Seeing through the Hedges: A response to Andrew H. and Dawson W. Hedges
by Dan Vogel
In reviewing my Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet for the apologetic journal FARMS Review,1 the Hedgeses have nothing good to say and clearly do not want fellow church members reading it. In their estimation, it is “everything that good history is not” (209) and “an illustration of how not to write sophisticated history” (222). Readers “seeking insight into the Prophet Joseph Smith,” they maintain, “… will come away with nothing” (222). Such unequivocal condemnation stands in stark contrast to the awards my book received from the two leading Mormon historical associations2 and more balanced reviews in two prominent scholarly journals.3 While the Hedgeses are eager to prove that my “methodology … [is] foreign to responsible historical scholarship” (208), they really demonstrate their lack of detachment and sophistication necessary to write a responsible and balanced review.
The Hedgeses believe that Mormon studies is “in the process of transforming from an obscure sideshow, driven by polemics and apologetics, to a mature, legitimate discipline” (205). Yet ironically, their review of Making of a Prophet not only draws on this apologetic/polemic literature but makes a fine contribution to the “obscure sideshow” they claim is beneath them. As it turns out, the Hedgeses really don’t know the difference between “responsible historical scholarship” and “polemics and apologetics.”
Guilt by association
The title “No, Dan, That’s Still Not History” is a play on Hugh Nibley’s apologetic critique “No Ma’am That’s Not History,” a response to Fawn Brodie’s 1945 No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith. To justify their silly title, the Hedgeses observe: “One sees the influence of Fawn Brodie in [Vogel’s] book more than that of Jan Shipps or Richard Bushman” (205-6). My reviewers never explain how they arrived at this assessment or why it is meaningful. They are obviously attempting to tap into prejudices among an apologetic audience steeped in anti-Brodie sentiment. Beginning with Hugh Nibley’s early critique, apologists have maligned Brodie as a psychohistorian and “mind-reader.”4 Later the Hedgeses try quite unsuccessfully to pin the tail on this donkey as well. Despite decades of polemical misdirection, Charles L. Cohen rightly found that “psychoanalysis figured almost not at all” in Brodie’s 1945 biography.5 Apparently, the Hedgeses are trying to repeat history.
While Nibley said she was too psychological, Brigham Young University Professor Marvin S. Hill criticized Brodie for not being psychological enough.
[Brodie] says little about the rationalizations Joseph would have had to go through where his religious role was imposed upon him…. Brodie was never able to take us inside the mind of the prophet, to understand how he thought and why. A reason for that may be that the sources she would have had to use were Joseph’s religious writings, and her Smith was supposed to be irreligious.6
I agreed with Hill and quoted his statement in my introduction (viii). Using different methodology than Brodie’s, I set out to explore, among other things, the questions Hill raised about motivation and rationalizations. To remain reticent about the significant ways my approach differs from Bodie’s is more egregious than Brodie ignoring the religious aspects of Joseph Smith’s personality.
Ad hominem, verecundiam, and poisoning the well
As the Hedgeses see it, my poor methodology and irresponsible interpretations are due to my lack of education in the field. They declare:
The sooner those in the field of Mormon history realize that no amount of passion, familiarity with the sources, or writing experience can make up for solid academic training in the discipline of history, the better off the field will be. (208n2)
Thus my reviewers belong to an elite class of highly-trained interpreters who know how to properly apply correct methodology. It reminds me of the dispute reported by David Hackett Fischer in his book Historians’ Fallacies, in which an uppity graduate student had the temerity to publish a critique of his professor’s interpretations. The professor’s rebuttal, Fischer recounts, “consisted of a series of ignoratii, punctuated by an ad verecundiam.“7 In any case, I happily defer to greater wisdom and experience when I see it, but the Hedgeses need to demonstrate they can rise above pettiness and logical absurdities before anyone can take them seriously.
How Not to Write Biography
Begging the question and ignoring the answer
“The fundamental problem with the book,” the Hedgeses assert, “is that Vogel refuses to evaluate Joseph Smith on his (Joseph’s) own terms” (206). That is interesting because Joseph Smith’s accounting of events is exactly what is at issue. Continuing this fallacious line of advice, the Hedgeses state:
The goal of biography is to make sense of an individual’s life and thought as that individual experienced them; and for a biography to be successful, the biographer must lay aside his own assumptions and prejudices, sympathetically grant the subject his, and ignore as much as possible whatever gap might exist between the two. (206)
In fact, before one can “sympathetically grant” a subject his “assumptions and prejudices,” one must first determine what they were. Likewise, one cannot “make sense of an individual’s life and thought as that individual experienced them” until one determines what happened. In making such declarations, my reviewers have chosen to ignore my discussion of this very topic. In my introduction, where I responded to a similar statement made by Richard Bushman in 1984, I wrote:
The suggestion that historians simply “relate events as the participants themselves experienced them” … results in a methodological reductionism that assumes that the historical record is both factual and accurate…. The historian’s task is to determine, as best he or she can, what really happened…. When Smith fails to mention foundational visions until years after the event and gives conflicting and anachronistic accounts of them, how certain can one be that he relates events as he experienced them at the time? (xv)
What kind of review assess a book by a standard that is explicitly rejected in its introduction, without even mentioning or addressing that discussion?
Uncritical acceptance of Joseph Smith’s version of events
Continuing to explain their view of how to write a biography, the Hedgeses make several unfounded assertions.
The subject’s own recitals and explanations of his experiences should be the foundation upon which the biographer reconstructs the person’s life and should carry far more weight with the historian trying to get inside his subject’s head than any secondhand account or, worse yet, any theory of interpretation. These other sources have their place, but to favor them over the subject’s personal statements even though (or perhaps because) they agree with one’s own biases is to obscure rather than to understand the individual whose life and thought is under scrutiny. (206; emphasis mine)
The claim that Making of a Prophet ignores Joseph Smith’s “own recitals and explanations of his experiences” in “favor” of biased secondhand accounts is untrue. I will explore the process by which the Hedgeses arrived at this conclusion later, but presently the suggestion that historians should uncritically accept or privilege Joseph Smith’s version of events needs exploring. If it is true that one should be critical of sources that “agree with one’s own biases,” then the Hedgeses need to be more critical of accounts produced by Joseph Smith. While I agree that Smith’s accounts should be the “foundation upon which the biographer reconstructs the person’s life,” that does not mean a biographer is bound to accept them without question, especially when there is good reason for skepticism. To uncritically accept Joseph Smithon which the biographer reconstructs the person’s life,” that does not mean a biographer is bound to accept them without question, especially when there is good reason for skepticism. To uncritically accept Joseph Smith’s autobiographies is to ignore the purposes for which they were created and the social needs they were designed to satisfy. Autobiographies, especially those produced institutionally, are in the words of British historiographer John Tosh “often inaccurate and selective to the point of distortion … notorious for their errors of recall and their special pleading.”8 Louis Gottschalk’s historical primer warns that official histories tend “to suppress embarrassing, incriminating, and confidential information, and to present apologia.”9 Apologetic concerns are apparent right from the first lines of Smith’s 1838 autobiography:
Owing to the many reports which have been put in circulation by evil disposed and designing persons … I have been induced to write this history so as to disabuse the public mind, and put all enquirers after truth into possession of the facts …10
Contrary to this promise, Smith was less than forthcoming when he misrepresented his involvement in money digging as a one-time event in 1825 as one of Josiah Stowell’s hired hands. In fact, he took the lead in many such operations over a period of at least three years, locating places to dig with his seer stone. External sources, primarily the 1826 court record from South Bainbridge, New York, provide details suppressed by Smith. On that occasion, he admitted to Justice Albert Neely that he had “occasionally been in the habit of looking through this stone to find lost property for 3 years.”11 Given this confession, the secondhand testimony from the residents of Colesville, Harmony, Manchester, Palmyra, and South Bainbridge carry more weight than Smith’s denial. Despite the claim of my reviewers, Making of a Prophet is based on a critical analysis of Joseph Smith’s own accounts as well as those produced by his family and friends.
Biography without interpretation
In my view, there are many ways to write biography, depending on the subject and available sources. My reviewers, on the other hand, think there is a right way and a wrong way. Unfortunately, their way is surprisingly naive. Apparently, they think a “real” biography has little or no interpretation and analysis.
However long and involved the analysis may be, the result of such an approach is not a biography, but a simple and tedious recital of what other people including the biographer thought and think about the subject’s life and experiences. The subject himself remains in the background, hopelessly mired in contradiction and interpretation, buried under the book and the volume of everybody else’s observations and opinions. Such is Vogel’s Joseph Smith. (206)
True, it is Vogel’s Joseph Smith. But it’s also Bushman’s Joseph Smith, Brodie’s Joseph Smith, Donna Hill’s Joseph Smith, and Robert Remini’s Joseph Smith. There is no getting around it. A biographer can try to hide behind neutral language, but he is always present, even when quoting his subject. An interpretive biography like Making of a Prophet definitely takes more risks, but the notion that a biography can be free of interpretation is astoundingly naive.
Transparency, bias, and more ad hominem
No biographer is free of bias, especially when dealing with supernatural claims, and therefore transparency is important. I appreciate Bushman’s candor when he wrote: “A believing historian like myself cannot hope to rise above these battles or pretend nothing personal is at stake. For a character as controversial as Smith, pure objectivity is impossible.”12 In Believing History, Bushman frankly admitted:
I know the unbelieving reader wants an explanation of Joseph Smith that will not be forthcoming in my study—not because I am naive but because the believing side of my mind does not find that explanation plausible. That vital part of the story for unbelievers is missing.13
I might say the same about Making of a Prophet. There are many things the true believer will not find in my study because the skeptical side of my mind does not find many of the claims Joseph Smith made to be even remotely plausible. Such transparency, however, is not an excuse to dismiss interpretation—either mine or Bushman’s—without examining the specific evidence and arguments upon which they rest. For the Hedgeses, on the other hand, there is no room for skepticism.
Frankly admitting his “inclination … to interpret any claim of the paranormal … as delusion or fraud” (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. (206)
While it is true that Joseph Smith and his supporters held a different world view, I have no problem reporting their beliefs, nor do I doubt that these “paranormal phenomena” were real to Smith and his followers. That is not the issue. More relevant is that among all these various claims is one that is testable: the Book of Mormon. Prophecy, revelation, and visions are subjective, but translations of ancient texts are subject to historical analysis and verification. If one concludes the Book of Mormon is not, in fact, authentic history, then the story of the angel with gold plates becomes a fiction. This necessarily opens the door to a naturalistic explanation for visions on the part of the Book of Mormon witnesses. I would be irresponsible not to then consider the anachronisms and contradictions in later accounts of foundational visions. Any biographer worth his salt would have to look beyond a “face value” acceptance of such claims. When the Hedgeses cite my naturalistic bias as the sole reason for questioning some of Joseph Smith’s claims, they are engaging in polemics and an avoidance of any real discussion of legitimate issues.
Evidently the Hedgeses are disciplinary purists who hold the notion that historiography should remain untainted by sociology and psychology, which the Hedgeses consider more problematic than history. “Vogel assures us,” they state,
… the social sciences are brimming with theories and mechanisms that allow the informed historian to read between the lines of an imposter’s record and find all sorts of insights into his character and motivations (xviii). Never mind the limitations of these other disciplines and their theories … (207)
While this statement complements their desire for biography without interpretation, it is equally naive and out of touch with what is presently going on in historiography. In their book From Reliable Sources: An Introduction to Historical Methods, Martha Howell and Walter Prevenier describe a different situation:
The most visible difference from the past is how diverse history writing is today. Historians treat a much greater range of topics, and they do so by employing a much wider variety of theories and methods. Many of these changes reflect … history’s encounters with other disciplines, from which scholars have taken tools, method, theory, and subject matter; and history’s own internal turmoil, its own examination of its ways of doing things and of the scholarship produced in the past…. One institutional consequence of these changes is that history departments throughout the West, nowhere more so than in the United States, are increasingly allied with sister disciplines in interdisciplinary programs such as American Studies, Ethnic Studies, Asian Studies, or Women’s Studies, places which at their best nurture innovation, self-reflection, and risk-taking.14
In addition, the Hedgeses seem oblivious to the existence of well-trained historians who practice psychohistory, as well as others who regularly cross disciplinary boundaries in pursuit of what is called the New Historicism. At the very least, the Hedgeses need to explain why they don’t consider these other scholars to be true historians, or they must admit that the boundaries are less well-defined than they make it appear. Nevertheless, in my introduction, I acknowledged that some purists would find my use of psychology and sociology objectionable:
To counter the argument that the infusion of other disciplines diminishes history, I point to [Robert] Berkhofer’s observation that a historian brings to his subject a considered view of human behavior, so this view should draw from a disciplined and conscious theory. A disciplined understanding of human personality and psychology has a twofold benefit of being a safeguard against the unintentional or unconscious imposition of one’s own psychology onto the subject and an expanded spectrum from which a subject may be viewed. (xx)
This is another example of where the Hedgeses ignore my discussion specifically addressing an issue they raise. The point is that one cannot write a biography and discuss possible motives of his subject without smuggling in some notion of human behavior and psychology, so historical purism is an illusion at best. In this regard, the statement of historiographer John Tosh is also instructive:
Almost any theory can be “proved” by marshaling an impressive collection of individual instances to fit the desired pattern. Theory-oriented history is certainly prone to these dangers—but so too, it must be recognized, is the work of many historians who reject theory and remain blissfully unaware of the assumptions and values which inform their own selection and interpretation of evidence. The way forward is not to retreat into an untenable empiricism, but to apply much higher standards to the testing of theory.15
Having noted this, I need to point out that my reviewers exaggerate my dependence on the “theories and mechanisms” of sociology and psychology. Indeed, it is often easy enough to “read between the lines … [to] find all sorts of insights into … character and motivations” without resorting to disciplines beyond history itself. The following excerpt from Tosh’s introduction to historiography is lengthy but instructive:
What a researcher can learn from a set of documents is not confined to its explicit meaning; that meaning is first of all scrutinized for bias and then used as the basis for inference. When properly applied, the critical method enables the historian to make allowances for both deliberate distortion and the unthinking reflexes of the writer—to extract meaning “against the grain of the documentation,” in Raphael Samuel’s useful phrase…. Moreover, much of the importance attached to primary sources derives not from the intentions of the writer but from information which was incidental to his or her purpose and yet may provide a flash of insight into an otherwise inaccessible aspect of the past. The historian, in short, is not confined by the categories of thought in which the documents were composed.
… Nineteenth-century historians, especially those of a Positivist turn of mind such as Lord Acton, believed that finality in historical writing would be attained when primary research had brought to light a complete assemblage of the facts; many of these facts might seem obscure and trivial, but they would all tell in the end. These writers were blinded to the limitations of their method by the very narrow way in which they conceived both the content of history and a primary source….
Objection is sometimes made to the idea of “facts” in history on the grounds that they rest on inadequate standards of proof: most of what pass for “facts” of history actually depend on inference. Historians read between the lines, or they work out what really happened from several contradictory indications, or they may do no more than establish that the writer was probably telling the truth. But in none of these cases can the historian observe the facts, in the way a physicist can…. What matters is the validity of the inferences.16
While my reviewers discuss some minor inferences, they never tackle the underpinnings of my “pious fraud” thesis. For example, drawing on a revelation dictated by Joseph Smith in March 1830, which declares that God sometimes uses misleading language “that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men” (D&C 19:7; xix), as well as other texts produced by Smith, I inferred in my introduction that Joseph Smith
believed that God sometimes inspires deception, that some sins are committed in accordance with divine will, and that occasionally it is necessary to break one commandment to fulfill another. We may never fully know Smith’s reasons, but we can confidently say that if he wrote the Book of Mormon, became a prophet, and founded his church as a pious deception, he possessed the psychological means to explain and justify such acts. (xxi)
As demonstrated here, inferences about Smith’s “character and motives” have nothing to do with the “theories and mechanisms” of the social sciences, nor do they rely on “secondhand and reminiscent accounts,” as the Hedgeses assert, but rather on Joseph Smith’s own words—words he claimed were inspired of God.
Since the stated goal of my reviewers is “to point out in some detail those areas where [Making of a Prophet] departs from the discipline proper and where [the author’s] assumptions and methods run afoul of professional protocol” (208), it is puzzling how out-of-touch they are with what is happening in the field.
Smith Family Dynamics Thesis
“A remarkable thesis”
In two, albeit sarcastic, paragraphs, the Hedgeses summarize what they see as the major thesis of Making of a Prophet:
… Vogel charts and explains Joseph’s rise from obscure farm boy to founder of a significant church. His path to stardom begins in his childhood home, an unhappy place, Vogel tells us, that was wracked with discord, haunted by poverty, and headed by the alcoholic, incompetent, and superstitious Joseph Sr. Much of the discord was religious; Joseph Sr. was a staunch Universalist, while Lucy Mack and several children inclined to the Presbyterian approach to salvation. When he wasn’t promoting universal salvation, Father Smith was either out under the stars hunting for buried treasures using the most up-to-date incantations, rods, and peep stones or working his way through a variety of highly involved and significant dreams in bed; either way, Vogel leaves us with the impression that the family patriarch was, for the most part, up in the night. Older brother Alvin was able to keep the home functioning for a time, but his death in late 1823 plunged the family into further crisis.
Desperate to save his family from disintegration and convinced that the only way to do it was to help his father assume his proper position as head of the house, young Joseph, in this moment of extremity, began receiving “visions” that both confirmed and yet gently corrected his father’s dreams and mistaken religious ideas. His father’s susceptibility to treasure-hunting lore provided another avenue through which he could be reached and corrected, and the future prophet, having recently discovered his own natural ability to dupe people with a seer stone, was quick to take advantage of it. Enter the well-known story of the gold plates, hidden in a nearby hill and protected, like any good treasure, by a guardian spirit of sorts, and whose “translation” would yield further correctives for his father as well as provide young Joseph with a vehicle through which he might comment on the deteriorating social, religious, and political conditions of his day. When, in addition to his father, many others fell for his elaborate charade, Joseph conceived the idea of creating a church based on his ideas and methods, both of which God himself seemed to be endorsing…. (207-8)
As the Hedgeses see it, the main thesis of Making of a Prophet is not only a departure “from Joseph’s own account of things,” but also methodologically “foreign to responsible historical scholarship” (208). Before I examine the Hedgeses’ specific criticisms, it is instructive to note some of the similarities between my thesis and interpretations advanced by Columbia University Gouverneur Morris Professor of History Richard Lyman Bushman.
Interpretive overlap with Bushman’s biography
The following are snapshots from Bushman’s recent biography, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, that touch on Smith family dynamics:
On religious conflict in the Smith home
Lucy’s only explicit reservation about her husband was his diffidence about religion. After his brief flirtation with Universalism in 1797, Joseph Sr. hovered on the margins of the churches. (23)
Joseph Sr. was not lacking in religion…. What he could not embrace was the institutional religion of his time. The reason became clear in one of his prophetic dreams…. Partly because of her husband’s attitude, Lucy hovered on the edge of respectable religion, attracted and repelled at the same time. (25, 26)
Sometime in the half dozen years after 1818, the religious rift in the family broke open again. Lucy joined the Western Presbyterian Church in Palmyra, probably the best established church in the village. Hyrum, Sophronia, and Samuel went to church with their mother, but Joseph Sr., Alvin, William, and Joseph Jr. stayed home. Forced to choose between his father’s and his mother’s religion, Joseph stood by his father. (37)
On Joseph Sr.’s mix of religion and magic
It would be hard to place the Smiths in any one religious tradition…. Joseph Sr.’s dreams linked him to radical Protestantism with its taste for spiritual manifestations…. Possibly in Vermont and certainly later in New York, Joseph Sr. was involved in magical practices, an unorthodox but not unusual way to connecting with the supernatural. (26)
On Joseph Sr.’s drinking and Alvin as surrogate father
Alvin may have taken the lead because his discouraged father could not. Alvin had cosigned the articles for the land purchase in 1821, suggesting he was serving as auxil[i]ary family head. Joseph Sr., worn down by setbacks, may have partially abdicated family leadership. “I have not always set that example before my family that I ought,” he confessed in 1834. Speaking of himself in the third person, he gratefully told Hyrum that “though he has been out of the way through wine, thou has never forsaken him nor laughed him to scorn.” … Joseph Sr. had lost his Vermont farm, and a few years later at age fifty-four would lose the land they were buying in Manchester. (42)
On Joseph Jr.’s role as savior and unifier of the family
Orthodoxy seemed inaccessible, inanimate, and hostile, but the distance between the Smiths and the churches did not harden their hearts. They were anguished souls, starved for religion. If there was a personal motive for Joseph Smith Jr.’s revelations, it was to satisfy his family’s religious want and, above all, to meet the need of his oft-defeated, unmoored father. (26-27)
With Alvin gone, Joseph assumed larger responsibilities in the family on the basis of his visions. Where his father had failed in achieving religious unity, he succeeded. He later said, “I brought salvation to my fathers house, as an instrument in the hand of God, when they were in a miserable situation.” (46)
Only after Alvin’s death when Joseph was seventeen did responsibility for family leadership fall on Joseph, under the tacit family agreement that Joseph Sr. was not fully adequate. He was a gentle, disappointed man with an inclination to compensate for his failures with magic and drink…. Joseph Jr. eventually restored his father’s dignity by giving him an honored place in the church. If there was any childhood dynamic at work in Joseph Jr.’s life, it was the desire to redeem his flawed, loving father, but was this enough to make him a prophet? (55)
The organization of a church was a momentous event in the Smiths’ family history. Lucy had looked for a church since her 1802 illness in Randolph. In Palmyra, perhaps under revival influence, she had joined the Presbyterians, bringing three children with her. Joseph Sr. attended for short stretches, but soon gave up. In his dreams, he saw the religious world as a desolate barren field covered with dead fallen timber and devoid of animal or vegetable life. The intimation of Lucy’s minister, the Reverend Benjamin Stockton, that Alvin had gone to hell because of his refusal to attend church confirmed Joseph Sr.’s convictions about clerical hypocrisy…. Following the organization of the Church of Christ, Joseph Smith Sr. was baptized in a small stream on Hyrum’s farm…. According to Joseph Knight, Joseph Jr. “bast [burst] out with greaf and Joy and seamed as tho the world Could not hold him.” He “went out into the Lot and appeared to want to git out of site of every Body and would sob and Crie and seamed to Be so full that he could not live.” … “He was the most wrot upon that I ever saw any man,” Knight said. “His joy seemed to Be full.” Some great tension had been relieved. (110)
On magic as an avenue through which Joseph Jr. could reach his father
The Smiths were as susceptible as their neighbors to treasure-seeking folklore. In addition to rod and stone divining, the Smiths probably believed in the rudimentary astrology found in the ubiquitous almanacs. Magical parchments handed down in the Hyrum Smith family may have originally belonged to Joseph Sr. The visit of the angel and the discovery of the gold plates would have confirmed the belief in supernatural powers. For people in the magical frame of mind, Moroni sounded like one of the spirits who stood guard over treasure in the tales of treasure-seeking. The similarities may even have made the extraordinary story more credible in the Smith family…. Magic and religion melded in Smith family culture. (50, 51)
Treasure-seeking lore may have made it easier for his father to believe his son’s fabulous story about an angel and gold plates. Joseph Sr. might have dismissed the report had not tales of spirits guarding treasure prepared his mind. (54)
Although nuanced differently, the striking similarities should make it difficult for the Hedgeses to dismiss the main thesis of Making of a Prophet as “foreign to responsible historical scholarship.”
Joseph Smith Sr.’s Universalism
A glaring lapse in Bushman’s discussion of Smith family dynamics is his failure to acknowledge the role of Joseph Sr.’s belief in the universal salvation. The Hedgeses make the same error; realizing the significance of Universalism, the Hedgeses formulate the following erroneous argument:
Vogel contends throughout the book that Joseph Sr. was an avowed Universalist. His conclusion is based on his interpretation of several of the elder Smith’s dreams and on the “Book of Mormon’s preoccupation with establishing Jesus’ divine status and its sustained defense of the Atonement” (578n9). Remove the ad hoc dream interpretation from the picture, and Vogel’s argument for Joseph Sr.’s Universalism, stated more fully, is that Joseph Sr. must have been a Universalist because the Book of Mormon, which was written to correct him, focuses so much on the divinity and atonement of the Savior. Having established that “fact,” Vogel then spends much of the rest of the book arguing that the Book of Mormon says so much about the divinity and atonement of the Savior because (you guessed it) Joseph Sr. was a Universalist. (219-20)
My conclusion that Joseph Sr. was “fairly committed to Universalist doctrine” is not “based on [my] interpretation of several of the elder Smith’s dreams.” Other than noting that his dreams were consistent with Universal Restorationist doctrine of a temporary hell (26), I do not use Joseph Sr.’s dreams as evidence that he was a Universalist because, while they are not incompatible, they cannot be used to establish the affirmative. Nor is my conclusion based on the Book of Mormon’s anti-Universalist rhetoric. Instead, I base my conclusion on the statement of William Smith, which my reviewers conveniently overlook even though they later quote from the sentence that preceded my statement. Here is what I wrote:
Although Joseph Sr. may have at times flirted with Methodism, he was fairly committed to Universalist doctrine. His son William wrote that his father’s Universalism “often brought him in contact with the advocates of the doctrine of endless misery, [and] the belief in the ultimate and final redemption of all mankind to heaven and happiness, brought down upon my father the opprobrium or slur of ‘Old Jo Smith.'” His advocacy of universal salvation for all humankind sharply conflicted with Lucy’s New England Puritan leanings which would eventually draw her to the Presbyterian church. (3-4)
Bushman also overlooked William’s statement, evidently assuming that Joseph Sr. “gravitated back towards orthodoxy” with his other siblings after his brief affiliation with the Tunbridge Universalists in 1797 (17, 23). Obviously William’s statement does not pertain to events that occurred fourteen years before his birth. The slur “Old Jo Smith” would seem inappropriate for a newly married twenty-six-year-old. Regardless, Bushman’s oversight caused him to miss the intensity of the religious division in the Smith family following Alvin’s death, which I described in my work (55, 62).
The Hedgeses demonstrate they do not know the difference between Universalism and Unitarianism when they claim my conclusion was based on the “Book of Mormon’s preoccupation with establishing Jesus’ divine status and its sustained defense of the Atonement.” (219) The quote is taken from an endnote (578n9) and pertains to his possible leanings towards Unitarianism, not Universalism. To the suggestion that Joseph Sr. “would eventually become swept up in the tide of Unitarianism that dominated Universalist thinking by the 1830s” (26), I appended the following note, which was referenced by the Hedgeses:
I base this conclusion primarily on the Book of Mormon’s preoccupation with establishing Jesus’ divine status and its sustained defense of the Atonement. In subsequent chapters, I suggest that the Book of Mormon contains rhetoric that is both anti-Universalist and anti-Unitarian. (578n9)
Joseph Sr.’s possible Unitarianism is a subset to his belief in universal salvation. Having established Joseph Sr.’s Universalism, it is not unreasonable to infer that he might also have held views typical of other nineteenth-century Universalists. If one allows that the Book of Mormon’s anti-Universalist rhetoric was aimed primarily at Joseph Sr., then the anti-Unitarian elements may be relevant, as well. Regardless, Joseph Sr.’s Universalism does not rest on circular reasoning as the Hedgeses assert.
Not only do they not know the difference between Universalism and Unitarianism, they also seem unfamiliar with Universalist belief itself, especially in real-people terms. They make the following uninformed statement:
Add to the tautology Joseph Sr.’s “flirt[ing] with Methodism” (3), his struggles with “Puritan insecurities” (29), and his “leanings” toward Anabaptist ideas about baptism by immersion (305), and one begins to wonder what kind of Universalism Joseph Sr. represented—certainly not any brand known in early America. (220)
Besides a belief about the ultimate salvation of all mankind, nineteenth-century Universalists were doctrinally diverse. Some believed in a temporary hell; others rejected the notion of a hell altogether. A few Universalists incorporated Jesus’ Atonement into their beliefs, but the vast majority saw no need for an Atonement. The majority adopted Unitarianism, while a few clung to Trinitarianism. On an individual basis, the situation was undoubtedly more fluid. Nevertheless, to require Joseph Sr. to be entirely consistent, or to dismiss William Smith’s statement about his father’s Universalism because it is deemed inconsistent with his other beliefs, is to commit the idealist fallacy, which David Hackett Fischer wrote “consists in a presumption of rationality in human behavior…. Surely many thinkers have been inconsistent within their own limits. A presumption of logical consistency is as unjustified as a presumption of the opposite.”17
Many people hold inconsistent beliefs, and biographers need to be aware of this possibility. Asael Smith’s Universalism is undoubted, yet he threw deist Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason at Joseph Sr. and, according to Lucy, told him to “read that until he believed it.”18 Commenting on the cultural context of Joseph Sr.’s pursuit of treasures with a divining rod and the “faculty of Abrac,” Bushman correctly noted: “Ordinary people apparently had no difficulty blending Christianity with magic” (50).
Having said that, there is nothing inconsistent with a Universalist joining an Anabaptist Society. In fact, some of the Tunbridge Universalists did join the Anabaptist Society (see my Early Mormon Documents 1:636). Contrary to the Hedgeses’ assertion, the two beliefs are not mutually exclusive. Joseph Jr.’s “flirting with Methodism” consisted mostly in attending revival meetings at the insistence of his wife. His possible “Puritan insecurities” about having done everything to “secure [his] salvation” is not necessarily inconsistent with belief in a temporary hell. Besides, even a Universalist might have moments of doubt.
Anti-Universalist rhetoric and pro-Universalist leanings
Continuing with their comments about Universalism, the Hedgeses repeat the idealist fallacy when they argue:
And then, after all this, Vogel disingenuously argues that Doctrine and Covenants 19 reveals that young Joseph himself actually “privately believed in Universalism” (490), even though he’d just spent two years of his life writing an anti-Universalist book! One does far less violence to rational thinking and finds far more consistency in the sources if one simply accepts Lucy’s contention that the pre-Mormon Joseph Sr. was his own man when it came to religion and of very much the same opinion as Lucy herself (7-8). (220)
There is nothing disingenuous about the contradiction between the Book of Mormon’s anti-Universalism and the reversal in Doctrine and Covenants 19. I didn’t invent this. Even Bushman recognizes the “perplexing reversal” of the Book of Mormon’s argument “against universal salvation” (199-200). In avoiding “violence to rational thinking,” the Hedgeses have opted for violence to historical sources. Of course, they fail to tell us how they propose to harmonize the Book of Mormon with Doctrine and Covenants 19. Nor do they explain how denying Joseph Sr. was a Universalist could make that contradiction go away. Interestingly, this non-sequitur is a perfect example of how people can sometimes do “violence to rational thinking.”
Finally, the Hedgeses attempt to downplay the differences between Lucy and Joseph Sr. by suggesting that they shared a similar religious independence. But aside from agreeing that the present churches were in a corrupt state, independent thought does not imply a harmony of ideas. For instance, Lucy was not even opposed to joining one of the sects. That is because Joseph Sr. was a religious Seeker and Lucy was not. Regardless, Joseph Sr.’s religious independence does not bear on his belief in universal salvation.
After all their illogical and uninformed commentary, the Hedgeses erroneously conclude that “with Joseph Sr.’s Universalism out of the way, needless to say, the alleged ‘religious discord’ that reportedly wracked the Smith home evaporates as well”(220). If anything, it is their attempt to dismiss Joseph Sr.’s Universalism that is “out of the way.” My reviewers would do well to reconsider the implications of Joseph Sr.’s Universalism, as well as the Smith family’s “religious discord,” or “rift” as Bushman called it, especially in light of Alvin’s death.
As an example of where my “fundamental assumption is at odds with the weight of evidence,” the Hedgeses cite my discussion of Joseph Smith’s early treasure-hunting activities. “Joseph’s early treasure-hunting activities loom large in his thesis,” they state, “as they were an important avenue … through which young Joseph could reach his wrong-headed father.” (219) The Hedgeses assure readers that Joseph Jr.’s “involvement in such activities was probably less than many historians today … have come to believe.” This is a red herring since recent discussions have not centered on whether Joseph Smith was a treasure hunter or the number of times he was involved in such pursuits, but more on the nature of his involvement, particularly his leading role as a treasure seer.
In this, the Hedgeses try to tap into the preexisting prejudices of their audience by claiming awareness of Smith’s treasure hunting is derived solely from “the statements collected in E. D. Howe’s Mormonism Unvailed and other early anti-Mormon works that are familiar to any serious student of Mormon history.” Evidently my reviewers are not in the group of “serious students of Mormon history” who are “familiar” with the sources because they neglect to mention Joseph Smith’s 1826 court hearing, which reports Smith’s extensive activities as a treasure seer in southern New York and northern Pennsylvania and can hardly be called an “anti-Mormon” source. Most of the testimony comes from Smith’s own confession, as well as from his supporters Josiah Stowell and Jonathan Thompson. Rather than echoing Richard Anderson’s 1969 lawyer-like examination of Philastus Hurlbut’s affidavits, my reviewers would do well to consider the full range of sources and a complete discussion of their significance by such researchers as Rodger Anderson19 and D. Michael Quinn.20 Nevertheless, the Hedgeses pretend they have a legitimate complaint when they argue:
Like so many authors before him … Vogel fails to see how weak and vague these charges are—indeed, to realize that in the vast majority of treasure-hunting expeditions Joseph is accused of having headed up, he is not—according to the person relating the story—even present! In most cases, those with the shovels, or those sacrificing the sheep, report that someone told them that Joseph said there was a treasure buried in a particular spot and could be obtained through whatever machinations; only rarely (twice, by our count) is Joseph actually identified as being an on-the-scenes participant, and one of those was simply when he used the seer stone to find a tie pin Martin Harris had dropped on the ground a few moments before. (219)
Demanding Joseph Smith’s presence is quibbling. The claim was that he was a treasure seer, not a money digger. In such case, his presence is not necessarily required. In fact, William Stafford, a neighbor of the Smiths, testified that Joseph Sr. invited him to participate in a treasure dig on Smith’s property and informed him that Joseph Jr. had seen in his stone “two or three kegs of gold and silver.” After Joseph Sr. drew a circle in the dirt around the treasure and performed other magical maneuvers, the two men dug until, frustrated, Joseph Sr. went to consult his son in the house. When the elder Joseph returned, he told Stafford his son “had remained all this time in the house, looking in his stone and watching the motions of the evil spirit—that he saw the spirit come up to the ring and … caused the money to sink” (40). Another neighbor, Lorenzo Saunders, reported seeing Joseph Sr. dig a tunnel into a hill on the family’s property and hearing him state that “Jo. [Jr.] could see in his peep stone what there was in that cave … a man sitting in a gold chair” (41).
The Hedgeses imply I think all of Hurlbut’s affidavits are equally credible and relevant, which is nonsense. Rather than counting how many times Joseph Smith was present at a dig and making sweeping statements about the entire collection, my reviewers need to examine my specific use of the documents, which they have not done. Obviously, it is my reviewers, not me, who cannot deal with the “weight of the evidence.” Once they do, they will have to concede, as Bushman did, that treasure seeing was possibly “an important avenue … through which young Joseph could reach his wrong-headed father.”
“The Standards of Scholarship”
What is too much speculation?
The Hedgeses charge that my Making of a Prophet violates “the standards of scholarship” by engaging in too much speculation. They misread my introductory promise, that I would “occasionally use qualifying verbs and adverbs to indicate where my analysis is speculative or conjectural, but my overall discussion and conclusions are firmly grounded in the primary source documents” (xvii), to mean that every time I qualified a statement it was because I was being speculative. They selected a portion of the book, added up the number of qualifiers, and declared that I had violated my promise to speculate only “occasionally.” “It’s not enough to simply acknowledge the standards of scholarship in an introduction,” they charged, “… one must actually stick to those standards in the body of the work.” (209)
However, the kind of occasional speculation I was talking about was outlined in the previous sentences as “the psychological implications of Smith’s actions and beliefs.” Nevertheless, the Hedgeses want to quantify the speculative content by employing a rather crude method.
In the eight pages from 131 to 138, for example, the words “might,” “probably,” “may,” “perhaps,” and “seems” occur a total of 17 times—better than two per page, on average. Rarely does one find a run of more than two pages where such words aren’t employed, and not infrequently one sees them in even greater abundance—pages 178 and 447, for example, contain nine such qualifiers apiece. (209)
The idea that one can assess the strength of an argument or interpretation by counting the number of qualifiers is rather silly. David Hackett Fischer discusses this kind of error under the heading “the fallacy of statistical nonsense” as including “statements which float in an interpretive vacuum, without an adequate control group as a reference point.”21 If the Hedgeses were to apply the same fallacious method to Richard Bushman’s Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, which covers the same period of Joseph Smith’s life, they would find that between pages 65 and 69, the qualifiers they mentioned appear fifteen times, which is an average of three per page. In fairness, these pages are not representative of Bushman’s overall analysis.
In the case of my book, the eight pages my reviewers chose for computation pertain to my discussion of the similarities and differences between the Smith family and Lehi’s family in the Book of Mormon. In a text that explores the possible sources of a literary work, a certain level of interpretation and speculation is implied. This is also true for apologists when they try to contextualize the Book of Mormon to antiquity. Consider Brant Gardner’s “The Gadianton Robbers in Mormon’s Theological History: Their Structural Role and Plausible Identification” (online at www.fairlds.org), which some apologists have cited as a counter to my anti-Masonic interpretations of Book of Mormon passages. Interestingly, one finds an average of two qualifiers per page in Gardner’s article.
The Hedgeses claim qualifiers are “central to every point and argument” I make (209), which is untrue. Even for the eight pages they cite, the two paragraphs introducing this section contain no qualifiers (131). Even Bushman cannot escape noticing similarities between the Joseph Smith and Lehi families and entertains the possibility of “Joseph seeing himself in the text” (105-6). Such conspicuous similarities open the door to other possible meanings, which I explore using appropriate qualifiers (131-38).
Given their claim that speculation is “central to every point and argument” (209), one would not have expected their first example to come from an endnote. In discussing the death of Lucy’s and Joseph Sr.’s firstborn infant son, I made the following observation:
Reflecting on this sad event years later, Joseph Sr. said, “The Lord, in his just providence has taken from me, at an untimely birth, a son: this has been a matter of affliction; but the Lord’s ways are just.” The phrase “untimely birth” suggests a premature birth, but Joseph’s persistent “affliction” over the infant’s death seems to imply a sense of guilt or responsibility. Perhaps he felt that God had taken the infant as a punishment for his sins. (5)
In an endnote, I added:
Some have suggested Joseph Sr.’s guilt may have resulted from the child’s conception outside wedlock (see Robert D. Anderson, Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith: Psychobiography and the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999], 17). (573n17)
In commenting on this, the Hedgeses conflate Anderson’s speculation with my commentary.
Vogel suggests, in his assessment of young Joseph’s home environment, that Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack conceived their first child out of wedlock, prior to their marriage (573n17). His evidence for this extraordinary claim? The fact that Joseph Sr., years later, said that “the Lord, in his just providence has taken from me, at an untimely birth, a son: this has been a matter of affliction” (5). How, one asks, does Joseph Sr.’s grief over losing a child suggest that this child had been conceived out of wedlock? Vogel argues that Joseph Sr.’s “persistent ‘affliction’ over the infant’s death seems to imply a sense of guilt or responsibility” and refers his readers to Robert D. Anderson’s Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith: Psychobiography and the Book of Mormon for an authoritative connection between this alleged sense of guilt and the child’s conception out of wedlock. (209-10)
The Hedgeses mislead the reader, who will not know that the issue of conception outside of wedlock did not originate with me but with Robert D. Anderson, who gave different reasons and admitted the evidence is “not conclusive.” It is not uncommon for parents to experience guilt over the death of an infant, especially those taught by their Puritan heritage to interpret misfortune and disaster as expressions of God’s just providence for backsliding and sin. The full context of Joseph Sr.’s statement reveals the relationship between sin and punishment through providences:
It is a source of grief to me that I have not been more fruitful to the Lord in days which are passed than I have: I have not always set that example before my family that I ought: I have not been diligent in teaching them the commandments of the Lord, but have rather manifested a light and trifling mind….
Notwithstanding all this my folly, which has been a cause of grief to my family, the Lord has often visited me in visions and in dreams, and has brought me, with my family, through many afflictions, and I this day thank his holy name….
The Lord, in his just providence has taken from me, at an untimely birth, a son: this has been a matter of affliction; but the Lord’s ways are just.
My next son, Alvin, as you all are aware, was taken from us in the vigour of life, in the bloom of youth: my heart often mourns his loss, but I have no disposition to complain against the Lord. (see my Early Mormon Documents 1:468-69; emphasis added)
My sense that Joseph Sr. experienced “guilt or responsibility” comes from the apparent link he made between the infant’s death—his “affliction”—and God’s “just providence.” The Hedgeses twice refer to Joseph Sr.’s “grief,” but he does not use that word to describe his feelings about the infant’s death. Rather, he uses the word to describe his feelings for not being a good example, as well as for what his family experienced as a result of his folly. While his “heart often mourns” the loss of Alvin, the death of his firstborn “has been a matter of affliction.” The latter phrase is parallel with the “many afflictions” he and his family passed through. The idea that God sometimes afflicts sinners through various providences to bring them to repentance is evident in some of the subsequent blessings Joseph Sr. gave to family members the same day. He said to his son William:
Thou has seen affliction, my son, and the hand of the Lord has been upon thee that thou might be chastened, even in thy youth, that thou mayest learn to be obedient to his commandments and faithful to his precepts, thou has greatly desired to see thy father’s family redeemed from trouble, and from the power and dominion of those who oppressed them. (emphasis added)
To Emma, he said:
Thou hast grieved for the hardness of the hearts of thy father’s house, and thou hast longed for their salvation. The Lord will have respect to thy cries, and by his judgements he will cause some of them to see their folly and repent of their sins; but it will be by affliction that they will be saved. (EMD 1:472; emphasis added)
Nine months later, on 14 September 1835, while blessing Newel K. Whitney, he said:
he [the Lord] will surround thy brother with judgments and lay upon him his afflicting hand, and he will fear and tremble and come to his senses, and yet obey the truth; for when his soul is bowed down with affliction he will remember what thou hast said, and then will he turn to the Lord.22
Admittedly, my interpretation that Joseph Sr. felt God had taken the infant as punishment for sins is not the only possible reading, which is why I expressed this with qualifiers. But it is important to emphasize that I did not name what those sins might have been.
Later, in commenting on possible autobiographical meanings in Book of Mormon passages, I again brought up Robert Anderson’s speculation (374-75). However, this was not offered as “further evidence” of a pregnancy outside of wedlock. After quoting Mormon’s statement that the Lamanites took from their female captives “that which was most dear and precious above all things, which is chastity and virtue” (Moro. 9:9), I observed that “there may also be an exaggerated criticism of how Joseph’s father treated his mother, who may have been pregnant at the time of their marriage.” The endnote reads:
As mentioned in chapter 1, Robert Anderson has suggested that Joseph Sr.’s 1834 expression of guilt over the death of his firstborn may have been due to his conception outside wedlock (see Anderson, Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith, 17). (655-56n35)
If one accepts Anderson’s speculation, then this passage not only reflects Joseph Smith’s attitudes about female virginity in general but also out of real-life experiences. It is reasonable, although not presented definitively. Nevertheless, the Hedgeses write sarcastically that “one must read ‘firmly grounded in the primary source documents’ to mean ‘buried knee-deep in conjecture’ if one is to have any hope at all of following his lines of reasoning.” (210) This is after willfully misrepresenting what I wrote.
The Hedgeses also make much of my speculations about what might have happened on the night of 21 September 1823 when Joseph Smith claimed to have been visited by the angel. They begin by asserting that I am “especially adept at laying the documents aside when it comes to filling in the details of various seminal events in Joseph’s history.” (210) This gives a false impression and completely bypasses why I consider Smith’s account to be untrustworthy.What I wrote was as follows:
As with his first vision, Joseph’s evolving accounts of his 1823 encounter with the angel make it difficult to recover the core story. Most noticeably, his accounts differ from those of his family and friends because he concealed the story’s original folk-magic appeal. He also added to his accounts material intended to serve later purposes…. In 1838 the angel paraphrased Malachi 4:5 concerning the coming of Elijah, alluding to Joseph’s and Cowdery’s 1836 reception of priesthood keys from the Old Testament prophet. The manner in which Smith introduced later priesthood concepts into his 1823 interview with the angel leads one to wonder if he ever viewed the vision as an empirical event. Indeed, it is difficult to treat as historical an experience which Joseph himself so freely recasts…. (44)
For all their talk about the importance of source criticism (see below), they dismiss it when it suits their purposes to do so. Continuing, the Hedgeses state:
Dismissing Lucy’s account on the grounds that she “probably minimized the intensity” of the Smith family’s discussion about religion that evening (43), Vogel takes it upon himself to tell us what really happened that night—indeed, what young Joseph was actually thinking over the course of that night and the following day, whatever he or his mother might later say. (210-11)
Conveniently omitting part of the sentence they quote, the Hedgeses neglect to tell why I believe Lucy “minimized the intensity” of the event: ” … since young Joseph’s reaction was more pronounced than usual” (43). Whatever else happened, the claim that it was a sleepless night seems confirmed by Joseph Sr.’s observation that his son did not look well the next day. If the Book of Mormon is not ancient history, then what occurred that night? It would have been a time of desperate thoughts on the eve of announcing the Book of Mormon to his family. I wrote that Joseph Jr. was “troubled by his family’s religious conflicts” and “may have” prayerfully sought the words to “soften his parents’ hearts” and “convert his father” (43-44).
For this modest reconstruction of events, the Hedgeses cannot resist having some fun at my expense, writing that “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.” (211) Is there better evidence that my reviewers are incapable of seriously engaging this subject? Why do they describe my reconstruction as being presented “so confidently” when qualifiers are present? Their intent is clearly polemical, not rational.
Such an uncharitable reading of my work is ironic in light of Andrew Hedges’s own speculation about what Lucy Smith was thinking when she used certain words in her history. For example, after noting Lucy’s mistake in using the term “prospectus” to refer to Abner Cole’s promise to print extracts from the Book of Mormon, Hedges suggests:
Yet Lucy may have been using the term loosely; after all, Cole’s 9 December announcement of his plans was very much a “prospective” statement, and Lucy’s original intent in using the term “prospectus”—however narrowly we define it today—may have been no more than to convey that idea. (emphasis added)
That’s two qualifiers in one sentence. Hedges urges readers to resist a “narrow reading” and employ a “broader interpretation of her words,” which are “probably more reflective of her own intentions.”23 Obviously, this allows him to intuit, could we say clairvoyantly, what Lucy’s “intentions” were. We might be inclined, to quote his own words, to mutter under our breath “yes, and maybe, probably not” (209).
Instead of introducing a red herring about mind reading, the Hedgeses should have done what Tosh suggested and assess the “validity of the inferences.” But that would have taken them into a discussion of evidence upon which the pious fraud thesis rests, and clearly they did not want to go there.
What is a critical use of sources?
The Hedgeses grant that I seem to “realize that not all sources are created equal—that, indeed, some are better than others and that one of the tasks of the historian is to discriminate between those that can be trusted and those that cannot,” but nevertheless assert that I don’t “seem to understand … the criteria by which sources are evaluated, and the simple fact that all sources—even those friendly to one’s own biases—need to be scrutinized.” (212) The Hedgeses acknowledge that they are attempting to make “subtle” distinctions, but nevertheless fail to explain how one can discriminate between unequal sources without knowing at least some of the criteria by which such discriminations are made. Likely, such hair-splitting distinctions (which in reality are not distinctions at all) result from an over-eagerness to portray me as an untrained novice. Nevertheless, my reviewers attempt to make two incompatible charges simultaneously: (1) I do not know the criteria used in source criticism and (2) I do not apply such criteria to “all” sources, including those that are friendly to my bias. Apparently I sometimes apply the criteria appropriately to sources unfriendly to my bias. Is it possible to have a double standard and no standard at the same time?
The Hedgeses charge that to be “unaware” of these criteria “while trying to write an accurate and nuanced biography on as controversial a figure as Joseph Smith is both irresponsible and inexcusable.” (212) What criteria are they talking about? That firsthand accounts are preferred to second and thirdhand accounts and that sources recorded closer to the events they describe are preferred to later accounts? I discuss these issues in the introduction to volume one of Early Mormon Documents (xiv-xv). They seem to be unhappy that I look critically at sources produced by Joseph Smith and his supporters. Yet, when specific instances are raised, they concede, for instance where I question the accuracy of Lucy Mack Smith’s memory, that these are “valid points to bring up when using Lucy’s reminiscent, worked-over account, and Vogel is fully justified in raising them.” (212) Nevertheless, they feel I should be more critical of sources that are unfriendly to Joseph Smith. “At the same time he is putting Lucy under the magnifying glass,” they argue, “Vogel is uncritically accepting sources far more removed from the events in both space and time than Lucy’s ever was.” (213) The problem with such a sweeping statement is that I questioned Lucy’s account based not simply on the number of years that had elapsed but due to specific concerns I carefully enumerated: the presence of anachronisms, the manner of composition, the lack of corroborating testimony, and the principle of “retrospective falsification.”
To show that I accept other sources uncritically, the Hedgeses write that “Lorenzo Saunders … who was interviewed in 1884—more than fifty years after the fact!—bulks large in Vogel’s endnotes, yet never once does Vogel raise an eyebrow at anything he says.” (213) Why? Because my use of Saunders, unlike Lucy, was selective and limited to the most reliable parts of his testimony. Other parts—such as when he identifies a stranger he saw at the Smiths’ home in 1827 as Sidney Rigdon—were judged unreliable (see EMD 2:110n12, 128-29n18). On page 584 in note 39, I questioned Saunders’s dating of an event. The Hedgeses’ description of Lucy’s history as “not infallible … [but] for the most part remarkably accurate” (212) also sums up Saunders’s testimony.
Why would a historian “raise an eyebrow” where, for instance, Lorenzo Saunders testified about Joseph Sr.’s public drunkenness (28) when the senior Smith admitted to this and others testified to it? Similarly, why question his testimony about treasure digging that occurred on his family’s property (37, 41) or the Smiths’ kindness toward his dying father (61, 589-90n50), his search of the Hill Cumorah for evidence of fresh digging (95, 164, 598n49) and other statements, such as that Martin Harris claimed to see ghosts (158), that William Smith had told him he would never join the Mormons (506), his frank confession that as a teenager he participated in harassing the Mormons who gathered at the Smith home (535), or his account of seeing Rigdon preach in Palmyra (550)? Where does faulty memory or bias enter into any of these? Do my reviewers know of an instance where my use of Saunders was misplaced? If not, why bring it up? The same questions apply to the Hedgeses’ list of seventeen other sources. (213)
In compiling this list, the Hedgeses simply gathered every reminiscent account without regard to content. What is the significance of that? Simply listing reminiscent sources hardly demonstrates a lack of appreciation of the criteria for analyzing sources. Not surprisingly, similar to their counting of qualifiers, my reviewers—the self-proclaimed expert methodologists—pad their baseless assertions with irrelevant data.
They rhetorically ask: “What kind of history is it that raises the specter of exaggeration and hearsay in Lucy’s account, yet accepts wholesale the reports of an army of critics and their descendants collected a half century or more after the events?” (213) My question for them is what kind of methodology groups all reminiscent accounts under the heading “critics”? Benjamin and Lorenzo Saunders speak favorably of the Smith family. Certainly, Joseph Smith’s younger brother, William, and RLDS general authority William W. Blair can hardly be described as “critics.” Some of the sources listed, such as S. F. Anderick, Caroline Rockwell Smith, and Cornelius R. Stafford, weren’t even cited for information about the Smiths. Again, similar to their handling of qualifiers, the Hedgeses engage in wholesale, impressionistic misrepresentation.
Additionally, the implication that I accept the testimony of Joseph Smith’s opponents uncritically is, of course, false. The following quotes are examples where I take issue with some of the so-called “critics” of Joseph Smith:
In his 1833 statement, Stafford claimed that he let the Smiths have the sheep to “gratify my curiosity,” but the more likely reason was that he—like Ingersoll—believed in the scryer’s gift. (41)
In recounting the story, Chase gave the impression that he and his friend had merely wanted to see the stone as a curiosity. More likely, Chase was approached by others in town who wanted the stone recalled to put an end to Joseph’s schemes or to at least remove the credibility he derived from Chase’s stone. (88-89)
In his review, William D. Russell, addressed the apologists’ attempt to portray Making of a Prophet as unbalanced:
Vogel has not written an anti-Mormon book. Contrary to the reviews published in FARMS, Vogel’s book is moderate and balanced. He sometimes makes judgments that are consistent with the traditional Mormon faith story when he could have concluded otherwise, such as when he writes: “More likely, Anthon’s initial assessment of the characters was more positive than he would later admit. Otherwise, it is doubtful that Harris would have requested a written statement” (115). Vogel doesn’t accept critical judgments of Joseph Smith when there is cause for skepticism…. He doesn’t accept the allegation that Smith said “the book of plates could not be opened under penalty of death by any other person but [Smith’s] first-born son and that the young lad would translate the plates at the age of three” (111)….24
Book of Mormon witnesses
In their discussion of source criticism, the Hedgeses attempt a couple of oblique blows to my discussion of the Book of Mormon witnesses. They charge that “Vogel even uses an 1899 statement from George W. Schwiech, grandson of David Whitmer, to reconstruct the nature of the three witnesses’ experience!” (213) This is dead wrong. I did not quote Schweich to “reconstruct the nature of the three witnesses’ experience,” but rather to introduce the subject of hypnotism, as my full statement makes clear:
The possibility of some kind of trance state was explored by I. Woodbridge Riley in 1902 and Fawn Brodie in 1945. Even Whitmer’s grandson George W. Schweich suggested, “If that vision was not real it was hypnotism.” This possibility has never been adequately explored, let alone refuted. Of course, the question of the source—whether the vision was inspired by God or the result of some psychological state—can never be conclusively answered. But the case for hypnotism or some similar process is more compelling than one might at first presume. (448)
In other words, I did not quote Schweich for evidence Joseph Smith used something like hypnotic suggestion, but rather to show that hypnotism had been suggested as a possible explanation as early as 1899 by Whitmer’s grandson. Of course, my reconstruction of “the nature of the three witnesses’ experience” comes primarily from their own statements (441-50), which is another topic my reviewers conveniently skipped over.
In another example dealing with the eight witness, the Hedgeses charge that I do not know “the point at which a source unfavorable to his thesis has passed the standards of source criticism and beyond which any protestations about its validity and meaning become absurd.” (213) The absurdity is in the extent to which the Hedgeses go to refute an argument I did not make. In support of my thesis that the eight witnesses’ experience was part visionary (seeing) and part physical (handling), I cited Stephen Burnett’s 1838 report that Martin Harris said publically that he “never saw the plates with his natural eyes” and that “the eight witnesses [also] never saw them [with their natural eyes] and hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it” (467). To my claim that none of the witnesses contradicted Harris’s claim, I added the following footnote:
Hyrum Smith’s response to the dissenters, as reported by Sally Parker in August 1838, that “he had but two hands and two eyes” and that “he had seen the plates with his eyes and handled them with his hands” … is not unlike the response of David Whitmer, who in 1886 told Nathan Tanner: “I have been asked if we saw those things with our natural eyes. Of course they were our natural eyes. There is no doubt that our eyes were prepared for the sight, but they were our natural eyes nevertheless” … Thus, Hyrum was not necessarily denying dissenter claims that he and the other witnesses had seen the plates in vision. (673n5)
Obviously, in referencing David Whitmer’s statement, I was not implying that one influenced the other but only cautioning readers against making assumptions about Hyrum’s ambiguous language. I offered the analogy by way of explanation, not as proof. Unfortunately, the Hedgeses interpreted my use of Whitmer literally and went off on a rather humorous and irrelevant tangent:
Since Hyrum, Vogel’s logic runs, is reported (the source is secondhand) to have used language … similar to that used by David almost fifty years later, and David’s experience was visionary only, … then Hyrum “was not necessarily denying dissenter claims that he and the other witnesses had seen the plates in vision,” in spite of the hands-on account he gives (673n5). The problem with this interplay of the sources and line of reasoning is that Hyrum was responding to gainsayers in 1838, not comparing notes with David Whitmer in 1886, and was as clear in his contradiction of the charges as the situation demanded of him—indeed, as he possibly could have been. Is it reasonable to expect Hyrum … to know what words David was going to use fifty years hence to describe a separate experience, and therefore be able to choose words that will allow readers from an even later era to discriminate the nuances between the two? To think Hyrum was waffling on his position … because of David’s choice of words a half century later in a completely different context is positively absurd and not an example of source criticism and incisive thinking most trained historians would want their names associated with. (214)
In saying that he had but “two hands and two eyes,” Hyrum was not necessarily denying dissenter claims any more than he was denying the existence of visions. He was apparently objecting to the term “spiritual eyes” since it implied an imaginary experience to nineteenth-century skeptics. Indeed, it was closely linked to terms like the “eyes of faith,” “eyes of the imagination,” “eyes of understanding,” “eyes of the mind.” Understandably, both Hyrum and David resisted the implications of such language, although without denying the visionary nature of their experiences.
The Hedgeses’ argument that “Hyrum … was as clear in his contradiction of the charges as the situation demanded of him” begs the question since the situation is what is at issue. He could have simply said that Harris was wrong, that it was not a visionary experience at all but rather a completely natural experience. But he didn’t. Instead, he chose equivocal language, or as my reviewers put it, “waffling” words. The Hedgeses fail to mention that Harris’s 1838 public statement is supported by John Whitmer’s 1839 statement, that although he had handled the plates, they had nevertheless been “shown to me by a supernatural power” (467). Harris evidently understood that the experience of the eight witness was similar to his own. As he told Burnett and others in 1838, “he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box [or] with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them, but he never saw them only as he saw a city through a mountain” (468-69). Regardless, where the Hedgeses give the impression they are dealing with a major argument in my book, it is only a minor point contained in an endnote.
What Is Psychohistory?
Much as we saw with counting qualifiers and indiscriminately listing all reminiscent accounts, the Hedgeses also exaggerate when they claim that “it is a rare discussion in the book that does not include laissez-faire retrospective psychoanalysis to one degree or another.” (215) Doubtless, the phrase “to one degree or another” is intended to inflate the charge of psychohistory, but they then go so far as to claim “the whole overarching thesis of the book … is highly psychoanalytic.” (215) Of course, pychology does play a part in my analysis. I said as much in my introduction where I explained that “I intended to consider the psychological implications of Smith’s actions and beliefs” (xvii) and that “my approach to Joseph Smith is informed by family-systems theory” (xx). But this bears little resemblance to either Freudian psychoanalysis or psychohistory as such, which renders the three pages the Hedgeses take explaining why Freudianism is unscientific and unpopular among psychiatrists rather pointless. (215-17)
Indeed, none of the Freudian concepts discussed by the Hedgeses can be found in Making of a Prophet. There are no speculations about Joseph Smith’s psycho-sexual development; no discussions about Oedipal complex, defense mechanisms, or unconscious drives; no attempt to diagnose Joseph Smith; no speculations about Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Post Traumatic Distress Syndrome, Bipolar Depressive Disorder, or the like. Associating Making of a Prophet with Freudian psychoanalysis and psychohistory is another of the Hedgeses’ red herrings.
Family systems theory
My reviewers might be correct in stating that Freudianism is of “limited use among twenty-first-century psychiatrists and psychologists,” but among other things they overlook the distinction between diagnosis and treatment. Nevertheless, this raises the question of what is in use? Among others: psycho-pharmacology, behaviorism, cognitive therapy, and family systems or process theory. Even though I do not emply Freudian psychoanalysis, and even though I stated in my introduction that my thinking was “informed by” but not dominated by family-systems theory (xx), nevertheless the Hedgeses never specifically address family systems. Perhaps this is to avoid a serious contradiction, for among the authorities they cite for criticism of Freudian psychoanalysis25 is one Kyle R. Walker (216n10),26 who wrote his dissertation at Brigham Young University under the title: “The Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith Family: A Family Process Analysis of a Nineteenth Century Household” (2001). While I disagree with some of Walker’s historical interpretations, and he would undoubtedly disagree with my interpretation of the Book of Mormon, the Hedgeses’ use of Walker, along with their silence about family systems, is disingenuous.
Determining what IS psychohistory
Where I make no overt references to Freudian principles, how did the Hedgeses come to the conclusion that there is an “uncritical acceptance and extensive application of psychoanalysis” in Making of a Prophet? (215) Indeed, on what basis do they claim “it is a rare discussion in the book that does not include laissez-faire retrospective psychoanalysis to one degree or another”? They offer the following reasons:
Indeed, the whole overarching thesis of the book—that Joseph’s “prophetic calling” is the result of his childhood experiences in a dysfunctional home and that his behavior disguised his motives—is highly psychoanalytic; and the sibling rivalries, alter-egos, interpretations of dreams, and other explanations that make up so much of the book are simply variations on the theme. (215)
I will examine each of the elements to show there is no substance to the Hedgeses’ attempt to link Making of a Prophet with Freudian psychoanalysis.
I did not, in fact, say Joseph’s prophetic calling was the result of his childhood experiences in a dysfunctional home, but rather that “the ‘singular environmental pressure’ motivating Smith’s behavior came primarily from his family, that he began his religious career, in part, to resolve family conflict” (xxi). Whereas my point was merely that Joseph Smith was, among other things, trying to heal his family, the Hedgeses make it sound as if his prophetic calling was a personality disorder caused by dysfunctional parents. Indeed, the Hedgeses are mirroring the criticism by David G. Myers, whom they later quote, of the Freudian belief “that childhood experiences mold personality” (217).27 However, the “childhood experiences” Myers is talking about are those associated with Freud’s notion of oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital psychosexual stages of development. Myers had previously discussed Freud’s belief that “personality forms during life’s first few years” and that “his patients’ symptoms seemed rooted in unresolved conflicts from early childhood.”28 Nothing of this view is found in Making of a Prophet, which does not engage in psychohistory.
A family systems approach merely attempts to understand the relational dynamics among family members. As previously noted, Bushman also touches on this aspect of Smith’s calling:
If there was a personal motive for Joseph Smith Jr.’s revelations, it was to satisfy his family’s religious want and, above all, to meet the need of his oft-defeated, unmoored father. (26-27)
With Alvin gone, Joseph assumed larger responsibilities in the family on the basis of his visions. Where his father had failed in achieving religious unity, he succeeded. (46)
If there was any childhood dynamic at work in Joseph Jr.’s life, it was the desire to redeem his flawed, loving father, but was this enough to make him a prophet? (55)
Despite the ontological question about what makes a prophet, Bushman cannot ignore the possible relationship between Smith family dynamics and Smith’s religious calling. Bushman downplays Smith family dysfunction as a common experience of many families in the nineteenth-century, which nevertheless prepared Joseph for leadership (55). Despite what the Hedgeses imply, there is nothing particularly psychoanalytic about making a determination about the structure of the Smith family. While Kyle Walker strongly disagreed with Robert Anderson’s psychoanalytic approach, he nevertheless filled his dissertation with a family process analysis, concluding that the Smiths were generally well adjusted. For the purposes of this discussion, Walker’s conclusion is less important than his belief that such a determination can be made without delving into Freudian psychoanalysis. Among the behaviors and events that contributed to Smith family instability and dysfunction, which I discussed in Making of a Prophet, were Joseph Sr.’s excessive drinking and inadequate participation; severe financial burden and loss of the farm; the death of Alvin, the family’s mainstay; and serious religious conflict intensified by the issue of Alvin’s salvation. Obviously, these are significant matters the Hedgeses have neglected to discuss.
I’m not sure what the Hedgeses mean when they assert that I believe Joseph Smith’s “behavior disguised his motives.” (215) This seems to reflect Myers’s criticism, later quoted, that Freudian psychoanalysis assumes that “many behaviors have disguised motives.” (217) Myers’s previous discussion makes clear that he is speaking about Freud’s belief that some behaviors are outward manifestations of repressed “unacceptable passions and thoughts” buried deep in the unconscious. In Myers’s words, “Our unacknowledged impulses express themselves in disguised forms—the word we choose, the beliefs we hold, our daily habits, our troubling symptoms.”29 Evidently the Hedgeses weren’t paying attention when I rejected any notion that Joseph Smith was an unconscious fraud (x-xi). Nowhere in Making of a Prophet is Smith’s behavior explained as disguised subconscious motivation.
Sibling rivalry and alter-egos
This is simple. Sibling rivalry and alter-egos are not exclusive to psychoanalysis. One could discuss rivalry between siblings in psychoanalytic terms, but I don’t. The same is true for alter-egos. When I discuss certain Book of Mormon characters as alter-egos, it is from a literary perspective and not based on psychoanalytic principle. I make no attempt to analyze the character for clues of Smith’s unconscious drives and motivations. In literary criticism, an alter-ego is simply a thinly disguised representation of the author. I therefore argue that Nephi, for example, is an alter-ego, or second self, through which Smith could give voice to ideas and beliefs he quite consciously held.
Interpretation of dreams
There is no Freudian dream analysis in Making of a Prophet, although the Hedgeses imply otherwise. Two pages after claiming that my use of “applied psychoanalysis” includes “interpretations of dreams,” (215) they quote Myers’s statement that “Freud’s legacy lives on” in “popular culture,” where it is still assumed that “dreams have meaning.”30 In context, however, Myers was not saying that all dreams are meaningless, but rather that they don’t have the meaning Freud attached to them. It is well known that Freud believed dreams were the “royal road to the unconscious.” As Myers explains, Freud believed that “a dream’s manifest content is a censored, symbolic version of its latent content, which consists of unconscious drives and wishes that would be threatening if expressed directly,” particularly “erotic wishes.”31 While I might discuss the manifest or surface content of a dream, I never attempt to discover a dream’s latent or unconscious content, which in Freudian analysis requires the patient’s participation.
When Myers talks about popular culture and the belief that dreams have meaning, he is also referring back to his discussion of the numerous “self-help books on the meaning of dreams,” which go well beyond Freud’s intent by giving interpretations of hundreds of dream symbols.32 In any case, my handling of the Smith’s dreams bears no resemblance to Freud’s erotic symbolism theory. For the most part, I relate the dreams as Lucy Smith related them and interpret them as she and her husband apparently interpreted them. Only once do I question Lucy’s interpretation as having likely changed after her conversion to Mormonism (8-9).
Perhaps the Hedgeses feel justified in linking my handling of the Smiths’ dreams with Freud because I sometimes use psychological language when describing their content. In discussing Joseph Sr.’s dreams, I make observations about “the dream’s depressed tone and the dreamer’s yearning for spiritual nourishment” (15), “dream visions … replete with motifs of death and destruction” (15), a dream reflecting “the same impotence Joseph experienced with regard to his father’s and brother’s disapproval” (15), “Joseph’s first dream vision not only express[ing] his religious and emotional conflict but more importantly assert[ing] his independent spirit” (16), “a second dream vision reflect[ing] his desire for family unity in religion … [and] reveal[ing] the pain and embarrassment he felt over his family’s poverty as well as his increasing sense of alienation resulting from his unorthodox religious views” (19), and a dream that “reflects his feeling of sinfulness” (26).
It is important to notice that as I describe Joseph Sr.’s dreams, they reflect his observed responses to everyday activities, not something coming from his subconscious. I note that “the dream was perhaps triggered in part by the revival” (16), “the dream reflects his feeling of sinfulness, undoubtedly intensified by the revivalist preaching” (26), and that “Lucy’s pressure may have triggered her husband’s dreams” (573n27). Bushman recognizes that “the best barometer of the household’s religious climate are seven dreams Joseph Sr. had” and that “the visions’ recurring themes do reveal a religious mood. … In every dream, a yearning for relief or redemption or beauty moved the dreamer” (36).
There is little doubt that troubles in our lives can work their way into the manifest content of our dreams. While Myers questions Freudian dream analysis, he does not think dreams are meaningless or unrelated to our lives. He asks: “But if dreams lack the disguised meaning that Freud supposed, and instead serve physiological functions, are they therefore psychologically meaningless? Not necessarily.”33 Myers explains that “the story line of our dreams—what Sigmund Freud called their manifest content—sometimes incorporates traces of previous days’ experiences and preoccupations.”34 In support, Myers mentions studies showing that “after suffering trauma, people commonly report nightmares,” as well as cognitive therapist Aaron Beck’s finding that “the dreams of patients with depression [often have] recurring negative themes of loss, rejection, and abandonment that extend into their waking thoughts.”35
The Hedgeses make much of my statement that Joseph Smith’s method of impromptu dictation without revision was “a more-or-less stream-of-consciousness composition” (xix), stating that “the Book of Mormon substitutes for the ‘untold number of hours’ Vogel the psychoanalyst is unable to spend listening to Joseph freely associate.” (217) My statement was intended to depict Smith’s inability to hide behind carefully chosen words. In other words, because “Smith’s method of dictation did not allow for rewriting,” there was a much greater opportunity to find autobiographical elements. Bushman makes a similar statement:
Joseph dictated the Book of Mormon without any practice runs or previous writing experience. It came in a rush, as if the thoughts had been building for decades…. During the three months of rapid translation, Joseph seemed to be in the grip of creative forces outside himself, the pages pouring from his mind like Messiah from the pen of Handel.
Dictating so rapidly, he must have spoken from his heart. In some respects, the Book of Mormon can be seen as a revelation of Joseph Smith as well as a translation of the gold plates….36
My use of the term “stream-of-consciousness” is merely descriptive and has nothing to do with Freudian psychoanalysis, which would involve the active participation of the patient. As described by David Myers, Freud
told the patient to relax and say whatever came to mind, no matter how embarrassing or trivial. Freud assumed that a line of mental dominoes had fallen from his patients’ distant past to their troubled presents. Free association, he believed, allowed him to trace that line back, producing a chain of thought leading into the patient’s unconscious, thereby retrieving and releasing painful unconscious memories, often from childhood.37
Clearly, the Book of Mormon cannot substitute for the “‘untold number of hours’ … the psychoanalyst is unable to spend listening to Joseph freely associate.” Unlike Robert Anderson and William Morain, I do not use the Book of Mormon to explore Joseph Smith’s presumed unconscious drives and wishes or his psychosexual development. My approach to the Book of Mormon has less to do with psychology than it does with a literary technique called the historical-biographical method.
Historical-biographical approach to the Book of Mormon
Apparently, the Hedgeses think every time I discuss possible autobiographical influence in the Book of Mormon, it involves psychoanalysis. Instead, what happens for the most part is a historical-biographical analysis of the book’s content. Using my reconstruction of Smith family dynamics, which is not psychoanalytic but behavior oriented, I look for possible insights in the text of the Book of Mormon.
Insofar as the Hedgeses have implied that my methodology is foreign to the historical professional, it is perhaps instructive to note that Alan Taylor’s 1995 Pulitzer Prize winning book William Cooper’s Town does nearly the same thing when Taylor uses James Fenimore Cooper’s 1823 novel The Pioneers to illuminate Cooper’s troubled relationship with his father. “Because Cooper wrote rapidly and spontaneously, with minimal revision,” Taylor argues, “his novels express more immediate impulse than careful reconsideration.”38 Hence, “The Pioneers offers an especially deep entry into James Cooper’s troubles and desires in 1822,”39 particularly as he “wrestled with the contradictions and mysteries of his father’s character.”40 In his introduction, Taylor explains that his methodology is “a hybrid of three usually distinct genres: biography, social history, and literary analysis.” He continues:
First, it is a biography of Judge William Cooper, with particular emphasis on his relationships with his family and with important allies and rivals. Second, this book is a social history—community study of Cooperstown, New York, and its Otsego County hinterland from the village’s founding in 1786 by William Cooper to the publication of The Pioneers by his son in early 1823…. Third, I reassess the production and meanings of The Pioneers, in which the novelist recorded in fiction his childhood memories of the frontier village of Cooperstown. My book reappropriates the world of The Pioneers to reexamine the frontier community as the setting for the reordering and reimagining of American society in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. My narrative builds both upon The Pioneers as a source and toward it as the culmination of the Coopers’ efforts to achieve wealth and authority…. James Fenimore Cooper wrote The Pioneers in 1822 to reassert his family’s claims to preeminence….41
What Taylor describes is similar to what I attempted with the Book of Mormon. Bushman pulls back from an autobiographical analysis of the Book of Mormon, but not without recognizing that it can be “illuminating at times” and admitting that “in places, one can imagine Joseph seeing himself in the text.”42 However, Bushman voices a caution that I think is well taken:
Indeed some scholars have reduced the book to almost pure autobiography. They account for virtually every character and every incident by locating precedents in Joseph’s personal history. Though illuminating at times, when carried to extremes these attempts break down; the parallels are too tenuous, too inconclusive. Are we really to believe that wicked King Noah is a version of Joseph Smith Sr. because both drank wine? Biographical analysis runs the risk of making creative works little more than a mirror of the author’s life. As one critic puts it, “the book is far grander, much broader, and its internal logic and power go well beyond the life of Joseph Smith.”43
Bushman is undoubtedly correct that some autobiographical interpretations are too tenuous, especially if read backward into a subject’s life without supporting evidence. However, one should not prematurely dismiss the principle just because similarities are not always exact. As I argued in my introduction,
To suggest that the Book of Mormon is partly autobiographical is not to say that it would exactly reproduce Smith’s life. Rather, it contains possible fragments of Smith’s life and views, rearranged and altered in a way that produces a distinct narrative force and continuity. (xix)
Both similarities and differences should be noted, and the literary context in which a work appears needs to be taken into account. As literary critic Richard D. Altick has observed, “Almost every literary work is attended by a host of outside circumstances which, once we expose and explore them, suffuse it with additional meaning.”44
All methods have uncertainties. Nevertheless, Bushman’s specific example of misassociating Joseph Sr. and King Noah the wine bibber is misplaced. For instance, I noted King Noah’s “excessive drinking, indolence, and belief in Universalism” and suggested a possible “composite of people Joseph knew, including to some degree Isaac Hale and Joseph Smith Sr. While King Noah’s wealth, power, and disposition towards Abinadi could be seen as exaggerations of Hale’s comfortable circumstances and relationship with Joseph Jr., some of Noah’s character traits … were similar to the habits and beliefs of Joseph Sr.” (177) If nothing else, it must strike readers of the Book of Mormon as significant that King Noah held nineteenth-century theological views and that, of all the possibilities, they happened to match those of Joseph Jr.’s father.
Such analysis would be weak if offered as evidence for possible character traits in Joseph Smith’s friends and family or to establish that Smith was the author of the Book of Mormon. Simply put, a higher standard is required of evidence than of interpretation. As a whole, such parallels can be interesting in fleshing out some of the themes that occupied an author’s attention. In my book, they were offered as “possible fragments of Smith’s life and views” based on the assumption that Smith was the author of the Book of Mormon, not as evidence for that position.
To summarize, Making of a Prophet is informed by family systems theory, discusses the psychological implications of various behaviors and statements, and makes occasional reference to interpretations offered by psychiatrist Robert Anderson, but it is not psychobiography and has no link to Freudian psychoanalysis. It ventures beyond simply quoting the subject’s account of what happened and why, and this may appear to the Hedgeses to be psychoanalytic, but more discriminating eyes know the difference.
Book of Mormon Historicity
Responding to my historical-biographical approach to the Book of Mormon, the Hedgeses make a most astounding statement about historicity:
In his determination to read the Book of Mormon as an autobiography of Joseph Smith, Vogel is completely ignoring scores of sophisticated studies, presented over the course of several thousand pages in books and journal articles, that strongly suggest the book’s ancient Near Eastern and ancient American connections. The studies make it clear that grammatically, symbolically, thematically, and in many other ways, the Book of Mormon is best understood as an ancient text, written a good many years before Joseph Smith was on the scene. (218; emphasis added)
This statement is too confident for the nature of the evidence being offered by apologists. The most that can be said is that there are elements of the Book of Mormon that are consistent with either the ancient Near East or ancient America, while a host of other elements are entirely incompatible. The Hedgeses are completely ignoring other equally sophisticated studies demonstrating various ways in which the Book of Mormon is not of ancient origin and more in line with Joseph Smith’s nineteenth century culture. In light of the fact that the Book of Mormon has yet to make a direct connection to the ancient world, the Hedgeses should be more modest about their claims. Whether the Book of Mormon is best understood as an ancient or nineteenth-century text is exactly what is at issue, and that cannot be determined without exploring the possibility of a nineteenth-century origin. However, the Hedgeses want to block or dismiss any nineteenth-century research until scholars have sufficiently refuted the apologists. They argue:
Forty years ago, prior to serious scholarship on the Book of Mormon’s ancient connections, Vogel could have rejected the book’s internal claims and responsibly as far as academia goes have gotten away with his thesis; today, however, given all that serious and qualified scholars have done and demonstrated in this direction over the last several decades, Vogel would have to thoroughly dismantle the ancient origin thesis and demonstrate the need for a counterthesis before he could justifiably proffer so tenuous a methodology as psychoanalytically based psychobiography. (218)
This assertion is laughable. The Hedgeses seem to suffer from acute myopia. Who outside Brigham Young University and limited apologetic circles would require me to dismantle the mass of apologetic literature? Since when are scholars required to respond to apologists? Are evolutionists obligated to justify their work by first responding to the creationists and intelligent design theorists? All one can say is that there is now a significant body of apologetic literature that is based on the assumption that the Book of Mormon is ancient and ignores the possibility of a nineteenth-century origin for the book. Complaining that all I do is take a “few jabs” at Hugh Nibley and other apologists, the Hedgeses argue that I needed to “convincingly dismantle everything they and other observers have found,” (218) a treadmill I try to avoid. On this point, I echo what New Testament scholar Robert Price said in his response to William Hamblin:
I do not feel it is wise for those unconverted by such [apologetic] attempts to delay attempts at creative, new critical experiments, feeling that we are forever obliged to refight the same battles with the rear guard again and again. There may be a place for that, … but I want to get on with the studies made possible by a new paradigm—not spend all my time trying to beat the old one to death…. We must take the trouble to follow out the implications of our basic insight [i.e., “that the Book of Mormon is a monument of the nineteenth century”]. I don’t see why our team should let the other side forever set the agenda for us. If we do, we will never get anywhere. Of course, apologists probably don’t want us to.45
The best way to dismantle the flat-earth theory is to demonstrate that a spherical earth explains more things better. I think philosopher of science Ian G. Barbour was right when he observed that “a paradigm tradition … is not simply falsified by discordant data, but is replaced by a promising alternative.”46
Regarding my brief mention of chiasmus in an endnote, the Hedgeses complain that “passing off chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, for example, as simply a well-known form of ‘rhetorical repetition’ in early America (605n48) doesn’t cut it and goes much further toward demonstrating an ignorance of chiasmus’s complexities than it does toward illuminating Book of Mormon origins.” (218-19) My endnote, however, was not exclusively about chiasmus, but about the Book of Mormon’s overall literary quality. The pertinent part of this endnote mentioning chiasmus reads:
Much of the Book of Mormon’s lyricism is due to its use of rhetorical repetition such as antimetabole (chiasmus), parallelism, anaphora, epistrophe, polysyndeton, paradiastole, and epibole—all of which are also found in Joseph Smith’s revelations as well as the sermons of his day. On repetition in Smith’s revelations, see Richard C. Shipp, “Conceptual Patterns of Repetition in the Doctrine and Covenants and Their Implications,” M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, 1975. On rhetorical repetition in Smith’s day (including chiasmus), see Samuel Knox, A Compendious System of Rhetoric (Baltimore, 1809). (605n48)
Of course, the subject of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon is more complex than can be adequately handled in an endnote. My purpose was to alert readers that the use of rhetorical repetition in Joseph Smith’s translations and revelations. The suggestion that the discovery of complex chiasms in the Book of Mormon is antithetical to Joseph Smith’s authorship rests on the uncritical assumption that apologetically proposed chiasms are objectively discoverable in the text and a subjective assessment of Joseph Smith’s limited abilities. Note that the Hedgeses have not responded to the implications of finding chiasmus in Joseph Smith’s revelations.
Responding to my various discussions of anti-Masonic rhetoric and themes in the Book of Mormon, the Hedgeses assert:
Had he done his homework, he would have found … Paul Mouritsen … has effectively demonstrated the significant differences between the anti-Masonic rhetoric of the early nineteenth century and the Book of Mormon’s warnings against secret combinations. (220)
Contrary to what the Hedgeses claim, Mouritsen does not discuss the anti-Masonic interpretation of the Book of Mormon in any significant way. Instead, Mouritsen is preoccupied with finding nineteenth-century, non-Masonic uses of the term “secret combinations” to refute a claim I made in 1989 that “at the time of the Book of Mormon’s publication the term ‘secret combinations’ was used almost exclusively to refer to Freemasonry.”47 If my reviewers had done their homework, they would know that I have responded to similar apologetic attempts.48
The time and place of the Book of Mormon’s publication was in a hotbed of anti-Masonic agitation. Mouritsen and others have scoured the countryside for exceptions to the rule without regard to either time or place. Of Mouritsen’s twenty-four examples, three are from Great Britain and date between 1709 and 1788, seven others date between 1788 and 1825, most in obscure government and legal papers—all before William Morgan’s murder in 1826 and charges of Masonic conspiracy and corruption of government. Thirteen other sources date between 1831 and 1850, when even Masons themselves began to expand the term “secret combination” to refer to other suspicious groups. Mouritsen offers only one source from the time and place of the Book of Mormon’s publication and that source, as expected, refers to the Freemasons.
Moreover, Mouritsen seems confused by his own data. Noting that the term “secret combinations” is “found in four upstate New York newspapers between 1827 and 1829,” he speculates that “perhaps the cluster of occurrences cited in newspapers of the time does not accurately represent the wider circle of anti-Masonic writings.”49 This “cluster” obviously represents Joseph Smith’s lexical environment. Regardless, the “secret combinations” the Book of Mormon describes has, among other things, “secret signs” and “secret words” (e.g., Ether 8; Helaman 6), which are not exhibited by Mouritsen’s groups. Obviously, the Hedgeses do not understand the issues involved in the debate, which is demonstrated by their belief that citing Mouritsen’s essay is all that is needed to refute the anti-Masonic thesis.
In my account of Lehi’s journey through the Arabian desert, I make the following observation:
During a hunting excursion with his brothers, Nephi broke his bow, “which was made of fine steel” (16:18). This event seems inspired by David’s psalm in 2 Samuel 22:35, which poetically states: “[God] teacheth my hands to war; so that a bow of steel is broken in mine arms.” Joseph Smith was probably unaware that “steel” had yet to be invented and that the King James translators should have more properly rendered it: “so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze” (RSV). (136)
Responding to my comment, the Hedgeses state: “Wm. Revell Phillips has shown how commonplace simple steel was in the Near East at the time of Lehi—something archaeologists have known for years.” (220) True, Phillips does say that “Nephi lived at a time when iron and simple steel had become common place in Jerusalem.” By simple steel, Phillips means the “carburized” surface of an iron sword. Otherwise, he admits there was no smelting of iron and steel until the invention of high temperature metallurgical furnaces in the eighteenth century. He also admits that carburized swords were “created by a skilled smith after days or months of hard, hot work,” and hence were the rare possession of kings. “Common soldiers fought with inferior weapons,” he says, “but kings wielded swords of special steel.”50 Phillips suggests that Laban’s sword, said to be of the “most precious steel” (1 Ne. 4:9), may have been one of those special swords.
Neither the Hedgeses nor Phillips explain how the carburized-iron theory fits other Book of Mormon passages mentioning steel. After the Lehites arrive in the New World, “steel” is mentioned twice, both times in a list of metals separated from “iron” by “copper” and “brass” (2 Ne. 5:15; Jar. 1:8). In Ether 7:9, well before the Iron Age, swords are “molten” and “made … out of steel.” Thus, the Book of Mormon seems to treat steel as a separate substance from iron, as one would expect of someone writing in the nineteenth century. So even according to Phillips, this kind of steel had not been invented yet.
The weakness in using the carburized-iron theory to explain the Book of Mormon references to steel has motivated other apologists to posit a different explanation. Admitting that “the earliest examples of pure steel weapons date from the early fourteenth-century-A.D.,” William J. Hamblin asks: “How, then, could Nephi have had a steel bow in the sixth century B.C.?” And although he knows that “the existence of steel (that is, carburized iron) weapons in the Near East in the early sixth century B.C. has been clearly demonstrated,” he prefers to believe that Nephi had a bow made partly of wood and partly of bronze. Refering to the King James mistranslation of “bow of steel,” but without discussing the obvious parallel, Hamblin suggests: “Nephi’s ‘steel bow’ could thus likely be Joseph Smith’s Jacobean English translation for an original Hebrew ‘bronze bow.'”51 He uses the same translation theory to explain the smelting of steel in Ether.52 So, Hamblin basically agrees with my assessment, but instead of using 2 Samuel to explain how Joseph Smith mistakenly put a steel bow in Nephi’s hands, he uses it to speculate that Smith made the same translation error as the King James translators. In any case, steel remains problematic for the Book of Mormon, especially since in Mesoamerica there was apparently no metallurgy until about AD 900.
The Hedgeses provide another example of their lack of familiarity with the various debates surrounding Book of Mormon historicity when they argue: “Similarly, in accepting the argument that DNA analysis argues against the Book of Mormon, Vogel makes it clear that he hasn’t understood the very real limitations of population genetics—limitations that Michael Whiting and others have pointed out in great detail. (220-21)
This misconstrues how I used DNA, which was merely to confirm that the vast majority of Native Americans are biologically linked to Asia, a point that has long been conceded by apologists. In an endnote, I state:
Decades before DNA confirmed the linkage between Asiatics and Native Americans … John L. Sorenson wrote that “the scientific information is unmistakable. There was definite continuity of population from earlier times into the days of the Nephites” (John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1985], 87). (663n19)
The endnote goes on to discuss the prediction in 2 Nephi 2 that “this land” would be preserved for Lehi’s descendants (and others coming out of Jerusalem), which “precludes apologetic attempts to incorporate known Asiatic populations with the Lamanites” (408). Thus, Whiting’s recent and Sorenson’s pre-DNA ad hoc rationalizations only make sense if one grants all the assumptions of the limited geography and local colonization theories advanced by the apologists, which is merely to beg the question. If Book of Mormon events were limited to a small region rather than the entire hemisphere, if the “narrow neck of land” was the Isthmus of Tehuantepec rather than Panama, if the Nephites/Mulekites/Lamanites were minor sub-cultural groups among the larger Asiatic population rather than being the dominant group—if one accepts these premises, then maybe the apologists’ arguments might make sense. But if one believes the Lehites landed in South America and were destroyed in the Great Lakes Region, if one believes Panama fits the Book of Mormon’s description of the narrow neck of land better than the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, if one does not accept the apologists’ theories of limited geography and local colonization, then finding Asiatic DNA among Amerindians solidifies a longstanding problem for the Book of Mormon’s claims.
The Hedgeses repeat the idealist fallacy with the following:
Vogel also sees evidence in the Book of Mormon that Joseph was highly concerned about the election of Andrew Jackson, both for that president’s “Masonic affiliation” and for “his party’s secular approach to governing” (199). Such a thesis fails entirely, however, to account for Joseph’s decidedly pro-Jackson statements later in his life. (221)
In a footnote, they cite an 1844 electioneering pamphlet Smith evidently co-wrote with W. W. Phelps characterizing Jackson’s administration as “the acme of American glory, liberty, and prosperity.”
There are several obvious problems with this argument. What Joseph Smith said fourteen years later in campaign literature has little bearing on interpreting the Book of Mormon in light of more relevant events. A lot happened in the intervening years. In April 1829, when Smith began dictating the Book of Mormon, Jackson had just taken office amid many dire predictions of national ruin, but by 1844 Jackson’s administration was history. In this regard, I think it’s important to acknowledge that a shift occurred in about 1831 in Smith’s use of anti-Masonic rhetoric when mention of “secret combinations” was dropped as a topic in his revelations. Nevertheless, the Hedgeses commit the idealist fallacy by assuming that people do not change their minds and remain consistent throughout their lives. This doesn’t even address the very real problem of accepting a co-authored electioneering pamphlet as an accurate representation of a candidate’s private beliefs. This is simply another example of the Hedgeses’ inability to think critically and clearly.
New Testament anachronisms
My reviewers think I should spend “twelve or fifteen years … learning a few ancient languages and in familiarizing [my]self with the literature of the ancient world” before attempting to point out historical and literary anachronisms in the Book of Mormon. They specifically mention my comments about a “suffering Messiah” and a “belief in resurrection,” (182-83) but fail to acknowledge my reliance on the consensus of biblical scholars. It is improbable that a sixth-century Jew such as Lehi would have read the suffering servant passages in Isaiah 53 as being messianic or that he would have had the concept of a physical resurrection (396, 661n59). What my reviewers need to do is tell why they repeatedly cut against the grain of scholarship while simultaneously giving readers the false impression that they are in the majority opinion.
Fallacy of possible proof
Responding to the many examples I give of Book of Mormon borrowings from the New Testament (anachronistic borrowings), the Hedgeses criticize me for “assuming that these ideas, and the language used to convey them, are original with New Testament writers.” According to my reviewers, this assumption is “unwarranted” and if I knew more, I would realize that “Paul and other New Testament writers” were “very bookish,” “well-versed in … literature,” and “borrowed continually from earlier authors” and “actually had very little to say that was original.” (221) In other words, they hypothesize there must have been an unknown earlier text both the New Testament and Book of Mormon authors borrowed from.
No one disputes that New Testament writers were influenced by the literary milieu of their day, and the suggestion of literary antecedents from lost texts is not unreasonable. What is unreasonable is this kind of unrestrained speculation about the presumed content of some imaginary lost text that has no other reason for its existence than that it helps preserve Book of Mormon historicity. Obviously this is just wishful thinking, or more specifically the fallacy of possible proof . As explained by David Hackett Fischer, something is not true because it has not been proven false.
“One of the great fallacies of evidence,” a logician has observed, “is the disposition to dwell on the actual possibility of its being false; a possibility which must exist when it is not demonstrative. Counsel can bewilder juries in this way till they almost doubt their own senses.” This tactic may indeed prove to be forensically effective in an Anglo-American court of law, but it never proves a point at issue. Valid empirical proof requires not merely the establishment of a possibility, but an estimate of probability. Moreover, it demands a balanced estimate of probabilities pro and con. If historians, like lawyers, must respect the doctrine of reasonable doubt, they must equally be able to recognize an unreasonable doubt when they see one.53
Once again, the Hedgeses have attempted to brush aside a complex issue with their simplistic apologetic, for even if one granted that everything in the New Testament had a literary antecedent, including paraphrases, allusions, echos, and so on, it still would not explain the Book of Mormon. Can the Hedgeses’ speculations about an earlier text erase the problem of such postexilic concepts as a personal devil which appear in the Book of Mormon (182-83, 396)?
The Hedgeses offer the argument that “the idea of a suffering, dying, resurrecting god, … which Vogel sees originating in New Testament times, is actually one of the oldest and most widespread motifs in the ancient Near East.” (221) They refer, of course, to the death and resurrection of the Egyptian god Osiris, but what does that have to do with a pre-exilic interpretation of the suffering servant passages in Isaiah 53 or the Jewish belief in a physical resurrection? How my reviewers intend to apply their speculation about proto-New Testament texts to a myriad of specific situations remains unanswered. Meanwhile, we can safely put the Hedgeses’ speculations about proto-New Testament texts into the category of unreasonable doubt. Clearly, the weight of the evidence—that is, the existence of New Testament anachronisms in the Book of Mormon (direct quotes ranging from several words to entire chapters)—demonstrates Joseph Smith’s authorship.
In their conclusion, the Hedgeses complain that their “review has necessarily been incomplete,” that “virtually every page” of Making of a Prophet “cries for comment and correction,” and if they had time and space they could have easily addressed a host of other issues using “precisely the same criticisms as those we’ve chosen to address explicitly.” (222) No doubt. But to continue in the same sloppy, sophomoric manner would be a colossal waste of time. As this response demonstrates, the Hedgeses are not familiar with the pertinent sources and issues; have a rigid, almost parochial, purist, if not positivistic, view of historical methodology; a nebulous grasp of sound reasoning and logic; and a penchant for either avoiding, ignoring, distorting, misconstruing, or misrepresenting major issues. Should readers and fellow apologists not expect better from members of the faculty of Brigham Young University, whose names are followed by Ph.D.? The Hedgeses themselves suggest a possible explanation for their own lapses when they admit that “such training, of course, is no guarantee that one will actually be very good in that field.” (208n2) Yes, indeed.
2. Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet received the Best Book award from the John Whitmer Historical Association in September 2004 and the Turner-Bergera Best Biography award from the Mormon History Association in May 2005.
10. Joseph Smith Jr., et al., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 7 vols., 2nd ed. rev. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1948), 1:1. Disappointingly, Joseph Smith never improved on this accusation by responding to the specific claims of his critics. Elsewhere, he called E. D. Howe’s 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed, which included affidavits from Smith’s former neighbors in Palmyra and Pennsylvania, “a pitchfork of lies … [in] the sink of iniquity … wicked” (2:268). He also referred to Ezra Booth’s 1831 letters as “falsity … vain calculations … wickedness and folly … a monument of his own shame” (1:217). In my opinion, Smith’s responses to his critics were long on accusation and short on substance.
23. Andrew H. Hedges, “Lucy Smith’s History and Abner Cole’s Piracy of Extracts from the Book of Mormon,” in Alexander L. Baugh and Andrew H. Hedges, eds., Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint Church History: New York-Pennsylvania (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, 2002), 56-57, 62; emphasis added.
26. Kyle R. Walker and Douglas E. Craig, review of Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith by Robert D. Anderson and The Sword of Laban: Joseph Smith Jr. and the Dissociated Mind by William D. Morain, in the Journal of Mormon History 30 (Spring 2004).
48. See my “Echoes of Anti-Masonry: A Rejoinder to Critics of the Anti-Masonic Thesis” in American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon, eds. Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 299-302.
51. William J. Hamblin, “The Bow and Arrow in the Book of Mormon,” in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, eds. Stephen D. Ricks and William J. Hamblin (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990), 373; see also William J. Hamblin and A. Brint Merrill, “Swords in the Book of Mormon,” 345, for quote about carburized iron.