Moses and the lives of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young
I recently bought Moses: A Life; By Jonathan Kirsch on an impulse purchase at a local used book store. I found some of the books assumptions to be quite frustrating although it was a very interesting read. The book presented theories by biblical scholarship that seemed hung on the flimsiest sort of evidence possible. For instance, the absence of a mention of Moses in the Song of Miriam is taken as evidence that perhaps Miriam and Aaron were true life ancient figures and that Moses was invented. If this is what biblical scholarship rests upon, then it is clear that we are dealing with little more than supposition and hypothesis. It is hard to take this kind of theorizing seriously. The book is also filled to the brim with the authors own grating sermonizing. It’s a shame, because the book is also a well-researched compilation of secular and religious secondary sources on the life of Moses and otherwise quite interesting.
Yet, one thing struck out to me as especially interesting. Almost every criticism that scholars have leveled against Moses reminded me almost directly of criticism leveled at Joseph Smith or Brigham Young,
“Moses is shown to act in timid and even cowardly ways, throw temper tantrums, dabble in magic, carry out purges and inquisitions and conduct wars of extermination, and talk back to God” (Moses: A Life p.2).”
For instance, one of the most striking things that scholars have surmised about the life of Moses ( Once they get through denying his existence) is that he likely was trained in the magic of the Midianites before his theophonic encounter with God. Moses continues to use magical objects such as his staff or the healing snake made out of bronze even as he takes on the mantle of liberator and prophet. It struck me how similar this was to the use of seer stones by Joseph Smith and the continued criticism of this ‘pagan’ element. It seems obvious that God uses our background and our strengths to lead us to him. Moses understood and accessed the power of God through the lens of the tradition that he knew best.
Likewise, I began to think about Brigham Young’s leadership style as I read chapters relating to Moses and his leadership in the desert. Like Brigham, Moses is accused of being a ruthless and cruel dictator. Likewise, Moses is accused of unjustly ordering the Massacure of innocent women and children. Moses is absolutely fierce in putting down rivals to power and claims the authority of God to punish dissent. Kirsch views these acts as barbaric and terrifying. Yet, as Latter Day Saints I think that the similarities between Prophets of God is what is perhaps most striking. Moses and Brigham both dealt with constant apostasy and with leading a rebellious people through the wilderness. They both were instrumental in the survival of a people. In that sense, Brigham Young truly earns his mantle as the American Moses.