One of my favorite areas of study (as a resident of Hancock County Illinois, in which Nauvoo, the city founded by Joseph Smith, is located). How many know that Joseph Smith was running for President of the United States when he was killed in 1844?
This is such a rich field of study, especially since it is local history, and many surnames involved in the making of that history still survive in this county.
They say that the residents of Hancock County were as outraged over the practice of polygamy in Nauvoo as we are today when we see Warren Jeffs arrested for "marrying" little 12 year old girls.
But if someone tricked Joseph Smith into believing he had found golden plates, was he really then lying? Also, each time I read of an account of Smith's use of a seer or peep stone, I do not see any description of how scrying and naturally occurring phosphenes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phosphene
) do seem to produce visions; not to mention visions that appeared in the sky that many attested to - scrying with clouds? Is this the influence of hermeticism through the Masonic Lodge that the Smith's brought to Nauvoo?
Perhaps that is why he seemed so believable, because to his way of thinking, he wasn't really lying?
The residents of Hancock county went to war to drive the Mormons out of Illinois, as they previously had been run out of Ohio and Missouri. I often wonder if such a movement arose today, wouldn't first amendment rights be viewed a little differently than they were then? I wonder if the practice of polygamy won't be the next thing to be legalized, after gay rights are established.
I highly recommend an out of print book Nightfall at Nauvoo
by Samuel W. Taylor, "who was a grandson of John Taylor (the third president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) and one of thirty-six children of John Whittaker Taylor (an apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints)." http://www.motleyvision.org/2006/mormon-lit-who-was-samuel-w-taylor/
Though decidedly "anti-Mormon", Samuel W. Taylor never left the church, and this book should be on every Mormon's reading list for the description of the locale, climate, and political intrigue
of Old Nauvoo. Then compare the experience of the Mormons to every other religion you've ever heard of, down to the fact that we do not even have an uncontested photo of Joseph Smith!
I've been spreading the word on this book since the 1990s and everyone who has read it agrees, its one of the best works on Mormonism they've ever read, and we've read quite a few!
It is amazing how a modern prophet's experience echos that of Jesus Christ! There is much to be learned from the phemomena known as Mormonism.