Date: May 21, 2014 02:19AM
--Jospeh Smith's Non-God Guided Concoction of Necro-Baptism, Thanks to the Unexpected Demise of His Brother, Alvin--
Joseph Smith didn’t receive any supposed Bibiically-based, divinely-inspired “revelation” when announcing advent of the Mormon docrine of proxy baptism for the dead (known popularly in certain circles as "necro-dunking”).
Contrary to popular Mormon belief, this necro-notion wasn’t instituted in order to provide salvation for deceased people who went to their graves as non-Mormons,
Rather, it was concocted by Smith out of his deep, personal, psychological need to deal with the unexpected death of his own brother Alvin combined with pressure he was receiving from from his grief-stricken family to get Smith to something about it that would all make them feel better.
That assessment, of course, isn’t quite what you read in Mormon Sunday School manuals.
To be sure, as the LDS Church's official gospel lesson manuals spin it, God revealed the doctrine of necro-dunking to Joseph Smith after the death of his older brother Alvin within the supposed context of a grand plan to save otherwise condemned dead non-Mormons from themselves. (And it didn’t help matters for the sad Smith family to hear a Protestant clergyman tell them Alvin was going to hell).
This is how the Mormon Church peddles it in its choreographed and correlated instructional materials:
"When Alvin died, the family asked a Presbyterian minister in Palmyra, New York, to officiate at his funeral. As Alvin had not been a member of the minister’s congregation, the clergyman asserted in his sermon that Alvin could not be saved. William Smith, Joseph’s younger brother, recalled: '[The minister] … intimated very strongly that [Alvin] had gone to hell, for Alvin was not a church member, but he was a good boy and my father did not like it.'
"In January 1836, many years after Alvin’s death, Joseph Smith received a vision of the celestial kingdom, in which he saw that Alvin, as well as his mother and father, would someday inherit that kingdom. Joseph 'marveled how it was that [Alvin] had obtained an inheritance in that kingdom, seeing that he had departed this life before the Lord had set his hand to gather Israel the second time, and had not been baptized for the remission of sins' (D&C 137:6). The voice of the Lord then came to Joseph, declaring:
“'All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God; also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom; for I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts' (D&C 137:7–9).
"On August 15, 1840, the Prophet Joseph Smith preached at a funeral in Nauvoo and, for the first time in public, taught the doctrine of salvation for the dead. According to Simon Baker, who was present, the Prophet began by testifying that the 'gospel of Jesus Christ brought glad tidings of great joy.' He read most of 1 Corinthians 15 and explained that "the Apostle was talking to a people who understood baptism for the dead, for it was practiced among them." He then declared that “people could now act for their friends who had departed this life, and that the plan of salvation was calculated to save all who were willing to obey the requirements of the law of God.”
"One month after the funeral address, the Prophet visited his father, who was very ill and near death. The Prophet discussed with his father the doctrine of baptism for the dead, and Father Smith’s thoughts turned to his beloved son Alvin. Father Smith asked that the work be done for Alvin 'immediately.' Just minutes before he died, he declared that he saw Alvin.5 In the latter part of 1840, the Smith family rejoiced as Hyrum received the ordinance of baptism for his brother Alvin." ("Redemption for the Dead," in "Teachings of President of the Church: Joseph Smith", in Chapter 35, 2007, see pp. 401-11)
Of course, that’s a warm and fuzzy story, but the reality of the situation was that Alvin's death prompted a great deal of stress among the Smith family about that state of his eternal reward, given that he had not died a baptized Mormon:
As Dan Vogel explains in his book, "Religious Seekers and the Advent of Mormonism":
"After Alvin Smith's death in 1823, the Smith family was forced to worry about his eternal status when a minister implied that he had gone to hell because he was unchurched and probably unbaptized. . . . Seven years later, on 21 January 1836, Smith received a revelation that 'all who have died without a knowledge of this Gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God.' . . . Later, in 1840, when Smith instituted the doctrine of baptism for the dead in Nauvoo, his brother Hyrum was baptized for Alvin."
(Dan Vogel, "Religious Seekers and the Advent of Mormonism" [Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1988], pp. 162-63)
Mark A. Scherer, World Church Historian for the then Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, explains how Alvin's death jump-started Joseph down the road to what turned out to be a piece-by-piece construction of the dead-dunking doctrine as a way to placate Smith and family’s personal sense of loss—while giving it the veneer of Christian authority by wrapping his concoction in Biblical verse.
"In the past we have dealt with some rather strange and controversial issues but always without being judgmental and always in proper historical context. . . . I would like to explore another: baptism for the dead.
"Alvin Smith, Joseph Jr.'s oldest brother, died suddenly on 19 November 1823 without being baptized into any denomination. In his 1894 account of Alvin's funeral, youngest brother, William Smith, described the service. William stated that Reverend Stockton, who preached the funeral sermon, berated poor Alvin for not being baptized and then announced that Alvin's soul had gone to hell. Stockton's declarations weighed heavily on the close-knit family and their concerns for Alvin's salvation lingered.”
Scherer notes how Smith hadn’t helped matters much when —as Mormonism’s prophet—he declared early on that those who weren’t baptized couldn’t get into Mormon heaven.
Oops. Alvin died an unbaptized non-Mormon. What the hell do we do now?
It’s necro-dunking to the rescue, as Scherer unfolds Smith family fear:
"Family concerns heightened in 1832 when [Joseph Smith] the [P]rophet revealed that those who were not baptized could not receive the Celestial Kingdom (D&C Section 76).
“But then, four years later, Joseph had a vision of the Celestial Kingdom where, strangely enough, he saw Alvin. Hearing this good news should have assured the family but events suggest that they still feared for Alvin's soul.”
The pressure was on. Scherer explains:
"On 14 September 1840, 69- year-old Joseph Smith Sr. lay on his deathbed in Nauvoo, Illinois. In this solemn moment the dying patriarch quietly called for Joseph Jr. and again expressed concern for Alvin. The seer responded to his father, and to those gathered by his bedside, by announcing the privilege of the Saints to be baptized for the dead. Possibly Joseph Jr. had interpreted I Corinthians 15 as justification for the ritual.”
The result was exactly what the doctor order. Scherer writes:
"Baptisms for the dead satisfied an important need in the historic Mormon culture. It offered the surviving Saints assurance that their loved ones, left behind in graves from Kirtland, Independence, and Far West, as well as those buried in Nauvoo, were secure in the afterlife.
"And, as in Alvin's case, the Saints were comforted in their concerns that deceased loved ones who were not affiliated with the [Mormon] church could now join them in the Celestial Kingdom.”
Relieved Mormons were so glad to get the good news that they eagerly started dead-dunking even before a baptismal font was built.
"A few days after [Joseph[ the [S]eer's pronouncement, baptisms for deceased family members began in the Mississippi River, but without revelatory sanction. Then, on 19 January 1841, Joseph provided further instruction in what would become Section 107. In the following months, more documents, including Section 109 and 110, were added to the canon relating to this salvation rite.
"Public demonstration of the highly sacred ritual became a concern for the Nauvoo church leadership. So, in the October 1841 General Conference, Smith halted further proxy baptisms until a font in the [Nauvoo] temple, presently under construction, could be erected. Not surprisingly, temple construction dramatically accelerated.
"In the following spring, as soon as workers enclosed the temple font area, baptisms for the dead continued. The Saints used a temporary wooden font while workers chiseled out a huge stone font perched on the backs of twelve stone oxen. Baptism for the dead was the first of many rituals to be performed exclusively within the confines of the temple."
(Mark A. Scherer, "Through the Mists of Time: Chats with the Church Historian," February 2001)
And it wasn’t just Smith’s family that was hit hard by Alvin’s death. It had rocked Joseph’s world, as well. In fact, so impacted was Joseph by his older brother's death that Alvin was one of the first in line to be proxy baptized—especially after Joseph's dying father told him to do so.
In his article, “'For This Ordinance Belongeth to My House': The Practice of Baptism for the Dead Outside the Nauvoo Temple," BYU Associate Professor in BYU's Department of Church History Alexander L. Baugh writes about how Alvin got bumped to the front to get dunked:
"There is a good possibility that Alvin Smith, Joseph Smith’s older brother who died in November 1823, was one of the first deceased persons to have his baptismal work performed. Lucy Mack Smith recalled that just prior to her husband’s death, Joseph told his father 'that it was . . . the privilege of the Saints to be baptized for the dead,' whereupon Joseph Sr., requested that, 'Joseph be baptized for Alvin immediately.' . . . Significantly, Joseph Sr., died on 14 September 1840, less than a month after the Prophet first taught the doctrine of baptism for the dead . . . . If Joseph and the Smith family were true to their father’s request that Alvin’s baptism be done 'immediately,' the likelihood exists that it was performed sometime around mid- September.“
Talk about fast-actin’ reaction. But Joseph Sr. didn’t get everything he wanted, as Baugh notes:
"The record containing the early proxy ordinance information indicates that Hyrum acted as proxy (not Joseph, as Father Smith request ed), but does not give any other date than the year 1840."
Come to find out, however, Alvin was actually dead-dunked twice, apparently in order to make sure the Mormons got it right the second time (which, one might say, is no big deal since apparently many non-LDS dead folks have been multiple-necro-immersed over the ensuing years). As Baugh writes:
"The ordinance was performed for Alvin a second time, again by Hyrum in 1841, and was probably done after the font was completed and dedicated in the basement of the Temple. . . . A friend and contemporary of the Prophet, Aroet Hale, stated that Joseph Smith instructed the Saints 'to have the work done over as quick as the temple was finished, when it could be done more perfect.'"
(Alexander L. Baugh “'For This Ordinance Belongeth to My House': The Practice of Baptism for the Dead Outside the Nauvoo Temple," in "Mormon Historical Studies," p. 49)
Douglas James Davies, in his book, “Death, Ritual and Belief: The Rhetoric of Funerary Rites,” delves into the background of Joseph Smith’s reaction to his older brother’s untimely death, who died at age 25 after overdosing on calomel that he had taken to combat a bad case case of “bilious colic.” Strange but true, his brothers’s death hit Joseph so hard, in fact, that in order to deal with it he told his parents that he was going to marry Emma Hale in order to deal with his Alvin’s unexpected absence:
"Alvin, the elder brother of Joseph Smith, Jr., . . . died in November 1823 when Joseph was 18 years of age. Some two years after this Joseph told his parents that he had been so lonely since Alvin's death that he had decided to marry. This he did.“
That, apparently, wasn’t enough, since the local minister was telling the family that Alvin was languishing in the Regions of the Damned. To make matters worse,, while reports were afoot that Alvins’s body had been dug up.
Joseph was bummed, as Davies notes:
“But his dead brother still lay in Joseph's memory. The minister who buried Alvin said it was likely that he had gone to hell, while his corpse was said to have been disinterred by aggressive neighbors. The father, Joseph Smith, Sr., even went off to dig and see if that was true. Here was a brother's death that was entirely out of the ordinary and deeply traumatic for Joseph. Indeed, trauma is precisely the right word . . . “
Time for a revelation to brighten the occasion—one that would become a cornerstone of Mormonism’s strange docrines:
“ Indeed, trauma is precisely the right word, for some 13 years after the death Joseph received a profoundly influential vision of his brother.“
"This was in 1836, six years after the founding of Mormonism and at the newly-built Kirtland Temple. [H. Michael Marquardt, in his book, "The Rise of Mormonism: 1816-1844," reports that this ‘vision’ actually took place in the west end of the Kirtland temple, third floor].
“As part of the religious enthusiasm of this dramatic period of temple building and ritual activity, the dead brother returned to Joseph's mind. Religious enthusiasm and death stand should to shoulder. The event sparked in Joseph a desire to cope with the death of his brother and of others in a formal way. The outcome was scheme of ritual performed vicariously for the dead that would allow them access to salvation in the afterlife. This was the origin of what would become Mormonism's committment to its now well-known scheme of genealogical research followed by ritual baptism on behalf of the death."
(Douglas James Davies, "Death, Ritual and Belief: The Rhetoric of Funerary Rites," 2nd ed., revised [London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2002], p. 222; and H. Michael Marquardt, “The Rise of Mormonism, 1816-1844” (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Xulon Press, 2005], p. 535)
Davies subsequently delves more deeply into Joseph Smith’s personal psyche—one which evidence a immense inner need for the manufacture of a miraculous way by which Smith could provide for himself, his family and his followers an other-worldly means by which they could reunite with their dead and otherwise non-saved loved ones once more. Never mind that the effort required an invention that followed neither early Mormon or historic Christian tradition. Something simply had to be done in order perk the people up, in the name of “don’t worry, be happy.”:
“ . . . [W]hat might we say about the origin of baptism for the dead? How did this tradion (for indeed it is now one of the determining features of life for dedicated Mormons) come about? This type of question is particularly importnatn for invented traditions that havae their source largely in one individual and for which individuall creativity may have muchy to do with that person’s biography and psychology.
“Certainly, baptism for the dead was not part of the Book of Mormon, nor was it among the practices of the first 10 years of the ;Mormon] church’s life. According to formal Mormon statements, it was first announced by Joseph Smith in a funeral sermon, only months before his own death.
“The obvious textual cue for this rite lies in a single biblical verse of St. Paul (1 Corinthians 15:29) which alludes to the fact that some are baptized on behalf of the dead. Paul uses that idea to reinforce his strong belief in the resurrection. In the Mormon case a revelation caome to Joseph Smith in January 1841 (Doctrine and Covenants 124:30) in which the Lord instructs that a temple be built to contain a baptismal font that would firmly contextualize the prace that had initially taken place in rivers. By November of that same year the font existed, with vicarious rites taking place.”
Davies then offers a reasonable explanation for what drove Smith to invent the central Moron doctrine of necro-dunking:
“My own intepretation of vicarious baptism, speculative as it is, focuses on Joseph Smith’s personal history of grief, especially that for his brother Alvin’s premature death, when Joseph was about 18 years old. ‘Grief-stricken’ is an entirely appropriate description of accounts of the family and of Joseph in response to Alvin’s death, itself some seven years before the formal inauguration of the [Mormon] church . . .
“[S]ome 13 years after Alvin’s death Joseph received a vision in which he saw Alvin in heaven, despite the fact that he had died prior to the Restoration.”
Now enter the family pressure for Joseph to spring Alvin from Hell:
When Joseph’s father was dying in 1840 he, too, reckoned to see Alvin. This suggests that moments of dying, death and funerals recalled Alvin and Joseph’s grief,, and helped frame Joseph’s vision of vicarious baptism, catalyzed by the biblical verse already mentioned. “
So, when all else fails, buic up and create a fairy tale, which is exactly what Joseph Smith did—for him, his family and his faith:
“Joseph’s personal history of grief and his empathy with the grief of others brought that biblical text to new life as part of the Restoration. Far from being debilitated by his loss and grief, Joseph emerged able to do something about his brother’s death; indeed all Mormons could answer that once perennial Christian conundrum of what would happen in eternity to those who had never heard the Christian message. They COULD hear it and benefit from it,m if on ly rites were performed for them on Earth. Viacrious baptism thus reflect the cluter of rites that constitute the primate rationale of Mormon ‘invented tradition’—namely that nothing is achieved in the heavens apart from a ritual action underlyhing them on Earth.”
(Douglas J. Davies, in “The Invention of Sacred Tradition,” James R. Lewis and Olva Hammer, ed [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007], pp. 68-70)
In the end, the made-up doctrine of dead-dunking that kept Joseph and his family from going around the bend:
As one encyclopedia (not the Mormone one) observes, Joseph's brother Alvin "figured prominently in the establishment of the Mormon doctrine . . . of the practice of baptism for the dead.
“On January 21, 1836, after the completion of the Kirtland Temple, Joseph . . . claimed to have had a vision of the Celestial Kingdom. Smith stated that he saw his brother Alvin in the vision, and was surprised at his presence there since he died before the establishment of the [Mormon] church and its associated doctrines. . . . Smith stated that he then received a revelation concerning the salvation of those who die without hearing the gospel and their ability to receive the same opportunities as those who had the opportunity to hear it on earth. . . . . [In this revelation, found in Doctrine and Covenants 137:5] . . . Smith stated: 'I saw Father Adam and Abraham; and my father and my mother; my brother Alvin, that has long since slept.'"
("Encyclopedia: Alvin Smith (Mormon)")
Sleep well, tonight, folks. Thanks to Joseph Smith’s creative imagination, you’ll see your dearly departed dead dunked loved ones in the morning.
Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 05/21/2014 02:22AM by steve benson.