Review Of "The Refiner's Fire: The Making Of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844" By J. L. Brooke

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In this provocative, intelligent, and well-researched book, Brooke argues that Mormon cosmology derives from hermetic, millennial, and restorationist themes originating in the Anabaptist Reformation, redefined by the sects of the Puritan revolution, and preserved in Pennsylvania and the fringes of New England. In a tour de force Brooke uses genealogies, town records, church archives, and histories of counterfeiting to prove that there was a predisposition to radical sectarian and hermetic ideas and practices in the families and villages that furnished many of the early converts of Joseph Smith. Mormonism now becomes not just a reaction to social dislocation in the Burned Over District, but a creative response to an ancient religious heritage. Joseph Smith espoused and redefined Freemasonry, Swedenborgianism, magic, alchemy, celestial marriage, deification of humanity, and mutuality of spirit and matter. Brooke demonstrates that so-called popular religion is also intellectual history. The second half of the book shows the impact of the hermetic tradition in the evolution of Joseph Smith's thought. In Kirtland, Ohio, and in Nauvoo, Illinois, Smith changed fundamental tenets of the Book of Mormon in creating a theocratic and revolutionary faith. In Utah, Brigham Young and his successors toned down and then repudiated much of Smith's hermetic legacy. A "must" for all serious students of early American religion and Mormonism, highly recommended for upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty.


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