Mormons and Modernism

The ceaseless smiling Mormon ads on Patheos have generated a fair bit of discussion on these blogs, and I have learned a good deal about this new religion.

One of the details was the authorship of the Book of Abraham–one of the books in the Mormon scriptures. It’s a fascinating story. In 1830 or thereabouts a traveling sideshow entrepreneur turned up at Joseph Smith’s fledgling Mormon community in Ohio and sold Smith some Egyptian mummies and a couple of papyrus manuscripts. Smith proceeded to ‘translate’ the manuscripts and told his people they were none other than the stories of the patriarchs Abraham and Joseph from their sojourn in Egypt, and they were actually written in the very hand of Abraham and Joseph themselves. Smith went on to translate the scrolls and add them to the Mormon scriptures.

Time went on and Smith ended up being murdered by a mob in Illinois, and his estranged wife sold the mummies to a museum in Chicago where they were destroyed in a fire and everybody thought the manuscripts were destroyed too. But they turned up in 1966. By now the scholarship of ancient Egypt had advanced (thanks to the Rosetta Stone) so Smith’s translation of the manuscripts could be checked. Turns out they were just some pretty standard Egyptian burial documents.

Smith’s story was totally and completely and breathtakingly bogus.

You can learn all about this in detail by watching the interesting video here.

None of this surprises me too much, but the comments I received from Mormons are what I found most intriguing. Read more.

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  • Matthew the Wayfarer

    ” If the incarnation of the Son of God didn’t really happen in Palestine 2,000 years ago”, well golly gee whiz I guess you are out of here then. It didn’t happen in Palestine 2000 years ago. There was no ‘Palestine’ 2000 years ago. The events too place in Judea 2000 years ago. There was no Palestine then and there is no Palestine now. It was an invention by a pagan emperor named Hadrian trying to glorify himself renaming Judea/ Samaria as Syria Palestina and Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina. Check your facts. I hate it when Catholics (and Orthodox) try to remake Jesus into a Palestinian. He was a Jew from Galilee of Judea.
    As to the main point of this post about the Mormons, why are you so obsessed with this? Mormons, Muslims, Jews, Scientologists, Baptists (the worst of the lot) can make up their own minds.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Good correction. Thanks! I’m posting on Mormonism at the moment because the Patheos website is flooded with Mormon advertising. I’ll change tack soon :-)

  • Al Bergstrazer

    To follow LDS dogma is indeed the definiton of blind faith. It is an eclectic hodge-podge of teachings and practices that Joseph Smith cherry picked, cobbled together and placed at its center a plagurized fictional text which he turned into the Book of Mormon.

  • William H

    I have never heard of Catholics/Orthodox making Jesus a Palestinian as our main perogative. That is new to me, Matthew. Was that worth a rant?

  • Jim from Utah

    Fr. Longenecker,

    If you really want to have fun read-up on New England Congregationalism, New England Transcendentalism, and also an odd group called ‘The Wood Scrape’. I do not want to reveal too many secrets about it, but ‘The Wood Scrape’ is FAR MORE damaging to Mormonism than pseudo-Abraham. It is one of the more greatly not-talked about parts of the history. The reason for this is that in Mormonism once a prophet is dead he no longer readily applies. Also, in Mormonism the test for a prophet is not the same as in most other religions. Mormonism allows for prophets to be drastically wrong about whole hosts of things. The example that I see that tends to be trotted out is St. Norbert, who presumeably predicted and got wrong the coming of the anti-Christ. As a Catholic I have been forced to defend St. Norbert, and in all fairness there was an anti-Christ that had arisen two-years from that date. He was anti-pope Anacletus II.

    I have digressed. Google Books provides 19th-century reading on the subject a-plenty. No good Catholic history about Mormonism to my knowledge has been authored. And, far too many histories rely upon the Mormon advertised story hook line and sinker. Some former Mormons here have been wondering when the Catholics are going to decide to take down Mormonism. The Evangelicals are doing great work and I love them dearly, but they simply do not have the canons to firey rhetoric and broadsides and Theological salvos like the Ancient Church can unleash when She is perturbed.

    In the end some, I can say that Catholic Faith in Utah so far has been nothing short of an apparent failure. Swishy and listless doesn’t even begin to describe it. We need more monasteries! And, big obnoxious road-signs with crippling Bible verses.

  • Howard

    Fair enough. Just don’t make him an Israeli, either. The “State of Israel” did not exist until 1948.

  • Andi

    Just a note Father, Joseph Smith was killed in Illinois not Missouri. He was being held in the Carthage, Illinois jail. One can still visit that jail. Also,Nauvoo, Illinois used to have a big summer musical(for lack of a better term) all about Joseph Smith and the founding of the town. I went with somme friends one year out of curiosity. It was very…interesting.

  • Andy s

    The article says Smith was murdered by a mob in Illinois.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    I corrected the post after being corrected. Which is the cool thing about blogging unlike print media you can edit later.

  • Rob

    Sometimes I think it would be hilarious if that 19th century L. Ron Hubbard, Joseph Smith, after he slipped off his mortal coil, and opened up his eyes on eternity, Almighty God decided to have some fun with him, and had Anubis lead his soul to have his heart weighed against a feather… And when it was found to weigh more, thus failing, he would then be chased around by the demon Ammit, with Anubis yelling at him that this is what happens when your pride makes you think you can reconstruct Ancient Egyptian papyri and put a human head on the body of Anubis!

  • Jesse

    Unfortunately Mormons are just going to say that these can’t be the same Egyptian writings. I recently had an encounter with a Mormon fundamentalist who literally thinks anyone who speaks against Mormonism is the spawn of Satan. I don’t know if many Mormon missionaries are putting up a front…

  • Sean

    Just for your info . . . Mormonism is not considered a religion by the Catholic Church, but is a cult or sect. It is an important distinction. Buddhism, which is considered a religion, gets more respect than Mormonism in the eyes of the Church, although they’re both in error.

  • Nathaniel Campbell

    The only problem with your little theory is that the Romans renamed Judaea as Syria / Palaestina after the Jewish Revolts at the end of the first century and beginning of the second century, A.D. Throughout Late Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the modern era, “Palestine” has been a common name for the area (see, for example, the title of a crusading song by Walther von der Vogelweide, “Palaestinalied”).

  • Nathaniel Campbell

    Sorry, I should have read your comment more carefully. Still, your theory is problematic on practical grounds. “Palestine” was a normal term for that area throughout the later Roman Empire and the Middle Ages. If I took the time, I could dig up all kinds of writings by good Catholics (including probably some popes) who refer to the area as “Palestine” in the Middle Ages.

    Furthermore, by your theory, we should stop referring to “France” and switch back to “Gaul”, since at the time of Christ, France was called “Gaul.” In other words, you are investing a historic term with modern political connotations that it only recently acquired.

  • David Charkowsky

    Unless I am mistaken, Mormonism emerged in a time and place where it was fashionable to think of religion as socially useful hogwash. So many of society’s elites were Deists, Unitarians and Freemasons. Charles Sanders Pierce, father of ‘pragmatism’, was born in Massachusetts in 1839. I think this historical matrix may explain something about why Mormonism does theology the way it does.

  • Nathaniel Campbell

    You might explain that to the folks who wrote the Catholic Encyclopedia, who repeatedly used “Palestine” to describe the area conquered by the Crusaders:

  • Jonathon

    This is funny. All this talk about moraninsm and most of the Catholic blogs still would rather vote for Mitt Romney, who is a moran. Yes moran. Who ever can beleive an uneducated famer’s boy can just translate ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs must be a moran, yet many want one to run our country.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Did you mean ‘moron’?

  • Mary

    One fact not often mentioned.
    Joseph Smith was killed by the mob, but he had a gun and was shooting back.
    Three men was shot by Joseph Smith.

  • William H


  • tom

    morans for wanting Someone better to run our country than what we got. I dont think so.

  • Jim from Utah

    That is the actual Mormon teaching. All those who do not accept the Golden Bible are Satanic. It is very cut and dry in the official teaching, and it has been that way since day one. Now, here we encounter as you rightly well-know that the individual follower of Brigham and Smith are hardly to blame for the errors of their forebears.

  • Jim from Utah


    I think he actually meant an Irish guy named Moran, replete with a pint and a bowl of potatoes.

  • daisy

    If you’re gonna call somebody a moron you at least need to spell it right or the insult loses its effect.

  • Justin S

    I know of a former Mormon named Thomas Smith who is now a “Catholic Evangelist and Speaker”:

    I’ve heard him before on Catholic Answers on the topic of Mormonism and he did a great job.
    heres that link:

    Speaking of Catholic Answers, they have a handbook called “When Mormons Call” for $4.95
    I hope this helps :o)