Wednesday, December 20, 2017

More treasures than one in Salem, Massachusetts

9 This place you may obtain by hire. And inquire diligently concerning the more ancient inhabitants and founders of this city;
10 For there are more treasures than one for you in this city. (D&C 111:9-10)

These verses were part of the instructions given to Joseph Smith and three other leaders as they visited Salem, Massachusetts. They had come looking for sources of money to help pay their debts, so they investigated that claim. But apparently the Lord wanted to broaden their vision of value, by telling them to look into the history of the place and its inhabitants.

It struck me that it might be instructive to also look into that stuff too. After all, it is so much easier to do today, what with the internet and Wikipedia, and various fabulous resources there.

It was interesting to find this Salem was a beginning colony of the Puritans and to find out the struggles and controversies they were involved in. Although the Puritans sought religious freedom for themselves, they did not want to extend the same privilege to others. They penalized other “unorthodox” denominations with strong, cruel penalties of banishment, physical maiming, and damaging punishments, and even execution. In the end, this was part of what got their colony charter revoked.

And of course it was also the site of the infamous Salem witch trials, with all the associated superstition, false accusations, injustice, oppression, and paranoia that all involved.

How would it help the prophet Joseph Smith in 1836 to know this history? It would give a lot of information about the kinds of practices that would make a religious community odious to the surrounding inhabitants or to those who wanted to live there but who weren’t part of their faith. It would give a measuring stick against which to gauge the accusations brought against the Saints in Missouri and elsewhere.  It would definitely help form his ideas about the importance of religious freedom.  It had examples of both statesmanship and ignominious tyranny.

Some links: