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Cover for the book Binding Earth and Heaven

Binding Earth and Heaven

Patriarchal Blessings in the Prophetic Development of Early Mormonism Gary Shepherd and Gordon Shepherd
  • Copyright: 2012
  • Dimensions: 6 x 9
  • Page Count: 184 pages
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-271-05633-3
  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-271-05634-0
“This is a truly original work. It draws upon both primary and secondary sources to demonstrate the importance of the Mormon ritual institution of patriarchal blessings, which is widespread among Mormons at the grassroots but little known outside the church.”
“From the perspective of historical sociology, Gary Shepherd and Gordon Shepherd have written one of the most important studies of gender in Mormon history. They expected to find ‘extreme male bias’ in the ‘patriarchal blessings’ of pastoral counsel and prediction given to women and to men by Mormon patriarchs from the mid-1830s to mid-1840s. Instead, their content analysis of these carefully recorded documents provides statistical evidence of surprising gender egalitarianism in a patriarchal church’s first decade.”

In Binding Earth and Heaven, Gary Shepherd and Gordon Shepherd use early nineteenth-century Mormonism as a case study to examine questions about how new religious movements may, as rare exceptions, survive and even eventually become successful in spite of intense opposition. Initial scorn and contempt for Mormonism—the fledgling creation of the young Joseph Smith—quickly elevated to mob violence as both Smith’s innovative teachings and converted followers proliferated, resulting in the widely held perception that the Mormons constituted a social menace. This book examines how Mormonism attracted and maintained the loyalty of increasing numbers of people despite mounting hostilities and severe hardships.

The book focuses on the unique Mormon ritual (and accompanying doctrinal underpinnings) of “patriarchal blessings.” Patriarchal blessings were an innovative adaptation of the Old Testament practice of fathers making quasi-legal pronouncements over the heads of their sons—a way of verbally conferring rights, promises, admonition, and guidance to heirs. Binding Earth and Heaven shows how the organizational complexities of this practice contributed to strengthening and sustaining member faith and fealty, thereby bolstering the continuity and development of Mormonism.

Gary Shepherd is Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Anthropology at Oakland University.

Gordon Shepherd is Professor of Sociology at the University of Central Arkansas.


List of Tables



1 The Commitment and Doctrinal Functions of Early Mormon Patriarchal Blessings

2 Unity and Conflict in Early Mormon History

3 The Office and Calling of the Church Patriarch

4 The Problems and Promise of Patriarchal Blessings as Historical Artifacts

5 Patriarchal Blessing Themes, 1834–1845

6 Gender Differences in Early Patriarchal Blessings

7 Latter-day Saint Patriarchal Blessings Yesterday and Today

Appendix A: Examples of Oracular Versus Inspirational Modes of Prophetic Rhetoric

Appendix B: Blessings Randomly Sampled from Marquardt’s Early Patriarchal Blessings

Appendix C: Thematic Word Index for Patriarchal Blessings




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