Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Willard Richards "Prophecy"

Lesson # 37 of the Church History Primary Manual has the following quote:

"Elder Richards had not been injured in the attack. This miracle fulfilled a prophecy made a year earlier by Joseph Smith, who had told Elder Richards that there would be a time when “the balls [bullets] would fly around him like hail, and he should see his friends fall on the right and on the left,” but he would not be hurt. (History of the Church, 6:619).

willard_richards (1)

The Primary Manual quotes only the bold words from  The History of the Church. The other words from the Primary Manual are unquoted and paraphrased.   The most unfortunate part of this story is there probably was no such prophecy, but we'll get to that part later.


The manual has a pointless error.

Willard Richards was hurt.  The same paragraph the manual quotes also says, "yet he stood unscathed, with the exception of a ball which grazed the tip end of the lower part of his left ear." 
joseph_smith_martyrdom

The actual quote is:  "the time would come that the balls would fly around him like hail, and he should see his friends fall on the right and on the left, but that there should not be a hole in his garment."  


So why did the manual writers change the quote?  Most likely because they were trying to cover for Brigham Young's quotation of the prophecy that said, "and there never shall a ball injure you."  Not quite what happened.

Now the important point.

There is no evidence that Joseph Smith ever gave Willard Richards such a promise .  Richards didn't say it in any account of the assassination nor in any known talk, letter or writing.  Joseph Smith's journal doesn't mention the story nor any account while Smith was alive.  

The story was never told before Richards death in 1854.   There seems to be an attempt to create fulfilled prophecies AFTER the FACT.   So where did the "prophecy" come from? The History of the Church had multiple editors and writers.  Willard Richards was one of the editors.  It is unknown who added the story of the prophecy into the work.  It may have been Richards or any other of the editors, including Brigham Young who got the final say on the history book.

So why is it a big deal?  

The first problem is fact checking. Don't make up quotes !!  

Second, don't call a manual, "Church History" unless it is verifiable.  A third hand quote isn't good enough to put in a book for children.    


The lesson in the manual is about the Death of Joseph and Hyrum Smith.   There are lots of verifiable accounts related the their death, there is no need to use fabricated stories.

See the following from  Dean Jessee's and Howard Searle's work on Joseph Smith's history we know that its reliability is questionable. "The sheer number of scribes, inadequate contemporary source material, many authors, breaks in actual writing all point to a document that must be seriously evaluated before basing conclusions about the past."

 See Dean Jessee's "The Reliability of Joseph Smith's History," Journal of Mormon History 3 (1976): 23-46; and Howard Searle, "Early Mormon Historiography: Writing the History of the Mormons, 1830-1858," Ph.D diss., University of Southern California, Los Angeles, 1979.

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