell's theology had a hand in the creation of the Book of Mormon. To those scholars who maintain that Joseph Smith was the author of the Book of Mormon, Whitsitt writes, "The Disciple gospel is also found in the Book of Mormon.... It is out of the question that Mr. Joseph Smith who had scarcely
80 Whitsitt, "Studies in Mormon Theology," 17.
heard of the existence of the Disciples should have been capable of producing this nice agreement." 81
Admittedly, some of Whitsitt's connections are tenuous. However, the overwhelming theological similarities cannot be easily dismissed. Let us not forget the other writers who have came to the same conclusion independent of Whitsitt.
What of Whitsitt's assertion that the last three chapters of 1 Nephi were an appendix and four of the last five books of the Book of Mormon were the books Rigdon edited the most. It seems that the preponderance of the Campbellite theology can be found in those books and sporadically in the books of Mosiah and Alma. The rest of the Book of Mormon seems to be suspiciously devoid of any Campbellite theology. Not only that but some verses seem contradictory.
Take the following verses for instance.
For behold, this is my church; whosoever is baptized shall be baptized unto repentance and whomsoever ye receive shall believe in my name; and him will I freely forgive. 82
I speak by way of command unto you that belong to the church: and unto those who do not belong to the church I speak by way of invitation, saying: Come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye also may be partakers of the fruit of the tree of life. 83
And it came to pass that in this same year there was exceedingly great prosperity in the church, insomuch that there were thousands who did join themselves unto the church and were baptized unto repentance, 84
81 Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 459.
82 Mosiah 26:22.
83 Alma 5:62; cf. 6:2; 7:14; 8:10; 9:27; 48:19; 49:30.
84 Hel. 3:24; cf. 3:24; 5:17,19.
Notice that all of these verses describe baptism "unto repentance." None of them say anything about a "remission" of sins, or the gift of the Holy Spirit. It almost indicates that there were not one, but two theological positions at work the Book of Mormon. Whitsitt would suggest that this discrepancy is a result of Rigdon changing his views after hearing of Scott's discovery. It could also demonstrate that two separate editors were involved in the work. Either way, there does seem to be evidence that the final editor was trying to reconcile these two views in the later books. "And Nephi did cry unto the people in the commencement of the thirty and third year; and he did preach unto them repentance and remission of sins." 85
Still, if one regards the Book of Mormon to be a nineteenth-century production, then they must also acknowledge that there are theological inconsistencies in it of which the above is just one example. These inconsistencies point to two possible scenarios: One, as Whitsitt points out, Rigdon got a manuscript, added to it, changed his mind but could not change the whole manuscript so he simply added additional material. Two, a multiplicity of authors, with differing theological viewpoints, performing separate redactions upon the manuscript were working in collusion. For if one author was working subsequent to the other he could have easily changed the other's work. Both of these scenarios can support the idea that Rigdon was the "real founder of Mormonism."Finally Whitsitt notes, "Few changes have occurred either in the doctrine or the practices of the Mormons since Rigdon quitted the church in the year 1844. The system of
85 3 Nephi 7:23; cf. Moroni 8: 11,25.
Mormon theology has been preserved almost entirely as :e formed and left it." 86
In conclusion, the vast majority of scholars will admit that Sidney Rigdon exerted a tremendous amount of influence over the theology of early Mormonism. Van Wagoner writes,
Together Rigdon and Smith, in a theological partnership, led a nineteenth-century religious revolution that is still on-going in many respects. Rigdon's role in the birth of Mormonism was substantial, yet the lion's share of his contribution has been obscured by official alteration of original records. Once the hierarchy began to tidy up Mormon history, Rigdon was swept out the back door. Serving as Smith's chief aide and collaborator, Rigdon participated in virtually every major Mormon endeavor, except polygamy, and helped to shape many of the distinctive practices and teachings of the 1830s. Few Latter-day Saints cast a larger shadow on the church's history. 87
86 Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 1301.
87 Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, ix.
The purpose of this thesis was to examine critically William Whitsitt's claim that Sidney Rigdon was the "real founder of Mormonism," and to argue that Whitsitt's research is an extremely valuable contribution to the understanding of the origins of Mormonism. I went on to identify his most significant contributions. One, his was the first scholarly treatment of Mormonism. 1 Two, Whitsitt demonstrated that Rigdon likely had a connection with Smith prior to his "conversion" in 1830. Three, Whitsitt demonstrated that Campbellite theology can be found in the Book of Mormon. Four, as a result of Whitsitt's findings, Rigdon's role in early Mormonism needs to be reevaluated, and the Spaulding-Rigdon theory needs to be reexamined. Five, Whitsitt's most significant contribution is that Mormonism was founded by sincere, albeit extremely misguided, individuals who believed they were restoring authentic Christianity. Let me summarize my arguments.The information presented on Whitsitt in Chapter two clearly demonstrates that Whitsitt had the credentials to undertake a scholarly study of Mormonism. In connecting Rigdon with Smith prior to his conversion, Whitsitt demonstrates, from eyewitness
1 Some may point out that Sir Richard Burton and Hubert Howe Bancroft had published earlier works on Mormonism. While these men were scholars in their own right, neither were theologians and they both lacked Whitsitt's academic training.
accounts and internal evidence in the Book of Mormon, that Rigdon had foreknowledge of that book, and the book seemed to contain a prediction of his role in the movement as well. 2 Whitsitt also demonstrates that Rigdon had motive and opportunity to edit the book.
Whitsitt demonstrates that the Book of Mormon does contain Campbellite theology. He notes that the Campbellite beliefs regarding nomenclature, the "order of salvation," beliefs in baptism and the Lord's Supper, the role of clergy, and the intellectual nature of faith are all found in the Book of Mormon. He demonstrates that the Book of Mormon contains Rigdon's beliefs in the areas of spiritual gifts and communalism. Whitsitt points out the theological inconsistencies in the Book of Mormon and argues that those inconsistencies resulted from Rigdon's two redactions of the book, before and after Scott's "discovery." He also used textual evidence to prove that the Book of Mormon contains later interpolations, such as the appendix to 2 Nephi and the last five books in the Book of Mormon.
Based upon these findings it is indeed necessary that Rigdon's role be re-evaluated and the Spalding-Rigdon theory be reexamined. I will discuss the validity of possible objections to this assertion in the next section.Most important, I still contend that Whitsitt's assertions -- that Mormonism was founded by sincere men who really believed they were restoring Christ's church, and that the Book of Mormon was a pious fraud designed to establish their claim, are his most significant contributions to the study of Mormon origins. Whitsitt first postulated this
2 2 Nephi 3:18 says that the Lord will raise up a spokesman for Joseph Smith. See also 2 Nephi 8: 19-20 this reference is a quotation of Isaiah 52:19-20. However, the subject is changed from two "things" in Isaiah to two "sons" in 2 Nephi Whitsitt sees this change as a reference to Smith and Rigdon.
idea one hundred and twenty years ago, and from a non-Mormon perspective it is still a novel idea today. Any future scholarship on Mormon origins which does not include this perspective will be incomplete.
Although Whitsitt insisted that his work could stand on its own merits even if the Spalding-Rigdon theory was totally debunked; since he relied on that theory to provide a framework for his own, many people will dismiss Whitsitt's work as a rehash of the Spalding-Rigdon theory. As we have already noted, "The weight of scholarly studies since Fawn Brodie's seminal 1945 No Man Knows My History biography of Joseph Smith has all but eliminated the Spalding theory and Rigdon's complicity." 3 One wonders if scholars have relied too heavily on Brodie's assessment of the Spalding theory?Brodie makes the following arguments against the Spalding-Rigdon theory. One, the story is based upon the assumption that Joseph Smith was unable to write the Book of Mormon. She goes on to note that me book is almost identical with Smith's later writings. Two, if Rigdon wrote the Book of Mormon, why did he let Smith take all of the credit? Three, the affidavits collected and published in Howe's book,
3 Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, Inc., 1994), in New Mormon Studies (CD-ROM) (Salt Lake City: Smith Research Associates, 1998), 137.
where the Spalding-Rigdon theory started, are too similar to be authentic. Four, there was probably only one Manuscript Found written and that manuscript was the one discovered in Honolulu, Hawaii which did not match the Book of Mormon. Five, there is no proof that Rigdon ever lived in Pittsburgh prior to 1822 and he had no access to the manuscript. Six, there were only two people ever claimed that they saw Rigdon meeting with Joseph Smith prior to his conversion in 1830. And these two men made their statements fifty years after the fact. 4These arguments can be rebutted rather easily and Whitsitt rebuts most of them in his work. One, Joseph Smith's ability to write the Book of Mormon was not a factor in the formation of the Spalding theory. For example, Alexander Campbell initially believed that Smith was the author and then later changed his mind. 5 Two, Whitsitt's work explains why Rigdon allowed Smith to take the credit. Three, the affidavits in Howe's book do appear to be similar. However, they were published during the lifetimes of the people who made them and no one ever claimed they were misrepresented. Also, additional affidavits confirming the same facts were subsequently published in other newspaper articles. 6 Four, the idea that there war only one Manuscript found is simply a matter of personal opinion and contradicts the affidavits of other
4 Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 2nd ed. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971), 442-456.
5 Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 131.
6 James Gordon Bennett, "Reports on Mormons," New York City Morning Courier and Enquirer, 31 August 1831 (on-line), accessed 12 October 2001; available from http://home1.gte.net/dbroadhu/RESTOR/Lib/Ben1831a.htm; Internet.
witnesses. Five, Whitsitt demonstrates that it was possible for Rigdon to have accessed the manuscript after he moved to Pittsburgh in 1822. Six, there were other eyewitnesses linking Rigdon and Smith besides these two gentlemen. 7 For a full rebuttal of Brodie's arguments see Broadhurst's article on-line. 8
In lieu of the Spalding-Rigdon theory, Brodie postulated that Smith and Cowdery wrote the Book of Mormon by using the Bible and another book entitled View of the Hebrews. And indeed there are some similarities between the Book of Mormon and View of the Hebrews. According to Van Wagoner,
The prevailing theory among current secular historians, however, is that Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews, first published seven years before the Book of Mormon, was probably a principal source -- perhaps second only to the Bible -- from which Smith and Cowdery, not Rigdon, formulated the Book of Mormon narrative. The similarities between the two works seem to be too substantial to be mere coincidence. The major thesis of each is to explain the origin of the American Indian. Chapters in each relate the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of Israel.... Vast portions of the Book of Isaiah are quoted extensively in each work.... Both discuss polygamy, seers and prophets, and the use of breastplates and Urim and Thummim. In each account, sacred records, handed down front generation to generation, are buried in a hill, then discovered years later. The characters inscribed on the gold plates of the Book of Mormon were reportedly 'Reformed Egyptian' whereas View of the Hebrews discusses evidence of Egyptian Hieroglyphics.' 9
7 See, Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism (New York: Appleton, 1867).
8 Dale Broadhurst, "Tannerism -- Reality or Shadow?" (article on-line); accessed, 12 October 2001; available from http://solomonspalding.com/tanrpg/TanrRev1.htm; Internet.
9 Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, 463-464.
Ethan Smith's writings just the opposite appears to be true, 10 It could very well be that Spalding wrote his manuscript based on View of the Hebrews. Add to this idea, an assertion made by Dale Broadhurst that Spalding may have had a connection with Thomas and Alexander Campbell.
Spalding was in Washington Co., PA at the same time the Campbells were doing much of their religious innovating. In fact, Spalding seems to have spent the winter of 1813 in the home of a Campbellite named Samuel Wilson -- and there rewrote his 'Manuscript Found,' perhaps even incorporating subtle anti Campbellite satire and rhetoric, taken back to pre-Columbian times in America. Spalding may have inserted such indirect references to radical 'Campbellism' into his book in order to capture the attention of (probably) anti-Campbellite, Robert Patterson, the Presbyterian minister of Pittsburgh.
In fact, Rigdon may have initially been attracted to Spalding's writings, not just because they gave a pre-Columbian origin for a latter day "gathering of Israel" in the Americas -- as a prelude to the millennium -- but, because he misread all of Spalding's subtle spoofs on Campbellism as being actual support for a radical sort of Campbellism. 11
It is quite evident that the Spalding-Rigdon theory, though not currently popular with scholars, is still tenable. And one needs only to log-on to one of Broadhurst's web sites, SolomonSpalding.com or SidneyRigdon.com to see the hundreds of books, newspaper articles, and papers which support the theory. Since that theory may still have some validity to it, scholars have no reason to dismiss Whitsitt's findings simply because of his limited reliance upon it.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle Whitsitt's work has to overcome is Rigdon's constant denial that he had anything to do with the writing and publication of the Book of Mormon.
According to Rigdon's son Wycliffe, Rigdon told him,
My son, I will swear before God that what I have told you about the Book of Mormon is true. I did not write or have anything to do with its production, and if Joseph Smith ever got that (i.e., the Book of Mormon), other (than) from that which he always told me.... Smith guarded his secret well, for he never let me know by word or action that he got them differently, and I believe he did find them as he said, and that Joe Smith was a prophet, and this world will find it out some day.
Wycliffe went on to comment,
I was surprised, (for he was) smarting under what he thought was the ingratitude of the Church for turning him down and not having been with them for over 25 years. I must believe he thought he was telling the truth. He was at this time in full possession of his faculties. What object had he in concealing the fact any longer if he did write it? My father died in 1876 at the age of 83, a firm believer in the Mormon Church.12
In another statement, cited by Van Wagoner, Rigdon declares,
I testify in the presence of this congregation, and before God and all the Holy Angels up yonder, (pointing towards heaven), before whom I expect to give account at the judgment day, that never saw a sentence of the Book of Mormon, I never penned a sentence of the Book of Mormon, I never knew that there was such a book in existence as the Book of Mormon, until it was presented to me by Parley P. Pratt, in the form that it now is. 13
Rigdon's denials do raise some questions. If Rigdon did not even know "that there was such a book in existence as the Book of Mormon" prior to receiving it from Parley Pratt, how does one account for his foreknowledge of the Book of Mormon as attested to by Atwater, Campbell, and the others? Broadhurst writes,
Rigdon almost certainly knew at least something about Smith, the Gold Plates, etc., prior to his meeting with Cowdery and Pratt at the end of 1830. If Rigdon covered up knowing a little about the origins of Mormonism, perhaps he covered up a lot. I do not think that it was ever to his advantage to speak about what he knew on that
12 Karl Keller, "I Never Knew a Time When I Did not Know Joseph Smith": A Son's Record of the Life and Testimony of Sidney Rigdon," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 1 no, 4 (1966): 41, in New Mormon Studies (CD-ROM) (Salt Lake City: Smith Research Associates, 1998).
13 Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, 133.
subject. But when he did say things, he seems to have used a kind of self-justifying language which allows for some pretty large loopholes. Perhaps that was his concept of being truthful -- rather like Bill Clinton -- I don't know for sure. 14
Whitsitt also points out that when Howe published his book and suggested that Rigdon was connected to the Book of Mormon manuscript, Rigdon did not make any public denials. That responsibility was left up to Parley Pratt who published a booklet in response to Howe, entitled, Mormonism Unveiled. 15
Still, as his son Wycliffe points out, "What object had he in concealing the fact any longer if he did write it?" A possible answer to this question may be found in a letter I read in the Seminary archives. This letter was addressed to Dr. Whitsitt. It was written by C. H. Moore, an attorney in Clinton, Illinois, who claimed to have known Rigdon "very well while he was in Mentor and Kirtland," Ohio. In this letter, Mr. Moore writes that "Rigdon in his quarrel with Taylor, Young, Kimball and others, immediately after Joe Smith was murdered, threatened them with telling the whole story, they dared him to do it, with dark [hints] as the consequences." 16 Perhaps Rigdon maintained his denials out of fear for his own safety.Let us assume for a moment that Rigdon's denials were legitimate. Would that then destroy Whitsitt's argument? It would only impact one aspect of his argument, namely that Sidney Rigdon was the primary agent. Earlier in his research, Whitsitt only
14 Dale Broadhurst, to Bryan Ready, 20 March 2001, E-mail.
15 William Heth Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon: The Real Founder of Mormonism (1886, rev. 1891, TMs), p. 204-l (on-line); accessed 19 May 2001; available from http://www.sidneyrigdon.com/wht/l891WhtC.htm; Internet.
16 C. H. Moore, Clinton, Illinois, to William Heth Whitsitt, Louisville, Kentucky, 18 May 1886, ALS, Special Collections, Boyce Library, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville.
claimed that Mormonism was founded by "apostate Campbellites." 17 It was not until later that he singled out Rigdon. Therefore, if Rigdon was not involved in the project, one needs to look no further than to Parley Pratt. Pratt was a Campbellite lay-preacher and disciple of Rigdon's who shared his views. Pratt's overnight conversion to Mormonism in the summer of 1830 has already been alluded to in this thesis. It is obvious that he was in on the planning. If Rigdon was not the primary agent, maybe Pratt was? However, the strongest evidence still points to Rigdon.
During my study of Whitsitt's work, I have identified four major weaknesses.
17 William Heth Whitsitt, "Notes on Mormonism" (1880's, AMs, Special Collections, Boyce Library, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY), 5.
references from the Book of Mormon which Whitsitt cites as evidence of Campbellite theology, because I just could not see it in the text. I do not know if the problem is mine since I am not as familiar as Whitsitt was of Campbell's teaching, or as expertly trained in source criticism, or if Whitsitt occasionally slipped into eisegesis instead of exegesis.
Three, the inflammatory epithets Whitsitt gives m the subjects he is writing about. He calls them coward, simpleton, knave, ignoramus, boob, mad, vulgar, arrogant, and stupid. He refers to the theology and practice of Mormonism as "stupid nonsense," "a cancer," and "freakish." Whitsitt does not reserve this vocabulary for Mormons alone; he also applies the same terminology, at times, to Campbellites, and even Baptists. One would not expect to find this type of language in a scholarly work; and the presence of such language in his writings will cause many who read his work today to dismiss him as another writer with a vendetta against Mormonism.
Fourth, verbosity. His manuscript on Rigdon is over fourteen hundred pages long. Whitsitt wrote that "It was so full of detail that it will never go." 18 He repeats many of the same details over and over again. The work probably could be shortened by a third with proper editing.It could also be said that, as a biography of Sidney Rigdon, his work falls short. The details of Rigdon's life prior to his connection with Campbell are sketchy at best The details of his life after he left Mormonism are virtually non-existent. The work could better be described as a look at the origins of Mormonism.
18 William Heth Whitsitt, "Excerpts -- Diary of William Heth Whitsitt," TD (photocopy), Mary Whitsitt Whitehead, ed., June 16, 1887, Special Collections, Dr. Elaine Ozment, Corbin, Kentucky.
In spite of these weaknesses, Whitsitt does provide some extremely fascinating insights into the origin of Mormonism. In addition to those already mentioned in this thesis, Whitsitt comments on the events behind the founding of the church taking place in Manchester not Fayette, New York; the geography of the Book of Mormon being set in a Central and South American setting as opposed to the contemporary theory of his day that it took place in North America; Whitsitt asserts that if the people in Independence, Missouri had not driven out the Mormons, the movement might have disintegrated because there was a tremendous amount of rivalry between Mormon settlements in Missouri and Ohio; Whitsitt believes that Joseph Smith was the originator of the Adam-God doctrine; he provides an interesting analysis of the evolution of the Mormon Priesthood; he writes that the goal of the Mormon theocracy was to overthrow the governments of the state and the country.
Ultimately, the strength of this work is that its author was a consummate scholar. It contains references to more than fifty works. Whitsitt admitted in his journal that he had read the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants more than twenty times. 19 Though some may disagree with its arguments, no one can dispute the amount of tedious, time-consuming research found within its pages. This leads me to one final question -- Why did Whitsitt undertake this study of Mormonism?
Whitsitt's MotivationBroadhurst suggests that Whitsitt began his study of Rigdon "as an offshoot of his personal vendetta against Campbell and Scott." 20 Broadhurst notes that Campbell
19 Ibid., Dec. 10, 1885.
20 Broadhurst to Ready, 19 April 2001, E-mail.
drew many Baptists into his movement, including some relatives of Whitsitt, and Broadhurst thinks that Whitsitt may have taken this defection personally.
I really do not believe this defection was a factor. Although it is obvious that Whitsitt regarded the Campbells and Scott as being somewhat foolish, I do not think he had a personal vendetta against them or any of their followers. For example, he writes in the Preface to his second edition of Origin of the Disciples of Christ.
The purpose to deliver an attack against the Disciples of Christ is expressly disclaimed; the author's only aim has been to supply a truthful version of an important chapter in American Church History.... 21
Consider also, this reference to the Campbellites in Whitsitt's unpublished personal writings,
It has been affirmed that I am engaged in a raid upon a highly respected body of Christian people and that I am prosecuting this [raid] without any regard for truth or decency. I am even given to understand that people whom I greatly honor do not scruple to denounce me as a willful and malicious slanderer. Nothing that has occurred within the entire course of my life has wounded my sensibilities quite so deeply as this charge. 22
Whitsitt went on to note, without rancor, that his sister was a Campbellite.
Whitsitt's daughter, Mary Whitehead gives the following explanation for her father's venture into Mormonism. She writes that, after researching the origins of the Baptists,
"He began to ask himself why he should engage in historical studies whose sources were three thousand miles away and required a trip to Europe for research; so his
21 William Heth Whitsitt, Origin of the Disciples of Christ, 2nd ed. (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1888), Preface.
22 Whitsitt, "Notes on Mormonism," 1.
next work was... an exhaustive study of Mormonism entitled, "Sidney Rigdon, the Real Founder of Mormonism." 23
Indeed the Western Recorder and other newspapers of that day frequently featured articles on the Mormons in Utah and polygamy. It was during this time that anti-polygamy legislation was being hotly debated in the United States Senate. It is likely that Whitsitt, finding no legitimate scholarly works on the origin of Mormonism, decided to write one himself. Whitsitt writes,
The large body of my friends who delineated my investigations in Mormon theology... intimate that it scarcely conforms with the dignity which a Christian theologian should maintain.... Give me leave to remark in connection with this objection that it must be considered one of the sorest reproaches of American theology that it knows so little about the Mormons, and that it has left the work of investigating their faith in the hands of travelers, for the most part, and of those who possessed no sufficient amount of theological apparatus to do justice to the undertaking. 24
I have been blamed by many persons whose opinions I greatly respect for devoting any study to these matters. But I have pursued them almost wholly in the interests of science and criticism, and if I am misinformed science and criticism have certain good rights which may be exercised with a decent respect for all other interests involved without giving any just cause for offence.... This is a subject for calm discussion and the material is worthy of industrious and dispassionate research in the spirit and the repose of true scientific inquiry. 25
As a result, Whitsitt's research led him to do a critical source analysis of the Book of Mormon. It was,
In the entire range of Mormon literature... the only instance where the Book of Mormon has been subjected to a serious and systematic investigation in order to elicit from its own statements the secret of its origin. This investigation and
23 Mary Whitsitt Whitehead, "Ancestry of William Heth Whitsitt," (TMs, Special Collections, Boyce Library, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY), 14-15.
24 William Heth Whitsitt, "Notes on Mormonism," 1.
25 William Heth Whitsitt, "Studies in Mormon Theology," part 1 (1885-1887, AMs, Special Collections, Boyce Library, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky), 51.
this result comprise the most notable addition which the present volume contributes to the sum of information regarding Mormonism. 26
It is clear then that Whitsitt began this study, not out of a personal vendetta but to fill a need. Dr. Elaine Ozment's statement best summarizes this discussion. "As far as I have been able to determine, this was the first serious study of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints. Others were trying to discredit the new faith: WHW was trying to understand it." 27
The Origin of Mormonism
William Whitsitt did provide some extremely valuable insights into the origin of Mormonism. He was a sincere and competent scholar who undertook the first serious study of the Mormon faith. He studied the faith thoroughly. He consulted all of the resources available to him. In the end, he drew his conclusions, not from the words of other people, but from his own study of the Mormon Scriptures. He detected in that study references to distinct Campbellite theology, which led him to the conclusion that Sidney Rigdon was the "real founder of Mormonism."
Through his study, he came to the conclusion that, Mormonism did not begin in the mind of Sidney Rigdon or even the theology of Campbell and Scott. Mormonism traces its origin to what Whitsitt calls "the disease of literalism."
It (Mormonism) represents a disease with which Protestantism has been afflicted from the outset -- the disease of literalism. It shows how our good Bible the best of books may be abused and is abused. This is a weakness of Protestantism which we should guard ourselves against. Our Bible is the richest of treasures and I could wish to see it in every house but like all treasures it may be turned into a curse, and it is turned into a curse by the Mormons. From this point of view I look with greater
26 Whitsitt, Sidney Rigdon, 459-465.
27 Elaine Ozment, to Bryan Ready, 29 March 2001, E-mail.
pity than disgust upon the Mormons. They are an instructive example how a great law works itself out and how a prodigious evil may work its own cure. I humbly trust that the examples of the Mormons may have a good effect upon our American churches and upon our American Baptist Churches among the rest.... Every Protestant denomination is infected with this evil and it will not be amiss if I should admit that our Protestant Baptist denomination is no exception to that remark. We abuse our Bible as well as other people to our own hurt, and I surmise that we have suffered by reason of that abuse and will suffer more in future. 28
Though we might not agree with all of Whitsitt's assessment, one wonders if his words might have been a little prophetic.
28 Whitsitt, "Studies in Mormon Theology," 53-55.
Shortly after hearing W. Morgan Patterson's address on Whitsitt, I wrote to Jerald and Sandra Tanner, noted evangelical scholars in early Mormon history, and asked them if they were aware of Whitsitt's work on Rigdon. In reply, they sent me a copy of the October 1989 edition of the Salt Lake City Messenger, a newsletter the Tanners publish periodically.In this newsletter the Tanners write about their initial contact with Whitsitt's manuscript on Rigdon and note an interesting similarity between his work and a work purportedly written by Oliver Cowdery entitled Defence In A Rehearsal of My Grounds for Separating Myself From the Latter Day Saints, commonly known as the Cowdery Defence. 1 Both documents imply a connection between Sidney Rigdon and John the Baptist. As I noted in Chapter 4, Whitsitt firmly believed that Rigdon played the role of John the Baptist in that visionary experience.
1 The majority of scholarly research on Mormonism views this work as an early twentieth-century forgery. There are many reasons why this may be the case, but there is not room enough here to discuss them all. Perhaps the most significant reason is the fact that, although this document claims to have been published originally in 1839, there are no known copies of this document extant today or even referred to in other historical Mormon writings which predate R. B. Neal's publication of this document in 1906. It should be noted, however, that this opinion is not unanimous; other scholars, such as Fawn Brodie, Juanita Brooks, and B. H. Roberts believed the document to be authentic.
The writer of the Cowdery Defence seems to make a similar statement.
And what served to render the reflection past expression in his (Smith's) bitterness to me, was that from his hand I received baptism, by the direction of the Angel of God, whose voice, as it has since struck me, did most mysteriously resemble the voice of Elder Sidney Rigdon, who, I am sure, had no part in the transactions of that day. As the Angel was John the Baptist, which I doubt not and deny not. When I afterward first heard Elder Rigdon, whose voice is so strikingly similar, I felt that this 'dear' brother was to be, in some sense, to me unknown, the herald of this church as the Great Baptist was of Christ. 2 (Emphasis mine)
The Tanners give Whitsitt credit for developing the idea that Rigdon impersonated John the Baptist in this vision. Based on this similarity between the two documents, the Tanners feel that whoever wrote the Cowdery Defence was aware of Whitsitt's manuscript.
Now if Cowdery's Defence had been available in 1885, Whitsitt certainly would have cited it to prove his position that Rigdon impersonated the angel. In any case, this parallel between the Whitsitt manuscript and the Defence is remarkable and certainly raises the question as to whether Whitsitt's idea was incorporated into the Defence. 3
2 Oliver Cowdery, Defence in a Rehearsal of My Grounds for Separating Myself from the Latter Day Saints (Norton, OH: Pressley's Job Office, 1839), in A Critical Look A Study of the Overstreet "Confession" and the Cowdery "Defence," ed. Jerald Tanner and Sandra Tanner (Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1967), 10.
3 Jerald Tanner and Sandra Tanner, "Mormon and Anti-Mormon Forgeries," Salt Lake City Messenger, October 1989, 10.
4 lbid., 9-15.
5 Ibid., 11.
disputes the fact that Oliver Cowdery was re-baptized into the Mormon Church in 1848. It is supposed to be the confession of an individual who impersonated Cowdery at his re-baptism. The reasons the Tanners give for believing that Whitsitt forged these documents can be summarized as follows.
First, they point to the Rigdon-John the Baptist connection which we have already discussed. Second, whoever forged the documents used Myth of the Manuscript Found by George Reynolds and T. B. H. Stenhouse's Rocky Mountain Saints as sources in both forgeries. Whitsitt also used these sources. 6 Third, the Tanners write,
The creator of the Overstreet 'Confession' apparently wanted to destroy the idea that Oliver Cowdery returned to the Mormon Church and bore his testimony to the Book of Mormon and the restoration of both the Aaronic and Melchisedek priesthoods by angels from heaven. Professor Whitsitt was strongly committed to the position that no angels came from heaven to bring the Book of Mormon or to restore either priesthood.... While the Overstreet Confession tries to completely destroy the credibility of the attack on the Spalding theory attributed to Cowdery, the Defence takes the matter even further by having Cowdery say that the voice of the angel 'did most mysteriously resemble the voice of Elder Sidney Rigdon....' 7
Fourth, Whitsitt lived in close proximity to R. B. Neal the publisher of the only extant copies of the Cowdery "Defence." Neal lived in Grayson, Kentucky. They go on to suggest that Neal might have been in on the forgery as well. 8
Although the Tanners admit that someone else might have used Whitsitt's ideas in a forgery, they conclude their indictment against Whitsitt by writing,
In the present case, it would be very easy to pronounce William H. Whitsitt the forger of the Overstreet 'Confession' and the Cowdery Defence, and it would
8 Ibid., 13-14.
probably be very difficult for anyone to disprove the accusation. When it comes right down to it, however, we must admit that we do not have enough pieces to complete the puzzle. 9
In fact, they do not have a puzzle, not to mention enough pieces to accuse Whitsitt of forgery. One finds many flaws in the Tanner's arguments.
First, they give Whitsitt credit for inventing the idea that Rigdon impersonated John the Baptist. However, other writings, which pre-date Whitsitt's work, seem to imply the same thing. Whitsitt used many of these works as sources in his research.
Pomeroy Tucker (a source used by Whitsitt) writes,
He (Smith) had previously received the ordinance (of baptism) in Pennsylvania by the ministration of 'Brother Rigdon,' and was the first Mormon baptized since the times of the primitive Nephites. 10
A revelation received by Smith and Rigdon even compares Rigdon to John the Baptist.
Behold, verily, verily I say unto my servant Sidney, I have looked upon thee and thy works.... Behold thou wast sent forth, even as John to prepare the way before me, and before Elijah which should come and thou knew it not. 11
9 Ibid., 14.
10 Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1867), 60.
11 Book of Commandments (Zion [Independence, MO]: W. W. Phelps & Co., 1833; reprint, Independence, MO: Herald House, 1972), 37:3-6.
12 E. D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, Ohio: Telegraph Press, 1834), 109 (on-line), accessed 21 September 2001; available from http://www.solomonspalding.com/docs/1834howb.htm; Internet.
Mormonism Unvailed was the first "anti" Mormon book ever published and was frequently quoted in the nineteenth-century. Noted historian Hubert Howe Bancroft even cites Howe in his History of Utah, 1540-1886. 13
Second, a close examination of the Cowdery Defence shows that the writer emphatically denied the notion that Rigdon played a role in the vision of John the Baptist. "Elder Sidney Rigdon... had no part in the transactions of that day." 14 The Tanners argue that this statement is just a subtle reference meant to suggest the idea that Rigdon might have been involved here. However, another reading of that text could be that the writer was simply trying to reinforce the idea that Rigdon was indeed the Latter Day Saints' John the Baptist, as their own Scripture seems to declare. In other words, Rigdon fulfilled the prophecy so well that he even sounded like the original John the Baptist.Third, as to the charge that Whitsitt had a "vivid imagination" and "was obsessed with the idea of impersonations," we have already demonstrated that the idea of Rigdon impersonating John the Baptist was implied in other sources. The only other impersonation that Whitsitt suggests is Rigdon impersonating the angel Moroni. There are several sources which note that a "stranger" had been seen visiting Joseph Smith Jr. during the time he was supposedly receiving his visitations from Moroni. 15 Some of these
13 Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of Utah, 1540-1886, Appendix 4 (San Francisco: The History Company, 1890), 111.
14 Cowdery, Defence, 10.
15 Lucy Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and his Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool: S. W. Richards, 1853), in New Mormon Studies (CD-ROM) (Salt Lake City, UT: Smith Research Associates, 1998), 119-120; Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, 7, 28, 46, 48, 75-76; James Gordon Bennett, "Mormonism -- Religious Fanaticism -- Church and State Party" New York City Morning Courier and Enquirer. 31 August l831 (on-line); accessed 21 September 2001; available from http://www.lavazone2.com/dbroadhu/NY/courier.htm; Internet.
sources name this "stranger" as Rigdon. 16 If one believes that Rigdon was the one responsible for composing the Book of Mormon manuscript and giving it to Joseph Smith, it does not take a vivid imagination to consider that he may indeed have impersonated the angel Moroni. Indeed, historian Dale Broadhurst, a member of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, writes that when he had first heard of the "mysterious stranger" (incidents) "...retold from Lucy Mack Smith's history, one of my first remarks to the Mormon friend who had related that account was: 'I'd guess the stranger must have been the angel Moroni or one of the Three Nephites."' 17 Broadhurst also has posted on the internet, a pamphlet pre-dating Whitsitt's work, which asserts that Rigdon played the role of the angel Moroni. 18Fourth, Whitsitt did read The Myth of Manuscript Found and Rocky Mountain Saints and used them as sources in his research. But hundreds, if not thousands, of other people read these books as well and had access to them. Saying Whitsitt forged the "Confession" because he used these sources is a very weak argument. The accusation is
16 Tucker, Origin, 75-76; also Bennett, "Mormonism -- Religious Fanaticism -- Church and State Party."
17 Dale Broadhurst, "The Changing World of Tannerism," in The Tanners and William Heth Whitsitt (article on-line); accessed 21 September 2001; available from http://sidneyrigdon.com/wht/WhitRev1.htm; Internet.
18 Mrs. Horace Eaton, The Origin of Mormonism (New York: W.E.C. Of Home Missions, 1881) (on-line); accessed 20 September 2001; available from http://www.sidneyrigdon.com/l881Eatn.htm; Internet.
like saying I forged the Salamander Letter simply because I read the same books as Mark Hoffman.
Fifth, according to the Tanners, the reason the forger produced these documents was to bolster the "Spalding theory" and that Whitsitt "was a very strong believer in the Spalding theory." 19 This belief is totally inaccurate. Whitsitt reiterated many times in his writings that, although his research complemented the "Spalding theory," his fundamental theses had nothing to do with it. Whitsitt writes, in a letter discussing the results of his research,
The question touching the Spaulding manuscript has no direct connection with that result; it stands upon its own merits, just as truly as if no such person as Solomon Spaulding ever existed. I was solicitous to avoid the Spaulding controversy entirely, for the reason that it has no real connection with the business.... 20
Regarding Whitsitt's being "strongly committed to the position that no angels came from heaven to bring the Book of Mormon or to restore either priesthood," 21 one could respond that the majority of orthodox Christians are likewise committed.Sixth, as to the proximity of Whitsitt's residence and R. B. Neal's, I am not aware of one shred of evidence which indicates that Whitsitt and Neal ever met or corresponded. Whitsitt documented a great deal of his correspondence and kept thorough diaries. When these diaries are published in a few years, perhaps it will shed some light
19 Tanner, "Mormon and Anti-Mormon Forgeries," 10.
20 William H. Whitsitt, Louisville, Kentucky, to [James H. Fairchild, Oberlin College, Ohio, L, Feb. 16, 1886. (on-line) Accessed 16 April 2001; available from http://sidneyrigdon.com/wht/WhitRev1.htm; Internet; William Heth Whitsitt, "Notes on Mormonism," AMs, 1885-1887, Special Collections, Boyce Library, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.
21 Tanner, "Mormon and Anti-Mormon Forgeries," 11.
on this topic, but in examining Whitsitt's correspondence, I have not seen any which includes Neal; and I am not aware of any other researcher finding such a connection.
It is possible that Whitsitt was aware of Neal's work. The Library of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Louisville, Kentucky has two of Neal's tracts (one being a reprint of the Cowdery Defence). It is also possible that Neal was aware of Whitsitt's work. Whitsitt published his theories in articles which appeared in the Concise Dictionary of Religious Knowledge and Gazetteer; The [New York City] Independent; the Western Recorder, and even lectured on them in some of his classes. Obviously any number of people had access to these articles; to link Whitsitt and Neal as co-conspirators in a forgery scheme, with such sketchy evidence, is irresponsible.
Indeed, a letter Whitsitt received from Charles Hodges, an agent for the Associate Press, discusses an incident where a man going by the name of Samuel S. Partello plagiarized Whitsitt's writings in an article printed February 3, 1886, in the Chicago Daily News. After being notified by Whitsitt of the plagiarism, the editor wrote an article in a subsequent edition of the paper confirming Whitsitt's charge. 22 Perhaps Partello is the forger of the two documents.
I would hope that the Tanners would print an addendum to their article which would clear Whitsitt's name of forgery charges. Such a retraction is necessary for three reasons. One, as Broadhurst points out,
By their repeatedly calling Whitsitt's honesty into question the Tanners (unwittingly?) provide pro-Mormon polemicists with sufficient ammunition to shoot down
22 Charles Hodges, Galveston, Texas, to (William H. Whitsitt, Louisville, Kentucky), ALS, 26 February 1886, Scrapbook 1885-1887, Special Collections, Boyce Library, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.
any one of Whitsitt's various assertions regarding the modern literary structure and nineteenth century origin of the Book of Mormon, along with his supporting assertions regarding the origin and early evolution of the Latter Day Saint movement... After all, if 'even the Tanners' say he was of questionable character, then the issue is already settled, to his eternal discredit. 23
Two, the Tanners are widely respected in their field. By their labeling Whitsitt as a forger, other scholars will be less likely to examine his significant contributions to the understanding of early Mormonism. Indeed, it appears that the Tanners have failed to examine his ideas seriously as well. Third, they have maligned Whitsitt's character and owe his family an apology.In conclusion, it should be said that the Tanners were right about one thing -- it is very difficult to prove that Whitsitt did not forge the documents. However, given Whitsitt's character, his scholarly credentials, the fact that the information on which these forgeries were based was so widely available at that time in that region, and the overall weaknesses of the Tanners' arguments, I hope to have established "reasonable doubt." Who knows? If Brodie, Brooks, and Roberts are right about the authenticity of the Cowdery Defence, then this whole chapter is moot. Until that authenticity is proven definitively, Whitsitt needs to have his name cleared of these harmful accusations.
23 Broadhurst, "The Changing World of Tannerism."
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