In this ground-breaking book, D. Michael Quinn masterfully reconstructs an earlier age, finding ample evidence for folk magic in nineteenth-century New England, as he does in Mormon founder Joseph Smith’s upbringing. Quinn discovers that Smith’s world was inhabited by supernatural creatures whose existence could be both symbolic and real. He explains that the Smith family’s treasure digging was not unusual for the times and is vital to understanding how early Mormons interpreted developments in their history in ways that differ from modern perceptions. Quinn’s impressive research provides a much-needed background for the environment that produced Mormonism.
This thoroughly researched examination into occult traditions surrounding Smith, his family, and other founding Mormons cannot be understated. Among the practices no longer a part of Mormonism are the use of divining rods for revelation, astrology to determine the best times to conceive children and plant crops, the study of skull contours to understand personality traits, magic formula utilized to discover lost property, and the wearing of protective talismans. Ninety-four photographs and illustrations accompany the text.
Latter-day Saints believe that, following the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the death of the original apostles, a Great Apostasy occurred that took God’s authorized servants from the earth and with them, direct revelation from God. This forced people to fend for themselves spiritually, which only resulted in lost truths, false doctrines, and a state of confusion that could only be remedied by a restoration. This, Mormons believe, was initiated by Joseph Smith, God’s chosen mouthpiece for this new era. But many church members’ understanding of this apostasy is tinged with tainted suppositions and misunderstandings. Statements such as “the priesthood was taken from the earth” and “the gospel was shattered into many pieces” are not only inaccurate but are curtly dismissive of fellow Christians. Gregor McHardy examines the fate of the apostles, the actual dissipation of authority following their deaths, the gradual onset of changed doctrines, and similar topics.
McHardy’s careful, astute examination leads to a realization that Jesus’s prediction that “the gates of hell shall not prevail” against the organization Peter led was accurate. With that understanding, today’s Latter-day Saints can craft more positive, engaging statements about the nature and meaning of their Restoration.
The first fifty years of United States history was a period of seemingly endless possibility. With the birth of a new country during the age of revolutions came new religions, new literary genres, new political parties, temperance and abolitionist societies, and the expansion of print and marketing networks that would dramatically change the course of the century. Envisioning Scripture: Joseph Smith’s Revelations in Their Early American Contexts brings together ten essays from leading scholars on the history of early American religion and print culture. Covering issues of gender, race, prophecy, education, scripture, real and narrative time, authority and power, and apocalypticism, the essays invite the reader—scholar, student, etc.—to expand their knowledge of early Mormon history by grasping more fully the American contexts that Mormonism grew out of.
Contributors include Catherine A. Brekus, William Davis, Elizabeth Fenton, Kathleen Flake, Paul Gutjahr, Jared Hickman, Susan Juster, Seth Perry, Laura Thiemann Scales, and Roberto A. Valdeón.
Although Brigham H. Roberts was an LDS general authority, he was by public consensus and his own admission an intellectual. Consequently, and due to the painfully earnest, meticulous way he approached any issue of consequence and his intimate familiarity with Western thought, he occasionally appeared to be knowingly contradictory. Readers are therefore left to judge whether he vacillated over time, tailored his message to the audience on a “milk-before-meat” principle, or was comfortable camouflaging his real intent in metaphor.
On one occasion Roberts defended the traditional Mormon view of the godhead—perfected men who “eat, drink … and procreate” as exalted mortals; another time he seemed less comfortable imposing limitations on a God who cannot be fixed to a single location, for whom Jesus was a mortal incarnation, and for whom the term “trinity” seemed more eloquent than the “presidency of heaven.”
His most famous and penetrating analysis focused on the Book of Mormon. In this collection Roberts discusses the mode of its translation, while stopping short of saying that God, who speaks to humans in their own language, could have authored the inconsistent grammar that appeared luminously in Joseph Smith’s seer stone. Instead he credits this to Smith’s own linguistic contribution, thereby preserving for God a fitting transcendence. Later Roberts went so far as to question the Book of Mormon’s historicity.
A final example of Roberts’s complexity: He proclaimed in public the perfect unity and harmony found at church conferences, but he privately castigated his colleagues for what he considered to be obstinance. He once asked what additional, irrational proposal “may occur to some genius” in the Quorum of the Twelve.
A paradox still, this feisty president of the church’s Seventies continues to provoke mixed and heated feelings, as expressed by a Scottish immigrant working in the First Presidency’s office who one day said to Roberts: “Aye, mon, the frankness of it. How dare you do it, mon?” But for those who are sincere and secure in their faith, Roberts can provide a delightfully rewarding journey. Consider just the following four, short excerpts from this compilation—two are originally from Roberts’s published works and two are from his personal letters:
“It is not given to mortal man always to walk upon that plane where the sunlight of God’s inspiration is playing upon him. Sometimes the servants of God speak merely from their human knowledge, influenced by passions; influenced by the interests of men, and by anger, and vexation. When they so speak, that is not likely to be the word of God. In any event it must be allowed by us that many unwise things were said in times past that did not possess the value of scripture, or anything like it; and it was not revelation.”
“What has become, in the church, of the principle that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed? Will it be enough to say that the consent of the governed can come later when nominations have been made by leaders? The procedure may be so, and the quorums thus ignored may silently submit, and the matter going on in a dull, gray, and sullen manner; but you will have no esprit de corps in the quorums; and young men of active minds will grow restive. Why not regard them as having some judgment, and right to have a voice in nominating those with whom they are to work?”
“So I say that when the churches turn to secular government to enforce religious doctrines and discipline, they abandon their legitimate sphere and enter one wholly repugnant to their principles. When churches thus abandon their confidence in the power of truth, they play havoc with their own authority.”
“My dear Bishop Nibley, let me commend you for the delicacy with which you can tell the poor ‘theorist’ to ‘get off the earth.’ I know not if you were born with such delicacy or have acquired it, but in either event it challenges one’s admiration. You write that ‘You (myself) are a theorist, while he (Senator-Apostle Smoot) is needed and has a place in the economy of things.’ That is decidedly good. There is but one thing more you could have suggested to my advantage; you might have indicated the particular location in oblivion where you would be willing for me to sit.”
Brigham Henry Roberts was born in England in 1857. Among his other achievements, he was president of the LDS First Quorum of Seventy and Assistant Church Historian. His numerous books include: (historical) A Comprehensive History of the Church, Joseph Smith: The Prophet-Teacher, The Life of John Taylor, Outlines of Ecclesiastical History, and (theological) A New Witness for God, the Mormon Doctrine of Deity, and the Seventy’s Course in Theology—all of which are considered authoritative, and for which Roberts earned the epithet, “Defender of the Faith.” He died in 1933.
After converting to Mormonism in 1832, Brigham Young (1801-77) quickly rose to prominence and was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles within three years. He personally directed the highly successful 1839 proselyting mission to Great Britain, and he was appointed president of the Twelve Apostles the following year. In 1846-47 he oversaw the epic colonization of the Intermountain West.
Self-educated and preoccupied with the day-to-day business of his widespread empire, Young rarely found time to read. But he delivered hundreds of lively, extemporaneous sermons which blended common sense with theological speculation. Such homespun treatises carried an immediacy that was absent from the philosophically-oriented studies of his ecclesiastical colleague Orson Pratt, though, at the same time, Young’s speeches could be unfocused and contradictory.
Several of the more controversial teachings that Young promulgated—Adam-as-God, divine omniscience, and blood atonement—have sparked considerable debate since they were first uttered more than one hundred years ago. “Will you love your brothers and sisters likewise,” he once asked, “when they have committed a sin that cannot be atoned for without the shedding of their blood? Will you love that man or woman well enough to shed their blood?”
Other favorite topics were the “personality of God,” “election and reprobation,” and “the resurrection.” His sermons usually begin in a chatty way: “I remarked last Sunday that I had not felt much like preaching,” or “When I contemplate the subject of salvation, and rise before a congregation to speak upon that all-important matter, it has been but a few times in my life that I could see a beginning point to it, or a stopping place.” Readers will find themselves drawn into the rhythm of Young’s rhetoric in the same way as his original hearers were.
Latter-day Saints were stunned in 1911 to learn that the interior of the Salt Lake temple had been secretly photographed and that perpetrators were demanding a $100,000 ransom for the photos. As church leaders considered their options, former University of Utah president James E. Talmage proposed that the First Presidency commission its own photos, which they did, authorizing Talmage to write his landmark House of the Lord. As the manuscript and photos were being readied for press, the presidency appointed the forty-nine-year-old educator to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles.
This was not the first time that Talmage had been of service to his church. As a geology professor, he was consulted about underground ventilation options for the Salt Lake Tabernacle and about the scientific evidence for organic evolution, which he cautiously promoted. At the church president’s request, Talmage also delivered a series of lectures on church theology which would form the basis for his later influential books.
Not that Talmage was unaccustomed to controversy. When his book, The Articles of Faith, first appeared, he was accused of “apostasy” and narrowly escaped church sanction. When he read from an advance text of Jesus the Christ in general conference, some leaders objected to the doctrinal content and had the offending paragraphs excised from the published conference proceedings.
Scholars have noted that much of Talmage’s work reflects the thinking of his day, particularly in his reliance on Frederick Farrar’s Life of Christ and in his portrayal of a so-called “Victorian Jesus.” But as James P. Harris observes, Talmage also “supplemented the biblical narrative with modern revelation” and produced “a source of information and inspiration to church members worldwide.”
The Essential James E. Talmage includes some of the apostle’s lesser-known works. For Talmage’s more popular writings, the editor has included relevant diary entries and material omitted from later editions. Readers will appreciate the process by which these seminal works were produced and the character of the man who composed them.
As illuminating as commentaries are, nothing conveys Joseph Smith’s character like his own unadulterated words. In his distinctive language—a mix of biblical and frontier idioms—and in his famously spontaneous humor, one can imagine him speaking and feeling the force of his charisma. Like Old Testament prophets, he was alternately contemplative and poetic, animated and surprisingly earthy.
Previous, popular editions of Smith’s speeches and writings have edited out the extemporaneous complexities, as well as any deviations from present-day doctrines. Recent academic publications, for their part, have too often camouflaged the text in scholarly apparata. By contrast, this volume brings together a sampling of the prophet’s thinking from New York to Illinois in a complete, unabridged form, utilizing the earliest known sources, without excessive footnoting or commentary. No attempt is made to harmonize disparate, conflicting ideas. Readers can trace the developing, revelatory unfolding of ideas for themselves. They can also enjoy the text without reference to any interpretative agenda. In other words, The Essential Joseph Smith is readable and reliable. Bracketed material and punctuation are added where needed, but the text otherwise speaks for itself. These are Joseph Smith’s own words, his most essential messages.
The author of several dozen seminal treatises on Mormon doctrine, Orson Pratt (1811-81) produced a library of spirited and thoughtful expositions and defenses of the LDS church that charted the course for all subsequent church theologians.
Born in Henderson, New York, Pratt was a contemporary of Joseph Smith, who, like his successor Brigham Young, often depended on Pratt’s rhetorical skills and scientific eclecticism in presenting the Mormon message to the outside world. Since Pratt was a member of the leading Quorum of Twelve Apostles, many of his works were published in pamphlet form for proselytizing purposes. His rudimentary mathematical talents were also relied on to help navigate the first party of pioneers to the Great Salt Lake Valley. He was the first Mormon to enter the valley—three days before Young.
A stubborn and fiercely independent intellectual, Pratt also clashed with Smith over polygamy and with Young over the nature of God and the origin of the soul. Their arguments eventually led Young in 1875 to demote him within the quorum, reducing his chances of succeeding to the church presidency. Pratt suffered from diabetes, and his final years were plagued by illness. He died in Utah at the age of seventy. Nevertheless, his influence has continued.
Pratt was the first to write and publish an account of Smith’s famous “first vision,” and he authored one of the earliest confessions of Mormon doctrine, which Smith later used in composing his own “Articles of Faith.” Pratt edited the Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, The New York Messenger, The Seer, and The Prophetic Almanac, the latter consisting of astrological observations, folk wisdom, theological essays, and one of the first LDS statements that humans could become gods.
Pratt’s most controversial speculation was that atoms, then thought to be indestructible and indivisible, were intelligent, self-conscious, sentient, self-propelled particles which bonded together to form colonies in the shape of plants, minerals, animals, humans, and gods, and which were tutored over time in the “great school of the universe.” His writing was thus a unique blend of biblical and pseudo-scientific philosophy. Twentieth-century reprints of his works have tended to overlook his more controversial ideas and emphasized the less radical ones. In the present compilation, care has been taken to remain faithful to the originals, leaving nothing out.
One of the first converts to the LDS church, Parley Parker Pratt (1807-57) would eventually become early Mormonism’s most famous and widely published defender. Born in western New York, he converted to Mormonism in late 1830 and was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles five years later as one of its founding members. He was strong-willed and largely self-educated, as his vitae reflects: he served several missions for the church; participated in Zion’s Camp, the militia which marched to Missouri to rescue threatened church members; quarreled with Joseph Smith over finances and narrowly escaped excommunication; founded the Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Starin England; married several plural wives in Nauvoo, Illinois; immigrated to the Great Salt Lake valley; and continued to fill additional overseas missions.
Best known for his fiery apologetic writings such as A Voice of Warning (1837), Key to the Science of Theology (1855), and for his autobiography which was published posthumously in 1874 by his son, who wrote most of it, Pratt nevertheless defined Mormon doctrine and theology for much of the nineteenth century. He was killed in 1857 in Arkansas by the estranged husband of one of his polygamous wives. The husband, an outsider, did not share Pratt’s and other Mormons’ contempt for civil authority over marriage.
Scientists discover more every day about how life developed on Earth. Details that stream in from the new field of molecular biology rival the ongoing findings of paleontologists as they fill in the missing pieces in the fossil record. Professors Stephens and Meldrum, aided by the perspective of a non-scientist, Forrest B. Peterson, review the data for a general Latter-day Saint audience.
Their approach comes from a position of faith. They quote from the Creation account in the Pearl of Great Price: ”And the Gods said: Let us prepare the waters to bring forth abundantly the moving creatures that have life. And the Gods saw that they would be obeyed and that their plan was good.” In the authors’ view, the passage’s emphasis on process over end result is consistent with modern science.
According to the LDS church, “Whether the mortal bodies of man evolved in natural processes to present perfection” or were formed by some other means is “not fully answered in the revealed word of God.” That God may have created the mechanism by which all life was formed—rather than each organism separately—is a concept that the authors find to be a satisfying and awe-inspiring possibility.