Cover image for Joseph Smith : the making of a prophet
Joseph Smith : the making of a prophet
Vogel, Dan, 1955-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Salt Lake City [Utah] : Signature Books, [2004]

Physical Description:
xxii, 715 pages : illustrations, maps ; 26 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BX8695.S6 V64 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Rarely does a biographer capture the sense of being in a different time and mindset to the extent that readers feel they are reliving events through the eyes of the biographer s subject. This is the skill of Dan Vogel after twenty-five years of researching Joseph Smith s life and publishing on such related issues as Seekerism, the Book of Mormon, views of Smith s contemporaries about Indian origins, and the existing documents pertaining to Smith family experiences.

Vogel weaves together strands of evidence into a complete fabric including, among other aspects of Smith s environment, the content of his daily dictation of scriputre and revelation all contributing to a nearly complete view of what occurred on any given day in Smith s lfie. The result is as much intellectual history as traditional biography. Readers will feel engaged in the dramatic, formative events in the prophet s life against a backdrop of theology, local and national politics, Smith family dynamics, organizational issues, and interpersonal relations. One can form a mental picture, and many will find themselves carrying on an internal dialogue about the issues raised.

Vogel addresses the following broad themes:
1. The home that Joseph Smith was raised in was religiously divided. His mother s family was orthodox and partly mystical; his father s family tended toward rationalism and skepticism. Joseph s maternal grandfather published an account of seeing a heavenly light and hearing Jesus voice. Joseph s paternal grandfather promoted Thomas Paine s skeptical critique of the Bible, The Age of Reason.

2. When Andrew Jackson was elected U.S. president in 1828, it was a key transitional period in American history. Jackson was a Mason and an advocate of secularism, which alarmed evangelical Protestants.

3. The Smith family experienced a series of financial setbacks and lost their farm in 1825. Joseph felt disinherited and saw no way of escape no chance for his family to regain its former standing in the community.

4. Joseph found solace in religion. In the early 1820s, he had a powerful conversion experience and felt that Jesus had forgiven him of his sins. This inspired him to share the gospel message with others, particularly with his own family. About the same time, Smith found a talent for preaching and delivered passable Methodist sermons at a nearby revival.

5. Over time, Joseph became aware that people trusted him and that he could be an influence for good or ill, that even through nefarious means, God worked through him when his heart was right. He realized this when he led groups in search of Spanish treasure in New York and Pennsylvania. Although no treasure was found, the men sincerely believed that Smith had a spiritual gift and could see where casks of gold were hidden in the earth. This training ground in spiritual leadership was invaluable because the prophet learned how to create an environment for belief one in which people could exercise faith and be converted to Christ through the sensible influence of the Spirit, all prior to the overarching work of restoring primitive Christianity."

Author Notes

Dan Vogel is the editor of  Early Mormon Documents , a five-volume series that won Best Documentary awards from both the Mormon History Association and the John Whitmer Historical Association. He is the editor of  The Word of God: Essays on Mormon Scripture ; author of  Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon ;  Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet  and  Religious Seekers and the Advent of Mormonism ; and co-editor of  American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon . He is also a contributor to  The Prophet Puzzle: Interpretive Essays on Joseph Smith  and  Differing Visions: Dissenters in Mormon History , among others. He has presented research papers at the annual Mormon History Association meetings, Sunstone Theological Symposium, and similar conferences. He is currently preparing a definitive edition of Joseph Smith's multi-volume  History of the Church . He and his wife live in Westerville, Ohio.  

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Was Joseph Smith a true prophet or a religious pretender? Vogel, who edited the five-volume series Early Mormon Documents, attempts to answer this and other questions in this somewhat tedious, workmanlike psychological biography of Smith. In his youth, Vogel says, Smith experienced a dream about gold tablets and the angel Moroni that he later shaped into a narrative of his prophetic calling. Vogel performs a close reading of the Book of Mormon in search of clues to the development of Smith's religious life, arguing that while the book reveals Smith's own inner religious conflicts his beliefs about eternal damnation, for example the process of "translating" the Book of Mormon exposes a religious leader who was willing to use any means at hand to secure his prophetic authority. Vogel also questions whether the gold plates were really delivered to Smith by an angel or whether Smith fashioned them himself, for he would not let anyone see them uncovered. Vogel's speculations that Smith engaged in deception to obtain his status as God's chosen man will certainly provoke strenuous objections, but his tone is a careful balance of criticism and admiration. The book's chief flaw is that it does not fulfill its own ambitious goals. After an introduction in which Vogel declares his intention to draw upon family-systems theory to analyze the Smith family's dysfunctionality and to use his research on the methods of the charlatan to better understand Smith as a religious pretender, the biography veers off into other directions and ends abruptly at the height of Smith's career. (Apr. 4) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Vogel is nothing if not ambitious. He aims to write "an interpretive biography of an emotional and intellectual life" of Joseph Smith (1805-44), the founder of Mormonism. This volume covers the first part of Smith's career, up to 1831. Smith provoked controversy from early adolescence until his death-and it didn't stop then. There are hundreds of Smith biographies, ranging from the hagiographic to the muckraking, but the best most can do is provide a piece of what has been called the prophet puzzle. Vogel edited the five-volume Early Mormon Documents covering the same period. His expertise serves him well as he deals judiciously with questions about such issues as the nature of Smith's treasure-seeking claims and the origins of the Book of Mormon. His analysis of the Book of Mormon is creative, psychologically astute, and grounded in a close reading of the sources and the secondary literature. This is certain to be the definitive biography for this part of Smith's life for a long time. One can only hope Vogel will be able to cover the later periods as exhaustively and with such care and skill.-David Azzolina, Univ. of Pennsylvania Lib., Philadelphia (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. vii
Section I The Smith Family in Vermont and New Hampshire, 1796-1816
1. Favored Sonp. 3
2. A Wilderness of Discontentp. 14
Section II Early Life in Western New York, 1816-1827
3. Promised Landp. 25
4. Slippery Treasuresp. 35
5. A Family Dividedp. 53
6. A Family in Crisisp. 68
7. Prophetic Callingp. 87
Section III The Book of Mormon Project, 1828-1830
8. Translation Crisisp. 111
9. The Lost "Book of Lehi"p. 130
10. King Benjamin, Preacher of Righteousnessp. 147
11. King Mosiah, Inspired Translatorp. 166
12. Abinadi, Prophet Martyrp. 175
13. Alma, Church Founderp. 189
14. Alma II Combats Universalismp. 200
15. Mosiah's Four Sons as Missionariesp. 221
16. Alma's Final Acts and Disappearancep. 234
17. Moroni, Military Herop. 253
18. Helaman and Nephi Battle Secret Combinationsp. 270
19. Samuel and Nephi, Heralds of Christ's Comingp. 283
20. Christ in Americap. 303
21. Mormon and Moroni--The Final Strugglep. 324
22. The Jareditesp. 340
23. Moroni's Farewellp. 362
24. Nephi--A New Beginningp. 379
25. The Death of Lehip. 403
26. Jacob and Nephi, Disciples of Isaiahp. 419
27. Jacob and His Posterityp. 441
28. Publishing the Book of Mormonp. 466
Section IV Founding the Church of Christ, 1830-1831
29. The Church of Christp. 489
30. Persecutionp. 507
31. Ohiop. 534
Mapsp. 559
Endnotesp. 567
Indexp. 697