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The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power Hardcover – December 15, 1994

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

D. Michael Quinn (Ph.D., history, Yale University) is an Affiliated Scholar at the University of Southern California’s Center for Feminist Research. He has been a full-time researcher and writer, a professor of history at Brigham Young University, and a visiting professor of history (2002-03) at Yale. His accolades include Best Book awards from the American Historical Association and the Mormon History Association.

His major works include Early Mormonism and the Magic World ViewElder Statesman: A Biography of J. Reuben Clark, the two-volume Mormon Hierarchy series (Origins of PowerExtensions of Power), and Same-Sex Dynamics among Nineteenth-Century Americans: A Mormon Example. He is the editor of The New Mormon History: Revisionist Essays on the Past and a contributor to American National Biography;Encyclopedia of New York StateFundamentalisms and Society: Reclaiming the Sciences, the Family, and Education; the New Encyclopedia of the American WestUnder an Open Sky: Rethinking America’s Western Past; and others.

He has also received honors—fellowships and grants—from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Henry E. Huntington Library, Indiana-Purdue University, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. In addition, he has been a keynote speaker at the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, the Chicago Humanities Symposium, Claremont Graduate University, University of Paris (France), Washington State Historical Society, and elsewhere, and a consultant for television documentaries carried by the Arts and Entertainment Channel, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the History Channel, and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

 Chapter 1

The Evolution of Authority

Before it was an organization, Mormonism was a private religious awakening in a single family. Born in December 1805, Joseph Smith, Jr., became the most prominent seer in his family. His parents Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack nurtured all their children in a home where the wondrous, mundane, and spiritual commingled.1 In the beginning, their religious activities did not differ dramatically from the experiences of their contemporaries. The impulse which led to founding a church developed gradually as did the structure of that church once it began. Eventually Mormonism became a hierarchical institution with a complex “priesthood” system. Understanding the growing sense of “church” and the increasingly structured view of authority as priesthood is necessary to comprehend the currently elaborate organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


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Product Details

  • Series: Mormon Hierarchy (Book 1)
  • Hardcover: 686 pages
  • Publisher: Signature Books; 1 edition (December 15, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1560850566
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560850564
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 2.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #361,218 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

125 of 135 people found the following review helpful By Missing in Action on September 26, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Every time I read one of Quinn's "monsters," I have to laugh at the shear volume of reference material he cites. He's out of control! And let me be among the first in line to thank him for wading through the tons of materials he has in order to produce this kind of work. He takes a lot of heat from polemicists and apologists alike who fear that his interpretation is somehow threatening to their comfort level regarding their own belief. They criticize his work because they would come to a different conclusion reading what he has read. So...write your own book! This book is Quinn's interpretation, and from my assessment, it's an excellent one.
The book itself is a careful examination of the evolution of the power structure in the Mormon church, taking you from the time when Joseph Smith was just "a charismatic visionary" with a few followers who shared his vision, up until he was annointed "King in Israel," running for President of the United States. Along the way you learn about the creation of the different offices in the priesthood, their quirks and difficulties, and how they all shake out in the end. His chapter on the Theocratic kingdom, with the emphasis on "theocratic ethics," (Quinn's self-coined phrase) is brilliant and illuminating. Additionally, his treatment of the succession crisis following the murder of Joseph Smith is the clearest, most complete explaination I have ever read. I have never been comfortable with the way a new Church President just ascends to office, but when you're done with Quinn's book, the widsom in the system is self-evident.
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38 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Kolby on September 4, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book examines the origin and theology of "power" in the LDS Church.
The term "power" seems a little missleading. What the book is really about is the origin of Mormon "authority." Specifically, this refers to the concept of Mormon "Priesthood," or the "authority" of Mormon leaders to act in the name of God.
The book addresses how Joseph Smith received this authority, what he did with it, and how it helped to shape early Mormon society and theology.
Joseph's traditional account on how he received this authority from God is addressed, as well as the historical problems and evolution of that account over time.
It also explains how this authority became paramount in his theology. How his belief in this authority gave birth to, "theocratic ethics" (i.e. If God says something is right, it doesn't matter what man says), and to Joseph's being ordained King by his secret council of 50.
The book is well written, heavily annotated (typical of Quinn), and important in pointing out revisions to Mormon scripture as Joseph's traditional account became canonized.
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46 of 53 people found the following review helpful By T. Schade on October 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover
For those who haven't read the book, or at least respond as if they haven't, ought to realize that Quinn wrote previous books BEFORE he was excommunicatedand; the tones in those books are identical to the tone in this book. If there is a bias, it is not because he was excommunicated; he was excommunicated after writing, and that wasn't his choice, just as it wasn't his choice to resign from BYU. His point is not to say Mormonsim is false, or wrong; in the same way that early Christianity (catholicism) had an interesting beginning (very pagan, magical, etc.), it does not have to ruin the religion today -- that depends upon the reader.

Re: The March 9 and 10th "Inaccurate" response isn't much at all. It's not apt, and it proves Quinn's point perfectly. As all scholars or students of any field know, outside perspectives are necessary to a historical study, especially tainted or hidden histories (did Smith not say no man knows my history?). To be brief, inside views are naturally biased; to compare xerox machines to religion only comments on the person making the poor analogy. Current Mormons are not the source for historical Mormonism; they are the source for current Mormonism, for practicing their faith and spreading their beliefs. They are a source for the current beliefs, faith, and testimony of Mormonism, as it is seen today. Most mormons do not want to hear about the troubled, problematic past of their religion; those who do, and are comfortable with it, are chastized. A person within a religion, intimately connected, has great trouble being unbiased and unprejudiced, and in most instances, is impossible; but taking an historical view, over a faith view, presents a more objective, more matter-of-fact view, and thus, more trustworthy.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Ashtar Command on November 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"The Mormon Hierarchy" is a two-volume work on the history of Mormonism, written by dissident Mormon D. Michael Quinn. This is the first volume, "Origins of Power". It deals with the time of Joseph Smith and the immediate aftermath. About half of the book consists of notes, references and appendices.

In my opinion, "Origins of Power" is more tedious and less interesting than the second volume, "Extensions of Power", which I have reviewed elsewhere. "Origins" is also a hard read, unless you already know your Mormon history by heart (both the official and the unofficial). I do, but I wouldn't recommend the book to a rookie! I suspect "Origins" is of primary interest to scholars.

Several large sections deal with details concerning the development of the Mormon priesthood. Another chapter expounds on the various factional struggles following Smith's death. The more exciting developments at Nauvoo get comparatively little attention (just one chapter).

Scholarly Mormon-watchers might want to procure both volumes of Quinn's magnum opus, but more casual readers will probably prefer the second volume, "Extensions of Power", which deals with Utah Mormonism from Brigham Young until the 1990's.
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