Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Review: Quorum of the Anointed

Quorum of the Anointed
Reviewed by Dave Underhill

I just finished reading through my advance reading copy ("ARC") of Joseph Smith's Quorum of the Anointed, 1842-1845: A Documentary History (Signature, 2005), edited by Devery S. Anderson and Gary James Bergera. The book doesn't use a standard narrative treatment, but instead presents a chronological arrangement of quotations from all available sources relating statements about the Quorum of the Anointed ("QA"), the select group of about ninety individuals who received the higher LDS ordinances under the direction of Joseph Smith before his death in June 1844. A foreward by Todd Compton and a summary introduction by the editors provide context and a framework to the source material that forms the body of the book. There is also a handy section giving short biographies of all QA members. I'll touch on a few of the highlights.

The Sources. Some quotes come right out of the History of the Church, but might not jump out as relating to the QA if one were reading the HC directly. Many quotes come from Nauvoo diaries of LDS leaders: Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, John Taylor, Joseph Smith, Wilford Woodruff, Willard Richards, and William Clayton. When arranged chronologically, the sources often provide duplicate accounts, but they seem to be quite consistent in their reports, a pleasant result. Of the diarists, William Clayton seemed the most complete and enlightening.

The People. While many names are familiar, there are a few that might be surprising. James Adams, for example, was a member of the first Nauvoo endowment group in May 1842. Baptized LDS in 1836, he was made a probate judge in 1841. He was also Deputy Grand Master of the second Masonic Grand Lodge of Illinois and helped establish Nauvoo's lodge in early 1842. A handy fellow to have around.

The Gap. From July 1842 to May 1843, the sources fall silent. The QA apparently went inactive during that period in response to John C. Bennett's embarrassing disclosures and accusations. I knew Bennett's book caused a big flap, but I was surprised to see the effect it had on an activity as important and as publicly unobserved as the Quorum. When activities resumed in May 1843, women were first admitted into the QA, which is often referred to as a priesthood quorum. The 1843-44 period was thus the high water mark of female participation in higher LDS councils. It's worth noting that women were not admitted into Masonic lodges.

The Tone. All in all, it's a pretty tame book. On the one hand, if you're expecting something earthshaking, I'm not sure you'll find it. On the other hand, those with standard LDS sensibilities about LDS temple lore are not likely to be offended by the book. Most of the text, after all, is taken from diaries of early LDS leaders; there isn't any material taken from the John C. Bennett writings or other rather uninformed critics. The preliminary ARC inner flap notes state that "the editors of this volume do not reveal anything that would be considered invasive or indelicate," and I found that to be true throughout the book.

Conclusion. I confess I was somewhat surprised that the original Joseph Smith material (as suggested from the selected diary accounts of the early LDS leaders) seems remarkably similar to the modern LDS material (which, for me, extends to the pre-1991 era; your experience may differ). Somehow I had formed the impression that there were substantial revisions between then and now, but this book gently suggests otherwise. That alone might make the book a worthwhile purchase for some LDS readers.

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