Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet

Following up on his five-volume Early Mormon Documents series, Dan Vogel recently completed a psychobiography on Joseph Smith. Vogel adopts a similar thesis to Robert D. Anderson’s earlier work Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith: Psychobiography and the Book of Mormon. The author highlights major portions of Anderson’s earlier interpretations, and adheres to Anderson’s conclusions about Smith. Vogel, like Anderson, views the Book of Mormon as a fabricated history that was written by Smith as a medium for dealing with his dysfunctional family background and satisfying his own personal ambition. Having reviewed Anderson’s psychobiography, as well as that of Thomas Morain’s The Sword of Laban: Joseph Smith, Jr. and the Dissociated Mind, I found elements of both books heavily integrated into Vogel’s work. Consequently Vogel’s work suffers from many of the same weaknesses as these previous psychobiographies of Smith.

The author indicates in the introduction that he interprets “any claim of the paranormal . . . as delusion or fraud.” Discounting the supernatural, Vogel then asserts that he will use an approach in interpreting Smith’s personality that has “the fewest assumptions and inconsistencies, and requiring the least elaboration.” However, in borrowing from Anderson and Morain, who utilized an approach termed “applied psychoanalysis,” Vogel adheres to a modality that requires a significant amount of elaboration and assumptions. Although psychoanalysis is grounded in scientific and academic history, it is only loosely based on the body of knowledge about social and psychological phenomena, and when utilized in evaluating limited historical information it requires extensive speculation. Vogel’s applied psychoanalysis is rooted more in a system of beliefs and constructs than it is in a body of scientific knowledge. In turn, he speculates extensively that Joseph Smith’s childhood led to impairment in his adult personality. This may be at least part of the reason why Vogel limits his biography of Smith to the years 1805–1831, because psychoanalysts believe that most adult dysfunction stems from childhood.

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