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RICHARD LYMAN BUSHMAN
Richard Lyman Bushman, Gouverneur Morris Professor of History, Emeritus, at Columbia University, grew up in Portland, Oregon, and earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Harvard University. He has also taught at Brigham Young University, Boston University, and the University of Delaware. His From Puritan to Yankee: Character and Social Order in Connecticut, 1690-1765 won the Bancroft Prize in 1967. His other books include Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (1984), winner of the Evans Biography Award; King and People in Provincial Massachusetts (1985); and The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities (1992). A practicing Mormon, he lives in New York City with his wife, Claudia.
Richard Bushman's latest book "Rough Stone Rolling" shows a lot about Bushman's style and treatment. Unsavory possibilities are mentioned as what others may have understandably charged or as rhetorical questions, but these are quickly deflated. In other cases, not all the information is presented, presumably because the sources were questionable (to Bushman). And while the admissions about Smith's plural marriages certainly go beyond Sunday School teachings, the faithful framing of the practice and motivation is entirely compatible with Church thinking. This buffering of the "rough stone" makes it likely that Mormons reading this book will not damage their testimonies.
| Richard Bushman's "Rough Stone Rolling" has hit the shelves. I'll be very interested to see what impact this has. I can't wait for my copy to arrive. Richard's a "believer" and treats the supernatural so matter-of-factly. But he also is very balanced in that he doesn't let his belief override scholarship so that he becomes a mere apologist. In truth I think he's balanced enough that I'm not quite sure where to peg him on the belief-o-meter.
My pals in the book biz who've read it already say he's not a dirt digger per se but he matter-of-factly explores or mentions many such things as treasure digging, bank fraud, land deals, polyandry, Danites, Council of Fifty, Freemasonry, and other things many TBMs think "Antis" make up to discredit Joseph. How can you officially acknowledge these things without spin and not have it impact believers? How can you talk about Joseph propositioning William Law's wife, when William and his wife were both privy to secret polygamy and on-the-record opposed to it, and then Joseph hits on his wife anyway? I don't know how you can spin that in a way that it isn't devastating for a TBM who isn't even aware these events happened.
Because the LDS culture is so anti-intellectual and doesn't include inquiry, debate and reason as tools for faith it is amazing how devastating just the acknowledgment of all these real and awkward details could be to the naive faith of many. Knopf's first edition printing is reputed at 40,000 books!! The Amazon review definitely seems to shore up my pals' opinions: this is a landmark biography on Joseph Smith, and a balanced one at that.
It truly will be interesting to see what impact this book has on the collective LDS consciousness if it sells as widely as Knopf thinks it will. I'm skeptical since Mormons are generally so illiterate, but this has the potential to be revolutionary. If Knopf can sell such a large edition, where most Mormon intellectual books are lucky to have an edition/distribution of a few thousand, tops, this could really shake up the status quo.
| Bushman's Account Of Plural Marriage - Richard Bushman's Book "Joseph Smith, Rough Stone Rolling: A Cultural Biography Of Mormonism's Founder" |
Monday, Oct 3, 2005, at 07:59 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: RICHARD LYMAN BUSHMAN -Link To MC Article-
| ↑ |
| I haven't read through "practicing Mormon" Richard Bushman's book "Joseph Smith, Rough Stone Rolling: A cultural biography of Mormonism's founder" completely, but I did look up controversial topics and persons in the index and then in the text. The relatively short index is a good emblem for Bushman's treatment: many details about the items mentioned but many not mentioned (for example, Helen Mar Kimball is not there), and in many cases his account skates deftly around the thin ice. He brings up various accusations against Smith but makes it clear that the accusers may have been biased or influenced by popular prejudice; for other accusations, he merely states that there is "no certain evidence" for them or that they don't hold up under scrutiny. The book appears not to be a whitewashing (the cover does have the unflattering contemporary profile drawing of Smith with a beak-like nose and a paunch), but Bushman's sieve is rather large-holed and lets many things slip through.
Here are some excerpts about plural marriage, which B. and apparently J.S. insisted was different from polygamy and (sexual) "spiritual wifery." This is from the section "Marriage" in ch. 25, "Stories of Eternity":
"Of all the events, the resumption of plural marriage was the most disturbing. After marrying Fanny Alger sometime before 1836, Joseph, it appears, married no one else until he wed Louisa Beaman on April 5, 1841, in Nauvoo. (Historians debate the possibility of one other wife in the interim.) In the next two years, Joseph married about thirty additional women, ten of them already married to other men. Nothing confuses the picture of Joseph Smith's character more than these plural marriages. What lay behind this egregious transgression of conventional morality? What drove him to a practice that put his life and his work in jeopardy, not to mention his relationship with Emma? Was he a dominant male whose ego brooked no bounds? Joseph exercised such untrammeled authority in Nauvoo that it is possible to imagine him thinking no conquest beyond his reach. In theory, he could take what he wanted and browbeat his followers with threats of divine punishment.
"This simple reading of Joseph's movites is implicit in descriptions of him as 'a charismatic, handsome man.' They suggest he was irresistible and made the most of it. Other Mormon men went along out of loyalty or in hopes of sharing the power. But missing from that picture is Joseph's sense of himself. In public and private, he spoke and acted as if guided by God. All the doctrines, plans, programs, and claims were, in his mind, the mandates of heaven. They came to him as requirements, with a kind of irresistible certainty. The revelations weighed him down with impossible tasks like translation, gathering, constructing a temple, or building a city. More than once he told the Church he had completed the work and had no more to accomplish, as if he hoped the revelations would subside. The a new commandment would force itself upon him, and the work would resume.
"Joseph ordinarily followed the commandments punctiliously, as if disobedience put him at risk. In the case of plural marriage, he held off for two or three years before marrying Fanny Alger, and then after this one unsuccessful attempt, waited another five years. The delay showed an uncharacteristic reluctance, hard for one who feared God. In some of Joseph's revelations the Lord speaks as a friend, but in others with the voice of thunder. Writing to a woman whom he hoped would be his wife, he described the two sides of the image: 'Our heavenly father is more liberal in his views, and boundless in his mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive, and at the same time is as terrible to workers of iniquity, more awful in the executions of his punishments, and more ready to detect every false way than we are apt to suppose him to be.' God was both kind and terrible. By delaying plural marriage, Joseph risked provoking God's wrath. Mary Rollins Lightner, one of his plural wives, later said Joseph told her about the pressure he was under. "The angel came to me three times between the year of '34 and '42 and said I was to obey that principle or he would [s]lay me.' Others told the story with an additional detail: the angel held a drawn sword.
" The possibility of an imaginary revelation, erupting from his own heart and subconscious mind, seems not to have occurred to Joseph. To him, the words came from heaven. They required obedience even though the demand seemed contradictory or wrong. The possibility of deception did occur to him. Satanic counterfeits concerned Joseph; he talked to the Saints about the detection of fraudulent angels. But when Lightner asked if perhaps plural marriage was of the devil, Joseph said no. In his mind, the revelation came from God, and he had to obey or suffer. The written form of the revelation, recorded in 1843 (later canonized as Doctrine and Covenants 132) said bluntly, "I reveal to you a New and an Everlasting Covenant and if ye abide not that Covenant, then ye are damned.'
"Joseph never wrote his personal feelings about plural marriage. Save for the revelation given in the voice of God, everything on the subject comes from the people around him. But surely he realized that plural marriage would inflict terrible damage, that he ran the risk of wrecking his marriage and alienating his followers. How could the faithful Emma, to whom he pledged his love in every letter, accept additional wives? His followers would see the revelation as an unforgivable breach of the moral law and reject it altogether, or, even worse, use it as a license for free love. Either way, the reactions would jeopardize the Zion project. As for the world at large, plural marriage would confirm all their worst fears. Sexual excess was considered the all too common fruit of pretended revelation. Joseph's enemies would delight in one more evidence of a revelator's antinomian transgressions. He also risked prosecution under Illinois's antibigamy law.
"In approaching Joseph Bates Noble in the spring of 1841 about marrying his wife's sister, Louisa Beaman, Joseph asked Bates, a man he had known since Kirtkand, to keep quiet. 'In revealing this to you I have placed my life in your ahnds, therefore do not in an evil hour betray me to my enemies.' Louisa Beaman was twenty-six when she married Joseph Smith. Alone since her mother's death in September 1840, Beaman had moved in with Joseph and Mary Noble. To disguise the wedding, Joseph asked Noble to perform the ceremony in a grove near Main Street with Louisa in man's clothing.
"Partly to maintain secrecy, Joseph could not have spent much time with Beaman or any of the women he married. He never gathered his wives into a household--as his Utah followers later did--or accompanied them to public events. Close relationships were further curtailed by business. Joseph had to look after Emma and the children, manage the Church, govern the city, and evade the extradition officers from Missouri. As the marriages increased, there were fewer and fewer opportunities for seeing each wife.
"Even so, nothing indicated that sexual relations were left out of plural marriages; Noble testified many years later that Joseph spent the night with Louisa after the wedding. But there was no 'mormon seraglio of Nauvoo harem,' as his enemies charged. Not until many years later did anyone claim Joseph Smith's paternity, and evidence for the tiny handful of supposed children is tenuous. For the most part, the women went about their business as before. Only the slightest hints suggest that Joseph was in Louisa's company after their marriage, though he may have contributed to her support.
"The marital status of the plural wives further complicated the issue. Within fifteen months of marrying Louisa Beaman, Joseph had married eleven other women. Eight of the eleven were married to other men. All told, ten of Joseph's plural wives were married to other men. All of them went on living with their first husbands after marrying th Prophet. The reasons for choosing married women can only be surmised. Not all were married to non-Mormon men: six of the ten husbands were active Latter-day Saints. In most cases, the husband knew of the plural marriage and approved. The practice seems inexplicable today. Why would a husband consent?
"The only answer seems to be the explanation Joseph gave when he asked a woman for her consent: they and their families would benefit spiritually from a close tie to the Prophet. Joseph told a prospective wife that submitting to plural marriage would 'ensure your eternal salvation and exaltation and that of your father's household. and all your kindred.' A father who gave his daughter to the Prophet as a plural wife was assured that the marriage 'shall be crowned upon your heads with honor and immortality and eternal life to all your house both old and young.' The relationship would bear fruit in the afterlife. There is no certain evidence that Joseph had sexual relations with any of the wives who were married to other men. They married because Joseph's kingdom grew with the size of his family, and those bonded to that family would be exalted with him" (pp. 437-39).
. . .
"The personal anguish caused by plural marriage did not stop Joseph Smith from marrying more women. He married three in 1841, eleven in 1842, and seventeen in 1843. Historians debate these numbers, but the total figure is most likely between twenty-eight and thirty-three. Larger numbers have been proposed based on the sealing records in the nuvoo temple. Eight additional women were sealed to Joseph in the temple after his death, possibly implying a marriage while he was still alive. Whatever the exact number, the marriages are numerous enough to indicate an impersonal bond. Joseph did not marry women to form a warm, human companionship, but to create a network of related wives, children, and kinsmen that would endure into the eternities. The revelation on marriage promised Joseph an 'hundred fold in this world, of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, houses and lands, wives and children, and crowns of eternal lives in the eternal worlds.' Like Abraham of old, Joseph learned for familial plentitude. He did not lust for women so much as he lusted for kin.
"Romance playon only a slight part. In making proposals, Joseph would sometimes say God had given a woman to him, or they were meant for each other, but there was no romantic talk of adoring love. He did not court his propective wives by first trying to win their affections. Often he asked a relative--a father or an uncle--to propose the marriage. Sometimes one of his current wives proposed for him. When he made the proposal himself, a friend like Brigham Young was often present. Then language was religious and doctrinal, stressing that a new law has been revealed. She was to seek spiritual confirmation. Once consent was given, a formal ceremony was performed before witnesses, with Joseph dictation the words to the person officiating.
"Joseph himself said nothing about sex in these marriages. Other marriage experimenters in Joseph's times focused on sexual relations. The Shakers repudiated marriage altogether, considering sex beastly and unworty of a millenial people. John Humphrey Noyes's Oneida community objected to the possessiveness of the marriage relationship and thought free intercourse was as necessary to openness and love as communal property. Joseph, so far as can be told, never discussed the sexual component of marriage, save for his concern about adultery" (440-41).
_ _ _ _ _
These passages show a lot about Bushman's style and treatment. Unsavory possibilities are mentioned as what others may have understandably charged or as rhetorical questions, but these are quickly deflated. In other cases, not all the information is presented, presumably because the sources were questionable (to Bushman). And while the admissions about Smith's plural marriages certainly go beyond Sunday School teachings, the faithful framing of the practice and motivation is entirely compatible with Chruch thinking. This buffering of the "rough stone" makes it likely that no one's belief will be damaged by this book.
| The Church Is Finally Starting To Tell The Truth - Reading Richard L. Bushman's Recent Book, Joseph Smith-Rough Stone Rolling |
Friday, Nov 11, 2005, at 09:12 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: RICHARD LYMAN BUSHMAN -Link To MC Article-
| ↑ |
| Based on the following, do you believe that the re-retelling of church history (by the church) has finally started? |
I am reading Richard L. Bushman's recent book, Joseph Smith-Rough Stone Rolling. It's a biography of Joseph Smith written by University of Columbia history professor, and active lds member.
The main difference in this book and Palmer's book, Insider's View of Mormon Origins, is that at the end of every chapter in the Bushman book, you sense that the author is prepared to give his testimony that the church is true. The events are told as though their displayed through a soft-white filtered lens, with soft Michael McLean music playing in the background. Whereas in Palmer's book, he really does come across as someone who's just contraverting what the church has been teaching all along with no personal commentary or mushy rhetoric.
But I have to give props to church leadership on this one. A friend recently asked me if I thought that Bushman would end up being disciplined as Palmer was. I responded by saying that not only will Bushman NOT be disciplined, but that he was in all likelihood commissioned by the church to bring forth these sensitive topics in a manner that would be accepted by the general membership without problem. Some may be annoyed... some may leave. But I think that the general "intellectuals" who are already used to the mental gymnastics and cog-dis anyway will be pleased that they don't have to feel lied to anymore.
Some topics discussed:
- Early life of JS
- JS Sr's dreams that mimic those in JS scripture
- no real 1820 revival in upstate NY
- multiple first visions
- JS trying to sell copyright of BofM
- Seer Stones
- Translating from the hat
- Treasure Hunting
- The Magic Worldview
- Kinderhook Plates
- JS lying to Emma
- JS marrying other women
- JS marring women who were already married
It's interested to note that I haven't really come across anything about the mistranslation of the papyri into the Book of Abraham. There's also nothing in there (that I've seen so far) about 14 year-old Helen Kimball.
But, kudos to the morg for beginning the long process of turning the mindset of the average member. This book is advertised heavily in church sales magazines.
So again, do you think that the church is beginning to do what it needs to in order to save its membership?
| I was at my local Barnes and Noble the other day and saw a copy of Bushman's Rough Stone Rolling, the new JS biography, sitting on the shelf. So I pulled it out for a moment and thumbed through it, to see for myself just what he'd done with all those controversial sources. I immediately went looking for his take on the differing accounts of the First Visions, because that was the specific source that finally did my testimony in.
You see, in the run-up to my awakening from Mormonism, I had become aware that there were multiple accounts. But I had been lulled by apologetic writings into believing that the only differences were ones of emphasis. As JS's understanding of his prophetic calling expanded, he highlighted different aspects of the vision. None of the scholars I read ever quoted the exact sources in full, so I had no reason to believe otherwise. Of course, when I actually read the accounts for myself, it was instantly apparent that this explanation would not work.
And yep, here it was again: Bushman never cites the different accounts in full. Like other apologists, he pieces the sources together in a way that supports his view without taking into consideration the contradictory evidence that, in the case of the First Visions, is in the very next sentence, more often than not.
To illustrate what Bushman and the apologists do, let me create a crude chart comparing the FVs. Let's say Bushman reads the accounts and sees that all three contain the idea that JS decided to go pray in the woods. We'll call that A. Then we'll assign other letters to represent other parts of the text, and lay out a chart that describes the way they overlap. Please note that I don't actually mean these letters to stand for actual units of text here (except where I expand on specific examples below). I'm just illustrating a point.
When he's finished, let's say that Bushman finds that all three accounts say A and B; 1838 says C even though the others don't; but 1835 and 1838 both say D; etc. Something like this:
1832 A B E F G
1835 A B D F
1838 A B C D E
You'll notice that there is overlap -- broad agreement in several areas. According to Bushman, one account may indeed contain units that others lack, but if you add them up, you get a consistent whole that varies only in degree and emphasis. You get A-B-C-D-E-F-G, just like the church says.
The problem is Bushman's unspoken assumption: that the canonical account (1838) is the correct one and that all others evolve progressively and consistently into that account. He deliberately leaves out or glosses over what doesn't fit his evolutionary scheme. For example, 1838 says the Father and Son appear, and he calls that C. Of course, neither 1832 nor 1835 say that, so he has to leave them out. He justifies this in the book, essentially by saying this: In 1832 JS says Jesus appears, so that's at least half of C; and in 1835, "two personages" appear, so that's still C, just a bit vague. Sort of like, "C" instead of C.
What he does not do is read the 1832 and 1835 accounts in their own context. Again, he assumes a teleology (and I think he knows better): the earlier accounts anticipate the later account. He figures that if Jesus shows up in 1832, it's halfway to C and that's all that matters. But what if you take the accounts individually and separately, and actually analyze the entire accounts instead of playing up consistencies and leaving out the rest?
Well, the reality looks something like this (again, I'm not linking the letters to specific locations in the text, just making a point):
1832 A B H J E F G
1835 A B I D K F
1838 A B C D E L
Suddenly you get a very different picture. It may be true that 1838 contains C where the others don't, but taken on their own merits, the equivalent of C in 1838 is H in 1832 and I in 1835. To extend the earlier example (where C represents the appearance of Father and Son), there's not the slightest intimation in 1832 that the Father was present in the vision; Bushman reads consistency into the text by assuming that the 1838 account is the correct version. Similarly, in 1835, the two personages are not identified as Father and Son; in fact, the wording leads you to believe that they are angels, one of whom testifies that Jesus is the Son of God (a third-person testimony in Jesus' absence). Again, Bushman finds consistency by reading 1835 against the 1838 declaration: "This is my beloved son, hear him." But that's not what 1835 says.
Read as a whole and glossing over the differences, as Bushman does, you get progression and consistency. Taken individually, as they were originally written, and read without anticipating the canonical 1838 text, you get a very different picture. You get contradiction and inconsistency, theological revision and reversal.
In other words, you get a series of accounts that don't sustain LDS truth claims.
I hope this wasn't too confusing. It's a quick and crude review, but I think it says a lot about the apologetic methodology and, frankly, about the church's approach to its history as well. Begin by assuming that the church's accepted version is correct and work backward from that.
Bushman is a fine historian in his own right. Some of his works are recognized as preeminent in the field (much of it is on stuff not related to Mormonism at all). I don't think he's playing the church's stooge here, per se. I think he thinks he's opening up the closet and airing out the skeletons a bit. And in fairness, it's not the historian's job, really, to affirm or deny religious truth claims. But it is the historian's job to analyze evidence and not to leave out pertinent details. Historians who do so get reamed by other historians, and rightfully so.
Bushman's work is a positive step forward in some ways. But there's an invisible string tied to Rough Stone Rolling that leads all the way back to church headquarters. He wants to have his cake and eat it, too. But to paraphrase Bro. Nibley: no, Professor Bushman, that's not history. That's not even cultural biography. That's apologetics.
| I have to say, I never thought I’d hear some of this stuff spoken from the pulpit. The fireside was given at the local institute, and attracted LDS students and older Mormons. Bushman seemed much more open about his personal feelings in front of this audience. It had the basic format of a fireside, framed by hymns and prayers, but Bushman did again allow for questions at the end. Here’s the gist of his talk:
The most critical point, intellectually speaking, in Joseph Smith’s life, is the translation of the BOM.
All major religions–Islam, Christianity, Judaism–have founding miracles. (He cites the parting of the Red Sea for Judaism, Christ’s resurrection for Christianity, etc.) These events impart energy to religious movements, energy which lasts for centuries and also ends up being the movement’s most controversial point. All of this is true for the tale of the gold plates.
Of course the gold plates story is only one of two major founding miracles, the other being the first vision. But visions were so common at the time that it does not function as the major dividing point, like the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. That is our foundation story. It can either prove JS a fraud or show that God really was involved.
How did JS learn to translate? We often don’t think he had to learn to do this–he just looked into stones and read off what he saw, as though he was using a machine. But it wasn’t that easy. Martin Harris couldn’t do it, and some days even JS couldn’t do it.
How did JS exercise faith in his own visions? You don’t normally think of needing faith in your own visions. But when JS first went to get the gold plates and couldn’t, it was suggested to him that it might have been all a dream. If JS’s father had expressed doubt in JS’s visions, JS might have doubted them, too.
JS may have been prepared for translation in a way that we might not understand. Before JS translated, he had learned to look into stones. JS found a little brown stone in a well. He once described it as a “key.” It was said that he could see things in stones and that is why his father was always trying to get him into treasure digging. (Tells a bit of the Josiah Stowell story.)
These stories have always been a little embarrassing to the church, and for a while were completely denied. But then views on seer stones began to change. We began to learn more about American folk magic. We began to realize that the Smith’s involvement in this was not scandalous. Placed in context, it was something more like playing cards.
The miracles of treasure seeking were an extension of Christianity. This folk magic is something we can be at ease about, not ashamed of. Additionally, it might have been providential for JS.
JS’s mother had been worried all the times that he couldn’t get the plates. When he finally got them, he reassured her by saying he had gotten a key, and let her feel the Urim and Thummim wrapped in a handkerchief. She described them as two three-cornered diamonds, set in glass, etc.
Protestantism focuses narrowly on salvation. Mormonism is filled with so many more things and stories–angels, gold plates, seer stones.
Folk magic prepared JS for translation.
Now, a little about the language of the BOM. A boy writing about Jews leaving Jerusalem to come to America would have assigned Hebrew to be their language. But no, it was a form of Egyptian.
JS copied three or four dozen characters from the BOM. We all know the Charles Anthon/Martin Harris story. Anthon claimed that he tried only to dissuade Harris from continuing what he was doing with JS. Both men’s stories conflict–but Martin Harris went back and continued on, and gave large sums of money to JS.
This story does not matter very much to me. What matters is that the characters were written down. They were published and the original was eventually given to what was then the RLDS church. It is helpful to have these characters so we can look a little more clearly at this language.
A man named Crowley (sp?) wrote three articles about his attempts to connect the characters with the Egyptian language. He lined up the characters and compared them to a similar Egyptian character. Every last one of the characters looks something like an Egyptian character. Crowley said he showed his work to an Egyptologist who approved it with one reservation. Crowley didn’t say what the reservation was.
Bushman spoke with the same expert at Brown that Crowley spoke to (sorry, I didn’t catch the name of this guy–Richard something?–and most of this story was so confusing/vague, I wasn’t sure what to write down. Something about comparing different types of Egyptian writing). At the end of the discussion, the expert said, “Let me play devil’s advocate. Wouldn’t there have been some sort of text floating around during JS’s time with Egyptian characters on it that that JS would have had access to?” Bushman didn’t think so. The only source he knew of was the man selling mummies from whom JS got the Book of Abraham scrolls.
Regardless, Bushman left convinced that somehow or other, JS had access to Egyptian characters, because the characters JS wrote down look Egyptian.
The translation of the BOM is unlike any translation we are aware of. Early on in the translation, we don’t have a very clear picture of how it was done. As far as Bushman knows, JS had the plates open on the table next to him. He would look into the Urim and Thummim and dictate to the scribe who would be behind a blanket which would keep the scribe from seeing the plates. This is possibly how the first 116 pages were translated.
Later on in the translation we are pretty clear on the method. The plates were wrapped in a linen cloth and set on a table, so there was no longer any need for a blanket to separate JS from the scribe. Joseph looked in a seer stone which was placed in a hat. His face would block out the light and as far as we can tell, words would appear in the stone. This is what the best research indicates.
It is thought that the Book of Abraham was a revelation rather than a translation.
Emma Smith said she wrote for Joseph day after day, hour after hour–him sitting with his head buried in a hat, dictating. If he had any other manuscript, he could not have concealed it from me, Emma said. Emma claimed that JS could not have even dictated a clearly-worded letter, let alone a whole book. She said that JS would pick up exactly where he left off, even after meals or interruptions–something she felt even a learned man couldn’t do.
JS had no preparation, no trial runs–with the possible exception of the first 116 pages. He wrote pretty much nothing before the BOM.
If JS was not inspired, he was an untutored genius.
No matter what you believe, if you take the BOM seriously, you have to admit that it is a work of genius.
Here is the question and answer session:
Q: Why did JS need the gold plates at all?
A: I don’t have an answer. Maybe it has to do with the mysteries of heaven. Somehow or other the presence of the physical seems to be necessary. I couldn’t tell you how that works.
Q: Were the Urim and Thummim a warm up for the seer stones?
A: The stones came before the Urim and Thummim. The stones were the warm up.
Q: My ancestor supposedly was a guardian of the Urim and Thummim. Do you know where the Urim and Thummim are today?
A: After a while, the seer stones began to be referred to as the Urim and Thummim. The Church still has one of the seer stones in its possession.
Q: The seer stone JS used for translating–was that his own stone?
A: That’s the one he found in the well. It wasn’t given to him by angels.
Q: Joseph’s ability to see through stones–do you see this as a characteristic of the stones themselves or a spiritual gift given to Joseph, where he would be able to see things in any stone?
A: It was a spiritual gift, but he did pick his stones out.
Q: Can you discuss the prevalence of King James terminology in the BOM?
A: It’s a little bit of a problem. We know that the Smiths read the Bible their home. We see Biblical passages woven together in the BOM and the DandC. JS’s sermons don’t have this kind of language, so I would argue that this is how God speaks. Also, King James English was set apart as a language of divinity, so it was a natural way to dignify the BOM.
Q: Knowing what you know, are you comfortable giving the more common “simple” story of the translation?
A: Yes. The point is that JS translated by the gift and power of God. Every teacher knows that he is only teaching his student a small part of the body of knowledge that he has. However, there is no reason to go to great lengths to conceal these things. I’ve heard people say, “I would never give your book to an investigator.” I disagree. I think investigators like to hear it straight.
Q: Early church meetings were more Pentecostal. Why did we move away from that?
A: The saints were seeking those spiritual experiences and gifts. It goes back to translating in the King James language: you have to get the message across in a way that will connect to people.
Q: Can people buy the story without having a spiritual experience?
A: Dan Peterson, a member of FARMS, has discussions with Dan Vogel, an Exmormon, who insists that there is not a scrap of evidence showing the BOM to be authentic. Dan Peterson and myself see all sorts of evidence. I do not think JS could have written this book, it is too complex. Dan Vogel says JS has to have written it. I believe that once you plant the seed in your heart it all becomes very reasonable.
Q: Didn’t other people at the time claim to have peep stones?
A: Yes it was a well-known practice in this magic culture. It’s like Oliver Cowdery having a (water stick?). We are disinclined to make this reputable, but I’m open-minded about the possibility of such things.
Q: Why would JS say he was not practicing polygamy when he was?
A: Mormons always denied it because they didn’t want to associate their celestial practice with common bigamy. JS didn’t think of it as a lie.
Q: Why do you believe that the BOM is true?
A: Two answers. Because it offers a glimmer of hope that God is interested in us. There is so much that is strange in it. Once you accept the possibility, and embrace the Book of Mormon, you find yourself in a world where so many good things follow from it. Once you are inside that system, it becomes rational and clear. It is like Alma 32, planting the seed. I can’t deny all the good experiences in my life. To me it is clear that the BOM comes from God.
--end of talk
| Ironically, it was Michael Quinn who warned church leaders 25 years ago that they ought to stop censoring the complete history of the church from rank-and-file members, because they might learn it from anti-Mormon sources and feel betrayed:
"The tragic reality is that there have been occasions when Church leaders, teachers, and writers have not told the truth they knew about difficulties of the Mormon past, but have offered to the Saints instead a mixture of platitudes, half-truths, omissions, and plausible denials. Elder Packer and others would justify this because "we are at war with the adversary" and must also protect any Latter-day Saint whose "testimony [is] in seedling stage."35 But such a public-relations defense of the Church is actually a Maginot Line of sandy fortifications which "the enemy" can easily breach and which has been built up by digging lethal pits into which the Saints will stumble. A so-called "faith-promoting" Church history which conceals controversies and difficulties of the Mormon past actually undermines the faith of Latter-day Saints who eventually learn about the problems from other sources."
Quinn's remarks, of course, helped to get him excommunicated. But today, Bushman's book is being used by the church as the very "inoculation" that Quinn suggested that church members need to cushion the blow of learning the truth about Joseph Smith's life.
As others have mentioned, Bushman's well-intentioned book is backfiring on some TBMs, and causing them to lose faith and leave the church. I submit that the vaccine of Bushman's book is failing those people because it admits and concedes as true so much of what church leaders and apologists have vehemently *denied* was true over the decades.
There are hundreds of thousands of TBMs like I once was, who are in their 30s, 40s, 50s, or older, who were led to believe all their lives that (for instance) the reports of Joseph Smith being an occultic folk-magician, or tales of him having sex with numerous "plural wives," were all lies concocted by evil anti-Mormons who are hell-bent on destroying the Lard's one troo church. All TBMs are not stupid enough to forget the repeated denials of these items by church leaders and apologists for decades. When they learn the facts via Bushman's book, a certain portion of them will realize that they've been lied to all their lives, and that the evil anti-Mormons were telling the truth after all, and they're going to leave the church.
Most TBMs will accept changes in doctrines or policies and remain faithful, but they won't be so loyal and forgiving when they realize they've been lied to by the organization to which they've pledged their lives and substantial amounts of money.
| Maybe I’ve become too cynical for my own good but I have to give Bushman credit for his blatant recklessness in attempting to outpace the tinfoil hat brigade up at FARMS. To set things up I’ll offer these remarkable citations below:
In chapter 4 (“A New Bible”) in his Joseph Smith biography “Rough Stone Rolling” on page 93 he remarkably asserts the following:
“On the whole better trained, with more technical language skills than their opponents, they [the Book of Mormon proponents] are located mainly at Brigham Young University and associated with the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS).”
OMG! The arrogance! I just about fell out of my chair when I read that one!
Further on down page 93:
“On point after point, the proponents answer the critics and assemble their own evidence. Unlike the critics, they do not claim their case is conclusive; the accumulate evidence, but admit belief in the Book of Mormon requires faith.”
Yep, they answer the critics and assemble evidence alright. The problem that Bushman won’t acknowledge is that their answers are completely unsatisfactory unless you are willing to jettison any cohesive concept of determinative reality! And what’s this bullshit about early readers ASSUME[ing]? Jump on the post-modern bandwagon Richie! I just hope you don’t have a run-in about this with the big boys up at the COB!
“Early readers assumed the Book of Mormon people ranged up and down North and South America from upstate New York to Chili. A close reading of the text reveals it cannot sustain such an expansive geography.”
I especially loved this little gem on page 96:
“But for readers of Ethan Smith, the Book of Mormon was a disappointment. It was not a treatise about the origins of the Indians, REGARDLESS OF WHAT EARLY MORMONS SAID.[!] The Book of Mormon never used the word “Indian”.”[!]
Translation: Joseph Smith and every other church leader that has ever testified to the effect that the Book of Mormon is a history of the Native American forefathers and that their people covered the land are full of shit! They’re just prophets – what the * do they know?!
And finally, on page 97 he offers the most comprehensive and erudite hypothesis on Book of Mormon geography to date:
“The Book of Mormon deposited its people on some unknown shore – NOT EVEN DEFINITELY IDENTIFIED AS AMERICA – and had them live out their history in a remote place in a distant time.”
So should the opening line in the Book of Mormon be changed to read: "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..."?
There you have it folks. Why were we all so damn clueless? We’ve been looking on the WRONG CONTINENT – hell, we may even be looking on the WRONG GODDAMNED PLANET using Bushman’s logic!
Damn it! I’m going to finish this book but plowing though this shit will definitely take its toll on my sanity.
I know – I’m a masochist.
| I read Rough Stone Rolling a few months back, and though I was impressed with the amount of research, I wasn't all that impressed with Bushman's take on the research. I started reading No Man Knows My History again (it has been a while), and I'm struck by the contrast.
The first time I ever picked up NMKMH in the BYU library, I was literally shaking. I was afraid of the book because this was evil anti-Mormon stuff, the kind of thing I was supposed to steer clear of. Now I read it and find that fear kind of humorous.
Anyway, scholarship aside, Brodie's prose is infinitely better than Bushman's dull, plodding, almost clinical narrative. Brodie's writing is crisp and alive.
Brodie's "psychobiographical" approach can be a little annoying, but she doesn't read between the lines any more than Bushman does, and her conclusions seem more reasonable than his. For example, Bushman discusses Joseph's career with his peepstone and then waves it off by saying that once he was involved with restoring the gospel, Joseph left the world of peepstones behind (this despite his knowing that Joseph used his peepstone to translate the BofM).
Brodie does a much better job of showing how Joseph was a product of his environment, how his claims to divine calling were not unique, and how his religious teachings and texts are grounded in frontier American ideas and folklore. Bushman, on the other hand, tries very hard to divorce Joseph from his environment, showing how Joseph's religious approach is unique among his contemporaries (see, for example, the rather strained section discussing how Joseph's view of the Lamanites turned 19th century racism on its head). Bushman situates Joseph in a frontier setting only when it makes him look good (take a look, for example, at how Bushman turns Joseph's famous temper into an example of noble American chivalry).
But most of all, Brodie gives us a clear picture of Joseph as a human being. We hear what his friends and enemies thought of him and why. Bushman's book seemed to me to keep its distance from Joseph the man, describing instead what happened (again, from a believing point of view) in almost clinical terms.
As I said, I think Brodie's book has its faults, but it's a remarkable achievement, considering when it was written. Bushman's book, though a step in the right direction for a believing biography (at least it's not one of those awful Francis Gibbons hagiographies), is still disappointing.
| So I have had very little time in the last couple of weeks to read ‘Rough Stone Rolling’ due to demands at work and home. But last night I had a few moments to plough ahead a few pages into Bushman’s ‘cultural biography’. I must give him credit for his writing style. This guy is good at painting a vivid picture. For someone lacking a basic understanding of church history (and conversely maintaining a willingness to lap up apologetics for the assurance of faith) this would be a great read.
On page 130, Bushman is wrapping up his treatise on the narrative style and resulting influence of Joseph’s revelations and includes the following quote from Parley P. Pratt’s autobiography regarding the method of dictation:
“Each sentence was uttered slowly and very distinctly, and with a pause between each, sufficiently long for it to be recorded by an ordinary writer in long hand. This was the manner in which all his written Revelation were dictated and written. There was never any hesitation, reviewing, or reading back, in order to keep the run of the subject;
[pause for dramatic affect]
neither did any of these communications undergo revisions, interlinings or corrections. As he dictated them so they stood, so far as I have witnessed;
[pause to pick jaw off the floor]
and I was present to witness the dictation of several communications of several pages each.” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, p. 65-66.)
This particular paragraph was written in 1831 so this was obviously written prior to the publication of the Book of Commandments in 1833 and the subsequent publication of the Doctrine and Covenants in 1835.
That’s all fine and good except for the fact that Bushman ends his treatise on that note – never clarifying that Joseph’s revelations went through significant “revisions, interlinings or corrections” over the course of the next 6 years.
So the myth of unchanging revelation is preserved once more while the truth of history is once again sacrificed to shore up the testimonies of the faithful. All the while, those who know the truth can only shake their heads in amazement and shake their fists at Bushman for being so brazenly deceptive.
Like I said when I posted about his UN-limited geography theory from the last chapter of 'Rough Stone Rolling'; I’m going to get through this but it’s definitely going to take a toll on my sanity. Quinn’s ‘Mormon Hierarchy’ series will be a welcome respite after wading through this quagmire.
| Just “returning and reporting” on the lectures which Richard and Claudia Bushman gave on Wednesday. Honestly, after the lecture, I must say that I felt a tiny glimmer of hope for the Mormon church, that they are beginning to be a little more honest with and about themselves. It’s taken me a while to get it typed up and posted, but my are notes below for anyone interested. As much as possible I have tried to include the exact quotes as I heard them. Some of the quotes are quite shocking and I would say reflect a surprising theological shift within the church, though not so surprising since as was reported at a recent exmormon conference that over 100,000 people are officially writing to the church every year to have their names removed. As such, the comments and announcements of these lectures may certainly represent a practical and theological shift to try to stop the hemorrhaging.
The lectures took place in the Founder’s room of the Honnold/Mudd Library at approximately 4:15 p.m. on Feb. 4, 2009. Both Richard and Claudia Bushman gave a lecture. The librarian who opened the lecture, introduced them separately, which Claudia expressed her appreciation for not being introduced as the “wife of” Richard Bushman, as is typical for many Mormon gatherings. The overall theme of the lectures was that they were now working to establish Mormon studies graduate programs throughout the United States and that these programs are focusing on looking at Mormon history from a much more honest perspective than ever before.
The first to speak was Claudia Bushman. Her lecture was concerning, ‘New developments in Mormon women’s history.’ She spoke of how they are now working to establish Mormon studies graduate programs throughout the U.S. and she called this “a time of change that we can measure.” Two of the most surprising things she said in the lecture were, “Right now we have to go legit” and “We’re going to create our own dogmas.” These are so surprising because they are admissions that Mormonism has not been “legit” and that the dogmas of the past are now in a flux. Her lecture spoke more largely of how women have been people of courage and leaders on large and small scales throughout Mormon history from its dawn to the present. She gave a number of examples such as of women harvesting silk and making a dress for Susan B. Anthony and that the women in Utah were the first in vote in the U.S., as well as numerous contemporary examples of Mormon women as leaders. When she said the two surprising quotes above among the statements about the history, it seemed that she was leading on that women may eventually hold the priesthood, but when I asked a question about that in the question and answer time after both of their lectures, she deflected it with a rote Mormon answer. I tried to phrase my question as if I had never been a Mormon and said something like, ‘In recent decades, given that so many other churches have now allowed women to have the priesthood and be clergy, the Mormon church and the Catholic church still have not --- how likely do you think it is that Mormon church will make that theological evolution?’ Her answer deflected the question by simply saying that she was personally not interested in holding the priesthood -- an extremely rote Mormon answer. Still, it was my impression from the lecture that such a time may not be far off. She also spoke in the lecture of the migration of so many Mormons back to Utah which is occurring today.
Richard Bushman’s lecture was even more shocking. He also spoke of expanding Mormon studies graduate programs throughout the United States, but the specific focus of his lecture was to pronounce that two histories have been told about the church throughout its history, one sugar coating and retelling the history so as to strengthen the faith of the believing and another history exposing every flaw of Mormon history, and that now is a time for Mormon theologians to essentially be brutally honest with themselves. He said it “could be called New Wave Mormon Studies.”
He opened by saying that the venue of that library we were meeting at there at the Claremont Colleges (which is used by the five colleges, the graduate school, and the school of theology) is now seeking to expand their Mormon collection as never before and that as other Mormon graduate studies programs are implemented elsewhere that their libraries will expand too. Central to this objective is the introduction of a book which he passed around the room called, “Studies in Mormon History” -- which is essentially an hefty 3 inch thick index of all ‘known’ books on the Mormon faith and its history. When the book came around to me, as I flipped through it I saw references to texts by the Tanners who have been so influential in the exmormon community. So they are clearly seeking something on a comprehensive side.
He went on to say that Mormon history “is obviously a tortured history” and called a portion of that history “confession history” as everything sought to build up the faith of the believing, showing “the hand of the Lord” behind all of the events. Early Mormons in such histories are seen as heroes. Oppositely, Mormons themselves throughout their history have constantly confronted a massive face of anti-mormon historians. He made reference to several early Mormon critical historians, one of whom said that “the final question” about Joseph Smith is “Was he demented or merely degenerate?” These historians considered Joseph Smith to be a fraud and thus also many people saw that anything coming out of Mormonism must be false.
Mormon writings have traditionally been written “for Mormons to teach Mormons,” “To keep people in the faith and build up the young people.” Of such writings came a proliferation of “manuals” intended for weekly study by Mormons for this very purpose. At this point, I actually have the impression that he was saying that Mormon theology is very much ‘self made.’ From a post-mormon perspective, it is authoritarian and fear driven, but his perspective is curious, and definitely not mainstream Mormon thinking to say that they create it themselves --- essentially striking the same chord as Claudia Bushman with her words, “We’re going to create our own dogmas.” He also spoke of many Mormon publications which published the speeches, edicts, and writings of the Mormon church leaders throughout its history.
He went on to say that countering these came several significant texts, one of the first of which is “The Comprehensive History of the Church” in which the author sought to rid that history of untruth and the bizarre. Significantly next was the book “No Man Knows My History,” of which he said, “her biography really was a milestone.” He went on to say that this text was written for a general audience and that Mormons were outraged by this book portraying Joseph Smith as a fraud. He also told an extensive history of how that author had come to write the book.
Next he talked about an influx of Mormons entering graduate schools in the 1950s and how many wanted to write about Mormon history. Some of their professor greatly encouraged them to tell their story, to “paint your history.” Other professors saw writing about Mormon history by a Mormon student as a dangerous ground to walk on, as their perspective would be a rather biased one. As they did so, though, he said that in many of such theses and dissertations that they admitted the errors in their history and that there was non-inspiration behind many of histories tales in the faith. He gave a couple of examples, one of which was that the Word of Wisdom (the Mormon health code) was actually enforced by Brigham Young to keep resources from going out of Utah to buy such products as tobacco and that he was trying to keep the people as self-reliant as possible.
He then returned to speaking about the book he passed around and said that “The new Mormon history is beginning to define its own limits.” Another very surprising statement, that we are now entering a time when history is being seen by Mormons through new eyes as never before. He spoke of many fields of study in development such as the history of Mormon “rituals,” to “facilitate a new kind of history.” Religious studies programs are proliferating across campus’ and that Claremont has the largest population of LDS theological students in the nation, and then referred to all of this by saying “that [it] could be called New Wave Mormon Studies.”
| This is the part out of Bushman's book:
"This is the Case with Joseph Smith. He never professed to be a dressed smooth polished stone but was rough out of the mountain and has been rolling among the rocks and trees and has not hurt him at all. But he will be as smooth and polished in the end as any other stone, while many that were so vary poliched and smooth in the beginning get badly defaced and spoiled while theiy are rolling about." (Brigham Young, September 9, 1843)
The quote originally came from Wilford Woodruff's diary (Wilford Woodruff's Journal, Vol. 2, 1841–1845, p.297), and was later evidently edited by BH Roberts to be included in the HC (6:21). Both sources, however, (if I am reading correctly) attribute the quote to Heber C. Kimball, not Brigham Young.
Kimball made this statement after commenting on some rather heated remarks that Young had preached the day before.
Woodruff's diary can be hard to follow. I suppose that because of this challenge, Bushman accidentally confused Kimball's remarks for Brigham's. Or... Bushman knows something about this quote that I am unaware of."
Here's the quote from the source:
"Elder B. Young arose and said I will make an apology for my remarks in the fore part of the day. Some may think I spoke vary plain. But the Apology I have to make is I will turn Thompsonian doctor and give the Composition without sweetning. This work is all. It is my all. If this work does not live God knows I dont want to live, And I want you to understand it, that he that gathereth not with us scattereth. And they that have tasted the Bitter Cup feel it.
Wake up ye Elders that have sought to build yourselves up and not the kingdom of God. Wake up ye that have daubbed with untempered morter. Harken and hear me for I say unto you that if you do not help us build the Temple and Nauvoo House you shall not inherit the land of Zion. If you do not help build up Zion and the cause of God you shall not partake of their Blessings.
Many elders seek to Build themselves up and not the work of God. But when any one does this no matter who he may be he will not prosper even if it was one of the Twelve. Those of the Twelve and others of the Elders that have apostitized I have known their hearts their breathings and known their moovments. They thought I did not know much But I knew all about them, and when I see men preaching to build themselves up and not Zion I know what it will end in.
But say you I am young. I dont Care if you are young. Do you know what you are about? If so Preach and labour for the building up of the City of Zion. Concentrate your means and influence there and not scatter abroad. Be faithful or you will not be Chosen for the day of Chusing is at the door.
Why be afraid of a sacrafice? I have given my all many times and am willing to do it again. I would be glad to hear the Lord say through his servant Joseph, let my servant Brigham give again all that he has. I would obey in a moment if it took the last coat of from my Back.
Elder Kimball sayes I get up of necessity to say a few words. I am quite unwell, But I feel the importance of this work. I have been a member of this Church 12 years. I came out of the Baptist Church and Joined this and I have passed through evry thing but death, and we have come here to call for help to build the Houses and I have spent $30 to get here and collected $15 dollars.
We were commanded to come of the Lord But it seems as though but few felt interested in it. Here I see three Brethren going to the far distant Islands. I could weep for them. They have but little money to help themselves. I feel interested in this great work. We have come out to Reep but do we have time to Reep new grain? No for it takes all our time to try to save that is reap.
You think that Elder Young has put the flail on rather heavy. But it is nothing to be compaired with the Threshing you will get in Zion, and those that have the hardest heads have to be thrashed the hardest. But dont be troubled about the chaff. When it comes to the barns God will prepare a great wind Mill that will blow all the Chaff away.
I speak in Parables. I Compare the Saints to a good cow. When you milk her Clean she will always have an abundance of milk to give. But you milk her a little and she will soon dry up. So with the Saints. If they do but little in building up Zion they soon have but little to do with. This was the case in Cincinnati.
I had a dream concerning the Saints there. I thought I was in a field of wheat that was stacked up and we had got to draw it into the barn. Come to open the stack the bundle would all fall to peices and it was filled with clusters of Rats and mice, who had been eating up the grain. I thought these Rats and mice were the Elders and official members who had been in and lain on the Church, lived on the wheat eaten them up instead of building up New Churches. So that when the Twelve came along they could not get any thing for the Temple or Nauvoo House, or Hardly a place to stay. The rats had eat up the wheat so and we had to go to the world for a home to stay while we were their.
We are not Polished stones like Elder Babbit Elder Adams, Elder Blakesley and Elder Magin andc. But we are rough Stones out of the mountain, and when we roll through the forest and nock the bark of from the trees it does not hurt us even if we should get a Cornor nocked of occasionally. For the more they roll about and knock the cornors of the better we are. But if we were pollished and smooth when we get the cornors knocked of it would deface us.
This is the Case with Joseph Smith. He never professed to be a dressed smooth polished stone but was rough out of the mountain and has been rolling among the rocks and trees and has not hurt him at all. But he will be as smooth and polished in the end as any other stone, while many that were so vary poliched and smooth in the beginning get badly defaced and spoiled while theiy are rolling about."
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