This is Volume II of an epic, multi-volume work entitled The Quest for the New Jerusalem: A Mormon Generational Saga, which combines family, Mormon, and American history, focusing upon how the author’s ancestors were affected by their conversion to the Mormon religion. In Volume I, four of the author’s ancestral families—the Carters, Hammonds, Knowltons, and Spencer’s—and the ancestors of Mormon Church founders Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, are followed from the time they enter the Massachusetts Bay Colony in New England in the 1600s down to the early 1800s. Their private lives are described, as well as how they are affected by such events and situations as King Philip’s War, the Salem Witch Trials, the institution of black slavery, the French and Indian War, and the American Revolution. Toward the end of Volume I, the focus is upon Joseph Smith and his family, including their move from Vermont to western New York, their religious and “magic world views,” the latter involving astrology, ritual magic, and treasure-seer and treasure-digging activities.
Volume II takes up the narrative at about the year 1820, and involves a detailed, comprehensive, and critical look at the events in the life of Joseph Smith, Jr., during the decade in which he purportedly was visited by numerous heavenly messengers, received the “golden plates,” translated the writing on the plates to produce the Book of Mormon, received priesthood authority from other heavenly messengers, published the Book of Mormon, and organized the Mormon/LDS Church. Making use of the most recent historical research, the author tackles the controversial issues surrounding the First Vision (the supposed appearance to Joseph Jr. of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ in 1820), the Second Vision (1823 to 1827) which produced the Book of Mormon, and the Third Vision (late 1820s or early 1830s) which involved the “restoration” of priesthood authority. The author looks at original sources/documents and also compares the perspectives of major loyal Mormon, non-Mormon, and ex-Mormon scholars on these controversial questions.
There is a discussion of the serious lack of congruence between how Joseph Smith, Jr., described these events “officially” after 1837, and what was being said by the Smith family, their neighbors, early Mormon converts, and by newspaper accounts during the 1820s and early 1830s. There is, for example, no mention of a First Vision for at least twelve years after it supposedly occurred, and there are several conflicting versions of it by Joseph Jr. in the 1830s, once he started talking about it.
Primary focus, however, is upon what the author collectively calls the Second Vision, which purportedly involved multiple visitations by an angel/spirit between 1823 and 1827. It was from this heavenly messenger that Joseph Jr. obtained “golden plates,” and the Book of Mormon was, he maintained, a “translation” by him of the ancient American writings on these plates. There is a thorough examination of the complex and contentious issues surrounding the origin of the Book of Mormon, and several chapters look closely at the evidence regarding its “authenticity”—the question whether it was written by Joseph Jr. or by ancient American prophets/scribes. The author also thoroughly discusses the “testimony” in the Book of Mormon of the Three Witnesses and Eight Witnesses, and offers an alternative narrative regarding what really transpired with Joseph Jr. during the 1820s.
Later in Volume II several chapters look at how Mormon Church organization went through a significant evolution during its earliest years, moving against the American democratic grain toward an increasingly centralized, authoritarian structure. There is a detailed look at Joseph Jr.’s claims regarding a “restoration” of priesthood authority during the late 1820s and early 1830s, and the considerable controver