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By Robinson Th. revised by L.H. Brockington.

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Though religious belief will confer the status of true prophet on some figures and deny it to others (the decision that a Jesus, or a Muhammad, or a Joseph Smith was God’s earthly messenger lies at the core of the choice of faith), the history of prophetism must include everyone who has envisioned and asserted himself on these terms. Apart from the designations of a faith, the prophet is never just something a person is but also something a person takes himself to be and demands to be taken as. This means that in the prehistory of any act of prophetic identification, a person must have access to some concept of “the prophet,” an image that circulates in the cultural repertoire of identities as one idea of what a self can be.

These very different realities were products of a parallel act: the way two contemporaries realized the possibilities of a shared matrix of thought. This page intentionally left blank 3 Joseph Smith, American Culture, and the Origins of Mormonism Klaus J. Hansen In The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions (a sequel to her celebrated A History of God), Karen Armstrong describes and analyzes the evolution of major world religions in an era known as the Axial Age, a term first used by German philosopher Karl Jaspers in 1948.

13 This point is not unhelpful, but the exhibits just mentioned help identify a wider spectrum of motive forces. Turner fuses religious fantasies with the bloody rage bred in one 1830s social situation: the harsh subordination of blacks in slavery. John Humphrey Noyes was spared the degradations of status that Turner, Smith, Robert Matthews, and many of their fellows suffered. As I read it, Noyes was drawn to prophetism by the superior pleasure it afforded: he founded a society based on the improvement of pleasure that gave extraordinary scope to his fantasies of personal prerogative.

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