Similarly, my historical understanding of Joseph Smith was much like a funeral eulogy: venerating a life with occasional humorous reference to foibles. Reading (over the last few days) Fawn Brodie's No Man Knows My History and Bushman's Rough Stone Rolling have broadened my understanding of a (in)famous man. Below I reflect on my reading experience.
- I appreciate the portrayal of a failing, uncertain mortal, rather than a heroic magician with all the answers. In short, Bushman presents a JS I can relate to.
- I'm impressed with the organization and ritual that JS introduced. These made Mormonism a replicable memeplex, capable of competing in the cultural marketplace (much more so than if he had merely preached doctrines- ideas usually fail without a framework to replicate and distribute them into the future).
- I think Bushman achieved a decent balance of commentary, facts, and context. He was only occasionally overly apologetic, and never mean-spirited.
- xxi: "The signal feature of his life was his sense of being guided by revelation." That theme ran throughout the biography, leading me to consider Joseph as, at least, mostly sincere in his prophetic and revelatory claims. I remember Dawkins calling him a charlatan (person who pretends or claims to have more knowledge or skill than he or she possesses; quack): I find that a difficult proposition to sustain. Deluded, perhaps: but intentionally pretending? That seems to counter the feel I get from Bushman. It seems his acts required greater conviction than would be mustered by pretense.
- I thought Bushman's depiction of JS's treasure seeking and magic worldview as a "preparatory gospel" a little too generous (see RSR pg. 54). "Magic had served its purpose in his life. In a sense, it was a preparatory gospel."
- I have yet to find a satisfying explanation of Book of Mormon authorship. The historical account offers some wiggle room, but not much. The BoM came forth on a distinct date, and must have been composed earlier than that; such complex works typically require a practiced author, working with drafts and revisions; the scribes' accounts of JS looking at the stone in the hat seem to preclude much in the way of revising drafts or working from other manuscripts; most of JS's maturation in writing and theology took place subsequent to 1830. From a Facebook dialogue today:
"Mapping Book of Mormon Historicity Debates. Today, Brad and I were talking about resources for researching Book of Mormon historicity. The best recent resource I know if is the Sunstone
- I oppose God-proofs (and divine-origin proofs) based only on a low-probability argument (these are just species of the God of the Gaps vein- see my post on that subject). However, it's possible that the most plausible account available is the one JS provides. It's a remarkably rich account, in my view, amongst other reasons apologists would posit to establish the traditional authorship/historicity claim. Brodie is too casual, I think, in categorizing it as JS's fabrication. That's quite an imagination, given the many other constraints.
That's all for now.