I’ve finally finished my review of Michael Marquardt’s Early Patriarchal Blessings volume for the next JWHA Journal. This fascinating new resource is a compilation of patriarchal blessings given by Joseph Smith Jr., Joseph Smith Sr., Hyrum Smith, and William Smith. I’ve posted previously about how Joseph Sr.’s blessings illustrate his continuing preoccupation with buried treasure and spiritual gifts that we today would consider magical.
When Hyrum succeeds his father, promises of the ability to “translate” oneself from planet to planet end. Hyrum is more likely to promise wisdom than earthly treasures and his superior education (he attended a free school associated with Dartmouth) is highlighted through more sophisticated biblical references.
William is the first presiding patriarch in the LDS tradition in the period after the end of the early church. Because of his wife’s ill health, he did not return to Nauvoo for his ordination for nearly a year after Joseph and Hyrum’s martrydom. Six months later he broke with Brigham Young, but in the meantime he recorded almost as many blessings as his father had in six years, and nearly five times as many blessings as Hyrum had in four years.
William’s blessings are different from his father’s and from his brother’s. His strong interests are in the cause of Zion, the blessings of the temple, and the power and authority of blood descent from the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and especially Joseph, and then through Ephraim to the Saints. Although Joseph Sr. and Hyrum spoke of this literal blood inheritance, William almost invariably emphasizes the “royal” nature of this “seed.” For example, he promised Anna Ballantyne: “thou art truly one of the seed of Israel a full blooded Josephite for the blood of the Prophets and of the Royal seed runs in thy veins” (p. 262).
Interestingly, unlike Joseph Sr. and Hyrum, William will also prophecy in a way that almost feels like he is revealing new scripture. I was particularly fascinated by a revelation given in Abigail Abbott’s patriarchal blessing:
One of thy posterity named after the name of his father, and after the name of his Great Grandfather, who was a descendant from the tribe of Judah, and of the household of David, shall be a mighty warrior, and be led on to avenge the blood of the Prophets and Patriarchs, he shall lead a mighty people from the wilderness
and one mighty among them who shall be also a mighty warrior by the name of Nishcosh, he shall be a descendent of one of the name of Nimrod, who was also a descendent of that Nimrod, who was a mighty hunter in the days of old, by way of the Jaredites upon this country, who founded a city and called it the city of Gnoalum, this city now lying in ruins the wreck of which only appears as the last descriptive monument of a people that has fallen, and the remnants of whom have become barbarous, wild and uncultivated,
this shall be in a day when the judgements of God are abroad among the Gentiles, and by his hot displeasure the almighty God is vexing the nations of the earth and when the time of Zion’s deliverance has come, and thy seed shall behold it for it is not far distant (p. 244).
If the contents of patriarchal blessings are an indication of the expectations and beliefs of early members, how shall we read this blessing given just one year after the martyrdom?