Rewriting Eden With the Book of Mormon: Joseph Smith and the Reception of Genesis 1-6 in Early America
Date of Award:
Master of Arts (MA)
Philip L. Barlow
Philip L. Barlow
Norman L. Jones
The colonists living in the new United States after the American War for Independence were faced with the problem of forming new identities once they could no longer recognize themselves, collectively or individually, as subjects of Great Britain. After the French Revolution American politicians began to weed out the more radical political elements of the newly formed United States, particularly by painting one of the revolution’s biggest defenders, Thomas Paine, as unworthy of the attention he received during the American War for Independence, and fear ran throughout the states that an anarchic revolution like the French Revolution could bring the downfall of the nation. State, local, and regional organizations sprang up to fight Jacobinism, the legendary secret group of murderers and anarchists that fought against the French government.
This distressing situation gave rise to new literature that sought to describe the “real” origins and background of Jacobinism in the War in Heaven and in Eden, and a new movement against Jacobinism was established. Fears about the organization of secret societies did not wane in the decades after the French Revolution, but worsened in the last half of the 1820s when a Freemason, William Morgan, disappeared under mysterious circumstances in connection to an exposé of Masonry he had written. Most Americans assumed that Freemasons had abducted and murdered Morgan in order to keep their oaths and rites secret.
One influential early American who was influenced by this socio-historical was Joseph Smith, Jr., the founding prophet of Mormonism. Smith interpreted the Eden narrative in light of the movement against secret societies, and literary motifs common to anti-Jacobin literature during the period provided language and interpretive strategies for understanding the Eden narrative that would influence how Smith produced his new scripture. Only a few months after the publication of the Book of Mormon Smith edited the version of Eden found there into the text of the Bible itself and made the biblical narrative conform to the version found in the Book of Mormon through his own revisions and additions.
Townsend, Colby, "Rewriting Eden With the Book of Mormon: Joseph Smith and the Reception of Genesis 1-6 in Early America" (2019). All Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 7681.
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