An Invitation to Thank Dr. Richard Bushman

The Maxwell Institute is hosting a colloquium for Richard Bushman this summer (more information may be found here). As part of that colloquium, the Maxwell Institute will present a Book of Gratitude consisting of letters sent for inclusion in that book. If Dr. Bushman’s work has inspired you, you are invited to send along your thanks for possible inclusion in this Book of Gratitude. For instructions on how you may contribute to this wonderful effort, click here.

2 thoughts on “An Invitation to Thank Dr. Richard Bushman

  1. Thank you Dr. Bushman, ‘Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism’ was one of the first church history books I read. It has been a deep interest since then. Your biography of Joseph Smith: ‘Rough Stone Rolling’ put the prophet in historical context and made him more real for me, and hence more inspiring! Thank you for sparking many years of history reading!

  2. Rough Stone Rolling Revisited
    by Borson M. Hugilhoff

    Richard Lyman Bushman, the author of a biography of Joseph Smith entitled Joseph Smith Rough Stone Rolling A Cultural Biography of Mormonism’s Founder, tells us that “two hundred years should be long enough to gain perspective on Joseph Smith.” He then proceeds to give us a “cultural biography” of the prophet. A biography unlike any other previously written, especially by a self proclaimed “believing historian.”

    What makes Bushman’s biography so different than previously written biographies on Joseph Smith? Bushman is quick to tell us. He’s not interested in “perfection.” He’s interested in “mistakes and flaws.” Bushman tells us he knows just where to find those “mistakes and flaws” about the Prophet Joseph Smith. He tells us that they come from apostates of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In Bushman’s mind those that have broken away from Mormonism have produced “a large amount of scholarship” concerning this topic. Isn’t it interesting that someone with Bushman’s credentials can over night turn anti-Mormon literature into a collected and respected source of scholarship.

    Richard Bushman’s book Rough Stone Rolling has been offered for sale on LDS store shelves for almost a decade now. It is long over-due that Rough Stone Rolling be revisited.

    Interestingly, Bushman’s title to his biography is a fragmented quote from the Prophet Joseph Smith. Bushman desires to show a flawed Joseph Smith. Not a prophet, but a carnal man. Thus Bushman chose to use the imagery of an unrefined quarried stone to reflect Joseph Smith’s character. Something Joseph Smith never intended when he used the metaphor. Instead Joseph was giving a warning to all those that would oppose him and his prophetic calling from God in describing the refining affect opposition to him would bring.

    It is clear that Bushman is an Hegelian. While such philosophical beliefs are fully accepted in the modern world of academia, the very practice of Hegelian dialectics in the realm of history not only muddies the waters of history, but induces in the reader a mental virus of the double-mind. A schizoid perception of historical reality. Applying such techniques to religious history is diabolical and profanes the sacred. Profaning the sacred introduces an individual into the realm of blasphemy. A religious concept that has been discarded from our religious culture in discussing and using for the sake of not offending the offender. The irony being that the pious who refuses to point out someone’s blasphemy, in fear of offending the spirit of mutual respect, actually commits blasphemy by allowing the environment for the blasphemers rhetoric to thrive in.

    Let’s revisit Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling and look at key passages. In doing so one can easily detect and see what Hugh Nibley calls, historical “irresponsibility” and “biographical mendacity” when he reviewed Fawn Brodies anti-Mormon book No Man Knows My History. Brodie was an individual who viewed Joseph Smith as a complete “imposter.” Bushman kindly acclaims her book as a “landmark” biography, a biography that according to Bushman has contributed to the “the scholarship” that he uses in painting his flawed biographical portrait of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

    At the beginning of Bushman’s work, he quickly begins to tell us that Joseph Smith’s father “was involved in magical practices, an unorthodox but not unusual way of connecting with the supernatural.” And then in his footnote to this claim, tells us that the evidence for this is “exceedingly thin.” This is necessary though for Bushman to teach what he believes was Joseph Smith’s motive for the Restoration. Which isn’t that Joseph Smith was called of God to open the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. The motive being to “satisfy his family’s religious want” and to satisfy the magical practices of his father who was “oft-defeated” and “unmoored.”

    Before proceeding, we must be reminded that Bushman is intent on marrying anti-Mormon rhetoric with official church history as recorded by the Prophet Joseph Smith himself. In other words, Bushman is taking statements made by those that were opposed to Joseph Smith that made false accusations and statements concerning his character and then weaving those false statements into church history creating a narrative for his book and presenting those slanders as factual characteristics of Joseph Smith.

    In relation to that, Bushman points out that perhaps Joseph Smith “cannot be entirely known,” but at least Bushman can “imagine” what Joseph Smith was really feeling and thinking. In doing so, Bushman feels that it is imperative to give voice to anti-Mormon’s of the period. These “skeptics” in Joseph’s life “must be allowed to speak” Bushman asserts. This is the acclaimed genius of Bushman’s historical scholarship that has been praised by modern Chaldeans within the church and those without.

    In describing Joseph Smith’s youth, Bushman tells his reader that, “He seemed slow and ‘destitute of genius’ or lazy and superstitious.” The authority that Bushman leans on for this characterization of Joseph Smith comes from the writings of D. Michael Quinn. The “superstitious” characteristic is important to Bushman because it puts the prophet Joseph Smith at odds with the revealed will of the Lord.

    When Bushman comes to writing about the First Vision, he points out Joseph’s anger at being reviled and then puts in quotes the following: “I had actually seen a light and in the midst of that light I saw two personages, and they did in reality speak unto me, or one of them did, And though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true.” This quote is doctored. It contains heterogeneous elements that make it illogical. Joseph Smith never constructed his thoughts or teachings in a way that concluded with a logical fallacy as this quote does.

    Bushman then writes about a time when Joseph Smith’s conscience bothered him and points out the fact that Joseph Smith never mentions in detail what it was that bothered him. Bushman then uses his “imagination” to suggest that Joseph Smith was drinking alcohol by quoting a person that lived in Palmyra saying, “every body drank them times.” Of course this is completely at odds with the account of Joseph Smith adamantly refusing to consume alcohol as an anesthetic, when he was strongly urged to do so prior to the operation he had upon one of his legs which entailed the doctor cutting out a piece of the bone of that leg. Why does Richard L. Bushman want his readers to believe that Joseph Smith was drinking alcohol after the first vision when he was called by God to be His chosen servant?

    Bushman then suggests that the Smith family was “probably” involved in astrology and that the mission of Moroni in relation to the plates and Joseph Smith was not in the service of God, but in the mystical realm of magic – that Moroni was a spirit standing guard over hidden treasure.”

    Then to make no vague declaration, Bushman asserts his belief that Joseph Smith used magic to conjure up the spirit (angel Moroni) to uncover the secret hiding place of the treasure known as the gold plates. For “magic had served its purposes in his life. In a sense, it was a preparatory gospel.” Bushman then calls Joseph Smith’s testimony of these events a, “fabulous story about an angel and gold plates.” Then to seal his disbelief in the prophet Joseph Smith, Bushman declares in his writings, “The Smiths have been diagnosed as a dysfunctional family that produced a psychologically crippled son.”

    Bushman, in his writings, reveals the aim of his biography of Joseph Smith. Bushman wants to appease the “critical scholarship” that “comes from disaffected former Mormons who are still fascinated by Mormon texts” but have a goal of not “destroying” Mormonism, but “reshaping it.” Essentially, these “critics” want to turn Joseph Smith into a “compelling religious writer” by denying his prophetic call by God. The problem their carnal minds see is that Joseph Smith being a “visionary revelator” does not fit within a “modern world.” It is their belief that the Book of Mormon is “fictional.”

    Then Bushman gives a list of proofs provided by proponents of the Book of Mormon that counters the critics. Herein lies the real purpose of Bushman’s biography on the prophet Joseph Smith. It’s not to honor his priesthood by bearing testimony of Joseph Smith’s prophetic call, but to introduce within the church Bushman’s belief in the Hegelian philosophy of dialectics. Bushman wants to divide the church into two opposing camps of right and left and then champion them both, instilling into the minds of the members of Christ’s church the double-mind of which the apostle James warned against in the New Testament (James 1:8).

    An example of Bushman’s tactics can be found on page 107 of his book. He begins by quoting Parley P. Pratt’s testimony of the Book of Mormon. Pratt’s testimony represents the correct process in which one gains a testimony of the Book of Mormon. Then to parallel Pratt’s testimony Bushman inserts a comical testimony wherein a convert suggest that they received a testimony of the Book of Mormon by merely touching the book. Which in turn belittles Pratt’s real testimony of the Book of Mormon.

    Bushman asserts that Joseph Smith’s educational and religious upbringing did not prepare Joseph to translate a book. But, Bushman declares the “magic” found in our “culture may have.” Bushman quickly takes the prophetic tool of the Urim and Thummim, which contains two seer stones along with Joseph’s personal seer stone and equates them to “scrying stones.” Bushman asserts that it was Joseph who was “blending magic with inspired translation.” Actually, it is Bushman that is doing that in his pseudo history of Joseph Smith.

    Seership is a gift bestowed upon righteous men that God has chosen to be a prophet. In some situations throughout time, chosen seers by God have been selected and appointed to possess and use these holy instruments known as the Urim and Thummim (Mosiah 8:13; 28:16). If there are seers among a people, that people is the Lord’s. Where there are no seers, apostasy prevails (Isa. 29:10; 2 Nephi 27:5).

    The ancient Israelites were familiar with the use of the Urim and Thummim. The Urim and Thummim consists of two special stones called seer stones or interpreters. Presumably one of the stones is called Urim and the other Thummim. Ordinarily they are carried in a breastplate over the heart (Exodus 28:30; Lev. 8:8). The brother of Jared, Abraham, Aaron and the priests of Israel had them (Ether 3:21-28; Abra. 3:1-4; Ex. 28:30; Lev. 8:8; Num. 27:21; Deut. 33:8; 1 Sam. 28:6; Ezra 2:63; Neh. 7:65).

    Moroni taught the prophet Joseph Smith concerning the Urim and Thummim, “That there were two stones in silver bows – and those stone, fastened to a breastplate constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim – deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted ‘seers’ in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book” (Jos. Smith 2:35, 59, 62). These seer stones are used by the gift and power of God.

    “Scrying stones” are the opposite of seer stones. Scrying is associated with magic. It is a favourite technique popular with magicians or “cunning-folk.” The modern world is familiar with it as depicted as a crystal ball used by fortune-tellers. To the serious occultist scrying has been used to call forth what is known as the Enochian tablets. Such call phrases are currently used by the followers of Anton LaVey and other Satanists. Scrying and prophetic seer stones have no relation to each other. It is despicable and blasphemous that Richard L. Bushman would suggest that Joseph Smith was scrying or using magic to conjure up the angel Moroni when magic and sorcery is condemned by God (Deut. 18:10-12).

    Bushman then states that it is ” hard to imagine now how this twenty-four-year-old came to believe that he could revise the Bible. It was a striking demonstration of his outrageous confidence.” Was it “outrageous confidence” or the instruction of God to his chosen prophet? For the Lord declares, “my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., might have power to translate through the mercy of God, by the power of God” (D&C 1:29).

    Then to set the foundation for Bushman’s attack on the doctrine of plural marriage, Bushman brings in Fawn Brodie and dignifies her as an historian. Bushman speaks of Brodie’s “speculation” that “one of John Jonson’s sons, Eli, meant to punish Joseph for an intimacy with his sister Nancy Marinda.” Then after planting that thought in the mind of his readers, Bushman then points out the fact that this “hypothesis fell for lack of evidence.”

    Fawn Brodie wrote a anti-Mormon biography of the Prophet Joseph Smith that was full of “brazen inconsistencies that swarm in its pages.” For Bushman to call Brodie an historian reflects on Bushman’s own mindset of what he styles historical analysis and review to be. For Brodie’s supposed biographical history of Thomas Jefferson discredit her ability to give a rational objective historical sketch on any topic or individual. When Gary Wills reviewed Brodie’s biography of Thomas Jefferson for the New York Review of Books, he stated this about Brodie’s work: “Two vast things make this book a prodigy – the author’s industry, and her ignorance..She regularly treats us to sub-freshman absurdity…Error on this scale, and in this detail, does not come easily. There is a skill involved. And much nerve…As usual, Ms. Brodie has her facts wrong, even before she loads them with unsustainable surmise.” If Brodie can’t get Thomas Jefferson correct, how can she get Joseph Smith correct? And indeed, that is the point. It is to present to the world a contrary pseudo history to parallel or even overshadow the real historical record.

    Small manifestations of Bushman’s Hegelian philosophical dialectic can be illustrated by these two passages from his book. In actuality though, Bushman’s whole book of the Prophet Joseph Smith is one big Hegelian philosophical dialectic.

    On page 200 of Rough Stone Rolling Bushman states, “The Vision also eliminated the injustices of heaven-and-hell theology. The three degrees of glory doctrine lay somewhere between the two extremes.” There’s no Hegelian dialectic involved in these doctrines. There is a heaven (spirit paradise) and a hell (spirit prison) doctrinally and there are three degrees of glory doctrinally. No Hegelian synthesis is needed.

    The other example is on page 323 of Rough Stone Rolling. When speaking about the Prophet Joseph Smith, Bushman muses, “Was he a blackguard covering his lusts with religious pretensions, or a prophet doggedly adhering to instructions from heaven, or something in between?” What would Bushman’s synthesis be? He leaves that to the readers imagination.

    Hegelian philosophy stems from the leaven of the Pharisees of which Christ warned his disciples about in the New Testament (Matt. 16:6). It enters into the church and nullifies the word of God. Turning the word of God into a lie.

    Bushman then covers the period when Joseph Smith received the revelation on the Word of Wisdom. The Word of Wisdom was given in Feb. 1833. Then in following Bushman’s narrative in 1835 he points out that Joseph Smith was hypocritically drinking “tea and a glass of wine from time to time.” Because as we all know, “it was left to a later generation of Saints to turn the ‘principle with a promise’ into a measuring rod of obedience.”

    After the dedication of the Kirtland temple, Bushman in his stance against section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants continues to paint a picture of the prophet that is contrary to the will of God. For at this time, Bushman asserts, the prophet was involved in, “moral transgression in taking an additional wife.” Of course to Bushman, polygamy was a “dark time” for the prophet. That “Joseph’s own words are rarely heard.” Bushman then “imagines” and wonders if the prophet Joseph Smith was the “same hopeful Joseph Smith of the Kirtland years, the person who yearned to be the friend of God, or did he develop an insatiable appetite for position and eminence. Did he give way to his lusts?” Of course, Bushman reminds his readers, “the answers depends on who speaks.”

    After all of Bushman’s dark imaginings, he then quotes how Joseph Smith really viewed the matter which is far from carnal and dark, but inspired and orderly, Joseph Smith states, “Brother Levi, the Lord has revealed to me that it is his will that Righteous men shall take Righteous women even a plurality of Wives that a Righteous race may be sent forth upon the Earth preparatory to the ushering in of the Millenial Reign of our Redeemer.”

    The apostle David Patten, who would become a martyr, giving his life for the church that stemmed from the persecutions against members of the church in Missouri, “spake with much zeal against” those that weren’t faithful to the prophet Joseph Smith. As Bushman even records, “Patten wrote a long discourse for the Elders Journal on the scriptural foundation of Joseph’s authority.” Illogically, Bushman also records that Joseph “slaped him [Patten] in the face & kicked him out of the yard.” Another example of Bushman turning Mormon history into a farce.

    Then if accusing Joseph Smith of slapping one of the apostles in the face isn’t enough slander, Bushman then depicts Joseph Smith as a would-be arsonist. Bushman writes, “In Paris, Illinois, the tavern keepers turned the Mormons away until Joseph threatened to burn down one of their houses if his family was refused.” Interestingly, in the same paragraph, Bushman quotes Joseph Smith as saying when they arrived to Far West, “We were greeted on every hand by the saints who bid us welcome” to the “land of their inheritance,” Joseph wrote back to Kirtland. “Verily our hearts were full and we feel grateful to Almighty God for his kindness unto us.” Reading Joseph’s words reflects a man that reverences God and respects his fellow man, not the heart of an arsonist or someone that goes around threatening to burn down houses.

    Bushman then turns to the Danites and supposed crimes committed by Mormons in the aftermath of the most violent persecution of Latter-day Saints by the Missourians, considering the organization of the Danites as “religious power run amok” and as “Joseph’s private army.” Of course in the fantasy world of shadows and whispers Bushman can paint freely upon his biographical canvas and tells his readers, “secrecy of the organization and the obscurity of the records hinder efforts to distribute blame between the two.” Then Bushman suggest rhetorically, “was a vengeful Joseph the inspiration for the Danites?” Bushman leaves his reader in the shadow world without telling the reader what Joseph Smith actually said about the matter, which was considerable.

    Joseph Smith tells us, “Doctor Sampson Avard who had been in the Church but a short time,…was secretly aspiring to be the greatest of the great, and become the leader of the people” (HC vol. 3 pg. 178). “He began by holding secret meetings, the room being well guarded by some of his followers, where he claimed that he had the sanction of the heads of the Church…and proceeded to administer to the few under his control, an oath, binding them to everlasting secrecy. Speaking as a true religious enthusiast, he would often affirm to his company that the principal men of the Church had put him forward as a spokesman, and a leader of this band, which he named Danites. After daily preliminary meetings, he held meetings to organize his men into companies of tens and fifties…He then called his captains together and taught them as basic doctrine, ‘the riches of the Gentiles shall be consecrated to my people, the house of Israel; and thus you will waste away the Gentiles by robbing and plundering them, …and in this way we will build up the kingdom of God.’ This he followed up with dire threats against any who should jeopardize the secrecy of the society. At this lecture all of the officers revolted, and when Avard protested that a new dispensation called for a new moral code, he was unanimously voted down and gave way. Avard suggested that they had better drop the subject, although he had received his authority from Sidney Rigdon the evening before. The meeting then broke up; the eyes of those present were opened, and henceforth very little confidence was placed in him, even by the warmest of the members of his Danite scheme. When a knowledge of Avard’s rascality came to the Presidency of the Church, he was cut off from the Church, and every measure proper used to destroy his influence, at which he was highly incensed, and went about whispering his evil insinuations, but finding every effort unavailing, he again turned conspirator, and sought to make friends with the mob” (Hist. of the Church vol. 3 pgs. 178-181).

    Interestingly, Bushman then turns to a period of the Restoration when three “anti-Mormon” pamphlets were released to the public by Origen Bacheler. Bushman records how Bacheler viewed Joseph Smith, which was as a “juggling, money-digging, fortune-telling impostor.” Which is a grand admission by Bushman that the very anti-Mormon rhetoric used against the prophet by Bacheler is how Richard L. Bushman has presented Joseph Smith historically in his cultural biography of Joseph Smith. Has Bushman not put forth that Joseph Smith was a “money-digger” and a “skryer” which is fortune-telling?

    When the reader arrives to chapter twenty five of Rough Stone Rolling, Bushman returns to the sealing ordinance and the doctrine of plurality of wives. The reader once again finds Bushman employing Hegelian philosophical dialectics to church history. Essentially, Hegelian dialectics begins with a thesis, then takes it’s antithesis and conjoins them into a synthesis. Which is kabbalah for the pseudo intellectual. His chapter is aptly entitled, “stories of eternity” a perfect title for his fictitious history.

    To illustrate Bushman’s Hegelian philosophical dialectics at work, Bushman begins with his thesis of the doctrine of plural marriage. He then takes it’s antithesis which is the doctrine of the law of adoption. Although, Bushman only footnotes that doctrine, he doesn’t include it into the narrative of his book. He then conjoins them into a synthesis, which leaves the reader thinking that the prophet Joseph Smith was having women who are married to other men sealed to him as Joseph’s plural wives.

    Bushman asserts in his writings that during the Nauvoo period of 1842 and after, Joseph Smith “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 the 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?”

    Under the doctrine of the law of adoption, Brigham Young was sealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith. This logically means, that Brigham Young’s wives are sealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith also, but not as Joseph Smith’s wives, but part of Joseph Smith’s family. Just as modern Latter-day Saints have their progenitors sealed to them. The difference being those progenitors are related to the nuclear family. Under the doctrine of the law of adoption, the individual or persons or families being sealed to a person are not related to the nuclear family of that indivdiual. Thus the use of the term “adoption.”

    When Latter-day Saints use the term seal, it is synonymous with the term marry or being married to. It also has to do with sealing other individuals into ones family. Bushman in this instance of the paragraph quoted above, is taking the term seal converting it to marriage and presenting in his work that Joseph Smith “married” women that were married to other men. A nice Hegelian philosophical dialectic synthesis right before the reader’s eyes. Under the doctrine of the law of adoption these families were being adopted into the family of Joseph Smith through a sealing ordinance of adoption not marriage.

    Bushman then even asserts on page 440 of his book that Joseph Smith “did not lust for women so much as he lusted for kin.” And of course, “the language was religious and doctrinal, stressing that a new law has been revealed.” But, by the time the reader arrives to these statements of Bushman he already has left his reader viewing Joseph Smith violating the laws of God and hypocritically holding a double standard to members of the church, wherein there is one standard for Joseph and another that members of the church have to follow.

    For Bushman asserts, that “we might expect that Joseph, the kind of dominant man who is thought to have strong libidinal urges, would betray his sexual drive in his talk and manner.” Bushman then goes on to suggest that, Joseph’s revelation on the plurality of wives goes “against the teachings of other revelations.” Bushman then points out the verses in the Book of Mormon wherein Jacob rebukes the men of his day for taking additional wives. Jacob taught, “For I, the Lord God, delighteth in chastity of women. And whoredoms is an abomination before me” (Jacob 2:28). Of course, in this rebuke, it has to do with them multiplying wives for the sake of creating “whoredoms” which it is clear they were doing. The doctrine of plural marriage under the covenant of the priesthood of God puts the contracting individuals under the law of chastity. “The marriage revelation laid down rules about adultery, binding partners to each other by covenant.” For Jacob in the Book of Mormon in addition to his rebuke teaches the plurality system of multiple wives without creating the “whoredom” scenario. “For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me.” Jacob continues, “I will command my people: otherwise, they will hearken unto these things.”

    Richard L. Bushman’s biography of the Prophet Joseph Smith is alarming. Bushman positions Joseph Smith in a light that contradicts God’s laws. For instance, God has forbidden the Israelites from using magic or sorcery. God views such practices as an abomination (Deut. 18:10-12). In a sense Bushman is mocking God by suggesting that God had His chosen servant Joseph Smith use magic and skrying to bring about the Restoration of the fulness of the gospel of Christ. The reality is that Richard L. Bushman is using magic and sorcery through his book to cast spiritual viruses into the mind and soul of the Latter-day Saints that read his book. Bushman is the magician here, not Joseph Smith.

    It is now appropriate to present the full quote from Joseph Smith concerning the title of Bushman’s book Rough Stone Rolling. Bushman has used a snippet of Joseph’s quote to setup up his premise that Joseph Smith was a flawed prophet. Joseph Smith never intended that interpretation when he liken himself as a rough stone rolling. In all actuality, Joseph Smith was warning people like Richard L. Bushman against slandering him and the work that God called him to perform.

    Joseph said the following: “I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else, striking with accelerated force against religious bigotry, priestcraft, lawyer-craft, doctor-craft, lying editors, suborned judges and jurors, and the authority of perjured executives, backed by mobs, blasphemers, licentious and corrupt men and women—all hell knocking off a corner here and a corner there. Thus I will become a smooth and polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty, who will give me dominion over all and every one of them, when their refuge of lies shall fail, and their hiding place shall be destroyed, while these smooth-polished stones with which I come in contact become marred.” Discourse to Saints, May 1843; DHC 5:401

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