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Dan Vogel takes on Mormonism Unvailed

Mormon scholar Dan Vogel and Signature Books have teamed up to produce a scholarly update to the first anti-Mormon book ever written, Mormonism Unvailed.  The book is due to be released on April 20, and Tom Kimball was nice enough to send me a pre-release version to review.  

The book was first published in 1834 by newspaper editor E.D. Howe.  Howe’s wife and sister had joined Mormonism, which caused him to be interested in the religion.  One of Joseph Smith’s first, most vocal critics was a man by the name of Doctor Philastus Hurlbut (alternately spelled Hulburt.)  Doctor was his given name–it wasn’t a title.  Hurlbut originally joined the church, and reportedly told Joseph if he ever felt Mormonism was a fraud, he would become a bitter enemy.  He proved prophetic.  Hurlbut became convinced that Joseph was a fraud, and sought every piece of evidence he could find to disprove both Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.  Hurlbut is the instigator of the Spaulding Manuscript Theory, which claims that Joseph plagiarized the Book of Mormon from a manuscript written by Solomon Spaulding around 1815.  For more info on the Spaulding Theory, check out the post I wrote back in 2011.  When Hurlbut found the real Spaulding manuscript, he realized (1) it was horribly written, (2) had no spiritual message, and (3) bore only minor resemblances to the Book of Mormon.  If you don’t believe me, (and want to have a good laugh) just read Part 1 and Part 2 where I quote from the Spaulding novel.  It’s so bad, it’s funny.

Hurlbut never published his research.  He was so angry with Joseph that he threatened to kill the prophet.  Bail was set at $200, and Hurlbut was charged to keep the peace.  Disgraced, Hurlbut sold all his research to E.D. Howe, who used Hurlbut’s affidavits and research, and wrote a lengthy book that Dan Vogel has added some very interesting footnotes.  Vogel’s work is a nice scholarly addition to the book.

In reading Howe’s diatribe against Mormonism, it is easy to dismiss the book as anti-Mormon.  Howe refers to Mormons as “dupes” full of “delusions.”  Of Joseph Smith, Howe writes

All who became intimates of the pretended Prophet, as lazy, indolent,[3] ignorant and superstitious[4]–having a firm belief in ghosts and witches;[5] the telling of fortunes;[6] pretending to believe that the earth was filled with hidden treasures, buried there by Kid or the Spaniards.[7]  Being miserably poor,[8] and not much disposed to obtain an honest livelihood by labor, the energies of their minds seemed to be mostly directed towards finding where these treasures were concealed, and the best mode of acquiring their possession.  Joseph, Jun. in the mean time, had become very expert in the arts of necromancy,[9] jugling,[10], the use of the divining rod,[11] and looking into what they termed a “peep-stone,”[12] by which means he soon collected about him a gang of idol, credulous young men,[13] to perform the labor of digging into the hills and mountains….

To me the value of this particular edition is the fact that all of the footnotes were added by Vogel, and give some really interesting information.  For example, footnote [10] refers to “jugling.” Vogel writes

The word juggler had a wider connotation meaning a confidence peddler.  The statute that allowed Joseph Smith to be tried in 1826 for being a “disorderly person” read:  “All jugglers, and all persons pretending to have skill in physiognomy, palmistry, or like crafty science, or to discover where lost goods may be found…shall be deemed and adjudged disorderly persons.”

Vogel adds similar useful information.  Footnote [8] reads

The claim that the family turned to money digging for financial rescue may contradict Howe’s previous assertion that the Smiths were “pretending to believe that the earth was filled with hidden treasures.”

Concerning necromancy, Vogel writes in footnote [9]

The insinuation was that Joseph Smith communed with the spirits of the dead, which was different than seeing angels.  Mormon theology would later conflate the two.  For more, see addendum 2, “Treasure Spirits.”

I was actually surprised how long the book was (over 400 pages), and that Howe took time to summarize every book in the Book of Mormon, as well as several revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants.  (Some of these had previously been published in the church newspaper, Messenger and Advocate, so that is how Howe obtained access to them.)  Howe takes issue with Nephi using steel (which was discovered more than 1500 years after Nephi), as well as Nephi’s ability to build a ship.  He takes issue with Nephi’s vision of Christ, and the Christian gospel revealed 600 years prior to Christ’s birth.  He also takes issue with how quickly the Nephites and Lamanites seemingly populated North and South America.  He notes that the book of 4 Nephi that covers hundreds of years in just a page or so.  He doesn’t like the quoting of both Matthew and Isaiah verbatim using the King James Bible.

I was  surprised that Howe takes on the Word of Wisdom.  After quoting the entire section 89, Howe writes on page 322

The next command forbids the use of tobacco, but is recommended for all sick cattle as an excellent remedy.–For the first time we are presented with a remedy direct from heaven, but requires human skill to apply it.  To this mode of revealing we object, for this reason, that it requires less research to find remedies, than to apply them; therefore, to say that tobacco is a good remedy for sick cattle, and not defining the quantity nor the quality, nor in what sickness, is the summit of folly and ignorance, and none but a religious maniac would give heed to such pretensions.[8]

Vogel adds additional insight with his footnote.

The most common medicinal application of tobacco for cattle was apparently a tobacco-smoke enema applied with a bellows, which is nicely summarized in “Tobacco Smoke Enema,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, wikipedia.org.

Who knew this about tobacco and cattle?  I will say that Howe has a valid point with regards to the issue of cattle and tobacco, if you can get past the derogatory reference to the “religious maniac.”  Howe discusses Mormon problems in Missouri, and while grudgingly saying that Mormons weren’t treated well, he mostly defends Jackson County residents and Howe takes a huge issue with Joseph assembling an army (known as Zion’s Camp) to take back the land confiscated by Missourians.  Howe gives some interesting details here that I was not aware of, and includes correspondence between Mormons and Missourians.  Jackson County residents first asked to buy all Mormon lands, and then asked Mormons to buy their lands.  (The thought occurred to me, “The county ain’t big enough for the two of us!”)  It was after the breakdown in negotiations that Bishop Partridge was tarred and feathered, and many Mormons were forced to leave Jackson County in a hurry, settling in Clay County, Missouri.  Anyway, there were some interesting things here.

Howe also discussed the Mormon practice of speaking in tongues.  I think modern Mormons would find speaking in tongues, as practiced by early Mormons, a strange practice.  Howe writes about a Mormon meeting attended by R[eynolds] Cahoon and D[avid] Patton (who became an original Q12 apostle and was killed in 1838 in the Battle of Crooked River between Mormons and Missourians.)  Howe writes of a meeting told to him by J. Higbee.  (A footnote tells us that J was likely James Higby, who was excommunicated on June 23, 1833, “for circulating false and slanderous reports, and not observing the order of the gospel” (History of the Church, 1:355-56.)   Higbee relates that Patton said,

‘Father H. if you will rise in the name of Jesus Christ, you can speak in Tongues.’  He arose immediately, hesitated, and said, ‘my faith fails me–I have not faith enough.’  Said Patton, ‘you have–speak in the name of Jesus Christ–make some sound as you list, without further thought, and God will make it a language.’  The old gentleman, after considerable urging, spoke and made some sounds, which were pronounced to be a correct tongue.  Several others spoke in a similar manner, and among them was myself.  I spoke as I listened, not knowing what I said, yet it was declared to be a tongue.  The sound of the words used by some, in speaking in tongues, was a medium between talking and singing–and all, as I am now convinced a mere gibberish, spoken at random and without thought.

I’m not sure what to make of this account.  I know that early Kirtland saints did speak in tongues, and this is likely similar to modern-day speaking in tongues by Pentecostals, and was practiced by Methodists of that era as well.  Howe makes fun of these meetings, and attacks Book of Mormon witnesses as being unreliable.  He furnishes several notarized affidavits by Joseph’s neighbors in New York (given to him by Hurlbut), attesting to the unworthiness of Joseph Smith.  In the introduction, Vogel notes that Howe ignored favorable reports of the Smith family, publishing only the negative opinions.

There was an interesting account by one of Smith’s New York neighbors.  In one account of Willard Chase, Vogel notes Chase was a former Methodist minister.  “Sometimes his sister Sally would look into a peep stone to see where Willard should dig for treasure, occasionally accompanied by Alvin Smith.”  Chase testifies on page 340 that Joseph dressed in black one night with a borrowed a black horse.

He repaired to the place of deposit and demanded the book, which was in a stone box, unsealed, and so near the top of the ground that he could see one end of it, and raising it up, took out the book of gold; but fearing some one might discover where he got it, he laid it down to place back the top stone, as he found it; and turning round, to his surprise there was no book in sight.  He again opened the box, and in it saw the book, and attempted to take it out, but was hindered.  He saw in the box something like a toad,[24] but which soon assumed the appearance of a man, and struck him on the side of the head.–Not being discouraged at trifles, he again stooped down and strong to take the book, when the spirit struck him again, and knocked him three or four rods, and hurt him prodigiously.  after recovering from his fright, he enquired why he could not obtain the plates; to which the spirit made reply, because you have not obeyed your orders.  He then enquired when he could have them, and was answered thus: come one year from this day, and bring with you your oldest brother, and then you shall have them.[25]

Two things struck me.  (1)  Footnote 25 refers to Alvin, and (2) the mention of a toad reminds me of the White Salamander forgery.  I always thought it strange that historians of the 1980s took the White Salamander Letter as potentially legitimate, but this story of a toad turning into a man helps me understand why historian took the White Salamander letter more serious.  (Of course, the Salamander Letter was later proved to be a forgery by Mark Hoffman.)  To hear of another tale that more legitimately relates to the 1830s just helps me understand how magical the world of Joseph Smith was, and why historians were taken in by Hoffman’s forgery.

Overall, this new edition by Vogel is a wonderful addition for those seeking a deeper understanding of early Mormon history.  While Howe’s antagonism is quite off-putting to Mormons both modern and early, it is interesting to see how far back some of the criticisms of the Book of Mormon anachronisms go.  I was also astonished to see how long Howe’s book was.  With Vogel’s footnotes and addendums, this book is 412 pages, with another 20 pages of early photographs.  I also note that Vogel is adding an index (Howe’s book had no index), so that will be a wonderful addition that historians will find extremely useful.  (The index wasn’t available in my version, but I’m grateful Tom Kimball was kind enough to send me an advance copy.)  I’m hoping Dan Vogel might stop by the blog to answer any questions.  Do you have any questions for either me or him?

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2 comments on “Dan Vogel takes on Mormonism Unvailed

  1. […] REVIEWS Standard Examiner Association for Mormon Letters Mormon Heretic  […]

  2. I have no question for Dan but only a deep thank you for his hard, solitary scholarship. I have several of his books, have watched his YouTube presentations and listened to him present at Sunstone and I have been schooled by his work. Dan defines the true, under appreciated scholar blessing lay people like myself. I only hope he has it within himself to passionately pursue these topics for a long time to come. Thanks Dan

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