Givens and Grown want Parley P. Pratt to be the “apostle Paul of Mormonism.” I am intrigued by this suggestion and think it deserves some attention.
Givens and Grow admit that their are important and obvious differences between Paul and Pratt: Paul was an educated Jew, Pratt a “self-taught back-woodsman”; Paul was a “champion of celibacy,” Pratt a “promulgator of polygamy” (p. 5). For the authors, these differences do not have the weight of certain archetypal similarities, however. Givens and Grow believe both men had (p. 5):
1. “[A] deep sense of the divine importance of their apostolic calling.”
2. “[A] bold, blunt, outspoken style that led to frequent controversies.”
3. Frequent clashes with their religious colleagues: “Paul clashed with Peter, Pratt dissented at times from both Smith and Young.”
4. A religious devotion before their conversion.
5. A deep commitment to their new cause, “driven by a belief in an oncoming millennium.”
Givens and Grow make this comparison, and indeed make it a subtitle to their book, for three stated reasons (pp. 5-8):
1. Paul and Pratt are responsible for systematising and popularising their founder’s teachings. Both thus illustrate a “crucial stage of any new religious movement: the creation, explication, and popularization of a theological system.”
2. Paul and Pratt were tireless proselytizers, contributing to the expansion of their new religions, their stories serving as “a window” onto the early expansion of their faiths and, in some ways, on the intersection of religion and the ordinary people they met.
3. Both Paul and Pratt “reveled in opposition and persecution,” personifying the culture of persecution often present in new religions.
One could focus on where Paul and Pratt differ beyond what Givens and Grow already offer — certainly Paul has ended up being far more influential on human history than Pratt will almost certainly ever be, and Pratt did not offer so radical a turn as Paul (the de-judaizing of Christianity). However, as a frame for telling Pratt’s story, I think it serves a useful purpose: Pratt as writer, missionary, and martyr.
Perhaps the historians can answer this question: what other biographies do we have that tell the tale of “X, the Y of Z”?