- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press (April 25, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674737431
- ISBN-13: 978-0674737433
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 20 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,067,454 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Mormon Jesus: A Biography Hardcover – April 25, 2016
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The Mormon Jesus is an example of excellent Mormon scholarship that can be found from authors outside the faith…A worthy look at the LDS faith. (Doug Gibson Standard-Examiner)
The Mormon Jesus is much more than a treatise on Christology. It is a lively cultural history of how Mormons have thought of Christ from the Book of Mormon to the Hill Cumorah Pageant. Scriptural translations, visions and revelations, temple ceremonies, songs, Sunday school lessons, paintings, sculpture, and poetry all figure in the story of Mormonism’s distinctive Jesus. (Richard Lyman Bushman, author of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling)
The Mormon understanding of Jesus has never been static. This excellent and perceptive history traces the development of Mormon ideas about the Savior through nearly two centuries of history and theology, with those beliefs sometimes coinciding with and sometimes diverging sharply from broader currents of Christian thinking. (Jana Riess, senior columnist for Religion News Service and coeditor of Mormonism and American Politics)
Richly researched and beautifully written, The Mormon Jesus moves far beyond biography to survey the entirety of Mormon history through a focus on the ways that believers see, hear, pray to, and depict Jesus. This groundbreaking new book renders Mormonism as both quintessentially Christian and utterly distinctive.(Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp, author of Setting Down the Sacred Past: African-American Race Histories)
Mormon Jesus is an excellent treatise on the Mormon Christology in its development and current form. It provides a breathtaking overview of Christ in Mormon thought from the pre-Book of Mormon era to the present. Regardless of whether one agrees with Turner’s conclusion―that Mormonism is a non-peculiar, albeit new and unique, branch of Christianity―he provides the field of Mormon studies with a valuable resource that should prove useful for years to come. (Kyle Beshears H-Net Reviews)
About the Author
John G. Turner is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at George Mason University.
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Turner persuasively demonstrates that early Mormonism had much in common with established Christian beliefs. For example, it initially embraced a form of Trinitarianism that was not appreciably different from that of most Protestant churches. Further, the keystone of the Mormon faith—the Book of Mormon—gives little reason to question accepted Christian teachings regarding the relationships among God, Jesus and human beings. Indeed, while early evangelical leaders were quite critical of certain aspects of the Book of Mormon, “none took issue with its descriptions of the Trinity.” (p. 35) But all of this was about to change.
In the years following the publication of the Book of Mormon, the church’s founding prophet, Joseph Smith, introduced Old Testament polygamy, implemented unique temple rituals that borrowed heavily from Freemasonry—an organization that was viewed with considerable suspicion during the 19th century—and placed the Mormon church at the epicenter of the millennium, the arrival of which, according to Smith and his immediate successors, was imminent. This compelled the church to reimagine Christ, prompting several church leaders, for example, to re-interpret the New Testament to support the notion that Jesus was not only married but had multiple wives. Turner notes in several places that Mormons, like the devout of virtually all other religions, sought to create God and His Son in their own image.
When the church was forced by the United States to abandon its theocracy in Utah and disavow plural marriage, it had to reinvent itself. And, in the process, it found it necessary to redefine its understanding of the Savior. As the Mormon Scholar Jan Shipps (who Turner quotes) once observed, the gathering of Israel, the restoration of polygamy, the institution of a theocratic government and a communal economy had enveloped and obscured the Christian core at the center of the Mormon faith. (p. 293)
That effort at reinvention and assimilation with American society, which began shortly after the turn of the 20th century, acquired greater urgency in the face of repeated allegations that Mormonism was not a Christian religion. Turner does a commendable job of illustrating how, throughout this process, the Mormon Church was influenced by American culture and the beliefs and practices of other faiths. But while the Mormon church strove for greater acceptance, it did not apologize for those doctrines—such as its teaching that Christ and His Father are two separate beings, each with a physical, albeit perfect, body—that set it apart from other religions.
Turner does all of this with prose that is both readable and scholarly, and he employs a tone that is fair and balanced, as is beautifully illustrated by the last sentence of his book: “Mormonism is a vibrant new branch of Christianity, one in which temples, ordinances, and prophets have taken their place alongside a Jesus who is both utterly Christian and distinctly Mormon.”
I only have two quibbles with the good professor’s opus. First, I wish the endnotes had been more substantive and that there had been more of them. Second, I was hoping Turner, in his final chapter, would speculate on the next stage in the church’s evolving conception of Jesus Christ as it wrestles with questions of gender equality, new ideas regarding the meaning of "marriage" and "family," and a generation that increasingly questions the need for organized religion. But perhaps that was a bridge too far.
What impressed me about the book is how many direct quotations are included from Smith, Young, James Talmage, and others. You hear the tradition through their words. The LDS is an evolving tradition, with the sense of progressive revelation, and his book documents how some of the more esoteric ideas of Young and Smith have not been continued in the main tradition of the LDS, with some still being followed in the Fundamentalist LDS and the Community of Christ (The Reorganized Group). Most non-Mormons do not know the BOOK of MORMON well, so Turner’s frequent reference to it, how it figures into the presentation of Jesus, is significant.
Events and theological speculations in the life of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and others are compared with other events and theological speculations in American Christian traditions. References to the Church Fathers, medieval mystics, and millenarians of the 18th and 19th centuries provide a richer context for understanding LDS thought in larger American history. One of the areas I found most interesting was the actual physical representation of Jesus developed in the 19th century, and refined by LDS leaders during the 20th century, in particular the adopting of the Christus, created by Thorvaldsen. Also interesting is the connection between Temple rituals, and the way in which the LDS tradition continues aspects of Judaism omitted by the larger Christian Church. The book also details the controversy between Joseph Smith and Alexander Campbell, the connection between the Father and the Son in LDS christology, the development of Temple rituals and comparisons with masonic rites.
I would recommend this well-written book to you if you are interested in learning about his very unique—and not so unique—tradition in American history. He suggests finally that “it no longer makes sense to consider Mormonism a ‘new religion,’ ‘a new world religion,’ or even a ‘new religious tradition,’ if that implies a supersession of or definitive break with Christianity. Instead Mormonism is a vibrant branch of Christianity, one in which temples, ordinances, and prophets have taken their place alongside a Jesus who is both utterly Christian and distinctly Mormon” (294).
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