Richard L. Bushman
Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling
NYC: A. A. Knopf, 2005
Introduction Mr. Schroeder
Rev. Campbell Bad Thoughts?
MS Found Manuscript Lost
The 600 lb. Gorilla Conclusion
ROUGH STONE ROLLING
RICHARD LYMAN BUSHMAN
with the assistance of
ALFRED A. KNOPF [ ] NEW YORK 2005
[ 84 ]
Our lives passed away, like as were unto us a dream, we being a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers cast out from Jerusalem.
The Book of Mormon is a thousand-year history of the rise and fall of a religious civilization in the Western Hemisphere beginning about 600 BCE. A briefer history of a second civilization, beginning at the time of the Tower of Babel and extending till a few hundred years before Christ, is summarized in thirty-five pages near the end. The founders of the main group were Israelites who migrated from Jerusalem and practiced their religion in the New World until internal wars brought them to the verge of extinction in 421 CE, when the record ends. During the thousand years, wars are fought, governments crumble, prophets arise, people are converted and fall away, and Jesus Christ appears after His resurrection.
The book has been difficult for historians and literary critics from outside Mormondom to comprehend. A text that inspires and engages Mormons baffles outside readers. Mark Twain dismissed it as "chloroform in print." Bernard DeVoto called it "a yeasty fermentation, formless, aimless and inconceivably absurd... a disintegration." Histories of American literature usually ignore the Book of Mormon. It seems subliterary, either simple or unintelligible. Harold Bloom, sympathetic to Mormonism in other
A NEW BIBLE 85
respects, could not "recommend that the book be read either fully or closely, because it scarcely sustains such reading." Perhaps because she had been reared a Mormon, Fawn Brodie saw the Book of Mormon differently: "Its structure shows elaborate design, its narrative is spun coherently, and it demonstrates throughout a unity of purpose." Mormon scholars find depth in the book and offer readings that uncover layer after layer of meaning. "I'm drawn to its narrative sweep, complexity of plots, array of characters who inhabit this world, and the premise that the book is about ultimate matters, 17 says the literary critic Robert Rees. 1 And so opinion divides. The book has been controversial from the moment of its publication until now.
Contemporaries thought of the book as a "bible," and that may be the best one-word description. Martin Harris referred to the manuscript as the "Mormon Bible" when he was negotiating with the printer. Newspapers derisively called it the "Gold Bible." 2 Eber D. Howe, the Painesville, Ohio, editor who took an interest in Mormonism, described the recovery of the Book of Mormon, as "a pretended discovery of a new Bible, in the bowels of the earth." The literary historian Lawrence Buell, after describing the desire of New England authors to write books with the authority of the Bible, notes that "the new Bible did not get written, unless one counts the Book of Mormon." 3
The table of contents has a biblical feel. It lists fifteen books with titles like "The Book of Jacob," "The Book of Mosiah," "The Book of Helaman," and so on through Nephi, Enos, Jarom, Alma, Mormon, Ether, and Moroni, just as the Bible names its divisions after Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and Micah. But unlike the Bible, these books are not divided into histories and prophetic books. History and prophecy are interwoven, sermons and visions mingling with narrative.
The Book of Mormon tells the story of a family founding a civilization. The main story opens in Jerusalem on the eve of the Babylonian captivity. 4 Lehi, one of many prophets foretelling the city's doom, is told to flee the city with his wife and children and one other family. Drawn by the lure of a promised land, they are led into the wilderness of the Arabian peninsula. Like Abraham leaving Ur and Moses departing Egypt, Lehi is told God has a place for them. Lehi's band wanders in the wilderness for eight years (not forty like the children of Israel), until somewhere along the seacoast (seemingly the Arabian Sea) they are told to construct a ship. After a protracted voyage, they reach their promised land. The name America is never used, but readers universally thought Lehi's company had arrived in the Western Hemisphere. 5
In the New World, the migrants build a temple and follow the law of Moses much like the society they left in Palestine, but their religion is explicitly Christian. They live under the constant threat of war, not from
1 Twain quoted in Cracroft, "Mark Twain," 137; De Voto, "Mormonism," 5; Bloom, American Religion, 86; Brodie, No Man Knows, 69; Rees, "American Renaissance," 83. For literary investigations of the Book of Mormon, see, for example, King, "Joseph Smith as Writer," 192-205; King, "Account of My Conversion," 26-28; King, "Language Themes in Jacob 5," 140-73; Arnold, Sweet Is the Word; Card, "Artifact or Artifice," 13-45; Thomas, Digging in Cumorah; Rust, Feasting on the Word; Brown, Jerusalem to Zarahemla.
2 John H. Gilbert, Memorandum (1892), in EMD, 2:543. "The book is chiefly garbled from the Old and New Testaments," a Palmyra correspondent wrote to an Ohio paper. Painesville Telegraph, March 22, 1831 - See also Rochester Gem, Sept. 5, 1829.
3 MoU, 11; Buell, New England Literary Culture, 183.
4 Welch, Seely, and Seely, Glimpses of Lehi's Jerusalem.
5 BofM, 7,9,39,42,49,59-60 (1 Nephi 1:18-19; 2:2-6, 16,20; 16:I4; 17:1,4,8; 18:23; 2 Nephi 1:4-5).
outside invaders, but between factions of their own society. The sons of Lehi quarrel, and brothers Laman and Lemuel attack the families of brothers Nephi, Sam, Jacob, and Joseph. Out of a family dispute grows a lasting division between Lamanites and Nephites who battle year after year until, after a thousand years, the Lamanites destroy the Nephites. Moroni, the last of the Nephite prophets to record the history, writes his closing words on the gold plates that had been accumulating since the beginning. He buries them, and fourteen hundred years later, returning as an angel, he directs Joseph Smith to the plates. 6
Nephite prophets teach the coming of Christ and are told of the star that will rise at the time of Christ's birth. At the Crucifixion, three days of darkness settle on the New World, and after the resurrection, Christ descends in glory. As He is about to appear, the Father speaks from heaven, echoing events at Jesus's baptism and at the Mount of Transfiguration: "Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." During His stay among the Nephites, Christ repeats the Sermon on the Mount. He blesses children, prophesies the future of the descendants of Lehi, appoints twelve disciples, and tells them to baptize and administer bread and wine in remembrance of His death. 7 Altogether, the Book of Mormon can be thought of as an extension of the Old and New Testaments to the Western Hemisphere.
The book explains itself as largely the work of Mormon, a military figure who leads the Nephites, from about 327 to 385 CE, in the twilight of their existence as a nation. Mormon is one of more than a score of powerful personalities to emerge in history. Precociously eminent, he is appointed at fifteen to lead the Nephite armies. (He gives no reason for his elevation except that "notwithstanding I being young was large in stature.") In the same year, "being somewhat of a sober mind," he is "visited of the Lord," making him both prophet and general. From then until the Lamanites cut him down, still fighting in his seventies, Mormon and his people are swept this way and that by the tides of battle. 8
Mormon writes at a time when Nephite civilization has fallen into decay. Much of the time, Mormon despairs of victory because of his people's iniquity. Even the bitterness of war does not soften their hearts. Theirs is "the sorrowing of the damned, because the Lord would not always suffer them to take happiness in sin." Rather than come to Jesus in humility as Mormon desires, "they did curse God, and wish to die." Mormon stands by his people despite their wickedness and "loved them, according to the love of God... with all my heart." He prays for them, but "without faith, because of the hardness of their hearts," leading them into battle year after year until an especially great victory convinces the Nephites that final vengeance is possible through an offensive war. At this point, Mormon refuses to lead the people any longer. The Lord tells him that "vengeance is mine, and I
6 BofM, 72, 474, 547-48, 574 (2 Nephi 5:10, 16; 3 Nephi 9:19; Mormon 8:1; Moroni 1:1-4); Bushman, "Lamanite View," 2:52-72; ManH A-1, in PJS, 1:277-78.
7 BofM, 445-46, 471-72, 476-85, 490, 496-502, 506 (Helaman 14:3-5,20; 3 Nephi 8:23; 11:7, 12-14, 21-22; 12:1; 17:21; 18:5-6, 20-21; 26:14); Matthew 3:17; 17:5. On the debate over the sermon, see Larson, "Sermon on the Mount," 23-45, and Welch, Sermon at the Temple.
8 BofM, 519-20, 531-32 (Mormon 2:1; 1:15; 2:2; 8:1-5).
A NEW BIBLE 87
will repay," and adds that because of their wickedness this people "shall be cut off from the face of the earth." 9
While out of the Nephite wars, Mormon goes to the hill Shim where the records of the nation are buried. The prophets have kept accounts of their prophesying, governing, and wars, and Mormon undertakes to compile a history from the plates they have produced. The title page calls the book "an abridgment of the Record of the People of Nephi." As editor, Mormon is unusually forthcoming about his sources. One segment comes from Nephi, another portion from Alma. A little headnote by Mormon, for example, indicates "the words of Alma which he delivered to the people in Gideon, according to his own record." Or "THE RECORD OF ZENIFF, An account of his people, from the time they left the land of Zarahemla, until the time that they were delivered out of the hands of the Lamanites." At one point, Mormon interrupts the narrative to say that when he was halfway through the record, he stumbled across another set of plates, which he is now adding: "After that I had made an abridgment from the plates of Nephi, down to the reign of this king Benjamin, of whom Amaleki spake, I searched among the records which had been delivered into my hands, and I found these plates, which contained this small account of the Prophets, from Jacob, down to the reign of this king Benjamin." 10
One gets a picture of Mormon surrounded by piles of plates, extracting a narrative from the collection, and not completely aware of all there is. At various points while hurrying through the records, he interjects a comment about how much he is leaving out, as if overwhelmed by his abundant sources. Mormon makes no effort to hide his part in constructing the book. The entire Book of Mormon is an elaborate framed tale of Mormon telling about a succession of prophets telling about their encounters with God. Read in the twenty-first century, the book seems almost postmodern in its self-conscious attention to the production of the text. 11
Mormon introduces a large number of characters and places into his saga. Nearly 350 names are listed in the pronunciation guide at the back of modern editions -- Paanchi, Pachus, Pacumeni, Pagag, Pahoran, Palestina, Pathros.  Quite out of nowhere, Mormon describes a system of weights and measures in senines, seons, shums, and limnahs, following a numerical system based on eight rather than the conventional ten. He moves the armies, the prophets, and the people about on a landscape, taking time to sketch in the geography of the Nephite nation. Naturally, Mormon the general gives special attention to armaments, military tactics, and battles.  Architecture, animals, and trade are dealt with. Although the book is above all a religious history of prophesying, preaching, faithfulness, and apostasy, Mormon evokes an entire world.
Among the leading characters are Nephi, the unbendingly good younger
9 BofM, 521, 523-24 (Mormon 2:13-14; 3:3, 9-12, 14-15).
10 BofM, 239, 173, 151 (Alma 7, Mosiah 9; Words of Mormon 3).
11 On the structure of the Book of Mormon, see Brewster, "Theory of Evolutionary Development," 109-40; and Brown, "Lehi's Personal Record," 19-42. On Mormon as editor, see Hardy, "Mormon as Editor," 15-28.
12 Hoskisson, "Names in the Book of Mormon," 580-81; and the special issue on names in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9, no. 1 (2000).
13 BofM, 251-52 (Alma 11:4-19); Welch, "Weighing and Measuring," 36-45; Smith, "Weights and Measures"; Ricks and Hamblin, Warfare in the Book of Mormon; and Hamblin, "Importance of Warfare," 523-43.
brother; Sariah, the dutiful, outspoken mother; Benjamin, the righteous king who speaks to his people from a tower; Ammon, the warrior missionary who wins hearts by faithfully serving a Lamanite king; Alma, the prodigal son who is converted like Paul and becomes a champion of the gospel; the hot-blooded General Moroni; Samuel, the brave Lamanite prophet who stands on a wall to warn the Nephites until they drive him away. Then there are the heretics, Sherem, Nehor, and Korihor, who challenge the Nephites with wayward dogmas ranging from universalism to atheism. Korihor, the atheist, claimed that belief was the "effect of a phrensied mind," and that "every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength." 14 Along with the heretics are the villains Kishkumen, the assassin of judges, and Gadianton, the organizer of secret bands for robbery and murder. Such characters and their stories are incorporated into the broader account of peoples prospering and failing and civilizations rising and falling.
A writer in 1841 commented that "it is difficult to imagine a more difficult literary task than to write what may be termed a continuation of the Scriptures." Yet Joseph Smith dictated the bulk of the Book of Mormon from early April to late June 1829. When forays for food, travel from Harmony to Fayette, and applications to printers are deducted, the amount of time available for translating most of the book's 584 pages was less than three months. 15
CRITICISMEven before the Book of Mormon was published in March 1830, the press had an explanation for its creation. In its first announcement in June 1829, the Wayne Sentinel commented that "most people entertain an idea that the whole matter is the result of a gross imposition, and a grosser superstition." The book was part of a scheme to swindle gullible victims. In this case, Martin Harris, "an honest and industrious farmer," was thought to be Joseph Smith's mark. Everyone else in town, the Palmyra Freeman reported, treated the gold plates story "as it should have been -- with contempt." 16 They discouraged publication to stop Joseph Smith from ensnaring more victims like Harris.
In a slightly more philosophical spirit, the editors offered an additional explanation. They placed Joseph Smith in a long line of false prophets beginning with Muhammad. Abner Cole, the obstreperous editor of the Palmyra Reflector, listed a set of examples as he began his account of Joseph Smith: "By way of introduction, and illustration, we shall introduce brief notices and sketches of the superstitions of the ancients -- the pretended science of alchymy... of Mahomet (properly Mahommed) and other ancient
14 BofM, 305 (Alma 30:16-17).
15 T&S, Feb. 1, 1841, 305-306; Welch, "Miraculous Translation," 102, estimates there were sixty-three translating days.
16 Wayne Sentinel, June 26, 1829; Painesville Telegraph, Sept. 22, 1829 (from Palmyra Freeman, ca. Aug. 1829).
A NEW BIBLE 89
impostures... the Morristown Ghost, Rogers, Walters, Joanna Southcote, Jemima Wilkinson, &c."
Joseph was categorized as a false prophet with the usual following of ignorant dupes. Hapless uneducated souls always stood ready to believe the most extravagant tales. As Cole put it: "The page of history informs us, that from time immemorial, MAN has more or less been the dupe of superstitious error and imposition; so much so, that some writers in derision have called him 'a religious animal,' and it often happens that the more absurd the dogma, the more greedily will it be swallowed."
The categories were well entrenched and beyond contradiction; the only question was why Joseph Smith's appearance in an enlightened age. "It was hardly to be expected, that a mummery like the one in question, should have been gotten up at so late a period, and among a people, professing to be enlightened." 17 In mock despair, Cole lamented the failure of humanity to progress.
The categories of false prophet, superstition, and dupe so commanded the thinking of most editors that credit has to be given to the best informed of the early critics, Alexander Campbell, for reading enough of the Book of Mormon, to offer a reasoned critique. Founder of the Disciples of Christ and one of the country's most notable theologians and preachers, Campbell turned his attention to the Book of Mormon when Mormon missionaries made converts in one of his strongholds in northeastern Ohio in 1830 and 1831 and won over Sidney Rigdon, a luminary in Campbell's reformed Baptist movement. Campbell's critique appeared in his own Millennial Harbinger on February 7, 1831, and was reprinted in Boston in 1832 under the title Delusions: An Analysis of the Book of Mormon; with an Examination of Its Internal and External Evidences, and Refutation of Its Pretences to Divine Authority. The words "internal and external evidences" in the title referred to the usual methods for proving the Bible in Campbell's time, indicating he took the Book of Mormon seriously.
Campbell thought Joseph Smith was "as ignorant and as impudent a knave as ever wrote a book." He had cobbled together fragments of American Protestant culture, mixed theological opinions with politics, and presented the whole in Yankee vernacular. The book had touches of anti-Masonry and republican government, interspersed with opinions on all the contemporary theological questions: "infant baptism, ordination, the trinity, regeneration, repentance, justification, the fall of man, the atonement, transubstantiation, fasting, penance, church government, religious experience, the call to the ministry, the general resurrection, eternal punishment."
For Campbell, the Book of Mormon was anything but another Bible. "I would as soon compare a bat to the American eagle, a mouse to a mammoth... as to contrast it with a single chapter in all the writings of the Jewish
17 Palmyra Reflector, Jan. 6, 18, 1831.
or Christian prophets." Here was an awkward effort to treat "every error and almost every truth discussed in N. York for the last ten years." 18
Campbell dismissed the intricate plot and the huge array of characters as "romance." Subsequent critics were less dismissive. They felt they had to explain the origins of the Book of Mormon's complex story. The problem, as one newspaper editor wrote in 1839, was to account for a work "being evidently the production of a cultivated mind, yet found in the hands of an exceedingly ignorant illiterate person." 19 Two years after Campbell's pamphlet, an explanation was forthcoming from Eber D. Howe, the editor of the Painesville Telegraph, a few miles from Mormon headquarters in Kirtland, Ohio. In 1834, Howe published the findings of Doctor Philastus Hurlbut, an excommunicated Mormon and a violent enemy of Joseph Smith who had been employed by followers of Campbell to collect derogatory reports on Smith. Hurlbut found a half dozen old-timers in Conneaut, Ohio, who thought the Book of Mormon resembled a novel written twenty years earlier by Solomon Spaulding, a Dartmouth graduate and former town resident. The Conneaut people swore that the Spaulding story described lost tribes of Israel moving from Jerusalem to America led by characters named Nephi and Lehi. One deponent remembered the names Moroni and Zarahemia. 20
Hurlbut tracked down Spaulding's widow, who was living in Massachusetts, and eventually located a manuscript called "Manuscript Found." Spaulding's story told of a party of Romans blown off course en route to Britain during the heyday of the Roman Empire. Landing in America, the Romans lived among the Indian tribes and wrote an account of their experiences addressed to future generations. Spaulding purportedly discovered the parchments and translated them from the Latin. To Hurlbut's disappointment, none of the telltale names cited by his informants appeared in the novel, and the story bore little resemblance to the Book of Mormon apart from the migration to the New World. Hurlbut concluded his deponents must have had another manuscript in mind and laid the "Manuscript Found" aside. Piecing together one surmise after another, he and Howe decided that Sidney Rigdon, the only Mormon with the wit to write the Book of Mormon, had obtained Spaulding's non-extant second manuscript in Pittsburgh, where Spaulding had submitted his work for publication and where Rigdon had lived for a time. According to the theory, Rigdon transformed the novel into the Book of Mormon by adding the religious parts. He conveyed the manuscript to Smith without being detected, and then pretended to be converted when the missionaries brought the Book of Mormon, to Kirtland in 1830. Given the complexity of the book, there had to have been "from the beginning of the imposture, a more talented knave behind the curtain. 20
The Spaulding theory remained the standard explanation of the Book of
18 Campbell, Delusions, 11, 13, 15.
19 Campbell, Delusions, 6; Western Banner, May 28, 1839, [copied from the New York Express, c. May 1, 1839]
20 MoU, 278-87, esp. 279 and 283.
21 Spaulding, Manuscript Found; Bush, "Spalding Theory," 40-69; MoU, 278, 100, 289-90.
A NEW BIBLE 91
Mormon for more than a century. As long as thirty and forty years after the book's publication, new witnesses were discovered, linking Rigdon to the manuscript and verifying the resemblances between the two works. In the 1860s, accounts of Joseph Smith's early life began to make references to shadowy strangers in the neighborhood, presumably Rigdon smuggling in the manuscript, even though Rigdon, still alive at the time, vigorously denied it. 22 The theory was elaborated year after year as witnesses remembered incriminating facts they had forgotten earlier.
The downfall of the Spaulding theory began in 1884 when "Manuscript Found" -- still never published and subsequently lost -- turned up in Hawaii and came into the hands of James Fairchild, president of Oberlin College. In an article on the Spaulding theory, Fairchild concluded that the manuscript Hurlbut found was the novel that the witnesses remembered and that the alleged second manuscript never existed. He said evidence for any Spaulding manuscript coming into the hands of Rigdon and thence to Smith was tenuous. Although conservative in his judgment, Fairchild concluded that the theory did not hold water. 23
Around the turn of the nineteenth century, a few students of Mormonism -- Woodbridge Riley, Theodore Schroeder, and Walter Prince -- offered a new explanation of the Book of Mormon's composition. They did not so much refute Spaulding as supply an alternate theory in the spirit of Alexander Campbell. The book, these authors hypothesized, showed signs of Joseph Smith's psychology and culture, and so must be his work. In 1945, Fawn Brodie, whose biography was acknowledged by non-Mormon scholars as the premier study of Joseph Smith, explicitly rebutted the Spaulding theory, noting chronological inconsistencies, dubious testimonies, and the absence of evidence for a link to Rigdon. Brodie turned instead to the analysis of Riley and, before him, Campbell. The Book of Mormon was best explained, Brodie argued, by Joseph Smith's "responsiveness to the provincial opinions of his time." 24 Interest in the Spaulding theory revived in 1977 when handwriting experts speculated that Spaulding's writing appeared in the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon, but on further consideration the experts backed off, and the theory assumed the status of an historiographical artifact without credibility among serious scholars.
The fall of the Spaulding theory turned critical scholarship in a new direction. In the half century since Brodie, all the critics have assumed that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon. They have pointed to the signs of its nineteenth-century production, on the one hand, and the lack of supporting archeological evidence in the supposed Book of Mormon lands, on the other. In one sense, the modern critics have perpetuated the older project of proving the fraudulence of the Book of Mormon by showing it is not the historical text it claims to be; in another sense, latter-day critics have broken with their predecessors. Much of the current critical scholarship
22 Tucker, Origin, 27, 45; Bush, "Spalding Theory," 49-50.
23 Bush, "Spalding Theory," 53-55.
24 Brodie, No Man Knows, 69.
comes from disaffected former Mormons who are still fascinated by Mormon texts. Some have sought less to destroy Mormonism than to reshape it. Much of their work is supported by Smith Research Associates or the Smith-Pettit Foundation and is published by Signature Books, all headed by George D. Smith, a San Francisco businessman with a Mormon pedigree. Much of this scholarship aims to convince readers that the Book of Mormon can be inspiring even if it is not historically authentic, much as critical readings of the Bible do not foreclose its use as a devotional text. 25 They do not deny the book's "interesting and impressive literary, theological, psychological, and spiritual qualities"; they claim that "such writing can be as powerful in providing people with spiritual guidance as non-fiction." These critics want to make Joseph Smith a compelling religious writer rather than a visionary revelator, adopting the posture of enlightened friends trying to persuade Mormons to adjust to the modern world. 26
The modern critics write with the same confidence as the nineteenth-century skeptics. They are certain that any reasonable person who takes an objective, scientific approach to the Book of Mormon will recognize "the obvious fictional quality" of the book. They point to evidence in the book of the anti-Masonic agitation stirring New York in the years when it was being translated. In the doctrinal portions, they see anti-Universalist language and imitations of camp-meeting preaching. The critics complain that the Isaiah passages quoted by Nephi draw upon portions of the book now thought to be pseudepigrapha, composed long after the Nephites left Jerusalem. Turning to archeology, they point out that archeological digs have produced no evidence of Nephite civilization, yielding no horse bones, for example, an animal named in the Book of Mormon. Most recently, an anthropological researcher has claimed that Native American DNA samples correspond to Asian patterns, precluding Semitic origins. In view of all the evidence, the critics believe defense of the book's authenticity is hopeless. 27
Proponents of the Book of Mormon face an uphill battle in resisting this onslaught. They not only have to reply to the criticism, they must work against the prevailing belief that the story of the plates and the angel must be fantasy. As Harold Bloom has observed, in modern times "angels violate the law of nature." 28 According to contemporary reasoning, Joseph Smith's story of translating gold plates simply cannot be true. The proponents have to overcome this ingrained disbelief along with the specific criticisms. Yet they refuse to concede that the Book of Mormon is no more than inspiring sacred fiction. For them, the value of the book goes beyond the inspiration offered readers. Its historicity is the foundation for believing that Joseph Smith was commissioned by God. To put him in the category of devotional writer, reducing his work to the level of purely human achievement, rips the heart out of Mormon belief. 29
With so much at stake, the proponents are as energetic and ingenious as
25 Vogel and Metcalfe, American Apocrypha, ix.
26 Vogel and Metcalfe, American Apocrypha, ix; Hutchinson, "Word of God," 1-2; G. Smith, "B. H. Roberts," 94-111; Vogel, Mormon Scripture, vii-ix. Robert Price, a non-Mormon, makes the same plea in "Prophecy and Palimpsest," 67-82.
27 Vogel and Metcalfe, American Apocrypha, viii, ix; Vogel, "Anti-Masonry," 275-320, and "'Anti-Masonick Bible,'" 17-30; Vogel, "Anti-Universalist Rhetoric," 21-54; Wright, "Isaiah in the Book of Mormon," 157-234; Murphy, "Lamanite Genesis," 47-77; Ashment, "Ancient Egyptian," 374. For attempts to mediate and moderate this conflict, see Rees, "American Renaissance," 104-109; and Thomas, Digging in Cumorah, 1-32.
28 Bloom, Omens of Millennium, 51.
29 Givens, American Scripture, 180-84; Rees, "American Renaissance," 87-88; Midgley, "Critics and Their Theories," 101-39, esp. 126-28.
A NEW BIBLE 93
the critics in mustering support for the historicity of the Book of Mormon. On the whole better trained, with more technical language skills than their opponents, they are located mainly at Brigham Young University and associated with the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS). 30 As a loosely coordinated group, they are as assiduous in demonstrating the historical authenticity of the book as the critics are in situating it in the nineteenth century. The two scholarships almost mirror one another, one drawing parallels with nineteenth-century culture and the other with antiquity. 31
The proponents are not searching for a single conclusive proof that the Book of Mormon is ancient; instead they draw attention to scores of details that resemble the local color and cultural forms of ancient Hebrew culture, many of them unknown even to scholars when Joseph Smith was writing. They find passages written in the Hebrew poetic form of chiasmus, where a series of statements reverses at a midpoint and repeats itself in reverse order. 32 The proponents note how chapters about a Nephite king bestowing his crown on his son conform to the coronation rituals of antiquity. The "reformed Egyptian" in the Book of Mormon, the proponents say, compares to ancient Meroitic, which used Egyptian characters to write Meroitic words. The extended parable of the olive orchard in Jacob 5 reveals an accurate understanding of olive tree culture. In response to the absence of horse bones in Latin American archeology, the proponents point out that no archeological evidence of horses has been found in regions occupied by the Huns, a society dependent on horses. Proponents are quick to note that a Book of Mormon archeological site in the Middle East has been tentatively located. The Book of Mormon describes Lehi's journey down the Arabian peninsula and directly east to the Gulf of Arabia. Here Lehi's people came upon a pocket of fertile land and bounteous food in an otherwise desert area. A site in Oman fulfills many of the Book of Mormon requirements. Along this route, a site has been located that bears the name "Nhm," corresponding to the name Nahom given in the Book of Mormon as one stop on Lehi's journey. 33 On point after point, the proponents answer the critics and assemble their own evidence. 34 Unlike the critics, they do not claim their case is conclusive; they accumulate evidence, but admit belief in the Book of Mormon requires faith. 35
One of the most interesting turns in recent Mormon argumentation is a revised conception of the extent of Book of Mormon lands. Early readers assumed the Book of Mormon people ranged up and down North and South America from upstate New York to Chile. A close reading of the text reveals it cannot sustain such an expansive geography. Measured by journeys on foot, events occurred much closer to one another than previously thought. The entire area, these scholars now estimate, was perhaps 500 miles long and 200 miles wide, a patch of land comparable in size to ancient Palestine....
30 FARMS is now one component of the Institute for the Study and Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts (ISPART).
31 Salmon, "Parallelomania," 129-56. For a non-Mormon assessment of the apologetic scholarship, see Mosser and Owen, "Mormon Apologetic Scholarship," 203; and for a critical analysis by a Mormon, see Judkins, "Book of Mormon Apologetics." Representative apologetics can be found in Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, and Approach to the Book of Mormon. See also Brown, Jerusalem to Zarahemla; Welch, Sermon at the Temple; and Parry, Peterson, and Welch, Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon.
32 Welch, "Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon," 69-84; Welch, Chiasmus in Antiquity. On the ignorance of chiasmus in Joseph Smith's time, see Welch, "Chiasmus in 1829," 47-80, responding to Quinn, Early Mormonism, 500-501, which claims chiasmus was available to Joseph Smith by 1825.
33 Nibley, Approach to the Book of Mormon, 296-310; Tvedtnes, "Feast of the Tabernacles," 2:197-237; Ricks, "Kingship, Coronation, and Covenant," 233-75; Nibley, Since Cumorah, 149-50; Hamblin, "Reformed Egyptian"; Hess, "Botanical Comparisons," 87-102; Ricks and Welch, Allegory of the Olive Tree; Aston and Aston, Footsteps of Lehi; Aston, "Arabian Bountiful," 4-21; Brown, "Ancient Yemen," 66-68; and Aston, "Altars from Nahom," 56-61.
34 The rejoinder to the Asian DNA argument is given in Journal of Book of mormon Studies 12, no. 1 (2003). The leading figure in assembling evidence from Meso-America is John L. Sorenson. In addition to his work on geography cited below, see his Nephite Culture and Society and "Mesoamerican Record," 391-521.
35 The current state of Mormon scholarship is summarized in Givens, American Scripture, 117-57; and the 900-page Largey, Book of Mormon Reference. Collections of current work can be found in Reynolds, Authorship and Authorship Revisited. The balance of evidence for both ancient and modern authorship has led one scholar to argue the Book of Mormon is a pseudepigraphic text, that is, an ancient writing with modern interpolations by Joseph Smith. Ostler, "Modern Expansion," 66-123. A similar view is expressed by a non-Mormon, Krister Stendahl, in "Third Nephi," 139-54.
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(pages 144-147 not transcribed, due to
148 JANUARY--JUNE 1831
glory resting upon our house." Before his conversion, Jonathan Crosby "dreamed that some new preachers came with a book containing new doctrine, and which threw new light on the bible, and their preaching was different from that of all others, and that I rejoiced in it." 14 Looking back in 1877, Edward Tullidge, an English convert, remembered that "at about the same time Joseph Smith was receiving the administration of angels, thousands both in America and Great Britain were favored with corresponding visions and intuitions." 15
By the 1820s, the Methodists were retreating from their visionary beginnings, taming extravagant impulses as the church grew in size and respectability. 16 Visionary religion was still a current within denominational religions but less of a generative force. Mormons (and Shakers) preserved a type of religion that was gradually dimming. Conventional churches already prevailed in Kirtland when the Smiths arrived. The Congregationalists had organized in 1819 and a few years later constructed a frame meeting-house. From about 1820 on, Methodists had a small church across the street from the future Mormon temple site. A Calvinist Baptist church (as distinguished from the Freewill Baptists) was meeting by 1830. 17
Not everyone found a spiritual home in these congregations. Elizabeth and Newel Whitney chose to go outside the established churches looking for religion. "We united ourselves with the Campbellites," she later explained, "who were then making many converts, and whose principles seemed most in accordance with the Scriptures." 18 Campbell condemned visionary religion, but shared the desire for a more pure and powerful religion based on the New Testament. Visionaries sought spiritual gifts; Campbell sought exact conformity to New Testament organization and doctrine.
Alexander Campbell's followers, calling themselves Reformed Baptists, sought to strip away everything added since the age of the apostles. Campbell's fellow reformer, Walter Scott, reduced the Gospel to five simple points: faith, repentance, baptism by immersion, remission of sins, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Claiming to establish the "scriptural order of the gospel," the Reformed Baptists made hundreds of converts. Sidney Rigdon, who taught doctrines close to Campbell's, built up a congregation of fifty members in Mentor, the township directly north of Kirtland, and another fifty in Kirtland itself. 19 The Reformed Baptists provided a home for people like the Whitneys who wanted stronger religion.
Though committed to the New Testament, Campbell was averse to "gifts" -- prophecy, visions, tongues, and hearings. He wanted to restore only the ancient doctrine and church practices. Miracles in the time of Christ, Campbell believed, supported the original apostles' claim to divine revelation. They were not to be enjoyed by modern Christians -- except as evidence. The Campbellite response to Joseph Smith was to demand miracles,
14 MoU, 261-62; Woman's Exponent, Sept. 1, 1878, 51; Crosby, "Biographical Sketch," .
15 Tullidge, Women of Mormondom, 44-45. John Brooke presents tentative figures to show that early converts came from families that "had long stood outside the mainstream of New England orthodoxy." Brooke, Refiner's Fire, 65, 306-309. For a statistical analysis of Mormon cultural origins, see Grandstaff and Backman, "Kirtland Mormons," 47-66.
16 Wigger, Taking Heaven, 124, 181-89. Later this supernaturalist impulse was channeled into spiritualism. Cross, Burned-Over District, 341-52. Cross's concept of "ultraism" comes close to Wigger's "supernaturalism."
17 Backman, Heavens Resound, 38-39.
18 Woman's Exponent, Sept. 1, 1878, 51.
19 Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, 44-45; Backman, Heavens Resound, 13-14.
THE KIRTLAND VISIONARIES 149
but only as proof of his purported visions. 20 Campbell was unsympathetic to the visionaries' desire for stronger spiritual food as a regular diet. He could not understand Sidney Rigdon's search for something more. In late October 1830, on the eve of the Mormons' arrival, Rigdon "had often been unable to sleep, walking and praying for more light and comfort in his religion." The next month, he led a parade of believers into Joseph Smith's fold. Campbellites were appalled that people would blindly accept revelations on so little evidence. 21
Campbell was equally opposed to the New Testament practice of common property, a principle a few families in the Kirtland area with Rigdon's encouragement tried to follow. 22 Isaac Morley, a member of Rigdon's congregation, organized a communitarian system of property under which Morley shared property with eleven families called "the Family," and spawned a smaller branch of five families under Lyman Wight in nearby Mayfield. Uncertainty about who owned what led to "confusion and disappointments," but the group persisted from February 1830 until Joseph and Emma arrived the next year. 23 Virtually all members of the Family were baptized in the first wave of Mormon conversions.
Independent spirits like these made up the congregations that greeted Joseph Smith when he arrived in Kirtland in 1831. Many were ready to believe before they saw the Prophet. Philo Dibble was immediately interested when he learned "that four men had come to Kirtland with a golden Bible, and one of them had seen an angel." Dibble refused to "make light of such a subject," though others scoffed. He "thought that if angels had administered to the children of men again, I was glad of it." When he heard Oliver Cowdery's preaching, Dibble asked for baptism -- against the warnings of his wife.
When I came out of the water I knew that I had been born of water and of the spirit, for my mind was illuminated with the Holy Ghost. I spent that evening at Dr. F. G. Williams. While in bed that night I felt what appeared to be a hand upon my left shoulder, and a sensation like fibers of fire immediately enveloped my body... I was enveloped in a heavenly influence and could not sleep for joy. 24
Rigdon was baptized within ten days after the four New York missionaries arrived in Mentor on October 28, 1830, and though the majority of his congregation withdrew its support, a few families in Kirtland followed his lead. Before the four missionaries left near the end of November, Rigdon, Isaac Morley, Lyman Wight, and John Murdock were ordained elders and put in charge of more than a hundred converts.
As the news spread, curiosity attracted investigators from the surrounding…
20 MoU, 113-14, 118. When Joseph met Walter Scott in Cincinnati in June 1831, their basic disagreement was over New Testament gifts. ManH A-1, in PJS, :356.
21 Quoted in Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, 44, 62; Backman, Heavens Resound, 15-16. Campbell ascribed Rigdon's conversion to "a peculiar mental and corporeal malady to which he has been subject for some years. Fits of melancholy succeeded by fits of enthusiasm accompanied by some kind of nervous spasms and swoonings." Millennial Harbinger, Feb. 7, 1831, 100.
22 Acts 2:43-45; 4:32. Thomas Campbell, Alexander's father, attacked the communal organization in a letter to Sidney Rigdon, Feb-4, 1831 MoU, 121. For a comparison of the early Mormon and Disciples movements, see Hughes, "Mormons and Churches of Christ," 348-63.
23 Morley, "Isaac Morley"; Whitmer, Book of John Whitmer, 27. Levi Hancock, visiting the "Family," felt sorry for the load taken on by Morley, "one of the most honest patient men I ever saw." "The company he maintained looked large enough to bring on a famine." Hancock, Diary, 42.
24 Quoted in Anderson, "Preaching in Ohio," 488-
150 JANUARY--JUNE 1831
(remainder of chapter not transcribed, due to
Dr. Bushman's Biographical Bridgehead
"To remain undecisive in our interpretations is the most difficult goal we can set for ourselves... Virtue and undecisiveness are defined by the human inadequacy in achieving either, and to elide that difficulty in the latter instance by suggesting an idealistic embrace of scholarly impartiality or universal tolerance of all ideas is simply the opening gambit of an often successful (but always deceptive) rhetorical strategy in defense of one's own convictions and interpretations." -- Melvyn New, "Editor's Introduction," Tristram Shandy, 1997.
The perceptive reader of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling will notice an ironic coincidence in its date and publisher: that is, Dr. Bushman has returned to the same publishing house which gave the world Fawn M. Brodie's ground-breaking Joseph Smith book, sixty years before. This coincidence is an irony in that it provides Bushman with the appearance of displacing and replacing Brodie in the enviable role of definitive source on the first President of the Church of Christ (aka Church of the Latter Day Saints, etc.). It is highly unlikely that Mrs. Brodie or her editors ever envisioned a future in which Alfred A. Knopf would replace her rationalist's reporting with that of a testimony-bearing follower of The Prophet -- but that has been the evident outcome of two generations of Mormon history. Whether it will prove a final outcome, time alone will tell.
In many ways the Bushman volume is a commendable book. Topics like the 1838 Mormon War in Missouri are well handled, with citations of many primary sources not generally given much space by LDS writers. And, after all, it does encapsulate and document the major contributions of many "serious scholars" from the sixty years since Brodie's first edition appeared on the scene. Bushman's opus is a longer and more detailed biography than the one offered by Donna Hill in 1977 and a far less controversial (and more readable) tome than the one provided by Dan Vogel in 2004. Like the earlier work of Givens et al., Dr. Bushman's contribution to knowledge helps establish a respectable bridgehead for faithful LDS history on the far shore of scholarly secular impartiality. This is a book that the learned Gentiles will read and traffic on the bridge will no doubt move in both directions; this will lead to a greater intertwining of future historical reporting by Saints and sinners alike.
The author takes some pains to inform the skeptical portion of his audience that he wishes to face up to the "mistakes and flaws" of Joseph Smith, Jr. (as though admitting that previous books by Mormon writers had missed that lofty mark). All of this will sound good in the ears of many auditors. How well it will play out "in Zion" is another matter, but the author is not likely to suffer rejection by "The Brethren" there any time soon. Besides that, another thing must be admitted for this book -- that it finally turns the corner on Mormonism's controversial past. Even those skeptics who will never in a million years accept Smith as a prophet of God, can now accept him as the genius who brought forth the Book of Mormon and who founded a great, latter day church: the only matter of dispute among the learned gentleman and ladies who insist upon remaining non-members, is precisely how inspired Smith may have been in those herculean efforts. No need from here on out to argue over accusations of any pre-1830 Mormon conspiracy. Mrs. Brodie blazed the trail to that happy realization, and now Dr. Bushman has paved the road there with his stated good intentions. All is well -- or is it?
"All for the Want of a Horseshoe Nail"
On page 91 of his Joseph Smith biography the author makes a remarkable claim, saying that "Theodore Schroeder" (along with his early 20th century contemporaries Woodbridge Riley and Walter Prince) "offered a new explanation of the Book of Mormon's composition" so as to "supply an alternate theory" that bypassed "Spaulding." This assertion by Bushman is not only incorrect but terribly misleading, in that it supplies his readers with precisely the opposite information that they should expect from a serious scholar like himself. In fact, Mr. Schroeder was one of the most vocal and articulate advocates of the Spalding-Rigdon explanation of Book of Mormon origins. During the summer of 1901 Schroeder prepared a 56 page treatise on the subject, for the Salt Lake Ministerial Association -- a booklet which those ministers distributed throughout Utah and adjacent states for the benefit of ill-informed people who then had no easy access to any up-to-date and detailed recital of "Spaulding" (as Dr. Bushman calls the compiled evidence for the Spalding-Rigdon claims). Five years later Mr. Schroeder presented his case for Book of Mormon authorship to a wider audience, in the 1906-07 pages of the well-known American Historical Magazine. Schroeder's serialized communication of "the theory" arrested the attention of LDS historian B. H. Roberts -- who was well aware of Schroeder from his public efforts to thwart Roberts' political ambitions at that time (see David Brudnoy's 1972 article "Sinners and Saints: Theodore Schroeder, Brigham Roberts, and Reed Smoot"). Roberts published a detailed response to Schroeder and "Spaulding" in the 1908-09 issues of that same historical journal -- an exercise in scholarship that led Roberts to research and compile his famous six volume Comprehensive History of the Church (in which his reply to Schroeder is conveniently incorporated). That massive report was first published in the 1909-1915 issues of Americana, the successor to American Historical Magazine.
Theodore Schroeder (1864-1953)
It is very strange that Dr. Bushman should have so conveniently forgotten this important segment in the historiography of Mormonism: it is even more strange that his LDS readers and reviewers have allowed him to get away with such a large blunder unscolded. But perhaps the apparent lapse was intentional on Bushman's part, for he phrases his recollections of Schroeder's writings in hazy language and supplies no footnote. The careful reader will consult Rough Stone Rolling's lengthy bibliography in vain for Schroeder's name (or that of Walter F. Prince, whom he refuted rather than corroborated, regarding "Spaulding"). The net effect of this miscommunication, is that Mr. Schroeder's research and reporting is entirely lost to Bushman's readers, including all that Schroeder had to say about the Mormons' problematic equation of the "Oberlin manuscript" with Solomon Spalding's other pseudo-historical story, "The Manuscript Found." This oversight of Schroeder's true message has provided Bushman with probable deniability, in any reader's questioning regarding another of his blunders. On the same page where Bushman misconstrues Schroeder's scholarly position, the Smith biographer also says that "[James H.] Fairchild concluded that the theory did not hold water." Thus, Bushman can hold up to his readers the alleged learned opinion of a non-LDS academic as the final nail in the coffin of "Spaulding." The only problem with this "closing gambit" is that the Rev. Dr. Fairchild concluded no such thing -- a fact that Schroeder had taken pains to elucidate and document on the very first page of his 1901 Rigdon-Spalding claims booklet. And so, Bushman only provides the appearance of having driven his final spike in "Spaulding's" coffin -- and, indeed, it becomes the missing horseshoe nail by which shoe, horse, rider and battle are all lost, in the hasty effort to ride roughshod over Solomon Spalding's buried legacy.
Campbell's Condensed Concoctions: or Rigdon in the Soup
It should be recognized that Dr. Bushman perhaps had no original intent to go tramping into the Spalding-Rigdon briar patch in his professor's tweeds: he seems to make mention of those old authorship claims merely as a temporary digression from a straight line of "environmentalist" Book of Mormon orgins speculation, beginning with Alexander Campbell (1831) and running down through I. W. Riley (1903), Fawn M. Brodie (1945), Dan Vogel (2004), et al. However, the Spalding-Rigdon explanation for Book of Mormon origins represents such a major digression from this supposed trodden path that Bushman cannot very well ignore the subject altogether. He inserts his thoughts on the venerable conspiracy theory between the historical bookends of Rev. Campbell's criticism and Mrs. Brodie's biography. Bushman begins by saying:
"...credit has to be given to the best informed of the early critics, Alexander Campbell, for reading enough of the Book of Mormon, to offer a reasoned critique. Founder of the Disciples of Christ and one of the country's most notable theologians and preachers, Campbell turned his attention to the Book of Mormon when Mormon missionaries made converts in one of his strongholds in northeastern Ohio in 1830 and 1831 and won over Sidney Rigdon, a luminary in Campbell's reformed Baptist movement. Campbell's critique... [with] 'internal and external evidences' in the title... indicat[es] he took the Book of Mormon seriously.
Bushman provides his readers with no indication of just how Rev. Campbell has gained the reputation of being "the best informed of the early critics," or why it was that Campbell limited his identification of Joseph Smith's purported literary borrowings to theological questions "discussed in New York" during the previous decade. In fact, there is no reason for the modern student of Mormon origins to suppose that Campbell had any special knowledge of Joseph Smith's life and reputation in New York. It is unlikely that at the beginning of 1831 Campbell had heard any reporting from the Palmyra area, saying that folks thereabouts were not crediting Smith with the ability to write the Book of Mormon. It is even more improbable that Campbell believed the theological issues reflected in the Book of Mormon were ideas original to Smith's home area in New York state. Had Bushman probed just a tad more deeply into primary source material he might have discovered that Campbell had only a dim comprehension of the career, character and talents of Joseph Smith, and that Campbell knew full well that the theological "error" and "truth" written into the Mormon scriptures largely overlapped Campbell's own reform preaching among the Baptists in the western parts of Virginia and Pennsylvania, along with adjacent regions in Ohio and Kentucky.
Alexander Campbell (1788-1866)
In other words, Rev. Campbell must have been perceptive enough to have recognized that the Christian primitivist tenets he found embedded within the Mormon book conformed very nicely with his own vocal advocacy of the "restoration of the ancient order of things" in the Christian Church. Even so, at the beginning of 1831 Campbell chose ignore the theological similarities, chose to transfer the responsibility for such "error" and "truth" to the shoulders of Joseph Smith, and chose to transfer the scene of restorationist controversy to far off New York. Why did he do that?
The probable answer for Campbell's editorial obfuscation may be uncovered in the study of later Disciples of Christ publications where Mormon doctrines and probable origins are discussed: it is clear, that from an early date, the writers in that religious restoration movement were unreceptive to the notion that Campbellism had in any way fostered the beginnings of Mormonism. From Campbell himself on down, the major voices for that movement have more or less consistently argued that they bore no responsibility for the infliction of Mormonism upon the world. And yet, even in the midst of all this pointed denial, some early Campbellites admitted a certain odious connection with Mormonism, in the person and predilections of the erstwhile Baptist preacher, Sidney Rigdon. As early as 1843 one of the principal originators of the Disciples, Elder Walter Scott, was divulging "the means by which" Mormonism "stole the True Gospel" from the first Campbellites. Scott was joined in this unhappy admission by coreligionists Rev. Adamson Bentley (the brother-in-law of Sidney Rigdon) and Rev. Alexander Campbell himself, (who accused the writer of the Book of Mormon with having copied the Campbellite principle of baptism for the remission of sins). But, beyond all of this, Campbell also concurred with Scott and Bentley, that Sidney Rigdon had verbally advertised the advent of the Book of Mormon, well before a copy of the volume ever reached northern Ohio. None of this is mentioned in Bushman's short commentary on Campbell -- nor does Bushman take the trouble to admit that Campbell had begun to support the Spalding-Rigdon authorship explanation by the end of 1834. What happened between the years 1831 and 1835 to cause Campbell to transpose his critical accusations from Smith to Rigdon? The likely answer is given in the title of E. D. Howe's 1834 book: Mormonism Unvailed; or, A Faithful Account of that Singular Imposition and Delusion, with Sketches of the Characters and of Its Propagators. To Which Are Added Inquiries into the Probability that the Historical Part of the Golden Bible was Written by One Solomon Spalding, and by Him Intended to be Published as a Romance.
First Anti-Mormon Book (Nov. 1834)
The only allegation of special importance missing from the title-page of Howe's 1834 book was provided in subsequent pages: the claim that the Solomon Spalding's text for the "Golden Bible" had been secretly transferred into Smith's hands at an early date by Elder Sidney Rigdon. By the end of 1834 it no longer behooved Alexander Campbell to focus all of his critical attention upon a young Joseph Smith and purported theological disputes in western New York. By 1834 a substantial portion of Campbell's "Reformed Baptist" following in Ohio had been irrevocably lost to the Mormons. By then Mormonism had shown itself to be more than a passing fad and Rigdon's continued enthusiastic profession of the rival religious sect had scotched Campbell's earlier hopes:
"His [Rigdon's] instability I was induced to ascribe to a peculiar mental and corporeal malady, to which he has been subject for some years. Fits of melancholy succeeded by fits of enthusiasm accompanied by some kind of nervous spasms and swoonings which he has, since his defection, interpreted into the agency of the Holy Spirit, or the recovery of spiritual gifts, produced a versatility in his genius and deportment which has been increasing for some time. I was willing to have ascribed his apostacy to this cause, and to a conceit which he cherished that within a few years, by some marvelous interposition, the long lost tribes of Israel were to be collected, had he not declared that he was hypocritical in his profession of the faith which he has for some time proclaimed. Perhaps this profession of hypocrisy may be attributed to the same cause. This is the only hope I have in his case." (emphasis added)
Having first discovered that Sidney Rigdon's gathering of Israel and spiritual gifts theology was evident in the Book of Mormon, and then realizing that Sidney Rigdon's "peculiar mental and corporeal malady," showed no signs of abating, Alexander Campbell had no choice but to concede the permanent loss of Rigdon to Mormonism and to fall in line with other contemporary observers who were pointing the finger of blame at his old comrade in arms. None of this subsequent development is reported by Dr. Bushman. Rather than his book-ending the Spalding-Rigdon claims with Brodie's uncritical acceptance of Campbell, and with Campbell's own preliminary ruminations of 1831, Bushman would have done better to have wedged Campbell's "Delusions" article in as a calculated but transitory diversion from the earlier Rigdon authorship claims, as documented by LDS Apostle Parly P. Pratt:
"Early in 1831, Mr. Rigdon having been ordained, under our hands, visited elder J. Smith, Jr., in the state of New-York, for the first time; and from that time forth, rumor began to circulate, that he (Rigdon) was the author of the Book of Mormon. The Spaulding story never was dreamed of until several years afterwards, when it appeared in Mormonism Unveiled."
Elder Sidney Rigdon (1793-1876)
(computer enhanced image)
To sum up -- only Campbell, viewing Mormonism from a distance, attributed its new scriptures to Joseph Smith: Mr. Smith's own neighbors were better informed about the young man's abilities and did no such thing. At the same time, some of Sidney Rigdon's neighbors recognized that he did possess the ability and motivation to have produced Mormonism's scriptures and theology. "Campbellism Improved" was what the Hudson, Ohio Observer called Mormonism in 1830; while not many weeks later, the editor of the Cleveland Advertiser opined that "Rigdon was formerly a disciple of Campbell's and who it is said was sent out to make proselytes, but is probable he thought he should find it more advantageous to operate on his own capital, and therefore wrote, as it is believed the Book of Mormon."
The thoughtful reader will here begin to comprehend that the Spalding-Rigdon authorship theory is also an "environmentalist" explanation for the book's origins. And, rather than standing as a causation in opposition to the Smith-as-author notion, the former theory merely enlarges the influential "environment" and promotes Joseph Smith to the role of final redactor and proprietor. Of course, if Spalding and Rigdon are to be admitted to the circle of likely contributors, a reasonable explication for this conclusion should be set before the readers of books like Bushman's. The remainder of this review will focus upon that proposed admission (and the argument against it, as offered in Bushman's reporting).
I think -- Therefore I am... very much mistaken?
Dr. Bushman confines his description of "the Spaulding theory" to pages 90-91 in his chapter entitled "A New Bible;" he begins his discussion by saying:
"Subsequent critics [after Campbell in 1831] were less dismissive. They felt they had to explain the origins of the Book of Mormon's complex story. The problem, as one newspaper editor wrote in 1839, was to account for a work "being evidently the production of a cultivated mind, yet found in the hands of an exceedingly ignorant illiterate person."
Although Bushman can claim some partial accuracy in his chronological development of "criticism" written in response to the 1830 appearance of the Book of Mormon, the impression he here provides is that newspaper editors and other non-Mormon writers were struggling to compile or concoct a new explanation for the book in order to discredit Joseph Smith's own faith-promoting Preface and title page. Or, to put it another way: those who could not accept such a "complex story" and convert to Mormonism, were compelled to invent excuses for so obvious a "production of a cultivated mind." Whatever may have been the opinions and excuses of various and sundry 1830s writers regarding this "complex story," it was not their inventions which propagated the original Solomon Spalding authorship claims for the Mormon book. Bushman does his readers a disservice in failing to differentiate between trends in theorizing among non-Mormon journalists and historical facts relating to the Spalding claims. Bushman's only possible excuse for this heterogeneous mixture of fact and fancy is that he is attempting to give his readers a brief outline of "the Spaulding theory," as it eventually developed in the reporting of those same non-Mormon editors and writers. If this was his aim, however, this latest Smith biographer has overshot his mark and ends up firing upon the "theory" itself.
As previously mentioned, Palmyra area neighbors of Joseph Smith did not credit him with having written the book. Campbell, who wrote at a distance from Smith's original scene of activity may have been unaware of that fact, but he was not the only 1831 reporter who had an explanation to offer on the matter. James G. Bennett, the future editor of the New York Herald, passed through the Palmyra area in the summer of 1831, interviewing local residents, taking notes and subsequently publishing a two part article in which he identified the probable author of the Book of Mormon as an Ohio preacher named "Ringdon, or some such word." This person was clearly perceived by informed readers to have been Rev. Sidney Rigdon of Ohio (a fact confirmed by corrections of the surname's spelling in Ohio newspaper reprints).
So much for the chronological sequence of what early 1830s journalists had to say about Book of Mormon authorship. In the meanwhile events transpiring in northeastern Ohio were setting the stage for the introduction of Solomon Spalding as a purported (but unintentional) contributor to the Mormon book.
Dr. Bushman skips over the immediate causes for the Spalding authorship claims (early 1832 Mormon preaching in Ashtabula Co., Ohio and the non-Mormon reaction) and moves directly to a discussion Eber D. Howe's infamous book; he says:
"In 1834, Howe published the findings of Doctor Philastus Hurlbut, an excommunicated Mormon and a violent enemy of Joseph Smith who had been employed by followers of Campbell to collect derogatory reports on Smith. Hurlbut found a half dozen old-timers in Conneaut, Ohio, who thought the Book of Mormon resembled a novel written twenty years earlier by Solomon Spaulding, a Dartmouth graduate and former town resident."
Whether or not Mr. Hurlbut was a "violent" man is open to question, but Bushman's depiction of the anti-Mormon investigator, as having "been employed" only to assemble "derogatory reports on [Joseph] Smith," is surely a mis-representation of that man's activities in 1833. The 1834 published notice of Hurlbut's employers states:
"The committee were of opinion that the force of truth ought without delay to be applied to the Book of Mormon, and the character of Joseph Smith, Jun. With this object in view, the Committee employed D. P. Hurlbut to ascertain the real origin of the Book of Mormon, and to examine the validity of Joseph Smith's claims to the character of a Prophet."
The remainder of the notice provides the impression that the anti-Mormons made up their minds about Smith's "claims to the character of an honest man," well before Hurlbut's gleanings could be "laid before the public." The notice mentions "the evils which threaten the Public" due to the ongoing Mormon gathering at Kirtland, but that prejudgment need not have caused the committee to manufacture or promulgate false reports -- any patently untrue "derogatory reports" might have been easily met by the Mormons' own publication of testimony from Palmyra area residents and old associates of Solomon Spalding. Besides which, Hurlbut's investigation centered as much on the content and ultimate disposition of Spalding's writings as upon purported misdeeds of Joseph Smith. In order for him to have succeeded in his quest, the anti-Mormon investigator must have sought at least some measure of the "truth" and "validity" later advertised by his financial backers.
No matter Hurlbut's instructions (whether to seek out true and valid evidence or derogatory reports), Bushman informs his readers that he subsequently discovered "a half dozen old-timers in Conneaut, Ohio, who thought the Book of Mormon resembled a novel written twenty years earlier by Solomon Spaulding." This is a backward telling of events, since it was Elder Hurlbut (while still a Mormon) who had stumbled upon a number of those "old-timers" during the first weeks of 1833 and who had almost certainly carried the written statements of two of the old witnesses back to Kirtland, in order to provide incentive for the committee to employ his services in the first place (see Dale W Adams' 2000 reporting of Hurlbut's activities).
Elder D. Philastus Hurlbut's 1832-33 Travels as a Mormon Convert and Missionary
(White highlights show road from New York to Kirtland and approximate mission field)
Again, if Dr. Bushman is merely attempting to summarize the rise and fall of the "Spaulding theory," he can be excused for not providing all of this detail: other authors can write books and articles pointing out how it was that Hurlbut first heard of the Spalding authorship claims, how many witnesses there were to provide him with information, and how he developed that information (which eventually fell into the hands of E. D. Howe and was put before the public in Mormonism Unvailed). But what Bushman really ought to have done was to have better communicated and documented what he means when he speaks of "old-timers in Conneaut, Ohio, who thought the Book of Mormon resembled a novel." The verb thought is an inappropriately vague and potentially deceptive word in which to express the assertive content of those "half dozen" witnesses' 1833 statements. Bushman uses the same word again on page 556 in describing the "later recountings" of some members of an 1844 Nauvoo audience observing Brigham Young, who "thought he looked like Joseph standing there." Bushman generously calls this suspect Mormon testimony "faith-promoting stories," and directs his readers to critical studies largely dismissive of the LDS recollections. All of which paints a picture of "Conneaut witnesses" and Brigham Young observers who provided inaccurate, unreliable and highly partisan memories of a time-clouded event. The thinking of all the Spalding claims witnesses may be totally mistaken -- a delusion -- or, worse yet, a purposeful deception. But is this an accurate depiction of original witness testimony establishing those same Spalding authorship claims?
The Myth of the Manuscript Found
The author of Rough Stone Rolling has written a biography of one particular Mormon, it must be recalled; and a history of "criticism" of the first Mormon holy book is largely tangential to the story of Joseph Smith. By the same token, the history of the evolution of the Spalding-Rigdon authorship theory is (in recent decades at least) largely tangential to assessments of that book's purpose and origin. Nevertheless, considering that Dr. Bushman himself calls it "the standard explanation of the Book of Mormon for more than a century," his readers may be forgiven for expecting that he will supply verifiable facts when he describes that theory. Bushman says that "Hurlbut tracked down Spaulding's widow, who was living in Massachusetts, and eventually located a manuscript called 'Manuscript Found.'" Such a baseless assertion is about as verifiable as if he had written that Hurlbut had tracked down a descendant of the Earl of Oxford and thereby located a manuscript from that worthy's pen called "The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark." Certainly the single Solomon Spalding story that Hurlbut turned over to E. D. Howe near the first of February, 1834 bore no such title. Nor did any "Conneaut witness" so identify it -- nor did any other witness ever call it such. At this point in his biography Dr. Bushman changes from an interpreter of the history he has reconstructed, to a soft-spoken polemicist for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For 120 years this equation (of Hurlbut's literary discovery with the "Manuscript Found" recalled by the Spalding-knowing witnesses) has provided the lynch-pin to all "faith-promoting" LDS (as well as RLDS) anti-Spalding apologetics. This is not just bad history; it is easily rufutable non-history.
So as to let his readers know precisely what this alleged "Manuscript Found" contained, Bushman goes on to say: "Spaulding's story told of a party of Romans... in America, the Romans lived among the Indian tribes and wrote an account of their experiences addressed to future generations." This is obviously the same document described by E. D. Howe in 1834, as "a romance, purporting to have been translated from the Latin... giving a fabulous account of a ship's being driven upon the American coast, while proceeding from Rome to Britain... this country then being inhabited by the Indians." But there is something very important that Dr. Bushman left out of his book.
Howe continues in his remarks regarding Hurlbut's 1833 discovery (sometimes called his "Roman story -- now on file in the Oberlin College Library) thusly: "This old M. S. has been shown to several of the foregoing witnesses, who recognise it as Spalding's, he having told them that he had altered his first plan of writing, by going farther back with dates, and writing in the old scripture style, in order that it might appear more ancient. They say that it bears no resemblance to the 'Manuscript Found.'" Surely Dr. Bushman read this page in Howe's book, but for some unstated reason he felt it would be best not to quote the "bears no resemblance" sentence. This unfortunate decision adversely impacts the biographer's credibility in the matter of properly indentifying the much-discussed "Manuscript Found."
A page from the Oberlin Spalding manuscript
(Recovered by D. Philastus Hurlbut in 1833)
Dr. Bushman continues his brief history of the Spalding-Rigdon authorship theory by saying: "To Hurlbut's disappointment, none of the telltale names cited by his informants appeared in the novel, and the story bore little resemblance to the Book of Mormon apart from the migration to the New World." Precisely what feelings Mr. Hurlbut may have had when he recovered Spalding's Roman story have never been recorded. He was no doubt alone with one or more members of the Jerome Clark family when that document first met his eyes, but there is no known report of exactly how much of Mr. Spalding's writings Hurlbut obtained obtained at that time. At the very least he took possession of some of Spalding's old correspondemce, for an undated draft letter from the would-be author's pen was later turned over to E. D. Howe, along with the Roman story.
One old report says that D. P. Hurlbut admitted to having taken possession of something other than just Spalding's Roman story in 1833; and he is quoted as having admitted: "I just peeped into it here and there and saw the names Mormon, Maroni, Lamanite, Nephi, I thought it was all nonsense; why, if it had been the real one I could have sold it for $3000." The implication here is that Hurlbut thought he had been provided with a phoney Spalding story, manufactured to read like the Book of Mormon. The holograph containing those unique names could not have been the story now at Oberlin, but if Hurlbut did obtain such a document, he was suspiciously vague as to where and how he disposed of it. He goes on to say: "but I just gave it to Howe because it was of no account." Hurlbut's various statements (and statements attributed to him) are in many instances contradictory and implausible. If he did obtain a second Spalding manuscript in 1833, the possible explanations of his subsequent actions are both convoluted and highly speculative: Dr. Bushman may be excused for not having investigated this historical maze -- (see the Excursus, at the end of this review for the various possibilities).
At this point in his historical reconstruction, Dr. Bushman makes a significant blunder in saying: "the story bore little resemblance to the Book of Mormon apart from the migration to the New World." This is a patently untrue assertion, but since the Mormon book is a lengthy and complex text Bushman will probably be able to get away with the statement. Any reader who merely browses through the first few dozen pages of each of the two texts, may see "little resemblance" in terms of writing style, subject matter, theological concerns and vocabulary. But the patient investigator, who reads the "Nephite Record" as far as the end of Alma, and the Roman story to its very end, will see that Mr. Spalding was fully capable of composing large sections of the Mormon book, as well as its general plot and characters. There are sequential pages in the Book of Mormon with more than a 96% vocabulary overlap with Spalding's Roman story, which contain dozens of phraselogy parallels (sometimes in the same sequence and used to express the same narrative elements in both texts). The Oberlin document is clearly not the basis for the Book of Mormon, however, and it is evident that the writer of the Oberlin story could not have written the Mormon text in its entirety. But then again, that was never the claim of the early witnesses and the subsequent informed proponents of the Spalding-Rigdon theory.
Diagram of Book of Mormon "plates" with most prominent "Spaldingish" sections in red
From "The Book and the Manuscript: Intro to Book of Mormon Source Criticism" (1980)
Bushman's next assertion is so problematic, that it really should be given a close inspection for the sum total of its errors, implications and likely effect upon the unsuspecting reader:
"Piecing together one surmise after another, he and Howe decided that Sidney Rigdon, the only Mormon with the wit to write the Book of Mormon, had obtained Spaulding's non-extant second manuscript in Pittsburgh, where Spaulding had submitted his work for publication and where Rigdon had lived for a time. According to the theory, Rigdon transformed the novel into the Book of Mormon by adding the religious parts. He conveyed the manuscript to Smith without being detected, and then pretended to be converted when the missionaries brought the Book of Mormon, to Kirtland in 1830."
Several historical facts interfere with Bushman's fanciful guesswork at this point.:
(see Howe -- 1884 and 1885)
2. Rigdon had been identified as the probable author since 1830-31.
(see Pratt and 1833 reference to Spalding's widow's avowal)
3. Rigdon's early residence near Pittsburgh is not surmise/theory.
(see Rigdon, see Eichbaum, and Pittsburgh newspapers)
4. Rigdon wasn't the only possible writer: Pratt and Cowdery were able.
(see Pratt 1844 and Cowdery 1834-35)
5. Rigdon's Mormon conversion may not have been "pretended."
(see Whitsitt 1891 Ready 2001, and Criddle 2005)
Eber D. Howe's relationship with the anti-Mormon committee which employed D. P. Hurlbut in 1833 remains unknown. He may have been a peripheral associate of the group and he may indeed have been the one who first suggested that they send Hurlbut to the east on his investigative journey. Beyond that slight connection, there is no reason to believe that Hurlbut and Howe conspired to draw the name of Sidney Rigdon into the Book of Mormon controversy, because of his "wit." As has already been pointed out in the current review, Sidney Rigdon was identified as the probable author of the book, long before the Spalding claims were first publicized. He was subsequently accused by several different observers as having prepared the way for the birth of Mormonism (or at least for its 1830 spread to Ohio), through his preaching restorationist tenets and predictions far in advance of anything then advocated by fellow Reformed Baptist elders such as Adamson Bentley, Walter Scott or Alexander Campbell. What little evidence can be recovered at this late date suggests that, after interviewing Spalding's widow late in 1833, Hurlbut joined Rigdon's name to the embryonic Spalding authorship claims (thus creating the Spalding-Rigdon authorship theory). The Spaldings had lived in the hamlet of Amity, Pennsylvania, in close proximity to Sidney's Aunt Mary Rigdon and her children and it was from the Amity-Pittsburgh area that subsequent testimony emerged, linking Solomon Spalding and a young Sidney Rigdon as being at least slightly acquainted.
There is, in a great deal of Mormon writing, a belief continually expressed that the origins of Latter Day Saintism and its unique scriptures must be either 100% divine or 100% fraudulent. This commonly held perception may help explain why Dr. Bushman injects the notion of a "pretended" conversion for Sidney Rigdon at the hands of traveling Mormon missionaries near the end of 1830. Sidney Rigdon's words and actions at that time may indeed have been deceptive to some extent -- his most recent biographer has concluded that Rigdon already knew something about the "Gold Bible" before he ever saw the published book. But the biblical faith has a long history of intermixtures with deception and the informed investigator can hold open the possibility of a sincerely pious Sidney Rigdon, who was genuinely "converted" to Mormonism's precepts and practices, no matter his reported use of secrecy and deception.
The modern student of Mormonism can today only hope that Sidney Rigdon's disingenuous brand of religion died with the demise of his post-Nauvoo splinter group and that modern Saints like Dr. Bushman have not fallen heir to the old promotion of spurious, self-serving assertions at the expense of faithful history. Whatever the case may be, for latter day faith-promoters and historians, misstatements about Hurlbut and Howe's "surmises" (or misidentification of the "Manuscript Found" as the Spalding holograph at Oberlin) belong in books dedicated to Mormon folklore, and not spun up into an artful, modern mythology masquerading as honest scholarship.
On pages 90-91 of Rough Stone Rolling, the author informs his readers that:
"The Spaulding theory remained the standard explanation of the Book of Mormon for more than a century. As long as thirty and forty years after the book's publication, new witnesses were discovered, linking Rigdon to the manuscript and verifying the resemblances between the two works. In the 1860s, accounts of Joseph Smith's early life began to make references to shadowy strangers in the neighborhood, presumably Rigdon smuggling in the manuscript, even though Rigdon, still alive at the time, vigorously denied it.... The theory was elaborated year after year as witnesses remembered incriminating facts they had forgotten earlier."
Bushman's reporting at this point seems to imply that "Spaulding" was the sole explanation for the Book of Mormon, provided by non-Mormon voices between the mid-1830s and the mid-1930s. This is not exactly true. As early as 1851 a pioneer resident of Palmyra had pointed the finger of blame at Oliver Cowdery, saying, "It is believed by those who were best acquainted with the Smith family, and most conversant with all the Gold Bible movements, that there is no foundation for the statement that their original manuscript was written by a Mr. Spaulding, of Ohio... the book [of Mormon] is without doubt a production of the Smith family, aided by Oliver Cowdery... an intimate of the Smith family, and identified with the whole matter." This alternative view -- that Oliver Cowdery was intimately connected with the writing of the book -- continued as an occasionally voiced conclusion down to the turn of the century, when Joseph Smith's brother-in-law asserted: "I am satisfied that it originated with Smith and Cowdery and possibly Harris contributed some to it.... Cowdery at the time however, claimed to not know the source of the book..... Spaulding's novel... had no connection with the Book of Mormon...." This brother-in-law (Benjamin Winchester) also expressed the opinion that "Smith was simply a spiritual medium." Attribution of the book to spiritualist communications was another theory for its origin -- one which appeared now and then in popular publications of the late nineteenth century.
Dr. Bushman seems perturbed by the fact that new evidence for the Spalding-Rigdon authorship was uncovered over a period of time. But it must be remembered that few copies of Howe's 1834 book were ever distributed and that its contents only began to reach most interested readers during the 1840s and 1850s, when various books and articles on the Mormons began to reprint lengthy excerpts from the Conneaut witnesses' statements. When Bushman reports that "new witnesses were discovered," he gives the impression that new testimony was perhaps being manufactured; but, if so, he overlooks "witnesses" like Solomon's brother Josiah. In 1855 Josiah Spalding provided generally reliable recollections about his brother Solomon and his writings, but that communication remained unpublished until 1872. Numerous other pieces of late-published evidence have a similar pedigree: that is, they date from the first decades of the nineteenth century but were not put in print (or were not popularized in publications having to do with Mormonism) until after the American Civil War. The reading public's interest in Mormonism began to mount with the death of Brigham Young in 1877, and increased to a general excitement during the subsequent, highly publicized battle against LDS polygamy. It is only natural that many early reports and recollections only found a publisher some "forty years after" the initial unveiling of "Spaulding."
Bushman also says that "In the 1860s, accounts of Joseph Smith's early life began to make references to shadowy strangers in the neighborhood, presumably Rigdon smuggling in the manuscript." However, as previously pointed out, this sort Rigdon-blaming account, derived from residents of that same "neighborhood," had been published as early as 1831, and Parley P. Pratt links the "rumor" that "began to circulate, that he (Rigdon) was the author of the Book of Mormon" directly to people's contemporary observation of Rigdon's first visit with "Elder J. Smith." Perhaps New Yorkers confused Rigdon with the shadowy Walters the Magician of local notoriety; or they confused Rigdon's 1830 journey to Palmyra and Waterloo with some other shadowy stranger's previous visitations; or perhaps they were not confused at all. No matter the explanation, Dr. Bushman misleads his readers into thinking that post-Civil War publicizing of the Rigdon connection had no precedents in earlier reporting. Dr. Bushman next informs his readers that "Rigdon, still alive at the time, vigorously denied" these 1860s charges against him. Here the good Doctor relies upon Lester E. Bush, Jr. as his cited source, but Bush gives no indication that Rigdon offered any special rebuttal to Pomerory Tucker's 1867 book on the subject. Rigdon's denial (such as it was) may be found in an 1869 interview published in the general area of Palmyra:
"About this time [mid-1820s] a stranger was seen to visit the home of the Smiths. It has been asserted that this mysterious stranger must have been SIDNEY RIGDON, to whom has been very generally attributed the furnishing of the manuscript from which the Mormon Bible was printed. Rigdon, who is now living, and with whom the writer recently had a personal interview, positively denies all knowledge of the Book of Mormon until after it was printed. If Rigdon's denial be admitted, this stranger remains unknown; and whoever he was, unquestionably aided in placing the fabulous romance in the hands of the arch impostor."
Notice that Sidney Rigdon's paraphrased statement consists merely of a denial of "all knowledge of the Book of Mormon until after it was printed." He says nothing about whether or not he visited the Palmyra area at an early date, nor whether he knew anything of the Gold Bible before it was published under the title of The Book of Mormon. Taking into consideration the fact that Mr. Rigdon's most recent biographer has concluded that Rigdon did know something about Joseph Smith and his fabulous discovery, prior to late 1830, it would appear that Sidney Rigdon's denial was not quite so "vigorous" as Dr. Bushman would have his readers believe. Another observation might here be made -- and that is, Esek Rosa reportedly visited in Rochester, "several months before Mormonism was preached in Ohio, and there "found Elder Sydney Rigdon preaching Mormonism." This is admittedly just the sort of late appearing, paraphrased, second-hand evidence that Dr. Bushman is so skeptical of. But, then again, so is the 1869 interview report of Rigdon's "vigorous denial." Surely if Sidney Rigdon wished to set the record straight regarding any early jaunts into New York, he had ample opportunity to do so in the Mormon press, after the appearance of the 1831 James G. Bennett article. It would not be in his best interests as an historian, for Dr. Bushman to cast doubt upon late appearing non-Mormon evidence, while at the same time avoiding taking a critical look at equally late evidence provided by the Mormon worthies.
The author's most one-sided statement follows: "The theory was elaborated year after year as witnesses remembered incriminating facts they had forgotten earlier." This faulty contention reinforce's Bushman's previous intimation of new witnesses being "discovered" to back up potentially groundless "surmises." The overall picture Bushman paints here, is one of manufactured elaboration. Of course he does not (and cannot) present any source material as evidence for this subtle, pro-Mormon inference. It has been suggested that Spalding's widow changed her story, regarding her late husband's activities and writings, once between 1833 and 1839, and once again before the end of the latter year. But in this case it must be pointed out that Mr. Howe specifically stated that he had no personal contact with the widow and that it was subsequently pointed out that there was "no known authority for" another, adjacent "statement in Mr. Howe's book." Clearly, the unattributed paraphrasing of the widow's 1833 remarks (to D. P. Hurlbut?) cannot be relied upon as possessing the same authority as her own 1839 published statement. In the third instance, it is helpful for the reader to know that the man who conducted this last interview with the widow was a Mormon partisan who kept hidden his true affiliation, but whom the widow's family later correctly guessed "an agent of Brigham Young's" (the LDS missionary in disguise was indeed Brigham's cousin). Even in the highly edited "Questions and Answers" not given in the form that I [i.e. Elder Jesse Haven] have written them," the widow manages to communicate that "in the main" her previous statement was correctly represented by the non-Mormon journalists.
Of course if modern readers were to go back and examine each and every statement, made by each and every Spalding claims witness, they would be able to detect misstatements and inconsistencies. This is the nature of such stuff, and the same difficulties will be encountered in any attempt to compile and analyze a comparable body of pro-Mormon historical testimony. Perhaps the only case where Dr. Bushman's typification of embellishing Spalding eye-witnesses holds up, is with the several statements provided by Spalding's neighbor at Amity, Joseph Miller, a very elderly man whose testimony is in no way essential nor central to the Spalding authorship claims.
Manuscript Lost -- the Fairchild Fiasco
Having occluded the literary talents and theological exertions of Elder Sidney Rigdon from his readers' view, and having cast considerable doubt upon the combined testimony of more than twenty self-identified eye-witnesses, Dr. Bushman finishes off the troublesome "Spaulding" in a single paragraph:
"The downfall of the Spaulding theory began in 1884 when "Manuscript Found" -- still never published and subsequently lost -- turned up in Hawaii and came into the hands of James Fairchild, president of Oberlin College. In an article on the Spaulding theory, Fairchild concluded that the manuscript Hurlbut found was the novel that the witnesses remembered and that the alleged second manuscript never existed. He said evidence for any Spaulding manuscript coming into the hands of Rigdon and thence to Smith was tenuous. Although conservative in his judgment, Fairchild concluded that the theory did not hold water."
On what basis the author of Rough Stone Rolling can be so certain of the identity of the Spalding holograph that "turned up in Hawaii," he does not say. Upon careful investigation of Bushman's assertion, however, the modern reader can assume that his basis is his own, unstated testimony, that the Book of Mormon is true; that the Church is true; and that Joseph Smith, Jr. was a true prophet. Elder Bushman might have saved everybody a good deal of trouble by simply stating his profession at this point in his book, and not having enlisted the academic reputation of James H. Fairchild to serve as his hewer of wood and "holder of water." However, it is best to keep in mind that Dr. Bushman is here writing a description of the Spalding-Rigdon authorship theory which he has derived from secondary sources: it cannot be expected of him that he know every intricate detail of the development of that provocative phenomenon over many decades' time. President Fairchild was indeed a key figure in the development of the Spalding-Rigdon theory and cannot be ignored. Where Bushman gets his own historian's reputation into hot water, is in his double use of the emphatic verb "concluded." As Yogi Berra once said, "It's not over till its over," and in President Fairchild's case, he was not conclusive in his assertions regarding poor old Mr. Spalding until he had fully "concluded" communicating them.
In the first place, President Fairchild (then the head of Oberlin College) had absolutely no recognized credentials in the discipline of Mormon Studies nor in Latter Day Saint scriptures -- thus, he was in no way a reliable source in his off-the-cuff, unstudied opinions. Fairchild just happened to have the unique fortune of being a visitor in a home in Hawaii when an old, moth-eaten, untitled Solomon Spalding manuscript story was put in front of his eyes on Aug. 31, 1844. As he recorded in his private journal that day:
"At noon went home with the Whitneys to dinner. -- Father Rice had been looking over his papers to see what Anti-Slavery documents he had for [our] library & came upon an old manuscript story [---------] [-----] to [have] been written by Solomon Spaulding. Probably the one which has been supposed to be transformation of the Mormon Bible, -- unquestionably a genuine document, Mr. Rice must have had it 40 years, but can not tell how it came to him -- had never looked [----- ---] -- had utterly forgotten it, I spent an hour in looking it through, It bears no resemblance to the book of Mormon, except that it is a rambling story of about the same literary merit... The book would be a gratification to the Mormons, as putting an end to the story that their book is a reprint of Solomon Spaulding's manuscript. I do not think they have any thing to do with each other..."
Consider carefully what Fairchild was thinking and saying the day he first laid eyes upon this prize:
2. But it bore no resemblance to that book, except in its low literary quality
3. It and the Mormon book do not "have any thing to do with each other"
4. The story's discovery "would be a gratification to the Mormons"
5. The document discovery could put an end to the Spalding authorship claims
What remarkable deductions from a man who had only "spent an hour in looking it through." What remarkable deductions for any reader to have made in sixty minutes' inspection of a hard to read, hand-written document of some 170 pages. Fairchild must have given each page at least a good twenty seconds' perusal before contemplating its possible propaganda use by the then greatly harried Mormon leaders. Why on earth would a reputable academician like Fairchild have made such a speedly mental leap from "probably" to "would be a gratification?" The most reasonable answer that the investigator can draw from Fairchild's words is that he prejudged both the nature of the Hawaii find and textual content of that document, without ever conducting a rigorous investigation of either important factor. And, having made these presumptions, he remained in the track of his initial ruminations until he acquired a better comprehension of the Spalding-Rigdon authorship explanation. Unfortunately, in the interim he penned a startling notice and wrote two rudimentary articles on the subject -- which appear to have been the only pertinent Fairchild communications Dr. Bushman and his fellow Mormons have ever bothered to consult. The outcome of this armchair research is rather like his (Bushman's) announcing the outcome of a baseball game after watching only the first three innings (and hence the relevance of the Yogi Berra quotation previously cited).
Rev. Dr. James H. Fairchild (1817-1902)
Before documenting here just what President Fairchild's lattermost "conclusions" really were, it may be of interest to relate the connections of his college and his family to Mormondom. Among President Fairchild's ancestral family was William Buell Fairchild (1810-1883) of Bloomington, New York, a younger contemporary of Joseph Smith, Jr., whose family lived a few miles west of the future Mormon prophet. William's cousin Harriet Fairchild (1798-1885) married William Alverson (Later a resident of Brownhelm township, Lorain Co., Ohio (not far from the town of Oberlin). On June 15, 1848, their son Daniel Fairchild Alverson married Sarah Cowdery (1822-1906) in Rochester -- she was the daughter of Benjamin Franklin Cowdery (1790-1867), an older second cousin of the Mormon elder, Oliver Cowdery. The former Mr. Cowdery once lived in Oberlin and was connected with the local newspaper there between 1839 and 1842. Daniel Fairchild had another son, Grandison Fairchild (1792-1890) who was the father of the same James H. Fairchild whom Dr. Bushman cites. President Fairchild grew up in very close proximity with Daniel Fairchild Alverson, the future husband of Sarah Cowdery. President Fairchild graduated from the newly established Oberlin College in 1838 (shortly before the arrival of Mr. Cowdery in that town). Among James H. Fairchild's classmates was Lorenzo Snow, the future President of the Mormon Church, (who completed one term of study there during 1833-34). In 1900 (after Fairchild's retirement) President Snow's son, Elder Le Roi. C. Snow, visited Oberlin College and receieved a warm welcome there from Professor Azariah Smith Root, who "said he had read and heard so much of" Lorenzo Snow, and that "he was deeply interested in [him as] the present President of the Mormon Church." No mention is made, however, of Elder Snow's possibly interesting conversations with one of the Oberlin instructors, Kirke L. Cowdery (1866-1928) the grandnephew of Oliver Cowdrey, who taught French at the college between 1892 and the mid-1920s.
Mormon Fairchilds: Some members of the extensive Fairchild family joined the LDS Church as early as the time of William Buell Fairchild, and many more were members in the period that James H. Fairchild served as President of Oberlin College. Jedediah M. Grant (father of LDS President Heber Grant) took Susan Noble Fairchild (1832-1914) as a wife in 1848; she was the daughter of Charles Fairchild and Eunice Noble of Genesee Co., New York, but was raised mostly by Eunice's parents, Ezekiel and Theodocia Bates Noble of Penfield, Monroe Co., New York. Her uncle was the notable early Mormon Elder, Joseph Bates Noble (1810-1902), who was born in Egremont, Berkshire, MA and who moved with Ezekiel and Theodocia Bates Noble to Monroe Co., New York in 1815. In his autobiography, Joseph mentions going to work for a "Harrison A. Fairchild" in 1828. This Harrison lived in Bloomfield township, Ontario Co., NY, where several other Fairchilds (including young William Buell Fairchild) were already living. Joseph's sister Eunice married Charles Fairchild about 1831 -- probably in Genesee County, but possibly in Bloomington township, Ontario Co. Other interesting folks who lived in or very near Bloomfield during the first decades of the nineteenth century included Alpheus Cutler, "rodsman" Alvah Beaman and a fellow with the unusual name of Brigham Young. Elizabeth Fairchild (1828-1910) was a plural wife of that same Brigham Young. She came from Ohio, lived in Nauvoo, and apparently died in Utah, estranged from Brigham. She was the daughter of Joshua Moroni Fairchild (1797-1891) who took Prudence Fenner (a widow living in Ohio) as his third wife during the late 1820s. By 1831 Joshua and Prudence were both Mormons -- they moved that year to Jackson Co., Missouri. Sons Alma and Moroni Fairchild were born to them in Clay Co., Missouri in 1833 and 1835. Both sons later emigrated to Utah and may have accompanied their father to Idaho. Although Moroni and Alma Fairchild were named well after the 1830 publication of the Book of Mormon, one can only conjecture as to how a man born in 1797 came to possess the middle name "Moroni."
One can also only wonder what connections President Fairchild maintained in Utah and whether or not he contacted any of his Mormon Fairchild relatives or LDS Oberlin College alumni on his return trip from Hawaii to Oberlin. There is an extensive Fairchild correspondence file in the Oberlin College Archives, but examination of his letters sent and received does not shed much light on whether it was he who first contacted the Mormons, or the Mormons who first contacted him, after his Hawaii discovery was first made public in January, 1885. In this initial short notice, President Fairchild betrayed his prejudice with his very first sentence: "The theory of the origin of the Book of Mormon in the traditional manuscript of Solomon Spaulding will probably have to be relinquished." What music those words must have been to LDS and RLDS ears in 1885! And what a disappointment they would have been to William Buell Fairchild, the published, Spalding-Rigdon advocate of four decades earlier! The major problem being, of course, that the eminent educator had practically no idea what he was talking about. For a chronology of Fairchild's activities associated with the discovery, examination and preservation of the Oberlin "Roman Story" Solomon Spalding manuscript, see his episode in the on-line series, The Spalding Saga.
The fact cannot be repeated too many times, that President Fairchild was in no way qualified to make such pronouncements relating to "the theory of the origin of the Book of Mormon in the traditional manuscript of Solomon Spaulding." Other than his family ties to Spalding claims proponent William B. Fairchild, his obscure interconnections with the Cowderys, his acquaintance with Elder Lorenzo Snow, and his assumed affection for his Mormon Fairchild "shirttail kinfolk" in the west, President James H. Fairchild, at the beginning of 1885, was no more qualified to speak on the subject than any American schoolboy with access to a library copy of the Book of Mormon and an ambition to make a name for himself in providing a well publicized "gratification to the Mormons." Be this as it may, President Fairchild went on to prepare and publish a more substantial recital of his Hawaii discovery and his opinion of its possible implications, in his college's official journal one year later. In the meanwhile he and his friend Lewis L. Rice (then still the document's owner) gave permission to the Reorganized Latter Day Saints to publish a verbatim edition of the Spalding manuscript located in Hawaii.
Of course the Reorganized Mormon volume sported the undeserved title of "Manuscript Found" and was speedily sent out to newspaper editors, encyclopedia publishers and textbook writers around the country. This was followed a few months later by a similar edition from Salt Lake City -- the more thoughtful Utah editors choosing to print their "Manuscript Found" title in slightly smaller block capitals than the words "Manuscript Story," (an allusion to the penciled words appearing on the manuscript's wrapper when it was first discovered). In the years that followed the anti-Mormon writers usually referred to these published texts as "Manuscript Story," although that title is not traceable to Solomon Spalding and may have originated with Eber D. Howe when he had the document in his possession.
But this digression has gone in too long and something more needs to be said about President Fairchild's "conclusions." Recall that Dr. Bushman relays one-half of a fact in his saying, "Fairchild concluded that the manuscript Hurlbut found was the novel that the witnesses remembered and that the alleged second manuscript never existed." The second, unstated half of the fact is that President Fairchild continued to delve into the Spalding-Rigdon claims after 1886, and eventually came to some very different "conclusions." He was no doubt spurred on to this additional investigation and analysis by the content of the many letters he received from various correspondants, informing him that he had made some mistakes in his hasty rush to judgment. For example, the Rev. Dr. William H. Whitsitt wrote to Fairchild on Feb. 16, 1886 and politely directed the President's attention to the possible role of Sidney Rigdon in the founding of Mormonism. Whitsitt also informed Fairchild of some sources on the Spalding-Rigdon theory which might be useful in his continuing studies. Fairchild had already encountered a lengthy, pro-Spalding argument in the 1885 book by Ellen E. Dickinson, and his Jan. 1886 paper was primarily written as an answer to her. While Fairchild still maintained his original views, he was already demonstrating some flexibility in this article. He says: "The discovery of this manuscript [i.e. the one from Hawaii] does not prove that there may not have been another, which became the basis of the Book of Mormon, but it seems clearly to furnish a presumption against the existence of another; and it is doubtful whether the evidence on the subject, thus far published, can set aside this presumption."
President Fairchild reiterated his opinions in a subsequent paper, published during the spring of 1886 as "Manuscript of Solomon Spaulding" (W.R.H.S. Tracts No. 77). This extended article wrought a great deal of injury upon the corpus of "Spaulding," but the "downfall" Bushman speaks of did not come crashing upon the common reader for another forty years, when Fawn Brodie translated Fairchild into the dialect of everyman. No matter that Brodie herself made a dozen glaring mistakes in her elucidation (including calling the writer "Joseph" H. Fairchild -- a blunder carried over into her revised second edition). The die was cast, the Rubicon crossed over, and Fairchild's immature arguments inscribed in imperishible carborundum for future generations -- an all but canonized anti-Spalding codicil to the everlasting LDS gospel.
Even in his second pronouncement of 1886 on the subject, President Fairchild give himself some wiggle room: "There are those who claim to know that the last manuscript [i.e. a copy of "Manuscript Found" reportedly "sold to the Mormons"] is still in existence, and will be brought forth to light at some future day. It would not seem unreasonable to suspend judgment in the case until the new light shall come." While Fairchild perhaps meant these words to serve as an escape route in the case that any of his arguments were overcome, literal-minded Mormons have ever since demanded that such tangible documentary evidence be produced before they might stoop to reconsider Fairchild's validation of their own assertions. How a non-member might go about obtaining an item thus alleged to be in the secret keeping of their topmost officials, the Mormons do not say.
Fairchild's next communication of any particular importance came in 1895, when he merely communicated to an LDS inquirer that Oberlin College's carefully preserved "manuscript is not the original of the Book of Mormon." He might have said that the college library had on file the veritable "Manuscript Found," but he did not go so far as to make that claim. Was Fairchild wavering in his opinions, following more consideration of the evidence for and against them? It appears so. A close inspection of his later outgoing correspondence files might well turn up similar, non-commital statements. All of which leads up to his last known statement on the matter -- which also must be set down as his concluding judgment.
In 1900 the Rev. John D. Nutting published what became an extremely rare pamphlet, under the title The Truth About the Origin of the Book of Mormon. It is supposed that in this pamphlet he provided some details of an interview he conducted with President Fairchild at Oberlin at the end of the century. Nutting recalled that experience thirty years later in an article which he entitled "President Fairchild's Statement About the Book of Mormon." According to the writer he "visited Pres. Fairchild, his former teacher, at his home in Oberlin; and mentioned that Mormonism was using his  statement" improperly. Nutting says that, upon hearing this news, President Fairchild "was greatly distressed; and after some conversation about the matter he dictated and signed "a short statement" of his conclusions in the Spalding-Rigdon controversy. Nutting then reproduces the statement:
"With regard to the manuscript of Mr. Spaulding now in the Library of Oberlin College, I have never stated, and know of no one who can state, that it is the only manuscript which Spaulding wrote, or that it is [certainly] the one which has been supposed to be the original of the Book of Mormon. The discovery of this manuscript does not prove that there may not have been another, which became the basis of the Book of Mormon. The use which has been made of statements emanating from me [as] implying the contrary of the above is entirely unwarranted."
Assuming that Rev. Nutting is accurate in his recollections and facsimile, the above statement must stand as what President James H. Fairchild concluded regarding his identification of the Solomon Spalding "Roman story" manuscript in the Oberlin College Library. Fortunately today's scholars need not track down the lost 1900 pamphlet, for, as Nutting correctly states: "This statement was before long published in a pamphlet issued by the Salt Lake Ministerial Association, written by A. T. Schroeder, Esq., copyrighted 1901; and has been otherwise issued. Yet Mormonism always gives the original Fairchild statement, without a hint of the later and most important utterance, which entirely upsets it!"
The reader will now begin to grasp the significance of the lost horseshoe analogy previously mentioned in this book review. When Dr. Bushman wrongly placed Theodore Schroeder into the anti-Spalding ranks (or at least into the alternative explanations ranks) he denied his readers access to Fairchild's actual conclusions, as well as to Schroeder's own, well articulated pro-Spalding arguments and evidence. All of this was placed before the LDS historian B. H. Roberts in 1906, but by then Fairchild had passed away and Roberts could conveniently overlook Schroeder's evidence when he composed his own reply to that anti-Mormon two years later In the process Elder Roberts waxed just a bit too overconfident and quoted Lewis L. Rice's preliminary views on the Honolulu discovery. Unhappily for Roberts and his fellow Saints, Mr. Rice (the owner of the document before to was donated to Oberlin College) also matured in his opinions, and had "concluded" as far back as 1886:
"The Spaulding Manuscript recently discovered in my possession, and published by the Mormons, in no wise determines the question as to the authorship of the Book of Mormon, or of Spaulding's connection with the latter. It shows conclusively that this writing of Spaulding was not the original of the Book of Mormon -- nothing more in that regard. It gives the Mormons the advantage of calling upon their opponents to produce or prove that any other Spaulding Manuscript ever existed -- and that is the gist of the whole matter."
Thus the hopeful Mormons' Hawaiian "Manuscript Found" again reverts to its old status of a "manuscript lost." The apologists might do themselves a favor by reading a little real history, before one of them again steps into the old song and dance routine of "'Manuscript Found' found." They might also gain some additional "truth and light" by minutely comparing the last couple of dozen pages of Alma with the last couple of dozen pages of the Oberlin manuscript, before telling the bad joke of how the two texts bear no resemblance to one another.
So then, how does this additional evidence affect Dr. Bushman's reconstruction of past events relating to "Spaulding?" Well, one part of his reporting still stands: "He [Fairchild] said evidence for any Spaulding manuscript coming into the hands of Rigdon and thence to Smith was tenuous." There is no need for Bushman to revise that sentence -- though he may one day wish to make an actual inspection of that "tenuous" evidence and not rely so much upon secondary sources. Bushman continues by saying that Fairchild was "conservative in his judgment," and that assessment could be revised to include a footnote pointing the reader to the "judgement" given by the man in Honolulu on the day Spalding's Roman story was discovered there. Finally, if this LDS historian has any desire to be fair and forthcoming in his Joseph Smith biography, he really should let his auditors know that when "Fairchild concluded that the theory did not hold water," it was a very provisional and changeable sort of conclusion -- an anteprepenultimate conclusion, some wag might call it. Luckily for Bushman, he can retain most of Fairchild's scholarship in future editions of his book and correctly state that the subject is "a matter of continuing controversy," and move on with his biographizing.
Mark Twain once wryly remarked, "The report of my death was an exaggeration." The same must be admitted in the case of Bushman's premature trumpeting of "the fall of the Spaulding theory." In his sounding of the saintly shofar, "the time is out of joint," and there is no doubt more than one who "was born to set it right." Before his second edition is put through the press, the blundering biographer is amicably advised to spend an afternoon browsing through the following useful reading material: Theodore Schroeder's 1901 booklet "Origin of the Book of Mormon;" Matthew B. Brown's 2003 appendix, "The Spalding-Rigdon Theory;" Wayne L. Cowdrey's 2005 book Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon?; Craig Criddle's 2005 on-line paper "Sidney Rigdon: Creating the Book of Mormon;" and Matthew P. Roper's 2005 paper "The Mythical 'Manuscript Found'" -- as well as sundry on-line texts and reviews indexed here and here.
"Whence the new scripture, the global schemes...?"
Dr. Bushman has given his readers no "Afterword" for this book. His final chapter is an "Epilogue" that tells a little about the immediate aftermath of Joseph Smith's death, and then breaks off suddenly following the quotation of some interesting words from Sidney Rigdon -- words expressing much the same sentiment as the lines in the old Mormon hymn: "Great is his glory and endless his priesthood. / Ever and ever the keys he will hold."
About five pages of retrospection follow, but in them Dr. Bushman really does not present a thoughtful reflection on what Smith's legacy has been throughout the many decades that have passed since his death. Has he, as John Taylor once stated, "done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived!"? Would that be a proper epitaph for his fellow Americans to enter into their books and articles, written in tribute to "Figures of the Past?" Time will tell. And future reconsideration may also one day provide an answer to Dr. Bushman's final rhetorical question:
"But where his powers came from is a mystery. His upbringing seems so inadequate to his ambitions. He was undoubtedly blessed with intelligence and will, and the Bible, his chief cultural resource, was a trove of possibilities, but how was he able to perceive what lay in its pages? Whence the new scripture, the global schemes for a kingdom, the stories of eternity? He lacked the learning to conceive of the world on such a scale."
This is not a new question -- its genesis reaches back to the end of 1829 and the first circulation of off-prints and pirated reprints of pages from the still unbound Palmyra edition of The Book of Mormon. From that time forward it has ever been the unanswerable question of Mormon missionaries, "Whence the origin of this elaborate new revelation, if not from God?" Certainly the writing of the text surpassed the capabilities (and the reported proclivities) of the young Joseph Smith, Jr. The author of Rough Stone Rolling hints at his own predisposition regarding the question, when he speaks of the young man as having been "undoubtedly blessed." This elliptical movement in the direction of an LDS profession may not be so well received on the far shore of Bushman's scholarly bridgehead as he intended. For those non-Mormon readers familiar with an LDS baptismal challenge, the natural response would be, "If not from God, then from man." To which saintly auditors less circumspect than Dr. Bushman can argue: "But Joseph was a boy, not a man!"
Conan Doyle's fictional sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, provides a possible methodology by which Bushman's coy challenge might be met; he says: "It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." The secular scholars will exclude the direct imposition of Divine Providence as being at least outside the realm of consideration -- if not downright impossible. The observant Latter Day Saints will likewise exclude the young man in question as a possible answer to Bushman's question, "Whence the new scripture, the global schemes for a kingdom, the stories of eternity?" Could it be that both together have eliminated the logical impossibilities, and that the answer (however improbable) lies elsewhere?
In Poe's Murders in the Rue Morgue, a Holmesian prototype, detective C. Auguste Dupin, comes to the very improbable solution, of a 250 pound orangutan having broken into the Rue Morgue apartment and committed the inexplicable crime. Since the other investigators were not perceptive of the subtle clues detected by Monsieur Dupin, they never considered so improbable a possibility. If neither God nor young Joe can be found at the scene of Bushman's challenge, might a modern detective be so bold as to search the room for just such an unlikely 250 pound orangutan (or, perhaps attribute the mysterious deed to a very visible, but also very much ignored 600 pound gorilla)? In this case the overlooked culprit would be Elder Sidney Rigdon -- the same Sidney Rigdon who voiced this gem of revealment to the Saints assembled at Nauvoo for the spring 1844 LDS Church Conference:
"I recollect in the year 1830, I met the whole church of Christ in a little old log house about 20 feet square, near Waterloo, N. Y. and we began to talk about the kingdom of God as if we had the world at our command; we talked with great confidence, and talked big things, although we were not many people, we had big feelings; we knew fourteen years ago that the church would become as large as it is to-day; we were as big then as we shall ever be; we began to talk like men in authority and power -- we looked upon the men of the earth as grasshoppers."
Grasshoppers, indeed! And this, when the entire Mormon Church could be fit into a single, tiny log cabin? How much farther back in time must the investigator of Mormonism go, in order to answer Dr. Bushman's question: "Whence the new scripture, the global schemes for a kingdom, the stories of eternity?" But, wait, Elder Rigdon had more to say:
"...if we did not see this people [i.e. the Saints at Nauvoo, in 1844], we saw by vision, the church of God a thousand times larger: and when men would come in, they would say we wanted to upset the government, although we were not enough to well man a farm... Many things were taught, believed, and preached, then, which have since come to pass; we knew the whole world would laugh at us, so we concealed ourselves; and there was much excitement about our secret meetings, charging us with designs against the government, and with laying plans to get money, &c."
Consider carefully what Rigdon divulged here: "we knew the whole world would laugh at us, so we concealed ourselves; and there was much excitement about our secret meetings." How could there have been "much excitement" over meetings which were conducted apart from public view and public knowledge? Obviously some limited news of those "secret meetings" must have leaked out to the surrounding, non-Mormon New Yorkers. But did such word leak out in every case? Did Sidney Rigdon participate in secret meetings with fellow Mormons in New York, at a time when the entire membership could assemble in a single apartment? By Sidney's own words, the answer appears to be "yes."
So why has Dr. Bushman not made some clearer reference to this 600 pound gorilla having been in the room, and having been there in "secret meetings" of the first Mormons, at least as far back as the latter half of 1830? One possible explanation is that his final query is purely rhetorical and was not meant as a spur for additional research into Mormon origins. In that case, Mr. Bushman can fall back upon the excuse of having written a biography of Joseph Smith and not an investigative history of the first years of Mormonism. If so, his words from page 91 are sufficient for his purposes: "Rigdon... vigorously denied it." Of course Elder Rigdon may have denied many contestable things up to the day of his death. He evidently denied that he should have been excommunicated at Nauvoo; that Brigham Young was a true prophet; that Joseph Smith had led a godly life; that the Rigdonite Church of Christ was an apostate splinter group; that his own revelations were a manipulative hoax. If modern Mormon historians hope to argue that Sidney's Rigdon's reputation for religious honesty and ecclesiastical propriety was a good one -- that any "vigorous denial" made by him can be trusted upon its face value alone -- they will have a tough row to hoe.
"While Rigdon dipt in many waters, Preaches Gold Bible to the loafers."
Palmyra, New York Wayne Sentinel, January 1, 1831
Returning to page 91 of his book, it will be seen there that Dr. Bushman follows Fawn M. Brodie, "whose biography was acknowledged by non-Mormon scholars as the premier study of Joseph Smith," (as he says) and who contends "the absence of evidence for a link to Rigdon." This argumentum ad verecundiam, or saintly recourse to seemingly authoritative Gentile pronouncements is reminiscent of Martin Harris' reported receipt of validation for "Reformed Egyptian charactors" from Professor Charles Anthon, and of the subsequent validation of the Oberlin Spalding document as the "Manuscript Found" by President James H. Fairchild. The major problem in both of these past examples being that the authoritative Gentile's purported confirmation later turned out to be not so expert (nor so well confirmed) as first reported. If Dr. Bushman hopes to remove the name of Sidney Rigdon from the Holmesian list of possible improbables, he will have to come up with a better reason than the uncritical acceptance of Fawn Brodie's assertions by contemporary, non-Mormon readers and scholars.
All of this boils down to a collection of absurdities: The modern student of Mormon origins can ignore the 600 pound gorilla in the room, because he denied knowing about the Book of Mormon till after it was printed; and because Fawn Brodie could find no evidence for his presence; and because non-Mormon scholars acknowledge Mrs. Brodie as having been the premier student of the early Mormon leaders. Who can take such stuff seriously?
Numerous arguments have been made, as far back as 1830, by thoughtful observers and scholars alike, that Mormonism began as "Campbellism Improved" and that, as the Rev. Dr. William H. Whitsitt informed Oberlin President James H. Fairchild in 1886, "The Book of Mormon... could have been prepared by none but a Disciple theologian... it could have been prepared by no Disciple theologian except Mr. Rigdon."
The old Mormon argument, saying that Sidney Rigdon's possible role in the creation and initial establishment of Mormonism can be safely left unexamined, because he himself denied it -- or because Fawn Brodie could find no evidence of his involvement -- or because "serious scholars" have long since abandoned such a possibility, is nothing more than saying that the 600 pound gorilla in the room is a delusion produced by over-imaginative minds. And when that same argument is repeated over and over again, it takes on the same high contrast and lack of detail exhibited by a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy. All the intermediate grey patterns are lost and what remains is a stark, black and white image. Mormons appear to be collectively comfortable with such a binary representation of true and false -- good and bad -- right and wrong, but Dr. Bushman cannot maintain his bridgehead on the Gentile shore if he himself falls victim to such binary thinking.
The lyrics of an old Bing Crosby song advise:
"You've got to accentuate the positive,
Neither churches nor their historians can remain living in the Bing Crosby era forever. Dr. Bushman deserves much credit for having portrayed his Joseph Smith not only in outlines of black and white, but in all of the intermediate shades and textures of human nature. It is a big step in the right direction and Bushman's book will make a "Mister In-Between" Mormon Prophet more acceptable amongst the Saints than Mrs. Brodie could have ever hoped to accomplish with her prejudiced biography. Now, if only Dr. Bushman or some other "faithful historian" of equal caliber would do the same for Sidney Rigdon's pre-1830 years, the answer may begin to come clear, as to "Whence the new scripture, the global schemes for a kingdom, the stories of eternity?"
"A divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will"
So that the transition is not so jarring to the reader, let me mention here that I am changing over to a first person voice -- I have some first-hand views to express and this seems to be the best way to convey them. The oft-asserted, non-divine origin of the Book of Mormon and other latter day revelations is a subject I have pondered for a good many years and Dr. Bushman's recent challenge of "Whence the new scripture...?" has re-awkened some thoughts I had originally intended to append to my on-line response to Terryl L. Givens' 2002 book, By the Hand of Mormon. However, Dr. Bushman's artless handling of the Spalding-Rigdon authorship theory has persuaded me to place my personal comments here at the end of this present review of Rough Stone Rolling, and to allow Mr. Givens a temporary reprieve.
What does it mean, when critical commentators like myself make use of the term "non-divine origin," in reference to creations like the Book of Mormon? That is a question I hope the reader will keep in mind, as I continue to communicate my reflections on this fascinating subject.
Orson Pratt, speaking in his official capacity as "One of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," made this remarkable pronouncement, in 1850:
"The Book of Mormon claims to be a divinely inspired record, written by a succession of prophets who inhabited ancient America. It professes to be revealed to the present generation for the salvation of all who will receive it, and for the overthrow and damnation of all nations who reject it.
Apostle Pratt's 1850 edict is a stark and rigid one -- he expresses no sympathy for nuanced opinions, when we readers and investigators come round to reporting our evaluations of the Book of Mormon's claims for authenticity, historicity, veracity and authority. I think that we moderns must be careful not to carelessly exercise an overbundance of presentism when we look back at the rhetoric of mid-nineteenth century LDS leaders, however. Pratt was not speaking to an internet audience through an interactive blog -- he was giving a faith-promoting talk to committed Mormons who were most unlikely candidates for "publishing the delusion." Once a member has paid his tithing for years, built up a family and a career well intertwined with the "peculiar people," and voiced his public testimony repeatedly, the thought of breaking ranks with all other Mormons and calling the Book of Mormon authorship an "imposture," must be a frightening one indeed. And, if frightening at the beginning of the twenty-first century, then terrifying, one hundred and fifty years ago. Orson Pratt was not afraid of the typical members in the Church exposing the Book of Mormon as 100% bogus -- he was presenting a warning to those believers who might accept that marvelous work and wonder as being less than 100% true.
What if sufficient evidence were one day presented to Orson Pratt's modern apostolic successors, so that Dr. Bushman's challenge of "Whence the new scripture...?" could be answered: "Neither from Joseph Smith nor from God?" What then? But I believe that the apparent binary choice between either Smith or God is a false dichotomy -- and I've said as much previously in my on-line comments on this subject. In my response to Givens, I had this to say:
"As Dr. Givens well understands, the overwhelming majority of faithful Mormons will at once object to any explanation other than that the book is what it says it is. Certain sophisticated and liberal Saints may, however, see some wisdom in allowing unconvertible unbelievers to credit Joseph Smith, Jr., with the book's authorship. In both of these two, seemingly mutually exclusive explanations, the limelight remains narrowly trained upon Smith and he can be honored in history as the founder of an impressive and far-reaching new religion, no matter his shortcomings or personal foibles. The non-Saint, by his or her decision not to join the Mormon religion, has already greatly discounted or eliminated the book's claim to be what it says it is. However, in the exercise of traditional Mormon polemics, that negative decision leaves the unbeliever supposedly accountable to explain "the book's indisputable complexity." Dr. Givens, by accident or design, has fallen into this very trap of LDS apologists and polemicists. Both he and they effectively ignore another option -- that the book's contents can be accounted for by admitting it could have been produced by fully human means, during the first part of the nineteenth century, no matter how inexplicable Joseph Smith, Jr.'s role may appear to be in its coming forth to the world.
All of that verbage was simply my round about way of saying that the binary choice (between Smith and God) is an illusionary one. But now I'll go step further down that same path and voice the conclusion that the choice between any nineteenth century writer (or set of writers) and God is also a false dichotomy. Or, in other words, a Providencial oversight of the book's compilation and publication does not necessarily rule out a nineteenth century origin at the hands of all too human writers. The pertinent binary choice, then, is between Smith as an author working alone and Smith as the eventual proprietor of a text compiled by one or more other contemporary writers.
No doubt the vast majority of Mormons will object strenuously to my conclusion. But I do not come from an LDS background and I have no vested interest in either displeasing or pleasing such auditors. I am attempting to discern a path for future investigation, whereby Dr. Bushman's question ("Whence the new scripture...?") can be answered -- or, failing that, a path for future investigation, no matter the eventual outcome. Since I come from a Reorganized LDS background, I am totally comfortable in putting Orson Pratt back up on the shelf and looking for reasonable explanations without his stark and rigid pronouncements fencing me in.
Is there a Divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will? As a professor of the biblical faith I am compelled to answer "Yes." And as an investigator with a Latter Day Saint "pedigree" (as Dr. Bushman might say), I am also compelled to recognize continued evidence of the hand of that Divinity within the LDS/RLDS Restoration Movement. The originators of Latter Day Saintism (as well as Mormonism, which I differentiate) appear to me to have "rough-hewed" their new religion by various and sundry means, the sum total of which I can barely guess at and can hardly condone. I doubt that the real story of Mormon origins was much like the faith-promoting version at all. But that is not the argument I am here to make. The argument I am stating, is that we can honestly pursue a line of research into Mormon beginnings, and to good effect, no matter where the findings of that research may lead us. I predict that the productive scholarship of the twenty-first century will begin to shift the limelight away from Joseph Smith, Jr. -- not by merely moving the point of focus to some other individual, but by broadening the beam of light to illuminate persons, events and connections not previously "allowed" upon the stage of Mormon history except as a backdrop for Smith.
It is my sincere expectation that Dr. Bushman's book will mark the belated ending of the last century's reporting of Mormon history -- the century of Joseph Smith. His book has now been written. The time has come to talk of many other things.
Dale R. Broadhurst,
Hilo, January 19, 2007
What Did D. P. Hurlbut Find in 1833?
An Investigative Inquiry