10 Questions Interview with Devery Anderson

We’re happy to share Kurt Manwaring’s interview with Devery Anderson. Anderson is a well known historian, starting with Salt Lake School of the Prophets,The Development of LDS Temple Worship, 1846-2000: A Documentary History, and Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed, 1842-1845: A Documentary History. I suspect many of you have these books. His most recent book is not LDS oriented. Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement has been getting very good reviews. He works at Signature Books.

The full interview is available at the link. Here are a few excerpts.

[The School of the Prophets] originated by revelations to Joseph Smith in December 1832 and January 1833 in Kirtland, Ohio. The first meetings of the school were held above the Newel K. Whitney store on January 22, 1833. The school started out with fourteen men. Joseph Smith ritually washed their feet, reenacting Jesus’s washing the feet of his disciples as described in John chapter 13. This created a sense of brotherhood among the men but also served a purpose of purification as he “pronounced them all clean from the blood of this generation.”

The Kirtland school grew, and before it was disbanded in 1837, it served as a place for gospel education for students preparatory for serving missions and served as a place for secular education. Joshua Seixas, from Hudson, Ohio, came and for $320 taught the men a course in Hebrew over several weeks.

The School of the Prophets was the Mormons’ first real educational institution in Kirtland.

I’ve long found the School of the Prophets fascinating. Not just because of the interesting history for our religion’s founding, but possible connections to Judaism as well as at least the scaffolding of some sort of rethinking of education in general. Perhaps the school never amounted to as much as it could have but I loved the idea of this mixture of religion and education. Something that Church schools like BYU never really grappled with as well as I think they should have.

The Salt Lake School of the Prophets was organized by Brigham Young in December 1867 and it ran uninterrupted until August 1872. Young then rebooted the school in November of that same year, and it functioned until June 1874. The school was organized again, but only briefly, under John Taylor in 1883.

The first phase of Brigham Young’s schools encouraged all worthy priesthood holders to become part of it, and as a result it reached nearly a thousand members at its peak, making it the largest organized body within the church. It became a decision-making group concerning things both temporal and spiritual. Temporal concerns focused on elections, and the school nominated candidates for office. The completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 meant that an influx of outsiders would end Mormon isolationism and many meetings focused on this. Spiritual and theological themes focused on the Word of Wisdom and discussing theological questions and subjects such as the nature of God, the Adam-God Doctrine, and various items related to the Book of Mormon, to name a few.

Those in attendance often spoke about the camaraderie they felt in being part of the group, and this meant a lot to them. The spiritual and temporal concerns often overlapped, such as discussions about the anti-polygamy bills in Congress that caused a very central doctrine within Mormonism to come under attack in unprecedented ways.

Check out the full interview. The School of the Prophets is a fascinating and little known facet of our history.