In this work, Paul Johnson has taken a relatively small and unknown event and used it to illustrate not only an interesting event but also an interesting perspective on the Burned-Over District as a whole. It touches on everything from sexual corruption to radical doctrinal innovations. The Burned-Over district saw the beginning of numerous religious movements such as Mormonism, Adventism, Christian Scientists, numerous smaller religions that did not survive, and even significant political movements such as Antimasonry (Johnson, Wilents, 25).
This book presents the story of one of those movements. The prologue introduces Matthias as he went to Kirtland to visit with the Mormon Prophet, Joseph Smith. While this event occurred near the end of Matthias' activity, it is obvious that he stole many of his ideas from Joseph Smith. Matthias initiated the practice of the washing of feet which was common to both the followers of Joseph Smith and Ellen White. He also believed that the truth of the Gospel had fallen from the earth shortly after the time of Christ another Mormon belief. In addition, he had a sword which he claimed was ancient similar to Smith's sword of Laban, as well as naming the Priesthood after the order of Melchezidek. Likewise, his early mentor Mordecai Noah taught that the Indians were actually a branch of the Israelites which is a central idea found in the Book of Mormon. All of these ideas came out before 1830 when Matthias began his activity (Johnson, Wilents, 26).
The most humorous part of this history is the anecdotes that relate to Matthias' enemies trying to shave off his beard. Johnson has done an excellent job condensing all the most relevant information in this short work. The Kingdom of Matthias is an enjoyable read and a must for anyone interested in this interesting period in American religious history.
Having spent decades mapping out the histories of a variety of previously neglected groups, it seems that U.S. social historians are finally beginning to regard seriously one of the most marginalized subgroups in their own mental landscape. Social historians are finally beginning to pay attention to American evangelicals. Focusing their attention on the great age of democratic revivals in America, the First and Second Great Awakenings, historians have begun to coax rich meaning out of both these revivals and the heady brew of social and political ferment they both spawned and grew out of. With a spate of books in the last ten or so years, a number of talented scholars have thus begun to map out what might be called a "New Evangelical History." (Johnson, Wilents, 27)
Now two of the foremost contributors to this new evangelical historiography have testified to the developing maturity of this field by offering an intriguing text located not on its center but on its margins. For that is where, argue Paul Johnson and Sean Wilentz, the Kingdom of Matthias was located - beyond the edge of religious respectability. While arising in the same reservoirs of religious disquiet that gave birth ...