Periodicals; Mormons; Religious thought; Philosophy and religion
Independent national quarterly established to express Mormon culture and examine the relevance of religion to secular life. It is edited by Mormons who wish to bring their faith into dialogue with human experience as a whole and to foster artistic and scholarly achievement based on their cultural heritage. The journal encourages a variety of viewpoints; although every effort is made to insure accurate scholarship and responsible judgment, the views expressed are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Mormon Church or of the editors.
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The Making of a Mormon Myth: The 1844 Transfiguration of Brigham Young
The Making of a Mormon Myth: The 1844 Transfiguration of Brigham Young* Richard S. Van Wagoner The brethren testify that brother Brigham Young is brother Joseph's legal successor. You never heard me say so. I say that I am a good hand to keep the dogs and wolves out of the flock. —Brigham Young (I860)1 Mormonism, America's unique religious manifestation, has a remarkable past. Nourished on the spectacular, the faith can count heroic martyrs, epic treks, and seemingly supernatural manifestations. Deep in the Mormon psyche is an attraction to prophetic posturing and swagger. In particular, Joseph Smith, Jr., and Brigham Young are icons who have come to dominate the Mormon world like mythical colossuses. After Smith's untimely 1844 murder, Brigham Young and an ailing Sidney Rigdon, the only surviving member of the First Presidency, became entangled in an ecclesiastical dogfight for primacy. Young, a masterful strategist with a political adroitness and physical vitality lacking in Rigdon, easily won the mantle.2 However, as time passed, the rather prosaic events surrounding this tussle for church leadership metamorphosed into a mythical marvel. The legend is now unsurpassed in Mormon lore, second only to Joseph Smith's own account of angelic ministrations and his "first vision." *This article first appeared in Vol. 28, No. 4 (Winter 1995): 1-24. 1. Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (Liverpool: LDS Bookseller's Depot, 1855-86), 8:69 (3 June 1860); hereafter JD. 2. For five years Rigdon had been weakened by episodic bouts of malaria and depression. For a discussion of his health problems, see Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994), 266-70, 279, 281-85.