Abstract: Critics of Joseph Smith assert that he invented or imagined the First Vision and then deliberately altered the details in his subsequent first-person accounts of the event (also reflected in accounts recorded or related by others) to mislead his followers. That the details of the narrative changed so dramatically between the first version (1832) and the last authorized version (1842) is considered prima facie evidence that Joseph was deliberately inventing and embellishing his narrative to make it more credible. The only thing, say critics, that could possibly explain such divergent, and in some cases, radically different versions of the same event is either incredible forgetfulness or deliberate falsification. This paper, based on close textual analysis and the findings of contemporary scientific research on memory acquisition and retention — particularly memories of dramatic and powerful events — offers an alternative explanation, one that preserves the credibility and integrity of the prophet. Continue reading
Abstract: This is a follow-up to my article, “Joseph Smith and the American Renaissance,” published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought in 2002.1 My purpose in writing that article was to consider Joseph Smith in relation to his more illustrious contemporary American authors — Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Walt Whitman. In that article I tried to demonstrate that in comparison with these writers, Joseph Smith did not possess the literary imagination, talent, authorial maturity, education, cultural milieu, knowledge base, or sophistication necessary to produce the Book of Mormon; nor, I argued, had he possessed all of these characteristics, nor was the time in which the book was produced sufficient to compose such a lengthy, complex, and elaborate narrative. This addendum takes the comparison one step further by examining each writer’s magnum opus and the background, previous writings, and preliminary drafts that preceded its publication — then comparing them with Joseph Smith’s publication of the Book of Mormon. That is, each of the major works of these writers of prose, fiction, and poetry as well as the scriptural text produced by Joseph Smith has a history — one that allows us to trace its evolution from inception to completion. Continue reading
Review of Earl M. Wunderli, An Imperfect Book: What the Book of Mormon Tells Us about Itself (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2013), 328pp + Appendices, Maps, and Index.
Earl Wunderli, an attorney who has made a lifelong study of the Book of Mormon, concludes that the book is a product of Joseph Smith’s mind and imagination. In doing so, Wunderli marshals evidence and presents his argument as if he were an attorney defending a client in court. Unfortunately, Wunderli’s case suffers from the same weaknesses and limitations of other naturalist criticism in that it exaggerates Joseph Smith’s intellectual and cultural background and compositional skills while ignoring the Book of Mormon’s deep structure, narrative complexity, and often intricate rhetorical patterns. Continue reading