Letter to Henrietta Raphael Seixas, between 6 and 13 February 1836

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

Ohio Feb. 13th. 1836.
Dear Madam
We have the privilege of addressing you a few lines through the kindness of who we believe has been sent to this through the immediate directions of God to promote the cause of truth and benefit a fallen world. We are in this led to be believe thankful to our Redeemer in whose Glorious cause we are engaged as we are anxiously desiring to become acquainted with an individual of virtue & piety who understood perfectly those languages in which the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were originally written as our only object is to do good to lay aside error when we discover it forsake evil and follow righteousness and truly be the better prepared and qualified to render assistance to our fellow men and glorify the name of the Lord: in this our expectations are fully realized and we trust through the goodness of Good God to make a proper improvement of the blessing thus given. And we sincerely pray that on the part of your our acquaintance may be of that kind that we shall ever have cause to bless and adore God for thus guiding him to this place by his unseen hand.
We have seen the possession of a very valuable Lexicon which he informs us is your individual property. We have no hesitation in saying that is highly valuable by yourself for the convenience and use of a private family; but we do believe that the wisdom and philanthropy which error inspires the heart of the pure and good will forego for a few months these special benefits which may be derived from it for a few for the pleasure of beneftting the many. As the Trustees of this institution we have by the request of others as well as expressing [p. [77]] our own individual desires to have it the same taken the liberty to thus tresspass upon your time and patience and request the privilege of purchaseing of you through this Lexicon. It is unnecessary to wholly unnecessary for us to communicate or attempt to the great worth this Lexicon would be to this in our present and future studies as yourself of the fact and we only say that we hope that God may direct you by his Holy Spirit to do right, and we trust the issue in his hands believing you will call to mind the flood of reproach heaped upon us as a people the few advantages we profess in comparison with others institution in consequence of the same and that all favors thus bestowed will be only appreciated and thankfully remembered.
We are most respectfully.
Your Obt. Servants.
Joseph Smith Junr.
Ohio, Feb. 1836
A true copy from the original.
Rec. [p. [78]]


  1. 1

    The Hebrew School. In the preface to Joshua Seixas’s Supplement to J. Seixas’ Manual Hebrew Grammar, Oliver Cowdery used the term “Kirtland Theological Institution.” This may have referred to the Hebrew School specifically or to the Elders School generally. (Seixas, Supplement to J. Seixas’ Manual Hebrew Grammar, 7.)  

    Seixas, Joshua. Supplement to J. Seixas’ Manual Hebrew Grammar, for the Kirtland, Ohio, Theological Institution. New York: West and Trow, 1836.

  2. 2

    The Old Testament was written mostly in Hebrew; the New Testament was written in Greek. Like his contemporaries, JS saw learning Hebrew as a means to read and understand the scriptures “in the language in which they were givn.” Following the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation, a movement to study Hebrew began on the European continent and spread to universities in England, such as Cambridge and Oxford. In America, Harvard, Yale, and other prominent Protestant universities trained religious students in Hebrew during the colonial era. Though the study of Hebrew at American universities had diminished by the 1780s, a resurgence of biblical study—sparked by the Second Great Awakening, the professionalization of college teaching, and the revival of seminary education in the first decades of the nineteenth century—created a renewed interest in Hebrew among Christian intellectuals. Amid this revival, newly established religious institutions in Ohio, such as Oberlin and Western Reserve College, offered courses in Hebrew to their students. JS had studied Greek prior to this time, though it is unclear if and to what extent his study was done in order to understand the New Testament in its original language. (JS, Journal, 23 Dec. 1835 and 4 Feb. 1836; Jones, Discovery of Hebrew in Tudor England, 180–220; Goldman, God’s Sacred Tongue, 116–118, 129, 147–150; Fletcher, History of Oberlin College, 367; Cutler, History of Western Reserve College, 21; see also Grey, “Word of the Lord in the Original,” 249–275; and Welch, “Joseph Smith’s Awareness of Greek and Latin,” 310–316.)  

    Jones, G. Lloyd. The Discovery of Hebrew in Tudor England: A Third Language. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1983.

    Goldman, Shalom. God’s Sacred Tongue: Hebrew and the American Imagination. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

    Fletcher, Robert Samuel. A History of Oberlin College: From Its Foundation through the Civil War. 2 vols. Oberlin, OH: Oberlin College, 1943.

    Cutler, Carroll. A History of Western Reserve College, During Its First Half Century, 1826–1876. Cleveland: Crocker’s Publishing, 1876.

    Grey, Matthew J. “‘The Word of the Lord in the Original’: Joseph Smith’s Study of Hebrew in Kirtland.” In Approaching Antiquity: Joseph Smith and the Ancient World, edited by Lincoln H. Blumell, Matthew J. Grey, and Andrew H. Hedges, 249–302. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2015.

    Welch, John W. “Joseph Smith’s Awareness of Greek and Latin.” In Approaching Antiquity: Joseph Smith and the Ancient World, edited by Lincoln H. Blumell, Matthew J. Grey, and Andrew H. Hedges, 303–328. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2015.

  3. 3

    As members of the school committee, JS, Sidney Rigdon, Frederick G. Williams, and Oliver Cowdery acted as trustees of the Hebrew School.