The founders of successful religious and social movements have received much attention from popular and scholarly writers. Would-be prophets who failed, on the other hand, generally have been ignored, except for a few sensational cases such as those of Sabbatai Sevi, the Jewish messianic pretender of the seventeenth century, or Jim Jones, whose charismatic leadership of a group suicide in Guyana shocked the nation and the world. Yet although religious leaders who fail usually attract little attention, they are often as interesting as those who succeed. Their lives vividly highlight aspects of new religious and social movements which we might otherwise overlook. One of the most remarkable religious failures in nineteenth- century America was James J. Strang, the schismatic Mormon prophet who set up a community of 2,500 on Beaver Island in Lake Michigan and ruled it for nearly ten years until he was assassinated in 1856. Strang was articulate and capable, a compelling intellect and speaker who seemed totally sincere to some yet an utter fraud to others. His life raises fundamental questions about the promise and the dangers inherent in prophetic leadership, not simply in early Mormonism but in many similar movements as well.