Joseph Smith and Moon Quakers

Did Joseph Smith teach that men who look like Quakers live on the moon?

Possibly. The only source for this comes from Oliver Huntington,[BIO] who said in 1881 that he heard it from Philo Dibble,[BIO] who apparently recalled this from 40 years earlier.[1]

According to Huntington, Joseph taught, "Inhabitants of the Moon are more of a uniform size than the inhabitants of the Earth, being about 6 feet in height. They dress very much like the Quaker style & are quite general in style or the one fashion of dress. They live to be very old; coming generally, near a thousand years."[2]

There is no account of this from Philo Dibble and no other corroborating sources for Huntington's claim.

Joseph Smith and Quakers on the Moon

December 7, 1836

Oliver Huntington receives a blessing from his father, William Huntington,[BIO]that says Oliver will be able to "preach to the inhabitants of the moon and the planets if it shall be expedient."[3]

June 27, 1844

Joseph Smith is martyred.[4]

35 years pass

ca. January–February 1881

Oliver Huntington records in his journal that he heard from Philo Dibble that Joseph Smith taught the moon was inhabited.[5]

February 1892

Oliver Huntington publishes an article in the Young Woman's Journal mistakenly saying that Joseph Smith Sr.[BIO] gave him a patriarchal blessing in 1837 stating he would preach the gospel to men on the moon.[6]

April 1894

Oliver Huntington again publishes a recollection of his blessing about preaching to men on the moon in the Young Woman's Journal, but adds that he is "confident" that it is referring to a time after mortality.[7]

An 1836 illustration of the inhabitants of the moon from the Great Moon Hoax, a series of popular articles that were published in the year before Oliver Huntington received his blessing.

Did other Latter-day Saints believe people lived on the moon or the sun?

Yes. Early Latter-day Saints such as Hyrum Smith[BIO] and Brigham Young[BIO] apparently believed this.[8] Joseph Smith Sr.[BIO] also gave a patriarchal blessing that spoke of Lorenzo Snow having "power to go to the moon."[9]

Although some nineteenth-century Latter-day Saints argued that the moon was probably not inhabited.[10]

Was it common to believe the moon was inhabited in the nineteenth century?

Yes, scientists such as William Herschel[BIO] and theologians such as Adam Clarke[BIO] believed the moon was likely inhabited,[11] though it was a topic of debate.[12]

Why did some Latter-day Saints think the moon was inhabited?

It was a commonly held belief at the time,[13] and Joseph Smith's revelations referred to God creating many worlds that were inhabited.[14]

Is the moon inhabited?

No. The moon has a weak atmosphere with only trace levels of oxygen, no liquid water, and cannot natively support human life.[15]

The Facts

  • There is a single, late, thirdhand source that claims Joseph Smith taught the moon was inhabited by men who looked like Quakers.

  • Other Latter-day Saints believed the sun and the moon were inhabited.

  • Many nineteenth-century scientists believed the moon was likely to be inhabited.

  • The moon is not inhabited.

Our Take

There are many claims about things Joseph Smith said and did, but did Joseph Smith really teach that there were Quakers on the moon? And if so, wouldn't that be a clear reason to question his credibility as a prophet of God?

Even though it was a commonly held belief that the moon was inhabited in Joseph's day, there is no record from Joseph or his scribes that he taught this. The source for this story comes from a thirdhand account told by a man named Oliver Huntington who said he heard it from a man named Philo Dibble who reportedly remembered this from nearly 40 years earlier. This doesn't necessarily mean that Joseph didn't teach this; it just means that the evidence supporting this idea is not very strong and is uncorroborated.

Huntington also recalled that Joseph Smith Sr. gave him a patriarchal blessing that said he may preach to men on the moon, but it turns out that Huntington misremembered this. It was really his father, William, who gave him that blessing—not Joseph Smith Sr.

It's inconclusive whether Joseph claimed there were "Moon Quakers." Joseph, like others in his time, believed many incorrect things about science and nature. The test of Joseph's integrity as a prophet of God doesn't depend on his understanding of modern science but on the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Book of Mormon.

What's Your Take?

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These takes are curated for a general audience and may contain minor edits when posted.
  • David
    It's important to remember that God does have other inhabited worlds, but our moon cannot sustain life. The probability of their being Moon Quakers, no matter how cool that would be, is very low.
  • Peterson
    What I think is happening here is a misunderstanding or misconstrued recounting of the concept of the terrestrial kingdom in heaven; which is comparable to the glory of the moon. Perhaps he'd teach people in the spirit world the gospel.
  • gerry
    I personally believe that teaching to people on the moon may refer to when we die we can preach the gospel to people on the terrestrial kingdom, often represented by the moon. So being able to ¨preach to the people on the moon¨ is more of a metaphor than literal.
  • Joe
    Haha! Love this article, it made me smile. Especially including the final fact that “the moon is not inhabited.” So obvious now, but still so necessary in this day and age!
  • BIOOliver B. Huntington

    Oliver Boardman Huntington (October 14, 1823–February 7, 1907) was an early Latter-day Saint who, along with his family, joined the Church in 1835. Oliver fulfilled various Church missions throughout his life and left behind extensive journals chronicling his life and ministry. After migrating to Utah, Oliver moved to Springville, where he worked as a school teacher and farmer. He died in 1907 in Springville.

  • BIOPhilo Dibble

    Philo Dibble (June 6, 1806 – June 7, 1895) was an early Church member and leader. He was baptized by Parley P. Pratt in 1830. He followed the Church to Missouri, Illinois, and Utah. He was ordained as a Seventy in 1844.

  • BIOWilliam D. Huntington

    William D. Huntington (March 28, 1784–August 19, 1846) was a farmer from New Hampshire who joined the Church in 1835 with his family. He was ordained an elder in 1835 and was appointed to the Kirtland High Council in 1837. He later moved to Nauvoo, Illinois and died in Pisgah, Iowa in 1846.

  • BIOJoseph Smith, Sr.

    Joseph Smith, Sr. (1771–1840) was born in Topsfield, Essex County, Massachussetts, to Asael Smith and Mary Duty. He married Lucy Mack Smith in 1796. He was the father of Joseph Smith, Jr. He was one of the eight witnesses of the Book of Mormon and served as the first Patriarch of the Church. He died in Nauvoo, Illinois.

  • BIOHyrum Smith

    Hyrum Smith (1800–1844) was born in Tunbridge, Vermont. He was the older brother of Joseph Smith, who organized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and served as the Church's second patriarch. He was one of the Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon. In 1837, he became Second Counselor in the First Presidency, and the following year, he was imprisoned alongside Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail. Hyrum Smith became the Church's new patriarch in 1841 after the death of his father, Joseph Smith, Sr., in Nauvoo. Hyrum also served as a member of the City Council, the Nauvoo Legion, and the Council of Fifty. He was martyred along with Joseph Smith in Carthage Jail in 1844.

  • BIOBrigham Young

    Brigham Young (1801–1877) was an early Latter-day Saint leader. He was born in Whitingham, Vermont. and joined the faith in his twenties after two years of deliberation. He became the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles following the fractionalization of the Church in Kirtland, Ohio. After Joseph Smith's martyrdom in 1844, Young assumed the presidency and led the Latter-day Saints to settle in the Great Basin region. He was married to fifty-five women and fathered fifty-nine children from sixteen of his wives. He also served as the Territorial Governor for Utah Territory until 1857 and as the prophet until his death.

  • BIOWilliam Herschel

    William Herschel (November 15, 1738 – August 25, 1822) was an astronomer. Born in Hanover, Germany, Herschel immigrated to Great Britain as a young man, where he constructed telescopes and wrote influential scientific texts. He discovered the planet Uranus in 1781 and published several catalogues of deep sky objects. Herschel was also a gifted musician and wrote many symphonies and sonatas.

  • BIOAdam Clarke

    Adam Clarke (1762–1832) was a British theologian who authored several influential Biblical commentaries. Clarke was a Wesleyan Methodist who is best known for his eight-volume biblical commentary series. Clarke was a member of the British and Foreign Bible Society, the Royal Irish Academy, and the American Historical Institute; a fellow of the American Antiquarian Society and the Royal Asiatic Society; and an Associate of the Geological Society of London.

  • In early 1881, Huntington wrote in his journal twice about the claim that Joseph Smith taught the moon was inhabited. The first entry, recorded in January, reads:

    Inhabitants of the Moon are more of a uniform size than the inhabitants of the Earth, being about 6 feet in height. They dress very much like the Quaker style & are quite general in style or the one fashion of dress. They live to be very old; coming generally, near a thousand years." This is the description of them as given by Joseph the Seer, and he could "See" whatever he asked the Father in the name of Jesus to see.

    The second entry was recorded a month later. Huntington wrote that he obtained this information from another Latter-day Saint named Philo Dibble. It reads:

    The Moon was described by the Prophet Joseph to Philo Dibble as inhabited by a people tall well formed measuring generally 6 feet or over in height. Dressed very uniformly in a style resembling the Quaker fashion and lived to be generally near a thousand years old.

    About ten years later, Huntington published this information in an article in the Young Woman's Magazine, an LDS periodical.

  • This lengthy description comes from Huntington's first recorded version of this claim.

  • Oliver received a blessing from his father William Huntington that read, in part, how Oliver would have the power "to translate [himself] to Heaven & preach to the inhabitants of the moon and the planets if it shall be expedient."

    Decades later, Huntington recalled,

    In my Patriarchal blessing, given by the father of Joseph the Prophet, in Kirtland, 1837, I was told that I should preach the gospel before I was 21 years of age; that I should preach the gospel to the inhabitants upon the islands of the sea, and—to the inhabitants of the moon, even the planet you can now behold with your eyes.

    However, as seen from the record of the original blessing, there are some issues with Oliver's later recollection. This includes Oliver misremembering the date of the blessing and who gave him the blessing.

    In a subsequent publication Huntington recalled this blessing was given in 1836 (the correct date) but still appeared to misidentify who gave the blessing. He stated further that he was "confident [this promise of preaching on the moon] alludes to the next life" and that believed this would only happen when he was no longer "cumbered with this unwieldy tabernacle."

  • Oliver recorded twice in his journal in early 1881 that Joseph Smith had taught that the moon was inhabited.

    In the second of these entries dated ca. February 1881, Oliver credited hearing this from Philo Dibble.

    Philo Dibble was a Latter-day saint that joined the Church in Kirtland and continued with the Saints to Missouri, Nauvoo and eventually Salt Lake City.

  • It appears as though Oliver Huntington misremembered. It was actually in 1836, not 1837, and it was William Huntington who gave the blessing, not Joseph Smith Sr. It was also not a patriarchal blessing, but instead a father's blessing.

  • Huntington states that the reference to preaching on the moon "evidently alludes to a time when I will not be cumbered with this unwieldy tabernacle."

  • In an 1843 sermon recorded by George Laub, Hyrum taught that "every star that we see is a world and is inhabited the same as this world is peopled. The Sun & Moon is inhabited & the Stars."

    In 1870, Brigham Young preached the following in a sermon:

    Who can tell us of the inhabitants of this little planet that shines of an evening, called the moon? When we view its face we may see what is termed "the man in the moon," and what some philosophers declare are the shadows of mountains. But these sayings are very vague, and amount to nothing; and when you inquire about the inhabitants of that sphere you find that the most learned are as ignorant in regard to them as the most ignorant of their fellows. So it is with regard to the inhabitants of the sun. Do you think it is inhabited? I rather think it is. Do you think there is any life there? No question of it; it was not made in vain. It was made to give light to those who dwell upon it, and to other planets; and so will this earth when it is celestialized.
  • In an 1836 patriarchal blessing to Lorenzo Snow, Joseph Smith Sr. said:

    Thou shalt have power to translate thyself from one plannet [planet] to annother [another] — power to go to the moon if thou shalt desire it. Power to preach to the spirits in prison — power like Enoch to translate thyself to heaven, — thou shalt have power to rend the vail [veil] of heaven and see Jesus standing at the right hand of his Father.
  • In 1856, for example, the Deseret News ran an article arguing that the moon was not inhabited based on current scientific understanding. The Provo Daily Enquirer said the same in 1891.

    In 1880 a pseudonymous author in the Contributor said that based on scientific evidence at that time the moon appeared to be "barren and lifeless."

  • Herschel, who famously discovered the planet Uranus, wrote in a 1780 letter:

    [W]ho can say that it is not extremely probable, nay beyond doubt, that there must be inhabitants on the Moon of some kind or other? Moreover it is perhaps not altogether so certain that the moon is out of the reach of observation in this respect. I hope, and am convinced, that some time or other very evident signs of life will be discovered on the moon.

    Clarke wrote, "There is scarcely any doubt now remaining in the philosophical world, that the moon is a habitable globe. The most accurate observations that have been made with the most powerful telescopes, have confirmed the opinion."

  • Historian Michael J. Crowe has detailed the range of beliefs about cosmic pluralism among eighteenth- and nineteenth-century thinkers, both Christian and secular.

    Latter-day Saint newspapers in the nineteenth century ran articles reporting on debates over whether the moon was inhabited.

  • For example, many nineteenth-century books claimed that the moon was likely to be inhabited, including The Wonders of the Heavens (1837), The Young Astronomer (1847), and Scientific Dialogues for the Instruction and Entertainment of Young People (1855).

    The 1847 educational text The Young Astronomer; Or, The Facts Developed by Modern Astronomy Collected for the Use of Schools and the General Reader stated that:

    Professor Gruithausen, of Munich, declares that he has discovered, by his large telescope, cities, fortifications, roads and other artificial works, erected by the inhabitants of the Moon.
  • The revelation known today as the first chapter of the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price, given to Joseph Smith in June 1830, speaks of "worlds without number" that God has created.

    The revelation now canonized as section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants says that by God "the worlds are made and were created and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God."

  • NASA's website describes the moon as having "a very thin and tenuous atmosphere called an exosphere. It is not breathable." It further states that "the Moon's weak atmosphere and its lack of liquid water cannot support life as we know it."