Key to the Figurative Language Found in the Sacred Scriptures, in the Form of Questions and Answers
Place Published: Exeter, NH
Publisher: Printed by C. Norris & Co.
Date Published: 1814
Book Id: 42428
106pp. Duodecimo [17 cm] Original marbled paper wrappers, torn at foot and head of spine. Upper right-hand corner pages dog-eared from front wrapper to p. xi and from p. 87-106. Ink stain on outside edge of lower right-hand corner. Faded marbled wrappers with some discoloration and minor staining. Clean internally with light foxing throughout. Signed in ink on the facing page of the blank by Alfred Pitkin, 1818. It seems likely that this is the same Alfred Pitkin (1771-1821) who opened the first store in Marshfield, Washington County, Vermont, in 1818 (The Vermont Historical Gazetteer, 1882, p. 205)
Ethan Smith (1762-1849) was a Congregationalist pastor who enjoyed a long career in New England, serving as pastor in a number of towns in New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Massachusetts. He published a number of popular books, including A Dissertation on the Prophecies (Charlestown, Massachusetts: Samuel T. Armstrong, 1811), which, Rick Grunder notes, was popular enough for "some publishers and booksellers [to refer to it] simply as "Smith on the Prophecies" (Grunder, p. 1610). Perhaps most importantly for those interested in Mormon history, he was also the author of View of the Hebrews (1823), which advanced the idea that the Indians were the descendants of the Ten Tribes of Israel. A number of authors, most notably Fawn Brodie, have suggested that View of the Hebrews was one of the sources used by Joseph Smith to write the Book of Mormon. While copies of View of the Hebrews regularly appear on the market, Ethan Smith's pamphlets are typically less common.A Key to the Figurative Language Found in the Scriptures is written in the structure of a dialogue, with a series of questions and answers on various gospel topics, such as the purpose of figurative language.In his Mormon Parallels (2008, 1st ed.) Rick Grunder describes several similarities between Smith's A Key to the Figurative Language… and early Mormon doctrine, including the Book of Mormon. These include Ethan Smith's claim that the Egyptians used hieroglyphics to communicate significant symbolism, and that other nations adapted those symbols to their own purposes (A Key to the Figurative Language, p. 19-20). Grunder suggests that this is similar to the Book of Mormon's claim that it was written in "reformed Egyptian": And now behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech (Mormon 9:32; Grunder, p. 1612.).Ethan Smith's Q[uestion] 12 asks: "What alteration [italicization in original] took place, in relation to the use of symbols, after the introduction of the alphabet and literal writing?" (p. 20). While there is a superficial similarity in the use of the words "altered" and "alteration" in the two texts, Ethan Smith was writing about the evolution of non-symbolic language in Greek and Roman societies. Of course, Grunder's larger point is not that Joseph Smith actually plagiarized from Ethan Smith, but rather that the concept of Egyptian hieroglyphics being modified by a society for its own use existed years before the Book of Mormon was published.Another "parallel" noted by Grunder is Ethan Smith's discussion of the Urim and Thummim as symbols of Christ through which "the divine will was taught" (Grunder, p. 1612; A Key to the Figurative Language, p. 72). The parallel here is to Joseph Smith's "'spectacles,' or 'two stones in silver bows,' deposited with the gold plates, which he used to translate the plates." The Joseph Smith Papers website states that "[Joseph Smith] and other church members began referring to the instrument as the Urim and Thummim in 1833" Grunder cites other parallels of varying significance, including Ethan Smith's claim that the basin in Solomon's Temple was used for baptisms (A Key to Figurative Language, p. 68) and the idea—derived from Revelations 10:1-3 and 18:1-2—that an angel descending from on high would announce a new period of world and church history, prefiguring the coming of the Millennium (A Key to the Figurative Language, p. 86; Grunder, p. 1612). As an example of pre-Jacksonian printing and Congregationalist millennial fervor, A key to the figurative language found in the sacred scriptures may prove interesting both to collectors of Mormon parallel texts and to scholars of early American religious history. Grunder 396. Sabin 32791