Knowing Brother Joseph Again: Perceptions and Perspectives


by Davis Bitton
“A thoughtful and thought-provoking introductory text for someone wanting an overview of Joseph Smith.” — Improvement Era

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Book Synopsis:

“We live in an age of relativism. What is beautiful for one is not for another, what is good and moral for one is not for another, and what is true for one is not for another. Such an attitude, widespread in the world, condemns those who testify of truth... I shudder at the thought that my presentation here will lead to such soft relativism. I do not think that everything is up for grabs, with each person's opinion being equally valid. Just as Jesus was either Savior and Redeemer of the world or he was not, so Joseph Smith was either a true, authorized prophet of God or he was not. In recounting his visions, either he spoke the truth or he did not. Yet the fact remains that different people saw him in different ways. Even his followers emphasized different facets at different times. All human beings are complex and resist the reductionism that would dismiss them with a single adjective or noun. People like Joseph Smith are rich and complex... Different people saw him differently or focused on a different facet of his personality at different time. Inescapably, what they observed or found out about him was refracted through the lens of their own experience. Some of the different, flickering, not always compatible views are the subject of this book.” — Davis Bitton

Davis Bitton's life was cut short before he could finish revisions on this collection of insightful essays about Joseph Smith, a prophet whom he also considers a hero in both classical terms and the context of nineteenth-century America. Knowing Brother Joseph Again explores images of Joseph Smith from both the devotion of believers and the hostility and skepticism of opponents. 

Comprehensive Table of Contents:


Publisher’s Preface

1. Joseph Smith as Hero
2. A Prophet—In the Book of Mormon
3. “Like Unto”: Ancient Prototypes of a Modern Prophet
4. In the Mormon Folk Memory

Human Qualities
Physical Strength
Supernatural Glow
Doctrinal Sayings
Practice and Policy
Occasion for Stories
Value of Material

5. Through the Eyes of His Enemies
6. The Martyrdom: Non-Mormons Both Condemn and Defend the Killings
7. The Saints Mourn: Diaries and Letters
8. The Saints Mourn: Martyrdom Poetry
9. Apotheosis
10. Joseph Smith and the Scholars

Select Bibliography

Published Primary Sources
Sermons and Church Magazines
Theses and Dissertations
Unpublished Papers




Praise for Knowing Brother Joseph Again:

“I would highly recommend this book as a thoughtful and thought-provoking introductory text for someone wanting an overview of Joseph Smith. . . . Different paths and perspectives concerning the life of this enigmatic and undeniably influential figure are presented, as well as the resources available to explore those paths.” — Improvement Era: A Mormon Blog

In each of ten chapters, Bitton traces “how Joseph Smith has appeared from different points of view. It is the image of Joseph Smith rather than the man himself” Bitton seeks to uncover (ix). Beneath the “different, flickering, not always compatible views” of Smith, Bitton still maintains that “Joseph Smith was either a true, authorized prophet of God or he was not. In recounting his visions he either spoke the truth or he did not” (x). From this introductory statement I anticipated a book of pro et con arguments, but Bitton is able to present much more variety throughout the book.” — Blair Hodges, By Common Consent

About the Author:

Davis Bitton was a former official assistant Church Historian, professor of history at the University of Utah, charter member and former president of the Mormon History Association.  Author of nine books and various articles, Bitton worked in the “camelot” era of Church history under Leonard Arrington, coining the term “camelot” himself to describe this period of unprecedented research and publication.  Davis Bitton died in 2007 aged 77 in Salt Lake City, Utah. This volume was completed posthumously with the aid of his wife, JoAn Bitton.

More Information:

Pages: 183
ISBN: 978-1-58958-123-4 (Paperback)
Published July 2011

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