Scholarly Inquiry: Mark Staker Answers Your Questions

By March 31, 2010

We’d like to give Mark Staker a big thank you for participating. He elected to answer all the questions posed in the solicitation. Here we go:


Thank you for the questions. They are all good questions and I?ve elected to give a stab at trying to answer them all.

Question 1

Many people assume that Joseph Smith basically took a back seat behind Sidney Rigdon during the first decade of the Church; that it wasn?t until after Liberty Jail and in the Nauvoo period that he really took the prominent public position as the face of the movement. By this, I mean being the chief expositor, giving many of the important public discourses, etc. Does your research on Kirtland confirm or challenge this idea?

Ben asks about the relationship between Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon in the early Church, particularly in their role as ?chief expositor.? This question gets at the heart of a major point of my Kirtland book. During Joseph Smith?s first visionary experience he learned that the major denominations ?draw near to [God] with their lips? but there doctrines were ?the commandments of men, having a form of godliness.? The way I read this was not as a blanket rejection of much of the Christian doctrine then preached in America but as a recognition that it would require sorting out and refinement to get the already existing doctrine correction. I don?t actually mention this background in the book but build on the first revelation Joseph receives after meeting Sidney Rigdon that acknowledges he was ?sent forth, even as John, to prepare the way? (D&C 35:4). The evidence doesn?t suggest that Rigdon introduced the most significant ideas within the early Kirtland community. He may have been as John the Baptist but others filled the role of Zacharias, John?s father. These included Samuel Underhill who was a member of Daniel Pratt?s Owenite community near Kirtland. (Daniel was a relative of Parley and Orson but it doesn?t look as though he was connected with their early ideas.)These Owenites (the Kendall Community) contribute ideas about a health code that included avoiding alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea, and pork. The Owenites also introduce ideas about marriage, property, and religious reform. Rigdon may have adopted some of these but he was most influenced by the Reformed Baptist movement (i.e. Campbellites who became known as the Disciples of Christ shortly after the Morley Family separated from their movement). Alexander Crawford?s ideas on the Abrahamic Covenant shaped Campbellite thought on priesthood. Walter Scott?s ideas on governance shaped the role of bishops, deacons, etc. Alexander Campbell?s ideas on the three kingdoms of heaven, a Kingdom of Faith, Kingdom of Work, and Kingdom of Glory laid the foundation for making sense of Walter Scott?s ?plan of salvation? that he articulated in detail which is repeated almost verbatim by LDS theologian Bruce R. McConkie in his later exposition on the Plan of Salvation. McConkie, of course, did not acknowledge or even recognize an indebtedness to Scott. I won?t go into this discussion in detail but just wanted to point out that when Joseph Smith arrives in Kirtland his followers have already established a strong theology. Joseph Smith uses revelation to rework that theology. No alcohol, tobacco, coffee, or tea is correct, he revealed. No pork is not entirely correct. (Joseph explains why the Hebrews did not eat pork.) Yes, there are multiple kingdoms but we understand them differently than Campbell, etc. (I?ll deal with this a little more when addressing Christopher?s and Dale Broadhurst?s questions below.) Having said all this, I can now answer your question more directly. Sidney Rigdon served an important role in teaching the earliest members the doctrines then current across the Western Reserve but Joseph Smith reworked and refined those doctrines?in some cases dramatically changing them. During the most significant period of refinement, Rigdon was plowing fields on the Morley Farm and was not a part of the Church governance system at all.

I presented a paper a couple of weeks ago on the rise of the First Presidency that should be published later this year. Essentially I argue in the paper that the Church had two leaders in early Kirtland, Edward Partridge as Bishop of the Church who believed with some justification he was the leader of the Church, and Joseph Smith as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, who also believed with justification he was the leader. This was only resolved by revelation. Joseph was made the ?First Presidency? with Jesse Gause and Sidney Rigdon as counselors but not initially in the First Presidency. It was only later after Gause left that Rigdon and Williams were drawn ?in? to the First Presidency and Rigdon shared in revelations with Joseph.

Question 2

One more question: Could you give a brief summary of the ?Black Pete? situation that took place in Kirtland?

I second Ben?s question about early Church race relations in Ohio.

Ben and Ardis S. ask about Black Pete in Kirtland. I focus a lot of attention on Black Pete as one of the early Family members on the Morley Farm and within the early Mormonite community. Black Pete becomes a ?revelator? and ?chief among them,? i.e. a leader within the early Mormonite community. (I explain the use of the term Mormonite in the book but basically E. D. Howe first uses the term for believers in the ?Gold Bible Apostles? and it serves as the earliest identification for the community in Kirtland before Joseph Smith arrives.) The practices of the early Mormonite community have direct parallels with slave religion in America as it existed at the time. Essentially my argument is that it was the American black community that laid the foundation for issues that raised questions about gifts of the Spirit, religious enthusiasm, and the influence of the Holy Ghost that were raised by early members.

Probably my favorite chapter in the book is chapter eleven that looks at the Joseph Smith in Palmyra and Manchester from 1818-1827 and how this influences what he brings to Kirtland. Joseph?s parents initially settle in the black neighborhood in Palmyra before they move to Manchester. Some of his family members join the Western Presbyterian Church in Palmyra that is part of the Underground Railroad. Joseph is drawn to the New York Methodist movement that has already set itself against slavery and has fostered many ardent abolitionists. Men like Lorenzo Dow and George Lane spent part of their careers in slave communities preaching Christianity and they apparently inherited religious enthusiasm from these communities which included receiving ?the power? which would bind their tongues so they couldn?t speak and cause them to fall to the ground unable to move. They even sang hymns that encouraged listeners to go to the woods to pray and God would manifest himself to them. When Joseph Smith went to the grove to pray, everything happened exactly as the Shouting Methodists preached it would happen. The ?power? came; it bound his tongue; he fell to the ground. Joseph Smith, however, determined the experience was of the Devil. It was exactly at the point he rejected everything the Shouting Methodists had been preaching that he experienced a different kind of event from the one the ministers predicted. I draw on the journals of George Lane?s second wife, his adopted daughter, local ministers, and others to build my argument. (Joseph also happens to marry one of George Lane?s parishioners, Emma Hale, who has Black family members in Massachusetts.) In short, the point I make is that Mormonism owes a great debt to the black community in America for raising issues and questions that led Joseph to seek answers and inspiration and I explore this issue in various ways in the first twelve chapters of the book as a narrative that follows Black Pete from his childhood through his encounter with Mormonism (until he disappears when Joseph Smith rejects religious enthusiasm).

Question 3

It seems clear that your book tackles quite a bit. I?m interested in what further research you hope your own inspires and motivates others to take on.

In terms of Christopher?s question about further research, I barely begin to explore some issues such as the relationship between Latter-day Saint beliefs and early Reformed Baptist doctrines. I intentionally did not cover some issues such as the divine manifestations that occur at the Morley Farm, School of the Prophets, Kirtland Temple dedication, etc. Karl Anderson has been working on a book focused on that subject and I did not want to cover the same material but left that for him to do. I also deal at some length on the issue of marriage within the Morley Family, the revelations on adultery, and such things as polygyny within the slave community and Native American communities within the region but noticeably do not deal with the issue of polygamy after the June conference. My intellectual focus on the revelations Joseph received in Kirtland allowed me to ignore Section 132 (dictated in Nauvoo even though portions of it were probably received in Kirtland) but it turns out I?m currently working on another project that will address that issue separately and it was convenient to not deal with the subject in this work.

I wish there were more source material on Joseph Smith?s ?excommunication? by a renegade group of Church leaders toward the end of his Kirtland experience. The unpublished revelations addressing the issue raise intriguing questions. A specific question I would like to see explored by someone that will have profound implications for LDS theology is a continuation of my preliminary study on the relationship between Joseph and Sidney?s vision of the afterlife and Reformed Baptist conceptions of the afterlife. Walter Scott, for example, saw the Telestial World as the one Adam and Eve lived in before the fall. How does this relate to LDS thought on the nature of a Telestial Kingdom? As you read Part 3 of the book on Joseph Smith in Hiram, I?m sure you?ll see lots of ways the discussion could be pushed further by someone willing to explore the two belief systems and compare them more fully.

Question 4

Does his book rely on new sources or new readings of older sources?

How influential was the ?Lectures on Faith? among leaders and lay folks?

I view the initial endowment of power, dusting of feet, and school of the prophet rituals as being the foundation for and integrated into the Kirtland Temple rituals and solemn assembly (as well as the Nauvoo Temple liturgy). Does he get into that much?

J. Stapley?s question on sources is a difficult one to answer since I don?t have statistical data to give the exact ratio of new source material to old. There is a lot of new source material. At least 30% of the source material is new and it may be as much as 50%. Even a lot of the material that was already available in the Church Archives and other places, however, gains new significance when there are additional sources that give more light on the situation. I hope those who?ve read B. H. Roberts, Backman, or other good histories of Kirtland will find the story largely familiar in terms of the big picture and not feel like it is completely unrecognizable. Joseph Smith lived in Kirtland, received lots of revelations, was attacked, tried to start a financial institution which encountered troubles, and was forced to leave. I?ve tried to flesh out the details.

I did not deal with any rituals introduced in Kirtland because of their connection with the LDS temple tradition and my reverence for that tradition. Making this statement perhaps exposes my thinking on the subject and I?m tempted to comment further but will leave it at this.

I don?t know how influential the Lectures on Faith was after its publication among Kirtland?s members. Most of the ideas expressed there could find a comfortable home within the early Reformed Baptist tradition and if Sidney Rigdon did not write the lectures he clearly contributed toward their development. I found no one citing from them and if you read between the lines with the collapse of the Kirtland Safety Society it appears that members were not generally familiar with them or had at least not incorporated them in their own lives. But I had not made the connection between the Lectures on Faith and the Kirtland Safety Society collapse until now. If you manage to get or borrow a copy of the book , I?d love to hear what you (plural) think in terms of my arguments for the collapse of the Safety Society and how the response is or is not reflective of the Lectures on Faith and the perception that faith is an active agent. All paper money is an act of faith and essentially it was the lack of faith by key members of the Church that helped bring down the institution.

Question 5

Does Mark?s background in anthropology influence the ways he reads history? Are there any methodological tools from the discipline evident in the book that might surprise more conventionally trained historians?

Matt B.?s question about how anthropology has influenced my work is one I regularly ask myself. I consciously tried to avoid using anthropology in an overt way in the book to interpret the material. (I cite a few anthropological works at various points but I hope they contribute toward the narrative.) I wanted this to read like history. But I have to admit that anthropology has profoundly shaped my thinking and approach. You?ll find that Clifford Geertz? assertion that thick description in an ethnography is necessary to adequately convey a culture to the reader has influenced my own approach. I wanted this to read like an ethnography. That popular phrase: ?the past is like a foreign country, they do things differently there? begs the skills of an anthropologist trained to understand a culture in its entirety who can bring that culture to life for his/her readers. I hope I was somewhat successful in that. On a personal level, my studies in anthropology profoundly shaped my understanding of a number of issues. I?ve mentioned above my connection between slave religion and what the early Morley community were practicing. I had read a number of Church histories over the years that described the Morley family and in general terms what had occurred, but it was only as I went through the primary source material that I began to say to myself ?I?ve seen this before.? It was my own experience doing my doctoral work in a Nengre village in Suriname where I saw possessions, speaking in tongues, ring dances, etc. that I saw before me in the Kirtland documents. That led me to additional sources. I did the same thing in other areas looking at language, violence, kinship relations, and so on.

I used methodological approaches from anthropology interspersed with more traditional historical method. Most of that will be invisible to the reader. Although my discussion of the first use of the word Mormon to apply to believers in Kirtland before it spread throughout the county draws its inspiration from Cognitive Anthropology, readers will not be aware of that unless they read the footnotes and recognize the sources I cite. My archeological background and the fact that I actually lived in and 1840s tavern in Eastfield Village in New York for a brief period as we lived and ate as though it was the 1820s while we studied material culture from the period was a great help in understanding the physical context in which much of the Kirtland experience occurred.

Question 6

I?m interested in the transformation of Ridgon?s Campbellite, ?seeker? group into what some historians have seen as a ?nucleus? for later church growth and development. What were the dynamics of the contact between the newly-converted in Kirtland and NY Church members who relocated there? Was there incidence of conflict, social or theological? To what extent did Restorationist, Campbellite doctrines influence or inform doctrinal development in Kirtland? What did ?the Family? contribute to Mormon economic models?

Ryan T. asks a question I tried to answer in detail in the book. The relationship between the Reformed Baptists (Campbellites and after August 1830 Disciples of Christ) and the Rigdonites, Morley Family, Mormonites is complex and I still don?t think I have a comfortable handle on all the connections as they existed. The sources just are not complete enough. However, a good chunk of the book seeks to explore this relationship to the extent possible. It appears that the Morley Family becomes the nucleus for the Kirtland Church. The New York members are largely on the periphery. Some of the New Yorkers pack up and go back home while most move on to Missouri. (I pretty much ignore the New Yorkers in the book because they left too little source material behind to deal with adequately.) I?ve already addressed briefly the question of interaction between Campbellite and Mormonite doctrine in Kirtland and will just add that even when the Reformed Baptists do not influence Latter-day Saints directly they are often the source behind questions that lead Joseph Smith to seek revelation on specific subjects. Since much of the book explores this subject it?s probably easiest to wait and see if there are specific questions after you?ve had a chance to read it.

Question 7

In what way did the Feb. 1832 ?Vision? in the Johnson house impact the people of Hiram twp., Portage Co., Ohio ? both
members and non-members of the Church? What was their reaction?

I argue in the book that there were two main motivations for the mobbing of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon in Hiram. One was the planned migration then underway where more than 100 of the local residents were to leave for Missouri, including family members of some of the attackers. The second motivation was the Vision at the Johnson house. Although much of the information in the Vision was already familiar to Hiram?s residents in some fashion, there were some critical differences. John Johnson?s brother Eliphalet (Eli) Johnson in later years argued ?there?s got to be a hell for the shaddocks.? Others seemed to agree. The evidence is compelling that some of the local participants in the mob saw the Vision as a radical divergence from what they had all believed up to that point in time, principally in terms of its description of what would happen to the unjust. An exploration of the Vision and its impact is the major focus of ?Part 3? of the four parts of the book. I?d love to know what readers think of the evidence and my presentation of the data.

Thanks for letting me respond.


Article filed under Scholarly Inquiry


  1. Mark: this is simply terrific. You’ve made me even more excited for your book, and I was already quite excited.

    Comment by Ben — March 31, 2010 @ 9:36 am

  2. Thanks for taking the time to respond, Mark. I look forward to reading your volume.

    Comment by J. Stapley — March 31, 2010 @ 10:36 am

  3. Thanks, Mark, for your thoughtful and thorough responses.

    Comment by Christopher — March 31, 2010 @ 10:45 am

  4. Thank you Mark. I anxiously await getting my hands on one of these–both as a scholar and as a member of the Kirtland Stake.

    Comment by SC Taysom — March 31, 2010 @ 10:53 am

  5. Very cool. Thanks.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — March 31, 2010 @ 11:13 am

  6. Excellent stuff again from JI. Thanks Mark.

    Comment by BHodges — March 31, 2010 @ 12:01 pm

  7. Again, fantastic, this does so much for the research I’m wanting to do. In the past there seems to have been a divide between “outsiders” who wanted to look for sources of Mormon ideas but lacked the expertise in Mormon sources and insiders who had the expertise but who resisted such notions. Mark’s book looks the the fruit of bringing the two together.

    Your ideas about the influence of black evangelicalism is fantastic. My adviser, Ann Taves, writes all about that but I had written that off as not relevant for Mormonism, but looks like I was wrong. I’m sure she’ll think this is really neat.

    Of course I bring up the Benjamin Abbott narrative in Methodism. Abbott had an unsettling experience praying in the woods (said he felt like someone was there) and then in his bed room has a vision of the Father and the Son. So there were other Methodists narratives.

    I’ve only thumbed through your thesis so far, Christopher, what do you do with all this?

    Also I meant to ask what influence you saw the Whitmer’s as having (or any other Germans).

    Comment by Steve Fleming — March 31, 2010 @ 12:01 pm

  8. I have an article forthcoming in JMH (currently revising) on JS’s first vision and Methodist conversion narratives. I engage Abbott, among others, there.

    Comment by Christopher — March 31, 2010 @ 12:17 pm

  9. Is the link between the “Slaying Power” and African American congregations really definitive?

    Comment by J. Stapley — March 31, 2010 @ 12:26 pm

  10. Dang. Another distraction. Thanks Mark, really looking forward to your book.

    Comment by WVS — March 31, 2010 @ 2:34 pm

  11. This is excellent,and useful to some work I’m doing right now, Mark, particularly the bits on enthusiasm. Will look for a copy of the book. Thanks.

    Comment by matt b. — March 31, 2010 @ 2:48 pm

  12. I apologize for being so uninformed, but I don’t know who Mark Staker is. Could you please provide some bio info?

    Comment by larryco_ — March 31, 2010 @ 2:56 pm

  13. No worries, Larryco. See this post where we solicited the questions. Under the book picture.

    Comment by Jared T — March 31, 2010 @ 3:04 pm

  14. Mark, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions and share your knowledge. I especially appreciate your arguments about the innerconnectivity of the early Church and the black community. Fascinating!

    Comment by Ardis S — March 31, 2010 @ 6:38 pm

  15. Fantastic post. My favorite of the month out of all the Mormon blogs by far.

    Walter Scott, for example, saw the Telestial World as the one Adam and Eve lived in before the fall

    This remains a folk doctrine among many and there are parallels in Jewish beliefs in Kabbalism for this as well. Not with the term “telestial” of course, but something quite similar. Not that I’m suggesting much by that. I bet though the idea enters Rigdon from a Bible commentary or the like. It’d be interesting for someone to pursue this as it remains an idea through to the Utah period.

    Comment by Clark — March 31, 2010 @ 8:55 pm

  16. Thanks, Mark. Your responses are very helpful and the foci of your book are intriguing. I’m with Ben in very much anticipating the book.

    Comment by Ryan T — March 31, 2010 @ 9:46 pm

  17. Thank you for your kind responses. Steve Fleming mentions he is studying under Ann Taves. I felt I needed to add that her writings greatly influenced the first part of my book and I would love to know her thoughts about how I read her. Steve Sorenson (former manager of the LDS Church Archives) first introduced me to her work a few years before he died. Steve thought she had produced phenomenal material. I have to agree. It wasn’t until I had wrestled with her work for about a year and searched widely in primary source material that I realized the Shouting Methodists expected when “the power” (which they defined as the power of God) came that it would bind their tongues so they could not speak and throw them to the ground. Methodist minister George Lane’s wife and daughter described personal experiences with this in their journals. Recognizing this put Joseph Smith’s First Vision in a whole new light for me which plays an important role at the June 1831 conference in Ohio where tongue binding manifests itself in a variety of contexts. As one of the great scholars of the American religious experience, I’d love to know Ann Taves’ thoughts on my interpretation of the entire episode.

    Comment by Mark Staker — April 1, 2010 @ 10:22 am

  18. It’s interesting Mark, that Joseph attributes so many other kinds of religious experiences as of the devil. That tongue binding being one example. Of course some have also written about this in terms of cognitive science and so-called hags dreams which is also an interesting take on this.

    Comment by Clark — April 1, 2010 @ 11:10 am

  19. Thanks, Mark, for your post! I’m really looking forward to reading your work and assigning some of it to my students this summer in Kirtland. I pre-ordered it ages ago and can’t wait to finally get my copy.

    While you have deferred addressing the Kirtland endowments in this book, in the future will you be doing any analysis of them without connecting them to Nauvoo? I’m really fascinated by the Kirtland endowments in particular.

    There so much to think about here–great stuff!

    Comment by David Howlett — April 1, 2010 @ 11:20 am

  20. Thank you Mark.
    As has been said, this is among the most exciting research on Mormon history. I am very much looking forward to reading your book!!

    Anything we can learn about how God works through his imperfect children will help all of us draw nearer to Him.

    All Prophets are influenced by environment. It is thrilling to learn that African ideas may have helped shape Christ’s modern Church, as African cultures certainly influenced Church leaders in the past. Abraham, Moses, Mark (the Gospel writer), and even Jesus, grew and learned in Africa.

    Comment by Joe — April 1, 2010 @ 1:24 pm

  21. Good to hear your views on these things, Mark.

    I feel that we have finally turned a page in our history
    and are beginning to know details never before widely
    shared and discussed.

    Now — if I could literally “turn the pages” of your book,
    I’d be more than happy. still is not shipping,
    and I’m forced to call upon Mike Marquardt to read me
    paragraphs over the phone, long distance from Utah.

    (By the way, Mark — Mike and Scott like the book)

    Comment by Dale Broadhurst — April 1, 2010 @ 5:11 pm

  22. David,

    It is good to hear from you again. I don’t plan on dealing with the Kirtland endowments in the immediate future. I’ve spent the past four years working full-time on Harmony, Pennsylvania research for historic sites restoration there and will likely be publishing some material connected with that. But eventually I may be able to deal with some aspects of Kirtland’s history in greater detail. The Kirtland Temple Bookstore should already have copies of the book available. I’m also frustrated that Amazon has not begun to ship yet. I have a number of copies of the book at home but I can’t sell them and ship them for as cheap as Amazon can.

    Comment by Mark Staker — April 1, 2010 @ 6:43 pm

  23. Due to a pre-mature placement on Amazon by a seller, it’s taking a bit to get things corrected and making the book available on It should be sorted out soon.

    Comment by Loyd — April 1, 2010 @ 10:39 pm

  24. FYI, they’re not at the Kirtland Temple store yet and the folks there don’t know when they will arrive, although they are anxiously awaiting the time.

    Comment by SC Taysom — April 2, 2010 @ 10:37 am

  25. Following up on Mark’s response to question 7, I would like to know what, exactly, Eli Johnson would have been referring to by the term “shaddocks.” The only meaning I can find for that word is the citrus fruit more commonly known as the pommelo. Was this a 19th century term for what the French would call “les minables”? If so, how was it derived?

    The closest I can come involves a novel that Eli Johnson may have known when he made that comment, depending on the time of the “later years” that Mark mentions. Here’s a quotation from the Petzold Book Blog (treating with George Meredith’s 1859 novel “The Ordeal of Richard Feverel”) that seems to link the pommelo with the sin-facilitating fruit of Eden:

    Although Sir Austin believes his System to be founded on sound scientific principles ? and Meredith often sardonically refers to him as a Scientific Humanist ? it is obvious from the early pages of Richard Feverel that Sir Austin has a misogynist view of women based on his belief in Original Sin, which he often refers to as the Apple Disease or the Great Shaddock Dogma. (Shaddock is an early term for grapefruit, which was associated with the forbidden fruit.)

    Comment by Barry Wood — April 6, 2010 @ 5:21 pm

  26. Perhaps Johnson was referring to members of a family with the surname Shaddock/Shattuck.

    An 1885 letter published in the Vermont Phoenix noted Johnson’s “utter detestation of ‘the Shattucks,’ a large family of boys and girls then living on High street, who, in a spirit of frolic and mischief, were accustomed to poke fun at and annoy him beyond his powers of endurance, insomuch that he finally came to hate each particular hair on their several heads with an intensity that knew no limits.”

    Comment by Justin — April 7, 2010 @ 12:20 pm


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