on July 13, 2005
I quite liked the book, with some reservation. It provides an interesting analysis into the world Joseph Smith came from and the infleunces 19th century culture had on the young prophet.
Notwithstanding, Quinn make a number of implausible arguments to fit his preconceived views, contrary critics such as John Ankerberg who takes all of Quinn's writings at face value.
One brief example is found in what he did with the Book of Enoch in claiming that Joseph Smith had to have had access to it. Quinn cites from a directory of books published in the 1820s, calling attention to an 1828 printing of the 1821 edition of that book. Of course, if one were to check the index, one would find that the work was NOT published in America and that the 1828 printing was a reprint of the first edition, which ciruclated primarily in England and on continental Europe. In point of fact, the circulating copies of the work were so rare that people actually spread stories of its having been recalled and destroyed by the publisher! Moroever, according to the editions of Laurance's Book of Enoch and found that there
was high demand for the book in Europe and soe demand for it in England, but that the first edition that made its way into America was the second edition, printed in 1833, which in turn resulted in heavy demand for a third edition which was in high demand in America in 1838, both of which editions were too late for Joseph Smith to have drawn upon them for the Book of Mormon as was claimed. Thus, this source used by Quinn had little
significance, far less than what he attached to it!
on May 9, 2007
An extensive and comprehensive review of the beginnings of Mormonism and the actual driving forces behind the movement. It was written by a much maligned but none the less excellent Mormon historian. It is a must read for all those who want to understand the real roots of Mormonism and not the public relations blurbs generated by the Church Of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints/Mormon church in this day and age.
Michael Quinn has been excommunicated for his honesty about a church that he still professes to love. He loves it warts and all and some of the warts are in his book. Not for the believer who only wants the gloss. It isn't the "faith promoting" take on the church that the church advocates its members read and in fact, only read. For the serious investigator or student of Mormonism, this is a must read. The fact that so many church members and the church itself has come out so strongly against Dr. Quinn and his books is proof that the unattractive truth is there for all to see.
The research for this book was done over years of study in the well hidden files and records of the LDS church at Brigham Young University and LDS archives, during the time that Dr. Quinn was allowed access to these. This book wasn't written out of Dr. Quinn's hat as Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon. This is the real deal!
on March 6, 2012
Fascinating study of a cultural/religious paradigm in which, to be acknowledged as a true 'seer' or prophet receiving authentic communication from the Divine, it was really necessary to frame the religious manifestations in terms of people's widespread beliefs in astrology, signs and portents, folk magic, communion with spirits, etc. Quinn's book demonstrates that in order for Joseph Smith to have been recognized as a prophet in his time and place and for early believers in his message to understand and accept his revelations as valid, they had to fit within the prevailing understanding of how "supernatural" forces operated in the world. For rural 19th-century Americans, much of what modern minds would call "supernatural" were simply natural; just about every town had its minor prophets and seers, finders of lost objects, and treasure hunters. People consulted astrological almanacs they way we would watch the Weather Channel, but probably with more faith. Whether you believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet truly called of God, or that he was a charismatic charlatan, Quinn's research locates Joseph squarely within his cultural/spiritual context and frankly refutes some of his harshest critics by demonstrating that in many ways, he was simply engaging in popular practices of the time. Spirit/angelic visitations, revelations via special stones, dowsing rods, etc. were discussed in books and pamphlets widely available and read eagerly by a population for whom the foundation of literacy was the Bible. Bottom line, if you had a message to share, if it wasn't in the lingua franca of King James Bible references and the basic principles of folk magic, nobody would have listened, true prophet or not. Faithful Mormons interested in their history should read Quinn's book NOT as an attempt to dispute the validity of Joseph Smith's prophetic calling, but as a demonstration that God speaks to people in their own language, and J.S. was clearly well-suited to be such a messenger in 19th-century upstate New York. Non-Mormons interested in American religious history will find it fascinating. Critics will find interesting food for thought, but anyone who is looking for an expose' on the start of a religious cult by practitioners of dark arts will be very disappointed.
[Also helpful to know: the book is weighty and intimidating in thickness, but only because of Dr. Quinn's exhaustive notes and references - the text itself is only about half of the volume. Don't be scared.] :)
on June 15, 2015
This book is not for the faint of heart. It is extremely detailed and for members of the church will expose them to facts that will be difficult to reconcile.
Cons: He sometimes bounces around a little bit versus keeping all of the info tightly organized and unless you are truly interested in gaining a very in-depth understanding of the entire breadth and depth of the topic, it will be hard to get through this book because it is very academic and simply has a ton of information.
Pros: It is amazing. Exhaustively researched, stands as the authority on the subject, has some great pictures that bring everything to life, and is simply fascinating. The amount of research that went into it is truly astounding.
Quinn is absolutely masterful in this ground breaking work. I very highly recommend this book to anyone interested in gaining a deep understanding of the worldview of early mormon leaders and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.
on June 30, 2001
I consider myself to be a faithful member of the church and at times the information that Quinn shared caused me to question my faith. I believe that if everything presented in a book is agreeable then it is probably not faith strengthening. The fact that I had to re-think my assumptions at many isntances was actually an enlightening and faith promoting experience.
As a believer in religion and in history this book created a dichotomy of sorts withing my mind and soul. My scientific values sit at one end prompting me to believe that the evidences of occult practice in the church prove its falsity. However my values for cultural differences, and my understanding of the different lenses that accompany those cultures, persuade me towards the truthfulness of the LDS church. The church has stood firm through time and brought hope to people with a magic world view and a scientific world view.
This book was not an easy read, I had to use an encyclopedia of religion and a dictionary to get through it, but it was well worth it, in knowledge gained. The historical research is phenomenal, but of course not perfect. People who write history do it subjectively as well as people who research history and rerecord it. I doubt we can fault Quinn for his subjective inclusions in his work, when it is apparent he has labored for objectivity whenever possible. The book is truly a relic to be held on to because its research will, perhaps, never be duplicated to that intensity again.
on March 29, 2016
An exciting and extensive read on what seems like all available information on the founding of Mormonism and its self-professed prophet, Joseph Smith, and even his family connections into other less "mainstream" religions and practices. Extremely informative and well researched, including as much Factual based evidence as can be obtained (by even mainstream standards), this would give the reader an in-ward view into the "Original" worship and practice of the early LDS church that is not known or understood of by many of today's modern adherents.
on September 17, 2012
if your reading about this book, you already have some idea about what it is. some of it was quite far fetched... and there are pages of reviews written about this already. i enjoyed seeing the founders and historical values and situations in different perspective and telling, than what we usually get on the crisp and clean print of Sunday school manuals. it was nice to read about the emotion and non-structured spiritual involvement that propagated the church from a single family into its modern population of millions. it was curious to read about the "magical" practices made by these men had- it filled in some curious "plot" holes in the church history for me, such as Oliver cowdrey, and the Hiram page incident. i am a faithful LDS RM, and i have learned that history is still just a story told through the eyes of the beholder. D michael quinn sheds light on some of the uncomfortable aspects of LDS history in an engaging and intriguing way. alot of the other reviews have attempted to use this or other historical explorations as justification to abandon the LDS church, or vocalize distrust or lack of testimony. After reading and studying this work i think that it'll magnify your own previous personal opinions, to either faith that god works in mysterious ways, or rejection. i believe that the author writes from a faith-full perspective while giving the perspective that early leaders and the cultural practices of magical thinking, good luck, superstition the realistic possibility that those practices were a common thing in "pioneer" times, before our modern obsession with scientific proof.
on September 25, 2014
This is the definitive LDS game-changer. My own research (over 35 years now) has shown the validity and objectivity of Quinn's insights. My own discoveries are about to shake the foundation out from under all modern versions of Christianity, but that's another story.
The REAL (original) Mormonism was inextricably linked to both the "magic world view" of early America, as well as to occult practices, at least in Joseph and his immediate family's case. This is NOT a bad thing, it is the same for ANY true (substitute OLD) form of original Christianity of Judaism. Only modern versions of the once esoteric religions are false.
I high recommend this book to anyone seeking true illumination. This is not anti-mormonism, it is about REAL Mormonism. It only enhances the claims of the prophet Joseph Smith, but not as most people understand them. Ironically, it is the very people who need to read this...who would not be caught dead doing so. This is the real problem.
on October 10, 2001
The story of Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of Mormonism, is absolutely incredible. As far as books on the life of Smith are concerned, probably no volume has stirred more overall controversy than D. Michael Quinn's 1987 first-edition book entitled Early Mormonism and the Magic World View. Quinn is a former professor at LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University who was excommunicated in 1993 for apostasy based on his historical writings. His second edition was published in 1998.
Instead of trying to deny Joseph Smith's penchant for occultic activities, Quinn-who says he "remains a DNA Mormon"-concluded that Smith's background truly did involve divining rods, seer stones, a hat to shield his eyes in order to see hidden treasures, amulets, incantations, and rituals to summon spirits. Smith was a magician first class, Quinn believes, but he holds that Mormonism's founder was also a man of God who used his magical tools to communicate with the Almighty God of this universe.
To read this book will require plenty of time and careful patience. Early Mormonism is not a book to be rushed through. After all, Quinn is famous for his copious endnotes. The book has 685 pages, and 257 of those pages-close to 40 percent of the book!-are endnotes. (A little more than half of the book is text.) You can't ignore them, though, because he strategically places very important information there. It is also a good idea to consider his sources. Although he lists no bibliography, the endnotes contain the bibliographic information, and if I would guess, I would say that he utilized more than a thousand resources. Unless you look the individual endnote up, you will not know where the reference came from because he usually gives no hint within the text itself.
Quinn admits that what he writes in his book is not what readers might find in a brochure given out at an LDS temple open house. "Instead, they will discover that the LDS prophet certainly participated extensively in some pursuits of folk magic and apparently in others.... I have found that the `official version' of early Mormon history is sometimes incomplete in its presentation and evaluation of evidence. Therefore, official LDS history is inaccurate in certain respects. ...LDS apologists often do not inform their readers that pro-Mormon sources corroborate the statements made by anti-Mormons" (p. xxxviii).
Quinn is not happy with attempts by LDS Church revisionists to deny Smith's foray into the occult and folk magic realm around him. While this is the apparent attitude church members have now, it wasn't always like this, he says. The attitude change began in the 1880s, he says, when the last of those in the Mormon leadership who had been familiar with Smith and the occultic practices died. "Their successors had more in common with denominational Christianity than with the folk religion of many first-generation Mormons," Quinn writes. "It is astonishing how some LDS apologists can misread (or misrepresent) all the above evidence for the magic use of seer stones and divining rods..." (p. 59). After noting that BYU biblical professor Stephen E. Robinson denied that these things had anything to do with magic but rather were influenced by the Bible, Quinn is very strong. "This is self-parody by an LDS polemicist," he writes in part (p. 60).
No matter what your opinion of Quinn is-whether he offends you because he was excommunicated by the Mormon Church, that he is an avowed homosexual, or that he writes historical books that are not what you might call "faith promoting"-he is not a slouch.
Not that I always agree with Quinn. For instance, I don't agree with his idea that the Bible encourages necromancy, magic, dealing with occultic materials, and the like. But when it comes to the facts about how Smith himself was involved in magic, Quinn's historical points are well documented and leave little to debate.
I appreciate that Quinn seems to be very honest, wanting to know just what the facts are all about. To do any different is to be a revisionist, and that is just not honest, as Quinn makes this a big point in his criticism of Mormon apologists, especially those who work at LDS-owned FARMS. I give the book a 5-star recommendation, as long as the reader promises to read carefully, slowly, and with a critical mind.
on October 23, 2010
This book starts with a personal confession:
"I believe in Gods, spirits and devils, and that they have communicated with humankind. I have a personal "testimony" of Jesus as my God, of Joseph Smith, Jr., as a prophet, of the book of Mormon as the word of god, and of the LDS church as a divinely established organization through which men and women can obtain priesthood ordinances of eternal consequence" (p. xxxviii).
And then, Michael Quinn's book makes it transparently clear that Joseph "Joe" Smith's religion represents a collage of Christian, occult and Freemason sources that were easily available in 19th century Palmyra, NY. Smith's family was haunted by the occult. The book displays images of magical parchments, occult talismans, pouches and cabalistic/astrological inscriptions that used to be in the possession of the family. Neither were the Smiths innocents when it came to the supernatural: one of the ancestors might have been an accuser of Salem, MA "witches" and share responsibility for their murders. Smith Sr. and Jr. dug for magical 'treasures' whenever they could find time, used "seeing stones" and folk / ceremonial magic that was based upon medieval European and Freemason sources. Joe himself was familiar with pseudo-Agrippa, Paracelsus, Rosicrucian and Freemason lore and, especially, Swedenborg. He apprenticed to local occultists. His brother Hyrum was a Freemason who owned an athame ("an astrologically inscribed dagger for drawing magic circles"), and inscribed parchments describing rituals of ceremonial magic. According to the family's neighbors, early mormon converts were "profound believers in witchcraft, ghosts, goblins etc..." (P. 239).
According to Quinn, every single piece of Mormon lore -the plates, the Urim/Thumim, the visions, the toad/angel "Moroni", "Egyptian hieroglyphs" identified with the Book of Mormon etc can be traced to what was happening in Palmyra/USA in the early 1800s. Mormon names such as Lehi, Nephi, Nephesh, Laman etc were derived from King James' Bible & cabalistic texts. Encyclopedias available at the time linked jewish cabala with Egyptian hieroglyphs. Not surprisingly, the opening words in the Book of Mormon align "learning of the Jews" with the "language of the Egyptians."
Joe, from what i can tell, embodies the essential trickster archetype together with an incredible talent for grandiosity, self-promotion and for telling a good tale. Today some of his 'prophecies' seem somewhat ...overinspired. In 1837 he prophesied to Oliver Huntington: "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 and quite general in Style, or the one fashion of dress. They live to be very old; coming generally near a thousand years." Good ole Joe, bless him.
Every 'vision' was rapidly announced and 'revealed' which led to comical (and dangerous) situations as the young men who were induced by Smith to dig for magical treasures all over Palmyra between 1820-1826 wanted to have their share of promised loot ("golden plates inscribed with Egyptian hieroglyphs"). Needless to say, the plates - which represent the cornerstone of the Mormon religion - were never available to hoi polloi because they were spirited away by angels.
As it happens, contemporary LDS leaders often appear to champion views that are the opposite of what Joe Smith believed and preached. Magical and occult elements - a fundamental aspect of Joe's worldview - have been minimized, as has been JSmith's emphasis on the necessity of having plural wives (possibly one of the main raisons d'etre for establishing mormonism). Instead, today there is an emphasis on worldly success, status, obedience, political control and the Republican party. As opposed to early Mormons who were convinced that the Earth was alive, that it had a personal spirit and that it was capable of speech, birth, breathing, transgression, sexual reproduction and resurrection (P. 214), it seems that many (perhaps most) contemporary Mormons don't believe in Earth's aliveness, the need to take care of it, global warming, in free healthcare, in nature as something to be treasured.
When the text appears rambling (which it often does) it's because Quinn feels it necessary to add yet another layer of evidence to ward off his detractors at the Brigham Young University. Despite having produced what may be considered the definitive account of the occult origins of Mormonism, worldly rewards in the LDS country have been meager for Quinn. Powers that be - LDS "Apostles" and "Prophets" in Salt Lake City - do not appreciate empirical analysis too close to home. Quinn was promptly excommunicated after the first publication of the book. Next, he lost his job at the BYU and his community. A clear sign that, while Broadway shows are OK, too deep an investigation of occult Mormonism is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.
In other words, the Apostles' reaction represents a clear sign that Quinn touched upon something real. The writing of this book was a courageous act, I see it as no less than the embodiment of the human desire to live a life, and walk one's personal spiritual path, in truth. We can only hope that the LDS church will eventually choose facts over fiction. That will be the day when trumpets will sound across the Heavens.