Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reexamined

There are those who are champions for what is called “traditional Mormon history,” who contend that such history should always be faith promoting; that historians should be selective in what topics they treat and what evidence they will accept. The assumption here is that we cannot finally know the past and that all historical interpretations are entirely subjective. Since one interpretation is as good as another, Church members should be careful to write the kind of history that will bolster faith and help the missionary effort abroad. Rodger I. Anderson has written a book which thus characterizes some of the work of two of BYU’s most honored historians: Hugh Nibley and Richard L. Anderson. He concludes that such work has little value for those who seek historical truth.

Rodger Anderson has criticized Nibley’s Myth Makers and Richard L. Anderson’s article “Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reappraised,” for being too selective in their use of evidence. Rodger Anderson maintains that the testimonials collected against Joseph Smith and the Smith family by Philastus Hurlbut and Arthur B. Deming in the nineteenth century “are in fact largely immune to the attacks launched against them by Nibley, Anderson, and others,” (7) and that the Hurlbut and very late Deming reports provide an accurate representation of the “‘general opinion of his [Smith’s] neighbors in their true, essential form'” (7). He adds that he will let others decide whether the conclusions of these neighbors of the Smiths are justified.

Published in BYU Studies Quarterly 30:4
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