Academic journal article Church History

Book Review: Binding Earth and Heaven: Patriarchal Blessings in the Prophetic Development of Early Mormonism

Academic journal article Church History

Book Review: Binding Earth and Heaven: Patriarchal Blessings in the Prophetic Development of Early Mormonism

Article excerpt

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Binding Earth and Heaven: Patriarchal Blessings in the Prophetic Development of Early Mormonism . By Gary Shepherd and Gordon Shepherd . University Park : Pennsylvania State University Press , 2012. xiv + 170 pp. $54.95 cloth.

Book Reviews and Notes

In Binding Heaven and Earth, sociologists Gary and Gordon Shepherd address the question of how heretical new religious movements not only attract but also maintain those who convert. "Exactly what is it that new religions actually do to preserve, and even strengthen, the faith and loyalty of their converted members when faced with concerted opposition to the promulgation of their putatively heretical beliefs and practices?" (3). Taking early Mormonism as their case study, they focus on the theory and practice of patriarchal blessings in early Mormonism (1834-1845). They argue that, although patriarchal blessings were not "the only or single most important commitment mechanism," it was a powerful one for two reasons. First, it enacted key themes in Mormon theology, such as continuing revelation and prophetic guidance, priesthood authority, continuity with the ancient Israelites, and building the kingdom of God on earth; and, second, blessings articulated the import of these beliefs in messages that were personally tailored to the individual.

The co-authors approach the study of new religions with the assumption that successful NRMs cannot be viewed simply "as the product of a single religious prodigy or prophetic oracle," but rather as "the product of an interactive socially creative process" (4, 106). The primary data for their study are chronological compilation of over 750 blessings given by the first three Presiding Patriarchs (Joseph Smith's father, Joseph Sr., and his two brothers, Hyrum and William), which Michael Marquardt collected from a wide range of sources and published in 2007 (70). Over the course of the book, the authors situate the blessings in the context of early Mormon struggles to maintain their members' commitment in the face of conflict and opposition (ch. 2), the emergence of the office of Church Patriarch and the character of the early blessings (ch. 3), the possibilities and limits of the blessings as historical sources (ch. 4), statistical analysis of themes and subthemes in the blessings (ch. 5), gender differences in the blessings (ch. 6), and a comparison of the early blessings with blessings offered today (ch. …

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