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Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism

Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism

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by Terryl L. Givens, Matthew J. Grow

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After Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt was the most influential figure in early Mormon history and culture. Missionary, pamphleteer, theologian, historian, and martyr, Pratt was perennially stalked by controversy--regarded, he said, "almost as an Angel by thousands and counted an Imposter by tens of thousands."

Tracing the life of this colorful


After Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt was the most influential figure in early Mormon history and culture. Missionary, pamphleteer, theologian, historian, and martyr, Pratt was perennially stalked by controversy--regarded, he said, "almost as an Angel by thousands and counted an Imposter by tens of thousands."

Tracing the life of this colorful figure from his hardscrabble origins in upstate New York to his murder in 1857, Terryl Givens and Matthew Grow explore the crucial role Pratt played in the formation and expansion of early Mormonism. One of countless ministers inspired by the antebellum revival movement known as the Second Great Awakening, Pratt joined the Mormons in 1830 at the age of twenty three and five years later became a member of the newly formed Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, which vaulted him to the forefront of church leadership for the rest of his life. Pratt's missionary work--reaching from Canada to England, from Chile to California--won hundreds of followers, but even more important were his voluminous writings. Through books, newspaper articles, pamphlets, poetry, fiction, and autobiography, Pratt spread the Latter-day Saint message, battled the many who reviled it, and delineated its theology in ways that still shape Mormon thought.

Drawing on letters, journals, and other rich archival sources, Givens and Grow examine not only Pratt's writings but also his complex personal life. A polygamist who married a dozen times and fathered thirty children, Pratt took immense joy in his family circle even as his devotion to Mormonism led to long absences that put heavy strains on those he loved. It was during one such absence, a mission trip to the East, that the estranged husband of his twelfth wife shot and killed him--a shocking conclusion to a life that never lacked in drama.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Early Mormonism is filled with colorful and influential characters, from the founding prophet, Joseph Smith, to gunslingers like Porter Rockwell and brilliant organizers like Brigham Young. One of the least studied, and least appreciated, of these figures is the subject of this thoroughly intriguing and satisfying work by two accomplished scholars, who have each written acclaimed works on aspects of Mormonism.The authors offer the first full-length scholarly treatment of one of the most important influences on the development of this distinctively American religion. Pratt is described by the authors as a “missionary, hymnist, explorer, politician, theologian, satirist, editor, and historian,” but he is much more than the sum of his parts. Like the apostle Paul, Pratt was a man of many talents and profound contradictions. And like Paul, Pratt traveled, preached, and was imprisoned, finally emerging a hero and exemplar of a growing and maturing faith tradition. The authors have done a remarkable job in presenting the story of this unique and essential character. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

"If the title indicates Oxford University Press's determination to broaden the potential audience of this book to non-Mormon readers more familiar with St. Paul than with Parley Pratt, we can all be glad that OUP took the chance. Parley P. Pratt - its subject, its claim, and its methods - deserve a wide audience." --Religion

"At long last we have a work that is fully aware of Parley's extensive contributions to Mormonism as the 'Paul of Mormonism.'" --Journal of Mormon History

"For anyone seeking to understand the development of early Mormonism, Parley P. Pratt is essential reading. As the foremost systematizer, theologian, missionary, and popularizer of this new religious movement in its first two decades, not to mention a colorful and mobile personality, Parley Pratt represented the soul of the tradition. Givens and Grow provide an engaging, thoughtful, and thorough assessment of his significance in the foundations of the Mormon faith."--- Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp, Professor and Chair of Religious Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

"Parley Pratt played the Apostle Paul to the Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith. Besides systematizing the prophet's thought, Pratt was a leader of boundless energy: husband of twelve wives, father of thirty children, a missionary extraordinaire, accused of murder, himself murdered in the prime of life. This book opens to a wide audience for the first time the life of one of the most significant figures in American religious history."--Mark Noll, author of Protestantism: A Very Short Introduction

"Terryl L. Givens and Matthew J. Grow update Parley P. Pratt's own autobiography with their informed account of his historical context in the Second Great Awakening of evangelical religion and the nineteenth-century Communications Revolution of printed media. The authors' fascinating narratives of Pratt's worldwide adventures, multiple marriages, and eventual murder will make this book welcome not only in the academic community but among all those with an interest in early Mormon history."--Daniel Walker Howe, author of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848

"Givens and Grow should be commended for their scholarship and objectivity in providing historians and religion scholars with a remarkable narrative that explores in breadth and depth, through the life of Parley Parker Pratt, the historical and religious underpinnings of early Mormonism."--Journal of the American Academy of Religion

"A comprehensive scholarly biography that does justice to the stature of its subject...deserves a place among the finest Latter-day Saint biographies."--BYU Studies Quarterly

Library Journal
Parley P. Pratt (1807–57) was one of the most influential early apostles of the Mormon Church. He baptized several people who would become Mormon Church leaders, and he wrote some of the earliest tracts and books of systematic theology. He also wrote the text for one of the most popular Mormon hymns. Givens (By the Hand of Mormon) and Grow ("Liberty to the Downtrodden": Thomas L. Kane, Romantic Reformer) are believing Mormons whose biography of Pratt is a triumphalist take on what anyone would admit was an extraordinary life. Pratt's missionary journeys from England to Chile to San Francisco led to the foundation of mission strategy for the Latter-day Saints and are the stuff of legend, which Givens and Grow mine to good effect. They have plenty of source material on which to rely, including Pratt's autobiography, a classic of Mormon writing that remains in print to this day. VERDICT This first scholarly biography of Pratt deserves a place in libraries collecting American history, given his importance in the founding years of Mormonism.—David Azzolina, Univ. of Pennsylvania Libs., Philadelphia

Product Details

Oxford University Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
New Edition
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Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.60(d)

Meet the Author

Terryl L. Givens is the author of several acclaimed books, the most recent of which are When Souls Had Wings: Pre-Mortal Life in Western Thought and The Book of Mormon: A Very Short Introduction.

Matthew J. Grow is the author of "Liberty to the Downtrodden": Thomas L. Kane, Romantic Reformer.

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Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Kurt_Manwaring More than 1 year ago
Shortly before his martyrdom, Parley P. Pratt finished a draft of his autobiography, which was later edited and published in 1874. For more than a century, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have sifted its pages to witness the adventures, trials and testimony of the memorable apostle. Terryl L. Givens and Matthew J. Grow have added to Pratt’s story and the early history of the LDS Church with their new biography, “Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism.” Givens is a professor of literature and religion at the University of Richmond and the author of numerous books, including “The Book of Mormon: A Very Short Introduction.” Grow is the author of “Liberty to the Downtrodden: Thomas L. Kane, Romantic Reformer,” and director of publications for the LDS Church History Department. Both scholars are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In producing another account of “a subject who is a capable autobiographer,” Givens and Grow have not set out to replace Pratt’s original work. Their account is intended to complement Pratt’s autobiography, which focuses somewhat narrowly on “how he became the apostle he was in midlife.” In particular, Givens and Grow seek to “restore Pratt’s family life,” place “him within his intellectual and theological worlds, both within Mormonism and beyond,” and address “controversial events” largely minimized in Pratt’s own account. In a work intended for a general audience, the authors pursue their objectives in 14 chapters that progress chronologically, beginning with a brief account of Pratt’s ancestry and concluding with the aftermath of his martyrdom in 1857. An introduction and epilogue are included, along with two appendices that detail Pratt’s publications and family members. A concise index provides easy reference to individuals and key subjects discussed in the book, and a valuable 75-page “Notes” section provides readers with a comprehensive breakdown of the book’s many sources. The book contains mature subject matter, including discussions about polygamy, accounts of violence toward the early church (including a disturbing and graphic account of the rape of at least one Mormon woman), and the extremely violent nature of Pratt’s own death. Nonetheless, the material is appropriately set within the context of overall themes and events. Givens and Grow largely achieve their objectives in this meticulously researched biography. Readers are likely to come away from the book (1) sobered by Pratt’s human weaknesses, (2) humbled by his many sacrifices and (3) inspired by his lifelong faith.