[While I sit in the Pisa Airport finishing my Sunday School Lesson for tomorrow, I couldn’t help but share a point of convergence between the lesson and my recent scholarly research (I am currently working on the Christian response to Thomas Paine in the 1790s). What follows is not a fully drawn-out, or perhaps even thought-out, post, but rather a half-baked idea worthy of nothing more than a footnote for tomorrow’s SS class.]
The 1790s represented drastic change for western civilization. On one side of the Atlantic, the early American republic was beginning to forge into a stable nation; on the other side, an early-embraced revolution was evolving into dangerous anarchy in France. Indeed, the last decade of the 1700s was not only the dawn of the nineteenth century, but also the dawn of a major intellectual shift. Much of the skepticism common with Enlightenment thought was giving way to a religious revivalism of the Romantic age. At least in the English-speaking world, common tools previously used to attack religion—empiricism, rationalism, and common sensism—were soon to be employed in defense of Christianity. The threat of Deism—however prevalent or pervasive the movement was—was giving way to the religious reawakening of the 1800s. Defending Christianity soon gave way to differentiating Christianity, as the religious playing field was drastically changed.
Yet during this eventful decade, one deistic thinker came to such prominence that he became a skeptical bogeyman and caricature for the following centuries: Thomas Paine. Once celebrated as a “Founding Father” of sort for early America, the publication of his Age of Reason—a scathing critique of [editing for clarity: organized] religion—made him an enemy of Christian churches. (Literally: search “Pain Age of Reason” in Google Books for the years 1794-1810 and see how many anti-Paine pamphlets you can find.) While he primarily focused his critique on revelation and the scriptures, he primarily popularized deistic attacks that had been popular throughout the eighteenth century (especially John Toland’s Christianity Not Mysterious). Speaking specifically of the Bible, Paine dismissed it as Christian adaptations of ancient Greek myths and far from an accurate historical record. This attack on the Bible, especially the Old Testament, was not new, and would only increase with the growth of German higher criticism, yet Paine’s accusations set the tone for many battles over the legitimacy of scriptures. Here is his critique of the opening lines of Genesis:
As to the account of the creation, with which the book of Genesis opens, it has all the appearance of being a tradition which the Israelites had among them before they came into Egypt; and after their departure from that country, they put it at the head of their history, without telling, as it is most probable that they did not know, how they came by it. The manner in which the account opens, shews it to be traditionary. It begins abruptly. It is nobody that speaks. It is nobody that hears. It is addressed to nobody. It has neither first, second, nor third person. It has every criterion of being a tradition. It has no voucher. Moses does not take it upon himself by introducing it with the formality that he uses on other occasions, such as that of saying, “The Lord spake unto Moses, saying.”
Now, what does this have to do with Joseph Smith’s revealed text of Moses? Well, consider how Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible revised the opening of Genesis: “The word of God, which he spake unto Moses at a time when Moses was caught up into an exceedingly high mountain” (Moses 1:1).
Though Smith was, like most antebellum Americans, aware of Paine’s Age of Reason—his mother’s narrative notes how Joseph Smith Sr.’s was instructed to read it by his family when they found out he was attending a Presbyterian church—it would obviously be simplistic to think the Book of Moses is directly responding to Paine’s literary critique of the Bible. However, Paine represented a skeptical age that questioned the authority of the Bible—an age that Smith and his contemporary religionists were still, to a degree, responding to. It is revealing to remember that after all the attacks the eighteenth century hurled at the Bible, nineteenth century Christians, especially in America, clung to the sacred text stronger than ever. To do so, they were required to often reinvent it, so to speak, in order to not only authenticate their own sect but (re)authenticate the sacred text itself. While some religious thinkers (like those adapting Scottish Common Sense methods) used rational methods to reaffirm the text, others (like Smith and the Mormons) used revelatory means to not replace but support the biblical record.
While we often look at the many meanings of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, we should not forget its purpose of reaffirming the the validity of the original text. Similar to the Book of Mormon, which Smith finished only a year before starting on the Bible, the translation of Moses worked to re-authenticate the Biblical text even as it sought to adapt it.
 Stewart J. Brown, “Movements of Christian Awakening in Revolutionary Europe, 1790-1815,” in Stewart J. Brown and Timothy Tackett, ed., The Cambridge History of Christianity: Enlightenment, Reawakening and Revolution 1660-1815 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006), esp. 581-587.
 For example, see Christopher Grasso, “Deist Monster: On Religious Common Sense in the Wake of the American Revolution,” Journal of American History (June 2008); E. Brooks Holifield, Theology in America: Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005), 175; William H. Goetzmann, Beyond the Revolution: A History of American Thought from Paine to Pragmatism (New York: Basic Books, 2009), 53.
 Thomas Paine, Age of Reason (1st edition), 23-24.