Prophet or Magician? : the debate surrounding Joseph Smith Jr.
Many authors have seen elements of Joseph Smith Jr.'s life, and early Mormonism in general to be of a magical nature. D. Michael Quinn, John L. Brooke and Lance Owens in particular have written much on the subject. There does indeed appear to be a lot that may be called 'magical' in the life of the Mormon prophet. However, the distinction between magic and religion is very fine, and at times the two seem almost inseparable. Many anthropologists have wrestled with the terms, including W. J. Goode, who believes magic and religion can be distinguished on a continuum, and gives eleven characteristics to apply to practices thought to be magical. However, a distinction like this is determining whether the practices would be magic or religious to the outsider, from an etic perspective. It is also important to attempt to ascertain how the people involved see their practices. With regard to Joseph Smith Jr., this may be done by finding motives behind his actions, and locating any biblical antecedents, as he was strongly influenced and familiar with the Bible. It may be that while the practice looks magical, it has religious roots. Many of Joseph Smith Jr.'s early practices do appear of a magical nature. However, throughout his life, Smith moved away from these practices to something more recognisably religious. At the end of his life, he was immersed in hermeticism, something which has magical elements but unable to be tested by something like Goode's characteristics. By the time of Smith's death in 1844, he was recognisably a prophet to his people, as opposed to a hired 'money-digger.' He had created a new context with all the characteristics of a religion, and had moved away from any magical activity he may have been involved in earlier in his life.
Degree Name: Master of Arts
Degree Discipline: Religious Studies
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis