Prying into Palmer

Review of Grant H. Palmer. An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins.
Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002. xiii + 281 pp., with selected
bibliography and index. $24.95.

Prying into Palmer

Reviewed by Louis Midgley

When I do it, it’s not gossip, it’s social history. – Saul Bellow1

Sometime prior to August 1987, I acquired a copy of a rough manuscript entitled
“New York Mormonism” that was circulating in what was then known as the “Mormon
Underground.” The author of this anti-Mormon propaganda identified himself merely
as “Paul Pry Jr.”2 Though not now a household label, the name Paul Pry once
had considerable allusive power. By calling himself Paul Pry, the secretive
author of “New York Mormonism” emphatically signaled his bias, at least for
aficionados of anti-Mormon literature. Who or what was Paul Pry? And what might
an enigmatic Paul Pry Jr. have to do with Grant H. Palmer’s Insider’s View
of Mormon Origins
? I believe that the answers to these questions are essential
to a proper understanding of Palmer’s book and are thus worthy of careful consideration.

Paul Pry was the name of a fictitious, inquisitive fellow whose exploits were
once celebrated in theater and song. Such a one was inclined especially to prying
into and mocking political mischief and pious fraud. Anne Newport Royall (1769-1854)—an
interesting, highly contentious, independent figure,3 and perhaps the first
American female newspaper writer and editor—seems to have appropriated the name
to signal to those who subscribed to Paul Pry’s Weekly Bulletin,4 her
gossipy newspaper, what they could expect to find therein. “Pryism” was thus
alive and well in the United States in the 1820s.

With but one tiny exception,5 the first mocking remarks by early critics about
Joseph Smith and his “Gold Bible” were published under the now virtually forgotten
pseudonym of Paul Pry. On 25 July 1829, months before the Book of Mormon was
even published, an unsigned item—a spoof—bearing the belittling title “From
the Golden Bible: Chronicles Chapter I” appeared in Anne Royall’s newspaper.
Two more items quickly followed in Paul Pry’s Weekly Bulletin.6 Subsequently,
the so-called Gold Bible or Golden Bible became the object of much derision
in numerous newspaper essays in Palmyra, Rochester, and elsewhere, and literary
anti-Mormonism was launched. The name Paul Pry, then, was historically used
by a writer in 1829 to express opposition to the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s
prophetic truth claims. Who, I wondered in the summer of 1987, was this cagey
“Paul Pry Jr.,” the author of “New York Mormonism”? Within days I had figured
out that it was Grant Palmer, a veteran, seemingly faithful, trusted employee
of the Church Educational System (CES).7

Palmer, who now boasts of having had a “passion for church history” (p. x),
appears also to have been during his CES career an ardent consumer of revisionist,
essentially anti-Mormon accounts of Latter-day Saint origins. This passion led
him twenty years ago to fashion what he then described as his own “more secular
scenario for the origins of Mormonism.”8 Ron Priddis, currently managing director
of Signature Books, got it right at the Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City
in 2002 when he indicated that An Insider’s View was a project that
Palmer had been working on “for twenty years.”9 “New York Mormonism” was the
first draft of An Insider’s View. And it was written and circulated
by Palmer to his friends while he was still teaching Latter-day Saint high school
students for CES. What exactly was it, one might ask, that eventually turned
Palmer from a consumer of anti-Mormon literature into the clandestine author
of “New York Mormonism”?

“Hook, Line, and Salamander”: Swallowing the Tales of Hofmann and

Palmer boasts that, while employed by CES, he was “always open to new
ideas and freely shared them with others.”10 This appears to be his cautious
way of indicating that, among other things, during the 1980s he was circulating
revisionist materials to his CES colleagues and friends.11 Still, he claims
that from 1967 to 1985 he was “totally a true believer.”12 Then
in 1985 he turned away from the faith. He explains what happened in the following
language: “In the fall of 1984, the Martin Harris Salamander Letter caused
me to explore what impact Joseph Smith’s magical mind-set may have had
upon the Moroni golden plates story and the witnesses to the Book of Mormon.”13
In 1985 he drafted his radically revisionist “New York Mormonism.”

The precursor to An Insider’s View demonstrates that in 1985 Palmer
uncritically accepted the speculation fueled by the circulation of a letter
dated 23 October 1830 that was supposedly written by Martin Harris to W. W.
Phelps. In this notorious letter, which eventually turned out to be one of Mark
Hofmann’s clever forgeries, Harris claimed that Joseph Smith, when he visited
the place where the plates were hidden, was confronted by a tricky guarding
spirit—a white salamander changeling—instead of a heavenly messenger. Palmer
saw this letter as a final proof that secular and sectarian critics of Joseph
Smith had always been right.

Though its importance cannot be overestimated, it was not merely Palmer’s
enthrallment with the forged so-called white salamander letter that launched
him as an author. He has indicated to me that it was a fairy tale entitled “The
Golden Pot”14—written by the gifted and eccentric composer, painter, conductor,
musical critic, theater director, stage designer, and Romantic writer Ernst
Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann (1776-1822)—that provided him with his prize original
contribution to the vast array of details that have been used to embellish both
secular and sectarian explanations of Latter-day Saint origins. It was Hoffmann’s
tale that provided Palmer with his controlling, central thesis for “New York
Mormonism.”15 It is noteworthy that in An Insider’s View, Palmer does
not claim originality for his secular explanations of Joseph Smith; instead,
he claims to be setting out for misinformed or uninformed members of the church
“a near-consensus on many of the details” (p. ix) that has been reached
by professional Latter-day Saint historians over the past three decades. He
implies that he speaks for virtually the entire Mormon history profession on
the issues he raises (see especially pp. vii-viii).

In An Insider’s View, Palmer now suppresses the fact that it was
the presence of salamander lore in E. T. A. Hoffmann’s “The Golden Pot” that,
when coupled with the salamander references in Mark Hofmann’s forged white salamander
letter, sent him down his current path.16 Hence the following: “This early 19th
century account by Hoffmann is a story complete with a salamander with all the
appearance[,] form[,] abilities[,] and personality traits of Joseph Smith’s
salamander, set in the very Moroni story itself! To put it bluntly, there is
far more to explain here than a salamander!”17 Even when the identity of the
secretive author of “New York Mormonism” became known and Palmer’s Paul Pry
ploy got him into severe difficulties with his employer, he never turned away
from his long enthrallment with anti-Mormon ideology, with the basic contents
of his “New York Mormonism,” with the key element in one of Mark Hofmann’s notorious
forgeries, and especially with E. T. A. Hoffmann’s “The Golden Pot.” What has
disappeared from Palmer’s most recent version of his explanation of Mormon origins
is overt references to what got him started as an author—that is, to the salamander
lore found in the tales of both Hofmann and Hoffmann.18 “New York Mormonism”
does not seem to have been the product of original research but, instead, a
compendium of anti-Mormon arguments bolstered by speculation generated by Hofmann’s
forgeries and Hoffmann’s fairy tales (cf. pp. 135-74).

In “New York Mormonism,” Palmer attacks the historical foundations of the
faith of the Saints by drawing upon the sensational forgeries of Mark Hofmann.
In addition to being enthralled with the white salamander letter, he was also
infatuated with the lies Mark Hofmann told his friend Brent Metcalfe about an
imaginary Oliver Cowdery history supposedly secreted in the vault of the First
Presidency, as well as with many of the affidavits in E. D. Howe’s notorious
Mormonism Unvailed, all of which he wove together with opinions drawn
from some marginal contemporary critics of the faith of the Saints. But the
casual reader of An Insider’s View is shielded from all of this. Instead,
Palmer now presents himself—and is pictured by his publisher—as a faithful Saint
and CES “insider.” However, the fact is that by the end of 1984 Palmer had swallowed,
“hook, line, and salamander,” the revisionist anti-Mormon propaganda popular
at that time.

It must be remembered that Mark Hofmann’s sensational forgeries helped
generate, and at least partially gratified, a passion for textual exotica that
was then the rage among Mormon historians, faithful or otherwise. One of the
“devil’s Golden Questions” back then was, “Have you
any documents?” In the 1980s, dissidents salivated with anticipation at
the prospect of some previously unknown letter or other document that could
be used to support or ground a radically different way of telling the story
of the restoration. Hofmann’s “discoveries,” all of which
were eventually shown to be forgeries, as well as the rumors spread by Metcalfe
about the history supposedly written by Oliver Cowdery, are now known to have
been the products of a combination of low, mercenary motives and a passion to
harm the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was in this intellectual
context that “New York Mormonism” was written.

Palmer seems to have imagined that he could fashion a stunning revisionist
history that would pull the Church of Jesus Christ from its historical foundations
by drawing upon what was then being made of the Hofmann forgeries. The first
draft of An Insider’s View appears to have been Palmer’s effort to
exploit the white salamander letter, coupled with the speculations of a few
highly controversial Mormon historians and sectarian propagandists.19 His only
original “contribution” to this “more secular scenario” of Mormon origins was
E. T. A. Hoffmann’s salamander lore from “The Golden Pot.”

Palmer was not, as he now claims, reluctantly or painfully driven to the position
he now takes in An Insider’s View. “New York Mormonism,” despite being
a rough draft, reveals someone caught up in the poorly reasoned, half-understood
revisionist literature about the historical foundations of the faith of the
Saints that was then circulating, supplemented by Hofmann’s mischievous forgeries
and the speculation they fueled.

The “Paul Pry” Palmer Version of Mormon Origins

I located a portion of the manuscript of “New York Mormonism” in
the summer of 1987. It was divided into what appeared to be three “chapters,”
each of which is numbered separately. I subsequently acquired a copy of the
crucial, fifty-four-page fifth “chapter.”

I. “Introduction” (ten pages);20

[II. Palmer has informed me that he never drafted a second chapter.]

III. “No Man Knows My History” (fifteen pages);

III. “No Man Knows My History” (nine pages);21

IV. “The Early Story of the Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon”
(eighteen pages);

IV. “The Early Story of the Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon”
(also eighteen pages);22

V. “More Than a Salamander” (forty-one pages of text, with thirteen
pages of notes paginated separately).23

The first chapter of “New York Mormonism” provides an indication
of how Pry approached the Latter-day Saint past and what would follow in the
manuscript. This portion consists almost entirely of long quotations from Sterling
McMurrin, then a prominent “cultural Mormon” and critic of the church.
Palmer offered no commentary. He also quoted passages from something written
by D. Michael Quinn in which he attacked several of the Brethren.24 In subsequent
portions of “New York Mormonism,” Palmer claimed that the Saints
have been lied to or otherwise misled by the Brethren right from the start;
the Saints have therefore gravely misunderstood the crucial founding events.
He insisted that this pattern of deceit began with Joseph Smith even before
the publication of the Book of Mormon and has continued to the present. From
his perspective, the Saints have never been able to face what he thinks is the
truth about the Latter-day Saint past. What follows is his effort to show that
the Book of Mormon is not what it claims to be, that there were no ancient records,
and that Joseph Smith was not a prophet as understood by the Saints. These conclusions
are not presented as somehow reluctantly reached, but as part of an aggressive
secular agenda.

“Paul Pry Jr.” and Grant Palmer

In a recent phone conversation, Palmer told me that he was not aware of Paul
Pry’s Weekly Bulletin
and was not really familiar with “Pryism”—he actually
claimed that he did not fully understand what the name Paul Pry signaled. I
have a hard time believing this. His knowledge of the Latter-day Saint past
is derivative, as he emphasizes in An Insider’s View (see pp. vii-ix).
When he chose to hide his identity behind the name Paul Pry, I doubt that he
was unaware of the significance of the name or of its anti-Mormon symbolic power.
One does not simply pluck that name out of thin air. With his vaunted “passion
for church history” (p. x), would he not have determined the significance
of the name, even if one of his associates or anti-Mormon handlers-the one who
proposed in 1985 that he use the name Paul Pry to cloak his real identity-neglected
to inform him of its unique history and significance?25 But even if he did not
fully understand the significance of Paul Pry, by hiding behind that persona
he clearly sought to keep his CES colleagues in the dark about his rejection
of the historical foundations and content of the faith of the Saints.26

What exactly was it that led Palmer to draft and then circulate “New York
Mormonism” under a pseudonym? He has, I believe, spelled out the reasons
for his having shifted to circulating his radically revisionist speculation
under a pseudonym rather than under his own name. Though his chronology is a
bit garbled, he has set out most of the crucial details in his “Biographical
Sketch.” Palmer explains that his opinions unsettled his colleagues at
the Brighton High School Seminary. He admitted that “during the 1985-86
school year, [he] experienced some difficulty with [his] file leaders while
at Brighton Seminary.”27 Among the problems he faced, he mentions having
“shared [his] research on Joseph Smith and magic with faculty members
and several of them did not appreciate it.”28 Hence he “was placed
on probation [by his CES supervisors] for one year, beginning on 3 January 1985.”29
He “agreed to tone things down and [he] apologized to the Brighton [seminary]
faculty for creating an unsettling environment in the seminary by sharing with
them.”30 So it seems that his problems with his colleagues and supervisors
had actually begun in 1984 and not “during the 1985-86 school year.”
In addition, he indicated that in the fall of 1984 he had swallowed Mark Hofmann’s
forgeries and the speculation they fueled. He was in 1984 opining to his colleagues
about what he considered Joseph Smith’s involvement in magic. While on
probation, instead of “sharing” his opinions with his colleagues,
he drafted “New York Mormonism” and this time circulated his opinions
under a blatant anti-Mormon pseudonym. And, as Palmer also admits, “the
Area Director over the entire Salt Lake valley knew I was struggling.”31
What Palmer did not indicate in his “Biographical Sketch” is that
his CES supervisors had discovered his Paul Pry ploy. Palmer’s way of
explaining what happened is that, “preferring to teach the adult mind,”
he “asked to teach inmates at the Salt Lake County jail.”32 In Palmer’s
“Biographical Sketch,” there is, unfortunately, no mention of (1) his
hiding behind the name Paul Pry or (2) the role “New York Mormonism”
played in getting him assigned to counseling at the Salt Lake County jail.

If, with very little effort, I could figure out who was hiding behind the name
Paul Pry, it was inevitable that others, including his colleagues and supervisors
in CES, either already knew or would soon discover that Palmer was the author
of a craven bit of anti-Mormon propaganda. And this is exactly what happened.
He has informed me that late in 1987, or early the next year, after his CES
supervisor became aware that he had been circulating “New York Mormonism”
under the name Paul Pry Jr., he was released from teaching seminary and allowed
to “volunteer,” as he puts it,33 for what he described to me as
“chaplain duty” at the Salt Lake County jail.34 In this role he
indicated that he was not allowed to teach what he called “Mormon theology”
but was, instead, permitted to do some counseling and to give ethical advice.35
This he did until his retirement.

Palmer seems to have drawn from the CES deck a card reading “Go to jail;
do not pass go.” But he seems to have held his own card reading “Accept
retirement from the tithe payers and then receive applause for an anti-Mormon

“Primarily an Institute Director”?

Why, one might ask, has Palmer’s publisher emphasized his having been “three-time
director of LDS Institutes of Religion in California and Utah” (back cover)?36
Is this a way of portraying him as a loyal “insider” since Signature Books clearly
wants him to be seen as being right there in the center of CES things? Or is
it a way of puffing Palmer’s credentials since “Institute director” sounds more
impressive than “seminary teacher”? In addition to this claim of his being a
“three-time director of LDS Institutes of Religion,” Palmer himself claims in
the opening line of his preface to An Insider’s View that “for thirty-four
years I was primarily an Institute director for the Church Educational
System (CES)” (p. vii, emphasis added). “Primarily”? I have looked into
this claim and it turns out to be a bit of an exaggeration. With Palmer’s assistance,
I have been able to reconstruct his CES assignments.37

Palmer began his CES career teaching at the Church College of New Zealand,
which is the Latter-day Saint high school in Templeview (1967-70). He was hired
to teach British Empire history but was eventually shifted to teaching religion
classes. For health reasons, he did not complete his four-year contract. Palmer
was then made the CES coordinator, his official title, for the Whittier Stake
in California (1970-73), where he also taught some college-age students at Rio
Hondo Jr. College and Whittier College. He then worked one year on a Ph.D. at
Brigham Young University before being again assigned as CES coordinator for
the Chico Stake (1975-80), where he also taught college-age students at Butte
College in Oroville, California. These assignments, where he was the sole CES
employee, came at the beginning of his career. He had nothing to do with LDS
Institutes of Religion, as that label is commonly understood, for the last two
decades of his CES career. Why? In 1980 he relocated to the Salt Lake Valley,
where he taught seminary first at East High School (1980-81) and then at Brighton
High School (1981-87). He ended his CES career not teaching but counseling in
a jail.38 What the word “primarily” means is that for nine of the thirty-four
years of his CES career, while supervising local seminary teachers, he was also
an institute “director.” Even if one were inclined to count his counseling work
at a jail as being an institute director, which I am not willing to do, his
career seems to have taken a downward spiral, but neither this fact nor any
of the reasons for it is mentioned by Palmer or in the Signature hype for An
Insider’s View

I realize that some will complain that, by probing Palmer’s background
(or beliefs), I offer a diversion from the issues he raises and that what I
have presented is an ad hominem attack. This is nonsense. Palmer and his publisher
have made his CES career an issue. And his book has a history; he and his book
cannot be separated. His book is the product of motivations and sources that
also have a meaning and history. In addition, he makes claims about himself.
Looking into such things is called intellectual history. It should be noted
that Palmer strives to engage in just such a venture by attempting to set out
what he thinks were the sources of Joseph Smith’s story, the Book of Mormon,
and so forth. If my look at Palmer’s motivations and his own history of
attempting to unravel the faith of the Saints is a personal attack, then the
same is true of his treatment of Joseph Smith. But neither Palmer’s attack
on Joseph Smith nor my treatment of his attack on the Prophet should be dismissed
as an ad hominem or as a personal attack.

From “New York Mormonism” to An Insider’s View

It is common for historians—Michael Quinn comes to mind—and various journalists
to warrant their work by thanking virtually everyone they have met for assisting
them with their research,39 but Palmer gives only a general nod of appreciation
to nameless “friends and colleagues” who read the “first and subsequent drafts”
of An Insider’s View (p. xiii). Are these people nameless because
revealing who they are would signal that he is an “insider” among those on the
fringes—that is, among apostates, dissidents, and cultural Mormons? He also
neglects to indicate what triggered the first draft of his book, who helped
him get started on his book in the 1980s, who encouraged him, who provided him
with information then or more recently, who fed him ideas, or who it was that
polished his manuscript for publication.

There is, however, evidence in “New York Mormonism” indicating that,
when the Hofmann affair was taking place, Palmer was deeply involved with Brent
Metcalfe. Palmer also indicated to me that in 1987 (or soon thereafter) George
D. Smith, the wealthy owner of Signature Books, wrote to him and urged him to
turn “New York Mormonism” into a book.40 This seems to have been
an important bit of encouragement since it came soon after Mark Hofmann was
exposed as a forger and the basis for Palmer’s Paul Pry project had been
blown away; it was thus at a time when he was in deep trouble with his CES employers.

While doing “chaplain duty” at the Salt Lake County jail, even with
some personal distractions, he continued supplementing and revising the opinions
he had begun to set out in “New York Mormonism.” The fall of Mark
Hofmann may have temporarily put a bit of a damper on Palmer’s project,
but soon, with help from others, he was back working on his manuscript, which
he published under his own name following his retirement. Unlike his first effort,
this time he suppressed his infatuation with salamanders.

The Tales of Hoffmann (and Hofmann)
and the Society of Salamanders

In the final chapter of his initial draft of An Insider’s View, entitled
“More Than a Salamander,” Palmer made much of Hoffmann’s “The Golden Flower
Pot,” as its English translation was sometimes called. In neither his first
draft nor in his final book version is Palmer arguing that, as a young boy,
Joseph Smith was involved for a while with a group that dug for supposedly buried
treasure. That story is well-known to interested Latter-day Saints.41 Instead,
Palmer took a different tack by claiming that Joseph Smith plagiarized the entire
story of a heavenly messenger with an ancient record from elements he believed
were in Hoffmann’s tale. In 1985, Palmer insisted that the Joseph Smith story,
in all its rich detail, is exactly the same as Hoffmann’s tale, particularly
including the presence of an elemental spirit—a changeling, trickster, magician,
wonder-working salamander. He boldly proclaimed that Joseph Smith and his family
had plagiarized their entire story from Hoffmann.

What linked, for Palmer, E. T. A. Hoffmann’s tale to Joseph Smith? It was
Mark Hofmann placing a salamander in one of his forgeries and then inventing
an Oliver Cowdery history, which, he said, also included talk about a salamander.
Without Mark Hofmann, it is likely that no one would have linked “The Golden
Pot” and the story of the restoration. But this fact is entirely suppressed
in An Insider’s View. In its direct form, of course, Palmer’s secular
explanation of Joseph Smith’s prophetic truth claims and of the Book of Mormon
collapsed when Mark Hofmann was exposed as a forger. But unfortunately, a somewhat
more cautious version of the speculation generated by Hofmann’s forgery remains
covertly behind Palmer’s current appeal to E. T. A. Hoffmann’s fairy tale.

How, one might wonder, did Palmer start down this road? How did he “discover”
E. T. A. Hoffmann’s bizarre tale that contains references to an imaginary society
of salamanders? In October 1985, someone seems to have called Robert F. Smith’s
attention to the salamander motif in Hoffmann’s Der goldne Topf and
its possibility as the source for the salamander image in Mark Hofmann’s sensational
forged salamander letter. Smith seems to have then brought Hoffmann’s tale to
the attention of Ronald Walker, who, along with Brent Metcalfe, was employed
at the time by Steven F. Christensen to do research on magical, occult practices
and lore in Joseph Smith’s environment.42 According to Palmer, it was Walker
who introduced him to the Hoffmann tale. Palmer’s subsequent treatment of “The
Golden Pot” became the key element in his effort to show that Joseph Smith had
fashioned his own story of encounters with a heavenly messenger and of his subsequent
possession of a record engraved on golden plates from Hoffmann’s tale, stressing
the salamander theme.

Palmer coyly indicates in An Insider’s View that “about a decade
and a half ago, there was some consternation and confusion over Mark Hofmann’s
forgeries and murders. In fact, it has taken a while to sort through and correct
the damage he caused” (p. ix). Damage to what?—among other things, to Palmer’s
revisionist history as he had set it out in “New York Mormonism.” Palmer has
had to suppress direct mention of the salamander motif from his later attacks
on Joseph Smith. In An Insider’s View, Palmer merely mentions the salamander
motif from “The Golden Pot” in the obscurity of two footnotes. In the first
instance, he casually mentions that a salamander can represent fire, an elemental
power (p. 151 n. 27), which is true. In the second, he claims that
“in the Hoffmann novel and the New York story [that is, in Joseph Smith’s story],
both archivists are spirits capable of appearing in a kingly or majestic form,
a frightful form, and as a pleasant old man” (pp. 151-52 n. 28). This
highly problematic assertion makes it clear that Palmer is still trying hard
to turn Moroni into a salamander: he argues that the Archivarius Lindhorst in
Hoffmann’s tale sometimes “appears as a frightening old man or as a serpent
or salamander” (p. 152 n. 28). Other than these two tangential instances,
there is no mention at all in An Insider’s View of the salamander motif.
But Palmer mentioned salamanders 235 times in forty-one single-spaced pages
of his fifth and key chapter of “New York Mormonism.” Why has Palmer suppressed
his initial fascination with the salamander motif in “The Golden Pot”? If nothing
else, Palmer (or one of his handlers) has toned down, moderated, and essentially
obscured the bold claims he once made about Joseph Smith encountering a trickster
salamander changeling rather than a heavenly messenger.43

Without the evidence of the white salamander letter to bolster his assertions,
there was, as Palmer grants, at least “some consternation and confusion,” as
well as much “damage,” to his own revisionist enterprise. But these embarrassing
details are suppressed in An Insider’s View. Instead, Palmer’s notion
of what he calls a “New Mormon History”—that is, radically revisionist accounts
of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon—are said to have moved relentlessly forward
toward a near-consensus among Mormon historians, with perhaps a mere snag here
and there. Instead of abandoning the idea that Joseph Smith borrowed his story,
down to the smallest details, from Hoffmann’s bizarre fairy tale, Palmer has
tacitly shifted his ground somewhat and moved on as if nothing much has happened
to challenge his original explanation. Instead of the lurid language in the
key portion of his original draft, Palmer’s argument is now much more modestly
set out in An Insider’s View. But the truth is that without Hofmann’s
forged white salamander letter, there is simply no longer any good reason to
see “The Golden Pot” as a source for the story of a heavenly messenger with
an ancient history that Joseph Smith would eventually translate “by the gift
and power of God.”44 Palmer cheats when he talks about what he claims is the
key relationship between “The Golden Pot” and the account given by Joseph Smith.
Why? No one in the Hoffmann tale translates anything—and certainly not by the
gift and power of God. When I drew this to Palmer’s attention, he complained
that Hoffmann had not been sufficiently clear. In other words, Hoffmann unfortunately
failed to say what Palmer wished he had said to make his case against the Prophet.45

Unlike Palmer, it should be noted that Robert Smith provided a reasonably accurate
description of the contents of Hoffmann’s tale.46 He was anxious to identify
where Mark Hofmann might have gotten the idea of inserting a salamander into
one of his forged letters, as well as his motives behind the lies he told Brent
Metcalfe about a nonexistent Oliver Cowdery history hidden in the vault of the
First Presidency. Unlike Palmer, Smith thought that Joseph Smith “is unlikely
to have cribbed anything from the story (the differences are far too striking).”
But Robert Smith granted that the salamander changeling “fitted much better
into Joseph’s day than anyone has imagined heretofore.”47 For him,
“the real questions are ‘Where do the elements used by E. T. A.
Hoffmann come from?’ and ‘Did the forger use this story?'”48
“The forger,” for Robert Smith, was Mark Hofmann and certainly not
Joseph Smith. Robert Smith showed that the bulk of whatever vague parallels
there may appear to be between “The Golden Pot” and Joseph Smith’s
account of his encounters with heavenly messengers seems to depend on Hoffmann’s
having embellished themes like the “Holy Grail, and [the] golden manna
pot of Exodus.”49 Palmer fails to notice any of these. Robert Smith also
claimed that Mark Hofmann must have borrowed the salamander image, which he
slipped into one of his forgeries, from Hoffmann’s tale of “The
Golden Pot” since “the name of the author probably made it too attractive
to pass up.”50 True, he had no direct evidence that Mark Hofmann knew
about E. T. A. Hoffmann’s bizarre fairy tale, but, then, neither does
Palmer have any evidence at all that Joseph Smith knew of or in any way drew
upon “The Golden Pot.”

Certain other revisionist Mormon historians have been attracted by Palmer’s
early determination to describe a heavenly messenger as a fiery changeling salamander
that, in Quinn’s words, “commissioned a young man to translate ancient records.”51
It seems that Quinn learned of Hoffmann’s bizarre tale from Robert Smith’s manuscript—upon
which he seems a bit more dependent than can be seen from his endnotes—and also,
perhaps, from Palmer’s “New York Mormonism.”52 One bit of evidence is that,
in “New York Mormonism,” Palmer describes Joseph Smith as having been “in a
kind of out of body metaphysical experience, believing he’s in the hill translating
in his ‘sacred grove'” and so forth.53 For his part, Quinn seems not to have
recovered from his own early fascination with the idea that Joseph Smith’s experiences
were what he calls “metaphysical,”54 whatever that language may mean, and perhaps
something very much like an encounter with what E. T. A. Hoffmann described
as a salamander changeling. Be that as it may, Quinn points his readers to Palmer’s
discussion of “The Golden Pot” and then to a footnote in Robert Smith’s 1985
manuscript in which Palmer is identified as “Paul Pry Jr.” Quinn does not reveal
the content of Palmer’s discussion, nor does he mention Robert Smith’s assessment
rejecting “The Golden Pot” as a source from which young Joseph Smith crafted
his initial story of encounters with a heavenly messenger and then with ancient
artifacts.55 It is Palmer’s initial speculation of a link between Hoffmann’s
tale and Joseph Smith, which Robert Smith flatly rejected and Quinn seemed to
accept, that now forms the foundation of Palmer’s account in An Insider’s
of Joseph Smith’s divine revelations.56

Translating or Copying?—Testing Palmer’s Claim

It is clear that Palmer has now silently suppressed the salamander motif, which
he once thought was the key link between E. T. A. Hoffmann’s tale and
Joseph Smith. But he still retains some of the ingenious speculation and bold
claims that marked his original analysis of “The Golden Pot.” It
would be tedious and, I believe, unnecessary to examine every detail in Palmer’s
appeal to Hoffmann’s tale.57 Instead, I will examine what appears to be
his key claim: that Lindhorst, the salamander changeling in Hoffmann’s
tale, has young Anselmus translate ancient manuscripts.58

The Signature Books publicist issued a press release in which he claimed that
Palmer argues in his An Insider’s View that “a theology student [Anselmus]
receives visits from a supernatural being who, the student learns, is the last
archivist of an ancient history of Atlantis. The student is empowered to dictate
the history to a modern audience.”59 This is all garbled. In the actual tale,
Anselmus—mad, or at least drunken—sits down under an elder tree beside the Elbe
River on Ascension Day and imagines or hallucinates about three little gold-green
snakes that come out of the tree. Later he meets Archivarius Lindhorst, who
eventually employs Anselmus to copy manuscripts in Arabic, Coptic,
and other, unknown languages. These texts are not translated, and there is little
or nothing to suggest that they were historical accounts. Lindhorst eventually
reveals to Anselmus that he is an elemental spirit representing fire—and, hence,
a descendant of a race of salamander changelings. He also reveals that the three
little snakes Anselmus had encountered are actually his daughters, who were
out looking for husbands. The one to whom Anselmus was attracted, Serpentina—the
one with the large blue eyes—eventually tells the drunk (or mad) copier-calligrapher
the story of her father’s marriage to a snake and how she and the two other
little snakes were born in a magic lily growing in a golden flower pot. We must
ask: can this bizarre fairy tale really be, as Palmer claims, the source for
Joseph Smith’s story?

Without indicating in An Insider’s View that the archivist who employed
Anselmus to copy old manuscripts for him was a changeling salamander,
Palmer claims that “when the transformed archivist gives Anselmus work, it is
to copy and translate the records of Lindhorst’s ancestors” (p. 138,
emphasis added). This is, as I will demonstrate, simply not true. Palmer then
asserts that “Anselmus receives the Atlantean records . . . and begins to translate
(p. 138, emphasis added). This is again not true—Anselmus merely copies
manuscripts and other items in foreign languages.

After a very brief and quite inaccurate summary of Hoffmann’s tale,60 Palmer
then turns to the Second Vigil—one of the twelve scenes, or vigils, that make
up this fairy tale. Palmer’s heading reads as follows: “He [Anselmus] is called
to translate ancient records” (p. 148). There are two problems with this
assertion: Anselmus is not “called” in any religious sense but is employed by
Lindhorst to work as a calligrapher and copyist; Anselmus copies old
manuscripts but never “translates” anything.

Palmer, referring to language in the Second Vigil, claims that Lindhorst gives
Anselmus “a number of manuscripts, partly Arabic, Coptic, and some of them in
strange characters, which do not belong to any known tongue. These he wishes
to have copied [and translated] properly, and for this purpose he requires a
man who can draw with the pen, and so [to] transfer these marks to parchment,
in Indian ink, with the highest exactness and fidelity. The [This] work is to
be carried out in a separate chamber of his house, under his own supervision
. . . he will pay his copyist a speziesthaler, or specie-dollar, daily, and
promises a handsome present” (p. 148, bracketed portions Palmer’s), but
Palmer has not finished the line, which reads “when the copying is rightly finished.”
Even though the words used in the tale are copied, copyist, and copying,
Palmer inserts the phrase and translated into the text. This is entirely
gratuitous; nothing in Hoffmann’s tale justifies such an emendation or amendment,
and, by not quoting the final clause in the sentence, Palmer has suppressed
crucial evidence since that language shows that Anselmus was not hired to translate
an ancient Atlantean history, but merely to copy some old manuscripts.

Then Palmer reports that Lindhorst sketches for Anselmus something of his
ancestry, and he adds: “This is told in more detail in Vigil 8 when Anselmus
actually translates the history” (p. 153). But there is no mention in the Eighth
Vigil, as I will demonstrate, of Anselmus translating anything. Palmer must
interpolate the word translate into Hoffmann’s tale to make the argument
that somehow Joseph Smith used it, directly or indirectly, to fashion his own
story. But he is not consistent about it. Later—inadvertently, it appears—he
quotes Lindhorst taunting Anselmus as follows: “‘Hey, hey, this is Herr Anselmus
that was to copy my manuscripts'” (p. 155). Still later he casually reports
that “in the library ‘Lindhorst now brought out . . . an Arabic manuscript’
which Anselmus eagerly begins transcribing” (p. 162). A little further
on, Palmer quotes Lindhorst as saying to Anselmus, “You have gained my confidence;
but the hardest is still ahead; and that is the transcribing or rather painting
of certain works, written in a peculiar character; I keep them in this room,
and they can only be copied on the spot” (p. 166). There is no mention
of translating. But when Lindhorst introduces Anselmus to “books with gilt leaves
. . . [of] parchment,” Palmer adds that “Anselmus begins to translate these”
(p. 167).61 On the same page, however, Palmer grants that “‘Anselmus wondered
not a little at these strangely intertwisted characters; and as he looked over
the many points, strokes, dashes, and twirls in the manuscript, he almost lost
hope of ever copying it'” (p. 167, emphasis added).

Palmer does not seem to see that copying ancient manuscripts is Hoffmann’s
technique for gradually introducing Anselmus into a higher mythic world of nature
rather than into a world of bureaucracy and technology. After starting him in
a library, carefully copying ancient texts—which has to be the most boring,
tedious, dull, bureaucratic, and prosaic work imaginable—his salamander
mentor eventually introduces Anselmus into an imaginary magic garden, where
he unfolds a leaf from a tree and sees something that looks like polished marble
or lichens on a rock. He then gets close to nature by copying nature. He is
fitted to experience the wonders of nature directly, instead of copying words
on a page. He reads the book of nature rather than something artificial and
alienating, written in conventional signs by mere human beings. At the end,
Anselmus is permanently swept away to an imaginary Atlantis, where human and
divine things disappear and he is able in his madness to experience immediately
the clash of earth and fire—that is, the struggle of the elemental powers
of air, water, earth, and fire and the harmony presumably behind all of that.62
As he learns his lessons and as Lindhorst holds his hand, Anselmus becomes a
participant in the mythic struggle between earth and fire. And Lindhorst is
the salamander figure representing fire. This is not the Joseph Smith story,
and nothing like it appears in the Book of Mormon.

Finally, a subsection of Palmer’s chapter on “Moroni and ‘The
Golden Pot'” carries the heading “He translates by inspiration”
(p. 169). Hoffmann does not, however, mention “inspiration,”
except that which might come from wine or some other form of alcohol, and he
does not have Anselmus translate an ancient history or translate any text; he
is not inspired to translate. He is, instead, a skilled calligrapher whose job
is to copy manuscripts as accurately as possible. Palmer stretches things a
bit further by claiming that “Anselmus receives ‘help’ in
translating” (p. 169). Hence the following: “Lindhorst specified
that his special records needed to be interpreted and copied ‘with the
highest exactness and fidelity’ and ‘the greatest clearness and
correctness'” (p. 170). He embellishes Hoffmann’s tale
in an effort to imply similarities with language describing Joseph Smith’s
experiences. Palmer thus claims that “when Anselmus translated, his work
stood ‘perfect on the parchment'” (p. 170).63 But Lindhorst
never mentions translating or interpreting those manuscripts, nor is there a
clear indication that any of the manuscripts that Anselmus was asked to copy
were historical texts, as Palmer claims.

I will present the relevant language in E. T. A. Hoffmann’s tale concerning
the task given to Anselmus by the salamander changeling, Lindhorst. I quote
this language in the exact order in which it appears in the tale. Palmer, it
will be seen, obscures the descriptions of the tasks given to Anselmus by his
employer64 in his effort to make it appear that the bizarre salamander tale
was the inspiration for Joseph Smith’s account of the recovery of the
Book of Mormon.

First Vigil
“‘What did it matter when Conrector Paulmann gave me hopes of copywork.'”65

Second Vigil
“Besides many curious books, he [Privy Archivarius Lindhorst] possesses a number
of manuscripts, partly Arabic, Coptic, and some of them in strange characters,
which do not belong to any known tongue. These he wishes to have copied
properly, and for this purpose he requires a man who can draw with the pen,
and so transfer these marks to parchment, in Indian ink, with the highest exactness
and fidelity.”66

Lindhorst “will pay his copyist a speziesthaler, or specie-dollar,
daily, and promises a handsome present when the copying is rightly

“‘Herr Archivarius Lindhorst having in vain tried one or two young people
for copying these manuscripts, has at last applied to me to find him
an expert calligrapher, and so I have been thinking of you, my dear
Anselmus, for I know that you both write very neatly and draw with
the pen to great perfection.'”68

“The Student Anselmus was filled with joy at Registrator Heerbrand’s proposal;
for not only could the Student write well and draw well with the pen,
but this copying with laborious calligraphic pains was a thing
he delighted in more than anything else.”69

Anselmus “brought out his black-lead pencils, his crowquills, his Indian ink;
for better materials, thought he, the Archivarius can find nowhere. Above all,
he gathered together and arranged his calligraphic masterpieces and
his drawings, to show them to the Archivarius, as proof of his ability
to do what was desired.”70

Anselmus went to meet Lindhorst “with a roll of calligraphic specimens
and pen-drawings
in his pocket.”71

Third Vigil
“In fact, these friends regarded [Anselmus] as troubled in mind, and considered
ways for diverting his thoughts; to which end, Registrator Heerbrand thought,
there could nothing be so serviceable as copying Archivarius Lindhorst’s

” . . . till such time as Archivarius Lindhorst should in one way or another
see him, and the bargain for this copying work be settled.”73

“‘Most esteemed Herr Archivarius, here is the Student Anselmus, who has an
uncommon talent in calligraphy and drawing, and will undertake the
copying of your rare manuscripts.'”74

“‘Did not the Archivarius tell me he was most particularly glad to hear that
I would undertake the copying of his manuscripts . . . ?'”75

Fourth Vigil
“‘Hey, hey, what whining and whimpering is this? Hey, hey, this is Herr Anselmus
that was to copy my manuscripts.'”76

“‘I will grant you this real satisfaction: if you stick tightly and truly
to your task, that is to say, copy every mark with the greatest clearness
and correctness . . .'”77

Fifth Vigil
“‘These two days he has been with Archivarius Lindhorst, copying manuscripts.'”78

Sixth Vigil
“The Student Anselmus put his pen-drawings, and calligraphic masterpieces,
his bars of Indian ink, and his well-pointed crow-pens, into his pockets.”79

“At that moment, he felt as if Serpentina’s love might be the prize of some
laborious perilous task which he had to undertake; and as if this task were
nothing else but the copying of the Lindhorst manuscripts.”80

“The Student here gathered full courage; and not without internal self-complacence
in the certainty of highly gratifying Archivarius Lindhorst, pulled out his
drawings and specimens of penmanship from his pocket.”81

“‘My dear Herr Anselmus,’ said Archivarius Lindhorst, ‘you have indeed fine
capacities for the art of calligraphy.'”82

“The Student Anselmus spoke at length of his often-acknowledged perfection
in this art
, of his fine Chinese ink, and most select crow-quills.”83

“The Student Anselmus had often copied Arabic manuscripts before.”84

“If the copying of these Arabic manuscripts had prospered in his
hands before dinner, the task now went forward much better.”85

“And as, in the fullness of secret rapture, he caught these sounds, the unknown
characters grew clearer and clearer to him; he scarcely needed to look at the
original at all; nay, it was as if the letters were already standing in pale
ink on the parchment, and he had nothing more to do but mark them in black.”86

Lindhorst started to look over Anselmus’s work, “but no sooner had he glanced
over the copy . . .”87

Eighth Vigil
“His copying proceeded rapidly and lightly; for he felt more and more
as if he were writing characters long known to him; and he scarcely needed to
cast his eye upon the manuscript, while copying it all with the greatest

“Except at the hour of dinner, Archivarius Lindhorst seldom made his appearance;
and this always precisely at the moment when Anselmus had finished the last
letter of some manuscript: then the Archivarius would hand him another.”89

Anselmus enters a room that has “a table overhung with violet-coloured satin,
upon which lay the writing gear already known to Anselmus. ‘Dear Herr Anselmus,’
said Archivarius Lindhorst, ‘you have now copied for me a number of
manuscripts, rapidly and correctly, to my no small contentment: you have gained
my confidence; but the hardest is still ahead; and that is the transcribing
or rather painting of certain works, written in a peculiar character;
I keep them in this room, and they can only be copied on the spot.'”90

In the imaginary garden, “one of these leaves the Archivarius took hold of;
and Anselmus saw that the leaf was in truth a roll of parchment, which the Archivarius
unfolded, and spread out before the Student on the table. Anselmus wondered
not a little at these strangely intertwisted characters; and as he looked over
the many points, strokes, dashes, and twirls in the manuscript, he almost lost
hope of ever copying it.”91

“And with this, he began studying the foreign characters on the roll of

After earlier hearing a tale about Lindhorst’s cursed brother in which
a necromancer “looks after a salamander in his garden,”93 “before
long [Anselmus] felt, as it were from his inmost soul, that the characters could
denote nothing else than these words: Of the marriage of the Salamander with
the green snake.”94

He engages in a conversation, instead of copying, “and it fell heavy on his
heart that today he had not copied a single stroke.”95

“O wonder! the copy of the mysterious manuscript was fairly concluded;
and he thought, on viewing the characters more narrowly, that the writing was
nothing else but Serpentina’s story of her father, the favourite of the Spirit-prince
Phosphorus, in Atlantis, the land of marvels. And now entered Archivarius Lindhorst
. . . : he looked into the parchment on which Anselmus had been writing.”96

Ninth Vigil
Without his effort at all, after his enlightening conversation with the salamander,
“the wild legend of the Salamander’s marriage with the green snake
had merely been written down by him from the manuscript.”97

“‘Ah, Herr Conrector!’ answered the Student Anselmus, ‘are
you not aware that I must go to Archivarius Lindhorst’s and copy?‘”98

“The Student Anselmus [sat] down at the table to begin the copying of
the manuscript, which Archivarius Lindhorst had as usual spread out before him.
But on the parchment roll, he perceived so many strange crabbed strokes and
twirls all twisted together in inexplicable confusion, offering no resting point
for the eye, that it seemed to him well nigh impossible to copy all this exactly.”99

Tenth Vigil
“‘Ho, ho!’ replied the crone [old, evil hag representing the earth], ‘not so
proud, my fine copyist.'”100

Please notice that the key words, right to the very end, are copy, copying,
copied, copywork, copying work, transcribing, and writing down
what he
sees on old manuscripts or, when he is fully absorbed into the imaginary world,
what looks like marble or lichens. Anselmus is employed as a calligrapher;
his work is calligraphic, he has calligraphic specimens, or
specimens of his penmanship; he draws and writes, produces pen drawings,
but he does not, as Palmer repeatedly claims, translate any text. He is, instead,
told the salamander story by Serpentina, his gold-green snake consort, and then
by Lindhorst, her imaginary salamander father. Anselmus merely assumes that
the text he is finally asked to copy must be the history of a race of salamanders
that he has just been told (or imagined).

Every claim that Palmer makes concerning parallels between Hoffmann’s
weird tale and the story of the restoration is just as tenuous and problematic—just
as forced or contrived—as is his claim that there is translation of an
ancient history being described in that tale. This brief examination helps to
demonstrate the shortcomings of Palmer’s analysis.

Overcoming “A Sense of Loss”—The Nostalgia of an “Insider”

Currently Palmer presents himself not under his former guise of the militant
anti-Mormon Paul Pry Jr. emboldened by Mark Hofmann’s forgeries.
Instead, he poses as one who, after surveying the work of Mormon historians
over the past three decades, has agonized over what he considers the distortions
of the Latter-day Saint past by the Saints. These now include the story of angelic
visits to young Joseph Smith, the resulting Book of Mormon (pp. 1-133),
Joseph Smith’s encounters with a heavenly messenger with news of an ancient
sacred history (pp. 135-74), the witnesses to the plates (pp. 175-213),
the restoration of the priesthood (pp. 215-34), and the first vision
(pp. 235-58). He is pictured by his publisher as one who, in the
twilight of his career, has reluctantly come to some very difficult decisions.
He rejects all these events because he now sees them as the unfortunate products
of a primitive, magic-saturated environment, as imaginary and not real events,
as illusions or delusions—merely outlandish and controversial tall tales.
In his concluding remarks, Palmer insists that the Saints ought to turn away
from what he claims were “Joseph Smith’s largely rewritten, materialistic,
idealized, and controversial accounts of the church’s founding”
(p. 263). He also believes that the Book of Mormon, the priesthood, and
Joseph Smith’s prophetic truth claims should be abandoned by the Saints.
But at the same time, he insists that his “intent is to increase faith,
not to diminish it” (p. ix).

Palmer wants to be seen as a devout fellow who, now that he is retired, must
courageously tell the Saints what he feels in his soul (see p. ix). He claims
that when he discovered the hard truth about the Latter-day Saint past, he experienced
“a sense of loss” (p. 261). And yet, he opines, “faith needs to be built
on truth—what is, in fact, true and believable. After that comes the great leap”
(p. ix). But a leap to what? His answer is that all that is necessary is
a “leap” to Jesus (pp. 261-63). It is, however, not at all clear why Palmer’s
emotional “leap”—what he feels deeply—is somehow “true and believable” (p. ix).
Why? He has adopted a kind of “faith” that “has to do with the unknown,
not about what can be proven or can be shown to be reasonably based on the
.” He has not explained why his own religious sentiments—which
he grants are mere feelings about what he calls the “unknown”—are not
subject to the same acids with which he has striven to dissolve what he insists
is the essentially false faith of the Saints.

The Saints, according to Palmer, ought to shed whatever understandings they
attribute to the Holy Spirit. Why? He has had, he claims, a few of these experiences
himself, as he has listened to people tell stories that turned out to be false
(see pp. 131-32 for two illustrations). From such merely emotional
experiences, he remarks that some conclude “that these feelings are self-manufactured
and that there is no objective existence of something called the Holy Ghost.”
He then asserts his belief “that the Holy Ghost does exist, that it does
speak to human beings,” but that “it is an unreliable means of proving
truth” (p. 133). Instead of depending on what he describes as the
“unreliable” promptings and direction of the Holy Spirit, the Saints
should instead make his unreasonable emotional “leap” into what
he calls the “unknown” since he grants that what he calls his “faith,”
whatever its contents, is not “based on evidence.” He gives no convincing
reason why others should follow what he himself feels about the “unknown.”

Palmer now wants the Saints to place more emphasis on what he calls the “character
of Jesus Christ and his promises” (p. 261), which he feels is
all that should concern them, since he feels that this is what makes
one a “Mormon.” He has, he claims, sought to “convey what I feel in my soul”
(p. ix). He can, with a combination of emotional, secular “testimony” bearing
tacked onto a bit of circular reasoning, picture himself as a faithful “Mormon”
even though he denies that there ever was a Mormon and insists that the Book
of Mormon is merely frontier fiction. He says nothing about ever having experienced
a divine witness to the saving power of Jesus Christ. Instead, he reduces the
work of the Holy Spirit to what one might experience in hearing emotion-laden
talks by ambitious people, in one case selling themselves as they sought public
office (for example, see p. 133). And yet he claims that as a young fellow
he got “involved in CES” because of a “commitment to the gospel” and his “love
of the scriptures” (p. x). This may be true. He also mentions an obvious
“passion for church history” (p. x). But this passion, especially when
he encountered Mark Hofmann’s forgeries, has undermined whatever love he may
have had for the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

In my presence, however, Palmer has said that he still believes in the resurrection
of Jesus.101 Why? Can he explain how a belief in the resurrection could survive
a cynical treatment of the stories upon which such a belief is grounded—that
is, one similar to the treatment he has provided of the other stories upon which
the faith of the Saints is grounded? Well, he claims, he has an emotional attachment
to the stories about Jesus and has made a “leap of faith.”

I suspect that Palmer might have experienced a sense of loss as he has abandoned
the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s prophetic truth claims. He appears
to have filled the empty space generated by his cynicism with sentimentality
about Jesus. Faith, he opines—and I quote his language again, since it
is significant—is “not about what can be proven or can be shown
to be reasonably based on the evidence” (p. x). Instead, he insists,
his present “faith” is what he describes as an unreasonable “leap”
into the “unknown.” The Saints, he believes, should follow him down
this road. There is, however, no hint in the first draft of his book that foreshadows
his current fascination with Jesus or anything to suggest a spiritual return
to what might be a version of the old liberal Protestant “social gospel.”

I have wondered when Palmer started to substitute some emotions about Jesus
for the full restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Fortunately, he has explained
when and how he came to talk about the need to emphasize Jesus. “During 1999-2000,”
he reveals, as he was finishing work on An Insider’s View, he “often
discussed with others how to find a positive conclusion to the book”102 since
what he had written blasts away at the historical foundations of the faith of
the Saints. His concluding remarks (see pp. 259-63), he indicates, were
generated by these conversations. In addition, his editors were, he reveals,
insisting that he “write an extended conclusion to the manuscript in the summer
of 2000 and submit it by August.”103 He reflected on his counseling work at
the jail and came up with the idea of recommending that the Saints just stress
Jesus.104 The sentimental core of his conclusion, it turns out, was a kind of
afterthought generated by pressure from his publisher. In addition to being
his way of trying, as he says, “to increase faith, not to diminish it” (p. ix),
his concluding references to his feelings help to explain why he has not applied
the same critical standards that he has striven to use against Joseph Smith
and the Book of Mormon to the New Testament account of Jesus.

And yet, after blasting away at Joseph Smith’s prophetic truth claims
and trying to explain the Book of Mormon as nineteenth-century fiction fabricated
by a clever liar, he makes the following remark: “I cherish Joseph Smith’s
teachings on many topics, such as the plan of salvation and his view that the
marriage covenant extends beyond death” (p. 261). Is he serious?
If he is, then he has neglected to explain why he would cherish something taught,
as he has argued passionately, by a charlatan who lied about having had any
genuinely divine, special revelations. His lingering emotional attachment to
a few teachings associated with one whose prophetic truth claims he flatly rejects
makes no more sense than his “leap” into the “unknown.”

And he now has a fondness for Jesus. However, if one can accept the virgin birth
or genuinely believe that Jesus is the Messiah or Christ—that he is the
Son of God and hence divine—then Joseph Smith’s prophetic truth
claims should not, in principle, be all that hard to accept. If one is really
serious about Jesus, then one must also accept his miracles, his atoning death,
his subsequent bodily resurrection, and the other postresurrection theophanies
witnessed by his disciples. If Palmer can genuinely accept even some of these—if
he is not merely mouthing the platitudes of a limp form of the “social
gospel”—then it should not be all that difficult for him to accept
the appearance of real heavenly messengers to Joseph Smith or his translation
of the gold plates through seer stones.

Palmer speaks to and for a small group of dissidents on the fringes of the
church. The community in which he is a genuine insider is one made
up of, in addition to his associates at Signature, disaffected or “cultural”
Mormons, apostates, and sworn enemies of the Church of Jesus Christ. Evidence
for this can be found on various Internet message boards where he is routinely
lionized and turned into a heroic figure by those who need a peg upon which
to hang their own unbelief. But he presents himself (and is, of course, advertised
by Signature Books) as an insider at the very heart of the Church Educational
System, as well as one who both knows the “real” truth about the Latter-day
Saint past and is courageously willing to reveal to the Saints what historians
“know” about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon—now that he is safely retired.
His own way of making this crucial point is as follows: “Now that I am retired,
I find myself compelled to discuss in public what I pondered mostly in private
at that time” (p. x).

He implies, wrongly, that he is speaking for “the faculty of the Joseph
Fielding Smith Institute for Church History at Brigham Young University, BYU
history and religion professors and scholars from other disciplines and other
church schools, and seminary and institute faculty,” as well as other
“unaffiliated scholars” (pp. vii-viii). He also implies
that his views represent “a near-consensus on many of the details”
of the Latter-day Saint past (p. ix).

The “Quinn Rule”—Does It Apply to Palmer?

One of Palmer’s stated purposes for publishing An Insider’s View
“is to introduce church members who have not followed the developments in [Latter-day
Saint] church history during the last thirty years to issues that are central
to the topic of Mormon origins. I hope,” he continues, “my survey will be enlightening
and useful to anyone who has wanted to understand what has been termed the New
Mormon History” (p. x). Does he succeed in reaching this goal? He merely
surveys what he includes under the notoriously amorphous label “New Mormon History.”
He includes under the label only anti-Mormon literature or radically revisionist
literature, much of which has been issued by his publisher. I wish to test Palmer’s
performance against what might be called the “Quinn rule.”

D. Michael Quinn once declared that an author is guilty of what he calls fraud
or dishonesty if the relevant literature is suppressed or manipulated, or that
the writer is incompetent if he or she does not know or fails to cite and deal
with all the relevant literature on the topic under consideration. In a book
published by Signature, Quinn sets out this rule, vehemently and with much overstatement,
as follows:

writers are certainly “dishonest or bad historians” if they fail
to acknowledge the existence of even one piece of evidence they know challenges
or contradicts the rest of their evidence. If this omission of relevant evidence
is inadvertent, the author is careless. If the omission is an intentional effort
to conceal or avoid presenting the reader with evidence that contradicts the
preferred view of the writer, that is fraud whether by a scholar or non-scholar,
historian or other specialist. If authors write in scholarly style, they are
equally dishonest if they fail to acknowledge any significant work whose interpretations
differ from their own.105

Put more modestly and, I believe, more accurately, the point Quinn seems to
make is that those who write about the past ought to know, as best they can,
the relevant literature, and know it as well as possible. In addition, they
ought to lead their readers to the relevant literature, or at least to the best
of that literature, where appropriate, and then do their very best to show how
and why their reading of the relevant literature tells the story most accurately
or otherwise yields the conclusions they have drawn in their study. If some
of the relevant literature seems to challenge their interpretations, they
at least ought to try to show why their way of