Joseph Smith and the Taxonomy of Intelligence(s), part 4. Text and Context for the King Follett Discourse

You should be righteous, and read parts one, two and three, first. You will at least need to read part three.

The two most important reporters of KFD2 were Thomas Bullock and William Clayton. In the construction of a critical text for KFD2, one important piece of information that the manuscripts of Bullock and Clayton give are their failure points. That is, the points where they failed to tell us what was said. In the other extant reports, this information can often only be inferred by reference to other texts. Bullock and Clayton show us their failures by adding a “-” a dash at certain points. Bullock in particular apparently tried to keep up with the speaker, but when he fell far enough behind, he left a – and then continued with what was currently being said. Some dashes of course may mean other things. For example, a pause by the speaker from fatigue. When the early editors of the Joseph Smith speeches worked them over, they often treated the dashes as commas or periods, or simply ignored them.

Other interesting issues surface in the manuscripts. For example, it may be that crowd noise or wind or the speaker turning his head or running out of breath may have caused the reporter to “mishear” a phrase or word. A possible example of this occurs among the three short excerpts given in the previous post. We don’t know where Clayton and Bullock were sitting in relation to the speaker. But consider the first two excerpts. Both have the phrase, “the mind of man” they continue in two different ways. “the mind of man the immortal spirit” (completion by Bullock) the second says “the mind of man the intelligent part” (completion by Clayton). It is easy to believe that the second phrase is really a repeat of the first. They sound alike. Observe also the third excerpt which mimics the first again. The first phrase involves common terms of the sermon. The second phrase is unusual. The usual rule when considering text families of an archetype would not favor this kind of speculation. But this is a different kind of problem. “the intelligent part” may in fact be “the immortal spirit”.

Whatever the truth of that matter, it illustrates a little of the richness of the source matter for KFD2. It also shows in some respects the difficulties that may face any attempt at reconstruction.

Some conclusions regarding Joseph’s view of *what a spirit may be* can be seen from excerpt number 2. “they now exist in a place where they converse [the] same as we do on earth.” That is, spirits are beings which exist as individual conscious persons. For Joseph, there appears to be continuity between preexistent life, mortal life and post mortal life.

Excerpt 3 suggests that spirits have no beginning or end. Excerpt 2 tells us what being a spirit means. Spirits and men are identified. Spirits are men. This is a monistic view and it is clear from the critical text that this is what Smith believed, I think.

Context reinforces this idea. The beginning of the sermon shows that it was delivered as a comfort for the bereaved. The point is, that Smith is telling them that the person they knew on earth, still exists. Excerpt three demonstrates that Smith felt a point of logic may be used as part of that assurance. Because *persons* do not begin, they do not end.[1] One is therefore reassured that there is only separation, not annihilation-which is impossible.

Excerpt one shows the confusion of terminology that has infected and still does infect many discussions of these ideas. Soul, mind, spirit all are used to refer to man (a man). The Book of Abraham adds the last bit of confusion by using the title word, “intelligences.”

I’m not delving too deeply into the text here, and of course this is not the end of a story which has a long temporal extension. But remember the rules defined in part 2! I believe we can use the text to reinforce the above points further. I won’t do that here, but I think we have established what was in Joseph Smith’s mind, assuming he was not being deceptive. The critical text demonstrates that there is enough certainty in the text at this point to show that what was actually said matches the conclusions above.

One more contextual point which applies to the excerpts given in part 3 is that most of them are repeated by Joseph in a considerable number of other addresses. This does two things. First, it certifies that the statements of the critical text were not unusual and therefore not errors or random thoughts of the moment. Second, the repetition of the statements over time shows that Smith believed they were sufficiently important elements of Mormonism that they deserved to be cemented into the system of belief. But they did not become so cemented. The reasons for that are complex indeed.[2]

The implications here are very broad and so require very careful consideration. But I hasten to add, that what Joseph thought, assuming we are correct in our analysis here, does not define the corpus of Mormon doctrine. The only point behind our discussion here is to suggest the importance of these texts in determining what he thought and how they might be used. Their preservation is of great value even just for that.

[1] Smith’s logic might be disputed, but his use of it reinforces the argument regarding what he believed about the nature of spirits. And of course it was not the first time he used the argument.

[2] An important part of the reason though is that his audiences were rarely repeating listeners. Also, the nature of hearing a speech in 1841 or 1844 meant that not every word spoken would be understood, and written reports mostly did not exist so that there was no contemporary reference process, no question/answer interaction. It is remarkable that Orson Pratt chose to include in the 1876 Doctrine and Covenants some of the most poorly witnessed remarks JS made in private venues. But there were reasons for that. There are several themes Joseph pursued that either disappeared, or got subverted.

7 Responses to Joseph Smith and the Taxonomy of Intelligence(s), part 4. Text and Context for the King Follett Discourse

  1. matt w. says:

    Good stuff- what is the best source for studying this “prattization” of the 1876 D&C?

    • WVS says:

      Matt, It’s a topic for the taking. There is not an over-abundance of source material for the process. The historian’s office records contain some information. Woodford’s 1976 dissertation has a bit of info. Pratt’s papers may have something, it’s been a long time since I looked at those. There are a couple of other places to look, but it is really a topic waiting for some serious work. Moreover, all the post Nauvoo editions should be carefully studied. The 1981 process really begs for a careful study, not just the D&C, but also the Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price. There were some really important things there that have gone essentially unnoticed in the literature.

  2. I just stumbled on this website. Great blog posts. Keep it up!

  3. J. Stapley says:

    I agree that Pratt’s selections are at once bizarre and enormously important. I sometime play speculative fiction, imagining what the church would be like if he had included different sermons from Nauvoo.

    Matt, it has been a while, but think Woodford’s dissy has the best treatment of the creation of the Pratt edition. His analysis of the individual sections are rather flawed, though, because he didn’t have access to Clayton’s diary.

  4. W. V. Smith says:

    Thanks, Sethadam.

  5. Pingback: Antebellum Liberty vs. Mormon Individuality «'s Blog

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