I’ve often thought that the food at the Bishop’s Storehouse should be rebranded “Kirtland Select.”
Mark Lyman Staker, Hearken, O Ye People: The Historical Setting of Joseph Smith’s Ohio Revelations (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2009. xlii, 694 pp. Images, maps, chapter notes, bibliography, index, appendices. Cloth: $34.95; ISBN: 978-1589581135. Errata available here.
Mark Staker recently published his history of Kirtland and it is one of the more difficult books that I have ever reviewed. Billed as the context for Joseph Smith’s revelations, Staker leverages his vast familiarity with primary documents in an important volume that will undoubtedly be useful to all students of early Mormonism. Hearken is not, however, an unalloyed success. Just as it has great strengths, there are invariably associated weaknesses.
Staker opens up his volume with a discussion of Black Pete, an early Mormon and former slave. I appreciate the desire to integrate Pete and African-American religion into the context of Mormonism, but I found that the evidence was generally thin and over-extrapolated. Staker appears to have appreciated Taves’ Fits and Trances but the analyses that followed weren’t convincing. This is especially the case with regards to enthusiasm, and glossolalia in particular. Staker claimed that black people were the only tongue-speakers in America from 1800-1850 and that Mormon enthusiasm was directly tied to the influence of early black members. I’d be interested in Staker’s view of the Irvingite enthusiasts who started tongue speaking and healing in 1830 as well (but in Scotland). The Shakers, in particular were documented tongue speakers and tongue singers (just like Brigham and Elizabeth Whitney) and the slaying power was common in all-white settings.
As a researcher at the LDS Historical Department, Staker was deeply involved with the Historic Sites’ archeological investigations at Kirtland. He has poured through documents, Mormon, civil and Campbellite and brings them together in ways that illuminates the doings of early Mormonism in ways previously unappreciated. Importantly, he takes sources antagonistic to Mormonism seriously. Still, I don’t understand why Staker used the History of the Church uncritically, sometimes quoting it as if it were Joseph Smith’s words. Inexplicably, there are a few references to Teachings of the Prophet for Nauvoo sermons and I found one reference to McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine to explain a 1832 era doctrine. Fresh transcriptions of Utah sermon shorthand added some interesting new depth; however, there was no criticism of these sources either. Generally, however, source use is judicious. For example, the discussions of the communal Morley farm and the extended section on the Kirtland Safety Society are excellent. An example of paired strengths and weakness is the explication of the first endowment in Mormonism–the June 1831 conference. Staker synthesizes the various sources and richly describes the dynamics of priesthood and enthusiasm in early Mormonism. In doing so, however, Staker misses equally important connections with charisma the later temple endowment of power (liturgy in general is barely treated in the volume). He also ignores controversy over angelic priesthood ordination (see, e.g., Bushman) and office ambiguity.
Staker repeatedly emphasizes the Stone-Campbell movement and appropriately highlights important relationships between it and Mormonism. As stated, this dynamic has been under-appreciated; but this context is often to the exclusion of other Antebellum Christian movements. Methodism of all sorts in particular gets short-shrifted. Moreover, in at least one case, Staker completely misreads Campbell’s writings–his discussion of “The Vision.” Campbell wrote about three kingdoms of God; but only one was a heavenly kingdom (the others were the ancient kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Christ on earth as represented in Campbell’s view of true religion).
Staker’s observations are frequently systematic and exhaustive. At the risk of hypocrisy (a reviewer of a recent article which I co-authored responded simply: “this is a small book”), I often approached exhaustion myself in observing. There are frequently large tangents and pages detailing points which will likely not seem important to many readers. As such, for the topics treated, this book will be the starting point for decades of research. But I found it odd that what I view to be some of the most important revelations found very little setting. That said, I did glean some wonderful bits along the way, which I surely wouldn’t have otherwise found.
This work is especially strong in economic matters and Kirtland communitarianism. Every once in a while, Staker made a claim that left me scratching my head (e.g., no seer stones were used to translate after the nominal 116 pages were lost) and a few comments were stridently devotional. However, I generally found Staker insightful, even handed and scholarly. This volume will also hopefully lay to rest some prevalent folklore (e.g., Symonds Ryder’s orthographic apostasy and the whole china grinding for the temple). It is difficult for me to imagine who the intended audience of this volume is beyond the standard historiographically obsessed set; but maybe that is who it is for. Hearken is finely constructed and represents a step up for Kofford Books. Plus, there are Hameric maps.