Book Plunge: The Historical Jesus and the Historical Joseph Smith

What do I think of Tom Hobson’s book published by Elm Hill? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Two men have made extremely radical claims in their own time and those claims are still with us today. One claimed to be the very coming of God and the bringer of the Kingdom of God and the Messiah and His followers say all of this was demonstrated by His rising from the dead. The other claimed that the church the former established had been lost and he alone had restored it and gave new Scriptures and revelation that he said pointed to the former. The first is Jesus and the second is Joseph Smith.

What can we know about each of them? Tom Hobson uses historical methodology to study both figures to see what can be said to be true about both. He does his best to come at this without having a strong bias and trying to be as fair to both figures as possible. Mormons concerned about an evangelical writing this do not need to fear anti-Mormon screeching as it were. Hobson’s work is highly even-handed.

He starts with Jesus looking at how history is done and what we can know about Jesus and looking at His controversial claims. Did He claim and was He God in the flesh? Did He rise from the dead? Reaching a positive conclusion on this, he then looks at Joseph Smith.

In looking at Smith, he looks at a number of areas of his teaching. Surprisingly for me, some of these were more favorable towards Smith than I would have thought. For instance, in talking about race, Smith does make statements at times about wanting to have the slaves be freed. Of course, there is still that problematic section of the Book of Mormon with the Lamanites being cursed and being told they could have their skin made white again. (Edited in later versions)

There were also sections on the Word of Wisdom and on polygamy. Both of these are problematic as Smith did seem to violate the Word of Wisdom a few times. Polygamy is, of course, coming out more and more and the Mormon Church is even admitting this about Smith. It will be interesting to see what happens with the Mormon Church now since they will likely be pushing for polygamy again after the redefinition of marriage. (No slippery slope though after all. Remember?)

There’s a section as well on if Joseph Smith died a martyr or not. The consensus is that he did not. Joseph Smith had a six-shooter and went down shooting. He was likely in jail anyway for vandalism. It’s a shame that he did die that way as who knows how much different history might have been if he had been tried. Maybe the Mormon Church would have died there. I don’t know, but we can’t turn back the clock.

In a final section, Hobson holds out some hope that there could be some genuine Christians in the Mormon Church who I would say if this is true are Christians not so much because of the Mormon Church but in spite of the Mormon Church. I suspect there could be some there even in the positions of leadership who know it’s not true, but they don’t see anywhere else to go. Mormonism really is a culture. One leaves everything behind in leaving it.

I hope Hobson is right on the point of real Christians being in there. All of us who are Christians should hope more people will be saved than we expect. I am skeptical, but I will have no complaints if he is right. Hobson would still say we need to share the Gospel with them to make sure that we are giving them as much light and hope as we can.

I was surprised with the skepticism in this day and age that there wasn’t a brief look at Jesus Mythicism. It would be interesting to see if Joseph Smith could have the same problem if the Mormon Church survives into the future. Will there ever be a group known as the Smithicists who deny that Joseph Smith ever existed?

This is a really good book to read and people will learn a lot about both figures. I have studied Mormonism quite a bit, but I was surprised to see stuff that I had not seen before. Christians and Mormons would both be benefitted by this book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters