Magazine article The Christian Century

The Mormon Jesus: A Biography

Magazine article The Christian Century

The Mormon Jesus: A Biography

Article excerpt

The Mormon Jesus: A Biography

By John G. Turner

Harvard University Press, 368 pp., $29.95

Four years ago, this book would have piqued the interest of thousands of Americans. We were then living amid "the Mormon Moment." Mitt Romney was pressing to unseat President Barack Obama and become the first Mormon patriarch to occupy the White House. Broadway audiences flocked to The Book of Mormon, which won a host of awards. Mormon Girl, also known as Joanna Brooks, made a guest appearance on The Daily Show where she and Jon Stewart awkwardly discussed religious food traditions. Everyone seemed to love Saratoga Springs, Utah, mayor Mia Love, a Haitian American and a Mormon convert. She almost won a seat in Congress that year. Four years ago, it seemed that anything and everything related to Mormonism was ripe for public picking.

How the times have changed. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints makes national or international news only when its leadership makes a decision or statement against LGBT rights or women's rights. Mia Love actually won a spot in Congress in 2014, but no one seemed excited. In July of that year, a writer for the New York Times announced "the end of the 'Mormon Moment.'" With this changing of the times it's hard to imagine any groups, except for scholars and Mormons themselves, to be curious about historian John G. Turner's new book The Mormon Jesus: A Biography. As far as academic books are concerned, it is fairly good. For exciting, pathbreaking scholarly work, however, one should look elsewhere. And in terms of political or religious flavors of the month, The Mormon Jesus may be expired before it hits the shelves.

Turner meticulously combs through the various ways Mormon Americans have thought about, seen, heard, described, depicted, and worshiped Jesus. Each chapter focuses on a different theme. One examines the place of Jesus in the Book of Mormon ("translated" by Joseph Smith in the late 1820s and first printed in 1830). In another chapter, Turner discusses the visionary experiences of Mormons who claim to have seen Jesus. Other chapters delve into Mormon eschatology, the role of Jesus in temple ceremonies, and why Mormons seem to insist that Jesus was white. The Mormon Jesus is an able scholarly work. Secondary sources are consulted; primary sources are quoted.

Along the way, Turner showcases how Mormonism past and present follows in the line of other Christian traditions, connects with various contexts in American history, and deviates from religious norms and customs. As was the case in Turner's earlier biography of Brigham Young, the author seems most at home when comparing and contrasting Mormonism with American evangelicalism and Christian traditionalism. The Mormon Jesus is less about the role of Jesus in shaping Mormon culture and more about how Mormon conceptions of Jesus stack up against other Christian ones.

The most fascinating chapter of the book, "The Great Bridegroom," examines Mormon discussions of Jesus as husband and parent. Before judging this as yet another example of Mormonism's singular mix of religious symbol and family life, readers may want to remember that in the parable of the ten virgins the bridegroom seems to be Jesus. The church itself is described in Ephesians as the bride of Christ. …

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