Who Is Joseph Smith Jr.?

An Objective Mormon's Perspective ~ Don R. Hender


Many have written their mind upon Joseph Smith, be it Mormon Church Leader, Mormon Scholar, LDS Member, Non-LDS Historian, or Mormon Critic. So why do I bother to do so? Well, in my own, perhaps subjective, mind, I write a synopsis most objective and true which does and does not necessarily totally agree with any of the others who do so write concerning Joseph Smith Jr. And I would like to begin my synopsis with Joseph Smith and Messiah ben Ephraim.

Joseph Smith ~ Messiah ben Joseph

In addition to the better known Messiah or Moshiach ben David, Jewish tradition also speaks of a Messiah or Moshicah ben Yoseph/Joseph (Messiah son of Joseph), also known as Messiah/Moshiach ben Ephraim. Some LDS scholars would point to this Messiah ben Joseph as being Joseph Smith Jr. and they have generated a support following among LDS membership who accept it. Before I, as an objective 'Mormon', would consider this claim, I must first begin with that 'Jewish Tradition'.

To do this, I first look to a text entitled 'The Messiah Texts', which speaks to 'Jewish Legends of Three Thousand Years' by Raphael Patai, published in 1979. In short, Raphael Patai was a Hungarian-Jewish enthnographer, historian, Orientalist and anthropologist. He was born in Budapest, Hungary November 22, 1910 and he died July 20, 1996. He studied at rabbinical seminaries in and at the University of Budapest and the University of Breslau, from which he held a doctorate degree in Semitic languages and Oriental history and he also received the first doctorate awarded by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, at which he taught in the 1930s and 1940s. In 1952 he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. He held visiting professorships at a number of prestigious colleges, including Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, New York University, Princeton and Ohio State. While his list of achievments goes on and on, perhaps this is enough to accept his work of worthy consideration.

Concerning Messiah ben Joseph/Ephraim, Patai states such as, 'Messiah ben Joseph ... is imaged as the first commander of the army of Israel in the Messianic Wars' (Messiah Texts, p. 165). Not all Jews accept the Messiah ben Ephraim theories which seem to be more fully developed in later centuries A.D. into a 'war hero' deliverer rather than a suffering atoning Messiah. And he also points out that 'Scholars have repeatedly speculated about the origin of the Messiah ben Joseph and the curious fact that the Messiah figure has been split in two' (Messiah Texts p. 166). Much has been so written and speculated upon the two Messiah 'theory' and of this second split off, Messiah ben Joseph/Ephraim figure, which, as noted, has been more particularly developed as a part of the Jewish apocalyptic literature by Rabinical scholarship post Jesus Christ as early as in the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D. And then further developed in more detail in later centuries' apocalyptic midrash literature such as the Apocalypse of Zerubbabel. Some of this tradition of Messiah ben Joseph creates a 'suffering Messiah' separate from the 'glorious Messiah', both of which according to these Jewish traditions were yet to come though Jesus Christ had already come. It is objectively difficult to accept that such a post Jesus Christ 'Messiah ben Joseph/Ephraim' figure so developed by Jewish Rabinnical scholarship could or would be so applied to Joseph Smith when in fact no other Messiah was to come.

And so I ask myself, is it logical that post Jesus Christ Rabbis who 'created' this Messiah ben Joseph can be relied upon in order to so state an LDS belief that this Jewish created second split Messiah is Joseph Smith? Just who is Joseph Smith that Jewish tradition and legend, created or real, should speak about him? Part of the problem is that in the Jewish creation of thier Messiah ben Joseph, they have combined many scriptural references which refer to Jesus Christ, such as in Isaiah (particularlly chapter 53) and Zechariah as well as others, to this Messiah ben Joseph. They also include that this latter day Messiah ben Joseph would be a descendant from Ephraim. While such a prophet may well have been a part of their historical traditions to add to that the application of scripture which applies to Jesus Christ and build upon it to indicate some futur Messiah is beyond me. So can I conclude that the post Jesus Jewish created 'Messiah ben Joseph/Ephraim' is the same as Joseph Smith? NO, not in that strict acceptance, I cannot. Joseph Smith is not the suffering Messiah of the scriptures of the Old Testament, Jesus Christ is. But was there to be a latter day precursor to Messiah ben David, be it his Second Coming?

Just Who Is Joseph Smith?

Is Joseph Smith the prophesied prophet of the retoration preparing the way before the Second Coming of The Messiah? To that question the answer is YES! Lehi quoting and paraphrasing from the plates of brass presents the Lord's word to Joseph of Egypt and his prophesies concerning the latter day prophet, the descendant of Joseph, who like Moses was a prophet of God and in the similitude of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. (See 2 Nephi 3:6-16 and also JST Genesis 50:30-33)

Is Joseph Smith a prophet in the similitude of the Messiah? YES! Joseph Smith, like many prophets and figures in the Old Testament are in the similitude of the Messiah, but he is NOT the Messiah. Joseph of Egypt was in the similitude of the Messiah and many of the events of his life did so parallel those of the life of the Savior. Moses, who was in the similitude of the Messiah even so much so that the prophecy of the Christ to come was that he was to be one like unto Moses. Of course the reverse was true, Moses was like unto the Messiah. Even Joshua, was of a similitude of the Messiah, so much so that Moses according to Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, so re-named the son of Nun after that name by which Jesus would be known by in mortality. Thus we have a perception that Jesus was named after the name of Joshua, while the opposite was the real case. Often we speak of God being in the image of a man. In reality, the opposite is true, man is in the image of God. We of the temporal mortal perspective often have such things skewed to our myopic perspective.

Thus is Joseph Smith Messiah ben Joseph, or is Joseph Smith the latter day promised prophet of the restoration who would be in the similitude of the Savior or in the similitude of Messiah? I suggest the second. And that I suppose is also the basis of not only the Jewish tradtion confusion which mixes the latter day promised prophet with Messiah, even Messiah ben Joseph; as well as the LDS scholarly treatment of that topic. The bottom line may be scripturally stated concerning the latter day restoration and who is the Messiah:

Now, had not this surfice? There is only one Messiah and he is NOT Joseph Smith. In fact to so represent Joseph Smith as 'Messiah' is to place him in that category of false Messiah. Now, YES, Joseph Smith is the promised latter day prophet descendant of Joseph of Egypt, a pure Ephraimite. Yes the Jewish traditions may have mixed the latter day promised prophet up with some of the scriptures which reference the suffering of The Messiah Jesus Christ with this latter day prophet of Ephraim and labeled him the suffering Messiah ben Ephraim. YES Joseph Smith, as is the case of many of the Lord's prophets, is a similitude of the Messiah, but we ought not to apply that title to him in the form of 'Messiah ben Joseph' as do the Jews. But rather than accepting the Jewish Messiah ben Joseph as they have described him, we ought to sort it out, pointing to the fact that 'The Messiah', Jesus Christ, is already come and they rejected him. And that they only wait for his Second Coming. And if in deed there is a Messiah ben Joseph/Ephraim, we can only presume that he is the same as Messiah ben David, Jesus Christ (see: Messiah ben David ~ Messiah ben Joseph)



Counter Point


    In the Old Testament there is a Hebrew word 'mashiach' which means "anointed" and it is used in reference to 'The Messiah' to come and is also used in respect to a number of 'anointed delivers' of the Old Testament. And in this there is a cross application of the name 'mashiach' or 'messiah' if you will, which is applied to such as Joseph of Egypt in his anointed position of deliverer of the children of Israel from famine and death. It is also so applied to such as Moses and Joshua, Moses who led Israel out of captivity and Joshua who led and delivered the family of Israel into their various lands of promise. Even such as King Saul and King David were 'anointed' kings of Israel.

And thus in this respect the name 'mashiach' is also well applied to such as Joseph Smith, the latter day prophet of the restoration. And in this respect Joseph Smith, like unto Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua and others, is an 'anointed one', the prophet of the latter days, foreordained in heaven and apointed and so anointed here on earth. And therefore Joseph Smith, also being that promised prophet descendant from Joseph of Egypt, may properly be said to be 'maschiach ben Joseph' just as also may Joshua so be denoted. But it is necessarily and understandably to be that he is NOT to be cofused with 'THE MESSIAH' who was looked to to come as the Jews have done in their imagined division of the Messiah into two. He is not their 'suffering Messiah' to whom they attribe such scriptures of testimony that refer to Jesus Christ, such as Isaiah 53 and others. That suffering Messiah is but Jesus Christ as the Book of Mormon scripture so previously given states. And they ought not to look for any other such Messiah yet to come as he has alreacy come. Yes, Jesus has come already, though he will return again. And if Jewish true 'traditional history' does so associate him to be Messiah ben Joseph as well as Messiah ben David, then there is amble evidence that He is one and the same Messiah ben David as well as Messiah ben Joseph/Ephraim.