Volume 2 of the Mormon Studies Review is shaping up to be another great issue. Inexpensive digital subscriptions should be available in time for its release—more information to come. In the meantime, we continue to occasionally post “Book Notes” highlighting Mormon studies titles we may not have space to cover in the Review. Like this one. Enjoy!
Twelve men were ordained as Latter-day Saint apostles in 1835 at Kirtland, Ohio. In the tumultuous early days of Mormonism, six of the original twelve ultimately lost their Apostleship—as well as any prominent place in subsequent histories of the Mormon movement. Lost Apostles is an attempt to tell the story of how these men came to be ordained, how they lost their ordination, and what became of them after that loss.
Authors William Shepard and Michael Marquardt observe that, in contrast with the smooth transfer of authority and united front exhibited by the contemporary LDS Church Quorum of the Twelve, the original apostles experienced a great deal of turmoil, disagreement, and misunderstanding in addition to their shared faith in the Restored gospel. While many traditional histories of Mormonism (as found in Institute manuals and the like) tend to gloss over some of the less savory events or depict the lost apostles in an unduly unfavorable light , a subtle hint in Doctrine and Covenants section 64 suggests a much richer history. The ancient disciples, the Lord warned the new twelve through Joseph Smith, “sought occasion against one another.” The new twelve were to avoid the struggles of their predecessors by focusing above all on forgiveness. As Shepard and Marquardt demonstrate, there was sometimes much to forgive and there were many missed opportunities for reconciliation.
The organization of the book is somewhat confusing, sometimes circling back on the same events in more than one chapter, sometimes assuming more familiarity with Mormonism on the part of the reader than is perhaps warranted (unless the book’s audience is primarily thought to be primarily of Mormon heritage), sometimes following Joseph Smith more closely than the individual apostles the book is intended to cover (difficult to avoid, given that their prominence results from their connection to the LDS movement’s prophet). The book includes little comparison with prominent religious contemporaries from other traditions or from American culture more broadly. Some of the best works in Mormon studies thus far locate their analysis of Mormonism within broader religious, political, and social contexts, thus contributing directly to a better understanding of Mormonism, but also the context in which the religion arose. Lost Apostles is more of an insider’s account, thus limiting its reach. ((For more on Mormon studies as an interdisciplinary, comparative enterprise, see Keith A. Erekson, et. al., “What Will We Do Now That New Mormon History Is Old: A Roundtable,” Journal of Mormon History 35/3 (2009): 223, and Blair Dee Hodges, “Mormon Studies: A Bibliographic Essay,” Mormon Studies Review 1 (2013): 223–235.))
Rather than presenting a strong central thesis, Lost Apostles traces a number of themes throughout the book. Perhaps the strongest discusses why these particular men were called as apostles in the nascent church. A common LDS view is that many of the original apostles were identified and proven worthy through their participation in “Zion’s Camp,” an organized march led by Joseph Smith with the intent of regaining Mormon lands in Missouri. Shepard and Marquardt make a case that the apostles were more likely selected for their missionary zeal and successes in that field of labor. This accords with Joseph Smith’s early revelations about the missional purpose of the apostleship as well as the actual experiences of the selected men, most of whom served notable missions prior to their call as apostles. The authors note that such “zeal can be a double-edged sword,” however: “The enthusiasm these men showed and their ability to work independently were winning traits in the mission field but led to their lack of success at church headquarters” (58, advance reading copy). According to Lost Apostles, some of the problems that ultimately led six apostles out of the quorum resulted from side-effects of the very traits that got them selected to begin with.
The most fascinating part of the book comes near the end where the authors briefly trace the lives of the six “forgotten” apostles—Lyman and Luke Johnson, John F. Boynton, William E. McLellin, Thomas B. Marsh, and William Smith—following their departure from the LDS Church. The authors dug up some fascinating information I’d never seen before, weaving brief, episodic sections about each lost apostle. I wish more of the book was dedicated to exploring their post-apostle experiences.
Lost Apostles doesn’t shy away from some controversial episodes in Mormon history, sometimes resulting in historical over-correction in the face of more cleaned-up versions (see their discussion of the Missouri turmoil, for example, where Mormons become more foe than victim). But regardless of how many individual historical claims readers would contest, the authors demonstrate that Mormonism’s earliest apostles were a fascinating and dedicated group of men, deserving of closer attention and regard than they’ve yet received.
William Shepard and H. Michael Marquardt, Lost Apostles: Forgotten Members of Mormonism’s Original Quorum of the Twelve (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2014). An excerpt is available to read here.