All false doctrine is the same under the skin. Once you delve into what makes a particular system of heresy tick, you can note similarities with other false teachers and other false teachings, and then pinpoint the Scriptural antidote. As a doctor of souls, your task is often to prescribe the correct Scriptural cure, and that process begins with a careful diagnosis of the sickness. Enthusiasm, substitution of manmade authorities for God’s inerrant word, legalism and moralism masquerading as true piety – these are the stock-in-trade of false prophets through the ages. Our Lord’s words about wolves in sheep’s clothing still ring true two thousand years on and counting.
It might well be argued that the two most vigorous or resilient brands of false teaching today are Islam and Mormonism. One is currently intent on subjecting the Middle East to its barbaric rule, and gives no indications of being content with those gains – to say nothing of making inroads elsewhere around the world. The other recently could claim a presidential candidate as its own – and not on a fringe ticket or for a third party. But their influence is not confined to isolated spheres far beyond our everyday routine. Increasingly, Islam and Mormonism are garnering a higher profile across America – perhaps even in your community. As such, Schmidt’s book is especially timely. Schmidt sets as his task proving that Muhammad and Joseph Smith share numerous parallels, in life, doctrine, and in many other ways. He proves the theory beyond the shadow of a doubt that Joseph Smith truly is the American Muhammad of the book’s title.
Schmidt’s careful work as a historian bears fruit because he lets the facts speak. He does not get carried away with polemic, or by trying to paint Muhammad and Joseph Smith as worse than they actually were. The plain facts do that quite well.
Schmidt’s grasp and command of those facts is sterling. He masterfully arranges and presents disparate threads of similarity binding Muhammad and Joseph Smith together. Even in Smith’s own day, he was dubbed “an American Mohamet” as early as 1831. Newspapers regularly referred to him as a Muhammad and Smith proudly applied that title for himself, in a speech on October 14, 1838. It’s striking how often quotes from Joseph Smith’s heyday sound of a piece with quotes from more modern sources. Apart from the occasional historically accurate difference in spelling, one would be hard pressed to guess the year in which the vast majority of the citations Schmidt provides originate from. After Smith’s death, scholars and authors continued to note similarities between him and Muhammad. This scholarly activity continues today. Schmidt gives a concise but thorough overview of it, as well as opposing or apologetic views of Smith and Muhammad. In so doing, he lets readers in on all sides of the issue, while still conclusively proving his point.
To list all the parallels Schmidt notes would make this review as long as the book, but a few may be noted in passing. Both Smith and Muhammad claimed to be prophets, but were proven false. Both took numerous wives, including other men’s wives and underage girls. Both received convenient “revelations” that allowed them to tighten their grip on their followers’ loyalty. Both advocated the use of violence against those outside their religion. Both fled for safety at different times. Both misunderstood and misrepresented the doctrine of the Trinity. Both admitted receiving revelations from Satan, as well as from what seemed to be an angel of light. Both proscribed alcohol for their followers – although both did not feel the need to submit themselves to the same strictures. This is just a partial list of the similarities that Schmidt develops. Once the reader follows Schmidt down the rabbit hole of Smith’s degenerate, arrogant false doctrine and dissolute life, the parallels between Smith and Muhammad pile up like snow banks in a Wisconsin winter. The degree to which Smith patterned himself on Muhammad is positively eerie, and Schmidt allows readers to observe this in all its sad, depraved glory.
Many have noted some or other of these parallels between the two false prophets. However, no one has ever compiled parallels between Smith and Muhammad so accurately or presented them as thoroughly as Schmidt does. He does the reader the greatest service a historian can, which is to allow the reader to gaze back through time and see things as they really were. By doing this, Schmidt implicitly answers a potential objection that could be raised: haven’t attitudes towards Islam or Mormonism changed? Aren’t the enemies of Muhammad or Joseph Smith out to defame him and smear his memory? By showing the consistency of reaction and consensus on Joseph Smith and Muhammad throughout Mormonism’s history, Schmidt closes off that avenue of argument before it can begin.
To judge by the doctrinal content of his work, Schmidt is a Trinitarian, creedal Christian through and through. He does not speak with a distinctive Lutheran accent, one might say, nor does his writing have a distinctively Lutheran flavor to it, but everything he says falls in line with Scripture. Schmidt demonstrates a good grasp of passages pertinent to purity of doctrine, false prophets, the doctrine of the two kingdoms, and more. One does not have to wonder if this book is safe to place into the hands of laypeople. The author does not note for the reader what his personal confession or church membership is, but this is actually somewhat refreshing. After all, we live in an overexposed age where there are nearly as many theologies as theologians, where an individual’s self-absorbed downward spiral into greater and greater false doctrine is treated as “content” or “insights”, and each one takes care to craft his (or her) theology to stand out, not necessarily to confess the faith once for all entrusted to the saints. Schmidt is solidly a Christian with a historically centered confession, for which we can give thanks.
This book has much to offer, even for those who are familiar with Islam or Mormonism. Even pastors will find a wealth of parallels and anecdotes about Muhammad and Joseph Smith that will prove to be a gold mine for teaching and preaching. You knew that Mormonism bans alcohol, but did you know Joseph Smith promulgated that decree while he had a bar in his home? Applications to moralism, legalism, enthusiasm, and a host of other consequences of false doctrine present themselves throughout. Laypeople who have only passing familiarity with either false religion will probably find this book positively revelatory. This volume is unique in the clarity and concision of its presentation, the rigor of its historical method, and its groundbreaking focus on parallels between Muhammad and Joseph Smith. Concordia and Schmidt are to be commended for bringing such a significant and pacesetting work to press. This book will prove its worth on any pastor’s or layman’s shelf, or as part of a church library.
Alvin J. Schmidt, MDiv, PhD, is professor of sociology emeritus at Illinois College, Jacksonville, IL, and a fellow of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. He is the author of numerous books, some of them award-winning.