The Code of Handsome Lake

"Then answered the man, 'I am he.' And he turned his palms upward and they were scarred and his feet were likewise and his breast was pierced by a spear wound. It appeared that his hands and his feet were torn by iron nails."
Sarah Schroeder

Sarah Schroeder

Nourish the Word

Today is a venture into the territory of a different tribe, the Seneca. I have been studying The Code of Handsome Lake.

As a brief summary:
Handsome Lake is the name of a man belonging to the Seneca tribe, who became known to them as a prophet during the last stage of his life. He was in his sixties when he experienced a long period of sickness attributed to his alcoholism. During this experience, he experienced a mighty change of heart that cumulated in what he claimed was a visitation of three messengers from the Creator. At the time of this initial vision, he collapsed and appeared as if he was dead to his family. He arose to begin teaching the message that the three messengers taught him (the Gaiwiio), continuing for approximately 15 years until his death on August 10, 1815. His teachings were unique at the time because they honored many things about Christianity without abandoning Seneca wisdom and tradition.

As If He Were Dead

The first striking thing I notice about this account is its similarity to the account of Lamoni and his wife:

And it came to pass that after he had said all these things and expounded them to the king, that the king believed all his words. And he began to cry unto the Lord saying, O Lord, have mercy, according to thy abundant mercy which thou hast had upon the people of Nephi, have upon me and my people. And now when he had said this he fell unto the earth as if he were dead. And it came to pass that his servants took him and carried him in unto his wife and laid him upon a bed. And he lay as if he were dead for the space of two days and two nights, and his wife and his sons and his daughters mourned over him after the manner of the Lamanites greatly lamenting his loss.

And later in the account of Lamoni:

And it came to pass that she watched over the bed of her husband from that time even until that time on the morrow which Ammon had appointed that he should rise. And it came to pass that he arose according to the words of Ammon and as he arose he stretched forth his hand unto the woman and said, Blessed be the name of God and blessed art thou for as sure as thou livest behold, I have seen my Redeemer and he shall come forth and be born of a woman, and he shall redeem all mankind who believe on his name. 

And later still:

And it came to pass that when Ammon arose he also administered unto them and also did all the servants of Lamoni and they did all declare unto the people the self same thing: that their hearts had been changed that they had no more desire to do evil. And behold, many did declare unto the people that they had seen angels and had conversed with them, and thus they had told them things of God and of his righteousness. And it came to pass that there were many that did believe in their words and as many as did believe were baptized and they became a righteous people, and they did establish a church among them. And thus the work of the Lord did commence among the Lamanites, thus the Lord did begin to pour out his Spirit upon them, and we see that his arm is extended to all people who repent and believe on his name.

Both of these men (and Lamoni’s wife) seem to have experienced a change of heart and a new dedication to the way of God, which allowed them to be taught by heavenly beings.

Divine Teacher

Similar to the pattern found in Christian scripture, Handsome Lake begins his ministry to teach by first being taught by beings from God/the Creator.
His teachings are entirely complementary to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and Sermon at Bountiful. They both instruct in selflessness and overcoming contention.

The Two Paths

In Handsome Lake’s vision he is shown two paths: one that leads to hell and another that is narrow that the messengers call the heaven road.
This is consistent with two scriptural witnesses of the same two paths:

Repent, therefore, and enter in at the strait gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many there be who go in thereat, because strait is the gate and narrow the way that leads unto life, and few there be that find it. Matt 3:45

And it came to pass that when Jesus had ended these sayings, he saith unto his disciples, Enter ye in at the strait gate. For strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to life and few there be that find it, but wide is the gate and broad the way which leads to death and many there be who travel therein until the night cometh, wherein no man can work. 3 Nephi 13:2

The Shocking Thing Christ said to Him

In one of his later visions, Handsome Lake encountered a man who identified himself as Jesus. The things this man said to Handsome Lake would have been very shocking for those who called themselves Christian in America that day.

“So they proceeded on their journey and it happened that a vision appeared unto them. They seemed to be advancing toward an approaching man. Soon they met him and passed. Now when they were a distance apart they turned and he was facing them. So they greeted each other. Then said the man, ‘Sedwa:go’wanê, I must ask you a question. Did you never hear your grandfathers say that once there was a certain man upon the earth across the great waters who was slain by his own people?’ That was what he said when he spoke. 

“Then answered Sedwa:go’wanê, ‘It is true. I have heard my grandparents say this.’ 

“Then answered the man, ‘I am he.’ (Segan’hedûs He who resurrects). And he turned his palms upward and they were scarred and his feet were likewise and his breast was pierced by a spear wound. It appeared that his hands and his feet were torn by iron nails. 

“All this was true. It could be seen and blood was fresh upon him. 

“Then said the man, ‘They slew me because of their independence and unbelief. So I have gone home to shut the doors of heaven that they may not see me again until the earth passes away. Then will all the people cry to me for succor, and when I come it will be in this wise: my face will be sober and I shall turn it to my people. Now let me ask how your people receive your teachings.’ 

“He answered, ‘It is my opinion that half my people are inclined to believe in me.’ 

“Then answered he, ‘You are more successful than I for some believe in you but none in me. I am inclined to believe that in the end it will also be so with you. Now it is rumored that you are but a talker with spirits (djîs’gändâtâha`). Now it is true that I am a spirit and the one of him who was murdered. Now tell your people that they will become lost when they follow the ways of the white man.'”

A young American boy of European ancestry would claim a few short years later, that the Lord delivered a similar message to him:

My object in going to enquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner therefore did I get possession of myself so as to be able to speak than I asked the personages who stood above me in the light which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong) and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them for they were all wrong, and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight, that those professors were all corrupt, that they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof. He again forbade me to join with any of them, and many other things did he say unto me which I cannot write at this time. Joseph Smith History 2:5

Little Children Belong in Heaven

A certain part of Handsome Lake’s later vision has lead me to wonder if the practice and teachings of many Christians requiring babies to be baptized may have weighed heavy on his mind before this moment. This is what he saw on the heaven road:

“So they took up their journey again and in a short time came to a halt. In the distance before them a man appeared to be coming and soon he came nearer. Then he saw that the man was guiding two others, one on either side of him. Now as he looked he saw that one was the daughter of Gaiänt’wakâ and it appeared that she was a large child. With her was his (Ganio`dai’io`) own son, an infant, and they greeted one another, the son and the daughter. Now one could see that they were not strangers for they were friendly. Now moreover a fourth person was leading them all.” Eniaiehuk.

“Now that person spoke and said, ‘I brought them with me to testify to the truth that those of the lower world when they pass away come hither.’

“Then spoke the daughter of Gaiän’twakâ, ‘I send a message. It is this: It grieves me to know that my brothers on the earth disagree with my father. Bid them cease their disagreement.’ So she said.”

It seems to me that these two young children were brought with the fourth messenger on the heaven road to show Handsome Lake that they belong in heaven, despite religious teachings to the contrary. This is consistent with this scripture:

Wherefore, my beloved son, I know that it is solemn mockery before God that ye should baptize little children. Behold, I say unto you that this thing shall ye teach: repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin. Yea, teach parents that they must repent and be baptized and humble themselves as their little children, and they shall all be saved with their little children. And their little children need no repentance, neither baptism. Behold, baptism is unto repentance, to the fulfilling the commandments unto the remission of sins; but little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world. If not so, God is a partial God, and also a changeable God, and a respecter to persons. For how many little children have died without baptism? Wherefore, if little children could not be saved without baptism, these must have gone to an endless hell. Behold, I say unto you that he that supposeth that little children need baptism is in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity, for he hath neither faith, hope, nor charity. Wherefore, should he be cut off while in the thought, he must go down to hell. For awful is the wickedness to suppose that God saveth one child because of baptism, and the other must perish because he hath no baptism. Woe be unto him that shall pervert the ways of the Lord after this manner, for they shall perish except they repent. Moroni 8:3

A Final Thought

Though at first glance these different accounts would appear to be at odds, I think a closer look reveals a great deal of similarity, enough to lead me to consider if these were all taught by the same divine being, and only our initial understanding of them has put them at odds with each other.

This article may be added to in the future as I recognize more worth adding.

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