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...
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