Affinities and Infinities: Joseph Smith and John Milton | BYU Studies

Affinities and Infinities: Joseph Smith and John Milton

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Affinities and Infinities: Joseph Smith and John Milton

Author Rosalynde Welch,

The lives of John Milton and Joseph Smith converge and diverge in fascinating ways. Milton was the son of a middling scrivener who depended on the unsavory practice of money lending, but made a handsome life for his family; Smith was the son of a landless farmer who depended on the undesirable necessity of borrowing and in time a morass of debt defined the family life. Both men were autodidacts with a special interest in languages and translation. Milton pinned his millenarian hopes and ambitions to the English Revolution; Smith aimed at founding an American Zion. Both men claimed the mantle of prophecy and claimed their words came from God and that they were visited in the night by a divine being of light.

One way to conceptualize the relationship between John Milton and Joseph Smith is through the lens of iconoclasm and "iconofacture." Milton's life became a battle against twin tyrannies--the mental tyranny of passion and the political tyranny of customary human institutions. Joseph's work was not the smashing of iconic forms of tyranny, not the work of iconoclasm, but the work of iconofacture, the ceaseless making (in myth) and the building (in ritual) of social institutions, above all familial. The intersections between Milton's thought and Joseph's teaching can be illustrated by their views of the Council in Heaven, the Enoch narratives, and marriage and divorce.