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James F. Stoddard IV and Aaron R. Halsell

The day is Thursday, August 8, 1844. Six weeks to the day have passed since the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith on June 27, 1844. The majority of the Twelve Apostles have recently returned from missions 1 and some are still stunned and disheartened by the loss of their Prophet. Upon their arrival they find “Sidney Rigdon busy among the Saints, trying to establish his claim to the presidency of the Church.” 2 According to a report issued by the Times and Seasons:

[A] special meeting of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, convened at the stand in the city of Nauvoo, President Brigham Young, called the audience to order, and arranged the several quorums according to their standing, and the rules of the church. The meeting had been previously called, as stated, to choose a guardian, or trustee for said church. 3
Sidney Rigdon
Sidney Rigdon

Opinions differ, 4 either Sidney Rigdon, former First Counselor in the First Presidency, 5 or the Quorum of the Twelve with Brigham Young at their head. The audience is divided as the polished and eloquent Sidney Rigdon commences his message. The old gentleman is charismatic and the arguments are compelling to some of the flock. 6

Brigham Young, a man fiercely loyal to the Prophet Joseph Smith, current President of the Twelve and later to become known as the “Lion of the Lord”, takes the stand. Suddenly, the people arise “en-masse to their feet astonished.” 7 One eyewitness later remembered, “it appeared that Joseph had returned and was speaking to the people.” 8 As Brigham Young commences speaking, hundreds in the audience believe “in every possible degree it [is] Joseph’s voice, and his person, in look, attitude, dress and appearance [it is] Joseph himself, personified”. 9 William Hyde later remembers:

[Brigham Young] then called upon the saints to know if they would receive the Twelve and let them stand in their place as the First Presidency of the Church in the absense of Joseph. The vote was unanimous in the affirmative. On this day it was plainly manifest that the mantle of Joseph had rested upon President Young. 10

Fact or fiction?

If the transfiguration never occured, the foundations of our LDS faith & history are weakened.

While not one dissenting hand was raised at that conference, thousands today are leaving the Church believing that Brigham Young was not the Prophet Joseph’s legal successor. Was Brigham Heaven’s choice? The transfiguration of Brigham Young is a key assertion in this debate. If the Lord miraculously transfigured Brigham Young’s appearance, Brigham Young was divinely sanctioned as Joseph Smith’s successor. If this transfiguration never took place, the very foundations of our LDS faith and history are weakened.

Richard S. Van Wagoner
Richard S. Van Wagoner

Both detractors and supporters of the transfiguration recognize that the date of August 8, 1844, is a binding one. 11 While many Mormon historians agree that something miraculous occurred on that day, a growing number are viewing this story as a mere remnant of Mormon folklore. In other words, it is an exaggerated legend from our pioneer past. The late LDS author Richard S. Van Wagoner, considered to be a “trailblazer in Mormon studies”, 12 writes:

The legend is now unsurpassed in Mormon lore, second only to Joseph Smith’s own account of angelic ministrations and his “first vision.” 13

. . . When 8 August 1844 is stripped of emotional overlay, there is not a shred of irrefutable contemporary evidence to support the occurrence of a mystical event either in the morning or afternoon gatherings of that day. 14

Why does the transfiguration matter?

Joseph Smith and Brigham Young
Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (Attribution: Ken Lund)

If the transformation was nothing more than a myth, the argument can easily be made that President Young merely wrestled the mantle away from Sidney Rigdon by popular vote. 15 Where does that leave the Church today? If Brigham Young was not divinely appointed as the successor of Joseph Smith can one recover from such a misdirection and remain “the one and only true Church?”

We currently have access to 141 accounts of the event. The number of individuals who recorded the event totals to 125. Sixty-one of these are first-hand documents, including personal journals, autobiographies and direct testimonies chronicled in Church publications. The remaining 63 are biographical works by family members or historical compilations. 16

First recorded accounts emerge

Despite the numerous first and second hand accounts, a popular theory dismisses these statements because they were not written until many years after the event. The critics question whether or not the transfiguration occurred because a number of testimonies were written after the Saints had settled in Utah.

Pioneer accounts of the transfiguration
Attribution: Jeff Nelson

Van Wagoner insists Albert Carrington is the first to mention the mantle experience in 1857, thirteen years after the deciding conference in Nauvoo. In a discourse delivered in the Salt Lake bowery, Elder Carrington said that he couldn’t tell Brigham from Joseph. According to Van Wagoner’s premise, there was soon no shortage of pioneers embellishing the story further and making the claim that they had witnessed the miracle, too. Van Wagoner states:

The paramount dilemma with retrospective transfiguration recountings is why so many otherwise honorable, pious people recalled experiencing something they probably did not. A rational and likely explanation for this faulty group memory is that a “contagious” thought can spread through the populace to create a “collective mind.” 17

Is Albert Carrington’s statement the first? If so, that could bolster the idea that our “otherwise honourable” ancestors were caught up in such a mass deception. However, this thesis actually ignores the data that there were, in fact, many more renditions in previous years. The chart below displays how many eyewitnesses wrote of their mantle experience each year following 1844:

Accounts in Years Following the Transfiguration Event

As noted, within a year of the “transfiguration” the miracle had been referred to several times. It was even described in explicit detail in many private accounts at least as early as 1851.

Additionally, a significant number of these dates have been taken from the publication of biographies that state they were compiled or copied from original journals. Cases such as James Harvey Glines, 18 William Hyde 19 and others. These entries were very likely written the day of, or soon after August 8th.

Groupthink?

If these eyewitness reports were the result of psychological “groupthink” we could expect the Saints to begin jotting down their accounts when the idea was allegedly first noised abroad. The testimonies would have been recorded in a condensed period of time. The chart below illustrates how many renditions of the Transfiguration were first recorded from 1844 until the year 1925.

Accounts of Transfiguration Over Time

Thus we see, there is no specific timeframe for a spike in the accounts. Even considering the brief remarks made in the 1857 discourse, keep in mind that the most detailed statement of the transformation, written by George Q. Cannon, was not published until the year 1870. If the mantle experience really was mere “Mormon folklore”, how did so many sporadic records emerge eighteen or more years before the first comprehensive declaration even became available to the Church abroad?

Additionally, there is no central location for the supposed “myth” to develop as Van Wagoner’s “collective delusion” would require. Witnesses recorded their testimonies from various locations: some still living in Nauvoo, some throughout Utah ranging from the northern to the southernmost tip, some into Idaho and the Arizona territories, and some locales as remote as the island of Tubuai. 20

An analysis of the accounts clearly testifies that the accounts of the transfiguration of Brigham Young could not have been the result of a contagion memory or “group think”.

Was Brigham Young divinely sanctioned by God?

President Brigham Young (Is there evidence for the transfiguration of Brigham Young?)
President Brigham Young (ca. 1846)

If the transfiguration occurred, this mighty miracle is a manifestation to the Saints, both past and present, of God’s divine sanction of President Brigham Young. Many among the current membership would do well to consider carefully before criticizing him as a “product of his time”. 21 Was he a man burdened by prejudice and a hunger for power? 22 Did President Young have an inconsistent 23 and corrupted view of doctrine? 24 Did President Young depart from the foundation laid by the Prophet Joseph Smith? Or have some in our generation re-imagined the character of Joseph Smith and worked to redefine the Restoration? The validity of the transfiguration is a crucial element in discovering the answer.

In Part 2, we will explore the accounts and investigate whether the eyewitness testimonies agree and whether their differences call the validity of the experience into question.

Free audio of transfiguration accounts

Notes:

  1. Smith, Joseph Fielding. Essentials in Church History. Deseret Book. 387.
  2. Little, James A. Jacob Hamblin: A Narrative of His Personal Experience, as a Frontiersman, Missionary to the Indians and Explorer. Grantsville, UT: LDS Archive, 1997. Print. 19–20. also Corbett, Pearson H. Jacob Hamblin, the Peacemaker. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1952. Print. 21-22.
  3. Times and Seasons, September 2, 1844
  4. “There were so many opinions as who would be the leader of the Saints at that time. Sidney Rigdon was sure he was the man.” Eunice Billings Warner Snow Tells Her Own Story, Writings of Eunice Billings Snow (1910). January 3, 1830–November 25, 1914.
  5. History of the Church. 6:47–48. Mosiah Hancock remembered, “I had seen the Prophet proclaim these words before the people, ‘I have carried Sidney Rigdon long enough—I now throw him from my shoulders. If my brother Hyrum wishes to pick him up and carry him, he may—I carry him no longer.'” Hancock, Mosiah Lyman. Autobiography of Mosiah Lyman Hancock. 1834–65, Church Archives.
  6. “Sidney Rigdon came to the stand and tried to show to the people that he was the rightful successor of Joseph. And his arguments were so powerful that many were almost persuaded to believe him such.” Crosby, Caroline Barnes. Memoirs Begun at Tubuai, Society Islands, 1851, holograph, unpaged, Church Archives; Crosby, Caroline Barnes. The Papers of Jonathan and Caroline Crosby, unpaged, microfilm, FHL Archives.
  7. Pace, William Bryam. Diary of William Bryam Pace and Biography of His Father, James Pace. typescript, 7, Perry Special Collections.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Johnson, Benjamin F. My Life’s Review (reprint, Mesa, Ariz.: Lof- green Printing, 1979), 103–4.
  10. Hyde, William. The Private Journal of William Hyde, 1868. holograph, 64–67, and typescript, 21–23, Church Archives; Hyde, William. The Private Journal of William Hyde. typescript, 13–15, microfilm, FHL Archives.
  11. Snuffer, Denver, Jr. “Interpreting History, Part 9.” Denver Snuffer. N.p., 5 Feb. 2012. Web.
  12. DeGroote, Michael. “Richard Van Wagoner, Historian, Dies at 64.” Deseret News. 12 Oct. 2010. Web. <http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700072904/Richard-Van-Wagoner-historian-dies-at-64.html>.
  13. Van Wagoner, Richard S. Making of a Mormon Myth. 159.
  14. Ibid, 178.
  15. Waterman, Alan Rock. “Why Mormon History Is Not What They Say.” Why Mormon History Is Not What They Say. N.p., 25 July 2010. Web. <http://puremormonism.blogspot.com/2010/07/why-mormon-history-is-not-what-they-say.html>
  16. Both Ronald W. Walker and Lynne Watkins Jorgensen bring the number to 101.
  17. Van Wagoner, Richard S. Making of a Mormon Myth. 181.
  18. Glines, James Harvey. Reminiscences and Diary, March 1845–December 1899
  19. Hyde, William. The Private Journal of William Hyde, 1868. holograph, 64–67, and typescript, 21–23, Church Archives; Hyde, William. The Private Journal of William Hyde. typescript, 13–15, microfilm, FHL Archives.
  20. Jorgensen, Lynne Watkins. “The Mantle of the Prophet Joseph Passes to Brother Brigham: A Collective Spiritual Witness.” Brigham Young University Studies, vol. 36, no. 4, 1996, pp. 131.
  21. “Question: Are prophets simply “men of their time,” without any special ability to guide the Church?” FairMormon. N.p., n.d. Web.
  22. Snuffer, Denver, Jr. “Emma, Lucy and Brigham.” Denver Snuffer. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://denversnuffer.com/2015/05/emma-lucy-and-brigham/>.
  23. Hales, Laura H., ed. A Reason for Faith: Navigating LDS Doctrine & Church History. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young U, 2016. Print.
  24. Snuffer, Denver, Jr. “Sorting Things Out, Part 5.” From the Desk of Denver Snuffer. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://denversnuffer.blogspot.com/2012/07/sorting-things-out-part-5.html>. see also Arrington, Leonard J. Brigham Young: American Moses. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985. Print. 201.
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33 COMMENTS

  1. This article’s logic suggests:
    If Brigham’s transfiguration didn’t occur,
    Then he wasn’t a prophet, and, Sidney Rigdon should have been.

    I don’t buy this because Joseph’s revelation in D&C 107 suggests the Twelve were ultimately in charge. The Twelve were “equal in authority” to the First Presidency (D&C 107:24). But, they also were the ones who “appointed and ordained” the First Presidency (vss.22 & 58).

    The transfiguration could have been a Mormon myth, but that doesn’t negate the word of the Lord to Joseph regarding the role and relationship of the Twelve and the First Presidency.

    • Hi Jesse!

      I’m a little confused why you came to that conclusion. You don’t quote anything from the article that you directly disagree with. Here’s what the article said about why the transfiguration of Brigham Young is important:

      “The transfiguration of Brigham Young is a key assertion in this debate[over who was the next divinely appointed prophet]. If the Lord miraculously transfigured Brigham Young’s appearance, Brigham Young was divinely sanctioned as Joseph Smith’s successor.”

      I agree with you (and the authors of the article probably would as well) that both the Prophet Joseph’s statements and D&C 107 point to Brigham Young as the next leader of the church. However, the body of saints right then and there (in the moment – so to speak) did not have access to all the knowledge (quotes, scriptures, etc) we have compiled today in retrospect. They needed a confirmation that Brigham Young was now the Lord’s prophet – a confirmation I’m sure many were earnestly praying for.

      You recall the scripture in Mormon 9:24–25?

      ” 24 Signs shall follow them that believe. . .

      25 And whosoever shall believe in my name, doubting nothing, unto him will I confirm all my words, even unto the ends of the earth.”

      It is only natural and part of God’s nature that He would confirm the identity of the future prophet in answer to the faithful prayers of His saints. If I lived at that time, I know I would definitely be praying for such confirmation – for myself as well as for others. The way confirmation came to them is special: it has allowed generations to know the signs of the prophetic mantle that fell on Brigham Young – much like the ancient Israelites knew Elisha was a prophet because of the signs that followed him after Elijah’s death.

      The transfiguration could have been a myth? What of the 141 accounts? What of the statements by prophets and apostles, like the one I posted from Wilford Woodruff? The reality of this account is so obviously supported by so many sources that it’s a little ridiculous to me that some would think otherwise.

      • “I’m a little confused why you came to that conclusion.” I’m not Jesse, but this is what made my jaw drop and supports his reading of the article (though I agree that the bit about Sidney Rigdon having a right to the presidency is an extrapolation and not present in the text): “Was Brigham Heaven’s choice? The transfiguration of Brigham Young is a key assertion in this debate. If the Lord miraculously transfigured Brigham Young’s appearance, Brigham Young was divinely sanctioned as Joseph Smith’s successor. If this transfiguration never took place, the very foundations of our LDS faith and history are weakened.” But this is simply not true. President Benson was crystal clear that a testimony of the Book of Mormon is also a testimony of the Prophet and of his successors in the presidency of the Church. Whether this transformation of Brigham Young took place is immaterial to a witness of the Spirit about the Book of Mormon.

        “The reality of this account is so obviously supported by so many sources that it’s a little ridiculous to me that some would think otherwise.” But all primary sources on not created equal and the article’s own graphs show that the vast majority of accounts were created 20 years later. I will refrain from discussing their analysis of the sources because 1) they don’t really do any here and 2) they promise more in the next article, but they’re fighting a steep uphill battle to demonstrate what they claim.

        • Jack of Hearts,

          “”If this transfiguration never took place, the very foundations of our LDS faith and history are weakened.” But this is simply not true.” The transfiguration supports the line of authority that current LDS members believe in. Many claimed leadership over the church, and knowing who was the next prophet was not just important for them but also for us. The transfiguration leaves no doubt. If this account is a bunch of lies propagated by those in favor of Brigham Young, then it does undermine his position as the next prophet in the latter days (not to mention the integrity of so many good saints and church leaders), though (as I said) other things do point to him as the next prophet.

          “President Benson was crystal clear that a testimony of the Book of Mormon is also a testimony of the Prophet and of his successors in the presidency of the Church.” I’d be interested to see this quote. Church doctrine (so far as I understand) states that a testimony of the BoM is essentially a testimony of the Prophet Joseph and the Restoration. But is a testimony of the BoM a testimony of Brigham Young? Can one believe in the BoM and not in the correct modern prophet? I’m afraid far too many believe in Joseph Smith and the BoM but fail to gain a testimony of the correct modern prophets that followed Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.

          It’s funny to me that you would in one breath (below on the Wilford Woodruff comments) undermine an apostle’s statement on the event when your comment up here is all about how the truthfulness of modern prophets are not contingent on the truthfulness of this account. The two are intertwined. If the prophets speak the truth, this account IS true. If the account is true, they are prophets.

          “They’re fighting a steep uphill battle to demonstrate what they claim.” Are they? You gave no opposition to their facts. 141 accounts (61 being firsthand accounts) seems like plenty of evidence, not to mention the statements of prophets and apostles.

          • “The transfiguration supports the line of authority that current LDS members believe in. . . . The transfiguration leaves no doubt.” The account does support the line of authority, but it is overreaching to say that it leaves no doubt. This article itself is proof enough that there are questions surrounding the account. It is the witness of the Spirit that leaves no doubt, and nothing else. It is inviolate, and with it, nothing can undermine Brigham Young’s position as a prophet of the Lord.

            “All objections . . . basically hinge on whether Joseph Smith and his successors were and are prophets of God receiving divine revelation. . . . The only problem the objector has to resolve for himself is whether the Book of Mormon is true. For if the Book of Mormon is true, then Jesus is the Christ, Joseph Smith was his prophet, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true, and it is being led today by a prophet receiving revelation.” This is quoted in Preach My Gospel chapter 8, coming from pages 4-5 of A Witness and a Warning.

            “If the prophets speak the truth, this account IS true. If the account is true, they are prophets.” This is circular logic though, and doesn’t pan out. For example, take President Hinckley recounting the Solomon Kimball account of the Sweetwater River crossing. Him saying it doesn’t make it accurate, and him recounting an inaccurate historical account doesn’t make him any less of a prophet.

            • I’m not Bruce, but one question I have about your first statement: Was the transfiguration NOT a witness of the Spirit to those saints? or to us today? Honest question.

              You suggest that the fact that there IS an article on this topic is suggestive of opposition to the event or that it was unproven and of sketchy evidence. The fact that there IS opposition is nothing new to Mormonism; we’ve had it since the Fist Vision, not to mention in Christ’s time. In fact, it’s actually a GOOD sign.

              Many believe in the BOM and not the living prophets. What about the R and F LDS? They believe in the BOM.

              The “circular logic” IS IN AND OF ITSELF proof of the transfiguration and its importance, if you believe the prophets – prophets and apostles testified of it’s actuality and importance.

              With your last paragraph, I’m not going to argue as to whether the story you mentioned is historically accurate. But there is a difference between a prophet telling a story out of history and a prophet relating a vitally important scene from church history that HE WAS AT. Wilford Woodruff was not simply telling someone else’s story, but telling us that he was there and saw it with his own eyes.
              Recounting an inaccurate historical account” is not the same thing as testifying of a sign from heaven – a sign (that with the accompanying spirit) proved to the hearts of the listeners that Brigham was a prophet.

              You’re simply breezing over the fact that this topic and event is important, rather than building up others’ testimonies of the prophets and revelation. There are plenty of lies out there we can combat; why are you arguing against the truth?
              Do you have a problem with acknowledging that the transfiguration occurred? Or that Brigham Young was a prophet?

  2. Thank you for this article!
    I agree with Aaron Halsell and James Stoddard. I recently saw some discussion from active church members defaming the prophet Brigham Young (saying he wasn’t a prophet, didn’t have priesthood keys, etc…) I’d heard other comments about it in Sunday school as well, and the complaints and justification didn’t line up with other impressions that I had received. It’s so refreshing to hear truth about him as portrayed in this article!
    Here’s a quote from Brigham Young’s funeral address that says exactly what I feel:

    Like all great men, he has had bitter enemies. No man has been more vilified, misrepresented and falsely accused than Brigham Young.. His life has been frequently sought. The bullet and the knife of the assassin have been prepared to shed his heart’s blood, and plots have been illegally laid by the emissaries of the law to rob, imprison, and destroy him. But the hand of the Lord has delivered him on every occasion,and the calmness and serenity with which he has invariably looked upon calamity and persecution, has stamped him as one of the largest minded men of the century.

    (https://archive.org/details/deathofpresident00deserich)

  3. I looked up the statements of Wilford Woodruff, my 4th great grandfather and an apostle. He was very clear on the topic:

    “I know this work is of God. I know Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God. I have heard two or three of the brethren testify about brother Young in Nauvoo. Every man and every woman in that assembly, which perhaps might number thousands, could bear the same testimony. I was there, the Twelve were there, and a good many others, and all can bear the same testimony. The question might be asked, why was the appearance of Joseph Smith given to Brigham Young? Because here was Sidney Rigdon and other men rising up and claiming to be the leaders of the Church, and men stood, as it were, on a pivot, not knowing which
    way to turn.

    But just as quick as Brigham Young rose in that assembly, his face was that of Joseph Smith—the mantle of Joseph had fallen upon him, the power of God that was upon Joseph Smith was upon him, he had the voice of Joseph, and it was the voice of the shepherd. There was not a person in that assembly, Rigdon, himself, not excepted, but was satisfied in his own mind that Brigham was the proper leader of the people, for he would not have his name presented, by his own consent, after that sermon was delivered. There was a reason for this in the mind of God; it convinced the people. They saw and heard for themselves, and it was by the power of God.” (Journal of Discourses 15:81)

    • I really appreciate the work of the Stoddards. We live in such a time of “alternate truths” that this research becomes so very important. I also think it is important for those of us who have ancestors who lived during important historical times, and who recorded eyewitness accounts, stand up and share them with others. Perhaps this is one of the many reasons all of us, but especially young people are being encouraged to do family history work– so that we can proclaim truth to misinformation!

    • 30+ years later he was very clear, yes, but his diary entry for August 8, 1844 (one of his longest, clocking in at nearly 2200 words), makes no mention of it. In fact, his journal indicates that he did not even attend the morning meeting when Young and Rigdon addressed the congregation.

      • “Every man and every woman in that assembly, which perhaps might number thousands, could bear the same testimony. I was there, the Twelve were there, and a good many others, and all can bear the same testimony.” (Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses 15:81)

        Jack of Hearts, are you calling President Wilford Woodruff (the fourth President of the Church) a liar?

        • No. Are you? On August 8th, 1844, he wrote, “The Twelve spent their time in the fore part of the day at the office” and “in the afternoon met at the grove.”

          • You attempted to discount President Woodruff’s eyewitness account (shared by Bruce), stating that:

            “30+ years later he was very clear, yes, but his diary entry for August 8, 1844 (one of his longest, clocking in at nearly 2200 words), makes no mention of it. In fact, his journal indicates that he did not even attend the morning meeting when Young and Rigdon addressed the congregation.”

            My question still stands, do you believe President Woodruff was lying when he shared his eyewitness account in 1872? You conveniently did not mention that President Young also spoke in the afternoon, according to Wilford Woodruff’s August 8th, 1844 entry. Wilford Woodruff also recorded President Young’s words. I don’t see any discrepancy between President Woodruff’s discourse in 1872 and his journal entry in 1844. So, did Wilford Woodruff see the image of Brigham Young transfigured into the image of the Prophet Joseph? I believe he did.

            For those who wonder why his August 8th, 1844 journal entry records President Young’s words but not the miracle, you may find the following statement by Benjamin F. Johnson (a close friend of the Prophet Joseph Smith and witness to the transfiguration) interesting:

            “This vision, or view, although but for seconds, was to me as vivid and real as the glare of lightning or the voice of thunder from the heavens, and so deeply was I impressed with what I saw and heard in the transfiguration, that for years I dared not tell what was given me of the Lord to see. But when in later years I did publicly bear this testimony, I found that others had testified to having seen and heard the same. But to what proportion of the congregation that were present, I could never know. But I do know this, my testimony is true.” (Benjamin F. Johnson, My Life’s Review)

            • “My question still stands, do you believe President Woodruff was lying when he shared his eyewitness account in 1872? You conveniently did not mention that President Young also spoke in the afternoon, according to Wilford Woodruff’s August 8th, 1844 entry.” And you conveniently did not mention that the transformation took place in the morning. So thus my questions still stands.

              • Why would you suggest that the transfiguration occurred in the morning? Two meetings occurred on August 8th. The first meeting began at 10 o’clock and Sidney Rigdon spoke for one hour and a half. As one eyewitness observed, “he was as dry as sticks”. Brigham Young appeared near the end, called for an afternoon meeting and spoke after 2pm. President Joseph Fielding Smith (one of our Church historians, the grandson of Hyrum Smith and the President of the Church) summarized the event based on the primary sources and eyewitness accounts:

                “At the close of the morning meeting, President Brigham Young made a few remarks and announced that there would be another meeting at 2 o’clock. At the appointed time a great multitude of Saints assembled. The various quorums of the Priesthood were arranged in order before the stand, and after the opening exercises President Brigham Young addressed the congregation. He spoke with great power and the people were convinced that the authority and power of presidency was with the apostles. When he first arose to speak the people were greatly astonished, for President Young stood transfigured before them and they beheld the Prophet Joseph Smith and heard his voice as naturally as ever they did when he was living. It was a manifestation to the Saints that they might recognize the correct authority. Following his remarks in the afternoon, Amasa M. Lyman, William W. Phelps and Parley P. Pratt each spoke endorsing the remarks of President Young.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Essentials in Church History [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1950], 320 – 321.)

                  • Jack of Hearts,

                    Did you read your own source? After speaking of Rigdon’s long-winded address, your own source says:

                    “Anxious to forestall a morning vote, [Brigham Young] on the spot announced such a meeting for 2:00 p.m. the same day.”

                    No mentions of transfiguration accounts in the morning meeting. In fact, this source almost exactly mirrors the source Jeanne shared.

                    While the aforesaid source is not entirely to my liking in the way it presents Brigham Young and transfiguration accounts, it most certainly contains the facts – facts you are attempting to ignore.
                    The source you shared later says:

                    “For some, the confirmation had been a “feeling” or “spiritual witness” that they had felt during one of those long meetings of August 8 or in the days that came later. This version often used the word mantle to describe what they had seen—the symbolic cloak of the Old Testament prophet Elijah falling upon his successor Elisha. “It was evident to the Saints that the mantle of Joseph had fallen upon [Young],” said Wilford Woodruff less than a year later, and “the road that he pointed out could be seen so plainly.””

                    “When Young first rose to speak, it was said, he had cleared his voice just like Joseph Smith used to do. Others said that Young’s gestures and voice were Smith’s, or perhaps it was the manner of Young’s reasoning or the expression on his face that seemed so remarkable. Still others claimed to have seen the “tall, straight and portly form of the Prophet Joseph Smith.” Young’s body had grown larger before their spiritual eyes. “If you had had your eyes shut, you would have thought it was the Prophet,” said one man. These memories were remarkable for their detail and their number, and they are hard to put aside.”

                    Would you still like to claim my ancestor and apostle (later prophet) to be a liar? All sources shared, yours included, support his honesty and the factual evidence behind his account. Even if you can provide evidence for some transfiguration accounts in the morning, evidence for afternoon accounts is already proven – the same afternoon meeting that Wilford Woodruff recorded.

                    • The article clearly says that “when Young first rose to speak” the transfiguration happened. That would have been in the morning meeting.

                      “Would you still like to claim my ancestor and apostle (later prophet) to be a liar?” Never once have I claimed that. A mistake does not equal a lie.

                      “evidence for afternoon accounts is already proven.” No, evidence for that exists, but evidence also exists for transfiguration during the morning meeting; nothing is proven.

                    • Jack of Hearts,

                      Your source says “when Young first rose to speak”. This could be interpreted to mean the end of the morning meeting, but could also be speaking of the afternoon meeting where he actually addressed the people. Interesting to note that the exact phrase your source uses is the one Joseph Fielding Smith used in reference to the afternoon meeting. Coincidence? Perhaps. However, Joseph Fielding Smith’s account predates your source and was probably used in writing your source.

                      While you have refrained from outright calling him a liar, you have attacked his integrity by claiming or suggesting that he simply made up or exaggerated this story.

                      Contrary to what you claim, something has been proved. We know that Wilford Woodruff was indeed present at the afternoon meeting – and that meeting is the one that sources already confirm to be when the transfiguration happened.

                      Could transfiguration accounts in the morning exist? Of course. Does it make any difference to my point? No. My point is that Wilford Woodruff was in attendance to a meeting when the transfiguration was witnessed. This effectively collapses arguments attempting to discredit his transfiguration account because they say ‘he wasn’t there’.

                    • “[Y]ou have attacked his integrity by claiming or suggesting that he simply made up or exaggerated this story.” I have neither claimed nor suggested any such thing, anymore than I would over discrepancies in Joseph Smith’s First Vision accounts.

                      “We know that Wilford Woodruff was indeed present at the afternoon meeting – and that meeting is the one that sources already confirm to be when the transfiguration happened.” No, they don’t. I mean, some do. But some don’t too. With evidence on both sides, no one’s proving anything aside from potentiality.

                      “Could transfiguration accounts in the morning exist? Of course. Does it make any difference to my point? No. My point is that Wilford Woodruff was in attendance to a meeting when the transfiguration was witnessed.” But it absolutely does make a difference. Woodruff was present in the afternoon when the transfiguration may have taken place, not when it definitely did. If a historical reconstruction concludes that the transfiguration took place in the morning, then it’s back to square one.

                    • Thanks Caleb for your input. That’s exactly what I was getting at.

                      Maybe anything isn’t 100% proven by the evidence that has been brought up. But that wasn’t the point. Caleb is right on the point: that it trashes the arguments of those who claim my ancestor was lying because he was not there. Wilford Woodruff is probably the only person alive at the time who would be able (or even try) to remember Brigham Young’s address all day long so he can write the whole thing in his journal.

                      Because of his journal entry, we know he was there and, according to later statements, witnessed the transfiguration. Thank you grandpa for being so hard to blackmail!

                    • “Caleb is right on the point: that it trashes the arguments of those who claim my ancestor was lying because he was not there.” Not exactly. I mean, I have no reason to believe he was lying, but him saying he was there isn’t incontrovertible proof, given that it is a 30+ year old memory and people forget things. The article I linked to pointed out how Brigham Young forgot that he in fact did not attend the Twelve’s meeting that morning; misremembering is not lying. Good thing too, since there are accounts of the transfiguration supporting both the morning and the afternoon, and no one’s accusing either group of lying.

                    • “Not exactly.” It does indeed. I didn’t say you were among that group, but they do exist and the facts DO trash their argument.

                      “I mean, I have no reason to believe he was lying.” Is there a reason then that you continue to debate this topic? You could not oppose my stance so you simply hinted an insult at the memory of an apostle who could remember an address nearly word for word all day so he could write it in his journal.

                      “People forget things.” Indeed they do, but they don’t just ‘happen’ to remember and record 141 accounts of the same event, some while being totally removed from anyone else nearby who might have ‘happened’ to remember the same thing. It actually happened and people actually recorded and remembered.

                      And yes, someone is accusing Wilford of lying. Going back to your original comments on this subject, you are obviously quoting Van Wagoner’s ‘observations’ on the matter (Van Wagoner’s The Making of a Mormon Myth p. 176). Van Wagoner concludes that Wilford and others simply made it up, that it was a ‘mystical event’. If you don’t agree with or are finding you cannot support Van Wagoner’s view with facts, then stop trying to copy and paste his carefully chosen ‘facts’ into this comment forum.

                    • Jack of Hearts, I think you might want to consider this . . .

                      “I will here Say God has inspired me to keep a Journal and History of this Church and I warn the future Historians to give Credence to my History of this Church and kingdom for my Testimony is true, and the truth of its Record will be manifest in the world to Come for I with Presidet Brigham Young and others of us will soon be in the spirit /world/ with Joseph, Hyrum David, Heber, Willard, Ezra T, George A Smith, and A Host of other Men who have kept the Commandments of God.” (Journal of Wilford Woodruff, July 5, 1877)

  4. “Was Brigham Heaven’s choice? The transfiguration of Brigham Young is a key assertion in this debate. If the Lord miraculously transfigured Brigham Young’s appearance, Brigham Young was divinely sanctioned as Joseph Smith’s successor. If this transfiguration never took place, the very foundations of our LDS faith and history are weakened.” As others have pointed out, this is incredibly unnecessary theological weight for this event. The Church in no way comes close to having its foundations weakened if recollection of this event is indeed folklore because its foundations are in Christ.

    • I was reading through the comments and was disappointed to see what I feel is a nit-picky and negative attitude. Choosing one sentence that you want to tear down instead of supporting the truth and importance of the transfiguration seems kind of like a ‘hater’ attitude. I think that the point that they were trying to get across is that if the transfiguration can be doubted, then it is much easier to raise questions about the legitimacy of current priesthood authority and a living prophet. I, for one, really appreciated the evidence confirming that the keys of the kingdom really do rest with the president of the 12. God chose Brigham and it was unanimously clear.

      • “I think that the point that they were trying to get across is that if the transfiguration can be doubted, then it is much easier to raise questions about the legitimacy of current priesthood authority and a living prophet.”
        And that’s simply not true. As I wrote above, President Benson was crystal clear that a testimony of the Book of Mormon is also a testimony of the Prophet and of his successors in the presidency of the Church. Whether this transformation of Brigham Young took place is immaterial to a witness of the Spirit about the Book of Mormon.

        “Choosing one sentence that you want to tear down instead of supporting the truth and importance of the transfiguration seems kind of like a ‘hater’ attitude.” This section I quoted is the purpose or thesis or premise of the article. I selected it because of this, not because I have one single quibble with a line or two. The premise of the article is flawed as I explained above, and if defending the truth about this as President Benson articulated “seems kind of like a ‘hater’ attitude,” then so be it.

        • While I in no way wish to minimize the role of the Book of Mormon, history makes it very clear how important the transfiguration was. Before it happened, the church was split over who was to succeed Joseph (and remember that this includes men and women who all knew the prophet personally AND had a very strong testimony of the Book of Mormon)–even these good saints felt unclear on how the line of authority would pass. The transfiguration brought them all to a unanimous consensus. Do we dare think that we can ignore, belittle, and minimize the role of an event that was an essential part of the testimony of the faithful and powerful early saints? Dare we say, (with the benefit of hindsight) “well it’s obvious how authority passes and let’s discredit and minimize the importance of the transfiguration because we today have no need of this sign from the Lord…it’s super obvious and not an important part of our testimonies.” I, for one, have grandparents who stood by and watched the event occur and their journals make it clear what a faith building experience it was and how it showed the mind and will of the Lord. I stand with them with my testimony that the transfiguration of Brigham is a beautiful and important part of my testimony. Jack of Hearts, dare you place your testimony of priesthood keys and power above that held by the early saints?–if they needed it, so do we.

          • “The transfiguration brought them all to a unanimous consensus.” No, it didn’t. Many members never followed the Twelve, including some present at that meeting.

            “Jack of Hearts, dare you place your testimony of priesthood keys and power above that held by the early saints?” Excuse me? Nothing my comments suggest that I place my testimony above that of the early Saints. I’m simply defending what President Benson taught: “All objections . . . basically hinge on whether Joseph Smith and his successors were and are prophets of God receiving divine revelation. . . . The only problem the objector has to resolve for himself is whether the Book of Mormon is true. For if the Book of Mormon is true, then Jesus is the Christ, Joseph Smith was his prophet, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true, and it is being led today by a prophet receiving revelation.” This is quoted in Preach My Gospel chapter 8, coming from pages 4-5 of A Witness and a Warning.

            “if they needed it, so do we.” Why? My point is that there is no need to tell people that this account is critical to their faith. That’s not what we hear in General Conference, that’s not what the missionaries teach, that’s not what we teach our children and youth.

            • Jack of Hearts,

              “No, it didn’t.” Picking at words is not useful or helpful to your point here.

              Chapter (or section) 8 in Preach My Gospel is titled ‘Use Time Wisely’ and discusses a missionary’s schedule and goals. After reviewing the chapter, I am unable to find your reference, nor do I have access to A Witness and a Warning. Do you have a more exact page number in Preach My Gospel or another reference?

              I definitely agree that all questions hinge on testimony. So long as we act in faith, use an eternal perspective, and give heed to divinely appointed sources, we can keep our safely acquire spiritual knowledge (this is current church doctrine). The problem is that thousands have fallen away from the church already – people who still claim to have a testimony of Joseph Smith and/or the Book of Mormon but who let their testimonies of Brigham Young, later prophets, and the modern church get destroyed by doubt. For example, even the three witnesses fell away, but they never denied their testimonies of the Book of Mormon.

              “My point is that there is no need to tell people that this account is critical to their faith.” Well, first off, LDS Answers didn’t say it was ‘critical to faith’. They said “If this transfiguration never took place, the very foundations of our LDS faith and history are weakened.” Joseph needed a successor, and if the transfiguration had not occurred, the church would not be what it is today. Hundreds of our ancestors might have been led astray and lost without the physical and spiritual witness of the transfiguration. If God didn’t sanction Brigham, then maybe someone else was the proper leader. Maybe it was Rigdon. Maybe it was Joseph III. Or anyone. On the other hand, if God did sanction Brigham, He would let His saints know – like He did (and, like Elijah and Elisha, He would do it, and did it, with a physical and spiritual sign that could be passed down for millennia).

              I think the reason that LDS Answers has put such an emphasis on the importance of this event is because it is real, it is true, and it actually happened. As their site motto says, Facts Fortify Faith. If the whole account was fiction, then yes, we shouldn’t tell people it’s important. But since it is real, and provides a physical and spiritual witness of Brigham’s prophetic mantle, it can only strengthen and help the reader’s testimonies to see the Lord’s sanction of Brigham Young. This event strengthened the testimonies of many saints and can continue to do so today – thus why it is important.

              Perhaps the question one should pray about is not “was Brigham a prophet” and “was Wilford a prophet”. Perhaps it should be “did the Lord sanction Brigham through the transfiguration?”. If He did (and I have a spiritual and physical confirmation that He did), then Brigham Young and all the prophets after him are Joseph’s proper successors. This simple transfiguration account, with both physical and spiritual witnesses, can be both factually proved and spiritually confirmed by the words of our ancestors and the Holy Ghost.

  5. Another great article! These articles are so fantastic, as they are so well researched, thought provoking and I love the use of reason in each of them.

    The story of Joseph’s mantle resting upon Brigham happened. I am not sure why so many people want to throw the story out and are trying so hard to change the narrative. I have read many personal accounts on the saints witnessing the event. One just needs to read their own words to hear and feel the spirit. http://scottwoodward.org/brighamyoung_transfiguration.html

    Loved the article! Can’t wait for part 2!

  6. From a different perspective, I would say what matters is that Brigham Young was the actual leader as witnessed by the growth of the Church and the non-growth of any of the others wishing to take leadership. The only one that can lead the Church is the one chosen by God. If any of the others were supposed to have been the true leader, then why do we not see their church thriving as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is?

  7. My Great Grandmother Poly Benson Bartholemew was converted to the gospel in 1832. She cooked for the Prophet Joseph Smith in Naujoo. She was an eye witness and left this account which held to be true to her dying day.

    As recorded by Polly Benson, the testimony that she took to her grave.
    “After the Prophet was killed and at the time that the people were trying to decide who should be President of the church, we were in conference and Brigham Young appeared as Joseph Smith and the mantel of the Prophet fell upon Brigham Young while he was speaking. We knew then beyond a doubt that he should be President, and he was set apart at that time.”

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