Book on LDS Patriarchal Blessings Published
When Mormonism was founded in the 1830s, it was intended to restore primitive Christianity, according to Joseph Smith. However, many of its maiden doctrines and practices were based on the Old Testament. One example of this is the “patriarchal blessing” given to church members as a prophetic preview of their lives. A concept drawn from biblical promises made by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to their sons, it is not a Christian practice. No other Christian church gives patriarchal blessings, nor is it a ritual within Judaism.
What exactly is a patriarchal blessing, and what kinds of promises do recipients receive from these oracles? In a new 650-page book by Mormon historian H. Michael Marquardt, these questions are explored. This is Marquardt’s second in a two-volume series, the first being a 500-page tome titled Early Patriarchal Blessings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Its sequel is titled Later Patriarchal Blessings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The second volume contains the exact wording of 800 blessings given by LDS patriarchs from 1844 to the present. The blessings enlighten recipients regarding their activities as “pre-existing” spirits before they were born on earth. Individuals are told what their lineages are in the House of Israel (Mormons believe they are the scattered “lost tribes” of Israel). Women are sometimes told they hold priesthood authority with their husbands and can “drive the destroyer from thy house.” Men are told they will participate in the “redemption of Zion,” which means the time when Mormons believe they will return to Missouri and reclaim their land prior to the Second Coming. People are told they will serve missions to foreign lands, have many children, become successful in business, and rise out of the grave in the resurrection.
Some are promised that they will not die but will be “transferred from mortality” to immortality in the “twinkling of an eye.” Sometimes they hear specific things about themselves. One individual was informed that she was “created in the image of our Mother in Heaven.” Some have been encouraged to “avenge the blood of the prophets” or have been promised that they will be “called the Lord’s anointed,” meaning they will receive a prominent church position. They are promised protection from harm, told that “no hand lifted against thee shall prosper,” and that they will “cross the Mississippi River” to stand with the 144,000 souls at the end of the world in Missouri. Some blessings offer practical comfort, assuring those being blessed that they will “have a choice husband,” for instance.
Soon after the church’s founding, its leader, Joseph Smith, designated his father, Joseph Smith Sr., as head patriarch of the church. At Joseph Sr.’s death, the office became a hereditary father-son inheritance, much like a royal family. As one might expect from royals, the patriarchs did not always behave like clerics. For instance, John Smith, church patriarch from 1855 to 1911, was fond of alcohol and tobacco. Joseph Fielding Smith, who should not be confused with the two LDS prophets who shared the same name, was church patriarch from 1942 to 1946 but lost his appointment over a homosexual affair with a Mormon sailor. The office was discontinued in 1979 and emeritus patriarch Eldred G. Smith, still alive today at 105 years of age, has privately continued to offer blessings until recently.
As Marquardt explains, thousands of local patriarchs now fill the role once reserved for a high-ranking member of the church hierarchy, whose authority, before the office was phased out, was considered equal to that of the president of the church. The presiding patriarch was sustained at each general church conference, along with the First Presidency and members of the Quorum of the Twelve, as a “prophet, seer, and revelator.” Noted historian Richard L. Bushman, former faculty member at Columbia University, has been a local patriarch, for instance.
“This is a unique collection,” says Marquardt. “Because of superstitions surrounding the issue, some people have assumed that these things are not meant for anyone’s eyes except those for whom a blessing was given. Because of this reluctance, we have been denied an important source of doctrine, which is actually comparable to what one learns from reading sermons. The folkloric prohibition is unofficial and anecdotal.”
The book is published by the Smith-Pettit Foundation of Salt Lake City, a sister company to Signature Books. The Smith-Pettit Foundation fosters historical research and publishes limited-edition reference books for LDS scholars.