Just before Christmas in 1522, an illiterate laborer from Strasbourg named Lienhard Jost lay in his bed at night and prayed. He had literally felt the ground shifting under his feet when an earthquake had struck while he was cutting wood in the forest that day, but he was even more unsettled by the ongoing religious controversies and by rumors that the world would be destroyed by a second Deluge in little more than a year.
The result of his prayer was a series of visions in which the Light of the Lord, as he called it, compelled Jost to deliver a message to the civic leaders of Strasbourg. The city council didn’t want to listen to him, however, asking him to dictate a report to a copyist instead. For Jost, who was illiterate, dictating a text to a copyist instead of preaching his divinely commissioned message to the city council represented a silencing of his preaching and a failure of his prophetic mission. A few nights later, Jost was commanded to try a different tactic: walking naked into Strasbourg at night and crying woe upon the city.
For that outburst, Jost spent two months in the city’s asylum. Behind the walls of his confinement, Jost felt that he was utterly despised by everybody. His visions continued, however, and the Light of the Lord told Jost that the asylum was in fact the school of his Heavenly Father, and that the diploma of Jost’s graduation from it, written in his heart, would certify him as witness of holy scripture. Jost soon began having his visions recorded by his own choice, at first in writing and eventually in print, and he began to see writing and publication not as the frustration of his prophetic calling, but as its fulfillment. Although he remained illiterate, he embraced the use of literacy and gained confidence as an oral preacher on scriptural texts.
At the time of his first vision, Lienhard Jost was married and the father of at least one child, a daughter around four years old at the time. A decade later, he had eight children and his wife Ursula was pregnant with their ninth. The family’s economic situation hadn’t improved, and they were dependent on alms for sustenance. In 1523 or 1524, however, Ursula had begun to receive her own visions, and by 1530, Lienhard and Ursula Jost were leading figures among the Strasbourg Prophets associated with Melchior Hoffman.
Although Jost was an impoverished laborer, he also had social connections to people who could gain him an audience with the city council. While the city authorities resisted him and threatened imprisonment if his preaching got out of bounds, they tolerated it within them. The city preachers also were resistant, but one of the preachers (probably Mathias Zell) supported Jost’s decision to record his visions and seemed to offer validation for them. Jost’s visions came during a critical moment in Strasbourg that combined religious excitement with the wavering of the foundations of religious knowledge, creating space for a prophetic voice to be heard.
Lienhard Jost made at least four attempts to record his visions (of which only the last is preserved), each time adding new visions, details he had previously forgotten, and new understanding of the visions’ significance, thus creating an autobiographical account of the experiences and mentality of a manual laborer and visionary during the first years of the Reformation. While Ursula Jost’s visions have long been known from an edition printed in 1530, Lienhard Jost’s visions were thought to have been entirely lost until an edition printed in 1532, along with an expanded collection of Ursula’s visions, recently came to light in Vienna.
I don’t know if there’s a specifically Mormon angle here, but those who are interested in the self-representation of unlettered visionaries in an increasingly literate society during a time of religious transformation may want to take a look at the original source, or at my article about it recently published in the Sixteenth Century Journal.