Baptism for the Dead and William Hone’s Apocryphal New Testament

The short:

Given his ownership of William Hone’s controversial Apocryphal New Testament, Joseph Smith had access to a fair amount of ancient Christian literature, including texts that discuss the fate of deceased non-Christians.

The long:

William Hone was a London pamphleteer and bookseller whose name was in many circles synonymous with blasphemy. In 1820 he published a compilation of early Christian texts, with a brief preface and two appendices, the full title of which ran, The Apocryphal New Testament, Being All The Gospels, Epistles And Other Pieces Now Extent, Attributed In The First Four Centuries to Jesus Christ, His Apostles, And Their Companions And Not Included In The New Testament By Its Compilers. Translated From The Original Tongues, And Now Collected Into One Volume. For the bulk of the book Hone combined the work of two eighteen-century scholars, Jeremiah Jones’ English translation of New Testament apocrypha, and William Wake’s Apostolic Fathers. The preface, the only part Hone could claim as his, began with a question: “After the writings contained in the New Testament were selected from the numerous Gospels and Epistles then in existence, what became of the Books that were rejected by the compilers?” As a selection of those very books Hone presented Apocryphal New Testament. “He who possess this and the New Testament, has in the two volumes,” he wrote, “a collection of all the historical records relative to Christ and His Apostles, now in existence, and considered sacred by Christians during the first four centuries after His birth.” Hone’s opponents were quick to point out his plagiarism of Jones and Wake, and this, along with the popularity of the first edition, which sold out in a few months, prompted him to prepare a second edition in 1821, featuring increased annotation, a second preface, third appendix, and an additional ancient Christian text he had overlooked. In subsequent years Apocryphal New Testament saw numerous (pirated) printings and editions, and it remains in print today.

Literary critic Joss Marsh calls Apocryphal New Testament a “landmark;” Hone was the first to provide English translations of the Apostolic Fathers and New Testament apocrypha in a single volume at a moderate price. What is more, he presented those texts not as spurious and heretical, or as non-canonical though authentic, the precedent in former centuries, but as legitimate Christian scripture. Whatever his personal convictions and motivations, in a very real sense Hone was arguing against a closed canon of scripture, or at least for one that extended far beyond the twenty-seven books and epistles of the New Testament, a concept that many, especially Christian clergy, found unacceptable. “By some persons of the multitude, commonly known as Christians, and who profess to suppose that they do God service by calling themselves so,” Hone was, he wrote in the preface to the second edition, “attacked with malignity and furry.”  

Hone’s book did much to contribute not only to popular interest in and awareness of New Testament apocrypha but also to the development of what could be considered a certain genre. Apocryphal New Testament stands at the beginning of a trajectory that includes the two Oxford-published volumes of the same title edited by Montague Rhodes James and then J. K. Elliot as well as Wilhelm Schneemelcher’s New Testament Apocrypha, the current academic reference work on the subject. A particularly strong corollary is Bart Ehrman’s Lost Scriptures.    

Among other texts in Hone’s book are the Shepherd of Hermas, Acts of Paul and Thecla, and Gospel of Nicodemus, each of which addresses the salvation of deceased non-Christians. In the Gospel of Nicodemus, two of the saints who were resurrected with Jesus relate their experience in hell with Adam and “all the patriarchs and prophets,” from the time John the Baptist arrived to acquaint them with the Messiah, to their departure. They then explain that, per Michael’s instruction, they and “many who rose from the dead” were “baptized in the holy river of Jordan” during a special three-day dispensation. In the Acts of Paul and Thecla, when the pagan Trifina meets Thelca, a Christian, her deceased daughter appears to her in vision, instructing her to allow Thecla to “be reputed by you as your daughter in my stead,” and to ask Thecla to “pray for me, that I may be translated to a state of happiness.” When Trifina relates her daughter’s requests, Thecla promptly obliges, with the desired result. Finally, in the Shepherd of Hermas, a tower is built upon a large white stone as Hermas looks on. Four groups of smaller stones “rise up out of the deep” to form the base of the building. When the tower is finished, Hermas asks an angel for the vision’s interpretation, and the angel explains that the first two groups of stones represent the first and second ages of “righteous men,” the third group the “prophets and ministers of the Lord,” and the fourth group the “Apostles and doctors of the preaching of the Son of God.” Hermas further inquires why the stones rose from the deep, to which the angel replies: “It was necessary for them to ascend by water…They therefore being dead, were nevertheless sealed with the seal of the Son of God…Now this seal is the water of baptism…Wherefore to those also was this seal preached, and they made use of it, that they might enter into the kingdom of God.” Hermas then puzzles over why the fourth group of stones also rose from the deep, “having already received that seal.” The angel clarifies: “Because these Apostles and teachers, who preached the name of the son of God, dying after they had received his faith and power, preached to them who were dead before; and they gave this seal to them. They went down therefore into the water with them, and again came up.” The first three groups “died in righteousness, and in great purity; only this seal was wanting in them.

To a certain extent these passages resemble Joseph Smith’s teachings on baptism for and redemption of the dead, as scholars such as Hugh Nibley, John Tvedtnes, and Jeffery Trumbower have observed. Perhaps prompted by Fawn Brodie’s implicit accusation that Joseph Smith had taken the concept of baptism for the dead from the eighteenth-century German mystics at Ephrata, Pennsylvania, Nibley published a lengthy defense of the Mormon belief and practice in a series of installments in the Improvement Era beginning in 1949. After citing numerous patristic and apocryphal sources, emphasizing especially the passage from the Shepherd of Hermas, he concludes:

It has not been the purpose of this discussion to treat baptism for the dead as practiced by the Latter-day Saints. No one having any acquaintance with that system, however, can fail to notice the essential identity of the ancient with the modern usage and doctrine. This close resemblance posses a problem. Where did Joseph Smith get his knowledge? Few if any of the sources cited in this discussion were available to him; the best of these have only been discovered in recent years, while the citations from the others are only to be found scattered at wide intervals through works so voluminous that even had they been available to the Prophet he would, lacking modern aids, have had to spend a lifetime running them down…To design such a work would more than tax the powers of the greatest religious leaders of the past, but to have made it conform at the same time to the patterns of the primitive church (not brought to light until the last seventy years) is asking far too much of genius and luck…Work for the dead is an all-important phase of Mormonism about which the world knows virtually nothing. Not even the most zealous anti-Mormon has even begun to offer an explanation for its discovery…The critics will have to go far to explain this one.

Fifty years later, John Tvedtnes revisited a number of the passages Nibley originally marshaled as well as several others such as the account in the Gospel of Nicodemus concerning the special baptismal dispensation for pre-Christian saints. Like Nibley, his approach to these ancient parallels is apologetic. Prefacing his discussion, Tvedtnes writes of the oddity of Joseph Smith’s introduction of baptism for dead as follows:

As peculiar as the new practice may have been to the Saints, it was met with incredulity by other Christian groups. The general feeling among Christians then, as now, is that Paul’s mention of those who are ‘baptized for the dead’ (1 Corinthians 15:29) was enshrouded in mystery. If such a practice ever existed, they believed, it was certainly not part of the Christian church. Since then [i.e. post 1840], much information has come to light from ancient documents that support the idea that some early Christians indeed baptized others by proxy for those who had died unbaptized.

Baptism for the dead is just one of the forms of the “posthumous salvation of non-Christians” described in Jeffrey Trumbower’s 2001 monograph, Rescue for the Dead. Trumbower is concerned with early Christianity proper and only occasionally mentions—as he does in his discussion of the episode between Thecla, Trifina and her deceased daughter—parallels with the Mormon belief in redeeming the dead. Summarizing his research, Trumbower states that early Christian manifestations of rescue for the dead were a “continuation of long-standing traditions within the Greek, Roman, and Jewish cultures of antiquity;” that the concept and practice of saving deceased non-Christians faced opposition from “a host of important Christian authors and theologians” who, among other things, were concerned with safeguarding the “relevance, power, and authority of the church on earth;” and that “Latter-day Saints and Shakers of the nineteenth century revived certain types of posthumous salvation, without necessarily being aware of the earlier history,” excepting 1 Corinthians 15:29, which for Trumbower “shows that the religious impulse to rescue the dead can arise any time there is enthusiasm for the new activity of God in the world.” Unlike the apologetics of Nibley and Tvedtnes, the purpose of his book is not “to take sides or to chart a course for Christian theology.” Yet Trumbower, who is not a Mormon, admits that he has “much sympathy for those in every age who have wished to rescue the dead.”

Whereas Trumbower generously assumes that ‘Latter-day Saints…revived certain types of posthumous salvation without necessarily being aware of the earlier history’ found in Christian patristic and apocryphal sources, Tvedtnes implies that the ancient material he cites only ‘came to light’ after 1840, just as Nibley maintains that ‘Few if any’ of his sources ‘were available’ to Joseph Smith, the ‘best’ of which ‘have only been discovered in recent years,’ and the rest of which were so disparate that the prophet ‘would have had to spend a lifetime running them down.’

The first person to publicize Joseph Smith’s ownership of Apocryphal New Testament, albeit unwittingly, was not the zealous anti-Mormon or critic Nibley described but LDS Institute director Kenneth Godfrey, whose 1974 BYU Studies article lists Joseph Smith’s contributions to the Nauvoo Library and Literary Institute and carefully asks whether they were “the source for some of his intellectual ideas.” The ‘Apochryphal Testament’ listed in the NLLI minute book under Joseph Smith’s name was not identified in print as Hone’s Apocryphal New Testament until ten years later. Richard Anderson made the connection, speculating that a passage in the Acts of Paul and Thecla might have influenced a description the prophet gave of Paul. Based on the rationale that “Joseph Smith was sometimes stimulated by an idea to inquire of the Lord for himself,” Anderson posits: “So he might be dependent on the Thecla sketch purely as a point of inquiry. Or he might never have seen it.”

Immediately following this hypothesis in Anderson’s Understanding Paul is a treatment and defense of baptism for the dead, but in this case Anderson is not willing to posit any such relationship between Joseph Smith’s teachings and the books he might have read. Anderson cites Nibley’s earlier work as well as the passage from the Shepherd of Hermas in support of his argument that “baptism [for the dead] was an ancient practice and that it could be reestablished only by divine instruction to latter-day prophets,” without mentioning the fact that Hone’s book includes the Shepherd of Hermas. Yet, in his discussion of baptism for the dead Anderson seems preoccupied with assuring his audience that Joseph Smith did not rely on literary sources. He cites the prophet as stating that “the best way to obtain truth and wisdom, is not to ask it from books, but to go to God in prayer and obtain divine teaching,” and he further asserts that “divine instruction is not dependant on fragmentary sources.” 

All this raises the question of when Joseph Smith obtained his copy of Apocryphal New Testament. Beyond the fact that he donated it to the NLLI in early 1844, nothing is certain. One point to consider is the book’s publication. The first American edition was printed in 1825 by Edwin Scott of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, roughly 175 miles from the Harmony area where Joseph Smith worked and boarded from September to November of that year, and where he later resided from the close of 1827 to middle of 1829. It was printed again in 1832 by William Coolman of Ravenna, Ohio, approximately forty-five miles south of Kirtland and less than fifteen miles from the John Johnson home in Hiram, Joseph Smith’s residence from September 1831 to April 1832. That same year Apocryphal New Testament was also printed in Boston by two separate publishers: N.H Whitaker and Benjamin Mussey. In 1835 it was printed again, this time by Benjamin Gray of Chilicothe, Ohio, its last printing during Joseph Smith’s lifetime.

Another piece of evidence is a Times and Seasons editorial published 1 September 1842, which paraphrases the Protevangelion of James, a text also found in Hone’s book. It concerns the “Persecution of the Prophets” and was later excerpted in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. But like much of the material that ran in the Times and Seasons during Joseph Smith’s editorship, it is anonymous, and some scholars doubt his authorship of this editorial especially, since he was in hiding before and after its publication. Whether he authored it or not, there is some evidence to suggest that it was the prophet’s copy of Apocryphal New Testament that was used in the composition of the editorial: when Joseph Smith publicly passed editorship of the Times and Seasons to John Taylor two months after the publication of the “Persecution of the Prophets” editorial, Taylor assured the paper’s subscribers that it would “continue to be a valuable periodical” because the prophet “has promised to us the priviledge [sic] of referring to his writings and books,” implying not only that Joseph Smith maintained a personal library but also that those books had been instrumental in his editorship of the Times and Seasons.

The last clue is the way Hone’s book appears in the NLLI minute book. When Joseph Smith contributed his copy of Apocryphal New Testament to the NLLI along with some forty-nine other volumes—approximately one year after Taylor mentioned the prophet’s personal library in the Times and Seasons—it was listed as ‘Apocrhyphal Testament,’ the abbreviated title found on the spine of the 1832 Ravenna printing.

None of this is conclusive. Even if it is assumed that Joseph Smith contributed a copy of the Ravenna printing to the NLLI, he might have obtained it at any time between 1832 and early 1844. The author of the “Persecution of the Prophets” editorial could have been written using a copy of Apocryphal New Testament that belonged to someone other than Joseph Smith. And the fact that he lived near the areas in which Hone’s book was first published in the United States doesn’t prove that the prophet obtained a copy at that time. But the evidence is suggestive, and standing by itself the publication of Apocryphal New Testament in America during Joseph Smith’s lifetime is enough to show that it could have easily made its way into his hands in 1832, perhaps sooner.

Just as Anderson posits that Apocryphal New Testament might have contributed to the description Joseph Smith gave of Paul in January 1841, so could it have influenced the prophet’s introduction of vicarious baptism in August 1840. The Book of Mormon mentions salvation of the dead, and there is evidence that the prophet was cognizant of evangelization of the dead by 1833, but it seems that he was unsure as to the temporal modus operandi: in early 1836, a vision of heaven left him wondering how his deceased brother “had obtained an inheritance in that kingdom, seeing that he…had not been baptized for the remission of sins (D&C 137:6).” Perhaps sometime within the next four and half years before the funeral of Seymour Brunson the prophet read Apocryphal New Testament. Of course, the Bible itself separately mentions baptism for the dead and posthumous evangelization, but according to Anderson it is in the Shepherd of Hermas that “the two interrelated doctrines come together.”

Yet only if he interpreted it the way Anderson and Nibley do, could the passage from the Shepherd of Hermas have been the link between Joseph Smith’s early cognizance of salvation and evangelization of the dead and his later introduction of vicarious baptism. Again, the translation in Hone’s book reads: “these Apostles and teachers, who preached the name of the son of God, dying after they had received his faith and power, preached to them that were dead before; and they gave this seal to them. They went down therefore into the water with them, and again came up.” Anderson claims that “This cooperative baptism is proxy baptism,” and that “the joint immersion in water” of the apostles and their initiates “is part of the symbolism not expressly interpreted, referring to the earthly baptisms that were a shared experience of the living and the dead.” Likewise, for Nibley, “What is perfectly clear is that the apostles while they were still living performed an ordinance—the earthly ordinance of baptism in water—which concerned the welfare of those who had already died.” But it is precisely these aspects of the passage that are anything but obvious. The preaching occurs after the death of the apostles, and the baptism seems to as well. What is more, the dead themselves are baptized. The passage seems not to describe vicarious baptism let alone a baptism performed on earth. As patristic scholar Johannes Quasten writes, “the apostles and teachers descended into limbo after death…to baptize the righteous departed of pre-Christian times.” According to Anderson, this straightforward reading “lacks common sense.” But one has to ask whether his interpretation, which relies on ‘symbolism not expressly interpreted,’ is any more commonsensical.

What then of the other passages in Apocryphal New Testament? In the Gospel of Nicodemus, the baptism is performed on earth, but again it is the dead themselves who are baptized, and after their resurrection too, hardly equivalent to Joseph Smith’s vicarious system. As for the Acts of Paul and Thecla, although it clearly depicts the efforts of an embodied Christian on behalf of a disembodied non-Christian, it suggests that prayer alone is sufficient to translate the unbaptized dead to “a state of happiness.”

So even if William Hone’s Apocryphal New Testament did influence the prophet’s introduction of vicarious baptism, it does not account for it. Following the Shepherd of Hermas, he would have taught baptism of the dead in the world of spirits. Copying the Gospel of Nicodemus, he would have taught baptism of the resurrected on earth. And relying on the Acts of Paul and Thecla, he would have taught the much simpler concept of intercessory prayer not vicarious baptism. It is one thing for scholars to read Latter-day Saint doctrine and practice into these ancient sources, and quite another for Joseph Smith to have derived it entirely from them.


 To be sure, there are other passages in early Christian texts besides those in Hone’s book that might better account for the introduction of vicarious baptism, if such an explanation is to be sought. On 15 April 1842, the Times and Seasons ran an editorial on the new doctrine citing John Chrysostum’s description of the Marcionite practice of baptism for the dead. As with the “Persecution of the Prophets” editorial, it was excerpted in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. A case can be made for his co-authorship of the editorial based on Wilford Woodruff’s journal statement two months previous that “Joseph the Seer is now the editor of that paper & Elder Taylor assists him in writing.” Whoever wrote the editorial, it is striking that the passage had already been identified and was circulating in a church periodical so soon in the history of Mormonism. And already the author shows some awareness of how it is problematic that in the least ambiguous references to baptism for the dead from antiquity, the practice is espoused by or attributed to heterodox groups. Commenting on Chrysostom’s description of the Marctionite practice, the author of the Times and Seasons editorial writes: “The church of course at that time was degenerate, and the particular form might be incorrect, but the thing is particularly clear in the Scriptures.”

25 Replies to “Baptism for the Dead and William Hone’s Apocryphal New Testament”

  1. I read (just for pleasure, actually) Trumbower’s volume “Rescue for the Dead” this very week. I enjoyed it, although I don’t always agree with his interpretations of certain texts, and concerning the passages in 1 Peter pertaining to proclaiming the gospel to the dead I feel that he gave up trying to interpret it rather quickly (although they are admittedly difficult). Thanks for this write-up!


  2. Actually this has been an issue throughout the history of Christianity. Many proposed such things in the middle ages (it wasn’t orthodox, though) and the gospel of Nicodemus was quite popular during that time. I’m also told “that Christ descended into hell” is an Anglican article of faith. I also wonder if Ephrata had anything to do with it. Lots of sources.

  3. I think they briefly discuss it in their JER paper on Buck’s. I thought they had another one in the queue that discusses it more in depth. I’ve cited their discussion at MHA a couple of years ago on the matter.

  4. Smith clearly (and without attribution) quoted Buck’s account of the Marcionite heresy in his defense of baptism for the dead. We demonstrate that in the MHA 2008 paper.
    I’m (finally) getting our Mormon Buck paper into advanced draft, and we’ll try to shop it to standard non-Mormon journals, where you’ll see how we understood Smith to be interacting with prior Christianities in formal peer-reviewed publication. For Buck generally, see our Protestant Buck paper in JER that Matt headed up.

  5. Sorry, finally had a chance to read your essay in full.
    There’s a PhD dissertation by an evangelical that goes step by step through Mormon “misuses” of patristic sources that has made the point that I think is pretty clear to many scholars in the post-New Mormon History era (should that be meta-neo?)–there is nothing terribly miraculous about Smith and the early Mormons being fairly sophisticated interpreters of patristic and Gnostic sources. And the attempt to demonstrate some sort of philosophical anteriority or superiority on the basis of Gnostic-style parallels is unpersuasive and uninformative.

    My concern about your essay is that it’s settling for the problematics of the NMH. I’m much more interested in what Smith was doing with these ideas, how he was illuminating them, than I am in what book he read or what triggered his investigations.

    As for 1840s church organs, after hearing that “ghostwriting” sounded suspicious to some ears, I have opted to use the term “collaborative authorship.” The authorial collective in the 1840s made frequent use of Buck, the exchange papers, and a smattering of other sources when they were writing their editorials. Smith oversaw the work, I’m confident of that, but my reading of the documents suggests that he did little of the actual line-by-line writing.

  6. I’m with Sam #8 and the interest in what happened with the ideas. I like the way Bushman describes Joseph Smith in RSR, p 449: “He had a green thumb for growing ideas from tiny seeds.” The interesting question is how JS managed to read the same stuff everyone else had been reading for a long, long time and still synthesize/generate/reveal something so new and cool. Time after time. Sure, one can find the seeds all around, but the gift for growing — now, that’s sumthin’. If I could learn to do a little bit of that…

  7. Thanks for this excellent overview. You actually solved a problem for me that I’ve long wondered about, which is why JS’s description of Paul is so much like Acts of Paul and Thecla. Thanks for pointing me to the research on this.

    “So even if William Hone’s Apocryphal New Testament did influence the prophet’s introduction of vicarious baptism, it does not account for it.”

    I think that this conclusion is ultimately correct, and I think that for something as rich as baptism for the dead, there are likely a number of “influences” that contribute to JS’s revelations on this subject. As you note, it would be a mistake to attempt to reduce the revelations down to a composite of these “influences.” More importantly, it at least undercuts bad apologetic arguments which find these “parallels” and then claim that JS could not have know about them. This approach makes a reductionistic mistake of finding similarities with what JS was doing with early Christian sources and saying that it must be true because JS did NOT know about them. This is just as bad as saying that it can’t be true because JS DID know about them.

  8. Steve:

    I wouldn’t doubt it. If you have any reading recommendations do send them along.


    I admit to being a bit oldfashioned. And I’ve been sitting on this research for some time.

    A discussion of how the materials get used would be the next step of course. But in the case of Hone’s book and baptism for the dead, it’s not readily apparent to me how that could be done without a large dose of speculation.

    The dissertation you link to seems kind of hostile and sweeping, judging from the abstract. Was that your impression, reading it through?

    As for Buck’s Theological Dictionary, I had wondered where the Chrysostom reference was coming from. I look forward to the appearance of your article. How do you tie the book to JS, other than through the editorial? When I was looking for the source of the Chrysostom reference, I worked from JS’s NLLI contribution list, which does not include Buck. Not that the list is exhaustive of his library. I imagine you have seen that two other members of the NLLI did contribute copies of Buck, however.


    I agree with your assessment of what is more important here. By making claims that JS himself did not make, apologists can end up causing more harm than good when it turns out JS had access to the stuff they say he didn’t.

  9. I’m glad you asked! (I wonder if my blogger buddies are getting tired of my “you wouldn’t believe what they were doing in the middle ages!” mantra.)

    Check out Barbara Newman, From Virile Woman to WomanChrist, chapter 4: “On the Threshold of the Dead: Purgatory, Hell, and Religious Women.” Pretty awesome stuff. You might also like Excursus 2. “Gnostic, Free Spirits, and ‘Meister Eckhart’s Daughter'” in the same book. Also really cool.

    Then if you’re still ambitious see Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, Books under Suspicion: Censorship and Tolerance of Revelatory Writing in Late Medieval England. This is an incredible book but pretty tough to read because it’s so technical. But see Chapter 9 “Two Oxford Professors under Inquisition I: Ockham, Radical Salvation Theology, and the ‘Creation of Doubt’ in Langland and Chaucer.” Like I said, it’s pretty tough and is full of middle English but is worth it.

    And if your totally lost and want some help, Francis Oakley, The Western Church in the Later Middle Ages, is a good overview.

  10. Also see chapter 10 of Kerby-Fulton “Two Oxford Professors Under Inquisition II: Uthred de Boldon’s Vision Clara, Langland, and Liberal Salvation Theology.” That’s the really important one.

  11. “How do you tie the book to JS, other than through the editorial?”

    As Sam and Matt pointed out in their MHA paper, JS had been using Buck frequently in both Kirtland and Nauvoo. In the Lectures on Faith, for instance, which JS endorsed even if he didn’t write, it quotes Buck extensively. The same goes for many Nauvoo editorials. For example, “Try the Spirits,” one of the most important Nauvoo writings, not only relies on Buck but even encourages readers to use Buck as well.

    Even if his library holdings didn’t list it, or if he never owned his own copy, JS was very well aware of Buck.

  12. Download the MHA talk from the web server and get the JER paper for general background on Buck. Bucks was their standard reference in many respects. I’ve just been listening to Dale Martin ruminate about poor little Thecla–he’s quite theatrical. Glad to know the bit of lore about Paul had made its way into our deuterocanon. Our paper for a religion journal is going to focus more on how Smith made use of history/tradition in building a new religion, so we won’t have the NMH leisure to lay out every bibliographical detail, but I think we’ll be able to stick some of the NMH source-candy in footnotes.

    I don’t mean my anti-NMH diatribes to be mean-spirited–just sort of agitating for newer approaches. I apologize if my calls for change appear belittling.

    My scholarly interest in Mormonism drops off substantially in 1844 and disappears entirely by about 1846, so it’s a bit of a struggle for me to read stuff about the twentieth century. The dissy seemed like an evangelical walking into the mess and saying “Oh no you didun” when he sees how 20th cent Mormons are using Patristic sources. A circa 1990 Dialogue paper, if someone wanted to write it, would be walking through these “JSJ couldn’t have known so it must be true” parallels to ancient heresies and murky patristics or late 2d temple judaism sources and showing how prevalent each of those was in the milieu. My problem is that other than fighting with RelEd I don’t see what purpose that would serve unless you push to understand what it meant to be reviewing, renewing, commenting, and modifying these ideas.

  13. Larrin:

    I seem to remember there being a website somewhere devoted to this question. Anyhow, a place to start, albeit late, is the Nauvoo Library and Literary Institute minute book, which was recently published in its entirety by Chris of JI in Mormon Historical Studies, I believe.

    The challenge there is that some of the books are hard to identify (Quinn made a lot of progress in a note in Magic World View). For instance, one of the titles is listed as “Epicureo.” Is this a book on Epicurus? How great would it be if JS owned and read the arch-heretic himself?


    Thanks for the references.


    Ok. I was thinking known ownership or borrowing. But awareness is plenty to go on.


    Must I be a member to access the MHA talk? I can’t seem to find it.

    I don’t begrudge you your methodological innovation. My point is that before any discussion of how a source gets used it must be shown where? Do you agree? I don’t know of anyplace in early Mormon teaching on baptism for the dead where Hone’s book gets used, with or without citation.

    With Buck, you have a clear case of dependance in the editorial, despite the lack of attribution. There’s nothing like that with Hone, at least that I have found.

    (On topics other than baptism for the dead, there are places where Hone’s book does get used, I think: the reference to the hiding of John the Baptist and the death of his father in “Persecution of the Prophets,” taken from Protevangelion of James; and maybe the description of Paul.)

  14. g.wesley, i’d urge caution apropos something like “persecution of the prophets” and remember that the exchange papers often plagiarised more established texts, that other homiletic authors used them in other books. So, for example, on this question, you’d want to not just track down the Apocrypha from Hone but look through old newspapers (AAS has a digital archive that various libraries subscribe to), search google book and other archives, look through Methodist and Presbygationalist sermons and devotional texts. You are likely to find other uses that will problematize any attempt to demonstrate textual dependence except in cases, as with the Chrysostom-Marcionite account from Buck, which is verbatim and occurs in the setting of other verbatim, sometimes acknowledged borrowings by the authorial collective. But even work like we’ve done on Bucks ends up relegated to 2 lines in a footnote in most scholarship of any relevance outside of narrowly described devotional lines unless it’s aggressivley moved beyond that NMS source-candy approach.

    Working on textual networks takes a) a lot more work than any of us is ready to admit, and b) suspension of the prisca theologia or theological synchronicity approaches that underlie most of the apologetical work on parallels.

    Have to get back to work on my epidemiological studies so will have to sign off. MHA is a great venue for exploring some of these heavily internal questions so that you’ll have rock-solid footnotes for a later interpretive work.

    I think sunstone hosts the MHA talks.

  15. @ #20: “How great would it be if JS owned and read the arch-heretic himself?”

    Doctrine and Covenants 131:7-8 seems too Epicurean to have been conjured out of thin air.

  16. Sam, I think you’re making this a more daunting task then it need be. All that may be useful, but g. has something interesting here regardless. These texts were in the “milieu”; that is, the ideas were out there. My approach is to understand that most of what influenced JS, or anybody else, was oral. Texts are always the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ideas (unless your a professor or a monk). Also, baptism for the dead was a complicated amalgam of ideas and practices that developed as a theological process. We shouldn’t only look at fall 1840, but at the processes of how and why JS came to his conclusions (I tried a little outline in my Church History article). The Hone find is really useful information.

  17. Sorry, I was too stern. It is important to get the legwork on the textual networks done. Incidentally, GB has both the 1820 London and the 1824 Buffalo edns.

    If someone is working on this, I long since abandoned a project to describe Smith’s textual milieu, so I have a few research notes that I’d be happy to share.

  18. Steve:

    Yes, orality. I tend to forget about that.


    I’m not and almost certainly never will. But I’d be interested in your notes. Maybe you could post them in some form.

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