Review of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling

I was fortunate to read an advanced readers copy of the highly anticipated Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman.

Put simply, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Bushman has a great deal to be proud of. In my estimation, his book exceeds all previous biographical attempts, including Donna Hill’s Joseph Smith: The First Mormon. Hill may have the upper hand in terms of prose (she is a marvelous writer), but she can’t match Bushman for his knowledge of history. Further, Hill’s book reads more like a general history of the Church from 1805–1844, while Bushman, as I discuss later, does more than any previous biographer to reveal *who* Joseph Smith was.

While some of the earlier chapters lift liberally from Bushman’s Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, there’s plenty of new material here as well. Bushman devotes more time to Joseph Smith and magic, explaining its role in the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. He plays apologist more often — and he does it well. He doesn’t shy away from any issues, but he offers plausible explanations for certain dilemmas. For example, while pointing out that the priesthood restoration wasn’t even mentioned by Joseph for five years after the event (which naturally leads to questions about the events authenticity) Bushman points out that if Joseph were embellishing and creating new experiences to bolster his prophetic claims, why then does he make only passing references to the priesthood restoration? He doesn’t sound the event with a trumpet, but instead with a passing whisper. It’s a good point that doesn’t attempt to solve the problem, but provides a reasonable explanation.

Bushman, more so than any other biographer of Joseph, gives us insight into who Joseph was. He delves deeper into the “prophet puzzle” than previous biographers. This might seem ironic, considering that psycho-biographies by Fawn Brodie, Robert Anderson, and William Morain seek to explain Joseph’s motivation. Yet those who seek to explain Joseph — whether as a prophet or a fraud — always remain distant. They are too interested in explaining why their perspective is right, instead of showing us who the real Joseph Smith may have been. Bushman reveals Joseph as deeply unsettled by his own sins, short on temper when criticized, prone perhaps to retribution, fearful of loneliness and needy of others company, yet through it all Joseph is convinced he is led by the hand of God.

Bushman also looks into Joseph’s thought more than previous biographers — a stated goal in his introduction. It makes for a fascinating look at the subject and helps in unmasking the real Joseph Smith, but I couldn’t help but wonder how some Church members will react to this approach. Bushman often appears to be attributing Mormon doctrine to Joseph’s mind and personal motivations. For example, Bushman suggests that when Joseph preached that families should be buried near each other, so they can rise during the resurrection and be with each other, this may have been to alleviate his own intense feelings of loneliness, because “he feared being left alone” (492). Although Bushman interchangeably attributes revelations to God or Joseph, he often quotes revelations and then suggests the development is Joseph’s.

This approach certainly doesn’t have the effect of trying to explain away Mormon claims of the supernatural; this is far from Bushman’s intent. But I can’t help but wonder how some Mormons, who typically believe that revelations on issues like Zion, for example, come straight from God to Joseph Smith, will react when they see these revelations used to explain Joseph Smith’s own thoughts, dreams, and desires. The obvious apologetic answer is that these were Joseph’s thoughts and desires because they were God’s thoughts and desires. This is far too simplistic and naïve, in my estimation, and I think astute readers will need to do better if they want to find the real Joseph Smith.

Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling is loaded with history, and in this regard, it blows all other biographies out of the water. Bushman compares and contrasts Joseph’s life and thought with other religious and civic leaders. He cites numerous other histories and it is clear that he has a tremendous grasp on the time period — something no other biographer has been able to offer. The result is that we can see what was unique to Joseph Smith, and what was not so different about him. It places him in his time and place; for example, Bushman explains the concept of the frontier gentleman and his honor, and ties this into why Joseph could be so nasty when criticized, even going so far as to bring up members on charges for saying things about him he didn’t like. It reveals a Joseph Smith who was clearly flawed, but given the context, was not a maniacal tyrant, so insecure he couldn’t handle any critique. Instead, he was an American frontiersman, easily offended and willing to use physical violence and punishment to retain his honor.

Those who have their own pet subjects (usually something controversial) will see that their issue is addressed but may be disappointed in the time dedicated to a particular topic. Fortunately, Bushman doesn’t get bogged down in these issues that, in my estimation, cannot explain the life of someone as remarkable as Joseph Smith. They might make for interesting articles and discussions, but they don’t go to the heart of Joseph’s life and what motivated him. Bushman addresses Joseph Smith Sr.’s drinking, Joseph’s drinking, magic and the occult, failed prophecies and revelations, Book of Mormon dilemmas — the witnesses, Zelph, etc., the Kinderhook plates, counterfeiting and the Kirtland Anti-Banking Society, and of course, polygamy. Even though polygamy is a major theme in the last third of the book, I remain unsure of how I feel about Bushman’s treatment. On the one hand, I admire his approach of largely explaining the circumstances and letting readers judge for themselves, only stopping to point out that he feels the evidence is that Joseph felt he was doing what God wanted. On the other hand, as Joseph’s biographer, I would have liked to have seen a deeper look at the motivation and the obvious sticky issues raised by polygamy. But then, this is my pet issue, perhaps it’s not Bushman’s.

Bushman’s prose is overall very good and moves the story along. At times it can be a bit slow, but largely he’s a great writer. Of the June 1831 conference, Bushman writes

In a log schoolhouse on a hill in a forested countryside, plain people of little education and much zeal sit before him [Joseph Smith] on slab benches. He is one of them, an ordinary man among ordinary men. He speaks of his visions and their possibilities, trying to invest them with power and intelligence beyond his capacity to describe. They listen transfixed, puzzled, and sometimes fearful. . . . Can they break mountains and divide the seas? Can they put the armies of nations at defiance? Sometimes they are uncertain. Sometimes they burn with perfect certainty. They feel their lives are being elevated, their persons empowered. The concerns of farms, shops, and families drop away, and they dedicate their lives to the work. (161)

This is one of many passages that is beautifully written and evokes a wonderful scene from the past. It’s as if Bushman is pulling back a curtain and allows us to gaze at his subject.

Like all books, I have a few minor quibbles. In the early chapters Bushman, like so many authors before him, seems too unquestioning of Lucy Mack Smith as the primary source of early Mormonism. Lucy was a proud woman, deeply concerned about social status and appearance. Her memoir was dictated decades after Joseph’s birth and seems obviously self-serving. In Lucy’s memoir, the Smith’s are forever swindled, cheated, and victimized through zero fault of their own. Bushman does have moments of suggesting Lucy’s memory may not be reliable at all times, but I think more could have been devoted to this problem, though I understand the natural inclination to accept what she says, since without her we have nothing at all.

I find Dan Vogel’s interpretation of Lucy’s memoir to be quite refreshing. He suggests Lucy suffered from depression and resented Joseph Sr. during these years because of his drinking and inability to provide for the family. Vogel is doing some interpretive guesswork, to be sure, and he could be wrong about Lucy, but I admire his efforts at examining her as a source.

One puzzling moment for me in Rough Stone Rolling is Bushman’s passing mention of Porter Rockwell’s innocence in the assassination attempt of Governor Lilburn Boggs. Bushman writes, “Not until Rockwell was arrested, tried, and acquitted a year later would his innocence be proven” (473). Perhaps I’m splitting hairs, but acquittal and innocence seem far from being the same thing. From my own limited reading of other biographies of Joseph and of Porter Rockwell’s biography by Hal Schindler, Rockwell seems to remain the prime suspect. Bushman is correct to note the evidence for Rockwell is all circumstantial, and again my main issue is with the phrase “innocence be proven.”

Finally, returning to the polygamy theme, I was a bit disappointed in Bushman’s approach to the Sarah Pratt issue (again, a pet issue of mine — hardly fair to expect Bushman to give it the attention I think it deserves, but I’ll complain anyway). Bushman doesn’t use (or at least, doesn’t cite in either the footnotes or bibliography) Gary Bergera’s fine work on the Orson Pratt, Sarah Pratt, Joseph Smith controversy, Conflict in the Quorum. I personally think Bushman tries to paint a picture that suggests either Joseph was lying or Sarah Pratt was lying about his proposition to her, and the scales are evenly balanced; both stories are equally plausible. Put bluntly, I think this is hard to believe. Although we are talking about an event over 150 years ago, and history being what it is, we can never know for certain, I find the scales far more tipped to Sarah’s version: Joseph proposed to her, when she refused, he threatened her. He publicly called her a whore and seems to have supported the demonstrably false lies of others that Sarah had an affair with John C. Bennett.

These minor quibbles aside, I think this book will stand as the definitive single-volume work on Joseph Smith’s life. I hardly think work is done, however, and anxiously await different interpretations from Dan Vogel, and the three-volume work by Martha Sonntag Bradley, Richard Van Wagoner, and Scott Kenney, among the many other books that are sure to be written about the prophet. But when I read Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, I can’t help but feel like this is the Joseph Smith that makes the most sense to me.

Comments

  1. Well done, John. Thanks for your interesting review. I’m looking forward to the book.

  2. Agreed. Thanks for great review. I’ve got it pre-ordered.

  3. Excellent review and some very good points to chew on. This book can’t come out fast enough to satisfy my need to read it.

  4. When is Bushman’s book going to be available to us peons?

  5. Aaron Brown says:

    John — Thanks for the great review. My familiarity with the Sarah Pratt issue comes from Van Wagonerer’s _Mormon Polygamy: A History_, but that’s all. What other sources deal with this episode? Does Carmon Hardy discuss it? (I haven’t read Solemn Covenant yet). I’d be interested in other takes on the subject other than what I’ve read from Van Wagoner.

    Aaron B

  6. Aaron,

    Van Wagoner also has an article on Dialogue, reprinted in Mormon Mavericks, that details the Sarah Pratt issue. The other great source is in Gary Bergera, Conflict in the Quorum.

    John Redelfs:

    The “peons” (LOL!) should have the book sometime in September. It was going to be October 10 but the publishers are trying to get it out by General Conference.

  7. Aaron, Conflict in the Quorum, is the book to get. Overall I was disappointed by the book. But the early chapters dealing with Orson Pratt’s conflict with Joseph over the proposal to his wife is very well done.

  8. Like the other commenters, I want to thank you for the review, John. I’m definitely looking forward to this book. It’s outstanding to me that a semi-approved, faithful biography is willing to grapple in a serious way with the difficult issues. (But I am nervous about the coming discussions of treasure-digging in Sunday School…)

  9. Aaron Brown says:

    Clark, John,

    Funny thing is, I actually have _Conflict in the Quorum_ and have read portions, but I don’t remember how it deals with this issue because I found the work so interminably dull. I liked Bergera’s initial article(s) on the subject, but never did get through the book. Thanks.

    Aaron B

  10. Nate Oman says:

    Aaron: Breck England’s The Life and Thought of Orson Pratt has an extensive discussion of Sarah Pratt not only in Nauvoo but later in St. George. Also, you might want to check out the essay by Susan Staker in The Prophet Puzzle which also discusses the incident.

  11. Aaron I agree. The later parts are mainly quotations from the debate without much of an attempt (IMO) to get at the core issues and philosophy. That’s why it was so disappointing.

    BTW – getting back to Bushman. I’m curious about one comment in the review about Bushman using revelations to discern Joseph’s mind. Given that many made the intentionalist fallacy charge against Vogel for doing just this with narratives from the Book of Mormon, how do you compare the two? Since you’ve apparently read both books. It does seem like Bushman may be opening himself up somewhat here.

    BBTW – for those interested I put up Jeff Needle’s review of Bushman last week. His focus is more balance with a few controversial comments about apologetics.

  12. anonymous says:

    I also read an advanced copy of the book and thought it was wonderful. Whereas Brodie sought to villify Smith and Lucy wanted to idolize him, Bushman paints a picture of an ordinary man struggling to fulfill an extraordinary calling. Non-members will admire Bushman’s scholarship; members will feel closer to “Brother Joseph” after having read this. Both sides will find things to complain about (“He always takes Smith’s side” “Why does he have to bring up all this negative stuff?”) but that’s exactly why it’s worth reading.

  13. “Given that many made the intentionalist fallacy charge against Vogel for doing just this with narratives from the Book of Mormon, how do you compare the two? Since you’ve apparently read both books. It does seem like Bushman may be opening himself up somewhat here.”

    Great question, because Bushman and Vogel are very different.

    Let me illustrate with an example: Joseph Smith saying the Garden of Eden is in Missouri.

    There’s basically three or so different ways biographers in the past have gone with something like this. There’s the critics way, which essentially uses the statement that the Garden of Eden is in Missouri to discredit Joseph Smith, and in some cases, even mock him. There’s the faithful way, which defends Joseph and argues that, outlandish as it may seem, there’s simply no way to disprove that the Garden of Eden is in Missouri. Then there’s the Robert Remini way (for want of a better term), which says that Joseph believed the Garden of Eden was in Missouri, and that’s all that matters.

    Taking any one of these three approaches loses Joseph Smith, IMO. Instead, it’s all about the implications for today’s Mormon Church and what the faithful believe today. The critics way simply makes him a fraud – far too oversimplified, even from the most skeptical point of view. The faithful way makes Joseph boring, IMO, by simply making him an instrument of God’s ventriloquism. The third way, perhaps unintentionally, makes Joseph a kook.

    Bushman, and to be honest, I can’t quite explain how, seems to rise above this fray. Instead, he points to things like the Garden of Eden in Missouri, or Zelph, or the Abraham scrolls, as evidence of Joseph’s gift and genius. What the implications are for the faith today are largely left behind. Bushman shows Joseph as someone able to excite his followers by making the mundane into the divine. He makes the world around them come alive with a religious and Christian history.

    Bushman’s approach truly makes this biography about Joseph Smith and who he was, instead of the common effect of getting wrapped up in implications, even if unstated, of what that must mean today. He manages to leave the “Prophet or Fraud” question out of it and it makes for a much better book.

  14. Clark, I think Conflict in the Quorum is very weak. The book is trite and anti-mormon in that “I’m just being candid, and so what if that means it’s not flattering” way that isn’t candid at all (and is therefore quite irritating). Regarding the conflict over polygamy/spiritual wifery, Bergera takes up Bennett’s tale, even though there is strong evidence that Joseph’s story is true. Bergera is clearly very smart, so that his failure to mention this evidence, much less argues against it in favor of Bennett’s tale, leads me to wonder whether he’s intellectually honest.

    John H., thanks for the thought provoking review. I’m surprised you find Hill to be a wonderful writer, because I found her to be quite dense. I found Bushman’s first bio on young Joseph to be exciting reading; I couldn’t put it down, because I couldn’t wait to see what unfathomable explanation he would come up with next. From the way you make it sound, Bushman may well have placed Joseph too much in the twenty-first century– with all of his anxieties and loneliness, he sounds very much like a post-90s man; I picture Mr. Incredible stuck at work in his cubical as Bob Parr. I think that of all the serious biographies written, Brodie (outdated though her work may be) is really the only biographer that delivers a coherent picture at all of who Joseph is. And I think that she’s pretty much spot on, in spite of the fact that she doesn’t believe in his prophetic mission. Vogel is far and away the best on the facts, and his detailed Book of Mormon timeline is one of the most compelling things in his bio, but his inclination for situational explanations (compelling though they often are) causes him to lose sight of Joseph’s more enduring characteristics.

    (Incidentally, anyone who thinks that Brodie vilifies Joseph has only performed a superficial reading–she adored Joseph, she just didn’t think that he was a prophet and took a derisive tone toward those who did; at the MHA conference session on biographical approaches of Joseph Smith, everyone on the panel–including a BYU professor–agreed that Brodie was biased in favor of Joseph Smith.)

    Incidentally, John H (and on a tangent — you can email me your reply at dlandrith at mac dot com), can you suggest any sources addressing the question of doctrinal antecedents to the King Follet discourse?

  15. Greg Call says:

    Bushman has commented along the lines of DKL, viz, that Brodie is the only writer has ever delivered a coherent picture of Joseph. And this book, of course, is his attempt to rectify that — to finally displace Brodie in the historiographical pantheon, so to speak.

  16. jjohnsen says:

    “The “peons” (LOL!) should have the book sometime in September. It was going to be October 10 but the publishers are trying to get it out by General Conference.”

    Amazon says September 27th.

  17. Thanks for the review, John H. I look forward to reading it.

  18. Robert O. says:

    Great review. Any information on when the 3 vol. work by Martha Sonntag Bradley, Richard Van Wagoner, and Scott Kenney, cited above, will be available and who the publisher will be?

  19. Richard Bushman was my bishop, and then later my seminary teacher. While his scholarship (and teaching method) sometimes seemed a bit over the heads of us high schoolers, one of my deepest regrets is not having at least tried to understand it.

    I’m looking forward to this book. It has been a long time in the making.

  20. So, John, are you in the book Mormon Lives?

    I always just assumed that the revelations were pretty much Joseph Smith’s interpretations of his own struggles and problems, sort of what my journal would be like, except he was a prophet, so it’s taken more seriously. I thought everybody else assumed that, too.

    There are a lot of things that bother me, yet I believe and trust that they will be explained to me when I die. And God is going to have a lot of explaining to do about my personal life before we get to Joseph Smith’s.

  21. Well, let’s see – my mother wrote Mormon Lives (it was Bushman’s idea) so I should be in there somewhere.

  22. Susan Taber is your mother? I was referred to the book by someone on Times and Seasons. I bought three copies and gave two to friends.

    One story I loved in it was where I think it was Bishop Bushman–his daughter married a non-member and he decided to serve champagne at the wedding. Have you read the book?

    I’m very grateful that I read it.

  23. Yes, that was the Bushmans’ daughter. I’ve read The Book (as it is known in our family) a few times over the years.

  24. John! How are you? I’m not on soc.religion.mormon much these days…how’s married life?

  25. Champagne at the wedding of a Bishop’s daughter? How scandalous!

    I’ve always attributed the lack of alcohol served at Mormon wedding parties to the fact that Mormon’s tend to be cheapskates–unless, of course, there is an expenditure that will impress the members of the ward. I have four daughters, and I intend for there to be an open bar at every one of their weddings (for those Mormons out there that are unaccustomed to the ways of the gentile, an open bar means all the free liquor you can drink)–there’ll be non-Mormons there (and probably several lapsed Mormons as well), so why not make sure that they all have a good time?

    Anyway, I recently attended a part-member wedding party. There were champagne flutes filled with a light colored bubbly beverage. I never bothered to inquire as to whether the beverage contained alcohol. Instead, when it came time to toast, I just downed it in one gulp without asking any questions at all. Imagine my disappointment when I found it to be sparkling apple juice of some sort. It sounds like the Bushman wedding would have been a lot of fun.

  26. a random John says:

    John Taber,

    This is totally off topic, but I am going to give you the same advice that I was given over a year ago. Select a different handle. Something other than “John”. I admit there isn’t anybody that goes by that, but a few Johns have tried and failed. Go for something distinctive, perhaps “Taber-tot?”

    PS You related to Alan and Christina?

  27. I just re-read your review, John H. I somehow missed your original comment on the Sarah Pratt issue and Burgera’s book. I must have let what Clark wrote in his comment eclipse what I was thinking when I wrote my response.

    At any rate, Bergera’s book is thoroughly second rate. The portion that deals with the Brigham vs. Orson issue is so dominated by verbatim excerpts from primary sources (one chapter is little more than a lengthy excerpt), that I am left to wonder whether he actually wants to inform the reader or simply be sited as a source in bibliographies of works that do. Unless he’s aiming to edit a work rather than author it, this is not the practice of a good historian.

    As far as the Sarah Pratt incident, and why the Burgera book is so weak: Burgera spends a third of the book going over the Pratt/Bennett story, and then dismisses the Joseph side in one sentence without a single citation. This strikes me as intellectually dishonest. Especially given that Sarah Pratt always referred to polygamy as “spiritual wifery,” a term used by John C. Bennet. Joseph never used it. If Joseph were the one who solicited her, one could at least expect her to use the same lingo that he did. I’m not saying this proves anything, but this and other pieces of circumstantial evidence bear exploring, and the entire topic begs a fair treatment. Unfortunately, Burgera’s books increases the need for one rather than satisfies it.

    I’d advise anyone interested Burgera’s book to save their money and buy something by Vogel or Quinn.

  28. While I agree with much of what you say, I do think it a useful collection of sources on the Pratt/Young debate for those not familiar with them. But yes, the second half of the book is almost entirely just documents of the debate with little analysis.

  29. Alan and Christina's brother John says:

    I’ve considered other handles. Thing is though:
    “John T.” seems a bit obtuse;
    I don’t post here that often;
    When I do, I don’t want it to be obvious what family I belong to.

    I will reconsider, though.

  30. a random John says:

    It would seem to me that “Brother John” is a perfectly acceptable alternative… Say hi to Alan for me!

  31. “At any rate, Bergera’s book is thoroughly second rate.”

    Disagree. While it is heavy on the primary sources, they’re easily readable and valuable – on the Church archives DVDs the material is blacked out. It just isn’t available elsewhere.

    “As far as the Sarah Pratt incident, and why the Burgera book is so weak: Burgera spends a third of the book going over the Pratt/Bennett story, and then dismisses the Joseph side in one sentence without a single citation. This strikes me as intellectually dishonest. Especially given that Sarah Pratt always referred to polygamy as “spiritual wifery,” a term used by John C. Bennet. Joseph never used it.”

    Gary is anything but intellectually dishonest. He’s quite open to the possibility that Joseph’s story is correct, he just feels that the evidence supports Sarah’s story more. And the idea that the “lingo” used by Sarah reflects John C. Bennett is hardly evidence of Joseph’s tale. In fact, I find it to be a very weak argument in the face of other evidence. Spiritual wifery was a well-known term; Sarah could’ve picked it up by reading Thomas Sharp’s Warsaw Signal, where Bennett published letters. Considering her disgust with polygamy, it makes sense that Sarah would use the “baser” term.

    Also, Richard Van Wagoner has long debunked the Sarah Pratt/John C. Bennett affair theory. That leaves us with a woman who has everything to lose and nothing to gain by inventing a story of Joseph’s proposal. And Joseph’s track record is against him in plenty of ways: He lied about polygamy to more than one person. He also proposed to other women, already married.

    So we can believe that Sarah makes up stories for no apparent reason, or we can believe that Joseph Smith proposed to her, one woman in a long line of secret proposals.

    In the end, it seems to me the only reason this is even a question is because it *is* Joseph Smith. People, wanting to believe something else, stretch the bounds of credibility to their thinnest in an attempt to exonerate him. I think in this instance, he’s guilty of pretty shady behavior.

  32. John, a quick, semi-tangential question. It sounds like you’ve spent some time with the church DVD document release. I haven’t heard much discussion of that as yet. How complete is it? How extensive is the censoring? I’d love to know where we’re actually at with respect to the “honest history” idea.

  33. John H: it seems to me the only reason this is even a question is because it *is* Joseph Smith.

    You should be able to tell from the tone of my comments here and elsewhere that I’m not one to defend Joseph because he *is* Joseph.

    So let me be perfectly clear: I am attacking Bergera’s work because I think that under the auspices of scholarship and with no attempt at achieving a transparent portrayal of his biases, Bergera provides a manifestly slanted analysis of the Sarah Pratt incident. Specifically, he spends a third of his book reciting Sarah Pratt’s case, and he dismisses the other side of the story in a single sentence.

    I am emphatically not attacking Bergera for making objectionable conclusions about Joseph Smith’s character. For my part, I agree with your more moderate assertion in the review; viz., that the event happened too long ago yield a certain conclusion. Unless someone can turn up a daguerreotype of Joseph in the act of proposing or of Bennett and Sarah having carnal relations, we’ll never know for sure.

    John H: While [Bergera] is heavy on the primary sources, they’re easily readable and valuable

    Then he should have published the collection as an editor.

    John H: Richard Van Wagoner has long debunked the Sarah Pratt/John C. Bennett affair theory.

    Um, No. He hasn’t. Van Wagoner, like so many Signature Books staples, is an effective researcher but a below average historian, which makes him, like so many Signature Books staples, problematic for uncritical readers.

    John H: That leaves us with a woman who has everything to lose and nothing to gain by inventing a story of Joseph’s proposal.

    We have two competing possibilities.

    (a) Bennett seduced Sarah Pratt
    (b) Joseph proposed to Sarah Pratt

    Both of these are plausible. Joseph did propose to other men’s wives (and Sarah would probably have known this before Joseph’s proposal to her), and Bennett was a lecher known to perform abortions to cover his tracks.

    So Sarah Pratt can either cop to being seduced by a scoundrel or accuse Joseph of trying to propose to her. Since (a) involves moral impropriety on her part, and (b) does not, she has every reason to disavow (a) and choose (b).

    John H: And the idea that the “lingo” used by Sarah reflects John C. Bennett is hardly evidence of Joseph’s tale… Spiritual wifery was a well-known term; Sarah could’ve picked it up by reading Thomas Sharp’s Warsaw Signal, where Bennett published letters. Considering her disgust with polygamy, it makes sense that Sarah would use the “baser” term.

    Here, you seem to be playing the apologist for Bergera in the same shabby way that the FARMS Review plays the apologist for it’s pet sources. (But I love your use of scare quotes).

    To start with, Sarah Pratt made a sworn statement that explicitly claims to be quoting Joseph Smith, only the language of the quotation is the language used by John C. Bennett. Thus, she’s saying Joseph used language that he never used, and that no other reliable witness accuses him of using. At the very least, Sarah twisted Joseph’s language to contain “baser” terms than the one’s he would actually have used. Thus, your explanation is not as tidy as you imply.

    Second, I expressly stated that Sarah Pratt’s use of Bennett’s lingo over Joseph’s was “circumstantial” and specify that “I’m not saying this proves anything.” The tone of your explanation implies that I’ve made a much stronger statement than I did. I brought up the lingo issue, because it’s one piece of evidence that points to the fact that the story deserves a more balanced treatment–not because it answers the question of whether Joseph proposed to Sarah.

  34. I forgot to add:

    I stand by my assessment that Bergera’s book is second rate.

  35. “I stand by my assessment that Bergera’s book is second rate.”

    Fair enough :) I appreciate your thoughts and perspective – you make a good case, even though I still find I disagree.

  36. “John, a quick, semi-tangential question. It sounds like you’ve spent some time with the church DVD document release. I haven’t heard much discussion of that as yet. How complete is it? How extensive is the censoring? I’d love to know where we’re actually at with respect to the “honest history” idea.”

    By and large, I think the Church archives DVD release is excellent. The material is nothing outstanding or impossible to find – it’s all there in Church archives (or in the case of the Journal history, the Church library or genealogy library). But having these at home is a huge plus for me as a researcher – especially now that they’ve released the massive Journal History index on 4 DVDs. Granted, it’s not without its problems, but it’s one of the first places I turn to when I need to learn more about someone mentioned in a diary somewhere.

    The DVDs are complete – kind of. I think they’ve got the complete Brigham Young letterpress copybooks and journals of some people. But there are unexplained omissions – J. Golden Kimball’s journal only covers certain years, as does Joseph F. Smith’s. To their credit, these are published in the table of contents; there are no silent ommissions. For example, it doesn’t advertise Joseph F. Smith’s journal and then one finds it’s only a few years. They are very clear about what years are included. The blacked out part covers a very small percentage.

  37. Nate Oman says:

    For what it is worth, Gary Begerra actually wrote a review of the DVDs in the Journal of Mormon History. According to him, the blacked out material related solely to disciplinary action, and he pointed out that this was not done consistently, so that names that are blocked out in one source are not blocked out in another source. (See discussion of the issue at T&S here.)

    John H.: Do you have a personal copy of the DVDs, or did you find some way of getting them on loan from someone. My understanding is that they are something like $1500.

  38. Nate:

    I do have a copy of the DVDs. I saved some money – something that I’m terrible at. I wanted them that bad.

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