Moroni: Ancient Prophet, Modern Messenger
H. Donl Peterson
Cedar Fort, 1983/2008
The “Angel Moroni” is one of the best known symbols of Mormonism. In
1935 a statue was erected in his honor on the Hill Cumorah in New York.
Along with this statue there are “Angel Moroni” statues on all but a
handful of the LDS Church’s 125 operating temples. His image has
appeared on various editions of the Book of Mormon, it can be found on
jewelry, it was used on a marker that could be placed on the graves of
LDS servicemen, it was seen during the 2002 Winter Olympics, and this is
just the beginning of such a list, etc. This is just the beginning of a
lengthy list. While serving on my mission in Oklahoma I even saw
“anti-Moroni” bumper stickers.
Since the image of Moroni has such a prominent place in Mormonism some
might ask the question, why hasn’t more been written about him? The
question could also be asked, since almost all of the information we
have on Moroni is already in the Book of Mormon, is it really necessary
to write an entire book about him?
The second of these questions is answered in H Donl Peterson’s “almost”
a biography Moroni: Ancient Prophet, Modern Messenger. I say “almost”
for several reasons. First, as mentioned above, the Book of Mormon
contains almost all of the existing information we have on Moroni. The
few other things we know about him come mostly from a few statements by
Joseph Smith and other early LDS leaders. Peterson has done an admirable
job of bringing these together; more on this in a moment.
Second, of the twelve chapters in this book, only a few of them could be
said to be “biographical” in nature. The first four chapters are mainly
commentaries on the last three books in the “Book of Mormon.” Chapters
six and nine are mostly about Joseph Smith. Chapter ten is a commentary
on the scripture verses Moroni quoted to Joseph Smith. Chapter twelve
quotes and discusses scriptural prophecies and speculative ideas about
Moroni’s role in the millennial future.
It’s the remaining chapters and their insights that make this book worth
reading. Chapter five, “The Interim,” discusses six events in Moroni’s
life that took place between the end of the Book of Mormon and his
appearance to Joseph Smith in 1823. They are (1) receiving the keys of
the Stick of Ephraim, (2) he dedicated several temple sites between Utah
and New York, (3) he sealed up the plates, (4) his death, (5) his
resurrection, and (6) his service as the “guardian angel of America.” To
support these ideas Peterson compiles and quotes numerous sources, some
well known, others obscure.
Chapter seven, “Insights from Oliver Cowdrey,” quotes Cowdrey’s account
of Joseph’s 1823 experience with Moroni that was originally published in
The Messenger and Advocate in 1835. Chapter eight, “Moroni, Joseph’s
Teacher,” gives additional insight on Moroni’s visits with Joseph Smith
as shared by his friends and family. Chapter eleven, “Moroni’s
Appearances to Others,” gives the experiences of fifteen others besides
Joseph Smith to whom Peterson believes Moroni appeared. Some of these
are a bit speculative as the person being quoted never mentions Moroni
by name, but merely gives a description that fits Moroni; the
description may fit other angels for all we know.
Peterson also makes a mistake in relation to one of these accounts. He
quotes a statement made in 1859 by Brigham Young where Brigham says that
“one of the Quorum of the Twelve” saw Moroni but later apostatized and
that he “has continued to contend against this work.” Peterson claims
that Young was speaking of Luke Johnson. Johnson did leave the Church in
1837, but was rebaptized in 1846, traveled to Utah in the 1847 pioneer
company with Brigham Young, and later helped settle Tooele valley where
he was serving as a Bishop at the time of Brigham’s remarks. It seems
unlikely that Brigham would describe an active Bishop as one contending
“against this work.”
One interesting doctrinal note worth mentioning, especially with the
recent change in the introduction to the Book of Mormon, is that
Peterson uses some quotes that support the idea that Nephites and
Lamanites besides Moroni traveled through North America.
Peterson makes a number of statements in the first four chapters of the
book that bothered me. When speaking of Book of Mormon doctrines,
history, and teachings that involve Moroni he says things like, “it is
believed that,” “it is thought that,” “it is estimated that,” etc.
However, most of these ideas are ones that I have personally never heard
taught before. Perhaps others have, my knowledge is admittedly limited.
If the ideas in this book have been taught by others it would be nice to
see citations and references that back up Peterson’s point of view. If
the ideas originated with him it would have been nice if he said, “I
believe that,” “I think that,” etc.
I also have a few problems with this particular edition of the book.
First, it would be nice if somewhere in the book there was an indication
that this is the third edition and that it has been revised. This
information is available on Cedar Fort’s website. Second, there is no
biographical information on the author. Many readers, especially those
who are under the impression that this is a new book. might not even
realize that the author is dead! Third, I have a number of these Cedar
Fort soft bound books now and I wish that they held up better. Fourth,
there are too many typos and editorial errors or inconsistencies in this
book. There are several misspelled words, most of which look like
computer scanning/recognition errors, for example, the word “the” shows
up in a few places in the book as “lie” or “die.” In one place the
phrase “Oh Israel!” shows up as “Oh Israeli.”
The editorial inconsistencies are mainly related to the footnotes. In
the first edition all quotes were cited in the footnotes. In this
edition, most of the scriptural quotations are cited parenthetically,
and everything else is in the footnotes, but a few times this isn’t
followed. In several chapters Peterson quotes The History of the
Prophet Joseph Smith by His Mother. (ed., Preston Nibley, Bookcraft,
Salt Lake City, 1958) Most of the references in this edition have been
switched to The Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by His
Mother, (ed. Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor, Bookcraft,
1996) but every now and again the editors cite the Nibley version.
There are some fun moments in this book. Appendix B is a compilation of
LDS Hymns, past and present that are about Moroni. One of them, from the
1927 hymnal, is called “I Have No Home, Where Shall I Go.” It contains
lyrics that in all likelihood would not be sung in an LDS service today:
“I see my people lying round,/all lifeless on the gory ground…With axe
and bow they fell upon/Our weakened nation, sparing none,/And left them
welt’ring in their gore./Alas! I ne’er shall see them more. (Lucy Smith
and George Careless).
So is this book necessary? Maybe not, and it is longer than it needs to
be. Peterson actually wrote a fascinating essay on Moroni that appeared
in The Book of Mormon: Fourth Nephi Through Moroni - From Zion to
Destruction, that accomplishes in fifteen pages most of what this book
does in 211. Is this book worth getting and reading? For me, yes. Even
though much of its information is already available, Moroni is one of my
great heroes and the chance to learn more about him made the book worth
reading. The information in chapter five is particularly interesting and
will be valued by all who love and are inspired by this great prophet.