Joseph Smith, Jr. (December 23, 1805 – June 27, 1844) was an American religious leader and founder of Mormonism. When he was twenty-four, Smith published the Book of Mormon; by the time of his death fourteen years later, he had attracted tens of thousands of followers and founded a religion and religious culture that continues to the present. Smith was born in Sharon, Vermont, but by 1817, he had moved with his family to western New York, a site of intense religious revivalism during the Second Great Awakening. According to Smith, he experienced a series of visions, including one in which he saw “two personages” (presumably God the Father and Jesus Christ) and others in which an angel directed him to a buried book of golden plates inscribed with a Judeo-Christian history of an ancient American civilization. In 1830, Smith published what he said was an English translation of these plates, the Book of Mormon. The same year he organized the Church of Christ, calling it a restoration of the early Christian church. Members of the church were later called “Latter Day Saints”, or “Mormons”. In 1831, Smith and his followers moved west, planning to build a communalistic American Zion. They first gathered in Kirtland, Ohio and established an outpost in Independence, Missouri which was intended to be Zion’s “center place”. During the 1830s, Smith sent out missionaries, published revelations, and supervised construction of an expensive temple. Nevertheless, the collapse of a church-sponsored bank and violent skirmishes with non-Mormon Missourians caused Smith and his followers to establish a new settlement at Nauvoo, Illinois, where he became both a spiritual and political leader. In 1844, Smith and the Nauvoo city council angered non-Mormons by destroying a newspaper that had criticized Smith’s power and practice of polygamy. After Smith was imprisoned in Carthage, Illinois, he was killed when a mob stormed the jailhouse. Smith published many revelations and other texts that his followers regard as scripture. His teachings include unique views about the nature of God, cosmology, family structures, political organization, and religious collectivism. His followers regard him as a prophet comparable to Moses and Elijah, and he is considered the founder of several religious denominations, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Community of Christ.
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