About Me

My photo
Hello, my name is Valorie. I have a Master's Degree in History and a license to teach-- I have been both university professor and public school teacher. Currently, I am a middle school social studies teacher. I love horror movies and spooky things. Every day is Halloween. I am also a passionate book blogger.

Featured Post

Book Review: 23:27 by H.L. Roberts

Monday, October 19, 2009

Book Review: The Kingdom of Matthias: A Story of Sex and Salvation in 19th Century America by Paul E. Johnson & Sean Wilentz

Title: The Kingdom of Matthias: A Story of Sex and Salvation in 19th Century America
Author: Paul E. Johnson Sean Wilentz
Genre: NonFiction - History
Finished: October 19, 2009

During The Second Great Awakening's religious revival of evangelicalism, Robert Matthews- the self-appointed prophet Matthias- was one of many to create and spread his own ultimately doomed religion, a patriarchal Kingdom of Truth in which Matthias sat at the head as the Father and redeemer. Matthias and his Kingdom were one of many religions developed and spread during the early 1800s, and many of Matthias' teachings were similar to those of other prophets and seers more successful in popularizing their messages. Yet Matthias and his group remained on the margins of society. Johnson and Wilentz want to explain not only the religion itself, but the reasons for its failure while other similar ones succeeded. The authors acknowledge that their main three sources are all biased for various reasons and were considered with this in mind. Accordingly, the sources, two books written about Matthias and the Kingdom and one pamphlet by Matthias' wife about his years before the Kingdom, must be weighted against one enough to derive something as close to the truth about the events. Other primary sources used are newspaper reports, personal narratives/memory, church records, indictment papers from Matthias' trial, and lectures. A lot of the background and contextual details are taken from various books, some of which Johnson and Wilentz wrote, and journal articles.

The rich and narrative style of the story helps it flow in a way that is interesting but informative. The two were able to create a story that read easy, that is fun to read and very enjoyable. The book is a snapshot of one religious group during the early 1800s that, though being the stuff of pure entertainment, has been all but forgotten. While the book is very isolated in its focus, it expands upon the world at the time by placing Matthias and his Kingdom in the context of their time period. Not only does the book show how the world around Matthias shaped his Kingdom, but how the Kingdom was part of the larger evolving world that it existed within. Though there were many other religions around this time in development, the bizarreness of the story of Matthias illuminates best the failures of religious revival as the others exemplify success, which allows for a more complete idea of the varied nature of 19th century American religion and society. However, the heavy use of sources that are admittedly very shaky and biased places a lot of the events into question. While no doubt everything written is based on fact and reality, and though the authors state that they have derived truth from contradicting and biased evidence to the best of their ability, there remains a matter of what is fact and exaggeration. The authors can never know what truth really is, they can only guess at it. Additionally, the book went off on tangents about people and rivalries that had no significance to the story. For example, the explanations of Matthias' brothers, and the story of the Stone and Folgers argument. They were fun to read, but ultimately had nothing to do with the story of Matthias and The Kingdom.

No comments:

Post a Comment