The Greek Psalter Incident

09 March

D&C 124:125; “I give unto you my servant Joseph to be a presiding elder over all my church, to be a translator, a revelator, a seer, and prophet.”

The Greek Psalter and Joseph SmithWhen anyone in life is a self-proclaimed prophet, seer, revelator and translator and condemns all of Christianity to hell, his words have immediately called for attention and inspection to such claims.

Whether it’s Smith or L. Ron Hubbard to Charles Taze Russell and Jim Jones, they need to be denounced for their heretical viewpoints. We must as members of the body of Christ put them in their place and shun such atrocities.

Many people did just that in the nineteenth century when Smith came along.  From the local pastors who dealt with him for many years and those who heard of him in outlying areas, people of God were quick to call him out.  Local farmers made him look like a fool in the Kinderhook Plates trick, local law enforcement arrested him a number of times for violating the law, he was charged with banking fraud in Ohio and the list goes on.

Today we’re looking at what is known as “The Greek Psalter Incident”.

On April 18th and 19th of 1842 Joseph Smith received a very interesting visitor by the name of Henry Caswell. Keep in mind Mr. Caswell wasn’t your run of the mill type of fellow. He was a reverend and professor of Hebrew and Divinity in Kemper College, Missouri.  Upon hearing about and summarily studying facts about the Mormons he paid a visit to Joseph Smith and wrote a scathing report on his findings. 

The reverend decided to visit Smith to see if he could trick Joseph by asking him if he could translate the book he had on hand which was a Greek Psalter.

A Greek Psalter is the Book of Psalms along with orthodox prayers. It was widely used as a reading primer. They sometimes also contained the Litany of the Saints as well as a liturgical calendar.

After handing the Psalter to Smith and listening to his opinions on it, he quickly came to the conclusion the man was a scam artist who portended to be religious. I found a copy of excerpts from his insight on a very non-Mormon genealogy website so I’ve listed a portion of their post here – it’s calledChambers’s Edinburgh Journal.  You can read the excerpt at the end of this article. 

If you’d like to read Henry Caswell’s book “Prophet of the 19th Century” you can access it on Dan Broadhurst’s site here. He wrote a 230+ page book on the dangers Joseph Smith brought to the world at large and how Mormonism is a dangerous society by following one man’s ideals of God. 

In short, Smith took a look at the book and pronounced that it was mainly Egyptian hieroglyphs that might contain some Greek letters.  He said the same letters could be found on the golden plates that he translated for the Book of Mormon and upon his pronouncement the small audience of faithful Mormons who were present began clapping for the wisdom that filled their beloved prophet.

Most unfortunately you can find websites and books today filled with stories of how this incident never took place or have grown in its legacy over time as they believe Smith did look at it and knew it was a Greek Psalter.

Even John Widtsoe couldn’t pass up the opportunity to lie about the Reverend Caswell in h is book Joseph Smith – Seeker after Truth, Prophet of God, p. 97;

“He told about the sport he had in fooling Joseph Smith and the people whom he met into believing that a Greek psalter he had with him was a new find, perhaps a lost scripture for the Prophet to decipher. He attributed to the Prophet the appearance of a knave and a clown, using exceedingly coarse language.

In reporting his talk with Joseph Smith, he forgot that the Prophet and many other Church members had studied, Greek, Hebrew, and other languages, sufficiently to recognize Greek script. Such mistakes are often made by those who fail to tell the truth. Caswall’s bitter opposition to Mormonism was revealed in the book he wrote a year later.”

What we do know is that this Christian man of God took a Greek Psalter to Smith and asked him what he thought about it.  Given Smith’s track record and the impeccable record of Caswell, it’s not difficult to imagine who’s telling the truth in this one.

Reproduced (in Mike Caswell genealogy) from Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal, v. 11, pp. 330-331, 1842: Mormonism

I had not the opportunity of observing his eyes, as he appears deficient in that open straightforward look which characterises an honest man. I heeled the way to his house, accompanied by a host of elders, bishops, preachers, and common Mormons. On entering the house, chairs were provided for the prophet and myself, while the curious and gaping crowd remained standing. I handed a book the the prophet, and begged him to explain its contents. He asked me if I had any idea of its meaning. I replied, that I believed it to be a Greek Psalter, but that I should like to hear his opinion.
“No,” he said; “it ain’t Greek at all, except, perhaps a few words. What ain’t Greek is Egyptian, and what ain’t Egyptian is Greek. This book is very valuable. It is a dictionary of Egyptian hieroglyphics.” Pointing to the capital letters at the commencement of each verse, he said, “Them figures is Egyptian hieroglyphics, and them which follows is the interpretaion of the hieroglyphics, written in the reformed Egyptian. Them characters is like the letters that was engraved on the golden plates.”
Upon this the Mormons around began to congratulate me on the information I was receiving. “There,” they said, “we told you so – we told you that our prophet would give you satisfaction. None but our prophet can explain these mysteries!”
The error of taking a Greek Psalter for a specimen of Egyptian hieroglyphics sufficiently proves the slender pretensions of Mr. Joseph Smith to be a mystery-expounder.” [sic]

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