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Americanist Approaches to The Book of Mormon$
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Elizabeth Fenton and Jared Hickman

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190221928

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190221928.001.0001

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Kinship, The Book of Mormon, and Modern Revelation

Kinship, The Book of Mormon, and Modern Revelation

(p.233) 9 Kinship, The Book of Mormon, and Modern Revelation
Americanist Approaches to The Book of Mormon

Nancy Bentley

Oxford University Press

What relations do modern Americans have to dead ancestors? In the first half of the nineteenth century, this question preoccupied authors of many stripes, from ethnologist Lewis Henry Morgan, to Iroquois prophet Handsome Lake. Both from rural New York, Morgan and Handsome Lake each grappled with the effects of white settlers’ occupation of indigenous homelands by turning to questions of kinship. When The Book of Mormon was published in 1830, it too turned to the deep history of human kinship forms to define how red and white Americans were bound together by vexed ties of violence and habitation of the same land. This ancient Amerindian history told a story of how personal agency and private families could transform “backward” tribes into free people. It reconnected secular doctrines of free agency with Christian theology, disclosing the theological origins of secular thought about kinship. But while this “American Bible” shared key assumptions with Morgan’s secular kinship theory, its status as modern revelation left the Mormon faithful vulnerable to being dismissed and displaced.

Keywords:   The Book of Mormon, contract, Handsome Lake, kinship, Lewis Henry Morgan, personhood, secularity, Joseph Smith, Jr.

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