Even before the Church was organized in April 1830, Joseph Smith's prophetic claims were ridiculed and dismissed. Such attacks were frequent and harsh in the earliest days of the Church, and they have not abated since. At the same time, responding to critics is also a long-standing Latter-day Saint tradition. To be properly understood, the essays in this volume of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley must be viewed in the context of that tradition.
When the first anti-Mormon pamphlets and books began to appear, the Mormon response was to send missionaries to preach and testify as individuals in an effort to counter the falsehoods being circulated against them.1 Such an approach was appropriate as long as missionaries remained in the rural hamlets and small villages of New England, but when proselyting efforts entered the larger cities, oral responses were no longer sufficient to counter the mass market techniques of tract societies or the accounts appearing in newspapers with large circulations available to urban and cosmopolitan audiences. Thus, Mormon missionaries were forced by changing circumstances to use the written word to defend themselves and explain their message. The Church was eight years old when the first specific reply to an anti-Mormon attack was published by Parley P. Pratt in New York City.2
Thereafter, these works were regularly issued by the Latter-day Saint press. Pratt authored a number of replies to attacks that had been published in England during the early years of the British Mission, and many of his tracts established the arguments and patterns that subsequent Latter-day Saint writers, including his brother Orson, followed.3 He finally concluded that he had responded to all the serious attacks and thereafter refused to dignify these works further by additional rejoinders,4 but critics continued to repeat the same old charges, most of which focused on Joseph Smith's character or on the Book of Mormon.
This critical literature circulated throughout the British Empire in the nineteenth century, and Mormon missionaries met it in South Africa, India, and Australia, as well as in the United States.5 While many of these tracts were produced for local consumption, they all reprinted or repeated the early arguments that often circulated in garbled form. Extant missionary journals express dismay that such rubbish was so readily accepted by the public. Most came to feel, like Brigham Young, that it was best to ignore the malicious stories constantly circulating about him. He explained his approach in a letter to Jefferson Davis:
I am often made aware of the utter uselessness, and folly of seeking to vindicate my character, from such foul aspersions as are occasionally raised against me; for the simple fact, that although, the foul aspersion can be bruited far and wide, held to the fluttering breeze by every press, and rolled as a sweet morsel under every tongue, yet when the vile slander is fairly refuted, and truth appears in the most incontestable manner, it is permitted to lie quietly upon the shelf to slumber the sleep of death, or if by chance, it should get published in some obscure nook or corner of this great Republic, be most religiously suppressed, as though in fear that the 6
But as a sagacious leader, Brigham Young also knew that public attacks on the institution could and did affect its missionary work and its ability to accomplish its divine mission. He therefore encouraged efforts to spread and explain the gospel; however, he did little to correct the developing negative image of the Church, especially following the public announcement of plural marriage in August 1852. The establishment of Mormon publications in strategic locations throughout the United States during this period seems to reflect President Young's concerns about the public perceptions of the Church's doctrines,7 but they did little to counter the growing use of the negative stereotypes used by the critics in their discussions of the Mormons.8 From our contemporary perspective President Young's approach allowed the critical images to go unchallenged and therefore to become more acceptable explanations in the popular prints. In 1877 President Young, in a letter to a missionary son, summarized his general approach to these matters:
If, when declaring the word of truth, you are attacked by the wicked, do not condescend to argue with them, much less to retaliate. Do not attempt to "repay them in their own coin," to use an old English adage; such is below the dignity of your calling. Recrimination proves no truth; it enlightens no man's mind, but it is one of the weapons used be the adversary to produce hatred and malice in the hearts of mankind, and should never be indulged in by a Latter-day Saint. When you may be assailed, heed it not, bear your testimony to the great work the Lord is doing on the earth, proclaim the truth in meekness, and if they will not listen, leave them to their own folly. We are not called to cavil with the world. Some of my brethren have felt as though I ought to answer all the falsehoods that have been put in circulation during the last few months against the Latter-day Saints, and which have swept over this nation like a flood. I have said to them, "Brethren, I have lived on this earth longer than most of you, and have perhaps a little more experience.When you get to be as old as I am you will learn to trust in God. This is His work, and He will take care of it. If He does not, we cannot." And in this faith I am already fully justified, as our enemies have gone to such lengths that their stories are desecrated [discredited], they have missed the mark they shot at, and have not accomplished the end for which they set out. Without our help God has made them the instruments of manifesting their own folly and wickedness. So will it always be if we put our trust in Him.9
During this same time, George Q. Cannon came to see the importance of effective public relations, a lesson that he eventually drew upon in the editorials he authored in a number of eastern newspapers, as welll as through George Q. Cannon and Sons, his own publishing house.10 But even Cannon's approach became more focused on internal consumption and thus concentrated on educating the youth of the Church rather than correcting the unfavorable perceptions that were gaining a national audience during this period. When he sold his establishment to the Church, it was renamed the Deseret Book Company. It remains a publishing arm of the Church.
The intense anti-polygamy crusade of the late nineteenth century also encouraged Church defensive efforts further, as a positive public image seemed even more important in the era of aggressive anti-Mormon agitation and yellow journalism. As the subject of many dime novels in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Mormonism was seldom treated fairly or seriously. Themes of sensuality, vengeance, and even murder ran through the various novels and even in the more serious histories produced during this period. Authors learned that a racy Mormon theme would sell. In fact, so pervasive were the images they created that they continue to shape the public image of the Church and its members.11 The acquiring of Church historic sites, the establishment of the Church Bureaus of Information, and the instituting of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir were early twentieth-century efforts to allow Mormons to tell their own story to a broader audience.12
Mormon defenders such as B. H. Roberts authored various replies and histories in this period, seeking to explain Mormonism to a generation that had been saturated with the negative reports.13 The advent of the motion picture era increased the opportunities for both the Church and its critics to expand their respective activities.14
In spite of the seeming "respectability" that has come to the Church in the twentieth century, anti-Mormon literature has increased in size and virulence. Well over 200 book-length attacks on the Church have appeared since 1945, and there is little evidence this flood will abate, in spite of a number of competent responsese to such arguments and authors.15
The religious claims of Joseph Smith are such that it is almost impossible to be entirely neutral about them, whatever the pretense of the author. A review of the criticism and invective issued during the Prophet's lifetime suggests that almost every charge, moral and otherwise, that could be made against him was made while he was yet alive. If we add the name of Brigham Young to the list, very few attacks that have been made on the Church and its leaders were not in print by 1877, the year President Young died. Thus the foundational evidence and arguments against the Joseph Smith story were a product of the first generation of critics. This fact lies at the heart of Hugh Nibley's analysis of anti-Mormon literature, most of which has been gathered into this volume.16
Trained in history and interested in classical rhetoric, Hugh Nibley brings a broad perspective to his study of the early writings critical of the Latter-day Saint movement. His knowledge of language and history has given him a particular advantage in studying texts. First, his approach is historical. He shows that in the nineteenth century, the core anti-Mormon writing suffered from geographical distance (few authors came to see for themselves), and that in the twentieth century it has suffered from historical distance (few authors have consulted the available original sources). Secondly, he shows how distorted even the Mormon accounts of their own origins become in the jumbled and confused works of the critics. Third, he shows that most anti-Mormon writing suffers from a ghastly inbreeding and that much of what continues to pass for good history is just a rehash of the old arguments. Finally, he sees that the heart of much of this critical work has not focused on the topics and subjects of Latter-day Saint history but rather is aimed at the claim to modern revelation which most anti-Mormon authors simply reject out of hand.
In his treatments of the flaws of the works of those critical of the Church, Hugh Nibley's sense of humor, combined with a biting satire, is often evident.17 Because of this, he has been dismissed by some as flippant. His style can be a problem if the reader does not penetrate to the heart of the issues at hand. Satire in the hands of someone like Hugh Nibley, weary as he is with the poor logic and the uncritical acceptance of the undependable sources upon which so many anti-Mormon works are built, can reveal that the anti-Mormon emperor is not after all, wearing any clothes. And since the cool, dispassionate approach taken by Latter-day Saints such as the Pratt brothers, George Q. Cannon, B. H. Roberts, Francis Kirkham, and others for over a century had not been heeded, Nibley opted to invoke some of the critics' own rhetorical standbys, such as ridicule and caricature. His essay "How to Write an Anti-Mormon Book" is an especially useful summary of the whole genre, and it illustrates well Nibley's own approach to these attacks.18
While Nibley has been somewhat concerned with anti-Mormon literature throughout his career, the majority of his work the subject was done between 1959 and 1963. Acting in part under assignment, and preferring that his time could be devoted to other projects, his responses to anti-Mormon literature sometimes manifest considerable impatience. But he did devote extensive attention to the critical literature, and his efforts are worth reading, even though he made no claims to be an expert in American or Mormon history. He is best understood as a counter-puncher. He did not start the fight and he will not finish it, but his efforts buy time for others to enter the arena by showing that the opponent has serious flaws in style and content. The critic, in fact, seems to have rigged the fight, or at least refuses to fight fairly.
Nibley's first work in this vein was a response to Fawn Brodie's widely touted biography of Joseph Smith, No Man Knows My History, published in 1945.19 Nibley's response was No Ma'am, That's Not History. It appeared the same year, was reissued in 1959, and has been available in pamphlet format since. In 1959 his series " 'Mixed Voices': A Study of Book of Mormon Criticism," was serialized in the Improvement Era. In 1961, from July to November, "Censoring the Joseph Smith Story," in which Nibley takes on such anti-Mormon writers as Henry Caswall, John C. Bennett, and J. B. Turner, appeared in the Improvement Era. In 1961 The Myth Makers appeared, in which Nibley presents "the case of the World versus Joseph Smith," with a host of anti-Mormon witnesses whose testimonies become a hopeless mass of contradictions and absurdities. Sounding Brass followed in 1963, focusing on the story and anti-Mormon writings of Ann Eliza Webb Dee Young Denning, divorced wife of Brigham Young. As early as 1965, Nibley had turned his attention the criticisms of the book of Abraham, some of which he included in the early installments of his series "A New Look at the Pearl of Great Price," published in 1968 in the Improvement Era.20 In 1974, he again reflected on Fawn Brodie's work on Joseph Smith, pointing out that her subsequent biographies, especially her book on Thomas Jefferson, share the same flaws that her work on Joseph Smith exhibits.
Because the main thrust of Nibley's work is to analyze the published criticism of the Church, he does not focus on the manuscript sources of Latter-day Saint history. Most of the collections of the Church Archives were uncataloged or unavailable when he was doing his work on early Mormon history. In his work, Nibley provides an analysis of printed literature; his work is primarily intellectual history that examines the larger picture rather than the minute details. He focuses on ideas rather than on biography or just historical facts. Thus, although his general campaign is potent and persuasive, readers thirty years later should not be surprised to discover that, with the subsequent professionalization of the Church library and archives, the study of Mormon history has progressed on a variety of details discussed in Nibley's works. For example, recent work has been done on the now available accounts of Joseph Smith's First Vision,21 as well as on money digging22 and his 1826 trial23, and the earliest treatments of his religious claims.24 His discussion of the use of the "Danite" theme by anti-Mormon writers was right on target, and he early drew attention to the negative portrayal of Mormons in the various graphic cartoons that appeared in these early works.25 Such new research has strengthened Nibley's arguments in many cases; it has corrected him in others.
One of the consequences of Nibley's work on anti-Mormon writing was to deepen his own understanding of Brigham Young. Nibley has broadened our understanding and appreciation of President Young in a variety of subsequently published essays on such topics as the environment, consecration, Zion, education, and dealing with the "enemy." Nibley has thus invited us to take a closer 26
Much of Nibley's own work has focused on the sacred texts of the Latter-day Saints. Only indirectly, and usually by assignment, has he analyzed the more critical literature. Even in his works in which he is essentially evaluating anti-Mormon arguments, he invites critics to take more seriously the basic claims of Joseph Smith. He has tried to remove from the road the fog that has obscured the view for students of Mormon history. He functions as a classical apologist in the highest sense (that is, as one who responds, clarifies, or defends) as he explains and vindicates the life and teachings of the prophets.27 Nibley's own loyalty to the gospel message allows him to separate the chaff from the wheat. He knows the scriptures; he knows that Joseph's name would be known for good and evil, but he has clearly chosen to be numbered among those who sought counsel from the Prophet. He has little patience with those who write to persuade others to dismiss either the prophets or their divine messages.
Many people have assisted with this volume. I am particularly glad to acknowledge their invaluable work, especially in checking citations and performing various other necessary editorial labors. They include Glen Cooper, Lyle Fletcher, Fran Hafen, Andrew Hedges, Alan Goff, Michael Lyon, Tyler Moulton, Phyllis Nibley, Don Norton, Shirley Ricks, Stephen Ricks, James Tredway, John W. Welch, and Natalie Whiting. Jack Lyon of Deseret Book has been very helpful as this volume has progressed to a finished product.
|David J. Whittaker|
1. This was the counsel of D&C 71 and 73, specifically on the impact of the Ezra Booth letters that appeared in the Ohio Star [Ravenna] (October-December 1831). Even after the publishing in 1834 of E. D. Howe's Mormonism Unvailed, which reprinted the Booth letters, no printed reply was issued by the Latter-day Saints. Mormons did move to establish several newspapers, but no pamphlet literature appeared this early. Only when Howe's volume was reprinted in 1840 with the title History of Mormonism; Or, a faithful account of that singular imposition and delusion, with sketches of the characters of its propagators . . . (Painesville, Ohio) did Latter-day Saint authors respond more directly in print. On Booth and his letters, see Max Parkin, "The Nature and Cause of Internal and External Conflict of the Mormons in Ohio Between 1830 and 1838," Master's thesis, Brigham Young University, 1966, 101-20; and Dennis Rowley, "The Ezra Booth Letters," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 16 (Fall 1983):
2. Mormonism Unveiled: Zion's Watchman unmasked, and its editor, Mr. L. R. Sunderland exposed: Truth vindicated: the devil mad, and priestcraft in danger! (New York: Printed for the publisher, 1838). In 1835 Parley had published an account of the rough treatment he received at the hands of an anti-Mormon mob: A Short Account of a Shameful Outrage, .
3. His replies include Plain Facts, Showing the falsehood and folly of the Rev. C. S. Bush (Manchester: Thomas, 1840); A Reply to Mr. Thomas Taylor's 'Complete Failure,' &c. and Mr. Richard Livesey's 'Mormonism Exposed' (Manchester: Thomas, 1840); and An Answer to Mr. William Hewitt's (Manchester: Thomas, 1840). On the larger influence of Pratt see Peter Crawley, "Parley P. Pratt: Father of Mormon Pamphleteering," Dialogue 15 (Autumn 1982): 13-26.
4. See his editorial comments in LDS Millennial Star 1 (April 1841): 312.
5. An overview is presented in David J. Whittaker, "Early Mormon Pamphleteering," Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1982, 236-320.
6. Brigham Young to Jefferson Davis, 8 September 1855, MS in Brigham Young Collection, Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah. This letter was originally called to my attention by Dean C. Jessee.
7. See the summary in Brigham H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Century I, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1930), 4:55-68.
8. See the perceptive comments of Leonard J. Arrington, "Mormonism: Views from Without and Within," BYU Studies 14 (Winter 1974): 140-53, esp. 148-50.
9. Brigham Young to Lorenzo D. Young, 15 June 1877, in Dean C. Jessee, ed. Letters of Brigham Young to His Sons (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book for the Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1974), 290-91. Cf. Joseph Smith's comments in December 1833: Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1939), 43. See also Hugh Nibley, "Brigham Young and the Enemy," in The Young Democrat (Provo: BYU Democrats, ).
10. George Q. Cannon bridged the first- and second-generation Mormon publishers. He learned the printing business from John Taylor; he honed these skills further under Parley P. Pratt, and he was further guided though the maze of the non-Mormon Eastern printing establishment by Thomas L. Kane. He also recceived regular counsel from Brigham Young.
11. Recent studies include Jon Haupt and Leonard J. Arrington, "The Missouri and Illinois Mormons in Ante-Bellum Fiction," Dialogue 5 (Spring 1970): 37-50; and Arrington and Haupt, "Intolerable Zion: The Image of Mormonism in Nineteenth Century American Literature," Western Humanities Review 22 (Summer 1968): 243-60. Even the most superficial look at popular books on Mormons today will reveal that the same themes continue to be used.
12. See the overview in B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church, 6:422-31; and in Thomas G. Alexander, Mormonism in Transition, A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986), 239-57.
13. On Robert's work see Davis Bitton, "B. H. Roberts as Historian," Dialogue 3 (Winter 1968): 25-44; Truman G. Madsen, "B. H. Roberts after Fifty Years: Still Witnessing for the Book of Mormon," Ensign 13 (December 1983): 10-19; and John W. Welch, "B. H. Roberts: Seeker after Truth," Ensign 16 (March 1986): 56-62.
14. See Richard A. Nelson, "A History of Latter-day Saint Screen Portrayals in the Anti-Mormon Film Era, 1905-1936," Master's thesis, Brigham Young University, 1975.
15. See, for example, Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reappraised," BYU Studies 10 (Spring 1970): 283-314; Dean C. Jessee, "The Reliability of Joseph Smith's History," Journal of Mormon History 3 (1976): 23-46; Lester Bush, Jr., "The Spaulding Theory Then and Now," Dialogue 10 (Autumn 1977): 40-69; A Latter-day Saint Historian, Jerald and Sandra Tanner's Distorted View of Mormonism: A Response to 'Mormonism—Shadow or Reality?' (Salt Lake City: n.p., 1977); Craig Foster, "British Anti-Mormon Pamphleteering, 1837-1860," Master's thesis, Brigham Young University, 1989; and Gilbert W. Scharffs, The Truth about "The Godmakers" (Salt Lake City: Publisher's Press, 1986).
16. The main exception is the series "Mixed Voices: A Study in Book of Mormon Criticism," Improvement Era 62 (1959), which appears in CWHN 8:127-206.
17. The first piece of satire published by a Mormon author was Parley Pratt's An Epistle of Demetrius, Junior, The Silversmith . . . (Manchester, England, 1840). It compared the actions of certain English clergy to the mob activity of the Ephesian silversmith in Acts 19 when his income from making idols was threatened by Paul's missionary work.
18. It was first published in the 1962 Seminar on Joseph Smith (Provo: Extension Publications, Brigham Young University, 1962), 30-41, and later included in Sounding Brass; reprinted in this volume on pages 407-727.
19. A useful discussion of the various responses to Brodie's biography is Newell G. Bringhurst, "Applause, Attack, and Ambivalence—Varied Responses to Fawn M. Brodie's 'No Man Knows My History'," Utah Historical Quarterly 57 (Winter 1989): 46-63. Marvin S. Hill has written two article-length critiques of her work on Joseph Smith: "Brodie Revisited: A Reappraisal," Dialogue 7 (Winter 1972): 72-85; and "Secular or Sectarian History? A Critique of No Man Knows My History," Church History 43 (March 1974): 78-96.
20. See especially Improvement Era 71 (January-October 1968). In BYU Education Week lectures in Oakland, California, in 1965, he also discussed these matters.
21. Recent study on Joseph Smith's First Vision include Paul R. Cheesman, "An Analysis of the Accounts Relating Joseph Smith's Early Visions," Master's thesis, Brigham Young University, 1965; Dean C. Jessee, "The Early Accounts of Joseph Smith's First Vision," BYU Studies 9 (Spring 1969): 275-94; Milton V. Backman, Jr., Joseph Smith's First Vision: Confirming Evidences and Contemporary Accounts, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980); and Marvin S. Hill, "The First Vision Controversy: A Critique and Reconciliation," Dialogue 15 (Summer 1982): 31-46.
22. On money digging see Ronald W. Walker, "The Persisting Idea of American Treasure Hunting," BYU Studies 24 (Fall 1984): 427-59; and Alan Taylor, "Rediscovering the Context of Joseph Smith's Treasure Seeking," Dialogue 19 (Winter 1986): 18-28.
23. Useful research on the 1826 trial includes Marvin S. Hill, "Joseph Smith and the 1826 Trial: New Evidence and New Difficulties," BYU Studies 12 (Winter 1972): 223-33; and Gordon A. Madsen, "Joseph Smith's 1826 Trial: The Legal Setting," BYU Studies 30 (Spring 1990): 91-108.
24. A particularly valuable study of the earliest treatments of Joseph Smith and his religious claims in the public prints is Walter A. Norton, "Comparative Images: Mormonism and Contemporary Religions as Seen by Village Newspapermen in Western New York and Northeastern Ohio, 1820-1833," Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1991. Norton shows how the critical perceptions of Joseph Smith were very early established in the local newspapers. And he shows further how, owing to Federal legislation that allowed free carriage of exchange newspapers between newspaper offices throughout the country, the various newspapers were thus encouraged to reprint material appearing in each others' prints, thus allowing the negative reports to spread far and wide.
25. See Rebecca F. Cornwall and Leonard J. Arrington, "Perpetuation of a Myth: Mormon Danites in Five Western Novels, 1840-1890," BYU Studies 23 (Winter 1983): 147-65; David J. Whittaker, "The Book of Daniel in Early Mormon Thought," in John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks, eds., By Study and Also By Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley, 2 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and F.A.R.M.S., 1990), 1:155-201; and Gary L. Bunker and Davis Bitton, The Mormon Graphic Image, 1834-1914 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1983).
26. These essays will appear in a future volume of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley.
27. See especially Hugh W. Nibley, The World and the Prophets, vol. 3 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and F.A.R.M.S., 1987).