Exploding the Myth About Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet

Fawn M. Brodie’s No Man Knows My History has seen eight American and at least one British printing in the twenty-one years since publication. Its present reputation is fairly stated in the recent Library of Congress bibliography:

Mrs. Brodie’s biography of Joseph Smith is a work of intensive scholarship, widely praised as the best history of the prophet and seer upon whose revelations the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints was founded. The author has searched out and scrutinized carefully the evidence on all sides of the strange story, and her picture of her subject is impartial and in the main sympathetic.1

Despite such encomiums, most LDS historians feel less than enthusiastic about the craftsmanship of Mrs. Brodie. A book explaining in detail the grounds for such professional skepticism is overdue, to say the least. F. L. Stewart (Lori Donegan) has educated herself in the sources of Mormon history simply through making a hobby of carefully checking Brodie’s documentation. Such a project is less a question of ideology than a fairly objective determination of whether the footnote citations of No Man Knows My History really support its thesis. Because this double-checking may be done on a broader scale, Stewart’s work is a valuable pilot study of the validity of Brodie’s generalizations.

The essence of Exploding the Myth is a presentation of sixty-three violations of context or documentation in No Man Knows My History. A final chapter is added that contains an imaginary dialogue between Stewart and Brodie concerning the supposed transcript of an 1826 trial of Joseph Smith popularized by No Man Knows My History. It is questionable whether the literary device of a hypothetical conversation contributes to the accurate presentation of historical issues. In regard to the subject of this chapter, however, more evidential work needs to be done on what appears to be a fictitious transcript of a genuine trial. Although Stewart is skeptical of the reality of this early event, Oliver Cowdery’s letter concerning the Susquehanna residence of Joseph Smith (Messenger and Advocate, Oct. 1835) seems plain on this point…

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