Criticism of Mormonism/Books/No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith/Chapter 6

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Response to claims made in "Chapter 6: The Prophet of Palmyra"

A FairMormon Analysis of: No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, a work by author: Fawn Brodie
Claim Evaluation
No Man Knows My History

Response to claims made in No Man Knows My History, "Chapter 6: The Prophet of Palmyra"

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Response to claim: 83 - The Book of Mormon was conceived as a money-making history of the Indians

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

The Book of Mormon was conceived as a money-making history of the Indians.

Author's sources:
  1. Author's opinion.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

There is no evidence that the Book of Mormon was ever a "money making" scheme.

Question: What authorship theories are proposed by non-believers to account for the authorship of the Book of Mormon?

There are a wide variety of theories proposed to account for the Book of Mormon, none of which provide any concrete proof

Non-believers produce a variety of theories to explain the existence of the Book of Mormon. A number of different authorship theories have been proposed since the book was first published in 1830. One critic of the Church even goes so far as to suggest that the Church encourages challenging the authorship of the Book of Mormon.

Ever since it was first published in 1830, numerous secular and non-secular theories have been proposed to account for the existence of the Book of Mormon. Initially, it was assumed that the book was the product of Joseph Smith’s own creative mind—a book not worthy of attention since it could not possibly contain anything of value. As critics began to actually read the book however, it became apparent that the depth and complexity of the writing did not fit well with the proposal that Joseph Smith, Jr. as the book’s sole author. This gave rise to the theory that Joseph Smith had an educated accomplice in his effort to create the book. The accomplices most often proposed are typically Sidney Rigdon and Oliver Cowdery.

Some secular authorship theories also postulate that Joseph Smith plagiarized sources that may have been available to him during the time that he was producing the Book of Mormon. The most commonly referenced potential sources include an unpublished manuscript by Solomon Spalding, a published work called View of the Hebrews, and the King James Bible.

Had anyone other than Joseph Smith "authored" the Book of Mormon, it surely would have come out by now: the person that is able to move millions can make millions. Breaking this story to the world would truly be the religious story of the century. The fact that no one has come forward is due simply to the fact that there is no one else: any other explanation, besides that given by Joseph Smith simply doesn't hold any water. Anyone who has read the Book of Mormon knows that if Joseph Smith or anyone else had written the Book of Mormon 'from whole cloth' would be infinitely more miraculous than the account given by Joseph Smith.

Authorship theory categories

Non-secular authorship theories (those involving some sort of “spiritual” element) usually fall into one of the following categories:

  • Joseph Smith’s own story that he received the plates from an angel and translated them by “the power of God,” but that the work thus produced is simply inspirational fiction.
  • Joseph Smith created the book through “non-divine” (i.e., satanic) inspiration.
  • Joseph Smith wrote the book without any knowledge of what he was writing through a process called “automatic” or “spirit” writing. Closely related to this theory is that Joseph wrote the book during fits of Epilepsy.

Book of Mormon secular authorship theories usually fall into one of the following categories:

  • Joseph Smith wrote the book on his own, without assistance and with full knowledge that he was writing a work of fiction. It is sometimes postulated that Joseph wrote the book by drawing upon his own life’s experiences.
  • Joseph Smith wrote the book on his own by plagiarizing works that were available to him. Examples of this are the Spalding manuscript theory, the View of the Hebrews theory, and The Golden Pot theory.
  • An associate of Joseph Smith (Sidney Rigdon or Oliver Cowdery) wrote the book, either alone or in a group, and then allowed Joseph to take the credit.
  • Some combination of theories involving associates and plagiarism together. An example of this is the Spalding-Rigdon theory.

Critics of the Book of Mormon do not agree on a prevailing theory

The critics themselves have never come to an agreement on which theory holds the most promise. For example, Fawn Brodie discounted the Spalding-Rigdon theory in favor of the View of the Hebrews theory. Various authorship theories have fallen into or out of favor as new evidence has come to light. The Spalding-Rigdon theory, first introduced by E. D. Howe in his anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unvailed, was quite popular until the later discovery of a Spalding manuscript which bore little resemblance to the Book of Mormon narrative. The View of the Hebrews theory became popular with the publishing of B. H. Roberts’ critical examination of the Book of Mormon titled Studies of the Book of Mormon. The best argument against View of the Hebrews being the source for the Book of Mormon is the text of View of the Hebrews itself. Because the book was not widely available for many years, Brigham Young University re-published it in order to make it available to those who wished to make this comparison for themselves.

All new theories that are proposed tend to combine elements of various older theories in an ever evolving attempt to pin down, in secular terms, the precise origin of the Book of Mormon.

Response to claim: 84 - A story circulated that Joseph Smith boasted he would walk upon the water

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

A story circulated that Joseph Smith boasted he would walk upon the water, and secretly built a plank bridge underneath the surface of the pond.

Author's sources:

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The author is now relying on unsubstantiated gossip. The articles cited say nothing about Joseph; they are being cited to demonstrate the absurd slanders and ridicule that "Mormon elders" are subject to by their religious critics.

Question: Did Joseph Smith claim to have walked on water?

The story about Joseph walking on water is recognized even by the Church's antagonists as a fake

It is claimed by critic Fawn Brodie that Joseph attempted to prove he was a prophet by walking on water; he sought to do so by hiding planks of wood under the water's surface.

The story about Joseph walking on water is recognized even by the Church's antagonists as a fake. It never happened. Fawn Brodie included it in her biography of the Prophet and wrote: "Baseless though this story may be, it is none the less symbolic."[1] So, this story is baseless, worthless, without truth. But it fit well with what Brodie thought about the prophet, and so she passed it on.

The application of this folk tale to Joseph is one example of a broader pattern of using such a tale to discredit unpopular religious claims:

  • Stanley J. Thayne, "Walking on Water: Nineteenth Century Prophets and a Legend of Religious Imposture," Journal of Mormon History 36:2 (Spring 2010): 160.

Response to claim: 84-85 - Joseph began to sincerely believe what he was teaching

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

Joseph began to sincerely believe what he was teaching.

Author's sources:
  1. Author's opinion.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Joseph did sincerely believe what he was teaching. Brodie is simply forced to this conclusion by the evidence.

Response to claim: 86 - Joseph Smith performed "miracles," but was unaware that they were common occurrences

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith performed "miracles," but was unaware that they were common occurrences.

Author's sources:
  1. No source provided.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author attempts to minimize any miracles attributed to Joseph by claiming that everyone did them, even if Joseph wasn't aware of that fact.

Question: Do we have any record of Joseph Smith performing healings or other miracles by the power of Christ's priesthood?

Accounts of healings in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are at least as well attested historically as those recorded in the Gospels

Both sincere and insincere persons have asked this question. The Saints believe in healings and other miracles through Christ's priesthood power, but are cautious about sharing such events. However, such events are mainly for the comfort and blessing of the Saints, and are not intended to convince others or act as a "sign." Said Elder B.H. Roberts, quoting the Lord in the Doctrine and Covenants:

"And these signs shall follow them that believe. In my name they shall do many wonderful works; in my name 2 they shall cast out devils; in my name they shall heal the sick; in my name they shall open the eyes of the blind, and unstop the ears of the deaf; and the tongue of the dumb shall speak; and if any man shall administer poison unto them, it shall not hurt them; and the poison of a serpent shall not have power to harm them. But a commandment I give unto them, that they shall not boast themselves of these things, neither speak them before the world; for these things are given unto you for your profit and for salvation. (DC 84:65-73)

[Elder Roberts then continues] The last part of the passage I have written in Italics that it might be the clearer understood that this promise of the miraculous gifts enumerated was not made that servants of God in the new dispensation might have evidence of what are commonly looked upon as miracles to point to in attestation of their divine authority; but are blessings given to the saints for their profit and salvation. For the very reasons that they were not given as evidence of divine authority, but as a promise of blessing to the saints, they will become all the stronger proof of divine authority in the ministry of the new dispensation, provided it can be proven that they follow those who believe. And I want to say, also, that because of the commandment that the servants of God shall not boast of these powers before the world is the very reason that so little has been said of them as proof of the divine mission of our New Witness; and even now I make their chief weight as evidence consist in the fact that their enjoyment is the fulfillment of a promise made by the God of heaven through Joseph Smith, which if it had not been fulfilled would prove him beyond all question an impostor. But I affirm that these promises are fulfilled in the experience of those who believe in, and accept the new dispensation...[2]:1:253-254


April 1830

In the month of April, 1830, Joseph Smith was visiting at the house of a Mr. Joseph Knight, at Colesville, Broome County, New York. This gentleman had rendered the prophet some timely assistance while translating the Book of Mormon, and he was anxious that Mr. Knight and his family should receive the truth. While in Mr. Knight's neighborhood the prophet held a number of meetings. Among those who attended regularly was Newel Knight, son of Joseph Knight. He and the prophet had many serious conversations on the subject of man's salvation. In the meetings held the people prayed much, and in one of the aforesaid conversations with the prophet, Newel Knight promised that he would pray publicly. When the time came, however, his heart failed him, and he refused, saying that he would wait until he got into the woods by himself. The next morning when he attempted to pray in the woods, he was over-whelmed with a sense of having neglected his duty the evening before, in not praying in the presence of others. He began to feel uneasy and continued to grow worse both in body and mind, until upon reaching home his appearance was such as to alarm his wife. He sent for the prophet, who, when he came found Newel in a sad condition and suffering greatly. His visage and limbs were distorted and twisted in every shape imaginable. At last he was caught up off the floor and tossed about most fearfully. The neighbors hearing of his condition came running in. After he had suffered for a time the prophet succeeded in getting him by the hand, when Newel immediately spoke to him, saying he knew he was possessed of the devil, and that the prophet had power to cast him out. "If you know I can, it shall be, done," replied the prophet; and then almost unconsciously he rebuked Satan and commanded him to depart from the man. Immediately Newel's contortions stopped, and he spoke out and said he saw the devil leave him and vanish from sight.

"This was the first miracle which was done in this church, or by any member of it," writes the prophet; "and it was done not by man, nor by the power of man, but it was done by God and by the power of Godliness; therefore let the honor and praise, the dominion and the glory, be ascribed to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen."[2]:1:254-255


Spring 1831

Words of Oliver B. Huntington: Soon after Joseph settled in Kirtland, members of the Church began to gather to that place. The name of Joseph Smith and his power with God aroused everybody either for good or for bad. Mrs. John Johnson, who lived at the town of Hiram, forty miles distant from Kirtland, heard of the wonderful man that could receive revelations from God, heal the sick and see angels. She had a stiff arm that she wanted healed and made useful like the other, so she induced her husband to take a journey to Kirtland to see the Prophet.

Joseph asked her if she believed that God could make him instrumental in healing her arm which had been stiff a long time.

She answered that she believed her arm could be healed.

The Prophet only remarked that he would visit her the next day.

The next day Joseph came to Bishop Newel K. Whitney's home where Mr. Johnson and his wife were staying. There were a Campbellite doctor and a Methodist preacher in the room. He took Mrs. Johnson by the hand and without sitting down or standing on ceremonies, and after a very short mental prayer, pronounced her arm whole in the name of Jesus Christ. He left the house immediately.

When he was gone, the preacher asked if her arm was well. She immediately stretched out her arm straight, remarking at the same time, "It's as well as the other."

The next day the preacher came to the house of Philo Dibble, who lived a little out of town, and related what he saw, and then tried to account for it upon natural principles, saying that when Joseph pronounced that arm whole in the name of Jesus Christ, it frightened her so badly that it threw her in a heavy perspiration and relaxed the cords, and the result was that she could straighten her arm.

When the knowledge of the miracle was had among the Saints, some of the brethren asked the Prophet if the arm would remain sound. Joseph answered, "The arm is as sound as the other and is as liable to accidents or to be hurt as the other."[3]

The following account of a miraculous healing is to be found in Hayden' History of the Disciples (Campbellites); and is the statement of witnesses hostile to the prophet and the work in which he was engaged:

"Ezra Booth, of Mantua, a Methodist preacher of much more than ordinary culture, and with strong natural abilities, in company with his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, and some other citizens of this place, visited Smith at his house in Kirtland, in 1831. Mrs. Johnson had been afflicted for some time with a lame arm, and was not at the time of the visit able to lift her hand to her head. The party visited Smith, partly out of curiosity, and partly to see for themselves what there might be in the new doctrine. During the interview the conversation turned upon the subject of supernatural gifts; such as were conferred in the days of the apostles. Some one said: 'Here is Mrs. Johnson with a lame arm; has God given any power to men on the earth to cure her?' A few moments later, when the conversation had turned in another direction, Smith rose, and walking across the room, taking Mrs. Johnson by the hand, said in the most solemn and impressive manner: "Woman, in the name of Jesus Christ, I command thee to be whole; and immediately left the room. The company were awestricken at the infinite presumption of the man, and the calm assurance with which he spoke. The sudden mental and moral shock—I know not how better to explain the well attested fact—electrified the rheumatic arm—Mrs. Johnson at once lifted it with ease, and on her return home the next day she was able to do her washing without difficulty or pain."[2]:1:255-256


24-25 June 1834

This night the cholera burst forth among us, and about midnight it was manifested in its most virulent form. Our ears were saluted with cries and moanings, and lamentations on every hand; even those on guard fell to the earth with their guns in their hands, so sudden and powerful was the attack of this terrible disease. At the commencement, I attempted to lay on hands for their recovery, but I quickly learned by painful experience, that when the great Jehovah decrees destruction upon any people, and makes known His determination, man must not attempt to stay His hand. The moment I attempted to rebuke the disease I was attacked, and had I not desisted in my attempt to save the life of a brother, I would have sacrificed my own. The disease seized upon me like the talons of a hawk, and I said to the brethren: "If my work were done, you would have to put me in the ground without a coffin.". . .

When the cholera made its appearance, Elder John S. Carter was the first man who stepped forward to rebuke it, and upon this, was instantly seized, and became the first victim in the camp.[4]:2:114-115

11-13 October 1835

Waited on my father again, who was very sick. In secret prayer in the morning, the Lord said, "My servant, thy father shall live." . . . We called on the Lord in mighty prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, and laid our hands on him, and rebuked the disease. And God heard and answered our prayers—to the great joy and satisfaction of our souls. Our aged father arose and dressed himself, shouted, and praised the Lord. Called Brother William Smith, who had retired to rest, that he might praise the Lord with us, by joining in songs of praise to the Most High...Visited my father, who was very much recovered from his sickness, indeed, which caused us to marvel at the might, power, and condescension of our Heavenly Father, in answering our prayers in his behalf.[4]:2:289-290

10 December 1835

This afternoon I was called, in company with President David Whitmer, to visit Angeline Works. We found her very sick, and so much deranged that she did not recognize her friends and intimate acquaintances. We prayed for her and laid hands on her in the name of Jesus Christ, and commanded her in His name to receive her senses, which were immediately restored. We also prayed that she might be restored to health; and she said she was better.[4]:2:328


22 July 1839

(Wilford Woodruff): On the morning of the 22nd of July, 1839, [the Prophet] arose reflecting upon the situation of the Saints of God in their persecutions and afflictions. He called upon the Lord in prayer, and the power of God rested mightily upon him. And as Jesus healed all the sick around Him in His day, so Joseph, the Prophet of God, healed all around on this occasion. He healed all in his house and dooryard, then, in company with Sidney Rigdon and several of the Twelve, he went through among the sick lying on the bank of the river, and he commanded them in a loud voice, in the name of Jesus Christ, to come up and be made whole, and they were all healed.

When he healed all that were sick on the east side of the river, they crossed the Mississippi River to Montrose, where we were. The first house they went into was President Brigham Young's. He was sick on his bed at the time. The Prophet went into his house and healed him, and they all came out together. As they were passing by my door, Brother Joseph said, "Brother Woodruff, follow me."

These were the only words spoken by any of the company from the time they left Brother Brigham's house till we crossed the public square and entered Brother Elijah Fordham's house. Brother Fordham had been dying for an hour, and we expected each minute would be his last.

I felt the power of God that was overwhelming His prophet. When we entered the house, Brother Joseph walked up to Brother Fordham and took him by the right hand; in his left hand he held his hat.

He saw that Brother Fordham's eyes were glazed, and that he was speechless and unconscious.

After taking hold of his hand, the Prophet looked down into the dying man's face and said, "Brother Fordham, do you not know me?"

At first he made no reply; but we could all see the effect of the Spirit of God resting upon him.

Joseph again said, "Elijah, do you not know me?"

With a low whisper, Brother Fordham answered, "Yes."

The Prophet then said, "Have you not faith to be healed?"

The answer, which was a little plainer than before, was, "I am afraid it is too late. If you had come sooner, I think I might have been."

He had the appearance of a man waking from sleep. It was the sleep of death.

Joseph then said, "Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ?"

"I do, Brother Joseph," was the response.

Then the Prophet of God spoke with a loud voice, as in the majesty of the Godhead, "Elijah, I command you, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, to arise and be made whole!"

The words of the Prophet were not like the words of man, but like the voice of God. It seemed to me that the house shook from its foundation. Elijah Fordham leaped from his bed like a man raised from the dead. A healthy color came to his face, and life was manifested in every act. His feet were done up in Indian-meal poultices. He kicked them off his feet, scattered the contents, then called for his clothes and put them on. He asked for a bowl of bread and milk and ate it. Then he put on his hat and followed us into the street to visit others who were sick.

As soon as we left Brother Fordham's house, we went into the house of Joseph B. Noble, who was very low and dangerously sick. When we entered the house, Brother Joseph took him by the hand, and commanded him, in the name of Jesus Christ, to arise and be made whole. He did arise and was immediately healed.

While this was going on, the wicked mob in the place, led by one Kilburn, had become alarmed, and followed us into Brother Noble's house. Before they arrived there, Brother Joseph had called upon Brother Fordham to offer prayer. While he was praying, the mob entered, with all the evil spirits accompanying them. As soon as they entered, Brother Fordham, who was praying, fainted and sank to the floor.

When Joseph saw the mob in the house, he arose and had the room cleared of both that class of men and their attendant devils. Then Brother Fordham immediately revived and finished his prayer.

This shows what power evil spirits have upon the tabernacles of men. The Saints are only saved from the devil by the power of God.

This case of Brother Noble's was the last one of healing upon that day. It was the greatest day for the manifestation of the power of God through the gift of healing since the organization of the Church.

When we left Brother Noble, the Prophet Joseph went with those who accompanied him from the other side of the bank of the river, to return home. While waiting for the ferryboat, a man of the world, knowing of the miracles which had been performed, came to him and asked him if he would not go and heal his twin children, about five months old, who were both lying sick nigh unto death. They were some two miles from Montrose.

The Prophet said he could not go, but after pausing some time, he said he would send some one to heal them. He then turned to me and said, "You go with the man and heal his children."

He took a red silk handkerchief out of his pocket and gave it to me, and told me to wipe their faces with the handkerchief when I administered to them, and they should be healed. He also said unto me, "As long as you will keep that handkerchief, it shall remain a league between you and me."

I went with the man, and did as the Prophet commanded me, and the children were healed.

I have possession of the handkerchief unto this day.[4]:4:3[5]

23 July 1839

As a great number of brethren lay sick in the town, on Tuesday, 23rd July, 1839, I told Don Carlos and George A. Smith to go and visit all the sick, exercise mighty faith, and administer to them in the name of Jesus Christ, commanding the destroyer to depart, and the people to arise and walk; and not leave a single person on the bed between my house and Ebenezer Robinson's, two miles distant; they administered to over sixty persons, many of whom thought they would never sit up again; but they were healed, arose from their beds, and gave glory to God; some of them assisted in visiting and administering to others who were sick.[4]:4:398-99


circa 1 December 1840

[Dated 19 May 1841]

Be it known that on or about the first of December last, we, J. Shamp and Margaret Shamp, of the town of Batavia, Gennesee county, N.Y., had a daughter that had been deaf and dumb four and a half years, and was restored to her hearing, the time aforesaid, by the laying on of the hands of the Elders (Nathan R. Knight and Charles Thompson) of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly called Mormons, through the power of Almighty God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, as believed and practiced by them in these last days. [Signed]

M. SHAMP.[4]:4:361


Shortly after her marriage to T.H.B. Stenhouse, English convert Fanny reported witnessing miracles performed by LDS Elders. Interestingly, Fanny reported these events after her apostasy from the Church, in an anti-Mormon book. These accounts can be read here.

Response to claim: 89 - Joseph detested tedious and solitary field labor

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

Joseph detested tedious and solitary field labor.

Author's sources:
  1. Author's opinion.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

There is no evidence that Joseph detested labor, and quite a bit of evidence to the contrary.

Question: Is it possible to deduce Joseph Smith's thoughts and dreams years after his death?

Some critics of the Church attempt to discern Joseph Smith's motivations, thoughts and dreams, in order to explain the rise of the Church

Secular critics face a tough challenge when attempting to explain the foundational stories of Church—the primary sources from Joseph Smith and his associates do not provide them with any useful information. The only explanation left to them is that Joseph must have been lying about everything that he said. Authors then resort to fabricating Joseph's thoughts and dreams, and deducing his motivations based upon his surroundings. As one reviewer of Vogel's work puts it, "if no evidence can be gathered to demonstrate that a historical actor thought what you attribute to him or her, no conjecture can be beyond the realm of hypothetical possibility—just make things up, if you need to."[6]:326 This technique allows secular critics to quite literally create any explanation that they wish to account for Joseph's ability to restore the Church.

Creating a "psychobiography" by putting thoughts into Joseph's head

Secular critics, as a result of their inability to accept what they call "paranormal experiences," must come up with explanations for why Joseph Smith was able to create and grow the Church. Since many of the primary documents from Joseph and his associates accept evidence of spiritual experiences and angelic visitations as normal, secular critics look at Joseph's surrounding environment in order to deduce his thoughts and dreams, thus creating a "psychobiography" of the Prophet. A well-known critical work in which this technique is heavily employed is Fawn Brodie's No Man Knows My History. Consider the following:

But the need for deference was strong within [Joseph]. Talented far beyond his brothers or friends, he was impatient with their modest hopes and humdrum fancies. Nimble-witted, ambitious, and gifted with a boundless imagination, he dreamed of escape into an illustrious and affluent future. For Joseph was not meant to be a plodding farmer, tied to the earth by habit or by love for the recurrent miracle of harvest. He detested the plow as only a farmer's son can, and looked with despair on the fearful mortage [check spelling] that clouded their future.[7]:18

Brodie's prose is very readable, and would be well suited to a fictional novel. Unfortunately, nothing in the paragraph quoted above is referenced to any sort of a source. According to Dr. Charles L. Cohen, professor of history and religious studies, and director of the Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions at the University of Wisconsin-Madison:

This habit of insinuating herself into historical actors' minds constitutes the second part of Brodie's method. "For weeks" after learning that Martin Harris had lost the 116-page translation of the golden plates, she stated, "Joseph writhed in self-reproach for his folly." Lucy Smith described her son's distraught reaction when Harris told him the bad news, but, though one can well imagine Joseph agonizing over what to do, there is insufficient evidence to say in an unqualified declarative sentence what he actually did.[8]

The speculation of one author becomes a later author's "fact"

Since Brodie's work is heavily referenced by critics, Brodie's opinions eventually become considered to be "fact" by those who wish to tear down the Church. Brodie's pronouncements regarding Joseph's motives are then passed along to the next anti-Mormon writer. Consider how the following claim evolves from speculation to "documented endnote," when Brodie states:

The awesome vision he described in later years was probably the elaboration of some half-remembered dream stimulated by the early revival excitement and reinforced by the rich folklore of visions circulating in his neighborhood. Or it may have been sheer invention, created some time after 1830 when the need arose for a magnificent tradition to cancel out the stories of his fortune-telling and money-digging. Dream images came easily to this youth, whose imagination was as untrammeled as the whole West (emphasis added).[7]:25

Now observe how author Richard Abanes treats this quote in his book Becoming Gods (retitled Inside Today's Mormonism):

Such a theory boldly challenges LDS apostle James Faust's contention that critics of the First Vision "find it difficult to explain away." His assertion is further weakened by yet another theory of Brodie's, which posits that Smith's story might have been "created some time after 1830 when the need arose for a magnificent tradition to cancel out the stories of his fortune-telling and money-digging" (emphasis added).[9]

Here we have an unsupported theory by Brodie being confirmed by another author to "further weaken" LDS claims about the First Vision. Brodie's speculation of "was probably" and "it may have been" now becomes a cited endnote in Abanes' work. The speculation of one author has become the documented fact for the next author down the line.

Deducing Joseph's thoughts from his environment

Another author who takes great liberties in deducing Joseph's thoughts and dreams is Dan Vogel. Vogel's book Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet liberally assigns motives to the Prophet which cannot be backed up with any primary source. Instead, the author must interpret the meaning behind second- and third-hand sources that agree with his point-of-view.

Frankly admitting his "inclination . . . to interpret any claim of the paranormal . . . as delusion or fraud" (p. xii), Vogel refuses to accept Joseph's and his supporters' autobiographical statements—most of which grant, either explicitly or implicitly, such "paranormal" phenomena as angels, revelation, visions, and prophecy—at face value. Vogel's Joseph opens his mouth only to lie and deceive; and whatever he might be experiencing, or trying to do, or thinking about, one can rest assured that it's not what any record generated by him or his sympathizers would have us believe.[10]:206

When an author disregards the primary sources—the statements made by Joseph Smith himself—it becomes possible to create any story, motivation, thought or dream which suits the author's purpose. Responding to Vogel's description of Joseph's prayers and thoughts on September 21, 1823 leading up to the visit of Moroni, BYU professors Andrew and Dawson Hedges note:

What more could a student of early Mormon history possibly want? Here, in a crisp three pages, is a detailed account of what Joseph Smith was thinking about, praying about, and hesitating about over 180 years ago during one of the most significant 24-hour periods in church history. And not just what he was thinking about, in general terms, but how and when, within this 24-hour period, his thoughts evolve! And Vogel gives us all this without a single source to guide his pen—indeed, in direct contravention of what the sources say! One might chalk up this ability to navigate so confidently and so deftly through Joseph's mind to some type of clairvoyance on Vogel's part—"clairvogelance," we could call it—were it not that he himself protests so loudly against anything smacking of the "paranormal."[10]:211

Again, as with Brodie, and freed from the constraint of having to use actual sources, the author can attribute any thought or motivation to the Prophet that they wish in order to explain the unexplainable.

Response to claim: 92 - Oliver Cowdery demanded that Joseph amend some of his own revelations

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

Oliver Cowdery demanded that Joseph amend some of his own revelations.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

There is no evidence that Oliver demanded that Joseph alter his revelations.

Question: Who made the changes to the Doctrine and Covenants?

The First Presidency of the Church made the changes to the Doctrine and Covenants

The Saints have never believed in inerrant prophets or inerrant scripture. The editing and modification of the revelations was never a secret; it was well known to the Church of Joseph's day, and it has been discussed repeatedly in modern Church publications, as well as extensive studies in Masters' and PhD theses at BYU.

If Joseph could receive the Doctrine and Covenants by revelation, then he could also receive revelation to improve, modify, revise, and expand his revelatory product. The question remains the same—was Joseph Smith a prophet? If he was, then his action is completely legitimate. If he was not, then it makes little difference whether his pretended revelations were altered or not.

Richard Lloyd Anderson wrote:

First Presidency members were assigned to compile "the items of the doctrine" of the Church from the standard works, including "the revelations which have been given to the Church up to this date or shall be, until such arrangement is made" (Kirtland High Council Minute Book, 24 September 1834; also cited in History of the Church, 2:165. Volume 2 link). This resolution might suggest the correction of former wording through revelation. [The revised D&C was] issued in August 1835 with a 17 February 1835 preface signed by the Prophet, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams, the revision committee. [11]

Thus, the First Presidency of the time supervised the revisions.

Response to claim: 92 - Oliver Cowdery secretly encouraged Hiram Page to receive revelations through his seer stone

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

Oliver Cowdery secretly encouraged Hiram Page to receive revelations through his seer stone.

Author's sources:
  1. No source provided.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

If Oliver "secretly" encouraged this, then how does the author know this?

Question: Why did Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer accept Hiram Page's seer stone revelations as authoritative?

The Lord used this incident as a way to teach Oliver the proper order of revelation in the Church

This event is discussed in the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual (2013):

In 1830, the Prophet Joseph Smith encountered a challenge because Church members did not understand the order of revelation in the Church. Hiram Page claimed to receive revelations for the Church through the medium of a special stone, and some Church members, including Oliver Cowdery, believed him. Shortly before a Church conference that was held on September 26, 1830, the Lord revealed truths that helped Oliver Cowdery and others understand the order of revelation in the Church.[12]

Oliver was actually directed by the Lord to correct Hiram Page in this matter. It was a "teaching moment" for Oliver:

11 And again, thou shalt take thy brother, Hiram Page, between him and thee alone, and tell him that those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me and that Satan deceiveth him;

12 For, behold, these things have not been appointed unto him, neither shall anything be appointed unto any of this church contrary to the church covenants.

13 For all things must be done in order, and by common consent in the church, by the prayer of faith.

14 And thou shalt assist to settle all these things, according to the covenants of the church, before thou shalt take thy journey among the Lamanites. (D&C 28:11-14).

Response to claim: 96 - Joseph experimented with the idea of "revealing" lost books of the Bible

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

Joseph experimented with the idea of "revealing" lost books of the Bible.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The author is trying to come up with an explanation for Joseph's translation of the Bible, but there is no evidence that this was an "experiment".

Question: Was the Joseph Smith Translation intended to be a restoration of original Bible text?

The JST is not intended primarily or solely as a restoration of lost Bible text

As expressed in the Bible Dictionary on "The JST to some extent assists in restoring the plain and precious things that have been lost from the Bible.”

Two main points should be kept in mind with regards to the Joseph Smith "translation" of the Bible:

First, the JST is not intended primarily or solely as restoration of text. Unimpeachably orthodox LDS scholars who have focused on the JST (such as Robert J. Matthews and Kent Jackson) are unanimous in this regard. The assumption that it is intended primarily or solely as a restoration of text is what leads to expectations that the JST and Book of Mormon should match up in every case. At times the JST does not even match up with itself, such as when Joseph Smith translated the same passage multiple times in different ways. This does not undermine notions of revelation, but certainly challenges common assumptions about the nature and function of the JST and the Book of Mormon translation.

Second, one of the main tendencies of the JST is harmonization. You may be aware of differences in Jesus' sayings between different Gospels. For example, Jesus' statements about whether divorce is permitted and under what conditions differ significantly. Matthew offers an exception clause that Mark and Luke do not, and this has severely complicated the historical interpretation of Jesus' view of divorce.

The JST often makes changes that harmonize one gospel with another, which is what your example does. While one gospel says "judge not" (though this may not be as absolute as some make it out to be), John 7:24 has Jesus commanding to "judge righteous judgment." The JST change harmonizes the two gospels by making Matthew agree with John. If indeed there is a real difference between being commanded to "Judge righteously" and being commanded to "Judge not", then it is a problem inherently present in the differing accounts of the Gospels, which the JST resolves in a particular way.


  1. Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), 84. ( Index of claims )
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Brigham H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God, 3 Vols., (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1909[1895, 1903]). ISBN 0962254541.
  3. Larry E. Dahl and Donald Q. Cannon, eds., Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith's Teachings (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), 23. ISBN 1570086729. ISBN 978-1570086724.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957).
  5. footnote; see also Wilford Woodruff, Leaves from My Journal, 75–79 and History of Wilford Woodruff, 326.
  6. Alan Goff, "Dan Vogel's Family Romance and the Book of Mormon as Smith Family Allegory (Review of: Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet)," FARMS Review 17/2 (2005): 321–400. [{{{url}}} off-site]
  7. 7.0 7.1 Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945). ( Index of claims )
  8. Charles L. Cohen, "No Man Knows My Psychology: Fawn Brodie, Joseph Smith, and Psychoanalysis," Brigham Young University Studies 44 no. 1, 68.
  9. Richard Abanes, Becoming Gods: A Closer Look at 21st-Century Mormonism (Harvest House Publishers: 2005). 44, note 135. ( Index of claims )
  10. 10.0 10.1 Andrew H. Hedges and Dawson W. Hedges, "No, Dan, That's Still Not History (Review of: Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet, by Dan Vogel)," FARMS Review 17/1 (2005): 205–222. [{{{url}}} off-site]
  11. Richard L. Anderson, "The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Searching," Brigham Young University Studies 24 no. 4 (1984). PDF link
    Caution: this article was published before Mark Hofmann's forgeries were discovered. It may treat fraudulent documents as genuine. Click for list of known forged documents.
    Discusses money-digging; Salem treasure hunting episode; fraudulent 1838 Missouri treasure hunting revelation; Wood Scrape; “gift of Aaron”; “wand or rod”; Heber C. Kimball rod and prayer; magic; occult; divining lost objects; seerstone; parchments; talisman
  12. "Lesson 34: Doctrine and Covenants 28," Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual, 2013.