Fawn Brodie or She Sure Doesn't Know Her History
An Excerpt from On-Line Discussion Group Materials



Or, her denial of God:

"Mrs. Brodie's intense atheism not only colors but actually determines the approach and, almost completely, the content of her book. There is, in her conception, no place in human experience for the transcendental. No supreme being, no divine power intervenes in or influences the course of events or shapes them toward a goal or destiny. God is not regnant in history. Mormonism, therefore, has to be foundationed in a fable, which she at the very beginning declares. That is her fixed predetermined premise. She would say the same thing of all Christian faiths and for the same reason. If her book is anti-Mormon, it is equally anti-Christian. She refers to the "second coming of Christ" and the "resurrection" as being among the "irrationalisms" culled by Joseph out of Isaiah and the Revelation of St. John, and to the primitive Christian Church she describes an 'antiquated theology.' "


To take one example:

Since Stewart points out other contradictions in analysis, the serious question is raised of how well Brodie assimilated and correlated her own research. Another major trend is adding exaggerated description or imaginary details to an incident. Although Stewart has presented but a portion of the episodes that are embellished in the retelling, those now collected disqualify Brodie as a careful historian and move her work in the direction of sensational historical fiction. A related trend in Brodie's methods is simply shoddy workmanship that inaccurately states basic dates and names, not to speak of incomplete and distorted quotations.

E.g. from one of Brodie's stories has Joseph Smith pass through Paris on his way from Nauvoo to Springfield. A number of errors are noted in the story (number of people with Joseph Smith 9, not 40, etc.) and ....

"The third error is one of location. Paris, Illinois, is in the east of the state, some 10 miles from the Indiana border. Because it is not an intermediate point between Nauvoo and Springfield, Brodie clearly failed to check basic geography. .... If Brodie distorts simple narrative and cannot read a flashback of Joseph Smith in context, no careful historian can afford to rely upon her judgment without first examining the documentation for himself."


Or Brodie's stunning ignorance of the LDS Church

"Since the author was reared in the church, one is surprised to find numerous misstated facts to which the correct answers are known by ten-year-old Mormon children. For example (on p. 39) she states that "Joseph related that he found the plates in a stone box along with the sword and breastplate." Joseph made no mention of finding a sword in the box. Again, Smith did not teach that throughout history only Melchizedek and Christ had held the Melchizedek priesthood, as is claimed on page 111. Evidence does not warrant the statement that Joseph taught that there were "three divisions in heaven, and that one-third of the spirits had been neutral" (pp. 173-174). And it has at no time been the practice of the Mormon Church to give the priesthood to boys under twelve years of age. She puts the age at eight (p. 412)."


Or Brodie's willingness to cut quotes and abuse them in spite of knowing better:

"For example, after using considerable space in discussing Smith's supposedly wicked life, Mrs. Brodie cunningly pretends that his Mormon associates were acquainted with his weakness and accepted them. She remarks: "Many in the church shared the attitude of Brigham Young who had a healthy understanding of human frailty." Then she quotes only part of a statement made by Young, a quotation which appeared in Time (January 28, 1946): "If he (Smith) acts like a devil, he has brought forth a doctrine that will save us, if we abide by it. He may get drunk every day of his life, sleep with his neighbor's wife every night, run horses and gamble . . . but the doctrine he has produced will save you and me the whole world" (pp. 145-146). An unbiased historical account of Joseph Smith would have informed the reader that in an unquoted part of Young's statement he had declared that he had made it in reply to a certain priest who had accused Smith of committing almost every known crime and before he had become acquainted with the founder of Mormonism.

Mrs. Brodie, having been born a church member and having lived among the Mormons for so many years, must have known that the following statement is typical of Brigham Young's remarks regarding the founder of Mormonism: "Joseph Smith lived and died a prophet, and sealed his testimony with his blood. He lived a good man, and died a good man, and he was as good a man as ever lived" (Latter-day Saint Journal History, April 6, 1850, MS)."


Just some posts on Brodie

Referring to Fawn Brodie's book, the authors assert that Joseph Smith made a mistake by saying the Nephites produced barley (p. 36); however, barley has been found in the Americas.

One also wonders, rather wearily, just how long Latter-day Saints will have to contend with historians who espouse such methods. For Brooke is not the first. David Herbert Donald, the Charles Warren Professor of American History at Harvard, once observed of Fawn Brodie (a writer much in evidence throughout The Refiner's Fire) that, in her biography of Thomas Jefferson, she seemed not to be bothered by the fact that she can adduce only slim factual support for her tales of what she primly calls Jefferson's "intimate life." Reluctantly she confesses that there is "no real evidence" as to what happened in the Betsy Walker case. ... Where there are documents, she knows how to read them in a special way. . . . Where documents have been lost, Mrs. Brodie can make much of the gap. . . . Mrs. Brodie is masterful in using negative evidence too. . . . But Mrs. Brodie is at her best when there is no evidence whatever to cloud her vision. Then she is free to speculate.


For reference, you can read _Exploding the Myth_ it shows what happens when you actually check Brodie's footnotes.

F. L. Stewart (Lori Donegan) has educated herself in the sources of Mormon history simply through making a hobby of carefully checking Brodie's documentation. Such a project is less a question of ideology than a fairly objective determination of whether the footnote citations of No Man Knows My History really support its thesis. Because this double-checking may be done on a broader scale, Stewart's work is a valuable pilot study of the validity of Brodie's generalizations. Book Reviews, BYU Studies, Vol. 8, No. 2, p.231

The essence of Exploding the Myth is a presentation of sixty-three violations of context or documentation in No Man Knows My History.


Brodie's cite to a court record, actually cites to a reference to it, of which we know:

"This alleged record of the court does not conform to the requirements of the law as quoted below. It gives a long confession by the defendant, Joseph Smith, which the law does not require. It gives the testimony of five witnesses, whereas, the testimony of any witness is not recorded in a justice of the peace court. There is no record that any witness was sworn. It is announced he was found guilty, but no sentence is recorded. The record does not conform with the procedure of a trial. A reasonable conclusion is that the alleged record was written by a person totally unfamiliar with court procedure."  (The "originals" have long since debunked the claimed record).


It would be obviously too tedious to go through over sixty examples of gross error, each broken into blunt analysis, point by point as to each error.

However, on the matter of Joseph Smith's debts (including those he was secondary or tertiary on), from a more recent analysis:

Table 12, derived from Appendix A, presents our findings, which include $45,500 in mortgages or indebtedness for land, $28,500 in notes largely for wholesale merchandise for resale by Kirtland's several mercantile firms, and $4,200 in loans from banks incurred at the start of the Kirtland Bank. These debts total $79,200. In addition there are the remaining $16,700 on the 1843 list which we have been unable to independently verify, and there were smaller transactions in land for which no notes or court action have been found to indicate whether they were for cash or credit. It is likely that some of these "purchases" were on credit and some for cash. If we assume all were on credit and add the remaining debts on the 1843 list, we likely have a reasonably good estimate of the maximum debt which Joseph Smith may have incurred during this period. This adds $6,400 for land purchases plus $16,700 from the 1843 list, for a total "probable" debt of $102,300. This amount includes twenty-six obligations totalling $46,000 which were not included among those listed by Brodie, and yet it remains considerably under the "well over $150,000" that she advances.

Marvin S. Hill, C. Keith Rooker, Larry T. Wimmer, BYU Studies, Vol. 17, No. 4, p.416

A note of caution is called for. It should be observed that what we have here is an estimate of the total indebtedness which Joseph Smith may have incurred during the entire period 1836-37. It does not necessarily follow that he owed that much at any one point in time. Some of these debts were very short term notes (two to four weeks) which were obviously settled; most were obligations for which Smith was secondarily and contingently liable (in one case with as many as thirty-two cosigners).

" In order to have paid off his existing debts, he would have needed to sell about 250 of his nearly 800 acres in Kirtland at $200 per acre, the minimum price per underdeveloped acre lot in 1837. Seen in this way, which we believe to be close to the way in which Joseph Smith and his creditors saw the situation at that time, it does not seem that Smith accumulated more debt than he or his creditors had reason to believe he could manage."


Compare Brodie to Kirkham:

"The reader is now invited to read an excerpt from the writings of an unbiased scholar who sees great power for intellectual advancement, for peace and happiness in the lives of Latter-day Saints because of their faith and knowledge that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God. It is printed on pages 307-313 in this book. The following is introduction.

Francis W. Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America, Vol.2, p.499 Faith and My Friends (1951, the Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., Indianapolis, New York) contains a scholarly, unbiased analysis of the origin, history, and faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints under the title, "The Mormon." (By permission, The Deseret Book Store, Salt Lake City, Utah, has reprinted the complete analysis.)

Francis W. Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America, Vol.2, p.499 The flyleaf states: "For more than fifteen years, Marcus Bach, author, professor of Religious Education at the State University of Iowa City, Iowa, foremost authority on the lesser known religions of America, has traveled from one end of the country to another, searching for the truth about what poeple believe."

Francis W. Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America, Vol.2, p.500

The following excerpts from his book states that there is "A new impulse on the part of earnest, thoughtful people to find a philosophy that works, a religion to which they could dedicate their innermost loyalties and ideals." (Page 17.) He does not venture an opinion concerning the claimed divine origin of the Book of Mormon but he does make this positive statement. "No Vermont schoolboy wrote this book, and no Presbyterian preacher tinkered with its pages.""


To get a good flavor for Brodie, compare her anti-LDS screed with reviews of her other famous work:

Most of the reviewers of Thomas Jefferson, and particularly those who are historians themselves, would say no, Ms. Brodie has not done her homework well. Richard B. Morris, holder of the Gouverneur Morris Chair in American History at Columbia University, writes,

At times, in fact, her historical slips are embarrassing. She confuses the vote on and the signing of the Declaration of Independence. She says Jefferson turned down the offer to serve as a peace commissioner, but the record shows that. . . he accepted the appointment.

Holman Hamilton states that

the book contains many errors of fact or of judgment involving a wide historical spectrum. These range from an unsupportable statement--which would be important if true--about Abraham Lincoln (p. 23) to giving Jefferson Davis a strange name, "Thomas Jefferson Davis" (p. 469). Mrs. Brodie confuses "Light Horse Harry" Lee with Richard Henry Lee (p. 125) and with "Black Horse Harry" Lee (p. 444). She calls Edward M. House the "president-maker" of Woodrow Wilson (p. 301). And so forth.

The most intensive review of Thomas Jefferson is by Garry Wills, historian and writer of a recent book on Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence. Writes Wills:

Two vast things, each wondrous in itself, combine to make this book a prodigy--the author's industry, and her ignorance. One can only be so intricately wrong by deep study and long effort, enough to make Ms. Brodie the fasting hermit and very saint of ignorance. The result has an eerie perfection, as if all the world's greatest builders had agreed to rear, with infinite skill, the world's ugliest building.. . . She has managed to write a long and complex study of Jefferson without displaying any acquaintance with eighteenth-century plantation conditions, political thought, literary conventions, or scientific categories--all of which greatly concerned Jefferson. She constantly finds double meanings in colonial language, basing her arguments on the present usage of key words. She often mistakes the first meaning of a word before assigning it an improbable second meaning and an impossible third one.


Three last comments:

"In 1946, when Hugh Nibley first attempted to challenge Ms. Brodie's scholarship, he was denounced as flippant and his arguments were discounted; but there are some rather remarkable similarities between his objections to No Man Knows My History and the current scholarly criticisms of Thomas Jefferson, which complain as Dr. Nibley did of Ms. Brodie's manipulation and tangling of evidence, of her obsession with sex, of her ignorance of the larger background of the subject she is treating, and of her special "intuition" into the minds of people."

Repeating the best summary of Brodie's work:

"Two vast things, each wondrous in itself, combine to make this book a prodigy--the author's industry, and her ignorance. One can only be so intricately wrong by deep study and long effort, enough to make Ms. Brodie the fasting hermit and very saint of ignorance. The result has an eerie perfection, as if all the world's greatest builders had agreed to rear, with infinite skill, the world's ugliest building.."

Finally, in my own words ...

Those who cite to Brodie know that she is "intricately wrong by deep study and long effort." They have been made aware, over and over again, of specifics and general issues with her work. In general, their credibility, good faith, and honesty are all significantly challenged by their tone, voice, and sources.

The truth is that the Book of Mormon is the word of God and a testament of Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith was and is a prophet of God. More important than any of this is the fact that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God and the Savior of the world, the only way by which man may be saved.


For some great stuff, also see the Shields site.

An excerpt from http://www.shields-research.org/UMI-4.htm

You and Drs. Peterson and Midgley have been discussing Fawn M. Brodie's book, No Man Knows My History.  All of you have been discussing the merits of her book, especially how her scholarship has been received.  In my view, the opinions of this or that literary expert or historian on Brodie's work, while interesting, are really only of value to someone who has not checked out her sources to see how she uses them.  This letter will provide one single example which, I hope, will give you reason to reconsider the value of her book from a "search for truth" perspective.  I am using the 11th printing of the 2nd edition (1983) of No Man. . . .

Brodie begins her book by setting the stage.  Among other things, her view was that Joseph Smith's background was basically irreligous.  On p. 2, speaking of Joseph Smith's paternal grandfather, Brodie states:

"Like many others of the time Asael was avowedly Christian but basically irreligious."

As support for this statement she quotes from a letter dated April 10, 1799, written by Asael to his family at a time when he thought he didn't have long to live.  Here is Bordie's quote in full:

"'As to religion,' he wrote to his children, 'I would not wish to point any particular form to you; but first I would wish you to search the Scriptures and consult sound reason. . . . Any honest calling will honor you if you honor that.  It is better to be a rich cobbler than a poor merchant; and rich farmer than a poor preacher.'"

She seems to have made her point.  But if you go to the original letter, a quite different picture emerges.  A photocopy of the handwritten letter can be found in Dr. Richard L. Anderson's Joseph Smith's New England Heritage (Deseret Book, 1971), pp. 130-140.  This material can also be found as printed text on pp. 124-129.  In the photocopy the quoted material appears on pp. 131 (the quoted material before the ellipses) and 135 (the quoted material after the ellipses).  In the printed text the material can be found on pp 125-126.

Mrs. Brodie left out over 600 words!  In addition, she left out other material that is quite relevant.  Here is the entire section of Asael's letter that is relevant to his attitude towards religion.  I put what Brodie quotes in caps.

"And first to you, my dear wife, I do with all the strength and powers that is in me, thank you for your kindness and faithfulness to me, beseeching God, who is the husband of the widow, to take care of you and not to leave you nor forsake you, nor never suffer you to leave nor forsake him nor his ways.  Put your whole trust solely in him.  He never did nor never will forsake any that trusted in him.  One thing, however, I would add, if you should marry again.  Remember what I have undergone by a stepmother, and do not estrange your husband from his own children or kindred, lest you draw on him and on yourself a great sin.  So I do resign you into the everlasting arms of the great husband of husbands, the Lord Jesus Christ."

"And now my dear children, let me pour out my heart to you and speak first to you of immortality in your souls.  Trifle not in this point:  the soul is immortal.  You have to deal with an infinite majesty; you go upon life and death.  Therefore, in this point be serious.  Do all to God in a serious manner.  When you think of him, speak of him, pray to him, or in any way make your addresses to his great majesty, be in good earnest.  Trifle not with his name nor with his attributes, nor call him to witness to anything but is absolute truth; nor then, but when sound reason on serious consideration requires it.  AND AS TO RELIGION, I WOULD NOT WISH TO POINT OUT ANY PARTICULAR FORM OT YOU; BUT FIRST I WOULD WISH YOU TO SEARCH THE SCRIPTURES AND CONSULT SOUND REASON, and see if they (which I take to be two witnesses that stand by the God of the whole earth) are not sufficient to evince to you that religion is a necessary theme.  Then I would wish you to study the nature of religion, and see whether it consists in outward formalities, or in the hidden man of the heart; whether you can by outward forms, rites and ordinances save yourselves, or whether there is a neccessity of you having help from any other hand than your own.  If you find that you stand in need of a Saviour, Christ saith: 'Look unot me and be ye saved all ye ends of the earth.'  Then look to him, and if you find from scripture and sound reason that Christ hath come into the world to save sinners, then examine what it was that caused him to leave the center of consummate happiness to suffer as he did---whether it was to save mankind because they were sinners and could not save themselves or whether he came to save mankind because they had repented of their sins, so as to be forgiven on the score of their repentance. If you find that he came to save sinners merely because they were such, then try if there is any other so great that he cannot save him.  But mind that you admit no others as evidences but the two that God hath appointed, viz., scripture and sound reason.  And if these two witness that you are one whit better by nature than the worst heathen in the darkest corner of the deserts of Arabia, then conclude that God hath been partial towards you and hath furnished you with a better nature than others; and that consequently, he is not just to all mankind.  But if these two witnesses testify to you that God is just to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works; then believe them.  And if you can believe that Christ came to save sinners and not the righteous Pharisees or self-righteous; that sinners must be saved by the righteousness of Christ alone, without mixing any of their own righteousness with his, then you will see that he can as well save all as any. And there is no respect of persons with God, who will have all mankind to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, viz., that 'there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.'  And when you believe this you will enter into his rest, and when you enter into his rest you will know what that rest is, and not before.  And having gotten this evidence that God is true, be still adding to your evidence and enjoy your present assurance.  Do all to God as to your father, for his love is ten thousand times greater towards you than ever any earthly father's could be to his offspring."

"In the next place strive for these graces most which concern your places and conditions, and strive most against those failings which most threaten you.  But above everything avoid a melancholy disposition.  That is a humor that admits of any temptation and is capable of any impression and distemper.  Shun as death this humor, which will work you to all unthankfulness against God, unlovingness to men, and unnaturalness to yourselves and one another."

"Do not talk and make a noise to get the name of the forward men, but do the thing and do it in a way that is fair and honest, which you can live and die by and rise and reign by.  Therefore, my children, do more than you talk of, in point of religion.  Satisfy your own consciences in what you do.  All men you shall never satisfy; nay, some will not be satisfied though they be convinced."

"AS FOR YOUR CALLINGS:  ANY HONEST CALLING WILL HONOR YOU IF YOU HONOR THAT.  IT IS BETTER TO BE A RICH COBBLER THAN A POOR MERCHANT; A RICH FARMER THAN A POOR PREACHER.  And never be discouraged, though sometimes your schemes should not succeed according to your wishes."

[The next ten paragraphs discuss other things, with but brief mention of God or religion.  The final paragraph of Asael's letter is also relevant.]

"Sure I am my Saviour, Christ, is perfect, and never will fail in one circumastance.  To him I commit your souls, bodies, estates, names, characters, lives, deaths and all--and myself, waiting when he shall change my vile body and make it like his own most glorious body.  And I wish to leave to you everything that I have in this world but my faults, and them I take with me to the grave, there to be buried in everlasting oblivion; but leaving my virtues, if ever I had any, to revive and live in you.  Amen. So come, Lord Jesus; come quickly.  Amen."

I ask you, Rev. Wright, how is it possible that Mrs. Brodie could read this letter of Asael's and with honesty (scholarly or otherwise) conclude that he was "basically irreligious?"  I don't see how it is possible. 


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