George Laub and the Spiritual Roots of Human [Existence]

Yes, I went there. Nearly. George Laub (1814-1880) was an early Mormon convert who spent some time in Nauvoo. While there, he took notes of speeches by early leaders of the Church, including Joseph Smith. Laub left second order summaries of those notes in a little journal/reminiscence produced between 1845 and 1857.[1]

I’ve produced a book manuscript that details textual/historical aspects of certain sermons of Joseph Smith, and as a spin-off of that effort I’ve done work on another book that just focuses on the famous King Follett sermon, delivered on Easter Sunday, April 7, 1844. Because the first book is quite technical and the second more historical, it so happens that I don’t appeal to Laub’s version of that sermon too much in either work. That said, Laub’s work is still kind of fun, and his summary of the sermon is rather unique and sometimes clever, sometimes clearly defining the issues, sometimes probably combining his own thought and those of others with Joseph Smith’s remarks as he remembered them and perhaps briefly recorded them, as he says, on “scraps.”[2]

George Laub ca. 1870. Laub is buried in St. George, Utah. Laub was ritually “adopted” to John D. Lee. That didn’t work out.

Anyway, here’s a couple of excerpts from Laub’s little notebook on the April 7 sermon:

How came spirits? Why they are and were self existing as all eternity and our spirits are as eternal as the very God is himself

This excerpt has the advantage of focusing on one of the key points of the sermon and at the same time reveals one of the odd faults of the sermon’s internal logic that exists in most of its reports. The point is this. One of the purposeful shock points of the sermon is that God wasn’t always God. The separate declaration about human spirits being self-existent[3] (not contingent) and “as eternal as God himself” appeals to the audience’s prejudice that God is not contingent as God. You see the oddness. It’s a time error, in the sense that Smith seems to be giving two sermons in two separate timelines. Laub does a nice job of peeling this back to the bone I think. God and humans are self-existent beings, their time-linked status is not. I don’t think Laub thought this through, really, but it works well in his report and I don’t think Joseph Smith was trying at some subtle cleverness here either. Of course, all this is something of a presentist extra-textual rationalization. The post-Smithian historical rationalizations took altogether different directions in any case.

Here’s a longer bit from Laub that is really quite good:

those who die without the obedience of the gospel here will have to obey it in the world of spirits for so long as they do not obey they will be miserable and as if they were in torment of fire and brimstone. Thus is the signification of torment . . . But Satan, or Lucifer, being the next heir and had allotted to him great power and authority even prince of power of the air. He spake immediately and boasted of himself saying send me I can save all and [he] sinned against the Holy Ghost because he accused his brethren and was hurled from the counsel for striving to break the law immediately. There was a warfare with Satan and the gods and they hurled Satan out of his place and all them that would not keep the sayings of the council. But he himself being one of the councilors would not keep the first estate for he was one of the sons of perdition and consequently all the sons of perdition become devils. [Elipsis is Laub’s.]

Laub’s point implicitly but pretty clearly appeals to the idea of vicarious work for the dead. That notion is less clear in the more contemporary audits of the sermon and it suggests to me that Laub is doing what is formally called a “content audit.” That is, he may be expanding his memory/notes here with his internal thinking or external reference (he’s using ideas from another source). Laub’s focus on “the council” is certainly “Smithian” if you will but his reconstructed narrative of Satan is unique to his report of the sermon. Laub’s notion that Satan “sinned against the Holy Ghost” is almost surely a compression of Smith’s expressions in the sermon about “sons of Perdition” and the “sin against the Holy Ghost.” In other reports, Smith works out the Satan narrative thusly: Jesus points out that some mortals will lose their chance at salvation—namely the sons of Perdition—and this becomes the sticking point in the heavenly debate. Satan argues that this category shouldn’t exist and this is the fundamental insult to God (according to the sermon). And it’s pretty clear from the other reports, particularly the aural audits, that Smith confines the sin against the Holy Ghost as a strictly mortal risk. It can’t be executed without a body. I quite like Laub here though. The protology is still rather Smithian since it still carries along Smith’s irony about the Devil and “one-third of the hosts of heaven”: they object to the possibility of permanent dark penalty and then manage to incur it themselves.

George Laub. Thanks George.

[1] Laub made a copy of parts of this notebook/journal and gave it to the LDS Church Historian’s Office in Utah, ca. 1858. This later version was published in BYU Studies (Winter 1978) as edited by Eugene England. I don’t use this later version here. The earlier notebook has the more clouded provenance but other factors suggest it’s the older of the two.

[2] Laub got a number of the dates wrong for the sermons he reported—sometimes he was off by a year as well as a day(s).

[3] This idea is not unique to the Follett sermon. Smith’s post-Liberty Jail preaching often packages it with some kind of declaration against material creation out of nothing. It forms an interesting complex of ideas that rise from the ashes of the failed Zion. Not going there now though.

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