Invisible Giants: Fifty Americans Who Shaped the Nation but Missed the History Books

By Mark Carnes | Go to book overview

Joseph Smith
[23 DECEMBER 1805–27 JUNE 1844]

If one is not a Mormon believer, then Joseph Smith's success has to be attributed to his extraordinary human qualities. An autodidact and inspired personality, Smith emanated a human force and spiritual intensity that converted and kept loyal to him such extraordinary persons as Brigham Young and Parley Pratt. The mystery of his charisma was and is an enduring fact. Even his own people, he insisted, did not know him, and it is still difficult to apprehend how so much energy of being inhabited a single personality.

Joseph Smith was at once a characteristic American God-seeker of his age and a throwback to the Gnostic and Hermetic visionaries. No other religious imagination of the nineteenth century was as comprehensive and daring as Smith's. Out of Nauvoo came such audacious doctrines as Celestial (plural) Marriage, a new kind of polytheism, and an evolutionary Godhead. Smith contained multitudes: he was as cannily pragmatic as he was visionary, and was both kind and ruthless. A lover of thought and women, Smith's most unique endowment (among American religious founders) was his exuberant good humor and highly developed comic sense.

HAROLD BLOOM

Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known as the Mormon Church, was born in Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont, the son of Joseph Smith, Sr., and Lucy Mack, farmers. Joseph Smith was notable among religious figures for claiming to receive revelations and to translate ancient religious texts. Mormons consider these writings, published as the Doctrine and Covenants and the Book of Mormon, as scripture on a par with the Bible and think of Smith as a prophet in the biblical tradition.

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