EARLY PATRIARCHAL BLESSINGS OF THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS, compiled and edited by H. Michael Marquardt, Signature, limited edition (475 copies), 488 pages, oversized, $70

The patriarchal blessing is one of the most spiritual aspects of Mormonism. Every worthy member is encouraged to seek such a fatherly blessing from an ordained patriarch, an office in the LDS Church's lay priesthood. Each blessing is pronounced in the form of a prayer and acts as a comfort and tentative look into the future of the person receiving it. Normally, a person receives only one such blessing in a lifetime.

The patriarch normally places hands on the head of the recipient, and in the attitude of prayer and with eyes closed, delivers a blessing "without forethought." As such, Mormons believe the blessing to be inspired.

Typically, each blessing "identifies the recipient's spiritual heritage and lineage as a member of one of the twelve tribes of Israel."

In the current church, patriarchal blessings are seldom shared with others due to their sacred nature — but there is evidence that in early Mormon

history, the blessings were often shared and discussed as they were used as a guide for living.

H. Michael Marquardt has compiled in this precious volume, "Early Patriarchal Blessings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," 755 blessings that were delivered by Joseph Smith Sr., Joseph Smith Jr., Hyrum Smith and William Smith from 1833 through 1845. The publisher rightly considers the collection to be a valuable piece of Mormon intellectual history.

As is the case with current patriarchal blessings, each is carefully recorded and kept by the recipient and by the church. Some of the early blessings were initially recorded in Joseph Smith's journal. The vocabulary used, historical references and religious examples are very instructive about the doctrines and the ways they were taught in 19th-century Mormonism.

For instance, in a blessing given by Joseph Smith Jr. to Frederick G. Williams, he said, "Blessed be brother Frederick, for he shall never want a friend, and his generation after him shall flourish. The Lord hath appointed him an inheritance in the land of Zion. Yea, and his head shall blossom with old age, and he shall be as an olive branch that is bowed down with fruit. And he shall be blessed with the abundance of the good things of the earth because of the liberality of his soul ... always abounding unto the poor."

To Sidney Rigdon, Smith said, "he shall be high and lifted up, yet he will humble himself like an ass that coucheth beneath his burden, that learneth his master's will by the stroke of his rod, thus saith the Lord. Yet the Lord will have mercy on him, and he shall bring forth much fruit ... and lifteth him up out of deep mire and pointeth him out the way and guideth his feet when he stumbles, and humbleth him in his pride."

Since both Williams and Rigdon served Joseph Smith as counselors in the LDS First Presidency, the insight demonstrated by Smith into their personalities is intriguing.

The student of Mormon history will find this volume to be edited with care and very useful in learning about an important aspect of Mormon religiosity.

E-mail: dennis@desnews.com