Not to Worry

I hesitate to applaud the idea of having schoolmen confront schoolmen to settle an issue. Terence and Galbungus debated for fourteen days and nights in a futile effort to decide whether the personal pronoun ego has a vocative case. That was a formal disputatio, a rhetorical exercise for showing off. As a disingenuous rustic at the Council of Nicaea observed just before the opening session, which was the more miraculous, to make a stone speak or a philosopher stop speaking? As usual, the Book of Mormon covers such contingencies: “There shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine. . . . He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil” (3 Nephi 11:28–29).

Debating was a popular sport on the American frontier. I refer to George Caleb Bingham’s famous painting, Stump Speaking, or to Joseph Smith’s own childhood recollection of the babble of voices in his neighborhood. Where religion is concerned, its effects have not been to settle issues but to exacerbate things to a state of permanent factions and sects. Joseph recognized both the value and danger of debating lively issues; the last three months of 1835 brought the question to a head.

In his Ohio journal for October 29, 1835, the Prophet records: “Went to the Council. The Presidency arose and adjourned.” The meeting thus happily curtailed, “Elder Boynton observed that long debates were bad. I replied that it was generally the case that too much altercation was indulged in on both sides, and their debates protracted to an unprofitable length.”1 For how many years now have the same issues been brought out in periodic outbreaks of scholarship, with scholars picking over the same old chestnuts and calling them startling new discoveries?

One evening a month later (November 18, 1835), Joseph, paying a convivial visit to his father’s house, found that “some of the young Elders were about engaging in a debate on the subject of miracles. . . . After an interesting debate of three hours or more, during which time much talent was displayed,” the judges pronounced their decision. But President Smith “discovered in this debate, much warmth displayed, too much zeal for mastery, too much of that enthusiasm that characterizes a lawyer at the bar, who is determined to defend his cause, right or wrong.” Joseph told the young men that “they might improve their minds and cultivate their powers of intellect in a proper manner, that they might not incur the displeasure of heaven; that they should handle sacred things very sacredly, and with due deference to the opinions of others, and with an eye single to the glory of God.”2

Almost exactly a month later, on December 16, 1835, the Prophet says he

went to Brother William Smith’s to take part in the debate that was commenced Saturday evening last. After the debate was concluded, . . . some altercation took place upon the propriety of continuing the school [debate] fearing that it would not result in good. Brother William Smith opposed these measures, and insisted on having another question proposed, and at length became much enraged, particularly at me, and used violence upon my person, and also upon Elder Jared Carter, and some others.3

Two days after the brawl, in a long letter to William, Joseph concluded that the debaters were “under the influence of a wicked spirit,”4 that is, the spirit of contention, and “he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention” (3 Nephi 11:29).

Going through the journals on both sides, it all seems like déjî vu, back to the Patrologia and Schools of the Sophists, where the arguments were already trite. What kept the doctors going for thousands of years? The inexhaustible fires of vanity. “Where is the man that is free from vanity?” said Joseph Smith.5

There are some very good articles in Sunstone, Dialogue, and other publications, including the Church magazines. But the general feeling in perusing those publications is that of walking on a treadmill: The scenery never changes. There are always legitimate boasts and grievances. I will admit that floods are bad, fires deplorable, plagues are awful, and the faults of one’s leaders can be annoying. But what do you expect me to do about it? While I wait for the Millennium, I have full instructions: to do what the Saints should be doing under all conditions, good or bad. The commandments do not alter with circumstances or they would be hopelessly pliable. No matter what happens, I know exactly what to do: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5; emphasis added). This was the first revelation given to the boy Joseph.

What is happening today is nothing new. Joseph had no sooner prepared a banquet for the Saints than the cooks began crowding into the kitchen, each eager to improve the recipe. It has always been thus; it may even be salutary, this periodic shaking up, like the forest fires of Yellowstone.

Here is Brother Joseph home from Missouri, safe in the bosom of the Saints at last: “After a tedious journey from the midst of enemies, mobs, cholera, and excessively hot weather,”6

I found all well on my ar[r]ival . . . but found our common adv[er]sary had taken the advantage of our brothe[r] Sylvest[er] Smith and others who gave a false colloring to allmost every transaction from the time that we left Kirtland untill we returned, and thereby stirred up a great difficulty in the Church against me accordingly I was met in the face and eyes as soon as I had got home with a catalogue that was as black as the author [Satan] himself and the cry was Tyrant! Pope!!  King!!! Usurper!!!! Abuser of men!!!!! Ange[l]!!!!!! False prophet!!!!! Prophesying Lies in the name of the Lord and taking consecrated monies!!!!!!! and every other lie to fill up and complete the cattelogue that was necissary to perfect the Church to be meet for the devourer the shaft of the distroying Angel! . . . But that God . . . has given me power from the time that I was born (into this kingdom) to stand and I have succeeded in putting all gainsayers and enemies to flight unto the present time.7

He concludes the missive by remarking that “the church seems to be in a languid cold disconsolate state, and . . . we may look for revolutions among this wicked and perverse generation and also in the Church of Christ!”8

Two years later what is the situation?

The powers of Earth & hell seem combined to overthrow us and the church by causing a division in the family, and indeed the adversary is bring[ing] into requisition all his subtlety to prevent the Saints from being endowed, by causing division among the 12, also among the 70, and bickerings and jealousies among the Elders and official members of the church, and so the leaven of iniquity foments and spreads among the members of the church.9

Such was his New Year’s greeting for January 1, 1836.

As Andrew Ehat and Lyndon Cook have pointed out, “Often throughout the remainder of his life [that is, after 1840], Joseph Smith would lament that many Saints were unwilling to accept the glorious things revealed to him from heaven.”10 In his own words, “I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but . . . [they] will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions.”11 This, we are told, was a severe trial to him. Brigham Young would get so exasperated when the Saints failed to act on clear and sensible advice that he “could cry like a whipped child” in sheer frustration. For all his frustration, the Prophet Joseph gave no magisterial commands: “Did I not give [any man] the liberty of disbelieving any  doctrine I have preached, if he saw fit?”12 Nay, he said, “Every man has a natural, and, in our country, a constitutional right to be a false prophet, as well as a true prophet.”13 Advice and admonition were freely available, but without compulsion. Speaking to a throng of newly arrived immigrants in Nauvoo, Joseph “showed them that it was generally in consequence of the brethren disregarding or disobeying counsel that they became dissatisfied and murmured.” But then Joseph’s irrepressible charity and good nature shows through: “But if they would bear with my infirmities and the infirmities of the brethren, I would likewise bear with their infirmities.” Concluding an exuberant welcome and wise counsel to newly arrived immigrants to Nauvoo, he observed almost casually that he would have to leave them and hide out in the woods for a while. Such is not the stuff of power-mad, image-conscious dictators.”14

The Prophet was always aware of what was going on. “We have thieves among us, adulterers, liars, hypocrites. . . . As far as we degenerate from God, we descend to the devil and lose knowledge. . . . The Church must be cleansed.”15

There is a great deal of murmuring in the Church about me; but I don’t care anything about it. . . .

Well, be it so. If the stories about Joe Smith are true, then the stories of John C. Bennett are true about the ladies of Nauvoo; . . . that the Ladies’ Relief Society are all organized of those who are to be the wives of Joe Smith. Ladies, you know whether this is true or not.16

Passages like this are still used today to support Bennett as an authentic source of Church history.

Recently, a new line of books has made available significant details of Joseph Smith’s personal history. Now beside the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, your library should contain Ehat and Cook’s The Words of Joseph Smith; Dean C. Jessee’s The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith and The Papers of Joseph Smith; Joseph Smith: The Prophet, the Man, edited by Susan Black and Charles Tate; and An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, compiled by Scott H. Faulring.17 From such works we see how the Twelve kept a revolving door in motion as they left Joseph to tell vile stories to the papers and swear horrendous affidavits in court, only to return in a few weeks or months to ask for forgiveness and reinstatement, which were instantly granted, until presently for some new grievance they effected another departure and subsequent repentance. It seems that the revolving door has always been available and many Saints have had a way of blowing hot and cold, usually depending on business and politics.

When I was young I used to go to the bookstores that lined the dingy streets of lower Los Angeles. The stores had alcoves or whole walls lined with books labeled “Mormon.” Anti-Mormon literature was a special genre in those days. To qualify as an author, one only had to have been a Mormon, the one unchallenged certificate of authenticity. False memory flourished as one writer supported another in a flood of clichés and purple prose. No one paid any attention to Joseph’s own story; and this is a remarkable thing. From his day to the present, the Prophet’s image has never changed; after all the study and research, there has been no revision because any concession at all would require a new reading of the whole story. Who would believe that a book entitled Secret Ceremonies: A Mormon Woman’s Intimate Diary on Marriage and Beyond was not the product of hysterics of the proper 1880s or lurid early 1900s, but was published and sold in the year 1993?

Shining Armor

A common refrain of our learned Mormon critics is, “Why should anyone want to fight the truth?” Open-minded, detached, and informed, they only want to help, and their sensibilities are injured when the generous offer is not accepted. “Truth is what I believe—if it wasn’t true, of course I wouldn’t believe it.” In the past, thousands have left the Church as individuals or in groups and gone their ways, which is the sensible thing to do if they no longer believed its message. But many have found out that when they are Mormon has-beens, the public loses all interest in them; those splinter groups that have so often broken from the Church inevitably fade and vanish or persist as forlorn little communities.

Joseph built the house—a colossal task—but others have always offered to make their own alterations. Are they qualified? It depends on how much they really know, since superior knowledge is what they would bring to the project. This takes us to the subject of scholarship. Socrates always told his disciples to test the knowledge of their Sophist teachers before following them. But that is a no-no in the profession; it is insidious and embarrassing, and it cost Socrates his life. The purpose of caps, gowns, processions, degrees, committees, offices, ranks, and so on is to deflect, discourage, and overawe any who would ask naive questions about the emperor’s clothes. But we must ask just the same. What do these people have that the Saints have not had in the past? We are referred in our scholarly journals to the priceless ingredient—”scholarly methodologies.” Since the mid-nineteenth century, the universal credo has been that to be valid at all, scholarship had to be scientific. It had to have its special methods. It was refined and sharpened methodology that converted mere guessing to science; in religion, specifically in biblical scholarship, it became Higher Criticism.

The scholastic philosophers laid down rules for God—what he could do and what he could not do, what he was and what he was not. In making their translations and commentaries of the scriptures, they added and subtracted to suit their fancy, thus doing what they strictly forbade God to do. From the early Renaissance, scholarship became a matter of restoring the wisdom of the ancients from a vast heap of newly discovered manuscripts. It was a matter of collecting, sorting, then reading, comparing, and classifying manuscripts, and afterwards forming one’s own conclusions. The idea of modern “scholarly methodologies” imparting unlimited authority is high comedy; it fairly pleads for Gilbert and Sullivan: After the chorus has sung its welcoming praise, the Great Scholar steps forward to center stage and sings his aria, how in school and seminar he learned to intone in the correct voice, or drawl, wear the tweed or the cloth with equal deference, smoke the pipe and follow the departmental line.

The actual method of these giants was surprisingly simple. A great scholar goes through the scriptures and every time he finds a passage proclaiming the miraculous, supernatural, or otherworldly, he simply expunges the offending words as obvious interpolations or corruption in the text. In the 1940s, Rudolf Bultmann and others called it “demythologizing.” What remained after this learned exercise of casting out lingering remnants of dark superstition from the Bible was the pure original text, stripped of all supernatural accumulations.

In the 1920s and 1930s, a crowd of LDS graduate students went to the University of Chicago for a ministerial Ph.D. and returned to BYU as ardent disciples of Albert Schweitzer, Ernest Renan, Adolf von Harnack, and the rest. They demythologized Jesus on the authority of the immortal Goodspeed.18 Despite the heated debates of the 1940s and 1950s, BYU weathered the Higher Criticism of Chicago rather well.

While teaching at Claremont in the 1930s, I shared a humanities class with Goodspeed, who had retired from Chicago. He insisted with great emphasis that the New Testament was a Greek document because not a single Hebrew manuscript was known to exist from Jesus’ time. It was shortly after Dr. Goodspeed’s death that the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered—how could he have known? Here were ordinary Jews writing Hebrew with skill and confidence in the time of Christ. Which illustrates the first rule of scholarship: You are never playing with a full deck. You never know how much evidence you may be missing, what it is, or where it is hiding. What counters that and saves the day for scholarship is what I have called the “Gas Law of Learning,” namely, that any amount of knowledge, no matter how small, will fill any vacuum of ignorance, no matter how large. He who knows one or two facts can honestly claim to know at least something about a subject, and nobody knows everything. So it is with the schoolmen who make the rules and move the goalposts.

Joseph Smith did not come before the world with a premise, or a proposition, or a hypothesis, or a special interpretation of the scriptures, any of which would have given logical grounds for endless discussion. He simply told a straight story to be accepted or rejected, leaving no room for argument. He could neither deny his story nor reach an accommodation with the ministers, and that explains a good deal of their implacable rage against him. “What is a Bible scholar anyway?” asks Harold Bloom. “A Bible scholar, so far as I can see, with very rare exceptions, is just a very bad literary critic.”19 The scholar is really doing what the literary critic does, giving his considered opinion, which is passed off as scientific fact on the helpless public awed by the mysteries of “scholarly methodology.” Bloom continues (we may credit Sunstone for printing this), “[Joseph] Smith had found his way back, either by inspiration or by imagination . . . to certain elements in archaic Judaism [see the Books of Moses, Enoch, Abraham, Nephi, and so on] that normative Judaism and Christianity have abandoned.”20 That may, if you please, be fanciful stuff, but it is specific and amenable to careful checking against ancient sources, although few were available to anyone in Joseph’s time and none were available to him. Others, scientists like Eric Paul, scholars like Eduard Meyer, and learned mystics like Manley P. Hall, have noted the same phenomenon in the case of Joseph: He had an inside track to something. But no one has followed up on it, and why should they? The Mormons have a vested interest in such a pursuit but find it too much trouble. When mere appointment to the office of group can give one authority or stature, why should anyone bother? To find the things that Joseph found, however, no one can “come unto Mount Zion . . . unless he becomes as a little child, and is taught by the Spirit of God. Wherefore, we again say, search the revelations of God: study the prophecies.”21 So said Joseph Smith, who declared that he was fearful to ask God, in behalf of others, “about things the knowledge of which men ought to obtain in all sincerity, before God, for themselves.” And how for themselves? “In humility by the prayer of faith.”22

Star Witness

The greatest scholarly work of modern times is undoubtedly that of Eduard Meyer. To this day, his Geschichte des Altertums (History of Antiquity) is considered to be “the most perfectly documented and soundly reasoned resume of what is actually known about the peoples of Antiquity.”23 “The project was not original, but never before had it been undertaken by anyone with a comparable preparation.”24 Nor will it ever be surpassed again for, as E. Hornung recently observed, “Egyptian Historiography reached its high water mark in Eduard Meyer.”25 No one else could master the vast weight and scope of the materials, which are now doubled and broken into a dozen specialties. Meyer had a special preference for the history of religions, which never left him from his dissertation (at the age of twenty) to the great work of his old age, The Origin and Beginnings of Christianity. He matched that with another work, The Origin and Beginnings of the Mormons, with Reflections on the Beginnings of Islam and Christianity, published in 1912. What a happy coincidence! The origins of religion were always his grand passion, and for him Joseph Smith held the key. “Mormonism excited interest at an early age,” Meyer writes, “both because of its surprising analogy to Islam” and also because “Mormonism is one of the most instructive phenomena in the whole area of religious history. . . . Students of religions have kept themselves strictly aloof from Mormonism and disdained the rich instruction it has to offer.”26

It is not just another of countless sects, but a new revealed religion, [with] an exceptionally rich contemporary store of documents . . . what in the study of other revealed religions can only be surmised after painful research is here directly accessible in reliable witnesses. Hence the origin and history of Mormonism possesses a great and unusual value to the students of Religious History.27

The common claim that Joseph Smith borrowed from the sects around him will not hold up, according to Meyer; for what it has in common with them anybody can find in the Bible.28 In Joseph’s revelations there is no sign of conscious deception or of outside influence.29

To say that he was simply a swindler no more explains Joseph Smith than it explains Amos, or Isaiah, or Mohammed, or Jeanne d’Arc. Many deserted Joseph Smith but never denied his prophetic calling; he expelled many from the Church, he never solicited the support of anyone or made any concessions in his message. It is the case of Joseph Smith that sheds light on all the others (Amos, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Zoroaster and Hesiod) and not the other way around.30

But how about the Book of Mormon? The angel and the plates were for the Three Witnesses an “absolutely real experience.”31 But how to explain the Eight Witnesses? Meyer gives up on it. As a Higher Critic he cannot allow any taint of supernaturalism. Mormonism is not the correct view of Christianity because it does not accept the Christ of the Higher Critics:

Jesus never appeared as a prophet. Certainly he feels the closest communication with God, who is his loving Father; the doctrine which Jesus preaches is God’s truth, and hence Christ claims the authority to interpret the law autonomously and to teach religious truth and God’s commandments with sovereign authority. But never did he claim a direct revelation which came to him in a moment, much less that he would have materialized such a revelation. Christ did not have visions, and he never predicted future events; he did not take any stand concerning the events of this world, nor did he give instructions concerning the world. His way was completely different from that of the prophets, including John the Baptist, Zoroaster, Mohammed, or Joseph Smith; Christ is not a prophet, but a teacher like Buddha, who makes known religous truth in authoritative sayings and parables made convincing by their inner evidence.32

But how about John? “It goes without saying that the Gospel of John is utterly worthless as a source for the historical knowledge of Jesus.”33 So that need not annoy us. “Jesus never did predict future events.” And Matthew 24? An obvious interpolation and invention, since such things just do not happen. The stories of Transfiguration and Ascension are mere fiction.34 And so the Higher Critic has it all his own way. But, true or false, Mormonism parallels primitive Christianity: “During our historic presentation [of Mormonism] the thoughts of the reader . . . must often have strayed to the beginning of Christianity.”35

As to the visions, angels, healings, casting out of devils, and other supernatural events, Jesus himself shared these beliefs; for him too, the constant intervention of the other world was something to be taken for granted. But the Book of Mormon? Forget it: “The style is clumsy and monotonous in the highest degree. . . . No one but a believer will ever bring himself to read it clear through.”36 From which it is evident that Meyer himself never gave it any intensive study. He dismisses it with the license of the Higher Critic. “There is no doubt at all that the golden plates, even though his mother and others say they were kept in a box in Smith’s house, never existed in the real world.”37 “There is no doubt at all,” claims the same absolute authority for rejecting the testimony of John, which “it goes without saying,” is worthless.

After displaying his prejudices, Meyer, backed by the full force of his matchless learning and insight, issues a confident prophecy for the Mormon Church as of 1912: “Though it has not been destroyed . . . still it has sunk from the position of a coming world religion to a sect something of the type of Judaism or the Parses.” That is, a small, respectable, obscure, fading community. There is no more remarkable prophecy of Joseph Smith than his own unequivocal view of the future of the Church with its unstoppable progress. This is the thing that most impressed Eduard Meyer: All great religious founders have their moments of self-doubt, soul-searching, and agonizing—with the one single exception of Joseph Smith, who never for a moment betrayed the slightest sign of doubt or hesitation as to his calling or the future of Zion.

Meyer gives the clearest demonstrations of how critical methodology works. The resurrection story of the early Christians was an obvious fiction since it so perfectly matched the very story the early Christians wanted to believe.38 They liked the story so much they must have made it up. The appearances of God to men in Genesis are exactly like those described by Paul and the early Christians, along with Moses and Joseph Smith—and what could be plainer proof, not that they are authentic, but that they are simply being copied down the line from the original in Genesis?39 The many appearances of Christ after the resurrection are a cover-up, a conscious fabrication. Once assumed, this is “a neat [huebsch] illustration of how rationalistic criticism has always operated; the fact that the body has disappeared from the tomb is not questioned, but a logical explanation is sought.”40 Credo quia absurdum. . . . credible est guia impossible, says Tertullian—if it is absurd, nobody has made it up; if it makes sense, somebody has been adjusting it.

The Big Question

The one purpose of religion is to answer the Terrible Question, which is also the one thing the clergy will not touch. Hans Kuehn’s Theology for the Third Millennium contains not a single mention of death or the hereafter! The social gospel is the clergy’s refuge from the question. As Ernest Becker put it, “When philosophy took over from religion it also took over religion’s central problem, and death became the real ‘muse of philosophy’ from its beginning in Greece right through Heidegger and modern existentialism.”41 It was not until the late 1930s that the smart-aleck 1920s and early 1930s came face to face with a shocking realization brought home by depression and war that “to see the world as it really is is devastating and terrifying. . . . It places a trembling animal at the mercy of the entire cosmos and the problem of the meaning of it.”42 Soren Kierkegaard, a contemporary of Joseph Smith, became the flag bearer of the modern sophisticates. His “whole understanding of man’s character is that it is a structure built up to avoid perception of the ‘terror, perdition [and] annihilation [that] dwell next door to every man.’ “43

On the very day that Joseph Smith renamed Commerce Town to make it a thing of beauty, Kierkegaard in his journal (May 12, 1839) cries out in hopeless despair: “The whole order of things fills me with a sense of anguish . . . all is entirely unintelligible to me, and particularly my own person. Great is my sorrow, without limits. None knows of it, except God in heaven, and He cannot have pity!” Becker writes, “This is the terror: to have emerged from nothing, to have a name, consciousness of self, deep inner feelings, an excruciating inner yearning for life, and self-expression—and with all this yet to die. It seems like a hoax.”44 So we try not to think of it, and instead, like Kierkegaard’s Philistine, we tranquilize ourselves “in the trivial.”45 According to Neo-Freudianism, “consciousness of death is the primary repression, not sexuality. . . . This is the repression on which culture is built.”46 Freud, says his biographer, “had constantly before him the vision of man who is always unhappy, helpless, anxious, bitter, looking into nothingness with fright, and turning away from ‘so-called posterity’ in anticipatory . . . disgust.”47 This is the great revelation of the modern age.

But Joseph Smith had already stated the problem as clearly as anyone ever has, and done what no one else has done in giving us the solution. “What is the object of our coming into existence, then dying and falling away, to be here no more? . . . [This] is a subject we ought to study more than any other. We ought to study it day and night. . . . If we have any claim on our Heavenly Father for anything, it is for knowledge on this important subject.”48 And this is where religion has failed, turning to the social gospel and intellectual posturing to avoid the issue.

Joseph Smith not only states the problem, but he provides the prime clue to the answer on the same page: “Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject.”49 The answer must come from the outside, and that is recognized now. The term “breakthrough” that Eduard Meyer applied to the beginning of Christianity and Mormonism is today being widely used in theological journals to explain the divine origin of Christianity: It cannot be a human invention, our own imagining; to be real it must come from elsewhere. But of course the phenomenon is denied for modern times.

I ask LDS students what they would do with a thousand years of life, guaranteed, all expenses paid, and they give silly answers because they have been conditioned by the actuary to accept short lives with the prospect that all they will ever get is right here. They do not see the breakthrough. The great breakthroughs of 1820 and 1827, which changed everything, should settle the issue—but is it all real? Joseph shows us that it is: When solid plates pass between inhabitants of different worlds and visitors from above lay hands upon the heads of Joseph and his brethren, something is afoot. If it stopped there, we would be bemused, but Joseph kept his promise to tell us what was on the plates, to give us glimpses of things that lie beyond human reckoning.

Do you have the remotest inkling of an idea, my dear Galbungus, how much sheer mental effort it would take the smartest person to produce a book of Enoch, or Abraham, or Nephi, or Ether, or Helaman, or the first section of the Doctrine and Covenants? To lay it all out in order with the vast sweep and scope of the book of Moses, bridging great gaps in the human record? The Pearl of Great Price putting the whole into a cosmic setting in the manner of the ancients? The Book of Mormon with its ever-changing scenes of desert wanderers, luxury and danger in Jerusalem, migrations, wars, politics, ecology, trade and commerce, law and lawyers, paramilitary terrorists, youth gangs, strategy and tactics, natural disasters, organized crime, corrupt courts and politicians, dangerous opportunists, secret organizations, vain intellectuals, devout sectaries in the wilderness, prophets as near-death witnesses of the afterlife, great missionaries, dynastic feuds, and more, and with all this the doctrines of salvation set forth more fully than anywhere else, and in a setting not of Joseph Smith’s rural America but of our own climactic age? It is no wonder Smith’s most ambitious critics from Meyer to Fawn Brodie steer us away from the Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price, which leave them high and dry as critics.

So I see no reason why people should set themselves up as lights; I need not focus my feeble beam on the faults of others, in the Church or out, simply as a means of calling attention to myself. What remains is only “bearing down in pure testimony” (Alma 4:19).


1. Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 2:294.

2. Ibid., 2:317–18.

3. Ibid., 2:334–35.

4. Ibid., 2:341.

5. Ibid., 4:358.

6. The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, comp. Dean C. Jessee (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1984), 328.

7. Ibid., 329.

8. Ibid., 331.

9. Ibid., 121.

10. The Words of Joseph Smith, ed. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1980), 55.

11. History of the Church, 6:185.

12. Ibid., 6:273.

13. Ibid., 6:304.

14. Ibid., 5:181.

15. Ibid., 4:588.

16. Ibid., 5:285–86.

17. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1961); The Words of Joseph Smith, ed. Ehat and Cook; The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, comp. Dean C. Jessee; The Papers of Joseph Smith, comp. Dean C. Jessee (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989, 1992); Joseph Smith: The Prophet, the Man, ed. Susan Easton Black and Charles D. Tate, Jr. (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1993); and An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, comp. Scott H. Faulring (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989).

18. Edgar Johnson Goodspeed, the prominent University of Chicago theologian.

19. Brett DelPorto, “Harold Bloom’s Ironic, Female, Co-Author of the Bible,” Sunstone 15, no. 1 (April 1991, issue 81): 57.

20. Ibid., 56.

21. History of the Church, 1:283.

22. Ibid., 1:339; see James 1:5.

23. Enciclopedia Universal Illustrada, ed. S. A. Espasa-Calpe (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1907–1930), 34:1377.

24. Enciclopedia Italiana di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti (Rome: Instituto Della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1934), 23:140.

25. Erik Hornung, Einführung in die Ægyptologie (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1967), 121.

26. Eduard Meyer, The Origin and History of the Mormons, trans. Heinz F Rahde and Eugene Seaich (Salt Lake City: University of Utah, 1961), i.

27. Ibid., i.

28. Ibid., 22–23.

29. Ibid., 10.

30. Ibid., vii–ix.

31. Ibid., 9.

32. Ibid., 199.

33. Ibid.

34. Ibid., 200–201.

35. Ibid., 198.

36. Ibid., 22–23, 25.

37. Ibid., 5.

38. Ibid., 202.

39. Ibid., 213–214.

40. Ibid., 207.

41. Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (New York: Free Press, 1973), 12.

42. Ibid., 60.

43. Ibid., 70.

44. Ibid., 67, 87.

45. Ibid., 74.

46. Ibid., 96.

47. Ibid., 122.

48. History of the Church, 6:50; emphasis added.

49. Ibid.