Between Pulpit and Pew: The Supernatural World in Mormon History and Folklore

By W. Paul Reeve; Michael Scott Van Wagenen | Go to book overview

8
Walking on Water
Nineteenth-Century Prophets and a Legend of Religious Imposture1

Stanley J. Thayne

“THE BIBLICAL STATEMENT FROM JOHN 4:44, ‘A prophet hath no honor in his own country,’ is certainly true of Joseph Smith.”2 So spoke Charles J. Decker, town historian of Afton, New York, during a lecture sponsored by the Presbytery of Susquehanna Valley in 1977, nearly 150 years after Smith had left the area. Like most of the prophet-leaders who rose out of the millennial fervor of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Joseph Smith faced frequent persecution and was regarded by most of the general population as a fraud.3 Naturally, in reaction to his prophetic claims there developed a wealth of folklore depicting the prophet as a religious impostor

1 An earlier version of this essay was awarded the Juanita Brooks Best Undergraduate Paper at the Mormon History Association’s Annual Conference, Casper, Wyoming, May 2006, and was subsequently published in the Journal of Mormon History 36, no. 2 (Spring 2010): 160–204.

2 Charles J. Decker, “Legends and Local Stories About Joseph Smith, the Mormon,” unpublished paper delivered at the Church History Seminar sponsored by the Presbytery of Susquehanna Valley, Nov. 19, 1977; copy in possession of the author. I would like to acknowledge both Charles Decker and Taylor Hollist for their valuable assistance and eager sharing of documents and research in this project.

3 See J. Taylor Hollist, “Walking-on-Water Stories and Other Susquehanna River Folk Tales about Joseph Smith,” Mormon Historical Studies 6 (Spring 2005), 52.

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