From Martyrdom to Celebration!

by John P. Pratt

Reprinted from Meridian Magazine (June 6, 2002)
©2002 by John P. Pratt. All rights Reserved.

Index, Home

Contents
1. Who Was Joseph Smith
2. Joseph Smith's birth: 1 Tebeth
3. Hyrum Smith's birth: 15 Shebat
4. Martyrdom: 10 Tammuz
5. Lucy Mack Smith's birth: 10 Tammuz
6. A Day to Rejoice!
Notes
The Nauvoo Temple will be dedicated this month at 5:00 p.m. on Thu 27 Jun 2002, a time clearly chosen to commemorate the martyrdom of the two testators of the restoration, Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Both their death date and the date of this year's celebration are significant on the Hebrew Calendar. In fact, Zechariah prophesied that it would cease being a time to mourn and become a time to rejoice!

The Nauvoo Temple: Darkness Yields to Light
Photo courtesy of Scot Facer Proctor
The coming dedication of the L.D.S. temple on Thu 27 Jun 2002 at Nauvoo, Illinois, will be a time for reflection, not only on the restoration of the Church, and restoration of the Nauvoo temple, but also on the importance of the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and his brother Hyrum. They sealed their testimony of the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with their blood just after 5:00 p.m. on Thu 27 Jun 1844. That event had been prophesied long before, and most likely even symbolized in ordinances of the law of Moses. Those ordinances were performed on dates specified on the calendar revealed to Moses, which was very similar to the modern Hebrew Calendar. Let us consider the calendrical importance of the death dates of those two great men, and why it might be a time to rejoice. But let us begin with the significance of their birth dates.

1. Who Was the Prophet Joseph Smith?

It has been known for nearly two centuries that the Prophet Joseph Smith is one of the greatest prophets of all time. He personally saw Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, and was given the power and authority to restore the Church of Jesus Christ upon the earth by such illustrious men as Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist, and Peter, James, and John. It has truly been said of him that he has done more for the salvation of men in this world than any other man who has ever lived on earth, except for Jesus Christ himself (D&C 135:3). That is an astounding statement, which causes one to ask, "Just exactly what is the position of Joseph Smith in the overall plan?" The Prophet himself made a point of not telling anyone exactly what his role is.[1]

It has recently been suggested that the star constellations, which were reportedly revealed to the Prophet Enoch, testify of exactly what the place of Joseph Smith in the Priesthood organization of this earth is. While that conclusion took four detailed articles to derive,[2] let us briefly review the result.

There are four "cornerstone" constellations which are each located at the corners of a great square in the sky, and which also are included in the circle of twelve constellations known as the zodiac. Those four constellations each contain a bright star, and at the time of Enoch, each was located near the position of the sun in the sky on the first day of the four seasons. Moreover, an angel told Enoch that each of those stars represents one of the faithful servants of the Lord. From the four figures, the star names, and a variety of scriptural clues, it was possible to deduce not only who those four men are, but also their apparent priesthood positions and responsibilities.

The Prophet Joseph Smith
The President of the Priesthood over all dispensations of the gospel on the earth appears to be Adam. One of his specific duties is to preside over all nations. He reports directly to the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, who form the First Presidency of Heaven. Adam, who presides over the entire earth, has two counselors. The first counselor, who apparently presides over the entire Eastern Hemisphere, is Noah. The second counselor, who presides over the Western Hemisphere, is Joseph Smith. Joseph also has the specific responsibility of the hope and salvation of all mankind. That is very similar to the responsibility of Jesus Christ in the First Presidency of Heaven, and explains why Joseph Smith is accredited with being second only to Jesus in that specific duty. The secretary or clerk is Enoch, who was known anciently as "the Scribe."

The similarity of the roles of Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith for the salvation of mankind was apparently emphasized in ceremonies of the law of Moses. Every day two lambs were sacrificed, one at dawn and one in the afternoon. It has been suggested that the first lamb sacrificed at dawn, the meridian of their day which began at sunset, represented Jesus Christ, known as the Messiah ben Judah, the anointed one from the tribe of Judah. The second lamb sacrificed near the end of the day, representing near the end of history, likely symbolized Joseph Smith, known also as the Messiah ben Joseph, being from that tribe. Thus, Joseph Smith was apparently of such stature to have been symbolized by a daily sacrifice in the law of Moses.[3]

Thus, we see that the position of Joseph Smith in priesthood authority is high indeed, being above that of Abraham, Moses, and Peter. His prudence in not revealing his true identity appears wise, for even more men would have been tempted to rise up and slay him before his time, as they did the Savior when he hinted at who he really was.

So what does all of this have to do with the birth and death dates of Joseph Smith? The main point is to understand that Joseph Smith is one of four great men who preside over the earth, and that each of these men was associated with the beginning of one of the four seasons. Several articles have been published about the importance of the dates of the birth, death, and resurrection of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.[4] They have also emphasized the importance of those dates on the Hebrew calendar. What about the dates of the birth and death of Joseph Smith?

2. Joseph Smith's birth: 1 Tebeth

The Prophet Joseph Smith was born on Mon 23 Dec 1805. That is close to the winter solstice, which usually occurs on 21 December, which has led to the suggestion that his birth symbolized the time when darkness would begin to recede and that the light would return to the earth.[5] But that date is about two days off, according to our calendar. When we looked at the Savior's birth and death dates, we saw that his birth was timed down to the quarter-day period before the midnight which commenced Thu 6 Apr 1 BC. Similarly, his resurrection must have been after midnight and before dawn on the morning of Sun 3 Apr AD 33. If the Savior's birth and death were timed so precisely, we might expect that of Joseph Smith to have been also. At this point it might be well to remember that the Lord tends to use the calendars which he has revealed, rather than the one originating with Julius Caesar, which we currently employ. On the Hebrew Calendar, the four seasonal markers are the first days of the months Nisan (spring), Tammuz (summer), Tishri (autumn) and Tebeth (winter).

What was the day 23 Dec 1805 on the Hebrew Calendar? While the true Hebrew Calendar is not yet perfectly understood, all indications are that the evening of 23 Dec 1805 began the Hebrew day 1 Tebeth, the precise day of the winter solstice on that calendar.[6] The identification of Joseph Smith as one of the four angels associated with the four seasons suggests that his birth date was carefully planned to coincide with one of the four seasonal markers on a calendar which God has endorsed. On the Hebrew calendar, the first day of every month is considered a holy day, so Joseph Smith was not only born on a holy day, but apparently was the standard bearer for the day of the winter solstice throughout all time.

3. Hyrum Smith's birth: 15 Shebat

The Patriarch Hyrum Smith
What about Hyrum Smith? While he was not of the spiritual stature of his younger brother Joseph, still he was chosen to be one of the two martyrs to seal their testimony of the restoration with their blood. What was his birth date and was it significant also on the Hebrew Calendar?

Hyrum Smith was born on Sun 9 Feb 1800. The evening of that day began the day 15 Shebat on the Hebrew calendar, which is also a holy day on the Hebrew calendar. It is often called the "New Year for Trees." So what is its significance? Its true meaning has been lost to the Hebrew people, and the only explanation of its importance is usually given as the time when "the fruit of the trees begins to form."[7] We may know more about it by and by, but at present it appears that it may have priesthood significance. For example the choosing of the Twelve Apostles in modern times occurred on Sat 14 Feb 1835, 15 Shebat. However, until a pattern of several such dates is found, that one occurrence could be simply only a chance coincidence. More research is required to really understand the meaning of 15 Shebat. In any case, the day 15 Shebat is a holy day on the Hebrew calendar.

4. Martyrdom: 10 Tammuz

The two Testators of the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times died about 5 p.m. on Thu 27 Jun 1844. Was that a date of significance on the Hebrew Calendar? That date was 10 Tammuz. Is that a holy day on the Hebrew Calendar? Yes and No.

The answer is "No" because currently it is not a holy day, but the answer should be "Yes" because it is tied to the fall of Jerusalem and fits the pattern of four Days of Atonement. Let us consider each of these aspects in more detail.

Currently on the Hebrew calendar there is a period of 3 weeks during the summer, often called simply "The Three Weeks." They begin with a fast day on 17 Tammuz and end with a fast day on 9 Ab, three weeks later. Those three weeks tend to begin in late June or early July, depending on the moon's phase, which is the basis of beginning the Hebrew month. Both of those days are associated with the fall and destruction of Jerusalem, both by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC and also by Titus in AD 70. The three weeks are observed as a "dark time", a time to contemplate the fall of their holy city and temple. During those three weeks, traditionally no weddings or other joyous celebrations are observed, particularly those involving music.[8]

The fact is that the actual day of burning of the temple both times is believed to have occurred on the last day of the fast, 9 Ab. I have researched this claim, and accept it as true. The temple was apparently burned the first time on Sat 23 Jul 587 BC, 9 Ab on the Hebrew Calendar. It was destroyed again on Sat 2 Aug AD 70, which was also 9 Ab.[9] Hence, there is strong reason to remember the day 9 Ab as a fast day of mourning, and as the end of a period of sadness.

What about the first day of the Three Weeks, being 17 Tammuz? It turns out that it is only known to be associated with the fall of the second temple, being the day on which the daily sacrifice was stopped.[10] In a way, that was the beginning of the destruction of that temple. Most scholars do not believe, however, that the date was associated in any way with the first fall of Jerusalem. Instead they point to the day 9 Tammuz when the city of Jerusalem fell (2 Kings 25:3, Jer. 39:2, 52:6). Shortly after the fall, there was a fast held in the fourth month (Tammuz) and most scholars feel it was held on either the 9th or 10th of Tammuz at that time. If it was the 10th, then it would have coincided with Joseph and Hyrum's martyrdom date on their calendar.

Tempting as that might be, I don't think it was the case. I believe the ancient fast of the fourth month was indeed held on 17 Tammuz, just as it is today. There is reason to believe that it commemorated the day on which Nebuchadnezzar first took captives from Jerusalem, including Daniel, on Sat 18 Jun 605 BC, 17 Tammuz, shortly after he won the Battle of Carchemish in Syria.[11] The very day probably marked the official beginning of the 70 years of captivity to Babylon according to the Lord's reckoning on the Hebrew Calendar. That data point would have been well known during the captivity, and would represent the beginning of the days of mourning.

So if the Hebrew fast days are correct, what about Joseph Smith's death date? It turns out that it completes the pattern of Four Days of Atonement on the Hebrew calendar. Currently there are three out of four possible days, which are associated with the four seasons. The official "Day of Atonement" is on the tenth day of the seventh month, Tishri, in the fall. It is a fast day, and the holiest day of the year on the Hebrew Calendar. It has a counterpart in the spring, which is the tenth day of the first month, Nisan. That is the day on which the lamb was to be chosen to be the Passover sacrifice. There is also a corresponding fast day in the winter, being the tenth day of the tenth month. That was the day on which Nebuchadnezzar began his siege of Jerusalem, and the Lord commanded Ezekiel to write it down to remember it (Ezek. 20:1, 2 Kings 25:1, Jer. 52:4). The fourth such day to complete the set of one atonement day for each season would be the tenth day of the fourth month, being 10 Tammuz, the day on which the two witnesses were martyred.

Thus, even as the birthday of the Prophet Joseph Smith marks one of the big four season starters, so also does his death date mark one of the big four days of atonement. Even as the holy days on the Hebrew Calendar often were not recognized until the key event of that day occurred, such as the siege of Nebuchadnezzar, so also has this holy day not been recognized until after the martyrdom.

5. Lucy Mack Smith's birth: 10 Tammuz

Lucy Mack Smith
There is some evidence that there is often a link in birth dates between parents and children. More statistical research is required to verify the extent to which this is not just chance coincidence, but preliminary evidence suggests that parents are sometimes born or die on the same days on the Hebrew calendar as their children, more often than would be expected by chance. Lucy Mack Smith, the mother of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, was born on Sat 8 Jul 1775. That day was 10 Tammuz on the Hebrew calendar, the same day as the death of two of her children. This coincidence, while only circumstantial evidence, supports both the idea of a link from parents to children, and also of the importance of the day 10 Tammuz as an important day. Moreover, the fact that this special date was apparently reserved for the Prophet Joseph Smith also testifies of God's foreknowledge of all things. We know that Jesus Christ was a lamb slain from the foundation of the world, and that the date of his death was foreshadowed by the slaying of the Passover lamb every spring, on the very day on which Jesus would become the Great Sacrifice. It should not be surprising that the second lamb which was sacrificed daily according to the law of Moses, should also have a special day reserved for his sacrifice also.

It is important to note that none of this should be construed as an endorsement of astrology, which claims that the stars control our destiny. Rather, it is a testimony that God carefully plans out his work, using his own calendars. Clearly he can plan a temple dedication to occur on a special day, but what about the death date of Jesus Christ and of the Prophet Joseph Smith? John emphasized that no one could kill the Savior until his hour had come (John 7:30, 8:20, 12:23, 13:1). The Lord assured Joseph Smith that the same was true of him, and that his life span was known to the day: "Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less" (D.C. 122:9). Thus, the Lord held off any would-be slayers until they could be unleashed at the correct time. Jesus, Joseph and Hyrum would then go as lambs to the slaughter.

Thus we have several testimonies that the universe is not run by chance, and God knows the end from the beginning. That knowledge truly gives us cause to rejoice.

6. A Day to Rejoice!

As far as I know, this dedication of the Nauvoo Temple is the first joyous occasion in Church history which was chosen to occur on a date on which we would normally be more subdued, perhaps mourning the loss of our great prophet. Interestingly enough, this turnabout might be a fulfillment of prophecy.

The Lord made a very unusual prediction through his prophet Zechariah:

And the word of the Lord of hosts came unto me, saying,
Thus saith the Lord of hosts; The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be in the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love the truth and peace.
Thus saith the Lord of hosts; It shall yet come to pass, that there shall come people, and the inhabitants of many cities:
And the inhabitants of one city shall go to another saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts: I will go also.
Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord. (Zechariah 8:18-22)

Here the Lord states that some day the four mourning fasts will become occasions for celebration in Jerusalem. It sounds like the change might be associated with future temples there, because many will go there to worship. The mourning is mostly related to their loss of temples, so it is not impossible to believe that their rejoicing might come from the restoration of their temple.

What does this have to do with our celebration? It turns out that Thu, 27 Jun 2002, at 5:00 p.m., is the day 17 Tammuz on the Hebrew Calendar, the first fast day of the Three Weeks of mourning. That is the fast day of the fourth month to which Zechariah was referring. So it looks as if the celebration in Nauvoo is a herald of future events in Jerusalem, which also will occur on days which are normally solemn fast days.

How comforting this knowledge of God's grand scheme is, and of his precision timing. We know that God is in his heavens and his designs and purposes are never frustrated. He knows the end from the beginning, and the apparently tragic deaths of both the Savior and the martyrs Joseph and Hyrum were all a part of an overall plan, calendared from the foundation of the world. It is truly a time to rejoice!

Notes

  1. "You don't know me; you never knew my heart. No man knows my history. . . . When I am called by the trump of the archangel and weighed in the balance, you will all know me then. I add no more. God bless you all. Amen. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section Six, 1843-44, p. 361, spoken on April 7, 1844.)
  2. See "Enoch Calendar Testifies of Christ," "The Constellations Testify of Christ," and "The Lion and the Unicorn Testify of Christ," Part I and Part II.
  3. Pratt, J.P., "What Every Mormon Should Know About Astronomy," Meridian Magazine, 12 May 2000.
  4. See articles by J.P.Pratt at http://www.johnpratt.com/items/docs/lds/index.html.
  5. Proctor, Scot Facer, Witness of the Light, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, p. 22.
  6. Today's Hebrew calendar requires a few minor corrections, especially in correcting the slow drift of the calendar through the seasons, equivalent to the corrections leading to the adoption of our modern Gregorian calendar which replaced the Julian Calendar. On the Hebrew calendar in use in 1805, the day Sun 22 Dec 1805 was 1 Tebeth. On the Perpetual Hebrew Calendar, which appears to be correct throughout all time, the day Tue 24 Dec 1805 was 1 Tebeth. That day begins at 6 p.m. on the previous evening. Thus, if that is correct, then in order to fulfill the apparently intended symbolism, the prophet Joseph Smith must have been born after 6 p.m. on Mon 23 Dec 1805. I am not aware of any record of the exact time of day of his birth, so I postulate that it was after 6 p.m.
  7. Strassfield, Michael, The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary, Harper & Row, 1985, p. 179.
  8. Strassfield, p. 87.
  9. The scriptural account gives both 10 Ab (Jer. 52:12) and also 7 Ab (2 Kings 25:8). And the burning in AD 70 is also given as 10 Ab (Josephus, Wars of the Jews VI.iv.5), but in both cases 9 Ab appears to be historically correct. I give the dates on the Gregorian calendar which we now use, rather than the Julian which historians often prefer.
  10. Josephus, Wars of the Jews, VI.ii.1.
  11. For a discussion of the exact timing of the 70 year captivity, see Pratt, J.P. "When Was Judah's 70-Year Babylonian Captivity?" Ensign 28 (Oct 1998) pp. 64-65.