Rediscovering the Context of Joseph Smith's Treasure Seeking
Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought
Taylor writes in response to the appearance of the Hofmann documents, particularly the Josiah Stowell and Harris-Phelps letters. As he puts it, 'What had been a relatively plain and comprehensible documentary landscape suddenly comes alive with the inexplicable: with people matter-of-factly talking of guardian spirits, divining rods, seer stones, and treasures that move in the ground. As the current controversy over these newly publicized documents attests, new 'wisdom and understanding' can be perplexing, even frightening.' Taylor goes on to say 'these new documents need not be so perplexing and frightening if we reconstruct the cultural context of rural America in the early nineteenth century, a context where treasure-seekers were neither fools nor decievers, where treasure-seeking was part of an attempt to recapture the simplicity and magical power associated with apostolic Christianity.' Over the course of his article, the author argues that the transformation of treasure-seeking into early Mormonism was the product of two interactive struggles: First, Joseph Smith's personal struggle with spiritual beings for divine knowledge, and second, his realization that a reputation for treasure-seeking was a handicap in communicating to an increasingly rational audience. In coming years, Smith and his followers deemphasized his early supernatural explorations, leading some Mormons to doubt that he was ever involved. The author concludes by saying that 'it is now possible to recognize that Mormonism's founders were deeply and enthusiastically involved in folk magic but that this does not undermine the sincerity of the Mormon faith.'