In this well-researched biography, an esteemed American cultural historian and a practicing Mormon tells how Joseph Smith formed a new religion from ...Show synopsisIn this well-researched biography, an esteemed American cultural historian and a practicing Mormon tells how Joseph Smith formed a new religion from the ground up.Hide synopsis
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Although this book is touted as 'balanced and informed', this work, although quite beautifully written, it is hardly objective in any sense. Most of the serious objections and historical refutations concerning the historicity of the Book of Mormon are dismissed out of hand as not being worthy of serious consideration. Even though this work is large and comprehensive, sources such as the conclusive "Anthon" letter, disclosing Joseph Smith's 'reformed Egyptian' as a fraud, are dismissed as ' contradictory reports'.
As Bushman says: "In devising a story of a charlatan, we lose sight of the unprepossessing rural visionary who became a religous leader admired by thousands"
Bushman does not want to look too critically into questions of historicity and truth, as it might just upset some folks and not 'build faith'. The procedure of the book is generally to lightly ride over the difficult questions, so that the author can present his version of Joseph Smith as a Prophet of God. He is more interested in writing a narrative of a leader, rather than critically thinking.
This seems to be the position of the Mormon church at the present time- to dismiss out of hand problems or ignore problems with the historicity of the Book of Mormon, the rampant history of polygomy, the occult beginnings and incorporation of masonic practices into the religion, and the abberant non-christian theology of the church. Indeed, the church is engaged in a vast and expensive public-relation campaign to make Mormonism appear mainstream and as American as apple pie. In this, it must be conceded, the church has brilliantly succeeded. I would think this book is a part of that.
One has to admire the fine writing style of Bushman, as indeed in his other works. I admit a sense of sadness with such great talent employed in the present subject. I hope Mr. Bushman will turn his considerable talents to other fruitful areas of American History.
If one is a Mormon, this book will shore up that person's faith. But It would be more acceptable if the book was not touted as 'objective'. Rather, it should be called an biography of the founder of Momonism by a convinced Mormon.
Bushman's look at Joseph Smith is a fascinating and thorough read. Be prepared to learn interesting new things about the Prophet; the book strengthened my faith in the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith.
As a trial lawyer, I am always amazed by the reaction of jurors to the reality of human memory and the surpassing difficulty of determining intent and motive. Nobody's stories mesh, everyone perceives things differently--the same person can honestly tell stories with contradictions; and if you do not believe it, let a good lawyer take you on cross-examination. Now take the whole exercise back two hundred years, with the attendant degradation of the record and the reliance, of necessity, upon hearsay. In short, the problems of writing the biography of an historical figure such as Joseph Smith are well beyond the appreciation of most readers. Mr. Bushman's work bears the stamp of meticulous research; he does not shy from confronting the popular arguments and weaves his arguments not from his admitted faith in the man but from the actual events and the flawed and incomplete historical record.
This reviewer accepts Joseph Smith as what he purported to be--a Prophet who received revelation directly from God as did the Prophets of the Bible. The religious among us will accept their duty to answer to God as to whether they followed the biblical injunction to judge righteous judgment--by their fruits shall ye know them. Joseph Smith's teachings have endured and have developed in exactly the manner that one would expect and that the Prophet predicted. I loved this biography precisely because it portrayed the man who was a Prophet--a man who refused, sometimes unwisely, to take the safe path; a man who overcame the lack of social and educational advantages in a quintessentially American fashion; a man who made dumb mistakes just like we all do but who maintained an absolute optimism. A man who was sometimes too quick to trust, regularly overworked, frequently disappointed and who was often betrayed by his own better instincts--but he learned from his mistakes and he was absolutely faithful to the light he had received. Judge him by the Book of Mormon, which he translated, judge him by the leaders he trained, by Brigham Young and by his successor, Gordon B. Hinckley, judge him by a Church whose members and temples span the globe, judge him by the good works of those who follow his revelations as such, judge him by what he accomplished in such a short life, judge by the focus of his writings upon Jesus Christ, but don't judge him because some reporter or diarist recorded events with discrepancies or because of a wrinkle in Joseph's recollection of unprecedented events.
In Rough Stone Rolling, Mr. Bushman walks the path of truth--he admits his bias towards belief but backs up his statements. He calls it as he sees it while still admitting that there are arguments both ways. He demonstrates that a positive faith-promoting history does not need to ignore difficult issues. Mr. Bushman realizes and acknowledges that at some level any beliefs regarding the Prophet end up being based upon faith--whether faith in DNA analysis of Indians, faith in the recollection and accuracy of persons long dead, faith in one's personal perceptions and powers of analysis, or in a divine witness of truthfulness; the book shows that Joseph dealt with persons of all such motivations but that Joseph ultimately succeeded based upon the actions and support of those who professed a divine confirmation of their queries regarding Joseph.
In this his record is superior to advocative portrayals that set forth only positive or negative arguments. Joseph, like all the Prophets before and since, summed it up correctly when he stated that though he made mistakes, there were no errors in the revelations he gave to the Church. This work succeeds in revealing Joseph's life; one cannot fully appreciate Joseph's achievements without a knowledge and understanding of the opposition he faced and overcame. As to his status as the Prophet, each reader must come to and be prepared to defend his or her own judgment. If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally. (James 1:5)
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