Monday, September 21, 2009

Grunder, "Mormon Parallels: A Bibliographic Source" (reviewed by Joseph Johnstun)


Title: Mormon Parallels: A Bibliographic Source
Author: Rick Grunder
Publisher: Rick Grunder Books
Genre: Non-fiction
Year Published: 2008
Number of Pages: 2088
Binding: n/a (CD-Rom Included)
ISBN13: 978-0-9814708-0-1
Price: $200.00

Reviewed by Joseph Johnstun

In his February 1831 review of the Book of Mormon, Alexander Campbell famously wrote, "This prophet Smith, through his stone spectacles, wrote on the plates of Nephi, in his book of Mormon, every error and almost every truth discussed in New York for the last ten years. He decides all the great controversies;—infant baptism, ordination, the trinity, regeneration, repentance, justification, the fall of man, the atonement, transubstantiation, fasting, penance, church government, religious experience, the call to the ministry, the general resurrection, eternal punishment, who may baptize, and even the question of free masonary, republican government, and the rights of man." ("Delusions." Millennial Harbinger, 2 [7 February 1831]: 93.) Many Mormons today who read this statement from Campbell can readily see several of his statements as true, but because of unfamiliarity with what was going on in the backwoods of New York in the 1820s, Campbell is often chuckled at and then dismissed. A new work seeks to show that such is not only the case with the Book of Mormon, but with early Mormon doctrine, as well.

After 25 years of collecting and selling rare books, manuscripts, maps, and images,  and using what he calls his "short but sumptuous catalog of my quarter-century club" (10), Rick Grunder ( has published notes from five hundred of the most significant items he has personally handled related to the development of Mormonism. Mormon Parallels: A Bibliographic Source is an astounding 2088 pages of 8.5 x 11 inches, including introduction and lengthy bibliography. It has hundreds of 18th and 19th century illustrations, daguerreotypes, maps (with a few 20th century ones mixed in), to which the author spared no expense. It has been printed in a limited edition of only 400 copies, sold exclusively through Bear Hollow Books ( of Salt Lake City, Utah for $200. While the limited edition and the price are nothing new to Mormon scholars and collectors, the format is: Mormon Parallels is an e-book.

Squeezed onto one disc, every Mormon Parallels CD-ROM is signed and numbered by Grunder. It is organized as one large .pdf document, rather than numerous smaller ones, to allow the end user to search the entire text for key words or phrases. The entries are alphabetical by author, rather than topic, because, as Grunder notes, "many entries individually treat a variety of subjects." (48)  Also to assist in this, the author seems to have taken special awareness of phrases that would be looked for that might not necessarily be mentioned as such in the text, and provided a sub-heading in the document for that topic (i. e., "baptism for the dead," or "word of wisdom"). In doing so, Grunder has done away with the need for an index at the end, instead allowing the reader to go from reference to reference. The reader is also assisted by numerous, albeit very subtle, hyperlinks throughout the text to related items within the e-book. Using either Adobe Acrobat's Bookmark panel, or, for Mac users, the Sidebar pane in Preview, breaks down the 500 items in groups of 25, alphabetical by author, and a quick click reveals the 25 within any group. Another click on a title will instantly put the reader on the entry. One of the greatest benefits to publishing this work as an e-book is the images. They are many, and they are beautiful. And while many are small, the resolution is high enough that it is not until zooming beyond 300% that there is any distortion.

Stating his thesis as "a very large part of what many of us have thought comprised the essence of Mormonism actually appeared in Joseph Smith's immediate world before it became part of Mormon language or thought" (16), Grunder produces a staggering amount of evidence that leaves no doubt in his reader's mind that such is the case.

Citing everything from Adair's History of the American Indians to Masonic expos̩s to Zion's Herald, the scale of Grunder's work is overwhelming, and completely demolishes the hypothesis that Joseph Smith received revelation ex nihilo. "The ready presence of Joseph's very real, inescapable culture", he writes in the introduction, "is too overwhelming to ignore, yet we have not acknowledged it like we should. . . . True faith deserves a full spectrum, and it is entirely appropriate to pursue its origins from all periods of history. Yet wherever modern parallels negate claims to exclusively ancient origins, one must be willing to see that fact, and to consider modifying one's claims without feeling that faith is necessarily compromised. Such intellectual adjustments have succeeded well throughout Mormon history." (25) When writing of what the meaning of these numerous parallels are, Grunder holds, "Many statements which appear in Mormon studies are incorrect or insufficient because the writers overlook extensive environmental data which have always been available in many hundreds Рultimately thousands Рof original, primary sources." (26) "[I]s it any more righteous, or ethically and economically justifiable to beat the bushes of past millennia for parallels to Mormonism, than to observe seriously the surprising things which flourished in the immediate, sacred splendor of Joseph's personal grove?" (25)

The biographical and bibliographic work alone is a a masterpiece. His four entries on Lorenzo and Peggy Dow (entries 118-121) not only show their importance to early Mormons, but also provide a small biography of this neglected 19th century couple. "Lorenzo had a tremendous effect upon grass-roots American religion of the early nineteenth century" Grunder writes. "Countless children were named after this monumental revivalist, including Brigham Young's brother (Lorenzo Dow Young) and future Church President Lorenzo Snow." (487-488) As an aside, lists 13 different men named Lorenzo Dow, with another 48 named Lorenzo. To illustrate the prominence of this all but forgotten man, Grunder quotes a sermon from later Lorenzo Snow in 1838, wherein Snow said that he preached in a town in Missouri, and all that was required to obtain the largest chapel to preach in was to give his first name. "Such was the power," he concludes, "of the name 'Lorenzo Dow,' even in Missouri, four years after the famed evangelist had died in the District of Columbia." (488)

Among the most interesting of Grunder's entries is his work on Lehi's dream related to Rochester, New York in the late 1820s ("Reynolds Arcade", entry 350). While modern-day visitors might have no difficulty viewing Rochester as a dark and dreary wasteland, the author begins his Mormon parallels in a series of articles, reminiscences and histories on the Rochester area's reputation as a major fruit growing region. He quotes an 1838 account of the area, stating "that the various kinds of hardy fruits, such as the apple, pear, plum, quince, cherry, &c., are the best varieties and easily cultivated; and that many of the more delicate fruits, such as peaches, apricots, nectarines, grapes &c., attain a size and richness of flavour rarely equaled in our northern latitudes. Of these facts a visit to the Rochester fruit-markets at the proper seasons will convince any observer, and show that the southern shore of the Ontario is emphatically A FRUIT COUNTRY." (1371, Emphasis in original.) As travelers from the east on the Erie Canal approached Rochester, they crossed over the Genesee River on an 802-foot stone aqueduct. The horse towpath became very narrow at this point, "so narrow that horses had to be hitched one in front of the other." (1375) The danger at this point became very real, and the Laws of the State of New York determined that this path should be "protected on the out side by a substantial, but plain iron railing" to prevent horse and rider from tumbling into the churning Genesee. (1375) A few blocks downriver from the iron rod-protected aqueduct roars the 100-foot drop of the Genesee Falls. One visitor to the falls in 1812 described "beholding this mighty sheet of water take its awful leap of nearly one hundred feet, far below the common level of the surrounding country, into a deep channel excavated by its own power through a bed of limestone for more than three miles, running smoothly along in a surpentine [sic] course until it passed beyond our vision." (1381) Grunder states that according to an 1824 dictionary, a "gulf" "was not a flash-flood desert canyon or wadi of Lehi's Arabia, but more appropriate to Joseph Smith's immediate world, 'a bay; a whirlpool.'" (1383) "I have stood at this very spot after heavy rains", Grunder writes, "when the river was dirty and full, the color of coffee and cream. I have exclaimed to myself in an unguarded moment, 'Truly, this is the fountain of filthy water in Nephi's dream!'" (ibid)

While these are all very interesting comparisons, the image of the brand new Reynolds Arcade will convince even the most stout believers of Joseph Smith's prophetic calling that the image of that structure could not but have been present in his mind a few weeks after visiting it when he translated the portion of the Book of Mormon dealing with the "great and spacious building". (1399) Grunder writes that the building was "nearly ninety feet tall, nearly a hundred feet wide. The Arcade, described in the pamphlet at hand as 'the most magnificent structure west of Albany . . . ,' was built by Abelard Reynolds, politician and Freemason, one of the ten wealthiest men of Rochester, at a cost of $30,000." (1395) Taller than any other building in Rochester, it was only two blocks from the Erie Canal aqueduct across the Genesee, and "the Arcade was indeed all doors and windows by the standards of that time. Its tower atop four stories of offices and shops commanded a view not only of 'the farms and forest in the vicinity', but – more to the point – of the poorest laborer tenements in town, across and down the adjacent Genesee. The city's underprivileged looked up from their 'jumble of shacks and cheap rooming houses' on Water Street to the tall structure crowning the richest block of the business district on the other side of the river – filled with entrepreneurs, clothiers and the most stylish merchants – and they came to understand that they were no longer part of 'better' society as a whole." (1397)

There are occasions when Grunder gets carried away in telling the history of a book or manuscript, and readers can almost see him in their mind's eye lifting his fingers from his keyboard to pause for a moment, and then type something similar to the line that he does for Peggy Dow's Vicissitudes Exemplified: "However, the more tedious tome which you are presently reading is supposed to focus on Mormon parallels, so on to business . . ." (1399, ellipsis in original.)

In the process of reading this work, I found myself wishing for two main things: a table of contents listing each entry, and that it were a physical book. The table of contents would serve two purposes; first, it would allow for a more thorough perusal of the work, and secondly, it would provide a shopping list for bibliophiles that could be copied, pasted, and printed out, instead of having to be retyped. Regarding the physical book idea, Grunder anticipated that not all of his readers are as adept at reading from a computer monitor, and some would wish to back-up so expensive a digital object, and has thus provided that each purchaser is licensed to make one back-up digital copy, either on their computer or on a disc (no word on an iPhone app), and also to make a printed copy. Using a print-on-demand service, each purchaser can then have his or her own multi-volume copy to sit down with on a Sunday afternoon.

Alexander Campbell's statement regarding the Book of Mormon discussing "every error and almost every truth discussed in New York" during the 1820s is completely validated by Mormon Parallels. "It really does not matter whether Joseph Smith actually read any specific manuscript or book," Grunder concludes, "because an entire culture is on display. No single one of these writings was essential to the work of Joseph Smith, and this Bibliographic Source hangs upon no individual concept – upon no particular text. It is, rather, the very existence of the Mormon parallels which these sources display – in such great number, distribution, and uncanny resemblance to the literary, doctrinal and social structures which Joseph formed – which may command our attention." (37-38)

Mormon Parallels is so large, so deep, and so thorough, that it becomes nearly impossible to decide what to read first, what to quote, or what to use in a review. A bound copy could help on those Sunday afternoons by letting it flop open to any given page. But taken as a whole, Rick Grunder's magnum opus is always interesting, occasionally wandering, but absolutely amazing. It is one of those rare works that should excite both followers and detractors of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet. Clearly, "'Joseph Smith could not have known,' is no longer a reasonable option." (39)

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