Shipps' interpretation works with what she terms a "foundational tripod" (p.xiii)
Taken together these first three chapters [of the book, RCK] describe what may be thought of as a foundational tripod, a metaphorical support unit composed of prophetic figure, scripture and experience---Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the corporate life of the early Saints. ... Accounts that focus attention more or less exclusively on Joseph Smith or one of the other "legs" of the tripod fail to provide an adequate explanation .... (p.xiii)
To be more precise, in the LDS histories adopted as authoritative by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the ancient Judeo-Christian past is set forth as the background of Mormonism. Brigham H. Roberts and Joseph Fielding Smith, who wrote the most important official accounts of the Mormon past, both begin the LDS story with the foundation of the world. Their timelines move forward through a series of "dispensations" from Adam to Noah, Noah to Abraham, Abraham to Moses, and Moses to John the Baptist. (p.2)The "dispensation of the meridian of time" is the ministry of Jesus Christ, followed about 300 years later by the "Great Apostasy" which plunged the Church into darkness for a millenium and a half (p.2).
A new "dispensation of the fulness of times" opened with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon (which meant the reopening of the Judeo-Christian canon), the reintroduction of prophetic leadership for the people of God, the re-formation of the Church of Jesus Chris, the restoration of the priesthoods of Aaron and Melchizedek, and the gathering of the Saints. (p.2)The nineteenth century critics of Mormonism inverted this "light-into-darkness" model and accused the Church of blinding its believers to reality and pushing them back into the dark ages of superstition and gullibility (p.3). On top of this, the context of American Jacksonian Democracy was used to make the hierarchical organization of the church appear old-fashioned and out-of-touch with the "halcyon days" of the early republic (p.3).
Shipps insists that the facts of LDS history do not speak for themselves.
It is as important to remember that the very same descriptions of the very same events can take on radically different meanings when they are placed in different settings as it is to keep in mind that "inside" and "outside" perceptions of what was happening differed at practically every point in LDS history. (p.4)[[The brief sketch of Joseph Smith's life that Shipps offers (pp.4-5) is negligent in pointing out just how wealthy Steven Mack was, and how good an economic start the Smith Sr family had, even up to and including New Hampshire and the typhoid epidemic. RCK]]
But Joseph and Lucy were unable to prevent the drift that carried the Smith family away from the solid center of respectability toward the fringes of polite society. (p.6)
[In Palmyra and Manchester, RCK] as landless settlers, they were easily relegated to marginal status. (p.6)Their religious orientation was those of seekers, not affiliated with any denomination, and at the same time involved in the magical substratum of the time.
As did the religious lives of many of their forebears, the religious lives of people like the Smith family held in suspension both a reliance on magic and the occult arts, and a thoroughgoing acceptance of the truth of the claims set out in the Judeo-Christian scriptures. (p.7)Shipps argues that the religious climate of the family which provided Joseph Smith's vision accounts with their first acceptance and support cannot be underrepresented (pp.8-9).
For Shipps argument, the order of first-vision (1820?), finding of seer-stone on Willard Chase's farm (1822), Moroni revelation (1823), and recovery of the plates and the Urim and Thummim (1827), is important to the argument (p.11).
... all of the family members extended such assistance as they could manage to further the work of the one of their number through whom they believed God had started to speak anew to their generation. (p.12)Shipps points out that no only Emma Hale (p.12), but also Martin Harris, Joseph Knight Sr of Colesville, Oliver Cowdery, and members of the Peter Whitmer family, supported the "gold bible" effort (p.13).
These were all persons who not only came to believe that Joseph had gold plates, but also to accept his claim that the plates were actually a book whose text contained the fulness of the gospel that would lead to salvation. (p.13)Shipps correctly points out that the plates seemed to have no role in the translation process (p.13), and that the seer stone or Urim & Thummim was the key to the translation process (p.14).
Shipps points out that the story with Harris taking the copied hieroglyphics to Samuel L. Mitchill of Rutgers and Charles Anthon of Columbia College (p.15) to Joseph Smith Jr was a fulfillment of the Isaiah 29 prophecy, that a sealed book would inaugurate a marvelous work and wonder (p.15).
Shipps attributes key importance to the loss of the first 116 pages by Martin Harris around the time of the first baby of Emma and Joseph being born (p.16), and the arrival of the angel to take away the plates and the Urim and Thummim for interpreting them (p.17). Shipps points to the odd lacuna between the revelation of how to proceed in July and the actual return of the plates September 22nd, 1828. To her Joseph Smith spent the summer "laboring with his hands upon a small farm" as a contemplative exercise (p.18), structurally akin to the retrospective phase of Jesus in the Wilderness (p.19).
By February 1829, Smith Jr was back at translating and revealing to his father a role in the work (p.19). The process of retrospective had clarified his thinking, and a new revelation explained the program of the coming religious tasks [= D&C 5]. [[Unfortunately, Shipps' analysis of the "first translate, then prophesy" is marred by the fact that the D&C was retroactively edited to turn a singular gift into a sequence of gifts, as D. Michael Quinn has pointed out. RCK]] In this context (p.20), the relationship with former patron Martin Harris, who probably had supported Smith since 1824, also was elucidated (p.20).
This process of clarification took until March 1829 (p.20), but with April 7th, 1929, and the arrival of Oliver Cowdery, the process of translation seriously took off, and the book, 600 pages, was completed by the beginning of 1830. The relationship between Smith Jr and Cowdery was sorted out by three more revelations, which solidified Cowdery's role as scribal non-translator but predicted contributing to the larger work (p.21).
Shipps tries to convey the excitement that was building in the small circle of supporters at the expectation of a new dispensation of the fulness of times (p.22).
However, the ground still needed to be prepared for a church with a doctrinal program (p.23), and this required the completion of the Book of Mormon translation; the authentication of its translation through witnesses of the golden plates; and the preparation of the theological ground for the church (p.23).
These conditions were fulfilled rapidly: In the summer of 1829, while the translation was being finished, two sets of witnesses---Cowdery, Harris and David Whitmer in the three witnesses, five Whitmers plus Hyrum and Samuel and Joseph Sr Smith for the eight witnesses---attested to their experiences with the Golden Plates (p.23). On May 15th, 1829, the Levitical or Aaronitic priesthood was restored to Smith and Cowdery, "making baptism under a new and everlasting covenant possible" (p.23).
In the Beginning
In her summary of the Book of Mormon, Shipps points out how the loss of civilization of the Lamnites was tied to their loss of institutional memory (p.26).
With access neither to history nor genealogy [one of the key objects that Lehi brought from Jerusalem on brass plates, RCK], in time the Lamnites---for whom, say the words, American Indians are descended---would forget their heritage as children of the wandering Aramean who went down to Egypt long ago. (p.26)Initial reactions to the book saw it as a romance, a heresy (e.g. Diedrich Willers, (p.174 Fn 2)) (p.26), or indeed as a translation from ancient records (p.27). Shipps reminds us that "all truth claims are potentially divisive", and that from the get-go the Book of Mormon called into a decision of whether it was genuine or false (p.27).
Though the veracity of the Book of Mormon has been asserted in numerous ways, including the different literary styles of the authors, and the complete absence of interest in liberty and the political process (p.28). But the real reason that the book could function this way, becoming more than a mere book by its religious role (p.29), was due to the underlying assumptions about the Bible (p.29).
The work that Smith said he translated from records engraved on gold plates presented itself as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy to a world wherein the Bible was still culturally defined as an undoubtedly authentic record of actual events involving real people, a record whose prophetic predictions would be literally fulfilled. (p.29)
... Americans in the 1830s generally regarded the Bible as the actual "stick of Judah" to which, so Ezekiel had said, the "stick of Joseph" would someday be joined. Hence, when people credited the Mormon claim that the Book of Mormon was the "stick of Joseph in the hand of Ephraim", the work took on a biblical character for them. (p.29)The logic of the matter was that if one accepted the contents of the book, then the process by which Joseph Smith Jr had received equally was acceptable at face value (p.29). And there were slots in the Biblical narrative for many of these conceptions, e.g. Moroni as the angel of Revelation 14:6 (p.30).
Shipps now leverages the work of James B. Allen to point to the first traces of the canonization of the Mormon history by looked at the way the first vision, which had originally been reported in 1838 for the first time (p.30), moved to the central locus of the narrative in the 20th century (p.31), also establishing the duality of personhood of the Father and the Son (p.32) en passant. Shipps believes that Allen showed that the vision helped the Mormon leadership after the generation switch between those leaders who knew Smith and those who did not to keep alive the memory of Joseph Smith Jr (p.32). Shipps points out the problematic aspects of fronting the First Vision in this way.
Doing so almost always leads to an oversimplification of the cultural situation into which Mormonism || irrupted. (pp.32-33)More specifically:
- "It ... suggests that a more or less complete theological system was revealed to Joseph Smith in embryo, hiding the dynamism of the developmental process by which Mormonism's present theological system evolved. " (p.33)
- "It obscures the centrality of the story of the appearances of Moroni and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and, as a result, also obscures the extent to which Mormonism, through its demonstration that divinity had not ceased direct intercourse with humanity at the end of the apostolic age, responded to the concerns of the inhabitants of the biblical culture out of which it emerged." (p.33)
- "Most important, telling the story the modern way tends to take the Book of Mormon away from the limelight, making Joseph Smith the focal point of the Mormon story. Whether intended or not, this has the effect of making Smith's spiritual experience serve to legitimate the Book of Mormon." (p.33)
[[But the question is whether that was not always the case; with the burning in the heart of the translator; with the ways in which Smith could replace prior revelations with later revelations, e.g. regarding marriage; it really just pushes the emphasis from the spiritual experience of his translator role to the experience of his revelator role. RCK]]
Such a shift to a charismatic origin obscures the historical fact that it was the Book of Mormon that then attracted people to the Church (p.33).
Shipp then reminds us not to over-focus on the "burnt-over" situation in Western New York.
The situation throughout the union was unsettled and things were extremely fluid in this period where all America seemed to be streaming westward after || the Revolution. A new physical universe was there to contend with. A new and somewhat uncertain political system existed and Americans had to operate within it. The bases of social order were in a state of disarray, and as a result of the nation's having cut its ties with England and her history, a clear lack of grounding in the past was evident. (pp.33-34)Shipps also points to the rise of skepticism and direct contention between the denominations.
That uncertainty placed in jeopardy the religious dynamics that for centuries---through formal or informal catechizing----had passed from one generation to the next a body of unquestioned information about divinity, humanity, the system of right relationships that created the social order, and the nature of experience after death. (p.34)To this situation, there were a plurality of responses, one of which was the development of an "anti-creedal sola scriptura movement", American primitivism, in the style of Alexander Campbell, Elias Smith, James O'Kelly, Barton Stone, and the great revivals, with reference to A Shopkeeper's Millenium by Paul Johnson (p.34).
Both of these Christian revitalization thrusts were, at base, conservative and reintegrating [with the "post-Reformation Christianity brought from Europe to America" (p.35), RCK]. (p.34)Mormonism was initially like a primitivist response, which is why it appealed to Campellites (p.35).
It drew, however, on so many elements other than the Judeo-Christian tradition that its adherents were not reintegrated into traditional Christianity but quite the reverse. (p.35)[[Which is just fine with Mormons, since that fixes the "Great Apostasy" in their view. RCK]]
The Mormonites ... moved ... into the new dispensation of the fullness of times ... by accepting a complex set of religious claims that brought speculation about the origin of the American Indian and America's place in the grand scheme of things into synthesis with the story of the Hebrews, generally as redacted by New Tes- || tament writers .... (pp.35-36)Thus was formed a new mythology that gave rise to social, institutional, ritual, liturgical and doctrinal innovation, leading to a new religious tradition (p.36).
Shipps explains this by reference to the work of John S. Dunne, Time and Myth, on the connection between world story and mankind story (p.36).
People live inside stories, as it were. Consequently, when the reliability of the story of the world is questioned, the result is confusion in individual lives. (p.36)And the crisis was there:
Although it took a very long time for the fundamental questions that were introduced during the Reformation and Enlightenment to trickle down to the popular level, as Gordon Wood has shown, they had started to penetrate every aspect of American popular culture in Joseph Smith's generation. [= Gordon Wood, Evangelical America and Early Mormonism] (p.36)
The evangelical thrust that radically altered American Christianity during the period of the Second Great Awakening made religious authority subject to the democratic process, while skepticism questioned the basis of religious authority altogether. A dramatic weakening of the link between the story of the world told in Christian terms and the story of individual American lives was the outcome. (p.36)As a response to the feeling that the heavens had "turned to brass" and the voice of God would no longer be heard in the land, as Brigham Roberts and Joseph F. Smith phrased it (p.37) (p.177 Fn 28), the Book of Mormon was helpful.
But the new scripture was even more vulnerable to hard questions about its history and its || historicity than the Old and New Testaments, whose authority was under attack from skeptics and deists. (p.37)This made the Book of Mormon by itself insufficient, but coupled with the prediction of its prophet, Joseph Smith Jr (p.37), it was more plausible.
As prophet, Smith turned these predictions into actualities. They validated the book and vice versa. (p.37)It was only as the union of the live of the prophet and the book that the
... link between a Hebrew-Christian understanding of the story of the world and the personal lives of the prophet and the people who became his followers (p.37)could be established (p.37). Shipps believes that the plurality of roles ascribed to Smith Jr in revelations, such as "to be a translator, a revelator, a seer, and a prophet" (p.37) served to fill out the multiple positions identified in the Old Testament "deliverer (Moses), military commander (Joshua), prophet (Isaiah), high priest (Eli), king (Solomon)" (p.37) as well as the New of "church founder (Peter) and apostle to the Gentiles (Paul)" (p.37) in one fell swoop (p.37).
Shipps points out that this "renewal through replication" was a process that the Church continued to apply which "gave the Saints a particular perspective on the biblical past and a literal understanding of what happened in ancient times" (p.38).
... in proposing that Smith's story is best understood in the context of his sequential assumption of positions/roles that allowed the Saints to recover a usable past, it suggests a way of shifting the focus. (p.38)
The result is a picture of a seer who, in becoming a "translator" (not only of a "new testament of Jesus Christ" but of the Old and New Testament as well), made the biblical story meaningful and accessible to a doubting generation; a prophet who spoke for God, comforting his people and gathering them into a community so that the Lord could protect them as a hen protects her chickens under her wing; a revelator who called both church and temple into being; a presiding elder who was instrumental in bringing his people into institutional relationship with each other; a high priest whose words and actions harnessed spiritual energies to produce a physical temple where the "ordinances of the Lord" could be performed; and a king whose leadership made possible the organization of the political kingdom of God. (p.38)This approach is no silver bullet but gives an overall clarifying framework.
... it reveals the movement as one in which leader and followers were together living through---recapitulating---the stories of Israel and early Christianity. (p.38)
Operating together, these components [i.e. "the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith's prophetic leadership, and the experience of the Saints" (p.39), RCK] brought this new religious tradition into being, reopening the canon and bringing God back into the history of the Saints in such a substantial way that within Mormonism, divinity is still as real as all the other realities of everyday existence. (p.39)
History as TextShipps rightly points out that the renegotiation of societal order as the proper identification of the responsibilities and relationships of the societal actors---what Shipps terms "cultural chaos"---lie at the root of all great religious movements (p.42).
[The voices of the great religious founders] ... were all first heard in troubled times and places in which new peoples, new ideas, or new methods of organizing political and economic life had so severely disturbed the traditional network of right relationships that chaotic situations obviously existed. (p.42)New religions generate new ordered universes of meaning (p.42).
In a manner never easy to determine precisely, the inhabitants of the several cultures under stress came to accept the messages spoken or written by the prophets or enlightened ones as absolutely reliable information that, by extension, could answer all imaginable questions and provide solu- || tions to problems that had appeared insoluble. (pp.42-43)The documentation of early Mormonism and its setting vastly exceeds anything we have for the ancient world, the existence of conflicting data hampers the investigation (p.43). This leads to a plurality of stories--first and second hand witnesses, apostate and long-time critics, etc---that are not easily unified (p.44).
In analyzing the relationship between early Mormonism and early Christianity, with its self-witnessed paradoxical event at the core, Shipps unpacks dimensions of analysis in a particular order, focusing on the mythological rather than the experiential, doctrinal (p.45), or sociological (p.46).
As the Christian story is neither simply a reinterpretation nor continuation of the Hebraic-Judaic story, so the Mormon story departs significantly from the story of Abraham and the histories of Israel and Christianity as those stories are understood by Christians and Jews. (p.46)Shipps then sorts out the use of the terms "church, denomination, sect and cult" (p.47) arguing against any pejorative use of these terms and providing short definitions for them.
- "... the term church will be used to refer specifically to institutions that assume direct responsibility for the whole of a tradition's story: for proclaiming it, keeping it alive through liturgy and ritual, and transmitting it from one generation to another; for preserving the story's integrity through canonization and systematic doctrinal statement; and for drawing from it pat- || terns, examples, and principles that will insure the arrangement of a network of right relationships within the community, will prescribe the proper relationships to maintain with the world outside, and will serve as the basis for an ethical code." (pp.47-48)
- "Denomination also refers to an institution, one that is by and large a subdivision of a church, the more inclusive term. Denominations likewise bear responsibility for a tradition's story, but as a result of their various histories, the different denominations within a tradition preserve the story in distinct ways, emphasizing some things and neglecting others." (p.48)
- "Sects refer to groups that coalesce around a leader or leaders who find themselves in disagreement with ecclesiastical authorities over matters that manifest themselves as concern about ritual and liturgy, institutional structure, the pattern of relationships within and without the community, or the nature of the authentic spiritual experience, but are matters ultimately rooted in disagreement over interpretation of a tradition's story and the implications following therefrom." (p.48)
- "Cult, by contrast, refers to a group that coalesces around a leader who mounts a challenge to the fundamental integrity of a tradition's story by adding to it, subtracting from it, or by changing it in some more radical way than merely setting out a new interpretation of the events and happenings in the existing story." (p.48)
Churches and denominations are more part of the culture, while sects and cult create a counter-culture defined by an "alternative symbolic universe" (p.48).
[Sects and Cults, RCK] ... are similar in the makeup of their membership, in their appeal to the disinherited (whether relatively or absolutely deprived), and in their tendency to become millenarian/millennial movements. Yet sects and cults stand in opposition to the world on different grounds ... || ... [as] a sect grows out of disagreement about how a tradition's story ought to be understood, i.e. over interpretation, while a cult's antagonistic stance rests on acceptance of a story changed in its essentials .... (pp.48-49)Shipps briefly reviews some well-known sects, and identifies Pharisaic Jews, Seventh-Day Adventists and Christian Scientists (pp.49-50), while of the cultic movements, "only Christianity and Mormonism are now full-scale religious traditions" (p.50). Believers will turn the question of why into an ontological argument, proving by the existence that the movement is "of God" (p.50). Shipps has no new model to add to the existing bag, rather wishing to focus (p.50) on the question of how the internal workings of Mormonism played out as the cult turned religious tradition (p.51).
The majority of religious movements in America were tied together by the common thread of the European Christian experience, the religious history of Europe, which chained the Jews to the New Testament as well, as the aggressors against Jesus (p.51).
Latter-day Saints, however, were not tied to the ministry of Jesus and the world of the early church through the history of Christianity in Europe. Theirs was a different past. (p.51)Because the theory of the Great Apostasy had truncated some 1,400 to 1,800 years out of the Mormon history, the only history they had left was the history of the New and Old Testament (p.51).
This huge hiatus meant that parallels between their experiences and experiences described in the Bible came so naturally to the Saints .... (p.51)
Yet, the profound historylessness of early Mor- || monism cannot be satisfactorily explained entirely in terms of the Saints' conscious rejection of the institutional history of Christianity. (p.52)Shipps then tries to argue that the Mormon replication was "not conscious ritual re-creation of events, but rather experiential "living through" of sacred events in a new age" (p.52).
Although it seemed strange and even dangerous in the modern world of nineteenth-century America, this activity allowed the Saints to recover their own past, their own salva- || tion history, which, despite its similarity to words and acts, places and events in the biblical stories of Israel's history and the history of Christianity, was the heilsgeschichte of neither Christian nor Jew. (pp.52-53)Shipps is trying to argue that past and future must be both made anew for all new religious movements, including the early Christians, whose interpretation of Jesus as the Messiah effectively created a separate past from the Jewish past (p.53).
In both cases, Christianity and Mormonism, there is a claim of the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible having been fulfilled (p.53), Jesus having been foretold by Isaiah, and the Book of Mormon as the "stick of Joseph in the hand of Ephraim" by Ezekiel (p.53).
By recognizing this structural parallel, and by paying close attention to what happened as the early Christian saints appropriated a vision of Israel's past that could be ritually re-created to serve as meaningful background to the Christian story, .... (p.53)Shipps wants to show how the Mormon story acquired its new background story (p.53).
Shipps points to the recapitulation of the Jewish story in Acts 7 as an exemplar of the type of argument that the early Christians must have made all the time (p.54). Shipps thinks that Hebrews may even be the most powerful example of re-imagining the Jewish past (p.54).
Shipps then points out the way in which specific stories in the New Testament can be interpreted as recapitulations of the Jewish past, including John the Baptists as the new Elijah; Jesus spending as many days in the wilderness as the Israelites did years; twelve apostles for the twelve tribes; etc. (p.55)
[[Some examples are less convincing, e.g. the story of Mary and the virgin birth forming a parallel to the Samuel story; Joseph and Mary fleeing to Egypt like the Israelites did; etc. RCK]]
So delineated, the activities by which the early Christians appropriated Israel's pat, made it an integral part of their ritual and liturgical life, and used it as the foundation for the development of a new religious tradition appear more spontaneous than calculated, more open than esoteric, more transparent than opaque. (p.55)But the illumination of the Mormon early history indicates that the complexity of analysis applied has been wanting (p.56).
... Mormonism's ritual re-creation of the stories of Israel and Christianity rests not only on theological reinterpretation, but on a recapitulation of biblical events much more complex than scholars have heretofore recognized. (p.56)Shipps points out that the ordering of the elements is non-chronological, that the revelation of a book about the history from before Europeans came to America copies the discovery of the book written by Moses in the time of King Josiah in the Old Testament (p.58), which is however immediately followed by the restoration of the Aaronic priesthood [which occurs earlier in the OT, RCK] and the establishment of the "Church of Christ" [which is in the NT, RCK].
A temple modeled on the pre-exilic temple of Solomon's day was constructed in Kirtland, but in the initial ceremonies conducted there, the Christian ordinance of washing of the feet was introduced. (p.58)Analyzing the visionary experience of Joseph Smith Jr and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland temple, when they stepped behind the veil, what happens is a collage of an Old Testament Jehova epiphany (p.58), the presence of Christ in Revelation-style language (p.59), and the meeting of Jesus with Moses, Elijah and Elias (Mt 17) (p.59).
[[It is not clear to me that Joseph Smith Jr's death failed to unify the Mormons, rather it exacerbated the divisions that were already present with respect to polygamy. (p.59) RCK]]
Clearly the death of Joseph caused a schism in the Mormon community. Shipps analyzes that schism as follows:
For the former [= RLDS, RCK], Mormonism ever afterward took on the character of primitive Christianity that it had in the very beginning. For the latter, the prophet's observation that he was "going as a lamb to slaughter" apparently suggested suffering servant more than crucified messiah, Israel more than early Christianity, since his death turned these Latter-day Saints away from New Testament stories to an even more elaborate and direct reprise of Old Testament times. (p.59)[[Here, we have to decisively disagree. As if the restoration of the priesthoods and the Solomonic temple had not been OT enough, and the language of crushing one's enemies under foot, the introduction of polygamy, which has no foothold in the NT, pushed the OT focus already over the top. RCK]]
Shipps is right that the mythology of the trek to Utah was heavy with Israelite recapitulations, including feeding miracles and dry-foot crossings of the ice river (p.60), but that imagery only shows that the Saints were then already thinking in OT terms, not that this was then they began (p.60). The whole debate about the militant "Kingdom of God" question belongs here as well (p.60).
Shipps knows and argues that plural marriage entered Mormonism at Kirtland (p.61); which makes her insisting that the OT focus hails from Nauvoo doubly odd.
All were part of a latter-day recapitulation of the ancient Patriarchal Age, which in the Bible, is separated from the kingdom-building of David and Solomon by a great span of years and which, in Mormonism, is analytically distinct from the creation of the political kingdom of God. This means that a literal plurality of wives was one of the main elements figuring in the Saints' recapitulation of the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph ... (p.61).Shipps tries to argue that the plurality of marriage revelation recorded in 1843, D&C 132, reflects Smith Jr's distinction of two ages of Israelite History, by separating Abraham, Isaac and Jacob on the one hand from Moses, David and Solomon on the other hand, who represent the time of the conquest of Canaan and the establishment of the Israelite kingdom (p.62). [[The problem of course is that no other wives for Isaac are recorded than Rebecca, and no concubines with offspring either. RCK]]
Shipps argues that with the relationships between Utah and the United States, the experience of Babylon as exile had also been experienced (p.62), thus filling the available slots in the Hebrew history (p.63).
With Zion and Babylon come to terms, the past was filled up. Complete. (p.63)Henceforth, there could only be re-interpretation and ritual re-enactment (p.63). The return to Salt Lake City, for example, on July 24th, from the US government imposed exile, is now a festival (p.64). This impulse has powered the restoration of Kirtland, Nauvoo and other sites of the Mormon experience (p.64). Thus, modern Mormon history begins with Abraham and includes the pioneers of the Utah settlement (p.64).
... accounts of Mormon history that reflect the experience of the Saints themselves consolidate and reshape the vision of Old and New Testaments in much the same way that accounts of the experience of the early Christian community consolidated and reshaped Israel's story. (p.65)
Reformation and Restauration
Shipps now turns to the problem of working out in more detail how Mormonism is a restoration religion (p.68), pointing out that Christianity was itself a restoration movement of Judaism (p.68). Like all religious traditions including Christianity, Mormonism was derivative and synthetic, and not limited to the scriptures whose interpretation it was restoring for its fodder, but also looking to its context of discovery (p.68).
Shipps postulates that radical restoration movements are a general feature of history (p.69), but requires a clear theoretical framework to make the objects of study appear (p.69).
By their very nature radical restoration claims are exclusive: they admit no alternative versions of truth. ... they issue up in times of confusion when the worldview marketplace is crowded with contenders for primacy .... (p.69)
... multiple belief systems about and ... cultural and religious disorder is aggravated by the shifting of the social, political and economical bases on which society has long rested .... (p.70)The gift of the restoration is to return to that point in time when relationships were straightforward, understood and ordered (p.70).
... restoration claims [when "accepted wholeheartedly" (p.70), RCK] banish confusion and make possible the passage from chaos to cosmos, settling with unassailable authority the tumultuous questions which at once generated and reflected the chaos. (p.70)
They offer believes persuasive explanations allowing them to determine which of several belief systems they ought to adopt, which of several religious institutions is legitimate, which rituals and ordinances are necessary and proper, and which human beings possess authority to speak and act for divinity. (p.70)These descriptions are propositions, and some community needs to accept them as their interpretations and act accordingly.
... the study of restoration movements calls for investigation of the process by which believers transform restoration claims into objective facts and operating principles. (p.70)Shipps recommends to reconstruct this process at the level of the community, not so much at the level of the rebirth of the individual (p.70) [[in language heavily influenced by Mircea Eliade, RCK]].
Instead of starting over as little children, the pristine community of belief enters collectively into a new world. Because restoration claims postulate a return to an original situation, their immediate effect on the community that accepts them is, as will be shown in chapter six, the obliteration of history and the regeneration of time. (p.71)
... as they are the first to perceive and react, their perception of and response to the restoration sets this group, which "once again at the beginning", apart from those who follow them in faith. (p.71)
The experience of the original group becomes profoundly important in that ... their belief makes the beginning of the restoration possible. Consequently, their acceptance itself becomes in time, a part of the original set of restoration claims. (p.71)The first acceptance becomes a paradigmatic act that can be replicated ad infinitum, as a chain of restorations, across time.
New believers banish cultural and religious confusion by coming to accept ... the reality of the restoration. (p.71)Shipps then wishes to distinguish the radical, discontinuous restoration movements from those that are primarily reformative, re-interpretative or revitalizing (p.71). Reformation harkens back to a past where the necessary information is already available within the tradition (p.72).
Radical restoration involves a changing of the means of, or the reopening of, communication between divinity and humanity. In that sense and for that reason, it breaks through the ongoingness of experience, tearing across history's seamless web to provide humanity with a new world wherein God is actively involved. (p.72)Shipps reminds us that the switching between restoration movements, as both the recruitment from Campbellites and the various apostasies demonstrate, and underscores the similarity between Alexander Campbell and Joseph Smith Jr, for example (p.72).
Both groups accepted the fathership of Abraham and both accepted the Sinaitic Covenant. The members of both groups believed that their was the true church, organized according to what they took to be the pattern laid down in the apostolic age; and both groups stood on the simple principles of faith, repentance and baptism for the remission of sins. (p.72)Yet the decisive difference between Mormonites and Campbellites turns out to be the very difference between reformation and radical restoration. Campbell offered what he considered rational arguments in his Millenial Harbringer, drawing upon the scriptures for support (p.72); while the Book of Mormon offers radical restoration, tying together the history of the Indians and the Europeans, of Jesus and the Northern Kingdom, thus making the coming forth of the Book of Mormon "the preeminent event toward which all history had been tending, at least since the Resurrection" (p.73).
Shipps then points out that by starting the church with the restoration of the Aaronic priesthood on the one hand the renewed sending out of apostles to preach repentance, the church had laid an OT/NT foundation that was "contrapuntal" (p.74). When the church was organized on April 6th, 1830, it was structurally modelled on the Apostolic Church of Acts, akin to Alexander Campbell's Disciples of Christ, but had literal prophetic leadership superimposed on it (p.75).
Melodie Moench had shown to Shipps' satisfaction, that early Mormonism continued to interpret Israel mostly through the lenses of St Paul and the authors of the synoptic gospels (p.75). However, Shipps sees the difference therein that the Mormon plan for the fullness of time includes not only a restoration of the church, but the restoration of Israel thereafter (p.75).
[[This claim is only weakly worked out; it is doubtful that Alexander Campbell would not have expected a restoration of Israel. It is the millennial character of early Mormonism that pushes that characteristic into view, not the difference in their perception of Israel. RCK]]
Clearly that led to theological tension (p.76).
Without a doubt, this tension was heightened by the difficulty engendered by the need to mesh a belief in a literal restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods and, more important, an open canon and the leadership of a living prophet into an ecclesiastical organization whose blueprint was the one set out in the Book of Acts. (p.76)
Entrance thereunto [the new church, RCK] required repentance, baptism by immersion, and so on, but also the administration of ancient ordinances not described in the New Testament, but a part of those "plain and precious things" that the Mormons believed were left out when the New Testament scriptures were published to the world. (p.77)Shipps point out that both Paul's letter to the Galatians as well as to the Romans lend themselves both to figurative and to literal interpretations of a connection to Israel, esp. when read in the light of Isaiah and Ezekiel (p.77). Shipps points to Romans 4, Romans 11 and Galatians 3:7 as an example configuration in this regard.
Shipps points out that DePillis investigation showed that what made early converts convinced of the validity of the message was the restoration of the Aaronic priesthood as a form of return of authority (p.78). And of course to many it appeared as synonymous with Apostolic christianity (p.79).
Shipps briefly discusses how D&C 29 with its talk of the gathering of the elect and the expectation of a new heaven and earth, after the consumption of the old (p.80), "appropriated Old Testament concepts by way of the New Testament reappropriation of those concepts" (p.81) The revelation to go to Ohio almost uses Exodus patterns in describing the move, which Shipps interprets as a move toward a literal identification with Israel rather than a figurative one (p.81). Shipps also interprets the "translation" work that Joseph Smith Jr started doing on the Old Testament as a part of the process of sorting out the relationship between Mormonism and ancient Israel (p.81). Shipps then makes a lot of the Kirtland temple, pointing out that it was no typical New England meetinghouse [[neither was it a temple like in Nauvoo, it was an intermediary, and it was a stop-gap measure because the Missouri Zion had not worked out, RCK]] (p.82).
Shipps dates the patriarchical blessing, which ties the individual into the Abrahamitic lineage, into the Kirtland time (p.83), and combines it with the beginning of the endowments, and with the doctrine of plural marriage, thus indicating "literal connections with Israel" at that time already (p.83).
Shipps however believes that the RLDS is the part of the Mormon Church that maintained the figurative connection to Israel, rather than the literal, and pooh-poohs the difference being polygamy (p.85).
[[I think this part of her argument needs work. I find the few sections that Shipps has cited largely unconvincing that Joseph Smith Jr saw the Mormons themselves as the new Israel, rather that Zion was to be built up to bring down Israel from the Lamnites and from the polar caps and restore it. The Saints never wanted to be the Israelites, though the may have wanted to have access to their prophetic capability, their temple and the multiple marriages. But they wanted in an indirected, mediated way, not by becoming Israel. RCK]]
Jan SHIPPS, Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition, Urbana -- Chicago (University of Illinois Press), 1985.
James B. ALLEN, Glen M. LEONHARD, The Story of the Latter-day Saints.
Leonard J. ARRINGTON, Davis BITTON, The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-day Saints.
John GAGER, Kingdom and Community: The Social World of Early Christendom, 1975.
John GAGER, Kingdom and Community: The Social World of Early Christendom, 1975.