Age of Reason and Joseph Smith

Thomas Paine wrote Age of Reason in 1796. He died a few years later in 1809 and was a very popular figure in the late 18th and early 19th century--especially in Pennsylvania and New York (areas he had lived in; he died in New York). Joseph Smith was born in 1805. He lived and worked in both New York and Pennsylvania from the age of 10.

In the LDS Church archives there is a document by Joseph's mother Lucy Smith entitled the "Preliminary Draft" in which she speaks of her father-in-law giving Joseph Smith Sr. a copy of Age of Reason and "bade him read that until he believed it." Clearly Joseph Smith had access to the book even if he didn't read and study the entire thing.

The following comparison isn't an exhaustive list of similarities between Paine's words and Joseph's scriptures. It isn't intended to persuade anyone into thinking that the Age of Reason was a major source for the things Joseph Smith did (although some have speculated that Joseph Smith wrote what he did in response to the skepticism of the day). Clearly, the King James Version of the Bible was the largest source for the subsequent LDS scriptures. Compared to Age of Reason, there are several other sources which may have played a much larger roll in the developments (such as View of the Hebrews). It is even possible (although unlikely in my opinion) that Joseph Smith never even read View of the Hebrews or Age of Reason. Rather, he may have just been a product of the environment of the time which was heavily influenced by such works. In any event, here are some interesting possible responses which Joseph Smith may have made after reading Paine.

Age of Reason
LDS scripture
Every national church or religion has established itself by pretending some special mission from God, communicated to certain individuals... No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication, if He pleases. But admitting, for the sake of a case, that something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only... and hearsay to every other, and consequently they are not obliged to believe it. It is a contradiction in terms and ideas, to call anything a revelation that comes to us at second-hand, either verbally or in writing... When Moses told the children of Israel that he received the two tables of the commandments from the hands of God, they were not obliged to believe him, because they had no other authority for it than his telling them so; and I have no other authority for it than some historian telling me so... When I am told that the Koran was written in heaven and brought to Mahomet by an angel, the account comes too near the same kind of hearsay evidence and second-hand authority as the former. I did not see the angel myself and, therefore, I have a right not to believe it.
-- p. 8
And the day cometh that the words of the book which were sealed shall be read upon the house tops; and they shall be read by the power of Christ... Wherefore, at that day when the book shall be delivered unto the man of whom I have spoken,...three witnesses shall behold it, by the power of God, besides him to whom the book shall be delivered; and they shall testify to the truth of the book and the things therein.
-- 2 Nephi 27:11,12

And unto three shall (the plates) be shown by the power of God; wherefore they shall know of a surety that these things are true. And in the mouth of three witnesses shall these things be established...
-- Ether 5:3,4

The Book of Mormon is accompanied by the testimony of three witnesses: Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris, and by a further testimony by eight witnesses.

As to the account of the creation, with which the book of Genesis opens, it has all the appearance of being a tradition... It begins abruptly. It is nobody that speaks. It is nobody that hears. It is addressed to nobody. It has neither first, second, nor third person. It has every criterion of being a tradition. It has no voucher. Moses does not take it upon himself by introducing it with the formality that he uses on other occasions, such as that of saying, "The Lord spake unto Moses, saying."
-- p. 17
And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I reveal unto you concerning this heaven, and this earth; write the words which I speak. I am the Beginning and the End, the Almighty God; by mine Only Begotten I created these things; yea, in the beginning I created the heaven, and the earth upon which thou standest. And the earth was without form, and void; and I caused darkness to come up upon the face of the deep; and my Spirit moved upon the face of the water; for I am God. And I, God, said: Let there be light; and there was light... (And so on with "I, God" for the rest of Genesis l.)
-- Moses 2
Though it is not a direct article of the Christian system that this world that we inhabit is the whole of the habitable creation, yet it is so worked up therewith, from what is called the Mosaic account of the Creation... that to believe otherwise, that is, to believe that God created a plurality of worlds, at least as numerous as what we call stars, renders the Christian system of faith at once little and ridiculous, and scatters it in the mind like feathers in the air... Our ideas, not only of the almightiness of the Creator, but of his wisdom and his beneficence, become enlarged in proportion as we contemplate the extent and the structure of the universe... From whence, then, could arise the solitary and strange conceit that the Almighty, who had millions of worlds equally dependent on his protection, should quit the care of all the rest and come to die in our world, because, they say, one man and one woman had eaten an apple!
-- p. 47, 53-4
And (Moses) beheld many lands; and each land was called earth, and there were inhabitants on the face thereof. And it came to pass that Moses called upon God, saying: Tell me, I pray thee, why these things are so, and by what thou madest them?... And the Lord God said unto Moses: For mine own purpose have I made these things. Here is wisdom and it remaineth in me... And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten... But only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you. For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them.
-- Moses 1:29-31,33-35
The book ascribed to Matthew says there was darkness over all the land from the sixth hour unto the ninth hour; that the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; that there was an earthquake; that the rocks rent; that the graves opened; that the bodies of many of the saints that slept arose and came out of their graves after the resurrection, and went into the holy city and appeared unto many. Such is the account which this dashing writer of the book of Matthew gives, but in which he is not supported by the writers of the other books.

The writer of the book ascribed to Mark, in detailing the circumstances of the crucifixion, makes no mention of any earthquake, nor of the rocks rending, nor of the graves opening, nor of the dead men walking out. The writer of the book of Luke is silent also upon the same points. And as to the writer of the book of John, though he details all the circumstances of the crucifixion down to the burial of Christ, he says nothing about either the darkness, the veil of the temple, the earthquake, the rocks, the graves, nor the dead men.

Now if it had been true that those things had happened, and if the writers of these books had lived at the time they did happen, and had been the persons they are said to be, namely, the four men called apostles, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, it was not possible for them, as true historians, even without the aid of inspiration, not to have recorded them. The things, supposing them to have been facts, were of too much notoriety not to have been known, and of too much importance not to have been told.

Strange indeed that an army of saints should return to life, and nobody know who they were, nor who it was that saw them... But... these saints are made to pop up, like Jonah's gourd in the night, for no purpose at all but to wither in the morning. Thus much for this part of the story.
-- pp. 144-7

And it came to pass in the thirty and fourth year, in the first month, on the fourth day of the month, there arose a great storm, such an one as never had been known in all the land. And there was also a great and terrible tempest; and there was terrible thunder, insomuch that it did shake the whole earth as if it was about to divide asunder... behold, the whole face of the land was changed, because of the tempest and the whirlwinds, and the thunderings and the lightnings, and the exceedingly great quaking of the whole earth;... And many great and notable cities were sunk, and many were burned, and many were shaken till the buildings thereof had fallen to the earth...And it came to pass that when the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the storm, and the tempest, and the quakings of the earth did cease-- for behold, they did last for about the space of three hours... and then behold, there was darkness upon the face of the land. And it came to pass that it did last for the space of three days that there was no light seen; and there was great mourning and howling and weeping among all the people continually; yea, great were the groanings of the people, because of the darkness and the great destruction which had come upon them.
-- 3 Nephi 8:5,6,12,14,19,23

And when Nephi had brought forth the records, and laid them before him, he (Jesus) cast his eyes upon them and said: Verily I say unto you, I commanded my servant Samuel, the Lamanite, that he should testify unto this people, that at the day that the Father should glorify his name in me that there were many saints who should arise from the dead, and should appear unto many, and should minister unto them. And he said unto them: Was it not so? And his disciples answered him and said: Yea, Lord, Samuel did prophesy according to thy words, and they were all fulfilled. And Jesus said unto them: How be it that ye have not written this thing, that many saints did arise and appear unto many and did minister unto them? And it came to pass that Nephi remembered that this thing had not been written. And it came to pass that Jesus commanded that it should be written; therefore it was written according as he commanded.
-- 3 Nephi 23:8-13

The resurrection of a dead person from the grave, and his ascension through the air, is a thing very different, as to the evidence it admits of, to the invisible conception of a child in the womb. The resurrection and ascension, supposing them to have taken place, admitted of public and ocular demonstration, like that of the ascension of a balloon, or the sun at noonday, to all Jerusalem at least. A thing which everybody is required to believe, requires that the proof and evidence of it should be equal to all, and universal; and as the public visibility of this last related act was the only evidence that could give sanction to the former part, the whole of it falls to the ground because that evidence never was given. Instead of this, a small number of persons, not more than eight or nine, are introduced as proxies for the whole world, to say they saw it, and all the rest of the world are called upon to believe it. But it appears that Thomas did not believe the resurrection; and, as they say, would not believe without having ocular and manual demonstration himself. So neither will I; and the reason is equally as good for me, and for every other person, as for Thomas.
-- pp. 10-11
And now it came to pass that there were a great multitude gathered together, of the people of Nephi... And they were also conversing about this Jesus Christ, of whom the sign had been given concerning his death... And it came to pass,... they cast their eyes up again towards heaven; and behold, they saw a Man descending out of heaven; and he was clothed in a white robe; and he came down and stood in the midst of them; and the eyes of the whole multitude were turned upon him... And it came to pass that he stretched forth his hand and spake unto the people, saying: Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world... And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto them saying: Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world. And it came to pass that the multitude went forth, and thrust their hands into his side, and did feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet; and this they did do, going forth one by one until they had all gone forth, and did see with their eyes and did feel with their hands, and did know of a surety and did bear record, that it was he, of whom it was written by the prophets, that should come.
-- 3 Nephi 11:1,2,8-10,13-15

Message from the bulletin board on the subject

For more on the subject see Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith: Psychobiography and the Book of Mormon.


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