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He founded a church and stirred a young nation

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In a second vision, Smith said, an angel named Moroni directed him to buried golden plates that were to become the source for his Book of Mormon, which he translated from hieroglyphs through the use of a seer stone and spectacles that he called the Urim and Thummim. (The angel later retrieved the plates.)

The Book of Mormon is understood by Latter-day Saints to be the history of Jews who traveled to the Western hemisphere around 600 BCE, and of Jesus' visit to them after his resurrection. (The assumption that the Indians of the Americas are the descendants of the people in the book has been upset recently by DNA studies - done by Mormons - which show no connection to the ancient Hebrews.)

Smith - called simply "Joseph" by Mormons - published the book in 1830, and later published others ("The Book of Abraham" and "The Book of Moses") purporting to provide true histories that go far beyond the Bible.

It was not preaching, but his ongoing "revelations" that shaped the developing religion and its practices. They were full of biblical phrasings, and many practices derived from Old Testament teachings (such as restoration of Aaron's priesthood).

The revelations included establishment of a hierarchical priesthood in which all males participate; secret temple rites; the deeding of property to church bishops, to be distributed as appropriate to the needy and toward purchase of land; and the nature of the afterlife, which includes "plural marriage."

Some may feel the author sanitizes Smith's motives for establishing polygamy and marrying dozens of wives.

Bushman tells an engrossing tale of a charismatic leader who was egalitarian and loved working with others, yet who was sensitive to criticism or dissent.

Mormons believed the Second Coming to be imminent, and converts followed their leader from New York to Ohio to Missouri, where Joseph said New Jerusalem was to be situated. But in purchasing large amounts of land for their City of Zion, the Mormons clashed - and even went to war - with other residents.

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