Asked and Answered:
A Response to Grant H. 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.

Asked and Answered: A Response to Grant H. Palmer

Reviewed by James B. Allen

Reviewing Grant Palmer’s first published work, An Insider’s View of Mormon
, became an unusual personal challenge to me. It was not that the
book had any effect on my beliefs—I have seen nearly all the arguments before
and long since dealt with them. It was because it touches on two things I hold
dear. One is balanced scholarship and academic integrity, which I have spent
a career trying to preach and practice. The other is something especially sacred
to me—my personal belief in the reality of Joseph Smith’s first vision, the
authenticity of the Book of Mormon, and the restoration of priesthood authority.
Reviews ordinarily center just on scholarly matters, but somehow I could not
approach this particular one without intermixing the two. My commentary, therefore,
is in first person and very personal.1

Early in the book, Palmer admonishes historians to have a questioning attitude,
honesty and integrity in their dealings with fellow church members, no fear
of coercion to secure uniformity of thought, and a willingness to face difficult
issues head-on (pp. xi, xiii). This is an ideal shared by historians, even
though in their efforts to pursue it they do not always agree. Palmer is persuaded
that the evidence does not support the foundational stories of the church, including
the literal reality of the first vision, the Moroni visits and other spiritual
manifestations, or the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon. On the
other hand, highly respected Latter-day Saint scholars have examined the same
evidence and drawn different conclusions. I will not attempt here to answer
all the problems raised by Palmer; a few examples will illustrate the kind of
faulty speculation, incomplete evidence, and misleading “parallels”
that plague his book. My intent is simply to summarize some of his assertions,
show that nearly all of them have been dealt with in detail by well-qualified
LDS scholars, and point the interested reader to some of their readily available
writings. These scholars all have advanced degrees, usually doctoral degrees,
with a wide variety of specialties, among them early American history, ancient
civilizations, ancient languages, linguistics, anthropology, law, and philosophy.
It is clear in their writings, moreover (though they avoid belaboring the point),
that they are also believers.2 I recognize that simply piling up names of authorities
is not sufficient, but I would remind readers that in their search for truth
they must read not only the naysayers but also the proven experts. “Asked
and answered,” we frequently hear lawyers say during trials on television
crime shows when their opponents persist in bringing up old questions, and “asked
and answered” is a good part of my response to many of the questions Palmer
puts forth.

I believe that the evidence favoring the foundational stories is powerful and
convincing, but I also believe that the literal reality of the first vision
and other sacred experiences can be neither proved nor disproved by secular
objectivity. Of course, Latter-day Saint scholars usually look at the evidence
through the eyes of faith as well as through the eyes of scholarship, and most
will tell you that, ultimately, their testimonies rest on the affirmation of
the Spirit. On the other hand, church members who know of Palmer’s background
will be disappointed to find that he has no confidence in such spiritual confirmation
for, he says, the Holy Ghost is an “unreliable means of proving truth”
(p. 133). It may be that this lack of confidence in the Spirit helps account
for his divergence from what he was presumably teaching when employed by the
Church Educational System. Nevertheless, scholars who take it upon themselves
to write about these foundational events should be held to common scholarly
standards, and it is evident from the writings of those discussed below that
their faith has not kept them from applying such standards to their research
and writing. Palmer, however, seems to have allowed his desire to debunk traditional
faith to blind him to some of those standards.

An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins portrays Joseph Smith as a brilliant,
though not formally educated, young man who made up the Book of Mormon, as well
as other LDS scriptures, by drawing from various threads in his cultural environment.
His early religious experiences (the first vision, the visits of Moroni, and
priesthood restoration) were not real or physical, but only “spiritual.” The
stories evolved over time from “relatively simple experiences into more impressive
spiritual manifestations, from metaphysical to physical events” and were “rewritten
by Joseph and Oliver and other early church officials so that the church could
survive and grow” (pp. 260-61). Even the witnesses of the gold plates never
really saw them. They had only a spiritual experience. (Why Deity or gold plates
seen with “spiritual eyes” could not also be physical realities is never satisfactorily

Despite such assertions, Palmer does not see himself either as an anti-Mormon
or as someone bent on undermining the faith. He presents himself as a faithful
Mormon whose “intent is to increase faith, not diminish it” (p. ix).
He recently retired after a long career in the Church Educational System, and
at the time he wrote the book he was a high priest group instructor in his ward
in Sandy, Utah. His announced twofold purpose is (1) simply to introduce
church members who have not kept up with the developments in church history
over the last thirty years to “issues that are central to the topic of
Mormon origins” and (2) to help church members “understand
historians and religion teachers like myself” (p. x).

Palmer’s readers may well wonder what kind of faith he is trying to increase,
for nothing in the book generates confidence in Joseph Smith or modern scripture.
He says that he wants church members to understand that the stories of the first
vision, the angel Moroni, the Book of Mormon, and priesthood restoration are
simply religious allegories (p. 261). Nevertheless, a certain inspiration
went into the development of Joseph Smith’s teachings, and Palmer says
he cherishes many of them. He claims that the focus of his worship, and the
object of the faith he wants to promote, is Jesus Christ. Mormon history gives
him “a great commitment to Christ’s teachings,” and he cites
Joseph Smith to the effect that all other things are only appendages to the
testimony of Christ. As Latter-day Saints, he says in his concluding paragraph,
“our religious faith should be based and evaluated by how our spiritual
and moral lives are centered on Jesus Christ, rather than in Joseph Smith’s
largely rewritten, materialist, idealized, and controversial accounts of the
church’s founding” (p. 263). As I read that statement, I could
not help but wonder whether Palmer really knows the message of the Book of Mormon.
Is he actually saying that telling the foundational stories undermines or takes
precedence over the worship of Christ in his or other wards of the church? Leaving
aside, for a moment, the question of whether those stories are accurate, it
seems to me that in his pursuit of the “truth” about them he has
seen only part of what really goes on in church—at least in the church
I go to. I have attended wards in many parts of the United States, and invariably
I find that the major focus in sacrament meetings and Sunday School is Christ.
Of course we talk about the church’s founding, but in the larger scheme
of things, that always takes second place to the Savior and his teachings. Of
course we regularly quote from the Book of Mormon, but the all-important, and
most prominent, message of that book is Jesus Christ and his atonement. I could
not agree more with Palmer’s assertion that, as Latter-day Saints, our
chief focus should be on Christ and his teachings, but Palmer is wrong if he
is implying that we do otherwise.

Palmer says that he wants to help church members “understand historians
and religion teachers like [himself],” but the reader may be confused,
initially, as to who those historians and religion teachers are. He does not
specifically identify them, but in his preface he gives high praise to “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” who have done
painstaking work in all the primary sources, gathered data from the environment,
studied the language of the revelations and scriptures and compared it with
the language of the time, excavated and restored historical sites, and “published,
critiqued, and reevaluated a veritable mountain of evidence.” However,
he complains, “too much of this escapes the view of the rank-and-file
in the church” (p. viii). Such a statement may mislead some into
assuming that the Latter-day Saint scholars and teachers alluded to agree with
his perceptions—or, at least, that he draws his conclusions from their
works. For the record, nothing could be further from the truth.3

There seems also to be an implication that, over the years, Palmer has discussed
these issues with other Latter-day Saint scholars and that some may agree with
his analysis.4 I have no personal knowledge of any such conversations, but it
is important for the reader to understand that when scholars meet together they
discuss candidly whatever issues may arise and whatever new information may
have come to light. As new sources become available, or divergent insights are
presented, scholars seldom write them off as unimportant or insignificant. They
consider them straightforwardly and may well say something like “Hmm,
that is really interesting, let’s look into it,” or “Yes,
that raises some interesting and important questions.” But such responses
hardly imply that they agree with whatever viewpoints they are discussing, though
some observers may be misled into thinking so. Of course there are people who
agree with Palmer, but those he seemingly alludes to in his preface are not
among them.5

There is another implication, not stated by Palmer but apparently circulated
in much of the discussion that goes on through the Internet and other places,
that some people still in the employ of the church dare not come out with their
“true” feelings because they are intimidated by fear of loss of
employment and even loss of church membership. Palmer himself may have felt
such fear, for he did not publish any of this before he left church employment.
But “now that I am retired,” he says, “I find myself compelled
to discuss in public what I pondered mostly in private at that time” (p. x).
It amazes me, however, that some people (not Palmer, perhaps, but some of his
disciples) can impute such hidden sentiments to scholars whom they do not know
but who have continually published their own findings and interpretations for
years. Moreover, many who are now retired, or who otherwise are not dependent
upon the church for their livelihood (and are therefore “safe” from
intimidation), still continue to publish and lecture on Mormon origins with
no change at all in their perspectives. Such people include Richard L. Bushman,
who serves part time as chairman of the board of the Smith Institute. The reader
may be interested in going to the Institute’s Web site for a list of the
rest of the faculty as well as of the Institute’s senior research fellows,
including six BYU retirees, all of whom have published widely in LDS history
and none of whom supports the conclusions reached by Palmer.6 Other people who
might be included among the “historians like myself” to whom Palmer
alludes include the staff of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon
Studies,7 other BYU faculty members, and other Latter-day Saint scholars. Palmer
would no doubt say that he did not intend to imply that all these people agree
with him, which still leaves us asking who are the “historians and religion
teachers like myself” that need to be understood—and who, presumably,
share his views? It would be amiss for me to speculate on an answer, but they
are not among the groups mentioned above.

Palmer complains about the “Sunday school” type of history, claiming that
his “demythologized” versions of the foundational stories “are in many cases
more spiritual, less temporal, and more stirring” than what is generally taught
(p. ix), though he spends little time trying to demonstrate this curious
pronouncement. What we must do, he says, is address and ultimately correct the
“disparity between historical narratives and the inspirational stories told
in church” (p. xii). This, I think, tends to beg the issue. The leaders
of the church are well aware of the various accounts of the first vision and
other foundational stories, as well as the sometimes confusing reports by Joseph
Smith’s contemporaries. Latter-day Saint scholars have been writing about these
matters for years. However, in Sunday School there is little time to go into
all the details of church history, and especially not the controversies concerning
those details. That is not the purpose of Sunday School. Nevertheless, the scholars
Palmer claims to admire have gone into great detail on nearly all the issues
he brings up and have published significant books and articles about their findings.
These publications frequently “demythologize” in the sense that they correct
false impressions and tend to modify old ideas, bring to light various contextual
considerations, and reveal a great deal of new information about Joseph Smith,
his contemporaries, and the Book of Mormon. These writings usually do not find
their way into “official” church literature—that is, the Ensign, the
New Era, the Church News, the Liahona (the church’s
international magazine), and Sunday School, priesthood, and Relief Society manuals—and
for good reason. Such publications are not intended to be a forum for academic
discussion of controversial issues. Just the opposite, they are designed for
the entire population of the church, from the “seasoned” member to the newest
convert, so they deal primarily with basic gospel principles and gospel living.
Nonetheless, Latter-day Saint scholars who do such cutting-edge research are
encouraged by the church to find outlets for their work in church-supported
scholarly publications such as BYU Studies, the Journal of Book
of Mormon Studies
, the FARMS Review, several other journals that
direct themselves to Latter-day Saint audiences, and various reputable publishing
houses, including Deseret Book and various national book publishers. The work
of these scholars, who, as Palmer says, have “published, critiqued, and reevaluated
a veritable mountain of evidence,” is out there to be read and is easily found
by anyone who has the interest.

Palmer is right, unfortunately, in saying that not enough LDS historical scholarship
has come to the attention of the “rank-and-file” in the church,
but this is hardly the fault of either the church or its scholars. It illustrates
the sad fact that the vast majority of the reading public seems less interested
in history than in lively fiction (largely mysteries, adventure, romance novels,
and historical novels) and books on health and diet.8 History is almost at the
bottom of the list, and, though Latter-day Saints often gain certain historical
insights from historical novels, they seldom seek out the scholarly literature
that deals with complex issues and problems such as those discussed by Palmer.
Again, this is not the fault of the church—it is just human nature. However,
the material is out there for those who want to find it.9 Given Palmer’s
high praise for all this work in his introduction, it seems ironic that he virtually
ignores it in the rest of the book.

The Book of Mormon

In his first chapter, Palmer attempts to demonstrate that Joseph Smith did not
have the power to translate anything and that therefore not just the Book of
Mormon but also his Bible translations and the Book of Abraham were fabricated
(albeit, Palmer seems to feel, in some kind of “inspired” way).
The Book of Mormon, he argues, is neither a “translation” nor a
direct dictation from God but, instead, “a nineteenth-century encounter
with God rather than an ancient epic” (p. 36). In other words, it
is inspired fiction. Among his arguments is the fact that there are so many
passages in the Book of Mormon that are similar to, or the same as, passages
from the King James Version of the Bible. In fact, he says, “scholars
have determined that he [Joseph] consulted an open Bible, specifically a printing
of the King James translation dating from 1769 or later, including its errors”
(p. 10). Later in the book, Palmer suggests that Joseph Smith knew the
Bible thoroughly—even, perhaps, having it memorized—thus accounting
for his ability to insert Bible passages as he constructed the Book of Mormon
(pp. 46-47). One problem here is that the writers he cites really
have no way of knowing whether Joseph did or did not have a Bible in front of
him, and there is no evidence that any of his associates said such a thing.
In fact, the statements usually cited are not always contemporary (some were
made years after the fact), they do not always agree in detail, and some of
those who made them were not actual witnesses to the translation, or dictation,
process. LDS scholars have already dealt with the issue of biblical passages
in the Book of Mormon many times, but Palmer chooses either to ignore or to
brush too lightly over what they have to say. In a review of an earlier work
casting doubt on Joseph Smith as the translator, Royal Skousen, who has spent
years in painstaking study of the Book of Mormon text, shows from contemporary
accounts that the youthful Joseph was not that great a Bible student (for one
thing, he did not even know that there were walls around Jerusalem) and that
contemporary witnesses affirm that he did not have a Bible with him while translating.
Skousen also discusses numerous other points raised by earlier doubters and
repeated by Palmer.10 Another scholar, John W. Welch, explores in depth the
section in 3 Nephi that is highly similar to the Sermon on the Mount as
recorded in Matthew.11 In comparing the two sermons he emphasizes not just the
similarities but, more importantly, the differences, showing that “the
relationship between these texts cannot be attributed to a superficial, thoughtless,
blind, or careless plagiarism. On the contrary, the differences are systematic,
consistent, methodological, and in several cases quite deft.”12 In his
only allusion to Welch, Palmer faults his speculation that God brought the biblical
text to Joseph’s memory as he was translating, asserting that the Bible
edition Joseph used contained mistakes and asking why, if God inspired Joseph,
these mistakes were perpetuated in the Book of Mormon (pp. 135-36).
Again, however, Welch has already dealt with that issue, in chapter 8 of the
same book. Drawing on his own knowledge of Greek texts, he shows that there
is no way to know that, in the edition Joseph may have used, the passages in
question were, in fact, erroneous translations.

Numerous other works by Latter-day Saint scholars deal with the authorship of
the Book of Mormon and, as a group, consider nearly every issue raised by Palmer.
The point, however, is not just that they present more sophisticated arguments,
but that none of the questions raised by Palmer has been hidden by the church
or ignored by its scholars and, as ingenious and seemingly overwhelming as the
arguments of Palmer and others are, their readers must not presume that they
can withstand the scrutiny of well-trained scholars and students of scripture
who have spent their careers studying the same issues.

Palmer includes a discussion of the discredited Kinderhook plates, showing
that they were a hoax and suggesting that Joseph Smith nevertheless claimed
that he could translate them (pp. 1-38). What he does not say, however,
is that all this information has been dealt with earlier, in church publications,
so it is no secret. In his article on the Kinderhook plates,13 Stanley B. Kimball
tells the story in detail. Joseph may, at first, have thought these plates were
authentic, and the Times and Seasons even published a statement to
the effect that a translation was forthcoming. But the translation did not appear,
according to Kimball, simply because Joseph Smith was not fooled for long and
soon dropped the matter. The statement in Joseph Smith’s History saying
that “I have translated a portion of them” did not come from Joseph Smith. Rather,
this statement stems from the diary of William Clayton, who wrote on 1 May 1843
that “I have seen 6 brass plates. . . . Prest J. [Joseph] has
translated a portion of them.” Whether Joseph Smith actually tried to translate
the plates or was just speculating on their contents in Clayton’s presence,
or whether Clayton himself was just speculating, is unknown. The statement got
into Joseph’s history later, when Clayton’s diary was used as a source and third-person
references were transposed by the editors into first-person statements. The
fact that the plates were a hoax was not revealed until many years after Joseph’s
death, but modern scholars have not been hesitant to discuss the issue and the
church has not hidden the facts.

Palmer also attacks the authenticity of the Book of Abraham and Joseph Smith’s
interpretation of the other Egyptian papyri he possessed (pp. 12-30). Without
going into detail here, let me simply refer the reader to the voluminous writings
of Hugh Nibley, one of the church’s most learned scholars of ancient civilizations
and languages, who has dealt openly with all the major issues. Even he recognizes
that there are various ways to interpret such ancient material and that all
the answers are not in, but one would be amiss to doubt his integrity as a scholar.14
Palmer, relying on the work of another doubter, criticizes Nibley for focusing
primarily on Egyptian temple rituals (p. 16), but a careful reading of
the Improvement Era series as well as The Message of the Joseph
Smith Papyri
will show that his work is broader than that.

Having satisfied himself that Joseph Smith must have concocted the Book of
Mormon by drawing from his biblical knowledge as well as a variety of sources
in his environment, Palmer proceeds to amass his evidence in four succeeding
chapters. In chapter 2, “Authorship of the Book of Mormon,” he comes up with
what he considers a “plausible scenario” on how the book came to be. Perhaps,
he hypothesizes, the idea began to form in Joseph’s mind even before Martin
Harris became his scribe in 1828, for he had already experimented with seer
stones and thought that maybe God would open his mind to other things. After
the loss of the first 116 pages of dictation, “an apprenticeship had been served,”
and Joseph had nine months before Oliver Cowdery came to help to “ponder the
details” and flesh out the story. Then, before the book was published, he had
eight more months to make textual refinements. In LDS-history-according-to-Palmer,
Joseph actually had at least three years to “develop, write, and refine the
book” (pp. 66-67), or six years, if one counts from when he first told
his family about the project. This is conjecture, of course, and is clearly
a challenge to what LDS scholars have written on the issue. John W. Welch, for
example, has determined that, in fact, it took only about sixty-five to seventy-five
days to complete the translation,15 not several years to make up a story. Of
course, Joseph made modifications and corrections during the time the book was
in press, but these were not extensive and had no effect on its story line or
basic substance. (Incidentally, Palmer makes a mistake when he uses Welch’s
Ensign article for his statement that Joseph Smith dictated the final
manuscript in about ninety days [p. 66]. In the article cited, Welch says
sixty-five days, though in a later revision of the article he says sixty-five
to seventy-five.)

Palmer’s estimate is based on his assumption that Joseph Smith somehow
began plotting his publication very early, memorized it in detail, and then
dictated it from memory over a short period of time. However, as LDS scholars
have consistently pointed out, there is a singular internal consistency within
the Book of Mormon, including recurring threads and patterns that would be most
difficult if not impossible for Joseph Smith to keep in mind as he made up a
story and then dictated it, without the use of notes, over a period of sixty-five
to seventy-five days, always taking up exactly where he had left off the day
before. Moreover, the central material in the Book of Mormon is not the story
line but, rather, the powerful, often profound and beautiful, spiritual messages
given throughout—most of them centering on Christ and his teachings. They
are so abundant, and impress me so deeply, that it seems highly improbable to
me that someone trying to perpetrate a fraud could work all that, along with
a consistent, highly complex narrative, into a book of fiction dictated in so
short a time. With what we know about Joseph Smith’s inherent lack of
literary prowess, it becomes especially difficult to believe that he was the

There are better ways, I think, of looking at this. If one looks at the story
through the eyes of faith and assumes that the gold plates were real, an equally
or perhaps even more “plausible scenario” emerges. There can be little doubt
that young Joseph was thinking about his future task and probably even had some
good ideas about what was on the plates before he was actually given them and
told to translate them. After all, he was visited and instructed by Moroni several
times before he got them. The only authoritative statement on how the Book of
Mormon was translated is Joseph Smith’s own affirmation that he did it “by the
gift and power of God,” but we can still imagine several possible scenarios.
Royal Skousen and others have argued that Joseph may have received the translation
word for word, though not without previous prayerful thought and effort.16 A
similar possibility is that, being already familiar with some of the history
of the Nephites and Lamanites (from Moroni’s several visits), and also being
familiar with the Bible, as Joseph studied prayerfully words came to his mind
and he had the experience alluded to in the Doctrine and Covenants: “If it is
right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall
feel that it is right” (D&C 9:8). The words may have been his own words,
in the language he best understood (though, as scholars have repeatedly shown,
they were beyond his own limited linguistic talents, so there was clearly inspiration
or revelation as the words came), but he also received spiritual confirmation
that they accurately reflected what the Book of Mormon prophets meant to convey.
So far as biblical passages are concerned, it is well known that different translators
will not translate the same document in exactly the same words, but each of
their translations may still be “correct” representations of what the original
document said. Joseph used words that he and the people he knew could best understand
as scripture—words as close as he could come to the scriptural style they knew,
the King James Version of the Bible. When it came to Isaiah passages and other
passages that reflected ideas that were the same as those of the Book of Mormon
prophets, it was only natural that he render them in the King James style—even
word for word—if they still reflected the same ideas. (It does not bother me
to think that, somehow, he had access to and used his Bible during that part
of the translation process—hence the word-for-word rendition of Isaiah—but,
if the process was inspired, this allows for the significant differences in
wording that resulted.) Further, if Christ really did appear to the ancient
Nephites, why would he not have delivered his message in almost the same words
he employed in Jerusalem? Would this not help account for the similarities between
the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon at the Temple? Nephi reminds us that
“the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men
according to their language, unto their understanding” (2 Nephi 31:3),
and the Lord reminded the Saints with respect to modern revelation that “I am
God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my
servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might
come to understanding” (D&C 1:24). We don’t know what would happen if someone
were to translate the same material today, even under inspiration, but it is
conceivable that the words would be different, perhaps even in more modern English,
such as that in the New International Version of the Bible, but the meaning
would be the same and the translation would be “correct.” To his credit, even
though Palmer discusses some of the parallels between the Book of Mormon and
Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews, he does not claim, as some before
him have, that View of the Hebrews is a direct source for parts of
the Book of Mormon. Rather, he uses the parallels to show that in Joseph Smith’s
cultural setting there was a belief that American Indians were descended from
Israelites and that this idea could have provided the inspiration for Joseph
Smith to make the same claim in the Book of Mormon (pp. 58-64). Palmer
is right about the perception of American antiquities held by many people at
the time, but that is not proof that it provided the idea for the Book of Mormon.
Because A is similar to B is not necessarily a reason to assume that A was the
source for B, especially, in this case, when Palmer himself recognizes that
internally View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon are not similar.
Interestingly enough, information about View of the Hebrews has been
available through LDS sources for many years, and in 1996 BYU’s Religious Studies
Center republished, in its entirety, the 1825 edition.17 Again, nothing about
this issue has been hidden by the church or its scholars.

Palmer points to a statement in the introduction to the current edition of the
Book of Mormon to the effect that Book of Mormon people are the “principal
ancestors of the American Indians” (p. 57) and attempts to use linguistics
as well as DNA evidence to show that no Native Americans could be of Hebrew
descent. The linguistics argument is slippery for Latter-day Saint scholars,
since as yet they have not found an abundance of evidence that there are traces
of Hebrew in Native American languages, partly—John L. Sorenson and others
believe—because there have not been enough interested and competent scholars
working on the matter.18 It is a painstaking and expensive process. There have
been a few interesting discoveries, however, as noted by Sorenson. Some names
associated with the Mayan calendar, for example, seem to be related to Hebrew.
In addition, Sorenson refers to one unpublished study that has noted a degree
of similarity in the basic vocabulary of the Hebrews and the language of native
groups just north of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (the area where most LDS scholars
believe the Book of Mormon history took place).19

On the DNA issue, knowledgeable LDS scholars have responded quickly and decisively
to the argument that DNA studies show no connection between Israelites and Native
Americans. DNA investigation is both extremely complex and tentative, but Michael
Whiting, Sorenson, and others have shown that the evidence is still so tentative
that no firm conclusions can be made, one way or the other. This is partly because
we really don’t know enough about the colonization patterns of ancient
Americans.20 One hypothesis is what Whiting calls the “local colonization
hypothesis,” but it presents especially complicated challenges for investigation.
This hypothesis, as explained by Whiting,

suggests that when the three colonizing parties came to the New World, the land
was already occupied in whole or in part by people of an unknown genetic heritage.
Thus the colonizers were not entirely isolated from genetic input from other
individuals who were living there or who would arrive during or after the colonization
period. The hypothesis presumes that there was gene flow between the colonizers
and the prior inhabitants of the land, mixing the genetic signal that may have
been originally present in the colonizers. It recognizes that by the time the
Book of Mormon account ends, there had been such a mixing of genetic information
that there was likely no clear genetic distinction between Nephites, Lamanites,
and other inhabitants of the continent. This distinction was further blurred
by the time period from when the Book of Mormon ends until now, during which
there was an influx of genes from multiple genetic sources. Moreover, the hypothesis
suggests that the Nephite-Lamanite lineage occupied a limited geographic range.
This would make the unique Middle Eastern genetic signature, if it existed in
the colonizers at all, more susceptible to being swamped out with genetic information
from other sources.21

Whiting’s many observations in this long and fascinating article make
clear how tentative DNA investigators must be in trying to determine the relationship
between Lamanites and American Indians. Among these observations are the following:
“The local colonization hypothesis is hard to test because of complications
associated with the Lamanite lineage history, such as founder effect, genetic
drift, and extensive introgression.” “DNA evidence is not likely
to unambiguously refute or corroborate this hypothesis.” “This hypothesis
has never been specifically tested.” “DNA evidence does nothing
to speak to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon text.” “I would
be just as critical of a claim that DNA evidence supports the Book of Mormon
as I am of the claim that it does not.”22

On the matter of the Book of Mormon people being the “principal ancestors”
of the American Indians, Palmer (inadvertently?) sets up a kind of straw man.
That introductory Book of Mormon statement itself suggests that there were
other people on the continent. Beyond that, Latter-day Saints (including church
leaders) have long recognized that the book is a history of only a relatively
small group of people in a very limited region, and that there were other people
on the continent when the Jaredites (the earliest group mentioned by the Book
of Mormon) arrived. Given that fact, there is no necessity to assume that the
Book of Mormon people were the only ancestors of the American Indians,
or even that the majority of the current inhabitants of North, Central, and
South America are descended from the Nephites and Lamanites. In 1909, Elder
B. H. Roberts suggested that the American continent was not empty when the Jaredites
came, and a 1927 commentary on the Book of Mormon as well as a 1938 Book of
Mormon study guide published by the Church Department of Education held the
same view.23 In 1960 Elder Richard L. Evans of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
clearly recognized the issue when he referred in writing to the Book of Mormon
as “a sacred and secular record of prophets and people who were among
the ancestors of the American ‘Indians.'”24 Sorenson has made the case even
stronger, arguing in a noteworthy 1992 article not only that there were “others”
on the continent but also that there is evidence within the Book of Mormon itself
that the Nephites and Lamanites knew they were there and, to some degree, interacted
with them.25 All these issues, and others, are brought up in the chapter on
authorship, and yet most of them have been “asked and answered” earlier by Latter-day
Saint scholars whom Palmer, for some reason, generally ignores.26

In chapter 3, “The Bible and the Book of Mormon,” Palmer fleshes
out his previous argument that Joseph Smith drew upon his knowledge of the Bible
while constructing the Book of Mormon narrative, as demonstrated by so many
parallels. Among those parallels are the story of Lehi and his family journeying
to the promised land in the Book of Mormon and that of the exodus of Moses and
the Israelites in the Bible. This phenomenon has already been recognized and
dealt with in great detail by S. Kent Brown.27 Referring to questions raised
earlier about the parallels, Brown observes that they are actually recognized
by the Book of Mormon prophets and writers themselves and were deliberately
used as a teaching tool:

Such interest is reasonable because Nephite teachers themselves drew comparisons
between Lehi’s colony and their Israelite forbears. For instance, in an
important speech, King Limhi referred to Israel’s escape from Egypt and
immediately drew a parallel to Lehi’s departure from Jerusalem (Mosiah
7:19-20). Alma, in remarks addressed to his son Helaman, also consciously
linked the Exodus from Egypt with Lehi’s journey (Alma 36:28-29).
More than once a prophet or teacher who wanted to prove to others that divine
assistance could be relied on appealed to God’s acts on behalf of the
enslaved Israelites. This replication was the technique used by Nephi, for example,
in his attempt to convince his recalcitrant brothers that God was leading their
father, Lehi (1 Ne. 17:23-35).28

There are thus good reasons for the parallels, and there is no good reason to
claim that they represent plagiarism by Joseph Smith.

Palmer points to other parallels. One example is his comparison between the
book of Judith in the Apocrypha and the story of Nephi killing Laban in the
Book of Mormon (p. 55). This and other apocryphal parallels are dealt with
by John Tvedtnes and Matthew Roper in their extensive critique of the same charges
originally made by Jerald and Sandra Tanner. They point out that Nephi’s story
“has much more in common with that of David and Goliath than that of Judith
and Holofernes, but to cite from 1 Samuel 17 would have detracted from
the Tanners’ [and thus Palmer’s] thesis that Joseph Smith got the idea from
the book of Judith.”29 In reality, the story of Judith and Holofernes is so
different from the story of Nephi that the so-called similarities are really
superficial. In the Apocrypha, King Nebuchadnezzar sends his general, Holofernes,
to conquer the rebellious Jews, but the city of Bethulia refuses to submit.
Finally, however, after their water supply has been cut off, the people consider
surrendering in five days if God does not rescue them. At that point Judith,
a beautiful widow, declares that she will deliver them. Entering the camp of
the Assyrians, she captivates Holofernes with her charms and finally, when he
is lying on his bed drunk, cuts off his head with his own sword and takes it
to her city to show what she has done. The Jews, thus encouraged, sally forth
and scatter the invading army and plunder its camp. Palmer’s supposed parallels
are limited to such incidentals as the fact that an enemy wants to destroy the
people of God (a frequent theme throughout the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and
Christian history in general, but in this case it is not even a similar story:
Nephi goes back to Jerusalem not because he knows Laban wants to kill his people
but only to get the records); Judith, like Nephi, enters the city at night (but
the purpose is different than that of Nephi: she goes into the city intending
to kill the general while Nephi has no such intent and kills Laban only when
the opportunity presents itself and then only after considerable soul-searching);
Judith cuts off the general’s head with his own sword (a kind of parallel, but
the description of how she does it is quite different from the description of
Nephi killing Laban, and Nephi is certainly not vengeful enough to carry the
head away in triumph); then, according to Palmer, Judith takes some of Holofernes’s
possessions (the Apocrypha says nothing about Judith taking anything out of
the general’s tent except his head in a food bag, though her people later come
in and plunder the enemy camp; in Nephi’s case he does not take the head but
does take Laban’s clothes, sword, and armor as well as the records he initially
came for); and both groups celebrate by burnt offerings to the Lord (well, what
do you expect of a group of Israelites: were not burnt offerings the norm, and
would not the story of Nephi be suspect if they had not offered burnt
offerings?). Such strained parallels make Palmer’s argument weak indeed—the
stories are not at all identical, as he claims, and neither are the phrases
and sentences.30

Surprisingly, Palmer does not discuss the numerous passages from Isaiah that
are included in the Book of Mormon, yet this is one issue that critics of the
Book of Mormon often bring up. The reader should know, however, that this issue
also has been dealt with exhaustively by respected church scholars, at least
as far back as 1939 when Sidney B. Sperry published an extensive two-part article
in the church’s Improvement Era.31

Palmer includes a chapter on the parallels between evangelical Protestantism
and the Book of Mormon. He finds words and phrases in the Book of Mormon that
are similar to words and phrases in the emotionally charged sermons of evangelical
ministers and finds teachings that parallel evangelical doctrines. Some of this
seems persuasive, though reading through the eyes of faith leads one to ask
“why not?” If the same kinds of problems existed in Book of Mormon
times, why not scold the people in language that, when translated into the English
Joseph knew, sounds evangelical? Moreover, Palmer would be hard-pressed to put
Joseph Smith at the camp meetings where Lorenzo Dow, Alfred Bennett, Eleazar
Sherman, George Whitefield, or other evangelicals spoke or to show that Joseph
had read their speeches. There is evidence from Joseph Smith himself, of course,
that he did attend some revivals, and must have been acquainted with revivalist
language, but even though some of that language appears in scattered places
in the Book of Mormon, it is just that—scattered—and not a wholesale
incorporation into Book of Mormon sermons.

One of the things Palmer asserts is that the Book of Mormon contains doctrines
that are different from doctrines Joseph came up with later. One of these concerns
the Godhead, and Palmer cites several passages that seem to make no distinction
between the Father and the Son (as opposed to Joseph Smith’s later teaching
that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are three distinct beings; see
Mosiah 15:1-4, for example). What Palmer fails to point out, however,
is that there are numerous other passages that clearly distinguish between the
persons of the Father and the Son. We read in 3 Nephi, for example:

And behold, the third time they did understand the voice which they heard; and
it said unto them:

Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my
name—hear ye him. (3 Nephi 11:6-7)

Then, a few verses later, the Son says:

Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world.

And behold I am the light and the life of the world: and I have drunk out of
that bitter cup which the Father hath given me in taking upon me the sins of
the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things
from the beginning. (3 Nephi 11:10-11)

There are other such passages in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 11:21 and
13:40, for example). Such seemingly contradictory statements exist not only
there, however, but also in the Bible and the Doctrine and Covenants. In these
books “proof-texters” can find support for any view of the Godhead they want,
but to imply that the Book of Mormon portrays only one view is misleading.
(It may even be that, at the moment they wrote or spoke, some Book of Mormon
prophets themselves did not fully comprehend the Godhead, thus accounting for
some differences between them.) For the benefit of church members, however,
the apparent contradictions were reconciled by the First Presidency and the
Twelve in 1916.32

Actually, the only thing Palmer demonstrates effectively in this section is
not that Book of Mormon doctrines are fundamentally different from current church
teachings but simply that some things, such as temple work, are not there. This
may present a dilemma to believers who are reminded in the Doctrine and Covenants
that the Book of Mormon contains a “fulness of the gospel.” The
“fulness of the gospel” as taught consistently throughout the Book
of Mormon has been amply documented from the text as a six-point formula that
includes faith, repentance, baptism of water, baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost,
enduring to the end, and receiving eternal life.33 This matches exactly the
formula presented repeatedly in the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 10:67-69;
14:7, 10; 18:17-22; 20:25-29; 33:11-12; 39:6; 50:5; 53:3,
7). The answer, of course, is that in its testimony and explanation of the mission
of Christ (which, in Palmer’s mind, is the most essential thing), the
book does contain a “fulness.” In addition, part of the “fulness
of the gospel” is the concept of continuing revelation, by which Saints
in any period of time may receive additional light and knowledge as they are
prepared for it.

As part of his effort to show that the Book of Mormon teaches doctrines that
were later changed by the church, Palmer includes an interesting quotation from
Brigham Young, who said in 1862 that “I will even venture to say that
if the Book of Mormon were now to be re-written, in many instances it would
materially differ from the present translation.”34 However, this quotation
is taken out of context. President Young was not talking about doctrinal or
other substantive differences. It was simply an aside in a much longer statement
in which he was trying to show that God speaks to different people in different
ways, “in a manner to suit their circumstances and their capacities.”
If the Bible were to be rewritten today, he said, it would “in many places
be very different from what it is now,” meaning that those who wrote the
books of the Bible might very well be inspired to say some things differently
if they were speaking to the circumstances and concerns of today. The same would
be true of the Book of Mormon writers. Such isolated, out-of-context quotations
should not be taken so literally, for no one can say that Brigham Young really
meant that Joseph Smith would translate things differently in 1862 than he did
in 1829. He only meant that if the Book of Mormon writers were writing in 1862
they might well have had a different message, or said things differently, than
they did over fifteen hundred years before.

Perhaps the most strained “parallel” in Palmer’s book is his appeal to the
“Golden Pot,” by E. T. A. Hoffmann. In a way, however, I owe Palmer
a debt for introducing me to Hoffmann and at least one of his fantastic short
stories. Hoffmann (1776-1822) was a brilliant German writer. He at first aspired
to be a musician and even changed his middle name, Wilhelm, to Amadeus, in honor
of Mozart. Later, he turned also to writing, becoming most famous for his fantasy
and horror. His work had wide influence, including an effect on many composers
and writers. One collection of his stories inspired Jacques Offenbach to write
his opera The Tales of Hoffmann. His 1816 story, “The Nutcracker and
the Mouse King,” inspired Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet. In the United
States, his writings directly affected the work of such luminaries as Washington
Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edgar Allen Poe, and they even influenced Sigmund
Freud and the psychiatrist Carl Jung’s theory of archetypes.35 It is Palmer’s
contention that “The Golden Pot” had a direct influence on Joseph Smith’s story
of how the Book of Mormon came to be.

Palmer believes that Joseph Smith’s understanding of, or acquaintance
with, the tale “The Golden Pot” “most likely” came through
Luman Walters, a magician and necromancer who may have once studied in Europe
and there have become acquainted with Hoffmann’s work (p. 141). Palmer
does not claim that Joseph Smith ever read “The Golden Pot” but
only that he got ideas about it from hearing Walters. The problem with this
assumption is that the evidence for a direct connection with Walters is tenuous,
to say the least. Citing D. Michael Quinn, Palmer says that Brigham Young, Lorenzo
Saunders, Abner Cole, and others “confirmed” the fact that the Smith
family had contact with Walters in the 1820s. For the most part, however, such
“confirmation” is based on secondhand information or on long-term
memory, and it seems from reading the writings of Brigham Young that he himself
was really not clear on the possible connection. In the 18 February 1855
speech cited by Palmer, for example, Young does not identify Walters by name,
though it is evident that this is the man he described as “a fortune-teller,
a necromancer, an astrologer, a soothsayer,” who, he said, “possesses
as much talent as any man that walked on the American soil, and was one of the
wickedest men I ever saw.”36 How Brigham knew him is not clear, but the
only story he tells is simply that Walters “rode over sixty miles three
times the same season they [the gold plates] were obtained by Joseph”
in an effort to get the plates for himself, and that he was sent for by some
of Joseph’s neighbors. Brigham told essentially the same story, with a
few variations in detail, a little over two years later, noting that he did
not even remember the name of “this fortune-teller.”37 The point
Brigham was trying to make was that many people believed there was treasure,
or gold, buried in the Hill Cumorah, and that three different times they sent
for a fortune-teller to help them find it. When he repeated the story to Elizabeth
Kane in 1872, he finally remembered Walters’s last name. None of this,
however, provides evidence that Joseph Smith actually knew Walters, or, even
if he did, that he knew him well enough to get the “Golden Pot”
story from him, if Walters was at all familiar with Hoffmann’s tale. Palmer
also cites an obscure 1884 statement by Clark Braden, an anti-Mormon Congregational
minister, to the effect that Joseph Smith had “made the acquaintance”
of Walters, but it is not clear at all how Braden came to that conclusion.

More important, however, is the fact that Palmer’s comparisons between
Joseph Smith’s story and “The Golden Pot” rely on carefully
chosen, widely spaced examples that, when read in context, are not really what
Palmer makes them out to be. Not even the general story line is recognizable
in Palmer’s selected references. “The Golden Pot” is a remarkable,
complex fantasy told in twelve “vigils,” or chapters. The edition
I read covers one hundred pages.38 Palmer’s parallels are highly selective
and do not reflect the whole story, either of Anselmus (the hero of “The
Golden Pot”) or Joseph Smith. What’s more, Palmer finds it necessary
to pull strands from four different accounts by Joseph Smith in order to make
his case.

“The Golden Pot” is the story of the student Anselmus, who is introduced
in the first vigil running madly through the city after having a horrifying
experience with a witch that discourages him and convinces him he is a born
loser. His self-detesting reverie goes on until it is interrupted by a strange
rustling in the grass that soon moves up into an elder tree, or bush. He also
hears whispering, lisping, and sounds like crystal bells. He then sees three
little gold-green snakes and hears more whispering as the snakes glide up and
down through the twigs as if the elder bush were “scattering a thousand
glittering emeralds” through its leaves. Soon he sees some glorious dark-blue
eyes looking at him in longing, hears the elder bush and then the Evening Wind
speak to him, and finally watches a mysterious green flame vanish in the direction
of the city. Does any of this sound like the Joseph Smith story?

Palmer sees a parallel between Anselmus’s dwelling on his stupid bumbling
as a student (he calls himself a “jolthead” in the translation I
read) and Joseph Smith’s lament, in 1838, that after his first vision
he fell into foolish errors and displayed the foibles of human nature that were
“not consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one
who was called of God” (JS—H 1:28). One who reads Hoffmann must
immediately ask what makes Palmer think that Joseph Smith would draw on just
this one, not necessarily essential, element of Anselmus’s story when
nothing else in the first vigil fits or parallels anything in Joseph Smith’s
story? Joseph was writing about sins for which he needed forgiveness (he was
led “into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God” [JS—H
1:28], he said in a passage not quoted by Palmer), not the kind of bumbling
that plagued Anselmus. If one wishes to look for parallels, or sources for this
kind of statement from Joseph Smith, they are more easily found in the personal
and oft-told experiences of the revivalists of the day.

But Palmer goes on, reporting on “a shock, a vision of angels, and a message”
(p. 147). Again, the parallel seems more contrived than real. The word
angel, for example, appears nowhere in this vigil. What Anselmus sees
are the three snakes (which Palmer evidently thinks Joseph Smith transformed
into angels as he concocted his story) gliding up and down the twigs of an elder
bush. He then hears the bells, receives a shock, and sees a blue-eyed snake
looking at him. It is then that the elder bush—not a snake, or “being” as Palmer
puts it—speaks to him (though it may have been speaking for the snake), and
gives him a message of love. Palmer says that Anselmus does not fully understand
the “being’s” message, but the text of the story says that it is the Evening
Wind (not the snake but perhaps speaking for the snake) that glides by, saying
“I played round thy temples, but thou understoodst me not,”39 and continued
with a message of love. Then the “Sunbeam” breaks through the clouds and gives
a similar message. Palmer also says that these strange “beings” are from the
lost civilization of Atlantis—something that is not suggested in this particular
vigil but is explained much later on in the story. It is another strain on credulity
to figure out how Palmer parlays this into a source for Joseph Smith’s 1835
statement that after he had retired to bed he received “a vision of angels in
the night season” (p. 148), in which the room was illuminated and an angel
sent from God appeared before him. Then, in 1842, he said that the light produced
a shock in him, and Palmer further quotes a letter from Oliver Cowdery to the
same effect. Anselmus had a vision? Well, if that’s what you want to call it,
but Hoffmann didn’t. Angels? No. Snakes, bells, an elder bush, and the Evening
Wind—hardly the kind of “beings” that would give Joseph the idea of reporting
the visit of angels. A message? Yes. In Hoffmann, Palmer says, the “being” gave
him a message that he did not fully understand, though Hoffmann makes it clear
that the message was, in some way, one of love. Joseph Smith, on the other hand,
received a very clear message, and even though he speaks of “marveling greatly”
at what he was told and being “overwhelmed in astonishment” (JS—H 1:44, 46),
he clearly understood what he was supposed to do. Again, the so-called parallels
go wanting.

In the second vigil Anselmus is first perceived as mad, but he wakens from his
stupor long enough to accept a ride across the river, offered by his friend
and professor, Conrector Paulmann. However, partway across he again sees the
three snakes and cries out, convincing his companions on the boat that he may,
indeed, be mad. But Veronica, the lovely, dark-blue-eyed daughter of Paulmann,
defends Anselmus, which immediately changes his demeanor. Later in the day he
hears Veronica sing in a voice like a crystal bell (clearly, her blue eyes and
the voice are reminiscent of Anselmus’s experience with a snake). Still
later he is told that Archivarius Lindhorst, who lives by himself in an “old
sequestered house,” possesses various manuscripts, written in ancient
languages and strange characters, that he wishes to have copied—meticulously
and with no mistakes—and he is willing to pay for it. Anselmus, who has
a flair for both penmanship and calligraphy, is delighted and dreams that night
of the fact that, at last, he is going to prosper financially. The next day
he goes to apply for the job but who should meet him at the door but the old
witch who had frightened him before. Astonished, he reels back and grabs the
bell-rope, which turns into a serpent that attacks and nearly kills him. He
quickly loses consciousness and later awakens lying on his bed.

Where are the parallels? Presumably Lindhorst’s strange manuscripts became
the gold plates in Joseph Smith’s reconstruction, and in Palmer’s
reconstruction of Hoffmann the desire to have them copied becomes a desire to
have them also translated (p. 148). This is indeed a stretch, for nothing
in the story suggests that Lindhorst hired Anselmus for any purpose but to copy.
The only place that translation is even hinted at is much later in the story,
in vigil eight, where Anselmus is copying some especially important records
in a special gardenlike room. Suddenly, as if in answer to his own concerns,
he feels “from his inmost soul” that the only thing the characters
on the manuscript could denote are the words “Of the marriage of the Salamander
with the green Snake.”40 Immediately Serpentina—the green snake
with the blue eyes—comes winding down a palm tree, and Anselmus enjoys
the rapture of knowing that his beloved snake loves him. Palmer’s transforming
this story into the idea that Anselmus was hired to translate the records for
Lindhorst is the most far-fetched stretch yet.

Continuing, for a moment, with vigil eight, after Serpentina declares her love,
she proceeds to tell Anselmus the wonderful story of her race. When she is finished,
Anselmus realizes that during all this time he has not copied anything from
the manuscript and yet, mysteriously, the copy is complete. He also realizes,
on looking at it, that the writing must contain the story he has just been told.
It is this that Palmer says parallels Joseph’s claims to have translated
by inspiration—a complete misreading of what Hoffmann’s story is
all about. In a subsequent statement, after being questioned on this matter,
Palmer qualifies himself slightly by repeating the story and saying that thus
“Anselmus is a kind of ‘translator’ (as well as a copyist),
just as Joseph Smith claimed for himself.”41 But even being a “kind
of ‘translator'” in this one instance is hardly the same
as being hired, or assigned, to translate—something the wizardly Lindhorst
hardly needed anyone to do.

From the second vigil, Palmer draws a parallel between Joseph Smith walking
to the Hill Cumorah the day after Moroni’s visit and Anselmus walking
to Lindhorst’s residence—both appointed places. Fine—as if
this were the only time anyone walked somewhere he was told to go. But Palmer
characteristically distorts the record in his reporting of the Hoffmann story.
“As Anselmus walks to Lindhorst’s house,” he says, he “‘saw
nothing but clear speziesthalers [dollars], and heard nothing but their lovely
clink . . . [F]or here, thought he, slapping his pocket, which was still empty,
for here [dollars] will soon be clinking'” (p. 149). A problem
here is the fact that Hoffmann wrote the first part of this passage as a description
of what Anselmus was thinking about during the night, not while he was walking
to the house the next morning, though the last part is chronologically correct.
It is also true that Joseph reported in 1832 that at first he sought the plates
to get riches. But is Anselmus’s thought of getting paid to copy old manuscripts
really a parallel with Joseph Smith’s youthful temptation to somehow use
the gold plates to get wealthy? Perhaps, but hardly enough of a parallel to
be a source.

Such comparisons continue throughout Palmer’s chapter, but there is no
space here to deal with all of them. Suffice it to say that nearly all the parallels
are equally forced, merely “proof-text” in nature—that is,
they are presented in such a way that the context in “The Golden Pot”
is distorted and the comparison with Joseph Smith’s story is contrived,
often depending not on what Joseph Smith himself said but on what someone else
(Abner Cole, Oliver Cowdery, Lucy Mack Smith, Orson Pratt, and others) said
he said. This is neither good history nor convincing evidence that “The
Golden Pot” was the source for anything that Joseph Smith reported. There
may be a few similarities between “The Golden Pot” and Joseph Smith,
if the text is strained, but they are ripped out of a hundred-page story line
that has no similarity at all to that of Joseph Smith. However, let me encourage
the interested reader to go to Hoffmann’s work itself and make his or
her own comparisons. You will find the story so different in thrust from what
is presented in Palmer that you will wonder how and why he ferreted out such
obscure parallels at all, when the whole story itself is one massive unparallel.
But if you like Old World fantasy, you will have a delightful read.

The significance of all these parallels, many of them superficial, pales in
comparison with things about the Book of Mormon that Palmer does not consider
but that LDS scholars have studied and written about for years, and that provide
powerful evidence of the book’s authenticity. In addition to numerous noteworthy
articles, for example, John L. Sorenson has published two particularly important
books. In the first, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon,
he studies the geography and ancient life and culture of Mesoamerica and makes
comparisons with the geography and culture described in the Book of Mormon.
He does not set out to “prove” that the Book of Mormon is true. As a highly
qualified anthropologist, he recognizes the limitations of his study, but he
nevertheless provides what I find convincing evidence for Book of Mormon locations.
“The geographical setting identified meets the criteria set out unintentionally
by the Book of Mormon,” according to Sorenson. “Dimensions, climate, topography,
configuration of land and water, and cultural levels exhibited in scriptural
statements were found to agree with characteristics of central and southern
Mesoamerica. . . . The Book of Mormon shows so many striking similarities to
the Mesoamerican setting that it seems to me impossible for rational people
willing to examine the data to maintain any longer that the book is a mere romance
or speculative history written in the third decade of the nineteenth century
in New York State.”42 Those bothered by Palmer’s much less well-founded conjectures
should take note. Further, noting the complexity of the Book of Mormon, Sorenson
deals with war, dissent, agriculture, secret societies, kinship, tribes, trade,
conquest, migration, and missions, showing in every case a remarkable correlation
with the culture of the region under study. In Images of Ancient America:
Visualizing Book of Mormon Life
, he deals with similar issues, though in
a more “popular” format. This volume, a handsome, coffee-table book, is filled
with photographs that help elucidate the culture of both the Book of Mormon
and ancient America. Again, Sorenson is careful not to say that he has “proven”
the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, but the evidence, taken as a whole,
is powerful and persuasive.43

Some of Sorenson’s findings are summarized in a more recent essay, “How
Could Joseph Smith Write So Accurately about Ancient American Civilization?”44
Martin Raish, in a summary of various recent works on the Book of Mormon, calls
attention to the impossibility of creating a fictional society that in some
way parallels a real society that the author knows nothing about. He refers
to a discussion of this point by the widely read LDS novelist, Orson Scott Card:

My final recommendation is a short essay by Orson Scott Card, “The Book of
Mormon: Artifact or Artifice?” in A Storyteller in Zion. Card examines
whether the Book of Mormon could be a 19th-century hoax rather than an authentic
ancient record. He approaches the question from the experience of an author
who has tried to do similar things (that is, to create epic works of fiction)
and who knows that “writing something that purports to be an artifact of another
culture is the most complicated, difficult kind of science fiction” and that
such “is almost never attempted under circumstances where the author actually
tries to pass it off as a genuine document.”

If the book is fiction, Card writes, “we should find Joseph Smith’s
or someone else’s influence there as author. In that case all of the ideas
and events in the book should come out of the mind of an 1820s American.”
But this is not the case. Card searched for flaws and oversights but could not
find them. Instead, he found examples of language, culture, and literature that
demonstrate the improbability, if not the downright impossibility, that Joseph
Smith was the author rather than the translator of the Book of Mormon. These
conclusions are not startling, but the way Card approached and presented them
from the viewpoint of a writer rather than a scholar has left an indelible impression
on me.45

Other areas of investigation not approached by Palmer, but which readers must
consider, include the mounting evidence of Hebraisms and other literary forms
in the Book of Mormon. John Welch has made a marked contribution to Book of
Mormon studies with his work on a distinctive literary form known as chiasmus,
which appears regularly in the Book of Mormon. According to Welch, chiasmus
has appeared in Greek, Latin, English, and other languages, but it was more
highly developed in Hebrew. It is prevalent in biblical texts but did not become
well known among students of literature until long after the Book of Mormon
was published.46 John A. Tvedtnes shows that the Book of Mormon has many other
characteristics of the Hebrew language and that “in many places the words that
have been used and the ways in which the words have been put together are more
typical of Hebrew than of English.”47 Since the Nephites seem to have been familiar
with Hebrew, this is to be expected. Donald W. Parry also finds many ancient
literary forms in the Book of Mormon, including simile curses, names, poetic
forms, and the expression and it came to pass.48 Most recently, James
T. Duke brings together and discusses in depth the numerous literary forms and
devices found in the Book of Mormon—some biblical in nature, others unique
but not found in the language of Joseph Smith’s culture.49 Such things could
hardly be the creation of a young man with the limited literary talent of Joseph
Smith, nor could they have come about by happenstance.

The interested reader may also want to consult the various Book of Mormon wordprint
studies that seem to demonstrate a significant difference in authorship between
various authors in the Book of Mormon, suggesting that even in translation the
distinctive style of different writers shines through.50 I could go on and on,
especially with the variety of studies carried out and published under the auspices
of FARMS, but enough has been said to establish the fact that an abundance of
scholarly work is available for the benefit of anyone who wishes to find it.
Four recent compilations provide valuable examples of studies relating to the
authenticity of the Book of Mormon as well as new insights into the complexity
and richness of the book itself.51

Palmer next attacks the testimonies of the witnesses to the gold plates, claiming,
in part, that they were all visionaries who believed that it was possible, with
something he calls “second sight,” to see all kinds of hidden treasures.
They saw the gold plates, he claims, through “spiritual eyes,” but
the plates were not real. He also asserts, however, that Joseph Smith may have
manufactured “a plate-like object” in order to engender belief in
some who later said they felt the plates through a cloth (p. 207)—which
is not only pure speculation but also somewhat inconsistent with the idea that
the witnesses actually saw or handled nothing. But again—asked and answered.
Nearly everything he raises in this chapter has already been dealt with by Latter-day
Saint scholars, a few of whom are referred to briefly, almost in passing, but
none taken seriously.

As part of his argument Palmer uses some questionable sources to establish
the idea that Joseph Smith had a rather unsavory reputation, particularly with
respect to his early money-digging. These include statements made many years
after the fact, statements made by avowed enemies or apostates, and numerous
statements collected by Philastus Hurlbut and published in 1834 by E. D.
Howe in Mormonism Unvailed. (Curiously, Palmer cites Howe extensively
in his footnotes but does not include this controversial book in his bibliography.)
Richard Lloyd Anderson has shown, however, that the affidavits published by
Howe are unreliable, not only because both Hurlbut and Howe were bitter anti-Mormons
(and Howe, even, at one time called Hurlbut unreliable) but that internal evidence
reveals that they were probably doctored by Howe. Anderson focuses on statements
accusing Joseph and his family of lack of industriousness, but his observations
apply equally as well to the rest of Joseph’s reputation.52

Palmer’s chief focus is on the testimonies of the witnesses to the gold plates,
and here he takes a slightly different tack from that of most earlier naysayers.
Though he implicitly raises questions about their character (an old approach
that has been dealt with extensively by LDS scholars),53 his main argument is
that the witnesses were deeply immersed in the magical worldview of the times,
believed in hidden treasures guarded by strange creatures, and were so susceptible
to suggestions that they received “visions” with their “spiritual eyes” and
that “such visions of the mind erased the boundaries that separate the spiritual
and the physical worlds, a perspective consistent with how a number of people
of that day perceived reality” (p. 202). Their very cultural orientation,
then, made them gullible enough to “see” whatever Joseph Smith wanted them to
see. Interspersed in this line of reasoning is also the old argument that the
witnesses were inconsistent and, at times, denied actually seeing the

The question of the integrity of the witnesses’ testimony is dealt with
effectively by Richard Lloyd Anderson. In one instance, Palmer claims that Martin
Harris testified publicly in 1838 that “none of the signatories to the
Book of Mormon saw or handled the physical records” (p. 204).
His source is a letter from Stephen Burnett to Lyman E. Johnson. However, Anderson
shows that Burnett’s statement is a highly interpretive “first-hand
report of a half-truth” and that Burnett probably “bends words”
to support his own theory that Mormonism was a “lying deception.”
The incident Burnett was reporting concerned Martin Harris standing up in a
meeting in the Kirtland Temple to challenge charges made by Burnett and other
apostates. Anderson’s analysis of Burnett’s statement shows that
he was trying to ridicule Harris and therefore may not have been quoting him
correctly but, rather, in derision, saying that he had seen the plates “only”
in vision, and that he had seen them “only” four times. The term
only seems to be Burnett’s caustic addition to what Harris really said.54
Anderson goes into much more detail, demonstrating the long-term integrity of
all the witnesses, and the reader would do well to read Anderson’s work
before accepting uncritically what Palmer has to say.

The magical worldview of the time has also been recognized by LDS scholars,
who have described it in detail and have cautioned their readers not to be surprised
at such revelations.55 For a more detailed discussion of the problems inherent
in this part of Palmer’s work, however, the reader is urged to consult Mark
Ashurst-McGee’s essay in the previous issue of the FARMS Review.56

Priesthood Restoration

Palmer also devotes a chapter to the restoration of the Aaronic and Mechizedek
Priesthoods, calling the early accounts “more nuanced and fascinating
than the simple, unified story that is told today” (p. 215). This
is a bit misleading, for even though in Sunday School we may hear an abbreviated
version, the complex and fascinating story examined by LDS scholars is readily
available to church members. Years ago Anderson dealt with Oliver Cowdery and
his various accounts of priesthood restoration in his “The Second Witness
of Priesthood Restoration.”57 Bushman has looked at the complexities of
the issue, raised questions about the date of the restoration of the apostleship,
and opined in print that it came only after the organization of the church—a
nontraditional view.58 Larry C. Porter, on the other hand, supports the traditional
view.59 But Palmer’s main thrust in this chapter seems not to be whether
or when the priesthood was restored but, rather, whether it was done by the
physical process of the laying on of hands by heavenly beings. At this point
he does not seem to be arguing with the idea that Joseph Smith had priesthood
authority, but simply with the current concept that it was given through a physical
ordination rather than just some kind of spiritual manifestation. The earliest
accounts, he claims, made no such references, and not until about 1835 did the
story “evolve” to become one of a hands-on bestowal of authority,
or the receiving of authority through the ministering of angels. As in the rest
of the book, the sources Palmer quotes can be interpreted variously, but even
though they do not always say “ministering of angels” or “laying
on of hands,” they are not inconsistent with that perception. Further,
Palmer fails to cite Joseph Smith’s earliest attempt, in 1832, to write
his own history. He began this early account by referring specifically to “the
reception of the holy Priesthood by the ministring of Aangels.”60 This
and other problems with this chapter are also discussed in detail in Ashurst-McGee’s

The First Vision

Palmer also takes up Joseph Smith’s first vision in his final chapter.
As he does with other foundational stories, Palmer takes the position that current
LDS interpretations “simplify and retrofit later accounts to provide a
seemingly authoritative, unambiguous recital” (p. 235). He focuses
on Joseph Smith’s various accounts of the vision in an attempt to show
not only that they are inconsistent but also that in 1838 he rewrote the story
in order to meet certain institutional needs. Like other foundational stories,
Palmer insists, it was transformed from a “spiritual,” or metaphysical,
experience into one depicting a physical reality. Exactly why this new kind
of story was so essential is never satisfactorily explained, though Palmer theorizes
that, as a result of troubling apostasies, Joseph found it necessary to embellish
his story to reassert his authority. Accordingly, he “then told a revised
and more impressive version of his epiphany” and announced for the first
time that “his initial calling had not come from an angel in 1823, as
he had said for over a decade, but from God the Father and Jesus Christ in 1820″
(pp. 248, 251). This is pure speculation and also distorts the various
accounts themselves.

In a way, however, Palmer’s emphasis on the “spiritual” nature
of Joseph Smith’s first vision is not inconsistent with LDS thought. Latter-day
Saints have no trouble accepting the proposition that Joseph saw the Father
and the Son with something other than his “natural eyes.” He reported
in 1838 that after the vision closed “I came to myself again, I found
myself lying on my back, looking up into heaven” (JS—H 1:20). This
suggests that he was having an experience something like that of Moses: “But
now mine own eyes have beheld God; but not my natural, but my spiritual eyes,
for my natural eyes could not have beheld” (Moses 1:11). But seeing through
“spiritual eyes” does not preclude the possibility that what Joseph
saw was real and physical. Palmer’s reasoning to the contrary is not persuasive.

There are several contemporary accounts of Joseph Smith’s first vision (i.e.,
accounts prepared by or under the direction of Joseph himself or accounts of
someone who heard him recite his experience). Recorded at different times and
places, under different circumstances, and in connection with different audiences,
they naturally differ in some details. Four of these accounts were recorded
directly by Joseph Smith or under his direction. The 1832 account represents
his first effort to write the history of the church. Recorded partly in his
own handwriting and partly in the handwriting of his scribe, Frederick G. Williams,
it is grammatically unpolished but deeply moving, written in a style similar
to that of the evangelical spirit of the times. The 1835 account was recorded
by Joseph’s scribe Warren Cowdery as Joseph was telling a visitor of the rise
of the church. The 1838 account was prepared under Joseph Smith’s direction
and is now published in the Pearl of Great Price. It has become the “official”
version of the story. The 1842 account is part of a letter written by Joseph
Smith to John Wentworth and published in the church’s Times and Seasons
on 1 March. All of these accounts are readily available.62 No one should
expect Joseph Smith, or anyone else, to repeat a verbatim account each time
he tells it.

Palmer goes to great lengths to try to show that the revival Joseph Smith discusses
in his 1838 account did not occur in 1820, as that account declares, but rather
in 1824 (pp. 240-44), thus casting doubt on the accuracy of that
account. This discussion is hardly new, for Mormon historians and anti-Mormon
writers began arguing over that and related issues as early as the late 1960s,
after Wesley P. Walters challenged the traditional account.63 Walters averred
that there was no revival in Palmyra in 1820, as supposedly claimed by Joseph
Smith, and that if Joseph Smith’s description of what went on that year
cannot be trusted neither can his description of the first vision itself. I
call his article “pseudoscholarly” because, as Marvin S. Hill observed
in his thoughtful analysis of the scholarly debates over the first vision, “Walters’
scholarship is one of sectarian advantage, not objectivity.” Then, referring
to Walters as well as to other anti-Mormon writers, he said that the sources
they employ, “the conclusions they reach, the places where they publish,
and their strong anti-Mormon missionary activities suggest that they have other
than scholarly concerns.” The real point, according to Hill, is not whether
a revival occurred in 1820—some agree that it did not—but the fact
that all the textual evidence shows that Joseph Smith had a vision between the
ages of fourteen and fifteen.64

It would hardly be a blot on Joseph Smith’s veracity to say that, when
preparing his “official” history in 1838, he confused the date of
the revival and somehow superimposed what he experienced in 1824 over his memory
of what led to his great 1820 epiphany. Most LDS scholars have not done that,
however, thanks, in part, to the work of Milton V. Backman Jr. Even before Walters
produced his article, Backman was at work scouring the religious records of
Palmyra and its vicinity, including records Walters neglected. Drawing first
on a highly regarded study of religious fervor in western New York, Backman
observed that between 1816 and 1821 “revivals were reported in more towns
and a greater number of settlers joined churches than in any previous period
of New York history.”65 But he went further than that, demonstrating that
in the great revival of 1819-20 there were numerous reports of “unusual
religious excitement” within such reasonable distance of Joseph Smith’s
home (up to about 15 miles) that young Joseph and his family could easily have
known of, and even attended, some of them.66 An interesting controversy followed,
focusing at one point on a debate between Walters and Bushman over Joseph Smith’s
meaning when he described the revival. Interpreting narrowly Joseph Smith’s
words that there was “unusual excitement on the subject of religion”
in “the place where we lived,” Walters insisted that the revival
had to have taken place in the village of Palmyra, in 1820, for it to fit Joseph
Smith’s story. Bushman looked more broadly at Joseph’s complete
statement, wherein he said that the religious excitement “soon became
general among all sects in that region of country. Indeed, the whole district
of country seemed affected by it,” suggesting that Joseph was remembering
revival activity that occurred over a broad, though accessible, area.67 Two
things should be obvious to those who read all that has been written on these
issues: (1) that Walters and others like him clearly have an anti-Mormon
ax to grind and are not always the careful scholars they claim to be and (2) that
Backman, Bushman, and others are careful scholars who look at the documents
not only with the benefit of their scholarly skills but also through the eyes
of faith; they have a prochurch bias, of course, but it is well balanced by
their careful scholarship and open recognition of the problems and issues involved.

Palmer seems overly concerned with two issues relating to the first vision:
(1) was Joseph Smith called of God and Christ at that time to restore the
fulness of the gospel or was he called only later by the angel? and (2) what
was his purpose in praying in the first place?

On the first question, Palmer concludes that Joseph Smith did not announce
that it was in the first vision that he was “called of God” to restore the ancient
gospel until he wrote the 1838 account, and then it was only to bolster “his
authority during a time of crisis” (p. 251). One problem with this interpretation
is that it does not take into account the natural development of Joseph Smith
himself as his own understanding of the significance of the vision unfolded.
Palmer’s supposition that the differences between the accounts reflect Joseph
Smith’s deceptive effort to bolster his own authority is not the only possibility.
Latter-day Saint scholars have already spent considerable time on this issue
of multiple accounts and what they mean. The first such article was my own,
which appeared in 1970 in the church’s Improvement Era. It discussed
eight contemporary accounts, observing that the differences may be explained
by such factors as (1) Joseph Smith’s age and experience at the time a
particular account was prepared; (2) the particular circumstances surrounding
each account, including the special purposes Joseph Smith may have had in mind
at the time; (3) the possible literary influence of those who helped him
write (or, in the case of the 1835 account, the one who recorded it as Joseph
related his story to the visitor); and (4) in the case of versions recorded
by others, the fact that “different points would impress different people, and
therefore they would record the story somewhat differently. One would hardly
expect to find every account to be precisely alike.”68 In a more direct response
to the Palmer-type argument, Bushman has explained the differences between the
1832 and 1838 accounts in terms of a broadening of Joseph Smith’s own understanding
of what the vision really meant. As explained by Bushman:

But to understand how Joseph Smith’s life unfolded, it must be kept in
mind that in 1820 he did not know this was the First Vision, nor could he be
expected to grasp fully everything that was said to him. Like anyone else, he
first understood a new experience in terms of his own needs and his own background.

By 1832, when he first wrote it down, Joseph knew that his vision in 1820
was one of the steps in “the rise of the church of Christ in the eve of time,”
along with Moroni’s visit, the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood, and the
reception of the “high Priesthood.” But even twelve years after the event the
First Vision’s personal significance for him still overshadowed its place in
the divine plan for restoring the church. In 1832 he explained the vision as
he must have first understood it in 1820—as a personal conversion. What he
felt important to say in 1832 was that a “pillar of light” came down and rested
on him, and he “was filld [sic] with the spirit of God.” “The Lord
opened the heavens upon me and I Saw the Lord and he Spake unto me Saying Joseph
my Son thy Sins are forgiven thee, go thy way walk in my statutes and keep my
commandments.” It was the message of forgiveness and redemption he had longed
to hear. . . .

That was half of it. He had also mourned the sins of the world. . . .

Like countless other revival subjects who had come under conviction, Joseph
received assurance of forgiveness from the Lord, and, in the usual sequence,
following the vision his “soul was filled with love and for many days
I could rejoice with great joy and the Lord was with me. . . .”
In actuality there was more in the vision than he first understood. Three years
later in 1835, and again in another account recorded in 1838, experience had
enlarged his perspective. The event’s vast historical importance came
to overshadow its strictly personal significance. He still remembered the anguish
of the preceding years when the confusion of the churches puzzled and thwarted
him, but in 1838 he saw the vision was more significant as the opening event
in a new dispensation of the Gospel. In that light certain aspects took on an
importance they did not possess at first.69

Bushman continues with this same tight reasoning in his lengthy discussion of
the first vision, but enough is quoted here to illustrate that there are more
reasonable explanations than Palmer’s of the differences between the accounts.
Other LDS scholars have also dealt with these differences in detail.

Though Palmer plays on the differences between the accounts, they are actually
remarkably consistent—much more so than Palmer seems willing to admit.
All four of Joseph Smith’s personal accounts rehearse his disillusionment
over the differences in the religions of the day, though the 1832 account also
goes into great detail concerning his quest for forgiveness of personal sin.
All four accounts refer to his anguished prayer. Though worded slightly differently,
three of them (1835, 1838, and 1842) make it clear that trying to find out who
was right or wrong was the reason he went into the grove to pray. This is not
specific in the 1832 account, which focuses on Joseph’s quest for forgiveness,
but it may be implied in his comment that the churches of his day were in a
state of apostasy and did not build on the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded
in the New Testament. It is certainly logical to assume that he had both concerns
in mind—his own sins as well as his concerns for which church, if any,
was right. All four accounts are consistent in their timing of Joseph’s
religious concerns. The 1832 account says that his concerns began at the age
of twelve, and that he pondered them in his heart until the age of fifteen;
in 1835 he said that he was “about 14 years old,” the 1838 version
says he was in his “fifteenth year,” and in 1842 he said he was
“about fourteen.” A revival, or religious excitement, is mentioned
specifically only in the 1838 account, but there are strong suggestions of it
in all of the others—else why was Joseph’s young mind so wrought
up on the subject of religion and why, in the 1832 narration, did he write in
language so reminiscent of the revivalists? It is significant, too, that after
having discussed the revival explicitly in 1838 Joseph did not do so in 1842—the
same year the 1838 account was actually published for the first time. Evidently
that specific issue was not of as much concern to him as it is to some today
whose time is devoted to ferreting out problems.

The major discrepancy between the various accounts is that in 1832 Joseph mentioned
only the appearance of “the Lord,” who forgave him of his sins.
This may well be explained by the perspective presented by Bushman, that what
Joseph Smith wrote later represented a more mature understanding of the importance
of everything he saw. None of the accounts use the words “the Father and
the Son,” but three tell of two personages appearing to him and one of
them delivering the important message(s). Palmer says that Joseph does not mention
the appearance of God the Father in his 1835 account (p. 240), but this
is certainly stretching the point—the fact that he tells of two personages
appearing and that the “second was like unto the first” is certainly
as direct a reference to the Father and the Son as the statements in the 1838
and 1842 accounts. The fact that Joseph was forgiven of his sins is stated in
both the 1832 and 1835 accounts, and even though it is not stated in the 1838
account it was duly reported in the first account actually to be published.
This was prepared by Orson Pratt (who obviously received his information from
Joseph Smith) and published in Scotland in 1840. Even though Joseph did not
repeat that part of the story in 1838, it is clear that it was in no way hidden
from the Saints. The Book of Commandments, printed in 1833, contained an 1830
revelation that stated: “For after that it truly was manifested unto this
first elder [Joseph Smith], that he had received a remission of his sins, he
was entangled again in the vanities of the world; but after truly repenting,
God ministered unto him by an holy angel.”70 That same statement continued
in the Doctrine and Covenants after it was published (D&C 20:5-6).
Just because Joseph Smith did not say in 1838 that he had been forgiven of his
sins during the first vision is no evidence that he changed what he wanted the
Saints to understand.

Palmer says that Joseph Smith did not say that he was “called of God”
to restore the gospel until 1838, but the fact is that not even in that account
is there a statement to that effect. What Joseph does say is that after his
first vision he succumbed to various temptations and his actions were “not
consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called
of God as I had been” (JS—H 1:28). But called of God to do what?
The account simply does not say. In 1840 Orson Pratt reported that during the
vision Joseph Smith “received a promise that the true doctrine the fulness
of the gospel, should, at some future time, be made known to him,” and
in 1842, in the Wentworth letter, Joseph said the same thing. Not even these
statements, however, specifically said that he was “called” to do
the restoring—only that he would eventually receive a full knowledge of
the gospel. This could be a hint, of course, at the idea that he would be instrumental
in restoring that gospel. But this is hardly inconsistent with earlier accounts—only
another added detail.

Palmer’s second “important question” concerns the reason Joseph Smith sought
the Lord in 1820. The motive, says Palmer, differed between 1832 and 1838—the
first being a quest for forgiveness of sins and the second being a desire to
know which church was right. In view of the probability, already discussed above,
that Joseph’s accounts of the vision differed simply because of the differing
circumstances under which each was given, as well as his maturing understanding
of what the vision really meant, why should it be surprising that he should
emphasize one motive at one time and another at a different time, especially
when he probably had both motives in mind? Palmer avers that in 1832
Joseph “does not mention concern for doctrinal corruption” (p. 252). What
in the world, then, does the following statement from that account mean? “And
by searching the scriptures I found that mand did not come unto
the Lord but that they had apostatised from the true and liveing faith and there
was no society or denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as
recorded in the new testament.”71 The statement differs from 1838, but certainly
suggests that the question of doctrinal variance was on Joseph Smith’s mind.
In 1835 (not waiting until 1838, as Palmer suggests), Joseph Smith made his
religious confusion abundantly clear when he said: “Being wrought up in my mind,
respecting the subject of religion and looking at the different systems taught
the children of men, I knew not who was right or who was wrong and I considered
it of the first importance that I should be right, in matters that involve eternal
consequ[e]nces.”72 This is certainly the same concern as that expressed in 1838:
“My object in going to enquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects
was right.”

The reader who wants to ferret out for himself the facts about the first vision
accounts, and to see what the LDS scholars have said about them, must go to
the works of those scholars themselves. Some have already been discussed here,
but a few more seem appropriate at this point. My own work includes the Improvement
article cited above as well as two articles dealing with the growth
of knowledge and understanding of the first vision within the church.73 Anderson
has dealt in detail with various circumstantial evidences from Joseph Smith’s
times, including comments on the setting for the vision as described by Lucy
Mack Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and William Smith as well as by non-Mormons Orsamus
Turner and Pomeroy Tucker.74 In addition to his very important book on the first
vision, which brings together much of his earlier research, and his article
on “Awakenings in the Burned-Over District” referred to above, Backman has published
various articles that explain and reconcile the first vision accounts.75 Bushman,
in a fine article on the visionary world in which Joseph Smith lived, looks
at many of Joseph’s contemporaries who had similar religious conversion experiences,
showing, in part, that the language of Joseph Smith’s 1832 account not only
is reminiscent of the visionary language of the time but ought to be expected
in the kind of account Joseph was trying to prepare that early in his career.76
Neal E. Lambert and Richard H. Cracroft have also dealt effectively
with the revivalistic language found in the 1832 account.77 Peter Crawley, Marvin S.
Hill, Dean C. Jessee, and Stanley B. Kimball have also made distinctive

I do not say that Palmer is dishonest or deliberately deceptive. I believe,
however, that in his enthusiasm to rationalize his own lack of faith in the
foundational stories he misleads his readers by imputing motives to Joseph Smith
that are not there and by emphasizing changes and inconsistencies that are either
insignificant or nonexistent. In doing this he largely ignores the findings
of the very LDS scholars he praises in his preface who have “published,
critiqued, and reevaluated a veritable mountain of evidence,” too much
of which “escapes the view of the rank-and-file in the church.”
It still escapes their view, for Palmer does little to lead the “rank-and-file”
to it—not even by using footnotes to show what the “other side”
of his arguments might be. He lists some of these scholars in his bibliography,
but cites them in his text only sparsely and then only when they happen to have
said something that he can use to support one of his arguments.

It is easy to find all kinds of anti-Mormon literature, both in print and on
the Internet. It is also becoming disturbingly easy to find people, like Palmer,
who claim to be faithful church members but who nevertheless take aim at our
foundational stories, hoping that we will see them as inspiring myths but not
true history. Some arguments, like those presented by Palmer, seem more sophisticated
than others because they do not carry the bitter, polemic tone of anti-Mormon
diatribe. Some attack the historicity of things discussed here while others
attack doctrine, some even claiming that Mormons are not Christians (something
also “asked and answered” not just by Latter-day Saint writers but
by other scholars as well).79 But believing Latter-day Saint scholars have also
been busy and have answered their arguments—sometimes, as in the case
of most of Palmer’s book, long before they were made. Those who genuinely
seek the truth will read not only the works of naysayers, who obviously look
at the evidence through the eyes of disbelief, but also the works of LDS scholars
who look at it through the eyes of faith and whose works are readily available
to those who want to find them.80


A shorter version of this review appears in the book review section of BYU
Studies 42/2 (2004): 175-89.

  1. The reader is also urged to consult the reviews by Davis Bitton, Mark Ashurst-McGee,
    Steven C. Harper, and Louis Midgley in FARMS Review 15/2 (2003).
    Bitton, in “The Charge of a Man with a Broken Lance (But Look What He Doesn’t
    Tell Us),” 257-71, identifies many sources, scholars, and issues that Palmer
    all too conveniently ignores. Harper’s article, “Trustworthy History?” 273-307,
    focuses mainly on how Palmer “manipulates evidence” regarding the Book of
    Mormon witnesses, on his “exaggerated hermeneutic of suspicion” regarding
    the priesthood restoration accounts, and on his recycling of Wesley Walters’s
    1969 arguments regarding the first vision, which adds “nothing new.” In “A
    One-Sided View of Mormon Origins,” 309-64, Ashurst-McGee addresses the central
    thesis of each chapter of Palmer’s book, responding to virtually each of his
    arguments and concluding that “an open-minded reader may find that, in most
    cases, interpretations favorable to the integrity of Joseph Smith and his
    revelations are as reasonable as or even more reasonable than those presented
    by Palmer. Midgley’s article, “Prying into Palmer,” 365-410, explores some
    details in the making of An Insider’s View, the basic facts about
    Palmer’s employment history in the Church Educational System, and the unconvincing
    parallels between E. T. A. Hoffmann’s “The Golden Pot” and the Book of Mormon.
  2. See, for example, the simple and inoffensive statement of Richard L. Bushman,
    winner of the prestigious Bancroft Prize for American History in 1968 and
    one of the best living authorities on Joseph Smith. In the introduction to
    his widely heralded Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism
    (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 3, he announces that his “modest
    purpose” is to narrate what happened as Mormonism came into being and then
    says, simply and unobtrusively: “The problem of Joseph Smith’s visions complicates
    even this simplified undertaking. Believing Mormons like myself understand
    the origins of the Book of Mormon quite differently from others. How can a
    description of Joseph Smith’s revelations accommodate a Mormon’s perception
    of events and still make sense to a general audience? My method has been to
    relate events as the participants themselves experienced them, using their
    own words where possible. Insofar as the revelations were a reality to them
    [and, by his own quiet admission, still a reality to Bushman], I have treated
    them as real in this narrative.” Then, throughout the book, Bushman deals
    with many of the issues raised by Palmer (including such sensitive questions
    as the evidence for the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood, where he
    takes a somewhat unorthodox stand on the question of when it occurred). He
    is only one example of the many fine scholars who have studied the same things
    Palmer has and yet maintain their faith in the integrity of the foundational
  3. See, for example, the “Statement regarding Grant Palmer’s Book, An Insider’s
    View of Mormon Origins
    ,” FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): 255; also
    on the Web site of the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint
    History at The statement reads: In the preface to
    his book, An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, Grant Palmer speaks
    approvingly of historical work done by the faculty of the Joseph Fielding
    Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History (pp. vii-viii). To some
    readers, this has suggested that Smith Institute faculty are among Palmer’s
    category of “historians and religion teachers like myself” who share his views
    of Latter-day Saint origins (p. x). In subsequent remarks to audiences Palmer
    has encouraged this view.
  4. Smith Institute scholars are unified in rejecting
    Palmer’s argument that Mormon foundational stories are largely inaccurate
    myths and fictional accounts.

    Palmer writes of a “near-consensus on many
    of the details” (p. ix) regarding early church origins, as if most scholars
    see them in much the same way that he does. We and many other historians take
    issue with a substantial portion of Palmer’s treatment of such details. We
    encourage and participate in rigorous scholarly investigation and discussion
    of the historical record, and from our perspective acceptance of Joseph Smith’s
    foundational religious claims remains compatible with such investigation.
    Our publications, past and present, which are readily available to the public,
    speak for themselves on these matters.

  5. Palmer does not say this in his book, but such ideas seem to be circulating
    on the Internet and in various private conversations.
  6. Elsewhere in the book, Palmer enlists B. H. Roberts in his discussion of
    the Book of Mormon because of the numerous questions Roberts once raised about
    it. He does not make clear, however, that Roberts never lost faith in the
    Book of Mormon. Honest scholar that he was, Roberts recognized many of the
    issues Palmer deals with, wrote about them, and presented his questions to
    the church’s Quorum of the Twelve. But they were questions, not answers, and
    John W. Welch and Truman G. Madsen have shown that rather than let the unanswered
    questions destroy his faith in the book, he continued to believe in it and
    to preach from it. In fact, even after he prepared his manuscript on the questions
    (which was never intended for publication), he continued to let the Book of
    Mormon guide much of what he had to say in The Truth, the Way, the Life,
    a work he thought of as his magnum opus. He even concluded his final testimony
    in the Salt Lake Tabernacle by affirming that God gave to Joseph Smith “power
    from on high to translate the Book of Mormon” and listing its translation
    as among the many events “and numerous revelations to the Prophet which brought
    forth a development of the truth, that surpasses all revealed truth of former
    dispensations.” B. H. Roberts, Discourses of B. H. Roberts of the
    First Council of the Seventy
    , comp. Elsie Cook (Salt Lake City: Deseret
    Book, 1948), 104, 105. See also John W. Welch, “B. H. Roberts: Seeker after
    Truth,” Ensign, March 1986, 56-62; Truman G. Madsen and John W. Welch,
    “Did B. H. Roberts Lose Faith in the Book of Mormon?” (FARMS paper, 1985);
    Truman G. Madsen, “B. H. Roberts and the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies
    19/3 (1979): 427-45; Davis Bitton, “B. H. Roberts and Book of Mormon Scholarship,”
    Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/1 (1999): 60-69. For a brief
    discussion of the Book of Mormon and its relationship to The Truth, the
    Way, the Life
    , see the appropriate section in James B. Allen, “The Story
    of The Truth, the Way, the Life,” BYU Studies 33/4 (1993):
  7. See
  8. See for a list of this research institute’s personnel and
  9. On USA Today‘s list of the 150 best sellers for the week ending
    1 February 2004, for example, the best seller was a book on diet, next
    was a mystery novel, then came another diet book, another mystery novel, and
    then another diet book. The first nonfiction or nondiet book, The Purpose-Driven
    Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?
    appeared only in eleventh place, and
    the next one, number eighteen, was a book on financial planning. Only a handful
    of books with historical substance appeared on the list, and all of them dealt
    with current issues. Church members, unfortunately, have similar habits, though
    they also read books on life and living written by church leaders and other
    inspirational writers.
  10. A guide to the published historical literature on the church, including
    controversial works, is James B. Allen, Ronald W. Walker, and David J. Whittaker,
    Studies in Mormon History, 1830-1997: An Indexed Bibliography (Urbana:
    University of Illinois Press, 2000). This work is constantly being updated
    and will soon be available over the Internet. See also the Web sites of BYU
    ( and FARMS for indexes to their publications.
  11. See Royal Skousen, “Critical Methodology and the Text of the Book of Mormon,”
    Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6/1 (1994): 5-12.
  12. John W. Welch, The Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount
    (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990), esp. chap. 5.
  13. Ibid., 93.
  14. Stanley B. Kimball, “Kinderhook Plates Brought to Joseph Smith Appear to
    be a Nineteenth-Century Hoax,” Ensign, August 1981, 66-74. See also
    the short entry by Stanley B. Kimball, “Kinderhook Plates,” in Encyclopedia
    of Mormonism
    , 2:789.
  15. A list of many of his works appears on the FARMS Web site, but see especially
    those listed here: Hugh W. Nibley, “A New Look at the Pearl of Great Price,”
    Improvement Era, January 1968-May 1970 (a twenty-seven-part series
    that appeared sometime after the rediscovery of the Joseph Smith Papyri and
    the resulting academic controversy over their meaning and their relation to
    the Book of Abraham began); some parts were reprinted in Abraham in Egypt,
    2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 2000). See also The Message
    of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment
    (Salt Lake City: Deseret
    Book, 1975); “The Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham: A Response,” Sunstone,
    December 1979, 49-51; and “The Meaning of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers,” BYU
    11/4 (1971): 350-99. One of the church’s most gifted scholars,
    Nibley graduated summa cum laude from the University of California at Los
    Angeles and completed his PhD as a university fellow at the University of
    California at Berkeley. He has been associated with BYU since 1946.
  16. See John W. Welch, “How Long Did It Take Joseph Smith to Translate the Book
    of Mormon?” Ensign, January 1988, 46; and “How Long Did It Take to
    Translate the Book of Mormon?” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon,
    ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), 1-8.
  17. See, for example, Royal Skousen, “How Joseph Smith Translated the Book of
    Mormon: Evidence from the Original Manuscript,” Journal of Book of Mormon
    Studies 7/1 (1998): 22-31.
  18. See Andrew Hedges, review of View of the Hebrews, by Ethan Smith,
    FARMS Review of Books 9/1 (1997): 63-68. The reader may also be interested
    in looking at “View of the Hebrews: ‘An Unparallel,'” in Reexploring the
    Book of Mormon
    , 83-87. See also Spencer J. Palmer and William L. Knecht,
    “View of the Hebrews: Substitute for Inspiration?” BYU Studies 5/2
    (1964): 105-13.
  19. See, however, Brian D. Stubbs, “Looking Over vs. Overlooking Native American
    Languages,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 5/1 (1996): 1-49.
  20. See John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon
    (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1985), 79-80. See also John A. Tvedtnes,
    John Gee, and Matthew Roper, “Book of Mormon Names Attested in Ancient Hebrew
    Inscriptions,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9/1 (2000): 40-51.
  21. See the following articles appearing in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies
    12/1 (2003): John L. Sorenson and Matthew Roper, “Before DNA,” 6-23; Michael
    F. Whiting, “DNA and the Book of Mormon: A Phylogenetic Perspective,” 24-35;
    John M. Butler, “A Few Thoughts from a Believing DNA Scientist,” 36-37; and
    D. Jeffrey Meldrum and Trent D. Stephens, “Who Are the Children of Lehi?”
    38-51. See also “The Problematic Role of DNA Testing in Unraveling Human History,”
    Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9/2 (2000): 66-74. Further articles on DNA
    issues appear in the FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): Daniel C. Peterson, “Prolegomena
    to the DNA Articles,” 25-34; David A. McClellan, “Detecting Lehi’s Genetic
    Signature: Possible, Probable, or Not?” 35-90; Matthew Roper, “Nephi’s Neighbors:
    Book of Mormon Peoples and Pre-Columbian Populations,” 91-128; Matthew Roper,
    “Swimming in the Gene Pool: Israelite Kinship Relations, Genes, and Genealogy,”
    129-64; Brian D. Stubbs, “Elusive Israel and the Numerical Dynamics of Population
    Mixing,” 165-82; and John A. Tvedtnes, “The Charge of ‘Racism’ in the Book
    of Mormon,” 183-97.
  22. Whiting, “DNA and the Book of Mormon,” 31.
  23. Ibid., 33.
  24. See B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God (Salt Lake City: Deseret
    News Press, 1909), 2:356; Roper, “Nephi’s Neighbors,” 102; and James E. Smith,
    “Nephi’s Descendants? Historical Demography and the Book of Mormon,” review
    of Multiply Exceedingly: Book of Mormon Population Sizes, by John
    C. Kunich, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6/1 (1994): 255-96.
  25. Richard L. Evans, “These Are the ‘Mormons,'” Christian Herald,
    November 1960, 80, emphasis added.
  26. See John L. Sorenson, “When Lehi’s Party Arrived, Did They Find Others in
    the Land?” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1 (1992): 1-34.
  27. In addition to the works by LDS scholars cited above, the reader is urged
    to consult the variety of approaches to authorship in the Book of Mormon in
    Noel B. Reynolds, ed., Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient
    (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1982): C. Wilfred Griggs, “The Book of
    Mormon as an Ancient Book,” 75-101; and Wayne A. Larsen and Alvin C. Rencher,
    “Who Wrote the Book of Mormon? An Analysis of Wordprints,” 157-88. See also
    Noel B. Reynolds, ed., Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: Evidence for
    Ancient Origins
    (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1997): Louis Midgley, “Who Really
    Wrote the Book of Mormon? Critics and Their Theories,” 101-39; Daniel C. Peterson,
    “Is the Book of Mormon True? Notes on the Debate,” 141-77; Melvin J. Thorne,
    “Complexity, Consistency, Ignorance, and Probabilities,” 179-97; John L. Hilton,
    “On Verifying Wordprint Studies: Book of Mormon Authorship,” 225-53.
  28. S. Kent Brown, “The Exodus Pattern in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies
    30/3 (1990): 111-26.
  29. Ibid., 111.
  30. John A. Tvedtnes and Matthew Roper, “Joseph Smith’s Use of the Apocrypha:
    Shadow or Reality?” FARMS Review of Books 8/2 (1996): 338.
  31. One nearly “identical” phrase, italicized here, is in the description of
    the decapitation. Both refer to the hair of the head. The book of Judith says:
    “She came close to his bed and took hold of the hair of his head, and said,
    ‘Give me strength this day, O Lord God of Israel!’ And she struck his neck
    twice with all her might, and severed it from his body” (Judith 13:7-8). Nephi
    says: “Therefore I did obey the voice of the Spirit, and took Laban by the
    hair of the head, and I smote off his head with his own sword” (1 Nephi
    4:18). But not even this small phrase is completely identical—Judith says
    “his head” and Nephi says “the head.”
  32. Sidney B. Sperry, “The ‘Isaiah Problem’ in the Book of Mormon,” Improvement
    , September 1939, 524-25, 564-69; October 1939, 594, 634, 636-37.
    This material was republished in Sperry, The Book of Mormon Testifies
    (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1952), 348-406, and later in Journal of Book
    of Mormon Studies
    4/1 (1995): 129-52; see H. Clay Gorton, The
    Legacy of the Brass Plates of Laban: A Comparison of Biblical and Book of
    Mormon Isaiah Texts
    (Bountiful, UT: Horizon, 1994).
  33. It is true that the seeming inconsistency in scriptural references has sometimes
    confused Latter-day Saints. To deal with this problem, on 30 June 1916,
    the First Presidency and the Twelve issued a statement entitled “The Father
    and the Son: A Doctrinal Exposition by the First Presidency and the Twelve,”
    which explained the various ways the terms Father and Son are used in the
    scriptures. See James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency
    of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1833-1964
    (Salt Lake
    City: Bookcraft, 1971), 5:26-34.
  34. See Noel B. Reynolds, “The Gospel of Jesus Christ as Taught by the Nephite
    Prophets,” BYU Studies 31/3 (1991): 31-50.
  35. Journal of Discourses, 9:311.
  36. See “E(rnst) T(heodor) A(madeus) Wilhelm Hoffmann (1776-1822),” online at (accessed 22 June 2004). This short article
    provides a supporting bibliography.
  37. Journal of Discourses, 2:180.
  38. Journal of Discourses, 5:55.
  39. “The Golden Pot,” in Thomas Carlyle, trans., German Romance: Specimens
    of Its Chief Authors
    (Boston: Munroe, 1841), 2:23-122.
  40. Ibid., 29.
  41. Ibid., 85.
  42. Palmer’s statement was found online at
  43. insider’s3.htm (accessed 19 April 2004).

  44. Sorenson, Ancient American Setting, 354.
  45. John L. Sorenson, Images of Ancient America: Visualizing Book of Mormon
    (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1998). See also Sorenson’s “The Book of Mormon
    as a Mesoamerican Record,” in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited,
  46. John L. Sorenson, “How Could Joseph Smith Write So Accurately about Ancient
    American Civilization?” in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon,
    ed. Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch (Provo, UT: FARMS,
    2002), 261-306.
  47. Martin Raish, “A Reader’s Library,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies
    10/1 (2001): 74. The reader should consult Card’s full essay, “The Book of
    Mormon—Artifact or Artifice?” in A Storyteller in Zion (Salt Lake
    City: Bookcraft, 1993), 13-45.
  48. See John W. Welch, “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon,” in Book of Mormon
    , 33-52; Welch, “What Does Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon Prove?”
    in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited, 199-224; and Welch, “How
    Much Was Known about Chiasmus in 1829 When the Book of Mormon Was Translated?”
    FARMS Review 15/1 (2003): 47-80.
  49. See John A. Tvedtnes, “The Hebrew Background of the Book of Mormon,” in
    Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, ed. John L. Sorenson and Melvin
    J. Thorne (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1991), 77.
  50. See Donald W. Parry, “Hebraisms and Other Ancient Peculiarities in the Book
    of Mormon,” in Echoes and Evidences, 155-89; and Parry, The Book
    of Mormon Reformatted According to Parallelistic Patterns
    (Provo, UT:
    FARMS, 1992).
  51. See James T. Duke, The Literary Masterpiece Called the Book of Mormon
    (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, 2004). See, for example, his chapter on idiomatic
  52. See, for example, Larsen and Rencher, “Who Wrote the Book of Mormon?” 157-88;
    and Hilton, “On Verifying Wordprint Studies,” 225-53.
  53. Sorenson and Thorne, eds., Rediscovering the Book of Mormon; Welch,
    ed., Reexploring the Book of Mormon; Reynolds, ed., Book of Mormon
    Authorship Revisited
    ; and Parry, Peterson, and Welch, eds., Echoes
    and Evidences of the Book of Mormon
  54. See Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses
    (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981), 142-44; Anderson, “The Mature Joseph
    Smith and Treasure Searching,” BYU Studies 24/4 (1984): 489-560;
    Anderson, “Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reappraised,” BYU Studies
    10/3 (1970): 283-314; Anderson, review of Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation
    , by Rodger I. Anderson, Review of Books on the Book of
    3/1 (1991): 52-80; and Hugh Nibley, “Digging in the Dark,” in
    The Myth Makers (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1961), 91-190; republished
    in Tinkling Cymbals and Sounding Brass (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book
    and FARMS, 1991), 193-303.
  55. See Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses; Larry
    E. Morris, “‘The Private Character of the Man Who Bore That Testimony': Oliver
    Cowdery and His Critics,” FARMS Review 15/1 (2003): 311-51.
  56. See Anderson’s full explanation in Investigating the Book of Mormon
    , 155-59.
  57. See, for example, the entire issue of BYU Studies 24/4 (1984),
    which is devoted exclusively to this issue and contains essays by Dean C.
    Jessee, Ronald W. Walker, Marvin S. Hill, and Richard Lloyd Anderson. These
    articles were prepared as part of a concerted effort by LDS scholars to evaluate
    the implications of two letters that came into the church’s hands through
    Mark Hofmann. Even before Hofmann’s duplicity was revealed, these scholars
    had questions about the authenticity of the letters, but their writings, coming
    in part from new research stimulated by the letters, explored openly and honesty
    the implications of this magical worldview for Mormon history. Also relevant
    to this discussion are various reviews of D. Michael Quinn’s Early Mormonism
    and the Magic World View
    . See, in particular, intensive review essays
    by Stephen E. Robinson and William A. Wilson in BYU Studies 27/4
    (1987): 88-104; and by John Gee, William J. Hamblin, and Rhett S. James in
    FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 185-414.
  58. Ashurst-McGee, “A One-Sided View of Mormon Origins.”
  59. See Richard Lloyd Anderson, “The Second Witness of Priesthood Restoration,”
    Improvement Era, September 1968, 15-24. See also Brian Q. Cannon
    and BYU Studies staff, “Priesthood Restoration Documents,” BYU Studies
    35/4 (1995-96): 162-207.
  60. See Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, 162-63,
  61. See Larry C. Porter, “The Restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods,”
    Ensign, December 1996, 30-47.
  62. As reproduced in Dean C. Jesse, ed., Personal Writings of Joseph Smith,
    rev. ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and BYU Press, 2002), 10.
  63. Ashurst-McGee, “A One-Sided View of Mormon Origins.”
  64. The most convenient source is Milton V. Backman Jr., Joseph Smith’s
    First Vision: Confirming Evidence and Contemporary Accounts
    , 2nd ed.
    (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980).
  65. Wesley P. Walters, “New Light on Mormon Origins from Palmyra (N.Y.) Revival,”
    Bulletin of the Evangelical Theological Society 10/4 (1967): 227-44,
    also published as a tract by the Utah Christian Tract Society, La Mesa, CA;
    reprinted in Dialogue 4/1 (1969): 60-81, in “Roundtable” as “The
    Question of the Palmyra Revival.” See also the critique by Bushman, 82-93,
    with a response by Walters, 94-100, in the same roundtable.
  66. Marvin S. Hill, “The First Vision Controversy: A Critique and Reconciliation,”
    Dialogue 15/2 (1982): 43.
  67. Milton V. Backman Jr., “Awakenings in the Burned-over District: New Light
    on the Historical Setting of the First Vision,” BYU Studies 9/3 (1969):
    302, citing Whitney R. Cross, The Burned-Over District (Ithaca: Cornell
    University Press, 1950), 13.
  68. See, for example, the maps in Backman, “Awakenings in the Burned-over District,”
  69. See Richard L. Bushman, “The First Vision Revisited,” Dialogue
    4/1 (1969): 82-93. This is followed by a rejoinder by Walters.
  70. James B. Allen, “Eight Contemporary Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision:
    What Do We Learn from Them?” Improvement Era, April 1970, 6.
  71. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, 56-57.
  72. A Book of Commandments for the Governance of the Church of Christ (Zion
    [Independence, MO]: Phelps, 1833), 24:6-7.
  73. From the 1832 history as reproduced in Jessee, Personal Writings of
    Joseph Smith
    , 11.
  74. From Joseph Smith’s 1835 journal, as reproduced in ibid., 104.
  75. See James B. Allen, “The Significance of Joseph Smith’s First Vision in
    Mormon Thought,” Dialogue 1/3 (1966): 29-45; and Allen, “Emergence
    of a Fundamental: The Expanding Role of Joseph Smith’s First Vision in Mormon
    Religious Thought,” Journal of Mormon History 7 (1980): 43-61.
  76. See Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Circumstantial Confirmation of the First Vision
    through Reminiscences,” BYU Studies 9/3 (1969): 373-404.
  77. See Milton V. Backman Jr., “Joseph Smith’s Recitals of the First Vision,”
    Ensign, January 1985, 8-17; Backman, “Confirming Witnesses of the
    First Vision,” Ensign, January 1986, 32-37 (a discussion of Orson
    Pratt and the first vision); Backman, “Joseph Smith’s First Vision: Cornerstone
    of a Latter-day Faith,” in “To Be Learned Is Good If . . .,” ed.
    Robert L. Millet (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1987), 21-41; Backman, “Lo, Here!
    Lo, There! Early in the Spring of 1820,” in The Prophet Joseph: Essays
    on the Life and Mission of Joseph Smith
    , ed. Larry C. Porter and Susan
    Easton Black (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1988), 19-35; and Backman, “Verification
    of the 1838 Account of the First Vision,” in The Pearl of Great Price:
    Revelations from God
    , ed. H. Donl Peterson and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo,
    UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1989), 237-48.
  78. See Richard L. Bushman, “The Visionary World of Joseph Smith,” BYU Studies
    37/1 (1997): 183-204.
  79. See Neal E. Lambert and Richard H. Cracroft, “Literary Form and Historical
    Understanding: Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” Journal of Mormon History
    7 (1980): 31-42; Richard H. Cracroft “The Ineffable Made Effable: Rendering
    Joseph Smith’s First Vision as Literature,” Annual of the Association
    for Mormon Letters
    (1995): 38-57; revised version published as “Rendering
    the Ineffable Effable: Treating Joseph Smith’s First Vision in Imaginative
    Literature,” BYU Studies 36/2 (1996-97): 93-116.
  80. See Peter Crawley, “A Comment on Joseph Smith’s Account of His First Vision
    and the 1820 Revival,” Dialogue 6/1 (1971): 106-7; Marvin S. Hill,
    “The First Vision Controversy: A Critique and Reconciliation,” Dialogue
    15/2 (1982): 31-46, which goes into much greater depth on the debates over
    the vision than indicated previously in this article; Hill, “A Note on the
    First Vision and Its Import in the Shaping of Early Mormonism,” Dialogue
    12/1 (1979): 90-99; Dean C. Jessee, “The Early Accounts of Joseph Smith’s
    First Vision,” BYU Studies 9/3 (1969): 275-94; Jessee, “The Early
    Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” in The Pearl of Great Price,
    Studies in Scripture
    , vol. 2, ed. Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson
    (Salt Lake City: Randall Book, 1985), 303-14; Stanley B. Kimball, “A Footnote
    to the Problem of Dating the First Vision,” Dialogue 5/4 (1970):
  81. For an interesting commentary of the techniques of anti-Mormons, see Daniel
    C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons
    Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints
    (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1998).
  82. Let me remind the reader that one good source for Book of Mormon studies
    is FARMS. For the price of one book such as Palmer’s, you can purchase a one-year
    subscription to FARMS, which will give you not only the current journals and
    newsletters but also Internet access to the FARMS Web site; there you can
    read all the back issues of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies
    and the FARMS Review, as well as many other FARMS publications.