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The Sword of Laban

Joseph Smith, Jr., and the Dissociated Mind

William D. Morain, M.D.

  • ISBN 978-0-88048-864-8
  • Item #8864

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A whole life can be shaped by an old trauma, remembered or not.—Lenore Terr, Child Psychiatrist

What behavioral patterns could one expect from an adult whose brutal childhood traumas held themes of dismemberment, punishment, and worse? For Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of Mormonism, a religious superstructure of narcissism may have evolved, with sexual and ritualistic features that flowed directly from traumatic events.

Joseph suffered unspeakable pain as a seven-year-old child from a leg bone infection and its surgical treatments without anesthesia. He survived as the crippled middle child of an impoverished migrant family, retreating into a fantasy world of violence, persecution, and revenge from which he never completely emerged. As an adolescent, the sudden death of his beloved older brother contributed bizarre bereavement fantasies to an already traumatized psyche.

The Sword of Laban examines the Mormon prophet's enigmatic life in light of current understanding of posttraumatic stress disorder and the dissociation that accompanies it. Dr. Morain traces the repetitive patterns of behavior and fantasies of Smith's adult life. He demonstrates how the horrifying real events of the surgeries combined with the developmental phase-specific fantasies of a seven-year-old boy resulted in permanent pathological distortion of Smith's entire early psychological growth and development—with significant consequences for his subsequent adult psychological functioning.

Dr. Morain's remarkable psychological study of Joseph Smith, Jr. will be of interest to a wide spectrum of readers—as a social history, religious biography, an account of the dissociative elements in poetic and spiritual genius, or simply a gripping portrait of an ill-fated and tragic man. This text also has a special relevance for clinicians who are changing their theoretical and practical approaches to psychiatric illness.


  • Foreword by John C. Nemiah, M.D. Preface. The prophet. Bloodshed. Strategic defenses. The pleasure of treasure. Trance-lation. His brother's keeper. The arrows of eros. Inalienable rites. Epilogue. Index.

About the Authors

William D. Morain, M.D., was educated at Graceland College, Grinnell College, and Harvard Medical School. He trained in surgery at Harvard's Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and Children's Hospital Medical Center and in plastic surgery at Stanford University Medical Center.

Recently retired after two decades of academic practice, Dr. Morain was Professor of Plastic Surgery at Dartmouth Medical School. He has served as President of the Plastic Surgery Educational Foundation and the Northeastern Society of Plastic Surgeons and as Secretary of the American Board of Plastic Surgery. Author of over 100 scientific and literary publications, he currently serves as Editor-in-Chief of the monthly journal Annals of Plastic Surgery.

This is a keen and penetrating psychoanalytic study of a religious leader that sheds light not only on its subject but also on the nature of the emotional conflicts that necessitate the need for narcissistic gratification and for power over self and others. . . . Morain has written a masterful and superb psychological study of his subject and is to be congratulated for his efforts and almost complete impartiality.—Psychoanalytic Books: A Quarterly Journal of Reviews

Well-researched, balanced, and respectfully and sensitively written, The Sword of Laban describes how the overwhelmingly painful surgical operations performed on a seven-year-old boy, followed later by the personally traumatic death and exhumation of his beloved older brother, combined to shape the psychology of the founder of Mormonism. Dr. Morain's graceful and skillfully crafted history of a complex and troubled life provides unique insights into the understanding of a creative genius and leader. As a single case study, this biography is a major contribution to the contemporary literature regarding the reaction of children and adolescents to horrifying events.—Michael R. Zales, M.D., Former President, Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry

The Sword of Laban breaks exciting new ground in early Mormon scholarship. Dr. Morain draws on his experience as a surgeon treating childhood trauma to theorize brilliantly about the psychological consequences of young Joseph Smith Jr.'s painful leg surgery. He relates this, along with other insightful observations about Smith's familial and environmental influences, to a textual analysis of The Book of Mormon that is remarkably original and convincing. He drives home his arguments with a dramatic intensity, writing in a style that is both scholarly and colorful. You might not agree with all of the controversial conclusions reached in The Sword of Laban, but you won't put it down until you've turned the final page.—William D. Russell, Professor of American History, Graceland College, Former President, Mormon History Association (1982-1983)

This psychoanalytic view is certainly a welcome addition to the body of research on Mormonism.—Latter Day Saint History

This is an intriguing and exciting book. . . . [T]his book is a very useful addition to our understanding of Joseph Smith Jr. It does not answer all of our questions, but it presents a whole new perspective from which to view Joseph Smith Jr. and his life and work.—The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal

This well researched and engaging biographical case study. . . contributes to our knowledge of the effects of childhood trauma and will be of interest to practitioners who treat traumatized individuals.—Readings: A Journal of Reviews and Commentary in Mental Health

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