Rough Stone Rolling vs. No Man Knows My History: The Heavyweight Championship of Joseph Smith Biography

The following is a paper I wrote a few years ago in a history class about Joseph Smith from Grant Underwood at BYU.

Released in 2005, Richard L. Bushman’s Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling has been hailed by many as the definitive biography of the Mormon founder. It is only natural, then, to put the book in the ring with Fawn M. Brodie’s classic, No Man Knows My History—without question the most famous, and controversial, biography of Joseph Smith to date. In this paper I compare the two biographies according to four criteria: (1) key similarities and differences, (2) characterization of Joseph’s personality, (3) coverage of key events, and (4) interpretation of teachings and doctrine.

Key Similarities and Differences

At first glance, it is tempting to categorize Rough Stone and No Man as wholly different species: the former a Mormon-friendly, naïve history; the latter an anti-Mormon exposé. In a significant respect, however, the two biographies belong to the same class: each puts forward a more complicated and nuanced Joseph Smith to a divided audience. Brodie rejects a simplistic view of Joseph as God’s premier prophet, but also counters prevailing characterizations of delusional hick or calculating charlatan. Instead she artfully crafts a Joseph who is both sinner and saint, both imaginative genius and ignorant plowboy. Bushman does this also, believing in the prophet’s divine mission yet dismissing the conservative conception of a polished, one-dimensional demigod. In his preface, Bushman sums up an underlying philosophy that can be extended to both biographies: “Most readers do not believe in, nor are they interested in, perfection . . . . We want to meet a real person” (xix).

This being said, however, the nature and scope of the two biographies differ significantly. First, Bushman thrives upon differing viewpoints and historical complications, making Rough Stone more palatable to the skeptic than No Man is to a believer. Although Bushman’s belief in Mormonism certainly affects his work, he presents a Joseph Smith that can be shared, in large part, by Mormon and non-Mormon alike. This can hardly be said for Brodie, however, who ostracizes the believing Mormon from the beginning—nowhere does Brodie take seriously even the hypothesis that Joseph Smith was who he said he was. The second difference can be summed up in one word: more. In addition to being more recent, Rough Stone Rolling is more comprehensive, more contextually rich, and more thoroughly documented. This makes for a more honest and relevant biography, but it might come at the cost of not relating as much to a lay audience. In this sense, Brodie’s storytelling trumps Bushman’s historical craft; indeed, it is much easier to imagine a popular movie based on No Man than on Rough Stone.

Characterization of Joseph’s Personality

As mentioned earlier, both Brodie and Bushman paint a complex and many-sided Joseph Smith. Brodie’s No Man, commonly called a “psychobiography,” grounds Joseph’s personality in psychoanalytic theory. In her second edition’s supplement, Brodie explains this underlying theory, characterizing Joseph as having a “basic inner conflict . . . between what he really was and what he most desperately wanted to be” (417). Embodying the collision of a puritan superego and the “the pleasures of the average man” (288-89, 294-95, 326), Joseph was constantly “troubled by the necessity of rationalizing his own impulses or of squaring himself with God” (310). Combine his defense mechanisms with his imaginative genius, quest for knowledge (169), and hypnotic charisma (103)—and voila, the elaborate Mormon empire emerges, complete with lustful harems and military pageantry (148, 271, 283). For Joseph to maintain his kingdom required pathological delusions of reality and grandeur (84, 417-20); otherwise a “persisting consciousness of guilt” would have crushed him long before Carthage (84-85).

Bushman also portrays Joseph as a man of inner conflicts—having “anxiety under his confident exterior,” for example (250)—but not under the umbrella of psychoanalytic theory. In fact, Bushman is hesitant to portray a clear-cut view of Joseph’s personality. For Brodie, the difference between the Hurlbut affidavits and descriptions of Joseph’s followers stinks of inner conflict and a reconstructed Mormon history. For Bushman, however, the difference “shows how differently a man’s life could be represented” (233). Bushman also touches on a private side of Joseph Smith that Brodie is somewhat silent on—the “restless, yearning soul,” unknown even to his family (233). According to Bushman, “By his own account, Joseph frequently felt cast down, lacking, or falling short, never enjoying all that he needed, whether wealth or spiritual assurance” (234). This difference undoubtedly comes from Bushman having greater access to Joseph’s private writing, as well as his seeking to portray a many-sided Joseph Smith.

On many counts, Bushman and Brodie give similar reports of Joseph’s personality. Joseph was “a gregarious, cheerful, imaginative youth,” having a sense of humor that repulsed some but “endeared him to many others” (Brodie 18, 104). He “did not like to be crossed” and occasionally exhibited “flashes of anger,” but his followers’ “dismay at his anger was balanced by their love of his good nature” (Bushman 249-50). At times he did not deal “skillfully with opposition” (Brodie 377). He was sometimes arrogant, and yet quite open about his imperfections (Bushman 153, 296).

Coverage of Key Events

A casual perusal of the biographies’ chapters reveals important similarities and differences in the way Bushman and Brodie cover key events in Joseph Smith’s life. In nearly all cases Bushman is more comprehensive, as mentioned earlier, but both give the same amount of proportionate coverage for key events prior to Kirtland: Joseph’s family history and upbringing, his first vision, his preoccupation with magic, the production of the Book of Mormon, and the organization of the Church. Between New York and Nauvoo, however, Bushman covers considerably more turf. Brodie lumps the period between 1831-33 into one chapter; Bushman fleshes out four chapters, equal to four times the amount of proportionate coverage. This is perhaps due to Bushman’s greater interest in the revelations concerning Zion and exaltation, including their sociocultural relationship to frontier America. Moreover, it is between New York and Nauvoo that Bushman goes to great length to describe Joseph’s inner turmoil and struggles. In contrast, Brodie provides only superficial accounts about the prophet, especially during the Missouri persecutions and the Kirtland bank tragedy. At this point her narrative loses much of her punch and turns into a rather dry accounting of facts—preserving her firepower for Nauvoo, I suppose.

For the scope of this paper, I will compare Bushman’s and Brodie’s coverage of only three topics: the First Vision, the production and content of the Book of Mormon, and Joseph’s polygamous relationships. Concerning the First Vision, both Brodie and Bushman illustrate the complexities behind the reconstructed histories of the First Vision, but they interpret them much differently. Brodie sees a gradual elaboration of Joseph’s storytelling—first angels, then the Son, then the Father and the Son (91, 405). Bushman also sees the varying accounts as a change in focus, but does not automatically reify it as a cover-up or reconstruction. Instead, it is a matter of appealing to a more rational-minded audience—a realization that folk magic was not consistent with the future of his prophetic calling (69). This construction is consistent with Bushman’s desiring to appeal to both Mormons and non-Mormons.

Perhaps nowhere are Bushman and Brodie more different than in their accounts of the production of the Book of Mormon. For Brodie, it can be nothing more than an elaborate creation. With this conclusion in mind, she searches for plausible explanations for the book as Joseph’s creation. In this respect she is laughably presumptuous, claiming that “painstaking research can uncover the sources of all its ideas” (67). She applauds its imaginative complexity (69), but derides its plausibility as a genuine history of ancient America (67). Instead it is an eclectic combination of Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews (47), autobiographical projection (58), and borrowing from the Bible (62-63). In her discussion of the Book of Mormon, her preoccupation with explaining its origin is glaring.

Bushman takes Brodie to task for her explanation of the Book of Mormon. According to Bushman, a “skeptical analysis” of the authorship of the Book of Mormon is lacking evidence—it is concerned merely with what “Joseph ‘may’ have done or ‘probably’ did.” This hunting for “signs of trickery” is a distraction that “throws us off track . . . of the Joseph Smith who has a place in history” (58). Indeed, it seems that Brodie is more reactionary to Smith’s miraculous story than she is an objective handler of the historical evidence. Unlike Brodie, Bushman does “not claim [his] case is conclusive; [he] accumulates evidence, but admit[s] belief in the Book of Mormon requires faith” (93). Also unlike Brodie, Bushman discusses the complexity behind two competing theories of the book’s production: composition and transcription. Brodie’s theory, however, has no competitors. In addition, Bushman has much more to say about the richness of the text of the Book of Mormon, including it being a “profound social protest” against the prevailing culture of Joseph’s day (104).

Another area in which Brodie and Bushman differ is in the discussion of plural marriage. Fifteen percent of No Man focuses on Joseph’s polygamous relationships, compared to just 5 percent in Rough Stone. Indeed, Brodie seems to be fascinated with a wife-hunt, the subject of one-third of the second edition’s preface about research findings from 1945-1971. The questions that absorb her thoughts include: How many wives did Joseph have? How many were polyandrous relationships? Who are his children? How did he keep from having more children? Considering that psychoanalytic theory is grounded largely in the central motivation of sexual libido, Brodie’s fascination is hardly surprising. Bushman is less concerned with the sexual nature of these relationships, contending that the historical evidence for such is slim to none—a possibility that squares with Bushman’s openness to non-sexual motivations for the marriages.

Interpretation of Teachings and Doctrine

Given their differences to this point, it is hardly surprising that Brodie and Bushman differ significantly in their interpretations of Joseph Smith’s teachings and doctrine. For Brodie, nothing shouts louder than Joseph’s equating God’s favor with material prosperity (263-294-95, 402). This was Joseph’s magnum opus, explaining his doctrine of plural marriage, the dissolution of immaterial spirit, and the desire to unite church and state. Clearly, this interpretation is an extension of Brodie’s underlying psychoanalytic theory of Joseph’s inner conflict between God’s favor and worldly indulgence. With this theory as her guide, Brodie dubs the maxim, “Man is that he might have joy,” as “one of his first significant pronouncements in the Book of Mormon” (294), but she says very little about other significant doctrinal teachings from the book. In the end, she sees Joseph’s system of salvation as void of spirituality: “he created a book and a religion, but he could not create a truly spiritual context” (403). There is “no new Sermon on the Mount, no new saga of redemption” (403). Instead, religion is “as raw-boned and pragmatic as Joseph himself, and as dynamic” (295)—an eclectic patchwork of his imaginative genius and other resources (72, 403).

Bushman does not ignore the role of Joseph’s temporal kingdom, but he presents a view of his doctrine that is much more intellectually rich and spiritually sensitive. Instead of a narrow psychoanalytic theory, Bushman relates Joseph’s doctrinal thought to other important tensions, such as between folk magic and the Enlightenment. He also offers much more of a contextual discussion about Joseph’s revelations. Brodie seems not at all concerned with such. Instead of merely seeking to explain the sources of Joseph’s revelations, Bushman emphasizes the originality and brilliance of Joseph’s thought. For Bushman, plurality of gods is about radical freedom (535). For Brodie, it’s merely the result of reading Thomas Dick (171-72). Bushman mentions Dick, but is silent about speculation on Joseph’s doctrines, emphasizing instead how Joseph’s theology is vastly different (457-58).

Conclusion

The key strengths of Rough Stone Rolling are its recency, its contextual richness, and its historical accuracy. It provides a comprehensive view of Joseph Smith that both Mormons and non-Mormons can appreciate, although some skeptics will take issue with certain interpretations. In comparison with No Man Knows My History, however, Bushman demands much more of his reader, rendering Rough Stone as liable to ostracize the lay audience, even many Deseret Book card-carriers. However, this does not mean that it will not be widely incorporated into future works about the prophet. The measure of its impact, to a large degree, will be the extent to which, directly or indirectly, it engages, challenges, and enlightens Latter-day Saint readers.

In my opinion, No Man Knows My History needs to step down from its title. However, it is important to recognize it as a catalyst in improving and influencing historical research about Joseph Smith—even Bushman’s latest biography. And with all of its flaws, No Man still comes home the victor when it comes to a parsimonious, engaging story. Indeed, the biographical world of Joseph Smith is still looking for a believing, yet historically accurate, story of Joseph Smith, unobstructed by technical commentary. Perhaps “no man” can ever know this story—and perhaps it belongs more in the domain of film than literary biography. But until such a story is written, or revealed, much of the magical and mysterious world of Joseph Smith will remain hidden.

Works Cited

Brodie, Fawn M. No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith. 2nd ed. New York: Vintage Books, 1971.

Bushman, Richard L. Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. New York: Albert A. Knopf, 2005.

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30 Responses

  1. Even though I do not think Brodie was fair, her writing skills far exceeds most biographers. Her book is not going away anytime soon. Bushman did a great job of identifying the religious accomplishments of Joseph Smith. He allows the reader to understand why intelligent people can believe in Joseph. In a sense, the books complement each other by adding necessary dimensions to the big picture. Any serious scholar of Joseph must read both.

  2. This is a fantastic paper. I have not read Brodie’s book, but I thoroughly enjoyed Bushman’s. You description of Bushman’s style is very accurate.

    Both books have many critics. What you don’t mention (because it’s beyond the scope of the paper) is that Bushman’s book has harsh critics even within the church – those who are uncomfortable with anything but the whitewashed correlation committee version of Church history.

    What are your thoughts on Dan Vogel’s attempt?

  3. Ryan,

    I’m glad you mentioned about how many Church members don’t like Bushman’s biography. I hadn’t mentioned that in the paper because I wrote it right as the book came out. (In fact, I began reading a pre-published manuscript.)

    It really is unfortunate that we cannot as a Church learn to accept the whole history of Joseph Smith. Not that it needs to be taught in Sunday School necessarily, but it should be a part of the open discourse among Church members. No lifelong adult member, for example, should be surprised at learning about Joseph Smith’s magical childhood. For me, there is almost nothing to be ashamed of in the life of Joseph Smith anyway — it’s just the realization that we need to understand him in proper context. And recognizing that, yes, he is human. Which are the major achievements of Rough Stone Rolling, imo.

    One thing that’s interesting. Several church members do not disagree with the facts of Bushman’s history, they just don’t think it’s a book that church members should be reading. This attitude, imo, fosters a protectionist view of history and doctrine that will only come back to harm them — or more likely, their children. We need not shy away from SCHOLARLY books on Mormonism, even if they are disagreeable. We don’t have to agree with their claims, but we ought to be somewhat aware of what claims are being made. “Anti-mormon” propaganda is another thing ….

    I have not read Dan Vogel (except one chapter of his biography — I forgot the title). But from what I know and what I have read I agree with Bushman’s dismissal of Vogel’s biography in Rough Stone. He seems to be stretching way too far in his trying to socially construct the Book of Mormon in the context of Joseph’s life. And like every other critic of the Book of Mormon, he tries to dismiss its divine origin in a way that fails at a genuine analysis of the intellectual merits of the actual content of the book! However, I wouldn’t have a problem if some (or much) of the themes in the Book of Mormon can be explained in the context of Joseph’s personal life. This could simply mean that God, with incredible foresight, inspired Mormon to provide a final product that would be (among other things) tailored for the spiritual development of his most important prophet. Maybe not, but it is a compelling thought nonetheless.

  4. Very provocative thoughts. I agree with you: “We need not shy away from SCHOLARLY books on Mormonism, even if they are disagreeable.” Indeed, this kind of protectionism has led to many anti-mormons – those who have lost their testimony because it was based on an impossibly idealistic view of the Church and fell apart when challenged. For me, my readings in Church history have led me to a greater appreciation of the people involved, understanding that what they accomplished had to be miracles in light of their human failings.

    Have you read “On the Road With Joseph Smith” by Bushman? It’s a very short read – his diaries as he went on speaking tours to promote his book. Very interesting. Includes reactions from people in and out of the Church, including some general authorities.

  5. I’ve been interested in reading more about Joseph Smith since the church seems to be giving a lot more emphasis on him lately (especially in RS and Priesthood). Since I don’t have classes to read for this summer, I’ll have to check out these books. I think it’s vitally important to be informed on the origins and context that surround the restoration since I invest so much time and energy into the LDS church. I should learn all I can about it, flaws and all.

  6. Ryan,

    I haven’t read On the Road With Joseph Smith, but I’ve wanted to. I actually didn’t know what it was about. Now I’m very curious.

    Kelsy,

    The one thing I would say to someone reading No Man Knows My History is to understand it as a very creative work of historical fiction from a very imaginative mind. As well as to recognize that Brodie is clearly obsessed with the sexual nature of Joseph’s polygamous relationships, in a way that is very disproportionate to his overall character and accomplishments (and is almost entirely speculative). The book is actually quite entertaining at times.

  7. Good paper Dennis.

    Having read neither book, I can tell from this paper that I would probably judge Brodie’s book to not worth reading. I don’t think we should be expected to take writers seriously when they trample egotistically on religious experiences and religious meaning held sacred by members of their audience. She would probably only be worth reading if you were writing about and defending your own perspective of Joseph Smith so that you could respond to famous biographies. Brodie seems to be a good example of how it is easy to perceive and explain patterns that seem elaborately well-thought out and accurate, but are a kind of self-deception. We don’t need to care how good and intelligent someone’s writing appears if it is full of false and objectifying views– it’s all the more reason to be careful.

    Dr. Sondrup at BYU praises Bushman’s book for shamelessly including his personal religious perspective. He used this as an example in our class of how history is inevitably written from a position, that the position can/should be identified and personal, and that histories actually gain clarity and truthfulness when this is done.

  8. Candice,

    I completely agree, concerning reading Brodie, minus scholarly purposes.

    With one exception: pure entertainment :) Not that I recommend even this, however.

  9. Nice essay. I wish the books were perceived as being in the same division because Bushman would win going a way, at least on my score card.

    Even though I take Joseph Smith seriously, I can’t bring myself to read Brodie any more than I can bring myself to read Gerald Lund’s series. There is too much fiction and historical inaccuracy in both. I am afraid I would have a problem keeping facts straight.

    I have been reading parts of Dan Vogel’s biography and my new post is up on the FAIR blog attempts to interact with some arguments in his introduction. Since there is some overlap with this blog post, some of you all might be interested.

  10. Brodie’s biggest problem is that her footnotes don’t substantiate the points she makes with them. Bushman fairs better, I understand.

  11. The difference between Rough Stone and No Man can be summarized very easily: Bushman, a celebrated and highly trained historian, wrote a HISTORY of Joseph Smith. Fawn Brodie, whose training was in English, wrote a sensational novel about Joseph Smith, peppered with which ever “historic facts” she found that helped keep her main character interesting. One shouldn’t be surprised that Brodie is easier to read that Bushman. Robert Graves is more fun to read than Edward Gibbons. In fact, I think that is a pretty good comparison – A Rough Stone Rolling is to No Man Knows My History as The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is to I, Claudius. (And Robert Graves is kinder to Livia than Brodie is to Smith.)

  12. I really don’t agree with the basic premise here that Brodie’s book is is largely worthless as a source of information. I think that Brodie started with a different idea of who Joseph Smith was (not a prophet) and thus had quite different conclusions. She did not put JS as a evil man, but if you don’t think he is a prophet, then you have to explain what he said somehow. I really enjoyed RSR and think that it just comes from a different point of view (JS was a prophet). To LDS people, this is much more palatable, and so people see the books through those lenses.

    Each book contains things that the other left out, including quotes from primary sources and other important information. Each has its own slant. I would read both if you want to see the big picture. At any rate, it will teach you more than reading The work and the Glory again. (I hate seeing people carry a copy of that book up during F&T meetings.)

  13. Durch,

    I really don’t agree with the basic premise here that Brodie’s book is is largely worthless as a source of information.

    I’m assuming you’re referring here to some comments I made, rather than the post itself. Otherwise, I can’t see where this is coming from. Still, I don’t see how I’ve made a “basic premise” that the book is “largely worthless as a source of information.”

    In its own right, it of course it has valuable information. I do think, however, that there is very little — in terms of valuable information — that you do not get from Bushman. With the exception of some information in Brodie concerning plural marriage. But so much of this is entirely speculative that it’s not even worth taking seriously, in my opinion. (For example, Brodie would jump on the tiniest little tidbit of evidence concerning Joseph being the possible father of certain children. To date, every DNA testing of descendants of the children in question has proved false.)

  14. I’ve only read “Rough Stone Rolling,” so the only things I know about Brodie’s book are what I’ve read in reviews and this essay that Dennis posted. RSR could indeed sort of be a turn-off to a lot of readers because it is a very “heavy” book. (I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it.) At the same time, though, I found RSR to be storytelling at its best, in the historical sense. Yes, it’s very heavy and thoroughly researched, but Bushman is actually simply telling the story of Joseph Smith as he has researched it. Brodie’s book may come across as a better story (and maybe it is, due to the fact that it’s probably “lighter”), but my impression from the reviews that I’ve read is that Brodie’s work is more like a thesis than a biography of Joseph Smith. She didn’t write a biography, she wrote an argumentative essay in book-form. She took a standpoint on who and what Joseph was and presented her “evidence” for arguing that thesis. Bushman, though admittedly a believer himself (and the fact that he presents possible reasons for certain things that Joseph said and did that can possibly explain some of the controversial aspects of his life), doesn’t come across as trying to prove or defend anything. He’s simply compiled an amazing amount of information and guided the reader through it as best as he can make sense of it. That is what I love about the book.

    I’m curious about reactions about “Rough Stone Rolling” among Church members and particularly Church leaders. Since I don’t live in UT and didn’t even read RSR until last year, I missed out on all the commentary. I had understood that it was rather well-received by General Authorities. Is this right or wrong?

  15. FD:

    I agree with what you are saying about the two books. Bushman’s actually is better storytelling — it’s simply unfortunate that it won’t be perceived that way by your average Joe or Jane who might need to be persuaded by it.

    Regarding your curiosity on Church reactions, you should read On the Road with Joseph Smith, by Bushman. I haven’t read it, but it is about different church members views, good and bad. I think that there were mixed views by general authorities.

  16. I can’t understand why some members object so much to a book like Bushman’s. As long as there are books like Brodie’s, as well as loads of anti-Mormon propaganda on the internet that’s accessible to anyone who wants to read it, I see it only as a positive thing when someone wants to research a controversial figure like Joseph Smith, the good, bad and the ugly about his life, and present the truth to the world.

    I’ve noticed that anti-Mormons often get their info from a lot of truths, which are either twisted to fit their agenda or just never explained properly. I think that we Mormons need to know what we’re up against so that we’re prepared to set the record straight when we’re confronted with it. Years ago I had a Baptist friend that asked me a lot of questions that seemed odd to me. I wondered where on earth he came up with such questions, but as I read more into Mormon history, I could see where he had gotten his information from. He may have only had the partial truth, but he actually knew more than I did. Now, looking back, I feel stupid because I just dismissed or denied the things that he confronted me with. Turns out he was right, or partially right, on a lot of things. Makes me, as a Mormon, look naively uninformed about my own religion.

    Just as an example, a new member of the Church could be confronted by anti-Mormons about things like polygamy or racism and it’s easy for them to deny that any of it is true. If they only read current Church manuals and materials, it’s very hard to find anything about such things. I honestly never knew that Joseph Smith had any wives other than Emma until I was in my 20’s. If you read the RS/Priesthood manual about Joseph Smith, there’s nothing in there about polygamy that I can find. It’s easy to believe that Emma was his only wife and that their marriage was nothing but bliss. So, when a new member goes on to discover that half the stuff the anti-Mormons are telling them are true, they become disappointed, disillusioned, and leave the Church. And when they want to find out the truth for themselves, they’re met with resistance by fellow members and leaders who “don’t want to go there.” I applaud Bushman for “going there” and doing it in a tasteful, respectful, yet objective manner.

  17. Well said, FD. I have had an experience very similar to yours regarding my encounter with difficult elements of Church history. I would have learned the problematic things regardless, so it was very helpful to have a source that I could trust (Bushman, etc.). If Bushman and others like him were not writing, our only source for that kind of history would have been the anti-mormon crowd.

  18. FD and Ryan,

    I definitely resonate with your sentiments. I found much of my own experiences in yours.

    I do the think the Church is making a good turn in regard to these problems. A timely point for me to bring up, considering the recent release of the Mountain Meadows Massacre book. It will take some time, though, for an overwhelming majority of members to follow suit, though, I think.

  19. I have a black cousin-in-law who was baptized as a teenager. He had never heard of the priesthood ban until he went on a mission and tracted into some guy who said, “don’t you know your church don’t want your kind?” That’s how he found out and he was devastated, although thankfully he didn’t leave the Church. It just makes me sad that some of our fellow members have to find out certain things about the Church in such a way.

  20. Having only been taught the sugar coated versions of JS’s history and Church History as a youth, and helped many people to join the church while serving a mission presenting the miraculous stories – I have a very bitter taste after reading Bushman’s book. While certainly Bushman’s perspective is objective to the outsider, I’m surprised he hasn’t been excommunicated. I wish I’d have paid the $30 for this book before paying 10-15% of my gross income for the last 15 years. I’m afraid to read “no man’ now, I might ask for a refund!

  21. Iwantarefund:

    I’m not sure what about Bushman’s book has turned you off from the Church — but thousands upon thousands of faithful Latter-day Saints have read and loved the book, and have stayed members. If the Church were really afraid of this book, then you could bet that it wouldn’t be sold at Deseret Book. So I wonder if you have some faulty assumptions about what must be the case in order for the Church to be true …. ?

  22. Iwantarefund:

    I feel for you man. The sugar coated version is taught as doctrine, the undeniable truth and any other account would be anti/ex’d mormon material. Lets be honest, that is what we are taught at church. What really happened vs what “is” happening or being taught does differ! If I had Brodies book, Bushmans book, and known of Temple Penalties and Blood Oaths prior to going on a mission, I would not of gone. And that truly is sad because I loved my mission and loved those people.

    Dennis, do thousand and thousand of members still recognize Joseph Smith and the Mormon church as the sugar coated version or something else? I don’t see how you could after reading these books and getting the facts straight. The restoration isn’t the same, the origin of the Book of Mormon is not the same, the doctrines are questionable, and the control scheme of the church is for once deniable.

    Could you list some issues and explain why.. thousands are still following the sugar coated version?

  23. This reviewer didn’t mention that Fawn MaKay Brodie’s paternal uncle was David O. McKay, an apostle in the LDS Church when Brodie was born, who later became the ninth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her father, Thomas Evans McKay, was a bishop, president of the LDS Swiss-Austrian mission, and an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He is listed among the General Authorities of the church. This reviewer must not have read the citations provided by Brodie at the end of her book. Her access to the archives of the church was rare. Her emphasis on the names & numbers of the women that JS married is illustrative. Any thinking person that researches the trail left by JS in the Pearl of Great Price/papyrus story will find great corroboration with the the work by Brodie. Here is a quote from the Wickpedia article “Book of Abrahm”, by Egyptologist Dr. James H. Breasted, of the University of Chicago noted:

    “… these three facsimiles of Egyptian documents in the ‘Pearl of Great Price’ depict the most common objects in the Mortuary religion of Egypt. Joseph Smith’s interpretations of them as part of a unique revelation through Abraham, therefore, very clearly demonstrates that he was totally unacquainted with the significance of these documents and absolutely ignorant of the simplest facts of Egyptian writing and civilization.

  24. I’m in the process of reading Rough Stone, and find that it tends to whitewash Smith’s involvement with the occult, and the author makes it appear that everybody and his brother was digging up their land for Spanish treasures and using divining rods daily. It just ain’t so. Smith was a conman, needless to say, and well schooled in techniques needed to bilk wealthy farmers out of their money in using his supposed “powers” and “third eye” to see treasures buried beneath the ground! Bushman also failed to mention Smith’s resorting to animal sacrifice in order to scare away guarding spirits.

    Brodie’s research was far better, as far as I’m concerned, since she wasn’t interested in pleasing the “Brethren,” and keeping a temple recommend.

  25. C.Meng,

    But bias runs multiple directions. It’s true that Brodie was not concerned about “pleasing the Brethren,” but her work is so clearly framed in the context of a now largely debunked Freudian psychoanalysis. Compare the footnotes in Bushman’s vs. Brodie’s book — clearly the research is much more solid in the former. And that’s not to fault Brodie; it is simply that much more is expected of contemporary historical scholarship.

  26. Im very offended by mormons who say that RSR should not be read. Its like the parents of my friend who freaked out whenever they thought that he was going to hear anti mormon propoganda. In my opinion, if you truly possess the truth, you should not be worried about other people hearing a conflicting story. If they really want to know the truth no amount of propaganda will stop them from finding it. Plus, RSR is all FACT. If you want to hide the FACTS thats even worse than hiding propaganda. That shows that you yourself are not solid in your belief system.

    I think that any member who believes in a whitewashed version of Joseph Smith has a very shallow testimony. And any man thinking such things should be taught is dangerously close to the manipulations and brainwashing that critics frequently accuse us of. Joseph necessarily must have been a sinner and an imperfect man or he would not have needed to come to this earth and be redeemed by Christ. No man was ever perfect save Christ and no man ever will be until he is resurrected, possibly not even for a long time after that. Not Adam, not Moses, not JS.

    Part of Alma 34:9 – there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; yea, all are hardened; yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made.

    We must face this truty. Joseph Smith certainly was a fallen sinner. But he was also a prophet.

    John 8:32 – And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

    If Josephs history was immaculate I would find myself incapable of having a testimony.

  27. I’m curious as to your opinions of works by Jerald & Sandra Tanner? I’ve never given much thought to exploring their materials as they seem to have been labeled classic anti-mormon, non-scholarly fiction writers in the LDS community. However, I began scanning through their free online book called The Changing World of Mormonism and was surprised to find the amount of works sited in the piece. A great number of the sources are embedded with hyperlinks that take the reader directly to online archives. The majority of the links I tested are directed straight to the vast BYU archives accessible online. Other sources, such as those found on microfilm, take the reader to digital copies which are hosted at the Tanner’s main site.

    The arguments obviously originate from a skeptical view of the LDS faith from the perspective of the non-believer, but I must admit I was impressed with the amount of reference material and their sources.

    Any thoughts?

    If found the online book at:
    http://utlm.org/navonlinebooks.htm
    The Changing World of Mormonism

  28. I am wondering if anyone has any comparative thoughts about Rough Stone and Donna Hill’s First Mormon. I would be interested in reading any thoughts. I am not an educated man, and as such, I have a difficult time reviewing any book about a man and a mission of such profound spiritual importance from a strictly “scholarly” point of view. That being said, it seems obvious to me that Brodie’s motives are much more suspect than Bushman’s. I think the initial, albeit brief, assessment was accurate. No Man seems little more than an anti-Mormon expose’, perhaps, more cleverly disguised. I will also add a brief comment on the “sugar coated” or “white washed” statements that were made. I would just like to point out that a great many of the members of the church do not need or really want a “biography” of Joseph Smith. What they have and like is a “hagiography” of Joseph Smith. This is in no way the LDS church’s fault, anymore than the fact that most of those same members prefer the milk doctrine and not the meat. The books are there for anyone to read. If they choose not to, that’s fine, but they shouldn’t go looking for someone to blame, when they make an unsettling discovery.

  29. The author of this paper seems to be unable or unwilling to detach himself from his own blinkered Mormon view, by the one-sidedness of his writings. They do not stop short of being Orwellian even, “Rough Stone, good; No Man bad.” When something is so one-sided it does impact on its credibility,
    Am I an Anti-Mormon, trying to defend Fawn Brodie, who I think only wanted the Mormon community to know the facts about Joseph Smith, that the church would never tell them? Nope, I am a Mormon just like you. But I can see the good in both of these pieces of work.

  30. I can’t remember how many accounts I have read of Joseph Smith’s life, but it numbers more than a half dozen. I have read Bushman’s work, but not Brodie’s thesis. Not yet at least.

    In fact, I have read Stegner’s story of the saints struggles on the plain, where hiss treatment of Joseph Smith and most church leaders is quite harsh. And a lot of anti-Mormom literature on the internet and in published form, if it seems to bear any resemblance to history.

    It irks some of my fellow church members that I spend some time reading such things. They would prefer that I memorize the Book of Mormon, by reading it twice a year (or more).

    I tell people that if they aren’t “converted”, to stay away from the stuff I read, because they will “lose their testimony”. I crave knowledge about the early church, and try not to miss any opportunity to tackle another well-written work.

    I often make comments in HP group meeting that raises the hackle on the back of the necks of some of the people, who just don’t appreciate the good and the bad of church history.

    When I tell people that Joseph Smith and Porter Rockwell started up a bar in Nauvoo, ostensibly to give Porter a “job”, so he could earn an honest living (until Emma found out about it), they are absolutely agast.

    Or I tell them that Jacob Hamblin traded coffee and tobacco with the Navajos, as well as smoking their peace pipe, they just don’t want to believe me. And we won’t mention Brigham Young’s forays into the liquor business, or his last wife divorcing and then suing him.

    The stories of Joseph asking other brothers in Navoo to “give up their wife to him”, may have some truth.

    Here is my take. I long since received an undeniable witness of the restoration of the gospel through Joseph. But I know he was human, just like all of us. To try to paint him as otherwise is shear nonsense. He could have a mean temper, liked a bit of liquor and certainly had more wives then Emma or modern church authorities want to admit.

    Wilford Woodruff once said (paraphrasing) that if he were to lead the church astray, the Lord would remove him from office. Now, as LDS members, how do we think the Lord would do that? He’s not likely to send a destroying angel, at least not one that we’re going to see. He would more than likely simply allow that prophet to “expire” naturally.

    The more I read about Joseph Smith, the more I have considered another theory of why he was martyred. Near the end of his life, his mood became more sullen and his preoccupation with “other women” appears to have become more and more apparent. His martyrdom may have served a two-fold purpose. It allowed for the rise of Brigham Young, who seems to have been the “perfect” choice for leading the saints west. But, it also “removed” Joseph Smith from the calling before he overstepped the line the Lord had drawn, thus still leaving him as the prophet of the restoration.

    True or not, I accept his imperfections as proof that he was a “rough stone rolling”. He just happened to be the best “stone” prepared for the work the Lord called him to do.

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