Reviewing Grant Palmer’s first published work became an unusual personal challenge to me, for it touched on two things I hold dear. One is balanced scholarship and academic integrity, which I have spent a career trying to teach and practice. The other is something especially sacred: 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. Book reviews ordinarily center just on scholarly matters, but somehow I could not approach this particular review without intermixing the two. My commentary, therefore, is first-person and personal.
Even though, to me, the evidence favoring Mormonism’s foundational events is powerful and convincing, I believe that the literal reality of the First Vision and other sacred experiences can be neither “proved” nor “disproved” by secular objectivity. Believing Latter-day Saint scholars study the documents with all the detachment possible but also take literally the affirmation of Moroni that “by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moro. 10:5). Knowing something of Palmer’s background, therefore, I was disappointed to read of his belief that the Holy Ghost is an “unreliable means of proving truth.”