The Mormon Jesus: A Biography | BYU Studies

The Mormon Jesus: A Biography

The Mormon Jesus: A Biography
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The Mormon Jesus: A Biography
The Mormon Jesus: A Biography
Author John G. Turner,
Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016

The Mormon Jesus: A Biography

Reviewer Andrew C. Reed,

Many scholars within Mormon studies and interested readers are well aware of John Turner's significant contribution to the history of Mormonism through his biography of Brigham Young (Harvard University Press, 2012), which received high praise. Turner's more recent work follows a similar style and performs equally well in exploring a topic of considerable interest within Mormon studies. In The Mormon Jesus, Turner argues for a more carefully constructed understanding of the Jesus within whom Mormons place tremendous faith and trust and for whom they exhibit great love. Cleverly titled The Mormon Jesus: A Biography, Turner is less interested in writing a biography of Jesus within Mormonism than he seems to be in writing about the culturally constructed notions of who Jesus is to Latter-day Saints. His thesis, which emerges clearly throughout the book is that there is "a history of change and variety over the course of the church's nearly two-hundred-year history" (5). The book brings very little new historical data to the game, but therein lies its beauty. While Turner takes on many ideas and subjects that have long remained on the outskirts of traditional histories written by Latter-day Saint scholars, he bursts through the old arguments with entirely novel (and perfectly plausible) explanations.

Mormon Jesus provides a thematic structure for Turner's examination of the changing course of Mormon thought on the central figure of Latter-day Saint belief. The first part of the book traces Joseph Smith's encounter with Jesus in the Book of Mormon, the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, and his teachings designed to help followers experience the embodied Jesus. The early chapters focus on the life and teachings of Joseph Smith and show the developmental nature of Joseph the Prophet and his growth into that role. After Turner situates Joseph firmly within the Latter-day Saint narrative, the author explains the varied course of development, debate, and alteration of Church "doctrine" about Jesus. Within the second part of Mormon Jesus (chapters 4–9), the book becomes less about Joseph Smith's particular teachings and more about the Latter-day Saint experience after the Prophet's death. Thus, readers encounter rich discussions about Jehovah and Jesus, the voice and apparatus of revelation among Latter-day Saint prophets, the justification of plural marriage, and discussions of whiteness.

Readers will find Turner's Mormon Jesus enticing in part because it does not force them to traipse through every detail of early Mormon history, since he leaves much of the technical work to others who want to pore over documents and minutiae. Instead, Turner's is a wonderful effort at the history of ideas and one that will stand the test of time as an interpretive work of Mormon thought on the nature, role, and atonement of Jesus Christ.