Cultural Encounters: A Journal For The Theology Of Culture Volume 11 Number 1 (Winter 2015) - Page 80

MORMON METAPHYSICS - Morehead Methodists were having similar visions.8 But the question arises, Why did Smith interpret his vision in materialist ways while his neighboring Methodists did not? The answer is that Smith was drawing upon an esoteric and metaphysical hermeneutic that shaped how he interpreted his experiences and the Bible. Webb takes exception to this idea in Chapter 2, “The Magic of Being Mormon.” He references the work of John Brooke in The Refiner’s Fire,9 where Brooke argued that Smith was influenced by Hermeticism; but Webb finds the case lacking. Instead of hermetic magic, Webb suggests that “precedents for some of Smith’s beliefs and activities” are to be found “in the Bible”10 and its references to magic and what Webb construes as its magical activity.11 Unfortunately, Webb does not probe deeply enough in consideration of possible strands of esoteric thought and their influence on Smith. He is rightly concerned with many superficial dismissals of Smith by his critics due to the Mormon prophet’s early associations with folk magic and “the occult,” but this should not negate a more fair and scholarly consideration of the significance of this folk magic and other aspects of esotericism for Smith. Brooke’s research deserves further consideration despite its being dismissed by Webb.12 His basic thesis connects Smith’s thinking to Hermeticism. Brooke notes the “striking parallels between the Mormon concepts of coequality of matter and spirit, of the covenant of celestial marriage, and of an ultimate goal of human godhood and the philosophical traditions of 8 Christopher C. Jones, “’We Latter-day Saints are Methodists: The Influence of Methodism on Early Mormon Religiosity” (MA thesis, Brigham Young University, 2009). 9. John L. Brooke, The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644– 1844 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996). 10. Webb, Mormon Christianity, 65. 11. But again, I argue that to the extent Smith was influenced by the biblical text in this regard, there was an esoteric and metaphysical hermeneutic involved. As to magic and the Bible in the contexts of the ancient Near East and first-century Palestine, see The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976), s.vv. “Magic, Magician,” “Divination,” by T. Witton Davies. 12. For an analysis of criticism of Brooke’s thesis, see Jan Shipps, “Thoughts about the Academic Community’s Response to John Brooke’s Refiner’s Fire,” chap. 10 in Sojourner in the Promised Land: Forty Years among the Mormons (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2000). 79