I was ill earlier this week, so took the opportunity to listen to the Priesthood Session of General Conference. I was particularly heartened by Elder Anderson’s confident advice to “give Brother Joseph a break.”
The theme of the Conference was a call to believe, with many suggestions on how belief could be strengthened. For some, however, it helps to quiet the mocking voices in their heads to provide a plausible alternative to the popular bogeyman of the non-believers, the Joseph as narcissistic imposter who allegedly made up scripture from whole cloth and took dozens of his followers’ daughters and wives to his bed.
First, A Picture
In 1969 a family donated a daguerreotype to the RLDS Church (now the Community of Christ). They claimed it was a picture of Joseph Smith. If it is Joseph, the youth and gaunt look of the man in the image indicate the photo was taken in late 1839. In November-December 1839 Joseph took a trip to Washington D.C. to seek redress for the atrocities perpetuated against the Mormons in Missouri. Due to Joseph’s notoriety, it is reasonable an early daguerreotypist in DC would have sought to capture his likeness.
Rick Brunson has a brief article on his blog describing the evidences Shannon Michael Tracy documents in his book, Millions Shall Know Brother Joseph Again. In summary, this daguerreotype allegedly matches the death mask using both lineal matching and facial recognition techniques. The image also corresponds with photos taken of Joseph’s skull prior to the remains being reinterred during the early 1900s.
[Updated 10/11/15: There was apparently a storm of controversy about this image and the Tracy book in 2008. One disappointed summary can be found at Juvenile Instructor. When I scanned that article, it appears the author went from hoping this was an image of Joseph Smith to being completely angered by the unprofessionalism of Mr. Tracy. In my reading of this summary, I missed whether the picture had been proven to be not of Joseph. For the record, I was intrigued by seeing this image illustrating a post from a reputable blogger, with the text indicating that they hoped this was an actual image of Joseph Smith. Searching things more, I happened upon the Brunson blog.]