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Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism Paperback – December 1, 1987

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press (December 1, 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0252060121
  • ISBN-13: 978-0252060120
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #985,221 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Brilliant... Written with style and felicity, it deals with all the difficult topics that must be probed in describing and interpreting the controversial early history of Mormonism." -- Leonard J. Arrington

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Customer Reviews

This book is thoroughly documented.
Bushman is very honest and objective in his approach to the early life Joseph Smith.
Ryan Wimmer
Deciding that I got the book so cheap that I would go ahead and keep it.
Greg Hassapakis

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 40 people found the following review helpful By rm35@byugate.byu.edu on August 29, 1997
Format: Paperback
Richard L. Bushman's book, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, presents an in-depth look at the Smith family, the start of the Mormon religion, and some of its early doctrines and foundations. Bushman's text addresses interesting ideas: the influence of the New England society and revivalism, Joseph Smith's application of religious skepticism and values inherited from his relatives, causes and explanations for the birth of some anti-Mormon factions, contemporary reflection on Smith's character, early history of the church, and refutation for some arguments against Smith and the church. Bushman's thorough analysis of Joseph Smith and the early church is placed in the context of early 19th century American culture.

Bushman, a practicing Mormon, obviously possesses a bias toward Mormonism. Bushman does not attempt to disguise his religious affiliation; yet, I never felt that Bushman gave an apologetic narrative or tried to justify Smith's claims or Mormonism's history. The book seems remarkably objective and well-researched and Bushman does not shy away from controversial topics or derogatory critiques. As he explains in his introduction, he treats Smith's claims as reality, allowing the individual reader to decide whether these experiences are true. This method enabled Bushman to approach Mormon history from a more open perspective than most readers are used to, and we can visualize Smith in a complete portrait. Bushman's work helps me understand Smith as a human being, not as a saint or a charlatan.

Bushman's thesis explains Smith and Mormonism as both a product of and reaction against his environment. Bushman is not attempting to validate Mormonism, nor provide a routine recitation of LDS history. Neither is he attacking its assumptions nor its key founders.
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50 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Roger D. Launius VINE VOICE on January 12, 2004
Format: Paperback
"Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism" (1984), written by prize-winning colonial historian Richard L. Bushman, was originally conceived as one of the sixteen volumes on Mormon history officially sponsored by the Latter-day Saint church in commemoration of its sesquicentennial in 1980. It is an excellent example of what Mormons would call "faithful history"--an approach that emphasizes the sacred nature of the history of Mormonism--and presents an elegant, eloquent, exacting, and exasperating analysis of the origins of Mormonism through the end of 1830.
In this work Bushman deals in an exceptionally faithful manner with the rise of the church, addressing many of the very real thorny historical issues swirling about Mormonism's creation mythology. How convincing his analysis may be is very much a result of whether or not one accepts Joseph Smith as a prophet of God. Bushman does and demonstrates it on virtually every page.
For example, Bushman sought to cohere the folk magic tradition of Joseph Smith with his later career as a prophet of God. There seems little doubt now, despite earlier denials, that Joseph Smith engaged in the practice of folk magic and treasure seeking. Bushman seeks to explain away affidavits and other information implicating Joseph Smith in efforts to use folk magic to recover buried treasure--specifically an 1826 account of a court case filed against Joseph Smith for defrauding a Josiah Stowel of money in a treasure hunting scheme--by exploring the larger context of folk magic in early American history and suggesting that Smith originally reflected his times but ultimately transcended them by God's intervention.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By David Evans VINE VOICE on August 29, 2005
Format: Paperback
Bushman, a member of the LDS Church, writes this history of Joseph Smith from Smith's early years through 1831, one year after the founding of the Church. The book starts off slow, with a detailed history of the Smith family moving from place to place. The first two chapters have a few too many lists describing each town: "An 1824 gazeteer credited the town with three gristmills, eight sawmills, one fulling mill, an iron works, five distilleries..." (p. 45).

But the book picks up halfway through chapter two, when we encounter Joseph Smith's first spiritual manifestation. Bushman deals with the spiritual events perfectly: he describes them in the words of the individuals who experience the events, and then he provides extensive cultural context. For example, he explains that the negative reaction of local clergy to Joseph's first vision may well have been because others claimed similar visions around the same time, often justifying a departure in doctrine from established religion. He explains that while Joseph Smith did have a seerstone, such objects were not uncommon among the mixture of magic and religion that prevailed in the day.

The book is wonderfully documented, and many of the footnotes in the back provide additional insights. The book also provides sources for certain stories that I have heard circulating in the LDS Church without knowing where they came from. For example, David Whitmer is our source for the story of Joseph Smith being unable to translate while being annoyed at his wife (p. 104).

The chronology of events is occasionally confusing because Bushman discusses everything about the Book of Mormon and then jumps back in time as he treats everything about the organization of the Church, but this is a minor (and probably unavoidable) drawback.
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