Book Review: Images of the New Jerusalem

By April 10, 2008

A few months ago, while traveling on a rickety bus in Peru from Cusco to Puno, I read Craig Campbell’s Images of the New Jerusalem: Latter Day Saint Faction Interpretation of Independence, Missouri. While it has been several years since it was published, it has not received nearly enough attention in Mormon circles.[1] The introduction states that it “is a historical interpretation of the millenial geography of Independence and its surroundings as seen by the Latter Day Saint churches” (xiv). While it is a geographical study, written by a professor of geography, I found the book fascinating and a great contribution to Mormon History. Besides getting a few facts wrong (including several pretty obvious mistakes like writing that the Saints purchased Independence land in 1832 rather than 1831), it appears to be very accurate to historical sources. More importantly, I found it to be very astute in chronicling how Mormon thought has changed regarding this sacred space in the Midwest.

Campbell does a laudable job in articulating the progression in how the various Mormon groups interpreted what Joseph Smith called the location for the New Jerusalem. While he does touch on many different Mormon movements, he focuses primarily on the views of the LDS Church, the Community of Christ, and the RLDS branches. I felt that he is fair to all three groups (though his tone iss harshest towards the LDS Mormons, which is ironic since he is in the bishopric of an LDS ward), and is also very careful in demonstrating how there is wide diversity even within each movement. Besides learning lots of new information concerning RLDS views of Independence that I hadn’t known beforehand, I was very intrigued on how he presented our own evolving views of Missouri.

One interesting point that stood out to me was the transition the “Brighamites” made after moving to Utah. While Saints in Joseph’s lifetime felt Zion needed to be established immediately, it changed during Brigham’s tenure to something more in the future: “the image of Jackson County as an almost folkloric destiny was employed to spur the Saints to make the Salt Lake Valley a lovely place” (128). Campbell persuasively demonstrates how Utah leaders used a “carrot-before-the-horse technique to motivate development” (129). Teaching that only those who are worthy could return to Zion, they urged their followers to build up the temporary kingdom in Deseret in order to be prepared.

Campbell also explored the tensions within LDS culture today concerning Independence. One end of the spectrum believes that we could pack up and move back any day now, while the other end is questioning whether there is a future in Independence at all. The official position of the Church itself is hard to pinpoint, because on the one hand they are buying up massive amounts of land in Missouri, while at the same time they are reluctant to put a temple in Kansas City when the demographics suggest one is needed. Campbell also includes many intriguing excerpts from books, newspapers, and folklore stories to demonstrate the different views.

While I could share more insights from the book, there are three reasons why I feel this book is worthy of more attention than it has received. First, it is published by University of Tennessee Press, which is a publisher new to the Mormon scholarship scene. Second, being a geographical work, it is a new framework in which to explore Mormon history. I especially appreciated Chapter 9, entitled “Independence Classified,” where he places the Mormon view of Zion within the larger view of other “sacred spaces,” particularly in Asia. And third, I really enjoyed the fact that the study looks at several different groups within the larger Mormon movement.

All in all, I think that Images of the New Jerusalem is a real gem that has been overlooked. Has anyone else read it? Has anyone else even heard about it? Also, how do you guys feel about the evolution of the Mormon view of Independence?


[1] Ron Romig and David Howlett did review it for Journal of Mormon History, and gave it a generally favorable review.

Article filed under Book and Journal Reviews Categories of Periodization: Origins


  1. Ben, thanks for the review. I’ve looked through the book, but have to admit that I haven’t been able to read it yet. I agree that it is an important work and I like the reasons you give for its importance.

    Comment by David G. — April 10, 2008 @ 12:28 am

  2. Thanks for the review, Ben. Sounds like a worthwhile read.

    Comment by Christopher — April 10, 2008 @ 12:31 am

  3. The official position of the Church itself is hard to pinpoint, because on the one hand they are buying up massive amounts of land in Missouri, while at the same time they are reluctant to put a temple in Kansas City when the demographics suggest one is needed.

    Interesting point. The church is also investing heavily in long term commitments in Salt Lake City, like the Mall and parking lots. With that, it’s hard to read any sort of indication from the institutional church of intent to move to Missouri. One question, though – is the massive amounts of land that the church is buying in Missouri large compared to other places? It is well established that the church has massive real estate holdings across the nation (and even internationally). Does Missouri look anomalous in that landscape?

    Comment by NorthboundZax — April 10, 2008 @ 10:42 am

  4. Northbound: Interesting question. I cannot speak with certainty, because I do not know all the land the the Church owns. However, Campbell does demonstrate in the book that they own massive amounts in Missouri, specifically around Adam-ondi-Ahman. He claims that they are something like the third largest land-owner in the state. If we match those types of statistics in other states, then I would be surprised.

    Comment by Ben — April 10, 2008 @ 10:55 am

  5. As an interesting sidenote, my grandparents told me a fun story related to this topic which represents a more traditional view of returning to Independence:

    Up until a few years ago, every winter they would escape the harsh cold of Idaho and live in St. George. One year, they arrived at their winter condo late Saturday night with the intentions of just showing up to their traditional church building the next morning for sacrament meeting. But, when they got arrived there at the scheduled time, the building was completely empty. They tried another ward building near by, but with the same results. After driving by a few more empty church parking lots, they both started to panick thinking the Saints had gotten the call to gather to Missouri and they missed out!

    It turned out that it was just a regional conference that Sunday, and they were all meeting at a conference center.

    Comment by Ben — April 10, 2008 @ 11:01 am

  6. I have sermon from Lorenzo Snow in which he tells the Saints that if they would all pay their tithing, it wouldn’t be more than 10 or 15 years before they would redeem Zion. I bet we are the same percentages now as then.

    I’ll have to check this out. Thanks for the heads-up.

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 10, 2008 @ 5:04 pm

  7. I read the first 25 pages, got bored, and then skimmed and then gave up. I don’t tend to do well with academic geography, though.

    Comment by smb — April 10, 2008 @ 7:39 pm

  8. smb: I had the same feelings in the first little while, mostly because it was covering early views of Independence which I was already well aware of (and I am sure it is the same for you). It became much more interesting for me when it covered the Utah period as well as when it covered CofC and RLDS views.

    Comment by Ben — April 11, 2008 @ 1:31 am

  9. i may have to give it another look. thanks, ben. i do have this weird allergy to academic geography. also, there’s a PhD diss from a decade or so back that looked at notions of sacred space among rlds and lds. this AM can’t remember the relevant names.

    Comment by smb — April 11, 2008 @ 7:34 am

  10. smb, you may or may not be thinking of Steven L. Olsen’s dissy.

    I’ve had a chance to leaf through the book and it’s one that I’ve had in my mind that I want to revisit with more care. Ben, do you remember any discussion in the book about LDS, RLDS, and Temple Lot groups (or any other groups) bringing up the possibility of uniting to build the temple of Zion?

    Comment by Jared T — April 11, 2008 @ 10:08 am

  11. Hi everyone. I just found your discussion of my book and enjoyed it all. A few comments. My book is not the first work to put Mormon history in geographic perspective. First was Donald Meinig’s article in the Annals of the AAG in 1965 which has many fascinating maps, though it is out of date now. Also BYU’s own Dr. Jackson who also discussed the perception of the geography of the settlement of the west. About the possibility of groups uniting to build Zion – I would say it is a mathematical impossibility, because the groups are so distinct. The Community of Christ, for example is hardly millennial at all. The Church of Christ – Temple Lot sees itself as the beleaguered small church that will someday show the bigger churches how the New Jerusalem will sprout from its small 2.5 acre parcel.

    Comment by Craig — April 15, 2008 @ 10:19 pm

  12. jared t, no, not thinking of olsen’s phd.

    found it: Richard Waugh, 1995, Sacred Space and the Persistence of Identity. Wisconsin-Madison.

    Comment by smb — April 15, 2008 @ 11:04 pm

  13. Craig, thanks for stopping by and for the comment. What’s your next book project?

    Comment by David G. — April 15, 2008 @ 11:54 pm

  14. As department chair there’s not much time lately to be scholarly. Oddly enough I’m involved with the automobile in American culture. I’m currently organizing a symposium on the Automobile at YSU (April 25-26). Many notables are coming. I teach a course on the automobile and have considered a book on it. But you probably didn’t want to hear that.

    I am still involved giving papers on aspects of Independence, the latest at the National Council on Public History. Lately, I’ve been fascinated with the Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, an RLDS splinter which has now organized around Frederick N. Larson a grandson of Frederick M. Smith. So the church maintains legitimacy by having a blood relative of Joseph, Jr. It also has snatched sacred space in the old William Chrisman school right catty-corner next to the Temple Lot. I know Fred Larson somewhat and have considered moving forward with doing more on this.

    Comment by Craig — April 16, 2008 @ 6:29 pm

  15. Also, when I was completing my dissertation at Kansas, Waugh was completing his, also in geography. I saw his session at our national conference in Ft. Worth and was taken aback at first. “He’s doing my dissertation!”, I thought, at first suspicious and a little defensive of my turf. But his approach was different, naturally. It seemed more in a theoretical and regional context whereas mine seemed more detail and content oriented. It was bizarre though that we were doing similar topics simultaneously.

    Comment by Craig — April 16, 2008 @ 6:37 pm

  16. Craig, I know a few of us here at the Juvenile Instructor are aware of the Remnant Church and Fred Larson, and are very interested. I will look forward to your research.

    Comment by Christopher — April 16, 2008 @ 11:08 pm


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