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Is This a Real Photo of Joseph Smith, Founder of Mormonism?

Note: This article may contain commentary or the author's opinion.

I want to freely admit to something, without judgement if I may. I am not a smart man, particularly when it comes to some types of technology.

For instance, I have no idea how radio, television, movies, music, telephones or pictures work. Might as well be alien technology as far as I’m concerned.

Explain to me, exactly how do you capture a moment in time of a piece of paper? Actually, don’t explain it to me, my head might explode.

Before photographs there was a thing called a daguerreotype. Now without doing any actual research, I THINK that is an image on a piece of metal. Don’t quote me on that.

Why is this important? Ever heard of Mormonism? The decidedly American religion founded in the 1820’s in Western New York by a young man named Joseph Smith.

Smith founded one of the fastest growing religions in the world, despite being martyred at the age of 39. Smith claimed to have visitations from God, Jesus and an angel named Moroni, who showed him where gold plates were buried that when translated would give the history of peoples in the America’s.

This may sound crazy to us now, but this was pretty heady stuff for an illiterate 24-year-old in the early 1800’s.

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Recently a direct descendant of Smith uncovered what is believed to be the only existing image of the founder of Mormonism. Let’s check out Religion News for the details:

Marooned in their homes, many Americans made the best of the early days of the pandemic by sorting through old boxes of family artifacts. One Saturday morning in March 2020, Dan Larsen and his wife were doing just that when they discovered the world’s only verified photographic image of Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith Jr.

Larsen, 79, is a great-great-grandson of Smith, who was killed by a mob near Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1844. Among the effects passed down to Larsen was a pocket watch that bore the initials of his great-grandfather Joseph Smith III, the prophet’s oldest son and founder of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, now called Community of Christ. There was also a second object, a locket that resembled a pocket watch.

Apparently, I was wasting my pandemic lockdown time by sorting my baseball cards. Then again, I’m not a direct relative of the founder of one of the world’s largest religions. My people were humble Irish potato farmers. How boring.

Why is this image so important to members of the Latter-day Saints Church? While the church officially recognizes God and Jesus as the head of their church, Joseph Smith was the first “prophet of the church and responsible for nearly all the cannons of scripture the church uses.

Smith is a legendary figure in the church, and for good reason. A 24-year-old farmer with no formal education created a world religion despite being persecuted, condemned and eventually murdered, all the while never recanting his story or mission.

You simply don’t find that kind of commitment to anything these days.

“In my mind, there was no question who it was,” Larsen said. He felt sure he was staring into the eyes of Joseph Smith Jr. For years, historians had speculated about the possibility that a photographic image of Joseph Smith was out there somewhere, based on claims various Smith relatives had made.

“I think for generations, people have wondered what Joseph looked like. Where was the charisma that people talk about? What was it about this man that caused people to follow him through incredible difficulty through the years? I think I can see through the eyes what might have induced those people to follow him… others talk about Joseph Smith’s eyes, his gaze, the way he could almost look right through you. And I think I see that.”

Whether he was a charlatan, a cult leader, a grifter, or a crazy man, the fact remains that the legend of Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism still fascinates people today, Mormon or otherwise.

To see an actual photo is something most historians and church members never expected but will be very important to the church body for generations to come.