The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power

The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power

A Mormon historian traces the evolution of the Latter-day Saints' organizational structure from the original, egalitarian "priesthood of believers" to an elaborately hierarchical institution. Quinn also documents the alterations in the historical record which obscured these developments and analyzes the five presiding quorums of the LDS hierarchy....

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Title:The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power
Author:D. Michael Quinn
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Edition Language:English

The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power Reviews

  • Austin Archibald

    Again, don't agree with all his conclusions, but this was such a fascinating look at the early church and its development. So many fascinating and little-known accounts with eye-opening nuggets of info, all packed in a relatively concise book. Not afraid to share controversial accounts, no matter the implications, though his interpretation/conclusion may sometimes jump the gun.

  • Jeffrey Howard

    Joseph Smith, Mormonism's King, once stated "No man knows my history. I cannot tell it; I shall never undertake it." Many powerhouse historians like D. Michael Quinn are doing the work instead, and we are beginning to really see a far more complete and unobscured picture of "America's Religion." Quinn demystifies the theocratic movement's true dynamics.

    It's deliciously fascinating to read the history. As a reader who knows 21st century Mormonism's Official History, learning how thoroughly it co

    Joseph Smith, Mormonism's King, once stated "No man knows my history. I cannot tell it; I shall never undertake it." Many powerhouse historians like D. Michael Quinn are doing the work instead, and we are beginning to really see a far more complete and unobscured picture of "America's Religion." Quinn demystifies the theocratic movement's true dynamics.

    It's deliciously fascinating to read the history. As a reader who knows 21st century Mormonism's Official History, learning how thoroughly it contradicts the original unfolding of Mormonism's origins felt like a child discovering, before all the other child, that Santa Claus is not real, and rather than being devastated by the lie, he's delighted! Most non-apologetic historians have been in the know for years. Most Mormons still just don't know their own history.

    So many compiled contradictions and missing links in the Official History make sense under Quinn's analysis. He's thoroughly captivating, capturing the difficult relationship 21st century Mormons must confront with their founding prophet: "In a tradition that claims primacy for the latest word from church headquarters[revelation], the intent of the founder has become largely irrelevant. Mormons can venerate Joseph Smith from a safe distance as an ideal and avoid the burden of accepting him as a complex and disturbing fact of history."

    Smith's controversial history is best described in this incredibly lengthy sentence by Quinn: "Some may feel uncomfortable when confronted with the full scope of Joseph Smith's activities as youthful mystic, treasure-seeker, visionary, a loving husband who decived his wife regarding about forty of his polygamous marriages, a man for whom friendship and loyalty meant everything but who provoked disaffection by 'testing' the loyalty of his devoted associates, an anti-Mason who became a Master Mason, church president who physically assaulted both Mormons and Non-Mormons for insulting him, a devoted father who loved to care for his own children and those of others, temperance leader and social drinker, Bible revisionist and esoteric philosopher, city planner, pacifist and commander-in-chief, student of Hebrew and Egyptology, bank president, jail escapee, healer, land speculator, mayor, judge and fugitive from justice, guarantor of religious freedom but limiter of freedom of speech and press, preacher and street-wrestler, polygamist and advocate of women's rights, husband of other men's wives, a declared bankrupt who was the trustee-in-trust of church finances, political horse-trader, U.S. presidential candidate, abolitionist, theocratic king, inciter to riot, and unwilling martyr."

    Half of this volume contains Quinn's footnotes, and appendices, many of which are somehow more fascinating than the main text itself--which is absolutely impressive!

    In the first book of this 3 part series, we see that Mormonism developed in the context of magical thinking consistent with 19th century minds, primarily driven by the actions of charismatic and power-grabbing individuals. Origins of Power shows time and time again how much Mormon theology and positions of power were predicated upon a person's loyalty to Joseph Smith and what enabled him to concentrate power, eventually having his secret theocratic Council of 50 ordain him King of the World. Brigham Young followed similar patterns as he led roughly half of the Mormons who survived Smith's martyrdom to Utah territory. Many other reasonable successors to the Mormon Prophet's mantle made similar powerplays and lost out to bullying Brigham. During his lifetime Smith made numerous contradicting statements and revelations over who should succeed him, which allowed for over a dozen justified individuals to stake their claim to the Mormon throne. Quinn makes a rather convincing case for Nauvoo, Illinois Stake President, William Marks, as the most obvious successor. Sadly, he's hardly a familiar name in contemporary Mormons' ears.

    Mormon origins are filled with all the kind of intrigue you would expect from a government or criminal organization: sexual liaisons, bribery, revisionist history, secret combinations, propagandists, murder ordered by leadership councils, dissenters bullied and abused, and a largely dedicated mass of followers oblivious to the real workings of their chosen authority on earth (see Council of Fifty and Anointed Quorum). At its height, Nauvoo was the 2nd largest city in Illinois, with the largest militia in the state, a militia which stood just a few thousand men smaller than the US army! Smith and his Council of Fifty built a theocracy they hoped would rival any other nation or kingdom on the earth.

    So far, Quinn's presentation of Mormon origins is the most consistent, reasonable, and complete telling of this fantastic American tale. He makes sense of the faith from a naturalist's view even though he remains a believer himself (he has been excommunicated from the LDS church since 1993).

    It doesn't get much better than D. Michael Quinn!

  • Samuel

    It's more a 4.5 than a full 5, given that I think Quinn occasionally reads more into a given fact than is actually present. But this fearsomely-researched text -- well over half of it is footnotes and appendices -- shines a bright light on the development of the hierarchical structure of the LDS church. Using primary sources from people with a dizzying variety of views on and involvement with Mormonism, Quinn shows that the development of the LDS hierarchy was a far cry from the orderly, unambig

    It's more a 4.5 than a full 5, given that I think Quinn occasionally reads more into a given fact than is actually present. But this fearsomely-researched text -- well over half of it is footnotes and appendices -- shines a bright light on the development of the hierarchical structure of the LDS church. Using primary sources from people with a dizzying variety of views on and involvement with Mormonism, Quinn shows that the development of the LDS hierarchy was a far cry from the orderly, unambiguous story presented in the heavily edited and redacted official histories. Rather, it changed repeatedly, based on Joseph Smith's theological alterations and personal friendships, which left the succession options at Smith's death far from clear. Threats, violence, bribery, prevarication, and possibly even murder swirled around the movement before Brigham Young emerged as the unequivocal leader of the majority of the church. All of this is laid out clearly in this book, with the evidence to back it up.

    A must-read for anyone interested in the history of one of the most interesting of the American religious movements to come out of the 19th century.

  • Leanne

    I love history. I especially love LDS history because it is so full of surprises. I mean most most Mormons (myself included) grew up believing that between the primary song memorization and seminary graduation, we had the full of back story of our church. Consequently, even scratching the mere surface of church-approved history will cause the average member a huge startle reaction.....which of course is what makes me want to share this book with all sorts of relatives and friends who rather expe

    I love history. I especially love LDS history because it is so full of surprises. I mean most most Mormons (myself included) grew up believing that between the primary song memorization and seminary graduation, we had the full of back story of our church. Consequently, even scratching the mere surface of church-approved history will cause the average member a huge startle reaction.....which of course is what makes me want to share this book with all sorts of relatives and friends who rather experience startle reactions only at Lagoon. I love hearing, "What? Where did you get that?"

    It takes little more than one direct quote from Oliver Cowdery for many Mormons to panic that they are under the influence of "anti-Mormon" literature. I wish I could convince people that "little known" is not the same as "anti-Mormon." But that can be a pretty hard sell.

    Seriously D. Michael Quinn's research policy appears to be: "Why use one source to reveal an unknown fact when you can supply six?" Nevertheless most people aren't truly interested in the source....they just want to end the conversation.

    But I don't. I love Quinn's calm, even way of discussing Mormon origins in both his writing and his teaching. He was one of my favorite professors in college because of his frank curiosity, careful preparation, and tenacity to the truth.

    The text is definitely dense, but I find the whole read fascinating.

  • Liesel

    An extensively researched book on the LDS church's early history in regards to the development of "power" (or I would say authority structure) from egalitarian into an elaborate hierarchy. The coverage of the succession crisis after Joseph Smith's murder is comprehensive. He was an active member of the LDS church (at the time of the writing), a professor at BYU, and had access to LDS church archives, which are now heavily restricted. A dense scholarly book to read, which about one-third is citat

    An extensively researched book on the LDS church's early history in regards to the development of "power" (or I would say authority structure) from egalitarian into an elaborate hierarchy. The coverage of the succession crisis after Joseph Smith's murder is comprehensive. He was an active member of the LDS church (at the time of the writing), a professor at BYU, and had access to LDS church archives, which are now heavily restricted. A dense scholarly book to read, which about one-third is citations and appendixes, it written for an audience seriously interested in church history. Whether people agree with his conclusions or not, it is an invaluable book on the topic.

    Quinn authored this book at no small risk to his membership in a church that censors scholars and historians whose writings are not considered "faith promoting" or fit with the official history. (The reasoning given is protecting the testimony of members.)

    For critics who hold up this book as anti-Mormon, I would say that is an unfair characterization. It isn't an attack of the LDS church, but an academically honest book. Perhaps people classify a work as anti-Mormon if it is anything that does not hold up the church in an exclusively flattering light or follows the church's request of only writing truth that is considered "helpful."

    As a member, I personally did not find it helpful or faith promoting to learn the version of LDS church history that I later discovered was sanitized, manipulated and rewritten including concealments, distortions, and half-truths. Learning the accurate history, even the less flattering or colorful aspects, doesn't completely prove or disprove any religion.

  • Rob

    Quinn, in his usual style, explores the development and evolution of the LDS hierarchy with painstaking breadth and depth. Includes an account of the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood. Roughly half the pages are devoted to exhaustive endnotes and detailed appendices–the latter include thorough details on the proceedings of the minutes of the Council of Fifty as well as its members, known Danites, and the activities of internal and external security forces. Appendices such as an LDS chron

    Quinn, in his usual style, explores the development and evolution of the LDS hierarchy with painstaking breadth and depth. Includes an account of the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood. Roughly half the pages are devoted to exhaustive endnotes and detailed appendices–the latter include thorough details on the proceedings of the minutes of the Council of Fifty as well as its members, known Danites, and the activities of internal and external security forces. Appendices such as an LDS chronology and biographies of important figures may be independently useful.

  • Susy

    Disturbing reading to the faithful, but certainly details the conflicts and shows a fuller picture than you will ever get in Sunday School or Seminary. Many feel like his footnotes are not accurate and that he has tainted the history to reflect his own personal views.

  • Erik

    This books offers a detailed look at the evolution of the early Mormon hierarchical structures. I found it to be very interesting, especially the part about the succession crisis. While sometimes it seemed like Quinn was a little too confident in his historical conclusions, overall I found it to be extremely well researched (the end notes make up more than half of the book). I'm not sure if I would recommend this book to someone just getting into Church history because of the necessity of a foun

    This books offers a detailed look at the evolution of the early Mormon hierarchical structures. I found it to be very interesting, especially the part about the succession crisis. While sometimes it seemed like Quinn was a little too confident in his historical conclusions, overall I found it to be extremely well researched (the end notes make up more than half of the book). I'm not sure if I would recommend this book to someone just getting into Church history because of the necessity of a foundational academic understanding of Mormon history. However, for those way interested in Mormon history, this is a must read.

  • KC

    I've had this book of my shelf for years now, and have used it as reference (as it is often cited by other LDS historical articles and books) but never got around to actually reading the core chapters until now. Luckily, this phonebook-sized tome is more than 50% index, footnotes, and appendix, so reading the actually chapters straight through is actually shorter than the average non-fiction book.

    Quinn shines at research. His thoroughness and ability to access obscure or off-limit documents is u

    I've had this book of my shelf for years now, and have used it as reference (as it is often cited by other LDS historical articles and books) but never got around to actually reading the core chapters until now. Luckily, this phonebook-sized tome is more than 50% index, footnotes, and appendix, so reading the actually chapters straight through is actually shorter than the average non-fiction book.

    Quinn shines at research. His thoroughness and ability to access obscure or off-limit documents is unparalleled. His storytelling and analysis is often a bit scattered and disjointed. Nonetheless, this is an important study, as it revisits the formation of the various leadership structures, quorums, sources of authority, and transfer of office that came to define not only the LDS Church but Mormonism's many factions.

    A few key items are interest include: (1) Cloudiness surrounding the Melchizedek Priesthood restoration. The evidence relating to who Joseph's lawyer at the time was is particularly compelling in placing the event well into 1830. (2) Definition of Apostle. The office long predates the quorum, and the quorum's jurisdiction was originally mutually exclusive with the twelve of the high councils. (3) Missouri violence. Long before Mormons took up arms in their defense, Quinn identifies the instances of violence against them without retribution that qualified them (according to scripture) to start fighting back. (4) Nauvoo Secrets. Polygamy, Council of Fifty, and international diplomacy in particular. (5) Succession crisis. David Smith as the End-time Davidic king was a interesting possibility to consider.

    I'll get to the rest of the series eventually. Until then, this was a good read to get caught up on.

  • Bob Draben

    Quinn, a believing Mormon is a rather thorough researcher and writer of Mormon history. Until a little over ten years ago he enjoyed the privilege of access to the LDS (Mormon) Church's archives. He has also searched other archives, libraries and private sources. He backs his facts that he records with countless footnotes. Almost a third of this book consists of footnotes. His detractors complain that these are just intended to distract the reader and make it appear that these are "true" facts.

    I

    Quinn, a believing Mormon is a rather thorough researcher and writer of Mormon history. Until a little over ten years ago he enjoyed the privilege of access to the LDS (Mormon) Church's archives. He has also searched other archives, libraries and private sources. He backs his facts that he records with countless footnotes. Almost a third of this book consists of footnotes. His detractors complain that these are just intended to distract the reader and make it appear that these are "true" facts.

    I read this book with a personal interest in the Mormon hierarch since I was a student at Brigham Young University when much of the controversy about Ezra Taft Benson and the John Birch Society was erupting across the campus and elsewhere. Later I was a witness to the LDS Church's anti-ERA activities which probably contributed to its defeat.

    The book details a history of the Mormon hierarch since its inception in 1830. Quinn continues as an important, albeit, controversial historian. He was excommunicated in about 1994.

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