Call for Questions: Terryl Givens and Matthew Grow, Parley Parker Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism

By September 1, 2011

This past week, the long-overdue biography of Parley P. Pratt was finally delivered. And boy was it delivered. Authored by two of the top stars in Mormon history, Terryl Givens (personal website here) and Matthew Grow (bio found on this page), Parley Parker Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism (New York: Oxford University Press) weighs in at 500 pages—and it could not have been one page less. In their introduction, Givens and Grow write that “the narrative of [Pratt’s] life could have formed the basis of a page-turning novel. By 1853, he had already become, after Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, the most influential figure in shaping early Mormon history, culture, and theology. Pratt exerted that influence across an astounding spectrum, excelling as a missionary, explorer, hymnist, pamphleteer, autobiographer, historian, and theologian” (3-4). It would be difficult to keep a narrative of such a life to any page count!

Givens and Grow give three reasons for calling Pratt the “Apostle Paul of Mormonism.” First is the fact that Pratt’s writings “served the same function in early Mormonism” as Paul’s (or the author of Paul’s) did in early Christianity: it helped systematize and popularize the movement’s ideas (5). Second is Pratt’s Paul-like missionary career, travelling all across America, the Atlantic, and even South America. And third, “like Paul, Pratt reveled in opposition and Persecution, and in his own eyes and the beliefs of the Latter-day Saints, met a martyr’s death” (8). In total, it is a phenomenal volume, and should not only garner much praise but encourage even more dialogue. (Personally, I found chapter 12, Parley and Mrs. Pratt(s), and examination of Pratt’s family dynamics, to be one of the most compelling chapters of recent Mormon historiography.)

We’ll eventually have a full review of the book. In the meantime, we are pleased to announce that both of the book’s authors have agreed to do a Q&A post with Juvenile Instructor. Thus, we solicit your help: please provide below the questions you would like Givens and Grow to answer about their newly-released biography.

Ask away!

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Here are a few questions:

    1) How has writing this biography affected your opinions about Pratt’s autobiography?

    2) In what ways did Pratt systematize LDS doctrine and practices?

    3) What were the sources like for this biography?

    Comment by Tom D — September 1, 2011 @ 7:43 pm

  2. I want to know when it will be available for Kindle!

    Comment by Julie M. Smith — September 1, 2011 @ 7:48 pm

  3. Have you considered writing a biography of Orson Pratt?

    Comment by Kurt — September 1, 2011 @ 9:32 pm

  4. Martyr?s death? Seriously?

    Someday I’d like to read just ONE religious person’s biography that included a smidgen of truth.

    Comment by Goldarn — September 1, 2011 @ 11:39 pm

  5. You’re exactly right, Goldarn. Never in the history of religious biography has there EVER been a smidgen of truth told. We are all waiting for you, oh high and intelligible one.

    And by the way, the single line above that you are quibbling with notes that it was seen as a martyr’s death “in his own eyes and the beliefs of the Latter-day Saints”–it’s not declaring that it was a martyr’s death at all. In fact, if you actually read the chapter, you’d see they give a much more sophisticated analysis of the event.

    I know it’s asking a lot, but we always appreciate it when drive-by trolls showed ONE smidgen of interpretive skills.

    /end of thread jack, back to questions.

    Comment by Ben Park — September 1, 2011 @ 11:48 pm

  6. I’d like to hear them discuss PPP’s merits as a poet in terms of his contributions to the early church and also how and to what extent his poetic nature still has a presence in the modern Church.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 2, 2011 @ 4:30 am

  7. Paul’s writings still form the heart of the Christian New Testament and are read every day by Christians, whereas Pratt’s writings are read only by a small percentage of Latter-day Saints — and as historical documents more relevant to 19th-century Mormonism rather than as living documents relevant to 21st-century Mormonism. What does this say about the comparison to Paul?

    Comment by Dave — September 2, 2011 @ 9:26 am

  8. 1) Were there any sources in the Church archives that you wanted to review, but were not given access to as you prepared the book?

    2) Could you describe how you worked together during the research and writing stages? How did you divide up the research work? How did you divide up the actual writing of the book? Assuming you were not both in the same physical location, how did you communicate and how often? What did you learn during your collaboration that would be helpful for others to know were they to undertake a similar collaboration?

    Comment by unknown — September 2, 2011 @ 9:27 am

  9. I’d be interested to know more about the writing of Pratt’s Autobiography, specifically the involvement of Pratt Jr. and of John Taylor. Thanks.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — September 2, 2011 @ 11:32 am

  10. Historians often separate “the Joseph Smith era” (1820-1844/47) from the “territorial period” (1844/47-1890). Does Pratt’s life problematize this periodization scheme? Stated differently, does looking at Pratt reveal more continuity or change after JS’s death (at least in the Brighamite group)?

    Comment by David G. — September 2, 2011 @ 12:07 pm

  11. Dave, you bring up a good point, but I think that your question has some verbage that I don’t 100%know agree with. Namely, the “small percentage” that read Pratt’s works. If you are referring to his tracts and what not, I think you are accurate, but I think that a significantly higher percentage has read his autobiography.

    Comment by Jacob M — September 2, 2011 @ 12:21 pm

  12. The Authors of the book you write about got it wrong – Orson Pratt was dubbed the “Paul of Mormonism” – not Parley P. Pratt. First, Elder P. P. Pratt was only in the Quorum of the Twelve for 22 years before he was murdered, whereas Elder O. Pratt was in it for 46 years. Also secondly, O. Pratt was well known by all (especially Brigham Young) as a scriptural master. It was President Young who asked Orson – not Parley – to announce to the world Plural Marriage (and that using scripture to back it up). Most of the Sectarian Pastors who debated the Mormons in Salt Lake City debated Orson Pratt – not Parley. Also, if we look at Parley’s writings versus Orson’s, Parley’s, while great, is more poetically based, whereas Orson’s writings are heavily drenched with scripture, philosophy, and logic.

    Comment by Clark Herlin — September 2, 2011 @ 1:43 pm

  13. Gary: I’m sure they will love to address the Autobiography issue a bit, but make sure to read Matt’s article on that very topic in the Winter 2011 issue of JMH.

    Clark Herlin: You are right that Orson Pratt was similarly influential, but don’t overlook Parley. Parley was called the “Paul of Mormonism” long before Orson was since Parley published solidly for a decade (and most of his writings were the first in Mormonism) before Orson jumped in the game, and Orson largely drew from and built upon Parley’s work. Once the Church settled in Utah Orson took a much larger role, but Parley had already paved the way. And to say that Parley’s work was only “poetically based”–which was certainly a part–is showing ignorance of the deep use of scripture, philosophy, and logic in Parley’s writings. In short, I encourage you to read the biography–I think you’ll find it convincing.

    Great questions so far, everyone.

    Comment by Ben Park — September 2, 2011 @ 2:04 pm

  14. I’m curious as to how the author dealt with the intellectual influences. I know the Orson Pratt bio did that a little, suggesting some exposure to ideas while on a mission to Great Britain.

    Comment by Clark — September 2, 2011 @ 2:04 pm

  15. Ben, Thanks for the heads-up regarding Matt’s article. I’ll be sure to check it out.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — September 2, 2011 @ 4:19 pm

  16. I’m interested to hear about the years of collecting Pratt documents before this book was written. What is the history of the PPP personal archives? How much material, do you suppose, is extant from what originally created? (I know that last question is not really knowable, but I’d be curious to hear your best guess or thoughts.)

    Comment by Robin Jensen — September 2, 2011 @ 5:42 pm

  17. I’m really curious about the relationship between Joseph Smith and PPP. JS seemed to feel a bit testy about PPP at times (I’m thinking Nauvoo, but I wonder about late Kirtland too). How independent was Pratt’s thought vis-a-vis Joseph? What is the extent of PPP’s unpublished sermon corpus?

    Comment by WVS — September 3, 2011 @ 12:00 am

  18. One more: do the author’s treat Pratt’s thought about succession and the issues related to that?

    Comment by WVS — September 3, 2011 @ 12:02 am

  19. I took a class on writing feminist biographies. One of the things that we talked about a lot was the relationship between the historian and their subject. People often end up really liking their subjects and it changes their writing and arguments. What was their relationship with PPP before writing the biography? Did it change over time? Were there any points when they found their like or dislike of Pratt coloring their writing?

    Comment by Amanda HK — September 3, 2011 @ 12:17 pm

  20. I look forward to the interview and to reading the book. Thanks for agreeing to this, Matt and Terryl.

    My question has to do with the dynamics of co-authoring a biography. I’ve co-authored a handful of papers and articles and know the general advantages and disadvantages that go along with such an approach, but I’m specifically interested in how that process works when co-authoring a biography, something that seems to depend on a coherent narrative more than a monograph might.

    Comment by Christopher — September 3, 2011 @ 3:13 pm

  21. Can’t wait to see the full Q and A. Meantime, I endorse this older interview with Terryl Givens, which discusses a bit about the then-forthcoming bio.

    Comment by BHodges — September 3, 2011 @ 10:27 pm

  22. Does the volume touch on the influence of PPP on Mormon liturgy? It seems to me that his Voice of Warning is terribly important in defining early Mormon sacramentalism. What about the late Nauvoo/post-Nauvoo period? Does Pratt leave an imprint on the ritual systems of this period and reinterpretation of older systems?

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 4, 2011 @ 10:49 pm

  23. Thanks for the participation, all. I’ve compiled and combined them into 12 questions which are now emailed to the authors. We’ll have their responses in due time.

    In the meantime, go forth and purchase & read the book!

    Comment by Ben Park — September 4, 2011 @ 11:26 pm

  24. I would love to know how accurate Elder Pratt’s autobiography was

    Comment by Cameron — September 5, 2011 @ 2:23 pm

  25. […] York: Oxford University Press, 2011). These questions are a composite of those solicited in a previous thread. Part I includes the first six responses; Part II, which will be posted tomorrow, includes the last […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Q&A with Terryl Givens and Matthew Grow on Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism, Part I — September 12, 2011 @ 8:14 am


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