I suggest you read the list below without the title and ask your class who is being described. If you want more participation, print out and cut up the items and pass them among class members to read aloud.
- He was foreordained and his mission was prophecied of thousands of years before his birth.
- He was born of goodly parents and raised in a righteous home.
- He was born into poverty and stayed poor all of his life.
- He had many siblings.
- As a young teen, his spiritual vision confounded and surpassed that of religious leaders of the day.
- He traveled through the country preaching the new truths of the gospel.
- He depended upon others for room and board.
- He trained twelve apostles to help in the ministry.
- His actions directly affected our salvation
- He called those who followed him "brothers" and "friends."
- He treated children, women, and minorities with unusual kindness (for the culture in which he lived).
- He revolutionized religion and by so doing alienated himself from religious leaders.
- He was subject to temptation but was not overcome.
- He was never allowed much privacy because of his fame.
- He performed many miracles: healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, casting out devils.
- He was visited by angels.
- He was betrayed by friends.
- He was tried illegally and unjustly, convicted of crimes he did not commit.
- He prophesied of his own death repeatedly, yet it was still a shock to his followers.
- He went of his own free will to his death.
- He was comforted by friends and the singing of hymns in his last hours.
- He was martyred in the prime of his life, leaving his widowed mother to the care of others.
- The church was in turmoil at his death.
- At the time of his death, his vision for the church was only in its infancy.
- After his death, he appeared to church leaders to give them added counsel and direction.
- No one who met him had a neutral opinion of him: they either loved him or despised him, or sometimes they did both--one after the other.
- Some who testified passionately of his divine calling later denied the testimony.
- He forgave even those who turned against him or persecuted him even unto death.
EYE-WITNESS DESCRIPTIONS OF JOSEPH SMITH
Parley P. Pratt described Joseph Smith thus:
"President Joseph Smith was in person tall and well built, strong and active, of light complexion, light hair, blue eyes, very little beard, and of an expression peculiar to himself, on which the eye naturally rested with interest, and was never weary of beholding. His countenance was ever mild, affable, beaming with intelligence and benevolence; mingled with a look of interest and an unconscious smile, or cheerfulness, and entirely free from all restraint or affectation of gravity; and there was something connected with this serene and steady penetrating glance of his eye, as if he would penetrate the deepest abyss of the human heart, gaze into eternity, penetrate the heavens, and comprehend all worlds.
"He possessed a noble boldness and independence of character; his manner was easy and familiar; his rebuke terrible as the lion; his benevolence unbounded as the ocean; his intelligence universal, and his language abounding in original eloquence peculiar to himself--not polished--not studied--not smoothed and softened by education and refined by art; but flowing forth in its own native simplicity, and profusely abounding in variety of subject and manner. He interested and edified, while, at the same time, he amused and entertained his audience; and none listened to him that were ever weary with his discourse. I have even known him to retain a congregation of willing and anxious listeners for many hours together, in the midst of cold or sunshine, rain or wind, while they were laughing at one moment and weeping the next. Even his most bitter enemies were generally overcome, if he could once get their ears" (Parley P. Pratt, Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, p. 31-32).
A former mayor of Boston, Josiah Quincy, who visited Joseph Smith just a few months before Joseph was killed wrote:
"It is by no means improbable that some future textbook for the use of generations yet unborn will contain a question like this: What historical American of the nineteenth century has exerted the most powerful influence upon the destinies of his countrymen? And it is by no means impossible that the answer to that interrogatory may be thus written: Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet. And the reply, as absurd as it doubtless seems to most men now living, may be an obvious commonplace to their descendants...Fanatic, imposter, charlatan, he may have been; but these hard names furnish no solution to the problem he presents to us.
"Born in the lowest ranks of poverty, without book-learning, and with the homeliest of all human names, he had made himself at the age of 39 a power upon earth, His influence, whether for good or for evil, is potent today, and the end is not yet. If the reader does not known just what to make of Joseph Smith, I cannot help him out of the difficulty. I myself stand helpless before the puzzle" (B.H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church, 2:349-50, also quoted in Kelly, Latter-day History..., p. 271).
A correspondent to the New York Herald stopped by Nauvoo, a place he called the nucleus of a Western Empire, and wrote the following description of the prophet:
"Joseph Smith, the president of the Church, prophet, seer and revelator, is 36 years of age, six feet high in [heels], weighing 212 pounds. He is a man of the highest order of talent and great independence of character--firm in integrity, and devoted to his religion; in fact, he is a per-se, as President Tyler would say. As a public speaker he is bold, powerful and convincing...as a leader, wise and prudent, yet fearless as a military commander; brave and determined as a citizen, worthy, affable and kind; bland in his manners, and of noble bearing. His amiable lady, too, the electa cyria, is a woman of superior intellect and exemplary piety--in every respect suited to her situation in society, as the wife of one of the most accomplished and powerful chiefs of the age.
"Hyrum Smith, the patriarch of the Church and brother of Joseph, is 42 years of age, five feet, eleven and a half inches high, weighing 193 pounds. He, too, is a prophet, seer and revelator, and is one of the most pious and devout Christians in the world. He is a man of great wisdom and superior excellence, possessing great energy of character and originality of thought" (Holzapfel, A Woman's View: Helen Mary Whitney's Reminiscences of Early Church History, p. 147-148).
There is an excellent church video that coordinates with this lesson that could be played at this point: "Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration" from the video collection "Teachings from the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History." (This is not the hour-long movie the church made, but a 13-minute clip. Please see Lanise's comment at the end of this post for directions on downloading it from the Church's website. Thanks, Lanise!)
What impresses you the most about Joseph Smith?
THE PROPHET'S HYMN
In conclusion, you may want to sing, or have performed, the hymn "Praise to the Man." The lyricist of this hymn was William W. Phelps. Brother Phelps had been a stalwart member of the church, helping to print The Book of Commandments, The Doctrine and Covenants, and the first hymnbook, contributing $500 to the building of the Kirtland Temple, and writing "The Spirit of God" for its dedication, but when questions arose regarding his mismanagement of the purchase of lands in Missouri for the Saints, he was excommunicated. For two years, he was one of the Prophet's bitterest enemies, inflicting great harm upon the church and contributing substantially to a sentence to prison. But Brother Phelps fast realized his error and sought forgiveness in a letter to Joseph Smith. President Smith read the letter to the congregation of the church and then sent this reply to him:
"It is true, that we have suffered much in consequence of your behavior--the cup of gall, already full enough for mortals to drink, was indeed filled to overflowing when you turned against us...'Had it been an enemy, we could have borne it'...'Come on, dear brother, since the war is past, For friends at first, are friends again at last..." (quoted in Gordon B. Hinckley, April 2006 General Conference; also see Susan E. Black, Who's Who in the Doctrine and Covenants, p. 224-225).
Elder Phelps once again began publishing for the prophet, served as his spokesman, and rode with the prophet to Carthage, also visiting him in the Carthage Jail on the morning of his death. Shortly after the martyrdom, he wrote this hymn.
Praise to the Man is Hymn no. 27 available at this link. Many lovely recordings of the hymn can be found on YouTube, including one by the MTC Choir (5 minutes long).
Wikipedia has an article which contains a lot of historical details about the martyrdom at this link.