Twelve Thoughts on Raising the Dead

By September 28, 2015


1. Thomas Aquinas
?Those things are properly called miracles which are done by divine agency beyond the order commonly observed in nature.? Summa Contra Gentiles, III

2. Peter Cartwright
This was the most troublesome delusion of all; it made such an appeal to the ignorance superstition and credulity of the people, even saint as well as sinner . . . They would even set the very day that God was to burn the world like the self deceived modem Millerites. They would prophesy that if any one did oppose them God would send fire down from heaven and consume him like the blasphemous Shakers. They would proclaim that they could heal all manner of diseases and raise the dead just like the diabolical Mormons.
The Backwoods Preacher (London: Heylin, 1858), 22.

3. Ezra Booth
A dead body, which had been retained above ground two or three days, under the expectation that the dead would be raised, was insensible to the voice of those who commanded it to awake into life, and is destined to sleep in the grave till the last trump shall sound, and the power of God easily accomplishes the work, which frustrated the attempts and bid defiance to the puny efforts of the Mormonite. . . The parents of the deceased child, however, state, that they were prevented from procuring medical aid for the child, by the representations of the elders that it was in no danger-that it would certainly be restored.
Eber D. Howe, History of Mormonism (Painesville: The Author, 1840), 190.

4. Joseph Smith (8-20 July 1839)
About this time sickiness began to manifest itself much amongst the brethren as well as among the inhabitants of the place so that this week and next was generally spent in visiting the sick, and ministering unto them, some had faith enough and were head, others had not,
Joseph Smith Papers, Journals I:348. (hand of James Mulholland)

5. Joseph Smith (29 September-6 October 1839)
[M[any of the righteous shall fall a prey to disease to pestilence . . . So that it is an unhallowed principle to say that such and such have transgressed because they have been preyed upon by disease or death for all flesh is subject to death and the Saviour has said??Judge not ?lest ye be judged.?
Joseph Smith Papers, Journals I:352. (hand of James Mulholland)

6. Andrew Jackson Davis
Let no man, with the organ hope inflated and reflection enfeebled, persuade you Miracles are to be wrought transcending the laws of NATURE! ? [Humanity] will advance by means of experiment and mental progression, to a stand point, from which the common physical processes of Nature will promptly subserve his beneficent purposes, – is demonstrated by what he has already accomplished in the world of material sciences. Matter is the foundation of Mind Mind is the spiritualization of Matter
The Harmonial Man (Boston: Bela Marsh, 1856), 18, 25.

7. Brigham Young
The Lord Almighty could resuscitate a corpse lying before us…. He has the material on hand, and He knows every process, and He could give life to a lifeless being, with ease, by the elements he would operate upon and with. This is a great miracle in our estimation; but it would be no miracle at all to the Lord, because He knows precisely how to do it. There is no miracle to any being in the heavens or on the earth, only to the ignorant. To a man who understands the philosophy of all the phenomena that transpire, there is no such thing as a miracle. A great many think there are results without causes; there is no such thing in existence; there is a cause for every result that ever was or ever will be, and they are all in the providences and in the work of the Lord.
Journal of Discourses 13 (1871): 33.

8. While keeping vigil one night with the body of a neighbor, Zina Huntington was pondering ?power, faith, and the possibility of the dead being brought back to life now as well as in the days of the apostles.? She ?felt that she had the faith to call the neighbor back from the dead,? and ?The dead man obeyed, and opened his eyes full wide and gazed into hers.? Zina fled, and the corpse returned to lifelessness. ?She later explained to her children that the man was not meant to take up mortal life again, but God had allowed his momentary revival ?to show her that these signs do follow them that believe.”
Young Woman?s Journal 6 (1895): 376-381.

9. At North Platte an awful storm came up and the lightning struck one man and killed him … my mother ran out and anointed him with olive oil and he recovered.
Hyrum Peck, Fife Mormon Collection I, series I, volume I, number 96, in Folk Collection 4, Fife Folklore Archives; Utah State University.

10. William Abbott (on the death of Juanita Brooks?s first husband)
Presently the father and the brother of the dead man came up to see me and they said … they believed that he was to be called back to life … I said, ?Brothers and sisters, I know that such things have been done and can be done again, but I am not certain what the will of the Lord is in this case. However, all who have faith that such can be may enter the room. We formed a circle around the casket and I asked each to take his turn in prayer. ?But,? I said, ?I don?t want any one of you to attempt to call him back unless you be moved upon to do so by the power of the Holy Spirit to do so.? We each took our turn in prayer and at or near the close of the session, Ernest?s dear wife and his youngest brother Howard walked up arm in arm, knelt beside the casket. Each of them took a turn in prayer and they pled earnestly with the Lord to permit him to return. But all of no avail.
Levi Peterson, Juanita Brooks: Mormon Woman Historian (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1988), 53.

11. Folklore
A man … had a son who he loved very dearly. His son became quite ill and passed away. This man was very righteous and remembered the promise made by the Lord to give a righteous man his desires. He annointed…his son and commanded him to return to life. His son returned … but seemed to be unhappy…[he said] he had a work to do on the other side [and] begged his father to release him…[His father] told the Lord to take his son if it was his will. Shortly thereafter, the man?s son passed away in his sleep.
Folk Collection 8a, Group 7, Box 4,, Fife Folklore Archives. University of Utah.

12. The question is, of course, what counts as a miracle? What is the relationship between the supernatural and the natural world? Early Mormonism, I will posit, was influenced by the charismatic supernaturalism of nineteenth century revivalist Protestantism, but by the mid-nineteenth century, influenced by Joseph Smith?s Nauvoo theology and the speculations of the brothers Pratt and Brigham Young, came to an understanding of the universe in which the ?natural? and the ?supernatural? were one, and governed by rationality. This phenomenon is manifest perhaps most interestingly in the concept of priesthood, which rationalizes the supernatural even, perhaps, to the point of mechanization.

Note: Some of these sources, and the overall argument, have a debt to my Raising the Dead: Mormons, Evangelicals, and Miracles in America John Whitmer Historical Journal 27 (2007) 75-97.


Article filed under Cultural History Intellectual History Miscellaneous


  1. Of course you left off #11, which is CPR, developed from about 1930 to about 1960 with minor modifications since, which appears to have about a 10% success rate at raising the (admittedly only very freshly) dead.

    Hearing people talk about cardiac arrest survivors having “died” is a testament to the incredible imprecision that attends our conversations about the timing of death.

    I’m also intrigued that (I think; I read quickly) you left off the early teaching that the post-parousial resurrections would happen according to family lines and by priesthood. So these pre-parousial raisings are temporal shifts rather than a new class of action.

    Comment by smb — September 29, 2015 @ 6:19 am

  2. Didn’t Oliver Cowdery disclaim raising the dead after one of the Painesville Telegraph articles?

    The bit about BY also made me think about how he said the creation was effectuated through the knowledge of chemistry, etc. Not very supernatural, that.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 29, 2015 @ 10:59 am

  3. Brigham Young is fascinating to me precisely because of that. Often he honestly sounds like what today we’d call a physicalist or naturalist. I know it’s usually the Roberts/Widstoe/Talmage crowd who get viewed as verging towards scientism with JFS being the backlash, but honestly BY seems close to that view, albeit from more of a position of ignorance of actual science.

    Comment by Clark — September 29, 2015 @ 11:45 am

  4. Sam: surely; another point in the camp of Mormon scientism, as Stape and Clark point out.

    Comment by matt b — September 29, 2015 @ 12:03 pm

  5. What influence that baptism for the dead has on this question, if any? Less need of resurrection if souls can be cared for after death?

    Comment by Ryan T. — September 29, 2015 @ 2:21 pm

  6. Ryan, there were actually medieval stories of unbaptized pagans being raised from the dead so that they could be baptized and go to heaven.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — September 29, 2015 @ 3:24 pm

  7. You get these attempts among the super miracle believers like the French Prophets and the early Quakers. It was seen as the ultimate miracle.

    On my mission I had a guy who was a member of the Assembly of God say to me, “You got to have miracles to be the true church. So you bring a dead body over here and raise it from the dead and I’ll join yours.”

    Comment by Steve Fleming — September 29, 2015 @ 3:36 pm

  8. Congrats! You have an all male panel!

    Comment by LMK — September 29, 2015 @ 7:54 pm

  9. Edit: You know what? Good point. Post edited.

    Comment by matt b — September 30, 2015 @ 4:21 pm

  10. Glad you put the Zina one in. (She’s long been a hero of mine – it’s sad her many spiritual experiences aren’t better known)

    Comment by Clark — October 2, 2015 @ 9:55 am


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