Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Review: Staker, "Hearken, O Ye People: The Historical Setting of Joseph Smith's Ohio Revelations"




Title: Hearken, O Ye People: The Historical Setting of Joseph Smith's Ohio Revelations

Author: Mark Lyman Staker

Publisher: Greg Kofford Books

Genre: LDS History, Kirtland History

Year Published: 2009

Number of pages: 694

Binding: cloth

ISBN-10: n.a.

ISBN-13: 978-1-58958-113-5

Price: $34.95


Reviewed by Roy Schmidt for the Association for Mormon Letters


Author Mark Lyman Staker has produced a landmark study placing the revelations received by Joseph Smith while in Kirtland Ohio in a historical perspective. Staker serves as a Senior Researcher in the Church History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and has been involved in historic sites restoration for more than fifteen years. He holds a Ph. D. from the University of Florida in cultural anthropology. His book will be of great value to scholars as well as to casual readers.


The book itself is attractive, and well made. Greg Kofford Books deserves accolades in making such a fine product. I found the typeface easy to read, and, while I generally prefer footnotes to endnotes, I feel the choice of endnotes was the correct way to go in this case.


There are several "extras" that appeal to me. The author has provided a fifteen page chronology of events occurring in Kirtland starting May, 1796 and concluding July 6, 1838. Readers will find this addition to be of value. Ten maps help the reader visualize where events took place, and a number of historical photographs (most of which I had never seen) make things come alive. An extensive forty-eight page bibliography will satisfy the needs of those wishing to do additional research. Most exciting to me is a collection of eight sermons by Brigham Young and George A. Smith. LaJean Purcell Carruth, an employee of the LDS Church Historical Department, has transcribed them from the original Pitman shorthand recorded by George D. Watt. They are marvelous.


Staker divides his work into four parts. Part One: Ohio's "Mormonites" introduces us to one "Black Pete" and his involvement in bringing the black "shout tradition" and "speaking in tongues" to the Mormon tradition. I must say I had never heard of "Black Pete" prior to this time, and found the discussion fascinating. We also learn of the Isaac Morley family who set the stage for the concept of communal living among the Saints.


Part Two: Consecration concerns itself with concepts of caring for the poor, and the creation of the office of Bishop. The Newell K. Whitney family is central to this section. Sidney Gilbert and Lyman Johnson also play major parts. I feel I know them better, and have a greater appreciation for their parts in the Restoration. I have a far better understanding of the "Law of Consecration" and the part the Ohio period played in the United Order programs taking place in Utah some years later.


Part Three: "It Came from God": The Johnson Family, Joseph Smith, and Mormonism in Hiram, Ohio. Although the Johnson family is introduced in the previous section, this part of the work centers on them. I had some idea of their contributions to the early church, but Staker puts flesh on the bare bones. There is an interesting chapter on Ezra Booth and his influence on the Johnson family. The same chapter details the story of Joseph Smith healing the arm of John Johnson's wife Elsa. I had not realized it was Booth who introduced Mormonism to Symonds Ryder and his Disciples of Christ congregation. Ryder is one of the little known but fascinating people from the Ohio period. Ryder joined the Church after "hearing a young Mormon girl prophesy about an earthquake that would destroy Peking, China, during the excitement in February over a predicted eclipse, and six weeks later he read a report about the earthquake and was converted. The article was published April 5, 1831 (287)." Booth baptized Ryder in May. The story of the eventual apostasy of both Booth and Ryder is detailed in the following chapter. Author Staker, to my mind, successfully debunks the tale of Ryder leaving the Church because his name was misspelled in the Doctrine and Covenants. More important to Ryder were the doubts he had about consecration. Booth became disillusioned during his mission to Missouri. He was officially "silenced from preaching as an Elder in this Church," on September 6, 1831, and he, refusing to repent, left the Church. Both he and Ryder published letters attacking the Church. Both stories are tragic, and should be explored in greater depth. The coming forth of numerous revelations in the Johnson home, including Section 76, "The Vision," is nicely detailed. The background provided helps me understand and more earnestly appreciate those manifestations.


"Kirtland's Economy and the Rise and Fall of the Kirtland Safety Society" is the subject of Section 4. I would submit this part of church history is one of the least understood of all. To help us understand, the author spends time introducing the reader to the founding of Kirtland, and its development as a community. He looks at the difficulty of the Saints in keeping the commandment to raise funds for, and to actually construct, a temple, the first in this dispensation. Joseph Smith and John Johnson (Jr,?) applied for and received a tavern license on April 5, 1834. The Johnsons ran the place where "(w)hiskey was the second most popular drink, but records indicate the inn also sold rum, wine, brandy, and small amounts of gin." (416) There were also a sawmill, print shop, ashery, and other business enterprises all or in part aiding in reducing the debt of the Church and building the temple. Most of us are aware of the Kirtland Safety Society, and have at least heard of the panic of 1837. We sometimes forget the whole nation was caught up in land speculation, and other questionable activities. Soon the bottom fell out, and the Kirtland economy fell into a severe recession. What happened to the Kirtland Safety Society, and to the leaders of the Church because of their role in it is very heady stuff, and will intrigue the reader.


I must say I find "Hearken, O Ye People" to be a work of great worth. Although the text reads well, the magnitude of the subject will require several readings before one gets the full effect. Author Mark Lyman Staker deserves all the accolades he has or will receive. The book has received a major award from the John Whitmer Historical Association, and I feel more such awards will follow.



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