Tuesday, December 30, 2003
I just finished reading Johnson & Wilentz's the Kingdom of Matthias, a weird little history I found in a used bookstore in Pittsburgh last week. It's a study of a very minor cult figure of 1830s New York. The book works best when it's not talking about "Matthias" (a Scot from upstate New York born Robert Matthews), but rather about the religious context of the times in question. Matthias' cult, "the Kingdom", is rather tedious, picayune and dull by modern standards. When the authors use Matthias as a starting-point to explore the general religious landscape, things start to sparkle and shine. The authors are of the opinion that Matthias was a failed version of Mormonism's Joseph Smith. I don't know enough about early Mormonism and Smith himself to properly judge that evaluation, but it intrigues me enough to go looking up material on Smith's early years. I rather regret not buying that life of Joseph Smith that was sitting next to the Kingdom of Matthias on the shelf.