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Eduard Meyer’s Comparison of Mohammed & Joseph Smith

G-2 Report No. 4

In this report we follow Eduard Meyer’s Ursprung und Geschichte der Mormonen. (1912) Why?

Eduard Meyer (1855-1930): “His Geschichte des Altertums is considered to be the last word in modern historiography and the most perfectly documented and soundly reasoned resumé of what is actually known about the peoples of antiquity.”  (Enciclopedia Ilustrada).  “Possessing a perfect knowledge of the Classic World, both Greek and Roman, master of the languages of Hebrew and Egyptian) … he had the qualities necessary for the undertaking … The project was not original, but never before (or since) had it been undertaken by anyone with a comparable preparation.”  (Enciclopedia Italiana).  “He had a special preference for the History of Religion which never left him, from his Dissertation (at the age of twenty) to the great work of his old age, The Origin and Beginnings of Christianity.”  (Brockhaus)

The great Classical scholar, Prof. W. Jaeger, says Meyer’s lectures were only interesting when he spoke about the Mormons.  Only then, according to Jaeger, was the lecture-hall packed.

p. 1.     “Among the religious innovations of our time, Mormonism excited my interest at an early age, before all else because of the surprising analogy extending even to the smallest details, between it and the fundamental drives, external forms, and historical development of Islam: here one might hope to discover significant clues for a proper understanding of Mohammed and his religion.  But no less in its own right is Mormonism one of the most instructive phenomena in the whole area of Religious History; and it is most remarkable (though not without many parallels in every area in the most remote, inaccessible, all but incomprehensible religions of the past, have kept themselves strictly aloof from Mormonism and disdained the rich instruction it has to offer …”

67.       “It is possible without the slightest exaggeration to designate the Mormons both in their public activities and in their thought forms as the Mohammedans of America.  Hence, there is hardly another historical parallel as instructive as this one … It is impossible to undertake the scholarly investigation of the one without a closer acquaintance with the other.  The parallels between Joseph Smith and Mohammed was often pointed out by the contemporaries of the prophet of the Mormons and it is indeed so striking, that it can hardly be overlooked … It is directly apparent in the fundamental idea in which the appearance of either prophet is rooted, and accordingly runs through the whole activity and achievement of both.”

NOT just another church:

2.         “The uniqueness of Mormonism is … that it is NOT just another of countless sects, but a new revealed religion …. We can study its origin and history from an exceptionally rich contemporary store of documents both by its members and their enemies … What in the study of other revealed religions can only be surmised after painful research is here directly accessible in reliable witnesses.  Hence, the origin and history of Mormonism possesses great and unusual value for the student of Religious history …”

50.       The common claim that Joseph Smith borrowed from the sects around him will not hold up: “The agreements – literal interpretation of the Bible, nearness of the Millennium, baptism by immersion and the rejection of infant baptism – do not go beyond the scope of things which anybody can take directly from the Bible, and are hence frequently met with among the sectarians, for example, the Baptists.”

32.       “It is a basic teaching of Protestantism that the times of miracles and revelations are past … In Joseph Smith’s revelations there is no sign of conscious deception or of outside influence.”

49.       “But the Book of Mormon is nothing but religion; remove the religious parts of it, and the whole book collapses.  The very skeleton of the narrative is full of religious tendencies and associations … In other words: if we remove from it what certainly comes from Joseph Smith, as good as nothing remains.”

Joseph Smith, a clue to all the Prophets:

11.       “To say he was simply a swindler no more explains J.S. than it explains Amos or Isaiah or Mohammed or Jeanne d’ Arc … At all times J.S. has the same complete ascendency over his followers [including Sidney Rigdon] that Mohammed had over Abu Bekr and Omar; none of them ever expressed the slightest doubt of his inspiration, let alone laying bare any purported deception, even though many of them fell out with him and were put out of the Church.”

53.       “Never has a seer or prophet described in such a lucid manner (as in D&C 9) what goes on in his consciousness (Innera), as it is here given in perfectly understandable terms.  This is exactly the manner in which All prophetic utterances arise; these are the same spiritual things as those experienced by an Isaiah or Jeremiah, a Zoroaster or Mohammed, and countless others – or, for example, by the Maid of Orleans … Smith also mixes honest conviction with self-deception and with lies and forgery, which are entirely characteristic of this state of mind.”  (Meyer believes that all prophets are self-deceived.)

13.       It is easier to reach a confident conclusion about Mohammed, Abu Bekr, Omar, than about Joseph Smith or Brigham Young in spite of the relatively much greater amount of material surviving concerning the latter … But even where the material is as scarce as it is about Amos and Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah or Zoroaster and Hesiod, the psychological problem remains the same.  It is the case of Joseph Smith that sheds light on all the others and helps us reach an understanding of the fundamental problem.”

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