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In Heaven as It Is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death
In Heaven as It Is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death
Samuel Morris Brown
Oxford University Press, 2012
408 pp., $40.95

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John G. Turner


The Chain of Belonging

How early Mormons regarded death.

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After his sweeping survey of early Mormon belief and practice, Brown briefly reflects upon his work as a physician "treating the sickest of the sick" and watching many of them die. "[D]eeply moved by the human urgency of the deathbed," he was "struck by the relative lack of guidance for people facing this most difficult transition." Brown marvels at the spiritual utility of both the antebellum deathbed and Joseph Smith's response to it. For antebellum Protestants and Mormons alike, it was of central importance to know their loved ones surrounded them as they died and would one day join them in heaven. The journey through life and beyond, he concludes, "mattered to the extent that it was undertaken with others." Christians today, Latter-day Saint and otherwise, could learn much about that journey from those who have undertaken it in previous centuries, including those Protestants and Mormons who struggled against death in the early decades of the American republic.

1. Willard Richards Diary, 9 and 10 July 1845, Church History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

John G. Turner is assistant professor of religious studies at George Mason University and the author of Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet (Harvard Univ. Press).

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