Joseph Smith purportedly knew he was going to be killed, and said the following, which is now canonized in the D&C scriptures as the dominant narrative of the church.
I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer’s morning; I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men. I shall die innocent, and it shall yet be said of me – he was murdered in cold blood.D&C 135:4
Doctrine and Covenants Section 135:4
Lamb to the Slaughter
First, let’s point out that this phrase is a direct reference to a Messianic prophecy in scripture. Isaiah includes the exact phrase when discussing Jesus Christ.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.Isaiah 53:7 Bible, Old Testament
Mosiah 14:7 Book of Mormon
This chapter is also copied in full into the Book of Mormon (as Mosiah 14), so we know Joseph and his followers were familiar with it, since it was in 2 different books of scripture. This elevates Joseph to near-Jesus status in the church, as does the same D&C section which states
Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it.D&C 135:3
Doctrine and Covenants Section 135:3
What evidence is there that Joseph Smith actually said this on his way to Carthage Jail, where he was actually killed? He had just destroyed the printing press for the Nauvoo Expositor and been summoned after refusing a few times finally agreed to go when he was coerced by Emma Smith. Regardless if the story of Joseph referring to him going to Carthage Jail “as a lamb to the slaughter’ is true, the statement itself is demonstrably false. We’re not debating here if he said it or not, though that debate is made elsewhere, we’re only showing that he wasn’t going “as a lamb to the slaughter”.
Armed with a Loaded Weapon
Joseph went to Carthage with no expectation of being killed. The church doesn’t always bring it up, but when we look at the full history we understand he was armed. He had a revolver and they drank some wine and sang songs in the jail. The jailor even let them out of their cell and into another room for comfort. When the angry mob came upon the jail, what happened? Hint, there was no peaceful surrendering or angels bearing a flaming sword for rescue.
Joseph first hoped the angry mob was the Nauvoo legion coming to rescue their commander. When they storm the stairs and he realizes they are not his friends, he and his company barricade the door to keep the mob out. He sees his brother shot through the face. He shoots through the crack in the door repeatedly, using up all the ammunition he has and hitting some of the mob. Then Joseph rushes to the window to escape. As he’s looking out, he sees more mob on the lawn and is hit with bullets from inside and outside. He then falls out the window.
Brother Joseph as he drew nigh to Hyrum, and, leaning over him, exclaimed, ‘Oh! my poor, dear brother Hyrum!’ He, however, instantly arose, and with a firm, quick step, and a determined expression of countenance, approached the door, and pulling the six-shooter left by Brother Wheelock from his pocket, opened the door slightly, and snapped the pistol six successive times; only three of the barrels, however, were discharged. I afterwards understood that two or three were wounded by these discharges, two of whom, I am informed, died.History of the Church, Volume 7, page 104
There is no judgment here for defending himself or retaliating when he sees his brother killed. The reaction here is not the issue, it’s the fact that the reaction does not match the “like a lamb to the slaughter” story. It doesn’t come close to the nobility expressed when Jesus is arrested either. Does a “lamb to the slaughter” bring a revolver and then shoot at people? Did Jesus retaliate when soldiers took him? Peter cuts off a soldier’s ear in defending Jesus from the soldiers, but Jesus simply heals the man’s ear as the scripture story goes and gives himself up. Brother Joseph, on the other hand, is armed and attacking the others. He’s not healing the wounded, he’s responsible for wounding three and killing two! He doesn’t heal or go quietly, as a lamb would.
Did Joseph Kill his Attackers?
As we say John Taylor states in the History of the Church that Joseph kills two of his attackers.
Brother Joseph … instantly arose, and with a firm, quick step, and a determined expression of countenance, approached the door, and pulling the six-shooter left by Brother Wheelock from his pocket, opened the door slightly, and snapped the pistol six successive times; only three of the barrels, however, were discharged. I afterwards understood that two or three were wounded by these discharges, two of whom, I am informed, died.History of the Church, Volume 7, page 104
This has led many to believe that Joseph killed two of his attackers, but John Taylor was wrongly informed here and the record seems to have never been cleaned up. Did John Taylor lie? Not really, he just heard rumors and thought they were true. According to a super friendly redditor:
This claim is ruled out by the historical record. Other than this rumor, repeated by Taylor… there is no evidence in the historical record that smith killed anyone at Carthage. On the contrary, the historical record rules it out.
There was an extensive trial of the alleged murderess of Joseph Smith. The main evidence against three of the Defendants (John Wills, William Voorhees, and William Gallagher) was the fact that they had been shot. They had bullet wounds. But they survived. And there is no evidence in the trial documents indicating that anyone was killed. The fact that you have Taylor saying only three shots were actually fired… and there were three known wounded survivors, with no actual evidence of any other fatalities, pretty much rules out any conclusion that anyone was actually killed…
Colonel Hay, for example reported that people were reporting that Smith shot and killed the same three men I mentioned above. So there were rumors going around. That is all Taylor said. He said he heard this…
What the church is doing is reporting something that smith is reported to have said according to multiple contemporary sources. I will concede that sometimes this likely accurate statement by smith is over emphasized to give an inaccurate impression of the events as a whole.everything_is_free
See also these references regarding the facts. So, even if Joseph didn’t kill any of his assailants, he still fired a weapon and wounded three of them. This in contrast to Jesus, who heals the soldier after Peter wounds in defending Jesus, is still anti-Lamb to the slaughter action. Joseph didn’t go as a lamb to the slaughter. He was actively fighting for his life. I can’t blame him, but I can say it’s not as “a lamb to the slaughter”.
Masonic Distress Call
As he lies dying after falling out the window, his last words recorded words are “O Lord My God” (History of the Church 6:618). This is him giving up and realizing he’s done for. He’d just heard his brother and likely closest friend Hyrum declare as he dies “I am a dead man”. He knew it was over, but it must be noted that this phrase is also the beginning of a masonic call for help “O Lord, my God, is there no hope for the widow’s son?” He was attempting to call to Masonic brothers in the mob for help and mercy. He likely didn’t finish the phrase before he died. The call is ignored however and he is left for dead as the mob runs away when someone shouts thinking the Nauvoo Legion is coming. Some who want to distance Brother Joseph and the church from the Masonic Order, propose he could have also been experiencing a vision as he died, but there is no evidence for this–his friends and even modern apologists agree that this was most likely a Masonic plea for help. There are also other stories around about a lingering member of the Warsaw militia, with his face blackened with mud and gunpowder, about to decapitate Joseph Smith’s corpse. A Mormon witness claims a pillar of light thrust down from heaven and the made ruffian’s arm powerless. There is accompanying art depicting the story. But the only Mormons in attendance were Joseph & Hyrum who were both already dead, John Taylor who wrote section 135 of D&C, and Willard Richards. So how can a story like this be believed when it contradicts the stories of those who were there? Unless the Mormon witness was part of the mob?
The church, via John Taylor, published the statements that their blood will stand as a witness against the wicked for vengeance. “Their innocent blood, with the innocent blood of all the martyrs under the altar that John saw, will cry unto the Lord of Hosts till he avenges that blood on the earth.” (D&C 135:7) This is an understandable yet vengeful attitude toward his killers, but it also contradicts the “lamb to slaughter” image. Compare this again to Jesus, the lamb of god, who said “Forgive them for they know not what they do” while referring to his killers, not promising that God will avenge him.
This desire for vengeance even makes an appearance in the Mormon temple rituals as the Oath of Vengeance. This is where members swore an oath to pray for God to avenge the blood of the assassinated leaders Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith. This oath of vengeance was part of the ceremony from about 1845 until the early 1930s when it was removed from the endowment ceremony.
There is no sign either that Joseph knew he was going to be killed, or martyred as the church likes to say. He had no clear plans for succession, which can easily be proven by the number of splinter groups following his death. The main group today likes to forget and minimize the others, but it’s only been successful because it’s managed to outlast the others. It has grown to a large wealthy organization, but it isn’t the only group that claims to be the original church. There were no plans for after Joseph, because Joseph didn’t think about the organization of the church, he thought about himself and how to keep his secret marriages and relationships secret from the world and even his wife. He didn’t plan for a future without himself at the head of the church, because he didn’t expect to be slaughtered like a lamb in this instance. The current practice of the Quorum of the Twelve leading the church and then unanimously sustaining a new president of the church hadn’t been institutionalized yet. We have Brigham Young to thank for that, which is notable, since he was the president of the quorum of the twelve a the time, so that procedure most benefits him and increased his own power.
There were Brighamites, or Brigham Young’s followers, now supported by the false retroactive story about him having the image of Joseph Smith on him by those who were not there. There were Strangites, or followers of James Strange who to this day have kept the original official name of the church (why the church uses a hyphenated “Latter-day Saints” today). There were followers of Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigden, etc. There were also followers of the Smith family supporting Emma and Joseph Smith III (Junior Junior). No one expected Joseph to die or considered what to do when he did until it was too late, and we have evidence of this because his followers had no consistent solution about what to do. The Brighamites became the church most of us know today, and thus far, have been the most successful if you believe, as the church does, that success is measured in numbers and money.
- Doctrine and Covenants Section 135:4