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Mormon History à la Grecque

By: Ardis E. Parshall - January 22, 2009

Here’s an opportunity for someone to make an unusual contribution to Mormon Studies, in an easy way if you’re in the right place to investigate: A Greek language newspaper, The Atlantis (I have no idea what the title would look like in Greek), published in New York City, printed a series on Mormon history illustrated by cartoon strips, in six consecutive issues, May 22-27, 1931. Find a run of the papers and get clear copies, and you’d have the basis of an interesting article.

The text accompanying the illustrations was translated by Peter Spero Marthakis, a non-Mormon member of Salt Lake City’s Greek community during much of the first half of the 20th century:

May 22.

The Mormons have played an important role in the building up of the western lands of the Rocky Mountains. The founder of the Mormon Church was Joseph Smith, who in 1827 presented some works which he had copied from the Golden Bible, which is now as the Bible of the Mormons. Mr. Smith claimed that he had taken this Bible from a certain hill after the instruction given to him by an angel from heaven. Mr. Smith and his followers believed without doubt that the Book of Mormon was the relation and equal in authenticity with that of the Holy Scripture, and that the documents which were contained therein was the completion of the Christian religion.

Mr. Smith became the prophet of the Mormons and organized the Church. Mormonism had made many followers within a short time.

The religious convictions of the Mormons brought them in disagreement with their neighboring Christians. Wherever the Mormons went they were driven away without pity. They were driven away from Missouri and Ohio, and finally they went to Illinois and there they built their abode.

In the year 1840 they built the Holy City of Nauvoo by the Mississippi river. Within a short time the population of this town reached fifteen thousand. This city was the largest city in the state of Illinois. Mr. Joseph Smith was the leader of the Church as well as the governor of the Mormons.

May 23.

The Mormons, after they had built their Holy City of Nauvoo, in Illinois, understood that they were not desirable in that state. The Mormons were not wanted there because of their paradoxical political and religious convictions. The Mormon voters exceeded the others so in every election they were electing their own candidates. Their adversaries held that the Mormons had in their mind to drive out from Illinois the non-Mormons.

In 1843 there broke out the first anti-Mormon trouble. At that time rumor went around that Mr. Smith was ordered by the God to institute the practice of polygamy among the Mormons. Many of them, however, refused to accept this preaching.

In 1844 Mr. Smith was arrested and was thrown in jail for his very unusual conduct in life. Mr. Smith remained in the Carthage prison waiting for a day of his trial. There was a rumor that Mr. Smith would be turned loose and a mob of anti-Mormons seized the jail and killed the Mormon prophet. The following year the Mormons were ordered to leave Illinois state. In the year 1846 the Mormons left Nauvoo. Many Mormons crossed the Mississippi with the determination to build a new Holy City within the western states.

May 24.

During the fall of 1846 several thousands of Mormons gathered by the western banks of the Missouri, preparatory to starting therefrom and following the direction towards the place where they were to build the new city. During that winter the Mormons lived in tents and in covered wagons.

After the murder of Joseph Smith, Mr. Brigham Young was then elected the leader of the Mormons, one of the Twelve apostles of Mormonism who was considered to be one of the most able men.

In the spring of 1847 the Mormons left their winter headquarters and took the westward direction following the River of Platte. The Mormons compare their trek with the general exodus of the Israelites from the land of Egypt.

When they reached the Rocky Mountains the Mormons followed the south path and then they directed themselves towards the Utah plains and they built their homes by the Great Salt Lake, which then belonged to Mexico.

May 25.

After they arrived in Utah in 1847 the Mormons selected a certain place for the Holy City, near the Great Salt Lake, and began to build the city. Around the city great fields are extended which are now enclosed from the east and north by high mountains.

Because of the lack of trees, the Mormons were obligated to bring lumber from long distances. The Mormons dug big ditches of several miles in order to be able to bring water to the city from the near lakes and rivers.

These waters the Mormons used for irrigation of the arid and unproductive lands, and consequently they made these large fields productive ones.

The town which was built by the Mormons was from all aspects a very worldly one and had quite a few impressive public and individual buildings commanding respect. Mr. Brigham Young and the elders of the Mormons were exercising complete control over them as if they were the kings and the Mormons their subjects.

May 26.

The Mormon church has made many converts from England. Hundreds of Englishmen immigrated to America and they settled in Salt Lake City.

In the year 1856 one thousand poor immigrants arrived at the border line of Utah, but the Mormons did not have the oxen carts for them by which to bring them and their things to Salt Lake City.

The majority of these immigrants loaded their belongings on handcarts and many of them, after severe suffering and many a week’s marching, arrived at their destination.

By means of these handcarts immigrants covered a distance of eight hundred miles and the more they went through the Rockies the more their sufferings were increased.

These immigrants although they did not have to face the Indians were met by the winter in the Rocky Mountains and were killed through exposure to the cold and the lack of food.

May 27.

At the end of the American-Mexican war, in 1848, Utah was annexed to the United States. Mr. Brigham Young and the Mormon Church remained the master rulers of that territory in which the Mormons were living.

After the discovery of gold in California, the Mormons could not bear the passing through their lands of the thousands of gold seekers who were deluging the California state. The Mormons attacked the caravans of the gold seekers in the Mount Mentos [sic], and they completely extinguished one such caravan.

In the year of 1857 the Federal Army under Commander Sidney Johnston was sent against the Mormons of Utah in order to compel them to surrender and abide by the laws and government of the United States. The only thing that this army was able to accomplish was to conclude a truce with the Mormons in the year 1858.

Twelve years later Congress passed laws prohibiting the polygamy in Utah and attached the property of the Mormon Church. A thousand or more Mormons were arrested and imprisoned because they violated the law. In the year 1890, however, the Mormon Church abolished the polygamy and the President returned the property that was attached and gave amnesty to the Mormons that were in prison then.

A handful of historical errors, and perhaps some translation problems, are obvious to all of us. In general, though, what is your opinion of the accuracy, fairness, and level of detail presented to Greeks in the United States?



5 Comments »

  1. It appears that the author was earnestly working at trying to convey the essence of the Church’s history. Also, I note the apparent sympathy in the author’s tone. I kept wondering what the author’s source(s) was/were.

    And I liked all the detail, even if some terms of art are rendered in a more general fashion (e.g., perhaps the phrase “the completion of the Christian religion” is a bland translation of the phrase “fullness of the Gospel of the Jesus Christ”).

    Also, I think it’s a good mix of Church doctrine and history. Too many times outsiders focus only on the history while missing the meat of the message, while others focus only on the peculiar beliefs without some historical context.

    I can’t wait to see if someone tracks down the illustrations.

    Comment by Hunter — January 22, 2009 @ 9:40 am

  2. Well, “driven away without pity” seems a bit understated. And the explanation of “Mount Mentos” is just too good not to share.

    I see nothing mean spirited in this. Yes, there are some errors, but nothing that is calculated deliberately to misinform with the intent to bring harm.

    Good catch on the translation of the “fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ”. I agree with your assesment.

    Comment by BruceCrow — January 22, 2009 @ 10:06 am

  3. Hmmmm, I’m giving a presentation about English Immigrants to Utah in a class tomorrow. Somehow I don’t think I’ll use the info from this document.

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — January 22, 2009 @ 10:16 am

  4. I too keep wondering where the writer, whoever he was, got his information. Even while it doesn’t sound Mormon in its emphases, it certainly doesn’t sound like the exposes or sensational accounts that he could have relied on.

    (By the way, I just noticed that the text as posted is a little scrambled, as happens sometimes when I draft with a word processor and then cut-and-paste into the blog editor. I’ll straighten it out.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 22, 2009 @ 11:05 am

  5. Given the time and venue, I’d say it was remarkably accurate and generally sympathetic…more so that you’d find from a lot of 21st century Evangelist tracts. :-) The “Holy City” references are interesting, but I think they may derive from the author running across the concepts of “Zion” and the “New Jerusalem”.

    And, as you noted, Ardis, the author doesn’t sound like he’s either drawing directly from LDS sources or from what you would expect from non-LDS sources at that time. It might be interesting to check this against what was written in the then-current-edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. ..bruce..

    Comment by bfwebster — January 22, 2009 @ 9:57 pm

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