Kingdom of Matthias

588 words | 2 page(s)

The Kingdom of Matthias is the story about Robert Matthews later referred to as the ‘Matthias the Prophet of the God of Jews’: “In 1834 and 1835 Matthias was one of the first penny-press sensations in American history—the main protagonist in a deeply disturbing scandal that received unprecedented national attention” (Johnson and Wilentz 10-11). The protagonist appears before us as a religious charlatan. In 1830s, he established the kingdom of fanatical followers in New York that generated an unprecedented scandal on a nationwide scale.

In their novel, Johnson and Wilentz attempted to provide a fresh perspective on the coexistence of men and women under the social effects of the Second Great Awakening. In the capacity of professional historians, the authors provided a detailed account of an unprecedented experience in the 19th century America depicting religious revivalism. Over 1820s-1840s, the country got wound in the hysteria of religious fervor, while people looked for the new ways for escape. At that very time, various cults peaked. Promoted by persuasive religious leaders these trends gained vast popularity and overall fascination.

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The story grounds on the life of ordinary carpenter, Robert Matthews, who managed to transform into the Messiah for other people referred to as the Prophet Matthias. The authors vividly portrayed common manipulations of their protagonist to exploit common needs of ordinary people by visualizing happiness, prosperity, optimism, and freedom. All these hopes provided his followers with a sense of fresh perspective, and most importantly, faith. Eventually, Matthias established a new cult to play the role of a false prophet and disseminate his religious visions among the vast amounts of his followers: “The Bowery Hill community was not, as some of New York’s more conservative Christians were beginning to mutter, a dumping ground for religious lunatics. On the contrary, it was a scouting expedition at the edges of a new experimental evangelicalism that had gripped a large segment of New York’s up-and-coming merchant families (Johnson and Wilentz 33).

Beside common themes inspired through these cult deeds, one of the core themes of the story relates to Matthews’ hostility towards women. Such an attitude is deliberately highlighted by the authors to underscore the bizarreness of the cult-based theology. They explain such inclinations of their protagonist by referring to the fact that he was brought up in a Scottish Calvinist community that was rather strict. The community operated as a patriarchy where the church leaders were solely males and the men were the undisputed rulers who headed their families and households. This way, the authors revealed the societal structure further threatened by Evangelical tendencies that attempted to shift the status of a ruling father in a family and equal it with the role of a mother as a genuine household leader and teacher to the children: “In evangelical homes the primary moral teachers were no longer fathers who laid down the law; they were loving mothers who prayed with their children and taught them right from wrong” (Johnson and Wilentz 22).

Naturally, Matthews and many of his devotees became threatened by such a principal shift in societal attitudes towards genders. In a response, he retreat conservative constructs of social functioning. He oftentimes beat his wife Margaret and his daughter Isabella, and was eventually convinced for these ill deeds. He considered women as the sources of seduction and temptresses who used their lust and sensuality to derail honest men.

  • Johnson, Paul and Wilentz, Sean. The Kingdom of Matthias: A Story of Sex and Salvation in 19th-Century America, Oxford University Press, USA; 2nd edition. 2012.

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