Joseph Smith received very little formal education as a child and young man. He was largely educated by his parents, due to a lack of schools available. In all, he attended formal schooling only about three years. In addition, he was tutored by an angel named Moroni in spiritual things for several years prior to beginning his work. Despite this, by the time of his early death, he had become well-educated in many fields, including Hebrew.Joseph Smith began his role as a prophet with minimal traditional education. While he was literate, he was not highly skilled. When it came time to translate the Book of Mormon, he did the translation, but friends and his wife served as his scribe, because he lacked the skills needed to write the translations well. He did not know the language of the Book of Mormon-reformed Egygptian-but studied the materials and relied on the guidance of the Holy Ghost for confirmation.
It was after the church began that Joseph, who loved learning, set about increasing his education. His family had
always worked very hard for their living and there had been no time or money for advanced education.
Church members eventually settled in Kirtland, Ohio. There, Joseph Smith organized a school for adults. Initially, the classes were held in the temple and included classes in Hebrew and Greek. Both men and women participated in the school and studied together. Joseph enrolled in and attended the Hebrew class because he wanted to learn to read the Bible in its original language. One entry of his personal journal reads: “After a hard day’s work, went to my Hebrew class, and studied far into the night. Up in the morning and out at nine o’clock, attended the school and translated with the morning class. . . Attended my studies as usual and made some advancement.”
The Hebrew class was taught from January 26 to March 29, 1836 by Joshua Seixas, a Jewish man who had converted to Christianity. The previous year, Seixas had taught at Oberlin College in Ohio, where Lorenzo Snow attended. Snow was not a member of the church at that time, although he would later join and would eventually become a prophet. He took classes from Seixas and wrote to his LDS (Mormon) sister about how much he enjoyed the teacher. His sister, Eliza R. Snow, was currently living in Joseph Smith’s home. She passed along the information to the prophet, who sent emissaries to hire Seixas. Seixas taught forty students during the course.
This course had the side impact of helping to convert Lorenzo Snow, who was becoming frustrated with his religious studies at Oberlin. His sister suggested he come to Kirtland and study Hebrew there under Seixas. While there, he was converted to the church.
Joseph studied Hebrew on his own until the classes began and later joined nine other students for additional coursework from Seixas. Although the class didn’t last for long, Joseph and one other student were able to read Hebrew well by the time the class ended. He often discussed language issues in his talks about the scriptures. Joseph became very excited by the study of languages, and made a list of a dozen languages he hoped to master in his lifetime.
When the church was forced out of its home and moved to Nauvoo, Illinois, it again established schools, including a small university. Hebrew was also a part of this school.
Joseph set a pattern of strong Mormon support for education. In each place the Saints lived, they set up schools for children and adults alike, and also encouraged serious life-long, self-directed studies in both spiritual and secular fields. Today, Mormons run several universities and continue to encourage the life-long educations, both formal and informal, educations of its members.