Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship

Mormon Studies Review


Joseph Smith, Prophets, modern revelation, religion


Around the turn of the century, Signature Books planned a series of three volumes that would cover Joseph Smith’s life in detail. Richard S. Van Wagoner was commissioned to write the first volume of the trilogy, treating the period from Smith’s birth to his move to Ohio. Van Wagoner’s Natural Born Seer: Joseph Smith, American Prophet, 1805– 1830 engages Smith’s family and cultural background, his childhood and formative years, his visionary claims, his translation of the Book of Mormon, and the organization of the Mormon church. Much of the work of Mormon history is done by amateur scholars who contribute significantly to our understanding of the Mormon past, and Van Wagoner has been a notable contributor in this realm. Now, several years after his untimely death in 2010, the Smith-Pettit Foundation has published the results of his research posthumously, making another contribution to Mormon studies. In fact, the publisher touts the hefty volume, over six hundred pages in length, as Van Wagoner’s “masterwork” (p. 591).