Dec. 11, 2012 by David Low
(Story contributed by Laignee Johnson ’13)
Was Johnny Appleseed a real person? Author and professor Ray Silverman MAT ’67 addresses this question and and many others about the American folk figure in his new book, The Core of Johnny Appleseed: The Unknown Story of a Spiritual Trailblazer (Swedenborg Foundation Press). Silverman’s spiritual biography of Johnny Chapman, the man who came to be known as Johnny Appleseed, seeks to separate reality from legend and find the real man behind all the tall-tale misconceptions. The book depicts Chapman as a businessman full of Christian conviction.
Silverman leaves behind portraits of Chapman as a wandering ascetic or wild hedonist and instead charts the course of a thoughtful and passionate Christian, deeply moved by and dedicated to sharing the writings of Emmanuel Swedenborg. As a businessman, Chapman owned 19 nurseries and 20 other land plots in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. As a Christian, Chapman was dissatisfied with the teachings of the Congregational Church and turned instead to spreading the doctrines of the New Church. In contrast to Calvinist-influenced manifest destiny, beliefs of predestination, and heaven and hell, Chapman believed instead that God means love and that all people were created in God’s image and are deserving of God’s love.
Well-researched and illustrated, the book provides a new perspective on the Johnny Appleseed of childhood legends.
Silverman is the associate professor of religion, English, and moral philosophy at Bryn Athyn College and is an adjunct instructor at Urbana University, home to the Johnny Appleseed Education Center and the Chapman School of Leadership in Sustainability. This is Silverman’s second book in addition to editing Helen Keller’s spiritual autobiography Light in My Darkness.