Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess

A few weeks ago, I read this humorous article in the Deseret News which basically said the men don’t attend book clubs. I loved this quote:

“Men realize that they are only allocated a certain number of spoken words in their lifetime, so being of a cautious nature, they choose not to waste words on book discussions …”

So, a few days after reading this article, imagine my surprise when I got invited to a book club. My wife is in 2 book clubs, so I figured this might be interesting. My friend wanted to have the book club focus on Mormon History, which sounded intriguinging to me. Our first meeting was about 2 weeks ago, and was attended ONLY by men. It was a fun meeting. Our first book to read is Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess, by Richard Van Wagoner.

So, I thought I’d give you some updates on the book so far. It starts out a little slow, and talks about Sidney’s early ministry as a Reformed Baptist preacher. He meets Alexander Campbell, and his congregation becomes affiliated with the Campbellites, which later became known as the Disciples of Christ. Parley Pratt, also a Reformed Baptist and acquaintance of Rigdon, along with Oliver Cowdery first introduced Rigdon to the Book of Mormon in late 1830. Sidney was aware of the “Golden Bible”, and was skeptical of initial reports that he had heard about in the newspaper. After reading it, he found many similarities in the BoM as he held in his own religious beliefs, and urged his entire congregation to convert. Of course this upset Campbell, and there was much acrimony between them after this time.

Rigdon finally met the prophet Joseph Smith in Dec 1830, and helped work on the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. I found the following passage from the book quite interesting on page 72.

…Although Mormon usage designates this Bible revision as the Joseph Smith Translation (JST), ancient manuscripts were not used, nor were Smith and Rigdon familiar with foreign languages. From Smith’s description of the process the procedure was an “inspired version”, not a translation.

Between 1777 and 1833 more than 500 separate editions of the Bible or New Testament were published in the United States. Many of these were revisions of the King James Version (1611), containing modernizations of language, paraphrases, and alternate readings based on comparisons of Greek and Hebrew. Even Rigdon’s classically trained mentor, Alexander Campbell, had issued his own translation in 1826. Although Rigdon was not involved with the project, he was familiar with it.

Alexander Campbell had heartfelt reverence for the Bible but no special respect for the King James Version, being too well-grounded in first-century Greek to accept 1611 English as inviolable. As a basis for his personal interpretation of sacred writings, Campbell used renderings of the first four gospels published by George Campbell in Edinburgh in 1778, James MacKnight’s translation of the Epistles, published first in London in 1795, and the translation of Acts and Revelations by Phillip Doddridge, first published in London in 1776. Campbell made various emendations, added a preface, and included 100 pages of critical notes and appendices. As a wealthy farmer, he was able to publish his new edition from his own printing office in Buffaloe, Virginia.

I found it interesting that so many of Joseph’s contemporaries were engaged in translating the Bible, though Joseph’s Inspired Version is definitely quite different from these other translations.

7 comments on “Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess

  1. Thanks for the link. Can you give me a synopsis? The book I’m reading is about 500 pages, and your post looks to be about 100 pages–sorry I wasn’t able to read the whole thing.

  2. a link to a 100 page document? Now that’s just cruel. *grin*

  3. The book you are reading views the life of Sidney Rigdon through the eyes of a non believer who does a great job of compiling historical information, but he has an agenda and he spins the historical data based on the world view of a non-believer.

    For instance, he says Joseph was not happy with Sidney’s description of the land of Zion hence Joseph produces the revelation where the Lord chastises Sidney. (the implication being that Joseph is the author of the fraudulent revelations)

    My point is that the context of the Book is that Joseph Smith and the restoration movement was a fraud.

    The paper I directed you to, also has a context and an agenda.

    The context is that Joseph Smith did see God and Joseph Smith was exactly who he claimed to be.

    The paper, which is even longer than you mentioned, since it is part four, of the article, takes the 12 primary revelations that are directed towards Sidney Rigdon and then provides supporting historical and scriptural context to support the holy and infallible word of God concerning Sidney Rigdon.


    When it is all said and done, and Sidney has completed the future calling the Lord has given him, it will be seen that he was-is one of the greatest prophets that has ever lived.. and that is, I suppose, why God compares him to John the Baptist.

  4. #4 – What religion are you? Just curious, really. There’s no hidden agenda in the question; I promise.

  5. Is it ok to call you “Sidney” for short?

    Looking at the title, one can easily suspect the author to be critical of Sdney, and probably the church. The beginning of the book seemed pretty neutral, and I have to say that the description of the beating, tar & feathering Rigdon received was quite a brutal attack. I didn’t realize Rigdon was beaten unconscious, and was laid up in bed for weeks.

    But I will agree, it does seem to be taking a critical and even somewhat antagonistic tone. I’m under a deadline for the book club, and am about half way through the book, but when I’m done, I’ll have to check out your information better.

    I know that Signature Books has a reputation for producing books that are not necessarily faith promoting. I tried to learn more about the author, and discovered this.

    Richard S. Van Wagoner, M.S., Brigham Young University, is a clinical audiologist and Lehi city historian. He is the author of Lehi: Portraits of a Utah Town, Mormon Polygamy: A History, and Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess; and the co-author of A Book of Mormons. He has been published in Brigham Young University Studies, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Sunstone, Utah Historical Quarterly, and Utah Holiday, and has won awards from the Dialogue Foundation, John Whitmer Historical Association, and the Mormon History Association. He is a contributor to The Prophet Puzzle: Interpretive Essays on Joseph Smith.

  6. Ray-

    Thank you for your interest, however, as my blog indicates, “I am nobody of consequence”. I simply Watch.

    It isn’t about me, it is about the holy and infallible word of God.

    The only thing worth considering is what God and his anointed servants have to say and the events of the 3rd Watch as they unfold around us according to the prophecies that have been hidden in plain site in the D&C and the Book of Mormon.

    I am Watching…

    I hope you are!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: