James B. Allen has written an interesting review of Grant Palmer’s recent attack on the foundations of the Church. The review, “Asked and Answered: A Response to Grant H. Palmer” is available in the latest FARMS Review of Books. Ooops – did I say attack? Grant Palmer isn’t out to attack the Church, just to strengthen our faith and advance our understanding by arguing that Joseph Smith was a fraud, the Book of Mormon is fiction, and the miracles of the Restoration never occurred. Say, did any of you fellow Brighton High graduates know him when he was acting in the capacity of a seemingly faithful employee of the Church before he retired?
Another review of Palmer’s work is that of Louis Midgley, “Prying into Palmer: Review of An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins.” Midgley provides much more detail regarding the outrageous claim that Joseph Smith relied upon E.T.A. Hoffmann’s fairy tale, The Golden Pot.
Another review I recommend is “Trustworthy History?” by Steven C. Harper. See, for example, his section on the Restoration. Part of Palmer’s spin is his claim that Joseph was silent about the ministry of angels until after 1834, when he came up with the idea as a response to anti-Mormon attacks in order to add more divine trappings to his scheme. To reach this conclusion, Palmer must carefully ignore a number of documents in order to favor a couple documents from bitter men written decades later. However, there is a legitimate question: why was Joseph so bold in sharing his revelations, but often much more quiet about his miraculous and sacred experiences such as seeing the Father and the Son, or having the ministry of angels? Since there is plenty of evidence that such things were shared and known by others well before 1834, an explanation much more reasonable than Palmer’s is that of RIchard Bushman. Here is the relevant excerpt from Harper (footnotes omitted – see the article for details):
It is well attested that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery both testified early and often that angels ordained them to the holy priesthood. Why, though, the question remains, did Joseph Smith seem to publicly proclaim his written revelations and safeguard his visions, including details of priesthood restoration?
John Wigger’s influential book Taking Heaven by Storm shows how early Methodism gained converts in great numbers by acknowledging popular spiritual experiences and in appealing to the longings of ordinary people. As America and Methodism became more middle class, however, revelatory experiences became suspect. Samuel Goodrich described this process tersely by saying that “orthodoxy was in a considerable degree methodized, and Methodism in due time became orthodoxed.”
Informed by this larger history, Richard Bushman argues that perhaps Joseph chose not to trumpet his heavenly visions as he did his printed revelations for fear of being marginalized even more. This view finds support in Joseph’s own accounts and other early documents. He reported relating his first vision to an influential minister, following which he was persecuted, “but all this did not destroy the reality of his vision” (Joseph Smith-History 1:24). He explained that he and Cowdery “were forced to keep secret the circumstances of our having been baptized, and having received this priesthood; owing to a spirit of persecution which had already manifested itself in the neighborhood.” In particular, they “had been threatened with being mobbed.” Martin Harris said at least one Palmyra man threatened Joseph Smith with violence in 1827 for claiming that “angels appear to men in this enlightened age.” Bushman, the most informed scholar on Joseph Smith’s world, thus offers an explanation alternative to Palmer for Joseph’s apparent reticence to speak casually about ministering angels. This reading of the evidence is far more compelling than Palmer’s exaggerated hermeneutic of suspicion.