Joseph Smith: Biography, Teachings & Quotes

Instructor: Thomas Davis

Thomas has taught high school age students for 34 years, undergraduate 12 years, and graduate courses for the last 8 years. He has a Masters Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from National Louis University in Evanston, Illinois.

Joseph Smith Jr. founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Known more commonly as the Mormon Church today. You'll look at his life and learn about several of his teachings and quotes along the way. Following this you can test your knowledge with a quiz!

Joseph Smith

You probably have some notion or recognition to the name Joseph Smith. It might be from the episode of South Park focusing on the Mormon Church or the musical The Book of Mormon created by the same guys. It might be a name you heard some friendly young men say to you when they approached you on a college campus. Regardless, Joseph Smith Jr.'s name is synonymous with the founding of the Mormon religion and the storied life he led.

Joseph Smith Jr.
joseph smith

Influential Years

Son of Lucy and Joseph Smith, Joseph Smith Jr. was born in Sharon, Vermont but eventually moved to Palmyra, New York. When Joseph was a teenager, a traveling magician and diviner came through Palmyra offering his services. He claimed he had the ability to find water, or treasure hidden by the natives. Joseph was very interested in this diviner's skill and tried to spend time watching him but nothing was ever found, and the diviner disappeared (not by magic, surprisingly).

Joseph found some stones of his own and decided to test his skills. When a man passing through Palmyra heard about the possible clairvoyant skills of Joseph Smith Jr. he wanted to meet him. The traveler believed the Spanish had been through an area of New York and may have left riches. He asked Joseph Jr. to come with him and help him find the treasure.

Falling in Love

Arriving home, the traveler quickly had a large group of men ready to dig. They all worked hard at first, but became disenchanted quickly. Most quickly surmised that Joseph was a fraud. Joseph stayed int area because he had met Emma Hale and fallen in love. Emma, a school teacher, showed little interest in Joseph, but he had to try. He took a job on a farm that was close to Emma's family home. He went school, which he did not do when he as young as he had to work on the farm. When Joseph turned twenty-one he talked Emma into eloping and the two married. They went to live in Palmyra with Joseph's family.

Angel Visit and Golden Plates

Emma's father Issac offered them to live in a house on his property. Joseph agreed to help with the farming, but when he did not show, Issac went to investigate. What he found was Joseph sitting at the table uttering biblical sayings holding two squared objects. Emma was on the other side of a curtain writing down his words. When Issac demanded an explanation, he wasn't ready for what he heard.

Joseph claimed that when he had gone to Palmyra he was visited by an angel. The angel led Joseph to Cumorah, a hill near Palmyra and told him to dig. There he found a set of golden plates that were to be the Book of Mormon. The plates were written in foreign symbols to be deciphered with two stones that were with the plates. As any of us would have done, Issac asked to see the plates. Joseph said if anyone saw them they would die.

Joseph Smith Jr. became a different person. His became completely focused on plates and their message. He believed, 'Truth is Mormonism. God is the author of it.' The scriptures told him that Jewish families had migrated to America and became the ancestors to the Natives. Joseph also claimed that Jesus Christ also had been to America. Emma worked with her husband until the couple had a child in 1828. Unfortunately, their son died and Emma went into a state of depression.

Joseph took two and one half years to create the Book of Mormon which consisted of approximately 300,000 words. To prove that the plates existed, Joseph showed them to several people who then signed affidavits that they existed. However he felt that, 'The best way to obtain truth and wisdom is not to ask from books, but to go to God in prayer, and obtain divine teaching.'

The Book of Mormon
book of mormon

Founding of the First Mormon Church

The plates ultimately went missing. According to Joseph, he returned them to an angel. Others claimed they were stolen. Regardless, the Book of Mormon went to publication and caused quite a frenzy. Claims that America was a holy land, and the natives were descendants of Israel were appealing to some, but not to Christians.

Joseph organized the first Mormon Church, and baptism was performed by total body ceremony in Lake Seneca. The first members were Joseph's parents and family. Joseph believed very much in his importance as he said, 'Noah came before the flood. I have come before the fire.'

Mormon Trek 'The Far West'

By 1831, the Mormon church had spread and grown in numbers. The largest group was in Kirtland, Ohio. Smith moved there so he could control the expansion. The group in Kirtland was very successful, yet Mormonism was still very unpopular in the east. Smith professed, 'If you will stay with the majority of the Twelve Apostles, and the records of the Church, you will never be led astray.' Smith began to entertain ideas about leaving the multi-denominational groups of the east and go west to a place he called 'Zion.' Smith believed Independence, Ohio would be a good headquarters, calling it the 'Far West.'

Driven to Nauvoo

When early groups of Mormons arrived in the Far West, they weren't welcome. Angry, Smith decided to send a force out to Missouri. When they got there, so was the Missouri militia to stop them. Shortly after his arrival in the Far West, Smith was arrested in a murder plot. While in jail, the Mormons were driven out of Missouri and over the Mississippi into Illinois. Smith was able to join them when he bribed his way out of jail with eight hundred dollars and a bottle of whiskey.

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