Mor­mon founder’s mur­der ex­am­ined

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Gil­bert Gre­gory

IN Amer­i­can Cru­ci­fix­ion: The Mur­der of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mor­mon Church, Alex Beam goes into great de­tail de­scrib­ing the events leading up to and fol­low­ing the mur­der of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints, com­monly known as Mormons, in June 1844. Beam, a Bos­ton-based colum­nist, aims to set the stage for and ex­plain why Joseph Smith — who, by the time he was killed, had as­sumed the ti­tle “King, Priest and Ruler over Is­rael on the Earth” — was mur­dered by “Mor­mon­haters” while in the cus­tody of Han­cock County of­fi­cials, in Carthage, Ill. Beam also cov­ers, in less de­tail, the trial of Smith’s ac­cused killers, the bat­tle for con­trol of the church af­ter Smith’s death (which some Mor­mon-haters pre­ma­turely hailed as the end of the LDS Church), and the Mormons’ mi­gra­tion to Utah, which is the base for the church that flour­ishes world­wide to this day. Amer­i­can Cru­ci­fix­ion fol­lows Smith and his Mor­mon flock from the found­ing of the church in up­state New York in 1830, to Ohio in 1831, on­ward to Mis­souri in 1838 (fol­low­ing the fail­ure of a Mor­mon bank in Ohio) and fi­nally to Illi­nois and the es­tab­lish­ment of the LDS com­mu­nity, Nau­voo, in 1839, af­ter hos­til­i­ties in Mis­souri that saw Smith im­pris­oned for sev­eral months and 17 Mormons mas­sa­cred by anti-Mor­mon Mis­souri­ans. While it would be easy to say re­li­gious dif­fer­ences were the cause of the en­mity be­tween the Mormons and their non-Mor­mon neigh­bours, Beam pro­vides ev­i­dence that money, Smith and his flock’s ten­dency to live by their own laws and the po­lit­i­cal power of the block-voting Lat­ter-day Saints were also ma­jor fac­tors in the rise of hos­til­i­ties in Han­cock County. Beam of­fers a sub­jec­tive pre­sen­ta­tion of Smith’s church and its teach­ings, steer­ing clear of shar­ing his own thoughts on the church, but shar­ing those of the church’s crit­ics, such as those who la­belled Smith a para­noid, delu­sional char­la­tan. He also documents the crit­i­cism of Smith’s ever-evolv­ing doc­trines, es­pe­cially that of polygamy — which Smith ini­tially kept on the low­down, but which caused rifts among some of the high­est ranks of Smith’s sup­port­ers, and led to dis­sention and fallings-out within the church. The cast of char­ac­ters, maps, list of place names, chronol­ogy and glos­sary in­cluded in Amer­i­can Cru­ci­fix­ion con­trib­ute greatly to the com­pre­hen­sive na­ture of the book. As the meat of the story oc­curs over a rel­a­tively short pe­riod of time, it in­cludes a vast ar­ray of char­ac­ters, an­ti­quated terms and set­tings in parts of the U.S. with which read­ers may not be not fa­mil­iar. While some­what heavy on de­tail, Amer­i­can Cru­ci­fix­ion achieves its goal of de­scrib­ing the events sur­round­ing, and ex­plain­ing what led to, the as­sas­si­na­tion of the founder of a re­li­gion that has among its ad­her­ents prom­i­nent people in pol­i­tics, busi­ness, sports and en­ter­tain­ment, boast­ing mil­lions of mem­bers around the world. For a more ex­ten­sive and more crit­i­cal anal­y­sis of the his­tory of the Church of Je­sus Christ and Lat­ter-day Saints, read­ers would do well to pick up a copy of John Krakauer’s Un­der the Ban­ner of Heaven: A Story of Vi­o­lent Faith. Gil­bert Gre­gory is a Free Press copy


Amer­i­can Cru­ci­fix­ion: The Mur­der of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mor­mon Church

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