Joseph Smith and Language

As I learn more about Joseph Smith, I find myself feeling more sympathetic toward him. But every so often I run across something that leaves my jaw on the floor, such as this excerpt from his “Appeal to the Green Mountain Boys”:

Were I a Chaldean I would exclaim: Keed’ nauh to-maroon lehoam elauhayaugh deyshemayaugh veh aur kau lau gnaubadoo, yabadoo ma-ar’guauoomen tehoat shemayaugh alah. (Thus shall we say unto them: The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, they shall perish from the earth, and from under these heavens.) An Egyptian: Sa e eh-ni: (What other persons are these?) A Grecian: Diabolas basseleuei: (The Devil reigns.) A Frenchman: Messieurs sans Dieu, (Gentlemen without Go.) A Turk: Ain shems: (The fountain of light.) A german: sie sind unferstandig. (What consumate ignorance!) A Syrian: Zaubok. (Sacrifice!) A Spaniard: Il sabio muda conscio, il nescio ne. (A wise man reflects, a fool does not.) A Samaritian: Saunau! (O Stranger!) An Italian: O tempa! oh diffidanza! (O the times! O the diffidence!) A Hebrew: Ajtaij aol raicu (Thou God seest me.) A Dane: Hvnd tidende! (What tidings!) A Saxon: Hwaet riht! (What right!) A Swede: Hvad skilla: (What skill!) A Polander: Nav-yen-wheo bah poa na Jesus Christus: (Blessed be the name of Jesus Christ.) A Western Indian: She-mo-kah She-mo keh ough-nepgab. (The white man, O the white man, he very uncertain.) A Roman: Procul, o procul este profani! (Be off, be off ye profane!) But as I am I will only add: when the wicked rule the people mourn.

No wonder, as Fawn Brodie puts it, “these proud displays … so embarrassed later historians of his church that they were quietly deleted from the official histories.”


12 Responses to Joseph Smith and Language

  1. lol. Well if it helps, Sam Brown has recently shown that these displays of linguistic excellence were ghostwritten by W. W. Phelps (albeit with JS’s knowledge and approval and with the help of JS’s Egyptian Alphabet & Grammar).

  2. Fawn Brodie had the same affect on me. She presented a Joseph Smith that was very relateable, and sympathizable. I really enjoyed the book.

  3. Mina says:

    Tell me it’s not true, Chris. Another cherished Smith-Myth bites the dust. I LOVED the vainglorious insanity of that passage!

  4. lol. Unfortunately, it’s true. I guess there’s always still the Alphabet and Grammar itself if it’s insanity you’re looking for…

  5. Seth R. says:

    Richard Bushman includes this excerpt in his bio of Joseph “Rough Stone Rolling.” He explains that Joseph was a part of the frontier American culture of tall tales and boasting and it occasionally came out in his speech. He would also occasionally boast of being more competent by mere right of revelation than any doctor, lawyer, scholar or other expert by mere right of revelation.

    Bushman notes that there was also a certain perverseness to the frontier culture of tall tales. People in frontier America new that “Easterners” looked on them as a bunch of ignorant savages. So a lot of frontiersmen took a perverse sort of pleasure in rubbing eastern noses in it with outrageous speech and conduct. They enjoyed the shocked reactions from their “more civilized” guests.

    It was a common cultural trait for the area, and Joseph was no exception.

  6. Seth R. says:

    At least, Bushman includes something similar anyway…

  7. Megan says:

    Had to google the whole text as I’ve never heard of this – but it’s fascinating reading. His rhetoric is powerful although very, very derivative. I can see how a contemporary audience would be moved by it as he brings in familiar phrases and has an excellent sense of rhythm. He does have a few problems (if the version I read is accurate) when he tries for original imagery: “spread yourselves far and wide, and open the iron eyes of your bulwarks by sea and land” makes no sense at all (iron eyes of bulwarks?). What interests me is how this whole thing undermines the “simple, unlettered country boy” image nurtured by the church – unless it was ghost written for him? It shows a man with a tremendous memory, a superb ear for language and a fine command of emotional appeal. Everything, in other words, you’d expect from a charismatic leader!

  8. Megan says:

    Sorry to comment again but:

    “My Father, who stood several times in the battles of the American Revolution, till his companions in arms, had been shot dead, at his feet, was forced from his home in Far West, Missouri, by those civilized, or satanized savages, in the dreary season of winter, to seek a shelter in another State; and the vicissitudes and sufferings consequent to his flight brought his honored grey head to the grave, a few months after.”

    1st – this is serious comma abuse
    2nd – Joseph Sr. must have been an amazing child prodigy in soldiering since he was born in 1771 making him about 4 when Paul Revere rode, 5 when the Declaration was signed and 10 during the surrender at Yorktown.

  9. Lamanite says:

    What hell was he talking about? Even if every sentence were correct and accurate; why the obviously over the top exchange?

    Do you have reference so I can read this in context.

    At face value it seems like he’s just being an arrogant d-bag. Which is actually something I can relate to, unfortunately.

    Big UP!


  10. Megan,

    That’s very interesting! I do believe Smith had a grandfather who fought in the Revolution. But it’s odd that he would lie about his father having done so, especially since it really wasn’t necessary.

    hmmm… maybe this was a pathological problem!


  11. Frank Lee says:

    I enjoyed it.

    It would be hard to rally the Green Mountain Boys if you came across as Caspar Milquetoast. Two to one, Joseph Smith Jr. could kick your ass.

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